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.
Sunday, November 19, 2017
The title of this post is the title of this interesting recent OZY article. Here are excerpts:
The Democratic Republic of Congo, Africa’s second-largest nation by area, is known for nefarious trade in copper, coltan, cobalt, tin and other minerals. But now, tens of thousands of Congolese like Koti are setting their sights on a different sort of illegal resource: cannabis. The United Nations estimates that Africa produces 10,500 metric tons of cannabis — a fourth of all the marijuana in the world. Between 27 million and 53 million Africans use the drug, making up about one-fourth of all weed users worldwide. Congo, some narcotics experts believe, may produce more cannabis than almost any other African nation except South Africa.
Marijuana farming is illegal in Congo, where the rarity of record keeping, especially in remote regions like rural South Kivu province, makes it hard to chart the exact moment when the crop’s popularity exploded. But research by University of California, Berkeley visiting professor of geography Ann Laudati suggests 60 percent of famers in parts of eastern Congo’s Kivu — and 90 percent in some locations — grow at least some cannabis. “Everyone but the priests,” is how one Congolese village priest described the prevalence of marijuana farming to Laudati. “It’s like the gold rush in America in the 1800s,” says Laudati of the excitement of some who have set their hopes on growing cannabis....
But while cannabis farming comes without the physical fears that accompany mining, it carries its own share of risks, wrapped in politics from across the Atlantic. Decades of U.S. and international pressure are a key reason why cannabis cultivation is illegal in Congo. In 1961, the U.S. voted in favor of the U.N. Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, which added marijuana to the list of drugs that were banned internationally. The way to solve America’s drug “problem” was by pinching off the global supply, or so the thinking went....
But the penalization of cannabis in Congo is endorsed by the U.S. at a time when many states are decriminalizing the drug at home. In Afghanistan, the U.S. has funded “alternative livelihood” programs to shift Afghan farmers away from cannabis. And in 2005, the U.S. vetoed an international attempt to “reschedule” cannabis as a less dangerous substance — a move that could have opened the doors to deregulation.
In Africa, the U.S. spends $20 million annually to reduce drug trafficking, and marijuana remains top among its concerns. The State Department’s 2015 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report referenced cannabis 121 times, reprimanding African countries where cultivation is common. An earlier version of that report singled out Congo in particular, scolding authorities for failing to crack down on the trade. The State Department even warned American travelers about Congo’s cannabis in a 2015 safety report. The losers of America’s drug war in Africa are everyday farmers....
If Western nations like the U.S. were to reclassify cannabis as a less troublesome narcotic, cultivation could be decriminalized. Marijuana farming in countries like Congo could then thrive like it has in the U.S., where cannabis is manufactured into products ranging from fabrics, purses and bags to shampoos, oils and lotions. Nearly 40 cannabis-growing African nations might similarly benefit. Legalization is already on the horizon in South Africa, where a recent court decision will allow recreational use in private residences beginning in 2019.
“In South Africa, definitely — it’s becoming increasingly normalized,” says Dave Martin, founder of Bulungula Incubator, a rural development organization focused on farming. “It’s no longer taboo.” In South Africa’s eastern Transkei region, thousands of farmers grow cannabis in open fields. For consumers, a 5-liter bucket of cannabis — roughly a kilo — costs nearly $40. But even in South Africa, cannabis remains illegal on paper, and it is usually middlemen — traders and sellers — who profit. Meanwhile, farmers pay the price.
Wednesday, November 1, 2017
The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper commissioned by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction authored by authored by Beau Kilmer. Here is the paper's introduction:
For decades, those seeking insights into alternatives to prohibiting cannabis supply have turned to Europe. For nearly 40 years, the Netherlands has tolerated small retail sales, and in February 2017 the Dutch Parliament narrowly passed a bill to regulate the supply of cannabis to coffee shops. Spain’s cannabis social clubs (CSCs), which are supposed to produce cannabis for non-profit distribution to club members, have proliferated throughout the country despite some of them being forced to shut down. Similar CSCs are now appearing in other parts of Europe (Decorte, 2015; Belackova et al., 2016; EMCDDA, 2016).
