Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

A Member of the Law Professor Blogs Network

Thursday, August 13, 2015

International Centre for Science in Drug Policy releases "State of the Evidence: Cannabis Use and Regulation"

Download (10)I am very pleased to see that the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy (ICSDP), a group of scientists and academics who seek to "ensure that policy responses to the many problems posed by illicit drugs are informed by the best available scientific evidence," has released this effective and timely new report titled "State of the Evidence: Cannabis Use and Regulation."  Here is the report's introduction:

The regulation of recreational cannabis markets has become an increasingly important policy issue in a number of jurisdictions. Colorado and Washington State made headlines in 2012 when they became the first jurisdictions in the world to legalize and regulate the adult use and sale of cannabis for non-medical purposes.  In 2013, Uruguay became the first country to legalize and regulate recreational cannabis markets.  Momentum towards regulation continued in the United States in 2014 with successful ballot initiatives in Alaska, Oregon, and the District of Columbia. Globally, the issue of cannabis regulation is front and center in a growing number of jurisdictions, including Canada, Jamaica, Italy, Spain, several Latin American countries, and a number of additional U.S. states, including California, set to vote on legalization initiatives in 2016.

Unsurprisingly, given the robust global conversation around the regulation of recreational cannabis markets, claims about the impacts of cannabis use and regulation are increasingly part of the public discourse.  Unfortunately, though, these claims are often unsupported by the available scientific evidence.  Another reoccurring problem in the public discourse is the selective inclusion of research studies based on their support for a predetermined narrative.  The intentional exclusion of studies with contradictory findings does not allow for an objective review and analysis of all the evidence.  This “cherry picking” of the evidence is a routine practice that distorts public understanding.  By outlining the current state of all the scientific evidence on common cannabis claims, State of the Evidence: Cannabis Use and Regulation strives to ensure that evidence, rather than rhetoric, plays a central role in policymaking around this important issue.

The harms of misrepresenting the scientific evidence on cannabis should not be overlooked.  Given that policy decisions are influenced by public opinion and media reports, public discourse needs to be well informed.  By addressing knowledge gaps with scientific findings, the ICSDP hopes to dispel myths about cannabis use and regulation, and ensure that the scientific evidence on these topics is accurately represented.  Only then can evidence-based policy decisions be made.

Readers of this report will notice three repeating themes emerge through the discussion of the scientific evidence on common cannabis claims.

First, many of the claims confuse correlation and causation.  Although scientific evidence may find associations between two events, this does not indicate that one necessarily caused the other.  Put simply, correlation does not equal causation.  This is a commonly made mistake when interpreting scientific evidence in all fields, and is unsurprisingly a recurring source of confusion in the discourse on cannabis use and regulation.

Second, for several of these claims, the inability to control for a range of variables (“confounders”) means that in many cases, we cannot conclude that a particular outcome was caused by cannabis use or regulation.  Unless scientists can remove all other possible explanations, the evidence cannot conclusively say that one specific explanation is true.

Third, many of the claims cannot be made conclusively as there is insufficient evidence to support them.  Findings from a single study or a small sample cannot be generalized to entire populations.  This is especially pronounced for claims related to cannabis regulation, as not enough time has passed since the regulation of recreational cannabis in Colorado, Washington State, and Uruguay to examine many of the impacts of these policy changes.

These three common pitfalls are important to take into account when reading media reports and advocacy materials that suggest scientists have conclusively made some finding related to cannabis use or regulation.  In many cases, due to the reasons outlined above, this will actually result in a misrepresentation of the scientific evidence.

State of the Evidence: Cannabis Use and Regulation is comprised of two sections: Common Claims on Cannabis Use and Common Claims on Cannabis Regulation.

Common Claims on Cannabis Use presents evidence on frequently heard claims about cannabis use, including claims on the addictive potential of cannabis, cannabis as a “gateway” drug, the potency of cannabis, and the impact of cannabis use on the lungs, heart, and brain (in terms of IQ, cognitive functioning, and risk of schizophrenia).

Common Claims on Cannabis Regulation presents evidence on frequently heard claims about the impacts of cannabis regulation, including the impact of regulation on cannabis availability, impaired driving, the use of cannabis, drug crime, drug tourism, and “Big Marijuana.”

For each claim, the relevant available scientific evidence is presented and the strength of the scientific evidence in support of the claim is determined.  Readers will notice that none of the claims are strongly supported by the scientific evidence, reinforcing the significant misrepresentation of evidence on cannabis use and regulation.

We hope that the evidence contained in this report meaningfully contributes to the global conversation around cannabis policy and helps policymakers, as well as general readers, separate scientific evidence from conjecture.

August 13, 2015 in Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Science, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Proposal to legalize marijuana in Ohio qualifies for Nov 2015 ballot

Regular readers know I have lately given a lot of attention to discussion and debate over marijuana reform in Ohio not only because it is the state in which I live, but also because there seemed to be a real chance for the next big popular vote on marijuana reform to take place in the Buckeye State.  And now, as this local article highlights, it is official that "Ohio voters will decide this fall whether to legalize marijuana in the Buckeye State for recreational and medical use." Here are the basics:

ResponsibleOhio's marijuana legalization constitutional amendment was certified Wednesday by the Ohio secretary of state.  It will appear as Issue 3 on the statewide ballot for the general election on Nov. 3.  If approved by voters, Ohio would be the fifth state to legalize marijuana for recreational use and the first to do so without first having a medical marijuana program....

