Thursday, September 27, 2018
Criminal conviction restrictions are justified as one way to ensure that the legal marijuana market will not be used to divert drugs out of state, to minors, or to fund criminal enterprises. But using past behavior as a predictor for future actions is an imperfect measure. It is impossible to determine how exactly these restrictions contribute to public safety since they are always coupled with other regulations. We do know, however, that there are other ways to facilitate a functioning legal market using regulations that are not subject to prediction error. Security requirements, marijuana tracking systems, and bookkeeping requirements deter criminal behavior without using an applicant’s past to make assumptions.
In addition to uncertainties that criminal conviction restrictions are the best way to ensure a functioning legal market, it is also important to consider the costs of these restrictions. Criminal conviction restrictions reduce entry into the legal marijuana industry. By excluding drug criminals, conviction restrictions may fundamentally undermine the goals of marijuana legalization by forcing some to stay in the black market. Having a safe legal market is useless if the black market is still the primary supplier of marijuana.
Given the hypocrisy of these criminal conviction regulations, it is not surprising that some states and localities have adopted policies to help those negatively impacted by previous drug policies enter the marijuana industry. Equity programs, however, will only help a chosen few priority applicants. Fundamentally opening up employment opportunities in the marijuana industry by reducing conviction restrictions has the potential to help many people who have been impacted by the drug war.
September 27, 2018 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)
Notable groups set forth notable set of principles for marijuana reform as New Jersey debates legalization
The on-going debate over potential marijuana reform in New Jersey is continuing to generate lots of interesting and thoughtful discussion concerning just how states ought to approach legalizing and regulating marijuana. In that vein, I was interested to see this recent press release from Americans for Prosperity – New Jersey titled "AFP-NJ Supports Principles for Safe and Responsible Marijuana Reform" in conjunction with this document titled "Seven Principles To Guide A Successful And Well-Regulated Marijuana Market." Here are parts of the press release:
Americans for Prosperity – New Jersey (AFP-NJ) ... announced that it has co-signed a set of principles with the Reason Foundation’s Drug Policy Project regarding the state’s effort to legalize marijuana. If passed, S- 2703, the New Jersey Marijuana Legalization Act would legalize possession and personal use of marijuana for New Jerseyans over the age of 21 and would create the Division of Marijuana Enforcement and licensing structure.
Erica Jedynak, State Director of Americans for Prosperity – New Jersey issued the following statement in support of components of S- 2703:
“For too long, New Jerseyans have had their lives upended due to non-violent offenses like the recreational use of marijuana. In partnership with the Reason Foundation’s Drug Policy Project, we encourage lawmakers to follow the policy principles outlined for a successful and well-regulated marijuana market. These principles will help our state exercise its constitutional right to create a safely regulated marijuana market that spares generations of New Jerseyans from getting trapped in an endless and senseless cycle of incarceration. While S-2703 is not perfect in its current form, it makes good strides toward reshaping our criminal justice system and bringing it into the 21st century. Eventually, AFP-NJ hopes that a fully-realized effort to legalize recreational marijuana enhances public safety, provides second chances, and is free of cronyism and overregulation.”
Dr. Adrian Moore of Reason issued the following statement in support of components of S- 2703:
“As states move to legalize medical and adult use marijuana, it is vital that sensibly regulated free and competitive legal markets emerge to entirely replace black markets and all their ills. We are focused on helping to learn and adopt best practices and informed understanding of how markets work to the legislative and regulatory process of legalizing marijuana.”
