Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

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Sunday, May 10, 2015

National Review editors urge federal marijuana reform to be on "Constitutionalist Agenda for the GOP"

Images (3)The National Review, an august conservative magazine, has this lengthy new commentary by editors Ramesh Ponnuru and Reihan Salam titled "A Constitutionalist Agenda for the GOP: How to start restoring respect for the Constitution." Here is point five on the agenda:

Allow states to go their own way on marijuana: Public opinion on marijuana is changing rapidly. A narrow majority of Americans now favors marijuana legalization, and a number of states are experimenting with creating their own legal marijuana markets.  The problem is that while there are a number of new marijuana businesses that are legal under state law, they remain illegal under federal law.  This has led to a great deal of uncertainty and confusion, yet it also creates an opportunity for conservatives.

The current marijuana debate highlights the important but much-neglected constitutional distinction between interstate commerce and in-state commerce.  In Gonzales v. Raich, the Supreme Court ruled that Congress had the power to criminalize the local cultivation and use of marijuana under the commerce clause even if state law authorized it.  In his concurring opinion, Justice Antonin Scalia observed that Congress has the power to regulate in-state activities that do not have an impact on interstate commerce when doing so is “necessary to make a regulation of interstate commerce effective.”  But what if regulating in-state activities is not necessary to achieve this goal?  Recently, William Baude, a law professor at the University of Chicago, has argued that constitutional doctrine should recognize that though Congress has the right to regulate interstate commerce, it can regulate in-state commerce only insofar as doing so is essential to achieving a legitimate constitutional purpose.  One could argue that the failure to regulate in-state commerce in marijuana will lead to negative spillover effects that cross state borders.  If a state can demonstrate that it is capable of regulating its in-state marijuana market effectively, however, the justification for federal interference is greatly weakened.

With this principle in mind, Congress could pass a law formally declaring that the federal government would recognize the legal status of marijuana businesses under state law as long as in-state marijuana markets met certain requirements.  The same principle could extend to other policy questions as well, such as the federal role in establishing a minimum drinking age.  If a state moves to lower its drinking age while pursuing various other steps that would reduce the harms associated with alcohol consumption, should the federal government try to make states keep their minimum drinking age at 21? By limiting federal interference in the regulation of in-state markets to what is strictly necessary to achieve legitimate constitutional purposes, we will foster more creativity and experimentation at the state level.

May 10, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Political perspective on reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, May 8, 2015

"Policy Strategies to Reduce Youth Recreational Marijuana Use"

The title of this post is the title of this short paper authored by researchers from Johns Hopkins University and published in the journal Pediatrics. Here is a excerpt that highlights the paper's coverage:

Legalization of marijuana for recreational use among adults could significantly increase access to the drug among youth and is a growing concern for pediatric health in the United States.  In a January 2015 policy statement, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reaffirmed its opposition to legalization of recreational marijuana because of potential harms to youth.  Alongside efforts to promote prevention and treatment, it advocated for decriminalization (reducing criminal penalties for marijuana possession) to reduce adverse effects of felony convictions on youth, especially minorities....

Experiences with tobacco and alcohol provide context for building a strong regulatory environment and offer 4 priorities for recreational marijuana regulation (summarized in Table 1) that could help advance the AAP’s goals of protecting child and adolescent health.

May 8, 2015 in History of Alcohol Prohibition and Temperance Movements, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical community perspectives | Permalink | Comments (0)

Notable new analysis of marijuana reform proposal and Ohio employment law

This new local article, headlined "ResponsibleOhio's marijuana legalization issue wouldn't trump employers' drug policies, legal analysis finds," reports on an interesting legal memo commissioned by the well-financed group seeking to legalize marijuana in the Buckeye state via voter initiative in 2015. Here are the basics:

An analysis of the marijuana legalization issue that ResponsibleOhio hopes to have on the November ballot found that if approved, it would have little to no impact on an employer's ability to control employee use of marijuana.

The analysis, commissioned by ResponsibleOhio, found that language in the issue itself retains significant control for the employer. Beyond that, federal case law also provides further protections, the analysis said.

ResponsibleOhio is trying to amend the Ohio Constitution to legalize sale, possession and personal use of marijuana in the state for people at least 21 years old. The group's proposed amendment to the state constitution would establish a legal marijuana industry in which Ohioans could purchase marijuana and marijuana products from licensed retail outlets for recreational and medical uses. They also would be able to grow marijuana in their homes.

