Wednesday, October 31, 2018
Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) introduced S.2667, the Hemp Farming Act of 2018, in the Senate on April 12, 2018. The bill's general purpose is stated as "A bill to amend the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 to provide for State and Tribal regulation of hemp production, and for other purposes."
S. 2667 aims to make hemp an ordinary agriculture commodity by removing it from Schedule I of the United States Controlled Substances Act (CSA). The bill defines hemp as "the plant Cannabis sativa L. and any part of that plant, including the seeds thereof and all derivatives, extracts, cannabinoids, isomers, acids, salts, and salts of isomers, whether growing or not, with a delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) concentration of not more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis." The CSA describes a Schedule I drug as a drug that has a high potential for abuse and has no current accepted medical use in treatment.
Under S. 2667, if a State or Indian tribe wants to have "primary regulatory authority over the production of hemp" in their territory, then the State or Indian tribe must "submit to the Secretary, through the State department of agriculture...or the Tribal government...a plan under which the State or Indian tribe monitors and regulates the production" of hemp as described in the bill. The State or Indian tribe's plan must provide the following:
(i) a practice to maintain relevant information regarding land on which hemp is produced in the State or territory of the Indian tribe, including a legal description of the land, for a period of not less than 3 calendar years;
(ii) a procedure for testing, using post-decarboxylation or other similarly reliable methods, delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol concentration levels of hemp produced in the State or territory of the Indian tribe;
(iii) a procedure for the effective disposal of products that are produced in violation of this subtitle; and
(iv) a procedure to comply with the enforcement procedures under subsection (d)...
After a plan is submitted by a State or Indian tribe, the Secretary must approve or disapprove of the plan within 60 days. However, if the plan is disapproved because it does not comply with the requirements stated above, the plan can be amended and resubmitted.
A hemp producer can negligently violates their plan by:
(i) failing to provide a legal description of land on which the producer produces hemp;
(ii) failing to obtain a license or other required authorization from the State department of agriculture or Tribal government, as applicable; or
(iii) producing Cannabis sativa L. with a delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol concentration of more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis[,]
If a hemp producer does violate their plan, then the hemp producer must correct the negligent violation by a reasonable date, and they will be required to "periodically report to the State department of agriculture or Tribal government...on the compliance of the hemp producer with the State or Tribal plan for a period of not less than the next 2 calendar years." The bill provides that if a hemp producer negligently violates their plan they cannot "be subject to any criminal or civil enforcement action by the Federal Government or any State government, Tribal government, or local government other than the enforcement action" stated above. But, a hemp producer that violates their plan three times within a 5-year period will become ineligible to produce hemp for five years following their third violation. The bill also provides that a hemp producer that violates the State or Indian tribe plan with a culpable mental state shall be reported to the Attorney General and the chief law enforcement officer of the State.
Additionally, S. 2667 aims to amend the Federal Crop Insurance Act to make hemp insurable, and the bill proposes other amendments to legitimize hemp research and its funding.
The Atlantic reports that it is "legal to sell products made from hemp in the United States, but the market is currently filled almost entirely by imports from other countries" such as Canada and China. So with the passage of S. 2667, United States farmers could reduce the amount of hemp being imported. The article also states that farmers struggling to make a profit on tobacco may be able to make up some of their losses with the legalization of hemp.
Unlike many of the new marijuana related bills that have a small chance of being enacted, S. 2667 is expected to have a moderate chance of becoming law.
Tuesday, October 30, 2018
OPINION: State-legalized marijuana businesses probably need not fear federal prosecution, but that "probably" should be more clear
States with legal marijuana cannot have complete confidence in the legitimacy of their businesses because marijuana remains federally illegal. Cannabis in the U.S. is a Schedule 1 drug, which has a very specific meaning according to the DEA website.
Schedule I drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. Some examples of Schedule I drugs are:
heroin, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), marijuana (cannabis), 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (ecstasy), methaqualone, and peyote
Cannabis is explicitly illegal on the federal level to this day, despite state efforts to legalize marijuana locally. Adding further confusion to the mix, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has not made it clear whether legal marijuana business owners will be prosecuted.
Dispensaries can take small solace in the apparent lack of Congressional or presidential support for Sessions. In a Wall Street Journal article, authors Sadie Gurman and Natalie Andrews noted that Sessions did not seem to have the backing of the president or Congress behind his desires to crack down on states with legal marijuana:
Attorney General Jeff Sessions vowed to use federal law to get tough on marijuana, announcing in January he was ending Obama-era protections for the nascent pot industry in states where it is legal. Six months into his mission, he is largely going it alone.
Mr. Sessions’ own prosecutors have yet to bring federal charges against pot businesses that are abiding by state law. And fellow Republicans in Congress, with support from President Donald Trump, are promoting several bills that would protect or even expand the legal pot trade.
The article went on to explain that Sessions told members of Congress that the Justice Department is now emphasizing the pursuit of more dangerous drugs.
And well they should -- by many measures, cannabis is a far less dangerous drug than even legal alternatives like alcohol and tobacco. Smoking tobacco has been linked to lung cancer, and drinking too much alcohol can cause alcohol poisoning and even death.
Yet it is functionally impossible to overdose on the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, THC, and medicines with CBD oil have been successfully used to treat patients suffering from seizures. Perhaps due to the fact that alcohol and tobacco have been accepted and abundant for so long, they remain legal and well regulated, as opposed to cannabis.
Although unlikely, at any point, federal agents could bring suit against a state's legal marijuana businesses and arrest the people running it. This should not be the case because it leaves marijuana businesses in an uncertain place. If federal agents are not going to enforce federal marijuana law, perhaps the law should at least be altered, or abolished.
Keeping marijuana illegal does not benefit society overall. It results in unnecessary prison sentences for nonviolent offenders charged merely with small scale possession. It inhibits research into medical applications.
Some argue that legal marijuana might lead to lower productivity and differences in brain development for young children, but such detriments are far outweighed by other factors at play. Those factors include huge potential for tax revenue generation; potential medical treatments for nausea, loss of appetite, seizures, and pain medication; and focusing of resources toward other larger problems like the opioid epidemic.
