Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Monday, January 20, 2020

Taking stock of 2020 marijuana reform prospects in various states (and noting some significant omissions)

US-legalization-prospects-2020Jeff Smith over at MJBizDaily has this helpful article (with a helpful graphic) under the headline "Several states could legalize cannabis sales in 2020 as marijuana industry eyes lucrative East Coast market."  The article maps out the ten or so states that might move forward with adult-use legalization regimes in 2020 and also reviews the handful of states in which medical marijuana legalization might move forward this year.  Here is a snippet from the start of the piece:

Up to a dozen states could legalize adult-use or medical marijuana in 2020 through their legislatures or ballot measures, although only about a handful will likely do so.

Much of the cannabis industry’s focus will home in on a possible recreational marijuana domino effect along the East Coast, which could create billions of dollars in business opportunities.  Adult-use legalization efforts in New York and New Jersey stalled in 2019, but optimism has rekindled this year.

Potential legalization activity runs from the Southwest to the Dakotas to the Deep South. Mississippi in particular has a business-friendly medical cannabis initiative that has qualified for the 2020 ballot.

If even a handful of these state marijuana reforms move forward this year, it becomes that much more likely that some form of federal reform will have to follow. That reality is one of the theme of this lengthy new Politico article which also provides an accounting of potential state reforms under the full headline "Marijuana legalization may hit 40 states. Now what?: Changes in state laws could usher in even more confusion for law enforcement and escalate the pressure on Congress to act." Here is an excerpt:

More than 40 U.S. states could allow some form of legal marijuana by the end of 2020, including deep red Mississippi and South Dakota — and they’re doing it with the help of some conservatives.  State lawmakers are teeing up their bills as legislative sessions kick off around the country, and advocates pushing ballot measures are racing to collect and certify signatures to meet deadlines for getting their questions to voters.

Should they succeed, every state could have marijuana laws on the books that deviate from federal law, but people could still be prosecuted if they drive across state lines with their weed, because the total federal ban on marijuana isn’t expected to budge any time soon.  The changes could usher in even more confusion for law enforcement and escalate the pressure on Congress to act.  Federal bills are crawling through Congress, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell firmly against legalization....

“We’re cautiously optimistic that we can win more marijuana reform ballot initiatives on one Election Day than on any previous Election Day,” said Matthew Schweich, deputy director of the Marijuana Policy Project.  Schweich cited growing public support for the issue among both liberals and conservatives.  The measures that make the ballot could drive voter turnout at the polls and by extension affect the presidential election.

Liberal states that allow ballot petitions have largely voted to legalize marijuana, including California, Oregon and Massachusetts.  “Now, we’re venturing into new, redder territory and what we’re finding is voters are ready to approve these laws in those states,” said Schweich, who, along with leading legalization campaigns in Maine, Massachusetts and Michigan, served as the co-director of the medical marijuana legalization campaign in Utah.  “If we can pass medical marijuana in Utah, we can pass it anywhere.”

National organizations like his are eschewing swing states like Florida and Ohio, where the costs of running a ballot campaign are high during a presidential election. They are intentionally targeting states with smaller populations.  For advocates, running successful campaigns in six less-populous states means potentially 12 more senators representing legal marijuana states.  “The cost of an Ohio campaign could cover the costs of [four to six] other ballot initiative campaigns. Our first goal is to pass laws in as many places as we can,” Schweich said.

They can’t take anything for granted, however.  In Florida, where polling says two-thirds of voters want to legalize pot, one effort to gather enough signatures for a 2020 ballot measure collapsed last year, and a second gave up on Tuesday, saying there’s not enough time to vet 700,000 signatures.  Organizers are looking to 2022.  And many legislative efforts to legalize marijuana came up short in 2019, including in New York and New Jersey.  Those efforts were derailed in part over concerns about how to help people disproportionately harmed by criminal marijuana prosecutions, despite broad support from Democratic-controlled legislatures and the governors.

I fully understand the strategic and economic reasons why MPP and other national marijuana reform activist groups have chosen not to focus on big purple states like Florida and Ohio for full legalization campaigns. But these two states have unique long-standing and well-earned reputations as national swing states. Only if (when?) these kinds of big (reddish-purple) states go the route of full legalization will I think federal reform becomes unavoidable.

January 20, 2020 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 16, 2020

"From Reefer Madness to Hemp Utopia: CBD, Hemp and the Evolving Regulation of Commoditized Cannabis"

Jan-24-Cannabis-Roundtable_for-email-600x400The title of this post is the title of this exciting event taking place next week put on by the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center at The Ohio State University.  Here are all the essential details and some background from this page where you can also find a registration link: 

When: Friday, January 24 from 7:30-9:30 a.m.
Where: 2nd Floor Rotunda, Mason Hall, 250 W Woodruff Avenue, Columbus Ohio

Join the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center and the Center for Innovation Strategies for From Reefer Madness to Hemp Utopia: CBD, Hemp and the Evolving Regulation of Commoditized Cannabis.  The latest Cannabiz Roundtable discussion will feature a panel of experts as they discuss the challenges of regulating the unusual agricultural commodity that is hemp and the myriad products infused with one of its derivatives, CBD.

With the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, the world of the cannabis plant has undergone a seismic shift allowing for its legal cultivation as long as its THC content remains below 0.3%.  A year later, the federal and state governments, including the state of Ohio, are in the process of creating regulations that would allow the agricultural sector to take advantage of this new crop while at the same time addressing numerous concerns about public health and law enforcement.

 

Speakers

Benton Bodamer, DEPC Adjunct Faculty, Dickinson Wright PLLC, Columbus


Donnie Burton, Owner and CEO, The Harvest Foundation


David E. Miran, Jr. Esq., Executive Director, Hemp Program, Ohio Department of Agriculture


Anthony Seegers
, Director of State Policy, Ohio Farm Bureau


Patricia Zettler, DEPC Assistant Professor of Law, Moritz College of Law

 

Moderator: Douglas Berman, Executive Director, DEPC


Schedule

7:30 – 8:00 a.m. | registration
8:00 – 9:00 a.m. | panel
9:00 – 9:30 a.m. | follow up conversation and networking

January 16, 2020 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 13, 2020

US House Subcommittee to hold hearing on Jan 15, 2020 on "Cannabis Policies for the New Decade"

Ccc_SQUAREAs detailed on this US House committee webpage, the "Subcommittee on Health of the Committee on Energy and Commerce will hold a legislative hearing on Wednesday, January 15, 2020, at 10 a.m. in the John D. Dingell Room, 2123 of the Rayburn House Office Building. The hearing is entitled, 'Cannabis Policies for the New Decade'."  Interestingly, the hearing page provides a list and links to six House bills with varying approaches to marijuana reform as well as the names and titled of the three government officials now scheduled to testify:

Legislation

H.R. 171, the "Legitimate Use of Medicinal Marihuana Act" or the "LUMMA"

H.R. 601, the "Medical Cannabis Research Act of 2019"

H.R. 1151, the "Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act"

H.R. 2843, the "Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act"

H.R. 3797, the "Medical Marijuana Research Act of 2019"

H.R. 3884, the "Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2019" or the "MORE Act of 2019"

 

Witnesses

Matthew J. Strait
Senior Policy Advisor, Diversion Control Division
Drug Enforcement Administration

Douglas Throckmorton, M.D.
Deputy Director for Regulatory Programs, Center for Drug Evaluation and Research
Food and Drug Administration

Nora D. Volkow, M.D.
Director, National Institute on Drug Abuse
National Institutes of Health

 

Also listed on the website is a "Key Document" in the form of a "Memorandum from Chairman Pallone to the Subcommittee on Health."  This memo runs six pages and provides a nice primer on the basics of federal cannabis law as well as a very brief accounting of the six bills listed above.

