Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Thursday, February 11, 2016

An international perspective on the marijuana reform momentum (and its regulatory challenges) via The Economist

A terrific student in my marijuana seminar alerted me to this lengthy new article in The Economist headlined "Reeferegulatory challenge: A growing number of countries are deciding to ditch prohibition. What comes next?". The article merits a full read, and here are excerpts:

Since California’s voters legalised the sale of marijuana for medical use in 1996, 22 more states, plus the District of Columbia, have followed suit; in a year’s time the number is likely to be nearer 30. Sales to cannabis “patients” whose conditions range from the serious to the notional are also legal elsewhere in the Americas (Colombia is among the latest to license the drug) and in much of Europe. On February 10th Australia announced similar plans.

Now a growing number of jurisdictions are legalising the sale of cannabis for pure pleasure—or impure, if you prefer. In 2014 the American states of Colorado and Washington began sales of recreational weed; Oregon followed suit last October and Alaska will soon join them. They are all places where the drug is already popular (see chart 1). Jamaica has legalised ganja for broadly defined religious purposes. Spain allows users to grow and buy weed through small collectives. Uruguay expects to begin non-medicinal sales through pharmacies by August.

Canada’s government plans to legalise cannabis next year, making it the first G7 country to do so. But it may not be the largest pot economy for long; California is one of several states where ballot initiatives to legalise cannabis could well pass in America’s November elections....

Setting the right level for the tax ... is challenging. Go too low and you encourage use. Aim too high and you lose one of the other benefits of legalisation: closing down a criminal black market.

Comparing Colorado and Washington illustrates the trade-off. Colorado has set its pot taxes fairly low, at 28% (including an existing sales tax). It has also taken a relaxed approach to licensing sellers; marijuana dispensaries outnumber Starbucks. Washington initially set its taxes higher, at an effective rate of 44%, and was much more conservative with licences for growers and vendors. That meant that when its legalisation effort got under way in 2014, the average retail price was about $25 per gram, compared with Colorado’s $15. The price of black-market weed (mostly an inferior product) in both states was around $10.

The effect on crime seems to have been as one would predict. Colorado’s authorities reckon licensed sales—about 90 tonnes a year—now meet 70% of total estimated demand, with much of the rest covered by a “grey” market of legally home-grown pot illegally sold. In Washington licensed sales accounted for only about 30% of the market in 2014, according to Roger Roffman of the University of Washington. Washington’s large, untaxed and rather wild-west “medical” marijuana market accounts for a lot of the rest. Still, most agree that Colorado’s lower prices have done more to make life hard for organised crime.

Uruguay also plans to set prices comparable to those that illegal dealers offer. “We intend to compete with the illicit market in price, quality and safety,” says Milton Romani, secretary-general of the National Drug Board. To avoid this competitively priced supply encouraging more use, the country will limit the amount that can be sold to any particular person over a month. In America, where such restrictions (along with the register of consumers needed to police them) would probably be rejected, it will be harder to stop prices for legal grass low enough to shut down the black market from also encouraging greater use. Indeed, since legalisation consumption in Colorado appears to have edged up a few percentage points among both adults and under-21s, who in theory shouldn’t be able to get hold of it at all; that said, a similar trend was apparent before legalisation, and the data are sparse....

Different places will legalise in different ways; some may never legalise at all; some will make mistakes they later think better of. But those that legalise early may prove to have a lasting influence well beyond their borders, establishing norms that last for a long while. It behoves them to think through what needs regulating, and what does not, with care. Over-regulation risks losing some of the main benefits of liberalisation. But as alcohol and tobacco show, tightening regimes at a later date can be very difficult indeed.

February 11, 2016 in Business laws and regulatory issues, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Taxation information and issues , Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Elizabeth Warren Urges CDC To Consider Cannabis To Solve Opioid Epidemic"

Elizabeth-warren-a-fighting-chanceThe title of this post is the headline of this new International Business Times article discussing a notable new political voice making a notable suggestion to the a federal governmental agency.  Here are the details:

As the opioid epidemic continues to balloon in the country, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts has called for more research into whether legal marijuana can curb the prescription painkiller epidemic.  In a letter to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Warren said opiate abuse is a "national problem and warrants swift and immediate action."

The U.S. continues to be the largest consumers of prescription painkillers in the world, according to the National Institutes on Drug Abuse. Even though Americans make up only 5 percent of the global population, they consume 75 percent of opioid medications in the word. Warren asked the CDC to conduct studies about alternatives to pain relief drugs, such as marijuana.

"I hope that the CDC continues to explore every opportunity and tool available to work with states and other federal agencies on ways to tackle the opioid epidemic and collect information about alternative pain relief options," Warren wrote.  "Your agency has produced an enormous amount of scientific and epidemiological data that has helped inform stakeholders on the breadth of this crisis -- however there is still much we do not know."

In the letter, Warren noted her constituents' in Massachusetts own battles with opioid abuse.  She said there were almost 1,100 confirmed cases of opioid overdose deaths in 2014, which was a 65 percent increase from 2012.  "I continue to hear stories from constituents across Massachusetts affected by this crisis -- parents fighting for their kids, doctors fighting for their patients, and communities fighting for each other."

Medical marijuana remains federally illegal as a schedule 1 controlled substance, but it is available in 23 states and Washington, D.C. for patients with chronic pain. Four states, including Washington and Colorado, have gone on to legalize marijuana entirely.   When it comes to providing national guidelines, cannabis legislation's lack of uniformity across state borders poses difficulties for the federal agency.  "Fighting this epidemic will take hard work on the part of federal, state and local governments, working together with local law enforcement, medical professionals and members of the community," Warren said, adding she hopes the national agency will "aggressively tackle this issue."

The full letter discussed in this article is available at this link, and on the second page Senator Warren express calls for study of "the use, uptake and effectiveness of medical marijuana as an alternative to opioids for pain treatment in states where it is legal” as well as “the impact of the legalization of medical and recreational marijuana on opioid overdose deaths.”

February 11, 2016 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

"These nuns will get you high — as heaven"

Nuns_grow_cannabis_at_abbeyThe title of this post is the headline of this notable new New York Daily News article, which discussses the interesting work of the Sisters of the Valley in Merced, California, and the impact that new state laws on medical marijuana could have. Here are the basic details:

Holy smokes — these nuns are really working for a higher power! The Sisters of the Valley in Merced, Calif., grow medicinal marijuana in their garage for various pot-laced health products.

While Sisters Kate and Darcy don traditional habits, they are not Catholic. But they still consider themselves nuns with a calling to heal the sick — with pot. “We spend no time on bended knee, but when we make our medicine it’s a prayerful environment. It’s a prayerful time,” Kate told KFSN-TV.

While medicinal pot is legal in California, bills signed into law this past fall allow local governments to restrict or ban marijuana growing and dispensing. Pot advocates hope local jurisdictions will want to partake of tax revenue. But some municipalities — such as Merced, a conservative town in agricultural Central California — have enacted bans on pot production.

So this sisterhood might need to find a new place by March 1, when the new state and local laws take effect. Kate and Darcy said their products include cannabidiol but only traces of tetrahydrocannabinol, the chemical that provides pot’s high.

When I discussed this story with a very smart colleague, she suggested that consumers of the marijuana products produced by Sisters of the Valley might find it especially difficult to kick the habit. Jokes aside, one of the common consequences of having more big government regulation of medical marijuana is the tendency, as suggested in this story, to make it even hard for small producers to stay in business. Apparently, this can be true even if you have a holy partnership.

