Thursday, January 4, 2018
This new Politico article has a link to this new one-page memo from Attorney General Jeff Sessions to all US Attorneys on the topic of "Marijuana Enforcement." Notably, the memo does little more than rescind the Cole and Ogden and related memos put forth through the Obama Administration. It does not announce any formal or even informal new policy, but just says general DOJ policies and principles for all federal prosecution should govern.
Here is more about what this means (or does not mean) via the Politico article:
Sessions said future prosecutions would be up to individual U.S. attorneys. However, the announcement appeared intended to discourage marijuana-related business by being deliberately vague about future federal enforcement efforts. The effort will likely further muddle the legal status of marijuana for states that have passed legislation allowing people to grow, buy or use pot.
"Given the Department's well-established general principles, previous nationwide guidance specific to marijuana enforcement is unnecessary and is rescinded, effective immediately," Sessions said in a one-page memo sent to federal prosecutors nationwide.
Justice Department officials who briefed reporters on the announcement declined to say whether the new policy was intended to increase federal prosecutions for marijuana-related crimes. “I can’t sit here and say whether it will or will not lead to more marijuana prosecutions,” said a senior DOJ official who spoke on condition of anonymity. “We believe U.S. attorneys’ offices should be opened up to bring all of these cases that are necessary to be brought.”
Justice Department leaders said the Obama-era policies, most of them issued by Deputy Attorney General Jim Cole, made marijuana industry players too comfortable in a business that has always been illegal under federal law. “The Cole memo as interpreted created a safe harbor for the marijuana industry to operate in these states. There is a belief that that is inconsistent with what federal law says,” the official said.
When states stepped up legalization efforts under the Obama administration, Justice Department officials considered the possibility of filing litigation aiming to head off such moves, but ultimately chose not to do so and to accommodate the state laws. “Further steps are still under consideration,” the current official said.
California, which had allowed medical marijuana use for years, opened its dispensaries to the general public without prescriptions on Jan. 1. Justice Department officials said they were unaware of any link between the timing of Sessions’ announcement and the Golden State’s recent shift. “This is something that has been under consideration at the department for a long time,” the official told reporters. “I know of nothing that ties it directly to that.”
AP reporting AG Jeff Sessions to rescind Cole memo to give more prosecutorial authority to local US attorneys
As reported in this new AP piece, "Attorney General Jeff Sessions is rescinding the Obama-era policy that had paved the way for legalized marijuana to flourish in states across the country, two people with knowledge of the decision told The Associated Press." Here is more about this big news:
Sessions will instead let federal prosecutors where pot is legal decide how aggressively to enforce federal marijuana law, the people said. The people familiar with the plan spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss it before an announcement expected Thursday.
The move by President Donald Trump’s attorney general likely will add to confusion about whether it’s OK to grow, buy or use marijuana in states where pot is legal, since long-standing federal law prohibits it. It comes days after pot shops opened in California, launching what is expected to become the world’s largest market for legal recreational marijuana and as polls show a solid majority of Americans believe the drug should be legal.
While Sessions has been carrying out a Justice Department agenda that follows Trump’s top priorities on such issues as immigration and opioids, the changes to pot policy reflect his own concerns. Trump’s personal views on marijuana remain largely unknown.
Sessions, who has assailed marijuana as comparable to heroin and has blamed it for spikes in violence, had been expected to ramp up enforcement. Pot advocates argue that legalizing the drug eliminates the need for a black market and would likely reduce violence, since criminals would no longer control the marijuana trade....
Sessions’ policy will let U.S. attorneys across the country decide what kinds of federal resources to devote to marijuana enforcement based on what they see as priorities in their districts, the people familiar with the decision said.
Sessions and some law enforcement officials in states such as Colorado blame legalization for a number of problems, including drug traffickers that have taken advantage of lax marijuana laws to hide in plain sight, illegally growing and shipping the drug across state lines, where it can sell for much more. The decision was a win for pot opponents who had been urging Sessions to take action.
“There is no more safe haven with regard to the federal government and marijuana, but it’s also the beginning of the story and not the end,” said Kevin Sabet, president and CEO of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, who was among several anti-marijuana advocates who met with Sessions last month. “This is a victory. It’s going to dry up a lot of the institutional investment that has gone toward marijuana in the last five years.”
Threats of a federal crackdown have united liberals who object to the human costs of a war on pot with conservatives who see it as a states’ rights issue. Some in law enforcement support a tougher approach, but a bipartisan group of senators in March urged Sessions to uphold existing marijuana policy. Others in Congress have been seeking ways to protect and promote legal pot businesses.
A task force Sessions convened to study pot policy made no recommendations for upending the legal industry but instead encouraged Justice Department officials to keep reviewing the Obama administration’s more hands-off approach to marijuana enforcement, something Sessions promised to do since he took office.
The change also reflects yet another way in which Sessions, who served as a federal prosecutor at the height of the drug war in Mobile, Alabama, has reversed Obama-era criminal justice policies that aimed to ease overcrowding in federal prisons and contributed to a rethinking of how drug criminals were prosecuted and sentenced. While his Democratic predecessor Eric Holder told federal prosecutors to avoid seeking long mandatory minimum sentences when charging certain lower level drug offenders, for example, Sessions issued an order demanding the opposite, telling them to pursue the most serious charges possible against most suspects.
I am inclined to wait to see exactly what new guidance and statements come from the Department of Justice and Attorney General Sessions before opining on what this all means and portends. But this is obviously huge news that could have lots of echo effects that I will be following closely for the days and week and months to come.
Sunday, December 31, 2017
It has already been 14 months since Californians voted, by a margin of 57% to 43%, to pass Proposition 64 in the 2016 election, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act. And while part of that Act became effective right away, the initiative provided that retail locations for recreational marijuana would not be opening until January 2018 at the earliest. But now January 2018 is here, and lots of media have been providing lots of accounts of what the expect as California becomes a state with marijuana not only legalized, but also commercialized. Here is a just a small sampling of some coverage and commentary from a variety of sources:
- "Weed Becomes Legal in California on New Year's Day, So Here's What You Need to Know: A lot needs to be done to ensure an equitable transition to marijuana legalization for the sixth largest economy in the world."
