Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

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)

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

"Ohio medical marijuana plan: 15 large grow sites plus unlimited smaller cultivators"

Ohios-first-act-on-decriminalization-was-approvedThe title of this post is the headline of this Columbus Business First article providing the basics of the proposed Ohio marijuana reform initiative released by the Marijuana Policy Project today.  Here are those basics:

A national group’s campaign to legalize medical marijuana in Ohio would allow up to 15 large-scale grow sites and an unlimited number of smaller-scale growers. Ohioans for Medical Marijuana, a campaign committee formed by the Marijuana Policy Project, announced the new ballot language Tuesday, with hopes of putting the constitutional amendment on the Nov. 8 ballot.

If approved – and polling has shown support for medical marijuana after an effort to completely legalize marijuana failed last year – entrepreneurs will have a variety of ways to profit. Five types of business licenses would be available, from growers who cultivate the plant through retail dispensaries that sell marijuana to doctor-approved patients or caregivers.

It would take some time to get any business off the ground, though. A newly formed Medical Marijuana Control Division would first accept applications for large growers, manufacturers and testing facilities starting in August 2017. Retail dispensaries would follow in February 2018.

A large-scale marijuana cultivator would have to pay $500,000 for the right to set up a 25,000-square-foot grow site. Those willing to limit their sites to 5,000 square feet, who Ohioans for Medical Marijuana calls medium cultivators, would pay $5,000 per application.

Patients could grow up to six plants without getting a license. People with “debilitating medical conditions” would be eligible to buy and grow medical marijuana, including AIDS, cancer, hepatitis C, Crohn’s disease, seizures, multiple sclerosis, post-traumatic stress disorder and severe pain, according to the proposed ballot language.

Ohioans for Medical Marijuana projects 215,000 patients would use medical marijuana, based on extrapolations from peer state Michigan, where 2.4 percent of residents use medical-marijuana ID cards. That percentage of Ohio adults equals roughly 215,000 people.

The organization says it capped the large-scale licenses at 15, which would comprise about nine acres of cultivation, as a middle ground compared with Midwestern peers where marijuana is legal. It says the $500,000 fees for large-scale cultivators would help subsidize patient ID cards and other business licenses, as well as administration. Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project, said the cap on 15 large growers isn't a monopoly because the growers aren't preselected like they were in last year's failed effort. Plus, there's no limit on smaller growers.

Ohio lawmakers are considering what to do with medical marijuana, but the Marijuana Policy Project says Ohio legislators have had decades to come up with a plan and the timing is right. The group's amendment would not allow the government to reduce a patient’s access to medical marijuana, but local governments would be able to ban or limit medical marijuana businesses in their area. If a local government would ban retail stores, voters would have the chance to approve it during the following general election.

The group needs 305,591 signatures by July 6 to qualify for the November ballot.

Via this webpage for the new Ohioans for Medical Marijuana, I found these links and a summary account of what MPP has in mind for Ohioians to vote on roughly seven months from now:

Full Text of the Initiative

Official Initiative Summary

Initiative Q & A

 In summary, the 2016 Ohio medical marijuana initiative will:

  • Allow patients with debilitating medical conditions to use medical marijuana if their doctors recommend it;
  • Protect these seriously ill patients from arrest and prosecution for the simple act of using their doctor-recommended medicine;
  • Permit qualifying patients or their caregivers to cultivate their own marijuana for their medical use, with limits on the amount they could possess;
  • Permit qualifying patients to purchase medical marijuana from licensed and well-regulated entities;
  • Create registry identification cards, so that law enforcement officials can easily tell who is a registered patient;
  • Protect patients from discrimination in housing, health care (such as organ transplants), and child custody; and
  • Maintain commonsense restrictions on the medical use of marijuana, including prohibitions on public use of marijuana and driving under the influence of marijuana.

Notably and importantly (and perhaps problematically), the MPP has written this initiative as a proposed Ohio constitutional amendment. This reality is notable and important because it means that, if enacted by Ohio voters, the particulars of this MPP plan would not be and could not be readily changed or even tweaked by the Ohio General Assembly directly. This reality is potentially problematic because it means that, before Ohio voters are even going to be able to have a chance to vote on this plan, some Ohio insiders (in the form of the Ohio Ballot Board and/or the Ohio Supreme Court) are going to have to decide that the particulars of this MPP plan do not violate the terms of Issue 2 enacted by Ohio voters last year to limit what kinds of issues can go to voters to amend the Ohio Constitution. It now seems that, thanks in part to Issue 2, Issue 3, and now MPP, throughout 2016 Ohio voters and policymakers are going to be experiencing the old (faux) Chinese curse of living in interesting marijuana reform times.

