Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

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Friday, February 20, 2015

Near Irvine, CA? Stop by the Critical Perspectives on the Drug War symposium at UCI tomorrow

If you're in southern California and looking for a way to kill some time on Saturday (and earn CLE), consider dropping by the Critical Perspectives on the Drug War symposium at University of California Irvine School of Law.  

The event goes from 9:00 am to 5:30 pm and features panels on a range of issues, including alternatives to incarceration and, of course, marijuana.  I'll be moderating a 2:00 pm panel on marijuana legalization efforts that will feature speakers talking about the latest news in Colorado, Oregon, and California.  The full conference schedule is here

February 20, 2015 in Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Marijuana's Pauline Sabin?: "85-year-old Houston woman fighting to legalize marijuana"

I just got finished watching the last segment of the wonderful PBS Prohibition documentary, which stresses the role of  Pauline Sabin, the first woman to sit on the Republican National Committee and the founder of the Women’s Organization for National Prohibition Reform, who helped drive the movement to repeal the 18th amendment.  With that history fresh in mind, I found especially interesting this news report from Texas which has the headline quoted in the title of this post.  Here are excerpts:

"I've always been pretty outspoken," said Ann Lee. At 85 years old, Ann Lee looks like anyone's grandmother. "I don't know whether it's my age, the white hair, what is it, but it does seem to strike a chord," said Lee.

But don't let the white hair fool you. She's a fiery Republican who believes you have the right to use marijuana. "It's just me, I believe in this," said Lee.

For Lee, it's personal. She wasn't always a supporter of weed. That changed when her son was bound to a wheelchair, and needed it to treat his condition. "We realized marijuana wasn't the weed of the devil which I had been known to say," said Lee.

She and her husband Bob fought to legalize weed since then. Bob died last week. Now it's her job to finish what they started together. "This is heady stuff for this lady," said Lee. "I've been an activist for many years, but I've never had the response that I'm now getting."

She knows more about weed than someone half her age, and even has the occasional edible. Activists call her the perfect weapon in the marijuana reform movement. "It's not Republican to support prohibition," said Lee.

Some prior related posts:

February 20, 2015 in History of Alcohol Prohibition and Temperance Movements, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Racial Disparities in Marijuana Enforcement

Despite a New Year's resolution to resume regular posts to this blog, I have somehow managed not to write a single one until now.  Hopefully I'll be able to pick things back up with regular contributions.  

I'll start with this quick link to a guest blog post I wrote for the American Constitution Society's two-week blog symposium on racial inequalities in the criminal justice system.  My post looks at some of the causes of the racial disparity in marijuana arrests and why the problem is so hard to correct.  Here's how my post begins:

In their influential 1970 study of marijuana prohibition in the United States, Richard J. Bonnie and Charles H. Whitebread found that “racial prejudice” was the “most prominent” factor in the passage of early marijuana prohibition laws.  When states began passing these laws in the first few decades of the 1900s, it was not uncommon to see legislatures expressly link marijuana prohibition with race.

 

Reporting on a1929 hearing on a marijuana prohibition bill in Montana, for example, the Montana Standard told readers:

 

“There was fun in the House Committee during the week when the Marihuana bill came up for consideration.  Marihuana is Mexican opium, a plant used by Mexicans and cultivated by Indians.  ‘When some beet field peon takes a few rares of this stuff,’ explained Dr. Fred Fulsher of Mineral County, ‘He thinks he has just been elected president of Mexico so he starts out to execute all his political enemies.  I understand that over in Butte where the Mexicans often go for the winter they stage imaginary bullfights in the ‘Bower of Roses’ or put on tournaments for the favor of ‘Spanish Rose’ after a couple of whiffs of Marihuana.’ Everybody laughed and the bill was recommended for passage.”

 

It is rare to see anyone rely on anything approaching this sort of overt racism in the debate over marijuana laws today.  Indeed, nearly everyone ― prohibitionists and legalization advocates alike ― agrees that racial disparities in marijuana enforcement (and drug enforcement more broadly) are undesirable.  Most also acknowledge the issue is a cause for real concern and action.

