Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

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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)

Jobs, jobs, jobs: why legalization will garner fans among those eager for economic development

This local article from Connecticut, headlined "Medical marijuana's first product, jobs," highlights some of the reasons I believe marijuana reform is going to garner a lot more adherents than opponents among those interesting in economic development. Here are excerpts:

Months before any cannabis-based products will reach patients, Connecticut's new medical-marijuana industry has already created hundreds of jobs -- in construction. Former factories are being reconfigured into secure pharmaceutical facilities for the growing, harvesting, curing and preparation of various strains of marijuana that should be delivered to the state's dispensaries by early fall.

Since the state awarded four marijuana producer licenses in January, an estimated $20 million has been committed to the West Haven, Watertown, Portland and Simsbury buildings that in a few weeks will begin growing thousands of pounds of pot....

In a West Haven industrial zone parallel to Interstate 95, David Lipton, managing partner of the Fairfield-based Advanced Grow Labs, is supervising the conversion of 26,000 square feet of space that will house sterile laboratories, heavily lighted grow areas and budding rooms that will promote marijuana flowers, the part of the plant with the highest concentration of active ingredients. During a tour of the sprawling, noisy one-story building last week, more than a dozen electricians, sheet-rock experts and other subcontractors worked to transform the space....

Advanced Grow Labs is one of a series of new projects that are bringing economic growth, said Joseph A. Riccio Jr., commissioner of development for West Haven. Last year, city building permits brought in $800,000 to the city, but in the first five months of this year, the total has already topped $1 million.

He said the medical marijuana industry is obviously fostering jobs while the region still recovers from the recession. "This is a good boost for tradesmen," he said during a phone interview last week. "Every job is a good job."

Lipton estimates his company has invested about $2.5 million in construction and equipment, employing dozens of workers at a time, from structural and mechanical engineers, to steel fabricators to sheetrock installers, tapers, masons, electricians and plumbers. Those workers are generating Worker's Compensation and payroll taxes for the state. "There's definitely a positive effect on the economy," he said, adding various building and work permits from West Haven generated revenue for the city and that once up and running, the company will also pay personal property taxes....

Thirty-two miles to the north, in a hilltop Watertown industrial park near Route 8, Ethan Ruby, CEO of Theraplant, is supervising a similar conversion to a 63,000-square-foot building, about half of which will be renovated for initial production. The operation will have a 900-square-foot safe for storing market-ready material.

Ruby, who heads the state growers' association, said his company has invested about $8 million, nearly half of the estimated $20 million the four producers have spent for the initial phases of operations. On a recent day, Ruby counted 73 workers on-site, including landscapers, sheetrock installers and electricians.

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

Saturday, May 31, 2014

"Why Republicans are slowly embracing marijuana"

The title of this post is the headline of this recent Los Angeles Times article, which includes these excerpts:

Marijuana is a political conundrum for the GOP, traditionally the stridently anti-drug, law and order party. More than half the voters in the country now live in states where medical marijuana is legal, in many cases as a result of ballot measures. The most recent poll by the Pew Research Center found most Americans think pot should be legal, a major shift from just a decade ago when voters opposed legalization by a 2-to-1 margin.

Most GOP stalwarts, of course, continue to rail against liberalization of the laws. Rep. Andy Harris of Maryland, a physician, declared during floor debate that medical marijuana is a sham. Real medicine, he said, “is not two joints a day, not a brownie here, a biscuit there. That is not modern medicine.”

But in a sign of how the times are changing, he found himself challenged by a colleague from his own caucus who is also a doctor. Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.) spoke passionately in favor of the bill. “It has very valid medical uses under direction of a doctor,” he said. “It is actually less dangerous than some narcotics prescribed by doctors all over the country.” Georgia is among the many states experimenting with medical marijuana. A state program there allows its limited use to treat children with severe epileptic seizures.

The rise of the tea party, meanwhile, has given an unforeseen boost to the legalization movement. Some of its more prominent members see the marijuana component of the War on Drugs as an overreach by the federal government, and a violation of the rights of more than two dozen states that have legalized cannabis or specific components of it for medical use.

