Tuesday, December 1, 2015
While on the road last week, I did not get a chance to blog about various interesting marijuana reform stories I noticed over the long holiday weekend. Making up for the time away, here is a round up of some of the notable medical marijuana pieces from various states that emerged over the past week:
From Alabama here, "Epileptic mom who used marijuana raising funds to fight charges"
From Connecticut here, "One year later, patients swear by medical marijuana"
From Florida here, "Medical marijuana back in Florida political spotlight"
From North Dakota here, "Medical marijuana petitions to begin circulation in North Dakota"
- From Wyoming here, "Medical marijuana proposal in peril as pro-pot group suffers from infighting in Wyoming"
From the AP here, "In Medical Marijuana States,' Pot Doctors' Push Boundaries"
Friday, November 20, 2015
The title of this post is the headline of this AP article providing an effective review of the state of tribal affairs concerning marijuana reform roughly a year since the US Department of Justice issued notable guidance concerning federal law enforcement priorities in this arena. Here are excerpts (with links from the source):
Tribes across the U.S. are finding marijuana is a is risky business nearly a year after a Justice Department policy indicated they could grow and sell pot under the same guidelines as states.
Federal raids on tribal cannabis operations in California followed by a South Dakota tribe's move this month to burn its crop amid fears it could be next have raised questions over whether there's more to complying with DOJ standards than a department memo suggested last December.
The uncertainty — blamed partly on thin DOJ guidelines, the fact that marijuana remains an illegal drug under federal laws, and a complex tangle of state, federal and tribal law enforcement oversight on reservations — has led attorneys to urge tribal leaders to weigh the risks involved before moving forward with legalizing and growing pot.
"Everybody who is smart is pausing to look at the feasibility and risks of growing hemp and marijuana," said Lance Gumbs, a former chairman of the Shinnecock Tribe in New York and regional vice president of the National Congress of American Indians. "But are we giving up on it? Absolutely not."
At a conference on tribal economic development held in Santa Fe, tribal leaders and attorneys said Wednesday that the raids have shown there may be more red tape for tribes to negotiate when it comes to legalizing cannabis than states have faced. That's especially the case for tribes that are within states where marijuana is not legal....
"Industrial hemp, medical marijuana and maybe recreational marijuana present a lot of opportunity. But for now, the best advice is to proceed with caution," said Michael Reif, an attorney for the Menominee tribe in Wisconsin, where tribal leaders filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday after federal agents recently seized thousands of hemp plants grown for research. "We're seeing the ramifications of things being unclear in a way states didn't."
The Flandreau Santee Sioux in South Dakota — a state where marijuana isn't legal — was the first to approve recreational pot under tribal law with a vote in June, and was one of the most aggressive about entering the industry, with plans to open the nation's first marijuana resort on its reservation north of Sioux Falls.
But after weeks of discussions with authorities who signaled a raid was possible, the tribe announced last week it had burned all of its marijuana plants. Anthony Reider, the tribe's president, told The Associated Press the main holdup centered on whether the tribe could sell marijuana to non-Indians, along with issues over where the seed used for planting originated. He suggested that by burning the crops, the tribe could have a clean slate to relaunch a grow operation in consultation with authorities.
In California, the Alturas and Pit River Indian rancherias launched tribally run marijuana operations that were raided by federal authorities, with agents seizing 12,000 marijuana plants in July. The regional U.S. attorney's office said in a statement that the two neighboring tribes planned to distribute the pot off tribal lands and the large-scale operations may have been financed by a foreign third-party foreign. It's not clear if the two tribes have plans for a new marijuana venture, and calls from the AP were not immediately returned.
The California and South Dakota tribes are three of just six so far this year that have legalized medical or recreational marijuana on their reservations. The Squaxin Island Tribe in Washington state is another, and just opened a store last week for retail sales of the drug. But most expect the tribe to face fewer legal challenges because Washington allows for recreational marijuana use and the tribe entered into a compact with the state that sets guidelines for taxing pot sales.
"The tribes are not going to be immune to what the local attitudes toward marijuana are going to be," Trueblood said. "If there's one 30,000-feet takeaway from this year, it's that you're not going to be successful if you don't work with you local governments or U.S. attorneys."
Prior related posts:
November 20, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)
Thursday, November 19, 2015
As reported in this local article, headlined "Pennsylvania House panel advances medical marijuana legislation," the Keystone State had a key legislative development yesterday with respect to marijuana reform. Here are the basic details:
Pennsylvania is one step closer to legalizing medical marijuana, following a successful committee vote Wednesday in the House that positions the bill for final passage. Before any proposal becomes law, however, it is subject to an amendment process that legalization advocates fear could dilute it.
Senate Bill 3 received an affirmative 25-8 vote in the House Rules Committee. The proposal would legalize marijuana use for patients with certain illnesses and establish a regulatory framework for growing, processing and prescribing.
“We believe that it can benefit a significant number of Pennsylvanians, but if the House waters it down with arbitrary restrictions, then we fear that it will be a medical cannabis bill in name only,” said Patrick Nightingale, executive director of the legalization advocacy group Pittsburgh NORML. The vote is a victory, Nightingale said, but he's cautious about what comes next.
All eight votes in opposition came from Republicans, who control the majority in the chamber. House Republican spokesman Steve Miskin said amendments are being prepared and the bill could be voted on by the full House as early as next week. Feared changes could include a cap on the amount of THC that can be used in the medicine. Under the current proposal, patients with select illnesses — such as cancer and seizure disorders, among others — could receive a prescription. Smoking marijuana would not be a permitted treatment, and delivery methods would be limited to oils, edible products, ointments and tinctures.
Gov. Tom Wolf favors legalization for medical purposes and called on the Legislature to send a proposal to his desk. “It's past time for them to act on it,” said his spokesman, Jeff Sheridan....
The Senate passed the legalization in May by a 40-7 vote. House Majority Leader Dave Reed, R-Indiana County, then convened a bipartisan committee to vet the bill and consider changes. Reed voted for the bill on Wednesday. State Sen. Daylin Leach, D-Montgomery County, is a co-sponsor of Senate Bill 3 and began pushing for a legalization proposal in 2010. “We hope the entire House acts quickly to pass our bill without amendment,” said Leach's Chief of Staff Steve Hoenstine.
