Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

"Marijuana and Its Movement: Issues with Transporting a Legally Ambiguous Substance"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper recently posted to SSRN and authored by Joshua Gmerek, a recent graduate The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.  (This paper is yet another in the on-going series of student papers supported by the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center.)   Here is this latest paper's abstract:

Regardless of whether you are a commercial truck driver performing a job, a patient driving to get her medicine, or a citizen who just recreationally enjoys marijuana, the rules surrounding the transportation of marijuana are important.  California became the first state to legalize the medical use of marijuana in 1996, and the prevalence of medical and recreational marijuana legalization has only expanded since then.  At this point, some product or chemical compound from the cannabis plant is virtually everywhere in the United States, yet the transportation of these products has not been comprehensively debated by the public, let alone legislated. 

This article is focused on exploring the unique legal landscape surrounding the transportation of marijuana, hemp, and cannabidiol (CBD) from both a business and individual perspective.  By showcasing examples of how businesses and individuals have been impacted by the unclarity in this area, the goal is to convey that nothing about transporting these products is risk-free and that there is unnecessary conflict between state and federal law.

June 30, 2020 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

"Struggling Through the Pandemic: Cannabis Social Equity During Covid-19"

Thumbnail_COVID-19_Social Equity During COVID-19_for-socialThe title of this post is the title of this new report that the team at Ohio State's Drug Enforcement & Policy Center has just gotten online via SSRN.  I was pleased to be play a part in this work, and here is the report's abstract:

In March 2020, in response to the COVID-19 national emergency, states across the United States began issuing shelter-in-place orders curtailing operations of individual businesses based on “essential” and “non-essential” classification.  Virtually all states with legalized medical cannabis, and the majority of adult-use states, allowed cannabis establishments to remain open albeit often with significant restrictions on their operations.  Yet, the cannabis industry, and small, minority-owned or social equity designated businesses in particular, are not insulated from the broader economic shockwaves spreading through the country. 

In April 2020, the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center conducted a survey asking patients/consumers and cannabis industry professionals about the challenges they were experiencing and government responses.  Hoping to fill a gap in early discussions of the impact of the COVID-19 crisis, we were especially interested in the impact on cannabis industry participants designated as social equity businesses.  The results indicate that the COVID-19 pandemic has both introduced tremendous new challenges for the cannabis industry and exacerbated long-standing difficulties for businesses in this arena.  If small, minority-owned and social equity businesses are to survive, they need to be treated by the system like any other regular small business venture.  While regulations and safeguards are necessary, these businesses need to be able to operate as a true business, rather than a semi-legal venture with no access to loans, banking, insurance, tax relief, and flexible deliverable modes.

June 16, 2020 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Lots of notable public health analyses of marijuana reforms in June 2020 issue of World Psychiatry

A number of notable new papers are now available online from the June 2020 issue of World Psychiatry. Here are titles and links to all the pieces (most of which are just a few pages and all of which seem worth checking out):

Assessing the public health impacts of legalizing recreational cannabis use: the US experience by Wayne Hall and Michael Lynskey

Considering the health and social welfare impacts of non‐medical cannabis legalization by Benedikt Fischer, Chris Bullen, Hinemoa Elder and Thiago M. Fidalgo

To legalize or not to legalize cannabis, that is the question! by Marta Di Forti

Mapping and mitigating the health risks of legalizing recreational cannabis use: a call for synergy between research and policy by Eva Hoch and Valentina Lorenzetti

Recreational cannabis legalization presents an opportunity to reduce the harms of the US medical cannabis industry by Keith Humphreys and Chelsea L. Shover

Cannabis and public health: a global experiment without control by Jürgen Rehm and Jakob Manthey

Being thoughtful about cannabis legalization and social equity by Beau Kilmer and Erin Kilmer Neel

The effects of recreational cannabis legalization might depend upon the policy model by Rosario Queirolo

Legalizing recreational cannabis use: a promising journey into the unknown by Jan C. van Ours

