Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

New executive director for MPP, Steve Hawkins, spotlights how marijuana reform and criminal justice and racial justice are interconnected

Steve_Hawkins_Headshot-1-258x300Long-time readers know that my interest in marijuana law and policy is based in my work and research concerning the criminal justice system.  Stated differently, I think the marijuana reform movement is fundamentally a criminal justice reform movement.  This new press release from Marijuana Policy Project announcing the hiring of Steve Hawkins as is new Executive Director serves, thought a personnel move, to highlight ways in which marijuana reform and criminal justice and racial justice can and should be connected. Here is a little from the press release:

The nation’s largest organization dedicated exclusively to marijuana policy, the Marijuana Policy Project, announced Tuesday it has hired Steve Hawkins to serve as its next executive director. The announcement comes after a months-long candidate search that included several exceptionally qualified candidates.

“We are thrilled to welcome Steve Hawkins as the new executive director of MPP,” said Troy Dayton, chair of the MPP board of directors. “Steve has a strong track record in the field of criminal justice reform, and he knows how to build a movement toward meaningful social change. We were not only impressed by his expertise and experience, but also his strong convictions regarding the injustice of marijuana prohibition.”

Hawkins has been at the forefront of the criminal justice reform movement for three decades as an advocate, policy strategist, nonprofit leader, and foundation executive. He has extensive experience overseeing campaigns to advance policy change through public education, stakeholder mobilization, engagement with government officials, and development of strategic alliances with business leaders, law enforcement officials, scholars, faith leaders, victims’ advocates, and other key voices. “The country is moving in the right direction on marijuana policy, but there is still a lot of work to be done,” Dayton said. “Steve is the perfect choice to oversee that work and lead MPP into the future.”

Hawkins began his career as an attorney with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund challenging racial disparities in the criminal justice system. He later served as executive vice president of the NAACP, spearheading its efforts to end the police practice of “stop and frisk” in New York City and successfully encouraging the NAACP board of directors to adopt a policy in support of marijuana decriminalization. He also previously served as executive director of Amnesty International USA, as a program executive for the Atlantic Philanthropies, and as a senior program manager at the JEHT Foundation, where he directed early investments of substantial resources into advocacy efforts to end mass incarceration, including groups working to eliminate criminal penalties for marijuana possession. Most recently, Hawkins was president of the Coalition for Public Safety, the largest national bipartisan effort to reform the justice system at the state and federal levels. A more detailed biography of Hawkins is available on the MPP website.

“Throughout my career, I have witnessed the counterproductive effects of the war on marijuana and its especially devastating impact on communities of color,” Hawkins said. “MPP has been at the vanguard of changing public perceptions and public policies surrounding marijuana, and I am proud to join this incredible team of advocates at such a critical moment in the movement to end marijuana prohibition.”

August 14, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Constitutional Court in the country of Georgia holds marijuana consumption is protected by the right to free personality

Georgia_country-copyThough I am surely losing something in the translation of Georgian web pages here and here,  I am still sure a ruling by Georgia's Constitutional Court this week is a big deal.  This press report, headlined "Georgian Court Abolishes Fines For Marijuana Consumption," provides these details:

Georgia's Constitutional Court has abolished administrative punishments for the consumption of marijuana, making the Caucasus country the first former Soviet republic to legalize usage of the drug.

The ruling by four senior court judges on July 30 concerns only the consumption of cannabis, while cultivation and selling remain a crime, the court said in its ruling. It added that punishing a person for consuming cannabis would comply with the constitution only if consumption put a third party at risk.

"According to the applicants [Zurab Japaridze and Vakhtang Megrelishvili], the consumption of marijuana is not an act of social threat. In particular, it can only harm the user's health, making that user him/herself responsible for the outcome. The responsibility for such actions does not cause dangerous consequences for the public," the court said.

"The Constitutional Court highlights the imposition of responsibility of marijuana consumption when it creates a threat to third parties. For instance, the court will justify responsibility when marijuana is consumed in educational institutions, public places, such as on public transport, and in the presence of children,” it added....

Japaridze told reporters the ruling was a victory for a freer Georgia. "This wasn't a fight for cannabis.  This was a fight for freedom," he said.

In late November, the Constitutional Court decriminalized use of marijuana or other forms of cannabis-based drugs but preserved administrative punishment, such as a fine, for marijuana use.  Before that, Georgia's Criminal Code defined repetitive use of marijuana and possession of more than 70 grams of dried cannabis as a crime for which individuals could face punishment that does not include imprisonment.

It is striking and somewhat telling that now a former Soviet satellite republic that still shares a border with Russia now has more progressive protections for fee use of marijuana than does the US of A.  One might hope that those who preach freedom in the US would take a lesson from this ruling, but I suspect that few know for sure where Georgia is on the map and fewer still will know it now constitutionally protects the freedom to consume marijuana more than does the US government or its federal courts.

July 31, 2018 in Court Rulings, International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Noting the enduring challenges for sports leagues with state marijuana reforms in tension with federal prohibition

Download (3)Regular readers know that I find fascinating the intersections between sports and marijuana reform, but I have not blogged on the subject much lately.  This new article, headlined "Leagues being pushed to allow medical marijuana use for pain management," gives me an excuse to return to this topic. Here are excerpts:

Between legalization in states with multiple professional sports franchises (like California), and increasing numbers of studies showing marijuana to be largely benign (and perhaps even beneficial) in comparison to opiates, the tide of public opinion continues to turn.  And for now, certain pro sports leagues are getting around the federal prohibition by essentially embracing a wink-and-nod policy.

The National Hockey League doesn’t list cannabis as a banned substance and doesn’t appear to care much about positive cannabis tests. Major League Baseball lists cannabis as a “drug of abuse,” but only tests if there is reasonable cause (and page 40 of the league’s drug policy specifically states that they don’t issue suspensions for a positive test for marijuana) — though, oddly enough, Minor League Baseball does still test and suspend athletes for marijuana use. In addition, the World Anti-Doping Agency, which oversees Olympic policy, has also loosened its standards on what constitutes a positive test, allowing up to 150 nanograms per milliliter (ng/ml) of blood—which essentially means you’d need to be actively high in order to test positive.

But in the NBA and NFL — two leagues in which former players have estimated that more than 80 percent of their peers used marijuana during their careers—there remains a punitive cost. The NFL’s threshold for a positive test is 35 ng/ml; the NBA’s is 15 ng/ml. Repeated infractions, in both leagues, can result in a suspension.

In large part, the NBA’s policy is based on perception: Former commissioner David Stern, in an interview with ex-NBA player and marijuana advocate Al Harrington, said that the league tightened its rules, in part, because “some of our players came to us and said some of these guys are high coming into the game,” and because of the long-held theory (now largely debunked) that marijuana is a gateway drug to harder substances.  Stern now believes the league’s collective bargaining agreement should be altered so that players should be allowed to do whatever is legal in their individual state.  His successor as commissioner, Adam Silver, has embraced some of the most progressive policies of any major sports league, and has said that he’s open to legalizing medical marijuana (though how that would work in states where marijuana remains illegal is unclear).

And that leaves the NFL, whose players — given the inherently violent nature of their sport — may have the best case of all for embracing medical marijuana.  Yet while the NFL has said it’s open to working with its players association on a study of marijuana, it has continued to suspend a number of players for positive drug tests.  In a 2017 radio interview, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell expressed concerns that marijuana use “can be negative to the health of our players.” In a way, this isn’t surprising, given the NFL’s overarching cautiousness when it comes to both political and social issues.  But that policy will face continued challenges from ex-NFL players like [Eugene] Monroe, who point to mounting evidence that cannabis is a safer alternative to the opiates they took regularly in order to sustain their careers.

