Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

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Thursday, March 19, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

"Can medical marijuana curb the heroin epidemic?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 16, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, March 15, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 12, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prior related posts:

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

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Proposed federal CARERS Act includes rescheduling marijuana under CSA

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Permit interstate commerce in cannabidiol (CBD) oils

  • Reschedule marijuana to schedule II

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

  • Allow Veterans Administration physicians to recommend medical marijuana to veterans

  • Eliminate barriers to medical marijuana research.

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

Notable new talk of recreational marijuana reform in Florida

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 9, 2015

Bipartisan federal medical marijuana bill to be introduced Tuesday

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 9, 2015 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Another round of state reform news from coast to coast

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

Alaska: "Alaska lawmakers hold marijuana show and tell"

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

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

New Hampshire: "Committee approves bill to decriminalize marijuana"

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

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

Download

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Florida jury embraces medical marijuana defense to state cannabis manufacturing charge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, February 27, 2015

Learning so much already even in first few hours of first Tribal Marijuana Conference

ImagesI feel extraordinarily fortunate to have been invited to participate the nation’s first ever Tribal Marijuana Conference taking place as I write this post from a huge ballroom at the Tulalip Resort Casino, just North of Seattle.   This post from Canna Law Blog discusses the basics, and this agenda highlights all the informed speakers in the mix who are already making this an amazing event in which I am learning so much.  

For example, right now on the podium now are Thomas Carr, the Boulder City Attorney, and Pete Holmes, Seattle City Attorney, are providing an extraordinary set of insights about local enforcement of local laws in the first two recreational marijuana states. Carr also reported that, because Dunkin' Donuts does not have a store in Boulder, it is easier to get marijuana (and munchies) in Boulder than Dunkin' Donuts (and Munchkins) in some parts of Colorado. Of course, that should not worry public health advocates too much, given that there is good reason to believe Munchkins are perhaps much more addictive and harmful than marijuana.

1403002903506This local article, headlined "Indian tribes looks to marijuana as new moneymaker," highlights some reasons why there are hundreds of persons at this event:

After making hundreds of billions of dollars running casinos, American Indian tribes are getting a good whiff of another potential moneymaker: marijuana.

The first Tribal Marijuana Conference is set for Friday on the Tulalip Indian Reservation in Washington state as Indian Country gets ready to capitalize on the nation’s expanding pot industry. Organizers said representatives from more than 50 tribes in at least 20 states have registered, with total attendance expected to surpass 300....

Robert Odawi Porter, one of the conference organizers and the former president of the Seneca Nation of Indians in New York, said tribes have “a tremendous economic diversification opportunity to consider” with marijuana commerce. He said the event would bring together “trailblazers” in the industry who will help tribal leaders understand the complex issues involved.

While it’s unknown how many tribes ultimately will seek to take advantage of the change, one analyst warned that any tribe expecting to hit the jackpot might be in for a surprise, particularly as the supply of legal pot in the U.S. increases. “People keep forgetting it’s a competitive market,” said Mark Kleiman, a professor of public policy at the University of California, Los Angeles, who served as Washington state’s top pot consultant. “And it’s cheap to grow.”

In Washington state, where retail pot stores opened in July, Kleiman said pot growers who sold their product for $21 a gram only a few months ago are now getting $4 a gram. “The price of marijuana is the price of illegality,” he said.

But the issue is generating plenty of buzz among tribal leaders. On Monday, tribal officials at the National Congress of American Indians winter meeting in Washington, D.C., attended a closed breakout session with two U.S. attorneys to discuss the implications of legalized marijuana....

Even though the talks are in the early stages, many tribal officials are pleased that the Obama administration is giving them the power to proceed. “The position of the administration is a strong indication of their commitment and acknowledgment of tribes’ sovereignty, jurisdiction and governmental authority,” said W. Ron Allen, chairman and CEO of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe in Washington state.

Marijuana is a divisive issue among tribes, with many tribal officials worried about high rates of drug addiction among American Indians. Last year, the Yakama Nation decided to ban marijuana from its reservation in south central Washington state. The Tulalip Tribe, located just north of Seattle, voted to work with the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Department of Justice to try to legalize medical marijuana.

Legalization opponents fear that more tribes will want to begin selling marijuana without understanding the risks. “I worry about this being a big expansion and I worry that the potential consequences – health, safety and legal – have not been properly communicated to them,” said Kevin Sabet, president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, an anti-legalization group.