Assessing the public health effects of cannabis use: can legalization improve the evidence base? by Matthew Hickman, Lindsey A. Hines and Suzie H. Gage

May 20, 2020 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

"Reconsidering Federal Marijuana Regulation"

The title of this post is the title of this new article authored by Paul J. Larkin, Jr. available via SSRN.  Here is its abstract:

The Controlled Substances Act (CSA) prohibits the cultivation and distribution of marijuana by placing it in a category (Schedule I) reserved for drugs that are unhelpful and dangerous.  In so doing, the CSA approached this problem from the wrong direction.  People use drugs for medical or recreational purposes, and each one requires a separate legal scheme.

Medical Marijuana Use: For more than 50 years, Congress has entrusted to the Commissioner of Food and Drugs the decision whether a particular drug is “safe” and “effective” and therefore can be sold throughout the nation.  The reason is that those decisions require the scientific expertise of professionals in the fields of medicine, biochemistry, and the like, not the legal knowledge of Justice Department lawyers or the moral sensibilities of the electorate.  Congress should leave to the judgment of the FDA Commissioner the decision how federal law should regulate medical-use marijuana.

Recreational Marijuana Use: American society permits alcohol and tobacco to be sold under regulation.  For alcohol, the Twenty-First Amendment empowers states to decide whether and how to sell liquor without much room for supplementary federal regulation.  For tobacco, the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act of 2009 authorizes the FDA Commissioner to regulate the distribution of tobacco products.  Congress should consider whether to follow the same approach here.  There are various factors relevant to that decision.  For example, long-term marijuana use can lead some users to become dependent on, or addicted to, the drug, or to suffer serious mental disorders, such as psychosis.  Legalizing recreational marijuana use also will increase the number of roadway accidents attributable to cannabis intoxication. Whether the benefits of recreational marijuana use outweigh those harms is the question that Congress should answer.

May 5, 2020 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, April 30, 2020

"How weed became 'whatever': Leagues are ditching old policies"

MlbAs a time with no actual sports, it is nice to have a good excuse to check out ESPN's website where one now finds this very lengthy article sharing the title of this post. The lengthy piece is worth reading in full, and here are excerpts (with my emphasis added):

The marijuana stigma that plagued [Ricky] Williams' NFL career is eroding, if not gone entirely from an enforcement standpoint.  In January, Illinois became the 11th state to legalize recreational marijuana.  Now, of the 123 teams across MLB, the NBA, NHL and NFL, 50 play in states or provinces where recreational marijuana is legal (40.6%). Another 51 teams play in jurisdictions where medical marijuana is legal (41.5%).  That's 82% of teams (101 of 123) that are playing in cities where a player can walk down the street, go into a dispensary, and legally purchase either recreational or medicinal marijuana -- just like they were buying a six pack of beer.

The only states in which any of the four major pro league teams play where there are no broad laws legalizing marijuana are Indiana, Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin.

Sports leagues have adapted.  Last year, we wrote about the NHL's marijuana approach -- predicated on treatment, not punishment -- which at the time was the most progressive in professional sports.  Today?  It's actually the norm.

The NFL ratified a new CBA in March with a drug policy quite similar to the NHL model.  The NFL significantly raised the threshold for positive tests (from 35 nanograms to 150) and eliminated its previous window of testing, which spanned from April to August to the first two weeks of training camp. In other words, if players want to smoke weed in the offseason, they are free to do so.  But most importantly: Players are no longer suspended solely for marijuana.  If a player were to test positive, his case is reviewed by a panel of medical experts who determine if the player needs medical treatment.  "Certainly, we see that society is changing its views, but views only change because key facts become more and more obvious to the people who make policy," NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith said.