July 31, 2018 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Sports, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 30, 2018

"Which of these 6 states will be next to legalize marijuana?"

The question in the title of this post is the headline of this new Hill piece authored by Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.  Here are excerpts from his accouting:

Nine states — Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington — have legalized the adult possession and use of marijuana. In the coming months, some or all of these states will likely be joining them.

Michigan

Voters this November will decide the fate of the Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marihuana Act. If passed, the voter-initiated measure will permit those over the age of 21 to grow and possess personal use quantities of cannabis and related concentrates, while also licensing activities related to commercial marijuana production and retail marijuana sales....

New Jersey

Democrat Gov. Phil Murphy campaigned on a promise to legalize marijuana use and sales in the Garden State — a pledge he reiterated in his 2019 budget address when he stated, “[T]he only sensible option is the careful legalization, regulation, and taxation of marijuana sales to adults. … [F]rom the standpoint of social justice, and from the standpoint of protecting our kids and lifting up our communities, I could not arrive at any other conclusion."...

North Dakota

Proponents of a statewide ballot initiative to legalize the adult use of marijuana in North Dakota recently turned in over 19,000 signatures to the Secretary of State's office in an effort to place a measure before voters this November. State officials must certify 13,452 of those signatures in order to qualify the measure for the 2018 electoral ballot.... In 2016, nearly two-thirds of state voters approved a ballot measure regulating medical cannabis access. However, state officials have yet to make the program operational. Activists have acknowledged that regulators' failure to swiftly implement the 2016 measure was the impetus for the 2018 campaign.

New York

Ongoing legislative efforts to reform the Empire State’s marijuana laws received a significant boost this month when a state-commissioned study issued by the New York Department of Health called for the plant’s legalization....

Oklahoma

Sooner State voters in June approved one of the nation’s most liberal medical cannabis access laws, and they may have the opportunity to enact even broader reforms this fall. Days away from an August 8th deadline, local activists are estimated to be just a few thousand signatures shy of meeting statewide requirements to place an adult use legalization measure on the November ballot.

Delaware

Sixty-one percent of Delaware voters believe cannabis ought to be legal for those over the age of 21. And a majority of state representatives agree with them. In June, a majority of House lawmakers voted in favor of legislation to legalize marijuana use and retail sales. However, because the legislation imposed new taxes and fees, state rules required it to receive super-majority support. Lawmakers are anticipated to take up similar legislation again next year.

As I see it, full legalization is only likely in Michigan this year, though it is possible the New Jersey legislature will get this done before too long. If New Jersey does enact full legalization, that would increase the odds of neighboring New York and Delaware moving forward with legalization. But the odds still seem long to me for lots more full legalization states until the 2020 cycle. That major election year I expect we could see full legalization votes in at least a half dozen states, including big ones like Arizona, Florida and Ohio

July 30, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Notable review of Florida’s "booming" medicial marijuana industry

Florida-medical-marijuana-program-rules

This local Florida article, headlined "Marijuana booming as state nears 2-year mark," reports on (unsurprising?) medical marijuana realities in the Sunshine State.  Here are highlights from the lengthy piece:

More than 100,000 Floridians now can legally take marijuana for medicinal purposes.  This milestone, reached in April, is one of many signs that Florida’s young marijuana industry is booming as the state approaches the two-year anniversary of voters legalizing medical pot.

But issues remain: Some patients complain that the Florida Department of Health’s rules create unfair barriers for patients. They can’t smoke their marijuana or grow their own, for example.  They also gripe about the patient approval process and the cost of medication.  Companies eager to jump into the marijuana business are waiting for the state to issue additional licenses required by law upon passing the 100,000-patient mark....

In November 2016, 71 percent of Florida’s voters gave the green light to medical marijuana.  The state still is issuing guidelines and battling lawsuits over how that should be done.  But the direction is clear.  Already, analysts are projecting a $1 billion medical marijuana market in Florida by 2020. 

Fourteen companies have received licenses from the state.  They’ve opened 43 dispensaries statewide, including offices in Summerfield and Lady Lake, to serve the growing number of approved patients, which has more than doubled since the start of the year.  The coveted licenses are drawing attention from established marijuana businesses.  In June, California-based MedMen paid $53 million to acquire the cultivation and distribution rights from Treadwell Nursery in Eustis....

[T]he process to become a qualifying doctor [initially meant] doctors were required to pay $1,000 for an eight-hour course. That requirement has since decreased to a two-hour course costing $250. More than 1,500 physicians now are able to recommend marijuana to patients, including more than 40 in Sumter, Lake and Marion counties.

Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties have the most registered physicians, with more than 200 each.  Demand for doctors persists, with 1,500 to 3,500 patients joining the registry every week....

Even as more and more people line up for treatment, criticism of the program continues.  Companies and advocates of Amendment 2, which authorized medical marijuana, are challenging some of the rules laid out by the Department of Health.  Attorney John Morgan sued the department over its rule banning smokeable cannabis, arguing it goes against the will of the voters who approved the amendment.  Vaping is allowed.  Tallahassee Circuit Judge Karen Gievers sided with Morgan, saying the restriction was unconstitutional.  The state immediately appealed the decision, and Morgan tried to get the Florida Supreme Court to consider the case.  He now is focusing on legalizing recreational use.

Morgan criticized Gov. Rick Scott, who had opposed the broad legalization of medical marijuana, for allowing the smoking ban. Scott defended following the law as it is written. He is not alone in voicing smoking opposition. The American Society of Addiction Medicine rejects smoking as a means of drug delivery for medical purposes. The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the ACS’s advocacy group, has not taken a position on legalization of marijuana for medical purposes, citing a need for more scientific research on marijuana’s potential benefits and harms.

July 30, 2018 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Wanna Beat Trump’s Supreme Court Nominee? Focus on Marijuana"

Brett-kavanaughThe title of this post is the headline of this intriguing new Daily Beast commentary authored by Jeff Hauser.  I recommend the whole piece, and here are extended excerpts:

What if I were to tell you that there is a political issue that galvanizes young voters?  An issue that unites libertarians, independents, and African-Americans?  An issue with bipartisan power, that works not only in cities, but has demonstrated strength in red states like Kentucky and West Virginia? 

It’s an issue likely to generate cases to be heard by the Supreme Court in the next decade and one on which the Trump administration’s leading law enforcement official — Attorney General Jeff Sessions — is already on the losing side politically.

Given all that, you would think this issue would be a central part of the Democratic Party’s campaign against Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination for the Supreme Court.  You would think wavering Democrats and shaky Republican senators would be targeted on the basis of the threat Kavanaugh poses on this issue.  But because the progressive movement sometimes makes political basics look liking trying to solve Fermat's Last Theorem, you would be wrong.

The issue I speak of is marijuana.  And it is likely to be a source of many complicated legal disputes in the coming decade, disputes that will be of increasing salience to American voters and, by turn, the Supreme Court.

In fact, the Supreme Court has already had to deal with some marijuana-related matters.  Just a few years ago, it was asked to weigh in on Colorado’s decision to legalize marijuana. Nebraska and Oklahoma argued Colorado’s law was preempted by the federal Controlled Substances Act, and that the court should enjoin Colorado from implementing its law.  Nebraska and Oklahoma complained that Colorado’s decision to legalize marijuana “undermin[ed] their own marijuana bans, draining their treasuries, and placing stress on their criminal justice systems.”

