Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Thursday, December 8, 2016

"7 Reasons President Trump Is Unlikely to Fight Legal Marijuana"

America_We_DeserveThe title of this post is the headline of this effective new Time magazine article.  I recommend the piece in full, and here are some key excerpts and major headings:

With Donald Trump nominating Cabinet members who have spoken out against legal marijuana, some are arguing that the war on drugs may make a comeback. But while there’s reason for anxiety among those selling recreational marijuana legally in states like Colorado and Washington, an all-out war remains unlikely.

Experts say that trying to undo legalization at this point would come with serious economic and political hurdles. “It’s certainly come so far,” says Sam Kamin, a marijuana law expert at the University of Denver, “that it can’t be undone without a heavy cost.” Others are even more skeptical. Says Mike Vitiello, a marijuana law expert at the University of the Pacific, “It’s kind of like illegal immigration: You can’t build a wall high enough.”

Here are seven reasons that it would be hard to stop what the states have started.

Waging a war on pot would go against the will of many voters.

“It would be a very blatant finger to the voters,” says the Drug Policy Alliance’s Amanda Reiman. In November, voters in eight states cast their ballots for some form of marijuana legalization. That means that medical marijuana is now legal in 28 states and recreational marijuana is legal in eight, including the nation’s most populous: California. With that powerhouse on board, a total of about one quarter of the population lives in a place where voters have decided that adults should be able to consume cannabis much the same way they consume alcohol. And all but six other states have legalized a non-psychoactive form of cannabis known as CBD, which people use to treat conditions like juvenile epilepsy.

Public opinion on marijuana is going in the opposite direction. ...

Trump himself has said he supports medical marijuana and that states should handle the question of whether to legalize. ...

It does not seem high on his list of priorities. ...

Waging a war costs money. ...

There’s a lot of money in marijuana these days and the prospect of much more in the future.

If legal marijuana markets didn’t exist tomorrow, that would mean the shuttering of hundreds of small businesses and the loss of thousands of jobs. It would buoy the black market. And it would also make for a lot of unhappy investors. The market for legal marijuana in America is already worth an estimated $7 billion and, according to market research firm ArcView, it will be worth more than $20 billion by 2020. While many bigwig venture capitalists and corporations are still wary of writing checks because of prohibition, others are proving eager to cash in on the “green rush.” Among them is even a member of Trump’s transition team, Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel. “There’s a huge amount of capital formation,” says Vitiello. “There are literally billions of dollars of investment in these gray market establishments.”

The extent of federal government’s authority over these matters is unclear. 

December 8, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, 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 (0)

Monday, December 5, 2016

Bring it, Jeff: why I seriously doubt future AG Sessions will start a foolish new weed war federal offensive

Lead_960The title of this post is my (foolish?) reaction to this notable new Politico magazine article headlined "Jeff Sessions’ Coming War on Legal Marijuana: There’s little to stop the attorney general nominee from ignoring the will of millions of pro-pot voters." Here are excerpts from the start of the article which I follow with a (too brief) explanation for my blunt "bring it" bravado:

By nominating Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III for attorney general, President-elect Donald J. Trump is about to put into the nation’s top law enforcement job a man with a long and antagonistic attitude toward marijuana. As a U.S. Attorney in Alabama in the 1980s, Sessions said he thought the KKK "were OK until I found out they smoked pot.” In April, he said, “Good people don't smoke marijuana,” and that it was a "very real danger" that is “not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized.” Sessions, who turns 70 on Christmas Eve, has called marijuana reform a "tragic mistake" and criticized FBI Director James Comey and Attorneys General Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch for not vigorously enforcing a the federal prohibition that President Obama has called “untenable over the long term.”  In a floor speech earlier this year, Senator Sessions said: "You can’t have the President of the United States of America talking about marijuana like it is no different than taking a drink… It is different….It is already causing a disturbance in the states that have made it legal.”

Sessions has not shared his plans on marijuana enforcement, but if he chooses, he will be able to act decisively and quickly — more so perhaps than with any other of his top agenda items such as re-doubling efforts to combat illegal immigration and relaxing oversight of local police forces and federal civil rights laws. With little more than the stroke of his own pen, the new attorney general will be able to arrest growers, retailers and users, defying the will of more than half the nation’s voters, including those in his own state who approved the use of CBD. Aggressive enforcement could cause chaos in a $6.7 billion industry that is already attracting major investment from Wall Street hedge funds and expected to hit $21.8 billion by 2020.

And so far, Congress has shown no interest in trying to stop the Sessions nomination, at least on this issue. Even members who are in favor of protecting states from federal interference on the marijuana issue have said they support Sessions’ confirmation as attorney general: “I strongly support Jeff Sessions as Attorney General,” said Representative Tom McClintock, Republican from California. “He is a strict constitutionalist who believes in the rule of law. I would expect that he will respect the prerogative of individual states to determine their own laws involving strictly intra-state commerce.”

There are dozens of reasons I think it would be quite foolish as a matter of constitutional law and sound federal policing priorities for future Attorney General Jeff Sessions to start his tenure by using broad federal police powers to criminally prosecute tens of thousands of players in a growing recreational marijuana industry.  This industry is already well-established and producing thousands of jobs and tens of millions in tax revenues in Colorado, Oregon and Washington; it is now gearing up for growth in Alaska, California, Massachusetts and Nevada and maybe Maine.

In the most simple of terms, it would be foolish for the Trump/Sessions Administration to try to "Make America Great Again" via tough federal pot prohibition enforcement because it would show to all who care to pay attention that the GOP's purported affinity for personal freedoms, free markets, limited government and states' rights is a huge bunch of hooey.  But I genuinely believe that most younger GOP Senators — e.g., folks like Ted Cruz, my wish pick for AG, Mike Lee, Rand Paul, Ben Sasse, Tim Scott— have always voiced a genuine commitment to personal freedoms, free markets, limited government and states' rights.  Consequently, I do not think these important GOP voices are going to be quick to bless any efforts by future AG Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III to bring back an era of national federal Prohibition enforcement by executive fiat.

Moreover, and completely missing from the facile analysis in this superficial Politico article, even if future AG Jeff Sessions were eager to bring back an era of national federal Prohibition enforcement by executive fiat for the emerging recreational marijuana industry, there will still be the bigger and stronger and much more consequential medical marijuana industry chugging along — especially in so many swing/red states that were critical to the election of Donald J. Trump circa 2016.  I am thinking here specifically of now-red states like Arizona and Florida and Michigan and Ohio and Pennsylvania.  Those now-red states alone add up to nearly 100 electoral votes that a whole bunch of Dems would love to win back in 2018 and 2020; and they are all states that, I think, could easily go back into the Dem column if/when establishment Dems finally figure out that medical marijuana reform in a winning issue worth promoting forcefully.  (I have blogged here an explanation for my claim in a post at my other blog that Voter math suggests a possible Hillary landslide IF she had championed marijuana reform.)

