Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

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Friday, May 22, 2015

Ohio's GOP Attorney General now talking up medical marijuana reform

Ht_mike_dewine_ll_120217_mnAs reported in this notable local article, headlined "Mike DeWine looks at drafting his own medical marijuana proposal," the various on-going efforts to bring marijuana reform to the ballot in the Buckeye State has finally convinced the chief law enforcement representative in Ohio to start seriously considering marijuana reform. Here are the basics:

Attorney General Mike DeWine has directed staff to look at potentially drawing up a new proposal to legalize medical marijuana in Ohio, a spokesman said Friday.

DeWine staffers have been reviewing medical marijuana schemes in other states to see whether it's possible to set up "very tightly regulated" rules that can't be exploited by recreational pot users, said AG spokesman Dan Tierney.

Specifically, Tierney said, the attorney general is interesting in other states' plans that allow medical marijuana to be used in ways other than smoking, such as ointments or pills. If one of those plans is found to be "worthy of support," Tierney said, the AG's office may present those findings to the legislature or seek a ballot issue.

However, Tierney cautioned that it's still "far too early" to say when DeWine would take such a step – or even if he will end up taking any action at all.

Marijuana proponents are working on at least three different ballot initiatives in Ohio that would fully legalize the drug. A fourth group is gathering signatures to legalize medical marijuana in the state.

DeWine still has "grave concerns" about full marijuana legalization, Tierney said.

I have noted in some prior posts how interesting my own home state of Ohio has become in the marijuana reform arena thanks almost entirely to the significant direct democracy legalization initiative making its way to the ballot for voters to consider in 2015 (and then perhaps again in 2016). This news coming from the notable GOP Attorney General is yet another sign og how the people can, with the help of direct democracy, push the representative to actually do more of what the people say they want.

Some prior related posts on recent Ohio developments:

May 22, 2015 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Political perspective on reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Senate panel votes to end VA ban on medical marijuana"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new piece reporting on a notable recent vote in the US Senate.  Here are the basics from the start of the article:

The Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday advanced a $77.6 billion funding bill for military construction and veterans benefits that includes an amendment allowing Veterans Affairs doctors to recommend the use of medical marijuana.

The amendment from Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Steve Daines (R-Mont.) won approval in an 18-12 vote. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), the chairman of the subcommittee that oversees the funding bill and a veteran of the Navy Reserve, urged his colleagues to vote against the amendment.

A 2011 directive by the Veterans Health Administration prohibits agency doctors from consulting patients about medical marijuana use. “It’s an enormous inconvenience to our veterans,” said Merkley, who explained that current law forces veterans to seek a medical appointment outside of the VA.

House Democrats attempted to add a similar amendment to the lower chamber’s version of the bill, but failed to win enough votes. Overall, the bill is $5.5 billion above the current funding level, but $1.2 billion less than President Obama’s request. The House passed its version of the bill late last month, about $1 billion less than the Senate’s.

May 22, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Political perspective on reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 18, 2015

Time magazine devotes cover story to "The Great Pot Experiment"

Final-pot-coverI am very pleased to see that the new issue of Time magazine has a cover with an amusing picture and this text: "The Highly Divisive, Curiously Underfunded and Strangely Promising World of Pot Science."  I have long thought that one of the biggest problems with federal marijuana prohibition has been its significant anti-science impact, and the subheading of this Time cover story highlights this theme: "Legalization keeps rolling ahead.  But because of years of government roadblocks on research, we don’t know nearly enough about the dangers of marijuana — or the benefits."  Here are excerpts from a must-read article:

Welcome to the encouraging, troubling and strangely divided frontier of marijuana science.  The most common illicit drug on the planet and one of the fastest-growing industries in America, pot remains – surprisingly – something of a medical mystery, thanks in part to decades of obstruction and misinformation by the federal government.  Potentially groundbreaking studies on the drug’s healing powers are being done to find treatments for conditions like epilepsy, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, sickle-cell disease and multiple sclerosis.  But there are also new discoveries about the drug’s impact on recreational users.

The effects are generally less severe than those of tobacco and alcohol, which together cause more than 560,000 American deaths annually.  Unlike booze, marijuana isn’t a neurotoxin, and unlike cigarettes, it has an uncertain connection to lung cancer.  Unlike heroin, pot brings almost no risk of sudden death without a secondary factor like a car crash.  But science has also found clear indications that in addition to short-term effects on cognition, pot can change developing brains, possibly affecting mental abilities and dispositions, especially for certain populations.  The same drug that seems relatively harmless in moderation for adults appears to be risky for people under age 21, whose brains are still developing.  “It has a whole host of effects on learning and cognition that other drugs don’t have,” says Jodi Gilman, a Harvard Medical School researcher who has been studying the brains of human marijuana users.  “It looks like the earlier you start, the bigger the effects.”

