Friday, September 29, 2017
The title of this post is the headline of this local article reporting that "Nevada dispensaries raked in more than $27 million during the first month of recreational marijuana sales, generating more than $3.6 million in taxes, according to figures released Thursday by the Nevada Department of Taxation." Here is more:
How does that stack up against the other states with legal marijuana? It’s nearly double. Colorado and Oregon each sold about $14 million in marijuana during their respective first months of sales. Washington sold $3.8 million in its first month.
“We came out of the gate like a shotgun,” said Matt Morgan, CEO of Reef Dispensaries. Morgan said that, even three months into recreational sales, Reef’s dispensary located behind the Fashion Show Mall has a line inside the store at nearly all times and outside about 40 percent of the time.
Nevada’s market will only grow, he said. “I still don’t think everyone understands that it’s recreational in Nevada yet,” Morgan said.
For Nevada, $2.7 million in tax revenue came from the 10 percent special excise tax on recreational marijuana, all of which is destined for the state’s rainy day fund. That falls right in line with Nevada’s marijuana sales estimates even though there were no state projections for July because of uncertainty about when stores would begin sales. State officials have projected that special sales tax will generate $63.5 million over the first two years of sales....
Tax Department spokeswoman Stephanie Klapstein said the state expects that excise tax to grow over the next two years as more cultivators get licensed and begin to operate. The state has also pulled in $6.5 million for marijuana license and application fees. Those revenues will be used to cover the administrative costs to regulate the industry for the Tax Department and local governments, and all remaining funds go to the state’s public education fund.
Recreational sales started on July 1, and the state has issued 250 recreational marijuana licenses thus far, 53 of those to dispensaries.
Thursday, September 28, 2017
The controversial former Prez candidate Al Sharpton has this notable new commentary in The Guardian under the (anglicized) headline "Why the decriminalisation of marijuana is a civil rights cause." Here are excerpts:
There is no greater act of resistance than continuing to march towards the sweeping, systemic victories that have changed our nation’s trajectory for the better: voting rights, anti-employment discrimination measures, and most recently, President Obama’s success in securing health coverage for the 20 million Americans who were previously denied this universal human right. Determined to punish the rising majority of Americans he thinks have slighted him, our president may erode these freedoms, but he will not succeed in taking them.
This is why I am proceeding undaunted towards our country’s next transformative victory – a fight I planned to pick under a Democratic administration, but one we should pursue just as vigorously in the reactionary Trump era: decriminalization of marijuana. It is a civil rights cause that we should not postpone, but accelerate during these dark and difficult times.
For Democrats and progressives, the arguments have always been clear: generations of Americans, overwhelmingly people of color, have been imprisoned and starved of access to higher education, housing, and economic opportunities, and stripped of their inalienable right to vote thanks to non-violent acts. Billions of dollars in funding have been diverted from healthcare, jobs, and schools and have entrenched a prison-industrial complex built on a foundation of racism.
But in truth, the conservative case for marijuana decriminalization is no less resonant. Archaic drug laws have fueled wasteful government spending, and made millions of Americans who dream, achingly, of being their family’s breadwinner dependent on the charity of others. And they have given rise of the epidemic of opiate drugs – often legally manufactured and prescribed – devastating communities that pundits have taken to calling the ‘white working class.’
The often-repeated reference to the ‘white working class’ has grown counterproductive as it focuses on a narrowly defined group instead of using more broader, inclusive categories. It also stifles the creative thinking and organizing needed to guide our efforts for the remainder of this presidency. On the issue of medical marijuana, a more accurate term for the residents of these hard-hit towns and regions – many of whom voted for President Trump – would be natural allies to the movement to decriminalize marijuana.
In the coming weeks, I will be joining Decode Cannabis, a powerful new alliance of faith leaders, criminal justice reformers, healthcare practitioners, medical marijuana industry leaders and labor unions. For years, these groups have labored toward shared goals, but have too often done so in their respective silos. This initial coalition is impressive, but it is not enough to succeed. At least not on its own.
To notch proactive policy wins in the Trump era, we must not retreat to the comfort of those of share our viewpoints. We must enter the lion’s den – even uninvited – to confront and cultivate the prospective allies who will mutually benefit from this cause. We must not allow the unique opportunities resulting from the intensifying rift between the White House and conventional Republicans to be squandered.
The District of Columbia — which, if anyone cares, is where I was born a long, long time ago — has long been a distinct part of the United States as a matter of law and practice. For that reason and others, it should come as no surprise that marijuana reform takes on distinctive dynamic in our nation's capital. This new AP piece, headlined "Giving the gift of green in the ‘District of Cannabis’," provides a profile of this interesting story, and here are excerpts:
A 2014 ballot initiative to legalize recreational use passed overwhelmingly. But unlike the eight states that have legalized recreational use, the Washington initiative also maintained it was still illegal to buy or sell the drug.
So instead of the straightforward marijuana storefronts common in Colorado or Nevada, Washington has developed a thriving “gift economy” marijuana industry. These businesses — many offering delivery — sell everything from coffee cups to artwork — all overpriced and all coming with a little something extra.
It’s a curious legal and semantic tightrope, and one the District’s politicians and police seem determined to keep walking. “It’s definitely unique,” said Morgan Fox of the pro-legalization Marijuana Policy Project. “The DC city council and the city government don’t want to be busting people for weed. They want this to work and work smoothly.”
Washington’s local government didn’t choose to make the District a real-time sociology lab for alternative legalization. The roots of this strange legal middle ground lie in the District’s tortured relationship with the federal government. “We would have regular stores if we had the normal rights of a U.S. state,” said Nikolas Schiller, co-founder of DCMJ, a pro-legalization group that helped draft the initiative’s text.
All District laws are subject to review by a congressional committee, which can veto them or alter them by attaching riders to federal appropriations bills. After the initiative passed, Rep. Andy Harris, a Republican from neighboring Maryland, introduced a rider prohibiting the District government from spending any funds or resources on developing a regulatory or taxation system for marijuana sales.