"How legal marijuana will change California in 2018: California smokers can expect higher-quality, and more expensive, weed"
"Hippy dream now a billion-dollar industry with California set to legalise cannabis: The state that is the world’s sixth biggest economy will legalise cannabis on New Year’s Day – and expects a boom time for jobs and investment"
Friday, December 29, 2017
"Medical marijuana laws and adolescent use of marijuana and other substances: Alcohol, cigarettes, prescription drugs, and other illicit drugs"
The title of this post is the title of this new research to appear in print in the February 2018 issue of the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence. Here is its abstract:
Historical shifts have taken place in the last twenty years in marijuana policy. The impact of medical marijuana laws (MML) on use of substances other than marijuana is not well understood. We examined the relationship between state MML and use of marijuana, cigarettes, illicit drugs, nonmedical use of prescription opioids, amphetamines, and tranquilizers, as well as binge drinking.
Pre-post MML difference-in-difference analyses were performed on a nationally representative sample of adolescents in 48 contiguous U.S. states. Participants were 1,179,372 U.S. 8th, 10th, and 12th graders in the national Monitoring the Future annual surveys conducted in 1991–2015. Measurements were any self-reported past-30-day use of marijuana, cigarettes, non-medical use of opioids, amphetamines and tranquilizers, other illicit substances, and any past-two-week binge drinking (5+ drinks per occasion).
Among 8th graders, the prevalence of marijuana, binge drinking, cigarette use, non-medical use of opioids, amphetamines and tranquilizers, and any non-marijuana illicit drug use decreased after MML enactment (0.2–2.4% decrease; p-values: <0.0001–0.0293). Among 10th graders, the prevalence of substance use did not change after MML enactment (p-values: 0.177–0.938). Among 12th graders, non-medical prescription opioid and cigarette use increased after MML enactment (0.9–2.7% increase; p-values: <0.0001–0.0026).
MML enactment is associated with decreases in marijuana and other drugs in early adolescence in those states. Mechanisms that explain the increase in non-medical prescription opioid and cigarette use among 12th graders following MML enactment deserve further study.
Wednesday, December 27, 2017
In this post last week, I noted the notable data from a survey of West Virginia physicians. The state's Department of Health and Human Resources found that, of "1,455 physicians who took the online survey, 82 percent of them indicated their interest in medical marijuana." Now I see this new local article, headlined "WV State Medical Association drills down on medical marijuana survey," reporting on a smaller survey conducted by the West Virginia State Medical Association. Here are a few details:
Medical Association President Dr. Brad Henry tells MetroNews the organization’s survey of its members show results not nearly as high as the state online survey that showed 82 percent of state doctors “interested” in medical marijuana.
In the WVSMA survey, in which approximately 75 doctors participated, only 31 percent said they were interested in becoming a certified physician for the state’s new medical marijuana law set to take effect in 2019. Henry said the issue continues to be the lack of research associated with the medicinal use of the drug. “Every time I read anything, anything that comes out, there’s some promise but there’s still aren’t good scientific studies to support marijuana use for anything,” Henry said. “There still isn’t that level of scientific information to at least give me confidence in the utility of it as a medicine.”
One thing the doctors are struggling with is the provision in the law that would have a doctor certify someone that has a diagnosis but there’s much else they can tell them because of the lack of research on the drug, Henry said. “You can’t look up (medical marijuana) in a textbook and say, ‘Okay, this is how much you should use. This is the side effects you should expect.’ Even over-the-counter (drugs) you can find what the usual dosages are and what the usual side effects are but with this substance (medical marijuana) that’s just not available,” Henry said....
Four of the questions in the medical association’s survey:
– Do you think there is scientific evidence to support marijuana use as a medical treatment? Yes 65 percent
– Do you believe the legal access to medical marijuana will help patients? Yes 64 percent
– Are you interested in becoming a certified physician? Yes 31 percent
– Are you willing to receive the training required for the certification? Yes 34 percent
Sunday, December 24, 2017
This prior post discussed holiday gifting of marijuana, and this article (which has a headline serving as part of the title of this post) provides another distinctive seasonable perspective on how modern marijuana reform echoes through various parts of modern life. Here are highlights:
Services at the Coachella Valley Church begin and end with the Lord’s Prayer. In between, there is the sacrament. “Breathe deep and blow harder,” intoned Pastor Grant Atwell after distributing marijuana joints to 20 worshipers on a recent Sunday. “Nail the insight down, whether you get it from marijuana or prayer. Consider what in your own life you are thankful for.”
A man wearing a “Jesus Loves You” baseball cap and toting a shofar, piped up. “Thank you, God, for the weed,” he called out. “I’m thankful for the spirit of cannabis,” a woman echoed from the back. “I am grateful to be alive,” said another young woman, adding that she had recently overdosed — on what, she did not say — for the third time. The small room, painted black and gold and decorated with crosses and Rastafarian symbols, filled with pungent smoke after an hour-long service of Christian prayers, self-help slogans and inspirational quotes led by Atwell, a Campbell, Calif., massage therapist and photographer.
Despite its mainstream Christian trappings, the Coachella Valley Church describes itself as a Rastafarian church, which is tough to define. Originating in Jamaica and combining elements of Christianity, pan-Africanism and mysticism, Rastafari is a political and religious movement with no central authority. Adherents use marijuana in their rituals. The church’s leaders claim that religious freedom laws give them the right to offer marijuana to visitors without a doctor’s recommendation or abiding by regulations. Some authorities beg to differ.
As more states ease access to marijuana, churches that offer pot as a sacrament are proliferating, competing with medical marijuana dispensaries and pot shops in the few states that have legalized recreational weed. While some claim Rastafari affiliation, others link themselves to Native American religious traditions.
The churches are vexing local officials, who say they’re simply dispensaries in disguise, skirting the rules that govern other marijuana providers, such as requirements to pay taxes.
In California, which legalized medical marijuana in 1996 and is preparing for sales of recreational marijuana to begin Jan. 1, churches tied to marijuana use have recently popped up in Oakland, Roseville, Modesto and San Diego, Orange and Los Angeles counties. A few have been shut down by law enforcement. “I’m not going to say they’re not churches, but to the extent that they’re distributing marijuana, they’re an illegal dispensary, in my view,” said San Jose City Attorney Rick Doyle....
