Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

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Saturday, August 22, 2015

Menominee tribal members in Wisconsin vote to legalize marijuana on its lands

Download (12)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.

August 22, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Highlighting how and why the Deep South is warming up to marijuana reform

Images (11)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."

August 16, 2015 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, August 15, 2015

"Momentum Continues to Build for Historic Federal Medical Marijuana Bill"

The title of this post is the headline of this new Huffington Post piece authored by Michael Collins, a policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance.  Here are excerpts:

It's been five months since the historic medical marijuana bill -- the CARERS Act -- was introduced in the Senate, and as Congress enjoys its summer recess, it's a good time to reflect on where the bill is positioned as we head into the second part of the year.

The legislation was introduced in March by Sens. Booker, Paul and Gillibrand, and received huge media attention, including a lead editorial in the New York Times in support of the bill, the day after it was introduced.

The advocacy groups in Washington, D.C. pushing CARERS have spent much of a very successful summer building support for the bill by advocating for the passage of three Senate appropriations amendments that mirror provisions of CARERS. These spending amendments would take effect for one year only, so they are less impactful than the legislative changes we would see through the passage of CARERS, but nonetheless they allowed us to test the waters on support for major provisions of the bill.

The key takeaway from these votes is that the Senate is ready to debate medical marijuana, and a majority would approve the CARERS Act if it was brought to the floor for a vote. The adoption by the Senate of three amendments that are almost identical to provisions in the CARERS Act was a welcome development, not least because every amendment garnered bipartisan support. Perhaps the most important part of CARERS is the section that allows states to set their own medical marijuana policies.

The amendment mirroring this provision passed the Senate Appropriations Committee 21-9, with seven Republicans supporting. The size of the victory demonstrates that, contrary to what some may have said, the Senate is ready to tackle full medical marijuana. Another amendment allowing veterans access to medical marijuana passed 18-12, and an amendment allowingmarijuana businesses to access banking services passed 16-14....

Senators Grassley and Feinstein, whose buy-in is important for CARERS to progress, have gone from being opponents of medical marijuana to holding a recent hearing on the issue, and drafting a Time magazine op-ed on the need for more research and access to certain types of medical marijuana. Sen. Feinstein also secured language in a separate funding bill calling for more research and recognizing "the potential therapeutic benefits that marijuana and its components may bring to patients with serious medical conditions, including seizures, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's, substance use disorders, and neuropathic and cancer pain." Sen. Grassley is a crucial player in this process, given that he chairs the Judiciary Committee, through which CARERS must pass.

The bill itself has a lot of momentum behind it -- 15 cosponsors, including 12 Democrats, two Republicans and one independent. The recent addition of Chuck Schumer -- the likely future head of the Senate Democrats and a key Judiciary member -- was another boost. And the bill continues to be regularly praised in the media, including in last Sunday's New York Times editorial.

The next few months will see advocates turn their attention to translating the Republican support for appropriations amendments into cosponsorship for CARERS -- something we need your help with. Advocates will also continue our dialogue with Senator Grassley and push for a Judiciary Committee hearing and vote on CARERS, which would clearly pass the Senate if allowed to move forward. Let's hope the next five months are as successful as the last five.

Some prior related posts:

August 15, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Political perspective on reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, August 8, 2015

National Council of State Legislatures resolves that feds should butt out of state marijuana policy reforms

At a conference this past week, the National Council of State Legislatures passed this notable resolution urging the federal government to revise federal marijuana laws in order to allow states to move forward without intereference with with state marijuana laws permitting the legal production and use of the plant. The full resolution, which arries the heading "In Support of States Determining Their Own Marijuana and Hemp Policies Without Federal Interference," is worth a read, and here are the closing paragraphs:

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the National Conference of State Legislatures believes that federal laws, including the Controlled Substances Act, should be amended to explicitly allow states to set their own marijuana and hemp policies without federal interference and urges the administration not to undermine state marijuana and hemp policies.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the National Conference of State Legislatures recognizes that its members have differing views on how to treat marijuana and hemp in their states and believes that states and localities should be able to set whatever marijuana and hemp policies work best to improve the public safety, health, and economic development of their communities.

August 8, 2015 in Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, August 7, 2015

Why heartland could warm to weed: "Rural Maryland sees jobs, not vice, in medical marijuana"

The title of this post is partially the headline of this local article and partially my spin on why I think the potential economic developments of a lawful marijuana marketplace could be of greatest long-term political and social importance.  Here is how the interesting article gets started:

Washington County is a proudly conservative place. Voters here haven’t backed a Democrat for president since 1964, and same-sex marriage lost by a landslide in a referendum three years ago.

But when Chicago-based Green Thumb Industries pitched a proposal to put a medical-marijuana production plant here, the county’s five county commissioners — Republicans all — passed a resolution unanimously supporting the plan.

Residents of Hagerstown, the county seat, seem to be taking the news in stride. The consensus: yes to marijuana for relieving pain, no to recreational use. “I think it’s all right as long as it’s only for medical. I don’t want a lot of potheads,” said Leo ­Myers, 61, a security worker at the Mack Truck plant.

It isn’t just compassion for suffering patients that is driving the acceptance of medical marijuana in Washington County, although that is one factor. Here and in other rural counties from Western Maryland to the Eastern Shore, officials are looking at cannabis grower-processors as sources of jobs rather than purveyors of vice.