That relatively measured tone is a far cry from the shrill warnings of Harry J. Anslinger, the first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, who in the 1930s set the standard for America’s fraught debate over marijuana with wild exaggerations. “How many murders, suicides, robberies, criminal assaults, holdups, burglaries and deeds of maniacal insanity it causes each year, especially among the young, can only be conjectured,” he wrote as part of a campaign to terrify the country.  As recently as the 1970s, President Richard Nixon talked about the drug as a weapon of the nation’s enemies. “That’s why the communists and the left-wingers are pushing the stuff,” he was recorded saying in private. “They’re trying to destroy us.”

The official line today is better grounded in data and research.  And the new focus is squarely on brain development. “I am most concerned about possibly harming the potential of our young people,” says Dr. Nora Volkow, the head of the National Institute for Drug Abuse (NIDA).... “That could be disastrous for our country.”  But decades of prohibition and official misinformation continue to shape public views.... 

As states now rush to legalize pot and unwind a massive criminalization effort, the federal government is trying to play catch-up on the science, with mixed success.  The only federal marijuana farm, at the University of Mississippi, has recently expanded production with a $69 million grant in March, and Volkow has expressed a new openness to studies of marijuana’s healing potential.   In the coming months, Uncle Sam will begin a 10-year, $300 million study with thousands of adolescents to track the harm that marijuana, alcohol and other drugs do to the developing brain.  High-tech imaging will allow researchers for the first time to map the effects of marijuana on the brain as humans age.

But scientists and others point out that a shift to fund the real science of pot still has a long way to go.  The legacy of the war on drugs haunts the medical establishment, and federal rules still put onerous restrictions on the labs around the country that seek to work with marijuana, which remains classified among the most dangerous and least valuable drugs.  “We can do studies on cocaine and morphine without a problem, because they are Schedule II,” explains Fair Vassoler, a researcher at Tufts University... who has replicated Hurd’s rat experiment with synthetic pot.  “But marijuana is Schedule I.”

May 18, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, May 7, 2015

"Why Washington state is extinguishing medical marijuana" ... while the black market endures

The title of this post adds to the headline of this notable Mashable piece discussing notable marketplace developments in one of the first two states that legalized recreational marijuana via initiative votes in 2012.   Here are excerpts:

For the past 10 months, three marijuana markets have been operating simultaneously in Washington state: the street market, the medical market and the recreational market. In the future, however, there will only be two. And contrary to some people’s expectations about legal recreational pot making drug dealers obsolete, it’s the medical dispensaries that will disappear first.

Washington State Governor Jay Inslee signed a bill in April that will overhaul medical marijuana and reconcile the two legal markets into one. Medical marijuana dispensaries as they exist now will either close or seek licenses in the regulated industry. In the future, medical customers will have to look to “medically endorsed” recreational marijuana stores for their supply.

Washington's medical marijuana market has always been "looser than anywhere in the country,” says Rick Garza, head of the state Liquor Control Board, the agency that oversees the marijuana industry.

"With I-502 (the recreational market), you have a tightly regulated business that has to make a big investment and pay taxes and fees," says Garza. And while medical marijuana is legal, it has become somewhat of a "gray area" because the "vast majority" of users served by the dispensaries are truly recreational users anyway, says Garza. "You have this unregulated and untaxed [medical] dispensary that's competing directly with the regulated market." "You have this unregulated and untaxed [medical] dispensary that's competing directly with the regulated market."

It's hard to measure the size of each of these markets, but to get a general idea I talked to a budtender and an illegal street dealer to get their perspectives on the state of Washington pot. Regardless where the lines of legality are drawn (and redrawn), there's a lot of pot floating around the Evergreen state. A study by the RAND Corporation found that marijuana consumption in Washington during 2013 was between 135 and 225 metric tons (that’s 297,624 to 464,040 pounds).

Garza guesses the recreational stores have so far only captured 3-5% of the total marketplace. And seeing as how the recreational market has generated $168 million in sales in the 10 months it has been operational in Washington, that gives you an idea of the size and potential of the industry as a whole.

A male pot dealer in his early twenties, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, has been selling weed in the state for the past couple of years while finishing a degree. He sells primarily to college kids, so he didn’t expect business to change, but says he doesn’t see a drop in sales for dealers who sell to older demographics either. “People don't realize just how big the street market is,” he says....

The Liquor Control Board guesses the medical industry has captured 40-50% of the market, but it’s impossible to say how big the medical marijuana population is because Washington has never required a patient registry or ID cards like other states with medical systems do.

Since the state’s first recreational stores opened in July 2014, about 134 retail locations have opened alongside some 1,100 medical dispensaries in the state. However, the Liquor Control Board calls the estimated number of dispensaries “conservative.”

Pricing at medical dispensaries has remained cheaper than that of recreational stores because they aren't subject to the same high taxes. A gram of weed at a dispensary generally costs around $10-12 versus $12-16 on average at recreational stores. Weed on the street, however, remains at a pretty steady $8-10.