On presumably technical grounds, six members of the Court declined to hear the lawsuit, but without prejudice (meaning there was no implication those Justices disagreed on the merits and the states could pursue their theory in the lower courts). Justice Clarence Thomas, joined by Justice Samuel Alito, dissented from the decision to not hear the case not only on technical grounds, but also by noting that Nebraska and Oklahoma have alleged “significant harms to their sovereign interests caused by another State.”  They stated that those allegations were significant enough to warrant the Court’s attention.

That decision was back in 2016. How will Justice Neil Gorsuch (typically an ally of Thomas and Alito) feel when this question comes back to the Court now, as it likely will?  How would a Justice Kavanaugh, who most well-informed observers believe is essentially Gorsuch 2.0, feel about it?  Would Chief Justice John Roberts feel differently about it with a social-issues moderate like Justice Anthony Kennedy no longer on the Court?

These are important questions, affecting a massive and growing industry that a growing portion of the population supports.  And yet, they’ve been completely unasked during this current debate about the future composition of the Court....

It’s impossible, of course, to say for sure whether other questions surrounding marijuana legalization will come to the Court, or in what form.  But it appears likely.  Even the intersection of banking law and drug policy is a messy thicket right now.  America’s slow burning experiment with marijuana reform raises many as yet unclarified legal issues.

And that’s why those who are interested in marijuana legalization should also want to know what Judge Brett Kavanaugh thinks about the host of legal questions that might ultimately decide its future.

As a political matter, there are few better cards for the Democratic Party to play.  According to Gallup, support for legalization has "risen from 12 percent in 1969 to 31 percent in 2000 to 64 percent in 2017."  Several other surveys reveal similar increases.  An April 2018 Quinnipiac poll shows support for marijuana legalization not only strong among Democrats (75 percent) but Independents as well (67 percent), and even 41 percent of Republicans.

Support remains strongest among millennials — a group that commentators have noted is crucial to Democrats’ performance in this November’s midterm elections — but it has also risen rapidly among all age groups and places.  This past June, Oklahoma — Oklahoma! — voted to legalize marijuana.

In an environment in which marijuana is salient to the Supreme Court and many voters, the fact that marijuana is not part of the effort to secure red and purple state Senate votes against Kavanaugh is a little perplexing.

Not least because it has already proven to be a topic that can compel lawmakers to act.  Senators with “the federalist position” on-marijuana includes progressives like Senators Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand but also Republicans “Rand Paul, Lisa Murkowski, and Mike Lee.”

But no Senator better reflects the potential of the marijuana issue as a wedge than Colorado’s Cory Gardner.  Just last month, Gardner and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) released a marijuana legislation reform bill to “give states the right to determine the best approach to marijuana within their borders.”  And for three months this winter, Gardner held up all Justice Department nominees in an effort to force Attorney General Sessions to agree to leave Colorado’s marijuana industry alone.

That display of spine was about as much as any Republican Senator has shown in attempting to restrain the Trump Administration to date.  But it also made sense.  Being viewed as a fighter for Colorado's right to legalize marijuana is likely pivotal to Gardner's political survival.  In 2014, Gardner won his seat in a GOP wave by a mere 2 points. In 2020, he will be facing an uphill battle since he holds the single most pro-Hillary Clinton seat of any Republican in the U.S. Senate....

Marijuana is not a staple of Supreme Court fights. The issue advocacy groups that focus on marijuana do not typically focus on the Supreme Court. And Cory Gardner is not a typical target for Democrats. But “typical” isn’t good enough. It is sadly clear that if progressive groups and Democrats rely exclusively on raising the same issues they raised in the Gorsuch “fight” in 2017, Kavanaugh will be confirmed easily.

Marijuana reform is one of the most important new political issues of this era and it’s about time Democrats and progressives take it seriously.

I do not think questions about marijuana will lead to "beating" Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, but I do think it quite sound to urge Senators to ask Judge Kavanaugh about the range of federalism and personal freedom issues that surround modern marijuana reform.  In this post upon Justice Anthony Kennedy announcing his retirement, I asked "With Justice Kennedy now retiring and precedents being reversed, is it time for marijuana advocates to urge SCOTUS to reconsider Raich?".   Asking questions about Raich could be one of a number of ways to probe Judge Kavanaugh's views on these important topics.

July 30, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Political perspective on reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Disconcerting disconnect between Trumpian rhetoric and health care realities for veterans when medical marijuana involved

Cover.vetsandmarijuana3.12-22Prez Donald Trump yesterday gave a big speech to the VFW, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and he extolled his commitment to ensuring veterans receive first-rate health care: "We’re also committed to ensuring that when our warriors return home as veterans, they receive the best care anywhere on Earth." Unfortunately, as this new New York Times highlights, this rhetoric does not meet reality in at least one notable setting. The lengthy article is headlined "V.A. Shuns Medical Marijuana, Leaving Vets to Improvise," and here are excerpts:

Some of the local growers along the [California] coast here see it as an act of medical compassion: Donating part of their crop of high-potency medical marijuana to ailing veterans, who line up by the dozens each month in the echoing auditorium of the city’s old veterans’ hall to get a ticket they can exchange for a free bag.

One Vietnam veteran in the line said he was using marijuana-infused oil to treat pancreatic cancer. Another said that smoking cannabis eased the pain from a recent hip replacement better than prescription pills did. Several said that a few puffs temper the anxiety and nightmares of post-traumatic stress disorder. “I never touched the stuff in Vietnam,” said William Horne, 76, a retired firefighter. “It was only a few years ago I realized how useful it could be.”

The monthly giveaway bags often contain marijuana lotions, pills, candies and hemp oils, as well as potent strains of smokable flower with names like Combat Cookies and Kosher Kush.  But the veterans do not get any medical guidance on which product might help with which ailment, how much to use, or how marijuana might interact with other medications.

Ordinarily, their first stop for advice like that would be the Department of Veterans Affairs health system, with its thousands of doctors and hundreds of hospitals and clinics across the country dedicated to caring for veterans.  But the department has largely said no to medical marijuana, citing federal law.  It won’t recommend cannabis products for patients, and for the most part it has declined even to study their potential benefits. That puts the department out of step with most of the country, where at least 30 states now have laws that allow the use of medical marijuana in some form.

A department survey suggests that nearly a million veterans may be using medical marijuana anyway. But doctors in the veterans’ health system say the department’s lack of research has left them without much good advice to give veterans.  “We have a disconnect in care,” said Marcel Bonn-Miller, a psychologist who worked for years at the veterans’ hospital in Palo Alto, Calif., and now teaches at the University of Pennsylvania medical school.  “The V.A. has funded lots of marijuana studies, but not of therapeutic potential. All the work has been related to problems of use.”...

A bipartisan bill introduced in the House of Representatives this spring would order the department to study the safety and efficacy of marijuana for treating chronic pain and PTSD. If the bill passes, the department could not only develop expertise about a drug that many veterans have turned to on their own — it may also start down the road toward eventually allowing its doctors and clinics to prescribe cannabis.

“I talk to so many vets who claim they get benefits, but we need research,” said Representative Tim Walz, Democrat of Minnesota, who introduced the bill along with Phil Roe, Republican of Tennessee, who is a physician. “You may be a big advocate of medical marijuana, you may feel it has no value,” Mr. Walz said. “Either way, you should want the evidence to prove it, and there is no better system to do that research than the V.A.”

A spokesman for the Department of Veterans Affairs said Congress would need to do more than pass the current House bill. The spokesman, Curt Cashour, said that because cannabis is classified as a Schedule 1 drug under federal law, researchers would need to secure approval from five separate agencies to conduct studies. “The opportunities for V.A. to conduct marijuana research are limited because of the restrictions imposed by federal law,” Mr. Cashour said. “If Congress wants to facilitate more federal research into Schedule 1 controlled substances such as marijuana, it can always choose to eliminate these restrictions.”