But as the group has collected signatures needed to reach the ballot and sought to raise awareness around the state, it also heard questions from employers who wondered how the amendment would affect their businesses. Would they have to change their companies' internal drug policies? Would they still be able to bar their employees from using the drug?

Greater Cleveland Partnership has heard some of those same questions, said Marty McGann, senior vice president for government advocacy. GCP, with more than 10,000 members, is one of the largest metropolitan chambers of commerce in the country. "At this point, I think it's curiosity (from the businesses)," McGann said. "I haven't heard forceful positions on this. I think it's more realization that this likely to be on the ballot."

GCP is preparing an in-house forum with people from all sides of the issue for its members. The organization hasn't taken a position on the constitutional amendment yet. "We've been known to take positions on different issues," McGann said. "It's not even on the ballot yet. We're just sort of beginning the discussions to understand it."

The questions prompted Responsible Ohio to request an analysis from Dickinson Wright, a Detroit-based firm that specializes in business and financial law that has offices in Columbus. "We wanted to be sure we were being consistent with reality when we said we would not force employers to change their policies," said Lydia Bolander, a spokeswoman for ResponsibleOhio.

The research looked at the language within the amendment as well as existing case law, said Jonathan Secrest, the lawyer who conducted the analysis. "It is our opinion that the legal precedent is on the side of the employer," Secrest said in an email. "ResponsibleOhio's proposal will not compel an employer to loosen their standards on drug testing or consumption in the workplace."

Marijuana remains an illegal drug under federal law. That has led multiple courts to dismiss employee claims of discrimination and wrongful termination, the analysis found....

Beyond the case law, the analysis found that the amendment itself offers employers some built-in protection. It specifically says "nothing in this section is intended to require an employer to permit or accommodate the use, consumption, possession, transfer, display or transportation of medical marijuana, marijuana, homegrown marijuana, marijuana-infused products or marijuana accessories in the workplace or to affect employers' ability to restrict the use of such products by employees."

The amendment language provides that employers have no duty to accommodate use of marijuana in the workplace, the analysis said, and treats medical marijuana like any other prescription drug. For that reason, employers likely will want to review their policies to evaluate how they treat employee use of prescription drugs, the analysis said.

May 8, 2015 in Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Issues with Taxing Marijuana at the State Level"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new report from The Institute on Taxation & Economic Policy that a helpful reader highlighted for me. Here is how it substantively gets started: 

Since 1996, when California voters enacted the nation’s first medical marijuana law, twenty-two states and the District of Columbia have followed suit with laws allowing production and use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.

In 2014, Colorado and Washington took legalization efforts one step further by implementing systems that allow regulated production and retail sale of marijuana. Oregon, Alaska and the District of Columbia are currently creating their own legalization regimes aft er the passage of ballot initiatives legalizing marijuana in each jurisdiction last November.  Given the current political momentum, more states may consider marijuana legalization in the future.  

While much of the debate around marijuana legalization rightly focuses on health and criminal justice effects, legalization also has revenue implications for state and local governments that choose to tax newly legal purchases of marijuana.  This report examines issues surrounding the design and implementation of taxes on marijuana at the state and local level.

Forty-five states levy general sales taxes which, in theory, should apply broadly to most or all retail transactions.  Until recently, however, the illegal and unregulated nature of marijuana has resulted in it being sold entirely outside of state sales tax structures. Twenty states have laws requiring illegal marijuana sellers to purchase and place tax stamps on their marijuana, but virtually no one buys the stamps since selling marijuana is illegal even with the stamps attached.

Now that an increasing number of states are legalizing medical and retail marijuana, the de facto sales tax exemption enjoyed by marijuana is becoming somewhat less common.  Eleven states with legalized medical marijuana apply their sales taxes to the product, and the only two states with functioning, legal markets for retail marijuana (Colorado and Washington) each apply their general sales taxes to marijuana as well. Bringing marijuana out of the black market allows state and local governments to include the product in their sales tax bases in the same manner as most other goods and services.

But appropriate marijuana tax policy could go beyond simply adjusting existing sales tax bases to include the product.  Another potential reason to tax marijuana is to mitigate the negative impact of its use by both discouraging its consumption and raising revenue that can be used to off set its social costs.  In other words, the tax treatment of legalized marijuana could be similar to that of tobacco and alcohol, both of which face significant excise taxes at the federal, state and local levels.

