Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Prez Obama clarifies that marijuana reform is NOT among his final priorities

Obama-weedThis Washington Post WonkBlog entry, headlined "Obama says marijuana reform is not on his agenda for 2016," reinforces my long-standing belief that Prez Barack Obama remains disinclined to use any of this limited political capital to try to advance a marijuana reform agenda. Here are the particulars:

Marijuana advocates hoping for a substantial shift in federal marijuana policy in the last year of the Obama administration are likely to be disappointed. At a briefing Friday, White House press secretary John Earnest said any progress on marijuana reform would need to come through Congress. President Obama had signaled his position a day earlier at the House Democratic retreat in Baltimore, saying marijuana reform is not on his list of end-of-term priorities, according to Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.).

Cohen said he asked the president whether he wanted to "reschedule" marijuana. The federal government considers marijuana a Schedule 1 controlled substance, "the most dangerous class of drugs with a high potential for abuse and potentially severe psychological and/or physical dependence." Many lawmakers want to see it moved to Schedule 2, which acknowledges the plant's medical potential. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders wants to remove marijuana from the federal list of controlled substances altogether.

But Obama's answer on the rescheduling was "disappointing," Cohen said in an interview. "On marijuana, he gave the same answer as when I asked him seven years ago: 'If you get me a bill, and get it on my desk, I'll probably sign it,' " Cohen said (emphasis his).

At the briefing, Earnest clarified further: "There are some in the Democratic Party who have urged the president to take this kind of action. The president's response was, 'If you feel so strongly about it, and you believe there is so much public support for what it is that you're advocating, then why don't you pass legislation about it and we'll see what happens.' "...

The DEA is reviewing another petition to reschedule pot, but given the history, most observers are skeptical that anything will change this time around. "I don't think they're doing anything," Cohen said. "They've slow-walked it for all these years." He'd like to see the White House be more vocal about the process. "The president could just tell them to get it done," he said.

The latest public opinion polls show broad support not just for marijuana reform, but also outright legalization: Fifty-eight percent of Americans want to see marijuana use fully legalized, according to the latest Gallup polling on the issue. And a 2015 CBS news poll found that 84 percent of Americans support legalizing marijuana for medical use.

Moving marijuana to Schedule 2 of the Controlled Substances Act is a more modest step than full legalization or legalization for medical purposes. It would simply remove some of the barriers to research on uses of marijuana, barriers that the Brookings Institution recently said were "stifling" medical research.

Among people who study the issue, there is near universal agreement that marijuana doesn't belong in the same category of substances as heroin, as even the DEA has finally acknowledged. The consensus among researchers is that it's a lot less dangerous than alcohol, too. A federal classification that stands in such stark opposition to expert consensus "breeds contempt for the government," Cohen said. But if this week's remarks are any indication, addressing that contempt is not high on the White House priority list for 2016.

January 31, 2016 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, January 30, 2016

You be the state sentencing judge: how much prison time for former state official guilty of (small-time?) marijuana dealing

R_schmidt-262x272The question in the title of this post is prompted by this local story from Michigan, headlined "Ex-state Rep. Roy Schmidt pleads, sold marijuana as 'source of income,' judge says."  Here are the basics (with my emphasis added):

Former state Rep. Roy Schdmidt pleaded no contest Thursday, Jan. 28, to manufacture of marijuana.  Schmidt initially fought charges as a registered medical marijuana caregiver and disputed the amount of marijuana he possessed.

But a police report, read by Grand Rapids District Judge Michael Distel to establish a basis for Schmidt's guilt, said he told police that he sold marijuana to 10 to 15 people who were not his registered medical marijuana patients.   He told police that "he was operating his business as a source of income," Distel said.

Schmidt was charged last year with manufacture or delivery of marijuana after police raided his home on Seventh Street NW and a house he rented from his son on Myrtle Avenue NW.  Police said Schmidt possessed nearly three pounds of marijuana and 71 marijuana plants.  Caregivers are allowed to possess 2.5 ounces of usable marijuana for each of up to five patients. Schmidt has maintained that his drying marijuana was not considered usable.

He faces up to four years in prison when sentenced on March 22 in Kent County Circuit Court....  Under the plea, Schmidt admits no guilt but the plea is treated as such at sentencing.  He was allowed to plead no contest because he could face civil forfeiture proceedings related to his marijuana operation.

Schmidt is free on bond.  Kent County prosecutors will drop a second charge of manufacturing marijuana.

His arrest followed an ill-fated scheme to switch parties while he served in the House of Representatives.  After being elected as a Democrat in 2008, he lost his seat four years later after a controversial switch to the Republican Party.  He had spent 16 years on a Grand Rapids City Commission on the West Side of town.

I am cross-posting this story on my Sentencing Law & Policy blog because this case raises interesting classic "offender-based" sentencing issues: e.g., (1) should Schmidt's history as a relatively prominent politician be viewed as an aggravating sentencing factor (because it makes him more culpable as someone who was involved in making the state laws he broke) or as a possible mitigating sentencing factor (because he would seem like the type of person unlikely to be a serious recidivist); (2) should the prospect of Schmidt losing his home and/or his son's home through civil forfeiture proceedings significntly influence what criminal sentence he receives?    

But, of course, what really captured my attention in this case is the different ways this defendant's offense might be viewed by a sentencing judge.  His lawyers could perhaps claim, given the legalization of medical marijuana in Michigan, that Schmidt's crime is essentially a regulatory violation comparable to a liquor store owner who would often sell to underage college students.  But prosecutors likely will assert that Schmidt should be viewed and sentenced like any other greedy drug dealer.

Thoughts, dear readers?

January 30, 2016 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Extra credit (for my students) and lots of admiration (for anyone else) for on-the-scene reporting on Ohio medical marijuana discussions

As highlighted by this local article, headlined "Medical marijuana hearings to be held around Ohio: here's how to share your thoughts," there is now a lot of on-going legislative activity in the Buckeye State concerning potential medical marijuana reforms. Here are the basics:

State lawmakers will hold several meetings early this year, including one this Saturday at Cleveland State University, to learn more about medical marijuana and where Ohioans stand on the issue. Here's a schedule of the meetings and information about how you can share your thoughts and stories with lawmakers.

Senate listening tour

State Sens. Dave Burke, a Marysville Republican, and Kenny Yuko, a Richmond Heights Democrat, will hold events in Cleveland, Cincinnati, Toledo, and Columbus to gather input about medical marijuana.

The forums are open to the public, and people who wish to speak are asked to submit written testimony to Burke or Yuko at Burke@OhioSenate.gov or Yuko@OhioSenate.gov. A spokeswoman for Yuko said the senators plan to be at each event all day.

Cleveland: 10 a.m. Saturday (January 30) in the Gerald H. Gordon Conference Pavilion, Wolstein Center, Cleveland State University, 2000 Prospect Ave E

Cincinnati: 11 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 4, Kresge Auditorium in the Medical Science Building, University of Cincinnati, 231 Albert Sabin Way

Toledo: 11 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 11, Scott Park Campus Auditorium, University of Toledo, 2225 Nebraska Ave.

