Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

A Member of the Law Professor Blogs Network

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

"2016 Will Be the Marijuana Election"

The title of this post is the headline of this lengthy Newsweek commentary authored by John Hudak of The Brookings Institute.  Here are excerpts:

In some ways marijuana policy is the perfect issue for a presidential campaign. It has far reaching consequences that both parties have reason to engage. Not to mention, it’s an edgy topic that media just can’t resist....

The Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations have responded to state marijuana policies in a variety of ways—from legal challenges to laissez-faire enforcement—but regardless, marijuana has garnered presidential attention. The issue will only become more pressing as more states decide to loosen their laws through decriminalization, medical expansion or outright legalization. Because marijuana is an issue that no president will be able to ignore, it is an issue no presidential candidate will be able to avoid....

Views diverge among Republicans. Some candidates, like Rand Paul, have come closer to embracing legalization—at least those efforts at the state level—in an effort to connect to younger and libertarian voters. Others have been far more open-minded about medical marijuana, either endorsing such systems or appearing comfortable with a hands off approach. Still others, like Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, have taken a more hardline, war-on-drugs approach to the topic.

This diversity is a magnificent thing for Republicans and Republican voters. Among (prospective) candidates who, at times, seem to be policy clones, marijuana offers voters the ability to distinguish positions. As a result, candidates must have positions on the topic....

Marijuana policy will likely play a noticeable role in the general election, too. The issue has implications for states that truly matter in presidential campaigns. Recreational legalization is a reality in swing states like Colorado. Other marijuana measures may appear on ballots in which presidential candidates frequently look for votes (Florida, Maine) or campaign money (California).

In addition, medical marijuana policy — now the law in many places — means that swing state voters will be interested in what their next president will have to say on the topic. The issue engages a variety of issues that reach beyond marijuana itself, posing serious leadership questions for any prospective chief executive. It involves issues of law and regulatory enforcement, federal research policy, medical and pharmaceutical policy, state-federal relations, criminal justice, privacy, agriculture, commerce, small business policy and banking and financial regulations.

March 24, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 23, 2015

Making the strongest case against marijuana reform in Ohio

17285982-smallDerek Siegle, who is the executive director of the Ohio High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Program, has this new commentary piece which makes the full-throated argument against marijuana reform. I am pleased that this commentary was published just a few days before I am going to have the honor of having Mr. Siegle speak to my marijuana seminar. The opinion piece carries the headline "Ohio should not legalize marijuana unless it wants a lot more addicted young people," and here are excerpts:

As I hear discussions regarding both medical and recreational use of marijuana, I feel compelled to provide some facts regarding this topic. According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, "confusing messages being presented by popular culture, media, proponents of "medical" marijuana, and political campaigns to legalize all marijuana use perpetuate the false notion that marijuana is harmless. This significantly diminishes efforts to keep our young people drug free and hampers the struggle of those recovering from addiction."

There are many myths being perpetrated by those in favor of legalization. The use or possession of marijuana is not impacting the criminal justice system, as most marijuana arrests do not involve incarceration....

Marijuana stays in your system for 72 hours. Because of this long life, levels of Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, continue to build in our systems. This is not the case with other drugs, to include alcohol. THC is stored in our fatty cells. Since our brains are 99 percent fat, the THC causes these cell walls to expand and become very thick, which decreases their ability to transmit and receive data between nerve cells.

The highest density of cannabinoid receptors is found in parts of the brain that influence pleasure, memory, thinking, concentration, sensory and time perception, and coordinated movement. Research demonstrates marijuana has the potential to cause problems in daily life or make a person's existing problems worse. Heavy marijuana users generally report lower life satisfaction, poorer mental and physical health, relationship problems, and less academic and career success compared to their peers....

Potential tax revenue will only cover about 15 percent of the collateral costs to our community: increased drug treatment, emergency room visits, crime, traffic accidents and school "dropouts." Allowing individuals to grow their own will only decrease the tax revenue and increase the availability to others....

Legalization will lead to greater use by our youth. Youth surveys indicate more of our children will try marijuana if it is legal. In states where marijuana is legal, most youths are getting their marijuana from someone who legally obtained it. States with legalized marijuana have seen an increase in youth use. For example, states having the top use among 12- to 17-year-olds are states where medical marijuana is legal. Denver's 8th-grade student marijuana use is 350 percent higher than the national average....

Accidents and fatalities from drugged driving, testing positive for marijuana, will also increase as it has in Colorado.... The increase in murders, robberies, burglaries, number of addicts, number of homeless people, use among our youth, is well documented in Colorado. As the governor of Colorado said, "This is a bad idea."

