Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Friday, March 27, 2020

"Cannabis finds its moment amid coronavirus outbreak"

CoronavirusandcannabisgraphicThe title of this post is the title of this notable new Politico piece.  Here are excerpts:

Cannabis is turning out to be the one thing the coronavirus can’t destroy.

Marijuana sales are booming, with some states seeing 20 percent spikes in sales as anxious Americans prepare to be hunkered down in their homes potentially for months. Weed sellers are staffing up too, hiring laid-off workers from other industries to meet demand. And in the midst of a historic market meltdown, stock prices for cannabis companies have surged, in some cases doubling since the public health crisis began.

“We are hiring because we are having to shift our business a bit,” said Kim Rivers, CEO of Trulieve, which is valued at $1 billion. The company is staffing up its delivery fleet, retail workers, and people to handle increased inventory shipments. “Now is a great time [to apply], particularly if you’re in a business that has seen layoffs.”

Nearly all of the 33 states with legal medical or recreational markets have classified marijuana businesses as an essential service, allowing them to remain open even as vast swaths of the retail economy are shuttered. San Francisco and Denver initially announced plans to shut down dispensaries, but immediately backpedaled after a public furor.

Weed shops are essentially being treated the same as pharmacies, reflecting a dramatic shift in cultural perceptions about the drug over the last decade. “It is a recognition that it has taken on much greater significance around the country,” said Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), a longtime Capitol Hill champion for cannabis. “This is something that makes a huge difference to the lives of hundreds of thousands of people every day. I do think that this might be part of a turning point.“

Concerns about whether smoking pot is the smartest response to a pandemic that’s causing severe lung injuries in tens of thousands of Americans have been largely drowned out. "Public opinion has pushed lawmakers to think about cannabis — and particularly medical cannabis — in different ways than they used to," said John Hudak, a cannabis policy expert at the Brookings Institution, and author of Marijuana: A Short History. "A lot of state policymakers are trying to get this right and they obviously see the risk of shutting down a dispensary to be higher than the rewards of shutting down a dispensary."...

The burgeoning industry does face some stiff financial headwinds: The massive stimulus package moving through Congress this week to help beleaguered businesses shuts out cannabis companies from taking advantage of its benefits, reflecting the continued federal illegality of marijuana. Prior to the recent boom in sales, the industry had been in financial turmoil, with many companies laying off workers and scuttling acquisitions as they ran short on cash. “I'm frustrated Senate Republicans refused to allow us to include them in this legislation, but we aren't giving up," Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said Wednesday.

In addition, some medical experts question the wisdom of allowing uninhibited access to marijuana during a massive public health crisis. They worry that customers flocking to pot shops could spread the virus, that stoned customers will engage in risky behavior and that smoking pot will worsen the lung damage for people who do become infected. “If you keep the pot stores open, you're just adding fuel to the fire,” said Karen Randall, an emergency room doctor in Colorado. “You're having a whole bunch of people who are trashing their lungs.”...

The federal government said Thursday that a staggering 3.3 million people applied for unemployment benefits last week. While the cannabis industry can’t do much to remedy that bloodletting, some companies are looking to hire people who have recently lost their jobs. Harborside — which operates three shops in the Bay Area — found itself suddenly understaffed as delivery requests increased by 45 percent and phone calls exploded from around 100 to 8,000 per day.... Harborside has hired 10 employees in the last few weeks — some of whom were directly laid off as a result of the coronavirus — and plans to hire at least six more. The largest increase was in their delivery fleet, going from four drivers to 10.

And they’re not alone. “Two and a half weeks ago, our sales just exploded,” said Zachary Pitts, CEO of California cannabis delivery service Ganja Goddess. “People are leaning on delivery more now … even though storefronts are still open in California.” Pitts estimated that he’s increased his workforce by about 15 percent in recent weeks, and is working on hiring more. The company has suspended normal vetting processes and is instead relying on trusted referrals....

