Wednesday, October 4, 2017
I receive a press release this week spotlighting that Tom Angell, who had been providing a great marijuana newsletter titled Marijuana Moment since the start of this year, decided to transform his work from a daily e-mail into a "full-scale cannabis news portal." That portal is likewise titled Marijuana Moment and is available here. As is Tom Angell's signature, this site tracks and reports on various developments before other news organizations notice them. Here are recent postings, some of which reflect this reality:
Monday, October 2, 2017
The title of this post is the headline of this notable recent AP article, which starts this way:
Scientists. Tax collectors. Typists. Analysts. Lawyers. And more scientists.
Recreational marijuana sales become legal in California in 2018, and one of the things to blossom in the emerging industry isn't green and leafy. It's government jobs.
The state is on a hiring binge to fill what eventually will be hundreds of new government positions by 2019 intended to bring order to the legal pot economy, from keeping watch on what's seeping into streams near cannabis grows to running background checks on storefront sellers who want government licenses. Thousands of additional jobs are expected to be added by local governments.
The swiftly expanding bureaucracy represents just one aspect of the complex challenge faced by California: Come January, the state will unite its longstanding medical cannabis industry with the newly legalized recreational one, creating what will be the United States' largest legal pot economy.
Last January, just 11 full-time workers were part of what's now known as the Bureau of Cannabis Control, the state's chief regulatory agency overseeing the pot market. Now, it's more than doubled, and by February the agency expects to have more than 100 staffers. The agency is moving into new offices later this year, having outgrown its original quarters. It's expected new satellite offices will eventually spread around the state.
There also will be scores of jobs added to issue licenses for sellers, growers, truck drivers, manufacturers and others working in the projected $7 billion industry. The state has taken to Facebook to lure applicants. The bureau is using a video snippet of actor Jim Carrey, hammering his fingers into a computer keyboard, to catch the eye of prospective applicants online. "Get those applications in ... before this guy beats you to it," it reads. "New job just ahead," reads another post. "We're hiring."
This year's state budget contained about $100 million to fund regulatory programs for marijuana, which includes personnel to review and issue licenses, watch over environmental conditions and carry out enforcement.
Planned hiring into 2018 covers a range of state agencies: Fifty people are bound for the Public Health Department, 65 are slated to join the Water Resources Control Board, and 60 new employees are expected at the Food and Agriculture Department, which will oversee licensing for cultivators.
Some of the work is highly specialized. Environmental scientists will be responsible for developing standards for pot grows near streams, to make sure fertilizer or pesticides do not taint the water or harm fish. An engineer will monitor groundwater and water being diverted to nourish plants. Lawyers are needed to help sort out complex issues involving the state's maze of environmental laws.
Pay varies with position but can be attractive, with some scientist posts paying over $100,000 annually. Special investigators with the Consumer Affairs Department could earn in the $80,000 range.
Though not mentioned in this article, most states have funding government jobs in the marijuana arena through the fees and taxes that the marijuana industry produces for state coffers. In a black marketplace, of course, there are no fees and taxes going to the government, though taxpayers are still paying for the costs of trying to enforce prohibition -- which, ironically, largely serves to drive up the tax-free profits that black market participants can secure. With legalization and regulation, the monies paid by marijuana consumers gets channeled to fund state regulatory jobs that should help ensure the consumer gets a safer product at a lower cost. From an economic perspective, it should be a win-win if all goes well (though all does not always go well, and there are other obvious concerns such as public health).
October 2, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Employment and labor law issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Taxation information and issues , Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)
Thursday, September 28, 2017
The controversial former Prez candidate Al Sharpton has this notable new commentary in The Guardian under the (anglicized) headline "Why the decriminalisation of marijuana is a civil rights cause." Here are excerpts:
There is no greater act of resistance than continuing to march towards the sweeping, systemic victories that have changed our nation’s trajectory for the better: voting rights, anti-employment discrimination measures, and most recently, President Obama’s success in securing health coverage for the 20 million Americans who were previously denied this universal human right. Determined to punish the rising majority of Americans he thinks have slighted him, our president may erode these freedoms, but he will not succeed in taking them.
This is why I am proceeding undaunted towards our country’s next transformative victory – a fight I planned to pick under a Democratic administration, but one we should pursue just as vigorously in the reactionary Trump era: decriminalization of marijuana. It is a civil rights cause that we should not postpone, but accelerate during these dark and difficult times.
For Democrats and progressives, the arguments have always been clear: generations of Americans, overwhelmingly people of color, have been imprisoned and starved of access to higher education, housing, and economic opportunities, and stripped of their inalienable right to vote thanks to non-violent acts. Billions of dollars in funding have been diverted from healthcare, jobs, and schools and have entrenched a prison-industrial complex built on a foundation of racism.
But in truth, the conservative case for marijuana decriminalization is no less resonant. Archaic drug laws have fueled wasteful government spending, and made millions of Americans who dream, achingly, of being their family’s breadwinner dependent on the charity of others. And they have given rise of the epidemic of opiate drugs – often legally manufactured and prescribed – devastating communities that pundits have taken to calling the ‘white working class.’
The often-repeated reference to the ‘white working class’ has grown counterproductive as it focuses on a narrowly defined group instead of using more broader, inclusive categories. It also stifles the creative thinking and organizing needed to guide our efforts for the remainder of this presidency. On the issue of medical marijuana, a more accurate term for the residents of these hard-hit towns and regions – many of whom voted for President Trump – would be natural allies to the movement to decriminalize marijuana.
In the coming weeks, I will be joining Decode Cannabis, a powerful new alliance of faith leaders, criminal justice reformers, healthcare practitioners, medical marijuana industry leaders and labor unions. For years, these groups have labored toward shared goals, but have too often done so in their respective silos. This initial coalition is impressive, but it is not enough to succeed. At least not on its own.
