Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Thursday, June 22, 2017

"A Principled Approach to Taxing Marijuana"

Download (3)The title of this post is the title of this terrific (and lengthy) article in National Affairs authored by Jonathan Caulkins. Every serious student of marijuana reform ought to read the whole piece, and here are excerpts that highlight just a fee of the many astute observations herein:

The concern with cheap marijuana is not that tens of millions more Americans might smoke marijuana once or twice a week. That would not matter much, because occasional use is, by and large, not terribly harmful. Rather, the concern is that millions more would become habitual users. Over the last decade or so of liberalizing policy, the number of people who report using marijuana at some point within the past year has increased moderately, but the number reporting heavy use has soared. In 1992, fewer than one million Americans self-reported daily or near-daily use of marijuana; by 2014, the figure had ballooned to 7.8 million. Half of the marijuana used in the U.S. is consumed by people who spend more than half their waking hours intoxicated.

 

Whatever one thinks about the long-term consequences of chronic heavy use, acute marijuana intoxication can interfere with the ability to perform useful and even necessary tasks. Marijuana is not a cognitive-performance enhancer. And while we welcome low prices for most consumer goods  —  if health care and rent were cheap, it would make life a lot easier for most people  —  that approach may not apply to "temptation goods." Suppose people could buy essentially unlimited candy and desserts for 50 cents a day. Would that be a good thing? Maybe not. Lots of Americans already struggle with their weight, and consumption tends to go up when prices fall.

 

Libertarians may want prices to be as low as possible even for temptation goods. But the internalities argument goes as follows: Marijuana is a dependence-inducing intoxicant that leads many users to systematically make bad decisions that harm themselves as well as third parties; more than four million Americans report suffering enough problems with chronic marijuana use to meet clinical criteria for a substance-use disorder.

 

Chronic drug use involves repeatedly ingesting chemicals that bind to one's neuro-receptors  —  literally altering the brain in ways that are visible in brain scans. Changes in the brain's reward circuitry can compromise the neural system that normally helps rational actors successfully negotiate free markets. Even if each dose considered on its own seems appealing, regular drug consumption can leave long-term users regretful. The phrase "drugs hijack the brain" is sensationalistic, but not altogether wrong. So there is nothing illogical about adopting a libertarian perspective toward conventional consumer goods but making an exception for temptation goods, particularly for artificially introduced neurotransmitters and their chemical cousins.

 

To be sure, taxing to protect the minority for whom cheap marijuana would trigger habitual use is paternalistic, and it sacrifices the interests of the majority whose use would not create such problems. But the sacrifice would not be large: A $5-per-gram tax would cost someone who smokes a half-gram joint every weekend only $125 a year. Furthermore, the taxes would not actually increase out-of-pocket costs, but merely lessen the decline in price that would inevitably accompany federal legalization. So even with high taxes, legalization would still save marijuana users money.

June 22, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Taxation information and issues , Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Via presidential decree, Mexico legalizes medical marijuana

Mexico-Officially-Legalizes-Medical-Marijuana-696x333As reported in this Washington Post piece, "Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto signed a decree this week legalizing medical marijuana."   Here is more:

The measure also classified the psychoactive ingredient in the drug as “therapeutic.”  The new policy isn't exactly opening the door for medical marijuana dispensaries on every corner. Instead it calls on the Ministry of Health to draft and implement regulations and public policies regulating “the medicinal use of pharmacological derivatives of cannabis sativa, indica and Americana or marijuana, including tetrahydrocannabinol.”  It also tasks the ministry with developing a research program to study the drug's impact before creating broader policies.

The measure had broad support from Mexico's Senate and Lower House of Congress, where it passed 347-7 in April. Marijuana legalization advocates are celebrating the decision and calling on the government to do more.  Sen. Miguel Barbosa said the legislation was “well below the expectations of society.”  Sen. Armando Rios Peter called it a “tiny” step away from a failed drug policy.

For decades, Latin America has struggled to address the rampant corruption and violence wrought by the drug trade.  Lately, many places have focused on a particular strategy: decriminalization. As my colleague Josh Partlow wrote last year: “Uruguay has fully legalized weed for sale.  And a large chunk of South and Central America, including Brazil, Peru, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Costa Rica, have made marijuana more available in varying ways, whether it is for medicinal or recreational use.” It's a recognition, he wrote, that “years of violent struggle have failed to stem the flow of narcotics into the United States.”...

Recreational marijuana is still broadly prohibited in Mexico, but the government is considering a measure that would let citizens legally possess up to an ounce of it. In 2015, Mexico's Supreme Court granted four people the right to grow their own marijuana for personal consumption.  The ruling set a precedent that could accelerate efforts to pass legislation permitting broader use of pot. “Absolute prohibition is excessive and doesn’t protect the right to health,” Justice Olga Sánchez Cordero said at the time.

Peña Nieto, who once was a vocal opponent of drug legalization, has undergone a similar shift in thinking.  He has said that addiction should be thought of as a “public health problem” and that users should not be criminalized.  He has also advocated for the United States and Mexico to follow similar policies on drug use and marijuana legislation.

June 21, 2017 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Fearing Trump turn, big bank no longer willing to serve national advocacy group Marijuana Policy Project

This new Washington Post article reports on a new reality in the banking space for the nation's leading marijuana reform advocacy group.  The article is headlined "‘It is too risky’: Marijuana group says PNC Bank to close its accounts amid fears of a DOJ crackdown," and it begins this way:

One of the nation’s leading marijuana legalization groups says PNC Bank has notified it that it will close the organization’s 22-year-old accounts, a sign of growing concerns in the financial industry that the Trump administration will crack down on the marijuana industry in states that have legalized it.

The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) lobbies to eliminate punishments for marijuana use but is not involved in growing or distributing the drug — an important distinction for federally regulated banks and other institutions that do business with such advocacy groups.

Nick Field, MPP’s chief operating officer, said a PNC Bank representative told him in May that the organization’s bank accounts would be permanently closed July 7 because an audit of the organization’s accounts revealed it received funding from marijuana businesses that handle the plant directly. “They told me it is too risky. The bank can’t assume the risk,” Field said.

Although marijuana businesses are legal in some states, many banks will not provide services to sellers or growers of the drug because it is banned at the federal level. But policy and advocacy organizations such as MPP are spared. A bank’s severing ties with an organization that accepts donations from such businesses signals a new level of concern in the banking industry.

PNC bank declined to discuss its relationship with MPP, but a spokeswoman said that “as a federally regulated financial institution, PNC complies with all applicable federal laws and regulations.”

The bank has held MPP’s accounts since the organization was formed in 1995.

