Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

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Monday, June 29, 2015

GOP Senator Orrin Hatch makes powerful pitch for "currative side of cannabis"

Download (1)Senator Orrin Hatch has this notable new op-ed piece in the Washington Times headlined "The curative side of cannabis: A medical extract offers relief for epileptic children." Here are excerpts:

[Imagine] you hear about a new therapy that has shown remarkable success in treating children just like yours — children with intractable epilepsy.  But there’s a problem: The therapy is made from a strain of the cannabis plant.  The therapy doesn’t produce any sort of “high.”  In fact, it’s made from a strain of cannabis that’s so low in THC — the active ingredient in marijuana — that it has no psychotropic effect even when ingested in large quantities.  But because the therapy comes from the cannabis plant, it’s classified as marijuana under federal law and is therefore illegal.

As a devoted, loving parent, you’re faced with an impossible dilemma.  Do you break the law to obtain a therapy that could cure or at the very least substantially reduce your child’s devastating seizures?  Or do you allow your child to continue to suffer? Remember, the therapy produces no high, and it carries none of the dangerous side effects of traditional marijuana.  It simply comes from the same source.

This hypothetical scenario is a reality for tens of thousands of parents.  The therapy is called cannabidiol oil, or CBD for short.  It’s administered by placing a small amount under the tongue, and has been shown to reduce seizures by more than 90 percent in children with intractable epilepsy.  It is not addictive.

But because it’s made from the cannabis plant, CBD is illegal under federal law.  To solve this problem, I’ve recently sponsored bipartisan legislation with Sens. Cory Gardner, Colorado Republican, Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat, and others to exempt CBD from the definition of “marijuana” under federal law.

Our bill, S. 1333, will allow parents to obtain a life-changing therapy for their children without threat of federal prosecution.  It’s colloquially known as the Charlotte’s Web Act, after Charlotte Figi, an eight-year-old girl who has seen extraordinary improvements from taking CBD.  Prior to beginning treatment with CBD, Charlotte suffered as many as 300 grand mal seizures per week — seizures so violent that her parents put a do not resuscitate order in her medical records.  After Charlotte started taking CBD, however, her seizures dropped dramatically.  She now suffers, on average, less than three seizures per month and is able to engage in normal childhood activities. “Dateline NBC” and National Geographic recently highlighted the medical benefits of CBD for children with severe epilepsy.

CBD is not medical marijuana.  It cannot be used to get high.  Its only use is for epilepsy and other medical conditions.  Nor is it a camel’s nose in the tent for advocates of full marijuana legalization.  Fifteen states have now legalized CBD.  These include some of the most rock-ribbed conservative states in the country, such as Alabama, South Carolina and Texas.  In fact, my home state of Utah — certainly no redoubt of hippie liberalism — was the very first state to legalize CBD.

Throughout my entire Senate career, I’ve taken a strong stand against illegal drugs. The proliferation of cocaine, meth and other addictive, mind-altering substances has had a devastating effect on homes and communities.  CBD is not like any of those substances.  It is not addictive.  To the contrary, it has shown promise in treating addiction.  Rather than harming families, it can help make their lives better.

I continue to oppose marijuana and efforts to legalize its use.  I remain unconvinced by claims that it is safe and that the side effects it causes are no big deal.  Stories of children being rushed to the hospital for accidentally consuming marijuana edibles belie the notion that marijuana is a safe drug.  In fact, I am currently working on legislation to help protect children from the dangers of edible marijuana products.

But I also believe that when a drug is safe and can improve people’s lives, Congress should not stand in the way.  That CBD is derived from the cannabis plant does not mean we should be scared to have anything to do with it.  Legalizing CBD is a compassionate, common-sense move that will bring relief to thousands of suffering children.  I am glad to stand with my colleagues in supporting the Charlotte’s Web Act and look forward to helping it move through Congress and to the president’s desk.

June 29, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Reviewing SAM's take on recent marijuana reserch and reform developments

DownloadAs regular readers surely realize, I tend generally to favor modern marijuana reform efforts. Consequently, I tend generally to notice and feel most inspired to blog about research and press reports that tend generally to favor modern marijuana reform efforts. But I fully recognize, and generally have respect for, the many policy-makers and advocates who strongly oppose modern marijuana reform efforts.

Especially because I think it is critical in this space and elsewhere that competing voices are heard and dynamic perspectives considered in modern marijuana reform debates, I am ever grateful for the efforts of Kevin Sabet and his group SAM: Smart Approaches to Marijuana for covering and promoting reform-opposition research and developments. And, and these recent posts from the SAM blog highlight, SAM has has a lot to say on these topics over just the last 10 days:

June 25, 2015 in Assembled readings on specific topics, Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

New federal regulations should make medical marijuana research a bit easier

As explained in this helpful new Washington Post piece, a "long-standing bureaucratic obstacle to privately-funded medical marijuana research has just been removed, effective immediately." Here are the details

Until today if you wanted to conduct marijuana research, you'd need to do the following:

  1. Submit your study proposal to the Food and Drug Administration for a thorough review of its "scientific validity and ethical soundness."
  2. Submit your proposal to a separate Public Health Service (PHS) board, which performs pretty much the exact same review as the FDA.
  3. Get a marijuana permit from the Drug Enforcement Administration.
  4. Finally, obtain a quantity of medical marijuana via the Drug Supply Program run by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), which maintains a monopoly on medical marijuana grown for research in the U.S.

As you might imagine, this can be a complicated, time-consuming process. Step 2, the PHS review, has been a subject of particular consternation among researchers and advocates.  That step is not required for research into any other drug, including cocaine and heroin.  

