Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Friday, February 8, 2019

Notable new lobbying group, National Cannabis Roundtable, to be chaired by former US House Speaker John Boehner

LogoWhen Acreage Holdings last year announced that former Speaker of the US House of Representatives John Boehner was now on its board of advisors, I was unsure whether Boehner was really interested in being a serious advocate for marijuana reform or was mostly to be a high-profile figurehead in this space. But in November, as noted here, Boehner penned a Wall Street Journal commentary headlined "Washington Needs to Legalize Cannabis." And today comes news that John Boehner is to be the Chair of a new industry lobbying ground calling itself the National Cannabis Roundtable.

This new local press piece and this National Cannabis Roundtable website is all I can find about this new group right now, but the press piece provides a flavor of the group's commitments:

The former lawmaker will also serve as an advisor, not a registered lobbyist, for the roundtable, Boehner said during a phone call with reporters Friday. Boehner said the roundtable will promote changes to federal law that make it easier to research cannabis and for regulated cannabis businesses to operate. Federally, marijuana is an illegal Schedule 1 controlled substance, alongside heroin and LSD, is not a top priority for the group....

But Boehner said removing cannabis from Schedule I of the U.S. Controlled Substances Act is not the group's top priority. "It would clearly be a big goal, but I think there are other steps that need to be taken along the way before we get to that," he said....

Boehner said the roundtable's members represent every aspect of the cannabis supply chain, including growers, processors, retailers, wellness centers, investors, entrepreneurs, and publicly traded companies.

The National Cannabis Roundtable website has the following sentences under the heading "Our Mission"

The legal cannabis boom promises to contribute billions of dollars to the US economy over the next decade - creating jobs, advancing new health science and adding momentum to criminal justice reform.

The National Cannabis Roundtable promotes common sense federal regulation, tax equality and financial services reform and supports changing federal law to acknowledge states’ rights to regulate and manage cannabis policy.

I like the reference to "adding momentum to criminal justice reform" in the first sentence, though the second sentence and other factors leads me to suspect that National Cannabis Roundtable will not have criminal justice reform as a focal point of its work.

Prior related posts:

February 8, 2019 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 7, 2019

More on the forces that have shaped views on marijuana

Download (6)In this post last month, I blogged  this interesting new paper, titled ""How and why have attitudes about cannabis legalization changed so much?", which was recently published in Social Science Research and was authored by Jacob Felson, Amy Adamczyk and Christopher Thomas. I am not pleased to see that the authors of this research have this new piece at The Conversation under the headline "Why do so many Americans now support legalizing marijuana?". Here are excerpts (with links from the original) from this reader-friendly account of their interesting research:

American views on marijuana have shifted incredibly rapidly. Thirty years ago, marijuana legalization seemed like a lost cause. In 1988, only 24 percent of Americans supported legalization.

But steadily, the nation began to liberalize. By 2018, 66 percent of U.S. residents offered their approval, transforming marijuana legalization from a libertarian fantasy into a mainstream cause. Many state laws have changed as well. Over the last quarter-century, 10 states have legalized recreational marijuana, while 22 states have legalized medical marijuana.

So why has public opinion changed dramatically in favor of legalization? In a study published this February, we examined a range of possible reasons, finding that the media likely had the greatest influence....

What has likely made the biggest difference is how the media has portrayed marijuana. Support for legalization began to increase shortly after the news media began to frame marijuana as a medical issue....

In the 1980s, the vast majority of New York Times stories about marijuana were about drug trafficking and abuse or other Schedule I drugs. At that time, The New York Times was more likely to lump marijuana together in a kind of unholy trinity with cocaine and heroin in discussions about drug smuggling, drug dealers and the like.

During the 1990s, stories discussing marijuana in criminal terms became less prevalent. Meanwhile, the number of articles discussing the medical uses of marijuana slowly increased. By the late 1990s, marijuana was rarely discussed in the context of drug trafficking and drug abuse. And marijuana had lost its association with other Schedule I drugs like cocaine and heroin in the New York Times. Gradually, the stereotypical persona of the marijuana user shifted from the stoned slacker wanting to get high to the aging boomer seeking pain relief....

As Americans became more supportive of marijuana legalization, they also increasingly told survey researchers that the criminal justice system was too harsh.

In the late 1980s, the “war on drugs” and sentencing reform laws put a large number of young men, often black and Latino, behind bars for lengthy periods of time. As Americans started to feel the full social and economic effects of tough-on-crime initiatives, they reconsidered the problems with criminalizing marijuana.

Because support for the legalization of marijuana and concerns about the harshness of the criminal justice system changed at about the same time, it’s difficult to know what came first. Did concern about the harshness of the criminal justice system affect support for legalization – or vice versa?

By contrast, the cause and effect is clearer with respect to the media framing of marijuana. The news media’s portrayal of marijuana began to change shortly before the public did, suggesting that the media influenced support for the legalization of marijuana.

Prior related post:

"How and why have attitudes about cannabis legalization changed so much?"

February 7, 2019 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (3)

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

"Qualifying Conditions Of Medical Cannabis License Holders In The United States"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new article appearing the jounral Health Affairs and authored by Kevin Boehnke, Saurav Gangopadhyay, Daniel Clauw, and Rebecca Haffajee. Here is its abstract:

The evidence for cannabis’s treatment efficacy across different conditions varies widely, and comprehensive data on the conditions for which people use cannabis are lacking.  We analyzed state registry data to provide nationwide estimates characterizing the qualifying conditions for which patients are licensed to use cannabis medically.  We also compared the prevalence of medical cannabis qualifying conditions to recent evidence from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine report on cannabis’s efficacy in treating each condition.  Twenty states and the District of Columbia had available registry data on patient numbers, and fifteen states had data on patient-reported qualifying conditions.

Chronic pain is currently and historically the most common qualifying condition reported by medical cannabis patients (64.9 percent in 2016).  Of all patient-reported qualifying conditions, 85.5 percent had either substantial or conclusive evidence of therapeutic efficacy.  As medical cannabis use continues to increase, creating a nationwide patient registry would facilitate better understanding of trends in use and of its potential effectiveness.

February 5, 2019 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 4, 2019

A month's worth of interesting headlines and stories ... from just last week

"Should Physicians Recommend Replacing Opioids With Cannabis?"

