Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Monday, June 6, 2016

"Tax Benefits of Government-Owned Marijuana Stores"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new article authored by Benjamin Leff and now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:

Over a year ago (March 7, 2015), a little store called the Cannabis Corner opened up in the small town of North Bonneville, Washington, about an hour by car from Portland, Oregon.  The Cannabis Corner is the first marijuana store to be operated by a “public development authority,” an independent entity created by a state or local government.  Public development authorities are generally exempt from federal income taxes under section 115 of the Internal Revenue Code.  For a marijuana business, this exemption is especially valuable because section 280E of the Code currently prevents marijuana businesses from deducting many of the ordinary expenses other businesses regularly deduct, resulting in extremely high federal income taxes.

This Article is the first to address whether independent governmental affiliates that sell marijuana are exempt from federal income tax under section 115 of the Internal Revenue Code.  It argues that such entities should easily pass the IRS’s current interpretation of the three requirements for tax-exemption under section 115: (i) that exempt income be derived from “the exercise of any essential governmental function;” (ii) that such income “accru[e] to a State or any political subdivision thereof;” and (iii) that the income “not serve private interests[.]” In addition, this Article argues that the fact that selling marijuana is illegal under federal law is not a bar to exemption under section 115 of the Code the way it is under section 501(c)(3).

Tax exemption for public development authorities that sell marijuana is important because of the non-tax benefits of a marijuana market dominated by government sellers.  Some of these benefits exist when governments are participants in a marijuana market that is open to private sellers as well, such as is the case in North Bonneville, Washington.  This Article also explores the benefits that might accrue if a state chose to create a regulatory regime for legalizing marijuana in which all marijuana selling took place in government-owned stores. Many states have experimented for years with state control of liquor sales, but there are reasons to believe that marijuana may be significantly more suited to a state-controlled market than alcohol, at least for a transitional period.  The question of whether an independent governmental affiliate is exempt from federal income tax, including section 280E, is especially important to governments contemplating the contours of their legal marijuana markets.

June 6, 2016 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

In praise of Forbes' extensive and dyanmic marijuana reform coverage

Download (3)Disappointingly, though local media (especially in recreational marijuana reform states) have done a decent job covering the basics of marijuana policy and practice developments, precious few mainstream national media outlet have given this important topic nearly the time and attention that I think the topic merits.  The notable exception here is Forbes, which appears to have a diverse array of reporters and commentators writing about a diverse array of important marijuana reform stories.  Here are links to just some of the important pieces that Forbes has put out in recent weeks coming from a number of different contributors:

June 6, 2016 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Louisiana universities and businesses now clearly think the Bayou State is a serious medical marijuana reform jurisdiction

Medical-marijuana-mms-titlepng-a8616304bffdd15cThere has been some enduring debate and uncertainty as to whether Louisiana should "count" as one of the two-dozen-plus states that have enacted significant medical marijuana reforms.  For a number of reasons, and especially since recent legislative reforms to the state's medical marijuana rules, I think Louisiana should count in any accounting of such states.  And this recent local article, headlined "Louisiana gearing up for marijuana business: How much might LSU, Southern, companies profit? How will it be distributed?," suggests that now shortage of Louisiana officials and institutions are now considering the state's work in this space very seriously. Here are highlights from the interesting article:

Growing up on a cotton farm in Missouri in the 1950s, Bill Richardson didn’t know a thing about marijuana. Nobody talked about it, he never saw it and he certainly never smoked it. “I didn’t inhale,” Richardson, LSU’s 71-year-old vice president for agriculture and dean of the College of Agriculture, said with a smile in a recent interview.

Richardson has become the unlikely leader of an effort to get LSU into the pot business. Last month, the Louisiana Legislature approved a bill that legalizes the use of marijuana for people suffering from a specific list of debilitating diseases. The so-called medical marijuana legislation authorizes LSU and Southern University to grow and produce cannabis to be consumed in a liquid form. (Hold the “Cheech and Chong” jokes — it cannot be smoked, and no, they won’t be offering samples.)

The boards of both universities appear likely to give the go-ahead for pot cultivation. It’s not clear yet, however, who will provide the $10 million to $20 million needed to produce the drug, which will be sold at 10 standalone pharmacies designated by a state agency. None of the people wanting to be treated by pot will have access to it for at least 18 months.

When the Legislature legalized marijuana for patients suffering from 10 specific diseases, lawmakers told emotional stories about the children and loved ones who stood to benefit. Opponents, meanwhile, warned darkly that Louisiana was heading down a slippery slope toward legalizing a dangerous drug. Lost in the debate is what the measure will mean for LSU and Southern — and the private companies that are now emerging to try to profit from the new industry by partnering with the universities.

The legislation by state Sen. Fred Mills, R-Parks, gave LSU and Southern no money to launch this new venture, meaning they will have to rely on private companies to buy the seeds, hire scientists, rent or build growing facilities and pay for all the other costs. “All of the money would have to come from venture capitalists, or you’d have to sell bonds,” said Adell Brown, the point person at Southern as the university’s interim chancellor for its Agricultural Research and Extension Center. Neither Brown nor Richardson can say yet how much it will cost to get the business running at full speed, but both agree that it probably will take at least $10 million.

Brown and Richardson both report getting calls from representatives of companies that want to rent or sell land or provide a growing facility. Others are inquiring about financing the entire venture with the expectation of earning a profit. “It’s a money-making venture,” Brown said.

Neither he nor Richardson knows yet where they might grow the pot, but the universities are not likely to do it together. (The Legislature has authorized them to cultivate the marijuana because of federal laws prohibiting the transport of marijuana across state lines.) The University of Mississippi grows marijuana for research under a special federal license on the edge of its campus, in a field surrounded by two fences and armed guards, said an Ole Miss spokesman. “My recommendation is that it not be grown on campus, for the PR,” Richardson said.

He expects that LSU’s Board of Supervisors will authorize the growing of marijuana at its June 24 meeting. “It’s something we can do,” Richardson said, adding that he sees this as an opportunity for the university to duplicate its pioneering work with rice and other crops. Besides, “over the past year, I’ve heard enough testimonials of the medicinal effects to believe that the benefits outweigh the negatives. Plus, there may be some opportunities to create an income stream to help us balance our budget.”

