Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Marijuana candies, dangerous for kids and for legalization

Though I think we may be nearing the point of inevitability when it comes to marijuana legalization, we aren't there yet.  There's a chance that as things move forward, we will see a backlash that reverses the current trend.  

If I had to pick issues that could potentially cause such a backlash, the risks of marijuana candies would be near the top of the list.  And for good reason.  Marijuana candies pose serious policy concerns.  

Products that are packaged like and taste like candy can be easily mistaken as regular candy.  And we all know who loves candy--kids.  Perhaps just as important, many marijuana candies contain so much marijuana that the suggested serving size may be 1/4 or 1/10 of the candy.  This is particularly odd when one considers that some of these candies come in the form of a single gummy bear or bon-bon style sweet.   When most people see a single gummy bear or bon bon, they assume they should eat the whole thing.  But if you were to eat an entire marijuana gummy in one serving, you could end up high out of your mind.

Two new New York Times pieces discuss this problem.  In one, a mother recounts how her son had to go to the emergency room after eating a roommate's marijuana candy bar.  In the other, the writer begins: "This is not what I thought marijuana looked like."

Those of us who favor marijuana legalization would be wise to take these concerns very seriously.  There are real public health and safety risks that come from people--particularly children-- accidentally ingesting super-strong marijuana candies (or ingesting on purpose, but without realizing that one gummy is meant to be consumed in four servings.)  

In terms of the politics, I think the "this is not what I thought marijuana looked like" sentiment is particularly noteworthy.  I suspect that many voters who supported legalization in Colorado and Washington had no idea that it might result in the sale of sophisticated candies (or even that such candies were even possible.)  And if enough of the folks in this group don't like what they see when they learn about marijuana candy, it is entirely possible they might sour on legalization generally.  

To be sure, I don't think we are anywhere near seeing a political backlash because of this issue.  But marijuana advocates would be foolish to ignore the possibility of one developing.

February 11, 2014 in Current Affairs, Food and Drink, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Does marijuana make you hungry?

I've always thought one of the strangest things about the DEA's insistence that marijuana has no currently accepted medical use is that one of the claimed medical uses is as an appetite stimulant.  When I cover CSA scheduling of marijuana in my Controlled Substances class, I sometimes joke about whether we really need scientific studies to know that marijuana can make people hungry.  

The DEA's position, of course, is that there isn't enough evidence to say that marijuana can stimulate the appetites of cancer and AIDS patients.  (The synthetic-THC drug Marinol, on the other hand, has been officially determined to make people hungry.)

Though I don't think it will be enough to satisfy the DEA, today brings some new scientific evidence of (and explanation for) marijuana's effect as an appetite stimulant.  The blog Toke of the Town reports:

In a new study published this week in Nature Neuroscience, European researchers claim to have proven that smoking weed does, in fact, give you the munchies. Beyond that, they appear to have isolated the specific region of the brain that is affected by THC consumption, and identified the process through which that desire to eat an entire box of Lucky Charms at 2am comes from. 

February 11, 2014 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Science | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 10, 2014

The impact of rescheduling marijuana?

Taking up Mark Kleiman's argument that marijuana rescheduling would be meaningless, Jacob Sullum has this excellent piece on Forbes.com, in which he notes:

From the perspective of people who believe marijuana should be legalized for medical or general use, the advantages of [rescheduling] are not as substantial as you might think. But neither are they, as UCLA drug policy expert Mark Kleiman claims, “identically zero.” Moving marijuana to a less restrictive legal category would have some significant practical effects, perhaps the most important of which would be to advance a more honest discussion of marijuana’s hazards and benefits.

The whole thing is well worth reading. 

February 10, 2014 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

State-by-state: present and possible future state marijuana reforms

With so many medical marijuana state laws and a wave of new proposals, it can be difficult to follow them all.  Luckily, last week saw the release of two guides to help you keep track.

The Marijuana Policy Project has released an update to its state-by-state guide to marijuana laws.

And, for the reforms on the horizon, John Ross of Reason.com has posted "a 50-state guide to legislation and ballot measures that are in the works thus far this year."

February 10, 2014 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Current Affairs, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, February 9, 2014

"How Not to Tax Marijuana"

The title of this post is the headline of this effective new Huffington Post commentary by former congressional tax staffer Pat Oglesby.  Here are excerpts:

With marijuana legalization gaining steam, we might ask not just whether to legalize, but how.  Here are three tax mistakes that California and other states can still avoid.

