Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Monday, August 21, 2017

Notable review of major Philly firms now happy to talk up their marijuana practices

SdaOnly a couple of years ago, it seemed relatively rare to find lawyers in big firms with significant marijuana practices and rarer still to hear those lawyers actively discussing their marijuana work.  Against that backdrop, this new Philadelphia Inquirer article provides another example of the changing marijuana times.  The piece is headlined "Philly-area law firms bullish on cannabis despite grave legal risks," and here are excerpts:

Lawyers going into the marijuana business face potential arrest, disbarment, and even imprisonment. But they’re gambling that the smoke will clear, and the federal government will eventually legalize cannabis.  Many of Philadelphia’s biggest firms — Duane Morris, Fox Rothschild, and Cozen O’Connor among them — have set up practices recently to serve cannabis growers, dispensaries, and related entrepreneurs as the state aggressively gears up to make medical marijuana available to patients by early 2018.  Last month, Pepper Hamilton “formalized” its marijuana industry group.

“We saw it as a growth opportunity,” said Joseph C. Bedwick, partner at Cozen O’Connor. But the continuing disconnect between state and federal laws, and the Trump administration’s antipathy toward marijuana, has created what Bedwick calls “a big ball of uncertainty.”

“At any moment, theoretically, they can say, ‘We’re going to crack down on this,’ ” Bedwick said. And with so many attorneys getting into the cannabis game, some doubt there will be enough work to sustain those practices....

“You have a hatchet over your head with the federal government,” said Andrew B. Sacks, chairman of the medical marijuana and hemp department at Sacks Weston Diamond, which was among the first to represent marijuana-related businesses.

Joshua Horn, co-chair of the cannabis practice at Fox Rothschild, is optimistic.  He said it’s unlikely the feds would shut down state-legal medical marijuana operations, given the current status of the law, guidance from the DOJ, and budgetary constraints.  “They don’t have the manpower, they don’t have the budget, and popular will is strongly against it,” Horn said.  “More than 90 percent of the people in the commonwealth support the medical marijuana program, and Pennsylvania isn’t the most liberal state.”

Few attorneys have been prosecuted under federal or local laws. However, California attorney Jessica McElfresh — who has represented cannabis clients for more than seven years — was arrested at gunpoint in May.  The San Diego district attorney charged McElfresh on multiple felony counts, alleging she helped hide evidence of a hash oil manufacturing facility.  It seized her client files and issued a warrant for all of McElfresh’s cellphone location data for three years, along with her calendar, address book contacts, and internet searches.  “There have been attorneys that have been charged, but they participated more directly in the businesses,” McElfresh said last week. “There’s never been one like mine.”

Philadelphia attorney Steven Schain of the Hoban Law Group said he considers the San Diego case chilling.  “It represents a landmine in all our paths,” Schain said.  “Sizzle aside, marijuana remains 100 percent illegal under federal law.  Any real cannabis lawyer is exposed to massive federal and civil prosecution.  But we’re willing to take the risk.”

Boutique firms were the the first to represent aspiring cannabis clients in the state, said Sacks.  As trailblazers, they wrestled early on with the dilemmas created by the tension between the conflicting state and federal statutes....   Though the boutiques ... were the first to have a toehold in the state, large national firms soon appeared.  

Of the 12 companies chosen by the state Department of Health to grow cannabis, six were represented by out-of-state firms.  That hasn’t dampened the enthusiasm of attorneys wanting to get into the cannabis game. More than 145 lawyers have signed on to serve on marijuana committees run by the Pennsylvania and Philadelphia Bar Associations, said Sacks, who chairs those committees.

Hoban’s Schain doubts there’s enough work to warrant so many players.  “Legalized marijuana is suffused with irrational exuberance,” Schain said.  “Everyone is convinced that somebody is making loads of money and trying to get a piece of the action.  But if you’ve been in the industry more than 10 minutes, you know the reality is quite different.”

But Bedwick, of Cozen O’Connor, said that his firm was in for the long game and that many clients are related tangentially to the cannabis industry.  They’re real estate owners, investors, lighting manufacturers, builders, and security companies.  Those entrepreneurs are looking for advice on issues that include banking, taxation, intellectual property, and labor law.

August 21, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

US Justice Department reportedly blocking marijuana research requests supported by DEA

The Washington Post has this notable new article reporting that "The Justice Department under Attorney General Jeff Sessions has effectively blocked the Drug Enforcement Administration from taking action on more than two dozen requests to grow marijuana to use in research." Here is more:

A year ago, the DEA began accepting applications to grow more marijuana for research, and as of this month, had 25 proposals to consider.  But DEA officials said they need the Justice Department’s sign-off to move forward, and so far, the department has not been willing to provide it.  “They’re sitting on it,” said one law enforcement official familiar with the matter. “They just will not act on these things.”

As a result, said one senior DEA official, “the Justice Department has effectively shut down this program to increase research registrations.’’  DEA spokesman Rusty Payne said the agency “has always been in favor of enhanced research for controlled substances such as marijuana.’’  Lauren Ehrsam, a Justice Department spokeswoman, declined to comment....

[Attorney General Jeff] Sessions frequently speaks harshly about marijuana use, and Justice Department officials have been reviewing the policy of his predecessor when it comes to enforcing federal laws on marijuana in states where the drug is legal.  Sessions, too, has called medical marijuana “hyped, maybe too much,” and signaled that he is skeptical about benefits of smoking it.  “Dosages can be constructed in a way that might be beneficial, I acknowledge that, but if you smoke marijuana, for example, where you have no idea how much THC you’re getting, it’s probably not a good way to administer a medicinal amount.  So forgive me if I’m a bit dubious about that,” Sessions said earlier this year.

The DEA is no shrinking violet when it comes to marijuana enforcement.  Last year, Rosenberg declined to lessen restrictions on its use, maintaining its classification as a Schedule 1 controlled substance — which means it has no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.  But Rosenberg wrote at the time that the DEA would “support and promote legitimate research regarding marijuana and its constituent parts.”  The DEA, he wrote, already had approved such research, registering 354 people and institutions to study marijuana and related components, including the effects of smoked marijuana on humans.

The DEA indicated at the time it was willing to see those studies expand, asking for applications from people who wanted to grow marijuana to be used for research.  The only source of marijuana for researchers then was — and is — the University of Mississippi, which has permission to grow and distribute the drug for research.

One still-waiting applicant is Lyle Craker, a professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.  Craker has spent years seeking approval to do research into whether other parts of marijuana plants have medicinal value.  “I’ve filled out the forms, but I haven’t heard back from them. I assume they don’t want to answer,’’ said Craker. “They need to think about why they are holding this up when there are products that could be used to improve people’s health . I think marijuana has some bad effects, but there can be some good and without investigation we really don’t know.’’  Craker submitted his latest application Feb. 14, and after getting additional questions from the DEA in March, supplied additional information in April.

Brad Burge, spokesman for the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, said the federal government for years has prevented important research into marijuana.  “That’s a sad state of affairs,’’ he said, adding, “if the DEA is now asking for permission to say yes, then the resistance is now further up the chain of command.’’

