Monday, February 4, 2019
Blogging was light last week in part part because I was on the road for much of the time (participating in this great event among other activities). During my travels and thereafter, I saw what seemed like a month's worth of notable blogworthy marijuana stories, and here I will try to play catch-up with an abridged round-up via links and headlines:
February 4, 2019 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, December 24, 2018
Effective accounting of Top 5 marijuana reform developments in 2018 (with a couple extra added for emphasis)
German Lopez has this effective Vox piece serving as a kind of marijuana reform year in review under the headlined "5 moments that show 2018 was marijuana legalization’s biggest year yet: From Canada to Michigan to California, marijuana legalization had a very big year." Here are excerpts from the start of the piece with his top 5 listing as it appears therein:
When we look back, 2018 may be the year in which marijuana legalization really won.
Canada legalized marijuana, defying international treaties (which the US is also a part of) that prohibit fully legalizing cannabis.
After legalizing marijuana in 2016, California opened the world’s biggest fully legal pot market in early 2018.
Michigan became the first state to legalize pot in the Midwest.
State legislatures, particularly New York, New Jersey, and Vermont, began taking legalization more seriously. And while Congress didn’t legalize pot at the federal level, it did legalize industrial hemp.
Together, these developments represented a tidal wave for legalization — a massive shift that’s making legal pot look more and more inevitable across the country.
Here are the five major stories of marijuana legalization this year, and why they matter.
1) Canada legalized marijuana...
2) California opened the world’s biggest legal marijuana market...
3) Michigan became the first state in the Midwest to legalize pot...
4) State legislatures began taking legalization seriously...
5) The federal government legalized hemp...
This top five list strikes me as sound, though I think the federal legalization of hemp should find a place higher on the list and I have a few additions that I think could reasonably compete for a top five spot. First, I think it very significant that serious medical marijuana reforms were enacted by ballot initiative with strong majorities in 2018 in the very red states of Missouri, Oklahoma and Utah. Senators in very red states will be able to stop or limit or shape any future federal marijuana reforms, so having red states come into the reform fold is so very important for the fate and future of federal reform efforts. Second, and perhaps worth of a coming future post, arguably the biggest story of 2018 was a non-story, namely the decision in January of (now former) Attorney General Sessions to repeal the Cole memo shaping federal marijuana enforcement and then the failure of the new Sessions memo amounting to much of anything. I was not too worried that all that much would come from repeal of the Cole memo, but that so little resulted still strikes me as another telling sign of the state of marijuana reform as we close out 2018.
December 24, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)
Saturday, December 15, 2018
The title of this post is the headline of this effective recent piece by John Collins of the London School of Economics written for the BBC. Here are excerpts:
Around the world attitudes towards the use of cannabis are shifting. Mexico's new government plans to legalise recreational cannabis use, as does the incoming government of Luxembourg. Meanwhile, New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is considering a referendum on what its approach should be....
What has led one country after another to move towards a relaxation of their laws and, in many cases, outright legalisation?
It was only in 2012 that Uruguay announced it would be the first country in the world to legalise recreational cannabis use. In large part, the move was aimed at replacing links between organised crime and the cannabis trade with more accountable state regulation.
Later the same year, voters in Washington State and Colorado became the first in the US to support legalisation of the drug for non-medical use. Under President Barack Obama, a critic of the US-led war on drugs, the US government stepped back from enforcing federal laws and effectively gave states a green light to explore alternatives....
The tide has crept across the Americas, with Canada legalising the sale, possession and recreational use of cannabis nationwide in October.
That Mexico will legalise marijuana seems a virtual certainty. The new government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador has introduced a bill that would legalise its medical and recreational use, while the country's supreme court recently ruled an absolute ban on recreational use unconstitutional.
Other countries are pushing ahead. Although the sale of cannabis remains illegal, possession of small amounts is no longer a crime in countries including Brazil, Jamaica and Portugal. In Spain it is legal to use cannabis in private, while the drug is sold openly in coffee shops in the Netherlands. Still more countries allow the use of medicinal cannabis.
Around the world, there are many more countries where change is under way:
In the UK, doctors have been allowed to prescribe cannabis products since November
South Korea has legalised strictly-controlled medical use, despite prosecuting residents for recreational use overseas
A death sentence given to a young man selling cannabis oil has stirred debate about legalisation in Malaysia
South Africa's highest court legalised the use of cannabis by adults in private places
Lesotho became the first African country to legalise the cultivation of marijuana for medicinal purposes
Lebanon is considering the legalisation of cannabis production for medical purposes, to help its economy....
With countries worldwide moving towards some form of legalisation, others are rushing to catch up. Often, as in many parts of Latin America, governments want their farmers to have access to the potentially lucrative medicinal cannabis markets that are developing.
Corporations have also expressed interest. For example, Altria, which owns cigarette brands including Marlboro, has made a $1.86bn (£1.46bn) investment in a Canadian cannabis company. Over time, as the US demonstrates, it is quite possible that the medical trade could quite easily morph into recreational sales - potentially opening up an even bigger market.
One immediate obstacle is that cannabis for recreational purposes cannot be traded across borders. Countries can only import and export medicinal cannabis under a licensing system supervised by the International Narcotics Control Board.
Farmers in countries such as Morocco and Jamaica may have a reputation for producing cannabis, but they can't access markets that domestic producers sometimes struggle to supply - as happened in Canada following legalisation....
Governments that want to move towards legalisation face a challenge: steering a course between uncontrolled legalisation and hard prohibition. Poorly-regulated industry and mind-altering substances are not a combination about which many societies would feel comfortable. But it seems a virtual certainty that more countries will change their approach to cannabis in the coming decades. As such, domestic and international rules will need to catch up.
