Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

"The use of cannabis in response to the opioid crisis: A review of the literature"

Cov200hThe title of this post is the title of this notable short literature review on a topic that regular readers know I find very interesting.  The article by multiple authors appears in Nursing Outlook, which is the official journal of the American Academy of Nursing.  Here is its abstract:

Background

A staggering number of Americans are dying from overdoses attributed to prescription opioid medications (POMs).  In response, states are creating policies related to POM harm reduction strategies, overdose prevention, and alternative therapies for pain management, such as cannabis (medical marijuana).  However, little is known about how the use of cannabis for pain management may be associated with POM use.

Purpose

The purpose of this article is to examine state medical cannabis (MC) use laws and policies and their potential association with POM use and related harms.

Methods

A systematic literature review was conducted to explore United States policies related to MC use and the association with POM use and related harms. Medline, PubMed, CINAHL, and Cochrane databases were searched to identify peer-reviewed articles published between 2010 and 2017. Using the search criteria, 11,513 records were identified, with 789 abstracts reviewed, and then 134 full-text articles screened for eligibility.

Findings

Of 134 articles, 10 articles met inclusion criteria. Four articles were cross-sectional online survey studies of MC substitution for POM, six were secondary data analyses exploring state-level POM overdose fatalities, hospitalizations related to MC or POM harms, opioid use disorder admissions, motor vehicle fatalities, and Medicare and Medicaid prescription cost analyses.  The literature suggests MC laws could be associated with decreased POM use, fewer POM-related hospitalizations, lower rates of opioid overdose, and reduced national health care expenditures related to POM overdose and misuse.  However, available literature on the topic is sparse and has notable limitations.

Conclusions

Review of the current literature suggests states that implement MC policies could reduce POM-associated mortality, improve pain management, and significantly reduce health care costs. However, M C research is constrained by federal policy restrictions, and more research related to MC as a potential alternative to POM for pain management, MC harms, and its impact on POM-related harms and health care costs should be a priority of public health, medical, and nursing research.

Some (of many) prior related posts:

October 11, 2017 in Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 5, 2017

"Cannabis Industry Struggles With Hiring People With Past Pot Convictions"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new Forbes article, which includes these passages:

As the cannabis industry continues to grow, a debate is brewing over whether those with drug convictions should be allowed in the industry. Marijuana businesses are in a position of uncertainty amid U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions' anti-drug rhetoric. Meanwhile, the fast-growing, multi-billion-dollar industry is drawing investors and entrepreneurs.

Indeed, there is a hypocrisy evident in some corners of the newly legal marijuana market. Earlier this year, Massachusetts medical marijuana provider Patriot Care drew controversy after it opposed a proposal to remove the ban on felony drug convictions from the state's medical cannabis program. "Permitting those who have demonstrated the interest and willingness to ignore state and federal drug laws sends the wrong signals to those who would participate in the legal, regulated industry," wrote Robert Mayerson, CEO of Patriot Care, in a letter to the Massachusetts Public Health Council.  While companies like Patriot Care operate legally under state law, all state-legal cannabis companies are violating federal drug laws.

Many states have marijuana laws that bar drug offenders from entering the cannabis industry in an effort to legitimize the trade and help prevent out-of-state diversion. In practice, the ban does not prevent trafficking.  But it does shut out individuals with marijuana-related convictions, who are disproportionately black and Latino. And in a twist of absurdity, many of these felony bans apply only to drug-related crimes.

“You can go to a cannabis investment conference and no one is talking about the fact that just down the road there are people who are incarcerated for smoking or dealing or growing this very same product,” said Ryan Anslin, who has been investing in the industry for nearly four years.  “To entirely leave that out of an investment conversation is fundamentally wrong.” Anslin believes that those in the industry are obligated to put resources towards changing drug laws. "There's a level of complacency that has emerged in the early industry," he said.  While that may be the case for many investors and operators, other players are working towards creating an equitable industry.

Derek Peterson, the CEO of Terra Tech, thinks it's a "disaster" that there are executives in the marijuana space who oppose social justice reforms. Terra Tech is a publicly traded cannabis company that operates in California and Nevada, and has a cultivation facility in Oakland, Calif. with minority interest.  Peterson says the company supports equity programs like that in Oakland, and it is working with lobbyists to insert criminal justice-reform language into legalization legislation in New Jersey. "We don't feel very comfortable about the opening up of markets and economic development [while] watching people sit in prison," he said. "There needs to be allowances in new legislation that allows for people who have been incarcerated for drug crimes to [enter] this industry."

Barring those with experience in the illicit market could also shut out people with relevant expertise. "[It's] doing a disservice to some of the best knowledge base in the cannabis industry. These are the guys who paved the way," said Rob Hunt, principal of the consulting firm ConsultCanna who was formerly a founding partner of the cannabis private equity firm Tuatara....

For Anslin, the key to crafting reforms is focusing on record expungement. "As an employer in the space… I would always be really careful to hire people who have knowingly done things against the letter of the law," he said. But when it comes to certain marijuana offenses, "they shouldn't have been convicted of anything to begin with."

October 5, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Employment and labor law issues, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

"The Impact of State Medical Marijuana Laws on Social Security Disability Insurance and Workers' Compensation Benefit Claiming"

The title of this post is the title of this interesting new empirical paper available via SSRN authored by Catherine Maclean, Keshar Ghimire and Lauren Hersch Nicholas. Here is the abstract:

We study the effect of state medical marijuana laws (MMLs) on Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Workers' Compensation (WC) claiming.  We use data on benefit claiming drawn from the 1990 to 2013 Current Population Survey coupled with a differences-in-differences design.  We find that passage of an MML increases SSDI, but not WC, claiming on both the intensive and extensive margins.  Post-MML the propensity to claim SSDI increases by 0.27 percentage points (9.9%) and SSDI benefits increase by 2.6%. We identify heterogeneity by age and the manner in which states regulate medical marijuana.  Our findings suggest an unintended consequence of MMLs: increased reliance on costly social insurance programs among working age adults.

