Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Americans for Safe Access releases its latest analysis and report card on medical marijuana programs across United States

Asa_default_social_thumbnail2The advocacy group Americans for Safe Access regularly produces reports on the state of state medical marijuana laws, and this latest 2018 version of ASA's “Medical Marijuana Access in the United States: A Patient-Focused Analysis of the Patchwork of State Laws” now runs almost 200 pages.  I recommend the report in full for everyone interested in medical marijuana information, and here is part of the report's preface:

For over fifteen years, Americans for Safe Access (ASA) has engaged state and federal governments, courts, and regulators to improve the development and implementation of state medical cannabis laws and regulations.  This experience has taught us how to assess whether or not state laws meet the practical needs of patients. It has also provided us with the tools to advocate for programs that will better meet those needs. Passing a medical cannabis law is only the first step in a lengthy implementation process, and the level of forethought and advance input from patients can make the difference between a well-designed program and one that is seriously flawed.  One of the most important markers of a well-designed program is whether or not all patients who would benefit from medical cannabis will have safe and legal access to their medicine without fear of losing any of the civil rights and protections afforded to them as American citizens....

Today, we have a patchwork of medical cannabis laws across the United States.  Thirty states, the District of Columbia, Guam, and Puerto Rico have adopted laws that created programs that allow at least some patients legal access to medical cannabis.  Most of those thirty states provide patients with protections from arrest and prosecution as well as incorporate a regulated production and distribution program.  Several programs also allow patients and their caregivers to cultivate a certain amount of medical cannabis themselves.  While it took a long time for states to recognize the importance of protecting patients from civil discrimination (employment, parental rights, education, access to health care, etc.), more and more laws now include these explicit protections.

However, as of 2017, none of the state laws adopted thus far can be considered ideal from a patient’s standpoint.  Only a minority of states currently include the entire range of protections and rights that should be afforded to patients under the law, with some lagging far behind others.  Because of these differences and deficiencies, patients have argued that the laws do not function equitably and are often poorly designed, implemented, or both.  As production and distribution models are implemented, hostile local governments have found ways to ban such activity, leaving thousands of patients without the access state law was intended to create. Minnesota, for example, despite setting up a regulatory system for the production, manufacturing, and distribution of cannabis oil extracts, prohibits qualified patients from using the actual plant.  These laws include sanctions for qualified patients who seek to use their medicine in whole plant form, unnecessarily eliminating clinically validated routes of administration used by hundreds of thousands of patients.  Some states have taken years to implement their medical cannabis laws leaving patients waiting years before their medicine is available. 

February 28, 2018 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

New report suggests big increase in pedestrian fatalities in marijuana legalization states... but only by leaving out California

4 - Marijuana LawsThis new press release, headlined "No National Progress in Reducing Pedestrian Fatalities," details the finding of this new report by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) which "projects nearly 6,000 pedestrians were killed in motor vehicle crashes in the U.S. in 2017, marking the second year in a row at numbers not seen in 25 years."  Here is more from the press release that advocates for marijuana reform should consider:

States reported a total of 2,636 pedestrian fatalities for the first six months of 2017.  Adjusting the raw data based on past data trends, GHSA projects that pedestrian deaths in 2017 will total 5,984, essentially unchanged from 2016, in which 5,987 people on foot lost their lives in motor vehicle crashes.  Pedestrians now account for approximately 16% of all motor vehicle deaths, compared with 11% just a few years ago.

Two recent trends present an interesting correlation with rising pedestrian fatalities: the growth in smartphone use nationally and the legalization of recreational marijuana in several states.  While the report does not find or imply a definitive link between these factors and pedestrian deaths, it is widely accepted both smartphones and marijuana can impair the attention and judgment necessary to navigate roadways safely behind the wheel and on foot.

The reported number of smartphones in active use in the U.S. increased 236% from 2010 to 2016, and the number of cell phone-related emergency room visits is increasing as the devices before more prevalent in daily life.

The seven states and D.C. that legalized recreational marijuana use between 2012 and 2016 experienced a collective 16.4% increase in pedestrian fatalities for the first half of 2017, while all other states saw a combined 5.8% decrease.

As report author [Richard Retting of Sam Schwartz Consulting] notes, “This preliminary 2017 data is the first opportunity to look at marijuana-impairment as a possible contributing factor in pedestrian deaths, given the recent law changes. It’s critical to use this early data to look for potential warning signs.”

Without discounting the significance of the interesting data in this report, close followers of marijuana reforms should be able to identify some important quirkiness in how these data are assembled in the report:

The seven states (Alaska, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Washington) and DC that legalized recreational use of marijuana between 2012 and 2016 reported a collective 16.4 percent increase in pedestrian fatalities for the first six months of 2017 versus the first six months of 2016, whereas all other states reported a collective 5.8 percent decrease in pedestrian fatalities.

Notably missing from the states listed here is California, which also legalized recreational use of marijuana in 2016 along with Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada. Notably, California actually saw a major decrease in pedestrian fatalities for the first six months of 2017, and I believe that moving California from the "all other states" category into the legalization category would actually lead to the legalization states to have collectively a larger decrease in pedestrian fatalities than the "all other states" group.

Critically, California did not have operating recreational marijuana stores in the first part of 2017, so there is a plausible basis for saying that it should not be considered a "full legalization" state until 2018. But, critically, the same is true for Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada (Nevada got stores going in the second part of 2017, and neither Maine or Massachusetts has stores operative yet).  I see little basis for including Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada in this analysis and leaving out California other than an interest in having the numbers come out a certain way.

Also critical in any assessment of this data is to appreciate the "small number" dynamics and the challenge of identifying what may have significantly changed from 2016 to 2017 in "mature" marijuana reform states.  Colorado, for example, had a reported pedestrian fatality increase in this new report of only 4 persons, from 33 to 37 in the relevant period from 2016 to 2017;  but the comparable data from 2013 and 2014, when legal recreational sales started in this state, indicates big pedestrian fatality decrease in Colorado from 33 down to 23.

February 28, 2018 in Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Highlighting the perspectives of governors in dynamic marijuana reform times

News-8Rolling Stone has this lengthy new article on modern state marijuana reforms focused on how governors are reacting to Attorney General Jeff Sessions' latest policy directives to federal prosecutors.  The piece is  headlines "Sorry, Jeff Sessions – Governors Are Moving Ahead with Pot: At their annual meeting, pro-pot governors say the AG isn't stopping them from advancing plans for medical and recreational legalization." Here are excerpts:

Over the past few days, most of the nation's governors descended on Washington for their annual meeting with administration officials and the president. As the governors mingled about and chatted in between sessions, many of them were exchanging ideas and best practices on how to roll out a successful regulatory regime on marijuana. But hanging over their talks was the specter of Attorney General Jeff Sessions who would like to clamp down on the nation's burgeoning, though disparate, marijuana industry.

