Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Friday, August 12, 2016

"7 Scientific Effects of Marijuana That Experts Want to Study"

The title of this is the headline of this new Time article that serves as a somewhat fitting follow-up to the (big?) news the DEA delivered this week about marijuana scheduling and research.   Here are excerpts:

On Thursday the U.S. government announced that marijuana would continue to be classified as a Schedule 1 drug, meaning it has a high potential for abuse.  However, the feds are allowing more research on marijuana’s medicinal uses by making it easier for researchers to grow it.

Many researchers, both those who view marijuana as beneficial and those who are skeptical, argue that the government’s stance still hinders research.  “I understand the cautious nature of the government, whose role is basically to protect its citizens, but it is disappointing that marijuana continues to be included on the DEA’s list of the most dangerous drugs,” says Dr. Yasmin Hurd of Mount Sinai, who studies the effects of marijuana on the brain.

Though more than 20 states have legalized marijuana for medicinal uses, there’s still a lot scientists don’t know about it.  “It’s actually quite amazing how little we really know about something that has been used for thousands of years,” says Sachin Patel of Vanderbilt University who studies cannabis.  “We desperately need well-controlled unbiased large scale research studies into the efficacy of cannabis for treating disease states, which we have very little of right now.  Without these studies we are basically flying blind with regard to medical marijuana in my opinion.”

Scientists argue that studying marijuana is safe, and researching it shouldn’t be such a difficult process.  “A question that is not on the lips of researchers is whether or not the consumption of cannabis-based medicines is safe,” says Gregory Gerdeman, an Assistant Professor of Biology at Eckerd College.  “In the biomedical research community, it is universally understood that cannabis is a very safe, well-tolerated medicine.”

Here’s what researchers tell TIME they want to know about marijuana.

Is marijuana an effective cancer therapy?...

What does it do to the brain?...

What dosage or strains have the best use in medicine?...

Can marijuana help brain and cognitive problems?...

What about anxiety?...

Can pot help end the opioid epidemic?...

Are there long term consequences of using pot?

August 12, 2016 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 11, 2016

DEA announces new policy "designed to increase the number of entities registered under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) to grow (manufacture) marijuana to supply legitimate researchers in the United States"

As the DEA exaplins in this press release (which also notes its decision to deny petitions seeking rescheduling of marijuana under the CSA (discussed here)), the agency has "announced a policy change designed to foster research by expanding the number of DEA- registered marijuana manufacturers."  The formal announcement of the new policy can be found in this Federal Register document, and here is more about the policy change from the DEA press release:

This change should provide researchers with a more varied and robust supply of marijuana. At present, there is only one entity authorized to produce marijuana to supply researchers in the United States: the University of Mississippi, operating under a contract with NIDA.  Consistent with the CSA and U.S. treaty obligations, DEA’s new policy will allow additional entities to apply to become registered with DEA so that they may grow and distribute marijuana for FDA-authorized research purposes.

This change illustrates DEA’s commitment to working together with the FDA and NIDA to facilitate research concerning marijuana and its components. DEA currently has 350 individuals registered to conduct research on marijuana and its components.  Notably, DEA has approved every application for registration submitted by researchers seeking to use NIDA-supplied marijuana to conduct research that HHS determined to be scientifically meritorious. 

Encouragingly, John Hudak at Brookings, who understand the ins and outs of federal marijuana laws and regulations better than anyone, has this new commentary explainaing why he thinks this DEA marijuana research decision "is more important than rescheduling." Here is how he starts his must-read commentary:

Today the Drug Enforcement Administration is expected to announce its decision on a five-year-old marijuana rescheduling petition.  After a long wait and amid wild speculation about the agency’s intentions, DEA has decided to keep marijuana as a Schedule I substance, but to take the unexpected step of ending the monopoly on the production of research grade marijuana.

This move will certainly disappoint many in the marijuana reform community who hoped that DEA would change marijuana’s status.  Under current policy — and now continuing policy — marijuana is categorized along with heroin and LSD as a substance that has no medical value and that has a high potential for abuse.  Reformers hoped that the administration would accept the claim that marijuana has medical benefit and can be used safely in treatment.  Today, it is opting not to do so.

However, DEA, in a clear sign of the growing political complexity around cannabis policy in the United States, will strike a balance.  Rather than wholly maintaining the current policy, the administration nixed a different stumbling block to the study of marijuana and its efficacy as a medical product: the DEA mandated monopoly on the growth of marijuana for research (administered through the National Institutes on Drug Abuse).  The DEA-mandated NIDA monopoly was cited as a significant barrier to research by observers like myself, Mark Kleiman and many others, as well as clinical researchers themselves.

Despite reformers’ discontent, this decision may be more meaningful than the ultimate goal of rescheduling for both policy and political reasons.

August 11, 2016 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

DEA concludes that there is "no substantial evidence that marijuana should be removed from schedule I"

2000px-US-DrugEnforcementAdministration-Seal.svgThe language quoted in the title of this post is from the letter, dated July 19, 2016, in which the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced that it had "formally denied a petition to initiate rulemaking proceedings to reschedule marijuana."   This lengthy document makes this letter and related materials publically available with this explanation: "Because the DEA believes that this matter is of particular interest to members of the public, the agency is publishing below the letter sent to the petitioner which denied the petition, along with the supporting documentation that was attached to the letter."  

Here are some excerpts from the letter:

In accordance with the CSA scheduling provisions, after gathering the necessary data, DEA requested a scientific and medical evaluation and scheduling recommendation from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). HHS concluded that marijuana has a high potential for abuse, has no accepted medical use in the United States, and lacks an acceptable level of safety for use even under medical supervision. Therefore, HHS recommended that marijuana remain in schedule I. The scientific and medical evaluation and scheduling recommendation that HHS submitted to DEA is attached hereto.

Based on the HHS evaluation and all other relevant data, DEA has concluded that there is no substantial evidence that marijuana should be removed from schedule I. A document prepared by DEA addressing these materials in detail also is attached hereto. In short, marijuana continues to meet the criteria for schedule I control under the CSA because:

1) Marijuana has a high potential for abuse. The HHS evaluation and the additional data gathered by DEA show that marijuana has a high potential for abuse.

2) Marijuana has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States. Based on the established five-part test for making such determination, marijuana has no ‘‘currently accepted medical use’’ because: As detailed in the HHS evaluation, the drug’s chemistry is not known and reproducible; there are no adequate safety studies; there are no adequate and well-controlled studies proving efficacy; the drug is not accepted by qualified experts; and the scientific evidence is not widely available.

