Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Saturday, February 25, 2017

California folks gearing up for possible fight with feds over marijuana law and policy

DownloadThis new lengthy Los Angeles Times article, headlined "California officials and the marijuana industry are ready to fight a federal crackdown," reports on what folks on the Left Coast are thinking and saying in the wake of  the recent comments from White House press secretary Sean Spicer suggesting the Trump Administration might be ramping up federal enforcement of blanket marijuana prohibition.  Here are excerpts:

Warned of a possible federal crackdown on marijuana, California elected officials and cannabis industry leaders said Friday they were preparing for a potential showdown in the courts and Congress to protect the legalization measure approved by state voters in November.

The flashpoint that set off a scramble in California was a news conference Thursday at which White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters that the administration had no plans to continue the Obama administration's permissive approach in states that have legalized marijuana for recreational use. "I do believe that you'll see greater enforcement,” he said, adding that the administration would continue to allow states to regulate the sale of marijuana for medical use.

The latest development could force California officials and marijuana industry leaders into an unusual alliance against the federal government, with billions of dollars in profits for businesses and taxes for state coffers at stake.

The state agency responsible for drafting regulations said Friday it was going ahead with its plans to start issuing licenses to growers and sellers in January. “Until we see any sort of formal plan from the federal government, it’s full speed ahead for us,” said Alex Traverso, a spokesman for the California Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation.

California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra says he is ready to safeguard the rights of the 56% of voters who approved Proposition 64, which allows California adults to possess, transport and buy up to an ounce of marijuana for recreational use. “I took an oath to enforce the laws that California has passed,” Becerra said in a statement Thursday after Spicer’s comments. “If there is action from the federal government on this subject, I will respond in an appropriate way to protect the interests of California.”

State lawmakers also say California should do what it can to preserve Proposition 64. “We will support and honor the laws that California voters have democratically enacted,” said Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Oakland), an author of legislation creating the licensing system for medical marijuana dispensaries.

Becerra would likely be joined in any defense of the state’s marijuana policy by attorneys general in other parts of the country. Recreational use has also been legalized in Washington state, Colorado, Oregon, Alaska, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada, home to a combined 68 million Americans.

Washington Atty. Gen. Bob Ferguson, who has worked with Becerra on opposing President Trump’s travel ban, said he and Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee last week asked for a meeting with U.S. Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions to discuss how the recreational marijuana use system is working in their state.

California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a leading supporter of Proposition 64, took a similar approach, sending a letter Friday to Trump urging him not to carry through with threats to launch a federal enforcement effort. “I urge you and your administration to work in partnership with California and the other … states that have legalized recreational marijuana for adult use in a way that will let us enforce our state laws that protect the public and our children, while targeting the bad actors,” the Democrat wrote.

If the Justice Department starts arresting licensed marijuana sellers, the multibillion-dollar industry would join forces with the states that issue permits to challenge the action in court, said Amy Margolis, an attorney whose law firm has more than 200 clients in the marijuana industry, including businesses in California. “This industry is so mature and it’s so far along that I have no doubt that if the Department of Justice started true enforcement actions against cannabis businesses, that they would go to court,” Margolis said. “I see joint actions between the states and the industry hoping to prevent those type of actions.”

Margolis would argue that it is a states’ rights issue. “The argument would be that this is a situation where the states have the right to regulate and tax an industry the way they want,” she said, adding that states are gaining tax revenue to pay for government programs....

However, the states may find their hands tied legally if they try to keep federal agents from raiding and shutting down marijuana growing and sales operations, according to Adam Winkler, a professor at UCLA School of Law. “I imagine that California will mount a legal challenge to any crackdown on recreational marijuana,” Winkler said. “Yet there is not much California can do. Federal law is supreme over conflicting state law. Federal agents are entitled to enforce federal law anywhere in the country, including California.” He said there are limits to federal power, but the courts have held that the federal government does have the authority to enforce federal drug laws.

Aaron Herzberg, an attorney for the industry, agreed that the state would face a tough fight. He cited the 2005 case Gonzales vs. Raich, in which the U.S. Supreme Court found that under the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, Congress may criminalize the production and use of homegrown marijuana even if states approve its use for medical purposes. “Let's face it: If the federal government wants to shut down recreational marijuana they could quite easily accomplish it using federal law enforcement and taxation tools,” Herzberg said.

Others say one basis for legal action would be an argument that enforcing laws against marijuana would damage states that have put regulations in place and are depending on hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes to pay for government programs. States are too far down the path of regulating, licensing and taxing those who are making big investments in the sanctioned marijuana industry to pull the rug out now, said Richard Miadich, an attorney who co-wrote Proposition 64....

Because Spicer did not provide details on what an enforcement effort might look like, many in the industry hope it will focus on the illegal exporting of marijuana to other states, leaving alone state-licensed firms that grow and sell pot. “The biggest crackdown we may see is on the increase of cannabis being illegally exported out of recreational states,” said Nate Bradley, executive director of the California Cannabis Industry Assn.

