Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Rural Illinois excited by economic development potential of medical marijuana reform

Download (2)This AP article, headlined "Legal Marijuana Stirs Hope in Illinois Town," highlights the on-the-ground reality that I believe will sustain marijuana reform: local economic development. Here are excerpts:

A skunky aroma fills the room in which hundreds of lush marijuana plants grow, some nearly ready for harvest. Grower Ashley Thompson, a former high school agriculture teacher in this rural part of southeastern Illinois, takes the scent of weed home with her.

She doesn't mind. It's the fragrance of money and jobs. "My family says I smell," said Thompson, who quit the classroom to work for Ataraxia, one of a handful of cultivation centers in Illinois, which is one of 23 states with medical marijuana. "I can't tell though."

The Associated Press recently gained an exclusive look at Illinois' first legal marijuana crop, and the new farmland ritual beginning amid surrounding cornfields in the historic town of Albion: the harvest of medical marijuana that will soon be sold in dispensaries around the state.

Ataraxia is the first center to make it to the finish line after running a gantlet of state requirements. For the company to find a home in Albion — where grain trucks rumble past the sleepy central square, cicadas drone in the trees shading a century-old courthouse and a breeze touches an empty bandstand — is paradoxical. Stores can't sell package liquor, but marijuana has been welcomed as a badly needed source of employment.

A comical T-shirt for sale says the town is "High and Dry." Cheryl Taylor, who sells the shirts at her shop on the square, said the marijuana facility has everyone curious: "It's brought our little town to life."

Down a country road, tucked behind the New Holland tractor dealer and the Pioneer seed plant, the history-making cannabis crop is being cut and dried behind the locked doors of a giant warehouse. By mid-October, strains with names like Blue Dream, OG Kush, Death Star and White Poison will be turned into medicine in many forms: oils, creams, buds for smoking, edible chocolates and gummies.

It's been a twisting path to harvest, marked by delays and a secretive, highly restrictive program meant to avoid the creation of easy-access pot shops seen in other states. Until Illinois gave approval in late September for the AP's tour, only company workers and government inspectors had been inside the warehouse. Thousands of cannabis plants — some in full bud, coated with cannabinoid-rich fibers — filled two large rooms at the facility on the day of the AP's tour. Mother plants and young plants started from cuttings had their own, smaller rooms.

The 1,900-person community of Albion, which is closer to Louisville, Kentucky, than Chicago, has embraced all this, sight unseen. "It's a good thing for the local economy," said Doug Raber, who sells insurance. "This is a pretty conservative area. Any kind of revenue we can have here is good."

Local developers sold a cornfield to Ataraxia for $5,000 an acre, which real estate agent Randy Hallam said is a 50 percent discount. The city also paid to build a road and extend water and sewer lines. The company hired locals to build and outfit the warehouse.

But only seven people, aside from managers, have been hired permanently. With only 3,000 approved medical marijuana patients, the company can't expand yet. CEO George Archos said he wants to hire 50 to 60, and meeting that goal will go a long way to keeping the community's support. "Albion needs to diversify its employment," said Duane Crays, editor of The Navigator, Albion's newspaper. Chief employers regionally are agriculture, oil and gas production, and an auto filter plant....

Residents' excitement over the health benefits of marijuana — from stimulating appetite in cancer patients to easing stiffness for people with multiple sclerosis — may also have historic roots. The bandstand marks the spot where a mineral spring once drew patients suffering from a host of ailments; it was said the water could cure. "My wife has MS," Hallam said. She doesn't have her patient card yet, he said, "but she has a doctor's appointment coming up."

October 4, 2015 in Employment and labor law issues, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

"The Wonder Drug: Inside the medical marijuana industry's wild new frontier"

The title of this post is the headline of this must-read New Republic article, which is mostly about the current crazy "wild west" world of CBD medicines.  There are many parts of the article that make it must-read in full, and here are passages that I especially wanted to highlight for commentary:

Today, dozens of companies produce CBD in an array of forms. CBD can be inhaled through vape pens, applied in topical salves, ingested in edibles, or swallowed in oil-based tinctures.  Oil has become the dominant CBD delivery method for kids with epilepsy, since it is easy to administer and ingest, and there is no shortage of it available for sale online.  There are dozens of companies boasting names like Healthy Hemp Oil, Dose of Nature, and Natural Organic Solutions, each of them selling CBD products at prices ranging from trivial to dizzyingly steep.  You don’t have to look hard to find them. If you have a PayPal account and $100 to spare, you could have a vial of hemp oil delivered to your doorstep....