ResponsibleOhio had to submit at least 305,591 valid signatures of registered Ohio voters, meeting a certain threshold in 44 of Ohio's 88 counties.  The group initially fell short of that goal but was able to exceed it with a second batch of signatures.  Of the 91,541 supplemental signatures submitted by ResponsibleOhio, 44,185 were determined valid.  That number was added to the 276,082 valid signatures submitted on June 30 for a total of 320,267 valid signatures.  The group reported spending nearly $2.5 million through June to collect signatures.

The issue now heads to the Ohio Ballot Board, a bipartisan panel led by Secretary of State Jon Husted, which will write the amendment summary for the ballot.  The amendment would allow adults age 21 and older to buy, possess and grow marijuana in limited amounts. Commercial marijuana, which would be taxed, could only be grown on 10 pot farms owned by campaign investors. Tax revenues would go toward local governments, cannabis research and drug abuse and addiction treatment.

Anti-drug organizations and marijuana advocates have criticized ResponsibleOhio's plan, which opponents say would cement a monopoly on pot in the Ohio Constitution.

The marijuana legalization amendment will appear on the ballot after a competing issue sponsored by state lawmakers. Issue 2 would prohibit language granting "a monopoly, oligopoly or cartel" in the Ohio Constitution. Husted and attorneys for state lawmakers have said Issue 2 would trump the marijuana amendment, even if both passed on Election Day.

Issue 2 would require future amendments that propose monopolies or oligopolies to be posed as two questions on the same ballot -- first, to suspend the monopoly rules and second, to approve the measure.

August 12, 2015 in Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Ohio Auditor draws fascinating parallel between margarine and marijuana prohibitions in Ohio

Images (9)The state-wide elected (Republican) Auditor of Ohio, Dave Yost, has penned this fascinating new commentary headlined "Ohio marijuana proposal echo cautionary tale of margarine prohibition." The whole piece merits a full read, and here are some of the historical insights and lessons Auditor Yost presents:

Margarine prohibition ended in Ohio via the ballot box in 1949.  How it happened sheds some light on the attempts to repeal marijuana prohibition this year.

Oleomargarine, as it was known at the dawn of the 20th century, was invented in France as a result of a prize offered for the invention of a cheap substitute for butter. The invention spread quickly to the United States....

[The invention caused] alarm among Wisconsin dairy farmers who correctly concluded that a tasty, less expensive alternative to their butter would create a drop in sales and cut into their income.  Threatened by the competition, they won passage of new laws banning the sale of yellow oleomargarine.  In 1890, Ohio enacted its own prohibition on yellow oleomargarine.  Plain white oleo was legal – only the kinds that looked like butter were against the law.

White oleo could be sold with yellow dye packets that could be mixed in at home.  The additional labor, at a time before power mixers and food processors, was not well received in Ohio's kitchens.   The end result was frequently a swirled effect, yellow and white. At least it didn't look like rendered pig fat.  (That's what lard is, of course.)

The matter was challenged in court as an unconstitutional taking under the Fifth Amendment, but the U.S. Supreme Court in 1903 held that the Fifth Amendment did not apply to the states, only the federal government.

So, aggrieved Ohioans turned to their legislature, seeking relief.  Year after long year, they were whipped by the powerful dairy lobby – a potent political force at a time when every county had at least one representative in the House, no matter how small its population.

The political churn made Ohioans burn with passion – they yearned to keep more of what they earned by purchasing cheaper butter substitute.  Finally, they turned to the initiative process, collected petition signatures, and placed the issue on the 1949 November ballot, ending prohibition against yellow oleo once and for all.

Today, the self-proclaimed ResponsibleOhio is seeking an end to marijuana prohibition through the initiative process – but with a twist.  If approved by voters, it would write into the Ohio Constitution the location of ten farms that would be allowed to grow marijuana, exclusively.

A business plan shouldn't be written into the constitution.  Even if you're for ending prohibition – of oleo or marijuana – writing into the constitution an exclusive license to make the newly legalized product is a bad idea.  It wasn't needed for oleo legalization, and it's not needed for marijuana legalization either.

A legalized, properly licensed market should be available to all comers, not just the few with the money to enshrine into the Ohio Constitution a monopoly for themselves. Oleo prohibition ended at the hands of the voters – and without the creation of a cartel of rich guys to control the market.  If it is the judgment of the voters of Ohio that marijuana prohibition should end, the ResponsibleOhio amendment is the wrong way to go about it.

I find this commentary fascinating not only because I did not know Ohio's margarine prohibition history, but also because it suggests many legal reform lessons.  In my view, this Ohio margerine prohibition history highlights that: (1) even when lots of citizens desire a product, entrenched economic and social interests and lobbyists can get Ohio legislators to enact big-government, market-imparing prohibitions placing the short-term interests of insiders over the long-term interests of citizens, and (2) because entrenched insiders have power and influence in Ohio, citizens outsiders will sometimes have to go directy to the people to amend Ohio law in order to reflect the long-term interests of Ohioans rather than the short-term interests of entrenched insiders.

I am an advocate of marijuana reform in  part because I see the development of ballot-driven reform efforts in Ohio and some other states to be a (healthy) reaction to entrenched insiders failing to respond properly to the citizenry's views on both medical and recreational marijuana.  I believe the controversial ResponsibleOhio reform model emerged (and could become Ohio constitutional law) primarily because the Ohio General Assembly for years  failed to even consider any kind of medical marijuana reform (even as nearly 40 states and many members of Congress now have come to understand the potential benefits of canabis  for those suffering from chronic pain or severe seizure disorders or PTSD).  

