Wednesday, March 11, 2015
Because the New York Times editorial board has already called for the full legalization of marijuana, it is no big surprised that today brings this editorial in support of the bipartisan federal CARERS Act introduced yesterday by three senators (basics here). Here are excerpts from the editorial:
The bill makes a number of important changes to federal marijuana policies — and it deserves to be passed by Congress and enacted into law. Though this legislation would not repeal the broad and destructive federal ban on marijuana, it is a big step in the right direction....
The bill, sponsored by Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, both Democrats, and Rand Paul, a Republican of Kentucky, would not legalize medical marijuana in all 50 states. But it would amend federal law to allow states to set their own medical marijuana policies and prevent federal law enforcement agencies from prosecuting patients, doctors and caregivers in those states. Currently 35 states and the District of Columbia permit some form of medical marijuana use. States would remain free to ban medical marijuana if they wished.
Other important provisions would allow banks and credit unions to provide financial services to marijuana-related businesses that operate in accord with state law and protect them from federal prosecution or investigation. That is a crucial improvement over the current situation where marijuana business that is legal under state law is conducted in cash because financial institutions fear to step in.
The bill would also allow doctors in the Department of Veterans Affairs to prescribe medical marijuana to veterans, which they are currently prohibited from doing. And it would ease the overly strict procedures for obtaining marijuana for medical research and require the Food and Drug Administration to more readily allow the manufacture of marijuana for research....
Polls show a majority of Americans in favor of legalization of medical marijuana. It is long past time for Congress to recognize the need to change course.
The full text of the CARERS Act is available here.
Tuesday, March 10, 2015
I am watching the press conference (streamed here) with presentations by Senators Rand Paul, Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand introducing their new federal medical marijuana reform bill, the CARERS Act. Fascinating stuff.
Senator Booker started by noting veterans' interest in using medical marijuana, Senator Paul spoke of the need for more research and banking problems for state-legal marijuana business, and Senator Gillibrand was the closer by stressing the need for families to have access to high-CBC medicines for children suffering from seizure disorders.
Adding to the power of the press conference is a set of testimonials from a mom eager to have CBC treatments for her daughter (who had a small seizure during the press conference!), and an older woman with MS eager to have access to marijuana to help her sleep. Senator Paul followed up by introducing a father of one of his staffers with MS, who testified from a wheelchair. Senator Booker then introduced a 35-year-old veteran who complained about been deemed a criminal for his medical marijuana use by a country he fought for over six years. Notably, after all the white users/patients advocated for reform, Senator Booker introduced an African-American business owner talking about the problems with having to run a medical marijuana business without access to banking services.
This Drug Policy Alliance press release summarizes what is in the CARERS Act:
The Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States - CARERS - Act is the first-ever bill in the U.S. Senate to legalize marijuana for medical use and the most comprehensive medical marijuana bill ever introduced in Congress. The CARERS Act will do the following:
Allow states to legalize marijuana for medical use without federal interference
Permit interstate commerce in cannabidiol (CBD) oils
Reschedule marijuana to schedule II
Allow banks to provide checking accounts and other financial services to marijuana dispensaries
Allow Veterans Administration physicians to recommend medical marijuana to veterans
Eliminate barriers to medical marijuana research.
March 10, 2015 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)
For various reasons, the huge swing southern state Florida is among the most interesting place to watch as a marker for the future of marijuana reform nationwide. A number of prominent national political figures have links to Florida, and the distinctive economics and voting groups in the state add to the political equation. As the same time, the state is among the hardest for the enactment of initiative reforms because of its requirement that initiatives garner 60% of the vote for passage. Thus, I found this lengthy new Sunshine State article, headlined "Recreational cannabis initiative?," especially interesting. Here are excerpts:
The Florida Cannabis Action Network is now developing a 2016 voter initiative to legalize marijuana, based on the likelihood that the Florida Legislature will be unwilling to create a comprehensive medical-only program in coming weeks. That could mean that there is both a medical marijuana amendment and an adult-use amendment on the Florida ballot during the presidential election-year ballot.
Unlike two recently filed but restrictive medical marijuana legislative bills and unlike the revised medical marijuana amendment possibly headed for the November 2016 ballot, the proposed Florida-Can amendment would open use of the plant. “Just like aloe in your backyard, why shouldn’t you be able to have cannabis in your back yard, and if you want some, use it,” said Parrish resident Cathy Jordan, an ALS patient and longtime president of the Florida Cannabis Action Network....
While the group does not have the deep pockets that Orlando attorney John Morgan’s medical marijuana advocacy group United for Care showed last year, James says raising $10 million from those interested in creating a new multibillion-dollar marijuana industry in the third-most populated state would not be insurmountable. “Florida is a wealthy state, with a lot of people who have an interest in this issue,” James said....