MLB and its union negotiated a new drug policy in December 2019 following Tyler Skaggs' death.  While the new policy added testing for opioids, fentanyl and cocaine, plus synthetic weed -- with positive tests being referred to a treatment board -- cannabinoids were taken off the league's drugs of abuse list.  That wasn't a huge deal for MLB players, who were only previously tested for marijuana if there was "reasonable cause."  It was, however, monumental for minor leaguers, who were regularly tested and faced steep fines and suspensions -- including a 50-game ban for a first-time offense, 100 games for a second and a lifetime ban for the third strike.  "The way the league had the rules set up, it was ridiculous," said longtime MLBPA agent Joshua Kusnick.  "I can't even imagine how many guys' careers were ruined over marijuana. I personally had clients whose careers were derailed because of it.  If you were a fringy prospect and you were popped for marijuana, you were released because teams didn't want to deal with it.  And if you were released, you couldn't serve your suspension.  So who is going to sign you if you had 50 games to wait?"

The NBA's policy has remained the same -- and is now actually the harshest in North American professional sports.  A first positive test means a player must enter the marijuana program.  The second positive test calls for a $25,000 fine.  The third infraction is a five-game suspension, and five more games are added to each ensuing violation (10 games for a fourth positive test, 15 games for a fifth, etc.).  However, the NBA does not test players during the offseason, and the union and league agreed to not test players during the league's coronavirus hiatus.

April 30, 2020 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Sports, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Student presentation on "CBD and its efficacy as a sleep aid"

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Student presentation on "Marijuana Reform and Gun Ownership"

This will be another exciting week as students in my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar are finishing up their presentations on research topics of their choice. The fourth presentation slated for this week will focus on how marijuana reforms intersect with gun ownership. Here is the student's description of his topic and some background readings he has provided:

My presentation will focus on the interaction between legal marijuana and gun ownership.  I will begin by analyzing federal firearms laws and their practical implementation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF). I then look through examples of the conflicts these laws present in states which have legalized marijuana, and how federal laws currently prohibit any individual from exercising both their right to consume marijuana in legal states and their right to own a firearm under the Second Amendment. For some background reading, here are some helpful links:

Paul Barach, Why Can’t Medical Cannabis Patients Own Guns?, PotGuide (Jan. 17, 2020). 

Open Letter to All Federal Firearms Licensees, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (Sept. 21, 2011).

Aimee Green, Medical Marijuana Cardholders Can’t Be Denied Concealed Gun License Solely Because they Use Pot, Oregon Supreme Court Rules, OregonLive (May 19, 2011).

Mike Lowe, Mixed Legality of Marijuana on State, Federal Levels Leaves Gun Owners in Limbo, WGN9 (Jan. 9, 2020).

April 22, 2020 in Assembled readings on specific topics, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Student presentation on "Transportation of Hemp and Marijuana"

With the semester winding down, numerous students in my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar are scheduled for presentations on research topics of their choice this week.   The fourth presentation slated for this week will focus on the transportation of cannabis.  Here is part of the student's description of the issue and some background readings he has flagged:

For all the discussion that has been had about the legalization of marijuana, we have not sufficiently discussed how these products should be moved around. The goal of my presentation is to explore this issue by looking at cases that have unfolded and the policies of institutional players. For some background, please see:

Hemp Suppliers at Odds With Hazy Regulations” 

The Great American Cannabis Experiment” 

Inability To Ship Across State Lines Hurts Cannabis Businesses, Especially Small Operators” 

Travelers caught with weed in Chicago airports won’t be busted, police say” 

April 16, 2020 in Assembled readings on specific topics, Business laws and regulatory issues, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Student presentation on "The history of marijuana in Canada"

Students in my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar continue "taking over" through presentations on research topics of their choice, and I will continue providing in this space background on their topics and links to relevant materials they provide. The first presentation this week will focus on the country to the north, and here is how the students working on this big topic describes their plans along with background readings they have provided:

The presentation will focus on medical marijuana in Canada. Like with the United States, the national attitude towards medical marijuana in Canada has evolved over the years.  It was only four short years after California effectively legalized medical marijuana in 1996, that a Canadian court ruled Canadians had a right to use medical marijuana.  It took almost two decades after that court ruling for marijuana to be fully legalized in Canada. Because marijuana is legal in Canada, there is much that can be learned from research conducted in the country.  Research on illegal drugs is often met with push back from the government.  Full legalization has opened the door for all aspects of research into the effectiveness of marijuana for treating all kinds of illnesses.  This research is necessary to facilitate a better understanding of marijuana and it benefits world-wide.

