Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

A Member of the Law Professor Blogs Network

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Pat Robertson, flip flopping, is now against marijuana legalization

As reported in this new Washington Post article, "televangelist Pat Robertson has apparently changed his mind on the subject of legal marijuana." Here is why:

Just two years after Robertson said that he thinks the U.S. should “treat marijuana the way we treat beverage alcohol,” he and his 700 Club network went hard against Colorado’s legalization of the drug this week.

“The little kids are getting high,” Robertson said of the children of Colorado on his Wednesday show.  He went on: “Do you want your little 8th grader to be stoned when he goes to school? Well, welcome to Colorado, where pot is legal.”...

Robertson now claims that he never supported the legalization of marijuana, only its decriminalization.  However, in his 2012 interview with the New York Times, Robertson said that he “absolutely” supported the two ballot measures – Colorado’s Amendment 64 and Washington Initiative 502 – that legalized the substances in those states. Robertson criticized the criminalization of marijuana as early as 2010....

Now, the evangelical preacher believes that the Colorado law encourages “the full-scale spread of this stuff, and it is not good for people’s health, it is destroying their minds and it is destroying their lungs and the addiction is pretty heavy.”...

Robertson hasn’t completely abandoned H.M.S. Marijuana Reform, however.  He reiterated his longstanding position on Wednesday that current law imposes penalties for possession that are too strict.  “I have been one that has been very much against the incredible incarceration rate in the United States,” he said, adding, “What are we doing? We’re locking up people for the possession of marijuana.  What I have wanted, and I think it’s the right cause, is the decriminalization of marijuana.  But apparently the next step is the legalization of it, which is a totally different matter.”

August 13, 2014 in Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Local Option for Marijuana

I haven’t blogged for a while, but I’ve been enjoying Doug’s and Alex’s and Rebecca’s posts over the summer.

After starting up several new projects over the summer, I’m finally able to begin blogging again. In my first few posts, I’m actually going to focus on one of the projects that consumed my summer time -- a symposium paper I’m writing tentatively called The Local Option for Marijuana. The paper asks whether states should allow local governments to ban marijuana sales, notwithstanding state legalization of the drug. Doug, Alex, and I have debated the merits of the local option before – see posts and comments here, here, and here. I think we identified most of the major arguments both for and against local control. But it also became clear to me that many of our arguments depended on contested assumptions about the effects of local control. For example, local control looks a lot less appealing if it simply displaces – rather than reduces – the harms associated with marijuana distribution (DUIs, etc.). But it’ll probably be decades before we can know with any certainty what happens when local communities ban vs. allow marijuana distribution. And that will simply be too late for most states, which must decide now whether to grant local governments the option of banning marijuana sales.   

Fortunately, we do have decades of experience with local control of alcohol that could prove instructive. Since the mid-to-late 1800s, states have delegated power to local governments to control – even ban -- the distribution of alcohol. Indeed, hundreds of counties inhabited by roughly 10% of the nation’s population remain “dry” today. Social scientists have exploited county-by -county variations to test the effects of various local controls on alcohol consumption, cirrhosis, traffic fatalities, etc.  In this article, I’m poring through that research for lessons about local control over marijuana. I have a few tentatively formed conclusions that I’ll share in the coming days. As always, I’m open to comments, critiques, and suggestions – sources, avenues of inquiry, etc.

August 13, 2014 in Current Affairs, History of Alcohol Prohibition and Temperance Movements, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, August 11, 2014

"As Colorado Loosened Its Marijuana Laws, Underage Consumption And Traffic Fatalities Fell"

Marijuana-use-by-Colorado-teenagersThe title of this post is the headline of this new commentary by Jacob Sullum at Forbes.  Here are excerpts:

Two consequences that pot prohibitionists attribute to marijuana legalization—more underage consumption and more traffic fatalities—so far do not seem to be materializing in Colorado, which has allowed medical use since 2001 and recreational use since the end of 2012.

Survey data released last week by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) indicate that marijuana use among high school students continues to decline, despite warnings that legalization would make pot more appealing to teenagers. In the 2013 Healthy Kids Colorado survey, 37 percent of high school students reported that they had ever tried marijuana, down from 39 percent in 2011. The percentage who reported using marijuana in the previous month (a.k.a. “current” use) also fell, from 22 percent in 2011 to 20 percent in 2013. The CDPHE says those drops are not statistically significant. But they are part of a general downward trend in Colorado that has persisted despite the legalization of medical marijuana in 2001, the commercialization of medical marijuana in 2009 (when the industry took off after its legal status became more secure), and the legalization of recreational use (along with home cultivation and sharing among adults) at the end of 2012.... Traffic fatalities also have generally declined since Colorado began loosening its marijuana laws. Fatalities rose in 2001, the year that Colorado’s medical marijuana law took effect, but by 2003 had fallen below the 2000 level. Since peaking in 2002, fatalities have fallen by more than a third. Legal sales of recreational marijuana began in January, and so far this year traffic fatalities are down. According to to the Colorado Department of Transportation, there were 258 fatalities from January through July, compared to 263 during the same period last year. In short, Colorado’s experience does not provide much evidence that less repressive marijuana laws make the roads more dangerous (and they might even make the roads safer by encouraging the substitution of cannabis for alcohol).

August 11, 2014 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Notable summer marijuana sales numbers in Colorado and Washington

As reported in this new AP article, "June was the best-selling month yet for recreational pot in Colorado, with $24.7 million in total sales, according to state tax collections reported Friday." Here is more:

Recreational pot sales were up more than 19 percent from June sales, an increase likely attributable to more stores opening. Since January, Colorado has reaped $29.8 million in taxes from marijuana, according to June collections reported by the state Department of Revenue. That figure includes taxes, licenses and fees from both medical and recreational pot.