The articulation of "Seven Principles To Guide A Successful And Well-Regulated Marijuana Market" makes for an interesting short read, and here are the listed "principles" without the accompanying paragraph of explanation:
1. Recognize There Is A Limit To The Tax Burden The Industry Can Bear.
2. Do Not Place Unnecessary Limits On The Number Of Licenses.
3. Award Licenses Based On Competency And Business Acumen.
4. Allow Business Owners To Operate Within A Scale And Structure They Can Manage.
5. Establish Parameters For Local Governments.
6. Regulations Based On Evidence And Allowing Alternative Approaches.
7. Do Not Penalize People For Acts That Are No Longer Crimes.
September 27, 2018 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)
Wednesday, September 26, 2018
The title of this post is the title of this interesting new FiveThirtyEight piece by Christie Aschwanden. Here is how it gets started:
As marijuana is legalized in more and more states, the wellness world has whipped itself into a frenzy over a non-intoxicating cannabis derivative called cannabidiol. CBD products can be found on the internet and in health-food stores, wellness catalogs and even bookstores. (A bookstore in downtown Boulder, Colorado, displays a case of CBD products between the cash register and the stacks of new releases.) Celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow, disgraced cyclist Floyd Landis and former Denver Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer are all touting CBD products, and according to Bon Appétit, CBD-infused lattes have become “the wellness world’s new favorite drink.”
But, uh, what is it that CBD is supposed to do? I visited a cannabis dispensary in Boulder to find out what the hype was all about. After passing an ID check, I was introduced to a “budtender” who pointed me to an impressive array of CBD products — tinctures, skin patches, drink powders, candies, salves, massage oil, lotions, “sexy time personal intimacy oil” and even vaginal suppositories to treat menstrual cramps.
Most of these products promised to relieve pain or otherwise enhance well-being, and none of it was cheap. (Prices started at about $30.) But I wanted to know: Does any of this stuff really work? After a deep dive into the scientific research, I learned that the answer was a big fat maybe.Although there’s enticing evidence that good ol’ cannabis can ease chronic pain and possibly treat some medical conditions, whether CBD alone can deliver the same benefits remains an open question. What is clear, at this point, is that the marketing has gotten way ahead of the science.
Monday, September 24, 2018
Over at Forbes, Tom Angell has already mined the latest new FBI crime data to focus on marijuana arrests via this piece headlined "Marijuana Arrests Are Increasing Despite Legalization, New FBI Data Shows." Here are excerpts:
Marijuana arrests are rising in the U.S., even as more states legalize cannabis. There is now an average of one marijuana bust roughly every 48 seconds, according to a new FBI report released on Monday.
The increase in marijuana arrests — 659,700 in 2017, compared to 653,249 in 2016 — is driven by enforcement against people merely possessing the drug as opposed to selling or growing it, the data shows.
Last year, there were 599,282 marijuana possession arrests in the country, up from 587,516 in 2016. Meanwhile, busts for cannabis sales and manufacturing dropped, from 65,734 in 2016 to 60,418 in 2017.
The increase in cannabis possession arrests comes despite the fact that four additional states legalized marijuana on Election Day 2016. While among those states, legal recreational sales were only in effect in Nevada by the end of 2017, the prohibition on possession for adults was lifted soon after the successful votes there as well as in California, Maine and Massachusetts....
Overall, marijuana arrests made up 40.4% of the nation's 1,632,921 drug arrests in 2017. Drug arrests as a whole also increased last year, up from 1,572,579 in 2016. There is now a drug bust every 19 seconds in the U.S.
As with all data, there are lots of stories and possible spins within. Though overall marijuana arrests went up, this was because possession arrests went up (only) 2% while arrests for more serious marijuana offenses went down 8%. Given the reality that a lot more people had access to "legal" marijuana but were still not allowed to use it in public spaces and a lot more people were involved in marijuana manufacturing and sales under state laws, these national data probably can and should be seen as evidence that marijuana reform is "working" to some extent to reduce the criminal justice footprint of marijuana prohibition.
Sunday, September 23, 2018
The title of this post is the title of this new paper now available via SSRN authored by Brett Hollenbeck and Kosuke Uetake. Here is its abstract:
In 2012 the state of Washington created a legal framework for production and retail sales of marijuana. Eight other states have subsequently followed. These states hope to generate tax revenue for their state budgets while limiting harms associated with marijuana consumption. We use a unique dataset containing all transactions in the history of the industry in Washington to evaluate the effectiveness of different tax and regulatory policies under consideration by policymakers and study the role of imperfect competition in determining these results.