Brown said he expects Southern’s board to approve the venture at either its June or July meeting. “It will be a highly sophisticated and self-controlled facility with the proper protocols for security,” he said. “We have faculty members who have done work with a lot of different crops that are of the same family.”...

While LSU and Southern are gearing up, several state entities are working to provide the regulatory framework for everyone who wants to be involved. The Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners already has drafted its rules for doctors who want to apply to treat patients suffering from cancer, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy and seven other diseases, including HIV and AIDS. No doctor can treat more than 100 patients, said Eric Torres, the executive director of the medical board. Mills’ legislation, Senate Bill 271, requires doctors to “recommend,” not “prescribe,” the drug, to get around federal laws.

The state Department of Agriculture and Forestry is drafting rules that will govern the growing and production of the medical marijuana. The Legislature has authorized money for the agency to hire outside labs to make sure the marijuana is free of pesticides and heavy metals and has the least possible THC — the active ingredient that makes people high — and to hire staff to regulate the new business. “We have to make sure that end product is safe,” Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain said in an interview.

The end product is what the patients actually will buy. “The marijuana cannot be inhaled,” said Jesse McCormick, of the Louisiana Cannabis Association, who lobbied to pass SB271. “It could be a cream. It could be in liquid form — tincture. It could be a gel cap. It could be a vitamin gummy. If you’re going to a dispensary to find ‘bud’ — well, you won’t.” The Louisiana Board of Pharmacy will decide on the drug’s final form and is leaning in favor of allowing LSU and Southern to make that decision. “Let the producers be as creative as they wish,” said Malcolm Broussard, the executive director of the board.

The 17 members of this Baton Rouge-based board — who are appointed by the governor to six-year terms — also will decide who will operate the 10 pharmacies throughout Louisiana that will sell the medical marijuana. Under state law, they cannot be part of a normal drugstore, although Broussard said it’s possible that the therapeutic drug could be sold in a convenience store. That store could not also sell prescription drugs, but it could offer over-the-counter drugs, he said.

Next year’s licensing decision will put a spotlight on a board so obscure that Broussard said he had never before been interviewed by an Advocate reporter during 17 years as executive director.

June 6, 2016 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Latest poll numbers show continued strong support for marijuana legalization among independents and younger voters

This new Politico article, headlined "National poll: Majority supports legalizing marijuana," provides a review of the latest Quinnipiac University poll asking registered voters their views on marijuana reform policies. And the demographic breakdowns show, yet again, why politicians who adamantly oppose reform will do so at their peril unless their voting poopulation is older and heavily GOP affiliated. Here are the basics (with my emphasis added):

Slightly more than half — 54 percent — said the use of marijuana should be made legal across the country, while 41 percent said it should not. The results broke down along partisan lines, with 65 percent to 30 percent of Democrats in support and 62 percent to 36 percent of Republicans in opposition. Independent voters backed legalization 61 percent to 36 percent, as did men (60 percent to 37 percent) and women, albeit within the margin of error (48 percent to 46 percent). Possession of marijuana is legal in Alaska, Washington state, Oregon, Colorado and the District of Columbia, with several other states having decriminalized the drug.

 Majorities of registered voters younger than 65 said they would support legalization, while 57 percent of those surveyed 65 and older said they would oppose.  On the question of whether people should be allowed to use medically prescribed marijuana, 89 percent overall said they would be in favor, while just 9 percent opposed. Nearly the same share — 87 percent — said Department of Veterans Affairs doctors should be able to prescribe medical marijuana in pill form in states where it is legal to veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, while 9 percent said they should not be able to do so.

Quinnipiac conducted the poll via landlines and cellphones from May 24-30, surveying 1,561 registered voters with a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points. 

In the cross-tabs on this poll (which can be accessed here), the numbers in support of marijuana legalization among voters aged 18 to 35 are especially potent: marijuana reform is supported by 69% and opposed by only 27% of this group (which I think is now the largest demographic voting block).  These numbers, and especially the consistently strong support for medical marijuana reform that all polls now show, lead me to continue to think that federal marijuana reform is all but inevitable in the next four years no matter who ends up prevailing in the Prez election.

June 6, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 3, 2016

Interesting legal battle already emerging in Michigan about whether legalization initiative will get to voters in November 2016

Download (17)As reported in this local article, headlined "Petitions to legalize marijuana to face likely fight," the submission of hundreds of thousands of signatures in Michigan is likely to kick off even more uncertainty about whether voters in the state will get a chance this fall to vote on full legalization of marijuana. Here are just some of the intricacies of what should be an interesting story to follow:

Leaders of a statewide group who want recreational marijuana legalized in Michigan turned in 354,000 signatures Wednesday on petitions aimed at putting a question before voters on November ballots.  As with nearly every step in the controversial, year-long effort of fund-raising and petition passing, the next stage in the battle to be on the ballot is fraught with unknowns.  There likely will be lawsuits, administrative roadblocks in Lansing and even lawmakers' challenges that could derail the effort.

The key issue? Although a state formula required the group to gather 252,523 signatures to qualify for ballots and the petitioners turned in far more, a majority of signatures likely will be deemed invalid. That's because state law says that any signature gathered more than 180 days before being filed with the state is presumed to be “stale and void,” unless the petitioner can prove otherwise. Leaders of the drive said they’ve offered ample proof and they’re prepared to make it stick — in court, if necessary.

Opposing the ballot proposal and the legalization of marijuana in Michigan have been virtually all law enforcement officials and police groups, as well as many educators and youth drug-abuse prevention groups such as the Chippewa Valley Coalition for Youth and Families, which used a federal grant to launch Mobilizing Michigan — a kit of education materials to tell young people about the dangers of marijuana.  The kit has been sent to scores of high schools across Michigan, according to the group’s website....

But the prospect of a lawsuits or other roadblocks wasn't dimming the hopes of Debra Young of Oak Park, who was one of what she said “had to be thousands” of volunteers working in every county of Michigan on behalf of having Michigan join Colorado and Washington state in legalizing marijuana.  “I’ve been gathering signatures since day one. I probably got 3,000 myself, personally,” said Young, a longtime user of medical marijuana to treat her glaucoma. She’s a board member of the campaign, called the Committee for MILegalize.