Rosenberg indicated in a call with The Washington Post that he still would support more marijuana research.  “I stand by what I wrote,” he said.  Tension between Rosenberg and Trump is perhaps unsurprising.  Rosenberg was appointed during the Obama administration, and he had served as chief of staff and senior counselor to James B. Comey, who was the FBI director until Trump fired him earlier this year.

The Justice Department has not rejected any of the 25 people whose applications to grow marijuana the DEA is considering. Rather, the department is not taking any action at all, officials said.  Before approving such applications, DEA officials have to assess each applicant and determine whether their facility is secure and whether they had previously been complying with federal law.

August 15, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 11, 2017

"Can marijuana rescue coal country?"

JO-welcome-WV-02The title of this post is the headline of this extended Washington Post magazine article exploring whether marijuana reform could help address some of the woes to be found in Wast Virginia.  Here are excerpts:

One of the leading proponents of loosening restrictions on marijuana in West Virginia is Democratic state Del. Mike Pushkin, who represents parts of Charleston and its surrounding areas. Pushkin is an unconventional pol — a cabdriver and folk musician who has spoken about his own struggles with addiction. He once told the Charleston Gazette-Mail how he spent 11 years living from crisis to crisis. “I’m sure there were times that my mother would have thought it more likely she would be attending my funeral than she would be attending my swearing-in at the Capitol,” he said.

It took a spiritual awakening to get his addiction under control. To stay sober, he told me, he volunteers at detox facilities and talks to addicts in area jails. This experience informs his policy positions. He’s sure West Virginia can’t arrest its way out of this drug crisis. And he has pushed his colleagues to consider marijuana in a new light. “While marijuana is described as a gateway drug, that’s not proven,” he says. “What is proven is that a lot of people who are prescribed painkillers get hooked on heroin.”...

In May 2016, Pushkin introduced a bill in the West Virginia House of Delegates to let adults grow, use and possess a limited quantity of marijuana, provided that they paid a one-time fee of $500. That month, he told the Charleston Gazette-Mail that he didn’t have high hopes for its passage. He was right: It wasn’t even debated in a committee. But it did spark media attention and prompted an eye-opening brief from the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, which showed that a marijuana tax could be a boon for the state, generating as much as $194 million annually if the drug were legal for adult use. That would be enough to eliminate West Virginia’s projected deficit and create a $183 million surplus, a dramatic improvement in a place that’s been slashing everything from higher education to Medicaid as it tries to stay afloat.

Indeed, Pushkin’s argument for marijuana legalization had a strong economic component. “They’re not having the types of budget issues in Colorado that we’re having here,” he told the Charleston Gazette-Mail. In Colorado, where pot is now fully legalized, the industry created 18,000 full-time jobs in 2015 alone. New Frontier Data, a financial consultancy in Washington, estimates that by 2020 the marijuana industry will create upward of a quarter of a million jobs in the United States, more than manufacturing is expected to create.

It’s hard to imagine anywhere that could use these jobs more than West Virginia. Since the 1980s, both coal and manufacturing in the Mountain State have been in a steep decline. As these industries have dried up, so have others that rely on them — such as freight rail, which has cut jobs by the thousands and begun pulling up tracks.

August 11, 2017 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Political perspective on reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, August 6, 2017

"Is Supporting Legal Pot Becoming Politically Viable in DC?"

The title of this post is the headline of this lengthy Rolling Stone article.  Here are excerpts:

It's no longer political suicide, or so it seems, to embrace legalizing marijuana. At least among the younger generation of prominent Democrats, though there seems to be cracks in the dam amongst Republicans too.

The latest evolution on the issue was on display this week as New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker – a former mayor of Newark who is a young, affable guy rumored to be considering a presidential bid in 2020 – unveiled the most sweeping proposal yet to the nation's marijuana policy.  The bill, dubbed the Marijuana Justice Act, would end the federal prohibition on weed by removing the plant from the list of controlled, as in banned, substances where it currently sits next to drugs like heroine and LSD....

During his failed presidential bid, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders released a bill to simply legalize marijuana federally, but it didn't go nearly as far as this new one.   Besides ending the federal prohibition on pot, Booker's legislation incentivize states to decrease their prison populations by withholding federal funds if they have disproportionate numbers of minorities and poor people locked up for cannabis violations.   His proposal also calls on the courts to expunge the records of people behind bars for marijuana violations, while investing money in job training programs.

A sweeping proposal like this would have been seen as the political third rail a few years ago, but voters in red and blue states alike have far outpaced the nation's stodgy political class and lawmakers are now slowly catching up with voters.  Now it's becoming more en vogue for politicians to challenge some of the key underpinnings of the nation's decades-long war on drugs....

While Democrats, especially this younger generation of lawmakers, are coming around more quickly to the will of citizens across the political spectrum – who have voted in recreational marijuana in eight states and the nation's capital, as well as in the dozens of states that allow medical marijuana – GOP leaders (including Attorney General Jeff "Just Say No" Sessions) are still proving a roadblock to the reform effort.

Before leaving town for August, Speaker Paul Ryan's top lieutenants in the House beat back a broadly supported, bipartisan effort to allow doctors at VA hospitals to prescribe marijuana to veterans suffering from everything from PTSD to losing a limb, which often comes with astronomically large and recurring opioid prescriptions.

Still other Republicans brush aside any talk of marijuana legalization. That's in part because the GOP base doesn't seem to be as vocal on the issue, which former presidential candidate Lindsey Graham says never really came up as he traversed Iowa and other states that vote early. "No – didn't hang around with the right crowd I guess," Sen. Graham tells Rolling Stone....

Some Republicans are learning marijuana is no longer the political third rail it once was.  There are other efforts afoot in the Capitol to make it easier for universities and research hospitals to study marijuana, while also protecting medicinal marijuana business owners and patients.  While the progressive Booker supports those efforts, so do two Tea Party darlings, Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky....

While slow moving, the change is palpable, especially for the lawmakers in those purple, blue and even red states alike who represent voters who approved medical or recreational weed.  "The country is changing, as did Massachusetts, and as each state moves further than it creates a national culture," Democratic Sen. Ed Markey tells Rolling Stone.  "It's like gay marriage: in Massachusetts it starts and then another state and another state and before long it's something that people understand is a part of the modern political culture."

August 6, 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)

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Senate committee preserves spending limit precluding DOJ interference with medical marijuana regimes

As this new piece from The Hill reports, the "Senate Appropriations Committee approved an amendment to a budget bill on Thursday to protect medical marijuana programs from federal interference in states that have legalized the drug for medical use." Here is more:

The amendment to the 2018 Commerce, Justice and Science appropriations bill passed by a voice vote and prohibits the Justice Department from using funds to prevent states from "implementing their own state laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession or cultivation of medical marijuana."