"The street can always offer prices that are below that of the stores," says the dealer I spoke with. And while street products may lack the variety of brick and mortar stores, they have added convenience because dealers can move around. "The street can more effectively distribute, because people don't have to come to you."

For some people illegal pot sales are more simple (and familiar). Text your dealer, meet up, trade cash for whatever weed they have and part ways. At recreational stores, customers have to be 21, visit at set hours and locations, and sort through a dizzying array of products. Some people find it more complex to buy legal marijuana.

May 7, 2015 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, May 3, 2015

If you let them build it, they will come: NY discovering how many have dreams of marijuana fields

Images (8)Especially during baseball season, I am inclined to call "Field of Dreams" my all-time favorite sports movie.  Consequently, I often think of the movie's most famous line In this post — "if you build it, they will come" — when I see headlines like this one from this New York Post article, "Hundreds vie for just 5 NY medical marijuana licenses." Here are some of the details: 

The race is on to secure the five licenses to be granted under New York state’s medical marijuana program, which takes effect in January. And the cash-crop lottery could bring in millions for the winners.

Statewide revenues will likely total $239 million in 2016 and more than $1.2 billion by 2020, according to a report issued by GreenWave Advisors late last year. “Let the cash register ring for New York state,” says GreenWave’s Matt Karnes. And there appears to be no shortage of investors looking to dip a hand into this cash register.

Venture capitalists willing to take the plunge include Privateer Holdings and Tilray, both of which have already had a strong presence in the legal marijuana space. In addition, the buzz would have it that there is a “major Wall Street broker-dealer“ placing a bet, according to one source.

At last count, there were some 300 applicants poised to spend $10,000 apiece to be considered for one of the licenses via applications that were sent out by the state last week, say industry insiders.

Each of the five winners will then have to cough up a $200,000 registration fee in return for being able to grow and sell medical marijuana via as many as four dispensaries each, for a grand total of 20 statewide.

The new program, which is far more restrictive than medical marijuana advocates had hoped, bans smoking the plant but allows the sale of oils, edibles and vapor forms of the drug. The law allows doctors to prescribe medical marijuana only for HIV/AIDS, Lou Gehrig’s disease, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s disease, epilepsy, some spinal cord injuries and multiple sclerosis.

May 3, 2015 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, May 2, 2015

House of Representatives narrowly rejects allowing VA doctors to recommend medical marijuana for vets

As reported in this Hill article headlined "House rejects proposal to let VA doctors recommend medical marijuana," another significant pro-marijuana reform amendment almost got a thumbs up from the GOP-controlled US House of Representatives. Here are the details:

The House rejected a proposal Thursday to allow doctors at Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals to discuss the use of medical marijuana with patients.  Rep. Earl Blumenauer's (D-Ore.) amendment to the first fiscal 2016 appropriations bill of the year, which funds the VA and military construction projects, failed narrowly by a vote of 210-213.

A total of 35 Republicans voted in favor of the amendment, while eight Democrats voted against it.  Boos ensued from the Democratic side of the House chamber when Republicans closed the vote despite the razor-thin margin.

Medical marijuana is legal in more than 30 states and the District of Columbia.  But VA doctors are prohibited from completing patient forms seeking recommendations or opinions regarding medical marijuana to treat conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  A 2012 VA report found nearly 30 percent of veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from PTSD or depression.

Lawmakers from both parties argued veterans should at least be able to receive recommendations from their doctors about the drug's merits. They stressed the amendment wouldn't force doctors to recommend medical marijuana or authorize marijuana possession at VA facilities. "Let's lift the gag order. We owe it to our veterans to give them complete information when they ask for it, even if the means discussing medical marijuana," said Rep. Sam Farr (D-Calif.).

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) said fellow Republicans should support allowing free discussion about medical marijuana between veterans and their doctors. "As Republicans, we supposedly believe in the doctor-patient relationship. But apparently some of my colleagues believe that relationship is not relevant when it comes to VA doctors and their patients," Rohrabacher said during floor debate.

"It is criminal that we send our men and women off to war where their minds and bodies are broken and then deny them the ability to obtain a recommendation from a legitimate VA doctor upon their return home," Rohrabacher added. But other Republicans warned that a drug that remains illegal in many states shouldn't be prescribed for veterans with psychological problems.

"Why in the world would we give a drug that is addictive, that is prohibited under Schedule I, that is not accepted for any specific mental disease or disorder and enhances psychosis and schizophrenia, why are we going to give that to our veterans, especially those with PTSD? That is just absolutely insane," said Rep. John Fleming (R-La.), a physician.

Blumenauer offered the same amendment to the VA appropriations bill last year. It was defeated by a vote of 195-222, a much wider margin than Thursday's. Marijuana legalization advocates interpreted the close vote as a sign lawmakers don't view the issue as politically risky as in the past.

