Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The local option for marijuana, part I: Introduction

As promised, I’m going to dive into a new project evaluating the “local option” for marijuana: i.e., proposals to allow local governments (usually counties) to ban marijuana sales, notwithstanding state legalization of the drug.

I plan to post the project piecemeal. I'm still working on the language, ideas, and research, so I welcome feedback. I’ll start, naturally, with the Introduction (omitting footnotes) and follow with the Parts II and III to follow over the course of the next week. Here goes:

 

    The states have largely prevailed in their struggle against the federal government for control over marijuana policy. More than 20 states have already legalized marijuana under state law and the number is sure to grow. Though the federal government has not yet repealed its own marijuana prohibition, it has largely ceded control of the issue to the states. As I wrote nearly five years ago,

[M]edical marijuana use has survived and indeed thrived in the shadow of the federal ban. The war over medical marijuana may be largely over, though skirmishes will undoubtedly continue, but contrary to conventional wisdom, it is the states, and not the federal government, that have emerged the victors in this struggle. Supremacy, in short, has its limits.

    But the states are now facing growing opposition from within. Citing concerns over marijuana’s perceived harms, many communities in marijuana legalization states are seeking to re-instate marijuana prohibition at the local level. In Colorado alone, for example, more than 150 municipalities have passed ordinances banning marijuana shops outright.

    These local ordinances raise one of the most important and unresolved questions surrounding marijuana law reforms: What power, if any, should states give local governments to regulate marijuana? How the states answer this question will determine just how quickly and broadly marijuana legalization spreads. The experience with alcohol control is instructive. Although national alcohol prohibition was repealed in 1933, and although Mississippi repealed the last statewide alcohol prohibition in 1966, hundreds of local communities – governing roughly 10% of the nation’s population -- continue to ban the sale of alcohol today, more than 80 years after the ratification of the 21st Amendment.

    Despite the importance of the local authority question, there has been surprisingly little attention paid to it. Most marijuana legalization states failed to address local authority in their marijuana reform legislation, sparking dozens of lawsuits challenging local ordinances. In many states, the issue of local control remains unsettled. And while many scholars have weighed in on the federalism issues surrounding marijuana law reforms, they have all but ignored the important power battles now flaring up within the states.

    This Article begins to fill the gap. It aims to provide lawmakers, jurists, scholars, and other interested parties insights into the desirability of enabling local communities to ban marijuana. It approaches this task in two ways. First, it discusses the theory of local control. The theory seeks to balance the interests of individual local governments against those of our broader society. On the one hand, local governments can tailor their policies to satisfy local tastes. What’s right for Last Vegas isn’t necessarily right for Reno. On the other hand, local policies can also affect outsiders who have no say over them. What happens in Vegas doesn’t necessarily stay there. The desirability of local control over any given issue hinges on the relative strength of these competing considerations.

    Second, the Article attempts to gauge the strength of these competing considerations for marijuana. Would local control advance local policy interests? Would it harm outsiders? It is, of course, far too early to gauge the impact of local marijuana regulations. But we do have more than one century worth of experience with local alcohol regulations. I argue that this experience holds some valuable lessons for debates over local marijuana control. In particular, I find our experience with local alcohol control should temper enthusiasm for giving local government similar control over marijuana. The research on local alcohol control suggests that local alcohol regulations have effects beyond the boundaries of the jurisdictions that adopt them. A wet county might thwart a neighboring dry county’s effort to curb alcohol consumption and the harms that go along with it. Likewise, a dry county might shift some of the harms of alcohol consumption onto a neighboring wet county. The sobering experience with local alcohol control suggests that the state or even national governments might be better suited to controlling that substance and, by extension, marijuana as well.

    The Article proceeds as follows. Part I discusses the current controversy over local marijuana regulation. Part II discusses the theoretical framework for evaluating the desirability of local control. Part III discusses the lessons of local alcohol control. Part IV then returns to draw some tentative conclusions about the desirability of local marijuana control.

August 19, 2014 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, August 18, 2014

Previewing the advocacy battle in Florida over 2014 medical marijuana initiative

FloridaThis local article from Florida, headlined "Ad war looms over medical marijuana: 'Compassion for sick' versus 'Devil in the details'," spotlights the developing terms of debate in the campaign for and against Florida's medical marijuana initiative being voted upon this November. Here are some of the details:

A burst of ads coming soon to TV screens in Florida will feature patients and doctors extolling the virtues of marijuana as a compassionate way to treat the sick and ease their pain. The soft-sell campaign, a laid-back variation on the usual political pitch, is designed to promote a constitutional amendment on November's ballot to legalize medical marijuana.

Countering that message will be a rival set of ads warning that approval of the amendment would lead to widespread drug use, supplied by "pot docs" and "pot shops" at every turn.

The dueling ad campaigns will compete for attention amid political appeals from candidates for governor and other offices, adding to an expected deluge of election messages though late summer and early fall.

Neither side would say when its ads will start or how much it's planning to spend. But both sides are preparing to hit the airwaves with TV and radio spots while developing networks of campaign volunteers and delivering their messages on the Internet. It's not quite politics as usual.

"We're not in a partisan scrum. We're not in an attack-and-response mode," said Ben Pollara, campaign manager of United for Care, which is spearheading the marijuana amendment. "We're just going to go out there and have people share their stories about how medical marijuana has affected them, or could have affected them, and their loved ones." The testimonials, he said, will come from patients, doctors and nurses.

He said 10,000 volunteers have signed up to help convey the message through phone calls, in-person talks and social media. They will be pitching constitutional Amendment 2, which "allows the medical use of marijuana for individuals with debilitating diseases as determined by a licensed Florida physician."...

Early polls indicate overwhelming public support for medical marijuana — by 88 percent in a statewide Quinnipiac University poll — but analysts expect a close vote on Amendment 2, which requires 60 percent approval to become law.

Opponents, including law-enforcement groups and Republican leaders, say the amendment is full of loopholes that could allow unscrupulous "pot docs" to recommend the drug for recreational users. "The thing I would be concerned about is the ruse of medicinal marijuana for purposes of allowing people basically to buy a joint and smoke it," U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., told Florida reporters this month.

Nonprofit groups that oppose the measure have banded together under the Don't Let Florida Go to Pot coalition, which provides speakers at public forums. A separate group known as Vote No on 2 will lead the ad campaign.

A sample ad already has popped up on the Internet. The video shows scenes of children walking past marijuana stores in California, big piles of pot and derelicts puffing on pipes. "They say they just want to help the sick, but that's not the whole story," a narrator intones. These scenes are interspersed with commentary from experts, such as lawyers and cops, who support the theme "The Devil is in the Details."

"A vote for Amendment 2 is a vote for legalization of marijuana forever in the state of Florida," Grady Judd, president of the Florida Sheriffs Association, tells viewers.

The coming air war will bring the debate into Floridians' living rooms. "There's certainly going to be enough spending to make it a salient issue, with both sides ramping up their ad buys," said Daniel Smith, political science professor at the University of Florida. He said this issue, highlighted by the ads, will prompt some voters to cast ballots who otherwise might not bother with a non-presidential election.