Sources:

"Canada Goes From Weed Prohibition To Legalization In 95 Years"

"A timeline of some significant events in the history of marijuana in Canada"

"Legal Medical Marijuana States and DC: Laws, Fees, and Possession Limits"

Government of Canada, "For people registered or designated to produce cannabis for medical purposes"

Government of Canada, "Information for Health Care Professionals: Cannabis (marihuana, marijuana) and the cannabinoids"

"Ontario cannabis stores to close after removal from ‘essential’ list"

"In COVID-19 fight, medical cannabis retailer eyes use of cannabinoids in clinical trial"

April 14, 2020 in Assembled readings on specific topics, International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

"Charlotte Figi, 13-year-old Coloradan whose CBD journey inspired medical marijuana reform, dies of COVID-19"

This is really sad

Charlotte Figi, the young Colorado Springs girl whose battle with Dravet syndrome inspired changes to medical marijuana laws, has died of complications from the coronavirus, according to a nonprofit organization co-founded by her mother. She was 13 years old.

Realm of Caring, the nonprofit that focuses on medical cannabis research and education, attributed Figi’s death to “COVID-19 complications” in a Facebook post. A message posted to the Facebook page of Charlotte’s mother, Paige Figi, on behalf of the Figi family says, “Charlotte is no longer suffering. She is seizure-free forever.”

Neither El Paso County nor state health officials have publicly announced the death of a 13-year-old Coloradan due to COVID-19; Charlotte would be the youngest person to date to die in Colorado in connection with the coronavirus.

Charlotte was one of Colorado’s many medical marijuana refugees, whose family moved to the state following the legalization of cannabis. From the time she was an infant, she suffered from frequent and severe seizures because of Dravet syndrome, including many that required hospitalization. But at age 5, Paige Figi gave her cannabidiol, the non-psychoactive compound in cannabis known more commonly as CBD, and Charlotte’s condition changed overnight.

 

April 8, 2020 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 27, 2020

"Cannabis finds its moment amid coronavirus outbreak"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Advocacy groups urge governors to ensure "medical cannabis patients do not experience disrupted access to crucial medicine" during COVID crisis

I just saw that, earlier this week, an array of advocacy groups sent this short letter to the National Governors Association headed "Emergency Call To Action To Governors In States With Medical Cannabis Programs." Here is the heart of the letter (which also attaches a similar letter from last week from Americans for Safe Access):

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the undersigned national drug policy, HIV/AIDS, and public health organizations write to all U.S. governors and medical cannabis program directors to amplify a letter sent last week by the nation’s leading medical cannabis and patient advocacy group, Americans for Safe Access (ASA).  We are joining their call for necessary, immediate actions and safeguards to ensure that medical cannabis patients do not experience disrupted access to crucial medicine.

Thirty-three states and the District of Columbia have medical cannabis laws enacted and, cumulatively, these states serve over three million patients.  Medical cannabis patients often live with debilitating ailments, such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, and chronic pain that significantly affect quality of life.  It is critical that policymakers and other decision makers who are working to address the current COVID-19 pandemic are also considering the public health consequences that will follow the decision to abruptly interrupt the legal supply chain for medical cannabis patients.  We are especially worried about vulnerable patients being unintentionally pushed to the unregulated market, where there will not be access to lab-tested, tightly controlled products.  This could endanger the health of those who rely on cannabis as medicine.

The undersigned organizations -- who support research and access to medical cannabis -- join ASA in calls for the recognition of medical cannabis as necessary medicine and for the recommendations below to be implemented to ensure that patients’ access to medicinal cannabis will continue.