The PHS review is nearly identical to the one performed by the FDA.  Sometimes, it can take months to complete.  In recent years, advocates of overhauling marijuana laws, researchers, members of Congress, and even marijuana legalization opponents have called for the PHS review to be eliminated in the name of streamlining research.

This week, the Department of Health and Human Services agreed, determining that the PHS review process is redundant with the FDA review, and that it is "no longer necessary to support the conduct of scientifically-sound studies into the potential therapeutic uses of marijuana."

"The president has often said that drug policy should be dictated by unimpeded science instead of ideology, and it’s great to see the Obama administration finally starting to take some real action to back that up," said Tom Angell of the Marijuana Majority, a pro-legalization group.  

Even those who oppose legalization agreed. "I think it's a sensible change; but people are being delusional if they think this will result in a flood of research on the drug," said Kevin Sabet of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, an anti-legalization group. "But it's a step in the right direction as the development of a non smoked cannabis medication goes forward."...

There are still more bureaucratic hurdles to marijuana research than to research in any other drug.  NIDA's monopoly on legal marijuana production doesn't exist for any other drug, meaning that heroin and cocaine remain easier for researchers to work with. "The next step should be moving marijuana out of Schedule I to a more appropriate category, which the administration can do without any further Congressional action," said Angell.  "Given what the president and surgeon general have already said publicly about marijuana’s relative harms and medical uses, it’s completely inappropriate for it to remain in a schedule that’s supposed to be reserved for substances with a high potential for abuse and no therapeutic value."

June 23, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Connecticut struggling to get doctors involved with its nascent medical marijuana program

Download (8)This lengthy new local article, headlined "State seeks more medical marijuana doctors," highlights how the modern history (and the federal ferocity) of marijuana prohibition presents distinct challenges for states like Connecticut seeking to establish and administer effective medical marijuana programs. Here are excerpts from an interesting article:

With only a small fraction of the state’s doctors participating in Connecticut’s medical marijuana program, the agency that’s running it has begun a public-service blitz to let physicians and patients know the drug is safe and legal. The goal is to break through the stigma and lack of information that seems to be holding doctors back from registering, which they need to do to be able to prescribe the drug.

The state is reaching out to the 7,000 doctors in the Connecticut State Medical Society, with radio and print ads highlighting the medical benefits of marijuana, and showing that edibles and oils are steadily taking the place of smoking the plant’s flowers....

There are 11 ailments for which patients may be certified for use of medical cannabis and six more have been authorized for inclusion and are currently being reviewed for submission to the legislative Regulation Review Committee. Brian Tomasulo, 34, of Newtown, said when his personal physician certified him last year, the only product available at the Bethel facility was traditional marijuana flowers for smoking. “Basically, as they brought out more products, the pharmacist suggested more direction,” he said.

Diagnosed two years ago with testicular cancer that spread to his lymphatic system and lungs, after six months of chemotherapy and remission the cancer spread to his brain, causing seizures. He’s back working part-time as a personal trainer.

Now, he mostly uses oils that he puts under his tongue, sublingually, for headaches, although he occasionally smokes cannabis for faster relief from pain, including joint soreness. He uses strains of oil that have higher CBD levels in the morning and a higher THC percentage at night. “My brain had been so inflamed, I had a hard time speaking,” Tomasulo said. “I’m more clear-headed now.”

With only 222 doctors participating, the program is still double the size it was last October, when the first of the state’s six dispensaries began to supply marijuana from the four producers. It’s a sign of steady progress, says Department of Consumer Protection Commissioner Jonathan Harris.

“It will be interesting to see what our outreach efforts to the physicians are,” Harris said. “It’s a private-sector model and it should be driven by the businesses, patients and doctors on the ground. It’s a unique position as a regulator to clear up the misinformation, tear down some of the barriers and give people some comfort that they’re not going to get into any kind of trouble if they participate.”

The radio spots are appearing on Hartford-area public radio. Harris has been making speaking appearances throughout the state to get the word out on the 2012 law. “We want to make people better-informed when and how to participate.”

Ken Ferrucci, senior vice president of policy and governmental affairs for the Connecticut State Medical Society, admits the organization has been cautious and didn’t have an official reaction to the outreach by the Department of Consumer Protection. “We’ve been consistent in our position,” he said. “We did not support the bill originally and once it passed and became statute we wanted to make certain physicians were free to participate without prosecution. The longer the program is in existence, the more willing physicians will participate providing there is no legal action or enforcement. We have been supportive of education opportunities when we have been asked to provide medical information. We have circulated and do not try to prevent anyone from being educated on whether or not want to certify patients for the program.”

Medical marijuana is still illegal under federal law, but the U.S. Justice Department has said it will not prosecute those who are complying with the laws in their state. Harris said the longer the federal government leaves the medical-marijuana program alone, the more patients and doctors will feel comfortable to join. In the 2012 legislation, when the Connecticut General Assembly agreed to change marijuana’s status from a dangerous Schedule I drug with no medical benefits, to Schedule II, it challenged federal policy.

A regional organization of pro-marijuana physicians, called Canna Care Docs, has opened an office in Hartford, with plans, according to its website, to open clinics in Fairfield County and between New Haven and New London along Interstate-95. “Depending on what the feds ultimately do, then you’ll have the lid totally taken off,” Harris said, who’s optimistic about further growth. “It’s a medical model and we’re hearing more on the ground on the innovations in dose-able forms.”