Download (3)The title of this post is the title of this short new "Viewpoint" piece authored by Keith Humphreys and Richard Saitz and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.  I recommend the full piece, and here are excerpts:

Recent state regulations (eg, in New York, Illinois) allow medical cannabis as a substitute for opioids for chronic pain and for addiction.  Yet the evidence regarding safety, efficacy, and comparative effectiveness is at best equivocal for the former recommendation and strongly suggests the latter — substituting cannabis for opioid addiction treatments is potentially harmful.  Neither recommendation meets the standards of rigor desirable for medical treatment decisions.

Recent systematic reviews identified low-strength evidence that plant-based cannabis preparations alleviate neuropathic pain and insufficient evidence for other types of pain.  Studies tend to be of low methodological quality, involve small samples and short-follow-up periods, and do not address the most common causes of pain (eg, back pain).  This description of evidence for efficacy of cannabis for chronic pain is similar to how efficacy studies of opioids for chronic pain have been described (except that the volume of evidence is greater for opioids with 96 trials identified in a recent systematic review).

The evidence that cannabis is an efficacious treatment for opioid use disorder is even weaker.  To date, no prospective evidence, either from clinical trials or observational studies, has demonstrated any benefit of treating patients who have opioid addiction with cannabis.

Substituting cannabis for opioids is not the same as initiating opioid therapy.  There are no randomized clinical trials of substituting cannabis for opioids in patients taking or misusing opioids for treatment of pain, or in patients with opioid addiction treated with methadone or buprenorphine.  In addition to surveys of patients who use medical cannabis, the other types of studies prompting a move to cannabis to replace opioids are population-level reports stating that laws allowing medical cannabis use are followed by fewer opioid overdose deaths than expected.  The methodological concern with such studies is that correlation is not causation.  Many factors other than cannabis use may affect opioid overdose deaths, such as prescribing guidelines, opioid rescheduling, Good Samaritan laws, incarceration practices, and availability of evidence-based opioid use disorder treatment and naloxone....

For opioid use disorder, there is concern that the New York State Health Commissioner has defined opioid addiction to include people being treated with US Food and Drug Administration – approved, efficacious, opioid agonist medications, as a qualifying condition for medical cannabis.  Methadone and buprenorphine treatment reduces illicit opioid use, blood-borne disease transmission, criminal activity, adverse birth outcomes, and mortality.  Discontinuing such medications increases the risk of return to illicit opioid use, overdose, and death.  The suggestion that patients should self-substitute a drug (ie, cannabis) that has not been subjected to a single clinical trial for opioid addiction is irresponsible and should be reconsidered....

Cannabis and cannabis-derived medications merit further research, and such scientific work will likely yield useful results.  This does not mean that medical cannabis recommendations should be made without the evidence base demanded for other treatments. Evidence-based therapies are available.  For chronic pain, there are numerous alternatives to opioids aside from cannabis.  Nonopioid medications appear to have similar efficacy, and behavioral, voluntary, slow-tapering interventions can improve function and well-being while reducing pain.

For the opioid addiction crisis, clearly efficacious medications such as methadone and buprenorphine are underprescribed.  Without convincing evidence of efficacy of cannabis for this indication, it would be irresponsible for medicine to exacerbate this problem by encouraging patients with opioid addiction to stop taking these medications and to rely instead on unproven cannabis treatment.

February 4, 2019 in Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

"Impact of Medical Marijuana Legalization on Opioid Use, Chronic Opioid Use, and High-risk Opioid Use"

1The title of this post is the title of this notable new article recently published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine and authored by Anuj Shah, Corey Hayes, Mrinmayee Lakkad, and Bradley Martin.  Here is the abstract:

Objective

To determine the association of medical marijuana legalization with prescription opioid utilization.

Methods

A 10% sample of a nationally representative database of commercially insured population was used to gather information on opioid use, chronic opioid use, and high-risk opioid use for the years 2006–2014.  Adults with pharmacy and medical benefits for the entire calendar year were included in the population for that year.  Multilevel logistic regression analysis, controlling for patient, person-year, and state-level factors, were used to determine the impact of medical marijuana legalization on the three opioid use measures.  Sub-group analysis among cancer-free adults and cancer-free adults with at least one chronic non-cancer pain condition in the particular year were conducted.  Alternate regression models were used to test the robustness of our results including a fixed effects model, an alternate definition for start date for medical marijuana legalization, a person-level analysis, and a falsification test.

Results

The final sample included a total of 4,840,562 persons translating into 15,705,562 person years.  Medical marijuana legalization was found to be associated with a lower odds of any opioid use: OR = 0.95 (0.94–0.96), chronic opioid use: OR = 0.93 (0.91–0.95), and high-risk opioid use: OR = 0.96 (0.94–0.98).  The findings were similar in both the sub-group analyses and all the sensitivity analyses.  The falsification tests showed no association between medical marijuana legalization and prescriptions for antihyperlipidemics (OR = 1.00; CI 0.99–1.01) or antihypertensives (OR = 1.00; CI 0.99–1.01).

Conclusions

In states where marijuana is available through medical channels, a modestly lower rate of opioid and high-risk opioid prescribing was observed.  Policy makers could consider medical marijuana legalization as a tool that may modestly reduce chronic and high-risk opioid use.  However, further research assessing risk versus benefits of medical marijuana legalization and head to head comparisons of marijuana versus opioids for pain management is required.

January 29, 2019 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

AG-nominee Bill Barr reiterates (with nuance) commitment to non-enforcement of federal marijuana prohibition in reform states

AG-Candidate-William-Barr-Just-Stated-His-Position-on-Marijuana__FocusFillWzExNzAsNjU4LCJ5Iiw2MV0Tom Angell has this effective Forbes report, headlined "Trump Attorney General Pick Puts Marijuana Enforcement Pledge In Writing," spotlighting that the next US Attorney General has made clear his inherent commitment to respecting state-level marijuana reforms. Here are the details:

William Barr, President Trump's nominee to serve as the next U.S. attorney general, made headlines earlier this month when he pledged during his Senate confirmation hearing not to "go after" marijuana companies that comply with state laws.

Now, in response to written questions from senators, Barr is putting that pledge on paper, in black and white. He's also calling for the approval of more legal growers of marijuana for research, and is acknowledging that a recent bill legalizing hemp has broad implications for sale of cannabis products.