Harris, an anesthesiologist and member of the conservative Freedom Caucus, remains a staunch opponent of recreational marijuana use and has no regrets about complicating the District’s legalization model. “I think the District of Columbia made a bad decision,” Harris said in an interview. “I would hope the District comes to its senses and realizes the dangers.”
According to marijuana merchants, the change has resulted in spiraling supply and demand. The relative ease of availability without risking arrest or having to maintain a relationship with a dealer has brought a wave of consumers of all ages and demographics. And that wave of demand has brought a wave of new suppliers. In addition to the dozens of different businesses working through the gift loophole, there are now hundreds of marijuana-themed public events taking place across the city — most openly advertised on social media. “Seven days a week, you can find an event going on,” said Gregory Moorer, whose Laid Back Lords company offers marijuana gifts to accompany $50 baseball caps and $80 sweatshirts.
One such event, known as Cannemania, happens weekly at a closed Ethiopian restaurant. Inside isn’t so much a stoner party as a fairly businesslike trade show. On a recent night, about 150 people crowded in to peruse about 25 different vendors’ tables offering large jars of buds and a huge variety of edibles, from brownies to marijuana-infused gummi bears. There were also marijuana vape pens and “concentrates” — a substance that looks like candle wax and requires a waterpipe and a blowtorch to consume.
Vendors hawked their wares like THC sommeliers and offered free hits of concentrates. But there was, according to the rules, no smoking of marijuana buds. For the most part everyone kept to the necessary gift loophole script: your money technically bought you a raffle ticket, some expensive rolling paper or, in one case, the baseball card of former Cleveland Indians shortstop Julio Franco.
Despite the ubiquity of the drug, it would be inaccurate to describe the District as some sort of marijuana free-for-all. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s government has worked hard to establish clear lines on what is and is not permitted. It remains illegal to smoke in public. Arrests for public consumption have actually spiked since the legalization initiative came into effect. Bowser also personally lobbied the city council to defeat a proposal to permit pot smoking in bars or restaurants — fearing it would lead to private cannabis clubs.
The police have also pounced on entrepreneurs who push things too far. In late 2015 they arrested Nicholas “Kush God” Cunningham, who had deployed a fleet of cars covered in marijuana-leaf decals that would hand out pot edibles in exchange for “donations.”...
Police maintain that the gift loophole isn’t fooling anyone. “In our estimation, that’s still illegal,” said Lt. Andrew Struhar of the Narcotics and Special Operations division of Washington’s Metropolitan Police Department. But Struhar also admitted that police aren’t “actively out hunting” for marijuana violators as long as everything stays low-key and the neighbors don’t complain.
“We serve the citizens and if they say there’s a problem on this or that block, we’re going to do something about it,” he said. “If you’re going to flaunt it and you’re going to stick it in our face and force us to take action against it, then we’re going to take action.”
For now the model seems to be staggering along, but it’s debatable how long this can continue. Legalization activists say that a quasi-legal grey area was never their goal. Members of the District’s government are even less enthusiastic; they complain about the intrusiveness of the congressional oversight and point to a study which estimated $130 million in potential annual revenue from taxing marijuana sales. “I don’t think it’s sustainable,” said City Council Chairman Phil Mendelson. “We have legal marijuana but we can’t regulate it. It’s stupid, it’s just stupid.”
September 28, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)
Wednesday, September 27, 2017
I noticed this morning these two very different articles looking at issues of inclusiveness in the marijuana reform space in two very different ways:
From Slate here, "By Excluding LGBTQ People, the Growing Cannabis Industry Is Betraying Its Roots"
The burgeoning industry has one glaring problem: The gatekeepers of cannabis’ culture and commerce are overwhelming white, cis, straight, and male — not to mention downright bro-y. White-appropriated rasta colors and women clad in weed-leaf bikinis abound, and on the buttoned-up side of things, the ubiquitous influence of the tech-bro is essentially turning the cannabis industry into the next Silicon Valley — a space not exactly known for its inclusivity.
Thankfully, there is an ongoing push for diversity of color and gender, to varying degrees of success. Women now make up 36 percent of leadership roles in the cannabis industry (compared to just 5 percent in the rest of the business world) and municipalities across the country are attempting to build reparations into their practices and policies for the communities of color that have been disproportionately negatively affected by the criminalization of cannabis. This includes the city of Oakland’s Equity Permit Program, which reserves a portion of permits for people of color and those convicted of marijuana-related crime; Washington, D.C.’s, local effort to give local minority-owned companies a preference when applying for licenses to operate medical marijuana businesses; and the Minority Cannabis Business Association’s plan to create template legislation that addresses issues of inclusion to distribute to states and local municipalities.
But there’s another marginalized group that has largely been left out of the diversity conversation, and stigmatized in the cannabis industry: the LGBTQ community. Brewing within the bro culture of mainstream weed is a big dose of homophobia, and no one knows this better than Jay Jackson, aka Laganja Estranja, the choreographer, drag queen, and cannabis activist best known for competing in the sixth season of RuPaul's Drag Race. As suggested by the name, Laganja Estranja is a pro-weed queen who often dons marijuana-leaf prints and pendants and speaks about the need for gay visibility within the cannabis community
From Leafy here, "Can an Inclusive Cannabis Industry Include Roger Stone?"
Whatever Roger Stone’s personal beliefs, he’s very clearly made a career out of delivering the “hateful little shit” vote to guys like Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan — who both loved nothing more than busting hippies and minorities for weed. In fact, Stone’s done his job so well that the hateful little shits of the world now feel like they own the place.
Keep in mind, there’s long been a conservative wing of the marijuana legalization movement (Limited Government! Free Enterprise! Personal Liberty!), identified with principled voices like William F. Buckley and Milton Friedman on up to Gary Johnson and Grover Norquist. There are currently bipartisan cannabis bills in Congress, sponsored by a bipartisan Congressional Cannabis Caucus. So this rift at the expo isn’t about electoral politics or ideology. And it isn’t even really about Roger Stone—as much as he loves the attention....