Unemployment in this county has eased since it soared into double digits during the recession. But at 6.1 percent, the rate remains higher than the statewide average of 5.6 percent. And many residents have to commute 90 minutes or more to jobs in or near the District. Decent-paying jobs closer to home are much in demand.

“Out in Western Maryland, we’ve been deprived and depressed a lot,” said Commissioner John Barr. That history has helped shape reaction to the possibilities created by Maryland’s legalization of marijuana for medical purposes. “We view it as an economic-development opportunity,” Barr said.

Green Thumb representatives who briefed the commissioners before last month’s vote said the facility would employ 30 to 50 employees in its first year and predicted that it would expand to 200 workers in a new 175,000-square-foot plant in two to four years. They predicted the venture would give a $4 million-to- $7 million boost to the local economy.

That is hardly an economic panacea, but it represents a significant lift for a county still reeling from 650 layoffs at a Citigroup mortgage-servicing center and the closing of Unilever’s Good Humor ice cream plant, with its 450 jobs, in recent years.

The board’s action illustrates how quickly attitudes are changing across Maryland about the medicinal use of cannabis — the industry’s preferred term and one that was written into state law this year. “There’s a lot of interest all over the state,” said Hannah Byron, executive director of Maryland’s Medical Cannabis Commission.

August 7, 2015 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Employment and labor law issues, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Political perspective on reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 3, 2015

"Is it time to legalize marijuana in sports?"

Images (7)The question in the title of this post is the headline of this very lengthy San Diego Union-Tribune article spotlighting the arguments being made by a former NFL players about the relative advantages of marijuana as a means of pain relief.   Here are excerpts:

Kyle Turley's decade-long NFL career left the former San Diego State All-American offensive tackle with a multitude of health issues. Turley’s football injuries broke his body, but he’s also convinced that football did irreparable damage to his brain. He’s struggled with anxiety, headaches, depression and rage issues. In an interview with the Union-Tribune in 2013, he even admitted to having entertained suicide.

To help him deal with his ailments, Turley’s doctors have prescribed a multitude of painkillers, psych meds and muscle relaxants over the years. Depakote. Wellbutrin. Zoloft. Flexeril. Percocet. Vicodin. Toradol. Vioxx.

You don’t need to know what each of these drugs is designed to do. The point is that dating back to when he blew out his knee at SDSU in 1996, Turley has been on them all at some point, often in different prescribed combinations, over a period that spans almost 20 years.

That ended in February when Turley decided to free himself of all prescription medications and use only marijuana – a move he credits with saving his life.

The sports world appears to be waiting to see what happens politically in regard to marijuana, with the movement to legalize it gaining steam in the United States. 23 states have now legalized marijuana in some form, with four of those (Alaska, Washington, Oregon and Colorado) allowing for outright recreational use for adults aged 21 and older.

The drug is still illegal in all the major pro sports leagues and very restricted at the NCAA level. In the meantime, there’s a growing segment of athletes who believe the health benefits to be gained from the marijuana plant outweigh the risks – especially when compared to the opioids they’ve long been prescribed.

Experts in the field of pain medicine agree that everything is coming to a head. “We have 100 million Americans in chronic pain. We don’t have good, strong and safe therapies. We have a crisis with pain and opioids in this country,” said Dr. Lynn Webster, a past president of the American Academy of Pain Medicine. “We need to find better treatments for athletes and non-athletes, and cannabinoids may by one way.”...

A 1997 New York Times story estimated that “60 to 70 percent” of NBA players smoked marijuana, though this pre-dated the medicinal marijuana wave of the 2000s, and it appears that marijuana was used mostly as a recreational drug.

Around the turn of the decade, evidence suggests more athletes started using marijuana more to help manage pain from injuries, especially in the NFL. Running back Jamal Anderson, who played for the Atlanta Falcons from 1994 to 2001 recently told Bleacher Report that during his career about “40 to 50 percent of the league” used marijuana. San Diegan Ricky Williams, who played for the Saints, Dolphins and Ravens from 1999 to 2011, has also publicly talked about using marijuana during his career to help control pain and stress.

The focus on the issue sharpens when you consider that the NFL currently faces a lawsuit filed in May by a group of former players who allege that all 32 teams liberally dispensed large quantities of painkillers to injured players in a “conspiracy” to keep them on the field without fully educating them on the risks these medications present.

Anderson, Williams, Turley and former Denver Broncos tight end Nate Jackson are now part of a growing number of former players who believe that marijuana is a safer way to help athletes deal with pain. “It’s natural for football players to lean toward marijuana to deal with the violence and trauma of the game,” said Jackson, 36, who played for the Broncos from 2003-08, and who estimates that up to half his team might have used marijuana. “Teams will prescribe you bottles and injections that are really bad for you. Cannabis was what my teammates and I preferred.

“It was a supplement/recovery for me. (Opioids or marijuana), it was never a dilemma. It was a physical reaction to substances that I assessed after trying both and realizing that marijuana was better for my mind and body. I don’t like taking pills. They make me feel slow, sluggish and heavy.”...

