Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

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Friday, January 23, 2015

"Legalized marijuana might be the best thing to ever happen to heroin addicts"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new piece via Quartz.  Here are excerpts (with links from the original):

By 1970, legislation codified cannabis as one of the nation’s most dangerous drugs: the Controlled Substance Act classified marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, meaning it possessed high potential for abuse and had no acceptable medical use. Over 40 years later, the classification remains.

But research has shown that marijuana, while still criminalized at the federal level, can be effective as a substitute for treating opioid addictsand 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.
 
Before being criminalized, marijuana was used in the US to cure depression and a variety of other mental health ailments. Many studies have supported the therapeutic benefits of cannabinoids, along with the ability of marijuana’s psychoactive ingredients to treat nausea, help with weight loss, alleviate chronic pain, and mitigate symptoms of neurological diseases.
 
Other research, however, contradicts claims regarding the benefits of cannabidiol treatment. Some say marijuana actually poses a risk for psychosis and schizophrenia. Although the FDA has approved some synthetic cannabinoids for medical treatment, federal agencies do not support marijuana as a legitimate medicine until more clinical studies have been conducted....
 
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% 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% 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.
 
For homeless people, however, getting a marijuana card is expensive and buying medical marijuana from a dispensary is beyond their economic means. Street drugs are more prevalent in their social setting, easier to obtain, and can be much cheaper.  From a policy perspective, addressing the alarming rates of overdose deaths among the homeless in Boston could mean distributing medical marijuana cards to homeless addicts for free and providing reduced cost medical marijuana.
 
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.

January 23, 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, January 19, 2015

Conservative state senator preaching for medical marijuana reform in Pennsylvania

PennsylvaniaMedicalMarijuanaThis lengthy local article, headlined "Social-conservative lawmaker fights for legalizing medical marijuana," notes that a notable Republican Senator in the Keystone state has become noted for his "pot proselytizing." Here are excerpts from the piece:

Standing amid the lunchtime crush at the Pennsylvania Farm Show last week was a gray-haired man in deck shoes and a fleece vest, animatedly pitching an unusual - and illegal - product. Like a street-corner preacher, Sen. Mike Folmer (R., Lebanon) was bringing his message to the people - in his case thousands of voters he hopes will pressure their representatives to support his bill to legalize medical marijuana.

Folmer stops anyone who will listen, alternately delivering a rant against Big Pharma - which he blames for holding up federal approval of medical cannabis - and smiling at wise-cracking visitors who ask, "Any free samples?"

"I feel like a missionary," he said Friday, pausing to pop in a throat lozenge before beginning his pot proselytizing again. "I'm a Bible-believing Presbyterian. I don't even drink."

But Folmer, a 59-year-old grandfather of seven and a social conservative from a largely rural district northeast of Harrisburg, was moved by two mothers who stopped in his office 18 months ago. They told him they believed medical marijuana could ease their children's epileptic seizures without the damaging side effects of the narcotics that doctors had been prescribing. Skeptical, he hit his computer to find out and soon became a convert to the cannabis cause.

"It was very compelling," he said. "I learned that it is nontoxic, no one's going to die. So I figured, no harm, no foul. There are too many sick people." He teamed up with one of the state's most liberal lawmakers, Sen. Daylin Leach (D., Montgomery). Their original bill cleared the Senate by a wide margin (43-7) before dying in the House last fall.

When the new legislative session opened in December, Folmer immediately reintroduced the bill. It calls for letting patients purchase medical cannabis with a doctor's recommendation from centers licensed by a newly created board. Medical cannabis growers, processors, and dispensers would be licensed and regulated. Users would pay an access fee and would be barred from operating vehicles while taking the medication....

Folmer said neither parents of sick children nor adults with chronic conditions want to wait - or should wait - any longer. In his view, patients suffering from a range of illnesses are being prescribed narcotic cocktails of highly addictive and dangerous drugs that have little effect on these disorders.

On Friday, when a brisk but sunny afternoon drew a steady crowd to the show, Patti Bach breezed past Folmer's booth. She didn't need information. She already knew about the bill and voted against lawmakers who did not support it. "I eat Vicodin like candy," said Bach, 56, of Carlisle, who said she suffers from debilitating chronic pain. "Cannabis could reduce the pain and allow me to function."

Bach, who said her 30-year-old daughter has severe epilepsy, said she had researched the issue extensively and discussed it with her doctor. "He said as soon as it's legal he would prescribe it for me," she said.

Monica Kline, a Harrisburg lobbyist who raises alpacas in Folmer's district with her husband, a former Army pilot, donated the booth space at the farm show. Kline said her husband, a Vietnam veteran, hated to see returning veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder unable to find relief. Nor could she, who helps a mothers' advocacy group, bear to see another child suffer needlessly. "We knew we had to change our booth," said Kline, daughter of former Lt. Gov. Ernest Kline. "Parents were losing children."...

The bill stands a solid chance of becoming law if it reaches the desk of the incoming governor. "Gov.-elect Wolf supports the legalization of medical marijuana because he believes we should not deny doctor-recommended treatment that could help people suffering from seizures or cancer patients affected by chemotherapy," said his spokesman, Jeff Sheridan. House Speaker Mike Turzai (R., Allegheny) opposed the measure as GOP leader last year, but new House Majority Leader David Reed (R., Indiana) was a cosponsor of a House version of the bill....

Folmer says he thinks he can win passage of his bill in the Senate by spring. Still, he said he feels every day he's in a race against the clock. "My greatest fear is that I am going to get a call from one of the moms that one of the children has died," he said. "I'm not saying marijuana is a cure, but people ought to have the opportunity for help."

It bears noting in the context of this story that Pennsylvania's state motto is "Virtue, liberty, and independence." Kudos to this social-conservative lawmaker for showing such a commitment to these values in his work on this front.

January 19, 2015 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Political perspective on reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Should significant use of marijuana in the home make a parent guilty of child abuse?

Download (4)The question in the title of this post is prompted by this notable new ABC News- 20/20 piece headlined "Washington Parents Using Marijuana Accused of Child Abuse." Here are the basics:

While most parents probably want to keep their kids away from marijuana, one mom and dad were accused of child abuse for their avid use of the drug. “[I use it] pretty much every day,” Jesse Thompson, 30, told ABC News’ “20/20.”

Jesse and his wife Vicca Thompson, are from Sedro-Wolley, Washington, where marijuana use, including recreational, is now legal. The Thompsons are both medical marijuana users with doctor’s prescriptions. Jesse Thompson, a cancer survivor, takes it for pain, while Vicca Thompson, 43, uses it for arthritis and a nervous condition. They run their business, a medical marijuana dispensary and garden store called the Grow Shop, where they sell home-grown strains of marijuana as well as marijuana edibles, and are strong advocates of medical marijuana.