And therein lies Roger Stone’s true political genius. Through long practice, he’s perfected a signature blend of hyper-partisan politics, spectacle-grade entertainment and absolute gutter fighting that’s really hard to ignore. His persona comes across like an evil wisecracking Pro Wrestling manager in a fancy suit who’s forever throwing sand in your eyes and smiling.
September 27, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)
Tuesday, September 26, 2017
The title of this post is the title of this effective 5+ minute segment that aired today on the NPR midday show Here & Now. Here is how the program's website sets up the segment:
With 29 states allowing medical marijuana, senior citizens have been increasingly seeking its curative powers. But there are many obstacles, ranging from paying for the herb to finding a doctor who is licensed to prescribe.
In New York, considered an especially restrictive medical marijuana state, reporter Karen Michel explores some of the benefits and difficulties for seniors seeking legal pot.
"[T]o oppose the Medical Marijuana Amendment is to provide material assistance to ISIS and other international terrorist organizations"
The title of this post is my very favorite phrase in this Washington Times commentary authored by Bruce Fein, who served as associate deputy attorney general under President Ronald Reagan. The commentary carries this full headline: "On the Medical Marijuana Amendment, Trump and Sessions are wrong; Dana Rohrabacher, Senate get it right. " And here is some context leading up to Fein's amusing assertion (emphasized below) that opposing a congressional limit on DOJ funding for prosecuting state-compliant medical marijuana businesses is tantamount to supporting ISIS:
Never underestimate the dishonesty of politicians. Exemplary is the opposition of President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions to extending the Rohrabacher Medical Marijuana Amendment to prohibit the expenditure of federal funds to prosecute medical marijuana businesses that are operating legally under state law. At present, 29 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana. (The federal Controlled Substances Act would otherwise expose the distributors or users to federal prosecution.)
The amendment made its way into federal law in a 2014 federal appropriations bill. Three years later, not a crumb of evidence has surfaced suggesting that the amendment had spiked marijuana use or promoted or compounded any tangible evil. During his 2016 campaign, Mr. Trump earnestly promised to “make medical marijuana widely available to patients, and allow states to decide if they want to fully legalize pot or not.”
As U.S. senator, current Attorney General Sessions’ sound track was high octave opposition to the federal government’s penchant for intruding on state prerogatives over voting rights, detentions of or undocumented immigrants, or otherwise. As Attorney General, Mr. Sessions has backed away from the Obama administration’s aggressive oversight of local police forces that have chronically violated constitutional rights.
After making proper deductions for ordinary political dishonesty, voters in 2016 were reasonably confident that Messrs. Trump and Sessions would enthusiastically support an extension of the Rohrabacher Medical Marijuana Amendment. The idea that the federal government should stick its nose into the medical marijuana business is preposterous. It has no national security dimension. It is vastly less risky than alcohol or tobacco. And there is nothing in the dynamics of state politics that make state jurisdictions ill-suited to deciding whether their citizens should have access to medical marijuana. Equally if not more important, every federal dollar expended investigating or prosecuting medical marijuana businesses is a dollar unavailable to detect and prosecute international or home-grown terrorists. In other words, to oppose the Medical Marijuana Amendment is to provide material assistance to ISIS and other international terrorist organizations.
These facts, however, have not deterred Messrs. Trump and Sessions from abandoning their campaign promises or professed constitutional principles....
On Sept. 6, 2017, the House Rules Committee — a puppet of House Speaker Paul Ryan — blocked a floor vote on the Medical Marijuana Amendment. But the Senate Appropriations Committee has passed it, which makes the amendment a candidate for inclusion in a final spending bill.
Every member of Congress should recognize that a vote against the Amendment is a vote in favor of ISIS, al Qaeda, and sister international terrorist organizations. They rejoice at witnessing our law enforcement resources squandered on chasing after medical marijuana businesses rather than devoted to capturing, prosecuting or killing them.
Monday, September 25, 2017
As reported in this post over at my sentencing blog, the 2016 edition of the FBI’s annual report Crime in the United States was released earlier today. This FBI report also includes arrest data, and Tom Angell has been quick to review and report on what the new data say about marijuana arrests and drug arrests more generally. Here are headlines/links and data from Tom's two early reports via Forbes:
The numbers, released on Monday, show that there were 1,572,579 drug arrests in the U.S. in 2016. That's an average of one drug arrest every 20 seconds. The total number is up roughly 5.6% from the 1,488,707 arrests for drug crimes in the country in 2015. The increasing drug bust rate stands in contrast to the public-health-focused rhetoric from Obama administration drug officials who consistently tried to move away from "war on drugs" terminology.
New FBI data reveals that drug arrests increased in the United States last year. But due to a change in how the annual law enforcement numbers are publicized, it is now harder to determine how many people were busted for marijuana or other drugs specifically....
The annual publication, based on data from the FBI's Uniform Crime Report (UCR), has in years past contained a convenient table that shows the percentage of drug arrests accounted for by marijuana possession or heroin or cocaine sales and manufacturing..... But the new data, released on Monday, contains no such helpful breakdown.
The removal of the table is part of an overall paring back of information made publicly available with the report. "The UCR Program streamlined the 2016 edition by reducing the number of tables from 81 to 29," Stephen G. Fischer Jr., the chief of multimedia productions for the FBI's Criminal Justice Information Services Division, said in an email.
Helpfully, however, Fischer did share FBI's internal drug-by-drug breakdown numbers, and here's what they reveal: Marijuana possession busts comprised 37.36% of all reported drug arrests in the U.S. in 2016, and cannabis sales and manufacturing arrests accounted for another 4.18% of the total.
Added together, marijuana arrests made up 41.54% of the 1,572,579 drug busts in the country last year. That means, based on an extrapolation, that police arrested people for cannabis 653,249 times in the U.S. in 2016. That averages out to about one marijuana arrest every 48 seconds.