October 4, 2017 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Making the case for marijuana as a "driving engine of the American economy"

1Paul Armentano, the deputy director of NORML, has this new commentary detailing positive elements of economic development that can be linked to marijuana reforms.  The full headline of the piece serves as a kind of summary: "Making the case for Marijuana Is Now a Driving Engine of the American Economy: From increased tax revenue to rising home prices, legalization is stimulating economic growth." And here are excerpts, highlighting more what has not to been previously highlighting on this blog:

The legalization of cannabis for medical and recreational purposes is having a positive impact on states’ economies in ways that go well beyond tax revenue. From job creation to increased tourism, marijuana legalization is driving economic markets. Here’s how.

TAX REVENUE...

JOB CREATION

The legal cannabis industry is responsible for the creation of nearly 150,000 new full-time jobs, according to data compiled by the online content provider Leafly.com. Their September 12 analysis identified 149,304 jobs in the marijuana sector – a 22 percent increase over the number of jobs that existed one year ago. States reporting the largest number of cannabis-related jobs were California (47,711) Colorado (26,891), and Washington (26,556).

TOURISM

The state of Colorado has experienced an unprecedented increase in tourism following the passage of marijuana legalization. According to data released last year by the Colorado Tourism Office, a record-setting 77.7 million people visited the state in 2015, spending over $19 billion. It is the fifth year in a row that tourism has set records in the state, which is experiencing a rapid growth in tourism that is nearly double the national average. And while not all of Colorado’s visitors are coming there for legal weed, many of them are. Among vacationers surveyed by the state’s Tourism Office in 2016, 49 percent responded that marijuana’s legal status positively influenced their decision to visit the state, and 22 percent of Colorado vacationers said that marijuana’s legal status was “extremely influential” in shaping their decision.

WORKPLACE PARTICIPATION AND WAGES

Lifting cannabis criminalization is linked with greater participation in the workforce and an increase in weekly income. A 2016 University of California at Irvine study reported that ending marijuana possession arrests is associated with an increased probability of employment, particularly among young African American males, and an average increase of 4.5 percent in weekly earnings. According to separate data published last year in the journal Health Economics, medical cannabis regulatory laws are associated with fewer workplace absences. Data published by the National Bureau of Economic research similarly reports that medicalization is associated with a "9.4 percent increase in the probability of employment and a 4.6 percent to 4.9 percent increase in hours worked per week” among those over 50 years of age. “Medical marijuana law implementation leads to increases in labor supply among older adult men and women,” researchers concluded.

HOME VALUES

The growth in the number of cannabis retail facilities is associated with an increase in nearby home values. That’s according to a just published economic analysis by researchers at the University of Georgia at Athens, the University of Wisconsin – Madison, and California State University Sacramento. They reported that single family residences within 0.1 miles of a retail marijuana establishment saw an increase in value of approximately 8.4 percent compared to those located slightly further – between 0.1 miles and 0.25 miles – from the site. That increase in property value was estimated to be almost $27,000 for an average house in the area.

October 1, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

"Seniors Turn To Medical Marijuana For What Ails Them"

The title of this post is the title of this effective 5+ minute segment that aired today on the NPR midday show Here & Now.  Here is how the program's website sets up the segment:

With 29 states allowing medical marijuana, senior citizens have been increasingly seeking its curative powers. But there are many obstacles, ranging from paying for the herb to finding a doctor who is licensed to prescribe.

In New York, considered an especially restrictive medical marijuana state, reporter Karen Michel explores some of the benefits and difficulties for seniors seeking legal pot.

September 26, 2017 in Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

"[T]o oppose the Medical Marijuana Amendment is to provide material assistance to ISIS and other international terrorist organizations"

220px-Bruce_Fein_by_Gage_SkidmoreThe title of this post is my very favorite phrase in this Washington Times commentary authored by Bruce Fein, who served as associate deputy attorney general under President Ronald Reagan. The commentary carries this full headline: "On the Medical Marijuana Amendment, Trump and Sessions are wrong; Dana Rohrabacher, Senate get it right. " And here is some context leading up to Fein's amusing assertion (emphasized below) that opposing a congressional limit on DOJ funding for prosecuting state-compliant medical marijuana businesses is tantamount to supporting ISIS:

Never underestimate the dishonesty of politicians. Exemplary is the opposition of President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions to extending the Rohrabacher Medical Marijuana Amendment to prohibit the expenditure of federal funds to prosecute medical marijuana businesses that are operating legally under state law. At present, 29 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana. (The federal Controlled Substances Act would otherwise expose the distributors or users to federal prosecution.)

The amendment made its way into federal law in a 2014 federal appropriations bill. Three years later, not a crumb of evidence has surfaced suggesting that the amendment had spiked marijuana use or promoted or compounded any tangible evil. During his 2016 campaign, Mr. Trump earnestly promised to “make medical marijuana widely available to patients, and allow states to decide if they want to fully legalize pot or not.”

As U.S. senator, current Attorney General Sessions’ sound track was high octave opposition to the federal government’s penchant for intruding on state prerogatives over voting rights, detentions of or undocumented immigrants, or otherwise. As Attorney General, Mr. Sessions has backed away from the Obama administration’s aggressive oversight of local police forces that have chronically violated constitutional rights.

