Tuesday, June 16, 2015
The question in the title of this post is prompted by this interesting new report showing the results of a statewide study funded by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. As this AP article, reports these basics (with my emphasis added):
Results from the 2014 survey were announced Monday. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment says that 13.6 percent of adults currently use pot. Of those, more than a third said they use pot every day. Almost half, 48.9 percent, said they’ve ever used pot. Adults with higher incomes and more education were more likely than others to have used marijuana.
To begin any analysis of this data, I think we must start by whether the data conclusively shows whether marijuana use truly has increased in Colorado recently as a result of legalization or whether just more current and former marijuana users feel more comfortable admitting in a government survey that they are marijuana users. In addition, there is reason to suspect a not-insignificant number of marijuana users moved into Colorado in the wake of its 2012 vote to legalize the drug, and such migration to a relatively low-population state could also move the numbers a bit here.
More important that unpacking the basics of this data is to integrating it with other critical public health data. Even if marijuana use has increased in Colorado significantly, I would be eager to know if there has been any corresponding significant change in illegal drug use patters, and well as in patterns of alcohol and tobacco use and abuse. Without such data (and lots more), I think it is nearly impossible to draw any definitive public health and safety conclusions from use survey data in the short term.
The quoted portion of this post comes from the headline of this recent Reason piece by Jacob Sullum, which canvasses at length the comments made by 2016 presidential candidates about whether they would respect state effort to reform their marijuana regimes in the shadow of federal prohibition. Here is how the piece starts and ends:
Last week New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie reiterated his intention to crack down on marijuana in states that have legalized it if he is elected president. In an interview on Face the Nation, Christie answered "yes" when asked whether he would "return the federal prosecutions in these states," "yes" when asked if he would "go after" marijuana, and "correct" when asked if legalization would be "turned off."
If he were president, Christie could make a lot of trouble for state-licensed growers and retailers, but he would not actually have the power to make Colorado, Washington, Alaska, and Oregon recriminalize marijuana. Furthermore, any attempt to override the decisions made by voters in those states would arouse strong objections — and not just from supporters of legalization. Illustrating that point, another Republican presidential contender, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, disagreed with Christie. "Colorado voters made a choice," she said in a Fox News interview last Tuesday. "I don't support their choice, but I do support their right to make that choice."
As I noted in March, that stance is pretty common among Republicans seeking their party's presidential nomination, and it seems politically smart, since even voters who hate marijuana do not necessarily think the federal government should force prohibition on states that do not want it. A recent Pew Research Center survey found that three-fifths of Americans think the feds should not "enforce federal marijuana laws" in states that have legalized pot. Even more striking: A 2012 CBS News survey found that 65 percent of Republicans thought "laws regarding whether the use of marijuana is legal or not should be…left to each individual state government to decide," even though only 27 percent supported Colorado-style legalization....
In short, Chris Christie's determination to stamp out marijuana legalization puts him in the minority among presidential candidates, among Republicans, and among the general public. "I don't believe that people want to be told just what they want to hear," he said on Face the Nation. "I believe they want to be told the truth as the person who is running sees it." There's a startling proposition: In 2015, it seems, promising to keep marijuana illegal counts as courage.
June 16, 2015 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, June 15, 2015
Colorado Supreme Court affirms statutory interpretation permitting dismissal of medical marijuana user
As reported in this local article, a long awaited Colorado Supreme Court ruling concerning application of the state's employment laws for marijuana user finally was handed today. Here are the basics:
The Colorado Supreme Court on Monday affirmed lower courts' rulings that businesses can fire employees for the use of medical marijuana — even if it's off-duty. The 6-0 decision comes nine months after the state's highest court heard oral arguments in Brandon Coats' case against Dish Network. Coats, who had a medical marijuana card and consumed pot off-duty to control muscle spasms, was fired in 2010 after failing a random drug test.
Coats challenged Dish's zero-tolerance drug policy, claiming that his use was legal under state law. The firing was upheld in both trial court and the Colorado Court of Appeals. When the case went to the state Supreme Court, legal observers said the case could have significant implications for employers across Colorado. They also noted that the ruling could be precedent-setting as Colorado and other states wrangle with adapting laws to a nascent industry that is illegal under federal law.
As such, the question at hand is whether the use of medical marijuana — which is in compliance with Colorado's Medical Marijuana Amendment — is "lawful" under the state's Lawful Off-Duty Activities Statute. That term, the justices said, refers to activities lawful under both state and federal law.
"Therefore, employees who engage in an activity, such as medical marijuana use, that is permitted by state law but unlawful under federal law are not protected by the statute," Justice Allison H. Eid wrote in the opinion. The justices said the court will not make a new law. Current Colorado law allows employers to set their own policies on drug use.
Coats' attorney Michael Evans, of Centennial-based The Evans Group, called the decision "devastating."
"For people like Brandon Coats, there really isn't a 'choice,' as MMJ is the only substance both he and his (Colorado-licensed) physicians know of to control his seizures due to his quadriplegia," Evans said. "He has to have it. " A silver lining of the decision, Evans said, is that it provides clarity in a "scary, gray area" of state law.
"Today's decision means that until someone in the House or Senate champions the cause, most employees who work in a state with the world's most powerful MMJ laws will have to choose between using MMJ and work," Evans said in a statement....
Sam Kamin, a law professor at the University of Denver, said the justices' decision comes as no surprise. "It's easy to make too much of this decision," he said. "It really comes down to interpreting this one word in this one statute." As a matter of statutory interpretation, the court got it right, he said.
But for Coats and medical marijuana advocates, this is a blow, Kamin said. Coats was a "dream plaintiff" in that marijuana served as medicine, he said. Coats was rendered a quadriplegic by a car accident and used marijuana to control leg spasms.