Marijuana legalization is an incredibly complex process, in which countless factors are at play and there is no simple solution for everyone. Things would be much simpler, though, if the federal government stepped up in favor of legalization, whether for medical or recreational marijuana. Even if the government actually did start cracking down on legal marijuana businesses, that might be preferable to this Sword of Damocles hanging over the head of every pot business owner, held up by just a single thread.
-- Alex Bennett
Sunday, October 21, 2018
On March 30, 2017, Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore) introduced S.776, the Marijuana Revenue and Regulation Act.
The bill’s official title is “A bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to provide for the taxation and regulation of marijuana products, and for other purposes.” The legislation aims to remove marijuana from the list of controlled substances and set out requirements for the taxation and regulation of marijuana products.
Specifically, the federal tax code would be amended to impose: (1) an excise tax on any marijuana product produced in or imported into the U.S.; and (2) an occupational tax on marijuana production facilities and export warehouses. The definition of “marijuana product” wouldn’t include industrial hemp or any item containing marijuana that’s been approved by the FDA for sale for therapeutic purposes and is marketed and sold solely for that purpose.
Consequently, the Department of Justice would be required to remove marijuana from all schedules of controlled substances under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).
The bill appears to have contemplated criticism of legalizing marijuana on a federal level. The legislation would require producers, importers, and exporters of marijuana products to comply with rigorous licensing, recordkeeping, packaging, labeling, and advertising requirements. This would mean there will be greater control over the production and use of marijuana. The bill would establish penalties for violations of marijuana laws, including the prohibition of the sale of more than one ounce of marijuana in any single retail transaction.
Further, S.776 amends the CSA to require penalties for shipping or transporting marijuana into any state or jurisdiction where it’s illegal. Thus, states where cannabis is not legal will be protected from the substance crossing their borders. Currently, 39 states and the District of Columbia have laws legalizing marijuana (either medicinal or recreational), and the trend is towards greater acceptance of the substance.
Roughly six-in-ten Americans (62%) believe the use of marijuana should be legalized—a steady increase over the past decade, according to a new Pew Research Center survey. This is twice the number that were in favor of legalization in 2000 (31%). And the majorities of younger Americans say the use of marijuana should be legal, including Millennials (74%), Gen Xers (63%), and Baby Boomers (54%). Given these numbers, in addition to the clinical data showing that it can help improve patient quality of life and its potential for revenue and jobs, the proposed legislation has backing among most working adults in the country.
While there are numerous compelling arguments for legalization and the passing of S.776, opponents say there’s also research demonstrating the dangers of marijuana use. A study by Northwestern Medicine and Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School found that young adults who used marijuana only recreationally showed significant abnormalities in two key brain regions that are important in emotion and motivation.
In addition, law enforcement claims that parameters don't exist for determining when someone is under the influence of marijuana. There’s no blood-alcohol content (BAC) test, which makes enforcement worrisome. Critics also point to the fact that THC, the psychoactive component of cannabis, can stay in the bloodstream for days or weeks. As such, getting an accurate reading of impairment, and determining when marijuana was used, would entail some guesswork.
Potential Implications for the Cannabis Industry
As mentioned above, passage of S.776 would have a positive economic impact for the cannabis industry. For example, researchers in Colorado found that their taxed and regulated cannabis industry contributed more than $58 million to the local economy. Opponents are quick to point out that there was about $23 million in added costs to legalization, such as law enforcement and social services. However, the researchers at Colorado State University-Pueblo found that the county still wound up with a net positive impact of more than $35 million. The university’s report examined trends in revenue, construction, marijuana use, homelessness, crime, environmental impact, and other topics and found little conclusive evidence to support claims that marijuana legalization has caused widespread social change in the county.
Also, a national study in January found that legalizing marijuana across the country would create at least $132 billion in tax revenue and more than a million new jobs across the United States in the next decade. New Frontier Data, a data analytics firm that sponsored the study, said that the marijuana industry could create an “entirely new tax revenue stream for the government,” with millions of dollars in sales tax and payroll deductions.
The momentum certainly appears to be moving towards widespread legalization of marijuana at the federal level.
Another bill, the Marijuana Data Collection Act, with bipartisan support. would direct the Department of Health and Human Services to partner with other federal and state government agencies to study "the effects of State legalized marijuana programs on the economy, public health, criminal justice and employment." If enacted, the National Academy of Sciences would conduct the research and publish its findings within 18-months.
However, none of the several bills recently introduced in Congress, including S.776, are given more than a 3% chance of passage into law by Govtrack. Whether the push towards adoption of bills such as these once Congress reconvenes after the mid-term elections remains to be seen.
Spearheaded by Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) and California Rep. Barbara Lee, the Marijuana Justice Act is attempting to set the foundation, on a congressional level, for what equitable and progressive marijuana legalization should look like.
The Senate Bill, S. 1689, was introduced by New Jersey Senator Cory Booker on August 1, 2017, during the 1st Session of the 115th United States Congress. In January of this year, an identical bill was presented to the House of Representatives during the 2d Session, titled H.R. 4815, by California Representative Barbara Lee. Although the proposals have not yet garnered traction within Congress, the bills mark a progressive attitude towards legalization.
Senate Bill 1689 and House Bill 4815, both named the "Marijuana Justice Act", are a pair of identical Congressional bills that center marijuana legalization around criminal justice reform, accountability, and community reinvestment, and they represent the first time that companion legislation has been introduced in both chambers of Congress to remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).
The Marijuana Justice Act, if enacted, would:
- Remove marijuana from the US Controlled Substances Act, thereby ending the federal criminalization of cannabis;
- Incentivize states to mitigate existing and ongoing racial disparities in state-level marijuana arrests by:
- Cutting federal funding for state law enforcement and prison construction if a state disproportionately arrests and/or incarcerates low-income individuals and/or people of color for marijuana offenses and;
- Allowing entities to sue states that disproportionately arrest and/or incarcerate low-income individuals and/or people of color for marijuana offenses;
- Provide a process for expungement of federal convictions specific to marijuana possession;
- Allow individuals currently serving time in federal prison for marijuana-related violations the right to petition the court for resentencing;
- Create a community reinvestment fund to invest in communities most impacted by the failed War on Drugs.
A Bill to amend the Controlled Substances Act to provide for a new rule regarding the application of the Act to marihuana, and for other purposes.
