Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Sunday, November 21, 2021

"New GOP weed approach: Feds must ‘get out of the way’" ... which is an important historic drug policy theme

9780197582183The first part of the title of this post is the headline of this notable new Politico piece, and the second part draws on this recent short book review that I recently authored for The Federalist Society blog.  I was reviewing Judge Jeffrey Sutton’s majestic Who Decides, in which the judge richly develops and documents why “some matters should not be nationalized” while urging a “renewed appreciation for the virtues of localism.”  In my (too brief) review, I stressed the importance of these localism themes for drug policy throughout US history, and I highlighted this fascinating 1921 Atlantic piece by journalist Louis Graves discussing how alcohol prohibition most effectively gained adherents from a “gradual building up of dry sentiment" at the local level until “Federal interference ... dealt a blow to the cause of real prohibition.”

With Judge Sutton's book and my own affinity for ever-evolving political realities, the long Politico piece by Natalie Fertig and Mona Zhang provides an effective accounting of some structural issues in play in the modern marijuana reform discourse.  I recommend the article in full, and here are excerpts:

Republicans are warming to weed. Nearly half of Republican voters support federally decriminalizing cannabis, and GOP lawmakers are now beginning to reflect their constituents’ view by increasingly supporting broad legalization at the state and federal level.

“We need the federal government just to get out of the way,” said Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.), who introduced the first Republican bill in Congress to decriminalize marijuana this past week and pointed to more than 70 percent of Americans supporting the idea.

Stronger Republican involvement could hasten a snowball effect on Capitol Hill, where Democrats lead the charge on decriminalization but lack results. It could also chip away at Democrats’ ability to use cannabis legalization to excite progressives and younger voters as the midterms approach.

“When the culture becomes more accepting of something, even the most resistant groups get tugged along,” said Dan Judy, vice president of North Star Opinion Research, which focuses on Republican politics. “I don't want to directly conflate marijuana legalization with something like gay marriage, but I think there's a similar dynamic at play.”

Earlier this year, North Dakota’s GOP-dominated House passed a marijuana legalization bill introduced by two Republican lawmakers — the first adult-use legalization bill to pass in a Republican-dominated chamber. And Mace's bill marks the first time a Republican has proposed federal legislation to decriminalize cannabis, expunge certain cannabis convictions and tax and regulate the industry.

As Republicans wade into the weed group chat, they are bringing their principles, constituents and special interest groups. When Mace introduced her bill on a freezing day on the House triangle, she was surrounded at the podium not by Drug Policy Alliance and the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, but by veterans groups, medical marijuana parents, cannabis industry lobbyists and Koch-backed Americans For Prosperity.

Many GOP proposals include lower taxes and a less regulatory approach than Democratic-led bills, while often maintaining elements popular among most voters, like the expungement of nonviolent cannabis convictions. “I tried to be very thoughtful about what I put in the bill that would appeal to Democrats and Republicans,” Mace said in an interview on Monday. “Which is why criminal justice reform is part of it. It's why the excise tax is low.”

The motivations bringing Republicans to the table are also changing. Former Capitol Hill cannabis advocates like Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) advocated primarily for their state legalization programs, but Mace comes from South Carolina — a state with no medical or recreational cannabis program. She joins other GOP lawmakers who are pushing for federal policy to move beyond their own states — they include Reps. Matt Gaetz and Brian Mast of Florida, where only medical marijuana is legal, and libertarian-leaning Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, which does not yet have a medical program....

Six in 10 younger GOP voters — what Pew described as the “Ambivalent Right” in a recent report — believe marijuana should be legal for medical and recreational use, but older, educated Republicans and Christian conservatives do not feel the same way....

Republicans who support legalization are viewing the issue through the prism of states' rights, personal freedom, job creation and tax revenue. Many libertarian-leaning Republicans are early supporters of cannabis policy reform, arguing that arresting people for using cannabis is a violation of personal liberties.

Some Republicans also cite the racial disparities in marijuana arrests as a reason to fix federal law — though Democrats focus more strongly on criminal justice reform on the whole. And, as is the case for Democrats, the shift is often generational: Texas Young Republicans announced they support marijuana decriminalization back in 2015.

The shift within the GOP at times is less about lawmakers’ own beliefs about marijuana and more about how much the public has shifted on the subject. Bill sponsors in North Dakota, for example, said they were personally opposed to marijuana, but introduced the bill anyways to head off the possibility of a ballot initiative that would legalize marijuana through the constitution — especially after South Dakota voters approved legalization in 2020.

