Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Thursday, August 15, 2019

"Land of the Free, Home of the (Disgruntled) Brave: The Case for Allowing Veterans Access to Medical Marijuana"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper recently posted to SSRN authored by David Haba, a recent graduate of The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.  This paper is the ninth in an on-going series of student papers supported by Drug Enforcement and Policy Center.  (The eight prior papers in this series are linked below.)  Here is this latest paper's abstract:

Approximately 30 percent of post-9/11 veterans have been diagnosed with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  Over half of U.S. veterans struggle with chronic pain, and approximately 22 veterans commit suicide every day in America.  For veterans currently seeking medical treatment through Veteran Affairs (VA), 50 percent of PTSD patients cannot tolerate or do not adequately respond to existing treatments of opioids, anti-anxiety, and anti-depressant medications.  While an overwhelming majority of veterans, about 83%, support the use medical marijuana, they remain unable to obtain their preferred course of treatment (or financial assistance for it) through the VA because the federal government prohibits VA health care providers from recommending MMJ.

This paper argues that veterans, especially those with PTSD, should be able to obtain a recommendation, and financial assistance, for medical marijuana from the VA. This is especially true in states with legal medical marijuana programs.  Veterans have recently been calling on lawmakers to help them in their time of need as they battle hosts of ailments such as PTSD, chronic pain, and opioid addiction.   The government's current policy, which has allowed thirty-three states to enact legal medical marijuana programs, yet does not allow veterans to obtain a MMJ recommendation from the VA, nor obtain financial assistance for this medication, is unacceptable.  This paper calls on researchers to continue to enhance our understanding of MMJ's effects on PTSD, and for lawmakers to step up and do the right thing — to give the veterans the medicinal treatment that they want, need, and deserve for laying it all out on the line for our freedoms.

Prior student papers in this series:

August 15, 2019 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 29, 2019

"Cannabis Has Big Law Seeing Green, but the Am Law 50 Are Skipping the Party"

The title of this post is the title of this notable lengthy American Lawyer article, which has this subheadline: "Law firms are rushing to open cannabis practices as the industry booms, including many among the Am Law 200. Why is the top tier taking a pass?". Because I am a lawyer and law professor who teaching on cannabis law, I am very interested in any and all stories at the intersection of the cannabis industry and the legal industry. Here are excerpts from this one:

Jonathan Robbins starts his day early. By 6 a.m., he’s on his home office computer scanning emails, and then he hits the hot sheets—dozens of newsletters from attorneys, advocacy groups, legislators and associations focused on the cannabis business. And there is a lot to read.

Robbins, who chairs the cannabis practice at Akerman, believes that when he began to collect clients in the industry back in 2013, he was one of the first Big Law attorneys to practice cannabis law in the United States. “Back when I first started practicing, I went to a conference in Vegas called MJBizCon,” he says. “At the time, it was just a bunch of guys selling nice bongs. This year, there were 28,000 people there.”

One thing has remained consistent through that time, however, even as state after state has legalized marijuana in some form, fueling an estimated $10 billion industry: According to the U.S. government, cannabis is a Schedule I narcotic, putting it in the same ­category as heroin, cocaine and methamphetamines. It is a controlled substance and is illegal on a federal level.

That presents a series of problems for law firms seeking to advise and profit from clients that are involved in a criminal enterprise — at least as far as the federal government is concerned. While more than two dozen Am Law 200 firms have launched formal cannabis practices in the last decade, no Am Law 50 firms are among them. Those that publicly embrace the practice tend to have a clientele consisting largely of midmarket companies — and Wall Street law firms are still conspicuously absent.

Cannabis clients have one concern above all others, Robbins says: “banking and merchant services.” The drug’s complex legal status has created a paradox. It is both driving the growth of cannabis practices within law firms and holding them back from reaching their full potential....

Most major U.S. law firms have done some work in the cannabis space at this point, and according to Morgan Fox, media relations director at the National Cannabis Industry Association, the stigma around having a cannabis practice is virtually gone—at least for small to medium firms. But the largest firms still don’t advertise it. Searching their websites reveals snippets of work done but nothing that could be considered a formalized practice.

Robbins believes there is still a more conservative bent to larger firms, which have more to lose if a client skirts legality or something goes sideways as a result of regulatory changes. Akerman did a great deal of due diligence on the potential exposure of dealing with plant-touching clients. The firm concluded it was a risk worth taking, he says....

