Wednesday, November 29, 2017
AG Sessions suggests that Justice Department may soon refocus its federal criminal marijuana enforcement efforts
During a press conference discussing new Justice Department opioid initiatives (noted here), Attorney General Jeff Sessions spoke to federal marijuana laws and policies in a manner that suggests a change may be afoot. This US News and World Report piece, headlined "Sessions Hints at Shift in Federal Marijuana Enforcement," reports on these details:
Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Wednesday gave his strongest signal yet that the Justice Department's more hands-off approach to marijuana enforcement may soon be changing. Sessions said that the department is looking "very hard right now" at a directive carried over from the Obama administration that effectively encourages federal prosecutors to generally defer to state laws that legalize marijuana use.
"We had meetings yesterday and talked about it at some length," the attorney general said, speaking at a press conference on new measures to combat opioid abuse. "It's my view that the use of marijuana is detrimental, and we should not give encouragement in any way to it, and it represents a federal violation, which is in the law and it's subject to being enforced, and our priorities will have to be focused on all the things and challenges we face."
He added: "We'll be working our way through to a rational policy. But I don't want to suggest in any way that this department believes that marijuana is harmless and people should not avoid it."...
He has been critical of the so-called "Cole memo" from 2013, authored by Deputy Attorney General James Cole, which told Justice Department attorneys that marijuana use in "jurisdictions that have enacted laws legalizing marijuana in some form … is less likely to threaten federal priorities." As attorney general, he has roundly dismissed research that has linked the use of medical marijuana to reductions in opioid-related deaths. In May, he explicitly asked Congress in a letter to undo a 2014 amendment that has protected medical marijuana providers. "I am astonished to hear people suggest that we can solve our heroin crisis by legalizing marijuana – so people can trade one life-wrecking dependency for another that's only slightly less awful," Sessions said in March during a speech in Richmond, Virginia.
Since April, a task force at the Justice Department has been reviewing the Cole memo and the department's approach to marijuana enforcement. Documents obtained by the Associated Press this summer indicated that the task force recommended largely keeping the Cole memo in place. Nevertheless, Sessions' remarks on Wednesday – reinforced by his continued opposition to a more lenient approach to marijuana enforcement since becoming attorney general, even as the task force was providing him periodic updates on its findings – suggest he may take a different approach.
I have been surprised that the Cole Memorandum on federal marijuana enforcement remains in place a full 10 months since Sessions became Attorney General. There are not many Obama-era policies that remain in place within the Sessions' Justice Department, and I did not expect marijuana policies to be among the last to be formally changed. So news that change is afoot is not a big shock.
The big question, of course, is what might be issued by Attorney General Sessions to replace the Cole Memo that constitutes "a rational policy," and how practically the AG would like to try to "be focused on all the things and challenges we face." Whatever one's view on marijuana law and policy, it is not easy to engineer a rational policy when federal law embraces blanket criminal prohibition while the states have developed a wild array of forms of marijuana regulation and legalization.
As mentioned in this prior post, one student in my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar is this week giving a presentation focused on scientific studies concerning driving under the influence of marijuana. Another set of students also have taken up this topic, although it appears they are focused more on existing laws concerning drugged driving. Here are links they have provided as background reading:
Ohio Drugged Driving (via NORML)
Tuesday, November 28, 2017
Exploring how federal illegality / state legality impacts applicability of other laws to marijuana businesses
As my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar is hitting its homestretch, the last group of students are continuing to deliver great presentations on the marijuana-related topics of their choosing. One student scheduled for the next class has been "looking into the way the federal illegality / state legality of marijuana affects applicability of other laws to marijuana businesses":
For example, will a court enforce a contract to grow, provide, or produce marijuana, even though courts will not usually enforce contracts for illegal activities? Can an injured worker be reimbursed for medical marijuana expenses through workers' compensation? Can federal agencies assert jurisdiction over businesses in an industry that the federal government is itself tasked with eliminating? These are some examples of questions I will attempt to answer during my presentation.
Here are links to recommend reading materials that the student suggested as background on the topic:
Mann v. Gullickson, No. 15-CV-03630-MEJ, 2016 WL 6473215 (N.D. Cal. Nov. 2, 2016)
Vialpando v. Ben's Auto. Servs., 2014-NMCA-084, 331 P.3d 975 (App. N.M. 2014)
Taylor G. Sachs, The Wellness Approach: Weeding Out Unfair Labor Practices in the Cannabis Industry, 43 Fla. St. U. L. Rev. 287 (2015)
Greenwood v. Green Leaf Lab LLC, No. 3:17-CV-00415-PK, 2017 WL 3391671 (D. Or. July 13, 2017), report and recommendation adopted, No. 3:17-CV-00415-PK, 2017 WL 3391647 (D. Or. Aug. 7, 2017)
Yahoo Ctr. v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co., No. 2:16-CV-01397-SVW-SS, 2016 WL 9138061 (C.D. Cal. June 16, 2016)
Barnett v. State Farm Gen. Ins. Co., 200 Cal. App. 4th 536, 132 Cal. Rptr. 3d 742 (2011)
Anh Hung Huynh v. Safeco Ins. Co. of Am., No. C 12-01574-PSG, 2012 WL 5893482 (N.D. Cal. Nov. 23, 2012)
Nationwide Mut. Fire Ins. Co. v. McDermott, 603 F. App'x 374 (6th Cir. 2015)
United Specialty Ins. Co. v. Barry Inn Realty Inc., 130 F. Supp. 3d 834 (S.D.N.Y. 2015), appeal dismissed (Nov. 17, 2015)
Tracy v. USAA Cas. Ins. Co., No. CIV. 11-00487 LEK, 2012 WL 928186 (D. Haw. Mar. 16, 2012)
"Associations between medical cannabis and prescription opioid use in chronic pain patients: A preliminary cohort study"
The title of this post is the title of this small research report emerging from New Mexico that a helpful reader made sure I did not miss. The article has multiple authors and here is its abstract:
Current levels and dangers of opioid use in the U.S. warrant the investigation of harm-reducing treatment alternatives.
