Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

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Saturday, July 11, 2015

Terrific on-going coverage of marijuana reform issues via International Business Times

I recently had the pleasure of speaking at length to a terrific reporter covering marijuana reform issues for International Business Times, and I told the reporter that I was quite impressed with the extent and sophistication of IBT's on-going coverage of these issues.  Thereafter, it dawned on me that I have not consistently highlighted these realities on this blog space.  But here is just an abridged review of some of the great IBT pieces from various reporters in just the last few weeks:

"Rand Paul Courts Marijuana Investors, But Why Aren’t More Presidential Candidates Embracing Pot?"

"PTSD And Cannabis -- Can Researchers Cut Through The Politics To Find Out Whether Weed Works?"

"Oregon Hopes Legal Weed Will End Race-Based Arrests, But Advocates Wary"

"Marijuana Legalization No Longer ‘Political Suicide’ For Presidential Candidates"

"Chile’s Lower House Of Congress Approves Marijuana Bill"

Researchers Find That Medical Marijuana Laws Increase Recreational Marijuana Use Among Juveniles

Marijuana Legalization In Oregon: Portland Airport Allows Travelers To Bring Weed On In-State Flights

July 11, 2015 in Assembled readings on specific topics, Current Affairs, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 10, 2015

"Bipartisan marijuana banking bill introduced in the Senate"

The title of this post is the headline of this new Politico story.  Here are the details of a notable (but not likely consequential) legislative development in Congress:

Reflecting growing public support for changing the nation’s drug laws, a bipartisan group of senators on Thursday introduced the chamber’s first bill that would legalize banking for recreational marijuana companies.  Introduced by the Senate delegations from Oregon and Colorado, two of the first states to legalize recreational marijuana, the bill would prohibit the federal government from penalizing banks that work with marijuana businesses.

Though four states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana, the drug is still illegal under federal law.  That makes it difficult for businesses operating in those legalized states to access financial services through the banking industry.  Instead, those companies have to run all-cash operations that the senators say invite crime.  The entire legal landscape that legal marijuana currently faces is “insane,” said GOP Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado in an interview....

Congress has been extraordinarily hesitant to address the nettlesome issue of marijuana law. Another landmark bill for the Senate from Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) that would legalize medical marijuana in states that have approved it has run into opposition from the Senate’s old guard.

But the upbeat Gardner noted that Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) now supports a bipartisan bill that would exclude cannabidiol, which has more medicinal uses, from the definition of marijuana in federal law.  He said Congress will come along, eventually.  “Now, does it have a chance?  I think there’s a lot of work that has to be done to give it that chance, but I also think that in 10 years most every other state in the country is going to be facing this question,” Gardner said.  “People are coming on board and people are starting to realize we have a policy that’s kind of out of step.”

July 10, 2015 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

"Is Marijuana A Benefit Or A Bad Idea For Autism And Schizophrenia?"

DownloadThe question in the title of this post is the headline of this notable and informative new Forbes article.  Here are excerpts:

When Jim Carrey co-opted the image of a distressed boy with tuberous sclerosis complex (TSC) in an effort to reinforce the actor’s views about vaccines, he inadvertently brought attention to TSC, which is, unlike vaccines, associated with autism. In using the image of Alex Echols, for which he later apologized, Carrey may also have brought attention to another topic of discussion in autism circles: the use of marijuana as a therapeutic.

Alex’s parents have a blog where they’ve written about Alex and his needs for many years. Among those needs, they argue, is therapeutic marijuana, which they say helps Alex with his self-injurious behaviors. They have published their clear agenda for accomplishing this for their son, who currently lives in a group home.

The Echols are not alone in their belief in and urgency about marijuana as an intervention for neurological conditions. Many other parents, some autistic adults, and some clinicians also have suggested that the plant—and its active compounds—might offer an effective treatment for some of the intense behaviors related to autism and for schizophrenia, as well. But what do we really know about marijuana and its therapeutic possibilities?

Like so many sources of neuroactive compounds, pot has dual potential to be beneficial or damaging, depending on which ingredient is the focus. One of its active compounds, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, acts through a signaling system that involves some of the same components associated with atypical signaling in schizophrenia. According to Tori Rodriguez, writing at Psychiatry Advisor, studies have shown interesting parallels between altered brain function measures in people with schizophrenia and people who were marijuana intoxicated.

Thus, THC, it seems, is ‘pro-psychotic’ (although that’s controversial), and there’s a chicken-egg question about whether or not it contributes to the development or onset of psychosis-related conditions like schizophrenia or if people with such conditions might be more prone to reach out for it as self-medication. The age at which one reaches for it might also be a factor, but studies show a “consistent” association between pot use during the teens and risk for developing a psychotic disorder....

But marijuana is one of those two-faced offerings from nature that can help or hinder. Now that pot has become legal in various parts of the US, these issues of help or hinder become more critical and will start to settle into some form of commonly accepted wisdom that likely belies the complexities.

As an example of that complexity, another physiologically active compound in marijuana (there are dozens) is cannabidiol, which might act as an antipsychotic, in contrast to its pot-plant partner THC. Plants, you see, are complicated organisms just like we are, and banning the entire plant ends up banning every possibility each of its hundreds of active compounds might hold.

So far, the studies of cannabidiol in schizophrenic populations are small, but at least one suggests head-to-head effectiveness against one atypical antipsychotic with less in the way of negative side effects compared to the approved drug. Cannabidiol is one of the target substances that the Echols want to be able to give to their son to reduce his distress and distressing episodes of self-injurious behaviors. Parents of children with epilepsy and other neurological conditions also would like cannabidiol oil to be available as a treatment for their sons and daughters....

And what about marijuana for autism? Compared to the studies done for schizophrenia, which number more than 1,000, autism and marijuana has gotten almost no research attention. That hasn’t stopped a grassroots movement from growing up around using pot as an autism therapeutic, with one Facebook group, MAMMAS (Mothers Advocating Medical Marijuana for Autism), boasting almost 5,000 followers, and one writer and autism parent advocating for its use from a public pulpit.

But as the authors of a recent review note — and PubMed searches bear out — no studies exist suggesting clinical benefit for autism. Indeed, in a news release publicizing the review, the first author, Scott Hadland of Boston Children’s Hospital, is quoted as saying: "in using medicinal marijuana (parents) may be trading away their child’s future for short-term symptom control." These authors also call for more research into cannibidiol’s effects and more emphasis on developing high-cannabidiol/low-THC products.

July 8, 2015 in Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Does significant federal marijuana reform have a significant chance in the Senate?

Images (1)The question in the title of this post is prompted by this notable new and lengthy Politico magazine piece headlined "The Senate's experiment with cannabis: Hardliners on Judiciary open up to research on medical pot." Here are excerpts:

Congress has resolutely opposed the state-level movements toward legalizing marijuana, keeping it a Schedule I controlled substance on par with heroin, LSD and peyote.  But now some of the nation’s toughest law-and-order senators just might be opening the window to cannabis, at least a crack.

Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) have all begun speaking up about the need for more clinical research on the marijuana plant compound known as cannabidiol, or CBD.  The three sit on the powerful Judiciary Committee, which has a key voice in setting the federal government’s firm stance on pot in all its different forms.