Some Democratic governors say they were denied a private meeting with Sessions to discuss his anti-marijuana stance. And besides attending the formal Governors' Ball on Sunday night, the attorney general only made one appearance to the group, at a White House briefing on opioids. Some say they're frustrated they couldn't pick his brain on his controversial move to rescind an Obama-era memo that directed the nation's top prosecutors to prioritize other offenses over marijuana in states where it's legal. "I tried, but I couldn't get called on," Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-CO) tells Rolling Stone. "He only took about six questions. There were probably 40 governors in the room."

Even though there's fear that Sessions wants to go after legal marijuana business owners, many states are moving ahead with efforts to either launch a new medicinal marijuana industry, expand an existing one or to legalize weed for recreational purposes. And governors say so far Sessions' opposition hasn't had an impact on the ground. "It has not impacted us and we believe it will not, although that doesn't mean we're not paying attention," Gov. Phil Murphy (D-NJ) tells Rolling Stone.

Murphy, who was elected last year, campaigned aggressively on marijuana legalization. For him, it's a criminal-justice issue because his state has the largest racial disparity in its prison population of any state in the nation, and many of those convicts are serving terms for nonviolent drug offenses. While he's received some pushback from his legislature on his plan to legalize pot, he's moving ahead on expanding medicinal marijuana because currently there are only five dispensaries in a state with nine million people. "We're proceeding apace, again, beginning to make sure we get the medical piece right because it's life or death," Murphy says. "And then we will deliberately and steadily get to the recreational side."

The nation's other newly seated governor, Ralph Northam (D-VA), also campaigned on marijuana. He faces more headwinds from Republicans who control his state's House of Delegates, but he's still calling for marijuana decriminalization. As a physician, Northam is also vocal about the medicinal benefits of weed, though he says more research is needed. For that he's calling on Congress to reclassify pot, since it's currently listed as a Schedule I narcotic, making it extremely difficult to study in any official capacity. "I think that it would be great if at the federal level they could change the schedule of marijuana so that we can get more data on it – do more research," Northam tells Rolling Stone. "I remind people all the time that probably over 100 medicines that we use routinely in health care come from plants, so let's be a little bit more open minded and look at potential uses for medicinal marijuana."...

While the movement on medical marijuana is steadily picking up steam in red and blue states alike, the recreational effort is going more slowly but some governors say there's starting to be an air of certainty that eventually marijuana will be viewed as the same as alcohol in most every state.

Back in 2011, Gov. Dan Malloy (D-CT) moved to decriminalize marijuana and set up a medicinal marijuana regime. While he hasn't come down one way or another on recreational marijuana, he says it's just a matter of time before it happens in Connecticut because efforts to legalize weed are sweeping the entire northeast corridor. "As Canada moves in that direction, as Massachusetts and Vermont, it's going to be a neighborhood thing, and I understand that," Malloy tells Rolling Stone. While he remains lukewarm on recreational marijuana, he did pen a blunt letter to Sessions on it.

"I told him to stop messing around with marijuana, because it really isn't important," Malloy says. "I have not taken the opportunity to endorse marijuana, but that's very different than spending resources trying to combat marijuana use. And, quite frankly, if you're going to be serious about opioids, you can't be screwing around with marijuana."

While many governors are now rushing out new marijuana regulations, they're still keeping one eye on Jeff Sessions. Gov. Jay Inslee (D-WA) says during this visit he was rebuffed when he asked for a private meeting with the attorney general to discuss his state's recreational marijuana marketplace, but he says his offer for Sessions to come out west and tour his state's pot businesses still stands. "It's a shame that he has a closed mind, and he's much more attentive to his old ideology than to the new facts," Inslee tells Rolling Stone. "The fears that he might have had 30 years ago have not been realized, and we wish he would just open his eyes to the reality of the situation. If he did, I think he would no longer try to fight an old battle that the community and the nation is moving very rapidly forward on."

February 27, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 26, 2018

Federal judge dismisses high-profile suit challenging marijuana's placement on Schedule 1 under the Controlled Substances Act

Earlier this month, as noted in this prior post, a federal district judge heard arguments concerning a motion to dismiss the high-profile suit challenging marijuana's placement on Schedule 1 under the Controlled Substances Act.  Though the suit garnered a good bit of public attention, the case of Washington, et.al v. Sessions, et.al, is now likely to go down as yet the latest failed effort to attack the CSA's treatment of marijuana in court because today judge Alvin Hellerstein dismissed the lawsuit. Tom Angell has a useful summary of the ruling and a link to its full 20 pages here.  Here is part of that summary:

Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein ruled on Monday that advocates have “failed to exhaust their administrative remedies” to alter cannabis’s legal status, and should pursue changes through the administration and Congress instead of in the courts. “[P]laintiffs’ claim is an administrative one, not one premised on the constitution,” he wrote, and “is best understood as a collateral attack on the various administrative determinations not to reclassify marijuana into a different drug schedule.”...

Hellerstein wrote that “it is clear that Congress had a rational basis for classifying marijuana in Schedule I, and executive officials in different administrations have consistently retained its placement there… Even if marijuana has current medical uses, I cannot say that Congress acted irrationally in placing marijuana in Schedule I.”

However, the judge, who observers say appeared moved by anecdotes about the plaintiffs’ medical uses of cannabis during oral arguments, wrote that he does not reject out of hand the notion that marijuana can be beneficial....

Hellerstein dismissed every other claim in the lawsuit, as well, making it clear he’s done with the case. “Because plaintiffs have failed to state a claim under any constitutional theory, all of plaintiffs’ remaining claims are also dismissed,” he wrote. “For the reasons stated herein, defendants’ motion to dismiss the complaint is granted.  Plaintiffs have already amended their complaint once, and I find that further amendments would be futile.”

The plaintiffs in this suit could appeal this dismissal to the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, and doing so would likely keep the case in the headlines. I am not optimistic it would achieve much else, but one never knows with courts these days.

Prior related posts:

February 26, 2018 in Court Rulings, Federal court rulings, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Interesting interview with the "Cannabis Czar" of Los Angeles

1518463390123-unnamedIn this post from last summer, I flagged the announcement from the office of the Mayor of Los Angeles that Mayor Eric Garcetti had appointed Cat Packer as Executive Director of the newly-established Los Angeles Department of Cannabis Regulation. This news was so very pleasing and exciting because Director Packer was a 2015 graduate of The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, and as a star student in my marijuana seminar in Spring 2015, she has impressively and swiftly vindicated my representation to students that they could become leaders in the field of marijuana law and policy relatively quickly.

