Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Alaska marijuana tax revenues growing, which means more resources to help reduce criminal recidivism

Alaska-weed-webAs reported in this new local article, headlined "Alaska cannabis tax revenue tops $700K in September," the Last Frontier is continuing to reach new firsts when it comes to taxes collected from marijuana reform.  Here are the details:

Alaska's marijuana tax revenue continued a steady climb upward in September, with $723,757 collected statewide, according to a state official. Sixty-four growers from across the Interior, Southcentral and Southeast paid taxes to the Alaska Department of Revenue last month, wrote Kelly Mazzei, excise tax supervisor in the tax division.

Under Alaska's law, growers pay the tax of $50 an ounce for bud, and $15 an ounce for other parts of the plant, like leaves and stems. A total of 716 pounds of bud was sold wholesale in September, and 630 pounds of trim, according to data provided by Mazzei....

To date, Alaska has collected $3,741,810 in cannabis taxes. Most of it — a full 68 percent — has been paid in cash, Mazzei wrote. Alaska's first marijuana shop opened for business Oct. 29, 2016. Revenue was slow to start, as demand outweighed supply, and retailers struggled to get enough cannabis in their shops to keep their doors open.

In June, revenue nearly doubled after three months of hovering around $250,000. Since then, tax revenue has steadily climbed. Mazzei wrote that October's revenue could top $1 million, a potentially "amazing milestone" for the state. Many local governments have also put additional cannabis sales taxes in place.

Last year, the Alaska Legislature budgeted half of the cannabis tax to programs aimed at reducing repeat criminal offenders. The other half goes into the general fund.

Because I think of marijuana reform as, first and foremost, a form of criminal justice reform, I love the fact that Alaska has decide to commit half of its marijuana tax revenue to improving public safety and its criminal justice system. This article from July 2016, headlined "Here's where half of the revenue from Alaska's legal pot will go," provides these details:

Gov. Bill Walker signed Senate Bill 91, a comprehensive criminal reform bill meant to reduce the state's prison population and its associated costs. Included in the bill is a provision that diverts half of the state's cannabis excise taxes to programs aimed at reducing repeat criminal offenders, under a newly created recidivism reduction fund.

Marijuana will be taxed at $50 an ounce. Based on projected marijuana sales, the state hopes $3 million will go toward the recidivism reduction fund in fiscal year 2017, and $6 million in subsequent years.

The marijuana tax money will be used to fund the Department of Corrections' Substance Abuse Treatment Program, which will receive $700,000, and community residential centers, which will receive $300,000; the Department of Health and Social Services' Behavioral Health Treatment and Recovery Grants, which will receive $1 million; and the Department of Public Safety's Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, which will also receive $1 million.

Because fiscal year 2017 for Alaska started in July and the first 3 months have already brought in nearly $2 million in taxes and revenue growth is continuing, it would appear Alaska could have even more tax revenue than expected going to these important criminal justice concerns.

October 31, 2017 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Split New Jersey appeals court holds state officials can (and should?) consider reclassifying marijuana under state drug schedules

The Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey issued an interesting opinion today in Kadonsky v. Lee, No. A-3324-14T4 (N.J. App. Oct 31, 2017) (available here), resolving a appeal of the denial of a petition "seeking to have marijuana rescheduled from a Schedule I controlled dangerous substance to Schedule IV" under New Jersey laws. The majority remanded the case, explaining that reconsideration of marijuana's scheduling could be done under existing laws:

While this issue is not squarely before us, it is certainly ripe for a determination by the Director. When the inconsistencies of sections (a) and (c) of N.J.S.A. 24:21-3 are viewed through the prism of the dicta in Tate, we conclude that the Director erred in determining he lacked the authority to reclassify marijuana without a change in existing federal law.

The dissenting opinion starts with an effective account of the ruling and the judges' disagreements:

The question presented by this appeal is whether, as a result of evolving attitudes about marijuana and its potential for medical uses, the Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs was required to reschedule marijuana, removing it from Schedule I of the New Jersey Controlled Dangerous Substances Act (CDSA), N.J.S.A. 24:21-1 to -56.  The Director's decision that he was required, instead, to control marijuana in accord with federal schedules is subject to limited appellate review.  Circus Liquors, Inc. v. Governing Body of Middletown, 199 N.J. 1, 9 (2009).  In light of the unambiguous language of N.J.S.A. 24:21-3(c) that the Director adhere to federal schedules, his decision must be sustained because there is no "'clear showing' that it is arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable or that it lacks fair support in the record." Ibid.

My colleagues conclude the Director erred in his interpretation of the law but do not conclude the Director's decision was arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable or consider that a fair interpretation of the governing statute provides support for his decision.  They have elected to decide an issue they acknowledge "is not squarely before us."  Despite the clear directive in N.J.S.A. 24:21-3(c), the majority concludes the Director may reconsider the classification of marijuana, placing it on a schedule different from its designation on the federal schedules and, because the issue is "ripe for determination" by the Director, remands the issue for his consideration.

The necessary premise for this conclusion is that the Director has the discretion to make a major policy decision regarding the scheduling of marijuana that directly conflicts with the legislative mandate contained in N.J.S.A. 24:21-3(c) and federal law.  That premise cannot withstand the application of established principles of statutory construction.

