Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Disappointingly, New York Times editorial board tepidly notes how "Marijuana Lights Up State Ballots"

Detail_of_a_new_york_times_advertisement_1895More than two years ago, as first reported here, this seemingly historic new New York Times editorial called for the legalization of marijuana under the bold headline "Repeal Prohibition, Again." At the time, I had thought this action by the Gray Lady's editorial board would mean that the marijuana reform movement would have a high-profile and powerful media champion and advocate.

Disappointingly (though perhaps not surprisingly), while the NY Times editorial board has been a a high-profile and powerful media voice on a number of other modern criminal justice reform issues, the Times editorial pages has been anything but bold (and has often just been silent) in the last two years on a wide range of notable state and federal marijuana reform issues. In 2016, for example, which has arguably been the most significant year (and after this election will be surely the most consequential year) in the modern history of the reform of state and federal marijuana laws (and which the New York Times has covered extensively as news), the NY Times editorial board until this week had put forward only one single editorial advocating for marijuana reforms.  (In telling contrast, the NY Times editorial board has had at least a dozen editorials advocating against forcefully capital punishment in 2016. )

 I would think that if the editorial board was still truly committed to its advocacy in 2014 that the US should "Repeal Prohibition, Again," that it would be saying a whole lot more on this topic during this critical year.  Against that backdrop, I am disappointed (but I suppose not too surprised) that this new New York Times editorial headlined "Marijuana Lights Up State Ballots" is marked more by reporting than by advocacy. Here are excerpts:

People in nine states, including California, Florida and Massachusetts, will vote Nov. 8 on ballot proposals permitting recreational or medical use of marijuana. These initiatives could give a big push to legalization, prompting the next president and Congress to overhaul the country’s failed drug laws. This is a big moment for what was a fringe movement a few years ago. A Gallup poll released on Wednesday showed 60 percent of Americans support legalizing marijuana, up from 31 percent in 2000 and 12 percent in 1969.

The drive to end prohibition comes after decades in which marijuana laws led to millions of people being arrested and tens of thousands sent to prison, a vast majority of whom never committed any violent crimes. These policies have had a particularly devastating effect on minority communities. Federal and state governments have spent untold billions of dollars on enforcement, money that could have been much better spent on mental health and substance abuse treatment.

So far, Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational use of marijuana, and 25 states permit medical use. A recent Cato Institute study found that the states that have legalized recreational use have so far had no meaningful uptick in the use of marijuana by teenagers, or other negative consequences predicted by opponents. For example, in Colorado, drug-related expulsions and suspensions from schools have gone down in recent years. There has been no spike in drug-related traffic accidents and fatalities in Colorado or Washington.

On Election Day, voters in Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada will consider proposals to allow recreational use. In California, which approved medical use in 1996, polls show that the measure is likely to win. In Massachusetts, a recent poll showed 55 percent of likely voters supporting legalization. In Arkansas, Florida, Montana and North Dakota, residents will vote on medical marijuana. If Florida voters say yes, other Southern states that have been resistant to liberalizing drug laws could reconsider their prohibitions, too.

Passage of these proposals should increase pressure on the federal government to change how it treats marijuana. The Obama administration has chosen not to enforce federal anti-marijuana laws in states like Colorado and Washington. But this bizarre situation can’t last — even as more states legalize the drug, state-licensed marijuana businesses remain criminal operations under federal law. Even if they are not prosecuted by the federal government, this conflict in their legal status creates immense problems....

States are driving the change in marijuana policy because they see the damage created by draconian drug laws on communities, families and state budgets. It’s time the federal government acknowledged these costs and got out of the way of states adopting more rational laws.

When I saw the headline for this editorial --- which, as I suggested before, seems to be mostly a report of reality and fails to do much editorializing --- I at least expected it to mention and link to the New York Times' prior 2014 editorial calling for the US to "Repeal Prohibition, Again." I do not believe that the New York Times has changed its editorial stance on this front, but they seem now almost intent to make sure nobody remembers their bold advocacy two years ago.

Moreover, this "editorial," while seemingly eager to note that "negative consequences predicted by opponents" of reform have not materialized, entirely fails to note or highlights that all of the positive consequences predicted by supporters of marijuana reform have come to pass: huge new tax revenues are being collected, economic development has been considerable, arrest rates have gone down dramatically, and adults have safe and legal access to their preferred medicine or recreational drug. Simply saying at the end here that the federal government should get "out of the way of states adopting more rational laws" (which the Obama Administration has largely done, though Congress could and should do it more formally) is about the weakest tea support for reform I could imagine.

I suppose that when a paper's nickname is the "Gray Lady," I was foolish to expect or hope it would act or advocate like even a young smart conservative advocate (whom polls show support medical marijuana reform 10 to 1 and full marijuana reform 3 to 1). Still, I feel now as though the 2014 editorial headline really should have been "Repeal Prohibition, Again.... but do not expect the Gray Lady to really try to help make that happen anytime soon."

October 20, 2016 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 17, 2016

Highlighting why innovation can (and will?) be the face of the marijuana industry

This new C/Net article, headlined "​Innovation is the budding theme at marijuana summit: Everything from high-tech advancements in edible weed to big-data analysis can be seen at this year's New West Summit in San Francisco," highlights why so many interesting folks find the futue of the marijuana industry so interesting.  Here are excerpts: 

The New West Summit at the Hyatt hotel in downtown San Francisco looked similar to other business conferences held there throughout the year. Men and women in business suits hurried around, people huddled in corners talking shop, and unembellished booths showed off varied graphs and charts.

But every once in a while, conference goers got hit with a strong waft of marijuana. That's because this summit was all about weed. At their booths, companies displayed glass urns filled with buds, cannabis-laced chocolate bars and different kinds of vape pens and bongs. Yet among the firms touting this typical pot paraphernalia, there were other kinds of businesses dealing in marijuana: tech startups.

"This plant has been illegal and underground since the invention of technology," said Steve DeAngelo, founder and CEO of Harborside, one of the world's largest medical cannabis dispensaries. "This conference represents the intersection of Bay Area startup culture and cannabis."...

By 2020, New Frontier forecasts, the industry will be worth $20.5 billion (and some estimates put that figure a lot higher). That type of escalation makes the weed business one of the fasting-growing industries in the US. It's no wonder startups are getting into the game.

A meander around the New West Summit gives a sense of where the business side of the industry is heading. There's Grownetics, for instance, which uses a machine-learning algorithm to help farmers grow bigger buds more sustainably. There's Fleurish Farms, which has invented a contraption that it says captures 99.7 percent of the sun spectrum to let people grow pot plants indoors at a higher efficiency than they could in a greenhouse. "It captures the sunlight from all angles," said Fleurish Farms CEO Jonathan Cachat. "This reduces the environmental imprint of indoor cannabis production."

Even edible marijuana is seeing innovation. Besides gummies, lozenges and chocolates, some companies showed off marijuana-infused dissolvable breath strips, while others had topical sprays with exact dosing per pump. "We're coming to a point where we're starting to see edibles that are lower dosed," said Kristi Knoblich, co-founder of Kiva Confections. "It's that person that's looking for a glass of wine in the evening, that person that isn't looking to get blasted."

