Thursday, November 1, 2018
I recently interviewed police officer Jane Doe to get her take on how her police department and the greater Dallas County area handles illegal marijuana usage. Officer Doe thought it would be easier to be candid if should could speak without attribution.
Whether there are policies in place at the local level, whether there are “unwritten rules” on how to handle marijuana, if she has seen changes on how marijuana usage is handled throughout the years, her opinion on allocating police resources towards illegal marijuana usage, and her thoughts on the future of marijuana in the criminal sphere.
Jane Doe has been working for the department for several years. She started off as an emergency dispatcher and transitioned into becoming a police officer. Due to her roles in the police department, she had the opportunity to see how other police officers handled marijuana related cases, see any changes made on a wide-spread level, and has practiced those regulations as an officer herself.
Q: Can you tell me a little about your background and what got you interested in becoming a police officer?
A: I have always wanted to be a police officer. I grew up in Pleasant Grove [a neighborhood in Dallas, Texas; an area with one of the highest crime rates in the country and full of drug dealers]. I saw how often people would slip through the cracks or just were not given a fair chance as well as bad people who wanted to cause harm so I wanted to do something on a local level to help. Becoming a police officer was a method to help keep the streets safe from actual bad people but also help those that just made a mistake and need a kick in the right direction. Too often the police officers working in high crime rate areas do not understand the issues people face and have difficulty building a relationship with the community.
Q: During your training to become a police officer was there any focus on dealing with marijuana users?
A: Minimal, the training focused on the difference of driving under influence and driving while intoxicated. Substances would be more subjective tests – eyes, smell, speak, stuff like that. When dealing with marijuana, the officer has more discretion on whether fines, arrests, or sobriety tests are performed. Dallas County has more lenient rules for marijuana.
Q: Was there anything different about your marijuana training compared to other crimes?
A: Not really; we mostly follow the same procedures for all possibilities. There are some different levels of caution, calling-in, discretion, and other procedures but there was not anything that stuck out about dealing with possible marijuana possession.
Q: Once on the job, did you find any differences in dealing with marijuana users compared to that in your training?
A: Not really, no. Of course with experience and field work all things change for the better but the training was definitely a good and accurate starting point on how to handle such calls. However, I did come in contact with a lot more marijuana possession instances than I thought I would. It is definitely not segregated to a certain class or type people as a lot of sources might make it seem. The interactions are daily; about two out of every five traffic stops, I can smell or tell that the person or someone in the car has been using marijuana or has it on them. On highway stops, it increases to about 90% of them are marijuana users; again ranged in all type of people.
Q: Do people caught with marijuana say anything or how do they address it?
A: Scared and worried; ignorance of the legal process – they do not know that just because it looks like they have been smoking weed, it still needs to be proven. Their response really has a lot to do with how officers deal with the person.
Q: How would you describe your interactions?
A: More of a personal interaction – like a friend. They react a lot more relaxed and straight forward.
Q: Any large differences on how other cops act with them, compared to yourself?
A: New officers, less experienced officers, or those sheltered growing up are awkward about their role and often it does not go as smoothly. Also seen other officers who are great in interacting with people and communicating with general public – makes the people feel comfortable.
Q: What happens when they admit to having MJ?
A: If it is a usable amount then it is an arrest but I explain to people what is going to happen (class B misdemeanor). I try to be very helpful as far as let them call their moms or spouses, whatever they need to alert someone of what is about to happen.
Q: From your experience on the job and from what you hear from other officers has the amount of marijuana users changed in the past few years?
A: People are a lot more comfortable smoking out in public or in their cars or everywhere whereas before they were trying to hide. Depends a lot on the officer – a lot of officer discretion. I always find myself asking why I should arrest someone over such a small amount when I could be arresting someone on meth or committing a violent crime.
Q: Has legalization of adult use of marijuana in other states had any impact in Texas?
A: Feel like Texas is doing its own thing regardless of other states; don’t see it changing anytime soon.
Q: Has legalization of adult use of marijuana in other states impacted how people defend their marijuana use?
