Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Monday, February 29, 2016

Head of marijuana legalization campaign in Arizona decribes himself as an "unapologetic conservative Republican"

Despite a cultural history and some political realities associating marijuana reform efforts with various liberal causes, I have personally long believed that a disaffinity for government-imposed pot prohibition resonates with various conservative principles.  Consequently, I am not entirely surprised to see this notable local article out of Arizona about a recent debate over marijuana legalization and the notable person leading up the marijuana reform campaign in the state.  The article is headlined "Tea Party stages debate on marijuana legalization," and here is how it gets started:

The face of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol initiative is not what one might expect, and it just might be the greatest foil for those who would prefer the plant to remain illegal for nonmedical use in Arizona.

Medical marijuana dispensary owner J.P. Holyoak debated Pinal County Attorney Lando Voyles over legalizing marijuana for recreational use at an event at Victory Theater, sponsored by the Graham County Tea Party and Graham County Republican Women Club, on Feb. 19.

Holyoak called himself an “unapologetic conservative Republican” who also happens to be the chairman of the Marijuana Policy Project-sponsored initiative to regulate marijuana like alcohol. Holyoak was previously against marijuana but, after seeing how the plant improved the quality of life for his ill daughter, Reese, he thrust himself into its advocacy.

“I was somebody that, once upon a time, was naïve enough to believe what the government told me, and I listened to that and I was anti-marijuana,” he said. “But I’m also someone who believes in individual rights and individual responsibilities, and I abhor nanny-state government . . . Its (prohibition has) proven to be an utter and complete total failure.”

While Voyles had little to say in response to Holyoak’s points about reasons why cannabis should be legalized — including an economic benefit to Arizona with the creation of 21,000 jobs and an estimated $100 million in tax revenue for education rather than money spent on purchasing marijuana going to foreign drug cartels — Holyoak seemingly had an answer based on official statistics to counter every argument Voyles had against legalization. In one instance, Voyles claimed that studies showed an increase of teen use in states where medical marijuana or recreational marijuana was legal, and Holyoak debunked that by referencing an article from Forbes Magazine that listed fewer teens using marijuana than 15 years ago and displaying Arizona’s own youth survey that showed teen use decreased after medical marijuana was legalized.

At one point in the evening, Holyoak told the crowd about his daughter, Reese, who has the rare disease Aicardi syndrome that caused her to have multiple seizures every day. As a parent desperate to find anything that could help his daughter, Holyoak turned to marijuana after the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act was passed.

“The difference between marijuana and no marijuana for her is literally the difference between life and death,” Holyoak said. “She went from 25 to 35 seizures a day and being nonresponsive — she still has an occasional seizure, about every five or six months she has one — but today she’s walking independently, almost running, being herself, getting into stuff, playing, laughing, smiling, and generally enjoying her very high quality of life. I find it offensive that the U.S. government says that marijuana is a Schedule 1 drug with no medicinal value. We know that’s not true. It’s inappropriate, and I find it even more offensive to try to defend the position of keeping it a Schedule 1 drug.”

After recounting his daughter’s experience, Voyles chose that moment to tow the federal government’s line that marijuana has no medicinal value, a statement that garnered groans from the audience.

February 29, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, February 28, 2016

"With Marijuana Legal, Why Are People Still Doing Life For Weed?"

Thie question in the title of this post is the headline of this article from The Kind (as well as a question that really does not have a satsfactory answer). Here are excerpts:

 

At least 30 people are currently serving life without parole for non-violent marijuana-related offenses. Save extraordinary events, they will die in prison. Overturning a law does not exonerate the people who were convicted of breaking the law when it was in effect. This means that even if marijuana is legalized tomorrow, those serving time for marijuana-related offenses will not be released.

“Most people don’t believe it,” says Beth Curtis, founder of Life for Pot, an organization that spotlights people who are serving life without parole for non-violent marijuana-only offenses.

One person who is scheduled to remain in jail until they die is Curtis’s brother, John Knock. “Twenty years ago I received a phone call informing me that my youngest brother had been indicted for a marijuana conspiracy in Florida,” Curtis explains on her site. “Our lives have never been the same.”...

 In 2008 she launched LifeForPot.com, which currently features 30 or so inmates with life or de facto life sentences (e.g., someone who is 50 years old and gets 50 years). Most of Curtis’s advocacy takes place offline, primarily through writing and sending information about individuals to congress, congressmen, and various groups that might take up the cause. “Actually a lot of people have,” she says. “Now when you Google ‘life for pot’, lots of stuff comes up. When I first started, it was just my site.”...

Without retroactive legislation, inmates serving life without parole for weed can only be released through clemency, in the form of a pardon or sentence commutation from the president (on the federal level) or from the governor (on the state level). (Group pardons are rare, but not entirely unprecedented.)

Out of the 95 sentence commutations granted by President Barrack Obama in December, two were serving life for marijuana-related crimes: Billy Dekel and Charles Cundiff.

Beth Curtis says she’s been advocating for both of them for years and plans to visit them once they’re out. Another inmate on Curtis’s radar, Larry Duke, was freed last March under a compassionate release program for inmates over 65.  While Curtis was elated by the three inmates’ release, she notes that Obama would need to seriously ramp up the number of commutations to make a meaningful dent in the population.

“These people need clemency to get any relief,” she says. “And for the old guys, it’s kind of important that it happens pretty soon. Their runway is a lot shorter. Not that the younger people shouldn’t be released also, but dying in prison is a particularly horrendous thought.  “Obama said that through clemency there would be thousands released,” Curtis adds. “I hope that that’s true. I hope and pray that that’s true.”   

Cross-posted at Sentencing Law & Policy

February 28, 2016 in Criminal justice developments and reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Notable medical marijuana reform developments in two notable nations

My newsfeed this afternoon popper out these two notable new medical marijuana reform stories from around the globe:

  • Via CBC News (of Canada) here, "Ban on medical marijuana patients growing own pot struck down by Federal Court"

  • Via CNN here, "Medical marijuana legalized in Australia"

I would be grateful to hear views from any readers (or my students during my class tomorrow afternoon) concerning which of these international marijuana reform developments seems more significant.

February 24, 2016 in International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Did the Framers of the Constitution really intend for unelected bureaucrats to have the power to allow states to circumvent federal law?"

Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson WebThe question in the title of this post is drawn from an interesting line in the midst of this notable new National Review commentary authored by Doug Peterson, the attorney general of Nebraska.  The piece is headlined "Colorado’s Marijuana Regime Is an Affront to Federalism and the Rule of Law," and here are excerpts:

In 1970, the Controlled Substances Act (the CSA) was passed with overwhelming majorities in Congress.  Its enactment represented, for the first time, the creation of an integrated, comprehensive national drug policy.  For nearly half a century, the CSA has stood as the law of the land, marking a consistent and collective recognition that the inherently interstate problem of drug trafficking can only effectively be addressed on a national scale.

The dismantling of this national legal framework by those charged with upholding it began in October of 2009, when President Obama’s deputy attorney general issued memoranda instructing U.S. attorneys to ostensibly ignore enforcement of marijuana laws.  The Justice Department’s deliberate inaction unlocked the door for state-sanctioned facilitation of the production, distribution, and retail sale of this illegal substance on a truly industrial scale.

Colorado has since incentivized the growth of a billion-dollar impairment industry that has proven efficient in producing a ubiquitous variety of marijuana products of a potency level that is globally without parallel.... Whatever may be said of the economic success of Colorado’s impairment industry, it is not a success for the rule of law. Nor has it been anything but harmful and expensive for Colorado’s neighbors, like Nebraska, who continue to interdict illegal marijuana consistent with their own laws and, lest we forget, the CSA.

Colorado’s regulatory scheme, coupled with federal inaction, effectively renders the CSA a nullity when it comes to marijuana.  How can Colorado’s state-facilitated billion-dollar marijuana industry not conflict with Congress’s nationwide prohibition on marijuana when it has been shown (by federal drug-trafficking reports) that Colorado marijuana reaches a substantial majority of states?  It can’t.  How can Colorado’s regulations even be said to implicate only purely intra-state activities when they have almost no protections against sales to non-Colorado buyers?  They don’t.  Did the Framers of the Constitution really intend for unelected bureaucrats to have the power to allow states to circumvent federal law?  No chance.

This is why Nebraska, joined by Oklahoma, is seeking a declaration from the United States Supreme Court that Colorado’s marijuana scheme violates the Constitution.  Our lawsuit, brought as an original action given its state-versus-state nature, tests whether individual states can effectively nullify federal law.  Resolution is needed in the Supreme Court, particularly since the administration — consistent with its actions in so many other areas ranging from environmental regulation to illegal immigration — has abdicated its obligations under the law.

To be sure, I am a fervent believer in the principles of federalism and recognize the Constitution’s reservation of power to the states.  I also believe that passage of the CSA was an appropriate exercise of Congress’s authority under the Constitution’s interstate commerce clause.  Ironically the Department of Justice also supported this same exercise of federal authority when it strenuously and successfully argued to the Supreme Court in Gonzales v. Raich in 2005 that the CSA’s prohibition on marijuana was a valid exercise of congressional power.  In light of these settled principles, Colorado’s actions must yield to another provision of the Constitution: the supremacy clause....

By bureaucratic memo, this administration has allowed the piecemeal nullification of Congress’s clear intent in enacting the CSA.  It is now time for the Court to state “what the law is” regarding marijuana and the mandates given by Congress in the CSA.   Should the Court decline to hear our case, Big Marijuana and the states with which it cooperates will take it as a sign that federal drug laws do not matter and that the supremacy clause can be selectively applied.   Such signals undermine not only the integrity of the rule of law, but also the sovereignty of states like Nebraska who recognize their obligation to refrain from deliberately obstructing Congress’s goal of protecting America and its children against the myriad societal ills posed by illicit drugs.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the comments to this piece suggest that many readers of the National Review are not especially convinced by what Attorney General Peterson has to say.  Notably, the first stated conviction for the Nation Review listed here includes the assertion that the "growth of government (the dominant social feature of this century) must be fought relentlessly." When it comes to growth of marijuana, however, it seem Nebraska's Attorney General supports the growth of the federal government to relentlessly fight against individuals and states that are disinclined to see marijuana in the same light as the feds.

Though this commentary reveals Peterson to be a fair-weather federalist, it does an effective job at highlighting the arguments being made by Oklahoma and Nebraska concerning why the Supreme Court needs to consider ASAP its challenge to Colorado's marijuana reforms.  Especially after Justice Scalia's death and with a big national election now less than eight months away, I think it remains somewhat unlikely that the Justices will be eager to take up this state-on-state dispute now.  But, as I have long known about the actions of the Supreme Court, you never really know what the Justices will decide to do.

Some prior related posts:

February 24, 2016 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

New poll indicates large Ohio majority wants medical marijuana to be a (state?) constitutional right

This new local article, headlined "Ohio voters support medical marijuana amendment, poll finds," reports on a new poll of Ohioans that asked a distinctive — and perhaps distinctively confusing — question about their views on medical marijuana reform.  Specifically, here is the question Public Policy Poling asked of Ohioians last week as reported in this "Ohio Survey Results" document:

In thinking about medical marijuana, do you favor or oppose making it a constitutional right for patients with terminal or debilitating medical conditions to possess and consume marijuana if their doctors recommend it?

Here are the basic results of this poll as reported in this press article, along with who sponsored it and the marijuana reform context in Ohio:

Nearly three out of four Ohioans said access to marijuana for certain medical conditions should be a constitutional right, according to a Public Policy Polling survey released Monday. The survey was commissioned by national group Marijuana Policy Project, which plans to put a medical-only amendment on the November ballot in Ohio.

Specifically, the poll asked if voters favor or oppose "making it a constitutional right for patients with terminal or debilitating medical conditions to possess and consume marijuana if their doctors recommend it." The poll did not ask about specific amendment language, which has not been publicly released. Public Policy Polling surveyed 672 Ohio voters Feb. 17-18. The poll has a margin of error of 3.8 percentage points.

Wide support was seen in every demographic group -- race, age, political party, and gender.

  • Gender: Women 75 percent, men 73 percent
  • Party: Democrat, 85 percent; Republican, 69 percent; independent, 62 percent
  • Race: White, 76 percent; African-American, 71 percent; other, 54 percent
  • Age: 18-29, 76 percent; 30-45, 71 percent; 46-65, 80 percent; older than 65, 64 percent

Marijuana Policy Project spokesman Mason Tvert said the results weren't surprising. "It's become pretty common knowledge that marijuana can be incredibly beneficial in the treatment of a variety of medical conditions," Tvert said. "There are few laws still on the books that are as unpopular as those that prohibit sick and dying people from accessing medical marijuana."

