Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Senate committee preserves spending limit precluding DOJ interference with medical marijuana regimes

As this new piece from The Hill reports, the "Senate Appropriations Committee approved an amendment to a budget bill on Thursday to protect medical marijuana programs from federal interference in states that have legalized the drug for medical use." Here is more:

The amendment to the 2018 Commerce, Justice and Science appropriations bill passed by a voice vote and prohibits the Justice Department from using funds to prevent states from "implementing their own state laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession or cultivation of medical marijuana."

"The federal government can't investigate everything and shouldn't, and I don't want them pursuing medical marijuana patients who are following state law," said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who offered the amendment. Leahy argued that the Department of Justice (DOJ) should be focusing its limited resources on more legitimate threats.

"We have more important things for the Department of Justice to do than tracking down doctors or epileptics using medical marijuana legally in their state," he said. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), however, argued that while civil liberties and states' rights are important, telling DOJ not to enforce federal laws goes against legal principles. "If Congress wants to tell the Department of Justice to stop enforcing the medical marijuana laws, then it should change the authorization within the Judiciary Committee, not through an appropriations provision," he said.

The amendment passed despite a letter Attorney General Jeff Sessions sent in May asking House and Senate leadership not to block DOJ from using funds to enforce federal marijuana laws. "I believe it would be unwise for Congress to restrict the discretion of the Department to fund particular prosecutions, particularly in the midst of an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime," Session wrote in the letter first obtained by Massroots.com and later confirmed by The Washington Post. "The Department must be in a position to use all laws available to combat the transnational drug organizations and dangerous drug traffickers who threaten American lives."

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) told The Hill on Thursday that he plans to once again offer the amendment to the House Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations bill, which passed the appropriations committee earlier this month. When asked if he's expecting a fight on the floor, where he'll be forced to offer the amendment, Rohrabacher said he hopes there isn't one "but if there is, clearly we will win."

July 27, 2017 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Legal weed isn't living up to all of its promises. We need to shut it down"

The title of this post is the headline of this new CNBC commentary authored by Kevin Sabet, president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana. Here are excerpts:

Today, a growing class of well-heeled lobbyists intent on commercializing marijuana are doing everything they can to sell legal weed as a panacea for every contemporary challenge we face in America.  Over the past several years we've been barraged by claims that legal pot can cure the opioid crisis, cure cancer, eliminate international drug cartels, and even solve climate change.

One seemingly compelling case made by special interest groups is that legal marijuana can boost our economy too: after all, marijuana businesses create jobs and bring in millions of dollars in much-needed tax revenue.

Yet, a closer look at the facts reveals a starkly different reality.  The truth is, a commercial market for marijuana not only harms public health and safety, it also places a significant strain on local economies and weakens the ability of the American workforce to compete in an increasingly global marketplace.

We already know that drug use costs our economy hundreds of millions of dollars a year in public health and safety costs.  The last comprehensive study to look at costs of drugs in society found that drug use cost taxpayers more than $193 billion – due to lost work productivity, health care costs, and higher crime.

A new study out of Canada found that marijuana-impaired driving alone costs more than $1 billion.  Laws commercializing marijuana only make this problem worse and hamper local communities' ability to deal with the health and safety fallout of increased drug use....

Over the past several months, the Trump Administration has signaled it is considering a crackdown on marijuana in states where it is legal. We don't yet know what this policy change may look like, but one thing we know for sure is that incarcerating low-level, nonviolent offenders in federal prisons is not the answer.  Individual users need incentives to encourage them to make healthy decisions, not handcuffs.

But we do need to enforce federal law.  Indeed, by reasserting federal control over the exploding marijuana industry, we know we can make a positive difference in preventing the commercialization of a drug that will put profits over public health and fight every regulation proposed to control its sale and use.  Marijuana addiction is real, and simply ignoring this health condition will only cost us down the road. We should assess marijuana users for drug use disorders as well as mental health problems, and assist those into recovery.  This can't happen in a climate that promotes use. 

July 27, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Latest effort to take down federal marijuana prohibition via constitutional litigation filed in SDNY

As reported in this Newsweek article, former New York Jets defensive end Marvin Washington "is one of five plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit against Sessions, the Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Agency" that attacks federal marijuana prohibition on various grounds.  Here is a bit more about the lawsuit via the press report:

The Manhattan lawsuit targets the 1970 Controlled Substances Act, which established federal drug policy and delineated narcotics into different schedules. Under the legislation, marijuana is considered a Schedule I controlled substance—along with other drugs such as heroin and ecstasy—and is subjected to the tightest restrictions.... “Classifying cannabis as a ‘Schedule I drug’ is so irrational that it violates the U.S. Constitution,” the lawsuit said.

Washington has joined the lawsuit because the current legislation prevents him from obtaining federal grants to start a business aimed at professional football players who want to use medical marijuana to manage pain.... Other plaintiffs include an 11-year-old boy, Alexis Bortell, who requires medical marijuana to control his epilepsy, and a disabled military veteran, Jose Belen, who uses it to control post traumatic stress syndrome....

Washington, whose playing career ended in 1999, has been a vocal advocate for the use of medical marijuana in football. He has lobbied the NFL to promote medical marijuana as an effective means of pain relief. Washington played eight seasons with the Jets, while also playing for the San Francisco 49ers and the Denver Broncos in a 11-year career. He won the Super Bowl XXXIII in 1999 with the Broncos.

Keith Stroup, legal counsel for the advocacy group NORML, has a lot more of the legal particulars in this new posting which also includes a link to the 89-page complaint in this case. Here are parts of his post:

Washington, et.al v. Sessions, et.al, was recently filed in US District Court in the Southern District of New York by lead attorney Michael Hiller, with NORML Legal Committee (NLC) attorneys David Holland and Joseph Bondy serving as co-counsel. The full complaint can be found here.

Individual plaintiffs in the suit were two young children, an American military veteran, and a retired professional football player, all of whom are medical marijuana patients; and a membership organization alleging their minority members have been discriminated against by the federal Controlled Substances Act.

Seeking to overturn the 2005 Supreme Court decision in Gonzales v. Raich, plaintiffs request a declaration that the CSA, as it pertains to the classification of Cannabis as a Schedule I drug, is unconstitutional, because it violates the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment, an assortment of protections guaranteed by the First Amendment, and the fundamental Right to Travel. Further, plaintiffs seek a declaration that Congress, in enacting the CSA as it pertains to marijuana, violated the Commerce Clause, extending the breadth of legislative power well beyond the scope contemplated by Article I of the Constitution.

Named as defendants in the case are Attorney General Jeff Beauregard Sessions, Acting Administrator of the DEA Chuck Rosenberg, the Justice Department, the DEA and the Federal Government.

In their Complaint, plaintiffs allege that the federal government does not, and could not possibly, believe that Cannabis meets the definition of a Schedule I drug, which is reserved for the most dangerous of substances, such as heroin, LSD, and mescaline; and that classifying Cannabis as a “Schedule I drug,” is so irrational that it violates the U.S. Constitution.

 Among the other claims in the lawsuit are that the CSA: (i) was enacted and implemented in order to discriminate against African Americans and to suppress people’s First Amendment rights; and (ii) violates plaintiffs’ constitutional Right to Travel.

July 25, 2017 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, July 23, 2017

"As Trump wages war on legal marijuana, military veterans side with pot"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable Los Angeles Times article.  Here is how it starts:

The Trump administration’s attack on legal marijuana, already stymied by large states determined not to roll back the clock, is increasingly confronting an even more politically potent adversary: military veterans.