A: Absolutely, for people, a lot of people do not know the laws so for example people order stuff online and don’t know it is a felony. Higher charge than a bag of weed. THC pens and gummies and all sorts of things. The FedEx security unit calls the cops if they see anything or smell anything regarding marijuana usage. We do not arrest the buyer or seller, the item is just put under a “found property report” and then people call in, mad that their item never arrived. We only arrest if the item is found on the person.
Q: Have there been any changes in orders from the chief of police on how to deal with marijuana users?
A: No, there has been no comment on it from chief of police. Our department is a lot smaller however so maybe the chief for Dallas has said something about it.
Q: Compared to other drug related offenses, how prevalent is marijuana?
A: Marijuana comes across a lot more often but partly because of smell but it is just as much of an issue as other substances. People under the influence of marijuana are a lot more relaxed and chill, easier to explain, easier to deal with because of nature of substance. Cocaine, alcohol, and crack and other substances make them a lot harder to handle because of nature of the substance. There is also the chance that whatever they used might be mixed with something else.
Q: For other substances, is there also officer discretion?
A: Yes, different because it is a lot easier to test, bigger charge, marijuana alone is its own safety code under the Health and Safety Code - a definite arrest.
Q: Do you come across a large amount of dealers?
A: No, “big time” dealers just some dude with scales and wad of money. They vary from nerdy looking kid to guy who resisted and fought officers. It’s a never know.
Q: Do you see any changes coming to how your department or police departments in general handle marijuana related crimes in the next five to ten years?
A: Probably not; I think things stay about the same in Texas. No drastic changes coming anytime soon.
--Fernando Lira Gomez
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
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.
Friday, October 19, 2018
Two prominent Oklahoma hospitals have instructed their physicians to not make recommendations for medical cannabis under the state's new MMJ law, according to a recent article in Tulsa World. The private Tulsa-based Saint Francis Health System and the public Oklahoma State University Medical Center are turning away requests for cannabis recommendations from their primary care providers.
These hospitals are doing a disservice to their patients and should reconsider their decisions. Patients should not be blocked from using these treatments because of antiquated laws and outdated perceptions of the substance.
Cannabis Illegal and of No Therapeutic Value, Health Systems Say
A Saint Francis spokeswoman has said that hospital rules require physicians to follow federal law, which considers marijuana a prohibited Schedule 1 drug. She explained in a statement:
Warren Clinic’s provider contracts and our hospitals’ bylaws require that physicians follow both state and federal laws governing the practice of medicine … To this end, Warren Clinic physicians and providers are not able to endorse or promote the use of cannabis with their patients.
For its part, OSU Medical Center pointed out that its decision was based on the lack of evidence that any of the Schedule 1 drugs on the federal list have therapeutic value.
“Schedule I drugs lack clinical evidence for therapeutic purposes,” a statement from OSU Medical Center reads. “To this end, OSUMC physicians and providers are not able to endorse or promote the use of cannabis with their patients.”
True, marijuana is still illegal under federal law as a Schedule I drug. However, there is a move in many states to approve recreational marijuana (California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada), as well as and medical marijuana use (Florida, North Dakota, and Arkansas). There are now eight states where individuals can purchase marijuana for recreational use and 28 states and Washington, D.C. where medical marijuana is legal under state law.
Hospitals are exposed to a significant risk for allowing cannabis use by patients as cannabis continues to be illegal under federal law. This is because hospitals receive their accreditation from the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services. These facilities also receive federal funds which may be vital to their ability to operate and provide services.
This threat may be perceived as real—especially since U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said that he will enforce federal law as it pertains to marijuana. Sessions rescinded a 2013 memo by the Obama administration that instructed federal attorneys not to hinder states’ ability to legalize marijuana, provided state officials prevented the drug from migrating to places where it remained outlawed, such as federal property, and kept it away from criminal gangs and children. This will allow U.S. attorneys throughout the country to decide whether to devote federal resources to marijuana enforcement based on their district’s priorities. Hospitals are reticent to risk penalties and the loss of federal funding by prescribing or providing the drug in their facilities.