Thanks to Auditor Yost, I now know entrenched anti-margarine interests required the Ohio people to move forward with prohibition repeal via initiative back in the 1940s .  Now,  65 years later, Ohio history is repeating itself as entrenched anti-marijuana interests are requiring the Ohio people to move forward with desired prohibition repeal via initiative.  And even if the ResponsibleOhio model does not in 2015 succeed in creating the kind of "legalized, properly licensed market" that Auditor Yost and the citizens of Ohio seem eager to consider, I am cautiously hopeful that other outsider groups will continue in Ohio (and elsewhere) to mobilize citizens to support personal freedom over prohibition, legal markets over black markets, economic potential over problematic paternalism.

August 9, 2015 in Food and Drink, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, August 8, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 7, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Notable developments in dispute over meaning and application of Section 538 limiting DOJ funding

As some readers may know, Section 538 of a spending bill passed late last year by Congress forbids the use of money by the Department of Justice to interfere with State laws implementing medical marijuana programs.  The meaning and application of this federal spending limitation on DOJ has been the subject of much dispute and some notable litigation.  And now, thanks to postings at this marijuana news site, there are two notable recent developments in this arena:

The first item linked above concerns this notable letter from two members of Congress to the Justice Department's Inspector General concerning Section 538's application and interpretation by DOJ (and which has been reported via various sources).  The second item is, as it indicates, an "exclusive," though I see in it an effort to make a bit too much out of some seemingly not-all-that-shocking DOJ advocacy and lawyering.

August 5, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Study finds no link between teen marijuana use, mental health issues"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable Fox News piece reporting on notable new research published by the American Physiological Association.  Here are the basic details:

A new study reports that chronic marijuana use in teenage boys does not appear to be linked to later physical or mental health issues such as depression, psychotic symptoms or asthma. The study, published by the American Physiological Association, did not include teenage girls.

Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and Rutgers University compiled data by tracking 408 males from adolescence into their mid-30s. The participants were placed into four groups based on their reported marijuana use: low or non-users, early chronic users, participants who only smoked during adolescence, and those who began using marijuana late in their teens and continued through adulthood. Early chronic users reported higher marijuana use, which increased in their teens to a peak of more than 200 days per year on average when they were 22 years old, the news release said.

The study was an offshoot of the Pittsburg Youth Study, which tracked 14-year-old male students in Pittsburgh public schools in the late 1980s, according to a news release. Participants were surveyed annually or semiannually, and a follow up survey was conducted in 2009-2010 when the volunteers were 36 years old.

Based on the results of prior studies, authors expected to find a link between teen marijuana use and the later development of psychotic symptoms, cancer, asthma or respiratory problems but found none, according to a news release. “What we found was a little surprising,” lead researcher Jordan Bechtold, a psychology research fellow at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, said in the release. “There were no differences in any of the mental or physical health outcomes that we measured regardless of the amount of frequency of marijuana used during adolescence.”

August 5, 2015 in Medical community perspectives, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Science | Permalink | Comments (0)

Will more than a half-dozen states have legalization initiatives on the ballot in 2016?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this report that "two groups hoping to legalize marijuana in Massachusetts in 2016 will formally file the language of their proposed ballot initiatives with state Attorney General Maura Healey today." Adding the Bay State to those with active legalization initiative efforts afoot leads me, aided by this additional report, to arrive at this list of states that may well have its voters considering full marijuana legalization at the same time they are picking our next president:

  1. Arizona
  2. California
  3. Maine
  4. Massachusetts
  5. Michigan
  6. Missouri
  7. Nevada
  8. Ohio

For a variety of reasons, possible adoption of full legalization California would be the biggest marijuana reform story to watch during the 2016 cycle.  But the potential impact of initiative reform efforts in traditional swing states like Michigan, Missouri, Nevada and Ohio would also be worth watching closely in conjunction with broader election dynamics.  

August 5, 2015 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 3, 2015

"Is it time to legalize marijuana in sports?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some prior related posts on NFL players and marijuana use:

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

Sunday, August 2, 2015

"2016: The Marijuana Election"

Political-collage-croppedThe title of this post is the headline of this notable new article appearing in a special edition of Newsweek titled "Weed 2.0." Here is how it gets started:

In the past few years, the U.S. has been steadily growing support for marijuana reform. From the presidential candidates to the general public, this progressive attitude has become a hot topic for debate, and as an election year approaches, everyone—from governors to legislators to those who would be president—seems to have an opinion on the issue.

Though public opinion is shifting toward embracing cannabis reform, presidential candidates are a little more hesitant to jump on the bandwagon. Of the candidates who have expressed interest in running for the 2016 presidential nomination, only three support radical federal reform as of press time. One candidate is Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who is in favor of decriminalization and medical marijuana use and open to federal legalization. Alongside him is Democratic candidate Lincoln Chafee. Having already signed marijuana decriminalization laws on a state level, the former Rhode Island governor admits recreational use could be good for tax revenues. Still, both Chafee and Sanders have made it clear they will continue to monitor Colorado before making any major decisions. Finally, Donald Trump expressed interest in legalizing drugs back in 2011 but as of press time has not released further statements on the matter.