To notch proactive policy wins in the Trump era, we must not retreat to the comfort of those of share our viewpoints. We must enter the lion’s den – even uninvited – to confront and cultivate the prospective allies who will mutually benefit from this cause. We must not allow the unique opportunities resulting from the intensifying rift between the White House and conventional Republicans to be squandered.
Wednesday, September 27, 2017
I noticed this morning these two very different articles looking at issues of inclusiveness in the marijuana reform space in two very different ways:
From Slate here, "By Excluding LGBTQ People, the Growing Cannabis Industry Is Betraying Its Roots"
The burgeoning industry has one glaring problem: The gatekeepers of cannabis’ culture and commerce are overwhelming white, cis, straight, and male — not to mention downright bro-y. White-appropriated rasta colors and women clad in weed-leaf bikinis abound, and on the buttoned-up side of things, the ubiquitous influence of the tech-bro is essentially turning the cannabis industry into the next Silicon Valley — a space not exactly known for its inclusivity.
Thankfully, there is an ongoing push for diversity of color and gender, to varying degrees of success. Women now make up 36 percent of leadership roles in the cannabis industry (compared to just 5 percent in the rest of the business world) and municipalities across the country are attempting to build reparations into their practices and policies for the communities of color that have been disproportionately negatively affected by the criminalization of cannabis. This includes the city of Oakland’s Equity Permit Program, which reserves a portion of permits for people of color and those convicted of marijuana-related crime; Washington, D.C.’s, local effort to give local minority-owned companies a preference when applying for licenses to operate medical marijuana businesses; and the Minority Cannabis Business Association’s plan to create template legislation that addresses issues of inclusion to distribute to states and local municipalities.
But there’s another marginalized group that has largely been left out of the diversity conversation, and stigmatized in the cannabis industry: the LGBTQ community. Brewing within the bro culture of mainstream weed is a big dose of homophobia, and no one knows this better than Jay Jackson, aka Laganja Estranja, the choreographer, drag queen, and cannabis activist best known for competing in the sixth season of RuPaul's Drag Race. As suggested by the name, Laganja Estranja is a pro-weed queen who often dons marijuana-leaf prints and pendants and speaks about the need for gay visibility within the cannabis community
From Leafy here, "Can an Inclusive Cannabis Industry Include Roger Stone?"
Whatever Roger Stone’s personal beliefs, he’s very clearly made a career out of delivering the “hateful little shit” vote to guys like Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan — who both loved nothing more than busting hippies and minorities for weed. In fact, Stone’s done his job so well that the hateful little shits of the world now feel like they own the place.
Keep in mind, there’s long been a conservative wing of the marijuana legalization movement (Limited Government! Free Enterprise! Personal Liberty!), identified with principled voices like William F. Buckley and Milton Friedman on up to Gary Johnson and Grover Norquist. There are currently bipartisan cannabis bills in Congress, sponsored by a bipartisan Congressional Cannabis Caucus. So this rift at the expo isn’t about electoral politics or ideology. And it isn’t even really about Roger Stone—as much as he loves the attention....
And therein lies Roger Stone’s true political genius. Through long practice, he’s perfected a signature blend of hyper-partisan politics, spectacle-grade entertainment and absolute gutter fighting that’s really hard to ignore. His persona comes across like an evil wisecracking Pro Wrestling manager in a fancy suit who’s forever throwing sand in your eyes and smiling.
September 27, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)
Tuesday, September 26, 2017
The title of this post is the title of this effective 5+ minute segment that aired today on the NPR midday show Here & Now. Here is how the program's website sets up the segment:
With 29 states allowing medical marijuana, senior citizens have been increasingly seeking its curative powers. But there are many obstacles, ranging from paying for the herb to finding a doctor who is licensed to prescribe.
In New York, considered an especially restrictive medical marijuana state, reporter Karen Michel explores some of the benefits and difficulties for seniors seeking legal pot.
"[T]o oppose the Medical Marijuana Amendment is to provide material assistance to ISIS and other international terrorist organizations"
The title of this post is my very favorite phrase in this Washington Times commentary authored by Bruce Fein, who served as associate deputy attorney general under President Ronald Reagan. The commentary carries this full headline: "On the Medical Marijuana Amendment, Trump and Sessions are wrong; Dana Rohrabacher, Senate get it right. " And here is some context leading up to Fein's amusing assertion (emphasized below) that opposing a congressional limit on DOJ funding for prosecuting state-compliant medical marijuana businesses is tantamount to supporting ISIS:
Never underestimate the dishonesty of politicians. Exemplary is the opposition of President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions to extending the Rohrabacher Medical Marijuana Amendment to prohibit the expenditure of federal funds to prosecute medical marijuana businesses that are operating legally under state law. At present, 29 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana. (The federal Controlled Substances Act would otherwise expose the distributors or users to federal prosecution.)
The amendment made its way into federal law in a 2014 federal appropriations bill. Three years later, not a crumb of evidence has surfaced suggesting that the amendment had spiked marijuana use or promoted or compounded any tangible evil. During his 2016 campaign, Mr. Trump earnestly promised to “make medical marijuana widely available to patients, and allow states to decide if they want to fully legalize pot or not.”
As U.S. senator, current Attorney General Sessions’ sound track was high octave opposition to the federal government’s penchant for intruding on state prerogatives over voting rights, detentions of or undocumented immigrants, or otherwise. As Attorney General, Mr. Sessions has backed away from the Obama administration’s aggressive oversight of local police forces that have chronically violated constitutional rights.