Frustrated by federal laws restricting their access to a drug many already rely on to help treat post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic pain and opioid addiction, veterans have become an influential lobbying force in the marijuana debate after sitting on the sidelines for years.

The 2-million-member American Legion this spring got involved in a big way by launching a campaign to reduce marijuana restrictions, which it says hurt veterans and may aggravate a suicide epidemic. The move reflects the changing politics of marijuana, and of a conservative, century-old veterans service organization facing new challenges as its membership grows with those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“We were hearing these compelling stories from veterans about how cannabis has made their lives better,” said Joseph Plenzler, a spokesman for the American Legion. “That they were able to use it to get off a whole cocktail of drugs prescribed by VA doctors, that it is helping with night terrors, or giving them relief from chronic pain.”

At the same time, some patients complained that Veterans Affairs doctors refused to offer any advice for using medical marijuana yet also made a record of who was using it, raising fears that such information might be used to punish former service members or strip their benefits. The legion’s call to reclassify marijuana federally from a drug that has no medical benefit and is more dangerous than cocaine to one that is in the same category as legal prescription painkillers has caught the attention of lawmakers.

A measure the legion now supports, that would permit VA doctors to give their patients the sign-off they need to access medical marijuana in states where it is legal, was approved by a key Senate budget committee earlier this month on a 24-7 vote, with nine Republicans voting in favor. The measure is among the veterans-related marijuana legislation getting new traction at an otherwise challenging time in Washington for pot advocates.

July 23, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Big meeting of feds and state/local officials in Colorado portends...?

As reported in this US News & World Report article, headlined "Feds Tour Colorado in DOJ Pot Review: Recommendations are due next week on whether to crush state-legal weed," there is some new activity in the arena of federal review of state marijuana reform. But what the new activity will lead to remains unclear. Here are excerpts:

Federal officials asked seemingly mundane questions during a Tuesday meeting in Colorado with state officials, at least some of whom were unaware that the discussion was part of a shadowy review of federal marijuana policy. The meeting provides the best glimpse yet into the issues authorities are considering as they prepare to make recommendations next week on what to do about state-legal recreational marijuana, with options ranging from a crackdown to keeping the status quo.

The guest list on Tuesday included Justice Department attorney Michael Murray, who is leading the department's marijuana policy review, and a State Department official with expertise in treaty obligations, according to Mark Bolton, deputy legal counsel to Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat. John Zadrozny, a domestic policy adviser at the White House, was in the room, as were two representatives of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, says Bolton, who also attended.

A person with knowledge of the meeting's purpose says the gathering and another meeting Wednesday with officials from the city of Colorado Springs are directly related to the ongoing federal pot policy review. The source asked not to be identified. Bolton says he was unaware that the meeting – which featured about 20 state agency representatives -- was directly related to the policy review....

The only question that Bolton recalls Murray asking dealt with whether 2014 guidance from the Treasury Department's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCen) remains "up to date," he says. That guidance outlined how banks can work with pot businesses, but many financial institutions remain reluctant to take on the compliance burden or perceived risk involved in handling cash for cannabis firms operating in violation of federal law. "I don't remember him asking other questions, but it may be they weren't questions that resonated with me," Bolton says.

The State Department official asked if there had been significant problems with diversion of Colorado marijuana to other countries, Bolton says. A representative of the Colorado Department of Public Safety said that is not a significant problem....

The ONDCP representatives at the meeting asked about educational efforts and about continued black- and gray-market sales, Bolton says. He can't recall Zadrozny asking any questions....

Bolton says state officials shared how Colorado uses marijuana tax revenue – estimated to exceed $500 million since recreational sales began in 2014 – to educate the public about the risks of the drug and about responsible use, and that officials pointed out teen use has not increased. He says participants did not directly address the possible consequences of repealing the Justice Department's 2013 Cole Memo, which allowed recreational pot stores to open....

Hickenlooper was not present at the meeting. But Bolton believes invitations extended by the governor during an April meeting with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, as well as an invitation by Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, a Republican, inspired the visit. It's unclear if federal officials are touring other states as part of their policy review....

After meeting with state officials, a group of feds met Wednesday with legalization foes in Colorado Springs. No supporters of regulating recreational sales attended, KKTV reported after staking out the meeting and later interviewing Mayor John Suthers, a former U.S. attorney and state attorney general who opposes marijuana legalization. "A lot of [the meeting dealt with] sensitive case investigations. That's another reason why it couldn't be public," Suthers told the station. "Probably most of the discussion centered around the huge black market that exists for marijuana in Colorado." Suthers said the city's police department created the guest list, which included a local doctor and a school district director of discipline. The mayor and the police chief were unable to provide immediate comment....

KKTV reported a member of Vice President Mike Pence's staff and at least one member of the DEA also attended the Colorado Springs meeting. Pence's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment, and the national DEA headquarters referred questions to the local office, which did not immediately respond.

Although the Justice Department could launch a devastating legal assault on state-regulated recreational marijuana, medical marijuana currently is protected from federal prosecutors and anti-drug agents by a budget restriction passed in Congress. And in Colorado, state legislators approved legislation earlier this year allowing businesses to reclassify recreational pot as medical marijuana if the need arises.

July 20, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, 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 (1)

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

"What Jeff Sessions is getting wrong about legal weed"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new CNBC commentary authored by Gina Belafonte, Chris Leavy and Lindy Snider. Here are excerpts:

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, between 2001 and 2010 there were 8.2 million marijuana related arrests in the county, nearly 90 percent of them were for possession. African Americans were nearly four times as likely to be arrested for possession than whites.

Since California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana two decades ago, 28 others and the District of Columbia have followed suit. Eight states have also legalized adult use. We now have a track record of legal, regulated marijuana in more than half of the country, and clear evidence that it is a better approach than a blanket prohibition and harsh prison sentences for those who use it or participate in its commerce.

A 2014 study from the University of Texas, Dallas using FBI's crime data showed no rise in crime rates resulting from medical marijuana legalization, and even some evidence of decreasing rates of homicide and assault. According to the Drug Policy Alliance, Denver saw a 2.2 percent drop in violent crime rates in the year after the first legal recreational cannabis sales in Colorado, and overall property crime dropped by 8.9 percent in the same period while Washington, which legalized recreational use in 2012, saw violent crime rates drop by 10 percent from 2011 to 2014.

The history of the War on Drugs is also a history of the economic and social disparities in our country. Black and brown men are disproportionally incarcerated under our current drug laws, and because mass incarceration breaks up families and severely limits ex-convicts' employment and business opportunities, the War on Drugs has dramatically increased the poverty rate in minority communities....

To be sure, the War on Drugs is a much bigger and more complex issue than marijuana legalization alone, but it is a good place to start. State legal cannabis is now a $6 billion industry that employs 150,000 people and is on track to create more jobs than the manufacturing sector by 2020.

It has generated hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue; California alone is forecasting $1 billion annually. Two decades of state legal marijuana also has shaped public opinion, with record numbers of Americans now supporting legalization. A recent poll from Quinnipiac University shows 94 percent of U.S. voters support medical marijuana programs, and 60 percent favor full legalization.

In today's divided politics, few issues command such unanimous support. Medical marijuana is legal both in red and blue states. The first ever Congressional Cannabis Caucus, announced earlier this year, is made up of two Democrats and two Republicans. And in the cannabis industry social justice and business interests are often aligned, with advocates and entrepreneurs standing shoulder to shoulder against reactionary policies such as the ones proposed by Mr. Sessions.