Nationally, such churches have opened in Indiana, where marijuana remains illegal, and Michigan, where medical marijuana is allowed. Even in Colorado, which legalized pot in 2012, the “International Church of Cannabis” is testing the limits of state and city rules on consuming marijuana in public. Marijuana churches typically require people to purchase a membership, then give or sell them marijuana and related products. They may ask for ID such as a driver’s license but don’t require a doctor’s recommendation or medical marijuana identification card.
The churches rely on court rulings that made it possible for some groups, including Native Americans, to use federally banned drugs like peyote in religious ceremonies. Despite these rulings, courts have thus far rejected religious groups’ right to use marijuana, still illegal at the federal level, said Douglas Laycock, a University of Virginia Law School professor specializing in religious liberty issues. Yet, he said, as more states legalize marijuana, courts may regard marijuana churches’ rights more favorably.
“Legalization changes everything,” Laycock said. “Religious use may not violate state law in some of these states. And if it does, legalizing recreational use but not religious use clearly discriminates against religion.”
December 24, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Religion, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)
Friday, December 22, 2017
The title of this post is the headline of this AP article which provides an interesting review of ganja gifting goings-on this holiday season. Here are excerpts:
Peter Bernard’s Yuletide plans include dressing up in a tuxedo emblazoned with marijuana leaves, donning a green Santa hat and doling out cookie bars made with marijuana to his friends from a big pillowcase. “That’s me exercising my right to give marijuana this Christmas,” said Bernard, a Taunton, Massachusetts, pot lover who heads the Massachusetts Growers Advocacy Council when not doubling as “Pot Santa” at events for weed enthusiasts.
Not everyone’s plans are quite so flamboyant, but for many pot lovers, this Christmas is much more about reefer than wreaths. Gift-giving has long been a part of marijuana culture, and the drug’s newly legal status is a source of Yuletide celebration in four states.
Voters in California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts voted to legalize recreational marijuana last year, and some residents of those states will legally stuff stockings with spliffs for the first time this Christmas. Because retail sales are operating in only one of those states — Nevada — Bernard and others excited about legalized pot said homegrown marijuana is one particularly popular gift.
“I figure, I’ve got all this pot, I might as well just give it away for Christmas,” said James MacWilliams, of Portland, Maine, who started growing weed when it became legal and is giving away fancy jars of his stash this year. “I told my friends, you’re all getting a little bit of pot for Christmas.”...
Statistics about legal sales of marijuana suggest a modest bump around the holidays. In the four states where it was already legal, Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington, it has been “generally a good month,” slightly ahead of November and January, said Roy Bingham, chief executive officer of BDS Analytics, a firm that compiles data about the pot industry. December sales accounted for 9.38 percent of sales revenue in Colorado last year, which is one percentage point above average, according to statistics provided by the firm....
Legalization means pot lovers can legally do something they’ve always done, which is give away marijuana to people they love, said Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association. “People consume cannabis on the holidays and they always have,” Smith said. “Now they are doing so through a regulated system.”
The drug remains illegal on the federal level, which means activities such as driving it across state lines or sending it through the mail are off limits. An elderly couple was arrested near Bradshaw, Nebraska, on Tuesday with about 60 pounds of marijuana they described as future Christmas gifts.
Thursday, December 21, 2017
Interesting new data on enduring racial disparities in marijuana arrests after decriminalization in St. Louis
This new local article, headlined "St. Louis Police Continue to Cite Blacks for Marijuana Possession at a High Rate," reports on some interesting data on arrest rates in St. Louis both before and after the cite decriminalized marijuana possession. Here are the details:
St. Louis police continue to make arrests for pot possession — and most of those arrested are black. In 2013, the final year before St. Louis attempted to decriminalize marijuana, the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department made 1,056 arrests solely for pot possession — with black suspects accounting for 87 percent of those arrested.
But in the four years since the city made big changes to the way it handles marijuana possession cases, police records show that black suspects have continued to comprise roughly the same percentage of violations: a total of about 85 percent from 2014 to October of 2017.
That statistic, first obtained by the Riverfront Times through a Sunshine law request, was startling to civil rights attorneys. Sara Baker, the legislative and policy director for the ACLU of Missouri, remarks that the new data stands as “a reconfirmation of an old problem.”
Proponents of reforming the city’s drug laws had cheered the policy change that was implemented in 2014, following the passage of a bill that enjoyed broad approval by the city's Board of Aldermen. Prior to the bill’s passage, officers sent all drug cases, even for small quantities of weed, to the Circuit Attorney’s Office for state-level misdemeanor and felony charges, which can carry significant fines and jail time.
Then came the decriminalization proposal sponsored by Alderman Shane Cohn. Starting in 2014, officers were instructed to treat those suspected of possessing less than 35 grams of marijuana similar to someone committing a traffic offense, with fines between $100 and $500. But the racial dynamics of who was being cited, records now show, have stayed stubbornly the same. Officers may have changed the paperwork form on which they wrote the charges, but not the racial makeup of the people they cited.
“What’s incredibly revealing about the data,” says the ACLU’s Baker, “is that time and time again, when we see reforms either at the state or local level, and particularly reforms that still allow for fees or for low level criminalization, we might see a dip in is the amount of people overall that are arrested and charged. But that disparity rate remains shockingly persistent.”
Operating under the new policy in 2014 for the first time, pot possession arrests in St. Louis dipped by 144 from the previous year. But that modest decrease still showed virtually the same racial breakdown seen in prior years. In 2014, officers recorded 294 arrests for violations of the city’s updated municipal code; 85 percent of those people arrested were black. African Americans also accounted for 87 percent of the 618 arrests made on state charges, which are now reserved for suspects with more than 35 grams or those with at least two prior possession arrests in the city. The pattern continued in 2015: 88 percent of those busted for ordinance violations were black, as were 87 percent of 649 people facing state charges.