A handful of candidates are open to medical marijuana legislation but are against recreational use. Once a staunch opponent of cannabis reform, Hillary Clinton has since become more receptive—a change from her 2007 stance against decriminalization. Now, the former secretary of state and perceived Democratic front-runner believes state governments have the right to set their own laws and is open to medical marijuana use. All the same, she maintains she has never tried cannabis herself. “I didn’t do it when I was young; I’m not going to start now,” she told CNN. Like Clinton, Democratic candidate Martin O’Malley has softened over the years. Previously known for his firm opposition to drugs, the Maryland governor has since become open to moderate marijuana reforms, such as decriminalization and a program for very limited medical marijuana distribution.

Republican candidate Rand Paul is also open to limited legislation, having expressed interest in scaling back the war on drugs; in March, he signed a bill to curb the federal government’s role in medical marijuana laws. Fellow GOP candidate Lindsey Graham is also receptive to the benefits of medical marijuana but has articulated resistance to federal legalization. Bobby Jindal was supportive of medical initiatives in Louisiana. Meanwhile, Dr. Ben Carson is skeptical of medical marijuana but has not explicitly come out against it.

Most of the current Republican candidates are against legalization—but where some believe in the individual state’s prerogative to decide its own legislation, others believe the federal government has the final word, pitting a classic conservative issue, states’ rights, against the decidedly un-Republican idea of federal dictation.

Though Rick Perry has expressed clear resistance to federal legalization, he is a strong proponent of individual state rights. In an interview with talk radio host Hugh Hewitt, Perry said, “I don’t agree with those decisions that were made by the state of Colorado or Washington, but I will defend it to my death, if you will, to allow them to make those decisions.”

Fellow candidates Ted Cruz and George Pataki echo this approach. Like Perry, they strongly oppose marijuana legalization but agree that states are entitled to make their own decisions. Despite the traditional Republican trend toward this kind of states’ rights rhetoric, Cruz has been critical of Obama’s leniency in allowing states to dictate their own cannabis laws, and Pataki is wary of the ramifications of individual state legislation with respect to neighboring states and youth. Both candidates admit to having tried cannabis when they were younger.

During his time as Florida governor, Jeb Bush spoke against a medical marijuana bill—but nonetheless supported the state’s right to decide the issue itself. He, too, admits to having smoked cannabis when he was younger.

Marco Rubio, Chris Christie and Carly Fiorina oppose legalization, medical use and decriminalization. Though Rubio has declined to comment on his own history with weed, Fiorina claims she never had any interest in marijuana, even when she was battling cancer. Christie was opposed to the medical legislation in his state.

Perhaps some of the strongest opponents of marijuana reform among those running are Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum, both of whom oppose marijuana reform on a federal level. Unlike their fellow GOP candidates, Huckabee and Santorum do not believe the states have the right to make their own laws. In a statement he posted on Facebook, Huckabee wrote that Colorado’s tax revenues came at a severe social cost. Meanwhile, Santorum believes the states that have legalized marijuana use are in violation of federal law. As he explained in an interview with Hugh Hewitt, “I think federal laws should be enforced, and I think Colorado is violating the federal law.... The federal law is there for a reason, and the states shouldn’t have the option to violate federal law. As Abraham Lincoln said, you know, states don’t have the right to wrong.”

August 2, 2015 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

A doctor's unique perspective on what doctors can learn from medical marijuana

I just got around to reading this fascinating New York Times op-ed piece authored by David Casarett, headlined "What I Learned at the Weed Dispensary."  I recommend the full piece, and here are passages that especially caught my attention:

I met Robin and many others like her at a California medical marijuana clinic where I was doing research for a book.  She was one of almost a dozen patients seeking recommendation letters that would let them buy marijuana at designated dispensaries. I asked how marijuana helped her.  “I can’t live without it,” she told me.  She said it helped her sleep, and it relieved the constant pain in her joints.

But Robin was most eager to talk about how medical marijuana put her in charge.  She can decide whether to use it, when to use it and how much she needs.  She doesn’t have to rely on a doctor.  “I’m in control,” she said....

Many people with serious illnesses turn to medical marijuana because they’re not getting the careful, comprehensive treatment they need for symptoms like pain or nausea or anxiety.  That was certainly true for Robin, whose physicians didn’t seem to have the time or the skills to help her.  

As a palliative care physician, every day I see firsthand the suffering my patients have experienced, and the lengths to which they’ve gone to manage their symptoms and control their lives.  They stockpile medications in case their pain increases.  And some buy illegal drugs on the street because their physicians won’t prescribe opioids.  So is it any wonder that people like Robin with serious illnesses want to take matters into their own hands?

Yet it seems that many of my physician colleagues haven’t considered the possibility that patients are turning to medical marijuana because the health care system has failed them.  In general, their reaction to medical marijuana has been one of detached amusement, tinged with avuncular concern.  And when they recognize the challenges that patients like Robin face, they point out that they don’t have enough time in a typical 15­-minute visit to deliver the kind of personalized care that Robin needed.

Fortunately, Robin’s story offers solutions. I’ve identified at least three lessons the medical marijuana industry holds for our health care system. And none of them require doctors to spend any more time with patients.

First, we should give patients a chance to learn from one another....

Second, if physicians can’t spend more time with patients — and, in general, they can’t — we should give patients more time with other office staff members....

Third, we should give patients more ability to manage their treatment. What Robin wanted was a chance to treat her symptoms in her own way, using strategies that worked for her. She wanted to try, and maybe fail, and try again. She wanted to be in charge.