The two are also parents to 5-year-old Jerry and 13-year-old Sohani, Vicca Thompson’s son from a previous marriage. But they insist they are still capable of being responsible parents even when they’re high. “It just means I have an elevated mood. It doesn’t mean I’m incapacitated or that I can’t think straight,” Vicca Thompson told “20/20.” “I’m on pot right now, and I’m able to parent.”

But there is an apparent gap between the enforcement of child protection laws and marijuana statutes. In many cases, child protection services are taking children away from legal, legitimate users of medical marijuana. Not all types of medical marijuana gets you high, but a lot of it is psycho-active, which can get you high.

“We have irrefutable evidence that it’s damaging for kids,” Dr. Leslie Walker told “20/20.” “Kids who think their parents approve of it are six times more likely to begin using marijuana and begin using much earlier than the average high school age.”

In November 2014, authorities came for the Thompsons’ son Jerry. The Thompsons said they had an employee that they let go. "About a month later, she … called CPS,” Jesse Thompson said, referring Child Protective Services. “She told them that we not only are feeding our children marijuana all the time, but that they have access to it in our home and in our business.”

Within days of that call, CPS questioned Jerry’s half-brother Sohani, who told authorities that his mom fed him a goo ball. A goo ball, Vicca Thompson explained, is a “peanut butter raisin ball,” medicated with psycho-active marijuana. “He gets aggressive and is too mean, sometimes ... and just needs to ... look inside and relax,” Vicca Thompson said.

After that, the city quickly shut down the Grow Shop. When CPS requested a meeting with the Thompsons, Jesse asked to wait until their attorney was able to attend. CPS didn’t reschedule the meeting, Jesse Thompson said, and instead, decided to take Jerry away and made him live with an aunt. The Thompsons could only see their son by visiting him at the local CPS office. “It’s destroying me. I can’t not be with my son. He is all that matters,” Jesse Thompson said of having Jerry taken away.

Vicca Thompson’s son Sohani went to live with his father full-time. “I felt like my heart might stop,” said Vicca Thompson.

The Thompsons went to court to fight to get Jerry back home. CPS had Jerry take a hair follicle drug test. When the results came back, Jerry tested positive for THC, the psycho-active ingredient in marijuana.

Vicca and Jesse Thompson were accused of posing a risk to Jerry's well-being by feeding marijuana to him. They denied doing so, but Vicca Thompson said she did rub a marijuana salve on his skin to treat a rash, which would not put him at risk of getting high. After weeks of stilted, supervised meetings with Jerry and numerous hearings, the court commissioner allowed Jerry to come home with the Thompsons on Jan. 7. He stated he saw no other evidence of harm even though there was evidence of THC in Jerry's body.

“The law says there has to be serious physical harm. A child who ingests an edible is not going to suffer serious physical harm,” attorney Jennifer Ani, who has represented a mother who had her child taken away for her legal marijuana use, told “20/20.” “They may go to sleep. They may be out of it. Children can't be removed because of bad judgment. If they could, lots of people wouldn't have kids because we all make mistakes.”

The court commissioner set strict conditions for Jerry’s return home that included making sure he was not exposed to marijuana smoke or edibles in any form. If Jerry were to test positive, the court commissioner said he would not be allowed to live with the Thompsons. “We’re going to hide the marijuana,” Vicca Thompson said after Jerry returned home. “I definitely feel like I shouldn’t give it to children.”

But Vicca Thompson said if it was legal to give marijuana to children, she would do so. “If I lived somewhere else and a doctor was looking over me, telling me that it was okay, then I would think, ‘Yeah, it's totally safe,’ especially to put salve on a cut or a rash,” said Vicca Thompson.

January 17, 2015 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 15, 2015

New research suggests medical marijuana reforms may reduce suicide rate

LogoThe Cato Institute has posted this short research brief in which a group of social scientists summarize this study recently published in the American Journal of Public Health titled "Medical Marijuana Laws and Suicides by Gender and Age." Here are excerpts from the research brief (with references removed and my emphasis added):

Our research examines the relationship between medical marijuana laws (hereafter MMLs) and suicides. While the majority of people who suffer from mental illness do not commit suicide, over 90 percent of those who do commit suicide have a diagnosable mental or substanceuse disorder. The relationship between marijuana use and suicide-related outcomes (e.g., depression, suicidal ideation, and suicide attempts) has been studied extensively, but there have been no previous attempts to estimate the relationship between medical marijuana laws and completed suicides, the tenth leading cause of death in the United States....

Our empirical analysis draws on data from the Centers for Disease Control from 1990 through 2007 to examine the relationship between legalizing medical marijuana and suicide rates. This empirical approach can be thought of as exploiting a “natural experiment” unrelated to comorbidities or personality. Our results suggest that the passage of a MML is associated with an almost 5 percent reduction in the total suicide rate.

When we examine the relationship between legalization and suicides by gender and age, we find evidence that MMLs are associated with decreased suicides among 20- through 29-year-old males and among 30- through 39-year-old males. This result is consistent with registry data from Arizona, Colorado, and Montana showing that most medical marijuana patients are male, and that roughly half are under the age of 40....

We conclude that the legalization of medical marijuana leads to fewer suicides among young adult males.  This result is consistent with the oft-voiced, but controversial, claim that marijuana can be used to cope with depression and anxiety caused by stressful life events.  However, the result may, at least in part, be attributable to the reduction in alcohol consumption among young adults that appears to accompany the legalization of medical marijuana.

Our study is relevant to the ongoing debate surrounding marijuana legalization for medical or recreational purposes.  Opponents of these policy changes contend that any increase in marijuana use is undesirable.  Yet our research suggests the public-health benefits of legalization may outweigh the costs.

January 15, 2015 in Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Massachusetts already seeing job impacts from its nascent medical marijuana industry

This Boston Globe article, headlined "Schools offering courses on sale of marijuana: New Mass. schools are offering programs on what is likely to be a fast-growing business," highlights some notable economic echoes of medical marijuana legalization in Massachusetts.  Here are some details:

The new Northeastern Institute of Cannabis, or NIC [is] a two-classroom school in an office park that prepares people for positions ranging from dispensary workers to medical marijuana educators.   In advance of the expected opening of the first Massachusetts dispensaries next year, the for-profit NIC has graduated about 12 students and has 64 more enrolled.