May 8, 2015 in Taxation information and issues , Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 7, 2015

"Why Washington state is extinguishing medical marijuana" ... while the black market endures

The title of this post adds to the headline of this notable Mashable piece discussing notable marketplace developments in one of the first two states that legalized recreational marijuana via initiative votes in 2012.   Here are excerpts:

For the past 10 months, three marijuana markets have been operating simultaneously in Washington state: the street market, the medical market and the recreational market. In the future, however, there will only be two. And contrary to some people’s expectations about legal recreational pot making drug dealers obsolete, it’s the medical dispensaries that will disappear first.

Washington State Governor Jay Inslee signed a bill in April that will overhaul medical marijuana and reconcile the two legal markets into one. Medical marijuana dispensaries as they exist now will either close or seek licenses in the regulated industry. In the future, medical customers will have to look to “medically endorsed” recreational marijuana stores for their supply.

Washington's medical marijuana market has always been "looser than anywhere in the country,” says Rick Garza, head of the state Liquor Control Board, the agency that oversees the marijuana industry.

"With I-502 (the recreational market), you have a tightly regulated business that has to make a big investment and pay taxes and fees," says Garza. And while medical marijuana is legal, it has become somewhat of a "gray area" because the "vast majority" of users served by the dispensaries are truly recreational users anyway, says Garza. "You have this unregulated and untaxed [medical] dispensary that's competing directly with the regulated market." "You have this unregulated and untaxed [medical] dispensary that's competing directly with the regulated market."

It's hard to measure the size of each of these markets, but to get a general idea I talked to a budtender and an illegal street dealer to get their perspectives on the state of Washington pot. Regardless where the lines of legality are drawn (and redrawn), there's a lot of pot floating around the Evergreen state. A study by the RAND Corporation found that marijuana consumption in Washington during 2013 was between 135 and 225 metric tons (that’s 297,624 to 464,040 pounds).

Garza guesses the recreational stores have so far only captured 3-5% of the total marketplace. And seeing as how the recreational market has generated $168 million in sales in the 10 months it has been operational in Washington, that gives you an idea of the size and potential of the industry as a whole.

A male pot dealer in his early twenties, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, has been selling weed in the state for the past couple of years while finishing a degree. He sells primarily to college kids, so he didn’t expect business to change, but says he doesn’t see a drop in sales for dealers who sell to older demographics either. “People don't realize just how big the street market is,” he says....

The Liquor Control Board guesses the medical industry has captured 40-50% of the market, but it’s impossible to say how big the medical marijuana population is because Washington has never required a patient registry or ID cards like other states with medical systems do.

Since the state’s first recreational stores opened in July 2014, about 134 retail locations have opened alongside some 1,100 medical dispensaries in the state. However, the Liquor Control Board calls the estimated number of dispensaries “conservative.”

Pricing at medical dispensaries has remained cheaper than that of recreational stores because they aren't subject to the same high taxes. A gram of weed at a dispensary generally costs around $10-12 versus $12-16 on average at recreational stores. Weed on the street, however, remains at a pretty steady $8-10.

"The street can always offer prices that are below that of the stores," says the dealer I spoke with. And while street products may lack the variety of brick and mortar stores, they have added convenience because dealers can move around. "The street can more effectively distribute, because people don't have to come to you."

For some people illegal pot sales are more simple (and familiar). Text your dealer, meet up, trade cash for whatever weed they have and part ways. At recreational stores, customers have to be 21, visit at set hours and locations, and sort through a dizzying array of products. Some people find it more complex to buy legal marijuana.

May 7, 2015 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Interesting early data from Illinois about its developing medical marijuana regime

As reported in this AP piece, the "Illinois Department of Public Health released the updated numbers[showing that] department has issued about 2,300 approval letters to qualifying marijuana patients since September." Here are more related notable numbers:

The health department says about 20,800 people have logged onto the program's patient application website. Of those, about 3,000 have submitted an application.

The tally falls short of the number program officials hoped would enroll in the first year. In July, former program coordinator Bob Morgan said "thousands, hopefully tens of thousands" were expected to enroll.

An advisory board recommended 11 more health conditions for the program this week. The new conditions include osteoarthritis, migraine and post-traumatic stress disorder.

May 7, 2015 in Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Does new Mizzou "right to farm" amendment create a state constitutional right to grow marijuana?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this intriguing new St. Louis Dispatch article headlined "Does Missouri's 'right to farm' amendment mean you can grow marijuana in the basement?".  Here are the details of an interested new state constitutional provision and argument in litigation over marijuana prohibition:

A Missouri woman believes her constitutional right to farm shields her against being prosecuted for allegedly growing a small crop of marijuana in her basement.