The D.C.-based organization has had a hand in crafting most state marijuana decriminalization and legalization laws in the past two decades.  Tvert said the organization is confident most Ohioans will support its initiative, which he said will be different from Issue 3, last year's failed recreational marijuana measure.

Several independent polls conducted last year showed as many as nine in 10 Ohio voters favored legal medical marijuana use, but only a slim majority of Ohioans supported legalizing recreational use.  Support dropped below 50 percent when voters were asked about Issue 3 specifics including the measure's "monopoly" on commercial growers.

I would guess that Marijuana Policy Project sponsored this poll's distinctive question because it is trying to decide whether it should seek to move forward in Ohio with a reform initiative that proposed a change to the Ohio Constitution or instead just sought to change Ohio's statutory provisions. One forceful criticism of the marijuana legalization initiative roundly rejected by voters last year was that, as a proposed constitutional amendment, it would lock a specific business structure for marijuana reform into the state's Constitution and would be hard to modify by the Ohio legislature in the years ahead.

I suspect MPP will look at this poll as evidence that a strong majority of Ohio voters are comfortable with a medical marijuana reform initiative in the form of a state constitutional amendment. But, because a number of members of the Ohio legislatures are busy considering statutory reforms, I also suspect that any coming marijuana reform campaign will also include dispute and debate over whether a state constitutional amendment is the best way to end marijuana prohibition in the state.

February 23, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Polling data and results | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 22, 2016

An effective overview of life in Colorado a few year years after marijuana legalization

Massachusetts is one of a handful of states likely to vote on full legalization of marijuana this Fall, and already the Boston Globe is doing a nice job informing its readers about what the state might reasonably expect if it follows the path pioneered by Colorado.  Specifically, this new Globe article, headlined "In Colo., a look at life after marijuana legalization," provides an effective review of how reform realities have played out so far in the Centennial State.  Here is the start a balanced piece worth reading in full:

Nestled between a 7-Eleven and a store selling Broncos jerseys, the door to the generic-looking retail establishment is easy to miss. But once inside, the smell is unmistakable. At Euflora, tables are filled with glass containers of marijuana next to interactive tablets describing each strain (“sweet floral aroma,” “intoxicatingly potent”). An array of marijuana-infused products beckon behind locked cases: from energy shots to sour gummies, brownies to bacon brittle. And if you’re 21 or older, it’s all legal to buy.

This is Colorado, where a billion-dollar-a-year legal marijuana industry has emerged since January 2014. It offers an early look at what Massachusetts could face should voters greenlight an expected ballot question and legalize the drug this fall.

So has legalization been a plus or a minus? “Yes,” Colorado Senate President Bill Cadman replied with a laugh.

The consensus among several top state officials — who emphasize that their job is to carry out the will of the voters rather than mull whether their constituents made the right choice — is that there have been no widely felt negative effects on the state since marijuana became legal, and a crop of retail stores, cultivation facilities, and manufacturers sprung up from Aurora to Telluride.

Legalization has ushered in thousands of new jobs in the burgeoning industry, brought $135 million into state coffers last year, and ended the prohibition of a widely used substance. But police say they struggle to enforce a patchwork of laws covering marijuana, including drugged driving. Officials fret about the industry becoming like big tobacco, dodging regulation and luring users with slick advertising. And this state, long a leader in cannabis use, has the highest youth rate of marijuana use in the nation, according to the most recent data available from a federal drug-use survey.

February 22, 2016 in Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 19, 2016

"How Obama totally blew it on marijuana reform"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new This Week commentary by Bonnie Kristian. Here are excerpts: 

The need to reschedule marijuana has been apparent for decades, since the classification system was first implemented by the Nixon administration. In the years that followed, activists tried multiple avenues in pursuit of rescheduling without success. Petitions were ignored; bills died in Congress; and courts took the DEA's side.

But perhaps the most promising route to rescheduling is arguably the place it all started: the executive branch. Though the process isn't simple, it has been done before and, through the office of the attorney general, could be done again.

Already, each of the 2016 Democratic presidential candidates have endorsed rescheduling, and on the Republican side, several candidates have taken federalist positions on pot, including explicit support for rescheduling from Ben Carson.

But why should we have to wait until 2017 or later for a new president to maybe decide to expend precious political capital on a rescheduling effort? This is an issue of real urgency, not only for families like the Schwabs, but also for medical research, which is significantly hampered by the Schedule I classification.

President Obama doesn't see it that way. In fact, just last month, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) asked Obama if he would consider rescheduling marijuana during his final year in office. Obama's answer was "disappointing," Cohen reported. "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.'"

This is not particularly surprising given Obama's past dismissal of drug war reform. Despite his willingness to apply his “pen and phone” to other issues in the face of congressional inaction — not to mention the fact that rescheduling would be a legally legitimate application for executive power — when it comes to marijuana policy, Obama is remarkably apathetic. He has stated repeatedly that reform initiatives should come from Congress; that he doesn't see that happening any time soon; and that young people shouldn't really care.

That's a curious position for the erstwhile head of the "Choom Gang" to take. But personal hypocrisy aside, Obama's failure to use his lame duck leeway on rescheduling is a remarkable failure for a president who should know better. It has been plain as day for years that marijuana has no business being a Schedule I drug. It's time for America's president to act on that common knowledge.

February 19, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

"Ohio has the 'highest per-capita level of infighting' among marijuana activists"

The title of this post is a line from this notable local article headlined "Ohio medical marijuana amendment details released." Here is the surrounding context for this amusing observation about the realities of marijuana reform efforts in the Buckeye State:

Marijuana Policy Project has unveiled more details about the medical marijuana amendment planned for Ohio this year. And it has named three Ohioans who will co-chair the campaign.

Language for the constitutional amendment, planned for the November ballot, has not yet been drafted, the president of the national nonprofit said in questions and answers posted on Facebook and sent to cleveland.com Tuesday night.  The language will be based off laws in the 23 states where medical marijuana is legal.

Here are the basics, according to organization President Rob Kampia.

