Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Monday, March 6, 2017

Examining studies on marijuana and THC in the treatment of psychiatric diseases and CBD in the treatment of neurological disorders

As recent posts highlight, my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar is now deep into the part of the semester in which student are making presentation based on their selected marijuana-related research issue. One student this coming week is exploring "the use of THC in the treatment of psychiatric diseases, in comparison to the use of CBD in the treatment of neurological disorders." Here are the studies the student plans to discuss:

Overarching Study:

National Academies of Science

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Studies on the application of CBD to neurological disorders:

Cannabinoids in experimental stroke: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Cannabidiol and endogenous opioid peptide-mediated mechanisms modulate antinociception induced by transcutaneous electrostimulation of the peripheral nervous system

Medical Marijuana in Certain Neurological Disorders

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Studies on the Application of THC to psychological disorders:

Cognitive and clinical outcomes associated with cannabis use in patients with bipolar I disorder.

Chronic Stress Impairs α1-Adrenoceptor-Induced Endocannabinoid-Dependent Synaptic Plasticity in the Dorsal Raphe Nucleus

Antidepressant-like and anxiolytic-like effects of cannabidiol: a chemical compound of Cannabis sativa (illustrating that anxiety, typically thought to be reduced by THC, may experience greater reduction thorough CBD)

March 6, 2017 in Assembled readings on specific topics, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Examining connections between marijuana reform and opioid epidemic

Friday, March 3, 2017

What might marijuana law look like if we really treated marijuana like a medicine?

The question in the title of this post is the question being raised by a student presentation in in my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar next week. The student addressing this issue has assembled the following background reading:

1.  Press article: "11 key findings from one of the most comprehensive reports ever on the health effects of marijuana"

2.  Information from the FDA: "What is the approval process for a new prescription drug?"

3.  More from the FDA: "FDA and Marijuana"

4.  Press article: "Most uses of medical marijuana wouldn't pass FDA review, study finds"

5.  Press article: "When Your State Says Yes To Medical Marijuana, But Your Insurer Says No"

March 3, 2017 in Assembled readings on specific topics, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

What are the possibilities and foundations supporting a constutional argument for access to marijuana?

The question in the title of this post is the question being raised by a student presentation in in my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar next week. (It is also a question that has become ever more timely in light of recent suggestions by members of the Trump Administration that we may soon be seeing "greater enforcement" of federal marijuana prohibition.) The student addressing this issue has assembled the following background reading:

State Supreme Court decision recognizing a constitutional right to use marijuana in the home: Ravin v. State, 537 P.2d 494 (Alaska 1975) (westlaw; public site)

U.S. Supreme Court Cases recognizing a right to privacy and autonomy:

Griswold v. Connecticut (1965)

Stanley v. Georgia (1969)

Obergefell v. Hodges (2015)

Brief summary of unenumerated rights found in the 14th amendment through the concept of personal autonomy

NORML Amicus Brief involving right to use marijuana

March 3, 2017 in Assembled readings on specific topics, Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Eleven Senators write to AG Sessions to urge "that the Cole Memorandum remain in place"

As reported in this Politico article, a "group of senators is pushing Attorney General Jeff Sessions to uphold the Obama-era policy of allowing states to implement their recreational marijuana laws, after the Trump administration has indicated it could crack down on marijuana." Here is more about the letter this group sent to AG Sessions and its context:

The effort is led by Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who hail from states that have legalized marijuana. Press secretary Sean Spicer has hinted at "greater enforcement" of federal laws treating marijuana as an illegal drug. Sessions said this week that he is "dubious about marijuana" and is reviewing current policy.

But senators are beginning to push back. "We respectfully request that you uphold DOJ's existing policy regarding states that have implemented strong and effective regulations for recreational use," the senators wrote to Sessions. "It is critical that states continue to implement these laws."

Eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational use. Most of the senators who signed on to the letter hail from those states; Murkowski is the only Republican. The senators who signed the letter in addition to Warren and Murkowski are Democratic Sens. Patty Murray of Washington, Ron Wyden of Oregon, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Maria Cantwell of Washington, Ed Markey of Massachusetts, Brian Schatz of Hawaii, Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Michael Bennet of Colorado.

"Do they really respect states' rights? Then you should respect all of them, not just pick and choose the ones that you want to support or not. Many states have gone not only the path of Nevada of recreational marijuana but medical marijuana. How can you pick or choose one or another?" Cortez Masto said in an interview.

Indeed, it's not just a concern for senators from states that have legalized the drug. It's also an issue for conservatives who are worried about the GOP selectively allowing states' rights to supercede federal law. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said Sessions told him that he "would have some respect for states' rights on these things." "I’ll be very unhappy if the federal government decides to go into Colorado and Washington and all of these places. And that’s not the intention that my interpretation" of the conversation," Paul said. "We’re concerned about some of the language that we’re hearing. And I think that conservatives who are for states' rights ought to believe in states' rights. I'm going to continue to advocate that the states should be left alone."

In interviews, some Republicans from states with legal marijuana said they were less concerned about Sessions. They said that in his discussions with senators before his confirmation hearing, they were left with the impression that he will respect state laws and not change federal policy. Sen. Cory Gardner (D-Colo.) said that after speaking with administration officials, he believes "nothing at this point has changed."...