Sunday, December 9, 2018
I just came across this morning this remarkable article published this month in The Lancet Psychiatry titled "The global burden of disease attributable to alcohol and drug use in 195 countries and territories, 1990–2016: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2016." The array of data in the article is fascinating (and overwhelming), and here is its summary:
Alcohol and drug use can have negative consequences on the health, economy, productivity, and social aspects of communities. We aimed to use data from the Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study (GBD) 2016 to calculate global and regional estimates of the prevalence of alcohol, amphetamine, cannabis, cocaine, and opioid dependence, and to estimate global disease burden attributable to alcohol and drug use between 1990 and 2016, and for 195 countries and territories within 21 regions, and within seven super-regions. We also aimed to examine the association between disease burden and Socio-demographic Index (SDI) quintiles.
We searched PubMed, EMBASE, and PsycINFO databases for original epidemiological studies on alcohol and drug use published between Jan 1, 1980, and Sept 7, 2016, without language restrictions, and used DisMod-MR 2.1, a Bayesian meta-regression tool, to estimate population-level prevalence of substance use disorders. We combined these estimates with disability weights to calculate years of life lived with disability (YLDs), years of life lost (YLLs), and disability-adjusted life-years (DALYs) for 1990–2016. We also used a comparative assessment approach to estimate burden attributable to alcohol and drug use as risk factors for other health outcomes.
Globally, alcohol use disorders were the most prevalent of all substance use disorders, with 100·4 million estimated cases in 2016 (age-standardised prevalence 1320·8 cases per 100000 people, 95% uncertainty interval [95% UI] 1181·2–1468·0). The most common drug use disorders were cannabis dependence (22·1 million cases; age-standardised prevalence 289·7 cases per 100000 people, 95% UI 248·9–339·1) and opioid dependence (26·8 million cases; agestandardised prevalence 353·0 cases per 100000 people, 309·9–405·9). Globally, in 2016, 99·2 million DALYs (95% UI 88·3–111·2) and 4·2% of all DALYs (3·7–4·6) were attributable to alcohol use, and 31·8 million DALYs (27·4–36·6) and 1·3% of all DALYs (1·2–1·5) were attributable to drug use as a risk factor. The burden of disease attributable to alcohol and drug use varied substantially across geographical locations, and much of this burden was due to the effect of substance use on other health outcomes. Contrasting patterns were observed for the association between total alcohol and drug-attributable burden and SDI: alcohol-attributable burden was highest in countries with a low SDI and middlehigh middle SDI, whereas the burden due to drugs increased with higher SDI level.
Alcohol and drug use are important contributors to global disease burden. Effective interventions should be scaled up to prevent and reduce substance use disease burden.
Tuesday, November 20, 2018
The title of this post is the title of this new commentary in The Hill authored by Helen Clark, a member of the Global Commission on Drug Policy and the former prime minister of New Zealand. Here are excerpts:
In my experience as head of my country’s government and previously a health minister, as a former senior official at the United Nations, and more recently as a member of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, I’ve found debates on drug policy tend to be divisive and passionately ideological. On one point, however, there is a clear and growing consensus: Around the world, the so-called “war on drugs” is failing.
It has been estimated that globally more than $100 billion a year is spent waging this silent war, with over $40 billion of that spent in the United States alone. Yet, despite the huge amount of funding invested in drug control, the challenges are rising, not reducing, and the core objectives in the United Nations charter of promoting human rights, peace and security and development are being dramatically undermined by global drug policies. Unfortunately, there is even less consensus on the question of where we go from here....
A starting point for understanding better the political context is a new landmark report by the International Drug Policy Consortium — a global civil society network of over 170 non-governmental organizations focusing on drug policy — which has laid bare the drug war’s failures in the starkest terms. The 2009 10-year U.N. drug strategy committed governments worldwide to creating a world free of drugs by 2019. But with each passing year, the world has moved further and further from this fantastical goal.
As the report highlights, drug use has not disappeared but instead has risen by 31 percent between 2011 and 2016. Illegal drug markets have expanded relentlessly to meet this growing demand, with opium and coca production rising respectively by 130 percent and 34 percent between 2009 and 2018. Beneath this shocking failure of the 10-year strategy to meet its “eradication” goals lie even bleaker realities. To quote the late Kofi Annan, former U.N. secretary general and a member of the Global Commission on Drug Policy: “I believe that drugs have destroyed many lives, but wrong government policies have destroyed many more.”
Indeed, the number of drug-related deaths continues to reach new peaks, with 450,000 drug use-related deaths in 2015 alone. Much of this rise is driven by the North American opioid overdose crisis, with total overdose deaths in the United States reaching a record 72,000 people in 2017. This is more than the total number of U.S. soldiers who died in the Vietnam War.
Punitive drug law enforcement is fueling mass incarceration and prison overcrowding, with one in five of the world’s 10 million prisoners — tens of thousands in the United States alone — now incarcerated for drug offences, mostly for minor, nonviolent drug possession. This proportion is even greater for women, reaching over 50 percent in several Latin American countries and over 80 percent in Thailand.
Furthermore, drug market-related violence has spiraled to unprecedented levels. In Mexico alone, there have been up to 250,000 killings and 32,000 disappearances since 2006. This horrific level of bloodshed is compounded by illegal state actions where, at its extremes, the war on drugs is providing political cover for some of the most egregious human rights abuses taking place anywhere on the planet. Thousands have been executed for drug offences over the past decade and, according to several human rights groups, up to 12,000 people have been killed extrajudicially in horrific drug war operations in the Philippines since 2016.
Rather than eradicating drugs, prohibition is empowering and enriching organized crime groups. The combined impact of the drug war-fueled criminality, violence and corruption ranges from harm in U.S. cities and other developed countries to undermining development in low- and middle-income countries....
