Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

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 (0)

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

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)

Saturday, January 12, 2019

"Marijuana needs warning labels like tobacco for associated mental, physical health risks"

Download (3)The title of this post is the headline of this recent commentary in USA Today authored by DJ Jaffe, who is the executive director of Mental Illness Policy Org.  Here is an excerpt:

Before legislators legalize marijuana, they should require bold and direct warning labels to be placed on the packaging as is done with tobacco products. If the states fail to act, then the Food and Drug Administration should step in and require it.

In early 2017, after exhaustive review, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine found that there are significant health risks associated with using cannabis and cannabinoids. Yet none of the 33 states that have legalized medical marijuana, or the 10 states that have legalized recreational use, gives adequate warnings of those risks.

The situation is similar to when cigarettes first became extensively marketed. The health risks were known but not disclosed, leading to disease and lives being lost. In addition to appearing on the packaging, the warning labels should be displayed prominently wherever the product is sold, in advertising and in mandated public service announcements funded by the marijuana industry.

The academies, founded by Congress, comprise the country’s leading researchers. They have become the nation’s most reputable arbiters of the science that should guide policy. The findings of the report, "The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids," were particularly disturbing for people prone to mental illness and those who have a mental illness.

The report found either substantial or moderate evidence of an association between cannabis use and the development of schizophrenia or other psychoses; increased symptoms of mania and hypomania in individuals diagnosed with bipolar disorders; increased risk for the development of depressive disorders; and increased incidence of suicidal ideation, attempts and completions.

Schizophrenia and bipolar disorders are two of the most devastating neurobiological disorders and the ones that are often associated with homelessness and incarceration. If there is an association with using legalized marijuana, shouldn’t the public be warned?...

Washington and Colorado were the first states to legalize recreational marijuana. While both warn pregnant mothers not to use it, the only other significant warning on the packaging is that there “may be health risks,” a watered-down mealy mouthed warning that fails to give consumers the concrete information they need to avoid danger.

While the National Academies found "association," association is not the same as causality. Perhaps the increased risk of schizophrenia developing is because those who are prone to schizophrenia also are prone to use these products.

But until we know the chicken-or-egg answer, we should not follow the example of the tobacco regulation where the product was allowed to be marketed unencumbered by warnings, leading to more than 480,000 deaths a year, and subsequently the spending of millions of dollars re-educating consumers who had been misled in the first place.

January 12, 2019 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Medical community perspectives, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | 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)

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Malcolm Gladwell rightly highlights how much we do not know about marijuana (but still ignores what we know about prohibition)

Gladwell-malcolmMalcolm Gladwell has this new extended essay in The New Yorker asking "Is Marijuana as Safe as We Think?".  The piece is somewhat focused on the forthcoming book by Alex Berenson (whose recent commentaries I have covered here and here), but it is most effective when it highlights that research on the public health consequences of marijuana remains incomplete and inconclusive.  Here is how the piece starts:

A few years ago, the National Academy of Medicine convened a panel of sixteen leading medical experts to analyze the scientific literature on cannabis. The report they prepared, which came out in January of 2017, runs to four hundred and sixty-eight pages. It contains no bombshells or surprises, which perhaps explains why it went largely unnoticed. It simply stated, over and over again, that a drug North Americans have become enthusiastic about remains a mystery.

For example, smoking pot is widely supposed to diminish the nausea associated with chemotherapy. But, the panel pointed out, “there are no good-quality randomized trials investigating this option.” We have evidence for marijuana as a treatment for pain, but “very little is known about the efficacy, dose, routes of administration, or side effects of commonly used and commercially available cannabis products in the United States.” The caveats continue. Is it good for epilepsy? “Insufficient evidence.” Tourette’s syndrome? Limited evidence. A.L.S., Huntington’s, and Parkinson’s? Insufficient evidence. Irritable-bowel syndrome? Insufficient evidence. Dementia and glaucoma? Probably not. Anxiety? Maybe. Depression? Probably not.

Then come Chapters 5 through 13, the heart of the report, which concern marijuana’s potential risks. The haze of uncertainty continues. Does the use of cannabis increase the likelihood of fatal car accidents? Yes. By how much? Unclear. Does it affect motivation and cognition? Hard to say, but probably. Does it affect employment prospects? Probably. Will it impair academic achievement? Limited evidence. This goes on for pages.

We need proper studies, the panel concluded, on the health effects of cannabis on children and teen-agers and pregnant women and breast-feeding mothers and “older populations” and “heavy cannabis users”; in other words, on everyone except the college student who smokes a joint once a month.