Director Packer's vision and activities are sure to have a profound impact on marijuana reform realities in California, and this new Vice piece headlined "LA's 'Pot Czar' Cares Who Cashes in on Legal Weed," provides a Q&A perspective on her work. Here is the piece's start and excerpts:

As cannabis laws across America continue to soften, states and local communities are beginning to come to terms with the destruction wreaked by the war on drugs, especially on black communities. Some cities are already beginning to make amends by going beyond mere legalization. They have started the process of overturning thousands of cannabis-related convictions. These policies would never manifest, however, without the help of activists who take their passion for social justice from the protests outside of city halls to the offices within them.

Cat Packer, who was recently appointed as the executive director of Los Angeles’s newly formed Department of Cannabis Regulation, has been given a unique opportunity to help create pot policy for one of the largest cities on the planet. As a woman of color with a background in drug policy reform, Packer is hyper-aware of the negative impact of past drug laws and the challenges those miscarriages of justice will present for her going forward.

I spoke to Packer to discuss how she plans to navigate the bureaucratic era of legal pot through the lens of activism and empathy.

LA is now the largest pot-friendly city in America. With that distinction and the rest of the country’s eyes on us, what sort of expectations or pressures are you fielding from others or putting upon yourself?

It's not really secret that Los Angeles has an opportunity to be a leader in cannabis policy. It’s going to be interesting because, as the largest city to take on this regulatory responsibility, and as a place that’s often regarded as the largest cannabis market in the world, we understand that cannabis and its impact are probably going to be felt the heaviest here.

We have communities here who have had very negative experiences, not only with cannabis policy, but are looking for a way forward. Voters across California and in the city of Los Angeles have voted overwhelmingly in support of responsible regulation and moving away from criminalization. That’s a huge shift in public opinion, and it’s a huge shift in public policy, and it’s going to take us some time to implement this policy effectively, but we’ve been given directions from voters, so we want to do everything we can to set up a responsible framework.

With many [dispensaries] having operated in a legally gray area for so long, what kind of resistance to this regulatory shift are you encountering and what are you doing to ensure it isn't just favoring large entities with the funds to quickly become compliant and crushing the small businesses currently operating in LA’s cannabis space?

There are folks on all sides of the spectrum, as to be expected. There are folks who are frustrated with the process, folks who are excited about the economic opportunity that comes from business ownership and jobs and opportunity. But I think that folks are realizing that this is a first-time policy for the city of Los Angeles, and we’re trying to make sure we do it the right way. One of the things we’re prioritizing is social equity.

We’re making sure that within these new cannabis laws and policies, we take a moment to look at these issues through a social justice lens. We have an opportunity to, at the very least, address the harm that communities here have experienced as a part of the enforcement of the war on drugs and as a part of the disproportionate enforcement of cannabis laws against certain communities.  So we want to take a moment to acknowledge those communities and do what we can, as a city, to give folks meaningful access to what is going to be a multimillion dollar industry.

February 25, 2018 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 23, 2018

"E.U. Regulation Will Revolutionize Global Data Privacy. How Will This Affect The Regulated Cannabis Sector?"

In prior posts here and here, I spotlighted articles published at the Cannabis Law Report discussing federal tax treatment of cannabis businesses authored by Chris Nani, a student in my Marijuana Law & Policy seminar last semester. I am now pleased and proud to spotlight that Chris Nani has branched out by authoring this new piece with the title that serves as the title of this post. Here is how it starts and ends:

A European Union regulation may soon shape the way U.S. cannabis companies create their privacy policies and standards. The European Union will fully implement the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) by May 25, 2018....

Data security is tantamount to consumers and companies that comply with the GDPR will have an advantage over others and their clients will appreciate the additional security.

February 23, 2018 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

American Legion continues to push federal government for more research on how marijuana can help veterans

American%20Legion%20Logo%20-%20American%20Flag%20on%20either%20sideThis new article from The Cannabist, headlined "Veterans group ratchets up pressure on White House and Congress to support medical marijuana research: The American Legion wants the federal government to focus on cannabis as potential treatment for PTSD and other ailments," reports on notable new comments from a notable old advocate for medical marijuana research and reform. Here is how the article begins:

Top officials at of The American Legion, the nation’s largest veterans organization, on Friday stepped up their calls for the federal government to legitimize and invest in medical marijuana research. In a speech to the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., the Legion National Commander Denise Rohan outlined how the White House and Congress could improve the delivery of benefits to the nation’s 20 million-plus veterans. Medical cannabis was on the list. In fulfilling its mission to make sure veterans are taken care of, “we have to find replacements for the opioid epidemic we have in this nation,” Rohan said.

The organization’s call for additional research into cannabis as a potential treatment for post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), pain and other ailments was reiterated by Louis Celli, National Director Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation at the Legion. “We just need to know that the American government is focused on trying to find cures for not only veterans but for all Americans,” he said. “And if cannabis, which is a drug, is something that can help (then) they have to do the research to do that.”

The Legion has passed several resolutions on cannabis over the past two years. A 2016 measure calls on the Drug Enforcement Agency to license privately-funded medical marijuana operations, ensuring “safe and efficient” research into cannabis. It also asks for the rescheduling of cannabis from its current, decades-long classification as a Schedule 1 drug into a category that, “at a minimum, will recognize cannabis as a drug with a potential medical value.”

The other resolution, passed last year, calls on the Veterans Administration (VA) to allow its medical advisors to openly discuss the use of medical cannabis with veterans for medical purposes – as well as to recommend medicinal cannabis where it is legal.

Last November, a Legion-commissioned national survey showed strong support for medical cannabis research and legalization within the military veteran community.  In December, the VA issued a directive, allowing its doctors and pharmacists to discuss cannabis with veterans taking part in state-approved medical marijuana programs. However, the Weed for Warriors Project, a pro-cannabis legalization veterans group, warned that vets who choose to talk about marijuana use with doctors might be identified by the VA as having a substance abuse disorder, which would in turn curtail their access to other medicines.

The Legion’s Celli also addressed that issue Friday, when asked if he was seeing any pushback to the organization’s stance on cannabis due to the stigmas still surrounding marijuana. “I wouldn’t say we’re getting pushback,” he responded.  “What we’re getting is…stories from veterans who live in states that have legal cannabis programs, and they’re participating in those programs with a feeling of inner guilt.”