November 21, 2021 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Highlighting the persistent Democratic divide over federal marijuana reform

Those who follow happenings inside the Beltway know that the primary roadblock to federal marijuana reform right now is the debate over whether to make smaller reforms (like the SAFE Banking bill) or to go for a more comprehensive approach to reform.  This lengthy new Washington Post piece, headlined "Democratic divide puts congressional action on marijuana in doubt," effectively review the state of this debate as of mid-November 2021.  I recommend the full piece, and here is how it gets started:

A split on Capitol Hill over marijuana policy has lawmakers confronting the possibility that they could again fail to pass any meaningful changes to the federal prohibition of cannabis this Congress, even as polls show vast majorities of Americans support at least partial legalization of the drug.

The clash, on one level, follows familiar contours for Washington policymaking: A narrower measure with significant bipartisan support — one that would make it easier for banks to do business with legitimate cannabis firms in states where marijuana is legal — is in limbo while a smaller group of lawmakers pushes for a much broader bill.

But it has also become infused with questions of racial equity and political competence that have pitted key Democrats against each other as they seek a way to roll back federal marijuana laws that have gone largely unchanged since the height of the War on Drugs in the 1980s and 1990s.

The conflict has come to a head in recent weeks after a push by Democratic and Republican lawmakers to attach the narrower banking legislation to the must-pass annual defense policy bill, which would ensure its passage in the coming months.  The bill’s advocates say it would offer a substantial step toward legitimizing and rationalizing the cannabis industry in the 47 states that have moved to at least partially legalize marijuana — allowing businesses to move away from risky cash-only operations.

That push has hit a roadblock in the Senate, however, where Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) has sided with Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Ron Wyden (D-N.J.), who are seeking to assemble a comprehensive bill that would federally decriminalize the drug, tax it and potentially expunge the criminal records of those previously convicted of having bought or sold it.  Passing the narrower bill, they argue, would make passing their broader bill more difficult....

November 18, 2021 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States | Permalink | Comments (0)

"How State Reforms Have Mellowed Federal Enforcement of Marijuana Prohibition"

The title of this post is the title of this new essay that I had the pleasure of co-authoring with my colleague Alex Fraga. The forthcoming publication in now up on SSRN, and here is part of its abstract:

Modern state medical marijuana laws date back to 1996, when Californians approved the first statewide medical marijuana legalization law via ballot measure; Colorado and Washington voters passed the first ballot initiatives legalizing marijuana for adult use in 2012.  By summer 2021, a total of 36 states and 4 U.S. territories had legalized the medical use of marijuana and 18 states, two territories and the District of Columbia had legalized adult use of marijuana.

Over this quarter century of state reforms, blanket federal marijuana prohibition has remained the law of the land. Indeed, though federal marijuana policies have long been criticized, federal prohibition has now been in place and unchanged for the last half century.  But while federal marijuana law has remained static amidst state-level reforms, federal marijuana prohibition enforcement has actually changed dramatically.  In fact, data from the U.S. Sentencing Commission (USSC) reveals quite remarkable changes in federal enforcement patterns since certain states began fully legalizing marijuana in 2012.

This essay seeks to document and examine critically the remarkable decline in the number of federal marijuana sentences imposed over the last decade.  While noting that federal sentences imposed for marijuana offenses are down 83% from 2012 to 2020, this essay will also explore how the racial composition of persons sentenced in federal court and has evolved as the caseload has declined....  The data suggest that whites are benefiting relatively more from fewer federal prosecutions.

Reports from the Drug Enforcement Administration indicate that marijuana seizures at the southern US border have dwindled as states have legalized adult use and medicinal use of marijuana, and the reduced trafficking over the southern border likely largely explain the vastly reduced number of federal prosecutions of marijuana offenses.  Nonetheless, though still shrinking in relative size, there were still more than one thousand people (and mostly people of color) sentenced in federal court for marijuana trafficking in fiscal year 2020 and over 100 million dollars was committed to the incarceration of these defendants for activities not dissimilar from corporate activity in states in which marijuana has been legalized for various purposes. 

November 18, 2021 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 15, 2021

Some early coverage of big new federal GOP bill, the States Reform Act, to legalize marijuana

Congress-legalization-billsToday, Representative Nancy Mace (R-SC) unveiled a new GOP-led bill to legalize marijuana at the federal level.  The States Reform Act (available here), which runs 131 pages, is cosponsored by Representatives Tom McClintock (R-CA), Don Young (R-AK), Brian Mast (R-FL) and Peter Meijer (R-MI).