"As discussed at my hearing, I do not intend to go after parties who have complied with state law in reliance on the Cole Memorandum," he wrote, referring to Obama-era cannabis enforcement guidance that then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded last year.

That said, Barr isn't committing to formally replacing the Cole Memo, which generally directed federal prosecutors not to interfere with state marijuana laws, with new guidance reiterating the approach. "I have not closely considered or determined whether further administrative guidance would be appropriate following the Cole Memorandum and the January 2018 memorandum from Attorney General Sessions, or what such guidance might look like," he wrote in response to a question from Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ). "If confirmed, I will give the matter careful consideration."

And Barr, who previously served as attorney general under President George H. W. Bush, says it would be even better if Congress got around to addressing the growing gap between state and federal marijuana laws. "I still believe that the legislative process, rather than administrative guidance, is ultimately the right way to resolve whether and how to legalize marijuana," he wrote in a compilation of responses delivered to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Sunday.

But even as Barr reiterated that he wouldn't go after people and businesses that benefited from the Cole memo, he voiced criticism of policy directives like it and of the idea of legalization in general. "An approach based solely on executive discretion fails to provide the certainty and predictability that regulated parties deserve and threatens to undermine the rule of law," Barr wrote in response to a question from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). "If confirmed, I can commit to working with the Committee and the rest of Congress on these issues, including any specific legislative proposals. As I have said, however, I do not support the wholesale legalization of marijuana."

Nonetheless, legalization advocates were happy to see the nominee reiterating his non-enforcement pledge when it comes to state-legal businesses. "It’s positive to see Barr make the same commitments on marijuana enforcement in writing as he did in the hearings," Michael Collins, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, said. "My hope is that he sends this message to all federal prosecutors so that states are given space to reform their outdated, broken, racist marijuana laws, and the country can turn the page on prohibition."

January 29, 2019 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Reviewing the now "mainstream" and "trendy" (and still uncertain) new world of CBD products

Download (3)NBC News has this new article, headlined "CBD goes mainstream as bars and coffee shops add weed-related drinks to menus," that is worth a read, and I especially liked its closing paragraph. Here are excerpts:

Coffee. Cocktails. Lotion. Dog treats. You name it, CBD is probably in it.

CBD, short for cannabidiol, is a compound found in the cannabis plant.  It promises to deliver the calming benefits of marijuana without the high that comes from THC.  Companies are adding CBD to just about everything — a trend set to accelerate as regulations ease and consumer interest grows.

Most CBD is now federally legal thanks to the farm bill President Donald Trump signed in December. Companies still aren't supposed to add CBD to food, drinks and dietary supplements, but many are doing it anyway.  The Food and Drug Administration has said it plans to continue enforcing this ban but will also look into creating a pathway for such products to legally enter the market.

Some users swear by it, saying it relieves their anxiety, helps them sleep and eases their pain.  And forget stoner stereotypes when thinking about CBD. Moms and even pets are experimenting with it.  One research firm, Brightfield Group, expects the CBD market to reach $22 billion by 2022.

However, most of our current understanding of CBD is anecdotal — not proven through scientific studies.  And because CBD products aren't yet regulated, the quality can vary widely. "There's a lot of interest and excitement, for good reason, but I think people are pushing it too hard, too fast and are overgeneralizing things," said Ryan Vandrey, a professor at Johns Hopkins who studies the behavioral pharmacology of cannabis.

We don't know what exactly CBD interacts with in the brain or the body, but researchers do know that CBD tends to turn down abnormal signaling in the brain, said Ken Mackie, a psychological and brain sciences professor at Indiana University.  That's why CBD may help with epilepsy, anxiety and sleep. CBD and other cannabis compounds tweak systems in the body, a process he compares to lowering the volume. Other compounds, like opioids, ketamine and nicotine, simply turn them on and off.

There isn't much clinical research on the safety and efficacy of CBD. Studying cannabis has been challenging because it's technically illegal under federal law, meaning researchers must overcome a number of hurdles in order to study it.  We don't know anything about indications like sleep, anxiety or pain, Vandrey said.

We do know it's safe and effective in treating seizures in children with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome or Dravet syndrome. GW Pharma studied its CBD-derived drug, Epidiolex, in numerous clinical trials.  After reviewing the company's science, the Food and Drug Administration approved Epidiolex in June.

The lack of clinical evidence hasn't stopped consumers from trying it — and raving about it.  "It's always nice to have strong proof in placebo controlled trials, but if someone's taking a drug and feeling any benefit, more power to them," Mackie said....

The farm bill signed in December legalized hemp. Most CBD hitting shelves is derived from the hemp plant, which contains less than 0.3 percent THC, the psychoactive chemical in weed. Hemp's close cousin, marijuana, can contain upwards of 10 percent THC. So you can't get high from CBD products if the proper dosage is followed, but the industry isn't regulated on a federal level so the amount of THC can vary.

Doses can vary, too. Some shops recommend six milligrams of CBD when taken as a tincture or added to food. Others recommend at least 30. Again, since there isn't much clinical research on CBD, most of the recommendations are based on trial and error.

As more people dabble with CBD, more people are following the money, worrying some that bad products will enter the market and taint CBD's allure. Or worse, harm consumers. "There does need to be some sort of regulatory framework for overall product safety and to protect the customer from purchasing products that contain false advertisements or make unsubstantiated claims," said Pamela Hadfield, co-founder of HelloMD, a medical cannabis company, while cautioning against strict regulations that would be "too difficult for most manufacturers to comply."

Joe Masse, beverage director at The Woodstock bar, added a CBD cocktail to the menu in September. Called The White Rabbit, the drink is made with Bombay Dry Gin, sage simple syrup, honey, fresh lemon juice and 1 milligram of CBD oil.... "It's trendy right now, so I don't know how it will be in six months when we redo the menu," Masse said. "A year ago, activated charcoal was popular and now you can't find it anywhere."

Because I am not hip enough to know that "sctivated charcoal" was once, and now is no longer, a big deal, I am not the right person to be predicting the trend lines on the CBD trend.  But I do know how important and likely unpredictable it will be to see the FDA and/or state regulatory players take on CBD products and marketing in the wake of the new Farm Bill.  Just another important front to watch in the coming months and years and marijuana products and industry players continue to emerge from prohibition's shadow.