March 25, 2020 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Just some of the latest headlines highlighting how COVID-19 is changing the marijuana reform world

I suspect regular readers have an inkling for why I have not blogged in this space for a few weeks.  For this blogger, the new coronavirus world has meant a lot more time spent rescuing kids from shuttered colleges, gearing up for online classes, and lots of blogging at Sentencing Law & Policy about the impact of the virus on our criminal justice systems.  Because a lot of organizations and journalists spend a lot of time covering marijuana news, I have not tried to keep up here with all the ways in which the COVID-19 is changing the marijuana reform world.

That all said, I think it useful to keep up with news in this space, if only to document how this historical moment is being captured in news stories and headlines.  So, as social distancing turns into lockdowns and as stimulus package proposals get closer to becoming law, here is a sampling:

From Boston.com, "Charlie Baker order lets medical marijuana shop stay open, but shuts down recreational sales"

From Business Insider, "Cannabis site Leafly just laid off nearly 40% of its workforce as coronavirus upends the marijuana industry"

From CNN Business, "Cannabis advocates to governors: Our businesses are 'essential'"

From Forbes, "Coronavirus Crisis Shows Marijuana Is ‘Essential’ And Mainstream"

From MLive, "Michigan is smoking more marijuana than any other state during coronavirus pandemic, survey says"

From Marijuana Business Daily, "Coronavirus outbreak could delay marijuana legalization along East Coast, other states"

From Marijuana Business Daily, "Adult-use cannabis sales plunge after briefly hitting new heights on coronavirus concerns"

From Marijuana Moment, "Marijuana Industry Pleads For Access To Federal Coronavirus Business Relief"

From Marijuana Moment, "Nebraska Medical Marijuana Campaign Suspended Due To Coronavirus"

From Westworld, "Ask a Stoner: Quarantining Proves We Should Grow Our Own"

UPDATEThese topics made the New York Times this afternoon: "Is Marijuana an ‘Essential’ Like Milk or Bread? Some States Say Yes"

March 24, 2020 in Business laws and regulatory issues, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Spitballing metrics that might be important when evaluating medical marijuana programs

As noted in prior posts here and here, this week I have asked students in my marijuana reform seminar to reflect on how policymakers should assess the efficacy of medical marijuana programs.  Potentially important to this inquiry is figuring out just what basic metrics should matter — metrics related both to  the operation of medical marijuana programs and to the program's potential impact on individual and community well-being. 

Reflecting on these questions always lead me back to a range of challenging (and useful) policy questions about what fundamental values are of greatest importance as we consider and operationalize any form of marijuana reform.  Of course, there are always going to be plenty of basic medical research questions (and uncertainty) about whether and for whom marijuana might provide health benefits (after all, this article suggests medical science cannot conclusively answer whether adults should be drinking milk).  But beyond (or intertwined with) uncertainty about the medical use of marijuana, how should policy makers approach these (or many other) potentially important metrics:

-- Is the raw number of patients in medical marijuana programs, or the number of a particular type of patients, fundamental to judging the success of medical marijuana programs?

-- Should self-reports or health-care worker reports of patient satisfaction or the cost of this form of health care relative to others be central to assessing efficacy?

-- Should reductions (or increases) in opioid overdoses or other salient community health problems be a central consideration? 

-- How about potential health care cost savings (or cost increases) for the state?

-- How about other possible public health and safety concerns ranging from increased marijuana use by teens, or more reports of substance use disorders, or more accidents involving impaired drivers or even increased crimes around dispensaries?

-- How about tax revenues or number of jobs created as an important metric for medical marijuana programs (since we see this often discussed for recreational programs)?

-- How should social equity and social justice concerns impact these issues: e.g., should we worry if only privileged people have access to and profit from medical marijuana and/or if arrest rates for low-level marijuana possession go up after a state implements a medical marijuana program?