But with more states approving the use of marijuana, hospitals are frequently being asked to allow patients to bring in their own supply for their own use. These hospitals have created their own inpatient medical marijuana policies. To help standardize this, the Minnesota Hospital Association has created a set of policy templates. These policies may help to insulate the hospital and its staff from the threat of federal prosecution, and permit patients to use a drug that has proven to be effective in their treatment.
Healthcare providers such as Saint Francis should implement similar policies that help to reduce liability without sacrificing patient care. Yes, there are potential legal implications for such an approach -- but the likelihood they will be targeted for prosecution is low, while the likely improved patient outcomes are high.
The benefits of medical marijuana have been proven. Patients report many benefits of CBD or cannabidiol—the chemical found in marijuana plants. This includes relieving insomnia, anxiety, spasticity, and pain, as well as epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and the side effects of chemotherapy. In fact, one form of childhood epilepsy, Dravet syndrome, is nearly impossible to control; however, it has been found to respond dramatically to a CBD-dominant strain of marijuana called Charlotte’s Web.
Those suffering from debilitating illnesses should not be denied access to treatments that can help them, whether it is to ease their pain or to find a cure. Medical research in the past 20 years has uncovered substantial data about the benefits of medical marijuana and the chemicals found in cannabis. Further, hospitals are warranted in putting their federal funding at risk in order to prescribe marijuana in the interest of improved patient care and outcomes.
The Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority has released a list of close to 40 physicians across the state who have registered as providers willing to recommend medical marijuana for patients. The agency said it released the list “as a courtesy” to potential applicants whose own physicians may be unwilling to sign a recommendation. But patients of St. Francis and OSU deserve to get this badly needed medicine from their own providers.
Sunday, October 14, 2018
Florida Department of Health Just Approved the State's First Online Medical Cannabis Shopping Portal
I n an era where nearly everything can be purchased online, Liberty Health Sciences Inc. and Alternate Heath Corp. paired up to created FlorPass--Florida's first approved e-commerce for medical cannabis. According to a recent article by Yahoo! Finance, FlorPass is transforming how patients shop for their cannabis products.
"As the only medical cannabis e-commerce system approved by the Florida Department of Health, we have established an innovative model with the ability to capture the statewide market for digital cannabis transactions," says Dr. Michael Murphy, Chairman and CEO of Alternate Health.
Currently, the FlorPass online portal is available to certified patients in St. Petersburg and Tampa. But there are plans to expand to additional locations before the end of this month.
"This is not only a functional way to do transactions, FlorPass will help us grow our business by building better relationships with our patients and enhance overall patient satisfaction. We will continue to invest in state-of-the-art technology to support the development of our products and remain committed to providing guidance and continued care throughout the entire patient experience," said George Scorsis , CEO of Liberty Health Sciences.
In 2017, the FlorPass Electronic Medical Records platform launched in clinics and doctor's offices throughout Florida. FlorPass received strong support from the American Medical Marijuana Physicians Association (AMMPA) which allowed Alternate Health to rapidly onboard new physicians, clinics and patients. FlorPass currently has over 7,500 patients registered in their system.
The strong support from large players in the medical cannabis industry coupled with the convenience factor of having products available to patients online could mean a shift in the way we see other companies approach sales.
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
Friday, September 28, 2018
A California judge ruled that a kindergartner can continue bringing her cannabis-based drug to school. The 5-year old at the center of this ruling is Brooke Adams, a Santa Rosa student who is living with a rare form of epilepsy, treatable with an ointment that contains the same active ingredient found in marijuana. The oil is applied three times a day by a nurse who accompanies Adams to school.
FoxNews.com reporter Christopher Carbone provides the full story:
The Rincon Valley Union School District had sought to ban the ointment from the school because it contains the active ingredient in marijuana.
Officials said allowing Adams to use the drug at school would violate state and federal laws barring medical marijuana on school grounds.
. . .
The judge's temporary order permitted the young girl to start school in August while the district's objections were considered. . .
Judge Charles Marson made the order permanent on Friday.
California law currently allows for the use of medical marijuana in private spaces with a doctor's recommendation. Additionally, California's Medical Marijuana Law provides, "Patients should avoid possession of marijuana in school zones, as there are typically additional penalties for the possession, use, and cultivation of marijuana near schools, whether it is for medical or recreational use."