Recreational pot is inching toward medical pot in total sales. In January, Colorado's statewide sales tax on medical pot produced nearly twice the taxes produced by recreational pot. By June, the statewide 2.9 percent sales tax from medical pot brought in less than 20 percent more than the same tax on recreational weed. Estimates for how much tax revenue legal weed would produce varied widely, with no preceding legal pot taxes on which to guess sales....

In Washington state, where recreational pot sales started last month, pot sales numbers were also released Friday. That state reported 18 stores selling about $3.8 million worth of marijuana in July — a higher number than Colorado's first month of recreational sales.

August 11, 2014 in Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Back from Colombia

I returned home yesterday from a two week laptop-free vacation in Colombia.  I had a great trip overall, visiting Bogota, Medellin and Guatape.  I've travelled in South America before--to Peru, Bolivia, and Argentina--but this was my first time in Colombia.  

I'd recommend the country to anyone, especially Medellin and Guatape, which is one of the most charming small towns I've ever been to.  Bogota is nice as well, though (in my opinion) not quite as vibrant as Medellin or quite as safe when it comes to big-city-street crime.  (Full disclosure: I was robbed at knife-point in broad daylight in Bogota after wandering into a less touristy part of town en route to a local fruit market, which may color that opinion a little bit.  The tourist areas of Bogota were quite safe though, and I'm sure I would have been fine had I been more mindful about where I was going.  The robber only took cash and it was over very quickly, so I didn't let it detract from an overall great experience in Colombia.)

I would also recommend an extended computer break to anyone who (like me) is attached to their laptop.  I think this is the first time I've spent more than a few days away from my computer since 2005, back when my machine was too heavy and WiFi too scarce to make it worth traveling with a laptop.  I did have my iPhone and iPad with me this on this trip, so I can't say I disconnected completely.  Still, ditching my laptop let me unplug from work and other obligations in a way I haven't done in a long time.  It was a nice break.  

Apologies to readers for the unexplained blogging absence.  I figured best not to alert the internet to the fact that no one was at my house for two weeks.

I may also be slow in posting this week as well as I play catch-up on various work tasks.  

August 11, 2014 in Travel | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, August 10, 2014

"Medical Marijuana Research Hits Wall of U.S. Law"

Shutterstock_93947695The title of this post is the headline of this front-page New York Times article.  Here are excerpts:

Nearly four years ago, Dr. Sue Sisley, a psychiatrist at the University of Arizona, sought federal approval to study marijuana’s effectiveness in treating military veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.   She had no idea how difficult it would be.

The proposal, which has the support of veterans groups, was hung up at several regulatory stages, requiring the research’s private sponsor to resubmit multiple times. After the proposed study received final approval in March from federal health officials, the lone federal supplier of research marijuana said it did not have the strains the study needed and would have to grow more — potentially delaying the project until at least early next year.

Then, in June, the university fired Dr. Sisley, later citing funding and reorganization issues.   But Dr. Sisley is convinced the real reason was her outspoken support for marijuana research.   “They could never get comfortable with the idea of this controversial, high-profile research happening on campus,” she said.

Dr. Sisley’s case is an extreme example of the obstacles and frustrations scientists face in trying to study the medical uses of marijuana.  Dating back to 1999, the Department of Health and Human Services has indicated it does not see much potential for developing marijuana in smoked form into an approved prescription drug....

Scientists say this position has had a chilling effect on marijuana research.  Though more than one million people are thought to use the drug to treat ailments ranging from cancer to seizures to hepatitis C and chronic pain, there are few rigorous studies showing whether the drug is a fruitful treatment for those or any other conditions.  A major reason is this:  The federal government categorizes marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, the most restrictive of five groups established by the Controlled Substances Act of 1970.  Drugs in this category — including heroin, LSD, peyote and Ecstasy — are considered to have no accepted medical use in the United States and a high potential for abuse, and are subject to tight restrictions on scientific study.

In the case of marijuana, those restrictions are even greater than for other controlled substances....  To obtain the drug legally, researchers like Dr. Sisley must apply to the Food and Drug Administration, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the National Institute on Drug Abuse — which, citing a 1961 treaty obligation, administers the only legal source of the drug for federally sanctioned research, at the University of Mississippi.  Dr. Sisley’s proposed study also had to undergo an additional layer of review from the Public Health Service that is not required for other controlled substances in such research.

The process is so cumbersome that a growing number of elected state officials, medical experts and members of Congress have started calling for loosening the restrictions.  In June, a letter signed by 30 members of Congress, including four Republicans, called the extra scrutiny of marijuana projects “unnecessary,” saying that research “has often been hampered by federal barriers.”

“It defies logic in this day and age that marijuana is still in Schedule 1 alongside heroin and LSD when there is so much testimony to what relief medical marijuana can bring,” Gov. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island said in an interview.  In late 2011, he and the governor of Washington at the time, Christine O. Gregoire, filed a petition asking the federal government to place the drug in a lower category.  The petition is still pending with the D.E.A.

Despite the mounting push, there is little evidence that either Congress or the Obama administration will change marijuana’s status soon.  In public statements, D.E.A. officials have made their displeasure known about states’ legalizing medical and recreational marijuana.

August 10, 2014 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Highlighting how marijuana reform provides extraordinary small business opportunities

This morning's New York Times has this lengthy new article about the modern businesses surrounding marijuana reform headlined "Start-Ups Seize Marijuana Opportunities as Big Companies Hold Back." Here are excerpts:

When Garett Fortune’s brother was found to have cancer in early 2013, it was so advanced that all he could do was to try to live out the remainder of his life in as little pain and discomfort as possible. That meant taking about 30 pills a day, Mr. Fortune said — until his brother tried marijuana. “I saw him go from 30 pills a day to almost zero,” he said. “It helped his appetite and the nausea. He had a way better quality of life at the end than he would have without the cannabis. It made me a proponent of the industry.”