January 13, 2020 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 10, 2020

Is 2020 really going to be "a defining year for the cannabis industry"?

Us-1231-1364894-frontThe question in the title of this post is promoted by this CNN Business piece which asserts in its headline "2020 could be a defining year for the cannabis industry."   I find myself a bit skeptical because it seems someone says every January that this year is going to be a defining one for marijuana reform.  But I do think there are reasons to see 2020 as an especially big year in this space, and here is part of the article:

2019 was a momentous year for the cannabis industry: Hemp-derived CBD had a heyday, Illinois made history, California got sticky, vapes were flung into flux, and North American cannabis companies received some harsh wake-up calls.

2020 is gearing up to be an even more critical year. There's a well-worn saying in the cannabis business that the emerging industry is so fast-moving that it lives in dog years. 2020 is barely a week old, and cannabis is already making headlines after Illinois kicked off the new year with recreational sales. Other states are inching closer to legalization this year -- with several mulling how best to ensure social equity. Also in 2020, there's the FDA could chill the CBD craze, and a move from Congress could change the game entirely....

Illinois will remain in focus, after it made history last year with the first legislatively-enacted recreational cannabis program. Critical aspects of its program include social equity and social justice measures created to help people and communities most harmed by the War on Drugs. "Underserved groups are holding the industry accountable," said Gia Morón, president for Women Grow, a company founded to further the presence of women in the cannabis industry. "And our legislators are recognizing that [social, gender and minority concerns] are a part of this now."

New York and New Jersey have been flirting with legalization but have held off to navigate some logistics related to aspects that include social equity. The governors of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania convened this past fall for a summit on coordinating cannabis and vaping policies. New Jersey is putting a recreational cannabis measure before voters in November, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo vowed Wednesday that New York would legalize cannabis this year....

CBD products have been all the rage, but they may be on shaky ground. CBD oils, creams, foods and beverages have seen an explosion in availability following the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, which legalized hemp but left plenty of discretion to the US Food and Drug Administration, which regulates pharmaceutical drugs, most food items, additives and dietary supplements.

The FDA is reviewing CBD and has yet to issue formal guidance, although the agency has issued warning letters to CBD makers that make unsubstantiated health claims. Class action lawsuits have been filed against several CBD companies, including two of the largest, Charlotte's Web and CV Sciences, alleging they engaged in misleading or deceptive marketing practices, Stat News reported.

Cannabis insiders are closely awaiting the fate of industry-friendly bills such as the STATES Act, which would recognize cannabis programs at the state level, and the SAFE Banking Act, which would allow for banks to more easily serve cannabis companies. Those and other bills likely won't pass in full...

In addition to the promise of new markets, the evolution of established cannabis programs could also play a significant role in the cannabis business landscape. In California, the world's largest cannabis industry has developed in fits and starts. Regulators are taking aim at an entrenched illicit market as businesses decry tax increases and local control measures that limit distribution....

Canada's "Cannabis 2.0" roll-out of derivative products -- such as edibles, vapes and beverages -- is in its beginning stages. The Canadian publicly traded licensed producers that have been beset by missed and slow market development have bet heavily on these new product forms....

The capital constraints are expected to continue into the first leg of 2020 as some initial bets don't pan out for some companies, said Andrew Freedman, Colorado's former cannabis czar who now runs Freedman & Koski, a firm that consults with municipalities and states navigating legalization. Some companies' low points could create opportunities for other firms and investors that waited out the first cycle, Freedman said. "In 2020, I see that everybody will understand the economics of cannabis a little bit better," he said.

I am with Andrew Freedman in thinking that the realities of marijuana reform and the industry will, at best, become just "a little bit" clearer during 2020. In the end, I think what will matter most is who wins the White House and control of Congress in this big election year. If the status quo holds after the votes are counted, I do not expect to see federal reform anytime soon. But if new leadership takes over the White House or the Senate, then 2021 will become real interesting.

January 10, 2020 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, December 13, 2019

Eight Senators (all Dems) write to federal agencies inquiring about efforts to advance medical marijuana research

This webpage with the heading "Senators Request Update from Federal Agencies on Progress Towards Issuing Long-Delayed Licensing of Marijuana Manufacturing for Research Purposes" reports on a notable new letter from some federal lawmakers.  Here are the basics:

United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Cory Booker (D-Conn.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), and Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), requesting an update on the progress of the federal government's efforts to facilitate research on medical marijuana by issuing needed manufacturing licenses.  The senators seek guidance on how the DEA will make these licenses available to qualified researchers in a timely manner given that the federal government has a unique responsibility to coordinate medical marijuana research efforts -- and has delayed issuing these licenses in the past.

"With millions of American adults having access to recreational marijuana and a growing number seeking the drug for medicinal purposes, the federal government is not providing the necessary leadership and tools in this developing field," wrote the lawmakers.  "Evidence-based public policy is crucial to ensuring our marijuana laws best serve patients and health care providers."

The lawmakers have requested responses no later than January 10, 2020, to better understand both the DEA's decision-making, and its work with HHS and ONDCP to expand medical marijuana research.  "This research is crucial to developing a thorough understanding of medical marijuana and would be invaluable to doctors, patients, and lawmakers across the nation," wrote the lawmakers.

The full letter is available at this link, and it starts this way:

We write to inquire about your respective agencies' ongoing efforts with regard to scientific research on the potential health and therapeutic benefits of marijuana when used for medical purposes ("medical marijuana"). In light of the Drug Enforcement Administration's (DEA) most recent announcement that it will issue additional marijuana manufacturing licenses for research purposes — an announcement that comes three years after a similar yet unfulfilled DEA commitment — we are also requesting written guidance on how the DEA will make these licenses available to qualified researchers in a timely manner.

December 13, 2019 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Taking stock of the state of modern marijuana politics circa late 2019

Writing in Forbes, Mike Adams has this amusing commentary under the headline ""Federal Marijuana Legalization Is A Lock – But How, When?". Here are excerpts:

Although pro-pot groups insist that 2019 has been the best year ever in the realm of cannabis reform, the reality is not much progress has transpired.  It is only revered as the “best year” because even less occurred in the years that came before it.  But no matter how you size it up, nothing plus bupkis still equals squat.  In spite of everything, marijuana remains illegal across most of the United States.

At the state level, many advocates predicted that New York and New Jersey would be the next to legalize weed.  Well, that didn’t happen.  In fact, Illinois swooped in and legalized first, making both states look like dorks.  But aside from that, no other significant pot laws were passed at the state level in 2019.  We also learned that police are still out there arresting more than 600,000 pot offenders nationwide every year — mostly small timers, too.

In addition, some states, like California, are having trouble curbing the black market, and tainted pot products, most of which were initially believed to be counterfeits, are finding their way into legal dispensaries.  To make matters worse, the cannabis industry, as a whole, is struggling to keep it together long enough to see profitability. Layoffs are prevalent and some of the nation’s most popular cannabis magazines are at risk of going under.  There’s just no possible way that 2019 should be considered a banner year for cannabis.