Prior related post:

White House press secretary hints of "greater enforcement" by feds of marijuana prohibition in recreational marijuana states

February 25, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, February 23, 2017

White House press secretary hints of "greater enforcement" by feds of marijuana prohibition in recreational marijuana states

As reported in this Politico article, "White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Thursday that he expects states to see 'greater enforcement' of the federal law against marijuana use, a move that would be at odds with a growing number of states’ decisions to legalize it." Here is more:

Spicer, taking questions from reporters at the daily briefing, differentiated between the administration’s positions on medical marijuana and recreational marijuana. President Donald Trump “understands the pain and suffering that many people go through who are facing especially terminal diseases, and the comfort that some of these drugs, including medical marijuana, can bring to them,” he said, also noting previous action by Congress not to fund the Justice Department “go[ing] after those folks.”

As for “recreational marijuana, that’s a very, very different subject,” Spicer said.

Spicer suggested that the administration is opposed to encouraging recreational marijuana use and connected it with the crisis with opioid addiction in some areas. “When you see something like the opioid addiction crisis blossoming in so many states around this country, the last thing we should be doing is encouraging people,” he said.

The Department of Justice, Spicer said, will be “further looking into” the marijuana enforcement question, he said, punting questions about the specifics to the department. “I do believe that you'll see greater enforcement of it,” he said.

February 23, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

New report projects extraordinary job growth in US marijuana industry

This new Forbes article, headlined "Marijuana Industry Projected To Create More Jobs Than Manufacturing By 2020," highlights some of the economic development potential that is forecast by some in the marijuana arena. Here are the details:

Jobs. That is what the marijuana industry hopes will keep the Trump administration from cracking down on cannabis companies.

A new report from New Frontier data projects that by 2020, the legal cannabis market will create more than a quarter of a million jobs. This is more than the expected jobs from manufacturing, utilities or even government jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The BLS says that by 2024 manufacturing jobs are expected to decline by 814,000, utilities will lose 47,000 jobs and government jobs will decline by 383,000. This dovetails with data that suggests the fastest growing industries are all healthcare related.

The legal cannabis market was worth an estimated $7.2 billion in 2016 and is projected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 17%. Medical marijuana sales are projected to grow from $4.7 billion in 2016 to $13.3 billion in 2020. Adult recreational sales are estimated to jump from $2.6 billion in 2016 to $11.2 billion by 2020. New Frontier bases these projections on the markets that have already passed such legal initiatives and don't include additional states that could come on board by 2020....

“These numbers confirm that cannabis is a major economic driver and job creation engine for the U.S. economy,” said Giadha Aguirre De Carcer, Founder and CEO of New Frontier Data. “While we see a potential drop in total number of U.S. jobs created in 2017, as reported by Kiplinger, as well as an overall expected drop in GDP growth, the cannabis industry continues to be a positive contributing factor to growth at a time of potential decline. We expect the cannabis industry’s growth to be slowed down to some degree in the next three to five years, however with a projected total market sales to exceed $24 billion by 2025, and the possibility of almost 300,000 jobs by 2020, it remains a positive economic force in the U.S.”

New Frontier based its projections on analysis from the Marijuana Policy Group which was hired by Colorado for an economic analysis. According to annual surveys of cannabis professionals by the Marijuana Business Daily, the industry already employs 100,000 to 150,000 workers and nearly 90,000 are in plant-touching companies....

Many employees in the industry seem thankful for their jobs and are genuinely happy with their employment. The alternative culture appeals to many who have no interest in cubicle jobs or working for a big corporate giant. It is increasingly pulling professionals from more traditional industries who are looking for new challenges and different work environments. “The governments and the programs that they've instilled into these (legalized) states have created great job opportunities and excellent business opportunities for entrepreneurs,” said Mark Lustig, Chief Executive Officer of CannaRoyalty. “They've created the right competition.”

February 22, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

"Can Marijuana Ease the Opioid Epidemic?"

The question in the title of this post is the headline of this new Stateline piece.  Regular readers may be tired of my repeated emphasis on the possible connections between the nation's opioid problems and marijuana reform, but I continue to consider the story very important and I am especially troubled to see so little attention seemingly given to these matters by those on the front-lines of the opioid epidemic.  Here are excerpts from the Stateline piece (which discusses medical marijuana more generally):

In the midst of an opioid crisis, some medical practitioners and researchers believe that greater use of marijuana for pain relief could result in fewer people using the highly addictive prescription painkillers that led to the epidemic.

A 2016 study by researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that states with medical marijuana laws had 25 percent fewer opioid overdose deaths than states that do not have medical marijuana laws. And another study published in Health Affairs last year found that prescriptions for opioid painkillers such as OxyContin, Vicodin and Percocet paid for by Medicare dropped substantially in states that adopted medical marijuana laws.

In December, the New York Health Department said it would start allowing some patients with certain types of chronic pain to use marijuana as long as they have tried other therapies. The state’s original medical marijuana law, along with those in Connecticut, Illinois, New Hampshire and New Jersey, did not include chronic pain as an allowable condition for marijuana use, in part over concerns that such a broad category of symptoms could result in widespread and potentially inappropriate use of the controversial medicine.

Advocates for greater use of medical marijuana argue that including chronic pain as an allowable condition could result in even further reductions in dangerous opioid use. But some physicians remain cautious about recommending the botanical medicine as a pain management tool.

Dr. Jane Ballantyne, a pain specialist at the University of Washington and president of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing, which promotes the use of alternatives to opioids for chronic pain, said she does not recommend that her patients try marijuana. “There is no doubt marijuana is much safer than opiates. So we don’t discourage its use.” But in general, she said, “non-drug treatments are far more helpful than any drug treatment, and marijuana is a drug.”