We document that overall demand is relatively inelastic, that restrictions on entry result in retailers with significant market power, and that cost shocks are more than fully passed through from retailers to consumers. We combine these empirical estimates to calculate the relationship between revenue and the tax rate, the dead-weight loss of taxation and the share of the tax burden that falls on consumers and producers, each of which are significantly effect by imperfect competition.
We find that despite having the nation's highest tax rate, Washington still has significant scope to increase revenues by raising the tax rate on retail marijuana sales. That is, they are still on the upward sloping portion of the laffer curve. The amount of revenue generated by a given tax increase is also significantly larger due to retailer market power than it would be under perfect competition. We also find significant social costs of taxation, roughly 2 dollars are lost to consumers and producers for every dollar of tax revenue generated.
Tuesday, September 18, 2018
Top court in South Africa rules that privacy rights protects adult use of marijuana in private places
As reported in this BBC article, "South Africa's highest court has legalised the use of cannabis by adults in private places." Here is more about a major ruling for marijuana reform:
In a unanimous ruling, judges also legalised the growing of marijuana for private consumption.
South Africa's government had opposed its legalisation, arguing the drug was "harmful" to people's health. It has not yet commented on the ruling, which is binding.
Three cannabis users who had faced prosecution for using the drug brought the case, saying the ban "intrudes unjustifiably into their private spheres".
In his judgement, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo said: "It will not be a criminal offence for an adult person to use or be in possession of cannabis in private for his or her personal consumption." It will, however, remain illegal to use cannabis in public, and to sell and supply it....
This judgement is a reminder that South Africa's hard-won constitution is among the most liberal in the world, backing individual rights, and in this case the right to grow and smoke your own marijuana in private, against the government's concerns about public health and public order.
The Constitutional Court's ruling focuses on the issue of privacy, and a person's right to do as they please in their own home. The potential implications of the binding judgment are enormous, and unpredictable - particularly in terms of the criminal justice system, which routinely locks up thousands of overwhelmingly poor South Africans for using or dealing in small amounts of cannabis.
It is possible that the ruling, by allowing users to grow their own marijuana at home, could undermine the stranglehold of powerful drug gangs that blight so many communities. But the police, who argued against this change, will worry that the ruling will create more ambiguity and send the wrong signal to criminals.
The court has not approved - in any form - the trade in marijuana, meaning the government will not be able to profit from taxing a legalised industry.
In political terms, the landmark ruling emphasises the primacy of South Africa's constitution, which brushed aside the united opposition of numerous government ministries at a time when the authority and credibility of many of this young democracy's other institutions have been eroded by corruption and poor governance.
The court gave parliament 24 months to change the law to reflect its ruling. Adults who used marijuana in private would be protected by the ruling until the law was amended.
The court did not specify the quantity of cannabis a person can grow or use in private. Parliament would have to decide on this, it said.
The full opinion in this case, Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development v Gareth Prince, is available at this link, and here is a key paragraph from its introduction:
It is declared that, with effect from the date of the handing down of this judgment, the provisions of section 5(b) of the Drugs and Drug Trafficking Act 140 of 1992 read with Part III of Schedule 2 of that Act and with the definition of the phrase “deal in” in section 1 of the Drugs and Drug Trafficking Act 140 of 1992 are inconsistent with the right to privacy entrenched in section 14 of the Constitution and, are, therefore, constitutionally invalid to the extent that they prohibit the cultivation of cannabis by an adult in a private place for his or her personal consumption in private
Come see great panel on "Marijuana Policy in America" at "Laboratories of Democracy: Drug Policy In The United States"
The second part of the title of this post is the title of this exciting event taking place in Washington DC next week that I have had the honor of helping to plan. The event will include a panel discussion on the opioid crisis and a panel discussion on marijuana reform, and here is the event's full description:
Drug use and substance abuse are circumstances that no longer impact only a small percentage of our population. In 2016, over 20 million Americans dealt with a substance use disorder, and the CDC estimates that more than 10 percent of the American population use some form of illegal drug each month. The Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that 58 percent of those in state prisons and 63 percent of those sentenced to state jails meet the medical criteria for drug dependence or abuse.