Keith Saunders, a sociology professor who oversees the curriculum at NIC, said help-wanted ads for medical marijuana workers already are appearing on the jobs website Monster.com. He figures each of the state’s 15 provisionally approved dispensaries will immediately need 35 to 40 workers, and then continue to hire.  “When [dispensaries] roll out, it will happen quickly,” he said.

The institute is not the only school of its kind in Massachusetts.  The New England Grass Roots Institute in Quincy caters to medical marijuana patients, and the Cannabis Career Institute, a national company, periodically offers marijuana business training sessions in Boston.

Although it is difficult to project how many jobs medical marijuana might create statewide, it could be significant, said Amanda Reiman, manager of marijuana law and policy at the Drug Policy Alliance, a drug law reform group with headquarters in New York City.

The jobs do not just entail growing and selling marijuana, she said. Think commercial kitchens cooking marijuana-laced foods, manufacturers providing packaging, and marketing firms promoting brands.  “There’s all of these ancillary businesses that are involved in the industry,” Reiman said.

The curriculum at Northeastern Institute of Cannabis is based on discussions with dispensary operators in other states — including California, Colorado, Maine, and Rhode Island — producers of cannabis medicine, state legislators, and industry specialists, according to school officials.  They have applied for state certification as an occupational trade school.

To receive a certificate, students must complete 12 four-hour courses, including medical marijuana 101, which covers the basics of marijuana as a medicine, cannabis law New England, an overview of state marijuana laws, and cannabis cultivation, about the art and science of growing marijuana.  (It’s all strictly academic: The school cannot have marijuana on site). Students also must pass a two-hour exam by scoring at least 70 percent on each of 12 sections and 75 percent overall.

The cost of the program, which typically takes four to six weeks to complete, will increase to $2,000 from $1,500 on Jan. 1. Students range in age from their 20s to 60s and come from a variety of backgrounds. They include chefs, mechanics, and business owners....

[Jeanne] Ficcardi-Sauro, a 56-year-old mother of two grown children, said she has had difficulty finding full-time employment, so she is giving the medical marijuana industry a try. She also is a cancer patient and smokes marijuana to manage pain and fall asleep. Her goal: to educate and counsel other patients. “It can just help so many people in so many ways,” she said....

The school has amenities found at other trade schools and community colleges, including a student lounge, movie nights, and a store that sells T-shirts and sweatshirts emblazoned with the NIC logo. Along with textbooks, students can buy medical marijuana cookbooks, vaporizers, and glass pipes.

Mickey Martin, a longtime advocate for reform of marijuana laws, founded the school earlier this year. He said the school plans to host its first job fair in March. Launching the school posed several challenges, said Martin, who is from Oakland, Calif. It took months to find a location because landlords were reluctant to rent to a school specializing in marijuana, which is still illegal under federal law. The school’s insurance rates are double that of an average trade school, and the school’s bank account was canceled.

“There’s nothing illegal about what we’re doing,” Martin said. “But because we have cannabis in our name I’m forced to jump through the same hurdles as dispensary groups. It’s kind of insanity.” Still, Martin said, he has recruited high-quality faculty and administrators. Saunders, who developed the school’s curriculum, has taught drug policy courses at Northeastern University and the University of Massachusetts Lowell.

Bill Downing, a longtime business owner and activist for marijuana law reform, teaches classes in business management and the history of marijuana. Uma Dhanabalan, who teaches the medical marijuana 101 course, has a medical degree, is a fellow of the American Academy of Family Physicians, and holds a master’s in public health from Harvard University.

Dhanabalan said it was not until later in her career that she learned marijuana could help relieve chronic pain, nausea, and migraines, as well as treat diseases such as glaucoma. When she was asked to teach at the school, she said, it was easy to say yes. “This is history in the making,” she said.

December 24, 2014 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, November 21, 2014

Does new bill to make it easier for veterans to get medical marijuana stand any chance in Congress?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this new Huffington Post article headlined "Veterans May Gain Easier Access To Medical Marijuana."  Here are excerpts:

A bill introduced in Congress would allow Department of Veterans Affairs doctors to recommend medical marijuana for their patients.  The Veterans Equal Access Act, introduced Thursday by Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) with 10 bipartisan cosponsors, would lift a ban on VA doctors giving opinions or recommendations about medical marijuana to veterans who live in states where medical marijuana is permitted.

“Post traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury are just as damaging and harmful as any injuries that are visible from the outside,” Blumenauer said.  “Sometimes even more so because of the devastating effect they can have on a veteran’s family.  We should be allowing these wounded warriors access to the medicine that will help them survive and thrive, including medical marijuana, not treating them like criminals and forcing them into the shadows. It’s shameful.”

Nearly 30 percent of veterans who served in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars suffer from PTSD and depression, according to a 2012 report from the Department of Veterans Affairs.  Some scientists have suggested that marijuana may help PTSD symptoms, which can include anxiety, flashbacks and depression.  In a recent study, patients who smoked cannabis saw an average 75 percent reduction in PTSD symptoms.  "A clinical trial needs to be done to see what proportion and what kind of PTSD patients benefit, with either cannabis or the main active ingredients of cannabis," said Dr. George Greer, who was involved in the study.

This year, federal health officials signed off on a study that would have examined the effects of five potencies of smoked or vaporized cannabis on 50 veterans suffering from PTSD. The study's future still remains unclear because the federal government's sole provider of medical-grade cannabis didn't have the proper strains for the research to begin. Then the study's lead scientist was fired from the University of Arizona, where the research would have taken place.

I have long thought that anyone who claims to support our troops and veterans ought to be active and vocally supporting more serious exploration of the potential benefits of allowing veterans to use marijuana as one way to deal with the difficult problems of PTSD and brain injuries. And because everyone in Congress claims to be a supporter of our troops and veterans, one might believe that the Veterans Equal Access Act should be the rare proposal that garners bipartisan support in Congress. But because the politics of drug policy rarely is free of divisiveness, I fear passage of this bill in either the current or new Congress may be an uphill battle given that the House of Representatives earlier this year rejected a similar measure.

A few prior related posts:

November 21, 2014 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Lawyers already gearing up for more marijuana reform and regulation work

As reported in this new Legal Times piece, headlined "After Referendums, Where There's Smoke There's Business," lawyers are continue to see the professional potential presented by the parting of pot prohibition in a few more jurisdictions:

After residents of two Western states and the District of Columbia voted Tuesday to allow wider legal use of marijuana, law firms are again sizing up potential business related to the drug.