Regardless of what tribes decide to do, he warned that the situation could change with the election of a new president in 2016. “I don’t see this ending well for anyone, especially if a new administration decides to enforce federal law,” Sabet said. “The thing people should remember is that marijuana is still illegal – on tribal lands and otherwise – even if the law isn’t being equally enforced.”

Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes, another of the planned speakers at Friday’s conference, said allowing tribes to legalize marijuana will move pot sales “into the light of day.” And he predicted there would be little change in the amount of pot sold on reservations. “Here’s the worst-case scenario: that a tribe just decides they want to be the epicenter of marijuana production, they want to undercut the state system, they want to be a mecca, if you will,” Holmes said. “I’ve heard no tribe say that. . . . We seem to be able to co-exist quite nicely.”

Kleiman said the tax issue would be one of the toughest to sort out as tribes ponder whether to join the industry. “It’s a big deal for people who are trying to make sense of marijuana policy, because if the tribes are exempt from state law, then the states can’t actually tax and regulate,” Kleiman said. “That would be catastrophic. It’s not a big deal for the tribes because there’s no money in it.”

February 27, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United 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)

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Remarkable Ohio developments as four groups compete to get reform proposals to the ballot

What do we know about the success and failings of modern medical marijuana reform in the United States?

Thanks in large part to the enactment of full recreation legalization reform in Colorado and Washington in 2012, much of the most intense political and social debate over marijuana reform has focused on recreational reforms.  But, as serious students of modern state reforms know, medical marijuana reform is where the real action is nationwide because there have now been state-level medical marijuana reform in dozens of states over the last decade and Congress recently told the Department of Justice that it could not use fund to interfere with implementation of these state-level medical marijuana reforms.

Problematically, while lots of advocates and research are already investing lots of time looking at the impact and import of full recreation legalization reform in Colorado and elsewhere, a lot less energy has been invested seeking to better understand the impact and import of medical marijuana reform in so many jurisdictions.   Helpfully, the advocacy group Americans for Safe Access has produced a few reports that take stock, at least at the legal level, of all the state-activity in this space.  And ASA's most recently-update report on state laws makes this important point in its preface:  

How many medical cannabis states are there? The answer depends. What medical condition do you have? Can you afford to purchase it? Are you a minor?

The national dialogue on medical cannabis is complicated because the solutions remain controversial. Individual states have adopted differing policies as part of an ongoing experiment that will one day lead federal policy into alignment with the overwhelming public support for legal access. These parallel experiments are a normal part of our federalist system.

Until recently, counting medical cannabis states boiled down to a ”yes or no” analysis – either a state had some kind of medical cannabis law, or it did not.  That simple analysis is no longer enough to understand the evolving landscape for medical cannabis in the United States. The laws are simply too different, and not all function as intended.  At Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the nation’s leading medical cannabis patients’ advocacy organization, we have more than a dozen years of experience in state policy development and implementation. Our experience shows that not all medical cannabis laws are working equally for the patients they were designed to serve. We need a new way to talk about and evaluate state medical cannabis laws.

This ASA report goes on, not surprisingly, to provide a patient-centric analysis of how to "talk about and evaluate state medical cannabis laws." But, of course, that is not the only way policy-makers may want to examine this issue, especially because there is considerable skepticism about whether many persons who seek out medical marijuana are trule "patients."

February 17, 2015 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

"The Uneasy Case for Marijuana as Chemical Impairment

 Under a Science-Based Jurisprudence of Dangerousness "[rest of title] 

The relationship between new medical and recreational marijuana laws and "drugged driving" is a hot and vexing one. Doug has previously posted an article discussing this topic;  this article by Andrea L. Roth available via SSRN   examines  and rejects the analogy between drunk driving and drugged driving by looking at the history of drunk driving laws specifically their scientific underpinning. .

Here's the abstract:

   As the marijuana legalization movement lurches forward, states face a jurisprudential dilemma in addressing the burgeoning public health issue of “drugged driving.” Zero-tolerance laws targeting driving with any illegal drug in one’s system, justified under a “jurisprudence of prohibition” based on the blameworthiness of the drug itself, are no longer a good fit. Instead, states have attempted to treat marijuana like alcohol, and have imported drunk driving’s “jurisprudence of dangerousness,” by enacting “per se” driving-under-the-influence-of (DUI)marijuana laws redefining DUI as driving with a certain amount of THC, marijuana’s main psychoactive compound, in one’s blood. These laws are legitimate, we are told, because they are analogous to “per se” .08% blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) impairment laws. What lawmakers have forgotten, and what legal scholars have largely neglected, is the buried and colorful history of drunk driving’s jurisprudence of dangerousness, and the scientific framework established by the country’s first “traffic czar,” William Haddon Jr., for proving the link between specific BACs and crash risk. Under this framework – which focuses first and foremost on fatal single-car crashes and case-control studies with a randomly selected control group – the illegitimacy of the new wave of DUI marijuana laws is painfully obvious. In fact, the few single-car crash and case-control studies that have been conducted have found no relationship between THC blood levels and increased relative risk of crash. Properly understood, the history of drunk driving offers what is still the only valid scientific framework for using the criminal law as an instrument of public safety.

