Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

A Member of the Law Professor Blogs Network

Thursday, May 28, 2015

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

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

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

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

(2) Waive DEA registration requirements for handling CBD;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 22, 2015

Ohio's GOP Attorney General now talking up medical marijuana reform

Ht_mike_dewine_ll_120217_mnAs reported in this notable local article, headlined "Mike DeWine looks at drafting his own medical marijuana proposal," the various on-going efforts to bring marijuana reform to the ballot in the Buckeye State has finally convinced the chief law enforcement representative in Ohio to start seriously considering marijuana reform. Here are the basics:

Attorney General Mike DeWine has directed staff to look at potentially drawing up a new proposal to legalize medical marijuana in Ohio, a spokesman said Friday.

DeWine staffers have been reviewing medical marijuana schemes in other states to see whether it's possible to set up "very tightly regulated" rules that can't be exploited by recreational pot users, said AG spokesman Dan Tierney.

Specifically, Tierney said, the attorney general is interesting in other states' plans that allow medical marijuana to be used in ways other than smoking, such as ointments or pills. If one of those plans is found to be "worthy of support," Tierney said, the AG's office may present those findings to the legislature or seek a ballot issue.

However, Tierney cautioned that it's still "far too early" to say when DeWine would take such a step – or even if he will end up taking any action at all.

Marijuana proponents are working on at least three different ballot initiatives in Ohio that would fully legalize the drug. A fourth group is gathering signatures to legalize medical marijuana in the state.

DeWine still has "grave concerns" about full marijuana legalization, Tierney said.

I have noted in some prior posts how interesting my own home state of Ohio has become in the marijuana reform arena thanks almost entirely to the significant direct democracy legalization initiative making its way to the ballot for voters to consider in 2015 (and then perhaps again in 2016). This news coming from the notable GOP Attorney General is yet another sign og how the people can, with the help of direct democracy, push the representative to actually do more of what the people say they want.

Some prior related posts on recent Ohio developments:

May 22, 2015 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Political perspective on reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, May 17, 2015

More on the "ag-tech revolution" being spurred by legalized cannabis crops

In this post from a few weeks ago, I was promped by an article about the Tesla battery and marijuana cultivation to ask this question is a post title: "Could/will the marijuana industry become a boon for green energy innovation?".  Continuing with the theme of innovations for ganja growing is this fascinating new article via the International Business Times headlined "Legal Marijuana Cultivation Is Driving A Technology 'Revolution' In Industrial Agriculture." Here are excerpts:

[A] growing number of companies in North America [are] designing new products and systems specifically for the cultivation of cannabis, a finicky crop that needs a precise balance of light, moisture and water to thrive. Although these cannabis ventures aren’t exactly reinventing the wheel -- greenhouse technologies have existed for decades -- they are injecting the kinds of capital and brainpower into the field of industrial agriculture that simply wasn’t there a decade ago.

They’re also adding a new level of urgency. As more countries and U.S. states soften their policies on both medical and recreational marijuana, companies are racing to become the industry leaders in data-mining software, ultraefficient lamps and water-sipping irrigation systems. These tools will benefit more than marijuana growers alone: Industrial food producers and tree growers could adapt the same technologies to cut energy costs and boost their crops. Operators of large buildings could use the systems to lower their electricity use.

“Cannabis is spurring on an ag-tech revolution,” said Troy Dayton, CEO of ArcView Group, a cannabis-industry research firm in Oakland, California. “This is a boom born entirely out of ending repressive laws. The market is already there, it’s just moving from the shadows into the light. That’s why you’re seeing this incredible growth and why so many people see it as a once-in-a-lifetime [business] opportunity.”

That market is rapidly expanding in the U.S., where 23 states have already legalized medical marijuana, and three states -- Alaska, Colorado and Washington -- allow recreational-marijuana sales. Voters in Oregon approved a ballot measure last fall that allows for personal pot use and limited cultivation. The policy takes effect July 1. In Texas, Ohio, Nebraska and a number of other states, voters and policymakers are considering similar initiatives. (In Canada, medical-marijuana use was legalized in 2001, and recent policy changes are enabling a rise in industrial growing operations.)....

Companies such as Heliostat are moving into the cannabis space for three key reasons -- first and foremost, cash. Unlike tomato and pepper producers, cannabis growers boast wide profit margins, giving them a bigger budget for top-of-the-line technologies and a greater appetite for research and experimentation....