As the Global Commission on Drug Policy again highlighted only last month, if the so-called “war on drugs” continues unchallenged, achieving the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals — the universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity — will be difficult, if not impossible, for many populations across the world.
It is hard to imagine a global policy enterprise that has delivered poorer value for money. The global community should ask what another trillion dollars spent in the coming decade might achieve if directed to more positive ends.
The reforms needed to deliver on our shared goals may not be easy to achieve, but they are not unsurmountable. They include pivoting away from failed punitive enforcement towards proven health and harm reduction policies; ending the criminalization of people who use drugs; mainstreaming human rights and development in policy thinking; and exploring responsible legal regulation models for cannabis and other drugs.
Thursday, November 1, 2018
The title of this post is the headline of this new Reuters article. Here are the interesting details:
Mexico’s Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that an absolute ban on recreational use of marijuana was unconstitutional, effectively leaving it to lawmakers to regulate consumption of the drug.
Announcing it had found in favor of two legal challenges filed against prohibition of recreational marijuana use, Mexico’s top court crossed the threshold needed to create jurisprudence: five similar rulings on the matter. That creates a precedent other Mexican courts will have to follow.
“This is a historic day,” Fernando Belaunzaran, an advocate of drug reform and member of the opposition leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), said.
The Supreme Court made its first ruling to allow a group of people to grow marijuana for personal use in November 2015. In a statement, the court said the ruling did not create an absolute right to use marijuana and that consumption of certain substances could still be subject to regulation. “But the effects caused by marijuana do not justify an absolute prohibition on its consumption,” it said.
The court ordered federal health regulator COFEPRIS to authorize people seeking the right to use marijuana to do so personally, “albeit without allowing them to market it, or use other narcotics or psychotropic drugs.” Congress would now have to act to regulate the use of marijuana in Mexico, Belaunzaran said.
Thursday, October 18, 2018
Will Canada's legalization of marijuana impact coming legalization votes in Michigan and North Dakota and elsewhere in US?
The question in the title of this post is my domestic reaction to the big international marijuana reform news of Canadian marijuana legalization efforts becoming a reality. This new Politico article, headlined "Members of Congress, businesses push for homegrown weed," reports on some of the US echoes of what has transpired in the country up north this week, and here are excerpts:
Washington just got some major peer pressure to embrace the bong. Its vast northern neighbor Canada legalizes the retail sale of marijuana nationwide Wednesday. The Canadian cannabis sector is already estimated to be worth $31 billion and upstart marijuana companies have soared on the New York Stock Exchange.
But America’s patchwork of state laws — and federal ban on marijuana — put American pot companies at a high disadvantage. It's unclear whether the push to liberalize U.S. marijuana laws will get very far: Attorney General Jeff Sessions has declared war on marijuana, though his efforts have been dampened by a not-so-hostile White House. Yet Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) said last week that the White House plans to address cannabis reform following the midterms.
Rohrabacher's efforts are bolstered by a chorus of congressional and business voices calling on the Trump administration to respond with an “America First” policy on pot. A publicly traded U.S. cannabis company bought a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal Tuesday with a message to President Donald Trump: Canada will take over the U.S. marijuana market if we don't legalize soon....
A bipartisan group of American lawmakers fumed last month when the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency gave the green light to importing Canadian marijuana for research purposes. The 15 lawmakers, many of them representing states that have legalized recreational cannabis, protested to the DEA and Sessions that dozens of American companies already requested permission to produce marijuana for study. They wrote that allowing the University of California, San Diego, one of the applicants, to import marijuana capsules from Canada-based Tilray, Inc., was “adding insult to injury.”
Noting that Trump had issued a "Buy American" executive order, the lawmakers urged the administration to ensure that the domestic need for cannabis research be met by American institutions. The concerns are not just limited to medicinal marijuana. Recreational use is gaining a foothold in U.S. states. Voters in North Dakota and Michigan will vote on ballot initiatives on legalization on Election Day.
Already, nine states and the District of Columbia, have legalized pot, and 31 others allow medical marijuana. “I think it frankly cries out for a federal solution,” Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), now challenging Democrat Heidi Heitkamp for her Senate seat, told POLITICO. “And this is tough stuff — this is hard stuff to talk about — because I’m a law-and-order congressman, but it’s impossible to ignore what’s going on. … If the federal government itself doesn’t do something to sort of at least provide the banking system that allows for greater oversight and regulation, I think we’re just setting ourselves up for a bit of a rogue industry rather than a highly regulated one.”
Though this piece is focused on federal US policies, I am especially interested in the reality that the two states voting on full legalization this election cycle both border Canada. I have been thinking that voters in the (bluish) state of Michigan were on a path toward legalization even before these developments in Canada, but I have also been guessing that voters in the (deep red) state of North Dakota were not going to be ready to vote for full legalization. But maybe developments up north could change these dynamics among the voters
October 18, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)
Wednesday, October 17, 2018
Canada has plans for mass pardons of low-level marijuana offenders in conjunction with legalization reforms
As my various in-box fill up with stories about the start of marijuana legalization in Canada, this particular piece garnered my attention given my work on the intersection of marijuana reform and criminal justice reform: "Feds to announce plan to pardon Canadians convicted of simple possession of pot." Here are the basics:
The federal government will announce on Wednesday morning that it intends to proceed with a plan to grant pardons to Canadians who have past simple possession charges.
Sources have confirmed to CTV News that the government intends to issue pardons, and not record expungements or amnesty, for cases of possession of 30 grams or less, as that will be legal as the new recreational legalization regime comes into force at midnight tonight....
The pardons won't be granted immediately, but ministers are expected to outline options that could be used to facilitate the pardon process, and potential ways to expedite the sometimes protracted endeavor. One option could be an application-based approach, where people would have to fill out a form to qualify.