"The federal government can't investigate everything and shouldn't, and I don't want them pursuing medical marijuana patients who are following state law," said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who offered the amendment. Leahy argued that the Department of Justice (DOJ) should be focusing its limited resources on more legitimate threats.

"We have more important things for the Department of Justice to do than tracking down doctors or epileptics using medical marijuana legally in their state," he said. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), however, argued that while civil liberties and states' rights are important, telling DOJ not to enforce federal laws goes against legal principles. "If Congress wants to tell the Department of Justice to stop enforcing the medical marijuana laws, then it should change the authorization within the Judiciary Committee, not through an appropriations provision," he said.

The amendment passed despite a letter Attorney General Jeff Sessions sent in May asking House and Senate leadership not to block DOJ from using funds to enforce federal marijuana laws. "I believe it would be unwise for Congress to restrict the discretion of the Department to fund particular prosecutions, particularly in the midst of an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime," Session wrote in the letter first obtained by Massroots.com and later confirmed by The Washington Post. "The Department must be in a position to use all laws available to combat the transnational drug organizations and dangerous drug traffickers who threaten American lives."

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) told The Hill on Thursday that he plans to once again offer the amendment to the House Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations bill, which passed the appropriations committee earlier this month. When asked if he's expecting a fight on the floor, where he'll be forced to offer the amendment, Rohrabacher said he hopes there isn't one "but if there is, clearly we will win."

July 27, 2017 in 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)

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Latest effort to take down federal marijuana prohibition via constitutional litigation filed in SDNY

As reported in this Newsweek article, former New York Jets defensive end Marvin Washington "is one of five plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit against Sessions, the Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Agency" that attacks federal marijuana prohibition on various grounds.  Here is a bit more about the lawsuit via the press report:

The Manhattan lawsuit targets the 1970 Controlled Substances Act, which established federal drug policy and delineated narcotics into different schedules. Under the legislation, marijuana is considered a Schedule I controlled substance—along with other drugs such as heroin and ecstasy—and is subjected to the tightest restrictions.... “Classifying cannabis as a ‘Schedule I drug’ is so irrational that it violates the U.S. Constitution,” the lawsuit said.

Washington has joined the lawsuit because the current legislation prevents him from obtaining federal grants to start a business aimed at professional football players who want to use medical marijuana to manage pain.... Other plaintiffs include an 11-year-old boy, Alexis Bortell, who requires medical marijuana to control his epilepsy, and a disabled military veteran, Jose Belen, who uses it to control post traumatic stress syndrome....

Washington, whose playing career ended in 1999, has been a vocal advocate for the use of medical marijuana in football. He has lobbied the NFL to promote medical marijuana as an effective means of pain relief. Washington played eight seasons with the Jets, while also playing for the San Francisco 49ers and the Denver Broncos in a 11-year career. He won the Super Bowl XXXIII in 1999 with the Broncos.

Keith Stroup, legal counsel for the advocacy group NORML, has a lot more of the legal particulars in this new posting which also includes a link to the 89-page complaint in this case. Here are parts of his post:

Washington, et.al v. Sessions, et.al, was recently filed in US District Court in the Southern District of New York by lead attorney Michael Hiller, with NORML Legal Committee (NLC) attorneys David Holland and Joseph Bondy serving as co-counsel. The full complaint can be found here.

Individual plaintiffs in the suit were two young children, an American military veteran, and a retired professional football player, all of whom are medical marijuana patients; and a membership organization alleging their minority members have been discriminated against by the federal Controlled Substances Act.

Seeking to overturn the 2005 Supreme Court decision in Gonzales v. Raich, plaintiffs request a declaration that the CSA, as it pertains to the classification of Cannabis as a Schedule I drug, is unconstitutional, because it violates the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment, an assortment of protections guaranteed by the First Amendment, and the fundamental Right to Travel. Further, plaintiffs seek a declaration that Congress, in enacting the CSA as it pertains to marijuana, violated the Commerce Clause, extending the breadth of legislative power well beyond the scope contemplated by Article I of the Constitution.

Named as defendants in the case are Attorney General Jeff Beauregard Sessions, Acting Administrator of the DEA Chuck Rosenberg, the Justice Department, the DEA and the Federal Government.

In their Complaint, plaintiffs allege that the federal government does not, and could not possibly, believe that Cannabis meets the definition of a Schedule I drug, which is reserved for the most dangerous of substances, such as heroin, LSD, and mescaline; and that classifying Cannabis as a “Schedule I drug,” is so irrational that it violates the U.S. Constitution.

 Among the other claims in the lawsuit are that the CSA: (i) was enacted and implemented in order to discriminate against African Americans and to suppress people’s First Amendment rights; and (ii) violates plaintiffs’ constitutional Right to Travel.

July 25, 2017 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, July 23, 2017

"As Trump wages war on legal marijuana, military veterans side with pot"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable Los Angeles Times article.  Here is how it starts:

The Trump administration’s attack on legal marijuana, already stymied by large states determined not to roll back the clock, is increasingly confronting an even more politically potent adversary: military veterans.

Frustrated by federal laws restricting their access to a drug many already rely on to help treat post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic pain and opioid addiction, veterans have become an influential lobbying force in the marijuana debate after sitting on the sidelines for years.

The 2-million-member American Legion this spring got involved in a big way by launching a campaign to reduce marijuana restrictions, which it says hurt veterans and may aggravate a suicide epidemic. The move reflects the changing politics of marijuana, and of a conservative, century-old veterans service organization facing new challenges as its membership grows with those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“We were hearing these compelling stories from veterans about how cannabis has made their lives better,” said Joseph Plenzler, a spokesman for the American Legion. “That they were able to use it to get off a whole cocktail of drugs prescribed by VA doctors, that it is helping with night terrors, or giving them relief from chronic pain.”

At the same time, some patients complained that Veterans Affairs doctors refused to offer any advice for using medical marijuana yet also made a record of who was using it, raising fears that such information might be used to punish former service members or strip their benefits. The legion’s call to reclassify marijuana federally from a drug that has no medical benefit and is more dangerous than cocaine to one that is in the same category as legal prescription painkillers has caught the attention of lawmakers.

A measure the legion now supports, that would permit VA doctors to give their patients the sign-off they need to access medical marijuana in states where it is legal, was approved by a key Senate budget committee earlier this month on a 24-7 vote, with nine Republicans voting in favor. The measure is among the veterans-related marijuana legislation getting new traction at an otherwise challenging time in Washington for pot advocates.

July 23, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Big meeting of feds and state/local officials in Colorado portends...?

As reported in this US News & World Report article, headlined "Feds Tour Colorado in DOJ Pot Review: Recommendations are due next week on whether to crush state-legal weed," there is some new activity in the arena of federal review of state marijuana reform. But what the new activity will lead to remains unclear. Here are excerpts:

Federal officials asked seemingly mundane questions during a Tuesday meeting in Colorado with state officials, at least some of whom were unaware that the discussion was part of a shadowy review of federal marijuana policy. The meeting provides the best glimpse yet into the issues authorities are considering as they prepare to make recommendations next week on what to do about state-legal recreational marijuana, with options ranging from a crackdown to keeping the status quo.