According to the same calculation, there were 643,121 U.S. cannabis arrests in 2015. So arrests for marijuana are on the rise, even as more states legalize it.
"Cannabis use among patients at a comprehensive cancer center in a state with legalized medicinal and recreational use"
The title of this post is the title of this intriguing new research paper in the journal Cancer. Here is the paper's abstract (with key points emphasized):
Cannabis is purported to alleviate symptoms related to cancer treatment, although the patterns of use among cancer patients are not well known. This study was designed to determine the prevalence and methods of use among cancer patients, the perceived benefits, and the sources of information in a state with legalized cannabis.
A cross-sectional, anonymous survey of adult cancer patients was performed at a National Cancer Institute–designated cancer center in Washington State. Random urine samples for tetrahydrocannabinol provided survey validation.
Nine hundred twenty-six of 2737 eligible patients (34%) completed the survey, and the median age was 58 years (interquartile range [IQR], 46-66 years). Most had a strong interest in learning about cannabis during treatment (6 on a 1-10 scale; IQR, 3-10) and wanted information from cancer providers (677 of 911 [74%]). Previous use was common (607 of 926 [66%]); 24% (222 of 926) used cannabis in the last year, and 21% (192 of 926) used cannabis in the last month. Random urine samples found similar percentages of users who reported weekly use (27 of 193 [14%] vs 164 of 926 [18%]). Active users inhaled (153 of 220 [70%]) or consumed edibles (154 of 220 [70%]); 89 (40%) used both modalities. Cannabis was used primarily for physical (165 of 219 [75%]) and neuropsychiatric symptoms (139 of 219 [63%]). Legalization significantly increased the likelihood of use in more than half of the respondents.
This study of cancer patients in a state with legalized cannabis found high rates of active use across broad subgroups, and legalization was reported to be important in patients' decision to use. Cancer patients desire but are not receiving information about cannabis use during their treatment from oncology providers.
Friday, September 22, 2017
The title of this post is the headline of this notable new Rolling Stone article. Here is a snippet:
Senator Orrin Hatch ... is among a frustrated set of the nation's policy makers who are up in arms over a Washington Post report that Sessions' Justice Department is blocking the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) from approving about two dozen proposals for experts to research the effects of marijuana. Not to legalize weed. Not to sell it. Not even to smoke it. Merely to study it – just as is allowed with deadly and highly addictive opioids, booze and even cigarettes – to find out if 38 states and the District of Columbia have made grave mistakes by allowing marijuana to be used either medicinally or recreationally, or whether those states are actually on to something.
At 83, Hatch agrees with his former Senate colleague Jeff Sessions on much of his prohibitionist stance on weed – but he says the attorney general and his DOJ are basically out of touch when it comes to medicinal marijuana, which can be ingested as an oil or a baked good or even developed into high-grade pharmaceuticals. "I think it's a mistake. We ought to do the research," Hatch continues. "They're worried about a widespread abuse of the drug, which is something to worry about because it is a gateway drug that's a very big problem. But there's a difference between smoking marijuana – using it illegally – and using it to alleviate pain and suffering."
Pot remains listed by the DEA as a Schedule I drug, which is a classification that by definition means the government sees no medicinal benefit to it, along with the likes of LSD, ecstasy and peyote. But now 30 states have embraced marijuana for a varying degree of medicinal purposes, but there isn't good, peer reviewed research on it because many researchers don't want to risk a DEA raid or being cut off from future federal grants.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers on the Senate Appropriations Committee are working to enact what eventually could become a national standard for marijuana quality, and they want to start by allowing testing of pot already seized by the DEA. That's why a handful of lawmakers are trying to pressure Sessions into relaxing his own personal war on marijuana that seems to be tying the hands of officials at the DEA. "There's really only one reason to sit on a request: Because you suspect that perhaps the science will show that medical marijuana does have some therapeutic benefit and therefore disprove the need for the failed war on marijuana," Colorado Democrat Jared Polis tells Rolling Stone.
September 22, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)
This new Pacific Standard piece, with the sub-headline "Women across the country are working to build economic empowerment in the fledgling legal marijuana industry for people of color," covers topics I consider quite important for those who are deeply interested in the social justice aspects of marijuana reform. Here are snippets:
The legal marijuana industry made $6.7 billion in revenue in 2016, according to a January report in Business Insider. This is up from $5.4 billion in 2015, and $4.6 billion in 2014, as reported by CNBC. And while marijuana is slowly but surely becoming a legal industry in America, the wait for federal legality hasn't stopped the creation of culture surrounding the drug. But largely neglected in the stories about the thriving marijuana industry and its corresponding culture are the women of color who are doing the difficult work of advocacy, accurate reporting, and community creation for users of a long-maligned substance....
It's the racial disparities in sentencing and the war on drugs that brought Shaleen Title, an Indian-American woman, to the cannabis industry. While an undergraduate at the University of Illinois, Title met a representative from the ACLU who taught her about the starkly different incarceration rates between white and black men for marijuana charges. After that, she got involved with Students for Sensible Drug Policy.
These days, Title is a lawyer who co-founded the THC Staffing Group, a recruitment firm for jobs within the cannabis industry. Title considers herself, first and foremost, an activist. Her arena for change is figuring out how to build economic empowerment in the fledgling legal marijuana industry for people of color. "As important as it is to work on policy, it felt more direct [for me] to help people get into the industry because it was such a rare opportunity to see an industry start from scratch," Title says....
That idea of a ground floor was also stuck in the minds of Brooklyn residents Tahirah Hairston and Ashley Brooke. The 27-year-old friends both enjoyed smoking marijuana, but never saw themselves, or anyone who looked remotely like them, represented in weed culture. They hoped to find communities for liked-minded young professional women, but didn't find anything appealing to them. "There were very few," Brooke says. "And there were absolutely none for black women."