Asked about pardons on the Hill earlier on Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said “we’re going to be working on that as I’ve said, as soon as the day of legalization comes into force.”
NDP MP Murray Rankin tabled a private member’s bill earlier this month that pushed for the expungement of records of anyone who carries a criminal record for past minor, non-violent pot possession convictions. By his estimate there are hundreds of thousands of Canadians that carry personal possession charges for marijuana.
Tuesday, September 18, 2018
Top court in South Africa rules that privacy rights protects adult use of marijuana in private places
As reported in this BBC article, "South Africa's highest court has legalised the use of cannabis by adults in private places." Here is more about a major ruling for marijuana reform:
In a unanimous ruling, judges also legalised the growing of marijuana for private consumption.
South Africa's government had opposed its legalisation, arguing the drug was "harmful" to people's health. It has not yet commented on the ruling, which is binding.
Three cannabis users who had faced prosecution for using the drug brought the case, saying the ban "intrudes unjustifiably into their private spheres".
In his judgement, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo said: "It will not be a criminal offence for an adult person to use or be in possession of cannabis in private for his or her personal consumption." It will, however, remain illegal to use cannabis in public, and to sell and supply it....
This judgement is a reminder that South Africa's hard-won constitution is among the most liberal in the world, backing individual rights, and in this case the right to grow and smoke your own marijuana in private, against the government's concerns about public health and public order.
The Constitutional Court's ruling focuses on the issue of privacy, and a person's right to do as they please in their own home. The potential implications of the binding judgment are enormous, and unpredictable - particularly in terms of the criminal justice system, which routinely locks up thousands of overwhelmingly poor South Africans for using or dealing in small amounts of cannabis.
It is possible that the ruling, by allowing users to grow their own marijuana at home, could undermine the stranglehold of powerful drug gangs that blight so many communities. But the police, who argued against this change, will worry that the ruling will create more ambiguity and send the wrong signal to criminals.
The court has not approved - in any form - the trade in marijuana, meaning the government will not be able to profit from taxing a legalised industry.
In political terms, the landmark ruling emphasises the primacy of South Africa's constitution, which brushed aside the united opposition of numerous government ministries at a time when the authority and credibility of many of this young democracy's other institutions have been eroded by corruption and poor governance.
The court gave parliament 24 months to change the law to reflect its ruling. Adults who used marijuana in private would be protected by the ruling until the law was amended.
The court did not specify the quantity of cannabis a person can grow or use in private. Parliament would have to decide on this, it said.
The full opinion in this case, Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development v Gareth Prince, is available at this link, and here is a key paragraph from its introduction:
It is declared that, with effect from the date of the handing down of this judgment, the provisions of section 5(b) of the Drugs and Drug Trafficking Act 140 of 1992 read with Part III of Schedule 2 of that Act and with the definition of the phrase “deal in” in section 1 of the Drugs and Drug Trafficking Act 140 of 1992 are inconsistent with the right to privacy entrenched in section 14 of the Constitution and, are, therefore, constitutionally invalid to the extent that they prohibit the cultivation of cannabis by an adult in a private place for his or her personal consumption in private
Tuesday, July 31, 2018
Constitutional Court in the country of Georgia holds marijuana consumption is protected by the right to free personality
Though I am surely losing something in the translation of Georgian web pages here and here, I am still sure a ruling by Georgia's Constitutional Court this week is a big deal. This press report, headlined "Georgian Court Abolishes Fines For Marijuana Consumption," provides these details:
Georgia's Constitutional Court has abolished administrative punishments for the consumption of marijuana, making the Caucasus country the first former Soviet republic to legalize usage of the drug.
The ruling by four senior court judges on July 30 concerns only the consumption of cannabis, while cultivation and selling remain a crime, the court said in its ruling. It added that punishing a person for consuming cannabis would comply with the constitution only if consumption put a third party at risk.
"According to the applicants [Zurab Japaridze and Vakhtang Megrelishvili], the consumption of marijuana is not an act of social threat. In particular, it can only harm the user's health, making that user him/herself responsible for the outcome. The responsibility for such actions does not cause dangerous consequences for the public," the court said.
"The Constitutional Court highlights the imposition of responsibility of marijuana consumption when it creates a threat to third parties. For instance, the court will justify responsibility when marijuana is consumed in educational institutions, public places, such as on public transport, and in the presence of children,” it added....
Japaridze told reporters the ruling was a victory for a freer Georgia. "This wasn't a fight for cannabis. This was a fight for freedom," he said.
In late November, the Constitutional Court decriminalized use of marijuana or other forms of cannabis-based drugs but preserved administrative punishment, such as a fine, for marijuana use. Before that, Georgia's Criminal Code defined repetitive use of marijuana and possession of more than 70 grams of dried cannabis as a crime for which individuals could face punishment that does not include imprisonment.
It is striking and somewhat telling that now a former Soviet satellite republic that still shares a border with Russia now has more progressive protections for fee use of marijuana than does the US of A. One might hope that those who preach freedom in the US would take a lesson from this ruling, but I suspect that few know for sure where Georgia is on the map and fewer still will know it now constitutionally protects the freedom to consume marijuana more than does the US government or its federal courts.
Monday, July 9, 2018
I have long thought that the economic development potential of marijuana reform could be one big reason the movement has staying power. Against that backdrop, this new New York Times article about economic (over?)excitement in Canada really struck me because of the comparison to the dot-com boom. The piece is headlined, "Legal Marijuana Is Coming to Canada. Investors Catch the Buzz." Here is an excerpt:
A financial boom not seen since the dot-com mania of the late 1990s has overtaken Canada. The legalization of recreational marijuana, scheduled for this autumn, is not only a momentous social change and public health challenge, but also a rare opportunity for entrepreneurs like Mr. Asi to be in on the birth of what they hope will become a multibillion-dollar industry.