Mistake 1.  Collecting late....

Mistake 2.  Taxing manipulable price....

Mistake 3.  Tying lawmakers' hands....

What about this year's crop of marijuana revenue proposals?  Some ace the test, avoiding late retail collections, price manipulation, and rigidity.  Bills in Maine, Maryland, New York, and Rhode Island — and an initiative in Alaska — tax at the wholesale level by weight, and don't tie lawmakers' hands.  That's 3 for 3 right.  But the most prominent California initiative, The Control, Regulate and Tax Marijuana Act, would tax only at retail by percentage of price, and would freeze taxes through 2022. That gets everything wrong: 0 for 3.

We are just figuring out how to legalize marijuana.  Some legalization plans will work, but some won't.  We can follow, adapt, or learn from models for tobacco and alcohol — which we've been forming and reforming since Colonial times.  That way, we can at least avoid making the same old mistakes over and over.  We'll be making plenty of new ones.

February 9, 2014 in Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Interesting buzz about marijuana reform in southern states

This new AP article, headlined "Medical marijuana gets traction in the Deep South," highlights that marijuana reform discussions are not confined only to northern and western regions of the United States. Here is how the piece starts:

Medical marijuana has been a non-starter in recent years in the Deep South, where many Republican lawmakers feared it could lead to widespread drug use and social ills. That now appears to be changing, with proposals to allow a form of medical marijuana gaining momentum in a handful of Southern states.

Twenty states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana, and this year powerful GOP lawmakers in Georgia and Alabama are putting their weight behind bills that would allow for the limited use of cannabis oil by those with specific medical conditions. Other Southern states are also weighing the issue with varying levels of support.

The key to swaying the hearts of conservative lawmakers has been the stories of children suffering up to 100 seizures a day whose parents say they could benefit from access to cannabidiol, which would be administered orally in a liquid form. And proponents argue the cannabis oil is low in tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the psychoactive compound in marijuana that makes users feel high.

"I'm an unlikely champion for this cause," said Georgia Rep. Allen Peake, a businessman from Macon who attended the evangelical Dallas Theological Seminary. "Once people realize it's not a 6-year-old smoking a joint, most folks realize this is the compassionate thing to do."

Peake's bill has already earned the backing of more than 80 state lawmakers, including several members of the House Republican leadership, who signed on as co-sponsors and the state's largest professional association of doctors. The bill would revive a long-dormant research program allowing academic institutions to distribute the medical cannabis and would be "limited in scope, tightly restricted, well regulated and managed by doctors," Peake said.

Alabama Rep. Mike Ball, a retired hostage negotiator for the State Patrol, is behind a bill that would allow people to possess the cannabis oil if they have certain medical conditions. It passed a key committee vote on Wednesday. "The public is starting to understand what this is," said Ball, who chairs a powerful House committee and is a prominent voice on law enforcement issues. "The political fear is shifting from what will happen if we pass it, to might what happen if we don't," Ball said.

The bills in Georgia and Alabama still have more vetting, and their ultimate prospects are not certain. But what is happening offers a strong signal of what's to come in other states.

In Louisiana, although a bill has yet to be introduced, a recent committee hearing at the Capitol on legalizing medical marijuana drew a standing-room-only crowd, and Gov. Bobby Jindal made comments last month indicating he was willing to consider it. "When it comes to medical marijuana ... if there is a legitimate medical need, I'd certainly be open to making it available under very strict supervision for patients that would benefit from that," Jindal said, according to a report in The Advocate.

Technically, both Georgia and Louisiana have laws on the books from the 1980s and 1990s that allow for the use of medical marijuana, but those programs essentially ended before they could start. Georgia's law established the academic research program for those diagnosed with glaucoma and cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy and radiation, but the program stalled when the federal government stopped delivery of legal cannabis. Louisiana's law allowed for glaucoma and cancer patients and those suffering from spastic quadriplegia to receive marijuana for therapeutic use but regulations to govern the program were never developed.

In Mississippi, Republican state Sen. Josh Harkins of Brandon is sponsoring a cannabis oil bill similar to the ones in Alabama and Georgia. Harkins said one of his constituents has a 20-month-old daughter with Dravet syndrome, a form of pediatric epilepsy, and the oil can help reduce the number of seizures.