Lisa Loesch, 52, of Jefferson City, was charged in 2013 with a felony count of manufacturing and/or distributing a controlled substance. Investigators with the Jefferson City Police Department and a regional drug task force said they found nine healthy, potted marijuana plants under grow lights in her basement in October 2012. “The room was set up with grow lights, a CO2 generator, and pots with potting soil,” police said in court records. “The plants were approximately 1 and ½ to 2 feet in height.”

Loesch’s lawyer, a public defender named Justin Carver, filed a motion April 28 asking for her case’s dismissal. Carver argued that growing marijuana is protected by Missouri’s new farming rights amendment, which voters narrowly passed in an August referendum. Of nearly 1 million votes cast, the amendment passed by a margin of 2,376 votes.

The amendment enshrined the right to farm in the state constitution, saying the right of Missouri citizens to engage in agricultural production and ranching practices “shall not be infringed.” It was prompted by rural legislators who said farm culture needed protection from environmentalists and animal-rights activists. Missouri was the second state behind North Dakota to place farming rights in its constitution. “The amendment prohibits the Legislature from declaring what can and cannot be grown in Missouri,” Carver wrote in his motion for dismissal.

Loesch’s lawyer wrote that state laws that prohibit the cultivation of marijuana violate the state and U.S. constitutions and are “vague in that a reasonable person cannot tell and is not given clear notice as to what is prohibited and what is permitted” by law.

The amendment was passed after Loesch was charged. But her attorney says the language of the amendment makes it clear it is not establishing a new right but clarifying an existing right, so it should apply retroactively to Loesch. Loesch pleaded not guilty to the drug charge in February 2013.

This Ballotpedia entry provides background on the "right to farm" provision now in the Missouri constitution, and it reports that the provision reads as follows:

Section 35. That agriculture which provides food, energy, health benefits, and security is the foundation and stabilizing force of Missouri's economy. To protect this vital sector of Missouri's economy, the right of farmers and ranchers to engage in farming and ranching practices shall be forever guaranteed in this state, subject to duly authorized powers, if any, conferred by article VI of the Constitution of Missouri.

I suspect that defendant Lisa Loesch will have a hard time establishing in this case that she qualifies as a farmer exercising her "right ... to engage in farming and ranching practices" through growing a small crop of marijuana in her basement. That said, I could readily imagine a true family farmer starting to grow a small crop of marijuana plants on his family farm and thereafter asserting in the face of a state prosecution that he was just engaged in a form of Mizzou agriculture designed to provide "food, energy, health benefits and security" for his fellow state citizens.

May 5, 2015 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 4, 2015

SCOTUS asks for views from US Solicitor General on original lawsuit between states over marijuana reform

Via this order list, the US Supreme Court called for the views of the Solicitor General in the original case of Nebraska and Oklahoma v. Colorado.  That is the case, as readers may recall from posts here and here back in December, in which two states filed suit directly in the Supreme Court seeking "a declaratory judgment stating that Sections 16(4) and (5) of Article XVIII of the Colorado Constitution [legalizing and regulating marijuana sales] are preempted by federal law, and therefore unconstitutional and unenforceable under the Supremacy Clause, Article VI of the U.S. Constitution."

I am not sure what the usual timelines tend to be for submission of CVSG briefs during this time of year, but I would think this request from the Justices will just now further slow the resolution of a suit that was filled five months ago and will remain in limbo now until the Solicitor General weighs in.

Prior related posts:

May 4, 2015 in Federal court rulings, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, May 3, 2015

If you let them build it, they will come: NY discovering how many have dreams of marijuana fields

Images (8)Especially during baseball season, I am inclined to call "Field of Dreams" my all-time favorite sports movie.  Consequently, I often think of the movie's most famous line In this post — "if you build it, they will come" — when I see headlines like this one from this New York Post article, "Hundreds vie for just 5 NY medical marijuana licenses." Here are some of the details: 

The race is on to secure the five licenses to be granted under New York state’s medical marijuana program, which takes effect in January. And the cash-crop lottery could bring in millions for the winners.

Statewide revenues will likely total $239 million in 2016 and more than $1.2 billion by 2020, according to a report issued by GreenWave Advisors late last year. “Let the cash register ring for New York state,” says GreenWave’s Matt Karnes. And there appears to be no shortage of investors looking to dip a hand into this cash register.

Venture capitalists willing to take the plunge include Privateer Holdings and Tilray, both of which have already had a strong presence in the legal marijuana space. In addition, the buzz would have it that there is a “major Wall Street broker-dealer“ placing a bet, according to one source.

At last count, there were some 300 applicants poised to spend $10,000 apiece to be considered for one of the licenses via applications that were sent out by the state last week, say industry insiders.