Early signs of a boom abound: Marijuana growers have plowed millions into investments that, without having recorded profits yet, have stock-market values measured in billions. Down-on-their-luck towns like Chesterville, Ontario, hope that marijuana will reverse economic decline. Former politicians and law-enforcement officials who once opposed legalizing recreational marijuana have now joined or formed companies to cash in on it.
Some provincial governments forecast that tax revenue from marijuana sales will help balance their budgets. And companies offering every kind of service or product — from real estate to packaging — are all out for a piece of the action....
Mr. Trudeau’s government portrayed the legalization of recreational marijuana — Canada has had a medical marijuana system since 2001 — as a way to wipe out the black market, not as a potential job creator or moneymaker for either the government or investors. In effect, he promised a system in which marijuana would be available, but not promoted.
As a result, the federal government will license growers in Canada, and provinces will decide how it is sold to consumers. In some provinces, notably Alberta, the government went with privately operated shops. Others, like Ontario and Quebec, will essentially adopt a variation of the system of government-owned stores that has been used for alcohol sales since Prohibition ended.
Under regulations recently released, marijuana will generally be treated more like cigarettes than alcohol. Advertising will be severely restricted — as will the ability of Canada’s marijuana makers to turn themselves into household brand names. Packages must be uniform and plain, aside from vivid, yellow health warnings and tiny logos. Even baseball caps, T-shirts and all other logo-laden giveaways promoting marijuana brands will not be permitted....
Cam Battley, who once worked in the pharmaceutical industry and who is now the chief corporate officer of Aurora Cannabis (market value: 5.6 billion Canadian dollars; losses in the first part of this year: 20 million dollars), acknowledged that the soaring values of marijuana companies may not be justified in every case. But he also rejected suggestions that the dreams surrounding the industry may, well, go up in smoke. “People should be cautious and do their homework on the cannabis sector,” Mr. Battley said. “We’ve become a mainstream industry in Canada. On this, we’re not seen as a wild and crazy country. I think the world trusts Canada to get cannabis right.”
Wednesday, June 20, 2018
The title of this post is the headline of this effective new Vox article that reports on the big marijuana reform news from the big country up north and details some of the likely echoes for Canada's neighbor and the rest of the world. I recommend the entire piece, and here are excerpts:
Canada has become the first wealthy nation in the world to fully legalize marijuana. The Senate approved Bill C-45, also known as the Cannabis Act, on Tuesday. The measure was already approved by the House of Commons, so the Senate’s approval means it’s now set to become law.
The measure legalizes marijuana possession, home growing, and sales for adults. The federal government will oversee remaining criminal sanctions (for, say, selling to minors) and the licensing of producers, while provincial governments will manage sales, distribution, and related regulations — as such, provinces will be able to impose tougher rules, such as raising the minimum age. The statute largely follows recommendations made by a federal task force on marijuana legalization. Canadian and provincial governments are expected to need two to three months before retail sales and other parts of the law can roll out.
None of this may seem too shocking in the US, where already nine states have legalized marijuana for recreational use and 29 states have allowed it for medicinal purposes. What sets Canada apart, though, is it’s doing this as a country. Previously, the South American nation of Uruguay was the only one that legally allowed marijuana for recreational purposes.
Canada, like the US, is part of international drug treaties that explicitly ban legalizing marijuana. Although activists have been pushing to change these treaties for years, they have failed so far — and that means Canada will be, in effect, in violation of international law in moving to legalize. (The US argues it’s still in accordance with the treaties because federal law still technically prohibits cannabis, even though some states have legalized it.)...
In moving forward, the Canadian government is now walking a fine line: It’s hoping to legalize marijuana to clamp down on the black market for cannabis and provide a safe outlet for adults, but it’s risking making pot more accessible to kids and people with drug use disorders. It is taking a bold step against outdated international drug laws, but it could upset countries like Russia, China, and even the US that have historically adopted a stricter view of the treaties. And while Canadian lawmakers may feel marijuana legalization is right for their country, there’s a risk that legal Canadian pot will spill over to the US — perhaps causing tensions with Canada’s neighbor and one of its closest allies. Whether Canada is successful in its legalization attempts will depend on how it strikes a balance between these concerns. And depending on how it pulls this off, it may provide a model to other countries interested in legalization — including the US....
Legalization carries risks too. It could lead to more use and misuse by making pot cheaper and more available. Mark Kleiman, a drug policy expert at New York University’s Marron Institute, estimates that in the long term a legal marijuana joint will cost no more to make than, say, a tea bag — since both products come from plants that are fairly easy to grow. It would also be available to anyone (of legal age) in retail outlets after legalization — meaning it would no longer require a shady or secretive meeting with a drug dealer. Those are benefits for people who use marijuana without problems, to be sure, but easier access could also pose a risk for people who can’t control their cannabis consumption.
Although marijuana isn’t very dangerous compared to some drugs, it does carry some risks: dependence and overuse, accidents, nondeadly overdoses that lead to mental anguish and anxiety, and, in rare cases, psychotic episodes. Still, it’s never been definitively linked to any serious ailments — not deadly overdoses, lung disease, or schizophrenia. And it’s much less likely — around one-tenth so, based on data for fatal car crashes — to cause deadly accidents compared to alcohol, which is legal....
Canada is striking a balance unlike that of the US’s legalization experiments so far. So far in the US, the eight states that have legalized pot sales have done so with a model similar to alcohol. (Vermont has only legalized possession, not retail sales.) Basically, they’re setting up their systems to allow a for-profit pot industry to flourish, similar to the alcohol industry.