August 2, 2015 in Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, August 1, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"D.A.R.E. accidentally endorses marijuana legalization"

The title of this post is the headline of this new Washington Times article, which I find esepcially amusing because I did not think it was possible to "accidentally endorse" anything.  Impossibilities notwithstanding, here are the details:

The substance abuse prevention education program D.A.R.E. says it has not changed its stance against marijuana after it accidentally published a post supporting its legalization.

The post, titled “Purchasing marijuana puts kids at risk,” was a letter to the editor published in The Columbus Dispatch on Monday.  It argues that laws criminalizing marijuana make it more accessible to minors.  “I know from enforcing senseless marijuana laws that children only are being put in more danger when marijuana is kept illegal,” Carlis McDerment, a former deputy sheriff, argued in the letter.  “The goal of prohibiting marijuana was to eradicate its use, but in reality, the drug has become infinitely harder for law enforcement to control.”

D.A.R.E. has since removed the post from its website, but not before some outlets reported on the group’s apparent reversal in ideology, The Huffington Post reported. On Tuesday, the group told Washington Post writer Christopher Ingraham that the post was a mistake and “we do not support legalization.”

Ron Brogan, D.A.R.E. regional director, told The Huffington Post on Friday that “a service we use put this post up in error” and “we have not changed our stance that we are opposed to marijuana legalization.”

August 1, 2015 in Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 31, 2015

Is Congress in the midst of a "summer fling with marijuana"?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this lengthy new Politico article, headline "Congress’ Summer Fling With Marijuana:How Congress turned on the DEA and embraced weed." Here is an excerpt from the first part of the article:

In May, the Senate made history by voting in favor of the first pro-marijuana measure ever offered in that chamber to allow the Veterans Administration to recommend medical marijuana to veterans. Then when June rolled around, it was time for the House to pass its appropriations bill for Commerce, Justice and Science. That’s when things got interesting. The DEA got its budget cut by $23 million, had its marijuana eradication unit’s budget slashed in half and its bulk data collections program shut down. Ouch.

In short, April was a bad month for the DEA; May was historically bad; but June was arguably the DEA’s worst month since Colorado went legal 18 months ago — a turn of events that was easy to miss with the news crammed with tragic shootings, Confederate flags, Obamacare, gay marriage, a papal encyclical and the Greece-Euro drama. July hasn’t been any different, with the legalization movement only gaining steam in both chambers of Congress.

The string of setbacks, cuts and handcuffs for the DEA potentially signals a new era for the once untouchable law enforcement agency — a sign that the national reconsideration of drug policy might engulf and fundamentally alter DEA’s mission. “The DEA is no longer sacrosanct,” Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) tells Politico.

The national tide is clearly not in the DEA’s favor. Since Colorado legalized recreational marijuana in January 2014, three additional states have followed suit with full legal weed; the District of Columbia’s fight to legalize continues; the number of medical marijuana states has grown to 23; 14 states have legalized nonpsychoactive CBD oil; and 13 states have legalized industrial hemp, spurring a rapidly expanding legal market for a plant long demonized by the DEA.

At the same time, a national debate about the high costs of sending millions of people — many of them young black and Hispanic men — to prison for nonviolent marijuana offenses has led to increasing questions about whether the zero-tolerance enforcement favored by DEA is the right way to proceed.

That marijuana reform is moving along in Congress at all is a sign of just how far — and fast — the landscape has shifted. Much of the recent uptick of reform voices are actually coming from Republicans, long tough-on-crime legislators who were stalwart opponents of marijuana. In a sign of just how far the sands have shifted, Sen. Lindsay Graham, a Republican candidate for president, tells Politico that he believes, “Medical marijuana holds promise.”

It’s no longer political suicide to be seen on Capitol Hill as backing drug reform. “There clearly is momentum, absolutely,” says Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), a former Air Force JAG officer who replaced Henry Waxman as the congressman from Beverly Hills. “It’s the first time we’ve ever been able to show momentum in Congress,” Dan Riffle of the Marijuana Policy Project tells Politico.

The looming cuts has the Justice Department issuing dire warnings: “If enacted, the House budget would cause DEA to experience a significant shortfall in their FY16 budget that would severely inhibit their ability to carry out their mission of stopping the manufacture and distribution of illicit drugs,” says Patrick Rodenbush, a spokesman for DOJ. But unlike such dire warnings in the past, when Congress could be assured of protecting funding for a law enforcement agency seen for decades as key to winning the War on Drugs, the shine has now clearly come off DEA — and that means the agency’s problems might just be beginning.

July 31, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 30, 2015

"Why marijuana legalization is the rare issue that divides the 2016 Republican presidential field"

The title of this post is the headline of this new commentary by Paul Waldman at The Week. Here are excerpts: 

Republicans, as everyone knows, are advocates of "states' rights," the theory being that power residing in the hands of the federal government is inherently suspect, while power spread out among 50 smaller governments is inherently virtuous — or at least more so. After all, aren't states "laboratories of democracy," where all kinds of interesting experimentation can take place and the best ideas can then bubble up to the rest of the country?

Well...sometimes. The truth is that conservatives like states having independence when they like what the states are doing, and liberals feel the same way (the difference is that liberals don't claim they have a philosophical commitment to states' rights over federal rights in the abstract). When states' rights collide with a policy objection, the policy objection is going to win.

Usually, that is. But there's at least one area where the GOP is divided on the whole states' rights issue. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie earlier this week highlighted the disagreement with some blunt words about legalized marijuana. "If you're getting high in Colorado today, enjoy it," he said. "As of January 2017, I will enforce the federal laws." Chris Christie, in other words, is coming to harsh your buzz — or he would be, if he had any chance of actually becoming president.