The NFL only tests for marijuana between April and August, so it’s not difficult for players who use cannabis to work around that and stay under the radar while ensuring they pass the drug screening. Turley also used marijuana regularly when he played in the NFL because he said it helped him deal with some of his health issues – anxiety, sleeplessness and depression among them. Now, he’s returned to marijuana as a way to manage his ailments in his post-NFL life.

With California’s liberal medical marijuana policies, access to marijuana was one of the reasons Turley uprooted his family from Nashville, Tenn. back to his hometown of Riverside last April. Since weaning himself off all prescription drugs three months ago and transitioning solely to medicinal marijuana, Turley has noticed a “night and day difference in his psyche.” He no longer suffers from low testosterone, his libido is back, and his anxiety issues have improved.

“I don’t have as bad depression any more, that’s getting better. The cognitive impairment seems to be getting a little bit better. Life is more manageable, I have more energy and feel more alive,” Turley said. “I don’t think about killing myself any more. Suicidal thoughts and tendencies were part of my daily living. At the end of the day, I was losing hope with the synthetic drugs and now I feel better. It’s giving me hope again, helping with depression and anxiety.”

Some athletes also tout marijuana for its value as a neuro-protectant though scientific studies on the subject are still very preliminary. Some studies of the drug have found just the opposite – that it can actually lead to suicidal thoughts in some users. Like many medical issues, the anecdotes from true believers is increasingly at odds with the clinical evidence, stoking emotions on both sides.

More research could prove valuable for athletes looking for answers outside established medical practices that they have come to distrust – especially NFL players who have in the last five years become much more aware of how concussions and head trauma sustained during their football careers can cause long term brain damage or chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) – the progressive, degenerative brain disease that results from multiple sub-concussive blows to the head.

Turley has been diagnosed with early onset dementia, and has had his brain scanned for damage. Scans yielded a “big blurred area that doctors are concerned about,” Turley said. Put together the results of the scans, his memory issues, depression and anxiety problems, and Turley believes he has CTE. Turley also thinks marijuana might be helping his brain to heal. “I believe that the answer lies in marijuana and I’m on that search to figure that out. … With marijuana I saw some pretty amazing things and how it can deal with brain injury and this disease I have,” Turley said. “From memory to function, there are some wonders in this medicine.

Yet, for all his praises of marijuana, even Turley admits that in terms of its properties as a medicine, it’s still very much an untested commodity. While he has no medical or scientific credentials, he is passionate about the subject and is anxious to learn more. “There’s no real science behind this yet,” Turley said. “I’m really looking forward to expanding on my experience with it now that it’s giving me relief.

Some prior related posts on NFL players and marijuana use:

August 3, 2015 in Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Could medical marijuana developments in Nevada and New York be game-changers?

New_York_New_York_Casino_Las_Vegas_Nevada_1280x960Marijuana reform advocacy groups and many others tend to focus these days particularly on the handful of jrisdictions experimenting with full legalization of marijuana.  But I continue to think that the broad spread of state medical marijuana reform and the varied regulatory regimes in many states has the greatest short-term potential to encourage Congress to back off its steadfast commitment to blanket marijuana prohibition.  Consequently, I think it especially notable and important that this week two notable and important states had, as the articles below highlight, big medicial marijuana  reform developments:

Here is the news story from Nevada (a notable swing state with a popular Republican governor and a major tourism industry), "Historic day in Nevada: First medical marijuana sales after 15-year wait": 

Fifteen years after Nevadans voted to legalize it, medical marijuana was sold legally in the state for the first time Friday at a dispensary in a strip mall about 5 miles east of downtown Reno.

Dressed in polo shirts, tie-dyes and button-downs, about 75 people with medical marijuana cards lined up outside Silver State Relief, between a sub shop and pizza place in Sparks, to be among the first to buy as much as a half-ounce of pot for $195. “It smells good in there,” said Dana Metz, 64, a retired General Motors worker who said he suffers from back pain, insomnia and anxiety. He was the first in line two hours before the doors opened just after 10 a.m....

Unless the next Legislature takes action sooner, Nevadans will consider another ballot measure in 2016 to legalize recreational use of marijuana. They approved medical pot in 2000, but the law lacked language to establish a system to sell or distribute the drug until 2013. Before that, anyone authorized had to grow their own — up to 12 plants per person — or find it some other way.

“The politicians just didn’t have the will to do what the people wanted,” said state Sen. Tick Segerblom, a major proponent of marijuana legislation. “Why the Legislature could not get behind this blows my mind.”...

On average it takes nine to 18 months for stores to open following legislative approval, said Karmen Hanson, marijuana analyst for the National Conference of State Legislatures. Of the 25 states and territories that approved medical pot, most are up and operational. “By two years, there’s usually something,” Hanson said....

Nevada already has distributed many of its 66 marijuana dispensary licenses, but it’s unclear how soon Las Vegas or other parts of the state will see shops open. The process was complicated when Clark County gave preliminary clearance to eight applicants, and the state later gave preliminary clearance to eight others. The state deferred to the county’s list, but the future of the state-approved entities is uncertain.

Nevada Medical Marijuana Association Executive Director Will Adler said the state’s strict rules — based on Colorado’s system — will stave off problems once dispensaries get off the ground and become a model for other states. “We tried to write the law that would be the gold standard for the country,” he said.

