Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

A Member of the Law Professor Blogs Network

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Examining pot's potential for treatment of veterans' PTSD problems

This recent lengthy article about marijuana research struck me as especially worth highlighting as we close out a weekend of patriotic celebrations.  The piece is headlined "PTSD And Cannabis -- Can Researchers Cut Through The Politics To Find Out Whether Weed Works?" and here are excerpts:

After steadily accumulating anecdotes about how veterans use cannabis to treat their war wounds that understanding might finally be on the way.  Following years of bureaucratic hurdles, the first Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved, randomized controlled trial on cannabis and PTSD is set to begin this summer.  Many believe the study will spur increased acceptance of veterans using marijuana, a political shift that’s already led more and more states to add PTSD to their lists of conditions that qualify for medical marijuana.

But that key study still faces roadblocks, the latest being a VA hospital’s refusal to let one of the trial’s researchers recruit patients at its facility.  It’s just one more example of the political and scientific obstacles that remain before cannabis is embraced as a viable option for soldiers.  While the idea of veterans becoming medical marijuana patients has proven to be a powerful political leveraging tool, the concept gives some people pause.  Amid reports of skyrocketing substance abuse among veterans, overworked VA doctors and increasingly potent marijuana offerings, some worry that exposing the nation’s wounded warriors to cannabis might in some instances do more harm than good -- and in extreme cases, lead to even more violence and tragedy.

More than for any other potential medical use for marijuana, the clock is ticking to nail down the science behind cannabis and PTSD.  According to a 2014 report by the RAND Corporation’s Center for Military Health Policy Research, approximately 300,000 of the 1.64 million service members who deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan as of October 2007 were suffering from PTSD or major depression.  Only about half of that number had sought treatment in the previous year, and of those who did, just over half received a "minimally adequate treatment."  And with hundreds, if not thousands, of these struggling veterans killing themselves each year, advocates argue that if marijuana can help reduce the death toll there’s not a minute to lose....

But while veterans helped jumpstart recognition of cannabis’ potential medical benefits, many of them have limited access to medical marijuana themselves.  Because cannabis is still illegal under federal law, federal employees such as VA doctors can’t recommend the substance as treatment....

In some cases, veterans say their VA physicians wouldn’t just avoid talking about medical marijuana, but actively penalized them for using it.  Jack Stiegelman, founder of the Florida-based organization Vets For Cannabis, says a 2004 deployment in Afghanistan left him with a serious back injury for which he was prescribed daunting amounts of morphine and muscle relaxants.  There was also the PTSD that led him to wake up screaming in the middle of the night, threatening his squad leader with physical violence. “I said I was going to put my foot through his teeth,” says Stiegelman. “I felt it was their fault for not taking care of me.”...

VA spokeswoman Ndidi Mojay notes that federal law prohibits VA physicians from prescribing medical marijuana and from completing forms and paperwork necessary for patients to enroll in state marijuana programs.  However, “VA does not administratively prohibit VA services to those veterans who participate in state marijuana programs," she says.  "In some cases, participation in state marijuana programs may be inconsistent with treatment goals and therefore VA clinicians may modify treatment plans for the health of the patient.”

A major stumbling block is that there’s still little scientific research related to marijuana’s medical benefits, particularly when it comes to one of the signature injuries of modern veterans: PTSD.  Arguments for using cannabis to treat PTSD got a boost last year when New Mexico psychiatrist George Greer published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs the results of a chart review of 80 veterans he worked with who had PTSD and used marijuana.  He found that on average, patients using cannabis reported a 75 percent reduction in several of the main symptoms of PTSD, including hyperarousal and re-experiencing traumatic episodes. “This is a watershed,” says Greer. “You think of people being stoned on marijuana, you don’t think of them being more functional. It has to be a historical thing for marijuana to be found at least in anecdotal reports to be helpful for people for psychiatric conditions.”

But like all existing research on cannabis and PTSD, Greer’s study was based on anecdotal evidence, not the gold standard of scientific research: a randomized clinical trial. “We are at the point where self-report data is overwhelming and generally positive regarding medical marijuana and PTSD,” says Mitch Earleywine, a professor at SUNY Albany and chair of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML)’s board of directors. “Unfortunately, there has never been a randomized clinical trial or anything like that.”...