David Lipton, the founder and CEO of Advanced Grow Labs in West Haven, is surprised oils and edibles seem to be taking over the market, but he can understand why pharmacists in the dispensaries find it easier to suggest dosage amounts. “You know that if you eat a cookie with 20 milligrams of THC, it’s easier and more exact, to medicate yourself rather than buying a flower with 25-percent THC and smoking it,” Lipton said, noting a change in the kinds of products the dispensaries are requesting. “I believe that as more and more doctors are made aware that when they’re recommending this, their patients getting something formulated, they’ll feel assured they’re getting the right amount of medicine.”

June 21, 2015 in Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 19, 2015

"After Losing Custody Of Her Son, Medical Marijuana Advocate Could Lose Her Freedom"

Shona Banda mugshotThe title of this post is the headline of this new Forbes column by Jacob Sullum.  This piece reinforces my belief that family law and family lawyers need to be paying considerable attention  to marijuana reform developments and realities.  Here is an excerpt:

In Live Free or Die, a 2010 memoir recounting how cannabis oil saved her life, Shona Banda emphasizes the importance of “self-taught knowledge,” acquired by constantly asking questions and “looking at all of the angles of any information given.” Her son may have learned that lesson too well. Had he been less inquisitive, less prone to question authority, he might still be living with his mother, and she might not be facing criminal charges that could send her to prison for decades.

Banda, a 38-year-old massage therapist who appeared in criminal court for the first time on Tuesday, is free on a $50,000 bond while her case is pending. She was able to pay a bail bondsman the $5,000 fee necessary to stay out of jail thanks to donations from supporters across the country who were outraged by her situation. The case has drawn international attention partly because it features draconian penalties and a mother’s forcible separation from her 11-year-old son but also because of the way it started.

During a “drug education” program at his school in Garden City, Kansas, on March 24, Banda’s son heard some things about marijuana that did not jibe with what he had learned about the plant from his mother. So he spoke up, suggesting that cannabis was less dangerous and more beneficial than the counselors running the program were claiming. That outburst of skepticism precipitated a visit to the principal’s office, where the fifth-grader was interrogated about his mother’s cannabis consumption. School officials called Child Protective Services (CPS), which contacted police, who obtained a warrant to search Banda’s house based on what her son had said.

As translated by the Garden City Police Department, Banda’s son “reported to school officials that his mother and other adults in his residence were avid drug users and that there was a lot of drug use occurring in his residence.” From Banda’s perspective, what her son had observed was her consumption of a medicine that had “fixed” her Crohn’s disease, alleviated her pain, and restored her energy. “I had an autoimmune disease,” she says in a 2010 YouTube video during which she displays the scars left by multiple surgeries aimed at relieving her crippling gastrointestinal symptoms. “With Crohn’s disease, it’s like having a stomach flu that won’t go away.” But after she started swallowing capsules containing homemade cannabis oil, she says, her life was transformed. “I’m working for the first time in four years,” she says. “I’m hiking. I’m swimming. I’m able to play with my kids [two sons, one of whom is now 18]….Anything beats raising your kids from a couch and lying there in pain all day.” Banda’s personal experience aside, there is scientific evidence that cannabis is an effective treatment for the symptoms of Crohn’s disease.

As far as the police were concerned, none of that was relevant, since Kansas is not one of the 23 states that allow medical use of cannabis. In the cops’ view, what they found at Banda’s house — “approximately 1 ¼ pounds of suspected marijuana” — was contraband, not medicine. And when CPS caseworkers took Banda’s son away from her, they were protecting him, not kidnapping him. “The most important thing here is the child’s well-being,” Capt. Randy Ralston told the Associated Press. “That is why it is a priority for us, just because of the danger to the child.”

The precise nature of that danger remains mysterious. Ralston says “the items taken from the residence” — the marijuana, plus “a lab for manufacturing cannabis oil on the kitchen table and kitchen counters, drug paraphernalia and other items related to the packaging and ingestion of marijuana” — were “within easy reach of the child.” But police came to Banda’s house in the middle of the afternoon, so that detail is less alarming than it sounds. “She was producing oil during the day, while her son was in school,” says Sarah Swain, Banda’s criminal defense attorney.

So far Banda has been unsuccessful at regaining custody of her son, who is living for the time being with her husband, from whom she is separated. “He is in state custody and has been since the beginning of the case,” Swain says. “He is placed [temporarily] with the father.” A family court judge ultimately will decide whether it is in the boy’s best interest to be reunited with his mother.

But as Swain notes, that process will be “moot” if “Shona goes to prison.” The charges against her, which Finney County Attorney Susan Richmeier announced on June 5, include two misdemeanors—endangering a child and possession of drug paraphernalia—and three felonies: unlawful manufacture of a controlled substance, possession of equipment used to manufacture a controlled substance, and distribution or possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance within 1,000 feet of school property. The distribution charge, a “drug severity level 1 felony,” carries the longest maximum sentence: 17 years. Swain says Kansas law allows sentences for different offenses to be imposed consecutively as long as the total term does not exceed twice the longest maximum, which means Banda could be sent to prison for as long as 34 years. Richmeier, apparently based on the assumption that any sentences would be served concurrently, says the maximum term Banda faces is 17 years.

It seems unlikely that Banda, who has no criminal record, would receive a sentence as long as 34 or even 17 years. But a substantial prison sentence is a real possibility given the charges she faces. “When your cure is illegal,” says a caption at the beginning of Banda’s 2010 video, “you are forced to make the choice to live free or die.” If Richmeier has her way, living free will no longer be an option for Banda.