Nevada’s regulations include “seed-to-sale” tracking to trace marijuana to the source — a measure aimed at preventing black market marijuana from seeping into the system, or thieves from taking pot out. The Department of Agriculture also is working to finalize a pesticide testing process that screens for 30 to 40 different chemicals, the first such system in the nation.

Here is the news story from New York (a notable liberal state which is also the unofficial capitol of capitalism), "New York State Awards 5 Medical Marijuana Licenses":

Mirroring a national trend toward an acceptance of marijuana, the New York State Health Department on Friday named the five organizations that will be allowed to grow and sell the drug for medical use in the state, including in New York City.

The organizations will be registered with the state, and each plans to open four dispensaries statewide. They are required to be doing business within six months, meaning medical marijuana could be on sale in New York by the end of the year.

The marijuana outlets were authorized by the Compassionate Care Act signed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, in July 2014, and the decision on the registrations was issued after what the Health Department called a “rigorous and comprehensive” review of prospective purveyors of the drug, and amid criticism that state regulations for such businesses are too restrictive....

Despite the rules and a list of precise regulations announced this spring, the bidding for the registrations was intense, with 43 companies submitting applications. And while that meant dozens of losers on Friday, at least one lawmaker offered some hope for the future. “To those who did not make the cut, stick around,” said State Senator Diane Savino, a Staten Island Democrat who sponsored the 2014 bill. “New York is a very big state.”

August 1, 2015 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

"Seniors Are Seeking Out States Where Marijuana is Legal"

The title of this post is the headline of this intriguing new Reuters article.  Here are excerpts:

When choosing retirement locales, a few factors pop to mind: climate, amenities, proximity to grandchildren, access to quality healthcare. Chris Cooper had something else to consider – marijuana laws.

The investment adviser from Toledo had long struggled with back pain due to a fractured vertebra and crushed disc from a fall. He hated powerful prescription drugs like Vicodin, but one thing did help ease the pain and spasms: marijuana.

So when Cooper, 57, was looking for a place to retire, he ended up in San Diego, since California allows medical marijuana. A growing number of retirees are also factoring in the legalization of pot when choosing where to spend their golden years. “Stores are packed with every type of person you can imagine,” said Cooper who takes marijuana once or twice a week, often orally. “There are old men in wheelchairs, or women whose hair is falling out from chemotherapy. You see literally everybody.”

Cooper, who figures he spends about $150 on the drug each month, is not alone in retiring to a marijuana-friendly state.... Figuring out how many people are retiring to states that let you smoke pot is challenging since retirees do not have to check off a box on a form saying why they chose a particular location to their final years.

But “there is anecdotal evidence that people with health conditions which medical marijuana could help treat, are relocating to states with legalized marijuana,” said Michael Stoll, a professor of public policy at University of California, Los Angeles who studies retiree migration trends.

He cited data from United Van Lines, which show the top U.S. moving destinations in 2014 was Oregon, where marijuana had been expected to be legalized for several years and finally passed a ballot initiative last November. Two-thirds of moves involving Oregon last year were inbound. That is a 5 percent jump over the previous year, as the state “continues to pull away from the pack,” the moving company said in a report.

The Mountain West – including Colorado, which legalized medical marijuana in 2000, and recreational use in 2012 – boasted the highest percentage of people moving there to retire, United Van Lines said. One-third of movers to the region said they were going there specifically to retire....

Many of the health afflictions of older Americans push them to seek out dispensaries for relief. “A lot of the things marijuana is best at are conditions which become more of an issue as you get older,” said Taylor West, deputy director of the Denver-based National Cannabis Industry Association. “Chronic pain, inflammation, insomnia, loss of appetite: All of those things are widespread among seniors.”

Since those in their 60s and 70s presumably have no desire to be skulking around on the criminal market in states where usage is outlawed, it makes sense they would gravitate to states where marijuana is legal. “In Colorado, since legalization, many dispensaries have seen the largest portion of sales going to baby boomers and people of retirement age,” West said.

July 22, 2015 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Colorado board refuses to add PTSD to conditions included in medical marijuana laws

As reported in this new Denver Post piece, the "Colorado Board of Health voted 6-2 — amid shouts, hisses and boos from a packed house — not to add post-traumatic stress disorder to the medical conditions that can be treated under the state's medical marijuana program." Here is the backstory for this notable regulatory decision:

A dozen of the veterans who testified said cannabis has saved their lives. Many said drugs legally prescribed to them for PTSD at veterans clinics or by other doctors — antidepressants, antipsychotics, opioids and others — nearly killed them or robbed them of quality of life.  "It is our brothers and sisters who are committing suicide every day. We know cannabis can help. We're not going to go away," said John Evans, director of Veterans 4 Freedoms.

"We've legalized it," Evans said.  "We'll take the tax dollars from our tourists (for recreational marijuana) before we'll help our vets."

The president of the nine-member board, Tony Cappello, an epidemiologist, said he could not vote to approve pot's use for PTSD because scientific evidence does not support it.  Most board members agreed that mountains of anecdotal evidence aren't enough.  One board member was absent.  "I'm struggling with the science piece," board member Dr. Christopher Stanley said.