At Mount Sinai Hospital here in the city, Dr. Houman Danesh, director of integrative pain management, suggests patients try physical therapy, yoga, acupuncture, stem cell therapy, nutrition counseling, hypnosis and behavioral health counseling before resorting to opioids or any other medications. He said lack of sufficient research to back up marijuana’s safety and efficacy has kept him from adding it to his pain management toolkit, but he doesn’t rule it out in the near future....

Dr. Howard Shapiro, started certifying patients for marijuana about a year ago and quickly became a believer. He’s one of only 371 doctors out of nearly 33,000 in [New York] City’s five boroughs registered to certify patients for medical marijuana. Statewide, only 863 out of roughly 96,000 physicians have signed up for the program....

As a primary care doctor who takes a holistic approach to medicine, Shapiro said trying medical marijuana was a natural for him. But he said he worried that “a bunch of druggies would start showing up.” Instead, he said the patients he began seeing were all very sick and none of them appeared to be seeking drugs for fun. The improvement he saw in those first patients was remarkable, he said. “I really think medical marijuana is the drug of the future,” Shapiro said. “We’re going to find out that it does a lot of things we already think it can do, but don’t have scientific studies to prove it.”

Out of 109 patients he’s seen over the past year, all but a handful reported substantial improvement in their pain and other symptoms within a month or two of using medical marijuana, he said. For Shapiro’s patients, the cost of marijuana treatment ranges from $300 to $400 a month, depending on their level of use.

February 21, 2017 in Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1)

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Highlighting free market fuzziness for GOP when marijuana involved

This Florida newspaper commentary by John Romano, headlined "Doesn't medical marijuana deserve a free market too?," effectively shines a light on the notable fact that the affinity of some Republican leaders for less government regulation and more marketplace freedom often wanes when the commodity at issue is marijuana.  Here is a portion of the commentary:

Around here, free market is the answer. And it doesn't even require an actual question.

Education gap? Let the business community fix it. Health insurance? Keep the government out of it. Minimum wage? Leave it up to the job creators. Yes, free market competition will always be the solution in Tallahassee.

Except when it comes to medical marijuana. Apparently, that's an industry in serious need of a government-sponsored cartel.

When first venturing into the marijuana business a couple of years ago, the state handpicked a small group of well-connected nurseries in a highly suspect procurement process. Now that a constitutional amendment has marijuana on the precipice of becoming a billion-dollar industry, the state is considering a plan to reward that same group of nurseries with a huge head start in the marketplace. And that contradicts everything our state leaders normally preach.

Think I'm exaggerating? State Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, recently introduced legislation to repeal the state's "certificate of need" programs for hospitals. The program allows the state to regulate where hospitals open, ostensibly to make sure private facilities do not cater to an affluent population and ignore the poor. Bradley calls it a "cumbersome process" used to "block expansion" and "restrict competition." He says eliminating the program will create jobs and drive down prices.

And yet Bradley is also the sponsor of a bill that restricts the number of nurseries allowed to produce medical marijuana, which critics say will create price gouging and limit available product. In effect, it would create the same problems Bradley says hamper the hospital industry....

Personally, I'm waiting for House Speaker Richard Corcoran to get involved.  This is a man who does not believe in compromising his principles. He's so committed to free market ideals in education that he called teachers "evil" for pushing back against the privatization of public schools.  He once said he would go to war to fight Obamacare's Medicaid expansion.

Not long ago, Corcoran laid out his political principles in a forceful speech: "No economic system has done more to benefit mankind than the free enterprise system … but when judges or legislatures or local governments continually rewrite the rules or attempt to pick winners and losers, that is when markets fail.  We need to reverse the damage that has been done, untangle the red tape and tear down all these barriers to entry."

Glad to hear it, Mr. Speaker. Looking forward to you joining the fight.

February 18, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

"Joint Culpability: The Effects of Medical Marijuana Laws on Crime"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new article posted to SSRN authored by Yu-Wei Luke Chu and Wilbur Townsend. Here is the abstract:

Most of the U.S. states have passed medical marijuana laws. In this paper, we study the effects of these laws on violent and property crime.  We first estimate models that control for city fixed effects and flexible city-specific time trends.  To supplement this regression analysis we use the synthetic control method which can relax the parallel trend assumption and better account for heterogeneous policy effects. 

Both the regression analysis and the synthetic control method suggest no causal effects of medical marijuana laws on violent or property crime at the national level.  We also find no strong effects within individual states, except for in California where the medical marijuana law reduced both violent and property crime by 20%.

February 15, 2017 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 6, 2017

"State Legalization of Marijuana and Our American System of Federalism: A Historio-Constitutional Primer"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper authored by Brian Blumenfeld now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:

Federal law, pursuant to the Controlled Substances Act, maintains a strict criminal prohibition on marijuana use of any kind.  In states that have legalized marijuana, and in states proposing to do so, a fundamental conflict arises between federal powers and state sovereignty.  This conflict implicates some of the most vital aspects of the structural constitution: the Commerce Power, the Necessary and Proper Clause, the anti-commandeering doctrine, and Supremacy Clause preemption.

In recent years a healthy scholarship has emerged to wrestle with the subject, providing insightful commentary and argument, but missing in the literature is an unabbreviated account of the major features of federalism that frame the legalization controversy.  Also missing is a historical background situating the CSA's marijuana prohibition within the American political-legal tradition.