As states move to declare marijuana an essential business, the gulf between state and federal policy has never been wider. Congress is poised to enact a $2 trillion stimulus package this week, but the cannabis industry will not see a cent. “In the same way that cocaine dealers in the United States who are suffering under Covid-19 are not going to be eligible for relief under the stimulus bill, cannabis companies won't either,” said Hudak of the Brookings Institution. “Illegal businesses do not access legal funding.”

The cannabis industry generated $15 billion in sales last year and employs 340,000 people. Employers and workers pay federal taxes, and are required to comply with other coronavirus-related measures such as paid sick leave coverage. But for cannabis companies to access assistance made available through the stimulus package, Congress or the administration would need to dictate their inclusion. A spokesperson for Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) said he wants to include such a provision in a future coronavirus aid package. Similarly, Murray said she is “exploring what can be done in the upcoming appropriations process to help them through this crisis and beyond."

March 27, 2020 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Noticing post-reform pattern of federal marijuana prosecutions ... and realizing what it really tells us about the modern drug war

Screen-Shot-2020-03-24-at-7.30.34-AM-1024x668Over at my sentencing blog, I noted here that the US Sentencing Commission this week released its national yearly data on federal sentencing for Fiscal Year 2019.  I am extremely pleased to see that Kyle Jaeger at Marijuana Moment has already drilled into this data in this post titled "Feds Prosecuted Even Fewer Marijuana Cases In 2019 As More States Legalize, New Data Shows."  Here are excerpts:

Federal prosecutions for marijuana trafficking declined again in 2019, and drug possession cases overall saw an even more dramatic decline, according to a new report published by the U.S. Sentencing Commission on Monday.

While drug cases still represent the second most common category of crimes in the federal criminal justice system, the data indicates that the bulk of those instances are related to methamphetamine trafficking, which has steadily increased over the past decade.

But for marijuana, a different kind of trend has emerged.  As more states have moved to legalize cannabis, federal prosecutions have consistently declined since 2012.   To illustrate the shift, marijuana trafficking cases represented the most common drug type that was pursued in 2012, with about 7,000 cases.  As of fiscal year 2019, those cases are now the second least common, with fewer than 2,000 cases.

Notably, the year of that peak, 2012, was when Colorado and Washington State became the first to legalize for recreational purposes.  Though the report doesn’t attempt to explain why cannabis cases are on the decline, advocates have postulated that state-level marijuana reform has helped curb illicit trafficking by creating a regulated market for consumers to obtain the products. “Twenty-five percent of the public now live in jurisdictions where the sale of marijuana to adults is legal,” Justin Strekal, political director of NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “Of course there will be a corresponding drop in the number of illegal sales.”

Another possibility is that evolving public opinion and state policies have contributed to a shift in perspective among prosecutors, who may no longer wish to prioritize enforcing cannabis prohibition in the era of legalization.  While all marijuana sales — even in states with legalization laws — remain federally prohibited, the Trump administration has in practice continued the Obama-era approach of generally not interfering with the implementation of local policies even though then-U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions formally rescinded a memo on the topic from the prior administration.

In any case, the new U.S. Sentencing Commission report also shows a broader decline in drug possession cases in general. In fact, the most significant reduction in crime category for 2019 was drug possession, which fell from 777 federal cases the previous year down to 563 — a 28 percent drop....  While marijuana trafficking cases decreased, the average sentence for a conviction increased by two months, from 29 to 31.  Overall, drug trafficking prosecutions did increase by about 1,000 cases in 2019, though again that’s largely attributable to an increase in methamphetamine-related prosecutions.

This discussion of new federal data — particularly the notion that state-level marijuana reforms "helped curb illicit trafficking by creating a regulated market for consumers to obtain the products — elides the important reality that ALL state-legal marijuana stores are stilled engaged in "illicit trafficking" under federal law.  I stress this point because there are more than 10,000 federally-illegal (and state-licensed) marijuana businesses in just the states of California and Oklahoma alone.  Save for limits in a spending rider (which Prez Trump has sought to disavow), the US Department of Justice could decide to prosecute many thousands of the out-in-the-open marijuana dealers (most of whom have given states all their marijuana dealing plans in writing in order to get a state license).