For the past five years, however, many of those searching for new developments in cannabis regulation have turned their attention to the Western Hemisphere. In 2012, voters in the US states of Colorado and Washington passed ballot initiatives to remove the prohibition on cannabis and to license profit-maximising firms to produce and sell it. In late 2013, Uruguay became the first country in the world to legalise cannabis, although its approach is much more restrictive than that being adopted in the United States. Since 2016, four more US states have approved commercial models for cannabis — including California, the world’s sixth largest economy — and a bill to allow for-profit companies to produce cannabis for non-medical purposes has been introduced in Canada.
Recently, politicians in at least six European countries (in addition to the Netherlands) have introduced legislation to reform cannabis supply laws, with many proposing sales through licensed outlets (Hughes et al., 2017). While most of these proposals have already been rejected (Hughes et al. 2017), conversations about cannabis regulation are expected to become more frequent and more detailed in Europe. With this in mind, the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) has requested a brief report to address the following three questions:
• What new models of cannabis regulation are emerging worldwide and in Europe?
• What is the evidence about the impact of these reforms?
• What are the implications for drug policy and practice in Europe?
November 1, 2017 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)
Sunday, October 29, 2017
As reported in this new Wall Street Journal article, headlined "Big Brewer Makes a Play for Marijuana Beverages," the "U.S. distributor of Corona beer is chasing a new type of buzz." Here are the details from a story giving new meaning to "Corona Extra" :
Constellation Brands Inc. has agreed to take a 9.9% stake in Canopy Growth Corp. , a Canadian marijuana company, and plans to work with the grower to develop and market cannabis-infused beverages. Canopy Growth is the world’s largest publicly traded cannabis company, with a market valuation of 2.2 billion Canadian dollars on the Toronto Stock Exchange. The C$245 million (US$191 million) deal gives Constellation a toehold in an industry that the brewer expects to be legalized nationwide in the U.S. in the coming years.
“We think that it’s highly likely, given what’s happened at the state level,” Rob Sands, chief executive of the Victor, N.Y.-based beer, wine and spirits company, said in an interview. “We’re obviously trying to get first-mover advantage.”
Constellation — flush with cash after posting a 13% increase in beer sales in its latest quarter — is interested in developing drinkable cannabis products that don’t contain alcohol, he said. Products currently on the market in U.S. states where they are legal include buzz-inducing sodas, coffees and fruit elixirs.
Constellation doesn’t plan to sell such a product in the U.S. before marijuana is legalized there nationwide, Mr. Sands said, but could sell it in Canada, where edible and drinkable cannabis products are expected to be legalized by 2019, or other countries where recreational marijuana is permitted....
U.S. beer-industry executives have been debating whether legalized marijuana could cannibalize sales of beer, even as other consumers migrate from beer to wine and spirits. Some brewers have experimented with cannabis-infused beers, not containing THC but instead a marijuana flavor. “Wine and spirits are not sitting still, and marijuana is being legalized in many states,” Heineken USA Chief Executive Ronald den Elzen said at a beer wholesalers conference earlier this month. “We have to act now, and we have to do it together.”
Mr. Sands said he doesn’t see pot as a threat to booze. But if a consumer is going to choose a can of beer, a glass of wine, a shot of liquor or a weed-laced elixir, he wants to be able to offer all four, he said. “Could it be a threat? Yes, I guess it could be,” he said. “We’re not going to stand around twiddling our thumbs.”...