My initial sense is that this bill does not have a great chance of passage anytime soon, but it still ought to be considered a big moment in the broad modern story of marijuana reform.  And it is understandably getting a lot of press.  Here is a sample:

From the AP, "GOP Rep. Mace’s bill would federally decriminalize marijuana"

From Forbes, "Representative Nancy Mace Introduces Bill To End Federal Cannabis Prohibition"

From Insider, "Rep. Nancy Mace says her GOP-led cannabis legalization bill would be 'a real win-win' for bipartisan marijuana reform in the US"

From Marijuana Moment, "Republican Lawmakers File Bill To Tax And Regulate Marijuana As Alternative To Democratic Proposals"

From MJBizDaily, "South Carolina Republican reveals marijuana legalization bill she’ll introduce in Congress"

From Reason, "Frequently asked questions about the States Reform Act, a proposed marijuana bill"

November 15, 2021 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 11, 2021

Another Veterans Day with veterans still not getting support when it comes to medical marijuana access

Weed-canvasBecause the US Department of Veterans Affairs prohibits its doctors to recommend medical marijuana to patients, current federal law essentially puts veterans last, not first, when it comes to access to medical marijuana.  I have regularly blogged about a range of issues relating to veterans and their access to marijuana (many posts on this topic are linked below), and this week brings more discussion of these depressingly evergreen issues:

From Politico, "VA rejects cannabis research as veterans plead for medical pot."  An excerpt:

The recent withdrawal from Afghanistan has exacerbated the demand for more understanding of using cannabis for treatment. Calls to the Veterans Crisis Line, which is operated by the VA, increased by six percent in the weeks immediately following the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, and veterans of America’s longest war use cannabis at the highest rates among veterans to self-medicate their ailments.

Advocates, Hill aides and former VA staff told POLITICO the VA defers on this issue to the Justice Department, which classifies cannabis as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act. A Schedule I drug by definition has no medicinal value, which in turn prevents the VA from treating patients with cannabis.

For veterans receiving VA health care, cannabis still occupies a gray area.  Official guidance states that veterans can talk to their VA doctor about their cannabis use without repercussions, but many vets say they fear mentioning it because it is still federally illegal.  VA doctors, meanwhile, still cannot prescribe cannabis or issue medical marijuana cards in any of the 36 states that have legalized medical marijuana.  

An average of 18 veterans a day committed suicide in 2018, according to data from the VA....  According to the VA, a number of studies have indicated that both PTSD and battlefield trauma contribute to a higher rate of suicidal ideation — and exposure to suicide, such as a friend or family member, can in turn contribute to PTSD. Many veterans and their advocates point to anecdotal evidence that cannabis successfully reduces the effects of PTSD — as well as insomnia, which can worsen PTSD symptoms — but there is yet no clinical evidence.

From Marijuana Moment, "This Veterans Day, Think About Cannabis And Veterans Healthcare (Op-Ed)." An excerpt:

Medical cannabis use would likely be even more prevalent among veterans if not for the oppositional stance that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has taken. According to national survey data compiled by the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, 75 percent of respondents “would be interested in using cannabis or cannabinoid products as a treatment option if it were available.” Further, many veterans feel that they have been deterred from seeking medical cannabis due to the VA’s policy of “clinical relevance to patient care,” but “providers are prohibited from completing forms or registering veterans for participation in state-approved [medical cannabis] program[s].”

For those veterans that do acknowledge using medical cannabis, they most often report using it to mitigate their post traumatic stress, anxiety and chronic pain. Some veterans also report using it as a substitute for alcohol or other illicit drugs. Many chronic pain patients who begin using medical cannabis greatly decrease or even eliminate their use of opioids and other prescription drugs.

I feel a genuine and deep debt to anyone and everyone who serves this nation through the armed forces, and I feel strongly that veterans should be able to have safe and legal access to any and every form of medicine that they and their doctors reasonably believe could help them with any ailments or conditions.  Even though there are many issues that divide this nation, I would hope we could all come together to support treating veterans at least as well as other Americans when it comes to access to the medicine of their choice.

Some of many prior related posts:

November 11, 2021 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Notable new CRS report on ways a President could legalize or decriminalize marijuana at the federal level

I was intrigued to see this notable new five-page Congressional Research Service report titled "Does the President Have the Power to Legalize Marijuana?". Here is how it gets started:

The legal status of marijuana has been a topic of recurring interest in recent years, as states, federal legislators, and federal executive agencies consider how to regulate cannabis and its derivatives.  What role can the President play in determining the legal status of a controlled substance such as marijuana?  That question came to the forefront during the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, with multiple candidates supporting legalization of marijuana and several pledging to legalize the substance nationwide if elected, either indirectly through administrative proceedings or directly by executive order.  More recently, some commentators have called on President Biden to end criminal penalties for marijuana possession and use or grant clemency to federal marijuana offenders.  Although the President cannot directly remove marijuana from control under federal controlled substances law, he might order executive agencies to consider either altering the scheduling of marijuana or changing their enforcement approach.

This Sidebar outlines the laws that apply to controlled substances like marijuana, then analyzes several approaches a president might take to change controlled substances law as written or as enforced.  The Sidebar closes with a discussion of key considerations for Congress related to presidential power over controlled substances regulation.