I make this point because I mean to stress that the major decline in federal marijuana prosecutions over the last decade does not demonstrate that there are fewer federal marijuana crimes taking place in the US.  Rather, it seems clear that there are now many more, and many more obvious, federal marijuana crimes taking place in the US, and there is also reason to fear that "fully illicit" marijuana activity (dealing that does not even comply with state laws) may not be in decline in any way.  And yet we see this marked decline in federal marijuana prosecutions simply because federal prosecutors, quite soundly in my view, simply believe it is an ever-less-good use of their time to be prosecuting all the marijuana offenders who continue to grow their drug-dealing businesses in plain view.  

March 26, 2020 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Noting how blanket federal prohibition serves to thwart continued progress of medical marijuana reforms

This new Roll Call article, headlined "States turn to unenforced federal law to slow medical marijuana legalization," effectively reviews how federal prohibition still serves to impact medical marijuana reforms efforts in a number of states.  I recommend the lengthy article in full, and here are excerpts:

Since 2014, Congress has protected patients and cannabis programs from federal marijuana prosecutions in states that allow it for medical use. Medical marijuana’s unique legal status involves a little-known provision called the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment that Congress renews every year in spending laws. It says the Justice Department cannot use federal funds to prevent states from implementing their own medical marijuana laws.

Yet marijuana’s continued status as a Schedule I substance — the most severe drug category — remains fodder for those opposed to legalizing medical marijuana in other parts of the country.... In states considering the issue this year, including Alabama and Tennessee, opponents continue to cite the drug’s Schedule I status.

In Tennessee, House Speaker Cameron Sexton, a Republican, said in January that he won’t take up medical marijuana because “it’s against federal law.” A commission created by the Alabama Legislature to advise lawmakers on cannabis policy last year recommended that the state adopt a medical marijuana plan this session, and it published draft legislation to do so. But opponents on the commission said the top reason for their objections was “the fact that marijuana remains a Class I Controlled Substance under state and federal law.”

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall inflamed debate further in January when he wrote a letter in opposition to legislators. “State laws that allow any use of marijuana, medical or recreational, are in direct conflict with duly enacted and clearly constitutional law,” Marshall wrote. “Thus, state marijuana statutes enacted in violation of the law are damaging to the law itself.”...

Such arguments underscore why Congress is considering a number of bills to deschedule marijuana entirely or reschedule it in order to better study it. They face long odds in the Senate, which has yet to move on a House-passed bill that is limited to offering protections for banks that do business with marijuana companies.

But advocates for legalization say federal prohibition is a red herring, and that states shouldn’t have to comply with a federal drug law the Drug Enforcement Administration is barred from enforcing. “States are authorizing conduct that is prohibited under federal law, so at first blush, I can see how this could be confusing and surprising, but at this point, two-thirds of the country have implemented comprehensive medical marijuanalaws,” says Karen O’Keefe, state policy director for the Marijuana Policy Project, a pro-legalization advocacy group that lobbied for the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment. The rider halted most raids involving medical marijuana in states with legalization.

The patients and providers who cultivate, process and dispense the cannabis these patients rely on in these states for the treatment of debilitating illness do not have to fear federal charges as long as they are in compliance with state law, says Sean Khalepari, regulatory affairs coordinator for the pro-medical marijuana group Americans for Safe Access.

But the unusual nature of the provision is not well understood, some say.... Although the amendment serves as a shield against federal prosecution, “I think it can be misunderstood that this rider does not in and of itself legalize medicinal marijuana at the federal level,” says Jeffrey Vanderslice, who worked as an aide to Rohrabacher in 2014. Since the Justice Department technically retains the ability to prosecute medical marijuana — even in states that have legalized it, if a business or individual doesn’t comply with state law — advocates are hoping for more certainty on the federal level eventually.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration’s interpretations and actions have contributed to the confusion. In 2018, the administration rescinded guidance by the Obama administration known as the Cole memorandum, which directed Justice to deprioritize prosecuting state-legal marijuana businesses. Trump’s reversal stoked worry and confusion among supporters of legalization.