Second, young technology whizzes and expert plant biologists are both bringing their skills to the burgeoning sector. “For the newer generation that’s just getting out of college or new to the workplace, cannabis is a more interesting project than say a real-estate project, or a lettuce project,” said Michael Mayes, CEO of Quantum 9 Inc., a Chicago consulting firm for cannabis cultivation and manufacturing. “The cool factor can drive innovation.”

Third, there is plenty of demand among growers. As they build new greenhouses and indoor facilities, they’re interested in shaving off as much electricity and water consumption as possible to reduce operating expenses and protect profit margins as more players enter the market.

Dayton of ArcView Group said the cannabis industry is still in the earliest stages of its technology “renaissance,” and that the only thing holding it back are prohibitive marijuana policies in certain states.

Even so, the gradual easing of cannabis laws is already drawing interest from mainstream businesses, including a subsidiary of Scotts Miracle-Gro Co. The company’s Hawthorne Gardening Co. in April purchased General Hydroponics Inc. and Bio-Organic Solutions Inc., which make liquid nutrients for indoor marijuana cultivation. Terms were not disclosed, but the acquisition should make Scotts, with its $2.97 billion in annual revenue, a formidable player in the marijuana market.

Prior related post:

Could/will the marijuana industry become a boon for green energy innovation?

May 17, 2015 in Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Science, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 7, 2015

"Why Washington state is extinguishing medical marijuana" ... while the black market endures

The title of this post adds to the headline of this notable Mashable piece discussing notable marketplace developments in one of the first two states that legalized recreational marijuana via initiative votes in 2012.   Here are excerpts:

For the past 10 months, three marijuana markets have been operating simultaneously in Washington state: the street market, the medical market and the recreational market. In the future, however, there will only be two. And contrary to some people’s expectations about legal recreational pot making drug dealers obsolete, it’s the medical dispensaries that will disappear first.

Washington State Governor Jay Inslee signed a bill in April that will overhaul medical marijuana and reconcile the two legal markets into one. Medical marijuana dispensaries as they exist now will either close or seek licenses in the regulated industry. In the future, medical customers will have to look to “medically endorsed” recreational marijuana stores for their supply.

Washington's medical marijuana market has always been "looser than anywhere in the country,” says Rick Garza, head of the state Liquor Control Board, the agency that oversees the marijuana industry.

"With I-502 (the recreational market), you have a tightly regulated business that has to make a big investment and pay taxes and fees," says Garza. And while medical marijuana is legal, it has become somewhat of a "gray area" because the "vast majority" of users served by the dispensaries are truly recreational users anyway, says Garza. "You have this unregulated and untaxed [medical] dispensary that's competing directly with the regulated market." "You have this unregulated and untaxed [medical] dispensary that's competing directly with the regulated market."

It's hard to measure the size of each of these markets, but to get a general idea I talked to a budtender and an illegal street dealer to get their perspectives on the state of Washington pot. Regardless where the lines of legality are drawn (and redrawn), there's a lot of pot floating around the Evergreen state. A study by the RAND Corporation found that marijuana consumption in Washington during 2013 was between 135 and 225 metric tons (that’s 297,624 to 464,040 pounds).

Garza guesses the recreational stores have so far only captured 3-5% of the total marketplace. And seeing as how the recreational market has generated $168 million in sales in the 10 months it has been operational in Washington, that gives you an idea of the size and potential of the industry as a whole.

A male pot dealer in his early twenties, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, has been selling weed in the state for the past couple of years while finishing a degree. He sells primarily to college kids, so he didn’t expect business to change, but says he doesn’t see a drop in sales for dealers who sell to older demographics either. “People don't realize just how big the street market is,” he says....

The Liquor Control Board guesses the medical industry has captured 40-50% of the market, but it’s impossible to say how big the medical marijuana population is because Washington has never required a patient registry or ID cards like other states with medical systems do.

Since the state’s first recreational stores opened in July 2014, about 134 retail locations have opened alongside some 1,100 medical dispensaries in the state. However, the Liquor Control Board calls the estimated number of dispensaries “conservative.”

Pricing at medical dispensaries has remained cheaper than that of recreational stores because they aren't subject to the same high taxes. A gram of weed at a dispensary generally costs around $10-12 versus $12-16 on average at recreational stores. Weed on the street, however, remains at a pretty steady $8-10.

"The street can always offer prices that are below that of the stores," says the dealer I spoke with. And while street products may lack the variety of brick and mortar stores, they have added convenience because dealers can move around. "The street can more effectively distribute, because people don't have to come to you."

For some people illegal pot sales are more simple (and familiar). Text your dealer, meet up, trade cash for whatever weed they have and part ways. At recreational stores, customers have to be 21, visit at set hours and locations, and sort through a dizzying array of products. Some people find it more complex to buy legal marijuana.