November 3, 2021 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Full policy brief version of "Blowing Smoke at the Second Amendment"

Regular readers are familiar with my regular posts highlighting papers from the on-going series of student papers supported by the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center.  I am excited to now be able to highlight a partnership with the Reason Foundation to turn some of these DEPC student papers into extended policy briefs.   Ohio State College of Law‬⁩ alum Helen Sudhoff has this first full policy brief completed under the title "Blowing Smoke at the Second Amendment," which highlights constitutional problems with federal law prohibiting medical marijuana users from possessing firearms.  Here is the brief's introduction:

The federal government prohibits users of Schedule I drugs from purchasing or possessing a firearm.  Despite that most states have enacted legal medical marijuana programs, marijuana is still federally illegal and designated as a Schedule I substance with no medical value.  Individuals who use medical marijuana in accordance with their state’s licensed programs are nevertheless prohibited from purchasing or possessing a firearm under federal law.  As such, the onus is placed on medical marijuana patients to either disclose their marijuana use, which disqualifies themselves from purchasing a firearm and requires they relinquish possession of all firearms, or misrepresent their status as a marijuana user, risking fines or imprisonment.  The following discussion will address the problems inherent in the federal government’s current regulatory framework for the right to keep and bear arms in the context of medical marijuana use, circumstances that implicate the privilege against self-incrimination, and how to revise the regulatory framework in accordance with the guarantees of the Constitution.

October 19, 2021 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Drug Policy Alliance's federal marijuana reform recommendations

Download (12)Earlier this month, I received an email with links to the helpful work completed by the Drug Policy Alliance setting forth a vision for federal marijuana reforms.  Here is the text and links from the email:

Today, the Drug Policy Alliance released new federal cannabis recommendations, that provide a framework for Congress to ensure that reparative justice, social and health equity, and community reinvestment are the central goals of federal regulation.  Over the last year, as federal legalization has become more of a reality, we have seen the industry jockeying to regulate themselves, and there is a very real concern that — if not done right — legalization could end up replicating many of the same harms of prohibition, especially for communities of color.

These recommendations are the product of months of discussion and work from a working group we convened of cannabis state regulators, public health professionals, criminal justice reform advocates, civil rights attorneys, people working with directly impacted communities, re-entry advocates, academics and an expert involved in Canada’s cannabis regulation.

You can see a quick one-page explainer of what the recommendations are here, and a more detailed document that explains all of the recommendations in depth here.

October 19, 2021 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 8, 2021

Senators Booker and Warren call upon DOJ to "decriminalize cannabis using its existing authority"

As reported here, two notable US senators "are urging Attorney General Merrick Garland to decriminalize marijuana on his own" by "asking Garland and Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra to use powers granted them under the Controlled Substances Act to deschedule — or decriminalize — marijuana at the federal level." The letter to this effect from the desk of Senator Elizabeth Warren and joined by Senator Cory Booker is available at this link, and it starts this way:

We write to urge the Department of Justice (DOJ) to decriminalize cannabis using its existing authority to remove the drug from the Federal controlled substances list. Under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 (CSA), the Attorney General can remove a substance from the CSA’s list, in consultation with the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS).  Decriminalizing cannabis at the federal level via this descheduling process would allow states to regulate cannabis as they see fit, begin to remedy the harm caused by decades of racial disparities in enforcement of cannabis laws, and facilitate valuable medical research.  While Congress works to pass comprehensive cannabis reform, you can act now to decriminalize cannabis.

The letter goes on to explains the DOJ descheduling process this way:

The executive branch has the authority to initiate the process of cannabis descheduling.  The CSA empowers the Attorney General to initiate proceedings to reschedule or deschedule a drug, either individually or at the request of the HHS Secretary or another interested party.  The Attorney General then seeks a scientific and medical evaluation from the HHS Secretary, including the Secretary’s recommendations as to the appropriate scheduling for the drug or whether the drug should be descheduled.  If the Secretary recommends descheduling a drug, that recommendation is binding on the Attorney General.  However, if the Secretary recommends retaining a drug in the same schedule or moving it to a different schedule, that recommendation is not binding and the Attorney General may still choose to initiate a rulemaking procedure to deschedule or reschedule the drug.