In an interview, Murkowski said she was not yet alarmed, but was monitoring the Justice Department closely. "It's probably a little premature to try to predict what may or may not be coming out of the administration on this, so I think we just need to sit back and see," she said.

The full text of the letter that these Senators sent to AG Sessions can be accessed at this link. The quote in the title of this post reflect what serves as the main substantive request in the letter appearing in this closing paragraph:

We respectfully request that you uphold the DOJ's existing policy regarding states that have implemented strong and effective regulations for recreational marijuana use and ask that the Cole Memorandum remain in place.   It is critical that states can continue to implement these laws under the framework of the Cole Memorandum.  In addition, we request that state and local elected officials, and public health and safety officials, be afforded an opportunity to comment on any shift in policy from that expressed in the Cole Memorandum, to avoid disruption of existing regulation and enforcement efforts.  We appreciate your immediate attention to this request.

Some recent prior related posts:

March 2, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Can we make cannabis safer?"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new piece from a group of doctors appearing in The Lancet Psychiatry.  Here is its summary:

Cannabis use and related problems are on the rise globally alongside an increase in the potency of cannabis sold on both black and legal markets.  Additionally, there has been a shift towards abandoning prohibition for a less punitive and more permissive legal stance on cannabis, such as decriminalisation and legalisation.  It is therefore crucial that we explore new and innovative ways to reduce harm.

Research has found cannabis with high concentrations of its main active ingredient, δ-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), to be more harmful (in terms of causing the main risks associated with cannabis use, such as addiction, psychosis, and cognitive impairment) than cannabis with lower concentrations of THC.  By contrast, cannabidiol, which is a non-intoxicating and potentially therapeutic component of cannabis, has been found to reduce the negative effects of cannabis use.  Here, we briefly review findings from studies investigating various types of cannabis and discuss how future research can help to better understand and reduce the risks of cannabis use.

March 2, 2017 in Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Aggregating evidence on marijuana's role in curbing opioid abuse after AG Sessions expresses skepticism

Attorney General Sessions today took more shots at marijuana reform, which included criticism of the suggestion marijuana could help curb the nation's opioid problems.  In response, Christopher Ingraham has this lengthy Washington Post piece assembling all the recent research supporting the notion that marijuana could help curb the nation's opioid problems. The piece is headlined "Attorney General Sessions wants to know the science on marijuana and opioids. Here it is." Here is the start of the article and its main bold headings that set up discussions of recent research (readers should click through for a bunch of links):

Speaking this morning before the National Association of Attorneys General, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions expressed doubt that marijuana could help mitigate the opioid abuse epidemic.

“I see a line in The Washington Post today that I remember from the '80s,” Sessions said. "'Marijuana is a cure for opiate abuse.' Give me a break. This is the kind of argument that's been made out there to just — almost a desperate attempt to defend the harmlessness of marijuana or even its benefits. I doubt that's true. Maybe science will prove I'm wrong.”

The stakes are pretty high here. After all, opioids killed 33,000 people in 2015, up from around 8,000 in 1999. As the head of the Department of Justice, Attorney General Sessions oversees the Drug Enforcement Administration, which just last year reaffirmed its belief that marijuana has no medical value and hence should remain illegal (which makes it substantially more difficult for researchers to conduct studies).

Here's a run-down of where the evidence on marijuana and opiates stands.

Marijuana is great at treating chronic pain....

States with medical marijuana laws see fewer opiate deaths....

Medical marijuana is associated with fewer opiate-induced car crashes....

Painkiller prescriptions fall sharply after medical marijuana laws are introduced....

Among chronic pain patients, marijuana use is associated with less opiate use....

The scientific evidence available so far indicates marijuana holds great promise for mitigating the effects of the opiate epidemic. Researchers desperately want to know more, but as long as the Drug Enforcement Administration considers marijuana a Schedule 1 controlled substance, they'll have a hard time getting more answers.

February 28, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Confusion mounts over Trump administration’s stance on marijuana"

The title of this post is the title of this new article in The Hill.  Here are excerpts:

The Trump administration is signaling a crackdown on federal drug laws, leaving apprehensive top officials in states that have legalized recreational marijuana searching for answers.

Senior Trump administration members have hinted in recent days that they plan to more strictly enforce drug laws, a reversal from the Obama administration, which largely tolerated legal marijuana industries in states where voters had given the go-ahead.

“I’m dubious about marijuana. I’m not sure we’re going to be a better, healthier nation if we have marijuana sold at every corner grocery store,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions told state attorneys general on Tuesday.... White House press secretary Sean Spicer said last week he believed the administration would push “greater enforcement” of federal drug laws, under which marijuana is still a banned substance.

Neither Sessions nor Spicer addressed the Cole Memo, the Obama-era legal guidance that de-prioritized marijuana enforcement in states where the drug is legal. Since establishing their recreational marijuana regimes, Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska have followed that federal guidance.

“In an imperfect system, the Cole Memo has worked. States that have legalized marijuana I think have worked hard to adhere to the Cole Memo,” said Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson (D)....