The stated purpose of the Act is to de-schedule marijuana, apportion funds, and create a “Community Reinvestment Fund”.
Section 1. Short Title
Both bills began with their titles, with the Senate bill stating: This Act may be cited as the “Marijuana Justice Act of 2017”. The House bill has identical language, with the only amendment being the change of the date from 2017 to 2018 when the House bill was introduced.
Section 2. De-Scheduling Marihuana
This section serves as the cornerstone for the legalization aspect of the Act.
For context, the Controlled Substances Act is the federal drug policy that places all regulated substances into one of five schedules based on the potential for abuse, current accepted medical use, and degree of physical or psychological dependence resulting from abuse of the drug.
As quoted in the CSA, the finding for Schedule I drugs include that:
(A) The drug or other substance has a high potential for abuse.
(B) The drug or other substance has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.
(C) There is a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug or other substance under medical supervision.
Section 2 (a) of the Marijuana Justice Act is titled "Marijuana Removed from Schedule of Controlled Substances." The purpose of this section is to de-schedule marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) by striking the terms "marihuana" and "tetrahydrocannabinols", and re-designating subparagraphs within §202(c) of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 812). 21 U.S.C. 812 (c) (10) and 21 U.S.C. 812 (c) (17) force cannabis-related substances "marihuana" and "tetrahydrocannabinols," respectively, into schedule 1 regulated substances; therefore, by striking the terms as mentioned above, they would no longer be listed as schedule 1 substances under federal law.
Section 2 (b) of the Act, captioned “Removal of Prohibition on Import and Export”—§1010 (b) of the Controlled Substances Import and Export Act (21 U.S.C 960) strikes the language that penalizes:
Any person who -
- (1) … knowingly or intentionally imports or exports a controlled substance,
- (2) … knowingly or intentionally brings or possesses on board a vessel, aircraft, or vehicle a controlled substance, or
- (3) … manufactures, possesses with intent to distribute, or distributes … a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of marihuana.
Additionally, the Act would conform the following amendments to the Controlled Substances Act by striking variations of the term "marihuana" and restructuring the designations of paragraphs and subparagraphs within:
21 U.S.C. 802 (44) – Definitions
21 U.S.C. 841 (b) – Prohibited Acts, penalties
21 U.S.C. 842 (c) (2) (B) – Prohibited Acts, penalties with prior convictions
21 U.S.C. 843 (d) (1) – Prohibited Acts, penalties and terms of imprisonment
21 U.S.C. 859 (a) – Distribution to persons under age twenty-one, first offense
21 U.S.C. 860 (a) – Distribution or manufacturing in or near schools and colleges, penalties
21 U.S.C. 863 (d) – “Drug Paraphernalia” defined
21 U.S.C. 886 (d) – Payments and advances, Drug Pollution Fund
The last measure of de-scheduling marijuana would amend the National Forest System Drug Control Act of 1986 by striking the terms "marijuana and other" and "marihuana" from the act.
Section 3. Ineligibility for Certain Funds
Although this section is titled, “Ineligibility for Certain Funds” the section also provides guidelines for expungement and sentencing review.
Section 3 (a) provides definitions for terms such as “covered state,” “disproportionate arrest rate,” “low-income individual,” and several other terms cited throughout the section.
Section 3 (b) details the considerations for distributing Federal funding to states. Under the Act, if a state is determined to have a disproportionate arrest or incarceration rate for marijuana offenses, they will be deemed ineligible to receive federal funds to staff or construct a prison or jail. However, covered states will not be subject to more than a 10% reduction of funds that would otherwise go to law enforcement assistance programs, block grants, and justice assistance grant programs. Additionally, any funds not awarded to covered states will be deposited into the Community Reinvestment Fund.
Section 3 (c) requires that each Federal court issue an expunction for marijuana use or possession offenses that resulted in a conviction. Subsection (d) provides for sentencing review and states that individuals who have been sentenced and imprisoned have the right to motion the court to conduct a sentencing hearing. Lastly, subsection (e) allows individuals who have been aggrieved by the disproportionate arrest or incarcerations rate the right to bring a civil action in appropriate district courts.
Section 4. Community Reinvestment Fund
The final section of the Marijuana Justice Act establishes a "Community Reinvestment Fund" within the United States Treasury. According to the bill, deposits to the Fund will consist of funds not awarded to covered states, states that have not enacted a statute legalizing marijuana, because they have disproportionate arrest and/or incarceration rates for marijuana offenses in addition to amounts otherwise appropriated to the Fund.
Section 4 (c) outlines the uses for the funds; making them available to the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development to reinvest in communities most affected by the war on drugs by funding job training, re-entry services, community centers, and other programs and opportunities. The Act concludes by authorizing $500,000,000 to be appropriated to the Fund for each fiscal year from 2018 – 2040.
The Marijuana Justice Act is rooted in social justice and community development. While the objectives of the Act are noble and progressive, perhaps the Act is attempting to tackle too many issues at once. There has been vocalized support for federal legalization, making Section 2 of the Act the most accessible.
Additionally, expunction efforts for marijuana-related crimes have been a topic of discussion on both the West and East coasts. However, there is a likelihood that courts will get overloaded by individuals who desire to bring civil suits. In regards to the Community Reinvestment Fund, the introduction of the fund would be groundbreaking; however, it is important to realistically consider the logistics and operations of the fund, as there would need to be continuous data-collections and attention to the appropriations on a federal level. If the Act were to be passed in its entirety, it would be a victory for communities impacted by the war on drugs and individuals who have been negatively affected by the implicitly discriminatory enforcement of current marijuana laws.
There are typically two camps that exist when people argue for legalization. You have those who would want to set up a store and begin selling cannabis like the cash crop that it is, and those who couldn't care less what the strain is called as long as it stops their seizures, anxiety, opioid addiction, or whatever illness they have that is being treated by medical marijuana.
Does it matter what camp you're in? Is one more persuasive than the other? Medical marijuana seems to be the stronger camp when it comes to the act of actual legislation and implementation. That doesn't mean legislators aren't thinking about the profits, but it is easier to argue economics once you have a template thanks to medical marijuana.