 

And yet, disparities in marijuana enforcement persist. 

Click over to the ACS blog for the rest.

February 20, 2015 in Race, Gender and Class Issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 19, 2015

California AG expresses openness to full legalization

As reported in this local article, headlined "Kamala Harris not opposed to legalizing marijuana," the top law enforcement offices in the largest US state is expressing an openness to the idea of full marijuana legalization.  Here are the details:

California Attorney General Kamala Harris, the state’s top cop and Democratic front-runner in the race for a U.S. Senate seat next year, said Wednesday that she has “no moral objection” to legalizing the recreational use of marijuana, but cautioned that special care will be required to assess the impacts on children and public safety. “It’s easy to stand up and make a grand gesture, but we really do have to work out the details,” said Harris, who told The Chronicle that she believes “it is an inevitability” that recreational use of marijuana will be legalized in the state.

Harris’ comments were her first in-depth remarks since announcing that she would run in 2016 to fill the seat of Sen. Barbara Boxer, who announced last month that she would not run for re-election, and the first time as a Senate candidate that she has addressed marijuana legalization.  “But to be very clear,” she said of legalization, “it’s not a passive position,” adding that as the state’s senior law enforcement official, she has already been studying the impacts in Colorado and Washington state, where recreational use is legal. It becomes legal in Oregon later this year.

“I’m actually in constant communication with Washington and Oregon to watch what they are doing and to explore all of the options, to make sure we do this in a way that takes advantage of learning from their mistakes,” she said.

California will need to “figure out the important issues” related to legalization, especially “as it relates to children, as it relates to schools and advertising and the quantities ... and issues like safe driving and enforcement of our rules around that,” as well as about the impacts of edible marijuana, she said. “That’s where I’m focused, on all the details of that.”

Her personal views on the drug: “I don’t have any moral opposition to legalization,” she said. “But I do feel a very strong sense of responsibility as a top cop to pay attention to the details ... to make sure that if it were legalized ... that vulnerable people are safe,” she said.

February 19, 2015 in Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Medical marijuana advocates flexing political muscle in Florida

My class this week in my marijuana seminar is focused particularly on medical marijuana law, policy and reform, and a focal point for discussion will be exploring the best reasons and arguments that can be made by policy advocates and politicians for being actively and vocally opposed to medical marijuana reforms.  In light of that coming discussion, this new Politico article reporting on developments in Florida highlights a strategic reasons why politicians might not in the future want to be an active and vocal opponent of medical marijuana reforms.  The piece is headlined "Pot lobby vows to blunt Wasserman Schultz: She angered medical marijuana advocates by opposing a voter initiative last year," and here are excerpts:

Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s interest in running for U.S. Senate has encountered strong resistance from a traditional ally of her party: medical marijuana activists.

Because of her congressional votes and her criticisms of a Florida medical marijuana initiative last year, four political groups that advocate prescription cannabis and drug decriminalization vowed to campaign against the Florida representative if she were to seek a Senate seat in 2016.

“She’s voted repeatedly to send terminally ill patients to prison. And we’re certainly going to make sure Floridians know that — not to mince words,” said Bill Piper, national affairs director with the Washington-based Drug Policy Alliance, which has received funding from liberal luminaries such as George Soros. “This issue is evolving very quickly, and hopefully she will evolve,” Piper said. “But if she doesn’t, you can expect medical marijuana patients and supporters to dog her on the campaign trail.”...

The founder and executive director of Americans for Safe Access, Steph Sherer, said her group will likely become politically active in the election if Wasserman Schultz runs. “She has a horrific voting record and people should know about it” Sherer said. “But she still has time to become enlightened.”...

Florida’s medical marijuana proposal last year garnered 57.6 percent of the vote, short of the 60 percent threshold required to approve a constitutional amendment in Florida. Morgan’s group is already gathering voter signatures and plans to try again in 2016, unless the GOP-led Legislature acts, which it likely won’t. “This will be a major campaign issue and I think disqualifies her from the nomination,” Morgan said by email, comparing the issue to gay marriage, which is far less popular in polls.