Opponents of legalization were quick to criticize the plan proposed by Florida Cannabis Action Network. The Drug Free America Foundation, through its Drug Free Florida political action committee, was a key 2014 opponent to medical marijuana Amendment 2, taking in major donations and creating the “Vote No. on 2” ad blitz that helped defeat the amendment. Referring to James, Drug Free America chief Calvina Fay said: “For her to make that kind of threat to the Legislature is just disingenuous. I don’t think members of the Legislature are going to be so easily influenced by such a silly threat.”
A $10 million campaign to legalize marijuana in Florida “is feasible,” said Michael Mayes, CEO of Quantum 9 Inc., a Chicago-based consulting firm that works with both recreational and medicinal marijuana business clients on a national basis. Revenues from a wide-open marijuana program in Florida could easily be in the billions of dollars per year, Mayes said, “just because there is such a high likelihood that individuals in Florida could benefit from the use of marijuana, whether it is called adult-use or medical.”
An adult-use law could vault Florida into the U.S. leader in marijuana sales, because all the other states where adult use of marijuana is legal have significantly smaller populations: Colorado, Washington State, Alaska, Oregon and the District of Columbia. Even without any sales, medical or recreational, in Florida, marijuana already is the fastest-growing industry in the United States. The U.S. market for legal cannabis products grew 74 percent in 2014 to $2.7 billion, up from $1.5 billion in 2013, according to ArcView Market Research....
In Florida, it is frustration that is driving the activists toward a recreational approach. “Lawmakers promised that they would do something,” James said. “It is frustrating for us that law enforcement is the voice of opposition up here.”
The Florida Sheriffs Association declined to comment on the Florida-Can proposal. But in late February, in response to a comprehensive medical marijuana bill submitted by St. Petersburg Republican Senator Jeff Brandes, the sheriffs made their position very clear. They would not support a medical marijuana bill that allows for smoking of the plant’s buds, or that gives a physician leeway to recommend its use for any medical condition that causes severe and persistent pain, nausea or muscle spasms. The organization said it could support a medical marijuana bill that calls for marijuana infused edibles, and one that limits use only to specific medical conditions.
Monday, March 9, 2015
As reported in this new Washington Post entry, headlined "In a first, senators plan to introduce federal medical marijuana bill," a trio of notable Senators have interesting plans for mid-day Tuesday:
In what advocates describe as an historic first, a trio of senators plan to unveil a federal medical marijuana bill Tuesday. The bill, to be introduced by Senators Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), would end the federal ban on medical marijuana.
The Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States (CARERS) Act would “allow patients, doctors and businesses in states that have already passed medical marijuana laws to participate in those programs without fear of federal prosecution,” according to a joint statement from the senators’ offices. The bill will also “make overdue reforms to ensure patients – including veterans receiving care from VA facilities in states with medical marijuana programs – access the care they need.” The proposal will be unveiled at a 12:30 p.m. press conference on Tuesday, which will be streamed live here. Patients, their families and advocates will join the senators at the press conference.
The announcement was met with praise by advocates. “This is a significant step forward when it comes to reforming marijuana laws at the federal level,” Dan Riffle, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a statement. “It’s long past time to end the federal ban,” said Michael Collins, policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance, said in a statement. Both describe the introduction of the bill as a first for the Senate....
In December, Congress for the first time in roughly a decade of trying approved an amendment that bars the Justice Department from using its funds to prevent states from implementing their medical marijuana laws — a significant victory for proponents of the practice.
Potential Republican presidential candidates Rand, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) have all said they support states’ rights to legalize pot, though they themselves disagree with the policy.
March 9, 2015 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)
This notable new CNN money article, headlined "Pot startups cash in on wave of legalization," highlights some of the economic stories emerging in the modern decline of pot prohibition. Here is an excerpt:
The wave of pot legalization hasn't just been a boon for growers. A slew of other businesses are jumping on the bandwagon as well.
"A guy calls me a few weeks ago about a domain name he owns, nugs.com [a reference to marijuana nuggets, or the bud of the plant]," said Jared Mirsky, founder of Online Marijuana Design. "It's a great four-letter domain name, which itself is rare and valuable." Mirsky's Seattle branding firm, which exclusively works with the cannabis industry, is helping him capitalize on it....
Other firms, like Sussex, Wisc.-based Vaportek, have pivoted to work with the marijuana industry. Originally, the company created a machine to control odors in hospitals. The business grew to target fire and flood restoration, crime scenes and, most recently, the marijuana industry. "As soon as it became legal, we knew our products would be a great fit for the industry. And it's a new area to increase our sales," said spokeswoman Sunny Schneider-Christensen.
Vaportek created smaller home vaporizers for individual use as well as larger machines for larger growing facilities. "We're targeting bedroom smokers to big industry growers," she said.
The U.S. market for legal marijuana soared 74% to $2.7 billion between 2013 and 2014, making it the fastest growing industry in the country, according to a report from the ArcView Group, a cannabis-focused investment and research firm. It's expected to reach $3.5 billion in 2015....
