Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Calling out Leg/Reg, Ad Law scholars to start looking seriously at pros/cons of structures of state (and eventually federal) medical marijuana reforms

Download (19)As explained in this prior post, this past week the Ohio General Assembly passed a massive medical marijuana bill that creates a remarkable regulatory structure for the development and application of rules and regulations for medical marijuana in the Buckeye State.  Specifically,  the 126-page(!) Ohio medical marijuana bill (available here; detailed summary/analysis here), creates three enduring regulatory bodies in charge of various parts the state's marijuana programming: the Department of Commerce, the board of pharmacy, and the medical board.

In addition, the bill also creates for, a five-year period, a multi-member "medical marijuana advisory committee" which "may develop and submit to the department of commerce, state board of pharmacy, and the state medical board any recommendations related to the medical marijuana control program."  In my prior post, I suggested that Ohio-based lobbyists would surely love this regulatory structure; this post is my effort to encourage fellow LawProfs who follow closely the work of legislators and adminstrative regulators to love looking closely not only this Ohio legislation, but also the broader set of fascinating "leg/reg" and administrative law issues that are swiftly emerging at the local, state and federal level concerning medical marijuana reform.

For a range of understandable reasons, the traditional press and most marijuana/drug policy advocates spend a lot more time talking and thinking about recreational marijuana reforms than about (much more prevalent) medical marijuana reforms.  Serious followers of the work of state legislatures and thoughtful legal scholars should realize, however, that medical marijuana reform efforts at the local, state and federal level is where the most significant (and diverse) action is now to be found and observed.   Only five jurisdictions have enacted recreational marijuana reforms and all of those were the result of voter initiatives.  But more than two dozen states have now enacted major medical marijuana reforms, and another dozen-and-half  states have enacted limited-CBD-oil type reforms.  

Moreover, and perhaps even more importantly, state legislatures have played a significant role in all of the most recent medical marijuana reform efforts in a number of big diverse states ranging from California to Louisiana to New York to Illinois to Pennsylvania to Ohio.   In addition, even at the federal level where blanket prohibition is the law of the land, we have seen lots of notable bills proposed (and some provisions passed) that directly impacts how federal agencies and agents are to engage with state medical marijuana reforms.  And, of course, there is ever-growing discussions of whether, when and how marijuana's placement on Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substantive Act might get changed.

Snip20151020_1In addition to seeing a whole lots of legislative and regulatory action at all levels, there is an extraordinary diversity in regulatory structures being put in place and starting to operate in various ways in various states.  The Ohio legislation, for good of for bad, highlights the problematic reality that still nobody is yet sure at all what could or should be the best structure for developing sound on-going medical marijuana rules and regulations: is sound reform really about "medical/patient" issues for agencies like pharmacy/medical boards; is it really about "business/consumer" issues for agencies like a Department of Commerce or Taxation; or is medical marijuana its own special, strange, unique space that call for its own special, strange, unique regulatory body.

For the record, especially right now when blanket federal marijuana prohibition is still the basic law of the land, I consider medical marijuana reform and regulation to occupy its own special, strange, unique space calling for its own special, strange, unique regulatory body.  For that reason and others, I am encouraged that the new Ohio law has created a diverse, multi-member "medical marijuana advisory committee," and I am hopeful that this body ends up staffed with a motivated and informed group of quasi-policy-makers who will take a leadership role in the months and years ahead as Ohio moves forward with its marijuana reform efforts.  

That all said, and as this post is meant to highlight, my perspectives on these critical legislative/regulatory issues would be greatly informed and enhanced by having legal scholars who study these issues actively providing their informed perspective on the good, the bad and the ugly of sound regulatory reforms.  I know these folks know a lot about topics relating to regulatory (in)efficiency and agency capture and all sort of other important topics, and I want to start better understanding what I know that I now do not know on these next forteirs for marijuana reform.

Long story short:  I am putting you on notice Chris Walker, and I am eager to see some comments!

Some prior related posts about Ohio's recent legislative and regulatory medical marijuana activity:

May 28, 2016 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Unsurprisingly after Ohio legislators act, MPP suspends 2016 campaign for medical marijuana ballot initiative ... (so they can gear up for 2018 or 2020 recreational one?)

Download (18)As reported in this local breaking story, headlined "Ohioans for Medical Marijuana suspends ballot initiative campaign," the passage of a big medical marijuana bill by the Ohio General Assembly this past week has now already had a major impact of Ohio marijuana reform policy and practicalities. Here are the details:

Ohioans won't vote on a broader medical marijuana legalization measure in November after state lawmakers passed a bill earlier this week.  Ohioans for Medical Marijuana [OMM] announced Saturday they suspended their campaign. The decision came three days after the passage of House Bill 523, which allows people with certain medical conditions to use marijuana with a doctor's recommendation and Gov. John Kasich is expected to sign.

"We make this decision with a heavy heart as we will surely disappoint our many volunteers, supporters and patient-advocates who invested considerable time and effort in our movement," campaign manager Brandon Lynaugh said in a statement. The group was backed by national group Marijuana Policy Project [MPP], which has a track record for successful lobbying and ballot initiative efforts.

 When they announced their Ohio effort in January, the GOP-led General Assembly seemed unlikely to pass a comprehensive medical marijuana bill before November . But testimony from Ohioans who said they would benefit from medical marijuana and the possibility of such a program being written into the Ohio Constitution pushed legislators to pass a bill before leaving Columbus for the summer.

House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger welcomed the news in a statement sent Saturday morning and said it was an indication of lawmakers' willingness to listen and respond to the will of Ohioans. "Thanks to the open and transparent process that began in the Ohio House in which voices from all sides of the debate were invited to testify, we were able to join together around a proposal that is both reflective of public opinion and protective of the state's constitution," Rosenberger said.

The bill excluded some of the conditions in the proposed amendment and prohibited smoking and growing marijuana plants at home.  As the bill moved through the Statehouse, Ohioans for Medical Marijuana said those aspects of the bill pushed them to continue collecting the nearly 306,000 signatures needed to put the measure on the November ballot.  Until Saturday.

Lynaugh called the House bill "moderately good" and the organization will lobby the legislature to address its shortcomings.  Lynaugh said raising money for a medical-only initiative proved difficult after lawmakers passed the bill.  "The legislature's action on medical marijuana was a step forward, and thanks to the intense advocacy efforts of patients and their families, activists and our team the bill was vastly improved before passage," Lynaugh said.

I had predicted to anyone who would listen that Ohioians would likely not get a chance to vote on full marijuana legalization in 2016 if the controversial Issue 3 ballot initiative proposal before voters in 2015 lost badly (which it did). Part of my reasoning was that possible funders of such a campaign would not be eager to make a significant investment in a possible losing proposition. For largely the same reasons, I had been long predicting that MPP would pack up its efforts to get even a limited medical marijuana initiative on the Ohio ballot in 2016 if the Ohio General Assembly passed any kind of reasonable medical marijuana bill.  

I am glad that the OMM manager's statement noted the challenges of raising money for an initiative because it helps reveal and highlight the enduring reality that Ohio is a VERY expensive initiative state both in terms of having to collect a whole lot of signatures to get on the ballot than then also to have the resources to run a campaign throughout a diverse state with lots of expensive media markets.   Especially because it would surely prove especially challenging to convince voters that an Ohio constitutional amendment was needed for medical marijuana right after legislators just passed a complicated medical marijuana bill, I think it very wise that (1) OMM/MPP kept threating to move forward with an initiative in order to get the Ohio GA to keep making its bill better and better, and (2) now sees the wisdom of spending time and resources on working to continue to improve what the legislature has put into the Ohio Revised Code.

That all said, any and everyone interested in marijuana reform in the Buckeye State should be sending thank you notes to the folks involved with both ResponsibleOhio and MPP/OMM: Absent the money, time, energy, interest that these groups devoted to getting Ohio citizens and elected officials considering marijuana reform, any serious and significant marijuana reform in Ohio likely would not have become a viable reality until 2018 or 2020 or even later.  But once the ResponsibleOhio folks showed how much money some folks would invest in possible reform, and especially once MPP jumped in to propose a kind of reform that would surely be a winner at the ballot box, Ohio official came to understand that ignoring the will of the people on this front any longer posed many more risks than benefits.