A preliminary, historical, cohort study was used to examine the association between enrollment in the New Mexico Medical Cannabis Program (MCP) and opioid prescription use.
Thirty-seven habitual opioid using, chronic pain patients (mean age = 54 years; 54% male; 86% chronic back pain) enrolled in the MCP between 4/1/2010 and 10/3/2015 were compared to 29 non-enrolled patients (mean age = 60 years; 69% male; 100% chronic back pain). We used Prescription Monitoring Program opioid records over a 21 month period (first three months prior to enrollment for the MCP patients) to measure cessation (defined as the absence of opioid prescriptions activity during the last three months of observation) and reduction (calculated in average daily intravenous [IV] morphine dosages). MCP patient-reported benefits and side effects of using cannabis one year after enrollment were also collected.
By the end of the 21 month observation period, MCP enrollment was associated with 17.27 higher age- and gender-adjusted odds of ceasing opioid prescriptions (CI 1.89 to 157.36, p = 0.012), 5.12 higher odds of reducing daily prescription opioid dosages (CI 1.56 to 16.88, p = 0.007), and a 47 percentage point reduction in daily opioid dosages relative to a mean change of positive 10.4 percentage points in the comparison group (CI -90.68 to -3.59, p = 0.034). The monthly trend in opioid prescriptions over time was negative among MCP patients (-0.64mg IV morphine, CI -1.10 to -0.18, p = 0.008), but not statistically different from zero in the comparison group (0.18mg IV morphine, CI -0.02 to 0.39, p = 0.081). Survey responses indicated improvements in pain reduction, quality of life, social life, activity levels, and concentration, and few side effects from using cannabis one year after enrollment in the MCP (ps<0.001).
The clinically and statistically significant evidence of an association between MCP enrollment and opioid prescription cessation and reductions and improved quality of life warrants further investigations on cannabis as a potential alternative to prescription opioids for treating chronic pain.
Monday, November 27, 2017
As mentioned in a prior post, my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar is hitting its homestretch and the last group of students are delivering presentations on a marijuana-related topic of their choosing. One student for the next class has this provocative title for her presentation: ""Driving Under the Influence of Marijuana: Legalize or Criminalize?"
Here are links to background information regarding the topic from the student:
The question in the title of this post is the headline of this notable new Marshall Project piece on a topic that I am glad to see getting more attention. Here are excerpts:
A little more than a year after the passage of Prop. 64, at least 2,660 petitions have been filed to reduce sentences for people convicted of pot-related offenses. At least another 1,500 petitions have been filed to reclassify old felony marijuana convictions as misdemeanors or to dismiss them altogether, depending on the offense, according to the Judicial Council, the policy-making arm of the state courts.
Those figures include self-reported data from a majority of the state’s 58 counties through September, and may be under-reported. According to several public defenders around the state, the Judicial Council’s figures don’t reflect all of the petitions their offices reported filing on behalf of their clients. The Council also doesn’t record the outcome of the requests. Although the numbers of Prop. 64 applicants so far represent only a portion of the people who have been convicted of pot felonies in recent decades, advocates remain hopeful that as the public learns about the law, more will come forward to have offenses reduced or cleared....
Twenty-nine states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and Guam have legalized medical marijuana, and eight states plus D.C. have sanctioned recreational use. But fewer states have made it possible to clear past marijuana offenses. In the last three years, at least nine states have passed laws addressing expungement of certain marijuana convictions, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. But no state goes as far as California.
For thousands of Americans, marijuana convictions still bring life-altering consequences, making it difficult to, among other things, find and keep a job, get a professional license or obtain a student loan.Communities of color have been hit especially hard by the decades-long war on drugs. Studies show a stark racial imbalance in drug enforcement; a 2013 American Civil Liberties Union report concluded that African-Americans were nearly four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites, although use of the drug was roughly equal among the races.
Across California, attorneys and drug reform advocates say implementation of Prop. 64 hasn’t been perfect; more resources are needed to process petitions and conduct outreach to people who may be eligible to clear their records and just don’t know it. But overall, they believe the law is an effective tool to undo the collateral damage of felony pot convictions, and they hope it will serve as a model for the rest of the country.Prop. 64 “gives people the opportunity to recreate themselves and become people instead of statistics,” said Nick Stewart-Oaten, a deputy public defender for Los Angeles County....