June 20, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, June 19, 2017

Will Utah be among the states voting directly on marijuana reform in 2018?

Logo_Final-copy_200I already have my eye upon states like Arizona and Michigan for potential notable marijuana initiative votes in 2018.   And this local article, headlined "Medical marijuana advocates within weeks of filing ballot initiative," suggests Utah is another state worth watching.  Here are the basics:

For years now, the Utah Legislature has labored over the question of whether or not to legalize medical marijuana.  In 2014, the Legislature chose to legalize a marijuana extract for use in controlling epileptic seizures.

In 2016, two laws which would have legalized medical marijuana — to differing extents — both passed through the Utah Senate, but never reached a vote in the House of Representatives.  And in the 2017 session, the only marijuana legislation passed allowed only for studies to take place, which could take years to yield results.

Despite the Legislature’s hesitancy to act on medical marijuana legalization, Utahns may have the chance to vote on the issue directly in the form of a ballot initiative in 2018.  “Having tried multiple times to persuade the legislature to help these people and facing significant resistance, we think it’s best now to give the public a chance to decide for themselves,” said Connor Boyack, who is acting as a consultant for the ballot initiative.  Boyack has previously advocated for medical marijuana in his role as the president of Libertas Institute, a Libertarian think tank....

It’s an extensive process to put an issue on the ballot.  First, the language of the legislation must be written and an application turned into the Lieutenant Governor’s Office.  The language of the medical marijuana initiative is almost complete, Boyack said, and is based off of language from one of the bills that failed in the Legislature in 2016.  Senate Bill 73, sponsored by then-Sen. Mark Madsen of Saratoga Springs, was used as a baseline for the language of the ballot initiative, Boyack said, with just a few tweaks.  For instance, autism was added to the list of conditions for which medical marijuana could be used....

According to state law, to get an initiative on the ballot, signatures must be gathered that total 10 percent of the total votes cast in the last presidential election.  Since Utahns cast approximately 1.13 million votes in the 2016 presidential election, it would take just over 113,000 signatures to get an initiative on the ballot.  It’s not as simple as just collecting the 113,000 signatures.  They have to be spread out semi-evenly over the many senate districts in the state....

Boyack said they already have much of the financial backing that will be needed to pay professionals to gather signatures. “We’ve got some very strong commitments,” Boyack said. “We’re following up to get checks written.” He said he’s confident that they’ll get the $2 million needed to pay for signature gathering and promotional media.  “There are a lot of individuals who are very upset with the Legislature for having the chance to help people, then punting,” Boyack said....

Even if the necessary signatures are collected, Utah voters would still have to choose to pass the initiative. Organizations like the Utah Medical Association have consistently opposed legalizing cannabis as medicine before it has been approved by the Federal Drug Administration.  Even the prominent and influential Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints weighed in on the issue in 2016, specifically favoring one medical marijuana bill over another more comprehensive one.  Boyack says he believes the odds of passage are good — polls show that people want medical marijuana to be legal, he said.

June 19, 2017 in Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Political perspective on reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Bipartisan group introduces new version of CARERS Act to reform federal marijuana prohibition

CARERS-act-header-backgroundAs reported in this new Roll Call article, a "bipartisan group of senators and representatives have reintroduced legislation that would enable states to set their own medical marijuana policies."  Here are the basics:

Senators Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., joined by Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., made the announcement on Thursday....

The legislation reintroduced Thursday would protect patients, doctors and businesses participating in state medical-marijuana programs from federal prosecution. The Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States (CARERS) Act would not legalize medical marijuana in all 50 states. Instead, it would ensure that people in the states where medical cannabis is legal can use it without violating federal law.

In addition to Booker and Gillibrand, co-sponsors of the CARERS Act include Senators Rand Paul, R-Ky., Mike Lee, R-Utah, Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Al Franken, D-Minn. 

This press release from Senator Booker is titled "Lawmakers Reintroduce Bipartisan, Bicameral Medical Marijuana Bill: CARERS Act would ensure patients have access to lifesaving care without fear of federal prosecution." The press release includes quotes from all the sponsors and state that "the CARERS Act would:

(1) Recognize States’ Responsibility to Set Medical Marijuana Policy & Eliminate Potential Federal Prosecution

The CARERS Act amends the Controlled Substances Act so that states can set their own medical marijuana policies. The patients, providers, and businesses participating in state medical marijuana programs will no longer be in violation of federal law and vulnerable to federal prosecution.

(2) Allow States to Import Cannabidiol (CBD), Recognized Treatment for Epilepsy and Seizure Disorders

The CARERS Act amends the Controlled Substances Act to remove specific strains of CBD oil from the federal of definition of marijuana. This change will allow youth suffering from intractable epilepsy to gain access to the medicine they need to control their seizures.

(3) Provide Veterans Access

Current law prohibits doctors in Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) facilities from prescribing medical marijuana. The CARERS Act would allow VA doctors in states where medical marijuana is legal to recommend medical marijuana to military veterans.

(4) Expand Opportunities for Research

The CARERS Act removes unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles for researchers to gain government approval to undertake important research on marijuana and creates a system for the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services to encourage research.

The CARERS Act has the support of more than 20 health, veteran and policy organizations, including: American Civil Liberties Union, Americans for Safe Access, Compassionate Care NY, Coalition for Medical Marijuana NJ, Drug Policy Alliance, Housing Works, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, Marijuana Policy Project, MS Resources of Central New York, Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, New Jersey Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, NY Physicians for Compassionate Care, Parents Coalition for Rescheduling Medical Cannabis, Patients Out of Time, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, The American Cannabis Nurses Association, The Breast Cancer Coalition of Rochester, Third Way, Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access, Veterans for Peace and Veterans for Safe Access and Compassionate Care."

June 15, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Deputy AG Rosenstein tells Congress marijuana is "properly scheduled under Schedule I"

During his testimony before the Senate Appropriations Committee,  Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was asked the Department of Justice’s stance on marijuana.  Here from The Cannabist is a report on this discussion:

Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski used part of her time to ask about marijuana, and the tension between federal law, under which cannabis is illegal, and states like Alaska which have legalized recreational as well as medical marijuana.

Rosenstein’s response: “We do have a conflict between federal law and the law in some states.  It’s a difficult issue for parents like me, who have to provide guidance to our kids…  I’ve talked to Chuck Rosenberg, the administrator of the DEA and we follow the law and the science.  And from a legal and scientific perspective, marijuana is an unlawful drug.  It’s properly scheduled under Schedule I.  And therefore we have this conflict.”

