Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Friday, July 31, 2015

Is Congress in the midst of a "summer fling with marijuana"?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this lengthy new Politico article, headline "Congress’ Summer Fling With Marijuana:How Congress turned on the DEA and embraced weed." Here is an excerpt from the first part of the article:

In May, the Senate made history by voting in favor of the first pro-marijuana measure ever offered in that chamber to allow the Veterans Administration to recommend medical marijuana to veterans. Then when June rolled around, it was time for the House to pass its appropriations bill for Commerce, Justice and Science. That’s when things got interesting. The DEA got its budget cut by $23 million, had its marijuana eradication unit’s budget slashed in half and its bulk data collections program shut down. Ouch.

In short, April was a bad month for the DEA; May was historically bad; but June was arguably the DEA’s worst month since Colorado went legal 18 months ago — a turn of events that was easy to miss with the news crammed with tragic shootings, Confederate flags, Obamacare, gay marriage, a papal encyclical and the Greece-Euro drama. July hasn’t been any different, with the legalization movement only gaining steam in both chambers of Congress.

The string of setbacks, cuts and handcuffs for the DEA potentially signals a new era for the once untouchable law enforcement agency — a sign that the national reconsideration of drug policy might engulf and fundamentally alter DEA’s mission. “The DEA is no longer sacrosanct,” Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) tells Politico.

The national tide is clearly not in the DEA’s favor. Since Colorado legalized recreational marijuana in January 2014, three additional states have followed suit with full legal weed; the District of Columbia’s fight to legalize continues; the number of medical marijuana states has grown to 23; 14 states have legalized nonpsychoactive CBD oil; and 13 states have legalized industrial hemp, spurring a rapidly expanding legal market for a plant long demonized by the DEA.

At the same time, a national debate about the high costs of sending millions of people — many of them young black and Hispanic men — to prison for nonviolent marijuana offenses has led to increasing questions about whether the zero-tolerance enforcement favored by DEA is the right way to proceed.

That marijuana reform is moving along in Congress at all is a sign of just how far — and fast — the landscape has shifted. Much of the recent uptick of reform voices are actually coming from Republicans, long tough-on-crime legislators who were stalwart opponents of marijuana. In a sign of just how far the sands have shifted, Sen. Lindsay Graham, a Republican candidate for president, tells Politico that he believes, “Medical marijuana holds promise.”

It’s no longer political suicide to be seen on Capitol Hill as backing drug reform. “There clearly is momentum, absolutely,” says Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), a former Air Force JAG officer who replaced Henry Waxman as the congressman from Beverly Hills. “It’s the first time we’ve ever been able to show momentum in Congress,” Dan Riffle of the Marijuana Policy Project tells Politico.

The looming cuts has the Justice Department issuing dire warnings: “If enacted, the House budget would cause DEA to experience a significant shortfall in their FY16 budget that would severely inhibit their ability to carry out their mission of stopping the manufacture and distribution of illicit drugs,” says Patrick Rodenbush, a spokesman for DOJ. But unlike such dire warnings in the past, when Congress could be assured of protecting funding for a law enforcement agency seen for decades as key to winning the War on Drugs, the shine has now clearly come off DEA — and that means the agency’s problems might just be beginning.

July 31, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 30, 2015

"Why marijuana legalization is the rare issue that divides the 2016 Republican presidential field"

The title of this post is the headline of this new commentary by Paul Waldman at The Week. Here are excerpts: 

Republicans, as everyone knows, are advocates of "states' rights," the theory being that power residing in the hands of the federal government is inherently suspect, while power spread out among 50 smaller governments is inherently virtuous — or at least more so. After all, aren't states "laboratories of democracy," where all kinds of interesting experimentation can take place and the best ideas can then bubble up to the rest of the country?

Well...sometimes. The truth is that conservatives like states having independence when they like what the states are doing, and liberals feel the same way (the difference is that liberals don't claim they have a philosophical commitment to states' rights over federal rights in the abstract). When states' rights collide with a policy objection, the policy objection is going to win.

Usually, that is. But there's at least one area where the GOP is divided on the whole states' rights issue. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie earlier this week highlighted the disagreement with some blunt words about legalized marijuana. "If you're getting high in Colorado today, enjoy it," he said. "As of January 2017, I will enforce the federal laws." Chris Christie, in other words, is coming to harsh your buzz — or he would be, if he had any chance of actually becoming president.

His position isn't an unreasonable one. While the Justice Department has discretion in how vigorously it enforces the law, and can decide to allow state legalization to take effect unimpeded, federal law is supreme over state laws, and marijuana is still illegal under federal law....

While this issue hasn't gotten much attention in the presidential race so far, it's one of the few where you'll actually find some diversity of opinion among the GOP candidates. Marco Rubio seems to agree with Christie; though he's a little vague, he says that "we need to enforce our federal laws." Scott Walker's position is essentially the same. Ted Cruz thinks it's all right for the federal government to leave states alone on this issue, but he says that should be Congress' decision, not the president's. Jeb Bush has said about legalization in those states, "I thought it was a bad idea, but states ought to have the right to do it." Rick Perry says much the same thing: states that legalized "will look back and they will find that it was a huge error that they made," but his commitment to the Tenth Amendment is such that he'll "defend it to my death, if you will, to allow them to make those decisions."

Rand Paul has gone the farthest: While he doesn't support legalization, he has co-sponsored a bill to end the federal ban on medical marijuana and has advocated an end to harsh criminal penalties for possession.

With the sort-of-but-not-really exception of Paul, all the Republicans want to make clear that they're opposed to anyone smoking pot. That might be perfectly sincere, but it also reflects their party's demographics and its role in the culture war. To the prototypical Republican — particularly the Republican primary voter — marijuana is something hippies do.

But within the party, that feeling is far from universal. In a recent Pew Research Center poll, 39 percent of Republicans favored legalization. That's significantly less than the 59 percent of Democrats who agreed, but it's still a substantial chunk of the party — and up 15 points from what Pew showed just five years ago. So as strange as it may seem, within a few years a majority of Republican voters might actually favor legalization....

[I]f more and more states legalize cannabis, it could mean that even today's most common Republican position — I don't like it, but I'm not going to fight it — could wind up being de facto support for legalization, at least in the half of the country where liberals are in charge. And if public opinion keeps moving in this direction, don't be surprised if the Democratic nominee in 2020 — and the Republican nominee within another election or two after that — actually comes out in favor of legal pot.

July 30, 2015 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

First Native American tribe in marijuana business expecting monthy sales of $2 million

Sioux-tribeThis new article, headlined "Indian tribes set to begin marijuana sales," reports on the plans and expectations of the first Native American tribe entering the marijuana industry. Here are the details:

Tourists soon may be able to go to a South Dakota Indian reservation, buy a cigarette-sized marijuana joint for $10 to $15 and try their luck at the nearby casino.  In December, the Flandreau Santee Sioux expect to become the first tribe in the nation to grow and sell pot for recreational use, cashing in on the Obama administration’s offer to let all 566 federally recognized tribes enter the marijuana industry.

“The fact that we are first doesn’t scare us,” said tribal president Anthony “Tony” Reider, 38, who’s led the tribe for nearly five years.  “The Department of Justice gave us the go-ahead, similar to what they did with the states, so we’re comfortable going with it.”   The tribe plans to sell 60 strains of marijuana.  Reider is hoping for a flock of visitors, predicting that sales could bring in as much as $2 million per month....

Other tribes have been much more hesitant. “Look at Washington state, where marijuana’s completely legal as a matter of state law everywhere, and you still have tribes adhering to their prohibition policies,” said Robert Odawi Porter, former president of the Seneca Nation of New York.

It comes as no surprise to Washington state Democratic Rep. Denny Heck, who says he works on tribal issues every day.  “Not once has anybody ever brought up that they wanted to go down this track,” he said.  Heck speculated on one possible reason: “We’re all aware of the painful history of alcoholism in Indian Country.”