"Under full legalization, this could be a $36 billion industry," said ArcView Group's CEO Troy Dayton. "Most people who are getting in won't be marijuana growers or processors. That requires a very specific skillset," he said. "It's like with the Gold Rush. It's a great time to be selling picks and shovels, instead."
WaterPulse, in Longmont, Colo., helps marijuana growers reduce water usage by as much as 70%. Its automatic watering mats, placed underneath cannabis plants, let growers set timers, said Mike Croy, the firm's VP of sales and marketing. "This helps prevents water wastage and allows plants to grow uniformly," he said, adding that marijuana's legalization has generated a lot of interest. "It's become the fastest-growing part of our overall business," he said.
Brother-sister team Kevin and Kathleen Sullivan launched Forever Green Indoors in 2013. The Kirkland, Wash.-based firm sells lighting panels for indoor marijuana farms. Kathleen had run a small business that sold energy-efficient lighting options for businesses. "We recognized an opportunity for our products in the marijuana business," said Kevin. LED lighting is much more effective for growing cannabis indoors -- and considerably cheaper, he said.
"The market demand for LED lighting panels has really picked up in the last six months," he said. Forever Green Indoors has installed about 500 LED panels (each costing $1,400) since the firm launched. "We're not profitable yet, but our pre-orders are growing fast," said Kevin.
Mirsky, who used to design websites for dispensaries, is overwhelmed by the rush of new clients. He started the branding agency five years ago and has already worked with hundreds of clients. Last year he hit $500,000 in sales and is on track to hire eight new employees this year. "Five years feels like 20 years already," he said. "That's how fast everything is moving in this industry."
Sunday, March 8, 2015
The title of this post is the headline of this notable new USA Today column which highlights why the discussion of marijuana reform in the Buckeye State may be such a big deal in the coming month. Here are excerpts:
Is Ohio, long considered the nation's leading political bellwether state, going to pot? If some big-money investors, former sports stars and grassroots activists get their way, voters in November could make Ohio the first state to go directly from a total ban on marijuana to one allowing production and consumption of both medical and recreational marijuana.
And what happens here could reverberate across the country next year when as many as two dozen other states are expected to vote to decriminalize marijuana or to permit its legal production and consumption. It should also put pressure on the U.S. Supreme Court to step in to resolve the obvious conflict between the growing number of state and local laws legalizing pot and federal law that still classifies marijuana as an illegal and dangerous drug.
The Ohio marijuana juggernaut is notable because, unlike Colorado, Washington, D.C., Alaska and Oregon, which have legalized weed, Ohio is Rust Belt dull, not known for an edgy living style or as a hotbed of libertarianism.
What's more, polls by Gallup show that support for legal marijuana in the Midwest is a paltry 45%, lower even than the 47% support found in the South. Both the East Coast and West Coast states support legalization by a majority of 57%. (Two countrywide polls in the past 18 months have shown slim-to-solid majority support for national legalization.)...
It could become the hottest cultural issue since the push for gay marriage began, and is likely to generate a range of debates: Will legalization reduce prison populations, and at what cost? Will taxes on marijuana leave state coffers flush or prove to be as oversold as recent projections on gambling revenues? Doesn't it just make sense, really, to control and profit from transactions that will otherwise be engaged in illegally by those who have a yearning for pot?
All legitimate questions, but none that addresses the elephant in the room: How can state and local jurisdictions continue to make something legal that is patently illegal under federal law? Here's how crazy things have become: In cities from Portland, Maine, to Detroit and Flint, Mich., voters have approved possession of small amounts of marijuana. In some cases, local police say they will still enforce state laws prohibiting possession, in others police say they will look the other way.
In December, Congress approved and President Obama signed a spending bill that defunds federal prosecution of medical marijuana sales, yet a U.S. attorney in Oakland continues a campaign to shut down California's largest medical marijuana dispensary.
Obama has not only instructed the Justice Department to not interfere with state laws legalizing marijuana, he also has even encouraged more states to "experiment" with such laws. So what happens if a Republican is elected president in 2016 and he or she orders a new attorney general to stamp out marijuana wherever it is found?...
That's the big picture. Back here in Ohio, if the ballot measure passes, I see a problem for the horticulturally challenged: How can we expect to raise our own marijuana if we can't even get marigolds to grow?