If he has his way on marijuana, Mr. Sessions threatens to turn back the clock on two decades of painstakingly gained progress, bringing us back to the days of overflowing prisons, disenfranchised communities and a $50 billion black market for cannabis run by drug cartels. We must not allow that to happen.

July 18, 2017 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (2)

Massachusetts top court issues major ruling allowing medical marijuana user to pursue lawsuit against employer after her termination

As reported in this Boston Globe piece, headlined "Ruling means Mass. companies can’t fire workers for medical marijuana," the top court in Massachusetts issued a significant employment law ruling yesterday on behalf of a medical marijuana patient. Here are the basics from the press report:

Massachusetts companies cannot fire employees who have a prescription for medical marijuana simply because they use the drug, the state’s highest court ruled Monday, rejecting employers’ arguments that they could summarily enforce strict no-drug policies against such patients.

Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants said a California sales and marketing firm discriminated against an employee of its Massachusetts operation who uses marijuana to treat Crohn’s disease when it fired her for flunking a drug test.

In Massachusetts, Gants wrote, “the use and possession of medically prescribed marijuana by a qualifying patient is as lawful as the use and possession of any other prescribed medication.” Therefore, he said, employers can’t use blanket anti-marijuana policies to dismiss workers whose doctors have prescribed the drug to treat their illnesses.

Instead, antidiscrimination laws require companies to attempt to negotiate a mutually acceptable arrangement with each medical marijuana patient they employ, such as exploring alternative medications or allowing use of the drug only outside of work hours. The ruling overturned a lower court’s dismissal of a lawsuit against brought in 2015 by Cristina Barbuto of Brewster, who was fired by Advantage Sales and Marketing after just one day on the job because she tested positive for marijuana.

Barbuto said she told the company during interviews that she uses cannabis several nights a week — not before or during work hours — to treat her Crohn’s disease, a chronic inflammatory disorder that affects the digestive tract and can inhibit appetites. She said the local hiring manager told her it would not be a problem, and that she was blindsided by her dismissal....

Advocates called the ruling long overdue, and said they expected that other medical marijuana patients who had been fired over their use of the drug would soon contest their dismissals. “We are thrilled that the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts has ruled in favor of compassion for people that use medical marijuana for a range of debilitating conditions,” the Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance, which sponsored the state’s successful 2012 medical marijuana ballot initiative, said in a prepared statement.

A business group that interceded in the case, however, said the ruling would especially hurt small companies that don’t have the resources or expertise to negotiate accommodations for marijuana patients. “This is opening small business owners up to a ton of litigation,” said Karen Harned, the executive director of the National Federation of Independent Business Small Business Legal Center, which filed a brief in support of Advantage. “It’s making their lives harder because they can no longer have a clear drug-free-workplace policy.”

The decision doesn’t mean employers can never fire a patient for using marijuana medically; firms that contract with the federal government, for example, or where workers operate heavy machinery, could argue that accommodating their employees’ use of the drug constitutes an “undue hardship.” But the ruling puts the burden on employers to prove they cannot accommodate medical marijuana patients because their cannabis use impairs their ability to do required work, endangers public safety, or otherwise demonstrably endangers the business, Gants wrote.

“Employers can still prevail,” said Chris Feudo, an attorney at Foley Hoag who represents companies in employment disputes. “Employees aren’t entitled to the accommodation they want; they’re entitled to a reasonable accommodation — and sometimes, there isn’t one.” Still, Feudo said, the ruling will have “really wide implications.”

The full ruling in Barbuto v. Advantage Sales and Marketing, LLC, No. SJC 12226 (Mass. July 17, 2017), is available at this link.  And it gets started this way:

In 2012, Massachusetts voters approved the initiative petition entitled, "An Act for the humanitarian medical use of marijuana," St. 2012, c. 369 (medical marijuana act or act), whose stated purpose is "that there should be no punishment under state law for qualifying patients . . . for the medical use of marijuana." Id. at § 1. The issue on appeal is whether a qualifying patient who has been terminated from her employment because she tested positive for marijuana as a result of her lawful medical use of marijuana has a civil remedy against her employer. We conclude that the plaintiff may seek a remedy through claims of handicap discrimination in violation of G. L. c. 151B, and therefore reverse the dismissal of the plaintiff's discrimination claims. We also conclude that there is no implied statutory private cause of action under the medical marijuana act and that the plaintiff has failed to state a claim for wrongful termination in violation of public policy, and therefore affirm the dismissal of those claims.

July 18, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Court Rulings, Employment and labor law issues, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (2)

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Noting the state of recreational reform efforts in state up north (aka Michigan)

Michigan-weedThis extended Detroit Free Press article, headlined "Michigan marijuana campaign brings together activists, moneyed investors, tobacco dealers," provides an interesting mid-summer report on the developing efforts to put recreational marijuana reform on the ballot in Michigan in 2018. Here are excerpts:

A campaign to once again try to fully legalize marijuana in Michigan is getting big support from a Washington D.C. nonprofit activist group and from a tobacco store company that has talked of opening a chain of marijuana shops in the state.

The donor list, revealed in the latest campaign finance statements filed by the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, alarmed critics who have long contended that marijuana's nationwide march toward legalization is being funded not by the idealistic stoners and medical-marijuana users long linked to the politics of cannabis but instead by a pack of profit-minded investors and corporate types said to be similar to Big Tobacco — the nation's cigarette and cigar industry.

"It’s obvious that these tobacco guys are making a play for the marijuana money," Jeff Zinsmeister, executive vice president of Smart Alternatives to Marijuana, based in Alexandria, Va., said Friday. The group argues that Big Marijuana is "following the playbook of Big Tobacco," hoping to get young people addicted to pot early on, then keep them as hapless customers for life, Zinsmeister said.

Those who support legalization argue that marijuana will be more difficult for youths to obtain, not less, after it passes. They liken the current availability of marijuana to the nation's era of alcohol Prohibition, when people of any age had ready access to illegal alcoholic beverages; in contrast to later laws that made alcohol legal for adults but a crime to provide it to anyone under 21.

The campaign's goal is to put a ballot question before Michigan voters in 2018, when the governor's race will trigger a big voter turnout. Medical marijuana use was approved by state voters in 2008....

Based on the ballot campaign's latest report, "44% of our contributions were $250 or less — we have a broad range of both large donors and small," said [Josh] Hovey, spokesman for the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol.

Since starting the drive to collect signatures less than two months ago, the group has gathered more than 100,000 signatures, he said. That's good progress toward collecting the required 252,523 signatures — a figure that, by law, must be 8% of the number of votes cast in Michigan's last election for governor. The group said it has until Nov. 22 to gather enough signatures.

And, in order to get a cushion to account for signatures that might be thrown out, the group has set a goal of gathering 350,000 signatures, said former state representative Jeff Irwin of Ann Arbor, who is the group's political director. "We're hitting the streets and talking to everybody," Irwin said Saturday.

In a failed effort last year to get on the ballot, a different marijuana group relied mainly on volunteers. This year's coalition, which includes supporters of last year's effort, is using paid petition circulators at considerable cost. "It's going to cost probably a million and a half dollars just to get on the ballot," Hovey said.

"After that, we’ll need to spend a lot more on advertising and all the methods of communication to make sure that voters have the full story. We’re estimating this is going to be, in total, an $8-million campaign, by the time the vote actually happens next year," he said.

