Tuesday, March 31, 2015
"First Church of Cannabis" moves quickly to take advantage of Indiana's controversial religious freedom law
As reported in this Huffington Post article, there is an interesting new cannabis angle on the new law in Indiana that is stirring up much controversy. Here are the details:
Indiana's new "religious freedom" law has been widely criticized and condemned by many, but an innovative marijuana activist in the state is using the bill's legal protections as a means to set up a new religious sect -- the First Church of Cannabis, where members would aim to use marijuana freely as a sacrament in a state where the substance remains banned.
"It's a new religion for people who happen to live in our day and age," Bill Levin, the church's founder, told The Huffington Post in an interview Monday. "All these old religions, guys walking across the desert without Dr. Scholls inserts, drinking wine out of goat bladders, no compass, speaking Latin and Hebrew -- I cannot relate to that shit. I drive by Burger Kings, bars and corn fields. I cannot relate to an antique magic book."
As Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) signed the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act last Thursday, Levin was filing church registration paperwork with the secretary of state, which was approved on Friday, he announced on the church's Facebook page.
Levin is dead-serious about his new church. He says it's founded on universal principals of love, respect, equality and compassion. And similarly to other religious movements like the Rastafarians in Jamaica who see cannabis use as a sacrament, Levin said members of his church will adopt a similar belief in the plant. But unlike the Rastas, there is not a traditional deity at the top of this faith....
Levin is strongly against his state's controversial RFRA, but he said he'll take full advantage of the legal loopholes the bill may create. No stranger to marijuana advocacy, Levin has worked for years to change the laws in his home state through an organization he founded, Relegalize Indiana. "I fought this bill tooth and nail," Levin said. "And because of our brave and brilliant governor," he continued, his voice brimming with sarcasm, "he opened up the door for me to take my campaign to religion. The state will not interfere with religious belief -- well buddy, my religious belief is green with red hairs, and boy do I like to smoke it."
Marijuana is still illegal in Indiana, so it remains unclear if Levin's plan would work under current state laws. While a church that includes sacramental marijuana use is not without precedent, and several have emerged in the United States with varying degrees of success, much of their ability to survive hinges on a state at least decriminalizing marijuana, if not legalizing it for limited purpose. But Abdul-Hakim Shabazz, an Indiana attorney and political commentator, told RawStory that if Levin can convince the state that, under the RFRA, smoking marijuana is part of his religion's practices, he may have "a pretty good shot of getting off scot-free.”
Levin says the announcement of the church has created a firestorm of interest and support. He set up a crowdfunding account last week when the church first received notice that its registration was approved by the state, and as of Monday morning, the church had already raised close to $2,000. He also says that he has personally received thousands of messages of support, and hundreds of people ready to volunteer to help him with his mission. The church's Facebook page, set up just days ago, already has more than 5,000 likes.
Saturday, March 28, 2015
Colorado files SCOTUS brief responding to neighbors' lawsuit (and other states provide amicus support)
As reported in this Denver Post piece, headlined "Colorado officials defend marijuana legalization at U.S. Supreme Court," Colorado state lawyers have now officially responded, four months after the initial complaint, to the lawsuit filed by Oklahoma and Nebraska about marijuana reform in the Mile High State. Here are the basics:
Arguing that two neighboring states are dangerously meddling with Colorado's marijuana laws, state Attorney General Cynthia Coffman on Friday urged the U.S. Supreme Court to reject a landmark lawsuit filed by Nebraska and Oklahoma over marijuana legalization. In a brief submitted in response to the lawsuit, Coffman wrote that Nebraska and Oklahoma "filed this case in an attempt to reach across their borders and selectively invalidate state laws with which they disagree."
The two states' lawsuit seeks to strike down Colorado's licensing of recreational marijuana stores. Nebraska and Oklahoma officials argue that the stores have caused a flood of marijuana into their states, stretching their law enforcement agencies thin and threatening their sovereignty.
But Coffman argued the lawsuit, if successful, would only worsen problems involving black-market marijuana in all three states. Colorado's regulations for marijuana stores "are designed to channel demand away from this black market and into a licensed and closely monitored retail system," she wrote. If the stores are closed, Colorado would be left with laws that legalize marijuana use but do not regulate its supply. "This is a recipe for more cross-border trafficking, not less," Coffman wrote.
Friday's brief is the first time Colorado officials have had to make a full-throated argument in favor of the state's marijuana legalization laws. In doing so, the brief spends several pages noting states' lengthy history of trying to regulate marijuana, "a product whose use is staggeringly widespread." Nearly half of all states now have laws legalizing recreational or medical use of marijuana, the brief states....