Wiley Rein lawyers hedged on Wednesday that—at least in the District of Columbia—cannabis providers and other companies in the industry could soon seek the services of regulatory attorneys. "It’s something we’re keeping a close eye on," Jim Czaban, head of the firm's food and drug law practice, said....

"There’s a clear trend on a big level where this is going," Claire Frezza, a former pharmacist and Wiley associate working with Czaban, said Wednesday. "What’s unclear is how the federal government can respond."

Lawyers now may advise cannabis-related companies on how to keep labeling, product potency and forms of the drug in line with new state rules. At the same time, federal regulatory lawyers could advise companies in the states on how to still comply with the strict U.S. law that prohibits the drug, according to Czaban and Frezza.

Wiley Rein hasn't yet gone as far as other firms in the marijuana arena. This year, a handful of corporate firms with Florida or California presences announced medical marijuana practice groups or attempted to build ties with potential clients in the industry. The Florida firms anticipated a billion-dollar industry that state law would allow to bloom in their state.

Attorneys at Akerman, Berger Singerman and GrayRobinson zeroed in on Florida prior to the election and specialized in the cannabis industry. Berger Singerman associate David Black said Wednesday that cannabis-related businesses are still engaging his firm on other more-restricted legal opportunities in Florida. In the medical marijuana practice area, Black's expectations are still high. "In light of the strong support shown in yesterday’s vote, many believe that its passage has been merely delayed," he added in an email.

Business opportunities for corporate law also could grow with Oregon and Alaska's approvals of recreational sales. But the cannabis industry remains in economic infancy, with medical marijuana allowed in about half of U.S. states. "There’s a lot of interest out there, but on a business and monetary basis, it’s still fairly small," Czaban said. "We’d be wiling to take on clients in that space, but it depends on what the actual project involves."

November 5, 2014 in Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Some first thougts on the 2014 election results

Alaska, Oregon, and the District of Columbia just voted to legalize recreational marijuana. In a sense, they broke no new ground -- Colorado and Washington already legalized recreational marijuana two years ago. But the passage of these measures is extraordinary in another sense: marijuana legalization no longer surprises anyone. Even the federal government, which continues to ban marijuana, seems unlikely to raise a fuss. Indeed, following similar votes in Colorado and Washington in 2012, the Department of Justice announced that it would refrain from prosecuting marijuana users and dealers who comply with state law, so long as they do not implicate a distinct federal interest (like stopping inter-state shipments of the drug).  As control of the Congress shifts to the Republican Party, it seems unlikely that the federal government will do anything but continue to sit on the sidelines for the next two years.

The votes on Tuesday are interesting for two other reasons as well. First, these votes arguably foretell how marijuana laws will evolve in the states over time. The four states and DC that were the first to legalize recreational marijuana were also among the first to legalize medical marijuana: Alaska, Oregon, and Washington legalized medical marijuana in 1998, Colorado did so in 2000, and DC first tried in 1999. This suggests that voters might be more comfortable taking the plunge (i.e., legalizing recreational marijuana) after dipping their toes in the pool first (i.e., legalizing medical marijuana). It also suggests that the next states to legalize recreational marijuana are likely to be ones with more mature medical marijuana programs, such as California (1996) and Maine (1999).

Second, the defeat of a medical marijuana initiative in Florida is as unsurprising as the passage of legalization elsewhere. The south has been resistant to marijuana reforms; it remains the only region of the country without a legalization state. To some extent, southern resistance might be due to public attitudes toward marijuana; but it also might stem from lawmaking procedures used in many southern (and some other states) that impede the adoption even of popular reforms. After all, over half (58%) of Florida voters actually supported legalization of medical marijuana; but that figure just was not enough to change state law – the constitutional initiative process requires 60% support, higher than the simple majority needed in many other states, like California. A vote to legalize marijuana elsewhere in the country might not be surprising anymore, but when it happens in the south it will be noteworthy.

November 5, 2014 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Current Affairs, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Political perspective on reforms, Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Early marijuana initiative votes have DC favoring legalization and Florida supporting but not passing medical marijuana

Alex does a wonderful job in this post linking to websites for marijuana initiative voting outcomes, and the early results from DC and Florida have already set up an interesting set of political and legal stories to follow in the months and years ahead.  

In DC, it appears that Initiative 71 legalizing marijuana has garnered nearly 70% of votes, and in Florida it appears that Amendment 2 legalizing medical marijuana has garnered 58% of votes.   But, under Florida's laws, an initiative needs 60% support for passage, so medical marijuana will not be happening in the Sunshine State yet.  And, in the weird federal enclave that is Washington DC, it is quite unclear whether and how the federal government can or will allow the local DC vote to change drug war policies or practices.  

Just some more on-going, ever-evolving marijuana reform stories for this blog to follow.

November 4, 2014 in Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1)

Where to follow marijuana ballot measure results?

Election night is upon us.  I'm a little late in getting this posted as east coast results are already steadily coming in, but better late than never.  

Here are some resources for following the returns for marijuana related ballot measures.  This is not an exhaustive list and there may be better sources than the ones I've found.  This is just one quick attempt at a list of where to track relevant results.

Alaska -- Ballot Measure 2: Marijuana Legalization -- Alaska Division of Elections (scroll to measure 2)

DC -- Amendment 71: Marijuana Legalization -- DC Board of Elections page

Florida -- Amendment 2: Medical Marijuana -- Miami Herald's statewide returns page  

Oregon -- Measure 91: Marijuana Legalization -- Oregon Live

Other resources: 

Americans for Safe Access's twitter feed

Marijuana Majority's twitter feed

Kevin Sabet's twitter feed 

Smart Approaches to Marijuana's live blog

Some (not all) of the local ballot measures:

California: (h/t to ASA's Don Duncan) Medical marijuana related measures in Butte County, Encinitas, La Mesa, Santa Ana, Santa Cruz, and Shasta County (there are a couple of others I do not have links for) 

Colorado:  Local measures on whether to ban or allow marijuana stores in Lakewood (Adams County) and a number of towns in El Paso County (search for marijuana to see the relevant measures), as well as others I do not have links for.

Maine: Lewiston and Portland decriminalization of possession (search on the page for marijuana)

Michigan:  No links for results pages, but here is a list of the measures  

November 4, 2014 in Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 3, 2014

Election 2014 Buzz: could older voters in Florida get medical marijuana initiative to 60%?

While advocates for legalizing and regulating marijuana like alcohol may be most focused on initiative votes in Alaska, DC and Oregon, the medical marijuana initiative vote taking place in Florida is distinctly interesting for lots of distinct reasons.   This new CBS News piece, headlined "Seniors sway medical marijuana debate in Florida," highlights some of the unique Sunshine State dynamics:

The debate over legalizing medical marijuana in Florida constantly generates talk of young people potentially flooding the polls. But seniors are the most reliable voters and could be key to the outcome of the measure.