The office of the attorney general has since turned over from Jeff Sessions, a severe critic of marijuana, to William Barr. Barr said during a Senate hearing in 2019 that he operates under the Cole memo, but leaves significant discretion to U.S. attorneys in each state. Meanwhile, the White House has sought the repeal of Rohrabacher-Farr in each of its budgets, including in Trump’s fiscal 2021 budget proposal. Congress has always bucked that recommendation.

March 4, 2020 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 28, 2020

"Recent Supreme Court Trademark Decisions and Cannabis Registrations"

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

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 Lanham Act’s ban on cannabis trademark registrations justifiable in light of the First Amendment in view of these recent cases? 

February 28, 2020 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal court rulings, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Marijuana reform and expungements finally gets a question at a big debate

I have to give a shout out to CBS News for asking a direct question on marijuana policy and reform, though only three candidates had time during the debate to speak to the issue.  This live-time coverage of the debate reports on the (mostly unsurprising) comments from the candidates under the heading "Sanders pushes ahead on legalizing marijuana, but isn't joined by other candidates":

Klobuchar was given the first chance to address the issue of legalizing marijuana.  "Well, it is realistic to want to legalize marijuana, I want to do that, too," Klobuchar said.

The Minnesota senator added there also needs to be funding for treatment, so there aren't "repeat customers."

Bloomberg said small amounts of marijuana possession shouldn't be criminalized.  And legalization wouldn't be taken away from states that have already legalized the drug.  But he admitted there isn't enough research on mairjuana to know how much damage marijuana does, particularly on young minds, so he isn't pushing for full legalization at this point.  "Until we know the science, it's just nonsensical to push ahead," Bloomberg said.

Sanders blasted the "horrific war on drugs," and said he would "effectively legalize" marijuana.  He also said he wants to move to expunge the records of people with marijuana convictions.

February 25, 2020 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

"The Controlled Substances Act at 50 Years" ... available for LIVESTREAMING

CSA at 50_socialThe title of this post is the title of this amazing conference taking place later this week (February 20-22, 2020) at the Arizona State University Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law in Phoenix, Arizona.  I have had the pleasure and honor of working with the amazing team at The Ohio State University's Drug Enforcement and Policy Center (@OSULawDEPC ), along with the also amazing team at ASU's Academy for Justice (@Academy4Justice), to put together an amazing and diverse array of panels and workshops on all sorts of topics relating to the past, present and future of the CSA's development, implementation and enforcement.

The basic agenda for the event can be found at this page, which should alone make you want to register here.   I am especially pleased and excited by this list of speakers who are participating.  I do not think I could overstate the amount of wisdom and insight on drug laws and policies that will be assembled in Phoenix for this event.   And here is a brief overview from the event webpage:

Roughly a century ago, in response to growing concerns about drug use, the federal government enacted its first drug control law in the Harrison Narcotics Act of 1914.  Subsequent decades saw Congress continue to pass drug control legislation and criminalize drug abuse, but by the 1960s there was growing interest in more medical approaches to preventing and responding to drug abuse.  Upon his election, President Richard Nixon prioritized the reduction of drug use: in rhetoric, he spoke of a so-called “war on drugs”; in policy, he pushed for a new comprehensive federal drug law in the form of The Controlled Substances Act (CSA), enacted as Title II of the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970.