Nebraska and Oklahoma filed their lawsuit directly with the Supreme Court because it involves a dispute between states. Before the lawsuit gets a hearing, the nation's highest court must first decide whether to take up the case. There is no timeline for the decision.
The lawsuit does not challenge Colorado's laws for medical marijuana use or sales, nor does it seek to strike down laws legalizing recreational marijuana use and possession. Instead, Nebraska and Oklahoma argue in the lawsuit that Colorado's licensing of marijuana stores "has created a dangerous gap in the federal drug control system."...
In a statement Friday, Coffman — a Republican who opposed marijuana legalization — said she shares Nebraska and Oklahoma's concerns about illegal marijuana trafficking. Coffman's brief, though, pins the blame for that trafficking not on Colorado's marijuana stores but on "third parties who illegally divert marijuana across state lines." The brief points to the recent indictments of 32 people accused in a massive marijuana-smuggling ring as evidence that Colorado authorities are continuing to bust traffickers.
Colorado's laws received support Friday from Coffman's counterparts in Washington state and Oregon — where recreational marijuana is also legal. In a friend-of-the-court brief filed Friday in support of Colorado's laws, Washington and Oregon attorneys general argue that Colorado's laws don't hurt Nebraska and Oklahoma's abilities to enforce their own laws.
"Nebraska and Oklahoma retain the constitutional powers of every other sovereign State in the nation," the brief argues. "They can investigate and prosecute persons who violate their laws; neither is powerless to address marijuana within their borders."
The full 35-page brief filed by Colorado is available at this link.
I tentatively predict that the Supreme Court will refuse to hear this case, but I confidently predict that most everything about modern marijuana law and policy is pretty darn unpredictable.
Some prior related posts:
- Nebraska and Oklahoma sue Colorado in US Supreme Court over marijuana legalization
- Could (and should) Colorado (or others) respond to attack on marijuana legalization by counter-attacking federal prohibition?
- Lots of commentary on states SCOTUS suit against Colorado marijuana reform
- Oklahoma legislators urging state's AG to drop SCOTUS suit again Colorado marijuana reforms
March 28, 2015 in Court Rulings, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)
Thursday, March 26, 2015
After three years of legalization and 15 months of recreational sales, there is now another sad case in which a premature death apparently can be closely connected to the consumption of edible marijuana. This local story, headlined "Keystone visitor commits suicide after eating marijuana candies," provides these details:
A Tulsa, Oklahoma man visiting Keystone committed suicide after consuming a large amount of edible marijuana candies, according to a Summit County Coroner’s report. Summit County Coroner Regan Wood said the cause of death was a gunshot wound to the head. Luke Gregory Goodman, 22, was staying in Keystone with his cousin at the time of the incident, and was taken to Summit Medical Center Saturday night. Later, he was flown to St. Anthony’s Lakewood Hospital, where he was kept on life support for two days until he died Tuesday morning.
Wood said that Goodman’s cousin reported he and Goodman had consumed edibles earlier Saturday. A CBS4 report says Goodman bought $78 of edible marijuana with his cousin, Caleb Fowler, in Silverthorne. Goodman consumed five peach tart candies in total, each containing 10 mg of the active ingredient in marijuana, the recommended dose for an adult. The back of the package said the candies were supposed to take 1-2 hours take effect.
According to CBS4, Fowler said that several hours later, Goodman became “jittery” then incoherent and talking nonsensically. “He would make eye contact with us but didn’t see us, didn’t recognize our presence almost. He had never got close to this point, I had never seen him like this,” Fowler said.
Later, when his family left the condo, Goodman refused to join them. According to the report, Goodman may have used a handgun he normally carried for protection. Taneil Ilano, a Public Information Officer with the Summit County Sheriff’s Department, said a witness reported that Goodman consumed about four marijuana edibles that day, described as gummy bears. She added that police were dispatched around 10 p.m. on Saturday.
Luke Goodman’s mother, Kim Goodman, told CBS4 that her son had no signs of depression or suicidal thoughts, and believed the large amounts of edibles triggered his death. “It was 100 percent the drugs,” she said. “It was completely because of the drugs — he had consumed so much of it.”
The toxicology results are pending and will take about three weeks to be finalized.
As noted in this prior post from nearly a year ago, in the first part of 2014 two deaths in Denver were linked to marijuana intoxication . I have been pleasantly surprised that there have not been more of these kinds of tragic cases resulting from misuse of the drug, but my heart now goes out to everyone connected to this latest tragic incident.