Canopy Growth, based in Smiths Falls, Ontario, is ramping up capacity ahead of next summer’s legalization in Canada and said it would use the new capital to expand its production and storage facilities throughout the country. The deal, expected to close by early November, gives Constellation board-observer status and the option to increase its stake to just under 20%. Canopy
Growth CEO Bruce Linton said Constellation’s expertise in alcohol distribution would be helpful for the cannabis company as it determines how to distribute and package recreational cannabis. Canada’s provincial regulators are still considering how to handle the selling of marijuana, he said. Mr. Linton said he hoped the deal could be the turning point for the nascent industry, signaling to institutional investors “that a cannabis company that fully complies within legal jurisdictions would be the right place to invest."
Wednesday, October 25, 2017
The title of this post is the title of this lengthy cover story in the magazine Cosmos. The article does an effective job reviewing the limited dependable scientific evidence concerning the efficacy of marijuana as a medicine for various conditions and the limited ability scientists have to enhance the scientific evidence concerning the efficacy of marijuana as a medicine. I recommend the article in full, and here is an excerpt:
In the past two decades the disparity between evidence and anecdotes has grown extreme. Despite a majority of states (beginning with California in 1996) having legalised cannabis to treat medical conditions, federal restrictions on research remained ironclad. So researchers have great difficulty studying whether such medical uses have any basis in science. “What we have is a perfect storm,” says Daniele Piomelli, a neurobiologist at the University of California, Irvine.
Piomelli has been researching cannabis as best as he can. To comply with the mandates of the federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), his precious store of 50 milligrams of THC must be kept in a locked safe, in a locked cool room, in a locked lab. “Any person on the street can go to a dispensary and for $10 obtain cannabis,” he says. “But if we bring it into the university we risk being raided by the FBI and DEA. We live in a schizophrenic state.” Even when researchers have gained permission to do research, the cannabis can only be supplied by one authorised lab, at the University of Mississippi. The lab has been growing the same variety for decades, one that bears little resemblance to the chemovars now available through dispensaries.....
There is no simple way out of the cannabis mess. With much of the world clamouring to use cannabis as a cure for all manner of ailments, and an exploding cannabis industry that is happy to push that demand along, it is crucial to establish just how real its clinical benefits and harms are – especially for children.
The medical establishment ideally needs randomised clinical trials, such as those Israel is admirably pushing ahead with. “I would say the Israelis have taken the lead,” [oncologist Donald] Abrams says. But 30,000 users in Israel and millions in the US aren’t waiting for such results. Some, like Abigail Dar, are too desperate. Others are wedded to their own trial-and-error experiments with different chemovars.
Another complicating factor is that the diabolically complex chemistry of the cannabis plant is too overwhelming to sort out through individual RCTs. Researchers are still scratching at the surface of a potential treasure trove of medicines that appear to act synergistically. The list of conditions to try them against appears never-ending. The number of trials needed to test each combination against each condition seems mindboggling.
The database collated by [Israeli researcher Dedi] Meiri and his clinical collaborators is now being prepared for publication. It should help link the pot-pourri of chemicals inside cannabis to its clinical effects. It may be second-tier science, but it appears to be one of the best strategies for navigating a path out of the haze that still envelops medical cannabis.
Tuesday, October 24, 2017
In this post a few weeks ago, I noted that Tom Angell, who had been providing a great marijuana newsletter titled Marijuana Moment since the start of this year, had transform his work from a daily e-mail into a "full-scale cannabis news portal." That news portal, available here, is a must-read because of Tom's singular talent in tracking and reporting on various developments before other news organizations notice them. In addition, Tom has been also doing some great original reporting, and these particular recent postings struck me as especially worth highlighting and praising:
October 24, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)
Thursday, August 24, 2017
Cross posted at Marijuana Law, Policy, and Authority.
The World Health Organization (WHO) is apparently reviewing the scheduling of Cannabidiol (CBD) and 16 other drugs under the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances. Prior to a meeting of the relevant WHO committee in early November, the WHO has asked member states (including the U.S.) for input. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for coordinating the United States’ response. To fulfill its responsibility, the FDA has issued a public call for comments “concerning abuse potential, actual abuse, medical usefulness, trafficking, and impact of scheduling changes on availability for medical use” of CBD (and the 16 other substances). The call for comments can be found here. Comments may be submitted electronically on the website (see upper right hand corner). Already more than 1,200 comments have been submitted.