In February, as part of an investigation into the marketing claims of six hemp oil companies, the FDA analyzed 18 CBD products.  What it found was disturbing: Many of these supposed CBD products were entirely lacking in CBD.  Of the products tested, six contained no cannabinoids whatsoever.  Another 11 contained less than 1 percent CBD.  The product that tested highest in CBD, at 2.6 percent, was a capsule for dogs. In states that have legalized CBD, regulations can require CBD products to contain at least 5 percent CBD, more often 10 or 15 percent....

In the end, companies like HempMedsPx are asking consumers simply to trust them. CBD oils are never subjected to systematic testing by any U.S. regulatory body.  The FDA regulates all pharmaceutical labs in the country.  But cannabis labs like the ones that HempMedsPx and others use are not, because cannabis is not federally recognized as a legal drug.

All of this makes CBD remarkably difficult for even the most dedicated health care providers to manage safely. Dr. Kelly Knupp, an associate professor of pediatrics and neurology at the University of Colorado, and the director of the Dravet Syndrome program at Children’s Hospital Colorado, said families of epileptic children have tried to bring CBD oils to the hospital for testing.  “They’re just concerned that they don’t know exactly who’s growing [the hemp],” Knupp said.  “They know it’s not being regulated.”  But because CBD is a Schedule I controlled substance, high-tech, regulated laboratories, like those at the University of Colorado, can’t accept, store, or test CBD oils, lest they risk prosecution.  “There is no such lab that can take that product,” Knupp said, which leaves any testing up to the unregulated testing centers that cater to the cannabis industry....

To this point, CBD oil has existed in a kind of liminal space — at once an illegal drug, a legal medication, and some kind of “dietary” supplement. It’s possible this could change in the coming years, however. GW Pharmaceuticals, a U.K.-based firm, has developed a “pure CBD” medication called Epidiolex that has shown promising test results. It is currently on a fast-track to receive FDA clearance. For some patients, Epidiolex could be a miracle cure. This summer, in Wired magazine, writer Fred Vogelstein chronicled his family’s own struggles to find an effective treatment for his son’s epilepsy — including experiments with hemp oil — and the immense hurdles they overcame to gain access to Epidiolex prior to its FDA approval.  The drug could be for sale on pharmacy shelves in the near future, though exactly how near is hard to say.

For the sake of all the individuals and families struggling with seizure disorders, I sincerely hope that all the emerging CBD treatments being promoted by private industry are much more than snake oil. But I find especially remarkable the sad reality that the blanket prohibition of marijuana in any form at the federal level means that it is near impossible for a person to even have access to a credible lab in order to try to research whether a CBD oil marketed to suffering persons is even what it claims to be. What a sad mess, and one that I hope will get cleared up before too long at the federal level by efforts to move marijuana off Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act.

September 30, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Is Ohio already the most interesting laboratory of democracy for marijuana reform?

A number of smart folks have talked about state-level marijuana reform as, in the words of GOP Prez candidate Ted Cruz,  "a great embodiment of what Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis called ‘the laboratories of democracy.’”   These two new stories about marijuana reform efforts in Ohio has me thinking that the Buckeye state is already in the midst of one of the most interesting and dynamic experimental forms:

 "A medical marijuana farm for Ohio?"

Excerpt: Dr. Suresh Gupta ticked off a list of conditions that marijuana could help alleviate: nausea, cancer, glaucoma, HIV, post-traumatic stress disorder, irritable bowel syndrome.... Gupta is one of several wealthy donors who contributed millions to help bankroll ResponsibleOhio’s effort to place marijuana legalization on the ballot and limit marijuana growing facilities to 10 locations....

Gupta, along with a Columbus co-investor, wants to grow multiple types of marijuana at the Pataskala facility, focusing on treating specific conditions.  The nine other marijuana farms will focus on growing marijuana to be sold at retail stores.  He also plans to use about 40,000 square feet for a research facility he’s calling the International Cannabis Institute.  There, researchers, chemists and microbiologists would study the makeup of each crop and replicate the best strains, Gupta said.  “In the United States, there’s virtually no research being done,” Gupta said.