As the weed industry becomes more professionalized, it's caught the eye of more investors. In 2015, investors dropped $360 million into marijuana-focused startups, and so far this year they've invested $137 million, according to PitchBook, a research firm specializing in venture capital. That's a lot compared with just four years ago; in 2012 investors put only $7 million toward funding weed companies.

UPDATE:  This new Business Insider article also speaks to emerging realities in a growing legal marijuana industry, and it includes these interesting points:

The marijuana industry is growing up in front of our eyes. As drug transactions move from back alleys and clubs to legal dispensaries, the culture around pot changes. In an effort to be taken more seriously, industry insiders find more sophisticated language to describe their trade. Slang no longer has a place in the industry vernacular. Entrepreneurs tell me they much prefer the scientific name for the plant, cannabis.

In the exhibit hall, purveyors showed their wares: high-tech vaporizers from companies like Firefly and Pax Labs, a marijuana-infused health products line from Fleurish Farms, and reports from business intelligence platform Headset. I spotted few companies with names that reveal the industry they operate in, and plenty advertising health and wellbeing.

A recent investigation by the Marijuana Business Daily underlines this trend. In an analysis of over 3,000 state-licensed marijuana companies, the publication found that companies use wellness-oriented words, such as "organic" and "herbal," in their names far more often than slang. The Marijuana Business Daily did not include businesses in California and Michigan, which do not issue licenses at the state level. "Farm," "green," "leaf," "bud," "garden," and "organic" are among the most popular words used in company names.

As Marijuana Business Daily writer Eli McVey points out, this hasn't always been the case. In the mid-2000s, before Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize recreational weed in 2012, words like "ganja" and "dank" popped up more frequently. But as the national conversation around marijuana turned to issues around public health, rather than criminalization, the industry adopted a new vernacular around wellness and healing people.

October 17, 2016 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, October 16, 2016

"The Hazy Rollout of Ohio’s Medical Marijuana Control Program"

LogoThe title of this post is the title of this astute and useful review of early medicial marijuana regulatory developments in the great state of Ohio authored by two attorneys in the Benesch law firm’s Health Care & Life Sciences Practice Group.  Here is how this "client bulletin" gets started:

When Ohio House Bill 523 (HB 523) became effective on September 8, 2016, Ohio joined the company of 25 other states, the District of Columbia, and several U.S. territories that have legalized cannabis for medicinal purposes. Modeled after highly restrictive regimes adopted by state legislatures in Illinois, Maryland, and New York, the Medical Marijuana Control Program (MMCP) envisioned by HB 523 has the potential to be one of the most complex and heavily regulated medical cannabis programs in the country. HB 523 relies on a tightly controlled ‘Schedule II’ pharmaceuticalstyle regulatory framework, but the Ohio legislature left some room for flexibility in the MMCP by punting to the rulemaking process several of the toughest issues it faced, such as determining the number of licenses available under the MMCP, the cost of licenses, the geographical distribution of medical cannabis businesses, and the hurdles doctors will face in order to recommend medical cannabis to patients with qualifying medical conditions.

The ultimate functionality of the MMCP – both in terms of the opportunity for seriously ill patients to access medicine, and the opportunity for market participants to create a sustainable program to serve those patients – will be determined by the extensive rulemaking and licensure process to be carried out by the Department of Commerce, the state Pharmacy Board, and the state Medical Board over the next two years. Several early indicators, however, have begun to cast doubt on the program’s viability as written. This article recaps several recent developments in the MMCP and addresses specifically the Medical Board’s recent guidance on the “affirmative defense” provision of HB 523, the only part of the law that is currently operational.

October 16, 2016 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 13, 2016

New Pew polling shows record high public support for recreational marijuana legalization

FT_16.10.11_marijuanaLegal_trendThe Pew Research Center has this new posting headlined "Support for marijuana legalization continues to rise," reporting on the results of its latest polling. Here are the particulars:

The share of Americans who favor legalizing the use of marijuana continues to increase. Today, 57% of U.S. adults say the use of marijuana should be made legal, while 37% say it should be illegal. A decade ago, opinion on legalizing marijuana was nearly the reverse – just 32% favored legalization, while 60% were opposed.

The shift in public opinion on the legalization of marijuana has occurred during a time when many U.S. states are relaxing their restrictions on the drug or legalizing it altogether. In June, Ohio became the 25th state (plus Washington, D.C., Guam and Puerto Rico) to legalize marijuana in some form after Gov. John Kasich signed a medical marijuana program into law. This November, Americans in nine states will vote on measures to establish or expand legal marijuana use.

Young adults have disproportionately driven the shift toward public support of the drug, though support is rising among other generations as well. Millennials – those ages 18 to 35 in 2016 – are more than twice as likely to support legalization of marijuana as they were in 2006 (71% today, up from 34% in 2006), and are significantly more likely to support legalization than other generations.

Support for marijuana legalization has also increased among members of Generation X and Baby Boomers (ages 36-51 and 52-70 in 2016, respectively). More than half of Gen Xers (57%) support legalization, a considerable jump from just 21% in 1990. A majority of Boomers (56%) also support legalization, up from just 17% in 1990.

The Pew Research Center survey, conducted Aug. 23-Sept. 2 among 1,201 U.S. adults, also finds persistent partisan and ideological divides in public opinion on marijuana legalization. By more than two-to-one, Democrats favor legalizing marijuana over having it be illegal (66% vs. 30%). Most Republicans (55%) oppose marijuana legalization, while 41% favor it.

Republicans are internally divided over marijuana legalization. By a wide margin (63% to 35%), moderate and liberal Republicans favor legalizing the use of marijuana. By contrast, 62% of conservative Republicans oppose legalizing marijuana use, while just 33% favor it. The differences among Democrats are more modest. Liberal Democrats are 23 percentage points more likely than conservative and moderate Democrats to favor legalization (78% vs. 55%).

As past Pew Research Center surveys have found, Hispanics are less supportive of legalizing marijuana than are whites or blacks. Hispanics are divided – 49% say the use of marijuana should be illegal, while 46% say it should be legal. Identical majorities of whites and blacks (59% each) favor marijuana legalization.

I do not find the age-based and party-based polling particulars to be at all surprising, but I do find it quite notable and interesting that this poll suggests Latinos are slightly more likely to oppose than support marijuana legalization. I suspect that this finding could and would be even more interesting and telling if the Latino responses were broken down further by age, as I suspect older Latinos might continue to recall and fear the anti-Mexican/Latino biases that were integral to a whole lot of anti-marijuana policies and rhetoric until very recently.

The interesting Pew Center finding about Latino views on marijuana legalization also provides still further reasons to pay particular attention this election cycle to the marijuana reform ballot initiatives in states like Arizona and California and Florida. In addition to wondering whether exit polling in those states might confirm the likelihood of large blocks of Latino voters ending up on the "no" side of reforms, the traditionally different Latino origins that distinguish Latino population in different states might reveal still further deep insights into whether there are actually an array of distinct policy views on these issues among distinct groups of Latinos.