I don’t know what sort of comments would convince the FDA to push for re-scheduling. As discussed in Chapter 5 of my book (pages 195-203), the FDA doesn’t put much stock in personal testimonials when making scheduling recommendations under domestic law (i.e., the CSA). For better or worse, it generally demands large scale, double-blind, well-controlled studies to demonstrate the medical efficacy of a drug—a demonstration that is needed to move a drug off of Schedule I (pages 200-201).
And if the WHO decides to reschedule CBD under the Convention, it’s not clear what impact (if any) it would have on scheduling under the CSA. The relationship between the CSA and the Convention is detailed 21 U.S.C. § 811. As discussed in the book (pages 272-275), the CSA seemingly requires the DEA to use the Convention as a floor, but not a ceiling, for purposes of regulating drugs. In other words, it seemingly requires the DEA to regulate drugs at least as stringently as called for by the Convention, but does not obligate the DEA to relax federal controls just because the Convention believes a softer approach is warranted (say, by medical utility).
So with those caveats, let me say that this might be an opportunity to shape the law – or at the very least, it might be an opportunity to teach about how to shape the law by submitting comments to a federal regulatory agency.
Hat tip to Vincente Sederberg, which sent an email earlier this week announcing the call and proposing to help coordinate comments. You can contact the firm here.
Saturday, July 8, 2017
The Washington Post has this interesting new article taking a deep dive into on foreign nation's distinctive approach to marijuana reform. I recommend the article in full, and it is headlined "In Uruguay’s marijuana experiment, the government is your pot dealer." Here are excerpts:
Uruguay is the world’s first country to fully legalize the production, sale and consumption of marijuana. But under its strict rules, there will be no Amsterdam-style smoking cafes, and foreigners won’t have access to the national stash.
Nor will there be shops selling ganja candies, psychedelic pastries or any of the other edible derivatives offered in pot-permissive U.S. states such as Colorado and Washington, where entrepreneurial capitalism fertilizes the United States’ incipient marijuana industry.
Instead, Uruguay’s government has developed a legalization model whose apparent goal is to make marijuana use as boring as possible. A vast regulatory bureaucracy will determine everything from the genetic makeup of the plants to the percentage of psychoactive compounds in their flowers.
The endeavor puts Uruguay (population: 3.4 million) at the forefront of a growing list of nations and U.S. states experimenting with marijuana. Pot has been legalized for recreational or medical use in more than half of U.S. states and the District of Columbia, but it remains essentially prohibited under federal law. American activists have been bracing for a confrontation with the Trump administration and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who opposes the liberalization trend.
Canada, Mexico, Colombia and other nations across the Americas also are moving to legalize cannabis on a limited basis. But only Uruguay has set up a comprehensive system to regulate every facet of the plant’s life cycle, from tiny seed to smoky haze. Uruguayans say their model is designed to strike a balance between prohibition and the kind of exuberant marijuana economy emerging in some U.S. states, where well-funded businesses may have incentives to encourage consumption.
In Uruguay, anything that smacks of commercial marijuana branding or advertising is banned. The two private firms authorized to supply the pharmacies with industrial quantities of dope — four tons annually — can’t even put their company labels on the packaging. “The risk of what they’re doing in Colorado is that you end up with something like the tobacco industry,” said Julio Calzada, one of the public health officials who designed Uruguay’s regulatory model after lawmakers approved legalization in 2013. He said the country won’t allow a competitive industry peddling pot versions of Marlboro and Camel. “The concept here is totally different.”
“To us, marijuana is a vegetable substance with a capacity to generate addiction, so what we’re trying to do is control the production, distribution and consumption of that substance as effectively as possible,” he said.