The pair realized the Google chats they had been sending, wishing for an online community for women of color who smoke, still hadn't materialized. So this year they launched The High Ends to create, as their website says, "a community of like-minded women who like to roll-up. We want to hear our stories told with nuance and wit from our perspectives." The High Ends is explicitly for and by women of color. The launch included a series of short videos of women of color explaining why they smoked—for physical or mental health, for focus, for creativity. Bringing the stories of very disparate women together was critical. "There's Moms Who Smoke and Nuns Who Smoke, which is amazing, but I'm 27 and want a community the same way I can go and find out a skincare routine," Hairston explains.
The High Ends is geared toward women with regular jobs, who don't want to hide the fact that they smoke weed. Brooke and Hairston want to reach women who don't see themselves represented in mainstream coverage of cannabis or in popular culture. Hairston puts it best: "It's about passing the L, and also passing knowledge."
Thursday, September 21, 2017
Tom Angell has this Forbes report on the latest comments by Attorney General Jeff Sessions concerning marijuana reform. The piece's headline, "Jeff Sessions Slams Marijuana Legalization (Again)," strikes me as more alarming than what Tom reports as the AG's actual comments. Here are the details:
The nation's top law enforcer is continuing to speak out against marijuana legalization. "I've never felt that we should legalize marijuana," U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said on Wednesday. "It doesn't strike me that the country would be better if it's being sold on every street corner. We do know that legalization results in greater use."
While not giving a clear answer about the enforcement of federal prohibition laws in states that have changed their cannabis policies, Sessions, a longtime legalization opponent, said, "Federal law remains in effect."
Last week, U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein made fairly ominous comments about marijuana policy reform, adding that the Trump administration is still deciding whether or not to reverse Obama-era guidance that generally allows states to legalize cannabis without federal interference....
Sessions' new comments came in response to a reporter's question following a San Diego press conference about large-scale Coast Guard seizures of cocaine and heroin.
At the risk of seeming to defend AG Sessions, I find these latest comments relatively measured. First, the AG is giving his opinion that his is personally opposed to marijuana legalization, and that is a view still shared by most establishment politicians on both sides of the political aisle. Second, I think most people would agree that selling marijuana on literally "every street corner" would not make our country better. The same, of course, could be said about many legal consumer products --- e.g., it doesn't strike me that the country would be better if doughnuts or guns or beer or golf clubs were being sold on "every street corner." Being against widespread and excessive commercialization of a product does not necessarily mean that one favors (or will be eager to pursue) punitive prohibition policies. Finally, it is true that federal marijuana prohibition remains, for now, the law of the land.
I say all this not to assert or even suggest that AG Sessions is disinclined to engineer a federal crackdown on state marijuana reforms. Rather, given that AG Sessions has not been reserved or modest in his pursuit of and advocacy for other controversial policy agendas while serving as the nation's top law-enforcement officer, I still think it telling and quite important that he has not yet really put marijuana enforcement on the front burner for his Department of Justice.
September 21, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)
Tuesday, September 19, 2017
Massachusetts top court addresses challenging issues surrounding marijuana and proof of impaired driving
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court this morning issued a unanimous opinion in Commonwealth v. Gerhardt, No. SJC-11967 (Mass. Sept. 19, 2017) (available here), which addresses matters of proof of marijuana-impaired driving. This Boston Herald account of the ruling provides a punny summary in its headline: "SJC spliffs the difference in marijuana OUI case." Here is how the actual opinion gets started:
In this case we are asked to consider the admissibility of field sobriety tests (FSTs) where a police officer suspects that a driver has been operating under the influence of marijuana. Police typically administer three FSTs -- the "horizontal gaze nystagmus test," the "walk and turn test" and the "one leg stand test" -- during a motor vehicle stop in order to assess motorists suspected of operating under the influence of alcohol or other drugs. These tests were developed specifically to measure alcohol consumption, and there is wide-spread scientific agreement on the existence of a strong correlation between unsatisfactory performance and a blood alcohol level of at least .08%.
By contrast, in considering whether a driver is operating under the influence of marijuana, there is as yet no scientific agreement on whether, and, if so, to what extent, these types of tests are indicative of marijuana intoxication. The research on the efficacy of FSTs to measure marijuana impairment has produced highly disparate results. Some studies have shown no correlation between inadequate performance on FSTs and the consumption of marijuana; other studies have shown some correlation with certain FSTs, but not with others; and yet other studies have shown a correlation with all of the most frequently used FSTs. In addition, other research indicates that less frequently used FSTs in the context of alcohol consumption may be better measures of marijuana intoxication.
The lack of scientific consensus regarding the use of standard FSTs in attempting to evaluate marijuana intoxication does not mean, however, that FSTs have no probative value beyond alcohol intoxication. We conclude that, to the extent that they are relevant to establish a driver's balance, coordination, mental acuity, and other skills required to safely operate a motor vehicle, FSTs are admissible at trial as observations of the police officer conducting the assessment. The introduction in evidence of the officer's observations of what will be described as "roadside assessments" shall be without any statement as to whether the driver's performance would have been deemed a "pass" or a "fail," or whether the performance indicated impairment. Because the effects of marijuana may vary greatly from one individual to another, and those effects are as yet not commonly known, neither a police officer nor a lay witness who has not been qualified as an expert may offer an opinion as to whether a driver was under the influence of marijuana.
Monday, September 18, 2017
Fear of feds and prohibition prompt University of Maryland to cancel plans for medical marijuana instruction
In this post from July, I reported on plans by the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy to begin offering training to prepare prospective workers for the medical marijuana industry. But this new Baltimore Sun article report that now, "citing legal concerns, the University of Maryland’s School of Pharmacy has canceled plans to offer training for those who work in the medical marijuana industry." Here is more:
After consulting with the Maryland attorney general’s office, the university asked pharmacy school officials to cancel the classes, a university spokesman said.... “If there’s any question of the law, they are often consulted,” said Alex Likowski, a spokesman for the University of Maryland, Baltimore. “Regarding medical cannabis, even though Maryland and many other states have approved it, it’s still illegal under U.S. law.”