October 13, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Political perspective on reforms, Polling data and results, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Effective snapshot of marijuana reform debate and polling four weeks before (game-changing?) 2016 election

The Atlantic has this effective new piece that provide an astute "at this moment" perspective on marijuana reform developments and the coming election sure to impact them.  The piece is headlined "Marijuana's Moment: As many as five states could approve its recreational use this November, potentially signaling a point of no return for legalized pot," and it merits a full read.  Here are excerpts:

Recreational marijuana users can now legally light up a joint in states representing about 5 percent of the U.S. population. By the time Americans wake up on November 9, that percentage could be swelling to more than one-quarter.  Measures to legalize and regulate the sale of cannabis are on the ballot in California, Arizona, Massachusetts, Maine, and Nevada, and recent polls show the “yes” vote is winning in all five states. Approval would mark the biggest advance yet for advocates in the decades-long fight over legalizing marijuana—one that they believe could ultimately force the federal government to end its prohibition of the drug.

“On November 8, you can safely say we’ve reached the tipping point if these go our way,” said Tom Angell, founder of the group Marijuana Majority.  The most important battleground is California, where advocates expect voters to approve personal use of pot six years after they defeated a similar measure.  Support for Proposition 64 is polling at nearly 60 percent, and the measure has drawn support from leading politicians and newspapers that opposed it in 2010, including Democratic Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom.  The leading candidate for California’s open Senate seat, Kamala Harris, predicted Wednesday that voters would approve the law, although as the state’s attorney general she can’t formally take a position....

Beyond California, slimmer majorities of voters are backing full legalization in Massachusetts, Arizona, and Maine.  In Nevada, polls have been mixed, with one in September showing strong support for passage and a more recent survey suggesting voters are split.....

Legalization advocates are trying to replicate their successes from 2012 and 2014, when voters sanctioned recreational marijuana use in Colorado, Alaska, Oregon, Washington state, and Washington D.C.  But they are facing a better-organized opposition this year led by the group Smart Approaches to Marijuana, which has argued that the proposed laws are creating another “Big Tobacco,” but for marijuana.  They say these laws are industry-backed initiatives that allow companies to market pot to children just like cigarette companies did for decades.  “This is not about marijuana,” said Kevin Sabet, the president of SAM.  He travels around the country warning that ballot measures legalizing marijuana are dangerously lax and written by an industry that wants to hook kids on pot lollipops and other “cannabis candy.”

“This is about a small amount of people making a lot of money,” he said.  “This is not about personal liberty.”  That’s especially true, Sabet argued, in California, where medical marijuana is famously easy to obtain and where recreational use hasn’t been considered a felony for 40 years.  The drive to legalize, then, is all about business.

Sabet also disputes the idea that November will be a tipping point for marijuana legalization if the ballot measures in California and elsewhere prevail.  “This is a very long game,” he said.  “This is not going to be determined once and for all either this November or in November of 2018.”  Sabet said there is already a backlash building in local communities in states that have legalized pot, spurred by rising rates of marijuana use and a spike in traffic fatalities linked to stoned drivers.

Sabet was speaking to me from an airport after leading seven rallies over two days against the California ballot measure. “California is much closer than we’re hearing about,” he argued.  “It’s a coin flip in all of the states right now.”  As Sabet sees it, the burden is lower for opponents of a ballot initiative like marijuana legalization to convince voters to go their way.  “With ‘no,’ you just have to put a little bit of doubt in people’s minds, and they are movable,” he told me.  “The more we get our message across, the more people change their minds from ‘yes’ to ‘no.’”

That’s a dynamic that worries Angell, a 15-year veteran of the legalization fight.  He launched the Marijuana Majority in 2012 as a way of broadcasting the breadth of public support for the movement....   Though Marijuana Majority touts polls showing that 88 percent of voters nationwide support medical marijuana and 58 percent back full legalization, Angell is not as confident as [others] about a broad victory in November.   Support for ballot measures typically drops in the run-up to an election, he notes.  And while supporters of legal pot are outspending opponents, he worries about the movement’s version of an “October surprise” — a rumored move by the casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson to pour millions into last-minute ads against ballot measures in Nevada and Florida.  “I am very concerned about where we are in a number of these states right now,” Angell said. “It’s a little too close for comfort.”

In addition to the full legalization measures, voters in four other states — Florida, Montana, North Dakota, and Arkansas — are considering laws approving medical marijuana.  Supporters are confident about their chances in Florida but are less certain in Montana and North Dakota, where there has been little polling on the issue. They are most concerned about Arkansas because there are two medical-marijuana measures on the ballot — one supported by the legalization movement and another that is considerably narrower and more restrictive. “There’s a concern that voters will simply vote their favorite medical-marijuana measure and split the vote,” Angell said....

Another worry, Angell said, is complacency and overconfidence among marijuana advocates.  Contrary to Sabet’s claims, he complained that the marijuana industry was not contributing enough to the legalization drive — and indeed, the medical-marijuana community in California is reportedly divided over the ballot measure in part because small growers view it as a boon to big business, according to the Los Angeles Times.  The California Growers Association, for example, decided to stay neutral on the proposal. “There’s almost this sense that marijuana will legalize itself, that we’ve already won,” Angell said. If victories this year could put legalization on a nationwide path, losses would be a momentum killer. “A lot,” he admitted, “is riding on this.”

October 11, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Political perspective on reforms, Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 7, 2016

"Questions For The Candidates On Marijuana Reform"

10062016 promoThe title of this post is the headline of this timely new Huffington Post piece authored by Chris Weigant. Here is how it starts and ends:

There is a major political debate currently happening in many parts of this country, but the astonishing thing is that most politicians — especially those on the national stage — seem to want to pretend the debate doesn’t even exist.  We saw this previously on the issue of gay marriage, when even the Democratic candidates for president in 2008 wouldn’t support the idea for fear of losing votes — even though it was obviously the right thing to do.  Both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton would only support half-measures whose time had already passed, saying they were in favor of “civil unions,” but that “marriage” was too sacred a word to use for these unions.  That was only eight years ago, and the political shift since then has been monumental.  These days, it would be hard for any Democrat to get elected who didn’t wholeheartedly support marriage equality for all.  The people led, and the leaders eventually followed.

The next issue where this is already happening is marijuana legal reform.  The arc of history is clear, and it is bending in one obvious direction. But politicians from Hillary Clinton on down refuse to show more than lukewarm support for half-measures which are already outdated.  This is nothing short of political cowardice.  Hillary Clinton is a special case, because her husband was the first United States president to admit smoking marijuana, although even this admission was hedged in lawyerly fudging (“I didn’t inhale”).  But that was almost 25 years ago, and in the meantime public opinion has shifted dramatically.

On Hillary Clinton’s campaign website there are only a few desultory mentions of marijuana legal reform. Clinton, to her credit, says she is for letting the states be laboratories of democracy (without specifying what exactly this means), and for rescheduling marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II.  The only time she’s been asked about marijuana, at a primary debate, she responded that she was willing to let further studies of medical marijuana happen.  This is simply not enough, though.  Further studies? Half of the United States have already legalized medical marijuana. Half. It’s not an issue that’s even really up for debate anymore — politically akin to civil unions in 2008, in fact.  And yet Clinton can’t even come out in full support of medicinal marijuana — she’s content to just “further study” the issue for now.  This is not leadership, folks.