Each of the five winners will then have to cough up a $200,000 registration fee in return for being able to grow and sell medical marijuana via as many as four dispensaries each, for a grand total of 20 statewide.

The new program, which is far more restrictive than medical marijuana advocates had hoped, bans smoking the plant but allows the sale of oils, edibles and vapor forms of the drug. The law allows doctors to prescribe medical marijuana only for HIV/AIDS, Lou Gehrig’s disease, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s disease, epilepsy, some spinal cord injuries and multiple sclerosis.

May 3, 2015 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Could/will the marijuana industry become a boon for green energy innovation?

1233543378925322670The question in the title of this post is prompted by this intriguing new article headlined "How The Tesla Battery Will Benefit Marijuana Growers."  Here is why this story has me thinking today about the nexus between marijuana reform and energy innovation:

A medium-sized commercial weed grow with around 50 lights stands to save about $13,500 in electricity costs a year with the use of two Tesla Batteries.  Those will also protect the plants in case of power outages while making the operation less visible to law enforcement. Elon Musk just made growing weed easier.

Unveiled [recently], the Tesla Battery gives home owners and businesses an easy, slick, affordable way to store electricity at home. The 10kWh battery costs just $3,500 and can be “stacked” in sets of up to nine units. Larger capacity batteries of infinitely-scaleable capacity will be available to large businesses and governments. There’s three general use cases for the battery: storing electricity purchased during cheaper, off-peak hours for use during high-demand periods; storing electricity generated by solar power or other renewable sources for use around the clock; and as a backup power source for when the grid goes down.

Know who uses an awful lot of electricity? Weed growers.... We’ve all heard stories about growers being outed by the energy intensive nature of their work. Roofs over grow rooms free of snow during winters or insanely high electricity bills have all, in those stories at least, tipped off the cops....

One of the other touted benefits of the Battery is its ability to facilitate off-grid living. By hooking it up to solar panels, the Battery can store energy during the day, then keep your house powered throughout the night. Or your off-grid grow, maybe?...

Our commercial energy consumption management expert sat down and ran the numbers assuming a medium-sized, 50-light commercial operation running its A/C during the day. These numbers are based on commercial electricity rates here in California, where the company is paying a premium during high-demand hours. With two 10kWh Tesla Batteries giving this commercial grow the ability to shift some of its load to off-peak hours, savings in demand charges alone would total $8,000 a year, while use charges would lower by $5,500, for a total savings of $13,500.

Of course, even just at 50 lights, we’re talking about a multi-million dollar operation, making this sound like relative chump change. Worthwhile — the batteries would be paid for in just over 6 months of savings — but hardly revolutionary. “Where these batteries might start to make sense for small growers is when LEDs are optimized for herb,” says our grower. He’s skeptical of the light quality produced by current LED grow lights, but sees that technology being optimized for marijuana in the near future. When it is, it could drastically lower the energy consumption of growing, reducing electricity used by the lights alone by 60 percent or more. Lower outright energy consumption will reduce the cost of growing, of course, but it also shifts the amount of consumption into a range that could be more easily handled by Tesla Batteries.

Given the current pace of marijuana legalization, the need for clandestine home grows may largely be eliminated by the time dipping energy consumption and increasing battery capacity meet in a home solar power sweet zone, but as a massive electricity consumer, it does look like the marjiuana industry is going to profit from the same Tesla Battery benefits everyone else will — reduced peak demand and increased stability during outages.

Though this article is focused on how the new Tesla Battery could be great for indoor marijuana growers, it also helps highlight that the growth and profitability of a significant legal marijuana industry could prompt and fund innovation in a number of significant new technological spaces. Famously, as this article highlights, a lot of visual/media technologies owe their origins or development to the porn industry. It is interesting to speculate about how another notable new vice industry might be a spur to valuable modern innovations in other arenas.

May 3, 2015 in Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, May 2, 2015

"Do marijuana prisoners deserve amnesty?"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new CNN commentary authored by Mike Riggs, who is the communications director for Families Against Mandatory Minimums. Though the commentary starts with a discussion of marijuana reforms, its real focus seems to be advocating wholesale federal drug sentencing reform. Here are excerpts: 

Since 2012, when voters in Colorado and Washington approved the tax and sale of recreational marijuana, the cognitive dissonance of America's drug penalties has become even more absurd.  Where we once incarcerated people for growing and selling "just a plant," we're now incarcerating people for growing and selling "just a plant" that tens of millions of people can grow and sell legally.