Katherine Bainbridge, chief counsel of the education affairs division in the attorney general's office, confirmed that she gave advice to the university about the medical marijuana law specific to the courses the pharmacy school planned to offer, but she declined to disclose what the advice was. While the school said it has suspended the program indefinitely, prospective students seeking to enroll through a university-associated website still see a note that enrollments were “suspended temporarily while the business agreements are being finalized by the university.”
The classes, initially scheduled to start in August, offered basic and advanced certifications in areas including cultivation, manufacturing, dispensing, laboratory standards and assessment. It’s unclear whether the courses might be offered in the future. Pharmacy school officials did not respond to requests for comment....
Doctors in Maryland are not required to gain any special certification to recommend medical marijuana, but state law requires workers employed by growers, processors, dispensaries and laboratories to have training in their areas. Patrick Jameson, executive director of the Maryland Cannabis Commission, said workers must obtain training. “The commission expects the most highly trained and knowledgeable people will participate in the program,” he said. It’s unknown where those who want to work in the industry might turn for needed instruction. The state commission does not endorse any particular certification program.
Maryland’s pharmacy school would have joined only a small number of established colleges and universities to lend credibility for training of workers. The pharmacy school had adopted a curriculum developed by the advocacy group Americans for Safe Access, which has been offering training directly since 2002. University officials said suspension of the courses was a not a reflection on that content. The group did not respond to request for comment.
There are other online options for training available — directly through Americans for Safe Access and through the likes of such little-known organizations as Cannabis Training Institute, THC University and Green Cultured. Some state medical societies also offer training, but MedChi does not in Maryland.
Perhaps the only mainstream medical school offering training is the University of Vermont’s Larner College of Medicine, which began offering courses in the spring of 2016. There is a course available to medical and other university students that focuses on clinical trial data, in addition to certification and continuing education courses available to the community. Karen M. Lounsbury, a professor of pharmacology and co-director of Vermont’s medical cannabis course, said officials there had no legal concerns, though they were careful to comply with university policies.
“The biggest concern was that when presenting the clinical trial data for medical cannabis, we could be construed as supporting the use of medical cannabis that is legal in many states, including Vermont, but still illegal at the federal level,” she said. “We confirmed with the university lawyers that as long as we stated a clear disclaimer for each instructor, we would not be violating any university policy.” The disclaimer says: “The content of this lecture material represents the opinions of the instructor based on their research and experience and does not necessarily represent the opinions of the University of Vermont.” She said the program has an “evidence-based” approach and the classes are popular.
Medical marijuana advocates lamented that more well-respected universities were not offering medical courses for doctors or certifications courses for industry workers. Paul Armentano, deputy director of the advocacy group NORML, said such institutions were needed to establish training standards and to directly educate workers and doctors, very few of whom have had any instruction on the subject.
Prior related (and now dated) post:
September 18, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)
This AP article, headlined "High Number of Applicants for Arkansas Medical Marijuana," reports on the last-minute rush to file applications to be a part of a green rush in the Natural State (which is also know as the Land of Opportunity). Here are some details:
Would-be growers and distributors of Arkansas' initial medical marijuana crop flooded a state office building Monday, turning in thousands of pages of paperwork and handing over thousands of dollars in application fees. Applicants faced a three-hour wait ahead of Monday afternoon's deadline, as their number greatly exceeded the clerks available to review paperwork to ensure it was complete. Those hoping to grow medical marijuana had to pay a $15,000 application fee, while potential distributors paid $7,500. Unsuccessful applicants will have half their money refunded.
Department of Finance and Administration spokesman Scott Hardin said about 300 firms or individuals had submitted applications by the close of business Monday. Clerks were staying late to handle applications from those in the office by the deadline. About 100 people or firms sought to grow marijuana, with the others hoping to distribute it.
Arkansas voters last year approved marijuana use by people with certain medical conditions. The new state Medical Marijuana Commission will review applications after the names of companies and individuals have been redacted and then select up to five growers and 32 distributors. The Arkansas Health Department has approved 1,200 people for a medical marijuana registry, making them eligible to obtain the drug.
Applications from the potential growers and distributors were about 1,000 pages long, on average. Several who dropped off applications elected not to identify themselves publicly, while others spoke openly about why they considered their applications worthy. "If you can beat us at our game, I give you all the credit in the world," said Chris Stone, who operates two dispensaries in Illinois. He has teamed with a pair of Arkansas pharmacists and wants to grow marijuana in the rich, agricultural lands near Brinkley and distribute marijuana at a dispensary on the east side of Jonesboro.
He said his firm failed in a previous attempt to win a grower's permit in Illinois, but took the feedback from that loss to fashion a pair of 1,800-page applications in Arkansas. "Those with successes in other states probably have a leg up on those who are putting together an application for a first time," he said.
Friday, September 15, 2017
In preparation for coming reforms, UMass to study marijuana use in Bay State before start of recreational sales
As reported in this press release, as "Massachusetts prepares to begin sales of recreational marijuana in 2018, researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst School of Public Health and Health Sciences (SPHHS), in collaboration with the UMass Donahue Institute and staff at the state Department of Public Health (DPH), have begun a one-year baseline study to assess the level of marijuana use before legal, recreational sales go into effect." Here is more:
The investigation will be funded by a $275,000 contract from DPH as part of the DPH Marijuana Baseline Health Study to provide public health officials, legislators and others with information to assess baseline rates and patterns of marijuana use, related risk behaviors such as use in combination with alcohol, prescription drugs and impaired driving. They will also look at outcomes such as marijuana-related visits to emergency departments or urgent care facilities. Public health professors Rosa Rodríguez-Monguió and Jennifer Whitehill will lead the research at SPHHS.
David Buchanan, SPHHS chair of health promotion and policy, helped to organize two forums last year for Massachusetts lawmakers to hear about impacts of legalization in Colorado and Washington State. He says that agency directors in both states strongly recommend pre/post studies to evaluate the impact. After the forums, the Senate Special Committee on Marijuana unanimously recommended that a baseline study be conducted in Massachusetts, and it was later mandated as part of legislation passed in December 2016 that tweaked the ballot question passed by the voters.