This article provides the reader with an extensive constitutional and historical foundation for understanding what is now recognized as "the most pressing and complex federalism issue of our time."

February 6, 2017 in 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)

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Is the marijuana industry now "too big to jail"?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this recent Los Angeles Times article, which is headlined "Trump's Justice Department may crack down on thriving pot industry, but is it too big to jail?".  Here are excerpts:

The election of Trump has shocked the marijuana industry into a state of high alert at a time it had planned to be gliding into unbridled growth. Trump’s nominee for attorney general, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, is a longtime field lieutenant in the war on drugs with unabashed hostility toward pot. It was only 10 months ago that Sessions was scolding from the dais of a Senate hearing room that the drug is dangerous, not funny and that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.”

Now he is poised to set the direction on national drug enforcement policy at the same time that eight states, including California, have legalized recreational use of the drug. Some 60 million Americans are living in states where voters have opted to allow any adult to be able to purchase marijuana.

Business leaders ... are betting the rapid maturity of the cannabis industry has made it too big to jail. Even before new laws took effect permitting the recreational use of pot in the massive markets of California and Massachusetts, the legitimate pot business had dwarfed its 2011 size, when the Drug Enforcement Administration was still aggressively raiding medical marijuana vendors operating legally under state laws. Since then, President Obama’s Justice Department decreed that states should have freedom to pursue their own policies, and the legalization train seemed to have left the station.

But those who have been in the business since the early days of medical marijuana caution the legions of newcomers that federal busts and seizures could quickly make a comeback. Sessions very deliberately left that option open during his confirmation hearing. “There are people in this administration who will crush this industry if they see the opportunity,” said Steve DeAngelo, who is considered a guru among pot entrepreneurs. DeAngelo, owner of the bustling Harborside Health Center dispensary in Oakland, was among the first in the industry and he has experienced it all: surprise raids from armed federal agents, unending lawsuits, getting locked in a jail cell. “I don’t think people who don’t have firsthand experience with the irrationality of federal intervention understand what a threat we are facing.”

But it’s hard to see much anxiety watching the comings and goings inside DeAngelo’s dispensary, which these days looks more like a Whole Foods than the shady corner bodegas such operations long resembled. Well-mannered hipsters with encyclopedic knowledge of bud patiently serve customers as sommeliers might, explaining the intricacies of abundant varietals of reefer available to be consumed in ever-evolving ways. On one side of the room is an enticing display of pot-laced baked goods, opposite that is the kind of fancy kiosk where artisan granola bars or yogurt cups might be hawked in a high-end grocery; the millennials manning this one are pitching elegantly packaged microdoses of pot injected into dried blueberries and other goodies.

DeAngelo says Trump might just let it all be, pointing to mixed signals the president sent during the campaign. But DeAngelo sees an easy legal path for Sessions and other committed anti-drug warriors in the administration, including Vice President Mike Pence, to immediately throw the industry into chaos, should they chose to do so. A survey by Marijuana Business Daily suggests many pot entrepreneurs share his concern, with 20% saying they would curb expansion plans. Many more are putting planning off until they see where the White House is going.

“Most of us are holding our breath right now,” said Emily Paxhia, co-owner of a hedge fund that invests exclusively in the cannabis industry. Lately she has been making sure that each firm in her portfolio has a Plan B in case a federal crackdown comes. Can pot growing operations, for example, shift to micro-salad greens if the feds come knocking? Can vaporizers be sold to yoga enthusiasts consuming lavender? “We’re also starting to look at how some of the new technologies we are investing in could address needs in other countries if the U.S. becomes difficult,” Paxhia said, pointing to Canada, where she said federal embrace of recreational marijuana could open up a $22-billion market. Paxhia shared her outlook at the industrial San Francisco office space of one company in her portfolio, Meadow, which has built a digital platform through which marijuana dispensary offerings can be browsed, and products can be ordered and delivered with the ease of a service like GrubHub....

Across the bay in Oakland, a sober-looking team at a company called CW Analytical has just spent big on sophisticated new testing equipment that allows dispensaries to quickly measure the active ingredients and purity in all the pot products they sell. The company embodies how renewed federal busts would affect not just pot growers, but an entire class of lab technicians, scientists, digital engineers, marketers and other skilled professionals. “I would be lying if I told you it was not in the back of our minds,” said Emily Richardson, head of business development at CW. “We have been through a lot.” She said the firm lost a third of its business amid the last big round of federal raids in 2011. Back then, Jeff Linden wasn’t even in the trade. He was running a high-end kitchen cabinet firm. Now Linden has opened a dispensary in San Francisco’s Mission District that could be mistaken for an art gallery.....“Trump’s agenda is this long,” Linden said, stretching out his arms to make the point the new administration has bigger issues on its plate than him. “I think this industry is too big to roll back. Some people agree with me. Some are very nervous.”

My answer to the basic post question is that there are a whole lot of players who could be in line for a whole lot of trouble in the Trump Administration decides to go hard after the industry, but that the entire industry has too many elements and extensions to be completely destroyed even if that was the express desire of the Trump team. And, for a host of reasons, I think the Trump team (including future AG Sessions) is going to be eager to focus their resources elsewhere.

February 4, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 3, 2017

New Textbook on Marijuana Law, Policy, and Authority

I’m happy to announce that my first-of-its-kind textbook on Marijuana Law, Policy, and Authority will soon be published by Aspen. It will be out in April (in e form) and May (in print). The teacher’s manual and a companion website will be available soon thereafter. Many thanks to Doug and others who have provided helpful feedback on this book over the last 2.5 years!