After making proper deductions for ordinary political dishonesty, voters in 2016 were reasonably confident that Messrs. Trump and Sessions would enthusiastically support an extension of the Rohrabacher Medical Marijuana Amendment. The idea that the federal government should stick its nose into the medical marijuana business is preposterous. It has no national security dimension. It is vastly less risky than alcohol or tobacco. And there is nothing in the dynamics of state politics that make state jurisdictions ill-suited to deciding whether their citizens should have access to medical marijuana. Equally if not more important, every federal dollar expended investigating or prosecuting medical marijuana businesses is a dollar unavailable to detect and prosecute international or home-grown terrorists. In other words, to oppose the Medical Marijuana Amendment is to provide material assistance to ISIS and other international terrorist organizations.
These facts, however, have not deterred Messrs. Trump and Sessions from abandoning their campaign promises or professed constitutional principles....
On Sept. 6, 2017, the House Rules Committee — a puppet of House Speaker Paul Ryan — blocked a floor vote on the Medical Marijuana Amendment. But the Senate Appropriations Committee has passed it, which makes the amendment a candidate for inclusion in a final spending bill.
Every member of Congress should recognize that a vote against the Amendment is a vote in favor of ISIS, al Qaeda, and sister international terrorist organizations. They rejoice at witnessing our law enforcement resources squandered on chasing after medical marijuana businesses rather than devoted to capturing, prosecuting or killing them.
Friday, September 22, 2017
The title of this post is the headline of this notable new Rolling Stone article. Here is a snippet:
Senator Orrin Hatch ... is among a frustrated set of the nation's policy makers who are up in arms over a Washington Post report that Sessions' Justice Department is blocking the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) from approving about two dozen proposals for experts to research the effects of marijuana. Not to legalize weed. Not to sell it. Not even to smoke it. Merely to study it – just as is allowed with deadly and highly addictive opioids, booze and even cigarettes – to find out if 38 states and the District of Columbia have made grave mistakes by allowing marijuana to be used either medicinally or recreationally, or whether those states are actually on to something.
At 83, Hatch agrees with his former Senate colleague Jeff Sessions on much of his prohibitionist stance on weed – but he says the attorney general and his DOJ are basically out of touch when it comes to medicinal marijuana, which can be ingested as an oil or a baked good or even developed into high-grade pharmaceuticals. "I think it's a mistake. We ought to do the research," Hatch continues. "They're worried about a widespread abuse of the drug, which is something to worry about because it is a gateway drug that's a very big problem. But there's a difference between smoking marijuana – using it illegally – and using it to alleviate pain and suffering."
Pot remains listed by the DEA as a Schedule I drug, which is a classification that by definition means the government sees no medicinal benefit to it, along with the likes of LSD, ecstasy and peyote. But now 30 states have embraced marijuana for a varying degree of medicinal purposes, but there isn't good, peer reviewed research on it because many researchers don't want to risk a DEA raid or being cut off from future federal grants.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers on the Senate Appropriations Committee are working to enact what eventually could become a national standard for marijuana quality, and they want to start by allowing testing of pot already seized by the DEA. That's why a handful of lawmakers are trying to pressure Sessions into relaxing his own personal war on marijuana that seems to be tying the hands of officials at the DEA. "There's really only one reason to sit on a request: Because you suspect that perhaps the science will show that medical marijuana does have some therapeutic benefit and therefore disprove the need for the failed war on marijuana," Colorado Democrat Jared Polis tells Rolling Stone.
September 22, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)
This new Pacific Standard piece, with the sub-headline "Women across the country are working to build economic empowerment in the fledgling legal marijuana industry for people of color," covers topics I consider quite important for those who are deeply interested in the social justice aspects of marijuana reform. Here are snippets:
The legal marijuana industry made $6.7 billion in revenue in 2016, according to a January report in Business Insider. This is up from $5.4 billion in 2015, and $4.6 billion in 2014, as reported by CNBC. And while marijuana is slowly but surely becoming a legal industry in America, the wait for federal legality hasn't stopped the creation of culture surrounding the drug. But largely neglected in the stories about the thriving marijuana industry and its corresponding culture are the women of color who are doing the difficult work of advocacy, accurate reporting, and community creation for users of a long-maligned substance....
It's the racial disparities in sentencing and the war on drugs that brought Shaleen Title, an Indian-American woman, to the cannabis industry. While an undergraduate at the University of Illinois, Title met a representative from the ACLU who taught her about the starkly different incarceration rates between white and black men for marijuana charges. After that, she got involved with Students for Sensible Drug Policy.
These days, Title is a lawyer who co-founded the THC Staffing Group, a recruitment firm for jobs within the cannabis industry. Title considers herself, first and foremost, an activist. Her arena for change is figuring out how to build economic empowerment in the fledgling legal marijuana industry for people of color. "As important as it is to work on policy, it felt more direct [for me] to help people get into the industry because it was such a rare opportunity to see an industry start from scratch," Title says....
That idea of a ground floor was also stuck in the minds of Brooklyn residents Tahirah Hairston and Ashley Brooke. The 27-year-old friends both enjoyed smoking marijuana, but never saw themselves, or anyone who looked remotely like them, represented in weed culture. They hoped to find communities for liked-minded young professional women, but didn't find anything appealing to them. "There were very few," Brooke says. "And there were absolutely none for black women."
The pair realized the Google chats they had been sending, wishing for an online community for women of color who smoke, still hadn't materialized. So this year they launched The High Ends to create, as their website says, "a community of like-minded women who like to roll-up. We want to hear our stories told with nuance and wit from our perspectives." The High Ends is explicitly for and by women of color. The launch included a series of short videos of women of color explaining why they smoked—for physical or mental health, for focus, for creativity. Bringing the stories of very disparate women together was critical. "There's Moms Who Smoke and Nuns Who Smoke, which is amazing, but I'm 27 and want a community the same way I can go and find out a skincare routine," Hairston explains.