Tribes won the approval to sell pot in December, when the Justice Department said it would advise U.S. attorneys not to prosecute if tribes do a good job policing themselves and make sure that marijuana doesn’t leave tribal lands.  But federal prosecutors maintain the discretion to intervene, a worrisome prospect for many. “This administration is very pro-tribes, very supportive. What if the next one isn’t?” asked W. Ron Allen, chairman of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe in Washington state.

He said many of the state’s 29 tribes also want assurances from federal officials that they won’t lose millions of dollars in grants and contracts if they sell a drug banned by Congress. “We’re not getting definitive answers back,” Allen said.  “There’s a number of tribes that are very aggressively looking into it and trying to sort through all the legal issues.  The rest of us are just kind of on the sidelines watching.”

Many tribal officials took note earlier this month when federal authorities seized 12,000 marijuana plants and more than 100 pounds of processed marijuana on tribal land in Modoc County, Calif.  Federal authorities said they raided the operation because the tribes planned to sell the pot on non-reservation land.  “That’s a warning shot to Indian County that this isn’t carte blanche to do whatever you want, even in a place like California,” said Blake Trueblood, director of business development for the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development, based in Arizona.

Trueblood said marijuana could give tribes an economic boost, much like gaming. He said tribes will have the best opportunities in states such as Florida and New York, where demand for pot is high but the drug has not been legalized for recreational use by state voters. “Ultimately, I think you’ll see legal marijuana in every state,” Trueblood said. “I think that’s fairly inevitable, even in very conservative places like Florida.”

Reider said his tribe plans to sell both medical and recreational marijuana. Minors will be allowed to consume pot if they have a recommendation from a doctor. Under a tribal ordinance passed in June, adults 21 and over will be able to buy one gram of marijuana at a time for recreational use, no more than twice a day. “We really don’t want the stuff getting out to the street,” Reider said. “So we’re going to have like a bar setting where they’ll be able to consume small amounts while on the property.”

Kevin Sabet, president of the anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana, said the California raid shows that it’s still “an extremely risky venture” for any tribe to start selling marijuana. And he said pot sales would fuel more addiction. “If we think alcohol has had a negative effect on young people on tribal lands, we ain’t seen nothing yet,” Sabet said.

As part of his homework, Reider said, he traveled to Colorado, the first state to sell recreational pot last year. He said he does not smoke marijuana but has concluded that it’s safer than alcohol, citing the behavior he witnessed at the Cannabis Cup, a marijuana celebration held in Denver in April. “It was a peaceful environment,” he said. “Everybody was overly friendly, overly talkative to each other and respectful of each other. Where if you go to a concert where there’s a lot of alcohol, you typically see fights and arguments.”

Reider said the tribe plans to begin growing 6,000 marijuana plants in October and is renovating a bowling alley to house a new consumption lounge that will include four private rooms. He said the tribe may consider allowing marijuana consumption in its casino in the future. Reider acknowledged that it’s “kind of an awkward feeling” to start selling pot, but he figures the tribe is well-equipped.

“When we started looking into it, it’s comical at first, but then you realize it’s an amazing business,” he said. “It’s highly regulated, and we’re used to the regulation from operating our casino. We’ve got security and surveillance.” Reider said profits from pot sales will be used to help tribal members. He said that could include the construction of a facility for those addicted to alcohol, prescription drugs or methamphetamine.

July 30, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, July 27, 2015

"Sorting Through the Marijuana Mess in Ohio"

The title of this post is the headline of this new lengthy discussion of some of the notable (and notably distinct) marijuana reform developments in Ohio authored by Keith Stroup, NORML Legal Counsel.  Especially for anyone trying to keep track and assess what has been going on in the Buckeye State in recent months, I highly recommend the piece be read in full.  Here are some excerpts mostly from the start and end of the piece:

If anyone would have suggested a year ago that Ohio might be on the verge of legalizing marijuana in 2015, I would have laughed at the idea.

First, Ohio is a conservative Midwestern state that is seldom, if ever, on the cutting edge on social issues.  And second, 2015 is an off-year election, with no statewide or federal elections, meaning the voter turn-out would be lower and the likely voters would be older and less supportive than would be the case if the proposal were on the ballot in 2016, a presidential election year when younger voters turn out in far higher numbers.

But it turns out that Ohio voters may well be voting on marijuana legalization this November.  And the circumstances surrounding this development raise new issues that legalization activists are struggling to deal with.  The proposed constitutional amendment, called the Ohio Marijuana Legalization Initiative, sponsored by a group calling itself Responsible Ohio, would legalize both the medical and the recreational use of marijuana....

[W]hat is unique about this effort is that it is being funded by a few rich private investors who, under the terms of the proposed initiative, would then own the 10 specific cultivation centers around the state authorized to cultivate marijuana commercially.  In other words, those investors who provide the funding to gather the required number of signatures, and to run a professional statewide campaign, would be richly rewarded for their investment, assuming the initiative is approved by a majority of the voters....

Some activists have raised objections to the proposal because it would not permit average Ohioans to compete for the commercial cultivation licenses, although ordinary citizens would be entitled to apply for licenses for the more than 1,000 retail dispensaries that would be authorized, claiming it is undemocratic.  Some opponents have even argued it would be worse than the current prohibition — despite the fact that roughly 17,000 marijuana arrests occur each year in Ohio, and those arrests would largely be eliminated if this initiative were to pass....

At NORML, we recognize there are many inequities in the free market system, with an ever-increasing gap between the rich and the rest of us.  But NORML is not an organization established to deal with income inequality; we are a lobby for responsible marijuana smokers.   So we will leave other issues, including income inequality, to other organizations who focus on those issues, and we will continue to focus on legalizing marijuana.   

And if the investor driven legalization initiative in Ohio qualifies for the ballot, national NORML will almost certainly support it.  And we hope, so will a majority of the voters in Ohio.

July 27, 2015 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Fascinating marijuana reform developments in Italy

Images (6)This lengthy International Busness Times article discusses the history and current status of marijuana policy in Italy.  The piece is headlined "Marijuana Legalization In Italy: 250 Italian Lawmakers Support Cannabis Decriminalization Proposal," and here are excerpts:

Italy may well be on its way to becoming the largest country in Europe to legalize marijuana. An Italian tracking group has found that more than 250 lawmakers from across the political spectrum have given their support to a proposal that would largely decriminalize production, distribution, sale and consumption of marijuana throughout the nation.

The leap may appear far-fetched for a country that just 10 years ago voted in a draconian anti-drug bill that removed any distinction between hard and soft drugs, increasing sentences for pot smokers and heroin addicts alike.

But the legalization movement recently gained momentum, with one of the world's most progressive legislative proposals on marijuana being submitted to the Italian parliament. Drafted by the Intergrupo Parlamentare Cannabis Legale, the legislation would allow anyone over the age of 18 to cultivate as many as five plants at home. Italians could also team up to form a "cannabis social club," with each having a maximum of 50 people growing as many as 250 plants.

In both cases, the product would have to be consumed or shared by the farmers, who would be banned from selling and profiting from it while notifying authorities about their activities. All other individuals would be allowed to store as many as 15 grams of marijuana at home and carry as many as 5 grams, with higher quantities being allowed for medical use. Meanwhile, people who do not follow the new rules would not be subject to criminal charges, but would instead face administrative sanctions. Smoking in public areas would remain strictly prohibited, as would advertising, exporting and importing all cannabis products.

Larger-scale production and sale would be controlled by a state monopoly, with the government regulating the sale of licenses. Retail sales would be restricted to dedicated stores, similar to the cannabis coffee shops in Netherlands.

Italy's pro-legalization movement began in the 1960s with the anti-establishment Radical Party, which, among other things, has distinguished itself for its successful campaigns to introduce abortion and divorce, and for getting the first porn star elected to parliament, Ilona Staller, aka Cicciolina. Its histrionic leader, Marco Pannella, 85, has been the face of Italian anti-prohibition for decades, routinely getting arrested for distributing marijuana as an act of civil disobedience.