Speaking of 2018 or 2020 and of initiative campaigns in Ohio, as my post title highlights, I think it pretty likely that the MPP folks (or maybe folks who were involved in ResponsibleOhio) are now terrifically positioned to start gearing up for an initiative run at recreation marijuana reform come 2018 or 2020.  Especially if a significant number of voters in a significant number of states in 2016 enact recreational reform on the coasts, I think MPP and other reformers/investors will be looking to move forward aggressively with recreation marijuana reform campaigns in the heartland.  In the immediate short-term, Michigan seems a state more likely to vote for recreational reform (and the economic development that goes with it), but Ohio is sure not to end up too far behind.  Indeed, I can see lots of interesting stategic benefits to MPP of trying to do recreational ballot reform in both Michigan an Ohio at the same time, say in 2018 or 2020.

May 28, 2016 in Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Ohio General Assembly sends medical marijuana bill to Gov Kasich's desk

As reported in this local article, "Ohio is poised to become the 25th state to legalize medical marijuana after state lawmakers approved a fast-moving bill Wednesday evening in a close vote."  Here are more of the details and the enduring issues about marijuana reform still in play in the Buckeye State:

The bill cleared the Ohio Senate on Wednesday in a bipartisan 18-15 vote. The House later agreed to the changes, sending the bill to Gov. John Kasich. Kasich has said he would support a medical marijuana bill if doctors led on the issue.

The vote caps a historic debate at the Statehouse about medical marijuana, a subject the conservative legislature has been reluctant to take up for years. But last year's failed recreational marijuana measure, sky-high support for medical marijuana in public opinion polls and the prospect of another ballot initiative nudged lawmakers to act....

People with one of about two dozen qualifying medical conditions could use marijuana if recommended by their physician. Patients could not smoke or grow their own marijuana, but vaping would be allowed.

Oils, tinctures, patches and plant material would be sold in dispensaries licensed by the Ohio State Board of Pharmacy. The Department of Commerce would write rules for licensing cultivators, processors and testing labs. The State Medical Board would register physicians and determine education requirements for those physicians. A bipartisan 13-member Medical Marijuana Advisory Board would recommend rules to the three regulatory agencies.

The program would have to be up and running within two years. Patients and caregivers would have an "affirmative defense" from arrest or prosecution if caught with marijuana before it's legally sold in Ohio, as long as use was recommended by a physician and meets the criteria established for the program.

Medical marijuana patients could be fired for violating an employer's drug-free workplace policy, as they are in other medical marijuana states. Patients would then be ineligible for unemployment benefits.

Sen. Kenny Yuko, a Richmond Heights Democrat and long-time medical marijuana supporter, shared the stories of several Ohioans who told lawmakers they or their children would benefit from marijuana. Marijuana has been proven to reduce seizures, pain and, Yuko said while showing pictures of would-be patients. "This bill is not perfect, folks, but it's what Ohio patients need," Yuko said. "If we can give one veteran comfort, if we can ease one patient's horrible pain, if we can prevent one heroin overdose or save one child's life -- this bill will be worth it."

Senators differed in their reasons for voting no. Some opposed marijuana use or said the federal Food and Drug Administration should approve marijuana for medicinal use. Sen. Jay Hottinger, a Newark Republican, said law enforcement and anti-drug activists in his district urged him to oppose the bill. "What we have before us today is not simply a child suffering seizure from epilepsy but something much greater than that," Hottinger said.

Others disagreed with language that allowed patients to be fired for their marijuana use and unable to collect unemployment compensation. Sen. Sandra Williams, a Cleveland Democrat, voted against the bill because she thought the issue should be decided by voters in November.

Nicole Scholten, a Cincinnati mom whose daughter suffers from seizures and cerebral palsy, was among the dozens of medical marijuana supporters watching the Senate vote Wednesday night. Scholten, who has been trying to convince lawmakers to act for years, said she felt conflicted about the vote. "We are on the way to being a state that supports patients that are not being helped by FDA-approved medications," Scholten said.

The bill would cover her daughter, Scholten said, but there are several conditions the bill doesn't cover. And she said nurse practitioners and other medical professions who prescribe controlled substances should also be allowed to recommend medical marijuana, as they are in the proposed ballot measure.

Meanwhile, Ohioans for Medical Marijuana plans to continue collecting the 305,591 signatures of Ohio voters needed by July 6 to put its medical marijuana measure on the November ballot. The group is backed by national organization Marijuana Policy Project. Their proposed constitutional amendment would allow smoking in private areas and home grow and includes more qualifying medical conditions including severe nausea and autism.

Campaign spokesman Aaron Marshall said House Bill 523 is a step forward but still too restrictive. "Our Constitutional amendment builds on the legislature's work by incorporating national best practices and offers voters an opportunity to enact a law free of the horse-trading inherent in the legislative process," Marshall said.

After the bill is sent to Kasich, he has 10 days to sign it. If he doesn't sign, it automatically becomes law. The law is effective 90 days after Kasich signs, likely sometime in early September.

As I explained in this prior post, I think the final complicated structure for medical marijuana reform enacted by the Ohio legislature may prove to have even more benefits for lawyers and lobbyists than for prospective patients. But I suppose time will tell on this front, and how MPP (and advocates and polls) respond to bill may ultimately script the future of marijuana reform in the state more than the particulars of this legislation.

May 26, 2016 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Lobbyists, start your engines: revisions to Ohio medical marijuana bill creates array of regulators and rule-makers

Download (1)As reported in this local article, headlined "Senators remove pharmacist requirement from medical marijuana bill," the Ohio General Assembly has done some additional notable tweaking of the medical marijuana legislation being fast-tracked in this state. Here are the latest details, along with my explanation for the Indy 500-inspired title to this post:

Senators vetting a medical marijuana bill eliminated a requirement that every marijuana dispensary be run by a licensed pharmacist, expanded the definition of pain to qualify for medical marijuana and other changes cheered by medical marijuana advocates.

The Senate Government Oversight and Reform Committee added the pharmacist requirement last week as well as put the program under the oversight of the Ohio State Board of Pharmacy. The Ohio Pharmacists Association supported the change, but patient advocates said would increase patient costs and render Ohio's medical marijuana program ineffective.

The committee is expected to make small changes to the bill Wednesday morning before approving it for a full floor vote as early as Wednesday afternoon.  The revised bill then would need approval from the House before heading to Gov. John Kasich's desk....

Three states require pharmacists in medical marijuana dispensaries: Connecticut, Minnesota and New York. Advocates have criticized those states for having overly restrictive programs.  Sen. Dave Burke, a Marysville Republican and pharmacist, said the pharmacist requirement raised concerns about patient access, and the bill has other safeguards to ensure products are safely administered. "We're not wanting to be restrictive, we're not wanting to be burdensome but we don't want to expose people to harm," Burke said.

House Bill 523 would allow patients with about two dozen qualifying conditions to buy and use marijuana if recommended by a licensed Ohio physician.  The Ohio Department of Commerce would write the rules and regulations for who could commercially grow or manufacture products from marijuana.  Smoking and home growing are not allowed in the bill.  Patients would have an affirmative defense from arrest and prosecution to possess and use marijuana before dispensaries are up and running.

Patients would have to have a doctor's recommendation and the marijuana would have to be legal under the Ohio law.  Burke said the pharmacy board will also draft rules allowing patients from states with similar requirements to access Ohio medical marijuana.  "It has to fit in the framework -- you can't just bring your baggie of Colorado weed to Ohio," Burke said....

Lawmakers supporting the bill are motivated in part by a constitutional amendment planned for the November ballot.  Ohioans for Medical Marijuana spokesman Aaron Marshall said the revised bill still does not address patient concerns and is inferior to his group's proposed measure.  The amendment allows patients to smoke marijuana and grow their own or enlist a caregiver to grow for them.  Marijuana won't be covered by medical insurance plans, Marshall said, so home grow is the best way to ensure poor Ohioans will have access to the plant.

Changes made Tuesday morning:

  • Chronic and severe pain is one qualifying condition and intractable pain is a separate condition.
  • The pharmacy board would license retail dispensaries, register patients and regulate marijuana packaging and acceptable paraphernalia.
  • The Department of Commerce would license cultivators, processors and testing labs and operate a seed-to-sale tracking system. Cultivator licensing rules would have to be written within 240 days of the bill's effective date instead of 180 days.
  • The state medical board would certify physicians for the program.

