Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Friday, November 29, 2013

"Mass. activists push to fully legalize marijuana"

The title of this post is the headline of this new AP article which highlights that Massachusetts is another state to watch closely for modern marijuana reform developments.  Here are the details:

Pro-marijuana activists in Massachusetts have already succeeded in paving the way for dozens of medical marijuana dispensaries and decriminalizing possession of small amounts of the drug. Now many of those same activists have set their sights on the full legalization of marijuana for adults, effectively putting the drug on a par with alcohol and cigarettes. And those activists — as they have in the past — are again hoping to make their case directly to voters.

The group Bay State Repeal says it’s planning to put the proposal on the state’s 2016 ballot. The group is first planning to test different versions of the measure by placing nonbinding referendum questions on next year’s ballot in about a dozen state representative districts. Those nonbinding questions are intended to gauge voter support for possible variations of the final, binding question.

Bill Downing, a member of Bay State Repeal, said the state should legalize marijuana for many reasons, especially since the use of marijuana no longer carries the stigma it once did and many people smoke the drug despite laws against it. "That’s the problem with the marijuana laws," Downing said. "There’s no moral impact anymore because the laws don’t reflect our common values."...

In 2008, Massachusetts voters approved a ballot question decriminalizing possession of up to an ounce of pot, making it instead a civil offense punishable by a $100 fine. Some Massachusetts towns have given up trying to enforce the law, however, saying it has too many loopholes.

Not everyone thinks legalizing marijuana is a good idea. Essex County District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett says marijuana use can lead young people to harder drugs and other harmful behaviors. "I'm not saying everyone who tries marijuana becomes a heroin addict, but the medical information is irrefutable that kids who start smoking marijuana are more likely to have substance abuse problems as adults," said Blodgett, who also serves as president of the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association.

Blodgett said one unintended consequence of the decriminalization law in Massachusetts is that it’s harder to get young people into treatment and diversion programs because they can’t be arrested for possession of the drug. He said many private health insurance plans don’t cover drug treatment. "Unless and until we have treatment-on-demand, we shouldn’t be talking about legalizing marijuana or any other drugs," Blodgett said.

Downing rejected the notion that marijuana is a gateway to harder drugs and said the ballot question would restrict the sale of marijuana to adults. "This isn’t about getting pot for kids," he said. "No one on my side says we are getting marijuana for kids."...

Last year, Massachusetts overwhelmingly approved a ballot question allowing for up to 35 medical marijuana dispensaries around the state. State health officials last week released a list of the 100 applicants that are seeking dispensary licenses. They said they hope to award the licenses early next year.

November 29, 2013 in Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Will turkey pot pie take on new meanings in future American Thanksgivings?

ColoradoCannabisBlogThankful_web-231x300Folks eager for reform of modern marijuana prohibition have a whole lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving, and Moms for Marijuana has posted the image reprinted here which has me wondering how many persons now use medical marijuana in order to feel better and have a serious appetite in order to be able to enjoy a traditional holiday meal with family and friends. 

As the title of this post hints, I was thinking about my all-time-favorite Thanksgiving leftover meal earlier today when a (lame?) holiday joke came to me.   Though turkey pot pie now is the name for a terrific dish to dresss up what is left of the holiday bird, the meaning could become a lot different with a few commas.  Specifically, with marijuana reform and legalization efforts continuing to gain momentum, I wonder if in the near future we will hear the term turkey, pot, pie and think this describes the consumption agenda for many Thanksgiving celebrants.

Of course, for those already eager to have Thanksgiving traditions include marijuana, this post at the Weed Blog should satisfy all your holiday needs. The post is headlined "Thanksgiving Marijuana Recipes," and it has a long list of instructions for those interested in "going big and doing a huge feast, with everything containing cannabis."

November 28, 2013 in Current Affairs, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Should reform advocates welcome latest DEA raids of hinky medical marijuana facilities in Colorado?

20131125__hector-diaz-comlaint~p1The question in the title of this post is prompted by this recent report from The Denver Post, headlined "Feds arrest one, seize guns and ammo in Colorado marijuana raids" about recent federal raids of medical marijuana facilities in a state now only a month away from having recreational marijuana stores.  Here are the details of the latest federal intervention:

When federal agents swooped into a swanky Cherry Hills Village home last week as part of widespread raids tied to medical-marijuana businesses, they found a person inside holding a loaded gun, according to a court document unsealed Monday. By the time they were done searching the $1.3 million home Thursday, agents had collected five assault-style rifles, five handguns, a shotgun and a "large cache of ammunition," according to the document. It did not identify the person with the gun.

One person was detained and later arrested on suspicion of weapons violations, authorities announced Monday. As part of their investigation, agents had obtained an e-mailed photograph that appears to show that man, 49-year-old Hector Diaz, holding two semi-automatic rifles while wearing a Drug Enforcement Administration ball cap.

The details on the raids — disclosed for the first time Monday — come from an affidavit in the criminal case against Diaz and provide new context for the largest federal operation against medical-marijuana businesses ever in Colorado. Agents executed "approximately 15" search warrants during the raids, the affidavit states.  Sources have told The Denver Post that the raids — which a search warrant shows targeted 10 men — were part of an investigation into a single enterprise that detectives believe may have ties to Colombian drug cartels.