“A United States senator from the Democratic Party should be in favor of the decriminalization of marijuana as a base test. Debbie is more severe,” he said. “Her position denies terminally ill and chronically ill people compassion. She was an anomaly among [Democrats]. The war on drugs was lost about the same time we lost the Vietnam War. Generations have been arrested, jailed and careers and dreams lost forever.”

February 19, 2015 in Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Political perspective on reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

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

Serious talk about full marijuana legalization in two Northeastern states

Today's news about marijuana reform includes these two stories about serious efforts to bring major marijuana reform to two states in the Northeast:

From New Jersey, "Prosecutors, ACLU and NAACP join to legalize marijuana":

Representatives of diverse organizations on Wednesday plan to launch a consortium aimed at legalizing marijuana in New Jersey....

A news conference is planned in Newark to announce the consortium. Among the groups to be represented at the news conference are the New Jersey Municipal Prosecutor's Association, which last year came out in favor of legalizing marijuana, and the New Jersey chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. A media advisory said the various groups are joining forces "in a broad-based campaign to legalize, tax and regulate marijuana, ending thousands of arrests per year in New Jersey."

From Vermont, "Marijuana Legalization Bills to Be Introduced in Vt. Legislature":

A pair of bills expected to be introduced this week in the Vermont Statehouse in Montpelier would legalize small amounts of recreational marijuana, and pave the way for authorized stores and lounges to sell pot.

The Senate bill, to be introduced by Sen. David Zuckerman, P/D-Chittenden County, would permit Vermont residents 21-years-old and older to possess up to one ounce of marijuana, two mature marijuana plants, seven immature plants, and marijuana produced by those plants in a secure, indoor facility. An essentially identical bill is expected to be introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Chris Pearson, P-Burlington....

Key players at the Statehouse expect to take their time. Zuckerman acknowledged there are no plans to hold hearings this legislative session on legalizing marijuana. He said he wants to submit the bill this week so that the pieces can be put in place to really make serious progress on the issue starting in January of 2016.

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

A Marijuana Field Trip

I have been a very poor correspondent for this blog, but I did want to briefly post about a field trip I took my University of Denver students on last Friday.  About 25 students in my Representing the Marijuana Client class toured the Medicine Man grow facility and dispensary as well as the Dixie Elixirs infused products production facility.  Closeup

After starting the semester with a history of marijuana prohibition in the US and a crash course on federalism, preemption and anti-commandeering, we have lately been studying Colorado's Rules and Regulations governing recreational marijuana production and sale.  I thought it was important for the students to see how these restrictions work in practice, and the proprietors of Medicine Man and Dixie were more than happy to host us. The students seemed impressed with the elaborate systems in place to track the marijuana throughout the production process and with the seriousness and sophistication of both businesses and those running them.

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Whatever their views on the wisdom of marijuana regulation (and truthfully most are pro) I think they all walked away with a sense that Colorado's licensed entities are carefully-run businesses trying to navigate a heavily regulated industry.  Most marijuana entrepreneurs who have joined the regulated market have invested an enormous amount in regulatory compliance; the students seemed convinced that these businesspeople have too much on the line to jeopardize their investment by diverting their products to the black market.Plants

Maybe this is why so many Colorado businesses are so willing to open their doors for tours.  They seem to genuinely believe that when people see what a regulated marijuana business looks like, they will walk away more favorably inclined toward the industry.

February 17, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"The Uneasy Case for Marijuana as Chemical Impairment

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

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

Here's the abstract:

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

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

Monday, February 16, 2015

"Did George Washington Use Medical Marijuana?"

1424099502018.cachedThe title of this post is the headline of this notable Daily Beast piece, which seems especially timely this Presidents Day.  Here are excerpts:

Before “Choom Gang” Obama or “I didn’t inhale” Clinton, the first president likely smoked pot.