Some prior related posts on Ohio reform discussions:
Saturday, March 7, 2015
Marijuana reform discussions at the state level, regarding both medical and recreational reforms, continue to generate lots of stories and headlines each week. Here is an abridged run-down of (and links to) some recent news stories reviewing recent state-level marijuana reform developments that caught my eye:
California: "GOP's risk-reward calculus on legalizing pot"
Nebraska: "Medical marijuana debated in Nebraska's Capitol"
New Hampshire: "Committee approves bill to decriminalize marijuana"
Rhode Island: "Rhode Island again takes up bills to legalize marijuana"
Friday, March 6, 2015
Regular readers have likely already figured out that I am already obsessed with how marijuana reform politics are going to play out in the run-up to the big 2016 election. Consequently, I found notable and blogworthy this effective new Forbes commentary by Jacob Sullum on this topic, headlined "Ted Cruz's Cannabis Conversion Reflects The Political Prudence of Marijuana Federalism." Here are excerpts:
At the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) last week, Ted Cruz responded to a question about marijuana legalization in Colorado by endorsing a federalist approach to the issue. “I actually think this is a great embodiment of what Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis called ‘the laboratories of democracy,’” the Texas senator said. “If the citizens of Colorado decide they want to go down that road, that’s their prerogative. I personally don’t agree with it, but that’s their right.”
Those remarks seemed to contradict the position Cruz had taken a year before, when he criticized the Obama administration for failing to aggressively enforce the federal ban on marijuana in states that have legalized the drug for medical or recreational use. Speaking at a Texas Public Policy Foundation conference in January 2014, he described the Justice Department’s prosecutorial restraint, which is designed to respect state policy choices, as an abuse of executive power.
Cruz’s apparent turnaround reflects a political reality that he and other candidates for the Republican presidential nomination will have to confront. Although most members of their party still support pot prohibition, most Americans don’t, and even within the GOP the staunchest drug warriors are dying off, while Republicans in their 20s and 30s strongly favor legalization. As with gay marriage, Republican politicians face a generational shift that will leave them struggling to placate social conservatives without alienating younger, more tolerant voters. Cruz’s calibration—I don’t personally favor legalization, but as a conservative constitutionalist I think the issue should be left to the states—is the easiest way to strike that balance....
After Colorado and Washington voters approved marijuana legalization in 2012, a CBS News survey found that only 27 percent of Republicans agreed with that policy. Yet 65 percent of Republicans thought “laws regarding whether the use of marijuana is legal or not should be…left to each individual state government to decide.”
Marijuana federalism also appeals to Republicans who support legalization, and there are more of those than there used to be, although they still represent a minority. According to surveys conducted last year, roughly a third of Republicans think pot should be legal. But the proportion is dramatically higher among young Republicans. A Pew Research Center survey conducted in February 2014 found that 63 percent of Republicans born between 1981 and 1996 favored legalization.
The outlook for Republican prohibitionists seems even bleaker when you look at survey data for the general population. Several recent surveys, including Pew’s, the Gallup Poll and the General Social Survey, indicate that most Americans favor legalization. Last year’s General Social Survey put support for legalization at 52 percent, 10 points higher than in 2012. It seems likely that the upward trend will continue, since support is inversely associated with age. According to Gallup’s 2013 results, Americans 65 and older were the only age group in which a majority still opposed legalization....
Since marijuana legalization will be on state ballots next year and will continue to be a source of friction with the federal government, the candidates who have not taken a position yet probably will be pressed to do so as the 2016 presidential campaign heats up. If they are smart, they will parrot Cruz, Perry, Bush, and Paul. Marijuana federalism is a rare opportunity for politicians to be prudent, principled, and popular.
Some prior related posts:
March 6, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Political perspective on reforms, Polling data and results | Permalink | Comments (0)
I am very pleased to see a recent announcement by Frank Snyder at the Cannabis Law Prof Blog welcoming Chris Lindsey as a new co-blogger on the site. The name of this new blogger should sound familiar to anyone who has seen the documentary Code of the West (which I am showing to my students this afternoon): Chris was charged with violating federal drug laws as a result of his partnership in a Montana medical marijuana business prominently featured in that documentary.
Chris is off to a flying start as a blogger at CLPB, as these new posts highlight:
Thursday, March 5, 2015
The question in the title of this post is prompted by this notable new article emerging from inside the Beltway headlined "Marijuana gets lift as 2016 presidential race takes shape." Here are excerpts:
Early signs indicate that marijuana entrepreneurs may have little to worry about as the 2016 presidential campaign takes shape, with some top-rung hopefuls warming to the idea of letting states decide whether to legalize recreational pot.
On the Republican side, those potential candidates include former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, both of whom have admitted to using the drug during their younger years, and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who has said he was no “choir boy” in college. On the Democratic side, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says she never experimented with marijuana but appears open to the idea of allowing states to legalize it.
It’s all good news for Tim Thompson, who commits a felony under federal law every time he sells marijuana to his customers at Altitude, the retail pot shop he opened last July in Prosser, Wash. With Thompson’s store legal under Washington state law, he said it would be a mistake for anyone running for president in 2016 to try to shut down his operation. “They’d be alienating themselves from a large majority of people who are for legalization if they took a hard line against it,” Thompson said.
While the push for legalization has gained great momentum in the past two years, the next president will have to decide whether to enforce the federal law that bans marijuana or follow the Obama administration’s lead in allowing states to tax and regulate it, as long as they do a good job policing themselves.