The title of this post is my basic reaction to the reality that, in this latest version of Ohio's medical marijuana bill, there will be at least three enduring regulatory bodies in charge of various parts the state's marijuana programming: the Department of Commerce, the board of pharmacy, and the state medical board. In addition, the bill also creates for, a five-year period, a multi-member "medical marijuana advisory committee" which "may develop and submit to the department of commerce, state board of pharmacy, and the state medical board any recommendations related to the medical marijuana control program." So, any patient or parent or doctor or caregiver or cultivator or processor or lab or any other business or person wanting to influence Ohio's regulatory structures for medical marijuana will want/need to consider lobbying various regulatory bodies and the medical marijuana advisory committee.

And, of course, because all these structures are being created through standard state legislation, the many diverse regulatory bodies are not the only ones to be lobbied. I would expect in the years ahead, both pro- and anti-marijuana advocates and their lobbyists will sometimes go over the heads of the assigned regulators to try to get the General Assembly through future legislation to place new/changed marijuana rules directly into Ohio's Revised Code.

Long story short: though I am not yet sure that the regulatory structure being created now in Ohio will facilitate a robust medical marijuana industry, I am sure that there is likely going to have to be a robust medical marijuana lobby industry in the Buckeye State at least for the next few years.

May 24, 2016 in Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 19, 2016

"US House Votes to Give Medical Marijuana to Veterans"

Untitled-2-2The title of this post is the headline of this notable report authored by Tom Angell explaining a notable vote today in Congress. Here are the notable details: 

The U.S. House took action to increase military veterans’ access to medical marijuana on Thursday.

By a vote of 233-189, representatives approved an amendment preventing the Department of Veterans Affairs (V.A.) from spending money to enforce a current policy that prohibits its government doctors from filling out medical marijuana recommendation forms in states where the drug is legal. The language is now attached to a bill funding the V.A. and military construction efforts through next year.

The U.S. Senate is expected to vote on its version of the legislation later on Thursday. Medical cannabis protections for veterans were added to that bill last month in bipartisan vote of 20-10 in the Senate Appropriations Committee. It is not expected that any senators will offer floor amendments to strike the marijuana provision before passage.

“One of the great concerns we have is how the two million young Americans who were sent to Iraq and Afghanistan reintegrate back into society,” Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), the House amendment’s sponsor, said in a floor debate early Thursday morning. “What I hear from veterans that I talk to is that an overwhelming number of them say that medical marijuana has helped them deal with PTSD, pain and other conditions, particularly as an alternative to opioids.”

Under current V.A. policy, military veterans have to go to separate private doctors to get medical marijuana recommendations, which can be costly and time-consuming. “Those patients who want to pursue medical marijuana have to go ahead and hire a physician out of their own pocket,” said Blumenauer. “Not dealing with the medical professional of their choice, their V.A. doctor, who knows them the best.”

But there was some reluctant disagreement on the House floor. “I understand that the country is evolving on this issue as many states, including my own, have moved forward on medical marijuana,” said Rep. Charles Dent (R-PA), whose home state just became the 24th in the U.S. with a comprehensive medical marijuana law. “As a member of this House, I’m a bit uncomfortable, however, in trying to dictate policy on marijuana without guidance from Food and Drug Administration, National Institutes of Health and other medical professionals.”

But Blumenauer took exception to that characterization. “This amendment does not dictate treatment options. It’s not interfering. It’s not superimposing anybody’s judgement about the merits of marijuana. It simply enables V.A. doctors and patients to interact with state-legal marijuana systems,” he said. “We should not be limiting the treatment options available to our veterans.”

Last year the Senate approved the Fiscal Year 2016 version of the V.A. spending bill, with similar medical cannabis protections for veterans attached, but the House narrowly defeated a move to add the amendment to its version of the legislation by a vote of 213-210. As a result, the provision was not included in the final omnibus appropriations package signed into law by President Obama in December.

Since then, momentum on medical cannabis and broader marijuana law reform issues has continued to increase. Last month, for example, Pennsylvania became the 24th state in the U.S with a comprehensive medical marijuana program. This month, both chambers of the Louisiana State Legislature and the Ohio House of Representatives approved medical cannabis bills.

The U.S. House measure also would have passed last year if two medical marijuana supporters hadn’t voted against it. Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA), admitted at the time that he misread the amendment and voted the wrong way. Another supporter, Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA) said he voted no because the measure didn’t go far enough in his view. With those two votes flipped, the result would have been 212-211.

The V.A. policy disallowing its doctors from recommending medical marijuana in states where it is legal actually expired on January 31 but, under the department’s procedures, the ban technically remains in effect until a new policy is enacted.

Advocates expect a new policy soon, but aren’t sure what it will say. In February 2015, a top V.A. official testified before a House committee that the department is undertaking “active discussions” about how to address the growing number of veterans who are seeking cannabis treatments.

Separately, a trio of Democratic senators submitted an additional amendment this week intended to spur medical cannabis research by the V.A. The V.A., in partnership with the National Center for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder may “conduct clinical research on the potential benefits of therapeutic use of the cannabis plant by veterans,” reads the amendment offered by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), Cory Booker (NJ) and Barbara Boxer (CA).

The senators want the government to look into the use of cannabis “as a treatment to achieve and maintain abstinence from opioids and heroin.” The proposal directs the secretary of veterans affairs to submit a report on efforts to expand such research within 180 days. It is not yet clear if the amendment will receive a vote on the Senate floor.

Last week medical marijuana opponents succeeded in getting the House Rules Committee to kill two amendments aimed at increasing government research on medical marijuana’s possible impact on opioid abuse.

May 19, 2016 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Louisiana laws amended to make medical marijuana reform a functional reality

As reported in this local article, headlined "John Bel Edwards signs medical marijuana law," I think it is now proper to count Louisiana as a state that has now enacted real, functional broad medical marijuana reform.  Here are the basics:

Gov. John Bel Edwards signed a landmark medical marijuana bill into law Thursday (May 19) that is expected to make medical marijuana available to patients for the first time in Louisiana history.

Edwards signed the bill during a ceremony on the fourth floor of the Capitol in front of key legislators who guided the bill to passage, First Lady Donna Edwards, and the families of children with conditions they believe can be treated with the drug.  Among those present were a family from Edwards' hometown of Amite who have a son that suffers from daily seizures and would qualify for the drug.

"This is one of those bills I believe will have a positive impact on the people that need it the most," Edwards said. "The state of Louisiana should not interpose itself between doctors and patients when the doctors believe they have a patient who will benefit from medical marijuana."

Although Edwards' signature marked a significant moment for dispensing medical marijuana, it will be some time before doctors could actually recommend the drug to patients and a pharmacy could dispense it.  By one estimate, it could take about 18 months, but if other states adopting medical marijuana legislation give any indication, it could take even longer.

Even so, advocates have said the legislation passed this session gives them hope that one day, family members could benefit from the drug and they won't have to make plans to move to states like Colorado where medical marijuana is available.  Edwards said the idea that families would move away from Louisiana to obtain a safe and legal product in other states was a driving force behind his support.

"It simply is unacceptable to tell parents of kids that if they want to make them available to the kids the medicine recommended by their doctors to achieve some better quality of life -- some reduction in pain -- that they should have to move," Edwards said.

As detailed in a post below from last year, Louisiana had passed a medical marijuana law in 2015 that required doctor "prescriptions" that made the reform essentially non-functional. This local story indicates the new law takes care of this problem and covers additional ground:

Senate Bill 271 changes the legal wording to allow doctors to recommend nonsmokable forms of medical cannabis to qualified patients.

The new law also expands the state’s list of medical marijuana qualifying conditions to include cancer, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS, cachexia or wasting syndrome, seizure disorders, epilepsy, spasticity, severe muscle spasms, Crohn’s disease, muscular dystrophy and multiple sclerosis.

The previous version of the law included just three qualifying conditions: glaucoma, cancer and spastic quadriplegia.