February 10, 2016 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Religion, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 8, 2016

Oregon Health Authority report calls for "the creation of an independent, free‐standing Oregon Institute for Cannabis"

I was intrigued and pleased to see this notable new press story out of Oregon reporting on this notable new public health task force report titled "Researching the medical and public health properties of cannabis."  Here are the basics via the press coverage:

Oregon should fund an independent marijuana institute to support and conduct world-class research into the drug's medical and public health benefits, says a task force that includes state officials, scientists and leading physicians.

Tax dollars generated through recreational marijuana sales would supplement private funding to underwrite the quasi-public Oregon Institute for Cannabis Research. The center would hire research scientists, as well as staff to help academic researchers navigate the complexities of federally sanctioned cannabis research.

The recommendation, included in a report submitted Monday to the Legislature by the task force, calls for Oregon to break new ground by providing a sustained source of state money to support marijuana research. Among the proposals: the institute itself would grow and handle marijuana for research purposes. "This institute will position Oregon as a leader in cannabis research and serve as an international hub for what will soon be a rapidly accelerating scientific field," states the report, prepared by the Oregon Health Authority. "No other single initiative could do as much to strengthen the Oregon cannabis industry and to support the needs of Oregon medical marijuana patients."

The proposal represents the latest effort by states to fill gaps in marijuana research created by the federal prohibition of the drug. The government allows research on cannabis, but the approval process is especially complicated and involves marijuana produced at a government-run facility based at the University of Mississippi. The recommendation came out of a law passed last year by the Legislature that called for the creation of a governor-appointed task force to study ways to support a medical marijuana industry geared toward patients. The report doesn't include estimates for what it would cost to fund the center, but makes clear that financial support from the state would be essential. Other states have set aside money for research, but not on an ongoing basis.

Sen. Chris Edwards, D-Eugene, the lawmaker behind the provision that created the task force, said paying for the institute with revenue from the state's marijuana tax is a politically viable idea, but said it isn't likely to gain traction during the Legislature's 35-day session, which began last week. Under current law, marijuana tax revenue goes to the common school fund, mental health, alcoholism and drug services, the Oregon State Police, local and the health authority. "One thing I heard consistently is that people want to understand better the health effects and the health and safety issues -- the potential effects of pesticides and also the potential for medical uses of cannabis," he said. "I think there is broad support for those pieces."...

Colorado and Washington, the first states to legalize marijuana for recreational use, also have plans for research. Colorado lawmakers in 2014 approved a one-time $9 million expenditure for marijuana-related studies, including three that will require federal approval, said Ken Gershman, medical marijuana research grant program manager for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Six involve "observational studies" of people already consuming marijuana. University researchers in Colorado plan to examine whether young adults and adolescents with inflammatory bowel disease benefit from marijuana, and the effect of cannabidiol, a component of the marijuana plant known as CBD, on Parkinson's-related tremors. Other studies will examine the effect of high-CBD oil extracts on epilepsy, as well as the drug's impact on sleep and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Washington, which offers a marijuana research license, carved out a percentage of its marijuana tax revenue for cannabis research. The law calls for some of that work to look at ways of measuring marijuana intoxication and impairment.

California was the first state to fund research into marijuana's medicinal benefits. In 2000, the state set aside $10 million to fund the Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research at the University of California, San Diego. The center oversaw multiple research projects, most of them looking at marijuana's effect on neuropathic pain. Like Colorado, California's funding was a one-time expenditure.

Dr. J.H. Atkinson, a co-director of the center and a professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, said the research was "relatively small in scope and duration" but offered a potential model for other states. He said the studies showed a promising connection between cannabis and pain relief. "Without too much chest thumping," he said, "it was the most comprehensive body of research on the potential (of cannabis) ever conducted in this country."...

Research into marijuana is complicated by the drug's longtime status as a Schedule 1 drug. That category of drugs, which includes heroin, is defined as substances that have a "high potential for abuse" and "no currently accepted medical use." Federal research proposals involving involving Schedule 1 drugs must undergo review by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and must use cannabis produced by the University of Mississippi, which holds the lone government contract to grow pot for research purposes. The agency in 2014 said it planned to increase production of marijuana to support more research....

Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said "ample research" and "an extensive history of human use" provide more than enough evidence to contradict marijuana's status under federal law as a drug that lacks medical benefit. Armentano said he welcomes more research from states like Oregon but is skeptical it will make a difference in the debate about marijuana's Schedule 1 status. "Unfortunately science has never driven marijuana policy," he said. "If it did, the United States would already have a very different policy in place."

February 8, 2016 in 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, Taxation information and issues , Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, February 7, 2016

"Medical Marijuana Could Help the NFL Cure the Illness Menacing Players' Brains, Activists Say"

ImagesThe title of this post is the headline of this lengthy super-informative article that seems like a perfect read as we await the latest version of the SuperBowl. Here is how a piece worth reading in full gets started:

With much of the NFL world camped out in the San Francisco Bay Area in the days before Super Bowl 50, researchers released sobering news: late Oakland Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler had a degenerative brain disease associated with repeated blows to the head. Later Wednesday, another late, great QB, Earl Morrall, also was revealed to have had chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which is associated with memory loss, impaired judgment and progressive dementia. Dozens of former players have been diagnosed, some who died in old age, like Frank Gifford, and a few who took their lives, like Junior Seau.

There is no known treatment for CTE, not least because there's no test that can point it out in the living — it's detected in post-mortem brain scans. But to one former player who's sure his nine-year career gave him the disease, there's an obvious treatment that isn't allowed in the NFL, even though it would be easy to score not far from Levi's Stadium on Super Bowl Sunday for anyone with a doctor's note: medical marijuana. "If cannabis is implemented and (the NFL) can lead the science on this, they can resolve this brain injury situation in a big way," Kyle Turley said.

Turley is at the forefront of a vocal movement arguing that medical marijuana's pain-suppressing and possible neuroprotective benefits make it the only effective treatment for the effects that chronic concussive blows to the head have on football players. As co-founder of the Gridiron Cannabis Coalition, Turley is the movement's most outspoken member, but it also includes other retired players and rapper/marijuana entrepreneur Snoop Dogg.

More players' brains are found to show signs of CTE with each year that passes. Researchers at Boston University have found evidence of CTE in 96 percent of the NFL players' brains they examined. At the same time, more states are allowing doctors to prescribe marijuana as a medicine – 23 so far, according to National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

A small body of research suggests marijuana can heal head trauma, yet Turley wonders why the league isn't investigating the drug as a medicine. To advocates, hosting the Super Bowl in the region is almost hypocritical, given what they see happening to the heads of NFL players and the spiraling lives of some former players. "The NFL's policy against medical marijuana is stupid and counterproductive," said Dale Gieringer, director of the California chapter of NORML, in an email calling the NFL out of touch with the laws of the state. "There's no doubt NFL players would be better off with medical access to marijuana."

Turley is a former defensive lineman who has been extremely outspoken about his medical struggles after playing for three NFL teams in nine years. A New Yorker article from 2009 describes him blacking out at a Nashville concert, feeling much the same way he did when he was kneed in the head during a game years earlier. The former lineman had recently retired and was taking painkillers. He wound up in the hospital, where he said he briefly lost nearly all control of his body. "Before quitting all the pills and committing to cannabis ... my life was a train wreck, plain and simple," Turley told NBC Owned Television Stations.