The American and Colorado psychiatric associations do not support it, said board member Dr. Ray Estacio, an internist at Denver Health and associate professor in medicine at the University of Colorado Denver.

But board member Joan Sowinski, an environmental and occupational health consultant, said the testimony from veterans and other PTSD sufferers was so persuasive — as was recent research about symptoms reduction — that she could support it. Jill Hunsaker-Ryan, an Eagle County commissioner, was the only other yes vote.

"Blood is on your hands," one audience member shouted after the board voted not to make Colorado the 10th state to allow medicinal marijuana use for PTSD.

The state's chief medical officer, Dr. Larry Wolk, director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, recommended the state add the condition.  He suggested a provision that would cause the issue to be re-examined in four years, after two state-funded studies produced results.  Wolk said listing PTSD as a treatable condition would increase transparency and reveal actual usage, shedding light on its effectiveness and reinforcing a physician-patient relationship for many users.

Many veterans are self-medicating with recreational marijuana or using medical marijuana ostensibly as pain treatment, although it is really for PTSD, he said. Currently allowed uses of marijuana include pain (93 percent of recommendations), cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, muscles spasms, multiple sclerosis, severe nausea and wasting disease (cachexia).

Dr. Doris Gundersen, a psychiatrist who spoke at the meeting, said only 4 percent to 5 percent of the state's physicians recommend medical marijuana to patients.  About 15 physicians make 75 percent of the recommendations, she said. The state has roughly 14,000 licensed doctors.  "Why are so few getting on board? (Because) there is a lack of quality evidence that it is safe and effective ... and does no harm," Gundersen said.

One of the state-funded medical marijuana investigators, Sue Sisley, who is looking at effects on veterans' PTSD, said federal policy on marijuana is a prime reason research is scant.  It will take at least four years for her study, she said, because the team has been delayed in getting the study drug, still illegal under federal law, from the authorized supplier — the U.S. government.

A few of the roughly 30 public speakers noted that what patients want — not hard science — is driving demand for expanded medicinal uses of marijuana.  That's not a bad thing, advocates said. "It is very important patients become part of this discussion," said Teri Robnett, director of the Cannabis Patients Alliance and member of the state's advisory council.  "Patients are getting enormous relief." 

July 16, 2015 in Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

"How medical marijuana could literally save lives"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new Washington Post Wonkblog entry that reports on a notable new study about the relationship between marijuana reform and reduction in the harms from opiate addictions and overdoses.  Here is how the piece gets started (with links from the original):

Medical marijuana opponents recently pounced on a big new analysis published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showing that there isn't good evidence that marijuana works for many of the conditions, like glaucoma, anxiety, or Parkinson's disease, that it's often prescribed for.  The JAMA study was based on a meta-analysis of the findings of 79 previously-published studies.

Now, the study did not say pot isn't helpful for people suffering from those ailments; it said there was no evidence to that effect, as German Lopez noted at Vox.  Importantly, however, the JAMA study found solid evidence that marijuana is effective at treating one big condition: chronic pain.  The JAMA review found "30% or greater improvement in pain with cannabinoid compared with placebo," across the 79 studies it surveyed.

new NBER working paper out today is a helpful reminder of why that finding is so important.  Pain management -- especially chronic pain management -- is a tricky business.  Prescription painkillers are highly addictive and deadly -- they killed more than 16,000 people in 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's's latest numbers.  In the U.S., drug overdoses kill more people than suicide, guns or car crashes.  The CDC now calls prescription painkiller abuse an "epidemic."

The researchers on the NBER paper, however, found that access to state-sanctioned medical marijuana dispensaries is linked to a significant decrease in both prescription painkiller abuse, and in overdose deaths from prescription painkillers.  The study authors examined admissions to substance abuse treatment programs for opiate addiction as well as opiate overdose deaths in states that do and do not have medical marijuana laws.

They found that the presence of marijuana dispensaries was associated with a 15 to 35 percent decrease in substance abuse admissions.  Opiate overdose deaths decreased by a similar amount. "Our findings suggest that providing broader access to medical marijuana may have the potential benefit of reducing abuse of highly addictive painkillers," the researchers conclude.

July 14, 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, July 8, 2015

Does significant federal marijuana reform have a significant chance in the Senate?

Images (1)The question in the title of this post is prompted by this notable new and lengthy Politico magazine piece headlined "The Senate's experiment with cannabis: Hardliners on Judiciary open up to research on medical pot." Here are excerpts:

Congress has resolutely opposed the state-level movements toward legalizing marijuana, keeping it a Schedule I controlled substance on par with heroin, LSD and peyote.  But now some of the nation’s toughest law-and-order senators just might be opening the window to cannabis, at least a crack.

Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) have all begun speaking up about the need for more clinical research on the marijuana plant compound known as cannabidiol, or CBD.  The three sit on the powerful Judiciary Committee, which has a key voice in setting the federal government’s firm stance on pot in all its different forms.

They sent a clear signal in a packed hearing room last week, when the senators took on the tricky issue of CBD, a compound derived from an illegal drug but which many scientists and public health officials believe could treat conditions including cancer, diabetes, chronic pain, and alcoholism.  Some parents and doctors have already turned to CBD as an anti-seizure medicine for children who suffer from rare and extreme types of intractable epilepsy.