“Finally, we can de-stress,” she said Thursday. “We had fund-raisers.  We had outreach. We were at every major event — ball games, concerts at DTE Energy (Music Theatre), festivals. I’ve been working on this literally every minute possible for a year,” Young said.

Because the 180-day limit for gathering signatures is a vague and untested area in state law, seen by many as unenforceable, a majority of state legislators passed a bill last month making it explicit law. But the bill wasn't presented to Gov. Rick Snyder until Wednesday — the very day that MiLegalize petitions were turned in, according to the Cannabis Law Blog of the Dykema Gossett law firm in Detroit.

Snyder had yet to sign the bill, but even if he does, “We don’t see how it would apply retroactively to us,” said Jeff Hank, a Lansing lawyer who chaired the MILegalize campaign.  He readily admitted that MILegalize has circulated petitions “for about 11 months,” about five months longer than the 180-day window cited in state law, he said. Still, the same law allows a committee to prove that a stale signature is valid — that is, it still refers to a registered voter at the address listed at the moment the signature is submitted to state officials.

“We used the state’s own records to validate most of our signatures. We’re confident that we have the 253,000 or so that we need,” Hank said. Moreover, the dispute is about more than marijuana, Hank said.  "It’s about the average citizen's ability to directly participate in our form of government,” he said.  Gathering signatures to put a question on election ballots “was meant to be used by the citizens when the system isn’t responding to them, and we all know that state government has absolutely not been responsive to Michigan voters on some key issues,” he said....

A spokesman for the state Bureau of Elections confirmed Thursday that MILegalize submitted “an estimated 354,000 signatures” on Wednesday.  Now comes a waiting game for both those who favor and those who oppose legalizing cannabis in Michigan.  “The review and verification process will take at least two months before a report is made to the Board of State Canvassers," Secretary of State spokesman Fred Woodhams said.  Sometime after that, with no scheduled date, "the board will vote on whether enough valid signatures were filed," Woodhams said Thursday.

Although leaders of the petition campaign said that the two-month wait seems excessive, that much time is needed for state officials to verify the signatures, Woodhams said. The two months "also includes a time period for challenges to be filed against the signatures by members of the public,” he said. 

June 3, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

"Is The Cannabis Movement Overextended?"

The question in the title of this post is the headline of this interesting new International Business Times article discussing the state and possible fate of the significant number of marijuana reform initiatives to be appearing on state ballots this fall.  Here is how it gets started and additional excerpts from the middle and end of the lengthy piece:

In early May, the national advocacy group Marijuana Policy Project sent out a panicked email titled “Alone, beaten down and incredulous in Boston.” MPP had been working to land a marijuana legalization measure on Massachusetts’ ballot this November, but a recent fundraising event in Boston had drawn just a single attendee. “What’s worrisome isn’t this one bad event, but that it mirrors the contributions and involvement across Massachusetts since the initiative launch,” MPP Executive Director Rob Kampia wrote in the message. “Simply put, the campaign is broke,” he noted. The organization might not have the money to collect enough signatures to qualify for the ballot in one of the most liberal states in the U.S.

A lack of fundraising dollars in Massachusetts isn’t the only reason marijuana advocates are beginning to feel nervous. 2016 is a pivotal year for the cannabis movement, with an unprecedented 10 states potentially voting on recreational or medical marijuana reforms in November. Planned are medical marijuana initiatives in Arkansas, Florida, Missouri and Montana, as well as recreational cannabis measures in Arizona, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada and California, the last of which would launch a legal cannabis industry in what is the world’s eighth-largest economy. But, according to campaign finance records, the 10 campaigns altogether to date have raised less than $11 million, just slightly more than marijuana advocates amassed in 2014 midterm elections to pass legalization measures in two states, Alaska and Oregon.

While it’s still relatively early in the 2016 campaign calendar, a lot more cash will be needed before November. Representatives of the national advocacy group Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) estimated at a recent webinar that it would likely cost between $40 million and $50 million to win in all 10 states. “There is a little bit of concern among people I have talked to that the movement might be trying to do too much too soon,” said Tom Angell, founder and chairman of the cannabis advocacy group Marijuana Majority, who recently wrote about the issue for Marijuana.com. “There are only so many dollars that can be raised to purchase advertising time and put together get-out-the-vote operations.” It doesn’t help that so far the growing marijuana industry has been reluctant to shoulder much of these campaigns’ costs or that anti-marijuana efforts are gaining traction. This confluence of factors has led some observers to posit that 2016 may not be the watershed year for cannabis legalization that many have predicted. Instead, it could be the year the ascendant cannabis crusade finally faces defeat.

“The marijuana movement is stretched so thin in 2016,” DPA Executive Director Ethan Nadelmann said during a presentation last month at Marijuana Business Daily’s Marijuana Business Conference and Expo in Orlando, Florida. “I think what could happen in 2016 could be a harsh wake-up call.”...

As in years past, the two largest marijuana advocacy groups, DPA and MPP, are dividing their efforts between different reform campaigns. For example, DPA is playing a large role in the big California legalization effort, while MPP is highly involved in recreational marijuana initiatives in Arizona, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada (MPP suspended a medical marijuana effort in Ohio last week after legislators passed a medical cannabis law).

While MPP may be working on more concurrent state campaigns than it ever has before, Mason Tvert, the organization’s communications director, insisted it isn’t stretched too thin. “We only get involved in campaigns when we are confident we will be able to run an effective campaign and win,” he said. Still, he added that weighing in on the financial fitness of various political efforts can be a dicey prospect in the middle of campaign season. “If you say you have no money, people aren’t going to donate because they don’t think you have a chance,” he said. “If you say you have money coming out of your ears, they aren’t going to donate either.”...

Meanwhile, marijuana advocates are facing increasingly well-organized and well-funded opposition. In Massachusetts, the anti-marijuana campaign has garnered the support of Governor Charlie Baker, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and House Speaker Rovert DeLeo. In California, opponents of legalization are gathering donations from police associations, prison guard groups and the Teamsters union. In Arizona, a conservative fundraising firm announced an anonymous donor had pledged $500,000 as a matching gift for all donations the anti-legalization campaign received during the month of May. In Florida, real estate mogul Mel Sembler has pledged to raise at least $10 million to fight the state’s medical marijuana initiative, $2.5 million more than he raised to defeat a similar effort in 2014. And Smart Approaches to Marijuana, or Project SAM, the most prominent anti-marijuana group nationwide, just announced it has raised $300,000 and formed new state partnerships to fight the various 2016 marijuana initiatives....