Because Mr. Siegle is the executive director of a federally funded grant program that provides funding, training and support to drug task forces throughout Ohio, I have requested that he present to my students whatever Ohio-specific data he has about marijuana use/abuse and other drug use/abuse in the Buckeye state.  I would expect, perhaps even hope, that legalization of marijuana in any jurisdiction would lead to an increase in the use of this drug, but there is reason to believe, and certainly hope, that it might also lead to a decrease in the use of other more dangerous (legal and illegal) drugs.

March 23, 2015 in Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (5)

Friday, March 20, 2015

Notable CNBC coverage of cannabis in Canadian and tribal regions

DownloadIt seems that of late I have been getting lots of interesting links to CNBC pieces in my usual review of marijuana headlines.  Here are links to the notable recent CNBC articles and videos on these topics:

Oh, cannabis!

How the pros make legal marijuana

Why pot entrepreneurs are moving to Canada 

Invest in a pot grow house?

Native tribes debate entering legal pot business 

Tribal debate: Should reservations go to pot? 

March 20, 2015 in International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Lots of great new (law student) commentary at Drug Law & Policy

"The Kids Aren't Alright, But Older Adults Are: How Medical Marijuana Market Growth Impacts Adult and Adolescent Substance-Related Outcomes"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new SSRN piece authored by Rosanna Smart  providing an empirical reassessment of some data on the impact of medical marijuana reform on drug use and abuse. Here is the abstract:

Public opinion has grown more favorable to legalizing the sale and use of cannabis; many states now have "medical marijuana" laws (MMLs), and a few have legalized commercial production and sale for non-medical purposes.  Prior research examining the effects of MML adoption has largely found reassuring evidence on the consequences of such policies -- no impact on adolescent cannabis use, and large decreases in crime rates, motor vehicle fatalities, suicides, and prescription opioid overdoses for adults.  However, medical marijuana regimes vary greatly, and simple comparisons of states with such laws to states without them miss that variability.

Reanalysis using a more sensitive measure of MML penetration (per-capita adult medical marijuana registration rates) confirms that growth in medical marijuana market size lowers alcohol and opioid-related poisoning deaths for older adults, and lessens traffic fatalities in accidents involving older drivers.  However, larger medical marijuana markets lead to increased cannabis consumption by adolescents, accompanied by increases in traffic fatalities and alcohol poisoning mortality for this age group.

March 19, 2015 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

"Can medical marijuana curb the heroin epidemic?"

The question in the title of this post is the headline of this new piece by Miriam Boeri appearing in This Week magazine. Here are excepts (with links preserved):

[R]esearch has shown that marijuana, while still criminalized at the federal level, can be effective as a substitute for treating opioid addicts and preventing overdoses.  Massachusetts, which recently legalized medical marijuana — and where heroin overdoses have soared — could be a fertile testing ground for this potentially controversial treatment....

With each state crafting unique medical marijuana regulations, we find ourselves at a crucial turning point in drug policy....  Among drug treatment specialists, marijuana remains controversial.  Although some research has shown marijuana to be an alternative treatment for more serious drug addiction, addiction treatment specialists still view marijuana as highly addictive and dangerous.  These views handicap policy reform, but despite its status as a Schedule 1 drug, recent research shows marijuana could be part of the solution to the most deadly drug epidemic our country has seen in decades.

In 2012 Massachusetts became the 18th state to legalize medical marijuana, though the first 11 dispensaries are not scheduled to open until sometime in the coming year.  This situation presents an opportunity to implement sensible, research-based policy.

Massachusetts, like many states across the US, has seen a dramatic rise in opioid addition fueled by the increase in opiate prescription pills.  In Boston, heroin overdoses increased by 80 percent between 2010 and 2012, and four out of five users were addicted to pain pills before turning to heroin.

Meanwhile, the leading cause of death among the Boston's homeless population has shifted from AIDS complications to drug overdoses, with opiates involved in 81 percent of overdose deaths. This is an alarming finding given recent expansion in clinical services for the city's homeless.

Addiction specialists and health care professionals in Boston have been at the forefront of integrating behavioral and medical care.  Naloxone and methadone are currently the main solutions to address the growing opiate addiction and overdose problem. But Naloxone is an overdose antidote, not a cure or a form of preventative therapy.

Methadone, like heroin and other opioids, has a very narrow therapeutic index (the ratio between the toxic dose and the therapeutic dose of a drug).  This means that a small change in dosage can be lethal to the user.  Marijuana, however, has one of the safest (widest) therapeutic ratios of all drugs.

Research shows that marijuana has been used as a form of self-treatment, where users take cannabis in lieu of alcohol, prescription opiates, and illegal drugs.  That's one reason why researchers are calling for marijuana to be tested as a substitute for other drugs.  In this capacity, marijuana can be thought of as a form of harm reduction. While researchers don't seek to discount some of the drug's potential negative effects, they view it as a less damaging alternative to other, harder drugs.  Despite these findings, marijuana is rarely incorporated in formal drug treatment plans.