Columbus: To be announced

House task force

House leaders have assembled a 15-member task force that will report its findings and possibly make recommendations by March 31.

The first meeting on Thursday will be an informational meeting, according to Rep. Kirk Schuring's office, where rules will be set. Task force members will be asked to refrain from making statements during the meetings, except during the first meeting, and instead ask questions of those testifying.

People who are interested in testifying at a future meeting should email Schuring's office at rep48@OhioHouse.gov.

The task force will meet in Columbus at the Statehouse on the following Thursdays:

  • 3 - 4:30 p.m. Jan. 28 (informational meeting, no testimony taken)
  • 3 p.m. Feb. 4
  • 3 p.m. Feb. 11
  • 7 p.m. Feb. 18
  • 7 p.m. Feb. 25
  • 7 p.m. March 10

An additional meeting will be held in April, if needed.

Because I teach on Thursday afternoons and due to other commitments, I am unlikely to be able to attend many (or perhaps any) of these medical marijuana events.  For that reason, I am hopeful that some helpful readers (or my students) might be interested in sending me on-the-scene reports about these various events.   I will blog these reports, and be grateful for the help.  Relatedly, I urge folks to alert me to other websites or blogs or related resources keeping up with all this notable Ohio legislative action.

January 28, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Florida voters to get another chance to legalize medical marijuana via 2016 ballot initiative

Florida-marijuana-vote-hbtv-hemp-beach-tvAs reported in this new AP article, a "proposed constitutional amendment to allow medical use of marijuana will be back on the ballot in November, and organizers said Wednesday that growing public support and a larger voter turnout in a presidential election year should help pass the measure that narrowly failed in 2014."  Here is more:

The group organizing a petition drive to put the issue on the ballot now has 692,981 certified voter signatures, nearly 10,000 more than it needed to put the proposed amendment on the ballot.  “We feel very good that 60 percent plus of Florida voters will finally approve a true medical marijuana law,” said Ben Pollara, who is organizing the effort for United for Care.

The state requires that constitutional amendments receive at least 60 percent approval from voters.  In 2014, 57.6 percent of voters supported a medical marijuana initiative.  Pollara said at the time that supporters hoped lawmakers would recognize that most Floridians wanted to legalize medical marijuana and pass a bill to approve it.

But the Legislature has been tepid on the issue. In 2014, lawmakers did approve the use of non-euphoric marijuana to treat seizures.  But the product is still not available to those who need it because the state has had problems establishing regulations overseeing its production and distribution. “We got nowhere, so here we are back on the ballot,” Pollara said.  “Current law has helped no one.”

Personal injury lawyer John Morgan has spent more than $6 million between the 2014 and 2016 efforts to legalize medical marijuana.  He says his brother, a quadriplegic who uses marijuana to control muscle spasms, is one of his inspirations behind the campaign. In an email to supporters Wednesday night, Morgan said, “We’re back.  We’re going to win for the patients. BELIEVE!!!”...

Pollara noted that millions of dollars were spent opposing the 2014 initiative and it still received nearly 58 percent support. As more people approve of the idea of medical marijuana and with more voters expected to turn out this year, he said he’s confident it will pass despite any campaigns mounted against it.  “One thing that we learned is that we don’t have to respond to everything they say; we don’t have to match them dollar for dollar. We just have to get out the message that marijuana helps people who are sick and suffering,” he said.

As was true in 2014, it will be interesting to watch how a medical marijuana campaign in Florida, and this time around we will have the added excitement of presidential candidates being asked to weigh in whenever they campaign in this significant southern swing state.

January 28, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, January 24, 2016

"Should Bernie Sanders’ Home State Embrace Socialized Cannabis?"

Vermont Seal TokeoftheTown2013-thumb-200x239-thumb-205x244The question in the title of this post is part of the headline of this effective new International Business Times article highlighting some interesting aspects of the the on-going debate over marijuana legalization in Vermont.  I recommend the article in full (especially for students in my marijuana reform seminar), and here are a few excerpts:

As one of Vermont’s approximately 2,500 official medical marijuana patients, Robert Gwynn is excited his state lawmakers are considering legalizing cannabis.  Born with neurofibromatosis type 1, a tumor disorder that has left him with debilitating nerve pain, limited appetite and ongoing fatigue, the 31-year-old has been part of the state’s medical marijuana program for the past two years.  Medical marijuana, he says, has helped him halve his 14-pill-a-day pharmaceutical regimen, which had left him so mentally disconnected from reality he was afraid to drive.  But he thinks a recreational market could encourage the sort of competition, proficiency and price constraints lacking in the state’s current system of four nonprofit dispensaries statewide.  Once a month, Gwynn drives to a dispensary in Brandon, a four-hour round-trip drive from where he lives in Brattleboro, since he says the medicine quality and patient care at the dispensary 10 minutes from his house are so poor, he won’t shop there.

If Vermont legalizes marijuana, Gwynn figures it will look similar to programs up and running in Colorado, Washington state and Oregon, where for-profit businesses produce and sell marijuana.  He hasn’t noticed anyone proposing alternatives.  “I haven’t really heard it come up,” he says.  “When people talk about it, I don’t think it is something that comes to mind.”

Gwynn isn’t the only one who assumes legalized marijuana in Vermont, which could occur in coming months, will resemble cannabis markets elsewhere.  But drug policy experts say the state is perfectly positioned to go in a bold new direction, one that challenges widely held assumptions about the country’s mounting marijuana movement. Among those options could be a state-run system similar to how Vermont controls the sale of hard liquor within its borders.  Alternatives like this could limit the public health impacts of a marijuana market while still generating state revenue — that is, if lawmakers are willing to consider them.  And if Vermont isn’t willing to deviate from the path set by legalization efforts that came before it, does that mean the only realistic U.S. cannabis model moving forward is a free-market free-for-all?

With recent encouragement from both a former state attorney general and Gov. Peter Shumlin, Vermont lawmakers are actively considering becoming the fifth state (not counting Washington, D.C.) to legalize marijuana, building on a medical marijuana law the state passed in 2004 and a dispensary system it launched in 2011.  The state’s Senate Judiciary Committee is in the midst of three weeks of in-depth testimony and statewide public hearings on the issue, with the goal of voting Friday on whether to advance a legalization bill.  “I’m impressed,” says Matt Simon, New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, who’s based in Vermont.  “I’ve been studying this issue for 20 years, and here you have politicians sitting in rooms, asking the right questions and trying to understand it for the first time in my life.”

If such a bill passes in the near future, Vermont would become the first state in New England, much less the entire Northeast, to legalize marijuana.  While just 626,000 people live in Vermont, the second least populated state in the country, roughly 2.7 million regular marijuana users live within 200 miles of the state, including those in New York City.  That means whatever legalized marijuana system Vermont chooses could have financial and political impacts far beyond its modest borders.