He also mentioned that there may be changes coming to the Cole Memorandum. “Jim Cole tried to deal with it in that memorandum and at the moment that memorandum is still in effect.  Maybe there will be changes to it in the future but we’re still operating under that policy which is an effort to balance the conflicting interests with regard to marijuana.  So I can assure you that is going to be a high priority for me as the U.S. Attorneys come on board to talk about how to deal with that challenge in the states that have legalized or decriminalized marijuana, whether it be for recreational or medical use…”

He concluded that the Department of Justice is “responsible for enforcing the law. It’s illegal, and that is the federal policy with regards to marijuana.”

Murkowski responded only, “Confusing.”

June 13, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 12, 2017

AG Jeff Sessions has urged Congress to end limit on DOJ appropriations concerning state-compliant medical marijuana actors

In this new MassRoots posting, Tom Angell reports on a notable letter sent by Attorney General Jeff Sessions to member of Congress back in May.  Here are the details (with a bit of my emphasis added):

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is asking Congressional leaders not to renew a current federal law that prevents the Department of Justice from spending money to interfere with state medical marijuana laws.  “I believe it would be unwise for Congress to restrict the discretion of the Department to fund particular prosecutions, particularly in the midst of an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime,” Sessions wrote in a letter to Republican and Democratic House and Senate leadership. “The Department must be in a position to use all laws available to combat the transnational drug organizations and dangerous drug traffickers who threaten American lives.”

The letter, sent to Capitol Hill last month, was shared with MassRoots by a Congressional staffer. The protections are the result of a rider — known as the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, after its lead Congressional sponsors — which has been enacted into law with strong bipartisan votes for the past three fiscal years, including the current one.

But when President Trump signed a Fiscal Year 2017 omnibus appropriations bill into law last month, he issued a signing statement that essentially reserved the right to ignore the medical marijuana protections. “I will treat this provision consistently with my constitutional responsibility to take care that the laws be faithfully executed,” he wrote. And when the president made his first full budget request to Congress, he did not include an extension of the provision.

While President Obama never issued a signing statement concerning the provision, he did suggest that Congress delete it in his last two budget requests. And the Obama Justice Department took the position that the budget rider only prevented the government from stopping states from implementing their laws and did not provide any protections to patients or providers who are acting in accordance with those policies.

But last year the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled, over the Justice Department’s objection, that the measure does in fact prevent federal prosecutors from pursuing cases against state-legal medical cannabis patients, growers and dispensaries. However, the ruling only applies to the nine states and two territories that fall under the Ninth Circuit’s jurisdiction.

“As a result, in the Ninth Circuit, many individuals and organizations that are operating in violation of the CSA and causing harm in their communities may invoke the rider to thwart prosecution,” Sessions wrote in the new letter to Congress....

In the new letter to Congress, the attorney general wrote that marijuana use has “significant negative health effects,” arguing that is “linked to an increased risk of psychiatric disorders such as psychosis, respiratory ailments such as lung infections, cognitive impairments such as IQ loss, and substance use disorder and addiction.”

Congress is now considering appropriations bills for Fiscal Year 2018, and marijuana law reform advocates are pushing to include the state medical cannabis protections again as well as add broader new ones that would cover full recreational legalization laws. “I respectfully request that you oppose the inclusion of such language in Department appropriations,” Sessions wrote to the Capitol Hill leaders.

On Tuesday, relevant House and Senate appropriations subcommittees will take testimony about the Justice Department’s budget request from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Sessions was initially slated to testify but will instead appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee to discuss the ongoing investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election.

The line I emphasized highlights that this newly-unearthed Sessions letter does not mark a huge departure from the position of the Justice Department under Prez Obama. Nevertheless, this letter, which stresses research on the harmfulness of marijuana and suggests that criminal organizations seek to hide within state marijuana regulatory regimes, reinforces the notion that AG Jeff Sessions is not too eager to allow state marijuana reform regimes to operate without significant possible federal review and oversight.

June 12, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Highlighting unique challenges for certain employees precluded from using medical marijuana

BuzzFeed News has this lengthy new article about employment law limitations on use of medical marijuana.  The lengthy full headline of the lengthy article serves as an effective summary: "This Firefighter Took A Doctor’s Advice To Use Medical Marijuana — Now He Could Be Fired: Medical marijuana is off-limits for police officers, firefighters, truck drivers, and millions of other workers in safety-sensitive jobs, even in states where it’s legal. These employees face a tough choice: Live with pain, or lose their job." Here is an excerpts from the start of the article:

Employees ... in jobs categorized as “safety-sensitive” — which include the millions of truck drivers, police, firefighters, paramedics, people who operate heavy machinery, airline employees, and others who are responsible for people's health or well-being — face additional hurdles. Their employers almost always have zero-tolerance drug policies, leaving workers with little choice but to swap medical cannabis for opiates or other pharmaceuticals.

At a time when the opioid epidemic is ravaging US cities and towns, supporters of medical cannabis say policies like the one that got [fire-fighter Brad] Wiltshire in trouble are outdated and dangerous. After all, tranquilizers and prescription pain pills can also affect a person's ability to do a job safely.  After his diagnosis, Wiltshire was prescribed a tranquilizer that came loaded with warnings against operating heavy machinery or driving until the user knew it was safe to do so.  Over time, he said, the tranquilizers stopped working as effectively, so he turned to medical cannabis. Not only did it help him deal with breakthrough pain, it also helped him sleep.

June 10, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Employment and labor law issues, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 8, 2017

After primary win by reform advocate, is New Jersey now on track to be the first state to fully legalize marijuana through regular legislation?

New-jersey-reform1Though eight states and Washington DC have all voted through ballot initiatives to fully legalize marijuana, no state has done this form of marijuana reform via the traditional legislative process.  Vermont got awfully close just last month before its Governor vetoed a legalization bill passed by the state's legislature (as noted here), and it seems possible some form of legalization could still happen there in 2018.  

But, as highlighted by this Leafy article, headlined "New Jersey’s Primary was a Huge Win for Legalization. Here’s Why," fellow who won the Democratic primary for Governor this week in New Jersey is very committed to making, and seems poised to be able to make, this form of marijuana reform a signature achievement of his time in office.  Here are excerpts:

[This week] we learned which candidates will vie to replace New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in November’s gubernatorial election. Democrats selected former US ambassador and Goldman Sachs alum Phil Murphy, while Republicans tapped current Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno, [Gov Chris] Christie’s second-in-command.

In a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans two-to-one, Murphy is the heavy favorite to win in November.

Gov. Christie is among the loudest anti-cannabis voices in the nation and in seven months he’ll be out of office. Which means prospects for major cannabis reforms can only get better. Right? “Oh definitely,” Murphy spokesman Derek Roseman told Leafly earlier today. “One major hurdle cleared in having a nominee [like Murphy] who recognizes that our current laws have not served us as a society.”