October 31, 2017 in Court Rulings, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Notable look at criminal justice footprint of marijuana prohibition in Virginia

May 21  2015This new local article, headlined "Virginia State Crime Commission briefed on marijuana decriminalization study, hears from public," reports on some new research and discussion of marijuana prohibition in the Old Dominion State.  Here are highlights:

In the 10-year period ending last year, there were 133,256 arrests in Virginia for possession of marijuana, 84 percent of them first-time offenses.  Nevertheless, relatively few people go to jail in the state solely for possession of marijuana, according to a study prompted by a proposal that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of the drug for personal use.

The report by the staff of the Virginia State Crime Commission found that on July 20, there were 96 jail inmates awaiting trial for possession of marijuana and 31 serving jail time after conviction.  State figures show there were more than 29,000 people in Virginia’s jails that same day.

State crime commission members were briefed on the findings of the months-long study prior to taking mixed comment from 32 people at a hearing Monday. Under the proposal, possession of small amounts of marijuana would remain illegal but would become a civil offense, instead of a criminal one.

“We are here to talk about decriminalization, not legalization,” said state Sen. Thomas K. Norment Jr., R-James City, to those in attendance. Norment, a member of the crime commission, helped prompt the study out of concerns about the collateral consequences of such convictions.  Colin L. Drabert, senior staff attorney for the commission, outlined some of those ramifications, which can include effects on employment, federal higher education aid, housing, immigration status, the ability to purchase or transport a firearm, and child custody.

Roy Scherer, who has long lobbied for the reform of the state’s marijuana laws, was one of the first speakers. “I’d like to congratulate you. The idea of decriminalizing marijuana is only 45 years old. So Virginia is catching up,” he told the commission.  A representative of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws thanked the commission for considering the matter and said none of the states that have decriminalized have reversed course, showing the move is effective.

Two other early speakers strongly opposed the proposal, with one likening it to opening Pandora’s box. Another speaker said decriminalization would reduce the perception of harm the drug represents. “Marijuana is still an addictive, harmful drug. ... Please protect our youth,” she said.

A representative of the American Automobile Association told the commission that the organization does not have a position on the bill, but she urged legislators to carefully consider the possible impact on traffic safety.

The report found that 30 states have criminal penalties for possession; eight states and the District of Columbia allow for legal recreational use; seven states have civil or other noncriminal penalties; and five states have blended civil and criminal penalties.

In Virginia, the law does not specify an amount of marijuana to be considered for personal use, as opposed to amounts that could be construed as possession with the intent to distribute.  A first conviction can result in up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine.  A defendant’s driver’s license is revoked for six months if convicted or if a judge defers deciding the matter.  Roughly half of first-time offenders charged are convicted, and of that number the great majority serve no jail sentence....


Drabert reported that the crime commission’s staff has received nearly 4,000 written comments from the public regarding the proposal, with 3,743 supporting decriminalization and 107 not supporting.  The staff will now consider the remarks as well as suggestions from commission members and make recommendations for the commission to consider at a future meeting.  Endorsement of legislation by the commission does not ensure passage of a bill, but it carries great weight in the legislature.

I believe the report reference in this article from the Virginia State Crime Commission is available at this link. There are some interesting case processing details in the slides of this report that folks outside of Virginia may want to look at.

October 31, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, October 30, 2017

A look at the law and business surrounding industrial hemp

As I mentioned in this recent post, students in my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar are now gearing up for and delivering presentations on a marijuana-related topic of their choosing.  The first of the student presentations planned for this this coming week is exploring industrial hemp, and here are the links my student has assembled in preparation for her presentation this coming week:

1)  This is a state-by-state list of statutes regulating industrial hemp.

2)  This is a detailed statement to "inform the public how Federal law applies to activities associated with industrial hemp."

3)  This is the newest bill that has been introduced asking to change the definition of hemp.

4)  This is a market projection based on a report by the Hemp Business Journal that discusses the growth of hemp product sales in the coming years.

October 30, 2017 in Assembled readings on specific topics, Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, October 29, 2017

US distributor of Corona beer making big investment in Canadian marijuana grower

Download (8)As reported in this new Wall Street Journal article, headlined "Big Brewer Makes a Play for Marijuana Beverages," the "U.S. distributor of Corona beer is chasing a new type of buzz." Here are the details from a story giving new meaning to "Corona Extra" :

Constellation Brands Inc. has agreed to take a 9.9% stake in Canopy Growth Corp. , a Canadian marijuana company, and plans to work with the grower to develop and market cannabis-infused beverages.  Canopy Growth is the world’s largest publicly traded cannabis company, with a market valuation of 2.2 billion Canadian dollars on the Toronto Stock Exchange.   The C$245 million (US$191 million) deal gives Constellation a toehold in an industry that the brewer expects to be legalized nationwide in the U.S. in the coming years.

“We think that it’s highly likely, given what’s happened at the state level,” Rob Sands, chief executive of the Victor, N.Y.-based beer, wine and spirits company, said in an interview.  “We’re obviously trying to get first-mover advantage.”

Constellation — flush with cash after posting a 13% increase in beer sales in its latest quarter — is interested in developing drinkable cannabis products that don’t contain alcohol, he said.  Products currently on the market in U.S. states where they are legal include buzz-inducing sodas, coffees and fruit elixirs.

Constellation doesn’t plan to sell such a product in the U.S. before marijuana is legalized there nationwide, Mr. Sands said, but could sell it in Canada, where edible and drinkable cannabis products are expected to be legalized by 2019, or other countries where recreational marijuana is permitted....