Federally speaking, parts of Congress dilly-dallied around with the notion of forging some kind of change in the realm of national cannabis reform, but the powers against it are still too strong to penetrate.  Rumor has it that the cannabis trade’s legislative pride and joy known as the SAFE Act is presently being gnawed on by rats in the basement of the Senate chamber.  Its last words were reportedly, “Y’all know I’m not really a marijuana bill, right?”  And the MORE Act, the proposal that got everyone to stop giving two-flying squirts about SAFE, well, that sucker has already been buried out behind the Capitol building alongside last year’s great green hope, the STATES Act.  Remember that one?  No?  Don’t feel bad, no one does.  No one cares.  The point is that cannabis hopefuls have spent all year yapping about legislation that doesn’t have what it takes to go the distance.

But the stakes are about to change in 2020, which could set the nation up for legal weed the following year.  There’s only one catch.  Americans – 66 percent of which are on board with legalizing the leaf the same as beer and tobacco – have to vote in the next election.  And for the right people.

The first thing all cannabis hopefuls need to come to grips with is that the SAFE Act and the MORE Act are dead.  No, that’s not official or anything.  There hasn’t been a press release issued saying that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his Republican-dominated Senate are refusing to entertain these bills before year’s end.  But trust me on this one – SAFE and MORE are finished.

They could, however, be resurrected in 2020.  But for either of them to get any further attention, the legislative process would have to start from the very beginning.  And unless the Republicans in the Senate have a change of heart in the next few months, the prospect of getting these bills or any others aimed at legalizing weed nationwide isn’t going much further next year than they did in 2019.  Remember, as of January, Congress is still playing with the same losing team.

It is the November election when all the magic could happen.  It’s a time when the stoner stars could align and contribute to getting America high again.  But that all depends on the nation’s political loyalty when it comes time to vote.  There are several Senate seats up for grabs.  It is conceivable that the Democrats could win these seats and take control over the Senate. If that happens, McConnell, the man presently standing in the way of cannabis reform in the U.S, would be dethroned as Senate Majority Leader.  That’s when the cannabis debate could really find its footing in both chambers.  Because there would no longer be anyone on the Hill that cares enough to try to stop it.  And anyone who did oppose would surely be out voiced by Democratic rule.

Furthermore, a Democratic president (except for Joe Biden) would undoubtedly support most cannabis legislation, and there is even a solid chance that President Trump would sign off on it if he wins a second term.  Unless, of course, Trump decides to make a statement by stamping it with a veto just to prevent the Democrats (the same ones trying to have him impeached) from making any progress.  Grudges tend to have an extremely long shelf life when it comes to politics.

But here’s the deal.  If both Trump and the Democrats find success in the next election, the best-case scenario for getting marijuana legalization done at the federal level in 2021 is for Trump to make it his idea and let the Democrats follow suit.

December 11, 2019 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

"Cannabis Trademarks and the First Amendment"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper recently posted to SSRN authored by Robert Greenberg.  Here is its abstract:

A review of Supreme Court trademark litigation interpreting the First Amendment as well as recent trademark litigation at the state and federal levels.  The prohibition on immoral trademarks has been steadily eroding as a result of First Amendment litigation at the United States Supreme Court.  In light of recent Supreme Court decisions on trademark registrations and free speech, the question then becomes: Is the ban on cannabis trademark registrations justifiable in light of the First Amendment in view of these recent cases?  The issue of whether the United States Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) should or will issue registrations in light of this recent line of cases is discussed.

November 26, 2019 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

US House Judiciary Committee advances sweeping marijuana reform bill, the MORE Act, by a vote of 24-10

As report in this press piece, headlined "House panel passes bill aiming to legalize marijuana, but top Democrat concedes ‘Senate will take its own time,’" a notable marijuana reform bill advanced in Congress today, but its long-term prospects are still limited.  Here are the basics:

The Democratic-controlled House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday voted in favor a bill that decriminalizes marijuana at the federal level, with a couple of Republicans supporting the measure.

The panel’s chairman, however, had acknowledged Tuesday that the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act could be a tough sell in the Republican-controlled Senate. “The Senate will take its own time, but then the Senate always does,” said Jerry Nadler, the New York Democrat. He aimed to sound upbeat during Tuesday’s news conference ahead of Wednesday’s markup session for the bill: “The energy and the political pressure from the various states is growing rapidly. The Senate is subject to that, too. We’ll accomplish this.”...

Nadler, for his part, had on Tuesday described the committee vote on the MORE Act as “part of a long-term fight.” He stressed Wednesday that House lawmakers can negotiate with the Senate. Pro-marijuana activists have been celebrating the action in the House Judiciary Committee, with the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, also known as NORML, calling it the “biggest marijuana news of the year” and the “first-ever vote to remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act.”

Besides decriminalizing marijuana at the federal level, the MORE Act aims to expunge prior marijuana convictions and spur re-sentencing hearings for people still under supervision. It also would set up a 5% sales tax on marijuana products that would fund three grant programs, including one that would provide job training, legal aid and other services to the individuals hit hardest by the War on Drugs....

The MORE Act [available here] has more than 50 co-sponsors in the House, including Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, a member of the House Judiciary Committee who voted for the measure on Wednesday. The backers of the bill in the Senate include Democratic presidential hopefuls Sen. Kamala Harris of California, Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

The House committee voted 24-10 in favor of the bill on Wednesday, a House clerk said. Georgia Rep. Doug Collins, the committee’s top Republican, was among the GOP lawmakers who didn’t support the measure.

Collins said the MORE Act was a non-starter for most of his Republican colleagues. He suggested it won’t become law and lead to real change. “Do we want to accomplish something or do we just want to make a political statement?” Collins asked.

Groups in Washington that have disclosed lobbying on the MORE Act this year include the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies (NAMIC), the Cannabis Trade Federation, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the American Civil Liberties Union and NORML.

The cannabis industry has set a fresh record for its overall annual lobbying spending in Washington, with an outlay of $3.77 million through this year’s third quarter as it has pushed for a bill that would protect financial institutions that work with the marijuana industry.

November 20, 2019 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

US House Judiciary Committee to hold mark up of MORE Act proposing federal decriminalization of marijuana on Nov 20

6a00d8341bfae553ef0223c85155dc200c-320wiAs detailed in this press release, "House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) [Monday] announced the Committee will hold a markup on Wednesday, November 20, 2019 of H.R. 3884, the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act (MORE Act), comprehensive legislation to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level, reassess marijuana convictions, and invest in local communities. Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) introduced the companion bill in the Senate."  Here is more about MORE moving forward legislatively:

Ahead of the markup, on Tuesday, November 19, 2019, Chairman Nadler, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and additional Members of Congress, will hold a press conference to highlight the legislation.

"Our marijuana laws disproportionately harm individuals and communities of color, leading to convictions that damage job prospects, access to housing, and the ability to vote." said Chairman Nadler. "Recognizing this, many states have legalized marijuana.  It’s now time for us to remove the criminal prohibitions against marijuana at the federal level. That’s why I introduced the MORE Act, legislation which would assist communities disproportionately impacted by the enforcement of these laws. I am grateful for the leadership of Rep. Barbara Lee and Rep. Blumenauer, as well as other Members of Congress who have helped pave the way for this important measure. I look forward to moving this legislation out of the House Judiciary Committee, making it one step closer to becoming law."