The cause likely would land in the hands of the state legislature, Kamin said. "I think (Coats') case is very sympathetic, and I think his case would be quite compelling before the legislature," Kamin said.
The full ruling in this notable state Supreme Court can be accessed at this link, and the only thing I find surprising is why it took the Colorado justices a full nine months to resolve this matter.
In addition, though I fully understand the disappointment felt by Coats and his lawyer, I share Sam Kamin's view that this ruling is not that big a deal. This ruling does not mean state employers must dismiss marijuana users, only that they are not required by statute to keep such users who comply with state law employed. Ultimately, this case only would have been a very big deal if it had come out the other way. And, especially as more and more state legalize medical marijuana, I suspect more and more employers will become more eager to make accomodations for medical marijuana patients.
June 15, 2015 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Employment and labor law issues, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, State court rulings | Permalink | Comments (0)
This new USA Today article, headlined "Patchwork of pot rules hampers marijuana business expansion," highlights why the succeeding in the marijuana industry is not quite as easy as it migth seem. Here is how the article gets started:
Marijuana entrepreneurs rushing into the booming market are running headlong into a patchwork of state-by-state regulations that make it hard to transfer their expertise, brands and staff— and even their profits.
Because the federal government classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, states that have legalized medical or recreational marijuana have developed widely divergent rules governing their semi-legal marketplaces.
In Colorado, for instance, retailers until recently had been required to grow the majority of the marijuana they sell to customers. But Washington state bans retailers from growing their own cannabis, forcing them to buy from state-licensed farms.
New York and Minnesota ban the sale of smokeable medical marijuana but their systems will permit very sick people to consume cannabis oil and other extracts, while the District of Columbia allows residents to possess up to two ounces of smoking marijuana for recreational use.
Some states require marijuana growers and sellers to be legal residents of the state they're operating in, which means companies seeking to franchise their brands can't just send in managers from existing operations elsewhere.
Colorado requires a clean criminal record to get a marijuana-growing or retail license, while in Washington a conviction doesn't necessarily disqualify them.
"If you're trying to open a bagel shop in New York and a bagel shop in St. Louis, they're going to end up basically the same," said Kris Krane, the co-founder and managing partner of marijuana consulting firm 4Front Ventures. "The only difference is that the bagels might taste better in New York. (With marijuana), every state we go into we have to tailor the operating model. It's a real challenge."
Sunday, June 14, 2015
Supreme Court of Canada issues big medical marijuana ruling (and highlights import of judiciary in marijuana reform)
As reported in this local Canadian article, headlined "Medical marijuana includes cookies, brownies, Supreme Court rules," the top court in Canada issues a significant medical marijuana ruling last week. Here are the details:
A former cannabis club head baker at the centre of a Supreme Court of Canada ruling is both thrilled and relieved after the high court struck down limits on what constitutes legally acceptable medical marijuana products. The court ruled unanimously on Thursday that medical marijuana can be legally consumed in a range of ways, from cannabis-infused cookies and brownies to cooking oils and teas. “I think across the country there will be a lot more smiles and a lot less pain,” said Owen Smith with the Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club, whose 2009 arrest was the focus of the decision.
Smith was charged after police found hundreds of pot cookies and cannabis-infused olive and grapeseed oils in his Victoria apartment. He was acquitted at trial and won an appeal.
The outpouring of gratitude since the ruling was handed down has been overwhelming, Smith said. He received a phone call from a mother who used cannabis-infused oil to treat her daughter’s epilepsy. “She was just overjoyed and in tears about the decision,” he said. “It’s been emotional, that’s for sure.”
Not only was it a unanimous 7-0 ruling, but the court made a point of attributing the written decision to the entire court — something the justices do when they want to underline a finding.
It was yet another rebuke of the Harper government’s tough-on-crime agenda. Until now, federal regulations stipulated that authorized users of physician-prescribed cannabis could only consume dried marijuana.
But limiting medical consumption to dried pot infringes on liberty protections under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the court said. “The prohibition of non-dried forms of medical marijuana limits liberty and security of the person in a manner that is arbitrary and hence is not in accord with the principles of fundamental justice,” said the written judgment.
Cheryl Rose, whose daughter Hayley takes cannabis for a severe form of epilepsy, said the 22-year-old’s seizures have dropped dramatically. Under the previous law, Hayley had to take 15 capsules of dried cannabis daily. Now, she will only have to take one concentrated capsule made with oil. “Without having extracts available for her, I don’t think we’d be able to keep it up. It’s way too much for a person to consume,” she said. “She’s finally going to fully have her life back.”
Alex Repetski, of Thornhill, Ont., could have been charged with possession and trafficking for converting dried bud into oil for his 3-year-old daughter, Gwenevere, whose debilitating epilepsy has left her developmentally delayed. Since starting on the low-THC marijuana, Gwenevere has seen an incredible recovery, Repetski said. He no longer fears prosecution.
Limiting medical marijuana use to dried pot “limits life, liberty and security of the person” in two ways, the court said. First, the prohibition on possession of cannabis in forms other than dried pot places a person at risk of imprisonment when they wouldn’t face the same threat if they possessed dried marijuana buds. It also exposes people with a legitimate need for marijuana to other potential medical ailments, it stated. “It subjects the person to the risk of cancer and bronchial infections associated with smoking dry marijuana and precludes the possibility of choosing a more effective treatment.”...
Health Minister Rona Ambrose said she was “outraged” by the marijuana decision. “The big issue here is the message about normalization,” she said. “The message that judges, not medical experts, judges have decided something is a medicine.” Ambrose noted that marijuana has never faced a regulatory approval process through Heath Canada.
The full 24-page ruling in R. v. Smith, 2015 SCC 34 (Canada June 11, 2015) is available at this link.