U.S. beer-industry executives have been debating whether legalized marijuana could cannibalize sales of beer, even as other consumers migrate from beer to wine and spirits. Some brewers have experimented with cannabis-infused beers, not containing THC but instead a marijuana flavor.  “Wine and spirits are not sitting still, and marijuana is being legalized in many states,” Heineken USA Chief Executive Ronald den Elzen said at a beer wholesalers conference earlier this month. “We have to act now, and we have to do it together.”

Mr. Sands said he doesn’t see pot as a threat to booze. But if a consumer is going to choose a can of beer, a glass of wine, a shot of liquor or a weed-laced elixir, he wants to be able to offer all four, he said.  “Could it be a threat? Yes, I guess it could be,” he said.  “We’re not going to stand around twiddling our thumbs.”...

Canopy Growth, based in Smiths Falls, Ontario, is ramping up capacity ahead of next summer’s legalization in Canada and said it would use the new capital to expand its production and storage facilities throughout the country.  The deal, expected to close by early November, gives Constellation board-observer status and the option to increase its stake to just under 20%. Canopy

Growth CEO Bruce Linton said Constellation’s expertise in alcohol distribution would be helpful for the cannabis company as it determines how to distribute and package recreational cannabis. Canada’s provincial regulators are still considering how to handle the selling of marijuana, he said.  Mr. Linton said he hoped the deal could be the turning point for the nascent industry, signaling to institutional investors “that a cannabis company that fully complies within legal jurisdictions would be the right place to invest."

October 29, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

"A Well-Kept Secret: How Vets And Their Doctors Are Getting Around The VA’s Medical Marijuana Policy"

Download (4) title of this post is the headline of this lengthy article from Task & Purpose, a website that seeks to "provide authentic and unfiltered perspectives on military and veterans issues in the post-9/11 era." I recommend the article in full, and here are some excerpts:

In states where medical marijuana is legal, the VA’s existing policy allows for veterans and their care providers to candidly discuss cannabis use as part of their overall treatment plan, and in some cases, even test positive on a urinalysis for the drug without consequence — many of the same official changes to VA policy that veteran service organizations have been aggressively advocating for in 2017.

Under VA policy, veterans who participate in state-approved marijuana programs won’t lose access to VA health care, however, due to the drug’s Schedule 1 classification, the VA doesn’t allow physicians to prescribe pot; fill out forms for veterans seeking to participate in state weed programs; or pay for the drug. Nor is its use permitted on VA grounds....

What leaves VA guidelines open to interpretation is what they don’t address. The VA doesn’t explicitly bar patients from discussing their medicinal weed use with their doctors. The policy even leaves room for physicians to alter a veteran’s treatment plan to account for their pot use, but stops short of stating exactly what that entails. When it comes to specifics on how this all plays out in a doctor’s office, the policy at large, and the VA in particular, are quite vague....

Advocates of medicinal marijuana use for veterans — and those simply in favor of more research into its potential benefits — often point to its effectiveness in treating chronic pain, especially compared to highly addictive medications, like opioids. Its efficacy has been well-documented, with one observational study indicating a marked dip in opiate-related deaths in states where medicinal weed is legal, The Washington Post reported earlier this year. Still, when it comes to pot as a treatment option for veterans with PTSD and TBI, hard results are less readily available.

One of the consequences of the VA’s reliance on results from state-run studies and its lack of involvement in an ongoing federal study near a major VA hospital in Phoenix, Arizona, is that much of the research needed to further this conversation at the federal level, in any direction, remains out of reach, and it could stay that way for quite some time.

Currently, the marijuana PTSD study, the only federally approved research into the effects of herb on PTSD, has stagnated, with just 26 veterans enrolled out of the required 76 needed to be viable as of Sept. 19, and the hang-up stems from the VA’s refusal to recommend veteran patients for the study, due to the drug’s classification as Schedule 1. The lack of VA involvement, coupled with the study’s strict requirements — roughly 99% of applicants fail to meet the standards — has limited its recruitment pool. The federal research was further stymied by substandard pot — it had a low concentration of THC, but high levels of mold and lead — provided to the researchers by the federal government’s official grow operation at the University of Mississippi.

October 29, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Looking at some of the (mature?) legal issues now arising in marijuana industry

A growth in lawsuits might well be seen as a sure sign that the marijuana industry is reaching a new level of development.  For that reason, supporters of marijuana reform might see these two detailed articles from Marijuana Business Daily about  legal issues facing marijuana companies as a positive sign.  And students in my marijuana reform seminar might see these articles as a preview of what legal practice in this field can involve:

October 29, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Employment and labor law issues, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 27, 2017

"Everyone Agrees That Weed Is Great — Except Politicians"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new FiveThirtyEight posting by Harry Enten.   Here is an excerpt (with my emphasis added):

A Gallup poll released Wednesday found that a record high 64 percent of Americans favor legalizing marijuana. It follows other surveys published this year also showing that a clear majority of Americans support making marijuana consumption legal.  But what’s most interesting about the Gallup survey is that it found that a majority of Americans of all political stripes are for legalization. Gallup found that 72 percent of Democrats, 67 percent of independents and 51 percent of Republicans support marijuana becoming legal.