It’s no fluke that this is happening in socially liberal Uruguay. Gambling and prostitution are legal and regulated here. Uruguay is also the only Latin American nation outside Cuba that has broadly legalized abortion, and it was one of the first to recognize civil unions and adoption by same-sex couples. Uruguay also is accustomed to relatively high levels of regulation and a big state role in the economy, with an array of government-owned banks, gas stations and utilities. Over the years, activists began to argue: Why not weed?
The experiment is not without skeptics and detractors — one reason it has taken longer than expected to fully implement the country’s legalization model. Marijuana cultivation and consumption has been allowed for personal use, and the country now has at least 60 cannabis clubs that provide members with a monthly supply. But the government has been slow to roll out its system of pharmacy-based commercial sales to the general population.
Uruguay developed its pioneering model under ex-president José Mujica, a former Marxist guerrilla turned statesman. His successor, Tabaré Vázquez, a trained physician, largely has sought to play down the legalization experiment, seemingly wary of a potentially negative impact on Uruguay’s image. Legalization advocates close to the government say officials also have been hung up by international banking rules that sanction entities with ties to the narcotics trade.
Still, Uruguayan officials say the nation’s pharmacies will be stocked with cannabis sachets and ready to begin dealing in the second half of July. The newly created Institute for the Regulation and Control of Cannabis (IRCCA) will coordinate distribution.
Anyone over age 18 who registers in a government database will be able to buy up to 40 grams per month at one of three dozen participating commercial pharmacies. Instead of showing ID, buyers will place their thumb on a scanner that links to a government database and tells the pharmacy how much marijuana they are eligible to purchase.
More than 4,600 Uruguayans have registered for the system, according to the IRCCA website, and officials are expecting that number to increase substantially once marijuana users realize that the product sold in pharmacies is vastly superior to the low-grade weed available illegally on the streets. Some marijuana users have chafed at the idea of registering with the government. But even legalization advocates concede that such a safeguard is necessary to prevent traffickers from buying up pharmacy stocks and smuggling Uruguay’s crop into Brazil and Argentina, the country’s much-larger neighbors.
“A lot of consumers here don’t like the fingerprint system and point out that they don’t have to do anything like that to buy a bottle of wine,” said Martín Fernández, a human rights attorney in Montevideo who has become an expert on the country’s cannabis law. “But we see it as something transitional that could disappear with time.” ...
Officials say the new system will drain away customers from the black-market marijuana economy, where a kind of pot known as “Paraguayan Pressed” predominates. It is similar to cheap, low-potency marijuana that reaches U.S. streets from Mexico and is cultivated on large outdoor farms. The final product is littered with seeds and plant stems.
Its levels of THC, the main psychoactive ingredient, are typically below 5 percent, while the state-approved version soon to be sold in pharmacies will be available in seedless flowers (“buds”) at strengths of 5 and 10 percent THC, according to Eduardo Blasina, an agronomist who set up one of the two growing operations on state-leased land adjacent to the country’s maximum-security prison. “It’s one of the most secure places in the country,” he said....
One irony of the Uruguay model is that its pharmacies will be selling marijuana even though the country has not approved commercial sales of medical or health products derived from the plants. But it was pharmacy owners who petitioned the government to give them responsibility for retail sales, citing their experience handling controlled substances, said Alejandro Antalich, whose pharmacy trade association represents 300 stores. “The neighborhood pharmacist is one of the most trusted figures in Uruguayan society,” he said.
Wednesday, June 21, 2017
As reported in this Washington Post piece, "Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto signed a decree this week legalizing medical marijuana." Here is more:
The measure also classified the psychoactive ingredient in the drug as “therapeutic.” The new policy isn't exactly opening the door for medical marijuana dispensaries on every corner. Instead it calls on the Ministry of Health to draft and implement regulations and public policies regulating “the medicinal use of pharmacological derivatives of cannabis sativa, indica and Americana or marijuana, including tetrahydrocannabinol.” It also tasks the ministry with developing a research program to study the drug's impact before creating broader policies.