Along with the four states that have implemented legalized marijuana, four more — Massachusetts, Maine, Nevada and California — are setting up their own regulatory regimes, after voters passed legalization efforts in November.

Most elected officials opposed legalization efforts in their states. But once voters have spoken, those elected officials don’t want federal officials cracking down on a product that is legal under state law, though still illegal at the federal level. And the marijuana industry is a boon for state economies, with legal marijuana sales over $1 billion in Colorado last year.

“I took an oath to support the constitution of Colorado,” Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) said in an interview. Hickenlooper questioned whether the Trump administration “really want[s] to come down and be heavy-handed on entrepreneurs.”

“I don’t know what direction the Justice Department is going to go, but it is going to raise some legal issues,” Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) said. Both Hickenlooper and Sandoval opposed their state’s legalization initiatives.

State and federal officials from legalization states have asked the Justice Department for guidance but have received no clear answers. No Justice Department officials showed up at the National Governors Association’s annual winter meeting this weekend in Washington. Hickenlooper, Sandoval and a spokesman for Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) said they had not been able to speak with Trump administration officials about their predicaments.

Inslee and Ferguson wrote Sessions last week to ask for a meeting to discuss state pot laws, though they have received no reply. Hickenlooper said he too will request a meeting. “I’ll have to probably come back and talk to [Sessions]," Hickenlooper said. “I want to make sure that we have a discussion about it. I’ll come back, we’ll try to set a meeting up.”

But many officials, like Sandoval, predict legal clashes ahead if the federal government changes its approach. “States like Washington have legal tools to resist such an effort, in the same way we have legal tools to resist the executive travel ban,” said Ferguson, who led the lawsuit against the Trump administration’s executive order on refugees and immigrants from seven Muslim-majority nations.

February 28, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 27, 2017

Heritage Foundation expert provides road map for big government feds to crack down on marijuana enterprises

Stimson_Cully_0This webpage discussing the mission of the Heritage Foundation states at its outset that "free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom" are among the principles that that the group "fights for every single day." But when it comes to marijuana law and policy, it seems these principles become much less important given this new Daily Signal commentary authored by Charles “Cully” Stimson of The Heritage Foundation’s Center for Legal and Judicial Studies.  The piece is headlined "How Trump’s DOJ Can Start Enforcing Federal Marijuana Law," and in it Stimson provides a detailed road map for how the large federal government can try to crush free enterprise and individual freedom in marijuana legalization states. Here are the essentials of the piece (with links from the original):

Thorough scientific reviews by President Barack Obama’s Food and Drug Administration and Drug Enforcement Administration — as well as drug classification reviews by federal judges — have affirmed that marijuana should remain a Schedule 1 drug. Such drugs are defined as having “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”

As I have written here and here, the predictable consequences of marijuana legalization are beginning to emerge in states like Colorado and Washington.  Annual reports from the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, Smart Approaches to Marijuana, and the Colorado Department of Public Safety have analyzed the negative impact that marijuana legalization has had on health and public safety in Colorado.

 With such research finally emerging, the Trump administration and the Department of Justice are in a strong position to enforce federal law and take appropriate and aggressive action in crafting a commonsense drug enforcement policy for marijuana. The Trump administration should consider the following actions:

  • Reaffirm support for the law....
  • Coordinate with lower-level officials....
  • Reassert America’s drug position on the world stage....
  • Up the profile of key drug enforcement personnel....
  • Rescind and replace the August 2013 memorandum from then-Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole—i.e. the “Cole Memo.”...
  • Select marijuana businesses to prosecute....
  • Rescind the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network’s guidance for banks and oppose efforts to expand banking services to the marijuana industry....
  • Support state attorneys general in nonlegalized states....
  • Prosecute those dealing in marijuana—which is illegal under federal law—using the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO)....
  • Prosecute those who provide financing for marijuana operations....
  • Empower the FDA to take action to regulate marijuana in order to protect patients and the public....
None of these recommendations advocate criminal prosecution for simple possession of marijuana. Enforcing federal marijuana laws should not be about putting people in jail....

Thus, it has not been the case and should not be the case that people are criminally prosecuted and jailed for simple possession of small quantities of marijuana. However, the recommendations listed above provide a targeted approach to marijuana enforcement that focuses on protection, not punishment. These recommendations should be part of any commonsense approach that is consistent with an interest in public health and safety.

Recent comments by the White House press secretary (covered here) and also by the Attorney General (covered here) has me starting to think that the Trump Administration might be quite seriously considering many of Stimson's big government suggestions for the future of federal marijuana policies and practices.

A few prior related posts:

February 27, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

AG Sessions comments negatively on state marijuana reform

As detailed in this new AP article, headlined "Sessions: More violence around marijuana than ‘one would think’," the US Attorney General had a few not-so-nice things to say about state marijuana reforms today. Here are the details:

The Justice Department will try to adopt “responsible policies” for enforcement of federal anti-marijuana laws, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Monday, adding that he believes violence surrounds sales and use of the drug in the U.S.