The amendment will establish a system where patients with certain medical conditions can apply for a medical marijuana ID card that allows them to buy and possess marijuana. The state would license businesses to grow, process, test, distribute and sell medical marijuana, and sales tax would be applied. License fees and tax revenues would pay for the program's administrative costs.  Kampia said patients and their caregivers could grow their own marijuana as soon as the amendment becomes law....

Marijuana Policy Project registered an Ohio political action committee called Ohioans for Medical Marijuana last month. The organization chose Ohioans Michael Revercomb, Lissa Satori, and John Pardee to lead the campaign. Revercomb served on the board of the central Ohio chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). Pardee was the president of Ohio Rights Group, an organization that has been collecting signatures for a medical-only constitutional amendment since 2013. Sartori was an Ohio Rights Group leader who worked on last year's Issue 3 legalization campaign.

Kampia said Ohio has the "highest per-capita level of infighting" among marijuana activists and said there are "no hard feelings" for people who don't want to work with the leaders. "This campaign needs to be a team effort, and we're hoping that Ohio can surprise the nation by showing that people can, in fact, work together successfully to promote a common cause," Kampia said....

Amendment language is expected in early March, and the campaign expects to begin collecting signatures of registered voters on April 2.  Supporters need 305,591 valid signatures by July 6 to qualify for the November ballot.  The campaign wants volunteers to collect between 100 and 1,000 signatures each during that time and will also pay signature collectors.

February 17, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 12, 2016

Noting the (pro-reform) nuances of Donald Trump's latest comments about marijuana policies

I had noticed earlier this week that GOP Prez candidate (and seeming front-runner) Donald Trump had a few notable comments about marijuana policy during an interview with Bill O'Reilly.  Helpfully, this new High Times piece by Jon Gettman, headlined "Pot Matters: Trump on Marijuana," not only details what Trump recently had to say on this topic, but also explains why his latest comments suggest The Donald is generally supportive of at least some marijuana reform.  I recommend the piece in full, and here are excerpts:

Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump is hedging his position on marijuana legalization, but is “a hundred percent” in favor of medical marijuana. Nonetheless, Trump’s stated position on legalization is evolving, because he has acknowledged that “in some ways” legalization “is good.”

Trump, speaking to Bill O’Reilly on Fox News this week, was asked about his position on marijuana legalization in Colorado. After expressing some concern over the health effects of marijuana, he was pressed by O’Reilly about what he would do to stop it. Trump then confessed that “I would, I would really want to think about that one Bill because in some ways, I think it’s good and in other ways, it’s bad.” But then Trump hastened to point out his unequivocal support for medical marijuana, explaining that “I know people that have serious problems... and... it really, really does help them.”

Trump’s cautious approach to legalization is based on uncertainty, as he sees it, about the impact of legal marijuana use on people’s health. He ignored O’Reilly’s opening claim about “dealers, all the pushers... going to Colorado loading up... on pot... and then zooming around the country selling it.” When asked if that concerned him, Trump responded that “it’s a real problem.” But then Trump changed the subject, explaining that “there’s another problem... the book isn’t written on it yet, but there’s a lot of difficulty in terms of illness and what’s going on with the brain and the mind, and what it’s doing... it’s coming out, probably, over the next year or so.”

Asked then if he would stop it, Trump paused, hesitant to commit himself as a presidential candidate to push back against Colorado’s program. “I do want to see what the medical effects are,” he said. After repeating this twice, Trump then volunteered his complete support for medical marijuana, continuing with his pro medical marijuana comments—in spite of O’Reilly’s claim that “medical marijuana is a ruse.” Faced with Trump’s support for medical marijuana and his personal familiarity with medical cannabis patients, O’Reilly conceded that “I know, and they’re taken care of.”

Aside from his support for medical marijuana, the most interesting comment that Trump made about his position was that “in some ways, I think [legalization] s good.” It will be interesting, over the course of the campaign, to hear Trump elaborate on this comment. In this interview, he laid out why “in other ways it’s bad,” but apparently it’s not bad enough to justify a definitive statement opposing legalization. Why not?...

Trump was originally for legalization in 1990 as the only way to win the War on Drugs but has expressed his reservations about legalization during this campaign. His rivals in the nomination contest have all expressed reluctance to interfere with state-level legalization policies because they believe states have the right to set their own policies. Trump’s comment to O’Reilly that legalization is good in some ways moves beyond tolerating legalization as a state’s right by recognizing the potential public policy benefits of Colorado’s approach.

February 12, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 11, 2016

An international perspective on the marijuana reform momentum (and its regulatory challenges) via The Economist

A terrific student in my marijuana seminar alerted me to this lengthy new article in The Economist headlined "Reeferegulatory challenge: A growing number of countries are deciding to ditch prohibition. What comes next?". The article merits a full read, and here are excerpts:

Since California’s voters legalised the sale of marijuana for medical use in 1996, 22 more states, plus the District of Columbia, have followed suit; in a year’s time the number is likely to be nearer 30. Sales to cannabis “patients” whose conditions range from the serious to the notional are also legal elsewhere in the Americas (Colombia is among the latest to license the drug) and in much of Europe. On February 10th Australia announced similar plans.

Now a growing number of jurisdictions are legalising the sale of cannabis for pure pleasure—or impure, if you prefer. In 2014 the American states of Colorado and Washington began sales of recreational weed; Oregon followed suit last October and Alaska will soon join them. They are all places where the drug is already popular (see chart 1). Jamaica has legalised ganja for broadly defined religious purposes. Spain allows users to grow and buy weed through small collectives. Uruguay expects to begin non-medicinal sales through pharmacies by August.

Canada’s government plans to legalise cannabis next year, making it the first G7 country to do so. But it may not be the largest pot economy for long; California is one of several states where ballot initiatives to legalise cannabis could well pass in America’s November elections....

Setting the right level for the tax ... is challenging. Go too low and you encourage use. Aim too high and you lose one of the other benefits of legalisation: closing down a criminal black market.

Comparing Colorado and Washington illustrates the trade-off. Colorado has set its pot taxes fairly low, at 28% (including an existing sales tax). It has also taken a relaxed approach to licensing sellers; marijuana dispensaries outnumber Starbucks. Washington initially set its taxes higher, at an effective rate of 44%, and was much more conservative with licences for growers and vendors. That meant that when its legalisation effort got under way in 2014, the average retail price was about $25 per gram, compared with Colorado’s $15. The price of black-market weed (mostly an inferior product) in both states was around $10.