June 19, 2015 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Spotlighting how US marijuana reform is already having a global impact

Download (2)This intriguing new Forbes article, headlined "Israel, Canada Want A Piece Of New York's Medical Marijuana," highlights a number of ways in which marijuana reform in the United States is already changing a number of notable global realities.  Here are excerpts: 

For years the United States worried about drugs crossing our borders from other countries, now it seems other countries are crossing our border to get into drugs. Namely – cannabis.  While most believe that the U.S. is conservative in its approach to marijuana, the recent push for legalization has suddenly thrust America’s marketplace into a cannabis leadership position.

The potential for the U.S. market is so big, that companies from other countries want in. Israel wants in on the action in New York.  Marijuana is illegal in the country, but in a twist, the country is a world leader on its research into the medical uses of marijuana. Tikun Olam, which means ‘healing the world’ in Hebrew, is the only large-scale industrial producer of cannabis in Israel and operates under a license from the Israel Ministry of Health.  Tikun Olam announced that it was partnering with Compassionate Care Center of New York and applying to be a Registered Organization under New York’s Compassionate Care Act....

MedReleaf, another Canadian manufacturer of medical-grade cannabis announced it entered into an exclusive partnership with New York State Compassionate Care Center of New York.  CCCNY has also applied for one of the five licenses to be awarded in New York State and while it hasn’t gotten any approvals, it has established a greenhouse in Newark, NY ready for immediate production.  MedReleaf operates a 55,000 square foot facility in Markham, Ontario and is one of the largest suppliers in the Canadian market.  Tikun Olam is also partnered with MedReleaf in Canada and grows some of Tikun’s proprietary strains.  Canada has been very progressive in setting up its medical marijuana program and the companies there want to expand....

The changes taking place in the US are also affecting Mexico, another long time black market partner.  Marijuana seizures at the border are half of what they were five years ago.  Mexican farmers are ripping up their cannabis plants and turning to subsidized tomatoes. Mexico decriminalized small amounts of pot, but hasn’t gone as far as the US in legalization.  The drug cartels are switching to more expensive products like heroin and luxury strains from Colorado are in demand in Mexico according to Bloomberg and creating a reverse in the trafficking.

The exchange goes both ways.  Jamaica may have an established black market business, but its looking to U.S. firms to become legitimate.  Jamaica only recently decriminalized marijuana, which is hard to believe that it wasn’t already legal.  Any tourist to the country was usually offered ganja on the shuttle bus from the airport to their hotel.  Jamaica, the biggest supplier of black market pot to the U.S., kept it illegal to make officials in this country happy.  With our laws easing up, they felt like they had the green light to acknowledge that marijuana shouldn’t be punished within its country. United Cannabis Corp based in Colorado has launched a partnership with Jamaican agencies for a marijuana research and development facility.  The Cannabinoid Research & Development Company is considering a headquarters in Kingston Jamaica for pharmaceutical research and with the goal to standardize strains.

As the domestic cannabis growers become more established, it isn’t inconceivable they too will want to take their knowledge and experience to other markets.  As the medical marijuana market matures, global partnerships will become more frequent blurring those old drug wars.

June 19, 2015 in Business laws and regulatory issues, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Huge new NIH-funded study concludes "passage of state medical marijuana laws does not increase adolescent use of marijuana"

Download (5)I am pleased to see that this huge new NIH-funded study on the impact of medical marijuana reforms on use of marijuana among young folks has just been released.  The research, conducted by multiple researchers, is published in The Lancet Psychiatry under the title "Medical marijuana laws and adolescent marijuana use in the USA from 1991 to 2014: results from annual, repeated cross-sectional surveys." Here is its summary:

Background Adolescent use of marijuana is associated with adverse later effects, so the identification of factors underlying adolescent use is of substantial public health importance. The relationship between US state laws that permit marijuana for medical purposes and adolescent marijuana use has been controversial. Such laws could convey a message about marijuana acceptability that increases its use soon after passage, even if implementation is delayed or the law narrowly restricts its use. We used 24 years of national data from the USA to examine the relationship between state medical marijuana laws and adolescent use of marijuana.

Methods Using a multistage, random-sampling design with replacement, the Monitoring the Future study conducts annual national surveys of 8th, 10th, and 12th-grade students (modal ages 13–14, 15–16, and 17–18 years, respectively), in around 400 schools per year. Students complete self-administered questionnaires that include questions on marijuana use. We analysed data from 1 098270 adolescents surveyed between 1991 and 2014. The primary outcome of this analysis was any marijuana use in the previous 30 days. We used multilevel regression modelling with adolescents nested within states to examine two questions. The first was whether marijuana use was higher overall in states that ever passed a medical marijuana law up to 2014. The second was whether the risk of marijuana use changed after passage of medical marijuana laws. Control covariates included individual, school, and state-level characteristics.

Findings Marijuana use was more prevalent in states that passed a medical marijuana law any time up to 2014 than in other states (adjusted prevalence 15·87% vs 13·27%; adjusted odds ratio [OR] 1·27, 95% CI 1·07–1·51; p=0·0057). However, the risk of marijuana use in states before passing medical marijuana laws did not differ significantly from the risk after medical marijuana laws were passed (adjusted prevalence 16·25% vs 15·45%; adjusted OR 0·92, 95% CI 0·82–1·04; p=0·185). Results were generally robust across sensitivity analyses, including redefining marijuana use as any use in the previous year or frequency of use, and reanalysing medical marijuana laws for delayed effects or for variation in provisions for dispensaries.

Interpretation Our findings, consistent with previous evidence, suggest that passage of state medical marijuana laws does not increase adolescent use of marijuana. However, overall, adolescent use is higher in states that ever passed such a law than in other states. State-level risk factors other than medical marijuana laws could contribute to both marijuana use and the passage of medical marijuana laws, and such factors warrant investigation.