After making proper deductions for ordinary political dishonesty, voters in 2016 were reasonably confident that Messrs. Trump and Sessions would enthusiastically support an extension of the Rohrabacher Medical Marijuana Amendment.  The idea that the federal government should stick its nose into the medical marijuana business is preposterous. It has no national security dimension. It is vastly less risky than alcohol or tobacco.  And there is nothing in the dynamics of state politics that make state jurisdictions ill-suited to deciding whether their citizens should have access to medical marijuana.  Equally if not more important, every federal dollar expended investigating or prosecuting medical marijuana businesses is a dollar unavailable to detect and prosecute international or home-grown terrorists. In other words, to oppose the Medical Marijuana Amendment is to provide material assistance to ISIS and other international terrorist organizations.

These facts, however, have not deterred Messrs. Trump and Sessions from abandoning their campaign promises or professed constitutional principles....

On Sept. 6, 2017, the House Rules Committee — a puppet of House Speaker Paul Ryan — blocked a floor vote on the Medical Marijuana Amendment. But the Senate Appropriations Committee has passed it, which makes the amendment a candidate for inclusion in a final spending bill.

Every member of Congress should recognize that a vote against the Amendment is a vote in favor of ISIS, al Qaeda, and sister international terrorist organizations.  They rejoice at witnessing our law enforcement resources squandered on chasing after medical marijuana businesses rather than devoted to capturing, prosecuting or killing them.

September 26, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 22, 2017

"Why Medical Marijuana Research Is Gaining Support From the GOP"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new Rolling Stone article. Here is a snippet:

Senator Orrin Hatch ... is among a frustrated set of the nation's policy makers who are up in arms over a Washington Post report that Sessions' Justice Department is blocking the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) from approving about two dozen proposals for experts to research the effects of marijuana.  Not to legalize weed.  Not to sell it.  Not even to smoke it. Merely to study it – just as is allowed with deadly and highly addictive opioids, booze and even cigarettes – to find out if 38 states and the District of Columbia have made grave mistakes by allowing marijuana to be used either medicinally or recreationally, or whether those states are actually on to something.

At 83, Hatch agrees with his former Senate colleague Jeff Sessions on much of his prohibitionist stance on weed – but he says the attorney general and his DOJ are basically out of touch when it comes to medicinal marijuana, which can be ingested as an oil or a baked good or even developed into high-grade pharmaceuticals. "I think it's a mistake.  We ought to do the research," Hatch continues.  "They're worried about a widespread abuse of the drug, which is something to worry about because it is a gateway drug that's a very big problem. But there's a difference between smoking marijuana – using it illegally – and using it to alleviate pain and suffering."

Pot remains listed by the DEA as a Schedule I drug, which is a classification that by definition means the government sees no medicinal benefit to it, along with the likes of LSD, ecstasy and peyote.  But now 30 states have embraced marijuana for a varying degree of medicinal purposes, but there isn't good, peer reviewed research on it because many researchers don't want to risk a DEA raid or being cut off from future federal grants.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers on the Senate Appropriations Committee are working to enact what eventually could become a national standard for marijuana quality, and they want to start by allowing testing of pot already seized by the DEA.  That's why a handful of lawmakers are trying to pressure Sessions into relaxing his own personal war on marijuana that seems to be tying the hands of officials at the DEA.  "There's really only one reason to sit on a request: Because you suspect that perhaps the science will show that medical marijuana does have some therapeutic benefit and therefore disprove the need for the failed war on marijuana," Colorado Democrat Jared Polis tells Rolling Stone.

September 22, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, September 18, 2017

Fear of feds and prohibition prompt University of Maryland to cancel plans for medical marijuana instruction

In this post from July, I reported on plans by the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy to begin offering training to prepare prospective workers for the medical marijuana industry.  But this new Baltimore Sun article report that now, "citing legal concerns, the University of Maryland’s School of Pharmacy has canceled plans to offer training for those who work in the medical marijuana industry." Here is more:

After consulting with the Maryland attorney general’s office, the university asked pharmacy school officials to cancel the classes, a university spokesman said.... “If there’s any question of the law, they are often consulted,” said Alex Likowski, a spokesman for the University of Maryland, Baltimore. “Regarding medical cannabis, even though Maryland and many other states have approved it, it’s still illegal under U.S. law.”

Katherine Bainbridge, chief counsel of the education affairs division in the attorney general's office, confirmed that she gave advice to the university about the medical marijuana law specific to the courses the pharmacy school planned to offer, but she declined to disclose what the advice was. While the school said it has suspended the program indefinitely, prospective students seeking to enroll through a university-associated website still see a note that enrollments were “suspended temporarily while the business agreements are being finalized by the university.”

The classes, initially scheduled to start in August, offered basic and advanced certifications in areas including cultivation, manufacturing, dispensing, laboratory standards and assessment. It’s unclear whether the courses might be offered in the future. Pharmacy school officials did not respond to requests for comment....

Doctors in Maryland are not required to gain any special certification to recommend medical marijuana, but state law requires workers employed by growers, processors, dispensaries and laboratories to have training in their areas. Patrick Jameson, executive director of the Maryland Cannabis Commission, said workers must obtain training. “The commission expects the most highly trained and knowledgeable people will participate in the program,” he said. It’s unknown where those who want to work in the industry might turn for needed instruction. The state commission does not endorse any particular certification program.

Maryland’s pharmacy school would have joined only a small number of established colleges and universities to lend credibility for training of workers. The pharmacy school had adopted a curriculum developed by the advocacy group Americans for Safe Access, which has been offering training directly since 2002. University officials said suspension of the courses was a not a reflection on that content. The group did not respond to request for comment.