However, the party has largely remained a fringe force, backed by the liberal intelligentsia but shunned by the masses. It has never won more than 4 percent of the vote, with the exception of the 1999 European elections, when it garnered 8.5 percent.

Despite the attempts made by Pannella and his colleagues, repression has long been Rome's favored response when it comes to drugs. Its tendency peaked in 2005, with the approval of the aforementioned law equating soft and hard drugs by the center-right government of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. (The legislation was declared unconstitutional in 2014.)...

So, how did cannabis all of a sudden become so popular in Italy's two chambers of parliament? Well, it didn't happen overnight, but the practical reasons in favor of legalization appear to have struck a chord with many MPs.

In Italy, the turning point came this year, when the National Anti-Mafia Directorate (DNA), the authority in charge of fighting organized crime, indicated reforms to decriminalize cannabis-related crimes were needed. In its annual report, it said security forces could no longer afford diverting resources to the fight against cannabis as consumption was spreading despite security forces' "best efforts," noting that repressive action was to date "a total failure."

According to the report, as many as 3,000 tons of cannabis are illegally sold each year in Italy, enough for each citizen, children included, to smoke two to four joints a week. It estimated the total market value as much as $33 billion. And this appraisal is based on the amount of drugs seized by police, which is believed to be a small fraction of the total amount in commerce. From June 2013 to June 2014, the DNA said it intercepted close to 1,900 pounds of heroin, a little less than 10,000 pounds of cocaine and more than 32,000 pounds of cannabis, making marijuana by far the most popular -- and most seized -- drug in the southern European nation.

DNA recommendations on drug policies are not easily ignored in Italy, as this is the authority waging war in Europe against the largest drug cartel, the 'Ndrangheta, and other organized-crime groups that plague the country. The DNA also pulls considerable political weight. For example, Pietro Grasso, the current Senate president, the second highest office in the nation, is its former chief.

Critics say the post-2005 crackdown on drugs has exacerbated systemic problems, engulfing Italy's traditionally congested courts with a wave of low-profile cases that went on to strain the country's overcrowded jails.

Italy is currently struggling to get out of an economic crisis that has left the government desperate for cash. In May, its debt touched a record $2.4 trillion, 132 percent of gross domestic product, which is expected to grow 0.7 percent in 2015 after years of recession. Thus, the prospective of fresh income from taxation and licensing is quite alluring to the government....

According to a study published last year, new business generated by the law could result in an increase of GDP fluctuating between 1.20 percent and 2.34 percent. "Thousands of new jobs could be created," said Della Vedova, the chief promoter of the proposed cannabis legislation. "State income would be absolutely remarkable and quite higher than, for example, that granted by the controversial first-home tax, which today is worth about $3.7 million." Benefits could be even greater, as the figure doesn't take into account resources now allocated to fight cannabis-related crimes, which could be diverted elsewhere.

July 27, 2015 in International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, July 26, 2015

First primary state poll indicating considerable support for marijuana reform

This new article on some new polling, headlined "Poll Suggests Support For Marijuana Legalization In New Hampshire," suggests that Presidential candidates my face some perils if they fail to face up to the modern marijuana reform movement. Here is why:

Support for marijuana legalization and decriminalization in New Hampshire is rising, particularly among Democrats and undeclared voters, according to a poll released Thursday. The poll, by WMUR-TV in Manchester, revealed that 3 in 5 adults in the first-in-the-nation primary state favor marijuana legalization, while 72 percent support decriminalization.

The poll suggests a growing shift in support in New Hampshire for marijuana-related issues, with pot decriminalization receiving bipartisan support throughout the state. As in much of America, liberals, young adults and Democrats have the highest rates of approval for marijuana-related policy issues, while conservatives, older adults and regular churchgoers primarily oppose it.

"National polls have shown majority support for legalization for a few years now," wrote Tom Angell, the chairman of Marijuana Majority, a pro-legalization advocacy group, in an email, "but this survey of voters in a key primary election state should be of particular interest to presidential candidates who are looking for issues that appeal to large constituencies."

The poll said that 73 percent of registered Democrats support legalization and 80 percent support decriminalization. Quinnipiac polls in the spring suggested that multiple swing states support medical and recreational marijuana, which advocates suggest will become a critical issue during the presidential election....

Angell said he expects the prevalence of support for legalization in key swing states will lead to an endorsement by a major presidential candidate in the 2016 election. "For too long, elected officials have viewed marijuana policy as a dangerous third-rail of politics," Angell wrote in a statement, "but the evidence is now clear that speaking out for ending prohibition will bring immense political benefits to those candidates who get in front of the issue before their rivals do."

July 26, 2015 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

"Seniors Are Seeking Out States Where Marijuana is Legal"

The title of this post is the headline of this intriguing new Reuters article.  Here are excerpts:

When choosing retirement locales, a few factors pop to mind: climate, amenities, proximity to grandchildren, access to quality healthcare. Chris Cooper had something else to consider – marijuana laws.

The investment adviser from Toledo had long struggled with back pain due to a fractured vertebra and crushed disc from a fall. He hated powerful prescription drugs like Vicodin, but one thing did help ease the pain and spasms: marijuana.

So when Cooper, 57, was looking for a place to retire, he ended up in San Diego, since California allows medical marijuana. A growing number of retirees are also factoring in the legalization of pot when choosing where to spend their golden years. “Stores are packed with every type of person you can imagine,” said Cooper who takes marijuana once or twice a week, often orally. “There are old men in wheelchairs, or women whose hair is falling out from chemotherapy. You see literally everybody.”

Cooper, who figures he spends about $150 on the drug each month, is not alone in retiring to a marijuana-friendly state.... Figuring out how many people are retiring to states that let you smoke pot is challenging since retirees do not have to check off a box on a form saying why they chose a particular location to their final years.

But “there is anecdotal evidence that people with health conditions which medical marijuana could help treat, are relocating to states with legalized marijuana,” said Michael Stoll, a professor of public policy at University of California, Los Angeles who studies retiree migration trends.

He cited data from United Van Lines, which show the top U.S. moving destinations in 2014 was Oregon, where marijuana had been expected to be legalized for several years and finally passed a ballot initiative last November. Two-thirds of moves involving Oregon last year were inbound. That is a 5 percent jump over the previous year, as the state “continues to pull away from the pack,” the moving company said in a report.

The Mountain West – including Colorado, which legalized medical marijuana in 2000, and recreational use in 2012 – boasted the highest percentage of people moving there to retire, United Van Lines said. One-third of movers to the region said they were going there specifically to retire....

Many of the health afflictions of older Americans push them to seek out dispensaries for relief. “A lot of the things marijuana is best at are conditions which become more of an issue as you get older,” said Taylor West, deputy director of the Denver-based National Cannabis Industry Association. “Chronic pain, inflammation, insomnia, loss of appetite: All of those things are widespread among seniors.”

Since those in their 60s and 70s presumably have no desire to be skulking around on the criminal market in states where usage is outlawed, it makes sense they would gravitate to states where marijuana is legal. “In Colorado, since legalization, many dispensaries have seen the largest portion of sales going to baby boomers and people of retirement age,” West said.

July 22, 2015 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Senators Feinstein and Grassley: "remove barriers to research" on medical marijuana

Feinstein-grassleyThe title of this post is drawn from this notable new Time commentary authored by US Senators Dianne Feinstein and Chuck Grassley. The piece is headlined "Break Down Barriers to Medical Marijuana Research," and here are excerpts:

After years of failed treatments [for debilitating seizures, Mallory Minahan's] parents decided to try cannabidiol oil in October 2013. This product is derived from the marijuana plant, administered orally, and has a very low level of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the component of marijuana that makes users high. According to Tom Minahan, Mallory’s father and an ER doctor in Colton, Calif., it took just 36 hours to see profound changes.