This makes marijuana one of the least polarized issues of our time (and one that some political party might be smart to take advantage of).  Issues such as abortion, gun control and health care find Democrats and Republicans so far apart that it’s hard to win over many voters of the other party when adopting a stance popular with your own party’s voters.  Marijuana isn’t that way.

And yet, despite the clear bipartisan appeal of marijuana, it has only been approved for recreational use in eight states and Washington, D.C.  Neither Democrat Hillary Clinton nor Republican Donald Trump came out in favor of recreational marijuana purchases during the 2016 election.  Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, has actually taken a harder-line stance on marijuana than recent administrations, including criticizing states that have made it legal.

Democrats and Republicans might be slow to fully support recreational marijuana because, despite it being broadly popular, supporters don’t feel all that strongly about it.  Only 31 percent of Americans “strongly” favored legalization in a 2016 PRRI poll, despite 63 percent being in favor overall.   My own 2014 study of marijuana ballot measures suggested they don’t raise young voter turnout, even though young voters were the most likely to favor legalization.   Just 28 percent of Americans told Marist College in March 2017 that they would be likely to buy and use marijuana if the federal government legalized it.  (Of course, some people may be unwilling to tell a pollster this.)

Prior recent related post:

Gallup reports record-high levels of support for marijuana legalization in US

October 27, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Polling data and results, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Some insightful perspectives on the year to come in the marijuana reform universe

This past week brought two notable articles providing two important perspectives on how 2018 is shaping up to be yet another big year in the marijuana reform space:

From the Washington Examiner here, "Will 2018 be the year marijuana takes over?":

So far, all the states that have legalized marijuana have done so through grassroots petitions and ballot initiatives meant to bypass risk-averse lawmakers in state houses.

California, Nevada, Maine, Massachusetts, Alaska, Oregon, and the District of Columbia have all followed Colorado and Washington either to legalize the sale and use of recreational marijuana or, at a minimum, to decriminalize possession and consumption of small amounts of the drug.

But 2018 may be a tipping point — the moment when the momentum of pot makes it impossible for state lawmakers to avoid. State legislatures are poised to begin passing marijuana reform laws next year. The taboos against smoking dope may go up in a cloud of narcotic smoke.

From Marijuana Moment here, "These States Will Probably Vote On Marijuana In 2018":

Last November, nine statewide marijuana ballot initiatives went before voters, and eight were approved.  Next year, voters in a number of additional states are likely to see cannabis questions when they go to their polling places.

Here’s an in-depth look at those states that have the best chance of qualifying marijuana initiatives, followed by some brief info on a few that seem like longer shots…

October 27, 2017 in Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Notable marijuana comments in notable settings by Attorney General Jeff Sessions

Attorney General Jeff Session have a speech today at The Heritage Foundation and did a radio interview with Hugh Hewitt, and federal marijuana law and policy cam up in both settings. These press reports provide some of the details and context:

From Reason here, "Sessions Continues to Push 'Gateway Drug' Myth About Marijuana: Much of the addiction starts with marijuana."

From The Cannabist here, "Talk show host Hugh Hewitt lobbies Jeff Sessions to pursue federal marijuana crackdown: Hewitt asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions if he was planning to pursue federal prosecution of marijuana businesses"

October 26, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Gallup reports record-high levels of support for marijuana legalization in US

Qpeszfyysk-vh_zwkbyskqAs reported in this new posting from Gallup, "Americans continue to warm to legalizing marijuana, with 64% now saying its use should be made legal. This is the highest level of public support Gallup has found for the proposal in nearly a half-century of measurement." Here is more:

Gallup first asked national adults about their views on the topic in 1969, when 12% supported legalization. Support had more than doubled by the end of the next decade but changed little throughout the 1980s and 1990s. By 2001, however, about a third of Americans favored legalizing marijuana, and support has steadily increased since. A majority of Americans have consistently supported legalizing marijuana since 2013.

The trajectory of Americans' views on marijuana is similar to that of their views on same-sex marriage over the past couple of decades. On both issues, about a quarter supported legalization in the late 1990s, and today 64% favor each. Over the past several years, Gallup has found that Americans have become more liberal on a variety of social issues.

Democrats and independents have historically been much more likely than Republicans to say marijuana should be legalized. In 2009, Democrats were the first partisan group to see majority support for legalization, followed by independents in 2010. This year for the first time, a majority of Republicans express support for legalizing marijuana; the current 51% is up nine percentage points from last year.

As efforts to legalize marijuana at the state level continue to yield successes, public opinion, too, has shifted toward greater support. The Department of Justice under the current Republican administration has been perceived as hostile to state-level legalization. But Attorney General Jeff Sessions could find himself out of step with his own party if the current trends continue. Rank-and-file Republicans' views on the issue have evolved just as Democrats' and independents' have, though Republicans remain least likely to support legalizing pot.

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Oct. 5-11, 2017, with a random sample of 1,028 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

October 25, 2017 in Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Brookings analysis laments how "AG Sessions blocks progress on medical cannabis research"

Download (3)John Hudak and Christine Stenglein have this extended new Brookings' FixGov posting that assails comments made by Attorney General Jeff Sessions about medicial marijuana research. Here is an excerpt of their discussion:

Last week, during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions a question about cannabis. It wasn’t about legalization or enforcement.  It was about science. Sen. Hatch asked the Attorney General for a status update on applications to grow cannabis for federally-approved medical and scientific research.  The Attorney General offered a weak response that highlighted his own biases on the issue, a division of opinion between him and the president he serves, and a federal government effort to stand in the way of the free conduct of research....