Presidential aspirants smoking pot, states growing hemp for industrial use — 2015 sounds a lot like 1776. In fact, America’s first president may have been one of the nation’s original users of medicinal marijuana.

George Washington’s rotting teeth and the dentures that replaced them—made of hippopotamus ivory, gold springs, and brass screws—caused enormous pain, which some believe he alleviated with weed as evidenced from a passage from one of the president’s letters: “Began to separate the male from female plants rather too late...Pulling up the (male) hemp. Was too late for the blossom hemp by three weeks or a month.”

The implication is that the Father of the Nation was going for female plants with higher THC content. However, it’s most likely that the female plants he refers to were used for seeds to grow more hemp and the male hemp plants were pulled up for fibers....

The men who signed the Charters of Freedom may have taken the edge off the Revolution with the help of drugs, too. Hemp farmer Jefferson and paper maker Benjamin Franklin were ambassadors to France during the initial surge of the hashish vogue.

Thomas Jefferson brought a variety of cannabis seeds from Europe to America at great personal risk, but there is no direct evidence he ever used the ensuing crops for recreational purposes. Benjamin Franklin isn’t known to have smoked weed but he did use laudanum, a mixture of alcohol and opium, to lessen the pain from gout, kidney stones, and other ailments.

James Monroe allegedly began smoking cannabis as Ambassador to France and maintained the habit into old age. Andrew Jackson, Franklin Pierce and Zachary Taylor are rumored to have smoked with their troops. In one letter to his family, Pierce complained that hemp was ‘about the only good thing’ about the Mexican war. Presidents remained mostly sober from Pierce to Dwight Eisenhower, but John F. Kennedy made up for lost time.

In addition to dozens of painkillers and stimulants, JFK allegedly experimented with marijuana to deal with severe back pain, according to a few written accounts, including John F. Kennedy: A Biography...

There is then another lull, until the political ascendancy of the baby-boom generation, when Mary Jane becomes almost ubiquitous. On the Democratic side, we have Bill Clinton, Al Gore, John Kerry, John Edwards and Barack Obama. Astonishingly, every Democratic presidential nominee since 1992 is on record as having smoked pot: Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Barack Obama.

It’s a bipartisan affair, too. George W. Bush admitted to past marijuana use in a recorded interview with a friend. Newt Gingrich told the Wall Street Journal in 1996 he used to toke up. Even Rick Santorum admitted to smoking in college. Ditto, Sarah Palin when marijuana wasn’t illegal in Alaska.

No president was probably as prodigious a marijuana smoker than Obama, who was part of the “Choom Gang” in high school and freely admitted to smoking weed (and using cocaine) in his youth. So, from our first president, growing cannabis and buying replacement teeth from his black slaves, to the current president.

February 16, 2015 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 13, 2015

Is a federal judge about to declare unconstitutional federal marijuana law? And then what?

The questions in the title of this post are prompted by this Reuters report about an on-going federal criminal trial in California. Here is why:

A federal judge hearing the case of nine men accused of illegally growing marijuana in California said Wednesday she was taking very seriously arguments by their attorneys that the federal government has improperly classified the drug as among the most dangerous, and should throw the charges out.

Judge Kimberly J. Mueller said she would rule within 30 days on the request, which comes amid looser enforcement of U.S. marijuana laws, including moves to legalize its recreational use in Washington state, Colorado, Oregon and Alaska.

"If I were persuaded by the defense's argument, if I bought their argument, what would you lose here?" she asked prosecutors during closing arguments on the motion to dismiss the cases against the men.

The men were charged in 2011 with growing marijuana on private and federal land in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest in Northern California near the city of Redding. If convicted, they face up to life imprisonment and a $10 million fine, plus forfeiture of property and weapons.

In their case before Mueller in U.S. District Court in Sacramento, defense lawyers have argued that U.S. law classifying pot as a Schedule One drug, which means it has no medical use and is among the most dangerous, is unconstitutional, given that 23 states have legalized the drug for medical use.