Ambivalence about medical cannabis, he said, comes from years of being told that marijuana is bad and immoral.  Veterans in those state-legal cannabis programs, he added, see pot as a valid treatment but still feel like they could be on “the wrong side of the law.”

Prior related posts:

February 23, 2018 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Medical marijuana laws and adolescent marijuana use in the United States: A systematic review and meta-analysis"

CoverThe title of this post is the title of this notable new article by multiple authored in the journal Addiction.  Here is the abstract:

Aims

To conduct a systematic review and meta-analysis of studies in order to estimate the effect of US medical marijuana laws (MMLs) on past-month marijuana use prevalence among adolescents.

Methods

A total of 2999 papers from 17 literature sources were screened systematically.  Eleven studies, developed from four ongoing large national surveys, were meta-analyzed.  Estimates of MML effects on any past-month marijuana use prevalence from included studies were obtained from comparisons of pre–post MML changes in MML states to changes in non-MML states over comparable time-periods.  These estimates were standardized and entered into a meta-analysis model with fixed-effects for each study.  Heterogeneity among the study estimates by national data survey was tested with an omnibus F-test.  Estimates of effects on additional marijuana outcomes, of MML provisions (e.g. dispensaries) and among demographic subgroups were abstracted and summarized.  Key methodological and modeling characteristics were also described. Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) guidelines were followed.

Results

None of the 11 studies found significant estimates of pre–post MML changes compared with contemporaneous changes in non-MML states for marijuana use prevalence among adolescents. The meta-analysis yielded a non-significant pooled estimate (standardized mean difference) of −0.003 (95% confidence interval = −0.012, +0.007). Four studies compared MML with non-MML states on pre-MML differences and all found higher rates of past-month marijuana use in MML states pre-MML passage. Additional tests of specific MML provisions, of MML effects on additional marijuana outcomes and among subgroups generally yielded non-significant results, although limited heterogeneity may warrant further study.

Conclusions

Synthesis of the current evidence does not support the hypothesis that US medical marijuana laws (MMLs) until 2014 have led to increases in adolescent marijuana use prevalence. Limited heterogeneity exists among estimates of effects of MMLs on other patterns of marijuana use, of effects within particular population subgroups and of effects of specific MML provisions.

February 23, 2018 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 22, 2018

New report from SAM and affiliate assembles data to highlight problems in Colorado after legalization

SAMVia email I received notice of a new report on the impact of marijuana legalization in Ohio.  Here are part of the email with links from the original:

The Marijuana Accountability Coalition (MAC), along with Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), launched a new report today examining marijuana legalization in Colorado, joining Colorado Christian University and the Centennial Institute in an open press event. SAM honorary advisor, former Congressman Patrick Kennedy, also delivered the report to Colorado House Speaker Crisanta Duran earlier today.  MAC is an affiliate of SAM Action, SAM's 501 c-4 organization, started by former Obama and Bush Administration advisors.

"We will continue to investigate, expose, challenge, and hold the marijuana industry accountable," said Justin Luke Riley, founder of MAC. "We will not remain silent anymore as we see our state overtaken by special marijuana interests."  The report also comes with a two-page report card synopsis giving Colorado an "F" on many key public health and safety indicators.   Future MAC initiatives include an effort to expose politicians taking marijuana industry money, and exposing the harms of 4/20 celebrations.... 

The new report card discussed the following impacts in the state:

  • Colorado currently holds the top ranking for first-time marijuana use among youth, representing a 65% increase in the years since legalization (NSDUH, 2006-2016). Young adult use (youth aged 18-25) in Colorado is rapidly increasing (NSDUH, 2006-2016).  
  • Colorado toxicology reports show the percentage of adolescent suicide victims testing positive for marijuana has increased (Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment [CDPHE], 2017).  
  • Colorado marijuana arrests for young African-American and Hispanic youth have increased since legalization (Colorado Department of Public Safety [CDPS], 2016).  
  • The gallons of alcohol consumed in Colorado since marijuana legalization has increased by 8% (Colorado Department of Revenue [CDR], Colorado Liquor Excise Tax, 2017).  
  • In Colorado, calls to poison control centers have risen 210% between the four-year averages before and after recreational legalization (Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center [RMPCD], 2017 and Wang, et al., 2017).... 

Other data highlighted in the report include: 

  • In Colorado, the annual rate of marijuana-related emergency room visits increased 35% between the years 2011 and 2015 (CDPHE, 2017).
  • Narcotics officers in Colorado have been busy responding to the 50% increase in illegal grow operations across rural areas in the state (Stewart, 2017).
    • In 2016 alone, Colorado law enforcement confiscated 7,116 pounds of marijuana, carried out 252 felony arrests, and made 346 highway interdictions of marijuana headed to 36 different U.S. states (RMHIDTA, 2017).
  • The U.S. mail system has also been affected by the black market, seeing an 844% increase in marijuana seizures (RMHIDTA, 2017).
  • The crime rate in Colorado has increased 11 times faster than the rest of the nation since legalization (Mitchell, 2017), with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation reporting an 8.3% increase in property crimes and an 18.6% increase in violent crimes (Colorado Bureau of Investigation [CBI], 2017).
    • The Boulder Police Department reported a 54% increase in public consumption of marijuana citations since legalization (Boulder Police Department [BPD], 2017).
  • Marijuana urine test results in Colorado are now double the national average (Quest Diagnostics, 2016).  
  • Insurance claims have become a growing concern among companies in legalized states (Hlavac & Easterly, 2016).
  • The number of drivers in Colorado intoxicated with marijuana and involved in fatal traffic crashes increased 88% from 2013 to 2015 (Migoya, 2017). Marijuana-related traffic deaths increased 66% between the four-year averages before and after legalization (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration [NHTSA], 2017).
    • Driving under the influence of drugs (DUIDs) have also risen in Colorado, with 76% of statewide DUIDs involving marijuana (Colorado State Patrol [CSP], 2017).

Because I recently saw SAM fudging how it reported some arrest data in order to advance its advocacy agenda, folks interested in these data may want also to check this list of citations.

February 22, 2018 in Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (1)

"'Doobies Make Boobies': Police Apologize After Officer Says Marijuana Makes Men Grow Breasts"

9M1YJMo-_400x400The title of this post is the amusing headline of this amusing story about a little bit of misinformation delivered by law enforcement officers to teens in Canada.  Here are the details:

Don't smoke marijuana, boys, or you'll develop breasts.  That's the message that an officer for Canada's York Regional Police shared with high school boys last week during a drug-awareness talk in which the officer claimed that smoking marijuana would make boys develop breasts.