Prior related post:
In addition to having a notable guest speaking in my marijuana law school seminar this week (basics here), and having one student do a presentation on drugged driving (basics here), another student this week is giving a presentation on textual and substantive similarities between the adult-use recreational marijuana initiatives/regimes that have been enacted in four states to date (Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington) and Ohio's three recreational marijuana proposals. Links to basic legal information about the four legalization states can be found via this NORML webpage, and the basic text or a summary of the Ohio proposals are here:
March 26, 2015 in Assembled readings on specific topics, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)
Tuesday, March 24, 2015
In addition to having a notable guest speaking in my marijuana law school seminar this week (basics here), we are starting a series of weeks in which students are to present to the class some readings and engage in discussion concerning the research topic that they are working up. This week, one of the topics to be covered is drugged driving, and here are links to the student-assembled reading:
(My students only need to read the Ohio section in the "Drug Per Se Laws" comparative article, though they (and other readers) might want to review the whole document for a national perspective.)
The title of this post is the headline of this lengthy Newsweek commentary authored by John Hudak of The Brookings Institute. Here are excerpts:
In some ways marijuana policy is the perfect issue for a presidential campaign. It has far reaching consequences that both parties have reason to engage. Not to mention, it’s an edgy topic that media just can’t resist....
The Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations have responded to state marijuana policies in a variety of ways—from legal challenges to laissez-faire enforcement—but regardless, marijuana has garnered presidential attention. The issue will only become more pressing as more states decide to loosen their laws through decriminalization, medical expansion or outright legalization. Because marijuana is an issue that no president will be able to ignore, it is an issue no presidential candidate will be able to avoid....
Views diverge among Republicans. Some candidates, like Rand Paul, have come closer to embracing legalization—at least those efforts at the state level—in an effort to connect to younger and libertarian voters. Others have been far more open-minded about medical marijuana, either endorsing such systems or appearing comfortable with a hands off approach. Still others, like Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, have taken a more hardline, war-on-drugs approach to the topic.
This diversity is a magnificent thing for Republicans and Republican voters. Among (prospective) candidates who, at times, seem to be policy clones, marijuana offers voters the ability to distinguish positions. As a result, candidates must have positions on the topic....
Marijuana policy will likely play a noticeable role in the general election, too. The issue has implications for states that truly matter in presidential campaigns. Recreational legalization is a reality in swing states like Colorado. Other marijuana measures may appear on ballots in which presidential candidates frequently look for votes (Florida, Maine) or campaign money (California).
In addition, medical marijuana policy — now the law in many places — means that swing state voters will be interested in what their next president will have to say on the topic. The issue engages a variety of issues that reach beyond marijuana itself, posing serious leadership questions for any prospective chief executive. It involves issues of law and regulatory enforcement, federal research policy, medical and pharmaceutical policy, state-federal relations, criminal justice, privacy, agriculture, commerce, small business policy and banking and financial regulations.
This recent commentary about marijuana reform from The National Memo, which is headlined "Half A Heart On Marijuana Better Than No Heart At All," makes a powerful point about what some politicians say about modern marijuana reform in light of their own admitted history with this drug. Here are excerpts from the piece which caught my attention:
Jeb Bush admits to having smoked pot in high school. Actually, Bush’s dorm room at Phillips Academy Andover reportedly served as stoner central, where students would smoke hash to the strains of Steppenwolf’s “Magic Carpet Ride.”
Kids from modest backgrounds were being jailed at that time for doing far less. Today, even a minor drug conviction bars one from many jobs, including joining the military. Yet Florida’s former Republican governor evidently doesn’t think his illegal behavior should disqualify him from serving as commander in chief. Why would he? The current holder of that job, President Barack Obama, also admitted to smoking pot, as did his predecessor, Jeb’s brother George W. Bush.
If Jeb owned up to the rank injustice and fully supported ending the war on marijuana, that might lighten the hypocrisy factor. But Bush piously insists that he’s against legalizing marijuana. If states want to do it, that’s OK, he says. But that leaves the vast majority of Americans subject to arrest for smoking a joint after dinner.
Here’s an idea. Why doesn’t Bush volunteer to do the time behind bars that youths from less powerful families were being sentenced to in the 1960s? He could share a cell with Patrick Kennedy, the former liberal congressman from Rhode Island.
In the wee hours of May 4, 2006, Rep. Kennedy crashed his car into a barricade on Capitol Hill while under the influence of who knows how many controlled substances. He served in Congress for four more years, leaving at a time of his choosing. Kennedy is now a staunch foe of legalizing marijuana, but, like Bush, has not offered to do his time. Given Kennedy’s decades of addiction, that would be no small piece of change.
Many argue that marijuana at high potency and in great quantity can be harmful. That may be so, but the same is true of many things we can legally consume. If states’ rights is the excuse for easing up on the ludicrous drug war, so be it. Any change that makes life less miserable for good people — and saves the taxpayers huge sums — is to be cheered. But oh, the waste!