Adams' situation demonstrates the need for guidance in regards to cases similar to hers, as medical marijuana is proving to be a viable solution for numerous illnesses and diseases.
Joe Rogoway, attorney for the Adams family, stated he "hopes the ruling opens the door for other students who say they need to use a cannabis-based drug on campus for medical reasons."
Assistant Superintendent, Cathy Myhers shared a similar sentiment stating, "We are happy to have a decision that supports our ability to educate and serve this student in our public schools."
-- Gianna Redeemer
Saturday, September 22, 2018
It's no secret that recreational marijuana is a cash cow, but until recently, retailers have had no piggy bank in which to deposit all their earnings. However, thanks to the efforts of Gardner Federal Credit Union, marijuana dispensaries in Massachusetts may have found a home for their earnings. The Boston Business Journal has the story:
The bank said Friday afternoon that it would begin banking for the industry, working with Safe Harbor Services, a
wholly-owned affiliate of Partner Colorado Credit Union that is the leader in compliance-based cannabis banking services.
“As a credit union committed to helping people and serving the underserved, we found in Safe Harbor a partner who offered a viable and proven compliant-based cannabis banking option and a way to keep our communities safe. Our board of directors recognizes the need to provide banking services for the safety of our citizens in reducing the ‘cash on the streets’ and I applaud them for their vision and commitment to providing public safety," said GFA Federal Credit Union’s CEO, Tina Sbrega.
Banking has long been a thorn in the side of recreational marijuana retailers. Because marijuana is still illegal at the federal level, if a bank were to accept funds derived from marijuana sales, that would constitute money laundering. The resulting friction between state legalization and federal drug policy has created an business ecosystem where cash is king. Colorado marijuana entrepreneur Babak Behzadzadeh told The New York Times: "If we had bank accounts, it'd be much easier."
Safe Harbor Services began helping local banks and credit unions in Colorado accept marijuana money in 2014, serving a vital–and very profitable–role in the cannabis industry. The company has expanded its reach outside of Colorado, now offering its services to credit unions like Gardner Credit Union in Massachusetts. The company is able to help its customers deposit their cannabis profits "legally" by ensuring that none of the money is derived from activities specifically prohibited by the Cole memorandum, and that the banks who accepted cannabis cash were careful about what they did with it–specifically ensuring that it did not migrate outside of states in which marijuana was legal. However, with the recent rescission of the Cole memorandum by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, it is not clear that Safe Harbor will be able to continue offering their services to financial institutions.
Polls show that the majority of Americans favor legalization of marijuana, and 30 states have legalized the drug in some form. With this increasing momentum in favor of legalization, states have expressed an interest in allowing banks to accept money derived from marijuana sales in order to quell threats of violence and robbery to marijuana businesses, who generally carry large amounts of cash on hand. Whether the current administration will crack down on organizations like Safe Harbor and their partners like Gardner Credit Union in Massachusetts remains to be seen, but something will have to be done with all of the cash currently being generated by the marijuana industry.
September 22, 2018 in Banking, Business, Commercial Law, Decriminalization, Drug Policy, Federal Regulation, Finance, Law Enforcement, Local Regulation, Medical Marijuana, News, Recreational Marijuana, State Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)
Friday, September 14, 2018
Officials initially issued warnings to the many perpetrators, but after many months of noncompliance, LA is now filing criminal charges against various retailers, growers, and delivery services.
The Los Angeles Daily News reports that earlier this month, prosecutors there have charged 515 people for helping to run 105 illegal marijuana operations:
“Our message is clear: If you are operating an illegal cannabis business you will be held accountable,” Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer said.
It’s widely believed that Los Angeles has the world’s biggest marijuana market, and businesses have thrived for years under the state’s loose medical marijuana laws. But since the start of the year, new California laws have required all cannabis businesses to have both a state and city license to operate — licenses that can add costs to operations in the form of fees, testing requirements and hefty taxes.