In some counties, officials didn’t wait for people to come forward to apply for relief under the law; they started the process for them. Soon after Prop. 64 passed, the L.A. County public defender’s office identified people in prison or on parole for marijuana-related offenses and filed petitions for resentencing on their behalf, according to Stewart-Oaten, who said his office has filed 564 such petitions so far.
Similarly, San Diego’s Deputy District Attorney Rachel Solov said her office used their case management system to identify hundreds of eligible people serving a sentence or who were on probation or supervision and then provided the data to the local public defender’s office so that attorneys there could begin filing petitions for those individuals.“Our primary concern was getting people out of custody who were in custody and shouldn’t be,” Solov said.
Contra Costa County took a similar approach, according to Deputy Public Defender Ellen McDonnell. Her office identified roughly 2,500 people who appeared to be eligible to have convictions reclassified or dismissed on cases dating back 25 years, she said. So far, the office has filed about 80 petitions, mostly for reclassification of old convictions. The office is now engaged in “aggressive community outreach” in the hopes of finding more people who could benefit from the new law, she said.
Identifying everyone eligible for relief under Prop. 64 has been one of the biggest challenges so far, Stewart-Oaten said. The public defender’s office doesn’t have the capacity to comb through decades of case files to figure out who may qualify, find their contact information, and persuade them to come into their office to start the paperwork process, he said. The office works with partners like Drug Policy Alliance to help reach people at free legal clinics like the one at Chuco’s Justice Center. “We recognize it’s not enough, but we are limited in what we can do. We don’t have an advertising budget. A lot of times we are acting on word of mouth,” Stewart-Oaten said.
Alameda County Deputy Public Defender Sue Ra said her office hasn’t received any additional funding for post-conviction relief services, which could help attorneys reach more people and process their petitions faster. “Somebody needs to do this work, and the public defenders are on the ground actually doing it,” Ra said. “It would be nice to get the support to allow us the resources to complete work quickly so that our clients don’t miss out on employment and other opportunities.”
As thousands of Californians line up to have their records cleared, Americans with pot convictions in many other states have no such opportunity. Will more states follow California’s lead? Robert Mikos, a professor at Vanderbilt Law School, isn’t so optimistic. Many politicians have come around on marijuana legalization, aided by the lure of potential tax revenue and new jobs, Mikos said. Nearly two-thirds of Americans support legalization in a recent poll. But many people appear reluctant to support post-conviction relief for marijuana offenders. “It’s a tougher sell to say, you know what, these people flouted these rules ... and we ought to wipe those records clean,” said Mikos, an expert on marijuana law.
Even in Washington state, where recreational pot has been legal since 2012, lawmakers have not passed a law that specifically lets people clear old pot offenses. (Those convicted of certain nonviolent crimes, including marijuana-related ones, can already apply to vacate their records but must wait years after completing their sentences; five for some low-level felonies and three for misdemeanors.)
There are exceptions. Although no state has passed a law as sweeping as California’s, several recently have enacted measures that allow pot offenses to be reduced or expunged. In the past year, for example, Colorado began allowing old convictions for misdemeanor marijuana possession or use to be sealed so long as the act wouldn’t be considered illegal today. In Maryland, a new law lets people convicted of marijuana possession apply for expungement four years after the completion of their sentence; the previous wait time was a decade. A Missouri law set to take effect next year reduces the wait time to expunge nonviolent felonies, including marijuana-related convictions, from 20 to seven years and from 10 to three years for misdemeanors. And in Massachusetts, where recreational pot sales will begin in mid-2018, marijuana possession convictions can now be sealed, which removes them from public view but doesn’t dismiss them. (Lawmakers tossed out a proposed measure to expunge marijuana offenses.)
On the federal level, Mikos points to a bill filed in August by New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, a Democrat, that could be a blueprint for post-conviction relief on a national scale. The proposal would decriminalize marijuana and expunge federal convictions for possession of the drug.Booker’s bill would allow the federal government to withhold cash from states with arrest and conviction rates that disproportionately impact the poor and minorities. That approach could be used to pressure states to provide resentencing, reclassification and expungement for marijuana offenses, Mikos said. However, given Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ pledge to crack down on drug offenders, and his distaste for marijuana legalization in general, any federal measure to decriminalize marijuana may be a pipe dream for reform advocates, Mikos added.
On the state level, even where marijuana use is legal, politicians may never pass laws similar to Prop 64. “Part of that is just that we live in a federal system, and that’s the nature of the game,” Mikos said. “Different states are going to do things differently.”Community organizers who rallied public support for Prop. 64 last year in California have some advice for people in other states: Do the work yourself. Ingrid Archie, a legal clinic coordinator with A New Way of Life, a Los Angeles nonprofit that supports formerly incarcerated women, didn’t want to rely on mostly white, wealthy California legislators to pass meaningful criminal justice reforms. That’s why she campaigned for Prop. 64 in the communities impacted the most by marijuana prohibition — people of color and low-income neighborhoods.