“There are studies that marijuana lowers your testosterone,” drug recognition officer Nigel Cole told students during a panel held at the York District School Board headquarters.  “We call it ‘doobies make boobies,’ we are finding that 60 percent of 14-year-olds are developing ‘boobies.’”

Health experts quickly responded to dismiss the bogus claim.  “Smoking marijuana does not give you breasts,” said Dr. John Harrison, Chief Scientific Officer for the healthcare company TeamMD.  “Marijuana does impact hormones but by no means does it give anyone breasts. That’s what you call knowledge going the wrong way.  There’s no scientific basis that I know of.”...

The police agree.  Yesterday, the official Twitter account for the York Regional Police released an apology for spreading misinformation.  "We’re no health experts," YPR wrote, "but we’re pretty sure getting high does not cause enhanced mammary growth in men.  We are aware of the misinformation about cannabis that was unfortunately provided to the community by our officers.  We’re working to address it."

The York Regional Police should certainly be given credit for forthrightly apologizing for spreading misinformation rather than for trying to deny this happened. But this incident serves to provide another reminder of the enduring challenges of ensuring that only sound information is part of needed efforts to educate the community about the array of potential pros and cons of marijuana use.

February 22, 2018 in International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

"Strategies to Help Young Adults Limit Negative Consequences of Marijuana Use"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new Rand commentary authored by Eric Pedersen. Here are excerpts:

Young adults between the ages of 18 and 25 have been shown to be the most prevalent and problematic users of marijuana. And now with laws for recreational marijuana sales emerging in multiple states, there is a need to understand how the potential for harm can be minimized among young adults who choose to use the drug.

My colleagues and I at RAND and other research institutions have developed a Protective Behavioral Strategies Scale for Marijuana that helps identify some practices young adults can use to help limit their use of marijuana and avoid negative consequences....

We are still learning about the effects of legalization on marijuana consumption, but young adults between the ages of 18 and 25 represent the drug's most prevalent users and 5 percent of those in that age category meet criteria for cannabis use disorder — more than double the percentage of individuals in any other age category. Given that young adults are using the drug, and it is becoming increasingly more available for medical and recreational use, there is a need to understand whether the potential for harm can be minimized among those who choose to use marijuana.

One of my mentors in graduate school at the University of Washington, the late Alan Marlatt, was instrumental in challenging the notion that misuse of alcohol could only be controlled by abstinence, as in never using it again. He demonstrated that “harm-reduction techniques” could help individuals limit their use so that they experience few to no harms from use.  Any step toward reduced risk, such as drinking one less day per week or limiting oneself to two drinks per day, was a step in the right direction.  This proved to be an effective approach for some people and has been particularly attractive to young adults.  That is, if young people chose to drink, they were provided with strategies for how to moderate their drinking in a way to minimize associated harms. 

Using Marlatt's principles, my colleagues and I developed a list of strategies that young people can turn to before, during, after — or instead of — using marijuana to help protect themselves from experiencing negative consequences. In multiple studies we have shown that to be true: College students who use these strategies were at significantly less risk for heavily using the drug and experiencing negative consequences from use. And we came to a similar conclusion in another study with young veterans.

We have developed 36-item and 17-item versions of our list of strategies — the Protective Behavioral Strategies Scale for Marijuana (or the PBSM) — that researchers and clinicians can use in their research studies and in practice. Items on the list relate to a variety of situations and practices, and include strategies that may be helpful to try if someone desires to cut down use, wants to limit use around certain times of the day, and avoid or limit use in particularly risky situations, such as when everyone else around them is using. Some examples of items on the list are:

Avoid using marijuana before work or school.

Keep track of your costs to get an accurate picture of how much you spend on marijuana.

Avoid situations that you anticipate being pressured to use marijuana.

Use marijuana only among trusted peers.

Avoid using marijuana to cope with emotions such as sadness or depression.

Use a little and then wait to see how you feel before using more.

Limit use to weekends.

February 20, 2018 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 19, 2018

Interesting report on felony arrests and black market realities in Colorado after legalization

Marijuana+colorado+mgnThis lengthy article from the Colorado Springs Gazette, headlined "Black market marijuana busts nearly quadruple under recreational legalization," provides some notable data on marijuana enforcement in in the first state to have a regulated legal marijuana marketplace. Here are excerpts:

Four years after legal recreational marijuana went on sale in Colorado, Gov. John Hickenlooper says the black market for marijuana in the state is shrinking and predicted that it "will be largely gone" in a few years. But new statistics show that arrests for the production of black market pot increased by 380 percent in the 2014-16 time frame, and Colorado law enforcement agencies say they are battling a boom in illegal marijuana cultivation by sometimes violent groups of criminals who rake in millions of dollars by exporting what they grow.

The Colorado Department of Public Safety, which tracks various marijuana-related statistics, found that manufacturing arrests leapt from 126 in 2014 to 476 in 2016, according to new state data obtained by The Gazette. Illegal manufacturing encompasses the unlicensed making of THC-laced products, as well as large, hidden growing operations where plant counts far exceed those allowed by state law.

Those numbers have not been put into a formal report yet. But Jack Reed, the state official who compiles them, confirmed the dramatic increase in arrests for illegal grows. Reed deferred to law enforcement officials for interpretation of the new data. Other police agencies also report a growing element of violence in the illegal marijuana trade. Denver counts seven of its 56 homicides in 2017 as marijuana-related. The U.S. Attorney's Office in Denver classified one-third of its 2017 marijuana cases as violent. Other agencies routinely report seizing guns in marijuana busts.

Overall, marijuana cases filed in state courts have plummeted by about 80 percent since voters legalized recreational marijuana in November, 2012, with sales beginning in 2014. Most officials attribute that number to the precipitous drop in simple possession arrests. There were 9,789 total cases in 2012, compared to 1,650 overall cases in 2016, and a 6 percent spike to 1,759 cases in 2017.

However, felony marijuana cases have risen steadily beginning in 2015 with 579 cases; 2016 saw 807 felony cases, and there were 901 in 2017. Possession of an ounce or less of marijuana is legal, whereas possessing 10 ounces or more is a felony. That complicates enforcement, because a single home-grown plant can produce up to 2 pounds of leaves and flowers, officials say....

By nature, black market sales are impossible to quantify accurately, but even as arrests rise, black market sales appear to be a fraction of the legal sales in Colorado. From 2014 through 2017, recreational and medical marijuana sales grew from $683 million annually to $1.5 billion last year. By comparison, the largest Colorado bust in 2017 charged 62 people and netted 4,000 pounds, which authorities estimate could be worth $16 million in states where marijuana is contraband....