Prior related post from 2015:  Louisiana now with broadest (and least functional?) medical marijuana laws in South

May 19, 2016 in Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Ohio Senate tweaks medical marijuana bill as reform efforts keep moving ahead swiftly

As reported in this local article, headlined "Ohio pharmacy board would run medical marijuana program under bill changes," the Ohio legislative process keep moving ahead swiftly as the state continue a path toward becoming the latest to enact significant medical marijuana reforms. Here are the details:

Patients would be allowed to use medical marijuana from other states while Ohio sets up its own program, under changes made to a bill moving quickly through the General Assembly.  House Bill 523 would allow people with certain medical conditions to buy and use marijuana with permission of an Ohio-licensed physician.  The Senate Government Oversight and Reform Committee on Wednesday made several changes to speed up the time line for establishing the program and increase patient participation in the process.

The biggest change made was moving the medical marijuana program from the Department of Commerce to the state Pharmacy Board.  Sen. Dave Burke, a Marysville Republican and pharmacist, said the board would begin licensing cultivators six months earlier than under the previous version of the bill.  Then the board would write rules for businesses that make marijuana products and retail dispensaries.

Burke said the bill has no written limit on who can participate; it maintains a requirement that minority business owners receive 15 percent of all marijuana business licenses.  "It's not the intent to have a monopoly but to have a market of equity and equal participation," Burke said....

Patients could obtain and use marijuana from other states before it's legally sold in Ohio without being arrested, if it was recommended by a doctor for a qualifying condition and not smoked.  Each dispensary would be under the control of a licensed pharmacist.

Doctors would not be required to specify dosage and delivery methods in their recommendations nor submit periodic reports about their recommendations.  Recommendations would be good for 90 days and doctors could renew them for three additional periods without seeing the patient....

A 12-member advisory board including a patient, caregiver, nurse, physicians, pharmacists and representatives from law enforcement, labor, and employers.  Some members would have to support medical marijuana use.

Alzheimer's disease and fibromyalgia would be added to the list of qualifying medical conditions.

Employers would have to prove employees violated a workplace anti-drug policy for the employee to lose unemployment or workers' compensation benefits, and employees could appeal similar to other controlled substances.

Two problems advocates have with the bill were not changed. Smoking marijuana is not allowed in the bill, but patients could inhale vaporized cannabis.  The bill does not allow people to grow their own marijuana.

The bill cleared the Ohio House last week with broad, bipartisan support, and has been fast-tracked for passage before lawmakers break for summer.

May 18, 2016 in Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Two great new reports on marijuana reform and taxes from The Tax Foundation

The Tax Foundation describes itself as the "nation’s leading independent tax policy research organization," and it claims that "since 1937, [its] principled research, insightful analysis, and engaged experts have informed smarter tax policy at the federal, state, and local levels." Helpfully, it has recently turned its attention to marijuana reform via these two new publications:

Here are the "Key Findings" from these two reader-friendly reports (which overlap a bit):

  • Marijuana tax collections in Colorado and Washington have exceeded initial estimates.
  • A mature marijuana industry could generate up to $28 billion in tax revenues for federal, state, and local governments, including $7 billion in federal revenue: $5.5 billion from business taxes and $1.5 billion from income and payroll taxes.
  • A federal tax of $23 per pound of product, similar to the federal tax on tobacco, could generate $500 million per year. Alternatively, a 10 percent sales surtax could generate $5.3 billion per year, with higher tax rates collecting proportionately more.
  • The reduction of societal risk in being engaged in the marijuana trade, as well as the inclusion of taxes, will combine to reduce profits (and tax collections) somewhat from an initial level after national legalization.
  • Society pays all the costs regardless of legality but tax revenues help offset those costs.

  

  • Marijuana tax collections in Colorado and Washington have exceeded initial estimates, and a nationwide legalization-and-tax regime could see states raise billions of dollars per year in marijuana tax revenue.
  • Colorado, Washington, and Oregon have all taken steps to reduce their marijuana tax rates, with Alaska considering it, after initial rates of 30 percent or more did not reduce the black market sufficiently. More recent ballot initiative proposals across the country propose rates between 10 and 25 percent.
  • Tax rates on final retail sales have proven the most workable form of taxation. Other forms of taxation that have been proposed, such as taxing marijuana flowers at a certain dollar amount, taxing at the processor or producer level rather than the retail level, or taxing products by their level of THC, have faced practical implementation difficulties.
  • Medical marijuana is usually more loosely regulated and less taxed than recreational marijuana. In Washington, moving non-medical sales to the retail market has proven difficult given the enormous differentials in tax rates and regulatory structure, and officials there wish the two systems had been tackled simultaneously.
  • While the revenue can be in the tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars, it takes a lead time to develop. Revenues started out slowly in Colorado and Washington, as consumers became familiar with the new system and after state and local authorities spent time and money setting up new frameworks and regulatory infrastructure.
  • Significant attention must be given to health, agricultural, zoning, local enforcement, and criminal penalty issues. These important issues have generally been unaddressed in ballot initiatives and left for resolution in the implementation process.

May 14, 2016 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Highlighting the economic potential of marijuana reform in the California desert

Images (1)Regularly readers know that I view the potential economic development benefits of marijuana reform to be one of the most important, and yet least discussed, transformative aspects of the nationwide reform movement.   Consequently, I was pleased to see this lengthy new article in the Los Angeles Times headlined "This California desert town is experiencing a marijuana boom." Here are excerpts:

As the first city in Southern California to legalize large-scale medical marijuana cultivation, Desert Hot Springs has been inundated by marijuana growers and developers.  They are buying up dusty desert land — some with no utilities or roads — in hopes of cashing in as California's marijuana growers come into the open under new state regulations.

"It's pretty chaotic," said Coachella Valley real estate broker Marc Robinson. "I'm getting tons of calls from all over the world, all over the United States.  My newest clients flew over from Germany."

Despite a sizable need for new infrastructure to support the indoor growing projects, the rush has officials in this downtrodden town dreaming of new income.  "I can only imagine what we can do with the tax revenue," Mayor Scott Matas said. "We're in need of parks, our roads are dilapidated. All around — our sidewalks, curbs, gutters."

The city is pushing hard to help developers get their projects up and running as it increasingly faces competition from a number of desert cities also eager to bring growers to town.

Desert Hot Springs' foray into marijuana stemmed from financial need, officials said. The city has long tried to position itself as a Coachella Valley tourist destination alongside its resort-town neighbors south of Interstate 10, but it's never managed to attract the same level of development. Median household income here is $33,500 — far below the state median.

The town's destinations simply aren't enough "for it to become a vibrant and viable city instead of just a dusty little town north of the I-10," said Heather Coladonato, president of the Desert Hot Springs Chamber of Commerce, which is working closely with growers.

In 2014, after the city declared a fiscal emergency, the council voted to legalize dispensaries and cultivation. Zones where growing was permitted were established, including on a stretch of barren desert dotted with a couple of churches and auto repair shops. Since the ordinance passed, officials have approved applications for at least 11 businesses with plans for more than 1.7 million square feet of cultivation operations.

Each year, the city will tax growers $25 per square foot of cultivation space for the first 3,000 square feet and $10 per square foot after that. At least eight other projects are in the approval process....

No cultivators are up and running yet, though a small number could be growing by this summer, officials said. Growers, many of whom have been quietly practicing their trade in garages and other underground spaces for years, are eager to "come out of the shadows," said Jason Elsasser, who is planning a 2-acre project in town.

The rush to set up shop in cities that permit cultivation was pushed forward by state legislation signed into law late last year. Growers will be able to apply for state licenses by 2018, but they will have to show they have local licensing before they can get a state permit, said Steve Lyle, a spokesman for the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

The crush of developers in Desert Hot Springs led to a tripling of land prices in the area, real estate brokers said.

But there are signs that the projects — which require intensive lighting and air conditioning — could face long infrastructure delays. In recent weeks, owners learned it could take years just to get sufficient electricity to some of the businesses. Southern California Edison spokesman Robert Laffoon-Villegas said the utility expects that some growers' power needs could be so large that "it would be like adding a small city to the system."...

In nearby Cathedral City, officials recently began accepting applications from growers and dispensaries. So far, they have received about 20, said Community Development Director Pat Milos.