The new laws also let cities regulate the marijuana industry, and many cities so far have opted against allowing such operations. Los Angeles, however, began licensing retail outlets in late January and most other types of marijuana businesses on Aug. 1. As of Friday, the city said 163 businesses have been given temporary licenses to operate.
But that represents just a fraction of the overall marijuana market, and for the past eight months, the City Attorney’s office coordinated with the Los Angeles Police Department to identify and investigate businesses that were operating without licenses. Most are retail shops, the City Attorney’s office said, but action also was also taken against marijuana growers, extraction labs and delivery services.
California and other legalized states, like Washington, and Colorado, continue to struggle with black market operations well after legalization has taken effect. In an effort to level the playing field, Los Angeles and other cannabis officials say they will take all measures necessary to crackdown on illegal operations. The 120 criminal cases recently filed in LA are intended as a loud and clear signal to all cannabis operators that they must follow the licensing regulations, or face the consequences.
--Manda Mosley Maier
Sunday, September 2, 2018
Several medical marijuana dispensaries that have applied to open operations in Fort Lauderdale, FL face denial of their applications as officials have decided to enforce an ordinance that limits the number of medical marijuana dispensaries allowed to open in the city. According to a Sun Sentinel report, the actions by city officials seemingly violate state law:
[S]tate law prohibits cities from limiting the number of dispensaries. A city is allowed to ban them outright, but if a city chooses to allow the marijuana treatment centers, they must be treated like any ordinary pharmacy.
Fort Lauderdale says that's a problem, because its law prohibits more than one dispensary in each of its four districts. City officials plan to reject three of the dispensaries that applied.
City officials have acknowledged that a dispensary wishing to challenge its law can do so in court. And while officials recognize they will likely lose if such a challenge is brought, they are unwilling to forego enforcement of the city ordinance based solely on a potential courtroom battle.
Monday, August 27, 2018
Medical marijuana is coming to Oklahoma, and the state began accepting and approving patient applications on the 25th. In June, Oklahoma voters approved the legalization of medical marijuana via a statewide ballot measure, and it is clear that decision will have major economic ramifications on the state. ABCnews.com has the story:
More than 1,600 people and businesses applied for Oklahoma medical marijuana licenses on the first day that applications were made available.
The online application system went live at 10 a.m. Saturday at www.OMMA.ok.gov for all potential medical marijuana patients, growers, dispensaries, processors and caregivers. Oklahoma State Department of Health spokesman Tony Sellars said that by Saturday evening, the agency had received 1,054 patient, 634 business and three caregiver applications.
Officials awarded 23 licenses to patients Saturday to test the approval process and will resume approving applications Monday, Sellars said.
Sellars added that the state collected $1.5 million in application fees on Saturday.
For those who have followed the saga of legalization in Colorado this is not a huge surprise. In 2017, total marijuana sales in the state reached $1.5 billion, with roughly $416 million of that total coming from medical-use sales. The state collected $247 million in taxes on marijuana that year. Based on these early numbers from Oklahoma, it seems as though the state can look forward to a similar boom in revenues resulting from the introduction of medical marijuana into their economy.
A pro-marijuana group in Oklahoma called Green The Vote has begun collecting signatures to qualify recreational marijuana legalization for a similar statewide ballot initiative, but as of this writing they did not have enough signatures to do so. Perhaps as the effects of medical marijuana legalization ripple throughout the state, Oklahoma voters will embrace the concept of full legalization.
Sunday, August 26, 2018
While many United States citizens are still waiting for their state to legalize adult-use marijuana, some New Brunswick universities are already educating their students on the rules, regulations, and effects of marijuana in preparation of its legalization. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) reports:
The legalization of cannabis is around the corner and, as school gets underway in the coming weeks, New Brunswick universities say they're prepared to roll with it.
Scott Duguay, associate vice-president of enrolment management at St. Thomas University, said he's unsure what type of reaction to expect from students when recreational cannabis becomes legal on Oct. 17, but he doesn't expect things to go up in a blaze of smoke.