Some prior related posts:
Sunday, November 26, 2017
As mentioned in a prior post, my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar is hitting its homestretch and the last group of students are delivering presentations on a marijuana-related topic of their choosing. One student for the next class will be looking at what she is calling "Big Pharma's Anti-Marijuana Campaign." Here is how she has explained her plans, following by links to background information regarding the topic:
My presentation will reveal how Big Pharma contributes to the Opioid Epidemic, how marijuana can be used as a substitute for opioids, how the legalization of medical marijuana threatens the bottom lines of pharmaceutical giants, and how these corporations have subsequently opposed pro-pot legislation.
November 26, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)
Friday, November 24, 2017
After the long weekend, my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar turns to its homestretch and the last group of students are delivering presentations on a marijuana-related topic of their choosing. One student for the next class will be looking at three recently decided cases involving marijuana law. As he has explained, he plans to "present the facts and procedural history regarding the case, and an analysis of how the deciding courts ultimately made their decisions." Here are the case citations, with links to articles discussing the decision and other background information:
Arizona v. Maestas, 394 P.3d 21 (Ariz. App. 1st Div. 2017).
- ASU student saw 'opportunity' to use arrest to fight for medical marijuana on campus
- UC guidance on use and possession of marijuana on UC property
- Colorado State University Guidelines on Marijuana Use and Hemp Research
People ex rel. Feuer v. Nestdrop, LLC, 245 Cal. App. 4th 664 (Cal. App. 2d Dist. 2016).
- Court Shuts Down L.A. Marijuana Delivery App ‘Nestdrop’
- L.A. is set to be a hot market for marijuana sales. But there might not be many places to smoke it
- Eaze is moving into recreational marijuana delivery with $27 million in new funding
State ex rel. Polk v. Hancock, 347 P.3d 142 (Ariz. 2015).
- Arizona justices: OK for probationers to use medical pot
- Medical Marijuana on Probation? Courts Saying Yes!
In this post last month, I noted that Tom Angell, who had been providing a great marijuana newsletter titled Marijuana Moment since the start of this year, transformed his work from a daily e-mail into a "full-scale cannabis news portal." That news portal, called Marijuana Moment and available here, is what I have decided to be thankful for in this space during this holiday season for giving thanks. As is his norm, Tom has been also doing some great original reporting lately at the Moment, and these particular recent postings struck me as especially worth highlighting:
Wednesday, November 22, 2017
Especially as I am gearing up for my annual football orgy, which it seems others like to call Thanksgiving weekend, I thought it timely to blog this recent Politico article with the headline that serves as the title of this post. Here are excerpts:
During his Hall of Fame career for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Jack Ham was renowned as one of the canniest, fastest linebackers ever to play, doling out his share of bruising punishment to opposing ball carriers. These days the man still celebrated as “The Hammer” has a very different relationship with pain: He’s committed to helping people treat it.
Ham is one of a number of Pennsylvania’s pro-athlete aristocracy, including Franco Harris, his former teammate on the Super Bowl-winning teams of the 1970s, who have quickly embraced medical marijuana as a cure for a scourge that has decimated economically depressed parts of the state: opioid addiction. It’s a cause that has special resonance for pro athletes like Ham because they know many players whose chronic injuries made them dependent on painkillers.
When voters in Pennsylvania approved medical marijuana in 2016, Ham was quick to see both the financial promise of bringing a new industry to moribund coal country but also the therapeutic benefits of letting people manage their pain with a substance that some doctors say is less toxic and less addictive than opiate-based painkillers like Oxycodone....
Ham says he does not use medical marijuana himself, but he is not the only former athlete to tout medical marijuana as a solution to addiction. Former Steelers fullback Franco Harris also signed on to be a spokesman for a company that sought to grow medical marijuana in Braddock, an economically distressed former steel town near Pittsburgh.
“We have a unique opportunity to transform Braddock into a center for state-of-the-art urban agriculture and, at the same time, become a first mover in the United States in researching the efficacy of marijuana in replacing opioids for the long-term management of pain,” Harris said in a press release. Ultimately, that company did not get one of the 12 licenses awarded by the state in the first round. Medical marijuana, which is now legal in 29 states, has many constituencies—cancer patients who appreciate how it tamps down nausea from chemotherapy; libertarians who favor decriminalization of drugs generally, among them. But athletes are one of the more notable groups. As Harris said in his press release: “The life of a professional football player is one intrinsically tied to long- term pain management.”
Many pro athletes discovered the analgesic benefits of marijuana during their playing careers, which meant that they were violating their league’s drug policies as well as state and federal law. But now, as the trend toward legalization has picked up pace, those same athletes, now retired and free of their contractual obligations are beginning to speak out together. One of the lobbying groups is called Athletes for Care, an organization of former and current professional athletes who support medical marijuana. Former Philadelphia Eagles offensive guard Todd Herremans and former Philadelphia Flyers hockey player Riley Cote. Cote was connected to one of the 177 companies that applied for — but did not receive — a license to grow.
Some of many prior posts about medical marijuana and pro football:
- ESPN highlights NFL players, past and present, eager to use medical marijuana rather than opioids for pain relief
- NFL commissioner reluctant to support allowing players to use "addictive" marijuana
- "Medical Marijuana Could Help the NFL Cure the Illness Menacing Players' Brains, Activists Say"
- Active player urges NFL to allow its employees to use medical marijuana rather than opioids for pain relief
- Should the NFL fund medical marijuana studies?