Legalization emerged as a big winner at last week’s Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland, where nearly two-thirds of the 3,000 activists who voted in a straw poll said it should be legal for either recreational or medical purposes. Nationally, the most most recent Gallup poll, conducted in October, found 51 percent of Americans backing legalization. But less than a third of conservatives said it should be legal.
The growing popularity of legalization was not lost on the parade of politicians at CPAC. “Well, I was told Colorado provided the brownies here today,” Cruz told his audience, a reference to the first state that allowed recreational pot sales in January of last year.
At the gathering, Paul, Bush and Cruz all said that legalization should be left up to the states, responding to questions from talk show host Sean Hannity of the Fox News Channel. Clinton disclosed her views in June on CNN.
Tom Angell, chairman of the pro-legalization group Marijuana Majority, based in Washington, D.C., said it’s obvious that presidential candidates are paying attention to polls. “Letting states set their own marijuana laws without federal interference is quickly becoming the default position among ambitious politicians in both parties. . . . When voters lead, politicians have to follow or get left behind,” he said.
To be sure, not all of the likely contenders in the top tier are jumping on the bandwagon. Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker, a crowd-pleaser at CPAC who’s scoring high in early polls, is among those who have consistently opposed legalization. And others say it’s far too early to draw any conclusions on how the issue would fare in 2016.
Kevin Sabet, president of the anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana, said that with the general election still 20 months away, it’s hardly a surprise that candidates are using what he called “the states’ rights card” as often as possible. But he noted that even George W. Bush, as a Republican presidential candidate in 1999, said states should have the right to decide whether to legalize medical marijuana. As president, Bush backed the federal law outlawing marijuana. “I doubt that any of these candidates will want to run as the pro-marijuana candidate,” Sabet said. “Even Rand Paul stopped short of endorsing legalization, and he is the most libertarian of the bunch.”
Paul, who won the straw poll Saturday at CPAC for the third consecutive year, had plenty of backing from pro-marijuana activists at the conference. Many of his supporters said they believe Paul would move to legalize marijuana if he won the presidency. “He’s more receptive to it than any other candidate,” said Dave Hargitt of Fayetteville, N.C., president of the North Carolina chapter of Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition, a group that had a booth at the exhibit hall at CPAC. “God gave us all free will, and that’s free will to make good decisions or bad decisions – it’s not the government’s place to tell me what I can and cannot do.”
Paul, who backs reduced penalties for drug offenses, appears ready to make marijuana a campaign issue. Last week at the political conference, he accused Bush of hypocrisy for opposing medical marijuana as governor even though he had smoked pot as a prep student.
John Baucum, president of the Houston Young Republicans, said that’s a message that resonates with the large group of voters under 40. “First of all, I think he’s somebody who can win,” Baucum said of Paul. “We don’t see a lot of the candidates reaching out for that demographic, except for Rand.”...
Thompson, co-owner of the Washington state pot store, said it would be a relief to not have to worry about the federal law prohibiting marijuana after Obama leaves office in January 2017. “Having it controlled by the state is a good idea,” he said. “In this area – and it’s a conservative area – most people like it when the federal government has less control of what we do in our day-to-day lives, especially something like this. It’s basically adults just trying to enjoy themselves.”
Some prior related posts:
This USA Today report, headlined "Sheriffs sue Colorado over legal marijuana," highlights that yet more notable folks continue to press in court lawsuits seeking to end state experimentation with marijuana reforms. Here are the details:
Sheriffs from Colorado and neighboring states Kansas and Nebraska say in a lawsuit to be filed Thursday that Colorado's marijuana law creates a "crisis of conscience" by pitting the state law against the Constitution and puts an economic burden on other states.
The lawsuit asks a federal court in Denver to strike down Colorado's Amendment 64 that legalized the sale of recreational marijuana and to close the state's more than 330 licensed marijuana stores.
Lead plaintiff, Larimer County, Colo., Sheriff Justin Smith, calls the case a "constitutional showdown." Each day, he says, he must decide whether to violate the Colorado Constitution or the U.S. Constitution. Colorado legalized recreational marijuana sales Jan. 1, 2014, but marijuana remains illegal at the federal level. Colorado is "asking every peace officer to violate their oath," Smith said. "What we're being forced to do ... makes me ineligible for office. Which constitution are we supposed to uphold?"
The out-of-state sheriffs say the flow of Colorado's legal marijuana across the border has increased drug arrests, overburdened police and courts and cost them money in overtime. Felony drug arrests in the town of Chappell in Deuel County, Neb., 7 miles north of the Colorado border, jumped 400% over three years, a USA TODAY report tracking the flow of marijuana from Colorado into small towns across Nebraska found. Deuel County Sheriff Adam Hayward is one of the plaintiffs.