March 1, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 29, 2016

Head of marijuana legalization campaign in Arizona decribes himself as an "unapologetic conservative Republican"

Despite a cultural history and some political realities associating marijuana reform efforts with various liberal causes, I have personally long believed that a disaffinity for government-imposed pot prohibition resonates with various conservative principles.  Consequently, I am not entirely surprised to see this notable local article out of Arizona about a recent debate over marijuana legalization and the notable person leading up the marijuana reform campaign in the state.  The article is headlined "Tea Party stages debate on marijuana legalization," and here is how it gets started:

The face of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol initiative is not what one might expect, and it just might be the greatest foil for those who would prefer the plant to remain illegal for nonmedical use in Arizona.

Medical marijuana dispensary owner J.P. Holyoak debated Pinal County Attorney Lando Voyles over legalizing marijuana for recreational use at an event at Victory Theater, sponsored by the Graham County Tea Party and Graham County Republican Women Club, on Feb. 19.

Holyoak called himself an “unapologetic conservative Republican” who also happens to be the chairman of the Marijuana Policy Project-sponsored initiative to regulate marijuana like alcohol. Holyoak was previously against marijuana but, after seeing how the plant improved the quality of life for his ill daughter, Reese, he thrust himself into its advocacy.

“I was somebody that, once upon a time, was naïve enough to believe what the government told me, and I listened to that and I was anti-marijuana,” he said. “But I’m also someone who believes in individual rights and individual responsibilities, and I abhor nanny-state government . . . Its (prohibition has) proven to be an utter and complete total failure.”

While Voyles had little to say in response to Holyoak’s points about reasons why cannabis should be legalized — including an economic benefit to Arizona with the creation of 21,000 jobs and an estimated $100 million in tax revenue for education rather than money spent on purchasing marijuana going to foreign drug cartels — Holyoak seemingly had an answer based on official statistics to counter every argument Voyles had against legalization. In one instance, Voyles claimed that studies showed an increase of teen use in states where medical marijuana or recreational marijuana was legal, and Holyoak debunked that by referencing an article from Forbes Magazine that listed fewer teens using marijuana than 15 years ago and displaying Arizona’s own youth survey that showed teen use decreased after medical marijuana was legalized.

At one point in the evening, Holyoak told the crowd about his daughter, Reese, who has the rare disease Aicardi syndrome that caused her to have multiple seizures every day. As a parent desperate to find anything that could help his daughter, Holyoak turned to marijuana after the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act was passed.

“The difference between marijuana and no marijuana for her is literally the difference between life and death,” Holyoak said. “She went from 25 to 35 seizures a day and being nonresponsive — she still has an occasional seizure, about every five or six months she has one — but today she’s walking independently, almost running, being herself, getting into stuff, playing, laughing, smiling, and generally enjoying her very high quality of life. I find it offensive that the U.S. government says that marijuana is a Schedule 1 drug with no medicinal value. We know that’s not true. It’s inappropriate, and I find it even more offensive to try to defend the position of keeping it a Schedule 1 drug.”

After recounting his daughter’s experience, Voyles chose that moment to tow the federal government’s line that marijuana has no medicinal value, a statement that garnered groans from the audience.

February 29, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

New poll indicates large Ohio majority wants medical marijuana to be a (state?) constitutional right

This new local article, headlined "Ohio voters support medical marijuana amendment, poll finds," reports on a new poll of Ohioans that asked a distinctive — and perhaps distinctively confusing — question about their views on medical marijuana reform.  Specifically, here is the question Public Policy Poling asked of Ohioians last week as reported in this "Ohio Survey Results" document:

In thinking about medical marijuana, do you favor or oppose making it a constitutional right for patients with terminal or debilitating medical conditions to possess and consume marijuana if their doctors recommend it?

Here are the basic results of this poll as reported in this press article, along with who sponsored it and the marijuana reform context in Ohio:

Nearly three out of four Ohioans said access to marijuana for certain medical conditions should be a constitutional right, according to a Public Policy Polling survey released Monday. The survey was commissioned by national group Marijuana Policy Project, which plans to put a medical-only amendment on the November ballot in Ohio.

Specifically, the poll asked if voters favor or oppose "making it a constitutional right for patients with terminal or debilitating medical conditions to possess and consume marijuana if their doctors recommend it." The poll did not ask about specific amendment language, which has not been publicly released. Public Policy Polling surveyed 672 Ohio voters Feb. 17-18. The poll has a margin of error of 3.8 percentage points.

Wide support was seen in every demographic group -- race, age, political party, and gender.