Students will be allowed to possess marijuana on campus and in their residence. However, the university hopes to limit marijuana use by prohibiting the smoking of marijuana on campus and in student residences. Additionally, if students are high in class, they will be reported to student services. With Canada's relaxed laws on marijuana use, we will soon see the benefits and disadvantages of legalized marijuana in the college environment.
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.
Monday, October 16, 2017
Marijuana dispensaries for adult use have been operating throughout Nevada since July 1rst of this year. According to the Nevada Department of taxation, Marijuana sales have generated over $3.6 million in taxes during July month alone. Tax officials estimate that Nevada can generate up to $120 million in revenue by July of 2019. As expected, the immense tourism industry in Nevada has largely played a role in the massive economic success surrounding the legalization of adult use. However, with success comes new problems.
The biggest challenge many dispensaries are facing right now is a supply shortage. Dispensary employees are essentially waiting for marijuana plants to grow, so they can re-stock their shelves with fresh product.
According to Stacy Castillo, the General Operation Manager at MYNT Cannabis dispensaries:
"A lot of companies are having an issue with just being able to create production products because there's not a lot of source flower out there; so a lot of companies are moving in the direction of creating more square footage so they can create more grow space and creating more product; so that's why if we do experience any kind of delay in product it's because we're waiting for the product to be made."
But never fear, hopeful Nevada tourists! According to 3 Months into Recreational Marijuana Sales, Nevada Dispensaries Experience Pot Shortages by Olivia DeGennaro, there have been no reports of any Nevada-based dispensaries completely running out of marijuana and marijuana derivatives. Rather, dispensaries have been reported to have run out of select products. An additional problem Nevada-based dispensaries face in meeting demand is the legal battle of the distribution right of products intended for adult use. As the adult use market continues to thrive thanks to the tourism industry, representatives from established cannabis business like Castillo will continue to push for fully integrated dispensaries. By allowing full integration, dispensaries will be able to distribute marijuana products in a more cost-effective manner. In theory, these savings will be passed on to consumer (mainly tourists) which will thus continue to give Nevada a competitive edge in the tourism industry.
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.
Saturday, September 16, 2017
In Iowa, elected executives are advising the State's Department of Public Health to refrain from corroborating with its neighboring states to obtain cannabis oil. Barbara Rodriguez reports on how the lack of federal enforcement is causing confusion among states concerning how to implement medical marijuana legislation, according to an article in The Des Moines Register:
An unusual attempt by Iowa to work with another state to transport medical marijuana oil across state lines is on hold amid legal concerns it could invite scrutiny from the federal government.
The Iowa Attorney General's office advised the Iowa Department of Public Health this month that it should not implement a small section in Iowa's new medical marijuana law that requires the state, before the end of the year, to license up to two "out-of-state" dispensaries from a bordering state. Those entities would have been expected to bring cannabis oil into Iowa in order to sell it.
That's considered illegal under federal law, which categorizes marijuana as a type of controlled substance that is prohibited from being moved across state lines. But during the final hours of the legislative session in April, some Republicans in the GOP-controlled Legislature suggested adding the language to open the door for a partnership with a neighboring state like Minnesota.
The development is not expected to impact other provisions in the law that call for establishing an in-state production system for cannabis oil by the end of 2018. Still, some GOP lawmakers expressed frustration with the news because the provision was also aimed at creating more immediate access to cannabis oil. Currently, Iowans have no way of getting the product within the state.
House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, noted in a statement that no matter what the Legislature had decided, the state still would have been in violation of federal law.
"As I've said before, the federal government needs to act on this issue or let the states do their work," she said, adding, "The out-of-state distributors are the quickest way to supply sick Iowans with a product that doctors say could be beneficial. If that provision doesn't work out, then people will have to wait another year, and that's disappointing."
Possessing, manufacturing and selling marijuana remains illegal under federal law. In 2013, the Department of Justice issued a memorandum offering assurance that states could proceed with medical marijuana programs without fear of federal prosecution, in part by avoiding agreements that would move marijuana from one state to another.
Geoff Greenwood, a spokesman for the attorney general's office, said in an email that if a state program authorizes or encourages diversion from one state to another, "it is possible that state's program may come under increased scrutiny from the federal government." He said the halt on implementation should remain "until the federal government provides further guidance regarding state medical marijuana programs."