July 16, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 14, 2017

Looking at the DOJ lawyer working on review of federal marijuana policies

This new US News article, headlined "Federal Pot Policy in Hands of Little-Known DOJ Official: A proposal on what to do about state-legal pot is due in two weeks," provides an interesting little glimpse into the young Justice Department lawyer who may have a big say in the future of federal prosecutorial policies for marijuana:

Michael Murray isn’t well known outside of legal circles, but that may soon change.  The former Supreme Court clerk holds the fate of a multibillion-dollar cannabis industry in his hands and will make recommendations soon on whether to launch a crackdown.

People who know Murray can’t imagine the straight-laced young father of three thinking highly of marijuana use and describe him as quiet and personally conservative.  But they also say he is thoughtful and independent-minded.

Murray, a 2009 Yale Law School graduate, is a counsel to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and was tasked with the review earlier this year, when Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a larger crime task force would have a marijuana subcommittee.

The marijuana subcommittee's work is shrouded in secrecy, with recommendations due by July 27.  The outcome could be either a yawn or a jarring assault on states that have regulated seed-to-sale markets serving adults 21 and older.

Possession and sale of marijuana remain federal crimes.  The Obama administration, however, allowed states broad leeway to regulate medical and recreational sales.  Eight states now have laws authorizing recreational pot markets. Among the conceivable outcomes, the subcommittee could move to pull the rug out from under the cannabis industry by withdrawing or modifying the 2013 Cole Memo, which allowed recreational pot stores to open so long as enforcement triggers – such as underage sales, interstate smuggling and public health consequences – aren’t tripped.

At least in theory, Murray is not the only person reviewing the policy. But it’s not clear who else may be serving on the subcommittee and some legalization advocates fear the fix is in, with large pot advocacy and business groups saying they have had no contact.  "They have been operating in a black box, really," says Taylor West, deputy director of the National Cannabis Industry Association.  "There has been no indication that there was an opening for any viewpoint other than those of whoever is on this committee."  West says the group is "preparing with our allies in D.C. for whatever may come from this."

Statistics from the early years of pot legalization can be manipulated to support a viewpoint, making diverse input potentially significant.  For example, two recent studies came to opposite conclusions on the effects of legalization on traffic safety.  And while surveys show teen pot use has not increased nationally or in the pioneering states since 2012, contrasting current rates to historical low points offers a different impression.

A closed-to-the-press June summit associated with the larger Justice Department task force featured a discussion on drug-supply reduction with Kevin Sabet, the nation's most prominent anti-legalization organizer and leader of the group Smart Approaches to Marijuana. Sabet has not said what interactions, if any, he has with the subcommittee.

Amplifying reformers’ concern is the fact that the larger task force is co-chaired by Steve Cook, an advocate of harsh sentences for drug crimes.  And Murray’s boss, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, is a cantankerous critic of marijuana use who in May asked Congress to drop budget language protecting state medical marijuana programs.

Murray lacks the combative style of Sessions or Cook, according to friends and former colleagues, who describe him as family-oriented and scholarly. One supporter of legalization who asked not to be identified said they trusted his judgment.

Murray joined the Justice Department after working for the Jones Day law firm, which has sent many attorneys to the Trump administration.  His wife, Claire McCusker Murray, became associate counsel to President Donald Trump earlier this year.  “Michael is a brilliant young lawyer [and] he has a somewhat understated personality, especially compared to a lot of people who fill the ranks of the Trump administration,” says David Lat, who also clerked for Judge Diarmuid O'Scannlain, a prominent conservative on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.  “I would not expect anything crazy from him,” says Lat, who did not clerk for O'Scannlain at the same time as Murray but knows him socially....

Katherine Moran Meeks, an attorney who clerked alongside Murray for Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy in 2013-2014, says Murray is, however, “a man of his own mind.”

“He’s a person of integrity and he’s there to offer a careful legal opinion,” Meeks says. “I’m sure that’s what he’ll give, rather than something driven by partisanship.”

July 14, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, July 13, 2017

New report highlights persistent racial skew in marijuana arrests in New York City

Earlier this week, as reported in this press release, a new report focused on New York City was released "by the Marijuana Arrest Research Project, commissioned by the Drug Policy Alliance, [which] shows that marijuana possession arrests under Mayor de Blasio continue to be marked by extremely high racial disparities, as was the case under the Bloomberg and Giuliani administrations." Here is more about the report from the press release:

The report, Unjust and Unconstitutional: 60,000 Jim Crow Marijuana Arrests in Mayor de Blasio’s New York, shows that despite a change in mayoral administrations and police commissioners, the NYPD continues to make large numbers of unjust and racially-targeted marijuana arrests.  The report is based on data from the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services.

Despite Mayor de Blasio’s campaign promise to end racially-biased policing, in 2016 marijuana possession was New York City’s fourth most commonly charged criminal offense.  Black and Latino New Yorkers continue to comprise 85 percent of the more than 60,000 people arrested for low-level marijuana possession on Mayor de Blasio’s watch.  Most people arrested are young Blacks and Latinos – even though studies consistently show young whites use marijuana at higher rates....

Key findings include the following:

  • In the first three years of the de Blasio administration, the NYPD made over 60,000 criminal arrests for the lowest-level marijuana possession offense, an average of 20,000 marijuana arrests a year.

  • The NYPD’s marijuana arrests under de Blasio suffer from the same overwhelming racial disparities as under Bloomberg – about 86% of the arrests for marijuana possession are of Blacks and Latinos.

  • As in previous years, in 2016 and in the first four months of 2017, 81% of the people arrested for marijuana were age 16 to 34, 58% were 16 to 25 and 27% were age 16 to 20.

  • Residents of New York City’s public housing developments constitute the single largest group of people arrested.  In 2016, NYPD housing police made 21% of the city’s total of 18,121 arrests for marijuana possession and 92% of those arrested were Blacks and Latinos.

  • Of New York City’s 76 neighborhood police precincts, 37 neighborhoods have a majority of Black and Latino residents.  They have about half the city’s population but provide 66% of the marijuana possession arrests and 92% of the people arrested are Blacks and Latinos.

  • Police in New York also target neighborhoods in midtown and lower Manhattan with active nightlife. Although pedestrians in those areas are predominately white, police arrest Blacks and Latinos at very high rates.

  • In 2016, in Greenwich Village, 69% of the people arrested for marijuana possession were Blacks and Latinos.  In Chelsea, 77% were Blacks and Latinos.  In Soho-Tribeca-Wall St. 73% were Blacks and Latinos. In tourist-heavy Little Italy and Chinatown, 66% of the people arrested for marijuana possession were Blacks and Latinos.

  • In 2016, police enforcement targeted people of color, especially Blacks, everywhere in New York City.  In Manhattan, Blacks are 13% of the residents but 45% of the people arrested for marijuana possession.  In Queens, Blacks are 18% of the residents but 49% of the people arrested for marijuana.  And in Staten Island, Blacks are 10% of the residents but 49% of the people arrested for marijuana possession.

  • The rates of NYPD arrests for marijuana possession per 100,000 of the population are extremely skewed. In Queens, police arrest Blacks at seven times the rate of whites.  In Manhattan they arrest Blacks at 10 times the rate of whites.  And in Staten Island the NYPD arrests Blacks at 15 times the rate of whites.