As the last line of my post headline emphasizes, I think this ruling highlights the importance and impact of how a judiciary responds to a jurisdiction's marijuana reform efforts. For any jurisdiction that reforms blanket marijuana prohibition in any ways, the dynamics of just how courts interpret and apply reform statutes and regulations will necessarily have an impact on the actions of other government officials and individuals seeking to comply with reformed laws and practices.
The title of this post is the headline of this notable new Newsweek article. Here are excerpts:
In New York City, misdemeanor marijuana possession arrests were dramatically lower between January and March 2015 than in the same period of 2014—2,960 compared to 7,110, respectively—but stark racial disparities persist among those arrested, new data obtained by Newsweek indicate.
During the first quarter of 2015, African-Americans were arrested for misdemeanor marijuana possession 1,494 times: That’s 50.47 percent of the total. Hispanics were arrested 1,130 times, or 38.18 percent, and together these two groups accounted for 88.65 percent of the total. Meanwhile, whites totaled 228 of these arrests (7.70 percent) and 79 (2.67 percent) of the arrestees listed as Asian/Indian, according to the state’s Division of Criminal Justice Services.
In terms of the racial breakdown, this isn’t all that different from the first quarter of 2014. Of those 7,110 misdemeanor marijuana arrests, 3,370 (47.4 percent) were African-American and 2,791 (39.25 percent) were Hispanic. So, these two group comprised 86.65 percent of misdemeanor marijuana arrests early in 2014, suggesting the racial disparity in these arrests has grown slightly this year. Whites were arrested 650 times (9.14 percent) and Asian/Indian were arrested 236 times (3.32 percent) during this period. (Some arrestees did not list race-ethnicity data.)
The year-over-year decrease in arrests follows the announcement in November by Mayor Bill de Blasio and Commissioner William Bratton that they would issue summonses for small amounts of marijuana rather than collar them. The rule applies to those caught with 25 grams or less of pot, “so long as there is no warrant for the individual’s arrest and the person has identification.” Police can arrest those in possession of 25 grams or less “if the marijuana is burning, if the type of possession indicates intent to sell, if the individual has an outstanding warrant, or if the individual is in a location with special consideration, like a school.”...
New York Police Department officers made 26,385 misdemeanor marijuana possession arrests in 2014. That was down from 28,954 in 2013. Both years, African-Americans and Hispanics comprised some 86 percent of these arrests. Asked about the numbers, a department official responds that these statistics do not reflect racially motivated policing, but result from data driven crime enforcement.
“The NYPD endeavors to assign its resources based, in considerable part, on an analysis of various conditions in different areas of the city. Among these conditions include level of crime, both major crime and lesser offenses. Another significant consideration relates to the nature and number of local citizen and community complaints in the various neighborhoods. This includes calls to 911, calls to 311 and complaints voiced by members of local precinct community groups,” the official says.
“Analysis has clearly shown that a significantly higher level of these conditions and complaints exist in those areas of New York City where there is also a high minority population. Based on these crime-related conditions, as well as complaints, the NYPD attempts to assign its resources to appropriately address these demands. A higher level of police presence in any particular area in which there is a greater level of offenses, in public, will often result in more enforcement activity.”
Thursday, June 11, 2015
As regular readers know, the exciting the Ohio Marijuana Policy Reform Symposium (details here) is taking place today,June 11, 2015, at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law. Though formal registration is over, because there is no charge for attending this exciting Symposium at Ohio State, I encourage anyone still interested in attending to make it over to the College of Law because there may still be some limited space in the auditorium (and a few extra donuts and lunches).
I have the honor and privilege of giving brief opening remarks for the event (which formally starts at 10:30am), and I plan to start my remarks this way:
Marijuana reform is a very serious issue. But, until recently, it has been hard to get serious people to take this issue very seriously. Disconcertingly, it seems elected officials are especially eager to ignore (or even make jokes) about the very serious issue of marijuana reform even as more and more citizens and voters, young and old, healthy and sick, keep saying in polls and keep showing on election day that they are troubled by blanket criminal prohibition and are eager to have significant policy reforms seriously considered.
Even since California legalized medical marijuana nearly 20 years ago, and especially since Arizona, Oregon and Washington moved forward with various significant marijuana reforms, the far west has been the US region to watch most closely for those interested in both the legal and practical dynamics of marijuana reform. And now, as this Las Vegas Sun article highlights, Nevada seems finally poised to join its western neighbors as a state to watch closely in this dynamic arena. The article is headlined "New rules aim to stimulate Nevada’s nascent medical marijuana market," and here are excerpts:
It's been two years since the Legislature approved a new law establishing a system of dispensaries and growing facilities to make medical marijuana more accessible to patients, but so far not a single bud has been sold.
That could change in the coming weeks with the planned opening of the Euphoria Wellness dispensary in Las Vegas, but there's no denying there have been growing pains as the industry struggles to launch.
Many of the issues stem from unintended consequences arising from the way the 2013 law was written, and Sen. Tick Segerblom, a leading marijuana advocate, made it a priority during the recently ended legislative session to fix as many problems as possible. "When you grow (an industry) from scratch, there's all kinds of issues you never thought about," Segerblom said. "Basically all these things we're dealing with are things we've learned over the last two years."...
Senate Bill 276 is intended to give medical marijuana entrepreneurs more flexibility with their businesses, allowing investors to sell or transfer their interest in a dispensary, lab, production or growing facility to another party, something that wasn't allowed under the previous law. The change will allow medical marijuana businesses to bring on new investors to raise capital or to cash out shareholders who no longer wish to be in the medical marijuana business. The law also allows marijuana establishments to change locations, so long as they stay in the same jurisdiction for which they're licensed and receive local government approval.