Today, Turley has eliminated all other chemicals from his system, from Aleve to Zoloft, he said. The San Diego resident has found strains of marijuana that relieve pain and other strains with effects comparable to the psychiatric pill Vicodin, but without the narcotic effects.

Medical marijuana has fairly well known, though not conclusively proven, pain relieving benefits. But to Turley, the drug also treats mental anguish he believes comes from CTE. There is very little research on that front, but the 40-year-old father insists marijuana has given him stability after recently feeling despondent and suicidal. "The reality is I don't think about those things anymore. And if it wasn't for cannabis, I wouldn't be where I am mentally," Turley said.

Turley swears that marijuana use is rampant in the NFL – "from players to coaches to owners, marijuana is in the National Football League" – but only a handful of players have spoken out about using it. They emphasize the mental clarity it offers as much as the pain relief.

"I always healed fast, ahead of schedule; was never really very swollen; my mind was very sharp, and after concussions medicated with it," Nate Jackson told marijuana magazine High Times this week, discussing how marijuana helped him in his days with the Broncos in the 2000s.

It's not just young players who swear by pot, either. Jim McMahon, one of the heroes of the Chicago Bears' 1985 championship, revealed last month that he weaned himself off pharmaceutical drugs that left his head feeling fuzzy. "This medical marijuana has been a godsend. It relieves me of the pain – or thinking about it, anyway," he told The Chicago Tribune.

February 7, 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)

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Prez Obama clarifies that marijuana reform is NOT among his final priorities

Obama-weedThis Washington Post WonkBlog entry, headlined "Obama says marijuana reform is not on his agenda for 2016," reinforces my long-standing belief that Prez Barack Obama remains disinclined to use any of this limited political capital to try to advance a marijuana reform agenda. Here are the particulars:

Marijuana advocates hoping for a substantial shift in federal marijuana policy in the last year of the Obama administration are likely to be disappointed. At a briefing Friday, White House press secretary John Earnest said any progress on marijuana reform would need to come through Congress. President Obama had signaled his position a day earlier at the House Democratic retreat in Baltimore, saying marijuana reform is not on his list of end-of-term priorities, according to Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.).

Cohen said he asked the president whether he wanted to "reschedule" marijuana. The federal government considers marijuana a Schedule 1 controlled substance, "the most dangerous class of drugs with a high potential for abuse and potentially severe psychological and/or physical dependence." Many lawmakers want to see it moved to Schedule 2, which acknowledges the plant's medical potential. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders wants to remove marijuana from the federal list of controlled substances altogether.

But Obama's answer on the rescheduling was "disappointing," Cohen said in an interview. "On marijuana, he gave the same answer as when I asked him seven years ago: 'If you get me a bill, and get it on my desk, I'll probably sign it,' " Cohen said (emphasis his).

At the briefing, Earnest clarified further: "There are some in the Democratic Party who have urged the president to take this kind of action. The president's response was, 'If you feel so strongly about it, and you believe there is so much public support for what it is that you're advocating, then why don't you pass legislation about it and we'll see what happens.' "...

The DEA is reviewing another petition to reschedule pot, but given the history, most observers are skeptical that anything will change this time around. "I don't think they're doing anything," Cohen said. "They've slow-walked it for all these years." He'd like to see the White House be more vocal about the process. "The president could just tell them to get it done," he said.

The latest public opinion polls show broad support not just for marijuana reform, but also outright legalization: Fifty-eight percent of Americans want to see marijuana use fully legalized, according to the latest Gallup polling on the issue. And a 2015 CBS news poll found that 84 percent of Americans support legalizing marijuana for medical use.

Moving marijuana to Schedule 2 of the Controlled Substances Act is a more modest step than full legalization or legalization for medical purposes. It would simply remove some of the barriers to research on uses of marijuana, barriers that the Brookings Institution recently said were "stifling" medical research.

Among people who study the issue, there is near universal agreement that marijuana doesn't belong in the same category of substances as heroin, as even the DEA has finally acknowledged. The consensus among researchers is that it's a lot less dangerous than alcohol, too. A federal classification that stands in such stark opposition to expert consensus "breeds contempt for the government," Cohen said. But if this week's remarks are any indication, addressing that contempt is not high on the White House priority list for 2016.

January 31, 2016 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Extra credit (for my students) and lots of admiration (for anyone else) for on-the-scene reporting on Ohio medical marijuana discussions

As highlighted by this local article, headlined "Medical marijuana hearings to be held around Ohio: here's how to share your thoughts," there is now a lot of on-going legislative activity in the Buckeye State concerning potential medical marijuana reforms. Here are the basics:

State lawmakers will hold several meetings early this year, including one this Saturday at Cleveland State University, to learn more about medical marijuana and where Ohioans stand on the issue. Here's a schedule of the meetings and information about how you can share your thoughts and stories with lawmakers.

Senate listening tour

State Sens. Dave Burke, a Marysville Republican, and Kenny Yuko, a Richmond Heights Democrat, will hold events in Cleveland, Cincinnati, Toledo, and Columbus to gather input about medical marijuana.

The forums are open to the public, and people who wish to speak are asked to submit written testimony to Burke or Yuko at Burke@OhioSenate.gov or Yuko@OhioSenate.gov. A spokeswoman for Yuko said the senators plan to be at each event all day.

Cleveland: 10 a.m. Saturday (January 30) in the Gerald H. Gordon Conference Pavilion, Wolstein Center, Cleveland State University, 2000 Prospect Ave E

Cincinnati: 11 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 4, Kresge Auditorium in the Medical Science Building, University of Cincinnati, 231 Albert Sabin Way

Toledo: 11 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 11, Scott Park Campus Auditorium, University of Toledo, 2225 Nebraska Ave.

Columbus: To be announced

House task force

House leaders have assembled a 15-member task force that will report its findings and possibly make recommendations by March 31.

The first meeting on Thursday will be an informational meeting, according to Rep. Kirk Schuring's office, where rules will be set. Task force members will be asked to refrain from making statements during the meetings, except during the first meeting, and instead ask questions of those testifying.

People who are interested in testifying at a future meeting should email Schuring's office at rep48@OhioHouse.gov.

The task force will meet in Columbus at the Statehouse on the following Thursdays:

  • 3 - 4:30 p.m. Jan. 28 (informational meeting, no testimony taken)
  • 3 p.m. Feb. 4
  • 3 p.m. Feb. 11
  • 7 p.m. Feb. 18
  • 7 p.m. Feb. 25
  • 7 p.m. March 10

An additional meeting will be held in April, if needed.

Because I teach on Thursday afternoons and due to other commitments, I am unlikely to be able to attend many (or perhaps any) of these medical marijuana events.  For that reason, I am hopeful that some helpful readers (or my students) might be interested in sending me on-the-scene reports about these various events.   I will blog these reports, and be grateful for the help.  Relatedly, I urge folks to alert me to other websites or blogs or related resources keeping up with all this notable Ohio legislative action.

January 28, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Is anyone rigorously collecting and analyzing multi-state medical marijuana data?

787638_767136-MedMarijSalesME0116The question in the title of this post is prompted by this local article from Maine, headlined "Sales of medical marijuana jumped 46 percent in Maine last year: The state's pot dispensaries took in $23.6 million as the social stigma faded and more patients seeking relief from chronic pain tried the drug." Here are excerpts:

Mainers spent $23.6 million on medical marijuana from dispensaries last year, a 46 percent increase driven by multiple factors, including patients seeking alternatives to prescription painkillers and more doctors certifying people to use the drug, according to dispensary operators.