  • Gender: Women 75 percent, men 73 percent
  • Party: Democrat, 85 percent; Republican, 69 percent; independent, 62 percent
  • Race: White, 76 percent; African-American, 71 percent; other, 54 percent
  • Age: 18-29, 76 percent; 30-45, 71 percent; 46-65, 80 percent; older than 65, 64 percent

Marijuana Policy Project spokesman Mason Tvert said the results weren't surprising. "It's become pretty common knowledge that marijuana can be incredibly beneficial in the treatment of a variety of medical conditions," Tvert said. "There are few laws still on the books that are as unpopular as those that prohibit sick and dying people from accessing medical marijuana."

The D.C.-based organization has had a hand in crafting most state marijuana decriminalization and legalization laws in the past two decades.  Tvert said the organization is confident most Ohioans will support its initiative, which he said will be different from Issue 3, last year's failed recreational marijuana measure.

Several independent polls conducted last year showed as many as nine in 10 Ohio voters favored legal medical marijuana use, but only a slim majority of Ohioans supported legalizing recreational use.  Support dropped below 50 percent when voters were asked about Issue 3 specifics including the measure's "monopoly" on commercial growers.

I would guess that Marijuana Policy Project sponsored this poll's distinctive question because it is trying to decide whether it should seek to move forward in Ohio with a reform initiative that proposed a change to the Ohio Constitution or instead just sought to change Ohio's statutory provisions. One forceful criticism of the marijuana legalization initiative roundly rejected by voters last year was that, as a proposed constitutional amendment, it would lock a specific business structure for marijuana reform into the state's Constitution and would be hard to modify by the Ohio legislature in the years ahead.

I suspect MPP will look at this poll as evidence that a strong majority of Ohio voters are comfortable with a medical marijuana reform initiative in the form of a state constitutional amendment. But, because a number of members of the Ohio legislatures are busy considering statutory reforms, I also suspect that any coming marijuana reform campaign will also include dispute and debate over whether a state constitutional amendment is the best way to end marijuana prohibition in the state.

February 23, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Polling data and results | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

"Ohio has the 'highest per-capita level of infighting' among marijuana activists"

The title of this post is a line from this notable local article headlined "Ohio medical marijuana amendment details released." Here is the surrounding context for this amusing observation about the realities of marijuana reform efforts in the Buckeye State:

Marijuana Policy Project has unveiled more details about the medical marijuana amendment planned for Ohio this year. And it has named three Ohioans who will co-chair the campaign.

Language for the constitutional amendment, planned for the November ballot, has not yet been drafted, the president of the national nonprofit said in questions and answers posted on Facebook and sent to cleveland.com Tuesday night.  The language will be based off laws in the 23 states where medical marijuana is legal.

Here are the basics, according to organization President Rob Kampia.

The amendment will establish a system where patients with certain medical conditions can apply for a medical marijuana ID card that allows them to buy and possess marijuana. The state would license businesses to grow, process, test, distribute and sell medical marijuana, and sales tax would be applied. License fees and tax revenues would pay for the program's administrative costs.  Kampia said patients and their caregivers could grow their own marijuana as soon as the amendment becomes law....

Marijuana Policy Project registered an Ohio political action committee called Ohioans for Medical Marijuana last month. The organization chose Ohioans Michael Revercomb, Lissa Satori, and John Pardee to lead the campaign. Revercomb served on the board of the central Ohio chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). Pardee was the president of Ohio Rights Group, an organization that has been collecting signatures for a medical-only constitutional amendment since 2013. Sartori was an Ohio Rights Group leader who worked on last year's Issue 3 legalization campaign.

Kampia said Ohio has the "highest per-capita level of infighting" among marijuana activists and said there are "no hard feelings" for people who don't want to work with the leaders. "This campaign needs to be a team effort, and we're hoping that Ohio can surprise the nation by showing that people can, in fact, work together successfully to promote a common cause," Kampia said....

Amendment language is expected in early March, and the campaign expects to begin collecting signatures of registered voters on April 2.  Supporters need 305,591 valid signatures by July 6 to qualify for the November ballot.  The campaign wants volunteers to collect between 100 and 1,000 signatures each during that time and will also pay signature collectors.

February 17, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

"These nuns will get you high — as heaven"

Nuns_grow_cannabis_at_abbeyThe title of this post is the headline of this notable new New York Daily News article, which discussses the interesting work of the Sisters of the Valley in Merced, California, and the impact that new state laws on medical marijuana could have. Here are the basic details:

Holy smokes — these nuns are really working for a higher power! The Sisters of the Valley in Merced, Calif., grow medicinal marijuana in their garage for various pot-laced health products.