It also gave Mr. Fortune the idea for a business. With more states legalizing marijuana for medical uses — and, in Colorado and Washington, recreational ones — Mr. Fortune identified one of the industry’s challenges: packaging. The old standby, the resealable plastic bag, was not sufficiently effective, especially for a regulated industry, and Mr. Fortune already owned OdorNo, a company that made odor-proof bags for human and animal waste.

Mr. Fortune proposed a new product, odor-proof and child-resistant marijuana bags, to OdorNo’s advisory board. He expected the members to laugh him out of the room, but they did not. “Every single one of them told me: ‘This is the biggest opportunity on the planet right now. Follow that.’”

In May he licensed out production and distribution of OdorNo, and he and his team began building FunkSac in Denver. Although FunkSac bags are awaiting government approval, Mr. Fortune said he had hundreds of thousands of orders from cultivators, dispensaries and wholesalers. The company plans to begin delivering them this month and estimates it will have first-year revenue of about $2 million. Mr. Fortune said he had been contacted by dispensaries in 17 of the 22 states where medical marijuana was legal. “Right now,” he said, “it’s like drinking from a fire hose.”

To many, today’s cannabis industry resembles a modern-day Gold Rush. Troy Dayton, co-founder and chief executive of the ArcView Group in San Francisco, a network of 250 high-net-worth investors that backs cannabis start-ups, said more than 30 early-stage companies contact it every week. In the last year, he said, the group sent about $12 million in funding to 14 companies.

The size of the legal cannabis industry in the United States, measured by sales of the plant, was $1.5 billion in 2013, according to ArcView, which projects it will reach $2.6 billion in 2014 and $10 billion by 2018 — figures that do not include the growing numbers of ancillary businesses. The entire industry is dominated by small businesses, Mr. Dayton said, both because it is so new and because marijuana’s legality remains murky. Banks, for example, have been reluctant to take deposits or make loans to dispensaries because the drug is still illegal under federal law.

“You can’t have a national business,” Mr. Dayton said, because the laws vary by state. Opportunities for small businesses also exist because the stigma associated with the industry has discouraged bigger companies from getting involved. “You can’t find another industry growing at this clip that doesn’t have any major players,” he said. “That gives the little guy a chance to make a run at this.”...

SpeedWeed, a Los Angeles delivery service, allows customers to place an order online or by phone and have it delivered — depending on traffic — within 45 minutes. Although there are hundreds of marijuana delivery services in Los Angeles, AJ Gentile, a founder, said SpeedWeed was the largest. “Delivery services here are typically guys driving around in their car with a big box of weed,” he said.

Mr. Gentile said that SpeedWeed worked only with cultivators its legal team had vetted and that along with its delivery service, it planned to sell proprietary software to dispensaries nationwide. He estimated that the company had 20,000 legal customers and that revenue would double this year, up from $1.7 million in 2013.

Biological Advantage, founded in April, has a system of products it plans to introduce this month that are applied to a marijuana plant’s soil and leaves to enhance photosynthesis. The company’s chief executive, John Kempf, is also founder of Advancing Eco Agriculture, a crop-nutrition consulting company he started that has invested $400,000 in Biological Advantage. Mr. Kempf said his companies were a bit ahead of the game, anticipating what the market would need. “Growers aren’t yet looking at nutrition as a means for improving the medicinal concentrations in plants,” he said. “But they will.”

August 7, 2014 in Current Affairs, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Oregon, for now, decides to preclude medical marijuana patients from working at child care facilities

This local article from Oregon, headlined "State: Child care providers can't use medical marijuana," provides one example of a workplace restriction on licensed medical marijuana users. Here are the details:

A handful of child care providers who use medical marijuana will have to choose between their business and their medication following a unanimous vote Wednesday by the Early Learning Council. "Caring for children is not an entitlement; not when it's other people's children," said Duke Shepard, a policy adviser for Gov. John Kitzhaber.

At the governor's request, the council imposed temporary changes to its registry rules, revoking permission to hold child care licenses from individuals who use, grow or distribute medical marijuana.

"You don't make these kinds of requirements for people who are using Vicodin," said Anthony Taylor, who runs a medical marijuana patient advocacy group called Compassionate Oregon. His sentiments of being singled out by the council were echoed by a steady stream of public commentators who asked the council to reject the new rules or delay a vote.

Oregon has 4,340 licensed child care providers. A preliminary review by the Child Care Office estimated that fewer than 10 of those facilities employed a medical marijuana cardholder. "This is a small, small fraction of people," Shepard said.

The rules passed Wednesday are set to expire in six months. The council plans to consider writing permanent rules in January. Permanent rule making requires a longer process that includes time for public comment, and Oregonians will vote in November on an initiative to legalize recreational marijuana.

In-home child care providers are allowed to keep alcohol on site so long as they follow certain safety precautions. The council could eventually land on similar regulations for marijuana. "I don't know what's a possibility for permanent rules," council chairwoman Pam Curtis said.

It was also unclear whether some council members would support a permanent prohibition on medical marijuana. "Whether we've got it right in this document remains to be seen," council member Norm Smith said. "This is the starting place. That's why I will support it today, but I don't know where I will be in six months."

The temporary rules prohibit providers from having cannabis on their premises — effectively prohibiting family members or roommates who reside at in-home facilities from using medical marijuana. This was a point of concern for some council members who hoped to discuss the issue further when the permanent rule making process begins.

August 7, 2014 in Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Rules for the Marijuana Industry or Preventing Marijuana From Becoming Big and Bad

 Do you want legalized marijuana to replicate the harms caused by tobacco and alcohol use? Do you want the marijuana business to become the new "Big" as in Big Tobacco? Assuming your answer is no,  Vikas Bajaj's "Rules for the Marijuana Market" published  in yesterday's New York Times offers some policy recommendations for preventing these results. 