A different bill, Senate Bill 447, made various tweaks to criminal statutes surrounding marijuana and medical marijuana that deal with things like counterfeit patient registration cards and the production of cannabis concentrates. The bill also deals with noncriminal matters, most importantly allowing the use of certain pesticides in cannabis growing operations, something that's common in states like Colorado and California but wasn't allowed in Nevada.
Assembly Bill 70 also started out with a narrow focus — this time dealing with taxes on medical marijuana — but was expanded to help out businesses by allowing third party vendors to be used in operations. Previously, any nonpatient stepping foot into a dispensary or growing facility had to be an employee or volunteer of the establishment and register with the state. The new law will allow third party contractors to be hired by multiple businesses at a time, so long as the contractor is registered with the state....
The goal, Segerblom said, is to get the businesses up and running in advance of the 2016 election, when Nevada voters will decide whether to legalize recreational marijuana in the state. "We want the voters to see what it's like," he said, "so we need to get these things out there so folks can see these are not bad operations."
With states like Colorado and Washington already bringing in hundreds of millions of dollars through their recently launched recreational marijuana markets, Segerblom said expanding access in Nevada would be a major revenue generator for the state. "We are perfectly situated to take advantage of this for all kinds of reasons. For us not to have marijuana tourism when Colorado and Washington have it just makes no sense," he said. "The reality is they're already (smoking) it, we're just not getting any tax revenue."
June 11, 2015 in Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)
Wednesday, June 10, 2015
As regular readers know, the exciting Ohio Marijuana Policy Reform Symposium (details and registration here) is taking place tomorrow June 11, 2015, at the The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law. Though I hope everyone interested in marijuana reform in the Buckeye State is making plans to attend the event in person, I know there are plenty of folks interested in marijuana reform who will not be able to attend the live event. Consequently, I wanted to use this space to solicit question from those unable to make the Symposium concerning what issues and topics they would like to have covered.
I am pretty sure the full event will be available via podcast before the end of the day tomorrow, so anyone who suggests good questions in the comments or via e-mail (to sentencinglaw @ gmail.com) will be able to hear the answers. Though I am a panelist on the afternoon "academics" panel, I will be moderating the morning panel of the Symposium, which starts with The Marijuana Policies of Ohio Taskforce, chaired by Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters, presenting the findings of its comprehensive research report titled "Marijuana & Ohio: Past, Present, Potential." There will be an audience Q&A session after the Taskforce presentation, but I would work in as a moderator any especially good questions received from this solicitation.
As I have mentioned before, mportantly, there is no charge for attending this exciting Symposium at Ohio State tomorrow, but space in the auditorium can get limited so I highly encourage everyone interested in attending to pre-register via this webpage.
Tuesday, June 9, 2015
The title of this post is the headline of this notable new Washington Post piece. Here are excerpts:
With a wave of legalization measures in recent years, marijuana in some form is now legal in 38 states. But in the 12 where it is not — a swath of the west and Midwest, including Kansas, Nebraska and the Dakotas, and in the rust belt states of Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania — parents whose use of the drug would be legal elsewhere are losing their children and often seen as irresponsible parenting pariahs.
In March, Child Protective Service workers took Shona Banda’s 11-year-old son from her home in Garden City, Kansas, saying her use of marijuana to control debilitating Crohn’s Disease put the child in danger.
Last Friday, the state of Kansas charged Banda with five felony counts of possession of marijuana with the intent to distribute, manufacturing Tetrahydrocannabinol, an oil extracted from marijuana, two counts of possession of drug paraphernalia and one count of child endangerment. Banda, who will turn herself in to authorities June 15, according to her attorney, could face a maximum of 30 years in prison.
On the day she was charged, June 5, the Louisiana state legislature sent a bill to legalize medical marijuana to Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal, who’d indicated he’d sign it, and the Detroit Free Press reported that establishment Republicans are backing a recreational marijuana bill for 2016. It was also the day Amber Thurmond, of Arizona, appeared in family court in Hays, Kansas and was told by a judge that if she ever wanted to be reunited with her nine-year-old daughter, Thurmond would have to move to Kansas.
Thurmond lives in Arizona, where medical marijuana is legal, uses medical marijuana to control seizures and works at a medical marijuana dispensary. She’s facing charges of physical, mental and emotional neglect in Kansas, where she sent her daughter to live with her brother, a police officer, for a semester, she said, while she got on her feet financially. Eighteen months later, her daughter has been put in the state foster care system and placed with her brother.
“These mothers are being forced to choose between their health and their ability to be a parent,” said Sarah Swain, a Kansas attorney who is representing both Banda and Thurmond. “And there really is no choice to be made. We can’t be mothers if we’re so sick that we’re bedridden, or if we aren’t alive.”
Thurmond was featured on the National Geographic TV series, “American Weed,” which followed the story of the town of Castle Rock, Colorado voting to close down her medical marijuana dispensary, Plants4Life. “I want to tell everyone I see, ‘you have children? Well, you better reconsider your usage,’” Thurmond said. “And yet, we can go home and drink ourselves to death and never have children removed from our homes.”
Charlene Brubaker, the county attorney involved in Thurmond’s case, said the judge found that her daughter had special needs that could only be met with Thurmond’s frequent presence with the child in Kansas. “The court did not make its decision based on medical marijuana. It’s just their spin, not the truth,” Brubaker said, though she said she could not say more for confidentiality reasons.
Chuck Noerenberg, president of the National Alliance for Drug Endangered Children, a group that works with law enforcement and social services, say they’re intensely watching how legalizing marijuana is affecting caregivers’ ability to provide proper care to children. “Whether it’s a legal or illegal substance, if it has an impact on caregivers’ ability to take care of children, that’s a concern of ours,” he said.