The department does have two small studies in their early stages. One, in San Diego, looks at whether cannabidiol, a nonintoxicating component of cannabis, can help patients during PTSD therapy; it is scheduled to continue through 2023. The other, planned for South Carolina, would examine the palliative effects of cannabis in hospice patients. “In a system as big as ours, that’s not much, certainly not enough,” said Dr. David J. Shulkin, who was President Trump’s first secretary of veterans affairs before being fired in March.

During his tenure as secretary, Dr. Shulkin eased some rules, allowing the department’s doctors to start talking to veterans about medical marijuana. But many veterans faulted him for not going further. Dr. Shulkin said that the tangle of red tape surrounding Schedule 1 drug studies should no longer be an excuse not to conduct them. “We have an opioid crisis, a mental health crisis, and we have limited options with how to address them, so we should be looking at everything possible,” he said.

The push for more research and for access to medical marijuana in the veterans’ health system is not coming just from liberal areas of California. The generally conservative American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars both favor expanded research. And some of the most vocal advocates are products of the nation’s strict military academies. “Cannabis is the safe, responsible choice,” said Nick Etten, an Annapolis graduate and former Navy SEAL who runs an advocacy group called the Veterans Cannabis Project. “It helps with the Big Three we struggle with after combat — pain, sleep and anxiety — and it is safer than many medications.”

Lots of recent prior related posts:

July 25, 2018 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

New Jersey AG calls for municipal prosecutors to halt marijuana prosecutions amidst work on statewide enforcement policies

Grewal_110x135pxAs reported in this local article, "New Jersey's attorney general has announced an immediate adjournment of all marijuana cases in municipal courts statewide until at least September." Here is the context:

The decision was included in a letter state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal sent Tuesday to municipal prosecutors in the state. It asked them to seek an adjournment until September 4 — or later — of any matter "involving a marijuana-related offense pending in municipal court," a move that will allow the attorney general's office time to develop "appropriate guidance" for prosecutors.

Grewal said he plans to convene a working group of criminal justice stakeholders to study the issue and advise him on possible solutions. He intends to issue a statewide directive by the end of next month concerning the scope and "appropriate use of prosecutorial discretion" in marijuana-related offenses in municipal court....

[This letter] came just days after Jake Hudnut, the newly installed municipal prosecutor in Jersey City, announced that his office would seek to downgrade some marijuana charges to noncriminal offenses, seek the outright dismissal of low-level marijuana charges and divert those defendants with prior drug arrests and signs of addiction to the city's community court.

The attorney general's office quickly notified Hudnut that he lacked the legal authority to decriminalize marijuana or otherwise refuse to criminally prosecute marijuana-related offenses, noting that only the state Legislature could take such action.

The letter from the NJ AG is available at this link, and this press statement further explains what prompted the latter.

July 24, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Hooray for the proposed new "Marijuana Data Collection Act" ... but ...

Images (2)Tom Angell reports here at Forbes on the introduction of a new piece of federal legislation that I consider long overdue.   Here are the details:

The Marijuana Data Collection Act, introduced on Tuesday by Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) and a bipartisan group of cosponsors, would direct the Department of Health and Human Services to partner with other federal and state government agencies to study "the effects of State legalized marijuana programs on the economy, public health, criminal justice and employment."...

If the legislation is enacted, the National Academy of Sciences would carry out the research and publish initial findings within 18 months, with follow-up reports to be issued every two years after that.

So far, the bill's backers seem to consist solely of those who support marijuana law reform, a situation that legalization advocates decried.  “This is not a marijuana bill, it is an information bill," Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, said in an interview.  "No member of Congress can intellectually justify opposition to this legislation. Our public policy needs to be based on sound data and science, not gut feelings or fear-mongering.  Approving the Marijuana Data Collection Act would provide legislators with reliable and fact-based information to help them decide what direction is most beneficial to society when it comes to marijuana policy.”...

Gabbard held a Tuesday morning press conference with other supporters, including lead GOP cosponsor Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) and former U.S. Attorneys Barry Grissom of Kansas and Bill Nettles of South Carolina. Other original cosponsors of the bill include Reps. Don Young (R-AK), Darren Soto (D-FL), Beto O’Rourke (D-TX), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Dina Titus (D-NV), Charlie Crist (D-FL), Tom Garrett (R-VA), Lou Correa (D-CA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Mark Pocan (D-WI) and Salud Carbajal (D-CA).

Here are the specific data points the bill directs federal officials to track:

REVENUES AND STATE ALLOCATIONS

The monetary amounts generated through revenues, taxes, and any other financial benefits. The purposes and relative amounts for which these funds were used. The total impact on the State and its budget.

MEDICINAL USE OF MARIJUANA

The rates of medicinal use among different population groups, including children, the elderly, veterans, and individuals with disabilities. The purpose of such use. Which medical conditions medical marijuana is most frequently purchased and used for.

SUBSTANCE USE

The rates of overdoses with opioids and other painkillers. The rates of admission in health care facilities, emergency rooms, and volunteer treatment facilities related to overdoses with opioids and other painkillers. The rates of opioid-related and other painkiller-related crimes to one’s self and to the community. The rates of opioid prescriptions and other pain killers.

IMPACTS ON CRIMINAL JUSTICE

The rates of marijuana-related arrests for possession, cultivation, and distribution, and of these arrests, the percentages that involved a secondary charge unrelated to marijuana possession, cultivation, or distribution, including the rates of such arrests on the Federal level, including the number of Federal prisoners so arrested, disaggregated by sex, age, race, and ethnicity of the prisoners; and the rates of such arrests on the State level, including the number of State prisoners so arrested, disaggregated by sex, age, race, and ethnicity. The rates of arrests and citations on the Federal and State levels related to teenage use of marijuana. The rates of arrests on the Federal and State levels for unlawful driving under the influence of a substance, and the rates of such arrests involving marijuana. The rates of marijuana-related prosecutions, court filings, and imprisonments. The total monetary amounts expended for marijuana-related enforcement, arrests, court filings and proceedings, and imprisonment before and after legalization, including Federal expenditures disaggregated according to whether the laws being enforced were Federal or State. The total number and rate of defendants in Federal criminal prosecutions asserting as a defense that their conduct was in compliance with applicable State law legalizing marijuana usage, and the effects of such assertions.

EMPLOYMENT

The amount of jobs created in each State, differentiating between direct and indirect employment. The amount of jobs expected to be created in the next 5 years, and in the next 10 years, as a result of the State’s marijuana industry.

Because I cannot yet find the full text of the bill on-line, I cannot yet provide a full informed opinion on its particulars.  I can say that I think a big, data-focused federal study of the impact of state marijuana reform is looooooooong overdue.  I was hopeful, but not optimistic, that Prez Obama might see the wisdom and political value of pushing for this kind of study effort after the issuance of the 2013 Cole Memo and after the 2014 election brought more states and DC into the recreational marijuana column.  But, sadly, we have been left largely with national number crunching by partisan advocates rather than government bean-counters for now two decades of ever-more-robust state-level reforms.

Based on Tom's description of the "Marijuana Data Collection Act," I am a bit concerned that there are not provisions likely to encourage pot prohibitionists to be supportive of this particular study effort.   The folks at SAM are often eager to stress data on black markets, increased use of marijuana by workers, increased hospital visits, increased homelessness, increased drugged driving, increased use by youths and young adults, environmental impacts,  and all sorts of other concerns (see, e.g., this SAM "lessons learned" report from March 2018).  It is unclear if these kinds of potentially negative data are fundamental parts of the inquiry imagined by Marijuana Data Collection Act.  If not, I doubt opponents of marijuana reform will want to sign on to this bill.