In a meeting with reporters, Sessions said the department was reviewing an Obama administration Justice Department memo that gave states flexibility in passing marijuana laws. “Experts are telling me there’s more violence around marijuana than one would think,” Sessions said....

Sessions stopped short of saying what he would do, but said he doesn’t think America will be a better place with “more people smoking pot.”

“I am definitely not a fan of expanded use of marijuana,” he said. “But states, they can pass the laws they choose. I would just say, it does remain a violation of federal law to distribute marijuana throughout any place in the United States, whether a state legalizes it or not.”...

Studies have found no correlation between legalization of marijuana and violent crime rates. But law enforcement officials in states such as Colorado say drug traffickers have taken advantage of lax marijuana laws to hide in plain sight, illegally growing and shipping the drug across state lines, where it can sell for much higher.

Pot advocates say the officials have exaggerated the problem. “You can’t sue somebody for a drug debt. The only way to get your money is through strong-arm tactics, and violence tends to follow that,” Sessions said.

Sessions said he met with Nebraska’s attorney general, who sued Colorado for allegedly not keeping marijuana within its borders. That lawsuit was dismissed by the U.S. Supreme Court, but neighboring states continue to gripe that Colorado and other pot-legal states have not done enough to keep the drug from crossing their borders.

February 27, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, February 25, 2017

"Recreational Cannabis — Minimizing the Health Risks from Legalization"

Nejmp1614783_f1The title of this post is the title of this notable new piece by RAND's Beau Kilmer appearing in the New England Journal of Medicine.  Here are excerpts from the start and end of a useful short commentary:

The cannabis-policy landscape is undergoing dramatic change. Although many jurisdictions have removed criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of cannabis and more than half of U.S. states allow physicians to recommend it to patients, legalizing the supply and possession of cannabis for nonmedical purposes is a very different public policy.  Since the November 2016 election, 20% of the U.S. population lives in states that have passed ballot initiatives to allow companies to sell cannabis for any reason and adults 21 or older to purchase it.  Although other states may move toward legalization, uncertainty abounds because of the federal prohibition on cannabis.  The Obama administration tolerated these state laws; it’s unclear what the Trump administration will do.

There is also tremendous uncertainty about the net effect of cannabis legalization on public health.  Most adults who occasionally use cannabis find it pleasurable and don’t experience substantial problems.  There is a growing body of research on the medical benefits of consuming cannabis flowers or extracts, and legalization should make it easier to study the therapeutic potential and allow access for patients who could benefit.

But cannabis use comes with important risks.  For example, cannabis intoxication impairs cognitive and psychomotor function, and there’s strong evidence that delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive chemical in cannabis, increases the risk of psychotic symptoms or panic attacks.  Approximately 9% of people who try cannabis meet criteria for cannabis dependence at some point.  The rate roughly doubles for those who initiate use before 17 years of age and is much higher for adolescents who use cannabis weekly or more often....

Jurisdictions considering legalizing cannabis for nonmedical purposes will have to make several decisions that could have profound consequences for public health.  For example, decision makers will have to determine how cannabis will be supplied (see diagram Continuum of Recreational Cannabis Supply Options.).  Allowing sales by for-profit companies is only one option.  Since daily and near-daily cannabis users account for the vast majority of cannabis expenditures, many businesses will target and attempt to expand the number of heavy users. Experiences with alcohol and tobacco suggest that profit-maximizing firms and their lobbyists will eventually fight to weaken regulations intended to protect health.

Even if states allow for-profit companies to produce cannabis, local governments could limit retail sales to nonprofit organizations or sell the drug through a government monopoly.  Jurisdictions less focused on generating tax revenue could simply permit home production and gifting (as Washington, D.C., does) or allow user cooperatives (an option offered in Uruguay).

Second, jurisdictions will have to decide how cannabis should be priced.  The post-legalization retail price of cannabis will not only influence revenues and the size of the illicit market, it will also affect consumption. Legalizing cannabis can dramatically reduce production and distribution costs for at least three reasons: suppliers no longer have to be compensated for the risk of seizure and arrest; it allows producers to take advantage of economies of scale; and it makes it easier to incorporate new technologies into the production process.  Jurisdictions seeking to ensure that cannabis retail prices don’t drop precipitously have many options.  For example, they could limit production, impose costly regulations on suppliers, require a minimum price, or levy an excise tax.

Third, jurisdictions will need to decide whether to update their prevention messaging — and whether prevention campaigns will start before legal cannabis is available.  They could target young people with such messages to counter commercial promotion where it’s allowed and encourage adults to talk to them about the effects of cannabis, especially on driving.  Prevention also includes efforts to limit access and exposure to cannabis products. Policymakers can learn important lessons about prevention from research on alcohol and tobacco.

Fourth, given the dearth of information about the consequences associated with high-potency cannabis products and our inability to measure cannabis impairment, risk-averse policymakers may consider initially limiting access to certain types of products or imposing a cap on products’ THC content.  Another option, offered by Stanford social psychologist Robert MacCoun and others, is to tax cannabis according to THC content, thereby giving jurisdictions a lever to nudge users toward lower-potency products.