As the marijuana industry has flourished, Project SAM founder Kevin Sabet thinks the cannabis movement has been exposed to new lines of attack, such as that legalization is becoming all about the business bottom lines and not about social justice. “They have written these initiatives as corporate free-for-alls,” said Sabet. “The old-school pot legalizers who are not really in this for the money, a lot of them are pretty stunned and not sure what to do this year.”

But Troy Dayton, CEO of cannabis investment network the ArcView Group, disagrees. He said the marijuana industry isn’t very involved in the reform initiatives — and he thinks that’s a problem. “Our opposition likes to say this is ‘Big Marijuana’ trying to pass laws,” he said. “I wish that was the case. At least so far, that hasn’t really happened.” Dayton is concerned that there’s a false sense of security in the marijuana movement. “The media has done a very good job of suggesting the marijuana industry is making money hand over fist, so a lot of philanthropists who otherwise might be backing these issues are thinking, ‘Hey, there is an industry now, they will take this the rest of the way,’” he said. “But that is not really happening to enough of a degree to fundamentally move the needle.” For example, while ArcView’s members have together invested more than $70 million in various marijuana companies since 2010, the investor network has only contributed roughly a million dollars to various legalization initiatives in that same period.

According to Dayton, marijuana businesses are struggling with various industry headaches — such as sky-high tax rates and a lack of banking services — that make it unlikely they have loads of excess funds they can donate to political campaigns. But at this point, Dayton thinks that is no excuse. He believes marijuana activists and industry stakeholders alike need to realize that 2016 is the make-or-break year for cannabis reform. “I am out there pounding the pulpit, telling people, ‘Come on, folks, whether you are on the business side or the social justice side or both, now is the time. Whatever you would normally give, give three times that,’” he said. “If we win most of these initiatives, it’s really lights out on marijuana prohibition. But if we lose a significant portion of them, that could mean a much longer fight to ultimately end this disastrous policy.”

June 1, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Seeking any new quantitative or qualitative research on physician engagement with state medical marijuana programs

Image_doctor-marijuana-leaf-001Among the many issues that seem to me to be woefully under-explored in discussions of marijuana reform and policies is the role being played (or not played) by doctors in states with functioning medical marijuana programs.  Ergo, I am seeking, as the title of this post reveals, information from anyone who can help me determine if any new (and rigorous) research is being done in this arena these days. 

I have seen press reports that relatively few doctors are signing up to be a part of formal programming in a number of states.  Those kinds of reports give credence  to complaints I hear from advocates in Ohio that the new bill for medical marijuana in the state will not function well because of the regulatory rules and burdens it will be placing on doctors in order to be able to make a medical marijuana recommendation.  

But I suspect various reports of physician disaffinity for medical marijuana programming may reflect long-enduring beliefs and concerns, especially among old and more "traditional" physicians, that many past claims about marijuana as a wonder drug are based in "snake-oil" type promotion.  Now though, especially with so many states and studies starting to take seriously the potential medical benefits of marijuana (especially in non-smoked forms), I am wondering if doctors, especially younger ones, are becoming more open to considering being involved in medical marijuana programs.

I would be grateful is anyone can point me to any new significant research in this space.

June 1, 2016 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

"Marijuana Enforcement Disparities In California: A Racial Injustice"

The title of this post is the title of this new short new data reprt/analysis released by the Drug Policy Alliance and the ACLU of California. Here are excerpts from the start and end of this little report:

Effective January 1, 2011, California reduced the penalty for possession of one ounce or less of marijuana from a misdemeanor to an infraction.  Subsequently, misdemeanor marijuana arrests plummeted by 86 percent.  Although the penalty does not include jail, the offense is still punishable by up to a $100 fine plus fees, making the actual cost of an infraction much higher.  This can be a substantial burden for young and low-income people.  According to original research presented here, enforcement of marijuana possession — and the economic burden it entails — falls disproportionately on black and Latino people. The disparity is particularly acute for black people and young men and boys....

Infraction data are hard to come by in California.  The demographic profile of people issued marijuana possession infractions in Fresno and Los Angeles, however, demonstrates that enforcement continues to fall disproportionately on black and Latino people, particularly young men and boys.  In Los Angeles and Fresno 90% and 86% of marijuana possession infractions respectively were issued to men or boys.

These findings demonstrate that reducing penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana does not go far enough.  There are still substantial costs associated with an infraction, such as legal fees, court costs, and lost time at school or at work — and the burden of these costs most heavily impact young black men and boys.  While reducing marijuana possession to an infraction has dramatically decreased the number of marijuana arrests in the state, it has not sufficiently reduced the disparate manner in which marijuana laws are enforced.

May 31, 2016 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 30, 2016

In tradition of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, Libertarians nominate for Prez a cannabis businessman in Gary Johnson

926d67549938b727ed1419c8ad3fc0e3_f262For a host of reasons, I am pleased to see the Libertarian Party getting more than its usual attention this election cycle; and, as reported here, this past weekend the Libertarian Party selection Gary Johnson and William Weld to be their Prez and VP candidated for 2016.   Supporters of marijuana reform likely know the name Gary Johnson, and this recent AP article headlined "This marijuana-loving Libertarian staking claim as Trump alternative," highlights some of the reasons why. Here are excerpts:

Johnson is [going to be] relying on an intensifying schedule of media appearances to boost his name recognition in an effort to reach the necessary 15 percent threshold to qualify for the presidential debates this fall.  “We cannot go into a battleground state and compete,” said Johnson’s senior strategist Ron Nielson, citing the high cost of running a campaign in states like Florida or Ohio.  The Johnson campaign will instead focus its resources on cheaper states where libertarians have done well in the past, places like Alaska, maybe New Hampshire, he says.