The High Ends is geared toward women with regular jobs, who don't want to hide the fact that they smoke weed. Brooke and Hairston want to reach women who don't see themselves represented in mainstream coverage of cannabis or in popular culture. Hairston puts it best: "It's about passing the L, and also passing knowledge."
Thursday, September 21, 2017
Tom Angell has this Forbes report on the latest comments by Attorney General Jeff Sessions concerning marijuana reform. The piece's headline, "Jeff Sessions Slams Marijuana Legalization (Again)," strikes me as more alarming than what Tom reports as the AG's actual comments. Here are the details:
The nation's top law enforcer is continuing to speak out against marijuana legalization. "I've never felt that we should legalize marijuana," U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said on Wednesday. "It doesn't strike me that the country would be better if it's being sold on every street corner. We do know that legalization results in greater use."
While not giving a clear answer about the enforcement of federal prohibition laws in states that have changed their cannabis policies, Sessions, a longtime legalization opponent, said, "Federal law remains in effect."
Last week, U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein made fairly ominous comments about marijuana policy reform, adding that the Trump administration is still deciding whether or not to reverse Obama-era guidance that generally allows states to legalize cannabis without federal interference....
Sessions' new comments came in response to a reporter's question following a San Diego press conference about large-scale Coast Guard seizures of cocaine and heroin.
At the risk of seeming to defend AG Sessions, I find these latest comments relatively measured. First, the AG is giving his opinion that his is personally opposed to marijuana legalization, and that is a view still shared by most establishment politicians on both sides of the political aisle. Second, I think most people would agree that selling marijuana on literally "every street corner" would not make our country better. The same, of course, could be said about many legal consumer products --- e.g., it doesn't strike me that the country would be better if doughnuts or guns or beer or golf clubs were being sold on "every street corner." Being against widespread and excessive commercialization of a product does not necessarily mean that one favors (or will be eager to pursue) punitive prohibition policies. Finally, it is true that federal marijuana prohibition remains, for now, the law of the land.
I say all this not to assert or even suggest that AG Sessions is disinclined to engineer a federal crackdown on state marijuana reforms. Rather, given that AG Sessions has not been reserved or modest in his pursuit of and advocacy for other controversial policy agendas while serving as the nation's top law-enforcement officer, I still think it telling and quite important that he has not yet really put marijuana enforcement on the front burner for his Department of Justice.
September 21, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)
Tuesday, September 19, 2017
Massachusetts top court addresses challenging issues surrounding marijuana and proof of impaired driving
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court this morning issued a unanimous opinion in Commonwealth v. Gerhardt, No. SJC-11967 (Mass. Sept. 19, 2017) (available here), which addresses matters of proof of marijuana-impaired driving. This Boston Herald account of the ruling provides a punny summary in its headline: "SJC spliffs the difference in marijuana OUI case." Here is how the actual opinion gets started:
In this case we are asked to consider the admissibility of field sobriety tests (FSTs) where a police officer suspects that a driver has been operating under the influence of marijuana. Police typically administer three FSTs -- the "horizontal gaze nystagmus test," the "walk and turn test" and the "one leg stand test" -- during a motor vehicle stop in order to assess motorists suspected of operating under the influence of alcohol or other drugs. These tests were developed specifically to measure alcohol consumption, and there is wide-spread scientific agreement on the existence of a strong correlation between unsatisfactory performance and a blood alcohol level of at least .08%.
By contrast, in considering whether a driver is operating under the influence of marijuana, there is as yet no scientific agreement on whether, and, if so, to what extent, these types of tests are indicative of marijuana intoxication. The research on the efficacy of FSTs to measure marijuana impairment has produced highly disparate results. Some studies have shown no correlation between inadequate performance on FSTs and the consumption of marijuana; other studies have shown some correlation with certain FSTs, but not with others; and yet other studies have shown a correlation with all of the most frequently used FSTs. In addition, other research indicates that less frequently used FSTs in the context of alcohol consumption may be better measures of marijuana intoxication.
The lack of scientific consensus regarding the use of standard FSTs in attempting to evaluate marijuana intoxication does not mean, however, that FSTs have no probative value beyond alcohol intoxication. We conclude that, to the extent that they are relevant to establish a driver's balance, coordination, mental acuity, and other skills required to safely operate a motor vehicle, FSTs are admissible at trial as observations of the police officer conducting the assessment. The introduction in evidence of the officer's observations of what will be described as "roadside assessments" shall be without any statement as to whether the driver's performance would have been deemed a "pass" or a "fail," or whether the performance indicated impairment. Because the effects of marijuana may vary greatly from one individual to another, and those effects are as yet not commonly known, neither a police officer nor a lay witness who has not been qualified as an expert may offer an opinion as to whether a driver was under the influence of marijuana.
Friday, September 15, 2017
Deputy AG Rosenstein hints about lingering concerns about sticking with Cole memo federal prosecution policies
As reported in this Forbes piece by Tom Angell, the "Trump administration is continuing to weigh whether or not to reverse Obama-era guidance that generally allows states to legalize marijuana without federal interference, the Justice Department's number two official said on Thursday." Here is more:
"We are reviewing that policy. We haven't changed it, but we are reviewing it. We're looking at the states that have legalized or decriminalized marijuana, trying to evaluate what the impact is," Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said in an appearance at the conservative Heritage Foundation. "And I think there is some pretty significant evidence that marijuana turns out to be more harmful than a lot of people anticipated, and it's more difficult to regulate than I think was contemplated ideally by some of those states," he said.
Under the so-called "Cole Memo," named after the former Obama Justice Department official who authored it in 2013, the federal government set out certain criteria that, if followed, would allow states to implement their own laws mostly without intervention. Those criteria concern areas like youth use, impaired driving and interstate trafficking.