Gladwell later provides some context for how we should approach modern marijuana reform in light of all this uncertainty:

Drug policy is always clearest at the fringes. Illegal opioids are at one end.  They are dangerous.  Manufacturers and distributors belong in prison, and users belong in drug-treatment programs.  The cannabis industry would have us believe that its product, like coffee, belongs at the other end of the continuum. “Flow Kana partners with independent multi-generational farmers who cultivate under full sun, sustainably, and in small batches,” the promotional literature for one California cannabis brand reads.  “Using only organic methods, these stewards of the land have spent their lives balancing a unique and harmonious relationship between the farm, the genetics and the terroir.”   But cannabis is not coffee.  It’s somewhere in the middle.   The experience of most users is relatively benign and predictable; the experience of a few, at the margins, is not.  Products or behaviors that have that kind of muddled risk profile are confusing, because it is very difficult for those in the benign middle to appreciate the experiences of those at the statistical tails. Low-frequency risks also take longer and are far harder to quantify, and the lesson of “Tell Your Children” and the National Academy report is that we aren’t yet in a position to do so.  For the moment, cannabis probably belongs in the category of substances that society permits but simultaneously discourages.  Cigarettes are heavily taxed, and smoking is prohibited in most workplaces and public spaces.  Alcohol can’t be sold without a license and is kept out of the hands of children.  Prescription drugs have rules about dosages, labels that describe their risks, and policies that govern their availability. The advice that seasoned potheads sometimes give new users — “start low and go slow” — is probably good advice for society as a whole, at least until we better understand what we are dealing with.

I am not inclined to dispute much of what Gladwell has to say in this piece especially when he stresses uncertainty, but I am again eager to highlight what he ignores about the certain harms of prohibition. Notably, we still send a whole lot of drug users to prison rather than to treatment programs because of the "drug war" approach to criminalizing drug prohibitions, and we still arrest a whole lot of marijuana users. Moreover and even more importantly, the certain harms of marijuana prohibition are borne disproportionately by people of color and the poor.

I am supportive of a "start low and go slow” approach to the commercialization of marijuana based on all the uncertainty that Gladwell is eager to stress. But given the certain harms of prohibition and who is disproportionately subject to them, I do not think we can end the criminalization of marijuana soon enough.

January 8, 2019 in Medical community perspectives, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, 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)

Friday, January 4, 2019

Spotlighting enduring challenges making marijuana social equity programs work

Oakland-cannabis-licensing-social-equity-program-attorney-advertisingStateline has this new piece, headlined "‘Cannabis Equity’ Runs Into Roadblocks," which highlights that good implementation, and not just good intentions, must be part of modern marijuana social equity programs.  Here are excerpts:

Now, as more states legalize recreational marijuana and the federal government moves away from incarcerating nonviolent drug offenders, several cities in California are trying to atone for decades of drug enforcement that fell disproportionately upon minorities.

They’ve created what are known as cannabis equity programs, meant to welcome more minority and low-income entrepreneurs into the now-legal industry. The programs provide business development, loan assistance and mentorships to eligible owners. Hundreds have applied in the past year. But “pot equity” has struggled with growing waitlists, and some participants allege that the programs aren’t fair to the people they’re meant to be helping....

The goal of “cannabis equity” is to lower the barriers to entry into the legal cannabis industry for people who were disproportionately impacted by the criminalization of marijuana. The programs base eligibility on a variety of factors, including marijuana convictions, residency in a heavily policed district and income.

Today, several city partnership programs require that established, non-equity businesses provide an equity business with space for several years rent-free. In exchange, the non-equity company receives faster processing for city approvals. Cities such as Sacramento plan to waive up to tens of thousands of dollars in application and permit fees for eligible cannabis businesses.

But pot equity has struggled to get going. Understaffing in San Francisco’s cannabis office has left a growing waitlist of applicants, and the city doesn’t expect to begin approving businesses until sometime in 2019, said Nicole Elliott, director of San Francisco’s Office of Cannabis. She could not be more specific on timing.

Some applicants argue that the waiting period has allowed other businesses to get an unfair head start. In Oakland, some pot equity businesses claim their incubator partners never followed through on the requirement to provide them with business development assistance or a space to operate....

Creating a program to atone for decades of unjust policing — on top of building the framework for a newly legal cannabis industry — is no easy task. Oakland is setting up a $3 million fund to provide additional capital assistance to pot equity businesses, Brooks said, but it remains unclear when the fund will become available.

San Francisco applicants have raised the same issue, said Elliott, the director of San Francisco’s Office of Cannabis. The office set up an investment fund to provide financial assistance to cannabis businesses, such as low-interest loans. But the city has yet to allocate money to the fund, Elliott said.

She said San Francisco will likely receive part of the $10 million that the state set aside for local cannabis equity programs in September, which could go toward the city’s cannabis investment fund. “There are equity applicants that need money now,” Elliott said. “We will advocate aggressively for that state funding.”

As of mid-December, San Francisco had 227 applicants that qualify for the equity program. Of those, about 110 want to join the city’s incubator partnership program and receive waived permit fees. Elliott said the city will begin approving applicants next year, but she could not say when. Applicants have criticized the lengthy timeline.

San Francisco’s Office of Cannabis, which just added two new staff members to bring the total to five, is tasked with reviewing permit applications and facilitating the equity program. Elliott said adding even more staff would speed things up. In the meantime, the city has established a partnership with the Bar Association of San Francisco to provide pro bono legal assistance to equity program participants.

Malcolm Mirage, an equity applicant in San Francisco, said the long wait has caused him to burn through capital at an alarming rate.  He partnered with MedMen, a household name in the cannabis industry that is publicly traded on the Canadian Securities Exchange.

MedMen agreed to provide business development aid and an incubation space for one of Mirage’s businesses. The company also helped him negotiate leases on two other spaces, and he struck a deal that gave him six months of free rent to obtain his permits and become operational.