Elsewhere, both Kentucky and Tennessee have medical marijuana bills under consideration although they have yet to gain traction. Kentucky Senate President Rover Stivers, R-Manchester, has said he's not convinced marijuana has legitimate medical purposes and called it an area ripe for abuse.

In Florida, it's likely to become a campaign issue in the fall given that Gov. Rick Scott is up for re-election and a proposed constitutional amendment will be on the ballot that would allow for the medical use of marijuana as determined by a licensed physician. Former Republican Gov. Charlie Christ, now a Democrat seeking to challenge Scott, has called it "an issue of compassion, trusting doctors and trusting the people of Florida."

February 9, 2014 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 7, 2014

Tune in Monday to hear Colorado state leaders discuss marijuana legalization

On Monday, I’ll have the honor of co-moderating (with Sam Kamin and Alex Kreit) a discussion of Colorado’s marijuana legalization program. The event is being held at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and will run from 4:30-6:30 pm mountain time. Sam has invited several key state decision makers to serve as discussants, including:  Barbara Brohl (co-chair of the Amendment 64 Implementation Task Force and head of Colorado’s Department of Revenue, which includes the state’s marijuana enforcement division); Jack Finlaw (counsel to Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper); Ron Kammerzell (also of the Department of Revenue); and Dan Pabon (one of Denver’s Representatives in the Colorado General Assembly).

There will be a live stream broadcast of the event, which you can access here. I hope you’ll join us. I expect to learn a great deal; alongside their counterparts in Washington state, these Colorado officials might know more about implementing marijuana legalization than anyone else in the world. 

Recreational Marijuana Roundtable Event_2 10 14

February 7, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Another NFL player speaks out on marijuana for pain relief

Pittsburgh Steeler Ryan Clark talked in some detail yesterday about marijuana use in the NFL on ESPN's First Take.  First Take's hosts are (in my opinion) among the most annoying on ESPN and this segment is a good example of their grating personalities. But Clark's comments are well worth checking out.  

In particular, he emphasizes that many players use marijuana as an alternative to more addictive and harmful pain medications.  I think that this is a very powerful concept--both as a matter of politics and policy--that has not made its way into the public consciousness the way marijuana use by cancer patients has, for example.  

Most people immediately grasp the dangers that conventional pain medications carry.  And, because pain is largely in the eye of the person suffering from it (testing for pain is not like taking a person's temperature or giving them an x-ray), I think it is very difficult to discount self-reports from people who say it helps them.  The more that athletes speak out about this, I think the more average folks will accept (with good reason in my view) that marijuana can be used to treat pain and that it might be a better option than other medications.  

Here's Clark on the subject:

Clark, a 12-year veteran, discussed the topic of marijuana use and the league's testing system Thursday morning on ESPN's "First Take."

 

"I know guys on my team who smoke," Clark said. "And it's not a situation where you think, 'Oh, these are guys trying to be cool.' These are guys who want to do it recreationally.

 

"A lot of it is stress relief. A lot of it is pain and medication. Guys feel like, 'If I can do this, it keeps me away from maybe Vicodin, it keeps me away from pain prescription drugs and things that guys get addicted to.' Guys look at this as a more natural way to heal themselves, to stress relieve and also to medicate themselves for pain. Guys are still going to do it."

 

February 7, 2014 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Should marijuana be removed from the list of controlled substances (like alcohol)?

Alex raises some great questions about how the DEA evaluates the costs of drugs, and in particular, how it defines “potential for abuse” when scheduling drugs like marijuana. But I think there’s a potentially deeper problem with the Controlled Substances Act scheduling criteria, at least as I understand them: while the statute considers a drug’s medical value, it gives no weight whatsoever to a drug’s recreational value. For example, the key difference between Schedule I and Schedules II-V is that a drug on Schedules II-V has a “currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States” and a drug on Schedule I does not.  

Should the CSA consider the recreational value of a drug? I recognize this question raises deeply philosophical questions that are tough to resolve. And I recognize that considering “recreational value” would pose practical difficulties as well, such as figuring out how to assess the value of fun (we have a comparably easy time assigning dollar figures to things like curing diseases). But it still strikes me as odd that the CSA privileges medical utility to the exclusion of all other types of utility.

It’s possible the CSA criteria work well enough for most drugs. After all, there are thousands of scheduled substances, and I would guess that the vast majority (nearly all?) of them were designed for use in some sort of medical treatment. For these drugs, the focus on medical value (and exclusion on all other types of value) makes perfect sense.