From Robbins’ perspective, it may be a good thing that larger firms aren’t suddenly pushing ahead. “Bigger firms dipping their toes into it without having the regulatory expertise could cause problems both for the firm and the client,” he says.

There are some firms just outside the Am Law 50, like Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton, which announced a formalized 70-attorney practice in May, that are actively looking to raise the profile of their cannabis practices. But they are doing it slowly. Sheppard Mullin’s practice head, Whitney Hodges, says that although the firm made the effort to formalize its practice, it isn’t in a position to discuss financial expectations.

Some smaller firms are quite happy with the fees generated by the industry. Joshua Horn, partner and co-chair of the cannabis practice at Fox Rothschild, says that in the three years since his firm formalized its practice after dabbling in the space for years, it has gone from zero cannabis-related revenue to a multimillion-dollar practice that he expects to keep growing.

Seth Goldberg, a partner at Duane Morris and team lead of its cannabis practice, concurs. He expects the practice to expand, bolstered by the constellation of practice areas the industry touches and projections that the market could grow to $50 billion in the next decade. His firm has been pleased with its revenue results since formalizing the practice in January 2017, though he declined to share them.

Zane Gilmer, a partner in the cannabis practice at Stinson, believes the industry will grow, but his firm does not have an accounting system that measures the exact amount of money the practice is bringing in. The firm’s practice, he says, is more about servicing existing clients that have started to do business with entities dealing with cannabis. His own work focuses, in part, on advising financial institutions that are planning on dealing with companies in the cannabis space. It’s a bit of a gray area.

Although Gilmer says he has been doing work that relates to the cannabis industry since his arrival at Stinson in 2014, the firm didn’t formalize its official practice until last year, and he still sees a lot of room for maturity both in the emerging industry and those who service it. But there’s enough business to necessitate its own practice arm.

July 29, 2019 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Senate hearing on marijuana industry banking issues reveals continued challenges for federal reforms

Many folks seemed quite excited by the Senate Banking Committee's decision to hold this hearing today, titled “Challenges for Cannabis and Banking: Outside Perspectives,” to discuss the SAFE Banking Act and related issues concerning the banking problems that face the marijuana industry. But just the headlines of two press reports on the hearing suggest my persistent pessimism about the short-term prospects for federal marijuana reforms remains justified:

From The Hill: "Pot banking bill supporters seek path to passage in skeptical Senate"

From CNBC: "Senate cannabis hearing shows challenges to rewriting pot laws despite growing support in Congress"

Both articles provide a helpful review of the hearing, and here is how the CNBC piece gets started:

A much-hyped congressional hearing on easing cannabis banking restrictions served as a reminder Tuesday that reforming pot laws remains an uphill battle in Congress despite growing bipartisan support among lawmakers.

The Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs hosted a hearing titled “Challenges for Cannabis and Banking: Outside Perspectives.” Lawmakers, industry executives and advocates testified on the challenges cannabis companies face trying to get basic banking services in states where medical or recreational marijuana is legal. They urged lawmakers to change federal laws to give the budding industry access to traditional financial services.

One piece of legislation, the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, would allow banks, credit unions and other financial institutions to work with the cannabis industry. Some think it could pass because it’s narrowly focused on banking and not other sticky issues like decriminalizing or legalizing pot.

But Tuesday’s hearing showed just how hard getting the bill through the Senate would be. Aside from committee chairman Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, none of the Republican committee members attended the hearing.

July 23, 2019 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

New Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act envisions creating a Cannabis Justice Office

Download (5)I was pleased to hear reports about, and then see an email describing, a notable new federal marijuana reform bill being proposed by notable federal officials.   The email from the House Judiciary Democratic Press was titled "Nadler & Harris Introduce Comprehensive Marijuana Reform Legislation."  Here are excerpts:

Today, U.S. Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY-10), Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris (D-CA)  introduced the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, one of the most comprehensive marijuana reform bills ever introduced in the U.S. Congress.

“Despite the legalization of marijuana in states across the country, those with criminal convictions for marijuana still face second class citizenship. Their vote, access to education, employment, and housing are all negatively impacted,” said Chairman Nadler. “Racially motivated enforcement of marijuana laws has disproportionally impacted communities of color. It’s past time to right this wrong nationwide and work to view marijuana use as an issue of personal choice and public health, not criminal behavior. I’m proud to sponsor the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level, remove the needless burden of marijuana convictions on so many Americans, and invest in communities that have been disproportionately harmed by the war on drugs. I want to acknowledge the partnership in developing this legislation with my colleagues, Rep. Barbara Lee and Rep. Earl Blumenauer, Co-Chairs of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, as well as the contributions of Rep. Hakeem Jeffries and Rep. Nydia Velazquez.”