Finally, since each supply option has trade-offs, some jurisdictions may want to start with a middle-ground option before embracing a for-profit model (see diagram).  One strategy is to implement a sunset clause allowing policymakers to decide after a predetermined period whether to maintain the status quo or switch approaches. Since no one knows the best way to tax or regulate cannabis, creating flexible rules would make it easier to make midcourse corrections and incorporate new research and other insights into policies.

Although public health outcomes are clearly important, they aren’t the only considerations when setting cannabis policy.  The costs of enforcing prohibition, racial and ethnic disparities in cannabis arrests, the size of the illicit market, impact on public budgets, and nonmedical benefits of using cannabis (e.g., pleasure, stress relief) are just a few of the other issues that warrant discussion.  In addition, we should be skeptical of people who claim to know what the net effect of cannabis legalization on public health will be.  Much will depend on implementation decisions, but jurisdictions’ ability to minimize health risks will also depend on how they respond to new information and other sources of uncertainty.

February 25, 2017 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

California folks gearing up for possible fight with feds over marijuana law and policy

DownloadThis new lengthy Los Angeles Times article, headlined "California officials and the marijuana industry are ready to fight a federal crackdown," reports on what folks on the Left Coast are thinking and saying in the wake of  the recent comments from White House press secretary Sean Spicer suggesting the Trump Administration might be ramping up federal enforcement of blanket marijuana prohibition.  Here are excerpts:

Warned of a possible federal crackdown on marijuana, California elected officials and cannabis industry leaders said Friday they were preparing for a potential showdown in the courts and Congress to protect the legalization measure approved by state voters in November.

The flashpoint that set off a scramble in California was a news conference Thursday at which White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters that the administration had no plans to continue the Obama administration's permissive approach in states that have legalized marijuana for recreational use. "I do believe that you'll see greater enforcement,” he said, adding that the administration would continue to allow states to regulate the sale of marijuana for medical use.

The latest development could force California officials and marijuana industry leaders into an unusual alliance against the federal government, with billions of dollars in profits for businesses and taxes for state coffers at stake.

The state agency responsible for drafting regulations said Friday it was going ahead with its plans to start issuing licenses to growers and sellers in January. “Until we see any sort of formal plan from the federal government, it’s full speed ahead for us,” said Alex Traverso, a spokesman for the California Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation.

California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra says he is ready to safeguard the rights of the 56% of voters who approved Proposition 64, which allows California adults to possess, transport and buy up to an ounce of marijuana for recreational use. “I took an oath to enforce the laws that California has passed,” Becerra said in a statement Thursday after Spicer’s comments. “If there is action from the federal government on this subject, I will respond in an appropriate way to protect the interests of California.”

State lawmakers also say California should do what it can to preserve Proposition 64. “We will support and honor the laws that California voters have democratically enacted,” said Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Oakland), an author of legislation creating the licensing system for medical marijuana dispensaries.

Becerra would likely be joined in any defense of the state’s marijuana policy by attorneys general in other parts of the country. Recreational use has also been legalized in Washington state, Colorado, Oregon, Alaska, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada, home to a combined 68 million Americans.

Washington Atty. Gen. Bob Ferguson, who has worked with Becerra on opposing President Trump’s travel ban, said he and Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee last week asked for a meeting with U.S. Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions to discuss how the recreational marijuana use system is working in their state.

California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a leading supporter of Proposition 64, took a similar approach, sending a letter Friday to Trump urging him not to carry through with threats to launch a federal enforcement effort. “I urge you and your administration to work in partnership with California and the other … states that have legalized recreational marijuana for adult use in a way that will let us enforce our state laws that protect the public and our children, while targeting the bad actors,” the Democrat wrote.

If the Justice Department starts arresting licensed marijuana sellers, the multibillion-dollar industry would join forces with the states that issue permits to challenge the action in court, said Amy Margolis, an attorney whose law firm has more than 200 clients in the marijuana industry, including businesses in California. “This industry is so mature and it’s so far along that I have no doubt that if the Department of Justice started true enforcement actions against cannabis businesses, that they would go to court,” Margolis said. “I see joint actions between the states and the industry hoping to prevent those type of actions.”

Margolis would argue that it is a states’ rights issue. “The argument would be that this is a situation where the states have the right to regulate and tax an industry the way they want,” she said, adding that states are gaining tax revenue to pay for government programs....

However, the states may find their hands tied legally if they try to keep federal agents from raiding and shutting down marijuana growing and sales operations, according to Adam Winkler, a professor at UCLA School of Law. “I imagine that California will mount a legal challenge to any crackdown on recreational marijuana,” Winkler said. “Yet there is not much California can do. Federal law is supreme over conflicting state law. Federal agents are entitled to enforce federal law anywhere in the country, including California.” He said there are limits to federal power, but the courts have held that the federal government does have the authority to enforce federal drug laws.

Aaron Herzberg, an attorney for the industry, agreed that the state would face a tough fight. He cited the 2005 case Gonzales vs. Raich, in which the U.S. Supreme Court found that under the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, Congress may criminalize the production and use of homegrown marijuana even if states approve its use for medical purposes. “Let's face it: If the federal government wants to shut down recreational marijuana they could quite easily accomplish it using federal law enforcement and taxation tools,” Herzberg said.