Political momentum for linking PTSD and medical marijuana is growing. Of the 23 states that now allow for medical marijuana, nine include PTSD as a qualifying condition for the drug, and in three others doctors have broad discretion to recommend medical cannabis for PTSD or other ailments. In 2010, the VA published a directive stating veterans shouldn’t be punished for using medical marijuana in those states that allow it, but reiterated that its doctors can’t help veterans obtain the treatment. Now, even that restriction could be lifted. In May, a Senate committee passed a bipartisan amendment to a military spending bill that would allow VA doctors to recommend and fill out paperwork for medical marijuana in states where it’s legal; the final bill will be negotiated later this year.

But in many jurisdictions, PTSD and marijuana remains a political sticking point. In Colorado, which has some of the most liberal cannabis laws in the world, PTSD still doesn’t count as a qualifying condition for obtaining medical marijuana. And while PTSD is the No. 1 reason for which people obtain medical marijuana cards in New Mexico, there have been multiple initiatives to remove it from the state’s list of qualifying conditions.

Part of the problem is that PTSD is unique among medical marijuana conditions, since it is a psychiatric disorder, not a physical ailment. “One of the issues with PTSD with medical marijuana is it is the first mental condition to be considered,” says John Evans, founder of the organization Vets 4 Freedoms. He helped add PTSD to Michigan’s list of medical marijuana-approved conditions in 2014 and petitioned to add the condition to Colorado’s list earlier this year. The Colorado Board of Health will hold a hearing on the issue on July 15. “It bothers a lot of people in the psychiatric community and the prescription-drug world,” says Evans.

“It’s a catch-22,” says Dan Riffle, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project. “People want to have hard data on how medical marijuana works for PTSD. But you can’t say that and then actively block the research. And that’s what’s happening on a federal level.”

July 5, 2015 in Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

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 (1)

Thursday, June 25, 2015

"Senators push for more research on medical benefits of marijuana"

Download

The title of this post is the headline of this effective media report on some of the themes and highlights of this notable Senate hearing which took place yesterday.  Here are excerpts: 

Members of the Senate are attempting to finish off where the White House started earlier this week, by calling for the removal of additional barriers still in place that they believe are limiting scientific study on the effects of marijuana.

At a hearing of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control Wednesday, members challenged representatives from the Drug Enforcement Agency, Federal Drug Administration and the National Institute on Drug Abuse on the current process for approving marijuana studies. "I understand the desire for caution. We're Congress, we act slowly. But these are people who need the help, for who a five- to 10-month delay is a death sentence," said Sen. Orin Hatch, R-Utah.

The hearing specifically looked at the effects of cannabidiol, a derivative of marijuana, on patients. Many members and witnesses spoke of anecdotal evidence that the drug helped children with chronic epilepsy when nothing else would. However, large-scale studies on the link have been rare, largely in part of heavily controlled federal government approval of marijuana research.

The hearing came on the heels of White House action earlier this week that removed a key government hurdle blocking many scientific marijuana studies from moving forward. The White House action means scientists will no longer have to submit research proposals to the Public Health Service Review (PHS) at the Department of Health and Human Services to get a green light for marijuana research.

But while the move, which was announced Monday, signals a shift in federal policy, many caution that there remain significant barriers to studying the drug’s positive medical effects on humans. Marijuana advocates point out that the PHS was only one of three major hurdles limiting research. The other two -- the fact that researchers can only use marijuana from a single government-owned dispensary at the University of Mississippi and classifying marijuana as a Schedule I drug -- endure.

Senators Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY, and Corey Booker, D-NJ, are two key members of Congress who are fighting for more studies on the effects of the drug. Earlier this year they introduced a bill, along with Sen. Rand Paul, R-KY, that in addition to getting rid of the now-defunct PHS review, would downgrade marijuana from a Schedule I drug, up there with heroin, to a Schedule II, in the line with opiates.

Both senators were guests at the caucus hearing and took no time to challenge witnesses from the various government agencies present. A fiery Gillibrand challenged NIDA and the National Institute for Health's strict control of cannabidiol. NIDA representatives said one drug company had a patent on cannabidiol. Many fear this control over the drug will limit future research options. Gillibrand shot back saying, "Let's be clear, we have to change the laws to remove the impediments so that we have research across the country."