Mark Bolton, the governor's marijuana advisor, doesn't dispute that arrests for illegal manufacturing have risen. But he said Hickenlooper has taken "important steps to getting rid of black market activity," from supporting legislation that reduced the legal number of plants per household to bolstering law enforcement budgets for investigation.

Law enforcement officials, particularly Republicans, accuse the state's Democratic governor of minimizing the side effects of legalization. They contend that illegal basement businesses are thriving under their noses in a state that permits growing small amounts for personal use. "It's out of control," said Ray Padilla, a drug agent who had just returned from a 20-house bust that yielded thousands of plants and several hundred pounds of harvested marijuana. "We probably spend more assets on marijuana now than we ever did."

Padilla, a balding 42-year-old sporting a beard, earrings and jeans, heads the Colorado Drug Investigators Association. He and other law enforcement leaders say the lure of marijuana millions has drawn armed growers from places as distant as Florida, California and Mexico, as well as home-grown black marketeers who set up elaborate lighting and irrigation systems in suburban houses. "I have encountered more weapons in marijuana locations than any other type of drug," Padilla said....

In 27 raids last year, Sheriff Bill Elder said, "We seized guns out of almost every single one." He holds the high potency of Colorado marijuana partly to blame. "Colorado is exporting the best marijuana in the country, and it's the number one exporter," Elder said. "We are cranking out some seriously good weed."...

John Walsh, the U.S. Attorney in Denver when recreational sales began, described smuggling as a cause for concern but not panic. "Has there been an influx of people from out of state? Yes. Has there been an effective law enforcement response? Also yes. It is an ongoing problem," he said. He credits the Hickenlooper administration for "taking it very seriously" and cooperating with federal efforts to curb black market dealing. "This is a new world. Colorado is on the front end," he said. "We're doing more than any other state in trying to set up a really effective regulatory system."

February 19, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, February 18, 2018

"Insuring the Product Liability Risks of Cannabis"

The title of this post is the title of this short paper recently posted to SSRN authored by Ian Stewart and Francis Joseph Mootz. Here is its abstract:

Legal adult-use marijuana is associated with risks that may cause bodily injury and property damage.  Many of these risks have been well documented and widely discussed in the media, including theft, fire, motor vehicle accidents and consumption-related injuries. T he potential for an increase in the number and value of cannabis-related product liability claims and lawsuits, however, is of particular concern to the cannabis and insurance industries.  The production, distribution and sale of an ingestible product that has psychoactive effects – accompanied by a wide range of anticipated labeling and marketing representations – will certainly result in robust product liability litigation.

February 18, 2018 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Senator Gardner apparently stopping much of his DOJ blockade in response to rescinded Cole Memo

According to this new AP article, "Colorado’s Republican U.S. senator will stop blocking nominees for some Justice Department jobs over concerns about the marijuana industry, saying Thursday that federal officials have shown good faith in recent conversations on the department’s pot policy."  Here is more:

Cory Gardner used his power as a senator last month to freeze nominations for posts at the agency after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded Obama-era protections for states like Colorado that have broadly legalized recreational marijuana.  It was a dramatic move by a Republican senator against his own party’s attorney general and came after Gardner said Sessions had promised him there wouldn’t be a crackdown.  Gardner said he was placing holds on nominees until Sessions changed his approach.

The holds have created friction both with Sessions, who has complained that critical posts are going unfilled, and some of Gardner’s fellow GOP senators who want key law enforcement officials in their states confirmed.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Gardner said Thursday that he’s discussed the issue with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and has been pleased with progress so far. Department leaders have “shown in good faith their willingness to provide what I think will be hopefully the protections we sought, and as sort of a good faith gesture on my behalf I’ll be releasing a limited number of nominees,” Gardner said.  He will release his holds on nominees for U.S. attorneys in a dozen federal districts, U.S. marshals in every district and on John Demers, who was nominated to head Justice’s national security division.... 

Gardner will continue to hold the nominations of seven top Department of Justice nominees. He’s also working with a bipartisan group of members of congress to pursue legislation protecting states that have legalized marijuana.

A few prior related posts:

February 15, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

SAM releases report asserting Connecticut would face cost from marijuana legalization double projected tax revenues

Download (10)The leading national group opposed to modern marijuana reform, Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), today released this big new report titled "The Projected Costs of Marijuana Legalization in Connecticut."  Here is how its "Introduction/Summary" gets started:

Much has been said about the revenue that marijuana legalization might bring to Connecticut. Few, however, discuss the costs of such a policy. Omitting costs is a critical oversight: no policy or business plan would be complete without discussing both sides of the balance sheet.

Although a full cost accounting of marijuana legalization would be impossible at present, enough data exists to make rough-and-ready estimates of certain likely direct and short-term costs, such as:

1. Administrative and enforcement costs for regulators

2. Increased drugged-driving fatalities

3. Increased drugged-driving injuries

4. Increased property damage to vehicles related to drugged driving

5. Short-term health costs

a. More emergency room visits for marijuana poisonings

b. Injuries from marijuana-concentrate extraction lab explosions/fires

6. Increased rates of homelessness

7. Workplace costs

a. Increased absenteeism

b. More workplace accidents among full-time employees

Initial approximations of these preliminary costs indicate that it is unlikely that revenues from legalization would ever exceed its costs. This report concludes that even a conservative cost estimate limited to only the issues above would cost Connecticut approximately $216 million in 2020, which would be the third year of legalization if the policy was implemented in 2018. (According to data from the Connecticut General Assembly’s Office of Fiscal Analysis, the legalization program will only be fully operational in its third year of operation.)

Such costs exceed, by more than 90 percent, the maximum projected official revenue estimate of $113.6 million for the third year of the proposed legalization program. (These costs are almost 300 percent of the minimum revenue estimate of $54.4 million, but to be conservative, this report uses the maximum estimate.)

February 15, 2018 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Mixed messages from US District Judge hearing legal challenge to federal marijuana prohibition

In this post earlier this week, I noted today's scheduled hearing in federal court concerning a lawsuit challenging marijuana's placement on Schedule 1 under the Controlled Substances Act and asked "Could a high-profile lawsuit help end federal marijuana prohibition?". This Bloomberg article, headlined "Trump Administration Battles Sick Kids on Access to Legal Pot," suggests that the judge hearing the case is sympathetic to the plaintiffs' complaints but still seemingly unlikely to run in their favor:

In a New York courtroom packed with cannabis supporters, the Trump administration urged a federal judge to throw out a lawsuit that aims to pave the way for legal marijuana across the country.