This November, citizens of at least five states will be voting on legalizing recreational use of marijuana by adults, and the polls now indicate that all five ballot measures may win. Four states and Washington D.C. have already legalized recreational use, meaning we could have a total of nine states next year where marijuana is fully legal for anyone of age to consume without fear of being arrested or having their lives ruined by the Draconian drug laws which have outlawed marijuana for the past century. These states are in open rebellion against federal law on the matter, it bears pointing out....

For almost the entire election season, all the presidential candidates have (for the most part) not even been asked by journalists where they stand on one of the fastest-moving political issues this year.  That is a failure by both the media and by the cowardly politicians afraid of losing some votes by taking a clear stand.  The transition from the War On Weed to a sane approach towards regulating marijuana is going to happen eventually, but the next president will have an enormous influence on how smooth (or bumpy) this transition will be — and how fast it will happen.  This is precisely why they need to be specifically asked about it now.

This Sunday night will be the only presidential debate where normal people will get the chance to pose questions to the two remaining candidates . I am hoping at least one voter will ask for clear details on what the candidates would do as president on federal marijuana legal reform.  And I don’t mean just a generic, gauzy question on medicinal marijuana, either.  If I were sitting in that audience, here are the questions I would ask:

“Given that, after November’s election, nine states may have legalized recreational adult usage of marijuana, would you recognize this new reality by not just rescheduling marijuana — which would still leave recreational use federally illegal — but by descheduling it altogether and handing off all federal marijuana regulation to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, where it really belongs? Furthermore, would you support changing the tax code and federal banking regulations so that state-legal marijuana businesses can freely operate without fear of being federally prosecuted as major drug traffickers?”

October 7, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Latest polling suggests Florida voters will approve medical marijuana constitutional amendment by needed super-majority this November

Footerlogo.fw_This local article from Florida, headlined "Poll: 73% of voters support medical marijuana ballot initiative," suggests that a needed super-majority of voters in the largest and most important state considering a medical marijuana initiative are supportive of reform.  Here are the basics (with links from the original): 

The 2016 medical marijuana ballot initiative has strong support among Floridians, according to a new poll.   A new poll from the Florida Chamber Political Institute found 73 percent of voters would support the amendment. The survey found 22 percent were opposed to the ballot initiative....

The 2016 proposal allows people with debilitating medical conditions, as determined by a licensed Florida physician, to use medical marijuana. The amendment defines a debilitating condition as cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, and post-traumatic stress disorder, among other things.

A similar amendment received 58 percent of the vote in 2014, just shy of the 60 percent needed to become law.

The new Florida Chamber Political Institute survey is in line with other recent polls, which showed 70 percent of Floridians supported the amendment.

Though many folks understandably and justifiably are looking at full legalization initiatives in California and a handful of others states in 2016 as the "big" marijuana reform story to watch this election cycle, I continue to think the likely impact of Floridians strongly supporting medical marijuana reform come November could be profound.

Florida is, for various reasons both political and practical, the most significant (not to mention the most populous) state in the southeast region. If Florida voters approve medical marijuana by a huge margin, Florida's elected officials at both the state and federal levels will likely be joining the ever-growing bandwagon of prominent politicians with a vested local interest in at least easing the tensions between state-level marijuana reforms and federal prohibition.

September 27, 2016 in Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Polling data and results, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, September 26, 2016

"Obama’s Opioid Offensive Again Ignores the Cannabis Solution"

The title of this post is the headline of this recent commentary authored by Don Fitch over at Marijuana Politics.  Here are excerpts (with links and emphasis from the original):

Startled by high numbers of American deaths from opioids, the Obama administration’s Attorney General Loretta Lynch has again declared an offensive. Her plan of action: alert the 94 federal prosecutors to gear up for more of the same war on drugs.  This time, physicians who oversubscribe opioids (in the DEA’s suspicions at least), are prime targets. Yet again, no thought was given to harnessing  medical cannabis as a far safer alternative.

The epidemic of opioid addiction and death should be resetting the war on drugs. The statistics are harsh: from the year 2000 to the present, opioids deaths have quadrupled, to over 28,000 per year. Deaths (usually suffocation) from opioids now outnumber automobile fatalities.  Americans opioid users are so numerous, they now have their own new pharmaceutical drug for counteracting an opioid side effect.  Read about it in, at “Opioid-Induced Constipation”: Big Pharma More Interested in Treating Your Bowel Movements Than Saving Your Life.

 Regarding the drug war in general, the supremely ludicrous truth is that now drug overdose deaths are at an all-time high. Is this an acceptable outcome for a 45 year, trillion-dollar war on drugs? For this colossal failure, the DEA should be bum-rushed out the door.  Instead, we are now essentially offered more of the same war on drugs by an oblivious Department of Justice and Obama administration.

Especially in the context of the opioid crisis, marijuana is a medicine that is saving lives. Cannabis can help prevent, weaken, and even end opioid addictions. Cannabis-based solutions to the opioid problem are becoming more and more obvious to everyone except the drug warriors.  Increasingly, headlines shout the connection:

With this avalanche of insight that medical cannabis is a viable solution to opioid addiction and death, it is puzzling that Obama’s initiatives have ignored this resource.  But yet again the president gives the Justice Department the lead role in intervening in what is basically a public health problem.  Joining the prosecutors were representatives of addiction recovery services, a group notoriously dishonest about cannabis.

Nowhere to be seen nor heard were advocates of medical cannabis as preventatives and far safer pain relief alternatives to addictive and death-inducing opioids.  Apparently, the administration finds it politically incorrect to even consider medical marijuana as a solution for anything....

The Obama administration’s strict politically correct anti-marijuana line is blatantly anti-science and wounding to public health. And it is no longer even politically correct.  A majority of Americans now believe marijuana should be legal for all adults; an overwhelming majority feel cannabis should legal medically.  The Obama administration, most of the Congress, and self-serving bureaucracies such as the DEA are decades behind the American public.  Their obsolete and dishonest approach will lead to more American lives lost to opioid addiction and death.


September 26, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Political perspective on reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 23, 2016

Are all opponents of marijuana reform ultimately suspicious and critical of capitalism and free markets?

The question in the title of this post came to my mind as I started heading this morning the great book I first flagged here at my sentencing blog: Harvard historian Lisa McGirr's The War on Alcohol: Prohibition and the Rise of the American State.  The start of the book highlights how many early alcohol Prohibitionist were much more troubled by and focused on the "liquor trade" and "liquor trafficking" rather than just individuals drinking.  

I see, of course, a huge parallel in this sense to the leading modern anti-marijuana-reform group, Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), which repeatedly claims that its advocacy is not driven by support for blanket marijuana prohibition enforced by criminal sanctions, but rather is just concerned about the creation of a legal "Big Marijuana" industry.  As SAM explains here at its website

People often ask us what our biggest fear of legalization is.  The answer is simple: Big Pot....

The tobacco and alcohol industries follow similar patterns while hawking their legal, addictive substances. And we know how that story ends: money-hungry industries, targeting the vulnerable, will stop at nothing to increase addiction and profit. Why on earth would we want to repeat that debacle with cannabis?