Monday, March 23, 2015
Derek Siegle, who is the executive director of the Ohio High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Program, has this new commentary piece which makes the full-throated argument against marijuana reform. I am pleased that this commentary was published just a few days before I am going to have the honor of having Mr. Siegle speak to my marijuana seminar. The opinion piece carries the headline "Ohio should not legalize marijuana unless it wants a lot more addicted young people," and here are excerpts:
As I hear discussions regarding both medical and recreational use of marijuana, I feel compelled to provide some facts regarding this topic. According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, "confusing messages being presented by popular culture, media, proponents of "medical" marijuana, and political campaigns to legalize all marijuana use perpetuate the false notion that marijuana is harmless. This significantly diminishes efforts to keep our young people drug free and hampers the struggle of those recovering from addiction."
There are many myths being perpetrated by those in favor of legalization. The use or possession of marijuana is not impacting the criminal justice system, as most marijuana arrests do not involve incarceration....
Marijuana stays in your system for 72 hours. Because of this long life, levels of Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, continue to build in our systems. This is not the case with other drugs, to include alcohol. THC is stored in our fatty cells. Since our brains are 99 percent fat, the THC causes these cell walls to expand and become very thick, which decreases their ability to transmit and receive data between nerve cells.
The highest density of cannabinoid receptors is found in parts of the brain that influence pleasure, memory, thinking, concentration, sensory and time perception, and coordinated movement. Research demonstrates marijuana has the potential to cause problems in daily life or make a person's existing problems worse. Heavy marijuana users generally report lower life satisfaction, poorer mental and physical health, relationship problems, and less academic and career success compared to their peers....
Potential tax revenue will only cover about 15 percent of the collateral costs to our community: increased drug treatment, emergency room visits, crime, traffic accidents and school "dropouts." Allowing individuals to grow their own will only decrease the tax revenue and increase the availability to others....
Legalization will lead to greater use by our youth. Youth surveys indicate more of our children will try marijuana if it is legal. In states where marijuana is legal, most youths are getting their marijuana from someone who legally obtained it. States with legalized marijuana have seen an increase in youth use. For example, states having the top use among 12- to 17-year-olds are states where medical marijuana is legal. Denver's 8th-grade student marijuana use is 350 percent higher than the national average....
Accidents and fatalities from drugged driving, testing positive for marijuana, will also increase as it has in Colorado.... The increase in murders, robberies, burglaries, number of addicts, number of homeless people, use among our youth, is well documented in Colorado. As the governor of Colorado said, "This is a bad idea."
Because Mr. Siegle is the executive director of a federally funded grant program that provides funding, training and support to drug task forces throughout Ohio, I have requested that he present to my students whatever Ohio-specific data he has about marijuana use/abuse and other drug use/abuse in the Buckeye state. I would expect, perhaps even hope, that legalization of marijuana in any jurisdiction would lead to an increase in the use of this drug, but there is reason to believe, and certainly hope, that it might also lead to a decrease in the use of other more dangerous (legal and illegal) drugs.
Friday, March 20, 2015
As reported in this local article, headlined "ResponsibleOhio's marijuana-legalization effort clears next hurdle toward Ohio ballot," it now seems even more likely Ohio voters will get to weigh in on marijuana legalization later this year. Here are the details:
A decision by the Ohio Ballot Board on Friday cleared the way for ResponsibleOhio to start gathering signatures needed to put its marijuana legalization ballot issue before Ohio voters this fall. The amendment to the state constitution would establish a legal marijuana industry in which Ohioans could purchase weed for recreational and medical uses from retail outlets licensed by the state....
The Ballot Board, chaired by Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, agreed Friday that ResponsibleOhio's proposal amounts to one constitutional amendment. Had the board decided the language contained more than one issue, it could have voted to split them into separate ballot questions. That would have forced ResponsibleOhio to start the review process all over again.
The next step toward the ballot requires petitioners to collect 305,591 signatures of registered voters. The total is equal to 10 percent of the vote in the 2014 gubernatorial contest. Those signatures must be gathered from at least 44 of Ohio's 88 counties, and in each of 44 counties, the total gathered must amount to 5 percent of the 2014 gubernatorial vote locally. Signatures must be submitted by July.
Campaign spokeswoman Lydia Bolander said Friday that the circulating of petitions will provide ResponsibleOhio with a chance to talk to voters about why it is seeking to change Ohio's laws.... "As we collect signatures, we have to collect in a majority of counties. We'd like to be in every county," Bolander said. And other events, such as town hall meetings, could be organized down the road.