The out-of-state dispensaries provision is tucked into the second-to-last page of a 20-page law, and is separate from requirements that Iowa license up to two cannabis oil manufacturers in Iowa and up to five dispensaries to sell it in-state. The oil would be supplied in Iowa by the end of 2018. Smoking marijuana remains prohibited.
Fear of federal enforcement against states who have legalized marijuana in some form is not new, but rather has steadily increased since the Trump administration assumed office in 2016. Although the Obama administration issued memorandums assuring states with medical marijuana regimes that they would be free from scrutiny if they followed certain standards, that may not be the case much longer. The United States Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, firmly believes marijuana is a dangerous drug and claims he will reconsider existing marijuana policies.
Assuming nothing changes in President Trump's federal enforcement of marijuana, Iowa's proposal to work with neighboring states presents a potential problem, even under the Obama administration's prosecutorial guidelines. The Cole II Memo stated that states could avoid federal intervention of its medical marijuana regime if they followed eight federal priorities. The pertinent priority here being to prevent the diversion of marijuana from legal states to illegal ones.
While Iowa's proposal only includes corroborating with its direct neighbors who have also legalized medical marijuana, the transportation of marijuana products across state lines is considered interstate commerce, thus invoking Congress' authority under the Constitution's Commerce Clause.
Therefore, Iowa's proposal not only clearly contradicts Congress' Controlled Substance Act, but may also trigger judicial review because Congress has clearly preempted the transfer of interstate marijuana. By proposing such a law, Iowa's legislature is inviting scrutiny from all three branches of government, something marijuana advocates attempt to avoid whenever possible.
Friday, September 8, 2017
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr., has announced new sentencing guidelines in low-level marijuana possession cases. As reported in an article in PoliticoNewYork, the change will be an encouraging step for supporters of immigrant rights and recreational marijuana use.
The new approach is expected to help some immigrants avoid penalties that could lead to deportation and comes amid backlash from municipalities and states over President Donald Trump's immigration policies — specifically the use of courts to identify and deport undocumented immigrants. Vance announced that his office is also working on a policy, to be implemented in the spring, to end prosecutions for low-level drug possession.
The sentencing guidelines for marijuana possession in the Manhattan DA's office previously offered a 12-month "adjournment in contemplation of dismissal" — or ACD — on the first offense, where the case is adjourned for 12 months and then dismissed and sealed if the defendant isn’t arrested again.
On a second offense, the previous guidelines allowed for the defendant to plea to either a marijuana violation or a disorderly conduct violation.
Now the Manhattan DA will offer an ACD for three months for the first offense and an ACD for six months for the second offense.
Vance explained the decision in a statement saying that a year is too long to have an open criminal case for a low-level, non-violent offense because it is publicly searchable online and can interfere with applications for college financial aid, housing or a job.
The city expects that some 4,100 individuals a year will be affected by the change. The program is set to being in the Spring of 2018. Proponents expect that it will mean fewer deportations for low-level possession.
-- Clarissa Dauphin
Monday, September 4, 2017
Despite the passage of legislation legalizing recreational cannabis in Alaska, local government remains an obstacle for some marijuana businesses. One business owner was able to successfully set up shop on the historic main street of an Alaskan tourist town -- Talkeetna, Alaska -- in an unincorporated municipality, all thanks to an omission in the legislation. The drafters don't always cover every base, and here we see that playing out. From Leafly.com:
“Small towns in Alaska are harder than anywhere to break into and sort of become accepted,” McAneney said.
His store got its approval from the borough on a technicality when the assembly was writing regulations for marijuana businesses in unincorporated areas, like Talkeetna, and inadvertently omitted special land use districts — like the town’s Main Street. Talkeetna has no local governing body, only a nonvoting community council whose sole power is sending recommendations to borough officials roughly 75 miles (120 kilometers) away.
State regulators approved the store’s permit on a 3-2 vote last spring.
“There’s people that are upset about it, but it’s legal,” said Sue Deyoe, the Talkeetna Historical Society and Museum’s executive director.
-- Christopher Daves