Banda, who has become an outspoken advocate for medical marijuana, had 17 surgeries, tried a number of medications and was prescribed the powerful narcotic, fentanyl, to “ease her passing,” she said, because her doctors thought she was going to die. Then she tried marijuana, and began to heal, a journey she chronicles in her book, Live Free or Die, and on her Facebook page. “I spent years raising my children from a couch, not being able to move much,” Banda said, who also has an 18-year-old son. “I wasn’t able to be a proper mother when I was sick. And now I’m a fantastic mother.”
Twice Banda tried to move to Colorado, where marijuana is legal, she said, but was forced to move back to Kansas near family for financial reasons. Banda is separated from her husband, who now has custody of their 11-year-old son. The child was in a drug education class at school March 24, and spoke up about his mother’s medical marijuana use. School officials called the police and Child Protective Services. A search of the house found marijuana and drug paraphernalia on the kitchen counters.
Banda has seen the child just once since March 24, she said. Nor has she used cannabis, advocates’ preferred term for marijuana. She’s begun losing weight and an infection that rotted the roof of her mouth has returned. “I’m very afraid,” she said. “I cannot believe that I could be facing 30 years in prison for trying to save my life.”
The title of this post is the title of the fascinating Taskforce report that is to be formally released and extensively discussed at this Thursday, June 11, as the Ohio Marijuana Policy Reform Symposium (details and registration here). Because I am going to be critically assessing this report at the Symposium, I have gotten to see an advance draft of the long and detailed report which is described as a "research-based public policy review and discussion." Because the report is filled with lots and lots of information, I likely will be reading and re-reading the draft nearly non-stop before I talk about the report in a few days.
The draft report, which is even longer and more data-heavy than I had expected, confirms my belief that this Taskforce report will greatly advancw public information and understanding as the debate over marijuana reform heats up in Ohio and nationwide in the months ahead. Indeed, a letter from the Chair of the Marijuana Policies of Ohio Task Force, Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters, stresses this point at the front of the document:
The question of changing Ohio’s approach to marijuana policy may soon be put before voters – most likely on the November 2015 ballot. The rapid pace of change in marijuana policy across the country, however, has made it difficult to keep up with the experiences, research, and practices occurring in different states. Political arguments from all sides of this debate have made it even more challenging to separate fact from opinion.
As a county prosecutor, I have seen firsthand how ineffective, inefficient, and sometimes harmful, our current marijuana laws are, but I know that voters need more than my perspective – or that of any elected official – to make their decision. Ohio cannot afford to make decisions about marijuana policy and law based on unsubstantiated and often unsupported talk on both sides of the issue. Ohioans need and deserve an honest and in-depth assessment of the positive and negative impacts that ending marijuana prohibition may have, so they can make up their own minds.
It is this need for an honest, fact-based appraisal that led me to chair this Taskforce....
[T]his report does not endorse any issue or side, and it does not recommend Ohioans vote one way or another. Instead, it provides a straightforward collection and analysis of current research, data, and best practices from around the country.
I believe this report will give Ohioans the clear information they need to make informed decisions, in November and thereafter, about potential changes to Ohio’s marijuana policies and laws. I look forward to continuing this important discussion throughout Ohio in the coming weeks and months.
I am very excited to help lead a discussion of this report at the Moritz College of Law later this week. Importantly, there is no charge for attending the Symposium on June 11, but space in the auditorium can get limited so I highly encourage everyone interested in attending to pre-register via this webpage.
June 9, 2015 in Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)
Monday, June 8, 2015
What an Ohio high school kid thinks about marijuana reform: "Marijuana legalization as viewed from the trenches of youth"
The quoted portion of the title of this post is the headline of this interesting new commentary authored by Karina Baffa and published by cleveland.com. According to the piece, Ms. Baffa "graduated Monday from Fairview High School, in Fairview Park, where she researched the ramifications of marijuana legalization as part of a senior project." The piece merits a full read, and here are some excerpts from the start and end of the piece:
As a recent high school graduate, I have seen the short- and long-term effects of marijuana from all aspects of my life. I believe that the opinions and viewpoints of our younger generation are vital when it comes to the decision to legalize marijuana.
Even though this drug has positive medical uses and effects, it is still a mind-altering drug that needs to be legally regulated and used responsibly when utilized for recreational purposes.
As a member of society, I believe the legalization of marijuana would implement a plethora of health and economic benefits. Studies portray a decrease in violence and aggressive behavior after someone smokes marijuana, as opposed to people intoxicated with alcohol, who can sometimes get violent and make poor decisions, causing thousands of deaths per year....
From my personal experiences, I can confidently assert that whether or not marijuana is illegal, anyone who wants to smoke it will do so. The use of marijuana, like practically anything, is bad only if you make it bad. The advantages that legalized marijuana would bring to today's society include more profit for business people and more revenue for government, reduced crime and violence, and a beneficial alternative to detrimental drugs that already are legal, such as cigarettes and alcohol.
Overall, from my viewpoint as a recent high school graduate, I strongly believe the legalization of marijuana would be a positive step.
Among the meta-stories I find notable from this piece is the simple fact that Ms. Baffa decided to, and her high school allowed here, to make study of the ramifications of marijuana legalization be part of an official senior project. I suspect just a few years ago, a public high school in Ohio would not have considered this a proper subject from study.
With this piece serving as kind of a sign of the times in Ohio, I am hopeful everyone interested in this topic within the state (including Ms. Baffa) is now making plans to attend the exciting Ohio Marijuana Reform Symposium taking place later this week at my own Moritz College of Law. As described on this registration page, a notable set of speakers will be presenting and assessing on Thursday, June 11, 2015, on the campus of The Ohio State University the findings of a big new report about marijuana reform in the Buckeye State.
LA Weekly has this notable new article headlined "UCLA Professor Finds Marijuana Safer to Smoke than Tobacco." Here are excerpts;
Dr. Donald Tashkin, professor emeritus of medicine at UCLA, ... has been studying weed and its effects on lungs for more than 30 years, and provided early evidence that average weed smoking does not cause lung cancer or impair lung function.