Mirage figured that was plenty of time. But those six months came and went, and he’s now paying expensive leases on spaces that sit empty.  “I got out of jail for selling weed and now I’m trying to do this legally,” Mirage told Stateline.  “But I’m drowning right now. My businesses are going to be in a tremendous amount of debt if the city can’t get these licenses out in the next six months.”

January 4, 2019 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 3, 2019

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

Alex Berenson has this 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."  Here are excerpts:

[E]ven as marijuana use has become more socially acceptable, psychiatrists and epidemiologists have reached a consensus that it presents more serious risks than most people realize.

Contrary to the predictions of both advocates and opponents, legalization hasn’t led to a huge increase in people using the drug casually.  About 15% of Americans used cannabis at least once in 2017, up from 10% in 2006, according to the federal government’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health.  By contrast, almost 70% of Americans had an alcoholic drink in the past year.

But the number of Americans who use cannabis heavily is soaring.  In 2006, about 3 million Americans reported using the drug at least 300 times a year, the standard for daily use.  By 2017, that number had increased to 8 million — approaching the 12 million Americans who drank every day.  Put another way, only one in 15 drinkers consumed alcohol daily; about one in five marijuana users used cannabis that often.

And they are consuming cannabis that is far more potent than ever before, as measured by the amount of THC it contains. THC, or delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, is the chemical responsible for the drug’s psychoactive effects.  In the 1970s, most marijuana contained less than 2% THC.  Today, marijuana routinely contains 20-25% THC, thanks to sophisticated farming and cloning techniques and to the demand of users to get a stronger high more quickly.  In states where cannabis is legal, many users prefer extracts that are nearly pure THC.

Cannabis advocates often argue that the drug can’t be as neurotoxic as studies suggest because otherwise Western countries would have seen population-wide increases in psychosis alongside rising marijuana use. In reality, accurately tracking psychosis cases is impossible in the U.S.  The government carefully tracks diseases such as cancer with central registries, but no such system exists for schizophrenia or other severe mental illnesses.

Some population-level data does exist, though.  Research from Finland and Denmark, two countries that track mental illness more accurately, shows a significant increase in psychosis since 2000, following an increase in cannabis use.  And last September, a large survey found a rise in serious mental illness in the U.S. too.  In 2017, 7.5% of young adults met the criteria for serious mental illness, double the rate in 2008.

None of these studies prove that rising cannabis use has caused population-wide increases in psychosis or other mental illness, although they do offer suggestive evidence of a link.  What is clear is that, in individual cases, marijuana can cause psychosis, and psychosis is a high risk factor for violence.  What’s more, much of that violence occurs when psychotic people are using drugs.  As long as people with schizophrenia are avoiding recreational drugs, they are only moderately more likely to become violent than healthy people.  But when they use drugs, their risk of violence skyrockets. The drug they are most likely to use is cannabis....

The link between marijuana and violence doesn’t appear limited to people with pre-existing psychosis.  Researchers have studied alcohol and violence for generations, proving that alcohol is a risk factor for domestic abuse, assault and even murder.  Far less work has been done on marijuana, in part because advocates have stigmatized anyone who raises the issue.  Still, there are studies showing that marijuana use is a significant risk factor for violence.

A 2012 paper in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence, examining a federal survey of more than 9,000 adolescents, found that marijuana use was associated with a doubling of domestic violence in the U.S.  A 2017 paper in the journal Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, examining drivers of violence among 6,000 British and Chinese men, found that drug use was linked to a fivefold increase in violence, and the drug used was nearly always cannabis.

Before states legalized recreational cannabis, advocates predicted that legalization would let police focus on hardened criminals rather than on marijuana smokers and thus reduce violent crime.  Some advocates even claim that legalization has reduced violent crime: In a 2017 speech calling for federal legalization, Sen. Cory Booker (D., N.J.) said that “these states are seeing decreases in violent crime.”

But Mr. Booker is wrong.  The first four states to legalize marijuana for recreational use were Colorado and Washington in 2014 and Alaska and Oregon in 2015.  Combined, those four states had about 450 murders and 30,300 aggravated assaults in 2013.  In 2017, they had almost 620 murders and 38,000 aggravated assaults — an increase far greater than the national average.

Knowing exactly how much of that increase is related to cannabis is impossible without researching every crime. But for centuries, people all over the world have understood that cannabis causes mental illness and violence — just as they’ve known that opiates cause addiction and overdose.  Hard data on the relationship between marijuana and madness dates back 150 years, to British asylum registers in India.

Yet 20 years ago, the U.S. moved to encourage wider use of cannabis and opiates. In both cases, we decided we could outsmart these drugs — enjoying their benefits without their costs. And in both cases, we were wrong.  Opiates are riskier than cannabis, and the overdose deaths they cause are a more imminent crisis, so public and government attention have focused on them.  Soon, the mental illness and violence that follow cannabis use also may be too widespread to ignore.

January 3, 2019 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

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

Images (4)The title of this post is the title of this interesting new paper published in Social Science Research and authored by Jacob Felson, Amy Adamczyk and Christopher Thomas.  Here is its abstract:

Since the late 1990s public opinion about cannabis legalization has become drastically more liberal, and some states have begun to legalize cannabis for recreational use.  Why have attitudes changed so much?  Prior research has considered a few of the reasons for this change, but this is the first comprehensive and empirically-based study to consider the wide range of potential causes for how and why this happened. 