February 17, 2015 in Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Science | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 12, 2015

"Former university president turns to selling marijuana"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new USA Today article.  Here are excerpts:

Former University of Nevada-Reno president Joe Crowley has found a new line of work — selling marijuana. The well-liked former university boss is president of Sierra Wellness Connection, one of two companies that were awarded Reno's first business licenses for cultivating medical marijuana.

The second business is MMG Agriculture, headed by Reno's Job Hall, a former real estate executive. Both companies, which have been through the state's approval process, will be opening cultivation centers on Security Circle in Golden Valley. The Reno City Council voted unanimously to approve privileged business licenses for the two companies, which must obtain final state approval before opening....

Crowley said he became interested in medical marijuana as his older brother was dying of multiple sclerosis. His older sister, who underwent 13 major surgeries, also used medical marijuana as a pain reliever, he said. "To watch what happened to him was agony for me," Crowley said of his older brother. "And my sister, she's one of those people for whom the standard pain reliever does not work."

Crowley said he was recruited into the business by Sierra Wellness Connection's chairman Steven Nightingale, a Reno writer and casino owner. "He asked me if I would be on the board," Crowley said. "I told him I would have to think about it and talk to my family because I knew I would probably take some hits in the public. A lot of folks are just not aware of the history."

Crowley said he and his business partners are not part of the push to legalize marijuana for recreational use.

Reno Police Deputy Chief Tom Robinson said both companies have worked with police, providing tours of their facilities. "Everything is above board," Robinson said, noting that both the city and the state have the ability to pull the business license if any infractions are found.

February 12, 2015 in Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Notable Colorado figures for marijuana tax revenues for 2014

This new AP article, headlined "Colorado collected about $76 million in recreational and marijuana pot revenue in 2014," reports on the latest official reporting of tax revenues collected on legal marijuana sales in Colorado for last year. Here are some of the details and some context for what they mean:

Marijuana makes money. But legalizing it doesn't eliminate the black market or solve a state's budget problems. Those are the lessons from Colorado's first full year of tax collections on recreational pot. The year-end report, released Tuesday, tallied about $44 million in new sales taxes and excise taxes from recreational pot.

Add fees and pre-existing taxes from medical pot, which has been legal since 2000, and Colorado's total 2014 pot haul was about $76 million....

Colorado started selling recreational weed on Jan. 1, 2014. But its first month of sales resulted in only $1.6 million for the state. By December, that figure was $5.4 million. The reason for the increase? Regulatory delays. Red tape meant stores opened slowly, with many municipalities waiting months before allowing pot shops to open....

But legal weed isn't an overnight flood of tax money. "Everyone who thinks Colorado's rollin' in the dough because of marijuana? That's not true," said state Sen. Pat Steadman, a Denver Democrat and one of the Legislature's main budget-writers....

Colorado's pot regulators have struggled to establish a wholesale pot price to collect excise taxes. "Taxing a percentage of price may simply not work," said Pat Oglesby, a former congressional tax staffer who now studies marijuana's tax potential at the Chapel Hill, N.C., Center for New Revenue. He pointed out that the two latest legal weed states -- Alaska and Oregon, both still working on retail regulations -- will tax marijuana by weight, similar to how tobacco is taxed.

Every state in the union, liberal to conservative, has a market for marijuana. And making pot legal doesn't guarantee those consumers will leave the black market and happily sign up to start paying taxes. In Washington state, medical marijuana isn't taxed. It is in Colorado, but all adults are allowed to grow up to six plants on their own. That means the states' new marijuana markets had legal competition from Day One. And that doesn't account for the black market, which of course is completely free of taxes and regulations.

Lawmakers in both Colorado and Washington are looking for ways to drive pot smokers out of the lower-taxed medical pot market and into the recreational one. But obstacles are stiff. "If there is untaxed medical pot, the taxes are voluntary. When you make it voluntary, people won't necessarily pay," Oglesby said.