- "The NFL Should Let Players Use Marijuana"
- "NFL Seeks Right Answer for Marijuana Use"
Canadian agency wisely getting a running start on measuring economic and social impacts of recreational marijuana reforms
As detailed in this official release, titled "A cannabis economic account – The framework," the national agency Statistics Canada has just announce how it is "preparing Canada's statistical system to capture the associated economic and social implications of the prospective legalization of cannabis." Here are the details via the release:
On April 13, 2017, the Government of Canada tabled legislation in the House of Commons to legalize, regulate and restrict access to cannabis for non-medical purposes. If legislation is approved by Parliament, the drug's new status might come into effect by mid-2018.
Currently, the non-medical use of cannabis is not captured by the statistical system and there is a lack of available information from which to compile reliable estimates. Once cannabis is legalized, the majority of the production, sale and use of cannabis should move from 'underground' to 'above ground,' making it easier to capture and report. Statistics Canada is therefore preparing the statistical system to be able to capture the economic and social activities related to the non-medical use of cannabis.
Given the non-medical use of cannibis in Canada, it is incumbent upon the agency to try to measure the production, sale and use pre-legalization—despite the obvious difficulties of doing so—as well as post-legalization to provide Canadians, governments and businesses with as clear a picture as possible of the economic and social consequences of the legalization.
Today Statistics Canada is releasing a paper describing the framework it plans to use to estimate cannabis production and consumption, both pre- and post-legalization. The paper [available here] "A Cannabis Economic Account — The framework" organizes the different aspects of the cannabis economy in a 'supply and use' accounting structure that borrows concepts and terminology from the international System of National Accounts and Canadian System of Macroeconomic accounts.
In brief, the framework derives estimates of cannabis consumption expenditures of Canadians from use prevalence data in Statistics Canada health surveys. A series of models have been developed which are applied to the consumption data to derive estimates of the production and the gross domestic product of non-medical cannabis in Canada as well as imports, exports and 'retail' margins. These models are based on a number of assumptions and include the use of justice statistics to derive estimates of the illegal import and export of cannabis—that is, cannabis smuggling and the hypothesis that the process to produce non-medical cannabis is similar to that of medical cannabis.
Tuesday, November 21, 2017
Stateline has this effective new piece on a topic that I have long thought should get even more attention as the marijuana reform movement continues to pick up steam. The piece is headlined "In These States, Past Marijuana Crimes Can Go Away," and here is how the article starts and ends:
When Californians voted to legalize marijuana last year, they also voted to let people petition courts to reduce or hide convictions for past marijuana crimes. State residents can now petition courts to change some felonies to misdemeanors, change some misdemeanors to infractions, and wipe away convictions for possessing or growing small amounts of the drug. “We call it reparative justice: repairing the harms caused by the war on drugs,” says Eunisses Hernandez of the Drug Policy Alliance, a nonprofit advocacy group that helped write the California ballot initiative.
Colorado, Maryland, New Hampshire and Oregon also have made it easier for people convicted of some crimes of marijuana possession, cultivation or manufacture to get their records sealed or expunged, which generally means removing convictions from public databases. Massachusetts lawmakers are considering a criminal justice bill that would, among other changes, allow people to expunge any conviction that’s no longer a crime, such as marijuana possession.
These efforts by states that have legalized or decriminalized marijuana are part of a national trend toward making it easier for people to seal or expunge a range of convictions. Americans with a criminal record — whether it’s marked with felonies, misdemeanors or both — can find it harder to get a job and find housing.
Hernandez and other social justice advocates say marijuana legalization should be paired with criminal justice reforms that help people convicted of past drug crimes rebuild their lives. Yet allowing people to seal their criminal records or reclassify convictions is not the rule in states that have legalized or decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana. Bills that would remove or reduce convictions on people’s records are often opposed by lawmakers and prosecutors who argue that people who knowingly violated prior laws shouldn’t be let off the hook just because the law changed.
California has done more than any other state to require judges to excuse residents’ past marijuana crimes. That’s because the state took the issue to voters, Hernandez said. “Through the Legislature, we would not have gotten this.”...
Defense lawyers and other advocates for decreasing penalties for nonviolent drug crimes say that sealing someone’s record can change their life. Yet state data from Oregon and California — the states that have done the most to allow people to take convictions off their records — suggest that so far, only a fraction of people with marijuana convictions have asked to get them sealed or set aside.
Nearly half a million people were arrested for marijuana crimes in California over the past decade, according to the Drug Policy Alliance. But California courts have received just 1,506 applications for reclassifying past marijuana-related crimes since state residents gained the option to do so last year. The Drug Policy Alliance also says that more than 78,000 convictions could be set aside in Oregon. But courts received just 388 requests for set-asides in cases that involved a marijuana charge in 2015, 453 in 2016, and 365 so far this year, according to the Oregon Judicial Department.
It could be that many people just don’t know they can get their records sealed. Marijuana industry and legal defense groups have hosted free events in both states to help people file the right paperwork — though in both states, lawyers say filing a petition is straightforward enough to handle without an attorney.