Others say one basis for legal action would be an argument that enforcing laws against marijuana would damage states that have put regulations in place and are depending on hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes to pay for government programs. States are too far down the path of regulating, licensing and taxing those who are making big investments in the sanctioned marijuana industry to pull the rug out now, said Richard Miadich, an attorney who co-wrote Proposition 64....

Because Spicer did not provide details on what an enforcement effort might look like, many in the industry hope it will focus on the illegal exporting of marijuana to other states, leaving alone state-licensed firms that grow and sell pot. “The biggest crackdown we may see is on the increase of cannabis being illegally exported out of recreational states,” said Nate Bradley, executive director of the California Cannabis Industry Assn.

Prior related post:

White House press secretary hints of "greater enforcement" by feds of marijuana prohibition in recreational marijuana states

February 25, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday, February 24, 2017

Notable new poll numbers on support for marijuana reform in new Quinnipiac poll

This webpage provides the basics on the latest Quinnipiac University national poll looking at a range of political issues, including marijuana legalization. Here are the marijuana poll highlights:

Legalized Marijuana

Marijuana should be made legal in the U.S., voters say 59 - 36 percent.

Republicans are opposed 61 - 35 percent and voters over 65 years old are opposed 51 - 42 percent.  Every other party, gender, education, age and racial group listed supports legalized marijuana.

Voters support 93 - 6 percent legalized marijuana for medical purposes if prescribed by a doctor.

The government should not enforce federal laws against marijuana in states that have legalized medical or recreational marijuana use, voters say 71 - 23 percent.  Voters in every listed group support this position.

Especially interesting, particularly in light of yesterday's comments from White House press secretary Sean Spicer, is that only about 1/3 of all Republications in this poll voice support for "the government enforcing federal laws against marijuana in states that have already legalized medical or recreational marijuana."

February 24, 2017 in Polling data and results, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 23, 2017

White House press secretary hints of "greater enforcement" by feds of marijuana prohibition in recreational marijuana states

As reported in this Politico article, "White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Thursday that he expects states to see 'greater enforcement' of the federal law against marijuana use, a move that would be at odds with a growing number of states’ decisions to legalize it." Here is more:

Spicer, taking questions from reporters at the daily briefing, differentiated between the administration’s positions on medical marijuana and recreational marijuana. President Donald Trump “understands the pain and suffering that many people go through who are facing especially terminal diseases, and the comfort that some of these drugs, including medical marijuana, can bring to them,” he said, also noting previous action by Congress not to fund the Justice Department “go[ing] after those folks.”

As for “recreational marijuana, that’s a very, very different subject,” Spicer said.

Spicer suggested that the administration is opposed to encouraging recreational marijuana use and connected it with the crisis with opioid addiction in some areas. “When you see something like the opioid addiction crisis blossoming in so many states around this country, the last thing we should be doing is encouraging people,” he said.

The Department of Justice, Spicer said, will be “further looking into” the marijuana enforcement question, he said, punting questions about the specifics to the department. “I do believe that you'll see greater enforcement of it,” he said.

February 23, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Reviewing ups-and-downs and defeat in 2015 of Ohio effort to legalize recreational marijuana via Issue 3

UntitledI am excited to remind readers (and also my students) that it is that time of year again:  students in my Ohio State University Moritz College of Law marijuana reform seminar are gearing up to begin in-class presentations.   This means, inter alia, that this blog space will be filled in coming weeks with links and materials provided by my students as a background/preview for their coming presentation.

The first of the scheduled presentations involves a review of this history (and epic fail) of Issue 3, the 2015 campaign in Ohio seeking passage of a state constitutional amendment that would have fully legalized marijuana in the Buckeye State and put the rights to grow marijuana in the hands of a small group of financial backers of the initiative campaign.  The student making this presentations has suggested the following reading for classmates (and any others interested in recalling this tale):

"Is Responsible Ohio's mascot Buddie 'the Joe Camel of marijuana'?"(Oct 21, 2015 press article)

"On Ballot, Ohio Grapples With Specter of Marijuana Monopoly" (Nov 1, 2015 press article)

Proposed Constitutional Amendment Issue 2: "Anti-monopoly amendment; protects the initiative process from being used for personal economic benefit"

Proposed Constitutional Amendment Issue 3: "Grants a monopoly for the commercial production and sale of marijuana for recreational and medicinal purposes"

"Ohioans reject legalizing marijuana" (Nov 4, 2015 press article)

UPDATE:  And here is one more: "Will Ohio's Marijuana Amendment Go up in Smoke" (Sept/Oct Ohio Lawyer article)

February 22, 2017 in Assembled readings on specific topics, Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

New report projects extraordinary job growth in US marijuana industry

This new Forbes article, headlined "Marijuana Industry Projected To Create More Jobs Than Manufacturing By 2020," highlights some of the economic development potential that is forecast by some in the marijuana arena. Here are the details:

Jobs. That is what the marijuana industry hopes will keep the Trump administration from cracking down on cannabis companies.