I bring this up because I have long said and long believed that my affinity for and support of marijuana reform is part of a "conservative" commitment not only to personal liberty but also to capitalism and free markets. Though I fully understand and respect concerns about the long-term political and practical impact of "Big Marijuana" (and/or Big Pharma and/or Big Oil and/or Big Google), I still firmly believe the long-term political and practical impact of Big Government is and should be more worrisome at least to those who are fans of capitalism and free markets.  Ergo, I think it is fair to at least suggest that all opponents of marijuana reform (and even a good number of marijuana reform supporters) are likely fundamentally suspicious and critical of capitalism and free markets.

September 23, 2016 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 (0)

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Appreciating the northeastern midwest's magical medical marijuana research opportunities

Corporate_mapAs marijuana reform advocates (and perhaps regular readers) know, 2016 has been something of a banner year for medical marijuana reform in key part of the northern midwest.  Specifically,

--- in April, Pennsylvania's Democratic Governor signed into law the Keystone State's new medical marijuana law (basics here);

--- in June, Ohio's Republican Governor signed into law the Buckeye State's new medical marijuana law (basics here); and

--- in September, as reported here, Michigan's Republican Governor signed into law new medical marijuana regulations.

As a number of folks know, these three states are always interesting to watch and study politically and practically on an array of issues for an array of reasons.  Pennsylvania is at once an urban east-coast state around Philadelphia, an urban midwest state around Pittsburgh, and a rural state in between.  Ohio is the ultimate bellwether state with urban, suburban and rural, northern and southern regions and populations that closely mirror many national realities.  And Michigan likewise has a diverse array of distinctive regions (and, in this context, has a considerable history of a legal but largely unregulated medical marijuana industry).

I could go on and on about why each of these states with their own distinctive (and still developing) medical marijuana laws justify close study individually.  But my point in this post is to highlight the unique and uniquiely important research opportunity presented by the fact that all three of these (connected) states have new and detailed medical marijuana regulations coming on line at roughly the same time.  In particular, I am hopeful that some of the independent research entities following marijuana reform developments closely (e.g., the Brookings Institution and the Rand Corporation) will give particular attention in the months and years ahead to these particular democratic laboratories.

September 22, 2016 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)

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

"If Brangelina broke up over marijuana, what could it mean for their divorce?"

I genuinely try to avoid covering what might be thought of as fluff stories about marijuana.  But this new Guardian story, which has the headline I am using as the title of this post, was just way too juicy to resist.  Plus, the story actually effectively covers some not-so-fluffy legal realities about various connections between marijuana reform and family law.  Here are excerpts:

The stoner dude who refuses to put down the pipe and pick up the Pampers is an archetype that Judd Apatow has made an entire career out of mining. Internet forums and advice columns teem with queries from spouses who feel widowed by their partner’s relationship with weed. So the announcement that Angelina Jolie has filed for divorce from Brad Pitt – and a report by TMZ that Jolie was “fed up” with Pitt’s marijuana and alcohol use – has set off a bevy of speculation that Pitt never fully left behind his 1993 role as a stoner room-mate in True Romance.

Pitt has spoken openly about using marijuana recreationally in the 1990s, telling the Hollywood Reporter: “I was smoking way too much dope; I was sitting on the couch and just turning into a doughnut; and I really got irritated with myself.” But in a 2009 interview with Bill Maher, Pitt said that he had given up marijuana: “I’m a dad now. You want to be alert.”

Allegations of marijuana abuse have no direct bearing on a divorce filing, according to attorney Daniel Beck, who specializes in California medical marijuana law. That’s because California law allows for “no-fault” divorces, meaning a spouse does not have to sue his or her partner for any specific grievance, such as adultery or abandonment. “What I take away from this so-called allegation has more to do with public relations than it does anything else,” Beck added.

However, marijuana use can be a factor in custody decisions, and Jolie is reportedly seeking physical custody of the couple’s six children. “Marijuana, like any other substance, can be abused,” Beck said. “The question is, what is the effect on the children? Even if someone has a medicinal [marijuana] card, if they imbibe with the children in the room, that could be looked at as something that is not in the children’s best interest.”...

Though the legal and social stigma of marijuana use is declining, studies have shown that it can have a negative impact on marriage.  Researchers Kazuo Yamaguchi and Denise B Kandel have found that marijuana use tends to decrease once individuals get married, and that smoking pot while married “greatly increases the rate of becoming divorced”. Anecdotally, a mismatch in marijuana use is often cited as a reason for conflict in relationships....

Diana Richmond, a family law attorney with 40 years of experience in California, said that substance abuse was a very common reason for divorce but that marijuana was rarely the sole cause.  Much more frequently cited are “alcohol, various prescription drugs, and cocaine”, she said, with occasional instances where “marijuana is used in conjunction with other things”.

Since the legalization of medical marijuana in California, however, the drug has become a frequent topic in custody battles, said Monica Mazzei Potter, a family law attorney with Sideman & Bancroft in San Francisco.  But, she added, marijuana – whether used medicinally or recreationally – is treated more like alcohol by family law judges than like other drugs, such as cocaine. “I don’t think it’s seen in the same category for family law judges,” she said. “Even if [parents] don’t have a license for it, I’m not seeing it as an impediment for custody issues.”  Parents who use marijuana might lose custody of their children if the case involves abuse and neglect, she said, but added: “I’ve never seen a case where there’s a parent using marijuana responsibly, there’s no abuse or neglect, and a parent has lost custody.”

September 21, 2016 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

"Legal Cannabis in the US: Not Whether But How?"

The title of this post is the title of this notable and timely new paper authored by Sam Kamin. Here is the abstract:

The 2016 election promises to be a turning point in the history of marijuana regulation in this country.  Although the federal prohibition on all marijuana conduct remains in place, twenty-five states plus the District of Columbia currently authorize the medical use of marijuana and four states plus D.C. have legalized marijuana use by all adults.  Many more states are expected to vote on marijuana law reform this fall and these numbers are almost certain to grow; the end of federal marijuana prohibition may soon be close at hand.

But it is important to remember that federal drug policy – like the state-level drug reform that has preceded it – is not an all-or-nothing choice.  Federal lawmakers will not choose between the current system under which marijuana is prohibited in all circumstances and for all purposes and a world in which there are no limits placed on how marijuana is produced, distributed, and consumed.  

My goal in this essay is to describe the current, tenuous status of marijuana under state and federal law and then to investigate the various alternatives to prohibition available to federal lawmakers seeking to reform the nation’s marijuana laws.  I situate these alternatives on a continuum between the current federal prohibition and a relatively free market model similar to that in place in a state like Colorado.  Each of these models will have pluses and minuses and it is important that lawmakers firmly establish their goals in moving away from the prohibition of marijuana; winners and losers will be chosen in this area far sooner than many realize.

September 14, 2016 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)

Sunday, September 11, 2016

"The NFL Should Let Players Use Marijuana"

The title of this post is the headline of this new Reason article/video, which seems like a fitting topic to highlight on this first big weekend of professional football games. Here is some of the set-up to the five-minute video I have enbedded below:

"I was sitting in the training room one day and I just watched player after player come in to take a Toradol shot just to practice," says former NFL player Ricky Williams. "I realized if we have to take all this medication, all these pharmaceuticals, just to practice it can't be good for our bodies in the long run. And that's when I started to look at my health seriously and look for alternatives."