Marijuana is legal only in certain states, and illegal under federal law.  Still, it's worth asking what Congress would do with the thousands of pot offenders sent to federal prison each year if we repealed, or even just reformed, federal pot laws.

In 2010, Congress voted to change federal penalties for crack cocaine with the Fair Sentencing Act.  Prior to the law's passage, 5 grams of crack cocaine triggered the same mandatory minimum sentence as 500 grams of powder cocaine. Congress reduced that disparity, from 100-to-1 to 18-to-1, which significantly reduced crack cocaine sentences.  But Congress did nothing to change the sentences of the more than 8,000 federal crack prisoners who were locked up when the bill was signed into law.

So the repeal of federal marijuana laws could likely leave us with many thousands of federal pot prisoners serving sentences longer than what they'd receive in a post-reform courtroom....

If Congress changes marijuana laws without allowing currently imprisoned pot offenders to seek new sentences, should this president or the next simply throw open the gates?   Clemency feels particularly appropriate for marijuana prisoners, who sit in cells for trafficking and dealing while state legislators argue over how to spend the revenues generated from pot taxes and newspapers tell us how to incorporate the plant in our cooking....

In 2014, then-Deputy Attorney General James Cole announced a Justice Department initiative to review the petitions of federal prisoners serving sentences longer than what they'd receive if sentenced today, and to grant clemency to those whose early release would not compromise public safety.  The second wave of clemencies granted since the initiative launched included both crack offenders and a single marijuana offender.

But clemency, by its very nature, benefits only a small number of people. Even if President Obama were to grant 2,000 commutations over the next 21 months — an unprecedented number — there are roughly 100,000 drug offenders in federal prison. The vast majority would be left to serve excessively long sentences.

Our drug policies — and not just those pertaining to marijuana — require sweeping, comprehensive, grand reform....  All drug offenders are getting a raw deal from our criminal justice system. It would be a mistake to say, "Let out the people who sell a drug that I'm comfortable with, and to hell with all the rest." Federal and state legislators need to address bad policies for all drug types, and then establish a clear route to resentencing for pot dealers — and everybody else.

May 2, 2015 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

House of Representatives narrowly rejects allowing VA doctors to recommend medical marijuana for vets

As reported in this Hill article headlined "House rejects proposal to let VA doctors recommend medical marijuana," another significant pro-marijuana reform amendment almost got a thumbs up from the GOP-controlled US House of Representatives. Here are the details:

The House rejected a proposal Thursday to allow doctors at Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals to discuss the use of medical marijuana with patients.  Rep. Earl Blumenauer's (D-Ore.) amendment to the first fiscal 2016 appropriations bill of the year, which funds the VA and military construction projects, failed narrowly by a vote of 210-213.

A total of 35 Republicans voted in favor of the amendment, while eight Democrats voted against it.  Boos ensued from the Democratic side of the House chamber when Republicans closed the vote despite the razor-thin margin.

Medical marijuana is legal in more than 30 states and the District of Columbia.  But VA doctors are prohibited from completing patient forms seeking recommendations or opinions regarding medical marijuana to treat conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  A 2012 VA report found nearly 30 percent of veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from PTSD or depression.

Lawmakers from both parties argued veterans should at least be able to receive recommendations from their doctors about the drug's merits. They stressed the amendment wouldn't force doctors to recommend medical marijuana or authorize marijuana possession at VA facilities. "Let's lift the gag order. We owe it to our veterans to give them complete information when they ask for it, even if the means discussing medical marijuana," said Rep. Sam Farr (D-Calif.).

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) said fellow Republicans should support allowing free discussion about medical marijuana between veterans and their doctors. "As Republicans, we supposedly believe in the doctor-patient relationship. But apparently some of my colleagues believe that relationship is not relevant when it comes to VA doctors and their patients," Rohrabacher said during floor debate.

"It is criminal that we send our men and women off to war where their minds and bodies are broken and then deny them the ability to obtain a recommendation from a legitimate VA doctor upon their return home," Rohrabacher added. But other Republicans warned that a drug that remains illegal in many states shouldn't be prescribed for veterans with psychological problems.

"Why in the world would we give a drug that is addictive, that is prohibited under Schedule I, that is not accepted for any specific mental disease or disorder and enhances psychosis and schizophrenia, why are we going to give that to our veterans, especially those with PTSD? That is just absolutely insane," said Rep. John Fleming (R-La.), a physician.

Blumenauer offered the same amendment to the VA appropriations bill last year. It was defeated by a vote of 195-222, a much wider margin than Thursday's. Marijuana legalization advocates interpreted the close vote as a sign lawmakers don't view the issue as politically risky as in the past.