Across all five years’ worth data, there's no significant departure from the pattern. The only year where the percent of black arrests dipped below 85 percent was 2016, which showed ordinance violations given to black suspects in 77 percent of cases. By 2017, with data from January 1 to October, the percentage of black suspects ticked back up to 85 percent for both ordinance violations and criminal arrests. As of October 31, police had arrested 685 people on pot possession charges, about one-third for ordinance violations.
The persistence of the racial gap in arrests continues to worry Baker and the ACLU of Missouri. However, Rick Rosenfeld, a criminologist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis whose work focuses on crime statistics, says it's not necessarily a sign of racial bias among cops. Instead, he suggests, it may reflect the way blacks are more likely to live in neighborhoods plagued by violent crime. "[Officers] stop blacks on the street, typically young black men, out of a concern of violent crime," he explains. "They find no evidence that that individual was involved in violence crime, but they do find marijuana on the individual. And they arrest him."
"That seems to be the pattern. That's not the only reason. It's possible there’s racial bias involved in some of these arrests.” Racial bias could be just one element in the stew, Rosenfeld notes. Officers in neighborhoods suffering violent crime tend to be proactive and on the lookout to stop violence before it happens. They make judgment calls based on experience and (hopefully) reasonable suspicion. Sometimes those judgment calls need a convenient “pretexual arrest,” like a traffic stop or marijuana possession.
Notable coverage of notable marijuana reform public health issues in Nov 2017 issue of Preventive Medicine
I have just seen that the November 2017 issue of Preventive Medicine has a series of articles on the "potential health impacts of legalizing recreational marijuana use," and that series is described in an editorial introduction this way:
Legalization of marijuana use has gained considerable momentum in the U.S. with 28 states plus the District of Columbia (DC) legalizing medical marijuana use and 8 states plus DC legalizing recreational marijuana use, with similar liberalization of laws occurring in Canada and other countries (NYTimes, April 13, 2017). Such actions clearly have tremendous public health implications and it is important that those implications be considered using the best available scientific evidence.
In this Special Issue we invited policy makers from Colorado (Ghosh et al., 2017, in this issue), the first U.S. state to legalize recreational marijuana use, Vermont (Chen and Searles, 2017, in this issue), a state currently considering legalization of recreational use, and the U.S.’s National Institute on Drug Abuse (Weiss and Wargo, 2017, in this issue) to provide a federal perspective on the health implications of legalizing recreational marijuana use.
In addition to policy makers we invited contributions from scientific experts in the health impacts of marijuana use to address the implications of legalizing recreational marijuana use, including potential impacts on the epidemiology of marijuana use and risk perceptions among youth and adults (Carliner et al., 2017, in this issue), emergency medicine (Wang et al., 2017, in this issue), addiction risk (Budney and Borodovsky, 2017, in this issue), adolescent risks and potential interventions (Schuster et al., 2017; Walker, 2017, in this issue), and maternal and child health (Mark and Terplan, 2017, in this issue).
Here are just some of the titles of some of the notable article in the issue:
- "Lessons learned after three years of legalized, recreational marijuana: The Colorado experience"
- "Cannabis use, attitudes, and legal status in the U.S.: A review"
- "Marijuana and acute health care contacts in ColoradoOriginal Research Article"
- "The potential impact of cannabis legalization on the development of cannabis use disorders"
- "Legalization of cannabis: Considerations for intervening with adolescent consumers"
December 21, 2017 in Medical community perspectives, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)
Wednesday, December 20, 2017
As hinted by this recent post, which asks "Are there 1.9 millions or 2.35 million or some other big number of medical marijuana patients?," I fear that states and the nation as a whole are doing insufficient data collection and analysis of medical marijuana regimes. This view is indirectly enhanced by this recent article from Rhode Island, headlined "Medical marijuana cultivators, patients on rise in R.I.," reporting on some interesting data concerning its medical marijuana program. Here are excerpts:
More than 8,430 pounds of marijuana have been produced and sold through the state’s medical marijuana dispensaries and cultivators this year, translating into some $27 million in retail sales. Nearly one-quarter of that marijuana was grown by the state’s new cultivators — licensed businesses only allowed to sell the drug to the state’s three dispensaries. To date, 18 such businesses have been approved to operate in the the state, according to data from the state Department of Business Regulation.
Dozens more are waiting in the wings for their chance to get into the burgeoning industry. Forty applicants have passed the first stage of the process but are still awaiting a license, and another 53 applicants are behind them in the pipeline. The state has collected nearly $1 million in licensing and application fees from these new marijuana-growing businesses.
“It seems a large number of cultivators. That’s always been my concern ... we’re setting up these cultivators for failure,” Rep. Scott Slater, D-Providence, said at a meeting of the state’s medical marijuana oversight commission Tuesday.... Greenleaf Compassionate Care Center in Portsmouth and Summit Medical Compassion Center in Warwick together have purchased roughly half of the medical marijuana sold this year from cultivators. The state’s largest dispensary, the Thomas C. Slater Center in Providence, has not purchased any marijuana from cultivators.
Norman Birenbaum, the state’s top medical marijuana regulator, said the state hopes that for safety and quality-control reasons eventually more patients will shift from growing marijuana in their homes to buying it from dispensaries. There are currently more than 61,500 marijuana plants being grown in the state by medical marijuana patients and caregivers.
Meanwhile, the state now has 19,161 medical marijuana patients, a 17-percent increase from one year ago. The number of patients in the program typically grows between 20 percent and 30 percent each year. Roughly 65 percent of patients qualify with severe, debilitating or chronic pain.
But Birenbaum agreed that many cultivators will potentially fail. The state chose not to cap the number of cultivators, in part because doing so would require a competitive evaluation process for applications that almost inevitably would end up in court and could have resulted in shortages in the supply of medical marijuana.
Dr. Todd Handel, a physician who sits on the oversight panel, questioned what the state is doing to control the profit margins of the state’s dispensaries, which are state-registered nonprofits. Birenbaum cautioned against making generalizations about the dispensaries’ profits. He noted that the dispensaries cannot take many normal business deductions on their taxes because the federal government still considers selling marijuana to be illegal. He also noted the significant costs of growing marijuana.