October 8, 2021 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 4, 2021

"The Blunt Reality of Cannabis Advertising: State-by-State Restrictions & the TCPA"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper recently posted to SSRN and authored by Elle Gerwig, a recent graduate of The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.  (This paper is yet another in the on-going series of student papers supported by the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center.)   Here is this latest paper's abstract:  

In today’s world, individuals are surrounded by marketing and advertisements.  The alcohol and tobacco industries have long faced advertising restrictions, and now cannabis businesses are beginning to see similar restrictions.  Unlike other industries, cannabis is still illegal under federal law which creates confusing restrictions for companies who are located in states where medical or adult-use cannabis is legal.  This split in ideology between the federal and state governments, along with the confusing state regulations written more for policymakers than industry workers, has set a crash course for cannabis.  This paper will examine several marketing areas where the cannabis industry is currently facing strict regulations, such as billboards, social media, and text messaging, as well as the public policy aspects that have influenced the rules on cannabis advertisements.  The paper also focuses on the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) and the current rise of class actions associated with text-message marketing in the cannabis industry.  The primary goal of this article is to discuss the current regulations for cannabis advertising and why these regulations are hurting the growing cannabis industry.

October 4, 2021 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 30, 2021

House Judiciary Committee, by vote of 26-15, approves MORE Act to deschedule marijuana and thereby end federal prohibition

After what reportedly was quite an intriguing discussion, this afternoon the House Judiciary Committee approved  the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act, H.R. 3617, with 26 votes in favor (24 Democrats, 2 Republicans) and 15 votes (all Republicans) against. The MORE Act, as noted in this post from DEC 2020, received a full favorable vote from the House. But at that time, everyone knew there would be no time and likely little interest in Senate action before the Congress term ended. Now there is ample time for the Senate to pass MORE or another like bill, though I think there is considerable uncertainty about there being enough votes for reform.

In case you forgot, in addition to removing marijuana from the prohibitions created by the Controlled Substances Act, the MORE Act would expunge non-violent federal marijuana convictions and support state efforts to do the same, while also providing provide resources and support for minority owned marijuana businesses and creating other reinvestment programs for communities that have been adversely impacted by marijuana prohibitions.  Here is a bit more from this Marijuana Moment piece:

Although most Republicans who spoke argued against the bill, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), who is a cosponsor of it, made the case for reform.

“I am a proud co-sponsor of the MORE Act because the federal government has screwed up marijuana policy in this country for a generation,” he said. “We lied to people about the effects of marijuana. And then we used marijuana as a cudgel to incarcerate just wide swaths of communities, and particularly in African-American communities.”

“We cannot honestly say that the war on drugs impacted suburban white communities in the same way it affected urban black communities. We can’t say that marijuana enforcement was happening the same way on the corner than it was happening in the fraternity house,” he said. “We have an opportunity to fix that problem. The war on drugs, much like many of our forever wars, has been a failure. If there’s been a war on drugs, drugs have won that war.”

However, he expressed certain concerns about provisions of the legislation such as the proposed federal excise tax on cannabis sales. While Gaetz also said that while he supports the MORE Act, he doesn’t feel it stands a chance in the Senate and recommended advancing more modest reform.

While the legislation has largely stayed intact compared to the prior version that passed the chamber last year in a historic vote, there were some modest revisions that were incorporated upon its reintroduction in May.

The panel on Thursday considered additional changes before moving the measure forward, although much of the time was spent debating unrelated issues such as COVID-19 vaccines, abortion policy and protests against police violence.

Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) sought to remove the bill’s tax provisions as well as grant funds it would create to help repair the harms of the war on drugs.

September 30, 2021 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, September 23, 2021

"The Cannabis Conundrum: Constitutional & Policy Concerns in Taxation of the Marijuana Industry"

The title of this post is the title of this notable paper that I just saw via SSRN which is authored by Beckett Cantley and Geoffrey Dietrich.  Here is its abstract:

The cannabis industry has greatly expanded over the last few years, with a majority of states legalizing cannabis in some form.  However, despite the growing popularity of the cannabis industry and more companies entering the market, the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) has remained steadfast in denying business deductions for cannabis companies.  Under Internal Revenue Code (“IRC”) § 280E, the IRS can disallow all ordinary and necessary business expenses by companies trafficking in illegal drugs.  The disallowance of ordinary and necessary business expenses greatly hinders cannabis companies, especially for companies legally operating under state law. Several cannabis companies have also attacked the harsh effects of IRC § 280E on constitutional and public policy grounds.  Despite a general shift in medical, legal, and public opinion supporting the full legalization of marijuana, legislation still lags far behind. There is currently pending legislation to address the deductions allowed for marijuana companies and reflects a shift in public policy.

One recent attack on IRC § 280E is that the provision violates the Sixteenth Amendment. Under this theory, cannabis companies argue the definition of income under the Sixteenth Amendment requires gain, and thus the disallowance of ordinary and necessary business expenses imposes a tax on more than a company’s income. For example, the Sixteenth Amendment permits a taxpayer to reduce gross receipts by cost of goods sold before a tax may be imposed.  The correct method in calculating cost of goods sold also provides another point of contention between the IRS and cannabis companies. Courts continue to classify cannabis companies as “resellers” instead of “producers,” which reduces the amount that cannabis companies can deduct as cost of goods sold.