May 7, 2015 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Interesting early data from Illinois about its developing medical marijuana regime

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

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

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

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

May 7, 2015 in Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, May 3, 2015

If you let them build it, they will come: NY discovering how many have dreams of marijuana fields

Images (8)Especially during baseball season, I am inclined to call "Field of Dreams" my all-time favorite sports movie.  Consequently, I often think of the movie's most famous line In this post — "if you build it, they will come" — when I see headlines like this one from this New York Post article, "Hundreds vie for just 5 NY medical marijuana licenses." Here are some of the details: 

The race is on to secure the five licenses to be granted under New York state’s medical marijuana program, which takes effect in January. And the cash-crop lottery could bring in millions for the winners.

Statewide revenues will likely total $239 million in 2016 and more than $1.2 billion by 2020, according to a report issued by GreenWave Advisors late last year. “Let the cash register ring for New York state,” says GreenWave’s Matt Karnes. And there appears to be no shortage of investors looking to dip a hand into this cash register.

Venture capitalists willing to take the plunge include Privateer Holdings and Tilray, both of which have already had a strong presence in the legal marijuana space. In addition, the buzz would have it that there is a “major Wall Street broker-dealer“ placing a bet, according to one source.

At last count, there were some 300 applicants poised to spend $10,000 apiece to be considered for one of the licenses via applications that were sent out by the state last week, say industry insiders.

Each of the five winners will then have to cough up a $200,000 registration fee in return for being able to grow and sell medical marijuana via as many as four dispensaries each, for a grand total of 20 statewide.

The new program, which is far more restrictive than medical marijuana advocates had hoped, bans smoking the plant but allows the sale of oils, edibles and vapor forms of the drug. The law allows doctors to prescribe medical marijuana only for HIV/AIDS, Lou Gehrig’s disease, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s disease, epilepsy, some spinal cord injuries and multiple sclerosis.

May 3, 2015 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Distinct comments on marijuana policy from Prez Obama and one wanna-be successor

Two notable new stories about notable new marijuana comments made by notable chief executives caught my eye this morning.  Here are the headlines, links and the basics:

  • From The Daily Caller here, "Obama Reiterates Enthusiastic Support Of Medical Marijuana":

In a CNN special to be aired on Sunday, not only will President Barack Obama state his full support of medical marijuana, he’ll also advocate for alternative models of drug abuse treatment which don’t involve incarceration.  The television special, called “Weed 3,” features CNN’s chief medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta, a neurosurgeon who came to support medical marijuana after reviewing the evidence. This time around, he’ll be delving into the politics of medical marijuana research and interviewing President Barack Obama, according to an email obtained by The Daily Caller News Foundation.

  • From Hot Air here, "Chris Christie: As president, I’ll enforce federal drug laws in states where selling marijuana is legal":

Even within the GOP, which remains skeptical of liberalization on drugs, a majority thinks the feds should defer to the states. You can indeed be anti-marijuana and pro-federalism. Screw that, says Christie.  When it comes to deciding whether marijuana’s too dangerous for the citizens of a state to sell, he’ll happily trump your state legislature and local PD. And to think, they call him a big-government Republican.

It is both notable and telling, of course, that a President often accused of trampling state and individual rights is here saying he respects on-going state reforms, while a state Governor representing from a party that claims it favors a smaller federal Government is asserting he wants to make sure states do not even try to forge a different part with respect to the war on drugs. And this is why I find marijuana law, policy and reform so politically interesting: it help reveal, in a way few other issues do, just which particular policies and which particular principles are ultimately most important to which particular politicians.

April 16, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Political perspective on reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Fascinating tale of legal challenges facing NJ medical marijuana dispensary

This recent lengthy article from New Jersey, headlined "Lawyers afraid to defend N.J. medical marijuana dispensary," spotlights some of the intricate legal issues and problems created by the disparity between state and federal marijuana laws. The full article merits a full read, but here is the start which provides an overview:

The co-founder of the medical marijuana dispensary in Egg Harbor Township will appear in court Wednesday to dispute claims he blocked his employees' attempts to join a union in a case that is being watched across the nation. And this isn't even David Knowlton's biggest problem.

Knowlton, board chairman of the nonprofit Compassionate Care Foundation dispensary, is not a lawyer, and he can't find one to represent him before the National Labor Relations Board. State law created a medicinal marijuana program, but to the federal government, growing and possessing marijuana remain illegal activities. Rules of professional conduct say attorneys cannot advise or assist their clients engage in "conduct a lawyer knows is criminal or fraudulent."