Police officers monitoring the flow of marijuana outside Colorado say volumes have risen annually. The Colorado-based Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area task force is still compiling 2014 numbers but expects to see the trend continue, director Tom Gorman said. He said non-residents often strike backdoor deals with legal growers to buy more than they are allowed, then illegally drive, fly or mail the marijuana across state lines. The lawsuit invokes the federal government's right to regulate drugs and interstate commerce and argues that Colorado's decision to legalize marijuana hurt communities on the other side of the state lines. Attorneys general of Nebraska and Oklahoma filed a similar lawsuit late last year....
Supporters of legalization criticize such lawsuits as last-ditch attempts by conservative politicians to derail states' movement toward marijuana legalization. Speaking about the Nebraska-Oklahoma lawsuit in December, Mason Tvert of the Marijuana Policy Project said police should focus their attention on serious crimes and leave alone people who choose to use marijuana. "These guys are on the wrong side of history," Tvert said.
I fully understand why various law enforcement officials, who seemingly enjoy and benefit from waging a drug war without many limitations or uncertainties, are struggling to deal with the new legal regimes in place in Colorado and other marijuana reform jurisdictions. Indeed, I am especially sympathetic to those sheriffs in non-reform jurisdictions which border reform regions because they have to deal with unique spill-over challenges. But this is a problem that has been long endured by localities with lots of other potential dangerous but legal products like alcohol and guns, and I find a bit troublesome that in this context law enforcement officials are so quick to turn to make novel claims in courts to vent their frustrations with what is really just a small pull-back in the modern drug war.
Wednesday, March 4, 2015
This week in my marijuana seminar we will be watching and discussing the terrific (though already dated) documentary "Code of the West" about medical marijuana reforms in Montana. Among the many stories effectively documented by this movie is the important reality that, while Montana enacted via voter initiative medical marijuana reforms in 2004, the medical marijuana industry in the state only became active and prominent after the issuance of the 2009 Ogden Memo. This memo from the Obama Administration's Justice Department stated that the federal government would not prosecute "individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana."
In addition to the coverage of this story in Montana in this great documentary, I have seen a number of anecdotal reports about how the medical marijuana industry kicked into high gear in many western states as a result of the 2009 Ogden Memo, especially states like California, Colorado and Washington. But, to my knowledge, nobody has yet done any systematic research on the impact of the Ogden Memo, in individual states or nationwide, on the number of state-compliant medical marijuana dispensaries or the number of persons working in and around the medical marijuana industry or the number of persons registered for or regularly obtaining marijuana in conjunction with a doctor's recommendation.
I am busy trying to finish an article complaining about the lack of rigorous social science research surrounding the real impact of state-level marijuana reforms, and I am especially intrigued and troubled by how little systematic data I can find concerning the medical marijuana industry and users. If anyone knows of any significant recent data collections or other research on these fronts, please let me know.
March 4, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)
As reported in this new Wonkblog posting via the Washington Post, notable new survey data documents new national affinity for major marijuana reform. The post is titled "A majority favors marijuana legalization for first time, according to nation’s most authoritative survey," and here are excerpts:
For the first time, the General Social Survey -- a large, national survey conducted every two years and widely considered to represent the gold standard for public opinion research -- shows a majority of Americans favoring the legalization of marijuana.
In interviews conducted between March and October of last year -- when the legal marijuana markets in Colorado and Washington were ramping up -- researchers asked 1,687 respondents the following question: "Do you think the use of marijuana should be made legal or not?"
Fifty-two percent said pot should be legalized, 42 percent opposed it, and another 7 percent were undecided. Support is up 9 percentage points from 2012, the last time the survey was conducted.
The GSS marijuana numbers trace the trajectory of U.S. drug policy over the past 40 years. In 1974, a year after the Shafer Commission recommended removing marijuana from Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act, public support for full legalization stood at 19 percent. Support rose through the 1970s, reaching nearly 30 percent in 1978, only to plummet during the Reagan years, "Just Say No" and the advent of the drug war.
The year 1990 represented the nadir of legalization support, when it stood at 16 percent. But the numbers rose steadily through the 1990s as states began adopting medical marijuana laws, starting with California in 1996. As recently as 2006, support stood only at 32 percent -- just a little bit higher than the previous peak in 1978. In the fewer than 10 years since then, support has jumped 20 percentage points -- mirroring, in many ways, the dramatic shift in public opinion on gay marriage over the same period.
Legalization supporters have been able to capitalize on that energy and secure full legalization in four states, with a partial legal status in DC similar to the Schafer Commission's original recommendation. Opponents have scrambled to catch up, but the sharp and sustained increase in public opinion means they're facing an uphill battle. That fact that they've been drastically outspent at every turn -- partially a reflection of greater public support for the pro-legalization camp -- hasn't helped things....
For a public increasingly weary of the toll of decades of costly and ineffective drug policies, these cases will be a tough sell. Younger Americans -- including Republican ones -- overwhelmingly favor marijuana legalization. And after a year of legal pot, Colorado doesn't appear to be experiencing buyer's remorse. A recent Quinnipiac poll found that 58 percent of Colorado's voters said they supported the state's marijuana law -- slightly more than the 55 percent who approved it in 2012.