There are other online options for training available — directly through Americans for Safe Access and through the likes of such little-known organizations as Cannabis Training Institute, THC University and Green Cultured. Some state medical societies also offer training, but MedChi does not in Maryland.

Perhaps the only mainstream medical school offering training is the University of Vermont’s Larner College of Medicine, which began offering courses in the spring of 2016. There is a course available to medical and other university students that focuses on clinical trial data, in addition to certification and continuing education courses available to the community. Karen M. Lounsbury, a professor of pharmacology and co-director of Vermont’s medical cannabis course, said officials there had no legal concerns, though they were careful to comply with university policies.

“The biggest concern was that when presenting the clinical trial data for medical cannabis, we could be construed as supporting the use of medical cannabis that is legal in many states, including Vermont, but still illegal at the federal level,” she said. “We confirmed with the university lawyers that as long as we stated a clear disclaimer for each instructor, we would not be violating any university policy.” The disclaimer says: “The content of this lecture material represents the opinions of the instructor based on their research and experience and does not necessarily represent the opinions of the University of Vermont.” She said the program has an “evidence-based” approach and the classes are popular.

Medical marijuana advocates lamented that more well-respected universities were not offering medical courses for doctors or certifications courses for industry workers. Paul Armentano, deputy director of the advocacy group NORML, said such institutions were needed to establish training standards and to directly educate workers and doctors, very few of whom have had any instruction on the subject.

Prior related (and now dated) post:

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

Friday, September 15, 2017

Deputy AG Rosenstein hints about lingering concerns about sticking with Cole memo federal prosecution policies

As reported in this Forbes piece by Tom Angell, the "Trump administration is continuing to weigh whether or not to reverse Obama-era guidance that generally allows states to legalize marijuana without federal interference, the Justice Department's number two official said on Thursday." Here is more:

"We are reviewing that policy.  We haven't changed it, but we are reviewing it. We're looking at the states that have legalized or decriminalized marijuana, trying to evaluate what the impact is," Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said in an appearance at the conservative Heritage Foundation.  "And I think there is some pretty significant evidence that marijuana turns out to be more harmful than a lot of people anticipated, and it's more difficult to regulate than I think was contemplated ideally by some of those states," he said.

Under the so-called "Cole Memo," named after the former Obama Justice Department official who authored it in 2013, the federal government set out certain criteria that, if followed, would allow states to implement their own laws mostly without intervention.  Those criteria concern areas like youth use, impaired driving and interstate trafficking.

In April, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a longtime legalization opponent, directed a Justice Department task force to review the memo and make recommendations for possible changes.  But that panel did not provide Sessions with any ammunition to support a crackdown on states, according to the Associated Press, which reviewed excerpts of the task force's report to the attorney general.

In his new remarks, Rosenstein expressed concern that people are misinterpreting the still-in-effect memo.  "That's been perceived in some places almost as if it creates a safe harbor, but it doesn't. And it's clear that it doesn't," he said.  "That is, even if, under the terms of the memo you're not likely to be prosecuted, it doesn't mean that what you're doing is legal or that it's approved by the federal government or that you protected from prosecution in the future."...

Citing ongoing federal prohibition laws, Rosenstein said,  "Marijuana is illegal, and it's a controlled substance and there are no authorized uses for it, with very limited exceptions for research approved by DEA."  Without saying when a decision or announcement might be made, he said that the administration will "take that all into consideration and then make a determination whether or not to revise that policy."

September 15, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

"Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch rolls a bunch of pot puns into his case to expand medical marijuana research"

Reaxspeech311488640x360This Daily News report on a notable marijuana reform proposal put forward on Capital Hill by a notable GOP Senator captured in its headline and substance the highlight of the story:

Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch didn’t spare the puns in announcing Wednesday that it was “high time” for the government to delve “into the weeds” of medical marijuana research. Hatch, in a press release filled with pot-related double entendres [available here], announced that he’d introduced the Marijuana Effective Drug Study Act that’s intended to encourage more research into the medical benefits of marijuana.

“It’s high time to address research into medical marijuana,” Hatch, a Republican said. “Our country has experimented with a variety of state solutions without properly delving into the weeds on the effectiveness, safety, dosing, administration, and quality of medical marijuana.”

Hatch said current government regulations often do more harm than good by making hard for researchers to obtain and conduct studies on pot. “To be blunt, we need to remove the administrative barriers preventing legitimate research into medical marijuana, which is why I’ve decided to roll out the MEDS Act.”

Among other steps, Hatch’s bill would streamline the federal registration process for marijuana research and make pot more available for legitimate scientific and medical studies. It would also require the National Institute on Drug Abuse to develop recommendations for good manufacturing practices for growing and producing marijuana for research.

“I am strongly against the use of recreational marijuana,” Hatch said in a preview of remarks he was planning to give on the Senate floor Wednesday. “I worry, however, that in our zeal to enforce the law, we too often blind ourselves to the medicinal benefits of natural substances like cannabis.”

Advocates for medical marijuana said Hatch’s bill was a good step but they remained concerned that the federal government will seek to undermine medical pot programs already underway in many states. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is a fierce opponent of marijuana use, advocates have noted. “This is a modest step in the right direction but doesn't solve the most important issue - protecting state medical marijuana programs from federal interference,” said Bill Piper of the Drug Policy Alliance.