Medical marijuana began its path to legalization in the 1990's when five states, Washington, Oregon, California, Alaska, and Maine put into place their own versions of laws that legalized the use of marijuana for medical purposes. Since then, medical marijuana has appeared to be the baby step before recreational legalization. It wasn't until 2012 that recreational marijuana became legal, and even then it was only Colorado and Washington.
Now, in 2018, we have 9 states and the District of Columbia with fully legal recreational marijuana and we seem to be on the path of increasing that number, but how?
One obvious argument for recreational legalization is the economic boom that comes with it. Colorado boasts a $506 million dollar profit from sales since recreational stores opened in 2014, according to CNN. In this current economic climate, that number should surely convince the public that marijuana is an incredibly profitable market and states should be running to legalize it. But why aren't they?
Fear. Marijuana is still a drug and drugs can be scary. Drugs lead to addiction, addiction leads to a downward spiral, and nobody wants their family or friends to go down that path. This argument comes in the form of driving while high. a recent Gallup pole shows that about 47% of the participants believe that driving will be less safe if there is legal marijuana. There hasn't been a scientifically proven way to determine if the driver themselves is high. We can test if there is THC present in the body but how long has it been there, is it enough to intoxicate this specific driver, and many more questions come in to play when assessing impaired driving.
Law enforcement in states with legalization have been trying to find a system that works together to maintain safety without assuming guilt. Certain states, like Colorado have implemented a legal limit of THC allowed to be present in the driver's system. Their officers have received special training, according to the state's website, that allow them to detect if a person is impaired due to drug use. This limit applies to MMJ and recreational users. The Washington Post compared two studies on the increase of auto accidents in states with legalization. The first was by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the second by The American Journal of Public Health. The American Journal found no increase in fatal car crashed but the Highway Safety found a 3% increase in auto accidents.
This is the part where people against legalization say that public safety and wellbeing is more important than money and the argument gets shut down. There is one thing that the states with recreational marijuana all have in common; they all had medical marijuana legalized before legalizing recreational use. This is how the state can test the waters for marijuana, the public reaction, the drawbacks, what the overhead costs really are, different methods that could be used in terms of patients picking up the marijuana. And when the fear of impaired driving comes out then advocates bring out a study done by the American Journal of Public Health that claimed there was a decrease in traffic fatality rates.
With what seems to be a movement towards legalization of marijuana across the United States, the best options for states that have not created medical marijuana laws, to do so before attempting to legalize recreational marijuana. It can placate certain fears of the general public, give the legislators a template, and it opens doors to those who really need it sooner rather than later.
--Loren D. Elkins
Saturday, October 20, 2018
On October 17 Canada became the second country to legalize marijuana allowing Canadians to grow, possess, and consume marijuana recreationally. Canada expects the legalization of recreational marijuana to boost their economy, but the laws surrounding marijuana are left up to each province's experimentation. Inquirer.net reports:
... legalization is expected to boost the Canadian economy, generating $816 million to $1.1 billion in the fourth quarter without taking into account the black market, which is expected to account for a quarter of all joints smoked in Canada, according to Statistics Canada.
A $400 million tax revenue windfall is forecast as a result, with the provinces, municipalities and federal government all getting a slice.
In total, Statistics Canada says 5.4 million Canadians will buy cannabis in legal dispensaries in 2018, about 15 percent of the population. 4.9 million already smoke.
Inquirer.net states that by legalizing marijuana, the Canadian federal government overturns the marijuana ban that had been in place since 1923. The federal government left the task of creating laws to regulate legal marijuana up to the individual provinces. Hence, the world gets to sit back and watch to see which province's experimental regulations work the best. The article further reports:
Several [provinces] have already said they will not fully implement the law.
For example, even though federal law will permit each household to grow up to four cannabis plants, central Manitoba and Quebec in the east say they will ban it and go all the way to the Supreme Court over the matter.
Like with alcohol and tobacco, the question of legal age also falls to the provinces. Nineteen seems to be the standard, but it is 18 in Alberta, while Quebec, whose new government will enter office the day after legalization, wants to raise the age to 21.
With regards to sales, some provinces such as Quebec will implement a public monopoly while others, including Ontario and Nova Scotia, have decided to trust the market to the private sector.
As for law enforcement, federal police will be ordered to abstain for 28 days before working, as will police in Toronto.
Officers in Montreal, however, are simply asked to not show up to work high.
Another issue for the provinces to mull over is open consumption, with Montreal deciding to impose the same rules as those for tobacco, while people in other provinces will have to light up at home.
Legalizing marijuana clearly leads to many new problems, but with each province able to conduct their own experiment concerning the laws surrounding legalization, perhaps these experiments will lead to a structure the rest of the world can implement when moving towards a greener future.
Thursday, October 18, 2018
Doctors in Britain can start writing cannabis prescriptions in less than a month. The motivation for the government to quickly legalize medical use came from two cases of sick children whose suffering was eased by cannabis. Both kids have life-threatening epileptic seizures and are successfully managing their diseases with cannabis. The New York Times reports:
The change was announced on Thursday by Home Secretary Sajid Javid, after he called for an urgent review of cannabis-based medicinal products over the summer, and his office said in July it had decided that “senior clinicians will be able to prescribe the medicines to patients with an exceptional clinical need.”
Mr. Javid said on Thursday, “Having been moved by heartbreaking cases involving sick children, it was important to me that we took swift action to help those who can benefit from medicinal cannabis.”
The home secretary commissioned the review after the cannabis-based medicine of Billy Caldwell, 12, who has life-threatening epileptic seizures, was confiscated at Heathrow Airport on June 11. The case was publicized in the British news media and prompted a national discussion on the legalization of medicinal cannabis products.
Ms. Caldwell, the young boy's mother, spoke praise of the Home Secretary for the "swift movements" on behalf of her son and others. The whole process, from Mr. Caldwell's case to approval of medicinal cannabis took about four months. The Home Secretary clarified that general practitioners will not be authorized to write cannabis scripts, but specialized doctors will have discretion to give patients who have exhausted other options access to medical cannabis. This change adds the U.K. to a growing list of states and countries that have legalized medical cannabis use.