ResponsibleOhio's amendment would allow 10 growing sites promised to campaign investors. Entrepreneurs would be able to apply for licenses to manufacture marijuana products and sell weed at retail stores and nonprofit medical marijuana dispensaries.
Recreational marijuana would be taxed at 15 percent at the wholesale and manufacturing levels and 5 percent at retail locations. Most tax revenue would go to local governments to pay for roads, police and other public services while 15 percent would go toward marijuana research, addiction services and enforcement. Adults over age 21 could also possess up to four flowering marijuana plants and 8 ounces of dried marijuana for personal use -- provided they obtain a license from the state.
The proposed amendment cleared its first hurdle to the ballot a week ago when Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine certified that a summary of the petition language met the proper legal form. DeWine had rejected the group's first submitted amendment, finding at least two places where the summary did not match the proposed amendment.
DeWine has said he personally opposes the idea of marijuana legalization. But he acknowledged that on the second try, ResponsibleOhio's language was proper. "Without passing upon the advisability of the approval or rejection of the measure to be referred. ... I hereby certify that the summary is a fair and truthful statement of the proposed law," DeWine said in a letter to the petitioners.
It seems that of late I have been getting lots of interesting links to CNBC pieces in my usual review of marijuana headlines. Here are links to the notable recent CNBC articles and videos on these topics:
Thursday, March 19, 2015
In a few prior posts, I have highlighted Professor David Ball's Drug Law & Policy blog, and have praised the work being done by law students to spotlight many of the dynamic and diverse legal issues raised by modern marijuana reform. Recently, the content at this blog transitioned from brief issue-spotting posts to detailed analyses of important reform issues.
Here is a run-down of recent extended posts at Drug Law & Policy, all of which merit attention:
This new Daily Caller piece, headlined "Poll: 61 Percent Of Americans Want Marijuana Legalization, Smashing Previous Records," reports on some details of a notable new poll about American opinions on marijuana reforms. Here are the basics:
A new poll has found that 61 percent of American voters agree with legalizing recreational marijuana, shattering previous records. The poll was released by the Benenson Strategy Group (BSG), while the old record of 58 percent supporting was done by Gallup in 2013.
Republicans still haven’t crossed the halfway point. According to the BSG survey, 48 percent agree with legalization, while 52 percent still oppose. A slightly wider gap exists for conservatives, with 45 percent supporting legalization and 55 percent opposing.
A total of 72 percent of voters think that jail time for marijuana possession doesn’t make sense. Instead, these voters believe that the punishment should be reduced down to as low as $25 dollars and as high as $100 dollars. Although Republicans are traditionally opposed to marijuana legalization, this is a measure they’re friendlier towards, as 68 percent agree with the proposal. Of conservatives, 63 percent agree with reduced penalties.
BSG relied on a sample size of 1,032 registered voters to create a nationally representative survey. The survey was conducted from Feb. 26 to 27. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.5 points.
This new Huffington Post piece provides a few more details and more background concerning this latest poll and prior polls on similar topics.
"The Kids Aren't Alright, But Older Adults Are: How Medical Marijuana Market Growth Impacts Adult and Adolescent Substance-Related Outcomes"
The title of this post is the title of this notable new SSRN piece authored by Rosanna Smart providing an empirical reassessment of some data on the impact of medical marijuana reform on drug use and abuse. Here is the abstract:
Public opinion has grown more favorable to legalizing the sale and use of cannabis; many states now have "medical marijuana" laws (MMLs), and a few have legalized commercial production and sale for non-medical purposes. Prior research examining the effects of MML adoption has largely found reassuring evidence on the consequences of such policies -- no impact on adolescent cannabis use, and large decreases in crime rates, motor vehicle fatalities, suicides, and prescription opioid overdoses for adults. However, medical marijuana regimes vary greatly, and simple comparisons of states with such laws to states without them miss that variability.
Reanalysis using a more sensitive measure of MML penetration (per-capita adult medical marijuana registration rates) confirms that growth in medical marijuana market size lowers alcohol and opioid-related poisoning deaths for older adults, and lessens traffic fatalities in accidents involving older drivers. However, larger medical marijuana markets lead to increased cannabis consumption by adolescents, accompanied by increases in traffic fatalities and alcohol poisoning mortality for this age group.
March 19, 2015 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)
Tuesday, March 17, 2015
The question in the title of this post is the headline of this new piece by Miriam Boeri appearing in This Week magazine. Here are excepts (with links preserved):
[R]esearch has shown that marijuana, while still criminalized at the federal level, can be effective as a substitute for treating opioid addicts and preventing overdoses. Massachusetts, which recently legalized medical marijuana — and where heroin overdoses have soared — could be a fertile testing ground for this potentially controversial treatment....