This excerpt from Bajaj's opinion piece outlines the policy goals for regulating legal  marijuana:

Beyond keeping marijuana out of the hands of minors, a good regulatory system has to limit the increase in drug abuse that is likely to accompany lower prices and greater availability after legalization. It should protect consumers from both dangerous and counterfeit products, reducing the physical risk from a psychoactive substance. And a well-regulated system should undermine and eventually eliminate the black market for marijuana, which has done great damage to society.

Another goal not stated in this discussion is to prevent marijuana monopolies.

Bajaj offers three recommendations. The first recommendation is to tax marijuana "to curb use." This recommendation is not new but Bajaj suggests an interesting twist:

Colorado and Washington have imposed high tax rates that are based on price, much like existing sales taxes. But Mark Kleiman, a public policy professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, rightly warns that those taxes will lose their bite when prices inevitably decline as marijuana businesses become more efficient at production. A better approach would be to tax the drug based on its potency — which can be measured in various ways, including by the amount of the component THC in a batch — and increase the rate over time to keep up with inflation.

Bajaj's second recommendation is "don't market to minors." This recommendation is also generally accepted but important to avoid even the appearance of emulating Big Tobacco which Project SAMS builds on in its recent ad [see Doug's post ] 

Finally, Bajaj recommends that "growers shouldn't be sellers"  "to ensure that the industry does not evolve into a group of politically and financially powerful vertically integrated businesses."  ASA's report on state laws, summarized in a post by Alex, supports  Bajaj's recommendation but this "seed to sale" model is used by New York's new MMJ law. 

I found Bajaj's insights into how Big Alcohol was and is regulated interesting and informative. And his suggestion about the potency tax is intriguing.  Any comments on this recommendation pro or con?

 

 

 

August 5, 2014 in Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (2)

Sunday, August 3, 2014

"Medical Marijuana Laws and Teen Marijuana Use"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new Working Paper coming from the non-profit National Bureau of Economic Research authored by D. Mark Anderson, Benjamin Hansen and Daniel Rees. Here is the abstract:

While at least a dozen state legislatures in the United States have recently considered bills to allow the consumption of marijuana for medicinal purposes, the federal government is intensifying its efforts to close medical marijuana dispensaries.  Federal officials contend that the legalization of medical marijuana encourages teenagers to use marijuana and have targeted dispensaries operating within 1,000 feet of schools, parks and playgrounds.  Using data from the national and state Youth Risk Behavior Surveys, the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997 and the Treatment Episode Data Set, we estimate the relationship between medical marijuana laws and marijuana use.  Our results are not consistent with the hypothesis that legalization leads to increased use of marijuana by teenagers.

August 3, 2014 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Another potent statistical take-down of bad science used to prop up pot prohibition

Mj-erIn this recent post, I highlighted to potent work done by folks at the Washington Post concerning marijuana research and data in this detailed Wonkblog piece  highlighting all the problems with all the science claims by the federal government to justify marijuana prohibition.   I now just saw this notable follow-up piece by Christopher Ingraham at Wonkblog headlined "The federal government’s own statistics show that marijuana is safer than alcohol." Here are excerpts:

Opponents of marijuana legalization return to one particular number over and over in their arguments: the number of emergency room visits involving marijuana. [An] ONDCP fact sheet breathlessly reports that "mentions of marijuana use in emergency room visits have risen 176 percent since 1994, surpassing those of heroin." The Drug Enforcement Administration's "Dangers and Consequences of Marijuana Abuse," a 41-page tour-de-force of decontextualized factoids, reports that marijuana was involved in nearly half a million E.R. visits in 2011, second only to cocaine.

The problem, of course, is that these numbers are meaningless without knowing how many people are using those drugs to start with.  When you consider that there are approximately 70 times more marijuana users than heroin users in the United States, it makes sense that more of the former are going to the hospital than the latter.

Since the government doesn't provide these comparisons in a meaningful way, I've done it myself....

For 2010, the latest year for which complete alcohol data are available, I grabbed the number of regular users from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.  "Regular," in this case, means people who report using a given substance in the past month.  I then grabbed 2010 E.R. visits involving these substances from the Drug Abuse Warning Network.  This is a hospital reporting system that collects detailed data on all E.R. admissions involving a given drug.  These E.R. visits can involve the use of multiple substances, so the numbers for each drug involve all visits for which that drug was listed as a contributing factor....

The figures clearly show that on a per-user basis, marijuana is considerably less likely to send you to the E.R. than heroin, cocaine or meth.   Marijuana users are also 75 percent less likely to face an E.R. visit than prescription drug abusers.

But most surprisingly, marijuana is significantly safer to use than alcohol.  For every thousand regular alcohol drinkers there are eight more trips to the E.R. than for every thousand marijuana users.  Or in other words, alcohol is about 30 percent more likely to send you to the E.R. than marijuana.

These are all the federal government's own numbers, and they show that marijuana is considerably less harmful to users than alcohol.  At the risk of sounding like a broken record, this comports with just about every other credible study of the drug.

August 3, 2014 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Science | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Project SAM places full-page ad in New York Times and creates another reform-opposition website

SAM_ad_full_page_NYT_11.55x21_31Jul14_FINAL-1Late yesterday, I received an e-mail from Project SAM (aka Smart Approaches to Marijuana), heralding its "new, full-page ad in the New York Times ... in response to their recent pro-marijuana editorial."   Here is more from the e-mail:

The ad — "Perception/Reality" — depicts a young laid-back man's face ("perception") juxtaposed over the body of high-powered business executive's body ("reality") implying that if America is not careful, we will soon have a very large, powerful marijuana industry on our hands.   It appears on page A5 today.  Below the image, the copy reads:

"The legalization of marijuana means ushering in an entirely new group of corporations whose primary source of revenue is a highly habit-forming product. Sounds a lot like another industry we just put in its place.  Many facts are being ignored by this and other news organizations.  Go to GrassIsNotGreener.com to see why so many major medical associations oppose marijuana legalization."