The guest list on Tuesday included Justice Department attorney Michael Murray, who is leading the department's marijuana policy review, and a State Department official with expertise in treaty obligations, according to Mark Bolton, deputy legal counsel to Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat. John Zadrozny, a domestic policy adviser at the White House, was in the room, as were two representatives of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, says Bolton, who also attended.

A person with knowledge of the meeting's purpose says the gathering and another meeting Wednesday with officials from the city of Colorado Springs are directly related to the ongoing federal pot policy review. The source asked not to be identified. Bolton says he was unaware that the meeting – which featured about 20 state agency representatives -- was directly related to the policy review....

The only question that Bolton recalls Murray asking dealt with whether 2014 guidance from the Treasury Department's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCen) remains "up to date," he says. That guidance outlined how banks can work with pot businesses, but many financial institutions remain reluctant to take on the compliance burden or perceived risk involved in handling cash for cannabis firms operating in violation of federal law. "I don't remember him asking other questions, but it may be they weren't questions that resonated with me," Bolton says.

The State Department official asked if there had been significant problems with diversion of Colorado marijuana to other countries, Bolton says. A representative of the Colorado Department of Public Safety said that is not a significant problem....

The ONDCP representatives at the meeting asked about educational efforts and about continued black- and gray-market sales, Bolton says. He can't recall Zadrozny asking any questions....

Bolton says state officials shared how Colorado uses marijuana tax revenue – estimated to exceed $500 million since recreational sales began in 2014 – to educate the public about the risks of the drug and about responsible use, and that officials pointed out teen use has not increased. He says participants did not directly address the possible consequences of repealing the Justice Department's 2013 Cole Memo, which allowed recreational pot stores to open....

Hickenlooper was not present at the meeting. But Bolton believes invitations extended by the governor during an April meeting with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, as well as an invitation by Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, a Republican, inspired the visit. It's unclear if federal officials are touring other states as part of their policy review....

After meeting with state officials, a group of feds met Wednesday with legalization foes in Colorado Springs. No supporters of regulating recreational sales attended, KKTV reported after staking out the meeting and later interviewing Mayor John Suthers, a former U.S. attorney and state attorney general who opposes marijuana legalization. "A lot of [the meeting dealt with] sensitive case investigations. That's another reason why it couldn't be public," Suthers told the station. "Probably most of the discussion centered around the huge black market that exists for marijuana in Colorado." Suthers said the city's police department created the guest list, which included a local doctor and a school district director of discipline. The mayor and the police chief were unable to provide immediate comment....

KKTV reported a member of Vice President Mike Pence's staff and at least one member of the DEA also attended the Colorado Springs meeting. Pence's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment, and the national DEA headquarters referred questions to the local office, which did not immediately respond.

Although the Justice Department could launch a devastating legal assault on state-regulated recreational marijuana, medical marijuana currently is protected from federal prosecutors and anti-drug agents by a budget restriction passed in Congress. And in Colorado, state legislators approved legislation earlier this year allowing businesses to reclassify recreational pot as medical marijuana if the need arises.

July 20, 2017 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 (1)

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

"What Jeff Sessions is getting wrong about legal weed"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new CNBC commentary authored by Gina Belafonte, Chris Leavy and Lindy Snider. Here are excerpts:

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, between 2001 and 2010 there were 8.2 million marijuana related arrests in the county, nearly 90 percent of them were for possession. African Americans were nearly four times as likely to be arrested for possession than whites.

Since California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana two decades ago, 28 others and the District of Columbia have followed suit. Eight states have also legalized adult use. We now have a track record of legal, regulated marijuana in more than half of the country, and clear evidence that it is a better approach than a blanket prohibition and harsh prison sentences for those who use it or participate in its commerce.

A 2014 study from the University of Texas, Dallas using FBI's crime data showed no rise in crime rates resulting from medical marijuana legalization, and even some evidence of decreasing rates of homicide and assault. According to the Drug Policy Alliance, Denver saw a 2.2 percent drop in violent crime rates in the year after the first legal recreational cannabis sales in Colorado, and overall property crime dropped by 8.9 percent in the same period while Washington, which legalized recreational use in 2012, saw violent crime rates drop by 10 percent from 2011 to 2014.

The history of the War on Drugs is also a history of the economic and social disparities in our country. Black and brown men are disproportionally incarcerated under our current drug laws, and because mass incarceration breaks up families and severely limits ex-convicts' employment and business opportunities, the War on Drugs has dramatically increased the poverty rate in minority communities....

To be sure, the War on Drugs is a much bigger and more complex issue than marijuana legalization alone, but it is a good place to start. State legal cannabis is now a $6 billion industry that employs 150,000 people and is on track to create more jobs than the manufacturing sector by 2020.

It has generated hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue; California alone is forecasting $1 billion annually. Two decades of state legal marijuana also has shaped public opinion, with record numbers of Americans now supporting legalization. A recent poll from Quinnipiac University shows 94 percent of U.S. voters support medical marijuana programs, and 60 percent favor full legalization.

In today's divided politics, few issues command such unanimous support. Medical marijuana is legal both in red and blue states. The first ever Congressional Cannabis Caucus, announced earlier this year, is made up of two Democrats and two Republicans. And in the cannabis industry social justice and business interests are often aligned, with advocates and entrepreneurs standing shoulder to shoulder against reactionary policies such as the ones proposed by Mr. Sessions.

If he has his way on marijuana, Mr. Sessions threatens to turn back the clock on two decades of painstakingly gained progress, bringing us back to the days of overflowing prisons, disenfranchised communities and a $50 billion black market for cannabis run by drug cartels. We must not allow that to happen.

July 18, 2017 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday, July 14, 2017

Looking at the DOJ lawyer working on review of federal marijuana policies

This new US News article, headlined "Federal Pot Policy in Hands of Little-Known DOJ Official: A proposal on what to do about state-legal pot is due in two weeks," provides an interesting little glimpse into the young Justice Department lawyer who may have a big say in the future of federal prosecutorial policies for marijuana:

Michael Murray isn’t well known outside of legal circles, but that may soon change.  The former Supreme Court clerk holds the fate of a multibillion-dollar cannabis industry in his hands and will make recommendations soon on whether to launch a crackdown.

People who know Murray can’t imagine the straight-laced young father of three thinking highly of marijuana use and describe him as quiet and personally conservative.  But they also say he is thoughtful and independent-minded.

Murray, a 2009 Yale Law School graduate, is a counsel to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and was tasked with the review earlier this year, when Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a larger crime task force would have a marijuana subcommittee.

The marijuana subcommittee's work is shrouded in secrecy, with recommendations due by July 27.  The outcome could be either a yawn or a jarring assault on states that have regulated seed-to-sale markets serving adults 21 and older.