In San Bernardino County, Adelanto began accepting applications from growers late last year. That city, which has been on the brink of insolvency in recent years, has asked applicants to sign a statement acknowledging its financial hardship and agreeing to "support, and not oppose, any initiative that the city or the voters of the city initiate to raise business taxes and business license fees." So far, it has approved at least 30 applicants who have proposed operating more than 1.2 million square feet of cultivation space. Some, like in Desert Hot Springs, would be in now-vacant desert plots.

The city of Coachella, meanwhile, has opened an area to growers previously zoned for auto wreckage yards. Mayor Steven Hernandez said he expected the businesses to bring better-paying jobs to the city's low-income residents, particularly migrant farmworkers. "I've got a lot of people working in the fields every day," he said. "If I can get those guys into the middle income … they can buy themselves a nice house in Coachella and maybe not have to work so much."

May 10, 2016 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Advice to would-be Keystone cannabis counselors: "It's really here, it's really lucrative and it's really tricky."

The Legal Intelligencer, a Pennsylvania law-oriented publication, has this lengthy new article headlined "Marijuana Law: Protecting Your Client and License," and its great first sentence is the quoted portion of my post title. Here is how the effective article gets started:

Joining 23 states and the District of Columbia, legalized medical cannabis has come to Pennsylvania in the form of the Medical Marijuana Act, signed into law on April 17 and set to take effect May 16.

At that point, 80 percent of America's population will have some form of legalized marijuana access, the 2016 sales of which Fortune Magazine estimates to exceed $6.7 billion (a 25 percent increase of 2015's $5.4 billion).

Because of the law's breadth and the state's demographics, Pennsylvania is poised to be legalized ­marijuana's next hot spot.  Specifically, the Medical Marijuana Act enumerates 17 "serious medical conditions" eligible for ­marijuana prescriptions encompassing autism and sickle cell anemia alongside the more traditionally covered ailments such as cancer, epilepsy and post-traumatic stress disorder.

By cutting such a wide swath, the act invites high program participation, particularly in light of Pennsylvania's huge ­potential patient base.

Further, unlike New Jersey and other states severely limiting the number of issued licenses, the Medical Marijuana Act authorizes 25 grow/processing licenses and 50 dispensary licenses, each of which empowers the licensee to open three locations for up to 150 dispensaries.

This column explores legal issues confronting the cannabis industry, starting with the big enchilada.  Regardless of the law of 24 states and the District of Columbia, marijuana is still 100 percent illegal under federal law.

May 4, 2016 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Updating the dyanamic (and even-uncertain) state of medical marijuana reform in Ohio

MPP-MedicalMarijuanaCampaign-OhioRegular readers know I have been urging everyone to keep an eye on the Buckeye State as multiple different efforts are afoot to bring medical marijuana reform into reality in the state.  This new Columbus Dispatch article, headlined "Toking nixed, vaping OK in Ohio House medical-marijuana bill," reports on the latest state of work by leaders in the Ohio General Assembly seeking to get reform done and on the books ASAP before a possible ballot initiative is taken to the voters. Here are the details:

Ohioans could not legally smoke medical marijuana under a revamped proposal being rolled out today by state legislators. Those with a prescription for medical marijuana would be allowed to use vaporization or other inhalant devices.

But the new restriction in the legislation, targeted for a House vote Tuesday, probably sets up a public battle with supporters of proposed November ballot issues that would allow smoking.

Rep. Kirk Schuring of Canton, who was set to brief his fellow GOP House members Tuesday night on the revised measure, said he hopes the special committee he chairs approves the new plan Thursday after seeing it for the first time today. After House passage, Schuring said, he is optimistic the Senate and Kasich administration will quickly approve Ohio becoming the 25th state to legalize medical marijuana. The previous version of House Bill 523 did not directly address smoking.

Both versions would bar homegrown marijuana, which would be allowed by the ballot measures. The substitute bill also would ban marijuana edibles “in a form that is considered to be attractive to children.”

Unlike the original bill, the amended legislation specifies 20 ailments for which medical marijuana could be prescribed. The list includes cancer, AIDS, hepatitis C, sickle-cell anemia, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease and post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as “pain that is chronic, severe and intractable.”

Other provisions added to the proposal:

• The state will set up a program to help qualifying medical-marijuana patients who are veterans or poor obtain the drug.

• Radio and TV ads for medical marijuana would be prohibited.

• Reciprocity agreements could be set up with other states that have regulations “substantively similar” to Ohio’s.

• Caregivers would be exempt from arrest and prosecution for obtaining or providing medical marijuana for those in their care.

• Lawyers, CPAs and medical professionals would be exempt from administrative disciplinary action relating to services they provide related to the substance. As with the original bill, employers are not required to accommodate an employee’s use of medical marijuana.

I suspect some of these revisions will please some hard-core marijuana reformers, while others might disappoint them. And I doubt that, at least until something actually becomes law in Ohio, that the folks working toward putting these issues directly to the voters will "pump the brakes" on these efforts at all. Interesting times.

Prior related posts:

Restrictive medical marijuana reforms proposed by Ohio legislature in shadow of broader initiative effort

My (least? most?) favorite part of the 2016 medical marijuana bill being fast-tracked in Ohio

Reviewing the complicated state of marijuana reform efforts in the Buckeye State

May 4, 2016 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 25, 2016

Reviewing the complicated state of marijuana reform efforts in the Buckeye State

MPP-MedicalMarijuanaCampaign-OhioThis morning's Columbus Dispatch has this helpful article headlined "Efforts to legalize marijuana in Ohio differ in who can grow, who can use," which provides a useful primer on the state of marijuana reform efforts in my home state. Here are excerpts:

Ohio appears likely to become the 25th state to approve medical marijuana, either through a new state law or a voted constitutional amendment. State lawmakers and two citizen advocacy groups are working simultaneously on proposals to bring marijuana as medicine to Ohioans with qualifying medical conditions.

But how the legislature and advocates approach the subject is very different, and the two pro-marijuana groups are proposing separate variations as well. Here are some key differences among the proposed legislation (House Bill 523), the Marijuana Policy Project amendment, and the Medicinal Cannabis and Industrial Hemp amendment.

Impact: The legislation would change only Ohio law. Both ballot proposals would amend the Ohio Constitution.

Marijuana in smokeable form: The legislation does not specifically allow it but doesn’t rule it out. Both ballot issues would allow it.

Home-grown pot: The legislation would not allow growing marijuana at home; both ballot issues would allow it in limited quantities.

Growers: The Marijuana Policy Project amendment would allow 15 large growers and unlimited small growers. Neither the legislation nor the cannabis and hemp amendment specify grower numbers.

Qualifying conditions: No specific qualifying medical conditions for medical marijuana are listed in the legislation. Both amendments cite a list of ailments, conditions and diseases that would qualify.

Doctor requirements: The legislation spells out numerous requirements for physicians, including registration and reporting marijuana prescriptions every 90 days. The amendments contain no specific requirements....

Timing: Both ballot issues aim to make marijuana as medicine available next year, while the legislature would likely take two years to implement....

Groups and individuals are weighing in on the legislation and ballot issues. The Ohio Rights Group, which at one time was planning its own marijuana ballot issue, said last week that it will support the Marijuana Policy Project initiative because it will “bring much needed therapeutic relief to the seriously ill in Ohio.”

The Ohio Farm Bureau Federation is taking a wait-and-see approach about all three proposals, said Adam Sharp, vice president of public policy. The group has not yet looked closely at the marijuana and hemp proposal, which would allow growing of hemp plants, a cousin of marijuana without its euphoric qualities, Sharp said. Hemp is used for a variety of products, including cloth, rope, oils and some edibles.

Ohioans for Medical Marijuana, the local group working with the Marijuana Policy Project, responded with a detailed 12-point memo outlining its “serious concerns” with the proposed legislation. Among them are leaving decision-making in the hands of nine “unaccountable, unelected political appointees” on a Marijuana Control Commission; imposing “considerable hardships on patients” by requiring office visits every 90 days; providing no legal protection for patients or caregivers; and denying the ability to grow marijuana at home.