That said, even if the current version of the "Marijuana Data Collection Act" is in someway incomplete or one-sided, I hope a lot of folks on all sides of the marijuana reform debate will be inclined to try to make the bill better and get it passed.  I sincerely hope nobody disagrees with the notion that sound data and science is needed in this arena, and I sense both sides of the debate sincerely believe that the data, if fairly collected, will be on their side.  So maybe all can come together to really work toward trying to have all the data fairly collected (though I am not holding my breath).

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

Monday, July 23, 2018

"Risks and Benefits of Marijuana Use: A National Survey of U.S. Adults"

Download (17)The title of this post is the title of this new research appearing in the Annals of Internal Medicine.  Here is its abstract:

Background: Despite insufficient evidence regarding its risks and benefits, marijuana is increasingly available and aggressively marketed to the public.

Objective: To understand the public's views on the risks and benefits of marijuana use.

Design: Probability-based online survey.

Setting: United States, 2017.

Participants: 16,280 U.S. adults.

Measurements: Proportion of U.S. adults who agreed with a statement.

Results:

The response rate was 55.3% (n = 9003). Approximately 14.6% of U.S. adults reported using marijuana in the past year.

About 81% of U.S. adults believe marijuana has at least 1 benefit, whereas 17% believe it has no benefit. The most common benefit cited was pain management (66%), followed by treatment of diseases, such as epilepsy and multiple sclerosis (48%), and relief from anxiety, stress, and depression (47%).

About 91% of U.S. adults believe marijuana has at least 1 risk, whereas 9% believe it has no risks. The most common risk identified by the public was legal problems (51.8%), followed by addiction (50%) and impaired memory (42%).

Among U.S. adults, 29.2% agree that smoking marijuana prevents health problems. About 18% believe exposure to secondhand marijuana smoke is somewhat or completely safe for adults, whereas 7.6% indicated that it is somewhat or completely safe for children. Of the respondents, 7.3% agree that marijuana use is somewhat or completely safe during pregnancy. About 22.4% of U.S. adults believe that marijuana is not at all addictive.

Limitation: Wording of the questions may have affected interpretation.

Conclusion: Americans' view of marijuana use is more favorable than existing evidence supports. 

July 23, 2018 in Polling data and results, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Pennsylvania auditor issues report extolling benefits of regulating and taxing marijuana

Press-release-placeholderLate last week the Auditor General of Pennsylvania released this notable report on “Regulating and Taxing Marijuana” that reads a bit more like an advocacy group's document than something that would emerge from a state government office.  But, as this press release about the report reveals, the Auditor General of PA seems real eager to have access to a new revenue source:

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale today said Pennsylvania is missing out on $581 million per year in revenue by not regulating and taxing marijuana — money that could fund critical initiatives that affect Pennsylvanians’ lives. “Repeated polls have shown that a majority of Americans now believe marijuana should be legalized.  In Pennsylvania, it’s 56 percent,” DePasquale said during a news conference with Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto.

“Today, I’m releasing a special report that shows the staggering amount the state could reap in tax revenue if legislators simply did what their constituents want them to do: regulate and tax marijuana for adult use.”

The 14-page special report, “Regulating and Taxing Marijuana,” compiles national research data, which show that an average of 8.38 percent of the commonwealth’s adults (21 and older) currently use marijuana at least monthly — a total of 798,556 adults. In Colorado and Washington, where marijuana has been legal since 2012, adult users spend an average of $2,080 annually.  If Pennsylvania’s 798,556 adult users spent the same amount, they would create a $1.66 billion retail industry.

Assuming Pennsylvania taxed the growth, cultivation and sale of marijuana at 35 percent, the state would collect roughly $581 million in tax revenue annually. If Allegheny and Philadelphia counties were allowed to add 1-2 percent local tax, they could collect an additional $3.8 million and $6.9 million, respectively. “Imagine what that $581 million could mean for Pennsylvanians,” DePasquale said.  “Not only would it help balance the state budget, but it would also mean increases to initiatives that affect Pennsylvanians’ lives, such as greater access to opioid treatment and better health care access for veterans and children.”

DePasquale became the first statewide elected official to endorse regulating and taxing marijuana in March 2017. “With our neighboring states all looking at legalizing marijuana, now is the time for Pennsylvania to do the same,” DePasquale continued. “Legislators must act now so that we can be competitive and not lose potential revenue to other states.”

July 23, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Taxation information and issues , Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Has the U.S. reached a ‘tipping point’ in marijuana legalization?"

Download (2)The question in the title of this post is the headline of this new Washington Post piece authored by Daniel J. Mallinson and A. Lee Hannah.  I recommend the full piece, and here are excerpts:

Has the U.S. reached the “tipping point” in marijuana legalization?  That’s what one CNN commentator said happened last month when, on June 26, Oklahoma adopted medical marijuana through a ballot initiative....

It’s true that a lot was unusual about the Oklahoma initiative.  The state approved medical marijuana with roughly 57 percent of the vote — despite the fact that the ballot measure was held in a conservative state, during a primary — when only the most committed party members tend to vote — rather than during a general election, is more permissive than many comparable laws, and was opposed by statewide Republican leaders....

Notably, Oklahoma’s voters approved medical marijuana directly, rather than through the legislature.  In our previous research, we found that five states legalizing medical marijuana via ballot initiatives between 1996 and 1999 helped legitimize the effort — and, beginning in 2000, a handful of legislatures followed suit.  Direct democracy is one important way that advocates successfully force the issue in some states — either through successful initiatives, as in Oklahoma, or through the threat of an initiative campaign, as in Ohio, where the legislature quickly passed a medical marijuana law to head off a 2016 initiative sponsored by Marijuana Policy Project.

As a result, as fewer and fewer of the remaining 20 states without any legal marijuana use have mechanisms for such direct referendums, it becomes less and less likely that those states will liberalize cannabis policy.  In that sense, perhaps Oklahoma is not a tipping point....

Direct democracy has furthered marijuana liberalization, assisted by changes in how advocates frame the issue.  Journalists and advocates have been drawing attention to recent research that shows the potential of medical cannabis to treat conditions like PTSD, epilepsy and opioid addiction.  This type of coverage serves to lift the stigma on marijuana use by presenting conditions and patients that are more relatable and sympathetic than treatment for other conditions, or than recreational use.

One of us, Lee Hannah, recently conducted a content analysis of news articles about medical marijuana stories by The Washington Post from 1995 (a year prior to California adopting the first program) to 2017 to determine whether this narrative shift was being seen in news coverage.  Hannah searched the newspaper archives and counted how many articles about medical marijuana were paired with specific medical conditions.

In the period from 1995 to 1999, The Washington Post ran 56 articles about medical marijuana that associated it with cancer, 73 articles that mentioned HIV/AIDS and only 7 articles associating medical marijuana with opioid addiction, epilepsy or PTSD.  That relative emphasis has flipped in the last five years.  The Post continued to make the connection to cancer, in 71 articles, but only 31 articles included HIV/AIDS.  Meanwhile, The Post ran 195 articles that connected medical cannabis to opioid addiction (71), epilepsy (83) or PTSD (41). The results were similar when analyzing coverage in the New York Times.

Some observers argue that evidence so far suggests other policy approaches are more successful than medical marijuana in treating opioid addiction.  But if interest groups can successfully persuade citizens that medical cannabis could help diminish the opioid crisis, conservative voters and state legislatures may be persuaded to make it available....

Whether Oklahoma’s new law is indeed a tipping point, changing public opinion and industry pressures seem to be pushing the federal government and the remaining states to make marijuana available for medical use — and probably, from there, recreational use as well.