Importantly, in this post I have only outlined some obvious political/policy reasons for why I think it would be foolish (and ultimately unlikely) for future AG Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III to bring back an era of national federal pot Prohibition enforcement by executive fiat.  In a future post, assuming readers are interested, I can explain all the reasons I think the other two branches of the federal government — Congress and the federal judiciary — can and would and should find an array of means to "stop the attorney general nominee from ignoring the will of millions of pro-pot voters."  Given that Congress and federal judges over the last eight years have done a whole lot to preclude the Obama Administration from doing too much by executive fiat,  everyone concerned about criminal justice and marijuana policy in the Trumpian future much keep in mind that the Framers gave us a wonderful federal system of check-and-balances that has been pretty effective at keeping the big bad federal government from doing too many stupid things that are obviously against the considered will of the people.

Just sayin'

Cross-posted at Marijuana Law, Policy, and Reform

December 5, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Golden State NBA MJ fan: Steve Kerr as (unlikely?) medical marijuana advocate

Core_package_smallWhen I think of MJ and the NBA, my thoughts generally run to Michael Jordan.  But the head coach of the Golden State Warriors is now doing his best to ensure I think of marijuana reform when MJ and the NBA comes up. This local article, headlined "Warriors coach Steve Kerr strengthens stance advocating medical marijuana over painkillers," highlights some reasons why:

On Friday, Steve Kerr did what he does every day. He scrolled his phone, surfed the web and searched for NBA headlines. He saw some of the usual stuff, but, also, one plastered everywhere that caught his eye: Kerr uses pot. “I don’t think it’s a big deal,” Kerr said. “But I do find it ironic that if I said I used OxyContin for relief for my back pain, it would not have been a headline.

Kerr went on a CSN Bay Area podcast earlier in the day and had an extended discussion about the dangers of pain-killers. In it, he revealed that he tried marijuana a couple times over the past 18 months to try to relieve his back pain. It didn’t work. But within his research, he found medicinal marijuana to be far less dangerous than the pain pills prescribed to athletes.

He said he had no interest in making it into a major story. But he now doesn’t seem to mind that it has taken off in that direction because it has given him a chance to speak out against an issue he feels quite passionate. In his Saturday night pregame media session, Kerr talked for five-plus minutes on the subject.

“You get handed prescriptions for Vicodin, OxyContin, Percocet,” Kerr said. “NFL players, that’s what they’re given. That stuff is awful. That stuff is dangerous. The addiction possibility, what it could lead to, the long-term health risks. So the issue that is really important is: How do we do what’s best for the players? But I understand it’s a perception issue around the country. NFL, NBA, it’s a business. So you don’t want your customers thinking these guys are a bunch of potheads. That’s what it is. But to me it’s only a matter of time before medicinal marijuana is allowed in sports leagues. Because the education will overwhelm the perception. If you do any research at all, the stuff they’re prescribing is really bad for you. The stuff that they’re banning is fine. Again, it’s perception. But I do think it’s a matter of time. You can see it with our country. Our country is starting to wisen up on the medicinal marijuana side. But I hope we can wisen up on the prescription drug side. That’s scary stuff and it’s really not talked about very often.”

Kerr said the “conversation is important” and continued. “I’m always struck every time I’m at home on the couch watching a sporting event, some drug commercial comes on and they show these happy people jumping in a lake, rowing a boat,” he said. “And you just wait for the qualifier: ‘Side effects include suicidal thoughts and possible death.’ And you’re just like this is insane. It’s insane. It really is. And yet the stigma is not on those drugs being prescribed day and night to anybody. The stigma is on something that’s relatively harmless.”

Kerr was then asked whether he feels the NBA should deal with the issue in the upcoming CBA, which will reportedly be finalized in the next few weeks. “I think the league should look into the use of medicinal marijuana for pain relief,” Kerr said. “As far as recreational, I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about pain relief, what’s best for our players health. That’s what should be in the CBA. And that’s what our owners and our league and our player’s union should be the most concerned with. And maybe part of that is educating the public about how bad some of the stuff our players are given for pain relief actually is. So the education is important and I think as the public gets more educated and people get more educated, there will ultimately be a policy that includes medicinal CBD, oils, whatever is best suited for pain. Hopefully that’s something that comes in the next CBA, but I have no idea. That’s not my responsibility.”

Earlier in the day, Warriors forward Draymond Green was asked about the subject. He said he’d never used marijuana, but agreed with Kerr’s comments about why it’s far safer than pain-killers. “It makes a lot of sense,” Green said. “You look at something that comes from the Earth — any vegetable that comes from the Earth, they encourage you to eat it, you know? So I guess it does make a little sense, as opposed to giving someone a manufactured pill. Like, if something takes your pain away the way some of these pills do, it can’t be all good for you. So I guess it makes a lot of sense, when you look at, he talked about Vicodin and Toradol — like, you can be completely hurting and then take a Toradol shot and go through a game and feel nothing. Is that really good for you over the course of time? I doubt it.”...

Kerr may no longer be using medical marijuana. But he’s planted himself at the forefront of the discussion surrounding it. “I just urge people to do your research before you start taking the stuff we’re all encouraged to take,” he said. “And I always feel bad for the NFL guys. Playing in the NBA, I had lots of injuries, plenty of pain. I never took anything like the opioids we’re talking about. But NFL guys, those guys are basically in a car wreck every week. Sometimes twice in five days which is another issue. But when they’re prescribed that, it’s really scary. Especially when they’re prescribed by team doctors when you do research on the possible repercussions.”

Some prior related posts on sports leagues and marijuana reform:

As a few NFL players continue to talk up medical marijuana, what are the marijuana reform views of all the new NBA multi-millionaires?

Responding to election results, NFL Players Association moving forward on studying marijuana for pain relief

How will legalization of marijuana effect sports leagues policies regarding marijuana use?

 

December 4, 2016 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Sports, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 1, 2016

"The Case for Pot in the Age of Opioids: Legalizing medical marijuana could save lives that may otherwise be lost to opioid addiction."

ImrsThe title of this post is the headline of this U.S. News & World Report commentary on a topic that I hope continues to get more and more attention. Here is how the piece gets started (with links from the original):

Medical marijuana legalization won big this Election Day. Thanks to ballot initiatives in Arkansas, Florida and North Dakota, 26 states and Washington, D.C. now have medical marijuana laws. Four states also legalized recreational marijuana, adding to the national trend.

As states embrace pot, the federal government should follow suit and move toward legalizing medical marijuana nationwide to help save lives. In states where medical marijuana is legal, fewer lives are lost to opioid overdoses. Save lives by legally smoking weed? Yes.

Those in favor of marijuana legalization for medical use have strong evidence to support that marijuana is a useful treatment for many diseases. These include the treatment ofseizures, chronic pain and supportive care for those enduring cancer treatment.

Just as important, opioid overdose deaths dropped by approximately 25 percent in states that passed medical marijuana laws, compared to states that have not, according to Johns Hopkins' Center for Mental Health and Addiction Policy Research. That's something we can't overlook.

Yet pharmaceutical companies want us to ignore this data. In states where medical marijuana is legal, fewer opioid prescriptions are written compared to states where marijuana is illegal. This means that fewer people are buying the opioid drugs that are so profitable to the pharmaceutical companies.

The number of people dying from opioid abuse in the United States has been steadily rising. We can estimate now that approximately 43,000 people will die in the United States from accidental overdoses this year, a number that has grown in the past decade.