But the process hasn’t been easy. A one-month supply of cannabidiol oil, commonly referred to as CBD oil, can cost up to $2,500. Because CBD oil is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there’s no guarantee that the formulation of each batch will be the same, or that each bottle actually contains CBD oil, rather than some other unknown substance.

In fact, the FDA recently sent warning letters to six companies marketing unapproved products that they claim contain CBD, but don’t. This is why Mallory’s parents are forced to spend up to $100 per bottle of oil if they want to have it tested to verify the contents. And even how much of the oil to administer was a mystery. Dr. Minahan and his wife, Carrin, arrived at the proper dosage for Mallory through trial and error.

This isn’t how modern medicine should work. For Mallory, who wasn’t responding to any other treatments or medications, the results were spectacular. Her seizures have decreased by 90%. Yet CBD oil hasn’t been effective for everyone. Many questions remain about its long-term effects and how it interacts with other medications.

Simply put, we need to know more about CBD, and the only way to gain that knowledge is to remove barriers to research. Research will shed light on critical safety issues as well as how effective CBD oil is and the proper formulations and dosages for patients.

After hearing from constituents, we asked the Justice Department (DOJ) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in October 2014 to clarify their positions on CBD research and what it would take to ensure research could move forward. After some back-and-forth with the two departments, we’re pleased to report that both have taken significant steps to ensure that CBD research can proceed. The DOJ agreed to initiate what is known as an “eight-factor analysis” to definitively determine whether CBD has scientific and medical benefits, and if so the proper schedule for it.

Another key step was HHS’s decision that privately-funded researchers are no longer required to submit research proposals for additional review. It is also allowing Epidiolex, a purified form of CBD currently in clinical trials, to be administered to 400 children under a compassionate use program that allows sick patients to access medicines before they are approved by the FDA.

While these are important developments, they’re not enough.... We need to cut red tape and streamline the licensing and regulatory processes so research can move ahead. In addition, we must also find ways to ensure that researchers have access to the quantity and quality of marijuana that they need. Finally, we need to look at expanding compassionate access programs where possible, to benefit as many children as possible.

Patients like Mallory have helped draw attention to this issue. Now, the federal government should step up, continue to reduce research barriers and help the many patients who could benefit from this treatment.

July 22, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 17, 2015

Interesting profile of interesting marijuana entrepenuers in Washington

The Seattle Times has this lengthy interesting profile of people who have been attracted to the marijuana industry in the pacific northwest.  The piece is headlined "Pot of gold: The new legal marijuana business has created once-in-a-lifetime opportunities." It gets started this way:

Welcome to the weird world of legalized marijuana, with a cast of characters as novel and interesting as the product they’re crazy enough to sell.

Entrepreneurs include a World War II veteran born in 1921 and a University of Washington student born in 1993, plus felons, dreamers and a cupcake queen. Then there’s this bizarre trio: a 79-year-old nationally ranked bird-watcher, a 36-year-old surfer, and former Seahawks star Marcus Trufant, who together own a pot shop in Lacey, one of the state’s more than 150 (and growing) recreational marijuana stores.

It’s always messy to build something from scratch. About half of small businesses fail within five years, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration, and few face as many complications as the marijuana industry.

Taxes are steep. Laws and rules for the strictly regulated business have been in flux since the state’s voters legalized pot in November 2012. Some cities and counties have banned businesses. Many can’t get access to banking. Although unlikely, if the federal government changes its mind on pot, it could shutter businesses and press felony charges.

But those bold enough to launch into this uncertain world see a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity where others balk at risk.

Les LeMieux, a felon convicted of selling drugs, seeks vindication. Pot nearly took everything away. Now, it could set up his family for good.

Evan Cox and his wife, Charity, both high-school and college dropouts, see pot as a means of upward mobility.

Jody Hall, the founder of Cupcake Royale, wants to reshape pot culture.

They’re all just getting started, but what a long, strange trip it’s already been.

July 17, 2015 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Colorado board refuses to add PTSD to conditions included in medical marijuana laws

As reported in this new Denver Post piece, the "Colorado Board of Health voted 6-2 — amid shouts, hisses and boos from a packed house — not to add post-traumatic stress disorder to the medical conditions that can be treated under the state's medical marijuana program." Here is the backstory for this notable regulatory decision:

A dozen of the veterans who testified said cannabis has saved their lives. Many said drugs legally prescribed to them for PTSD at veterans clinics or by other doctors — antidepressants, antipsychotics, opioids and others — nearly killed them or robbed them of quality of life.  "It is our brothers and sisters who are committing suicide every day. We know cannabis can help. We're not going to go away," said John Evans, director of Veterans 4 Freedoms.

"We've legalized it," Evans said.  "We'll take the tax dollars from our tourists (for recreational marijuana) before we'll help our vets."

The president of the nine-member board, Tony Cappello, an epidemiologist, said he could not vote to approve pot's use for PTSD because scientific evidence does not support it.  Most board members agreed that mountains of anecdotal evidence aren't enough.  One board member was absent.  "I'm struggling with the science piece," board member Dr. Christopher Stanley said.

The American and Colorado psychiatric associations do not support it, said board member Dr. Ray Estacio, an internist at Denver Health and associate professor in medicine at the University of Colorado Denver.

But board member Joan Sowinski, an environmental and occupational health consultant, said the testimony from veterans and other PTSD sufferers was so persuasive — as was recent research about symptoms reduction — that she could support it. Jill Hunsaker-Ryan, an Eagle County commissioner, was the only other yes vote.

"Blood is on your hands," one audience member shouted after the board voted not to make Colorado the 10th state to allow medicinal marijuana use for PTSD.

The state's chief medical officer, Dr. Larry Wolk, director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, recommended the state add the condition.  He suggested a provision that would cause the issue to be re-examined in four years, after two state-funded studies produced results.  Wolk said listing PTSD as a treatable condition would increase transparency and reveal actual usage, shedding light on its effectiveness and reinforcing a physician-patient relationship for many users.

Many veterans are self-medicating with recreational marijuana or using medical marijuana ostensibly as pain treatment, although it is really for PTSD, he said. Currently allowed uses of marijuana include pain (93 percent of recommendations), cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, muscles spasms, multiple sclerosis, severe nausea and wasting disease (cachexia).

Dr. Doris Gundersen, a psychiatrist who spoke at the meeting, said only 4 percent to 5 percent of the state's physicians recommend medical marijuana to patients.  About 15 physicians make 75 percent of the recommendations, she said. The state has roughly 14,000 licensed doctors.  "Why are so few getting on board? (Because) there is a lack of quality evidence that it is safe and effective ... and does no harm," Gundersen said.

One of the state-funded medical marijuana investigators, Sue Sisley, who is looking at effects on veterans' PTSD, said federal policy on marijuana is a prime reason research is scant.  It will take at least four years for her study, she said, because the team has been delayed in getting the study drug, still illegal under federal law, from the authorized supplier — the U.S. government.

A few of the roughly 30 public speakers noted that what patients want — not hard science — is driving demand for expanded medicinal uses of marijuana.  That's not a bad thing, advocates said. "It is very important patients become part of this discussion," said Teri Robnett, director of the Cannabis Patients Alliance and member of the state's advisory council.  "Patients are getting enormous relief." 

July 16, 2015 in Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

"How medical marijuana could literally save lives"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new Washington Post Wonkblog entry that reports on a notable new study about the relationship between marijuana reform and reduction in the harms from opiate addictions and overdoses.  Here is how the piece gets started (with links from the original):

Medical marijuana opponents recently pounced on a big new analysis published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showing that there isn't good evidence that marijuana works for many of the conditions, like glaucoma, anxiety, or Parkinson's disease, that it's often prescribed for.  The JAMA study was based on a meta-analysis of the findings of 79 previously-published studies.