In April, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a longtime legalization opponent, directed a Justice Department task force to review the memo and make recommendations for possible changes. But that panel did not provide Sessions with any ammunition to support a crackdown on states, according to the Associated Press, which reviewed excerpts of the task force's report to the attorney general.
In his new remarks, Rosenstein expressed concern that people are misinterpreting the still-in-effect memo. "That's been perceived in some places almost as if it creates a safe harbor, but it doesn't. And it's clear that it doesn't," he said. "That is, even if, under the terms of the memo you're not likely to be prosecuted, it doesn't mean that what you're doing is legal or that it's approved by the federal government or that you protected from prosecution in the future."...
Citing ongoing federal prohibition laws, Rosenstein said, "Marijuana is illegal, and it's a controlled substance and there are no authorized uses for it, with very limited exceptions for research approved by DEA." Without saying when a decision or announcement might be made, he said that the administration will "take that all into consideration and then make a determination whether or not to revise that policy."
September 15, 2017 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 (0)
Wednesday, September 13, 2017
"Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch rolls a bunch of pot puns into his case to expand medical marijuana research"
This Daily News report on a notable marijuana reform proposal put forward on Capital Hill by a notable GOP Senator captured in its headline and substance the highlight of the story:
Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch didn’t spare the puns in announcing Wednesday that it was “high time” for the government to delve “into the weeds” of medical marijuana research. Hatch, in a press release filled with pot-related double entendres [available here], announced that he’d introduced the Marijuana Effective Drug Study Act that’s intended to encourage more research into the medical benefits of marijuana.
“It’s high time to address research into medical marijuana,” Hatch, a Republican said. “Our country has experimented with a variety of state solutions without properly delving into the weeds on the effectiveness, safety, dosing, administration, and quality of medical marijuana.”
Hatch said current government regulations often do more harm than good by making hard for researchers to obtain and conduct studies on pot. “To be blunt, we need to remove the administrative barriers preventing legitimate research into medical marijuana, which is why I’ve decided to roll out the MEDS Act.”
Among other steps, Hatch’s bill would streamline the federal registration process for marijuana research and make pot more available for legitimate scientific and medical studies. It would also require the National Institute on Drug Abuse to develop recommendations for good manufacturing practices for growing and producing marijuana for research.
“I am strongly against the use of recreational marijuana,” Hatch said in a preview of remarks he was planning to give on the Senate floor Wednesday. “I worry, however, that in our zeal to enforce the law, we too often blind ourselves to the medicinal benefits of natural substances like cannabis.”
Advocates for medical marijuana said Hatch’s bill was a good step but they remained concerned that the federal government will seek to undermine medical pot programs already underway in many states. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is a fierce opponent of marijuana use, advocates have noted. “This is a modest step in the right direction but doesn't solve the most important issue - protecting state medical marijuana programs from federal interference,” said Bill Piper of the Drug Policy Alliance.
September 13, 2017 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, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)
Surprising new marijuana lobbyist, a bombastic NY Republican, might be especially significant in the age of Trump
This new New York Post article, headlined "Former New York senator who opposed smoking pot joins marijuana lobbying group," reports on a very interesting and shrewd hire by the Marijuana Policy Project. Here are the details:
Alfonse D'Amato is going from Senator Pothole to Senator Pot. The former Republican U.S. senator from New York has been hired as a senior adviser by the Marijuana Policy Project, a national pro-pot group that for the first time is starting an affiliate in the Empire State.
The MPP says it was founded in 1995 to advocate nationally for “sensible and compassionate” laws governing pot use. In New York, the group will initially focus on promoting ways to strengthen the state's existing medical marijuana program, though D'Amato didn't rule out the idea that the group will be part of any future discussions about legalizing the recreational use of pot for adults.
In addition to D'Amato, the MPP also hired attorney and community organizer Landon Dais to serve as its New York political director. Both D'Amato — who served in the Senate from 1981 to 1999 — and Dais said that after a slow start, New York's medical marijuana program can be transformed into a national leader. "The (state) Health Department and the governor's office have come a long way in making the utilization of medical marijuana easier, better, more professional," D'Amato said. "That's a work in progress."
D'Amato said the MPP will push for Gov. Cuomo to sign into law a bill making medical marijuana available to veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. D’Amato said the group will also seek to educate the public and medical community on the value of medical marijuana. "I'm happy to see we have really moved in the right direction in New York," D'Amato said.
The former senator-turned lobbyist and consultant said the state should also start discussing whether to legalize pot for adults. While he hasn't yet taken a stand on the issue, D'Amato said "if we want to be realistic, you've got to look at the nation, what is taking place around us. It's been implemented in (seven) states."...
D'Amato's linkage to a marijuana group is a change for a man who for most of his life was against the use of pot. He said he began evolving on the issue during a discussion with radio personality Howard Stern in 2009. "I think I'm a conservative, but I don't think I'm a right wing kook," he said.
D'Amato also knocked U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, with whom he served in the Senate, for wanting the federal government to crack down on states that have legalized recreational- and even medicinal- marijuana. "It's a ridiculous position," he said. "I say how can you on the one hand be for states’ rights and on the other hand say the states that have legalized the use of marijuana, that you're not going to recognize that. You can't be a states’ rights person only when you like what the states are doing and not what the feds are doing. It's one or the other."
State Conservative Party Chairman Michael Long, who backed D’Amato during his three terms in the Senate, said “I hope the former senator doesn’t partake in a move that would open the door for legalization of marijuana.” But he said he wasn’t particularly surprised D’Amato hooked up with the Marijuana Policy Project. “He’s a lobbyist now, certainly a person who opens the door for a lot of people,” Long said.