Possession and sale of marijuana remain federal crimes.  The Obama administration, however, allowed states broad leeway to regulate medical and recreational sales.  Eight states now have laws authorizing recreational pot markets. Among the conceivable outcomes, the subcommittee could move to pull the rug out from under the cannabis industry by withdrawing or modifying the 2013 Cole Memo, which allowed recreational pot stores to open so long as enforcement triggers – such as underage sales, interstate smuggling and public health consequences – aren’t tripped.

At least in theory, Murray is not the only person reviewing the policy. But it’s not clear who else may be serving on the subcommittee and some legalization advocates fear the fix is in, with large pot advocacy and business groups saying they have had no contact.  "They have been operating in a black box, really," says Taylor West, deputy director of the National Cannabis Industry Association.  "There has been no indication that there was an opening for any viewpoint other than those of whoever is on this committee."  West says the group is "preparing with our allies in D.C. for whatever may come from this."

Statistics from the early years of pot legalization can be manipulated to support a viewpoint, making diverse input potentially significant.  For example, two recent studies came to opposite conclusions on the effects of legalization on traffic safety.  And while surveys show teen pot use has not increased nationally or in the pioneering states since 2012, contrasting current rates to historical low points offers a different impression.

A closed-to-the-press June summit associated with the larger Justice Department task force featured a discussion on drug-supply reduction with Kevin Sabet, the nation's most prominent anti-legalization organizer and leader of the group Smart Approaches to Marijuana. Sabet has not said what interactions, if any, he has with the subcommittee.

Amplifying reformers’ concern is the fact that the larger task force is co-chaired by Steve Cook, an advocate of harsh sentences for drug crimes.  And Murray’s boss, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, is a cantankerous critic of marijuana use who in May asked Congress to drop budget language protecting state medical marijuana programs.

Murray lacks the combative style of Sessions or Cook, according to friends and former colleagues, who describe him as family-oriented and scholarly. One supporter of legalization who asked not to be identified said they trusted his judgment.

Murray joined the Justice Department after working for the Jones Day law firm, which has sent many attorneys to the Trump administration.  His wife, Claire McCusker Murray, became associate counsel to President Donald Trump earlier this year.  “Michael is a brilliant young lawyer [and] he has a somewhat understated personality, especially compared to a lot of people who fill the ranks of the Trump administration,” says David Lat, who also clerked for Judge Diarmuid O'Scannlain, a prominent conservative on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.  “I would not expect anything crazy from him,” says Lat, who did not clerk for O'Scannlain at the same time as Murray but knows him socially....

Katherine Moran Meeks, an attorney who clerked alongside Murray for Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy in 2013-2014, says Murray is, however, “a man of his own mind.”

“He’s a person of integrity and he’s there to offer a careful legal opinion,” Meeks says. “I’m sure that’s what he’ll give, rather than something driven by partisanship.”

July 14, 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 (1)

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

"Mapping medical marijuana: State laws regulating patients, product safety, supply chains and dispensaries, 2017"

CoverThe title of this post is the title of this useful new article in the publication Addiction authored by numerous researchers.  Here is the article's abstract:

Aims

1) To describe open source legal datasets, created for research use, that capture the key provisions of U.S. state medical marijuana laws. The data document how state lawmakers have regulated a medicine that remains, under federal law, a Schedule I illegal drug with no legitimate medical use. 2) To demonstrate the variability that exists across states in rules governing patient access, product safety, and dispensary practice.

Methods

Two legal researchers collected and coded state laws governing marijuana patients, product safety, and dispensaries in effect on February 1, 2017, creating three empirical legal datasets. We used summary tables to identify the variation in specific statutory provisions specified in each state's medical marijuana law as it existed on February 1, 2017. We compared aspects of these laws to the traditional Federal approach to regulating medicine. Full datasets, codebooks and protocols are available through the Prescription Drug Abuse Policy System (http://www.pdaps.org/ ; http://www.webcitation.org/6qv5CZNaZ).

Results

Twenty-eight states (including the District of Columbia) have authorized medical marijuana. Twenty-seven specify qualifying diseases, which differ across states. All but two protect patient privacy; only 14 protect patients against discrimination. Eighteen states have mandatory product safety testing before any sale. While the majority have package/label regulations, states have a wide range of specific requirements. Most regulate dispensaries (25 states), with considerable variation in specific provisions such as permitted product supply sources (23 states), number of dispensaries per state (18 states) and restricting proximity to various types of location (21 states).

Conclusions

The federal ban in the USA on marijuana has resulted in a patchwork of regulatory strategies that are not uniformly consistent with the approach usually taken by the Federal government and whose effectiveness remains unknown.

July 12, 2017 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Florida medical marijuana advocate sues after legislature blocks smoking as means to consumption

As reported in this local article, "John Morgan, the Orlando trial lawyer who spearheaded and financed the successful campaign to make medical access to cannabis a constitutional right, filed the lawsuit in Leon County Circuit Court Thursday morning, asking the court to declare the [legislatively developed] law implementing the 2016 constitutional amendment unenforceable.  Here is more about this lawsuit:

Arguing that Florida legislators violated voters’ intent when they prohibited smoking for the medical use of marijuana, the author of the state's medical marijuana amendment sued the state on Thursday to throw out the implementing law....

“By redefining the constitutionally defined term ‘medical use' to exclude smoking, the Legislature substitutes its medical judgment for that of ‘a licensed Florida physician’ and is in direct conflict with the specifically articulated Constitutional process,” the lawsuit states.

More than 71 percent of Florida voters approved the amendment in November 2016, the largest percentage of support a medical marijuana initiative has received by popular vote, Morgan said. The amendment allowed the Legislature to address smoking — but only by prohibiting it in public places, he said, anything more violates the intent of the Constitution.  “If something is not allowed in public, it is allowed in private,” Morgan said at a press conference outside the Leon County Courthouse. “It’s as clear to all of you as it is to any first grader taking first-grade logic.”...

If the court agrees and invalidates the law implementing the amendment, the task of writing the rules for implementing the new amendment will fall to the Florida Department of Health.

The legislation allows for edibles and “vaping” as a delivery system for THC and cannabinoids.  It also provided funding for the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa to conduct research into the uses and effectiveness of medical marijuana.  But the House sponsor of the law, Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, called smoking a “backdoor attempt at recreational” use of marijuana.  Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, the Senate sponsor, called the measure, which passed during the June special session, “patient-first legislation” that “will expand access to this medicine, while ensuring safety through a unified regulatory structure for each component of the process from cultivation to consumption."

But Morgan, who uses the hashtag #NoSmokeIsAJoke, argues that the legislative claim has been a “bogus argument from Day 1,” and if they were truly interested in keeping the public safe from smoking, they would have taxed tobacco “to the hilt.”  Instead, he said, their arguments enforce what he believes is a quiet campaign against marijuana fueled by “Big Pharma,” which has capitalized on the explosion of opioid abuse.  “I don’t know what drives these politicians other than money and donors,’’ he said.