June 16, 2015 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Supreme Court of Canada issues big medical marijuana ruling (and highlights import of judiciary in marijuana reform)

As reported in this local Canadian article, headlined "Medical marijuana includes cookies, brownies, Supreme Court rules," the top court in Canada issues a significant medical marijuana ruling last week. Here are the details:

A former cannabis club head baker at the centre of a Supreme Court of Canada ruling is both thrilled and relieved after the high court struck down limits on what constitutes legally acceptable medical marijuana products. The court ruled unanimously on Thursday that medical marijuana can be legally consumed in a range of ways, from cannabis-infused cookies and brownies to cooking oils and teas. “I think across the country there will be a lot more smiles and a lot less pain,” said Owen Smith with the Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club, whose 2009 arrest was the focus of the decision.

Smith was charged after police found hundreds of pot cookies and cannabis-infused olive and grapeseed oils in his Victoria apartment. He was acquitted at trial and won an appeal.

The outpouring of gratitude since the ruling was handed down has been overwhelming, Smith said. He received a phone call from a mother who used cannabis-infused oil to treat her daughter’s epilepsy. “She was just overjoyed and in tears about the decision,” he said. “It’s been emotional, that’s for sure.”

Not only was it a unanimous 7-0 ruling, but the court made a point of attributing the written decision to the entire court — something the justices do when they want to underline a finding.

It was yet another rebuke of the Harper government’s tough-on-crime agenda. Until now, federal regulations stipulated that authorized users of physician-prescribed cannabis could only consume dried marijuana.

But limiting medical consumption to dried pot infringes on liberty protections under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the court said. “The prohibition of non-dried forms of medical marijuana limits liberty and security of the person in a manner that is arbitrary and hence is not in accord with the principles of fundamental justice,” said the written judgment.

Cheryl Rose, whose daughter Hayley takes cannabis for a severe form of epilepsy, said the 22-year-old’s seizures have dropped dramatically. Under the previous law, Hayley had to take 15 capsules of dried cannabis daily. Now, she will only have to take one concentrated capsule made with oil. “Without having extracts available for her, I don’t think we’d be able to keep it up. It’s way too much for a person to consume,” she said. “She’s finally going to fully have her life back.”

Alex Repetski, of Thornhill, Ont., could have been charged with possession and trafficking for converting dried bud into oil for his 3-year-old daughter, Gwenevere, whose debilitating epilepsy has left her developmentally delayed. Since starting on the low-THC marijuana, Gwenevere has seen an incredible recovery, Repetski said. He no longer fears prosecution.

Limiting medical marijuana use to dried pot “limits life, liberty and security of the person” in two ways, the court said. First, the prohibition on possession of cannabis in forms other than dried pot places a person at risk of imprisonment when they wouldn’t face the same threat if they possessed dried marijuana buds. It also exposes people with a legitimate need for marijuana to other potential medical ailments, it stated. “It subjects the person to the risk of cancer and bronchial infections associated with smoking dry marijuana and precludes the possibility of choosing a more effective treatment.”...

Health Minister Rona Ambrose said she was “outraged” by the marijuana decision. “The big issue here is the message about normalization,” she said. “The message that judges, not medical experts, judges have decided something is a medicine.” Ambrose noted that marijuana has never faced a regulatory approval process through Heath Canada.

The full 24-page ruling in R. v. Smith, 2015 SCC 34 (Canada June 11, 2015) is available at this link.

As the last line of my post headline emphasizes, I think this ruling highlights the importance and impact of how a judiciary responds to a jurisdiction's marijuana reform efforts. For any jurisdiction that reforms blanket marijuana prohibition in any ways, the dynamics of just how courts interpret and apply reform statutes and regulations will necessarily have an impact on the actions of other government officials and individuals seeking to comply with reformed laws and practices.

June 14, 2015 in Court Rulings, Criminal justice developments and reforms, International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Seeking questions from readers to ask during "Ohio Marijuana Policy Reform Symposium"

As regular readers know, the exciting  Ohio Marijuana Policy Reform Symposium (details and registration here) is taking place tomorrow June 11, 2015, at the The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.  Though I hope everyone interested in marijuana reform in the Buckeye State is making plans to attend the event in person, I know there are plenty of folks interested in marijuana reform who will not be able to attend the live event.  Consequently, I wanted to use this space to solicit question from those unable to make the Symposium concerning what issues and topics they would like to have covered.  

I am pretty sure the full event will be available via podcast before the end of the day tomorrow, so anyone who suggests good questions in the comments or via e-mail (to sentencinglaw @ gmail.com)  will be able to hear the answers.   Though I am a panelist on the afternoon "academics" panel, I will be moderating the morning panel of the  Symposium, which starts with The Marijuana Policies of Ohio Taskforce, chaired by Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters, presenting the findings of its comprehensive research report titled "Marijuana & Ohio: Past, Present, Potential."  There will be an audience Q&A session after the Taskforce presentation, but I would work in as a moderator any especially good questions received from this solicitation.

As I have mentioned before, mportantly, there is no charge for attending this exciting Symposium at Ohio State tomorrow, but space in the auditorium can get limited so I highly encourage everyone interested in attending to pre-register via this webpage.

June 10, 2015 in Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

"Mom who uses medical marijuana faces up to 30 years in prison"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new Washington Post piece.  Here are excerpts:

With a wave of legalization measures in recent years, marijuana in some form is now legal in 38 states.  But in the 12 where it is not — a swath of the west and Midwest, including Kansas, Nebraska and the Dakotas, and in the rust belt states of Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania — parents whose use of the drug would be legal elsewhere are losing their children and often seen as irresponsible parenting pariahs.