As this article highlights, former Senator D'Amato has a little history from his time in the Senate with current AG Jeff Sessions. But I think even more important is D'Amato's history as a successful bombastic New York Republican politician. In various ways, he seems cut from the same cloth as President Donald Trump, and the two surely have some relationship given that D'Amato was a leading New York political figure during the 1980s and 1990s when Trump was building his NYC real estate empire. In addition, I am sure D'Amato is able to get the ear of still-very-important New York political figures ranging from Rudy Giuliani to Michael Bloomberg to Chuck Schumer.
September 13, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)
Sunday, September 10, 2017
Limit on DOJ funding for medical marijuana prosecutions extended to December 2017 in stop-gap spending bill
As reported in this prior post, last week early developments in the US House of Representatives made uncertain the prospects for continuation of the spending rider that currently blocks the US Justice Department from going after state-compliant medical marijuana actors. But, as this Cannabist article reports, another stop-gap spending bill keeps the DOJ spending limit in place for at least another three months. The article is headlined "Rohrabacher-Blumenauer medical marijuana protections extended by debt limit deal," and here are the details:
Existing federal protections for medical marijuana states are expected to continue through at least Dec. 8. The $15.3 billion disaster aid package, debt limit increase and government spending extension approved by Congress on Friday includes the existing Rohrabacher-Blumenauer provision, which prevents the Justice Department from using funds to interfere with the 46 states that have legalized some form of medical marijuana.
The aid bill, which was sent to President Donald Trump, extends the omnibus legislation passed in May and will fund the government through Dec. 8. The short-term spending fix is also a short-term victory for Rohrabacher-Blumenauer sponsors, which were dealt a blow by the House Rules Committee earlier this week. The legislative committee nixed the amendment from House consideration for the fiscal year 2018 funding bill.
“We have at least three months of certainty now, but the fight isn’t over,” officials for Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon, told The Cannabist on Friday. That fight includes efforts to land the provision in the final spending bill, officials said, noting the language was included in the Senate Appropriations Committee’s approved version of the bill.
September 10, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)
Friday, September 8, 2017
Earlier this week, the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) released here some key data from its 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). Like many careful and important data reports, this report has a number of intricacies that should defy simple spins and encourage thoughtful and reflective review. But, as these headlines and press release titles review, folks concerned about marijuana reform were quick to provide their points of emphasis ASAP:
From SAM here, "New National Report Shows Rise in Prevalence and Intensity of Marijuana Use"
From Christopher Ingraham at Wonkblog of The Washington Post here, "Teen marijuana use falls to 20-year low, defying legalization opponents’ predictions"
Tuesday, September 5, 2017
This new Washington Post commentary authored by Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican who represents California's 48th District in the US House of Representatives, seeks to make the case for the federal government to stay out of state medical marijuana reform efforts. The piece is headlined "My fellow conservatives should protect medical marijuana from the government." Here are excerpts:
With my Democrat friend Sam Farr, the now-retired California congressman, I wrote an amendment to spending bills that prohibits the federal government from prosecuting medical marijuana cases in states where voters have legalized such treatment. The amendment passed two consecutive years, the second time with a wider margin than the first, and has been extended through continuing resolutions and an omnibus spending bill.
Surprisingly, given the Obama administration’s generally liberal approach to marijuana, its Justice Department tried to interpret the amendment in such a convoluted way as to allow counterproductive raids on marijuana dispensaries. The courts — most recently the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit — repeatedly ruled that our amendment meant exactly what it said.
Unfortunately, my longtime friend Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, has urged Congress to drop the amendment, now co-sponsored by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.). This, despite President Trump’s belief, made clear in his campaign and as president, that states alone should decide medical marijuana policies.
I should not need to remind our chief law enforcement officer nor my fellow Republicans that our system of federalism, also known as states’ rights, was designed to resolve just such a fractious issue. Our party still bears a blemish for wielding the “states’ rights” cudgel against civil rights. If we bury state autonomy in order to deny patients an alternative to opioids, and ominously federalize our police, our hypocrisy will deserve the American people’s contempt.
More than half the states have liberalized medical marijuana laws, some even decriminalizing recreational use. Some eighty percent of Americans favor legalization of medical marijuana. Only a benighted or mean-spirited mind-set would want to block such progress.
Despite federal efforts to restrict supply, studies continue to yield promising results. And mounting anecdotal evidence shows again and again that medical marijuana can dramatically improve the lives of people with epilepsy, post-traumatic stress disorder, arthritis and many other ailments. Most Americans know this. The political class, not surprisingly, lags behind them. Part of the reason is the failure of too many conservatives to apply “public choice economics” to the war on marijuana. Common sense, as well as public choice theory, holds that the government’s interest is to grow, just as private-sector players seek profit and build market share.
The drug-war apparatus will not give ground without a fight, even if it deprives Americans of medical alternatives and inadvertently creates more dependency on opioids. When its existence depends on asset seizures and other affronts to our Constitution, why should anti-medical-marijuana forces care if they’ve contributed inadvertently to a vast market, both legal and illegal, for opioids?
I invite my colleagues to visit a medical marijuana research facility and see for themselves why their cultural distaste might be misplaced. One exists near my district office at the University of California at Irvine, another at the University of California at San Diego.
Better yet, they might travel to Israel — that political guiding light for religious conservatives — and learn how our closest ally in the Middle East has positioned itself on the cutting edge of cannabis research. The Israeli government recently decriminalized first use, so unworried it is about what marijuana might do to its conscript military.
My colleagues should then return to Washington and keep my amendment intact, declaring themselves firmly on the side of medical progress. Failing that, the government will keep trying to eradicate the burgeoning marijuana business, thereby fueling and enriching drug cartels. Trust me: Hugs from grateful supporters are infinitely better.