Another problem may be that many people have complicated criminal records, Margolis said. “Those people — they have not benefited.” Courts are more likely to reject petitions from people with long criminal histories, Margolis said. For instance, someone’s conviction for marijuana cultivation might be paired with a money-laundering conviction, a delivery conviction, or a criminal-mischief conviction because a house was vandalized.
Some people may just decide that hiding their conviction from view isn’t worth the hassle. If someone has another crime on his record that can’t be wiped away, say an unrelated felony, he might not bother to eliminate a minor marijuana conviction. One of the convictions that can be sealed in Colorado and California is possession of an ounce or less of marijuana. But in both states, even before marijuana possession was legalized, possession of a small amount of marijuana was just an infraction or a petty offense, punishable by a $100 fine.
Still, the California ballot initiative’s emphasis on criminal justice reform and releasing people from the burden of past crimes may be the new normal moving forward. The initiative has become “the gold standard,” said Art Way, director of the Drug Policy Alliance’s Colorado office. He said that activists in New Mexico, New Jersey and New York are all lobbying for racial justice and, to some extent, retroactive relief for marijuana crimes.
Sunday, November 19, 2017
The title of this post is the title of this interesting recent OZY article. Here are excerpts:
The Democratic Republic of Congo, Africa’s second-largest nation by area, is known for nefarious trade in copper, coltan, cobalt, tin and other minerals. But now, tens of thousands of Congolese like Koti are setting their sights on a different sort of illegal resource: cannabis. The United Nations estimates that Africa produces 10,500 metric tons of cannabis — a fourth of all the marijuana in the world. Between 27 million and 53 million Africans use the drug, making up about one-fourth of all weed users worldwide. Congo, some narcotics experts believe, may produce more cannabis than almost any other African nation except South Africa.
Marijuana farming is illegal in Congo, where the rarity of record keeping, especially in remote regions like rural South Kivu province, makes it hard to chart the exact moment when the crop’s popularity exploded. But research by University of California, Berkeley visiting professor of geography Ann Laudati suggests 60 percent of famers in parts of eastern Congo’s Kivu — and 90 percent in some locations — grow at least some cannabis. “Everyone but the priests,” is how one Congolese village priest described the prevalence of marijuana farming to Laudati. “It’s like the gold rush in America in the 1800s,” says Laudati of the excitement of some who have set their hopes on growing cannabis....
But while cannabis farming comes without the physical fears that accompany mining, it carries its own share of risks, wrapped in politics from across the Atlantic. Decades of U.S. and international pressure are a key reason why cannabis cultivation is illegal in Congo. In 1961, the U.S. voted in favor of the U.N. Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, which added marijuana to the list of drugs that were banned internationally. The way to solve America’s drug “problem” was by pinching off the global supply, or so the thinking went....
But the penalization of cannabis in Congo is endorsed by the U.S. at a time when many states are decriminalizing the drug at home. In Afghanistan, the U.S. has funded “alternative livelihood” programs to shift Afghan farmers away from cannabis. And in 2005, the U.S. vetoed an international attempt to “reschedule” cannabis as a less dangerous substance — a move that could have opened the doors to deregulation.
In Africa, the U.S. spends $20 million annually to reduce drug trafficking, and marijuana remains top among its concerns. The State Department’s 2015 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report referenced cannabis 121 times, reprimanding African countries where cultivation is common. An earlier version of that report singled out Congo in particular, scolding authorities for failing to crack down on the trade. The State Department even warned American travelers about Congo’s cannabis in a 2015 safety report. The losers of America’s drug war in Africa are everyday farmers....
If Western nations like the U.S. were to reclassify cannabis as a less troublesome narcotic, cultivation could be decriminalized. Marijuana farming in countries like Congo could then thrive like it has in the U.S., where cannabis is manufactured into products ranging from fabrics, purses and bags to shampoos, oils and lotions. Nearly 40 cannabis-growing African nations might similarly benefit. Legalization is already on the horizon in South Africa, where a recent court decision will allow recreational use in private residences beginning in 2019.
“In South Africa, definitely — it’s becoming increasingly normalized,” says Dave Martin, founder of Bulungula Incubator, a rural development organization focused on farming. “It’s no longer taboo.” In South Africa’s eastern Transkei region, thousands of farmers grow cannabis in open fields. For consumers, a 5-liter bucket of cannabis — roughly a kilo — costs nearly $40. But even in South Africa, cannabis remains illegal on paper, and it is usually middlemen — traders and sellers — who profit. Meanwhile, farmers pay the price.
Still more talk, from notable conservative outlets, about possible benefits of marijuana reform amidst opioid crisis
Regular readers know that many proponents of marijuana reform have been eager in recent years to talk up the possible benefits of marijuana reform as one useful response to the on-going opioid crisis. Indeed, since I have blogged many stories and commentaries on this front, it is not really big news to see more new advocacy along these lines. But that said, this past week I have seen these two notable commentaries in this vein appearing in notable conservative or right-leaning outlets:
From the American Conservative here by Jeffrey Singer, "Can Marijuana Help Addicts Kick Opioids?: Research shows this once maligned 'gateway' drug could be an off-ramp."
From the Wall Street Journal here by Richard Boxer, "Can Marijuana Alleviate the Opioid Crisis?: The federal government should stop blocking research into the drug’s medical potential."