The effect on crime seems to have been as one would predict. Colorado’s authorities reckon licensed sales—about 90 tonnes a year—now meet 70% of total estimated demand, with much of the rest covered by a “grey” market of legally home-grown pot illegally sold. In Washington licensed sales accounted for only about 30% of the market in 2014, according to Roger Roffman of the University of Washington. Washington’s large, untaxed and rather wild-west “medical” marijuana market accounts for a lot of the rest. Still, most agree that Colorado’s lower prices have done more to make life hard for organised crime.

Uruguay also plans to set prices comparable to those that illegal dealers offer. “We intend to compete with the illicit market in price, quality and safety,” says Milton Romani, secretary-general of the National Drug Board. To avoid this competitively priced supply encouraging more use, the country will limit the amount that can be sold to any particular person over a month. In America, where such restrictions (along with the register of consumers needed to police them) would probably be rejected, it will be harder to stop prices for legal grass low enough to shut down the black market from also encouraging greater use. Indeed, since legalisation consumption in Colorado appears to have edged up a few percentage points among both adults and under-21s, who in theory shouldn’t be able to get hold of it at all; that said, a similar trend was apparent before legalisation, and the data are sparse....

Different places will legalise in different ways; some may never legalise at all; some will make mistakes they later think better of. But those that legalise early may prove to have a lasting influence well beyond their borders, establishing norms that last for a long while. It behoves them to think through what needs regulating, and what does not, with care. Over-regulation risks losing some of the main benefits of liberalisation. But as alcohol and tobacco show, tightening regimes at a later date can be very difficult indeed.

February 11, 2016 in Business laws and regulatory issues, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Taxation information and issues , Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Elizabeth Warren Urges CDC To Consider Cannabis To Solve Opioid Epidemic"

Elizabeth-warren-a-fighting-chanceThe title of this post is the headline of this new International Business Times article discussing a notable new political voice making a notable suggestion to the a federal governmental agency.  Here are the details:

As the opioid epidemic continues to balloon in the country, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts has called for more research into whether legal marijuana can curb the prescription painkiller epidemic.  In a letter to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Warren said opiate abuse is a "national problem and warrants swift and immediate action."

The U.S. continues to be the largest consumers of prescription painkillers in the world, according to the National Institutes on Drug Abuse. Even though Americans make up only 5 percent of the global population, they consume 75 percent of opioid medications in the word. Warren asked the CDC to conduct studies about alternatives to pain relief drugs, such as marijuana.

"I hope that the CDC continues to explore every opportunity and tool available to work with states and other federal agencies on ways to tackle the opioid epidemic and collect information about alternative pain relief options," Warren wrote.  "Your agency has produced an enormous amount of scientific and epidemiological data that has helped inform stakeholders on the breadth of this crisis -- however there is still much we do not know."

In the letter, Warren noted her constituents' in Massachusetts own battles with opioid abuse.  She said there were almost 1,100 confirmed cases of opioid overdose deaths in 2014, which was a 65 percent increase from 2012.  "I continue to hear stories from constituents across Massachusetts affected by this crisis -- parents fighting for their kids, doctors fighting for their patients, and communities fighting for each other."

Medical marijuana remains federally illegal as a schedule 1 controlled substance, but it is available in 23 states and Washington, D.C. for patients with chronic pain. Four states, including Washington and Colorado, have gone on to legalize marijuana entirely.   When it comes to providing national guidelines, cannabis legislation's lack of uniformity across state borders poses difficulties for the federal agency.  "Fighting this epidemic will take hard work on the part of federal, state and local governments, working together with local law enforcement, medical professionals and members of the community," Warren said, adding she hopes the national agency will "aggressively tackle this issue."

The full letter discussed in this article is available at this link, and on the second page Senator Warren express calls for study of "the use, uptake and effectiveness of medical marijuana as an alternative to opioids for pain treatment in states where it is legal” as well as “the impact of the legalization of medical and recreational marijuana on opioid overdose deaths.”

February 11, 2016 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Did the voters of New Hampshire just significantly help improve the chances of federal marijuana reform?

The question in the title of this post is reflects my gut reaction to the results of yesterday's New Hampshire primary.  On the Democratic side, the big winner was Senator Bernie Sanders, who has been the most supportive of federal marijuana reform of any of the major candidates.  On the Republican side, the big loser would seem to have been Governor Chris Christie, who has been the most critical of state marijuana reform of any of the major candidates.  Put those results together, especially with the reports that Gov Christie is about to drop out of the race, and I think the question in the title of this post merits a resounding YES.

That said, last week the Iowa caucuses deal a campaign death blow to Rand Paul, the candidate who has been the most active in trying actually to reform federal marijuana law.  Thus, I suppose I could have reasonably posted last week that the voters of Iowa had diminished the chance of federal marijuana reform.  And, perhaps most importantly, there is very little evidence that any of the candidates' position on marijuana law and policy is motivating any sizeable portion of the electorate.

As the campaign turns to South Carolina and Nevada, it will be interesting to see if marijuana law and policy may start to get a little more attention.  Nevada voters are going to be considering a state marijuana legalization initiative in 2016, and I think there is a real possibility that at least a few candidates may get asked a few hard questions about federal marijuana laws while in the Silver State.

February 10, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (2)

"These nuns will get you high — as heaven"

Nuns_grow_cannabis_at_abbeyThe title of this post is the headline of this notable new New York Daily News article, which discussses the interesting work of the Sisters of the Valley in Merced, California, and the impact that new state laws on medical marijuana could have. Here are the basic details:

Holy smokes — these nuns are really working for a higher power! The Sisters of the Valley in Merced, Calif., grow medicinal marijuana in their garage for various pot-laced health products.

While Sisters Kate and Darcy don traditional habits, they are not Catholic. But they still consider themselves nuns with a calling to heal the sick — with pot. “We spend no time on bended knee, but when we make our medicine it’s a prayerful environment. It’s a prayerful time,” Kate told KFSN-TV.

While medicinal pot is legal in California, bills signed into law this past fall allow local governments to restrict or ban marijuana growing and dispensing. Pot advocates hope local jurisdictions will want to partake of tax revenue. But some municipalities — such as Merced, a conservative town in agricultural Central California — have enacted bans on pot production.