Pro-marijuana groups have lately taken to boosting the campaigns of such Republicans, even those running against Democrats. A notable case is in the Sacramento region, where the Marijuana Policy Project recently announced it was endorsing Igor Birman, a tea partier seeking to knock out Democrat Ami Berra in a swing congressional district.

May 31, 2014 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Current Affairs, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, May 30, 2014

House votes to block the DOJ from spending money on medical marijuana investigations

Between grading exams and traveling last weekend, I haven't had the chance to post since last week.  Though I'm still playing catch-up on some items at work, I could not resist writing something up on last night's big marijuana law news: the House of Representatives passed an appropriations amendment that would ban the DOJ from spending money to interfere with state medical marijuana laws.

The vote is a true political game changer.  A majority of House members are now on record in opposition to federal interference with state medical marijuana laws.  As Tom Angell of Marijuana Majority put it in the HuffPo article linked above: "This historic vote shows just how quickly marijuana reform has become a mainstream issue."

Whether the amendment will take effect remains to be seen.  The Senate needs to pass its own criminal justice appropriations bill and then the two will need to be reconciled. 

If that happens, what exactly would the amendment do? 

The full text is here:

Offered By: Mr. Rohrabacher

    Amendment No. 25: At the end of the bill (before the short title), insert the following:

    Sec. __. None of the funds made available in this Act to the Department of Justice may be used, with respect to the States of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin, to prevent such States from implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.

Legally, I'm not sure how much (if any) protection the amendment would actually provide.  Putting aside the question of how to ensure compliance with the restriction, the measure only stops the DOJ from using funds to "prevent" states from "implementing their own" medical marijuana laws.  It's far from clear that medical marijuana raids and prosecutions would be covered by this language.  After all, prosecuting a medical marijuana dispensary operator in San Diego doesn't mean that California has been directly prevented from implementing any of its state laws.  

But, in this case, I think getting lost in the legal language would be to miss the true impact of this development.  The amendment is not meant to change federal drug laws.  It is a signal (and a strong one) to the DEA and DOJ that Congress is unhappy about federal interference with state medical marijuana laws.  

As this recent article about corporate regulation discusses, "in a divided government where few bills are signed into law, the real action is the tug of war between Congress and the agencies that write rules and implement laws."  That observation doesn't exactly track this situation.  But I think the broader point applies. 

If this amendment survives the Senate and takes effect, federal prosecutors and DEA operatives will need to think long and hard before they bring another medical marijuana defendant into court or conduct another raid. 

Regardless of the technical language, I suspect the forces in Congress behind the amendment will not be very happy if the DOJ violates its spirit  And that means risking funding for the next year, getting yelled at in a Congressional hearing, etc.  Perhaps most of all, ignoring this signal would risk elevating the dispute to the point where Congress decides a spending restriction isn't enough and begins to more seriously explore the possibility of changing federal drug laws.  (Not to mention that the vote provides a great deal political cover--to the extent the Obama administration thinks it needs cover--for taking a hands-off approach when it comes to state medical marijuana laws.)

All this is to say that while the amendment might not necessarily provide a lot of legal protection if a medical marijuana defendant does end up in federal court, I think it would provide a great deal of practical insurance against that sort of thing continuing to happen. 

And, even if the amendment dies in the Senate, the fact that it passed the House is significant in its own right--both politically and as a warning signal to the DOJ.

Two other notes: First, this wasn't the only marijuana reform amendment to pass the House.  They also approved two amendments to restrict the use of funds to interfere with state Hemp research programs.

Last but not leas, I can't keep myself from congratulating the staff at Americans for Safe Access (on whose Board I serve) for all of their work to help make this happen.  To be sure, something like this doesn't happen without a number of different groups involved.  But ASA is the one organization dedicated to medical marijuana issues exclusively--groups like the Marijuana Policy Project focus on marijuana issues more broadly--and the vote is a huge win for ASA's constituency and its staff.  ASA's fantastic Executive Director, Steph Sherer, had this piece on HuffPo on the need for the amendment Wednesday.  Though the amendment has now passed, her article is still very much worth a read.