July 13, 2017 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

"Mapping medical marijuana: State laws regulating patients, product safety, supply chains and dispensaries, 2017"

CoverThe title of this post is the title of this useful new article in the publication Addiction authored by numerous researchers.  Here is the article's abstract:

Aims

1) To describe open source legal datasets, created for research use, that capture the key provisions of U.S. state medical marijuana laws. The data document how state lawmakers have regulated a medicine that remains, under federal law, a Schedule I illegal drug with no legitimate medical use. 2) To demonstrate the variability that exists across states in rules governing patient access, product safety, and dispensary practice.

Methods

Two legal researchers collected and coded state laws governing marijuana patients, product safety, and dispensaries in effect on February 1, 2017, creating three empirical legal datasets. We used summary tables to identify the variation in specific statutory provisions specified in each state's medical marijuana law as it existed on February 1, 2017. We compared aspects of these laws to the traditional Federal approach to regulating medicine. Full datasets, codebooks and protocols are available through the Prescription Drug Abuse Policy System (http://www.pdaps.org/ ; http://www.webcitation.org/6qv5CZNaZ).

Results

Twenty-eight states (including the District of Columbia) have authorized medical marijuana. Twenty-seven specify qualifying diseases, which differ across states. All but two protect patient privacy; only 14 protect patients against discrimination. Eighteen states have mandatory product safety testing before any sale. While the majority have package/label regulations, states have a wide range of specific requirements. Most regulate dispensaries (25 states), with considerable variation in specific provisions such as permitted product supply sources (23 states), number of dispensaries per state (18 states) and restricting proximity to various types of location (21 states).

Conclusions

The federal ban in the USA on marijuana has resulted in a patchwork of regulatory strategies that are not uniformly consistent with the approach usually taken by the Federal government and whose effectiveness remains unknown.

July 12, 2017 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, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, July 9, 2017

"Is marijuana a secret weapon against the opioid epidemic?"

Regular readers may already be tired of posts here exploring whether marijuana reform may be an important element of modern responses to the modern opioid epidemic.  But until that epidemic is over, I am going to keep posting on this topic.  And the title of this post is the headline of this PRI article is based on an interview that aired on PRI's Science Friday. Here are excerpts:

“Really, if we stopped medical marijuana programs that are now in place in 29 states and Washington, DC … the science suggests we would worsen the opioid epidemic,” says Dina Fine Maron, a medicine and health editor at Scientific American, who wrote a recent story on the subject.

She explains that states with medical marijuana programs have fewer opioid overdose-related deaths than states without medical marijuana — 25 percent fewer, according to a 2014 study cited in her article. “The reality is that the literature right now suggests that if anyone is using an opioid — whether it be a prescription painkiller or something like heroin — a prescription painkiller is more likely [than marijuana] to lead to drug abuse,” she says, “because it’s more addictive and obviously can be more lethal.”...

University of Georgia public policy professor W. David Bradford has studied how legal medical marijuana impacts prescription use by enrollees of Medicare, the federal health insurance program for seniors and the disabled. “What we found … was significant reductions in prescription use, most notably among pain medications, and the largest plurality of those would be opiates,” he says.

Then he researched the effect on enrollees in Medicaid, the federal-state program that helps the poor and people with disabilities pay for health care. “We redid the study for Medicaid just this past month in Health Affairs and, again, found large reductions in the use of prescription pain medications when states turned on medical cannabis laws.”...

Legal medical marijuana isn’t a silver bullet for the complex US opiate crisis, Bradford says. But while dozens of people in the US die each day from opioids, there has never been a fatal overdose documented from marijuana alone. “The National [Academies] of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine just this past January issued a comprehensive report where they said there is conclusive evidence that cannabis can be effective at managing pain,” he says. “So, to the extent we can divert people from initially starting on opiates through legitimate prescriptions, we divert them from the path of abuse and then the path of death,” he adds. “And it does seem that cannabis could be one tool in the arsenal to do that.”

Some prior related posts:

July 9, 2017 in Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (1)

Saturday, July 8, 2017

"State of Emergency"!?!: Nevada dispensaries struggling to keep up with demand after first week of recreational sales

Download (5)As reported in this USA Today article, headlined "Nevada dispensaries running out of marijuana," recreational marijuana sales are off to quite a start in the Silver State and that is actually creating a significant problem:

Nevada dispensaries licensed to sell recreational marijuana are running out of pot less than a week after the legal market came to life, according to the state Department of Taxation.

On Friday, taxation officials announced that Gov. Brian Sandoval had endorsed the department's "statement of emergency," allowing state officials to consider adopting an emergency marijuana regulation that could alleviate the shortage. The Nevada Tax Commission will vote on the regulation Thursday.

"Based on reports of adult-use marijuana sales already far exceeding the industry’s expectations at the state’s 47 licensed retail marijuana stores, and the reality that many stores are running out of inventory, the Department must address the lack of distributors immediately. Some establishments report the need for delivery within the next several days," said department spokeswoman Stephanie Klapstein in an email.

The regulation would allow the department to consider a larger pool of applicants for distribution licenses, licenses that permit the transport of recreational marijuana from cultivation and packaging facilities to the dispensaries.

When the state law legalizing recreational marijuana was passed in November, wholesale alcohol distributors were promised exclusive rights to transport wholesale marijuana for the first 18 months of legal sales. The department, however, has run into multiple roadblocks in reviewing the seven applications that they have received as of Friday.

"We continue to work with the liquor wholesalers who have applied for distribution licenses, but most don’t yet meet the requirements that would allow us to license them. Even as we attempted to schedule the final facility inspection for one of the applicants this week, they told us their facility was not ready and declined the inspection. As of mid-day Friday, not one distribution license has been issued," Klapstein said....

Now that any marijuana dispensary licensed to sell recreational marijuana must receive all product — both recreational and medical — from a distributor licensed to transport recreational marijuana, many of them are stuck with dwindling supply. "The business owners in this industry have invested hundreds of millions of dollars to build facilities across the state," Klapstein said. “They have hired and trained thousands of additional employees to meet the demands of the market. Unless the issue with distributor licensing is resolved quickly, the inability to deliver product to retail stores will result in many of these people losing their jobs and will bring this nascent market to a grinding halt. A halt in this market will lead to a hole in the state’s school budget."

While the department does not plan to release any numbers on state tax revenue from the industry until late September, the Nevada Dispensary Association earlier this week estimated that dispensaries made about $3 million in sales and the state made about $1 million in tax revenue between Saturday and Tuesday. Revenue collected from the 15% cultivation tax goes toward schools, while the 10% sales tax revenue goes toward the state's rainy day fund, which can be used for any number of expenditures.

July 8, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

A look into Uruguay's unique (and uniquely important?) experiences with marijuana legalization

2300-URUGUAYPOT0702The Washington Post has this interesting new article taking a deep dive into on foreign nation's distinctive approach to marijuana reform. I recommend the article in full, and it is headlined "In Uruguay’s marijuana experiment, the government is your pot dealer." Here are excerpts:

Uruguay is the world’s first country to fully legalize the production, sale and consumption of marijuana. But under its strict rules, there will be no Amsterdam-style smoking cafes, and foreigners won’t have access to the national stash.

Nor will there be shops selling ganja candies, psychedelic pastries or any of the other edible derivatives offered in pot-permissive U.S. states such as Colorado and Washington, where entrepreneurial capitalism fertilizes the United States’ incipient marijuana industry.

Instead, Uruguay’s government has developed a legalization model whose apparent goal is to make marijuana use as boring as possible. A vast regulatory bureaucracy will determine everything from the genetic makeup of the plants to the percentage of psychoactive compounds in their flowers.