The Ohio State University’s newly established Drug Enforcement and Policy Center (DEPC), with support from the Charles Koch Foundation, will host Laboratories of Democracy: Drug Policy in the United States. This important event will bring together leading academics, members of law enforcement, policymakers, think tank scholars, community advocates, media figures, and other influencers from different spheres and perspectives to discuss the diverse and challenging policy questions that have emerged in the drug policy area.
The event will be held at The Willard InterContinental in Washington, DC on September 25, 2018 from 9:00 am until 3:00 pm. The experts speaking at this event have used their knowledge to propose positive drug policy solutions to tackle the difficult problems faced by our country, and the program will engage attendees in an action-oriented discussion on how our country can move forward with positive solutions to addiction and substance abuse.
Monday, September 17, 2018
Attorney General Jeff Sessions today delivered these remarks at a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration event titled "Ideas to Impact: A Dialogue to Address Drug-Impaired Driving." Here are excerpts:
It is especially important that we get the word out about this because currently there is a great deal of misinformation and misunderstanding out there. Some even seem to suggest that marijuana and other drugs do not pose accident risks.
In recent years, a number of states have repealed their prohibitions on marijuana use. As a result, too many people think that marijuana is legal and that it is even legal to drive under the influence of marijuana.
That’s wrong. Federal law has not changed and drugged driving laws have not changed. Drugged driving is illegal on every inch of American soil. People need to understand that.
There is another common myth out there, as well: that marijuana doesn’t impair driving. That’s also wrong. Marijuana use slows reaction time and inhibits motor coordination and decision-making abilities. That makes driving much more dangerous.
The bottom line is this: if you’re driving under the influence of drugs, including marijuana, then you’re risking your life — and the life of everyone else on the road.
One European study found that drivers high on marijuana were twice as likely to be responsible for a fatal crash as a sober driver.
Here in this country, the Governors Highway Safety Association put out a report back in May that says that — of those who are tested for drugs or alcohol — more drivers killed in car accidents last year tested positive for drugs than for alcohol. And by far the most common drug was marijuana, not opioids. Nearly a quarter of all drivers killed in car accidents who were tested had marijuana in their system — twice as many as tested positive for opioids.
In recent years, it has been getting worse. According to last year’s version of the report, the number of drivers killed in car accidents who tested positive for marijuana increased by nearly one-fifth from 2006 to 2016.
According to the Denver Post, the number of drivers killed in car accidents in Colorado who tested positive for marijuana doubled from 2013 to 2016. And so, in addition to the hundreds of thousands of Americans who have died of drug overdoses in recent years, another several thousand have died because of drug-impaired driving — either their own or that of someone else.
Friday, September 14, 2018
Marijuana, mandatory minimums and jury nullification, oh my: split Ninth Circuit affirms panel federal convictions, though remands to address DOJ spending rider
A big, long and split decision by a panel of the Ninth Circuit yesterday in US v. Lynch, No. 10-50219 (9th Cir, Sept. 13, 2018) (available here), prompted the weak "Wizard of Oz" reference in the title of this post. There is so much of interest in Lynch for sentencing fans and others, I cannot cover it all in this post. The majority's introduction provides a sense of the case's coverage:
Charles Lynch ran a marijuana dispensary in Morro Bay, California, in violation of federal law. He was convicted of conspiracy to manufacture, possess, and distribute marijuana, as well as other charges related to his ownership of the dispensary. In this appeal, Lynch contends that the district court made various errors regarding Lynch’s defense of entrapment by estoppel, improperly warned jurors against nullification, and allowed the prosecutors to introduce various evidence tying Lynch to the dispensary’s activities, while excluding allegedly exculpatory evidence offered by Lynch. However, Lynch suffered no wrongful impairment of his entrapment by estoppel defense, the anti-nullification warning was not coercive, and the district court’s evidentiary rulings were correct in light of the purposes for which the evidence was tendered. A remand for resentencing is required, though, on the government’s cross-appeal of the district court’s refusal to apply a five-year mandatory minimum sentence, which unavoidably applies to Lynch.