Wednesday, November 18, 2015
I am giving a lecture this afternoon to a local bar association about the state of marijana reform in Ohio and throughout the United States as of Fall 2015. Helpfully, this recent article from BloombergBNA provides a useful national overview with a number of state-level specifics. The piece is titled "Marijuana in America, 2015: A Survey of Federal And States' Responses to Marijuana Legalization and Taxation," and I recommend it for those looking to get up to speed on a lot of the legal and tax basics ASAP.
November 18, 2015 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)
Saturday, November 7, 2015
The question in the title of this post is prompted by this interesting Baltimore Sun article headlined "Maryland's nascent medical marijuana industry already booming." The article suggests a number of reasons why the Old Line State could and should be the new hot state to watch in the marijuana reform movement. Here are excerpts:
More than 350 applicants for licenses to grow, process or dispense medical marijuana were filed with the state's Medical Cannabis Commission by Friday evening's deadline as entrepreneurs try to get in at the ground floor of the newest pot market. The applications cover every county in the state. "It's very busy, and we're very excited," said Dr. Paul Davies, the commission's chairman. "There's an awful lot of excitement buzzing around."
State officials said they had counted only some of the applications received. Already, they have processed nearly three times more applications than there are grower licenses available and at least twice as many dispensary applications than they can award.
The huge demand is typical of a new medical marijuana market, said Troy Dayton, CEO of ArcView, a cannabis industry research firm. Apart from the District of Columbia, Maryland is the first jurisdiction south of the Mason-Dixon line that has a medical marijuana industry, he noted....
"The biggest opportunity in the cannabis industry is the opportunity to be a limited license holder in a state that is likely to expand," Dayton said. "It makes a lot of sense that people would put a lot of time and resources into their applications and really swing for fences." And because Maryland set up its industry to award licenses on a merit-based system with high fees to apply, Dayton said, it is likely that the businesses that ultimately win licenses will be successful. "You have people really vested in the success of that effort," he said. "And they have a protected market. They're guaranteed a flow of customers."...
Maryland's medical marijuana program has stirred much interest in the industry, said Taylor West, deputy director at the National Cannabis Industry Association. Not only are there few medical marijuana programs on the East Coast, she said, but Maryland's approach to treating a broad range of conditions and awarding a fair number of licenses makes it an attractive place to invest. "This is a brand-new market where there really isn't an established set of businesses there," West said. "So getting in at the ground floor, treating patients and building a reputation has a lot of value."
The breadth of Maryland's medical marijuana program attracted Dr. Greg Daniel and his associates to the state. They plan to build what he calls a "seed-to-sale" operation that grows the marijuana, processes it and then sells it at a dispensary. Daniel said he has talked to officials in Easton about converting an old Black & Decker factory into a growing and processing plant, and he applied to operate a dispensary near Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. The total cost to build the operation would be about $10 million.
For more than a decade, Daniel ran a doctor-staffing business before getting into the medical marijuana industry. He said he narrowly missed the cutoff to be awarded one of the few licenses available in New York, where he is based, but sees a bigger potential market in Maryland because of the way the program is set up. "We could be very successful here," said Daniel. "The number of patients that we would be able to treat would be greater in the Maryland marketplace."
In 2013, Maryland lawmakers approved a medical marijuana program that relied on academic institutions to distribute the drug, whose sale is prohibited under federal law. No university volunteered to participate, so the legislature retooled the program in 2014. The program authorizes physicians in the state to recommend the drug for a specific set of conditions, with 15 growers and as many as 94 dispensaries to supply it.
The Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission spent months crafting regulations on how to implement the law, and even longer developing the complicated application that stretches more than 60 pages. Most of the questions require an essay answer, plus proof that the applicant can pay for the operation. The commission plans to have an independent third party review and score all of the applications — with names of applicants redacted — to determine which ones make the first cut.
The commission came under fire last year for setting some of the highest fees in the medical marijuana industry, charging $125,000 to growers for a two-year license and $40,000 for a dispensary. But the cost apparently did not scare off many applicants.
Tony Toskov said he became interested in the business because his wife suffers from migraines and he hopes medical marijuana might alleviate her symptoms. "I hope everyone's doing it for the right reasons," said Toskov, a restaurateur who owns several Anne Arundel County locales and has applied to operate a dispensary in Baltimore, Washington or Anne Arundel. "It's not a pot store; you're getting into the medical business."
November 7, 2015 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1)
Wednesday, November 4, 2015
I am pleased and intrigued to see from this local Ohio article reporting reactions to the overwhelming defeat of a controversial recreation marijuana reform ballot proposal that some important Ohio legislators are now talking about considering moving forward with medical marijuana reform in the state. Here are the encouraging quotes for those interesting in medical marijuana reform in the Buckeye State:
Although Issue 3 was handily defeated, the debate and conversations about the issue have convinced House Speaker Cliff Rosenberg, R-Clarksville, and other state lawmakers who were staunchly opposed to legalization to now say it may be time to move ahead with medical marijuana. “After going through this process, myself and many of my colleagues realize there’s tremendous support for medical marijuana and something we should have a bigger discussion about,” said Rep. Ryan Smith, R-Bidwell, a leader in the House.
That could be in the form of a pilot program or some other narrowly written legislation, Smith said. He noted that Rep. Wes Retherford, R-Hamilton, already has proposed a medical marijuana bill. “In talking to people, it was surprising to me how many said they support medical marijuana,” Smith said. “We obviously want to help the parents with children that are ill and the elderly that are suffering. We just want to make sure the scientists tell us it will help and we write it in a responsible way.”
Monday, October 19, 2015
The title of this post is the title of this effective piece from Stateline, the news service of the Pew Charitable Trusts that provides reporting and analysis on trends in state policy. Here is an excerpt:
Montana is among several vanguard states whose voters eagerly legalized medical cannabis by passing broad ballot initiatives as many as 19 years ago, but left lawmakers struggling to regulate an industry that grew quickly with few rules.
Today, states like California, Montana and Michigan are still attempting to clean up their laws with bills that would develop licensing systems for growers, create a fee structure for providers and product, or legalize all marijuana use.
It’s a legislative and regulatory pitfall that lawmakers warn other states they could face as public demand for legal medical and recreational marijuana grows, and more states allow it.
Maryland opened the door to medical use last year, and Georgia, Oklahoma, Texas and Wyoming passed laws legalizing access to less-potent medical cannabis products for certain patients this year. At least 20 initiatives to legalize medical or recreational marijuana could be on the ballot in 16 states next year. And in November, voters in Ohio will decide whether recreational marijuana should be legal in that state.