Whether it be cannibidiol or marijuana in general, supporters say much still needs to be done to study the drug and get it available on markets where medical marijuana is legal. “Arguably the largest hurdle in this process still remains in place,” Paul Armentano, deputy director at the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws said. “That is that government policy … mandates that all clinical protocols must utilize government grown cannabis provided by NIDA.”...

While attitudes may be changing, led by President Obama himself, and including DEA efforts to expand the availability of marijuana for studies, progress remains slow. As a result, many members of Congress are getting in on efforts to streamline the regulatory process in hopes that it may make the drug available to those who need it.

Just last May, Reps. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., Morgan Griffith, R-Va., Jane Schakowsky, D-Ill., and Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., wrote a letter to the Secretary of HHS asking her to remove the PHS barrier. In a statement Monday, Blumenauer called the White House’s decision “a significant step toward improving an antiquated system that unfairly targets marijuana above and beyond other substances in research.” He said, however, there still remains a lot to be done and said he’s working on legislation to address the remaining blockades.

While more and more lawmakers’ acceptance of marijuana’s role in medicine might be a welcome surprise, some marijuana supporters are skeptical that additional marijuana studies will significantly change federal policy. “Ample scientific research already exists to contradict cannabis’ federal Schedule I status -- as a substance without medical utility, lacking acceptable safety, and possessing a high potential of abuse,” Armentano said. “More research is welcome, but unfortunately science has never driven marijuana policy. If it did, we would already have a very different policy in place.”

June 25, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

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)

"How Much Does Marijuana Impact Your Driving?"

The question in the title of this post is the headline of this new Time article, which includes these excerpts:

The exact impact of marijuana on driving ability is a controversial subject—and it’s become more important states continue to loosen their drug laws. And, while drunk driving is on the decline in the U.S., driving after having smoked or otherwise consumer marijuana has become more common. According to the most recent national roadside survey from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration of weekend nighttime drivers, 8.3 percent had some alcohol in their system and 12.6 percent tested positive for THC—up from 8.6 percent in 2007....

[In a recent federal study], researchers looked at 250 parameters of driving ability, but this paper focused on three in particular: weaving within the lane, the number of times the car left the lane, and the speed of the weaving. While alcohol had an effect on the number of times the car left the lane and the speed of the weaving, marijuana did not. Marijuana did show an increase in weaving. Drivers with blood concentrations of 13.1 ug/L THC, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, showed increase weaving that was similar to those with a .08 breath alcohol concentration, the legal limit in most states. For reference, 13.1 ug/L THC is more than twice the 5 ug/L numeric limit in Washington and Colorado....

The study also found that pot and alcohol have more of an impact on driving when used together. Drivers who used both weaved within lanes, even if their blood THC and alcohol concentrations were below the threshold for impairment taken on their own.... Smoking pot while drinking a little alcohol also increased THC’s absorption, making the high more intense. Similarly, THC delayed the peak of alcohol impairment, meaning that it tended to take longer for someone using both to feel drunk. Such data is important to educate the public about pot’s effects before they get on the road.

“I think this has added really good knowledge from a well-designed study to add to the current debate,” on marijuana’s effects on road safety, says Dr. Marilyn Huestis, the principal investigator in the study, which was conducted by researchers at the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

June 23, 2015 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Food and Drink, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | 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)

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

"Concern Grows Over Unregulated Pesticide Use Among Marijuana Growers"

The title of this post is the headline of this intriguing NPR piece, which somewhat reinforces my belief that the modern marijuana reform movement is going to have to work through a number of notable environmental issues in the years ahead. Here are excerpts:

The marijuana industry has a pesticide problem. Many commercial cannabis growers use chemicals to control bugs and mold. But the plant's legal status is unresolved....

As any farmer will likely say, damage to the crop equals damage to the bottom line. [Colorado grow ownwer Nick] Dice's employees used to spray the crop with mild chemicals. They would switch between multiple pesticides and mildew treatments, treating anywhere from every three to four days. Dice says he's seen other operations crumble as their cannabis succumbs to mildew or bugs. Pest controls ensure a good yield. And when it comes to cannabis, yields really matter.