The book covers a lot of ground, befitting a field that implicates so many different areas of law. The first chapter of the book is now available on SSRN. That chapter provides more details about the book’s coverage and approach, and it also explains why this is such an interesting and worthwhile area of law to study – and not just for those who are interested in practicing in this burgeoning field.

Not coincidentally, I will be posting more this month (both here and at Prawfsblawg) on topics drawn from the book. My first post at Prawfsblawg briefly laid out the case for teaching and writing about marijuana law. Even though most people who read this blog are already sold on the subject, I’ll copy the relevant passage here:

“For one thing, state marijuana reforms and the federal response to them have sparked some of the most challenging and interesting legal controversies of our day. May the states legalize a drug while Congress forbids it? Even so, are state regulations governing marijuana preempted by federal law? Does anyone (besides the DOJ) have a cause of action to challenge them as such? Can the President suspend enforcement of the federal ban? Do state restrictions on marijuana industry advertising violate the First Amendment? These are just a handful of the intriguing questions that are now being confronted in this field.

Just as importantly, there is a large and growing number of people who care about the answers to such questions. Forty-three (43) states and the District of Columbia have legalized possession and use of some form of marijuana by at least some people. These reforms – not to mention the prohibitions that remain in place at the federal level – affect a staggering number of people. Roughly 40% of adults in the U.S. have tried marijuana, and more than 22 million people use the drug regularly. To supply this demand, thousands of people are growing and selling marijuana. In Colorado alone, for example, there are more than 600 state licensed marijuana suppliers. There are also countless third parties who regularly deal with these users and suppliers, including physicians who recommend marijuana to patients, banks that provide payment services to the marijuana industry, firms that employ marijuana users, and lawyers who advise all of the above.

All of these people need help navigating a thicket of complicated and oftentimes conflicting laws governing marijuana. Colorado, for example, has promulgated more than 200 pages of regulations to govern its $1 billion a year licensed marijuana industry. Among many other things, Colorado’s regulations require suppliers to carefully track their inventories, test and label their products, and limit where and how they advertise. These regulations are complicated enough but doubts about their enforceability (highlighted in the questions above) only add to the confusion and the need for informed legal advice.”

In the coming weeks, I will blog about some of the questions noted above. In the meantime, if you are interested in teaching a course or a unit on any aspect of marijuana law, contact me – robert<dot>mikos<at>vanderbilt<dot>edu -- I would be happy to chat.

February 3, 2017 in Assembled readings on specific topics, Books, Business laws and regulatory issues, Current Affairs, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, State court rulings, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, February 2, 2017

"Patients Are Ditching Opioid Pills for Weed"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new Atlantic article, and here are excerpts:

James Feeney, a surgeon in Connecticut, heard it from his patients. A few actually turned down his prescription for oxycodone, the popular opioid painkiller that has also gained notoriety with the opioid epidemic. His patients, Feeney recalls, would say, “Listen, don’t give me any of that oxycodone garbage. … I’m just going to smoke weed.”

“And you know what?” says Feeney. “Every single one of those patients doesn’t have a lot of pain, and they do pretty well.” Marijuana has worked well enough, anecdotally at least, that Feeney is following his patients’ lead and conducting a trial at Saint Francis Hospital and Medical Center in Hartford, CT. The state-funded study will compare opioids and medical marijuana for treating acute pain, such as that from a broken rib.

That distinction — acute pain from an injury — is also an important one. A small body of evidence suggests that medical marijuana is effective for chronic pain, which persists even after an injury should have healed and for which opioids are already not a great treatment. But now Feeney wants to try medical marijuana for acute pain, where opioids have long been a go-to drug.

“The big focus from my standpoint is that this is an attempt to end the opioid epidemic,” he says. Overdoses from opioids, which includes heroin as well as prescription painkillers like oxycodone and morphine, killed more than 30,000 people in 2015.

Marijuana might have a bigger role in curbing this drug abuse than previously thought. Its potential uses are actually threefold: to treat chronic pain, to treat acute pain, and to alleviate the cravings from opioid withdrawal. And it has the advantages of being much less dangerous and addictive than opioids.... Yasmin Hurd, a neuroscientist at Mount Sinai who has a license to study marijuana and its derivatives...in a small pilot study ... has found that cannabidiol can reduce the cravings of people addicted to heroin. “They relapse because they are in conditions that induce craving,” says Hurd. By controlling their anxiety, cannabidiol also seems to be controlling their cravings.

Hurd is now running a larger trial to investigate if the substance could help people addicted to heroin, and she published a recent review on cannabidiol’s role in curbing substance abuse....

Interestingly, patients already seem to be replacing opioids with marijuana for chronic pain. A handful of observational studies have also found correlations between states legalizing medical marijuana and a drop in painkiller prescriptions, opioid use, and deaths from opioid overdose. And in 2016, Dan Clauw and his colleagues published a survey of patients with chronic pain who started patronizing a medical marijuana dispensary. They cut their previous opioid use by two-thirds....

Clauw, who runs a pain lab at University of Michigan, says he would to like understand how marijuana quells pain on a molecular level, but getting the license has proved too big a hurdle.