I am sure I am leaving out lots of other important issues in this spitballing of metrics that might be important when evaluating medical marijuana programs. I eagerly welcome feedback and suggestions on this front from all readers.

A few recent related posts:

February 13, 2020 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Does official public data about Ohio's Medical Marijuana Control Program show its efficacy? Its ineffectiveness?

In a post from few days ago, I asked "How should policymakers assess the efficacy of medical marijuana programs? What are key metrics?".   I have asked students in my marijuana reform seminar to reflect on these questions, and I am wondering if official data on Ohio's "Medical Marijuana Control Program" can help answer these question in the Buckeye State. 

Specifically, here is link to a graphic that compares some data on Ohio's medical marijuana program from January 2019 and January 2020.  Because the 2019 data is from the "first day of sales," we see great growth in listed number over the course of a year (e.g., registered patients grew from 12,721 to 73,967).  Is this a mark of success for a program that became law in mid 2016?  Or does this show how slowly (or poorly) the program got launched?

Or consider this page of cumulative data as of Feb 7, 2020 

Dispensaries
  • 57 Provisional licenses
    • 49 Provisional licensees have received a Certificate of Operation
Patients & Caregivers (as of 12/31/2019)
  • 83,857 Recommendations
  • 78,376 Registered patients
    • 5,617 Patients with Veteran Status
    • 4,398 Patients with Indigent Status
    • 449 Patients with a Terminal Diagnosis
  • 55,617 Unique patients who purchased medical marijuana (as reported to OARRS by licensed dispensaries)
  • 8,259 Registered Caregivers
Physicians
  • 590 Certificates to Recommend
Sales Figures (as of 2/3/2020)
  • 8,174 lbs. of plant material
  • 393,726 units of manufactured product
  • 68.1 million in product sales
  • 534,913 total receipts
  • Historical Sales Data

Are any of these numbers especially important in judging the success of Ohio's medical marijuana program? What other metrics would be important to judging the success of Ohio's medical marijuana program?

February 12, 2020 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, February 9, 2020

How should policymakers assess the efficacy of medical marijuana programs? What are key metrics?

The question in the title of this post are questions I have asked students in my marijuana reform seminar to be considering this week.  I am not sure I have good answers to these questions, so I am hoping my students can help answer them.

Notably, the group Americans for Safe Access (ASA) produces an annual report that gives letter grades to all states based on various criteria relating to medical marijuana programs.  (The 2019 version of  this lengthy and informative report  is summarized in this ASA blog post.)  But ASA is a medical marijuana advocacy group that grades states based primarily on how accessible marijuana is to individuals who want access -- i.e., ASA is focused on whether programs "ensure that all patients have access to the medicine they need" -- and it is not a given that all policymakers would be keen to adopt the ASA's grading criteria. (Tellingly, in these ASA reports, states with recreational marijuana programs consistently get the highest grades).

The Drug Enforcement & Policy Center last Fall released this survey report that "revealed immense dissatisfaction with the Ohio medical marijuana system" among likely medical marijuana consumers.  But again, the views of likely consumers may not be the best metric for assessing the efficacy of a medical marijuana program.  In some coming posts, I will focus on some existing data related to Ohio's and (some other states') medical marijuana program to further explore just what metrics ought to be key to assessing the virtues (and vices?) of these programs.

February 9, 2020 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 20, 2020

Highlighting another troublesome spot at the intersection of marijuana reform and criminal justice systems

Regular readers know that, because of my work in the criminal justice arena, I often come to marijuana reform stories with an extra focus on how marijuana law and policy impact criminal justice system.  Though I am particularly interested in topics covered in my Federal Sentencing Reporter article, "Leveraging Marijuana Reform to Enhance Expungement Practices," regarding how marijuana reform efforts may be impacting criminal record expungement efforts, there are so many other interesting (and troublesome) spots where marijuana reform intersects with criminal law and practice.