The law firm of Ballard Spahr of Philadelphia offered to represent the financially struggling dispensary for free but later withdrew the offer out of concern its attorneys could face ethics charges and put their licenses at risk, Knowlton said.

"It's a difficult position to be in," said Knowlton, who is also CEO for a health policy think tank, the Health Care Quality Institute of New Jersey. "I am used to being in a world where everyone knows what the rules are — you have a right to counsel, a hearing and due process — and it is being cast aside because the state and the feds can't agree."

The quandary is just the latest legal landmine people in the medicinal marijuana industry face in the netherworld between state and federal law, where it's nearly impossible to obtain a simple bank loan.

The case pitting the United Food and Commercial Workers Union and the dispensary promises to test the murky limits of both state and federal laws in ways that would set a precedent, according to legal experts.

April 14, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, April 9, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some prior related posts:

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

Thursday, March 19, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

"Can medical marijuana curb the heroin epidemic?"

The question in the title of this post is the headline of this new piece by Miriam Boeri appearing in This Week magazine. Here are excepts (with links preserved):

[R]esearch has shown that marijuana, while still criminalized at the federal level, can be effective as a substitute for treating opioid addicts and preventing overdoses.  Massachusetts, which recently legalized medical marijuana — and where heroin overdoses have soared — could be a fertile testing ground for this potentially controversial treatment....

With each state crafting unique medical marijuana regulations, we find ourselves at a crucial turning point in drug policy....  Among drug treatment specialists, marijuana remains controversial.  Although some research has shown marijuana to be an alternative treatment for more serious drug addiction, addiction treatment specialists still view marijuana as highly addictive and dangerous.  These views handicap policy reform, but despite its status as a Schedule 1 drug, recent research shows marijuana could be part of the solution to the most deadly drug epidemic our country has seen in decades.

In 2012 Massachusetts became the 18th state to legalize medical marijuana, though the first 11 dispensaries are not scheduled to open until sometime in the coming year.  This situation presents an opportunity to implement sensible, research-based policy.

Massachusetts, like many states across the US, has seen a dramatic rise in opioid addition fueled by the increase in opiate prescription pills.  In Boston, heroin overdoses increased by 80 percent between 2010 and 2012, and four out of five users were addicted to pain pills before turning to heroin.

Meanwhile, the leading cause of death among the Boston's homeless population has shifted from AIDS complications to drug overdoses, with opiates involved in 81 percent of overdose deaths. This is an alarming finding given recent expansion in clinical services for the city's homeless.

Addiction specialists and health care professionals in Boston have been at the forefront of integrating behavioral and medical care.  Naloxone and methadone are currently the main solutions to address the growing opiate addiction and overdose problem. But Naloxone is an overdose antidote, not a cure or a form of preventative therapy.

Methadone, like heroin and other opioids, has a very narrow therapeutic index (the ratio between the toxic dose and the therapeutic dose of a drug).  This means that a small change in dosage can be lethal to the user.  Marijuana, however, has one of the safest (widest) therapeutic ratios of all drugs.

Research shows that marijuana has been used as a form of self-treatment, where users take cannabis in lieu of alcohol, prescription opiates, and illegal drugs.  That's one reason why researchers are calling for marijuana to be tested as a substitute for other drugs.  In this capacity, marijuana can be thought of as a form of harm reduction. While researchers don't seek to discount some of the drug's potential negative effects, they view it as a less damaging alternative to other, harder drugs.  Despite these findings, marijuana is rarely incorporated in formal drug treatment plans.

A recent study might change this policy.  Comparing states with and without legalized medical marijuana, it found a substantial decrease in opioid (heroin and prescription pill) overdose death rates in states that had enacted medical marijuana laws.  In their conclusions, the researchers suggested that medical marijuana should be part of policy aimed to prevent opioid overdose....

Since Massachusetts has not yet opened its medical marijuana dispensaries, it is too early to see if medical marijuana legislation will help reduce opiate addiction in the Commonwealth.  Using recent research findings, Massachusetts policymakers have a unique opportunity to implement medical marijuana policies that address its contemporary opiate overdose.  Medical marijuana could be part of drug treatment for heroin and opiates....

Formerly demonized and later legislated as a Schedule 1 substance, marijuana could diminish the damage wrought by harder drugs, like heroin.  While opioid use is a nationwide epidemic, Massachusetts — long at the forefront of developing scientifically based public policy — has the opportunity to be at the forefront of cutting-edge, socially-informed drug policy.