Murphy’s comments in victory underscored that sentiment. “The criminalization of marijuana has only served to clog our courts and cloud people’s futures, so we will legalize marijuana,” Murphy told a cheering crowd. “And while there are financial benefits, this is overwhelmingly about doing what is right and just.”...

Senator Nicholas P. Scutari (D-Union) chairs NJ’s Senate Judiciary Committee. He sponsored New Jersey’s medical marijuana law and led a delegation of state lawmakers on a fact-finding tour of Colorado last year. “There is widespread public support both in New Jersey and across the country for legalizing marijuana,” Scutari told Leafly.

“In New Jersey, we now have a Democratic nominee, who I believe will be our next governor, who supports legalization. That’s why it is so important that we begin shaping our recreational marijuana program now, so that we are prepared to move forward with a program that ends the prohibition on marijuana and that treats our residents fairly and humanely. We’ve already done extensive research on how legal cannabis programs are faring in other states and are continuing the process of working on legislation to create the best recreational marijuana program for New Jersey.”

June 8, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Interesting new data on banking of marijuana businesses in the Trump Era

Screen-Shot-2017-06-07-at-10_17_50-AMTom Angell has this interesting and somewhat surprising new article at MassRoots under the headlined "More Banks Open Marijuana Accounts Under Trump." Here are the details:

New federal data shows a sharp increase in the number of banks opening accounts for marijuana businesses since President Trump’s inauguration.

A report from the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) released this week shows that 368 banks and credit unions had active accounts for cannabis companies as of March. The number of depositary institutions working with the marijuana industry is up roughly 10 percent since Trump moved into the White House.

The 34 new banks that began providing financial services to cannabis businesses between February and March represents the single greatest monthly increase recorded in the new report. The increase runs contrary to widespread fears that anti-marijuana comments from U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer could spook mainstream companies from working with the cannabis industry.

The new FinCEN report also indicates that there were at least roughly 1,600 active individual marijuana business bank accounts in the U.S. as of March.

Despite the growth in the number of banks willing to work with marijuana businesses and Obama administration guidance intended to encourage more to do so, many have remained reluctant in light of continuing federal prohibition laws. That means many cannabis growers and sellers conduct transactions in cash only, which makes them targets for robberies.

Those public safety concerns have spurred efforts in Congress to pass legislation providing additional protections sought by the financial services industry and cannabis businesses. On Wednesday, the U.S. House Rules Committee blocked floor consideration of an amendment that would have prevented the Treasury Department from punishing banks that work with the marijuana industry.

June 7, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tenth Circuit panel issues big, intricate and important ruling in RICO suits brought against state-legal recreational marijuana businesses

The Tenth Circuit this morning released a ninety-page panel opinion in Safe Streets Alliance v. Hickenlooper, No. 16-1048 (10th Cir. June 7, 2017) (available here), a significant and complicated federal case that could directly or indirectly have a big impact on recreational marijuana reforms in Colorado and other states. I will need to read and reflect on the whole Safe Streets opinion before I can readily opine on its merits and impact, but I can start this blog coverage of the ruling by quoting the opinions lengthy introduction (with footnotes omitted, emphasis in original):

These three appeals arise from two cases that concern the passage, implementation, and alleged effects of Amendment 64 to the Colorado Constitution, Colo. Const. art. XVIII, § 16.  Amendment 64 repealed many of the State’s criminal and civil proscriptions on “recreational marijuana,” and created a regulatory regime designed to ensure that marijuana is unadulterated and taxed, and that those operating marijuana-related enterprises are, from the State’s perspective, licensed and qualified to do so.  Of course, what Amendment 64 did not and could not do was amend the United States Constitution or the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), 21 U.S.C. §§ 801–904, under which manufacturing, distributing, selling, and possessing with intent to distribute marijuana remains illegal in Colorado.  See U.S. Const. art. VI, cl. 2.  The three appeals at issue and two related motions to intervene raise four principal disputes stemming from the alleged conflict between the CSA and Colorado’s new regime.

 

Two of the appeals were brought in Safe Streets Alliance v. Alternative Holistic Healing, LLC. First, in No. 16-1266, two Colorado landowners challenge the district court’s dismissal of their claims brought under the citizen-suit provision of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), 18 U.S.C. § 1964(c), against certain affiliates of a State- and county-licensed marijuana manufactory that allegedly has injured the landowners’ adjacent property.  We conclude that the landowners have plausibly alleged at least one § 1964(c) claim against each of those defendants.  We therefore reverse, in part, the dismissal of those claims and remand for further proceedings.

 

Second, in No. 16-1048, those landowners and an interest group to which they belong appeal the district court’s dismissal of their purported causes of action “in equity” against Colorado and one of its counties for ostensibly also having injured the landowners’ property by licensing that manufactory.  The landowners and the interest group allege that Amendment 64’s regime is preempted by the CSA, pursuant to the Supremacy Clause, U.S. Const. art. VI, cl. 2, and the CSA’s preemption provision, 21 U.S.C. § 903.   We conclude that neither the landowners nor the interest group purport to have any federal substantive rights that have been injured by Colorado or the county’s actions.  And because they have no substantive rights in the CSA to vindicate, it follows inexorably that they cannot enforce § 903 “in equity” to remedy their claimed injuries.  We therefore affirm the dismissal of their preemption claims.

 

The third appeal, No. 16-1095, was filed in Smith v. Hickenlooper.  In that case, a group of Colorado, Kansas, and Nebraska sheriffs and county attorneys sued Colorado on similar theories that Amendment 64’s regime is preempted by the CSA.  The district court dismissed their claims, and we consolidated the appeal with No. 16-1048. Because those plaintiffs also do not claim injuries to their federal substantive rights, we likewise affirm.

 

Finally, the States of Nebraska and Oklahoma moved to intervene in Safe Streets Alliance and Smith while they were pending on appeal.  T hose States claim that Amendment 64 injures their sovereign interests and those of their citizens, and that its enforcement is preempted by the CSA. We granted their motion in No. 16-1048 and heard their arguments, which confirmed that their controversy is with Colorado.  Given that fact, we must confront 28 U.S.C. § 1251(a), which forbids us from exercising jurisdiction over controversies between the States.  We therefore cannot permit Nebraska and Oklahoma to intervene, or even confirm that they have a justiciable controversy that may be sufficient for intervention.  Consequently, we vacate the order granting intervention in Safe Streets Alliance and deny the States’ motions in both cases.