Meanwhile, Feeney’s hospital trial for acute pain is able to get around the logistics issue of marijuana as a scheduled substance. Medical marijuana is legal in the state of Connecticut, but neither Feeney nor his hospital provides it directly to patients. Rather, a doctor certifies a patient to use marijuana, and the patient then picks it up at a dispensary or pharmacy. “The strains I have to select from are so pure and so potent that the stuff they get from the University of Mississippi pales in comparison,” says Feeney.

The trial, which was just got started, will enroll 60 patients with rib injuries in total—30 on marijuana, 30 on opioids. The doctors chose rib injuries to study because the pain lasts a predictable six weeks. Because of the study’s design, patients get to choose whether they use opioids and marijuana to control pain. So far, the hospitals has enrolled a handful of patients. They’ve all chosen marijuana.

Some prior related posts:

February 2, 2017 in Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Spotlighting the (inevitable?) mixture of marijuana, regulators, money and lobbying

The Hill has this notable lengthy article, headlined "Marijuana lobby goes mainstream," highlighting the . Here are excerpts:

In a sign that the budding marijuana industry is moving away from the fringes and into the political mainstream, into the political mainstream, a number of officials once tasked with managing the growing legal cannabis sector are leaving their government positions to take jobs in the sector.

Many are advising states and cities as voters loosen marijuana restrictions across the country. Others are becoming industry advocates, lobbying the former colleagues and coworkers they left behind to craft more favorable rules and regulations.

In Colorado, Andrew Freedman, once the state’s director of marijuana coordination, and Lewis Koski, who headed the state Marijuana Enforcement Division, teamed up to form a consulting firm that advises local and state governments on crafting new marijuana regulations. Laura Harris, Koski’s predecessor at the Marijuana Enforcement Division, took a post this month as director of the Colorado Cannabis Chamber of Commerce.

Manny Munson-Regala, who oversaw Minnesota’s medical marijuana program, now runs a consulting firm of his own. John O’Brien resigned his post overseeing New Jersey’s medical marijuana program to take a job as chief compliance officer of a New York cannabis company. And several former top officials at Washington State’s Liquor and Cannabis Board have left in recent years to form their own firms.

“That’s how America works. You work for the government, then you become a lobbyist,” said Ian Eisenberg, a leader in the legal marijuana industry who runs Uncle Ike’s, a dispensary in Seattle, Wash. “I don’t think it’s any different than the defense industry.”

Those who have made the jump from the government sector to the private sector say they offer a valuable service, both to governments that need to establish new rules and to the businesses that need to navigate complex regulatory schemes that have never been implemented before. “We’re the only ones to have stood this up before,” said Freedman, who now consults with governments looking to set up their regulatory structures. “There’s a real opportunity to come in and show lessons learned quickly.”...

But opponents of legalized pot, and some government transparency groups, say the relationship between the marijuana industry and its regulators should be treated like any other. “The revolving door from government to private sector isn’t anything new, but it represents the worst of our politics. This isn’t the paper clip or oven mitt lobby, this is the drug lobby,” said Kevin Sabet, who heads Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a group that opposes legalization. And we know that the pot lobby wants to make money, just like big tobacco executives do.”

Aaron Scherb, legislative affairs director at the government transparency group Common Cause, said states should implement a cooling-off period between the time when a regulator leaves government service and when he or she begins working on behalf of the industry. “These individuals are the most familiar with the rules and regulations of a particular industry, and their experience means they’re able to exploit loopholes,” Scherb said. “At least some minimal amount of time is appropriate so we can avoid this revolving door problem.”

At least one state, Minnesota, required its regulators to take a year off before returning to work in the field they oversaw. Munson-Regala, the former head of the state’s medical marijuana program, said that reminded him of other industries he helped regulate, like the insurance business. “Embedded in that one-year cooling off period was an understanding that regulators are in a good position to help folks who are being regulated, in part because they understand what it takes to be compliant,” Munson-Regala said in an interview.

The revolving door is just one of the ways an industry that was once seen as the domain of hippies is trying to professionalize. Just a few years ago, proponents of legalizing marijuana brought 1970s-era stoner icon Tommy Chong to Capitol Hill to woo lawmakers. Today, Chong is gone, replaced by a booming industry of cultivators and retailers — and the trade shows, consultants and lobbyists who offer services to boost their business.

On Tuesday, the National Cannabis Industry Association kicked off a two-day Seed to Sale trade show in Denver, focusing on business practices for producers and retailers. The group’s first trade show several years ago attracted 800 participants; this year, they expect 2,000 vendors — and 4,000 to 5,000 at the annual Cannabis Business Summit and Expo, said Taylor West, the group’s deputy director. In November, 10,000 people showed up to another trade show in Las Vegas. “This industry is not slowing down,” West said.

Around the country, hundreds of lobbyists are already bending lawmakers’ ears on marijuana measures. In Colorado alone, 81 lobbyists reported advocating on marijuana proposals before the state legislature, according to data filed with the Secretary of State’s office.

February 2, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 30, 2017

Minnesota facing the high costs of highly regulating its medical marijuana program

This new AP article, headlined "Minnesota's Medical Marijuana Program Needs More Money," provides an interesting report on the state of the medical marijuana program in the Gopher State. Here are the particulars:

Minnesota's medical marijuana program needs extra state funding to cover the costs of its patient database and inspections of drug manufacturers, just a few of the regulations that make it one of the most restrictive such laws in the country. It's the latest reminder of the financial constraints on the program borne from the heavy restrictions on Minnesota's 2014 law.