The measure had broad support from Mexico's Senate and Lower House of Congress, where it passed 347-7 in April. Marijuana legalization advocates are celebrating the decision and calling on the government to do more. Sen. Miguel Barbosa said the legislation was “well below the expectations of society.” Sen. Armando Rios Peter called it a “tiny” step away from a failed drug policy.
For decades, Latin America has struggled to address the rampant corruption and violence wrought by the drug trade. Lately, many places have focused on a particular strategy: decriminalization. As my colleague Josh Partlow wrote last year: “Uruguay has fully legalized weed for sale. And a large chunk of South and Central America, including Brazil, Peru, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Costa Rica, have made marijuana more available in varying ways, whether it is for medicinal or recreational use.” It's a recognition, he wrote, that “years of violent struggle have failed to stem the flow of narcotics into the United States.”...
Recreational marijuana is still broadly prohibited in Mexico, but the government is considering a measure that would let citizens legally possess up to an ounce of it. In 2015, Mexico's Supreme Court granted four people the right to grow their own marijuana for personal consumption. The ruling set a precedent that could accelerate efforts to pass legislation permitting broader use of pot. “Absolute prohibition is excessive and doesn’t protect the right to health,” Justice Olga Sánchez Cordero said at the time.
Peña Nieto, who once was a vocal opponent of drug legalization, has undergone a similar shift in thinking. He has said that addiction should be thought of as a “public health problem” and that users should not be criminalized. He has also advocated for the United States and Mexico to follow similar policies on drug use and marijuana legislation.
Thursday, May 11, 2017
As reported via this local piece, headlined "Feds hope pot-by-numbers effort helps extinguish illegal marijuana trade," it appears the folks to our north are deeply and wisely committed to collecting and analyzing lots of data as marijuana reform efforts unfold. Here are some of the details:
The federal government is hoping to find strength in numbers as it tries to stamp out the illicit marijuana market. Government officials are collecting data — everything from the street price of pot to how often people light up — to arm themselves in the fight against organized crime's presence in the trade, internal Public Safety Canada documents reveal.
The Liberal government has tabled legislation to legalize and regulate recreational marijuana use, with the aim of keeping pot out of the hands of children while denying criminals the hefty profits.
Officials had already identified 45 specific categories of information they would need to gauge the success of the new policy. Of these, Canada collected data to calculate about seven, some partial information on a further 17 and little to no figures on the remaining 21 categories. The wide variety of missing data includes a measure of the fire hazard posed by grow-ops, overdose statistics, the scope of crop-eradication efforts and effects of marijuana use on school performance.
The government plans to monitor patterns related to cannabis use, especially among young people, on an annual basis through the Canadian Cannabis Survey. In March, Health Canada began the two-month survey, involving some 10,000 Canadians, said a department spokeswoman. The planned questions most relevant to organized crime were related to the type, quantity and frequency of pot consumed, where it is being obtained, the purchase price and contact between users and police, say March notes released by Public Safety through the Access to Information Act.
"In a regime of legal recreational cannabis, price data in the illicit market is still important," say the notes. "This is because the behaviour of consumers of cannabis, such as switching between markets, will be influenced by price." Some research results are already trickling in. A study commissioned by the department pegged the cost of high-quality black-market cannabis in the 2011 to 2015 period at $7.69 a gram. Research also found that a 10-per-cent drop in the price of pot could cause a four-to-six per cent increase in the amount consumed.
Officials want accurate figures on the sheer amount of marijuana Canadians use to help with basic supply-and-demand modelling that will paint a fuller picture. They note such data exists in studies of legal and contraband tobacco, allowing criminologists and economists to build solid models. Another key to understanding the price of pot is information about law-enforcement efforts, the notes say. "For example, if more resources are dedicated to combatting grow-ops in one particular area, it would be expected that the enforcement would affect the price of marijuana in that area, as well as the areas surrounding it."