Proponents of using marijuana as medicine say ingesting the drug can ease chronic pain, stimulate appetites for the very ill, soothe nausea caused by cancer treatments and prevent seizures in children with epilepsy. Detractors say the research surrounding medical marijuana isn’t conclusive, the drug poses significant public health risks and those who advocate for it use medical marijuana to trick voters into sanctioning an illegal drug for recreational use....
And unless state lawmakers get ahead of their constituents on legalization, they face a potential regulatory nightmare, said Washington state Sen. Ann Rivers. Rivers, a Republican, should know. Medical marijuana was legalized in Washington by voter initiative in 1998, leaving gaping regulatory holes and hazards that lawmakers like her have spent years trying to fix.
Friday, October 16, 2015
Terrific (wonkish?) blogging at Canna Law Blog about new rules and regulations, especially in California
In part because I have been paying close attention to the marijuana legalization debate playing out in my home state of Ohio, I have not yet had a chance to closely consider or assess the big new medical marijuana laws enacted earlier this month in California. Fortunately, Hilary Bricken is all over this topic (and many others) at the Canna Law Blog. Here are he two recent big posts on the new regime:
Here is an excerpts from how the first of these two lengthy posts gets started:
Governor Brown signed into law the three bills that comprise the California Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act (MMRSA) [which is] big news for California and especially for its medical marijuana operators. These bills mean California will soon be moving away from an unregulated gray marijuana marketplace to a state law regulated medical marijuana regime. These bills mean that California will be getting the “robust regulations” the federal government requires from states for the Department of Justice to be even minimally disengaged from what goes on with cannabis within the state. These bills also mean that California will be entering a new era where the Department of Justice will (hopefully) finally cool its heels in the Golden State.
Wednesday, October 14, 2015
As reported in this Ohio local news piece, headlined "POLL: How Ohio voters really feel about legalizing marijuana," the first ballot-issue-specific polling of Ohio voters indicates fairly significant support for an issue that would legalize both medical and recreational marijuana. Here are the basic details:
Kent State's Survey Research Lab and experts from the Department of Sociology and Department of Political Science in Kent State's College of Arts and Sciences fielded a survey of 500 registered voters in Ohio....
The WKYC/Kent State Poll also asked respondents how they plan to vote after providing them with a bit of information about Issue 2 and Issue 3 using summaries of actual ballot wording from the Ohio Secretary of State website.
54 percent of Ohioans plan to vote yes on Issue 2 (plus or minus 4 percent). 26 percent said they did not know how they would vote....
On Issue 3, 56 percent of Ohioans said they plan to vote yes (plus or minus 4 percent) and only 10 percent said they did not know how they would vote.
That means that, if the election were held today and nearly all registered voters participated, both Issue 2 and Issue 3 would likely pass, leading to a constitutional crisis, since Issue 2 contains a provision that is designed to nullify Issue 3....
Issue 2 would ban amendments that create marijuana monopolies and embed them in Ohio's Constitution. Issue 3 is ResponsibleOhio's plan to legalize recreational and medical marijuana for Ohioans ages 21 and older. It would create 10 growth sites owned by the campaign's investors that would be the exclusive source of commercial marijuana. But if both Issue 2 and 3 pass, there's a good chance the question of which takes precedence could wind up in court....
For Issue 2, partisanship matters relatively little. 57 percent of self-identified Republicans, 53 percent of self-identified Democrats, and 56 percent of self-identified Independents say they will vote yes on Issue 2.
However, for Issue 3, the party divide is wider. 45 percent of self-identified Republicans, 67 percent of self-identified Democrats, and 50 percent of self-identified Independents say they will vote yes on Issue 3.
In the WKYC/Kent State Poll sample of registered voters, about 30 percent are Republicans and 40 percent are Democrats. If turnout is higher among Republicans, it will pull the number of "yes" votes down from the 56 percent that said they would vote "yes" in the WKYC/Kent State Poll.
Age is also only slightly associated with voting on Issue 2. However, age is another important factor in voting on Issue 3. Here the WKYC/Kent State Poll estimates support for Issue 3 goes down about 6 percent for about every 10 years of age. Again, if turnout is low among young people -- and it will be compared to among older registered voters -- it will pull the number of yes votes down from the 56 percent that said they would vote yes in our survey.
In terms of other groups, women, blacks, and Hispanics are less supportive of both Issue 2 and Issue 3 than men and non-Hispanic whites, but the differences are only statistically significant for Issue 2.
October 14, 2015 in Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)
Thursday, October 8, 2015
The title of this post is the headline of this notable new report from Tom Angell about notable developments on Capitol Hill. Here are the interesting and notable details:
A key Senate leader has included several pieces of good news for marijuana law reform advocates in a package of spending bills intended to keep the government operational for the next fiscal year.
Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS), chairman of the Appropriations Committee, filed the bills on Tuesday, and they have just been uploaded to Congress’s website. Here’s what the bills’ language will do, if enacted:
* Prevent the Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Administration from spending money to interfere with the implementation of state medical marijuana laws. Similar language was enacted last year and is current law.
* Prevent the Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Administration from spending money to interfere with the implementation of state industrial hemp research programs. Similar language was enacted last year and is current law.
* Allow doctors with the Department of Veterans Affairs to recommend medical marijuana to military veterans, and prevent the V.A. from denying services to veterans because they are medical marijuana patients in accordance with state law.
* Prevent the federal government from punishing banks for doing business with state-legal marijuana providers.
Each of the provisions above were passed this year with bipartisan votes on the House floor, in the Senate Appropriations Committee or both.
The legislation also removes language from previous years’ spending bills that has prevented Washington, D.C. from spending money to implement a system of legalized and taxed sales of marijuana. If Cochran’s bill is enacted as is, the District of Columbia will be able to move forward with enacting marijuana sales regulations that the mayor and local lawmakers have indicated they support but have been stymied from moving forward with due to ongoing Congressional interference.
The provisions, and the overall spending proposals they are attached to, represent what Cochran believes can pass the Senate. He and other Senate appropriators are currently in negotiations with leadership from the House Appropriations Committee and are expected to arrive at a compromise spending package sometime before government funding under current legislation runs out on December 11.
October 8, 2015 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)
Wednesday, October 7, 2015
This local article, headlined "Marijuana legislation calls for DUI study," reports on a notable (and I think very valuable) element of California's recent new law concerning medical marijuana. Here are the details and the context:
Recent legislation awaiting Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature not only seeks to implement a statewide regulatory system on the medical marijuana, but also calls for a study on how law enforcement can better detect stoned drivers.