The marijuana market is far from settled. Colorado benefited from first-in-the-nation curiosity and marijuana tourism. As more states legalize, Colorado and Washington will face competition. "Colorado is probably kind of a best-case scenario" for pot tax collections, said Jeffrey Miron, a Harvard University economist who studies the drug market. "If a number of other states legalize -- and two of them already have -- then bit by bit, Colorado revenue is likely to decline."

There's an even bigger uncertainty looming for states considering legal weed -- a new president in 2016. "The huge unknown is still federal policy," Miron said. "A new president can radically change state policies toward legalization."

I believe that Colorado's official year-end accounting can be found in this link/document, and I notice that there appears to be no column for state (or federal) income taxes paid by persons now working legally in the state-legalized marijuana market. Though certainly direct taxes on marijuana manufacturing and sales is the most tangible and measurable consequences of marijuana reform, I tend to think the biggest long-term economic impact for a state comes from creating a (huge?) industry with collateral businesses all of which will provide lots of jobs for individuals who will pay (lots of?) income tax on what they make in this new industry.

February 11, 2015 in Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

State marijuana reform developments from east to west, from A to V

Saturday, February 7, 2015

"Can your boss stop you from smoking medical marijuana at work?"

The question in the title of this post is the headline of this lengthy informative article from the San Francisco Chronicle.   The piece highlights the intersections between marijuana reform, labor laws and disability laws.  Here are excerpts:

Your employee comes to you and says, “I have a medical marijuana card for anxiety, the deadline on this project is giving me a panic attack. I need to smoke some weed on my break so I can calm down and get my work done.” [What] do you do....?

As more states legalize medicinal marijuana, questions like these are becoming more common. The answer varies by state, and it’s not always clear-cut. In California, employers must accommodate employees with medical conditions or disabilities, but they do not have to let them use weed in the workplace, even if a doctor has recommended it to treat their condition.

“Neither federal nor state law prohibits employers from disciplining or terminating employees for marijuana use, even when the drug is used to treat a disability in accordance with California’s medical marijuana law,” said Jinny Kim, director of the disability rights program with the Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center.

The state’s Compassionate Use Act ensures that people who use marijuana for medical purposes, upon the recommendation of a doctor, are not subject to criminal sanctions or prosecution. But a 2008 California Supreme Court decision, in Ross vs. RagingWire Telecommunications Inc., made it clear that the Compassionate Use Act does not apply to employment, and that marijuana, even for medical use, remains illegal under federal law. “Under California law, an employer may require pre-employment drug tests and take illegal drug use into consideration in making employment decisions,” the court said.

Ross gives great discretion to employers,” said Oakland attorney Robert Raich, a medical marijuana expert. Employers can prohibit employees in California from possessing, using or being under the influence of marijuana at work, just as they can forbid them from being drunk on the job. But they cannot fire or refuse to hire workers because they have a medical condition they are using marijuana to treat, and that’s where things get hazy.

Federal and California laws prohibit nearly all employers from discriminating against workers or applicants because of a mental or physical disability. They must make reasonable accommodations for the disability, unless it would pose an undue hardship, or unless the disability poses a health or safety threat. What qualifies as an undue hardship depends on the size of the employer, the cost of the accommodation and other individual factors.

The federal Americans with Disabilities Act defines disability as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.” The California Fair Employment and Housing Act defines it more broadly, as an impairment that makes performance of a major life activity “difficult.” Neither act lists conditions that meet the disability test.

With that in mind, what is the best answer to the question posed above? It depends on the employer’s policy, if it has one. An employer could ... let employees who have medical marijuana cards use it at work — but most don’t. Employers “nearly without exception” prohibit marijuana use at work because “it impacts productivity” and could pose a risk to others, says Felicia Reid, an attorney with Hirschfeld Kraemer who represents companies.

It is also “difficult to control. You don’t know from one smoking session to the next what the reaction will be,” said Todd Wulffson, an attorney with Carothers DiSante & Freudenberger who also represents employers.... [But] sending the employee for drug testing is also problematic [because] random testing of unsuspicous employees is allowed in only a few cases....

Wulffson ... advises employers to adopt a policy that says, “We do not tolerate use of any illegal drug during the workday, including medical marijuana. If you have a condition for which you are being treated, you need to talk to HR about any possible accommodations.”

Not directly covered by this article, but integral to thinking long-term about use of medical marijuana in the workplace, is the growing emergence and regulation of a significant marijuana edibles industry. Marijuana edibles necessarily make it easier for workers to use marijuana on the job without bosses or fellow workers even being aware of this use.