Williams, the Heisman-winning running back who set multiple rushing records for the Miami Dolphins, was suspended by the NFL and then retired under a cloud of shame in 2003 for testing positive for marijuana. Dolphins fans, the media, and the league all turned on Williams, labeling him an underachiever with a drug problem. Williams ultimately returned in 2005 and played several more seasons in the NFL, but the stigma never went away.

But what if the league and the public were wrong to judge Ricky Williams? What if he was just ahead of his time?

Some researchers are now finding evidence that cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) have two major benefits for athletes: 1) they act as a non-addictive pain reliever and 2) they can protect the brain from injury. These healing properties could be beneficial in a league where opioid addiction and concussions have become significant health concerns.

Williams is now part of a group of former NFL players who are lobbying the league to reconsider its position on marijuana. The former NFL star was one of several athletes in attendance at the 420 Games in Santa Monica, CA this Spring representing the Gridiron Cannabis Coalition, a group dedicated to the advancement of medical marijuana.

Cannabis is a banned substance under the NFL's player agreement and commissioner Roger Goodell has made clear that he will not change league policy to allow medicinal marijuana until research proves it is a legitimate drug. But marijuana is classified as an illegal substance at the federal level, which makes getting grants and approval for research a long and arduous process. So former players are putting up their own money to get around the government's tight regulations and fund their own studies.

"Cannabis has been in the closet. It's been suppressed. It's coming out," says Constance Finley, founder of the cannabis extract firm Constance Therapeutics. Finley is working with the Gridiron Cannabis Coalition to produce the evidence players need to change NFL policy.

"The owners have to see responsible, smart people who are completely mainstream to have their experiences reflected, have their minds opened," says Finley. "I think that we could move past the impasse with the level of research that we're talking about doing. It will be irrefutable."

Players like Ricky Williams are hoping their participation in these studies can lead to change and help future athletes stay healthy long after their playing days are over. "Hopefully as public opinion starts to change the leagues will soften their stance," says Williams. "Especially the NFL. They could really be ahead of the charge as far as getting this medicine to people who really need it."

September 11, 2016 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Sports, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 8, 2016

American Legion urges federal government to reschedule marijuana

AmerLegion_color_EmblemAs this Washington Post piece highlights, the "American Legion, a group representing 2.4 million U.S. military veterans, has called on Congress to remove marijuana from Schedule 1 of the federal Controlled Substances Act and 'reclassify it in a category that, at a minimum will recognize cannabis as a drug with potential medical value'." Here is more (with links from the original):

In a resolution passed at the Legion's annual convention last week, the organization said it hopes that better research into marijuana and an official acknowledgment of its potential medical benefits will hasten the development of new treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries, ailments that have plagued veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Legion's resolution, published online by, noted that the federal Drug Enforcement Administration recently approved the country's first randomized, controlled trial using whole-plant, smoked marijuana to treat PTSD symptoms. That study will be conducted by Sue Sisley, an Arizona researcher who tried for nearly a decade to get a green light for the research but struggled to find an academic institution to sponsor it. The University of Colorado ultimately agreed to fund the research.

Medical marijuana is extremely popular with voters: A June Quinnipiac University poll found that 89 percent supported the use of marijuana with a doctor's recommendation. A separate survey by the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America found that 68 percent of responding members supported legalizing medical marijuana in their state, and 75 percent said that the Department of Veterans Affairs should allow medical marijuana as a treatment option.


September 8, 2016 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

"Marijuana legalization is having an incredible impact on illegal marijuana use"

The title of this post is the headline of this interesting new Business Insider article, which includes these excerpts:

With legal allowances for both medical and recreational use on the rise all over the US, the favored illegal drug of Americans has never looked more professional. That's because the business of legal marijuana has never been better. We're talking about a $7 billion market, according to ArcView Market Research (a firm that tracks the legal cannabis trade).

The world of dimebags is long gone, replaced with complex breakdowns of Indica vs Sativa percentages on packaging, flavor profiles, and high-end edibles.  The market for legal weed in the US outpaces Girl Scout Cookies....

than ever, buying cannabis in the US is more akin to buying craft beer or charcuterie.  This is to be expected in places like Colorado and Washington, where marijuana is outright legal.  [And] another effect of the ongoing march toward national legalization: marijuana is growing up.  It looks less like a drug transaction and more like a product purchase. It looks normal.

The ripple effect of this maturation — the move away from baggies on street corners to artfully labeled products on store shelves — is creeping into places where legality is dubious at best.... New York City's recreational marijuana dealers are getting more and more professional in their wares. Some offer edible candy, or tinctures of CBD (a non-psychoactive derivative of marijuana used medically), or high-potency THC wax.

Many are already brands unto themselves, professional packaging and all. We spoke with dealers from several services that all function as retail outlets without physical locations (delivery only); all asked not to be named....

The benefit for NYC's cannabis consumers is clear: more transparency into what they're buying and consuming, to say nothing of consumer choice. People we spoke with from the service say it's a measure of consumer demand as much as it is a measure of availability.

Customers visit places where marijuana is either partially or entirely legal, like California or Oregon, and have their eyes opened to [new] stuff ... And dealers in NYC are increasingly stepping up to that demand, which leads to the bizarre juxtaposition of illegality alongside professional branding we have here.

September 7, 2016 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 29, 2016

"Democrats Hope Marijuana Will Help Elect Hillary Clinton. But experts say it might be a pipe dream."

2016_marijuana_legalization_efforts_countrywide_potlocatorThe title of this post is the headline of this notable new Mother Jones article.  Here are excerpts:

With Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton both viewed unfavorably by the majority of Americans, Democrats are hoping that if the top of the ballot doesn't excite voters this November, maybe the bottom will.  Marijuana liberalization and minimum-wage hikes will get a vote in a handful of swing states for the presidential candidates.  But there's reason to think these issues might not galvanize voters the way they once did.

In previous presidential elections, down-ballot races have helped turn out voters in key states. In 2004, proposed same-sex marriage bans helped President George W. Bush secure reelection.  President Barack Obama appears to have gotten a boost in Colorado in 2012 as residents there voted to legalize marijuana.

Marijuana is on the ballot in nine states this year — five voting on legalization and four voting on medical marijuana — and Democrats hope the measures will be a draw for liberal voters.  The conventional wisdom, says Josh Altic of the nonpartisan political reference site Ballotpedia, is that marijuana measures attract a lot of young voters who support legalization but wouldn't otherwise vote, and that these voters overwhelmingly support Democrats.

In 2012, exit polls in Colorado showed the state defied the typical gender gap, with men more likely than women to vote for Obama.  Pollster Ann Selzer of the Iowa-based firm Selzer & Co. speculates that the legalization vote drew more young men to the polls and helps explain this unusual gender breakdown.  Floridians voted in 2014 on a medical marijuana measure that failed but attracted more than double the number of new young voters that had turned out in 2010, says Ben Pollara, who heads the United for Care campaign, which is supporting another medical marijuana measure in the state this year.

But as support for legal marijuana grows, the vote-yes camp is becoming more diverse.  Multiple polls in the last two years have shown majority support for legalization. A Gallup poll last year found older demographic groups are starting to support legal marijuana, with 64 percent of people between the ages of 35 and 49 in favor along with 58 percent of those between the ages of 50 and 64.