So this sisterhood might need to find a new place by March 1, when the new state and local laws take effect. Kate and Darcy said their products include cannabidiol but only traces of tetrahydrocannabinol, the chemical that provides pot’s high.

When I discussed this story with a very smart colleague, she suggested that consumers of the marijuana products produced by Sisters of the Valley might find it especially difficult to kick the habit. Jokes aside, one of the common consequences of having more big government regulation of medical marijuana is the tendency, as suggested in this story, to make it even hard for small producers to stay in business. Apparently, this can be true even if you have a holy partnership.

February 10, 2016 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Religion, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 8, 2016

Oregon Health Authority report calls for "the creation of an independent, free‐standing Oregon Institute for Cannabis"

I was intrigued and pleased to see this notable new press story out of Oregon reporting on this notable new public health task force report titled "Researching the medical and public health properties of cannabis."  Here are the basics via the press coverage:

Oregon should fund an independent marijuana institute to support and conduct world-class research into the drug's medical and public health benefits, says a task force that includes state officials, scientists and leading physicians.

Tax dollars generated through recreational marijuana sales would supplement private funding to underwrite the quasi-public Oregon Institute for Cannabis Research. The center would hire research scientists, as well as staff to help academic researchers navigate the complexities of federally sanctioned cannabis research.

The recommendation, included in a report submitted Monday to the Legislature by the task force, calls for Oregon to break new ground by providing a sustained source of state money to support marijuana research. Among the proposals: the institute itself would grow and handle marijuana for research purposes. "This institute will position Oregon as a leader in cannabis research and serve as an international hub for what will soon be a rapidly accelerating scientific field," states the report, prepared by the Oregon Health Authority. "No other single initiative could do as much to strengthen the Oregon cannabis industry and to support the needs of Oregon medical marijuana patients."

The proposal represents the latest effort by states to fill gaps in marijuana research created by the federal prohibition of the drug. The government allows research on cannabis, but the approval process is especially complicated and involves marijuana produced at a government-run facility based at the University of Mississippi. The recommendation came out of a law passed last year by the Legislature that called for the creation of a governor-appointed task force to study ways to support a medical marijuana industry geared toward patients. The report doesn't include estimates for what it would cost to fund the center, but makes clear that financial support from the state would be essential. Other states have set aside money for research, but not on an ongoing basis.

Sen. Chris Edwards, D-Eugene, the lawmaker behind the provision that created the task force, said paying for the institute with revenue from the state's marijuana tax is a politically viable idea, but said it isn't likely to gain traction during the Legislature's 35-day session, which began last week. Under current law, marijuana tax revenue goes to the common school fund, mental health, alcoholism and drug services, the Oregon State Police, local and the health authority. "One thing I heard consistently is that people want to understand better the health effects and the health and safety issues -- the potential effects of pesticides and also the potential for medical uses of cannabis," he said. "I think there is broad support for those pieces."...

Colorado and Washington, the first states to legalize marijuana for recreational use, also have plans for research. Colorado lawmakers in 2014 approved a one-time $9 million expenditure for marijuana-related studies, including three that will require federal approval, said Ken Gershman, medical marijuana research grant program manager for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Six involve "observational studies" of people already consuming marijuana. University researchers in Colorado plan to examine whether young adults and adolescents with inflammatory bowel disease benefit from marijuana, and the effect of cannabidiol, a component of the marijuana plant known as CBD, on Parkinson's-related tremors. Other studies will examine the effect of high-CBD oil extracts on epilepsy, as well as the drug's impact on sleep and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Washington, which offers a marijuana research license, carved out a percentage of its marijuana tax revenue for cannabis research. The law calls for some of that work to look at ways of measuring marijuana intoxication and impairment.

California was the first state to fund research into marijuana's medicinal benefits. In 2000, the state set aside $10 million to fund the Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research at the University of California, San Diego. The center oversaw multiple research projects, most of them looking at marijuana's effect on neuropathic pain. Like Colorado, California's funding was a one-time expenditure.

Dr. J.H. Atkinson, a co-director of the center and a professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, said the research was "relatively small in scope and duration" but offered a potential model for other states. He said the studies showed a promising connection between cannabis and pain relief. "Without too much chest thumping," he said, "it was the most comprehensive body of research on the potential (of cannabis) ever conducted in this country."...

Research into marijuana is complicated by the drug's longtime status as a Schedule 1 drug. That category of drugs, which includes heroin, is defined as substances that have a "high potential for abuse" and "no currently accepted medical use." Federal research proposals involving involving Schedule 1 drugs must undergo review by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and must use cannabis produced by the University of Mississippi, which holds the lone government contract to grow pot for research purposes. The agency in 2014 said it planned to increase production of marijuana to support more research....

Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said "ample research" and "an extensive history of human use" provide more than enough evidence to contradict marijuana's status under federal law as a drug that lacks medical benefit. Armentano said he welcomes more research from states like Oregon but is skeptical it will make a difference in the debate about marijuana's Schedule 1 status. "Unfortunately science has never driven marijuana policy," he said. "If it did, the United States would already have a very different policy in place."

February 8, 2016 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Taxation information and issues , Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

What's in a Name? That Which We Call Marijuana by Any Other Name Would Still Engender Opposition (... but maybe we should still doff thy name?)

The title of this post is my effort to channel the Bard of Avon and to still reflect the substance of this notable new commentary by Keith Stroup, Legal Counsel for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.   This commentary is titled "Marijuana, Cannabis, Ganja, Weed, Grass, Pot, Reefer, or Maryjane: What’s In a Name?," and here is how it starts and ends:

I am periodically amused when we receive an email or phone call at NORML from an enthusiastic, usually young, supporter, advising us he/she has found the missing link to marijuana legalization: come up with a new name for our favorite herb.  That’s right.  Some who are new to the issue, when they first discover the racist under-pinning’s of both marijuana prohibition, and the word “marijuana” itself, naively think if we could just stop using the word “marijuana,” and instead use “cannabis” or some other synonym, our opposition would suddenly disappear, and we would have a clear path to legalization.

I wish it were that simple.  But it is not the name we use that makes it difficult to legalize marijuana; it is the misinformation left from decades of government anti-marijuana propaganda.  We are having to re-educate millions of Americans about marijuana, including especially those in the media and our elected officials....