June 7, 2017 in Court Rulings, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

A few new details about "DOJ’s Mysterious Marijuana Subcommittee"

Seal_of_the_United_States_Department_of_Justice.svgUS News & World Report has this notable new article headlined "DOJ’s Mysterious Marijuana Subcommittee: Few details have emerged about a potentially influential review." The article provides a few new facts about the persons involved in the Justice Deprtment's internal review of its current policies concerning the enforcement of federal marijuana prohibition. Here are excerpts:

Led by an outspoken legalization opponent, Jeff Sessions' Justice Department is reviewing federal marijuana policy, with significant changes possible soon. Almost nothing about the review process is publicly known and key players in the policy debate have not been contacted.

The outcome of the review could devastate a multibillion-dollar industry and countermand the will of voters in eight states if the Obama administration's permissive stance on non-medical sales is reversed.

What is known: The review is being conducted by a subcommittee of a larger crime-reduction task force that will issue recommendations by July 27. The subcommittee was announced in April alongside other subcommittees reviewing charging and sentencing.

The task force is co-chaired by Steve Cook, an assistant U.S. attorney in Tennessee who like Sessions advocates harsh criminal penalties and a traditional view of drug prohibition. The other co-chair is Robyn Thiemann, a longtime department official who works as a deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Policy.

The marijuana subcommittee is led by Michael Murray, counsel to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, U.S. News has learned. After graduating from Yale Law School in 2009, Murray ricocheted between law firms and public-sector jobs. He served less than a year as an assistant U.S. attorney in Virginia in 2013 before clerking for Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, according to his LinkedIn page. He worked at the Jones Day law firm before joining the Trump Justice Department.

Murray could not be reached for comment and Justice Department spokesman Ian Prior declined to comment on the “deliberative processes within the department“ when asked to discuss Murray’s role. The department declined to identify other members of the subcommittee, the scope of its policy review or name outside groups that are being consulted.

The lack of information provided and the seemingly secretive nature of the review has proponents of a more lenient marijuana policy concerned. “It’s difficult to ascertain any clear information about the subcommittee and how they’re working,” says Taylor West, deputy director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, a trade group representing marijuana businesses.

West says the group is focused on building relationships with members of Congress and points to overwhelming public support for respecting state marijuana laws -- 73 percent, according to an April survey by Quinnipiac University.

The Marijuana Policy Project, a large advocacy group that has led many of the successful state legalization campaigns, also says it is not in touch with the subcommittee. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., a leading marijuana reform advocate, requested to meet with Sessions about the issue but was refused, says Rohrabacher spokesman Ken Grubbs....

It's unclear if agencies under the Justice Department's umbrella, such as the Drug Enforcement Administration, are contributing to the subcommittee. DEA acting administrator Chuck Rosenberg told U.S. News on Tuesday that he is not personally involved in the review, and that he didn't know if any of his subordinates are. A DEA spokesman was not immediately able to provide additional information....

Listening to diverse points of view on marijuana policy is significant because the effects of regulated sales are debated, and data can be spliced to support a point of view. For example, multiple federal and state surveys indicate that teen use of marijuana has not increased since 2012, when the states legalized marijuana for adults 21 and older. But use rates have fluctuated for years, so comparing current use to a particularly low-use year further in the past can offer a different impression about trends.

Diversion to other states is also debated. A law enforcement task force called Rocky Mountain HIDTA claimed that intercepts of marijuana mail out of Colorado increased following legalization, sourcing the information to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. But a USPIS spokesperson told U.S. News state-specific records did not exist. Though state-specific records are not available, national parcel intercepts did increase in 2016 after two years of declines. Two states sued Colorado unsuccessfully claiming spillover.

Mexican drug cartels, meanwhile, have been caught smuggling significantly less marijuana across the southern border. And it's unclear if local increases in drugged driving arrests and marijuana hospital admissions are primarily the result of legalization policies or improved awareness and reporting.

June 6, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Law review title help from the DEA: "Drug Slang Code Words"

All wise law professors and law students know that the most essential part of effective legal scholarship is a snappy and clever title.  See generally Orin S. Kerr, A Theory of Law, 16 GREEN BAG 2D 111 (2012).  And, of course, the key to a snappy and clever title is some impressive pun or double entendre or wordplay that comes off as sophisticated, smart and just the right amount of sassy.  

In light of those realities, as especially because in the marijuana space I am already tired of "canna..." branding and titles, I am here pleased to be able to spotlight this new resource from the Drug Enforcement Administration titled "Drug Slang Code Words."  Here is the executive summary of this seven-page "unclassified DEA Intelligence Report" [with my brackets/emphasis added]:

This Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Intelligence Report contains information from a variety of law enforcement and open sources. It is designed as a ready reference for law enforcement personnel [and law review title writers] who are confronted by many of the hundreds of slang terms used to identify a wide variety of controlled substances, designer drugs, and synthetic compounds. Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy and completeness of the information presented.  However, due to the dynamics of the ever-changing drug scene, subsequent additions, deletions, and corrections are inevitable.  Further addendums to this report will attempt to capture changed terminology, to the extent possible.  This compendium of drug slang terms has been alphabetically ordered, and identifies drugs and drug categories in English and foreign language derivations.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, cocaine, heroin and marijuana have the most listed slang terms, and here is the list of slang terms for marijuana just through the letter B:

420; Acapulco Gold; Acapulco Red; Ace; African Black; African Bush; Airplane; Alfombra; Alice B Toklas; All- Star; Angola; Animal Cookies (hydroponic); Arizona; Ashes; Aunt Mary; Baby; Bale; Bambalachacha; Barbara Jean; Bareta; Bash; BC Budd; Bernie; Bhang; Big Pillows; Biggy; Black Bart; Black Gold; Black Maria; Blondie; Blue Cheese; Blue Crush; Blue Jeans; Blue Sage; Blueberry; Bobo Bush; Boo; Boom; Broccoli; Bud; Budda; Burritos Verdes; Bush;

I am already thinking of articles to write which could have Bambalachacha or Big Pillows in the title, and so too should the rest of you.

June 6, 2017 in Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 2, 2017

"Battling the racial roadblocks to joining the legalized marijuana trade"

Download (2)The title of this post is the headline of this lengty new Washington Post article which highlights racialized realities in the marijuana industry.  Here are excerpts:

States generally do not track the race and ethnicity of license applicants, but industry analysts and researchers say that dispensaries and the more-profitable growing operations across the country are overwhelmingly dominated by white men.

The lack of minority representation is especially fraught given that research shows African Americans were disproportionately arrested and incarcerated during the war on drugs. Now that marijuana is seen as a legitimate business, advocates argue that minorities should also reap the profits....