Lawyer Zenia Gilg, who represented defense attorneys for all of the men during closing arguments, pointed to Congress' recent decision to ban the Department of Justice from interfering in states' implementation of their medical marijuana laws as evidence of her contention that the drug's classification as Schedule One should be overturned. "It's impossible to say that there is no accepted medical use," said Gilg, who has argued that her client was growing pot for medical use.

But Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregory Broderick said that it was up to Congress to change the law, not the court. He said that too few doctors believed that marijuana had medical uses for the drug's definition to change under the law. "We're not saying that this is the most dangerous drug in the world," Broderick said. "All we're saying is that the evidence is such that reasonable people could disagree."

Notably, this new Bloomberg article, headlined "Grower’s Case Rivets Investors Seeking Pot of Gold," suggests that those interested in investing in the marijuana industry think that merely "the fact that the judge has agreed to consider the issue is an enormously significant event.” Obviously, this event becomes even more significant if (when?) a federal judge declares unconstitutional the placement of marijuana on Schedule I under the Controlled Substances Act.

February 13, 2015 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal court rulings, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Does sensible marijuana legalization require allowing on-site consumption?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this notable new commentary by Professor David Ball appearing in USA Today.  Here are excerpts:

In Colorado and Alaska, when the states legalized recreational marijuana use, voters were sold on the idea that we weren't simply legalizing the drug; we were regulating it like alcohol. That selling point is likely to be part of 2016 campaigns to do the same in states from California to Maine.

But there is one way in which marijuana regulations have, so far, not modeled themselves on alcohol regulations. They do not allow on-premises consumption in commercial establishments such as bars and restaurants. This is a mistake. The best way to limit diversion from the legal market to teens would be to shift all marijuana use, or at least as much as possible, to on-premises consumption.

Consider the alcohol market: We know that underage drinkers primarily get alcohol three ways, stealing from parents, at parties, and from asking older people to buy for them. Kids get alcohol from someone who bought it "to go" from a store. We could slash youth drinking by eliminating off-site consumption. If there were no liquor stores, no beer and wine in supermarkets, there would be a lot less diversion to teens. Only those with a license to serve alcohol could sell it, and consumption would take place in those establishments. Bars and restaurants risk losing liquor licenses and face criminal and civil penalties when they sell illegally.

Of course, it would be hard to ban to-go sales of alcohol now that millions of Americans are used to it. But marijuana is different. We are just now creating the pattern for legal marijuana use.

The most powerful objection to regulated recreational marijuana is the danger of teenagers getting access. This is of paramount importance — and not just because I'm a father of two. The prohibition we have now has proved to be a lousy way to keep marijuana out of anyone's hands.

In a regulated market where all marijuana is purchased to go, we'll have the same problems that we have with alcohol. But what if you could buy marijuana only for immediate consumption? Businesses that sold it would check ID and only the buyer could use it, just as bars avoid serving underage patrons today....

There are technical issues to be worked out. It is unclear whether states would need to change smoking laws or whether states would allow only vaporizers, drinks or edibles. Regardless, as states seek to regulate marijuana like alcohol, they need to learn the lessons of alcohol as well. Allowing off-site consumption of marijuana, as is the rule today, maximizes the potential for diversion to unauthorized users. It's the one alcohol regulation we shouldn't be copying.

David has some additional points to make on this topic in this post at his Drug Law & Policy blog.

February 12, 2015 in Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Shouldn't latest health research prompt pot prohibitionists to advocate more for tobacco restrictions?

6a00d83451ca1469e20120a6433798970cThe question in the title of this post is prompted by this new AP report headlined "Study ties more deaths, types of disease, to smoking."  Here are excerpts: 

Breast cancer, prostate cancer, and even routine infections.  A new report ties these and other maladies to smoking and says an additional 60,000 to 120,000 deaths each year in the United States are probably due to tobacco use.

The study by the American Cancer Society and several universities, published in Thursday's New England Journal of Medicine, looks beyond lung cancer, heart disease and other conditions already tied to smoking, and the 480,000 U.S. deaths attributed to them each year.