“Times have changed — marijuana should not be a crime,” said Sen. Harris. “We need to start regulating marijuana, and expunge marijuana convictions from the records of millions of Americans so they can get on with their lives. As marijuana becomes legal across the country, we must make sure everyone — especially communities of color that have been disproportionately impacted by the War on Drugs — has a real opportunity to participate in this growing industry. I am thrilled to work with Chairman Nadler on this timely and important step toward racial and economic justice.”

The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act aims to correct the historical injustices of failed drug policies that have disproportionately impacted communities of color and low-income communities by requiring resentencing and expungement of prior convictions.  This will create new opportunities for individuals as they work to advance their careers, education, and overall quality of life.  Immigrants will also benefit from the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, as they will no longer be subject to deportation or citizenship denial based on even a minor marijuana offense. The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act also ensures that all benefits in the law are available to juvenile offenders.

The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act:

  • Decriminalizes marijuana at the federal level by removing the substance from the Controlled Substances Act. This applies retroactively to prior and pending convictions, and enables states to set their own policy.
  • Requires federal courts to expunge prior convictions, allows prior offenders to request expungement, and requires courts, on motion, to conduct re-sentencing hearings for those still under supervision.
  • Authorizes the assessment of a 5% sales tax on marijuana and marijuana products to create an Opportunity Trust Fund, which includes three grant programs:
    • The Community Reinvestment Grant Program: Provides services to the individuals most adversely impacted by the War on Drugs, including job training, re-entry services, legal aid, literacy programs, youth recreation, mentoring, and substance use treatment.  
    • The Cannabis Opportunity Grant Program: Provides funds for loans to assist small businesses in the marijuana industry that are owned and controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals.
    • The Equitable Licensing Grant Program: Provides funds for programs that minimize barriers to marijuana licensing and employment for the individuals most adversely impacted by the War on Drugs.
  • Opens up Small Business Administration funding for legitimate cannabis-related businesses and service providers.
  • Provides non-discrimination protections for marijuana use or possession, and for prior convictions for a marijuana offense:
    • Prohibits the denial of any federal public benefit (including housing) based on the use or possession of marijuana, or prior conviction for a marijuana offense.
    • Provides that the use or possession of marijuana, or prior conviction for a marijuana offense, will have no adverse impact under the immigration laws.
  • Requires the Bureau of Labor Statistics to collect data on the demographics of the industry to ensure people of color and those who are economically disadvantaged are participating in the industry.

Along with Nadler and Harris, co-sponsors of the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act include U.S. Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Ron Wyden (D-OR); in the U.S. House of Representatives, cosponsors Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Co-Chairs of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, and Hakeem S. Jeffries (D-NY) and Nydia M. Velazquez (D-NY), were particularly instrumental in developing this bill.  Other House cosponsors include Matt Gaetz (R-FL), David Cicilline (D-RI), Steve Cohen (D-TN), J. Luis Correa (D-CA), Madeleine Dean (D-PA), Theodore E. Deutch (D-FL), Veronica Escobar (D-TX), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Henry C. “Hank” Johnson, Jr. (D-GA), Ted Lieu (D-CA), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Jamie Raskin (D-MA), Eric Swalwell (D-CA), Dwight Evans (D-PA), Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), Debra A. Haaland (D-NM), Ro Khanna (D-CA), James P. McGovern (D-MA), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Maxine Waters (D-CA), and Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ). 

The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act has the support of a broad coalition of civil rights, criminal justice, drug policy, and immigration groups, including: the Drug Policy Alliance, Center for American Progress, 4thMVMT, ACLU, California Minority Alliance, Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), Human Rights Watch, Immigrant Legal Resource Center, Law Enforcement Action Partnership, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls, National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), Sentencing Project, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, UndocuBlack Network, Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA).

The full text of the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act is available at this link, and I especially what to note that Section 5 of the bill includes a provision for establishing within the federal "Office of Justice Programs a Cannabis Justice Office." In my 2018 article, "Leveraging Marijuana Reform to Enhance Expungement Practices," I make the case for using marijuana revenues to help build an institutional infrastructure for helping to remediate the various harms from the war on drugs.  Though this proposed Cannabis Justice Office is not exactly what I had in mind, I am really excited to see any major reform bill focus on creating a justice infrastructure for continued emphasis on justice and equity issues.