Although Tashkin does not condone taking a toke, his insightful research into the effects on the lungs of smoking of marijuana has been published in numerous publications. “The smoke content of marijuana is very similar to that of tobacco,” explains Tashkin. “There is a higher concentrate of cancer-causing chemicals in marijuana tar, and it reaches the lungs before any other organ, so there is this idea that they are related in causing the same health issues of the lungs.”
But, he says, “Through my studies, we failed to find any positive association.” Instead, “the association would be negative, between lung cancer and the use of marijuana. The likelihood is, that despite the fact that marijuana smoke contains carcinogens, we don’t see the same heightened risks of cancers that we see in tobacco.”
Tashkin also discusses the fact that smoking marijuana, unlike smoking tobacco, does not cause chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). “Reasoning for this may be that marijuana is a potent anti-inflammatory and suppressive,” he says. But “COPD is activated by tobacco smoke and other toxic substances.”
“The other major impact of tobacco smoking on the lungs is the association between smoking tobacco and the development of destructive pulmonary disease, the third cause of death in America,” Tashkin adds.
Sunday, June 7, 2015
Why I think Hillary Clinton and others concerned about workplace equity should be getting behind marijuana reform
I was explaining to one of my daughters recently that my professional study of the criminal justice system, where we see men committing serious and violent crimes at roughly 10 times the rate of women, in part accounts for my strong feminist views. And, this notable recent article from the Chicago Sun-Times highlights why I think any and everyone with strong feminist views, and especially for those (justifiably) concerned about glass ceilings, pay equity, and other challenges women face in the workplace ought to strongly consider the potential gendered benefits of marijuana reform. The article is headlined "Women at work: No old-boys network in new field, medical marijuana pioneers say," and here are excerpts:
It’s an industry, they say, that’s too new to have a glass ceiling. And for many women, that’s a good reason to get into the booming legal marijuana business. “There is no such thing as an old boys’ network in a new industry,” says Wendy Berger Shapiro, co-founder of a group called Illinois Women in Cannabis.
Berger Shapiro started the professional networking group with attorney Dina Rollman last August to “get women at the starting line at the same time as the men,” Rollman says. “So they’re not playing catchup, and they’re leading the industry, shoulder-to-shoulder with the men.”
With Illinois having legalized medical marijuana, seriously ill people who qualify could be able to obtain legal weed as soon as this fall, some predict. That has attracted entrepreneurs from all over the country who want to cash in on the green wave sweeping the nation.
Among them is Norah Scott, an owner and the chief human resources officer for Pharmacann, a company that’s been awarded two cultivation center permits by state officials and four for medical marijuana dispensaries. There’s also Tanya Griffin, vice president of national expansion for Colorado-based The Green Solution and an owner in the Illinois venture, which has received two state license to operate dispensaries.
And Rollman, an attorney who left a commercial litigation law firm and opened her own cannabis-focused law practice. She also is the chief compliance officer for GTI-Clinic Illinois Holdings, which was awarded two cultivation permits and one dispensary permit.
There are lots of opportunities in the young and growing field, Rollman says, for lawyers like herself and also for people on the business end of things, in areas like accounting and marketing. Berger Shapiro says marijuana farms and dispensaries need qualified workers quickly. So she and her partners started CannaMed Talent Solutions, a staffing and recruiting agency....
Berger Shapiro, 49, who lives on the Gold Coast, describes herself as a “serial entrepreneur.” She has worked in banking and for tech start-ups including the travel website Orbitz and now owns a real estate firm. But she says she always has been interested mixing traditional medicine with alternative practices.
Griffin, 46, of Western Springs, also has had a whirlwind career, previously working as a lactation consultant for new moms and owning a kid’s clothing boutique, restaurants and now a pharmacy business in Hoffman Estates. She says women tend to manage the health care of their kids, husbands and elderly parents and “need to be leaders” when it comes to medicinal marijuana. “We need to show that cannabis is not necessarily an evil gateway drug, but it’s doing a lot of good in the health care space,” she says.
Scott’s interest in medical marijuana is more personal. The 41-year-old from Oak Park had been a recruiter for high-powered firms but says the medical cannabis industry spoke to her. Her father suffers from a spinal condition and has been approved to use medical marijuana in Illinois. “He is looking forward to the opportunity to see if medical cannabis can help him,” says Scott, whose husband, Teddy, is chief executive officer of Pharmacann....
“There’s still a little bit of a stigma around cannabis,” Rollman says. “So, for some women, and especially moms, it can be uncomfortable to be public either as a medical cannabis user or as a somebody operating in the medical or non-medical cannabis industry.” Also, she says, “I think because men have dominated the black market for marijuana, there might be a perception that women aren’t as knowledgeable about the product as men are. The more women get out there and see that there are a lot of other professional, responsible women involved in the industry that don’t fit the old ‘Cheech and Chong’ stereotype, I think they’ll feel more comfortable.”
I mentioned at the outset of this post the significant (but not often discussed) gender disparity in who generally commits serious and violent crimes. That reality provides yet another reason why I think those involved in the marijuana reform movement ought to be actively seeking and actively promoted women throughout this new industry. Not only will more female leaders in this industry greatly influence and help reshape its image, but more female leaders would also likely help better ensure the industry acts legally and responsibly in the years ahead.
The title of this post is the title of this notable new empirical-oriented new paper by Paul Hofer now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
Unidimensional rankings comparing the harmfulness of different drugs have been criticized as too simplistic for policy making. A type of unidimensional ranking of direct drug harms is needed for sentencing policy making, however, in order to implement the sentencing principle of just desert. Available empirical evidence of the relative harmfulness of illegal drugs on several measures of direct harm is reviewed. Data on typical dosage weight is used to evaluate the proportionality of current federal mandatory minimum statutes and guidelines for drug trafficking offenses. Several drugs that rank relatively low on harms are punished as, or more, severely than drugs that are far more harmful. Mandatory minimum statutes and congressional directives to the United States Sentencing Commission must be repealed or revised before recommendations of the federal sentencing guidelines will result in proportionate punishment.