Now, the study did not say pot isn't helpful for people suffering from those ailments; it said there was no evidence to that effect, as German Lopez noted at Vox.  Importantly, however, the JAMA study found solid evidence that marijuana is effective at treating one big condition: chronic pain.  The JAMA review found "30% or greater improvement in pain with cannabinoid compared with placebo," across the 79 studies it surveyed.

new NBER working paper out today is a helpful reminder of why that finding is so important.  Pain management -- especially chronic pain management -- is a tricky business.  Prescription painkillers are highly addictive and deadly -- they killed more than 16,000 people in 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's's latest numbers.  In the U.S., drug overdoses kill more people than suicide, guns or car crashes.  The CDC now calls prescription painkiller abuse an "epidemic."

The researchers on the NBER paper, however, found that access to state-sanctioned medical marijuana dispensaries is linked to a significant decrease in both prescription painkiller abuse, and in overdose deaths from prescription painkillers.  The study authors examined admissions to substance abuse treatment programs for opiate addiction as well as opiate overdose deaths in states that do and do not have medical marijuana laws.

They found that the presence of marijuana dispensaries was associated with a 15 to 35 percent decrease in substance abuse admissions.  Opiate overdose deaths decreased by a similar amount. "Our findings suggest that providing broader access to medical marijuana may have the potential benefit of reducing abuse of highly addictive painkillers," the researchers conclude.

July 14, 2015 in Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Ninth Circuit affirms federal Tax Court approach to (over)taxing marijuana businesses

As reviewed by this recent Forbes article, headlined "Big Court Defeat For Marijuana Despite Record Tax Harvests," the Ninth Circuit late last week in Olive v. CIR, No. 13-70510 (9th Cir. July 10, 2015) (available here), affirmed the basic approach that federal authorities have adopted to determining the tax obligations of state-legal marijuana businesses.  The Forbes piece provides this overview of the issues and the ruling:

Should marijuana businesses pay tax on gross profits or net profits? It sounds like a silly question.  Virtually every business in every country pays tax only on net profits, after expenses.  But the topsy-turvy rules for marijuana seem to defy logic.  And taxes are clearly a big topic these days under both federal and burgeoning state law.

Many observers and legislators suggested that legalizing marijuana would mean huge tax revenues.  With legalized medical marijuana now giving way to more and more states legalizing recreational use, the cash hauls look ever more alluring.  Washington state regulators say the state collected $65 million in first-year taxes from recreational marijuana sales in just 12 months on cannabis sales of over $260 million from June 2014 to June 2015.  In Colorado, the governor’s office estimated that it would collect $100 million in taxes from the first year of recreational marijuana....

Now ... the IRS has convinced the influential Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that marijuana dispensaries cannot deduct business expenses, must pay taxes on 100% of their gross income.  The case, Olive v. Commissioner, was an appeal from a U.S. Tax Court decision.  Martin Olive sold medical marijuana at the Vapor Room, using vaporizers so patients do not even have to smoke.

But even good records won’t make vaporizers or drug paraphernalia deductible.  The Ninth Circuit upheld the Tax Court ruling that § 280E prevents legal medical marijuana dispensaries from deducting ordinary and necessary business expenses. Under federal tax law, the Vapor Room is a trade or business that is trafficking in controlled substances prohibited by federal law....

On the question whether marijuana businesses should pay tax on their net or gross profits, the tax code says the latter. Indeed, Section 280E of the tax code denies even legal dispensaries tax deductions, because marijuana remains a federal controlled substance.  The IRS says it has no choice but to enforce the tax code.

One common answer to this dilemma is for dispensaries to deduct expenses from other businesses distinct from dispensing marijuana.  If a dispensary sells marijuana and is in the separate business of care-giving, for example, the care-giving expenses are deductible.  If only 10% of the premises is used to dispense marijuana, most of the rent is deductible.  Good record-keeping is essential, but there is only so far one can go. For example, in the case of the Vapor Room and Martin Olive, with only one business, the courts ruled that Section 280E precluded Mr. Olive’s deductions....

The IRS is clear that you can deduct only what the tax law allows you to deduct.  The trouble started in 1982, when Congress enacted § 280E. It prohibits deductions, but not for cost of goods sold.  Most businesses don’t want to capitalize costs, since claiming an immediate deduction is easier and faster.  In the case of marijuana businesses, the incentive is the reverse. So the IRS says it is policing the line between the costs that are part of selling the drugs and others.

Sure, deduct wages, rents, and repair expenses attributable to production activities. They are part of the cost of goods sold. But don’t deduct wages, rents, or repair expenses attributable to general business activities or marketing activities that are not part of cost of goods sold.

2013′s proposed Marijuana Tax Equity Act would end the federal prohibition on marijuana and allow it to be taxed – at a whopping 50%. The bill would impose a 50% excise tax on cannabis sales, plus an annual occupational tax on workers in the field of legal marijuana.  Incredibly, though, with what currently amounts to a tax on gross revenues with deductions being disallowed by Section 280E, perhaps it would be an improvement.  More recently, Rep. Jared Polis (D-Co.) and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Or.) have suggested a phased 10% rate here, ramping up to 25% in five years.

July 14, 2015 in Federal court rulings, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Taxation information and issues , Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, July 12, 2015

"As tribe prepares to legalize marijuana, questions remain"

Images (3)The title of this post is the headline of this extended new article from the Sioux Falls Argus Leader concerning notable marijuana developments in South Dakota. Here are excerpts:

Five months from now, according to the plan, Indians and non-Indians alike will be smoking marijuana on tribal lands in Flandreau.

The U.S. Justice Department told Indian tribes last December that they can grow and sell marijuana as long as they follow the same federal conditions laid out for Washington, Colorado and other states that have legalized the drug.  For the tribe and Colorado-based Monarch America, hired to design, construct and develop a grow facility on the Flandreau reservation, that has opened the door to a potentially rich new business enterprise — just as the advent of casino gambling did decades ago.

They intend to open by the first week of December, says Monarch America CEO Eric Hagen, who adds, with a smile, "Everyone will have a merry Christmas."

South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley isn't as confident of that. While he insists he's having positive talks with Flandreau officials about his concerns as they move forward on their project, Jackley says the future of marijuana on the reservation isn't so black and white. He called the Justice Department's Cole Memorandum — authored in August 2013 by Deputy Attorney General James Cole to address the legalization of marijuana in states like Washington and Colorado — a complex directive that has created confusion on the tribal front.

While Hagen believes that memorandum allows tribal marijuana ventures in any state, Jackley questions whether it was meant to apply only to tribes in states that have legalized marijuana. South Dakota isn't one of those states. That said, he believes anyone with marijuana in their bloodstream or in their physical possession is in violation of state and federal law, including non-Indians on tribal lands and Indians who go off reservation.

"I want to encourage tribal leaders to continue to work with state authorities to better ensure ... that both Indian and non-Indian persons are not put in harm's way by the jurisdiction complexities being created by our federal government," he said.

That's not Hagen's perspective. The feds have said they aren't going to prosecute the growing or selling of marijuana by state or tribal jurisdictions that have legalized it as long as they are doing a strong job of regulating that growth and distribution and addressing infractions, he said.

The Justice Department's bigger concern, outlined in eight priorities in the Cole Memorandum, is to keep marijuana out of the hands of minors. They don't want marijuana revenue going to criminal enterprises. They don't want marijuana that is legal in one state diverted to places where it isn't legal.

Hagen insists Flandreau will have stricter regulations than any state with legal marijuana cultivation and consumption statutes on the books now. And because of that, "I think people just need to know that when they come on to tribal lands to partake ... that it's a safe haven for them whether you're a tribal member or not," he said. While he believes anybody in South Dakota with marijuana in their system or in their possession could be arrested, Jackley doesn't envision a situation where law enforcement will simply camp out and wait to arrest people coming out of a tribal lounge.

One of the other big concerns for the Flandreau tribe will be keeping track of its marijuana. Law enforcement in Flandreau say they worry about where the tribal marijuana might end up. Hagen said that shouldn't be an issue, not with the "radio frequency identification (RFID) inventory and tracking system" his company is helping the tribe put in to follow marijuana "from seed to sale, ensuring products do not leave designated areas."