 

May 30, 2014 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, May 26, 2014

California DA tries to make sure marijuana crime does not pay by making the criminals pay for reduced charges

La-me-g-mendocino-potwebThe Los Angeles Times has this fascinting new article on a fascinting drug war innovation being utilized by a local districy attorney in California.  The article is headlined "Mendocino County D.A. takes a new approach to marijuana cases," and here are excerpts: 

When David Eyster took over as Mendocino County district attorney, felony marijuana prosecutions were overwhelming his staff and straining the public coffers.

With hundreds of cases active at any one time, taking an average 15 months to resolve, there were few victories to show for all the effort. "The system hadn't broken yet," Eyster said, "but it was dangerously close."

That was a little over three years ago. These days marijuana cases clear in about three months and the Sheriff's Department is flush with cash, thanks to what some are calling "the Mendocino model." To others, it's the Mendocino shakedown.

The transformation began when Eyster dusted off a section of the California health and safety code, intended to reimburse police for the cost of cleaning up meth labs and pot grows, and retooled it for a modern Mendocino County. In exchange for paying restitution, which Eyster sets at $50 per plant and $500 per pound of processed pot seized, eligible suspects can plead to a misdemeanor and get probation. (The law says restitution is reimbursement for actual enforcement costs, but defendants waive an itemized accounting and state the amount owed is "reasonable.")

The relinquishing of allegedly ill-gotten gains seized in separate civil forfeiture actions — cash, trucks and the occasional tractor — also might be part of the deal offered under Eyster's "global resolutions."

The restitution program is available only to those without troublesome criminal backgrounds who have not wildly overstepped California's somewhat gray laws on medical marijuana. Those who trespass, grow on public lands or degrade the environment need not apply.

Eyster said it's a complex calculation that he jots out himself, by hand, on the back of each case file. The size of a grow is not necessarily the deciding factor: In one current case, the defendants have records indicating they are supplying 1,500 medical users, Eyster said. Another case involved just four pounds of processed marijuana, but evidence indicated the defendant was selling for profit. Participants must agree to random searches while on probation, comply with medical marijuana laws and grow only for personal use.

Restitution funds, which have topped $3.7 million since early 2011, go directly to the investigating agencies. Asset forfeitures — the $4.4 million in cash and goods seized in 2013 was nearly double the previous year — are shared by the state, the district attorney's office and local law enforcement.

Among those who have criticized the program is Mendocino County Superior Court Judge Clay Brennan, who during a restitution hearing last year for a man with an 800-plant grow blasted it as "extortion of defendants."

A federal grand jury investigating county programs that derive revenue from marijuana enforcement has subpoenaed accounting records on the restitution program, Eyster confirmed. The reason is unclear, as the U.S. attorney's office declined to comment on the probe.

Legal analysts also have raised concerns about the potential for unequal treatment of defendants and the incentive for officers to focus on lucrative targets at the expense of those more menacing to public safety....

Eyster teamed with Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) in 2011 to try to make pot cultivation a "wobbler," prosecuted as either a felony or misdemeanor. The effort failed, but he had devised another way to thin the caseload.

He drew on past experience with welfare fraud, where considering restitution before making a filing decision was routine. Convinced that not all defendants were created equal — the mastermind behind a for-profit grow is more culpable than hired trimmers — he decided to evaluate each case, consider potentially exculpatory evidence and cut deals as he saw fit.

He offers defendants guidance on how to stay within the law, and said paying restitution "shows a step toward rehabilitation." "A month doesn't go by when someone doesn't say: 'Thank you for handling it this way,'" Eyster said.

Since he took office, 357 defendants have decided to pay restitution. About 20 of those violated their probation, resulting in 180-day jail stints and new charges. (On a second round, a straight misdemeanor charge is off the table.)

Eyster never accepts seized cash as payment of restitution, but his approach does throw such assets into the bargaining mix. It is unclear how many probationers paid restitution and forfeited seized cash or goods, but Eyster conceded the practice is common. "One hundred percent of the time, the defense wants to do a global resolution," he said. "It's saving a lot of time and costs."...

Defense attorney Keith Faulder, who practices in Mendocino County, is circumspect when discussing Eyster's program.  The district attorney, Faulder said, is "an innovator" who he believes is "operating in good faith when it comes to settling marijuana cases." However, Faulder said, Eyster "has a real policy of settling cases for civil forfeiture ... I think it gets a lot of dolphin with the tuna." That program has exploded in recent years, with law enforcement officials attributing the increased seizures to a pot trade that permeates the county....

Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman said his deputies do not have the time or inclination to police for profit: "If I wanted to use this as a business plan, I'd have 12 people on my eradication team," he said.  He has two.  But he credits restitution and forfeitures for a sheriff's budget that is $600,000 in the black, and said he has also been able to expand a resident deputy program and purchase a new fleet of cars.

Despite the criticism, Eyster said he was confident in the legality and effectiveness of his approach. He said that he had offered Melinda Haag, U.S. attorney for the Northern District, "first dibs on the prosecution of all marijuana cases in Mendocino County" but that she declined.  So "they should please leave us alone and let local enforcement tackle our own marijuana problems."

Regular readers should not be at all surprised that I am inclined to praise Mendocino County DA for engineering a seemingly more efficient and perhaps more effective way to wage the modern drug war. Indeed, given the muddled mess that is both California's medical marijuana laws and the opaque federal enforcement of prohibition in that state, this "Mendocino model" for modern marijuana enforcement for lower-level marijuana cases strikes me as a very wise way to use prosecutorial discretion and triage prosecutorial resources.

I would like to believe that the federal grand jury investigating the "Mendocino model" is focused on seeing if a local success story can be turned into a national program. But I fear that the feds are looking into what DA Eyster is doing because they fear even the prospect of somebody inventing any better drug war mousetraps.

Finally, though I suppose I should be concerned about the potential for prosecutors extorting criminal defendants in this setting, this form of extortion troubles me much less that when prosecutors demand that defendants give up various rights to avoid a crazy-long mandatory prison sentences in traditional plea bargaining. When DA Eyster seeks money from marijuana defendants as part of the plea process, it seems he is only seeking to have them relinquish what were likely ill-gotten gains (much of which might end up going to defense attorneys' pockets without such a deal available); when other prosecutors seek pleas and cooperation from other defendants facing extreme prison terms, these prosecutors are demanding that defendants relinquish constitutional and statutory rights created specifically to limit and check the power of government officials.

May 26, 2014 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (3)

"Legalization Conflicts and Reliance Defenses"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new and timely paper by Mary Fan now available via SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

This article addresses an open question of pressing practical import – whether people and businesses operating in the shadow of a legalization conflict have a reliance defense.  A legalization conflict arises when conduct is decriminalized by one authority while remaining criminalized under another legal regime.  For example, drugs, guns, undocumented immigrants, and giving legal advice or financial support for certain activities, may be both illegal and legal under conflicting regimes. People plan their lives, hopes and financial affairs around legalization laws and decrees.  If people take actions now in reliance, will they face sanctions later?  The question is of great import for many people and businesses, as well as the lawyers who advise them.

The article argues that reliance defenses should be available when governmental actors in charge of enforcing the criminal regime expressly acquiesce in the competing legalization.  In such cases, reliance is reasonable and estoppel is required lest people or businesses be lulled by the statements of actors charged with administering the law into a snare of sanctions.  Potential objections regarding privileging governmental lawlessness and the danger of giving people a normative choice of law that enables strategic gamesmanship are addressed.

May 26, 2014 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Examining regulatory realities in Canada's new federal medical marijuana landscape

About_tweedThe front-page of the New York Times business section has this new lengthy article headlined "When Cannabis Goes Corporate." Here are excerpts:

Hershey stopped producing chocolate in Smiths Falls, Ontario, six years ago. The work went to Mexico, but the factory remains, along with reminders of the glory days: A sign that once directed school buses delivering children for tours.  A fading, theme-park-style entrance that marks what used to be the big attraction — a “Chocolate Shoppe” that sold about $4 million of broken candy and bulk bars a year.

The once ever-present sweet smell of chocolate is gone, too. In the high-ceilinged warehouse, where stacks of Hershey’s bars and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups once awaited shipment, the nose now picks up a different odor: the woody, herbal aroma of 50,000 marijuana plants....

The new owner of this factory, at 1 Hershey Drive, is Tweed Marijuana.   It is one of about 20 companies officially licensed to grow medical marijuana in Canada.