The marijuana trade, legal in some form in 29 states plus the District of Columbia, is one of the country’s fastest-growing industries. The $6.6 billion in medical and recreational marijuana sales in 2016 is expected to expand to $16 billion by 2020, according to New Frontier Data, a cannabis data analytics company headquartered in the District.

But African Americans seeking to go into business as growers or retailers face a host of hurdles, researchers say. Many states bar convicted drug felons from the industry, disproportionately hurting minorities because of historically higher conviction rates. Others have set high investment requirements. Some dole out licenses through appointed commissions that industry researchers say reward the politically connected, who by and large are wealthy and white.

“Marijuana legalization without racial justice risks being an extension of white privilege,” said Bill Piper, a lobbyist for Drug Policy Alliance, which advocates for drug policy reforms.

The disparities have become such a source of consternation for some lawmakers and industry leaders that more than half a dozen states and municipalities, including Oakland and the District, are taking steps to boost minorities in the competitive licensing process....

Colorado, one of the earliest states to legalize marijuana, has nearly 1,000 dispensary licenses and nearly 1,500 cultivation licenses. African Americans make up less than a handful of license holders, according to cannabis entrepreneurs in the state. Wanda James, a former Navy lieutenant who says she’s one of the few black growers and dispensary owners in Colorado, blames regulations barring those convicted of drug crimes from owning, and working in, a dispensary or cultivation center.

“In Colorado, if you sell 10 pounds of cannabis today, you probably get written up in Forbes about what a great businessperson you are, but if a young black man sells a dime bag on a street corner in Alabama, he’s probably going to jail for 10 years,” she said. A black person is nearly four times more likely than a white person to be arrested for marijuana possession, even though the two groups use marijuana at similar rates, according to a 2013 American Civil Liberties Union report that examined arrests in every state using a decade’s worth of FBI crime data....

Jesce Horton, an Oregon marijuana entrepreneur who started the Minority Cannabis Business Association in 2015 to diversify the industry, said that as a college student in Florida, he was arrested three times for marijuana possession. His criminal record would have barred him from entering the business in other states. “It’s really a slap in the face to communities who have been targeted,” Horton said. “A lot of people see these as racist regulations. These are fear-based tactics by legislators who are more than willing to go along with the business interests sitting in the room.”

Some states also require applicants to have financial holdings upward of $1 million, a particularly high bar given the documented wealth disparities between blacks and whites. Those without ready access to capital cannot turn to banks, which are unwilling to provide business loans for an industry that is still illegal at the federal level....

Even with potential shifts in federal drug-enforcement policies, several jurisdictions have moved to address racial disparities in the industry. Oakland recently voted to set aside half of all marijuana business permits for people who had been arrested for drug crimes in the city or lived in neighborhoods with high marijuana arrests.

Illinois, like Pennsylvania, awards extra points to minority applicants. Ohio requires 15 percent of licenses to be issued to minorities. Florida has reserved one of its future marijuana-cultivation licenses for a member of the state’s Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association. Maryland marijuana regulators, meanwhile, are fending off a lawsuit that threatens to halt its program after no black-owned businesses won cultivation licenses.

Some prior related posts:

June 2, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Notable commentary and stories about mothers and marijuana

Especially because I have long loved and respected all the mothers in my life, I am always drawn to motherly perspectives on marijuana and also to considering the various potential connections between mothering and marijuana.  Accordingly, these recent commentaries and stories on these kinds of topics caught my attention:

From ABC News here, "Doctors worried about increased marijuana use in pregnant women"

From Babble here, "Inside the Private World of Mothers Who Smoke Weed"

From Creators here, "A Conservative Mom Breaks the Pot Taboo"

From Metro (UK) here, "Weed-smoking Mums are sick of being judged by wine-drinking Mums"

June 2, 2017 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Following the ever-increasing monies being invested in marijuana industry

-1x-1Bloomberg has this notable new article headlined "Trump Casts Cloud Over Cannabis, But Money Keeps Pouring In," and here are excerpts:

The Trump administration’s adversarial stance toward marijuana has brought jitters to the burgeoning cannabis industry, but money continues to pour in.

Pot-related companies raised more than $734 million between Jan. 1 and April 21, an almost sevenfold increase from $108 million in the same period last year, according to a report from New Frontier Data and Viridian Capital Advisors. That brings the total amount raised to $1.9 billion since the start of 2016.

The investment surge reflects optimism that President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions won’t crack down on the industry, even as those concerns weigh on stock prices this year. Since hitting a peak in February, the Bloomberg Intelligence Global Cannabis Index has dropped 36 percent.

For cannabis financiers, the industry’s growth potential outshines the political risk. Eight states voted to legalize cannabis in some form on Nov. 9, including the nation’s largest. Legal cannabis demand in California is set to grow by 50 percent in 2018, when recreational use is scheduled to come online, according to the report. The report’s authors forecast that national demand for legalized marijuana will almost quadruple by 2025.

“With each new state that legalizes, that need for capital is going to be there,” said John Kagia, New Frontier’s executive vice president of industry analytics and author of the report. “It will continue to represent a substantial investment opportunity for the foreseeable future.” As a result of competition for funding, seed capital is being raised in greater initial amounts and its cost is getting more expensive, New Frontier Chief Executive Officer Giadha Aguirre de Carcer said.

The boom has taken place amid an unclear policy outlook under Trump. Press Secretary Sean Spicer said in February that he expects the Department of Justice to increase enforcement of federal laws prohibiting recreational pot use, even in states where it’s allowed. While Spicer defended medical marijuana, Sessions indicated he dislikes anything to do with the plant....

The uncertainty has made some investors more nervous about getting into the industry. “There’s a lot of fear,” said Rob Hunt, a founding partner of Tuatara Capital, which invests in cannabis companies and has more than $100 million under management. The silver lining, however, is that “it’s not very likely we’re ever getting someone further to the right on this issue than Sessions is.”...

Neither the political threats nor ongoing banking and tax difficulties will ultimately derail the industry, Viridian and New Frontier predict. Legal sales of cannabis products are expected to reach $24.1 billion in 2025, up from $6.6 billion in 2016. Investment will keep gaining too, particularly because interstate commerce is prohibited. That means every state that legalizes weed must create its own infrastructure....

“What we’ve also seen in the past 18 months or so is an increased number of more sophisticated companies entering the industry,” De Carcer said. And they’ve come with “more mature and experienced management teams,” she said.

June 1, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Pennsylvania legal publication notes "Medical Cannabis Is the Next Boom" and asks "but When Will It Bust?"