Diaz, a Colombian national, was charged with a single count of possessing a firearm after having been admitted to the United States under a non-immigrant visa.  He could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted. Appearing in court Monday afternoon, Diaz was advised of the charge against him and ordered held until at least Wednesday, when a hearing will determine whether he should be released and at which time more information about the raids will likely be disclosed.

The raids focused especially on stores, cultivation warehouses and individuals connected to the VIP Cannabis dispensary in Denver. On Sunday, an attorney for one of the owners of the dispensary sent a letter to Colorado U.S. Attorney John Walsh proclaiming his client's innocence. Attorney Sean McAllister wrote that his client, Gerardo Uribe, did nothing wrong under state law and "will be vindicated by a full review of this matter."...

The raids are not the first time, however, the people associated with VIP Cannabis have been accused publicly of marijuana misdeeds. A lawsuit filed last month in Denver claims Gerardo Uribe and two other men named in the search warrant, Luis Uribe and Felix Perez, have not made good on hundreds of thousands of dollars owed to three men for the purchases of a dispensary on East Colfax Avenue and a grow warehouse on Elizabeth Street. The suit also alleges that the Uribes and Perez were suspected of hiding profits and product from their marijuana businesses and selling marijuana out of state.

"Marijuana product is unaccounted for, proceeds from the dispensary are unaccounted for and Plaintiffs assume that the Defendants have stolen product and money from them," the lawsuit states. Another section of the suit alleges: "Plaintiffs believe that the Defendants may be transacting business with people in other states and do not want to reveal what the businesses are really making or who they are conducting business with."...

Other lawsuits also provide a glimpse into the high-dollar business of marijuana in which the raid targets were involved. A lawsuit filed this year in Jefferson County accuses businesses controlled by Luis Uribe and another person named as a target in the search warrant, Carlos Solano, of not paying up on the purchase of a cultivation facility. In a settlement reached in September, Uribe and Solano agreed to pay $90,000 to the plaintiffs.

As the title of this post hints, I think advocates for legalizing and regulating marijuana ought generally be pleased when the feds go after the most shady operators of marijuana facilities. I suspect businesses that follow the law in any industry can and do generally hope that those competitors cutting corners will get in trouble for regulatory failings. And, with respect to state-legalized marijuana industries, even advocate for a regulatory scheme instead of prohibition may still find it useful and beneficial for there to be the ever-present threat of the feds bringing a severe criminal justice hammer down on those businesses getting the most out of line.

November 27, 2013 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 25, 2013

New report (by reform advocacy group) praises state regulation of medical marijuana in wake of DOJ enforcement memo

As reported in this press release,"[m]edical marijuana advocates Americans for Safe Access (ASA) issued a report today that analyzes the Obama Administration's latest enforcement guidelines for federal prosecutors in states that regulate medical marijuana distribution."  Here are basics concerning the 88-page report (which is available in full here):

The report, "Third Time the Charm? State Laws on Medical Cannabis Distribution and Department of Justice Guidance on Enforcement," shows that states have already enacted regulations that meet federal concerns, and some would have stronger regulations if it were not for federal threats that disrupted the legislative process.  The report concludes with recommendations for how federal and state legislators can protect patients and harmonize state and federal policies.

Medical marijuana patients greeted the Department of Justice (DOJ) memo issued August 31st by U.S. Deputy Attorney General James Cole with cautious optimism.  The memo is the third from the Obama Administration that attempts to rein in federal prosecutors in states that allow for regulated distribution of marijuana.  The first memo, issued in October 2009 by Cole's predecessor, then-Deputy Attorney General David Ogden, did not stop various federal prosecutors from attempting to thwart the implementation of several state medical marijuana laws.  A report issued by ASA earlier this year put the cost of federal interference with state medical marijuana programs at more than $300 million.

“We hope the latest federal policy on marijuana will compel the Obama Administration to make good on its promises to stop wasting taxpayer money on undermining duly enacted state laws,” said ASA Executive Director Steph Sherer. “With almost 40 percent of Americans living in states that permit medical marijuana, it's time for the federal government to resolve the conflict between its outdated policies and the growing number of compassionate state laws.”...

The ASA report recommends that state legislators use the 2013 Cole memo as a guide when developing production and distribution regulations, while avoiding unnecessarily restrictive policies that fail to meet the needs of patients.  The report also urges lawmakers to recognize that all three DOJ directives maintain that cultivation by individual patients is not a federal enforcement concern, giving the green light for state legislators to preserve or adopt patient cultivation rules.

The report also recommends that Congress make short and long-term policy changes to ensure respect for state laws and protection for patients and their providers. The report urges federal legislators to restrict how DOJ funds are spent on enforcement in medical marijuana states until the DOJ can determine what "metrics" to use in evaluating compliance with their enforcement priorities.  As a long-term solution, the report asks Congress to adopt HR 689, which would reclassify marijuana for medical use.