May 2, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Reviewing recent Brookings' FixGov series on marijuana reform

Monday, April 20, 2015

New Brookings series starts by identifying "12 key people to watch in marijuana policy"

Regular readers already know that The Brookings Institution has been committed to doing thoughtful and cutting-edge research, reports and blogging on the legal, political and social realities surrounding modern marijuana reform.   Today, the front-page of the Brookings website has this announcement and link:

In the past few years, marijuana policy has emerged as a key issue in American politics. In this post — the first in the FixGov blog's 4/20 blog series — John Hudak lays out 12 people to watch in the future of marijuana policy.

I very much like John's list of a dozen key marijuana reform players, and here I will note how he introduces his list and a few of its first four notable names:

Marijuana policy has emerged as a key issue in American politics, particularly over the past few years. The issue is being debated at local, state, and federal levels, and has captured the attention of media organizations and research institutions nationwide and around the world.

Navigating the policy terrain and understanding what is happening in this fast-paced, dynamic, and changing arena is often tough.  Knowing who is influential can be even more difficult. Because of the expansive nature of the policy conversation there are hundreds of key players making a difference — on both sides of this issue — and that list is seemingly ever growing.

In this post, I list 12 people who each bring something interesting to the table and may play an important role in the future of this policy area.  They may not be the most important, though surely some of the people on this list could be considered so. Nor is this list ranked in order of importance or impact. Instead, it offers a brief overview of how these 12 individuals may help shape the future of cannabis policy....

1. Hillary Clinton, 2016 Presidential Candidate

2. Rand Paul, U.S. Senator & 2016 Presidential Candidate

3. Vivek Murthy, U.S. Surgeon General

4. Loretta Lynch, U.S. Attorney General designee

April 20, 2015 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, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 17, 2015

"Dr. Sanjay Gupta: It's time for a medical marijuana revolution"

150414135452-weed-3-sanjay-gupta-medium-plus-169The title of this post is the headline of this new CNN commentary by Dr. Sanjay Gupta, which is something of a preview of a new documentary on medical marijuana titled "Weed 3: The Marijuana Revolution" airing at 9 pm Sunday on CNN. Here is how the commentary starts:

I see signs of a revolution everywhere.  I see it in the op-ed pages of the newspapers, and on the state ballots in nearly half the country.  I see it in politicians who once preferred to play it safe with this explosive issue but are now willing to stake their political futures on it.  I see the revolution in the eyes of sterling scientists, previously reluctant to dip a toe into this heavily stigmatized world, who are diving in head first.  I see it in the new surgeon general who cites data showing just how helpful it can be.

I see a revolution in the attitudes of everyday Americans.  For the first time a majority, 53%, favor its legalization, with 77% supporting it for medical purposes.  Support for legalization has risen 11 points in the past few years alone.  In 1969, the first time Pew asked the question about legalization, only 12% of the nation was in favor.

I see a revolution that is burning white hot among young people, but also shows up among the parents and grandparents in my kids' school.  A police officer I met in Michigan is part of the revolution, as are the editors of the medical journal, Neurosurgery.  I see it in the faces of good parents, uprooting their lives to get medicine for their children -- and in the children themselves, such as Charlotte, who went from having 300 seizures a week to just one or two a month.  We know it won't consistently have such dramatic results (or any impact at all) in others, but what medicine does?

I see this medical marijuana revolution in surprising places.  Among my colleagues, my patients and my friends.  I have even seen the revolution in my own family.  A few years ago, when I told my mother I was investigating the topic for a documentary, I was met with a long pause.

"Marijuana...?" She whispered in a half questioning, half disapproving tone.  She could barely even say the word and her response filled me with self-doubt.  Even as a grown man, mom can still make my cheeks turn red and shatter my confidence with a single word. But just last week she suddenly stopped mid-conversation and said, "I am proud of you on the whole marijuana thing." I waited for the other shoe to drop, but it didn't. Instead, she added, "You probably helped a lot of people who were suffering."

April 17, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Distinct comments on marijuana policy from Prez Obama and one wanna-be successor

Two notable new stories about notable new marijuana comments made by notable chief executives caught my eye this morning.  Here are the headlines, links and the basics:

  • From The Daily Caller here, "Obama Reiterates Enthusiastic Support Of Medical Marijuana":

In a CNN special to be aired on Sunday, not only will President Barack Obama state his full support of medical marijuana, he’ll also advocate for alternative models of drug abuse treatment which don’t involve incarceration.  The television special, called “Weed 3,” features CNN’s chief medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta, a neurosurgeon who came to support medical marijuana after reviewing the evidence. This time around, he’ll be delving into the politics of medical marijuana research and interviewing President Barack Obama, according to an email obtained by The Daily Caller News Foundation.