While details, cost and accessibility are being discussed, timing is urgent to some, including Andrea Gunnoe, a school psychologist, business owner, wife and mother of four from Dublin who testified to the legislative panel last week. As she spoke, Gunnoe held her son, Reid, 6, who was diagnosed with epilepsy when he was 3. She wants the state to approve medical marijuana to use to control Reid’s frequent seizures. “My son’s medical bills since his onset have totaled over $4 million,” Gunnoe said. Because of the time it will take to implement the law, she said caregivers should be given a “safe haven” to get marijuana concentrates from other sources and “be protected from prosecution and allegations of child endangering.”

April 25, 2016 in Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Examining the potential economic impact of medical marijuana reform in Pennsylvania

This lengthy local article, headlined "Not just medicine: Marijuana may have big economic impact," takes a look into some of the key economic stories now that the Keystone state has legalize medical marijuana. Here are excerpts:

Pennsylvania Medical Cannabis Society Executive Director Patrick Nightingale called the medical marijuana law a piece of “momentous legislation.” He said it resulted from a true grassroots coalition of both recreational advocates and the parents of children suffering from ailments that can be treated with marijuana.

“They said, We are not going to settle for a bill that benefits our children only,” Nightingale said. According to Nightingale, the worst part of the legislation is the regulatory fee structure, which includes a $200,000 licensing payment for growers. Nightingale characterized this as a “one-time revenue grab for the commonwealth.”

“(The fees) are very high,” he said. “It is an expensive process.” He added that he is somewhat worried that the price of legal marijuana will greatly exceed the price of black market marijuana. This would potentially drive users underground, and destroy legitimate businesses.

Nightingale cited the price of legal marijuana in New Jersey, which is approximately $500 an ounce. He said marijuana of even higher quality, sold illegally in Pittsburgh, costs only $350 an ounce. “I don’t know where (Gov.) Chris Christie and his cronies came up with $500 an ounce,” Nightingale said....

Illinois passed a bill similar to Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana legislation in 2013. Dan Linn — executive director for the Illinois chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML — said the movement has stimulated local economies and created approximately 1,000 jobs.

There have also been snares along the way. Linn acknowledged that high regulatory fees created “sticker shock” that prevented many would-be entrepreneurs from entering the business. And he said that local officials have made life difficult in some areas. “There were some folks who had very difficult zoning appeals in their communities,” Linn said.

But some are far more optimistic about Pennsylvania’s program. Chris Walsh, editorial director of the Marijuana Business Daily in Denver, Colorado, said the Keystone State should be far more successful than Illinois in implementing its medical marijuana legislation. “There’s more business opportunity in Pennsylvania, for sure,” he said. “The inclusion of severe chronic pain (as a qualifying condition) is huge.”

According to Walsh, allowing those currently on opiates to switch to marijuana makes the difference between a small legal market and a massive legal market. It also means that, because there’s more demand, prices should be reasonable. “Pennsylvania is really shaping up to be one of the biggest marijuana markets, easily on the East Coast, and possibly fifth or sixth in the entire nation,” he said, predicting that the commonwealth and Maryland will dominate the industry in the Atlantic region. “There’s a lot of optimism about this market.”

Walsh, however, echoed Nightingale’s concerns about local counties and municipalities trying to push medical marijuana grows and dispensaries out of areas. He said this is true even in Colorado because some people expect seediness and an increase in crime. “That never happens,” Walsh said.

“If it’s a well-regulated industry, once it’s been up and running, people kind of forget about them. There’s not this scary, stereotypical image that people have in their head.” His prediction for Pennsylvania: $100 million in annual sales. “(But) it will take a while to get there,” he said.

April 24, 2016 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Detailing myriad problems with CBD-only medical marijuana reform efforts

Cbd-oil-for-epilepsyNBC News has this new extended article, the first of a two-part series, taking a close look at the considerable difficulties that flow from medical marijuana reform efforts that only legalize CBD oils.  This piece is headlined "'No-Buzz' Medical Pot Laws Prove Problematic for Patients, Lawmakers," and here is how it gets started:

The idea was intoxicating to lawmakers in more than a dozen states where medical marijuana was a political nonstarter: Give patients with certain severe medical problems access to a type of pot that might provide relief without producing the "high" usually associated with the plant.

But two years after 17 Midwestern and Southern states began passing a series of what are known as "CBD-only" medical marijuana laws, many people they were intended to help are rising up in protest. The laws, they say, help few patients, exclude others who could benefit and force residents to commit criminal acts in order to get relief for themselves or their loved ones.

"There is no amount of tweaking to a CBD decriminalization law that will make it work," said Maria La France of Des Moines, Iowa, who gives her 14-year-old son, Quincy Hostager, an oil derived from marijuana to treat his Dravet syndrome, an intractable form of childhood epilepsy. "I don't want to break the law, but I have to."

The CBD-only laws allow residents with specified medical conditions to legally use marijuana-derived products that contain cannabidiol (CBD) but are low in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which produces marijuana's "high." (Both CBD and THC are among the scores of active chemical compounds known as cannabinoids that are present in the marijuana plant.)

For medical purposes, that usually means orally ingesting an oil derived from marijuana or hemp, though there also are numerous other products like body oils containing CBD for topical uses.

Supporters involved in passing the laws portrayed them as compassionate measures that would let patients avail themselves of the potentially therapeutic or pain-relieving properties of pot without risking the possibility of creating a new generation of drug addicts.

But political opposition — often led by some of the families the laws were intended to help — has emerged in many of the states that passed the legislation. "We're not lawbreakers and this shouldn't even be an issue," said Jennifer Conforti of Fayetteville, Georgia, who gives her 5-year-old autistic daughter, Abby, marijuana-derived oil with higher-than-allowed levels of THC to control dangerous biting episodes. "It should be a medicine that doctors go to when they need it."

Conforti and others who want to expand the state's CBD-only law to cover additional medical conditions, allow for higher levels of THC and provide for in-state cultivation and distribution of CBD products have mounted a "civil disobedience" campaign to raise public awareness about the issue.

In Utah, proponents of expanded access to whole-plant medical marijuana say they will conduct a campaign to unseat legislators who opposed a bill to expand the state's current CBD-only law.

Even some involved in crafting CBD-only laws acknowledge that lawmakers have ventured onto thin ice by intervening in matters that may best be left to patients and their doctors. "Is this what we're going to do? Are we going to vote on the next blood pressure medication or chemo treatment because of anecdotal evidence?" said Pat Bird, an executive for a Utah substance abuse prevention program who was involved in the failed effort this year to update the state's CBD-only law.

The laws also have been harshly criticized by both medical marijuana advocates and prominent members of the medical establishment, albeit for very different reasons.

UPDATE: Here is the second part of this series from NBC News under the headline "Battle Over Georgia's 'No-Buzz' Medical Marijuana Law Gets Personal." Here is how it begins:

A Georgia mom is helping to lead the charge to expand the state's limited medical marijuana law, which she says unfairly excludes many patients with severe medical conditions — including her 5-year-old autistic daughter — who could benefit from the plant's medicinal properties.

"There are some pretty tenacious parents who are fighting," said Jennifer Conforti, whose daughter, Abby, isn't covered by the current law. "... Why wouldn't you do that as a legislator? What is in it for you to make you not want to help families in the state?"

April 23, 2016 in Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 15, 2016

My (least? most?) favorite part of the 2016 medical marijuana bill being fast-tracked in Ohio

Ohio-Marijuana-Laws-ChangeAs noted in this prior post, Ohio legislators have now gone from generally talking about marijuana reform to having a specific bill that it plans to move to consider quickly.  This new local article, headlined "Ohio medical marijuana hearings begin Tuesday," provides an overview of the bill and the big debate it is sure to engender in the state in the coming weeks:

State lawmakers will begin hearings on a new medical marijuana bill on Tuesday.  The House Select Committee on Medical Marijuana plans to meet three times a week to vet and revise House Bill 523.  The bill would establish a program allowing patients to buy and use marijuana to treat medical conditions with the recommendation of a licensed Ohio physician.

Rep. Kirk Schuring, a Canton Republican who led the House medicinal marijuana task force, will also chair the committee. Lawmakers hope to have the bill to Gov. John Kasich by June....

People will not be allowed to grow marijuana at home. Dispensaries and growing, testing, and processing facilities could not be located within 500 feet of a school, church, public library, public playground or public park.