Following the filing of this appeal and after the submission of the government’s brief, the United States Congress enacted an appropriations provision, which this court has interpreted to prohibit the federal prosecution of persons for activities compliant with state medical marijuana laws. Lynch contends that this provision therefore prohibits the United States from continuing to defend Lynch’s conviction. We need not reach the question of whether the provision operates to annul a properly obtained conviction, however, because a genuine dispute exists as to whether Lynch’s activities were actually legal under California state law. Remand will permit the district court to make findings regarding whether Lynch complied with state law.
Judge Watford dissented from the panel majority in Lynch, and his dissent starts this way:
I would reverse and remand for a new trial. In my view, the district court went too far in trying to dissuade the jury from engaging in nullification. The court’s actions violated Charles Lynch’s constitutional right to trial by jury, and the government can’t show that this error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.
By its very nature, a case of this sort touches a sensitive nerve from a federalism standpoint. At the time of Lynch’s trial in 2008, the citizens of California had legalized the sale and use of marijuana for medicinal purposes; the federal government nonetheless sought to prosecute a California citizen for conduct that arguably was authorized under state law. Because federal law takes precedence under the Supremacy Clause, the government could certainly bring such a prosecution, notwithstanding the resulting intrusion upon state sovereignty interests. See Gonzales v. Raich, 545 U.S. 1, 29 (2005). But the Framers of the Constitution included two provisions that act as a check on the national government’s exercise of power in this realm: one stating that “[t]he Trial of all Crimes, except in Cases of Impeachment, shall be by Jury”; the other requiring that “such Trial shall be held in the State where the said Crimes shall have been committed.” U.S. Const., Art. III, § 2, cl. 3. The Sixth Amendment further mandates that in all criminal prosecutions the accused shall enjoy the right to trial “by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed.” Thus, to send Lynch to prison, the government had to persuade a jury composed of his fellow Californians to convict.
One of the fundamental attributes of trial by jury in our legal system is the power of the jury to engage in nullification — to return a verdict of not guilty “in the teeth of both law and facts.” Horning v. District of Columbia, 254 U.S. 135, 138 (1920). The jury’s power to nullify has ancient roots, dating back to pre-colonial England. See Thomas Andrew Green, Verdict According to Conscience: Perspectives on the English Criminal Trial Jury, 1200–1800, at 236–49 (1985) (discussing Bushell’s Case, 124 Eng. Rep. 1006 (C.P. 1670)). It became a well-established fixture of jury trials in colonial America, perhaps most famously in the case of John Peter Zenger, a publisher in New York acquitted of charges of seditious libel. See Albert W. Alschuler & Andrew G. Deiss, A Brief History of the Criminal Jury in the United States, 61 U. Chi. L. Rev. 867, 871–74 (1994). From ratification of the Constitution to the present, the right to trial by jury has been regarded as “essential for preventing miscarriages of justice,” Duncan v. Louisiana, 391 U.S. 145, 158 (1968), in part because the jury’s power to nullify allows it to act as “the conscience of the community,” Jeffrey Abramson, We, the Jury: The Jury System and the Ideal of Democracy 87 (1994).
Cross-posted at Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform.