--Manda Mosley Maier
Friday, October 12, 2018
As have various US states, BC is now faced with the dilemma of how to handle legalization of an industry that is still in its infancy. CBC has the story:
The B.C. government's expert on keeping people safe in the consumption of recreational cannabis says getting ready for legalization on Oct. 17 is still very much a work in progress.
"What we have been saying for the past eight months is that we are building the plane as we are flying it," said Gerald Thomas, the director of alcohol, tobacco, cannabis and gambling prevention and policy for the Ministry of Health.
Thomas is an academic consultant on public health as it relates to consumption of those substances.
On Friday, he participated in a panel discussion at a cannabis conference at the University of British Columbia on issues concerning upcoming legalization.
. . .
Thomas did not take questions from media afterwards, but told around 150 people in attendance that the government doesn't "have it right," when it comes to its recreational cannabis policy.
Since the majority of marijuana legalization policy has not had to stand the test of time, there is not a tried and true basis for British Colombia to model their policies on. CBC goes on to report:
Despite the work done to date, there are still unknowns such as how people seeking to use marijuana for therapeutic uses will get reliable advice in the legal recreational system.
It's also unclear what will happen to producers of products, like edibles, which aren't currently part of the recreational plan, and how police forces will deal with impaired driving and marijuana.
"Having just spent the last eight months of my life consumed by the cannabis monster, I call it, I would suggest with most of folks here that we don't have it right," said Thomas.
"We have been pushed to the wall to try and make this happen in such a short time frame."
Still he told the audience though that people in the government who are working to be ready for legalization are doing their best to get it right.
The article lastly notes that Thomas hopes the government can get marijuana policies right before parties conform to the existing structure and make the policies difficult to modify.
Saturday, September 29, 2018
On Friday, a small US territory made a big splash in the country’s marijuana legalization history. According to Forbes.com, the Governor of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands signed a bill into law that provides
adults over 21 years of age will be able to legally possess up to one ounce of marijuana, as well as infused products and extracts. Regulators will issue licenses for cannabis producers, testing facilities, processors, retailers, wholesalers and lounges. Home cultivation of a small number of plants will be allowed.
The article further points out that this is the first US jurisdiction “to go from having cannabis totally illegal to allowing recreational use without first having a medical marijuana program.” It was “unclear if the governor was going to sign or veto the legislation, as he had previously expressed concerns about the public safety implications of legalizing marijuana.”
Though the governor signed the recreational scheme into law, he also used his “line-item veto powers to cancel some provisions of the proposal, including one to allow a government entity to be licensed to grow cannabis, as well as a provision requiring recreational marijuana consumers to obtain $5 permits.”
Legalization advocates are hopeful about the effect this may have on other US Jurisdictions.
"This is the first legislatively enacted law in the U.S. that taxes and regulates marijuana for adults’ use, but it will be far from the last," Karen O'Keefe, state policies director for the Marijuana Policy Project, said in an interview. "New Jersey could follow suit within weeks, and as many as five more state legislatures could do so within the next year. Public support for legalizing marijuana is strong and growing, and elected officials are increasingly getting the message."
Other advocates are hopeful that the “building momentum will add pressure on the federal government to modernize its approach to cannabis.”
--Ashleigh Morgan Williams
Nevada is the latest state to feel the economic boom of legalized cannabis, and so far it is smooth sailing for state regulators. The state fully legalized the drug beginning in January 2017 and total industry sales soared over $500 million, $425 million of which came from recreational sales alone. These numbers drastically outperformed both state projections, and first year sales of other states. The Las Vegas Review-Journal has the story:
Including recreational and medical marijuana as well as marijuana-related goods and accessories, Nevada stores
eclipsed a half-billion dollars in sales, just under $530 million, according to figures released Tuesday by the Nevada Department of Taxation.
Bill Anderson, executive director of the Tax Department, said that the industry “has not only exceeded revenue expectations, but proven to be a largely successful one from a regulatory standpoint.”
“We have not experienced any major hiccups or compliance issues,” he added. “As we move into fiscal year 2019, we expect to see continued growth in the industry by way of additional businesses opening up, and we expect revenues to continue to be strong.”
This stunning performance translated into $70 million in tax revenue for the state. To give some context to these metrics, state regulators projected $265 million in sales and $50 million in tax revenue, according to the Review-Journal. Furthermore, the states of Colorado, Washington, and Oregon–largely considered to be trailblazing states in the cannabis industry, and all with larger populations than Nevada by at least 1 million citizens–recorded first-year cannabis sales of $303 million, $259 million, and $241 million, respectively, putting them far behind Nevada's first year numbers. Perhaps most surprisingly, despite being home to Las Vegas, Nevada only collected $49 million in intoxicating beverage taxes from 2016-2017, signaling that marijuana may be a greater source of revenue for the state than alcohol moving forward.
Nevada's "sinful" tourist economy can likely be thanked for such astounding numbers, although the state's casinos have come out against marijuana use in their facilities, out of fear of losing their gaming licenses. Additionally, the state's marijuana law prohibits consumption anywhere but in private residences. State Senator Tick Segerblom told the Las Vegas Sun: “The numbers are kind of leveling off, and we need to reach the tourist market a little more. We need a venue where people can come and enjoy marijuana properly."
These results suggest a few things: first, that tourism economies can drive marijuana sales even in states with lower populations and where marijuana use is not widely supported by dominant businesses. Second, that as more states legalize cannabis they may take cues from states that have previously approved legalization in order to more efficiently bring the drug to market. Finally, that there is still much progress to be made with respect to laws surrounding marijuana consumption in states where it has been made legal. Perhaps as more states begin venturing into legalization, they will use Nevada as a model of how best to regulate, tax, and sell cannabis.
September 29, 2018 in Business, Commercial Law, Decriminalization, Drug Policy, Legislation, Medical Marijuana, News, Politics, Recreational Marijuana, State Regulation, Taxation, Travel | Permalink | Comments (1)
Friday, September 21, 2018
A U.S. House committee approved a bill last week that would require the Department of Justice to issue licenses to marijuana growers for research purposes. Cannabis Business Times reports that while the bill has not yet been scheduled for a vote before the full House, the committee action is nonetheless a significant step in the legislative process.