The strong numbers in the latest General Social Survey indicate that the issue isn't losing salience with the public. At the national level, support for legal marijuana remains robust -- and doesn't show signs of wavering any time soon.
This AP story reports on the notable mixed verdict in a high-profile federal prosecution of a group of defendants in Washington state who claimed they were growing marijuana only for medical purposes. Here are the details:
Three people were found guilty Tuesday of growing marijuana, but they also were exonerated of more serious charges in a widely-watched federal drug case in a state where medical and recreational marijuana is legal.
The three remaining defendants of the so-called Kettle Falls Five were all found guilty of growing marijuana. But a jury found them not guilty of distributing marijuana, conspiracy to distribute and firearms charges that carried long prison sentences.
U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Rice set sentencing for June 10.
The defendants were Rhonda Firestack-Harvey, her son Rolland Gregg and his wife, Michelle Gregg. Firestack-Harvey wiped away tears as she declared victory in the case. "The truth comes out," she said, noting that the defendants were growing marijuana for medical purposes and had cards permitting that use. "We would have loved to be exonerated of all charges."
However, there was no doubt that federal drug agents found marijuana plants growing on their property near Kettle Falls, she said.
Federal prosecutors did not speak with reporters after the verdict, which followed a full day of deliberations by the jury. Prosecutors asked that the three be taken into custody until sentencing, but Rice declined.
"It's a victory, but it's bittersweet," said Jeff Niesen, an attorney for Firestack-Harvey. "They've been convicted of a federal crime." But while the tougher charges carried sentences of a decade in prison, growing marijuana should bring a much lower sentence, Niesen said.
On Monday, attorneys for the defendants asked jurors to throw out what he described as an overzealous and overreaching case. Attorney Phil Tefleyan criticized the government's prosecution of the three, who contend they were growing medical marijuana for personal use in a case that has drawn wide attention over the government's willingness to prosecute marijuana growers. "They roped in this innocent family," Tefleyan told jurors.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Earl Hicks told jurors Monday that Washington state's stance on marijuana doesn't matter. He says the question for the jury is, "Is it legal under federal law?"
The defendants contend they didn't distribute the marijuana. But they were barred from telling jurors their claim that they grew the marijuana only for personal medical use. That issue can be raised during sentencing. Tefleyan said the government could not point to a single sale of the drug by the family. He said the evidence seized by drug enforcement agents during a raid in August 2012 — 4 pounds of marijuana and about $700 in cash — didn't support the conclusion the family was dealing.
The government has argued the family grew the plants in violation of federal law. "I don't believe there's any question in this case that we're talking about the manufacture of marijuana," Hicks told the jury.
Tefleyan placed blame for those plants on Jason Zucker, a former defendant who cut a plea deal last week, just before the trial started. Zucker, 39, testified Friday that he fronted $10,000 in costs to get the operation up and running. Zucker's plea deal called for a 16-month sentence....
Larry Harvey, 71, was recently dismissed from the case after being diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer in December.
I believe that these defendants' acquittal on gun charges means that that they are not subject to any mandatory minimum sentencing terms, and the judge's decision to allow them to be free awaiting sentencing suggests to me that they will likely not receive significant (or perhaps any) prison time for these offenses. In addition, these defendants might have various grounds for appealing to the Ninth Circuit (although they many not want to bother if they get relatively lenient sentencing terms).
Prior related posts:
- Family of medical marijuana patients in Washington turn down plea and set up notable federal trial
- New York Times op-ed laments Kettle Falls 5 federal marijuana prosecution
Tuesday, March 3, 2015
As reported in this local article, for "the first time in Florida history, a Broward jury acquitted a marijuana grower after finding he has a medical need for the illegal drug." Here is more about this notable trial outcome:
Jesse Teplicki hid nothing from the detectives who showed up at his Hollywood home two years ago acting on a tip that he was growing pot on the premises. And he hid nothing from the jury on Thursday when he took the stand at his criminal trial, even admitting that he smoked a marijuana cigarette earlier in the day to treat the nausea and suppressed appetite that had been plaguing him for decades.
Teplicki is the first defendant in Florida to argue medical need in a marijuana case. The jury of four women and two men deliberated for less than an hour before returning its verdict. "You saved my life," a tearful Teplicki told three jurors who stayed in the courtroom after they were discharged by Broward Circuit Judge Michael Ian Rothschild.
Manufacture of cannabis is a felony punishable by up to five years in prison. Teplicki, 50, had rejected several plea offers, admitting his actions but referring to the plant as "medicine" he needs to function. Teplicki has suffered from anorexia since age 9, according to trial testimony.
Medical need has worked as a defense before, but it's never been tried in front of a jury. In two cases dating back more than 20 years, marijuana smokers have defended themselves at trial before a judge. In each case, the judge convicted the defendants only to see appeals courts overturn their decisions and order not-guilty verdicts.