We use data from the General Social Survey, National Study of Drug Use and Health, and word searches from the New York Times.  We find that attitudes largely liberalized via intracohort changes.  Most Americans developed more liberal views, regardless of their race and ethnicity, gender, education, religious or political affiliation, or religious engagement.  Changes in cannabis use have had minimal effects on attitudes, and legalization of cannabis has not prompted attitude change in neighboring states.  As to root causes, evidence suggests that a decrease in religious affiliation, a decline in punitiveness, and a shift in media framing all contributed to changing attitudes.

January 3, 2019 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Political perspective on reforms, Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Two deep dives into health research and social justice in modern age of marijuana reform

NBC News has two new lengthy articles exploring the state of marijuana research and debate over social justice in this era of marijuana reform.   Both pieces are worthwhile reads, and here are links to the pieces with extended headlines and a brief excerpt:

"The year in pot: States embrace legalization, but questions persist; Marijuana, the most widely used illegal drug in the U.S., is winning approval state by state and impressing investors. But researchers still caution against its use."

The wave of legalization is taking place as the latest polls show that nearly two-thirds of Americans endorse it, double the rate in 2000. Investors are noticing too, pouring an estimated $10 billion into the industry in North America this year.

Still, medical researchers continue to caution against its use because little is known about its effects on health. Here is a review of what we’ve learned about marijuana and marijuana-based products in 2018.

"Legal marijuana made big promises on racial equity — and fell short; 'Time is really up on selling your business dream as a social justice movement,' said the president of the Minority Cannabis Business Association."

While marijuana arrests have declined and tax revenue has begun to flow in most states that have legalized pot, the gains have accrued most heavily to white residents, even though black Americans paid the drug war’s biggest costs, according to a statistical analysis conducted by the Drug Policy Alliance, a nonprofit group that advocates drug policy reform.

The results in Colorado, the District of Columbia and the nine other states where recreational marijuana became legal from 2012 to 2018 have left some lawmakers and even marijuana legalization advocates skeptical of broad social-justice claims. For that reason, lawmakers in New Jersey and New York — two of the three states expected to legalize marijuana in 2019 — are now pushing for detailed criminal justice and business equity measures as part of any legalization package....

The efforts in New Jersey and New York come as the inequities in other states have grown clearer. In Colorado, the Drug Policy Alliance found, the number of black juveniles arrested on marijuana charges grew after legalization. In 2016, a Colorado Department of Public Safety analysis found that black people living in that state remained three times more likely than white people to be arrested for selling or possessing marijuana. In Washington state, an ACLU analysis found that in 2014, the first year in which marijuana became available in legal retail stores, a black adult remained three times more likely to face low-level marijuana charges than a white adult.

January 1, 2019 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

An informed accounting of those states "Most Likely To Legalize Marijuana In 2019"

Tom Angell has this lengthy new Forbes piece setting forth his view of what states are worth watching for marijuana reform developments under the headline "These States Are Most Likely To Legalize Marijuana In 2019." The states are listed in alphabetical order, so we do not really get a chance to question thie article's prognostication efforts. Here is a bit of the run up to the list, followed by just the states. Click through to the full article to see the full explanation of why each state makes this cut:

With the results of last month's midterm elections — which marijuana basically won — ten states have now legalized cannabis for adults, while 33 allow medical use. Those victories at the ballot box capped a year in which the fight to reform prohibitionist cannabis policies advanced significantly at the state, federal and international levels.

The tally of states that allow the use of marijuana is poised to jump in a big way again in 2019, largely because a slew of pro-legalization candidates for governor also won at the ballot box on Election Day — giving cannabis reform bills a huge boost toward being signed into law sooner rather than later.

"2019 could be a banner year for legalization via state legislatures," Mason Tvert, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, said in an email. "Several states across multiple regions of the country are strongly considering ending prohibition and regulating marijuana for adult use. A growing number of state lawmakers and governors are either getting behind these efforts or coming to the realization that they cannot hold them up much longer. The steady growth of public support we’ve been seeing around the country will likely translate into some major state-level victories for marijuana policy reform."

Here are the states that are most likely to legalize marijuana next year, in alphabetical order:

Connecticut

Illinois

Minnesota

New Jersey

New Mexico

New York

Rhode Island

Vermont

Recent developments in New Jersey showcased that it is much easier for a state to talk about full legalization of marijuana than to actually get legislation in the books. Consequently, I will be surprised if more than one or two states on this list succeed in a getting full legalization enacted in the coming year. But id a big state like New York or Illinois were to get this done in short order, I do think it quite possible that a number of smaller states might find it easier to follow suit.

December 26, 2018 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 24, 2018

Effective accounting of Top 5 marijuana reform developments in 2018 (with a couple extra added for emphasis)

German Lopez has this effective Vox piece serving as a kind of marijuana reform year in review under the headlined "5 moments that show 2018 was marijuana legalization’s biggest year yet: From Canada to Michigan to California, marijuana legalization had a very big year." Here are excerpts from the start of the piece with his top 5 listing as it appears therein:

When we look back, 2018 may be the year in which marijuana legalization really won.

Canada legalized marijuana, defying international treaties (which the US is also a part of) that prohibit fully legalizing cannabis.