The ad will also be used by local community groups, including SAM's 27 state affiliates, in order to educate the public on the reality of the marijuana industry.  The ad links to a new online resource of information — www.GrassIsNotGreener.org— which lists medical and other organizational opposition to legalization.  The website also contains scientific papers and facts about marijuana, and will remain a resource for information on the emerging marijuana industry.

"In the marijuana business, the values of the flower children have been quickly replaced by the values of Wall St. power brokers," remarked Kevin A. Sabet, President and CEO of SAM. "We're on the brink of creating the next Big Tobacco.  We feel like this is an important message most Americans have not considered."...

Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) is supported by a scientific advisory board comprising the heads of major medical associations and widely respected national researchers and scientists.   The ad will be displayed in Saturday's edition of the New York Times and was funded by SAM, ASAM, NADCP, NFIA, and dozens of individual volunteers and community groups.

Project SAM, has four main goals:

* To inform public policy with the science of today's potent marijuana.

* To prevent the establishment of "Big Marijuana" — and a 21st-Century tobacco industry that would market marijuana to children.

* To promote research of marijuana's medical properties and produce, non-smoked, non-psychoactive pharmacy-attainable medications.

* To have an adult conversation about reducing the unintended consequences of current marijuana policies, such as lifelong stigma due to arrest.

The website GrassIsNotGreener does not appear to have any information or research or advocacy that does not already appear on Project SAM's website, but perhaps Project SAM sees virtue in having two relatively pretty websites presenting the same information.  In any event, I cannot help but wonder if and how much Big Pharma may be contributing to Project SAM's effort to scare people about the prospect of Big Marijuana (background here).

Recent and prior related posts:

August 2, 2014 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 1, 2014

"Colorado’s Rollout of Legal Marijuana Is Succeeding: A Report on the State’s Implementation of Legalization"

I highlighted and celebrated in this post a few months ago that The Brookings Institution was committed to "researching the new marijuana industry, not as advocates, but as social scientists, interested in how our federal system comes to terms with statewide decisions to legalize a substance that is illegal in the rest of the country, and how states implement those policy changes." The first significant report resulting from that research carries the title that is the title of this post. And here are excerpts from the start of this notable 35-page Brookings report:

In November 2012, Colorado voters decided to experiment with marijuana. Formally, they approved Amendment 64, modifying the state constitution.  This move was historic and did something which, to that point, no other state or modern foreign government had ever done: legalize retail (recreational) marijuana.  As part of the amendment, the state was required to construct legal, regulatory, and tax frameworks that would allow businesses to cultivate, process, and sell marijuana not simply to medical patients — as had been happening in Colorado for over a decade—but to anyone 21 and older.  This change came despite existing federal prohibition of marijuana and opposition from the governor, state attorney general, many mayors, and the law enforcement community.

At its heart, this report is about good government and takes no position on whether the legalization of retail marijuana was the correct decision.  Instead, it takes for granted that Amendment 64 and its progeny are the law and should be implemented successfully, per voters’ wishes.  The report examines what the state has done well and what it has not. It delves into why, and how, regulatory and administrative changes were made.  Finally, it offers an evaluation of how effective the implementation has been.

Prior related post:

August 1, 2014 in Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Digging seriously in to "What Science Says About Marijuana"

WonkThe title of this post is drawn in part from the headline of this latest editorial in the New York Times series explaining its editorial judgment that marijuana prohibition should be ended (first noted here).  Here is an excerpt from this editorial:

As with other recreational substances, marijuana’s health effects depend on the frequency of use, the potency and amount of marijuana consumed, and the age of the consumer. Casual use by adults poses little or no risk for healthy people. Its effects are mostly euphoric and mild, whereas alcohol turns some drinkers into barroom brawlers, domestic abusers or maniacs behind the wheel.

An independent scientific committee in Britain compared 20 drugs in 2010 for the harms they caused to individual users and to society as a whole through crime, family breakdown, absenteeism, and other social ills. Adding up all the damage, the panel estimated that alcohol was the most harmful drug, followed by heroin and crack cocaine. Marijuana ranked eighth, having slightly more than one-fourth the harm of alcohol.

Federal scientists say that the damage caused by alcohol and tobacco is higher because they are legally available; if marijuana were legally and easily obtainable, they say, the number of people suffering harm would rise. However, a 1995 study for the World Health Organization concluded that even if usage of marijuana increased to the levels of alcohol and tobacco, it would be unlikely to produce public health effects approaching those of alcohol and tobacco in Western societies.

Most of the risks of marijuana use are “small to moderate in size,” the study said. “In aggregate, they are unlikely to produce public health problems comparable in scale to those currently produced by alcohol and tobacco.”

While tobacco causes cancer, and alcohol abuse can lead to cirrhosis, no clear causal connection between marijuana and a deadly disease has been made. Experts at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the scientific arm of the federal anti-drug campaign, published a review of the adverse health effects of marijuana in June that pointed to a few disease risks but was remarkably frank in acknowledging widespread uncertainties. Though the authors believed that legalization would expose more people to health hazards, they said the link to lung cancer is “unclear,” and that it is lower than the risk of smoking tobacco....

The American Society of Addiction Medicine, the largest association of physicians specializing in addiction, issued a white paper in 2012 opposing legalization because “marijuana is not a safe and harmless substance” and marijuana addiction “is a significant health problem.”

Nonetheless, that health problem is far less significant than for other substances, legal and illegal. The Institute of Medicine, the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences, said in a 1999 study that 32 percent of tobacco users become dependent, as do 23 percent of heroin users, 17 percent of cocaine users, and 15 percent of alcohol drinkers. But only 9 percent of marijuana users develop a dependence. “Although few marijuana users develop dependence, some do,” according to the study. “But they appear to be less likely to do so than users of other drugs (including alcohol and nicotine), and marijuana dependence appears to be less severe than dependence on other drugs.”

