Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Thursday, August 15, 2019

"Land of the Free, Home of the (Disgruntled) Brave: The Case for Allowing Veterans Access to Medical Marijuana"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper recently posted to SSRN authored by David Haba, a recent graduate of The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.  This paper is the ninth in an on-going series of student papers supported by Drug Enforcement and Policy Center.  (The eight prior papers in this series are linked below.)  Here is this latest paper's abstract:

Approximately 30 percent of post-9/11 veterans have been diagnosed with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  Over half of U.S. veterans struggle with chronic pain, and approximately 22 veterans commit suicide every day in America.  For veterans currently seeking medical treatment through Veteran Affairs (VA), 50 percent of PTSD patients cannot tolerate or do not adequately respond to existing treatments of opioids, anti-anxiety, and anti-depressant medications.  While an overwhelming majority of veterans, about 83%, support the use medical marijuana, they remain unable to obtain their preferred course of treatment (or financial assistance for it) through the VA because the federal government prohibits VA health care providers from recommending MMJ.

This paper argues that veterans, especially those with PTSD, should be able to obtain a recommendation, and financial assistance, for medical marijuana from the VA. This is especially true in states with legal medical marijuana programs.  Veterans have recently been calling on lawmakers to help them in their time of need as they battle hosts of ailments such as PTSD, chronic pain, and opioid addiction.   The government's current policy, which has allowed thirty-three states to enact legal medical marijuana programs, yet does not allow veterans to obtain a MMJ recommendation from the VA, nor obtain financial assistance for this medication, is unacceptable.  This paper calls on researchers to continue to enhance our understanding of MMJ's effects on PTSD, and for lawmakers to step up and do the right thing — to give the veterans the medicinal treatment that they want, need, and deserve for laying it all out on the line for our freedoms.

Prior student papers in this series:

August 15, 2019 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Is hemp really now going to become the number three crop in Ohio and can marijuana stay illegal if it does?

83b51efd-e309-441e-9f11-e3ada1158628-CBD_SeltzerI do not blog all that much about hemp reforms, even though I find them quite interesting and important, largely because I do not know that much about agriculture or about all the different ways the hemp plant might be used.  But this local article concerning Ohio hemp developments prompted both the question in the title of this post and some broader thoughts about the relationship between help developments and marijuana reform.  First, some excerpts from the article:

Gov. Mike DeWine signed Ohio's hemp legalization bill, Senate Bill 57, into law on Tuesday at the Ohio State Fair. The law takes effect immediately, freeing all embargoes on CBD inventory and moving hemp-derived cannabidiol off Ohio’s controlled substances list. It also means Ohio State University and other colleges can grow the state's first hemp this summer....

The law immediately allows hemp-derived CBD to flow into the state, but it will be a while before hemp can be commercially grown or processed in the Buckeye State. The U.S. Department of Agriculture plans to issue federal rules for hemp cultivation and processing in the coming weeks. In addition to CBD from hemp flowers, the plant is also harvested for its fiber and seed.

Ohio agriculture officials have six months to draft Ohio’s rules and regulations, which will then be submitted to the feds for approval. The goal: Have everything in place so farmers can get seeds in the ground next spring.... Ohio Department of Agriculture Director Dorothy Pelanda said the agency does not plan to limit the number of licenses issued to cultivate or process hemp.

Pelanda said the agency plans to craft regulations to ensure farmers plant seeds that are certified to be low in THC – hemp is defined as cannabis containing less than 0.3% THC. “We want to make sure that Ohio has the very best hemp program in the nation,” Pelanda told The Enquirer.

Ohio is the 46th state to allow hemp farming. A big part of Ohio’s program will be research, which will begin right away. Ohio State University plans to buy about 2,000 hemp plants in the next week. Gary Pierzynski, associate dean for research and graduate programs at OSU's College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, said it’s too late to plant with the goal of harvesting. But Pierzynski hopes this first crop at four locations will position them for good research on growing methods, plant diseases, pests and more next year.

Industry analysts predict the U.S. hemp market will grow from about $4.6 billion to more than $26 billion by 2023. The Ohio Farm Bureau Federation has said hemp has the potential to be Ohio's No. 3 crop behind corn and soybeans.

The bill leaves the details of Ohio’s hemp program – like who can grow it and how much licenses will cost – to the Ohio Department of Agriculture. Those rules will be shaped by experts, lobbyists and public comment periods. Hours after Senate Bill 57 passed, a new hemp industry lobbying group was announced. Backing the group: Ian James and Jimmy Gould, who led the unsuccessful 2015 effort to legalize recreational marijuana in Ohio. Since Issue 3 failed, James and Gould have invested in hemp, in addition to obtaining licenses for medical marijuana businesses here.

Statehouse lobbyist Neil Clark, who has been tapped to lead the organization, said the association will serve businesses who are involved at several levels of the industry and who have “big ideas.” “Our goal is to make sure those restrictions aren’t prohibitive,” Clark said. “There’s a lot of farmland in Ohio and there has to be opportunities for everyone.”

The group joins others that pushed the bill along including the U.S. Hemp Roundtable, which largely represents CBD businesses, and the Ohio Hemp Association, comprised of Ohio businesses and entrepreneurs that want to grow hemp or manufacture hemp products.

Queen City Hemp has been gearing up to put its CBD Seltzer water back on the shelves at local retailers, including Hemptations and Clifton Natural Foods.  A large part of the Cincinnati-based manufacturer’s inventory of CBD-infused seltzer water was confiscated from those retailers and destroyed by the local health department during their crackdown in February, according to president and co-founder Robert Ryan.

A number of national chain stores are already selling CBD products across the country.  Kroger, the nation's largest grocery retailer, announced in June it would sell hemp-derived CBD creams, balms and other topical products in nearly 1,000 stores in 17 states – but not its home state of Ohio.  That will change with the new law, but a Kroger spokeswoman said it was too early to provide details.

As this article highlights for Ohio, many folks here and throughout the nation with an affinity for marijuana reform are involved with hemp reform and the hemp industry.  If (when?) this crop becomes a huge part of agriculture in Ohio and elsewhere, I suspect these these folks are likely to use their clout and their money to push for reforms regarding other types of cannabis plants.  Similarly, if folks in Ohio and throughout the nation get used to seeing CBD sodas on many store shelves and CBD creams when shopping for soap, it seems ever more likely that they will start to view many forms of cannabis more benignly. 

July 30, 2019 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Senate hearing on marijuana industry banking issues reveals continued challenges for federal reforms

Many folks seemed quite excited by the Senate Banking Committee's decision to hold this hearing today, titled “Challenges for Cannabis and Banking: Outside Perspectives,” to discuss the SAFE Banking Act and related issues concerning the banking problems that face the marijuana industry. But just the headlines of two press reports on the hearing suggest my persistent pessimism about the short-term prospects for federal marijuana reforms remains justified:

From The Hill: "Pot banking bill supporters seek path to passage in skeptical Senate"

From CNBC: "Senate cannabis hearing shows challenges to rewriting pot laws despite growing support in Congress"

Both articles provide a helpful review of the hearing, and here is how the CNBC piece gets started:

A much-hyped congressional hearing on easing cannabis banking restrictions served as a reminder Tuesday that reforming pot laws remains an uphill battle in Congress despite growing bipartisan support among lawmakers.

The Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs hosted a hearing titled “Challenges for Cannabis and Banking: Outside Perspectives.” Lawmakers, industry executives and advocates testified on the challenges cannabis companies face trying to get basic banking services in states where medical or recreational marijuana is legal. They urged lawmakers to change federal laws to give the budding industry access to traditional financial services.

One piece of legislation, the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, would allow banks, credit unions and other financial institutions to work with the cannabis industry. Some think it could pass because it’s narrowly focused on banking and not other sticky issues like decriminalizing or legalizing pot.

But Tuesday’s hearing showed just how hard getting the bill through the Senate would be. Aside from committee chairman Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, none of the Republican committee members attended the hearing.

July 23, 2019 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

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

Download (5)I was pleased to hear reports about, and then see an email describing, a notable new federal marijuana reform bill being proposed by notable federal officials.   The email from the House Judiciary Democratic Press was titled "Nadler & Harris Introduce Comprehensive Marijuana Reform Legislation."  Here are excerpts:

Today, U.S. Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY-10), Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris (D-CA)  introduced the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, one of the most comprehensive marijuana reform bills ever introduced in the U.S. Congress.

“Despite the legalization of marijuana in states across the country, those with criminal convictions for marijuana still face second class citizenship. Their vote, access to education, employment, and housing are all negatively impacted,” said Chairman Nadler. “Racially motivated enforcement of marijuana laws has disproportionally impacted communities of color. It’s past time to right this wrong nationwide and work to view marijuana use as an issue of personal choice and public health, not criminal behavior. I’m proud to sponsor the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level, remove the needless burden of marijuana convictions on so many Americans, and invest in communities that have been disproportionately harmed by the war on drugs. I want to acknowledge the partnership in developing this legislation with my colleagues, Rep. Barbara Lee and Rep. Earl Blumenauer, Co-Chairs of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, as well as the contributions of Rep. Hakeem Jeffries and Rep. Nydia Velazquez.”

“Times have changed — marijuana should not be a crime,” said Sen. Harris. “We need to start regulating marijuana, and expunge marijuana convictions from the records of millions of Americans so they can get on with their lives. As marijuana becomes legal across the country, we must make sure everyone — especially communities of color that have been disproportionately impacted by the War on Drugs — has a real opportunity to participate in this growing industry. I am thrilled to work with Chairman Nadler on this timely and important step toward racial and economic justice.”

The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act aims to correct the historical injustices of failed drug policies that have disproportionately impacted communities of color and low-income communities by requiring resentencing and expungement of prior convictions.  This will create new opportunities for individuals as they work to advance their careers, education, and overall quality of life.  Immigrants will also benefit from the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, as they will no longer be subject to deportation or citizenship denial based on even a minor marijuana offense. The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act also ensures that all benefits in the law are available to juvenile offenders.

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.

Along with Nadler and Harris, co-sponsors of the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act include U.S. Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Ron Wyden (D-OR); in the U.S. House of Representatives, cosponsors Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Co-Chairs of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, and Hakeem S. Jeffries (D-NY) and Nydia M. Velazquez (D-NY), were particularly instrumental in developing this bill.  Other House cosponsors include Matt Gaetz (R-FL), David Cicilline (D-RI), Steve Cohen (D-TN), J. Luis Correa (D-CA), Madeleine Dean (D-PA), Theodore E. Deutch (D-FL), Veronica Escobar (D-TX), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Henry C. “Hank” Johnson, Jr. (D-GA), Ted Lieu (D-CA), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Jamie Raskin (D-MA), Eric Swalwell (D-CA), Dwight Evans (D-PA), Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), Debra A. Haaland (D-NM), Ro Khanna (D-CA), James P. McGovern (D-MA), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Maxine Waters (D-CA), and Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ). 

The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act has the support of a broad coalition of civil rights, criminal justice, drug policy, and immigration groups, including: the Drug Policy Alliance, Center for American Progress, 4thMVMT, ACLU, California Minority Alliance, Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), Human Rights Watch, Immigrant Legal Resource Center, Law Enforcement Action Partnership, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls, National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), Sentencing Project, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, UndocuBlack Network, Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA).

The full text of the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act is available at this link, and I especially what to note that Section 5 of the bill includes a provision for establishing within the federal "Office of Justice Programs a Cannabis Justice Office." 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 really excited to see any major reform bill focus on creating a justice infrastructure for continued emphasis on justice and equity issues.

July 23, 2019 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Spotlighting the key congressional gatekeepers controlling path for federal marijuana reform

With new marijuana-related hearings taking place this summer in both the House and Senate and with new bills being proposed and reform talk afoot, it might seem like significant federal marijuana reform could occur any day now.  But, usefully, this new Rolling Stone article provides an oft-needed reminder of who really decides whether and when any legislative proposals will advance.  The piece is headlined "Three Republicans Stand in the Way of Federal Weed Legalization: There’s finally bipartisan support for cannabis legislation — but unless it can get past a small group of Republican senators, the bills will continue to fizzle," and here are excerpts:

Democrat lobbyist... Saphira Galoob was [at lunch] to talk about cannabis legalization with Republican lobbyist Don Murphy. Over sweet potato fries, Murphy — a former GOP state representative in Maryland who has been working in marijuana policy for over 15 years — and Galoob traded war stories about advocating for cannabis on Capitol Hill, where, as Murphy explains, public opinion only goes so far....  [P]ublic and bipartisan support are not enough for full marijuana legalization, says Galoob. “We are still in a situation where the temperature within the Republican Party conference — within the leadership — is not yet signaling that it’s OK.”

The circle of people on Capitol Hill who will decide if cannabis legislation passes is actually pretty small.  There are three names that are continually listed — by lobbyists, advocates, and lawmakers — as the gatekeepers to any federal cannabis legislation: Republican Senators Mike Crapo (ID), Lindsey Graham (SC), and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY).  They make decisions about which cannabis bills — if any — the Senate in Congress will have opportunity to vote on this session.

“I used to think that in civics, in government, you need 50 percent plus one to pass legislation,” Murphy says.  “Not exactly. You need one, plus 50 percent.”  That one, says Murphy, is a committee chairman. In order to get a bill to the floor for a full Senate vote, it must first pass the House, then get seen by a Senate committee.  However, there are absolutely no guarantees that a committee will ever hear a bill.  That’s completely up to the committee chairman.

Senators Crapo and Graham are chairmen of the Senate Banking and Senate Judiciary committees, respectively — the two committees that have the highest chance of seeing standalone cannabis legislation in this congress.

Take, for example, the SAFE Banking Act, which is expected to pass the House by a strong margin.  But because the bill deals with banking, it will have to pass through the Senate Banking Committee, which has been led by Crapo since 2016....  Until very recently, the chairman and his office avoided taking a hard stance on the SAFE Banking Act by arguing that cannabis’ Schedule I status on the Controlled Substances Act should be dealt with first. But on July 16th, a hearing popped up on the Banking Committee calendar titled “Challenges for Cannabis and Banking: Outside Perspectives,” to be held in late July. Sen. Crapo’s Senate Banking committee, turns out, has scheduled a hearing on the SAFE Banking Act, officially pulling it into the Senate sphere of influence before it has even formally passed through the House of Representatives.