July 23, 2019 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Spotlighting the key congressional gatekeepers controlling path for federal marijuana reform

With new marijuana-related hearings taking place this summer in both the House and Senate and with new bills being proposed and reform talk afoot, it might seem like significant federal marijuana reform could occur any day now.  But, usefully, this new Rolling Stone article provides an oft-needed reminder of who really decides whether and when any legislative proposals will advance.  The piece is headlined "Three Republicans Stand in the Way of Federal Weed Legalization: There’s finally bipartisan support for cannabis legislation — but unless it can get past a small group of Republican senators, the bills will continue to fizzle," and here are excerpts:

Democrat lobbyist... Saphira Galoob was [at lunch] to talk about cannabis legalization with Republican lobbyist Don Murphy. Over sweet potato fries, Murphy — a former GOP state representative in Maryland who has been working in marijuana policy for over 15 years — and Galoob traded war stories about advocating for cannabis on Capitol Hill, where, as Murphy explains, public opinion only goes so far....  [P]ublic and bipartisan support are not enough for full marijuana legalization, says Galoob. “We are still in a situation where the temperature within the Republican Party conference — within the leadership — is not yet signaling that it’s OK.”

The circle of people on Capitol Hill who will decide if cannabis legislation passes is actually pretty small.  There are three names that are continually listed — by lobbyists, advocates, and lawmakers — as the gatekeepers to any federal cannabis legislation: Republican Senators Mike Crapo (ID), Lindsey Graham (SC), and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY).  They make decisions about which cannabis bills — if any — the Senate in Congress will have opportunity to vote on this session.

“I used to think that in civics, in government, you need 50 percent plus one to pass legislation,” Murphy says.  “Not exactly. You need one, plus 50 percent.”  That one, says Murphy, is a committee chairman. In order to get a bill to the floor for a full Senate vote, it must first pass the House, then get seen by a Senate committee.  However, there are absolutely no guarantees that a committee will ever hear a bill.  That’s completely up to the committee chairman.

Senators Crapo and Graham are chairmen of the Senate Banking and Senate Judiciary committees, respectively — the two committees that have the highest chance of seeing standalone cannabis legislation in this congress.

Take, for example, the SAFE Banking Act, which is expected to pass the House by a strong margin.  But because the bill deals with banking, it will have to pass through the Senate Banking Committee, which has been led by Crapo since 2016....  Until very recently, the chairman and his office avoided taking a hard stance on the SAFE Banking Act by arguing that cannabis’ Schedule I status on the Controlled Substances Act should be dealt with first. But on July 16th, a hearing popped up on the Banking Committee calendar titled “Challenges for Cannabis and Banking: Outside Perspectives,” to be held in late July. Sen. Crapo’s Senate Banking committee, turns out, has scheduled a hearing on the SAFE Banking Act, officially pulling it into the Senate sphere of influence before it has even formally passed through the House of Representatives.

While that is good news for pro-SAFE Banking advocates and a big step forward for the bill itself, the story is far from over.  The bill still needs a vote — called a “markup” — scheduled, it needs to pass that committee vote, and then it moves on, most likely, to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The situation in the Judiciary Committee, where Sen. Lindsey Graham is chairman, is similar to banking.  Most cannabis bills — not just the banking bill — would have to pass his committee before being considered in the full Senate, because they involve the Controlled Substances Act, which is overseen by the Department of Justice.

Sen. Graham’s track record on marijuana is mostly cold.  He co-sponsored the medical marijuana-focused CARERS Act of 2015, which would have re-scheduled marijuana and given added protections to states that legalized marijuana.  But since then, Graham has voted against other bills such as the SAFE Banking Amendment — which have been tacked onto different appropriations bills multiple times over the years.  Graham told Roll Call in April that he is “not very excited about” the SAFE Banking Act, and in 2016 told POLITICO Magazine he rejects recreational marijuana.  His scorecard on marijuana advocacy group NORML’s website gives him a “C” grade.

What he would do if cannabis legislation is sent to his committee is unclear.  Most advocates don’t think Graham is motivated to hear standalone marijuana legislation unless there was additional pressure on him from GOP leadership....  Even if a cannabis bill passes a Senate committee in this congress, though, that doesn’t necessarily mean it will make it to a vote. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell holds the keys to the Senate chamber, and he only brings bills to the floor that he personally wants passed.  Though he worked hard last year to legalize hemp – Kentucky has a long history of farming industrial hemp, and McConnell was looking for a way to help the state’s economy — he’s said he will not consider descheduling cannabis.... 