There’s no need to ban a substance that has less than a third of the addictive potential of cigarettes, but state governments can discourage heavy use through taxes and education campaigns and help provide treatment for those who wish to quit.

One of the favorite arguments of legalization opponents is that marijuana is the pathway to more dangerous drugs. But a wide variety of researchers have found no causal factor pushing users up the ladder of harm. While 111 million Americans have tried marijuana, only a third of that number have tried cocaine, and only 4 percent heroin. People who try marijuana are more likely than the general population to try other drugs, but that doesn’t mean marijuana prompted them to do so.

Marijuana “does not appear to be a gateway drug to the extent that it is the cause or even that it is the most significant predictor of serious drug abuse,” the Institute of Medicine study said. The real gateway drugs are tobacco and alcohol, which young people turn to first before trying marijuana.

This NY Times piece is a potent and effective review about what we really know about marijuana's health and societal impact.  Even more powerful on the same front, though, is this remarkable new Wonkblog piece from the Washington Post that highlights all the problems with all the science claims by the federal government to justify marijuana prohibition.  The title of this piece, with is a must-read for anyone who really care about both the science and advocacy realities surrounding marijuana reform, is "The federal government’s incredibly poor, misleading argument for marijuana prohibition." Here is how it gets started:

The New York Times editorial board is making news with a week-long series advocating for the full legalization of marijuana in the United States. In response, the White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) published a blog post Monday purporting to lay out the federal government's case against marijuana reform.

That case, as it turns out, it surprisingly weak. It's built on half-truths and radically decontextualized facts, curated from social science research that is otherwise quite solid. I've gone through the ONDCP's arguments, and the research behind them, below.

The irony here is that with the coming wave of deregulation and legalization, we really do need a sane national discussion of the costs and benefits of widespread marijuana use. But the ONDCP's ideological insistence on prohibition prevents them from taking part in that conversation.

July 31, 2014 in Assembled readings on specific topics, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Science | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Interesting history as New York Times highlights its "the Editorial Board's changing view of marijuana over six decades"

As part of its new editorial series in support of repealing marijuana prohibition (basics here), the New York Times has this fascinating page titled "Evolving on Marijuana," which provides key quotes from key editorials about marijuana law and policy over the last 50 years. Here are some of the highlights of this interesting history:

1966:  Experience has tragically demonstrated that marijuana is not "harmless."... For a considerable number of young people who try it, it is the first step down the fateful road to heroin.

1969:  The law should surely make a distinction between soft and hard drugs.... For the nation to lapse merely into a simplistic crack-down in reaction to the terribly complicated drug problem would only be, in its own way, to freak out."

1969: Simple possession of LSD ... calls for a maximum sentence of only one year, as against ten for marijuana.... The discrepancy is as glaring as it is absurd. How will anyone know what the restriction on marijuana should be until there is the kind of objective, authoritative report that has been called for by Senator Moss of Utah and Representative Koch of New York?

1970: The nation deserves better answers to the questions about pot. Is it really harmful? Should the law continue to treat it in the same manner as heroin? ... Few substances have been so flatly banned and yet so widely used as marijuana, so much discussed and yet so little researched.

1971: Marijuana is not a “narcotic”... At the same time, it is a dangerous drug.... if marijuana is dangerous, the law must reflect this fact. The subcommittee’s report wisely suggests that both use and sale should remain criminal offenses, although punishable by reduced penalties, especially in the case of first-time offenders and experimenters.

1972:  ... the dangers inherent in smoking marijuana appear to be less than previously assumed. ... What is immediately called for is a sharp scaling down of marijuana penalties, elimination of criminal sanctions for its use or possession and reduction of penalties for its small-quantity sales. A failure of legislatures to base legal sanctions on the best medical evidence available can only undermine respect for the law.

1978:  Marijuana shows great, but not fully proven, potential as a therapeutic agent. ... Marijuana boosters want it legalized immediately for widespread medical use. That would be premature. The need now is for accelerated research to define its medical value. Yet progress has been greatly slowed by the drug's lingering notoriety.

1982:  The sweet-acrid scent of marijuana is everywhere these days... According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, roughly 30 million Americans smoke it regularly. ... Like it or not, marijuana is here to stay. Some day, some way, a prohibition so unenforceable and so widely flouted must give way to reality.

1996:  It is difficult to dismiss the testimony from many seriously ill patients ... that marijuana can ease pain... ... It ought to be possible to regulate marijuana as a prescription drug if it is found to be of legitimate benefit for sick people.

2012:  Millions of people have been arrested under the policy for minor violations, like possession of small amounts of marijuana. And one thing is beyond dispute: this arrest-first policy has filled the courts to bursting with first-time, minor offenders who do not belong there and wreaked havoc with people's lives.

2013:  On marijuana policy, there’s a rift between the federal government and the states. … The Justice Department has taken a step toward figuring out this peculiar dance between the federal government and the states. If it wants its “trust but verify” approach to work, it will have to start filling in the details.

2013:  Assuming the argument that alcohol and marijuana are “substitutes” bears out, that could be good news, especially for road safety. Of the two substances, alcohol is far more hazardous. For the most part, marijuana-intoxicated drivers show only modest impairments on road tests. Several studies have suggested that drivers under the influence of marijuana actually overestimate their impairment.

2014:  On New Year’s Day, government-licensed recreational marijuana shops opened in Colorado ... Later in 2014, marijuana retailers will open in Washington State.  As public opinion shifts away from prohibition, these two states will serve as test cases for full-on legalization.

July 30, 2014 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Colorado and Washington Senators press White House for clearer marijuana policy guidance

As detailed in this official press release, titled "WA, CO Senators push Obama Administration to set clear, consistent policies so states can implement marijuana laws," the four Senators representing the two states which have legalized recreational marijuana have sent a letter to the White House Chief of Staff and Attorney General Eric Holder urging more federal guidance about state marijuana activities.  The full letter is available at this link, and here is how it starts:

We write to request that the Administration provide guidance to departments and agencies ensuring a consistent and uniform application of federal laws that could affect licensed marijuana businesses, dispensaries, and growers in Washington state and Colorado.

As you know, our states are implementing regulatory and licensing schemes to ensure any production and sale of marijuana is in accord with state law, and is conducted in a manner that preserves public health and safety. In working toward this goal, in some instances, our states will have to react to new information and evolving circumstances as this process moves forward. We believe the federal government should support Colorado and Washington state’s effort to establish a successful regulatory framework in a way that achieves greater certainty for local officials, citizens, and business owners as they tackle this complicated and important task. At times, however, certain federal agencies have taken different approaches that seem to be at odds with one another and may undermine our states’ ability to regulate the industry adequately.

In order to provide more regulatory clarity, we believe that the Administration should provide consistent and uniform guidance to departments and agencies regarding the interpretation and application of the Controlled Substances Act (“CSA”) and other federal laws that could impact the marijuana industries in our states. Without such guidance, our states’ citizens face uncertainty and risk the inconsistent application of federal law in Colorado and Washington state, including the potential for selective enforcement actions and prosecution.

July 29, 2014 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 28, 2014

Latest Florida poll shows considerable support for both medical and recreational marijuana

As detailed via this report from the folks at Quinnipiac University, the latest polling numbers suggest Florida voters are keenly in support of marijuana reform. Here are the basics concerning a state seemingly poised to bring marijuana reform movement into the south:

Florida voters support legalized marijuana for medical use 88 - 10 percent, with support ranging from 83 - 14 percent among voters over 65 years old to 95 - 5 percent among voters 18 to 29 years old, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today. The lowest level of support is 80 - 19 percent among Republicans, the independent Quinnipiac University poll finds.

Sunshine State voters also support 55 - 41 percent "allowing adults in Florida to legally possess small amounts of marijuana for personal use," or so-called "recreational marijuana." There is a wide gender gap and an even wider age gap: Men back recreational marijuana 61 - 36 percent while women back it by a narrow 49 - 45 percent. Voters 18 to 29 years old are ready to roll 72 - 25, while voters over 65 years old are opposed 59 - 36 percent. Support is 64 - 32 percent among Democrats and 55 - 40 percent among independent voters, with Republicans opposed 56 - 41 percent.

"Forget the stereotypes of stodgy old folks living out their golden years playing canasta and golf," said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University poll. "Almost nine- in-ten Floridians favor legalizing medical marijuana and a small majority says adults should be able to possess small amounts of the drug for recreational purposes.

"Even though a proposal to legalize medical marijuana, on the ballot this November, must meet a 60 percent threshold, these numbers make a strong bet the referendum is likely to pass," said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University poll....

If medical marijuana is legalized in Florida, voters say 71 - 26 percent they would support having a marijuana dispensary in the town or city where they live. Support ranges from 57 - 37 percent among voters over 65 years old to 79 - 21 percent among voters 18 to 29 years old.

July 28, 2014 in Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, July 27, 2014

New York Times now advocating: "Repeal Prohibition, Again"

NYTThe title of this post is the headline in this (historic?) new New York Times editorial calling for the legalization of marijuana.  Here are excerpts:

It took 13 years for the United States to come to its senses and end Prohibition, 13 years in which people kept drinking, otherwise law-abiding citizens became criminals and crime syndicates arose and flourished. It has been more than 40 years since Congress passed the current ban on marijuana, inflicting great harm on society just to prohibit a substance far less dangerous than alcohol.

The federal government should repeal the ban on marijuana.

We reached that conclusion after a great deal of discussion among the members of The Times’s Editorial Board, inspired by a rapidly growing movement among the states to reform marijuana laws.

There are no perfect answers to people’s legitimate concerns about marijuana use. But neither are there such answers about tobacco or alcohol, and we believe that on every level — health effects, the impact on society and law-and-order issues — the balance falls squarely on the side of national legalization. That will put decisions on whether to allow recreational or medicinal production and use where it belongs — at the state level.

We considered whether it would be best for Washington to hold back while the states continued experimenting with legalizing medicinal uses of marijuana, reducing penalties, or even simply legalizing all use. Nearly three-quarters of the states have done one of these.

But that would leave their citizens vulnerable to the whims of whoever happens to be in the White House and chooses to enforce or not enforce the federal law.

The social costs of the marijuana laws are vast. There were 658,000 arrests for marijuana possession in 2012, according to F.B.I. figures, compared with 256,000 for cocaine, heroin and their derivatives. Even worse, the result is racist, falling disproportionately on young black men, ruining their lives and creating new generations of career criminals.

There is honest debate among scientists about the health effects of marijuana, but we believe that the evidence is overwhelming that addiction and dependence are relatively minor problems, especially compared with alcohol and tobacco....

There are legitimate concerns about marijuana on the development of adolescent brains. For that reason, we advocate the prohibition of sales to people under 21.

Creating systems for regulating manufacture, sale and marketing will be complex. But those problems are solvable, and would have long been dealt with had we as a nation not clung to the decision to make marijuana production and use a federal crime.

In coming days, we will publish articles by members of the Editorial Board and supplementary material that will examine these questions. We invite readers to offer their ideas, and we will report back on their responses, pro and con.

We recognize that this Congress is as unlikely to take action on marijuana as it has been on other big issues. But it is long past time to repeal this version of Prohibition.

In addition, today's New York Times has these related signed editorial pieces to kick off its series of coverage:

July 27, 2014 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 25, 2014

Rand Paul amendment to block certain federal prosecutions in medical marijuana states would raise interesting legal questions

Senator Rand Paul has filed an amendment to a jobs bill that would protect patients and physicians from federal prosecutions in states with medical marijuana laws.  Unlike the spending amendment that passed the House earlier this year (which Paul and Cory Booker also introduced in the Senate), this proposal would have a very real legal impact.  I think it would also raise some interesting legal questions, if it were to pass (which I suspect is unlikely.)