Wednesday, September 12, 2018
The latest issue of the International Review of Psychiatry has a collection of interesting looking articles with titles like "Marijuana matters: reviewing the impact of marijuana on cognition, brain structure and function, & exploring policy implications and barriers to research" and "Sweet flowers are slow, and weeds make haste: leveraging methodology from research on tobacco, alcohol, and opioid analgesics to make rapid and policy-relevant advances in cannabis science." There are too many interesting looking pieces to cite them all here, but I can quote the start of the editorial introduction:
The allowance of cannabis to be used as a medicine in the absence of adequate data to inform basic clinical decision-making is rooted in compassion for individuals with life-threatening illness, or substantially debilitating illness, and no other course for treatment. However, this relatively simple tenet has now morphed into a large-scale for-profit industry that is fraught with public health concerns. Access to cannabis has been expanded to include treatment for a multitude of health conditions, many of which are neither life-threatening nor debilitating, and for which effective alternative treatments exist. Data from which to determine the risk-benefit for an individual considering the use of cannabis is sparse at best. Quality control issues abound in this industry as there are no established standards for cultivating, processing, testing, or labeling cannabis products. There is also concern over advertisements and product labeling that include misleading or unsubstantiated health claims, as these products have not been vetted by traditional drug development methods. The speed in which cannabis policies are changing is rapid, and the fact that these are happening as a direct result of legislation or by voter referendum is reckless given the absence of consensus standards and, in many cases, appropriate regulatory oversight. The impact of revised cannabis laws, both with respect to medicinal use for a variety of health conditions, and for non-medicinal (aka ‘recreational’) use of cannabis by adults, will likely have a substantial impact on psychiatry.
This special issue of the International Review of Psychiatry is focused on cannabis science, but with a very targeted theme of cannabis regulatory science. Recently in the US, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was granted regulatory authority over all nicotine and tobacco products. This was a landmark event, and has engendered a bolus of thoughtful, policy-oriented research that has already resulted in tobacco regulations which are likely to positively impact public health in the US and abroad. Studies have included careful scientific evaluation of the impact of nicotine on cigarette reinforcement and self-administration, packaging and flavoring on youth initiation, the harm reduction effects associated with nicotine delivery devices other than cigarettes, and other important topics. The parallel need for a cannabis regulatory science is urgent. Novel products and cannabis delivery devices are rolling onto the shelves of dispensaries at a rapid rate, product development appears to be geared towards high potency/high dose products, and it is all being carefully marketed to increase consumption. Contributions in this issue highlight lessons learned from tobacco, alcohol, and opioid regulatory science that are relevant to cannabis, detail important factors surrounding tobacco and cannabis co-use, and detail the potential impacts of regulatory changes on cannabis use in the workplace.
September 12, 2018 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)
Tuesday, September 11, 2018
The title of this post is the title of this new Vice News piece telling yet another tale at the intersection of state marijuana reforms and federal prohibitions. Here are excerpts:
Cancer patients and other people with debilitating conditions are being forced to choose between medical marijuana and federal public housing assistance. Even though some of the most conservative states are passing laws legalizing medical weed, marijuana is still a Schedule I controlled substance on a federal level, along with heroin and ecstasy, which can make users ineligible for programs like rental assistance or public housing....
“From a civil rights perspective, you’re denying a whole class of people housing that have already been denied other aspects of living their life to the fullest potential because of the federal prohibition on cannabis,” said David Mangone, director of governmental affairs and counsel for the advocacy group Americans for Safe Access. “No one should have to choose between staying off opioids and a roof over their head”
The majority of states now allow some form of medicinal marijuana. Americans overwhelmingly favor legalizing the drug for medical use. And in New York State — which hosts North America’s largest public housing population — medical marijuana is permitted to treat debilitating conditions such as cancer, chronic pain and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS).
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development released a memorandum in 2011 saying new admission applications revealing legal marijuana use would be denied, no matter the circumstance. However, the memorandum gave local landlords and public housing authorities the right to determine whether they should evict existing residents for medical marijuana use.
It’s not clear how many public housing authorities have sided with tenants on the local level, nor how many applicants have been rejected due to federal marijuana laws. But as more states normalize marijuana locally, it can make users ineligible for federal programs, like housing assistance.
When the 2011 memorandum was issued, 14 states had legalized medical marijuana. Now, 31 states and the District of Columbia have legalized cannabis for medicinal purposes, and the drug is becoming a viable alternative for patients that don’t want to use opioid drugs, many of whom are elderly or disabled. “There’s a much larger population now that’s affected by this guidance,” Mangone said....