With each state crafting unique medical marijuana regulations, we find ourselves at a crucial turning point in drug policy.... Among drug treatment specialists, marijuana remains controversial. Although some research has shown marijuana to be an alternative treatment for more serious drug addiction, addiction treatment specialists still view marijuana as highly addictive and dangerous. These views handicap policy reform, but despite its status as a Schedule 1 drug, recent research shows marijuana could be part of the solution to the most deadly drug epidemic our country has seen in decades.
In 2012 Massachusetts became the 18th state to legalize medical marijuana, though the first 11 dispensaries are not scheduled to open until sometime in the coming year. This situation presents an opportunity to implement sensible, research-based policy.
Massachusetts, like many states across the US, has seen a dramatic rise in opioid addition fueled by the increase in opiate prescription pills. In Boston, heroin overdoses increased by 80 percent between 2010 and 2012, and four out of five users were addicted to pain pills before turning to heroin.
Meanwhile, the leading cause of death among the Boston's homeless population has shifted from AIDS complications to drug overdoses, with opiates involved in 81 percent of overdose deaths. This is an alarming finding given recent expansion in clinical services for the city's homeless.
Addiction specialists and health care professionals in Boston have been at the forefront of integrating behavioral and medical care. Naloxone and methadone are currently the main solutions to address the growing opiate addiction and overdose problem. But Naloxone is an overdose antidote, not a cure or a form of preventative therapy.
Methadone, like heroin and other opioids, has a very narrow therapeutic index (the ratio between the toxic dose and the therapeutic dose of a drug). This means that a small change in dosage can be lethal to the user. Marijuana, however, has one of the safest (widest) therapeutic ratios of all drugs.
Research shows that marijuana has been used as a form of self-treatment, where users take cannabis in lieu of alcohol, prescription opiates, and illegal drugs. That's one reason why researchers are calling for marijuana to be tested as a substitute for other drugs. In this capacity, marijuana can be thought of as a form of harm reduction. While researchers don't seek to discount some of the drug's potential negative effects, they view it as a less damaging alternative to other, harder drugs. Despite these findings, marijuana is rarely incorporated in formal drug treatment plans.
A recent study might change this policy. Comparing states with and without legalized medical marijuana, it found a substantial decrease in opioid (heroin and prescription pill) overdose death rates in states that had enacted medical marijuana laws. In their conclusions, the researchers suggested that medical marijuana should be part of policy aimed to prevent opioid overdose....
Since Massachusetts has not yet opened its medical marijuana dispensaries, it is too early to see if medical marijuana legislation will help reduce opiate addiction in the Commonwealth. Using recent research findings, Massachusetts policymakers have a unique opportunity to implement medical marijuana policies that address its contemporary opiate overdose. Medical marijuana could be part of drug treatment for heroin and opiates....
Formerly demonized and later legislated as a Schedule 1 substance, marijuana could diminish the damage wrought by harder drugs, like heroin. While opioid use is a nationwide epidemic, Massachusetts — long at the forefront of developing scientifically based public policy — has the opportunity to be at the forefront of cutting-edge, socially-informed drug policy.
As detailed in this new NPR story, headlined "Obama, 2016 Contenders Deal With Changing Attitudes On Marijuana," President Obama had occasion to talk about marijuana reform again in a new interview with Vice News. Here are the basics:
The divide between Republicans and Democrats on pot politics is narrowing, President Barack Obama said in an interview Monday. "What I'm encouraged by is you're starting to see not just liberal Democrats but also some very conservative Republicans recognize this doesn't make sense including sort-of the libertarian wing of the Republican Party," the president said in an interview with Vice News.
During the wide-ranging interview, Obama noted that the American criminal justice system is "so heavily skewed toward cracking down on nonviolent drug offenders" and has has had a disproportionate impact on communities of color, as well as taking a huge financial toll on states. But, Obama added, Republicans are beginning to see that cost.
"So we may be able to make some progress on the decriminalization side," Obama said. "At a certain point if enough states end up decriminalizing, then Congress may then reschedule marijuana."
Reclassifying marijuana as what's called a Schedule 2 drug, rather than a Schedule 1 drug is part of a bill being pushed by Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, a Republican weighing a potential White House bid, as well as Democrats Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York.
The unlikely trio of lawmakers unveiled their bill, which would also remove federal prohibitions on medical marijuana in the more than a quarter of states where it's already legal, last week. "We, as a society, are changing our opinions on restricting people's choices as far as medical treatments," Paul, who has been a vocal critic of the so-called war on drugs, said last week. "There is every reason to try and give more ease to people in the states who want this — more freedom for states and individuals," Paul added.