There should be more research into cannabis’ medical efficacy, and the Attorney General of the United States needs to stop allowing his own ideological biases from preventing the free and open conduct of research.  Right now, there are 26 additional research facilities that have applied to grow research grade cannabis.  The Attorney General’s response to Sen. Hatch’s question about these applications was, “So I think it would be healthy to have some more competition in the supply, but I don’t—I’m sure we don’t need 26 new suppliers.”

Nonsense, Mr. Attorney General.

Simply because there are 26 applications does not mean the Justice Department has to approve 26 applications. DEA, the agency charged with initially evaluating these applications, surely evaluated each application for quality, safety, security, necessity, and capacity, among other criteria.  Experts have evaluated these applications, and the Attorney General should let those experts make the determinations.  DEA and NIDA are sufficiently equipped to evaluate the protocols of each applicant, as they have been administering and overseeing the current producer for decades. In fact, the career officials at those agencies are better positioned to make those decisions than an Alabama Senator who just got a political promotion.

The Attorney General suggested in his testimony that it is not the applications or even DEA that are holding up the process.  It is he who is delaying the ability of researchers to conduct high quality research with the best supply possible.  The Attorney General noted, “I have raised questions about how many” (new facilities there should be).  Instead of talking about his questions, the Attorney General should talk about the system he is putting in place....

On the campaign trail, Mr. Trump expressed his support for medical cannabis, even arguing he knows people who have found relief from it.  As president, Mr. Trump has frequently spoken of his support for veterans and his willingness to do all he can to help them.  He has also spoken of the need to address the opioid epidemic head-on, appointing a commission to examine the issue and even announcing that he would declare the opioid epidemic an official public health emergency.  Expanding research would reflect the president’s policy views.  Instead, Mr. Sessions is standing between the White House and its stated policy goals.

Finally, the president and even the Attorney General lament that the Affordable Care Act allows the government to stand between patients and doctors.  By politicizing medical cannabis research and by blocking researchers from getting answers to medical questions, the Attorney General is not only complicit in allowing government to stand between doctors and patients, he is leading the charge.

It is time that the Attorney General listens to the experts around him who understand the needs of the medical research community.  It is time that the Attorney General gets out of the way of the free conduct of medical research.  It is time that the Attorney General stops coming between patients and answers to important medical questions. And if he won’t, the president should find someone who will.

October 25, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

"The bad science of medical cannabis"

C76_cover_3D_headerThe title of this post is the title of this lengthy cover story in the magazine Cosmos.  The article does an effective job reviewing the limited dependable scientific evidence concerning the efficacy of marijuana as a medicine for various conditions and the limited ability scientists have to enhance the scientific evidence concerning the efficacy of marijuana as a medicine.  I recommend the article in full, and here is an excerpt:

In the past two decades the disparity between evidence and anecdotes has grown extreme. Despite a majority of states (beginning with California in 1996) having legalised cannabis to treat medical conditions, federal restrictions on research remained ironclad. So researchers have great difficulty studying whether such medical uses have any basis in science. “What we have is a perfect storm,” says Daniele Piomelli, a neurobiologist at the University of California, Irvine.

Piomelli has been researching cannabis as best as he can. To comply with the mandates of the federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), his precious store of 50 milligrams of THC must be kept in a locked safe, in a locked cool room, in a locked lab. “Any person on the street can go to a dispensary and for $10 obtain cannabis,” he says. “But if we bring it into the university we risk being raided by the FBI and DEA. We live in a schizophrenic state.” Even when researchers have gained permission to do research, the cannabis can only be supplied by one authorised lab, at the University of Mississippi. The lab has been growing the same variety for decades, one that bears little resemblance to the chemovars now available through dispensaries.....

There is no simple way out of the cannabis mess. With much of the world clamouring to use cannabis as a cure for all manner of ailments, and an exploding cannabis industry that is happy to push that demand along, it is crucial to establish just how real its clinical benefits and harms are – especially for children.

The medical establishment ideally needs randomised clinical trials, such as those Israel is admirably pushing ahead with. “I would say the Israelis have taken the lead,” [oncologist Donald] Abrams says. But 30,000 users in Israel and millions in the US aren’t waiting for such results. Some, like Abigail Dar, are too desperate. Others are wedded to their own trial-and-error experiments with different chemovars.

Another complicating factor is that the diabolically complex chemistry of the cannabis plant is too overwhelming to sort out through individual RCTs. Researchers are still scratching at the surface of a potential treasure trove of medicines that appear to act synergistically. The list of conditions to try them against appears never-ending. The number of trials needed to test each combination against each condition seems mindboggling.

The database collated by [Israeli researcher Dedi] Meiri and his clinical collaborators is now being prepared for publication. It should help link the pot-pourri of chemicals inside cannabis to its clinical effects. It may be second-tier science, but it appears to be one of the best strategies for navigating a path out of the haze that still envelops medical cannabis.

October 25, 2017 in International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Recreational marijuana sales in new Nevada market continue to grow

Nevada-marijuana-billIn this prior post, I noted reports on the robust sales and tax revenues generated in Nevada in July, the state's first month of legalized recreational marijuana commerce.  This new story, headlined "Nevada recreational marijuana sales reach $33M in August," details that month two saw growth over month one:

Nevada dispensaries sold more than $33 million in recreational marijuana and the state pulled in nearly $5 million in total taxes in August, according to numbers released by the Nevada Department of Taxation Monday. That’s up from the $27 million in sales and $3.7 million in taxes in July, the state’s first month of recreational weed sales.