September 13, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

"How Medical Marijuana Smoothed the Transition to Marijuana Legalization in the United States"

The title of this post is the title of this notable forthcoming article authored by Beau Kilmer and Robert MacCoun which is soon to be published in the Annual Review of Law and Social Science.  Here is its abstract:

Public support for legalizing marijuana use increased from 25% in 1995 to 60% in 2016, rising in lockstep with support for same-sex marriage. Between November 2012 and November 2016, voters in eight states passed ballot initiatives to legalize marijuana sales for nonmedical purposes—covering one-fifth of the US population.  These changes are unprecedented but are not independent of the changes in medical marijuana laws that have occurred over the past 20 years.  This article suggests five ways in which the passage and implementation of medical marijuana laws smoothed the transition to nonmedical legalization in the United States: (a) They demonstrated the efficacy of using voter initiatives to change marijuana supply laws, (b) enabled the psychological changes needed to destabilize the “war on drugs” policy stasis, (c) generated an evidence base that could be used to downplay concerns about nonmedical legalization, (d) created a visible and active marijuana industry, and (e) revealed that the federal government would allow state and local jurisdictions to generate tax revenue from marijuana.

September 13, 2017 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

"The Effects of Marijuana Liberalizations: Evidence from Monitoring the Future"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research authored by Angela Dills, Sietse Goffard and Jeffrey Miron. Here is its abstract:

By the end of 2016, 28 states had liberalized their marijuana laws: by decriminalizing possession, by legalizing for medical purposes, or by legalizing more broadly.  More states are considering such policy changes even while supporters and opponents continue to debate their impacts.  Yet evidence on these liberalizations remains scarce, in part due to data limitations.

We use data from Monitoring the Future’s annual surveys of high school seniors to evaluate the impact of marijuana liberalizations on marijuana use, other substance use, alcohol consumption, attitudes surrounding substance use, youth health outcomes, crime rates, and traffic accidents.  These data have several advantages over those used in prior analyses.

We find that marijuana liberalizations have had minimal impact on the examined outcomes.  Notably, many of the outcomes predicted by critics of liberalizations, such as increases in youth drug use and youth criminal behavior, have failed to materialize in the wake of marijuana liberalizations.

September 12, 2017 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Limit on DOJ funding for medical marijuana prosecutions extended to December 2017 in stop-gap spending bill

As reported in this prior post, last week early developments in the US House of Representatives made uncertain the prospects for continuation of the spending rider that currently blocks the US Justice Department from going after state-compliant medical marijuana actors.  But, as this Cannabist article reports, another stop-gap spending bill keeps the DOJ spending limit in place for at least another three months.  The article is headlined "Rohrabacher-Blumenauer medical marijuana protections extended by debt limit deal," and here are the details:

Existing federal protections for medical marijuana states are expected to continue through at least Dec. 8.  The $15.3 billion disaster aid package, debt limit increase and government spending extension approved by Congress on Friday includes the existing Rohrabacher-Blumenauer provision, which prevents the Justice Department from using funds to interfere with the 46 states that have legalized some form of medical marijuana.

The aid bill, which was sent to President Donald Trump, extends the omnibus legislation passed in May and will fund the government through Dec. 8.  The short-term spending fix is also a short-term victory for Rohrabacher-Blumenauer sponsors, which were dealt a blow by the House Rules Committee earlier this week. The legislative committee nixed the amendment from House consideration for the fiscal year 2018 funding bill.

“We have at least three months of certainty now, but the fight isn’t over,” officials for Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon, told The Cannabist on Friday.  That fight includes efforts to land the provision in the final spending bill, officials said, noting the language was included in the Senate Appropriations Committee’s approved version of the bill.

September 10, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

GOP leaders apparently blocking vote on amendment to limit DOJ funding for medical marijuana prosecutions

As reported here by The Hill, "lawmakers said Wednesday that GOP leaders won’t allow the full House to vote on an amendment that bars the Justice Department from pursuing states that have legalized medical marijuana."  Here is more:

At a Wednesday morning closed-door briefing of House Republicans, California Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R) implored his GOP colleagues to press House leaders to allow a vote on his amendment.  Fellow Californian Rep. Duncan Hunter told The Hill that after Rohrabacher “talked about it this morning in conference,” GOP leaders said “it splits the conference too much so we’re not going to have a vote on it.”

Rohrabacher had pled with his colleagues in a Tuesday night floor speech to allow the vote. “The status quo for four years has been the federal government will not interfere because the Department of Justice is not permitted to use its esources to supercede a state that has legalized the medical use of marijuana,” Rohrabacher said.  He said that without his amendment, “we’re changing the status quo in a way that undermines the rights of the states and the people … to make their policy.”

Rohrabacher’s amendment, co-sponsored with Democratic Rep. Earl Blumenauer (Ore.), was included in the previous four Commerce-Justice-Science funding measures, when President Obama was in the White House. It was also included in an omnibus funding bill signed by President Trump earlier this year that expires at the end of the month.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) offices did not respond to requests for comment.

September 6, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Representative Rohrabacher explains why "fellow conservatives should protect medical marijuana"

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This new Washington Post commentary authored by Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican who represents California's 48th District in the US House of Representatives, seeks to make the case for the federal government to stay out of state medical marijuana reform efforts. The piece is headlined "My fellow conservatives should protect medical marijuana from the government." Here are excerpts:

With my Democrat friend Sam Farr, the now-retired California congressman, I wrote an amendment to spending bills that prohibits the federal government from prosecuting medical marijuana cases in states where voters have legalized such treatment. The amendment passed two consecutive years, the second time with a wider margin than the first, and has been extended through continuing resolutions and an omnibus spending bill.

Surprisingly, given the Obama administration’s generally liberal approach to marijuana, its Justice Department tried to interpret the amendment in such a convoluted way as to allow counterproductive raids on marijuana dispensaries. The courts — most recently the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit — repeatedly ruled that our amendment meant exactly what it said.