January 26, 2019 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Food and Drink, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Reserve a seat at the Ohio State Cannabiz Roundtable on January 31

Qualtrics-header-800x292I am so very pleased to be able to be a part of an exciting panel discussion taking place next week, the "Ohio State Cannabiz Roundtable."  The event is described at this website, where one can and should register ASAP.  Here is the event description and expected participants:

With cannabis being illegal at the federal level but many states moving to legalize it for both medical and recreational purposes, how does one navigate this new emerging market properly? The birth of this new multi-billion industry is being accompanied by a lot of unusual challenges, risks, and opportunities. Please join us for a discussion of the various aspects of this market – dealing with regulations and legal questions, raising funds, working through a financial system that is disinclined to serve them, and running a new business in an unchartered territory. After our panel discussion, students and attendees will have a chance to speak to each panelist in a small group setting to ask questions and network. This is a unique opportunity to better understand the rapidly rising market of cannabis, don’t miss out!

Hosts: Center for Innovation Strategies and Drug Enforcement and Policy Center

January 31, 2019 at 9am -- 2nd Floor Rotunda, Mason Hall

Panelists

 

January 23, 2019 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Still more commentary pushing back on efforts to link marijuana, psychosis and violence

In  prior posts, I have noted here and here commentaries by the author of the new book by Alex Berenson, "Tell Your Children: The Truth About Marijuana, Mental Illness, and Violence," as well as the lengthy Malcolm Gladwell New Yorker essay about the book.   And in this post, I rounded up some of the major commentaries expressing concerns about Berenson's claims that more marijuana use is leading to more mental illness and more violence.  In addition to collecting all these posts via links below, I also wanted to spotlight a few more notable commentaries in this space:

Prior related posts:

January 22, 2019 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (1)

Are there any prop bets on when we might see a marijuana ad during a Super Bowl broadcast?

ImagesThe question in the title of this post is prompted by this USA Today story headlined "CBS rejects Super Bowl ad on benefits of medical marijuana."   (And if you do not know what prop bets are, here is a primer: "Prop bets popular for Super Bowl, but NFL wants them gone.")  Here are excepts from the ad story:

CBS rejected a Super Bowl ad that makes a case for medical marijuana. Acreage Holdings, which is in the cannabis cultivation, processing and dispensing business, said it produced a 60-second ad that shows three people suffering from varying health issues who say their lives were made better by use of medical marijuana.

Acreage said its ad agency sent storyboards for the ad to the network and received a return email that said: “CBS will not be accepting any ads for medical marijuana at this time.”

A CBS spokesperson told USA TODAY Sports that under CBS broadcast standards it does not currently accept cannabis-related advertising....

“We’re not particularly surprised that CBS and/or the NFL rejected the content,” Acreage president George Allen said. “And that is actually less a statement about them and more we think a statement about where we stand right now in this country.”...

“One of the hardest parts about this business is the ambiguity that we operate within,” Allen said. “We do the best we can to navigate a complex fabric of state and federal policy, much of which conflicts.”

Allen said the company had not decided whether to run its 60-second ad or a 30-second version when it learned that CBS would not accept any ads for medical marijuana. CBS is charging an average of $5.2 million for a 30-second ad in this year's game between the Los Angeles Rams and New England Patriots on Feb. 3.

“It’s a public service announcement really more than it is an advertisement,” said Harris Damashek, Acreage’s chief marketing officer. “We’re not marketing any of our products or retail in this spot.”

An unfinished version of the 60-second ad introduces a Colorado boy who suffers from Dravet syndrome; his mother says her son would have dozens to hundreds of seizures a day and medical marijuana saved his life.  A Buffalo man says he was on opioids for 15 years after three back surgeries and that medical marijuana gave him his life back. An Oakland man who lost part of his leg in military service says his pain was unbearable until medical marijuana.

“The time is now,” say words on the screen near the end of the ad.  Then the screen shifts and viewers are asked to call on their representatives in the U.S. House and Senate to advocate for change.  Fine print at the bottom says the testimonials in the ad come from the experiences of the individuals and have not been evaluated by the FDA. The fine print also says marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance and medical use has not been approved in some states....

Acreage expects to post the ad online at some point so people can see it, even if they can’t see it on the Super Bowl. “It’s not quite ready yet,” Damashek said, “but we anticipate and look forward to getting the message out far and wide.”

I have to admit to being a bit suspect of the idea that the Acreage folks were really planning to spend $10 million to run "a public service announcement" during SuperBowl LIII.   Dare I speculate that they knew full well that their ad would be rejected, but also knew that simply asking and getting rejected would result in beneficial attention.  And I suppose I am now guilty of giving them some of this desired attention (but I am at least asking a fun question along the way).

Speaking of that question, I will answer by foolishly predicting that there will be a marijuana ad during Super Bowl LVI in February 2022.   

January 22, 2019 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Sports, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (2)

Sunday, January 20, 2019

"If Weed Is Medicine, So Is Budweiser: Legalize marijuana, but don’t pretend it’s therapeutic."

Bach-peter_1The title of this post is the headline of this provocative Wall Street Journal commentary authored by Peter Bach, "a pulmonary physician at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York [who] directs the Center for Health Policy and Outcomes."  Here are excerpts:

Ten states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana use, and another eight look likely to do so in 2019.  I favor the move but am troubled by the gateway to it: All these jurisdictions first passed laws permitting the use of “medical” marijuana.  We should set the record straight, lest young people (and old ones) think marijuana is good for you because it is wrongly labeled a medication.

Actual medicines have research behind them, enumerating their benefits, characterizing their harms, and ensuring the former supersedes the latter.  Marijuana doesn’t.  It’s a toxin, not a medicine.  It impairs judgment and driving ability.  It increases the risk of psychosis and schizophrenia.  Smoking it damages the respiratory tract.  A 2017 report from the National Academy of Medicine called the evidence for these harms “substantial.”

Claims that marijuana relieves pain may be true.  But the clinical studies that have been done compare it with a placebo, not even a pain reliever like ibuprofen.  That’s not the type of rigorous evaluation we pursue for medications.  What’s more, every intoxicant would pass that sort of test because you don’t experience pain as acutely when you are high.  If weed is a pain reliever, so is Budweiser.