November 25, 2013 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Maryland Gov. candidate running on "comprehensive plan to legalize and regulate marijuana"

MizAs reported in this local article, headlined "Gubernatorial Candidate Mizeur Proposes Marijuana Legalization In Md.," a relatively high-profile candidate in a relatively high-profile state has come out with a campaign message that ensures she will be endorsed by High Times.  Here are the basics:

A candidate for governor wants to legalize the recreational use of marijuana and she’s drawing passionate reaction.... It comes from Democratic candidate Heather Mizeur and would highly regulate the use of pot. She says it’s time to decriminalize it and she’s making more than just political waves.

For the first time, a major party candidate for Maryland governor wants to open the door to legalized recreational marijuana use. “We will take the underground market that exists for everyone trying to access this substance and bring it to the light of day,” Mizeur said.

Mizeur says it would only be for those over 21, illegal to smoke in public and she wants to tax it $50 an ounce, bringing in as much as $157 million a year for education. “Drug dealers on the streets are still selling marijuana to children. They’re not asking for an ID,” she said.

But critics like former addict and counselor Mike Gimbel call the controversial proposal dangerous. “It is totally backwards, irresponsible, stupid and it’s going to hurt people and nobody really seems to care,” he said.

A poll last month showed 51 percent of Marylanders support legalization and 40 percent oppose it.... Maryland is surrounded by jurisdictions that have legalized medical marijuana like D.C. and Delaware, and states considering doing so, like Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Past attempts for less strict laws have largely failed here and none of Delegate Mizeur’s opponents – Democratic or Republican – support it.

What I find especially noteworthy (and appealing) about this political development is that delegate Mizeur seems eager to make marijuana reform a centerpiece of her campaign and she has this part her official website promoting this detailed 11-page document titled "A Comprehensive Plan to Legalize and Regulate Marijuana in Maryland." Here is how that document gets started:

Marijuana's time as a controlled, illegal substance has run its course.  Marijuana laws ruin lives, are enforced with racial bias, and distract law enforcement from serious and violent crimes. Marijuana criminalization costs our state hundreds of millions of dollars every year without making us any safer.  A Maryland with legalized, regulated, and taxed marijuana will mean safer communities, universal childhood education, and fewer citizens unnecessarily exposed to our criminal justice system.

I do not know local Maryland politics well enough to have any real idea if Mizeur has any real chance to become the next governor of Maryland.  But I do have an idea that her campaign on this issue is just the latest sign of being in interesting political times concerning drug laws and policies.

November 21, 2013 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Readings on marijuana laws' impact on immigration and extradition issues

Especially because I tend to be under-informed about immigration laws and policies, I am very excited that the student-selected topic for discussion this week in my Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform seminar is the impact of marijuana laws on immigration and extradition issues. Here are the readings assembled by the students as background:

UPDATE: My students also have suggested that these issues merit consideration of "whether or not legalizing marijuana in the United States will thwart the drug cartels in Mexico [and how this impacts] the massive amount of Mexican asylum cases the US is currently receiving (and denying)."

Here are additional readings on this topic:

And some conflicting views on whether or not marijuana legalization would stop Mexican cartels:

November 19, 2013 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, International Marijuana Laws and Policies | Permalink | Comments (0)

"If Medical Marijuana In California Is De Facto Legalization, Why Not Make It Official?"

Cal potThe title of this post is the headline of this new commentary by Jacob Sollum.  Here are excerpts:

Possessing up to an ounce of marijuana in California is an “infraction” punishable by a $100 fine. In other words, state law treats pot smoking as a transgression akin to jaywalking or fishing without a license. Yet growing and selling marijuana are felonies that can send you to prison for years.

If consuming marijuana is not a crime, how can it be a crime merely to help someone consume marijuana? That is a question voters will confront next fall if the California Cannabis Hemp Initiative qualifies for the ballot.

The initiative, which would eliminate all state and local penalties for producing, possessing, and distributing marijuana, instructs the legislature to regulate cannabis “in a manner analogous to, and no more onerous than, California’s beer and wine model.” That is similar to the policies approved last fall by voters in Colorado, where the legalization initiative was known as the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act, and Washington, where the state liquor control board will license pot shops that are scheduled to open next year.

The Colorado and Washington initiatives both received about 55 percent of the vote, and recent polling in California indicates a similar level of support. All three states have had medical marijuana dispensaries for years, and that experience on the whole appears to have been reassuring.

The main criticism of the dispensaries — that they cater largely to recreational consumers who fake or exaggerate symptoms to get the requisite doctor’s notes — actually counts in favor of broader legalization. If medical marijuana is a charade that amounts to de facto legalization, what is there to fear from making it official?

States that allow medical use do not seem to have suffered as a result. In fact, Montana State University economist D. Mark Anderson and University of Colorado economist Daniel Rees find that enacting medical marijuana laws is associated with a 13 percent drop in traffic fatalities, possibly because more cannabis consumption means less alcohol consumption, which has a much more dramatic effect on driving ability.