3) Marijuana lacks accepted safety for use under medical supervision. At present, there are no U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved marijuana products, nor is marijuana under a New Drug Application (NDA) evaluation at the FDA for any indication. The HHS evaluation states that marijuana does not have a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States or a currently accepted medical use with severe restrictions. At this time, the known risks of marijuana use have not been shown to be outweighed by specific benefits in well-controlled clinical trials that scientifically evaluate safety and efficacy....

Although the HHS evaluation and all other relevant data lead to the conclusion that marijuana must remain in schedule I, it should also be noted that, in view of United States obligations under international drug control treaties, marijuana cannot be placed in a schedule less restrictive than schedule II.  This is explained in detail in the accompanying document titled "Preliminary Note Regarding Treaty Considerations."

Accordingly, and as set forth in detail in the accompanying HHS and DEA documents, there is no statutory basis under the CSA for DEA to grant your petition to initiate rulemaking proceedings to reschedule marijuana.  Your petition is, therefore, hereby denied.

A second similar publication is available at this link, and the DEA has this press release explaining:

DEA has denied two petitions to reschedule marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). In response to the petitions, DEA requested a scientific and medical evaluation and scheduling recommendation from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which was conducted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in consultation with the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Based on the legal standards in the CSA, marijuana remains a schedule I controlled substance because it does not meet the criteria for currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, there is a lack of accepted safety for its use under medical supervision, and it has a high potential for abuse

August 11, 2016 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

"The Biggest Legislative Marijuana Policy Reforms Of 2016"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new Huffington Post commentary authored by Rob Kampia, who is the co-founder and executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project. Here are excerpts:

On July 29, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) signed a bill removing the threat of arrest for small amounts of marijuana, capping a record year of legislative and administrative marijuana policy reforms throughout the country.

Two states, Pennsylvania and Ohio, enacted effective medical marijuana laws via their legislatures, making them the 24th and 25th states to do so, respectively.  As a result, more than half of the U.S. population now lives in states that have opted to legalize medical marijuana.

This year has also seen improvements to several existing medical marijuana programs. Colorado adopted “Jack’s Law,” which provides protections for medical marijuana patients who attend public schools.  Connecticut, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont expanded the lists of medical conditions for which patients can qualify to use medical marijuana.  Vermont also enacted a law that reduces the required time for a patient-provider relationship from six to three months, allows marijuana to be transferred to research institutions, and requires labeling and child-resistant packaging for edibles sold at dispensaries.  Oregon increased access to medical marijuana for veterans who receive assistance from the VA program.  In Illinois, Gov. Rauner signed a bill to extend and expand the state’s pilot medical marijuana program, and in Maryland, lawmakers enacted a law allowing nurse practitioners, dentists, podiatrists, and nurse midwives to recommend medical marijuana to qualifying patients....

In addition to Illinois, a number of other states enacted laws to reduce marijuana possession penalties. Kansas lowered the maximum jail sentence for first-time possession and reduced second offenses from felonies to misdemeanors. Louisiana and Maryland removed criminal penalties for possession of paraphernalia, with the Maryland Legislature overriding Gov. Larry Hogan’s (R) veto.  Oklahoma cut the penalties for second marijuana possession offenses in half, and Tennessee reduced a third possession offense from a felony to a misdemeanor, making the maximum penalty less than a year in jail.  At the local level, New Orleans and a number of Florida counties passed ordinances that give police the option to issue summons or citations instead of arresting people for low-level possession.

In states where marijuana is legal for adults, legislators and regulators made notable improvements and progress toward full implementation.  In Colorado, lawmakers passed a bill to allow out-of-state ownership of marijuana businesses and increased the amount of marijuana that non-residents may purchase at retail establishments. Colorado also increased local control of testing laboratories and created a new business category for businesses that transport marijuana.  And in Washington State, a number of bills were passed to streamline practices in the marijuana industry and make it easier to apply for research licenses.

Alaska regulators began licensing marijuana cultivators and expect to begin issuing retail licenses soon.  Oregon is in the process of licensing adult-use marijuana retailers while currently allowing any adult to purchase marijuana from existing medical dispensaries; Oregon also passed comprehensive regulations that, among many other things, increase cooperation between the medical and adult retail programs, exempt patients from being taxed, allow out-of-state investment in marijuana businesses, and protect financial institutions from prosecution under state law for doing business with the marijuana industry.

August 10, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, August 8, 2016

Are the 2016 Presidential pot politics really so "hazy"?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by the headline of this new Ozy article, which is "The Hazy Politics of Cannabis."   Here are excerpts:

States and municipalities have enacted a mishmash of laws and regulations in recent years, from allowing full recreational use to allowing only possession of cannabis oil with a doctor’s approval.  The Obama administration has de-emphasized marijuana enforcement, and a legal industry has started to flourish in some states.  That’s been good news for one of those seeking the presidency this fall: Libertarian Gary Johnson, who was CEO of a marijuana business before launching a second run for president. An avid user — he says he’ll swear it off in the White House — Johnson counters Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump as the more pro-pot candidate.

But for marijuana to have a prominent place in a general election — an election that will likely rest on the economy and an uncertain world — would all but require Johnson to be a bigger presence.  If he can clear the required 15 percent polling bar, he is expected to force the issue in the debates, though his campaign did not respond to OZY’s requests for comment on the matter.  But short of a debate moment or an interviewer looking for an unusual question, “neither candidate will likely say the word ‘marijuana’ again,” says Allen St. Pierre, former executive director of the pro-legalization National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws....

[T]here’s very little political upside for either Trump or Clinton to force the issue, says Larry Sabato, the head of the University of Virginia Center for Politics.  “This issue — full legalization — splits the generations,” Sabato says.  Older people, on the one hand, boast higher voting rates and are leery of legalization. Younger voters, meanwhile, form the hard core of campaign volunteers and are in favor.  “So,” says Sabato, “most candidates like to sidestep the issue by focusing on medical marijuana.”

Clinton supports more research on medical pot and says she would reschedule marijuana from a Schedule 1 drug — with no medical use, on par with heroin and ecstasy — to Schedule 2.  She would mostly follow the Obama administration’s lead of not interfering with states and discouraging federal law enforcement for possession. Clinton has also said she would look at tweaks to the banking system so it supports marijuana businesses in legalization states, but she is not all-in on legalization without more study.  Incidentally, she could get an electoral boost from marijuana referenda in Nevada (recreational) and Florida (medical), nudging Democratic-leaning younger voters to the polls.  The doozie this year is California, as America’s most populous state votes on full legalization.