Unfortunately, my longtime friend Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, has urged Congress to drop the amendment, now co-sponsored by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.). This, despite President Trump’s belief, made clear in his campaign and as president, that states alone should decide medical marijuana policies.

I should not need to remind our chief law enforcement officer nor my fellow Republicans that our system of federalism, also known as states’ rights, was designed to resolve just such a fractious issue. Our party still bears a blemish for wielding the “states’ rights” cudgel against civil rights. If we bury state autonomy in order to deny patients an alternative to opioids, and ominously federalize our police, our hypocrisy will deserve the American people’s contempt.

More than half the states have liberalized medical marijuana laws, some even decriminalizing recreational use. Some eighty percent of Americans favor legalization of medical marijuana. Only a benighted or mean-spirited mind-set would want to block such progress.

Despite federal efforts to restrict supply, studies continue to yield promising results.  And mounting anecdotal evidence shows again and again that medical marijuana can dramatically improve the lives of people with epilepsy, post-traumatic stress disorder, arthritis and many other ailments.  Most Americans know this.  The political class, not surprisingly, lags behind them.  Part of the reason is the failure of too many conservatives to apply “public choice economics” to the war on marijuana.  Common sense, as well as public choice theory, holds that the government’s interest is to grow, just as private-sector players seek profit and build market share.

The drug-war apparatus will not give ground without a fight, even if it deprives Americans of medical alternatives and inadvertently creates more dependency on opioids. When its existence depends on asset seizures and other affronts to our Constitution, why should anti-medical-marijuana forces care if they’ve contributed inadvertently to a vast market, both legal and illegal, for opioids?

I invite my colleagues to visit a medical marijuana research facility and see for themselves why their cultural distaste might be misplaced.  One exists near my district office at the University of California at Irvine, another at the University of California at San Diego.

Better yet, they might travel to Israel — that political guiding light for religious conservatives — and learn how our closest ally in the Middle East has positioned itself on the cutting edge of cannabis research.  The Israeli government recently decriminalized first use, so unworried it is about what marijuana might do to its conscript military.

My colleagues should then return to Washington and keep my amendment intact, declaring themselves firmly on the side of medical progress.  Failing that, the government will keep trying to eradicate the burgeoning marijuana business, thereby fueling and enriching drug cartels. Trust me: Hugs from grateful supporters are infinitely better.

September 5, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Helpful review of possible reform states to watch in 2018 on initiative and legislative fronts

The folks at Marijuana Business Daily have recently put together a two-part series on state-level marijuana reform efforts likely to be making headlines in 2018. Part I looks at initiative campaigns, and Part II is focused on legislature-driven efforts:

"Multiple 2018 marijuana legalization campaigns already underway" discusses ballot campaigns afoot in Michigan, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Utah.

"Which state legislatures could legalize recreational, medical marijuana in 2018?" discusses New Jersey, Rhode Island and Vermont as possible recreational legalization states, and Louisiana, South Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana and Texas as (mostly-long-)shots for medical marijuana reforms.

Though all of these potential reform states are interesting to watch, I think Michigan and New Jersey could prove to be especially important states for the future of recreational marijuana reforms nationwide.  (I also believe they are the states in which reform right now seems the most likely.)

Michigan is a state that went for Prez Trump along with other rust-belt states, and it seems certain to be an important state in the 2020 Prez campaign.  A vote in favor of full legalization in Michigan in 2018 could immediately impact how would-be 2020 Prez candidates talk about state marijuana reforms.

 New Jersey not only could be the first state to embrace recreational marijuana reforms through the traditional legislative process, but it also could have a marijuana industry that serves huge population centers ranging from New York City to Philadelphia to even Baltimore and Washington DC.   With probably a quarter of the nation's population less than an afternoon's drive from some part of New Jersey, a decision by the Garden State to start legalizing the gardening of marijuana for recreational purposes surely could have all sorts of national echoes.

September 3, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, 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 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 1, 2017

"Make Pot Legal for Veterans With Traumatic Brain Injury"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable op-ed in today's New York Times authored by Thomas James Brennan, a former sergeant in the Marine Corps. Here is much of what he has to say: 

The explosion that wounded me during a Taliban ambush in Afghanistan in 2010 left me with a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress. In 2012 I was medically retired from the Marine Corps because of debilitating migraines, vertigo and crippling depression. After a nine-year career, I sought care from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

At first, I didn’t object to the pills that arrived by mail: antidepressants, sedatives, amphetamines and mood stabilizers. Stuff to wake me up. Stuff to put me down. Stuff to keep me calm. Stuff to rile me up. Stuff to numb me from the effects of my wars as an infantryman in Iraq and Afghanistan. Stuff to numb me from the world all around.  The T.B.I. brings on almost daily migraines, and when they come, it’s as if the blast wave from the explosion in Afghanistan is still reverberating through my brain, shooting fresh bolts of pain through my skull, once again leaving me incapacitated. Initially the prescriptions helped — as they do for many veterans. But when I continued to feel bad, the answers from my doctors were always the same: more pills. And higher dosages. And more pills to counteract the side effects of those higher dosages. Yet none of them quite worked.

One thing did. In 2013, a friend rolled a joint and handed it to me, urging me to smoke it later. It will relieve your symptoms, he promised. That night I anxiously paced around my empty house. I hesitated to light it up because I’d always bought into the theory of weed as a “gateway drug.” But after a few tokes, I stretched out and fell asleep. I slept 10 hours instead of my usual five or six. I woke up feeling energized and well rested. I didn’t have nightmares or remember tossing or turning throughout the night, as I usually did. I was, as the comedian Katt Williams puts it, “hungry, happy, sleepy.”