The endeavor puts Uruguay (population: 3.4 million) at the forefront of a growing list of nations and U.S. states experimenting with marijuana. Pot has been legalized for recreational or medical use in more than half of U.S. states and the District of Columbia, but it remains essentially prohibited under federal law. American activists have been bracing for a confrontation with the Trump administration and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who opposes the liberalization trend.

Canada, Mexico, Colombia and other nations across the Americas also are moving to legalize cannabis on a limited basis. But only Uruguay has set up a comprehensive system to regulate every facet of the plant’s life cycle, from tiny seed to smoky haze. Uruguayans say their model is designed to strike a balance between prohibition and the kind of exuberant marijuana economy emerging in some U.S. states, where well-funded businesses may have incentives to encourage consumption.

In Uruguay, anything that smacks of commercial marijuana branding or advertising is banned. The two private firms authorized to supply the pharmacies with industrial quantities of dope — four tons annually — can’t even put their company labels on the packaging. “The risk of what they’re doing in Colorado is that you end up with something like the tobacco industry,” said Julio Calzada, one of the public health officials who designed Uruguay’s regulatory model after lawmakers approved legalization in 2013. He said the country won’t allow a competitive industry peddling pot versions of Marlboro and Camel. “The concept here is totally different.”

“To us, marijuana is a vegetable substance with a capacity to generate addiction, so what we’re trying to do is control the production, distribution and consumption of that substance as effectively as possible,” he said.

It’s no fluke that this is happening in socially liberal Uruguay. Gambling and prostitution are legal and regulated here. Uruguay is also the only Latin American nation outside Cuba that has broadly legalized abortion, and it was one of the first to recognize civil unions and adoption by same-sex couples. Uruguay also is accustomed to relatively high levels of regulation and a big state role in the economy, with an array of government-owned banks, gas stations and utilities. Over the years, activists began to argue: Why not weed?

The experiment is not without skeptics and detractors — one reason it has taken longer than expected to fully implement the country’s legalization model. Marijuana cultivation and consumption has been allowed for personal use, and the country now has at least 60 cannabis clubs that provide members with a monthly supply. But the government has been slow to roll out its system of pharmacy-based commercial sales to the general population.

Uruguay developed its pioneering model under ex-president José Mujica, a former Marxist guerrilla turned statesman. His successor, Tabaré Vázquez, a trained physician, largely has sought to play down the legalization experiment, seemingly wary of a potentially negative impact on Uruguay’s image. Legalization advocates close to the government say officials also have been hung up by international banking rules that sanction entities with ties to the narcotics trade.

Still, Uruguayan officials say the nation’s pharmacies will be stocked with cannabis sachets and ready to begin dealing in the second half of July. The newly created Institute for the Regulation and Control of Cannabis (IRCCA) will coordinate distribution.

Anyone over age 18 who registers in a government database will be able to buy up to 40 grams per month at one of three dozen participating commercial pharmacies. Instead of showing ID, buyers will place their thumb on a scanner that links to a government database and tells the pharmacy how much marijuana they are eligible to purchase.

More than 4,600 Uruguayans have registered for the system, according to the IRCCA website, and officials are expecting that number to increase substantially once marijuana users realize that the product sold in pharmacies is vastly superior to the low-grade weed available illegally on the streets. Some marijuana users have chafed at the idea of registering with the government. But even legalization advocates concede that such a safeguard is necessary to prevent traffickers from buying up pharmacy stocks and smuggling Uruguay’s crop into Brazil and Argentina, the country’s much-larger neighbors.

“A lot of consumers here don’t like the fingerprint system and point out that they don’t have to do anything like that to buy a bottle of wine,” said Martín Fernández, a human rights attorney in Montevideo who has become an expert on the country’s cannabis law. “But we see it as something transitional that could disappear with time.” ...

Officials say the new system will drain away customers from the black-market marijuana economy, where a kind of pot known as “Paraguayan Pressed” predominates. It is similar to cheap, low-potency marijuana that reaches U.S. streets from Mexico and is cultivated on large outdoor farms. The final product is littered with seeds and plant stems.

Its levels of THC, the main psychoactive ingredient, are typically below 5 percent, while the state-approved version soon to be sold in pharmacies will be available in seedless flowers (“buds”) at strengths of 5 and 10 percent THC, according to Eduardo Blasina, an agronomist who set up one of the two growing operations on state-leased land adjacent to the country’s maximum-security prison. “It’s one of the most secure places in the country,” he said....

One irony of the Uruguay model is that its pharmacies will be selling marijuana even though the country has not approved commercial sales of medical or health products derived from the plants. But it was pharmacy owners who petitioned the government to give them responsibility for retail sales, citing their experience handling controlled substances, said Alejandro Antalich, whose pharmacy trade association represents 300 stores. “The neighborhood pharmacist is one of the most trusted figures in Uruguayan society,” he said.

July 8, 2017 in International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, July 7, 2017

"Some Alaska marijuana shops’ Facebook pages are being taken down"

CENSOR-FACEBOOK-MARIJUANA-hugeThe title of this post is the headline of this interesting news report from The Last Frontier.  Here are the details:  

Some Alaska marijuana shops have suddenly found themselves with one less outlet for advertising this week. Owners and employees of at least six marijuana retail stores in the state said that within the past week, their Facebook pages were either taken down or entirely deleted by the tech company.

At Arctic Herbery, owner Bryant Thorp said his shop's page was shut down Friday or Saturday. Another Anchorage shop, Enlighten Alaska, also had its page removed from the site about a week ago, said co-owner Jane Stinson. It also happened at Frozen Budz and Pakalolo Supply Co., both in Fairbanks, and Dankorage and Alaska Fireweed in Anchorage. “(Facebook) has been huge for us. That’s where almost all our advertising comes from,” Thorp said. He’s had issues with his Facebook page for a few months and has since focused on boosting his following on Twitter and Instagram.

Facebook has a set of community standards that dictates what is and isn't allowed on the platform, said spokeswoman Ruchika Budhraja. “Anyone can report content to us if they think it violates standards,” she said. “Our team reviews reports to determine whether there was a violation.”

On a page explaining those community standards, under a section called "regulated goods," Facebook says it prohibits "any attempts by private individuals to purchase, sell, or trade prescription drugs, marijuana, firearms or ammunition." Marijuana businesses generally have to use caution in advertising, in part because state guidelines for pot ads are somewhat unclear, Alaska Dispatch News reported last year. Facebook — along with other social media platforms — is one of the biggest places for getting the word out about their businesses.

Jana Weltzin, an Anchorage-based attorney who specializes in the marijuana industry, said this is hardly the first time cannabis companies have had issues with Facebook. “This is not a new thing,” she said, adding that Colorado pot businesses dealt with a similar issue last year. “If you’re doing something that’s illegal and Facebook knows that, they try to not promote that. It’s still illegal under federal law.”...

The timing of the Facebook page removals seemed odd to some people in the local marijuana industry, too. The pages went dark around the same time Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was visiting Alaska for the Fourth of July weekend. "That's what kills me," said Cary Carrigan, executive director of the Alaska Marijuana Industry Association. "Zuckerberg shows up and Facebook pages are down."

"It's a weird coincidence, that's for sure," said Rich Beezley, chief operating officer at AK Fuzzy Budz in Anchorage. He said the shop's Facebook page has been shut down four times in the past month, but didn't have an issue this past weekend. He speculated that might be because the shop was closed for the holiday and wasn't posting on Facebook. "We're just in fear we're going to be shut down too," he said....