Legalizing medical marijuana probably will save lives that would otherwise be lost to opioid abuse and addiction. And as more states move to legalize recreational marijuana, providing even greater access to the drug, one could argue opioid use may drop more.

The states clearly understand that marijuana has medical benefits. Now, we need to look beyond the states to change laws on a national level. Failing to do so will end lives that we likely could save. Most notably, marijuana needs to be removed from Schedule 1, so that it can be prescribed and researched more thoroughly.

December 1, 2016 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Given latest opioid death data, should Ohio officials be fast-tracking access to medical marijuana?

Heroin_series_logo_WEBRegular readers of this blog know that one of the most encouraging pieces of modern marijuana research comes from the growing evidence suggesting that deaths from opioid overdoses are lower in states that have functional medical marijuana programs.  (See prior discussions here and here and here.)  For that reason, when I see this new article from my local paper, headlined "Ohio leads nation in overdose deaths," I immediately think it is time for all Ohio officials to try to shift the state's new medical marijuana law into high gear.  Here is the ugly deadly data (which actually is based only on 2014 fatalities):

In a grim statistic that surprises no one close to the problem, Ohio leads the nation in opioid overdose deaths, a new report shows. Along with the overall category, Ohio also had the country's most deaths related to heroin: One in 9 heroin deaths across the U.S. happened in Ohio.  The Buckeye State also recorded the most deaths from synthetic opioids: About 1 in 14 U.S. deaths.

In all the categories, Ohio easily surpassed states with larger populations. According to state-by-state statistics compiled by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, 2,106 opioid overdoses were reported in Ohio in 2014, which was 7.4 percent of the 28,647 deaths reported nationwide that year. California ranked second with 2,024 deaths and New York was third with 1,739.

The statistics are troubling but probably aren’t news to many law enforcement officials, treatment providers and families of addicts in Ohio who have seen the number of overdose deaths shoot up every year lately. Ohio’s status as the nation’s OD capital may continue. The state’s overdose deaths rocketed to 3,050 last year and are expected to burst past that number in 2016.

The Kaiser analysis, compiled from U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention information, showed Ohio had the highest number of deaths from synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl and carfentanil, with 590 deaths out of 5,544 nationally, or 7.4 percent. Finally, Ohio also had the dubious distinction of having the most heroin deaths in 2014, 1,208 of 10,574 nationally, or 11.4 percent, the Kaiser statistics showed.

Tellingly, the MUCH bigger states of California and New York both have medical marijuana programs (though New York's is still in its infancy), and I suspect that marijuana access is generally greater in a number of other larger prohibition states (e.g., Texas and Florida) relative to Ohio. Critically, I am not asserting that marijuana reform alone is a magic solution to opioid overdose problems or even that Ohio's new medical marijuana program will make a major difference in this arena. But I am asserting that, at a time of a deadly opioid crisis that has only gotten worse and worse each year, state officials ought to be embracing any and every public policy response that research suggests might be of help. Marijuana reform would seem to be on any serious list of public policy responses that research suggests might be of help in this time of crisis.

Some prior related posts:

November 29, 2016 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 28, 2016

Some notable new stories and discussions of NFL policies and NFL players' use of marijuana

Regular readers know I find fascinating the intersection of MJ reform and NFL realities.  Two recent pieces, as linked and excerpted below, highlight these realities:

"NFL player using marijuana for Crohn’s disease may press league over its drug policy":

Seantrel Henderson, a third-year offensive lineman for the Buffalo Bills, is facing his second suspension of the season for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse rules. But Henderson’s case is unusual because it raises fresh questions about the approach to pain management and changing attitudes about the legalization of marijuana.

What makes Henderson’s situation unique is that he uses marijuana, which is legal in many states but prohibited under the collective bargaining agreement in the NFL, to combat the pain from Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory bowel disease that just this year has caused him to have two surgeries. In January, 2 1/2 feet of his colon were removed and in April he underwent surgery to reattach his intestines. In the interim, he wore an ileostomy bag and lost 50 pounds. He chose not to appeal the four-game suspension he received in September, his first of the season.

But Henderson is expected to appeal what would be a 10-game suspension for this second offense for using a banned substance. The NFL is expected to decide his punishment this week and NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport reports that Henderson may take the matter to court.

"Why isn’t marijuana an option for professional football players?"

For the typical American going to work every day, the demands of your job probably don't include your daily dose of pain medications which are administered by your employer. Imagine being an employee at General Motors or Chase Bank and being forced to see your "company doctor" for all ailments and being prescribed addictive pain medications. Now what if that same job resulted in daily injuries, most of which would be considered debilitating for the general population? Well this was the reality for me and countless other NFL players....

With so many states now legalizing some form of legal marijuana use, the NFL and its conservative owners must face the inevitable. The players' association is beginning to push the league to reevaluate their logic. "Certainly given some of the medical research out there, marijuana is going to be one of the substances we talk a look at," says Players' Union Executive George Atallah.

The league's response to the topic included a statement that it would be open to reconsidering its policy, but the league's medical experts haven't recommended any changes. Let's remember that these same medical experts denied that football caused concussions.

November 28, 2016 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, November 26, 2016

"Where Marijuana Is the Doctor’s Orders, Will Insurers Pay?"

The question in the title of this post was the headline of this recent New York Times article, which included these excerpts:

For businesses and insurers, a string of ballot victories this month for marijuana advocates are adding to an intensifying conundrum about the drug and issues such as insurance coverage, employee drug testing and workplace safety.... “We are entering this conflict between a social policy decision and a workplace that is highly regulated,” said Alex Swedlow, the chief executive of the California Workers’ Compensation Institute, a research organization.

A major part of the predicament centers on unclear science about the benefits of marijuana or the dozens of compounds, known as cannabinoids, that are found in the plant. For its part, the Food and Drug Administration has approved only a synthetic version of a cannabinoid and a similar drug for narrow uses, such as to treat nausea in chemotherapy patients or to stimulate the appetites of patients with AIDS. Typically, health insurers will pay for marijuana-related drugs only for F.D.A.-approved uses.

But state medical marijuana laws usually give doctors permission to recommend marijuana to a patient with a “debilitating” condition, a phrase that can encompass problems including glaucoma, cancer and chronic pain. Usually, patients pay for the drug themselves and several states have explicitly exempted workplace compensation insurers for covering such costs.

But as a result of recent state court rulings in New Mexico, workplace insurers there are required to pay for marijuana-based treatments if they are recommended by a doctor. And lower courts in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts and Michigan have issued rulings directing workplace insurers to do so. The number of patients receiving such coverage is small. And because marijuana is illegal under federal law, insurers paying for the drug must use a financial workaround to avoid violations. One strategy is to reimburse patients for their costs rather than make a direct payment to a marijuana dispensary....

Despite the push toward legalization, few employers have dropped marijuana from the list of drugs for which employees are tested, compounds that typically include opioids, amphetamines and cocaine... As marijuana legalization expands, there are also concerns about its effect on workplace safety. Some studies suggest that marijuana use can impair a person’s judgment, though little data exists to compare the effect with that of other drugs like opioids.