While Sisters Kate and Darcy don traditional habits, they are not Catholic. But they still consider themselves nuns with a calling to heal the sick — with pot. “We spend no time on bended knee, but when we make our medicine it’s a prayerful environment. It’s a prayerful time,” Kate told KFSN-TV.

While medicinal pot is legal in California, bills signed into law this past fall allow local governments to restrict or ban marijuana growing and dispensing. Pot advocates hope local jurisdictions will want to partake of tax revenue. But some municipalities — such as Merced, a conservative town in agricultural Central California — have enacted bans on pot production.

So this sisterhood might need to find a new place by March 1, when the new state and local laws take effect. Kate and Darcy said their products include cannabidiol but only traces of tetrahydrocannabinol, the chemical that provides pot’s high.

When I discussed this story with a very smart colleague, she suggested that consumers of the marijuana products produced by Sisters of the Valley might find it especially difficult to kick the habit. Jokes aside, one of the common consequences of having more big government regulation of medical marijuana is the tendency, as suggested in this story, to make it even hard for small producers to stay in business. Apparently, this can be true even if you have a holy partnership.

February 10, 2016 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Religion, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 8, 2016

Oregon Health Authority report calls for "the creation of an independent, free‐standing Oregon Institute for Cannabis"

I was intrigued and pleased to see this notable new press story out of Oregon reporting on this notable new public health task force report titled "Researching the medical and public health properties of cannabis."  Here are the basics via the press coverage:

Oregon should fund an independent marijuana institute to support and conduct world-class research into the drug's medical and public health benefits, says a task force that includes state officials, scientists and leading physicians.

Tax dollars generated through recreational marijuana sales would supplement private funding to underwrite the quasi-public Oregon Institute for Cannabis Research. The center would hire research scientists, as well as staff to help academic researchers navigate the complexities of federally sanctioned cannabis research.

The recommendation, included in a report submitted Monday to the Legislature by the task force, calls for Oregon to break new ground by providing a sustained source of state money to support marijuana research. Among the proposals: the institute itself would grow and handle marijuana for research purposes. "This institute will position Oregon as a leader in cannabis research and serve as an international hub for what will soon be a rapidly accelerating scientific field," states the report, prepared by the Oregon Health Authority. "No other single initiative could do as much to strengthen the Oregon cannabis industry and to support the needs of Oregon medical marijuana patients."

The proposal represents the latest effort by states to fill gaps in marijuana research created by the federal prohibition of the drug. The government allows research on cannabis, but the approval process is especially complicated and involves marijuana produced at a government-run facility based at the University of Mississippi. The recommendation came out of a law passed last year by the Legislature that called for the creation of a governor-appointed task force to study ways to support a medical marijuana industry geared toward patients. The report doesn't include estimates for what it would cost to fund the center, but makes clear that financial support from the state would be essential. Other states have set aside money for research, but not on an ongoing basis.

Sen. Chris Edwards, D-Eugene, the lawmaker behind the provision that created the task force, said paying for the institute with revenue from the state's marijuana tax is a politically viable idea, but said it isn't likely to gain traction during the Legislature's 35-day session, which began last week. Under current law, marijuana tax revenue goes to the common school fund, mental health, alcoholism and drug services, the Oregon State Police, local and the health authority. "One thing I heard consistently is that people want to understand better the health effects and the health and safety issues -- the potential effects of pesticides and also the potential for medical uses of cannabis," he said. "I think there is broad support for those pieces."...

Colorado and Washington, the first states to legalize marijuana for recreational use, also have plans for research. Colorado lawmakers in 2014 approved a one-time $9 million expenditure for marijuana-related studies, including three that will require federal approval, said Ken Gershman, medical marijuana research grant program manager for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Six involve "observational studies" of people already consuming marijuana. University researchers in Colorado plan to examine whether young adults and adolescents with inflammatory bowel disease benefit from marijuana, and the effect of cannabidiol, a component of the marijuana plant known as CBD, on Parkinson's-related tremors. Other studies will examine the effect of high-CBD oil extracts on epilepsy, as well as the drug's impact on sleep and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Washington, which offers a marijuana research license, carved out a percentage of its marijuana tax revenue for cannabis research. The law calls for some of that work to look at ways of measuring marijuana intoxication and impairment.

California was the first state to fund research into marijuana's medicinal benefits. In 2000, the state set aside $10 million to fund the Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research at the University of California, San Diego. The center oversaw multiple research projects, most of them looking at marijuana's effect on neuropathic pain. Like Colorado, California's funding was a one-time expenditure.