The case was brought on behalf of two sick children, a former National Football League player who says athletes deserve a better way to treat head trauma than addictive opioids and the Cannabis Cultural Association. The suit, filed in July 2017, seeks a ruling that marijuana was unconstitutionally labeled alongside heroin and LSD as a so-called Schedule I drug -- the harshest of five government ratings -- when Congress passed the Controlled Substance Act in 1970.

In court on Wednesday, Justice Department attorney Samuel Hilliard Dolinger said the plaintiffs didn’t follow legal requirements before suing, beginning with a petition to the Drug Enforcement Agency. "The right thing is to defer to the agency," said U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein, an 84-year-old who was nominated by former President Bill Clinton, who famously admitted to experimenting with pot while claiming he "didn’t inhale."...

Hellerstein said he would issue a ruling later, and it was far from clear which way he was leaning. The judge, who had the courtroom erupting in laughter on more than a few occasions during the hearing, was skeptical of the government’s claim that there’s no medical benefit to marijuana. "Your clients are living proof of the medical effectiveness of marijuana," Hellerstein said to the plaintiffs’ lawyer, Michael Hiller....

Cannabis was criminalized "not to control the spread of a dangerous drug, but rather to suppress the rights and interests of those whom the Nixon Administration wrongly regarded as hostile to the interests of the U.S. -- African Americans and protesters of the Vietnam War," the suit says.

At the hearing, Hellerstein said that argument wasn’t going to work with him. The decision "will not depend on what may have been in the mind of Richard Nixon at the time," Hellerstein said.

Prior related posts:

February 14, 2018 in Federal court rulings, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Can Olympic Athletes Use Cannabis? Officially No, But…"

Marijuana-summer-olympics-2016The title of this post is the headline of this recent Leafy article that struck me as both timely and informative.  Here is how the extended piece starts and ends:

Whether or not you consider cannabis a performance-enhancing substance, it’s still a no-no for Olympic athletes. Being caught can mean suspension or even the loss of a medal. Just ask Canada’s Ross Rebagliati, who in 1998 was stripped of the first-ever Olympic gold for snowboarding after his urine tested positive for THC.

Rebagliati eventually got his medal back after pointing out that cannabis at the time wasn’t actually classified as a banned substance. But every year since, cannabinoids have appeared on the official “Prohibited List” put out annually by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). Sorry, brah.

That’s not to say WADA is especially strict when it comes to cannabis. In fact, the agency’s limits are probably more lenient than your employer’s.

In 2016, we called the Olympic limits on cannabinoids “shockingly reasonable”—and they’ve only gotten more sensible since. Athletes’ urine must contain less than 150 nanograms per milliliter of carboxy-THC, a cannabis metabolite.

By comparison, workplace drug tests commonly used by private employers in the United States set thresholds between about 15 ng/mL and 100 ng/mL. (Rebagliati, the snowboarder, returned a result of 17.8 ng/mL.) Legal-cannabis states often have per se limits for cannabis DUIs, but those are generally based on concentrations of active THC in whole blood rather than WADA’s test for metabolites in urine, making the limits difficult to compare directly.

WADA’s THC limit used to be just 15 ng/mL, but the agency quietly raised it in 2013. The head of the International Olympic Committee’s medical commission said at the time that the change was “a reasonable attempt at dealing with a complicated matter,” adding: “There is a big debate on it.”

How does the limit translate in terms of actual cannabis consumption? That’s hard to say for certain. How long cannabis remains in a person’s system depends consumption habits, genetics, as well as lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise. Athletes, who are generally leaner and more active than average, would likely be able to pass a test sooner than those of us watching from the couch at home....

At the end of the day, Olympic athletes are allowed a fair amount of leeway when it comes to cannabis test results, but they still operate in a world with scant protection for medical use. As more countries move to legalize, perhaps that will change.

February 14, 2018 in International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Sports | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

"How will cannabis legalization affect alcohol consumption?"

UntitledThe question in the title of this post is the headline of this notable new commentary authored by Beau Kilmer and Rosanna Smart.  Like many thoughtful commentaries in this arena, the authored highlight that a seemingly simple question does not have a simple answer.  Here are excerpts:

How will legalization affect alcohol consumption?  Will drinking go down because people substitute cannabis for alcohol, or will drinking go up because cannabis and alcohol complement each other?  These questions have important implications for the health consequences of legalization, and for tax revenues.  Unfortunately, we don’t have the answers, yet.

A 2015 RAND Corporation study about cannabis legalization for the state of Vermont concluded that the evidence was mixed about whether cannabis and alcohol were substitutes or complemented each other.  A 2016 University of Washington literature review about changing cannabis polices and alcohol use concluded the relationship was complex.

Much research has relied on evidence of how laws that increase access to medical cannabis affect alcohol use.  The findings are mixed, possibly because the studies examine different age groups, measures of alcohol consumption and time periods.  The alcohol-cannabis relationship may differ across population subgroups — teens may treat these substances differently than adults. Also, some studies consider only effects on whether people drink, but not effects on how often or how much they drink.

Different studies also examine different time periods, and the laws have been changing over time.  Early state laws (such as the medical cannabis legislation California passed in 1996) tend to allow broader qualifying patient conditions, legal home cultivation and less oversight of dispensaries.  Differences in policies may lead to different effects on cannabis use, and possibly alcohol use. And the laws’ impact may evolve over time as the market expands or as federal enforcement shifts.

A recent working paper out of the University of Connecticut and Georgia State University has received a fair bit of attention as the latest in this series of attempts to shed light on the issue of whether alcohol and cannabis are substitutes or complements based on evidence from medical cannabis laws.  The authors examined changes in alcohol sales at grocery and convenience stores and other outlets.  They found that cannabis and alcohol are strong substitutes, with medical cannabis implementation being associated with a 15 percent reduction in monthly alcohol sales.

That is a surprisingly large effect, equivalent to what we would predict if the price of alcohol increased on the order of 30 percent.  The effect seems especially large considering that during the study period of 2006 to 2015, the newer state medical cannabis programs that drive the main result were more restrictive and had low participation rates, typically involving less than 1 percent of the population.  Of course, these medical laws could have effects that reach beyond the registered patient population if they made it easier and cheaper for non-patients to access cannabis, or if the laws caused the public to change its attitudes about cannabis and alcohol use more broadly.  Much more needs to be learned about what’s driving the results in this working paper.

Even if a consensus developed about the effect of medical cannabis laws on alcohol use, it would be unwise to simply assume that the same relationship applies to legalizing cannabis sales and advertising for recreational purposes....

These questions about legalization and alcohol consumption will not be resolved anytime soon.  In the meantime, California’s policymakers are making decisions about whether to license stores and lounges, and if so, where and how many.  They would be wise to build flexibility into their regulatory systems and not lock into decisions they may regret as they gain more information.