Dice estimates the grow room is worth as much as $180,000. Protecting that yield is hard work. That's why many growers in states that have legalized recreational or medical marijuana use chemicals. But it's the federal government that tells farmers which pesticides are safe to use. And so far, the feds wants nothing to do with legalized marijuana. Colorado State University entomologist Whitney Cranshaw says that's left growers to experiment with little oversight. "In the absence of any direction the subject of pesticide use on the crop has just devolved to just whatever people think is working or they think is appropriate," he says.

Tobacco farmers, for example, have a stable of pesticides the government says are safe to use. But Cranshaw says marijuana growers have none. "Sometimes they've used some things that are inappropriate, sometimes unsafe," he says.

Brett Eaton is a plant expert with American Cannabis Company, a Denver-based consulting group. He's concerned about what the pesticides are doing to the product as well as the consumer. "Anybody can get their hands on harmful chemicals, and they can just spray away all the way up until the last day of harvest," he says.

Safety concerns led Denver officials to place a hold on tens of thousands of marijuana plants earlier this year, pending an investigation. Colorado doesn't require growers to test the crop for traces of pesticides before being sold. But state agriculture officials did recently release a list of pesticides deemed appropriate for use on cannabis. Washington state, Nevada and Illinois have similar lists. Eaton says regulators are only playing catch up. "Other agricultural industries already have policy in place for the safe use of spraying certain pesticides and fungicides," he says. "This being a new industry, it hasn't been addressed yet."

And with more states turning marijuana into a legal commodity crop, it'll take a mix of policy, science and industry self-regulation to figure out what's appropriate, and what's not.

June 17, 2015 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | 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)

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Nevada as interesting marijuana reform state to watch now and through 2016

Even since California legalized medical marijuana nearly 20 years ago, and especially since Arizona, Oregon and Washington moved forward with various significant marijuana reforms, the far west has been the US region to watch most closely for those interested in both the legal and practical dynamics of marijuana reform.  And now, as this Las Vegas Sun article highlights,  Nevada seems finally poised to join its western neighbors as a state to watch closely in this dynamic arena.  The article is headlined "New rules aim to stimulate Nevada’s nascent medical marijuana market," and here are excerpts: 

It's been two years since the Legislature approved a new law establishing a system of dispensaries and growing facilities to make medical marijuana more accessible to patients, but so far not a single bud has been sold.

That could change in the coming weeks with the planned opening of the Euphoria Wellness dispensary in Las Vegas, but there's no denying there have been growing pains as the industry struggles to launch.

Many of the issues stem from unintended consequences arising from the way the 2013 law was written, and Sen. Tick Segerblom, a leading marijuana advocate, made it a priority during the recently ended legislative session to fix as many problems as possible. "When you grow (an industry) from scratch, there's all kinds of issues you never thought about," Segerblom said. "Basically all these things we're dealing with are things we've learned over the last two years."...

Senate Bill 276 is intended to give medical marijuana entrepreneurs more flexibility with their businesses, allowing investors to sell or transfer their interest in a dispensary, lab, production or growing facility to another party, something that wasn't allowed under the previous law. The change will allow medical marijuana businesses to bring on new investors to raise capital or to cash out shareholders who no longer wish to be in the medical marijuana business. The law also allows marijuana establishments to change locations, so long as they stay in the same jurisdiction for which they're licensed and receive local government approval.

A different bill, Senate Bill 447, made various tweaks to criminal statutes surrounding marijuana and medical marijuana that deal with things like counterfeit patient registration cards and the production of cannabis concentrates. The bill also deals with noncriminal matters, most importantly allowing the use of certain pesticides in cannabis growing operations, something that's common in states like Colorado and California but wasn't allowed in Nevada.

Assembly Bill 70 also started out with a narrow focus — this time dealing with taxes on medical marijuana — but was expanded to help out businesses by allowing third party vendors to be used in operations. Previously, any nonpatient stepping foot into a dispensary or growing facility had to be an employee or volunteer of the establishment and register with the state. The new law will allow third party contractors to be hired by multiple businesses at a time, so long as the contractor is registered with the state....