The recreational sales numbers were significantly ahead of the state’s projected $21.5 million in sales for August. In fact, the state did not project any month in the first year of recreational sales to eclipse $28 million.

Andrew Jolley, CEO of The+Source dispensaries and president of the Nevada Dispensary Association, said those projections will likely prove to be fairly conservative, and expects the market to continue to grow steadily over the next several months. “I think it is a good indication that there was a large, pent-up demand that was being served by the black market,” Jolley said....

State Sen. Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, also known as the godfather of pot in Nevada, said he was initially a little worried that the novelty of legal marijuana could lead to a drop off in the second month of sales. But after talking to the industry, he said it was clear that wasn’t going to be the case for August.

“Obviously there’s a demand,” Segerblom said. And Segerblom said he doesn’t think the sales and tax numbers will level off for at least two years, and pointed to the recent opening of five dispensaries in Henderson.

Segerblom also heaped the praise onto the industry as well as the state regulators for ensuring the market got off to a smooth start. “Everyone’s just been really been working perfectly together,” he said.

October 24, 2017 in Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (1)

What should we make of the data on teen substance use from Massachusetts?

The question in the title of this post is one I have been thinking about a lot since seeing this press report on new data from a survey done of teenagers in Western Massachusetts.  Here are the details:

Marijuana and e-cigarette usage among some Western Massachusetts teenagers appear to be on the up while fewer smoke tobacco, drink alcohol and use other drugs, according to a recent survey.   About 31 percent of 16- to 18-year-olds surveyed reported using marijuana in the past month, up four percent over 2016, the 2017 Massachusetts Prevention Needs Assessment Survey says.

The survey also showed kids, for the first time ever, reporting being exposed to marijuana advertising, and trying other forms of marijuana consumption, such as edibles, dabs and vapor pens.   

Meanwhile, the survey reported a modest dip of several percentage points in the use of alcohol among the same age groups.  In 2017, 28 and 48 percent of surveyed 16- and 18-year-olds, respectively, reported using alcohol in the past 30 days, versus 31.5 and 50.5 in 2015 and 35 and 51.3 in 2013. 

The percentages using other drugs such as amphetamines, cocaine, sedatives, tranquilizers and other narcotics -- always in the low single-digits in previous surveys -- also fell across the board in the 2017 survey. 

Massachusetts voters' 2016 Election vote to legalize marijuana for people over 21 likely contributed to the survey's result showing fewer teenagers perceiving the drug to be a serious risk.   Additionally, fewer of the surveyed teens felt their parents strongly opposed the drug, either. 

The most explosive growth seen in any of the survey's results appeared in the usage of electronic cigarettes.   Whereas virtually no 16- to 18-year-olds reported using e-cigs in 2015, 13 and 21 percent, respectively, had used the devices within the past month in 2017.

Sponsored by the Strategic Planning Initiative for Families and Youth, the annual survey hit 3,320 county youths before the results were published in late August. 

October 24, 2017 in Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

A few of the latest must-reads from Marijuana Moment

In this post a few weeks ago, I noted that Tom Angell, who had been providing a great marijuana newsletter titled Marijuana Moment since the start of this year, had transform his work from a daily e-mail into a "full-scale cannabis news portal."  That news portal, available here, is a must-read because of Tom's singular talent in tracking and reporting on various developments before other news organizations notice them.   In addition, Tom has been also doing some great original reporting, and these particular recent postings struck me as especially worth highlighting and praising:

October 24, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Interesting look at veterans getting involved in the marijuana industry

BuzzFeed News recently had this lengthy article about veterans getting involved in the modern marijuana industry. The full headline of the piece serves as a summary: "For These Veterans, Growing Pot Isn't Just A Job, It's A Cause: For veterans learning to cultivate marijuana through a Los Angeles grower's internship program, it's personal. They want to push for medical cannabis to become an option for veterans with PTSD."  Here is an excerpt:

In interviews with BuzzFeed News, several [vets] described visiting Veterans Affairs clinics to seek help for physical pain, anxiety, depression, and insomnia and immediately being prescribed opiates and other addictive medications.

“The pills I was receiving from the VA — I could not work, I would take them and fall asleep standing up,” said Brett Miller, a 35-year-old former US Marine and THC Design cultivation intern. “I no longer have that problem, because I no longer take them. Since then I’ve been to many talks with different groups of veterans, and you can really see how it brings a calm to what disturbs a lot of vets.”

Similarly, [Steven] Passmore said “the first thing the VA did is give me a bunch of pills,” including opiates for his clavicle pain. His parents, a retired EMT firefighter and a nurse, “looked at them and said ‘I wouldn’t take these if I were you,'” he said. After doing some research on more natural alternatives, Passmore, who describes himself as a “straight arrow,” decided to try marijuana.

“I was spiraling,” he said. “I was working a retail job that wasn’t paying me enough to survive. I was disconnected from everyone in my life, my family, my lifelong friends. I thought no way, there’s no way pot is going to fix all of these problems, but what’s the worst thing that could happen?” Unlike the VA-prescribed painkillers, he says, marijuana allowed him to manage his pain and get his life back together. “Slowly but surely I pulled my own head out of my ass and reconnected with the people who mattered most to me in my life,” he said.