"Our federal cannabis policies have been rooted in the past for far too long. As states continue to modernize how we regulate cannabis, Congress has a responsibility to ensure that our policies are fair, equitable, and inclusive," said Congresswoman Lee. "As Co-Chair of the bipartisan Cannabis Caucus, I am pleased to see Chairman Nadler and the Judiciary Committee take this historic step in marking up the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment & Expungement (MORE) Act. I’m pleased that this critical bill includes key tenets from my own legislation to right the wrongs of the failed and racist War on Drugs by expunging criminal convictions, reinvesting in communities of color through restorative justice, and promoting equitable participation in the legal marijuana industry. I applaud Chairman Nadler for his leadership and look forward to seeing this bill move out of committee."

Tuesday Press Conference on MORE Act

Date: November 19, 2019

Time: 11:00 a.m.

Location: Rayburn House Office Building Room 2237, Washington, D.C.  Live stream: https://www.facebook.com/HouseJudDems/

Wednesday Markup of the MORE Act

Date: November 20, 2019

Time: 10:00 a.m.

Location: Rayburn House Office Building Room 2141, Washington, D.C. Live stream: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCVvv3JRCVQAl6ovogDum4hA

 

The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act:

  • Decriminalizes marijuana at the federal level by removing the substance from the Controlled Substances Act. This applies retroactively to prior and pending convictions, and enables states to set their own policy.
  • Requires federal courts to expunge prior convictions, allows prior offenders to request expungement, and requires courts, on motion, to conduct re-sentencing hearings for those still under supervision.
  • Authorizes the assessment of a 5% sales tax on marijuana and marijuana products to create an Opportunity Trust Fund, which includes three grant programs:
    • The Community Reinvestment Grant Program: Provides services to the individuals most adversely impacted by the War on Drugs, including job training, re-entry services, legal aid, literacy programs, youth recreation, mentoring, and substance use treatment.  
  • The Cannabis Opportunity Grant Program: Provides funds for loans to assist small businesses in the marijuana industry that are owned and controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals.
  • The Equitable Licensing Grant Program: Provides funds for programs that minimize barriers to marijuana licensing and employment for the individuals most adversely impacted by the War on Drugs.
  • Opens up Small Business Administration funding for legitimate cannabis-related businesses and service providers.
  • Provides non-discrimination protections for marijuana use or possession, and for prior convictions for a marijuana offense:
    • Prohibits the denial of any federal public benefit (including housing) based on the use or possession of marijuana, or prior conviction for a marijuana offense.
  • Provides that the use or possession of marijuana, or prior conviction for a marijuana offense, will have no adverse impact under the immigration laws.
  • Requires the Bureau of Labor Statistics to collect data on the demographics of the industry to ensure people of color and those who are economically disadvantaged are participating in the industry. 

The full text of the MORE Act is available at this link.  Based on my email traffic, I know a lot of marijuana reform groups are very excited about this legislative development.  But I will await news that the full House will be voting on the bill, as well as some indication that the Senate might be interested in taking up any marijuana reform proposals, before thinking that federal reform is anywhere close to becoming a reality.

As noted in this prior post when the MORE Act was first introduced, I am excited that the  most comprehensive federal marijuana reform bill to be getting attention includes a provision (Section 5) establishing a "Cannabis Justice Office" within the within the federal Office of Justice Programs.  In my 2018 article, "Leveraging Marijuana Reform to Enhance Expungement Practices," I make the case for using marijuana revenues to help build an institutional infrastructure for helping to remediate the various harms from the war on drugs.  Though this proposed Cannabis Justice Office is not exactly what I had in mind, I am thrilled to see a major reform bill focus on creating an infrastructure for continued emphasis on justice and equity issues.

Prior related post:

New Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act envisions creating a Cannabis Justice Office

November 19, 2019 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

"A special exception for CBD in foods and supplements?"

X13596446The question in the title of this post is the headline if this notable new editorial in the journal Drug Discovery Today authored by Patricia Zettler and Erika Lietzan.  (Disclosure/humble brag: Professor Zettler is on the Ohio State College of Law faculty and a member of our Drug Enforcement and Policy Center.)  Here are excerpts from the start and end of the piece:

In the last two years the cannabidiol (CBD) market has exploded. Consumers can purchase CBD-containing oils, lotions, gummies, tea, coffee, water, popcorn, and cereal, on store shelves and online. Celebrities and athletes are touting the benefits of these products, and sales are forecast to exceed $20 billion in the next five years.  This market explosion has coincided with the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA)’s 2018 approval of the first CBD drug (Epidiolex), for treating seizures associated with two rare and severe forms of epilepsy in children, as well as the 2018 Farm Bill, which removed cannabis with low levels of delta-9-tetrahydocannabinol (THC) — “hemp” — from the federal list of controlled substances.  And it comes on the heels of nearly 40 states enacting comprehensive laws to legalize cannabis for medical use (and sometimes recreational use) within their borders.

Yet significant questions remain about the legal status of these widely available CBD products.  Most sales of CBD-containing foods and supplements violate the “drug exclusion rules” in the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA).  But FDA has yet to enforce those rules, apart from sending warning letters to a few sellers.  The agency is instead considering what approach to take.  Several former agency officials — including former Commissioner Scott Gottlieb — have urged FDA to create a sensible, science-based path forward for consumer products.  The time is ripe for the agency, lawmakers, health care providers, the drug discovery community, and the public to consider the purpose of the drug exclusion rules and what a different approach — exempting CBD — might mean for consumer and patient access and safety, as well as innovation incentives....

As a practical matter, CBD-containing foods and supplements may be here to stay.  Lawmakers or FDA may decide that the drug exclusion rules are unwarranted for CBD, given the federal descheduling of hemp, state legalization of cannabis products, and (eventually) rigorous evidence that CBD products are relatively safe.  But FDA should not default into this position simply because a robust, albeit unlawful, market has already emerged.  A decision to give CBD special treatment should be made thoughtfully and with public participation, accounting for possible gains in consumer access and choice, as well as the lost opportunity to learn, and harness, CBD’s full therapeutic potential.

November 12, 2019 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

"The Evolving Federal Response to State Marijuana Reforms"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper now available via SSRN authored by Rob Mikos.  Here is its abstract:

The states have launched a revolution in marijuana policy, creating a wide gap between state and federal marijuana law.  While nearly every state has legalized marijuana in at least some circumstances, federal law continues to ban the substance outright.  Nonetheless, the federal response to state reforms has been anything but static during this revolution.  This Essay, based on my Distinguished Speaker Lecture at Delaware Law School, examines how the federal response to state marijuana reforms has evolved over time, from War, to Partial Truce, and, next (possibly) to Capitulation.  It also illuminates the ways in which this shifting federal response has alternately constrained and liberated states as they seek to regulate marijuana as they deem fit.