"ResponsibleOhio moves marijuana offense expungement law forward"

Excerpt: The group behind November's marijuana legalization initiative said Tuesday it had collected more than enough signatures to advance a separate measure that would allow marijuana convictions to be purged. ResponsibleOhio, the group backing Issue 3, said it collected 236,759 signatures of registered Ohio voters to put the Fresh Start Act before state lawmakers next year -- 91,677 are needed to qualify....

Issue 3 would legalize recreational and medical marijuana sales and use for adults over age 21. Commercial growing would be limited to 10 sites belonging to initiative backers, and Ohioans could grow small amounts of marijuana at home. The Fresh Start Act would allow people with convictions made legal by Issue 3 and offenses made legal in the future to file a petition in court to reduce or eliminate their sentences or expunge, or destroy, their criminal records....

ResponsibleOhio Executive Director Ian James said many low-level offenders are unable to obtain employment or secure housing because of criminal background checks. "This allows people ability to move forward," James said at a news conference with several Ohio clergy members.

As an initiated statute, the Fresh Start Act would go before the legislature in January 2016. Lawmakers would have four months to pass the bill, pass a revised version, or reject the bill. If the language is changed or rejected, ResponsibleOhio would have to collect some 92,000 more signatures to put the measure before voters.

The Fresh Start Act would not automatically erase records or free inmates, and it wouldn't apply to federal marijuana offenses. Offenses that are illegal now and would remain illegal under Issue 3, such as driving under the influence of marijuana, would not be eligible for expungement under the proposed law.

Both of these stories suggest marijuana legalization in Ohio, if passed by voters this Novermber, would trigger novel legal and practical development that could significant reshape future marijuana reform efforts. Indeed, the existing ballot measure in Ohio, Issue 3, is already novel and interesting because it is trying to get Ohioians to support moving from blanket prohibition to full legalization in one vote and the effort is being backrolled by a group of investors poised to have a legal advantage in the future marijuana market based on the provisions of Issue 3.

How these experimental elements of proposed reform play out in the Buckeye state is already making Ohio a laboratory of democracy worth watching. And if Issue 3 is approved by voters, Ohio seems sure to have lots of experimental developments and data that should help advance the national dialogue and debate on these matters for years to come.

September 23, 2015 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

"Legalized Pot Might Create Work Lawyers Fear Going After"

Images (1)The title of this post is the headline of this intriguing new article in Pennsylvania's legal newpaper The Legal Intelligencer.  Here are excerpts:

As Pennsylvania continues to debate how and whether to legalize medical marijuana usage, ethics concerns and client pushback are forcing many lawyers to sit back on what could be the biggest industry to come to the state since the legalization of gaming.

Lawyers and lobbyists in support of medical marijuana legalization in Pennsylvania say its passage is closer than ever, with the Senate on board and the House needing to work out some competing methods for structuring the industry. But some are more subdued in their optimism, noting the passage of a budget is probably higher on the General Assembly's priority list.

The question still seems to be when, not if, and that has caused the attorneys who are interested in representing marijuana companies to seek guidance and protection. Last week, the American Trade Association of Cannabis and Hemp called for any legislation passed in Pennsylvania to include protections for attorneys in the space.

"Lawyers representing cannabis businesses must be able to do so without fear of running afoul of the law or losing their license by representing members of the industry," said attorney Andrew B. Sacks, managing partner of Philadelphia-based Sacks Weston Millstein Diamond and a member of ATACH's Pennsylvania state-level coalition. Sacks is the first to acknowledge the request is purely symbolic given the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has sole power to outline attorney ethics rules.

"That whole area has been so hairy all across the country that ... to me, in my 31-year career, this is the biggest ethical issue that I have ever seen," Sacks said. "You have a federal law that says this is a crime and you have a state law that says we need you." A lawyer hauled before the state Disciplinary Board with only a symbolic legislative protection would have a major uphill battle, Sacks said. That is why he went to the Philadelphia Bar Association for an advisory opinion on the issue. As it turned out, the Pennsylvania Bar Association also had several similar inquiries. The two associations have been working together to issue an opinion.