September 5, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)
Sunday, September 3, 2017
The title of this post is the title of this new paper authored by Jessica Owley now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
This Article explores the tension between land conservation and marijuana cultivation in the context of legalization. The legalization of marijuana has shifted the locations of marijuana cultivation and with that shift comes environmental and land-use implications. Investigating commercial-scale marijuana cultivation, this Article details how, in some ways, legalization can reduce environmental impacts of marijuana cultivation while also examining tricky issues regarding tensions between protected lands and marijuana cultivation.
Legalization of marijuana has brought its production out of the federal forests and individuals’ basements and closets and into large-scale agricultural production. In some ways, the legitimation of the process makes it less likely to be environmentally destructive. If we treat cultivation of marijuana the same as we treat cultivation of other agricultural crops, we gain stricter regulation of the growing process, including limits on pesticide usage, water pollution, wetland conversion, air pollution, and local land-use laws. Thus, it appears that legalization of marijuana yields an environmental benefit. And yet the story is, of course, more complicated than that. The strange status of marijuana as both a federally impermissible use and a stigmatized crop suggest that it will not fall under the same legal regimes as other agricultural products.
The Article reaches two main conclusions. First, in the absence of federal regulations, subnational governments must create and implement environmental and land use regulations governing the cultivation of marijuana to ensure the legal grows do not continue the harmful practices involved with black market marijuana. Second, land trusts and agricultural protection organizations should not become involved with marijuana cultivation in any form while it remains illegal at the federal level. To do so puts both the land and their operations at risk.
Friday, September 1, 2017
The title of this post is the headline of this notable op-ed in today's New York Times authored by Thomas James Brennan, a former sergeant in the Marine Corps. Here is much of what he has to say:
The explosion that wounded me during a Taliban ambush in Afghanistan in 2010 left me with a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress. In 2012 I was medically retired from the Marine Corps because of debilitating migraines, vertigo and crippling depression. After a nine-year career, I sought care from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
At first, I didn’t object to the pills that arrived by mail: antidepressants, sedatives, amphetamines and mood stabilizers. Stuff to wake me up. Stuff to put me down. Stuff to keep me calm. Stuff to rile me up. Stuff to numb me from the effects of my wars as an infantryman in Iraq and Afghanistan. Stuff to numb me from the world all around. The T.B.I. brings on almost daily migraines, and when they come, it’s as if the blast wave from the explosion in Afghanistan is still reverberating through my brain, shooting fresh bolts of pain through my skull, once again leaving me incapacitated. Initially the prescriptions helped — as they do for many veterans. But when I continued to feel bad, the answers from my doctors were always the same: more pills. And higher dosages. And more pills to counteract the side effects of those higher dosages. Yet none of them quite worked.
One thing did. In 2013, a friend rolled a joint and handed it to me, urging me to smoke it later. It will relieve your symptoms, he promised. That night I anxiously paced around my empty house. I hesitated to light it up because I’d always bought into the theory of weed as a “gateway drug.” But after a few tokes, I stretched out and fell asleep. I slept 10 hours instead of my usual five or six. I woke up feeling energized and well rested. I didn’t have nightmares or remember tossing or turning throughout the night, as I usually did. I was, as the comedian Katt Williams puts it, “hungry, happy, sleepy.”
With the help of my civilian psychiatrist, I began trading my pill bottles for pipes and papers. I also began to feel less numb. I started to smile more often. I thought I had found a miracle drug. There was just one problem: That drug was illegal. In 21 states, including North Carolina, where I live, any use of marijuana is forbidden under state law. The current punishments for those who possess or cultivate cannabis — even for medical purposes — may include a felony conviction and imprisonment, loss of child custody and permanent damage to their livelihood. The V.A. encourages veterans to discuss their cannabis use with their doctors, but because cannabis is also prohibited under federal law, the V.A. cannot prescribe it in any form — thereby denying countless veterans relief to many mental health symptoms and other service-connected disabilities.
The medical benefits of marijuana for the more than 360,000 post-Sept. 11 veterans who have brain injuries are not universally recognized. (As many as one in five veterans are thought to have post-traumatic stress.) But medical experts like Dr. Frank Ochberg, a psychiatrist and former associate director of the National Institute of Mental Health, believe that “medical marijuana absolutely belongs in the pharmacy for post-traumatic stress and brain injury treatment.” The V.A., Dr. Ochberg said, “is failing veterans by not making cannabis a treatment option.”...
Most of the major veterans groups, including the American Legion, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Veterans of Foreign Wars and Disabled American Veterans, support regulated research into the medical uses of cannabis. But the research is slow in coming: Since 1968, the University of Mississippi has been home to the only licensed facility to produce cannabis for clinical research. In March it was reported that the university’s cannabis was contaminated with lead, yeast and mold — substances that jeopardize research efficacy and patient safety.
What I know is that it works for me. If I hadn’t begun self-medicating with it, I would have killed myself. The relief isn’t immediate. It doesn’t make the pain disappear. But it’s the only thing that takes the sharpest edges off my symptoms. Because of cannabis, I’m more hopeful, less woeful. My relationship with my wife is improving. My daughter and I are growing closer. My past is easier to remember and talk about. My mind is less clouded. More than anything, it feels good to feel again. My migraines and depression don’t control my life. Neither do pills.
But I live in fear that I will be arrested purchasing an illegal drug. I want safe, regulated medical cannabis to be a treatment option. Just like the sedatives and amphetamines the V.A. used to send me by mail. And the opioids they still send to my friends.