Drug policy experts, however, often point to the alcohol industry as a warning, not something to be admired and followed for other drugs. For decades, big alcohol has successfully lobbied lawmakers to block tax increases and regulations on alcohol, all while marketing its product as fun and sexy in television programs, such as the Super Bowl, that are viewed by millions of Americans, including children. Meanwhile, alcohol is linked to 88,000 deaths each year in the US.
If marijuana companies are able to act like the tobacco and alcohol industries have in the past, there's a good chance they’ll convince more Americans to try or even regularly use marijuana, and some of the heaviest users may use more of the drug. And as these companies increase their profits, they’ll be able to influence lawmakers in a way that could stifle regulations or other policies that curtail cannabis misuse. All of that will likely prove bad for public health (although likely not as bad as alcohol, since alcohol is simply more dangerous).
There are policies that can curtail this, some of which Canada’s plan will allow. For example, Canada’s measure restricts marketing and advertising. In the US, this is generally more difficult because the First Amendment protects commercial free speech. (Tobacco marketing is largely prohibited due to a massive legal settlement.) But in Canada, the restrictions could stop marijuana companies from marketing their product in a way that targets, say, children or people who already heavily use cannabis....
Canada’s bill also lets provinces entirely handle the distribution and sales of marijuana — up to letting provincial governments directly manage and staff all pot stores by themselves. While state-run liquor stores aren’t unheard of in the US when it comes to alcohol, it’s widely seen as risky in America with marijuana: Since cannabis is illegal at the federal level, asking state employees to run marijuana shops would effectively ask them to violate federal law. But since Canada is legalizing marijuana nationwide in one go, it can do this — and several provinces are expected to take up this option.
The promise of government-run marijuana shops is that they could be better for public health. In short, government agencies that run shops are generally going to be more mindful of public health and safety, while private companies are only going to be interested in maximizing sales, even if that means making prices very low or selling to minors and people with drug use disorders. Previous research found that states that maintained a government-operated monopoly for alcohol kept prices higher, reduced youth access, and reduced overall levels of use — all benefits to public health.
Tuesday, June 12, 2018
The title of this post is the headline of this interesting article in Wired UK. Here are excerpts:
Cannabis users around the world are eagerly awaiting legalisation day in Canada, with many no doubt ready to book a ticket to the Great White North where they’ll be able to smoke pot in peace. That day may still be a couple months off – on Thursday, the country’s senate voted to pass the bill with changes; it’s now with the House of Commons for another vote – but that’s not stopping Rick Kreminski from thinking about when he may be able to visit. “I’m going to Canada – I might even have to relocate there,” he says.
Kreminski, though, isn’t coming to partake in the legal weed. As the director of Colorado State University Pueblo’s Institute of Cannabis Research, he’s salivating at the potential research and data-gathering opportunities that legalisation in Canada will provide. In the US, where cannabis can be consumed in ten states, scientific research remains sparse. Until it’s legal federally, universities can’t give research subjects cannabis or test strains of it, either.
But in Canada, once legalisation occurs, all is fair game and that has Kreminski – and a heap of other researchers – rather excited. “If more people are allowed to undertake research then they’ll be able to answer the questions that a lot of people have here,” he says. “All kinds of things can be answered.”
For those interested in cannabis-related information, which includes academics, governments, accounting firms, think tanks and the average dataphile, Canada presents an enormous learning opportunity. With a population of 36 million, it will soon be the only country of any significant size where scientific research, with experimental and control groups, can be conducted.
“Canada has an important opportunity to become leaders in the area of cannabis research,” says Jason Busse, co-director of the Michael G. DeGroote Centre for Medicinal Cannabis Research at Hamilton, Ontario’s McMaster University. “There’s a lot of interest in what’s happening here from researchers and producers in other countries.”
While the US, Uruguay – the only other country where cannabis is legal – and some countries in Europe, are engaging in research activities, most of it has been observational, Busse says. For instance, one study found that in some US states where cannabis can be purchased, opioid overdoses fell by 25 per cent. The problem? Without studying this in a more scientific way, it’s impossible to know for sure what’s causing opioid mortality rates to decline. “If we could really take down the rate of overdoses by 25 per cent on average then that would be important to discover,” Busse explains. “But because it’s observational data, you don’t entirely know for sure what’s happening. We don’t know if we have causation there.”...
There’s almost no limit on the kind of data that will be gathered, either. When the information floodgates open, researchers from all fields – health, criminology, policy, economy and more – will be able to collect information they weren’t able to get before. Patricia Erikson, a sociologist at the University of Toronto, is particularly excited about the ability to conduct longitudinal studies, which is when researchers follow the same people year after year....
Kreminski has a wishlist of things he’d like to learn more about, such as how cannabis use impairs functioning, the extent to which cannabis is addictive and how pot impacts an adolescent brain versus an adult brain. Some of these things, such as addictiveness, have been tested in animals, but the value of such data has its limits. “Just being able to do studies that replicate other studies will be valuable,” he says. “It’ll help settle some of these questions.”
It’s more than just academics who are gearing up for legalisation. Government agencies, such as Health Canada and Statistics Canada, will also be able to do more research, and obtain better information, after legalisation, says James Tebrake, director general of macroeconomics at Statistics Canada.
Up until this point, these agencies have had to find creative ways to measure marijuana’s impact. For instance, Statistics Canada, which collects data on economic, social and justice-related issues, is testing the THC (one of at least 113 cannabinoids identified in cannabis) content in the wastewater of six Canadian cities to determine cannabis consumption habits. When Tebrake wanted to figure out how much Canadians are spending on weed, he looked at the website thepriceofweed.com for information. Statistics Canada then set up its own website, StatsCannabis, where people could anonymously reveal how much they spend on pot.