August 18, 2014 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Television | Permalink | Comments (1)

College students facing distinct challenges in using marijuana as medicine

The Boston Globe has this intriguing new article discussing in the problems that face medical marijuana patients in university settings. The piece is headlined "In halls of academia, medical marijuana an unwelcome guest: Colleges, mindful of federal rules, draw ire by keeping stiff bans." Here are excerpts:

Thomas Burke Jr., a 25-year-old US combat veteran and Yale University grad student, has a physician’s permission to use medical marijuana in Connecticut to treat PTSD symptoms.  Although medical marijuana has been legal in Massachusetts for nearly two years, many local colleges are putting out the message to students as the fall semester nears: You still can’t use it on campus, even if a doctor says it’s medicinal.

College administrators have reaffirmed policies banning the drug in all forms, and that includes for students who have a doctor’s recommendation.  They say their hands are tied by federal regulations, which still classify marijuana as an illegal drug, and they worry that allowing cannabis use of any kind could lead to the loss of federal funding, including student financial aid....

But other medical marijuana patients and advocates say colleges are being overly cautious. Forbidding the use of a state-recognized, doctor-authorized medicine is unfair, unethical, and a detriment to students, faculty, and others who use the drug to treat ailments, they say.   “We would like to see schools recognize, as many states and millions and millions of individuals and doctors have done, that marijuana is in fact valid medicine for the patients that are using it, and treating it differently than other medications is harmful to students and faculty who have chosen to use medical marijuana,” said Betty Aldworth, director of Students for Sensile Drug Policy, a national student network pushing for an overhaul of drug laws....

Some schools — including Boston University, Tufts University, and Amherst, Curry, Emerson, Hampshire, and Wheelock colleges — that ban medical marijuana on campus try to help students with certifications to find alternatives. One way is to allow the students to opt out of on-campus housing contracts and requirements so they can pursue treatment off-campus....

The Justice Department said in a memorandum last year that it focuses enforcement on the most serious marijuana-related violations, and it is “not an efficient use of federal resources to focus enforcement efforts on seriously ill individuals, or on their individual caregivers.”

However, in 2011, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy and the Education Department wrote a letter warning campuses that deviating from federal rules could put their federal funding at risk. “The administration’s stance hasn’t changed since then,” drug control policy office spokeswoman Cameron Hardesty told the Globe last week.

Advocates, however, say it is unrealistic to believe the US government would cut off funding to colleges over the issue.  “I understand not wanting to risk millions of dollars in federal funding, but no college has ever lost federal funding for changing their drug or alcohol policies,”said Connor McKay, a 22-year-old Northeastern University senior and president of the campus chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy.  “Colleges could and should at least accommodate students who need to use it.”

August 18, 2014 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1)

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Former Florida Gov Jeb Bush conflicted about states' rights and federal pot prohibition

JebThe Miami Herald has this interesting new article discussing comments by former Florida Gov Jeb Bush concerning marijuana law and policy and the competing tensions created by state reforms and federal prohibition.   The full headline of the piece provide a summary of its themes: "Jeb Bush conflicted over feds role in medical-marijuana enforcement; Former Gov. Jeb Bush is conflicted over the federal government’s role in medical-marijuana states and refrains from criticizing President Barack Obama over the issue."  Here are excerpts:

Former Gov. Jeb Bush opposes Florida’s medical-marijuana initiative, but the potential GOP presidential candidate said he’s not sure if the federal government should enforce federal cannabis laws if the Sunshine State proposal passes.

Bush’s struggle with the state-federal split over medical marijuana reflects a broader struggle in the national Republican Party, where anti-drug hardliners are at odds with states-rights conservatives and libertarians over the issue.

Though a top Republican and frequent critic of President Obama, Bush refrained from repudiating the current White House’s position to de-emphasize enforcement of certain marijuana laws in the 20 states that have legalized medical cannabis, plus Washington D.C., and the two states that have completely legalized adult personal use of the drug, Colorado and Washington.

Asked Friday about the federal government’s role in prosecuting pot laws in medical-marijuana states, Bush said he’d have to give it more thought. “In medical marijuana states? I don’t know. I’d have to sort that out,” Bush said. “I think that states ought to have a right to decide these things. I think the federal government’s role in our lives is way too-overreaching.”

“But having said that,” he continued, “if you’re in Colorado and you can purchase marijuana openly, should people in Wyoming not be concerned about that? And I think there, maybe, the federal law needs to be looked at — interstate commerce.”

Bush made his comments in response to a reporter’s questions during a Homestead campaign stop for Gov. Rick Scott’s reelection. The day before, Bush issued a written statement urging Floridians to vote against the proposed constitutional amendment for medical marijuana. The amendment would allow physicians to recommend medical marijuana to people with “debilitating” medical conditions. Opponents say the measure is too broad; supporters say it’s designed to ensure that sick people get the care they need.

As a likely frontrunner for his party’s presidential nomination in 2016, Bush’s thoughts about marijuana have an added layer of significance because, if elected, his administration would have to decide whether it should continue the Obama policy in marijuana-decriminalization states.

“I think Jeb Bush is thinking about 2016 politics,” said Ben Pollara, director for the United for Care group that fought to get the medical-marijuana initiative, a proposed constitutional amendment, on the Florida ballot in November. Pollara pointed out that many of the big names who might run for president have nuanced views on medical marijuana.

“Rand Paul is more libertarian. Rick Perry has come out in favor of decriminalization. Chris Christie administers a medical-marijuana system in New Jersey,” Pollara said. “This is part of the more-libertarian strain. Jeb has presidential considerations to worry about.”...

Another potential GOP candidate, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, also opposes the proposed constitutional amendment but said he supported low-THC medical marijuana therapy, which was called for in a bill that the Legislature passed this year and that Scott signed unexpectedly. The Legislature only took up that measure this year when the United for Care amendment was bound for the Florida ballot, where its chances of passage are good....

The medical marijuana constitutional amendment looks incredibly popular right now. Polls indicate that about 70 percent of voters back the proposed ballot language. It takes 60 percent voter approval to pass a constitutional amendment in Florida.

Support spans all demographic and partisan lines, but support is strongest among Democrats, including fundraiser and trial lawyer John Morgan, who employs Democratic gubernatorial frontrunner Charlie Crist and helped spearhead the United for Care initiative.

August 16, 2014 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 14, 2014

"NFL Seeks Right Answer for Marijuana Use"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new AP article. Alex has done a terrific job on this blog keeping track of the intersection of America's favorite sport and America's favorite prohibited substance, and this AP article help highlight how dynamic that intersection can be. Here are excerpts:

Marijuana is casting an ever-thickening haze across NFL locker rooms, and it's not simply because more players are using it. As attitudes toward the drug soften, and science slowly teases out marijuana's possible benefits for concussions and other injuries, the NFL is reaching a critical point in navigating its tenuous relationship with what is recognized as the analgesic of choice for many of its players.

"It's not, let's go smoke a joint," retired NFL defensive lineman Marvin Washington said. "It's, what if you could take something that helps you heal faster from a concussion, that prevents your equilibrium from being off for two weeks and your eyesight for being off for four weeks?"

One challenge the NFL faces is how to bring marijuana into the game as a pain reliever without condoning its use as a recreational drug. And facing a lawsuit filed on behalf of hundreds of former players complaining about the effects of prescription painkillers they say were pushed on them by team trainers and doctors, the NFL is looking for other ways to help players deal with the pain from a violent game....