Because Vermont does not have a ballot initiative system like many states, the only way it can legalize marijuana is through the legislative process.  And if it does so this legislative session, it will be the first time marijuana ever has been legalized by lawmakers, not voters.  According to some experts, this means Vermont has the option of considering legalization models not likely to be floated at the polls.  “The initiative process is going to be driven by folks who want something to happen, who want legalization,” says Pat Oglesby, a tax attorney who studies marijuana at the Center for New Revenue in North Carolina.  “The legislative process could result in a more moderate, middle-ground approach.”

It’s why last year a Rand Corp. legalization study commissioned by the state for $20,000 (the rest of the study’s $120,000 price tag was covered by the philanthropic foundation Good Ventures) urged lawmakers to consider “that marijuana policy should not be viewed as a binary choice between prohibition and the for-profit commercial model we see in Colorado and Washington.”  Instead, the report’s authors, a who’s who of drug policy authorities nationwide, laid out a series of alternatives, including a nonprofit-only system, a supply chain overseen by a public authority similarly to how the Vermont State Housing Authority manages affordable housing initiatives and a market only open to “benefit corporations,” or b-corporations, that have positive social impact.  But the report focused special attention on one option in particular: a government-run monopoly model where the state controls marijuana production and distribution.

According to experts, a state-run marijuana system could have several benefits.  For starters, government-run cannabis outlets wouldn’t have the same sort of financial incentive to promote excessive marijuana consumption similar to how alcohol companies market to heavy users.  Instead, government marijuana outlets could focus on the sort of social protections that are a top priority for Shumlin.  “You would like a system where nobody has an incentive to encourage overuse of a drug,” says New York University marijuana policy expert Mark Kleiman. “State-monopoly retailing could be a better option if the state officials involved didn’t have any incentive to encourage problematic drug use and even better if they had a responsibility to discourage it.”  Reviews of private versus state-run alcohol systems have found “strong evidence that privatization results in increased per capita alcohol consumption, a well-established proxy for excessive consumption and related harms.”...

But now, as Vermont lawmakers narrow possible legalization, there’s little indication the state will deviate significantly from legalization efforts that came before.  One of two legalization bills being considered by the state judiciary committee (it will likely end up voting on a hybrid bill containing elements of both) would provide licensing preferences to the sort of b-corporations detailed in the Rand report.  But the bill’s author, Democratic state Sen. David Zuckerman, says the other alternatives proposed in last year's report are likely political nonstarters.  “I think the extremes on both ends — straight unfettered capitalism and a government-run monopoly — are off the table,” says Zuckerman, adding, he believes the chances of a legalization bill passing this year “are a little better than 50-50.”

Some observers are disappointed. “It’s kind of surprising,” says Dan Rifle, Marijuana Policy Project’s former federal policy director, who left the organization over concerns industry interests were taking over the marijuana movement.  “If there’s any state where this should be happening, it’s Vermont.  They commissioned a report, and no one seems to have read it.”

But others say options like a state-controlled system aren’t being considered because they don’t make sense. Government-run programs such as this are prone to bureaucratic bloat, and, as MPP's Simon points out, anyone who’s seen the billboards just over New Hampshire's state lines advertising the Granite State's tax-free alcohol stores knows government-controlled outlets can still promote heavy use.  Plus, adds Simon, there’s no indication the legalization models already up and running are broken, so why bother fixing them?  “We could spend years discussing hypothetical models, but that would be missing the fact that Vermonters are spending hundreds of millions of dollars in the worst possible marijuana model right now,” he says.  “We want to move this from the illicit market, and Colorado and Oregon and Washington have already shown that can be done in a responsible fashion.”...

But likely the biggest reason of all options like a state-run program aren’t getting more attention is that many people worry having state workers sell marijuana would put Vermont on a collision course with the federal government.  “If you are thinking about this from a public-health perspective and are still trying to bring in state revenue, the approach that probably makes the most sense is the government monopoly,” says Beau Kilmer, co-director of Rand’s Drug Policy Research Center and co-author of the Vermont report.  “However, because of the government prohibition, most states aren’t really talking about this because they don’t want to put their employees at risk of arrest.”...

[B]etween such legal questions and the lack of political will around the issue, it’s easy to understand why a state-run marijuana system and other alternatives aren’t getting more airtime as Vermont moves ever closer to recreational marijuana.  Some experts say that’s too bad, since the state might offer one of the last best chances to take a hard look at what, exactly, legalized marijuana has to look like.  “It could matter enormously if Vermont does something that nobody else does,” says Kleiman.  “But if it doesn’t, and California goes the commercial marijuana route this year, as it probably will, then it might be too late.  When Congress gets around to legalizing cannabis, you won’t be able to consider models that aren’t focused on commercial production because the commercial interests involved will dominate the political process.”

I have suggested before that the big Rand report on Vermont's marijuana reform options (released around this time last year and blogged about here and here) is a must-read for any and all persons seriously considering different possible models for marijuana legalization.  However, I have long thought the report tended to over-emphasize the potential harms of a free-market approach to legalization, and also under-emphasized the potential harms of a government-run system.  In particular, my sense of government-run systems (I am thinking here about schools, prisons and health-care systems) is that they tend to move slowly in response to changing conditions, tend to have relatively high costs for the provision of even limited services, and also tend not to invest effectively in product innovations.  Especially in the marijuana space over the next few years, where legal and market realities keep changing, where elevated costs are likely will keep the black-market running, and where market innovation might be especially important as we move from black-to-grey-to-freer markets, I worry about a government-run system of full legalization potentially being the worst of all possible short-term solutions.

That all said, one key point about this debate in Vermont that is highlighted by this article is the reality that blanket marijuana prohibition at the federal level is impeding the opportunity for state labratories to seriously consider all possible experimental approaches to marijuana reform.  This is one of the many reasons I am hopeful that before too long Congress will have the good sense to recognize that blanket marijuana prohibition at the federal level is already having a significant and likely harmful impact on sensible state development of sound marijuana policies.

January 24, 2016 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Is anyone rigorously collecting and analyzing multi-state medical marijuana data?

787638_767136-MedMarijSalesME0116The question in the title of this post is prompted by this local article from Maine, headlined "Sales of medical marijuana jumped 46 percent in Maine last year: The state's pot dispensaries took in $23.6 million as the social stigma faded and more patients seeking relief from chronic pain tried the drug." Here are excerpts:

Mainers spent $23.6 million on medical marijuana from dispensaries last year, a 46 percent increase driven by multiple factors, including patients seeking alternatives to prescription painkillers and more doctors certifying people to use the drug, according to dispensary operators.

Operators say the increase in sales illustrates the growing willingness of patients and doctors to consider alternatives to traditional medicine, and a reduction in the social stigma surrounding the use of medical marijuana.

But an official for the Maine Medical Association said Wednesday the big jump also shows why the medical community has resisted opening the program to more patients with different medical conditions, citing a lack of research that demonstrates medical marijuana is effective in treating them.