A new report from New Frontier data projects that by 2020, the legal cannabis market will create more than a quarter of a million jobs. This is more than the expected jobs from manufacturing, utilities or even government jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The BLS says that by 2024 manufacturing jobs are expected to decline by 814,000, utilities will lose 47,000 jobs and government jobs will decline by 383,000. This dovetails with data that suggests the fastest growing industries are all healthcare related.

The legal cannabis market was worth an estimated $7.2 billion in 2016 and is projected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 17%. Medical marijuana sales are projected to grow from $4.7 billion in 2016 to $13.3 billion in 2020. Adult recreational sales are estimated to jump from $2.6 billion in 2016 to $11.2 billion by 2020. New Frontier bases these projections on the markets that have already passed such legal initiatives and don't include additional states that could come on board by 2020....

“These numbers confirm that cannabis is a major economic driver and job creation engine for the U.S. economy,” said Giadha Aguirre De Carcer, Founder and CEO of New Frontier Data. “While we see a potential drop in total number of U.S. jobs created in 2017, as reported by Kiplinger, as well as an overall expected drop in GDP growth, the cannabis industry continues to be a positive contributing factor to growth at a time of potential decline. We expect the cannabis industry’s growth to be slowed down to some degree in the next three to five years, however with a projected total market sales to exceed $24 billion by 2025, and the possibility of almost 300,000 jobs by 2020, it remains a positive economic force in the U.S.”

New Frontier based its projections on analysis from the Marijuana Policy Group which was hired by Colorado for an economic analysis. According to annual surveys of cannabis professionals by the Marijuana Business Daily, the industry already employs 100,000 to 150,000 workers and nearly 90,000 are in plant-touching companies....

Many employees in the industry seem thankful for their jobs and are genuinely happy with their employment. The alternative culture appeals to many who have no interest in cubicle jobs or working for a big corporate giant. It is increasingly pulling professionals from more traditional industries who are looking for new challenges and different work environments. “The governments and the programs that they've instilled into these (legalized) states have created great job opportunities and excellent business opportunities for entrepreneurs,” said Mark Lustig, Chief Executive Officer of CannaRoyalty. “They've created the right competition.”

February 22, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

"Can Marijuana Ease the Opioid Epidemic?"

The question in the title of this post is the headline of this new Stateline piece.  Regular readers may be tired of my repeated emphasis on the possible connections between the nation's opioid problems and marijuana reform, but I continue to consider the story very important and I am especially troubled to see so little attention seemingly given to these matters by those on the front-lines of the opioid epidemic.  Here are excerpts from the Stateline piece (which discusses medical marijuana more generally):

In the midst of an opioid crisis, some medical practitioners and researchers believe that greater use of marijuana for pain relief could result in fewer people using the highly addictive prescription painkillers that led to the epidemic.

A 2016 study by researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that states with medical marijuana laws had 25 percent fewer opioid overdose deaths than states that do not have medical marijuana laws. And another study published in Health Affairs last year found that prescriptions for opioid painkillers such as OxyContin, Vicodin and Percocet paid for by Medicare dropped substantially in states that adopted medical marijuana laws.

In December, the New York Health Department said it would start allowing some patients with certain types of chronic pain to use marijuana as long as they have tried other therapies. The state’s original medical marijuana law, along with those in Connecticut, Illinois, New Hampshire and New Jersey, did not include chronic pain as an allowable condition for marijuana use, in part over concerns that such a broad category of symptoms could result in widespread and potentially inappropriate use of the controversial medicine.

Advocates for greater use of medical marijuana argue that including chronic pain as an allowable condition could result in even further reductions in dangerous opioid use. But some physicians remain cautious about recommending the botanical medicine as a pain management tool.

Dr. Jane Ballantyne, a pain specialist at the University of Washington and president of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing, which promotes the use of alternatives to opioids for chronic pain, said she does not recommend that her patients try marijuana. “There is no doubt marijuana is much safer than opiates. So we don’t discourage its use.” But in general, she said, “non-drug treatments are far more helpful than any drug treatment, and marijuana is a drug.”

At Mount Sinai Hospital here in the city, Dr. Houman Danesh, director of integrative pain management, suggests patients try physical therapy, yoga, acupuncture, stem cell therapy, nutrition counseling, hypnosis and behavioral health counseling before resorting to opioids or any other medications. He said lack of sufficient research to back up marijuana’s safety and efficacy has kept him from adding it to his pain management toolkit, but he doesn’t rule it out in the near future....

Dr. Howard Shapiro, started certifying patients for marijuana about a year ago and quickly became a believer. He’s one of only 371 doctors out of nearly 33,000 in [New York] City’s five boroughs registered to certify patients for medical marijuana. Statewide, only 863 out of roughly 96,000 physicians have signed up for the program....

As a primary care doctor who takes a holistic approach to medicine, Shapiro said trying medical marijuana was a natural for him. But he said he worried that “a bunch of druggies would start showing up.” Instead, he said the patients he began seeing were all very sick and none of them appeared to be seeking drugs for fun. The improvement he saw in those first patients was remarkable, he said. “I really think medical marijuana is the drug of the future,” Shapiro said. “We’re going to find out that it does a lot of things we already think it can do, but don’t have scientific studies to prove it.”