Yet Trump’s Republican critics don’t necessarily need to find a candidate who can win. Many are seeking a legitimate protest candidate where they could focus their anti-Trump energy. Should that candidate earn even a few percentage points in key states this fall, it could hurt Trump’s chances. “Gary will be an outlet for millions of Americans who just can’t fathom the idea of voting for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump,” said Ed Crane, who co-founded the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute and now runs a super PAC he says may support Johnson “down the road.”...

Johnson represents a set of policies that do not line up perfectly with Republicans or Libertarians. He embraces fiscal conservatism, but not to the lengths that some hardline anti-government libertarians would like. He considers himself a liberal on social issues, supporting same-sex marriage and abortion rights. And he supports a non-interventionalist foreign policy that focuses on America’s challenges at home.

Many know him best for his repeated calls to legalize drugs. Johnson largely focuses his energy on marijuana, but also suggests that concern over narcotics such as heroin are exaggerated compared to the impact of alcohol or even smoking cigarettes. He is a regular marijuana user, noting that he most recently took an edible form of the drug three weeks ago.

“I’m one of the 100 million Americans that do this. If that disqualifies me from being president, so be it,” he told The Associated Press, adding that he recently purchased the drug legally in Colorado but illegally transported it back to his home in New Mexico. “Sure, I’m in the tens of thousands of those that are guilty of that phenomenon,” he says.

He promises not consume marijuana if elected president, however. “I think the American people deserve to know that there will be a steady hand,” he said. “And I would hope that my history regarding this stuff would bear out the fact that I’m a pretty disciplined cat.”

Left out of this story is the fact that Johnson was not so long ago, as reported here, the CEO of Cannabis Sativa Inc.   And, as the title of this post is meant to suggest, that history creates a notable connection between Prez Candidate Johnson and our Founders.  Specifically, although there is much debate over whether and how the Framers of our Constitution used cannabis, I am pretty sure it is widely acknowledged that both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew hemp for sale on their Virginia farms.  Thus, like Johnson, they were both involved in cannabis commerce.

May 30, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, May 28, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 27, 2016

Detailing the big and small positives of marijuana tax revenues for big and small towns in Colorado

Images (14)This new Denver Post piece, headlined "Marijuana sales tax revenue huge boon for Colorado cities," highlights some notable community benefits in those Colorado towns allowing regulated and taxed marijuana sales. Here are excerpts:

From small towns that barely dot the map to the state’s largest urban areas, revenue from retail marijuana sales is helping communities address homelessness, send children to college, patch potholes, secure water rights and fund an array of projects.

Aurora is using $1.5 million of its revenue from pot sales and fees to address its homeless issue. Money also is going to road improvements and a new recreation center. Adams County has earmarked more than $500,000 for scholarships for low-income students. Wheat Ridge keeps its revenue in the city’s general fund, and it’s used in a variety of areas. The same goes for Northglenn, where five marijuana stores generated $730,000 in 2015. The money will go toward water purchases and capital improvements to infrastructure and city facilities.

Although many cities stash the cash in their general funds, Aurora City Councilman Bob Roth, who led a committee that drafted retail marijuana regulations, said it was important to show residents exactly how the money is being spent — especially those who opposed marijuana legalization. “One thing I felt very strongly about was that it not just to go the general fund but kept in a separate bucket so we could show the community what specifically we were doing with it,” Roth said. T

here are 62 cities and 22 counties in Colorado that allow retail marijuana sales, according to the state. Marijuana sales this year are expected to reach $1 billion in Colorado, and local government entities are cashing in. “A lot of communities have struggled to have enough revenue to fill potholes and to keep the street lights on,” said Mike Elliott, executive director of the Marijuana Industry Group. “What we’ve seen out of Aurora is that money going to address homelessness. It’s a great use for the money.”

Henny Lasley, project director for Smart Colorado, a group that advocates for protections for children from marijuana, noted that about 70 percent of communities in the state have opted out of retail marijuana. Lasley said pot proceeds should go toward marijuana education and other efforts to enlighten the public on pot. “We believe that if you are going to collect money from marijuana, let’s do something with marijuana from those taxes,” she said.

In Aurora, the money earmarked to help the homeless will be used to purchase two vans for local nonprofit outreach groups to use to transport people to shelters and for other needs, said Nancy Sheffield, project manager for Aurora’s neighborhood service department. Two outreach workers will be funded with the money for the Comitis Crisis Center and the Aurora Mental Health program. “Our City Council has been very wise in how they’re allocating the revenue,” Sheffield said.

By the end of this year, Aurora expects to see $8.1 million in sales taxes and fees since the first pot shop opened in Aurora in October 2014, city spokeswoman Julie Patterson said. Aside from the $1.5 million for the homeless, about $3.8 million is earmarked for improvements to the East Alameda Avenue and Interstate 225 intersection. Another $2.8 million will go toward bonds for a new recreation center in the growing southeast part of Aurora. And $680,000 will be put in reserve to help outreach programs that work with the city’s needy. Because the number of pot shops is capped at 24 in Aurora, revenue is expected to stabilize going forward, with about $6.4 million in 2017, 2018 and 2019.

Even Pueblo West, which isn’t a town or city but a special district west of Pueblo, is seeing marijuana revenue. Pueblo West received about $200,000 from the county, and it plans to use that to fill pot holes and fix roads. For a district of roughly 28,000 residents that is funded primarily through property taxes, it has a limited revenue source. The money from marijuana sales is a “big deal,” district officials said. Wheat Ridge has five locations that sell recreational marijuana, and four of them also sell medical pot, said city spokeswoman Maureen Harper. She said the city saw a total of $530,105 in sales taxes and fees associated with marijuana sales last year.

That revenue goes directly into Wheat Ridge’s general fund and is not earmarked for any one program. “We treat revenue generated by marijuana like we treat other general fund revenue, and it helps support city operations,” Wheat Ridge Mayor Joyce Jay said. “At this point, I don’t see the number of establishments increasing here in Wheat Ridge.”

In Denver, which has the state’s most extensive recreational and medical marijuana markets, the city took in $29 million last year from all sales by taxes and licensing fees. That money goes into the general fund, and Denver devotes some to ramped-up regulation, enforcement, public health and education efforts — budgeted at $9.1 million this year. It also has dipped into pot taxes to cover higher costs on a recreation center project.