February 7, 2015 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, January 23, 2015

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

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

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

But research has shown that marijuana, while still criminalized at the federal level, can be effective as a substitute for treating opioid addictsand preventing overdoses. Massachusetts, which recently legalized medical marijuana — and where heroin overdoses have soared — could be a fertile testing ground for this potentially controversial treatment.
 
Before being criminalized, marijuana was used in the US to cure depression and a variety of other mental health ailments. Many studies have supported the therapeutic benefits of cannabinoids, along with the ability of marijuana’s psychoactive ingredients to treat nausea, help with weight loss, alleviate chronic pain, and mitigate symptoms of neurological diseases.
 
Other research, however, contradicts claims regarding the benefits of cannabidiol treatment. Some say marijuana actually poses a risk for psychosis and schizophrenia. Although the FDA has approved some synthetic cannabinoids for medical treatment, federal agencies do not support marijuana as a legitimate medicine until more clinical studies have been conducted....
 
Among drug treatment specialists, marijuana remains controversial. Although some research has shown marijuana to be an alternative treatment for more serious drug addiction, addiction treatment specialists still view marijuana as highly addictive and dangerous. These views handicap policy reform, but despite its status as a Schedule 1 drug, recent research shows marijuana could be part of the solution to the most deadly drug epidemic our country has seen in decades.
 
In 2012 Massachusetts became the 18th state to legalize medical marijuana, though the first 11 dispensaries are not scheduled to open until sometime in the coming year. This situation presents an opportunity to implement sensible, research-based policy.
 
Massachusetts, like many states across the US, has seen a dramatic rise in opioid addition fueled by the increase in opiate prescription pills.  In Boston, heroin overdoses increased by 80% between 2010 and 2012, and four out of five users were addicted to pain pills before turning to heroin.
 
Meanwhile, the leading cause of death among the Boston’s homeless population has shifted from AIDS complications to drug overdoses, with opiates involved in 81% of overdose deaths. This is an alarming finding given recent expansion in clinical services for the city’s homeless.
 
Addiction specialists and health care professionals in Boston have been at the forefront of integrating behavioral and medical care.  Naloxone and methadone are currently the main solutions to address the growing opiate addiction and overdose problem. But Naloxone is an overdose antidote, not a cure or a form of preventative therapy.
 
Methadone, like heroin and other opioids, has a very narrow therapeutic index (the ratio between the toxic dose and the therapeutic dose of a drug).  This means that a small change in dosage can be lethal to the user. Marijuana, however, has one of the safest (widest) therapeutic ratios of all drugs.
 
Research shows that marijuana has been used as a form of self-treatment, where users take cannabis in lieu of alcohol, prescription opiates, and illegal drugs.  That’s one reason why researchers are calling for marijuana to be tested as a substitute for other drugs.  In this capacity, marijuana can be thought of as a form of harm reduction. While researchers don’t seek to discount some of the drug’s potential negative effects, they view it as a less damaging alternative to other, harder drugs. Despite these findings, marijuana is rarely incorporated in formal drug treatment plans.
 
A recent study might change this policy. Comparing states with and without legalized medical marijuana, it found a substantial decrease in opioid (heroin and prescription pill) overdose death rates in states that had enacted medical marijuana laws. In their conclusions, the researchers suggested that medical marijuana should be part of policy aimed to prevent opioid overdose....
 
Since Massachusetts has not yet opened its medical marijuana dispensaries, it is too early to see if medical marijuana legislation will help reduce opiate addiction in the Commonwealth. Using recent research findings, Massachusetts policymakers have a unique opportunity to implement medical marijuana policies that address its contemporary opiate overdose.  Medical marijuana could be part of drug treatment for heroin and opiates.
 
For homeless people, however, getting a marijuana card is expensive and buying medical marijuana from a dispensary is beyond their economic means. Street drugs are more prevalent in their social setting, easier to obtain, and can be much cheaper.  From a policy perspective, addressing the alarming rates of overdose deaths among the homeless in Boston could mean distributing medical marijuana cards to homeless addicts for free and providing reduced cost medical marijuana.
 
Formerly demonized and later legislated as a Schedule 1 substance, marijuana could diminish the damage wrought by harder drugs, like heroin.  While opioid use is a nationwide epidemic, Massachusetts — long at the forefront of developing scientifically based public policy — has the opportunity to be at the forefront of cutting-edge, socially-informed drug policy.

January 23, 2015 in Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1)