Grassley, the chairman of the powerful Judiciary panel, told the audience at a narcotics caucus meeting that it's not an “inconsistent position" to embrace the beneficial components of the pot plant even while rejecting pretty much everything else about the drug, adding that doctors prescribe morphine but don’t recommend their patients go out and smoke opium or heroin.  Feinstein and Hatch also spoke about the potential benefits from CBD, and complained that current drug laws impede the parents of sick children from access to what appears to be a helpful medicine.

At the same time, the senators went through elaborate motions to explain they weren’t softening their stance against recreational pot.  “I have deep concern that [pot] does more harm than anything else,” Feinstein said in an interview.  “But in terms of the medical aspects of it, it’s a totally different picture.  It’s like any other plant.  I’m sure there are other plants that if you ate you’d hallucinate or something.  But if you can get the beneficial parts out, get them researched, be able to standardize it, regulate it, you may have something very good.”

The lawmakers’ comments, coming on the heels of two recent Obama administration moves to expand medical-marijuana research, marked another pointed moment in the country’s shifting views on drug policy.  What was once an absolute red line in the “Just Say No” era is now a more porous border.  Twenty-three states and Washington D.C. have legalized medical marijuana; Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington state and the District of Columbia have also legalized recreational use, despite the clash with federal drug laws.

Congress, so far, has made no moves at all to relax recreational marijuana laws, and in Washington D.C. – where it effectively holds veto powers over the local government’s affairs – it prohibited the city from spending money to implement its voter initiative on recreational use.  As a result, the nation’s capital considers marijuana legal but doesn’t have any sales and taxation system....

Utah, Hatch noted, was “certainly no redoubt of hippie liberalism,” but in March 2014 became the first of 15 states to legalize use of the CBD oil.  Now, he's pushing the Senate to pass a bipartisan bill that would remove CBD from the definition of marijuana under federal law, giving parents a green light to buy the medicine without the threat of DEA agents busting them.

One sticky issue on the cannabis front has been that its outlaw status makes it more difficult to carry out both government and privately funded research.  While it’s technically legal to study the medical aspects of pot, researchers must go through a rigorous DEA and FDA approval process, and can only obtain their marijuana from the government’s sole authorized U.S. supplier, located at the University of Mississippi.

While Grassley rarely has praise for Team Obama, he applauded the Democratic administration for two moves it made in June on the medical-research front: the Department of Health and Human Services got rid of what it called a duplicative 16-year old paperwork review requirement for private researchers studying the drug; and separately, the Justice Department and HHS moved to study whether CBD should be classified on a less stringent level than the entire marijuana plant.  “This is a significant breakthrough and I commend these agencies for agreeing to take this step,” Grassley said.

The feds are in part playing catch-up with the black market, where parents using the oil extracts for their children say they’ve spent as much as $2,500 for a month’s supply. Feinstein said she hears complaints from constituents in California and around the country that they have bought CBD without labels, factory seals or clear dosage amounts.  “This is an untenable situation.  It is not how medicine should work,” Feinstein said.  Her goal, she said, was "to get this process expanded, and get it legitimized and get it regulated.  And I think those are the things we have to do and do as quickly as we can.”...

Despite their interest, Feinstein and her colleagues were circumspect still about how far Congress will go this session.  The House in June included several pot-related amendments to a spending bill funding the Commerce, Justice and State departments; one measure adopted on a 297-130 vote allows states that have legalized cannabidiol to do it without federal interference; another prohibits the federal government from blocking states from implementing their own medical marijuana laws. (President Barack Obama signed a similar provision into law in last year's "CRominbus" spending bill, but the language lapses at the end of the fiscal year.) The House also narrowly rejected an amendment – on a 206-222 vote – that would have told the feds to butt out in the implementation of any state marijuana laws, either recreational or medical.

In the Senate, Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) are leading an effort for a broader medical marijuana bill that would help make the drug available for a range of conditions, including cancer, glaucoma and for children via the CBD extract.  Their legislation would block the federal government from halting state medical marijuana laws; permit doctors at the Department of Veterans Affairs to prescribe the drug to military veterans; allow banks to do business with medical marijuana dispensaries and let states import the CBD oils for treatments. The senators also want to change how marijuana is classified under the Controlled Substances Act – moving it from the most restrictive Schedule 1 category that limits its use for research and defines it as having no accepted medical benefits into the Schedule 2 category that comes with fewer requirements before it can be studied.

In an interview, Gillibrand said it was a "huge deal" to have Grassley, Hatch and Feinstein supportive of expanding cannabis research. “I think it’s the first step toward a fuller conversation on how important medical marijuana is to so many patients across the country," she said.

But Gillibrand still has work in front of her if she wans to pick up their support for many of the specifics in her bill. Grassley, who has been a high-profile partner with Gillibrand on legislation tackling sexual assault crimes in the military and on college campuses, said he wasn't ready to ally with the Democrat yet on medical marijuana legislation.... And when asked if she backed the push to reclassify marijuana as a Schedule 2 controlled substance, Feinstein – who represents a state that legalized medical marijuana nearly 20 years ago – replied: “I’m not there yet.”