Operators say the increase in sales illustrates the growing willingness of patients and doctors to consider alternatives to traditional medicine, and a reduction in the social stigma surrounding the use of medical marijuana.

But an official for the Maine Medical Association said Wednesday the big jump also shows why the medical community has resisted opening the program to more patients with different medical conditions, citing a lack of research that demonstrates medical marijuana is effective in treating them.

The $23.6 million in 2015 dispensary sales generated $1.29 million in sales tax, according to Maine Revenue Services. In 2014, the dispensaries sold $16.2 million worth of medical marijuana products and collected more than $892,000 in sales tax, a 40 percent increase over the previous year and more than triple the tax revenue collected in 2013. The sales figures from Maine Revenue Services do not include numbers from the state’s 2,255 caregivers, who are small-scale growers authorized to sell marijuana to up to five patients.

“There are a number of factors at play here. The first would be that Mainers are becoming more used to the idea of therapeutic cannabis,” said Becky DeKeuster, director of education for Wellness Connection, which operates four of Maine’s eight dispensaries. “We’ve had a very successful dispensary program for five years now and people are becoming used to this option.”

Maine is one of 34 states that allow some form of medical cannabis. Maine legalized medical uses in 1999, and the state’s first dispensaries opened in 2011. Last year, Maine’s program was voted the best medical marijuana program in the country by Americans for Safe Access, a national group that advocates for legal access to the drug.

The state cannot provide an exact number of patients because it does not keep a registry, but doctors have printed more than 35,000 certificates required under state regulations to certify patients. That number could include duplicates and replacement certificates and is likely higher than the actual number of patients, said Samantha Edwards, spokeswoman for the state Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the medical marijuana program.

About 340 medical providers certified patients to obtain medical marijuana. Patients qualify for certification if they have one of a dozen specific conditions, including cancer, glaucoma, chronic pain and Crohn’s disease. Tim Smale, operator of the Remedy Compassion Center in Auburn and president of the Maine Dispensary Operators Association, believes there has been about a three-fold increase in the number of doctors certifying patients in the past couple of years. Maine law has been amended so that nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants also can certify patients....

Gordon Smith, spokesman for the state medical association, said the large increase in sales illustrates why the association has lobbied against efforts to expand the medical marijuana program to include more qualifying conditions or eliminate them altogether. “We don’t want to put Maine’s medical community in a position where it’s being asked to be a front for recreational use of marijuana,” Smith said. “We acknowledge marijuana helps a small number of medical conditions and there is good evidence of that, but for many of the (conditions) on the list, there’s not scientific data to establish marijuana is helpful.”

One condition that has been debated is post-traumatic stress disorder, which Maine added to the list of qualifying conditions in 2013. The Mayo Clinic defines post-traumatic stress disorder as a mental health condition that’s brought on when a person sees or experiences a severely traumatic event. A person suffering from PTSD may have uncontrollable thoughts about the event and also experience flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety.

Although several other states have authorized medical marijuana sales to people with PTSD, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs describes the practice as a growing concern because some veterans are using the drug to relieve symptoms of PTSD, yet there is a lack of medical evidence of its effectiveness.

DeKeuster said Wellness Connection, which serves about 11,000 patients across the state, is seeing more patients who want to use medical cannabis as a first option for treatment instead of as a last resort. The top three qualifying conditions among Wellness Connection patients are chronic pain, post-traumatic stress disorder and cancer. “Physicians and patients both are looking for a pain relief solution that is natural,” DeKeuster said....

Another factor contributing to the rise in the use of medical marijuana is that dispensaries have dozens of strains, as well as pills, tinctures and edible forms that make taking the drug easier, DeKeuster said. Smale said dispensary operators across the state report similar trends among all their patients, including seeing more elderly people who want to use medical cannabis for treatment of chronic pain. The Remedy Compassion Center, which Smale owns and operates in Auburn, now primarily serves patients between ages 50 and 70, he said. “The other things we’re finding is folks are looking for an alternative to their opiates,” he said. “We hear many anecdotal reports of people reducing or eliminating opiate use through medical cannabis.”

In addition to anecdotally answering some questions about what is going on with medical marijuana in Maine, it raised for me a bunch of questions about whether these developments in the Pine Tree State are also playing out in a bunch of other medical marijuana states.  In particular, I would love to know if dispensary sales are up similarly in a number of other states and also whether there is any reliable data about "people reducing or eliminating opiate use through medical cannabis."

January 23, 2016 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, January 21, 2016

MPP (indirectly) indicates it is planning to get medical marijuana initiative to Ohio votes in 2016

As reported in this local article, headlined "National marijuana group plans Ohio medical marijuana amendment for 2016 ballot," big and notable marijuana reform news keeps on coming in the Buckeye State. Here are the basics and the context:

A major national player in the marijuana legalization movement plans to put an Ohio medical marijuana measure on the November ballot.

Marijuana Policy Project, based in Washington D.C., plans to propose a constitutional amendment establishing a medical marijuana system similar to those in 23 other states and the District of Columbia, according to the organization's website.  The Ohio amendment would allow people with certain "serious medical conditions" to purchase marijuana from retail stores or grow their own after obtaining physician approval.  The state would license businesses to grow, process, test, and sell marijuana to approved patients.

MPP led successful recreational marijuana initiative efforts in Colorado and Alaska and medical marijuana measures in Michigan, Montana, and Arizona.  The organization has also worked with state legislatures to write medical marijuana laws.

Grassroots marijuana legalization efforts have struggled to qualify for the ballot in Ohio because they lack the money to hire signature gatherers and run a robust education campaign. Ohio has not been on the radar for MPP and other major funders looking to expand legal marijuana.  Last year, MPP quietly supported Issue 3, Ohio's failed recreational marijuana amendment, but did not advertise its support or contribute to the campaign.

ResponsibleOhio, the political action committee backing Issue 3, was the first pro-marijuana group to collect the large number of signatures required, spending more than $20 million on its campaign.  But the amendment limited the 10 commercial growing licenses to groups of campaign investors and would have legalized recreational marijuana, which divided Ohio's pro-pot advocates and attracted hundreds of opponents statewide.

MPP has not formally announced its 2016 effort, but it posted a job opening Wednesday evening for an Ohio-based campaign manager.  The posting says much of the campaign will be subcontracted through a consulting firm in Columbus.  It was not known Wednesday evening whether that firm would be the Strategy Network, which collected signatures for and ran the Issue 3 campaign.   Strategy Network founder Ian James co-founded ResponsibleOhio and was the face of the campaign.

James' co-founder Jimmy Gould and Issue 3 author Chris Stock said last week they are not working on any ballot initiatives this year and instead want to work with state lawmakers to legalize medical marijuana.

This job posting on the MPP website provides additional information on what MPP has in mind for Ohio in 2016, and here is a paragraph from that posting:

The 2016 campaign — which is formally led by the new “Ohioans for Medical Marijuana” (OMM) that’s coordinated by MPP’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. — is focusing only on medical marijuana, which enjoys a high level of support among Ohio voters.  If passed by a majority of Ohio voters on November 8, this initiative would legalize medical marijuana in a manner that’s similar to the laws in 23 states and the District of Columbia.