July 23, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Political perspective on reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Prominent US Representative for Ohio now advocating that "marijuana should be legal in all 50 states"

220px-Rep._Tim_Ryan_Congressional_Head_Shot_2010CNN recently published this recent commentary advocating federal marijuana reform that is particularly notable because of its author: Tim Ryan, a Democrat representing Ohio's 13th congressional district who is co-chair of the House Addiction, Treatment, and Recovery Caucus (and who at least once had aspirations to be a party leader in the House). Here are excerpts from the commentary:

The year Donald Trump was elected President, more Americans were arrested for marijuana possession than for all violent crimes combined.  Moreover, the ACLU found that even though African-Americans use marijuana at similar rates to white Americans, they are almost four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession....

As co-chair of the House Addiction, Treatment, and Recovery Caucus, I've been hesitant to support legalizing marijuana in the past.  But after meeting with countless Ohio families and youth whose lives have been irreparably harmed by a marijuana arrest, I find the social and economic injustices of our marijuana policy too big to ignore.  I firmly believe no person should be sentenced to a lifetime of hardship because of a marijuana arrest. It is morally wrong and economically nonsensical.  That is why I am calling for an end to marijuana being used as an excuse to lock up our fellow Americans.

Marijuana should be legal in all 50 states. Across the country, nine states and the District of Columbia have passed laws legalizing marijuana.  Voters in Michigan and Oklahoma will be voting on marijuana initiatives this November, and efforts are underway in Missouri, Arizona, Nebraska and Utah to get legalization initiatives on the ballot. While I support these states for leading by example, this is an issue that affects every corner of our nation.  You should not be able to legally buy a product in one state, just to be arrested for the very same act in another.

Studies have shown that marijuana legalization could save $7.7 billion in averted enforcement costs and add $6 billion in additional tax revenue -- a $13.7 billion net savings.  Not to mention the reported 782,000 jobs it could create on day one.  Think of what our country could do with that money: rebuild our highways, bridges, and railroads; provide our communities with the resources they need to respond effectively to substance abuse and the opioid epidemic; and create jobs....

Congress can change this by passing the Marijuana Justice Act.  This legislation would remove marijuana's designation as a Schedule I drug -- those classified as having no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.  It would also eliminate all criminal penalties for an individual who imports, exports, manufacturers, distributes, or processes with intent to distribute marijuana.  To create economic opportunity in communities devastated by mass incarceration, the bill creates a $500 million community reinvestment fund to provide job training for the nascent legal cannabis industry.

The War on Drugs failed the American people. It is time for us to take the necessary steps to right our nation's wrongs.  We cannot afford to leave people behind and money on the table. If we are truly a nation that believes in second chances, our federal marijuana laws must change.  America is speaking. Congress must act.

July 23, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (3)

Friday, July 13, 2018

New York Health Department issues big report concluding benefits of marijuana legalization outweighs potential costs

Department-of-healthAs the New York Daily News puts it here: "The New York State Health Department is high on the prospects of legal marijuana." Here is what they mean:

In a long-awaited report released Friday, the Health Department concluded the “positive effects of a regulated marijuana market in NYS outweigh the potential negative impacts” and recommended that state officials move forward with the legalization of recreational pot use.

Such a move, however, should only happen after the development of a “well-thought-out” regulatory structure and public education campaign to inform the public about the benefits and risks associated with pot use, the report said. “It is imperative that a regulated marijuana program contain all necessary safeguards and measures to limit access for individuals under 21, minimize impaired driving, provide education and tailored messaging to different populations, and connect people to treatment if needed,” the report stated.

The report, which was ordered by Gov. Cuomo in January, found that a regulated marijuana market could have several benefits for New York, including increased quality controls, consumer protections and tax revenues. With New York’s current market for illegal marijuana estimated to tally between $1.74 billion and $3.5 billion annually, the report estimated that the state could see tax revenue of between $248 million and $677.7 million, assuming tax rates of between 7% and 15%. The report recommended an initial tax rate of between 7% and 10%.

The report also stressed that legalization of marijuana could have significant criminal justice impacts, noting that a large percentage of those arrested for marijuana-related offenses are minorities. It recommends that “NYS expunge the criminal records of individuals with marijuana-related offenses.”

Health officials also concluded that there’s little evidence that legalization would lead to increased marijuana use and said it also has the potential to reduce use of opioids.

Advocates for legalized marijuana hailed the report and urged state officials to follow through on its recommendations....

Cuomo on Friday said he would “put together a group” to come up with a “full program” for legalization. He noted that the report recommends that people be at least 21 to purchase pot, but doesn’t answer such questions such as who could sell it, where, and the quantity that can be sold. “That to me is the devil in the details,” he said.

Cuomo had previously opposed legalization of marijuana but ordered the Health Department to study the issue because of the steps nearby states, including Massachusetts and New Jersey, were taking steps to legalize the drug. “Those are our two border states,” he said Friday. “You have more control and there’s a possibility for revenue when you regulate it and in this context, where you have New Jersey and Massachusetts legalizing it, it’s not really an option of preventing it because you can go over a bridge and over a border.”...

Despite the report’s findings, it is unlikely lawmakers will take any steps until at least next year since the Legislature has already adjourned for the year. The state Senate’s ruling GOP conference has also expressed opposition to legalizing pot.

“Our Senate Majority is focused on making New York more affordable for hardworking taxpayers, helping businesses create new jobs for the middle class, and keeping families and communities safe,” Senate GOP spokesman Scott Reif said in May. "Let others focus on legalizing drugs and what that would look like. Affordability, opportunity, security — those are our priorities for the remainder of the year.”

The full report, which I think is quite nicely done, as well as an extended executive summary and related materials are available via this NY Department of Health webpage and at these links:

July 13, 2018 in Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Behind Schedule — Reconciling Federal and State Marijuana Policy"

Nejmp1804408_f1The title of this post is the title of this new Perspectives piece appearing in the The New England Journal of Medicine and authored by Rebecca Haffajee, Robert MacCoun and Michelle Mello. I recommend the piece highly in part because of its terrific graphic under the heading "U.S. Marijuana Policy Milestones, 1970–2018." Here is part of its text:

The present state of conflicting laws seems unstable and suboptimal for rational drug control. Federal regulation that accommodates and reinforces state medical marijuana regulatory regimes would result in a safer, more reliable, more accessible supply of marijuana products. Congress, because it answers to the people and represents the states, appears the most likely branch to move on marijuana policy; it could even be encouraged to act by Canada’s recent legalization of recreational marijuana.  Federal courts are increasingly hearing challenges to marijuana’s Schedule I status but have so far been unwilling to deem Congress’s scheduling determination irrational and therefore unconstitutional.

In Congress, rescheduling marijuana by amending the CSA is one attractive option.  The executive branch, too, can reschedule CSA substances, but the mechanisms are time consuming and unlikely to attract interest within the current administration.  Because considerable evidence now supports marijuana’s therapeutic benefits in reducing chronic pain, nausea, and vomiting in patients with cancer, as well as multiple sclerosis–related muscle spasms, there is a compelling argument that marijuana is more appropriately designated as a Schedule II or Schedule III drug.  Rescheduling would facilitate further study of products for FDA approval, but would not automatically change the severity of penalties for marijuana crimes or alter international treaty obligations, enshrined in the CSA, to ensure that all psychoactive substances are used only for legitimate medical and scientific purposes.