Nestled within one of the bills — Assembly Bill 266 by Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) — is a sentence that calls for the state to commission the UC San Diego’s Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research to develop a study that identifies how cannabis impacts motor skills. The language was written by Assemblyman Tom Lackey (R-Palmdale), a retired California Highway Patrol sergeant of 28 years who said he was motivated to coauthor the bill to give officers another tool to get impaired drivers off the street and to save lives.
“We’ve done a good job of reducing alcohol DUIs,” he said. “With drug impairment we have a long way to go. I believe this is a pioneering effort to allow that to take place.” Lackey — who made his first visit to Humboldt County on Tuesday along with two other bill authors to call on Gov. Brown to sign the bills — said that the study could provide data that he hopes will result in an improved field sobriety test specifically for marijuana impairment.
The three-bill package known as the “Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act” is currently sitting on Gov. Brown’s desk. If signed, the bills would create a licensing and regulatory scheme for all aspects of the medical marijuana industry including cultivation, distribution, transport, dispensary sales, laboratory testing, environmental protections and storage.
Unlike with alcohol, where a legal blood alcohol concentration has been established, local law enforcement officials say they are currently limited in their methods of detecting drivers under the influence of the marijuana’s main psychoactive component, THC, with no set level of impairment and no easy detection method like a Breathalyzer.
“We do not have a cutoff point where we can say we know they are impaired,” Humboldt County District Attorney Maggie Fleming said. “The proof goes back to whether or not their driving showed they were impaired.” When prosecuting someone for driving under the influence of marijuana, Fleming said evidence usually includes patrol car dash cam videos, testimony by drug recognition experts and observations by a law enforcement officer.
Even if such a level were established, a local defense attorney and several studies state that THC processing by the human body is more complicated than alcohol and other drugs. A former president of the DUI Lawyers Association and current member of National College of DUI Defense, Eureka-based attorney Manny Daskal said some studies have shown that drivers actually exhibited safer driving habits and kept more room between themselves and other drivers to compensate for their impairment, though other studies refute the findings. “Right now the research isn’t there for them to accurately predict when impairment occurs or at what level it occurs,” Daskal said.
Regardless of what type of drug a California Highway Patrol officer suspects a driver is impaired by, Humboldt County CHP Public Information Officer Cy May said they will perform the same field sobriety test. “Usually we’re not sure it’s cannabis,” May said, adding there are certain giveaway signs. Such signs include marijuana odor emanating from the car or driver, bloodshot or dilated eyes, and a higher pulse rate....
Two studies by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration released in February found that 12.6 percent of surveyed drivers had evidence of marijuana use in their systems — up from 8.6 percent in 2007 — while those driving under the influence of alcohol dropped by one-third in the same time period.
Another study by the administration found that marijuana users were 25 percent more likely to be in a crash than non-marijuana users, but that the increased risk “may be due in part because marijuana users are more likely to be in groups at higher risk of crashes” — such as young men. “When you take all the confounding factors into account there is not much of an indication that marijuana causes an increase of crashing,” Daskal said.
Speaking at Tuesday’s rally in Eureka, Lackey said a September 2015 report by the Rocky Mountain High Drug Trafficking Area showed a 32 percent increase in marijuana-related traffic deaths in Colorado in 2014 — the same year recreational marijuana use became legal — compared to 2013. “We will not stand for that in California,” he said to the crowd.
While these studies state the risk of a crash is much higher when THC impairment is factored in, others — like a 2010 study in the The American Journal on Addictions — state some experimental studies have shown it can have the opposite effect. “Several reviews of driving and simulator studies have concluded that marijuana use by drivers is likely to result in decreased speed and fewer attempts to overtake, as well as increased ‘following distance,’ ” the study states. “The opposite is true of alcohol.”
Sunday, October 4, 2015
This AP article, headlined "Legal Marijuana Stirs Hope in Illinois Town," highlights the on-the-ground reality that I believe will sustain marijuana reform: local economic development. Here are excerpts:
A skunky aroma fills the room in which hundreds of lush marijuana plants grow, some nearly ready for harvest. Grower Ashley Thompson, a former high school agriculture teacher in this rural part of southeastern Illinois, takes the scent of weed home with her.
She doesn't mind. It's the fragrance of money and jobs. "My family says I smell," said Thompson, who quit the classroom to work for Ataraxia, one of a handful of cultivation centers in Illinois, which is one of 23 states with medical marijuana. "I can't tell though."
The Associated Press recently gained an exclusive look at Illinois' first legal marijuana crop, and the new farmland ritual beginning amid surrounding cornfields in the historic town of Albion: the harvest of medical marijuana that will soon be sold in dispensaries around the state.
Ataraxia is the first center to make it to the finish line after running a gantlet of state requirements. For the company to find a home in Albion — where grain trucks rumble past the sleepy central square, cicadas drone in the trees shading a century-old courthouse and a breeze touches an empty bandstand — is paradoxical. Stores can't sell package liquor, but marijuana has been welcomed as a badly needed source of employment.
A comical T-shirt for sale says the town is "High and Dry." Cheryl Taylor, who sells the shirts at her shop on the square, said the marijuana facility has everyone curious: "It's brought our little town to life."
Down a country road, tucked behind the New Holland tractor dealer and the Pioneer seed plant, the history-making cannabis crop is being cut and dried behind the locked doors of a giant warehouse. By mid-October, strains with names like Blue Dream, OG Kush, Death Star and White Poison will be turned into medicine in many forms: oils, creams, buds for smoking, edible chocolates and gummies.
It's been a twisting path to harvest, marked by delays and a secretive, highly restrictive program meant to avoid the creation of easy-access pot shops seen in other states. Until Illinois gave approval in late September for the AP's tour, only company workers and government inspectors had been inside the warehouse. Thousands of cannabis plants — some in full bud, coated with cannabinoid-rich fibers — filled two large rooms at the facility on the day of the AP's tour. Mother plants and young plants started from cuttings had their own, smaller rooms.
The 1,900-person community of Albion, which is closer to Louisville, Kentucky, than Chicago, has embraced all this, sight unseen. "It's a good thing for the local economy," said Doug Raber, who sells insurance. "This is a pretty conservative area. Any kind of revenue we can have here is good."
Local developers sold a cornfield to Ataraxia for $5,000 an acre, which real estate agent Randy Hallam said is a 50 percent discount. The city also paid to build a road and extend water and sewer lines. The company hired locals to build and outfit the warehouse.