Marijuana would be tracked from seed to sale, with patient and physician information entered into a database similar to other controlled substances.

Only Ohio-licensed doctors who have registered with the state to recommend marijuana could do so, and only after examining the patient and his or her medical history.  Doctor recommendations would specify an amount and type of marijuana to patients.  The doctor's recommendation would expire after 90 days, and patients would have to visit their doctors to renew the recommendations.

Businesses could still enforce drug-free workplace policies, and financial institutions that serve marijuana businesses would not face state penalties.  Lawmakers would later determine an appropriate tax on medical marijuana. Marijuana businesses would have to pay all other business taxes.  The program must be operational no later than two years after the bill becomes law.

The bill leaves many of the regulations up to a nine-member commission appointed by the governor, House, and Senate....

Meanwhile, two groups are collecting signatures to legalize medical marijuana at the ballot box. Don Wirtshafter, of Grassroots Ohioans, called the bill a "timid first step." Grassroots Ohioans' amendment would allow people to use marijuana to treat medical conditions, but would not require a physician's recommendation or prescription. The amendment would allow farmers to grow industrial hemp. "Our initiative is necessary because it will force the legislature to look at this more realistically in view of the modern science on this subject," Wirtshafter said Thursday.

Ohioans for Medical Marijuana, backed by national group Marijuana Policy Project, is proposing a regulated system in its constitutional amendment. Mason Tvert, spokesman for Marijuana Policy Project, said the House bill's reporting requirements would have a chilling effect on physicians and help few patients.  "That's not something we require of physicians for many other medications and medical marijuana is objectively far less harmful and has far less potential for abuse than prescription drugs," Tvert said.

The full text of HB523 is available at this link, and at the very, very end of the document is a paragraph that is of special importance to me given my robust research interests in this topic:

The General Assembly hereby declares that it intends to establish a program to provide incentives or otherwise encourage institutions of higher education and medical facilities within this state to conduct academic and medical research regarding medical marijuana.

But as the title of this post is meant to signal, I am not sure if this provision shoud be my least or most favorite part of the bill. When I testified before the Ohio House Medical Marijuana Task Force last month, I noted that the Buckeye State is ideally positioned to emerge as a national and international leader in cannabis research, and I urged the General Assembly to create a dedicated Center for Ohio Cannabis Research (which I called "OhioCan Research"). I like this final paragraph of HB523 because it declares the General Assembly's intent establish a program to support medical marijuana research. But I dislike this paragraph because it does not do more than declare a legislative intent.

Specifically, I noticed that HB523 not only creates a "medical marijuana control commission" (MMCC), but also tasks the MMCC with figuring out each year how much of the tax/fee revenues raised by the medical marijuana program should be allocated each year to "marijuana drug abuse prevention programs." I think that provision of the bill should be expanding to also task the MMCC with figuring out how much of the revenue raised should also be allocated each years to "academic and medical research regarding medical marijuana."

April 15, 2016 in Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Pennsylvania legislature sends medical marijuana reform to desk of Gov (who plans to sign it)

As reported in this local article, headlined simply "Medical marijuana to be legal in Pa," there is big marijuana reform news from a big state this afternoon.  Here are the basic details: 

Pennsylvania is a pen stroke away from legalizing medical marijuana.  The House of Representatives on Wednesday gave the last legislative sign-off to a legalization bill, bringing to an end a years-long battle by advocates - many of them families with sick children - to allow them access to what they and others say is a safe and effective way to treat chronic and painful ailments.

Gov. Wolf said he will sign the bill into law on Sunday in the Capitol Rotunda, making Pennsylvania the 24th state to legalize medical cannabis.  "This will benefit many hundreds of thousands of people who urgently need medical marijuana," said Rep. Mark Cohen (D., Philadelphia), a longtime supporter of the legislation.

The bill would allow people suffering from cancer, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, intractable seizures, and other conditions to access medical marijuana in pill, oil, or ointment form at dispensaries statewide. It would not be able to be smoked.  Because the legislation calls for creating a complex regulatory process for what essentially would become a new industry in Pennsylvania, medical cannabis may not be available to patients for a year or longer.

Under the bill, patients would be issued identification cards that would allow them to access medical marijuana from one of 150 dispensaries across the state.  Those cards would have to be renewed annually. Doctors prescribing the treatment will have to register as practitioners.

Dispensaries, as well as those who grow and process medical cannabis, would have to be licensed by the state and would pay hefty registration and renewal fees.  A 5-percent tax would also be imposed on the gross receipts from the sale of medical marijuana by a grower to a dispensary.

House Majority Leader Dave Reed (R., Indiana) hailed the bipartisan effort that helped the bill overcome years of obstacles.  "At one time, I was opposed to the idea of allowing doctors to prescribe medical marijuana," Reed said. "But after researching the issue, reviewing the laws in other states and reading about the struggles of families the drug would help, I came to realize that it is wrong to withhold something that could benefit so many."

April 13, 2016 in Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Restrictive medical marijuana reforms proposed by Ohio legislature in shadow of broader initiative effort

MPP-MedicalMarijuanaCampaign-OhioAs a bellwether state with a long history of picking White House winners, I often feel very lucky to be in Ohio in big election years to observe how local, state and national politics surrounding various criminal justice issues play out in the Buckeye State.  But this year, given my particular interest in marijuana reform, law and policy and the coming (brokered?) GOP convention in Cleveland, my Buckeye political and policy cup is already running over.  

I bring all this up today because, as detailed in this new local article, "Ohio state lawmakers release plan to legalize medical marijuana," local GOP legislative leaders in Ohio are now actively peddling an important (but restrictive) medical marijuana reform proposal at the same time the national Marijuana Policy Project is gathering signatures and building a campaign for (much broader) medical marijuana reform in the form of a November 2016 voter initiative to amend the Ohio Constitution.  Here are the basics and latest in these dynamic ongoing Buckeye marijuana reform developments:

Ohio state lawmakers released plans today to legalize marijuana for medical use. The bill being considered would allow doctors to write notes for marijuana for medical use. It would still allow for drugfree workplaces.

People who use medical marijuana, could still be fired from their job, according to the bill.  The bill will not allow for home growing of marijuana.

Doctors would be required to periodically report to the state why they are prescribing marijuana instead of other drugs. Anyone taking medical marijuana under the age of 18 would require parental consent.

Ohio lawmakers are also asking the federal government to change marijuana from a Schedule 1 drug to a Schedule 2 drug.  Hearing will start soon on the legislation and there could be as many as two hearings a week. No word yet on where Gov. John Kasich stands on the legislation.

The move comes as groups start collecting signatures to put an issue on the ballot before voters in November.... [and] polls show that legalizing marijuana just for medical use is popular across the state....

Ohioans for Medical Marijuana, which is backed by a national group, expects to spend $900,000 collecting 306,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

April 13, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Political perspective on reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

An effective accounting from Brookings of "The Medical Marijuana Mess"

Regular readers are accustomed to hearing me sing the praises of the work being done by the The Brookings Institution on the legal, political and social realities surrounding modern marijuana reform.  The latest terrific Brookings publication in this arena is this long piece authored by John Hudak and titled "The Medical Marijuana Mess: A prescription for fixing a broken policy."  The lengthy piece merits the time to read in full, and here are just a few snippets:

Takoma Wellness may be less than three years old, and its business an exotic novelty in the District of Columbia, but Rabbi Kahn is part of a long line of healers — some of them religious leaders like himself — who have been treating the sick with cannabis for millennia.  During earlier eras, marijuana was much more commonly recommended for medical purposes than it is now.  Five thousand years ago the Chinese, for example, were using cannabis as an appetite stimulant, pain reliever, and anesthetic. British physicians used cannabis for a variety of illnesses and disorders, even administering it to Her Majesty Queen Victoria for pain.  As recently as the early 20th century, doctors in the United States, too, found medical applications for marijuana, using it as an anti‐convulsive drug, a pain reliever, and an anti‐inflammatory....

Under federal law, there are no conditions that allow a doctor to prescribe marijuana, a pharmacy to dispense it, or a patient to buy or use it. Marijuana is illegal. Period.