  • From Hot Air here, "Chris Christie: As president, I’ll enforce federal drug laws in states where selling marijuana is legal":

Even within the GOP, which remains skeptical of liberalization on drugs, a majority thinks the feds should defer to the states. You can indeed be anti-marijuana and pro-federalism. Screw that, says Christie.  When it comes to deciding whether marijuana’s too dangerous for the citizens of a state to sell, he’ll happily trump your state legislature and local PD. And to think, they call him a big-government Republican.

It is both notable and telling, of course, that a President often accused of trampling state and individual rights is here saying he respects on-going state reforms, while a state Governor representing from a party that claims it favors a smaller federal Government is asserting he wants to make sure states do not even try to forge a different part with respect to the war on drugs. And this is why I find marijuana law, policy and reform so politically interesting: it help reveal, in a way few other issues do, just which particular policies and which particular principles are ultimately most important to which particular politicians.

April 16, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Political perspective on reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Fascinating tale of legal challenges facing NJ medical marijuana dispensary

This recent lengthy article from New Jersey, headlined "Lawyers afraid to defend N.J. medical marijuana dispensary," spotlights some of the intricate legal issues and problems created by the disparity between state and federal marijuana laws. The full article merits a full read, but here is the start which provides an overview:

The co-founder of the medical marijuana dispensary in Egg Harbor Township will appear in court Wednesday to dispute claims he blocked his employees' attempts to join a union in a case that is being watched across the nation. And this isn't even David Knowlton's biggest problem.

Knowlton, board chairman of the nonprofit Compassionate Care Foundation dispensary, is not a lawyer, and he can't find one to represent him before the National Labor Relations Board. State law created a medicinal marijuana program, but to the federal government, growing and possessing marijuana remain illegal activities. Rules of professional conduct say attorneys cannot advise or assist their clients engage in "conduct a lawyer knows is criminal or fraudulent."

The law firm of Ballard Spahr of Philadelphia offered to represent the financially struggling dispensary for free but later withdrew the offer out of concern its attorneys could face ethics charges and put their licenses at risk, Knowlton said.

"It's a difficult position to be in," said Knowlton, who is also CEO for a health policy think tank, the Health Care Quality Institute of New Jersey. "I am used to being in a world where everyone knows what the rules are — you have a right to counsel, a hearing and due process — and it is being cast aside because the state and the feds can't agree."

The quandary is just the latest legal landmine people in the medicinal marijuana industry face in the netherworld between state and federal law, where it's nearly impossible to obtain a simple bank loan.

The case pitting the United Food and Commercial Workers Union and the dispensary promises to test the murky limits of both state and federal laws in ways that would set a precedent, according to legal experts.

April 14, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

"2016 Will Be the Marijuana Election"

The title of this post is the headline of this lengthy Newsweek commentary authored by John Hudak of The Brookings Institute.  Here are excerpts:

In some ways marijuana policy is the perfect issue for a presidential campaign. It has far reaching consequences that both parties have reason to engage. Not to mention, it’s an edgy topic that media just can’t resist....

The Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations have responded to state marijuana policies in a variety of ways—from legal challenges to laissez-faire enforcement—but regardless, marijuana has garnered presidential attention. The issue will only become more pressing as more states decide to loosen their laws through decriminalization, medical expansion or outright legalization. Because marijuana is an issue that no president will be able to ignore, it is an issue no presidential candidate will be able to avoid....

Views diverge among Republicans. Some candidates, like Rand Paul, have come closer to embracing legalization—at least those efforts at the state level—in an effort to connect to younger and libertarian voters. Others have been far more open-minded about medical marijuana, either endorsing such systems or appearing comfortable with a hands off approach. Still others, like Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, have taken a more hardline, war-on-drugs approach to the topic.

This diversity is a magnificent thing for Republicans and Republican voters. Among (prospective) candidates who, at times, seem to be policy clones, marijuana offers voters the ability to distinguish positions. As a result, candidates must have positions on the topic....

Marijuana policy will likely play a noticeable role in the general election, too. The issue has implications for states that truly matter in presidential campaigns. Recreational legalization is a reality in swing states like Colorado. Other marijuana measures may appear on ballots in which presidential candidates frequently look for votes (Florida, Maine) or campaign money (California).

In addition, medical marijuana policy — now the law in many places — means that swing state voters will be interested in what their next president will have to say on the topic. The issue engages a variety of issues that reach beyond marijuana itself, posing serious leadership questions for any prospective chief executive. It involves issues of law and regulatory enforcement, federal research policy, medical and pharmaceutical policy, state-federal relations, criminal justice, privacy, agriculture, commerce, small business policy and banking and financial regulations.