But only seven people, aside from managers, have been hired permanently. With only 3,000 approved medical marijuana patients, the company can't expand yet. CEO George Archos said he wants to hire 50 to 60, and meeting that goal will go a long way to keeping the community's support. "Albion needs to diversify its employment," said Duane Crays, editor of The Navigator, Albion's newspaper. Chief employers regionally are agriculture, oil and gas production, and an auto filter plant....
Residents' excitement over the health benefits of marijuana — from stimulating appetite in cancer patients to easing stiffness for people with multiple sclerosis — may also have historic roots. The bandstand marks the spot where a mineral spring once drew patients suffering from a host of ailments; it was said the water could cure. "My wife has MS," Hallam said. She doesn't have her patient card yet, he said, "but she has a doctor's appointment coming up."
October 4, 2015 in Employment and labor law issues, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)
Wednesday, September 30, 2015
The title of this post is the headline of this must-read New Republic article, which is mostly about the current crazy "wild west" world of CBD medicines. There are many parts of the article that make it must-read in full, and here are passages that I especially wanted to highlight for commentary:
Today, dozens of companies produce CBD in an array of forms. CBD can be inhaled through vape pens, applied in topical salves, ingested in edibles, or swallowed in oil-based tinctures. Oil has become the dominant CBD delivery method for kids with epilepsy, since it is easy to administer and ingest, and there is no shortage of it available for sale online. There are dozens of companies boasting names like Healthy Hemp Oil, Dose of Nature, and Natural Organic Solutions, each of them selling CBD products at prices ranging from trivial to dizzyingly steep. You don’t have to look hard to find them. If you have a PayPal account and $100 to spare, you could have a vial of hemp oil delivered to your doorstep....
In February, as part of an investigation into the marketing claims of six hemp oil companies, the FDA analyzed 18 CBD products. What it found was disturbing: Many of these supposed CBD products were entirely lacking in CBD. Of the products tested, six contained no cannabinoids whatsoever. Another 11 contained less than 1 percent CBD. The product that tested highest in CBD, at 2.6 percent, was a capsule for dogs. In states that have legalized CBD, regulations can require CBD products to contain at least 5 percent CBD, more often 10 or 15 percent....
In the end, companies like HempMedsPx are asking consumers simply to trust them. CBD oils are never subjected to systematic testing by any U.S. regulatory body. The FDA regulates all pharmaceutical labs in the country. But cannabis labs like the ones that HempMedsPx and others use are not, because cannabis is not federally recognized as a legal drug.
All of this makes CBD remarkably difficult for even the most dedicated health care providers to manage safely. Dr. Kelly Knupp, an associate professor of pediatrics and neurology at the University of Colorado, and the director of the Dravet Syndrome program at Children’s Hospital Colorado, said families of epileptic children have tried to bring CBD oils to the hospital for testing. “They’re just concerned that they don’t know exactly who’s growing [the hemp],” Knupp said. “They know it’s not being regulated.” But because CBD is a Schedule I controlled substance, high-tech, regulated laboratories, like those at the University of Colorado, can’t accept, store, or test CBD oils, lest they risk prosecution. “There is no such lab that can take that product,” Knupp said, which leaves any testing up to the unregulated testing centers that cater to the cannabis industry....
To this point, CBD oil has existed in a kind of liminal space — at once an illegal drug, a legal medication, and some kind of “dietary” supplement. It’s possible this could change in the coming years, however. GW Pharmaceuticals, a U.K.-based firm, has developed a “pure CBD” medication called Epidiolex that has shown promising test results. It is currently on a fast-track to receive FDA clearance. For some patients, Epidiolex could be a miracle cure. This summer, in Wired magazine, writer Fred Vogelstein chronicled his family’s own struggles to find an effective treatment for his son’s epilepsy — including experiments with hemp oil — and the immense hurdles they overcame to gain access to Epidiolex prior to its FDA approval. The drug could be for sale on pharmacy shelves in the near future, though exactly how near is hard to say.
For the sake of all the individuals and families struggling with seizure disorders, I sincerely hope that all the emerging CBD treatments being promoted by private industry are much more than snake oil. But I find especially remarkable the sad reality that the blanket prohibition of marijuana in any form at the federal level means that it is near impossible for a person to even have access to a credible lab in order to try to research whether a CBD oil marketed to suffering persons is even what it claims to be. What a sad mess, and one that I hope will get cleared up before too long at the federal level by efforts to move marijuana off Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act.
September 30, 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)
Wednesday, September 23, 2015
A number of smart folks have talked about state-level marijuana reform as, in the words of GOP Prez candidate Ted Cruz, "a great embodiment of what Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis called ‘the laboratories of democracy.’” These two new stories about marijuana reform efforts in Ohio has me thinking that the Buckeye state is already in the midst of one of the most interesting and dynamic experimental forms:
Excerpt: Dr. Suresh Gupta ticked off a list of conditions that marijuana could help alleviate: nausea, cancer, glaucoma, HIV, post-traumatic stress disorder, irritable bowel syndrome.... Gupta is one of several wealthy donors who contributed millions to help bankroll ResponsibleOhio’s effort to place marijuana legalization on the ballot and limit marijuana growing facilities to 10 locations....
Gupta, along with a Columbus co-investor, wants to grow multiple types of marijuana at the Pataskala facility, focusing on treating specific conditions. The nine other marijuana farms will focus on growing marijuana to be sold at retail stores. He also plans to use about 40,000 square feet for a research facility he’s calling the International Cannabis Institute. There, researchers, chemists and microbiologists would study the makeup of each crop and replicate the best strains, Gupta said. “In the United States, there’s virtually no research being done,” Gupta said.
Excerpt: The group behind November's marijuana legalization initiative said Tuesday it had collected more than enough signatures to advance a separate measure that would allow marijuana convictions to be purged. ResponsibleOhio, the group backing Issue 3, said it collected 236,759 signatures of registered Ohio voters to put the Fresh Start Act before state lawmakers next year -- 91,677 are needed to qualify....
Issue 3 would legalize recreational and medical marijuana sales and use for adults over age 21. Commercial growing would be limited to 10 sites belonging to initiative backers, and Ohioans could grow small amounts of marijuana at home. The Fresh Start Act would allow people with convictions made legal by Issue 3 and offenses made legal in the future to file a petition in court to reduce or eliminate their sentences or expunge, or destroy, their criminal records....
ResponsibleOhio Executive Director Ian James said many low-level offenders are unable to obtain employment or secure housing because of criminal background checks. "This allows people ability to move forward," James said at a news conference with several Ohio clergy members.