Despite the growing popularity of cannabis companies and a growing number of states legalizing marijuana, courts are unlikely to invalidate IRC § 280E as unconstitutional until a sufficient groundswell of support for the policy benefits such a change would permit arises.  This article will discuss: (I) a brief evolution of the public support, policies, and rationales behind marijuana legalization and the conflicts arising under the Sixteenth Amendment; (II) competing state and federal laws concerning cannabis regulation; (III) and the constitutionality of IRC § 280E under both the Sixteenth Amendment and the Eighth Amendment; and conclude with (IV) a public policy argument for legislation removing marijuana from the purview of IRC § 280E.

September 23, 2021 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

"Cannabis, Consumers, and the Trademark Laundering Trap"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper now available via SSRN and authored by Viva Moffat, Sam Kamin and Timothy Maffett.  Here is its abstract:

At the moment, cannabis companies cannot get trademark protection for their marijuana and marijuana-related products because the “lawful use” doctrine limits federal trademark protection to goods lawfully sold in commerce.  Given that the drug remains illegal under federal law, this may not sound like much of a problem, but it has serious consequences for consumers of marijuana.  Without trademark rights, a cannabis company in one state can simply use the brand name of a prominent company in another state and consumers will assume that they are getting the products they have come to rely on, with potentially dangerous results.  As the cannabis industry has grown, this issue has only become more acute; the current approach of the United States Patent & Trademark Office (PTO) and the federal courts undermines trademark law’s consumer protection and fair competition goals.

Several years ago, we proposed a solution to the unavailability of trademark protection during federal prohibition, one we suggested would help cannabis companies and cannabis consumers bridge the gap from the current period of legal ambiguity through full marijuana legalization.   We coined the phrase “trademark laundering” to describe the practice of applying for federal trademark protection for a mark placed on legal products and then using that mark on both legal and illegal goods – on both t-shirts and marijuana, for example.  As we anticipated, the practice has indeed taken off, but it has been a success only on the surface.

This article examines how the PTO and the courts have mishandled marijuana marks and identifies how they have interpreted and deployed the lawful use doctrine in ways that undermine and conflict with trademark’s stated goals.  Given that the PTO is unlikely to abandon the lawful use doctrine any time soon, we propose changes to the way the PTO applies that doctrine in the trademark registration process, as well as changes to the courts’ consideration of trademark disputes involving cannabis companies.  These changes will ensure that both consumers and marijuana businesses are protected as the United States transitions from marijuana prohibition to a post-prohibition federal regulatory regime.

September 14, 2021 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 2, 2021

Rounding up some of the round-ups of the many comments submitted on early draft of federal Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act

6a00d8341bfae553ef0223c85155dc200c-320wiAs detailed in this prior post, in mid July 2021, US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, along with Senators Ron Wyden and Cory Booker, unveil what was described as a "discussion draft" of a lengthy federal marijuana reform bill titled the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA).  The full text of this CAOA "discussion draft" is available here, and  marijuana reform advocates (and opponents) unsurprisingly has a whole lot that they wanted to discuss about this discussion draft.  September 1 was the deadline for the submission of comments, and I received multiple emails from multiple groups promoting their comments.  Helpfully, I have seen a few press pieces that serve to round up some of the comments:

From Cannabis Wire, "As Comments Close on the Most Comprehensive Cannabis Reform Plan in Congress, Themes Emerge"

From Law360, "Pot Advocates Advise Careful Rollout Of Federal Legalization"

From Marijuana Moment, "Senators Flooded With Input On Federal Marijuana Legalization Bill"

From MJ Biz Daily, "Marijuana trade groups offer comments on Schumer’s federal legalization bill"

The Marijuana Moment piece provides a particularly fulsome review of (and helpful links to) lots of the submitted comments.  Here is how it sets up the review:

While legalization proponents have widely celebrated the introduction of the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA), they have some suggestions for improvement — principally as it concerns issues of social equity, licensing, tax policy and interstate commerce.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) are the lead sponsors of the legislation, and after releasing a draft version of the measure in July, they opened a public comment to receive input on what will be a revised measure the senators plan to formally introduce.

Pro-reform organizations like NORML, Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) and Hemp Roundtable made their voices heard — and while they generally applauded the senators’ work to end federal cannabis prohibition, they had some recommendations for revisions.  Prohibitionist groups also weighed in with thoughts about the proposal can be changed to better reflect their concerns with the overall policy of legalization.

A few prior related posts: 

September 2, 2021 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 23, 2021

"Legalization Without Disruption: Why Congress Should Let States Restrict Interstate Commerce in Marijuana"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper now available on SSRN authored by Robert Mikos and Scott Bloomberg.  Here is its abstract:

Over the past twenty-five years, states have developed elaborate regulatory systems to govern lawful marijuana markets.  In designing these systems, states have assumed that the Dormant Commerce Clause (“DCC”) does not apply; Congress, after all, has banned all commerce in marijuana.  However, the states’ reprieve from the doctrine may soon come to an end.  Congress is on the verge of legalizing marijuana federally, and once it does, it will unleash the DCC, with dire consequences for the states and the markets they now regulate.