Some advocates say marijuana is better than opiates for pain.  Yet while opiates have risks, there are no studies comparing them to marijuana, and untested claims in medicine don’t get the benefit of the doubt.  Testing such a hypothesis often disproves it.

Decades ago, several studies suggested that marijuana might relieve nausea in chemotherapy patients.  But again most compared it with a placebo, while a few compared it with older nausea treatments not used today. None were very convincing. More important, no study has compared marijuana to today’s Neurokinin-1 antagonists. While such treatments are sometimes ineffective, that shortcoming doesn’t impart efficacy on marijuana either.

In writing medical-marijuana laws, state lawmakers and initiative authors have gone well beyond pain and nausea control, lauding the plant as an effective treatment for a long list of conditions, including hepatitis, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.  Beyond the lack of data, what these conditions have in common isn’t biology, but modern medicine’s failure to treat them satisfactorily.  Heartbreaking as that is, marijuana isn’t the answer....

Marijuana belongs in the same category as alcohol and tobacco — harmful products that adults can choose to enjoy....  Decades passed before we took on smoking and drinking with education, labeling and other forms of regulation.  But it worked, and deaths from lung cancer, heart disease and alcohol-associated accidents are in sharp decline. We need this same approach with marijuana.  Acknowledging that it is not a medicine is a necessary first step.

I think it valuable and important to highlight ways in which many of the forms of the plant cannabis, at least right now, is not comparable to the kinds of medicines we access at a drug store.  But it is also important to highlight ways in which medical marijuana laws do not treat marijuana as comparable to other medicines. For starters, public and private health insurance systems general do not help cover the cost of marijuana used medicinally and there are all sorts of distinctive limits on the whos and hows of medical marijuana access.  In many ways, all modern medical marijuana laws are still just elaborate variations on the original law created by California in 1996, which simply created a limited exception to marijuana prohibition for those eager to try marijuana for various therapeutic purposes. Had marijuana never been criminalized, there would have been no need to seek exceptions from prohibition for medical uses (and, it bear recalling, there was much discussion and special laws around alcohol access for medical use during the Prohibition era).

January 20, 2019 in History of Alcohol Prohibition and Temperance Movements, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (4)

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Speculating about impact on the opioid crisis as Ohio finally sees its first legal medical marijuana sale

Here is a silly trivia question:  How did some people in Ohio celebrate the 100-year anniversary of the ratification of the alcohol prohibition amendment? 

Answer: By finally being able to purchase medical marijuana in the state legally. 

Remarkably, it has taken more than 30 months form the Buckeye State to go from the passage of a medical marijuana law to the opening up of the first legal dispensaries.  And, not surprisingly, this new NBC News piece is already asking whether this development will help with the state's opioid problems.  Here are excerpts:

Leaning on her cane, Joan Caleodis stepped gingerly into history on Wednesday as one of the first people to legally purchase medical marijuana in the state of Ohio.

Caleodis, who is 55 and suffers from multiple sclerosis, paid $150 for three containers, each holding 2.83 grams of dried cannabis flowers, at the CY + Dispensary in the town of Wintersville.

“I’m feeling ecstatic,” Caleodis told reporters as other pain sufferers waiting in line applauded. “The patients no longer have to wait for relief. We can get rid of this opioid issue we have in this country.” Caleodis said she felt even better when she got home and tried out her purchase. “I was curious and I am very happy with the quality,” she told NBC News. “Some days are worse than others, but I am pretty much in constant pain and right now I am not.”

A former state worker who went on disability after 27 years on the job, Caleodis said she was prescribed opioids for pain after she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis more than eight years ago. “I found myself taking double the amount prescribed and told myself, ‘I’m not going that route’,” she said. “This is definitely better.”

While medical marijuana is now available in the Buckeye State, it is unclear if the change will put a dent into the state's opioid epidemic. Ohio is one of “the top five states with the highest rates for opioid-related overdose deaths,” according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Medical marijuana dispensaries are regulated in Ohio by the state Board of Pharmacy. When asked if the state views legal pot as a potential weapon in the battle against the deadly opioid epidemic, a Board spokesman replied, “The state has no official policy on this.”

The same question was posed to newly-installed Gov. Mike DeWine, who as attorney general sued the pharmaceutical companies for flooding his state with prescription painkillers. His team referred a reporter to the state Board of Pharmacy....

“There’s some suggestive evidence that marijuana may help to reduce opioid use,” Dr. Caleb Alexander, co-founder of the Center for Drug Safety and Effectivenesss at the Bloomberg School posted. “There’s also some evidence to the contrary.”

Rosalie Liccardo Pacula, co-director of the Drug Policy Research Center at the RAND Corporation said in the same forum that she was in favor of expanding medical marijuana programs, but added, “I do not believe that doing so will substantially impact the opioid epidemic. “

“Most people substituting cannabis for opioids are not using either drug medicinally,” she wrote. “Moreover, research does not suggest that cannabis is a substitute for heroin or fentanyl, the major drivers of the epidemic today.”

Mark Parrino of the American Association for the Treatment of Opioid Dependence said, “It is counterintuitive to advocate for the legalization of marijuana while our nation is struggling with an opioid use disorder epidemic.” “While medical use of marijuana may be beneficial in some cases, I do not think that it is reasonable to promote marijuana as a positive medical treatment,” he wrote.

Caleodis said anyone who thinks marijuana doesn’t help should take a walk in her shoes. She said she has used other “black market” cannabis products to easy her anguish over the years. “My symptoms are always there, I feel a burning in my feet just about all the time,” she said. “And at night it is way worse. Sometimes I just can’t sleep. But tonight I think I will.”

January 16, 2019 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (3)

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

"Life, Liberty, (and the Pursuit of Happiness): Medical Marijuana Regulation in Historical Context"

The title of this post is the title of this great new book chapter authored by Lewis Grossman now available via SSRN.  Here is its abstract:

The struggle for access to medical marijuana differs from most other battles for therapeutic freedom in American history because marijuana also has a popular, though controversial, nontherapeutic use — delivery of a recreational high.  After considering struggles over the medical use of alcohol during prohibition as a precedent, this chapter relates the history of medical marijuana use and regulation in the United States.  The bulk of the chapter focuses on the medical marijuana movement from the 1970s to present.  This campaign has been one of the prime examples of a successful extrajudicial social movement for freedom of therapeutic choice.  With the exception of a single promising decision in 1975, courts have uniformly rejected arguments for medical marijuana access.  But the 1996 passage of Proposition 215 in California triggered a tremendous wave of state measures legalizing medical cannabis, as well as a dramatic change in American attitudes about the issue. 