As in most things, Trump is harder to predict.  He suggested legalizing all drugs in 1990.   But when asked at the Conservative Political Action Conference last year about Colorado’s experiment with recreational marijuana, he criticized it — without saying he’d halt it.  “If they vote for it, they vote for it, but they’ve got a lot of problems going on right now in Colorado, some big problems,” Trump said.  “But I think medical marijuana, 100 percent.”...

Marijuana was discussed more during primary season, in part because there were more candidates and more opportunities for voters and media to press them about the topic. Bernie Sanders found ground to the left of Clinton with full-throated support of California’s legalization quest.  A bolder pot endorsement from Clinton could help her bring more reluctant Sanders fans into the fold, without embracing some of his more aggressive economic policies.  Trump, who has already sought Bernieites with an anti-trade pitch, could find similar fertile soil if he so chooses.

I think the political analysis in this article is fairly spot-on, though that fact is what leads me to question whether anything is really all that "hazy" this election cycle.  I suppose what is unclear is whether either major candidate has the courage or the convictions need to really address marijuana reform issues head on anytime soon.  To the extend Trump now seems eager to promote "America First" economic development in the coming weeks of the campaign, he should be thinking somewhat seriously about jumping on the marijuana reform bandwagon.  But, even though private equity is now getting excited about cannabis, I doubt many of Trump's hedge fund advisors have given much thought to the future of cannabis businesses.

August 8, 2016 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Gallup reports that self-reports of marijuana use is up in United States ... though I wonder if numbers partially reflect more honest self-reporting

As reported in this new Gallup posting, "[t]hirteen percent of U.S. adults tell Gallup they currently smoke marijuana, nearly double the percentage who reported smoking marijuana only three years ago."  Here is more on what Gallup has found and has to say about its most recent findings:

Although use of the drug is still prohibited by federal law, the number of states that have legalized recreational marijuana use has grown from two in 2013, Colorado and Washington, to four today -- with the addition of Alaska and Oregon -- plus the District of Columbia.  Five states will vote on whether to legalize marijuana this November. Half of U.S. states (including the four above) have some variation of a medicinal marijuana law on the books, and four more will be voting this fall on whether to legalize marijuana for medicinal use.  Both major-party presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, have voiced support for medicinal marijuana but say they defer to the states in terms of policymaking on both recreational and medicinal marijuana use.

States' willingness to legalize marijuana could be a reason for the uptick in the percentage of Americans who say they smoke marijuana, regardless of whether it is legal in their particular state.  Gallup finds residents in the West -- home of all four states that have legalized recreational marijuana use -- are significantly more likely to say they smoke marijuana than those in other parts of the country....

To compare marijuana use among various subgroups, Gallup aggregated data from 2013, 2015 and 2016.  The results show that age and religiosity are key determinants of marijuana use. Almost one in five adults (19%) under the age of 30 report currently using it -- at least double the rate seen among each older age group. Only 2% of weekly churchgoers and 7% of less frequent attenders say they use marijuana, but this rises to 14% of those who seldom or never attend a religious service.

The pattern by age in ever having used marijuana does not show the same skew toward the young; instead, it peaks among the middle-aged. About half of adults between the ages of 30 and 49 (50%) and between 50 and 64 (48%) report having tried it.  Despite being less likely to currently smoke marijuana, these older Americans could be more likely than their younger peers to report having tried it because they've had more years to do so.  But this difference in their rates of experimentation could also reflect generational cultures and attitudes toward marijuana that have shifted over time....

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted July 13-17, 2016, with a random sample of 1,023 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

Though not discussed by Gallup, I cannot help but speculate that these latest results may reflect a greater willingness by marijuana consumers to admit to marijuana consumption (especially in states that have recreational or medical reforms in place) as well as a greater number of persons consuming marijuana. Just speaking for myself, I think I would be generally be much more willing to admit to a telephone interviewer my involvement with activities that are legal under state laws than to those that are illegal under state law. For this reason (and others), I always wonder whether changes in self-reported marijuana use primarily reflects changes in actual use rates or instead is impacted significantly by changes in self-reporting honesty.

August 8, 2016 in Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Following all the new private monies and mojo in the marijuana marketplace

Break-into-private-equityOne reason I have started to consider repeal of blanket marijuana prohibition inevitable is because there are now ever so many monied interests and individuals eager to profit from repeal and now ever fewer such interests and individuals who profit from prohibition.  And in a capitalist-driven economy and society, this is a very big deal.  Further evidence of these realities comes from this interesting recent Business Insider article about marijuana capital headlined "Private equity is 'seeing more excitement than it can handle' in the marijuana industry." Here are excerpts:

The cannabis industry is starting to see some serious investment activity. Over the last few years, a new wave of cannabis-finance companies have formed to capitalize on the green rush.

Companies like Tuatara Capital, Seventh Point, Poseidon Asset Management, and Privateer Holdings have dived headfirst into the industry.  While the first three are brand new, having been founded in the last few years, Privateer started in 2011.  The fund bills itself as the first in the US to focus solely on cannabis-related endeavors.

These private-equity firms invest specifically in companies operating in the legal-cannabis industry,as well as providing capital for new startups to generate returns down the road.  "It's never a dull day," Al Foreman, the CIO of Tuatara and a 16-year veteran of the private-equity industry, told Business Insider.  "It's fascinating to be part of a new and emerging industry."

Retail sales of legal cannabis, including both medical and recreational, are projected to hit $4.3 billion in 2016, according to Marijuana Business Daily's 2016 fact book. And sales will likely skyrocket to $11 billion by 2020, with recreational sales representing an ever larger portion of the market.  Some outlets are predicting even higher sales, with estimates ranging as high as $22.8 billion by 2020.

So far, the money's pouring in. Forty-seven percent of active investors in the cannabis space plan on sinking $10 million or more into private cannabis companies in the next year, according to the fact book.  On its own, Seventh Point, named for the seven points of a cannabis leaf, is looking at completing $75 million worth of fundraising this year, according to the firm's CEO, Steve Gormley, who has over 15 years of experience in private equity.  "It's like a floodgate," Gormley told Business Insider.  "We oversubscribed [raising more money than intended] our first two funds. I haven't seen anything like this in my career."