Paul's proposal provides (in relevant part):

(a) State Medical Marijuana Laws.--Notwithstanding section 708 of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 903) or any other provision of law (including regulations), a State may enact and implement a law that authorizes the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of marijuana for medical use.
 
 
(b) Prohibition on Certain Prosecutions.--No prosecution may be commenced or maintained against any physician or patient for a violation of any Federal law (including regulations) that prohibits the conduct described in subsection (a) if the State in which the violation occurred has in effect a law described in subsection (a) before, on, or after the date on which the violation occurred[.]
 
At first blush, the amendment's protections seem somewhat limited.  They apply only to medical marijuana patients and physicians.  But most federal medical marijuana prosecutions have targeted providers--dispensary operators, growers, etc.  
 
When it comes to patients and physicians, however, the immunity this amendment would grant appears to be quite broad.  The law would prevent prosecutions "for a violation of any Federal law . . . that prohibits the conduct described in subsection (a)" in a medical marijuana state.  And what conduct does subsection (a) describe?  "[T]he use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of marijuana for medical use[.]"
 
As a result, I think Paul's amendment would almost certainly immunize from federal prosecution patients and physicians (but not others) who work in the medical marijuana industry.  In oher words, the federal government could not "commence[] or maintain[]" a prosecution against a patient or physician who ran a dispensary or a medical marijuana grow operation that was in compliance with state law.   
 
Now here is where I think interpreting Paul's proposal gets especially tricky: would it protect only physicians and patients who were acting in compliance with their state's law?  Or, would passage of a state medical marijuana law (even an incredibly restrictive one) trigger a broad-based protection for any and all patient and physician "use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of marijuana for medical use"?
 
Though I imagine the intent of the amendment is to make the federal protection coextensive with activity authorized under state law, I think its language is far from clear on the issue.  
 
Again, take a look back at subsection (a).  It says that "a State may enact and implement a law that authorizes the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of marijuana for medical use."  Subsection (b), meanwhile, says the government cannot commence or maintain a prosecution "for a violation of any Federal law . . . that prohibits the conduct described in subsection (a)".
 
The only conduct that is deccribed in subsection (a) is the "use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of marijuana for medical use."  Period.  There is no express requirement that the conduct be done "in compliance with state law" in order to qualify for the protection.  On this reading, so long as a patient or physician's marijuana activity was "for medical use" and done in a state that had some sort of medical marijuana law, however narrow, the protection would kick in.  (As a result, for example, a patient in a state with a CBD-only law might claim protection from federal prosecution for selling marijuana to a veteran with PTSD.)  
 
To be sure, one could argue that Paul's provision implicitly limits the protected "conduct" to that which is "authorize[d]" by a state.  But I don't think this argument would be a slam dunk.  My inclination is that the statute is ambiguous on this point and would have to be litigated.  
 
All of the above is based on, admittedly, a very quick read and reaction to the language, so I may be off base.  (I'd love to hear any and all thoughts in the comments.)  But, at the very least, it seems to me that this amendment could be a bit clearer about exactly what conduct it protects and under what circumstances.
 
I should add that even if the language of the amendment does have some ambiguity, I suspect that it is being introduced for political effect more than anything else (both for Paul to generate media buzz for his position on the issue and in order to try to gain momentum for federal reform by raising the profile of the issue in the Senate).  Since the likelihood it will pass is slim to none, it is understandable that Paul's staff might not have committed a bunch of its time to finely tune the proposal's language.  
 
Last, details aside, Paul's amendment is another sign of the shifting politics on marijuana reform.  As Tom Angell of Marijuana Majority put it: "with five U.S. House floor votes in a row coming out favorably for cannabis policy reformers over the past few months, we expect to see more senators realizing that getting onto the winning side of this issue is a smart move."

July 25, 2014 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Analysts predict Oregon would generate $38.5 million in tax revenue in first year of pot legalization

OregonAs detailed in this lengthy new report, titled simply "Oregon Cannabis Tax Revenue Estimate," a prediction of marijuana usage is at the heart of economists' prediction of significant tax revenues is the citizens of Oregon legalize recreational marijuana this fall. Here is the report's Executive summary:

Oregonians are slated to vote on the “Control, Regulation, and Taxation of Marijuana and Industrial Hemp Act” in November 2014. The measure would regulate, tax, and legalize marijuana for adults 21 and older with legal use beginning in July, 2015.

Economists at ECONorthwest conducted an independent study to estimate the amount of money that would be generated in the short term if the Act passes. The money generated in taxes would go to schools, state and local police, and programs for drug treatment, prevention, drug education, and mental health.

The key findings of this analysis are:

• $38.5 million in excise tax revenue would be generated during the first fiscal year of tax receipts;

• $78.7 million in excise tax revenue would be generated during the first full biennium of tax receipts.

The report does not look at the impact on courts, police, and jail operating costs due to legalization. The forecast is based on a comprehensive methodology that includes the following: the cost of production; price elasticity; the price of marijuana and its retail products; market demand; the short-term demand remaining in the gray market; accessibility of non-medical sales; new market entrants; home production; and non-resident demand.

The “Control, Regulation, and Taxation of Marijuana and Industrial Hemp Act” legalizes the growth, processing, wholesaling, and retailing of marijuana for adult purposes. If enacted, retail sales in Oregon could begin July 1, 2016.

Petitioners for this Act asked ECONorthwest to forecast state government tax revenues that would arise in the first fiscal year of its implementation, presumed to be July 1, 2016 through June 30, 2017 (FY 2017). Similarly, they asked ECONorthwest to estimate tax revenues in the first full biennium, July 1, 2017 to June 30, 2019 (2017-19 biennium). This report summarizes ECONorthwest’s research and forecast.

July 24, 2014 in Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)