A spokesman for HUD noted that their policies haven’t changed since the 2011 memorandum; they’re unable to reconsider their policy until federal laws regarding marijuana change. As long as marijuana remains a controlled substance, the rules “still apply, even where state law allows for its use,” Brian Sullivan, HUD spokesman, said in an email.
In June, Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, a non-voting Democrat representing the District of Columbia, introduced legislation that would allow residents in federally subsidized housing to use legal medical or recreational marijuana in their homes. “Individuals who live in states where medical and/or recreational marijuana is legal, but live in federally-assisted housing, should have the same access to treatment as their neighbors,” Norton said at the time.
Monday, September 10, 2018
The title of this post is the the of this new paper recently posted to SSRN and authored by Matt Lamkin. Here is its abstract:
From the opioid epidemic and medical marijuana to abortion restrictions and physician-assisted suicide, disputes over the proper uses of medicine loom large in American life. Nowhere is this conflict more apparent than in federal drug control policy, which is premised on a clear distinction between legitimate “medical” uses and illicit “abuse.” Yet the Controlled Substances Act defines neither of these foundational concepts . While it is tempting to imagine medicine’s scope is limited to treating or preventing disease – rendering nontherapeutic drug use “abuse” – in fact medical practice has always included interventions that are not aimed at healing. This trend has only accelerated as medical practice has become increasingly consumer-oriented. From Adderall to Xanax, patients now routinely seek prescriptions not to treat diagnosable illnesses, but to relieve stress, improve productivity, and otherwise enhance quality of life.
As physicians increasingly prescribe psychoactive drugs to help healthy people obtain desirable mental states, distinguishing legitimate drug use from recreational abuse becomes ever more difficult. Having failed to acknowledge this challenge, the DEA, courts, and scholars have not offered a principled way to make this distinction, rendering drug control policy increasingly incoherent. As a result, doctors face criminal prosecution without clear standards governing prescribing, potentially valuable interventions are arbitrarily barred from the market, and millions seek the benefits of drugs without professional medical guidance to mitigate their risks.
Rather than being limited to therapeutic aims, medicine is better understood as the application of a loosely-defined set of knowledge and interventions that the law entrusts to specific professionals, with accompanying duties to use these tools to benefit patients. Medical practice includes treating and preventing illnesses, but can also include enhancing social and cognitive functioning and promoting the well-being of people whose challenges do not rise to the level of disorders. Discarding a narrow conception of medicine does not require abandoning the enforcement of drug laws or the policing of doctors. But acknowledging the expansiveness of medicine’s domain does argue for clarifying the scope of physicians’ criminal liability and pursuing new strategies for harnessing drugs’ benefits while mitigating their risks.
The current (September 2018) issue of JAMA Internal Medicine has three very short pieces (a comment and two replies) discussing and debating research concerning the connection between marijuana reforms and opioid overdose deaths:
Opioid Death Rate Acceleration in Jurisdictions Legalizing Marijuana Use by Archie Bleyer, MD; Brian Barnes, CSWA, MAC, CADC III
The first of these pieces asserts that the "opioid crisis appears to be worsening where marijuana has been legalized, despite fewer opioid prescriptions, and as such, constitutes evidence for the gateway hypothesis and against the marijuana protection hypothesis." The other two pieces sharply take issue with the claims for the first one.
Friday, September 7, 2018
Elon Musk often generates a lot of media attention, especially from news outlets like CNBC. But this CNBC article, headlined "Elon Musk smokes weed, sips whiskey on Joe Rogan's podcast," reports on the reasons he is making a lot of news today:
Billionaire Elon Musk took viewers by surprise late Thursday when he smoked marijuana and drank whiskey during a live interview. The Tesla chief executive was speaking with comedian Joe Rogan, an advocate of legalizing weed, on his live internet show when he was handed the joint....
"Is that a joint? Or is it a cigar?" Musk asked Rogan before being told it was a cigarette containing marijuana, which is legal in California, and tobacco. Asked whether he had tried it before, the entrepreneur said: "Yeah, I think I tried one once."