While most of the money in the industry is still coming from family offices and people's personal bank accounts, 18% of entrepreneurs who have started cannabis companies in the past year have landed funding from venture-capital and private-equity investors, according to the fact book.  "We're getting more excitement than we can handle," Gormley continued.  "I cut my teeth in the dot-com era.  I lived through the housing bubble.  This is something completely unto itself."

Founders Fund, the legendary Silicon Valley venture-capital firm, sank $75 million into Privateer Holdings in 2015, according to PitchBook.  Even Roger Mcnamee, an early Facebook investor, sank a chunk of his personal fortune into a series B round for MJ Freeway, a cannabis software and compliance firm based in Colorado, the company's cofounder, Jessica Billingsley, told Business Insider.

But he industry still faces numerous regulatory challenges.  Though states like Colorado and Washington have set up markets for recreational marijuana, the plant is still a Schedule I drug at the federal level, and most banks refuse to deal with cannabis companies for fear of federal repercussions.  Firms that invest in the cannabis space need to be particularly careful about where their money goes.  They only invest in states that have specific rules allowing for the commercialization of recreational or medicinal marijuana.

Companies registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission cite ongoing federal prohibition, banking issues, as well as potential civil and criminal penalties as the top risks to investing in the cannabis sector, according to Law360.  But there are ways to get around these risks: Some companies, like Cannakorp, build products used for the consumption of marijuana — but don't actually touch the plant themselves.  This exposes investors to far less legal risk as opposed to dealing with, say, a dispensary.

Because of this often confusing regulation, where different rules exist in each state, Foreman says that investing in cannabis requires "professional, full-time focus" to successfully navigate the industry.  "The market is so fragmented," Foreman said.  "Each individual state is a separate market.  If you're an investor who's accustomed to looking at companies or sectors that are national or global — to retrain that mindset to focus on an individual state market is an obstacle that needs to be overcome."

While neither Gormley nor Foreman could say who specifically invested in their funds, both mentioned that private investors, rather than institutional, provided the bulk of their fundraising.  Foreman added that he thinks institutional investors — who have largely steered clear of the marijuana industry so far — have been warming up to the industry as recently as the past few months as more markets open....

Initially, mostly cultivators and producers who had been successful were taking their profits and reinvesting, according to Gormley.  Then, high-net worth individuals, who have a much higher risk tolerance than institutional investors, started getting into the space.  Once these individuals started taking the industry seriously, the basket of investors started to broaden.

Roughly nine months ago, a proliferation of family offices jumped into the space, Gormley found. "Now, we've got venture capitalists and hedge fund operators and private-equity senior managers coming in as individuals," he said.

These firms, specifically focused on the cannabis industry, are trying to bring a level of financial maturity to a complex industry.  "We launched Tuatara to create an entry point for sophisticated investors," Foreman said. "That's the next phase of evolution for the capital-raising and the capital-accumulation process."  Foreman thinks that because so many new markets are expected to open up as states like California vote on legalization in November, the "argument around market fragmentation" will start to go away, he said.  "The overall landscape will have reached a point of critical mass, and the industry will be too big to ignore," Foreman added.

Gormley, for his part, was much more direct. "I'm seeing the profile of the cannabis-industry investor thawing," Gormley said.  "Whereas it was only cowboys, I'm seeing people who are more traditionally bottom-line driven and conservative coming off the sidelines."  He even likens attitudes he's seen about cannabis in the US to marriage equality. "When I was growing up, it was inconceivable," Gormley said, regarding marriage equality. "And then it started to happen at the state level, and then there was just this massive cultural shift."

August 7, 2016 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Reviewing all the states where voters will weigh in on marijuana reform during Election 2016

With now only three months to Election Day 2016, I thought it useful to reprint the start of this new International Business Times article headlined "Where Will Pot Be Legal Next? Recreational Marijuana On The Ballot In 5 States On Election Day 2016":

Despite Americans' statistical lack of enthusiasm for both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, the Green Party still has little chance of getting nominee Jill Stein into the White House. But another kind of green is poised to have a big election day this year: recreational marijuana.

Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington might soon have some company in the ranks of states that have legalized recreational marijuana use.  Five states — Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada — will vote on recreationally legalizing pot on ballot measures this year on election day in November.  The states would determine individually what the parameters of legalization would be — California has signaled that recreational pot would be legal for adults over 21 and subject to a 15 percent sales tax.

In addition to those states, four other states — Arkansas, Florida, Montana and Missouri — will have ballot measures this year to make marijuana legal for medical use.  The eight ballot measures will be the largest swath of voters weighing in on the issue of marijuana legalization in history.  "This is really a watershed year for marijuana legalization, so I'm hoping that we'll see some big changes in November," F. Aaron Smith, co-founder and executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, told CNN.

By my count, five recreational initiatives and four medical initiatives adds up to NINE ballot issues. Perhaps even more significant if we are counting heads is that around 25% of the entire national population will be voting on marijuana reform issues, making the 2016 election year arguably the closest possible thing to a national referendum on blanket marijuana prohibition. If the majority of these ballot initiatives pass, and especially if the initiaitive pass big in the really big/significant states of California and Florida, I do it will be all but certain that federal marijuana prohibition is reformed in some significant way before the end of the decade.

August 4, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

"Marijuana Agriculture Law: Regulation at the Root of an Industry"

The title of this post is the title of this notable forthcoming paper authored by Ryan Boudin Stoa available via SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

Marijuana legalization is sweeping the nation.  As many as thirty marijuana legalization initiatives may appear on election ballots in 2016, legalizing the recreational or medicinal use of marijuana in as many as 17 states and adding to the growing number of states that have already legalized marijuana.  Many of these legalization initiatives propose to regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol, and many titles are variations of “the regulate marijuana like alcohol act.”  For political and public health reasons the analogy makes sense, but it also reveals a regulatory blind spot.  States may be using alcohol as a model for regulating the distribution, retail, and consumption of marijuana, but marijuana is much more than a retail product. It is also an agricultural product, and by some measures, the largest cash crop in the United States.  Since marijuana prohibition laws were passed long before any regulations for cultivation were developed, states are facing an unprecedented challenge: regulate, for the first time ever, one of the country’s largest agricultural industries.