The goal, Segerblom said, is to get the businesses up and running in advance of the 2016 election, when Nevada voters will decide whether to legalize recreational marijuana in the state. "We want the voters to see what it's like," he said, "so we need to get these things out there so folks can see these are not bad operations."

With states like Colorado and Washington already bringing in hundreds of millions of dollars through their recently launched recreational marijuana markets, Segerblom said expanding access in Nevada would be a major revenue generator for the state. "We are perfectly situated to take advantage of this for all kinds of reasons. For us not to have marijuana tourism when Colorado and Washington have it just makes no sense," he said. "The reality is they're already (smoking) it, we're just not getting any tax revenue."

June 11, 2015 in Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

"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)

Monday, June 1, 2015

Mark your calendar (and plan to attend) the "Ohio Marijuana Policy Reform Symposium" on June 11

I am pleased to be able to play a role in putting together what should be an informative and exciting event next week at my own Moritz College of Law.  Specifically, as briefly described on this registration page, here is what on the slate for next Thursday, June 11, 2015, on the campus of The Ohio State University:

The Marijuana Policies of Ohio Task Force, chaired by Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters, will present the findings of its comprehensive research at a symposium on June 11 hosted at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.  

The Task Force’s research report assesses and analyzes proposed marijuana legalization initiatives in four key areas: public safety and law enforcement, the economy, public health, and regulatory impact.  The symposium will also include a panel discussion with national recognized experts in marijuana policy and law.

A press briefing will precede the event.  For more information, please contact Kathy Berta at Kathy @ rstrategygroup.com

As of this writing, there is no charge for attending this event, but space in the auditorium can get limited so I highly encourage everyone interested in attending to pre-register via this webpage.

June 1, 2015 in Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | 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)

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)

Sunday, May 17, 2015

"New Challenge for Police: Finding Pot in Lollipops and Marshmallows"

Images (5)The title of this post is the headline of this new New York Times article, which includes these excerpts:

After nearly 20 years on the job, Jim Jeffries, the police chief in LaFollette, Tenn., has seen his share of marijuana seizures — dry green buds stashed in trunks or beneath seats, often double­bagged to smother the distinctive scent. But these days, Chief Jeffries is on the lookout for something unexpected: lollipops and marshmallows.

Recently his officers pulled over a Chevy Blazer driven by a couple with three children in tow. Inside, the officers discovered 24 pounds of marijuanalaced cookies and small hard candies shaped like gingerbread men, plus a tub of pungent marijuana butter perfect for making more. The bags of Kraft marshmallows looked innocent enough. But a meat injector was also found in the car. After searching the Internet, Chief Jeffries realized that the marshmallows probably had been infused with the marijuana butter and heat­sealed into their bags....

Across the country, law enforcement agencies long accustomed to seizures of bagged, smokable marijuana are now wrestling with a surge in marijuana­-infused snacks and confections transported illegally across state lines for resale.

Pot edibles, as they are called, can be much easier to smuggle than marijuana buds: They may resemble candy or home­baked goodies, and often have no telltale smell. And few police officers are trained to think of gummy bears, mints or neon­colored drinks as potential dope.

Some experts worry that smuggled pot edibles will appeal to many consumers, particularly adolescents, who are ill prepared for the deceptively slow high. Impatient novices can easily eat too much too fast, suffering anxiety attacks and symptoms resembling psychosis. Already, young children have eaten laced sweets left within reach. Many live in states where there has been no public education about responsible consumption of marijuana.

“Citizens in nonlegalization states are far less likely to be receiving those messages, so their risks are probably greater,” said Robert J. MacCoun, a professor of law at Stanford who recently co­wrote an editorial in The New England Journal of Medicine urging stronger regulation of pot edibles.

There are no hard numbers for the amount of pot edibles being trafficked interstate, but police departments in a variety of jurisdictions without legal sales report seizing increasing amounts in the past year. The quantities suggest the products are intended to supply a growing demand, law enforcement officials say....