Saturday, June 6, 2015
The title of this post is from a sentence in this notable new OZY article, which is headlined "Getting Stoned, Getting Freaky." Here are some (amusing? prurient? silly?) excerpts:
[G]etting intimate while getting high is not exactly a 21st-century invention. Cannabis was used for a range of medicinal purposes more than 10 centuries ago in ancient India, including — you guessed it — as a turn-on trigger. There are at least 18 variations of bhang, a grass-infused drink that was used as a sort of love potion in the ancient Ayurvedic and Unani Tibbi systems of medicine, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Some experts, like anthropologist Christian Rätsch in his book Plants of Love: The History of Aphrodisiacs and a Guide to Their Identification and Use, argue that weed was a central component to the sexual part of ancient Hindu and Buddhist Tantra, though it’s still up for debate how prominently it was featured.
And modern science hasn’t exactly cleared the haze when it comes to pot’s effect on sex. A flurry of studies in the 1980s found mixed results, with some noting that bud put a serious damper on sex while others found it lit a fire under the bed, according to Michael Castleman, a journalist who specializes in sexuality. Research into the weed/sex tie-up went on hiatus until about a decade ago, when Canadian researchers picked up the torch and found that one-third of interviewees used weed specifically for its sex-enhancing properties, while another third said it “seldom” or “never” improved sex. “It doesn’t work the same way for everybody,” warns Andrew Hathaway, one of the study’s authors and an associate professor of sociology at the University of Guelph.
Today, weed can seem like one person’s magical cup of tea and not another’s because it’s not an objective aphrodisiac per se, says Dr. Lester Grinspoon, professor emeritus of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and one of the most widely known marijuana researchers. Marijuana doesn’t increase libido or sexual performance so much as it enhances the sensations of sex. Just like how food tastes better and music sounds better while stoned, Grinspoon says, “sex feels better.” When he first started smoking in his 40s, it took Grinspoon a few tries to feel anything. It finally struck him that he was high when he got into bed, he says. But nowadays getting stoned is a bit different given how much stronger the drug is. Smoking too much can make someone fold in on themselves or become paranoid, which isn’t exactly the sexiest move.
Science be damned, weed-centric entrepreneurs are seemingly willing to try anything to make money in an industry that many are calling the Wild West. Recent pot legalization in a number of U.S. states — the big vote in California happens during next year’s election — has galvanized some to mix weed and sex to make some money. There’s Foria, a well-received marijuana-infused sex lube for women, and more products are likely to follow. Even some porn stars are cashing in by partnering with growers and having smoke sessions on live cams with fans, says Chauntelle Tibbals, a sociologist who has done extensive research on the adult entertainment industry. Hell, there’s even an ad for a sex columnist “with weed focus.”
There’s obviously a lot more at stake here than making money. Pro-weed activists promote weed as an immaculate aphrodisiac that can help deter date rape, since alcohol tends to lead to aggression while pot tends to have the opposite effect. But critics warn the drug’s strength will lead to unsafe sex. The reality, says Tyler Osterhaus, an anti-violence educator who has worked for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Sexual Violence Prevention Program, is somewhere in the middle. He adds, however, that weed can certainly lower someone’s guard and make them vulnerable to sexual violence.
The question in the title of this post is the central topic of a presentation I am honored to be giving today at the Cuyahoga Criminal Defense Lawyers Association's annual meeting.
As is often true when I speak to a group of experienced defense attorneys, I expect I will learn more from the assembled participants than I am likely to teach them. But, in part because Ohio has not (yet) reformed its marijuana laws in any way, I am cautiously hopeful I can give the group some useful insights about the inevitability of legal and practical uncertainties, especially in the criminal law arena, as to what really happens in a state after it formally repeals blanket marijuana prohibition in some way.
Based on case rulings, policy reports and conversations with lawyers in the field in states like Colorado, I have a general sense of various possible answers to the multi-dimensional query in the title of this post. But I would be especially eager to hear from any and all persons in reform states if they have distinctive experiences or thoughts in reaction to my question.
Friday, June 5, 2015
Over a six month period, NBC News correspondent Harry Smith reports on the potential lifesaving benefits of medicinal marijuana and the emotional journey three Virginia families must take to help their children who suffer from life threatening seizures.
And here are highlights from the NBC News piece:
Joel Stanley, a medicinal marijuana grower[,] and his five brothers grow medicinal marijuana in Colorado, where it is legal. Together, Paige and Joel [Figgi] made an oil from a cannabis plant that Stanley says is low in THC — the compound that gets someone high — and high in CBD, the compound some believe helps treat the seizures. Charlotte had been having 300 seizures a week. Paige says they stopped when she gave her daughter the CBD oil. To this day, all Charlotte (or "Charlie," as her family calls her) takes is two doses a day of the oil.
The Stanley brothers have now built a lab and are making the CBD oil on a large scale in Colorado. They call the CBD oil "Charlotte's Web," named for its first user. The Stanley brothers maintain their plant is not actually cannabis, but rather hemp. A botanist would tell you the plants are the same, but the federal government said in the Federal Farm Bill of 2014 that a plant with less than .3% THC is hemp.
The Stanleys insist that what they are doing is legal in Colorado, and even on the federal level, because they say they are making a hemp supplement. Several federal agencies, including the DEA and the FDA, maintain that marijuana and hemp for consumption are still illegal on the federal level.