Their experiences with the VA are common among military veterans. Currently, there are about 2.7 million US veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and at least 20% suffer from PTSD. At the same time, VA prescriptions of four potent opiates — hydrocodone, oxycodone, methadone, and morphine — have more than tripled since 9/11, according to a 2013 report by the Center for Investigative Reporting. In 2016 alone, the VA treated 66,000 ex-servicemen and women for opioid addiction.

For THC Design cofounder Ryan Jennemann, it’s also personal. After years of using opiates prescribed by his doctor, his father died from heart failure at 47. His father was a big advocate of medical marijuana, Jennemann said, but wasn’t able to take advantage of it as a treatment since it was illegal in Oklahoma, where he lived.

Another THC intern, National Guard veteran Dustin Beluscak, saw the opposite scenario play out with his father, a Vietnam veteran who was prescribed opiates for cancer pain in the last years of his life. When he was prescribed cannabis in 2004, he was at least able to eat and speak.

Medical benefits aside, many veterans at THC Design say the very act of spending all day growing plants has had surprisingly positive effects — although they joke they “wouldn’t be as excited if we were growing tomatoes.”...

Michael Garcia, a 33-year-old US Navy veteran, said the last few weeks working with growers at the facility has felt different from any other job. “Camaraderie was something that was really big in the military, and it was something that I really didn’t feel until I came back and started working here,” he said. “People working together, everyone giving 100%, its nice.”

Like many of the interns, Garcia heard about the program through the Santa Cruz Veterans Alliance, a veteran-owned medical marijuana collective. Now, as they begin to build careers in the cannabis industry, many say they’re actively working to change the stigma surrounding marijuana for veterans. “At one point if you had a conversation with your primary care doctor about cannabis, it would jeopardize your benefits for the VA,” Miller said. “A lot of veterans are still unaware of the rules, and that’s why veterans are instrumental in the push for cannabis to become legal all across the country.”

October 22, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

ACLU of Pennsylvania reports on a "Cannabis Crackdown" in form of increased and disparate marijuana arrests in most of the state

41b7c95bb04dddc3f92b10784f2131f5_f3209As reported via this press release, headlined "ACLU of Pennsylvania Analysis Shows Statewide Increase in Marijuana Arrests," a new report has some interesting new data on marijuana arrests in the Keystone state. Here are the basics from the release:

The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania released a new report [on October 16] that analyzes seven years of arrest data for marijuana offenses in the commonwealth. Based on Pennsylvania’s Uniform Crime Reporting System data over a period of seven years, the analysis shows a rise in marijuana possession arrests of adults of 33 percent in 66 counties between 2010 and 2016. Philadelphia was exempted from that analysis because its decriminalization ordinance led to a dramatic drop in arrests there in 2015 and 2016, and that drop was a significant outlier in the data set.

The study also shows that black people statewide are more than eight times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana possession, despite similar usage rates among people of different races....

Among its findings, the report found that the Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) is one of the leading drivers of the increase in arrests.  PSP’s total arrests per year for possession more than doubled in seven years, from 2,221 arrests in 2010 to 4,612 in 2016. Using fiscal analysis from a 2015 report by the RAND Corporation, the ACLU of Pennsylvania estimates that Pennsylvania taxpayers have spent more than $225 million in enforcing its marijuana laws between 2010 and 2016.

The report, entitled “Cannabis Crackdown,” shows that racial disparities have actually become worse over the last seven years. In 2010, black people in Pennsylvania were 6.5 times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana possession. By 2016, that disparity had grown to 8.2 times more likely.

The full report is available at this link, and here is one excerpt from its executive summary:

The report finds that between 2010 and 2016, there were nearly 178,000 marijuana-related arrests in Pennsylvania, nearly 80 percent of which were for possession. Marijuana possession3 accounted for about 48 percent of Pennsylvania’s overall drug possession arrests for adults in 2016.

Adult marijuana possession arrests decreased slightly when looking at all 67 Pennsylvania counties over the last seven years, by less than five percent. That decrease, however, was due largely to a remarkable drop in enforcement in Philadelphia. By far Pennsylvania’s most populated county and its largest city, Philadelphia decriminalized marijuana in October 2014. The city implemented a municipal civil offense for possession of less than 30 grams of marijuana and enforced it in lieu of the commonwealth’s misdemeanor offense. Thus, Philadelphia County saw a resulting drop in adult marijuana possession arrests of more than 88 percent between 2010 and 2016.

Eliminating Philadelphia’s extraordinary decreases and looking only at Pennsylvania’s other 66 counties, marijuana arrests surged. Excluding Philadelphia, the commonwealth’s overall marijuana possession arrest numbers for adults and juveniles combined increased by nearly 25 percent between 2010 and 2016. Total possession arrests for adults alone increased by more than 33 percent commonwealth-wide when Philadelphia’s numbers were not included.

October 18, 2017 in Criminal justice developments and reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Senator Orrin Hatch questions Attorney General Jeff Sessions about medical marijuana research

As this report from The Cannabist details,  there were a few minutes of discussion of medical marijuana during an oversight hearing in the US Senate today with Attorney General Jeff Sessions.  Here are the basic details:

In testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday morning, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said there should be “more competition” among growers who supply marijuana for federally approved research, though he said he thought the current applicant pool of 26 was too many.