According to former PBA President Thomas G. Wilkinson Jr., a joint formal ethics opinion concerning marijuana-related issues not limited to medical marijuana is under review by the PBA legal ethics and professional responsibility committee and the Philadelphia bar's professional guidance committee. "It is far along but we cannot provide a specific date when it will be finalized and issue[d]," Wilkinson said in a statement. "The PBA committee is next scheduled to meet on Sept. 30 in Pittsburgh." Sacks said the advisory opinion will be "crucial." He said he knows of a number of law firms that aren't going near the industry while the federal government still considers marijuana in the same class as heroin and cocaine.

Earlier this year, for example, Ballard Spahr reportedly withdrew from representing a marijuana dispensary in New Jersey over fears the attorneys' licenses could be put in jeopardy. And other firms with large clients in the medical and life sciences fields have been told those clients might not think too highly of marijuana-related companies on the firms' client rosters....

In the 23 other states that have some form of legalized marijuana usage, many of the states have amended attorney ethics rules to protect lawyers entering the industry. Clearfield said he would expect something similar would be needed in Pennsylvania and said there was some concern about how long that process could take and what lawyers would do in the interim....

"I think any time a new industry starts up there is a lot of work for lawyers and this is definitely going to be a new industry and state-specific," Clearfield said. Clearfield said likening the advent of the marijuana industry in the state to that of the gaming industry was an apt analogy. He said the cannabis industry will have state-specific rules and the regulatory process that will play out over years will require local lawyers with local ties. Other areas may not require locally based attorneys, such as financing and other business issues, Clearfield said.

For Sacks, he envisions legal work stemming from applications to get a medical marijuana license to zoning fights between counties regarding where the dispensaries will be located. "It will be a very large industry," Sacks said. The question is whether lawyers will feel comfortable taking a piece of that pie.

September 15, 2015 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Rocky Mountain HIDTA releases third annual report on "impact" of marijuana legalization in Colorado

DownloadHigh Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Programs (HIDTAs) are, as explained here, a special kind of drug-enforcement task force that was "created by Congress with the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 [and] provides assistance to Federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies operating in areas determined to be critical drug-trafficking regions of the United States."  Usefully, the Rocky Mountain HIDTA has been especially focused on marijuana reform, and the last three years it has produced a annual report around this time under the title "The Legalization of Marijuana in Colorado: The Impact."  Volume Three of that report, which runs nearly 200 pages and was just release, can be accessed at this link.

Here is an excerpt from the report's executive summary highlighting its coverage:

Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (RMHIDTA) is tracking the impact of marijuana legalization in the state of Colorado. This report will utilize, whenever possible, a comparison of three different eras in Colorado’s legalization history:

• 2006 – 2008: Early medical marijuana era

• 2009 – Present: Medical marijuana commercialization and expansion era

• 2013 – Present: Recreational marijuana era

Rocky Mountain HIDTA will collect and report comparative data in a variety of areas, including but not limited to:

• Impaired driving

• Youth marijuana use

• Adult marijuana use

• Emergency room admissions

• Marijuana-related exposure cases • Diversion of Colorado marijuana

This is the third annual report on the impact of legalized marijuana in Colorado. It is divided into eleven sections, each providing information on the impact of marijuana legalization. The sections are as follows:

Section 1 – Impaired Driving...

Section 2 – Youth Marijuana Use...

Section 3 – Adult Marijuana Use...

Section 4 – Emergency Room Marijuana and Hospital Marijuana-Related Admissions...

Section 5 – Marijuana-Related Exposure...

Section 6 – Treatment...

Section 7 – Diversion of Colorado Marijuana...

Section 8 – Diversion by Parcel...

Section 9 – THC Extraction Labs...

Section 10 – Related Data...

Section 11 – Related Material...

The nature and order of the sections in this big RMHIDTA "Impact" report help highlight that RMHIDTA is almost exclusively interested in emphasizing and lamenting any and all potential negative impacts from marijuana reform in Colorado and deemphasizing and mariginalizing any and all potential positive impacts.  

This bias toward emphasizing the negative and ignoring positive impacts is most obvious in terms of the report's (almost non-existant) discussion of the economic development and tax revenues resulting from legalization.  Jobs created by marijuana reform are not mentioned anywhere in the report, and a short discussion of tax revenues in the final sections of the report starts with this warning: "It will take years of data collection to complete an analysis of whether marijuana legalization is economically positive or an economic disaster."  