"Smokers die, on average, more than a decade before nonsmokers," and in the U.S., smoking accounts for one of every five deaths, Dr. Graham Colditz, an epidemiologist at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis wrote in a commentary in the journal.   The report shows that current estimates "have substantially underestimated the burden of smoking on society," he wrote.   About 18 percent of U.S. adults smoke....

Researchers looked at nearly 1 million Americans 55 and older taking part in five studies, including the National Institutes of Health-AARP Diet and Health Study, since 2000.  They tracked the participants' health for about 10 years and compared deaths from various causes among smokers, never smokers and former smokers, taking into account other things that can influence risk such as alcohol use.

Death rates were two to three times higher among current smokers than among people who never smoked.  Most of the excess deaths in smokers were due to 21 diseases already tied to smoking, including 12 types of cancer, heart disease and stroke.  But researchers also saw death rates in smokers were twice as high from other conditions such as kidney failure, infections, liver cirrhosis and some respiratory diseases not previously tied to smoking.

A few prior related posts:

February 12, 2015 in Medical community perspectives, Science, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Former university president turns to selling marijuana"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Notable Colorado figures for marijuana tax revenues for 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

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

Saturday, February 7, 2015

GOP strategist highlights why "marijuana law reform could be a key issue" for Republicans in 2016

Via Roll Call comes this notable new commentary by Steven Moore, who is described as a "former Republican leadership aide in the House of Representatives and currently managing director at the digital political consultancy CampaignGrid." This piece is headlined "Marijuana Legalization Could Unlock Millennial Votes for GOP in 2016," and here are excerpts:

Despite the stereotypical image of the stoner who is so lacking in motivation he can’t get off the couch, a look at recent elections shows that marijuana actually does motivate people — to vote. And the phenomenon is most profound among millennials, as illustrated in the presidential swing state of Florida last November.

Those who want to see a Republican in the White House should take note — millennials could be the deciding vote in 2016, and marijuana law reform could be a key issue. Last fall, a constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana for medical uses fell short of the 60 percent required for passage in Florida. Amendment 2 went down with 57 percent, still making it about half a million votes more popular than Republican Governor Rick Scott.

Any Republican with presidential ambitions should pay attention to the youth and vigor shown by the 2014 Florida exit polls. Despite a historically low voter turnout nationwide, ten percent more Floridians voted in 2014 over 2010. That statistic is all the more remarkable considering that traditionally unengaged millennials increased their percentage of the electorate by 6 points, while ever-reliable seniors’ share shrank 10 points.

The phenomenon of marijuana law reform initiatives driving increased youth participation is not limited to Florida, but few other states play the swing role in presidential politics that Florida plays. For perspective, Colorado in 2012 saw voters under 29 years of age increase their share of the electorate by 11 percentage points over 2008. The state of Washington saw an increase of 4 percent for that same demographic over the same time period.

Medical marijuana advocates pledged shortly after Election Day to put another initiative on the Florida ballot in 2016, elevating marijuana law reform from a state issue to a national issue — national because most strategists see few options for a Republican in the White House if Democrats win Florida.

Millennials in Florida voted for Obama at a rate of 61 percent in 2008 and 66 percent in 2012, yet McCain lost Florida by three points and Romney by just one. With the margin so slim, and the trend over time going the wrong way, Republicans don’t necessarily need to win millennials, they just need to not lose them so badly. The question becomes “What can Republicans say about marijuana law reform that will alienate neither millennials nor the Republican base?”

That needle may not be terribly difficult to thread. Republicans have mixed views on marijuana law reform. An October ’14 Gallup poll shows that nationally, one in three conservatives and four in ten Republicans favor making marijuana completely legal. The numbers are in line with the national surveys CampaignGrid uses to for its marijuana voter-modeling project. Exit polling in Florida shows that 37 percent of conservatives and 40 percent of Republicans are for Amendment 2....