There are no hard numbers on how many NFL players are using marijuana, but anecdotal evidence, including the arrest or league discipline of no fewer than a dozen players for pot over the past 18 months, suggests use is becoming more common. Redskins offensive lineman Ryan Clark didn't want to pinpoint the number of current NFL players who smoke pot but said, "I know a lot of guys who don't regularly smoke marijuana who would use it during the season."...

Another longtime defensive lineman, Marcellus Wiley, estimates half the players in the average NFL locker room were using it by the time he shut down his career in 2006. "They are leaning on it to cope with the pain," said Wiley, who played defensive line in the league for 10 seasons. "They are leaning on it to cope with the anxiety of the game."

The NFL is fighting lawsuits on two fronts — concussions and painkillers — both of which, some argue, could be positively influenced if marijuana were better tolerated by the league.

The science, however, is slow-moving and expensive and might not ever be conclusive, says behavioral psychologist Ryan Vandrey, who studies marijuana use at John Hopkins. Marijuana may work better for some people, while narcotics and other painkillers might be better for others. "Different medicines work differently from person to person," Vandrey said. "There's pretty good science that shows marijuana does have pain relieving properties. Whether it's a better pain reliever than the other things available has never been evaluated."...

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has treaded gingerly around the subject. Before last season's Super Bowl he said the league would "follow the medicine" and not rule out allowing players to use marijuana for medical purposes. An NFL spokesman reiterated that this month, saying if medical advisers inform the league it should consider modifying the policy, it would explore possible changes.

A spokesman for the players union declined comment on marijuana, beyond saying the union is always looking for ways to improve the drug-testing policy. But earlier this year, NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith said the marijuana policy is secondary when set against the failure to bring Human Growth Hormone testing into the game. Some believe relaxing the marijuana rules could be linked to a deal that would bring in HGH testing....

The NFL drug policy has come under even more scrutiny this summer, after the NFL handed down a season-long suspension of Browns receiver Josh Gordon for multiple violations of the NFL substance-abuse policy. That suspension, especially when juxtaposed against the two-game ban Ray Rice received for domestic violence, has led some to say the league's priorities are out of whack.

In June, Harvard Medical School professor emeritus Lester Grinspoon, one of the forefathers of marijuana research, published an open letter to Goodell, urging him to drop urine testing for weed altogether and, more importantly, fund a crash research project for a marijuana-based drug that can alleviate the consequences of concussions. "As much as I love to watch professional football, I'm beginning to feel like a Roman in the days when they would send Christians to the lions," Grinspoon said. "I don't want to be part of an audience that sees kids ruin their future with this game, and then the league doesn't give them any recourse to try to protect themselves."

The league does, in fact, fund sports-health research at the NIH, to the tune of a $30 million donation it made in 2012. But the science moves slowly no matter where it's conducted and, as Vandrey says, "the NFL is in business for playing football, not doing scientific research."

August 14, 2014 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 11, 2014

"As Colorado Loosened Its Marijuana Laws, Underage Consumption And Traffic Fatalities Fell"

Marijuana-use-by-Colorado-teenagersThe title of this post is the headline of this new commentary by Jacob Sullum at Forbes.  Here are excerpts:

Two consequences that pot prohibitionists attribute to marijuana legalization—more underage consumption and more traffic fatalities—so far do not seem to be materializing in Colorado, which has allowed medical use since 2001 and recreational use since the end of 2012.

Survey data released last week by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) indicate that marijuana use among high school students continues to decline, despite warnings that legalization would make pot more appealing to teenagers. In the 2013 Healthy Kids Colorado survey, 37 percent of high school students reported that they had ever tried marijuana, down from 39 percent in 2011. The percentage who reported using marijuana in the previous month (a.k.a. “current” use) also fell, from 22 percent in 2011 to 20 percent in 2013. The CDPHE says those drops are not statistically significant. But they are part of a general downward trend in Colorado that has persisted despite the legalization of medical marijuana in 2001, the commercialization of medical marijuana in 2009 (when the industry took off after its legal status became more secure), and the legalization of recreational use (along with home cultivation and sharing among adults) at the end of 2012.... Traffic fatalities also have generally declined since Colorado began loosening its marijuana laws. Fatalities rose in 2001, the year that Colorado’s medical marijuana law took effect, but by 2003 had fallen below the 2000 level. Since peaking in 2002, fatalities have fallen by more than a third. Legal sales of recreational marijuana began in January, and so far this year traffic fatalities are down. According to to the Colorado Department of Transportation, there were 258 fatalities from January through July, compared to 263 during the same period last year. In short, Colorado’s experience does not provide much evidence that less repressive marijuana laws make the roads more dangerous (and they might even make the roads safer by encouraging the substitution of cannabis for alcohol).

August 11, 2014 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, August 10, 2014

"Medical Marijuana Research Hits Wall of U.S. Law"

Shutterstock_93947695The title of this post is the headline of this front-page New York Times article.  Here are excerpts:

Nearly four years ago, Dr. Sue Sisley, a psychiatrist at the University of Arizona, sought federal approval to study marijuana’s effectiveness in treating military veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.   She had no idea how difficult it would be.

The proposal, which has the support of veterans groups, was hung up at several regulatory stages, requiring the research’s private sponsor to resubmit multiple times. After the proposed study received final approval in March from federal health officials, the lone federal supplier of research marijuana said it did not have the strains the study needed and would have to grow more — potentially delaying the project until at least early next year.

Then, in June, the university fired Dr. Sisley, later citing funding and reorganization issues.   But Dr. Sisley is convinced the real reason was her outspoken support for marijuana research.   “They could never get comfortable with the idea of this controversial, high-profile research happening on campus,” she said.

Dr. Sisley’s case is an extreme example of the obstacles and frustrations scientists face in trying to study the medical uses of marijuana.  Dating back to 1999, the Department of Health and Human Services has indicated it does not see much potential for developing marijuana in smoked form into an approved prescription drug....

Scientists say this position has had a chilling effect on marijuana research.  Though more than one million people are thought to use the drug to treat ailments ranging from cancer to seizures to hepatitis C and chronic pain, there are few rigorous studies showing whether the drug is a fruitful treatment for those or any other conditions.  A major reason is this:  The federal government categorizes marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, the most restrictive of five groups established by the Controlled Substances Act of 1970.  Drugs in this category — including heroin, LSD, peyote and Ecstasy — are considered to have no accepted medical use in the United States and a high potential for abuse, and are subject to tight restrictions on scientific study.

In the case of marijuana, those restrictions are even greater than for other controlled substances....  To obtain the drug legally, researchers like Dr. Sisley must apply to the Food and Drug Administration, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the National Institute on Drug Abuse — which, citing a 1961 treaty obligation, administers the only legal source of the drug for federally sanctioned research, at the University of Mississippi.  Dr. Sisley’s proposed study also had to undergo an additional layer of review from the Public Health Service that is not required for other controlled substances in such research.

The process is so cumbersome that a growing number of elected state officials, medical experts and members of Congress have started calling for loosening the restrictions.  In June, a letter signed by 30 members of Congress, including four Republicans, called the extra scrutiny of marijuana projects “unnecessary,” saying that research “has often been hampered by federal barriers.”