Paul's emphasis on states' rights is in line with the Republican belief that the federal government should keep its hands out of local affairs. But this is also a political sweet spot as a majority of Americans back more liberal marijuana laws....
"Members of Congress tend to be between five to 10 years behind the public on this issue," Dan Riffle, the director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, said in an interview. "Medical marijuana is more popular in this country than baseball and apple pie, and it's certainly more popular than Congress. What this bill means, and what it shows, is Congress is finally catching up to the public on this issue and recognizes that this is a slam dunk."
Monday, March 16, 2015
Connecticut Supreme Court clarifies erasure of past pot conviction comes with state decriminalization
This AP article, headlined "Ruling Clears Way for Marijuana Convictions to Be Erased," highlights a notable (state law) ruling from that echoes issues being confronted in a number of states as marijuana reforms become more common. Here are the basics:
Thousands of people busted in Connecticut for marijuana possession now have the right to get their convictions erased after the state Supreme Court ruled Monday that the violation had been downgraded to the same legal level as a parking ticket.
The 7-0 ruling came in the case of former Manchester and Bolton resident Nicholas Menditto, who had asked for his convictions to be overturned after the Legislature decriminalized possession of small amounts of pot in 2011. "It's a topic multiple states will have to be facing," said Aaron Romano, Menditto's attorney. "Because marijuana is being decriminalized across the United States, this issue needs to be addressed."
Colorado, Washington state, Washington, D.C., and Alaska have legalized the recreational use of pot. Oregon's law legalizing it takes effect in July. Connecticut and 22 other states allow marijuana for medicinal purposes, and 18 states have decriminalized possession of varying amounts.
Last year, Colorado's second-highest court ruled that some people convicted of possessing small amounts of marijuana can ask for those convictions to be thrown out under the state law that legalized recreational marijuana. Officials in the other states are grappling with the issue.
In 2011, Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and legislators changed possession of less than a half ounce of marijuana from a misdemeanor with potential jail time to a violation with a $150 fine for a first offense and fines of $200 to $500 for subsequent offenses. Menditto, 31, wanted the state to erase his two convictions for marijuana possession in 2009 and a pending possession case. The Supreme Court ruled he could apply to have the two convictions erased, but declined to address the pending case.... The appeal involved the 2011 decriminalization and another state law that allows erasure of convictions of offenses that have been decriminalized....
"The legislature has determined that such violations are to be handled in the same manner as civil infractions, such as parking violations," Justice Carmen Espinosa wrote in the ruling. "The state has failed to suggest any plausible reason why erasure should be denied in such cases."
Sunday, March 15, 2015
This new commentary, headlined "Medical marijuana question complicated for Florida GOP by 2016 ballot," highlights how the prospect of marijuana issues appearing on the ballot in 2016 can be used to push lawmakers to embrace reforms. Here is how the piece begins:
The unlikely pitch from medical marijuana legalization advocates to conservatives who control the Florida Legislature goes like this: Pass a law now — or risk hurting the GOP presidential candidate by having a referendum on the 2016 ballot.
A constitutional amendment would draw to the polls the younger, more liberal voters more likely to support medical pot, proponents say, helping the eventual Democratic nominee in the nation's largest swing state — possibly over Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio, both homegrown Republicans. "Most people understand that, in a presidential year, medical marijuana will pass," said Jeff Kottkamp, the Republican former lieutenant governor who backs legalization. "They also know on the national level a Republican can't win without Florida."
But GOP leaders in Tallahassee aren't buying it. Medical marijuana supporters made a similar contention when the issue was on the ballot last year — both Rubio and Bush opposed it — yet Republican Gov. Rick Scott defeated Democrat Charlie Crist anyway. Many Crist voters didn't vote for the marijuana amendment, a post-election analysis showed. In fact, statewide ballot measures have failed to sway presidential elections in Florida time and time again.
The broad use of marijuana for medicinal purposes remains illegal — despite receiving support from nearly 58 percent of voters in November — because the state has a 60 percent threshold to adopt constitutional amendments. "I really don't think that it would ultimately impact the presidential campaign," said state Sen. Jeff Brandes, the St. Petersburg Republican who proposed this year's medical cannabis legislation in the Senate, SB 528. "I just think it's the right policy."
Thursday, March 12, 2015
As noted in prior posts here and here, the biggest news this week in the marijuana reform arena has been the introduction of a bipartisan federal medical marijuana reform bill by Senators Rand Paul, Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand, the CARERS Act. The preamble to this bill expressly provides that its purposes are to "extend the principle of federalism to State drug policy, provide access to medical marijuana, and enable research into the medicinal properties of marijuana."