As an initiated statute, the Fresh Start Act would go before the legislature in January 2016. Lawmakers would have four months to pass the bill, pass a revised version, or reject the bill. If the language is changed or rejected, ResponsibleOhio would have to collect some 92,000 more signatures to put the measure before voters.
The Fresh Start Act would not automatically erase records or free inmates, and it wouldn't apply to federal marijuana offenses. Offenses that are illegal now and would remain illegal under Issue 3, such as driving under the influence of marijuana, would not be eligible for expungement under the proposed law.
Both of these stories suggest marijuana legalization in Ohio, if passed by voters this Novermber, would trigger novel legal and practical development that could significant reshape future marijuana reform efforts. Indeed, the existing ballot measure in Ohio, Issue 3, is already novel and interesting because it is trying to get Ohioians to support moving from blanket prohibition to full legalization in one vote and the effort is being backrolled by a group of investors poised to have a legal advantage in the future marijuana market based on the provisions of Issue 3.
How these experimental elements of proposed reform play out in the Buckeye state is already making Ohio a laboratory of democracy worth watching. And if Issue 3 is approved by voters, Ohio seems sure to have lots of experimental developments and data that should help advance the national dialogue and debate on these matters for years to come.
September 23, 2015 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)
Tuesday, September 15, 2015
The title of this post is the headline of this intriguing new article in Pennsylvania's legal newpaper The Legal Intelligencer. Here are excerpts:
As Pennsylvania continues to debate how and whether to legalize medical marijuana usage, ethics concerns and client pushback are forcing many lawyers to sit back on what could be the biggest industry to come to the state since the legalization of gaming.
Lawyers and lobbyists in support of medical marijuana legalization in Pennsylvania say its passage is closer than ever, with the Senate on board and the House needing to work out some competing methods for structuring the industry. But some are more subdued in their optimism, noting the passage of a budget is probably higher on the General Assembly's priority list.
The question still seems to be when, not if, and that has caused the attorneys who are interested in representing marijuana companies to seek guidance and protection. Last week, the American Trade Association of Cannabis and Hemp called for any legislation passed in Pennsylvania to include protections for attorneys in the space.
"Lawyers representing cannabis businesses must be able to do so without fear of running afoul of the law or losing their license by representing members of the industry," said attorney Andrew B. Sacks, managing partner of Philadelphia-based Sacks Weston Millstein Diamond and a member of ATACH's Pennsylvania state-level coalition. Sacks is the first to acknowledge the request is purely symbolic given the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has sole power to outline attorney ethics rules.
"That whole area has been so hairy all across the country that ... to me, in my 31-year career, this is the biggest ethical issue that I have ever seen," Sacks said. "You have a federal law that says this is a crime and you have a state law that says we need you." A lawyer hauled before the state Disciplinary Board with only a symbolic legislative protection would have a major uphill battle, Sacks said. That is why he went to the Philadelphia Bar Association for an advisory opinion on the issue. As it turned out, the Pennsylvania Bar Association also had several similar inquiries. The two associations have been working together to issue an opinion.
According to former PBA President Thomas G. Wilkinson Jr., a joint formal ethics opinion concerning marijuana-related issues not limited to medical marijuana is under review by the PBA legal ethics and professional responsibility committee and the Philadelphia bar's professional guidance committee. "It is far along but we cannot provide a specific date when it will be finalized and issue[d]," Wilkinson said in a statement. "The PBA committee is next scheduled to meet on Sept. 30 in Pittsburgh." Sacks said the advisory opinion will be "crucial." He said he knows of a number of law firms that aren't going near the industry while the federal government still considers marijuana in the same class as heroin and cocaine.
Earlier this year, for example, Ballard Spahr reportedly withdrew from representing a marijuana dispensary in New Jersey over fears the attorneys' licenses could be put in jeopardy. And other firms with large clients in the medical and life sciences fields have been told those clients might not think too highly of marijuana-related companies on the firms' client rosters....
In the 23 other states that have some form of legalized marijuana usage, many of the states have amended attorney ethics rules to protect lawyers entering the industry. Clearfield said he would expect something similar would be needed in Pennsylvania and said there was some concern about how long that process could take and what lawyers would do in the interim....
"I think any time a new industry starts up there is a lot of work for lawyers and this is definitely going to be a new industry and state-specific," Clearfield said. Clearfield said likening the advent of the marijuana industry in the state to that of the gaming industry was an apt analogy. He said the cannabis industry will have state-specific rules and the regulatory process that will play out over years will require local lawyers with local ties. Other areas may not require locally based attorneys, such as financing and other business issues, Clearfield said.
For Sacks, he envisions legal work stemming from applications to get a medical marijuana license to zoning fights between counties regarding where the dispensaries will be located. "It will be a very large industry," Sacks said. The question is whether lawyers will feel comfortable taking a piece of that pie.
High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Programs (HIDTAs) are, as explained here, a special kind of drug-enforcement task force that was "created by Congress with the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 [and] provides assistance to Federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies operating in areas determined to be critical drug-trafficking regions of the United States." Usefully, the Rocky Mountain HIDTA has been especially focused on marijuana reform, and the last three years it has produced a annual report around this time under the title "The Legalization of Marijuana in Colorado: The Impact." Volume Three of that report, which runs nearly 200 pages and was just release, can be accessed at this link.
Here is an excerpt from the report's executive summary highlighting its coverage:
Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (RMHIDTA) is tracking the impact of marijuana legalization in the state of Colorado. This report will utilize, whenever possible, a comparison of three different eras in Colorado’s legalization history:
• 2006 – 2008: Early medical marijuana era
• 2009 – Present: Medical marijuana commercialization and expansion era
• 2013 – Present: Recreational marijuana era
Rocky Mountain HIDTA will collect and report comparative data in a variety of areas, including but not limited to:
• Impaired driving
• Youth marijuana use
• Adult marijuana use
• Emergency room admissions
• Marijuana-related exposure cases • Diversion of Colorado marijuana
This is the third annual report on the impact of legalized marijuana in Colorado. It is divided into eleven sections, each providing information on the impact of marijuana legalization. The sections are as follows:
Section 1 – Impaired Driving...
Section 2 – Youth Marijuana Use...
Section 3 – Adult Marijuana Use...
Section 4 – Emergency Room Marijuana and Hospital Marijuana-Related Admissions...
Section 5 – Marijuana-Related Exposure...
Section 6 – Treatment...
Section 7 – Diversion of Colorado Marijuana...