Similarly, changes in overall crime rates are only briefly discussed in the final "related data" section of the report, probably because the news seems pretty positive: property crime rates seem to be going down since marijuana reform throughout Colorado while violent crimes rates seem flat.  Of particular note, as this semi-official chart reveals, it appears Denver (which is sort-of ground-zero for marijuana reform relalities and likely impact) experienced a significant decrease in reported homicides, rapes and robbery in 2014 relative to 2013.   I suspect that this RMHIDTA report would have made much of Colorado and/or Denver homicide rates if they had gone up, but instead this "impact" goes undiscussed. 

Reporting biases notwithstanding, this is still an important report that assembles lots of data. And, perhaps in part because of its biases, this report now stands as the latest, greatest effort by the law enforcement community to make the case that marijuana reform in Colorado is a failed experiment. Any and all serious students of marijuana law and policy should take the time to review what this report says and how it is saying what it is saying.

September 15, 2015 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, September 13, 2015

"California Marijuana Legalization 2015: New Medical Marijuana Law Rankles Top Cannabis Industry Investor"

The title of this post is the headline of this new Internation Business Times article effectively reviewing the dynamics surrounding the notable legislative development in California this past week.  Here are excerpts:

California lawmakers quietly passed Friday the state’s most significant medical-marijuana legislation in almost two decades, but some leaders in the space worry that the law’s good intentions could get lost in the weeds . Paving the way for what supporters say is a much-needed regulatory framework for the state’s multibillion-dollar medical-cannabis industry, the California Senate and Assembly voted to approve the historic Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act, which will require licenses for cannabis dispensaries and create a new state agency to oversee the industry.

Although California residents voted to approve medical marijuana back in 1996, a regulatory plan has until now eluded policymakers, who could not seem to agree on specifics.  Legislators finally reached a compromise on three bills, which have been sent for final approval to Gov. Jerry Brown, who is expected to sign them into law.  The legislation was approved as part of a comprehensive package pushed through on the final day of the 2015 session.

Despite the historic achievement, some leaders in the field expressed concerns about the implications of regulating an industry that has been unregulated for so long. Steve DeAngelo, co-founder of the ArcView Group, mammoth marijuana-investment firm, and the Harborside Health Center, a nonprofit dispensary in the state, said in a statement Saturday that the time pressures made it impossible for state legislators to adequately consider the impact the new law will have on patients who depend on medical cannabis.

“[S]ome of the language in the bill is unclear or may be in conflict with prior legislation,” said DeAngelo, also the health center’s executive director.  He added that the center hopes to work with lawmakers in the next session to address and resolve what he called “outstanding issues.”

[T]he legislation approved Friday would create -- in theory, at least -- a working template for how recreational marijuana might be regulated assuming it were to become legal.  The bills will also allow for the creation of a new Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation within the Department of Consumer Affairs, which will oversee licenses.

September 13, 2015 in Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Two extended (and effective) reviews of Ohio's distinct marijuana reform dynamics

With election day 2015 now less than eight weeks away (and the start of early voting less than four weeks away), I am pleased to see that some national and local media are starting to engaging in deeper dives into the doctrines and debates surrounding the Ohio marijuana reform proposal now before Buckeye voters.  Of particular note are these two lengthy new pieces about what is now known in Ohio as Issue 3:

  • From the International Business Times here, "Marijuana Legalization 2015: Ohio’s Push To Legalize Pot Creates Rifts Within Pro-Pot Movement"

  • From the Cincinnati Enquirer here, "Parents of ill children question whether Issue 3 will meet medical marijuana needs"

September 10, 2015 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, August 22, 2015

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

Download (12)As reported in this effective local article, headlined "Menominee tribal members approve on-reservation marijuana use," a notable vote among a notable population in Wisconsin this past week ensures tribal marijuana policies and practices will continue to make news in the months ahead. Here are the details of the vote and the challenges it creates:

Now that Menominee tribal members have told their legislators to legalize marijuana, the difficult task begins of designing a profitable weed operation that does not result in the tribe or its customers getting busted.  "Tribes are treading on very dangerous grounds" when it comes to growing and selling marijuana, warned Dorothy Alther, director of California Indian Legal Services.  "If I was representing tribes out there (in Wisconsin) I would say it might not be such a good idea."