“It defies logic in this day and age that marijuana is still in Schedule 1 alongside heroin and LSD when there is so much testimony to what relief medical marijuana can bring,” Gov. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island said in an interview.  In late 2011, he and the governor of Washington at the time, Christine O. Gregoire, filed a petition asking the federal government to place the drug in a lower category.  The petition is still pending with the D.E.A.

Despite the mounting push, there is little evidence that either Congress or the Obama administration will change marijuana’s status soon.  In public statements, D.E.A. officials have made their displeasure known about states’ legalizing medical and recreational marijuana.

August 10, 2014 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Highlighting how marijuana reform provides extraordinary small business opportunities

This morning's New York Times has this lengthy new article about the modern businesses surrounding marijuana reform headlined "Start-Ups Seize Marijuana Opportunities as Big Companies Hold Back." Here are excerpts:

When Garett Fortune’s brother was found to have cancer in early 2013, it was so advanced that all he could do was to try to live out the remainder of his life in as little pain and discomfort as possible. That meant taking about 30 pills a day, Mr. Fortune said — until his brother tried marijuana. “I saw him go from 30 pills a day to almost zero,” he said. “It helped his appetite and the nausea. He had a way better quality of life at the end than he would have without the cannabis. It made me a proponent of the industry.”

It also gave Mr. Fortune the idea for a business. With more states legalizing marijuana for medical uses — and, in Colorado and Washington, recreational ones — Mr. Fortune identified one of the industry’s challenges: packaging. The old standby, the resealable plastic bag, was not sufficiently effective, especially for a regulated industry, and Mr. Fortune already owned OdorNo, a company that made odor-proof bags for human and animal waste.

Mr. Fortune proposed a new product, odor-proof and child-resistant marijuana bags, to OdorNo’s advisory board. He expected the members to laugh him out of the room, but they did not. “Every single one of them told me: ‘This is the biggest opportunity on the planet right now. Follow that.’”

In May he licensed out production and distribution of OdorNo, and he and his team began building FunkSac in Denver. Although FunkSac bags are awaiting government approval, Mr. Fortune said he had hundreds of thousands of orders from cultivators, dispensaries and wholesalers. The company plans to begin delivering them this month and estimates it will have first-year revenue of about $2 million. Mr. Fortune said he had been contacted by dispensaries in 17 of the 22 states where medical marijuana was legal. “Right now,” he said, “it’s like drinking from a fire hose.”

To many, today’s cannabis industry resembles a modern-day Gold Rush. Troy Dayton, co-founder and chief executive of the ArcView Group in San Francisco, a network of 250 high-net-worth investors that backs cannabis start-ups, said more than 30 early-stage companies contact it every week. In the last year, he said, the group sent about $12 million in funding to 14 companies.

The size of the legal cannabis industry in the United States, measured by sales of the plant, was $1.5 billion in 2013, according to ArcView, which projects it will reach $2.6 billion in 2014 and $10 billion by 2018 — figures that do not include the growing numbers of ancillary businesses. The entire industry is dominated by small businesses, Mr. Dayton said, both because it is so new and because marijuana’s legality remains murky. Banks, for example, have been reluctant to take deposits or make loans to dispensaries because the drug is still illegal under federal law.

“You can’t have a national business,” Mr. Dayton said, because the laws vary by state. Opportunities for small businesses also exist because the stigma associated with the industry has discouraged bigger companies from getting involved. “You can’t find another industry growing at this clip that doesn’t have any major players,” he said. “That gives the little guy a chance to make a run at this.”...

SpeedWeed, a Los Angeles delivery service, allows customers to place an order online or by phone and have it delivered — depending on traffic — within 45 minutes. Although there are hundreds of marijuana delivery services in Los Angeles, AJ Gentile, a founder, said SpeedWeed was the largest. “Delivery services here are typically guys driving around in their car with a big box of weed,” he said.

Mr. Gentile said that SpeedWeed worked only with cultivators its legal team had vetted and that along with its delivery service, it planned to sell proprietary software to dispensaries nationwide. He estimated that the company had 20,000 legal customers and that revenue would double this year, up from $1.7 million in 2013.

Biological Advantage, founded in April, has a system of products it plans to introduce this month that are applied to a marijuana plant’s soil and leaves to enhance photosynthesis. The company’s chief executive, John Kempf, is also founder of Advancing Eco Agriculture, a crop-nutrition consulting company he started that has invested $400,000 in Biological Advantage. Mr. Kempf said his companies were a bit ahead of the game, anticipating what the market would need. “Growers aren’t yet looking at nutrition as a means for improving the medicinal concentrations in plants,” he said. “But they will.”

August 7, 2014 in Current Affairs, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Project SAM places full-page ad in New York Times and creates another reform-opposition website

SAM_ad_full_page_NYT_11.55x21_31Jul14_FINAL-1Late yesterday, I received an e-mail from Project SAM (aka Smart Approaches to Marijuana), heralding its "new, full-page ad in the New York Times ... in response to their recent pro-marijuana editorial."   Here is more from the e-mail:

The ad — "Perception/Reality" — depicts a young laid-back man's face ("perception") juxtaposed over the body of high-powered business executive's body ("reality") implying that if America is not careful, we will soon have a very large, powerful marijuana industry on our hands.   It appears on page A5 today.  Below the image, the copy reads:

"The legalization of marijuana means ushering in an entirely new group of corporations whose primary source of revenue is a highly habit-forming product. Sounds a lot like another industry we just put in its place.  Many facts are being ignored by this and other news organizations.  Go to GrassIsNotGreener.com to see why so many major medical associations oppose marijuana legalization."

The ad will also be used by local community groups, including SAM's 27 state affiliates, in order to educate the public on the reality of the marijuana industry.  The ad links to a new online resource of information — www.GrassIsNotGreener.org— which lists medical and other organizational opposition to legalization.  The website also contains scientific papers and facts about marijuana, and will remain a resource for information on the emerging marijuana industry.

"In the marijuana business, the values of the flower children have been quickly replaced by the values of Wall St. power brokers," remarked Kevin A. Sabet, President and CEO of SAM. "We're on the brink of creating the next Big Tobacco.  We feel like this is an important message most Americans have not considered."...

Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) is supported by a scientific advisory board comprising the heads of major medical associations and widely respected national researchers and scientists.   The ad will be displayed in Saturday's edition of the New York Times and was funded by SAM, ASAM, NADCP, NFIA, and dozens of individual volunteers and community groups.

Project SAM, has four main goals:

* To inform public policy with the science of today's potent marijuana.

* To prevent the establishment of "Big Marijuana" — and a 21st-Century tobacco industry that would market marijuana to children.

* To promote research of marijuana's medical properties and produce, non-smoked, non-psychoactive pharmacy-attainable medications.

* To have an adult conversation about reducing the unintended consequences of current marijuana policies, such as lifelong stigma due to arrest.

The website GrassIsNotGreener does not appear to have any information or research or advocacy that does not already appear on Project SAM's website, but perhaps Project SAM sees virtue in having two relatively pretty websites presenting the same information.  In any event, I cannot help but wonder if and how much Big Pharma may be contributing to Project SAM's effort to scare people about the prospect of Big Marijuana (background here).