Anderson and Rees also consider the impact of legalization on pot smoking by teenagers. Looking at data from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey from 1993 through 2011, they see “little evidence of a relationship between legalizing medical marijuana and the use of marijuana among high school students.” Narrowing the focus to California after medical marijuana dispensaries began proliferating, they find “little evidence that marijuana use among Los Angeles high school students increased in the mid-2000s.”

November 19, 2013 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Another weekend round of notable marijuana news and headlines

With each weekend bringing many marijuana stories that seem worthy of attention, I am going to once again set forth headlines and links those pieces that struck me as especially noteworthy:

  • From The Daily Beast here, "Pot’s Black Market Backlash: How prohibitionists and nanny staters are trying to keep marijuana illegal — or at least inconvenient"

  • From the Kansas City Star here, "Dwayne Bowe's arrest fires up debate over marijuana in the NFL"

  • From The Oregonian here, "Medical marijuana in Oregon: Committee meets Monday to review draft dispensary rules"

  • From the Provo Daily Herald here, "Utah doctors endorse push for medical marijuana"

  • From Salon here, "An MBA for stoners: Get ready for the next growth industry"

November 17, 2013 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Is pot already really legal for middle-aged white folks?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this recent New York Times commentary by Jim Dwyer headlined "A Marijuana Stash That Carried Little Risk."   The piece is, I think, designed to complain about the impact and import of NYC stop-and-frisk policies, but my take-away is a bit distinct.  Here are excerpts from the piece:

Walking down Eighth Avenue a few weeks ago, I made sure my backpack was fully zipped shut. Inside was a modest stash of pot, bought just an hour or so earlier. A friend knew someone in that world, and after an introduction, then a quiet, discreet meeting, I was on my way to the subway. Never before had I walked through Midtown Manhattan with it on my person. There were four cookies in vacuum-sealed pouches — “edibles” is the technical term — and then a few pinches of what was described as “herb.”

The innovations of Michael R. Bloomberg as mayor are legion, but his enforcement of marijuana laws has broken all records. More people have been arrested for marijuana possession than any other crime on the books. From 2002 through 2012, 442,000 people were charged with misdemeanors for openly displaying or burning 25 grams or less of pot.

I wasn’t sure about the weight of my stash — although a digital scale was used in the transaction, I didn’t see the display — but it didn’t feel too heavy. Still, I wasn’t about to openly display or burn it.

It turns out that there was little to fret over. While scores of people are arrested on these charges every day in New York, the laws apparently don’t apply to middle-aged white guys. Or at least they aren’t enforced against us.

“It is your age that would make you most unusual for an arrest,” said Professor Harry Levine, a Queens College sociologist who has documented marijuana arrests in New York and across the country. “If you were a 56-year-old white woman, you might get to be the first such weed bust ever in New York City — except, possibly, for a mentally ill person.”

About 87 percent of the marijuana arrests in the Bloomberg era have been of blacks and Latinos, most of them men, and generally under the age of 25 — although surveys consistently show that whites are more likely to use it.

These drug busts were the No. 1 harvest of the city’s stop, question and frisk policing from 2009 through 2012, according to a report released Thursday by the New York State attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman. Marijuana possession was the most common charge of those arrested during those stops. The few whites and Asians arrested on these charges were 50 percent more likely than blacks to have the case “adjourned in contemplation of dismissal,” the report showed.

Now, having a little bit of pot, like a joint, is not a crime as long as you don’t burn or openly display it. Having it in my backpack was a violation of law, meaning that it is an offense that is lower than a misdemeanor. Pot in the backpack is approximately the same as making an illegal turn in a car. Taking it out and waving it in the face of a police officer or lighting up a joint on the street would drive it up to the lowest-level misdemeanor.

How was it that all the black and Latino males were displaying or burning pot where it could be seen by the police? The answer is that many of them were asked during the stops to empty their pockets. What had been a concealed joint and the merest violation of the law was transformed into a misdemeanor by being “openly displayed.” If these were illegal searches — and they very well could have been — good luck trying to prove it....

Michael A. Cardozo, the chief lawyer for the city, is eager to get an appeals court to throw out the findings of fact by a judge who ruled against the city in a lawsuit over the stop-and-frisk tactics. Mr. Cardozo appears to believe, mistakenly, that losing a lawsuit is going to damage the legacy of his patron, Mayor Bloomberg. Undoing a lawsuit will not unstain this history.

As for me, the pot got to a couple of people who might need it to get through some medical storms. It’s too risky for me to use: I already have a hard enough time keeping my backpack zipped.

November 16, 2013 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (1)

"Denver's Smell-O-Scope Targets Marijuana's Skunky Scent"

NasalRanger_in_fieldThe title of this post is the headline of this amusing new NPR story highlighting one possible nasal echo effect of Colorado's brave new world of legalized marijuana.  Here are excerpts:

Recreational marijuana is legal in Colorado.  But that doesn't mean residents want the air to smell like a pot rally.  Denver is getting more calls to enforce an odor ordinance that can impose a buzz-killing fine on violators. To find them, the city relies on a device called the Nasal Ranger.