In Northglenn, five recreational marijuana stores generated $730,000 in 2015, spokeswoman Margo Aldrich said. The city also has medical marijuana shops. Northglenn has seen about $3.6 million in total revenue since 2009. The money is used for capital projects, and some is used for purchasing water rights, she said. Elliott said part of the money cities and counties receive is used to properly regulate and license the industry — and that makes communities safer. “There’s a lot of money left over to address safety issues that come up or really take on projects that these local communities do not necessarily have the funds to deal with,” he said. “For some communities, this tax revenue has made a huge difference.”

No matter the size of the community, retail marijuana has been, well, a big hit. For Mountain View, a 12-block enclave nestled among Wheat Ridge, Lakeside and Denver, the extra revenue has been a godsend. Known more for funding its budget through speeding tickets, which Mayor Jeff Kiddie said is not true, the influx of cash is much needed.

The town has two pot shops that both sell recreational and medical marijuana. It uses that revenue to take care of streets, alleys and other improvements. “We have such as small tax base,” said Kiddie, who opposed allowing pot stores in Mountain View. “Medical and retail marijuana have definitely helped the town’s bottom line. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t.”

May 27, 2016 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Taxation information and issues , Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Notable Forbes discussion of "The Five Best Marijuana Jobs"

ImagesRegular readers know I strongly believe that the economic development aspects/consequences  of marijuana reform are very significant and yet too often overlooked.  Consequently, I was intrigued and happy to see this notable new Forbes article about the best marijuana jobs.  Here are excerpts:

The marijuana industry is growing quickly and just as quickly gaining wider societal acceptance.  As such, more people are looking at the cannabis industry as a career choice. Some of the jobs are little out of the ordinary, but that’s probably what draws many workers interested in cannabis jobs. Whether they worked with marijuana in the black market or just want an alternative to the standard cubicle job, thousands are trying to get in.

There are websites with cannabis job listings like Cannajobs and 420careers.  Medical marijuana delivery company GreenRush held a job fair in California in April; 2,700 people attended and 200 jobs were filled. Another event is planned for November 10.

Cannabis company Terra Tech Corp. recently held a job fair in Las Vegas. They ran a quarter page ad and expected about 200 people to show up. They got 2,000 instead. “Most people just want to get into the space,” said CEO Derek Peterson. “They believe in the product.” Peterson said a lot of people came without any experience and since the jobs are unique, they tried to pair existing skills with new job requirements.

He also noted that a lot of people in the 40-50 age group have been aged out of the traditional workforce. “Almost everyone had a bachelor’s degree that we saw,” he said. While some positions like store managers overlap more traditional jobs, others like bud trimmers are truly unique to the space. Here are the top five jobs in the marijuana industry.

Grow Master

The grow master is the person responsible for cultivating various strains of marijuana plants. Peterson likens it to being a master chef. Grow masters are in high demand and it’s a seller’s market. At minimum they can command a salary of $100,000 a year and a percentage of the profit....

Store Managers

Like any retail operation, a medical dispensary or recreational outlet needs a manager. These employees can do very well, especially in profitable stores. At minimum, they can earn $75,000 a year and many get a bonus on top of that based on the store’s sales. When you consider that some stores in California have sales of $3 million to $6 million a year, while some San Francsico Bay area stores do $7 million to $10 million a year, that bonus can be pretty good....

Extraction Technician

Most people only think of marijuana in the plant form, however marijuana extracts are a growing side of the business. These “extract artists” have a unique set of skills. Peterson said many of the people he hires for this job have PhD’s. They can earn between $75,000 and $125,000 a year. Some states don’t like the idea of people smoking pot for medical purposes and like the state of New York have only legalized medical marijuana in the extract form....

Bud Trimmers This is the entry level job working with the plant. It tends to be the lowest paid job in the industry — a bud trimmer in California may make $12-$13 an hour. In Vegas where service jobs are in high demand, $13 an hour is the general wage. Some get paid by the pound and that can run to $100-$200 a pound. In a medical dispensary, a trimmer takes the plant and with little scissors cuts the flower from the stem....

The Owner

While owning a marijuana business sounds like the ultimate counterculture move, it brings a mountain of headaches. Many owners say they don’t make the millions that many people think they do. There are legal and banking headaches, and the regulatory landscape is constantly shifting. The owners don’t get to claim the same business deductions that other business owners get, so the expenses are sky high. Many owners front millions of dollars for years before they ever get to see any profits.

May 27, 2016 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Employment and labor law issues, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 26, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

GOP Congressman Dana Rohrabacher admits currently using topical marijuana to treat his arthritis pain

RohrabacherThe Huffington Post has this notable new article headlined "GOP Congressman Says He Uses Medical Marijuana To Ease Arthritis Pain: The plant helps relieve pain so severe it was waking him up at night." Here are the details:

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), a leading voice for the reform of marijuana laws in the United States, became the first sitting member of Congress in recent history to admit to medical marijuana use.

Rohrabacher, speaking to a group of cannabis activists on Tuesday on Capital Hill, said he has been an avid surfer for about three decades but had not been able to enjoy the sport for about a year and a half due to arthritis pain he’s developed in his shoulder. The pain became so severe that it has disrupted his sleep, the lawmaker said. That is, until he tried medical marijuana.

“I went to one of these hempfests or something like that they had in San Bernardino,” Rohrabacher said, as first reported by Russ Belville at Cannabis Radio.

At the hemp festival, he met a vendor who introduced him to a cannabis-infused topical rub. “This guy was showing me the medical things and all that, and he says, ‘You should try this.’ And it’s a candle and you light the candle, and the wax is in there and it melts down, and then you rub it on whatever you’ve got problems with,” the Republican congressman said.

He finally tried the product a couple of weeks ago, and that was “the first time in a year and a half that I had a decent night’s sleep because the arthritis pain is gone.” The attendees cheered his comments.

Rohrabacher, a vocal supporter for reform of the nation’s marijuana laws, is one of the main sponsors of a measure that blocked the Department of Justice from using funds to target and prosecute medical marijuana patients or businesses who are operating legal in their state. The amendment has been reauthorized for the past two fiscal years.

“Now don’t tell anybody I broke the law, they’ll bust down my door and take whatever’s inside and use it as evidence against me, whatever it is,” Rohrabacher said. “The bottom line is, there’s definitely cannabis in there and it makes sure that I can sleep now.”