A court ordered the government to make marijuana available for medicinal purposes in 2000, but the first system for doing so created havoc.  The government sold directly to approved consumers, but individuals were also permitted to grow for their own purposes or to turn over their growing to small operations.  The free-for-all approach prompted a flood of complaints from police and local governments.

So the Canadian government decided to create an extensive, heavily regulated system for growing and selling marijuana.  The new rules allow users with prescriptions to buy only from one of the approved, large-scale, profit-seeking producers like Tweed, a move intended to shut down the thousands of informal growing operations scattered across the country.

The requirements, which went into effect in April, are giving rise to what many are betting will be a lucrative new industry of legitimate producers. The government, which will collect taxes on the sales, estimates that the business could generate more than 3.1 billion Canadian dollars a year in sales within the next decade. “It’s just so rare that you have an industry that’s growing but which has a huge established market,” said Chuck Rifici, Tweed’s chief executive....

Canada’s across-the-board law ... provides a cohesive set of regulations, laying the groundwork for a group of companies to set up operations. “That was really important for us as investors,” said Brendan Kennedy, chief executive of Privateer Holdings, a marijuana private equity fund based in Seattle that started Tilray, one of Canada’s new legal growers. “People talk about the Colorado model; people talk about the Washington model. I think someday they’ll talk about the Canada model. By creating a tightly regulated federal system, by creating a federal license, by making it difficult to navigate in and capital-intensive, Canada has attracted a different kind of player into this industry.”...

[B]efore they could even submit applications, Tweed and other growers had to secure sites for their operations and obtain all local permissions. Applicants who passed the initial vetting then had to pass a final, two-day inspection. The requirements are significant. Growers must have sophisticated carbon filtration systems to prevent the smell of marijuana from wafting outside. They must maintain high-security measures like biometric thumbprint readers. Employees need to pass rigorous security checks, conducted by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, which take four to six months. “If I knew how much regulatory overhead there would be from the beginning, I would have probably been just as excited about the industry,” Mr. Rifici said. “But I might have thought that I might not be able to get there....

Tweed is taking a subdued, almost artisanal, approach to its branding, avoiding the Cheech-and-Chong vibe of some rivals. Many of its marijuana strains are named after fusty fabrics like tweed, as well as people and places associated with such clothes. The Herringbone strain is supposed to help with depression. Bakerstreet is used to treat anxiety. Donegal is promoted as a pain reliever.

But the industry faces an uphill battle, as prominent doctors, researchers and even the Canadian Medical Association are advising against prescribing marijuana at all. Marijuana, they say, has not been through the testing and approval process required for other pharmaceuticals.

Dr. Mary-Ann Fitzcharles, a rheumatologist and professor of medicine at McGill University in Montreal, was the lead author of a widely publicized paper recommending that, without clinical evidence, marijuana should not be prescribed for rheumatoid arthritis. About 65 percent of users in Canada under the old system said they suffered from that condition. She compares the medical claims for marijuana to those once made for tobacco....

When Tweed shipped its first two orders directly to customers on May 5, about half of the company’s management watched, partly for ceremonial reasons but mostly to make sure that its elaborate, government-mandated inventory-tracking system worked. Employees weighed the total inventory before doling out the shipments onto smaller scales calibrated to 0.01 gram. The marijuana was dropped into boxes bearing Tweed’s logo and then, to meet government requirements, vacuum-packed into odor-blocking bags. Then came a final check on the scales before the two parcels left in standard courier pouches that did not bear Tweed’s name.

May 25, 2014 in International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, May 17, 2014

"Could This Be the Year for a House Reversal on Medical Marijuana?"

Congress and cannabisThe title of this post is the headline of this intriguing article from Roll Call.  Here are excerpts:

The last time Rep. Dana Rohrabacher offered an amendment on the House floor to protect states rights when it came to legalization of medical marijuana, it was defeated 163–262. Since that vote in 2012, four states — Illinois, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maryland — passed laws or regulations allowing for the use of medical marijuana, bringing the total to 21 states and the District of Columbia.

Now, supporters of medical marijuana anticipate the strongest vote yet on a states-rights amendment when the fiscal 2015 Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations measure (HR 4660) comes to the House floor in a few weeks, while lawmakers are weighing offering additional marijuana provisions on appropriations measures. Most, but not all, of the proposals lawmakers are considering bringing up are aimed at protecting state laws and programs on medical marijuana use.