Congress could also remove marijuana from the CSA schedules altogether. This dramatic action could be coupled with legislation authorizing FDA oversight of marijuana products. Whether marijuana’s psychoactive effects preclude this move away from regulation as a controlled substance would provoke considerable debate. Subjecting marijuana products to FDA approval would hinder access initially but ultimately foster a robust system for regulation and research. FDA oversight of marketing would also improve product safety and consistent promotion across states.

The [proposed] legislation [sponsored by Senators Gardner and Warren] represents a third option designed to respect states’ rights — codifying the approach articulated in the Cole Memorandum by amending the CSA to exempt marijuana activities that are lawful in the jurisdiction where they occur. This solution would be more permanent than attorney-general guidance or agreements between states and the attorney general regarding enforcement, which shift with the political winds, and would therefore promote stability for medical users and suppliers. But it would not facilitate research into marijuana harms and benefits, bring products within the FDA’s purview to ensure safety and efficacy, alleviate interstate health risks, or address potential conflicts with international treaty obligations.

We think this third option, which addresses some pressing conflict-of-law concerns such as unpredictable criminal enforcement, is preferable to the current blurred vision of the future of marijuana policy.  Ultimately, a more comprehensive federal regime that perhaps resembles Canada’s recent legalization of recreational marijuana could affirmatively promote health and safety through research and regulation.

July 13, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Lots of notable new pieces examining (just some of) the dynamic modern politics of marijuana reform

As regular readers likely know, I find the modern politics of modern marijuana reform fascinating. And I still believe too few people have given enough consideration to how the modern politics of modern marijuana reform may have significantly impact the 2016 election (as I discussed in a long-ago post "Voter math suggests a possible Hillary landslide IF she had championed marijuana reform").  But a raft of new press pieces has me believing that a lot more people are finally coming to believe that marijuana reform is a big issue in modern political analysis.  Specifically, three interesting article were published just this week with intricate political analysis, and here are links/snippets:

From The Hill, "Marijuana politics evolving in red states":

Supporters and opponents of legalizing marijuana are preparing to fight over ballot measures in half a dozen states this year, shifting the political battleground away from traditionally liberal states and into some of the country’s most conservative areas.  Two measures are already scheduled to appear on November ballots: Michigan voters will decide whether to become the ninth state to legalize marijuana for recreational purposes, while the electorate in Utah will choose whether to join 22 other states by legalizing pot for medical use.

In Missouri, as many as three separate measures could make the ballot. Supporters have submitted signatures for both medical and recreational regimes that will now be inspected by the secretary of state’s office.  Oklahoma, which voted last month to legalize medical marijuana, could see a ballot measure to approve a recreational scheme as well.  Legalization measures are also circulating in Arizona, Nebraska and North Dakota. Supporters in Ohio are trying for a second time to qualify for the ballot, in 2019....

The shifting battlefield, away from liberal coastal states and into more traditionally swing and red states like Michigan, Ohio and Oklahoma, illustrates the unusual coalitions of support on which each side relies.  Far from the traditional conservative-liberal split that divides modern politics, older men and younger progressives tend to favor legalization, while women with children — typically guaranteed Democratic voters — tend to harbor doubts.

From Politico, "Could Legal Marijuana Tip the Senate for Democrats?"

“I think what it means is how far along this issue has evolved just over the last couple of years,” said Ben Pollara, a Democratic strategist who has worked for [Florida Senator Bill] Nelson on his last two campaigns and served as campaign manager for the medical marijuana initiative since 2014.  “It’s gotten to a point where somebody on the moderate-conservative end of the Democratic spectrum like Bill Nelson is not just coming out for medical marijuana but getting involved in a political fight and saying people ought to be able to smoke this stuff. It is no longer an issue with political downside; it’s an issue with almost entirely political upside.”

That’s a calculation that is playing out in a handful of tight Senate races this year, where an issue that has 68 percent support (for full legalization; 91 percent for medical marijuana) offers a way for cautious moderates in red states — Democratic Senators Claire McCaskill in Missouri and Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota, for example, both of whom could share the ballot with marijuana initiatives in November — to shore up support from the liberal wing of their party.  In states like Nevada, where marijuana is already fully legal, it gives Democratic challengers like Jacky Rosen a ready coalition of bipartisan supporters.

From Forbes, "Why President Trump Is Positioned To Be Marijuana's Great Savior & How The Democrats Blew It"

President Trump, whether premeditated or not, is putting himself in a position to make history by becoming the U.S. president who reversed a nearly century-long policy of marijuana prohibition and, in so doing, reap the political spoils of taking on the mantle of “the legalization president.”

This idea is not so far-fetched. Trump has every reason politically to become an unlikely champion of marijuana legalization. Given the overwhelming public support of the issue, legalizing marijuana will certainly improve his chances of reelection in 2020. If he does, the Democrats will have nobody to blame but themselves.

Talk of President Trump’s potential support picked up steam in early June when he stated that he would “probably" support the STATES Act, a new bipartisan bill introduced by Sens. Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) that would exempt legal state-licensed cannabis businesses from the Controlled Substances Act, eliminating the fear of federal prosecution, as well as banking and tax issues that currently plague the industry.

July 11, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Political perspective on reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, July 7, 2018

"Defying Congress, Jeff Sessions Keeps Blocking Medical Marijuana Research"

The title of this post is the headline of this recent Reason piece by Mike Riggs, which gets started this way:

It's been almost two years since the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) began accepting applications for new growers of research cannabis, and two dozen applicants are still in regulatory limbo.

Since the DEA announced in August 2016 that it would end the federal monopoly on producing cannabis for scientific research in the United States, growers, investors, researchers, applicants, and even members of Congress have sought to understand why a relatively simple licensing review process has stretched on for nearly two years. The answer is pretty straightforward: Attorney General Jeff Sessions, for reasons he has not publicly disclosed, decided to intervene in a process that has historically not involved the attorney general in order to stop the DEA from issuing licenses to growers.

While the Controlled Substances Act gives the attorney general regulatory authority over scheduled drugs, that authority has historically been delegated to the DEA, which is part of the Justice Department. The DEA has a whole division, in fact, dedicated to "investigat[ing] the diversion of controlled pharmaceuticals and listed chemicals from legitimate sources while ensuring an adequate and uninterrupted supply for legitimate medical, commercial, and scientific needs."

Members of Congress are not happy with Sessions' obstruction of the licensing process.  In April, Sens. Orrin Hatch (R–Utah) and Kamala Harris (D–Calif.) sent the attorney general a letter in which they asked him to provide the Senate with a timeline for processing applications from potential manufacturers of research marijuana. They also asked the DOJ to update applicants on the review process.  Both actions, Hatch and Harris suggested, should be completed by May 15, 2018.  Not only did the DOJ miss that deadline, but it doesn't seem interested in playing catch-up.

Four license applicants I interviewed in late June told me they've received no official updates from either the DEA or the DOJ in months.  Applicants who have spoken to congressional offices working on this issue say their contacts are equally frustrated by Sessions' obstruction of the DEA's licensing process.

July 7, 2018 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 2, 2018

"Mitch McConnell: Drug Warrior, CBD Champion?"

McConnell-bill-would-legalize-hemp-944x531The title of this post is the headline of this effective Rolling Stone article which does a nice job explaining the intricacies of the connections between hemp and CBD product and marijuana and why Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell may be greasing the path toward a CBD-friendly world.  I recommend the piece in full, and here are some key excerpts:

CBD’s legality is complicated, to say the least. Without getting into the mind-numbing specifics, let’s just say that reasonable people disagree about whether it is possible for any CBD to be legal, and shops selling CBD products in states like Indiana and Tennessee have been raided by local law enforcement. So in order for mainstream retailers to feel comfortable carrying CBD products and Kentucky’s farmers to subsequently cash in on the CBD craze, McConnell put together legislation making it official. Though he’s focused his hemp legalization rhetoric on helping farmers and bland-sounding industrial products, his true intentions became abundantly clear about two weeks ago, when Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) proposed an amendment that would exclude CBD and other major compounds (called cannabinoids) from the definition of legal hemp.