March 17, 2015 in Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, March 16, 2015

Connecticut Supreme Court clarifies erasure of past pot conviction comes with state decriminalization

This AP article, headlined "Ruling Clears Way for Marijuana Convictions to Be Erased," highlights a notable (state law) ruling from that echoes issues being confronted in a number of states as marijuana reforms become more common. Here are the basics:

Thousands of people busted in Connecticut for marijuana possession now have the right to get their convictions erased after the state Supreme Court ruled Monday that the violation had been downgraded to the same legal level as a parking ticket.

The 7-0 ruling came in the case of former Manchester and Bolton resident Nicholas Menditto, who had asked for his convictions to be overturned after the Legislature decriminalized possession of small amounts of pot in 2011. "It's a topic multiple states will have to be facing," said Aaron Romano, Menditto's attorney. "Because marijuana is being decriminalized across the United States, this issue needs to be addressed."

Colorado, Washington state, Washington, D.C., and Alaska have legalized the recreational use of pot. Oregon's law legalizing it takes effect in July. Connecticut and 22 other states allow marijuana for medicinal purposes, and 18 states have decriminalized possession of varying amounts.

Last year, Colorado's second-highest court ruled that some people convicted of possessing small amounts of marijuana can ask for those convictions to be thrown out under the state law that legalized recreational marijuana. Officials in the other states are grappling with the issue.

In 2011, Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and legislators changed possession of less than a half ounce of marijuana from a misdemeanor with potential jail time to a violation with a $150 fine for a first offense and fines of $200 to $500 for subsequent offenses. Menditto, 31, wanted the state to erase his two convictions for marijuana possession in 2009 and a pending possession case. The Supreme Court ruled he could apply to have the two convictions erased, but declined to address the pending case.... The appeal involved the 2011 decriminalization and another state law that allows erasure of convictions of offenses that have been decriminalized....

"The legislature has determined that such violations are to be handled in the same manner as civil infractions, such as parking violations," Justice Carmen Espinosa wrote in the ruling. "The state has failed to suggest any plausible reason why erasure should be denied in such cases."

March 16, 2015 in Court Rulings, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, State court rulings | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Spotlighting the 2016 link between marijuana reform and Prez election in Florida

This new commentary, headlined "Medical marijuana question complicated for Florida GOP by 2016 ballot," highlights how the prospect of marijuana issues appearing on the ballot in 2016 can be used to push lawmakers to embrace reforms. Here is how the piece begins:

The unlikely pitch from medical marijuana legalization advocates to conservatives who control the Florida Legislature goes like this: Pass a law now — or risk hurting the GOP presidential candidate by having a referendum on the 2016 ballot.

A constitutional amendment would draw to the polls the younger, more liberal voters more likely to support medical pot, proponents say, helping the eventual Democratic nominee in the nation's largest swing state — possibly over Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio, both homegrown Republicans. "Most people understand that, in a presidential year, medical marijuana will pass," said Jeff Kottkamp, the Republican former lieutenant governor who backs legalization. "They also know on the national level a Republican can't win without Florida."

But GOP leaders in Tallahassee aren't buying it. Medical marijuana supporters made a similar contention when the issue was on the ballot last year — both Rubio and Bush opposed it — yet Republican Gov. Rick Scott defeated Democrat Charlie Crist anyway. Many Crist voters didn't vote for the marijuana amendment, a post-election analysis showed. In fact, statewide ballot measures have failed to sway presidential elections in Florida time and time again.

The broad use of marijuana for medicinal purposes remains illegal — despite receiving support from nearly 58 percent of voters in November — because the state has a 60 percent threshold to adopt constitutional amendments. "I really don't think that it would ultimately impact the presidential campaign," said state Sen. Jeff Brandes, the St. Petersburg Republican who proposed this year's medical cannabis legislation in the Senate, SB 528. "I just think it's the right policy."

March 15, 2015 in Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Political perspective on reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Will Patrick Kennedy and SAM come out in support of the CARERS Act?

Rotator-kennedy-updAs noted in prior posts here and here, the biggest news this week in the marijuana reform arena has been the introduction of a bipartisan federal medical marijuana reform bill by  Senators Rand Paul, Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand, the CARERS Act.   The preamble to this bill expressly provides that its purposes are to "extend the principle of federalism to State drug policy, provide access to medical marijuana, and enable research into the medicinal properties of marijuana."