Once weed becomes legal, Statistics Canada will be able to find out from producers exactly how much they’re selling and for what price. While Health Canada already has a survey that asks about drug and alcohol consumption habits, it will now be able to ask more probing questions, in part, because people will now respond more truthfully than they did before, says Tebrake. Collecting this kind of data is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, says Tebrake. It’s not every day that he gets to study a banned product that will soon be sold in stores. “At Statistics Canada we feel we have an obligation to collect as much information as we can about this transition,” he says. “We get to collect data on what happens to a society when something goes from illegal to legal.”
The rest of the world will be happy to know that Statistics Canada plans to share as much information as it can. It already has some data on its Cannabis Stats Hub site, but Tebrake says there’s a lot more to come.
Thursday, June 7, 2018
The title of this post is the headline of this BBC article reporting on a notable legislative development in Canada. Here are the details:
A key legislative hurdle has been passed as Canada moves closer to legalising recreational cannabis. Canadian senators passed the Cannabis Act by 56 votes to 30 with one abstention after studying the landmark legislation for six months.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has committed to making marijuana legal by this summer. Canada will be the first G7 nation to legalise recreational use of the drug. Medical use has been legal since 2001.
The vote on Thursday sends the bill back to the House of Commons, where members of Parliament will decide whether to accept the dozens of amendments added to the legislation by the Senate.
The vote had been expected to be close, and the Trudeau government moved on Wednesday to shore up support by assuring indigenous senators it would address significant concerns they had with bill. That included committing more resources to mental health and addiction services for indigenous people in Canada.
Canadians will still have to wait up to 12 weeks after the bill finally becomes law before they can purchase recreational cannabis.
Provinces and territories are responsible for various elements of the retail market, including how marijuana will be sold and whether users can smoke in public. They are expected to need that time to set up the new marketplace.
Wednesday, June 6, 2018
"Pacta Sunt Servanda -- State Legalization of Marijuana and Subnational Violations of International Treaties: A Historical Perspective"
The title of this post is the title of this new paper authored by Brian Blumenfeld now available via SSRN. Here is its abstract:
In November 2012, voters in the states of Colorado and Washington passed ballot initiatives to legalize recreational marijuana industries. Since then, six additional states and the District of Columbia have followed suit, and many more have seen legalization debates in their legislative halls and among their electorates. Over twenty bills introduced in the 115th Congress seek to break federal marijuana laws away from prohibition. Although the national debate is indeed a vibrant one, it has neglected to address how legalization may be jeopardizing the compliance status of the United States under international drug treaties, and what the consequences may be if legalization means breach.
For decision-making over marijuana policy to produce creditable outcomes, it must take into consideration the factor of international relations. Subnational conduct implicating treaty commitments is in fact not without precedent in America, and one episode in particular — notable for its contributions to the nation’s constitutional origins — reveals how treaty noncompliance can degrade a nation’s diplomatic standing. This article examines both past and present controversies, and uses the advantages of historical perspective to draw international drug law issues into the legalization debate.
Sunday, April 29, 2018
As reported in this article, headlined "Zimbabwe legalises marijuana for medicinal use: Decision is a step away from the country's traditionally tough stance on drugs," a notable nation on a notable continent is the latest to join the ranks of marijuana reformers:
Zimbabwe has made it legal to produce marijuana for medicinal and scientific uses.
It follows in the footsteps of Lesotho, the tiny nation which last year became the first in Africa to issue a license for medical marijuana.
Zimbabwe has been considering legalising the drug for a number of months, and will now become one of the few countries able to turn it into a source of revenue. Previously, production and possession of the drug could bring up to 12 years in prison, although recreational use remains illegal.
The move is a step away from Zimbabwe's traditionally tough stance on drugs. In the past, members of parliament in the largely conservative country who had advocated for legalisation were often mocked.
Much of Africa still criminalises the production and use of marijuana but countries including Malawi and Ghana are reportedly exploring ways they too can legalise it.
A South African court last year ruled that private use of marijuana was legal but the government appealed against the ruling at the constitutional court.
Wednesday, March 21, 2018
At Brookings, John Hudak, Geoff Ramsey, and John Walsh have produced this notable new report on a notable marijuana reform effort in South America. The 24-page report it titled "Uruguay’s cannabis law: Pioneering a new paradigm," and here is its introduction:
Uruguay is the first country to legalize and regulate its domestic non-medical cannabis market. In light of this pioneering role, the choices and experiences of Uruguayan authorities hold important lessons for other jurisdictions that may consider whether and how to regulate cannabis. Uruguay’s breakthroughs and challenges related to banking, international treaties, access to the product, enforcement, medical cannabis, tourism, and research and evaluation in particular hold immense value to policymakers and analysts elsewhere. To this end, this report examines the conditions that led Uruguay’s government to pass its cannabis law in 2013, studies its progress so far, and identifies areas that policymakers should consider addressing in order to maximize the law’s potential benefits.
Key findings include:
• Uruguay should consider long-term measures to ensure that cannabis business entities have access to financial institutions, including outreach to other jurisdictions shifting toward cannabis regulation, such as Canada.
• The medical and law enforcement sectors require substantial education and training, particularly regarding the aims and expected benefits of cannabis regulation, how to broaden access to medical cannabis, and the new enforcement rules under the law.
• Implementation of commercial sales so far has been marked by shortcomings in distribution. Uruguay can overcome these obstacles by widening legal points of sale to include not only pharmacies, but a new form of dispensary, which authorities are already planning.
• In order for the regulated cannabis market to displace the black market more effectively, authorities may need to reconsider rules that require users to choose only one of the three legal forms of cannabis supply: homegrowing, clubs, or commercial purchase.
• Uruguayan authorities may also need to address a growing informal market by allowing legal sales to noncitizen tourists.
• In order to better position themselves to assess these adjustments, authorities should work closer with independent researchers and civil society to ensure that they have access to key information and institutional support for their work.