His position isn't an unreasonable one. While the Justice Department has discretion in how vigorously it enforces the law, and can decide to allow state legalization to take effect unimpeded, federal law is supreme over state laws, and marijuana is still illegal under federal law....

While this issue hasn't gotten much attention in the presidential race so far, it's one of the few where you'll actually find some diversity of opinion among the GOP candidates. Marco Rubio seems to agree with Christie; though he's a little vague, he says that "we need to enforce our federal laws." Scott Walker's position is essentially the same. Ted Cruz thinks it's all right for the federal government to leave states alone on this issue, but he says that should be Congress' decision, not the president's. Jeb Bush has said about legalization in those states, "I thought it was a bad idea, but states ought to have the right to do it." Rick Perry says much the same thing: states that legalized "will look back and they will find that it was a huge error that they made," but his commitment to the Tenth Amendment is such that he'll "defend it to my death, if you will, to allow them to make those decisions."

Rand Paul has gone the farthest: While he doesn't support legalization, he has co-sponsored a bill to end the federal ban on medical marijuana and has advocated an end to harsh criminal penalties for possession.

With the sort-of-but-not-really exception of Paul, all the Republicans want to make clear that they're opposed to anyone smoking pot. That might be perfectly sincere, but it also reflects their party's demographics and its role in the culture war. To the prototypical Republican — particularly the Republican primary voter — marijuana is something hippies do.

But within the party, that feeling is far from universal. In a recent Pew Research Center poll, 39 percent of Republicans favored legalization. That's significantly less than the 59 percent of Democrats who agreed, but it's still a substantial chunk of the party — and up 15 points from what Pew showed just five years ago. So as strange as it may seem, within a few years a majority of Republican voters might actually favor legalization....

[I]f more and more states legalize cannabis, it could mean that even today's most common Republican position — I don't like it, but I'm not going to fight it — could wind up being de facto support for legalization, at least in the half of the country where liberals are in charge. And if public opinion keeps moving in this direction, don't be surprised if the Democratic nominee in 2020 — and the Republican nominee within another election or two after that — actually comes out in favor of legal pot.

July 30, 2015 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

First Native American tribe in marijuana business expecting monthy sales of $2 million

Sioux-tribeThis new article, headlined "Indian tribes set to begin marijuana sales," reports on the plans and expectations of the first Native American tribe entering the marijuana industry. Here are the details:

Tourists soon may be able to go to a South Dakota Indian reservation, buy a cigarette-sized marijuana joint for $10 to $15 and try their luck at the nearby casino.  In December, the Flandreau Santee Sioux expect to become the first tribe in the nation to grow and sell pot for recreational use, cashing in on the Obama administration’s offer to let all 566 federally recognized tribes enter the marijuana industry.

“The fact that we are first doesn’t scare us,” said tribal president Anthony “Tony” Reider, 38, who’s led the tribe for nearly five years.  “The Department of Justice gave us the go-ahead, similar to what they did with the states, so we’re comfortable going with it.”   The tribe plans to sell 60 strains of marijuana.  Reider is hoping for a flock of visitors, predicting that sales could bring in as much as $2 million per month....

Other tribes have been much more hesitant. “Look at Washington state, where marijuana’s completely legal as a matter of state law everywhere, and you still have tribes adhering to their prohibition policies,” said Robert Odawi Porter, former president of the Seneca Nation of New York.

It comes as no surprise to Washington state Democratic Rep. Denny Heck, who says he works on tribal issues every day.  “Not once has anybody ever brought up that they wanted to go down this track,” he said.  Heck speculated on one possible reason: “We’re all aware of the painful history of alcoholism in Indian Country.”

Tribes won the approval to sell pot in December, when the Justice Department said it would advise U.S. attorneys not to prosecute if tribes do a good job policing themselves and make sure that marijuana doesn’t leave tribal lands.  But federal prosecutors maintain the discretion to intervene, a worrisome prospect for many. “This administration is very pro-tribes, very supportive. What if the next one isn’t?” asked W. Ron Allen, chairman of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe in Washington state.

He said many of the state’s 29 tribes also want assurances from federal officials that they won’t lose millions of dollars in grants and contracts if they sell a drug banned by Congress. “We’re not getting definitive answers back,” Allen said.  “There’s a number of tribes that are very aggressively looking into it and trying to sort through all the legal issues.  The rest of us are just kind of on the sidelines watching.”

Many tribal officials took note earlier this month when federal authorities seized 12,000 marijuana plants and more than 100 pounds of processed marijuana on tribal land in Modoc County, Calif.  Federal authorities said they raided the operation because the tribes planned to sell the pot on non-reservation land.  “That’s a warning shot to Indian County that this isn’t carte blanche to do whatever you want, even in a place like California,” said Blake Trueblood, director of business development for the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development, based in Arizona.

Trueblood said marijuana could give tribes an economic boost, much like gaming. He said tribes will have the best opportunities in states such as Florida and New York, where demand for pot is high but the drug has not been legalized for recreational use by state voters. “Ultimately, I think you’ll see legal marijuana in every state,” Trueblood said. “I think that’s fairly inevitable, even in very conservative places like Florida.”

Reider said his tribe plans to sell both medical and recreational marijuana. Minors will be allowed to consume pot if they have a recommendation from a doctor. Under a tribal ordinance passed in June, adults 21 and over will be able to buy one gram of marijuana at a time for recreational use, no more than twice a day. “We really don’t want the stuff getting out to the street,” Reider said. “So we’re going to have like a bar setting where they’ll be able to consume small amounts while on the property.”