The Medical Cannabis Research Act of 2018 would open the door to a more robust federal licensing process that would allow medical-grade cannabis to be grown for state-funded research. Since 1968 and up to the present day, only the University of Mississippi has held such a license.
If the bill were to pass, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions would be required to license two research facilities for cannabis cultivation within one year. For each year after that, he (or the successive attorneys general) would be required to license an additional three research facilities.
While there have been a slew of cannabis-related bills written on Capitol Hill, Thursday's approval of the Medical Cannabis Research Act by the House Judiciary Committee places the bill ahead of most others. Here's a video of the hearing:
-- Jason Carr
Monday, September 10, 2018
A bill filed in Congress would allow veterans to get medical marijuana from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. While a growing number of military veterans use medical marijuana for the treatment of PTSD, chronic pain, and other mental and physical war wounds, however, federal law prohibits VA doctors from prescribing it. That might change.
Senators Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Brian Schatz (D-HI) recently filed the Medical Marijuana for Veterans Safe Harbor Act that would legalize medical marijuana for veterans and empower physicians in the VA to issue medical marijuana recommendations in accordance with the laws of "the State in which the use, possession, or transport occurs." Despite the fact that state laws that legalize the use of medical marijuana are preempted by federal laws which prohibit such use, this bill effectively harmonizes federal law governing the VA with state law in states where medical marijuana is legal.
According to Tom Angell of Forbes, who reports on the story, Senators Nelson and Schatz are addressing long-term goals such as cannabis research and reduction of opioid use among veterans. The bill allocates $15 million for research on "the effects of medical marijuana on veterans in pain" and "the relationship between treatment programs involving medical marijuana that are approved by States, the access of veterans to such programs, and a reduction in opioid abuse."
Some form of medical marijuana is permitted in 31 states and this legislation would grant veterans the same access to legitimately prescribed medication as other patients in those 31 states would have. Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, says that "Historically, veteran and military communities have long been at the forefront of American social change, catalyzing widespread acceptance of evolving cultural norms and perceptions surrounding racial, gender, and sexual equality. The therapeutic use of cannabis by veterans follows this trend and members of Congress should follow their lead and pass the Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act."
Monday, September 3, 2018
Maybe, according to lawyers Jinouth Vasquez Santos (Los Angeles) and Stanley Jutkowitz (D.C.) of Seyfarth Shaw LLP. The pair have a recent client advisory that notes what's going on up in Baja Manitoba:
Just two years ago, North Dakota voters passed medical marijuana legalization with 64 percent support. Now, North Dakota could join a number of sanctuary states legalizing recreational marijuana.
Through an effort called Legalize ND, proponents of recreational marijuana submitted more than the required 13,452 valid petition signatures to get a measure on the November 2018 general election ballot.
If passed, the measure would legalize the cultivation, possession, use, and distribution of marijuana and authorize the state, counties, and other municipalities to tax the sale of marijuana at no more than 20 percent. The measure would also remove penalties related to marijuana use from state law.
However, voters should expect an uphill battle. Opponents argue that legalization will create a lot of problems with regard to regulations and will increase crime. But if passed, one thing's for sure, if you can smoke it there, you may well be able to smoke it anywhere.
So how will this affect employers? It's a bit hazy. The measure does not have any specific provisions impacting an employer's right to drug test or to make employment decisions based on a positive drug test.
However, based on North Dakota's medical marijuana provisions which provide that the statute does not prohibit an employer from disciplining an employee for possessing or consuming usable marijuana in the workplace or for working while under the influence of marijuana, one can assume the same may apply if North Dakota legalizes recreational marijuana.
Vasquez Santos and Jutkowitz
Wednesday, August 29, 2018
A vote to legalize marijuana in New Jersey could be approaching in the upcoming month. New Jersey Senate President, Stephen Sweeney recently expressed confidence that there will be enough votes to pass a recreational bill as early as this Fall. However, the vote may face delay as there have been changes in budget proposals, and currently, a pair of new bills regarding recreational legalization and medical expansion are awaiting finalization.
Governor Phil Murphy has built a reputation as being a champion for legalization in the name of social justice. While Murphy's promise of legalizing recreational marijuana within his first 100 days in office did not come to fruition, he has been able to make strides in expanding the state's medical marijuana program by including more qualifying conditions.
Although Murphy wants the legalization efforts to materialize, budgetary obstacles are proving challenging to get around. Reports stated that Murphy intended to include $60 million in revenue of a state budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year, with many legalization supporters hoping the revenue would go toward an expungement program. More detail can be found in an article in Rolling Stone:
Advocates want this expungement to be automatic, where the state takes on the process of expunging records rather than the person charged. However Kate Bell, legislative council for the Marijuana Policy Project, says that the phrase “automatic” is very misleading.
“People have this idea that the government can still press a button and magically expunge all these past convictions, but that’s not necessarily correct,” Bell says.
Record expungement is affecting marijuana policies across the nation, as a California expunction bill has just passed the Senate and is awaiting the Governor's signature. On the opposite coast, Senate Bill S-2702 was introduced in early June by NJ Senator Nicholas Scutari and would legalize marijuana for adults 21 and over, and included a provision about expungement; however, expungements would still require an application.
Although there is no concrete time frame for New Jersey to pass legislation, an increase in cannabis-related arrests and racial disparities in said arrests has yielded a newfound urgency for legislative action.
-- Gianna Redeemer
Tuesday, August 28, 2018
Californians who have marijuana convictions on their records may soon be getting some relief. NPR reports that a California bill, AB-1793, has passed the Senate and is expected to be signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown in the coming week.
California legalized recreational use of marijuana in 2016 when voters passed Proposition 64. That proposition applied retroactively to convictions for many marijuana-related offenses that occurred before 2016. But it did not contain provisions to enable those eligible to have such convictions removed from their record or reduced to from felonies to misdemeanors.
AB-1793 would mandate that eligible persons be given the chance to clean up their records. In fact, the Bill requires California State Department of Justice officials to determine which cases are eligible for review and send them to the District Attorneys' office by July 1, 2019.
While the bill has received pushback from those who believe people with marijuana-related convictions should not be given a free pass, the City of San Francisco has already begun the process of expunging or reducing convictions for possession and recreational use going back to 1975. aSince people were unfamiliar with the process, a mere 23 people in the city had started the process themselves. This is not surprising, as the expunction process can be expensive and those who were affected by these convictions likely do not have the resources to pay an attorney.