The development strikes me as HUGE news in the marijuana reform arena, not just for Ohio but also for various nationwide interests. My sense has always been that MPP will not get involved in a state initiative effort unless and until (1) it has significant funding to support its work, and (2) it feels pretty confident it can and will prevail at the ballot. So the fact MPP now had resources and confidence for an expensive marijuana reform effort in a swing state in 2016 suggests it believes the Buckeye State is very ready to move away from blanket prohibition.

Not to be overlooked, a big medical marijuana reform initiative effort in swing state Ohio could (and perhaps would) impact voter turn out in significant ways in a state that Prez candidates always want to carry and that has a significant Senate seat in play. Indeed, I am inclined to guess that MPP got at least part of its funding for this Ohio effort not only from traditional marijuana reform supporters, but also from deep-pocketed supporters of Democratic candidates. Interesting times!!

Recent related post:

January 21, 2016 in Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Incumbent Landscapes, Disruptive Uses: Perspectives on Marijuana-Related Land Use Control"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new article by Donald Kochan available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:

The story behind the move toward marijuana’s legality is a story of disruptive forces to the incumbent legal and physical landscape.  It affects incumbent markets, incumbent places, the incumbent regulatory structure, and the legal system in general which must mediate the battles involving the push for relaxation of illegality and adaptation to accepting new marijuana-related land uses, against efforts toward entrenchment, resilience, and resistance to that disruption.

This Article is entirely agnostic on the issue of whether we should or should not decriminalize, legalize, or otherwise increase legal tolerance for marijuana or any other drugs.  Nonetheless, we must grapple with the fact that many jurisdictions are embracing a type of “legality innovation” regarding marijuana.  I define “legality innovation” as that effect which begins with the change in law that leads to the development of the lawful relevance of, lawful business regarding, and legal use for a newly-legal product, the successful deployment of which depends on the relative acceptance of the general public which must provide a venue for its operations along with the relative change in the consuming public’s attitudes as a result of the introduction of legality.

Marijuana-related land uses are and will be controversial.  Regulatory responses, neighborhood disputes, permit battles, and opposition coalitions are all predictable both as a matter of logical analysis in light of legal standards but also, very importantly, due to the lessons of history with similarly-situated, precursor land uses like liquor stores, adult entertainment, bars, nightclubs, massage parlors, and the like leading the way.  The Article also discusses the role of incumbent interests groups in shaping the new marijuana-related regulatory structure, including revealing Baptist and bootlegger coalitions that exist to oppose relaxation of marijuana laws and thwart land use successes of the marijuana industry in order to maintain their incumbent value or profit position. Finally, the Article engages with the growing literature in the social sciences on place and space, examining how the spaces and places we inhabit and in which we conduct our business and social affairs are necessarily impacted whenever legality innovations like we are seeing with marijuana work to disrupt the incumbent landscape.

January 21, 2016 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

"Are Journalists Too Soft On Pot?"

Images (1)The question in the title of this post is part of the headline of this lengthy and effective piece by Joel Warner at International Business Times.  I recommend the piece in full, and here are excerpts:

After decades of critical reporting on marijuana issues, if they bothered to cover the subject at all, have the media as a whole moved too far in the opposite direction? Are reporters and editors now so high on the topic of cannabis that they’re going too soft on the subject?...

Even longtime marijuana advocates say media coverage has shifted. “Back in the ’90s, I would be the only person on the TV show on the issue in favor of reform, and there would be a cop, a prosecutor and a drug specialist, along with the host, who would also be anti-marijuana,” says Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). “Now, today, Kevin [Sabet] is the one who has to scramble because the host of the show is neutral or supportive of reform, and I am joined by someone from the marijuana-business community and a member of [the pro-legalization group] Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.”

For years, St. Pierre says, NORML has maintained an internal database of editorial boards nationwide that it considered to be anti-marijuana. In the late 1980s, that list encompassed more than 150 newspapers. Now it’s down to just 30 or 40, and St. Pierre says most of them are owned by a handful of corporate owners opposed to legalization.

It’s not just TV news hosts and newspaper editorial boards that have changed their tune on cannabis. Now there are marijuana-business newspapers and marijuana-culture magazines, full-time marijuana-industry reporters (this writer included) and even an marijuana-editorial division at the Denver Post called the Cannabist staffed with a marijuana editor and cannabis strain reviewers that is the subject of a major documentary....

If the resulting media coverage is generally positive, it could be because, all in all, there’s not much to complain about when it comes to the marijuana movement. “I would contend that if Project SAM is seeing more coverage of the positive aspects of legalization, it’s because the positive aspects of legalization are outweighing the negative,” says Taylor West, deputy director the National Cannabis Industry Association. “There are absolutely things that need to be looked at and fixed, and that is an ongoing process. But all of this ‘sky is falling’ rhetoric that people like them have used for years hasn’t come true.”

Plus, many pro-marijuana activists say if anything, most journalists are still unfairly critical of cannabis. “You are framing your story around the question of whether the media is ‘going too light on the movement,’ which inherently suggests you are going too hard on the movement,” says Mason Tvert, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project. “An unbiased story would be about whether the media is covering the issue and the movement accurately. We are still in a situation in which the marijuana-policy-reform movement has to prove everything and constantly defend itself, whereas opponents are generally taken at their word.”...

The situation has left some of those with a stake in the game fuming. “Unfortunately, the type of one-sided, advocacy-driven reporting we used to see relegated to the pages of High Times is now commonplace in the mainstream media,” says a former top drug-policy official, who asked to remain anonymous. “That’s a real disservice for the millions of Americans who are poised to live each day with the public-health consequences of this experiment.”

There are several factors that could lead to skewed marijuana coverage in favor of legalization. For starters, the fact that there are relatively few major anti-legalization advocates making noise these days, compared with a lengthy parade of well-funded marijuana activist organizations, trade groups, lobbying firms and public-relations outfits means it’s easier for one side to get its message out to news outlets than for the other....

Then there is the impact of all those reading and disseminating the resulting news coverage. Online, cannabis activists have become a loud and powerful bunch, launching advocacy blogs, sharing articles on Reddit and Twitter that support their case and lambasting those that don’t. This means positive cannabis coverage can equal big social media hits and resulting clicks, while negative stories can face a backlash — and the sheer scale of the pro-marijuana community’s passion can be intimidating. When the New York Times’ David Brooks penned a column criticizing legalization efforts in early 2014, he was besieged by online ridicule, derision that was echoed by some of his colleagues in the media. He hasn’t touched the subject since.

Marijuana advertising could also be an issue. At a time when ad revenue is shrinking and classified sections have been decimated, the nascent marijuana industry has proven to be a welcome new source of advertising dollars, especially for free alternative-weekly newspapers such as Seattle Weekly and Denver’s Westword (where, in the interest of full disclosure, this reporter used to work). While publications such as these maintain strict firewalls between the advertising and editorial sides, there’s a risk that some outlets could be seen as becoming so financially intertwined with the marijuana industry that their objectivity could threatened, such as how ESPN’s dependence on NFL contracts has led some to suggest the organization can no longer accurately cover football. Similarly, journalism jobs, including this reporter’s, have been created to cover the burgeoning marijuana business. If the data support it, could these journalists be expected to conclude that legalization has been a failure, if that means they would also be writing the obituaries for their own jobs?...