While that is good news for pro-SAFE Banking advocates and a big step forward for the bill itself, the story is far from over.  The bill still needs a vote — called a “markup” — scheduled, it needs to pass that committee vote, and then it moves on, most likely, to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The situation in the Judiciary Committee, where Sen. Lindsey Graham is chairman, is similar to banking.  Most cannabis bills — not just the banking bill — would have to pass his committee before being considered in the full Senate, because they involve the Controlled Substances Act, which is overseen by the Department of Justice.

Sen. Graham’s track record on marijuana is mostly cold.  He co-sponsored the medical marijuana-focused CARERS Act of 2015, which would have re-scheduled marijuana and given added protections to states that legalized marijuana.  But since then, Graham has voted against other bills such as the SAFE Banking Amendment — which have been tacked onto different appropriations bills multiple times over the years.  Graham told Roll Call in April that he is “not very excited about” the SAFE Banking Act, and in 2016 told POLITICO Magazine he rejects recreational marijuana.  His scorecard on marijuana advocacy group NORML’s website gives him a “C” grade.

What he would do if cannabis legislation is sent to his committee is unclear.  Most advocates don’t think Graham is motivated to hear standalone marijuana legislation unless there was additional pressure on him from GOP leadership....  Even if a cannabis bill passes a Senate committee in this congress, though, that doesn’t necessarily mean it will make it to a vote. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell holds the keys to the Senate chamber, and he only brings bills to the floor that he personally wants passed.  Though he worked hard last year to legalize hemp – Kentucky has a long history of farming industrial hemp, and McConnell was looking for a way to help the state’s economy — he’s said he will not consider descheduling cannabis.... 

Some advocates believe that the majority leader could be swayed if a cannabis bill could also help the hemp industry.  Right now, some hemp farmers are still having issues opening bank accounts or accessing other programs that should be legal for them, because to the untrained eye, full-spectrum cannabis and hemp look incredibly similar.  The difference between legality and classification as a Schedule I drug is in how much CBD and THC the plant possesses, and banks don’t want to be held liable if a hemp company grows a crop with too much CBD or any THC.  So many banks and credit card companies are avoid working with the hemp industry entirely.  At a tour of a Kentucky hemp facility earlier this month, McConnel himself acknowledged the service gap, saying the banks “need to be convinced, and we hope to explain it to them.”

If the SAFE Banking Act was passed, it would arguably give hemp – which Sen. McConnell worked hard to make legal for his state – some breathing room.  Republican Cory Gardner, one of the more influential GOP members on this topic, is optimistic. “I think we’re making more progress than we’ve ever had,” he says.

When asked about the chances for cannabis legislation in the Senate, Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon said he believes the SAFE Banking Act — and potentially other cannabis legislation — has the votes to pass. “It would help a lot to have the support of leadership in this chamber,” he says. “If there’s no obstruction, if we have a free chance to have a debate on the floor, I think we can get the sixty votes and pass it.”

If no cannabis legislation is passed by the time a new congress arrives in January of 2021, the whole process — introducing bills, committee hearings and votes, House votes, Senate votes, etc — will have to start over at square one.

July 18, 2019 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Recapping big congressional hearing on marijuana reform and wondering what is next

Yesterday was an interesting and perhaps historic day inside the Beltway as the  Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security Subcommittee of the Committee of the Judiciary of US House of Representatives conducted a hearing titled "Marijuana Laws in America: Racial Justice and the Need for Reform."  The full two-hour+ hearing, along with the written testimony submitted by the official witnesses, can all be found at this official webpage.   If one is looking for a summary, this High Times piece provides recap under the headline "What Was Said at Today’s Congressional Hearing on Federal Marijuana Law Reform."  And the headline of this Marijuana Moment recap, headlined "Lawmakers And Witnesses Clash On Strategy During Congressional Hearing On Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition," highlights that there was considerable consensus on the problems with blanket federal marijuana prohibition, but considerable dissensus concerning how reform might best move forward.

I have been fairly pessimistic about federal marijuana reforms before 2020 primarily because, as I noted in this MJBiz Daily piece, I do not think Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell has any interest in moving  any significant reforms forward these days (especially after he got hemp reforms passed late last year).  But this congressional hearing provides yet another reminder of why federal marijuana reform is likely to remain so very challenging in the months and years ahead.  Even when there is broad agreement as to the need for reform, we still seem to be a very long way from agreement as to the best form of reform.  And experiences over the last year in New Jersey and New York highlight that even a strong political will for reform among key official can still be thwarted by squabbles over which of various forms reform could take.

For this reason, as I wonder about what is next in Congress on this front, I remain inclined to say "probably nothing."  

A few related recent prior posts:

July 11, 2019 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

On eve of congressional marijuana reform hearing, major policy groups form new Marijuana Justice Coalition

6a00d8341bfae553ef0223c85155dc200c-320wiAs reported in this Marijuana Moment piece, headlined "ACLU And Other Groups Form Coalition To Push Justice-Focused Marijuana Legalization Model," a notable new alliance has come together to press for federal marijuana reform.  Here are the basics:

Ten leading civil rights and criminal justice reform groups announced on Tuesday the formation of a coalition to advocate that marijuana legalization legislation must be comprehensive and include wide-ranging social equity provisions.

Members of the Marijuana Justice Coalition (MJC) include the ACLU, Center for American Progress, Center for Law and Social Policy, Drug Policy Alliance, Human Rights Watch, Immigrant Legal Resource Center, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Leadership Conference on Civil & Human Rights, NORML and Students for Sensible Drug Policy.

Noting that the congressional conversation around cannabis has shifted from whether to legalize to how to legalize, MJC said in its announcement that any reform effort should include a series of measures that focus on investing in communities disproportionately harmed by prohibition, encouraging participation in the industry by impacted individuals, expunging the records of those with prior marijuana convictions and ensuring that work in a legal market doesn’t impact citizenship applications.

“Ending prohibition on the federal level presents a unique and desperately needed opportunity to rightfully frame legalization as an issue of criminal justice reform, equity, racial justice, economic justice, and empowerment, particularly for communities most targeted by over-enforcement of marijuana laws,” MJC wrote. “As Congress considers the end of marijuana prohibition, the Marijuana Justice Coalition believes that any legislation that moves forward in Congress should be comprehensive.”

That comprehensive approach should involve descheduling cannabis and advancing criminal justice reform provisions such as expungements and resentencing, MJC said. The group also called for “eliminating barriers to access to public benefits (e.g. nutrition assistance, public housing, etc.) and other collateral consequences related to an individual’s marijuana use or previous arrest or conviction” and “eliminating unnecessarily discriminatory elements for marijuana use, arrests and convictions, including drug testing for public benefits or marijuana use as a reason for separating children from their biological families in the child welfare system.”

Queen Adesuyi, policy coordinator at the Drug Policy Alliance’s national affairs office, said the coalition was formed “with the goal of reforming federal marijuana laws, but doing so in a way that gives back to the communities most impacted by the war on drugs.”...

“Since the scheduling of marijuana as a Controlled Substance in 1970, over 20 million Americans have been unjustly arrested or incarcerated,” Justin Strekal, political director of NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “Entire communities have lost generations of citizens to cyclical poverty and incarceration that resulted from the collateral consequences of having a cannabis-related conviction on their record.”...

Tuesday’s announcement from MJC and its influential members is especially timely. On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security Subcommittee will hold a hearing on marijuana reform that’s expected to explore many of the social equity and racial justice issues identified in MJC’s priority list. While the panel may well consider the bipartisan Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act among other bills, it seems unlikely MJC will be inclined to offer its support for that specific legislation because it lacks social equity provisions.

The full "Statement of Principles on Federal Marijuana Reform" from this coalition can be found at this link. Here are a few paragraphs from that two-page statement before it turns to specifics:

Ending prohibition on the federal level presents a unique and desperately needed opportunity to rightfully frame legalization as an issue of criminal justice reform, equity, racial justice, economic justice, and empowerment, particularly for communities most targeted by over-enforcement of marijuana laws.

As Congress considers the end of marijuana prohibition, the Marijuana Justice Coalition believes that any legislation that moves forward in Congress should be comprehensive. The provisions set forth below are agreed upon by the undersigned criminal justice, drug policy, civil rights, and anti-poverty groups as principles that should be considered as a part of any moving marijuana reform efforts in Congress.

Relatedly, Kyle Jaeger at Marijuana Moment also has this lengthy preview of today's congressional hearing on marijuana reform headlined "The Debate Over How, Not Whether, Congress Should Legalize Marijuana Is Heating Up."

Related prior post:

US House Subcommittee hearing scheduled on "Marijuana Laws in America: Racial Justice and the Need for Reform"

July 10, 2019 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 8, 2019

US House Subcommittee hearing scheduled on "Marijuana Laws in America: Racial Justice and the Need for Reform"

WashingtonDC-Capitol-MarijuanaI am quite intrigued and pleased that this week the US House of Representatives has scheduled a hearing titled "Marijuana Laws in America: Racial Justice and the Need for Reform."  The official notice of the hearing is here, and the event will be conducted by the Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security Subcommittee of the Committee of the Judiciary and will take place on Wednesday, July 10, 2019 at 10:00am in Room 2141 of the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington DC.

Based solely on the title given to this hearing, I would expected it to be focused principally on racial disparities in arrests and on other racialized aspects of the enforcement of marijuana prohibitions.   But the official witness list for the hearing shows that two of the four scheduled witnesses are doctors while another is the CEO of the Cannabis Trade Federation.   One scheduled witness who does work in the criminal justice, Marilyn Mosby, the chief prosecutor for Baltimore City, surely can and will speak to racial justice issue in the application of marijuana laws.  But I am not entirely sure the other witnesses will be focused on racial justice specifically or just the need for reform generally.

Kyle Yeager at Marijuana Moment has this helpful review of what we might expect from the witnesses and the significance of this event.  Here are excerpts:

Given the backgrounds of these individuals, it seems apparent that committee members will be discussing not whether the U.S. should end federal cannabis prohibition, but will focus primarily on how to do it.

Witnesses [will] include Malik Burnett, a physician at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health who previously served as the Washington, D.C. policy manager at the Drug Policy Alliance’s Office of National Affairs, where he helped lead a successful ballot initiative campaign to legalize cannabis in the nation’s capital in 2014.

Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, who announced in January that her office would no longer prosecute cannabis possession cases and would work to clear the records of certain individuals with prior marijuana convictions, is also being invited to testify.

David Nathan, a physician and board president of the pro-legalization group Doctors for Cannabis Regulation (DFCR), will also appear before the committee. He told Marijuana Moment that he looks “forward to discussing the evidence-based health effects of cannabis, the failure of prohibition, the inadequacy of decriminalization, and the public health and social justice benefits of effective regulation.”...

Finally, Neal Levine, CEO of Cannabis Trade Federation, will be the minority witness—which is noteworthy in and of itself, as Levine advocates for legalization, while one might expect the minority Republican party to invite someone who shares an opposing perspective on ending prohibition. “I cannot comment on what has not been announced publicly by the committee, but I would welcome the opportunity to share the perspective of our members,” Levine, who previously served as a staffer for the Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment. “We are especially well positioned to discuss the challenges arising from the inconsistency between state and federal cannabis laws.”...

While lawmakers aren’t expected to vote on any particular bill at the hearing, it will nonetheless be one of the most significant congressional developments on marijuana reform to date.

July 8, 2019 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Split Second Circuit panel gives small victory to medical marijuana users while turning away their high-profile court challenge to Schedule I placement

I have noted in a number of prior posts linked below the notable lawsuit seeking to ensure legal access to medical marijuana that was filed in federal district court in New York in July 2017 (first discussed in this post.)   In February of 2018, as noted in this post, US District Judge Alvin Hellerstein dismissed the suit, ruling the litigants had "failed to exhaust their administrative remedies” while concluding that "it is clear that Congress had a rational basis for classifying marijuana in Schedule I."  In response to that ruling, I said "plaintiffs in this suit could appeal this dismissal to the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, and doing so would likely keep the case in the headlines [but] I am not optimistic it would achieve much else."  

In fact, an appeal was brought to the Second Circuit, and it did achieve something: an interesting split panel ruling that provides an interesting small victory to the plaintiffs despite ultimately failing to provide an real relief.  Specifically, the majority opinion authored by Judge Guido Calabresi in Washington v. Barr, No. 18-859 (2d Cir. May 30, 2019) (available here), gets started this way:

This is the latest in a series of cases that stretch back decades and which have long sought to strike down the federal government’s classification of marijuana as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), 2 U.S.C. § 801 et seq. See, e.g., Krumm v. Drug Enforcement Admin., 739 F. App’x 655 (D.C. Cir. 2018) (mem.); Ams. for Safe Access v. Drug Enforcement Admin., 706 F.3d 438 (D.C. Cir. 2013); Alliance for Cannabis Therapeutics v. Drug Enforcement Admin., 15 F.3d 1131 (D.C. Cir. 1994) (mem.).  The current case is, however, unusual in one significant respect: among the Plaintiffs are individuals who plausibly allege that the current scheduling of marijuana poses a serious, life‐or‐death threat to their health.  We agree with the District Court that Plaintiffs should attempt to exhaust their administrative remedies before seeking relief from us, but we are troubled by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)’s history of dilatory proceedings.  Accordingly, while we concur with the District Court’s ruling, we do not dismiss the case, but rather hold it in abeyance and retain jurisdiction in this panel to take whatever action might become appropriate if the DEA does not act with adequate dispatch.

Judge Jacobs dissents from the panel's failure to just dismiss the lawsuit, and his opinion starts this way:

The plaintiffs seek a declaration that the classification of marijuana as a Schedule 1 substance is unconstitutional because it does not reflect contemporary learning regarding the drug’s medicinal uses.  I agree with the District Court that this case must be dismissed for failure to exhaust administrative remedies in the Drug Enforcement Agency (“DEA”).  The majority opinion does not actually disagree, though it seems to treat lack of jurisdiction as a prudential speed bump. I dissent from the majority opinion’s decision to hold the case in abeyance so that we may turn back to it if, at some future time, we get jurisdiction.

Prior related posts:

May 30, 2019 in Court Rulings, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

"Half-Baked: The Science and Politics of Legal Pot"

The title of this post is the title of this new article authored by Joelle Anne Moreno and now available via SSRN. Here is its abstract:

Weed, herb, grass, bud, ganja, Mary Jane, hash oil, sinsemilla, budder, and shatter.  Marijuana – whether viewed as a medicine or intoxicant – is fast becoming a part of everyday life, with the CDC reporting 7,000 new users every day and the American market projected to grow to $20 billion by 2020.  Based on early campaign rhetoric, by that same year the U.S. could have a pro-marijuana president.

Despite its growing acceptance and popularity, marijuana remains illegal under federal law.  Like heroin, LSD, and ecstasy, marijuana is a DEA Schedule I drug reflecting a Congressional determination that marijuana is both overly addictive and medically useless.

So what is the truth about pot?  The current massive pro-marijuana momentum and increased use, obscures the fact that we still know almost nothing about marijuana’s treatment and palliative potential.  Marijuana’s main psychoactive chemical is THC; but it also contains over 500 other chemicals with unknown physiological and psychological effects that vary based on dosage and consumption method.  Medical marijuana may be legal in 32 states and supported by 84% of Americans, but federal constraints shield marijuana from basic scientific inquiry.  This means that lawmakers and voters are enthusiastically supporting greater access to a drug without demanding critical scientific data.  For policymaking purposes, this data should include marijuana’s short and long-term brain effects, possible lung and cardiac implications, chemical interactions with alcohol and other drugs, addiction risks, pregnancy and breast-feeding concerns, and the effects of secondhand smoke.

This Article treats marijuana as a significant contemporary science and law problem.  It focuses on the fundamental question of regulating a substance that has not been adequately researched.  The Article examines the extant scientific data, deficiencies, and inconsistencies and explains why legislators should not rely on copycat laws governing alcohol or prescription narcotics.  It also explores how marijuana’s hybrid federal (illegality)/state (legality) raises compelling theoretical and practical Constitutional questions of preemption, the anti-commandeering rule, and congressional spending power.  Marijuana legalization has, thus far, been treated as a niche academic concern.  This approach is short-sighted and narrowminded.  Marijuana regulation implicates the reach of national drug policy, the depth of state sovereignty, and the shared obligation to ensure the health and safety of our citizenry.

May 22, 2019 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

New issue brief calls for "Using Marijuana Revenue to Create Jobs"

Download (25)As detailed in this press release, yesterday "the Center for American Progress released a new issue brief calling for states and the federal government to use marijuana tax revenue to fund the creation of thousands of public sector jobs in low-income communities of color that have been historically deprived of economic opportunity due to discriminatory drug enforcement."  Here is more from the release:

The issue brief proposes a tangible way to pay for the creation of jobs in communities that have experienced the heaviest consequences of disparate criminal enforcement of marijuana.  The authors calculate that annual tax revenues from the regulated marijuana market in California and Washington state, for example, could create nearly 20,000 jobs.  This number is sure to increase as more and more Americans — 68 percent, according to a 2018 CAP/GBAO Strategies poll — favor marijuana legalization and more states consider legalizing the recreational use of marijuana as well as creating a regulated marijuana market.

The proposal is an outgrowth of CAP’s 2018 report, “Blueprint for the 21st Century: A Plan for Better Jobs and Stronger Communities,” which called for a massive investment in public sector  job creation and a jobs guarantee for highly distressed communities.

The brief further describes the need to ensure that any marijuana legalization effort leads with provisions that ensure racial equity and correct injustices that have resulted from the war on drugs.  Key recommendations include providing automatic and cost-free expungements of marijuana arrest and conviction records; reinvesting in essential services for communities most harmed by the war on drugs; and promoting equitable licensing systems and funding for minority-owned businesses.  These measures would greatly help people who face barriers to economic opportunity, employment, and other basic necessities due to the collateral consequences of a marijuana-related conviction.

The full eight-page issue brief is titled “Using Marijuana Revenue to Create Jobs” and is authored by Maritza Perez, Olugbenga Ajilore, and Ed Chung. Here is its conclusion:

Today, states are raking in billion-dollar profits for activity that sent millions of African American and Latinx individuals into the criminal justice system, trapping their families and communities in poverty for generations.  The movement to legalize marijuana presents an opportunity both to achieve justice for and to build economic opportunity in these communities.  Creating public sector jobs and other policies outlined in this issue brief acknowledge the economic impact that the war on drugs has had on low-income people of color.  With these policies, elected leaders can begin to address the structural barriers that states must rupture so that individuals from some of their most vulnerable communities have equal access to economic opportunity.

May 21, 2019 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, May 3, 2019

"Clearing the Air About Marijuana in Qualified Opportunity Zones"

The title of this post is the title of this interesting short piece that is available on SSRN and is a reprint from the Tax Management Real Estate Journal.  The piece is authored by Libin Zhang, and here its abstract:

The law formerly known as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 created qualified opportunity zones (QOZs), which are low-income census tracts in which certain investments by qualified opportunity funds (QOFs) are provided tax benefits.  The investments generally cannot include any golf course, country club, massage parlor, hot tub facility, suntan facility, racetrack or other facility used for gambling, or store the principal business of which is the sale of alcoholic beverages for consumption off premises (some practitioners refer to such businesses as "sin businesses," but this article uses the non-judgmental and less anti-golf term of "excluded business.")

Some commentators have stirred the pot by questioning the extent that QOFs can be involved in marijuana businesses.  While the QOZ rules have their hazy areas, the excluded businesses should not include marijuana activities.

However, section 280E may disallow deductions for taxpayers that buy and sell marijuana. QOFs should ensure that they deal with marijuana in a different capacity, such as in a real estate rental business, in order to ensure that their deductions do not go up in smoke.

May 3, 2019 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 29, 2019

"Marijuana Banking in New York and Around the U.S.: 'Swim at Your Own Risk'"

The title of this post is the title of this paper just posted to SSRN authored by Jordan Hoffman, who is a student at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.  This is the second of what will be an on-going series of student papers supported by Drug Enforcement and Policy Center.  (The first paper in the series was authored by Shelby Slaven under the title "The Canna(business) of Higher Education.") 

Here is the abstract of this new paper on marijuana banking:

Today, banking in any way relating to marijuana is a violation of federal law.  Conflicting laws and guidance from the federal and state governments threatens the welfare and success of a billion-dollar industry.  Analyzing the current marijuana banking laws, regulations, and practices in New York and around the US provides a glimpse into an industry suffocating from public pressures and overpowering economic tides.  To protect and uphold the integrity of our government and the agencies it deems controlling, the federal government must reform marijuana banking.

April 29, 2019 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

"The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Why IRC § 280E is not the Industry Killer it is Portrayed to be"

The title of this post is the title of a presentation to be made by one of my students in my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar this coming week.  Here is part of his explanation of his topic and links to some background reading:

State legalization of marijuana, and the rising prevalence of marijuana businesses, has continually thrust Internal Revenue Code (IRC) § 280E into the spotlight.  Many scholars have argued for the provision’s abolishment, but the IRS’s staunch stance remains unyielding.  The literature seems to suggest a tacit assumption that IRC § 280E will remain a hurdle if/until marijuana is removed from Schedule I.  Although IRC § 280E is a hurdle, other mechanisms are shifting to allow marijuana businesses to be successful despite this tax provision. 

For example, in many cases, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 did more for marijuana businesses than a repeal of IRC § 280E would have.  Yes, marijuana businesses are still worse off than other businesses from a tax perspective, but marijuana’s competition is not necessarily other sectors, it is the black market.  There is something to be said for the fact that the marijuana industry continues to grow, despite claims of IRC § 280E making growth “impossible.”  However, the primary focus of this paper is not to explain why IRC § 280E predictions were incorrect, it is to look forward at why and how the industry can continue to succeed regardless of IRC § 280E.

Background Reading

April 2015 white paper by the National Cannabis Industry Association, "Internal Revenue Code 280E: Creating An Impossible Situation For Legitimate Businesses": Download 2015-280E-White-Paper

Fortune article, "The Marijuana Industry’s Battle Against the IRS"

2015 IRS Memo on IRC § 280E

Cannabis Business Times article, "Tax Court Reinforces IRS Code 280E in Harborside Ruling"

Memo from Rosenberg Martin Greenberg law firm, "Are Owners of Cannabusinesses Eligible for the Qualified Business Income Deduction Under Section 199A?"

April 9, 2019 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, April 5, 2019

Will the new, reintroduced version of the STATES Act be able to get even a hearing in Congress?

Supportstates-copy-300x300The question in the title of this post was my reaction of this news out of Congress as reported here by Marijuana Moment:

Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and David Joyce (R-OH) filed the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act, appearing alongside cosponsors Reps. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Joe Neguse (D-CO) at a press conference. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) filed the Senate version of the bill.... The legislation would amend the Controlled Substances Act to protect people complying with state legal cannabis laws from federal intervention, and the sponsors are hoping that the bipartisan and bicameral nature of the bill will advance it through the 116th Congress.

“I’ve been working on this for four decades. I could not be more excited,” Blumenauer told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview. While other legislation under consideration such as bills to secure banking access for cannabis businesses or study the benefits of marijuana for veterans are “incremental steps that are going to make a huge difference,” the STATES Act is “a landmark,” he said....

The congressman said it will take some time before the bill gets a full House vote, however. Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) recently suggested that the legislation would advance within “weeks,” but Blumenauer said it will “be a battle to get floor time” and he stressed the importance of ensuring that legislators get the chance to voice their concerns and get the answers they need before putting it before the full chamber. “We want to raise the comfort level that people have. We want to do it right,” he said. “There’s no reason that we have to make people feel like they’re crowded or rushed.”...

Asked whether he’d had conversations with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) about moving cannabis bills forward this Congress, Blumenauer said there’s been consistent communication between their offices and that the speaker is “very sympathetic” to the issue and “understands the necessity of reform.”

There are 26 initial cosponsors — half Democrats and half Republicans—on the House version. Reps. Ro Khanna (D-CA), Lou Correa (D-CA), Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and Don Young (R-AK) are among those supporters. The previous version ended the 115th Congress with 45 cosponsors.

On the Senate side, there are 10 lawmakers initially signed on: Warren and Gardner, along with Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Rand Paul (R-KY)....

For the most part, the latest versions of the legislation are identical to the previous Congress’s bills, though there are two exceptions. Previously, there was a provision exempting hemp from the definition of marijuana, but that was removed—presumably because it is no longer needed in light of the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, which federally legalized the crop.

The bigger change is that the new version contains a section that requires the Government Accountability Office to conduct a study on the “effects of marihuana legalization on traffic safety.” Among other data points, the office would be directed to collect info on “traffic crashes, fatalities, and injuries in States that have legalized marihuana use, including whether States are able to accurately evaluate marihuana impairment in those incidents.” A report on those effects would be due one year after the law is enacted.

This article in Roll Call, headlined "Marijuana bill could help Cory Gardner’s re-election chances. Will Senate GOP leaders get behind it?," provides some more insights into the politics in play. Here are excerpts:

The bill’s sponsors are confident the bill can pass — if it comes up for a vote. “If we get it on the floor of the Senate, it passes,” said Gardner. “If we get it on the floor of the House, it passes.”...

Gardner acknowledged the bill will have a harder time in the GOP-controlled Senate than in the Democrat-led House, saying he was working to convince Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham to advance the bill and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to eventually allow it to come to a floor vote. Graham, asked about the bill, said he hadn’t thought about marking it up. “I’m not very excited about it,” the South Carolina Republican said....

Gardner is up for re-election in 2020 in a state that legalized recreational marijuana, and allowing him a legislative win could help the GOP retain control of the Senate. On the other hand, Republican leadership may be loath to give some Democratic co-sponsors running in 2020 — whether for re-election or the presidency — political victories.

If Congress passes the proposal, Gardner said President Donald Trump will sign it. “The president has been very clear to me that he supports our legislation,” Gardner said. “He opposed the actions that were taken by the Attorney General [Jeff Sessions] to reverse the Cole memorandum and believes we have to fix this.” The Cole memorandum is Justice Department guidance against prosecuting federal marijuana laws in states that have legalized it.

April 5, 2019 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Federal scheduling and research challenges for cannabis and psychedelics

The second of four student presentation this coming week in my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar will focus on  federal scheduling under the Controlled Substances Act and the research and market realities impacted by the placement of marijuana in Schedule I.  Here is how my student has summarized his topic, along with the background readings he has provided:

The placement of cannabis in Schedule I practically prevents comprehensive and meaningful research into its medical applications and potential harms.  The federal government cites cannabis' placement in Schedule I as the reason rigorous research must be conducted before it can be rescheduled, but places restrictions on its research, because of its schedule, that are nearly impossible to overcome.  Is there an alternative pathway to federal cannabis legalization, or at least rescheduling, so that more meaningful research can be conducted? 

My presentation will examine U.S. drug scheduling, looking at the criteria and examples of substances in each schedule.  I will then provide an overview of the FDA research model by which new drugs come to market, contrast it with the type of research conducted on cannabis, and discuss why meaningful, rigorous research into cannabis is so difficult.  With this background, I will discuss the findings of a former UK drug-policy adviser that suggests substantial rescheduling is necessary, and how these findings helped initiate research into other Schedule I drugs.  Finally, I will provide an overview of research into other Schedule I substances, particularly psychedelics, and how this research may accelerate the rescheduling or federal legalization of cannabis so that its impact on health may be studied more effectively.

Background Resources:

March 31, 2019 in Assembled readings on specific topics, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, March 25, 2019

"The Effect of Marijuana Use on American Veterans with PTSD, and How the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Ought to Respond"

The title of this post is the title of a presentation to be made by one of my students in my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar this coming week.  Here is part of his explanation of his topic and links to some background reading:

Because the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is required to follow all federal laws, the VA is prohibited from prescribing, recommending, or assisting veterans in obtaining marijuana.  While veterans may discuss marijuana use with VA providers, VA doctors cannot help their patients participate in a state medical marijuana program and veterans cannot obtain reimbursement funding through the VA when they seek medical marijuana from state programs.

The inability of the VA to prescribe or recommend marijuana to American veterans with PTSD denies former service members an opportunity to receive treatment that many veterans not only want, but which also has the potential to be safer than the VA’s history of doling out addictive prescription drugs such as opioids, antidepressants, and anti-anxiety pills.  PTSD is a serious disease that is relatively common among combat veterans — it causes varying symptoms such as flashbacks, nightmares, severe anxiety, and uncontrollable thought about a triggering event.

The medical research in this arena has reached mixed findings.  While some researchers have found that the use of medical marijuana by veterans with PTSD has positive results, other studies suggest that marijuana use by those with PTSD may actually make symptoms worse.  There simply has not been enough controlled studies to conclusively state whether marijuana is beneficial for those with PTSD.  Nonetheless, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence by veterans suggesting that their use of marijuana has improved, or in some cases eliminated, symptoms associated with their PTSD.  Fortunately, the first clinical trial of marijuana for American veterans with PTSD is currently underway in Colorado.  My presentation will suggest that we need more controlled clinical trials such as this to further identify whether marijuana could (or should) truly be used as a remedy for veterans with PTSD.

* Medical journal article, "Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder" (discussing what PTSD is and various treatment options, including cannabis).

* Medical journal article, "Use and effects of cannabinoids in military veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder"(reviewing several studies and noting that while there is a need for more randomized and controlled studies, some PTSD patients report benefits in terms of reduced anxiety and insomnia and improved coping ability).

* Medical journal article, "Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Cannabis Use Characteristics among Military Veterans with Cannabis Dependence" (exploring the negative effects of treating PTSD with marijuana and finding that individuals with PTSD may have a particularly difficult experience when attempting to quit marijuana).

* Medical journal article, "Marijuana and other cannabinoids as a treatment for posttraumatic stress disorder: A literature review" (explaining that conclusions cannot yet be drawn about the therapeutic effects of marijuana and related cannabinoids for PTSD; suggesting that rapidly changing legal landscape will permit promising clinical research).

* Medical journal article, "A review of medical marijuana for the treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder: Real symptom re-leaf or just high hopes?" (finding some positive data for use of marijuana for PTSD but also noting conflicting findings and limits of studies conducted thus far).

* Report on study, "Marijuana for Symptoms of PTSD in U.S. Veterans" (first clinical trial of marijuana for PTSD in American veterans underway).

* Recent Weedmaps article, "Marijuana Study Findings Could Hold Promise for Veterans With PTSD" (noting that MAPS study mentioned above could pave the way toward an FDA-approved prescription medicine; anecdotal evidence of veteran using black market rather than expensive medical marijuana program in CA)

March 25, 2019 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Senator Cory Booker introduces "Marijuana Justice Act of 2019"

D0frrINXQAI1noaAs reported in this press release, US Senator Cory Booker has joined with a number of other Democrats to formally introduce his social-justice-oriented federal marijuana reform bill.  Here are comments from the bill's sponsors (many of whom are running for President) from the press release, as well as some particulars and a link to the full bill:

U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), a member of the Senate's Judiciary Committee, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), Co-Chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), today reintroduced their landmark bill to end the federal prohibition on marijuana.

In the Senate, the bill is cosponsored by Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Michael Bennet (D-CO).

"The War on Drugs has not been a war on drugs, it's been a war on people, and disproportionately people of color and low-income individuals," said Booker.  "The Marijuana Justice Act seeks to reverse decades of this unfair, unjust, and failed policy by removing marijuana from the list of controlled substances and making it legal at the federal level."

"But it's not enough to simply decriminalize marijuana.  We must also repair the damage caused by reinvesting in those communities that have been most harmed by the War on Drugs.  And we must expunge the records of those who have served their time.  The end we seek is not just legalization, it's justice."

"The War on Drugs has destroyed lives, and no one continues to be hurt more than people of color and low-income communities," said Wyden. "There is a desperate need not only to correct course by ending the failed federal prohibition of marijuana, but to right these wrongs and ensure equal justice for those who have been disproportionately impacted."

"Millions of Americans' lives have been devastated because of our broken marijuana policies, especially in communities of color and low-income communities," said Gillibrand. "Currently, just one minor possession conviction can take away a lifetime of opportunities for jobs, education, and housing, tear families apart, and make people more vulnerable to serving time in jail down the road.  It is shameful that my son would likely be treated very differently from one of his Black or Latino peers if he was caught with marijuana, and legalizing marijuana is an issue of morality and social justice.  I'm proud to work with Senator Booker on this legislation to help fix decades of injustice caused by our nation's failed drug policies."

"As I said during my 2016 campaign, hundreds of thousands of people are arrested for possession of marijuana every single year," said Sanders. "Many of those people, disproportionately people of color, have seen their lives negatively impacted because they have criminal records as a result of marijuana use. That has got to change. We must end the absurd situation of marijuana being listed as a Schedule 1 drug alongside heroin. It is time to decriminalize marijuana, expunge past marijuana convictions and end the failed war on drugs."

"Marijuana laws in this country have not been applied equally, and as a result we have criminalized marijuana use in a way that has led to the disproportionate incarceration of young men of color. It's time to change that," said Harris. "Legalizing marijuana is the smart thing to do and the right thing to do in order to advance justice and equality for every American."

"Marijuana should be legalized, and we should wipe clean the records of those unjustly jailed for minor marijuana crimes. By outlawing marijuana, the federal government puts communities of color, small businesses, public health and safety at risk." said Warren.

"This long-overdue change will help bring our marijuana laws into the 21st century. It's past time we bring fairness and relief to communities that our criminal justice system has too often left behind." said Bennet....

The Marijuana Justice Act seeks to reverse decades of failed drug policy that has disproportionately impacted low-income communities and communities of color. Beyond removing marijuana from the list of controlled substances - making it legal at the federal level - the bill would also automatically expunge the convictions of those who have served federal time for marijuana use and possession offenses, and it would reinvest in the communities most impacted by the failed War on Drugs through a community fund. This community reinvestment fund could be used for projects such as job training programs, re-entry services, and community centers.

The bill would also incentivize states through the use of federal funds to change their marijuana laws if those laws were shown to have a disproportionate effect on low-income individuals and/or people of color.

By going further than simply rescheduling marijuana with expungement and community reinvestment, Booker, Lee, and Khanna's bill is the most far-reaching marijuana legislation ever to be introduced in Congress.

The bill is retroactive and would apply to those already serving time behind bars for marijuana-related offenses, providing for a judge's review of marijuana sentences.

Full text of the bill is here.

The Marijuana Justice Act of 2019 looks nearly identical to the Marijuana Justice Act of 2017, so prior commentary of the MJA as in prior posts here and here remain germane.

February 28, 2019 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

"All 2020 presidential candidates now support marijuana legalization efforts — even the Republicans"

Download (2)The title of this post is the title of this recent Boston Globe piece. Here are excerpts:

When it comes to marijuana, Elizabeth Warren of 2012 would probably not recognize Elizabeth Warren of 2019.

Seven years ago, Warren opposed legalization. In 2015, the US senator from Massachusetts said she was “open” to it. In 2016, she said, she voted for it privately at the ballot box. Now she’s one of marijuana’s top cheerleaders on Capitol Hill, championing a measure to protect the pot industry in states where it’s legal.

Warren’s evolution is not unique — in fact, 2020 will see the first US presidential race in which every candidate, at least so far, favors some path to legalization.

All 12 official Democratic candidates, as well as the potential Republican hopeful and former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld, told the Globe they now support full nationwide legalization, Canada-style. President Trump, meanwhile, has said he supports states’ rights to legalize.

“There’s been a tremendous evolution — marijuana legalization, if you look back, was really something for fringe candidates,” said John Lapp, a Democratic national campaign strategist.“It’s just not very controversial at all now.”

For Democrats, especially, being for cannabis legalization might be as much of a litmus test in 2020 among voters as is being for abortion rights. But they must face their past stances with honesty, political strategists say. In 2008, now-US Senator Kamala Harris touted her high conviction rates for drug dealers as a district attorney, and Joe Biden, the former vice president — who is likely to run, but hasn’t announced — was long an evangelist for the war on drugs.

A quarter-century ago, then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton did damage control by saying he tried pot while he was a Rhodes scholar in England, but “didn’t inhale.” Running in 2007, Barack Obama found it politically acceptable to admit he had smoked marijuana as a young man, and “the point was to inhale” — but he called it “a mistake.”’...

Now politicians, particularly Republicans, have a more politically safe way of supporting cannabis: by advocating for states’ rights, said Steve Fox, a cannabis lobbyist with VS Strategies. “At this point, the greatest driving factor at the federal level is simply the fact that it’s legal in so many states,” Fox said.

To combat the rising momentum, the anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana is producing a guide for candidates that it says will be backed by medical associations. “Candidates will have a simple choice: They can either follow the pot lobby or they can follow the science,” said executive director Kevin Sabet....

Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, who has made legalization a core part of his presidential campaign, said his position has much more to do with addressing racial disparities in policing than it does with freedom for recreational use. “I am pleased to see public sentiment moving as it is, but I have an approach to marijuana legalization that sees it as a justice issue and not just as an adult-use issue,” Booker said. “The damage that the enforcement and prohibition has done to our country is outrageous, unacceptable, and violates our values.”...

In New Hampshire this election cycle, candidates are likely to be asked about marijuana, as the Legislature there moves toward possibly passing legalization this year. Governor Chris Sununu, a Republican, has vowed to veto such a measure.

But don’t expect many candidates to focus their campaigns on marijuana. It’s not just safe now — it’s too safe. To stand out in a crowded field, Lapp recommends that a candidate take on affordable health care, immigration, or college debt — “something where there’s some upside and downside, some passion and some risk. I’m just not sure that’s the case with marijuana anymore.”

February 28, 2019 in 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, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 25, 2019

Perhaps not realizing federal law imposes prohibition, commentary urges someone to "implement a two-year moratorium on further legalization and commercialization of marijuana"

Download (7)This notable new Hill commentary authored by psychiatrist Mitchell Rosenthal, headlined "To ensure public health and safety, impose a two-year moratorium on marijuana legalization," is somewhat sensible as a matter of public policy and is somewhat clueless in light of modern legal realities.  Here are excerpts:

Marijuana legalization is gaining momentum across the country, backed by supportive public opinion, politicians, Wall Street investors and the increasingly influential for–profit cannabis industry.  By 2025, the legal U.S. marijuana market could be a roughly $50 billion business as a cornucopia of cannabis-based products become easily available in shops and online.

But in the rush to legalize marijuana, we are not taking adequate precautions and lack comprehensive and conclusive scientific evidence about what the impact might be.  In today’s largely unregulated environment, for example, marijuana marketers can seemingly tout the purported benefits of pot to relieve anxiety and aches and pains and even treat Alzheimer’s disease, without any oversight, regulation or recourse for disappointed users.

Consumers would be better served if we first implement a two-year moratorium on further legalization to ascertain the potential risks and possible benefits of marijuana. Under the current haphazard laws and rules adopted by states that have legalized, we are simply not able to ensure public health and safety as marijuana becomes mainstream.

Pausing the runaway train of legalization would provide the opportunity to study the impact so far on health and social behavior in legalized states, as well as in Canada, which legalized last year.   We would want a definitive understanding of the effect pot has on everything from driving impairment to workplace performance and learning development in young people....

As a psychiatrist who has treated substance abusers for decades, I understand that calling for a legalization slowdown might suggest a return to the fear-filled Reefer Madness past.  But it is more about being responsible, especially as many clinical studies indicate that pot is not as benign as many would like to believe and can be addictive as well as potentially harmful to the developing teenage brain.

Clearly, the same sensible precautions required of any new drug or food product should also apply to marijuana.  Warning labels, dosage recommendations and information about possible side effects, interactions and potency levels are critical for consumer safety, along with education programs and outreach....

To safeguard public health, we need clarity and consistent guidelines on a federal level for the legalization and commercialization of marijuana.  Questions abound about the appropriate age of consumption, where cannabis should be located — hopefully not near schools and parks and playgrounds — and whether marijuana is an effective treatment for opioid addiction, as many claim.

A two-year moratorium on marijuana legalization would enable us to answer many of these questions and lead to practical and enforceable guidelines based on scientific evidence, not the hyped claims of pot marketers.  Consumers — especially parents — have the right and the need to know.

Because this commentary speaks of the need for "clarity and consistent guidelines on a federal level for the legalization and commercialization of marijuana," I presume it is imagining the federal government as the legal entity to "implement a two-year moratorium on further legalization and commercialization of marijuana."  But, of course, federal law right now has long-standing and on-going complete prohibition on legalization and commercialization of marijuana.  That legal fact has not stopped "marijuana legalization is gaining momentum across the country" because prohibition cannot easily be enforced effectively against states interested in pursuing reforms.

Perhaps this commentary means to suggest (and would be more reasonable to suggest) that all states considering legalization sit tight for two years to provide more time and "opportunity to study the impact so far on health and social behavior in legalized states."  But legalization has been a reality in some form in California for more than two decades and in modern forms in Colorado and Washington for five years.  It seems highly unlikely that we will have "comprehensive and conclusive scientific evidence about what the impact might be" of legalization by early 2021.  Because it may take decades to reach "definitive understanding of the effect pot has on everything from driving impairment to workplace performance and learning development in young people," I am not sure just a two-year pause would be all that productive even if it were some how legally achievable.

That all said, this commentary is not misguided in identifying a range of issues that states should consider with respect to public health and safety in the reform of marijuana prohibition, and especially in (indirectly) suggesting that the federal government play a more active and productive role as states continue to move forward with reforms.  I think the Obama Administration was remiss when failing to set up a task force or study group on these critical health and safety issues when modern state marijuana reforms were heating up, and the Trump Administration also seems content to continue to ignore these issues all while Congress cannot itself move forward on any production reforms at the federal level.

February 25, 2019 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)