With the help of my civilian psychiatrist, I began trading my pill bottles for pipes and papers. I also began to feel less numb. I started to smile more often. I thought I had found a miracle drug. There was just one problem: That drug was illegal. In 21 states, including North Carolina, where I live, any use of marijuana is forbidden under state law. The current punishments for those who possess or cultivate cannabis — even for medical purposes — may include a felony conviction and imprisonment, loss of child custody and permanent damage to their livelihood. The V.A. encourages veterans to discuss their cannabis use with their doctors, but because cannabis is also prohibited under federal law, the V.A. cannot prescribe it in any form — thereby denying countless veterans relief to many mental health symptoms and other service-connected disabilities.

The medical benefits of marijuana for the more than 360,000 post-Sept. 11 veterans who have brain injuries are not universally recognized. (As many as one in five veterans are thought to have post-traumatic stress.) But medical experts like Dr. Frank Ochberg, a psychiatrist and former associate director of the National Institute of Mental Health, believe that “medical marijuana absolutely belongs in the pharmacy for post-traumatic stress and brain injury treatment.” The V.A., Dr. Ochberg said, “is failing veterans by not making cannabis a treatment option.”...

Most of the major veterans groups, including the American Legion, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Veterans of Foreign Wars and Disabled American Veterans, support regulated research into the medical uses of cannabis. But the research is slow in coming: Since 1968, the University of Mississippi has been home to the only licensed facility to produce cannabis for clinical research. In March it was reported that the university’s cannabis was contaminated with lead, yeast and mold — substances that jeopardize research efficacy and patient safety.

What I know is that it works for me. If I hadn’t begun self-medicating with it, I would have killed myself. The relief isn’t immediate. It doesn’t make the pain disappear. But it’s the only thing that takes the sharpest edges off my symptoms. Because of cannabis, I’m more hopeful, less woeful. My relationship with my wife is improving. My daughter and I are growing closer. My past is easier to remember and talk about. My mind is less clouded. More than anything, it feels good to feel again. My migraines and depression don’t control my life. Neither do pills.

But I live in fear that I will be arrested purchasing an illegal drug. I want safe, regulated medical cannabis to be a treatment option. Just like the sedatives and amphetamines the V.A. used to send me by mail. And the opioids they still send to my friends.

September 1, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

"A Conservative Approach to Smarter Federal Marijuana Policy"

Download (2)The title of this post is the title of this notable Cato Institute Capitol Hill Briefing slated for September.  Here is how the event is described from the Cato website:

Featuring Tom Garrett (R-VA-05), U.S. Congressman; Ilya Somin, Professor of Law, Antonin Scalia Law School, George Mason University; Trevor Burrus, Research Fellow, Center for Constitutional Studies, Cato Institute; moderated by Jonathan Blanks, Research Associate, Project on Criminal Justice, Cato Institute.

The legal sale of recreational marijuana remains limited to a handful of states, but 29 states plus the District of Columbia allow the prescription and distribution of medical marijuana.  Ten of those states — which represent 115 electoral votes — went for President Trump in the 2016 election.  National polling shows that just over half of Americans favor marijuana legalization, but a much larger majority want the federal government to leave marijuana alone in states where it is legal.

While candidate Trump promised to protect medical marijuana on the campaign trail, President Trump’s Justice Department wants to be more aggressive against state-legal marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).  Ultimately, Congress holds the reins on the Department of Justice’s ability to enforce particular provisions of the CSA and determines which substances should be under federal control.

While marijuana decriminalization is often thought to be a Democrat-friendly topic, some of the best arguments for federal recognition of state marijuana policy rest in traditional Republican values of federalism, deference to local policy choices, and a limited federal government.  Moreover, businesses that have no direct ties to cannabis cultivation or distribution like banks and financial institutions can benefit from clear federal rules that tolerate state-legal marijuana transactions.

Join us for a lunchtime discussion to explore several ways Congress can reshape federal marijuana policy in a manner that is more consistent both with public opinion and the conservative values of limited government, federalism, and local policymaking.

August 29, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 28, 2017

"Here's Why Trump Can't Beat Pot"

In this post from way back in December 2016, I suggested it could prove legally and practically difficult for the incoming Trump Administration to go aggressively after state-level marijuana reforms.  The post was titled "why I seriously doubt future AG Sessions will start a foolish new weed war federal offensive," and it outlined some challenges that might arise were the Trump Department of Justice to try to bring back an era of national federal pot prohibition enforcement by executive fiat.  This post's title, which is much more catchy than my Dec 2016 title, comes from the headline of this lengthy BuzzFeed News piece by Dominic Holden.  This BuzzFeed piece covers more effectively and systematically some of the issues and forces I had in mind back in December, and here are highlights:

Donald Trump said three times while campaigning that pot legalization should be left “up to the states.” But after five weeks in the White House, his former press secretary, Sean Spicer, announced that recreational marijuana — which was legalized by eight states without resulting in a crackdown by the Obama administration — has zero leeway under federal law. “I do believe you’ll see greater enforcement of it,” Spicer told the press corps.

Since then, lots of conventional wisdom says the White House can — and probably will — try to shut down America’s pot experiment. That wisdom looked particularly valid given that Trump’s chief law enforcement officer, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, has sharpened the attacks. He said in February that distributing pot remains illegal “whether a state legalizes it or not,” and turned the screws in March by warning federal prohibition “applies in states where they may have repealed their own anti-marijuana laws.”...

How, exactly, the Trump administration will approach this is TBD.  The Justice Department is currently considering its options. At any time, though, Sessions and Trump could begin raids in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Nevada, and Washington state — where thousands of state-licensed pot businesses are already operating in the open. The administration could then argue in court that even issuing pot licenses is superseded by federal law.