The average wholesale price of medical marijuana produced by the licensed cultivators is $4.16 a gram, according to state data. An average retail price was not available because some marijuana flower is turned into other products such as edibles and oils that are not sold in a form measurable by grams. Still, it’s clear there is a markup. On Tuesday, Greenleaf was offering three strains grown by cultivators for $15 a gram.
As this article reveals, Rhode Island has a lot of cultivators/growers but only three dispensary/sellers servicing its medical marijuana program. That is distinct from some other states that have limited both growers and sellers and others that have no limits on growers or sellers. In addition, Rhode Island's medical marijuana regime allows for home grow, while other states do not (and, of course, nearly every state has at least slight variations on who qualifies to be a medical marijuana patient and/or caregiver).
Though there are plenty of resources highlighting formal legal differences in different medical marijuana states, I am not aware of many objective analysis of whether and how different medical marijuana regulatory structures in different states impact the development and functionality of medical marijuana access and efficacy for patients. In other words, while states are conducting a wide array of "laboratories of democracy" experiments in this medical marijuana area, we need a lot more analysis of early lab results.
December 20, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)
Tuesday, December 19, 2017
Making the case that the end of marijuana prohibition in Colorado has not really had much of an impact on much
Antony Davies and James Harrigan have this notable new commentary at US News & World Report headlined "Marijuana Doomsday Didn't Come: Those who thought Colorado's legalization would be a catastrophe were wrong then and are wrong now." Here is how it starts and ends:
It's been a little more than five years since Colorado's voters approved Constitutional Amendment 64, which legalized recreational marijuana in the state. Sales commenced four years ago this January. Although the amendment passed by a comfortable 10-point margin, the debate in Colorado has continued in the years since prohibition ended, most recently flaring up with an editorial published in the Colorado Springs Gazette. Last month, the Gazette's editorial board referred to what has happened in Colorado as "an embarrassing cautionary tale," before presenting a laundry list of the purported ill-effects of the change in the law.
That list included everything from the smell of burning marijuana, to increased homelessness, to rampant teen drug use, to a doubling of the number of drivers involved in fatal accidents who test positive for marijuana. This last charge is particularly puzzling as there is no reliable DUI test for marijuana, and drug tests can't distinguish between marijuana ingested immediately before driving and marijuana ingested a month or more before driving. Not to be dissuaded by science, the editorial board went so far as to quote Marijuana Accountability Coalition founder Justin Luke Riley, who holds that legal marijuana is "devastating our kids and devastating whole communities."
All of this is doubtlessly music to Attorney General Jeff Sessions' ears, who is presently making noise about increasing the federal government's involvement in the fight against legalization. Sessions is on record as saying that "good people don't smoke marijuana." He has also supported the death penalty for marijuana dealers, lest there be any doubt which way he breaks on matters of drug prohibition. He recently went so far as to refer to marijuana as "a life-wrecking dependency" which is only "slightly less awful" than heroin.
Between Sessions and the Colorado Springs Gazette one could be forgiven for thinking that marijuana legalization is one of the most pernicious political decisions made in the modern era. Except it isn't. And there is a pretty significant body of evidence that indicates as much....
Marijuana opponents like Sessions are quick to identify all sorts of evils that will befall society in the wake of legalization. What opponents conveniently ignore are the myriad evils that befall society precisely because of prohibition. Today, over half a million Americans are arrested each year for marijuana possession. That's more than are arrested annually for all violent crimes combined. Each one of those half-million annual arrests represents a family that is subjected to financial, psychic and sometimes physical harm from police, prosecutors and courts.
Enough is enough. Evidence from Colorado shows that marijuana legalization does not lead to increased teen usage, does not lead to increased homelessness, and does not lead to societal breakdown. If marijuana does destroy lives, it is only because zealots like Sessions make it so. Saving people from themselves at the cost of their liberty is, generally speaking, a bad idea. When it comes to marijuana it is an especially bad idea. And all the lies and distortions of the truth will not change that.
Monday, December 18, 2017
In recent weeks, I have spotlighted a number of article from a number of outlets discussing marijuana reform's impact on part marijuana convictions. The latest example today comes from the Washington Post via this extended article headlined "Convicted of a marijuana crime in California? It might go away, thanks to legal pot." Here are excerpts:
California is offering a second chance to people convicted of almost any marijuana crimes, from serious felonies to small infractions, with the opportunity to have their criminal records cleared or the charges sharply reduced. State officials hope to reverse decades of marijuana convictions that can make it difficult for people to gain meaningful employment and disproportionately affect low-income minorities.
“We worked to help create a legalized and regulated process for legal marijuana, but we also wanted to make sure we could help — some way, somehow — repair the damages of marijuana prohibition,” said Eunisses Hernandez, a policy coordinator at the Drug Policy Alliance. The alliance said there have been 500,000 arrests for marijuana offenses in California in the past 10 years, and it estimates that up to a million people have reviewable convictions on their records.
At least 4,500 people had filed petitions to have their sentences reduced, redesignated or thrown out as of September, according to the California Judicial Council. The highest amount came from Riverside County, where 613 applications were filed. In addition, at least 365 people have applied to have their juvenile marijuana convictions thrown out. Not every county reported data.
The change here is part of a nationwide movement to reduce marijuana charges and atone for harsh penalties during the war on drugs. At least nine states have passed laws expunging or reducing marijuana convictions, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Maryland, Oregon and Vermont also now allow convictions for marijuana offenses that are not crimes under current law to be wiped off a criminal record.
The re-designation of marijuana crimes in California went into effect immediately after voters approved the measure legalizing pot. Many viewed it as an offshoot of a 2014 ballot initiative that reduced penalties for certain drug and theft crimes. Those who want their marijuana convictions lessened must present their cases in court. Prosecutors can decide not to support a reduction should someone have a major felony, such as murder, on their record. Old convictions will be reclassified under the law as it reads now. For example, if someone had been convicted of possessing an ounce or less of marijuana, that conviction would be tossed out because that is now legal in California.