This was the first time Rohrabacher has spoken publicly about using medical cannabis, his press secretary Ken Grubbs told The Huffington Post. It was also the first time in recent history that a sitting congressman admitted to using medical marijuana, said Marijuana Majority founder Tom Angell.

“Putting a face on the people who use marijuana will help immensely in the battle to end criminalization and other forms of harmful discrimination,” Angell added. “It’s now going to be much harder for members of Congress, particularly those in the GOP caucus, to vote against medical marijuana, since they now know that one of their friends and colleagues is directly benefiting from it.”

May 24, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (1)

"As more states legalize marijuana, adolescents' problems with pot decline: Fewer adolescents also report using marijuana"

Journal-american-academy-childThe title of this post is the headline of this notable Science Daily release that reports on this notable newly published research in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry that surely should be getting lots and lots of attention from marijuana reform advocates.  Here are the basics via the Science Daily:

A survey of more than 216,000 adolescents from all 50 states indicates the number of teens with marijuana-related problems is declining. Similarly, the rates of marijuana use by young people are falling despite the fact more U.S. states are legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana use and the number of adults using the drug has increased.

Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis examined data on drug use collected from young people, ages 12 to 17, over a 12-year span. They found that the number of adolescents who had problems related to marijuana -- such as becoming dependent on the drug or having trouble in school and in relationships -- declined by 24 percent from 2002 to 2013.

Over the same period, kids, when asked whether they had used pot in the previous 12 months, reported fewer instances of marijuana use in 2013 than their peers had reported in 2002. In all, the rate fell by 10 percent. Those drops were accompanied by reductions in behavioral problems, including fighting, property crimes and selling drugs. The researchers found that the two trends are connected. As kids became less likely to engage in problem behaviors, they also became less likely to have problems with marijuana.

The study's first author, Richard A. Grucza, PhD, an associate professor of psychiatry, explained that those behavioral problems often are signs of childhood psychiatric disorders. "We were surprised to see substantial declines in marijuana use and abuse," he said. "We don't know how legalization is affecting young marijuana users, but it could be that many kids with behavioral problems are more likely to get treatment earlier in childhood, making them less likely to turn to pot during adolescence. But whatever is happening with these behavioral issues, it seems to be outweighing any effects of marijuana decriminalization."

The new study is published in the June issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. The data was gathered as part of a confidential, computerized study called the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. It surveys young people from different racial, ethnic and income groups in all 50 states about their drug use, abuse and dependence.

In 2002, just over 16 percent of those 12 to 17 reported using marijuana during the previous year. That number fell to below 14 percent by 2013. Meanwhile, the percentage of young people with marijuana-use disorders declined from around 4 percent to about 3 percent.

At the same time, the number of kids in the study who reported having serious behavior problems -- such as getting into fights, shoplifting, bringing weapons to school or selling drugs -- also declined over the 12-year study period. "Other research shows that psychiatric disorders earlier in childhood are strong predictors of marijuana use later on," Grucza said. "So it's likely that if these disruptive behaviors are recognized earlier in life, we may be able to deliver therapies that will help prevent marijuana problems -- and possibly problems with alcohol and other drugs, too."

May 24, 2016 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Science | Permalink | Comments (0)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Changes made Tuesday morning:

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

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

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

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

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

"Marijuana Legalization & Taxation: Positive Revenue Implications for New Jersey"

AOiGwZE3The title of this post is the title of this new report produced by Gargen State public policy groups. This ACLU of New Jersey press release, which is subtitled "NJ Policy Perspective & NJ United for Marijuana Reform analysis projects $300 million in annual sales tax revenue to come with legalization for adults," provides this context and highlights:

New Jersey would bring in hundreds of millions of dollars in new revenue by legalizing marijuana, a new report released by New Jersey Policy Perspective and New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform has found. Legalization, taxation, and regulation of marijuana for use by adults aged 21 and older would ultimately add an estimated $300 million in sales tax to state coffers rather than divert consumers to the illegal market, the two policy-focused groups said at a Trenton press conference.

"The lessons from around the country are loud and clear: marijuana legalization makes fiscal sense, and it makes practical sense," said New Jersey Policy Perspective Policy Analyst Brandon McKoy, a co-author of the report. "Expanding economic opportunities and addressing our persistent budget deficit aren't the only reasons to legalize and regulate marijuana, but they are extremely persuasive ones."

The report estimates that New Jersey would bring in at least $300 million annually if marijuana legalization were fully implemented, using graduated tax increases over a three-year period, going from 5 percent, to 15 percent, to the final rate of 25 percent. The first-of-its-kind report in New Jersey relies on conservative estimates, predicting the tax revenue only from marijuana sales. The report's projections are based on the experiences of other states, current information on marijuana users in New Jersey and the surrounding area, current pricing, and the tax structure of other states as they relate to New Jersey's interests.

Including a small percentage of New Yorkers and Pennsylvanians from counties neighboring New Jersey who are expected to participate in the legal, regulated market, the state could take in approximately $305.4 million once the sales tax is fully scaled to 25 percent, the report said. The report estimates that approximately 343,100 New Jerseyans would participate in a legal marketplace, spending $1.2 billion each year. Currently, New Jerseyans spend more than $850 million on marijuana each year. The calculation of tax revenue was based on a price of $350 per ounce, similar to the current estimated price of $343 per ounce in New Jersey.

Legalization would bring other economic benefits not covered in the report, such as job creation, growth in business, research and development, and boosts in property, agricultural, business, and income taxes. In addition, it would increase public safety, protect young people, save resources, advance racial justice, bolster public health, and reduce the strain on the police, corrections, and the criminal justice system, the report argues. New Jersey arrests more people for marijuana possession each year than for any other crime. A June 2015 Rutgers-Eagleton poll found that 58 percent of New Jerseyans support legalizing, taxing and regulating marijuana for use by adults aged 21 and older.

May 24, 2016 in Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Taxation information and issues , Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Could Michigan be among the states voting on legalizing marijuana for recreational use in November 2016?