But this focus doesn’t make sense for every drug. Consider alcohol. If alcohol were subject to the scheduling process, it would probably land on Schedule I (where marijuana is now) or at the very least Schedule II. After all, it has a very high potential for abuse, as anyone would define that term, and it arguably has no accepted medical use in the United States. But the CSA exempts alcohol from the list of controlled substances, because 21 U.S.C. section 802(6) expressly excludes “distilled spirits, wine, malt beverages, or tobacco” from the definition of “controlled substance.” If the CSA doesn’t make sense for alcohol (or tobacco), does it make sense for marijuana?

To the extent states like Colorado and Washington want to treat marijuana like alcohol – i.e., as a recreational substance, not (just) a medicine, subjecting marijuana to the CSA’s scheduling process – and the regulations that flow from it – poses a problem. Namely, as I pointed out in an earlier post, even if the DEA were to reschedule marijuana, it would still be subject to federal regulations that are more befitting of medicines than of recreational drugs like alcohol (e.g, one would need a prescription to buy / sell the drug). The pharmacy is probably not the right place to buy alcohol (or tobacco, per CVS’s decision) – so why make it the place where people buy marijuana?

 

February 6, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

NFL player on marijuana use "we're just going to do it anyway"

The Super Bowl may be behind us, but the question of marijuana use by NFL players is not.  The latest, Jets Player Antonio Cromartie says he thinks it is time for the NFL to let the issue go:

Cromartie said in an interview with Thisis50.com, a website launched by rapper 50 Cent, that he thinks the NFL should take marijuana off the banned substances list.

 

“They need to just let it go,” Cromartie said, via Brian Costello of the New York Post. “We’re just going to do it anyway. They just need to let it go. They need to go ahead and say, ‘Y’all go ahead, smoke it, do what you need to do.’ “

Cromartie may be a free agent this off-season.  It will be interesting to see if this impacts interest in him among NFL teams (and, in the nearer team, whether his agent or some Jets media rep will encourage Cromartie to retract or "clarify" his comments.)

February 5, 2014 in Current Affairs, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Marijuana rescheduling and the "potential for abuse" factor

President Obama's comments about marijuana last week prompted some renewed discussion about the status of marijuana as a Schedule I substance.   

A few days ago, Mark Kleimen weighed in, saying that marijuana rescheduling is essentially beside the point.  Since marijuana still would not have FDA approval, Kleiman argued, growing marijuana "would still be the illegal manufacture of a Schedule II controlled substance."  Although overstated (and full of odd and off-base personal attacks against Jacob Sullum), Kleiman's basic point is valid and often overlooked: rescheduling marijuana would not solve the conflict between state medical marijuana laws and the federal Controlled Substances Act.  (Unlike Kleiman, I do not think rescheduling would have "zero" practical effect--it would have a significant political impact and could provide space for litigation on the legality of distributing marijuana without FDA approval, for example as an herbal supplement.)

Putting the question of what impact rescheduling might have aside, however, I just saw an update to Kleiman's post that struck me as misguided.  In the update, Kleiman claims that marijuana could not be moved below Schedule II because "more than 2 million people in the U.S. meet diagnostic criteria for cannabis abuse or dependency at any one time."

Kleiman's position stems from the federal Controlled Substances Act's three scheduling criteria, one of which is a substance's relative "potential for abuse."  The law provides that substances in Schedules I and II are those with a high potential for abuse.  Schedule III substances have a potential for abuse less than those in Schedules I and II and so on.

The trouble is, the CSA does not define the term "potential for abuse."  (In fact, the only term in the CSA's scheduling criteria that is expressly defined, is "United States.")  The result--as anyone with a basic familiarity with administrative law can guess--is that the DEA has enjoyed incredibly broad discretion to interpret and define "potential for abuse" and other scheduling criteria.  

And here's where Kleiman's position is not as air-tight as he seems to think it is.  Currently, the DEA defines "potential for abuse" in a way that equates, roughly, to overall use rates.  And if we apply this definition (as the DEA does), Kleiamn is right: marijuana's abuse potential would place it in Schedules I or II.  