Notably and encouragingly, last year Public Safety Canada produced this very effective document about marijuana reform and data issues titled "Cannabis Performance Metrics for Policy Consideration – What Do We Need to Measure?". This news article and that prior document suggests the folks up north are asking all the right kinds of questions and will be collecting all the right kinds of data for effectively analyzing the impacts of marijuana reform in Canada.
Thursday, April 13, 2017
As reported in this National Post piece, headlined "Liberals introduce long-awaited bills to legalize marijuana by July 2018," legislative leaders in Canada have finally put forward a full bill to legalize marijuana in that nation. Here are the basics:
The federal Liberal government has finally launched its long-awaited effort to legalize recreational marijuana, setting in motion a host of sweeping policy changes for public safety and health across Canada.
The suite of bills — which would establish 18 as the minimum legal age to buy pot — was introduced in the House of Commons by Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, Health Minister Jane Philpott and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland.
A government news release promises a “strict legal framework” for the production, sale, distribution and possession of pot, and says selling cannabis to a minor would for the first time become a specific criminal offence.
It also promises “significant penalties” for those who engage young Canadians in “cannabis-related offences” and a “zero-tolerance approach” to drug-impaired driving....
The bills are sure to come under heavy scrutiny in the coming weeks and months as Ottawa and the provinces and territories hash out the finer jurisdictional details of major issues like distribution and law enforcement. Health Minister Jane Philpott says criminalizing cannabis has not deterred use among young people, noting products like alcohol and tobacco are legally available with restrictions.
Once passed, the Liberal bills introduced today would make Canada the first member of the G7 to legalize marijuana for recreational use across the country.
There are lots of reasons this is a very big deal, though I do not know enough about Canadian politics to predict with any certainty whether it is really likely that marijuana will be fully legal and a consumer product in just a little over a year. Particulars aside, if Canada is truly on a certain path to full legalization in the not-too-distinct future, I think marijuana-reform-friendly states that border Canada – particularly Michigan, New Hampshire and Vermont – have yet another reason to seriously consider full legalization in order to avoid the likelihood of lots of US citizens heading up north to get legal marijuana.
Thursday, December 29, 2016
The title of this post is the headline of this notable lengthy new CNN piece. Here are excerpts:
In 2016, more countries legalized the use of marijuana for medicinal or recreational purposes. Marijuana, or cannabis, is "the most widely cultivated, produced, trafficked and consumed drug worldwide," according to the World Drug Report, but its legality has long been a topic of debate worldwide.
In the US, Maine recently confirmed legalized recreational marijuana use, joining seven other states and the District of Columbia. Medical marijuana is now legal in more than half of US states. This mirrors a global trend. Canada approved both legalization and regulation of the drug in 2016, joining Uruguay as the only other country to do so. Ireland, Australia, Jamaica and Germany approved measures for its medicinal use this year. Decisions are still pending in South Africa. Australia granted permission for businesses to apply for licenses to manufacture or cultivate marijuana products for medicinal purposes and to conduct related research.
They join more than 20 countries worldwide trialing legislation regarding access to marijuana and exploring possible benefits. But as with the drug itself, the laws vary, as does the potency of control, and the world is waiting to learn what will work best....
Portugal is a pioneer when it comes to drug reform laws, as the nation decriminalized the possession of all drugs -- not just cannabis -- for personal use in 2001. As a result, the country holds the greatest body of evidence about the impact such a change can have on policy.
"We were a social laboratory," said João Castel-Branco Goulão, director-general of the General-Directorate for Intervention on Addictive Behaviours and Dependencies in Lisbon. But filtering out the specific impact in terms of cannabis is difficult. "Experiments are now taking place in other parts of the world," he said.