Dr. J.H. Atkinson, a co-director of the center and a professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, said the research was "relatively small in scope and duration" but offered a potential model for other states. He said the studies showed a promising connection between cannabis and pain relief. "Without too much chest thumping," he said, "it was the most comprehensive body of research on the potential (of cannabis) ever conducted in this country."...

Research into marijuana is complicated by the drug's longtime status as a Schedule 1 drug. That category of drugs, which includes heroin, is defined as substances that have a "high potential for abuse" and "no currently accepted medical use." Federal research proposals involving involving Schedule 1 drugs must undergo review by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and must use cannabis produced by the University of Mississippi, which holds the lone government contract to grow pot for research purposes. The agency in 2014 said it planned to increase production of marijuana to support more research....

Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said "ample research" and "an extensive history of human use" provide more than enough evidence to contradict marijuana's status under federal law as a drug that lacks medical benefit. Armentano said he welcomes more research from states like Oregon but is skeptical it will make a difference in the debate about marijuana's Schedule 1 status. "Unfortunately science has never driven marijuana policy," he said. "If it did, the United States would already have a very different policy in place."

February 8, 2016 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Taxation information and issues , Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, February 7, 2016

"Medical Marijuana Could Help the NFL Cure the Illness Menacing Players' Brains, Activists Say"

ImagesThe title of this post is the headline of this lengthy super-informative article that seems like a perfect read as we await the latest version of the SuperBowl. Here is how a piece worth reading in full gets started:

With much of the NFL world camped out in the San Francisco Bay Area in the days before Super Bowl 50, researchers released sobering news: late Oakland Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler had a degenerative brain disease associated with repeated blows to the head. Later Wednesday, another late, great QB, Earl Morrall, also was revealed to have had chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which is associated with memory loss, impaired judgment and progressive dementia. Dozens of former players have been diagnosed, some who died in old age, like Frank Gifford, and a few who took their lives, like Junior Seau.

There is no known treatment for CTE, not least because there's no test that can point it out in the living — it's detected in post-mortem brain scans. But to one former player who's sure his nine-year career gave him the disease, there's an obvious treatment that isn't allowed in the NFL, even though it would be easy to score not far from Levi's Stadium on Super Bowl Sunday for anyone with a doctor's note: medical marijuana. "If cannabis is implemented and (the NFL) can lead the science on this, they can resolve this brain injury situation in a big way," Kyle Turley said.

Turley is at the forefront of a vocal movement arguing that medical marijuana's pain-suppressing and possible neuroprotective benefits make it the only effective treatment for the effects that chronic concussive blows to the head have on football players. As co-founder of the Gridiron Cannabis Coalition, Turley is the movement's most outspoken member, but it also includes other retired players and rapper/marijuana entrepreneur Snoop Dogg.

More players' brains are found to show signs of CTE with each year that passes. Researchers at Boston University have found evidence of CTE in 96 percent of the NFL players' brains they examined. At the same time, more states are allowing doctors to prescribe marijuana as a medicine – 23 so far, according to National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

A small body of research suggests marijuana can heal head trauma, yet Turley wonders why the league isn't investigating the drug as a medicine. To advocates, hosting the Super Bowl in the region is almost hypocritical, given what they see happening to the heads of NFL players and the spiraling lives of some former players. "The NFL's policy against medical marijuana is stupid and counterproductive," said Dale Gieringer, director of the California chapter of NORML, in an email calling the NFL out of touch with the laws of the state. "There's no doubt NFL players would be better off with medical access to marijuana."

Turley is a former defensive lineman who has been extremely outspoken about his medical struggles after playing for three NFL teams in nine years. A New Yorker article from 2009 describes him blacking out at a Nashville concert, feeling much the same way he did when he was kneed in the head during a game years earlier. The former lineman had recently retired and was taking painkillers. He wound up in the hospital, where he said he briefly lost nearly all control of his body. "Before quitting all the pills and committing to cannabis ... my life was a train wreck, plain and simple," Turley told NBC Owned Television Stations.

Today, Turley has eliminated all other chemicals from his system, from Aleve to Zoloft, he said. The San Diego resident has found strains of marijuana that relieve pain and other strains with effects comparable to the psychiatric pill Vicodin, but without the narcotic effects.

Medical marijuana has fairly well known, though not conclusively proven, pain relieving benefits. But to Turley, the drug also treats mental anguish he believes comes from CTE. There is very little research on that front, but the 40-year-old father insists marijuana has given him stability after recently feeling despondent and suicidal. "The reality is I don't think about those things anymore. And if it wasn't for cannabis, I wouldn't be where I am mentally," Turley said.