Some (of many) prior related posts:
- Given latest opioid death data, should Ohio officials be fast-tracking access to medical marijuana?
- "The Case for Pot in the Age of Opioids: Legalizing medical marijuana could save lives that may otherwise be lost to opioid addiction."
- "Can medical marijuana be used to treat heroin addiction?"
- Yet another study suggests link between medical marijuana availability and decreased opioid use
- "Could medical marijuana solve Ohio's opioid problem?"
- "Legalize marijuana and reduce deaths from drug abuse"
- "Obama’s Opioid Offensive Again Ignores the Cannabis Solution"
- "Is marijuana a secret weapon against the opioid epidemic?"
- "Cannabis as a Substitute for Opioid-Based Pain Medication: Patient Self-Report"
- "The use of cannabis in response to the opioid crisis: A review of the literature"
Thursday, November 16, 2017
Advocates of marijuana reform are often quick to assert that nobody dies from an overdose of marijuana. But this new clinical report from two Colorado doctors, which has the same title as this post, discusses a case of an 11-month child who may have died as a direct result of marijuana exposure. The paper is authored by Thomas Nappe and Christopher Hoyte, and here is the paper's abstract:
Since marijuana legalization, pediatric exposures to cannabis have increased. To date, pediatric deaths from cannabis exposure have not been reported. The authors report an 11-month-old male who, following cannabis exposure, presented with central nervous system depression after seizure, and progressed to cardiac arrest and died. Myocarditis was diagnosed post-mortem and cannabis exposure was confirmed. Given the temporal relationship of these two rare occurrences – cannabis exposure and sudden death secondary to myocarditis in an 11-month-old – as well as histological consistency with drug-induced myocarditis without confirmed alternate causes, and prior reported cases of cannabis-associated myocarditis, a possible relationship exists between cannabis exposure in this child and myocarditis leading to death. In areas where marijuana is commercially available or decriminalized, the authors urge clinicians to preventively counsel parents and to include cannabis exposure in the differential diagnosis of patients presenting with myocarditis.
UPDATE: Unsurprisingly, this clinical report links a death to marijuana exposure has created a stir, and this new Washington Post piece headlined "The truth behind the ‘first marijuana overdose death’" provides some context for the controversy.
Wednesday, November 15, 2017
A student in my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar this week in his presentation is addressing what he calls "one narrow evidentiary aspect of a much broader area of study: the effect of legalization on how society and the law treat people with marijuana-related felonies who would not have been guilty of the offense after legalization." As he explains, he will be using California as a case study to "examine the effect of Proposition 64 (The Adult Marijuana Use Act) on Cal. Evid. Code 788, which allows parties to admit criminal records of convicted felons to impeach their credibility." Here are the materials he has suggested for class consumption in this way:
In the Weeds:
Richard S. Frase, Punishment Purposes, 58 Stan. L. Rev. 67 (2005).
Joshua Dressler, Hating Criminals: How Can Something that Feels So Good Be Wrong?, 88 Mich. L. Rev. 1448 (1990).
My students know that I strongly believe legal and social histories are critical topics for anyone and everyone interested in any aspect of criminal justice reform. (I always find astute the William Faulkner quote: "The past is never dead. It's not even past.") Consequently, I am especially excited that one of my students in my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar is making his presentations this week on "The Temperance Movement and Its Relevance on Today’s Marijuana Policy." Here are some of the major sources that the student working on this topic has provided for class consideration:
David F. Musto, The American Experience with Stimulants and Opiates (previous class material that everyone already read)
Tuesday, November 14, 2017
Just a short five years ago it would have been unusual for a member of Congress to ask the US Attorney General about federal marijuana policies. But circa 2017 it now seems near impossible to have a congressional hearing involving the AG in which marijuana policy is not raised. But, as detailed in this new Forbes piece by Tom Angell headlined "Sessions: Obama Marijuana Policy Remains In Effect," AG Sessions did not really have much new to say on this front during a hearing on Capitol Hill today:
Obama-era guidance that allows states to legalize marijuana without federal interference remains in effect, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said on Tuesday during a congressional hearing. He also conceded that cannabis is not as dangerous as heroin and that a current budget rider prevents the Department of Justice from prosecuting people who are in compliance with state medical marijuana laws.
"Our policy is the same, really, fundamentally as the Holder-Lynch policy, which is that the federal law remains in effect and a state can legalize marijuana for its law enforcement purposes but it still remains illegal with regard to federal purposes," Sessions said, referring to his predecessors as attorney general during the Obama administration.
Sessions made the comments in response to a question from Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH) during a House Judiciary Committee oversight hearing. Later, Sessions said, "I think that's correct," when Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) argued that cannabis isn't as dangerous as heroin. Under current federal law, both are classified under Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, a category that's supposed to be reserved for drugs with a high potential for abuse and no medical value....
Also during Cohen's line of questioning, the attorney general said, "I believe we are bound by" a federal budget rider that bars the federal government from spending money to interfere with state medical cannabis laws. A federal court ruled last year, over Justice Department objections, that the rider specifically bars prosecution of patients and providers who are acting in accordance with those laws. Earlier this year, Sessions, sent a letter to congressional leadership asking that they not continue the annual rider into the next fiscal year.