The CSA emerged from a widespread, bipartisan view that comprehensive legislation was needed to clarify federal drug laws, and its centerpiece was a comprehensive scheduling system for assessing and regulating drugs in five schedules defined in terms of substances’ potential for abuse and dependence, and possible medical use and safety.  In design, the CSA was intended to prioritize a scientific approach to drug prohibition and regulation by embracing a mixed law-enforcement and public-health approach to drug policy.  But in practice, the US Justice Department came to have an outsized role in drug control policy, especially as subsequent “tough-on-crime” sentencing laws made the CSA the backbone of a federal drug war in which punitive approaches to evolving drug problems consistently eclipsed public health responses.

Although the federal drug war has been controversial since its inception, the CSA’s statutory framework defining how the federal government regulates the production, possession, and distribution of controlled substances has endured.   As we mark a half-century of drug policy under the CSA, the Academy for Justice at the Arizona State University Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law and the Drug Enforcement & Policy Center at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law are together sponsoring a conference to look back on how the CSA has helped shape modern American drug laws and policies and to look forward toward the direction these laws could and should take in the next 50 years.

UPDATE: I am moving this post to the top of the page because this awesome conference starts soon and I can now provide this link with its own links to the livestream for each of the panels. I think every part of the conference will be amazing, but marijuana fans might be especially drawn to Friday (Feb 21) afternoon's "Town Hall on Marijuana in 2020: Legalization and Regulation" 3:30pm-4:30pm (Arizona Time). 

February 19, 2020 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

"Could Bernie Sanders Actually Legalize Marijuana Nationwide On Day One As President?"

Images (1)The question in the title of this post is the headline of this lengthy and effective new Marijuana Moment piece by Kyle Jaeger.  I recommend the piece in full (especially to my students), and here is how it gets started:

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is making a bold promise: if elected president, he will legalize marijuana in all 50 states on his first day in office.  “We will end the destructive war on drugs,” the 2020 Democratic candidate said at rally days before this week’s Iowa caucus.  “On my first day in office through executive order we will legalize marijuana in every state in this country.”

But while the pledge has been largely welcomed by reform advocates and cannabis enthusiasts, some experts question whether such immediate, sweeping action is legally or practically achievable.

The use of executive orders at the start of a presidency isn’t unprecedented — President Obama signed one aimed at shutting down the controversial Guantanamo Bay prison the day after he assumed office and President Trump issued an order scaling back Obamacare, for example — but there are unique challenges associated with a presidential move to unilaterally remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).

To effectively end marijuana prohibition through the executive branch, according to an analysis from the Brookings Institution’s John Hudak, the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) or an outside party would have to file a petition, which would then be reviewed by the attorney general, who has usually delegated that responsibility to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).  The attorney general can also initiate the process on their own, requesting a scientific review directly to HHS. Under HHS, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) would then assess the scientific, medical and public health implications before submitting that review to the Justice Department.

“The recommendations of the Secretary to the Attorney General shall be binding on the Attorney General as to such scientific and medical matters, and if the Secretary recommends that a drug or other substance not be controlled, the Attorney General shall not control the drug or other substance,” the CSA states.  “If the Attorney General determines that these facts and all other relevant data constitute substantial evidence of potential for abuse such as to warrant control or substantial evidence that the drug or other substance should be removed entirely from the schedules, he shall initiate proceedings for control or removal.”

Thus, changing marijuana’s classification under federal law without an act of Congress is far more complicated than a single stroke of a presidential pen.  While Sanders could theoretically make supporting descheduling a condition of nominating candidates to be HHS secretary or attorney general, it’s virtually certain he would not have those officials installed on day one of his presidency.

The new day-one, executive action proposal is a far more ambitious plan than the one Sanders previously floated. Last year, the senator said he’d take a systematic approach to legalization that would involve naming cabinet members who will “work to aggressively end the drug war and legalize marijuana” within 100 days of his taking office.

But it appears the timetable has changed, with top aides reportedly including marijuana legalization in a list of possible executive orders — though Sanders has yet to formally sign off on them.  Some experts are skeptical that this latest plan has legs, and some feel it reflects Sanders’s political desire to stand out as the most marijuana friendly candidate, rather than an earnest attempt to expedite the descheduling process.

February 4, 2020 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (4)

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)