Though polling on Amendment 2 has been erratic, seniors have been showing a level of interest in the initiative that underscores the fact they may benefit most from its passage. "You get older, you get sick, you start getting diseases, your bones stop working as well as they used to and you're presented with this pharmacopoeia of different drugs that you have to take just to get through the day," said Ben Pollara, who leads United for Care, the pro-Amendment 2 campaign. "To the extent that seniors can use marijuana to supplement or replace any of those drugs I think is a good thing."

Similar arguments have been made by older people themselves, who have turned up at events across the state, even when they've been intended for more youthful crowds. Such was the case at a recent forum at Broward College: It was held at an on-campus theater, with a promise of pizza for the droves of young people who passed by. But inside, the audience was full of faces far older than expected....

In Florida and across the U.S., a greater percentage of seniors vote than any other age group, and their share of the total electorate is even more pronounced in years without a presidential contest. In the last midterm election in 2010, about 56 percent of Floridians 65 and older voted, far higher than any other age group. They represented nearly one-third of the total ballots cast....

A July survey by Quinnipiac University found 83 percent of Florida voters aged 65 and older supported medicinal marijuana. An October poll by the University of Florida found about 37 percent of voters 60 and older support Amendment 2. Experts agree seniors show less support than younger voters, and most observers believe senior support is somewhere in the middle of those two surveys.

"The seniors, to a degree, are being targeted in that this is a wonderful thing for them because they don't have to use opiates, etcetera, etcetera," said Jessica Spencer, who is leading the Vote No on 2 group, and who says seniors who read the amendment are becoming aware it is riddled with holes. "Seniors are, of course, interested in protecting our younger generations." Supporters of Amendment 2 have far outnumbered opponents at forums. But Spencer says she has found a sympathetic ear in seniors around the state who worry what its passage could mean.

Sandi Trusso, 73, of Ocala, has been opposed to marijuana for decades, since her 28-year-old brother was killed by a driver who was drunk and high. She believes many of Amendment 2's younger supporters see it as a gateway to legalized recreational marijuana, or that medical permits will be so easy to obtain anyone can get them. "If someone's severely ill and they could control that, to limit it to that, and we knew that they could control that, who would have a problem with that?" she asked.

As the title of this post highlights, another unique aspect of Florida's marijuana vote is the fact that initiatives in the state require 60% approval to become law. Given that reality, it seems unlikely that the Florida medical marijuana initiative will get the number of votes needed for passage absent receiving considerable support from older voters.

November 3, 2014 in Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Polling data and results, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Election 2014 Buzz: looking forward to close votes in Alaska, Florida and Oregon (and DC?)

Th (1)Regular readers know that this election cycle has a number of significant marijuana reform initiatives on the ballot.  Helpfully, Jacob Sollum put together here at Reason.com's blog this helpful preview guide to all the action (with lots of links):

A week before Election Day, it looks like at least one of the four major marijuana initiatives will pass, while the other three races are too close to call. Here is a rundown of the latest polling, arranged by likelihood of passage:

 

Washington, D.C. Initiative 71, which would make it legal for adults 21 or older to possess up to two ounces of marijuana and grow up to six plants at home, enjoyed a 2-to-1 advantage in a Washington Post poll conducted last month, with only 2 percent undecided.  As I noted at the time, the initiative's prospects were boosted by a dramatic reversal of opinion among black voters in recent years, presumably driven by concerns about the racially disproportionate impact of marijuana prohibition.  Despite this groundswell of support, the fate of marijuana legalization in the nation's capital ultimately will be up to Congress, which can always override anything that D.C. voters approve.

 

Oregon. A new Oregonian poll puts support for Measure 91, which would legalize commercial production and distribution as well as possession and use, at 44 percent, with 46 percent opposed, 7 percent undecided, and 2 percent declining to say.  That two-point difference is within the poll's margin of error, so the results suggest a dead heat.  By comparison, a poll conducted earlier in October, commissioned by Oregon Public Broadcasting and the Fox station in Portland, put support at 52 percent, with 41 percent opposed and 7 percent undecided.  The sample in the latter poll was somewhat younger, based on different projections of who will vote.  Turnout by younger voters, who are consistently more likely to support legalization, could be crucial to the outcome.

 

Alaska. Surveys by Public Policy Polling put support for Measure 2, which like Oregon's initiative would create a legal marijuana industry, at 48 percent in May and 44 percent inAugust. A few weeks ago supporters and opponents of Measure 2 released dueling poll results showing the initiative winning by eight points and losing by 10 points, respectively. In a survey by pollster Ivan Moore, 57 percent of voters favored legalization, while 39 percent opposed it. A Dittman Research poll put support at 43 percent and opposition at 53 percent. Both showed 4 percent of voters undecided. The wording of the poll questions was somewhat different. The Ivan Moore survey mentioned the elimination of criminal penalties for possession of up to an ounce and noted that "constitutional protections allowing home cultivation would be preserved," a reference to the 1975 Alaska Supreme Court ruling that said the state constitution allows people to possess marijuana for personal use in the privacy of their homes.

 

Florida. Support for Amendment 2, which would make Florida the first Southern state to approve medical use of marijuana, seems to have plummeted since July, when a Quinnipiac University poll found that 88 percent of voters favored the measure. A Gravis Marketing poll conducted last week puts support at 50 percent. As a constitutional amendment, the initiative needs 60 percent to pass. "Medical marijuana is done," Gravis Marketing's managing partner told the Orlando Sentinel on Monday. "It will not pass." For those clinging to hope, United We Care, the Amendment 2 campaign, cites an Anzalone Liszt Grove poll it commissioned that puts support at 62 percent. The latter poll used the actual ballot language, while the Gravis Marketing poll used a summary.

November 2, 2014 in Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Can economists provide unassailable (and bias-free) marijuana reform cost-benefit analysis?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this notable AP piece from Oregon headlined "Economist: Benefits of legal pot outweigh societal costs."  Here are excerpts:

University of Oregon economist said Thursday the best-case estimates for Colorado's legal marijuana tax revenue were overstated because of a faulty model.  Economist Ben Hansen said at the Oregon Economic Forum that misjudgments in Colorado's revenue estimates stemmed from a term familiar to students in Econ 101: Elasticity of demand.