The $23.6 million in 2015 dispensary sales generated $1.29 million in sales tax, according to Maine Revenue Services. In 2014, the dispensaries sold $16.2 million worth of medical marijuana products and collected more than $892,000 in sales tax, a 40 percent increase over the previous year and more than triple the tax revenue collected in 2013. The sales figures from Maine Revenue Services do not include numbers from the state’s 2,255 caregivers, who are small-scale growers authorized to sell marijuana to up to five patients.

“There are a number of factors at play here. The first would be that Mainers are becoming more used to the idea of therapeutic cannabis,” said Becky DeKeuster, director of education for Wellness Connection, which operates four of Maine’s eight dispensaries. “We’ve had a very successful dispensary program for five years now and people are becoming used to this option.”

Maine is one of 34 states that allow some form of medical cannabis. Maine legalized medical uses in 1999, and the state’s first dispensaries opened in 2011. Last year, Maine’s program was voted the best medical marijuana program in the country by Americans for Safe Access, a national group that advocates for legal access to the drug.

The state cannot provide an exact number of patients because it does not keep a registry, but doctors have printed more than 35,000 certificates required under state regulations to certify patients. That number could include duplicates and replacement certificates and is likely higher than the actual number of patients, said Samantha Edwards, spokeswoman for the state Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the medical marijuana program.

About 340 medical providers certified patients to obtain medical marijuana. Patients qualify for certification if they have one of a dozen specific conditions, including cancer, glaucoma, chronic pain and Crohn’s disease. Tim Smale, operator of the Remedy Compassion Center in Auburn and president of the Maine Dispensary Operators Association, believes there has been about a three-fold increase in the number of doctors certifying patients in the past couple of years. Maine law has been amended so that nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants also can certify patients....

Gordon Smith, spokesman for the state medical association, said the large increase in sales illustrates why the association has lobbied against efforts to expand the medical marijuana program to include more qualifying conditions or eliminate them altogether. “We don’t want to put Maine’s medical community in a position where it’s being asked to be a front for recreational use of marijuana,” Smith said. “We acknowledge marijuana helps a small number of medical conditions and there is good evidence of that, but for many of the (conditions) on the list, there’s not scientific data to establish marijuana is helpful.”

One condition that has been debated is post-traumatic stress disorder, which Maine added to the list of qualifying conditions in 2013. The Mayo Clinic defines post-traumatic stress disorder as a mental health condition that’s brought on when a person sees or experiences a severely traumatic event. A person suffering from PTSD may have uncontrollable thoughts about the event and also experience flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety.

Although several other states have authorized medical marijuana sales to people with PTSD, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs describes the practice as a growing concern because some veterans are using the drug to relieve symptoms of PTSD, yet there is a lack of medical evidence of its effectiveness.

DeKeuster said Wellness Connection, which serves about 11,000 patients across the state, is seeing more patients who want to use medical cannabis as a first option for treatment instead of as a last resort. The top three qualifying conditions among Wellness Connection patients are chronic pain, post-traumatic stress disorder and cancer. “Physicians and patients both are looking for a pain relief solution that is natural,” DeKeuster said....

Another factor contributing to the rise in the use of medical marijuana is that dispensaries have dozens of strains, as well as pills, tinctures and edible forms that make taking the drug easier, DeKeuster said. Smale said dispensary operators across the state report similar trends among all their patients, including seeing more elderly people who want to use medical cannabis for treatment of chronic pain. The Remedy Compassion Center, which Smale owns and operates in Auburn, now primarily serves patients between ages 50 and 70, he said. “The other things we’re finding is folks are looking for an alternative to their opiates,” he said. “We hear many anecdotal reports of people reducing or eliminating opiate use through medical cannabis.”

In addition to anecdotally answering some questions about what is going on with medical marijuana in Maine, it raised for me a bunch of questions about whether these developments in the Pine Tree State are also playing out in a bunch of other medical marijuana states.  In particular, I would love to know if dispensary sales are up similarly in a number of other states and also whether there is any reliable data about "people reducing or eliminating opiate use through medical cannabis."

January 23, 2016 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, January 21, 2016

MPP (indirectly) indicates it is planning to get medical marijuana initiative to Ohio votes in 2016

As reported in this local article, headlined "National marijuana group plans Ohio medical marijuana amendment for 2016 ballot," big and notable marijuana reform news keeps on coming in the Buckeye State. Here are the basics and the context:

A major national player in the marijuana legalization movement plans to put an Ohio medical marijuana measure on the November ballot.

Marijuana Policy Project, based in Washington D.C., plans to propose a constitutional amendment establishing a medical marijuana system similar to those in 23 other states and the District of Columbia, according to the organization's website.  The Ohio amendment would allow people with certain "serious medical conditions" to purchase marijuana from retail stores or grow their own after obtaining physician approval.  The state would license businesses to grow, process, test, and sell marijuana to approved patients.

MPP led successful recreational marijuana initiative efforts in Colorado and Alaska and medical marijuana measures in Michigan, Montana, and Arizona.  The organization has also worked with state legislatures to write medical marijuana laws.

Grassroots marijuana legalization efforts have struggled to qualify for the ballot in Ohio because they lack the money to hire signature gatherers and run a robust education campaign. Ohio has not been on the radar for MPP and other major funders looking to expand legal marijuana.  Last year, MPP quietly supported Issue 3, Ohio's failed recreational marijuana amendment, but did not advertise its support or contribute to the campaign.

ResponsibleOhio, the political action committee backing Issue 3, was the first pro-marijuana group to collect the large number of signatures required, spending more than $20 million on its campaign.  But the amendment limited the 10 commercial growing licenses to groups of campaign investors and would have legalized recreational marijuana, which divided Ohio's pro-pot advocates and attracted hundreds of opponents statewide.

MPP has not formally announced its 2016 effort, but it posted a job opening Wednesday evening for an Ohio-based campaign manager.  The posting says much of the campaign will be subcontracted through a consulting firm in Columbus.  It was not known Wednesday evening whether that firm would be the Strategy Network, which collected signatures for and ran the Issue 3 campaign.   Strategy Network founder Ian James co-founded ResponsibleOhio and was the face of the campaign.

James' co-founder Jimmy Gould and Issue 3 author Chris Stock said last week they are not working on any ballot initiatives this year and instead want to work with state lawmakers to legalize medical marijuana.

This job posting on the MPP website provides additional information on what MPP has in mind for Ohio in 2016, and here is a paragraph from that posting:

The 2016 campaign — which is formally led by the new “Ohioans for Medical Marijuana” (OMM) that’s coordinated by MPP’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. — is focusing only on medical marijuana, which enjoys a high level of support among Ohio voters.  If passed by a majority of Ohio voters on November 8, this initiative would legalize medical marijuana in a manner that’s similar to the laws in 23 states and the District of Columbia.

The development strikes me as HUGE news in the marijuana reform arena, not just for Ohio but also for various nationwide interests. My sense has always been that MPP will not get involved in a state initiative effort unless and until (1) it has significant funding to support its work, and (2) it feels pretty confident it can and will prevail at the ballot. So the fact MPP now had resources and confidence for an expensive marijuana reform effort in a swing state in 2016 suggests it believes the Buckeye State is very ready to move away from blanket prohibition.