Recent and prior related posts:

August 2, 2014 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Interesting history as New York Times highlights its "the Editorial Board's changing view of marijuana over six decades"

As part of its new editorial series in support of repealing marijuana prohibition (basics here), the New York Times has this fascinating page titled "Evolving on Marijuana," which provides key quotes from key editorials about marijuana law and policy over the last 50 years. Here are some of the highlights of this interesting history:

1966:  Experience has tragically demonstrated that marijuana is not "harmless."... For a considerable number of young people who try it, it is the first step down the fateful road to heroin.

1969:  The law should surely make a distinction between soft and hard drugs.... For the nation to lapse merely into a simplistic crack-down in reaction to the terribly complicated drug problem would only be, in its own way, to freak out."

1969: Simple possession of LSD ... calls for a maximum sentence of only one year, as against ten for marijuana.... The discrepancy is as glaring as it is absurd. How will anyone know what the restriction on marijuana should be until there is the kind of objective, authoritative report that has been called for by Senator Moss of Utah and Representative Koch of New York?

1970: The nation deserves better answers to the questions about pot. Is it really harmful? Should the law continue to treat it in the same manner as heroin? ... Few substances have been so flatly banned and yet so widely used as marijuana, so much discussed and yet so little researched.

1971: Marijuana is not a “narcotic”... At the same time, it is a dangerous drug.... if marijuana is dangerous, the law must reflect this fact. The subcommittee’s report wisely suggests that both use and sale should remain criminal offenses, although punishable by reduced penalties, especially in the case of first-time offenders and experimenters.

1972:  ... the dangers inherent in smoking marijuana appear to be less than previously assumed. ... What is immediately called for is a sharp scaling down of marijuana penalties, elimination of criminal sanctions for its use or possession and reduction of penalties for its small-quantity sales. A failure of legislatures to base legal sanctions on the best medical evidence available can only undermine respect for the law.

1978:  Marijuana shows great, but not fully proven, potential as a therapeutic agent. ... Marijuana boosters want it legalized immediately for widespread medical use. That would be premature. The need now is for accelerated research to define its medical value. Yet progress has been greatly slowed by the drug's lingering notoriety.

1982:  The sweet-acrid scent of marijuana is everywhere these days... According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, roughly 30 million Americans smoke it regularly. ... Like it or not, marijuana is here to stay. Some day, some way, a prohibition so unenforceable and so widely flouted must give way to reality.

1996:  It is difficult to dismiss the testimony from many seriously ill patients ... that marijuana can ease pain... ... It ought to be possible to regulate marijuana as a prescription drug if it is found to be of legitimate benefit for sick people.

2012:  Millions of people have been arrested under the policy for minor violations, like possession of small amounts of marijuana. And one thing is beyond dispute: this arrest-first policy has filled the courts to bursting with first-time, minor offenders who do not belong there and wreaked havoc with people's lives.

2013:  On marijuana policy, there’s a rift between the federal government and the states. … The Justice Department has taken a step toward figuring out this peculiar dance between the federal government and the states. If it wants its “trust but verify” approach to work, it will have to start filling in the details.

2013:  Assuming the argument that alcohol and marijuana are “substitutes” bears out, that could be good news, especially for road safety. Of the two substances, alcohol is far more hazardous. For the most part, marijuana-intoxicated drivers show only modest impairments on road tests. Several studies have suggested that drivers under the influence of marijuana actually overestimate their impairment.

2014:  On New Year’s Day, government-licensed recreational marijuana shops opened in Colorado ... Later in 2014, marijuana retailers will open in Washington State.  As public opinion shifts away from prohibition, these two states will serve as test cases for full-on legalization.

July 30, 2014 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, July 27, 2014

New York Times now advocating: "Repeal Prohibition, Again"

NYTThe title of this post is the headline in this (historic?) new New York Times editorial calling for the legalization of marijuana.  Here are excerpts:

It took 13 years for the United States to come to its senses and end Prohibition, 13 years in which people kept drinking, otherwise law-abiding citizens became criminals and crime syndicates arose and flourished. It has been more than 40 years since Congress passed the current ban on marijuana, inflicting great harm on society just to prohibit a substance far less dangerous than alcohol.

The federal government should repeal the ban on marijuana.

We reached that conclusion after a great deal of discussion among the members of The Times’s Editorial Board, inspired by a rapidly growing movement among the states to reform marijuana laws.

There are no perfect answers to people’s legitimate concerns about marijuana use. But neither are there such answers about tobacco or alcohol, and we believe that on every level — health effects, the impact on society and law-and-order issues — the balance falls squarely on the side of national legalization. That will put decisions on whether to allow recreational or medicinal production and use where it belongs — at the state level.

We considered whether it would be best for Washington to hold back while the states continued experimenting with legalizing medicinal uses of marijuana, reducing penalties, or even simply legalizing all use. Nearly three-quarters of the states have done one of these.

But that would leave their citizens vulnerable to the whims of whoever happens to be in the White House and chooses to enforce or not enforce the federal law.

The social costs of the marijuana laws are vast. There were 658,000 arrests for marijuana possession in 2012, according to F.B.I. figures, compared with 256,000 for cocaine, heroin and their derivatives. Even worse, the result is racist, falling disproportionately on young black men, ruining their lives and creating new generations of career criminals.

There is honest debate among scientists about the health effects of marijuana, but we believe that the evidence is overwhelming that addiction and dependence are relatively minor problems, especially compared with alcohol and tobacco....

There are legitimate concerns about marijuana on the development of adolescent brains. For that reason, we advocate the prohibition of sales to people under 21.

Creating systems for regulating manufacture, sale and marketing will be complex. But those problems are solvable, and would have long been dealt with had we as a nation not clung to the decision to make marijuana production and use a federal crime.

In coming days, we will publish articles by members of the Editorial Board and supplementary material that will examine these questions. We invite readers to offer their ideas, and we will report back on their responses, pro and con.

We recognize that this Congress is as unlikely to take action on marijuana as it has been on other big issues. But it is long past time to repeal this version of Prohibition.

In addition, today's New York Times has these related signed editorial pieces to kick off its series of coverage:

July 27, 2014 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

"Light, Smoke, and Fire: How State Law Can Provide Medical Marijuana Users Protection from Workplace Discrimination"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new student Note by Elizabeth Rodd now available via SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

Currently, twenty-one states and the District of Columbia have enacted legislation providing an affirmative defense to prosecution under state law for medical marijuana use by qualified patients. Despite growing public and legislative support for the legalization of medical marijuana, medical marijuana use — either recreational or medicinal — remains illegal under the Federal Controlled Substances Act.  Given the inconsistency between state and federal law concerning the legality of medicinal marijuana, there is significant uncertainty regarding the rights of employees to engage in state-sanctioned, off-duty use of medical marijuana.

To date, courts have refused to grant protections to employees’ who have suffered adverse employment action for their off-duty, state-sanctioned medical marijuana use. Although the existing case law appears employer-friendly, employee-friendly dissenting opinions and states that have adopted explicit statutory discrimination protections for medical marijuana users signify that this current trend could easily change.  This Note argues that courts should allow employees’ claims for disability discrimination to proceed under state law, and state legislatures should amend their current medical marijuana statutes to afford employment discrimination protection to qualified patients. In doing so, states will be able to protect disabled employees from discrimination due to their use of a state sanctioned therapeutic remedy.