After legalizing marijuana in 2016, California opened the world’s biggest fully legal pot market in early 2018.

Michigan became the first state to legalize pot in the Midwest.

State legislatures, particularly New York, New Jersey, and Vermont, began taking legalization more seriously. And while Congress didn’t legalize pot at the federal level, it did legalize industrial hemp.

Together, these developments represented a tidal wave for legalization — a massive shift that’s making legal pot look more and more inevitable across the country.

Here are the five major stories of marijuana legalization this year, and why they matter.

1) Canada legalized marijuana...

2) California opened the world’s biggest legal marijuana market...

3) Michigan became the first state in the Midwest to legalize pot...

4) State legislatures began taking legalization seriously...

5) The federal government legalized hemp...

This top five list strikes me as sound, though I think the federal legalization of hemp should find a place higher on the list and I have a few additions that I think could reasonably compete for a top five spot. First, I think it very significant that serious medical marijuana reforms were enacted by ballot initiative with strong majorities in 2018 in the very red states of Missouri, Oklahoma and Utah. Senators in very red states will be able to stop or limit or shape any future federal marijuana reforms, so having red states come into the reform fold is so very important for the fate and future of federal reform efforts. Second, and perhaps worth of a coming future post, arguably the biggest story of 2018 was a non-story, namely the decision in January of (now former) Attorney General Sessions to repeal the Cole memo shaping federal marijuana enforcement and then the failure of the new Sessions memo amounting to much of anything. I was not too worried that all that much would come from repeal of the Cole memo, but that so little resulted still strikes me as another telling sign of the state of marijuana reform as we close out 2018.

December 24, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Legalized Pot Isn’t Going to Save Us"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new New York Times piece by Ginia Bellafante. Here are excerpts:

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced that he would push to make pot smoking — for fun — legal in New York State. It was quite a statement for a governor who had repeatedly questioned the wisdom before, calling it an enabler of more pernicious habits.  The “facts have changed,” he had said several months before, meaning really that the polling had changed — in October of 2017, support for the legalization of marijuana reached its highest point in five decades with nearly two-thirds of Americans surveyed by Gallup expressing enthusiasm for the revision.

The governor made his argument deploying the progressive rhetoric he has turned to increasingly as his neoliberal leanings have become less politically expedient.  That rhetoric rightly maintains that legalization of the drug is essential to redressing injustices in a criminal justice system that has overwhelmingly penalized young men of color for carrying or smoking pot.

Two days after Mr. Cuomo made his commitments known, in fact, Brooklyn’s district attorney, Eric Gonzalez, asked a judge to obliterate more than two dozen past marijuana convictions; his office vacated open warrants for more than 1,400 people who had missed court dates for possession cases.  In the absence of such erasures on a broad scale, merely legalizing the drug would do nothing to remediate the damage inflicted on thousands of people ensnared in a legal universe that so severely handicaps them for doing what white people pull off with impunity.  This is why mayor Bill de Blasio followed the governor’s announcement with his own endorsements of legalization — this too a reversal — recommending that convictions for marijuana-related crimes be expunged automatically.

In previous eras, decriminalization had been championed largely by libertarians, who saw a lot of government waste in a system that needlessly locked people up, and by hippies, who just wanted to be left alone to get stoned.  It is only recently that pot has been widely imagined as an almost holy vessel of redemption, a cure-all for a full range of 21st century maladies — social division, chronic pain, chronic distraction, chronic boredom.  Leafly, a journal of cannabis news, describes Cinex, a particular weed strain as providing a “wired euphoria that feeds creativity” while making daily chores less of a “drag.”

Of course, lawmakers in New York are not primarily motivated by the desire to make our daily chores less of a drag.  They quickly suggested that taxing marijuana could fix the transit system, in need of $60 billion worth of repairs.  They invited us to envision a world in which pot really was a gateway — to more efficient infrastructure!

Leaving aside for a moment whether these ambitions are all too utopian, it is easy to see what is problematic about legislators relying on our escapist pleasures to perform some of the most necessary functions of government.  In 1951, for example, the federal excise tax on cigarettes was raised to help finance the Korean War. Given that the previous year had produced five separate epidemiological studies confirming the growing suspicion that smokers were more likely to contract lung cancer than nonsmokers, 1951 might have been a good time to mandate warning labels on cigarette packaging but, as it happened, that would take another 14 years to accomplish.

The enthusiasm for revising the legal status of pot around the country has for the most part obscured any debate about consequences to public health.  That pot is regarded as relatively harmless is troubling, because much of what we know about it is based on studies conducted nearly 50 years ago at a time when what was consumed was much less potent than it is now.

Within the academic community, Jonathan P. Caulkins, a professor of public policy at Carnegie Mellon, has been a leading voice warning of marijuana’s attendant dangers.  As he has put it, beyond the fact that pot use has been correlated with a wide variety of negative outcomes in terms of physical and mental health, the real issue is that more than half of marijuana is consumed by people who are high more than half of all their waking hours. Pot shouldn’t be dismissed simply because it won’t kill you.

Mr. Caulkins’s research also shows us who is likely to bear these health burdens to a disproportionate degree — and it is not snowboarders in Vail.  Looking at a decade’s worth of federal surveys on drug use, he and a partner determined that Americans with a household income of less than $20,000 accounted for close to 30 percent of all marijuana use, even though they make up less than 20 percent of the population.