Not to be overlooked, a big medical marijuana reform initiative effort in swing state Ohio could (and perhaps would) impact voter turn out in significant ways in a state that Prez candidates always want to carry and that has a significant Senate seat in play. Indeed, I am inclined to guess that MPP got at least part of its funding for this Ohio effort not only from traditional marijuana reform supporters, but also from deep-pocketed supporters of Democratic candidates. Interesting times!!

Recent related post:

January 21, 2016 in Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Incumbent Landscapes, Disruptive Uses: Perspectives on Marijuana-Related Land Use Control"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new article by Donald Kochan available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:

The story behind the move toward marijuana’s legality is a story of disruptive forces to the incumbent legal and physical landscape.  It affects incumbent markets, incumbent places, the incumbent regulatory structure, and the legal system in general which must mediate the battles involving the push for relaxation of illegality and adaptation to accepting new marijuana-related land uses, against efforts toward entrenchment, resilience, and resistance to that disruption.

This Article is entirely agnostic on the issue of whether we should or should not decriminalize, legalize, or otherwise increase legal tolerance for marijuana or any other drugs.  Nonetheless, we must grapple with the fact that many jurisdictions are embracing a type of “legality innovation” regarding marijuana.  I define “legality innovation” as that effect which begins with the change in law that leads to the development of the lawful relevance of, lawful business regarding, and legal use for a newly-legal product, the successful deployment of which depends on the relative acceptance of the general public which must provide a venue for its operations along with the relative change in the consuming public’s attitudes as a result of the introduction of legality.

Marijuana-related land uses are and will be controversial.  Regulatory responses, neighborhood disputes, permit battles, and opposition coalitions are all predictable both as a matter of logical analysis in light of legal standards but also, very importantly, due to the lessons of history with similarly-situated, precursor land uses like liquor stores, adult entertainment, bars, nightclubs, massage parlors, and the like leading the way.  The Article also discusses the role of incumbent interests groups in shaping the new marijuana-related regulatory structure, including revealing Baptist and bootlegger coalitions that exist to oppose relaxation of marijuana laws and thwart land use successes of the marijuana industry in order to maintain their incumbent value or profit position. Finally, the Article engages with the growing literature in the social sciences on place and space, examining how the spaces and places we inhabit and in which we conduct our business and social affairs are necessarily impacted whenever legality innovations like we are seeing with marijuana work to disrupt the incumbent landscape.

January 21, 2016 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

"Are Journalists Too Soft On Pot?"

Images (1)The question in the title of this post is part of the headline of this lengthy and effective piece by Joel Warner at International Business Times.  I recommend the piece in full, and here are excerpts:

After decades of critical reporting on marijuana issues, if they bothered to cover the subject at all, have the media as a whole moved too far in the opposite direction? Are reporters and editors now so high on the topic of cannabis that they’re going too soft on the subject?...

Even longtime marijuana advocates say media coverage has shifted. “Back in the ’90s, I would be the only person on the TV show on the issue in favor of reform, and there would be a cop, a prosecutor and a drug specialist, along with the host, who would also be anti-marijuana,” says Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). “Now, today, Kevin [Sabet] is the one who has to scramble because the host of the show is neutral or supportive of reform, and I am joined by someone from the marijuana-business community and a member of [the pro-legalization group] Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.”

For years, St. Pierre says, NORML has maintained an internal database of editorial boards nationwide that it considered to be anti-marijuana. In the late 1980s, that list encompassed more than 150 newspapers. Now it’s down to just 30 or 40, and St. Pierre says most of them are owned by a handful of corporate owners opposed to legalization.

It’s not just TV news hosts and newspaper editorial boards that have changed their tune on cannabis. Now there are marijuana-business newspapers and marijuana-culture magazines, full-time marijuana-industry reporters (this writer included) and even an marijuana-editorial division at the Denver Post called the Cannabist staffed with a marijuana editor and cannabis strain reviewers that is the subject of a major documentary....

If the resulting media coverage is generally positive, it could be because, all in all, there’s not much to complain about when it comes to the marijuana movement. “I would contend that if Project SAM is seeing more coverage of the positive aspects of legalization, it’s because the positive aspects of legalization are outweighing the negative,” says Taylor West, deputy director the National Cannabis Industry Association. “There are absolutely things that need to be looked at and fixed, and that is an ongoing process. But all of this ‘sky is falling’ rhetoric that people like them have used for years hasn’t come true.”

Plus, many pro-marijuana activists say if anything, most journalists are still unfairly critical of cannabis. “You are framing your story around the question of whether the media is ‘going too light on the movement,’ which inherently suggests you are going too hard on the movement,” says Mason Tvert, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project. “An unbiased story would be about whether the media is covering the issue and the movement accurately. We are still in a situation in which the marijuana-policy-reform movement has to prove everything and constantly defend itself, whereas opponents are generally taken at their word.”...

The situation has left some of those with a stake in the game fuming. “Unfortunately, the type of one-sided, advocacy-driven reporting we used to see relegated to the pages of High Times is now commonplace in the mainstream media,” says a former top drug-policy official, who asked to remain anonymous. “That’s a real disservice for the millions of Americans who are poised to live each day with the public-health consequences of this experiment.”

There are several factors that could lead to skewed marijuana coverage in favor of legalization. For starters, the fact that there are relatively few major anti-legalization advocates making noise these days, compared with a lengthy parade of well-funded marijuana activist organizations, trade groups, lobbying firms and public-relations outfits means it’s easier for one side to get its message out to news outlets than for the other....

Then there is the impact of all those reading and disseminating the resulting news coverage. Online, cannabis activists have become a loud and powerful bunch, launching advocacy blogs, sharing articles on Reddit and Twitter that support their case and lambasting those that don’t. This means positive cannabis coverage can equal big social media hits and resulting clicks, while negative stories can face a backlash — and the sheer scale of the pro-marijuana community’s passion can be intimidating. When the New York Times’ David Brooks penned a column criticizing legalization efforts in early 2014, he was besieged by online ridicule, derision that was echoed by some of his colleagues in the media. He hasn’t touched the subject since.

Marijuana advertising could also be an issue. At a time when ad revenue is shrinking and classified sections have been decimated, the nascent marijuana industry has proven to be a welcome new source of advertising dollars, especially for free alternative-weekly newspapers such as Seattle Weekly and Denver’s Westword (where, in the interest of full disclosure, this reporter used to work). While publications such as these maintain strict firewalls between the advertising and editorial sides, there’s a risk that some outlets could be seen as becoming so financially intertwined with the marijuana industry that their objectivity could threatened, such as how ESPN’s dependence on NFL contracts has led some to suggest the organization can no longer accurately cover football. Similarly, journalism jobs, including this reporter’s, have been created to cover the burgeoning marijuana business. If the data support it, could these journalists be expected to conclude that legalization has been a failure, if that means they would also be writing the obituaries for their own jobs?...