This Article serves as a wake-up call.  It provides the most extensive analysis to date of the disruptions the DCC could cause for lawmakers and the marijuana industry. Among other things, the doctrine could spawn a race to the bottom among states as they compete for a newly mobile marijuana industry, undermine state efforts to boost participation by minorities in the legal marijuana industry, and abruptly make obsolete investments firms have made in existing state-based marijuana markets.  But the Article also devises a novel solution to these problems.  Taking a page from federal statutes designed to preserve state control over other markets, it shows how Congress could pursue legalization without disruption.  Namely, Congress could suspend the DCC and thereby give state lawmakers and marijuana businesses time to prepare for the emergence of a national marijuana market.  The Article also shows how Congress could make the suspension temporary to allay any concerns over authorizing state protectionism in the marijuana market.

August 23, 2021 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Some federal reform headlines a week after introduction of the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act

My Google and Twitter feeds have not been buzzing about the release last week of the discussion draft of the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, and that has lead me to think nobody is too excited about its particulars. That said, it is still an important bill-in-development, and I thought it worthwhile to round up some of the reactions and commentary I have seen in response:

From The American Prospect, "High Hurdles for Commonsense Cannabis Reform: The plan unveiled by the Senate majority leader is doomed to languish despite massive public support for legalization."

From Bloomberg, "U.S. Pot Legalization Bill Gets a Frosty Reception"

From Daily Breeze (editorial), "Latest federal marijuana bill a total dud"

From Fox Business, "Democrats' marijuana legalization bill leaves Canopy Growth CEO optimistic"

From Politico, "Amazon endorsed legal weed. Will it now fight to make it happen?"

July 20, 2021 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Cannabis as Treatment for Chronic Pelvic Pain in Women: An Opportunity for the Cannabis Wellness Industry"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper recently posted to SSRN and authored by Jamie Feyko, a rising 3L at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.  (This paper is yet another in the on-going series of student papers supported by the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center.)   Here is this latest paper's abstract:  

In a healthcare landscape that routinely ignores women’s pain, many women turn to cannabis to manage their otherwise debilitating chronic pelvic pain caused by conditions such as endometriosis and polycystic ovary syndrome.  This paper explores how the Controlled Substances Act wrongly characterized cannabis as having “no medicinal value” and the effects this federal illegality still has on women seeking alternative pain management therapies for chronic pelvic pain.  Additionally, this paper explains why and how cannabis helps relieve such pain through discussing the effects of cannabinoids like THC and CBD on the body’s inflammatory response and the body’s endocannabinoid system.  Women, as the leading consumers in our society, have expressed a need and a desire for products that provide relief from chronic pelvic pain and increase sexual pleasure.  The 2018 Farm Bill opened the doors to CBD businesses looking to break into the women’s sexual and reproductive wellness market.  The market for women-centric CBD pain relief and sexual enjoyment is far from saturated, and this paper encourages those in the CBD industry (or those looking to enter the industry) to take note.

July 20, 2021 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Great early coverage of US Senate Leader Chuck Schumer's "discussion draft" of new Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act

6a00d8341bfae553ef0223c85155dc200c-320wiSince nearly the start of this year, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, along with  Senators Ron Wyden and Cory Booker , has been talking up the introduction in the US Senate of a new comprehensive federal marijuana reform bill.   That talk has suggested that reform efforts from these Democratic Senators would be similar to, but still quite distinct from, the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, that has moved forward in the House of Representatives in recent years.

Today, in mid July 2021, these Senators have scheduled a press conference to unveil what is being described as a "discussion draft" of a lengthy federal bill titled the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA).  The full text of this CAOA "discussion draft" is available here and it runs 163 pages(!).  In other words, CAOA give marijuana reform advocates (and opponents) a whole lot to discuss.  Helpfully, the cannabis press core is already doing great job covering the basic:

From Marijuana Moment, "Here Are The Full Details Of The New Federal Marijuana Legalization Bill From Chuck Schumer And Senate Colleagues."  Excerpt:

Perhaps the most immediately consequential provision would be a requirement that the attorney general to remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act within 60 days of the bill’s enactment.  But it’s important to keep in mind that this legislation—like other federal legalization bills moving through Congress—would not make it so marijuana is legal in every state. The proposal specifically preserves the right of states to maintain prohibition if they way. It stipulates, for example, that shipping marijuana into a state where the plant is prohibited would still be federally illegal.