But there are plenty of other reasonable ways to define "potential for abuse."  And the only thing stopping the DEA from adopting a different definition of "potential for abuse" is, well, the DEA.  Instead of focusing on the total number of users, for example, we might define "potential for abuse" based on the percentage of users who become addicted to a substance or based on the ancillary harms that come from regular use.  (Indeed, many people seem to think idea that marijuana's abuse potential is the same as heroin's is pretty ridiculous.  Presumably, folks in this category think that there are other measures of abuse potential than Kleiman's/the DEAs.)     

This is not to say that marijuana would necessarily end up with a lower abuse potential rating if the DEA decided to revise its definition of the term.  My point is only that it could and that there are certainly reasonable definitions of "potential for abuse" in which it almost surely would.  Kleiman's position that marijuana's abuse potential means it must remain in Schedule I or II misunderstands the way administrative law works and the DEA's power to interpret "potential for abuse." 

I examined the DEA's definition of "potential for abuse" in some detail in this article for the Albany Government Law Review last year.

February 5, 2014 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (5)

Alaskans likely to vote on legalizing recreational marijuana in six months

As reported in this lengthy local article, "Alaska moved one big step closer Tuesday to a public vote on legalizing marijuana."  Here are the details:

On Tuesday, a ballot initiative campaign to decriminalize and regulate pot reached the signature threshold necessary under state election law to put the issue on the Aug. 19 primary ballot.

If the measure passes, Alaska would become the third state in the nation, after Colorado and Washington, to allow cannabis for recreational use. Backers modeled the proposed initiative after Colorado's new law, which regulates and taxes marijuana similarly to alcohol.

Alaska's Campaign to Regulate Marijuana reached the signature threshold on Tuesday morning, when totals posted on the Alaska Division of Elections' website showed that 31,593 valid voter signatures had been counted. State election law requires 30,000 signatures. Ballot initiative backers also met a requirement to gather signatures from voters in at least 30 of 40 House districts. "They have hit the magic numbers," said state elections director Gail Fenumiai....

Reaching the signature requirement was the last major hurdle to getting the question on the Aug. 19 primary election ballot. There, Alaskans will decide on legal pot along other big questions for the state, including a controversial oil-tax referendum, an initiative that would require legislative approval for future large-scale mines in the Bristol Bay region and potentially a boost to the minimum wage.

All that -- plus a contested U.S. Senate race primary -- could draw large numbers of voters, said Ivan Moore, an Anchorage pollster and campaign consultant. "The primary election is looking at being one of the highest turnout primaries we've had ever, I think," he said. It's not clear how that will play for the marijuana question....

In a 2004 Ivan Moore Research poll that asked if pot should be decriminalized, only 38 percent of Alaskans said yes. By 2010, the number jumped to 43 percent when Alaskans were asked if pot should be legalized. A 2013 poll by the North Carolina-based Public Policy Polling firm on behalf of the Marijuana Policy Project found that 54 percent of Alaskans polled would vote yes on a ballot initiative. "There has been phenomenal change," Moore said.

So far, the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana has mostly been funded by the Marijuana Policy Project, a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit that is the largest marijuana policy reform group in the country. The group has contributed $1,000 in cash and $3,757 in services and other in-kind donations, according to Alaska Public Offices Commission campaign disclosure reports. Four individual donors had contributed a total of $1,800 as of Jan. 11....

A national anti-legalization group headed by Patrick Kennedy has said it plans to campaign against the ballot initiative. Smart Approaches to Marijuana, like its opponent the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana, appears to be selling its side of the issue as the only approach compatible with the Alaskan value of independence.

"Smart Approaches to Marijuana has been approached by Alaskan activists who don't want to see the safety problems and burdensome government regulation that would come with legalization," wrote spokesman Kevin Sabet in an email Tuesdsay. Sabet wouldn't say who those Alaskan activists were. Plans will be announced later this spring, he wrote.

[Taylor Bickford, who works for Strategies 360] said that argument won't far. "I don't think Alaskans are going to have a member of the Kennedy family from the East Coast telling us how to live our lives," Bickford said.

Recent related post:

Is Alaska only months away from becoming the first red state to legalize marijuana?

February 5, 2014 in Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Marijuana will be legal in all 50 states by . . . .

 

 

 

 

Marijuana legalization has been one of the most notable law reform movements of the past two decades. In this post, I want to analyze the pace of these reforms in the hopes of formulating some (necessarily speculative) predictions about the future of the movement.