"I personally don't believe it will remain in the building," Flandreau Police Chief Anthony Schrad said. "You can purchase the marijuana in the lounge, but it seems to me it would be very easy to remove the RFID tag from the container you purchase it in, transfer the marijuana to your own personal vial and leave with it."

July 12, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

How will marijuana lobby (with new money) use its growing influence inside the Beltway?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this notable new NPR piece headlined "Pot Politics: The Marijuana Business Comes To Washington." Here are excerpts:

State by state, the legal marijuana business is slowly gaining ground. The industry is using both an increasingly favorable public opinion toward marijuana and a newly legal cash flow to try to transform itself into a force in national politics. Recreational marijuana retailers celebrated their first anniversary of legal operation in Washington state Wednesday, while last week marked 18 months for the recreational cannabis business in Colorado. And Oregon legalized it July 1, though stores there won't open until 2016.

Meanwhile, the presence of medical marijuana continues to expand, with New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan signing a bill adding to the illnesses doctors may prescribe marijuana to treat. New York state will select medical marijuana growers to license later this month. And all this legalized marijuana means lots of cash. Washington state has reported almost $260 million in total sales, gathering $65 million in taxes. Colorado said legal pot made $700 million in 2014.

As with any business, a rapid influx of money comes with more ability to shape the regulations they face from the nation's capital. "Any industry that is heavily regulated by the government has to have an active voice," said Taylor West, deputy director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, the only national trade association to represent the legal cannabis industry. That includes the four states where retail sale for recreational marijuana has been approved and the 23 states with medical marijuana laws on the books. "Cannabis is possibly the most regulated at this point," West said, "so there's always going to be a need for political advocacy on behalf of the industry."

Part of that advocacy starts with the White House. Last week, Sen. Rand Paul became the first presidential candidate from a major party to actively court donors from the budding legal industry. About 40 people attended Paul's closed-door reception on the sidelines of the Cannabis Business Summit and Expo in Denver. Invitations put the cost of entry at $2,700 minimum, payable to the presidential hopeful's victory committee....

Earlier this year, Pew found that 53 percent of Americans support legalization, including 68 percent of millennials. More than 60 percent of young Republicans favor legalization. And, between 2010 and 2013, support for marijuana legalization increased by 11 percent among all Americans.

Several Republican candidates have tried to strike a balance between pleasing the party's old guard, which favors keeping the drug illegal, and the younger faction, which increasingly favors more liberal social policies in line with limited-government ideals.

Speaking earlier this year to an audience of conservative activists at CPAC, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush tried to find a middle ground on marijuana legalization in Colorado. "I thought it was a bad idea, but states ought to have that right to do it," Bush said. "I would have voted no if I was in Colorado." Sen. Ted Cruz expressed a similar sentiment at the same event. "If the citizens of Colorado decide they want to go down that road, that's their prerogative," he said. "I don't agree with it, but that's their right."

But others have vowed to crush the emerging industry that is still illegal under federal law. Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey said he would crack down on legal regimes in Colorado, Washington, Alaska and Oregon if he becomes president. Another presidential contender, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, said federal laws against marijuana use should be enforced.

But more states look set to legalize, and the Department of Justice under President Obama has kept a mostly hands-off approach since 2013. Though legal under some state laws, the marijuana industry operates in a gray area, still subject to raids and seizures by federal authorities. This uncertainty means banks have largely kept their distance from cannabis for fear of potential prosecution. Without access to credit, dispensaries are forced to operate in cash.

Colorado lawmakers have already taken notice. Colorado Sens. Michael Bennet, a Democrat, and Republican Cory Gardner introduced a bill Thursday to allow marijuana retailers access to bank accounts and credit card services. Securing the existing industry enough to ease the fears of skittish bankers is chief among the marijuana business's concerns. This means working to change federal laws. The NCIA exclusively lobbies for the cannabis business at the federal rather than state level.

The trade group has a political action committee and two full-time staff members in Washington, D.C., including a lobbyist. It spent $80,000 on lobbying in 2014, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics. Still, when you consider the alcohol industry spent more than $24 million lobbying the same year, the "cannabusiness" lobby has a ways to go.

Predictions abound about a future of "big pot." ArcView, a cannabis industry research firm, put the size of the legal marijuana market at $2.6 billion in 2014. Another study by a pro-marijuana group said the industry, if fully legalized across the country by 2020, could be worth $35 billion each year.

Critics call those numbers overblown, but in any case NCIA's West says that the cannabis industry hopes to use the support of marijuana advocates around the country to put pressure on lawmakers. "We're going to be making sure that [members of Congress] know their constituents care about this stuff," she said.

July 12, 2015 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Political perspective on reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, July 11, 2015

With $70 million in state tax revenue, "Pot money changing hearts in Washington"

The title of this post is drawn from the headline of this new CNN article.  Here are excerpts from an article that does not quite match the headline but captures the important reality of modern changing sentiments:

This week marks the one-year anniversary since sales of marijuana for recreational use began in Washington state. In the first year, $70 million in tax revenue has been generated statewide from marijuana sales. The Washington State Liquor Control Board, which oversees the state's cannabis industry, reports that dispensaries sold more than $257 million worth of marijuana.

Chip Boyden, who owns a medical marijuana dispensary in Tucson, Arizona, jumped at the thought of expanding his marijuana business with family in Washington after the first dispensaries started to open in July 2014. Washington voters passed a law in 2012 to legalize marijuana for adults over 21. When Boyden first opened his shop in Tucson, he said the attitude from the surrounding community was less than supportive, although the state permits medical marijuana usage. "We had people come up and say they aren't against it, but they were unsure who was going to be the demographic for our business," he said.

But in Seattle, Boyden said he noticed a difference in attitude at Hashtag recreational cannabis, a pot shop that Boyden started in April with co-owner Logan Bowers and shop manager Michael Bowers. "We had great support. We didn't have anyone come in a get upset," Logan Bowers said.

Boyden said there's a cultural shift happening in Washington, Colorado and other states that have started to legalize marijuana use. "The recreational market allows people, those who were interested in trying cannabis, to be able to come in and sample different flavors," he explained. "It's more like going into the store and buying a bottle of wine."...

Kris Krane, president of 4Front Ventures, which provides consulting and support for marijuana dispensaries across the United States, said that marijuana legalization and sales will start to become a larger political discussion. "I think 2016 is the year where this is actually an issue in presidential policy that candidates have to answer to," he said.

As for Washington state's first year of marijuana sales, Krane said $70 million in tax revenue actually seems a bit low. "It's important to know that number is not indicative of what we will see in year two or three." He is predicting that those numbers will increase, especially if the excise tax is lowered in the state.

But for dispensary owners and operators Logan Bowers and Michael Bowers, it's not the money that's drawing them into the business. Rather, it is the change in attitude they are seeing. "One thing that struck me most as a manager, is the wide variety of people who come in," Michael Bowers said. "We see older customers bring in their adult children. It's normal people using it. It's everyday people in your neighborhood."

July 11, 2015 in Business laws and regulatory issues, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Terrific on-going coverage of marijuana reform issues via International Business Times

I recently had the pleasure of speaking at length to a terrific reporter covering marijuana reform issues for International Business Times, and I told the reporter that I was quite impressed with the extent and sophistication of IBT's on-going coverage of these issues.  Thereafter, it dawned on me that I have not consistently highlighted these realities on this blog space.  But here is just an abridged review of some of the great IBT pieces from various reporters in just the last few weeks:

"Rand Paul Courts Marijuana Investors, But Why Aren’t More Presidential Candidates Embracing Pot?"

"PTSD And Cannabis -- Can Researchers Cut Through The Politics To Find Out Whether Weed Works?"