Turley swears that marijuana use is rampant in the NFL – "from players to coaches to owners, marijuana is in the National Football League" – but only a handful of players have spoken out about using it. They emphasize the mental clarity it offers as much as the pain relief.

"I always healed fast, ahead of schedule; was never really very swollen; my mind was very sharp, and after concussions medicated with it," Nate Jackson told marijuana magazine High Times this week, discussing how marijuana helped him in his days with the Broncos in the 2000s.

It's not just young players who swear by pot, either. Jim McMahon, one of the heroes of the Chicago Bears' 1985 championship, revealed last month that he weaned himself off pharmaceutical drugs that left his head feeling fuzzy. "This medical marijuana has been a godsend. It relieves me of the pain – or thinking about it, anyway," he told The Chicago Tribune.

February 7, 2016 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)

Saturday, January 30, 2016

You be the state sentencing judge: how much prison time for former state official guilty of (small-time?) marijuana dealing

R_schmidt-262x272The question in the title of this post is prompted by this local story from Michigan, headlined "Ex-state Rep. Roy Schmidt pleads, sold marijuana as 'source of income,' judge says."  Here are the basics (with my emphasis added):

Former state Rep. Roy Schdmidt pleaded no contest Thursday, Jan. 28, to manufacture of marijuana.  Schmidt initially fought charges as a registered medical marijuana caregiver and disputed the amount of marijuana he possessed.

But a police report, read by Grand Rapids District Judge Michael Distel to establish a basis for Schmidt's guilt, said he told police that he sold marijuana to 10 to 15 people who were not his registered medical marijuana patients.   He told police that "he was operating his business as a source of income," Distel said.

Schmidt was charged last year with manufacture or delivery of marijuana after police raided his home on Seventh Street NW and a house he rented from his son on Myrtle Avenue NW.  Police said Schmidt possessed nearly three pounds of marijuana and 71 marijuana plants.  Caregivers are allowed to possess 2.5 ounces of usable marijuana for each of up to five patients. Schmidt has maintained that his drying marijuana was not considered usable.

He faces up to four years in prison when sentenced on March 22 in Kent County Circuit Court....  Under the plea, Schmidt admits no guilt but the plea is treated as such at sentencing.  He was allowed to plead no contest because he could face civil forfeiture proceedings related to his marijuana operation.

Schmidt is free on bond.  Kent County prosecutors will drop a second charge of manufacturing marijuana.

His arrest followed an ill-fated scheme to switch parties while he served in the House of Representatives.  After being elected as a Democrat in 2008, he lost his seat four years later after a controversial switch to the Republican Party.  He had spent 16 years on a Grand Rapids City Commission on the West Side of town.

I am cross-posting this story on my Sentencing Law & Policy blog because this case raises interesting classic "offender-based" sentencing issues: e.g., (1) should Schmidt's history as a relatively prominent politician be viewed as an aggravating sentencing factor (because it makes him more culpable as someone who was involved in making the state laws he broke) or as a possible mitigating sentencing factor (because he would seem like the type of person unlikely to be a serious recidivist); (2) should the prospect of Schmidt losing his home and/or his son's home through civil forfeiture proceedings significntly influence what criminal sentence he receives?    

But, of course, what really captured my attention in this case is the different ways this defendant's offense might be viewed by a sentencing judge.  His lawyers could perhaps claim, given the legalization of medical marijuana in Michigan, that Schmidt's crime is essentially a regulatory violation comparable to a liquor store owner who would often sell to underage college students.  But prosecutors likely will assert that Schmidt should be viewed and sentenced like any other greedy drug dealer.

Thoughts, dear readers?

January 30, 2016 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Extra credit (for my students) and lots of admiration (for anyone else) for on-the-scene reporting on Ohio medical marijuana discussions

As highlighted by this local article, headlined "Medical marijuana hearings to be held around Ohio: here's how to share your thoughts," there is now a lot of on-going legislative activity in the Buckeye State concerning potential medical marijuana reforms. Here are the basics:

State lawmakers will hold several meetings early this year, including one this Saturday at Cleveland State University, to learn more about medical marijuana and where Ohioans stand on the issue. Here's a schedule of the meetings and information about how you can share your thoughts and stories with lawmakers.

Senate listening tour

State Sens. Dave Burke, a Marysville Republican, and Kenny Yuko, a Richmond Heights Democrat, will hold events in Cleveland, Cincinnati, Toledo, and Columbus to gather input about medical marijuana.