Previous estimates of demand for recreational marijuana only looked at the potential shift from the black market to the legal market.  But with the medical market suctioning off some new consumers, revenue forecasts changed.  With various substitutes available, from synthetic marijuana to medical and black-market pot, Hansen said, guessing at the potential revenue impact in Oregon remains difficult....

Colorado has decided to spend pot taxes in arrears, meaning taxes aren't projected but spent only once collected.  The unusual budgeting maneuver was adopted because the pot market is expected to be highly volatile for the first several years.

Legalizing marijuana increases its supply and drops its price, Hansen said.  That price drop makes additional taxes harder for consumers to notice.  That's important when the tax rate people pay in Colorado and Washington for legal pot is north of 40 percent. In Oregon, the same rate is anticipated to be about 15 percent.

While police agencies will no longer arrest or fine people caught with marijuana if it's legalized, Hansen says taxes function as a kind of fine for marijuana consumption. "With legalization, we can kind of double-dip," Hansen said. "We're no longer paying to arrest and incarcerate people, and we're getting tax revenue from it."

Hansen also says he doesn't anticipate a dramatic impact on the alcohol market, though he says studies have shown heavy drinking and beer sales decline in markets where medical marijuana is approved.

Harvard University economist Jeffrey Miron said Thursday that Colorado's medical marijuana market was already commercialized when marijuana was legalized.  "The medicinal market was so commercial, so visible, that for all practical purposes, it was legal," said Miron.  "Economists consider all that matters are the fundamentals: Can you get access to it, are there barriers to it.

"I just don't think you (in Oregon) will see any kind of dramatic change. You're a long way toward a commercial market already."

October 18, 2014 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)

Monday, October 13, 2014

Does mixing capitalism and marijuana reform turn off swing voters?

The question title of this post is my reaction to this interesting report from Florida headlined "How Florida's Medical Marijuana Amendment Managed to Plunge South."  The report by Nancy Smith suggests that the marijuana reform ballot initiative going before Florida voters in three weeks is now on the political ropes. Here is her account for why:

In April, Amendment 2 looked indestructible.  Poll after poll gave it upward of 80 percent in voter approval. Then all of a sudden the cracks began to show.  Numbers dipped slightly.  And by May, anybody who says he couldn't see the medical marijuana amendment's steep slide coming wasn't looking very hard....

And here's what I think happened.  I think the smooth-sailing pro-constitutional amendment campaign did such a good job of promoting its early popularity, it became a victim of its own success.

Strong Amendment 2 polling numbers plus an end to the struggle in the Florida Legislature to pass the landmark Charlotte's Web bill launched an entrepreneurial feeding frenzy across the state.  It was like a gold rush.  But it was also a turn-off for conservative voters who felt overwhelmed, who wanted medical marijuana, but not the greed they now identified as an accompaniment.

Sold-out, cannabis-themed business expos and training conventions -- particularly the ones in Miami and Orlando -- got big media publicity, lit up Twitter and attracted medical marijuana "experts" from other parts of the country.  Law practices and lobbyists carving out a specialty in medical marijuana consulting were even buying billboard ads along South Florida highways.

The first eye-opening event I remember -- well-publicized before and after -- was staged in mid-April at the Sheraton Hotel in Miami.  Bob Calkin, Los Angeles cannabis hustler, charged wannabe entrepreneurs $299 a pop for a 10-hour crash course on how to make a fortune "dispensing medicine."  His company, Cannabis Career Institute, headquartered in Calkin's van, raked in $45,000 for a day's work.

As I said, none of this escaped the notice of increasingly jittery likely voters.  All told, it's left a sour taste.  Floridians now are asking, is this amendment more about who can profit from it than it is about who it might be able to help?

"What am I supposed to think?" asks Mandy Stokes, 54.  "I want sick people who can be helped by medical marijuana to have what they need no matter what.  But all these people swarming into the state looking to get rich quick ...  I don't want Florida to be Colorado and end up with recreational marijuana."...

Retired Tamarac doctor Garrett R. Richardson, a family practitioner, told Sunshine State News, "If I were still practicing, I would have nothing to do with cannabis therapy until the feds decriminalize the plant.  I wouldn't want lawyers and patients in my face constantly to recommend something I may not think is the best therapy.  No lawyer would be getting rich at my expense, I can tell you that."

Add to mounting fear the increasing presence of well-financed Vote No on 2. Its slick television ads are all over the state's larger markets.  And John Morgan's profanity-laced video hasn't helped: Morgan, the father of Amendment 2, cocktail in his hand, standing before a group of cheering young people, urging them to vote for marijuana. Negative publicity, to say the least -- and didn't the Vote No on 2 people jump all over it....

All of a sudden, United for Care went from "we're in!" to "do we still have a chance?" And it's beginning to lose the battle for money.  A successful TV ad campaign can cost $1 million a week....

This constitutional amendment needs 60 percent approval to pass and become law on Jan. 6. Yet, of the eight polls released since Sept. 1, the average percentage of support is 57.6....

If you're wondering, the top contributors for the "pro" team, People United for Medical Marijuana, are 1) The John Morgan law firm, $3,535,896; 2) prominent Democratic fundraiser Barbara Stiefel, $605,000; and 3) John Morgan personally, $250,000.

Top contributors for the "con" team, Vote No on 2, are 1) casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, $4 million in two combined chunks; 2) the Carol Jenkins Barnett Family Trust, $540,000; and 3) Republican donor and millionaire Mel Sembler, $100,000....

[T]he same Floridians whose initial motives for embracing medical marijuana were pure and true, are now repulsed by what they see as mob greed -- would-be business people flocking to launch ventures in an industry built on disease and suffering. I'm not sure how you overcome that.

October 13, 2014 in Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Political perspective on reforms, Polling data and results | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, September 29, 2014

New York Senators and state lawmakers seek federal waiver to import medical marijuana

DownloadAs reported in this interesting local piece, headlined "U.S. senators join request for medical marijuana waiver: Schumer, Gillibrand back N.Y. in Justice Dept. effort," New York officials are making a concerted effort to aid in marijuana importation. Here are the details:

U.S. Sens. Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten E. Gillibrand on Monday joined New York State’s effort to obtain a waiver from the U.S. Department of Justice allowing the state to import medicinal marijuana to treat children who suffer from rare and deadly seizure disorders.

The letter by the two Democratic senators from New York to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. comes three days after the state Health Department submitted a new waiver request to Washington permitting the emergency importation of the drug while New York prepares to enact a broader medical marijuana program in the beginning of 2016.

The senators, acting after families of ill children sought their intervention with Justice, wrote to Holder that children with severe epileptic disorders “urgently need medicinal marijuana to ease the symptoms of this horrible disease, and these children obviously do not hold any imminent criminal threat.”