The plant form of marijuana remains banned under the law, requiring the state's two medical manufacturers to concoct marijuana oils, pills and vapors with routine state inspections and secondary lab testing. Just 10 severe conditions such as cancer and epilepsy qualify for the program, a number that has grown in recent years with a few additions.

The state's manufacturers combined to lose more than $5 million in the first year of legal medical marijuana sales in 2015. And patient count hasn't met projections, exacerbating high prescription costs for patients that the two companies who cultivate and sell medication have only recently begun to address with modest price decreases.

The Office of Medical Cannabis' request for more than $500,000 over the next two years is just a fraction of the $40 billion-plus budget Minnesota's Legislature will assemble this year. But state regulators say that money is critical to cover the higher-than-expected costs for maintenance of their around-the-clock patient registry and the costs of performing 120 inspections or more each year....

The state already provides about $1.4 million a year to help cover operating costs, and regulators can cover their oversight costs by charging manufacturers, LeafLine Labs and Minnesota Medical Solutions, an annual registration fee. But after increasing the manufacturers' annual fee from $94,000 to $146,000 last year, Gov. Mark Dayton's budget proposal says additional state funding is essential to help avoid an "increase the cost of medical cannabis to program participants."

Those costs range from software licensing and fixing bugs on their patient registry — where the state tracks each patient's progress with the new medications — to the travel bills that come from visiting every distribution site, from Rochester in southern Minnesota to Moorhead, near its northwestern corner. "I don't think anyone thought about us having eight cannabis centers statewide," said Michelle Larson, the director of the state program. "Our annual cost is a little bit more than folks thought it would be."

Garofalo also has a different approach: He's proposing legislation that would allow manufacturers to write off business expenses on their Minnesota tax filings. That's impossible at the federal level while it's still considered a Schedule I drug, subjecting marijuana-related businesses to some of the highest effective tax rates.

LeafLine Labs chief executive Andrew Bachman said his company will likely lose money again in 2017, and he wasn't sure whether the tax break would help it break even. But by treating the business just as any other Minnesota company, he said it would help cement medical marijuana as just another type of medicine. "It's about normalization. Cannabis is medicine is thousands for Minnesotans now," Bachman said.

January 30, 2017 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

"Can medical marijuana be used to treat heroin addiction?"

Dt_150915_marijuana_leaf_pills_800x600The question in the title of this post is one that I wonder about a lot as more and more communities struggle for responses to the opioid epidemic.  The question is also the title of this new local article from New Hampshire, which discusses a legislative hearing about addiction and other conditions being added to the state's list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana.  Here are excerpts: 

In the midst of a heroin and fentanyl crisis, New Hampshire lawmakers are considering a bill that would add opioid addiction to the list of qualifying conditions for the state’s therapeutic cannabis program.

That bill was one of five that could add chronic pain, opioid addiction, post-traumatic stress disorder, fibromyalgia and myelitis disorder to the list of conditions that qualify someone to use therapeutic cannabis in the state. New Hampshire lawmakers heard testimony on the bills Wednesday morning.

A number of patients testified in favor of the bills, but one doctor told legislators to proceed with caution on the bill that would allow doctors to treat drug addiction with marijuana.

Dr. Molly Rossignol, a family physician and addiction doctor at Concord Hospital, said there is not enough research to suggest cannabis is an effective treatment for addiction. “We’re going down a dark and potentially dangerous road,” Rossignol said. “In the past year, I’ve evaluated over 100 patients in our capital region. It is clear cannabis is not helping them stop or reduce their use of opioids.”

While medical marijuana is widely used in other states to treat chronic pain and other medical conditions, no state so far has approved therapeutic cannabis to treat addiction. However, at least one study showed a correlation between overdose deaths and medical marijuana laws. A 2014 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found opioid overdose deaths went down 25 percent in states that had medical marijuana laws.

State health officials in Maine considered the question of whether to add addiction as a qualifying condition last year, but ultimately their Department of Health and Human Services concluded there was not enough research or evidence to show it would be effective.

“Given the lack of rigorous human studies on the use of marijuana for the treatment of opioid addiction (only one clinical trial has been completed) and the lack of any safety or efficacy data, the Committee can not conclude that the use of medical marijuana for treatment of opioid addiction is safe,” wrote Dr. Siiri Bennett, the Maine state epidemiologist, and Dr. Christopher Pezzullo, the state health officer.

Rossignol said the issue of marijuana being used to treat addiction needed more time. “This has to be vetted, it has to be scientifically studied,” she said.

Rossignol said her experience with addicted patients has so far indicated marijuana is not helpful with addiction. She treats her addicted patients with Suboxone, a drug taken daily to keep cravings and withdrawal symptoms at bay. Suboxone, methadone and naltrexone are the three drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat addiction – Rossignol said when used with evidence-based therapies, many studies show they help with addiction.

She said she believed marijuana could do the opposite. “It is something that I see every day reducing their chances of getting into longterm recovery,” she said. “I think it is a very slippery slope.”

Several patients traveled to the State House to testify in favor of the five cannabis bills, including ones to add chronic pain and PTSD to the list of qualifying conditions. Stephen Boulter of North Conway told lawmakers that therapeutic cannabis had dramatically decreased his pain and increased his quality of life.