He said that in the next few weeks he will add to the lawsuit patients suffering from ALS disease, epilepsy and other ailments for whom smoking marijuana is the best way to treat their symptoms.  The lawsuit cites a 2012 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse that found smoking marijuana does not not impair lung function and, when not used heavily, was shown to increase lung capacity.  “Despite decades of marijuana being used for smoking in the United States, there have been no reported medical cases of lung cancer or emphysema attributed to marijuana,” the lawsuit said.

Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a non-profit, non-partisan organization that promotes federal funding of marijuana research, blasted the lawsuit as “nothing more than a smokescreen designed to bypass the FDA and open the doors to a new for-profit, retail commercial marijuana industry in Florida.”

“There's a reason why every single major medical association opposes the use of the raw, smoked form of marijuana as medicine: smoke is not a reliable delivery system, it's impossible to measure dosage, and it contains hundreds of other chemical compounds that may do more harm than good,” said Dr. Kevin Sabet, president of the group, in a statement.

Calvina Fay, executive director of the anti-marijuana group Drug Free America Foundation, also criticized the lawsuit.  “While not perfect, the legislation succeeded in finding a balance that protects the public health and safety of all Floridians while allowing the legal access to marijuana that was approved by voters," she said in a statement.

Morgan counters that those arguments miss the point. “If you are on your death bed, or on your bed in debilitating pain, who really cares if you smoke?” he said.  He warns that by aggressively working against the implementation of what voters supported, legislators have inadvertently “kicked the door wide open for recreational marijuana use in Florida.”  If they don’t allow for smoking as a medical use, the newly formed industry will “bankroll a constitutional amendment to put recreational marijuana on the ballot...and I believe it will pass with 60 percent of the vote," he said.

July 6, 2017 in Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Can marijuana help dogs enjoy holiday fireworks?

FourthThe somewhat silly question in the title of this post is prompted by this not-so-silly new NPR article headlined "Some Marijuana-Derived Treatments Aim To Soothe Skittish Pets." As a pet owner with a dog who really dislikes fireworks, I could not resist blogging about what some folks think could be a Fourth of July tonic for freaked out Fidos.  Here is an excerpt from the lengthy article:

Along with picnics and barbecues, the Fourth of July brings a less pleasant yearly ritual for many dog lovers: worrying about a family pooch who panics at the sound of firecrackers.

Betsy and Andy Firebaugh of Santa Cruz, Calif., have reason for concern. They live on a mountain ridge overlooking the Pacific Ocean — a usually peaceful scene, except at this time of year, when people illegally set off firecrackers at local beaches. The explosive booms send their otherwise happy Australian shepherd — Seamus — into a frenzy....

But to quell the dog's nerves this year, they say, they may try something new: giving him a squirt of an extract of marijuana that's mostly cannabidiol (CBD), a component of the cannabis plant that, unlike a better-known component, THC, doesn't induce a high. CBD has drawn a lot of attention in recent years from neurologists and other researchers intrigued by hints that the chemical might prove helpful to people; there's been preliminary study of possible benefits in reducing chronic pain, anxiety and seizures in humans, for example. So it's probably no surprise that some folks are interested in CBD's therapeutic potential for Fido or Fluffy, too.

Betsy initially got a prescription for medical marijuana to help with her own joint pain. While at the medical marijuana dispensary, she also picked up a vial of CBD oil designed for pets, on the advice of the manager. The supplement has already yielded good results in their other dog, Angus — a sweet blue merle Aussie who was abused as a puppy by previous owners, and still sometimes "becomes Frankendog" around canine strangers, Betsy says. Occasional doses of the cannabis extract in high-stress situations, she says, help to mellow him out.

The Firebaughs aren't the only ones exploring marijuana-based therapies for man's best friend. A growing number of firms are marketing CBD for noise anxiety and other ailments in companion animals. Denver-based Therabis specifically advertises one of its hemp-derived CBD supplements as an aid to help dogs get through the Fourth of July. And the Los Angeles-based makers of VetCBD oil say that early July, along with New Year's Eve, is one of their busiest sales periods. Animal shelters tend to see an increased influx of runaway pets around the two holidays — because of fireworks, notes VetCBD's founder Tim Shu, who is also a veterinarian.

Still, cannabis therapies for pets fall into a legal gray zone. While numerous states, including California, have legalized medical marijuana and/or recreational pot for people, cannabis remains federally illegal, and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration recently clarified that it considers CBD extracts unlawful too. None of the cannabis-derived products for pets are approved by the Food and Drug Administration, and state licensing agencies, such as the California Veterinary Medical Board, don't allow veterinarians to prescribe them.

Shu says marijuana has long had a bad reputation in the veterinary community, which has seen many ER cases of dogs suffering toxic effects from gobbling down their owners' marijuana stash or edibles. Large doses of THC, the chemical that produces pot's intoxicating effects, can cause wobbliness, disorientation, vomiting and loss of bladder control in canines.

But the premise of companies selling cannabis-derived products for pets is that non-psychoactive CBD, in combination with a small amount of THC, can be beneficial. For instance, Shu's VetCBD oil contains a 20:1 ratio of CBD to THC, a formulation he says he developed in a quest to aid his own elderly dog, Tye, a mixed pit bull breed. Tye has arthritic pain and fireworks anxiety, the veterinarian says, but can't handle the side effects of standard veterinary medications.

By experimenting with Tye and other patients in his practice, Shu came up with his cannabidiol concoction — which is extracted from organic cannabis flowers — and a variety of specific dosages for pets of different sizes. Tye's mobility has since improved, Shu says, and "I can actually walk her outside during Fourth of July fireworks. For a lot of owners, it's a night-and-day difference."

Such anecdotes may sound compelling, but some other vets say they'd like to see scientific evidence. Brennen McKenzie, a veterinarian in Los Altos, Calif., writes the SkeptVet blog and is on the board of the Evidence-Based Veterinary Medicine Association. In regards to CBD, McKenzie says, "we have virtually no research in pets, so we are guessing and extrapolating."

July 4, 2017 in Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, July 3, 2017

"Entrepreneurship and Legal Uncertainty: Unexpected Federal Trademarks for Marijuana Derivatives"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper available via SSR authored by W. Michael Schuster and Jack Wroldsen. Here is the abstract;

Though several states have legalized marijuana use, the drug remains illegal under federal law.  Not surprisingly, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) refuses to register trademarks related to marijuana because of the federal prohibition.  What is surprising, though, is the USPTO’s willingness to grant trademarks for cannabidiol (CBD) — a marijuana derivative that is likewise expressly illegal under federal drug laws.

This article explains why the USPTO’s divergent treatment of trademark applications for CBD and marijuana products is legally incoherent.  Additionally, when viewed from an entrepreneurial perspective, this phenomenon exemplifies how legal uncertainty breeds entrepreneurial opportunity.  Specifically, the article argues that the evolving regulatory landscape for CBD and marijuana products has been, and continues to be, ripe for legal strategists and innovative entrepreneurs to combine forces to create competitive advantages in the emerging marijuana industry.