"Oregon Hopes Legal Weed Will End Race-Based Arrests, But Advocates Wary"

"Marijuana Legalization No Longer ‘Political Suicide’ For Presidential Candidates"

"Chile’s Lower House Of Congress Approves Marijuana Bill"

Researchers Find That Medical Marijuana Laws Increase Recreational Marijuana Use Among Juveniles

Marijuana Legalization In Oregon: Portland Airport Allows Travelers To Bring Weed On In-State Flights

July 11, 2015 in Assembled readings on specific topics, Current Affairs, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 10, 2015

"Bipartisan marijuana banking bill introduced in the Senate"

The title of this post is the headline of this new Politico story.  Here are the details of a notable (but not likely consequential) legislative development in Congress:

Reflecting growing public support for changing the nation’s drug laws, a bipartisan group of senators on Thursday introduced the chamber’s first bill that would legalize banking for recreational marijuana companies.  Introduced by the Senate delegations from Oregon and Colorado, two of the first states to legalize recreational marijuana, the bill would prohibit the federal government from penalizing banks that work with marijuana businesses.

Though four states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana, the drug is still illegal under federal law.  That makes it difficult for businesses operating in those legalized states to access financial services through the banking industry.  Instead, those companies have to run all-cash operations that the senators say invite crime.  The entire legal landscape that legal marijuana currently faces is “insane,” said GOP Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado in an interview....

Congress has been extraordinarily hesitant to address the nettlesome issue of marijuana law. Another landmark bill for the Senate from Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) that would legalize medical marijuana in states that have approved it has run into opposition from the Senate’s old guard.

But the upbeat Gardner noted that Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) now supports a bipartisan bill that would exclude cannabidiol, which has more medicinal uses, from the definition of marijuana in federal law.  He said Congress will come along, eventually.  “Now, does it have a chance?  I think there’s a lot of work that has to be done to give it that chance, but I also think that in 10 years most every other state in the country is going to be facing this question,” Gardner said.  “People are coming on board and people are starting to realize we have a policy that’s kind of out of step.”

July 10, 2015 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

"Is Marijuana A Benefit Or A Bad Idea For Autism And Schizophrenia?"

DownloadThe question in the title of this post is the headline of this notable and informative new Forbes article.  Here are excerpts:

When Jim Carrey co-opted the image of a distressed boy with tuberous sclerosis complex (TSC) in an effort to reinforce the actor’s views about vaccines, he inadvertently brought attention to TSC, which is, unlike vaccines, associated with autism. In using the image of Alex Echols, for which he later apologized, Carrey may also have brought attention to another topic of discussion in autism circles: the use of marijuana as a therapeutic.

Alex’s parents have a blog where they’ve written about Alex and his needs for many years. Among those needs, they argue, is therapeutic marijuana, which they say helps Alex with his self-injurious behaviors. They have published their clear agenda for accomplishing this for their son, who currently lives in a group home.

The Echols are not alone in their belief in and urgency about marijuana as an intervention for neurological conditions. Many other parents, some autistic adults, and some clinicians also have suggested that the plant—and its active compounds—might offer an effective treatment for some of the intense behaviors related to autism and for schizophrenia, as well. But what do we really know about marijuana and its therapeutic possibilities?

Like so many sources of neuroactive compounds, pot has dual potential to be beneficial or damaging, depending on which ingredient is the focus. One of its active compounds, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, acts through a signaling system that involves some of the same components associated with atypical signaling in schizophrenia. According to Tori Rodriguez, writing at Psychiatry Advisor, studies have shown interesting parallels between altered brain function measures in people with schizophrenia and people who were marijuana intoxicated.

Thus, THC, it seems, is ‘pro-psychotic’ (although that’s controversial), and there’s a chicken-egg question about whether or not it contributes to the development or onset of psychosis-related conditions like schizophrenia or if people with such conditions might be more prone to reach out for it as self-medication. The age at which one reaches for it might also be a factor, but studies show a “consistent” association between pot use during the teens and risk for developing a psychotic disorder....

But marijuana is one of those two-faced offerings from nature that can help or hinder. Now that pot has become legal in various parts of the US, these issues of help or hinder become more critical and will start to settle into some form of commonly accepted wisdom that likely belies the complexities.

As an example of that complexity, another physiologically active compound in marijuana (there are dozens) is cannabidiol, which might act as an antipsychotic, in contrast to its pot-plant partner THC. Plants, you see, are complicated organisms just like we are, and banning the entire plant ends up banning every possibility each of its hundreds of active compounds might hold.

So far, the studies of cannabidiol in schizophrenic populations are small, but at least one suggests head-to-head effectiveness against one atypical antipsychotic with less in the way of negative side effects compared to the approved drug. Cannabidiol is one of the target substances that the Echols want to be able to give to their son to reduce his distress and distressing episodes of self-injurious behaviors. Parents of children with epilepsy and other neurological conditions also would like cannabidiol oil to be available as a treatment for their sons and daughters....

And what about marijuana for autism? Compared to the studies done for schizophrenia, which number more than 1,000, autism and marijuana has gotten almost no research attention. That hasn’t stopped a grassroots movement from growing up around using pot as an autism therapeutic, with one Facebook group, MAMMAS (Mothers Advocating Medical Marijuana for Autism), boasting almost 5,000 followers, and one writer and autism parent advocating for its use from a public pulpit.

But as the authors of a recent review note — and PubMed searches bear out — no studies exist suggesting clinical benefit for autism. Indeed, in a news release publicizing the review, the first author, Scott Hadland of Boston Children’s Hospital, is quoted as saying: "in using medicinal marijuana (parents) may be trading away their child’s future for short-term symptom control." These authors also call for more research into cannibidiol’s effects and more emphasis on developing high-cannabidiol/low-THC products.

July 8, 2015 in Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Does significant federal marijuana reform have a significant chance in the Senate?

Images (1)The question in the title of this post is prompted by this notable new and lengthy Politico magazine piece headlined "The Senate's experiment with cannabis: Hardliners on Judiciary open up to research on medical pot." Here are excerpts:

Congress has resolutely opposed the state-level movements toward legalizing marijuana, keeping it a Schedule I controlled substance on par with heroin, LSD and peyote.  But now some of the nation’s toughest law-and-order senators just might be opening the window to cannabis, at least a crack.

Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) have all begun speaking up about the need for more clinical research on the marijuana plant compound known as cannabidiol, or CBD.  The three sit on the powerful Judiciary Committee, which has a key voice in setting the federal government’s firm stance on pot in all its different forms.

They sent a clear signal in a packed hearing room last week, when the senators took on the tricky issue of CBD, a compound derived from an illegal drug but which many scientists and public health officials believe could treat conditions including cancer, diabetes, chronic pain, and alcoholism.  Some parents and doctors have already turned to CBD as an anti-seizure medicine for children who suffer from rare and extreme types of intractable epilepsy.

Grassley, the chairman of the powerful Judiciary panel, told the audience at a narcotics caucus meeting that it's not an “inconsistent position" to embrace the beneficial components of the pot plant even while rejecting pretty much everything else about the drug, adding that doctors prescribe morphine but don’t recommend their patients go out and smoke opium or heroin.  Feinstein and Hatch also spoke about the potential benefits from CBD, and complained that current drug laws impede the parents of sick children from access to what appears to be a helpful medicine.

At the same time, the senators went through elaborate motions to explain they weren’t softening their stance against recreational pot.  “I have deep concern that [pot] does more harm than anything else,” Feinstein said in an interview.  “But in terms of the medical aspects of it, it’s a totally different picture.  It’s like any other plant.  I’m sure there are other plants that if you ate you’d hallucinate or something.  But if you can get the beneficial parts out, get them researched, be able to standardize it, regulate it, you may have something very good.”

The lawmakers’ comments, coming on the heels of two recent Obama administration moves to expand medical-marijuana research, marked another pointed moment in the country’s shifting views on drug policy.  What was once an absolute red line in the “Just Say No” era is now a more porous border.  Twenty-three states and Washington D.C. have legalized medical marijuana; Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington state and the District of Columbia have also legalized recreational use, despite the clash with federal drug laws.