And that's where licensed smell investigator Ben Siller comes in. A member of Denver's Department of Environmental Health, he's trained to use an olfactometer to determine if people are breaking laws that protect the purity of Denver's air. Siller responds to citizens' odor complaints — an increasing number of which are tied to the rise of odiferous marijuana grow facilities.  A recent Denver Post story about him began this way: "Ben Siller looked ridiculous on a recent afternoon, standing on a downtown Denver street corner with a giant device clamped to his face sniffing the air for odorous evidence of marijuana."

The Nasal Ranger is a cone-shaped device resembling a megaphone that's made by St. Croix Sensory, a company based in Minnesota.  It samples the air to help an operator detect the presence and strength of odors.  As others have noted, the device looks like a scaled-down and streamlined version of the Smell-O-Scope created by Professor Farnsworth on the TV series Futurama.

In Denver, the scent of marijuana would have to be very strong — exceeding a level of detection when one volume of the scented air is combined with seven volumes of clean air — to trigger a formal response and possible fine. Siller tells the Post that it's been nearly 20 years since anyone broke that threshold. A violation could bring a fine of up to $2,000, Denver's reported this summer.

Many expect Siller and his colleagues to get more calls as Colorado's pot industry continues to mature.  The state's first stores selling marijuana for recreational use are scheduled to open in January.  As that date approaches, the city is tweaking its rules to curtail "open and public" marijuana use, as reported Tuesday.  That's when the City Council backed away from a rules proposal that could have exposed people to fines for smoking marijuana in their front yard, or for having the scent escape a window.

In addition to loving what the Nasal Ranger looks like, I am really enamored with the name of this device.  I am also enjoying thinking about a possible super-hero move, with the name Nasal Ranger of course, which starts with a lab accident involving a scrawny guy who gets this devise permanently fused to his face and then fights crime using super smelling powers.

November 16, 2013 in Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 14, 2013

"Medical marijuana advocates in Colorado give pot to pets"

KlibbenThe title of this post is the headline of this notable story via UPI.  Here are excerpts:

Some medical marijuana enthusiasts in Colorado are taking the "holistic approach" by giving their pets pot to deal with pain.

As animals age, it’s harder for them to do things like fetch, run and play, prompting some owners to prescribe marijuana to help fix the problem. "Arthritis is the really big thing for our pets as they get older, for being able to move about and get their exercise,” pet owner Barbara Novey told local Fox affiliate KXRM.

"So medication of any type that will help someone that is natural will help their pet as well, and I think that maybe our pets can help us purge this reefer madness mentality and realize that it's not the dangerous drug that you think it is."

Novey thinks pot is therapeutic for her pooch, but NorthWest Animal Hospital veterinarian Dr. John Sudduth asserts that giving a dog medical marijuana can be deadly. "There just hasn't been enough research that has been presented to the medical community that would inform us to how to safely use medication such as marijuana. You're really playing with fire. You don't really know what you're giving and what kind of side effects it could have. It could result in serious illness and it could result in death in some cases."

"Pets are not necessarily people in fur coats," Sudduth added. "And how they metabolize medications and utilize medications those are all separate issues that have to be determined."

It is still illegal for veterinarians to prescribe medical marijuana pills. "We need to know about the indications, the usage, the side effects the toxicities and all of those things would have to be worked out before any of these medications, like marijuana might be used," Sudduth said.

November 14, 2013 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Science | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

What public health lessons for marijuana policies can and should be drawn from tobacco's legal history?

The question in the title of this post is the student-selected topic for discussion this week in my Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform seminar. Excitingly, my students have arranged for the ideal guest-speaker on this topic: Professor Micah Berman, who recently joined to The Ohio State University community as an Assistant Professor of Public Health and Law. (Micah and I are not related even though we share a last name and dashing good looks.)

On this general topic, the students have suggested reviewing one of Micah Berman's law review articles: Smoking Out the Impact of Tobacco-Related Decisions on Public Health Law, 75 Brooklyn Law Review (2010) (available at this link).  As the students have explained, this article "provides a ton of insight to the tobacco industry and its history" as it reviews "the history of tobacco in the US and how big tobacco has defended itself from liability for the last fifty years."

November 12, 2013 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 11, 2013

"More and More US Veterans are Smoking Weed to Treat Their PTSD"

1VetsMJAccessThe title of this post is the headline of this lengthy recent commentary by journalist Thor Benson.   It struck me as a fitting piece to spotlight on Veterans Day, and here is how it gets started:

In America, the relationship between doctors and the hegemonic pharmaceutical industry is fraught with painful, mind-numbing contradiction.  There’s no better example of this than in the treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) among US veterans and others around the country.  Drugs like Risperdal, an antipsychotic, are said to be no more effective in the treatment of PTSD than a placebo.  These drugs are widely distributed to treat the symptoms of PTSD, despite allegations that they’re ineffectual in treatment of the condition.