There are major regulatory challenges ahead, and how states respond to those challenges will shape the course of the marijuana industry.  At present there is a gap in understanding the regulatory challenges presented by marijuana agriculture, and the options states have to address them.  This Article identifies those challenges and the regulatory approaches most capable of addressing them.  The study begins by describing the existing state of marijuana agriculture regulations.  States are likely to find that the marijuana industry’s unique characteristics justify a tailored regulatory approach; relying on existing agricultural policies may be ineffectual or lead to perverse outcomes.  

Next, fundamental questions about the “marijuana fragmentation spectrum” are explored.  Will the industry come to be dominated by agricultural conglomerates mass-producing a marijuana commodity, as many have feared?   Or will governments and the industry adopt the appellation model favored by the wine industry, to protect local farmers and differentiate between products?  The major environmental impacts of marijuana agriculture are analyzed as well, including regulations that address water allocation, water quality, energy, organic certification, and crop insurance.  Finally, the study addresses power distribution trade-offs within marijuana agriculture regulation frameworks, including local vs. state, and consolidated vs. fragmented, regulatory authority dilemmas.  The findings suggest that responsible and sustainable marijuana agriculture can be fostered at the state level, but only if regulations are responsive to the unique and unprecedented challenges that marijuana agriculture presents.

August 3, 2016 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Should I care more about (and is anyone studying closely) state marijuana decriminalization reforms?

DecrimThe question in the title of this post is prompted by this local article from Illinois headlined "Rauner reduces punishment for minor pot possession from jail to citation." Here are the details:

Getting caught with small amounts of marijuana will result in citations akin to a traffic ticket instead of the possibility of jail time under legislation Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner signed into law Friday.

Rauner's approval of the decriminalization measure comes after he used his amendatory veto powers last year to rewrite similar legislation he argued would have allowed people to carry too much pot and fine violators too little.

Supporters incorporated his proposed changes, and under the new law those caught with up to 10 grams of marijuana will face fines of $100 to $200. Individual municipalities could add to the fines and implement other penalties, such as requiring offenders to attend drug treatment. Citations would be automatically expunged twice a year, on Jan. 1 and July 1.

Under previous Illinois law, possession of up to 10 grams of pot was a class B misdemeanor that could result in up to six months in jail and fines of up to $1,500.

The law also would loosen the state's zero-tolerance policy for driving under the influence. Before, a driver could be charged if any trace of marijuana was detected, even if it was ingested weeks before and the driver showed no signs of impairment. Under the new law, drivers won't be charged with DUI unless they have 5 nanograms or more of THC in their blood, or 10 nanograms or more of THC in their saliva.

The state law follows a measure enacted by Chicago in 2012 that allows police to issue tickets of $250 to $500 for someone caught with 15 grams or less of marijuana. The state law wouldn't override laws in cities such as Chicago that already have fines in place, but would create uniformity across the state for towns that don't have such measures on the books.

The effort marks a rare point of agreement between Rauner and Democrats. Both sides seek to cut the burden on the court system and overhaul the state's approach to criminal justice. "We applaud Gov. Rauner and the legislature for replacing Illinois's needlessly draconian marijuana possession law with a much more sensible policy," Chris Lindsey, senior legislative counsel for the Marijuana Policy Project said in a statement. "This commonsense legislation will prevent countless citizens from having their lives turned upside down by a marijuana possession arrest."

I tend to view so-called "decriminalization" of marijuana to be something of a misnomer because a person still risks fines and other problems from marijuana possession even after laws are changed in this way. Moreover, I think only some form of legalization enhances the benefits of serious marijuana reform. But, especially if there is developing research showing that decriminalization significantly reduces the economic and human costs of marijuana prohibition, perhaps I should get more excited when more states join the decriminalization bandwagon.

July 31, 2016 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States | Permalink | Comments (1)

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Why Florida has become such an interesting and important marijuana reform state to watch closely

MarijuanaThis new local article, headlined "Medical marijuana war heads to next battle," reports on various recent developments in Florida that reinforce my view that the Sunshine State has become in 2016 one of the most fascinating states to watch for both proponents and opponents of marijuana reform.  Here are some of the details:

Marijuana was sold legally in Florida for the first time this week since it was outlawed by the federal government in 1937.

In a staid Tallahassee storefront more akin to a doctor's office than a head shop, Dallas Nagy, a Tampa-area native with chronic seizures and muscle spasms, plunked down $60 for a non-euphoric strain of marijuana on Tuesday.  "I thank you for the hope of getting better," Nagy said at the opening of Trulieve, the first medical marijuana dispensary in the state.

The milestone, hailed by legalization activists, some doctors, owners of nascent pot nurseries and the parents of children with debilitating ailments, is really just the beginning of Florida's battle over marijuana laws.  Groups on both sides of the medical marijuana debate are battling it out over an amendment on the November ballot that would give access to marijuana with higher levels of THC — the chemical that creates a user's "high" — for a wider range of illnesses.

Anti-drug activists and law enforcement say the amendment would lead to de facto legalization of the drug. Amendment 2, as it will appear on the ballot, makes patients with "debilitating medical conditions" eligible – a vague term ripe for abuse, they say. "It's unlimited, so if you have headaches a doctor could say marijuana could alleviate your headache," said Christina Johnson, spokeswoman for Drug Free Florida, a group fighting the amendment.

Along with "debilitating conditions," the amendment states that patients with glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, post-traumatic stress disorder, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Crohn's disease, Parkinson's disease or multiple sclerosis would be eligible for medical marijuana.  The amendment doesn't specify in what form the drug could be sold.

The fight over Amendment 2 is already drawing big bucks on both sides.  Drug Free Florida got a boost this week in the form of an $800,000 contribution from Carol Jenkins Barnett, a major Publix shareholder and the daughter of the founder of the Lakeland-based grocery store chain.  The group has about $1.7 million in cash on hand.

On the other side is United for Care, a group funded and promoted with the help of Orlando trial attorney John Morgan, which rounded up signatures to get the amendment on the 2016 ballot.  A similar effort in 2014 failed, receiving 57 percent of the vote, 3 percent shy of the 60 percent required to pass.  Over the past two elections, the group has raised and spent more than $11.5 million.  A Quinnipiac poll from May showed 80 percent support for the amendment among likely voters.