The forums are open to the public, and people who wish to speak are asked to submit written testimony to Burke or Yuko at Burke@OhioSenate.gov or Yuko@OhioSenate.gov. A spokeswoman for Yuko said the senators plan to be at each event all day.

Cleveland: 10 a.m. Saturday (January 30) in the Gerald H. Gordon Conference Pavilion, Wolstein Center, Cleveland State University, 2000 Prospect Ave E

Cincinnati: 11 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 4, Kresge Auditorium in the Medical Science Building, University of Cincinnati, 231 Albert Sabin Way

Toledo: 11 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 11, Scott Park Campus Auditorium, University of Toledo, 2225 Nebraska Ave.

Columbus: To be announced

House task force

House leaders have assembled a 15-member task force that will report its findings and possibly make recommendations by March 31.

The first meeting on Thursday will be an informational meeting, according to Rep. Kirk Schuring's office, where rules will be set. Task force members will be asked to refrain from making statements during the meetings, except during the first meeting, and instead ask questions of those testifying.

People who are interested in testifying at a future meeting should email Schuring's office at rep48@OhioHouse.gov.

The task force will meet in Columbus at the Statehouse on the following Thursdays:

  • 3 - 4:30 p.m. Jan. 28 (informational meeting, no testimony taken)
  • 3 p.m. Feb. 4
  • 3 p.m. Feb. 11
  • 7 p.m. Feb. 18
  • 7 p.m. Feb. 25
  • 7 p.m. March 10

An additional meeting will be held in April, if needed.

Because I teach on Thursday afternoons and due to other commitments, I am unlikely to be able to attend many (or perhaps any) of these medical marijuana events.  For that reason, I am hopeful that some helpful readers (or my students) might be interested in sending me on-the-scene reports about these various events.   I will blog these reports, and be grateful for the help.  Relatedly, I urge folks to alert me to other websites or blogs or related resources keeping up with all this notable Ohio legislative action.

January 28, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Florida voters to get another chance to legalize medical marijuana via 2016 ballot initiative

Florida-marijuana-vote-hbtv-hemp-beach-tvAs reported in this new AP article, a "proposed constitutional amendment to allow medical use of marijuana will be back on the ballot in November, and organizers said Wednesday that growing public support and a larger voter turnout in a presidential election year should help pass the measure that narrowly failed in 2014."  Here is more:

The group organizing a petition drive to put the issue on the ballot now has 692,981 certified voter signatures, nearly 10,000 more than it needed to put the proposed amendment on the ballot.  “We feel very good that 60 percent plus of Florida voters will finally approve a true medical marijuana law,” said Ben Pollara, who is organizing the effort for United for Care.

The state requires that constitutional amendments receive at least 60 percent approval from voters.  In 2014, 57.6 percent of voters supported a medical marijuana initiative.  Pollara said at the time that supporters hoped lawmakers would recognize that most Floridians wanted to legalize medical marijuana and pass a bill to approve it.

But the Legislature has been tepid on the issue. In 2014, lawmakers did approve the use of non-euphoric marijuana to treat seizures.  But the product is still not available to those who need it because the state has had problems establishing regulations overseeing its production and distribution. “We got nowhere, so here we are back on the ballot,” Pollara said.  “Current law has helped no one.”

Personal injury lawyer John Morgan has spent more than $6 million between the 2014 and 2016 efforts to legalize medical marijuana.  He says his brother, a quadriplegic who uses marijuana to control muscle spasms, is one of his inspirations behind the campaign. In an email to supporters Wednesday night, Morgan said, “We’re back.  We’re going to win for the patients. BELIEVE!!!”...

Pollara noted that millions of dollars were spent opposing the 2014 initiative and it still received nearly 58 percent support. As more people approve of the idea of medical marijuana and with more voters expected to turn out this year, he said he’s confident it will pass despite any campaigns mounted against it.  “One thing that we learned is that we don’t have to respond to everything they say; we don’t have to match them dollar for dollar. We just have to get out the message that marijuana helps people who are sick and suffering,” he said.

As was true in 2014, it will be interesting to watch how a medical marijuana campaign in Florida, and this time around we will have the added excitement of presidential candidates being asked to weigh in whenever they campaign in this significant southern swing state.

January 28, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Is anyone rigorously collecting and analyzing multi-state medical marijuana data?

787638_767136-MedMarijSalesME0116The question in the title of this post is prompted by this local article from Maine, headlined "Sales of medical marijuana jumped 46 percent in Maine last year: The state's pot dispensaries took in $23.6 million as the social stigma faded and more patients seeking relief from chronic pain tried the drug." Here are excerpts:

Mainers spent $23.6 million on medical marijuana from dispensaries last year, a 46 percent increase driven by multiple factors, including patients seeking alternatives to prescription painkillers and more doctors certifying people to use the drug, according to dispensary operators.