Some skewed marijuana coverage might have less to do with newsroom bias and more about how news operations are allocating resources to the issue. Stick “marijuana” in a headline these days and it’s bound to get hits. So then why bother devoting precious manpower over days or weeks to investigating whether potency labels on marijuana edibles are accurate or tracking down the dealings of shady cannabis penny stocks when a report on a marijuana-infused film screening — and its accompanying puntastic headline — will attract just as much attention?...

But there are signs that marijuana coverage, like the cannabis scene itself, is evolving. If cannabis continues to be a news draw, it could lead to ever-more skillful and in-depth journalism on the subject. It’s a promising sign that journalism professors such as Matranga are teaching classes on marijuana journalism and objective news startups such as Cannabis Wire are taking root. Plus, as medical-marijuana programs develop in cities such as New York and Chicago, the ample media operations in these towns will likely pay close attention to how these ventures are progressing in their midst.

January 19, 2016 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 18, 2016

Significant legislative (and initiative) developments now swirling around marijuana reform in Ohio

Vote_ohio_mmj_ballotI was supportive of the failed (and very far from ideal) marijuana reform initiative campaign in Ohio in 2015 in part because the Ohio General Assembly had never before shown any serious interest in even considering any serious marijuana reform in the Buckeye State.  But, as this local article highlights, the legislative times they are a-changing in 2016 already in Ohio.   And the article, headlined "Strange Bedfellows Are Part Of New Medical Marijuana Task Force," reports that some folks involved in the failed 2015 initiative are being included in the new year developments:

Ohio lawmakers who have been signaling they want to consider medical marijuana legalization have taken an unexpected step.  Republican House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger stood in front of an interesting group of people when he announced there will be a task force to study medical marijuana in Ohio.  “There’s a lot of groups that are going to have interest in this topic and what we have tried to do is put together a group of interested parties that can represent a broad swath of different interest groups throughout the state with different aspects and different varieties with an open mind to hear out this issue and talk about this issue before us in medical marijuana.”

That diverse group on this task force includes representatives from the Ohio State Medical Association, the Ohio Children’s Hospital’s Association, the Fraternal Order of Police, the Buckeye State Sheriffs' Association, the Ohio Chamber of Commerce and former Ohio Attorney General Betty Montgomery.  And there are two somewhat surprising members: Chris Stock and Jimmy Gould, former leaders of ResponsibleOhio, the group that brought forward the pot plan that voters overwhelmingly rejected last fall.  Gould says he's glad to be working with the groups that had fought against Issue 3 last fall.

“Ohio needs medical marijuana, first and foremost and needs it for everything….for chronic pain, for conditions, but it needs to be regulated properly.  It needs to be done the right way.  We went from probably zero to 250 miles an hour in a state that it is a little difficult to go from zero to 100.  I’m prepared to accept 100 right now and that is to pass a legislative action for medical marijuana.”

Gould says he’s agreed to put any effort to legalize marijuana on hold for now.  And he says the Fresh Start plan, the initiative that would allow people with past non-violent marijuana offenses to clear their records, is dead for now. “You can’t expunge without having legalization.  The voters knew that.  They knew exactly what they were doing when they voted the way they voted.  I had to hear them.  We spent $25 million, we got defeated.  And when you lose, you get back up on your feet and you take the best path that is available to you.  When we were approached by several people and I approached several people, you know we want a victory out of this thing and the victory we want is what is good for Ohio and we have always wanted that.”

Just last month, Ian James, the man who headed up the failed ResponsibleOhio campaign, said investors of it wanted to go back to the ballot this fall with another legalization plan.  The ResponsibleOhio campaign had been renamed Free Market Ohio and James said it was full speed ahead to collect petition signatures to put medical marijuana legalization on the ballot this fall.  But Gould says moving forward with that right now is not the answer. “We didn’t just lose 51 to 49.  We got beat.  And I come from a competitive sports family and world and we got beat. And when you get beat that way, you come back and figure out, ok, what’s the next best way? FreeMarket Ohio was not the answer."

Republican State Representative Kirk Shuring will head up the task force. And he says while it will meet several times between now and the end of March, there is no promise of specific legislation. He says this task force is an opportunity for different groups of people with different ideas on the subject of marijuana to get together to try to find some common ground. “We have a time out and we are going to have a conversation and we are optimistic that it will lead to something we can point to at the end of March.”

Meanwhile, Ohio Senators plan to approach the issue of medical marijuana differently.  Republican Senate Caucus Communications Director John Fortney says Republican Senator David Burke and Democratic Senator Kenny Yuko plan to hold a series of town hall meetings on medical marijuana in public forums throughout the state.  “The people of Ohio are not interested in seeing the pill mill equivalent of medical marijuana on every street corner in the state of Ohio.  That said, we understand that there is some support for what it can do for people who are suffering from chronic illness and I think that’s going to be part of the conversation from these public forums.”

I am encouraged (though not especially surprised) not only that (1) Ohio's elected officials now understand that they cannot and should no longer ignore the significant interest in marijuana reform amoung the citizenry, but also that (2) some state leaders are trying to co-opt into the effort persons who previously raised tens of millions of dollars to support reform in 2015. Thoughtout the 2015 reform effort in Ohio, I had an inkling that, even if the ResponsibleOhio's full legalization efforts went very badly (and it did), the conversations engendered and the monies raised through the reform effort would garner significant attention from significant public officials.

Notably, though, as this other local article details, the emergence of a medicial marijuana reform task force in Ohio is unlikely to completely quash interest and efforts for initiative-based reforms in the Buckeye state in the months ahead. The article is headlined "Ohio marijuana legalization supporters still push for 2016 ballot issues," and here are excerpts:

ResponsibleOhio won't be back with another marijuana legalization amendment this year, but marijuana advocates said Friday they will push forward with ballot measures for November as well as work with state lawmakers studying medical marijuana legalization.

Legalize Ohio 2016, also known as Ohioans to End Prohibition, plans to continue to try to collect the 305,591 signatures of registered Ohio voters necessary by July 6 to qualify its issue for the November ballot.  Its proposed constitutional amendment would legalize recreational and medical marijuana, as well as allow farmers to grow hemp.

Legalize Ohio 2016 President Sri Kavuru said his group will encourage its supporters to be involved in discussions at the Statehouse on the medical marijuana issue.... Kavuru said his group will encourage advocates to testify at the task force meetings and in town hall meetings state Senators plan to hold across the state.

Kavuru said he's hopeful the legislature will enact good legislation that establishes an industry and serves many types of patients. "At the end of the day, we do want reform for patients first," Kavuru said. "If they pass the right medical marijuana law, then it's not worth going through a ballot initiative.  If they don't or we hear they're passing something we don't like, we'll continue with the initiative.  The citizens' initiative process is there in case the government doesn't do what you want."

The group has collected about 80,000 signatures, Kavuru said, but many petition books are still in the field. Kavuru said the group, which has relied on volunteers thus far, will have the money to hire paid signature collectors. Legalize Ohio 2016 is the only recreational marijuana measure in motion....

Ohio Rights Group, which had been collecting signatures for a medical-only measure until it backed Issue 3, could still qualify for the November ballot.  ORG President Mary Jane Borden said the group does not have the money to pay signature collectors or run a campaign and instead will focus on educating lawmakers about the benefits of medical cannabis....