Since 1996, 21 states have legalized marijuana for medical purposes – roughly 1.15 new states per year. Of course, the rate of adoption has varied somewhat across those 18 plus years, with as many as 3 states legalizing marijuana in some years and 0 states legalizing marijuana in other years. But the pace of reform has been remarkably steady over time, notwithstanding several major “events” during this span, including: Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey’s call to all federal agencies to combat state reforms (1997); the U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions in Oakland Cannabis (2001) and Raich (2005); and the DOJ’s issuance of (non-) enforcement memos in 2009, 2010, and 2013. The following graph (using data helpfully gathered by ProCon.org) shows the number of new states legalizing medical marijuana by year since 1996:

New States Legalizing Medical Marijuana

If adoptions continue at the 1996- rate, medical marijuana would be legal in all states by 2039.

Obviously, this is a very simplistic way of predicting the future, based on simplified data (reforms vary across states, after all). A number of factors could hasten, slow, or even reverse the legalization of marijuana going forward. For example, legalization may come more slowly in the 29 remaining states, because voters in those states have comparatively restricted access to direct lawmaking procedures. (More than half the 21 states that have legalized medical marijuana so far have done so via voter initiative, but only 11 of the 29 remaining states appear to have comparable initiative procedures.)  On the other hand, public support for legalization of recreational marijuana is growing (support for medical marijuana has been high for quite some time), potentially defusing one of the key arguments against legalization of medical marijuana – namely, that supplies of it will be diverted into the recreational market. But I’ll go out on a limb and say that by 2039, marijuana will be legal (for purposes of state law) in every state. If I’m wrong, I’ll even buy Doug Berman and Alex Kreit a Big Gulp of Coke. If THAT’s still legal, of course.

February 4, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (7)

Is there a faith-based perspective on modern marijuana laws and reforms?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this interesting article from the Washington Post headlined "Faith leaders wrestle over growing support for marijuana." Here are excerpts:

Sunday’s Super Bowl was dubbed by some as the “pot bowl,” as the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks hail from the two states where fans can soon get marijuana as easily as they can get pizza. As public opinion has shifted in support of legalized marijuana, religious leaders are wrestling over competing interests, including high prison rates and legislating morality.

According to a 2013 survey from the Public Religion Research Institute, 58 percent of white mainline Protestants and 54 percent of black Protestants favor legalizing the use of marijuana. On the other side, nearly seven-in-10 (69 percent) white evangelical Protestants oppose it.

Catholics appear to be the most divided Christian group, with 48 percent favoring legalization and 50 percent opposing it. Opinions on how states should handle those who possess or sell marijuana varies among Christian leaders.

Caught in the middle of the debate are pastors, theologians and other religious leaders, torn over how to uphold traditional understandings of sin and morality amid a rapidly changing tide of public opinion.

Mark DeMoss, a spokesman for several prominent evangelicals including Franklin Graham and Hobby Lobby founder Steve Green, admits he takes a view that might not be held by most Christian leaders. “When 50 percent of our prison beds are occupied by nonviolent offenders, we have prison overcrowding problems and violent offenders serving shortened sentences, I have a problem with incarceration for possession of marijuana,” he said. “None of that’s to say I favor free and rampant marijuana use. I don’t think it’s the most serious blight on America.”

Alcohol abuse, he said, is a much more serious issue. President Obama suggested something similar to The New Yorker recently when he said that marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol.

But don’t expect pastors to start preaching in line with DeMoss, who said he has not seen much comment from religious leaders on the issue. “If a pastor said some of what I said, there would be some who would feel the pastor was compromising on a moral issue,” he said. “No one wants to risk looking like they’re in favor of marijuana. I’m not in favor, but I think we should address how high of a priority it should be.”...

Laws on marijuana have disproportionately impacted minorities, said the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. “There are community programs that can better engage young people than incarceration,” he said. “Many black and brown lives are destroyed because of incarceration.”...

Most Christians are still reluctant to favor legalization, Rodriguez said, since the effects of marijuana aren’t much different from getting drunk, which is a biblical no-no. “It has the ability of diluting reason, behavior, putting your guard down,” he said. “We are temples of God’s Holy Spirit, and it has the ability of hindering a clear thought process.”