July 22, 2014 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Pot's latest business maven: former Gov and Prez candidate Gary Johnson

US News & World Report has this notable new article about a notable new player in the marijuana industry.  The piece is headlined "Former GOP Governor Looks to Build the 'Microsoft of Marijuana': Gary Johnson is now CEO of a firm that puts 'clean-your-house marijuana' in lozenges," and here are excerpts:

He founded a successful business, served two terms as a Republican governor of New Mexico and climbed Mount Everest. Now, Gary Johnson has set his sights on marijuana.

Nevada-based startup Cannabis Sativa Inc. announced Johnson as its new president and CEO on Tuesday, and he sees the potential for explosive nationwide growth. “I don't know if I’m the Bill Gates of marijuana, but we might be the Microsoft of marijuana,” he says. "The whole country is going to legalize marijuana in 10 years, and then so goes the world."

The company’s first product is a marijuana-infused lozenge, which Johnson says he’s tried several times. “It’s very, very pleasant,” Johnson says. “Rather than a go-to-sleep marijuana, it’s a clean-your-house marijuana.”

The company has sold some of the lozenges – for which it developed special marijuana strains – in California, where medical marijuana is legal. It is preparing a marketing campaign and working to develop local partners to produce the candy across the country....

Residents in Alaska, Oregon and the District of Columbia – with the possible addition of Oklahoma – appear poised to vote on legalization in November. And Florida voters are considering a relatively lax medical marijuana initiative.

Johnson sees the tide of change and hopes to position Cannabis Sativa as an industry leader. Before serving as governor of New Mexico from 1995 to 2003, Johnson was an entrepreneur. He worked construction jobs in his teens before founding Big J Enterprises, which he built into a 1,000-employee construction company. He sold the firm in 1999. He’s proud of that business experience, and hopes to recreate his earlier success.

Johnson has long been a supporter of liberalizing drug laws. In 1999, the Clinton administration’s drug czar, Barry McCaffrey, flew to New Mexico to chastise the governor, calling his positions an "embarrassment" and "uninformed” at a press conference, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported. "He ought to be ashamed of himself telling a bunch of college students that marijuana was wonderful,” McCaffrey said. “He's getting some of these sound bites out of Rolling Stone magazine.”

Johnson held a competing press conference in which he defended his opposition to the war on drugs and insisted on a taxed, regulated market.

July 3, 2014 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

How should reform advocates respond to states enacting low-THC marijuana laws?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this Denver Post article headlined "Lawmakers in 11 states approve low-THC medical marijuana bills."  Here are excerpts:

Spurred by the stories of epileptic children being treated in Colorado with cannabis oil, lawmakers across the country this year have made a dramatic change in how they talk about marijuana.

Thus far, nine states have passed laws legalizing either the use of non-psychoactive marijuana extracts for medical treatment or the study of such products.  The slate of states — Alabama, Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah and Wisconsin — reads in part like a list of states previously most resistant to changes in marijuana laws.  In another two states, Missouri and North Carolina, the legislatures have passed bills that need only a signature from the states' respective governor.

Advocates both for and against changes to marijuana policies continue to debate whether the laws will have any practical impact.  But the new laws represent an ongoing rebellion of states from the federal government's current position that marijuana has no accepted medical use.  

"I think it validates this as medicine," said Paige Figi, one of the founders of the Realm of Caring, which gained fame in a pair of CNN documentaries for producing non-psychoactive marijuana oil.   Figi's daughter, Charlotte, suffers from severe epilepsy, but she has received relief by using an extract made from marijuana plants that is high in a chemical called CBD and low in the psychoactive component of marijuana, THC. The most famous variety of marijuana from which the oil is made, Charlotte's Web, is named after Charlotte Figi.  "It's very important, these little baby steps with CBD bills," said Paige Figi, who has testified in support of several of the bills.

Conclusive research on the efficacy of CBD to treat epilepsy or other conditions is still in the works, but its potential has generated tremendous interest among parents whose children's seizures are not controlled by current medicines.  Hundreds of families have moved to Colorado for the oil, which is currently available only through the state's medical marijuana system.

While all of the new laws across the country embrace the possible therapeutic use of CBD, they vary widely in the details.  Laws in Florida and the pending bill in Missouri would allow CBD-rich marijuana to be grown in those states.  Others legalize possession of CBD but don't specify a source. Some require universities to produce or supply CBD, while others — such as Alabama's — allow only research programs.

Those limitations mean traditional marijuana reformists have kept the laws at arm's length, worried about forestalling bigger changes while simultaneously supporting the sentiment behind the laws.  "The bills are so limited and drafted in a way as to likely be practically and legally impossible to implement and therefore will be symbolic only," Tamar Todd, a senior staff attorney with the Drug Policy Alliance, wrote in an e-mail. Figi, who said she supports broader medical marijuana legalization, said the laws could be a "stepping-stone" to laws that would allow treatment for more conditions.

Those opposed to medical marijuana legalization have likewise approached the bills with ambivalence.  Kevin Sabet, who works with the national group Smart Approaches to Marijuana, said no one wants to keep parents from accessing treatment that may help their children.  But, he said, the new laws may offer false hope to patients and said the safer solution is for federal regulators to allow more controlled trials of marijuana-derived pharmaceuticals.

One such trial has about 300 patients across the country.  A preliminary study of a handful of those patients suggested a CBD medicine could be effective in treating seizures — similar to other surveys that have found many, but not all, patients using CBD-rich marijuana like Charlotte's Web have seen a benefit.  "Simply saying we can solve the issue by passing legislation allowing one to go to Colorado, buy CBD from who knows where, and come back to your home state is not a sustainable solution," Sabet wrote in an e-mail....

Figi said the need for high-CBD treatment is urgent, citing the more than 9,000 names on a wait list for Charlotte's Web.  The Realm of Caring plans to produce more oil this year under the Colorado Department of Agriculture's hemp program. That's possible because the program defines hemp — the taxonomic twin of marijuana — only as low in THC.

I share Paige Figi's perspective that the CBD bills being passed in many states are an important first step toward broader reform. Moreover, given the significant (and potentially problematic) variation in CBD bills in all these states, I think marijuana reform advocacy groups would be wise to consider drafting and promoting a "best practices" low-THC reform bill that could be embraced by these states and others. Especially if one goal of reformers is to get the feds to take marijuana off Schedule 1 of the DEA's list of prohibited drugs, then getting more states to enact CBD bills ought to be an important means to that eventual end.

July 1, 2014 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Is God a supporter of marijuana reform?

The question in the title of this post is my (only slightly) tounge-in-cheek response to this Christian Post article headlined "Oklahoma Senator Quotes Genesis 1:29 to Seek Marijuana Legalization." Here are excerpts:

Oklahoma state Sen. Constance Johnson announced the filing of a statewide initiative petition to legalize marijuana, telling supporters that the campaign is based on Genesis 1:29, which suggests that God created "this wonderful, miraculous plant."

"We're putting forth Genesis 1:29 as the basis of this campaign," KFOR.com quoted Sen. Johnson, a Democrat, as telling supporters at the State Capitol on Friday after filing the petition with the office of the Oklahoma secretary of state.

"God created this wonderful, miraculous plant and we know that it has been vilified for the last 100 years, and it's time to change that in Oklahoma," added the senator, who has led efforts, along with attorney David Slane, to legalize pot.  The advocates of marijuana will require 160,000 signatures from registered voters within three months to get the proposal on a statewide ballot....