His statement came in response to a question from Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Republican from Utah.  Hatch referred to legislation he recently co-sponsored with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, known as the MEDS Act. “I believe that scientists need to study the potential benefits and risks of marijuana,” said Hatch, though clarifying that “I remain opposed to the broad legalization of marijuana.”

Hatch said he was “very concerned” with reports that the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Justice Department “are at odds” over granting additional applications for cultivating marijuana for research purposes.  In August, DEA officials said they had been waiting for the Justice Department’s sign-off to move forward on 25 applications, and expressed frustration that the Justice Department had not been willing to provide that sign-off.

October 18, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

With Rep. Marino out, it is time again to ask "Does Marijuana Stand a Chance With New DEA Chief?"

Images (2)The big news this morning in the federal drug law and policy space is reported in the first paragraph of this new NPR piece: "Rep. Tom Marino, R-Pa., has withdrawn his name from consideration as America's drug czar, President Trump said Tuesday. Marino is stepping back days after reports that a bill he sponsored hindered the Drug Enforcement Administration in its fight against the U.S. opioid crisis."  Here is more of the interesting backstory:

A joint report by The Washington Post and 60 Minutes found that Marino's bill "helped pump more painkillers into parts of the country that were already in the middle of the opioid crisis," as NPR's Kelly McEvers said earlier this week. The bill had been opposed by the DEA and embraced by companies in the drug industry.

Marino was a main backer of the Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act; among other things, the measure changed the standard for identifying dangers to local communities, from "imminent" threats to "immediate" threats. That change cramped the DEA's authority to go after drug companies that didn't report suspicious — and often very large — orders for narcotics.

After the Post and 60 Minutes reports on the bill emerged, several members of Congress called for the White House to pull Marino's nomination as drug czar. Sen. Joe Machin, D-W.V., said he was "horrified" by the story, adding that he "cannot believe the last administration did not sound the alarm on how harmful that bill would be for our efforts to effectively fight the opioid epidemic."

In a letter to the president, Manchin wrote about the ability of wholesale drug distributors to send millions of pills into small communities: "As the report notes, one such company shipped 20 million doses of oxycodone and hydrocodone to pharmacies in West Virginia between 2007 and 2012. This included 11 million doses in one small county with only 25,000 people in the southern part of the state: Mingo County. As the number of pills in my state increased, so did the death toll in our communities, including Mingo County."

After Marino's name was withdrawn, Manchin tweeted to Trump, "thanks for recognizing we need a drug czar who has seen the devastating effects of the problem." Manchin is a co-sponsor of a bill to repeal the changes made by the 2016 law, along with Sen. Clarie McCaskill, D-Mo., and Sen. Margaret Wood Hassan, D-N.H.

In the Senate, the bill was sponsored by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah — who also saw it through the markup process. In Congress and on Twitter, Hatch has defended his role this week, calling the Post story "flawed" and "one-sided." Hatch also said the bill was supported by patient groups who "were concerned about DEA's unfettered enforcement authority."

"I spent months negotiating with DEA and with DOJ until they were at a point where they were comfortable allowing the bill to proceed," Hatch said on Capitol Hill Monday. "If they had asked me to hold the bill or to continue negotiations, I would have done so." Hatch noted via Twitter, "President Obama signed this bill into law. DEA and DOJ, who work for the President, could have urged him to veto it. They did not."...

The president had nominated Marino to lead the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. In his tweet announcing Marino's decision to withdraw Tuesday morning, Trump added, "Tom is a fine man and a great Congressman!"

The opioid story was revealed by whistleblower Joe Rannazzisi, a former high-ranking DEA official, who told 60 Minutes, "This is an industry that allowed millions and millions of drugs to go into bad pharmacies and doctors' offices, that distributed them out to people who had no legitimate need for those drugs." Of Marino's nomination, Rannazzisi said he was in "total disbelief" after the White House announced Trump's pick. He added, "The bill was bad. Him being the drug czar is a lot worse."

With the head of the DEA now uncertain, this Newsweek story from last month, headlined "Does Marijuana Stand a Chance With New DEA Chief?", becomes timely once again. Here is a segment from that piece:

Many hope the change could serve as a blank slate for the agency and a chance to pick the right battles in the war on drugs, like focusing on the deadly opioid epidemic, which has skyrocketed in recent years and left more than 52,000 dead in 2015.

Despite the troubling statistics, law enforcement has continued to target pot consumers, even though more and more states are moving toward legalization. Nearly 30 states allow the drug for medical use, and eight have legalized it recreationally. The FBI released data this week that showed an increase in the number of people arrested last year on a marijuana possession charge. Nearly 600,000 were charged, and experts say this cost taxpayers billions of dollars as offenders made their way through the criminal justice system.

"I hope that whoever is next will deal with the reality that a lot of states have legalized [marijuana] and it's not a good use of resources for police to be arresting these people and ruining lives," said Bill Piper, a senior director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "These are proven failed ways to approach this issue."

Under Rosenberg, more than two dozen applications to simply research the plant have been blocked, a policy that is unlikely to change, said Sanho Tree, director of the Drug Policy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies. Attorney General Jeff Sessions opposes marijuana legalization, even for medicinal purposes, and has called the plant "only slightly less awful" than heroin.... All in all, if Rosenberg's replacement does try to enact new policies or steer the department toward change, it could be difficult. "I'm not optimistic at all," Tree said. "Not during this administration."

October 17, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)