In states where recreational use is allowed, the problem for employers becomes one of determining when an employee used marijuana, because detectable levels of it remain in the body for days afterward. As a result, employers must use more subjective observations to judge whether an employee has become impaired from using marijuana while at work, said Ethan Nadelmann, the executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, a group that supports legalization.

As for Mr. Vialpando, the disabled worker in Santa Fe, he and his wife say they have all the evidence they need that medical marijuana works. Mr. Vialpando said that during the decade he used opioids, he withdrew from his family and friends, preferring to spend time by himself, watching television. He lost interest in food and developed sleep apnea — his wife used to wake up terrified at night because it appeared that he was dying.

These days, he smokes about four marijuana cigarettes daily. He said he had gained weight, enjoyed talking again and had resumed working on hobbies at home. His wife, Margaret, said that she hoped President-elect Donald J. Trump, when he takes office, will make marijuana a legal drug by changing how it is regulated. “I feel like I’ve gotten my husband back,” she said. “His personality has come back to the person that he used to be.”

November 26, 2016 in Employment and labor law issues, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Shouldn't a new "grassroots" Democratic Party led by Bernie Sanders get started by focusing on grass and roots?

In the video below from the Late Show, Bernie Sanders tells Stephen Colbert that the Democrats have to become a "grassroots" party. Because of the frustrating tendency in recent years the the Clinton wing of the Democratic party to promote and give power to older, less diverse and more "insider" officials and candidates than the Republican party, I have largely given up on the party and I am fairly apathetic about whether the party gets its act together sooner or later. But I am sure about one thing: if the Democratic party wants to become relevant very quickly and build as a true "grassroots" party, it ought to begin by focusing a lot on marijuana law and policy reform. Specifically, as the title of this post seeks to suggests, I think smart progressive politicians and community organizers ought to be laser focused, at least for the next six months if not longer, on (1) protecting the constitutional rights of citizens in states who are in strict and clear compliance with state marijuana laws (that is the "grass"), and (2) seeking to expand the reach and breadth of existing state marijuana reform laws, with a particular concern for allowing citizens a legal means for at least limited "home grow" (that is the roots).

I make this "pitch" largely driven by the fact that the only significant progressive policy issue that has gone to voters in the last two major election cycles and pretty consistently done much better with most voters (especially white male voters) than the leading Democratic candidate IN RED STATES has been marijuana reform. Specifically, in the 2014 election, in Alaska and Florida, a state marijuana reform proposal got significantly more than 50% of the vote even though, I believe, no democratic state-wide candidate in those two stated got more than 50% of the vote. Similarly, in the 2016 election, in Arkansas, Florida, Montana and North Dakota, a state marijuana reform proposal got significantly more support than the leading Democratic candidate. (The outlier here is Arizona, but notably exit polls show 43% of white men supported supported full legalization in the state, whereas only 36% of them supported Hillary Clinton; similarly 45% of whites without a college degree in Arizona supported full legalization, whereas only 35% of them supported Hillary Clinton.)

I could go on and on and on about why the "smart" approach for any political party circa Fall 2016 would be to focus on the bipartisan and wildly popular issue of medical marijuana reform. I will just close by noting that major medical or recreational marijuana reform is now the law of the land in just about big blue and red state except Texas. Specifically, recreational marijuana reform is now the law in "big states" like California (55 EV), Washington (12), Massachusetts (11), Colorado (9) Oregon (7), Nevada (6), while medical marijuana reform is the law of the land in Florida (29), New York (29), Illinois (20), Pennsylvania (20), Ohio (18), Michigan (16), New Jersey (14), Arizona (11), Connecticut (7), Arkansas (6). Notably, I have left out three "small" full legalization jurisdictions from this list (e.g., Alaska, Maine and Washing DC), but my list of bigger states now with major marijuana reform laws on their books after the 2016 election now just happens to add up to 271 electoral votes.

This electoral math and the marijuana map are among the reasons I remain quite bullish about the future of marijuana reform in the United States, and it is why I have been saying to any and everyone who would listen that the truly smart political candidates in BOTH major political parties are likely to be supportive of state-led marijuana reforms. But, given that the election last week highlighted that leading Democrats are not very good at getting to 270, I am not really all that optimistic that the Democratic party will wake up and smell the marijuana reform future rather than keep being focused on the prohibitionist past.

 

 

November 16, 2016 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, Political perspective on reforms, Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Will Prez-Elect Donald Trump make it legal and easier for veterans to have access to medical marijuana?

Veterans-day-20131The question in the title of this post is prompted by this lengthy new AP article headlined "For Colorado Veterans, Marijuana A Controversial Treatment." Here are excerpts:

Tom couldn’t sleep. After six years in the U.S. Navy, he found himself in the civilian world unable to readjust from his time on a ship, when a commanding officer would often wake up the sailors every few hours.  He tried prescription sleep aids, but nothing really worked until he smoked some weed ... “I tried it very sparingly and slept the whole night for the first time in like months,” Tom said.

For members of the U.S. military, admitting to using marijuana could result in an investigation and in most cases, punishment or separation from the military. Because of this, many of the veterans who use marijuana chose not to reveal their last names...

Attorney Will M. Helixon, an expert in military law, said the military still considers marijuana a controlled substance. Someone in active duty caught using the drug could be punished and in most cases, processed for separation from the military. For someone who is not on active duty, it could still result in a discharge, which could close the door for future benefits and career options.

Helixon said it makes no difference to the military if marijuana is legal in some states, such as Colorado. “There are many instances where otherwise lawful conduct is prohibited by the military, marijuana being one of them,” Helixon said. “To not be efficient in your job or to be derelict in your duties is not a crime in the civilian world, but it is in the military.”...

Tom said he much prefers marijuana over drinking, even though branches of the military are no strangers to alcohol consumption. “The Navy has, I don’t want to say a tradition, but we’re known for being heavy drinkers. There’s that saying ‘drunk as a sailor,'” Tom said. “It’s like a big frat because at every port there’s ‘Let’s go out and get as drunk as possible.’ I thought it was so odd that the Navy was so gung ho about drinking and so against marijuana. I consider them on the same level.”

Juan, who is 50 and was in the U.S. Marine Corps, expressed the same sentiment. Juan broke his collarbone from injuries not related to the military, he said. “I just drank all the time to numb the pain but marijuana works much better and for sleep as well,” Juan said. Marijuana “doesn’t really get rid of the pain. It changes it to something more manageable if that makes sense … it like feels good to get it moving, like a massage.”

Juan said he has a couple friends recently who died from heavy drinking. He said the drinking culture in the Marines is similar to what Tom described in the Navy. “Oh yeah, it’s just like college — put enough young people together and they’re going to want to party and drink. In the Marine Corps everyone drank and pretty excessively too,” Juan said.

Juan said he is distrustful of prescription opiates as well. “I think the amount of opiates being prescribed to people is a little reckless. I don’t take aspirin because I don’t like the idea of drugs,” Juan said. “An opiate can actually kill you if you overdose. With marijuana, that can’t happen. You’re not going to smoke yourself to death.”... Juan conceded that it is possible to get hooked on marijuana, like anything else. “To be honest, I’m kind of addicted to not hurting all the time. You can be psychologically dependent on it,” Juan said. “If it gets to a point where you’re smoking before work or something then you’ve got a problem. I have friends who smoke it pretty heavily and they are well-paid with families to take care of. They’re not the stereotypical stoner on the couch.” ‘A Band-Aid’ Sam House, a spokesman for the U. S. Department Veterans Affairs for northern Colorado and Cheyenne, said that while marijuana may seem beneficial, it’s masking the real problem.... House said the VA follows the Federal Drug Administration, which has not found a medical use for cannabis. The Drug Enforcement Administration still lists marijuana as a Schedule I drug.