Congress, so far, has made no moves at all to relax recreational marijuana laws, and in Washington D.C. – where it effectively holds veto powers over the local government’s affairs – it prohibited the city from spending money to implement its voter initiative on recreational use.  As a result, the nation’s capital considers marijuana legal but doesn’t have any sales and taxation system....

Utah, Hatch noted, was “certainly no redoubt of hippie liberalism,” but in March 2014 became the first of 15 states to legalize use of the CBD oil.  Now, he's pushing the Senate to pass a bipartisan bill that would remove CBD from the definition of marijuana under federal law, giving parents a green light to buy the medicine without the threat of DEA agents busting them.

One sticky issue on the cannabis front has been that its outlaw status makes it more difficult to carry out both government and privately funded research.  While it’s technically legal to study the medical aspects of pot, researchers must go through a rigorous DEA and FDA approval process, and can only obtain their marijuana from the government’s sole authorized U.S. supplier, located at the University of Mississippi.

While Grassley rarely has praise for Team Obama, he applauded the Democratic administration for two moves it made in June on the medical-research front: the Department of Health and Human Services got rid of what it called a duplicative 16-year old paperwork review requirement for private researchers studying the drug; and separately, the Justice Department and HHS moved to study whether CBD should be classified on a less stringent level than the entire marijuana plant.  “This is a significant breakthrough and I commend these agencies for agreeing to take this step,” Grassley said.

The feds are in part playing catch-up with the black market, where parents using the oil extracts for their children say they’ve spent as much as $2,500 for a month’s supply. Feinstein said she hears complaints from constituents in California and around the country that they have bought CBD without labels, factory seals or clear dosage amounts.  “This is an untenable situation.  It is not how medicine should work,” Feinstein said.  Her goal, she said, was "to get this process expanded, and get it legitimized and get it regulated.  And I think those are the things we have to do and do as quickly as we can.”...

Despite their interest, Feinstein and her colleagues were circumspect still about how far Congress will go this session.  The House in June included several pot-related amendments to a spending bill funding the Commerce, Justice and State departments; one measure adopted on a 297-130 vote allows states that have legalized cannabidiol to do it without federal interference; another prohibits the federal government from blocking states from implementing their own medical marijuana laws. (President Barack Obama signed a similar provision into law in last year's "CRominbus" spending bill, but the language lapses at the end of the fiscal year.) The House also narrowly rejected an amendment – on a 206-222 vote – that would have told the feds to butt out in the implementation of any state marijuana laws, either recreational or medical.

In the Senate, Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) are leading an effort for a broader medical marijuana bill that would help make the drug available for a range of conditions, including cancer, glaucoma and for children via the CBD extract.  Their legislation would block the federal government from halting state medical marijuana laws; permit doctors at the Department of Veterans Affairs to prescribe the drug to military veterans; allow banks to do business with medical marijuana dispensaries and let states import the CBD oils for treatments. The senators also want to change how marijuana is classified under the Controlled Substances Act – moving it from the most restrictive Schedule 1 category that limits its use for research and defines it as having no accepted medical benefits into the Schedule 2 category that comes with fewer requirements before it can be studied.

In an interview, Gillibrand said it was a "huge deal" to have Grassley, Hatch and Feinstein supportive of expanding cannabis research. “I think it’s the first step toward a fuller conversation on how important medical marijuana is to so many patients across the country," she said.

But Gillibrand still has work in front of her if she wans to pick up their support for many of the specifics in her bill. Grassley, who has been a high-profile partner with Gillibrand on legislation tackling sexual assault crimes in the military and on college campuses, said he wasn't ready to ally with the Democrat yet on medical marijuana legislation.... And when asked if she backed the push to reclassify marijuana as a Schedule 2 controlled substance, Feinstein – who represents a state that legalized medical marijuana nearly 20 years ago – replied: “I’m not there yet.”

Personally, I have a "deep concern" that Senator Feinstein may do "more harm than anything else" if she is still clinging to a refeer madness view of marijuana as the most hamful of all drugs. But, especially if Senator Feinstein still does have a unsupportable view as to the harms of marijauana, the fact that even she is now talking up the importance of some medical marijuana reform perhaps is a great sign for the overall reform movement.

July 8, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Terrific RAND commentary spotlights "The 10 Ps of Marijuana Legalization"

1413386689065I just came across this terrific recent lengthy commentary piece at The RAND blog authored by Beau Kilmer.  The piece is titled "The 10 Ps of Marijuana Legalization," and it is a must-read for anyone thinking about modern marijuana reform. Here is how the piece gets started, along with the list of pot Ps:

Up and down the Western Hemisphere, marijuana policy is a growing topic of discussion, and laws are starting to change.

In 2014, retail marijuana stores opened in the states of Colorado and Washington, where anyone over 21 years old can purchase a wide variety of marijuana products: buds, baked goods, candies, drinks, lotions, e-cigarettes infused with hash-oil solutions, etc. Similar stores are expected to open in Oregon and Alaska in the upcoming year. While marijuana remains illegal under U.S. federal law, the Obama administration has decided not to block these efforts.

At the southern end of the hemisphere, Uruguay became the first country in the world to remove its prohibition on marijuana in late 2013. While the new law allows users to grow their own, join a cooperative, or purchase marijuana from a participating pharmacy — those who want to legally obtain marijuana must choose one of these options and register with the government — it remains unclear when the pharmacy option will be made available.

In addition, both Colombia and Costa Rica have bills in Congress that would make allowances for medical marijuana. In February, Jamaica passed a law to decriminalize personal possession and create a regulatory system for supplying marijuana for medical and religious purposes. In April, the Chilean congressional health committee approved a bill to legalize home marijuana production for medical and nonmedical purposes. The bill has now moved to the lower house of the Chilean Congress.

Legalizing marijuana for nonmedical purposes is especially controversial, with many arguments made by advocates on all sides of the debate. For example, those seeking to legalize marijuana hope to diminish the black market and the violent crime that can be associated with the trade, depending on the country. They also want less money going to criminal organizations and more to governments via taxation; however, the revenue aspect has been much more a topic of discussion in the United States than in Uruguay. Legalization proponents do not want people arrested and incarcerated for marijuana use, often saying that it does more harm than good and that it is an inefficient use of criminal justice resources. Finally, many advocates argue it is hypocritical to allow alcohol to be legally consumed but not marijuana.

Those on the other side of the debate worry that legalization will increase marijuana consumption — especially among youth — because of increased availability, reduced stigma, lower prices, and marketing (when it is allowed). Marijuana is not a harmless substance, and its consumption is correlated with adverse outcomes (e.g., high school drop-out, mental health disorders); however, it is often hard to prove that marijuana use causes those outcomes. There is, on the other hand, clear causal evidence linking marijuana use to accidents, cognitive impairment during intoxication, and anxiety and panic attacks that sometimes lead to emergency-room visits. Persistent heavy users run the risk of becoming dependent and also suffering from bronchitis. There is also strong evidence linking heavy marijuana use with psychotic symptoms, cardiovascular disease, and testicular cancer. We know very little about the health consequences — both harms and benefits — of the new marijuana products that are proliferating in places that have legalized.

Since no jurisdictions had removed the prohibition and legalized production before these experiments (not even the Netherlands goes this far), it is difficult to project the consequences. Further, legalization is not a binary choice; several decisions need to be made that will ultimately shape whether legalized marijuana ends up being good or bad for society.

Based on insights obtained from a series of research collaborations and through consulting with various government entities, I have identified 10 important choices confronting jurisdictions that legalize. Conveniently, they all begin with the letter “P.”...The 10 Ps 1. Production.... 2. Profit motive.... 3. Promotion.... 4. Prevention.... 5. Policing and enforcement.... 6. Penalties.... 7. Potency.... 8. Purity.... 9. Price.... 10. Permanency....

July 7, 2015 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Medical community perspectives, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)