PTSD is a disorder, characterized by extreme emotional or mental anxiety, often the result of a physical or psychological injury.  When confronted with a potentially deadly situation, it’s natural for humans to feel afraid — we’ve developed pretty sophisticated fight-or-flight responses to deal with real or perceived danger.  PTSD arises when that response is damaged, and the patient feels stressed or frightened even when he or she is no longer in danger.  The disease disproportionately affects soldiers deployed in war zones.  Very often they are in situations so dangerous that they develop the condition, and return home as shell-shocked emotional cripples.  Veteran’s Affairs claims that today, almost 300,000 veterans have been diagnosed with PTSD, although the number is likely much higher due to lack of diagnosis.

According to Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, marijuana could be the answer.  Mechoulam is a respected Israeli neuroscientist who studies the use of medical cannabis and its role in “memory extinction.”  Memory extinction happens slowly to everyone, but it’s clear that in regular pot smokers, the process may be exacerbated, to say the least. According to Mechoulam, increased memory extinction could be helpful for sufferers of PTSD, reducing the mind’s associative link between external stimuli and traumatic events.  Instead of connecting a loud noise with a bomb going off, cannabis can help destroy that link completely.

Despite this research, many states still do not count PTSD as a disorder that warrants a medical marijuana card.  Because of this, veterans are seeking other legal and non-legal ways to procure weed.  I recently spoke with two young ex-marines who self-medicate their PTSD with copious amounts of marijuana.  Jeremiah Civil and Christian Slater are veterans of the Iraq War.  These men saw things that would make the average citizen cringe in horror, and they left the war with deep emotional scars. Both Jeremiah and Christian were diagnosed with PTSD shortly before returning home, thrown into the wild world of a society that doesn’t understand their condition.

November 11, 2013 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Another weekend, still more notable marijuana news and headlines

On this blog I regularly try to selectively pick and choose only the most noteworthy and/or informative of newspaper stories from among the wide array of notable mainstream reporting about marijuana reform that is now becoming common.  But often I find myelf drawn to too many stories that seem worthy of extra attention; this weekend I will fall back on providing just headlines and links those pieces that seemed especially blog-worthy:

  • From the Colorado Springs Gazette here, "Battles already looming over Colorado marijuana revenues"

  • From CNBC here, "New investors lighting up legal marijuana industry"

  • From the Huffington Post here, "Bipartisan Marijuana Bill Appears To Have One More Big Supporter In Its Corner: The NAACP"

  • From the Orlando Sentinel here, "John Morgan: My dying dad's pain inspired push for medical marijuana"

  • From the Salt Lake Tribune here, "Families migrate to Colorado for marijuana miracle"

November 10, 2013 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, November 8, 2013

Great jobs for green lawyers in the new green ganja legal world(?)

The statement/question in the title of this post serves as a reiteration of one reason I developed a new law school seminar titled "Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform" and as my reaction to this new Bloomberg article headlined "Pot-Smoking Quadriplegic’s Firing Shows Haze Over Rules."  Here are a few excerpts from this article:

The marijuana that Brandon Coats smokes under a doctor’s supervision helps calm muscle spasms stemming from a car accident that left him a quadriplegic.  It also cost him his job. Coats, 34, was fired as a customer service representative at satellite TV provider Dish Network Corp. after failing a random drug test, even though Coats lives in Colorado where marijuana is legal for medical use.  A state appeals court in April upheld the company’s right to fire him based on the federal prohibition on pot.

“I wasn’t doing anything wrong,” Coats said. “I had a doctor’s permission to do something I need to help me get on with my life.”

Coats’ ordeal shows how workplace rules on drug use have yet to catch up to changing attitudes and laws. Employers have retained War-on-Drugs-era policies, in part because of conflicts between state and federal statutes.  And commonly used drug tests are unable to differentiate between someone who is under the influence of pot on the job, or has merely used it in off hours.

“Employers ought to reconsider their drug testing policies in states where medical marijuana is legal,” Lewis Maltby, president of the National Workrights Institute in Princeton, New Jersey, said in an interview. “Why discriminate against marijuana users? They’re not different than beer drinkers.”

Medical marijuana is legal in 20 states and the District of Columbia, yet illegal under federal law. Colorado and Washington allow recreational use of pot, and this week, Portland, Maine, and three cities in Michigan voted to back legalization.  Meanwhile courts in Colorado, Washington, Oregon and California have held that laws permitting the limited use of pot don’t prevent employers from enforcing drug-free workplace rules....

Washington-based Costco Wholesale Corp., for example, continues to screen potential workers for drugs and conducts random employee tests on “reasonable suspicion,” according to Pat Callans, vice president of human resources at the retailer.

Others say the contradiction between state and federal law is sowing confusion, according to Kellis Borek, director of labor and employer relations for Washington Employers, a Seattle-based group that advises firms on human resources issues. “I’m seeing employers grapple with the concern about losing good people because they participated in legal, off duty activity,” Borek said in an interview....

Borek’s group is developing advice for companies seeking to amend drug policies to reflect changes in state laws. One option is to allow someone in a safety-sensitive job, such as driving a truck or fork lift, to go on job-protected leave or move to a different position until they stop using medical marijuana.

This article highlights that applications of labor laws are sure to be a big a source of dispute and uncertainty as marijuana law reforms continue to make marijuana use legal at the local level in various setting.  That reality, of course, means that labor lawyers are going to be needed to help both employers and employees "grapple" with new and difficult state and federal labor law challenges.