In March, Child Protective Service workers took Shona Banda’s 11-year-old son from her home in Garden City, Kansas, saying her use of marijuana to control debilitating Crohn’s Disease put the child in danger.

Last Friday, the state of Kansas charged Banda with five felony counts of possession of marijuana with the intent to distribute, manufacturing Tetrahydrocannabinol, an oil extracted from marijuana, two counts of possession of drug paraphernalia and one count of child endangerment.  Banda, who will turn herself in to authorities June 15, according to her attorney, could face a maximum of 30 years in prison.

On the day she was charged, June 5, the Louisiana state legislature sent a bill to legalize medical marijuana to Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal, who’d indicated he’d sign it, and the Detroit Free Press reported that establishment Republicans are backing a recreational marijuana bill for 2016.  It was also the day Amber Thurmond, of Arizona, appeared in family court in Hays, Kansas and was told by a judge that if she ever wanted to be reunited with her nine-year-old daughter, Thurmond would have to move to Kansas.

Thurmond lives in Arizona, where medical marijuana is legal, uses medical marijuana to control seizures and works at a medical marijuana dispensary.  She’s facing charges of physical, mental and emotional neglect in Kansas, where she sent her daughter to live with her brother, a police officer, for a semester, she said, while she got on her feet financially.  Eighteen months later, her daughter has been put in the state foster care system and placed with her brother.

“These mothers are being forced to choose between their health and their ability to be a parent,” said Sarah Swain, a Kansas attorney who is representing both Banda and Thurmond.  “And there really is no choice to be made. We can’t be mothers if we’re so sick that we’re bedridden, or if we aren’t alive.”

Thurmond was featured on the National Geographic TV series, “American Weed,” which followed the story of the town of Castle Rock, Colorado voting to close down her medical marijuana dispensary, Plants4Life. “I want to tell everyone I see, ‘you have children? Well, you better reconsider your usage,’” Thurmond said. “And yet, we can go home and drink ourselves to death and never have children removed from our homes.”

Charlene Brubaker, the county attorney involved in Thurmond’s case, said the judge found that her daughter had special needs that could only be met with Thurmond’s frequent presence with the child in Kansas.  “The court did not make its decision based on medical marijuana. It’s just their spin, not the truth,” Brubaker said, though she said she could not say more for confidentiality reasons.

Chuck Noerenberg, president of the National Alliance for Drug Endangered Children, a group that works with law enforcement and social services, say they’re intensely watching how legalizing marijuana is affecting caregivers’ ability to provide proper care to children. “Whether it’s a legal or illegal substance, if it has an impact on caregivers’ ability to take care of children, that’s a concern of ours,” he said.

Banda, who has become an outspoken advocate for medical marijuana, had 17 surgeries, tried a number of medications and was prescribed the powerful narcotic, fentanyl, to “ease her passing,” she said, because her doctors thought she was going to die. Then she tried marijuana, and began to heal, a journey she chronicles in her book, Live Free or Die, and on her Facebook page. “I spent years raising my children from a couch, not being able to move much,” Banda said, who also has an 18-year-old son. “I wasn’t able to be a proper mother when I was sick. And now I’m a fantastic mother.”

Twice Banda tried to move to Colorado, where marijuana is legal, she said, but was forced to move back to Kansas near family for financial reasons. Banda is separated from her husband, who now has custody of their 11-year-old son. The child was in a drug education class at school March 24, and spoke up about his mother’s medical marijuana use. School officials called the police and Child Protective Services. A search of the house found marijuana and drug paraphernalia on the kitchen counters.

Banda has seen the child just once since March 24, she said. Nor has she used cannabis, advocates’ preferred term for marijuana. She’s begun losing weight and an infection that rotted the roof of her mouth has returned. “I’m very afraid,” she said. “I cannot believe that I could be facing 30 years in prison for trying to save my life.”

June 9, 2015 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Marijuana & Ohio: Past, Present, Potential"

Download (12)The title of this post is the title of the fascinating Taskforce report that is to be formally released and extensively discussed at this Thursday, June 11, as the Ohio Marijuana Policy Reform Symposium (details and registration here).  Because I am going to be critically assessing this report at the Symposium, I have gotten to see an advance draft of the long and detailed report which is described as a "research-based public policy review and discussion."  Because the report is filled with lots and lots of information, I likely will be reading and re-reading the draft nearly non-stop before I talk about the report in a few days.

The draft report, which is even longer and more data-heavy than I had expected, confirms my belief that this Taskforce report will greatly advancw public information and understanding as the debate over marijuana reform heats up in Ohio and nationwide in the months ahead.  Indeed, a letter from the Chair of the Marijuana Policies of Ohio Task Force, Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters, stresses this point at the front of the document:

The question of changing Ohio’s approach to marijuana policy may soon be put before voters – most likely on the November 2015 ballot. The rapid pace of change in marijuana policy across the country, however, has made it difficult to keep up with the experiences, research, and practices occurring in different states. Political arguments from all sides of this debate have made it even more challenging to separate fact from opinion.

As a county prosecutor, I have seen firsthand how ineffective, inefficient, and sometimes harmful, our current marijuana laws are, but I know that voters need more than my perspective – or that of any elected official – to make their decision. Ohio cannot afford to make decisions about marijuana policy and law based on unsubstantiated and often unsupported talk on both sides of the issue. Ohioans need and deserve an honest and in-depth assessment of the positive and negative impacts that ending marijuana prohibition may have, so they can make up their own minds.

It is this need for an honest, fact-based appraisal that led me to chair this Taskforce....

[T]his report does not endorse any issue or side, and it does not recommend Ohioans vote one way or another. Instead, it provides a straightforward collection and analysis of current research, data, and best practices from around the country.