The chapter recounts this history in light of the special legal, political, and rhetorical challenges medical cannabis advocates have faced.  First, many officials have opposed the legalization of medical marijuana, regardless of whether it offers therapeutic benefits, because of the public health harms and moral degradation they associate with the use of pot.  Second, marijuana’s designation as a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, and the DEA’s rejection of multiple citizen petitions to reclassify it, has placed extremely high obstacles in the way of researchers interested in scientifically assessing marijuana’s therapeutic efficacy.  Third, federal government policies have lagged behind public preference and state law.  Finally, medical marijuana supporters have had to negotiate an invaluable but fraught relationship with advocates for comprehensive marijuana legalization.  The perspectives and goals of these two groups have overlapped and conflicted in fascinating and unexpected ways.

January 15, 2019 in History of Alcohol Prohibition and Temperance Movements, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (2)

Rounding up commentary pushing back on efforts to link marijuana, psychosis and violence

Download (1)I have noted the new book by Alex Berenson, "Tell Your Children: The Truth About Marijuana, Mental Illness, and Violence,"  through his recent commentaries spotlighted here and here, as well as through Malcolm Gladwell's New Yorker essay about the book.  The core message of Berenson's book, namely that more marijuana use thanks to legal reforms is leading to more mental illness and more violence, is now generating a whole lot of push back.  Here is just a partial round-up of new commentary expressing concerns about Berenson's claims:

The debates over the data and how to respond to what we know and do not know is fascinating. And, helpfully, this morning The Marshall Project has this great new piece headlined "How Dangerous is Marijuana, Really? A Marshall Project virtual roundtable." Here is how the Marshall Project sets up a fascinating discussion:

On Jan. 7, The Marshall Project published an interview with Alex Berenson, a former New York Times reporter and author of "Tell Your Children: The Truth About Marijuana, Mental Illness, and Violence," which warns that the rush to legalize the drug has obscured evidence of its dangers.  The interview stirred up a storm on social media, so we decided to enlarge the discussion.

What follows is a conversation, conducted by email and moderated by Bill Keller, editor-in-chief of The Marshall Project.  Berenson is joined by three other panelists. Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno is the executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, a non-profit that advocates ending the war on drugs, including the "responsible regulation" of marijuana.  Its donors include companies in the legal, for-profit cannabis industry, whose gifts, the group reports, made up less than 1 percent of the alliance’s 2018 revenue. Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor at Stanford University. He has been deeply involved in drug policy as a researcher and White House advisor.  Mark A.R. Kleiman is a professor of public policy at the New York University Marron Institute of Urban Management, where he leads the crime and justice program. He is also chairman of BOTEC Analysis, which advises Washington State and Maine on cannabis regulation.

The discussion has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

The Marshall Project: This first question is for all of you. Let's start with the core question Alex set out to answer in reporting his book: What do we know about the connection between marijuana and mental illness? What would you say is established medical science, and what is still unresolved?

January 15, 2019 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (3)

Monday, January 14, 2019

"The mature stoner: why are so many seniors smoking weed?"

3000The title of this post is the title of this new Guardian piece.  I have reprinted some excerpts of the piece below,  though the piece does not make all that serious an effort to figure out whether and why marijuana may be proving more popular with the AARP crowd.  But, in all likelihood, I have flagged this piece because I wanted an excuse to reprint here the remarkably curious graphic that goes with it.  I am thinking that the old-looking television in the graphic is supposed to be showing Mr. Ed, but I cannot figure out what is up with the smiling clown.  In any event, here is some of the text that follows this trippy picture:

As attitudes towards cannabis shift, the fastest-growing group of users is over 50 – and marijuana’s popularity among seniors is beginning to change the American experience of old age.

Why are more seniors getting high? It might make more sense to ask: “Why not?” As adults reach retirement, they age out of drug tests and have far more time on their hands. Some feel liberated to abandon long-held proprieties.

Elegant vape pens and other attractive, discreet products have helped de stigmatize the drug among older Americans.  “Legalization seems to make non-users seem a little less scared of it, and perhaps less judgmental,” says Jo, a 56-year-old cannabis user who preferred not to use her real name.

The seniors using cannabis today aren’t your parents’ grandparents. The generation that camped out at Woodstock is now in its seventies. They’ve been around grass long enough to realize it’s not going to kill them, and are more open to the possibility it will come with health benefits....

Seniors’ affinity for weed is beginning to ripple across the US healthcare system. A 2016 study found that in states with access to medical marijuana, those using Medicare part D – a benefit primarily for seniors – received fewer prescriptions for other drugs to treat depression, anxiety, pain, and other chronic issues....

While some doctors have expressed concerns about seniors self-medicating with weed, virtually everyone agrees the public health consequences of opioids are far worse. And the most serious health concerns associated with marijuana, such as impaired brain development, tend to affect younger people.

For the industry, seniors’ newfound interest in cannabis is a business opportunity. The Colorado edibles company Wana Brands, among many others, sells cannabis products reminiscent of medicines familiar to seniors. Wana sells extended release capsules as well as products with different ratios of THC and CBD, which intoxicate users to different degrees and can have a variety of effects on ailments.

For someone who hasn’t seen a joint in 40 years, the modern dispensary can be a dizzying experience replete with dozens of products – topicals (lotions), tinctures, sprays – all promising to help you feel better, but also to get you stoned. Whether or not marijuana helps seniors to alleviate their conditions, many may enjoy a sense of control over their own wellbeing. Meanwhile, dispensaries in California and elsewhere cater to older clientele with discounts and shuttle busses. Dispensary owners like to brag about how many older women come in as evidence that they’re created an attractive and welcoming store.