Just last month two California tribes were raided by federal and state authorities who said they seized at least 12,000 marijuana plants and more than 100 pounds of processed marijuana.

Members of the Menominee tribe this week voted 677 to 499 to legalize marijuana for recreational purposes and 899 to 275 to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes on its 360-acre reservation near Shawano.  "This is new ground," Gary Besaw, Menominee chairman, said in an interview Friday shortly after the results were announced.  "We have to start looking at developing best practices and draft ordinances to maximize the benefits we believe are possible and minimize the consequences we believe also are possible."

Legalizing marijuana on reservations has become a hot topic since late last year when the U.S. Department of Justice released a memo discouraging federal authorities from prosecuting tribes for growing or selling pot on their reservations.  The memo also listed eight scenarios that could result in prosecution, including selling to minors or distributing the product to a state — such as Wisconsin — where weed remains illegal.

State law enforcement authorities do not have criminal jurisdiction on the Menominee reservation but could arrest people who leave the tribal land with marijuana.  Federal authorities do, because when the Menominee had its tribal status restored in the 1970s, it became the state's only non-Public Law 280 tribe.  "As a white guy I would fully expect that I'm getting pulled over if I drive off the (Menominee) reservation" if marijuana sales there are legalized, said R. Lance Boldrey, a Michigan Indian law attorney.

State and local authorities have jurisdiction over the 10 other tribes in Wisconsin, and at least three of those are seriously looking at legalizing marijuana or a derivative on their reservations.  Still, Indian law experts say the Menominee, which has about 9,000 members, must deal with several hurdles.

■ Since marijuana is not legal in Wisconsin, the tribe may be restricted to selling weed only to Native Americans.  Still, Besaw said, it could be worthwhile to begin growing and selling weed.  He predicted that it won't be long before marijuana is legal throughout the nation and "when it does become legalized we'll be ready to launch," he said.

■ The Justice Department memo is a policy directive that could change, especially in 2017 when a new president takes office, Boldrey said.  Rep. James Lankford (R-Okla.) this month sponsored a bill that would take away federal funding from any tribe that cultivates, manufactures or sells marijuana.

■ The tribe must consider the impact of legalizing a drug on an impoverished reservation that has long been plagued with substance abuse problems. "It's a huge concern," Besaw said.

■ It's not clear what to do with money generated from marijuana sales, since federally insured banks generally shun accepting marijuana money for fear of violating federal money laundering laws.  Besaw said the tribe would likely avoid that risk by licensing and taxing a business to run the weed business.  The tribe's revenue would be "clean money" because it would be tax revenue.

Besaw said he has met and will continue to meet with state and federal law enforcement to determine the guidelines the tribe must operate under to avoid the kind of trouble with the law that occurred in California.

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

Sunday, August 16, 2015

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

Images (11)This lengthy new article, headlined "Medical marijuana laws taking root across the South," provides an effective review of marijuana reform developments in a number of southern US states. The piece merits a full read, and here are a few excerpts:

She lives in the wooden house her grandfather built more than a century ago in Chester, South Carolina, a rural community about a two-hour drive southeast of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The cluttered home is dimly lit and not air-conditioned, with the low hum of floor fans filling in rare lulls in conversation. Two Chihuahuas, Cricket and Joe, scuttle around Ada Jones' feet as she peers down through her eyeglasses at the iPad in her hands....

If someone needs medical marijuana, they contact her over the Internet. Jones encourages those who reach out to her to purchase marijuana illegally and make their own cannabis oil. If they're unsuccessful, she puts them in contact with a supplier who can sell them a more refined product.

"It's almost like playing God," Jones said. "If somebody contacts me, I have to look at them and wonder. I wonder if that's police first, not if I can help their kid. I try not to do that, but you have to because you're scared."

Jones helps everyone she can, whether they be young mothers of epileptic children or older patients suffering from chronic pain. Her specific brand of civil disobedience, like so many other facets of Southern life, is captained by her faith. "They talk about the South being the Bible belt, and praise the Lord we are," Jones said. "I cannot not help somebody. I have to. As a Christian, that's what I'm here for."

Many Southern states have a long and failed history with medical marijuana, mired deep in forgotten statutes. Only recently, as the marijuana movement sweeps through statehouses, have those laws become political tinder for a new debate in the South....