February 13, 2018 in History of Alcohol Prohibition and Temperance Movements, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (2)

Could a high-profile lawsuit help end federal marijuana prohibition?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this New York Times article headlined "Lawsuit Takes Aim at Trump Administration Marijuana Policy." As detailed below, this lawsuit was covered on this blog when first filed, and this press article is prompted by an upcoming hearing.  Here is part of the report (followed by a bit of commentary at the end):

On Wednesday, yet another courtroom battle promises to pull the White House into the legal spotlight as crucial arguments are heard in New York in a sweeping lawsuit that is challenging the administration’s marijuana policy by seeking to legalize pot under federal law.

When the suit was filed in Federal District Court in Manhattan in July, it appeared to be an intriguing, if limited, effort to help its five named plaintiffs — among them, a former professional football player with a business selling pot-based pain relievers and a 12-year-old girl who treats her chronic epilepsy with medical marijuana.  But the case was thrust into national relevance last month when Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued an order encouraging prosecutors to aggressively enforce the federal marijuana law, endangering the viability of the multibillion-dollar weed industry in states where it is legal.

In its 98-page complaint, the suit presents its case for legalization not only through a host of constitutional arguments, but also by way of a world-historical tour of marijuana use — from its first purported role 10,000 years ago in the production of Taiwanese pottery to the smoking habits of President Barack Obama in his younger days. It points out that the ancient Egyptians used the drug to treat eye sores and hemorrhoids, and Thomas Jefferson puffed it for his migraines. James Madison credited “sweet hemp” for giving him “insight to create a new and democratic nation,” the suit notes.

The suit also includes archival material quoting John Ehrlichman, an adviser to President Richard Nixon, saying that the early efforts to criminalize pot were a way to disrupt the hippies and the black community after the 1960s. The contention is bolstered by an affidavit from Roger J. Stone, Jr., a pro-pot Nixon-era operative and adviser to Mr. Trump....

The current legal action is a somewhat rare attempt to use civil claims to legalize weed and has offered some novel arguments as to why its classification has violated the constitutional rights of those who filed the suit.

The former football player, Marvin Washington, for instance, is contending that the Controlled Substances Act has impeded his ability to transact business in states where pot is legal in contravention of the Constitution’s commerce clause.  The girl with epilepsy, Alexis Bortell, has argued that the law illegally restricts her right to travel with her medicine in states where pot is not allowed or to places controlled by the federal government — including on airplanes. A third plaintiff, the Cannabis Cultural Association, a nonprofit group created to assist minorities in the marijuana industry, has alleged the law has been used for years to discriminate against them.

“It’s the first time a young child who needs lifesaving medicine has stood up to the government to be able to use it,” said Joseph A. Bondy, one of the lawyers who brought the suit. “It’s the first time that a group of young millennials of color has stood up to the government and said the marijuana law is wrong and has destroyed their communities.”

The suit has made another claim based on what amounts to government hypocrisy: It asks why the government has classified pot as a pernicious substance, when in 2003 the Department of Health and Human Services obtained a patent on compounds in the drug to protect against brain damage and then in 2015 the surgeon general under President Obama declared in public that pot has medical benefits.

Against these claims, lawyers for the government have argued that Congress decided nearly 50 years ago that pot should be a Schedule 1 drug, and if the plaintiffs don’t agree, they should try to change the law.  Their suit, the lawyers wrote in one of their filings, “is the latest in a long list of cases asserting constitutional challenges to marijuana regulation under the C.S.A. Those challenges have been uniformly rejected by the federal courts.”

No matter how the lawsuit ends, the judge who is considering the case, Alvin K. Hellerstein, is clearly taking it seriously.  At a hearing in September, Judge Hellerstein said he would give the matter his “prioritized attention,” setting it ahead of all of his other cases.

The hearing on Wednesday, scheduled to entertain arguments to dismiss the case, is likely to be marked by a whiff of drama as marijuana activists from across the country are expected to descend on the courtroom.  Mr. Bondy said he is also trying to arrange a live-stream of the proceeding so that young Alexis, unable to travel to New York, can watch it from her home in Colorado.

I am pleased to see the New York Times giving significant attention to this litigation, but I find it troublesome how the headline of the article wrongly suggests that the lawsuit goes after the "Trump Administration Marijuana Policy" when in fact the suit is assailing Congress's failure to move marijuana off Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act.  (Notably, the lawsuit discussed here was filed when the Trump Administration policies on marijuana were unchanged from Obama Administration policies.)

Similarly, this article is off base when asserting that AG Jeff Sessions "issued an order encouraging prosecutors to aggressively enforce the federal marijuana law."  The AG did issue an order rescinding the Cole Memo last month, but that merely took away novel limits on federal prosecutors and did not come with any orders for "aggressive" enforcement of federal prohibition.  (If AG Sessions had ordered federal prosecutors to aggressively enforce federal marijuana law, there would be hundred of indictments being filed in dozens of state with operational recreational and medical marijuana marketplaces.)

The full complaint as originally filed in Washington, et.al v. Sessions, et.al, be found here.

Prior related posts:

February 13, 2018 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, February 12, 2018

"The April 20 Cannabis Celebration and Fatal Traffic Crashes in the United States"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new "Research Letter" authored by John Staples and Donald Redelmeier published in JAMA Internal Medicine. Here is how the publication starts and ends:

On April 20 each year, thousands of Americans celebrate the intoxicating properties of marijuana on a popular counterculture holiday known as “4/20.” Legal marijuana sales surge in anticipation of the “High Holiday,” and college students report increased cannabis consumption on 4/20 itself. In many cities, activists and enthusiasts gather at public celebrations that feature synchronized mass consumption of cannabis at 4:20 pm.

Driving simulation studies indicate that higher blood Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol concentrations decrease reaction times and increase variability in speed and lane position, while some epidemiologic studies suggest that acute cannabis intoxication increases crash risk. Despite this evidence, driving after cannabis consumption is surprisingly common. We hypothesized that the April 20 cannabis celebration might be associated with a population-level increase in the risk of fatal traffic crash involvement....

We examined a quarter-century of national data and found a 12% increase in the relative risk of a fatal traffic crash after 4:20 pm on April 20 compared with identical time intervals on control days. Although the vast majority of Americans do not celebrate 4/20, the observed association was comparable in magnitude to the increase in traffic risks observed on Superbowl Sunday. Policy makers may wish to consider these risks when liberalizing marijuana laws, paying particular attention to regulatory and enforcement strategies to curtail drugged driving.

February 12, 2018 in Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)