The petition states that up to one ounce of marijuana should be allowed for recreational use, and three ounces for medical reasons.  The senator is of the opinion that resultant tax benefits would benefit the state.... Johnson also says that decriminalizing possession would ease the burden on prisons. "We're locking up non-violent, marijuana possessing people, giving them felonies and filling up our prisons."

"It's just the right thing to do. It's a plant. It's a God given plant and it could change the world," Fox 25 quoted a petition supporter, Pamela Street, as saying Friday....

Marijuana is different in nature from caffeine, Christian theologian John Piper wrote on the blog of his Desiring God ministry recently. While marijuana "temporarily impairs the reliable processing of surrounding reality," caffeine "ordinarily sharpens that processing," he said.

June 15, 2014 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

"What’s Next for Pot in Congress?"

CannabisHill_FB.4aabffc9fb3c5e7bfef73acc5067e886The question in the title of this post is the headline of this notable new article at CQ Roll Call.  Here are excerpts:

Activists cheered a House vote last month to bar the federal government from interfering with state medical marijuana laws.  It was a watershed moment for pro-marijuana advocates — and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle — who have been waiting for years for Congress to take an affirmative up-or-down vote on any related issue.

But in the afterglow of this long-sought legislative victory, it’s not clear just what comes next.  Will bipartisan support for the measure, adopted as an amendment to the House’s fiscal 2015 Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations bill, inspire future action in the chamber?  Will the Senate, poised in the weeks ahead to consider its own C-J-S bill, follow the House’s lead?...

Rep. Earl Blumenauer, one of the biggest stalwarts of legalizing marijuana, doesn’t agree that this will be the last word on the subject before the end of the 113th Congress.  The Oregon Democrat, who co-sponsored the House amendment, told CQ Roll Call he has had “several conversations” with senators who might champion a medical marijuana amendment in consideration of the C-J-S bill.  Plus, senators marked up their version of the spending measure in the Appropriations Committee last week, and adopted language blocking the Justice Department from using funds to deter research on industrial hemp.

Blumenauer also thinks two stand-alone measures he’s introduced could pass.  A bill that would allow legal marijuana businesses to benefit from tax deductions could become an amendment to a tax extenders package.  Another measure, which would permit such businesses to hold bank accounts, could hitch a ride on financial services legislation.   “There are number of things I think can happen between now and the end of this congressional session,” Blumenauer said. “I’m not at all discouraged.”...

A week after the dust settled, the “Vote Medical Marijuana” campaign housed within the advocacy group Americans for Safe Access demonstrated what else it could do with [House voting]  information.   On June 5, the organization announced it would air 30-second TV spots on MSNBC in Maryland and South Florida to target two members who voted “no” on the C-J-S amendment — Republican Andy Harris and Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

Americans for Safe Access spokesman Kris Hermes said the group hopes to run ads against other members leading up to the Nov. 4 midterm elections.   “I’m not going to say people shouldn’t vote for Wasserman Schultz or Harris, but I think it should weigh heavily on their decision on who to vote for, and our goal is to have a federal legislature, a Congress, that is voting consistently with the interests of its constituents,” Hermes explained.

Wasserman Schultz and Harris responded to the ads by defending their positions in written statements.   “I do not believe, regardless of the issue, that it is appropriate to limit the Executive Branch’s ability to enforce current federal law at their discretion,” said Schultz, who is also the Democratic National Committee chairwoman.  “As a cancer survivor, mother and lawmaker, I am acutely empathetic to the suffering of people with terminal illnesses and chronic pain.”

Harris, who was an anesthesiologist before coming to Congress in 2011, had a more technical gripe.   “The term ‘medical marijuana’ implies that marijuana is like any other medication that a physician, like myself, would prescribe,” Harris said. “It’s not.”

Whatever happens, there are members who support expanding access to marijuana who refuse to be daunted by political realities in the face of an exciting time to be working on the issue.   Count Colorado Democrat Jared Polis, another co-sponsor of the medical marijuana amendment, among them.   “History was made by politicians from both sides of the aisle, as we now have a majority of Congress on the record saying that states have the prerogative to regulate marijuana as they see fit,” Polis, whose state recently legalized marijuana for all purposes, said in an emailed statement. “I don’t know where this bill is going, but it sends a message.”

June 10, 2014 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 9, 2014

Massachusetts doctors, the DEA and the Conant case

As Doug noted on Friday, the DEA has apparently issued warning letters to a handful of Massachusetts doctors in connection with the implementation of the state's medical marijuana law.  Specifically, the DEA threatened to revoke the registrations of some physicians who are involved with medical marijuana-related companies in the state.  Doing so would leave them unable to prescribe other controlled substances, like Ambian or Xanax.  

As some readers may recall, this is not the first time the federal government has threatened doctors in this way.  Not long after Californians approved the first modern medical marijuana law in 1996, then-director of the ONDCP Barry McCaffrey announced that the DEA would seek to revoke the DEA registrations of physicians who recommended medical marijuana to their patients. 

A group of California patients and doctors filed suit to enjoin the DEA from going through with its registration revocation plan.  The case made its way to the Ninth Circuit, which held that the DEA’s plan was an unconstitutional infringement on physicians’ first amendment rights in Conant v. Walters, 309 F.3d 629 (2002).   The Ninth Circuit reasoned that “[b]eing a member of a regulated profession does not, as the government suggests, result in a surrender of First Amendment Rights.”  It held that preventing physicians from recommending medical marijuana to their patients would “strike at the core of First Amendment interests of doctors and patients.  An integral component of the practice of medicine is the communication between a doctor and a patient.  Physicians must be able to speak frankly and openly to patients.”

Are the DEA's threats to Massachusetts doctors at odds with Conant?  There are two key differences.

First, Conant was a Ninth Circuit case and Massachusetts is in the First Circuit.  For non-lawyer readers, this means that Conant is not binding on federal courts in the state.  So, even if the DEA's threats were in clear conflict with Conant's holding, the courts there would be free to disagree with the Contant decision.     (To be honest, I've always been a little bit surprised that the DEA did not continue to press the registration issue outside of the Ninth Circuit after Conant, particularly since a District Court in DC sided with the government on the issue.)    

Second, the Massachusetts doctors appear to be doing more than just recommending marijuana to patients.  According to this Boston Globe article, the doctors targeted by the DEA "are top administrators in companies approved by state regulators for preliminary medical marijuana dispensary licenses[.]"  As a result, courts may not see this as a free speech issue.  The Ninth Circuit's recent decision upholding a California law that bans gay conversion therapy comes to mind here.  In that case, the court distinguished Conant in part by drawing a line between speech and conduct.  

This is not to say that the DEA is on firm legal footing.  A court may very well find these threats to be legally flawed, just like the Ninth Circuit did in Conant.  But it is certainly not a slam dunk, even if federal courts in Massachusetts were bound by Conant (which they're not.)

While it's hard to say how a potential legal challenge to the DEA's threats would turn out, it seems clear to me that thia is a monumentally bad decision from a policy and political standpoint. 

In terms of policy, if we're going to have medical marijuana, I can't imagine why we would want to make it harder for physicians to be involved in the system.  In fact, we should be encouraging companies to hire on physicians as advisors and active participants. 