Boulter was able to qualify for medical marijuana due to a vertebrae injury. He said pain from that injury became debilitating. “It’s with you 24 hours a day, you always have pain,” he said. “The only thing that mitigated the pain were opiates, which I detested.”

When Boulter qualified for medical marijuana, he found it got rid of his pain and didn’t make him loopy. “It made a tremendous difference, it allows me to go to bed at night and go to sleep,” he said. “I firmly believe that anyone suffering with severe chronic pain working with a qualified provider can restore a normal, high quality standard of living.”

Former state Rep. Joe LaChance of Manchester, a disabled veteran, encouraged lawmakers to add PTSD to the list of qualifying conditions. “This is so important to us,” LaChance said. “This is near and dear to my heart.” LaChance briefly described his struggles with drugs and alcohol, crediting therapeutic cannabis with his recovery. “Cannabis saved my life,” he said. “The VA got me addicted to opioids. Add a bottle of Jack Daniels to that, I’m lucky to be here.”

Some prior related posts:

January 25, 2017 in Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

A (sexist?) look into challenges facing "pot moms" ... aka women working in the medical marijuana industry

CBS News has this notable (and sexist?) new segment about some women working in the medical marijuana industry.  The piece is given the headlined "'Pot moms' share passions and anxieties about their profession," and here are excerpt from the coverage:

Marijuana is now legal in some form in more than half of all states, and more women are legally getting into the pot industry -- many of them are moms.  At a medical marijuana cultivation center in Washington, CBS News correspondent Chip Reid spoke to a group of so-called “pot moms” who fight the stigma of their job.

“PTSD, depression, insomnia, eczema – is there anything that marijuana does not help with?” Reid asked one mom. “I don’t know yet,” Chanda Macias said, laughing. Macias calls herself a pharmacist. But the medical marijuana she is licensed to distribute, while legal in D.C., is illegal under federal law.

“When you see our patients come in every day and they say that, ‘I can have a quality of life,’ to me, that’s my purpose,” Macias said.  The former cell biologist has a PhD and an MBA. But first and foremost, she’s a mother to four children.

“So your seven-year-old, MJ, has he ever seen this room?” Reid asked. “Oh no, he hasn’t seen this room,” she said....  “It’s okay for people to judge me based upon what I’ve chosen to do, but it’s very hurtful for them to judge my son where he’s innocent in this,” Macias said.  That’s why she needs help.

“What do you call this group by the way, do you just say the group?” Reid asked a group of women in the industry, including Macias.  “Support group,” Macias said.  “Canna-moms,” Shawnta Hopkins-Greene said.  “My buds!” Leah Heise said.

All of these buds participate in this budding industry, and all of them are moms.  “I didn’t have any problem with the sex talk,” said Jennifer Culpepper, a mom of two. “And I think it was ‘cause I had a book to go with.”

The inside jokes these mothers tell here deal with the stigma surrounding their jobs. “I don’t want my kids to have their friends’ parents say, ‘Oh, you’re not allowed to go to their house,’” Culpepper said.

“When I first decided to come into the industry, I had a lot of concerns because I was a licensed attorney. So I had to decide and I chose that I was going to go outside the box, and I was going to risk my license to do this,” said Heise, a mother of two teenage girls.

Only Macias actually dispenses the drug.  The others are involved in other aspects of the industry.  Leah Heise is an attorney and president of a company that recently earned a license to dispense medical marijuana in Maryland.  “Some of the biggest anxieties that we all share, regardless of whether we touch the plant or not, is this concept that our businesses are at risk,” Heise said. “So our incomes are at risk. And that is an issue that comes up with my kids a lot.”

Hopkins-Greene guides medical marijuana patients through the regulatory red tape.  She has a 10-year-old. “For me, the challenge is just every time I answer a question, it leads to more questions with my son. But I have that relationship with him where I will answer it. I try to answer it in an age-appropriate way,” Hopkins-Greene said. “But he can ask me anything and he does.”

Culpepper’s company does brand strategy and graphic design for the marijuana industry. “I do feel like I have a timeline because my nine-year-old has one more year in elementary school and I think that she cannot enter middle school without having this conversation,” Culpepper said.

“As moms, are you all a little nervous about going this public about what you do?” Reid asked. “No, I’m not. I’m wide out there,” Heise said. The other women also shook their heads.

“So all of you with young children are going to let your children watch this story on TV?” Reid asked. “I might screen it first,” Culpepper said, laughing.

When I first saw the headline of this segment, I assumed (wrongly) that the piece was about mothers who work on being able to give forms of cannabis to their kids for medical reasons. But upon realizing the CBS News piece is only about women working in the marijuana industry who have children, the segment struck me as a bit sexist because presumably men with children working in this industry face similar types of issues.

I am fully aware of and interested in hearing more about how the stigma surrounding marijuana impacts the industry and the families of those working in the industry. But I wonder if we undermine commitments to gender equality here and elsewhere when we suggest that there is a unique set of problems for "moms" in the industry rather than just "parents."

That said, I am fully aware of the fact that women and mothers are judged by society in ways that are often quite distinct from how men and fathers are judged. Thus, I want to be clear that I can see the value and virtues of taking a gendered look at the issue of "pot parents." Nevertheless, I would be very eager to hear from readers (especially those in the industry) about whether they this this CBS News segment does more good than harm or more harm than good.

January 25, 2017 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (3)

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)