Brown has a history of pardoning people who were convicted on charges concerning controlled substances and drugs. It is likely difficult for many people with a criminal record to hire an attorney to discuss the mere possibility of expunction for charges filed up to forty years ago. By putting most of the burden on the state, AB-1793 will relieve the stress of those whose past actions would be legal today in California. . "[The] role of government should be to ease burdens and expedite the operation of law," said San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon, "not create unneeded obstacles, barriers and delay."
Friday, August 17, 2018
There are about a dozen cannabis-related bills floating around Congress at the moment. The one that's probably getting the most attention is the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment by Entrusting States ("STATES") Act, introduced by Senators Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). Over at Marijuana Law, Policy, and Authority blog, Professor Rob Mikos (Vanderbilt) offers his take on the good and bad. The bill would substantially increase protections for marijuana businesses, but he notes at least three significant problems:
[T]he STATES Act effectively bars legal claims that might be asserted by a host of other parties, including other federal agencies (think of the Federal Reserve’s disapproval of marijuana banks), state officials (think of preemption claims filed by states), and private parties (think of Civil RICO suits brought by private landowners against marijuana suppliers). The STATES Act would do this by making marijuana legal, at least when a state chooses to do so.
To be sure, the STATES Act is less bold than some other proposals that have been floated in Congress . . . But the latest bill’s more cautious approach should make it more politically viable.
 The protection afforded by the STATES Act hinges upon marijuana suppliers (and users) staying in “compliance with State law.” . . . But . . . this approach could leave state licensed marijuana suppliers (and users) exposed to harsh federal criminals sanctions for committing seemingly minor violations of state law. Imagine, for example, that a supplier is licensed by her state to cultivate 1,000 plants, but she actually keeps 1,001 plants in her warehouse. The state might treat this as a minor violation, perhaps subjecting the supplier to a warning or small fine. But if the STATES Act is interpreted literally, she would now be criminally liable under federal law (after all, she is no longer in “compliance” with state law). And she might face a 10 year mandatory sentence under the CSA . . . .
 The STATES Act proposes to tie the federal government to the mast of 50 ships being sailed by the states. Indeed, the very title of the bill declares that the federal government “entrusts” the states with responsibility for this important policy domain. But this raises problems for both prohibitionists and reformers alike.
On the one hand, marijuana prohibitionists might worry that states will authorize objectionable marijuana activities–in the process, forcing Congress to do so as well. . . .
On the other hand, supporters of legalization might find the proposed bill somewhat hollow. In the press conference announcing the bill (watch here), Senator Warren gave an impassioned plea for legalization of marijuana. . . . But if prohibition is really so problematic, why not legalize marijuana throughout the nation? The STATES Act doesn’t really do that. . . .
 Here are just some of the questions raised but not answered by the bill:
--Would military personnel be allowed to use marijuana, medically or otherwise?
--Would employers or landlords have to accommodate medical use of marijuana under the Americans With Disabilities Act?
--Could states continue to ban commercial marijuana advertising, given that the constitutionality of such bans has arguably hinged on federal marijuana prohibition (see book pages 501-504)?
--Would the Food and Drug Administration continue to bar marijuana suppliers from making medical claims regarding the health benefits of their products?
-- Frank Snyder
Tuesday, October 24, 2017
Some New York citizens are attempting to hold a state referendum to convene a state constitutional convention. They hope to accomplish state-goals like dismantling campaign finance laws, enacting term limits, and ending gerrymandering. But other supporters are seeking a state constitutional convention for a very different reason: the legalization of adult-use marijuana. Tom Precious of The Buffalo News reports:
Stymied in their efforts to get the Legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo to go along with their idea, these advocates see a convention of delegates brought together to consider changes to the constitution as a means to loosen marijuana laws.
It's not an easy sell. Nowhere on the statewide ballot is there any guarantee that any issue, whether it’s marijuana or anti-corruption ideas, would even be considered in a convention…. Recent polls reveal that 49 percent of New Yorkers support adult-use legalization of marijuana, compared to the 47 percent who remain opposed.
This referendum, known as Proposal 1, is seeking support from left-leaning citizens like proponents of Senator Bernie Sanders and Black Lives Matter. Such support is crucial because of the appeal that a constitutional convention could lead to sweeping changes in the law which would create more equal opportunities and treatment for the state's citizens.
Surprisingly, this effort is not inducing the support of pro-legalization groups like the Washington, DC-based Marijuana Policy Project. These groups are hesitant to support Proposal 1 because of their alliances on broader policy agendas with various groups that actively oppose the referendum.
Opponents of Proposal 1 fear the uncertain outcomes that could result from a constitutional convention—the United States last held one in 1787, and it led to the creation of an entirely new constitution. And while voters in New York consider whether to hold a state convention every twenty-years, the last one actually held was in 1968 and produced no changes to the state's constitution.
Another problem facing proponents of a state constitutional convention involves being badly outspent by their opponents:
[T]he one anti-Proposal 1 group, funded almost exclusively by an array of labor unions, has raised $1.5 million for its campaign to stop the convention. Four main groups backing the convention question have brought in under $400,000.
Meanwhile, pro-legalization supporters have raised less than $150,000 and spent just $9,700 in campaign expenditures since July. Raising money has proven difficult for supporters due to the overwhelming union opposition and the difficulty in convincing potential donors that the marijuana issue would even be decided if a convention was held.
Labor unions maintain a firm opposition to Proposal 1 because of the possibility that it would strip away hard-won rights, like collective bargaining. Nick Reisman of Spectrum Local News asked New York's AFL-CIO President Mario Cliento his take on Proposal 1:
“With those strong labor protections comes a way of life. We want to be able to protect what we have for ourselves and our families well into the future and that's why the labor movement in this state is so adamantly opposed to a constitutional convention[.]”
While every state that has legalized adult-use marijuana has done so through legislation, some citizens in New York have grown impatient with their state's legislature and thus are pursuing legalization through a different avenue. But this road to legalization contains many uncertainties— the most prevalent being whether the marijuana issue will even be raised if a convention is held.