At Pakalolo in Fairbanks, co-owner Keenan Hollister said he got a notice on the Fourth of July that his company's page was taken down. “We face challenges every day running a legal cannabis business, but this is a disappointing one,” he said. “It feels like an attack on commerce in our state.”...

Some retail shops around the state don't appear to be affected. Facebook pages for Herbal Outfitters in Valdez, The Herbal Cache in Girdwood and Rainforest Farms in Juneau were still up Thursday afternoon.

This effective on-line article from a few months ago, titled "The Legally Hazy World of Cannabis Marketing," provides some additional background and context on the interesting issues that arise from the modern intersection of social medial and marijuana reform.

July 7, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

University of Maryland pharmacy school partnering with Americans for Safe Access on medical marijuana instruction

Download (2)As an academic working at a large state university believing in the importance of training students about marijuana law, policy and reform, I am always extra interested hearing about academics at other large state universities working in this space.  One such story is covered in this new AP article with the sub-headline "The University of Maryland School of Pharmacy will begin offering training to prepare prospective workers for the medical marijuana industry." Here are some of the notable details:

The University of Maryland School of Pharmacy will begin offering training to prepare prospective workers for the medical marijuana industry. The move puts the Baltimore school in league with few other established universities and colleges, including the University of Vermont College of Medicine's Department of Pharmacology, seeking to bring educational standards to a growing national industry that grapples with evolving science and uncertain legal standing.

"We wanted to be there as a resource," said Magaly Rodriguez de Bittner, a pharmacy professor and executive director of the school's Center for Innovative Pharmacy Solutions, which began signing up potential workers for training June 29.  "If you're going to be dispensing," she said, "let's make sure your staff in trained in best practices to do it safely and effectively."

The pharmacy school will offer classes through its online platform toward certifications required under the state's medical marijuana law for those involved in the business.  It's partnering with the advocacy group Americans for Safe Access on the certification program. That organization will provide the instructors and the curriculum, which the school vetted and adjusted.

Training doesn't mean an endorsement of using marijuana by the school, a well-regarded institution founded in 1841, Rodriguez de Bittner said.  Medical marijuana is not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The school had an online platform to offer the training and a mission to provide education to health care providers, even if the science and government regulation has yet to catch up with demand, she said.

Few universities even support research into medical uses for cannabis, largely because accessing the plant is restricted by federal law that categorizes it the same as heroin and LSD.  And though Maryland, 28 other states and the District of Columbia have made medical marijuana legal, the administration of President Donald Trump has signaled it could increase enforcement efforts.

Some large health systems in Maryland are concerned enough to ask their doctors not to recommend the drug, including LifeBridge Health and MedStar Health.  Johns Hopkins Medicine and the University of Maryland Medical System still are formulating policies.  Maryland's medical marijuana rules don't obligate doctors to get specific training before prescribing cannabis, but like other states it does require growers, processors, dispensaries and laboratories to be "certified," said Patrick Jameson, executive director of the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission....

The pharmacy school's partnership with Americans for Safe Access gives the nonprofit advocacy group "immediate legitimacy" for its courses, said Shad Ewart, a professor at Anne Arundel Community College, who teaches a course about the marijuana industry for credit but not yet industry certification.  He said the school also benefits because officials there had to do little legwork in developing a curriculum that could have taken months or years to produce on their own. (University officials said they reviewed the content and made it conform to educational norms.)

Still, Ewart understands many colleges and universities don't want to jeopardize federal funding for research, student loans or other programs by wading into the medical marijuana arena.  He said there was a need, and in his case, demand particularly from students who wanted to launch their own businesses.  He said he steers students to focus on ancillary operations such as security, marketing, accounting and retail. "If the legislation says you must have fencing with video surveillance, well, that's good for the fencing and video industries," he said.

Jahan Marcu, chief science officer for Americans for Safe Access, said the group has been offering training since 2002 when there were approximately 11 dispensaries around the country. Instruction initially focused only on "survival," which meant how to handle law enforcement.  Now that there are several thousand businesses, the training has evolved to match what's required by states that allow medical marijuana for each type of operation from growing and processing to retailing and laboratory testing, he said.  Courses offer instruction about laws and regulations; the latest evidence on uses for medical marijuana; plant and product consistency; pesticides; sanitation; operating procedures; labeling, inventory control and record keeping; and other relevant information....

Marcu said his group is not the largest marijuana educator, though it's not clear anyone is keeping track. Among others offering instruction are Cannabis Training Institute, THC University and Green Cultured. In addition to such new "universities" dedicated to medical marijuana certification, there are some medical societies and health departments offering training. The university affiliation, Marcu hopes, will bring some accountability and possibly standards that others could adopt.

Rodriguez de Bittner said since launch of the training site, there has been interest from potential workers in Maryland, West Virginia, California and the District of Columbia. "There is so much out there," she said. "We're trying to partner and provide courses based on the best evidence — as it develops."

July 7, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Medical community perspectives, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Florida medical marijuana advocate sues after legislature blocks smoking as means to consumption

As reported in this local article, "John Morgan, the Orlando trial lawyer who spearheaded and financed the successful campaign to make medical access to cannabis a constitutional right, filed the lawsuit in Leon County Circuit Court Thursday morning, asking the court to declare the [legislatively developed] law implementing the 2016 constitutional amendment unenforceable.  Here is more about this lawsuit:

Arguing that Florida legislators violated voters’ intent when they prohibited smoking for the medical use of marijuana, the author of the state's medical marijuana amendment sued the state on Thursday to throw out the implementing law....

“By redefining the constitutionally defined term ‘medical use' to exclude smoking, the Legislature substitutes its medical judgment for that of ‘a licensed Florida physician’ and is in direct conflict with the specifically articulated Constitutional process,” the lawsuit states.

More than 71 percent of Florida voters approved the amendment in November 2016, the largest percentage of support a medical marijuana initiative has received by popular vote, Morgan said. The amendment allowed the Legislature to address smoking — but only by prohibiting it in public places, he said, anything more violates the intent of the Constitution.  “If something is not allowed in public, it is allowed in private,” Morgan said at a press conference outside the Leon County Courthouse. “It’s as clear to all of you as it is to any first grader taking first-grade logic.”...

If the court agrees and invalidates the law implementing the amendment, the task of writing the rules for implementing the new amendment will fall to the Florida Department of Health.

The legislation allows for edibles and “vaping” as a delivery system for THC and cannabinoids.  It also provided funding for the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa to conduct research into the uses and effectiveness of medical marijuana.  But the House sponsor of the law, Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, called smoking a “backdoor attempt at recreational” use of marijuana.  Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, the Senate sponsor, called the measure, which passed during the June special session, “patient-first legislation” that “will expand access to this medicine, while ensuring safety through a unified regulatory structure for each component of the process from cultivation to consumption."

But Morgan, who uses the hashtag #NoSmokeIsAJoke, argues that the legislative claim has been a “bogus argument from Day 1,” and if they were truly interested in keeping the public safe from smoking, they would have taxed tobacco “to the hilt.”  Instead, he said, their arguments enforce what he believes is a quiet campaign against marijuana fueled by “Big Pharma,” which has capitalized on the explosion of opioid abuse.  “I don’t know what drives these politicians other than money and donors,’’ he said.