In addition to the need for labor lawyers, tax and business-transactions lawyers will become more and more in demand as state-level medical and recreation marijuana reforms create new needs for new businesses to sort through new tax laws and business-planning challenges posed by operating a state-permitted marijuana business.

My post title here suggests that green (i.e., young/junior) lawyers may have a uniquely important role to play in this emerging new industry.  I suspect and fear that many law firms and many veteran lawyers will be, for various sound reasons, very cautious and concerned about representing any persons actively involved in state marijuana business.  Moreover, because marijuana reform movements seem often to be a "young man's game" in many ways, junior lawyers may be uniquely positioned to be of service to persons needing legal help in this arena.

But I have a question mark at the end of this post because I wonder if I may be unwise to urge my students and other junior lawyers to consider seriously seeking to be involved in helping those at the forefront of the new green ganja industries.  Is there still so much stigma and concern with this drug that a lawyer's career plans and possibilities might become permanently damaged or distorted by representing even legal pot dealers?

November 8, 2013 in Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, November 7, 2013

"Pro-pot forces are out to legalize in 13 more states by 2017"

1sShhV_La_91The title of this post is the headline of this notable new report from the McClatchy Washington Bureau. Here are excerpts:

Buoyed by their success at the polls Tuesday, marijuana backers say they’ll now try to get the drug fully legalized in 13 more states by 2017. They’d join Colorado and Washington state, which voted last year to allow pot sales for recreational use.

The drive to legalize won considerable new momentum across the country on Election Day as voters in three states approved pro-pot measures. Portland, Maine, became the first East Coast City to legalize marijuana. Colorado approved a 25 percent tax on pot. Voters in the Michigan cities of Lansing, Jackson and Ferndale decided to remove all penalties for possession....

“Most Portlanders, like most Americans, are fed up with our nation’s failed marijuana laws,” said David Boyer, the Maine political director of the Marijuana Policy Project, a pro-legalization group.

While the measure won easily in Maine’s largest city, it may be more difficult for pro-pot forces to win across the state. Legalization backers hope to get the issue on the statewide ballot in 2016.

Officials with Project SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana), an opposition group led by former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., said they planned to launch a statewide affiliate to gear up for the vote. “Maine is on the brink of creating a massive marijuana industry that will inevitably target teens and other vulnerable populations,” Kennedy, the group’s national chairman, said in a statement. “Misconceptions about marijuana are becoming more and more prevalent.” Kennedy said it was time “to clear the smoke and get the facts out about this drug.”...

Maine is among the 13 states targeted for full-scale legalization by the Marijuana Policy Project. The group said it would try to get legalization on the ballot in seven states and work to get state legislatures to pass it in the other six.

If a petition drive succeeds, Alaska voters are expected to consider legalization first, in 2014. In 2016, the group will try to get the issue on the ballot in Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, Montana and Nevada. They’ll try to get state legislators to do the job in Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont.

Tuesday’s votes were the first ballot initiatives since last November, when Colorado and Washington state approved tax-and-regulate sales plans that will take effect next year.

In Colorado, voters gave the green light to a 25 percent pot tax that comprises a 15 percent excise tax to pay for school construction and a 10 percent tax to pay for enforcement. “Colorado is demonstrating to the rest of the nation that it is possible to end marijuana prohibition and successfully regulate marijuana like alcohol,” said Mason Tvert, the communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project in Denver....

Many cities in Colorado already are eyeing marijuana as a possible source of revenue and are considering ballot measures that would impose local taxes on retail pot sales.

So far, nine U.S. cities or towns have voted to legalize marijuana or to remove penalties for possession, according to the Marijuana Policy Project. In Michigan on Tuesday, voters in Lansing, Jackson and Ferndale joined Detroit and Flint, where residents decided last year to remove all penalties for adult possession....

To fight the efforts, Project SAM officials said they wanted to warn the public that legalization could create a “Big Marijuana” tobacco-style industry. They said it was time to have an “adult conversation” about health effects and the possibility of increased drug addiction among teens. That discussion is already underway in Maine. “This is not about demonizing or legalizing marijuana, but rather educating the public about the most misunderstood drug in the state,” said Scott Gagnon, who’ll serve as Maine’s coordinator for Project SAM.

November 7, 2013 in Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Is it "misleading to compare marijuana to beer"?

Beer potThe question in the title of this post is drawn from a quote by someone from the Beer Institute appearing in this notable new National Journal item headlined "Alcohol Is Really Pissed Off at Marijuana Right Now; The marijuana industry is convincing Americans its substance is safer than alcohol, and booze lobbyists don't like it."   Here are excerpts from the new National Journal piece:

Marijuana has been giving alcohol a bad name. So contend booze lobbyists, who are getting sick of an ad campaign that makes the claim that pot is safer than their beloved beverages.

"We're not against legalization of marijuana, we just don't want to be vilified in the process," said one alcohol industry representative who didn't want to be quoted harshing his colleagues mellow. "We don't want alcohol to be thrown under the bus, and we're going to fight to defend our industry when we are demonized."