Some who favor legalized marijuana liken the Christians who oppose it to be like the early 20th-century evangelicals and fundamentalists who supported a federal prohibition on alcohol. Part of a move in the Republican Party toward a loosening on marijuana legislation could be coming from people who also would sympathize with the Tea Party, said Russell Moore, head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

“I definitely think there’s been a coalition of ‘leave us alone’ libertarians and Woodstock nation progressives on this issue of marijuana,” Moore said. “I do think there has been an effort to stigmatize those with concerns as Carrie Nations holding on to prohibition.”

February 4, 2014 in Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Lots and lots of Super Sunday stories about marijuana and the Super Bowl

Bm3As is now common, this past week brought a lot of interesting new stories and commentary in the traditional and new media about new  marijuana laws and practices throughout the United States.  But, with the biggest annual US sporting event now only a few hours away, I figured I should focus my regular round-up of interesting marijuana news and commentary on matters related to the Super Bowl:

  • From the AP here, "THC-Hawks? Pot Puns Pack This Super Bowl" 

  • From the Baltimore Sun here, "Ayanbadejo says teammates on one of his Super Bowl teams used marijuana week of game"

  • From BuzzFeed here, "17 Marijuana Snacks To Eat During The Stoner Bowl, AKA the Bud Bowl, aka Super Bowl XLVIII."

  • From the Denver Business Journal here, "Pot, Super Bowl don’t mix for most people, poll finds"

  • From Forbes here, "Dueling Pot Billboards At The Stoner Bowl: Marijuana Is Safer Vs. Marijuana Will Ruin Your Life"

  • From a local Seattle Fox station here, "From marijuana to sushi, businesses are riding the Super Bowl frenzy"
  • From Rolling Stone here, "Which Super Bowl Team's State Is Better for Weed? Comparing the legal marijuana laws for Broncos and Seahawks fans"

  • From the Seattle Times here, "Seahawks’ Marshawn Lynch inspires Beast Mode pot"
  •  From Time here , "Pot Will See Sales Spike For Super Bowl, Just Like Pizza

  • From the Washington Post here, "The Super Bowl is the latest front in the fight over legalizing marijuana"

Some recent related posts:

February 2, 2014 in Current Affairs, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Notable coverage of notable concerns surrounding marijuana edibles

A few months ago, I wondered aloud in this post whether debates over marijuana reform would be a lot different if eating pot was far more common than smoking it. Today I see that the New York Times has this front-page story concerning marijuana edibles under the headline "Snacks Laced With Marijuana Raise Concerns." Here are excerpts:

As marijuana tiptoes further toward the legal mainstream, marijuana-infused snacks have become a booming business, with varieties ranging from chocolate-peppermint Mile High Bars to peanut butter candies infused with hash oil. Retail shops see them as a nonthreatening way into the shallow end of the marijuana pool, ideal for older customers, tourists staying in smoke-free hotels or anyone who wants the effect without the smoke and coughing.

But the popularity of edible marijuana has alarmed parents’ groups, schools and some doctors, who say the highly concentrated snacks are increasingly landing in the hands of teenagers looking for a sweet, discreet high, or of children too young to know the difference between pot brownies and regular ones....

One survey has found a small but growing number of children seeking treatment after accidentally consuming marijuana. Fourteen such children visited the emergency department of Children’s Hospital Colorado in the Denver area from October 2009 through December 2011, researchers reported last year in the journal JAMA Pediatrics. Before 2009, researchers reported no marijuana exposures.

The research took place after an explosion of medical-marijuana shops in Colorado, but before voters passed measures to legalize the sales and use of recreational marijuana to adults 21 and older. Dr. George Sam Wang, an author of the study and a clinical instructor in pediatrics at Children’s Hospital, said he had not seen any additional increases in children’s marijuana exposure since recreational sales began the first of this year.

Marijuana, even if consumed by children in high doses, poses few of the grave dangers of overdosing on alcohol or drinking household chemicals. But doctors said young children who consume marijuana are at risk of falling and hurting themselves or falling asleep in a position where they could not breathe. For the most part, doctors who treated children in the study advised that the children be watched closely as their bodies digested the drug. “There’s no antidote, no medicine that reverses this,” Dr. Wang said.

Compared with the 14 children who were treated after consuming marijuana, the hospital treated 48 children who had swallowed acetaminophen — the active ingredient in Tylenol — and 32 who had accidentally taken antihistamines during the same time period.

Regulators, manufacturers and retailers say they are working intensely to keep marijuana — edible or not — safe and tightly regulated. If they fail, federal authorities have warned they could step in and take action.

February 1, 2014 in Food and Drink, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)