As a law professor, I am always distinctly interesting in stories about how marijuana reform is impacting the legal profession. Consequently, this new article from a Pennsylvania legal newspaper, headlined ""Medical Cannabis Is the Next Boom, but When Will It Bust?", really caught my attention.  Here are excerpts:

With Pennsylvania well on its way toward implementing a medical marijuana program, dozens of lawyers in the state are preparing for an explosion of legal work related to cannabis. The blossoming industry is reminiscent of the surge in legal work that grew out of the Marcellus Shale play, which sparked up engagements for all kinds of firms almost a decade ago.

“Everyone wanted to be in it, there were people who carved out individual expertise … but the special area is here to stay,” said Steve Franko, a solo practitioner from Northeast Pennsylvania and member of the Pennsylvania Bar Association’s medical marijuana and hemp law committee. “It’s going to be, just like the [natural] gas was, a combination of people who have skills that maybe cross upon multiple areas.”...

Lawyers now getting into the medical marijuana space acknowledge that there may come a time when federal authorities decriminalize marijuana, decreasing the number of legal questions and the demand for cannabis-related legal consultations. But that’s a long way off, they said, as Pennsylvania is just starting to address the complicated effects of medical marijuana on numerous areas of law.

Andrew Sacks, head of both the Pennsylvania and Philadelphia bar association’s medical marijuana and hemp committees, said he has also heard lawyers compare medical cannabis to Pennsylvania’s gambling expansion, which created a rush of legal work several years ago, then saw a decline in work when casinos got their licenses.

But licensing is just the surface of medical marijuana law, said Sacks, a name partner at Philadelphia’s Sacks Weston Diamond. Lawyers in many other practices areas have an opportunity to get in on the action. “Everybody is searching the world, searching the country and cities to see what people have done in their specific area so they can become specific experts,” Sacks said. “People are gearing up to become the names in the category.”...

Things will really explode in the legal world “the second the first drip of medical marijuana gets sold,” Sacks said. When that happens, it won’t just create heath care and business issues, he said, but questions in a multitude of legal practices.

Kathryn Palladino, a criminal lawyer and subcommittee chair on the Philadelphia Bar’s medical marijuana committee, said she expects medical marijuana to become part of her day-to-day work, and it’s not just about clients breaking federal law to use it. DUI cases will raise questions about whether patients can drive after using marijuana, she said, and patients who are incarcerated may seek access to cannabis in prison. Patients on probation or parole who seek access to medical marijuana may risk violating parole. “It will only grow as the patients have access to the marijuana and we see some issues come up that the legislature hadn’t planned for,” Palladino said. And that’s just criminal law.

The new field of medical marijuana law will also touch on employment law, family law, education, intellectual property, licensing, life sciences, real estate, tax, workers’ compensation and zoning law, lawyers said. That’s one way that medical marijuana is different from the Marcellus Shale boom, Sacks said. Drilling and natural gas led to legal questions in five or so other areas of law, he said, but for legal cannabis, the collateral issues are more numerous.

May 30, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, May 27, 2017

"Older Women and Medical Marijuana: A New Growth Industry"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable lengthy New York Times article.  Here are excerpts:

Jeanine Moss never expected to get into the cannabis industry. But that was before her hip-replacement surgery.

Ms. Moss, 62, of Marina Del Ray, Calif., had quit her job as a marketing consultant before she had her hip done in 2014. As she left the hospital, her doctors handed her a “shopping bag filled with opiates,” she said. The drugs made her disoriented and woozy.

So she switched to medical marijuana, which is legal in California and was familiar to her, having grown up in the nearby Venice section of Los Angeles. Within a week, she had tossed away her pharmaceuticals.

As it turned out, Ms. Moss was in good company: Many of her friends were also using cannabis to manage their ailments. Slightly embarrassed about carrying around a drug associated with naughty high school students, the older women would lament that they had nowhere to stash their drugs. “Everyone was pulling baggies out of their Gucci and Louis Vuitton purses, and I thought, ‘Why are we sneaking around like guilty teenagers?’” Ms. Moss said.

In 2015, she started a business called AnnaBis, a line of aroma-controlled handbags, clutches, vape cases and other pot-related accessories. Soon after, she began publishing cannabis-friendly travel guides exclusively for women — becoming one of a small but growing number of older women who are marijuana entrepreneurs.

“What other industry is growing so fast there’s the opportunity and low cost of entry?” Ms. Moss said. “Entrenched opportunities already have their systems set up. This hasn’t been created yet.”

Her story is typical of the women in their 50s, 60s and 70s who have started up businesses in the world of pot. Inspired partly by their own use of the drug for pain relief, or by caring for others who use it for their own aches, these women see viable business opportunities and view their work as therapeutic for their customers. “It’s definitely a trend,” said Troy Dayton, the chief executive and a co-founder of the Arcview Group, an investment and market research firm that focuses on the cannabis industry....

There seems to be a market for such services: A study of 47,140 participants released in December, based on responses to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, found that cannabis use among adults ages 50 to 64 had increased nearly 60 percent from 2006 to 2013, while use by people 65 and older had risen 250 percent.

Ms. Taylor, a former Catholic school principal, used to think marijuana was a “hard-core drug like crack or cocaine,” she said. “If someone would have told me 12 years ago that I’d be an advocate for cannabis, I’d say, ‘You’ve been smoking too much.’” But now? “I get so much gratification from this work, and it’s so rewarding to see people get healed,” she said. “My life is better than ever. I’m healthy, and I’m starting a new business at 69.”

May 27, 2017 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Vermont Governor vetoes bill to legalize marijuana in state .... UPDATED with Gov's explanation for his veto

Images (3)As reported in this local article, "Gov. Phil Scott on Wednesday vetoed legislation that would have legalized possession of small amounts of marijuana in Vermont."  Here is more:

At a highly anticipated press conference in his Montpelier office, the Republican governor said he could not sign S.22, which passed the Vermont House and Senate in the waning days of the recently concluded legislative session. But Scott said he was open to revisiting the debate with legislators — perhaps as soon as an expected veto session next month.

Vermont’s Democratic legislature is unlikely to override Scott’s veto, given that the bill squeaked through the House two weeks ago on a 79-66 vote.

The legislation would have allowed adults over age 21 to legally possess up to an ounce of marijuana and to grow as many as two mature plants per household, starting in July 2018. Similar to Washington, D.C.’s marijuana law, it would not have allowed for sale or commercial growing of the drug. The bill would also have created a commission to study how Vermont could tax and regulate marijuana sales, as Colorado and several other states have done.

The governor has said he does not consider marijuana legalization a priority and has concerns about the lack a roadside test to detect driver impairment.