For another recent press piece related to this topic, Forbes ran over the weekend this article headlined "Cannabis Club Fills Info Gap For California Seniors"

January 14, 2019 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (2)

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission report explores treatment of opioid use disorder by using medical cannabis

MJIN_Maryland-MMJ-Logo-Web-500x281The debate over the relationship between the opioid crisis and marijuana reforms is so very interesting and, of course, so very important.  Advocates for and against marijuana reform seem ever eager to leverage the opioid crisis (and everything else) to support their prior conclusions about the virtues or vices of marijuana reform.  Against this backdrop, I think  information from non-partisans is especially valuable, and thus I was pleased to see this notable new report from the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission titled "Treatment of Opioid Use Disorder with Medical Cannabis."  I recommend the full report, which mostly just reports on the state of the law in many jurisdictions and research on these topics.  Here are excerpts:

Since 2016, at least nine states have considered legislation or regulations to allow medical cannabis as an opioid replacement therapy to help ease withdrawal symptoms and aid in relapse prevention....  In 2018, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York became the first states to expressly allow medical cannabis for the treatment of OUD. Each state permits the use of medical cannabis to treat OUD, but with significant restrictions....

From 2016-2018, at least seven state legislatures considered bills that would expressly add OUD to the list of medical cannabis qualifying conditions.  Of these, the majority rejected the legislation seeking to add OUD to the list of qualifying conditions.  [T]hree states – Hawaii, Maine, and New Mexico – passed legislation authorizing the use of medical cannabis to treat OUD; however, the State’s Governor vetoed the legislation in each instance following significant pressure from health care providers, health care organizations, and addiction specialists....

Data suggest that cannabis legalization reduces prescription opioid use by serving as an alternative pain treatment. Medical cannabis laws may also have downstream policy effects on reducing opioid-related hospitalizations, overdose deaths, and traffic fatalities. The following section examines existing literature on the association between medical cannabis and opioid use, including as a treatment for opioid use disorder....

[But] a study was published in the “To the Editor” section of JAMA Internal Medicine in September 2018, which found that the opioid-related overdose death rate was accelerating in states where medical and/or adult use cannabis laws had been implemented. Moreover, the death rate surpassed that of nonlegalizing states. The study reviewed opioid-related overdose death data from 2010 to 2016, and determined that the age-adjusted death rate was higher in states with cannabis legalization and that the age-adjusted death rate was increasing at a faster rate than in non-legalizing states. While several researchers have challenged the methodology of this study – including the inaccurate assessment of states that have legalized medical and adultuse cannabis – the results call attention to the need for further investigation of the association between cannabis legalization and opioid-related overdose deaths....

In December 2018, the Commission received two petitions requesting the addition of OUD to the list of medical cannabis qualifying conditions. If the Commission determines that either or both of these petitions are “facially substantial” then it must conduct a public hearing within the next 12 months to evaluate whether the medical condition or disease should be included in the list of qualifying conditions.  The Commission’s Research Committee, which includes two physicians, a scientist, addiction specialist, and horticulturist, is currently evaluating the petitions to determine whether they are facially substantial and require a public hearing. The Commission will provide the General Assembly with updates on the status of the OUD petitions, including information on any public hearings to consider adding OUD as a qualifying medical condition.

January 13, 2019 in Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Another exciting time to be discussing (too many) international, federal, state and local developments as I start fifth iteration of my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar

Download (1)I have lately been gearing up to start teaching today the fifth(!) iteration of my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.  When I first started teaching this course, way back in Fall 2013, the prospect of significant marijuana reforms in Ohio seemed like a pipe dream (see what I did there!).  But here are just some of the notable headlines from some local Ohio outlets just this week:

The last of these links is, technically, a federal marijuana reform story.  But I included it here, and picked the lengthy title for this post, because I feel like this year I am "drinking out of a fire hose" even more than usual when teaching about Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform. In prior years, there were a few stories in a few jurisdictions to follow on a weekly basis; now it seems like there are important developments in dozens of jurisdictions every single day. I am extra exciting to see what topics are of special interests to my students, and blog readers will get to come along for the ride when student being their projects and presentations in a few months.

Exciting times!

January 10, 2019 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Another notable commentary about the risks of marijuana legalization (without accounting for harms of prohibition)

I spotlighted in this recent post Alex Berenson's notable new Wall Street Journal commentary under the full headline "Marijuana Is More Dangerous Than You Think: As legalization spreads, more Americans are becoming heavy users of cannabis, despite its links to violence and mental illness."  I now see that Berenson, who has a forthcoming book on this topic, has followed up his WSJ effort with this new New York Times opinion piece headlined "What Advocates of Legalizing Pot Don’t Want You to Know: The wave toward legalization ignores the serious health risks of marijuana."  

Though both pieces cover similar ground, I find Berenson's NYT piece is much less effective because it mostly involves assailing advocates for marijuana reform based on claims about the risks of marijuana without engaging serious with the harms of marijuana prohibition.  Here are excerpts:

This huge shift in public attitudes [on marijuana legalization] comes even though most Americans do not use the drug. Only 15 percent of people over 12 used it even once in 2017, according to a large federal survey.  That year, only three million people tried it for the first time. Instead, the change has been largely driven by decades-long lobbying by marijuana legalization advocates and for-profit cannabis companies.

Those groups have shrewdly recast marijuana as a medicine rather than an intoxicant. Some have even claimed that marijuana can help slow the opioid epidemic, though studies show that people who use cannabis are more likely to start using opioids later.

Meanwhile, legalization advocates have squelched discussion of the serious mental health risks of marijuana and THC, the chemical responsible for the drug’s psychoactive effects.  As I have seen firsthand in writing a book about cannabis, anyone who raises those concerns may be mocked as a modern-day believer in “Reefer Madness,” the notorious 1936 movie that portrays young people descending into insanity and violence after smoking marijuana....

Scientists must do much more research to understand how cannabis can cause psychosis, and the strength of the link. But hospitals are already seeing the effect of these new use patterns.  According to the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, in 2006, emergency rooms saw 30,000 cases of people who had diagnoses of psychosis and marijuana-use disorder — the medical term for abuse or dependence on the drug. By 2014, that number had tripled to 90,000....

I am not a prohibitionist. I don’t believe we should jail people for possessing marijuana. But the advocacy community has sharply overstated the level of marijuana-related incarceration.