As part of the baseline study, Whitehill and Rodríguez-Monguió have designed a statewide survey plus other studies that will complement the efforts of investigators from DPH, John Snow, Inc., Mathematica Policy Research, and the UMass Donahue Institute. Findings from the various lines of investigation will be presented to a legislative committee in July 2018.
Rodríguez-Monguió says one question to be addressed with the collection of new survey data is whether increased marijuana availability leads to increased use of other substances, particularly alcohol and prescription drugs, or whether marijuana use might serve as a substitute for prescription drugs and other substances. The UMass Amherst team will also analyze several existing national and state databases to explore associations between recreational marijuana, alcohol and prescription drug use, and involvement in fatal car crashes and calls to poison control.
Deputy AG Rosenstein hints about lingering concerns about sticking with Cole memo federal prosecution policies
As reported in this Forbes piece by Tom Angell, the "Trump administration is continuing to weigh whether or not to reverse Obama-era guidance that generally allows states to legalize marijuana without federal interference, the Justice Department's number two official said on Thursday." Here is more:
"We are reviewing that policy. We haven't changed it, but we are reviewing it. We're looking at the states that have legalized or decriminalized marijuana, trying to evaluate what the impact is," Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said in an appearance at the conservative Heritage Foundation. "And I think there is some pretty significant evidence that marijuana turns out to be more harmful than a lot of people anticipated, and it's more difficult to regulate than I think was contemplated ideally by some of those states," he said.
Under the so-called "Cole Memo," named after the former Obama Justice Department official who authored it in 2013, the federal government set out certain criteria that, if followed, would allow states to implement their own laws mostly without intervention. Those criteria concern areas like youth use, impaired driving and interstate trafficking.
In April, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a longtime legalization opponent, directed a Justice Department task force to review the memo and make recommendations for possible changes. But that panel did not provide Sessions with any ammunition to support a crackdown on states, according to the Associated Press, which reviewed excerpts of the task force's report to the attorney general.
In his new remarks, Rosenstein expressed concern that people are misinterpreting the still-in-effect memo. "That's been perceived in some places almost as if it creates a safe harbor, but it doesn't. And it's clear that it doesn't," he said. "That is, even if, under the terms of the memo you're not likely to be prosecuted, it doesn't mean that what you're doing is legal or that it's approved by the federal government or that you protected from prosecution in the future."...
Citing ongoing federal prohibition laws, Rosenstein said, "Marijuana is illegal, and it's a controlled substance and there are no authorized uses for it, with very limited exceptions for research approved by DEA." Without saying when a decision or announcement might be made, he said that the administration will "take that all into consideration and then make a determination whether or not to revise that policy."
September 15, 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 (0)
Thursday, September 14, 2017
As reported in this Forbes article, headlined "Hawaii Was Slow To Roll Out Medical Marijuana, But Fast To Go Cashless," the 50th state is about to be a first when it comes to the marijuana industry. Here are the details:
Hawaii has decided to turn its medical marijuana program into a cashless payment system in the hopes of avoiding the problems that other states and businesses have faced when dealing large sums of cash. The goal is that by October 1, all of Hawaii’s licensed dispensaries will no longer use cash, but instead ask their customers to pay with a debit payment app.
Governor David Ige said at a press conference on Tuesday, “Cannabis is illegal at the federal level, still a schedule one controlled substance. Because of this, all financial institutions in Hawaii have decided against providing banking services to the dispensaries. This solution allows the dispensaries to be able to write checks, to do all of the normal financial transactions that most businesses would do.” Hawaii legalized medical marijuana in 2000, but only recently implemented its program.
Banking has been tremendously difficult for cannabis companies. The major banks refuse to work with these businesses because marijuana is still federally illegal. The major credit card companies have also turned their backs on customers wanting to use their bank cards to engage in such transactions. This has caused inconvenience for the customers who are forced to pay with cash and the dispensaries that end up with stacks of cash that needs to be processed....
The debit app called CanPay steps in to provide an alternative to cash-only transactions. It is partnered with Safe Harbor Private Banking, a Denver-based division of partner Colorado Credit Union, which is a leading compliant banking program that specializes in working with cannabis companies. “Removing cash from the equation leads to a more transparent and legitimate way to do business that’s both convenient and secure for all involved,” said Dustin Eide, CEO of CanPay. “Through the lengthy collaboration between ourselves, Safe Harbor, and the tremendous individuals in Hawaii’s legal cannabis market, these dispensaries are now able to operate as closely as possible to businesses in any other industry.”
While the cash has been a problem for some customers and businesses, there are many who prefer to keep these transactions in cash. Concerns over government intrusion and general privacy have kept these consumers wary of a system that can track all cannabis purchases. Dispensaries will still be able to accept cash transactions, although they will encourage customers to use the cashless system. Patients that don’t have a smart phone to use the CanPay system can set up an account with their email and log into a computer at the dispensary to complete a transaction....
Also, while Hawaii may have solved the problem of armored trucks and extra security personnel to oversee stacks of cash, it is also exposing itself to hacking. By depending on one system, the state could leave itself open to hackers who could take the system down and potentially keep patients from buying medicine. However, since cash will still be allowed, hackers wouldn’t completely freeze the industry.
"Hawaii’s adoption of a cashless payment system for cannabis sales is a clever and legitimate workaround occasioned by the unfortunate reality of the banking challenges in the industry," said Bryan Meltzer, a partner at legal firm Feuerstein Kulick. "We have said for a long time that this has created a dangerous situation ripe for robberies and related criminal activity. Hawaii should be applauded for its out-of-the-box thinking."
Wednesday, September 13, 2017
"Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch rolls a bunch of pot puns into his case to expand medical marijuana research"
This Daily News report on a notable marijuana reform proposal put forward on Capital Hill by a notable GOP Senator captured in its headline and substance the highlight of the story:
Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch didn’t spare the puns in announcing Wednesday that it was “high time” for the government to delve “into the weeds” of medical marijuana research. Hatch, in a press release filled with pot-related double entendres [available here], announced that he’d introduced the Marijuana Effective Drug Study Act that’s intended to encourage more research into the medical benefits of marijuana.