"You probably can't because of stockholders," Rogan said, to which Musk retorted: "I mean it's legal, right?"....
Musk insisted he was not on weed at the time during an extensive interview with The New York Times. The executive shocked investors when he said he was considering taking the firm off the stock market at $420-a-share — 420 being a popular code term for cannabis.
"It seemed like better karma at $420 than at $419," he told the Times. "But I was not on weed, to be clear. Weed is not helpful for productivity. There's a reason for the word 'stoned.' You just sit there like a stone on weed."
Traders are concerned the company may still need a capital injection to help with its cash burn problems. Tesla shares were down 1.2 percent Friday in premarket trade.
These subsequent CNBC stories suggest that Musk will continue to garner attention for his marijuana use (but not his whisky drinking):
Chris Talyor at is already troubled by where this is going, as evidence by this new Mashable piece headlined "OK, everybody: Stop pot-shaming Elon Musk"
I could not resist spotlighting this new local article about the slow roll-out of Ohio's medical marijuana program due to its use of a great quote in its headline, "'Cannabis regulated like plutonium': Security measures causing delays in marijuana launch date." Here is some context for the quote:
Ohio's Medical Marijuana program was originally supposed to launch on Sept. 8. For months, it's been clear that delays with licensing and construction for the new facilities meant patients wouldn't be able to get medical products produced in Ohio until months after the initial start date, potentially as late as early 2019.
For an industry that's planning to be the business of the future, required security measures sound like they're from an old-fashioned action movie. Some of the basic procedures medical marijuana companies will have to follow include "unmarked cars, travel point A to point B, randomized routes, manifests before and after delivery," explained Frantz Ward LLP Attorney Tom Haren....
"I think that cannabis is basically regulated like plutonium," said Cleveland School of Cannabis Dean of Instruction and Student Success Jacob Wagner. He says plants are tracked "from seed to sale," making sure nothing gets diverted to the black market. When his school's students graduate and become medical marijuana industry employees, they'll wear state-required badges, and their facilities will be watched around the clock through redundant security systems, accessible to regulators in Columbus.
"It's designed to also make sure that every product is tested, every product is properly packaged and properly labeled before it reaches the end consumer, the patient," said Wagner.
"The worst thing for the program would be some type of criminal activity of some kind of adulterated product making its way into the market and into the hands of the patient," said Haren.
Sunday, September 2, 2018
Though regular readers might be a bit tired of my eagerness to reference my recent extended article, "Leveraging Marijuana Reform to Enhance Expungement Practices," I am not at all tired of the idea that marijuana reform should always focus on criminal justice concerns and that new revenues emerging from the new marijuana industry out to be committed to criminal justice needed. So I was very pleased to have had the opportunity to develop this Issue Brief through the Scholars Strategy Network to stress key parts of my longer work under the headlined "How States Can Ensure That Today's Marijuana Reforms Also Ameliorate Harms Inflicted On Past Offenders." Here is an excerpt from this short commentary:
A new criminal justice institution could be funded by the taxes, fees, and other revenues generated by marijuana reforms and assigned the mission of developing policies and practices to minimize the economic and social burdens that persist for those previously convicted of marijuana offenses.
Ex-offenders are often saddled with collateral sanctions at the local, state, and federal levels and have to deal with the widespread availability of their criminal records. These challenges justify the establishment of a permanent restorative institution in every jurisdiction, funded by fractions of the new resources generated by the legal marijuana industry and associated taxes.
A new Commission on Justice Restoration could be a public agency mandated to address the cumulative undue harms of prior convictions. The Commission could provide a much-needed clearinghouse and site for analyzing hard-to-collect data about the collateral consequences of convictions, and provide a centralized and impartial forum for statewide policymaking to redress these collateral consequences, to conduct and disseminate research on the fiscal and social costs of these collateral consequences, and to advocate for steps that can be taken to reduce long- term harms.