One fantasy that advocates of legalization have is that changes in the law will energize a redistribution of wealth, not only because tax revenue from pot sales can be funneled to various worthy causes but also because the poor will reap new entrepreneurial opportunities — in every neighborhood a Stringer Bell....

I asked Mark Kleiman, of the Marron Institute at New York University and one of the most sought-after experts on drug policy in the country, what the future looked like. He foresaw a world in which pot, legal in ever more states and eventually at the national level, will get cheaper and cheaper.  The expected tax windfalls would become less likely, unless pot is taxed at the level of potency rather than sale price.  The trend toward vaping means there will be greater demand for oil, and if you can melt everything down for oil, pot will be less expensive to produce, because at that point you can grow it like corn.

“You can produce all the intoxicant used in a year on 40,000 acres,” Mr. Kleiman said. “That’s 20 family farms in Iowa.” Eventually a joint could cost a nickel; Nabisco will take over edibles. “You will have pot grown in Iowa, processed by Cargill and sold by Amazon,” Mr. Kleiman said. “No one will make money except Jeff Bezos, who always makes money.”

December 24, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Taxation information and issues , Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, December 21, 2018

"How Legalizing Marijuana Is Securing the Border: The Border Wall, Drug Smuggling, and Lessons for Immigration Policy"

The title of this post is the title of this interesting and timely new Cato Institute policy analysis authored by David J. Bier.  Here is its executive summary:

President Trump has repeatedly cited drug smuggling to justify a border wall. Because it is difficult to conceal, marijuana is the main drug transported between ports of entry where a border wall would matter.  However, Border Patrol seizure figures demonstrate that marijuana flows have fallen continuously since 2014, when states began to legalize marijuana.  After decades of no progress in reducing marijuana smuggling, the average Border Patrol agent between ports of entry confiscated 78 percent less marijuana in fiscal year (FY) 2018 than in FY 2013.

As a result, the value of all drugs seized by the average agent has fallen by 70 percent since FY 2013.  Without marijuana coming in between ports of entry, drug smuggling activity now primarily occurs at ports of entry, where a border wall would have no effect.  In FY 2018, the average inspector at ports of entry made drug seizures that were three times more valuable overall than those made by Border Patrol agents between ports of entry — a radical change from 2013 when Border Patrol agents averaged more valuable seizures. This is because smugglers bring mainly hard drugs through ports. By weight, the average port inspector seized 8 times more cocaine, 17 times more fentanyl, 23 times more methamphetamine, and 36 times more heroin than the average Border Patrol agent seized at the physical border in early 2018.

Given these trends, a border wall or more Border Patrol agents to stop drugs between ports of entry makes little sense.  State marijuana legalization starting in 2014 did more to reduce marijuana smuggling than the doubling of Border Patrol agents or the construction of hundreds of miles of border fencing did from 2003 to 2009.  As more states — particularly on the East Coast — legalize marijuana in 2019, these trends will only accelerate.  The administration should avoid endangering this success and not prosecute state-legal sellers of marijuana.  This success also provides a model for addressing illegal immigration.  Just as legalization has reduced the incentives to smuggle marijuana illegally, greater legal migration opportunities undercut the incentive to enter illegally.  Congress should recognize marijuana legalization’s success and replicate it for immigration.

December 21, 2018 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 20, 2018

"Mayor de Blasio Calls for Fair Cannabis Legalization That Promotes Equity and Opportunity for All"

Pr607-18The title of this post is the title of this lengthy press release from the office of the Mayor of New York City.  Here are excerpts from the release and links to related documents:

Mayor Bill de Blasio today endorsed the safe and fair legalization of cannabis in New York.  The Mayor also released his Task Force report on Cannabis Legalization, which calls for a strong, public health-focused regulatory framework and the empowerment of local government to prevent corporate greed, foster small businesses and meet the demands of New York City communities.  The report also places great emphasis on the need to ensure that any marijuana industry in New York City right the wrongs of the past and promotes economic opportunity....

The report, A Fair Approach to Marijuana, was produced by the Mayor's Task Force on Cannabis Legalization, which was convened in July 2018 to identify the goals and challenges that should guide the City’s preparations for potential legalization.

The recommendations are centered on local development, equity, public health and a wholesale departure from the failed war on drugs.  These include the automatic expungement of criminal records for conduct that would be legalized – subject to notice and opportunity by District Attorneys’ Offices to raise objections in specific cases; educational resources for youth, educators, consumers, health care workers; the elimination of routine testing as prerequisite to social service benefit eligibility and the prohibition of pre-employment and random testing, with some narrow exceptions.

It also calls for balancing State regulatory structures with local authority to permit licensed consumption sites, determine business density restrictions to avoid over-concentration and allow localities to restrict or prohibit home cultivation. The report also makes recommendations to prevent big business from market domination by instituting a licensing system that would create opportunities for small businesses.