Some skewed marijuana coverage might have less to do with newsroom bias and more about how news operations are allocating resources to the issue. Stick “marijuana” in a headline these days and it’s bound to get hits. So then why bother devoting precious manpower over days or weeks to investigating whether potency labels on marijuana edibles are accurate or tracking down the dealings of shady cannabis penny stocks when a report on a marijuana-infused film screening — and its accompanying puntastic headline — will attract just as much attention?...

But there are signs that marijuana coverage, like the cannabis scene itself, is evolving. If cannabis continues to be a news draw, it could lead to ever-more skillful and in-depth journalism on the subject. It’s a promising sign that journalism professors such as Matranga are teaching classes on marijuana journalism and objective news startups such as Cannabis Wire are taking root. Plus, as medical-marijuana programs develop in cities such as New York and Chicago, the ample media operations in these towns will likely pay close attention to how these ventures are progressing in their midst.

January 19, 2016 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 18, 2016

Significant legislative (and initiative) developments now swirling around marijuana reform in Ohio

Vote_ohio_mmj_ballotI was supportive of the failed (and very far from ideal) marijuana reform initiative campaign in Ohio in 2015 in part because the Ohio General Assembly had never before shown any serious interest in even considering any serious marijuana reform in the Buckeye State.  But, as this local article highlights, the legislative times they are a-changing in 2016 already in Ohio.   And the article, headlined "Strange Bedfellows Are Part Of New Medical Marijuana Task Force," reports that some folks involved in the failed 2015 initiative are being included in the new year developments:

Ohio lawmakers who have been signaling they want to consider medical marijuana legalization have taken an unexpected step.  Republican House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger stood in front of an interesting group of people when he announced there will be a task force to study medical marijuana in Ohio.  “There’s a lot of groups that are going to have interest in this topic and what we have tried to do is put together a group of interested parties that can represent a broad swath of different interest groups throughout the state with different aspects and different varieties with an open mind to hear out this issue and talk about this issue before us in medical marijuana.”

That diverse group on this task force includes representatives from the Ohio State Medical Association, the Ohio Children’s Hospital’s Association, the Fraternal Order of Police, the Buckeye State Sheriffs' Association, the Ohio Chamber of Commerce and former Ohio Attorney General Betty Montgomery.  And there are two somewhat surprising members: Chris Stock and Jimmy Gould, former leaders of ResponsibleOhio, the group that brought forward the pot plan that voters overwhelmingly rejected last fall.  Gould says he's glad to be working with the groups that had fought against Issue 3 last fall.

“Ohio needs medical marijuana, first and foremost and needs it for everything….for chronic pain, for conditions, but it needs to be regulated properly.  It needs to be done the right way.  We went from probably zero to 250 miles an hour in a state that it is a little difficult to go from zero to 100.  I’m prepared to accept 100 right now and that is to pass a legislative action for medical marijuana.”

Gould says he’s agreed to put any effort to legalize marijuana on hold for now.  And he says the Fresh Start plan, the initiative that would allow people with past non-violent marijuana offenses to clear their records, is dead for now. “You can’t expunge without having legalization.  The voters knew that.  They knew exactly what they were doing when they voted the way they voted.  I had to hear them.  We spent $25 million, we got defeated.  And when you lose, you get back up on your feet and you take the best path that is available to you.  When we were approached by several people and I approached several people, you know we want a victory out of this thing and the victory we want is what is good for Ohio and we have always wanted that.”

Just last month, Ian James, the man who headed up the failed ResponsibleOhio campaign, said investors of it wanted to go back to the ballot this fall with another legalization plan.  The ResponsibleOhio campaign had been renamed Free Market Ohio and James said it was full speed ahead to collect petition signatures to put medical marijuana legalization on the ballot this fall.  But Gould says moving forward with that right now is not the answer. “We didn’t just lose 51 to 49.  We got beat.  And I come from a competitive sports family and world and we got beat. And when you get beat that way, you come back and figure out, ok, what’s the next best way? FreeMarket Ohio was not the answer."

Republican State Representative Kirk Shuring will head up the task force. And he says while it will meet several times between now and the end of March, there is no promise of specific legislation. He says this task force is an opportunity for different groups of people with different ideas on the subject of marijuana to get together to try to find some common ground. “We have a time out and we are going to have a conversation and we are optimistic that it will lead to something we can point to at the end of March.”

Meanwhile, Ohio Senators plan to approach the issue of medical marijuana differently.  Republican Senate Caucus Communications Director John Fortney says Republican Senator David Burke and Democratic Senator Kenny Yuko plan to hold a series of town hall meetings on medical marijuana in public forums throughout the state.  “The people of Ohio are not interested in seeing the pill mill equivalent of medical marijuana on every street corner in the state of Ohio.  That said, we understand that there is some support for what it can do for people who are suffering from chronic illness and I think that’s going to be part of the conversation from these public forums.”

I am encouraged (though not especially surprised) not only that (1) Ohio's elected officials now understand that they cannot and should no longer ignore the significant interest in marijuana reform amoung the citizenry, but also that (2) some state leaders are trying to co-opt into the effort persons who previously raised tens of millions of dollars to support reform in 2015. Thoughtout the 2015 reform effort in Ohio, I had an inkling that, even if the ResponsibleOhio's full legalization efforts went very badly (and it did), the conversations engendered and the monies raised through the reform effort would garner significant attention from significant public officials.

Notably, though, as this other local article details, the emergence of a medicial marijuana reform task force in Ohio is unlikely to completely quash interest and efforts for initiative-based reforms in the Buckeye state in the months ahead. The article is headlined "Ohio marijuana legalization supporters still push for 2016 ballot issues," and here are excerpts:

ResponsibleOhio won't be back with another marijuana legalization amendment this year, but marijuana advocates said Friday they will push forward with ballot measures for November as well as work with state lawmakers studying medical marijuana legalization.

Legalize Ohio 2016, also known as Ohioans to End Prohibition, plans to continue to try to collect the 305,591 signatures of registered Ohio voters necessary by July 6 to qualify its issue for the November ballot.  Its proposed constitutional amendment would legalize recreational and medical marijuana, as well as allow farmers to grow hemp.

Legalize Ohio 2016 President Sri Kavuru said his group will encourage its supporters to be involved in discussions at the Statehouse on the medical marijuana issue.... Kavuru said his group will encourage advocates to testify at the task force meetings and in town hall meetings state Senators plan to hold across the state.

Kavuru said he's hopeful the legislature will enact good legislation that establishes an industry and serves many types of patients. "At the end of the day, we do want reform for patients first," Kavuru said. "If they pass the right medical marijuana law, then it's not worth going through a ballot initiative.  If they don't or we hear they're passing something we don't like, we'll continue with the initiative.  The citizens' initiative process is there in case the government doesn't do what you want."

The group has collected about 80,000 signatures, Kavuru said, but many petition books are still in the field. Kavuru said the group, which has relied on volunteers thus far, will have the money to hire paid signature collectors. Legalize Ohio 2016 is the only recreational marijuana measure in motion....