The popularity of confections laced with marijuana has caught many health officials by surprise. Pot edibles took off in 2014, the first year of recreational sales in Colorado, when nearly five million individual items were sold to patients and adult users. Demand in Colorado and Washington State has spawned a stunning assortment of snacks and sweets, from Mondo’s sugar­free vegan bars to Dixie Edibles’ white chocolate peppermint squares.

Today consumers 21 and older can legally buy pot edibles in those two states; soon adults in Oregon and Alaska will join them. Pot edibles are available to medical users in at least a half dozen of the 23 states with medical marijuana programs.

Edibles make sense for marijuana entrepreneurs. In the past, marijuana buds were sold, and the rest of the plant was usually discarded. But with an extraction machine, makers of edible products can use the entire plant. “In a world where THC becomes inexpensive, you would like to differentiate your product from other people’s products in ways that allow you to maintain a higher profit margin,” said Jonathan Caulkins, a co­author of “Marijuana Legalization,” who has studied black markets for cocaine and marijuana. “Edibles offer some opportunities for that.”...

The manufacturers themselves say they receive constant requests for outof­state shipments. James Howler, the chief executive of Cheeba Chews, based in Denver, said his team fields emails from people nationwide — from epilepsy patients in Iowa to a retired mechanic in Florida, all of whom would rather snack on marijuana than smoke it.

“The needs and curiosity from around the country can be overwhelming,” he said. Still, Mr. Howler said, he declines them all. “It is highly illegal, and stupid to think we would risk everything,” he said.

May 17, 2015 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

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)

Interesting early data from Illinois about its developing medical marijuana regime

As reported in this AP piece, the "Illinois Department of Public Health released the updated numbers[showing that] department has issued about 2,300 approval letters to qualifying marijuana patients since September." Here are more related notable numbers:

The health department says about 20,800 people have logged onto the program's patient application website. Of those, about 3,000 have submitted an application.

The tally falls short of the number program officials hoped would enroll in the first year. In July, former program coordinator Bob Morgan said "thousands, hopefully tens of thousands" were expected to enroll.

An advisory board recommended 11 more health conditions for the program this week. The new conditions include osteoarthritis, migraine and post-traumatic stress disorder.

May 7, 2015 in Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | 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)

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Effective coverage of the legal land mine of the DOJ spending restriction in medical marijuana cases

As previously noted in posts here and elsewhere, a provision buried in H.R. 83, the 1700-page Cromnibus spending bill passed late last year, directed the US Department of Justice not to use any funds to interfere with state-legalized medical marijuana regimes. Today the New York Times has this extended and informative discussion of this provision and its uncertain meaning and impact four months after its passage.  The article is headlined "Legal Conflicts on Medical Marijuana Ensnare Hundreds as Courts Debate a New Provision," and here are excerpts:

In December, in a little­-publicized amendment to the 2015 appropriations bill that one legal scholar called a “buried land mine,” Congress barred the Justice Department from spending any money to prevent states from “implementing their own state laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession or cultivation of medical marijuana.”

In the most advanced test of the law yet, Mr. Lynch’s lawyers have asked the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to “direct the D.O.J. to cease spending funds on the case.” In a filing last month, they argued that by continuing to work on his prosecution, federal prosecutors “would be committing criminal acts.”

But the Justice Department asserts that the amendment does not undercut its power to enforce federal drug law. It says that the amendment only bars federal agencies from interfering with state efforts to carry out medical marijuana laws, and that it does not preclude criminal prosecutions for violations of the Controlled Substances Act.

With the new challenge raised in several cases, federal judges will have to weigh in soon, opening a new arena in a legal field already rife with contradiction....

The California sponsors of the December amendment, including Representatives Sam Farr and Barbara Lee, both Democrats, and Representative Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican, say it was clearly intended to curb individual prosecutions and have accused the Justice Department of violating its spirit and substance. “If federal prosecutors are engaged in legal action against those involved with medical marijuana in a state that has made it legal, then they are the ones who are the lawbreakers,” Mr. Rohrabacher said.

Mr. Farr said, “For the feds to come in and take this hard­line approach in a state with years of experience in regulating medical marijuana is disruptive and disrespectful.” The sponsors said they were planning how to renew the spending prohibition next year.

Some prior related posts:

April 9, 2015 in Federal court rulings, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 19, 2015

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

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

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

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

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