Those who oppose marijuana legalization, and support prohibition, either have an exaggerated view of the potential dangers from marijuana smoking; or they have decided to oppose legalization for political reasons (e.g., they still identify marijuana smoking with radical, lefty politics).  In either case, using another word in place of marijuana will have absolutely no impact.  Those who ignore the science, and believe that marijuana is “the devil’s weed,” will not assume a more rational position, regardless of what we call it.  And those who consider marijuana smoking to be anti-establishment behavior will continue to think of marijuana smokers as cultural rebels, even if we call ourselves “cannabis users.”  The name is inconsequential....

Because of the government’s “reefer madness” campaign of the 1930s, 40s and 50s, most older Americans were effectively “brain-washed” (another term from the 50s) into believing that marijuana was dangerous and evil, and would lead to depravity.  Thus it is no surprise that when NORML was founded in late 1970, only 12% of the public favored legalizing the drug.  It was only by advancing a more rational understanding of marijuana and marijuana smokers over several decades that we eventually began to see higher levels of support for legalization, bringing us to where we are today, with 58% of the country nationwide now favoring an end to prohibition and the establishment of a legally regulated market. 

We are finally winning this long struggle, not because we came up with a new term for marijuana; but because we took the time and made the effort to re-educate Americans about the relative safety of marijuana, as well as the important medical uses of the drug.  We have finally won the hearts and minds of a majority of the country, who now understand that marijuana prohibition causes far more problems than the use of the drug itself, regardless of what name one prefers to use for marijuana.

Personally, though I agree with Keith Stroup's assertion that changing the primary word used to describe marijuana would not magically make opposition to legal reforms suddenly disappear, I disagree with the suggestion in the commentary that the semantics here are entirely inconsequential. Indeed, if we look at the history of alcohol regulations and other drug prohibition regimes, seemingly minor semantics can sometimes make a big difference with respect to public perception. In lots of past and present alcohol regulations, significant distinctions have been between so-called "hard liquor" and beer and wine. Similarly, federal criminal prohibitions still treat so-called "crack" much more harshly than cocaine, even though they are the exact same chemical substance.

More to the point here, I think one enduring problem with the terminology in the marijuana reform space is the tendency for lots of vague words to mean lots of different things in different settings. So many terms often used widely in the marijuana reform space (including on this blog) — even very basic terms such as "legalization," "recreational use," "medical marijuana," "decriminalization," "serious medical condition," "low THC," "edibles," "drugged driving," "public consumption" — can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. For example, in a recent on-line discussion about the potential social benefits of marijuana, a smart person reasonably asserted that the use of CBD oils to help people (especially kids) with severe seizure disorders should be considered the use of marijuana because CBD oil "is a substance in pot, not pot."

In other words, though I share Keith Stroup's view that reformed semantic alone will not radically change the basic elements of the political and social debate over marijuana, I also think "what is in a name" can often prove quite important for the development of effective legal and social reform movements. Consequently, I think advocates (on both sides of these debates) ought not ignore completely how an array of marijuana products and activities get described and may get "branded" in the months and years ahead.

February 8, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, February 7, 2016

"Medical Marijuana Could Help the NFL Cure the Illness Menacing Players' Brains, Activists Say"

ImagesThe title of this post is the headline of this lengthy super-informative article that seems like a perfect read as we await the latest version of the SuperBowl. Here is how a piece worth reading in full gets started:

With much of the NFL world camped out in the San Francisco Bay Area in the days before Super Bowl 50, researchers released sobering news: late Oakland Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler had a degenerative brain disease associated with repeated blows to the head. Later Wednesday, another late, great QB, Earl Morrall, also was revealed to have had chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which is associated with memory loss, impaired judgment and progressive dementia. Dozens of former players have been diagnosed, some who died in old age, like Frank Gifford, and a few who took their lives, like Junior Seau.

There is no known treatment for CTE, not least because there's no test that can point it out in the living — it's detected in post-mortem brain scans. But to one former player who's sure his nine-year career gave him the disease, there's an obvious treatment that isn't allowed in the NFL, even though it would be easy to score not far from Levi's Stadium on Super Bowl Sunday for anyone with a doctor's note: medical marijuana. "If cannabis is implemented and (the NFL) can lead the science on this, they can resolve this brain injury situation in a big way," Kyle Turley said.

Turley is at the forefront of a vocal movement arguing that medical marijuana's pain-suppressing and possible neuroprotective benefits make it the only effective treatment for the effects that chronic concussive blows to the head have on football players. As co-founder of the Gridiron Cannabis Coalition, Turley is the movement's most outspoken member, but it also includes other retired players and rapper/marijuana entrepreneur Snoop Dogg.

More players' brains are found to show signs of CTE with each year that passes. Researchers at Boston University have found evidence of CTE in 96 percent of the NFL players' brains they examined. At the same time, more states are allowing doctors to prescribe marijuana as a medicine – 23 so far, according to National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

A small body of research suggests marijuana can heal head trauma, yet Turley wonders why the league isn't investigating the drug as a medicine. To advocates, hosting the Super Bowl in the region is almost hypocritical, given what they see happening to the heads of NFL players and the spiraling lives of some former players. "The NFL's policy against medical marijuana is stupid and counterproductive," said Dale Gieringer, director of the California chapter of NORML, in an email calling the NFL out of touch with the laws of the state. "There's no doubt NFL players would be better off with medical access to marijuana."

Turley is a former defensive lineman who has been extremely outspoken about his medical struggles after playing for three NFL teams in nine years. A New Yorker article from 2009 describes him blacking out at a Nashville concert, feeling much the same way he did when he was kneed in the head during a game years earlier. The former lineman had recently retired and was taking painkillers. He wound up in the hospital, where he said he briefly lost nearly all control of his body. "Before quitting all the pills and committing to cannabis ... my life was a train wreck, plain and simple," Turley told NBC Owned Television Stations.

Today, Turley has eliminated all other chemicals from his system, from Aleve to Zoloft, he said. The San Diego resident has found strains of marijuana that relieve pain and other strains with effects comparable to the psychiatric pill Vicodin, but without the narcotic effects.

Medical marijuana has fairly well known, though not conclusively proven, pain relieving benefits. But to Turley, the drug also treats mental anguish he believes comes from CTE. There is very little research on that front, but the 40-year-old father insists marijuana has given him stability after recently feeling despondent and suicidal. "The reality is I don't think about those things anymore. And if it wasn't for cannabis, I wouldn't be where I am mentally," Turley said.