Some district attorney’s offices notified the recently convicted and incarcerated that they were eligible to have their records changed and that they potentially could leave prison. Last year, prosecutors in San Diego searched for people convicted of marijuana offenses in the prior three years who would be eligible for reductions. When the measure passed, prosecutors got their petitions before a judge as soon as possible. “We absolutely didn’t want people to be in custody who shouldn’t be in custody,” said Rachel Solov, chief of the collaborative courts division in the San Diego district attorney’s office. She said that as of mid-December, the office has handled nearly 600 reductions.
But advocates said many people who completed their sentences still do not know they could be able to change their criminal records. Hernandez and defense lawyers said that the state has put little effort into outreach and that most people are hearing about the opportunities through word of mouth or social media. “One of the projects we’re working on this year is to notify people that this is an option,” said Bruce Margolin, a Los Angeles defense lawyer who specializes in marijuana cases. “It’s a viable thing to do, obviously, because people are suffering with these felony convictions in so many aspects of their life.”
Omar Figueroa, a defense lawyer in Sebastopol, Calif., who specializes in marijuana law, said the requirement to go to court makes it more difficult for the poor to take advantage. “That’s one of the criticisms, that a lot of people don’t have the time or energy or the access to public transportation to get to the courthouse,” Figueroa said. “What I see is the people who have more means are the ones who are taking advantage of this, and the people who have more basic struggles in their everyday life, the last thing they’re thinking about is cleaning up their criminal history for their old marijuana convictions.”
Some prior related posts:
- Effective review of marijuana expungement prospects amidst nationwide state reforms
- "The Growing Movement for Marijuana Amnesty"
- Highlighting ways marijuana reform might help undo some drug war harms
- "How Do You Clear a Pot Conviction From Your Record?"
December 18, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)
New data from West Virginia showing strong physician interest in state's developing medical marijuana program
As reported in this local article, headlined "Survey: 82 percent of WV doctors 'interested' in medical marijuana," a notably large percentage of surveyed physicians have expressed an interest in an emerging medical marijuana regime. Here are the basics:
An overwhelming majority of surveyed West Virginia physicians are “interested” in medical cannabis, according to the Department of Health and Human Resources. Of 1,455 physicians who took the online survey, 82 percent of them indicated their interest in medical marijuana, which will be legal in the state in July 2019 thanks to a law passed during the last legislative session.
Dr. Rahul Gupta, state health officer and commissioner of the state Bureau for Public Health, said the high response volume gives the state a sound outlook on patient and physician views of the looming change. “We found that to be compelling that there is a certain level of interest, not just from patients, but from the physician community,” he said.
Along with doctors, the bureau analyzed survey results from 6,003 West Virginians, as well as Public Employees Insurance Agency and Medicaid claim data to tease out what tweaks, if any, might be needed for the nascent program. Of the patients who responded, 2,120 reported suffering from chronic pain, 1,579 reported suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and another 980 reported suffering from a mental health disorder.
The Medicaid and PEIA data shows crossover between some of the most prevalent conditions in the state and the list of conditions whose victims qualify to obtain medical marijuana....
There is still work to be done and change for the organization to consider. Among the questions Gupta said the board is considering: Should the state limit how many dispensaries can obtain a permit to sell? Should the board approve the sale of marijuana in plant form? Should patients be allowed to grow their own marijuana plants? Should patients be able to purchase any other forms of marijuana?
Marijuana will be available to certified patients in the form of a pill, oil, topical, via vaporization or nebulization, tincture, liquid, or dermal patch. Gupta said the board is scheduled to meet again in February.
Sunday, December 17, 2017
More reporting suggesting Vermont will very soon enact a novel form of marijuana legalization via a not-so-novel means
I explained in this post last week, "Could Vermont legalize marijuana by traditional legislation in just a matter of weeks?," how notable and valuable it could be, for policy-makers, citizens and researchers, to have a state embrace a distinctive approach to marijuana legalization through the traditional legislative law-making process. As noted in posts link below, Vermont got very close but then failed to be a first in this arena back in May, and thus I am not taking for granted that the state will make marijuana reform history in early January. But this recent Forbes piece by Tom Angell continues to highlight why the Green Mountain State could kick of 2018 with a marijuana reform bang. The piece is headlined "Vermont Will Legalize Marijuana Within Weeks, Officials Indicate," and here are excerpts:
Vermont appears poised to become the next state to legalize marijuana. And, according to top elected officials, it is likely to do so within a matter of weeks.
Last week, House Speaker Mitzi Johnson, a Democrat, said she expects "it likely will pass in early January.” Days earlier, Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican, said he is "comfortable" signing a cannabis legalization bill into law in early 2018.
And on Thursday, Senate President Pro Tempore Tim Ashe, a member of the Progressive Party, said he and his colleagues "look forward to working with the governor to make sure that that bill gets to the finish line."
If the tripartisan group of officials follows through and enacts legalization in early 2018, it would make Vermont the first state to end cannabis prohibition by an act of lawmakers. All eight states that have legalized marijuana so far have done so via ballot measures approved by voters....
In Vermont, which operates on a legislative biennium, the Senate has already passed the legalization bill. All that is required to get it to Scott's desk for signing into law is one more House floor vote, and that could happen any day after the legislature reconvenes on January 3.
In 2017, the state fell just short of ending marijuana prohibition. Both legislative chambers approved a legalization proposal, but Scott vetoed it. However, the governor then laid out a few small revisions he wanted legislators to make in order to garner his signature. The Senate quickly acted to make the requested changes, but the House wasn't able to overcome procedural hurdles to pass the revised bill in time during a short special session over the summer. The legislation remains on the House calendar, and can be approved with a simple majority under regular order next month.
Under the bill, Vermont’s approach to legalization would differ from the regulatory systems that exist in the other eight legalization states. That's because instead of allowing licensed stores where consumers could purchase marijuana, it would simply enact a noncommercial form of legalization where possessing small amounts of cannabis and growing a few plants at home would be legal. However, the Senate-approved legislation would create a commission to study possible future commercialization.
During the legislative recess, Scott used an executive order to proactively create a marijuana legalization study commission on his own, so there is a chance that the pending bill will be amended to remove its commission provisions before lawmakers vote on final passage. And that could potentially mean that it will take slightly more time than just one additional House floor vote. “Part of that bill is no longer needed,” Scott said this month, referring to the commission piece.