Notably, this statement of purposes and the overall structure of the CARERS Act would seem to be in harmony with the stated goals of the leading figure and group opposing significant marijuana reform, namely Patrick Kennedy and Smart Approaches to Marijuana.  Notably, on this page under a picture of Patrick Kennedy, SAM proclaims it is "acting in the best interests of public health and safety." In addition, Kennedy in this recent commentary piece stated that he favors "reforming our drug laws and emphasizing public health" and that we "should indeed reform broken laws that disproportionately harm ethnic and racial minorities and the poor."  

Similarly, this About page on the SAM website states that the organization is comprised of "medical doctors, lawmakers, treatment providers, preventionists, teachers, law enforcement officers and others who seek a middle road between incarceration and legalization [to provide a] commonsense, third-way approach to marijuana policy is based on reputable science and sound principles of public health and safety" (emphasis added).  In addition, this SAM information page about cannabis-based medicines states that SAM advocates for "rapid expansion of research into the components of the marijuana plant for delivery via non-smoked forms" and a special FDA reform that "allows seriously ill patients to obtain non-smoked components of marijuana."

Based on these various stated commitments by Patrick Kennedy and SAM, I certainty think it would be quite consistent with their advocacy or them to support expressly and vocally the CARERS Act. As I read the CARERS Act, it seeks to cautiously reform federal marijuana laws that are obviously "broken" because they fully preclude state lawmakers and administrators, researchers and doctors from being seriously involved and invested in reforms to state marijuana laws "based on reputable science and sound principles of public health and safety."   In addition, something like the CARERS Act is absolutely essential for rapid expansion of medical research in this arena.  Indeed, the powerful press conference introducing the CARERS Act had lawmakers, parents and patients all powerfully explaining why federal medical marijuana reform is essential to ensuring more needed medical research, and in order to fully ensure a serious and enduring commitment in both federal and state laws to marijuana policy "based on reputable science and sound principles of public health and safety."

Notably, there is not yet any mention of the CARERS Act on the SAM website, and I am inclined to guess that Patrick Kennedy and other SAM leaders are working on a formal response.  For the reasons outlined above, I sincerely hope that Patrick Kennedy and other SAM leaders soon become vocal proponents of the CARERS Act.  Historically, a problematic mix of politics and fear, not reputable science and sound principles of public health and safety, has dominated federal federal drug laws.  I hope that SAM will, through support of the CARERS Act, help ensure public that we start turning the corner and head on a sounder scientific and public health path in the months and years to come.

Prior related posts:

March 12, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Proposed federal CARERS Act includes rescheduling marijuana under CSA

I am watching the press conference (streamed here) with presentations by Senators Rand Paul, Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand introducing their new federal medical marijuana reform bill, the CARERS Act.  Fascinating stuff.

Senator Booker started by noting veterans' interest in using medical marijuana, Senator Paul spoke of the need for more research and banking problems for state-legal marijuana business, and Senator Gillibrand was the closer by stressing the need for families to have access to high-CBC medicines for children suffering from seizure disorders.

Adding to the power of the press conference is a set of testimonials from a mom eager to have CBC treatments for her daughter (who had a small seizure during the press conference!), and an older woman with MS eager to have access to marijuana to help her sleep.  Senator Paul followed up by introducing a father of one of his staffers with MS, who testified from a wheelchair.   Senator Booker then introduced a 35-year-old veteran who complained about been deemed a criminal for his medical marijuana use by a country he fought for over six years.   Notably, after all the white users/patients advocated for reform, Senator Booker introduced an African-American business owner talking about the problems with having to run a medical marijuana business without access to banking services.

This Drug Policy Alliance press release summarizes what is in the CARERS Act: 

The Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States - CARERS - Act is the first-ever bill in the U.S. Senate to legalize marijuana for medical use and the most comprehensive medical marijuana bill ever introduced in Congress. The CARERS Act will do the following:

  • Allow states to legalize marijuana for medical use without federal interference

  • Permit interstate commerce in cannabidiol (CBD) oils

  • Reschedule marijuana to schedule II

  • Allow banks to provide checking accounts and other financial services to marijuana dispensaries

  • Allow Veterans Administration physicians to recommend medical marijuana to veterans

  • Eliminate barriers to medical marijuana research.