If legalized, the City would seek to:

  • Establish an Equitable Licensing System: Create local licensing programs, regulate public places of consumption, regulate home and commercial cultivation and manufacturing, and regulate home delivery services.
  • Preserve Communities: Establish zoning and area restrictions for cannabis businesses, as well as restrictions on the density to determine how the location of cannabis businesses can best fit into the fabric of its communities.
  • Protect Public Health: Enforce age limits of 21 and over with civil rather than criminal penalties to violations of cannabis regulations to the greatest extent possible consistent with public safety.
  • Right Historic Wrongs: Recommend automatic expungement of criminal records relating to conduct that may be legalized, including personal use and possession of certain quantities – subject to notice and opportunity by District Attorneys’ Offices to raise objections in specific cases.
  • Ensure Product Safety: Recommend statewide standards for product safety, labeling and packaging, marketing, and advertising, as well as a mandatory seed-to-sale tracking system accessible to State and local regulators and financial institutions serving cannabis-related businesses.
  • Put Small Businesses First: Work with State authorities to reduce the risk of market domination by big businesses and foster sustainable growth, in part, by restricting businesses from owning and controlling each stage of the supply chain, which may otherwise be owned by different, specialized businesses.
  • Create Equal Opportunity: Participate in a dual state-local licensing structure that will permit the City to pursue its own innovations to promote economic opportunities created by this new market, subject to the minimum standards set by the State.
  • Ease Access to Capital: Advocate for legislation expressly providing that banking and professional services for cannabis-related businesses do not violate State law.
  • Make Fair Investments: Allocate tax revenue, licensing fees, and other sources of financing to administer the new industry and support cannabis businesses and workers, with a focus on target populations and community reinvestment.
  • Build Local Businesses: Develop an incubator program to provide direct support to equity applicants in the form of counseling services, education, small businesses coaching, and compliance assistance.

To see the entire report of the Mayor's Task Force on Cannabis Legalization, click here. To see a quick cannabis fact sheet, click here.

December 20, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Democrat wing of congressional Joint Economic Committee releases report on "The National Cannabis Economy"

Download (30)This week the Democrats of the US Congress' Joint Economic Committee released this interesting short report titled simply "The National Cannabis Economy." Here is how it gets started and its final passages:

The National Cannabis Economy

Cannabis, or marijuana, is the most commonly used illicit drug in the United States.  Though illegal at the federal level, states are taking action to legalize cannabis — from recreational use in states like Colorado and Maine to medical use in New Mexico and Florida.  A record 66 percent of Americans now support legalizing cannabis, a dramatic increase from just 12 percent in 1969.

The legalization of cannabis has significant implications for state economies, as well as the national economy.  The industry totaled more than $8 billion in sales in 2017, with sales estimated to reach $11 billion this year and $23 billion by 2022.  There were more than 9,000 active licenses for cannabis businesses in the U.S. in 2017, with the industry employing more than 120,000 people.

As more states move to legalize cannabis, these numbers will only continue to rise, potentially providing a new stream of revenue and jobs to local economies.  But to realize these benefits, policymakers must address conflicts between state and federal regulations that impede the growth of the cannabis economy....

Going Forward

There are a variety of proposals to fix the conflicts between state and federal cannabis laws.  Of these proposals, the bipartisan STATES Act has drawn support from President Trump and the cannabis industry.  The STATES Act would amend the Controlled Substances Act so that its provisions no longer apply to individuals acting in accordance with state laws. Importantly, the bill would also clarify that financial transactions with state-legal cannabis businesses are not drug-trafficking, creating a solution for financial institutions and the cannabis industry.  Several states could be next to legalize cannabis.  A bill to legalize cannabis is progressing through the New Jersey legislature, while New York lawmakers are preparing to consider similar legislation this year.  Similarly, newly elected governors in New Mexico, Minnesota, Illinois, and Connecticut have all voiced support for legal cannabis, positioning their states to consider the issue.

Conclusion

The growth of the cannabis economy presents opportunities for greater job creation, more tax revenue, and better patient care.  But current conflicts between state and federal law threaten to impede social and economic growth.  Going forward, lawmakers and regulators should prioritize solutions that promote greater research into the health effects of cannabis and reduce regulations that restrict the industry’s ability to conduct business.

December 20, 2018 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Employment and labor law issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, December 17, 2018

New commentary assails "The Medical Marijuana Delusion"

Download (29)Paul J. Larkin, Jr., who is a senior legal research fellow at the Heritage Foundation’s Meese Center for Legal and Judicial Studies, has this notable new commentary titled "The Medical Marijuana Delusion." I recommend the piece in full, and here are excerpts:

Contemporary society also does not trust the unregulated backyard, in-home, or agricultural production and distribution of medications.  To protect the public against snake-oil salespeople and other charlatans, Congress enacted the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1938 (FDCA), the Drug Amendments of 1962, and scores of complementary laws.  Those statutes are critically important features of today’s public health regulatory programs. They prohibit, using criminal penalties, the distribution of a new drug in interstate commerce, unless the FDA Commissioner has previously found that it is “safe” and “effective” for its intended use. These laws empower FDA to carefully and strictly regulate and oversee the production of medicines intended for human consumption — and drugs cannot be disguised in food to avoid regulation, because FDA regulates food too. Those laws reflect an 80-year consensus that the nation should leave to the professional, scientific judgment of experts — physicians, biochemists, and the like — the question of which drugs can be created and used for therapeutic purposes by educated, trained, and licensed physicians — not “budtenders.”...