I believe this report will give Ohioans the clear information they need to make informed decisions, in November and thereafter, about potential changes to Ohio’s marijuana policies and laws. I look forward to continuing this important discussion throughout Ohio in the coming weeks and months.

I am very excited to help lead a discussion of this report at the Moritz College of Law later this week. Importantly, there is no charge for attending the Symposium on June 11, but space in the auditorium can get limited so I highly encourage everyone interested in attending to pre-register via this webpage.

June 9, 2015 in Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, June 5, 2015

"Growing Hope: The Fight for Medical Marijuana for Epileptic Kids"

Download (11)The title of this post is the headline of this NBC News segment that serves as a partial preview for this Datelline program this Sunday which is previewed this way:

Over a six month period, NBC News correspondent Harry Smith reports on the potential lifesaving benefits of medicinal marijuana and the emotional journey three Virginia families must take to help their children who suffer from life threatening seizures.

And here are highlights from the NBC News piece:

Joel Stanley, a medicinal marijuana grower[,] and his five brothers grow medicinal marijuana in Colorado, where it is legal.  Together, Paige and Joel [Figgi] made an oil from a cannabis plant that Stanley says is low in THC — the compound that gets someone high — and high in CBD, the compound some believe helps treat the seizures. Charlotte had been having 300 seizures a week. Paige says they stopped when she gave her daughter the CBD oil.  To this day, all Charlotte (or "Charlie," as her family calls her) takes is two doses a day of the oil.

The Stanley brothers have now built a lab and are making the CBD oil on a large scale in Colorado.  They call the CBD oil "Charlotte's Web," named for its first user.  The Stanley brothers maintain their plant is not actually cannabis, but rather hemp.  A botanist would tell you the plants are the same, but the federal government said in the Federal Farm Bill of 2014 that a plant with less than .3% THC is hemp.  

The Stanleys insist that what they are doing is legal in Colorado, and even on the federal level, because they say they are making a hemp supplement.  Several federal agencies, including the DEA and the FDA, maintain that marijuana and hemp for consumption are still illegal on the federal level.

Because of stories like Charlotte's, people with profoundly ill children, mostly with these extreme cases of epilepsy, have flocked to Colorado for treatments. In many ways, Colorado has become something of a "new Lourdes" for people looking for a "miracle."  The Stanley brothers helped to form Realm of Caring, an organization that assists people who move to Colorado and provides support services and resources for those using Cannabinoid products....

 As striking as [many] stories are [about the benefits of CBD oils], they remain anecdotal stories.  The safety and effectiveness of these oils has not been established by clinical research in this country, according to doctors.  Some researchers say that's largely because marijuana in all forms remains illegal at the federal level, making it difficult for scientists to obtain the plant for clinical trials.

One scientist who is intrigued by the potential of marijuana treatments is Dr. Amy Brooks-Kayal, a neurologist specializing in epilepsy in Denver, who is also the president of the American Epilepsy Society. She urges caution, saying there just isn't enough known about these oils to say they are safe or how they may ultimately affect patients. "There's no question that based on the science, there is potential there for a component of marijuana and possibly Cannabidiol to be an effective treatment, but we don't know that yet, and most importantly we don't know the potential side effects. We don't want to make their seizures better and make their lives worse."  Dr. Brooks-Kayal welcomes more research on medical marijuana....

Dr. Brooks-Kayal, and the organization she heads, do support changing federal laws to make research on marijuana easier. Other experts Harry Smith spoke to believe there is potential to alleviate other neurodegenerative conditions with cannabis-based treatments .

June 5, 2015 in Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Could the new medicial marijuana law in Texas really send doctors to jail?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this notable new Dallas Observer article headlined "Texas' New Medical Marijuaan Law Could Send Doctors to Jail." Here is what it says:

Monday, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed a law that is intended to make cannabis-based oils with low levels of THC legally available to people who suffer from intractable epilepsy.The problem is, no one is likely to be able to get it.  State Senator Kevin Eltife announced the plan to legalize CBD oil in January.  He was careful to emphasize that patients would not be able to get high from the oil, because THC content would be limited to 5 percent.  

Marijuana advocates and potential patients criticized the law, saying it failed to account for the benefits of whole-plant marijuana therapy and interfered with patients' and doctors' ability to seek out the best treatment available for epilepsy or other conditions.  "I'm glad the we're talking about medical marijuana with some actual sincerity now in Texas, because this entire state is just tragically behind the rest of the country," Shaun McAlister, the president of DFW NORML said. "On the other hand, I'm really nervous about a CBD-only push because, for one thing, CBD-only legislation represents a really shallow understanding of what cannabis actually is and what it can do."

Still, Eltife's bill snaked its way successfully through the Legislature, despite the objections and language that requires doctors to "prescribe" the oil to their patients. Unfortunately a doctor cannot prescribe what the federal government considers a Schedule I substance without a DEA license, and CBD is a Schedule I substance.  In other states, the “prescription” is referred to as a “recommendation” so that doctors can legally suggest that patients use it, says Amanda Reiman, the manager of Marijuana Law and Policy at the Drug Policy Alliance says.

Tamar Todd, the Drug Policy Alliance's Director of Marijuana Law and Policy, compared the Texas law to a 1996 Arizona law that did not lead to a single patient getting CBD oil. Arizona passed comprehensive medical marijuana legislation in 2010. Texas marijuana reform advocates are hoping for a similar evolution in the Lone Star State.