Going forward, congressional Republicans might want to consider carefully how they address marijuana law reform in the 114th Congress. Using congressional hearings as a stage for knee-jerk, prohibitionist rhetoric may drive away the unique intersection of millennial and Republican voters likely to decide next year’s razor-thin presidential margins in Florida. Alternatively, addressing the issue in a thoughtful and strategic manner may serve to bring these voters into the GOP tent, and help assure a Republican in the White House.

February 7, 2015 in Initiative reforms in states, Political perspective on reforms, Polling data and results, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Are hundreds of tribal communities going to enter the marijuana business?

Images (1)The question in the title of this post is prompted by this recent Huffington Post piece headlined "More Than 100 Native American Tribes Consider Growing Marijuana." Here are excerpts:

More than 100 Native American tribes have reached out to FoxBarry Farms, a management firm building the nation's first marijuana facility on tribal land, over the past month to express interest in the cannabis industry.

FoxBarry CEO Barry Brautman, whose company also works with tribes to build and operate casinos, told The Huffington Post there has been a surge of interest since the Department of Justice's announcement late last year that tribes are free to grow and sell marijuana on their lands as long as they adhere to specific guidelines. "I really underestimated," Brautman said. "So many tribes are wanting to do this right now."

Brautman, along with the Denver-based United Cannabis Corp., recently inked a contract to build a giant medical marijuana growing operation on the Pinoleville Pomo Nation's ranch in Northern California. The $10 million, 2.5-acre facility will include spaces for cultivating, processing and selling products under the United Cannabis brand. Brautman said the operation plans to hire 50 to 100 employees, with preference to tribe members.

As more states legalize marijuana for both medical and recreational purposes, the burgeoning industry may provide an economic boon for tribes across the country, Brautman explained. He's currently in talks with three other California-based tribes, as well as groups in seven other states. He said he hopes to finalize new deals every few weeks in the coming months.

"Tribes want what any government wants for its people, and that's financial independence," Brautman said. "They want to earn their own money, provide education, health care and housing. This new industry allows them to be more economically independent."

A U.S. Department of Justice memo issued in December states that Native Americans are free to grow and sell marijuana as long as they adhere to the same federal guidelines that govern state-legal operations. While marijuana remains illegal under federal law, 23 states have legalized cannabis for medicinal purposes, and four states and the District of Columbia have laws that permit recreational use....

Following the Justice Department memo, some speculated that tribes would be reluctant to pursue marijuana-related business ventures. "Henceforward, Indian nations are exempt from the federal government’s rules on marijuana," reads a Daily Beast article from December titled, "Tribes to U.S. Government: Take Your Weed and Shove It" It continues: "But the feds missed an important point when they failed to consult with the 568 recognized tribes in America: they didn’t want to be."

Tribes that express hesitance argue that the federal memo's vague wording may leave them vulnerable to prosecution. "It’s like the medical marijuana clinics here in California," Ron Andrade, director of the Los Angeles City/County Native American Indian Commission, told LA Weekly, referring to the hundreds of medical marijuana operations that have been targeted by federal prosecutors throughout the state. “Yeah, you can have one, but we’ll still arrest you.”

FoxBarry, however, isn't the only company being contacted by tribes eager to pursue opportunities in marijuana. Chad Ruby, the CEO of United Cannabis, told HuffPost that "dozens" of tribes have reached out to him as well. "This is just the start of our business model," he said. "It is absolutely our plan to team up with tribes all over the country."

Brautman said that for now, he will only enter cannabis-related projects with tribes whose land lies within states that already permit medical or recreational use, even though tribes from non-marijuana states have contacted him. "If an individual visits a reservation, purchases a product, then leaves, they're now in possession of a controlled substance," he said. "Although [tribes] still have the ability to do this legally, I don't think it makes sense from a business perspective."...

Troy Dayton, the CEO of marijuana research firm ArcView, told HuffPost that the Pomo Nation operation likely marks a much bigger trend. "It makes a lot of sense," he said. "It's the right move that Native American lands have been opened up to the same freedoms that states have -- my hunch is that this is the beginning of something larger."

February 7, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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