March 24, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 23, 2015

Making the strongest case against marijuana reform in Ohio

17285982-smallDerek Siegle, who is the executive director of the Ohio High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Program, has this new commentary piece which makes the full-throated argument against marijuana reform. I am pleased that this commentary was published just a few days before I am going to have the honor of having Mr. Siegle speak to my marijuana seminar. The opinion piece carries the headline "Ohio should not legalize marijuana unless it wants a lot more addicted young people," and here are excerpts:

As I hear discussions regarding both medical and recreational use of marijuana, I feel compelled to provide some facts regarding this topic. According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, "confusing messages being presented by popular culture, media, proponents of "medical" marijuana, and political campaigns to legalize all marijuana use perpetuate the false notion that marijuana is harmless. This significantly diminishes efforts to keep our young people drug free and hampers the struggle of those recovering from addiction."

There are many myths being perpetrated by those in favor of legalization. The use or possession of marijuana is not impacting the criminal justice system, as most marijuana arrests do not involve incarceration....

Marijuana stays in your system for 72 hours. Because of this long life, levels of Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, continue to build in our systems. This is not the case with other drugs, to include alcohol. THC is stored in our fatty cells. Since our brains are 99 percent fat, the THC causes these cell walls to expand and become very thick, which decreases their ability to transmit and receive data between nerve cells.

The highest density of cannabinoid receptors is found in parts of the brain that influence pleasure, memory, thinking, concentration, sensory and time perception, and coordinated movement. Research demonstrates marijuana has the potential to cause problems in daily life or make a person's existing problems worse. Heavy marijuana users generally report lower life satisfaction, poorer mental and physical health, relationship problems, and less academic and career success compared to their peers....

Potential tax revenue will only cover about 15 percent of the collateral costs to our community: increased drug treatment, emergency room visits, crime, traffic accidents and school "dropouts." Allowing individuals to grow their own will only decrease the tax revenue and increase the availability to others....

Legalization will lead to greater use by our youth. Youth surveys indicate more of our children will try marijuana if it is legal. In states where marijuana is legal, most youths are getting their marijuana from someone who legally obtained it. States with legalized marijuana have seen an increase in youth use. For example, states having the top use among 12- to 17-year-olds are states where medical marijuana is legal. Denver's 8th-grade student marijuana use is 350 percent higher than the national average....

Accidents and fatalities from drugged driving, testing positive for marijuana, will also increase as it has in Colorado.... The increase in murders, robberies, burglaries, number of addicts, number of homeless people, use among our youth, is well documented in Colorado. As the governor of Colorado said, "This is a bad idea."

Because Mr. Siegle is the executive director of a federally funded grant program that provides funding, training and support to drug task forces throughout Ohio, I have requested that he present to my students whatever Ohio-specific data he has about marijuana use/abuse and other drug use/abuse in the Buckeye state.  I would expect, perhaps even hope, that legalization of marijuana in any jurisdiction would lead to an increase in the use of this drug, but there is reason to believe, and certainly hope, that it might also lead to a decrease in the use of other more dangerous (legal and illegal) drugs.

March 23, 2015 in Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (6)

Friday, March 20, 2015

Notable CNBC coverage of cannabis in Canadian and tribal regions

DownloadIt seems that of late I have been getting lots of interesting links to CNBC pieces in my usual review of marijuana headlines.  Here are links to the notable recent CNBC articles and videos on these topics:

Oh, cannabis!

How the pros make legal marijuana

Why pot entrepreneurs are moving to Canada 

Invest in a pot grow house?

Native tribes debate entering legal pot business 

Tribal debate: Should reservations go to pot? 

March 20, 2015 in International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Lots of great new (law student) commentary at Drug Law & Policy

"The Kids Aren't Alright, But Older Adults Are: How Medical Marijuana Market Growth Impacts Adult and Adolescent Substance-Related Outcomes"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new SSRN piece authored by Rosanna Smart  providing an empirical reassessment of some data on the impact of medical marijuana reform on drug use and abuse. Here is the abstract:

Public opinion has grown more favorable to legalizing the sale and use of cannabis; many states now have "medical marijuana" laws (MMLs), and a few have legalized commercial production and sale for non-medical purposes.  Prior research examining the effects of MML adoption has largely found reassuring evidence on the consequences of such policies -- no impact on adolescent cannabis use, and large decreases in crime rates, motor vehicle fatalities, suicides, and prescription opioid overdoses for adults.  However, medical marijuana regimes vary greatly, and simple comparisons of states with such laws to states without them miss that variability.

Reanalysis using a more sensitive measure of MML penetration (per-capita adult medical marijuana registration rates) confirms that growth in medical marijuana market size lowers alcohol and opioid-related poisoning deaths for older adults, and lessens traffic fatalities in accidents involving older drivers.  However, larger medical marijuana markets lead to increased cannabis consumption by adolescents, accompanied by increases in traffic fatalities and alcohol poisoning mortality for this age group.

March 19, 2015 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

"Can medical marijuana curb the heroin epidemic?"