The success or failure of Amendment 2 could have a huge impact on Florida's small, legally sanctioned marijuana industry, which is still in its infancy.  Jason Parnell, chief operating officer of Trulieve, said there are currently enough patients to serve and stay in business under the existing law, but the additional patients opened up by the amendment would allow them to offer lower prices.  "If you have a bigger pool you can have economies of scale, and we can do price compression," said Parnell, whose current low-THC products include oils, gelcaps and a smokable version....

But for people such as Tallahassee resident Rosalyn Deckerhoff, access to cannabis is essential to providing her son Barrett, 20, who suffers from epilepsy, some relief and a better life.  She's exhausted all other options. "We've done everything medically in the book for the last 20 years, including brain surgery," Deckerhoff said.

Two years ago she urged the Legislature to pass a bill allowing patients with cancer or debilitating diseases that cause frequent seizures like epilepsy to legally obtain a noneuphoric strain of marijuana known as "Charlotte's Web."  Because of red tape and legal challenges from growers and dispensaries seeking licenses to distribute the drug, it wasn't until this week that it became available to patients.

Subsequent laws will allow terminally ill patients access to marijuana with more potent tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the main active chemical in pot.  To obtain medical pot in Florida, a patient must be diagnosed with a qualifying condition by a doctor and receive a recommendation for medical marijuana by a doctor registered with the state Office of Compassionate Use.

Doctors must complete a course to receive a license from the office. As of July 22, there were 82 doctors who have taken the eight-hour course, including 10 in Central Florida, according to the department. In addition, doctors recommending medical marijuana must have a minimum three-month history of treating the patient.

As this article details, Florida is already, in a sense, a medical marijuana state thanks to the work of the state legislature AND a majority of Florida voters two years ago voted in favor of the state having a much more "robust" form of medical marijuana legalized. But with a 60% vote requirement for approval, advocates for more robust reform will need to convince a super-majority of voters that existing state efforts are not good enough. And, unlike in some other states, it appears that both supporters and opponents of the proposed ballot reform will be able to run well-funded campaigns.

Moreover, Florida is historically a critical "swing state" in national elections, and I am certain the major Prez candidates know well that opposing a sizeable majority of Florida voters have already revealed their support for significant reform. Thus, I think it likely that all the candidates when campaigning in Florida will be asked about the state's 2016 ballot initiative, and it seems possible (perhaps likely?) that Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson will not be the only one to express support for it.

Stay tuned.

July 30, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Political perspective on reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Can anybody point me to great databases or empirical analyses of misdemeanor marijuana convictions (state or federal)?

The question in the title of this post started banging around my head this afternoon after I did two posts today over at my Sentencing Law & Policy blog: this one about a notable federal misdemeanor marijuana prosecution of a Native American teen in Oregon and this one about an article doing an empirical analysis of the "downstream consequences" of pretrial detention for misdemeanors.

I am always trying to take stock of the criminal justice "footprint" of marijuana prohibition, and it should be obviously that misdemeanor charges, convictions and punishments are surely a huge (and probably the largest) part of that footprint.  Nevertheless, I have never seen (nor really every seriously looked for) any detailed databases or empirical analyses of misdemeanor marijuana cases in any particular jurisdiction.  I would be very grateful to hear from any and everyone who know whether and where such resources might be found.

July 28, 2016 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States | Permalink | Comments (0)

Democrats formally approve platform calling for "pathway" to marijuana legalization

I continue to not know just how much import and impact official party platforms have. Nevertheless, I still think this press piece about formal events at the DNC, headlined "Democrats become first major party to back pathway to legalizing pot," is reporting on events that are a pretty big deal for marijuana reform advocates now and in the years ahead. Here is the official language from the party platform embraced by Dems:

“Because of conflicting federal and state laws concerning marijuana, we encourage the federal government to remove marijuana from the list of ‘Schedule 1’ federal controlled substances and to appropriately regulate it, providing a reasoned pathway for future legalization. We believe that the states should be laboratories of democracy on the issue of marijuana, and those states that want to decriminalize it or provide access to medical marijuana should be able to do so. We support policies that will allow more research on marijuana, as well as reforming our laws to allow legal marijuana businesses to exist without uncertainty. And we recognize our current marijuana laws have had an unacceptable disparate impact in terms of arrest rates for African-Americans that far outstrip arrest rates for whites, despite similar usage rates.”

Here is more from the press piece with reactions to these developments from leading marijuana reform advocates:

Legalization backers applauded the vote and said it reflected polls that found a majority of Americans wanted to legalize the drug.  “The fact that one of the country’s two major parties has officially endorsed a pathway to legalization is the clearest sign we’ve seen yet that marijuana reform is a mainstream issue at the forefront of American politics,” said Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority, a pro-legalization group. “A clear and growing majority of voters want to end prohibition.”

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential candidate, does not back across-the-board legalization at the federal level. The platform includes her often-used language that marijuana legalization should be left to the states, allowing them to be “laboratories of democracy.”  That’s good news for Washington state, Colorado, Oregon and Alaska, which that have already approved recreational marijuana, along with the District of Columbia....

Mason Tvert, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, a pro-legalization group, said a growing number of state Democratic parties had already backed legalization in their platforms this year.  That includes California, which will vote on recreational marijuana in November.  “It’s not particularly surprising that the platform calls for rolling back the failed policy of marijuana prohibition, seeing as the vast majority of Democrats – and a majority of Americans – support making marijuana legal for adults,” he said. 

Despite the support, Tvert said he wouldn’t be surprised if the issue didn’t get much attention from speakers at the Democratic convention this week.  “The platform typically reflects the positions of most party members, but it does not necessarily reflect the political or policy priorities of candidates and party leaders,” he said.

July 28, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

"Legalizing and Regulating Marijuana in Canada: Review of Potential Economic, Social, and Health Impacts"

The title of this post is the title of this short essay authored by Mohammad Hajizadeh and now available via this link on SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

Notwithstanding a century of prohibition, marijuana is the most widely used illicit substance in Canada. Due to the growing public acceptance of recreational marijuana use and ineffectiveness of the existing control system in Canada, the issue surrounding legalizing this illicit drug has received considerable public and political attentions in recent years. Consequently, the newly elected Liberal Government has formally announced that Canada will introduce legislation in the spring of 2017 to start legalizing and regulating marijuana. This editorial aims to provide a brief overview on potential economic, social, and public health impacts of legal marijuana in Canada.