Sunday, October 8, 2017
Atlanta has joined a host of cities and states throughout the country which have drastically reduced the penalties for marijuana possession that the federal government established decades ago. Atlanta's unanimous decision to decriminalize marijuana possession has inspired legalization advocates nationwide due to its breaking away from both the federal government and the state its located in. Carl Willis of WSB-TV reports the impact of Atlanta's new law:
The current law allows for a penalty of up to $1,000 and up to six months in jail for anyone caught in possession of less than 1 ounce of marijuana. The new legislation would lower that to just a $75 ticket and no jail time.
Councilman Kwanza Hall proposed this legislation during his current run for Atlanta's mayor. State Senator Vincent Fort, another candidate for mayor, also supported Hall's decriminalization efforts. They have both stated their motivation behind their efforts involves how the former law unfairly punished African-Americans.
Citing studies that show whites and blacks use marijuana at virtually the same rate, they reveal that 92 percent of Atlanta's arrests for marijuana possession under an ounce are African-American.
Stanley Atkins, an Atlanta citizen, supports the new law because a marijuana arrest as a teenager caused him to lose his employment. Atkins explains how the former law ruined lives:
"I have associates who have completely lost jobs. They've lost careers. I know students that have lost scholarships," Atkins said. "That cancels an internship, which later on cancels a potential job opening."
Opponents of the ordinance fear that removing jail time from marijuana possession offenses will be a disservice to young people because "it could encourage them to take more risks with marijuana, which some consider to be a gateway to harder drugs."
Another worry stems from increased driving fatalities. Police believe this law will "contribute to an increased possibility of folks driving under the influence of marijuana."
While this may be a big step towards Georgia pursuing similar laws statewide, the new city ordinance does not supersede state law. Thus, Georgia could withhold funding or send in state police to compel Atlanta to adhere to its state's law, if it so chooses.
Alternatively, Atlanta's Chief of Police could ignore the ordinance and continue making marijuana possession arrests. However, State Senator Hall believes this is an unlikely outcome due to police desiring stronger community relations. And when a community unanimously passes such legislation, Atlanta's police may find itself reluctant to go against the public's wishes.
Tuesday, September 26, 2017
Marijuana advocates continue to develop new and exciting ways to partake in the booming business of marijuana consumption. Loopr, a Denver-based marijuana party bus company, plans to create another "green line" in Massachusetts' transit economy. But instead of a green line focusing on transporting passengers via the subway, Denver's 'Puff Bus' will provide passengers a fun transportation experience largely revolved around marijuana consumption. Alban Murtishi of MassLive.com reports:
Loopr allows patrons to consume various forms of marijuana while riding on a bus through downtown Denver. The bus route stops at restaurants, hotels, nightspots and marijuana dispensaries.
According to the company, the Loopr vehicles, called Puff Buses, offer dazzling multimedia experiences with curated music and light shows.
Riders are allowed to smoke or consume marijuana in the back partition of the bus. The bus comes equipped with several different smoking implements, such as water pipes, vaporizers and hookahs.
The company doesn't sell marijuana, but partners with different dispensaries to get riders discounts.
While at first glance the 'Puff Bus' sounds like a fun experience, the potential legal hurdles will likely hinder its operation. Although party buses involving alcohol consumption are quite common in America, there are many differences concerning marijuana and alcohol, especially pertaining to their legal statuses and effects on third persons.
The obvious concern is how the federal government will react to such a company. Loopr supporters will point to the federal government's lack of enforcing its marijuana ban on Loopr's current business model in Denver, Colorado. Supporters will argue that the states should retain their autonomy and decide for themselves if they want to enact the appropriate legislation to permit such a mobile-marijuana-consumption company.
Opponents of legalization will face a tough battle if they depend on federal enforcement. It has been 5 years since Colorado first legalized marijuana, and the federal government has not shown an intent to fully enforce its ban, instead requesting legalized states to follow certain priorities.
However, a strong argument against Loopr involves public safety. Unlike alcohol, marijuana use has a noted effect on those around it, even if they don't personally consume the drug. Opponents can argue that the bus driver will be affected by the rampant marijuana consumption in a small and enclosed bus, thus impairing the driver and creating an unsafe environment for fellow commuters on the road.
Opponents can bolster this argument by referring to one of the federal government's listed priorities from the 2013 Cole II memo: To prevent drugged driving and exacerbation of other adverse public health consequences.
Ultimately, until the federal government clarifies the national law or decides to enforce the current ban, legalized adult-use states like Massachusetts will issue the final decision on whether to legalize businesses such as Loopr.
Saturday, September 16, 2017
Ever since the state-scale referendums in 2014 began legalizing adult use of marijuana, a
common concern amongst opponents of marijuana legalization is the overall uptick in marijuana use that will stem from said legalization. Although marijuana use has increased since 2015, a new study from the Addiction journal rejects that the increase was caused by the increased legalization of marijuana and marijuana derivatives. Rather, an Addiction study found that a change in public opinion has led to a change in legislation, not the other way around. According to Tom Angell’s Study: Rise in Marijuana Use Not Caused by Legalization:
Researchers at the Public Health Institute's Alcohol Research Group analyzed data from periodic National Alcohol Surveys and stacked its results on marijuana use against changes in state laws.
Twenty-nine states and Washington, D.C. have comprehensive legal medical cannabis programs, and eight states and D.C. have legalized marijuana for adults over 21 years of age.
They found that instead of being caused by policy changes, the rise in cannabis use was "primarily explained by period
effects," meaning societal factors that affect populations across age and generational groups. The authors identify a decreasing disapproval of marijuana use as one such factor potentially at play.
But they are clear that the rise in use was not caused by changes to marijuana laws.
"The steep rise in marijuana use in the United States since 2005 occurred across the population and is attributable to general period effects not specifically linked to the liberalization of marijuana policies in some states," the paper's abstract says.
Angell furthers his "chicken or the egg" argument by pointing to similar factors. For example: due to the growing acceptance of marijuana use by the public at large, coupled with the changes in regulation that reflect this acceptance, Angell believes that more people are simply willing to admit to using marijuana or marijuana derivatives. This logic leads Angell to believe that increased use and acceptance of marijuana has influenced recent legalization, rather than the other way around.