“It’s high time to address research into medical marijuana,” Hatch, a Republican said. “Our country has experimented with a variety of state solutions without properly delving into the weeds on the effectiveness, safety, dosing, administration, and quality of medical marijuana.”
Hatch said current government regulations often do more harm than good by making hard for researchers to obtain and conduct studies on pot. “To be blunt, we need to remove the administrative barriers preventing legitimate research into medical marijuana, which is why I’ve decided to roll out the MEDS Act.”
Among other steps, Hatch’s bill would streamline the federal registration process for marijuana research and make pot more available for legitimate scientific and medical studies. It would also require the National Institute on Drug Abuse to develop recommendations for good manufacturing practices for growing and producing marijuana for research.
“I am strongly against the use of recreational marijuana,” Hatch said in a preview of remarks he was planning to give on the Senate floor Wednesday. “I worry, however, that in our zeal to enforce the law, we too often blind ourselves to the medicinal benefits of natural substances like cannabis.”
Advocates for medical marijuana said Hatch’s bill was a good step but they remained concerned that the federal government will seek to undermine medical pot programs already underway in many states. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is a fierce opponent of marijuana use, advocates have noted. “This is a modest step in the right direction but doesn't solve the most important issue - protecting state medical marijuana programs from federal interference,” said Bill Piper of the Drug Policy Alliance.
September 13, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)
The title of this post is the title of this notable forthcoming article authored by Beau Kilmer and Robert MacCoun which is soon to be published in the Annual Review of Law and Social Science. Here is its abstract:
Public support for legalizing marijuana use increased from 25% in 1995 to 60% in 2016, rising in lockstep with support for same-sex marriage. Between November 2012 and November 2016, voters in eight states passed ballot initiatives to legalize marijuana sales for nonmedical purposes—covering one-fifth of the US population. These changes are unprecedented but are not independent of the changes in medical marijuana laws that have occurred over the past 20 years. This article suggests five ways in which the passage and implementation of medical marijuana laws smoothed the transition to nonmedical legalization in the United States: (a) They demonstrated the efficacy of using voter initiatives to change marijuana supply laws, (b) enabled the psychological changes needed to destabilize the “war on drugs” policy stasis, (c) generated an evidence base that could be used to downplay concerns about nonmedical legalization, (d) created a visible and active marijuana industry, and (e) revealed that the federal government would allow state and local jurisdictions to generate tax revenue from marijuana.
September 13, 2017 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)
Surprising new marijuana lobbyist, a bombastic NY Republican, might be especially significant in the age of Trump
This new New York Post article, headlined "Former New York senator who opposed smoking pot joins marijuana lobbying group," reports on a very interesting and shrewd hire by the Marijuana Policy Project. Here are the details:
Alfonse D'Amato is going from Senator Pothole to Senator Pot. The former Republican U.S. senator from New York has been hired as a senior adviser by the Marijuana Policy Project, a national pro-pot group that for the first time is starting an affiliate in the Empire State.
The MPP says it was founded in 1995 to advocate nationally for “sensible and compassionate” laws governing pot use. In New York, the group will initially focus on promoting ways to strengthen the state's existing medical marijuana program, though D'Amato didn't rule out the idea that the group will be part of any future discussions about legalizing the recreational use of pot for adults.
In addition to D'Amato, the MPP also hired attorney and community organizer Landon Dais to serve as its New York political director. Both D'Amato — who served in the Senate from 1981 to 1999 — and Dais said that after a slow start, New York's medical marijuana program can be transformed into a national leader. "The (state) Health Department and the governor's office have come a long way in making the utilization of medical marijuana easier, better, more professional," D'Amato said. "That's a work in progress."
D'Amato said the MPP will push for Gov. Cuomo to sign into law a bill making medical marijuana available to veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. D’Amato said the group will also seek to educate the public and medical community on the value of medical marijuana. "I'm happy to see we have really moved in the right direction in New York," D'Amato said.
The former senator-turned lobbyist and consultant said the state should also start discussing whether to legalize pot for adults. While he hasn't yet taken a stand on the issue, D'Amato said "if we want to be realistic, you've got to look at the nation, what is taking place around us. It's been implemented in (seven) states."...
D'Amato's linkage to a marijuana group is a change for a man who for most of his life was against the use of pot. He said he began evolving on the issue during a discussion with radio personality Howard Stern in 2009. "I think I'm a conservative, but I don't think I'm a right wing kook," he said.
D'Amato also knocked U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, with whom he served in the Senate, for wanting the federal government to crack down on states that have legalized recreational- and even medicinal- marijuana. "It's a ridiculous position," he said. "I say how can you on the one hand be for states’ rights and on the other hand say the states that have legalized the use of marijuana, that you're not going to recognize that. You can't be a states’ rights person only when you like what the states are doing and not what the feds are doing. It's one or the other."
State Conservative Party Chairman Michael Long, who backed D’Amato during his three terms in the Senate, said “I hope the former senator doesn’t partake in a move that would open the door for legalization of marijuana.” But he said he wasn’t particularly surprised D’Amato hooked up with the Marijuana Policy Project. “He’s a lobbyist now, certainly a person who opens the door for a lot of people,” Long said.
As this article highlights, former Senator D'Amato has a little history from his time in the Senate with current AG Jeff Sessions. But I think even more important is D'Amato's history as a successful bombastic New York Republican politician. In various ways, he seems cut from the same cloth as President Donald Trump, and the two surely have some relationship given that D'Amato was a leading New York political figure during the 1980s and 1990s when Trump was building his NYC real estate empire. In addition, I am sure D'Amato is able to get the ear of still-very-important New York political figures ranging from Rudy Giuliani to Michael Bloomberg to Chuck Schumer.
September 13, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)