Some advocates believe that the majority leader could be swayed if a cannabis bill could also help the hemp industry.  Right now, some hemp farmers are still having issues opening bank accounts or accessing other programs that should be legal for them, because to the untrained eye, full-spectrum cannabis and hemp look incredibly similar.  The difference between legality and classification as a Schedule I drug is in how much CBD and THC the plant possesses, and banks don’t want to be held liable if a hemp company grows a crop with too much CBD or any THC.  So many banks and credit card companies are avoid working with the hemp industry entirely.  At a tour of a Kentucky hemp facility earlier this month, McConnel himself acknowledged the service gap, saying the banks “need to be convinced, and we hope to explain it to them.”

If the SAFE Banking Act was passed, it would arguably give hemp – which Sen. McConnell worked hard to make legal for his state – some breathing room.  Republican Cory Gardner, one of the more influential GOP members on this topic, is optimistic. “I think we’re making more progress than we’ve ever had,” he says.

When asked about the chances for cannabis legislation in the Senate, Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon said he believes the SAFE Banking Act — and potentially other cannabis legislation — has the votes to pass. “It would help a lot to have the support of leadership in this chamber,” he says. “If there’s no obstruction, if we have a free chance to have a debate on the floor, I think we can get the sixty votes and pass it.”

If no cannabis legislation is passed by the time a new congress arrives in January of 2021, the whole process — introducing bills, committee hearings and votes, House votes, Senate votes, etc — will have to start over at square one.

July 18, 2019 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 11, 2019

"Tribal Cannabis: Balancing Tribal Sovereignty and Cooperative Enforcement"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper recently posted to SSRN authored by Patricia Danielle Cortez, a recent graduate of The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.  This paper is the eighth in an on-going series of student papers supported by Drug Enforcement and Policy Center.  (The first seven  papers in this series are linked below.)  Here is this latest paper's abstract:

The cannabis industry remains a difficult space to navigate for Native Americans both because of the continued federal ban on cannabis and the extra layer of laws and regulations on tribal land, as well as the potential for continued stigma arising from their involvement in an industry that was until recently considered illegal at all levels of government.  Because of the complex jurisdictional circumstances which arise within tribal land, tribes are left with pioneering strategies on implementing a successful cannabis business alone – whether that be growing, wholesaling, selling on tribal land, or all three.  At the same time, Native American tribes have many competitive advantages – they have water rights and access to power, they own land, and they have a historical and cultural tie to cannabis and natural healing. 

This article discusses several short term and long term steps that Native American tribes should undertake once a state in which a tribe is located legalizes medical marijuana in order to ready themselves to take advantage of an economic opportunity in the form of a cannabis industry should it arise including gaining community support and amending tribal codes, establishing a compact and setting up protections from outside investors, and seek long term legislative fixes such as opt-out provisions in the CSA.

Prior student papers in this series:

July 11, 2019 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

On eve of congressional marijuana reform hearing, major policy groups form new Marijuana Justice Coalition

6a00d8341bfae553ef0223c85155dc200c-320wiAs reported in this Marijuana Moment piece, headlined "ACLU And Other Groups Form Coalition To Push Justice-Focused Marijuana Legalization Model," a notable new alliance has come together to press for federal marijuana reform.  Here are the basics:

Ten leading civil rights and criminal justice reform groups announced on Tuesday the formation of a coalition to advocate that marijuana legalization legislation must be comprehensive and include wide-ranging social equity provisions.

Members of the Marijuana Justice Coalition (MJC) include the ACLU, Center for American Progress, Center for Law and Social Policy, Drug Policy Alliance, Human Rights Watch, Immigrant Legal Resource Center, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Leadership Conference on Civil & Human Rights, NORML and Students for Sensible Drug Policy.

Noting that the congressional conversation around cannabis has shifted from whether to legalize to how to legalize, MJC said in its announcement that any reform effort should include a series of measures that focus on investing in communities disproportionately harmed by prohibition, encouraging participation in the industry by impacted individuals, expunging the records of those with prior marijuana convictions and ensuring that work in a legal market doesn’t impact citizenship applications.