Because of the federal policy, House said a veteran who uses marijuana won’t be able to get certain prescriptions at the VA medical office. For instance, veterans are routinely blood-tested every time they go in for a VA appointment, House said. So if a veteran tweaks his or her back in a way for which a doctor would prescribe prescription painkillers, when the bloodwork comes back positive for marijuana, the VA doctor can no longer prescribe the painkillers.

House is a veteran who is diagnosed with PTSD. He said it’s important for veterans to treat the root cause of the side effects with therapy, instead of self-medicating with marijuana. “The goal of every veteran should be to be normal and to seek out that new normal,” House said. “If someone is on an antidepressant, they may need that for the rest of their lives. Why complicate that with self-medication, which could or could not contribute to that depression?”...

Curt Bean, 31 of Lakewood, was diagnosed with PTSD after tours in Iraq with the U.S Army. Bean said he knows a fellow veteran who went from taking 14 medications for PTSD to three medications after starting marijuana. “The three biggest things for me — anxiety is really tough and then there’s depression and sleeplessness,” Bean said. “I’m able to have something to mitigate that in a healthy and positive way with zero negative side effects.”

Bean said he is heavily involved in the Colorado veterans community and he has seen other veterans switch from opiates to marijuana with positive effects. “They were just being zombies. And the marijuana allowed them to be a successful part of their families and their communities,” Bean said. “It allowed them to be part of their communities rather than isolating them in their room.”...

Bean said he knows many veterans are afraid to come out and say they use marijuana, but he is trying to raise more awareness about the issue. Bean has smoked marijuana on a few local news stations. “I understand the ramifications of doing that, but it takes people to stand up and say, ‘It’s silly,’ for this to become less of an issue,” Bean said.

Bean said he wished the VA would come around and see his perspective on marijuana use for PTSD. “It’s a matter of time. The longer they wait and drag their feet, the lower the quality of life for veterans and there is some loss of life,” Bean said. “That’s the most upsetting thing — that I’m on this expedition to be able to say that this is a valuable option for the guys and they should be able to use it because it does save lives.” 

Notably, this two-page document entitled "Donald Trump's Contract with the American Voter," describes a part of a planned initiative to include "provid[ing] veterans with the ability to receive public VA treatment or attend the private doctor of their choice." If that becomes a reality, it could make it much easier to veterans to have access to medical marijuana through the private health care system (although this would not alone solve problems for active military members).  

November 13, 2016 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Responding to election results, NFL Players Association moving forward on studying marijuana for pain relief

Images (2)As many like to say, elections have consequences.  And this new Washington Post article highlights one really interesting and surprisingly quick consequence of all the marijuana election results.   The lengthy article is headlined "As more states legalize marijuana, NFLPA to study potential as a pain-management tool," and here are excerpts:

In the aftermath of a new set of states legalizing marijuana use in the national elections, the NFL Players Association said Wednesday it is forming a committee to actively study the possibility of allowing players to use marijuana as a pain-management tool.

The union is forming an NFL players pain management committee that will study players’ use of marijuana as a pain-management mechanism, among other things, though the union has not yet determined if an adjustment to the sport’s ban on marijuana use is warranted.

“Marijuana is still governed by our collective bargaining agreement,” George Atallah, the NFLPA’s assistant executive director of external affairs, said in a phone interview Wednesday.  “And while some states have moved in a more progressive direction, that fact still remains.  We are actively looking at the issue of pain management of our players. And studying marijuana as a substance under that context is the direction we are focused on.”

A growing push from players within the sport, plus an ongoing national medical conversation over the benefits of marijuana and the dangers of opiate-based painkillers, have increased scrutiny on the league’s rules that ban the drug.  This also comes as voters in California, Nevada and Massachusetts approved recreational marijuana use Tuesday, joining four other states and Washington, D.C., in enacting similar laws. Florida, Arkansas and North Dakota voters legalized medical marijuana use, bringing the total of states with such measures to more than two dozen.

But marijuana use remains prohibited under the drug policy collectively bargained between the NFL and the NFLPA, and both parties would need to agree to any changes to that policy.  Players are tested for marijuana and can be fined or suspended without pay for positive or missed tests.  The union’s contemplation of approving marijuana as a pain-management mechanism for players had begun before Tuesday’s voting.

Some players, including former Jacksonville Jaguars and Baltimore Ravens offensive lineman Eugene Monroe, argue that marijuana is safer than the painkillers commonly used by players and its use should be permitted by the sport for pain-management purposes....

Some contend that the increasing number of states to legalize marijuana use should impact the NFL’s view. “There is no health and safety reason for marijuana being on the banned list and now the legal rationale has crumbled,” a person on the players’ side of the sport said Wednesday, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic.

Some medical experts are also advocating for cannabis-based treatment over some current painkillers, noting the addiction and overdose potential of opioids. In 2014, 19,000 deaths were attributed to overdoses from prescription pain medication, according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine. Prescription painkillers have also been cited as a gateway to heroin use.

“In my mind, there’s no comparison if we just started from scratch in the year 2016 and looked newly at which class of drugs worked better to treat pain and side-effect profile up to and including death, in the case of opioids,” Daniel Clauw, a University of Michigan professor who has performed studies comparing opioids and cannabis, told the Post in June. “You put the two next to each other, and there really is no debate which is more effective to treat pain. You would go the cannabinoid route instead of the opiate route.”

Cannabidiol, or CBD, an anti-inflammatory extracted from cannabis, could potentially help players as a preventative measure against one of the most pressing issues facing the NFL: concussions. Lester Grinspoon, a professor emeritus at Harvard and one of the first medical marijuana researchers, said in an interview with the Post earlier this year that “evidence shows CBD is neuroprotective. I would have each individual take a capsule an hour or two before they play or practice. It’s better than nothing.”...

The current collective bargaining agreement between the league and union runs through 2020. But the two sides review the sport’s drug policies annually and sometimes make adjustments. In September 2014, the league and union agreed to raise the threshold for what constitutes a positive test for marijuana from 15 nanograms per milliliter to 35 nanograms per milliliter. A nanogram is one-billionth of a gram....

The league has come under fire recently for the length of suspensions given for marijuana use compared to other violations, such as the initial suspensions for domestic violence incidents assessed to then-New York Giants kicker Josh Brown (one game) earlier this season and then-Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice (two games) in 2014....

Gabriel Feldman, the director of the sports law program at Tulane University, said the NFL and NFLPA face a practical and perhaps political decision about marijuana, but not one of compliance with shifting state laws. “There are substances on the banned substances list that are not illegal,” Feldman said in a phone interview. “The league and the Players Association can make the determination under the CBA that substances that are legal can be on the banned substances list. . . . [Conversely the league] doesn’t have to test for it just because it’s illegal.

“The league is certainly not bound by the laws of individual states in terms of whether they test or don’t test. There are some who might say that alcohol should be a banned substance even though it’s legal. Ultimately it’s up to the league and the players to decide.”

The momentum of the marijuana-legalization movement potentially could influence the NFL’s thinking, Feldman said. “It may,” Feldman said. “I would think that both the league and the players are continuing to study the issue and continuing to study whether it makes sense. Certainly as the laws change, that might inform their decision and we may see action. [But] the league also has a uniformity issue. Even if the federal prohibition is lifted and it’s legal in some states and illegal in other states, the NFL might have an interest in maintaining uniformity in its policy.”

November 9, 2016 in Employment and labor law issues, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Sports, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Previewing and tracking the 2016 marijuana initiative election results throughout the evening

American-pot-flagThis new Huffington Post article, headlined "9 States Are Voting On Marijuana On Election Day. Here’s Where They Stand Right Now," provides a relatively efficient and effective overview of all states to be watching for those concerning about state-by-state marijuana reform initiative developments. Arguments can be made that all five states voting on full recreation legalization are most important as a metric for the future of national reform, though I strongly believe the votes in all four medical marijuana states today should not be overlooked. Here is how the HuffPo piece sets up its state-by-state review:

Millions of voters across the United States are considering measures to roll back longstanding restrictions on marijuana this Election Day. By the end of Tuesday night, five more states could fully legalize weed, which would put nearly one-quarter of the nation’s population in areas that have rejected prohibition and decided to tax and regulate the plant. An additional four states are voting on whether to legalize marijuana for medical use. If approved, pot would become legal in some form in 29 states and Washington D.C.

Marijuana policy reformers say this could be a watershed moment for their movement. “Nov. 8 is the most important day in the history of the marijuana legalization movement,” Tom Angell, chairman of drug policy reform group Marijuana Majority, told The Huffington Post. “The stakes couldn’t be higher. Big wins will dramatically accelerate our push to finally end federal marijuana prohibition, perhaps as soon as 2017.  But on the other hand, huge losses could interrupt the momentum we’ve been building for the last several years.”

I would be surprised if there is a consistent voting outcome throughout all the states, though I think is a near certainty that by the end the day a much larger number of Americans will be voting in favor of significant marijuana reforms today than at any other time in US history.   That reality alone, even if reform proposals end up losing in a number of states, ought to help propel the national marijuana reform movement forward.

Drilling down into state-by-state outcomes and their impact on the national reform conversation, I have lately come to think the pace of national/federal marijuana reform might ultimately be influenced even more by the vote today in (swing state) Florida concerning medical marijuana than by any of the five recreational state votes.  Then again, the recreational initiatives in California (as the biggest US state) and in Massachusetts (the biggest New England state) also are obviously very big deals for the likely future direction and structure of federal reforms.  And none of the votes in any of the other states are without national significance and consequence, especially when each vote can help increasing significantly the number of US Senators who are from states in which voters or local representatives have called for some form of marijuana legalization.

 Going through the states here by closing times (ET) provides one way to organize and track what reformers can follow most closely throughout the night:

Florida polls close at 7pm where folks are voting on the medical marijuana reform known as Amendment 2

Florida Results webpage

 

Maine polls close at 8pm where folks are voting on the recreational marijuana reform known as Question 1

Maine Results webpage

 

Massachusetts polls close at 8pm where folks are voting on the recreational marijuana reform known as Question 4

Massachusetts Results webpage

 

North Dakota polls close at 8pm where folks are voting on the medical marijuana reform known as Measure 5

North Dakota Results webpage

 

Arkansas polls close at 8:30pm where folks are voting on the medical marijuana reform known as Issue 6

Arkansas Results webpage

 

Arizona polls close at 9pm where folks are voting on the recreational marijuana reform known a Proposition 205

Arizona Results webpage

 

Montana polls close at 10pm where folks are voting on the medical marijuana reform known as Initiative 182

Montana Results webpage 

 

Nevada polls close at 10pm where folks are voting on the recreational marijuana reform known as Question 2

Nevada Results webpage

 

California polls close at 10pm where folks are voting on the recreational marijuana reform known as Proposition 64

California Results webpage

November 8, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 7, 2016

"Idaho mom loses custody of children after giving daughter marijuana butter to relieve seizures"

The title of this post is the headline of this new FoxNews article, which starts and ends this way (with links from the original):

In early October, 3-year-old Madyson began suffering from seizures and hallucinations after coming off of a prescription anti-psychotic medication that was being used to treat a history of seizures.   Her mother, Kelsey Osborne, made her a smoothie with marijuana butter to relieve her symptoms, and has now lost custody of her two children and is facing criminal charges.   Osborne of Gooding, Idaho, was charged with a misdemeanor count of injury to a child and is now protesting Child Protective Services to regain custody rights of Madyson and two-year-old son Ryker, from her ex-husband, Jerome, Fox 42 reported.

On Thursday, she and the Idaho Moms for Marijuana group rallied outside of the Department of Health and Welfare in Boise in favor of medical marijuana reform.  Idaho is the only state from the surrounding states in which all forms of marijuana use, medical or otherwise, are illegal.  However, the Food and Drug Administration has a program in Boise that uses cannabidiol oil (CBD) as an experimental treatment for 34 children with severe epilepsy, KTVB reported....

According to Idaho Statesman, Osborne made the marijuana butter herself and the substance did contain THC, as CBD oil is not available in the state.  Osborne told Fox 42 that she did what she thought was right as a mother.  "It's something that I'm going to fight for and I'm not going to give up until I have them back home where they have been begging me to be," Osborne told the news channel. "I'm not going to stop. I won't stop. If it takes me two years, then it's going to take me two years."

November 7, 2016 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 3, 2016

ESPN highlights NFL players, past and present, eager to use medical marijuana rather than opioids for pain relief

Eugene-Monroe-Family-2Regular readers know I am regularly eager to spotlight the role that elite athletes are playing in recasting conversations about the use of medical marijuana.  Consequently, I was pleased to see ESPN now giving some attention to these issues through these new pieces detailing how current and former NFL players are thinking about these issues:

The last of these articles is quite lengthy and should be quite interesting for all NFL fans as well as all persons interested in marijuana reform issues.

The reality of where a large number of NFL teams/players are located serves as another reason why the 2016 election ballot initiatives on marijuana reform are so significant. Five NFL teams are located in three of the states voting on recreational marijuana reform (the Cardinals, Patriots, Raiders, Rams and 49ers), and three are located in one state voting on medical marijuana reform (Buccaneers, Dolphins and Jaguars). If reforms pass in all these states, I think it gets harder still for the NFL to continue to aggressively prohibit its players from engaging in behaviors that their fans can lawfully engaging in within the state in which the team is located.

Indeed, the story surrounding Eugene Monroe and his involvement in the medical marijuana industry in Maryland reinforces my belief that the medical marijuana initiative in Florida could be among the most consequential this fall. Notably, as Eugene Monroe's dynamic website highlights, not only is Monroe's commitment to medical marijuana research and reform as significant passion for him, but he started his career by playing for four years with the Jacksonville Jaguars. I suspect Monroe still have plenty of professional and personal connections in the Jacksonville area, and that he may look to expand his medical marijuana advocacy and activities in the Sunshine State if voters there enact the significant marijuana reform constitutional amendment next week.

Some prior related posts on NFL players and marijuana use:

November 3, 2016 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Sports, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Highlighting the "knowledge gap" as marijuana reform moves forward at a speedy pace

Via email, I received news of this effective new "Policy Brief" released recently produced by folks at Carnevale Associates LLC.  The title of this short document is "Policy Debate Must Adjust to Changes in State Law and Public Opinion," and I especially appreciated its final section under the heading "Closing the Knowledge Gap." Here are excerpts from that section of this helpful document: 

Legalizing recreational marijuana is a far-reaching policy change. There is little research available on its potential effects on usage rates or public health and safety. This section highlights what government—state and federal— should do to close the knowledge gap.

The first priority is for data collection, performance monitoring, and analysis. States' regulatory structures should incorporate a feedback mechanism to track key performance metrics and conduct descriptive analyses of the operations of the market and its regulatory oversight system.

The second priority is for a sophisticated research agenda to explore the impact of legalization, including a focus on intended and unintended results of policy. The legal marijuana industry is new and a broad understanding of its functional dynamics are mostly unknown.

Research can provide state policy and program managers the answer to a number of questions, such as:

  • What model regulations should states adopt?...

  • How does marijuana use relate to other drug use—e.g., is it a substitute or complement to alcohol use? Opioid use?...

  • What is the environmental impact of legalization?

  • How do we test for marijuana use and what constitutes impairment?

  • How does marijuana use affect driving, workplace performance, and academic achievement?

  • How do new marijuana delivery systems (e.g., vaping) affect health and do they have other damaging consequences? What are the health effects of second hand smoke?

  • What is the impact of legalized marijuana on illegal markets? What is the impact on grey markets, where legal home grows of marijuana leak or are diverted into illegal markets?

  • What is the impact of the new marijuana industry on states’ gross domestic products?

  • How does the legalization of marijuana affect the social cost of illicit drug use?

November 3, 2016 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Would federal marijuana reform get a real "boost" if Democrats gain control of the US Senate?

CannabisHill_FB.4aabffc9fb3c5e7bfef73acc5067e886The question in the title of this post is prompted by this lengthy new Roll Call article with this full headline: "Marijuana Legalization Could Get a Boost in a Democratic Senate: Advocates hope for better reception to sweeping pot bill, now stalled." Here are excerpts from an article that effective reviews the federal marijuana reform landscape a week before a very important election for marijuana reform:

Marijuana legalization advocates hope that Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-VT., can push through a sweeping bill if he becomes Judiciary Committee Chairman under a Democratic-controlled Senate (Douglas Graham/Roll Call)

The momentum toward marijuana legalization — already accelerated this year by a raft of state ballot measures — could get an even bigger boost if Democrats win control of the Senate. That’s partly because the controlling party will choose the chairman of the committee that determines whether a sweeping marijuana proposal advances or dies.

The so-called CARERS Act has stalled in the Judiciary Committee under Chairman Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, who, in the past, has staunchly opposed legalized marijuana. The Democrat next in line to take the gavel, Patrick J. Leahy, has shown more interest. He said in 2013 that federal officials should not “waste their time” prosecuting marijuana crimes in states where it is legal. He also comes from Vermont, which has led the country in legalization efforts.

Michael Collins, deputy director of national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance, a pro-legalization group, called Grassley’s reticence to take on marijuana-related measures an “obstacle” to legalization. “If Sen. Leahy takes the gavel, we are a little more optimistic,” he said....

When the CARERS Act was introduced in March 2015, it was considered historically significant. Most key marijuana-related votes had taken place on the House side, through incremental changes tucked into unrelated bills. But here was the Senate, proposing one of the most comprehensive pot-related bills ever. CARERS focused solely on medical use — considered an easier sell. But it tackled many of legalization advocates’ biggest issues.

The bill would make it easier to research the medical benefits of cannabis and to buy and sell medical marijuana in the growing number of states where it is legal. It would also make it easier for veterans to access medical marijuana. Its original sponsors indicated a promising bipartisan appeal: Republican libertarian firebrand Rand Paul of Kentucky, and Democrats Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Cory Booker, of New Jersey. And it quickly attracted a list of co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle — including Charles E. Schumer of New York, a future shoe-in for majority leader under the Democrats, and Lindsey Graham, a conservative senior senator from South Carolina.

But the bill first had to pass through Grassley, who has linked lax marijuana laws and enforcement to the epidemic of opioid and heroin use. Grassley has held two marijuana-related hearings, one on researching its medical benefits, and another on cannabidiol, a component of marijuana that is thought to ease symptoms of epilepsy. The CARERS Act would remove cannabidiol, or CBD, from the Controlled Substances Act, facilitating research and patient access. Grassley expressed support for that part of the measure, but he made it clear that his interest is limited to medical potential. “Legitimate, medical research shouldn’t be confused at all with smoking marijuana for recreational purposes, which the science tells us can be harmful and addictive, especially for young people,” he said at a July hearing.

Grassley supports research into medical marijuana and its constituent parts, but opposes other parts of the bill, according to spokeswoman Jill Gerber. She pointed out that few Judiciary Committee members had co-sponsored the bill, an indication, she said, that there might not be enough support to pass it even if Grassley scheduled a vote. Indeed, some of the other committee members, including Democrat Dianne Feinstein of California, and Republican Jeff Sessions of Alabama, have been outspoken in their opposition to legalization. (Sessions said in April that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.”)

But advocates have been tallying the potential votes on their side and are coming up with a different conclusion. CARERS co-sponsors Graham and Schumer sit on the Judiciary committee and others have made statements that indicate they could be persuaded, the Drug Policy Institute’s Collins said. “This is not something that Leahy would have to shove down representatives’ throats and then they would have a knock-down, drag-out fight on the floor,” he said.

Legalization advocates viewed the marijuana hearings as a sign that Grassley had softened his position. But they said the bill’s prospects would be better under Leahy. They noted that the Vermont senator showed support for states that have legalized marijuana when he chaired the committee the last time Democrats controlled the Senate. Leahy held a hearing on drug policy in 2013, saying state laws legalizing marijuana “should be respected.” Leahy did not respond to a request to comment for this story.

The CARERS Act sponsors expect to reintroduce the bill in the next Congress and were optimistic about its chances, according to a Democratic staffer with knowledge of the bill. “Attitudes about medical marijuana are shifting quickly,” Booker said in a statement. “Election Day could represent another big step forward. I expect the momentum behind the CARERS Act to grow."

A companion bill introduced on the House side has 42 co-sponsors, including 14 Republicans. Advocates say it has a good chance of passing even if Republicans maintain control of the House, which most projections indicate is the most likely outcome in November. Other marijuana-related legislation has passed with increasing bipartisan support every year since 2014, when the House adopted an amendment to an appropriations bill prohibiting the use of federal money to enforce marijuana laws in states that have legalized it for medical use.

Legalization advocates are also optimistic that the Democrats next in line to head the Banking and Finance committees would help advance bills aimed at easing financial restrictions on pot-related businesses. Both are front-line issues in the legalization movement that are also addressed in the CARERS Act. Federal laws make it difficult for businesses that sell marijuana to get loans or open bank accounts, forcing them to do most of their transactions in cash. They are also prohibited from taking tax deductions for their expenses....

Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, the Banking Committee’s top Democrat, has expressed reservations on marijuana-related issues in the past, but he said last year that he supported legalized medical marijuana. (Ohio legalized medical marijuana in September.) And Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, the ranking Democrat on the Finance Committee, sponsored bills this term that would make it easier for marijuana-related businesses to advertise and to take tax deductions.

But that’s not the only reason marijuana advocates are calling the 2016 election a pivotal one. “For those of us who are crusading [for] the end of this failed prohibition of marijuana, this could well be the turning point,” said Oregon Democratic Rep. Earl Blumenauer, who was campaigning in Arizona for that state’s marijuana ballot measure. Dozens of marijuana-related bills in the House and Senate could get a better reception in the coming Congress, regardless of which party controls the Senate and House, advocates say.

Five states, including the political bellwether of California, will vote to allow adult recreational use, potentially bringing to nine the total of states with full legalization plus the District of Columbia, and potentially bringing the percentage of Americans living in states where pot use is legal to as much as 25 percent from 5 percent. An additional four states will consider medical use this election. At present, more than two dozen states allow it. A Gallup poll released this month showed a record high of 60 percent of Americans support marijuana legalization.

“What happens with these nine states on the 8th could propel a breakthrough in Congress and its going to be a huge signal to the other folks around the country,” Blumenauer said. Taylor West, deputy director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, had a similar interpretation. “The reality is, after Nov. 8, there is going to be a significantly larger number of members of Congress who have constituents who are affected by the way the [federal] government approaches cannabis policy,” she said.

November 1, 2016 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)

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Arkansas Supreme Court confuses (or clarifies?) voting on marijuana reform initiatives in state

41352980-arkansas-marijuana-leafAs reported in this new AP piece, headlined "Arkansas Court Disqualifies 2nd Medical Marijuana Proposal," a significant state Supreme Court ruling today seems likely to have a significant impact on marijuana reform voting in The Natural State. Here are the details:

The Arkansas Supreme Court has disqualified a medical marijuana proposal from the November ballot less than two weeks before the election and with thousands of votes already cast, but voters will still be able to consider a competing plan.

In a 5-2 ruling Thursday, the court sided with opponents of the proposed initiated act — known as Issue 7 — that would have allowed patients with certain medical conditions and a doctor's recommendation to purchase marijuana from dispensaries. The proposal was one of two medical marijuana proposals on the ballot, and justices earlier this month rejected a challenge to a competing measure.

The ruling comes after nearly 142,000 people have already cast ballots through early voting, which began Monday in Arkansas for the general election.

Justices tossed out more than 12,000 signatures that were approved by election officials for the proposal, saying supporters didn't comply with laws regarding registration and reporting of paid canvassers. The decision left the group nearly 2,500 signatures shy of what was needed to qualify for the ballot.

The head of Arkansans for Compassionate Care, the group behind the measure, didn't immediately comment. Two justices disagreed with the opinion, noting that a retired judge assigned by the court to review the petitions had said more than enough valid signatures were submitted. "The people should be permitted to vote on the initiative on November 8, and their votes should be counted," Interim Chief Justice Howard Brill wrote in the dissenting opinion.

Both measures called for allowing patients with certain medical conditions to buy the drug, but they differed in their restrictions and regulations. For example, the proposal struck down Thursday would have allowed patients to grow their own marijuana if they didn't live near a dispensary. Arkansans United for Medical Marijuana last week began airing TV ads statewide in favor of its proposal, Issue 6.

The head of that group said he believed the ruling would help his proposal. "It eliminates some of the confusion on which one to vote for," David Couch said. "If you want to help sick and dying patients in Arkansas, then you have to vote for (Issue 6)."

Arkansas voters narrowly rejected a medical marijuana proposal four years ago despite national groups spending big in favor of legalization. National support for medical marijuana has grown since then, and half of U.S. states and the District of Columbia have legalized the drug in some fashion.

But the medical marijuana push faces more obstacles this year in Arkansas. Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who headed the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, has spoken out against the measures. A coalition of the state's most powerful lobbying groups — including the state Chamber of Commerce and the Arkansas Farm Bureau — have been campaigning against them. A Republican lawmaker has said he'll propose legislation next year legalizing a limited strain of the drug for some patients if voters reject legalizing medical marijuana next month.

The opinion in this case is available at this link.

October 27, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

"Medical marijuana legal in Ohio, but patients still can’t get it"

The title of this post is the headline of this new article from my own Columbus Dispatch.  Here are excerpts:

Can you legally buy medical marijuana in Ohio?  If so, can you get it from a licensed medical marijuana dispensary, family member or friend, drug dealer or grow it yourself?

You would think the answers to these questions would be simple and straightforward under the letter of the law.  Not so much.

Technically, medical marijuana has been legal in Ohio since a new law, House Bill 523, took effect Sept. 8.  But as of yet — and probably not until 2018 — patients in Ohio cannot legally buy marijuana for medical purposes.

Before that happens, the complicated, time-consuming job of drafting rules, policies, certifications, licenses and many other things must be completed.  Rules don’t have to be in place, by law, until next year.  Only after rules go through two state oversight agencies can cultivators begin growing marijuana crops, with processing, lab testing and sales through licensed dispensaries to follow.  Advocates have pressed the board to allow physicians to utilize an “affirmative defense” clause in the statue, essentially offering legal protection against prosecution if physicians recommend medical marijuana for a patient prior to it being available here.

Robert Giacalone, a medical board member, said the agency “is in no way prohibiting the recommendation of medical marijuana now that HB523 is effective.”  But he added there is “ conflicting language” in the law because of a provision prohibiting physicians from recommending marijuana until Ohio rules are written and the product is grown and sold in the state.  “If any physician wishes to recommend medical marijuana before the rules are in place, we strongly recommend that they contact a private attorney,” Giaclone said at a board meeting last Wednesday.

Rob Ryan, head of Ohio Patient Network, an advocacy group, said, “There is no doubt in my mind that people with qualifying conditions should be able to get medical marijuana in Ohio.”  Ryan said he knows some physicians are recommending marijuana but, like patients, they are being very cautious.  Asked where patients can get marijuana if they have a physician’s recommendation, Ryan said, “it might be growing in your backyard or basement, from a family member or friend, or a dealer as a last resort. I’d be very careful going out of state.”

Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office, which advises the medical board, concludes it would be “very difficult” to legally obtain marijuana in Ohio at this time. “Everybody knows there’s significant lead time built into this statute,” DeWine spokesman Dan Tierney said. “We don’t have the specific rules in place at the medical board or the pharmacy board.”...

The delays and moratoriums are seen as chipping away at the law by Savannah Smith of the Ohio Rights Group, an advocacy organization. “It’s extremely frustrating,” Smith said. “The sick, dying and disabled of Ohio are our most vulnerable. They are medical refugees. “We had hoped this law would provide some real relief for the population that we’ve been fighting for for years.”

October 26, 2016 in Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 20, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 17, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 16, 2016

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

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

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

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

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