Operators say the increase in sales illustrates the growing willingness of patients and doctors to consider alternatives to traditional medicine, and a reduction in the social stigma surrounding the use of medical marijuana.

But an official for the Maine Medical Association said Wednesday the big jump also shows why the medical community has resisted opening the program to more patients with different medical conditions, citing a lack of research that demonstrates medical marijuana is effective in treating them.

The $23.6 million in 2015 dispensary sales generated $1.29 million in sales tax, according to Maine Revenue Services. In 2014, the dispensaries sold $16.2 million worth of medical marijuana products and collected more than $892,000 in sales tax, a 40 percent increase over the previous year and more than triple the tax revenue collected in 2013. The sales figures from Maine Revenue Services do not include numbers from the state’s 2,255 caregivers, who are small-scale growers authorized to sell marijuana to up to five patients.

“There are a number of factors at play here. The first would be that Mainers are becoming more used to the idea of therapeutic cannabis,” said Becky DeKeuster, director of education for Wellness Connection, which operates four of Maine’s eight dispensaries. “We’ve had a very successful dispensary program for five years now and people are becoming used to this option.”

Maine is one of 34 states that allow some form of medical cannabis. Maine legalized medical uses in 1999, and the state’s first dispensaries opened in 2011. Last year, Maine’s program was voted the best medical marijuana program in the country by Americans for Safe Access, a national group that advocates for legal access to the drug.

The state cannot provide an exact number of patients because it does not keep a registry, but doctors have printed more than 35,000 certificates required under state regulations to certify patients. That number could include duplicates and replacement certificates and is likely higher than the actual number of patients, said Samantha Edwards, spokeswoman for the state Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the medical marijuana program.

About 340 medical providers certified patients to obtain medical marijuana. Patients qualify for certification if they have one of a dozen specific conditions, including cancer, glaucoma, chronic pain and Crohn’s disease. Tim Smale, operator of the Remedy Compassion Center in Auburn and president of the Maine Dispensary Operators Association, believes there has been about a three-fold increase in the number of doctors certifying patients in the past couple of years. Maine law has been amended so that nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants also can certify patients....

Gordon Smith, spokesman for the state medical association, said the large increase in sales illustrates why the association has lobbied against efforts to expand the medical marijuana program to include more qualifying conditions or eliminate them altogether. “We don’t want to put Maine’s medical community in a position where it’s being asked to be a front for recreational use of marijuana,” Smith said. “We acknowledge marijuana helps a small number of medical conditions and there is good evidence of that, but for many of the (conditions) on the list, there’s not scientific data to establish marijuana is helpful.”

One condition that has been debated is post-traumatic stress disorder, which Maine added to the list of qualifying conditions in 2013. The Mayo Clinic defines post-traumatic stress disorder as a mental health condition that’s brought on when a person sees or experiences a severely traumatic event. A person suffering from PTSD may have uncontrollable thoughts about the event and also experience flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety.

Although several other states have authorized medical marijuana sales to people with PTSD, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs describes the practice as a growing concern because some veterans are using the drug to relieve symptoms of PTSD, yet there is a lack of medical evidence of its effectiveness.

DeKeuster said Wellness Connection, which serves about 11,000 patients across the state, is seeing more patients who want to use medical cannabis as a first option for treatment instead of as a last resort. The top three qualifying conditions among Wellness Connection patients are chronic pain, post-traumatic stress disorder and cancer. “Physicians and patients both are looking for a pain relief solution that is natural,” DeKeuster said....

Another factor contributing to the rise in the use of medical marijuana is that dispensaries have dozens of strains, as well as pills, tinctures and edible forms that make taking the drug easier, DeKeuster said. Smale said dispensary operators across the state report similar trends among all their patients, including seeing more elderly people who want to use medical cannabis for treatment of chronic pain. The Remedy Compassion Center, which Smale owns and operates in Auburn, now primarily serves patients between ages 50 and 70, he said. “The other things we’re finding is folks are looking for an alternative to their opiates,” he said. “We hear many anecdotal reports of people reducing or eliminating opiate use through medical cannabis.”

In addition to anecdotally answering some questions about what is going on with medical marijuana in Maine, it raised for me a bunch of questions about whether these developments in the Pine Tree State are also playing out in a bunch of other medical marijuana states.  In particular, I would love to know if dispensary sales are up similarly in a number of other states and also whether there is any reliable data about "people reducing or eliminating opiate use through medical cannabis."

January 23, 2016 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1)