The senators are asking that the federal government help pave the way for Charlotte’s Web, a strain of marijuana grown in Colorado that is not smokable, to be permitted to cross state lines for distribution in New York. Parents of children with the condition say the drug offers no real attraction to the black market because the strain of marijuana they seek does not get users high....

There are an estimated 60,000 New Yorkers who suffer from a form of epilepsy that cannot be controlled by over-the-counter medicines, Schumer and Gillibrand said. How many of those are children with the rare seizure disorders who might qualify for the medical marijuana is uncertain, state officials say.

The specific request by Schumer and Gillibrand seeks assurances from Justice that individuals would not be prosecuted for shipping medical marijuana into New York under a state-created emergency program while the broader marijuana program is being developed.

At least three children have died in New York from the seizure disorders, including 9-year-old Anna Conte of Orchard Park, since the medical marijuana measure was signed by Cuomo in July. Before and after the law’s enactment, families urged the state to carve out an emergency exception for their children to get access to cannabidiol, or cannabis oil, which can be taken in pill, oil or other form other than smoking with no psychotropic effects....

In July, the state legalized medical marijuana, but the program is not set to begin before January 2016. Advocates were upset with Cuomo in June, when the medical marijuana deal was struck, because he insisted on killing a legislative provision to permit the state to participate in an emergency-type program for the seizure treatments by allowing marijuana to be transported across state lines into New York.

Now, advocates say that even if the federal government approves the waiver requests, the legislation Cuomo insisted upon and signed in July would have to be amended. That, they say, would require a special session of the State Legislature if patients don’t want to have to wait until January to gain access to the drug.

Emily Pierce, a Justice Department spokeswoman, said the two letters by the state Health Department have been received and are being reviewed. She said the department does not believe that it has ever granted a waiver like the one being requested by New York.

Assemblyman Richard N. Gottfried, D-Manhattan, sponsor of the medical marijuana law in the Assembly, recalled how the governor at the last moment during negotiations insisted that New York not be permitted to import the drug on an emergency basis and that any marijuana dispensed in the state must be grown in the state. “Even if the state licensed a registered organization tomorrow, it would not be allowed to dispense a product that was produced in Colorado or Vermont,” Gottfried said, suggesting that Cuomo call a special session of the Legislature to deal with the matter.

September 29, 2014 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Political perspective on reforms | Permalink | Comments (3)

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Illinois already collects $5 million in fees from medical marijuana applicants

Illinois-senate-passes-05-17As reported in this local AP piece, headlined "Illinois Banks $5 Million in Medical Marijuana Applications: More than 350 groups apply to run cultivation centers and dispensaries," the Prairie State is already seeing an economic benefit from its new medical marijuana laws. Here are the details:

Illinois is already seeing a lot of "green" thanks to medical marijuana. A preliminary count showed 158 applications for cultivation centers and 211 applications for dispensaries beat the Monday afternoon deadline. That means that nonrefundable fees collected by the state from the applicants topped $5 million.

"There's a ton of excitement and enthusiasm from the industry," said one applicant, Ben Kovler, founding partner and CEO of Chicago-based Green Thumb Industries. "This shows there is trust in the system the state has set up."

Green Thumb submitted applications for cultivation centers in Normal, Rock Island, Oglesby and Dixon and dispensaries in Mundelein, Chicago and Chicago Heights, Kovler said. Applications were so extensive that they filled many boxes and required the company to rent a truck, he said.

Bob Morgan, coordinator of the state's medical cannabis program, said the volume of applications "will allow us to pick the most qualified applicants." Applicants weren't deterred by stringent qualifications, fees and cash requirements, Morgan added. For cultivation centers, there was a non-refundable application fee of $25,000 and a first-year registration fee of $200,000....

Illinois expects to grant up to 21 permits for cultivation centers and up to 60 permits for dispensaries before the end of the year. The first legal marijuana would be available to registered patients in the spring of 2015.

September 28, 2014 in Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Why Florida is such an interesting marijuana reform state: "Snowbirds potential partakers of medical marijuana"

Fla med mjThis lengthy local article from Florida, headlined "Snowbirds potential partakers of medical marijuana," highlights just some of the many reasons I think Florida is the most interesting state to watch in the near future concerning marijuana law, policy and reform. Here are excerpts from the article:

Sunshine and beaches are great attractions, but there could be another reason snowbirds flock to Florida if Amendment 2 passes: The availability of medical marijuana. Whether that happens depends on several unknowns as Florida heads into the last seven weeks before people vote on the question of legalizing medical pot.

State and local tourism officials don't believe the amendment will have an effect on tourism if it passes. They say the impact on snowbird residents would be miniscule. They also say they have no intention of using medical marijuana as a marketing tool.

Others say it's too early to tell. "I'm a snowbird with pain associated with MS," said David Dillabough, of Syracuse, N.Y., who winters in St. James City. "I avoid hydrocodone, oxycodone and the like. Marijuana is my choice whenever I need a break from persistent pain.

"Like other retired/older people, Florida is attractive to me because of the warmth and sunshine. Legalized medical marijuana wouldn't be the icing on the cake (that would be my friends), but it would be the flowers on the icing."

The state Department of Health financial analysis estimating the possible impact of the passage of Amendment 2 says snowbirds are a potential pool for medical marijuana tourism. "An estimated 17,178 to 41,271 may apply for an ID," the analysis says. That estimate has not been updated since the analysis was released in early November, said Phil E. Williams of the state Office of Economic and Demographic Research. However, the multistep process someone will have to go through to get an ID for medical pot would discourage shorter-duration visitors, the analysis says....

If the amendment passes, the effective date would be Jan. 1. The health department would have six months from that date to come up with rules; nine months to issue ID cards to qualified patients and caregivers; and nine months to register medical marijuana dispensaries.

Tamara Pigott, executivwere director of the Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau, said you have to remember tourists and snowbirds are two different things: Snowbirds are considered part-time residents who are here for a month or longer and often own property. Many snowbirds have established Florida residency, an attractive option because the state has no income tax. Tourists are short-term visitors.

Even if up to 41,000 snowbirds could apply for a medical pot ID, that number pales in the context of the actual numbers of state visitors, she said. Visitors reached 94.3 million last year according to Visit Florida, the state's official tourism and marketing entity, and the state is aiming for 100 million in 2014. One conference alone could bring in 40,000 people in a big city, Pigott said. "I don't anticipate that we would see a significant bump."