Personally, I have a "deep concern" that Senator Feinstein may do "more harm than anything else" if she is still clinging to a refeer madness view of marijuana as the most hamful of all drugs. But, especially if Senator Feinstein still does have a unsupportable view as to the harms of marijauana, the fact that even she is now talking up the importance of some medical marijuana reform perhaps is a great sign for the overall reform movement.

July 8, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Louisiana now with broadest (and least functional?) medical marijuana laws in South

ImagesAs effectively reported in this local article, headlined "One word could render Louisiana's medical marijuana law useless, advocates say," there is big marijuana reform news in the Bayou.  But, as the article also explains, the real-world effectiveness of the reform is uncertain because of a critical term used in the reforms:

Louisiana now has a law in place authorizing the growth, prescription and dispensary of medical marijuana to certain patients.  But advocates of medical marijuana who lobbied this year at the Louisiana State Capitol for the bill's passage worry a last-minute word change could essentially render the new law useless.

In the 23 other states where medical marijuana is legal, the laws refer to a "recommendation" for medical marijuana, not a "prescription."  David Brown, the director of a group called Sensible Marijuana Policy for Louisiana, said changing out "prescription" for "recommendation" allows doctors and pharmacists to get marijuana to patients without risking their federal license with the Drug Enforcement Agency....

The sponsor of the bill (SB 143), state Sen. Fred Mills, R-New Iberia, is aware of the concerns of Brown and other advocates.  He said, however, that Louisiana Board of Pharmacy Director Malcolm Broussard has assured him the issue of prescription versus recommendation could be "worked through" during the rule-making process.

Jacob Irving, a medical marijuana advocate and recent graduate of LSU, suffers from spastic quadriplegia -- a rare form of cerebral palsy that causes chronic muscle stiffness and has been effectively treated with marijuana.  If the law in its current form is properly enacted, his disease is on the list of those that would quality for medical marijuana.  Irving was the one who convinced a House panel to change the wording to "recommendation," before it was stripped out of the bill on the House floor.

The Louisiana Family Forum, the state's most influential conservative Christian group, requested the word "prescription" be put back into the bill before it reached the House floor.  Even the Louisiana Sheriff's Association, who had expressed strong opposition to the bill last year, were OK with "recommendation," Fred Mills said.  Family Forum Director Gene Mills said early this month he told Fred Mills putting the prescription language in the bill was a requirement for his group to remain neutral on the bill.

Opposition from the Family Forum could have hurt the bill's chance of passing and might have drawn a veto from Gov. Bobby Jindal, who closely follows Mills' guidance on social policies.  Jindal, too, had requested the term prescription be used.  Gene Mills said the prescription requirement keeps the proposed law in the realm of medical practice, subjecting it to the oversight and "necessary safeguard."

"That's why we're in the neutral zone," said Gene Mills, days after the House passed the version of the bill with "prescription" included.

Brown said the Louisiana Family Forum and Jindal's hardline position on calling it a prescription provides more evidence that the wording neuters the bill. "Why on earth would you insist so hard on that language being included (in the bill) unless you were fully aware, like we are, that by including it you've essentially gutted the bill?" he said.

While Irving is hopeful the wording won't cause a problem as the bill's sponsor has suggested, he can't ignore the potential threat it has to thwart access to patients. "If a doctor writes a prescription, he may go to jail or lose his DEA license," Irving said.

Brown said there's no pharmacist willing to put his or federal license at risk by signing off on dispensing a schedule I substance. By doing so, they would be "risking their whole livelihood -- for just that one prescription that they write." Broussard, however, acknowledged in an email provided by Mills that the use of the word "recommendation" has been suggested by other states to reduce risk to doctors and pharmacists. But he also indicated it made little difference.

"The outcome of the process -- whether it is a 'recommendation' or a 'prescription' -- remains the same," Broussard said. "It is an order generated by the physician for filling at the pharmacy." Irving still worries the seemingly minor wording problem could lead to another empty medical marijuana law that doesn't actually get the drug in the hands of patients who need it.

It's happened before: Louisiana technically legalized medical marijuana in 1978 and again in 1991, but those statutes didn't provide legal structure to allow for legal access to the drug -- from the ground to the patient. The law signed Monday (June 30) by Jindal was supposed close those loopholes.

Irving, who is 22, said he has been waiting his whole life for structural flaws in Louisiana's current medical marijuana law to be sorted out. "I just don't want to see a whole second generation pass (before) this bill is set up (to work)," he said. "It's needless suffering that can end."

July 2, 2015 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

New and distinct marijuana reforms become effective today in Minnesota and Oregon

As reported in local pieces linked below, two notably different northern states have two notably different marijuana reforms becoming effective today:

Unsurprisingly, the events in Oregon are a bigger deal from a national marijuana reform perspective, as this story from the national news outlet Reuters highlights.  It is headlined "Crowds count down to legalization of marijuana in Oregon, then light up," and starts this way:

Crowds counted down the minutes to midnight then lit up joints as smoking marijuana became legal in Oregon on Wednesday, part of a growing legalization movement spreading down the United States' west coast.

Hundreds gathered on the Burnside Bridge in downtown Portland and smoked under the glow of a neon city sign, marking the moment that the law allowing recreational use, backed by voters in November, came into effect.

The legislation opens the way for shops to sell marijuana by next year - though some lawmakers say they will still try to block retail outlets.