He said that in the next few weeks he will add to the lawsuit patients suffering from ALS disease, epilepsy and other ailments for whom smoking marijuana is the best way to treat their symptoms.  The lawsuit cites a 2012 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse that found smoking marijuana does not not impair lung function and, when not used heavily, was shown to increase lung capacity.  “Despite decades of marijuana being used for smoking in the United States, there have been no reported medical cases of lung cancer or emphysema attributed to marijuana,” the lawsuit said.

Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a non-profit, non-partisan organization that promotes federal funding of marijuana research, blasted the lawsuit as “nothing more than a smokescreen designed to bypass the FDA and open the doors to a new for-profit, retail commercial marijuana industry in Florida.”

“There's a reason why every single major medical association opposes the use of the raw, smoked form of marijuana as medicine: smoke is not a reliable delivery system, it's impossible to measure dosage, and it contains hundreds of other chemical compounds that may do more harm than good,” said Dr. Kevin Sabet, president of the group, in a statement.

Calvina Fay, executive director of the anti-marijuana group Drug Free America Foundation, also criticized the lawsuit.  “While not perfect, the legislation succeeded in finding a balance that protects the public health and safety of all Floridians while allowing the legal access to marijuana that was approved by voters," she said in a statement.

Morgan counters that those arguments miss the point. “If you are on your death bed, or on your bed in debilitating pain, who really cares if you smoke?” he said.  He warns that by aggressively working against the implementation of what voters supported, legislators have inadvertently “kicked the door wide open for recreational marijuana use in Florida.”  If they don’t allow for smoking as a medical use, the newly formed industry will “bankroll a constitutional amendment to put recreational marijuana on the ballot...and I believe it will pass with 60 percent of the vote," he said.

July 6, 2017 in Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

"Cannabis use and psychotic-like experiences trajectories during early adolescence: the coevolution and potential mediators"

OlalertbannerThe title of this post is the title of this notable new article appearing in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry authored by Josiane Bourque, Mohammad H. Afzali, Maeve O'Leary-Barrett, and Patricia Conrod. Here is the abstract:

Background

The authors sought to model the different trajectories of psychotic-like experiences (PLE) during adolescence and to examine whether the longitudinal relationship between cannabis use and PLE is mediated by changes in cognitive development and/or change in anxiety or depression symptoms.

Methods

A total of 2,566 youths were assessed every year for 4-years (from 13- to 16-years of age) on clinical, substance use and cognitive development outcomes. Latent class growth models identified three trajectories of PLE: low decreasing (83.9%), high decreasing (7.9%), and moderate increasing class (8.2%). We conducted logistic regressions to investigate whether baseline levels and growth in cannabis use were associated with PLE trajectory membership. Then, we examined the effects of potential mediators (growth in cognition and anxiety/depression) on the relationship between growth in cannabis use and PLE trajectory.

Results

A steeper growth in cannabis use from 13- to 16-years was associated with a higher likelihood of being assigned to the moderate increasing trajectory of PLE [odds ratio, 2.59; 95% confidence interval (CI), 1.11–6.03], when controlling for cumulative cigarette use. Growth in depression symptoms, not anxiety or change in cognitive functioning, mediated the relationship between growth in cannabis use and the PLE moderate increasing group (indirect effect: 0.07; 95% CI, 0.03–0.11).

Conclusions

Depression symptoms partially mediated the longitudinal link between cannabis use and PLE in adolescents, suggesting that there may be a preventative effect to be gained from targeting depression symptoms, in addition to attempting to prevent cannabis use in youth presenting increasing psychotic experiences.

July 5, 2017 in Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (3)

"Pot with patents could plant the seeds of future lawsuits"

The title of this post is the headline of this reader-friendly piece by Craig Nard at The Conversation about the intersection of marijuana reform and intellectual property law.   Here is how the piece gets started:

It’s hard to make sense of cannabis regulation.

The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) continues to categorize marijuana as a Schedule I drug. That means the government believes it has “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse,” putting it in the same league as LSD and heroin.  The Trump administration has expressly voiced skepticism of marijuana’s medical benefits, with Attorney General Jeff Sessions calling them “hyped.”  Yet, legal pot has become a multi-billion-dollar industry that stuffs the coffers of eight states where voters have approved its legal recreational use.  And nearly 30 states have legalized pot for medicinal purposes so far.

This burgeoning industry has also witnessed the issuance of dozens of patents related to cannabinoids and various strains of cannabis, including ones on marijuana-laced lozenges, plant-breeding techniques and methods for making pot-spiked beverages.  Some of these products contain a significant amount of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana that makes people high.

As a professor who researches and teaches in the area of patent law, I have been monitoring how private companies are quietly securing these patents on cannabis-based products and methods of production, even though marijuana remains a Schedule 1 drug.  An even richer irony is that the government itself has patented a method of “administering a therapeutically effective amount of a cannabinoids.”

This engagement with the patent system raises several interesting questions as the legal pot industry grows and medical research on cannabis advances.

July 5, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Science, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (2)

Delaware creates big "Adult Use Cannabis Task Force" to study legalization reforms

Dell2As reported in this local article, in Delaware the "General Assembly has passed a concurrent resolution that will create a task force to study the outcome of regulating and taxing marijuana for recreational use in Delaware for adults 21 and older." Here is more about this interesting development that could possibly increase the chances that the First State becomes the first state to fully legalize marijuana via the traditional legislative process:

The Adult Use Cannabis Task Force “shall study adoption of a model for regulation and taxation of adult-use cannabis in Delaware, including local authority and control, consumer safety and substance abuse prevention, packaging and labeling requirements, impaired driving and other criminal law concerns, and taxation, revenue, and banking issues.” It will hold its first meeting no later than September 7, 2017, and it must report its findings and recommendations to the governor and the General Assembly by January 31, 2018.

"The General Assembly is ready to take a serious look at regulating and taxing marijuana for adult use,” said Maggie Ellinger-Locke, legislative counsel for the Marijuana Policy Project. “This is an opportunity for a variety of stakeholders to come together and examine every aspect of this issue. We hope it will pave the way for the General Assembly to adopt a more thoughtful approach to cannabis next session. Lawmakers can see the direction the country is moving on this issue and they know most Delaware voters support making marijuana legal for adults.”

The 23-member task force will be co-chaired by Sen. Margaret Rose Henry and Rep. Helene Keeley, Democrats who sponsored legislation this year to regulate and tax marijuana like alcohol for adults 21 and older. It will also include:

• a state senator and a state representative from the minority caucus, appointed by the Senate president and House speaker, respectively;

• the Secretary of the Department of Finance;

• the Secretary of the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control;

• the Secretary of the Department of Safety and Homeland Security;

• the Director of the Division of Public Health;

• the Director of the Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health;

• the State bank commissioner;

• the Attorney General;

• the Chief Defender, Office of Defense Services;

• the Mayor of the City of Wilmington;

• the Chair of the Medical Marijuana Oversight Committee;

• a marijuana policy reform advocate and a medical marijuana industry representative, both appointed by the Governor;

• a physician with experience recommending treatment with medical marijuana, appointed by the Medical Society of Delaware

• the President of the Delaware League of Local Governments;

• the Chair of the Delaware Police Chiefs’ Council;

• the Chair of the Employer Advocacy Committee of the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce;

• a representative of AAA Mid-Atlantic; and

• a pharmacist, appointed by the President of the Delaware Pharmacist Society.

More than 60% of Delaware voters support making marijuana legal, according to a September 2016 poll by the University of Delaware Center for Political Communication.

July 5, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (2)