The headline of this article (and of my post) fails to deal with the reality that even if a legitimate doctor in Texas (or anywhere else) really did actually make an effort to "prescribe" marijuana to a patient under any circumstances, it is hard to believe any federal prosecutor would pursue a prosecution based on that prescription. So, the answer to the question in the title of this post is "No." But the more important point that this article is intended to highlight is that the new medical marijuana reform in the Lone Star State is not really a significant reform based on both its structure and its semantics.

June 2, 2015 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, June 1, 2015

Former federal prosecutor: "Legal Marijuana Dealers -- And The Government -- Need Bankers And Lawyers"

The title of this post is drawn from the headline of this notable new Forbes commentary by Matthew L. Schwartz, who for a decade served as a federal prosecutor and is now partner at Boies, Schiller & Flexner.  Here are excerpts from an important piece:

It is not unusual for legal marijuana businesses to become entangled in government investigations. Although it wasn’t my focus, as a former federal prosecutor I sometimes investigated unlawful drug trafficking organizations.  Following the drugs and money back to their source increasingly led to marijuana businesses in states that had legalized it.

In many cases, the “legal” marijuana business was knowingly involved in the unlawful distribution.  But on more than one occasion, legitimate marijuana businesses were victims of circumstance.  In one case, for example, a licensed grower in California had a handful of workers who were diverting a portion of the crop to a criminal organization.  In another case, a dispensary in Colorado was purchasing unlawfully-produced marijuana.  In both cases, the guilty were arrested and the innocent business owners were not, but the businesses were adversely affected – each was the subject of a government investigation, its premises were searched by law enforcement agents, and its bank accounts and property were subject to seizure....  Companies without stringent compliance programs are particularly at risk.

As a result, virtually every bank of any size has decided not to do business with legal marijuana companies, concluding that the so-called “regulatory risk” outweighs the benefits of doing business with them....  Major law firms, ever risk-averse, have also decided not to advise marijuana companies... [because] most major law firms have decided that the risk that they will be deemed an aider and abettor of criminal activity makes advising marijuana businesses untenable....

The lack of access to banks and lawyers is a problem not only for legal marijuana businesses, but for regulators and law enforcement, as well.   Though marijuana remains a controlled substance, legalized marijuana is a reality in many states – and arguably an inevitability, even at the federal level – and it is in the government’s interest for companies in that market to have robust compliance programs.  Likewise, the government has no desire for marijuana businesses to be conducted in cash: the use of cash makes it significantly harder for the government to trace the proceeds of the marijuana businesses, not to mention the fact that businesses that deal in large volumes of cash present opportunities for robbery and other crimes of violence.  But for marijuana money to be both traceable within the legitimate financial system and subject to stringent compliance programs – both within the marijuana businesses and at the institutions that handle their money – means having access to banks and lawyers....

Until marijuana businesses have regular access to the financial system and can turn to a broad array of sophisticated lawyers for counsel, they will remain half-way in the shadows. This is by no means an argument for legalizing marijuana; it doesn’t have to be legal for marijuana businesses to have access to professional services.  Last month, the Marijuana Business Access to Banking Act was introduced in the House of Representatives; among other things, it would prohibit banking regulators or criminal prosecutors from investigating or penalizing a financial institution for “providing financial services to a marijuana-related legitimate business.” Congress could easily pass similar protections for lawyers. Doing so would recognize a basic proposition: when a bank or a lawyer provides services to a legal marijuana business, it is not helping that business to break the law. To the contrary, lawyers and banks – especially sophisticated and responsible ones – help businesses to comply with the law. That helps the marijuana business and government alike.

June 1, 2015 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 28, 2015

SAM releases new report "Researching Marijuana’s Medical Potential Responsibly: A Six Point Plan"

Download (2)The leading public policy group actively opposing modern marijuana reform movements, Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), has today released this new report titled ""Researching Marijuana’s Medical Potential Responsibly: A Six Point Plan."  This SAM webpage provides this helpful summary of what the report says:

Given the increasing interest and demand for research into marijuana’s therapeutic potential, Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), a nonpartisan alliance of lawmakers, scientists and other concerned citizens opposed to marijuana legalization, today released a new report, Researching Marijuana’s Medical Potential Responsibly: A Six Point Plan, and called for a series of recommendations. Specifically, the six-point plan recommends that the federal government:

(1) Allow multiple licenses to grow marijuana for research purposes, beyond the sole contractor that works with NIDA;

(2) Waive DEA registration requirements for handling CBD;

(3) Eliminate the Public Health Service (PHS) review for marijuana research applications;

(4) Establish compassionate research programs for the seriously ill;

(5) Begin federal-state partnerships to allow a pure CBD product to be dispensed/explored by board-certified neurologists and/or epileptologists to appropriate patients under a research program;

(6) Shut down rogue “medical marijuana” companies that do not play by the rules

“These recommendations can be enacted relatively easily by HHS and DOJ. Congress could also help prod them along,” remarked Dr. Stuart Gitlow, the Immediate Past President of the American Society of Addiction Medicine and Vice-Chair of SAM. “It’s time we do the research and, importantly, separate the medical issue from the legalization issue.”

In recent years, numerous companies have profited off of “compassion” without having to play by the rules, the report says. These recommendations would allow real research to move forward while halting rogue companies.

“For too long, simplistic and dangerous recommendations such as marijuana legalization or even rescheduling have been presented as the only ways to do legitimate research on marijuana’s therapeutic potential,” remarked SAM President Kevin A. Sabet, a former White House drug policy advisor. “But there are so many things the government could do to offer the seriously ill experimental medications while not endangering public health through legalization. This report shows them how.”

Intriguingly, the report does not call for the rescheduling of marijuana off Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act though it does call for waivers and others actions to facilitate medical research.

May 28, 2015 in Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

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 (1)

"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)