Young voters of both parties overwhelmingly support legalization, including 63 percent of Republican millennials, according to a Pew poll from 2014. Millennials favor Clinton, but marijuana ballot initiatives might attract voters of both parties this fall.  "A random person who said, 'Yeah, I'm going to vote for marijuana legalization,' I would no longer assume they were going to vote Democrat," says Altic.

"We're seeing Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, even people from the Green Party be a part of this," says Carlos Alfaro, the Arizona political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, which backs a marijuana legalization measure in the state.  "The Democrats see this as a good way to get voters out there, but I don't think it's in any way a partisan issue, just based on the amount of responses we've gotten." Alfaro, a Republican, says many people in the legalization campaign are conservatives and that the state has a real "libertarian streak."

In Florida, Pollara's internal polling shows 77 percent support for the legalization initiative. "You simply do not get numbers like that without having broad support among, basically, every age, demographic, geographic, racial, ethnic group," he says.

Even as the effect of marijuana initiatives on presidential voting grows murkier, Altic expects votes on the minimum wage and gun-related initiatives to remain more partisan.... There are several other swing-state measures that could bring out voters, including a universal health care initiative in Colorado and an anti-union proposal in Virginia.  But experts say it's important not to overstate the influence of any of these measures.  "This stuff is very much on the margins, and it might help a little bit, but the presidential race is the main driver of turnout," says Skelley. "It's tough to say that these things are going to make much of a difference in the end.  But I guess it can't hurt to try."

I agree that with the sentiment that "it's important not to overstate the influence of any of these measures" on the Presidential race, although it will still surely be useful to try to assess after the election numbers come in the fall whether and how marijuana ballot initiatives, especially in notable "swing" states like Arizona, Florida and Nevada, might have had an impact on voting patterns in at least some key states. Moreover, and perhaps arguably of greater long-term political significance, is whether any surprising 2016 "down-ticket" results might get attributed to a candidates support or opposition to marijuana reform.

August 29, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, August 22, 2016

A darker view of a recent medical marijuana court victory: "10 things to hate about the McIntosh decision"

In this post over at my other blog, I flagged last week's Ninth Circuit panel ruling in US v. McIntosh, No. No. 15-10117 (9th Cir. Aug. 16, 2016) (available here), on a series of appeals concerning "whether criminal defendants may avoid prosecution for various federal marijuana offenses on the basis of a congressional appropriations rider that prohibits the United States Department of Justice from spending funds to prevent states’ implementation of their own medical marijuana laws."  That ruling was hailed by many marijuana reform advocates as a victory because the court concluded that "at a minimum, § 542 prohibits DOJ from spending funds from relevant appropriations acts for the prosecution of individuals who engaged in conduct permitted by the State Medical Marijuana Laws and who fully complied with such laws." 

But astute followers of the law and policies surrounding marijuana reform know that there is rarely simple story around any aspect of federal marijuana laws and policy, and John Hudak has this recent posting at a Brookings blog explaining reasons why "medical marijuana advocates should [still] worry" after the McIntosh decision.  Here are excerpts from the start and the headings of his commentary:

[M]arijuana reform advocates applauded a federal appeals court decision limiting the power of the Department of Justice to prosecute certain marijuana growers. In United States v. McIntosh, the three judge panel (two Republican and one Democratic appointee) dealt explicitly with the Rohrabacher amendment — a rider to a congressional spending bill that barred the DOJ from spending funds on enforcing the Controlled Substances Act in states with medical marijuana reform laws.

Despite the rider being signed into law—by President Obama—the Obama administration continued to bust growers in medical marijuana states. The defendants in the 10 cases grouped together in this appeal hail from California and Washington and were indicted on a variety of federal charges. They fought the charges in lower courts on the basis of the rider without success, and brought their case to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

After the usual judicial hoops of establishing jurisdiction and the appropriateness of the court stepping in at this time to intervene in an ongoing prosecution, the court ruled on the merits of the case.  The 9th circuit decision explains that even though “the rider is not a model or clarity” (24) it “prohibits DOJ from spending funds from relevant appropriations acts for the prosecution of individuals who engaged in conduct permitted by the State Medical Marijuana Laws and who fully complied with such laws” (27).

If you’re a marijuana reform advocate, a grower, a cannabis enterprise executive, a patient, or otherwise related to the medical marijuana industry, this is great news, right?

Well, yes and no.  The cork popping over the ruling in McIntosh may have been a bit premature.  While the central holding of the case is a tremendous victory for the movement and offers a real barrier against executive enforcement power in the context of marijuana, the details of the decision are a bit more mixed.  Namely, for the medical marijuana community, there are 10 things to hate about the McIntosh decision.

  1. The ruling has limited scope...
  2. McIntosh is about medical marijuana only...
  3. The Cole Memos are not the Great Savior many believe...
  4. State-level marijuana reforms do not legalize marijuana...
  5. State-level marijuana reforms do not legalize marijuana...
  6. This ruling may not always help current defendants or marijuana law violators...
  7. This ruling may not always help future defendants...
  8. This ruling may not always help future defendants...
  9. This ruling may not always help future defendants...
  10. This ruling may not always help future defendants

August 22, 2016 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Court Rulings, Federal court rulings, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Noting the lack of racial diversity in recipients of first Maryland medicial marijuana licenses

This Washington Post article, headlined "Missing from Maryland’s legal marijuana growers? Black business leaders," reports on an all-too-common business pattern that tends to emerge as a state gets started with modern marijuana reforms.  Here is how the article gets started:

Maryland set up its legal medical marijuana industry with hopes of racial diversity and equity in spreading profits, but none of the 15 companies that were cleared this week for potentially lucrative growing licenses is led by African Americans.

Some lawmakers and prospective minority-owned businesses say this is unacceptable in a state where nearly a third of the population is black, the most of any state with a comprehensive legal pot industry.  They say the lack of diversity is emblematic of how, across the country, African Americans are disproportionately locked up when marijuana use is criminalized yet are shut out of the profits when drug sales are legalized.  “We are not going to see this industry flourish in the state of Maryland with no minority participation,” said Del. Cheryl D. Glenn (D-Baltimore), chairwoman of the Legislative Black Caucus.

Glenn was a key player in the legalization battle, and the commission that awards medical marijuana business licenses and oversees the industry is named after her mother, Natalie LaPrade, who died of cancer.  She is considering filing a legal injunction to halt the licensing process and is weighing other options, such as pushing the commission to award additional licenses to minority-owned companies.

The law legalizing medical marijuana says regulators should “actively seek to achieve” racial and ethnic diversity in the industry.  But the commission did not provide extra weight to applications submitted by minority-owned businesses because a letter from the attorney general’s office suggested that preferences would be unconstitutional without there being a history of racial disparity in marijuana licensing to justify the move.

A spokeswoman for the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission said there will be future opportunities to expand minority participation when the agency awards dispensary licenses and when it considers issuing more cultivation licenses in 2018 if supply doesn’t meet demand.  Businesses must also submit annual reports on the racial breakdown of their ownership and workforce, providing a more comprehensive look at the industry’s diversity.  “The Commission believes a diverse workforce is in the best interest of the industry,” said Vanessa Lyon, the spokeswoman.

But Glenn and other critics say the state hasn’t done enough to ensure diversity in the blossoming business that’s already worth billions nationwide.