May 2, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, May 1, 2015

Colorado Gov acknowledges benefits of voters legalizing marijuana in state

This notable new FoxNews piece, headlined "Colorado gov now says legalizing marijuana helps state's fiscal health," highlights that the top official in the leading marijuana legalization state has come to see that significant medical marijuana reform may well have more benefits than costs. Here are the details:

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper seems to be softening his anti-pot stance. The Democratic governor recently told Fox Business Network that the issue is “not as vexing” as he feared it would be, and partly ties Colorado’s strong fiscal health to the popularity and economic opportunities connected with the legal pot industry.

“It’s all those young people coming and they look at marijuana and say, ‘hey, we can drink whiskey, why can’t we have a legalized system with marijuana?’” he said on FBN. He added, “If you look back, it has turned out to be not as vexing as some of the people like myself” initially anticipated it would be.

Hickenlooper had spoken out against legalizing the drug in the past and said “Colorado is known for many great things – marijuana should not be one of them.” Now, though, he seems to have come around. He told FBN the state has been busy “building a regulatory system, making sure we keep it out of the hands of kids, making sure we keep our streets and roads safe.”

May 1, 2015 in Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Stressing jobs, Ohio union groups come out in support of marijuana legalization effort

This new local article, headlined "Union groups say OK to marijuana legalization," reinforces my belief that the job-creation potential of a legalized marijuana industry ma be quite appealing to certain groups. Here are excerpts from the piece:

The three largest Ohio branches of the union representing nearly 70,000 retail workers, endorsed Wednesday the ResponsibleOhio initiative to legalize marijuana. "The executive board of these locals, which are made up of rank-and-file members, made a decision to support this proposal because we want to make sure that we have good jobs in the new legal marijuana industry," said Laurie Couch, a spokeswoman for United Food and Commercial Workers.

The majority of the local members work in retail stores, Couch said, including Kroger, Meijer and CVS, as well as in food packing and processing. Locals 75, 880 and 1059 issued the endorsement. Local 75 represents 30,000 members in the Greater Cincinnati, Dayton and Toledo areas. Local 880 represents 21,000 in and around Cleveland, and Local 1059 has 18,500 members in Columbus.

Couch said that while it's too early to push the proposed industry on wages, "We're committed to working to make sure they do pay a living wage, good benefits, and that people have the hours that they need." The other important factor for the UFCW, Couch said, is that "The communities where our members live and work really need better public services."

The endorsement follows Monday's nod from Dr. O'Dell Owens, the president of Cincinnati State Technical and Community College.

April 29, 2015 in Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Reviewing recent Brookings' FixGov series on marijuana reform

Fox News poll latest to show majority support for marijuana legalization

DownloadThis new Fox News report provides yet another notable sign of the marijuana reform times:

For the first time, the Fox News poll finds more than half (51 percent) favor legalizing marijuana, while 44 percent oppose it.  That’s little changed from last year when it was 50-43 percent (January 2014).  

More voters were opposed than in favor as recently as 2013:  46 percent in favor vs. 49 percent opposed.

By a 15 percentage-point margin, voters under 35 (54 percent) are more likely than those 65+ (39 percent) to favor legalizing marijuana.   And by a 10-point margin, men (56 percent) are more likely than women (46 percent) to favor it.

Majorities of Democrats (62 percent) and independents (53 percent) support legalizing marijuana, while a majority of Republicans opposes it (59 percent).  

The Fox News poll is based on landline and cell phone interviews with 1,012 randomly chosen registered voters nationwide and was conducted under the joint direction of Anderson Robbins Research (D) and Shaw & Company Research (R) from April 19-21, 2015. The full poll has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.

April 28, 2015 in Political perspective on reforms, Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Considering marijuana law and reform through the lens of the sports industry

As highlighted in many prior posts, students in my marijuana law school seminar are in the midst of assembling readings and leading discussions concerning the research topic(s) that are the focal point for class project(s). This week a student is scheduled to discuss marijuana regulation in the sports industry, and here are some stories she has suggested reviewing on the topic:

"Athletes and Pot: Legalized marijuana in a league of its own"

"Study: NFL Players Misuse Painkillers"

"Suspensions to Oregon players bring NCAA marijuana policy into question"

"Get High, Train Harder"

April 23, 2015 in Assembled readings on specific topics, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Is resignation of current DEA head a very big moment for federal marijuana policy?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by a number of stories I have seen in the wake of yesterday's news that Michele Leonhart is resigning as Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration.  Here are links to some of these stories:

  • From Bloomberg here, "Marijuana Activists Cheer Michele Leonhart's Exit from the DEA"

  • From the Daily Caller here, "Marijuana Advocates Thrilled At DEA Administrator’s Expected Resignation"

  • From The Hill here, "Marijuana advocates push for new pot-friendly DEA chief"

The last story linked here highlights what will really determine the answer to the question in the title of this post: if President Obama nominates somebody for this position who expresses openness to federal marijuana reforms and a serious commitment to a more public-health oriented approach to all drug enforcement issues (e.g., Dr. Sanjay Gupta?), the transition at the top of DEA could end up being a very big deal.