Section 8 – Diversion by Parcel...
Section 9 – THC Extraction Labs...
Section 10 – Related Data...
Section 11 – Related Material...
The nature and order of the sections in this big RMHIDTA "Impact" report help highlight that RMHIDTA is almost exclusively interested in emphasizing and lamenting any and all potential negative impacts from marijuana reform in Colorado and deemphasizing and mariginalizing any and all potential positive impacts.
This bias toward emphasizing the negative and ignoring positive impacts is most obvious in terms of the report's (almost non-existant) discussion of the economic development and tax revenues resulting from legalization. Jobs created by marijuana reform are not mentioned anywhere in the report, and a short discussion of tax revenues in the final sections of the report starts with this warning: "It will take years of data collection to complete an analysis of whether marijuana legalization is economically positive or an economic disaster."
Similarly, changes in overall crime rates are only briefly discussed in the final "related data" section of the report, probably because the news seems pretty positive: property crime rates seem to be going down since marijuana reform throughout Colorado while violent crimes rates seem flat. Of particular note, as this semi-official chart reveals, it appears Denver (which is sort-of ground-zero for marijuana reform relalities and likely impact) experienced a significant decrease in reported homicides, rapes and robbery in 2014 relative to 2013. I suspect that this RMHIDTA report would have made much of Colorado and/or Denver homicide rates if they had gone up, but instead this "impact" goes undiscussed.
Reporting biases notwithstanding, this is still an important report that assembles lots of data. And, perhaps in part because of its biases, this report now stands as the latest, greatest effort by the law enforcement community to make the case that marijuana reform in Colorado is a failed experiment. Any and all serious students of marijuana law and policy should take the time to review what this report says and how it is saying what it is saying.
September 15, 2015 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)
Sunday, September 13, 2015
"California Marijuana Legalization 2015: New Medical Marijuana Law Rankles Top Cannabis Industry Investor"
The title of this post is the headline of this new Internation Business Times article effectively reviewing the dynamics surrounding the notable legislative development in California this past week. Here are excerpts:
California lawmakers quietly passed Friday the state’s most significant medical-marijuana legislation in almost two decades, but some leaders in the space worry that the law’s good intentions could get lost in the weeds . Paving the way for what supporters say is a much-needed regulatory framework for the state’s multibillion-dollar medical-cannabis industry, the California Senate and Assembly voted to approve the historic Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act, which will require licenses for cannabis dispensaries and create a new state agency to oversee the industry.
Although California residents voted to approve medical marijuana back in 1996, a regulatory plan has until now eluded policymakers, who could not seem to agree on specifics. Legislators finally reached a compromise on three bills, which have been sent for final approval to Gov. Jerry Brown, who is expected to sign them into law. The legislation was approved as part of a comprehensive package pushed through on the final day of the 2015 session.
Despite the historic achievement, some leaders in the field expressed concerns about the implications of regulating an industry that has been unregulated for so long. Steve DeAngelo, co-founder of the ArcView Group, mammoth marijuana-investment firm, and the Harborside Health Center, a nonprofit dispensary in the state, said in a statement Saturday that the time pressures made it impossible for state legislators to adequately consider the impact the new law will have on patients who depend on medical cannabis.
“[S]ome of the language in the bill is unclear or may be in conflict with prior legislation,” said DeAngelo, also the health center’s executive director. He added that the center hopes to work with lawmakers in the next session to address and resolve what he called “outstanding issues.”
[T]he legislation approved Friday would create -- in theory, at least -- a working template for how recreational marijuana might be regulated assuming it were to become legal. The bills will also allow for the creation of a new Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation within the Department of Consumer Affairs, which will oversee licenses.
Thursday, September 10, 2015
With election day 2015 now less than eight weeks away (and the start of early voting less than four weeks away), I am pleased to see that some national and local media are starting to engaging in deeper dives into the doctrines and debates surrounding the Ohio marijuana reform proposal now before Buckeye voters. Of particular note are these two lengthy new pieces about what is now known in Ohio as Issue 3:
From the International Business Times here, "Marijuana Legalization 2015: Ohio’s Push To Legalize Pot Creates Rifts Within Pro-Pot Movement"
From the Cincinnati Enquirer here, "Parents of ill children question whether Issue 3 will meet medical marijuana needs"
September 10, 2015 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)
Saturday, August 22, 2015
As reported in this effective local article, headlined "Menominee tribal members approve on-reservation marijuana use," a notable vote among a notable population in Wisconsin this past week ensures tribal marijuana policies and practices will continue to make news in the months ahead. Here are the details of the vote and the challenges it creates:
Now that Menominee tribal members have told their legislators to legalize marijuana, the difficult task begins of designing a profitable weed operation that does not result in the tribe or its customers getting busted. "Tribes are treading on very dangerous grounds" when it comes to growing and selling marijuana, warned Dorothy Alther, director of California Indian Legal Services. "If I was representing tribes out there (in Wisconsin) I would say it might not be such a good idea."
Just last month two California tribes were raided by federal and state authorities who said they seized at least 12,000 marijuana plants and more than 100 pounds of processed marijuana.
Members of the Menominee tribe this week voted 677 to 499 to legalize marijuana for recreational purposes and 899 to 275 to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes on its 360-acre reservation near Shawano. "This is new ground," Gary Besaw, Menominee chairman, said in an interview Friday shortly after the results were announced. "We have to start looking at developing best practices and draft ordinances to maximize the benefits we believe are possible and minimize the consequences we believe also are possible."
Legalizing marijuana on reservations has become a hot topic since late last year when the U.S. Department of Justice released a memo discouraging federal authorities from prosecuting tribes for growing or selling pot on their reservations. The memo also listed eight scenarios that could result in prosecution, including selling to minors or distributing the product to a state — such as Wisconsin — where weed remains illegal.
State law enforcement authorities do not have criminal jurisdiction on the Menominee reservation but could arrest people who leave the tribal land with marijuana. Federal authorities do, because when the Menominee had its tribal status restored in the 1970s, it became the state's only non-Public Law 280 tribe. "As a white guy I would fully expect that I'm getting pulled over if I drive off the (Menominee) reservation" if marijuana sales there are legalized, said R. Lance Boldrey, a Michigan Indian law attorney.
State and local authorities have jurisdiction over the 10 other tribes in Wisconsin, and at least three of those are seriously looking at legalizing marijuana or a derivative on their reservations. Still, Indian law experts say the Menominee, which has about 9,000 members, must deal with several hurdles.