A recent study might change this policy.  Comparing states with and without legalized medical marijuana, it found a substantial decrease in opioid (heroin and prescription pill) overdose death rates in states that had enacted medical marijuana laws.  In their conclusions, the researchers suggested that medical marijuana should be part of policy aimed to prevent opioid overdose....

Since Massachusetts has not yet opened its medical marijuana dispensaries, it is too early to see if medical marijuana legislation will help reduce opiate addiction in the Commonwealth.  Using recent research findings, Massachusetts policymakers have a unique opportunity to implement medical marijuana policies that address its contemporary opiate overdose.  Medical marijuana could be part of drug treatment for heroin and opiates....

Formerly demonized and later legislated as a Schedule 1 substance, marijuana could diminish the damage wrought by harder drugs, like heroin.  While opioid use is a nationwide epidemic, Massachusetts — long at the forefront of developing scientifically based public policy — has the opportunity to be at the forefront of cutting-edge, socially-informed drug policy.

March 17, 2015 in Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Will Patrick Kennedy and SAM come out in support of the CARERS Act?

Rotator-kennedy-updAs noted in prior posts here and here, the biggest news this week in the marijuana reform arena has been the introduction of a bipartisan federal medical marijuana reform bill by  Senators Rand Paul, Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand, the CARERS Act.   The preamble to this bill expressly provides that its purposes are to "extend the principle of federalism to State drug policy, provide access to medical marijuana, and enable research into the medicinal properties of marijuana."

Notably, this statement of purposes and the overall structure of the CARERS Act would seem to be in harmony with the stated goals of the leading figure and group opposing significant marijuana reform, namely Patrick Kennedy and Smart Approaches to Marijuana.  Notably, on this page under a picture of Patrick Kennedy, SAM proclaims it is "acting in the best interests of public health and safety." In addition, Kennedy in this recent commentary piece stated that he favors "reforming our drug laws and emphasizing public health" and that we "should indeed reform broken laws that disproportionately harm ethnic and racial minorities and the poor."  

Similarly, this About page on the SAM website states that the organization is comprised of "medical doctors, lawmakers, treatment providers, preventionists, teachers, law enforcement officers and others who seek a middle road between incarceration and legalization [to provide a] commonsense, third-way approach to marijuana policy is based on reputable science and sound principles of public health and safety" (emphasis added).  In addition, this SAM information page about cannabis-based medicines states that SAM advocates for "rapid expansion of research into the components of the marijuana plant for delivery via non-smoked forms" and a special FDA reform that "allows seriously ill patients to obtain non-smoked components of marijuana."

Based on these various stated commitments by Patrick Kennedy and SAM, I certainty think it would be quite consistent with their advocacy or them to support expressly and vocally the CARERS Act. As I read the CARERS Act, it seeks to cautiously reform federal marijuana laws that are obviously "broken" because they fully preclude state lawmakers and administrators, researchers and doctors from being seriously involved and invested in reforms to state marijuana laws "based on reputable science and sound principles of public health and safety."   In addition, something like the CARERS Act is absolutely essential for rapid expansion of medical research in this arena.  Indeed, the powerful press conference introducing the CARERS Act had lawmakers, parents and patients all powerfully explaining why federal medical marijuana reform is essential to ensuring more needed medical research, and in order to fully ensure a serious and enduring commitment in both federal and state laws to marijuana policy "based on reputable science and sound principles of public health and safety."

Notably, there is not yet any mention of the CARERS Act on the SAM website, and I am inclined to guess that Patrick Kennedy and other SAM leaders are working on a formal response.  For the reasons outlined above, I sincerely hope that Patrick Kennedy and other SAM leaders soon become vocal proponents of the CARERS Act.  Historically, a problematic mix of politics and fear, not reputable science and sound principles of public health and safety, has dominated federal federal drug laws.  I hope that SAM will, through support of the CARERS Act, help ensure public that we start turning the corner and head on a sounder scientific and public health path in the months and years to come.

Prior related posts:

March 12, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

NY Times praises "A Sensible Bill on Medical Marijuana"

Because the New York Times editorial board has already called for the full legalization of marijuana, it is no big surprised that today brings this editorial in support of the bipartisan federal CARERS Act introduced yesterday by three senators (basics here). Here are excerpts from the editorial:

The bill makes a number of important changes to federal marijuana policies — and it deserves to be passed by Congress and enacted into law. Though this legislation would not repeal the broad and destructive federal ban on marijuana, it is a big step in the right direction....