Similar legislation is already in force in Alaska and Washington State, reflecting a shifting legal landscape for a drug that remains illegal under federal law.

July 1, 2015 in Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | 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)

Sunday, June 21, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 19, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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)

Monday, June 15, 2015

Colorado Supreme Court affirms statutory interpretation permitting dismissal of medical marijuana user

As reported in this local article, a long awaited Colorado Supreme Court ruling concerning application of the state's employment laws for marijuana user finally was handed today.  Here are the basics:

The Colorado Supreme Court on Monday affirmed lower courts' rulings that businesses can fire employees for the use of medical marijuana — even if it's off-duty. The 6-0 decision comes nine months after the state's highest court heard oral arguments in Brandon Coats' case against Dish Network. Coats, who had a medical marijuana card and consumed pot off-duty to control muscle spasms, was fired in 2010 after failing a random drug test.

Coats challenged Dish's zero-tolerance drug policy, claiming that his use was legal under state law. The firing was upheld in both trial court and the Colorado Court of Appeals. When the case went to the state Supreme Court, legal observers said the case could have significant implications for employers across Colorado. They also noted that the ruling could be precedent-setting as Colorado and other states wrangle with adapting laws to a nascent industry that is illegal under federal law.

As such, the question at hand is whether the use of medical marijuana — which is in compliance with Colorado's Medical Marijuana Amendment — is "lawful" under the state's Lawful Off-Duty Activities Statute. That term, the justices said, refers to activities lawful under both state and federal law.

"Therefore, employees who engage in an activity, such as medical marijuana use, that is permitted by state law but unlawful under federal law are not protected by the statute," Justice Allison H. Eid wrote in the opinion. The justices said the court will not make a new law. Current Colorado law allows employers to set their own policies on drug use.

Coats' attorney Michael Evans, of Centennial-based The Evans Group, called the decision "devastating."

"For people like Brandon Coats, there really isn't a 'choice,' as MMJ is the only substance both he and his (Colorado-licensed) physicians know of to control his seizures due to his quadriplegia," Evans said. "He has to have it. " A silver lining of the decision, Evans said, is that it provides clarity in a "scary, gray area" of state law.

"Today's decision means that until someone in the House or Senate champions the cause, most employees who work in a state with the world's most powerful MMJ laws will have to choose between using MMJ and work," Evans said in a statement....

Sam Kamin, a law professor at the University of Denver, said the justices' decision comes as no surprise. "It's easy to make too much of this decision," he said. "It really comes down to interpreting this one word in this one statute." As a matter of statutory interpretation, the court got it right, he said.

But for Coats and medical marijuana advocates, this is a blow, Kamin said. Coats was a "dream plaintiff" in that marijuana served as medicine, he said. Coats was rendered a quadriplegic by a car accident and used marijuana to control leg spasms.

The cause likely would land in the hands of the state legislature, Kamin said. "I think (Coats') case is very sympathetic, and I think his case would be quite compelling before the legislature," Kamin said.

The full ruling in this notable state Supreme Court can be accessed at this link, and the only thing I find surprising is why it took the Colorado justices a full nine months to resolve this matter.

In addition, though I fully understand the disappointment felt by Coats and his lawyer, I share Sam Kamin's view that this ruling is not that big a deal. This ruling does not mean state employers must dismiss marijuana users, only that they are not required by statute to keep such users who comply with state law employed. Ultimately, this case only would have been a very big deal if it had come out the other way. And, especially as more and more state legalize medical marijuana, I suspect more and more employers will become more eager to make accomodations for medical marijuana patients.

June 15, 2015 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Employment and labor law issues, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, State court rulings | Permalink | Comments (0)

Spotlighting the many unique business challenges facing the modern marijuana industry

This new USA Today article, headlined "Patchwork of pot rules hampers marijuana business expansion," highlights why the succeeding in the marijuana industry is not quite as easy as it migth seem. Here is how the article gets started:

Marijuana entrepreneurs rushing into the booming market are running headlong into a patchwork of state-by-state regulations that make it hard to transfer their expertise, brands and staff— and even their profits.

Because the federal government classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, states that have legalized medical or recreational marijuana have developed widely divergent rules governing their semi-legal marketplaces.

In Colorado, for instance, retailers until recently had been required to grow the majority of the marijuana they sell to customers. But Washington state bans retailers from growing their own cannabis, forcing them to buy from state-licensed farms.

New York and Minnesota ban the sale of smokeable medical marijuana but their systems will permit very sick people to consume cannabis oil and other extracts, while the District of Columbia allows residents to possess up to two ounces of smoking marijuana for recreational use.

Some states require marijuana growers and sellers to be legal residents of the state they're operating in, which means companies seeking to franchise their brands can't just send in managers from existing operations elsewhere.

Colorado requires a clean criminal record to get a marijuana-growing or retail license, while in Washington a conviction doesn't necessarily disqualify them.

"If you're trying to open a bagel shop in New York and a bagel shop in St. Louis, they're going to end up basically the same," said Kris Krane, the co-founder and managing partner of marijuana consulting firm 4Front Ventures. "The only difference is that the bagels might taste better in New York. (With marijuana), every state we go into we have to tailor the operating model. It's a real challenge."

June 15, 2015 in Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)