July 3, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (3)

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

"Cannabis as a Substitute for Opioid-Based Pain Medication: Patient Self-Report"

The title of this post is the title of this new original research by Amanda Reiman, Mark Welty, and Perry Solomon. Here is the abstract:

Introduction: Prescription drug overdoses are the leading cause of accidental death in the United States. Alternatives to opioids for the treatment of pain are necessary to address this issue. Cannabis can be an effective treatment for pain, greatly reduces the chance of dependence, and eliminates the risk of fatal overdose compared to opioid-based medications. Medical cannabis patients report that cannabis is just as effective, if not more, than opioid-based medications for pain.

 

Materials and Methods: The current study examined the use of cannabis as a substitute for opioid-based pain medication by collecting survey data from 2897 medical cannabis patients.

 

Discussion: Thirty-four percent of the sample reported using opioid-based pain medication in the past 6 months. Respondents overwhelmingly reported that cannabis provided relief on par with their other medications, but without the unwanted side effects. Ninety-seven percent of the sample ‘‘strongly agreed/agreed’’ that they are able to decrease the amount of opiates they consume when they also use cannabis, and 81% ‘‘strongly agreed/agreed’’ that taking cannabis by itself was more effective at treating their condition than taking cannabis with opioids. Results were similar for those using cannabis with nonopioid-based pain medications.

 

Conclusion: Future research should track clinical outcomes where cannabis is offered as a viable substitute for pain treatment and examine the outcomes of using cannabis as a medication assisted treatment for opioid dependence.

June 28, 2017 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Via presidential decree, Mexico legalizes medical marijuana

Mexico-Officially-Legalizes-Medical-Marijuana-696x333As reported in this Washington Post piece, "Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto signed a decree this week legalizing medical marijuana."   Here is more:

The measure also classified the psychoactive ingredient in the drug as “therapeutic.”  The new policy isn't exactly opening the door for medical marijuana dispensaries on every corner. Instead it calls on the Ministry of Health to draft and implement regulations and public policies regulating “the medicinal use of pharmacological derivatives of cannabis sativa, indica and Americana or marijuana, including tetrahydrocannabinol.”  It also tasks the ministry with developing a research program to study the drug's impact before creating broader policies.

The measure had broad support from Mexico's Senate and Lower House of Congress, where it passed 347-7 in April. Marijuana legalization advocates are celebrating the decision and calling on the government to do more.  Sen. Miguel Barbosa said the legislation was “well below the expectations of society.”  Sen. Armando Rios Peter called it a “tiny” step away from a failed drug policy.

For decades, Latin America has struggled to address the rampant corruption and violence wrought by the drug trade.  Lately, many places have focused on a particular strategy: decriminalization. As my colleague Josh Partlow wrote last year: “Uruguay has fully legalized weed for sale.  And a large chunk of South and Central America, including Brazil, Peru, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Costa Rica, have made marijuana more available in varying ways, whether it is for medicinal or recreational use.” It's a recognition, he wrote, that “years of violent struggle have failed to stem the flow of narcotics into the United States.”...

Recreational marijuana is still broadly prohibited in Mexico, but the government is considering a measure that would let citizens legally possess up to an ounce of it. In 2015, Mexico's Supreme Court granted four people the right to grow their own marijuana for personal consumption.  The ruling set a precedent that could accelerate efforts to pass legislation permitting broader use of pot. “Absolute prohibition is excessive and doesn’t protect the right to health,” Justice Olga Sánchez Cordero said at the time.

Peña Nieto, who once was a vocal opponent of drug legalization, has undergone a similar shift in thinking.  He has said that addiction should be thought of as a “public health problem” and that users should not be criminalized.  He has also advocated for the United States and Mexico to follow similar policies on drug use and marijuana legislation.

June 21, 2017 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 19, 2017

Will Utah be among the states voting directly on marijuana reform in 2018?

Logo_Final-copy_200I already have my eye upon states like Arizona and Michigan for potential notable marijuana initiative votes in 2018.   And this local article, headlined "Medical marijuana advocates within weeks of filing ballot initiative," suggests Utah is another state worth watching.  Here are the basics:

For years now, the Utah Legislature has labored over the question of whether or not to legalize medical marijuana.  In 2014, the Legislature chose to legalize a marijuana extract for use in controlling epileptic seizures.

In 2016, two laws which would have legalized medical marijuana — to differing extents — both passed through the Utah Senate, but never reached a vote in the House of Representatives.  And in the 2017 session, the only marijuana legislation passed allowed only for studies to take place, which could take years to yield results.

Despite the Legislature’s hesitancy to act on medical marijuana legalization, Utahns may have the chance to vote on the issue directly in the form of a ballot initiative in 2018.  “Having tried multiple times to persuade the legislature to help these people and facing significant resistance, we think it’s best now to give the public a chance to decide for themselves,” said Connor Boyack, who is acting as a consultant for the ballot initiative.  Boyack has previously advocated for medical marijuana in his role as the president of Libertas Institute, a Libertarian think tank....

It’s an extensive process to put an issue on the ballot.  First, the language of the legislation must be written and an application turned into the Lieutenant Governor’s Office.  The language of the medical marijuana initiative is almost complete, Boyack said, and is based off of language from one of the bills that failed in the Legislature in 2016.  Senate Bill 73, sponsored by then-Sen. Mark Madsen of Saratoga Springs, was used as a baseline for the language of the ballot initiative, Boyack said, with just a few tweaks.  For instance, autism was added to the list of conditions for which medical marijuana could be used....

According to state law, to get an initiative on the ballot, signatures must be gathered that total 10 percent of the total votes cast in the last presidential election.  Since Utahns cast approximately 1.13 million votes in the 2016 presidential election, it would take just over 113,000 signatures to get an initiative on the ballot.  It’s not as simple as just collecting the 113,000 signatures.  They have to be spread out semi-evenly over the many senate districts in the state....

Boyack said they already have much of the financial backing that will be needed to pay professionals to gather signatures. “We’ve got some very strong commitments,” Boyack said. “We’re following up to get checks written.” He said he’s confident that they’ll get the $2 million needed to pay for signature gathering and promotional media.  “There are a lot of individuals who are very upset with the Legislature for having the chance to help people, then punting,” Boyack said....

Even if the necessary signatures are collected, Utah voters would still have to choose to pass the initiative. Organizations like the Utah Medical Association have consistently opposed legalizing cannabis as medicine before it has been approved by the Federal Drug Administration.  Even the prominent and influential Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints weighed in on the issue in 2016, specifically favoring one medical marijuana bill over another more comprehensive one.  Boyack says he believes the odds of passage are good — polls show that people want medical marijuana to be legal, he said.

June 19, 2017 in Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Political perspective on reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Bipartisan group introduces new version of CARERS Act to reform federal marijuana prohibition

CARERS-act-header-backgroundAs reported in this new Roll Call article, a "bipartisan group of senators and representatives have reintroduced legislation that would enable states to set their own medical marijuana policies."  Here are the basics:

Senators Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., joined by Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., made the announcement on Thursday....