Turley swears that marijuana use is rampant in the NFL – "from players to coaches to owners, marijuana is in the National Football League" – but only a handful of players have spoken out about using it. They emphasize the mental clarity it offers as much as the pain relief.

"I always healed fast, ahead of schedule; was never really very swollen; my mind was very sharp, and after concussions medicated with it," Nate Jackson told marijuana magazine High Times this week, discussing how marijuana helped him in his days with the Broncos in the 2000s.

It's not just young players who swear by pot, either. Jim McMahon, one of the heroes of the Chicago Bears' 1985 championship, revealed last month that he weaned himself off pharmaceutical drugs that left his head feeling fuzzy. "This medical marijuana has been a godsend. It relieves me of the pain – or thinking about it, anyway," he told The Chicago Tribune.

February 7, 2016 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Big new public health analysis of marijuana legalization proposals in California

Download (2)As reported in this local piece out of California, "Researchers warn legal marijuana could be next Big Tobacco," a pair of public health scholars have produced this interesting new report examining marijuana reform proposals in Califronia from a public health persepctive.  Here is the start of the press account of the report and some reaction thereto:

A ballot proposal legalizing recreational marijuana would likely launch a new profit-driven industry similar to Big Tobacco that could impede public health efforts, according to researchers at the University of California, San Francisco.  The 66-page analysis, released Tuesday, is the first in-depth look at the state’s main effort to legalize recreational marijuana this year.

Researchers said they began with the premise that legalizing marijuana makes sense because its prohibition has put too many people behind bars and cost taxpayers too much money.  But they concluded the two potential initiatives they examined would replace a crime problem with a public health issue.

The authors, Rachel Barry and Stanton Glantz, of the UCSF Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education and Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy, said the measure most likely to qualify for the ballot establishes a regulatory system similar to the one used for alcohol.  They said it would have been better to pattern the guidelines after the state’s Tobacco Control Program, which they credited with reducing the health effects and costs related to tobacco.

“Evidence from tobacco and alcohol control demonstrates that without a strong public health framework, a wealthy and politically powerful marijuana industry will develop and use its political clout to manipulate regulatory frameworks and thwart public health efforts to reduce use and profits,” the report states.

In an interview, Glantz said treating marijuana like cigarettes could drive down its popularity.  “The goal (should be) to legalize it so that nobody gets thrown in jail, but create a legal product that nobody wants,” he said.

He worries that a new marijuana industry would spend large sums of money to curry favor with lawmakers.  “I think a corporate takeover of the market ... is very, very hard to stop,” he said, adding, “They are already a potent lobbyist in California.”

A spokesman for the legalization campaign noted the report was written by experts on tobacco, not marijuana, and said it makes broad assumptions unsupported by past research into the issue.  The measure is drafted in a way that takes public health into account, Jason Kinney said.  “This report inexplicably chooses to ignore the extensive public health protections and mandate included in our measure – as well as the child safeguards, the small-business and anti-monopoly provisions and the unprecedented investments in youth prevention, education and treatment,” Kinney said.

The leading measure seeks to legitimize possession of 1 ounce of marijuana and cultivation of six marijuana plants for adults 21 and over.  One of the proponents, Donald Lyman, a retired physician, helped write the California Medical Association’s 2011 policy calling for the legalization of marijuana.

The doctors’ lobby formally endorsed the main legalization measure on Monday, characterizing it as a “comprehensive and thoughtfully constructed measure.”  For years, some doctors have complained they have become gatekeepers for healthy people seeking weed recommendations via a flawed medical marijuana system.

Lyman, a former state public health official, said the notion that marijuana must be regulated exactly like tobacco “represents an awkward minority opinion not widely shared within the public health community.”  Lyman said it is widely accepted in the scientific community that marijuana has medical benefits, something that isn’t true of tobacco.

This notable new report is titled "A Public Health Analysis of Two Proposed Marijuana Legalization Initiatives for the 2016 California Ballot: Creating the New Tobacco Industry," and it is available at this link.

February 3, 2016 in Initiative reforms in states, Medical community perspectives, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 1, 2016

GAO says DOJ "should document its approach to monitoring" the impact of state marijuana legalization

I just learned of this notable new document authored by the US Government Accountability Office titled "STATE MARIJUANA LEGALIZATION: DOJ Should Document Its Approach to Monitoring the Effects of Legalization." The report was apparently requested by Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and here is a passage from its "Conclusions" section:

It has been over 2 years since DOJ’s ODAG issued guidance in August 2013 stating that in jurisdictions that have enacted laws legalizing marijuana in some form, if state enforcement efforts are not sufficiently robust to protect against threats to federal enforcement priorities, the federal government may seek to challenge the state regulatory structures themselves, in addition to continuing to bring individual enforcement actions, including criminal prosecutions.  ODAG officials reported relying on U.S. Attorneys to monitor the effects of marijuana enforcement priorities through their individual enforcement actions and communication with state agencies about how state legalization may threaten these priorities.  ODAG officials also reported using various information sources provided by DOJ components and other federal agencies to monitor the effects of marijuana legalization and the degree to which existing state systems regulating marijuana-related activity protect federal enforcement priorities and public health and safety.

However, ODAG officials have not documented their monitoring process or provided specificity about key aspects of it, including potential limitations of the data they report using and how they will use the data to identify states that are not effectively protecting federal enforcement priorities.  Given the growing number of states legalizing marijuana, it is important for DOJ to have a clear plan for how it will be monitoring the effects of state marijuana legalization relative to DOJ marijuana enforcement guidance.  Documenting a plan that specifies its monitoring process, such as the various data ODAG is using for monitoring along with their potential limitations, the roles of U.S. Attorneys in the monitoring process, and how ODAG is using all these inputs to monitor the effects of state legalization can provide DOJ with greater assurance that its monitoring activities are occurring as intended. Sharing the plan with DOJ components responsible for providing information to ODAG can help ensure that ODAG has an opportunity to gain institutional knowledge with respect to whether its monitoring plan includes the most appropriate information.  This will help place DOJ in the best position to identify state systems that are not effectively protecting federal enforcement priorities, and take steps to challenge those systems if necessary in accordance with its 2013 marijuana enforcement guidance.

February 1, 2016 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)