March 10, 2015 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Notable new talk of recreational marijuana reform in Florida

For various reasons, the huge swing southern state Florida is among the most interesting place to watch as a marker for the future of marijuana reform nationwide.  A number of prominent national political figures have links to Florida, and the distinctive economics and voting groups in the state add to the political equation.  As the same time, the state is among the hardest for the enactment of initiative reforms because of its requirement that initiatives garner 60% of the vote for passage.   Thus, I found this lengthy new Sunshine State  article, headlined "Recreational cannabis initiative?," especially interesting. Here are excerpts:

The Florida Cannabis Action Network is now developing a 2016 voter initiative to legalize marijuana, based on the likelihood that the Florida Legislature will be unwilling to create a comprehensive medical-only program in coming weeks. That could mean that there is both a medical marijuana amendment and an adult-use amendment on the Florida ballot during the presidential election-year ballot.

Unlike two recently filed but restrictive medical marijuana legislative bills and unlike the revised medical marijuana amendment possibly headed for the November 2016 ballot, the proposed Florida-Can amendment would open use of the plant. “Just like aloe in your backyard, why shouldn’t you be able to have cannabis in your back yard, and if you want some, use it,” said Parrish resident Cathy Jordan, an ALS patient and longtime president of the Florida Cannabis Action Network....

While the group does not have the deep pockets that Orlando attorney John Morgan’s medical marijuana advocacy group United for Care showed last year, James says raising $10 million from those interested in creating a new multibillion-dollar marijuana industry in the third-most populated state would not be insurmountable. “Florida is a wealthy state, with a lot of people who have an interest in this issue,” James said....

Opponents of legalization were quick to criticize the plan proposed by Florida Cannabis Action Network. The Drug Free America Foundation, through its Drug Free Florida political action committee, was a key 2014 opponent to medical marijuana Amendment 2, taking in major donations and creating the “Vote No. on 2” ad blitz that helped defeat the amendment. Referring to James, Drug Free America chief Calvina Fay said: “For her to make that kind of threat to the Legislature is just disingenuous. I don’t think members of the Legislature are going to be so easily influenced by such a silly threat.”

A $10 million campaign to legalize marijuana in Florida “is feasible,” said Michael Mayes, CEO of Quantum 9 Inc., a Chicago-based consulting firm that works with both recreational and medicinal marijuana business clients on a national basis. Revenues from a wide-open marijuana program in Florida could easily be in the billions of dollars per year, Mayes said, “just because there is such a high likelihood that individuals in Florida could benefit from the use of marijuana, whether it is called adult-use or medical.”

An adult-use law could vault Florida into the U.S. leader in marijuana sales, because all the other states where adult use of marijuana is legal have significantly smaller populations: Colorado, Washington State, Alaska, Oregon and the District of Columbia. Even without any sales, medical or recreational, in Florida, marijuana already is the fastest-growing industry in the United States. The U.S. market for legal cannabis products grew 74 percent in 2014 to $2.7 billion, up from $1.5 billion in 2013, according to ArcView Market Research....

In Florida, it is frustration that is driving the activists toward a recreational approach. “Lawmakers promised that they would do something,” James said. “It is frustrating for us that law enforcement is the voice of opposition up here.”

The Florida Sheriffs Association declined to comment on the Florida-Can proposal. But in late February, in response to a comprehensive medical marijuana bill submitted by St. Petersburg Republican Senator Jeff Brandes, the sheriffs made their position very clear. They would not support a medical marijuana bill that allows for smoking of the plant’s buds, or that gives a physician leeway to recommend its use for any medical condition that causes severe and persistent pain, nausea or muscle spasms. The organization said it could support a medical marijuana bill that calls for marijuana infused edibles, and one that limits use only to specific medical conditions.

March 10, 2015 in Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 9, 2015

Bipartisan federal medical marijuana bill to be introduced Tuesday

As reported in this new Washington Post entry, headlined "In a first, senators plan to introduce federal medical marijuana bill," a trio of notable Senators have interesting plans for mid-day Tuesday:

In what advocates describe as an historic first, a trio of senators plan to unveil a federal medical marijuana bill Tuesday. The bill, to be introduced by Senators Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), would end the federal ban on medical marijuana.

The Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States (CARERS) Act would “allow patients, doctors and businesses in states that have already passed medical marijuana laws to participate in those programs without fear of federal prosecution,” according to a joint statement from the senators’ offices. The bill will also “make overdue reforms to ensure patients – including veterans receiving care from VA facilities in states with medical marijuana programs – access the care they need.” The proposal will be unveiled at a 12:30 p.m. press conference on Tuesday, which will be streamed live here. Patients, their families and advocates will join the senators at the press conference.

The announcement was met with praise by advocates. “This is a significant step forward when it comes to reforming marijuana laws at the federal level,” Dan Riffle, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a statement. “It’s long past time to end the federal ban,” said Michael Collins, policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance, said in a statement. Both describe the introduction of the bill as a first for the Senate....