Many people are arrested for marijuana possession, but very few end up imprisoned. California reported in 2013, the most recent year for which this data is available, that only 441 of its 134,000 prisoners were incarcerated for all marijuana-related crimes. If arrests for marijuana possession are a major racial justice concern, the solution is decriminalizing possession, turning it into a violation equivalent to littering.

But advocacy groups don’t view decriminalization as an acceptable compromise. They want full legalization, making marijuana a state-regulated and -taxed drug that businesses can sell and profit from.

As I see it, what "decades-long lobbying by marijuana legalization advocates" has been mostly about is the extraordinary harms of marijuana prohibitions, which are borne disproportionately by people of color and the poor.  Younger persons are the most consistent supporters of marijuana reform, and it is not generally medical benefits, but drug war costs, that seem to fuel their interest in ending prohibition.

Berenson not unreasonable suggests that so-called "decriminalization" can help address the drug war problems and harms of prohibition, but that has not been the lived experience in states and localities that have tried decriminalization reforms. Especially in urban area, disparate enforcement of marijuana rules and regulations keep the harms of prohibition largely in place (especially because serious expungement efforts have only moved forward in full legalization states).

I make these points while being especially eager to take seriously the public health and public safety concerns that Berenson and others are eager to raise as marijuana reform continues to gain steam.  But I think it particular important to not lose sight of the harms of prohibition, and the severely unequal distribution of those harms, even as we take seriously the risks of legalization.

Prior related post:

Flagging concerns about potential links between marijuana, mental illness and violence

January 6, 2019 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (1)

Will 2019 really be the "year of weed"? How can we tell?

Images (5)The questions in the title of this post are prompted by this new lengthy Rolling Stone piece fully headlined "Why 2019 Will Be the Year of Weed: From more states legalizing to a boom of new kinds of products, here’s what to expect from the cannabis industry this year."  Here are excerpts from an article that merits a full read:

In 2018, pot reached a tipping point.  A clear majority of Americans now wants to see the drug made fully legal. California and Canada began selling marijuana to anyone over 21. Corporate behemoths like Altria (parent company of Marlboro cigarettes) and Constellation Brands (parent of Corona beer and Svedka vodka) made multi-billion dollar weed investments. And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) managed to include hemp legalization in the 2018 Farm Bill — de facto legalizing every part of the cannabis plant except THC.

But at the same time, pot prohibition is not over.  Well over half a million folks are still arrested for possession every year. Smoking weed or working for a pot company can still threaten your housing, employment, immigration status, finances and freedom.  Cannabis business models, regulatory environments and market valuations shift on a daily basis....

As for the 2018 Farm Bill, it’s not yet clear what the regulatory landscape will look like for CBD in 2019.  [Some expect] researchers will soon be able to access CBD without jumping through the hoops necessary to acquire a Schedule I drug license from the DEA, which could finally allow scientists to provide more evidence of the compound’s uses and dosage.  Still, many people in the cannabis industry are concerned about what the exact guidelines will look like on the commercial production side, and how the rollout will go.

For business owners who have been involved in the weed game for a while, another aspect of the 2018 Farm Bill has proven a troubling sign of the times: anyone with a drug felony conviction in the past 10 years will not be allowed to participate in the legal hemp and CBD market.  “What the fuck is that?” asks longtime cannabis cultivator Bill Levers, who runs an influential Instagram account through his California-based company, Beard Bros Pharms.  “No one got rich on hemp.  There were no hemp cartels. So why would there be a restriction?”

The drug-felony provision in the Farm Bill cuts to the heart of one of the biggest unresolved problems facing the marijuana movement in 2019: the persistence of the illicit market, and the struggle to accommodate folks who have been illegally selling or growing marijuana for years.  It is now widely acknowledged that barring people with drug felony convictions from the cannabis industry is racist, as white people with experience on the illicit marijuana market are far less likely to be arrested or convicted.  But even without a criminal record, making the transition from outlaw to mogul has proven incredibly difficult, and many of the people who have tried have already given up....

Taxes, in particular, are a thorny issue.  Local and state governments generally consider pot taxes to be a primary incentive for legalization, but if tax rates are too high, fewer growers and dispensaries will try to go legal.  Already, lax oversight and an oversupply of legal cannabis in states like Oregon and Washington have led to diversion rates of at least 30 percent — meaning at a minimum about a third of legal pot is being sold on the illicit market. Meanwhile, in places like California, Canada and Michigan, hundreds of illegal storefront marijuana dispensaries compete with legal vendors, consistently undercutting them on price.  Illicit operators tell me again and again that they cannot afford to survive in the highly taxed and regulated legal market, so they intend to continue breaking the law — sometimes while simultaneously operating a legal business.

Because wealthy (and typically white) applicants have an easier time covering high taxes and licensing fees, some states and municipalities have created so-called “equity” programs to ensure a more diverse industry.  In 2017 and 2018, places like Oakland and Sacramento garnered fawning headlines for setting the lofty goal of legislating solutions to the catastrophic and racially disproportionate impact of the War on Drugs.  But moving into 2019, California cannabis operators of all colors and political stripes now often describe equity a well-intentioned idea that is failing in practice.  The words “tokenism” and “paternalistic” come up a lot.

“Equity is a marketing tool.  All of the licenses are going to be given to the people with the most money,” predicts Ophelia Chong, the founder of StockPot Images and executive creative director of Aura Ventures.  “Social equity will work for a few, but even then it will be 2 percent [from disadvantaged backgrounds], and those 2 percent will have to really climb a mountain to do it, with no help.”  Outside of California, however, including equity and restorative justice in cannabis legalization remains an alluring prospect.

“What I like about California is they give a chance for minorities to get in.  They doing the opposite in Michigan,” says Jason, whose cannabis social club, the OMS Dab House, has been a crucial gathering place for Detroit’s marijuana movement for the past decade.  Michigan legalized adult-use cannabis in 2018, but as in California, quasi-legal medical dispensaries began proliferating years ago, serving stoners and sick people alike.  (The ongoing legal confusion around sales and social spaces is why Jason preferred to not give his last name).  Though the city of Detroit is more than 80-percent black, black activists there have previously asserted that only three to five percent of local marijuana dispensaries were owned by black people. Jason predicts that, as Michigan’s legal cannabis industry becomes increasingly corporate and consolidated, those numbers will only go down.

January 6, 2019 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Political perspective on reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)