The legalization of medical marijuana might affect seasonal residents, said Jack Wert, executive director of the Naples, Marco Island, Everglades Convention and Visitors Bureau. "But it probably would not have much effect on short-term visitors, which is what we do and how we promote," he said. Snowbirds aren't even counted in their statistics, he said. "I guess we're going to watch it and see where it goes from here."...

Taylor West, deputy director of the National Cannabis Industry, agrees with Florida officials when it comes to tourism and medical marijuana. The reason is states that have legalized medical marijuana have a residency requirement, she said. However, one possible exception is that Nevada is planning to allow reciprocity in their medical program, so people who are legally registered as medical marijuana patients in other states can purchase medical marijuana in Nevada, she said. "But that hasn't actually started yet, and it's still not going to create a tourism boom, since anyone it would affect is able to access medical marijuana in their home states already," West said....

Kathy Lowers of Naples said Amendment 2 will not make Florida a more attractive place to visit or live. Lowers, who has six children, said she moved here from California in part to avoid what she called the "sleaziness" of pot shops that popped up there. "To me, if Florida goes the way of California, I will just be so depressed," she said. "I am not against medical marijuana, but against pot shops dispensing it. There is a big difference.

"The Florida amendment is way more liberal than even the California one, so goodbye to family-friendly Florida," Lowers said. "People like me come here because it is more wholesome than other places; pot will ruin that benefit of visiting or living in Florida."

September 16, 2014 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Travel | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

New York Times highlights and assails employment law challenges in wake of marijuana reform

MARIJUANA-master675-v3The Gray Lady continues to do important reporting and advocacy concerning marijuana reform as evidenced by this recent article headlined "Legal Use of Marijuana Clashes With Job Rules." Here are excerpts from this piece:

Brandon Coats knew he was going to fail his drug test. Paralyzed in a car crash when he was 16, he had been using medical marijuana since 2009 to relieve the painful spasms that jolted his body.  But he smoked mostly at night, and said marijuana had never hurt his performance answering customer calls for a Colorado satellite-television provider....  “There are a lot of people out there who need jobs, can do a good job, but in order for them to live their lives, they have to have this,” said Mr. Coats, who is 35. “A person can drink all night long, be totally hung over the next day and go to work and there’s no problem with it.”

But when it comes to marijuana, Mr. Coats and other users are discovering that marijuana’s recent strides toward the legal and cultural mainstream are running aground at the office.  Even as 23 states allow medical or recreational marijuana, employment experts say that most businesses are keeping their drug-free policies. The result is a clash between a culture that increasingly accepts marijuana and companies that will fire employees who use it....

Employers and business groups say the screenings identify drug-abusing workers, create a safer workplace, lower their insurance costs and, in some cases, are required by law.  But marijuana advocates say the prohibitions amount to discrimination, either against people using marijuana to treat a medical condition or against people who smoke it because they simply have the legal right to do so, off the clock and away from the office.   “It wasn’t like I was getting high on the job,” Mr. Coats said. “I would smoke right before I go to bed, and that little bit would help me get through my days.”

On Sept. 30, he will take that argument before the Colorado Supreme Court in a lawsuit challenging his 2010 firing. For years, courts in Colorado and across the country have ruled against marijuana users, saying that companies have the right to create their own drug policies. But legal experts say that if Mr. Coats prevails — he lost 2-1 in an appellate ruling — his case could transform how businesses must treat marijuana users.

Relatedly, the NYTimes had this editorial headlined "Obsolete Zero Tolerance on Pot."

September 9, 2014 in Court Rulings, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, State court rulings | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Does an increase in marijuana seizures in Colorado mail mean more Coloradan's are mailing marijuana? Not necessarily.

There's a new law enforcement report out saying postal inspectors saw a big spike in marijuana seizures from Colorado mail headed to other states between 2010 and 2013. 

The amount of Colorado marijuana being seized en route to other states through the U.S. mail has more than quadrupled since 2010 and was destined for more states than before, according to a new report by a federally funded drug task force.

 

Postal inspectors seized more than 493 pounds of pot from packages in 2013, up from 57 pounds in 2010, the year after medical marijuana dispensaries proliferated in Colorado, according to the figures released this month by the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area.

 

Just 15 packages were bound for 10 states in 2010, compared to the 207 parcels destined for 33 states in 2013. Top destinations were Florida, Maryland and Illinois, the report states.

Does this news mean Coloradans are actually sending more marijuana to other states than they used to?  No, not necessarily.  

The increase in seizures could just as easily be the result of more vigilant enforcement as the result of more Coloradans mailing marijuana to friends.  Perhaps inspectors have started to look more closely at Colorado packages in response to the state's marijuana reforms.  Similarly, it is not incoceivable that legalization opponents are pushing to up enforcement to try and boost numbers to give legalization a black eye (certainly, it seems like this HIDTA report was released with that in mind.)

On this point, it is worth recalling that marijuana arrests more than doubled between 1990 and 2002. Did marijuana use double during that same period?  Not at all.  The numbers were the result of increased law enforcement attention to small marijuana cases (broken windows, stop and frisk style enforcement, etc.).  

To be sure, the numbers could reflect a real increase in Coloradans sending marijuana out of state.  (Or, it could be a mixture of both causes.)

But the only thing this data tells us is that more marijuana is being seized, not what caused the jump in seizures.  

August 28, 2014 in Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The local option for marijuana, Part II: the theory of local control

In my last two posts, I’ve highlighted the emerging struggle between state and local governments for control of marijuana policy. My latest article tries to provide some guidance on whether states should give local governments the option of banning marijuana sales.

This Part of the article discusses the theory of local control. It illuminates the competing considerations that help determine whether local control over marijuana (or any other issue) is normatively desirable. (I’ve eliminated the footnotes for this post, but they’ll be available once I post the completed draft on SSRN.)

A. The case for local control

Local control is supposed to promote economic efficiency. In particular, empowering local governments to tackle divisive issues is supposed to enable more people to get the policy they desire. The reason is that minorities in statewide contests sometimes comprise majorities in local communities; there are, after all, more than 3,000 counties and 15,000 municipalities sprinkled throughout the 50 states. These residents would be happier if they were allowed to pursue the policy they prefer through these local communities, rather than live under the policy the state as a whole would choose. Mobility of the population arguably enhances the efficiency of local control. The idea is that residents who are dissatisfied with the policy espoused by one local government can relocate to a community with a more appealing policy. To be sure, residents could also relocate from one state to another, but the comparatively large number of local governments increases the chances that dissatisfied residents will find more appealing matches and it also lowers the cost of relocation.

Continue reading

August 26, 2014 in History of Alcohol Prohibition and Temperance Movements, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)