While saying that he has not yet “spoken to legislative leaders” about the language, he suggested lawmakers might want to “make some changes on the floor, send it back to committee, make some alterations and then we’ll see what they either add or delete and then we’ll see if it’s the same as what I committed to pushing forward with.” But accomplishing those changes likely would not take very long, advocates say, given the consensus between legislative leaders and Scott on getting legalization enacted that seemed to crystalize during the 2017 session....
Matt Simon, the New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, agreed, adding that success in Vermont will likely signal the start of a wave of legislative action on cannabis in other states. "Vermont now finds itself on the cusp of becoming the first state to legalize marijuana through its legislature," he said in an email. "The legislative process is slower than the [ballot] initiative process by its very nature, but this exciting development should bring hope to the millions of reform supporters who live in states that don't allow initiatives. I'm confident that other state legislatures will soon follow their lead."
A few prior related posts:
- "Vermont Legislature becomes first to approve legal marijuana"
- Vermont Governor vetoes bill to legalize marijuana in state .... UPDATED with Gov's explanation for his veto
- Could Vermont legalize marijuana by traditional legislation in just a matter of weeks?
December 17, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)
Saturday, December 16, 2017
Politico magazine has this lengthy (but somewhat superficial) article on the current state of federal marijuana debate and discourse under this full headline: "Jeff Sessions Isn’t Giving up on Weed. He’s Doubling Down. Congressional dysfunction may do what the pot-hating attorney general hasn’t managed to do all year: Remove protections for the booming legal weed industry." The article is worth reading in full, and here are excerpts from the start of the article that in part explain my "superficial" adjective:
“I won’t commit to never enforcing federal law, Senator Leahy,” Sessions replied [to a question at his confirmation hearing], suppressing a slight smirk. That double negative tightened the knot in every drug policy reformer’s gut. Exactly how vulnerable were the nascent marijuana industries in the 29 states where it was now legal? Would Sessions, who rarely misses an opportunity to bemoan the scourge of marijuana, sweep aside the paper-thin order imposed by the Obama administration that had stayed the enforcement hand of the Department of Justice? Would SWAT teams arrest wheelchair-bound medical marijuana patients, raid marijuana dispensaries and shut down the high-tech growhouses that supplied them?
The dreaded crackdown never materialized. Sessions, perhaps preoccupied with other priorities like keeping his volatile boss from firing him, remained largely inactive on the subject. Meanwhile, a series of incremental advancements on the pro-marijuana front helped to further enmesh the $9.7 billion industry into the commercial fabric of the nation, 60 percent of whose residents support some form of legal pot. California opened the doors to recreational marijuana and issued regulations for outdoor marijuana festivals; Florida began its implementation of a medical marijuana program; and Denver and Las Vegas are vying to become the first city in America to legalize “marijuana consumption lounges” (think high-end bars with expensive weed choices instead of booze). Sessions, for his part, has spent his time in testy exchanges with DOJ interns and convening meetings with small groups of like-minded anti-pot activists determined to roll back state-level momentum. “I do believe … that the public is not properly educated on some of the issues related to marijuana,” he told one such group on Friday.
But things are suddenly looking rosier for Sessions. Thanks to Congress’ fumbling over the spending bill, the AG’s yearning to battle legal marijuana may get a major boost without him having to lift a finger. That’s because Rohrabacher-Farr, a little-known and even less discussed amendment that protects state-legal medical marijuana programs from federal interference, is close to expiring. If the government shuts down at the expiration of the current continuous resolution on December 22, or if negotiations in an upcoming appropriations conference committee fail to insert it in the final draft of the spending bill — entirely possible given House Republicans’ hostility to marijuana — Sessions would be free to unleash federal drug agents on a drug, which according to federal drug law, is considered the equal of heroin and LSD.
The politics on this issue has shifted so dramatically that reform advocates, instead of quaking in their boots at Sessions’ saber rattling, are actually itching for the fight. “Part of me just thinks: Let ‘em try. There will such a ferocious backlash,” Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Portland, Oregon, told POLITICO Magazine in response to a question about a potential Sessions-led crackdown. (Blumenauer replaced Sam Farr as the amendment’s Democratic co-sponsor after Farr’s retirement, so in a turn that does not help its branding efforts, Rohrabacher-Farr is now called Rohrabacher-Blumenauer.) Morgan Fox, communications manager of the Marijuana Policy Project, agreed with Blumenauer: “There’s no way that Sessions can start rolling back medical marijuana policies or attacking patients and providers without looking like the bad guy.”
Still, with the legislative barrier gone, there would be plenty of ways for Sessions to make life difficult for marijuana businesses without creating dramatic footage for the nightly news. Fox worries less about SWAT team raids than the possibility the Department of Justice would quietly send letters to landlords who rented to legal marijuana businesses to threaten them with asset forfeiture. People would be forgiven for thinking that state-legal medical marijuana was a settled issue, but in fact it is hanging by a thread, and Congress is poised to hand Jeff Sessions the scissors.
The rest of this article usefully reviews critical statements by AG Sessions about legalized marijuana, and also discusses the current state and politics surrounding the Cole Memo and the (soon to expire) congressional limit on DOJ spending to prosecute medical marijuana businesses. But I call this article "superficial" because it does not discuss in any detail just whether and how AG Sessions would be able to effectively "unleash federal drug agents," particularly as to players in the medical marijuana arena.
As this excerpt usefully highlights, there are "plenty of ways for Sessions to make life difficult for marijuana businesses without creating dramatic footage for the nightly news," but none of those ways have been used at all by the Sessions-led Justice Department for now 11 months in power. And during those 11 months, Nevada (and soon California) has joined a handful of other active western recreational marijuana states, and swing states like Florida and Ohio and Pennsylvania have seen medical marijuana regulations emerge and an industry start to develop. Especially as an ever-growing number of red states are embracing significant medical marijuana programs (e.g., Arizona, Arkansas, Montana, North Dakota, West Virginia), it seems there are an ever-growing number of GOP politicians who would be very troubled if AG Sessions started a very serious crack-down on the state-legal medical marijuana industry.