Out of 109 patients he’s seen over the past year, all but a handful reported substantial improvement in their pain and other symptoms within a month or two of using medical marijuana, he said. For Shapiro’s patients, the cost of marijuana treatment ranges from $300 to $400 a month, depending on their level of use.

February 21, 2017 in Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1)

New poll shows strong and growing support for marijuana reform in the Lone Star State

TT-UT_polls_001_jpeg_800x1000_q100As reported in this local article, "opposition to legal marijuana is dropping in Texas, with fewer than one in five respondents to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll saying they are against legalization in any form."  Here is more on these poll results:

“We’ve seen this movie before on a couple of social issues,” said Daron Shaw, a professor of government at the University of Texas at Austin and co-director of the poll. He thinks the changes in Texas have more to do with shifting attitudes than with news of legalization in other states. “There’s a little bit of normalization. I don’t think this is a states-as-laboratories issue. Voters don’t care about that kind of stuff.”

Overall, 83 percent of Texans support legalizing marijuana for some use; 53 percent would go beyond legal medical marijuana to allow possession for any use, the poll found. Two years ago, 24 percent of Texans said no amount of marijuana should be legal for any use and another 34 percent said it should be allowed only for medical use.

Legal pot is more popular with Democrats than Republicans, with men than with women, and with younger Texans more than older ones. All of those subgroups support legalization of marijuana for medical or nonmedical use. Among Democrats, 62 percent would legalize pot in some amount for nonmedical use, while only 41 percent of Republicans agreed. Sixty percent of men would support legalization of non-medical marijuana, compared with 48 percent of women. Among 18-44 year olds, 55 percent would approve of non-medical marijuana and 51 percent of 45 to 64-year-olds agreed. But only 38 percent of Texans 65 and older agreed.

“The number of people who want to keep marijuana completely illegal decreased by seven points,” said poll co-director Jim Henson, who runs the Texas Politics Project at UT-Austin. “The commensurate shift is in Republicans saying small amounts should be legal, and those who said any amount should be legal increased by six points."

February 21, 2017 in Political perspective on reforms, Polling data and results, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Highlighting free market fuzziness for GOP when marijuana involved

This Florida newspaper commentary by John Romano, headlined "Doesn't medical marijuana deserve a free market too?," effectively shines a light on the notable fact that the affinity of some Republican leaders for less government regulation and more marketplace freedom often wanes when the commodity at issue is marijuana.  Here is a portion of the commentary:

Around here, free market is the answer. And it doesn't even require an actual question.

Education gap? Let the business community fix it. Health insurance? Keep the government out of it. Minimum wage? Leave it up to the job creators. Yes, free market competition will always be the solution in Tallahassee.

Except when it comes to medical marijuana. Apparently, that's an industry in serious need of a government-sponsored cartel.

When first venturing into the marijuana business a couple of years ago, the state handpicked a small group of well-connected nurseries in a highly suspect procurement process. Now that a constitutional amendment has marijuana on the precipice of becoming a billion-dollar industry, the state is considering a plan to reward that same group of nurseries with a huge head start in the marketplace. And that contradicts everything our state leaders normally preach.

Think I'm exaggerating? State Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, recently introduced legislation to repeal the state's "certificate of need" programs for hospitals. The program allows the state to regulate where hospitals open, ostensibly to make sure private facilities do not cater to an affluent population and ignore the poor. Bradley calls it a "cumbersome process" used to "block expansion" and "restrict competition." He says eliminating the program will create jobs and drive down prices.

And yet Bradley is also the sponsor of a bill that restricts the number of nurseries allowed to produce medical marijuana, which critics say will create price gouging and limit available product. In effect, it would create the same problems Bradley says hamper the hospital industry....

Personally, I'm waiting for House Speaker Richard Corcoran to get involved.  This is a man who does not believe in compromising his principles. He's so committed to free market ideals in education that he called teachers "evil" for pushing back against the privatization of public schools.  He once said he would go to war to fight Obamacare's Medicaid expansion.

Not long ago, Corcoran laid out his political principles in a forceful speech: "No economic system has done more to benefit mankind than the free enterprise system … but when judges or legislatures or local governments continually rewrite the rules or attempt to pick winners and losers, that is when markets fail.  We need to reverse the damage that has been done, untangle the red tape and tear down all these barriers to entry."

Glad to hear it, Mr. Speaker. Looking forward to you joining the fight.

February 18, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

"Joint Culpability: The Effects of Medical Marijuana Laws on Crime"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new article posted to SSRN authored by Yu-Wei Luke Chu and Wilbur Townsend. Here is the abstract:

Most of the U.S. states have passed medical marijuana laws. In this paper, we study the effects of these laws on violent and property crime.  We first estimate models that control for city fixed effects and flexible city-specific time trends.  To supplement this regression analysis we use the synthetic control method which can relax the parallel trend assumption and better account for heterogeneous policy effects. 

Both the regression analysis and the synthetic control method suggest no causal effects of medical marijuana laws on violent or property crime at the national level.  We also find no strong effects within individual states, except for in California where the medical marijuana law reduced both violent and property crime by 20%.

February 15, 2017 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)