They sent a clear signal in a packed hearing room last week, when the senators took on the tricky issue of CBD, a compound derived from an illegal drug but which many scientists and public health officials believe could treat conditions including cancer, diabetes, chronic pain, and alcoholism.  Some parents and doctors have already turned to CBD as an anti-seizure medicine for children who suffer from rare and extreme types of intractable epilepsy.

Grassley, the chairman of the powerful Judiciary panel, told the audience at a narcotics caucus meeting that it's not an “inconsistent position" to embrace the beneficial components of the pot plant even while rejecting pretty much everything else about the drug, adding that doctors prescribe morphine but don’t recommend their patients go out and smoke opium or heroin.  Feinstein and Hatch also spoke about the potential benefits from CBD, and complained that current drug laws impede the parents of sick children from access to what appears to be a helpful medicine.

At the same time, the senators went through elaborate motions to explain they weren’t softening their stance against recreational pot.  “I have deep concern that [pot] does more harm than anything else,” Feinstein said in an interview.  “But in terms of the medical aspects of it, it’s a totally different picture.  It’s like any other plant.  I’m sure there are other plants that if you ate you’d hallucinate or something.  But if you can get the beneficial parts out, get them researched, be able to standardize it, regulate it, you may have something very good.”

The lawmakers’ comments, coming on the heels of two recent Obama administration moves to expand medical-marijuana research, marked another pointed moment in the country’s shifting views on drug policy.  What was once an absolute red line in the “Just Say No” era is now a more porous border.  Twenty-three states and Washington D.C. have legalized medical marijuana; Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington state and the District of Columbia have also legalized recreational use, despite the clash with federal drug laws.

Congress, so far, has made no moves at all to relax recreational marijuana laws, and in Washington D.C. – where it effectively holds veto powers over the local government’s affairs – it prohibited the city from spending money to implement its voter initiative on recreational use.  As a result, the nation’s capital considers marijuana legal but doesn’t have any sales and taxation system....

Utah, Hatch noted, was “certainly no redoubt of hippie liberalism,” but in March 2014 became the first of 15 states to legalize use of the CBD oil.  Now, he's pushing the Senate to pass a bipartisan bill that would remove CBD from the definition of marijuana under federal law, giving parents a green light to buy the medicine without the threat of DEA agents busting them.

One sticky issue on the cannabis front has been that its outlaw status makes it more difficult to carry out both government and privately funded research.  While it’s technically legal to study the medical aspects of pot, researchers must go through a rigorous DEA and FDA approval process, and can only obtain their marijuana from the government’s sole authorized U.S. supplier, located at the University of Mississippi.

While Grassley rarely has praise for Team Obama, he applauded the Democratic administration for two moves it made in June on the medical-research front: the Department of Health and Human Services got rid of what it called a duplicative 16-year old paperwork review requirement for private researchers studying the drug; and separately, the Justice Department and HHS moved to study whether CBD should be classified on a less stringent level than the entire marijuana plant.  “This is a significant breakthrough and I commend these agencies for agreeing to take this step,” Grassley said.

The feds are in part playing catch-up with the black market, where parents using the oil extracts for their children say they’ve spent as much as $2,500 for a month’s supply. Feinstein said she hears complaints from constituents in California and around the country that they have bought CBD without labels, factory seals or clear dosage amounts.  “This is an untenable situation.  It is not how medicine should work,” Feinstein said.  Her goal, she said, was "to get this process expanded, and get it legitimized and get it regulated.  And I think those are the things we have to do and do as quickly as we can.”...

Despite their interest, Feinstein and her colleagues were circumspect still about how far Congress will go this session.  The House in June included several pot-related amendments to a spending bill funding the Commerce, Justice and State departments; one measure adopted on a 297-130 vote allows states that have legalized cannabidiol to do it without federal interference; another prohibits the federal government from blocking states from implementing their own medical marijuana laws. (President Barack Obama signed a similar provision into law in last year's "CRominbus" spending bill, but the language lapses at the end of the fiscal year.) The House also narrowly rejected an amendment – on a 206-222 vote – that would have told the feds to butt out in the implementation of any state marijuana laws, either recreational or medical.

In the Senate, Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) are leading an effort for a broader medical marijuana bill that would help make the drug available for a range of conditions, including cancer, glaucoma and for children via the CBD extract.  Their legislation would block the federal government from halting state medical marijuana laws; permit doctors at the Department of Veterans Affairs to prescribe the drug to military veterans; allow banks to do business with medical marijuana dispensaries and let states import the CBD oils for treatments. The senators also want to change how marijuana is classified under the Controlled Substances Act – moving it from the most restrictive Schedule 1 category that limits its use for research and defines it as having no accepted medical benefits into the Schedule 2 category that comes with fewer requirements before it can be studied.

In an interview, Gillibrand said it was a "huge deal" to have Grassley, Hatch and Feinstein supportive of expanding cannabis research. “I think it’s the first step toward a fuller conversation on how important medical marijuana is to so many patients across the country," she said.

But Gillibrand still has work in front of her if she wans to pick up their support for many of the specifics in her bill. Grassley, who has been a high-profile partner with Gillibrand on legislation tackling sexual assault crimes in the military and on college campuses, said he wasn't ready to ally with the Democrat yet on medical marijuana legislation.... And when asked if she backed the push to reclassify marijuana as a Schedule 2 controlled substance, Feinstein – who represents a state that legalized medical marijuana nearly 20 years ago – replied: “I’m not there yet.”

Personally, I have a "deep concern" that Senator Feinstein may do "more harm than anything else" if she is still clinging to a refeer madness view of marijuana as the most hamful of all drugs. But, especially if Senator Feinstein still does have a unsupportable view as to the harms of marijauana, the fact that even she is now talking up the importance of some medical marijuana reform perhaps is a great sign for the overall reform movement.

July 8, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Terrific RAND commentary spotlights "The 10 Ps of Marijuana Legalization"

1413386689065I just came across this terrific recent lengthy commentary piece at The RAND blog authored by Beau Kilmer.  The piece is titled "The 10 Ps of Marijuana Legalization," and it is a must-read for anyone thinking about modern marijuana reform. Here is how the piece gets started, along with the list of pot Ps:

Up and down the Western Hemisphere, marijuana policy is a growing topic of discussion, and laws are starting to change.

In 2014, retail marijuana stores opened in the states of Colorado and Washington, where anyone over 21 years old can purchase a wide variety of marijuana products: buds, baked goods, candies, drinks, lotions, e-cigarettes infused with hash-oil solutions, etc. Similar stores are expected to open in Oregon and Alaska in the upcoming year. While marijuana remains illegal under U.S. federal law, the Obama administration has decided not to block these efforts.

At the southern end of the hemisphere, Uruguay became the first country in the world to remove its prohibition on marijuana in late 2013. While the new law allows users to grow their own, join a cooperative, or purchase marijuana from a participating pharmacy — those who want to legally obtain marijuana must choose one of these options and register with the government — it remains unclear when the pharmacy option will be made available.

In addition, both Colombia and Costa Rica have bills in Congress that would make allowances for medical marijuana. In February, Jamaica passed a law to decriminalize personal possession and create a regulatory system for supplying marijuana for medical and religious purposes. In April, the Chilean congressional health committee approved a bill to legalize home marijuana production for medical and nonmedical purposes. The bill has now moved to the lower house of the Chilean Congress.

Legalizing marijuana for nonmedical purposes is especially controversial, with many arguments made by advocates on all sides of the debate. For example, those seeking to legalize marijuana hope to diminish the black market and the violent crime that can be associated with the trade, depending on the country. They also want less money going to criminal organizations and more to governments via taxation; however, the revenue aspect has been much more a topic of discussion in the United States than in Uruguay. Legalization proponents do not want people arrested and incarcerated for marijuana use, often saying that it does more harm than good and that it is an inefficient use of criminal justice resources. Finally, many advocates argue it is hypocritical to allow alcohol to be legally consumed but not marijuana.

Those on the other side of the debate worry that legalization will increase marijuana consumption — especially among youth — because of increased availability, reduced stigma, lower prices, and marketing (when it is allowed). Marijuana is not a harmless substance, and its consumption is correlated with adverse outcomes (e.g., high school drop-out, mental health disorders); however, it is often hard to prove that marijuana use causes those outcomes. There is, on the other hand, clear causal evidence linking marijuana use to accidents, cognitive impairment during intoxication, and anxiety and panic attacks that sometimes lead to emergency-room visits. Persistent heavy users run the risk of becoming dependent and also suffering from bronchitis. There is also strong evidence linking heavy marijuana use with psychotic symptoms, cardiovascular disease, and testicular cancer. We know very little about the health consequences — both harms and benefits — of the new marijuana products that are proliferating in places that have legalized.

Since no jurisdictions had removed the prohibition and legalized production before these experiments (not even the Netherlands goes this far), it is difficult to project the consequences. Further, legalization is not a binary choice; several decisions need to be made that will ultimately shape whether legalized marijuana ends up being good or bad for society.

Based on insights obtained from a series of research collaborations and through consulting with various government entities, I have identified 10 important choices confronting jurisdictions that legalize. Conveniently, they all begin with the letter “P.”...The 10 Ps 1. Production.... 2. Profit motive.... 3. Promotion.... 4. Prevention.... 5. Policing and enforcement.... 6. Penalties.... 7. Potency.... 8. Purity.... 9. Price.... 10. Permanency....

July 7, 2015 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Medical community perspectives, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 6, 2015

"Lost in the Weeds of Pot Law: The Role of Legal Ethics in the Movement to Legalize Marijuana"

The title of this post is the title of this notable law review article by Helia Garrido Hull recently posted to SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

Every day attorneys face ethical dilemmas in trying to meet client needs while complying with professional rules of conduct.  Perhaps nowhere is the risk of violating ethics rules more apparent than in states that have diverged from federal drug policy on marijuana.  Attorneys currently engaged in marijuana-related counseling may violate federal law even where their actions are otherwise legal under state law. Changes in public opinion regarding the legality of marijuana that are driving some states to legalize or decriminalize certain marijuana-related activities provide no basis for attorneys to breach the covenant they have made with the public to uphold the rule of law.

This article argues that attorneys should refrain from counseling clients on the use, possession, and distribution of marijuana until doing so does not violate federal law. Attorneys who favor marijuana legalization should utilize their specialized training and advocacy skills to change the existing law.  Current state action to relax ethics standards applicable to marijuana related activities to insulate attorneys from ethics violations could produce the anomalous result of having an attorney criminally prosecuted under federal law for an action that does not violate state ethics rules.  Such a result creates internal inconsistency within the state, confuses the public, and could lead to questions regarding the integrity of the profession.

Part I of this article will provide a brief overview of the historical role of marijuana use in America and the basis for its subsequent ban.  Part II will address the emergence of state action to legalize marijuana for medical and recreational use and examines the federal response.  Then, Parts III and IV will examine the American Bar Association (ABA) model rules and select, state-specific attorney ethics rules applicable to counseling clients on marijuana-related issues and will argue that an attorney's ethical obligations to the profession militate against counseling clients in this area except under certain narrowly defined circumstances.  Part V of the article will provide recommendations for competing interests of adhering to the rule of law with those proponents that want to legalize marijuana along with any economic benefits of its legalization.

July 6, 2015 in Business laws and regulatory issues, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Examining pot's potential for treatment of veterans' PTSD problems

This recent lengthy article about marijuana research struck me as especially worth highlighting as we close out a weekend of patriotic celebrations.  The piece is headlined "PTSD And Cannabis -- Can Researchers Cut Through The Politics To Find Out Whether Weed Works?" and here are excerpts:

After steadily accumulating anecdotes about how veterans use cannabis to treat their war wounds that understanding might finally be on the way.  Following years of bureaucratic hurdles, the first Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved, randomized controlled trial on cannabis and PTSD is set to begin this summer.  Many believe the study will spur increased acceptance of veterans using marijuana, a political shift that’s already led more and more states to add PTSD to their lists of conditions that qualify for medical marijuana.

But that key study still faces roadblocks, the latest being a VA hospital’s refusal to let one of the trial’s researchers recruit patients at its facility.  It’s just one more example of the political and scientific obstacles that remain before cannabis is embraced as a viable option for soldiers.  While the idea of veterans becoming medical marijuana patients has proven to be a powerful political leveraging tool, the concept gives some people pause.  Amid reports of skyrocketing substance abuse among veterans, overworked VA doctors and increasingly potent marijuana offerings, some worry that exposing the nation’s wounded warriors to cannabis might in some instances do more harm than good -- and in extreme cases, lead to even more violence and tragedy.

More than for any other potential medical use for marijuana, the clock is ticking to nail down the science behind cannabis and PTSD.  According to a 2014 report by the RAND Corporation’s Center for Military Health Policy Research, approximately 300,000 of the 1.64 million service members who deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan as of October 2007 were suffering from PTSD or major depression.  Only about half of that number had sought treatment in the previous year, and of those who did, just over half received a "minimally adequate treatment."  And with hundreds, if not thousands, of these struggling veterans killing themselves each year, advocates argue that if marijuana can help reduce the death toll there’s not a minute to lose....

But while veterans helped jumpstart recognition of cannabis’ potential medical benefits, many of them have limited access to medical marijuana themselves.  Because cannabis is still illegal under federal law, federal employees such as VA doctors can’t recommend the substance as treatment....

In some cases, veterans say their VA physicians wouldn’t just avoid talking about medical marijuana, but actively penalized them for using it.  Jack Stiegelman, founder of the Florida-based organization Vets For Cannabis, says a 2004 deployment in Afghanistan left him with a serious back injury for which he was prescribed daunting amounts of morphine and muscle relaxants.  There was also the PTSD that led him to wake up screaming in the middle of the night, threatening his squad leader with physical violence. “I said I was going to put my foot through his teeth,” says Stiegelman. “I felt it was their fault for not taking care of me.”...

VA spokeswoman Ndidi Mojay notes that federal law prohibits VA physicians from prescribing medical marijuana and from completing forms and paperwork necessary for patients to enroll in state marijuana programs.  However, “VA does not administratively prohibit VA services to those veterans who participate in state marijuana programs," she says.  "In some cases, participation in state marijuana programs may be inconsistent with treatment goals and therefore VA clinicians may modify treatment plans for the health of the patient.”

A major stumbling block is that there’s still little scientific research related to marijuana’s medical benefits, particularly when it comes to one of the signature injuries of modern veterans: PTSD.  Arguments for using cannabis to treat PTSD got a boost last year when New Mexico psychiatrist George Greer published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs the results of a chart review of 80 veterans he worked with who had PTSD and used marijuana.  He found that on average, patients using cannabis reported a 75 percent reduction in several of the main symptoms of PTSD, including hyperarousal and re-experiencing traumatic episodes. “This is a watershed,” says Greer. “You think of people being stoned on marijuana, you don’t think of them being more functional. It has to be a historical thing for marijuana to be found at least in anecdotal reports to be helpful for people for psychiatric conditions.”

But like all existing research on cannabis and PTSD, Greer’s study was based on anecdotal evidence, not the gold standard of scientific research: a randomized clinical trial. “We are at the point where self-report data is overwhelming and generally positive regarding medical marijuana and PTSD,” says Mitch Earleywine, a professor at SUNY Albany and chair of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML)’s board of directors. “Unfortunately, there has never been a randomized clinical trial or anything like that.”...

Political momentum for linking PTSD and medical marijuana is growing. Of the 23 states that now allow for medical marijuana, nine include PTSD as a qualifying condition for the drug, and in three others doctors have broad discretion to recommend medical cannabis for PTSD or other ailments. In 2010, the VA published a directive stating veterans shouldn’t be punished for using medical marijuana in those states that allow it, but reiterated that its doctors can’t help veterans obtain the treatment. Now, even that restriction could be lifted. In May, a Senate committee passed a bipartisan amendment to a military spending bill that would allow VA doctors to recommend and fill out paperwork for medical marijuana in states where it’s legal; the final bill will be negotiated later this year.

But in many jurisdictions, PTSD and marijuana remains a political sticking point. In Colorado, which has some of the most liberal cannabis laws in the world, PTSD still doesn’t count as a qualifying condition for obtaining medical marijuana. And while PTSD is the No. 1 reason for which people obtain medical marijuana cards in New Mexico, there have been multiple initiatives to remove it from the state’s list of qualifying conditions.

Part of the problem is that PTSD is unique among medical marijuana conditions, since it is a psychiatric disorder, not a physical ailment. “One of the issues with PTSD with medical marijuana is it is the first mental condition to be considered,” says John Evans, founder of the organization Vets 4 Freedoms. He helped add PTSD to Michigan’s list of medical marijuana-approved conditions in 2014 and petitioned to add the condition to Colorado’s list earlier this year. The Colorado Board of Health will hold a hearing on the issue on July 15. “It bothers a lot of people in the psychiatric community and the prescription-drug world,” says Evans.

“It’s a catch-22,” says Dan Riffle, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project. “People want to have hard data on how medical marijuana works for PTSD. But you can’t say that and then actively block the research. And that’s what’s happening on a federal level.”

July 5, 2015 in Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 3, 2015

"The Legal Business Of Marijuana Is Growing But The Industry Lacks Diversity"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new NPR Morning Edition segment.  Here is the piece's textual teaser:

The business of selling marijuana legally — for medical and recreational purposes — is expanding. But so are concerns that African-Americans are being shut out of this new industry.

July 3, 2015 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Employment and labor law issues, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Race, Gender and Class Issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Louisiana now with broadest (and least functional?) medical marijuana laws in South

ImagesAs effectively reported in this local article, headlined "One word could render Louisiana's medical marijuana law useless, advocates say," there is big marijuana reform news in the Bayou.  But, as the article also explains, the real-world effectiveness of the reform is uncertain because of a critical term used in the reforms:

Louisiana now has a law in place authorizing the growth, prescription and dispensary of medical marijuana to certain patients.  But advocates of medical marijuana who lobbied this year at the Louisiana State Capitol for the bill's passage worry a last-minute word change could essentially render the new law useless.

In the 23 other states where medical marijuana is legal, the laws refer to a "recommendation" for medical marijuana, not a "prescription."  David Brown, the director of a group called Sensible Marijuana Policy for Louisiana, said changing out "prescription" for "recommendation" allows doctors and pharmacists to get marijuana to patients without risking their federal license with the Drug Enforcement Agency....

The sponsor of the bill (SB 143), state Sen. Fred Mills, R-New Iberia, is aware of the concerns of Brown and other advocates.  He said, however, that Louisiana Board of Pharmacy Director Malcolm Broussard has assured him the issue of prescription versus recommendation could be "worked through" during the rule-making process.

Jacob Irving, a medical marijuana advocate and recent graduate of LSU, suffers from spastic quadriplegia -- a rare form of cerebral palsy that causes chronic muscle stiffness and has been effectively treated with marijuana.  If the law in its current form is properly enacted, his disease is on the list of those that would quality for medical marijuana.  Irving was the one who convinced a House panel to change the wording to "recommendation," before it was stripped out of the bill on the House floor.

The Louisiana Family Forum, the state's most influential conservative Christian group, requested the word "prescription" be put back into the bill before it reached the House floor.  Even the Louisiana Sheriff's Association, who had expressed strong opposition to the bill last year, were OK with "recommendation," Fred Mills said.  Family Forum Director Gene Mills said early this month he told Fred Mills putting the prescription language in the bill was a requirement for his group to remain neutral on the bill.

Opposition from the Family Forum could have hurt the bill's chance of passing and might have drawn a veto from Gov. Bobby Jindal, who closely follows Mills' guidance on social policies.  Jindal, too, had requested the term prescription be used.  Gene Mills said the prescription requirement keeps the proposed law in the realm of medical practice, subjecting it to the oversight and "necessary safeguard."

"That's why we're in the neutral zone," said Gene Mills, days after the House passed the version of the bill with "prescription" included.

Brown said the Louisiana Family Forum and Jindal's hardline position on calling it a prescription provides more evidence that the wording neuters the bill. "Why on earth would you insist so hard on that language being included (in the bill) unless you were fully aware, like we are, that by including it you've essentially gutted the bill?" he said.

While Irving is hopeful the wording won't cause a problem as the bill's sponsor has suggested, he can't ignore the potential threat it has to thwart access to patients. "If a doctor writes a prescription, he may go to jail or lose his DEA license," Irving said.

Brown said there's no pharmacist willing to put his or federal license at risk by signing off on dispensing a schedule I substance. By doing so, they would be "risking their whole livelihood -- for just that one prescription that they write." Broussard, however, acknowledged in an email provided by Mills that the use of the word "recommendation" has been suggested by other states to reduce risk to doctors and pharmacists. But he also indicated it made little difference.

"The outcome of the process -- whether it is a 'recommendation' or a 'prescription' -- remains the same," Broussard said. "It is an order generated by the physician for filling at the pharmacy." Irving still worries the seemingly minor wording problem could lead to another empty medical marijuana law that doesn't actually get the drug in the hands of patients who need it.

It's happened before: Louisiana technically legalized medical marijuana in 1978 and again in 1991, but those statutes didn't provide legal structure to allow for legal access to the drug -- from the ground to the patient. The law signed Monday (June 30) by Jindal was supposed close those loopholes.

Irving, who is 22, said he has been waiting his whole life for structural flaws in Louisiana's current medical marijuana law to be sorted out. "I just don't want to see a whole second generation pass (before) this bill is set up (to work)," he said. "It's needless suffering that can end."

July 2, 2015 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

"Rand Paul courts donors from marijuana industry"

The title of this post is the headline of this notabel new AP piece, which includes these passages:

Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul courted donors from the new marijuana industry Tuesday, making the Kentucky senator the first major-party presidential candidate to publicly seek support from the legal weed business.

Paul's fundraiser at the Cannabis Business Summit — tickets started at $2,700, the maximum donation allowed for the primary contest — came as the marijuana industry approached its first presidential campaign as a legal enterprise.

The candidate entered the closed-door fundraiser through a private hallway, instead of visiting the convention floor or meeting pot business owners who weren't donating to him. In public remarks after the fundraiser, Paul didn't mention marijuana and didn't take questions from most reporters.

During an interview with The Denver Post after the fundraiser, Paul also declined to answer whether he would have voted in favor of legalizing recreational marijuana in Colorado.  "I think I see it just more from a federal perspective," he said.  "And I think the federal government ought to stay out."

Many of the 40 or so people who attended the fundraiser called his appearance at the summit a milestone....  "This is a historical moment, that our industry is now working together with a presidential candidate," said Tripp Keber, owner of Denver-based Dixie Elixirs, which makes cannabis-infused sodas and sweets.

Another fundraiser attendee, Mitzi Vaughn of Seattle, managing attorney for Greenbridge Corporate Counsel, which caters to pot businesses, said Paul criticized drug war-era policies.  "Most of us, despite what others think, are in this to end the drug war," Vaughn said.

Though legal weed business owners have been active political donors for years, presidential candidates have so far shied away from holding fundraisers made up entirely of marijuana-related entrepreneurs.  Former Republican New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson held a fundraiser with the Drug Policy Alliance in 2012 before leaving the GOP and running as a third-party candidate. But that event came before recreational pot was legal in any state....

Paul has embraced state marijuana experiments, while other candidates have either taken a wait-and-see approach or expressly vowed to challenge state legalization efforts.  Paul has joined Democrats in the Senate to sponsor a bill to end the federal prohibition on the use of medical marijuana.  He also backs an overhaul of federal drug-sentencing guidelines, along with a measure to allow marijuana businesses to access banking services.

If this fundraiser had 40 attendees each paying $2,700, the Paul Campaign put over $100,000 in their fundraising coffers through this single small event.  Especially if no other GOP candidates go to this notable funding well, I suspect Senator Paul might find it quite ecnomics effective to treat the cannabis industry seriously.

July 1, 2015 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Ohio marijuana reform story getting even more dynamic and constitutionally complex

Ohio_constitution-592x394Regular readers know that I have been flagging Ohio as a state to watch closely in for the distinctive and dynamic marijuana reform discussions and debates taking place in the Buckeye State.   This new report from Time with the latest news on the latest developments highlights why I now have a front-row seat for watching novel issues unfold in the months ahead.   The headline of the piece is "Ohio Legislature Strikes Back Against Marijuana Legalization Bid," and here are excerpts:

A campaign to legalize marijuana in Ohio took a step closer to making November’s ballot Tuesday, after its promoters turned in more than twice the required number of signatures.

But the measure will face competition at the polls.  Ohio legislators also approved their own ballot measure on Tuesday to undermine the pot plan, which lawmakers worried would amount to a “marijuana monopoly” because of its provision that only 10 growers would control the wholesale pot market.  The lawmakers’ measure would block other measures that benefit select economic interest groups.

The marijuana ballot measure campaign, dubbed Responsible Ohio, is just one of many ballot measures in recent history that are designed to benefit their backers.  The companies funding the Responsible Ohio campaign would control — and likely profit from — the marijuana growth sites should the measure pass.

As detailed by the Center for Public Integrity, the campaign’s director, Democratic activist Ian James, came up with the idea and is planning to pay his own firm $5.6 million to push the ballot initiative.

Ohio Rep. Mike Curtin, a Democrat, said he sponsored the anti-monopoly measure because he opposes the way Responsible Ohio is using the citizen-initiated constitutional amendment, not because he opposes pot legalization.  “Are we going to allow a small group of investors, who have literally no background in drug policy… to carve themselves a special niche in our state’s founding document?” he said.  “To me it’s galling. It’s nauseating.”

But James said voters should have the right to decide the issue.  “Some statehouse politicians believe the voters are smart enough to elect them, but they aren’t smart enough to decide ballot issues like marijuana legalization,” he said in an earlier statement....

If voters approve both of the conflicting measures, Ohio law says whichever gets the most votes would win.  But Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican, recently said that if both passed, the legislatively referred anti-monopoly measure would block Responsible Ohio’s plan because citizen-initiated measures take 30 days to go into effect.

The issue could end up before a judge.  If both pass, “we have a very interesting court fight on our hands,” Curtin said.

Some prior related posts:

July 1, 2015 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

New and distinct marijuana reforms become effective today in Minnesota and Oregon

As reported in local pieces linked below, two notably different northern states have two notably different marijuana reforms becoming effective today:

Unsurprisingly, the events in Oregon are a bigger deal from a national marijuana reform perspective, as this story from the national news outlet Reuters highlights.  It is headlined "Crowds count down to legalization of marijuana in Oregon, then light up," and starts this way:

Crowds counted down the minutes to midnight then lit up joints as smoking marijuana became legal in Oregon on Wednesday, part of a growing legalization movement spreading down the United States' west coast.

Hundreds gathered on the Burnside Bridge in downtown Portland and smoked under the glow of a neon city sign, marking the moment that the law allowing recreational use, backed by voters in November, came into effect.

The legislation opens the way for shops to sell marijuana by next year - though some lawmakers say they will still try to block retail outlets.

Similar legislation is already in force in Alaska and Washington State, reflecting a shifting legal landscape for a drug that remains illegal under federal law.

July 1, 2015 in Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Is Mountain Dew much, much more deadly than marijuana?

ThYLAMVJKOThe question in the title of this post is my first-cut reaction to this news story carrying the headline, "Sugary drinks linked to 25,000 deaths in the U.S. each year."  Here is the press account of a notable new public health report:

By contributing to obesity and, through that, to diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer, the consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks appears to claim the lives of about 25,000 American adults yearly and is linked worldwide to the deaths of 180,000 each year, new research says.

Low- and middle-income countries are bearing the brunt of the death toll attributed to overconsumption of sugar-sweetened sodas, sports drinks and fruit drinks, according to an assessment published Monday in the American Heart Assn.'s journal, Circulation.  Each year, more than 3 in 4 of the world's deaths attributed to overconsumption of sugar-sweetened beverages occur in those poor and developing countries.

In Mexico -- a country with one of the world's highest per-capita consumption of sweetened drinks -- about 24,000 adults' deaths in 2010 were attributed to overconsumption of sugar-sweetened drinks.  That translated into the highest death rate of the world's 20 most populous nations: 405 deaths per million adults in one year. The United States ranked second.  In 2010, there were 125 deaths per million adults, or about 25,000 deaths total....

As incomes grow in many developing nations, some are experiencing spurts in obesity that mirror, in compressed form, Americans' four-decade run-up in weight.  Many researchers attribute those patterns, at least in part, to increases in their populations' consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, which add calories without improving nutrition.  "This is not complicated," said Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, dean of Tuft University's Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy and a senior author of the new research.  "There are no health benefits from sugar-sweetened beverages, and the potential impact of reducing consumption is saving tens of thousands of deaths each year."

The comprehensive report on sugary beverages and death does not reflect the effect of such consumption on the health of children. It does find chronic disease attributed to sugar-sweetened beverages more common in younger adults than in their elders. That fact is likely to have a major effect on future economies because it imperils the long-term productivity of a key group of workers.

If these young people continue to guzzle sugar-sweetened beverages at their current rate, said study coauthor Gitanjali Singh, the consequences could be dire. Compounded by the effects of aging, this generation's high rates of sugary drink consumption may push its rates of death and disability from heart disease and diabetes even higher than those seen in the current study, said Singh, also of Friedman School.

I have long believed that persons truly committed to improving public health in the United States ought to worry a lot less about marijuana reform effort and worry a lot more about reducing consumption of current legal but obviously harmful products like tobacco and alcohol and refined sugar. This latest research reinforces my sense that, from a public health perspective, we ought to be at least as concerned about the harms of Mountain Dew as we are about the harms of a doobie.

June 30, 2015 in Food and Drink, Medical community perspectives | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 29, 2015

GOP Senator Orrin Hatch makes powerful pitch for "currative side of cannabis"

Download (1)Senator Orrin Hatch has this notable new op-ed piece in the Washington Times headlined "The curative side of cannabis: A medical extract offers relief for epileptic children." Here are excerpts:

[Imagine] you hear about a new therapy that has shown remarkable success in treating children just like yours — children with intractable epilepsy.  But there’s a problem: The therapy is made from a strain of the cannabis plant.  The therapy doesn’t produce any sort of “high.”  In fact, it’s made from a strain of cannabis that’s so low in THC — the active ingredient in marijuana — that it has no psychotropic effect even when ingested in large quantities.  But because the therapy comes from the cannabis plant, it’s classified as marijuana under federal law and is therefore illegal.

As a devoted, loving parent, you’re faced with an impossible dilemma.  Do you break the law to obtain a therapy that could cure or at the very least substantially reduce your child’s devastating seizures?  Or do you allow your child to continue to suffer? Remember, the therapy produces no high, and it carries none of the dangerous side effects of traditional marijuana.  It simply comes from the same source.

This hypothetical scenario is a reality for tens of thousands of parents.  The therapy is called cannabidiol oil, or CBD for short.  It’s administered by placing a small amount under the tongue, and has been shown to reduce seizures by more than 90 percent in children with intractable epilepsy.  It is not addictive.

But because it’s made from the cannabis plant, CBD is illegal under federal law.  To solve this problem, I’ve recently sponsored bipartisan legislation with Sens. Cory Gardner, Colorado Republican, Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat, and others to exempt CBD from the definition of “marijuana” under federal law.

Our bill, S. 1333, will allow parents to obtain a life-changing therapy for their children without threat of federal prosecution.  It’s colloquially known as the Charlotte’s Web Act, after Charlotte Figi, an eight-year-old girl who has seen extraordinary improvements from taking CBD.  Prior to beginning treatment with CBD, Charlotte suffered as many as 300 grand mal seizures per week — seizures so violent that her parents put a do not resuscitate order in her medical records.  After Charlotte started taking CBD, however, her seizures dropped dramatically.  She now suffers, on average, less than three seizures per month and is able to engage in normal childhood activities. “Dateline NBC” and National Geographic recently highlighted the medical benefits of CBD for children with severe epilepsy.

CBD is not medical marijuana.  It cannot be used to get high.  Its only use is for epilepsy and other medical conditions.  Nor is it a camel’s nose in the tent for advocates of full marijuana legalization.  Fifteen states have now legalized CBD.  These include some of the most rock-ribbed conservative states in the country, such as Alabama, South Carolina and Texas.  In fact, my home state of Utah — certainly no redoubt of hippie liberalism — was the very first state to legalize CBD.

Throughout my entire Senate career, I’ve taken a strong stand against illegal drugs. The proliferation of cocaine, meth and other addictive, mind-altering substances has had a devastating effect on homes and communities.  CBD is not like any of those substances.  It is not addictive.  To the contrary, it has shown promise in treating addiction.  Rather than harming families, it can help make their lives better.

I continue to oppose marijuana and efforts to legalize its use.  I remain unconvinced by claims that it is safe and that the side effects it causes are no big deal.  Stories of children being rushed to the hospital for accidentally consuming marijuana edibles belie the notion that marijuana is a safe drug.  In fact, I am currently working on legislation to help protect children from the dangers of edible marijuana products.

But I also believe that when a drug is safe and can improve people’s lives, Congress should not stand in the way.  That CBD is derived from the cannabis plant does not mean we should be scared to have anything to do with it.  Legalizing CBD is a compassionate, common-sense move that will bring relief to thousands of suffering children.  I am glad to stand with my colleagues in supporting the Charlotte’s Web Act and look forward to helping it move through Congress and to the president’s desk.

June 29, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Will "First Church of Cannabis" really create a legal showdown in Indiana?

The-first-church-of-cannabisThe question in the title of this post is prompted by this new Indianapolis Star article headlined "Cops warn of arrests at Church of Cannabis." Here are some excerpts from a lengthy and interesting article:

The city's top law enforcements officials put the new First Church of Cannabis on notice Friday: Anyone who smokes marijuana at the inaugural service next week will face criminal charges.

The warning from Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry and Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department Chief Rick Hite "changes nothing," said Bill Levin, the church's founder, who pledged to move forward with plans for a service at noon Wednesday where marijuana will be smoked. "They haven't raised the stakes," Levin said. "These have been the stakes the whole time."

In fact, an arrest — or arrests — will spur the court fight that Levin wants. It is a legal battle that has been expected by nearly everyone, including Curry and Hite, who've watched the story of the controversial church unfold in the weeks since Gov. Pence signed Indiana's new Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Levin contends the use of marijuana in the church service is protected by RFRA, which limits government encroachment on religious freedoms. Curry said he believes the new law is ill-advised and problematic. That said, he also stressed that RFRA is not "a legitimate defense to committing a crime."

Hite said police can't ignore Levin flaunting the law under the guise of religion. That means everyone in attendance next week is subject to criminal charges, he said, even if they do not partake of the church's sacrament.

Curry said observers could be charged with visiting a common nuisance. Those who smoke the drug could be charged with possession of marijuana. Both charges are class B misdemeanors, which carry a penalty of up to 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Curry and Hite said Friday they were announcing their plans in an effort to dissuade Levin and his followers from going through with wide-spread marijuana use at the service. Hite said his department would have police on the church property, including possibly inside the sanctuary itself. "I think it's important to know that we're not trying to create a police state," Hite said. "I think reasonably intelligent people will stay away, quite frankly. But as with any other events we happen to have in our city, we're prepared for it."

Curry listed six considerations he said he recently shared with Levin — and wants others who might attend the service to keep in mind. In addition to making arrests for those who possess or are simply in the presence of marijuana that is being used, Curry said, police will also be looking for impaired drivers, those with open warrants and those who are at the service in violation of a probation order. Curry also cautioned that minors should not be present if marijuana is being used, adding that such a violation has "numerous implications."

Curry and Hite said police and prosecutors are duty bound to uphold Indiana's drug laws and cannot ignore the event that has been widely promoted in the news and on social media. They also are disturbed that they have to expend valuable manpower on this event, when there are many other more pressing needs for law enforcement resources.

Curry added Levin's church is a direct result of the state's RFRA law, and renewed an earlier call for legislators to repeal the law which he sees as unneeded and the result of political posturing. "We anticipated that (RFRA) could be asserted as a defense to criminal prosecution," he said. "As with any defense, our office will address the argument within the context of the case in which it is presented."

The prosecutor said he has met twice with Levin to discuss alternatives to making mass arrests at the service next week, such as making his point on a smaller scale involving just one or two people challenging the law. "I understand completely that what (Levin) is doing is using RFRA as a vehicle to essentially advocate for what he's advocated for all along, and that is the legalization of marijuana," Curry said. "But until he and others convince the legislature otherwise, then it's a crime."

Curry also dismissed concerns that the attendees of next week's Church of Cannabis service would be treated differently than others who are cited for marijuana possession – though he added that the city's advance notice of the event did present a change in how they plan on enforcing the law. "Individuals are cited for criminal offenses when they are observed, whether it's at the Indy 500 or rock concerts," Curry said. "What is different here is that we've been given notice that this is going to occur. From our perspective, it would be entirely the wrong message that we would not react to that."

Hite said the church is not right for Indianapolis, adding he and his officers have talked to drug dealers who are "appalled" by the planned service next week. "Those who deal drugs for a living have said to us, 'Listen. We're trying to get out of the game. You're telling us to get out, chief,'" Hite explained. "How can we allow someone to willingly violate the law?"

Levin said he is unfazed by who might show up at the service Wednesday, including law enforcement officials "I don't have a problem with that," he said. "You want to come pray? Come pray. You better be on the guest list to get into the building, though, because we've already got this thing filled."

The church plans to have a tent to accommodate overflow from the relatively small church building. What Levin described as "ushers" — who sound more like security — will screen people entering the building. The church also will have legal representation on site for the inaugural service.

A woman at the church Friday, wearing a shirt with a peace symbol on it, scoffed at Curry's suggestion for Levin to scale down whatever might trigger a legal battle. "Bill doesn't do anything on a small scale," she said. "I've known him for 35 years."...

"I believe in religious freedom and I will never tell my congregants what not to do," Levin said. "I will warn them of what might happen. If you're on probation, they might nail you. If you're there with a kid, they might get CPS on you. … This is civil disobedience in its finest form while we're celebrating a beautiful birth of a new religion."

Levin appears to be doing as much as he can to protect the church legally. He has non-profit religious status certified by the Internal Revenue Service. He made sure the church building conforms to safety codes. He's not allowing anyone under 21 into the sanctuary, where marijuana will be smoked at the end of the ceremony. And he is not selling or distributing the drug; its a bring-your-own event.

While Levin said he would prefer that officials leave him and church members alone, he's not about to back down from a legal fight. "I'd just as soon not do it. Am I afraid of it? No. Not at all. I'm sorry, I'm right," he said. "I will defend my beliefs as long as it takes and as far as it takes."

Any decision the state makes on religious laws — including whether the First Church of Cannabis is a legitimate religion — "they're going to have to be very committed to, and that goes across the board," Levin said. "Because what's good for one religion is good for all."

June 28, 2015 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Religion, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 26, 2015

Ohio advocates of marijuana legalization now backing expungement reforms via Fresh Start proposal

Images (1)I am more than a bit biased in reporting the latest notable news from Ohio's marijuana reform arena because I had a hand in making it happen.  But especially because my interest in marijuana reform stems largely from my concerns about the criminal justice harms and costs of marijuana prohibition, I am especially pleased and proud that those advocating for marijuana legalization in Ohio are committed also to advocating for related criminal justice reforms.   This local article, headlined "ResponsibleOhio proposes legislation to expunge marijuana offense records," provides these basis:

Pro-marijuana group ResponsibleOhio has drafted a law that would allow Ohioans convicted of certain marijuana crimes to expunge their records if the group's marijuana legalization proposal is approved by voters this fall.

The proposed initiated statute would allow Ohioans who were convicted of a marijuana offense to have their records expunged. On Wednesday, the group submitted language to the Ohio attorney general for approval. ResponsibleOhio plans to propose legalizing marijuana for personal and medical use through a constitutional amendment on this November's ballot. The expungement issue would come next year.

"We believe that we should not keep people unfairly shackled to their past when marijuana is legalized," ResponsibleOhio Executive Director Ian James said in a news release. The group's "Fresh Start Act" would first go before state lawmakers. If lawmakers vote it down or do not act within four months, Ohio voters would then vote on the law. Even if approved by voters, lawmakers could still change or repeal the language in state law.

In Ohio, expungement typically means the records are sealed unless opened by court order. But in recent years, state lawmakers have allowed records to be expunged, or destroyed, for committing two crimes later made legal: Storing a loaded firearm in a vehicle and soliciting sex as a victim of human trafficking.

The proposed statute mirrors the concealed carry language. ResponsibleOhio spokeswoman Faith Oltman said lawmakers should be in favor of extending that opportunity to past marijuana convictions. Oltman said offering the idea as an initiated statute gives lawmakers an opportunity to review and revise the language before voters weigh in. "An amendment meant the legislature couldn't manipulate or alter this piece of good public policy we created," Oltman said. "The Fresh Start Act is more straight forward so not as many guardrails needed to be put in place."

Records would not be automatically destroyed. Individuals would have to file an application in court and prosecutors would have the opportunity to weigh in before the judge makes a final decision....

If the petition language is approved by the attorney general and bipartisan Ohio Ballot Board, the group will then need to collect more than 91,677 signatures of Ohio voters. If lawmakers don't pass the law within four months, petitioners would have to collect another 91,677 signatures to put the proposed law on the statewide ballot.

June 26, 2015 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Initiative reforms in states | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Just what is Donald Trump's position now on modern marijuana reforms (and the modern drug war)?

11169870_646984088770460_6184823754671440024_nIt is justifiably hard for me and others to take too seriously Donald Trump's bid for the GOP presidential nomination.  Nevertheless, given that some polls indicate some GOP voters are taking "The Donald" seriously and especially given Trump's ability to get more media attention than most other GOP candidates, I think it may be time for serious marijuana reformers to seriously explore candidate Trump's current positions and perspectives on marijuana reform in particular and the broader drug war more generally.   Perhaps unsurprisingly, a quick Google search reveals that The Donald has through the years had talked about, but not always talked consistently about, drug policies.

 As noted in this recent MSNBC piece, way back in 1990 "a thick-haired Donald Trump was telling a crowd in South Florida that 'We’re losing badly the war on drugs. You have to legalize drugs to win that war. You have to take the profit away from these drug czars'."   In a similar vein, this unofficial 2012 review of the views of possible Prez candidates sets forth this account of the "Trump position on Marijuana":

• Donald Trump has never smoked marijuana.

• He would legalize it and tax it.

• He thinks that legalization would save a lot of money in our prisons and courts and profit the states.

However, before would-be marijuana reformers get too revved up considering cannabis capitalism under a President Trump Administration, this recent report on comments by Trump at the 2015 CPAC conference suggests that, as I have highlighted below, The Donald's marijuana reform views may still be evolving:

Trump said he has several agenda items should he become president, and his top item is to destroy the Islamic State.... In a lightning round with [Sean] Hannity, Trump also said that he is pro-life, with the exceptions of cases involving the life of the mother, rape, or incest; against legalized marijuana, unless it's medical marijuana, which he supports; and he believes Hillary Clinton botched Benghazi, her husband is a "nice guy" with a lot of problems coming up; and Obama is "an incompetent president."

To the extent Donald Trump could and and will be taken seriously as a GOP presidential candidate, I think we can and should expect him to generally be a voice for more pro-business, free-market domestic policies. Consequently, it will be interesting to watch if and when he is pressed on both his past and current positions on removing government restrictions on marijuana businesses and on recent failed drug war government efforts to eradicate illegal drug markets. 

June 25, 2015 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Political perspective on reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Reviewing SAM's take on recent marijuana reserch and reform developments

DownloadAs regular readers surely realize, I tend generally to favor modern marijuana reform efforts. Consequently, I tend generally to notice and feel most inspired to blog about research and press reports that tend generally to favor modern marijuana reform efforts. But I fully recognize, and generally have respect for, the many policy-makers and advocates who strongly oppose modern marijuana reform efforts.

Especially because I think it is critical in this space and elsewhere that competing voices are heard and dynamic perspectives considered in modern marijuana reform debates, I am ever grateful for the efforts of Kevin Sabet and his group SAM: Smart Approaches to Marijuana for covering and promoting reform-opposition research and developments. And, and these recent posts from the SAM blog highlight, SAM has has a lot to say on these topics over just the last 10 days:

June 25, 2015 in Assembled readings on specific topics, Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (2)

"Senators push for more research on medical benefits of marijuana"

Download

The title of this post is the headline of this effective media report on some of the themes and highlights of this notable Senate hearing which took place yesterday.  Here are excerpts: 

Members of the Senate are attempting to finish off where the White House started earlier this week, by calling for the removal of additional barriers still in place that they believe are limiting scientific study on the effects of marijuana.

At a hearing of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control Wednesday, members challenged representatives from the Drug Enforcement Agency, Federal Drug Administration and the National Institute on Drug Abuse on the current process for approving marijuana studies. "I understand the desire for caution. We're Congress, we act slowly. But these are people who need the help, for who a five- to 10-month delay is a death sentence," said Sen. Orin Hatch, R-Utah.

The hearing specifically looked at the effects of cannabidiol, a derivative of marijuana, on patients. Many members and witnesses spoke of anecdotal evidence that the drug helped children with chronic epilepsy when nothing else would. However, large-scale studies on the link have been rare, largely in part of heavily controlled federal government approval of marijuana research.

The hearing came on the heels of White House action earlier this week that removed a key government hurdle blocking many scientific marijuana studies from moving forward. The White House action means scientists will no longer have to submit research proposals to the Public Health Service Review (PHS) at the Department of Health and Human Services to get a green light for marijuana research.

But while the move, which was announced Monday, signals a shift in federal policy, many caution that there remain significant barriers to studying the drug’s positive medical effects on humans. Marijuana advocates point out that the PHS was only one of three major hurdles limiting research. The other two -- the fact that researchers can only use marijuana from a single government-owned dispensary at the University of Mississippi and classifying marijuana as a Schedule I drug -- endure.

Senators Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY, and Corey Booker, D-NJ, are two key members of Congress who are fighting for more studies on the effects of the drug. Earlier this year they introduced a bill, along with Sen. Rand Paul, R-KY, that in addition to getting rid of the now-defunct PHS review, would downgrade marijuana from a Schedule I drug, up there with heroin, to a Schedule II, in the line with opiates.

Both senators were guests at the caucus hearing and took no time to challenge witnesses from the various government agencies present. A fiery Gillibrand challenged NIDA and the National Institute for Health's strict control of cannabidiol. NIDA representatives said one drug company had a patent on cannabidiol. Many fear this control over the drug will limit future research options. Gillibrand shot back saying, "Let's be clear, we have to change the laws to remove the impediments so that we have research across the country."

Whether it be cannibidiol or marijuana in general, supporters say much still needs to be done to study the drug and get it available on markets where medical marijuana is legal. “Arguably the largest hurdle in this process still remains in place,” Paul Armentano, deputy director at the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws said. “That is that government policy … mandates that all clinical protocols must utilize government grown cannabis provided by NIDA.”...

While attitudes may be changing, led by President Obama himself, and including DEA efforts to expand the availability of marijuana for studies, progress remains slow. As a result, many members of Congress are getting in on efforts to streamline the regulatory process in hopes that it may make the drug available to those who need it.

Just last May, Reps. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., Morgan Griffith, R-Va., Jane Schakowsky, D-Ill., and Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., wrote a letter to the Secretary of HHS asking her to remove the PHS barrier. In a statement Monday, Blumenauer called the White House’s decision “a significant step toward improving an antiquated system that unfairly targets marijuana above and beyond other substances in research.” He said, however, there still remains a lot to be done and said he’s working on legislation to address the remaining blockades.

While more and more lawmakers’ acceptance of marijuana’s role in medicine might be a welcome surprise, some marijuana supporters are skeptical that additional marijuana studies will significantly change federal policy. “Ample scientific research already exists to contradict cannabis’ federal Schedule I status -- as a substance without medical utility, lacking acceptable safety, and possessing a high potential of abuse,” Armentano said. “More research is welcome, but unfortunately science has never driven marijuana policy. If it did, we would already have a very different policy in place.”

June 25, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

New federal regulations should make medical marijuana research a bit easier

As explained in this helpful new Washington Post piece, a "long-standing bureaucratic obstacle to privately-funded medical marijuana research has just been removed, effective immediately." Here are the details

Until today if you wanted to conduct marijuana research, you'd need to do the following:

  1. Submit your study proposal to the Food and Drug Administration for a thorough review of its "scientific validity and ethical soundness."
  2. Submit your proposal to a separate Public Health Service (PHS) board, which performs pretty much the exact same review as the FDA.
  3. Get a marijuana permit from the Drug Enforcement Administration.
  4. Finally, obtain a quantity of medical marijuana via the Drug Supply Program run by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), which maintains a monopoly on medical marijuana grown for research in the U.S.

As you might imagine, this can be a complicated, time-consuming process. Step 2, the PHS review, has been a subject of particular consternation among researchers and advocates.  That step is not required for research into any other drug, including cocaine and heroin.  

The PHS review is nearly identical to the one performed by the FDA.  Sometimes, it can take months to complete.  In recent years, advocates of overhauling marijuana laws, researchers, members of Congress, and even marijuana legalization opponents have called for the PHS review to be eliminated in the name of streamlining research.

This week, the Department of Health and Human Services agreed, determining that the PHS review process is redundant with the FDA review, and that it is "no longer necessary to support the conduct of scientifically-sound studies into the potential therapeutic uses of marijuana."

"The president has often said that drug policy should be dictated by unimpeded science instead of ideology, and it’s great to see the Obama administration finally starting to take some real action to back that up," said Tom Angell of the Marijuana Majority, a pro-legalization group.  

Even those who oppose legalization agreed. "I think it's a sensible change; but people are being delusional if they think this will result in a flood of research on the drug," said Kevin Sabet of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, an anti-legalization group. "But it's a step in the right direction as the development of a non smoked cannabis medication goes forward."...

There are still more bureaucratic hurdles to marijuana research than to research in any other drug.  NIDA's monopoly on legal marijuana production doesn't exist for any other drug, meaning that heroin and cocaine remain easier for researchers to work with. "The next step should be moving marijuana out of Schedule I to a more appropriate category, which the administration can do without any further Congressional action," said Angell.  "Given what the president and surgeon general have already said publicly about marijuana’s relative harms and medical uses, it’s completely inappropriate for it to remain in a schedule that’s supposed to be reserved for substances with a high potential for abuse and no therapeutic value."

June 23, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)