South Carolina state Sen. Tom Davis first heard the name Mary Louise Swing in late January of last year. The opening month of the 2014 legislative session was just wrapping up, and the legislator was back from the capital city of Columbia to do some work at his law office in Beaufort, a scenic coastal city located on Port Royal Island.

Davis chatted briefly that Monday afternoon with a law partner who had just met a woman named Harriet Hilton at a local Rotary club lunch. Her granddaughter suffered from a severe form of epilepsy and was seeking a type of treatment not currently legal or particularly popular in the Palmetto State – medical marijuana. "Quite frankly, it wasn't even on my radar screen," Davis said. "It wasn't anything in terms of public policy that I thought about doing until I heard about that story."

About a week later, Hilton was sitting across from Davis in his Beaufort office, discussing her granddaughter, Mary Louise, now 7. With the help of senate staffers, Davis rifled through old statutes to clarify the current legality of marijuana in the historically conservative state. What they unearthed was an obscure, obsolete law that would come to play a greater role in 2014 than it ever did following its passage 35 years ago....

Republican Gov. Nikki Haley signed Davis' bill into law in June 2014, legalizing CBD oil for epilepsy patients in South Carolina. CBD oil is an extract with concentrated amounts of cannabidiol - the part of the cannabis plant anecdotally shown to treat seizures - and low amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC - marijuana's psychoactive component.

Though the final law allowed physicians to authorize, and patients to consume, CBD oil, it did not provide for its cultivation or dispensation. Parents, patients and advocates have grown increasingly frustrated with the current state of medical marijuana in South Carolina. A law was passed in Alabama last year to allow for limited use of CBD oil, although Alabama patients are running into the same inability to access the medicine and are also facing similar decisions about moving west....

Even today in states such as Alabama and South Carolina - where CBD oil is legal but there's no provision to grow or distribute the drug - patients are left to obtain medical marijuana on their own, often across state lines and in violation of federal law. "There is an underground network of parents who had been treating their children for a while in states where they had limited-access bills like we had," said Janel Ralph, a mother in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, whose daughter suffers from a severe seizure disorder. "It was really an underground railroad."

You could call Ada Jones one of its many conductors. "The Jesus Christ that I know wouldn't want me to let anybody suffer," Jones said. "If it's in my ability to help them, then I'm going to help them."

Perhaps her favorite patient is her best friend, Beverly Love. A 55-year-old Chester native, Love was diagnosed with lupus at 31, and soon after, multiple sclerosis. Her doctor told her she probably had a maximum of two years to live. She needed to get her affairs in order and figure out who would be raising her 8-year-old son after she was gone.

"That was a scary thing. Not mainly for me – I worried about my son, my child," Love said. "But I'm still here, surprisingly. Even my doctors are surprised that I'm still living." Before Love met Jones, she didn't know what the word cannabis meant and had never smoked marijuana. She considered those who did drug addicts. "She could run for president and you couldn't find nothing on her. The girl is squeaky clean," Jones said. "She didn't want to do this. But she didn't want to die."

Jones inundated Love with countless articles on marijuana's medical benefits and personal testimonies to its effectiveness. "She just kept on," Love remembers. "And I'm thankful that she did. I'm really thankful that she did." Love first experimented with medical cannabis about a year and a half ago, spreading some medicated jam Jones had acquired for her on a piece of bread just before bedtime. Within two hours, Love said she experienced a relief she hadn't known in years.

She does not suffer from epilepsy, the only qualifying condition eligible to possess CBD oil in South Carolina. Even if she did, the oil she takes now is whole-plant – meaning it contains naturally high levels of THC in relation to CBD. She knows she could be arrested, but for her, the risk is worth it.

"If I started getting locked up now, I would move to a state where it was legal, because it's made such a difference in my day-to-day living," Love said. "I actually have quality of life now. And I didn't."

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

Saturday, August 15, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some prior related posts:

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

Saturday, August 8, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 7, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 3, 2015

"Is it time to legalize marijuana in sports?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some prior related posts on NFL players and marijuana use:

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

Saturday, August 1, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

"Seniors Are Seeking Out States Where Marijuana is Legal"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 16, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

"How medical marijuana could literally save lives"

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 14, 2015 in Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 2, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 1, 2015 in Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)