April 22, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, April 20, 2015

New Brookings series starts by identifying "12 key people to watch in marijuana policy"

Regular readers already know that The Brookings Institution has been committed to doing thoughtful and cutting-edge research, reports and blogging on the legal, political and social realities surrounding modern marijuana reform.   Today, the front-page of the Brookings website has this announcement and link:

In the past few years, marijuana policy has emerged as a key issue in American politics. In this post — the first in the FixGov blog's 4/20 blog series — John Hudak lays out 12 people to watch in the future of marijuana policy.

I very much like John's list of a dozen key marijuana reform players, and here I will note how he introduces his list and a few of its first four notable names:

Marijuana policy has emerged as a key issue in American politics, particularly over the past few years. The issue is being debated at local, state, and federal levels, and has captured the attention of media organizations and research institutions nationwide and around the world.

Navigating the policy terrain and understanding what is happening in this fast-paced, dynamic, and changing arena is often tough.  Knowing who is influential can be even more difficult. Because of the expansive nature of the policy conversation there are hundreds of key players making a difference — on both sides of this issue — and that list is seemingly ever growing.

In this post, I list 12 people who each bring something interesting to the table and may play an important role in the future of this policy area.  They may not be the most important, though surely some of the people on this list could be considered so. Nor is this list ranked in order of importance or impact. Instead, it offers a brief overview of how these 12 individuals may help shape the future of cannabis policy....

1. Hillary Clinton, 2016 Presidential Candidate

2. Rand Paul, U.S. Senator & 2016 Presidential Candidate

3. Vivek Murthy, U.S. Surgeon General

4. Loretta Lynch, U.S. Attorney General designee

April 20, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 17, 2015

"Dr. Sanjay Gupta: It's time for a medical marijuana revolution"

150414135452-weed-3-sanjay-gupta-medium-plus-169The title of this post is the headline of this new CNN commentary by Dr. Sanjay Gupta, which is something of a preview of a new documentary on medical marijuana titled "Weed 3: The Marijuana Revolution" airing at 9 pm Sunday on CNN. Here is how the commentary starts:

I see signs of a revolution everywhere.  I see it in the op-ed pages of the newspapers, and on the state ballots in nearly half the country.  I see it in politicians who once preferred to play it safe with this explosive issue but are now willing to stake their political futures on it.  I see the revolution in the eyes of sterling scientists, previously reluctant to dip a toe into this heavily stigmatized world, who are diving in head first.  I see it in the new surgeon general who cites data showing just how helpful it can be.

I see a revolution in the attitudes of everyday Americans.  For the first time a majority, 53%, favor its legalization, with 77% supporting it for medical purposes.  Support for legalization has risen 11 points in the past few years alone.  In 1969, the first time Pew asked the question about legalization, only 12% of the nation was in favor.

I see a revolution that is burning white hot among young people, but also shows up among the parents and grandparents in my kids' school.  A police officer I met in Michigan is part of the revolution, as are the editors of the medical journal, Neurosurgery.  I see it in the faces of good parents, uprooting their lives to get medicine for their children -- and in the children themselves, such as Charlotte, who went from having 300 seizures a week to just one or two a month.  We know it won't consistently have such dramatic results (or any impact at all) in others, but what medicine does?

I see this medical marijuana revolution in surprising places.  Among my colleagues, my patients and my friends.  I have even seen the revolution in my own family.  A few years ago, when I told my mother I was investigating the topic for a documentary, I was met with a long pause.

"Marijuana...?" She whispered in a half questioning, half disapproving tone.  She could barely even say the word and her response filled me with self-doubt.  Even as a grown man, mom can still make my cheeks turn red and shatter my confidence with a single word. But just last week she suddenly stopped mid-conversation and said, "I am proud of you on the whole marijuana thing." I waited for the other shoe to drop, but it didn't. Instead, she added, "You probably helped a lot of people who were suffering."

April 17, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)