Raiding farms and stores may seem simple, at first, but unlike federal pot busts in past years, targeting regulated state systems would present new legal disputes over states' rights.  BuzzFeed News' interviews with law enforcement, former federal prosecutors, state officials, and conservative leaders show a crackdown would give rise to a hydra that pulls Trump into logistical, political, and legal traps — replicating his most humiliating setbacks like the travel ban (legal) and Obamacare (political).

Not only is legalization unprecedentedly popular, a crackdown has grown even more unpopular — and Trump would be destroying jobs in rural districts that voted for him. Possibly most damaging for Trump, though, is that he can’t fully win, because state decriminalization of marijuana cannot be completely stopped.  “They have very limited tools, and I think none of them would be successful,” Jenny Durkan, who served as US attorney in Washington state in 2012 when legalization took hold there, told BuzzFeed News. “I just don’t think they can stick the genie back in the bottle.”

There are several paths Trump could take if he wanted to try anyway. Here's why each one would be difficult, or even impossible.

1.  Trump can’t bust all the legal pot businesses because there are way too many already. ...

2.  If Trump were to even threaten pot businesses, he would still end up in brutal court battles. ...

3.  Even if Trump only makes a few busts, the states will get involved and fight Trump, too. ...

4.  Trying to overturn state legalization laws themselves would be difficult and time-consuming — and could still fail. ...

5.  Fighting long legal battles would be unpopular for Trump, and it would grow more toxic by the day. ...

6.  Trump could never stop people from using and growing pot with impunity, even if he won in court. ...

The reporting and analysis in this article merits considerable attention, but I want to put a bit of extra emphasis and spin on the key final point.   Though aggressive enforcement actions and successful lawsuits would not enable federal officials to fully "beat pot," the feds still could bring down much of the modern commercial marijuana industry.  (And, importantly, there are even some folks supportive of marijuana reform who are not so supportive of the modern commercial marijuana industry.)  I continue to believe a new federal weed war remains unlikely, but I also believe there will be notable casualties is such a war still gets waged in some capacity in the coming months.

August 28, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (5)

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Interesting accounting and analysis of "America’s Marijuana Evolution"

2017_timelineAsset_1_4x-80_no_logoThe folks at Third Way have this notable new publication titled "America’s Marijuana Evolution." Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with the ground covered in this piece, but it still makes for an interesting read based on how legal and policy changes are discussed.  Here is one excerpt focused on state laws and political developments:

A detailed analysis of the ten states to most recently legalize medical marijuana legislatively finds that most bills passed with large majorities, regardless of the party controlling the chamber. In nine of those ten states, the measure passed with at least 60% of the vote in the lower chamber of the state legislature. And in all but Ohio, the upper house voted in favor of legalization with at least 58% of the vote. In several states, the bills passed with more than 80% or even 90% approval—making it clear that medical legalization on the state level has gained wide support across the ideological spectrum.

Marijuana is even less of a partisan issue on the state level than on the federal level, though Democratic policymakers at all levels of government remain more supportive of reform than Republicans. In every single one of the ten states to most recently legalize legislatively, the majority passing the bill through each chamber of the state legislature was bipartisan. And while in nine of those ten states the Governor signing the bill into law was a Democrat, in the three most recent — Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia — both chambers of the state legislature were controlled by Republicans. In fact, in Ohio Republican Governor John Kasich signed his state’s bill into law, making it the first to enact marijuana legalization through a process that was Republican-controlled at every stage. And the Democratic Governor of West Virginia who signed his state's bill into law earlier this year — Jim Justice — has since announced he is switching party affiliation to be a Republican.

When Vermont became the first state in the nation to pass a recreational legalization bill this spring, it did so with healthy majorities as well—20-9 in the Senate and 79-66 in the House. Though only a handful of Republicans voted for the bill in each chamber, when Republican Governor Phil Scott vetoed it, he said that he is not philosophically opposed to marijuana legalization and has since been working with the legislature on a new bill that addresses some specific concerns he had raised.

Increasingly, marijuana reform is becoming a bipartisan issue in state legislatures, regardless of the party in power. That’s especially true for medical legalization, which is now the law of the land in the majority of states.

We analyzed the state legislative and gubernatorial elections immediately following legalization in each of the ten states that most recently legislated medical marijuana, and we couldn’t identify a single instance of negative political consequences for elected officials who supported legalization of medical marijuana.

We could find no state legislative races in which voting in favor of a medical marijuana bill was detrimental. Only two state senates flipped party control after legalization—New York and Minnesota—but in both the medical marijuana vote had been overwhelmingly in favor and bipartisan. Only two state lower chambers flipped party control as well — Minnesota and New Hampshire — but in neither state was marijuana a major campaign issue. Not a single Governor in any of these ten states lost a reelection campaign because he or she signed a medical marijuana bill into law — in fact, only one Governor lost their reelection at all (Democrat Pat Quinn of Illinois), and it was to an opponent who did not oppose medical marijuana legalization.

It seems clear that legalizing medical marijuana is not a political liability for Governors or state legislatures. In fact, given the overwhelming popularity of medical marijuana, just the opposite may prove to be true going forward, especially as more states legalize and those that don’t are left behind.

State policymakers have led the way on marijuana reform. More than half of the 29 states that have legalized medical marijuana did so legislatively, and more are likely to follow. The growing bipartisan nature of state reforms and the absence of any major political consequences for those policymakers who enacted them illustrate that policymakers can feel comfortable publicly supporting legalization, regardless of party affiliation.

August 24, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)