Having trialed drug reform for more than a decade, Goulão believes that when it comes to defining what's needed for cannabis, there must be a clear distinction between discussions for medicinal and recreational use to "avoid confusion." "People mix medicinal and recreational use," he said. However, he acknowledges that the basis for medicinal benefits from marijuana is strong, with a range of experts, including himself, recognizing its use to alleviate chronic pain, muscle spasms, anxiety, and nausea and vomiting -- most of which are linked to a variety of disorders, including multiple sclerosis and cancer treatment. "I have no problems with medicinal marijuana," Goulão said. "There are conditions I believe can benefit from cannabis use."
Multiple countries have decriminalized personal possession of marijuana, including the Netherlands, Mexico, Czech Republic, Costa Rica and Portugal, in an attempt to address societal problems associated with its use....
Evidence also shows that removing penalties for drug use hasn't led to an increase in drug use in Portugal, as many voices in the opposition would argue. Instead, it reinforces the fact that criminal drug laws do little to deter people from using them, according to a report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Despite these benefits, Goulão believes that leaping straight into full legalization, rather than decriminalization, is not a wise move. "They are jumping a step," he said, referring to countries such as Uruguay, Canada and some US states. They should instead "decriminalize and watch carefully," he said.
Tuesday, December 13, 2016
Canadian Task Force releases "A Framework for the Legalization and Regulation of Cannabis in Canada"
A task force appointed by the Canadian government to study the legalization of marijuana released its big final report, and this press release reports on the basics:
The report contains more than 80 recommendations to governments on how to better promote and protect public health and safety, particularly among young Canadians. It recommends establishing a minimum age of access and restrictions on advertising and promotion. The report recommends well-regulated production, manufacturing and distribution that can displace the illegal market, and provides appropriate safeguards, such as testing, packaging and labelling. It also recommends that Governments educate Canadians about the new system to improve the public’s understanding of cannabis, including risks such as impaired driving.
The full report is available at this link, and here is the first part of the report's Executive Summary:
On June 30, 2016, the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, and the Minister of Health announced the creation of a nine-member Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation ("the Task Force"). Our mandate was to consult and provide advice on the design of a new legislative and regulatory framework for legal access to cannabis, consistent with the Government's commitment to "legalize, regulate, and restrict access."
To fulfill our mandate, we engaged with provincial, territorial and municipal governments, experts, patients, advocates, Indigenous governments and representative organizations, employers and industry. We heard from many other Canadians as well, including many young people, who participated in an online public consultation that generated nearly 30,000 submissions from individuals and organizations. The Task Force looked internationally (e.g., Colorado, Washington State, Uruguay) to learn from jurisdictions that have legalized cannabis for non-medical purposes, and we drew lessons from the way governments in Canada have regulated tobacco and alcohol, and cannabis for medical purposes.
A Discussion Paper prepared by the Government, entitled "Toward the Legalization, Regulation and Restriction of Access to Marijuana," informed the Task Force's work and helped to focus the input of many of the people from whom we heard. The Discussion Paper identified nine public policy objectives. Chief among these are keeping cannabis out of the hands of children and youth and keeping profits out of the hands of organized crime. The Task Force set out guiding principles as the foundation of our advice to Ministers: protection of public health and safety, compassion, fairness, collaboration, a commitment to evidence-informed policy and flexibility....
In taking a public health approach to the regulation of cannabis, the Task Force proposes measures that will maintain and improve the health of Canadians by minimizing the harms associated with cannabis use.
This approach considers the risks associated with cannabis use, including the risks of developmental harms to youth; the risks associated with patterns of consumption, including frequent use and co-use of cannabis with alcohol and tobacco; the risks to vulnerable populations; and the risks related to interactions with the illicit market. In addition to considering scientific evidence and input from stakeholders, the Task Force examined how other jurisdictions have attempted to minimize harms of use. We examined a range of protective measures, including a minimum age of use, promotion and advertising restrictions, and packaging and labelling requirements for cannabis products.
Friday, December 2, 2016
I have a hard time keeping track of marijuana reform developments around the world, but these recent headlines highlight that these developments are worth trying to follow: