Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Friday, May 4, 2018

"Some Prosecutors Are Erasing Old Weed Convictions. Why Isn’t Yours?"

Legal Marijuana Oregon Measure 91The title of this post is the title of this new HuffPost piece on a topic that readers know is dear to my heart in part due to my work on my most recent article, "Leveraging Marijuana Reform to Enhance Expungement Practices."  Here are excerpts from the HuffPo piece: 

In California, prosecutors in Alameda, Santa Clara, San Diego and San Francisco counties announced earlier this year they will automatically review, recall, resentence and potentially dismiss and seal more than 10,000 misdemeanor and felony marijuana convictions.

The movement is spreading. On Friday, Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes became the latest top prosecutor to join, asking a city court to vacate all convictions and dismiss all charges for misdemeanor marijuana possession that were prosecuted in the city before the state legalized marijuana for recreational purposes in 2012. Now prosecutors in Denver and Burlington, Vt., are mulling similar measures, their representatives told HuffPost this week.

In Denver, where prosecution of low-level pot offenses has been a low priority for a decade, Ken Lane, a spokesman for newly elected DA Beth McCann, said that while McCann hasn’t retroactively applied Colorado’s laws for post-conviction relief, “she has asked staff to research the matter... in response to what DAs in California are doing.” And in Vermont, which recently became the first state in the nation to legalize marijuana via legislature rather than ballot measure, another prosecutor is making moves.

Justin Jiron, deputy state’s attorney in Chittenden County, Vermont, which contains Burlington, told HuffPost that his office is weeks away from announcing a new policy that will allow individuals to apply to have their past marijuana possession records expunged or sealed regardless of when the conviction took place. It’s not as immediate of a review as San Franciscans and San Diegans can expect, but it’s a meaningful step. “I think the simplest way of looking at it for us is just that these people have convictions that if they were to commit them today they wouldn’t be a crime,” Jiron said. “So it seems unfair to basically saddle them with a conviction for something that is now legal.”

Prosecutors in pot-friendly jurisdictions have enormous power to offer relief for people previously convicted of marijuana offenses in their jurisdiction, but many aren’t using it. California’s marijuana law requires individuals to apply for relief for previous marijuana-related crimes — a process that can be costly and time-consuming. Prosecutors there could greatly speed up the process by following San Francisco’s automatic process, which makes relief more immediate.

Prosecutors in other legal-weed jurisdictions could potentially follow Seattle prosecutor Holmes’ lead and leverage their own state’s laws to move for post-conviction relief for past marijuana offenses. Those state laws, however, are complex and vary tremendously by jurisdiction ― this includes expungement, which does not have a standard definition across jurisdictions, as well as sealing and dismissal. Some states don’t address retroactive relief for past criminal convictions. Some require a governor’s pardon to vacate a conviction. Others allow post-conviction relief but require years-long wait periods, or limit which kinds of convictions can be removed from a person’s record.

But few prosecutors are making moves like Holmes’ — either because they don’t want to, or because state legislatures haven’t passed laws that allow relief for now-legal acts. People convicted of state pot crimes in the past in Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Colorado, Alaska, Vermont, Massachusetts and Maine — all places where the drug is now legal for recreational purposes — may still have violations on their record. And even in California, where the legal marijuana industry is already valued at $7 billion, according to one estimate.

In Los Angeles County, California’s largest by population, District Attorney Jackie Lacey announced in February that individuals will have to continue to apply for relief themselves, “rather than wait for [her] office to go through tens of thousands of case files.” Lacey estimated there were 40,000 felony convictions involving marijuana since 1993 in Los Angeles County. When reached by HuffPost, her office did not have any updates on this decision....

The exact extent to which prosecutors can retroactively apply their state marijuana laws o
r seek to vacate past convictions is a point of debate, and it depends on many complicated factors. This includes a prosecutors’ individual preferences, resources, a state’s laws regarding retroactivity and post-conviction relief, said Lauren-Brooke Eisen, a former prosecutor who is now a senior fellow at New York University School of Law’s Brennan Center for Justice. “There’s no one right answer to this,” Eisen said. “But what’s happening with marijuana in states like California and Colorado, which have built in some of this retroactivity, it does open the door absolutely for a little bit more pushing the envelope by DAs.”

Rodney Holcombe, staff attorney at the Drug Policy Alliance echoed this sentiment, saying it is not enough to simply legalize marijuana because prohibition ravaged many communities. “Tens of thousands of people across the country – especially persons of color – continue to suffer from the consequences of prohibition,” he said. “We cannot in good conscience legalize without repairing the harms wrought by the failed drug war. We can only truly claim victory when we center our efforts on the persons most harmed by prohibition.”

Prior related post:

"Leveraging Marijuana Reform to Enhance Expungement Practices"

May 4, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Maine legislature final enacts framework for regulating marijuana sales 18 months after initiative vote for legalization

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As reported in this local article, on Wednesday the Maine legislature "overturned a veto by Gov. Paul LePage that would have again stalled the legal sale of recreational marijuana, moving Maine a major step closer to launching a legal retail market for the drug." Here is more:

The House voted 109-39 and the Senate 28-6 to override LePage’s veto of cannabis legalization legislation, setting the state on a path to the legal sale and production of recreational marijuana some 18 months after voters approved legalization at the ballot box in November 2016. However, it will likely be the spring of 2019 before the first retail shops can open for business.

Now that the bill has passed, the state Department of Administrative and Financial Services must hire a consultant to help the state write more regulatory rules, including inspection and licensing of wholesale commercial growing facilities, licensing of retail sellers and collection of sales taxes. The rules will have to be approved by the next Legislature, which convenes in January.

The Republican governor, a steadfast opponent of legalization, had vetoed the Legislature’s first attempt at drafting a law to launch the retail market for cannabis in November. It’s not clear how quickly the state will move to hire workers to administer and enforce the new law, and seek bids to design a seed-to-sale tracking system that will be used to regulate the marijuana market.

Wednesday’s vote provoked mixed reactions, even among those who campaigned successfully to gather voter signatures and get the legalization question on the 2016 ballot. David Boyer, Maine political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, said the bill includes provisions that the organization supports and others that it dislikes. “Ultimately, we’re glad that the Legislature is moving towards a regulated marketplace,” he said. “We are approaching two years since Maine voters passed this and adults in Maine deserve a place to purchase marijuana legally.”

Scott Gagnon, director of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, which opposed the referendum, was pleased that the bill had been amended to ban social clubs and reduce the number of plants that can be grown for personal use from six to three. “This is an improvement” over previous proposals, he said. “It’s going in the right direction.” He said Smart Approaches to Marijuana now will focus on things such as helping communities that don’t want shops selling marijuana in their towns, making sure that shops don’t get concentrated in particular neighborhoods, trying to offset “normalization” of pot use and counteracting problems that arise....

The adult-use bill is more conservative than the bill approved by referendum voters in November 2016. It doesn’t allow for social clubs, which means adults who buy their cannabis here will have to consume it on private property, with the permission of the property owner. And lawmakers cut the number of plants that can be grown for personal use on their own property – or someone else’s with permission – from six to three in an effort to reduce black market sales.

The bill doesn’t cap the number of business licenses, or the amount of recreational cannabis that can be grown in Maine, which some entrepreneurs complain will drive down prices so far that small growers won’t be able to survive, leaving only those with out-of-state money behind them standing in the end. To allay those concerns, lawmakers voted to give the first three years of business licenses to those who have lived and paid taxes in Maine for at least four years.

May 3, 2018 in 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)

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Center for American Progress produces short report on "Rethinking Federal Marijuana Policy"

Footer-logoThe folks at the Center for American Progress have this new Issue Brief titled "Rethinking Federal Marijuana Policy." Here are parts of its recommendations:

Congress now should seriously consider proposals that lead to the legalization of marijuana.  This is a time-consuming process that involves numerous issues, industries, and stakeholders, but the experiments in multiple states to liberalize marijuana laws provide a roadmap for the steps that the federal government should take toward legalization.

Any federal liberalization of marijuana must apply retroactively so as to fairly address the thousands of Americans whose life opportunities have been destroyed by federal marijuana convictions.  A number of states across the country have been enacting legislation that would seal or expunge a larger number of criminal convictions, so people with records can more easily obtain jobs, get a loan, and overcome obstacles to leading a productive life after serving their sentence.  States like Pennsylvania are passing legislation to make sealing records automatic in order to reduce the bureaucratic and administrative hurdles that often cause unnecessary and burdensome delays in the process.  Congress should consider legislation that automatically and immediately seals federal marijuana convictions, especially for those convicted of simple possession.

Congress must consider ways to solve racial disparities that exist even in legal marijuana markets.  While loosening state marijuana laws has resulted in lower arrest rates across all racial groups, black people are still more likely than other groups to be arrested for marijuana law violations.  Furthermore, black people have been largely left out of the legal marijuana industry.  One 2016 estimate concluded that fewer than three dozen marijuana dispensaries — or about 1 percent of all dispensaries in the United States — are black-owned.   Congress must support, train, and license black entrepreneurs in order to ensure that jobs in this industry are also filled by people of color.  This can be accomplished by following a model similar to the one proposed in Oakland, California, which recently established an equity program that sets aside half of all marijuana business permits for residents who have been targets of the war on drugs.

The fact that marijuana is listed as a Schedule I drug establishes significant roadblocks for researchers to understand marijuana, its effects, its risks, and its potential benefits.  Scientists are legally restricted in the types, quantity, and quality of the marijuana that may be used for research, preventing long-term, large-scale analyses required for evaluating drugs.  The limited research conducted to date has supported the notion that marijuana has positive benefits and may be used to treat various medical conditions, including, but not limited to, chronic pain, muscle spasms, and nausea related to chemotherapy.  However, experts and policymakers are locked in a Catch-22, making it difficult to answer the very questions necessary to understanding the full scope of marijuana’s effect on public health, which in turn could help determine marijuana’s placement on the drug schedule.

Federal marijuana legalization can facilitate job creation while significantly increasing tax revenue, and Congress should consider how to equitably maximize these economic benefits.  A recent study found that legalizing marijuana nationwide could generate at least $132 billion in tax revenue between 2017 and 2025 as well as more than 1 million new jobs across the country.  As states have increasingly legalized marijuana, the legal marijuana market in the United States has grown to $9.7 billion. Experts think this is a small fraction of the potential market since, last year, more than 4 million people used marijuana in states where it was legal, but 44 million people across the country consume marijuana products in a given year.

May 2, 2018 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Medical Marijuana Users are More Likely to Use Prescription Drugs Medically and Nonmedically"

Download (10)The title of this post is the title of this notable new research authored by Theodore Caputi and Keith Humphreys being published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine. Here is its abstract:

Objectives

Previous studies have found a negative population-level correlation between medical marijuana availability in US states, and trends in medical and nonmedical prescription drug use. These studies have been interpreted as evidence that use of medical marijuana reduces medical and nonmedical prescription drug use. This study evaluates whether medical marijuana use is a risk or protective factor for medical and nonmedical prescription drug use.

Methods

Simulations based upon logistic regression analyses of data from the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health were used to compute associations between medical marijuana use, and medical and nonmedical prescription drug use. Adjusted risk ratios (RRs) were computed with controls added for age, sex, race, health status, family income, and living in a state with legalized medical marijuana.

Results

Medical marijuana users were significantly more likely (RR 1.62, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.50–1.74) to report medical use of prescription drugs in the past 12 months. Individuals who used medical marijuana were also significantly more likely to report nonmedical use in the past 12 months of any prescription drug (RR 2.12, 95% CI 1.67–2.62), with elevated risks for pain relievers (RR 1.95, 95% CI 1.41–2.62), stimulants (RR 1.86, 95% CI 1.09–3.02), and tranquilizers (RR 2.18, 95% CI 1.45–3.16).

Conclusions

Our findings disconfirm the hypothesis that a population-level negative correlation between medical marijuana use and prescription drug harms occurs because medical marijuana users are less likely to use prescription drugs, either medically or nonmedically. Medical marijuana users should be a target population in efforts to combat nonmedical prescription drug use.

May 2, 2018 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 30, 2018

Lots of new medical marijuana coverage via CNN

Last night CNN aired the fourth installment of Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta's programming about marijuana.  This Special Report was titled "Weed 4: Pot vs. Pills," and CNN has has a number of stories in recent days related to its work in this space.  Here are links to just some of its recent coverage:

April 30, 2018 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Reviewing the modern tax revenue realities of modern marijuana reform

Marijuana-money-live-trading-newsToday's USA Today has on its front-page this article headlined "Pot taxes across U.S. shore up school budgets, drug-prevention efforts." Here are excerpts:

States with legal pot have collected more than $1.6 billion since the newest sin taxes went into effect in 2014, with the money paying for everything from public schools to mental health services to programs that deter convicts from re-offending....

In an exclusive analysis for the USA TODAY Network, Beau Whitney, a senior economist with Washington, D.C.-based cannabis analytics firm New Frontier Data, forecasts collections in California could exceed $2.1 billion through 2020, based on a 15% state excise tax. For perspective, it takes about $1 billion a year to run the city of Sacramento. The New Frontier analysis doesn't count a mishmash of city, county or cultivation taxes....

Analysts say mainstay revenue such as income, property and sales taxes still dwarf marijuana taxes in local and state government budgets. However, "every dollar is important," said Stephen Walsh, a director with the U.S. Public Finance group at Fitch. "It's very difficult for governments to raise taxes." Cannabis taxes represent a welcome infusion of all-new money, he said.

Nine states and the District of Columbia have decided to legalize recreational marijuana. Cannabis consumers are willing to trade high tax rates — from 20% in Oregon to as much as 45% in California — for the freedom to partake in the small network of states.

Were the federal government to OK sales throughout the nation, New Frontier analysts forecast that through 2025, weed could bring in about $100 billion in fresh revenue for the U.S. Treasury Department. That includes a hypothetical 15% federal sales tax, business tax revenues and payroll deductions. But for now, revenue is on the rise in the handful of states that allow sales, though the way state budgets are structured makes it difficult to trace marijuana taxes from the point of sale to the purchase of school textbooks.

Colorado and Washington, which started allowing recreational marijuana sales in 2014, have so far collected nearly $1.48 billion in revenue. Washington has brought in more than $773 million to pay for healthcare services, research from state universities on the effects of short-term and long-term pot use, reducing marijuana use among minors and other efforts. Meanwhile, Colorado has received more than $702 million, with the money going toward grants that help pay schools' capital construction costs, as well as shoring up local and state tax bases. The state collected $247,368,473 last year alone, revenue records show.

In an interview, U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colorado, said bringing underground economic activity above-ground, then taxing it reasonably, creates "a more efficient market."... While Colorado's counties and cities can choose whether to allow marijuana businesses, Polis said some less-prosperous parts of the state have seen pot turn into an important revenue producer, letting officials support schools and children's scholarships, along with addressing infrastructural needs.

In Alaska, one of the smallest markets, tax proceeds are split between the state's general fund and efforts to stop convicts from re-offending. Alaska taxes pot growers, and collections have steadily risen from $577,901 when they started in July 2017 and peaking at more than $1 million this January, for a total of about $8.25 million, revenue records show.

The list of states with legal weed is growing, with others that have voted to allow it now including Oregon, Nevada, Massachusetts, Maine and Vermont. After starting tax collections in 2016, Oregon has divvied up about $126.9 million in marijuana taxes between schools, city and county governments, mental health, alcoholism and drug services, the Oregon State Police and the Oregon Health Authority's drug prevention and treatment services.

"These funds will be used in combination with other resources for drug and alcohol prevention for a comprehensive, evidence-based approach to reducing drug misuse and excessive alcohol use," said Jonathan Modie, OHA spokesman. A campaign to prevent minors from using marijuana and data collection on alcohol and drug use are part of the drug prevention and treatment program, he said.

The amount of pot money Oregon allocates annually to school districts is based on a district's weighted daily membership, a metric that takes into account how many full-time students are in a district and other factors, such as the number of students with special needs or experiencing poverty. Salem-Keizer Public Schools, Oregon's second largest school district, is receiving a little more than $2.7 million in marijuana money this year, said Oregon Department of Education spokesman Peter Rudy. That's enough to pay for the equivalent of 27 teachers, considering each costs around $100,000 with salary and benefits combined, according to district spokeswoman Lillian Govus.

In a statement, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said, "We know that Oregonians care about our children’s education and their neighbors' health, and we see that in how they decided to spend cannabis tax revenues. Every dollar counts when supporting those values."

April 30, 2018 in Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Zimbabwe becomes second country in Africa to legalize medical marijuana

MapAs reported in this article, headlined "Zimbabwe legalises marijuana for medicinal use: Decision is a step away from the country's traditionally tough stance on drugs," a notable nation on a notable continent is the latest to join the ranks of marijuana reformers:

Zimbabwe has made it legal to produce marijuana for medicinal and scientific uses.

It follows in the footsteps of Lesotho, the tiny nation which last year became the first in Africa to issue a license for medical marijuana.

Zimbabwe has been considering legalising the drug for a number of months, and will now become one of the few countries able to turn it into a source of revenue. Previously, production and possession of the drug could bring up to 12 years in prison, although recreational use remains illegal.

The move is a step away from Zimbabwe's traditionally tough stance on drugs. In the past, members of parliament in the largely conservative country who had advocated for legalisation were often mocked.

Much of Africa still criminalises the production and use of marijuana but countries including Malawi and Ghana are reportedly exploring ways they too can legalise it.

A South African court last year ruled that private use of marijuana was legal but the government appealed against the ruling at the constitutional court.

April 29, 2018 in International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Seattle prosecutors now taking proactive steps to expunge past marijuana convictions

Seattle-marijuana-jobsBecause of my work on my new article, "Leveraging Marijuana Reform to Enhance Expungement Practices," I am especially attune to how marijuana reform is now intersecting with criminal justice concerns. So this new USA TOday article, headlined "Seattle seeks to abolish hundreds of pot convictions in light of legal marijuana," caught my eye this morning. Here are excerpts:

Seattle prosecutors are seeking to abolish more than 540 convictions against people caught carrying small amounts of pot in the city. A municipal judge is reviewing the convictions with an eye toward clearing offenders' criminal records, which advocates say have limited their job and housing opportunities.

The 542 people were convicted prior to 2010, when city prosecutors stopped bringing minor possession charges. Washington state legalized minor marijuana possession in 2012, and no one would be convicted in Seattle on minor possession charges today.

“Vacating charges for misdemeanor marijuana possession is a necessary step to correct the injustices of what was a failed war on drugs, which disproportionately affected communities of color in Seattle,” Mayor Jenny Durkan said in a statement. “The war on drugs in large part became a war on people who needed opportunity and treatment. While we cannot reverse all the harm that was done, we must do our part to give Seattle residents – including immigrants and refugees – a clean slate."

The move is the latest in a series of steps Seattle has taken to reduce or eliminate penalties for pot possession. In 2003, city voters mandated that marijuana possession be made the lowest law-enforcement priority possible, and in 2010, City Attorney Pete Holmes announced he would stop prosecuting simple possession cases, no matter how many tickets the police department wrote....

A few months later after legal sales began, an angry Holmes threw out nearly 90 marijuana tickets written by a single officer who appeared upset at legalization and began targeting homeless and minority men with public consumption and possession tickets. At the time, Holmes called the officer's actions "abhorrent."

The move also makes Seattle the latest large, liberally minded city to overturn marijuana convictions. San Francisco in January announced it would begin vacating thousands of minor marijuana convictions, and prosecutors are also reviewing an additional 4,000 felony cases for potential reductions. San Diego is following a similar process.

Prior related post:

"Leveraging Marijuana Reform to Enhance Expungement Practices"

April 28, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Michigan proposal for full legalization of marijuana officially approved for Nov 2018 vote

Images (1)As reported in this local article, headlined "Michigan approves marijuana legalization vote for November," the Wolverine State is now positioned to be the latest political battleground for the debate over recreational marijuana reform. Here are the details:

The battle to free the weed officially started Thursday when the State Board of Canvassers ruled that a group pushing a proposal to legalize marijuana for recreational use got enough signatures to qualify for the Nov. 6 ballot. The 4-0 decision by the board was met with cheers by advocates for the proposal.

"The people of Michigan deserve this. They earned it," said Rick Thompson, a board member of the Michigan chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws or NORML. "We've faced many trials and tribulations. We've had so many stop and go signs from the federal government. That's why states have to take the reins on the issue and really be the crucibles of democracy that they've always been intended to be."

It was the second time that the coalition had turned in enough signatures to get on the ballot. The last time, however, it didn't get the signatures in a state-mandated 180-day window and the petition was thrown out. But the coalition didn't have the same problem this time around. "We expected this," said John Truscott, spokesman for the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol. "Now we'll be out and about talking to people and educating them about the issues."

Scott Greenlee, executive director of the Healthy and Productive Michigan political action committee, which opposes the ballot proposal, urged the Board of Canvassers to keep the issue off the ballot because marijuana is still considered an illegal drug by the federal government. "By putting this on the ballot, you're disregarding federal law," he said. "I recognize that other states have done it, but like my mom always told me, 'Just because your friends jump off a bridge, doesn't mean you have to do the same thing.'"...

The Michigan marijuana ballot proposal would:

  • Legalize the possession and sale of up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana for personal, recreational use.
  • Impose a 10% excise tax on marijuana sales at the retail level as well as a 6% sales tax. The estimated revenues from the taxes are at least $100 million.
  • Split those revenues with 35% going to K-12 education, 35% to roads, 15% to the communities that allow marijuana businesses in their communities and 15% to counties where marijuana business are located.
  • Allow communities to decide whether they’ll permit marijuana businesses.
  • Restrict purchases of marijuana for recreational purposes to 2.5 ounces but an individual could keep up to 10 ounces of marijuana at home.
  • Allow the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA), and not the politically appointed licensing board that will regulate the medical marijuana side of the market, to regulate and license marijuana businesses, ranging from growers, transporters, testers and dispensaries.
  • Set up three classes of marijuana growers: up to 100, 500 and 2,000 plants.

Michigan voters have already weighed in on marijuana once, approving cannabis for medical use in 2008 by a 63%-37% margin. As of March, 1, 277,752 people are medical marijuana cardholders and 43,131 people are caregivers who can grow up to 72 plants for up to five cardholders. The state is in the process of vetting applications of people who want to get into the medial marijuana business, which is expected to generate at least $700 million in sales. That financial prediction is estimated to grow to more than $1 billion a year if voters pass the ballot proposal and Michigan becomes the ninth state to legalize marijuana for adult recreational use....

But getting the ballot proposal passed is not a foregone conclusion, despite recent polls showing more than 60% support for legalizing marijuana. Healthy and Productive Michigan has $215,286 for the battle ahead, primarily from Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a Virginia-based organization that supports cannabis for medical, but not recreational uses.

"We'll continue to press forward with education and explain to the public the problems that recreational marijuana will cause in our state," Greenlee said. "And once it's certified for the ballot, we'll have a number of people from Michigan who will come in and support us."

The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol has raised more than $1 million, but spent the vast majority on paying the firm that collected petition signatures. According to campaign finance reports filed this week with the Secretary of State, the coalition has only $17,326 in available cash for the upcoming campaign.

April 26, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Marijuana Edibles and 'Gummy Bears'"

The title of this post is the title of this notable and timely new paper authored by Paul Larkin now available via SSRN.  Here is its abstract:

Contemporary American society has decided that, whatever may be the benefits and harms of liberalizing marijuana use by adults, we should continue to outlaw the sale of recreational-use marijuana to children and adolescents.  Even the states that permit recreational marijuana use under state law draw the line between adults and minors. Unfortunately, some companies pay only lip service to that line.  The ability to develop products that closely resemble cookies, brownies, candies, and other substances that are attractive to children and adolescents — albeit, for different reasons — poses the risk that minors — some accidentally, some intentionally — will consume marijuana edibles found around the home or elsewhere.  Any use of marijuana by children and long-term use of marijuana by adolescents poses health risks avoidable through federal prohibition or regulation of edibles.

To avoid the danger to their health and safety, the Justice Department and the FDA should take steps to prevent adulterated and mislabeled edibles from harming the public.  Even if the Justice Department decides not to challenge the state medical or recreational use programs, the FDA should consider treating such edibles as adulterated foods under the FDCA — taking whatever steps are available to prevent the sale of any such products altogether — or to allow sales to go forward only under strictly regulated conditions.  Doing so would help to reduce the danger that edibles pose to the health and safety of children and adolescents without materially interfering in state decisions on how to regulate the distribution of medical-use marijuana or the recreational use of that drug by adults.

April 26, 2018 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Food and Drink, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Notable accounting of how hard it is to account for all the new marijuana data in legalization states

MarijuanadrugtestingfactsThe AP has this interesting new article about data collection and analysis in the marijuana space. The piece is headlined "Oregon Marijuana: Lots of Data, Few to Analyze and Check It: Oregon is awash in data on its marijuana industry but has few workers to monitor and check what its legal businesses are doing." Here is an excerpt:

Oregon's experience is reflective of one of the significant challenges in the expanding legal U.S. marijuana industry: the ability of governments to keep track of their own markets.

Washington, which with Colorado became the first state to broadly legalize marijuana in 2012, recently switched tracking contractors after it outgrew the first system, and quickly ran into major technical problems. Colorado has reported no significant technical issues but has only five people on the data analysis staff to help with investigations and look for potential violators.

Last year, Nevada switched tracking companies after its first system crashed. California became the world's largest legal marijuana market on Jan. 1 without the promised vast computer system for tracking. It won't be available for months.

The Oregon tracking system was created by Franwell, a Florida-based technology company that has contracts in a handful of states, including California. Licensees log entries into the system as seeds sprout into plants, the plants are harvested, processed, sent to stores and then sold. The flood of data is checked by the single full-time marijuana data analyst, with occasional help. Five more will be hired soon, but they'll have their hands full as an estimated 2,000 medical marijuana growers start entering the tracking system on July 1. According to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, a recent inventory of adult-use marijuana in the state stood at more than 1 million pounds (0.45 million kilograms). That's roughly 4 ounces (113 grams) for each of the state's 4.1 million residents.

Avitas general manager Joe Bergen said the pot businesses are inputting a "ridiculous" amount of information to the tracking system. He said 10 percent of Avitas' staff at the Salem facility is dedicated to rules compliance: tagging plants and finished products, tracking the inventory and filling out official shipping manifests. "It's important to do it, but it's burdensome for a small business," Bergen said.

The data has been useful in confirming wrongdoing in roughly 50 investigations, though less than half of them were triggered by the data, commission spokesman Rob Pettinger said.

On a recent morning, Cecilia Espinoza sat at a table inside Avitas' production facility, staring at a desktop computer. A small wheel spun on the screen for a couple of minutes as she waited for the web application to open so she could update information about the hundreds of plants growing in the 12,000-square-foot (1,115-square-meter) building. "We call it the 'spinning wheel of death,'" Espinoza said with a laugh. "It's tedious."...

Cannabis producers and regulators compare the tracking system to filing income taxes: They operate to a large extent on good faith, but when an auditor or inspector comes there better be evidence to back the numbers. However, the chances of a "compliance inspector" showing up at a site is low. The Oregon commission only employs 19, with four more to be added soon.

They don't have time to randomly check grow sites and compare amounts of marijuana they see with the data. Instead, inspectors are largely tied up investigating complaints, for example on someone carrying out a function beyond the scope of a license, or harvesters lacking the required permit, commission officials said.

Companies that have gone the legal route - paying for licenses, security and other systems to meet the requirements - say regulators should focus on those who remain outside the legal system. They note the illegal producers are unfair competition, without the large overhead. "Really, there is no incentive for us to do anything but stay in the recreational market," said Bergen, whose company invested millions in the Salem facility. "Why would we have gone to all this trouble, just to lose our license from doing something stupid like selling on the black market?"

April 26, 2018 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Does the new Medical Cannabis Research Act now have a real shot at becoming law?

DownloadThe question in the title of this post is prompted by this notable new Bloomberg article headlined "Medical Marijuana Bill Gains Backing of Key Republican in House." Here are the interesting details from the piece:

House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte has agreed to co-sponsor a Florida Republican’s bipartisan bill to make medical marijuana research easier, his office confirmed on Wednesday.

That backing by the conservative Virginia Republican potentially bolsters the bill’s chances in the House. Representative Matt Gaetz started circulating a handout Tuesday night explaining his Medical Cannabis Research Act, with Goodlatte listed as a co-sponsor. "I can confirm that the chairman will co-sponsor," said Kathryn Rexrode, a spokesman for Goodlatte, who is not running for re-election, in an email.

A spokesman for Gaetz said the measure was to be introduced on Wednesday or Thursday, with its sponsors set to hold a news conference on Thursday.... A draft of the legislation was also obtained Tuesday by Bloomberg News -- as well as a separate summary Gaetz was circulating outside the House chamber.

That summary listed current co-sponsors as Goodlatte and fellow Republicans Dana Rohrabacher of California and Karen Handel of Georgia; as well as Democrats Alcee Hastings and Darren Soto of Florida; Steve Cohen of Tennessee and Earl Blumenauer of Oregon.

The measure, as described would increase the number of federally approved manufacturers of cannabis for research purposes, and it would also provide a "safe harbor" for researchers and patients in clinical trials so that institutions such as universities would not risk losing federal funding.  The bill makes it clear that the Department of Veterans Affairs could refer patients for clinical trials, and eligible researchers at the VA could perform research on medical cannabis.

Clear standards on federally approved growers would be imposed.  At the same time, the measure was described as fostering innovation, making it easier for industry leaders to work with researchers to develop new scientific breakthroughs.

Even so, the chances that most of Gaetz’s Republican colleagues will help him pass the bill in an election year are slim.  And the odds of Sessions reversing course are also long....

Asked if he’s talked to the attorney general about his new bill, Gaetz said he has not. He joked of Sessions, "doesn’t call or visit me anymore." Gaetz is among House conservatives who have been criticizing the Justice Department in unrelated battles over providing Congress documents tied to the FBI’s handing of its investigations of Hillary Clinton’s emails, and the Russia inquiry led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Trump offered qualified support for legalization while on the presidential campaign trail, saying that medical marijuana “should happen” and that laws regarding recreational usage should be left in the hands of the states. Trump made his assurances this month after Republican Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado, a state that has legalized marijuana, had held up Justice Department nominees.

This article is right to suggest that the odds of any marijuana reform making it through Congress these days are slim. But because the Medical Cannabis Research Act sounds like a very modest proposal that has the backing of a key Committee Chair, this bill would seems to at least have some chance. Indeed, because there are a number of other more robust federal marijuana reform proposals gaining attention and sponsors, it strikes me as even possible that AG Jeff Sessions might not oppose this proposal as actively as he may be inclined to oppose others making the rounds.  That all said, I still think the most likely answer to the question in the title of this post is "no."

UPDATE: Over here at Marijuana Moment, Tom Angell has more details on the provisions of the Medical Cannabis Research Act.

April 25, 2018 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)

Making a case for the FDA as the main federal agency on marijuana reform

Download (13)Paul J. Larkin Jr., a senior legal research fellow in The Heritage Foundation’s Meese Center for Legal and Judicial Studies, has this interesting new Fox News commentary headlined "On marijuana, let the Food and Drug Administration make the decisions." Here are excerpts:

Reports about the Trump-Gardner deal and Schumer proposal [to reform federal marijuana laws and policies] raise several additional questions:

· Will the federal government pursue an entirely new policy regarding marijuana regulation?

· If so, will that new direction leave decision-making entirely up to the states?

· If not, will the federal government still play a role?

· Will that change lead to a net social plus or minus?

The answer to each of those questions is the same: “Maybe yes, maybe no.” That’s because there is another possible option lying between “absolute federal ban” and “complete state freedom.”...

In 1962, Congress also prohibited the distribution of new drugs unless the FDA commissioner first found them to be both “safe” and “effective.” Since then, Congress has consistently reiterated that the FDA should be responsible for making those decisions – not Congress, not the states, not the public. It’s an important matter. We do not decide by plebiscite which drugs should be sold to the public. America has resolved that experts should make that decision because the average person lacks the education, training and experience to answer the medical question of whether a particular drug is safe and effective.

Why should we treat marijuana differently? For more than two decades, states have decided to reconsider their marijuana laws and permit people to use marijuana for medical or recreational purposes even though the distribution of marijuana is forbidden under federal law. Three presidents – Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama – each failed to force Congress to decide whether federal law should also be re-examined.

President Trump may be willing to do what his three predecessors should have done. It is time for Congress to take up this subject once again. Great nations, like great people, always must be willing to reconsider their laws in light of new developments. It makes sense for Congress to revisit this issue.

But that does not mean senators and representatives should act in a vacuum, without regard for the nation’s designated authority on food and drug safety. Nor should members of Congress simply act according to polling results. We do not let the public decide which antibiotic, antiviral, antifungal, or chemotherapy drugs can be marketed. There is no reason to treat marijuana differently.

Congress has never let the FDA decide this issue, because federal law has treated marijuana as contraband since the year before the FDCA became law. Maybe we should treat marijuana in the same way that we treat any other new drug that someone argues should be used therapeutically.

No healthy democracy can afford to glibly disregard the opinions of experts on matters within their expertise. Since 1962, the United States has decided to trust the FDA with the responsibility to resolve any debate, either within or beyond the scientific community, over a drug’s safety and efficacy. That decision is entitled to no less respect today than it was 50 years ago.

So maybe Congress will re-examine the treatment of marijuana under federal law and send the nation in a new direction. But maybe that new direction will be to leave the decision how to treat marijuana in the hands of the person we trust to make other, similar decisions: the commissioner of food and drugs. And maybe that approach will be a net social plus. We certainly think so with respect to other drugs. Perhaps, it’s time to enlist the FDA commissioner to make a scientific judgment about this issue too.

April 25, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Food and Drink, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

"'High' Standards: The Wave of Marijuana Legalization Sweeping America Conveniently Ignores the Hidden Risks"

The title of this post is the title of this new article authored by Steve Calandrillo and Katelyn J. Fulton recently posted to SSRN. Here is its abstract:

As a tide of marijuana legalization sweeps across the United States, there is a surprising lack of scrutiny as to whether the benefits of recreational marijuana outweigh the risks.  Notably, marijuana edibles present special risks to the population that are not present in smoked marijuana.  States that have legalized recreational marijuana are seeing an increase in edible-related calls to poison control centers and visits to emergency rooms.  These negative reactions are especially prevalent in vulnerable populations such as children, persons with underlying preexisting conditions, and out-of-state marijuana novices.

Unfortunately, research on edible marijuana is scant and state regulatory regimes are not adequately accounting for the special risks that edibles pose.  Edibles are metabolized differently than smoked marijuana, resulting in late-onset, longer-lasting, and unpredictable intoxication.  Novices are particularly vulnerable because of inaccurate dosing and delayed highs.  Children are also at risk because edibles are often packaged as chocolate and other forms of candy to which unsuspecting kids are attracted.  To minimize these risks and maximize the social utility received from marijuana edibles, further study of their effects is required and tighter regulations are necessary.  Conducting research studies and enforcing new regulations takes time, and in the interim a state-implemented ban on marijuana edibles may be necessary to halt the increase of edible-related harms and hospitalizations.

April 24, 2018 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Is federal marijuana reform certain if Democrats win back the House this fall?

WashingtonDC-Capitol-MarijuanaThe question in the title of this post is prompted by this new Politico article fully headlined "Legal Marijuana’s Big Moment: Despite hostility from the Trump administration, signs indicate federal decriminalization is only a flipped House away." Here are snippets from the lengthy article:

In Washington, evolution on the marijuana issue is proceeding at warp speed in political terms.  Boehner is just the latest in a string of noteworthy newcomers to the legalization movement that has been barreling through state houses for the past decade.  Just in the past several weeks, Mitch McConnell fast-tracked a Senate bill to legalize low-THC hemp.  Chuck Schumer announced that he would introduce a bill to de-schedule marijuana entirely. Colorado Senator Cory Gardner struck a deal with President Donald Trump, who promised to not target Colorado’s legal marijuana industry in exchange for Gardner releasing his hold on Trump’s Department of Justice nominees.  The FDA opened a comment period on the scheduling of marijuana ahead of a special session of the World Health Organization convened to re-evaluate marijuana laws, and both chambers of Congress passed “right to try” bills that might have accidentally legalized medical marijuana for terminally ill patients.  Taken together they suggest that nearly 50 years of federal marijuana prohibition is about to disappear, and it’s happening in the face of an administration that has expressed its outright hostility to the notion....

When POLITICO Magazine caught up with [Representative Earl] Blumenauer last week, he bubbled with enthusiasm.  The prospects for legalizing marijuana at the federal level, he said, have never been brighter. “It’s kind of exciting, isn’t it?” he told me.  “It’s all cresting this year… I think we’re entering into the final stages, if everyone does their jobs right.”

“I think the next Congress will finish the job of reform, and clean it up,” he told me, by which he means if it flips to Democratic control and legislation is permitted to proceed.  “We’ve got the votes in the House and the Senate and there will be a huge shakeup in the next Congress.” With Democrats in control, the new chairs of the relevant committees would be pro-marijuana: Jerry Nadler in Judiciary, Frank Pallone in Commerce, and Jim McGovern in Rules.  “These are our friends with good records,” he said.  Blumenauer thinks the votes are there now, but bills are bottled up by Republican leadership.  “I think this Congress, if the Republican leadership would not stifle this bipartisan consensus of virtually every Democrat and several dozen Republicans, if they’d just allow the vote, it would pass [a number of measures].”  

This Politico article rightly highlights recent federal marijuana reform momentum, and I am not surprised to hear bullish reform talk from Rep. Blumenauer. However, I have seen federal sentencing reform momentum build for five+ years without it resulting in any significant new legislation, and I always fear at the federal level it is easier to talk about reform than to get it done. Relatedly, we have seen how marijuana reform momentum in New Jersey and a few other states has stalled as legislators have to turn away from political rhetoric and toward the development of specific legislation.

Relatedly, Vice News has this lengthy new piece reviewing the positions of all 100 US Senators on marijuana reform under the headline "Does Your Senator Think Weed Should Be Legal?"

April 24, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 23, 2018

"Leveraging Marijuana Reform to Enhance Expungement Practices"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper I have written for a forthcoming issue of the Federal Sentencing Reporter which is now available via SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

States reforming marijuana laws should be particularly concerned with remedying the past inequities and burdens of mass criminalization.  State marijuana reforms should not only offer robust retroactive ameliorative relief opportunities for prior marijuana offenses, but also dedicate resources generated by marijuana reform to create and fund new institutions to assess and serve the needs of a broad array of offenders looking to remedy the collateral consequences of prior involvement in the criminal justice system.  So far, California stands out among reform states for coupling repeal of marijuana prohibition with robust efforts to enable and ensure the erasure of past marijuana convictions.  In addition to encouraging marijuana reform states to follow California’s lead in enacting broad ameliorative legislation, this essay urges policy makers and reform advocates to see the value of linking and leveraging the commitments and spirit of modern marijuana reform and expungement movements.

Part II begins with a brief review of the history of marijuana prohibition giving particular attention to social and racial dynamics integral to prohibition, its enforcement and now its reform.  Part III turns to recent reform activities focused on mitigating the punitive collateral consequences of a criminal conviction with a focus on the (mostly limited) efforts of marijuana reform states to foster the erasure of marijuana convictions.  Part IV sketches a novel proposal for connecting modern marijuana reform and expungement movements.   This part suggest a new criminal justice institution, a Commission on Justice Restoration, to be funded by the taxes, fees and other revenues generated by marijuana reforms and to be tasked with proactively working on policies and practices designed to minimize and ameliorate undue collateral consequences for people with criminal convictions.

Cross-posted at Sentencing Law & Policy

April 23, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Notable new (and incomplete) data on marijuana arrests

Marijuana_arrests_chart500_shortWriting at The Intercept, Tana Ganeva has this notable new article reporting on some notable new data on marijuana arrests under the headline "The War On Pot Marches On: In Nearly Half The Country, Marijuana Arrests Have Gone Up Since 2014." Here are excerpts (with links from the original):

This week, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., a politician adept at reading and responding to the public mood, introduced a bill to decriminalize cannabis at the federal level. And in some states, pot is already being taxed and regulated.   Underneath that progress, however, a war is still raging.  New data published here for the first time show that in at least 21 states, more people were arrested in 2016 than in 2014. Meanwhile, thousands of people who were arrested previously for what is now legal in many places continue to languish in prisons.

Jon Gettman, associate professor of criminal justice at Shenandoah University, used data from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report to put together previously unpublished arrest data, which he provided to The Intercept.  The data show that in at least 21 states, pot arrests went up from 2014 to 2016, even as weed has been legalized and decriminalized in other states and cities.  Complete data were not available for Florida, Illinois, Alabama, and Washington, D.C.

Gettman says the idea that we’ve taken a laxer approach to pot prohibition is not true across the board.  “In some places, arrest rates are not only plugging along, they’re going up,” he told The Intercept.  “The idea that marijuana prohibition is going away is not supported by the data.”  

In Arkansas, arrests jumped 30 percent from 2014 to 2016.  In Hawaii, they went up 51 percent.  New Jersey saw a 31 percent increase in marijuana arrests, from 27,208 in 2014 to 35,700 in 2016.  In other states, they’ve stayed at the same high levels.   Georgia arrested 27,738 people for pot in 2014; 27,548 in 2015; and 28,223 in 2016. In Texas, arrests hovered in the 60,000s during those years.

Meanwhile, in states that had legalized or decriminalized pot as of 2016, people were still getting arrested, albeit at lower rates.  Georgia, for instance, has twice the population of Colorado, but arrested more than five times as many people.  In Colorado, which boasts a thriving legal market, 5,771 people were arrested for marijuana in 2014, down from 10,438 in 2012, the year voters legalized it.  That number was lower in 2016, but not by much: 5,098. The overwhelming majority of arrests were for possession.   As NPR reported, these tend to be low-income, young people of color running afoul of the strict regulations imposed in legal markets.

“Marijuana law enforcement becomes a convenient and useful tactic in the implementation of other law enforcement policies,” Gettman said. “You have to ask, ‘What purpose do pot arrests serve the local police?’”

Take New York City.  Pot possession arrests fell from 26,390 in 2014 to 18,120 in 2016, according to data assembled by the Marijuana Arrest Research Project and the Drug Policy Alliance.  Yet police officers continue to target young people of color: Between 2014 and 2016, 86 percent of pot arrests were of blacks and Latinos....

Nationwide, there’s an endless list of factors that might influence pot arrest rates. Do police make a lot of traffic stops?  Do they target certain areas or populations, like people they suspect might be undocumented?  Are they trying to establish authority on the street by busting teenagers?  New York’s stop-and-frisk program, in which police used a loophole to conduct illegal searches of primarily black and brown young people, is a classic example.   The policing of homeless people like Winslow, which happens all over America, is another.

A few other factors drive the arbitrary nature of marijuana arrest rates.   There’s some diversion from states where it’s legal, and the creation of black markets driven by the high cost of taxed legal pot.  People might be less discreet in public, thinking they’re not going to get busted for weed, Gettman says.  It’s also possible that there might be backlash among some police against the growing public acceptance of marijuana. 

I am grateful to Professor Gettman for assembling this state-by-state marijuana arrest data, though it only provides the most basic of essential information about marijuana enforcement practices. It would be, of course, valuable and important to have more data on specific marijuana charges (other than just the possession/sale distinction in the data), as well as more data on the demographics of who is getting arrested.  And breaking down county-by-county data could also be quite informative and useful, especially in prohibitionist states that border full legalization states.  Last but not least, I do not believe there is any collection of data on what becomes of all these arrests, and I would guess that the rate at which an arrest turns into a formal charge and a conviction varies dramatically from jurisdiction-to-jurisdiction.

April 23, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 20, 2018

"Does medical marijuana decrease opioid use or boost it?"

The title of this post is the title of this effective new WonkBlog piece by Keith Humphreys, which makes these important points:

Studies conducted at the state level show that expanding access to medical marijuana is correlated with lower rates of opioid misuse and overdose.  Yet studies of individuals show that using medical cannabis is correlated with higher rates of using and misusing opioids.  This set of conflicting research has revealed less about the relationship between marijuana and opioids than it has about how science is misunderstood and misused in political debates....

The math underlying why many such apparent contradictions exist across scientific research areas is complicated, but the underlying point is simple: We can’t know what’s happening to individuals by looking just at state data (or county or city data), and we can’t know what is happening to states just by looking at individuals. Thus there isn’t any logical contradiction between marijuana and opioid use having opposite relationships at the state and individual level.

The other statistical point of relevance here is more widely understood: Just because two things are correlated doesn’t prove there’s a causal relationship between them. However, in this particular domain, people tend to apply that rule only to the subset of studies that conflict with their views on marijuana.  Sometimes this is a conscious decision by people who want to spin the evidence, but more often it reflects unconscious, built-in flaws in human reasoning that make us more prone to attend to and trust evidence that confirms what we already believe or deeply want to believe.  That is, people who hold anti-marijuana views will be more likely to accept the individual correlational studies as proving that medical cannabis is harmful and dismiss the state-level studies as “merely correlational.”  Those with positive views of marijuana will do the reverse.  (If you want to see this phenomenon in action, watch how this article is discussed on Twitter today!)

Being human, scientists also sometimes fall prey to the same problem, being too critical of marijuana studies that don’t accord with their beliefs and not critical enough of those that do.  But at their best, scientists design rigorous studies of important questions and then accept the answers whether they (or anyone else) likes them or not.

Solving the puzzle of whether and how medical cannabis and opioids interact will require laboratory experiments and randomized clinical trials in which researchers can control exposure to both drugs rather than relying on correlational data. In one recent such study, Ziva Cooper of Columbia University found initial evidence that marijuana may modify both the pain-relieving effects and abuse liability of oxycodone.

More studies like Cooper’s are needed and should become more common if Congress is wise enough to loosen restrictions on medical marijuana research. In the meantime, the medical marijuana debate will rage on, with many people on each side citing as authoritative whichever study suits their purposes.

April 20, 2018 in Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Is It Too Late to Stop the Rise of Marijuana, Inc.?"

Because of the date on the calendar, there is today waaaaaay too much mainstream press coverage of marijuana issues for me to cover in this space.  But I cannot ignore it all, and the headline of this post is the headline of this new Atlantic piece by Reihan Salam that seemed worth spotlighting. Here is how it starts and its core proposal:

The marijuana wars are entering a new phase.  The first phase, over whether or not to legalize the recreational use of cannabis, is over.  The partisans of legalization have won the battle for public opinion.  Soon, I suspect, marijuana legalization will be entrenched in federal law.  At this point, to fight against legalization is to fight against the inevitable.  The only question now is what form America’s legal marijuana markets will take.  Will they be dominated by for-profit business enterprises with a vested interest in promoting binge consumption?  Or will they be designed to minimize the very real harms caused by cannabis dependence, even if that means minting fewer marijuana millionaires?  I fear that the burgeoning cannabis industry will win out—but their victory is not yet assured....

The fundamental challenge, as [Jonathan] Caulkins argues, is that cannabis is a dependence-inducing intoxicant, and a cheap one at that.  In Washington state, a marijuana-legalization pioneer, he observes that the cost per hour of cannabis intoxication “has fallen below $1, cheaper than beer or going to the movies.”  This is despite the fact that the state’s marijuana growers and distributors operate in a grey zone — legal at the state level, but not legal at the federal level — which leaves them ineligible for the federal tax deductions to which all more straightforwardly legal businesses are entitled.

If marijuana were largely consumed by adults who partake rarely and responsibly, this would not be much of a concern.  According to Caulkins, though, only about one in three cannabis users fall into this fortunate category, and they account for no more than 2 percent of total consumption.  Meanwhile, daily and near-daily users account for 80 percent of total consumption, and a far larger share of the profits of your friendly neighborhood marijuana business.  Yes, there are cancer patients who use regularly marijuana to ease their pain, and there are traumatized veterans who do much the same.  I am happy to concede that cannabis abuse is preferable to opioid abuse.  But let’s not kid ourselves: Marijuana, Inc., thrives by catering to binge users, many of whom explicitly state that their dependence is getting in the way of their lives.  By the time the cost of an hour of cannabis intoxication falls below $1 nationwide, the picture will start to change: The number of people who will turn to marijuana as a form of self-medication, or as a form of escape, will drastically increase.  And most of them will be poor and vulnerable people, not the affluent bohemians so affectionately portrayed on HBO dramedies.

In a 2014 essay for Washington Monthly, Mark A.R. Kleiman, who along with Caulkins is one of the country’s leading experts on drug policy, anticipated the outsized role the marijuana industry would play in debates to come: “As more and more states begin to legalize marijuana over the next few years, the cannabis industry will begin to get richer—and that means it will start to wield considerably more political power, not only over the states but over national policy, too.” As a result, he warned, “we could get locked into a bad system in which the primary downside of legalizing pot — increased drug abuse, especially by minors — will be greater than it needs to be, and the benefits, including tax revenues, smaller than they could be.”

Is it possible to legalize marijuana without drastically increasing the number of Americans who find themselves dependent on it?  I certainly hope so. In my ideal world, Congess would establish a federal monopoly on the sale and distribution of narcotics, including but not limited to cannabis, with an eye towards minimizing the size of the black market and avoiding the aggressive marketing and lobbying that would inevitably accompany the emergence of a large for-profit industry.  But I recognize that this is, for now, a pipe dream.

April 20, 2018 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Hoping education and learning might be the focal point of 4/20 activities

I tend not to be a big fan of the unofficial marijuana holiday known as 4/20, but this new CNN article suggested to me the title of this post.  The CNN piece is headlined "Universities meet growing demand with Weed 101," and I am lucky that it mentions the course I teach at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law. The article has me thinking that everyone should try to learn something new about marijuana and its impacts today. And here are snippets from the article about some teaching efforts in this space:

The facts about marijuana are still at the center of the debate, because while states are more permissive, federal law still puts marijuana in the same category as heroin: a Schedule I drug with "no currently accepted medical use," at least in the eyes of the federal government. That leaves researchers and universities offering classes in uncharted waters.

Despite the limits, a handful of determined professors have stepped up, without textbooks or well-trod academic territory, and created courses to try to ensure that the next generation is prepared to match the public's interest. There seems to be only one "weed major," the medicinal plant chemistry program at Northern Michigan University, but a growing number of weed-themed classes are being offered on campuses across the country in law, business, medicine and general science.

In 2013, the Washington Attorney General's Office provided Beatriz Carlini, a research scientist at the university's Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute, with funds to develop training modules for health professionals who can get continuing education credit. They learn about how cannabis works and about its best uses; a second module teaches best clinical practices.

Marijuana is legal in its recreational and medicinal forms in Washington, and with more legal access comes a public desire for more education. But unless your doctor is in his or her late 90s and can remember before 1942, when it was legal to prescribe cannabis, more than likely they learned nothing about its benefits in medical school. "Hopefully, we can help patients make good decisions," Carlini said. "People won't wait for these things to resolve federally."

Yu-Fung Lin teaches the physiology of cannabis at the UC Davis School of Medicine. Physiology is a branch of biology that looks at the functions of living organisms and their parts. The elective focuses on how cannabis and cannabinoids impact the body. It also looks at physiological impact, therapeutic values and history. It's the first class of its kind in the University of California system.

Lin, an associate professor who usually teaches medical students, didn't know what to expect from her 55 undergraduates. "I've been quite impressed by their commitment," she said. She hopes her class will inspire future research. "Just knowing what we know, and the limitations of what we know, should inspire students, and they in turn could do research that would be really helpful in this field."

The Larner College of Medicine at the University of Vermont can't create classes fast enough. Its on-campus medical cannabis class was so popular, it had to relocate twice, settling into the largest available lecture hall according to the University. Its online continuing medical education program and the cannabis science and medicine professional certificate program have wait lists. Enrollees have come from as far away as Thailand. It has created webinars and a cannabis speaker series, and even the school's farm extension provides original plant research about hemp.

Dr. Kalev Freeman, an emergency room physician, and Monique McHenry, a botanist, helped create these courses to address several needs. Freeman said he's seen too many people taken off ambulances after overdosing on opioids, and he hopes to offer information about a "safer alternative to the public." McHenry wanted to find a topic attractive to "young minds to get them interested in science."

Their classes focus on basic science, the drug's physiology, molecular biology and chemistry. The professional training also drills down on practical issues like effective dosing, delivery methods and drug interactions. "The more we can do to focus on getting evidence-based facts out to more medical professionals and the public, the more we will have a real success,"

[Cat] Packer, the Los Angeles marijuana czar, would agree. "We're in a real moment of transition," she said. "These conversations about marijuana are incredibly complex. I found I can't have a conversation about the law without talking about health and social justice issues and enforcement issues." It sounds like the perfect material for more college.

April 20, 2018 in Business laws and regulatory issues, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States | Permalink | Comments (0)