Wednesday, August 23, 2017
The title of this post is the headline of this recent posting by Tom Angell at Massroots that provides a very helpful review of some coming opportunities for members of Congress to show whether they stand on various issues relating to marijuana reform. I recommend the piece in full, and here are excerpts:
Here a some of the cannabis amendments that could be voted on in the House next month, if they are not blocked by leadership:
Protecting state medical cannabis laws: This is the big one. State-legal medical cannabis patients and providers have been protected from Justice Department interference since this rider was first enacted in late 2014. Since then it has been extended annually, and would almost certainly be approved by the House with a strong bipartisan margin again if allowed a vote. But even without a House vote, the language is already in the Senate bill and thus still alive for inclusion in the final spending legislation that will be sent to President Trump.
Protecting all state marijuana laws: In 2015, an amendment to broaden the medical cannabis protections to cover all state marijuana laws — including those allowing recreational use and sales — came just nine flipped voted shy of passing on the House floor. Since then, the number of states with legalization has doubled and a number of retiring prohibitionist lawmakers have been replaced by supporters. Advocates feel that if the measure is brought up this year it will likely pass. (The Senate has never voted on such a broad proposal, and that chamber’s Appropriations Committee did not consider it during their passage of 2018 Justice Department spending legislation.)
Letting Washington, D.C. legalize and regulate marijuana sales: In 2014, District of Columbia voters approved a ballot measure that legalized low-level cannabis possession and homegrow. But, thanks to Congressional meddling, they have no place to legally buy marijuana. Under annual amendments championed by Congressman Andy Harris (R-MD), D.C. government is prohibited from spending its own money to legalize and regulate cannabis sales. The bill coming to the floor next month continues a version of that rider that was expanded in scope by a spending bill signed into law by President Trump earlier this year....
Allowing marijuana businesses to access banks: Because of federal prohibition laws, many banks refuse to work with cannabis businesses. As a result, they often have to operate on a cash-only basis, which makes them targets for robberies....
Monday, August 21, 2017
Only a couple of years ago, it seemed relatively rare to find lawyers in big firms with significant marijuana practices and rarer still to hear those lawyers actively discussing their marijuana work. Against that backdrop, this new Philadelphia Inquirer article provides another example of the changing marijuana times. The piece is headlined "Philly-area law firms bullish on cannabis despite grave legal risks," and here are excerpts:
Lawyers going into the marijuana business face potential arrest, disbarment, and even imprisonment. But they’re gambling that the smoke will clear, and the federal government will eventually legalize cannabis. Many of Philadelphia’s biggest firms — Duane Morris, Fox Rothschild, and Cozen O’Connor among them — have set up practices recently to serve cannabis growers, dispensaries, and related entrepreneurs as the state aggressively gears up to make medical marijuana available to patients by early 2018. Last month, Pepper Hamilton “formalized” its marijuana industry group.
“We saw it as a growth opportunity,” said Joseph C. Bedwick, partner at Cozen O’Connor. But the continuing disconnect between state and federal laws, and the Trump administration’s antipathy toward marijuana, has created what Bedwick calls “a big ball of uncertainty.”
“At any moment, theoretically, they can say, ‘We’re going to crack down on this,’ ” Bedwick said. And with so many attorneys getting into the cannabis game, some doubt there will be enough work to sustain those practices....
“You have a hatchet over your head with the federal government,” said Andrew B. Sacks, chairman of the medical marijuana and hemp department at Sacks Weston Diamond, which was among the first to represent marijuana-related businesses.
Joshua Horn, co-chair of the cannabis practice at Fox Rothschild, is optimistic. He said it’s unlikely the feds would shut down state-legal medical marijuana operations, given the current status of the law, guidance from the DOJ, and budgetary constraints. “They don’t have the manpower, they don’t have the budget, and popular will is strongly against it,” Horn said. “More than 90 percent of the people in the commonwealth support the medical marijuana program, and Pennsylvania isn’t the most liberal state.”
Few attorneys have been prosecuted under federal or local laws. However, California attorney Jessica McElfresh — who has represented cannabis clients for more than seven years — was arrested at gunpoint in May. The San Diego district attorney charged McElfresh on multiple felony counts, alleging she helped hide evidence of a hash oil manufacturing facility. It seized her client files and issued a warrant for all of McElfresh’s cellphone location data for three years, along with her calendar, address book contacts, and internet searches. “There have been attorneys that have been charged, but they participated more directly in the businesses,” McElfresh said last week. “There’s never been one like mine.”
Philadelphia attorney Steven Schain of the Hoban Law Group said he considers the San Diego case chilling. “It represents a landmine in all our paths,” Schain said. “Sizzle aside, marijuana remains 100 percent illegal under federal law. Any real cannabis lawyer is exposed to massive federal and civil prosecution. But we’re willing to take the risk.”
Boutique firms were the the first to represent aspiring cannabis clients in the state, said Sacks. As trailblazers, they wrestled early on with the dilemmas created by the tension between the conflicting state and federal statutes.... Though the boutiques ... were the first to have a toehold in the state, large national firms soon appeared.
Of the 12 companies chosen by the state Department of Health to grow cannabis, six were represented by out-of-state firms. That hasn’t dampened the enthusiasm of attorneys wanting to get into the cannabis game. More than 145 lawyers have signed on to serve on marijuana committees run by the Pennsylvania and Philadelphia Bar Associations, said Sacks, who chairs those committees.
Hoban’s Schain doubts there’s enough work to warrant so many players. “Legalized marijuana is suffused with irrational exuberance,” Schain said. “Everyone is convinced that somebody is making loads of money and trying to get a piece of the action. But if you’ve been in the industry more than 10 minutes, you know the reality is quite different.”
But Bedwick, of Cozen O’Connor, said that his firm was in for the long game and that many clients are related tangentially to the cannabis industry. They’re real estate owners, investors, lighting manufacturers, builders, and security companies. Those entrepreneurs are looking for advice on issues that include banking, taxation, intellectual property, and labor law.