The legalization could increase tax revenue through the taxation levied on marijuana products and could also allow the Government to save citizens’ tax dollars currently being spent on prohibition enforcement. Moreover, legalization could also remove the criminal element from marijuana market and reduce the size of Canada’s black market and its consequences for the society. Nevertheless, it may also lead to some public health problems, including increasing in the uptake of the drug, accidents and injuries. The legalization should be accompanied with comprehensive strategies to keep the drug out of the hands of minors while increasing awareness and knowledge on harmful effects of the drug. In order to get better insights on how to develop an appropriate framework to legalize marijuana, Canada should closely watch the development in the neighboring country, the United States, where some of its states viz, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska have already legalized recreational use of marijuana.

July 27, 2016 in International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The latest government data on marijuana use and attitudes

This new USA Today article, headlined "Study examines evolving rates, perceptions of marijuana use," reports on some new data on marijuana consumption and related topics in the United States. Here are excerpts from the press report on the marijuana report:

A new study from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration provides an in-depth examination of marijuana use in the United States, as well as data regarding the public’s perception of the risks associated with the drug.  Using data collected by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health from 2012 to 2014, SAMHSA analyzed various regions around the country and within states to determine the rates of marijuana use and “perceptions of risks of harm” associated with the drug’s use in different parts of the U.S.

“This report provides a very detailed understanding of marijuana use and perception patterns in communities across the nation,” said Fran Harding, Director of SAMHSA’s Center for Substance Abuse Prevention. “This information can help public health officials and others better gauge the marijuana-related prevention and treatment needs in their communities and fine-tune their programs and services to best address them....

According to the study, 20.3 million people age 12 or older used marijuana in the past month, or approximately 1 in 13 people over the age of 12.

Although the federal government still classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug, many states have begun to make changes to their cannabis laws. Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington and the District of Columbia are currently the only states with legalized recreational marijuana, but 23 states and the District of Columbia have legalized forms of medical marijuana while an additional 14 have taken measures to decriminalize the drug.

The report comes several months ahead of the November elections, where eight states will have the option to legalize either recreational or medical cannabis. Five states — Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada — are pursuing recreational marijuana, while three more — Arkansas, Florida and Missouri — could legalize medicinal cannabis.

Breaking their study into several regions — West, Northeast, Midwest and South — SAMHSA identified several states with multiple high use substate regions. Among those identified were Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and the District of Columbia. Rhode Island and Vermont are the only two of those states to have either not legalized recreational marijuana or not have it on the ballot in 2016.

In spite of the increasingly relaxed marijuana laws, the SAMHSA study also found that approximately 74.9 million people aged 12 or older “perceived great risk of harm” from using marijuana once a month, or approximately 2 out of every 7 people above the age of 12. The states with the highest percentages of perception of risk were all from the South — Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. Alabama, Louisiana and Texas were among the states with the lowest use rate. The states with the lowest perception of risk include high marijuana use areas like Oregon, Washington and the District of Columbia.

The SAMHSA 19-page "short report" that is the basis for this article is available at this link under the title "Marijuana Use and Perceived Risk of Harm from Marijuana Use Varies within and across States."  For anyone really interested in marijuana data, especially divided by regions, the particulars and graphics from this report will be really interesting.

July 26, 2016 in Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 25, 2016

Effective coverage of RNC and DNC marijuana reform realities

Last month in this post, I highlighted that, at Marijuana.com, Tom Angell does a great job covering news on the marijuana reform law and politics front.  The latest posts from this past week highlight why serious marijuana reform students should be regularly following his work:

July 25, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 22, 2016

"Republican support for legal marijuana hits a new high: For the first time Republicans narrowly support legalizing marijuana"

Marijuana1The title of this post is the headline of this summary report by YouGov of the results of its latest polling on marijuana reform opinions. Here is some of the text of the report:

YouGov's latest research shows that most Americans still support legalization of marijuana, and that support for legalization has increased slightly, from 52% in December 2015 to 55% today. Most of this change is a result of changing attitudes among Republicans. In fact, for the first time, Republicans narrowly tend to support legalization, 45% to 42%.

In December 2015, Republicans had opposed marijuana legalization by 50% to 36%. Prior to this Republicans support for legalization was even more limited. In January 2014 60% of Republicans opposed legalizing marijuana and only 28% supported legalization.

Broader attitudes towards marijuana among Republicans are largely unchanged however, indicating that Republican opinion of prohibition is changing not broader attitudes towards marijuana. Notably, while 44% of Republicans viewed marijuana as a gateway to harder drugs in December, this figure is still essentially unchanged at 43% today. In December 55% of Republicans thought government efforts to enforce marijuana laws cost more than they were worth, something 54% of Republicans still think.

The full poll results which are the product of questions asked of 1000 respondents from July 17-18, 2016, are available at this link.

July 22, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Political perspective on reforms, Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Illinois judge orders reconsideration of making migraines an eligible condition for medical marijuana in the state

Migraines-spousesAs reported in this Chicago Tribune article, in Illinois "a judge has ordered state officials to reconsider adding migraine headaches to the list of conditions that qualify a patient to buy" marijuana.  Here is more about this significant ruling:

Cook County Circuit Court Associate Judge Rita Novak overturned Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Nirav Shah's denial of a petition to add migraines to that list.  The judge ordered Shah to reconsider evidence presented to the Medical Cannabis Advisory Board before its members voted to recommend approval of marijuana to treat migraines.

The court ruling came in response to a suit filed by a man whose name was kept secret because he already has been using marijuana to treat his headaches, his attorneys said.  Since adolescence, the middle-age man has suffered migraines up to three times a week, lasting from several hours up to three days, attorney Robert Bauerschmidt said.

The man has tried triptans, the most common treatment for migraines, but they didn't work well.  He tried narcotic painkillers but had a bad reaction that keeps him from using them, the attorney said.  "He's been through everything," Bauerschmidt said. "Marijuana doesn't cure it, but he finds the pain less severe and believes the headaches are less frequent when he's using it."

Though federal law still prohibits marijuana possession, state law allows it for patients who have any of about 40 specific medical conditions, including cancer, AIDS or multiple sclerosis.  Patients may buy the pot only from state-approved dispensaries.

The latest ruling comes after another judge last month ordered the state to add post-traumatic stress disorder as a qualifying condition for medical pot.  That ruling has been rendered somewhat moot, since Gov. Bruce Rauner recently signed a law adding PTSD and terminal illness as qualifying conditions.  But taken together, the separate rulings by different judges suggest that judicial review may further expand the program.