The legislation reintroduced Thursday would protect patients, doctors and businesses participating in state medical-marijuana programs from federal prosecution. The Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States (CARERS) Act would not legalize medical marijuana in all 50 states. Instead, it would ensure that people in the states where medical cannabis is legal can use it without violating federal law.

In addition to Booker and Gillibrand, co-sponsors of the CARERS Act include Senators Rand Paul, R-Ky., Mike Lee, R-Utah, Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Al Franken, D-Minn. 

This press release from Senator Booker is titled "Lawmakers Reintroduce Bipartisan, Bicameral Medical Marijuana Bill: CARERS Act would ensure patients have access to lifesaving care without fear of federal prosecution." The press release includes quotes from all the sponsors and state that "the CARERS Act would:

(1) Recognize States’ Responsibility to Set Medical Marijuana Policy & Eliminate Potential Federal Prosecution

The CARERS Act amends the Controlled Substances Act so that states can set their own medical marijuana policies. The patients, providers, and businesses participating in state medical marijuana programs will no longer be in violation of federal law and vulnerable to federal prosecution.

(2) Allow States to Import Cannabidiol (CBD), Recognized Treatment for Epilepsy and Seizure Disorders

The CARERS Act amends the Controlled Substances Act to remove specific strains of CBD oil from the federal of definition of marijuana. This change will allow youth suffering from intractable epilepsy to gain access to the medicine they need to control their seizures.

(3) Provide Veterans Access

Current law prohibits doctors in Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) facilities from prescribing medical marijuana. The CARERS Act would allow VA doctors in states where medical marijuana is legal to recommend medical marijuana to military veterans.

(4) Expand Opportunities for Research

The CARERS Act removes unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles for researchers to gain government approval to undertake important research on marijuana and creates a system for the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services to encourage research.

The CARERS Act has the support of more than 20 health, veteran and policy organizations, including: American Civil Liberties Union, Americans for Safe Access, Compassionate Care NY, Coalition for Medical Marijuana NJ, Drug Policy Alliance, Housing Works, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, Marijuana Policy Project, MS Resources of Central New York, Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, New Jersey Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, NY Physicians for Compassionate Care, Parents Coalition for Rescheduling Medical Cannabis, Patients Out of Time, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, The American Cannabis Nurses Association, The Breast Cancer Coalition of Rochester, Third Way, Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access, Veterans for Peace and Veterans for Safe Access and Compassionate Care."

June 15, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Deputy AG Rosenstein tells Congress marijuana is "properly scheduled under Schedule I"

During his testimony before the Senate Appropriations Committee,  Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was asked the Department of Justice’s stance on marijuana.  Here from The Cannabist is a report on this discussion:

Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski used part of her time to ask about marijuana, and the tension between federal law, under which cannabis is illegal, and states like Alaska which have legalized recreational as well as medical marijuana.

Rosenstein’s response: “We do have a conflict between federal law and the law in some states.  It’s a difficult issue for parents like me, who have to provide guidance to our kids…  I’ve talked to Chuck Rosenberg, the administrator of the DEA and we follow the law and the science.  And from a legal and scientific perspective, marijuana is an unlawful drug.  It’s properly scheduled under Schedule I.  And therefore we have this conflict.”

He also mentioned that there may be changes coming to the Cole Memorandum. “Jim Cole tried to deal with it in that memorandum and at the moment that memorandum is still in effect.  Maybe there will be changes to it in the future but we’re still operating under that policy which is an effort to balance the conflicting interests with regard to marijuana.  So I can assure you that is going to be a high priority for me as the U.S. Attorneys come on board to talk about how to deal with that challenge in the states that have legalized or decriminalized marijuana, whether it be for recreational or medical use…”

He concluded that the Department of Justice is “responsible for enforcing the law. It’s illegal, and that is the federal policy with regards to marijuana.”

Murkowski responded only, “Confusing.”

June 13, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 12, 2017

AG Jeff Sessions has urged Congress to end limit on DOJ appropriations concerning state-compliant medical marijuana actors

In this new MassRoots posting, Tom Angell reports on a notable letter sent by Attorney General Jeff Sessions to member of Congress back in May.  Here are the details (with a bit of my emphasis added):

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is asking Congressional leaders not to renew a current federal law that prevents the Department of Justice from spending money to interfere with state medical marijuana laws.  “I believe it would be unwise for Congress to restrict the discretion of the Department to fund particular prosecutions, particularly in the midst of an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime,” Sessions wrote in a letter to Republican and Democratic House and Senate leadership. “The Department must be in a position to use all laws available to combat the transnational drug organizations and dangerous drug traffickers who threaten American lives.”

The letter, sent to Capitol Hill last month, was shared with MassRoots by a Congressional staffer. The protections are the result of a rider — known as the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, after its lead Congressional sponsors — which has been enacted into law with strong bipartisan votes for the past three fiscal years, including the current one.

But when President Trump signed a Fiscal Year 2017 omnibus appropriations bill into law last month, he issued a signing statement that essentially reserved the right to ignore the medical marijuana protections. “I will treat this provision consistently with my constitutional responsibility to take care that the laws be faithfully executed,” he wrote. And when the president made his first full budget request to Congress, he did not include an extension of the provision.

While President Obama never issued a signing statement concerning the provision, he did suggest that Congress delete it in his last two budget requests. And the Obama Justice Department took the position that the budget rider only prevented the government from stopping states from implementing their laws and did not provide any protections to patients or providers who are acting in accordance with those policies.

But last year the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled, over the Justice Department’s objection, that the measure does in fact prevent federal prosecutors from pursuing cases against state-legal medical cannabis patients, growers and dispensaries. However, the ruling only applies to the nine states and two territories that fall under the Ninth Circuit’s jurisdiction.

“As a result, in the Ninth Circuit, many individuals and organizations that are operating in violation of the CSA and causing harm in their communities may invoke the rider to thwart prosecution,” Sessions wrote in the new letter to Congress....

In the new letter to Congress, the attorney general wrote that marijuana use has “significant negative health effects,” arguing that is “linked to an increased risk of psychiatric disorders such as psychosis, respiratory ailments such as lung infections, cognitive impairments such as IQ loss, and substance use disorder and addiction.”

Congress is now considering appropriations bills for Fiscal Year 2018, and marijuana law reform advocates are pushing to include the state medical cannabis protections again as well as add broader new ones that would cover full recreational legalization laws. “I respectfully request that you oppose the inclusion of such language in Department appropriations,” Sessions wrote to the Capitol Hill leaders.

On Tuesday, relevant House and Senate appropriations subcommittees will take testimony about the Justice Department’s budget request from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Sessions was initially slated to testify but will instead appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee to discuss the ongoing investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election.

The line I emphasized highlights that this newly-unearthed Sessions letter does not mark a huge departure from the position of the Justice Department under Prez Obama. Nevertheless, this letter, which stresses research on the harmfulness of marijuana and suggests that criminal organizations seek to hide within state marijuana regulatory regimes, reinforces the notion that AG Jeff Sessions is not too eager to allow state marijuana reform regimes to operate without significant possible federal review and oversight.

June 12, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)