Kevin Sabet, president of the anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana, said the California raid shows that it’s still “an extremely risky venture” for any tribe to start selling marijuana. And he said pot sales would fuel more addiction. “If we think alcohol has had a negative effect on young people on tribal lands, we ain’t seen nothing yet,” Sabet said.

As part of his homework, Reider said, he traveled to Colorado, the first state to sell recreational pot last year. He said he does not smoke marijuana but has concluded that it’s safer than alcohol, citing the behavior he witnessed at the Cannabis Cup, a marijuana celebration held in Denver in April. “It was a peaceful environment,” he said. “Everybody was overly friendly, overly talkative to each other and respectful of each other. Where if you go to a concert where there’s a lot of alcohol, you typically see fights and arguments.”

Reider said the tribe plans to begin growing 6,000 marijuana plants in October and is renovating a bowling alley to house a new consumption lounge that will include four private rooms. He said the tribe may consider allowing marijuana consumption in its casino in the future. Reider acknowledged that it’s “kind of an awkward feeling” to start selling pot, but he figures the tribe is well-equipped.

“When we started looking into it, it’s comical at first, but then you realize it’s an amazing business,” he said. “It’s highly regulated, and we’re used to the regulation from operating our casino. We’ve got security and surveillance.” Reider said profits from pot sales will be used to help tribal members. He said that could include the construction of a facility for those addicted to alcohol, prescription drugs or methamphetamine.

July 30, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 27, 2015

"Sorting Through the Marijuana Mess in Ohio"

The title of this post is the headline of this new lengthy discussion of some of the notable (and notably distinct) marijuana reform developments in Ohio authored by Keith Stroup, NORML Legal Counsel.  Especially for anyone trying to keep track and assess what has been going on in the Buckeye State in recent months, I highly recommend the piece be read in full.  Here are some excerpts mostly from the start and end of the piece:

If anyone would have suggested a year ago that Ohio might be on the verge of legalizing marijuana in 2015, I would have laughed at the idea.

First, Ohio is a conservative Midwestern state that is seldom, if ever, on the cutting edge on social issues.  And second, 2015 is an off-year election, with no statewide or federal elections, meaning the voter turn-out would be lower and the likely voters would be older and less supportive than would be the case if the proposal were on the ballot in 2016, a presidential election year when younger voters turn out in far higher numbers.

But it turns out that Ohio voters may well be voting on marijuana legalization this November.  And the circumstances surrounding this development raise new issues that legalization activists are struggling to deal with.  The proposed constitutional amendment, called the Ohio Marijuana Legalization Initiative, sponsored by a group calling itself Responsible Ohio, would legalize both the medical and the recreational use of marijuana....

[W]hat is unique about this effort is that it is being funded by a few rich private investors who, under the terms of the proposed initiative, would then own the 10 specific cultivation centers around the state authorized to cultivate marijuana commercially.  In other words, those investors who provide the funding to gather the required number of signatures, and to run a professional statewide campaign, would be richly rewarded for their investment, assuming the initiative is approved by a majority of the voters....

Some activists have raised objections to the proposal because it would not permit average Ohioans to compete for the commercial cultivation licenses, although ordinary citizens would be entitled to apply for licenses for the more than 1,000 retail dispensaries that would be authorized, claiming it is undemocratic.  Some opponents have even argued it would be worse than the current prohibition — despite the fact that roughly 17,000 marijuana arrests occur each year in Ohio, and those arrests would largely be eliminated if this initiative were to pass....

At NORML, we recognize there are many inequities in the free market system, with an ever-increasing gap between the rich and the rest of us.  But NORML is not an organization established to deal with income inequality; we are a lobby for responsible marijuana smokers.   So we will leave other issues, including income inequality, to other organizations who focus on those issues, and we will continue to focus on legalizing marijuana.   

And if the investor driven legalization initiative in Ohio qualifies for the ballot, national NORML will almost certainly support it.  And we hope, so will a majority of the voters in Ohio.

July 27, 2015 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)

Fascinating marijuana reform developments in Italy

Images (6)This lengthy International Busness Times article discusses the history and current status of marijuana policy in Italy.  The piece is headlined "Marijuana Legalization In Italy: 250 Italian Lawmakers Support Cannabis Decriminalization Proposal," and here are excerpts:

Italy may well be on its way to becoming the largest country in Europe to legalize marijuana. An Italian tracking group has found that more than 250 lawmakers from across the political spectrum have given their support to a proposal that would largely decriminalize production, distribution, sale and consumption of marijuana throughout the nation.

The leap may appear far-fetched for a country that just 10 years ago voted in a draconian anti-drug bill that removed any distinction between hard and soft drugs, increasing sentences for pot smokers and heroin addicts alike.

But the legalization movement recently gained momentum, with one of the world's most progressive legislative proposals on marijuana being submitted to the Italian parliament. Drafted by the Intergrupo Parlamentare Cannabis Legale, the legislation would allow anyone over the age of 18 to cultivate as many as five plants at home. Italians could also team up to form a "cannabis social club," with each having a maximum of 50 people growing as many as 250 plants.

In both cases, the product would have to be consumed or shared by the farmers, who would be banned from selling and profiting from it while notifying authorities about their activities. All other individuals would be allowed to store as many as 15 grams of marijuana at home and carry as many as 5 grams, with higher quantities being allowed for medical use. Meanwhile, people who do not follow the new rules would not be subject to criminal charges, but would instead face administrative sanctions. Smoking in public areas would remain strictly prohibited, as would advertising, exporting and importing all cannabis products.