Attorney Mike Goldberg, whose firm handled the two prior cases, has pending lawsuits asking to add six other conditions: irritable bowel syndrome, chronic postoperative pain, osteoarthritis, intractable pain, autism and polycystic kidney disease.  "It's a potential game-changer for the industry," Goldberg said.

But Annie Thompson, a spokeswoman for the Illinois attorney general's office, which represents the state in court, emphasized that the ruling does not require adding migraines to the list.  It instead orders the director to reconsider within the parameters of the law and the judge's findings.

Joe Wright, the former director of the state's medical cannabis program, agreed that the case is not a done deal. "I'm not sure that means you'd necessarily have to add it," he said.  "That means they have to look at it again in light of what the advisory board considered."  If migraines and other conditions are added, Wright said, "That would open up the patient population fairly sizably."...

If the director adds migraines as a qualifying condition, that could greatly enlarge the number of patients. Migraines are a widespread condition, occurring in about 16 percent of Americans, according to two surveys cited by the American Headache Society.  Because there is no widely accepted blood test or brain scan to verify migraines, they typically are diagnosed by medical history, symptoms and a physical and neurological examination, according to the Mayo Clinic.  Typically Migraines occur repeatedly to the same patient, involving moderate to severe head pain that last for hours or days, nausea or vomiting and sensitivity to noise and light.

July 22, 2016 in Court Rulings, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Legalize marijuana and reduce deaths from drug abuse"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable recent commentary from The Hill authored by Ike Brannon. Here are excerpts:

It seems as if everyone has woken up to the problem of opioid abuse at once and wants to do something about it. In March, Politico assembled a working group to “confront the opioid epidemic.”  In May, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced the creation of a statewide heroin task force that he charged with ending the heroin and opioid crisis in the state.  And in June, a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee approved a 93 percent increase in funding to combat opioid addiction nationwide.

The problem of opiate abuse is growing.  There were an estimated 16,000 deaths caused by prescription opioid overdoses in 2010, the last year for which we have reliable data, three timesas many who died in 1999.  More people die from drug overdose each year as are killed by firearms.

As deaths from opioid abuse grow, the proposals to address this crisis have remained the same: Doctors should be more judicious about prescribing painkillers, governments should invest more in treatment facilities, and the courts should mete out stricter punishments for those who illegally sell these drugs.  All of this, of course, is more or less what we’ve been doing the last five decades, with little success.

However, the data tell us that there is a possible deterrent to growing opioid addiction that has shown real promise: the wholesale legalization of marijuana.

Several states have made the drug legal in some form for over a decade — whether via medical marijuana or, more recently, the outright legalization of the drug — and the data generated from these state-level experiments suggests that the easier it is to acquire marijuana, the less opioid abuse there is.  For instance, in 2014, researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Medical Center found that opioid overdose deaths decreased by nearly 25 percent in a state following the passage of medical marijuana laws.

A recently published study by the RAND Corporation also found a decrease in opioid addiction and overdoses in states with medical marijuana dispensaries.  And last month, investigators at the University of Michigan published a retrospective survey of 244 patients suffering from chronic pain who frequented medical marijuana dispensaries and discovered that they frequently substituted medical marijuana for opiates, with many of them judging medical marijuana as being more effective at treating chronic pain.  Medical marijuana use was associated with a 64 percent decrease in opioid use, as well as a reduction in the amount and severity of the side effects of medications and an improved quality of life....

It’s hard to dispute that legalizing marijuana would reduce opiate abuse and save lives.  There are other reasons to end its prohibition, but its role in solving what appears to be an otherwise intractable problem claiming thousands of lives a year seems like a compelling one. 

July 22, 2016 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 21, 2016

New psychology research suggests why we ought to consider encouraging adults to use more marijuana and less alcohol

15As highlighted by this Washington Post piece, headlined "Researchers got people drunk or high, then made a fascinating discovery about how we respond," some notable new research provide yet another reason why society might be better off encouraging marijuana use rather than alcohol use. Here are the basics from the WaPo piece:

[R]esearch on the link between marijuana and aggression has been mixed. Marijuana seems to make most people relaxed, but it can also cause anxiety and paranoia, conditions which can occasionally manifest themselves in violent ways....

So a recent study from the Netherlands, published in the journal Psychopharmacology, attempts to put this question to bed using the gold standard of scientific research: a random controlled trial. They recruited a group of 20 heavy alcohol users (three-plus drinks a day for men, two-plus for women), 21 heavy marijuana users who smoked at least three times a week, and 20 controls who didn't use either drug heavily at all.... Then they made all three groups complete a number of tests designed to get people riled up....

The researchers measured aggression, before and after the respondents took the test, by asking them how aggressive they felt on a 100-point scale. For good measure, they had the marijuana and alcohol users go through the whole thing again one week later, this time without getting high or drunk, as a kind of separate control. They found, first of all, that "alcohol intoxication increased subjective aggression in the alcohol group." The alcohol users, in other words, acted more aggressive when they were drunk than they did when they were sober. By contrast, the smokers became less aggressive when they were high.

These findings held through both the self-assessments — alcohol users rated themselves as more aggressive when drunk — and through the responses to the tests: The drinkers tried harder to undermine their computer opponents when they were drunk. But the smokers actually acted less aggressive toward their computer opponents when they were high. "The results in the present study support the hypothesis that acute alcohol intoxication increases feelings of aggression and that acute cannabis intoxication reduces feelings of aggression," the researchers conclude.

This is in line with other research. A study in 2014, for instance, found that marijuana use among couples was linked to lower rates of domestic violence. In a fun study from the 1980s, researchers gave undergraduates varying doses of marijuana and then asked them to administer electric shocks to people in another room. The more stoned the undergrads were, the less interested they were in zapping other people.

This multi-author research can be examined at this link and under the title "Subjective aggression during alcohol and cannabis intoxication before and after aggression exposure." And here is how the abstract of the article describes the results anf findings:

Results: Subjective aggression significantly increased following aggression exposure in all groups while being sober. Alcohol intoxication increased subjective aggression whereas cannabis decreased the subjective aggression following aggression exposure. Aggressive responses during the PSAP increased following alcohol and decreased following cannabis relative to placebo. Changes in aggressive feeling or response were not correlated to the neuroendocrine response to treatments.

Conclusions: It is concluded that alcohol facilitates feelings of aggression whereas cannabis diminishes aggressive feelings in heavy alcohol and regular cannabis users, respectively.

July 21, 2016 in Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (1)