To be sure, the belief that marijuana could have legitimate therapeutic benefits has a basis in science.  FDA has found that a few cannabinoids — that is, biologically active constituents of cannabis — can have positive medical benefits, and FDA has approved the manufacture and distribution of synthetic forms of those substances to treat disease, most recently the spasticity caused by rare, severe forms of childhood epilepsy.  There might be other therapeutically useful cannabinoids as well. Regulators and scientists should conduct the necessary research to learn if that is true.

But the states that have authorized marijuana to be smoked for medical purposes have simply taken the law into their own hands.  Since 1996, more than 30 states have permitted marijuana to be smoked for medical purposes, despite the fact that FDA has never approved marijuana for medical use and there is no FDA-approved medicine that is smoked.  The reason is that there are serious, adverse, and undeniable health risks associated with smoking any agricultural product.  Since 1964, U.S. Surgeons General have consistently found that smoking tobacco is dangerous.  Congress finally agreed in 2009 by passing the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which empowers FDA to regulate cigarettes. Smoking marijuana carries many of the same risks as smoking tobacco, so no FDA Commissioner could legitimately treat marijuana in a unique manner.

Much of the debate over marijuana legalization has been misguided — intentionally so.  Legalization’s advocates have urged states to adopt medical marijuana laws to ease the suffering of the afflicted and dying.  In so doing, the medical marijuana movement has played on the compassion that Americans feel toward people about to traverse the River Styx or who are in such pain or distress that they would gladly make that crossing now.  State approval of marijuana for medical purposes, however, is proof that hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

The real question is whether lawmakers should revise federal law to allow marijuana to be used for recreational purposes, just as alcohol and tobacco can be so used today.  If Americans are to honestly debate marijuana use, the debate must be over its utility as a recreational drug, not as medicine, and who should regulate its potential uses — the FDA Commissioner or the U.S. Attorney General.  The United States has followed the wrong approach to marijuana regulation for 80 years.  It is time to get it right.

December 17, 2018 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Saturday, December 15, 2018

"Why are so many countries now saying cannabis is OK?"

MJ-World-Legality-InfographicThe title of this post is the headline of this effective recent piece by John Collins of the London School of Economics written for the BBC. Here are excerpts:

Around the world attitudes towards the use of cannabis are shifting. Mexico's new government plans to legalise recreational cannabis use, as does the incoming government of Luxembourg. Meanwhile, New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is considering a referendum on what its approach should be....

What has led one country after another to move towards a relaxation of their laws and, in many cases, outright legalisation?

It was only in 2012 that Uruguay announced it would be the first country in the world to legalise recreational cannabis use. In large part, the move was aimed at replacing links between organised crime and the cannabis trade with more accountable state regulation.

Later the same year, voters in Washington State and Colorado became the first in the US to support legalisation of the drug for non-medical use. Under President Barack Obama, a critic of the US-led war on drugs, the US government stepped back from enforcing federal laws and effectively gave states a green light to explore alternatives....

The tide has crept across the Americas, with Canada legalising the sale, possession and recreational use of cannabis nationwide in October.

That Mexico will legalise marijuana seems a virtual certainty. The new government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador has introduced a bill that would legalise its medical and recreational use, while the country's supreme court recently ruled an absolute ban on recreational use unconstitutional.

Other countries are pushing ahead. Although the sale of cannabis remains illegal, possession of small amounts is no longer a crime in countries including Brazil, Jamaica and Portugal. In Spain it is legal to use cannabis in private, while the drug is sold openly in coffee shops in the Netherlands. Still more countries allow the use of medicinal cannabis.

Around the world, there are many more countries where change is under way:

In the UK, doctors have been allowed to prescribe cannabis products since November

South Korea has legalised strictly-controlled medical use, despite prosecuting residents for recreational use overseas

A death sentence given to a young man selling cannabis oil has stirred debate about legalisation in Malaysia

South Africa's highest court legalised the use of cannabis by adults in private places

Lesotho became the first African country to legalise the cultivation of marijuana for medicinal purposes

Lebanon is considering the legalisation of cannabis production for medical purposes, to help its economy....

With countries worldwide moving towards some form of legalisation, others are rushing to catch up. Often, as in many parts of Latin America, governments want their farmers to have access to the potentially lucrative medicinal cannabis markets that are developing.

Corporations have also expressed interest. For example, Altria, which owns cigarette brands including Marlboro, has made a $1.86bn (£1.46bn) investment in a Canadian cannabis company. Over time, as the US demonstrates, it is quite possible that the medical trade could quite easily morph into recreational sales - potentially opening up an even bigger market.

One immediate obstacle is that cannabis for recreational purposes cannot be traded across borders. Countries can only import and export medicinal cannabis under a licensing system supervised by the International Narcotics Control Board.

Farmers in countries such as Morocco and Jamaica may have a reputation for producing cannabis, but they can't access markets that domestic producers sometimes struggle to supply - as happened in Canada following legalisation....

Governments that want to move towards legalisation face a challenge: steering a course between uncontrolled legalisation and hard prohibition. Poorly-regulated industry and mind-altering substances are not a combination about which many societies would feel comfortable. But it seems a virtual certainty that more countries will change their approach to cannabis in the coming decades. As such, domestic and international rules will need to catch up.

December 15, 2018 in International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (2)