Larger-scale production and sale would be controlled by a state monopoly, with the government regulating the sale of licenses. Retail sales would be restricted to dedicated stores, similar to the cannabis coffee shops in Netherlands.

Italy's pro-legalization movement began in the 1960s with the anti-establishment Radical Party, which, among other things, has distinguished itself for its successful campaigns to introduce abortion and divorce, and for getting the first porn star elected to parliament, Ilona Staller, aka Cicciolina. Its histrionic leader, Marco Pannella, 85, has been the face of Italian anti-prohibition for decades, routinely getting arrested for distributing marijuana as an act of civil disobedience.

However, the party has largely remained a fringe force, backed by the liberal intelligentsia but shunned by the masses. It has never won more than 4 percent of the vote, with the exception of the 1999 European elections, when it garnered 8.5 percent.

Despite the attempts made by Pannella and his colleagues, repression has long been Rome's favored response when it comes to drugs. Its tendency peaked in 2005, with the approval of the aforementioned law equating soft and hard drugs by the center-right government of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. (The legislation was declared unconstitutional in 2014.)...

So, how did cannabis all of a sudden become so popular in Italy's two chambers of parliament? Well, it didn't happen overnight, but the practical reasons in favor of legalization appear to have struck a chord with many MPs.

In Italy, the turning point came this year, when the National Anti-Mafia Directorate (DNA), the authority in charge of fighting organized crime, indicated reforms to decriminalize cannabis-related crimes were needed. In its annual report, it said security forces could no longer afford diverting resources to the fight against cannabis as consumption was spreading despite security forces' "best efforts," noting that repressive action was to date "a total failure."

According to the report, as many as 3,000 tons of cannabis are illegally sold each year in Italy, enough for each citizen, children included, to smoke two to four joints a week. It estimated the total market value as much as $33 billion. And this appraisal is based on the amount of drugs seized by police, which is believed to be a small fraction of the total amount in commerce. From June 2013 to June 2014, the DNA said it intercepted close to 1,900 pounds of heroin, a little less than 10,000 pounds of cocaine and more than 32,000 pounds of cannabis, making marijuana by far the most popular -- and most seized -- drug in the southern European nation.

DNA recommendations on drug policies are not easily ignored in Italy, as this is the authority waging war in Europe against the largest drug cartel, the 'Ndrangheta, and other organized-crime groups that plague the country. The DNA also pulls considerable political weight. For example, Pietro Grasso, the current Senate president, the second highest office in the nation, is its former chief.

Critics say the post-2005 crackdown on drugs has exacerbated systemic problems, engulfing Italy's traditionally congested courts with a wave of low-profile cases that went on to strain the country's overcrowded jails.

Italy is currently struggling to get out of an economic crisis that has left the government desperate for cash. In May, its debt touched a record $2.4 trillion, 132 percent of gross domestic product, which is expected to grow 0.7 percent in 2015 after years of recession. Thus, the prospective of fresh income from taxation and licensing is quite alluring to the government....

According to a study published last year, new business generated by the law could result in an increase of GDP fluctuating between 1.20 percent and 2.34 percent. "Thousands of new jobs could be created," said Della Vedova, the chief promoter of the proposed cannabis legislation. "State income would be absolutely remarkable and quite higher than, for example, that granted by the controversial first-home tax, which today is worth about $3.7 million." Benefits could be even greater, as the figure doesn't take into account resources now allocated to fight cannabis-related crimes, which could be diverted elsewhere.

July 27, 2015 in International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, July 26, 2015

First primary state poll indicating considerable support for marijuana reform

This new article on some new polling, headlined "Poll Suggests Support For Marijuana Legalization In New Hampshire," suggests that Presidential candidates my face some perils if they fail to face up to the modern marijuana reform movement. Here is why:

Support for marijuana legalization and decriminalization in New Hampshire is rising, particularly among Democrats and undeclared voters, according to a poll released Thursday. The poll, by WMUR-TV in Manchester, revealed that 3 in 5 adults in the first-in-the-nation primary state favor marijuana legalization, while 72 percent support decriminalization.

The poll suggests a growing shift in support in New Hampshire for marijuana-related issues, with pot decriminalization receiving bipartisan support throughout the state. As in much of America, liberals, young adults and Democrats have the highest rates of approval for marijuana-related policy issues, while conservatives, older adults and regular churchgoers primarily oppose it.

"National polls have shown majority support for legalization for a few years now," wrote Tom Angell, the chairman of Marijuana Majority, a pro-legalization advocacy group, in an email, "but this survey of voters in a key primary election state should be of particular interest to presidential candidates who are looking for issues that appeal to large constituencies."

The poll said that 73 percent of registered Democrats support legalization and 80 percent support decriminalization. Quinnipiac polls in the spring suggested that multiple swing states support medical and recreational marijuana, which advocates suggest will become a critical issue during the presidential election....

Angell said he expects the prevalence of support for legalization in key swing states will lead to an endorsement by a major presidential candidate in the 2016 election. "For too long, elected officials have viewed marijuana policy as a dangerous third-rail of politics," Angell wrote in a statement, "but the evidence is now clear that speaking out for ending prohibition will bring immense political benefits to those candidates who get in front of the issue before their rivals do."

July 26, 2015 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

"Seniors Are Seeking Out States Where Marijuana is Legal"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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