The chief provision, which will be offered as an amendment to the appropriations bill funding the Commerce and Justice departments, would prohibit the federal government from prosecuting medical marijuana users and providers who are abiding by their state’s law. The House has voted on similar proposals six times since 2003, with about 150 to 160 members supporting it each time. But advocates expect that more lawmakers than ever will support the bipartisan proposal this year, which will likely be introduced by two California lawmakers, Rohrabacher, who is a Republican, and Democrat Sam Farr. Boosters expect to win new backers this year because of the increasingly high poll numbers supporting legalization....

That increasing support may lead lawmakers to hold additional marijuana policy votes on other appropriations bills. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Colo., may consider offering an amendment to the Financial Services appropriations measure that would help marijuana businesses get access to banking by updating federal rules, according to his office. An aide for Colorado Democrat Jared Polis said he also may offer marijuana policy amendments, although he has not made a decision yet....

The backers of the Rohrabacher amendment are an unusual group of social liberals and conservatives who see legalization as a states’ rights issue. Lawmakers including Blumenauer, Michigan Republican Justin Amash and Texas Republican Steve Stockman have voted for it in the past.

Georgia Republican Paul Broun, a physician who supports the amendment, said in a statement that the provision makes sense “from both a medical perspective and a Constitutional perspective.” He added, “This amendment would ensure that medical marijuana patients adhering to their state’s laws would not be punished by an overreaching federal government.”

May 17, 2014 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 15, 2014

New Congressional effort underway to make it easier to research medical marijuana

Via Mike Liszewski at Americans for Safe Access (disclosure: I currently serve on ASA's Board) comes word of a new Congressional effort to remove a barrier to marijuana research.  In addition to all of the standard research restrictions restrictions for Schedule I substances, marijuana is subject to an additional Public Health Service review that has stalled some medical marijuana research efforts.  A group of Representatives is calling for the PHS review to be eliminated.  

Here's the story from ASA:

A bipartisan group of Members of Congress have drafted a letter seeking that the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) remove a federal barrier to medical marijuana research that no other Schedule I substance is subjected to.

 

Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Morgan Griffith (R-VA), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), and Dana Rohrabacher, (R-CA) are currently seeking additional cosigners to the letter, which seeks to lift the current Public Health Service (PHS) review process that has preventing potentially groundbreaking medical marijuana research from taking place in the United States.

 

Established in May 1999, the PHS review process was the federal government's response to the 1998 Institute of Medicine report that called for more in depth scientific research to understand the medical value of marijuana. While the plain language of the PHS review protocol says that it is, "intended to facilitate the research needed to evaluate these pending public health questions by making research-grade marijuana available for well-designed studies," the review process has largely served to thwart research rather than facilitate it.

May 15, 2014 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Dr. Mehmet Oz joins group of high-profile docs expressing support for medical marijuana

As reported in this recent Huffington Post piece, headlined "Dr. Oz Backs Medical Marijuana, Says It's 'Hugely Beneficial'," another prominent medical professional is expressing support for medical marijuana. Here are the details:

Medical marijuana just got another celebrity doctor's public support. During an interview Monday with Dr. Mehmet Oz on "Larry King Live", King asked Oz if he'd changed his views on marijuana.

"I have," Oz responded, and went on to explain just how far he's come from his early beliefs about the plant. "I grew up like most of my generation believing that marijuana was something Satan was throwing at Americans, a communist plot. But I think most of us have come around to the believe that marijuana is hugely beneficial when used correctly for medicinal purposes," Oz said.

Oz joins the ranks of other TV medical experts who have come out in support of medical marijuana in recent years, including CNN's chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta, who recently "doubled down" on his support, and ABC News' chief health and medical editor Dr. Richard Besser....

Oz -- who in addition to hosting his own show is a cardiothoracic surgeon, author, and teaching professor at Columbia University -- stopped short of supporting recreational marijuana, citing use by children as a main concern. "We pervert its use at times," Oz added. "I don't think it should be widely used, certainly by kids, because that creates a dependence that is unhealthy in any setting. But it absolutely should be widely available in America [for medical use]."

May 15, 2014 in Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)