Sessions, a longtime vocal opponent of marijuana legalization, has previously said that the separate Obama policy on state marijuana laws remains in effect while the Department of Justice reviews potential changes, but has not before so clearly tied the Trump administration approach to that of his predecessors....
[I]n April, Sessions directed a Justice Department task force to review the Obama administration memo and make recommendations for possible changes. However, 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. Sessions did not refer to any ongoing consideration of enforcement policy changes during the House hearing.
During a Senate hearing last month, the attorney general said that allowing more researchers to legally grow more marijuana for scientific studies would be "healthy." He has yet to respond to pending written questions stemming from that hearing about a federal budget rider that prevents the Justice Department from interfering with state medical cannabis laws.
November 14, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)
The title of this post is the title of this notable new research article authored by Jean-Louis Martin , Blandine Gadegbeku, Dan Wu, Vivian Viallon, and Bernard Laumon. Here is its abstract:
This research aims to estimate the relative risks of responsibility for a fatal accident linked to driving under the influence of cannabis or alcohol, the prevalence of these influences among drivers and the corresponding attributable risk ratios. A secondary goal is to estimate the same items for three other groups of illicit drugs (amphetamines, cocaine and opiates), and to compare the results to a similar study carried out in France between 2001 and 2003.
Police procedures for fatal accidents in Metropolitan France during 2011 were analyzed and 300 characteristics encoded to provide a database of 4,059 drivers. Information on alcohol and four groups of illicit drugs derived from tests for positivity and potential confirmation through blood analysis. The study compares drivers responsible for causing the accident, that is to say having directly contributed to its occurrence, to drivers involved in an accident for which they were not responsible, and who can be assimilated to drivers in general.
The proportion of persons driving under the influence of alcohol is estimated at 2.1% (95% CI: 1.4–2.8) and under the influence of cannabis at 3.4% (2.9%-3.9%). Drivers under the influence of alcohol are 17.8 times (12.1–26.1) more likely to be responsible for a fatal accident, and the proportion of fatal accidents which would be prevented if no drivers ever exceeded the legal limit for alcohol is estimated at 27.7% (26.0%-29.4%). Drivers under the influence of cannabis multiply their risk of being responsible for causing a fatal accident by 1.65 (1.16–2.34), and the proportion of fatal accidents which would be prevented if no drivers ever drove under the influence of cannabis is estimated at 4.2% (3.7%-4.8%). An increased risk linked to opiate use has also been found to be significant, but with low prevalence, requiring caution in interpreting this finding. Other groups of narcotics have even lower prevalence, and the associated extra risks cannot be assessed.
Almost a decade separates the present study from a similar one previously conducted in France, and there have been numerous developments in the intervening years. Even so, the prevalence of drivers responsible for causing fatal accidents under the influence of alcohol or narcotics has stayed remarkably stable, as have the proportion of fatal accidents which could in theory be prevented if no drivers ever exceeded the legal limits. The overall number of deaths from traffic accidents has dropped sharply during this period, and the number of victims attributable to alcohol and/or cannabis declined proportionally. Alcohol remains the main problem in France. It is just as important to note that one in two drivers considered to be under the influence of cannabis was also under the influence of alcohol. With risks cumulating between the two, it is particularly important to point out the danger of consuming them together.
Monday, November 13, 2017
This new Business Insider article, headlined "We took a scientific look at whether weed or alcohol is worse for you — and there appears to be a winner," provides a pretty reasonable review of basic public health research concerning marijuana and alcohol. Here is how the article starts, its main boldheadings, and it conclusion:
Which is worse for you: weed or whiskey? It's a tough call, but based on the science, there appears to be a clear winner.
Keep in mind that there are dozens of factors to account for, including how the substances affect your heart, brain, and behavior, and how likely you are to get hooked. Time is important, too — while some effects are noticeable immediately, others only begin to shape up after months or years of use.
The comparison is slightly unfair for another reason: While scientists have been researching the effects of alcohol for decades, the science of cannabis is a lot murkier due to its mostly illegal status.
30,722 Americans died from alcohol-induced causes in 2014. There have been 0 documented deaths from marijuana use alone. ...
Marijuana appears to be significantly less addictive than alcohol. ...
Marijuana may be harder on your heart; while moderate drinking could be beneficial....
Alcohol is strongly linked with several types of cancer; marijuana is not....
Both drugs may be linked with risks while driving, but alcohol is worse. ...
Several studies link alcohol with violence, particularly at home. That has not been found for cannabis. ...
Both drugs negatively impact your memory, but in different ways. These effects are the most common in heavy, frequent, or binge users. ...
Both drugs are linked with an increased risk of psychiatric disease. For weed users, psychosis and schizophrenia are the main concern; with booze, it's depression and anxiety....
Alcohol appears to be linked more closely with weight gain than marijuana, despite weed's tendency to trigger the munchies. ...
All things considered, alcohol's effects seem markedly more extreme — and risky — than marijuana's.
When it comes to their addiction profile and their risk of death or overdose combined with their ties to cancer, car crashes, violence, and obesity, the research suggests that marijuana may be less of a health risk than alcohol.
Still, because of marijuana's largely illegal status, long-term studies on all of its health effects have been limited — meaning that more research is desperately needed.