In December, Congress for the first time in roughly a decade of trying approved an amendment that bars the Justice Department from using its funds to prevent states from implementing their medical marijuana laws — a significant victory for proponents of the practice.

Potential Republican presidential candidates Rand, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) have all said they support states’ rights to legalize pot, though they themselves disagree with the policy.

March 9, 2015 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, 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)

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Another round of state reform news from coast to coast

Marijuana reform discussions at the state level, regarding both medical and recreational reforms, continue to generate lots of stories and headlines each week. Here is an abridged run-down of (and links to) some recent news stories reviewing recent state-level marijuana reform developments that caught my eye:

Alaska: "Alaska lawmakers hold marijuana show and tell"

California: "GOP's risk-reward calculus on legalizing pot"

Nebraska: "Medical marijuana debated in Nebraska's Capitol"

New Hampshire: "Committee approves bill to decriminalize marijuana"

Oregon: "Oregon Liquor Control Commission Releases Marijuana Policy Recommendations"

Rhode Island: "Rhode Island again takes up bills to legalize marijuana"

March 7, 2015 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Is there any solid data on impact of 2009 Ogden medical marijuana memo?

Download

This week in my marijuana seminar we will be watching and discussing the terrific (though already dated) documentary "Code of the West" about medical marijuana reforms in Montana.  Among the many stories effectively documented by this movie is the important reality that, while Montana enacted via voter initiative medical marijuana reforms in 2004, the medical marijuana industry in the state only became active and prominent after the issuance of the 2009 Ogden Memo. This memo from the Obama Administration's Justice Department stated that the federal government would not prosecute "individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana."

In addition to the coverage of this story in Montana in this great documentary, I have seen a number of anecdotal reports about how the medical marijuana industry kicked into high gear in many western states as a result of the 2009 Ogden Memo, especially states like California, Colorado and Washington. But, to my knowledge, nobody has yet done any systematic research on the impact of the Ogden Memo, in individual states or nationwide, on the number of state-compliant medical marijuana dispensaries or the number of persons working in and around the medical marijuana industry or the number of persons registered for or regularly obtaining marijuana in conjunction with a doctor's recommendation.

I am busy trying to finish an article complaining about the lack of rigorous social science research surrounding the real impact of state-level marijuana reforms, and I am especially intrigued and troubled by how little systematic data I can find concerning the medical marijuana industry and users. If anyone knows of any significant recent data collections or other research on these fronts, please let me know.

March 4, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Florida jury embraces medical marijuana defense to state cannabis manufacturing charge

As reported in this local article, for "the first time in Florida history, a Broward jury acquitted a marijuana grower after finding he has a medical need for the illegal drug."  Here is more about this notable trial outcome:

Jesse Teplicki hid nothing from the detectives who showed up at his Hollywood home two years ago acting on a tip that he was growing pot on the premises. And he hid nothing from the jury on Thursday when he took the stand at his criminal trial, even admitting that he smoked a marijuana cigarette earlier in the day to treat the nausea and suppressed appetite that had been plaguing him for decades.

Teplicki is the first defendant in Florida to argue medical need in a marijuana case. The jury of four women and two men deliberated for less than an hour before returning its verdict. "You saved my life," a tearful Teplicki told three jurors who stayed in the courtroom after they were discharged by Broward Circuit Judge Michael Ian Rothschild.

Manufacture of cannabis is a felony punishable by up to five years in prison. Teplicki, 50, had rejected several plea offers, admitting his actions but referring to the plant as "medicine" he needs to function. Teplicki has suffered from anorexia since age 9, according to trial testimony.

Medical need has worked as a defense before, but it's never been tried in front of a jury. In two cases dating back more than 20 years, marijuana smokers have defended themselves at trial before a judge. In each case, the judge convicted the defendants only to see appeals courts overturn their decisions and order not-guilty verdicts.

Rothschild warned Teplicki that the verdict does not change Florida law. Marijuana remains illegal to grow, possess and sell. But Teplicki was never accused of selling pot. He did not say how he plans to secure marijuana in the future.

Prosecutor Kathleen O'Brien argued that Teplicki had failed to demonstrate the "medical need" central to his defense. She faulted Teplicki for not only self-medicating, but for also self-diagnosing, never seeking alternative treatments that do not involve breaking the law. "There was no follow-up by a treating physician," she said.

"This is an historic decision in the state of Florida," said defense lawyer Michael C. Minardi. "Hopefully prosecutors heed the decision and are less likely to prosecute this kind of case in the future."

March 3, 2015 in Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)