Download (17)In looking at this fall's election as a huge one for the future of marijuana law, I have had my eye on five states in which it seemed very likely voters would be considering recreational reforms via ballot initiative: Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada. But this local article, headlined "Marijuana advocates rally at Michigan Capitol in final push for petition signatures," suggests that there is a  chance Michigan voters also might get an opportunity to speak directly on this issue come November.  Here are the basic details:

Supporters of a ballot drive to legalize recreational marijuana use in Michigan lined the Capitol lawn Friday afternoon in a final effort to round up signatures and denounce recent legislative efforts to change state signature gathering law. Jeffrey Hank chairs MILegalize, the group behind the ballot drive. Prior to the rally, he said the group had collected a total 315,000 signatures, which had not yet been vetted.

The purpose of the rally was to bring in any outstanding petition sheets and make one final push for signatures before the June 1 deadline in the same place the drive began last June, Hank added. The group needs at least 252,523 valid signatures to get on the November 2016 statewide ballot, which would put the question of whether recreational use, purchase and possession of marijuana for people over 21 in Michigan should be legal before voters.

One notable speaker at the rally was Rep. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, who recently introduced legislation that would decriminalize marijuana in Michigan and has long advocated for reforms to marijuana law. He told rally attendees that in all of his experience gathering signatures for various ballot issues, he's never worked on an issue like marijuana legalization, because most people know exactly how they feel about the issue one way or the other. "Most people are grabbing it out of your hands — they want to sign, they want to move this issue forward," Irwin said. "It strikes right to the heart of how people feel about government and what they want their government doing."

Irwin said, to cheers from the crowd, that he would prefer the government paved roads and adequately funded schools instead of wasting time and money prosecuting Michigan citizens for cannabis....

Addressing rally attendees, Hank said this is the closest a statewide recreational legalization attempt has come to succeeding in Michigan. He said the legislature's efforts to change the law [about signature gathering] at this stage merely showed lawmakers were scared of how far they'd come. "If we get this close and we fail, we will have missed a historic opportunity," Hank told the crowd.

I know that in Ohio it is not uncommon for at least 25% and sometimes as many as 50% of collected signatures in support of a ballot initiative to eventually be deemed invalid. So this article's reporting on the signature gathering leads me to think it is still not likely a recreational reform initiative will make it to Michigan voters this year. Still, especially given that Michigan was the first rust-belt state to enact significant medical marijuana reforms via ballot initiative, this state is still one worth wathcing closely in the months (and years) ahead.

May 22, 2016 in Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Notable commentary highlights how "Legalized Pot, Free Trade" could significantly improve US-Mexico interactions

USThis notable new New York Times commentary, authored by Ioan Grillomay and headlined "Legalized Pot, Free Trade," highlights some international benefits that could and should flow from modenr marijuana reform efforts. Here are excerpts:

Speaking last month at the United Nations special session on drugs, President Enrique Peña Nieto said he wanted to relax the nation’s marijuana laws.  He has since sent Mexico’s Congress a bill to legalize medicine that contains cannabis, allow people to carry an ounce of marijuana without being prosecuted, and free some prisoners convicted on marijuana charges.  “We Mexicans know all too well the range and the defects of prohibitionist and punitive policies, and of the so-called war on drugs that has prevailed for 40 years,” he said.

Mr. Peña Nieto is new to the drug-reform game. Only last year, he said he was against legalizing marijuana, and at one point said he was not even going to attend the United Nations session.

What happened?  He seems to have realized (or been advised) that it is better to be on the side of inevitable change.  The proposal follows the rapid loosening of drug laws in the United States: Four states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical and recreational marijuana, and 20 more states now permit it as medicine.  The president’s shift also follows a November ruling by Mexico’s Supreme Court, which held that the government had no constitutional right to arrest people for their “civil right” of growing cannabis.

And more is coming soon.  In November, Californians could vote on an initiative to legalize marijuana.  If America’s richest state, and one on the border, votes yes, it will have a huge impact on Mexico.  Why would the Mexican government want to crack down on traffickers taking marijuana into California if it were fully legal there?

Various Mexican politicians and activists have come out in favor of wider marijuana legalization. Among them, the opposition senator Mario Delgado has proposed the decriminalization and regulation of cultivation, production and sales across Mexico. The former president Vicente Fox also supports this idea. Mr. Peña Nieto’s proposals make sense, but there’s even more to be done. The current bill would effectively allow cannabis consumption, but it would leave most of the production and selling of it to the black market — which means largely in the hands of drug cartels.

Marijuana reform in the United States has already eaten into the business of Mexican cartels. In 2011, the year before Colorado and Washington State legalized it, the United States border patrol seized 2.5 million pounds of cannabis coming from Mexico.  Last year, with marijuana legal in four states and the District of Columbia, that had fallen to 1.5 million pounds.

However, even the latest number indicates that a significant amount of marijuana is still being smuggled north. The profits pay the cartels’ assassins, as well as corrupt police officers and soldiers, who discard piles of bodies across Mexico. Amid these changing dynamics, it becomes more and more pointless for Mexican soldiers (underwritten by the United States, through the Merida Initiative) to keep up the ritual of burning marijuana crops. What is needed, then, is for both countries to move from the current mishmash of laws toward the inevitable conclusion: that marijuana becomes a legalized product that can be traded over borders.

The same market forces that shape the trade in liquor or tobacco will shape the trade in marijuana. Like those, it generates major profits for the formal economy.  A research group predicts the legalized marijuana market in the United States will be worth more than $6 billion this year, rising to more than $20 billion by 2020.  That could be a boon for the Mexican and United States economies.

A regulated marijuana market won’t suddenly end the bloodshed in Mexico. Cartels would still traffic cocaine, heroin and methamphetamines. The cartels have also diversified to kidnapping, extortion and even oil theft, crimes that can be dealt with only by markedly improved Mexican police forces. But marijuana reform will help immensely. Many in the ranks of Mexican cartels take their first step into the crime world by growing, smuggling or selling pot. That link would be cut, and legal jobs created. Mexican security forces could finally leave the marijuana issue behind to focus on real problems.

The United Nations special session on drugs was heavy on empty talk, but several positive things came out of it. One was that there is no appetite to make countries abide by the United Nations treaties that prohibit the legalization of marijuana. Another is that a range of voices across the world are calling for a new approach to drug policy. The growth of a legalized, binational marijuana market would be a step toward turning those calls into reality.

May 21, 2016 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)