The question in the title of this post is the headline of this new piece by Miriam Boeri appearing in This Week magazine. Here are excepts (with links preserved):

[R]esearch has shown that marijuana, while still criminalized at the federal level, can be effective as a substitute for treating opioid addicts and preventing overdoses.  Massachusetts, which recently legalized medical marijuana — and where heroin overdoses have soared — could be a fertile testing ground for this potentially controversial treatment....

With each state crafting unique medical marijuana regulations, we find ourselves at a crucial turning point in drug policy....  Among drug treatment specialists, marijuana remains controversial.  Although some research has shown marijuana to be an alternative treatment for more serious drug addiction, addiction treatment specialists still view marijuana as highly addictive and dangerous.  These views handicap policy reform, but despite its status as a Schedule 1 drug, recent research shows marijuana could be part of the solution to the most deadly drug epidemic our country has seen in decades.

In 2012 Massachusetts became the 18th state to legalize medical marijuana, though the first 11 dispensaries are not scheduled to open until sometime in the coming year.  This situation presents an opportunity to implement sensible, research-based policy.

Massachusetts, like many states across the US, has seen a dramatic rise in opioid addition fueled by the increase in opiate prescription pills.  In Boston, heroin overdoses increased by 80 percent between 2010 and 2012, and four out of five users were addicted to pain pills before turning to heroin.

Meanwhile, the leading cause of death among the Boston's homeless population has shifted from AIDS complications to drug overdoses, with opiates involved in 81 percent of overdose deaths. This is an alarming finding given recent expansion in clinical services for the city's homeless.

Addiction specialists and health care professionals in Boston have been at the forefront of integrating behavioral and medical care.  Naloxone and methadone are currently the main solutions to address the growing opiate addiction and overdose problem. But Naloxone is an overdose antidote, not a cure or a form of preventative therapy.

Methadone, like heroin and other opioids, has a very narrow therapeutic index (the ratio between the toxic dose and the therapeutic dose of a drug).  This means that a small change in dosage can be lethal to the user.  Marijuana, however, has one of the safest (widest) therapeutic ratios of all drugs.

Research shows that marijuana has been used as a form of self-treatment, where users take cannabis in lieu of alcohol, prescription opiates, and illegal drugs.  That's one reason why researchers are calling for marijuana to be tested as a substitute for other drugs.  In this capacity, marijuana can be thought of as a form of harm reduction. While researchers don't seek to discount some of the drug's potential negative effects, they view it as a less damaging alternative to other, harder drugs.  Despite these findings, marijuana is rarely incorporated in formal drug treatment plans.

A recent study might change this policy.  Comparing states with and without legalized medical marijuana, it found a substantial decrease in opioid (heroin and prescription pill) overdose death rates in states that had enacted medical marijuana laws.  In their conclusions, the researchers suggested that medical marijuana should be part of policy aimed to prevent opioid overdose....

Since Massachusetts has not yet opened its medical marijuana dispensaries, it is too early to see if medical marijuana legislation will help reduce opiate addiction in the Commonwealth.  Using recent research findings, Massachusetts policymakers have a unique opportunity to implement medical marijuana policies that address its contemporary opiate overdose.  Medical marijuana could be part of drug treatment for heroin and opiates....

Formerly demonized and later legislated as a Schedule 1 substance, marijuana could diminish the damage wrought by harder drugs, like heroin.  While opioid use is a nationwide epidemic, Massachusetts — long at the forefront of developing scientifically based public policy — has the opportunity to be at the forefront of cutting-edge, socially-informed drug policy.

March 17, 2015 in Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Will Patrick Kennedy and SAM come out in support of the CARERS Act?

Rotator-kennedy-updAs noted in prior posts here and here, the biggest news this week in the marijuana reform arena has been the introduction of a bipartisan federal medical marijuana reform bill by  Senators Rand Paul, Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand, the CARERS Act.   The preamble to this bill expressly provides that its purposes are to "extend the principle of federalism to State drug policy, provide access to medical marijuana, and enable research into the medicinal properties of marijuana."

Notably, this statement of purposes and the overall structure of the CARERS Act would seem to be in harmony with the stated goals of the leading figure and group opposing significant marijuana reform, namely Patrick Kennedy and Smart Approaches to Marijuana.  Notably, on this page under a picture of Patrick Kennedy, SAM proclaims it is "acting in the best interests of public health and safety." In addition, Kennedy in this recent commentary piece stated that he favors "reforming our drug laws and emphasizing public health" and that we "should indeed reform broken laws that disproportionately harm ethnic and racial minorities and the poor."  

Similarly, this About page on the SAM website states that the organization is comprised of "medical doctors, lawmakers, treatment providers, preventionists, teachers, law enforcement officers and others who seek a middle road between incarceration and legalization [to provide a] commonsense, third-way approach to marijuana policy is based on reputable science and sound principles of public health and safety" (emphasis added).  In addition, this SAM information page about cannabis-based medicines states that SAM advocates for "rapid expansion of research into the components of the marijuana plant for delivery via non-smoked forms" and a special FDA reform that "allows seriously ill patients to obtain non-smoked components of marijuana."