Had Scott signed the bill, Vermont would have been the first state to legalize marijuana through legislative action rather by public referendum.

Prior related post:

"Vermont Legislature becomes first to approve legal marijuana"

UPDATE:   I have now had a chance to read Vermont Gov. Phil Scott's remarks explaining his veto, and they are available at this link.  Here are some of the interesting particulars:

I have been clear since the campaign and throughout the session: I am not philosophically opposed to ending the prohibition on marijuana, and I recognize there is a clear societal shift in that direction. However, I feel it is crucial that key questions and concerns involving public safety and health are addressed before moving forward.

We must get this right. Let the science inform any policy we make around this issue, learn from the experience of other states, and take whatever time is required to do so. In my view, policymakers have an obligation to all Vermonters – and those who visit us – to address health, safety, prevention and education questions before committing the state to a specific timeline for moving forward.

More specifically – as I have said repeatedly throughout the campaign and this session – we should know how we will detect and measure impairment on our roadways, fund and implement additional substance abuse prevention education, keep our children safe and penalize those who do not, and measure how legalization impacts the mental health and substance abuse issues our communities are already facing.

From my vantage point, S.22 does not yet adequately address these questions. Therefore, I am returning this bill to the Legislature. I am, however, offering a path forward that takes a much more thorough look at what public health, safety and education policies are needed before Vermont moves toward a regulatory and revenue system for an adult-use marijuana market.

I’ll be providing the Legislature with recommended changes. And to be clear, if they are willing to work with me to address my concerns in a new bill passed during the veto session this summer, there is a path forward on this issue.

Those recommendations include the following:

First, in its attempt to equate marijuana with alcohol. This bill appears to weaken penalties for the dispensing and sale of marijuana to minors. Sections of this bill must be rewritten to make clear that existing penalties for the dispensing and sale of marijuana to minors and on school grounds remain unchanged.

Weakening these protections and penalties should be totally unacceptable to even the most ardent legalization advocates.

Second, I am asking for changes to more aggressively penalize consumption while driving, and usage in the presence of minors....

Third, the Marijuana Regulatory Commission section must be enhanced in order to be taken seriously. It must include a broader membership, including representatives from the Department of Public Safety, the Department of Health, the Department of Taxes, and the substance abuse prevention and treatment community.  The Commission must be charged with determining outcomes, such as an impairment threshold for operating a motor vehicle; an impairment testing mechanism; an education and prevention strategy to address use by minors; and a plan for continued monitoring and reporting on impacts to public health.

May 24, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, May 21, 2017

American Legion, the largest US vets' organization, pressing Trump Administration on medical marijuana reform

LegionemblemThis new Politico article, headlined "American Legion to Trump: Allow marijuana research for vets," reports on a notable new push by a notable organization to seek a notable change in federal marijuana laws with the new administration. Here are excerpts from an article which strikes me as pretty big news:

One of the nation’s most conservative veterans’ groups is appealing to President Donald Trump to reclassify marijuana to allow large-scale research into whether cannabis can help troops suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder . The change sought by The American Legion would conflict with the strongly anti-marijuana positions of some administration leaders, most vocally Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Under current rules, doctors with the Department of Veterans Affairs cannot even discuss marijuana as an option with patients.  But the alternative treatment is gaining support in the medical community, where some researchers hope pot might prove more effective than traditional pharmaceuticals in controlling PTSD symptoms and reducing the record number of veteran suicides.

"We are not asking for it to be legalized," said Louis Celli, the national director of veterans affairs and rehabilitation for the American Legion, which with 2.4 million members is the largest U.S. veterans’ organization.  "There is overwhelming evidence that it has been beneficial for some vets.  The difference is that it is not founded in federal research because it has been illegal."

The Legion has requested a White House meeting with Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and close aide, "as we seek support from the president to clear the way for clinical research in the cutting edge areas of cannabinoid receptor research," according to a recent letter shared with POLITICO.

The request marks a significant turn in the debate over medical marijuana by lending an influential and unexpected voice.  The Legion, made up mostly of Vietnam and Korean War-era veterans, is breaking with other leading vets’ groups such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars in lobbying for the removal of the major roadblock in pursuing marijuana treatment.  But it also comes as the new administration, led by Sessions, is sending strong signals of its desire to thwart marijuana decriminalization and legalization efforts.  Expectations are growing in Congress that DOJ may even try to roll back medical marijuana laws in 29 states....

"We desperately need more research in this area to inform policymakers," said Sue Sisley, a psychiatrist at the Scottsdale Research Institute in Arizona who is running one of the only cannabis studies underway focused on vets suffering from PTSD.  "I really want to see the most objective data published in peer reviewed medical journals.” She added that she isn’t prejudging what the outcome of the research will be.

“I don't know if cannabis will turn out to be helpful for PTSD,” Sisley said.  “I know what veterans tell me but until we have rigorous controlled trials, all we have are case studies that are not rigorous enough to make me, medical professionals, health departments or policymakers convinced."

Some veterans’ activists are angry at the federal government’s continued resistance to even studying cannabis, even as an average of 20 vets kill themselves every day. "We need solutions," said Nick Etten, a former Navy SEAL who runs the Veterans Cannabis Project, a health policy organization. "We need treatment that works. We need treatment that is not destructive.  The VA has been throwing opiates at veterans for almost every condition for the last 15 years.  You are looking at a system that has made a problem worse the way they have approached treatment."...

The VA declined to address whether it is reconsidering its stance on the issue, citing the illegality of marijuana in all its forms under federal law....  Most leading veterans’ groups are toeing that line, including Veterans of Foreign Wars.  "The VFW has no official position regarding this ongoing debate because marijuana is illegal under federal law," said Joe Davis, the group's spokesman.

But grassroots support is growing among veterans — both young and older — and in Congress to reconsider the current approach.  Much of that is because of growing anecdotal evidence that marijuana helps some veterans with PTSD control their symptoms when approved drugs do not, such as ridding them of nightmares and helping them sleep.  And that is what is driving the efforts of the American Legion.  Celli said the group's Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation Commission, which represents veterans from World War II to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, recently gave the Legion "overwhelming support" to advocate changes....

In addition to cannabis, the organization is advocating for more research on so-called Quantitative EEG neurometrics, which measures the brain's electrical activity.  "The American Legion believes these two areas alone can help cut the amount of veteran suicides and cases of chemically addicted veteran by more than half," the letter to the White House says.  "The American Legion respectfully requests a meeting with President Trump as soon as possible and looks forward to partnering with this administration in the fight against narcotics addiction and reducing the veteran suicide rate from the tragic loss of 20 warriors per day, to zero."

May 21, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)