Ohio Rights Group, which had been collecting signatures for a medical-only measure until it backed Issue 3, could still qualify for the November ballot.  ORG President Mary Jane Borden said the group does not have the money to pay signature collectors or run a campaign and instead will focus on educating lawmakers about the benefits of medical cannabis....

A new, medical-only measure was filed Thursday with the Ohio attorney general. The Ohio Medical Cannabis Amendment, backed by longtime marijuana advocates Tonya Davis and Carlis McDerment, would allow people with a qualifying condition such as glaucoma or multiple sclerosis to purchase and use marijuana.  If the proposed summary is cleared by the attorney general, the group will have to collect 305,591 signatures of registered Ohio voters to put the measure on the ballot.

Disconcertingly, while the folks involved with Legalize Ohio 2016 pushed for a no vote on full legalization proposed by ResponsibleOhio in 2015 with promises that they would bring much better reform to voters in 2016, it now sounds as though the Legalize Ohio 2016 folks are suggesting they would be content now with just medical marijuana reform. Moreover, with the challenges posed by collecting hundred of thousands of signatures and a new Ohio constitutional restriction on ballot access for initiative, my deep fear that the Legalize Ohio folks would face an uphill battle to give voters another chance to consider full legalization seem to be coming to fruition.

January 18, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (2)

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Interesting demographic data from latest research on US marijuana opinions

Marijuana-fixed2The folks at YouGov, as detailed in this posting headlined "Most Americans support marijuana legalization," have released some interesting new data based on interviews of one thousands of Americans in mid-December 2015.  Here is part of the YouGov summary of its main findings:

Research from YouGov shows that a majority of Americans now support legalizing marijuana. 52% of Americans now support legalization, while only 34% oppose it.  This is slightly up from 48% support for legalization when the question was last asked in March 2015.

Over half of all adults under the age of 65 support it, but over-65s do tend to oppose (49%) rather than support (39%) legalization.  Politically, Democrats (66%) and independents (51%) want to legalize marijuana but half of Republicans are opposed. Just over a third of Republicans (36%) do support legalization, however.

While full legalization has the support of just over half of the country two-thirds of Americans believe that government efforts to enforce marijuana laws cost more than they are worth.  Unsurprisingly a huge majority of people in favor of legalization (86%) say that the efforts cost more than they are worth, but even opponents of legalization narrowly tend to say that current efforts aren't worth the cost (42% to 33%).

As the last sentence of this summary reveals, the detailed YouGov poll results (which are available here) includes some interesting marijuana-related questions beyond just support for legalization reforms and its breaks down poll responses in some notable ways.

Of particular interest was that the only racial demographic not expressing majority support for legalization was "Hispanic" and the lowest level of support for for legalization among economic demographics was found among families making less than $50,000 per year. I tend to assume that minority populations and lower income groups are more inclined to support marijuana reform because these groups seem to be subject to a larger share of the criminal justice consequences of blanket prohibition. But this YouGov poll suggests that reality may be far more nuanced.

In addition, I find especially significant the findings and political demographic breakdowns concerning the question "Do you agree or disagree that government efforts to enforce marijuana laws cost more than they are worth?". Notably, independents are more than five times more likely to agree (70%) than disagree (13%) with this statement, and even Republicans are more than twice as likely to agree (55%) than disagree (24%) with this statement. If other polls ask this question and produce similar result, such findings I think could well have a real impact on the positions of various presidential candidates in the months ahead.

January 17, 2016 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Political perspective on reforms, Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Is opposing maijuana reform more important to conservatives than restricting federal power?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this new Forbes commentary by Jacob Sullum headlined "Legalization Lawsuit Shows Conservative Constitutionalists Have Marijuana-Related Memory Loss."  Here is how it starts and ends (with links from the original):

Last week, two days before Mexican authorities recaptured Joaquín Guzmán Loera, a.k.a. El Chapo, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt pointed to another drug lord, this one hiding in plain sight: John Hickenlooper, a.k.a. the governor of Colorado.  “The State of Colorado authorizes, oversees, protects, and profits from a sprawling $100-million-per-month marijuana growing, processing, and retailing organization that exported thousands of pounds of marijuana to some 36 States in 2014,” Pruitt writes in a Supreme Court brief joined by Nebraska Attorney General Douglas Peterson.  “If this entity were based south of our border, the federal government would prosecute it as a drug cartel.”

Hickenlooper actually was a drug dealer of sorts before he got into politics, having cofounded Wynkoop Brewing Company, a Denver brewpub, in 1988.  But he ended up running the drug trafficking organization described in Pruitt’s brief by accident.  He was elected governor two years before Colorado voters decided, against his advice, to legalize marijuana.  Pruitt and Peterson are trying to overturn that result, claiming that it hurt Oklahoma and Nebraska by encouraging an influx of Colorado cannabis.  Their argument shows how readily some conservative Republicans let their anti-pot prejudices override their federalist principles....

Last week Texas Gov. Greg Abbott showed what a more consistent federalism looks like.  Abbott proposed nine constitutional amendments aimed at restoring the balance of power between the states and the federal government.  Number one on his list was an amendment that would “prohibit Congress from regulating activity that occurs wholly within one State,” in line with the original understanding of the Commerce Clause.  In a position paper that draws on the work of libertarian law professor Randy Barnett, who represented the plaintiffs in Raich, Abbott argues that the power to regulate interstate commerce is limited to activities that are both interstate and commerce (meaning the trade or exchange of goods).  He criticizes Raich at length, asking, “What constitutional provision conceivably could allow federal agents to raid a home and destroy plants that were planted, grown, and consumed inside the borders of one State and in accordance with that State’s law?”

Although Abbott does not say so explicitly, the implication of his argument is that federal prohibition — not just of marijuana but of cocaine, heroin, LSD, lawn darts, “assault weapons,” or “partial birth” abortion — is unconstitutional insofar as it extends to purely intrastate activity.  In other words, even if Oklahoma and Nebraska were right that Colorado’s regulation of the marijuana industry violates the CSA, it should not matter, because the CSA itself is unconstitutional.  When it comes to the Constitution, not all conservatives suffer from marijuana-related memory loss.

January 14, 2016 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

"How New York Totally Screwed Up Legalizing Medical Marijuana"

NEW-YORKThe title of this post is the headline of this notable new Vice article.   Here are excerpts:

New York state lawmakers voted to legalize marijuana for medical use in 2014, and Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the bill into law last June. The new law just took effect on January 6 — but it hasn't made it any easier for sick New Yorkers to get high.  Among the 23 states that now allow some form of legal weed, New York's law is among the most restrictive.  Only a handful of serious conditions qualify for a prescription, and so far there are only 71 patients in the entire state.  The patients are only allowed to use tinctures and oils, which can be vaporized, inhaled, or consumed orally in capsules. Smoking or growing marijuana is still strictly forbidden.