For reasons I somewhat explained/predicted in this post last year, I think AG Sessions' political instincts have led him to (rightly) believe it would not be a good use of his (or the President's) political capital to take on state marijuana reforms aggressively. And, especially with the seemingly anti-Trump outcomes in recent elections in Alabama, New Jersey and Virginia, I do not think the politics are really any easier now. I do think that opponents of marijuana reform are coming to believe and fear that, without an enforcement push by AG Sessions very soon, additional state-level reforms in 2018 and beyond will make curtailing the industry even that much harder in the future. And so I am sure prohibitionists are pushing hard for AG Sessions to do something, anything, to slow the tides of marijuana reforms. So maybe prosecution/forfeiture letters are being written as I type this. Stay tuned.
Friday, December 15, 2017
The title of this post is the title of this new short paper authored by Pat Oglesby now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
Recent federal marijuana tax bills address these questions:
1. What should we tax? What should be the “base” or bases of a cannabis tax? (Possible bases include: price; weight of various product types [like flower, trim, and concentrate]; and THC content.)
2. Given any base, what should the tax rate be?
3. Should medical cannabis bear full tax?
4. Should marijuana advertising and selling expenses become deductible for federal income tax purposes? (That would treat cannabis businesses like other businesses; current Internal Revenue Code section 280E bars such deductions.)
A few of the answers are unsatisfactory for tax policy and drug policy, but some of the answers are forward-looking, going beyond what has been proposed before.
Applicant Sues to Block Ohio from Using Racial Preferences in the Award of Commercial Marijuana Licenses
Over at my blog, I've just posted some details about a new lawsuit challenging Ohio's purported use of a "racial quota" in the award of its large-scale marijuana cultivation licenses. Check out the post here. The suit could have some far-reaching ramifications for state efforts to boost minority participation in the state licensed marijuana industry.
Thursday, December 14, 2017
Less encouraging new data from Monitoring the Future study concerning teenager marijuana use (but good news regarding other drugs)
In this post earlier this week, titled "Encouraging new data from National Survey on Drug Use and Health concerning teenager marijuana use," I noted my personal skepticism of contentions that teen marijuana use would go down in the wake of marijuana legalization. But, as detailed in that prior post, some new numbers from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health suggests this could be the reality in at least some legalization states for now.
But, as detailed in this new press release, headed "Marijuana Use Edges Upward," another set of new data does not tell a story quite so rosy with respect to use of marijuana by youngsters. Here are the basics:
Marijuana use among adolescents edged upward in 2017, the first significant increase in seven years. Overall, past-year use of marijuana significantly increased by 1.3% to 24% in 2017 for 8th, 10th, and 12th graders combined. Specifically, in 8th, 10th, and 12th grades the respective increases were 0.8% (to 10.1%), 1.6% (to 25.5%) and 1.5% (to 37.1%). The increase is statistically significant when all three grades are combined.
“This increase has been expected by many” said Richard Miech, the Principal Investigator of the study. “Historically marijuana use has gone up as adolescents see less risk of harm in using it. We’ve found that the risk adolescents see in marijuana use has been steadily going down for years to the point that it is now at the lowest level we’ve seen in four decades.”
The results come from the annual Monitoring the Future study, now in its 43rd year. About 45,000 students in some 380 public and private secondary schools have been surveyed each year in this U.S. national study, designed and conducted by research scientists at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research and funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Students in grades 8, 10 and 12 are surveyed.
This increase in marijuana drove trends in any illicit drug use in the past year. In both 12th and 10th grade this measure increased (although the increase was not statistically significant), while use of any illicit drug use other than marijuana declined (although the decrease was not statistically significant). In 8th grade neither of these drug use measures significantly changed, although they both increased slightly.
As this blurb highlights, a decline in the use of other illicit drugs emerges from this 2017 data, and also "cigarette smoking by teens [for] all measures (lifetime, 30-day, daily, and half-pack/day) are at historic lows since first measured in all three grades in 1991." Though there is research to suggest an increase in marijuana use by teens is not a positive public health story, a reduction in the use of cigarettes and other illicit drugs certainly is. These stories may or may not be causally connected, but all these data reinforce for me how intricate (and perhaps conflicting) data may be about the impact of marijuana reforms on teen behaviors and public health.
Prior recent related post:
Tuesday, December 12, 2017
The title of this post is the title of this new article published in the Journal of Drug Issues and authored by Hyunjung Cheon, Scott Decker and Charles Katz. Here is its abstract:
After decades of prohibition, laws allowing marijuana use for medical and, in some cases, recreational purposes have been enacted across the country. To date, however, little is known about medical marijuana use, particularly regarding its relationship to criminal offending and use by nonauthorized persons. The current study bridges this gap by examining offending patterns in a sample of recent arrestees in Maricopa County, Arizona, identified and interviewed through the Arizona Arrestee Reporting Information Network (AARIN) project.
Findings suggest that medical users had a higher probability for committing Driving Under the Influendce (DUI) and drug selling/making than nonusers, and diverted medical marijuana users had a higher probability for involvement in property crime, violent crime, DUI, and drug selling/making than nonusers. The results have important implications for developing marijuana decriminalization policies, criminal justice, and criminological theory. Directions for future research are discussed.
Monday, December 11, 2017
I think even the most avid advocate for marijuana reform recognizes that it might not be great for teenagers to be regular users of marijuana (brain science research makes this point as well). Thus, advocates for legalization have been heard to assert that teen use of marijuana could go down if legalization was coupled with sustained public advocacy against teen marijuana use. I have been personally skeptical of the contention that teen use would go down in the wake of marijuana legalization, but some new numbers from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health suggests this could be the reality in at least some legalization states for now. The new data from NSDUH is available here, and here are some different press accounts of the encouraging data:
From Marijuana Moment here, "Teen Marijuana Use Down In Most Legalized States, Federal Data Says"
From The Cannabist here, "Teen marijuana use in Colorado down post-legalization: The latest results from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health align with data collected by Colorado"
From The Denver Channel here, "Marijuana use among Colorado teens declines again, government report shows"
From Washington Post here, "Following marijuana legalization, teen drug use is down in Colorado"