A new, medical-only measure was filed Thursday with the Ohio attorney general. The Ohio Medical Cannabis Amendment, backed by longtime marijuana advocates Tonya Davis and Carlis McDerment, would allow people with a qualifying condition such as glaucoma or multiple sclerosis to purchase and use marijuana.  If the proposed summary is cleared by the attorney general, the group will have to collect 305,591 signatures of registered Ohio voters to put the measure on the ballot.

Disconcertingly, while the folks involved with Legalize Ohio 2016 pushed for a no vote on full legalization proposed by ResponsibleOhio in 2015 with promises that they would bring much better reform to voters in 2016, it now sounds as though the Legalize Ohio 2016 folks are suggesting they would be content now with just medical marijuana reform. Moreover, with the challenges posed by collecting hundred of thousands of signatures and a new Ohio constitutional restriction on ballot access for initiative, my deep fear that the Legalize Ohio folks would face an uphill battle to give voters another chance to consider full legalization seem to be coming to fruition.

January 18, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

"How New York Totally Screwed Up Legalizing Medical Marijuana"

NEW-YORKThe title of this post is the headline of this notable new Vice article.   Here are excerpts:

New York state lawmakers voted to legalize marijuana for medical use in 2014, and Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the bill into law last June. The new law just took effect on January 6 — but it hasn't made it any easier for sick New Yorkers to get high.  Among the 23 states that now allow some form of legal weed, New York's law is among the most restrictive.  Only a handful of serious conditions qualify for a prescription, and so far there are only 71 patients in the entire state.  The patients are only allowed to use tinctures and oils, which can be vaporized, inhaled, or consumed orally in capsules. Smoking or growing marijuana is still strictly forbidden.

Advocates for the palliative use of marijuana contend that New York's law is far too narrow.  While medical marijuana has become increasingly mainstream over the past decade, Keith Stroup, a DC-based attorney and founder of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), said there's still a lingering suspicion by some lawmakers that patients just want to use the drug recreationally.  "State legislators tend to think that getting high is something to be avoided," he said.  "And they're trying to avoid the appearance of someone enjoying themselves when they were meant to be taking their medicine… They don't want to see it turning into another California, where anyone can get a prescription."

New York wields considerable influence over national policy, and Stroup thinks the new law could be bad news for patients in states that have yet to legalize medical marijuana.  Stroup noted that when New Jersey set a precedent by becoming the first state to prohibit patients from cultivating their own plants, Delaware, Illinois, and Washington, DC followed suit.  Stroup said he expects states in the Midwest and South to follow New York's model by outlawing edibles and smoking when they eventually pass their own medical pot laws.  Pennsylvania is currently finalizing a bill that includes those same tight restrictions....

In a letter sent to the New York state legislature, New York Physicians for Compassionate Care — a group that represents more than 650 doctors who support medical marijuana — stressed that numerous scientific studies have shown that smoking cannabis is generally safe and can be beneficial in some cases.  The letter also voiced concern that tinctures or extracts — which have higher levels of THC, the psychoactive compound in weed — might prove too potent for patients accustomed to self-medicating by smoking....

Even the few patients who do qualify and are willing to go through the hassle will have a hard time finding a doctor that can write them a prescription.  Only licensed physicians whose expertise includes [certin limited medical] conditions ... can prescribe medical marijuana in New York.  To do so, the doctors have to complete a special course that lasts up to four hours and costs $250.

January 12, 2016 in Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 4, 2016

Two different prespectives on the coming marijuana reform future

Inspired by our big calendar change, in recent posts provide links to various informed observers and advocates reviewing the biggest 2015 marijuana reform stories and previewing the biggest stories to watch in 2016.  Continuing in this vein, I came across thes two distinct pieces that provide very different "ground level" views of the likely marijuana reform future:

Via USA Today, "11 states least likely to legalize marijuana"

Via High Times, "Pot Matters: The New Marijuana Issues"

The first article usefully highlights that, even if election results and other legal developments in 2016 contribute to continuing nationwide reform momentum, there are still likely to be large sections of the United States that will continue to embrance marijuana prohibition.  The second article usefully highlights that, in regions where marijuana reform has already advanced significantly, many are going to start advocating aggressive positions like "all Americans must have the right to grow cannabis for both personal and commercial use" and "marijuana users must be protected from employment discrimination."

Interesting times.

January 4, 2016 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Gearing up for historic 2016 in the arena of marijuana law, policy and reform

Images (13)There are many reasons I have been telling colleagues and students that 2016 is likely to be a HUGE year in the marijuana law, policy and reform space, and I am obviously not alone in looking toward this new year as defining a dynamic and likely historic year in this arena.  To that end, here are links to (and brief excerpts from the start and headings of) two notable recent articles sounding these themes:

From Rob Kampia, executive director, Marijuana Policy Project at The Huffington Post, "2016 Will Be the Biggest Year Yet for Marijuana Policy Reform":

I don't often use superlatives, but it's easy to say that 2016 will be the most significant year yet in the battle to repeal marijuana prohibition in the United States. Up until now, the two biggest years were 1996, when California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana, and 2012, when Colorado and Washington became the first two states to legalize marijuana for adults 21 and older.

2016 will likely comprise a cornucopia of cannabis policy advances, which I'll enumerate in the form of predictions.

Federal Policies ...

State Ballot Initiatives ...

State Legislation ...

On-site Consumption ...

From Sean Williams at The Motley Fool, "Here's Why 2016 Could Be Marijuana's Most Important Year Yet":

Although marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, many aspects of how marijuana is treated have changed dramatically over the past two decades.

In 1995, there wasn't a single state that allowed marijuana to be prescribed by doctors, support for marijuana's legalization stood at around 25% in Gallup's national poll, politicians avoided the topic like the plague, and the idea of recreational marijuana amounted to nothing more than a joke.

Yet, here we stand 21 years later with 23 states having legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes, more than half of all respondents in Gallup's national poll sharing a favorable view of marijuana, politicians freely taking a stance on marijuana, and four states -- Oregon, Washington, Colorado, and Alaska -- all legalizing the recreational use of marijuana since 2012.  To opine that marijuana is gaining steam might be an understatement.

For marijuana supporters, access to new treatment pathways and the potential to use the drug recreationally without the fear of federal prosecution are the ultimate goals. For the states, it's all about the money. Tax revenue generated from the retail sale of marijuana can be critical to funding education, law enforcement, and even securing jobs within a state. Colorado's Proposition BB, which passed in a landslide in the November elections, secured $40 million in marijuana retail tax revenue for schools within the state.

But as exciting as marijuana's last two decades have been, the coming year could be its most important yet. The way I see it, there are three events in 2016 that could shape the future of the drug and marijuana businesses.

1.  The 2016 elections ...

2.  A look back at Oregon's first year of sales ...

3.  Can Epidiolex deliver? ...

January 2, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Initiative reforms in 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)

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

MPP Director provides Top 10 accounting of marijuana reform achievements in 2015

I noted in this post yesterday a Huffington Post commentary by Kevin Sabet, the President of Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), headlined "Top 10 Anti-Marijuana Legalization Policy Victories of 2015."  Today I just realized that a similar (and yet very different) Huffington Post piece authored by Rob Kampia, Executive Director of Marijuana Policy Project, was published here last week under the headline "The Top 10 Marijuana Policy Victories of 2015. Here is how that piece starts and ends and the headings in-between:

In 2015, state legislators considered bills to legalize marijuana in 21 states, decriminalize marijuana possession in 17 states, and legalize medical marijuana in 19 states. Most of the action in 2015 was aimed at achieving substantial victories in 2016, which is slated to be the most successful year in the history of the movement to end marijuana prohibition.