August 21, 2016 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 19, 2016

Timely new report on benefits of marijuana reform from West Virginia Center on Budget & Policy

This local article, headlined "Could legalizing marijuana be West Virginia's pot of gold?," reports on this interesting new policy brief released by the West Virginia Center on Budget & Policy suggests. The article summarizes the themes of the report, which is titled "Modernizing West Virginia's Marijuana Laws: Potential Benefits of Decriminalization, Medical Marijuana and Legalization." This summary comes directly from the first two pages of the full 27-page report:

Over the last two decades, states across the country have modernized their marijuana laws to reflect the growing evidence that doing so will help reduce criminal justice costs, help treat some medical conditions, and boost tax revenues and their state’s economy. As of 2016, four states and the District of Columbia have legalized the recreational use of marijuana for adults, 25 states (and DC) allow for marijuana to be used for medical purposes, and 21 states have decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana. With several states considering ballot measures this November and public support for legalization rapidly growing (53% of Americans support legalization) among all age groups, the number of states taking action to undo restrictions on marijuana is likely to grow.

While most states have taken at least one step toward modernizing their marijuana laws, West Virginia has not. However, bi-partisan legislation has been introduced in West Virginia over the last several years to legalize medical marijuana and tax marijuana for retail sales to adults. A 2013 poll found that a majority of West Virginians supports decriminalizing marijuana and legalizing it for medical use, while 46 percent supported regulating it like alcohol.

As West Virginia continues to be plagued by large budget deficits (a projected $300 million for FY 2018), an undiversified economy with a fading coal industry, and poor health outcomes, modernizing the state’s marijuana laws could be a step in addressing these problems and could help save the state money in the long run.

This report provides an overview of the states that have modernized their marijuana laws in recent years– including decriminalization, medical marijuana, and recreational use – and the implications for West Virginia if it decided to pursue a similar path. It provides an overview of federal and state marijuana laws (Section 1), an estimation of the potential tax revenue from legalizing recreational marijuana in West Virginia (Section 2), an evaluation of some potential benefits from modernizing West Virginia’s marijuana laws (Section 3), and recommendations on reforming West Virginia’s marijuana laws (Section 4).


  • If marijuana was legalized and taxed in West Virginia at a rate of 25 percent of its wholesale price the state could collect an estimated $45 million annually upon full implementation. If 10 percent of marijuana users who live within a 200-mile radius of West Virginia came to the state to purchase marijuana, the state could collect an estimated $194 million.

  • In 2010, it is estimated that West Virginia spent more than $17 million enforcing the state’s marijuana laws. Legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana in West Virginia could reduce the number of marijuana-related arrests, especially among African Americans, which in turn, could reduce criminal-justice-related costs.

  • The marijuana industry has the potential to add jobs both directly and indirectly. As of September 2015, Colorado had 25,311 people licensed to work in its marijuana industry and over 1,000 retail marijuana businesses. If marijuana were legal in West Virginia it could also have the effect of increasing tourism to the state, particularly in regions with outdoor recreational activities.

  • Marijuana may potentially have a positive impact on West Virginia’s opioid-based painkiller and heroin epidemic by offering another, less-addictive alternative to individuals who are suffering from debilitating medical conditions.

August 19, 2016 in Business laws and regulatory issues, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 18, 2016

"Can the Next U.S. President Reschedule Marijuana?"

USP1310-CE-T2The question in the title of this post is the headline of this timely Inc. article, which essentially answers the question via its lengthy subheadline: "The DEA denied the most recent petition to reschedule marijuana, citing a lack of scientific evidence to prove its medical benefits. But here's how Obama, or the next U.S. president, can reschedule the drug." Here is more from the article:

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has denied the most recent petitions to reschedule marijuana. But Hillary Clinton says that if she becomes president, she will move marijuana to the same category as oxycodone and other opioid painkillers available by a doctor's prescription. Clinton, through her senior policy adviser Maya Harris, told The Cannabist that she will reschedule marijuana from its position as a Schedule I substance to Schedule II under the Controlled Substances Act.

"Marijuana is already being used for medical purposes in states across the country, and it has the potential for even further medical use," said Harris in a statement. "As Hillary Clinton has said throughout this campaign, we should make it easier to study marijuana so that we can better understand its potential benefits, as well as its side effects."

Presidential candidates make all sorts of promises, but could a president actually reschedule marijuana unilaterally? The answer is yes, but not with a stroke of a pen.

John Hudak, senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, explains that there are certain procedures in the Controlled Substances Act that must be followed. "A president cannot reschedule a substance by executive order, that is against the Controlled Substance Act," says Hudak. "It is against the letter of the law." Hudak says there is a suggestion in the CSA that the attorney general might be able to reschedule a substance unilaterally through an order, but that would fly against the long-established administrative procedure and might bump up serious legal challenges.

Mark Kleiman, a professor of public policy and the director of the Crime Reduction & Justice Initiative at New York University's Marron Institute, explains how Hillary, if she wins, can follow through on her promise. "She is not making it up. She can reschedule marijuana. It's not that complicated," says Kleiman. The power to reschedule a substance, Kleiman says, has been delegated to the attorney general (who in turn delegates to the DEA) and to the Department of Health and Human Services (which in turn delegates its clinical testing to the FDA). "But, yes," he adds. "Those people work for the president, and, yes, the president can tell them to reschedule marijuana."

The logistical process of rescheduling, Kleiman says, would involve redefining what "current accepted medical use" means in the Controlled Substances Act. Again, it's up to the agencies (attorney general with the DEA; HHS with the FDA) to define what that term means. "All the DEA has to do is explain how they have overruled themselves and will be going back to what DEA administrative law judge Francis Young said in 1988, that 'medical use' means a bunch of physicians believe something is useful," says Kleiman. "The DEA could say how they take notice that a lot of physicians are recommending marijuana and how 25 state legislatures agree with the doctors. We are now saying this has accepted medical use, but it still has high abuse potential; we're putting it in Schedule II."

As the CSA gave authority to the attorney general, who in turn delegated to the DEA, those agencies are allowed to interpret statutes in varying degrees, unless the decisions are "obviously unreasonable, arbitrary, or capricious," says Kleiman. That means if Clinton wanted to reschedule marijuana if she makes it to the White House, she could....

It should be noted, however, that rescheduling will not make the state-sanctioned recreational markets in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington state, and Washington, D.C. legal, nor will it make the medical marijuana markets in 25 states legal. If marijuana becomes a Schedule II drug, it will still be illegal federally to use, produce, or manufacture. If marijuana were down-scheduled, it would still be federally illegal to produce and sell because Schedule II drugs cannot be given out without a prescription. A prescription can only be written for an FDA-approved drug, and there are no FDA-approved drugs made with the whole cannabis plant. (Marinol, which is FDA approved, is made with synthetic THC.)

As for the industry's hope that the whole plant will be FDA-approved, Hudak says not a chance. Hudak says if cannabis-based medicines are approved in the future, the medicines will not be botanical. Like other FDA-approved drugs, specific chemicals will be extracted and isolated at the molecular level in a method that is replicable and consistent. "You might see cannabinoid compounds rescheduled and put on the market, but whole flower smoked marijuana will never be approved," says Hudak.

August 18, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)