Rothschild warned Teplicki that the verdict does not change Florida law. Marijuana remains illegal to grow, possess and sell. But Teplicki was never accused of selling pot. He did not say how he plans to secure marijuana in the future.
Prosecutor Kathleen O'Brien argued that Teplicki had failed to demonstrate the "medical need" central to his defense. She faulted Teplicki for not only self-medicating, but for also self-diagnosing, never seeking alternative treatments that do not involve breaking the law. "There was no follow-up by a treating physician," she said.
"This is an historic decision in the state of Florida," said defense lawyer Michael C. Minardi. "Hopefully prosecutors heed the decision and are less likely to prosecute this kind of case in the future."
"Nonserious Marijuana Offenses and Noncitizens: Uncounseled Pleas and Disproportionate Consequences"
The title of this post is the title of this notable new UCLA Law Review comment by Jordan Cunnings. Here is its abstract:
Marijuana is being decriminalized in many states and localities throughout the United States. While recreational use of marijuana is legal in only a handful of states, in many other areas it has become a type of pseudo-violation with such low criminal penalties that defendants may be issued just a citation or ticket and are often not entitled to the assistance of a public defender. While low-level marijuana offenses have fewer meaningful consequences within the criminal justice system in these jurisdictions, these offenses continue to create serious immigration consequences for noncitizen offenders. The Immigration and Nationality Act defines “conviction” in such a way that even civil infractions with very low penalties count as drug convictions that make lawful permanent residents deportable.
The combination of lowered criminal penalties for marijuana offenses and severe resulting immigration consequences causes significant problems for noncitizens. First, as the penalties for marijuana offenses are lowered at the state and local levels, a defendant is less likely to have a right to appointment of a public defender when charged with possession of a small amount of marijuana. This situation implicates potential violations of the Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel in criminal proceedings, which has been held to cover affirmative advice on the immigration consequences of a criminal charge. Additionally, even with the assistance of a public defender, individuals may still be unable to avoid the harsh immigration consequences that often result from marijuana offenses. These harsh consequences violate our society’s understanding of proportionality of punishment in criminal law. Even though immigration law is traditionally insulated from proportionality considerations because of the plenary power doctrine, deportation for low-level marijuana offenses provides one example of why this doctrine should be reconsidered.
The title of this post is the headline of this lengthy new Politico article, which carries this sub-headline: "How the Kentucky senator picked a fight with the DEA and became one of Washington’s top drug policy reformers." Here is how the story gets started:
Last May, a shipment of 250 pounds of hemp seeds left Italy destined for Kentucky as part of a pilot project made legal by the 2014 federal farm bill. Kentucky farmers had long hoped for a crop that could fill the void left by the decline of tobacco, and many thought that industrial hemp, which is used in a vast array of products, could be that crop.
The hemp seeds cleared customs in Chicago, but when the cargo landed at the UPS wing of Louisville International Airport, the Drug Enforcement Administration seized it, arguing that importing hemp seeds required an import permit, which could take six months to process. If farmers couldn’t get those seeds into the ground by June 1, the entire first year of the hemp pilot program would be dashed.
The DEA would have succeeded in blocking the seeds from reaching Kentucky farmers and university researchers but for the efforts of the state’s agricultural commissioner, who sued the agency and, most improbably, Mitch McConnell.
McConnell — then the Senate’s minority leader — worked furiously to free the seeds from the DEA’s clutches and continued the pro-hemp drumbeat throughout 2014, as he campaigned for reelection. This year, as Senate majority leader, he’s taken a further step by co-sponsoring the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2015. While the farm bill carved out an exception to allow hemp cultivation in Kentucky, the 2015 bill would remove hemp entirely from the list of drugs strictly regulated by the Controlled Substances Act. It would, in essence, legalize hemp production in the United States.
“We are laying the groundwork for a new commodity market for Kentucky farmers,” McConnell told me. “And by exploring innovative ways to use industrial hemp to benefit a variety of Kentucky industries, the pilot programs could help boost our state’s economy and lead to future jobs. … I look forward to seeing industrial hemp prosper in the Commonwealth.”
Yes, Mitch McConnell said that. About hemp.
To grasp how McConnell — the quintessential establishment Republican — came to champion industrial hemp, you must first understand the economics and internal politics of Kentucky, as well as McConnell’s relationship to Kentucky’s junior senator, Rand Paul. It’s also helpful to know that close to $500 million worth of hemp products produced by Canada and other countries is already sold in the United States through such stores as Whole Foods. McConnell’s move also has potential ramifications beyond the marketplace, providing a credible threat to the Controlled Substances Act since it was signed into law by President Richard Nixon in 1970.
“The fact that Majority Leader McConnell is a co-sponsor of a hemp bill shows how fast the politics are changing on this issue,” said Bill Piper of the Drug Policy Alliance, a nonprofit group that favors reform.