McConnell shot the proposal down, saying, “I’ve declined to include suggestions that would undercut the essential premise of the bill, namely that hemp and its derivatives should be a legal agricultural commodity.” At no point did he refer directly to the “derivative” that was up for discussion. But anyone paying close attention understood what he was talking about.

“McConnell’s omission of CBD is not a denial of it. It’s simply a tactical political move,” says Carl Cameron, a former Fox News commentator who now works for New Frontier Data, a D.C.-based firm that provides information on the cannabis industry to investors. “He’s trying to help potential supporters avoid criticism in places where opposition to marijuana might be misconstrued and then undermine support for hemp.”

Leslie Bocksor, who runs the cannabis consulting firm Electrum Partners, agrees that McConnell has downplayed the fact that CBD is a primary motivation for legalizing hemp so as to fly below the radar of anti-pot donors and voters. “This is just a way for McConnell to be able to move this forward without taking the political risk in talking about what’s going on, which is, yes, CBD is in so much demand that the supply can’t possibly equal the demand any time in the foreseeable future,” Bocksor says. “This is part of the Kabuki theater of the political environment we’re in today.”

Bocksor himself has embraced this kind of winking reference – hemp as a euphemism for CBD – as a business strategy. For the past few years, he’s been advising the companies he works with to avoid mentioning CBD directly or making any medical claims about what the product can do in order to avoid interference from law enforcement or warning letters from the federal government. Label everything as “hemp extract,” Bocksor says, and the consumer will know you mean CBD, as well as what kinds of health benefits can be expected.

Culturally, hemp has long been seen as a taller and more fibrous cannabis plant than marijuana, but the legal distinction is based only on THC content. Once CBD started to enter the mainstream consciousness about five years ago, pot farmers in states like Colorado and California began to breed strains of cannabis that were high in CBD but contained so little THC that they could be reclassified as “hemp.” Around the same time, the 2014 Farm Bill created a pilot program where state departments of agriculture and universities could register farmers to grow “hemp” — meaning, cannabis that was less than 0.3 percent THC. McConnell’s home state of Kentucky is the second biggest producer of hemp under this program – behind only Colorado. And while most people believe that the hemp pilot program in the 2014 Farm Bill was not created with the intention of causing a boom in CBD products, that is exactly what happened....

For now, the legal status of CBD is still murky. But with McConnell’s support, there is a good chance that the House’s version of the Farm Bill will include a provision to legalize hemp-derived CBD, and potentially open the door a world where you can find CBD soaps and CBD tinctures on the shelves at Target and CVS.

July 2, 2018 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Highlighting how extraordinary the approval of medical marijuana was in Oklahoma

OK-Yes-788Over at Marijuana Moment, Kyle Jaeger has this terrific new piece reflecting on the extraordinary dynamics surrounding the vote on Tuesday in Oklahoma approving a medical marijuana initiative. I recommend the piece in full, and here are excerpts:

Voters in one of the reddest states in the nation approved one of the most far-reaching marijuana ballot measures on Tuesday, making Oklahoma the 30th state to legalize medical cannabis.

And while advocates and pro-legalization organizers in the state will tell you they weren’t necessarily surprised by the results — with polls consistently showing majority support in the lead-up to Tuesday’s vote, for example — the initiative’s passage by a wide margin (57 percent to 43 percent) is still extraordinary.

In part, that’s because of the political landscape of Oklahoma. The state hasn’t voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1964, and its marijuana laws have historically reflected a staunch, prohibitionist mindset. Just four years ago, getting caught consuming cannabis in public twice could land you in prison for up to a decade.

But perhaps even more impressively, the initiative was decisively approved—during a midterm primary election—in spite of the fact that committees in support of State Question 788 were outspent by committees opposed to the measure six-to-one. According to the latest campaign finance records, Oklahomans for Health, which played a leading role in support of the initiative, and Yes On 788 spent a total of about $155,000 during their campaigns based on the latest campaign finance disclosure statements submitted June 26.

Committees opposed to the initiative, Oklahomans Against 788 and SQ Is NOT Medical spent a total of about $920,500 on their anti-legalization campaigns, some of which was used for television advertising against the measure. Supporters, on the other hand, did not have enough funds to go on the air with their message.

Chip Paul, chairman of Oklahomans for Health, told Marijuana Moment that the group’s minimal spending “speaks volume for liberty, freedom, unity… because Oklahoma united around this and made it happen.”...

Unlike pro-legalization campaign committees advancing reform bids in many past state-level elections, Oklahomans for Health did not receive financial contributions from national advocacy groups such as Marijuana Policy Project or the Drug Policy Alliance. Paul said it was better that way because “it means more if we do this for $0 or $10,000.”

Another element of the group’s campaign efforts involved strategically avoiding divisive, partisan politics. While the initiative itself has been characterized as “liberal” because it doesn’t include a list of limited medical conditions that qualify individuals for cannabis, the issue at hand is increasingly bipartisan. A recent survey from the progressive think tank Center for American Progress found a record 68 percent of Americans favor recreational legalization, including 57 percent of Republicans. Support for medical marijuana legalization is even higher, with 93 percent of Americans in agreement that patients should be able to legally access the plant. “For the most, we’ve managed to rise above things that would divide us,” Paul said.

June 28, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

With Justice Kennedy now retiring and precedents being reversed, is it time for marijuana advocates to urge SCOTUS to reconsider Raich?

The Supreme Court generated a lot of news today, in part by reversing a significant precedent concerning labor unions and in part through Justice Antony Kennedy's retirement announcement.  So what does this have to do with marijuana law, policy and reform you might ask?  And I would answer with one case cite: Gonzales v. Raich, 545 U.S. 1 (2005) (opinion here, wikipedia entry here). 

Raich is the case in which all the liberal members of the Supreme Court all rejected the claim by Angel Raich that the federal government should not have the constitutional power to criminalize her backyard cultivation and use of medical marijuana in compliance with California law.   Of course, the liberal members of the Court were not the only ones who rejected Raich's claim that the Commerce Clause should not be read to allow the federal government to criminalize what she grows in her own backyard: joining the liberals voting in favor of broad federal power here were Justice Antonin Scalia (now deceased) and Justice Anthony Kennedy (now about to retire).

Based on a number of his opinions to date, there are lots of reasons to suspect that new Justice Neil Gorsuch, who replaced Justice Scalia, would be a vote for the Angel Raiches of the world against broad federal power.  In addition, there are lots of reasons to suspect that whomever Prez Trump selects to replace Justice Kennedy will also be an advocate for limited federal legislative powers.  (This accounting alone does not make obvious that Raich could be overturned, as Justice Samuel Alito might be more a fan of broad federal criminal powers than was the Justice he replaced, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.  It is also unclear where Chief Justice John Roberts would come out on these issues, too.)

Personnel change is the main reason I am inclined to suggest a "new" Supreme Court might be inclined to reconsider Raich, but I am also eager to highlight how changing political, social and medical knowledge may also incline the Court to reconsider a past ruling.  Changes circumstances are always a formal and informal influence on the strength of stare decisis, and gosh knows there have been a whole lot of changed circumstances in the marijuana space since Raich was decided in 2005.

So, put simply in the form of a call to Raich's lawyer, where is Randy Barnett when marijuana reformers need him?

June 27, 2018 in Court Rulings, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)