The marijuana industry has had a good couple of years: a recent poll found that 58 percent of the country thinks the product should be legal, recreational use has been legalized in two states already, and this past election saw the city of Portland, Maine, legalize 2.5 ounces of pot. Ahead of the vote in Portland — which received 70 percent support — the Marijuana Policy Project put up signs around the city with messages like "I prefer marijuana over alcohol because it doesn't make me rowdy or reckless," and "I prefer marijuana over alcohol because it's less harmful to my body."

Alcohol lobbyists believe it's a "red herring" to compare the two. "We believe it's misleading to compare marijuana to beer," said Chris Thorne of the Beer Institute. "Beer is distinctly different both as a product and an industry."

Thorne notes that the alcohol industry is regulated, studied extensively, and perhaps more importantly already an accepted part of the culture. "Factually speaking beer has been a welcome part of American life for a long time," he said. "The vast majority drink responsibly, so having caricatures won't really influence people."

But MPP takes issue with the idea they are painting a false picture. In a recent Op-Ed for CNN, Dan Riffle, the group's director of federal policies, notes that according to the Centers for Disease Control excessive alcohol use is the third leading lifestyle-related cause of death. Booze also "plays a role in a third of all emergency room visits," he says....

"That's like saying we shouldn't talk about relative harms of sushi to fried chicken," said Mason Tvert, who in addition to working at MPP wrote a book called Marijuana is Safer: So Why are We Driving People to Drink? "It's important that people know the relative harms of all substances, so there's no reason not to talk about the two most popular substances in the world."

Cross-posted at Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform

November 7, 2013 in History of Alcohol Prohibition and Temperance Movements, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Election outcomes in Nov 2013 keep up marijuana reform momentum

Though it would be unwise jump to too many conclusions based on off-year election results, these headlines reporting on results concerning various marijuana initiative in various jurisdictions suggest a continuing affinity for responsible reform and sensible regulation of maijuana laws, policies and practices:

  • From Colorado here, "Colorado voters approve new taxes on recreational marijuana"

  • From Maine here, "Portland voters legalize marijuana; The ‘Yes’ vote wins in a landslide, claiming 67 percent of the tally with many of the precincts reporting"

  • From Michigan here, "Voters in three more Michigan cities pass marijuana decriminalization proposals"

Practically speaking, the Colorado vote is probably the most important and consequential, as it ensures a significant tax revenue stream now flowing from marijuana legalization in the Mile High state.  But politically speaking, the voting outcomes in Maine and Michigan, though most symbolic, could still prove important if (and when?) more politicians on both side of the aisle in the northeast and upper midwest see that there could be political upsides in 2014 and beyond from supporting responsible reform and sensible regulation of maijuana laws, policies and practices.

November 6, 2013 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Current Affairs, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Readings providing international/comparative perspectives on drug laws (especially marijuana)

Especially because I tend to be pretty under-informed about to international/comparative  drug laws, I am very excited that the student-selected topic for discussion this week in my Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform seminar is the global regime regarding marijuana and its impact on legalization efforts in the US.  Here are the readings assembled by the students as background:

I. International Law 

International Regulation of Drugs

  • Controlled Substances casebook, pp. 801-804 (International Framework);
  • pp. 813-820 (Impact of United State Policy on Mexico);
  • pp. 836-845 (International Control of Illegal Drugs, "Preventing or Causing Human Rights Violations");
  • pp. 916-921 (US using trade policy to enforce drug laws under the 1986 Narcotics Act)

UN and the power to stop legalization of Marijuana

 

  II. Comparative Law 

Further Comparative law reading:

1 .  WHO report on correlation of drug laws and drug abuse  

2.   North Korea and a marijuana legalization regime

3.   North Korea's meth addiction: Grau, Cutting off the Building Blocks to Methamphetamine Production, 30 Hous. J. Int’l L. 157 (2007);

4.  Reform of North Korea drug laws

November 5, 2013 in Assembled readings on specific topics, International Marijuana Laws and Policies | Permalink | Comments (0)

"18 Milestones That Led To Our Marijuana 'Tipping Point'"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable and amusing new commentary now up at The Huffington Post.  Here is how it gets started, along with the first two listed "milestones":

At a recent speech in Denver, Drug Policy Alliance executive director Ethan Nadelmann declared that we've hit "the tipping point" on marijuana policy.

With Colorado and Washington getting ready for the first ever legal, regulated, recreational marijuana retail market for adults in the U.S.; with a majority of Americans recently saying for the first time in U.S. history that marijuana usage should be made legal; with a coalition of conservative Mormon mothers fighting for safe access to medicinal cannabis for their children -- it's hard to to disagree with him.

Although much of this is recent history, it has been a long road to what very well may be the beginning of the end of marijuana prohibition in America. Here's a look back at the major milestones that helped bring the United States to its "tipping point."

1. A long, long time ago, a plant grew on planet Earth....

2. America's founding fathers were quick to celebrate its benefits...

November 5, 2013 in Current Affairs, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States | Permalink | Comments (0)