Based on these various stated commitments by Patrick Kennedy and SAM, I certainty think it would be quite consistent with their advocacy or them to support expressly and vocally the CARERS Act. As I read the CARERS Act, it seeks to cautiously reform federal marijuana laws that are obviously "broken" because they fully preclude state lawmakers and administrators, researchers and doctors from being seriously involved and invested in reforms to state marijuana laws "based on reputable science and sound principles of public health and safety."   In addition, something like the CARERS Act is absolutely essential for rapid expansion of medical research in this arena.  Indeed, the powerful press conference introducing the CARERS Act had lawmakers, parents and patients all powerfully explaining why federal medical marijuana reform is essential to ensuring more needed medical research, and in order to fully ensure a serious and enduring commitment in both federal and state laws to marijuana policy "based on reputable science and sound principles of public health and safety."

Notably, there is not yet any mention of the CARERS Act on the SAM website, and I am inclined to guess that Patrick Kennedy and other SAM leaders are working on a formal response.  For the reasons outlined above, I sincerely hope that Patrick Kennedy and other SAM leaders soon become vocal proponents of the CARERS Act.  Historically, a problematic mix of politics and fear, not reputable science and sound principles of public health and safety, has dominated federal federal drug laws.  I hope that SAM will, through support of the CARERS Act, help ensure public that we start turning the corner and head on a sounder scientific and public health path in the months and years to come.

Prior related posts:

March 12, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

NY Times praises "A Sensible Bill on Medical Marijuana"

Because the New York Times editorial board has already called for the full legalization of marijuana, it is no big surprised that today brings this editorial in support of the bipartisan federal CARERS Act introduced yesterday by three senators (basics here). Here are excerpts from the editorial:

The bill makes a number of important changes to federal marijuana policies — and it deserves to be passed by Congress and enacted into law. Though this legislation would not repeal the broad and destructive federal ban on marijuana, it is a big step in the right direction....

The bill, sponsored by Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, both Democrats, and Rand Paul, a Republican of Kentucky, would not legalize medical marijuana in all 50 states. But it would amend federal law to allow states to set their own medical marijuana policies and prevent federal law enforcement agencies from prosecuting patients, doctors and caregivers in those states. Currently 35 states and the District of Columbia permit some form of medical marijuana use. States would remain free to ban medical marijuana if they wished.

Other important provisions would allow banks and credit unions to provide financial services to marijuana­-related businesses that operate in accord with state law and protect them from federal prosecution or investigation. That is a crucial improvement over the current situation where marijuana business that is legal under state law is conducted in cash because financial institutions fear to step in.

The bill would also allow doctors in the Department of Veterans Affairs to prescribe medical marijuana to veterans, which they are currently prohibited from doing. And it would ease the overly strict procedures for obtaining marijuana for medical research and require the Food and Drug Administration to more readily allow the manufacture of marijuana for research....

Polls show a majority of Americans in favor of legalization of medical marijuana. It is long past time for Congress to recognize the need to change course.

The full text of the CARERS Act is available here.

March 11, 2015 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Proposed federal CARERS Act includes rescheduling marijuana under CSA

I am watching the press conference (streamed here) with presentations by Senators Rand Paul, Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand introducing their new federal medical marijuana reform bill, the CARERS Act.  Fascinating stuff.

Senator Booker started by noting veterans' interest in using medical marijuana, Senator Paul spoke of the need for more research and banking problems for state-legal marijuana business, and Senator Gillibrand was the closer by stressing the need for families to have access to high-CBC medicines for children suffering from seizure disorders.

Adding to the power of the press conference is a set of testimonials from a mom eager to have CBC treatments for her daughter (who had a small seizure during the press conference!), and an older woman with MS eager to have access to marijuana to help her sleep.  Senator Paul followed up by introducing a father of one of his staffers with MS, who testified from a wheelchair.   Senator Booker then introduced a 35-year-old veteran who complained about been deemed a criminal for his medical marijuana use by a country he fought for over six years.   Notably, after all the white users/patients advocated for reform, Senator Booker introduced an African-American business owner talking about the problems with having to run a medical marijuana business without access to banking services.

This Drug Policy Alliance press release summarizes what is in the CARERS Act: 

The Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States - CARERS - Act is the first-ever bill in the U.S. Senate to legalize marijuana for medical use and the most comprehensive medical marijuana bill ever introduced in Congress. The CARERS Act will do the following:

  • Allow states to legalize marijuana for medical use without federal interference

  • Permit interstate commerce in cannabidiol (CBD) oils

  • Reschedule marijuana to schedule II

  • Allow banks to provide checking accounts and other financial services to marijuana dispensaries

  • Allow Veterans Administration physicians to recommend medical marijuana to veterans

  • Eliminate barriers to medical marijuana research.

March 10, 2015 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)