November 6, 2019 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Senator Bernie Sanders puts forth details for his plan to legalize marijuana and repair harms of the drug war

95e4ca64-1205-4f28-b167-c6912ed95230-sandersIn August, Senator Bernie Sanders released this extended plan detailing a wide array of criminal justice reform proposals.  Unsurprisingly, one plank of his broader reform plan included a commitment to "legalize marijuana and vacate and expunge past marijuana convictions, and ensure that revenue from legal marijuana is reinvested in communities hit hardest by the War on Drugs."  Today, as detailed on this campaign page, Senator Sanders has provided a lot more of his proposed particulars for marijuana reform and here are excerpts:

As president, Bernie will:

Legalize marijuana in the first 100 days with executive action by:

  • Nominating an attorney general, HHS secretary, and administrator for the DEA who will all work to aggressively end the drug war and legalize marijuana
  • Immediately issuing an executive order that directs the Attorney General to declassify marijuana as a controlled substance
  • While Congress must aggressively move to end the war on drugs and undo its damage, as president Bernie will not wait for Congress to act. Passing legislation to ensure permanent legalization of marijuana

Vacate and expunge all past marijuana-related convictions.

  • In a Sanders administration we will review all marijuana convictions - both federal and state - for expungement and re-sentencing. All past convictions will be expunged.
  • Based on the California model, we will direct federal and state authorities to review current and past marijuana related convictions for eligibility. This review will include re-sentencing for all currently incarcerated with marijuana convictions. Following determination of eligibility or status, prosecutors will have one year to appeal or object, after which authorities will automatically expunge and vacate past marijuana convictions for all those eligible.
  • Federal funding will be provided to states and cities to partner with organizations that can help develop and operate the expungement determination process, much like how California worked with Code for America....

Ensure that revenue from legal marijuana is reinvested in communities hit hardest by the War on Drugs, especially African-American and other communities of color.  With new tax resources from legal marijuana sales, we will:

  • Create a $20 billion grant program within the Minority Business Development Agency to provide grants to entrepreneurs of color who continue to face discrimination in access to capital.
  • With this revenue we will also create a $10 billion grant program to focus on businesses that are at least 51% owned or controlled by those in disproportionately impacted areas or individuals who have been arrested for or convicted of marijuana offenses....
  • Use revenue from marijuana sales to establish a targeted $10 billion USDA grant program to help disproportionately impacted areas and individuals who have been arrested for or convicted of marijuana offenses start urban and rural farms and urban and rural marijuana growing operations to ensure people impacted by the war on drugs have access to the entire marijuana industry....
  • Create a $10 billion targeted economic and community development fund to provide grants to communities hit hardest by the War on Drugs.

Ensure Legalized Marijuana Does Not Turn Into Big Tobacco  Big Tobacco is already targeting the marijuana industry for its profits.  As president, Bernie will not allow marijuana to turn into Big Tobacco.  He will:

  • Incentivize marijuana businesses to be structured like nonprofits.
  • We will provide resources for people to start cooperatives and collective nonprofits as marijuana businesses that will create jobs and economic growth in local communities.

October 24, 2019 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)

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Senate International Narcotics Control Caucus to hold hearing on "Marijuana and America’s Health: Questions and Issues for Policy Makers."

As reported here via Marijuana Moment and as made official on this Senate webpage, the Senate International Narcotics Control Caucus is scheduled to hold a two-panel hearing on Wednesday, October 23, 2019 at 2:30pm under the title "Marijuana and America’s Health: Questions and Issues for Policy Makers."  Here is the "Witness List":

Panel I Consisting of:

  • Jerome Adams, MD, Surgeon General of the United States, Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, DC
  • Nora Volkow, MD, Director, National Institute of Drug Abuse, North Bethesda, MD 

Panel II Consisting of:

  • Robert Fitzgerald, Ph.D., Professor of Pathology, University of California-San Diego, San Diego, CA
  • Staci Gruber, Ph.D., Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA
  • Sean Hennessy, Pharm.D, Ph.D., Professor of Epidemiology, University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, Philadelphia, PA
  • Madeline Meier, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Psychology, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ

Here is some context from the Marijuana Moment article:

While the panel has released few details about the meeting, the list of witnesses gives some indication about what kind of subject matter will be covered.

Surgeon General Jerome Adams is set to participate in the first panel. The official is an outspoken critic of cannabis reform, decrying increased THC potency and decreased perception of marijuana risks among youth. He issued an advisory in August warning the public about marijuana use by adolescents and pregnant women.

Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute On Drug Abuse (NIDA), will join Adams on that panel. While often skeptical about claims about the therapeutic benefits of cannabis such as its ability to help people overcome addiction to opioids, Volkow has repeatedly stated that the Schedule I status of marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act is inhibiting research into the plant....

For the caucus’s second panel, four professors from universities across the country will weigh in on marijuana and public health. Robert Fitzgerald of the University of California at San Diego, Staci Gruber of Harvard Medical School, Sean Hennessy of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and Madeline Meier of Arizona State University are scheduled to testify.

Fitzgerald and Gruber have led departments within their respective schools that have conducted studies into marijuana, such as Gruber’s research demonstrating that the use of medical cannabis can improve cognitive functioning. Meier is well-known for her 2012 study linking frequent marijuana use to a drop in IQ.

October 22, 2019 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

US House of passes SAFE Banking Act by a vote of 321-103, but Senate vote still seems unlikely

Safe-banking-horizontal-1-800x419As reported in this MarketWatch piece, headlined "House passes cannabis-banking bill, but getting Senate’s OK still looks tricky," one piece of significant federal marijuana reform moved a step forward today.  Here are the details:

The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives late Wednesday voted to pass a bill protecting banks that work with the marijuana industry, but some analysts are warning that the measure isn’t likely to become law in 2019 as it faces a tough road in the Republican-controlled Senate.

The chances of enactment this year for the bill — known as the Secure And Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act — have risen to 1 in 3, up from 1 in 5, reckons Ian Katz, an analyst at Capital Alpha Partners. Those still aren’t great odds, however.  “We remain skeptical for now,” Katz said in a note before the House vote, though he added that the chances could get better “if we see meaningful signals from the Senate in the next few weeks.”

The bill aims to give clarification to banks and credit unions that serve cannabis companies with, for instance, business accounts for bill paying. Currently, financial institutions face legal problems because marijuana remains illegal on the federal level, even as more states legalize it.  Lobbyists have emphasized that many cannabis businesses end up “unbanked” and operating largely in cash, and that makes them targets for robberies and other crimes.

Influential Republican Sen. Mike Crapo gave some hope to the SAFE Banking Act’s supporters earlier this month, as the Senate Banking Committee chairman told Politico that he wanted to hold a committee vote before the year’s end on a cannabis banking bill. There are no additional details on the potential timing for such a vote, said a spokeswoman for the Idaho lawmaker on Monday.  Crapo had sounded noncommittal on the issue at a July hearing.

The SAFE Banking Act “has been sweetened for Republicans,” Katz said. One provision would prevent the return of Operation Choke Point, an Obama-era program that Crapo mentioned at the July hearing and that involved investigating banks for doing business with payday lenders and firearms dealers. Another new provision aims to protect financial firms that serve the hemp industry, which is a force in Kentucky, the home state of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

But McConnell continues to look like he could serve as a big roadblock to the bill. He described marijuana last year as hemp’s “illicit cousin which I choose not to embrace.” “There’s a line of thinking that McConnell could go along with a pot banking bill to help Republicans in the 2020 elections,” Katz said.  “The tough re-election prospects of Republican Sen. Cory Gardner [a co-sponsor of the bill] of marijuana-friendly Colorado are often cited.  But the benefit to Republicans, especially in the West and South, of supporting a bill that’s at least superficially pro-marijuana, is debatable.”

At the other end of the political spectrum, the bill had faced opposition ahead of Wednesday’s House vote from several progressive groups, such as the Center for American Progress, the American Civil Liberties Union and others.  In a letter to top House Democrats, the groups criticized the efforts to advance a bill that just addresses banking issues, but does not help “communities who have felt the brunt of prohibition,” yet have been “shut out” of the growing industry.  Their concerns didn’t end up stopping the House from passing the measure.

Wednesday’s vote happened under a suspension of House rules that limited debate and meant that two-thirds of the lawmakers present and voting needed to back the measure.  The vote tally was announced as 321 in favor vs. 103 against....

Many players in the cannabis industry say banking-related legislation will become law at some point in the next few years, even if 2019 doesn’t bring the action that they hope to see.  “I’m fairly confident that either the SAFE Act or STATES Act will be passed,” said Rob DiPisa, co-chair of law firm Cole Schotz’s Cannabis Law Group. “I think the industry has come too far.  The cat’s out of the bag, and it’s not going to disappear, so banking needs to happen.”

September 25, 2019 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States | Permalink | Comments (0)

More notable coverage of marijuana enforcement challenges thanks to hemp legalization

Mitch-mcon-weedIn prior posts here and here I have highlighted ways in which hemp and other cannabis reforms have made marijuana enforcement ever more challenging for law enforcement. Politico has this new lengthy article covering these realities with a spotlight on Senator Mitch McConnell's central role in hemp reform under the headline "Marijuana Mitch? How McConnell’s hemp push has made pot busts harder." Here are excerpts:

Mitch McConnell’s big victory for his home state hemp industry may have made it easier for people busted for marijuana to get off the hook.

Last year, McConnell pushed to get a provision legalizing hemp into the farm bill.  His goal was to spur hemp farming across the country and boost farmers in his home state of Kentucky who have been battered by a loss in federal tobacco subsidies.

But here’s the catch: Hemp and marijuana products both come from the same plant, cannabis, which makes it nearly impossible for the average cop to tell the difference.  As states rushed to change their hemp laws to capitalize on the federal changes, many municipalities are giving up on small-time pot busts because of a lack of reliable testing.  Under federal and most state laws, hemp can’t be more than 0.3 percent THC, the psychoactive compound that triggers a high.  Before hemp was legal, police only had tests that could detect the presence of THC, not how much.

Now that cannabis with less than 0.3 percent THC is legal, a growing number of prosecutors are requiring lab tests to bring charges. The mere presence of THC is no longer enough.

For example, in Texas, prosecutors were shocked by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s embrace of a hemp bill in June, said Paul Fortenberry, the narcotics division chief in the Harris County district attorney’s office.  The new law led to several district attorney’s offices to set policies requiring lab testing in marijuana cases.  Hundreds of people across the state happily had their cases dismissed.

Prosecutors in Florida, Ohio, Georgia and elsewhere have announced similar policies following hemp legalization laws. Five states legalized hemp this year and others expanded existing hemp programs because of the farm bill.

In Ohio, Columbus City Attorney Zach Klein’s office announced in August that it would stop prosecuting misdemeanor marijuana possession cases entirely after Republican Gov. Mike DeWine signed the state’s hemp legalization bill.  “I was not opposed to the law because of what it meant for Ohio farmers,” Klein said.  “Our farmers have been particularly hit by President [Donald] Trump’s trade war with China so it’s a positive thing for our state … but it still doesn’t mean there aren’t unintended consequences of this law.”

The localities where changes have already been made are likely just the first of many.  “It is a national issue.  This is not anything that is limited to just a few states,” said Duffie Stone, a South Carolina prosecutor and president of the National District Attorneys Association.

Hemp backers including McConnell, especially in conservative-leaning states, frame the hemp legalization issue as an agricultural one.  The crop cannot be consumed as an intoxicating drug, and it can help otherwise struggling farmers access a booming global market worth $3.7 billion in 2018.

But the issue of hemp cuts across several issues.  It’s exactly this focus on agriculture that caught prosecutors off guard in the first place — the hemp bill in Texas went through the agriculture committee.  “Typically when we have a criminal justice bill, it will come through the criminal justice committee,” Fortenberry said.  “Legislatures are seeing that other states have hemp programs worth tens or hundreds of millions of dollars, and they don’t want farmers in their state to get left behind,” he said.  “But in the process of doing that, I don’t think that they foresaw this unintended consequence.”

Earlier this year, South Dakota’s legislature passed a hemp legalization bill that Republican Gov. Kristi Noem promptly vetoed, arguing that it would undermine marijuana enforcement.  While lawmakers fell a few votes short of overriding her veto, they have vowed to try again in 2020.

“I find hard to believe [McConnell] would have moved [hemp legalization] in the same way had he been thinking about all these different implications,” said Melissa Moore, deputy state director of the Drug Policy Alliance, an advocacy group that aims to reduce criminalization in drug policies.  McConnell has previously opposed efforts to liberalize marijuana laws and didn’t return requests for comment for this report.

The farm bill essentially legalized hemp by removing it from the definition of marijuana under federal drug laws. Regulatory agencies haven’t finalized rules for the newly legal industry, however, leaving the nearly $2 billion industry built on the hemp derivative CBD in a regulatory limbo. CBD is a trendy cannabis compound used for relieving anxiety, pain, inflammation and more, though research on its efficacy is slim.  Hemp cultivars generally contain higher amounts of CBD and trace amounts of THC.  Its industrial applications abound: Hemp is gaining attention for its environmental friendliness and can be used in textiles, construction, biofuels, and more....

CBD-rich hemp flowers often look and smell the same as marijuana flowers that are high in THC. “Testing before didn’t distinguish the quantity of THC,” said Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot.  Without some sort of lab results showing that the substance had more than the legal limit of THC, “it just didn’t make any sense to accept the case.”

Texas lawmakers were so dismayed by marijuana cases being tossed out that they wrote a letter to local prosecutors arguing that lab tests aren’t required in every case.  “Criminal cases may be prosecuted with lab tests or with the tried and true use of circumstantial evidence,” read the letter signed by the governor, lieutenant governor, House speaker, and state attorney general.

Some smaller DA offices in the state agree. A spokesperson for the El Paso DA’s office sent a statement pointing to a provision of the Texas Health and Safety Code for its decision to continue prosecuting marijuana cases without lab results. But prosecutors in the state’s more populous counties have a different view. “In this day and age, when you have the actual ability to determine whether something is a certain substance, juries expect you to bring you that evidence,” Fortenberry said.

But the lack of testing equipment to differentiate between hemp and marijuana has overwhelmed state crime labs and using private labs can be pricey for local authorities.  Some local police departments are exploring a roadside test from Switzerland, where cannabis under 1 percent THC is legal.  In Florida, more sophisticated testing is coming soon to law enforcement agencies in the Sunshine State: An agriculture official told the Industrial Hemp Advisory Council that a new THC field test will cost $6.50 per test.

Stone said local prosecutors in South Carolina are sending samples to the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, which hired additional chemists and bought additional mass spectrometry machines that each cost about $100,000.

Like Texas, South Carolina hemp laws followed last year’s farm bill. But unlike other states that have seen prosecutions move away from marijuana cases, South Carolina prosecutors can still move forward with the cases because there is no statute of limitations for any criminal offense in the state.  In Texas, the statute of limitations for marijuana offenses is two years. That’s why prosecutors’ offices are tossing cases, said Creuzot, the Dallas County district attorney.  There’s such a “tremendous backlog” at state crime labs that the suspected marijuana samples can’t be tested before the statute of limitations runs up.

Ohio bought equipment that isn’t yet online, said Klein, but it will eventually allow the state Bureau of Criminal Investigation to test suspected marijuana samples.  When testing becomes available, prosecutors in the state also will have a two-year statute of limitations to contend with....

Proponents of marijuana legalization, however, caution that a lack of enforcement does not solve the issues that legalization and regulation would address.  “Certain individuals will avoid prosecution, but the only way to truly end the arrest of adults for marijuana is to fully legalize it at the state level,” said Erik Altieri, the executive director of NORML, an organization that advocates for marijuana legalization.

Creuzot said police officers often file marijuana cases anyways, despite knowing that his office won’t pursue the charges. “They arrest the person [and] take them to jail....  I don’t have any control over that if that’s what they want to do,” he said.  “An arrest in and of itself, even if the case is dismissed, can still have life-altering effects for somebody,” said Moore, of the Drug Policy Alliance, listing the potential consequences: barriers to employment opportunities, loans for higher education, affordable housing, and family law and immigration implications.

Recent related posts:

September 25, 2019 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Advocacy groups urge House leaders not to move forward with banking bill that "does not solve the underlying problems of marijuana prohibition"

As noted in this prior post, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer is reportedly planning to put a marijuana banking bill on the floor of the House of Representatives for a vote in the  coming weeks.  But yesterday a set of advocacy groups sent this short and significant letter to House leaders urging a postponement of the floor vote because the SAFE Banking Act fails to address any criminal justice reform issues.  Here are excerpts from the letter:  

The Congress has a unique opportunity to address the myriad injustices created by this nation’s marijuana laws. For decades, people of color have suffered under harsh and racially-biased marijuana laws. Although marijuana use is equal between whites and Blacks, Blacks are 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana offenses. Despite many states legalizing marijuana, arrests have increased, with one arrest every 48 seconds.  Against this backdrop, we urge Congress to address the issue of marijuana prohibition holistically and inclusively, with timely Committee and Floor consideration of H.R.3884 – the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act of 2019.  Marijuana legislation must first address the equity and criminal justice reform consequences of prohibition.

The banking bill does not address marijuana reform holistically. Instead, it narrowly addresses the issues of banking and improved access to financial services, measures that would benefit the marijuana industry, not communities who have felt the brunt of prohibition.  To be clear, we recognize the challenges facing marijuana businesses that lack access to financial services.  However, we believe it is a mistake to move this issue forward while many of the other consequences of marijuana prohibition remain unresolved.  The banking bill does not solve the underlying problems of marijuana prohibition – namely, that many people of color have been saddled with criminal records for a substance that is now legal in many states, and that communities have been shut out of the emerging and booming marijuana industry....

Since the start of the 116th Congress, we have expressed concern to House Leadership, the House Financial Services Committee, and member offices, that if the banking bill moved to the Floor before broader reform, it would jeopardize comprehensive marijuana reform.  Therefore, we have pushed for a conversation among advocates, Committee leadership, and House Leadership to formulate a plan for moving marijuana legislation in a way that is comprehensive and does not result in carve-outs for the industry and leave behind impacted communities.

We ask that you delay any vote on the banking bill until agreement has been reached around broader marijuana reform.

September 18, 2019 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 16, 2019

Serious talk of marijuana banking bill moving forward in Congress

This new Politico piece, headlined "Hoyer plans cannabis banking vote this month," reports that there is new momentum behind a small but very important federal marijuana reform bill.  Here are the details:

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer intends to put cannabis banking legislation on the floor this month, a historic step toward legitimizing the marijuana industry nationwide.

A Hoyer spokesperson said the Maryland Democrat was discussing the matter with members but hasn't scheduled the vote just yet. He shared his plans at a whip meeting yesterday.  Other House Democratic aides said they expected the bill to be on the floor during the week of Sept. 23.

The bipartisan legislation would shield banks from federal penalties if they serve cannabis-related businesses in states where the drug has been legalized. Banks have been lobbying for the bill because cannabis remains banned at the federal level.

The new movement in the House comes as the legislation appears to be getting unexpected traction in the Senate, where Banking Chairman Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) is planning to hold a vote on a cannabis banking bill this year.

This piece at Marijuana Moment, headlined "Marijuana Banking Bill Will Get A Full House Floor Vote This Month," provides more context and quotes concerning these developments. It also has this account why matters are now moving forward:

While sources told Marijuana Moment that Hoyer made his decision to allow cannabis banking vote following an earlier Wednesday meeting on the issue, it is likely that building momentum in the GOP-controlled Senate added to pressure on the House to act so that Democrats wouldn’t be seen as lagging behind Republicans on cannabis reform, an issue the party has sought to take political ownership of.

I have generally been pessimistic about the prospects for any form of federal marijuana reform primarily because Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has seemed disinclined to allow any reforms to get to the Senate floor.  I fear that this remains a reality that will thwart passage of even a modest reform bill that might have considerable support on both sides of the aisle. But, as proved true with the sentencing reform legislation last year, it seems possible that Senator McConnell would be willing to move the bill if President Trump and a significant number of GOP Senators expressed support for it. Stay tuned.

September 16, 2019 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 9, 2019

Politico rides with the high times with new cannabis newsletter

Main_1547760102-Cheech-Marin-Tommy-Chong-Signed-High-Times-Magazine-Cover-16x20-Photo-Beckett-COA-PristineAuction.comOld folks like me remember when one had to track down a hard copy of an issue of High Times in order to read about marijuana and policy reform.  But times sure have changed, and the latest media marker of modern high times may be the new newsletter that was rolled out today by Politico,  a highly respected inside-the-beltway media outlet covering politics and policy.  This newsletter is described this way:

This newsletter launches at a historic moment for marijuana and cannabis policy.  Marijuana is legal on some level in 33 states but illegal at the federal level, creating a bewildering and complex web of legal, regulatory and business questions that even the most expert policy makers and lawyers struggle to answer.

This newsletter offers a sneak preview of what we will do for our Pro subscribers starting next month.  Our mission for Pro readers is to cover these policy issues with passion and expertise, to deliver exclusive news and analysis, and to report on cannabis from a neutral, unbiased point of view.  We come to this issue with no pre-cooked narrative about what should happen on cannabis policy.  Our stories will focus on what POLITICO Pro does best: explaining policy issues and the politics behind them and delivering the news in an easy to digest format so that you can use our content to make business decisions.

And here are two new stories from the Politico team about happenings inside and outside the Beltway:

"Why the most pro-marijuana Congress ever won’t deal with weed":

This could be a big moment for marijuana and Congress. But Democrats are fighting Democrats over whether to focus on social justice issues or industry priorities like banking. Marijuana advocates are divided among themselves over whether to push for full legalization or settle for less far-reaching legislation.  And many Republicans — some of whom are seeing the benefits of cannabis legalization in their home states — are still decidedly against any legalization on the national level, even for medicinal uses.

At the same time that Congress is in gridlock, there is growing national support for cannabis, which is illegal at the federal level but at least partially legal in 33 states.  In addition, public opinion is shifting rapidly, with nearly two-thirds of Americans supporting legalization according to Gallup — double the level of support two decades ago.  That’s led to a steadily growing number of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who represent states with legal cannabis markets, making them more sympathetic toward legislation aimed at helping the burgeoning industry — which brought in roughly $10 billion in sales last year.

These conflicts between state and federal law have created a rash of problems for cannabis companies, including lack of access to banking services, sky-high federal tax rates and bewildering questions about exactly what business practices are legal.

"How marijuana is poised for a North American takeover":

The United States is feeling some North American peer pressure to get in on the cannabis boom.  Producers in Canada, where marijuana is legal for medicinal and recreational uses, are already planning for a future where pot is a globally traded commodity, and some are setting themselves up to profit if it is legalized in the U.S.

In Mexico cannabis is legal for medicinal purposes, and the landscape could shift further: The country's new president, whose party controls a majority in the national legislature, sent a proposal to the Mexican Senate late last year to legalize recreational use.

September 9, 2019 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 6, 2019

"Hemp legalization is slippery slope, and that’s OK"

The title of this post is the headline of this new Columbus Dispatch commentary authored by Benton Bodamer, who is a member of the law firm Dickinson Wright and teaches a Cannabiz course here at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.  Here are excerpts from the piece:

Regulators and law enforcement have a wildly impractical task in attempting to regulate companies, plants and products using a distinguishing factor (hemp vs. marijuana) that is both arbitrary and mutable.  There are no federal guidelines on how dry cannabis must be to test for THC, nor guidelines for the stage of cultivation or processing at which testing should occur.  As cannabis dries, the THC content increases and that process can continue after harvest and testing.  This means that temperature changes during transportation could turn “hemp” into “marijuana” unless we have a federally standardized testing and transportation procedure and methodology, which we do not.

CBD and THC can be extracted from both federally noncompliant marijuana and federally legal hemp.  If it is the exact same substance at the molecular level, should we really care?

In the face of federal illegality, draconian tax burdens, Wild West banking and competition from black market illegal operations, the state-compliant cannabis industry in America has managed to build a base of sophisticated investors, informed customers, medical professionals and even Republican supporters (gasp!), cultivating a promising industry that has generated millions of tax dollars and thousands of jobs. This industry persists in 33 states (and growing) because the vast majority of the country knows that the federal law is wrong and largely unenforced....

When laws are irrational we lose faith in civil institutions.  The cannabis industry is filled with “efficient illegality,” meaning noncompliance meets with little risk of federal enforcement against state-compliant businesses. F ederal prosecutorial dollars for action against state-compliant cannabis businesses are throttled through federal legislative restraints and 33 states have now decided that they would rather generate tax dollars from cannabis than spend tax revenue persecuting its nonthreatening uses.  Continuing the charade of federal illegality is doing far more harm to public perception in the value of laws and law enforcement than full-scale legalization with sensible federal, state, and local regulation would do.

There’s a simple answer to the confusion over “hemp” and “marijuana,” and it’s one that happens to reflect popular opinion.  It’s time to fully legalize the cannabis plant and the cannabinoids extracted from it and build a data-driven industry from the existing state-sanctioned marketplaces.  The sooner we stop pretending that century-old uninformed hysteria constitutes a sound public health policy, the sooner we can heal and grow (cannabis) together.

September 6, 2019 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 29, 2019

US Surgeon General issues new health advisory on "Marijuana Use and the Developing Brain"

Screen+Shot+2018-09-14+at+4.43.10+PMThis morning, the federal government weighed in on the health risks of marijuana reforms through this new extended US Surgeon General advisory headed "Marijuana Use and the Developing Brain."  Here is how it gets started and some key passages (with lots of cites to research removed):

I, Surgeon General VADM Jerome Adams, am emphasizing the importance of protecting our Nation from the health risks of marijuana use in adolescence and during pregnancy. Recent increases in access to marijuana and in its potency, along with misperceptions of safety of marijuana endanger our most precious resource, our nation’s youth.

Background

Marijuana, or cannabis, is the most commonly used illicit drug in the United States.  It acts by binding to cannabinoid receptors in the brain to produce a variety of effects, including euphoria, intoxication, and memory and motor impairments.  These same cannabinoid receptors are also critical for brain development.  They are part of the endocannabinoid system, which impacts the formation of brain circuits important for decision making, mood and responding to stress....

The risks of physical dependence, addiction, and other negative consequences increase with exposure to high concentrations of THC7 and the younger the age of initiation. Higher doses of THC are more likely to produce anxiety, agitation, paranoia, and psychosis.  Edible marijuana takes time to absorb and to produce its effects, increasing the risk of unintentional overdose, as well as accidental ingestion by children and adolescents.  In addition, chronic users of marijuana with a high THC content are at risk for developing a condition known as cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome, which is marked by severe cycles of nausea and vomiting.

This advisory is intended to raise awareness of the known and potential harms to developing brains, posed by the increasing availability of highly potent marijuana in multiple, concentrated forms.  These harms are costly to individuals and to our society, impacting mental health and educational achievement and raising the risks of addiction and misuse of other substances.  Additionally, marijuana use remains illegal for youth under state law in all states; normalization of its use raises the potential for criminal consequences in this population.  In addition to the health risks posed by marijuana use, sale or possession of marijuana remains illegal under federal law notwithstanding some state laws to the contrary.

Marijuana Use during Pregnancy

Pregnant women use marijuana more than any other illicit drug.  In a national survey, marijuana use in the past month among pregnant women doubled (3.4% to 7%) between 2002 and 201712. In a study conducted in a large health system, marijuana use rose by 69% (4.2% to 7.1%) between 2009 and 2016 among pregnant women.  Alarmingly, many retail dispensaries recommend marijuana to pregnant women for morning sickness.

Marijuana use during pregnancy can affect the developing fetus. THC can enter the fetal brain from the mother’s bloodstream and may disrupt the endocannabinoid system, which is important for a healthy pregnancy and fetal brain development. Moreover, studies have shown that marijuana use in pregnancy is associated with adverse outcomes, including lower birth weight.  The Colorado Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System reported that maternal marijuana use was associated with a 50% increased risk of low birth weight regardless of maternal age, race, ethnicity, education, and tobacco use....

Marijuana Use during Adolescence

Marijuana is also commonly used by adolescents, second only to alcohol.  In 2017, approximately 9.2 million youth aged 12 to 25 reported marijuana use in the past month and 29% more young adults aged 18-25 started using marijuana.  In addition, high school students’ perception of the harm from regular marijuana use has been steadily declining over the last decade.  During this same period, a number of states have legalized adult use of marijuana for medicinal or recreational purposes, while it remains legal under federal law.  The legalization movement may be impacting youth perception of harm from marijuana.

The human brain continues to develop from before birth into the mid-20s and is vulnerable to the effects of addictive substances.  Frequent marijuana use during adolescence is associated with changes in the areas of the brain involved in attention, memory, decision-making, and motivation.  Deficits in attention and memory have been detected in marijuana-using teens even after a month of abstinence.  Marijuana can also impair learning in adolescents.  Chronic use is linked to declines in IQ, school performance that jeopardizes professional and social achievements, and life satisfaction.  Regular use of marijuana in adolescence is linked to increased rates of school absence and drop-out, as well as suicide attempts. 

August 29, 2019 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical community perspectives, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)