■ Since marijuana is not legal in Wisconsin, the tribe may be restricted to selling weed only to Native Americans. Still, Besaw said, it could be worthwhile to begin growing and selling weed. He predicted that it won't be long before marijuana is legal throughout the nation and "when it does become legalized we'll be ready to launch," he said.
■ The Justice Department memo is a policy directive that could change, especially in 2017 when a new president takes office, Boldrey said. Rep. James Lankford (R-Okla.) this month sponsored a bill that would take away federal funding from any tribe that cultivates, manufactures or sells marijuana.
■ The tribe must consider the impact of legalizing a drug on an impoverished reservation that has long been plagued with substance abuse problems. "It's a huge concern," Besaw said.
■ It's not clear what to do with money generated from marijuana sales, since federally insured banks generally shun accepting marijuana money for fear of violating federal money laundering laws. Besaw said the tribe would likely avoid that risk by licensing and taxing a business to run the weed business. The tribe's revenue would be "clean money" because it would be tax revenue.
Besaw said he has met and will continue to meet with state and federal law enforcement to determine the guidelines the tribe must operate under to avoid the kind of trouble with the law that occurred in California.
Sunday, August 16, 2015
This lengthy new article, headlined "Medical marijuana laws taking root across the South," provides an effective review of marijuana reform developments in a number of southern US states. The piece merits a full read, and here are a few excerpts:
She lives in the wooden house her grandfather built more than a century ago in Chester, South Carolina, a rural community about a two-hour drive southeast of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The cluttered home is dimly lit and not air-conditioned, with the low hum of floor fans filling in rare lulls in conversation. Two Chihuahuas, Cricket and Joe, scuttle around Ada Jones' feet as she peers down through her eyeglasses at the iPad in her hands....
If someone needs medical marijuana, they contact her over the Internet. Jones encourages those who reach out to her to purchase marijuana illegally and make their own cannabis oil. If they're unsuccessful, she puts them in contact with a supplier who can sell them a more refined product.
"It's almost like playing God," Jones said. "If somebody contacts me, I have to look at them and wonder. I wonder if that's police first, not if I can help their kid. I try not to do that, but you have to because you're scared."
Jones helps everyone she can, whether they be young mothers of epileptic children or older patients suffering from chronic pain. Her specific brand of civil disobedience, like so many other facets of Southern life, is captained by her faith. "They talk about the South being the Bible belt, and praise the Lord we are," Jones said. "I cannot not help somebody. I have to. As a Christian, that's what I'm here for."
Many Southern states have a long and failed history with medical marijuana, mired deep in forgotten statutes. Only recently, as the marijuana movement sweeps through statehouses, have those laws become political tinder for a new debate in the South....
South Carolina state Sen. Tom Davis first heard the name Mary Louise Swing in late January of last year. The opening month of the 2014 legislative session was just wrapping up, and the legislator was back from the capital city of Columbia to do some work at his law office in Beaufort, a scenic coastal city located on Port Royal Island.
Davis chatted briefly that Monday afternoon with a law partner who had just met a woman named Harriet Hilton at a local Rotary club lunch. Her granddaughter suffered from a severe form of epilepsy and was seeking a type of treatment not currently legal or particularly popular in the Palmetto State – medical marijuana. "Quite frankly, it wasn't even on my radar screen," Davis said. "It wasn't anything in terms of public policy that I thought about doing until I heard about that story."
About a week later, Hilton was sitting across from Davis in his Beaufort office, discussing her granddaughter, Mary Louise, now 7. With the help of senate staffers, Davis rifled through old statutes to clarify the current legality of marijuana in the historically conservative state. What they unearthed was an obscure, obsolete law that would come to play a greater role in 2014 than it ever did following its passage 35 years ago....
Republican Gov. Nikki Haley signed Davis' bill into law in June 2014, legalizing CBD oil for epilepsy patients in South Carolina. CBD oil is an extract with concentrated amounts of cannabidiol - the part of the cannabis plant anecdotally shown to treat seizures - and low amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC - marijuana's psychoactive component.
Though the final law allowed physicians to authorize, and patients to consume, CBD oil, it did not provide for its cultivation or dispensation. Parents, patients and advocates have grown increasingly frustrated with the current state of medical marijuana in South Carolina. A law was passed in Alabama last year to allow for limited use of CBD oil, although Alabama patients are running into the same inability to access the medicine and are also facing similar decisions about moving west....
Even today in states such as Alabama and South Carolina - where CBD oil is legal but there's no provision to grow or distribute the drug - patients are left to obtain medical marijuana on their own, often across state lines and in violation of federal law. "There is an underground network of parents who had been treating their children for a while in states where they had limited-access bills like we had," said Janel Ralph, a mother in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, whose daughter suffers from a severe seizure disorder. "It was really an underground railroad."
You could call Ada Jones one of its many conductors. "The Jesus Christ that I know wouldn't want me to let anybody suffer," Jones said. "If it's in my ability to help them, then I'm going to help them."
Perhaps her favorite patient is her best friend, Beverly Love. A 55-year-old Chester native, Love was diagnosed with lupus at 31, and soon after, multiple sclerosis. Her doctor told her she probably had a maximum of two years to live. She needed to get her affairs in order and figure out who would be raising her 8-year-old son after she was gone.
"That was a scary thing. Not mainly for me – I worried about my son, my child," Love said. "But I'm still here, surprisingly. Even my doctors are surprised that I'm still living." Before Love met Jones, she didn't know what the word cannabis meant and had never smoked marijuana. She considered those who did drug addicts. "She could run for president and you couldn't find nothing on her. The girl is squeaky clean," Jones said. "She didn't want to do this. But she didn't want to die."
Jones inundated Love with countless articles on marijuana's medical benefits and personal testimonies to its effectiveness. "She just kept on," Love remembers. "And I'm thankful that she did. I'm really thankful that she did." Love first experimented with medical cannabis about a year and a half ago, spreading some medicated jam Jones had acquired for her on a piece of bread just before bedtime. Within two hours, Love said she experienced a relief she hadn't known in years.
She does not suffer from epilepsy, the only qualifying condition eligible to possess CBD oil in South Carolina. Even if she did, the oil she takes now is whole-plant – meaning it contains naturally high levels of THC in relation to CBD. She knows she could be arrested, but for her, the risk is worth it.
"If I started getting locked up now, I would move to a state where it was legal, because it's made such a difference in my day-to-day living," Love said. "I actually have quality of life now. And I didn't."