However, the measure would make it clear that states can’t stop businesses from transporting cannabis products across their borders to other states where the plant is permitted.  FDA would be “recognized as the primary federal regulatory authority with respect to the manufacture and marketing of cannabis products, including requirements related to minimum national good manufacturing practice, product standards, registration and listing, and labeling information related to ingredients and directions for use,” according to the summary.

From Politico, "Schumer launches long-shot bid for legal weed." Excerpt:

The discussion draft of the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act includes provisions that cater to both “states rights” Republicans and progressive Democrats. While the proposal seeks to remove all federal penalties on weed, it would allow states to prohibit even the possession of cannabis — along with production and distribution — a nod to states’ rights.  It would also establish funding for a wide range of federal research into everything from drugged driving to the impact cannabis has on the human brain. The measure aims to collect data about traffic deaths, violent crime and other public health concerns often voiced by Republican lawmakers.

On the flip side, the proposal also includes provisions that are crucial to progressives.  That includes three grant programs designed to help socially or economically disadvantaged individuals, as well as those hurt by the war on drugs and expungements of federal non-violent cannabis offenses.  States and cities also have to create an automatic expungement program for prior cannabis offenses to be eligible for any grant funding created by the bill.

A few of many prior recent related posts:

July 14, 2021 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Political perspective on reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 5, 2021

Cannabis Freedom Alliance releases "Recommendations for Federal Regulation of Legal Cannabis"

Cannabis-freedom-allianceI mentioned in this post a few months ago the launch of the Cannabis Freedom Alliance, which is a prominent coalition with a stated mission to "end the prohibition and criminalization of cannabis in the United States in a manner consistent with helping all Americans achieve their full potential and limiting the number of barriers that inhibit innovation and entrepreneurship in a free and open market."  I was now pleased to see that, right around the traditional July time we celebrate our nation's deep commitments to freedom, this Alliance has released this new white paper titled "Recommendations for Federal Regulation of Legal Cannabis."  Here is part of the start of this notable 14-page document:

If major marijuana reform legislation is to be taken seriously in Congress this year, there are many aspects it must address. These include everything from federal regulation and tax issues to financial services, clinical research, the contours of interstate commerce and technical barriers to trade, social equity, criminal justice, and respect of states’ reserved powers. There is a danger that federal legalization, done incorrectly, could produce outcomes even more adverse than the status quo.

This analysis provides an overview of each of these subtopics and provides general recommendations to help guide the effort toward federal legalization of marijuana that will achieve the following goals:

• Establishing a regulatory framework that promotes public safety while allowing innovation, industry, and research to thrive.

• Ensuring individuals previously involved in the illicit market can effectively secure a second chance and contribute to the legal market.

• Creating low barriers to entry and non-restrictive occupational and business licensing so that large companies and new entrepreneurs can compete on a level playing field.

• Imposing a total tax burden – federal, state, and local combined – that does not incentivize the continuation of gray or black markets and ensures competitive global footing for a vibrant, novel U.S. industry.

July 5, 2021 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, July 4, 2021

Marijuana liberty in America showing rapid growth as we mark Independence Day 2021

8ca3db280b69645a74c9f43cd763bbd9In a 1788 letter to James Madison, George Washington had a wonderful quote that seems especially fitting to highlight on a marijuana blog on Independence Day 2021:  “Liberty, when it begins to take root, is a plant of rapid growth.”  I have long thought that one of many reasons marijuana prohibitions have proved unsuccessful is because cannabis is itself a "plant of rapid growth" and so is readily cultivated in so many places by so many people no matter when the law formally provides or permits. 

Of course, this quote strikes me as especially fitting circa July 4, 2021 after the 2020 election in which adult-use ballot initiatives passed handily in Arizona, Montana, New Jersey, and South Dakota while medical marijuana initiatives passed overwhelmingly in Mississippi and South Dakota.  And in the first half of 2021, we have already seen four more states legalize fully adult use of marijuana  (Connecticut, New Mexico, New York and Virginia) and also seen Alabama enact medical marijuana reform.  The liberty to use marijuana, once it took root after the ballot initiatives in Colorado and Washington in 2012, has seen a decade of growth that has been even more rapid than anyone might have reasonably predicted.

That said, though fans of marijuana freedom certainly have plenty to celebrate today, the recent suspension of US sprinter Sha'Carri Richardson serves as a reminder that we are still a very long way from being fully free from marijuana prohibitions.  Most fundamentally, blanket prohibition of marijuana for any and all uses is still the federal law of the land in the Land of the Free, and there is little reason to be optimistic that this will change before we celebrate Independence Day 2022.  Though many consider access to cannabis fundamental to "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness," there is still much work to do before we can truly declare independence from laws that make it a crime to grow and consume this particular "plant of rapid growth."

July 4, 2021 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)