The reason for this is that according to federal law — the Controlled Substances Act — marijuana is classified as a “Schedule I” substance.  As explained on the DEA’s website, federal law reserves the Schedule I classification for the “most dangerous class of drugs with a high potential for abuse and potentially severe psychological and/or physical dependence” and with “no currently accepted medical use.” In addition to marijuana this category also includes drugs like heroin, LSD, and ecstasy.

The decision about what drugs should appear in each of the five “Schedules,” which range from the most dangerous and addictive to the least, with only Schedule I drugs ranked as having no medical value, was not made by anyone in the medical community, but by Congress.  In 1970, Congress passed the Controlled Substances Act — a politically motivated law enacted at a time of national hysteria over drug abuse, and President Richard Nixon signed it into law.  With the exception of a few relatively minor changes in the years since, the drug schedules included in the Controlled Substances Act have remained the same, including the Schedule I designation for marijuana.

The fact that marijuana’s therapeutic effects are real — as evidenced by what science says about its effects on the human body, and supported by hundreds, indeed thousands of years of effective treatments in places around the globe — has not sufficed to get it removed from that list.  This is unfortunate, because the Schedule I designation has consequences that extend beyond the legal restrictions.  It has created negative cultural norms — biases — that permeate much of society.  Patients wanting to be treated with marijuana are often embarrassed and scared — even after a doctor has recommended that they use it, and they’ve gotten the approval of state authorities to do so.  For some first‐time medical marijuana patients, a trip to the dispensary is not like a stroll to the pharmacy with a prescription for a drug like amphetamines, or oxycodone, or morphine, or compounds that include cocaine, all of them Schedule II drugs; it’s more like a teenager’s trip to the corner store for condoms.

That social stigma likely keeps many sick people from even considering marijuana as an option.  For them, there will never be an opportunity for responsible dispensary owners like Rabbi Kahn to have the chance to calm their nerves and show them that purchasing pot is not shameful — and that using it can be helpful.

March 29, 2016 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 21, 2016

SCOTUS rejects original lawsuit brought by Nebraska and Oklahoma against Colorado over marijuana reform

Legal gurus closely following state-level marijuana reforms have been also closely following the lawsuit brought directly to the Supreme Court way back in December 2014 by Nebraska and Oklahoma complaining about how Colorado reformed its state marijuana laws.  Today, via this order list, the Supreme Court finally officially denied the "motion for leave to file a bill of complaint" by Nebraska and Oklahoma against Colorado.  This is huge news for state marijuana reform efforts, but not really all that surprising.  (It would have been bigger news and surprising if the motion was granted.)

Notably, Justice Thomas authored an extended dissent to this denial, which was joined by Justice Alito.  Here is how this dissent stats and ends:

Federal law does not, on its face, give this Court discretion to decline to decide cases within its original jurisdiction. Yet the Court has long exercised such discretion, and does so again today in denying, without explanation, Nebraska and Oklahoma’s motion for leave to file a complaint against Colorado.  I would not dispose of the complaint so hastily. Because our discretionary approach to exercising our original jurisdiction is questionable, and because the plaintiff States have made a reasonable case that this dispute falls within our original and exclusive jurisdiction, I would grant the plaintiff States leave to file their complaint....

Federal law generally prohibits the manufacture, distribution, dispensing, and possession of marijuana.  See Controlled Substances Act (CSA), 84 Stat. 1242, as amended, 21 U. S. C. §§812(c), Schedule I(c)(10), 841–846 (2012 ed. and Supp. II).  Emphasizing the breadth of the CSA, this Court has stated that the statute establishes “a comprehensive regime to combat the international and interstate traffic in illicit drugs.”  Gonzales v. Raich, 545 U.S. 1, 12 (2005).  Despite the CSA’s broad prohibitions, in 2012 the State of Colorado adopted Amendment 64, which amends the State Constitution to legalize, regulate, and facilitate the recreational use of marijuana.  See Colo. Const., Art. XVIII, §16.  Amendment 64 exempts from Colorado’s criminal prohibitions certain uses of marijuana. §§16(3)(a), (c), (d); see Colo. Rev. Stat. §18–18–433 (2015).  Amendment 64 directs the Colorado Department of Revenue to promulgate licensing procedures for marijuana establishments. Art. XVIII, §16(5)(a).  And the amendment requires the Colorado General Assembly to enact an excise tax for sales of marijuana from cultivation facilities to manufacturing facilities and retail stores. §16(5)(d).

In December 2014, Nebraska and Oklahoma filed in this Court a motion seeking leave to file a complaint against Colorado.  The plaintiff States — which share borders with Colorado — allege that Amendment 64 affirmatively facilitates the violation and frustration of federal drug laws.  See Complaint ¶¶54–65.  They claim that Amendment 64 has “increased trafficking and transportation of Coloradosourced marijuana” into their territories, requiring them to expend significant “law enforcement, judicial system, and penal system resources” to combat the increased trafficking and transportation of marijuana.  Id., ¶58; Brief [for Nebraska and Oklahoma] in Support of Motion for Leave to File Complaint 11–16.  The plaintiff States seek a declaratory judgment that the CSA pre-empts certain of Amendment 64’s licensing, regulation, and taxation provisions and an injunction barring their implementation. Complaint 28–29.

The complaint, on its face, presents a “controvers[y] between two or more States” that this Court alone has authority to adjudicate. 28 U. S. C. §1251(a).  The plaintiff States have alleged significant harms to their sovereign interests caused by another State.  Whatever the merit of the plaintiff States’ claims, we should let this complaint proceed further rather than denying leave without so much as a word of explanation.

Cross-posted at Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform.

March 21, 2016 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal court rulings, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Pennsylvania after House vote now appears poised to become next big medical marijuana state

As reported in this local article out of the Keystone State capital, the "House on Wednesday approved allowing the medical use of marijuana in Pennsylvania, sending the legislation to the Senate, which has approved medical cannabis bills in the past."  Here is more:

The vote was 149-43, with all voting Democrats and more than half of Republicans in support.  Advocates and Gov. Tom Wolf applauded the House vote, which followed emotional debate from supporters and opponents alike.

Julie Michaels, who has traveled to the state Capitol from her home in Fayette County to advocate for medical marijuana, said she felt a “huge sense of relief that we got through the House, which had been our biggest stumbling block to this point.”

“Hopefully everything will be smooth sailing from here, straight to the governor’s desk,” said Ms. Michaels, whose daughter Sydney, 6, has Dravet syndrome, a form of intractable epilepsy.

The Senate approved medical marijuana legislation in 2014 and again last year. For the proposal that passed the House on Wednesday to reach the governor’s desk, the Senate will have to agree with changes made by the House. Sen. Mike Folmer, R-Lebanon, a major proponent of medical marijuana in the Senate, says he has to review the House amendments, but added, “We want to get this done ASAP.”

On the House floor, Rep. Jeff Pyle, R-Armstrong, said that years ago he was diagnosed with renal cell carcinoma and underwent a lengthy surgery. He said he was told that his cancer is hereditary, and he told his fellow representatives that he has two daughters.  “With the odds somewhat likely that they’ll deal with this, too, I want them to have access to comfort that I did not have,” he said, his voice sounding strained. “Please let my kids have access to this.”

House Health Committee Chairman Matt Baker, R-Tioga, warned that by authorizing medical marijuana, Pennsylvania would bypass the Food and Drug Administration approval process and go against the recommendations of medical associations.  He pointed, for example, to opposition from the American Epilepsy Society.  “I cannot remember when the last time this august body voted on a bill that was in direct violation of federal law,” Mr. Baker said.

The legislation that that passed the House would establish a system of growers and dispensaries to provide marijuana to patients with certain conditions — including cancer, epilepsy, HIV and AIDS and post-traumatic stress disorder — and who have been certified by a doctor.  Patients would be allowed to use marijuana in the form of a pill or oil or through vaporization, among other methods, but they would not be allowed to smoke it.

Sales from growers and processors to dispensaries would be taxed at 5 percent, with the money paying for Department of Health operations related to the program, for law enforcement and drug abuse services and for research about medical marijuana.

Gov. Tom Wolf, who has urged the General Assembly to pass the legislation, said in a statement that he looks forward to the Senate sending him the bill.   “We will finally provide the essential help needed by patients suffering from seizures, cancer and other illnesses,” Mr. Wolf said.

March 17, 2016 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)