Because of stories like Charlotte's, people with profoundly ill children, mostly with these extreme cases of epilepsy, have flocked to Colorado for treatments. In many ways, Colorado has become something of a "new Lourdes" for people looking for a "miracle." The Stanley brothers helped to form Realm of Caring, an organization that assists people who move to Colorado and provides support services and resources for those using Cannabinoid products....
As striking as [many] stories are [about the benefits of CBD oils], they remain anecdotal stories. The safety and effectiveness of these oils has not been established by clinical research in this country, according to doctors. Some researchers say that's largely because marijuana in all forms remains illegal at the federal level, making it difficult for scientists to obtain the plant for clinical trials.
One scientist who is intrigued by the potential of marijuana treatments is Dr. Amy Brooks-Kayal, a neurologist specializing in epilepsy in Denver, who is also the president of the American Epilepsy Society. She urges caution, saying there just isn't enough known about these oils to say they are safe or how they may ultimately affect patients. "There's no question that based on the science, there is potential there for a component of marijuana and possibly Cannabidiol to be an effective treatment, but we don't know that yet, and most importantly we don't know the potential side effects. We don't want to make their seizures better and make their lives worse." Dr. Brooks-Kayal welcomes more research on medical marijuana....
Dr. Brooks-Kayal, and the organization she heads, do support changing federal laws to make research on marijuana easier. Other experts Harry Smith spoke to believe there is potential to alleviate other neurodegenerative conditions with cannabis-based treatments .
June 5, 2015 in Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)
Thursday, June 4, 2015
This new CNN Money article, headlined "The pot effect on Denver's housing market," spotlights a notable economic impact that can be traced to marijuana reform. Here are excerpts:
Denver's housing market is on fire. Home prices have shot up by double-digits, inventory has fallen dramatically and multiple offers with bidding wars have become common.
One factor driving the demand: pot. The budding industry has impacted home prices since the state legalized marijuana in 2012. "There has been a huge bump in real estate prices due to the legalization of marijuana," according to James Paine, managing partner at West Realty Advisors. "It's massively pushed up raw land and industry prices."
In March, Denver experienced the second-largest jump in annual home prices at 10%, just behind San Francisco, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index. While the legalization of marijuana isn't the only thing driving the market, it has contributed to job growth in the area that has people flocking to Denver.
"The pot industry is creating jobs we didn't have before," said Kelly Moye, a Re/Max real estate agent who has worked in the Denver area for 24 years. "It's brand new, it adds a whole new factor to the area; you have real estate needs, housing needs, job needs."
The industry has created jobs beyond growers and dispensaries. Legal marijuana has also been a boon for existing businesses like security and HVAC companies who service the new "green" businesses. "Electricians have grown from mom and pops to big-time electric companies," said J.P. Speers, an agent at Berkshire Hathaway Home Services. Denver and its surrounding areas have also become a hot spot for the tech industry, adding to the job rush....
But there is the nagging question of just how long the real estate buzz will last. Moye said the market has room to run for five to seven years barring any major economic disasters. If more states legalize marijuana, that could also take away some of the state's luster. "We are going to continue to see an increase in population growth based on marijuana until other states start picking up recreational laws," said Speers.
I have noticed that, in the course of robust modern debates over marijujana reform, religious issues and religous-based claims have been relatively absent. Consequently, this recent Chicago Tribune article, which carries the headline that I used as the title of my post, caught my eye. Here are excerpts:
The marijuana decriminalization bill that could soon go to Gov. Bruce Rauner's desk has an array of supporters, including civil libertarians, prosecutors and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
Its supporters also include clergy. Protestant pastors and Jewish rabbis are lobbying lawmakers in Illinois and in states across the Northeast as part of a push toward legalization, which they see as a moral cause encompassing issues such as race, fair housing and employment.
To that end, the group, called Clergy for a New Drug Policy, is pushing for legislation to tax and regulate cannabis, refer individuals charged with drug-related crimes to treatment, eliminate mandatory minimum sentences and support medical marijuana. "It's a primary change if something is decriminalized," said the Rev. Al Sharp, the Chicago pastor who launched the group this spring. "The goal is to change the culture of punishment in this country, which the war on drugs has contributed so thoroughly and so devastatingly to."
Sharp considers himself just as much a policy wonk as he is a pastor. As the former head of nonprofit agencies such as Protestants for the Common Good and the Community Renewal Society, groups founded as alternatives to the religious right, he has made lobbying for public policies such as more education funding and better housing his ministry.
These days, Sharp, who was ordained by the United Church of Christ, walks the corridors of state capitols preaching redemption. When legislators in Springfield recently approved a bill to remove criminal penalties for simple marijuana possession, replacing the threat of jail time and a criminal record with a sanction similar to a traffic ticket, Sharp and his fellow clergy claimed victory.
If the bill is signed into law, Illinois will join 17 other states in decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana, according to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML, a group that advocates the legal use of marijuana. Nearly half the country, including Illinois, already allows for the use of medical marijuana....
In 2002, the Unitarian Universalist Association became the first religious denomination to adopt a statement of conscience calling for an end to the nation's war on drugs and the legalization and regulation of marijuana. While no other denomination has called for such a radical policy change, many others, including the United Methodist Church, Union for Reform Judaism, Progressive National Baptist Convention and Episcopal Church, support the controlled use of marijuana for medical reasons....
While the precise language of Illinois' marijuana decriminalization bill is still a work in progress before it goes to Rauner's desk, it stipulates that low-level cannabis possession would no longer be a crime with fines of up to $2,500 and up to a year in a jail. Instead, those caught with 15 grams or less could pay a fine of up to $125, but cities like Chicago that already have fines in place for marijuana possession could keep their fee structures.
This website for the groug Clergy for a New Drug Policy is pretty impressive, and I think this might be a group to keep an eye on as marijuana reform and drug policy debates continue to garner attention in Illinois and nationwide.