Politically, as Charles Pierce at Esquire put it: "The DEA Is Really Starting To Look Ridiculous."  Threats like this make the DEA look more and more out of touch--not just with public opinion but with the DOJ's official policy.  It makes no sense to allow recreational marijuana stores to do big business in Colorado and then turn around and threaten doctors who (by all appearances) are trying to make medical marijuana in Massachusetts function as legitimately as possible.

And, of course, the timing of this news could not be worse for the DEA.  If I were the DEA, I would be doing everything I could to lay low after the recent House vote to block DOJ funds from being used to interfere with state medical marijuana laws.  Granted, it sounds like the DEA's made these threats before the House vote.  But the news is being released just as the DEA needs to lobby the Senate to block the House amendment from actually becoming law.

The politics alone make me think that the DEA may quietly dial back these threats.  But, if they don't, we may have an interesting lawsuit testing the persuasiveness and limits of Contant to look forward to.

June 9, 2014 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 5, 2014

State AG backs corporation in notable Colorado case concerning fired quadriplegic medical-marijuana patient

20140604__brandon-coats-colorado~p1_300As reported in this Denver Post piece, the Colorado "state attorney general's office says Coloradans do not have a right to use marijuana off the job, siding with a satellite television company in its firing of a medical-marijuana patient." This position is articulated in a brief filed in the Colorado Supreme Court in the notable case involving a quadriplegic medical-marijuana patient who was fired by Dish Network after testing positive for marijuana. Here is more of the context:

In a brief filed with the state Supreme Court last month, the Colorado attorney general's office argues that giving workers a right to use marijuana off duty "would have a profound and detrimental impact on employers in the state."

"Contrary to popular perception, Colorado has not simply legalized marijuana for medical and recreational purposes," state attorneys write in the brief. "Instead, its citizens have adopted narrowly drawn constitutional amendments that decriminalize small amounts of marijuana."

The Colorado Court of Appeals — the state's second-highest court — last year upheld Dish Network's firing of a quadriplegic medical-marijuana patient for a positive drug test. Although there is no allegation that Brandon Coats was stoned at work, the company said it has a zero-tolerance policy on marijuana.

Coats say his off-the-job marijuana use should be protected by Colorado's Lawful Off-Duty Activities Statute, which prevents companies from firing employees for doing things outside of work — like smoking cigarettes — that are legal. Dish Network argues that marijuana use can't be considered lawful while cannabis remains illegal federally.

In its brief supporting Dish Network, the state attorney general's office says zero-tolerance policies ensure that employees are able to perform their jobs competently. Requiring employers to prove that workers are stoned on the job before they can be fired would require companies to conduct "intrusive investigations into the personal life of an employee."

"Simply put, zero tolerance policies provide businesses with an efficient means of avoiding difficult employment decisions and even litigation," the attorney general's brief states.

Coats' case is the first time Colorado's highest court has taken up questions about the scope of marijuana legalization in the state, and it has drawn at least six outside groups filing briefs in support of Coats or Dish. The Colorado Mining Association, the Colorado Defense Lawyers Association and the Colorado Civil Justice League — which claims an allegiance with several businesses and groups including the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce — have filed briefs on behalf of Dish. The Colorado Plaintiff Employment Lawyers Association and the Patient and Caregivers Rights Litigation Project have filed briefs supporting Coats.

The Supreme Court has not announced when it will hear the case.

June 5, 2014 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, State court rulings | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 2, 2014

New op-ed on marijuana and the NFL cites Friday's vote to defund medical marijuana raids

One of my favorite sports journalists Jason La Canfora has this editorial out today calling for the NFL to reconsider its stance on medical marijuana.  Of particularly interest to me, La Canfora cites Friday's vote in the House as a sign that the NFL is behind the times on this issue.  

The times, they are a changin'-- no matter which side of this issue you are on, and on Friday alone the House passed an amendment restricting the DEA from targeting medical marijuana operations in states where it is legal; a bill that was backed by bipartisan support.

La Canfora highlights one of the reasons why the House vote is such an important political development.  Medical marijuana reform is now--in a very real and concrete way--an issue with bipartisan support in Congress.  And I think this changes perceptions when it comes to the prospect of changing federal law and the status quo on enforcement practices.  It begins to turn the tables politically as far as which side of the issue is perceived as the mainstream and which side is perceived as out-of-touch.  

Despite all of the polling and state-level reforms, support for medical marijuana has been seen as out-of-the-mainstream in DC.  It was an issue that might get a coalition of very progressive Democrats and very-libertarian-leaning Republicans to muster 160 votes in the House.  But that was about it.  And, as a result, there was a sense that a politician who supported medical marijuana was taking a "far-left" (e.g., Barney Frank) or "far-right" (e.g., Ron Paul) position.  But now, supporting reform means you're siding with the majority of a bipartisan group in a Republican-controlled Congress. 

I think Friday's vote also has real implications for how this issue will be perceived in the 2016 presidential race.  In the past, candidates who opposed federal interference with state medical marijuana laws did so tepidly and the position was seen as a bit risky--something you didn't want to talk about if you could avoid it (see, e.g., President Obama.)  This vote makes me think it is even more likely that, in 2016, candidates who don't support marijuana law reform (at least to some degree) will be the ones on the defensive.  To be sure, this shift did not start with Friday's vote, but I think it will be seen as one of the most significant milestones in the journey.  

And, returning to La Canfora's article, the changing politics of marijuana may have implications for the NFL as well.  Here's the start of his excellent piece:

Enough with the NFL's Reefer Madness already. It needs to stop.

 

I fully realize that nothing of significance changes in this league without a fight between the league and its union, but the fact that lighting up a joint is dealt with in a draconian fashion, while domestic abuse punishment is often meted out in a far-less severe manner, is just one of many incongruous corollaries to the NFL's weed policy.

 

At a time when the government's approach to pot is taking a dramatic turn, and the drug is being increasingly legalized to some degree or another in state after state, for young stars in their prime like the Browns' Josh Gordon and the Cardinals' Daryl Washington to both be potentially missing all of next season, if not longer, for using marijuana, is ludicrous (now, if you want to kick Washington out of the league for 2014 for other transgressions, you won't get an argument out of me).

 

This is getting ridiculous.

June 2, 2014 in Current Affairs, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The economics of medical marijuana in Michigan

The local article, headlined "State profits $6.8 million from medical marijuana," highlights some of the economic realities surrounding medical marijuana in Michigan. Here are the basics:

The state of Michigan raked in $10.8 million during 2013 through the state medical marijuana program.  With $4 million in expenses, medical marijuana provided a $6.8 million boost to the state finances, according to a Jan. 1, 2014 report on medical marijuana in Michigan filed to the state Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) department.

 Last year’s profits are slightly higher than 2012, when the state generated $6.2 million in revenue from medical marijuana.  As part of the 2008 Michigan Medical Marihuana Act (MMA), a statistical report must be submitted to the state at the beginning of each year. The revenue is generated through licensing fees.  

Between Oct. 1, 2012 through Sept. 30, 2013, 82,193 applications for a medical marijuana card were approved while 11,612 applications were denied. The state approved 36,175 applications for a renewed license and denied 8,672 patients with existing licenses....

 Patients seeking a medical marijuana card must have a health condition to do so. Severe and chronic pain accounted for nearly 70 percent of claims, followed by severe and persistent muscle spasms, severe nausea and seizures.

June 1, 2014 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)