This recent Marshall Project piece looks at one of these spots in a piece headlined "People on Probation and Parole Are Being Denied Perfectly Legal Medical Weed: Despite statewide legalization, some counties ban probationers and parolees from using medical marijuana. So the chronically ill turn to less effective and more addictive prescription drugs."  Here are excerpts:

Following years of research demonstrating that marijuana can be a life-changing treatment for people with cancer, Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, PTSD, eating disorders, nausea and epilepsy, and that it is neither physically addictive nor an evident danger to public safety, the drug has been legalized for medical use in 33 states and for adults over 21 to smoke recreationally in 11.  Yet for most people on probation or parole — even in precisely these same states — drug testing remains the rule, and jail time the potential punishment.

The argument that many parole and probation authorities make for this seeming contradiction is that regardless of whether marijuana has been legalized in their state, it remains illegal at the federal level, and that if you’re under government supervision for committing a crime, you should at the very least have to follow all state and federal laws.  Some parole and probation officials also point out that they drug-test their own officers, so the people they oversee should be held to at least the same standard.

“I don’t know of any paroling authorities who are casual about marijuana — it’s part of their institutional culture, and old habits are hard to break,” said Edward E. Rhine, a former corrections official in multiple states and an expert on parole at the Robina Institute of Criminal Law and Criminal Justice at the University of Minnesota Law School.  “Obviously most people couldn’t conceive of marijuana being allowed inside a prison, even if that prison is in a state where it has been legalized.”

A handful of states where marijuana is now legal, though, have taken action to make it available to people on probation or parole.  Arizona’s supreme court ruled in 2015 that medical marijuana patients cannot be arrested or jailed for taking their medication, even if they are under court supervision.  An Oregon appeals court in 2018 issued a similar decision.  Within Pennsylvania, where there isn’t yet any such ruling statewide, different counties have different policies....  In other states where there haven’t been major court cases, county courts and even individual probation officers are often responsible for deciding whether to drug-test — and possibly jail — those under their control. Some do so only when marijuana or drugs were related to someone’s underlying crime.

The ACLU of Pennsylvania [is] challenging the court rule in Lebanon County that prohibits parolees and probationers who have a prescription for medical marijuana from using it....   The ACLU’s position is that these counties’ rules contradict the letter and intent of Pennsylvania’s 2016 medical marijuana law, which protected medical marijuana patients from any criminal sanction.  The legislation expressly prohibited people in prison from possessing pot, but did not expressly exclude those on parole or probation. The lawyers also point out that people under court supervision can still use opioids with a prescription — which is far more of a public health concern in this day and age, especially in Pennsylvania....

In Colorado, where anyone can smoke a joint freely, a parolee named Mark Paulsen is still being tested for marijuana — even though he is about to die.  In 2009, Paulsen, a former mechanic who is an alcoholic, blacked out while drinking and attacked two acquaintances with a knife (neither was killed).  He was sentenced to prison for a decade, records show.  There, his hepatitis of the liver worsened, becoming end-stage cirrhosis by the time he was released last year.

Paulsen, 64, is now on parole outside Denver.  He is visibly ill, jaundiced and constantly bleeding.  He has peach-sized tumors in his abdomen, which he says make walking around feel like jumping up and down with heavy, jagged rocks in his belly.  And his nausea is so severe that he has at times gone weeks without eating solid food. “The always-there-ness” of the stomach pain, he said, “is what gets you.”

As he waits to die, there have been all the challenges familiar to people on parole.  He got out of prison with no money or health insurance, and has to go to the emergency room instead of to a specialist because he’s in such immediate pain, he says.  There, he has racked up insurmountable medical debt.

The only things that would ease his symptoms are opioids or medical marijuana, but the former is something that doctors have been wary to prescribe, amid a nationwide epidemic.  The latter, Paulsen believes, would seem the solution. (He also has been sober ever since his crime and is not “drug-seeking,” he emphasizes.)  Yet every morning, he has to call his parole office, he says.  If he is randomly selected that day, he must ride the bus an hour and a half, those sharp rocks in his stomach jostling, to take a drug test.  And if he fails one, he could be sent back to prison for whatever time he has left before dying.

A spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Corrections said that if a parolee has a prescription for medical marijuana, the agency in most instances is willing to “work with” that person to avoid being sanctioned for using it.  She later added, “Our parole team is going to reach out directly to Mr. Paulsen to see what assistance they can provide.”

January 20, 2020 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 16, 2020

"From Reefer Madness to Hemp Utopia: CBD, Hemp and the Evolving Regulation of Commoditized Cannabis"

Jan-24-Cannabis-Roundtable_for-email-600x400The title of this post is the title of this exciting event taking place next week put on by the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center at The Ohio State University.  Here are all the essential details and some background from this page where you can also find a registration link: 

When: Friday, January 24 from 7:30-9:30 a.m.
Where: 2nd Floor Rotunda, Mason Hall, 250 W Woodruff Avenue, Columbus Ohio

Join the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center and the Center for Innovation Strategies for From Reefer Madness to Hemp Utopia: CBD, Hemp and the Evolving Regulation of Commoditized Cannabis.  The latest Cannabiz Roundtable discussion will feature a panel of experts as they discuss the challenges of regulating the unusual agricultural commodity that is hemp and the myriad products infused with one of its derivatives, CBD.

With the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, the world of the cannabis plant has undergone a seismic shift allowing for its legal cultivation as long as its THC content remains below 0.3%.  A year later, the federal and state governments, including the state of Ohio, are in the process of creating regulations that would allow the agricultural sector to take advantage of this new crop while at the same time addressing numerous concerns about public health and law enforcement.

 

Speakers

Benton Bodamer, DEPC Adjunct Faculty, Dickinson Wright PLLC, Columbus


Donnie Burton, Owner and CEO, The Harvest Foundation


David E. Miran, Jr. Esq., Executive Director, Hemp Program, Ohio Department of Agriculture


Anthony Seegers
, Director of State Policy, Ohio Farm Bureau


Patricia Zettler, DEPC Assistant Professor of Law, Moritz College of Law

 

Moderator: Douglas Berman, Executive Director, DEPC


Schedule

7:30 – 8:00 a.m. | registration
8:00 – 9:00 a.m. | panel
9:00 – 9:30 a.m. | follow up conversation and networking

January 16, 2020 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 13, 2020

US House Subcommittee to hold hearing on Jan 15, 2020 on "Cannabis Policies for the New Decade"

Ccc_SQUAREAs detailed on this US House committee webpage, the "Subcommittee on Health of the Committee on Energy and Commerce will hold a legislative hearing on Wednesday, January 15, 2020, at 10 a.m. in the John D. Dingell Room, 2123 of the Rayburn House Office Building. The hearing is entitled, 'Cannabis Policies for the New Decade'."  Interestingly, the hearing page provides a list and links to six House bills with varying approaches to marijuana reform as well as the names and titled of the three government officials now scheduled to testify:

Legislation

H.R. 171, the "Legitimate Use of Medicinal Marihuana Act" or the "LUMMA"

H.R. 601, the "Medical Cannabis Research Act of 2019"

H.R. 1151, the "Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act"

H.R. 2843, the "Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act"

H.R. 3797, the "Medical Marijuana Research Act of 2019"

H.R. 3884, the "Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2019" or the "MORE Act of 2019"

 

Witnesses

Matthew J. Strait
Senior Policy Advisor, Diversion Control Division
Drug Enforcement Administration

Douglas Throckmorton, M.D.
Deputy Director for Regulatory Programs, Center for Drug Evaluation and Research
Food and Drug Administration

Nora D. Volkow, M.D.
Director, National Institute on Drug Abuse
National Institutes of Health

 

Also listed on the website is a "Key Document" in the form of a "Memorandum from Chairman Pallone to the Subcommittee on Health."  This memo runs six pages and provides a nice primer on the basics of federal cannabis law as well as a very brief accounting of the six bills listed above.

January 13, 2020 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)