Thursday, February 22, 2018
The title of this post is the amusing headline of this amusing story about a little bit of misinformation delivered by law enforcement officers to teens in Canada. Here are the details:
Don't smoke marijuana, boys, or you'll develop breasts. That's the message that an officer for Canada's York Regional Police shared with high school boys last week during a drug-awareness talk in which the officer claimed that smoking marijuana would make boys develop breasts.
“There are studies that marijuana lowers your testosterone,” drug recognition officer Nigel Cole told students during a panel held at the York District School Board headquarters. “We call it ‘doobies make boobies,’ we are finding that 60 percent of 14-year-olds are developing ‘boobies.’”
Health experts quickly responded to dismiss the bogus claim. “Smoking marijuana does not give you breasts,” said Dr. John Harrison, Chief Scientific Officer for the healthcare company TeamMD. “Marijuana does impact hormones but by no means does it give anyone breasts. That’s what you call knowledge going the wrong way. There’s no scientific basis that I know of.”...
The police agree. Yesterday, the official Twitter account for the York Regional Police released an apology for spreading misinformation. "We’re no health experts," YPR wrote, "but we’re pretty sure getting high does not cause enhanced mammary growth in men. We are aware of the misinformation about cannabis that was unfortunately provided to the community by our officers. We’re working to address it."
The York Regional Police should certainly be given credit for forthrightly apologizing for spreading misinformation rather than for trying to deny this happened. But this incident serves to provide another reminder of the enduring challenges of ensuring that only sound information is part of needed efforts to educate the community about the array of potential pros and cons of marijuana use.
Wednesday, February 14, 2018
The title of this post is the headline of this recent Leafy article that struck me as both timely and informative. Here is how the extended piece starts and ends:
Whether or not you consider cannabis a performance-enhancing substance, it’s still a no-no for Olympic athletes. Being caught can mean suspension or even the loss of a medal. Just ask Canada’s Ross Rebagliati, who in 1998 was stripped of the first-ever Olympic gold for snowboarding after his urine tested positive for THC.
Rebagliati eventually got his medal back after pointing out that cannabis at the time wasn’t actually classified as a banned substance. But every year since, cannabinoids have appeared on the official “Prohibited List” put out annually by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). Sorry, brah.
That’s not to say WADA is especially strict when it comes to cannabis. In fact, the agency’s limits are probably more lenient than your employer’s.
In 2016, we called the Olympic limits on cannabinoids “shockingly reasonable”—and they’ve only gotten more sensible since. Athletes’ urine must contain less than 150 nanograms per milliliter of carboxy-THC, a cannabis metabolite.
By comparison, workplace drug tests commonly used by private employers in the United States set thresholds between about 15 ng/mL and 100 ng/mL. (Rebagliati, the snowboarder, returned a result of 17.8 ng/mL.) Legal-cannabis states often have per se limits for cannabis DUIs, but those are generally based on concentrations of active THC in whole blood rather than WADA’s test for metabolites in urine, making the limits difficult to compare directly.
WADA’s THC limit used to be just 15 ng/mL, but the agency quietly raised it in 2013. The head of the International Olympic Committee’s medical commission said at the time that the change was “a reasonable attempt at dealing with a complicated matter,” adding: “There is a big debate on it.”
How does the limit translate in terms of actual cannabis consumption? That’s hard to say for certain. How long cannabis remains in a person’s system depends consumption habits, genetics, as well as lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise. Athletes, who are generally leaner and more active than average, would likely be able to pass a test sooner than those of us watching from the couch at home....
At the end of the day, Olympic athletes are allowed a fair amount of leeway when it comes to cannabis test results, but they still operate in a world with scant protection for medical use. As more countries move to legalize, perhaps that will change.
Wednesday, November 22, 2017
Canadian agency wisely getting a running start on measuring economic and social impacts of recreational marijuana reforms
As detailed in this official release, titled "A cannabis economic account – The framework," the national agency Statistics Canada has just announce how it is "preparing Canada's statistical system to capture the associated economic and social implications of the prospective legalization of cannabis." Here are the details via the release:
On April 13, 2017, the Government of Canada tabled legislation in the House of Commons to legalize, regulate and restrict access to cannabis for non-medical purposes. If legislation is approved by Parliament, the drug's new status might come into effect by mid-2018.
Currently, the non-medical use of cannabis is not captured by the statistical system and there is a lack of available information from which to compile reliable estimates. Once cannabis is legalized, the majority of the production, sale and use of cannabis should move from 'underground' to 'above ground,' making it easier to capture and report. Statistics Canada is therefore preparing the statistical system to be able to capture the economic and social activities related to the non-medical use of cannabis.
Given the non-medical use of cannibis in Canada, it is incumbent upon the agency to try to measure the production, sale and use pre-legalization—despite the obvious difficulties of doing so—as well as post-legalization to provide Canadians, governments and businesses with as clear a picture as possible of the economic and social consequences of the legalization.
Today Statistics Canada is releasing a paper describing the framework it plans to use to estimate cannabis production and consumption, both pre- and post-legalization. The paper [available here] "A Cannabis Economic Account — The framework" organizes the different aspects of the cannabis economy in a 'supply and use' accounting structure that borrows concepts and terminology from the international System of National Accounts and Canadian System of Macroeconomic accounts.
In brief, the framework derives estimates of cannabis consumption expenditures of Canadians from use prevalence data in Statistics Canada health surveys. A series of models have been developed which are applied to the consumption data to derive estimates of the production and the gross domestic product of non-medical cannabis in Canada as well as imports, exports and 'retail' margins. These models are based on a number of assumptions and include the use of justice statistics to derive estimates of the illegal import and export of cannabis—that is, cannabis smuggling and the hypothesis that the process to produce non-medical cannabis is similar to that of medical cannabis.