With this in mind, the Marijuana Policy Project is hereby releasing its top 10 list for 2015. I'm excluding international and scientific developments, instead focusing on policy developments in the United States.

10. Local Decriminalization Measures: ...

9. Everything In Texas: ...

8. Medical Marijuana Expansion In Four States, D.C., and Puerto Rico: ...

7. Medical Marijuana In Pennsylvania, Nebraska and Utah: ...

6. Marijuana Decriminalization in Illinois: ...

5. Decriminalization in Delaware: ...

4. Legalization Ballot Initiatives in Five States: ...

3. U.S. House of Representatives: ...

2. U.S. Senate: ...

1. Presidential Candidates: ...

In 2015, the table was set in other ways that will lead to a healthy serving of marijuana policy reform in 2016.  For example, Alaska and Colorado appear poised to allow some form of on-site consumption of marijuana in private establishments (similar to alcohol bars), which would give these two jurisdictions the two best marijuana laws in the world.

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

Monday, December 28, 2015

SAM Prez provides Top 10 accounting of marijuana reform difficulties in 2015

Kevin Sabet, the President of Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), has this notable new Huffington Post commentary headlined "Top 10 Anti-Marijuana Legalization Policy Victories of 2015." Here is how it starts and ends and the headings in-between:

2015 will be remembered as the year legalization hit bumps most supporters never anticipated. For pro-health advocates that oppose marijuana legalization, it was a year of fantastic victories! Here are the top 10:

10. Big Marijuana is Real -- and People are Writing About It....

9. Continuing Positive Press Coverage of Groups Opposing Legalization....

8. Several States Resisted Full-Blown Legalization....

7. Lawyering Up....

6. Marijuana Stores Banned in California, Washington, Colorado, Oregon, Michigan, and Elsewhere.

5. Legalizers Made No Gains in Congress This Year....

4. Continued Support from ONDCP, DEA, and NIDA....

3. Real Progress on Researching the Medical Components of Marijuana....

2. No States Legalized "Medical" Marijuana in 2015....

1. Ohio!...

Despite the nonstop talking point of "inevitability," we know that the 8% of Americans who use pot don't speak for 92% of Americans that don't want to see Big Tobacco 2.0, don't want to worry about another drug impairing drivers on the road, and don't want to think about keeping things like innocuous-looking "pot gummy bears" away from their kids.  We know that the pot lobby will work hard for things like not only full-blown legalization in several more states next year, but also things like on-site pot smoking "bars" (they are really proposing these in Alaska and Colorado as we speak) and an expansion of pot edibles.

In 2016, let's nip Big Marijuana in the bud.

December 28, 2015 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Lots of marijuana news of note even during a holiday week

Due to a combination of work and family commitments, I have not blogged in this space as much as usual in recent weeks.  Come January, I hope to make up for lost time with a lot more original postings (some of which may be part of an assignment I give to students taking my marijuana reform seminar).  In the meantime, I will catch up a bit by posting headlines and links to some of the marijauna headlines/stories that caught my eye in recent days:

December 27, 2015 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Lots of notable medical marijuana stories from various states during a holiday week

While on the road last week, I did not get a chance to blog about various interesting marijuana reform stories I noticed over the long holiday weekend.  Making up for the time away, here is a round up of some of the notable medical marijuana pieces from various states that emerged over the past week:

  • From Alabama here, "Epileptic mom who used marijuana raising funds to fight charges"

  • From Connecticut here, "One year later, patients swear by medical marijuana"

  • From Florida here, "Medical marijuana back in Florida political spotlight"

  • From North Dakota here, "Medical marijuana petitions to begin circulation in North Dakota"

  • From Wyoming here, "Medical marijuana proposal in peril as pro-pot group suffers from infighting in Wyoming"
  • From the AP here, "In Medical Marijuana States,' Pot Doctors' Push Boundaries"

December 1, 2015 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, November 20, 2015

"After federal raids, U.S. tribes cautioned about marijuana"

The title of this post is the headline of this AP article providing an effective review of the state of tribal affairs concerning marijuana reform roughly a year since the US Department of Justice issued notable guidance concerning federal law enforcement priorities in this arena.  Here are excerpts (with links from the source):

Tribes across the U.S. are finding marijuana is a is risky business nearly a year after a Justice Department policy indicated they could grow and sell pot under the same guidelines as states.

Federal raids on tribal cannabis operations in California followed by a South Dakota tribe's move this month to burn its crop amid fears it could be next have raised questions over whether there's more to complying with DOJ standards than a department memo suggested last December.

The uncertainty — blamed partly on thin DOJ guidelines, the fact that marijuana remains an illegal drug under federal laws, and a complex tangle of state, federal and tribal law enforcement oversight on reservations — has led attorneys to urge tribal leaders to weigh the risks involved before moving forward with legalizing and growing pot.

"Everybody who is smart is pausing to look at the feasibility and risks of growing hemp and marijuana," said Lance Gumbs, a former chairman of the Shinnecock Tribe in New York and regional vice president of the National Congress of American Indians. "But are we giving up on it? Absolutely not."

At a conference on tribal economic development held in Santa Fe, tribal leaders and attorneys said Wednesday that the raids have shown there may be more red tape for tribes to negotiate when it comes to legalizing cannabis than states have faced.  That's especially the case for tribes that are within states where marijuana is not legal....

"Industrial hemp, medical marijuana and maybe recreational marijuana present a lot of opportunity. But for now, the best advice is to proceed with caution," said Michael Reif, an attorney for the Menominee tribe in Wisconsin, where tribal leaders filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday after federal agents recently seized thousands of hemp plants grown for research.  "We're seeing the ramifications of things being unclear in a way states didn't."

The Flandreau Santee Sioux in South Dakota — a state where marijuana isn't legal — was the first to approve recreational pot under tribal law with a vote in June, and was one of the most aggressive about entering the industry, with plans to open the nation's first marijuana resort on its reservation north of Sioux Falls.

But after weeks of discussions with authorities who signaled a raid was possible, the tribe announced last week it had burned all of its marijuana plants.  Anthony Reider, the tribe's president, told The Associated Press the main holdup centered on whether the tribe could sell marijuana to non-Indians, along with issues over where the seed used for planting originated.  He suggested that by burning the crops, the tribe could have a clean slate to relaunch a grow operation in consultation with authorities.

In California, the Alturas and Pit River Indian rancherias launched tribally run marijuana operations that were raided by federal authorities, with agents seizing 12,000 marijuana plants in July.  The regional U.S. attorney's office said in a statement that the two neighboring tribes planned to distribute the pot off tribal lands and the large-scale operations may have been financed by a foreign third-party foreign.   It's not clear if the two tribes have plans for a new marijuana venture, and calls from the AP were not immediately returned.

The California and South Dakota tribes are three of just six so far this year that have legalized medical or recreational marijuana on their reservations.  The Squaxin Island Tribe in Washington state is another, and just opened a store last week for retail sales of the drug. But most expect the tribe to face fewer legal challenges because Washington allows for recreational marijuana use and the tribe entered into a compact with the state that sets guidelines for taxing pot sales.

"The tribes are not going to be immune to what the local attitudes toward marijuana are going to be," Trueblood said.  "If there's one 30,000-feet takeaway from this year, it's that you're not going to be successful if you don't work with you local governments or U.S. attorneys."

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November 20, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)