Notably, this statement of purposes and the overall structure of the CARERS Act would seem to be in harmony with the stated goals of the leading figure and group opposing significant marijuana reform, namely Patrick Kennedy and Smart Approaches to Marijuana. Notably, on this page under a picture of Patrick Kennedy, SAM proclaims it is "acting in the best interests of public health and safety." In addition, Kennedy in this recent commentary piece stated that he favors "reforming our drug laws and emphasizing public health" and that we "should indeed reform broken laws that disproportionately harm ethnic and racial minorities and the poor."
Similarly, this About page on the SAM website states that the organization is comprised of "medical doctors, lawmakers, treatment providers, preventionists, teachers, law enforcement officers and others who seek a middle road between incarceration and legalization [to provide a] commonsense, third-way approach to marijuana policy is based on reputable science and sound principles of public health and safety" (emphasis added). In addition, this SAM information page about cannabis-based medicines states that SAM advocates for "rapid expansion of research into the components of the marijuana plant for delivery via non-smoked forms" and a special FDA reform that "allows seriously ill patients to obtain non-smoked components of marijuana."
Based on these various stated commitments by Patrick Kennedy and SAM, I certainty think it would be quite consistent with their advocacy or them to support expressly and vocally the CARERS Act. As I read the CARERS Act, it seeks to cautiously reform federal marijuana laws that are obviously "broken" because they fully preclude state lawmakers and administrators, researchers and doctors from being seriously involved and invested in reforms to state marijuana laws "based on reputable science and sound principles of public health and safety." In addition, something like the CARERS Act is absolutely essential for rapid expansion of medical research in this arena. Indeed, the powerful press conference introducing the CARERS Act had lawmakers, parents and patients all powerfully explaining why federal medical marijuana reform is essential to ensuring more needed medical research, and in order to fully ensure a serious and enduring commitment in both federal and state laws to marijuana policy "based on reputable science and sound principles of public health and safety."
Notably, there is not yet any mention of the CARERS Act on the SAM website, and I am inclined to guess that Patrick Kennedy and other SAM leaders are working on a formal response. For the reasons outlined above, I sincerely hope that Patrick Kennedy and other SAM leaders soon become vocal proponents of the CARERS Act. Historically, a problematic mix of politics and fear, not reputable science and sound principles of public health and safety, has dominated federal federal drug laws. I hope that SAM will, through support of the CARERS Act, help ensure public that we start turning the corner and head on a sounder scientific and public health path in the months and years to come.
Prior related posts:
March 12, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)
A helpful colleague made sure I saw that the latest issue of the New England Journal of Medicine has two short "perspective" pieces discussing some of the important public health issues emerging in Colorado as it experiments with recreational marijuana reform. Here are links to the pieces with their abstracts:
Half-Baked — The Retail Promotion of Marijuana Edibles by R.J. MacCoun & M.M. Mello:
In states where marijuana has been legalized, new edible marijuana products raise public health concerns, including a risk of consumption by children. States have only partially addressed these risks, which are likely to be amplified as other states follow their lead.
Medical Marijuana's Public Health Lessons — Implications for Retail Marijuana in Colorado by T.S. Ghosh and Others
In 2014, Colorado began allowing sales of recreational marijuana. With no state models or national guidance to follow, public health officials are seeking lessons from medical marijuana to prepare for public health implications of more widely available legal marijuana.
The Washington Post's Wonkblog has this lengthy new piece detailed the array of distinct lawsuits brought recently by opponents of Colorado's marijuana reforms. The article, headlined "After losing at the ballot box, marijuana opponents make a hail mary pass to the courts," is worthy a full read, and here are excerpts from the start and end of the piece:
After losing at the ballot box and in the court of public opinion, marijuana opponents are turning to the federal judiciary in an attempt to halt the momentum of marijuana legalization efforts happening at the state level. But legal experts say that plaintiffs in a series of lawsuits brought against the state of Colorado for its marijuana regulation regime face slim chances of succeeding -- if the courts agree to hear them at all....
Most of the cases above are being financed by hardline anti-drug organizations that in recent years have found themselves well outside of the mainstream criminal justice debate.
The sheriffs' lawsuit, for instance, is bankrolled by the Drug Free America Foundation. Among other things, this group advocates for broadening mandatory drug tests for public school students. The Foundation arose from the ashes of "Straight, Incorporated," a coercive "drug rehabilitation" program for teens that faced numerous allegations of abuse and settled out of court to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars before closing its doors in 1993.
And the RICO cases are funded by the Safe Streets Alliance, a tough-on-crime organization that aims to increase prison sentences in an era of deep skepticism over the merits of lengthy prison terms. "This is the last hurrah for a lot of individuals in the anti-marijuana community," according to the Brookings Institution's John Hudak. "It's pretty clear that they’ve lost the battle for public opinion."