Advocates for the palliative use of marijuana contend that New York's law is far too narrow.  While medical marijuana has become increasingly mainstream over the past decade, Keith Stroup, a DC-based attorney and founder of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), said there's still a lingering suspicion by some lawmakers that patients just want to use the drug recreationally.  "State legislators tend to think that getting high is something to be avoided," he said.  "And they're trying to avoid the appearance of someone enjoying themselves when they were meant to be taking their medicine… They don't want to see it turning into another California, where anyone can get a prescription."

New York wields considerable influence over national policy, and Stroup thinks the new law could be bad news for patients in states that have yet to legalize medical marijuana.  Stroup noted that when New Jersey set a precedent by becoming the first state to prohibit patients from cultivating their own plants, Delaware, Illinois, and Washington, DC followed suit.  Stroup said he expects states in the Midwest and South to follow New York's model by outlawing edibles and smoking when they eventually pass their own medical pot laws.  Pennsylvania is currently finalizing a bill that includes those same tight restrictions....

In a letter sent to the New York state legislature, New York Physicians for Compassionate Care — a group that represents more than 650 doctors who support medical marijuana — stressed that numerous scientific studies have shown that smoking cannabis is generally safe and can be beneficial in some cases.  The letter also voiced concern that tinctures or extracts — which have higher levels of THC, the psychoactive compound in weed — might prove too potent for patients accustomed to self-medicating by smoking....

Even the few patients who do qualify and are willing to go through the hassle will have a hard time finding a doctor that can write them a prescription.  Only licensed physicians whose expertise includes [certin limited medical] conditions ... can prescribe medical marijuana in New York.  To do so, the doctors have to complete a special course that lasts up to four hours and costs $250.

January 12, 2016 in Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Should we expect any major federal marijuana reform developments in 2016?

ImagesThe question in the title of this post is prompted in part by the fact that, as highlighted in this recent post, lots of folks (myself included) expect 2016 to be a big year in the marijuana reform arena largely because many states will be seriously considering, legislatively and/or through voter initiatives, full legalization of marijuana for recreational use.  In addition, 2016 could also include major "on the ground" developments in newer recreational states like Alaska and Oregon and in newer medical states like Illinois and Maryland and New York.

But while 2016 could prove historic for marijuana reform on the state level, I am inclined to predict that this year could well be a huge nothingburger on the federal front.  Absent some unexpected developments, I would be shocked if an essentially lame-duck President Obama or his Department of Justice will see any reason to significantly alter its present Cole-memo, leave-the-states-mostly-alone prosecutorial policies.  And though there are lots of marijuana reform proposals and bills kicking around Capitol Hill, I have no reason to believe or expect any leaders in either the House of the Senate have any real interest in moving any marijuana bills forward (or even having hearings on the topic).  

Of course, if the Supreme Court were to take up for review on the merits the lawsuit brought by Nebraska and Oklahoma against Colorado, then the federal judiciary would quickly become the focal point for possible federal developments.  But, as noted here by Rob Mikos, the US Solicitor General of the Department of Justice urged SCOTUS not to take up this case.  And even if SCOTUS were to decided to consider this suit on the merits, I am not sure the Court would come out with a major ruling in this quirky "original suit" setting in 2016.

But perhaps, living as I do way outside the Beltway, perhaps I am reading the tea leaves wrong about the prospect of some notable federal marijuana reform developments in 2016.  Maybe issues related to federal prohibition will become a topic of discussion on the Prez campaign trail, especially if reform-friendly places out west like Arizona, Colorado and Nevada start looking like major swing states.  And maybe I am missing some other possible development entirely.  For that reason, I would love to hear from readers, in the comments or via e-mail, about whether they expect any noteworthy marijuana reform developments on the federal front in 2016.

January 5, 2016 in Current Affairs, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 4, 2016

Two different prespectives on the coming marijuana reform future

Inspired by our big calendar change, in recent posts provide links to various informed observers and advocates reviewing the biggest 2015 marijuana reform stories and previewing the biggest stories to watch in 2016.  Continuing in this vein, I came across thes two distinct pieces that provide very different "ground level" views of the likely marijuana reform future:

Via USA Today, "11 states least likely to legalize marijuana"

Via High Times, "Pot Matters: The New Marijuana Issues"

The first article usefully highlights that, even if election results and other legal developments in 2016 contribute to continuing nationwide reform momentum, there are still likely to be large sections of the United States that will continue to embrance marijuana prohibition.  The second article usefully highlights that, in regions where marijuana reform has already advanced significantly, many are going to start advocating aggressive positions like "all Americans must have the right to grow cannabis for both personal and commercial use" and "marijuana users must be protected from employment discrimination."

Interesting times.

January 4, 2016 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Gearing up for historic 2016 in the arena of marijuana law, policy and reform

Images (13)There are many reasons I have been telling colleagues and students that 2016 is likely to be a HUGE year in the marijuana law, policy and reform space, and I am obviously not alone in looking toward this new year as defining a dynamic and likely historic year in this arena.  To that end, here are links to (and brief excerpts from the start and headings of) two notable recent articles sounding these themes:

From Rob Kampia, executive director, Marijuana Policy Project at The Huffington Post, "2016 Will Be the Biggest Year Yet for Marijuana Policy Reform":

I don't often use superlatives, but it's easy to say that 2016 will be the most significant year yet in the battle to repeal marijuana prohibition in the United States. Up until now, the two biggest years were 1996, when California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana, and 2012, when Colorado and Washington became the first two states to legalize marijuana for adults 21 and older.

2016 will likely comprise a cornucopia of cannabis policy advances, which I'll enumerate in the form of predictions.

Federal Policies ...

State Ballot Initiatives ...

State Legislation ...

On-site Consumption ...

From Sean Williams at The Motley Fool, "Here's Why 2016 Could Be Marijuana's Most Important Year Yet":

Although marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, many aspects of how marijuana is treated have changed dramatically over the past two decades.

In 1995, there wasn't a single state that allowed marijuana to be prescribed by doctors, support for marijuana's legalization stood at around 25% in Gallup's national poll, politicians avoided the topic like the plague, and the idea of recreational marijuana amounted to nothing more than a joke.

Yet, here we stand 21 years later with 23 states having legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes, more than half of all respondents in Gallup's national poll sharing a favorable view of marijuana, politicians freely taking a stance on marijuana, and four states -- Oregon, Washington, Colorado, and Alaska -- all legalizing the recreational use of marijuana since 2012.  To opine that marijuana is gaining steam might be an understatement.

For marijuana supporters, access to new treatment pathways and the potential to use the drug recreationally without the fear of federal prosecution are the ultimate goals. For the states, it's all about the money. Tax revenue generated from the retail sale of marijuana can be critical to funding education, law enforcement, and even securing jobs within a state. Colorado's Proposition BB, which passed in a landslide in the November elections, secured $40 million in marijuana retail tax revenue for schools within the state.

But as exciting as marijuana's last two decades have been, the coming year could be its most important yet. The way I see it, there are three events in 2016 that could shape the future of the drug and marijuana businesses.

1.  The 2016 elections ...

2.  A look back at Oregon's first year of sales ...

3.  Can Epidiolex deliver? ...

January 2, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)