The bill, sponsored by Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, both Democrats, and Rand Paul, a Republican of Kentucky, would not legalize medical marijuana in all 50 states. But it would amend federal law to allow states to set their own medical marijuana policies and prevent federal law enforcement agencies from prosecuting patients, doctors and caregivers in those states. Currently 35 states and the District of Columbia permit some form of medical marijuana use. States would remain free to ban medical marijuana if they wished.

Other important provisions would allow banks and credit unions to provide financial services to marijuana­-related businesses that operate in accord with state law and protect them from federal prosecution or investigation. That is a crucial improvement over the current situation where marijuana business that is legal under state law is conducted in cash because financial institutions fear to step in.

The bill would also allow doctors in the Department of Veterans Affairs to prescribe medical marijuana to veterans, which they are currently prohibited from doing. And it would ease the overly strict procedures for obtaining marijuana for medical research and require the Food and Drug Administration to more readily allow the manufacture of marijuana for research....

Polls show a majority of Americans in favor of legalization of medical marijuana. It is long past time for Congress to recognize the need to change course.

The full text of the CARERS Act is available here.

March 11, 2015 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Proposed federal CARERS Act includes rescheduling marijuana under CSA

I am watching the press conference (streamed here) with presentations by Senators Rand Paul, Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand introducing their new federal medical marijuana reform bill, the CARERS Act.  Fascinating stuff.

Senator Booker started by noting veterans' interest in using medical marijuana, Senator Paul spoke of the need for more research and banking problems for state-legal marijuana business, and Senator Gillibrand was the closer by stressing the need for families to have access to high-CBC medicines for children suffering from seizure disorders.

Adding to the power of the press conference is a set of testimonials from a mom eager to have CBC treatments for her daughter (who had a small seizure during the press conference!), and an older woman with MS eager to have access to marijuana to help her sleep.  Senator Paul followed up by introducing a father of one of his staffers with MS, who testified from a wheelchair.   Senator Booker then introduced a 35-year-old veteran who complained about been deemed a criminal for his medical marijuana use by a country he fought for over six years.   Notably, after all the white users/patients advocated for reform, Senator Booker introduced an African-American business owner talking about the problems with having to run a medical marijuana business without access to banking services.

This Drug Policy Alliance press release summarizes what is in the CARERS Act: 

The Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States - CARERS - Act is the first-ever bill in the U.S. Senate to legalize marijuana for medical use and the most comprehensive medical marijuana bill ever introduced in Congress. The CARERS Act will do the following:

  • Allow states to legalize marijuana for medical use without federal interference

  • Permit interstate commerce in cannabidiol (CBD) oils

  • Reschedule marijuana to schedule II

  • Allow banks to provide checking accounts and other financial services to marijuana dispensaries

  • Allow Veterans Administration physicians to recommend medical marijuana to veterans

  • Eliminate barriers to medical marijuana research.

March 10, 2015 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 9, 2015

Bipartisan federal medical marijuana bill to be introduced Tuesday

As reported in this new Washington Post entry, headlined "In a first, senators plan to introduce federal medical marijuana bill," a trio of notable Senators have interesting plans for mid-day Tuesday:

In what advocates describe as an historic first, a trio of senators plan to unveil a federal medical marijuana bill Tuesday. The bill, to be introduced by Senators Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), would end the federal ban on medical marijuana.

The Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States (CARERS) Act would “allow patients, doctors and businesses in states that have already passed medical marijuana laws to participate in those programs without fear of federal prosecution,” according to a joint statement from the senators’ offices. The bill will also “make overdue reforms to ensure patients – including veterans receiving care from VA facilities in states with medical marijuana programs – access the care they need.” The proposal will be unveiled at a 12:30 p.m. press conference on Tuesday, which will be streamed live here. Patients, their families and advocates will join the senators at the press conference.

The announcement was met with praise by advocates. “This is a significant step forward when it comes to reforming marijuana laws at the federal level,” Dan Riffle, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a statement. “It’s long past time to end the federal ban,” said Michael Collins, policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance, said in a statement. Both describe the introduction of the bill as a first for the Senate....

In December, Congress for the first time in roughly a decade of trying approved an amendment that bars the Justice Department from using its funds to prevent states from implementing their medical marijuana laws — a significant victory for proponents of the practice.

Potential Republican presidential candidates Rand, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) have all said they support states’ rights to legalize pot, though they themselves disagree with the policy.

March 9, 2015 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 27, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, February 23, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And all those businesses need workers.

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

Saturday, February 21, 2015

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

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

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

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

Friday, February 20, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some prior related posts:

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

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Medical marijuana advocates flexing political muscle in Florida

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, February 13, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, February 7, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, January 29, 2015

"Medical or Recreational Marijuana and Drugged Driving"

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

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

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

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

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