“Ending prohibition on the federal level presents a unique and desperately needed opportunity to rightfully frame legalization as an issue of criminal justice reform, equity, racial justice, economic justice, and empowerment, particularly for communities most targeted by over-enforcement of marijuana laws,” MJC wrote. “As Congress considers the end of marijuana prohibition, the Marijuana Justice Coalition believes that any legislation that moves forward in Congress should be comprehensive.”

That comprehensive approach should involve descheduling cannabis and advancing criminal justice reform provisions such as expungements and resentencing, MJC said. The group also called for “eliminating barriers to access to public benefits (e.g. nutrition assistance, public housing, etc.) and other collateral consequences related to an individual’s marijuana use or previous arrest or conviction” and “eliminating unnecessarily discriminatory elements for marijuana use, arrests and convictions, including drug testing for public benefits or marijuana use as a reason for separating children from their biological families in the child welfare system.”

Queen Adesuyi, policy coordinator at the Drug Policy Alliance’s national affairs office, said the coalition was formed “with the goal of reforming federal marijuana laws, but doing so in a way that gives back to the communities most impacted by the war on drugs.”...

“Since the scheduling of marijuana as a Controlled Substance in 1970, over 20 million Americans have been unjustly arrested or incarcerated,” Justin Strekal, political director of NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “Entire communities have lost generations of citizens to cyclical poverty and incarceration that resulted from the collateral consequences of having a cannabis-related conviction on their record.”...

Tuesday’s announcement from MJC and its influential members is especially timely. On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security Subcommittee will hold a hearing on marijuana reform that’s expected to explore many of the social equity and racial justice issues identified in MJC’s priority list. While the panel may well consider the bipartisan Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act among other bills, it seems unlikely MJC will be inclined to offer its support for that specific legislation because it lacks social equity provisions.

The full "Statement of Principles on Federal Marijuana Reform" from this coalition can be found at this link. Here are a few paragraphs from that two-page statement before it turns to specifics:

Ending prohibition on the federal level presents a unique and desperately needed opportunity to rightfully frame legalization as an issue of criminal justice reform, equity, racial justice, economic justice, and empowerment, particularly for communities most targeted by over-enforcement of marijuana laws.

As Congress considers the end of marijuana prohibition, the Marijuana Justice Coalition believes that any legislation that moves forward in Congress should be comprehensive. The provisions set forth below are agreed upon by the undersigned criminal justice, drug policy, civil rights, and anti-poverty groups as principles that should be considered as a part of any moving marijuana reform efforts in Congress.

Relatedly, Kyle Jaeger at Marijuana Moment also has this lengthy preview of today's congressional hearing on marijuana reform headlined "The Debate Over How, Not Whether, Congress Should Legalize Marijuana Is Heating Up."

Related prior post:

US House Subcommittee hearing scheduled on "Marijuana Laws in America: Racial Justice and the Need for Reform"

July 10, 2019 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 8, 2019

US House Subcommittee hearing scheduled on "Marijuana Laws in America: Racial Justice and the Need for Reform"

WashingtonDC-Capitol-MarijuanaI am quite intrigued and pleased that this week the US House of Representatives has scheduled a hearing titled "Marijuana Laws in America: Racial Justice and the Need for Reform."  The official notice of the hearing is here, and the event will be conducted by the Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security Subcommittee of the Committee of the Judiciary and will take place on Wednesday, July 10, 2019 at 10:00am in Room 2141 of the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington DC.

Based solely on the title given to this hearing, I would expected it to be focused principally on racial disparities in arrests and on other racialized aspects of the enforcement of marijuana prohibitions.   But the official witness list for the hearing shows that two of the four scheduled witnesses are doctors while another is the CEO of the Cannabis Trade Federation.   One scheduled witness who does work in the criminal justice, Marilyn Mosby, the chief prosecutor for Baltimore City, surely can and will speak to racial justice issue in the application of marijuana laws.  But I am not entirely sure the other witnesses will be focused on racial justice specifically or just the need for reform generally.

Kyle Yeager at Marijuana Moment has this helpful review of what we might expect from the witnesses and the significance of this event.  Here are excerpts:

Given the backgrounds of these individuals, it seems apparent that committee members will be discussing not whether the U.S. should end federal cannabis prohibition, but will focus primarily on how to do it.

Witnesses [will] include Malik Burnett, a physician at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health who previously served as the Washington, D.C. policy manager at the Drug Policy Alliance’s Office of National Affairs, where he helped lead a successful ballot initiative campaign to legalize cannabis in the nation’s capital in 2014.

Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, who announced in January that her office would no longer prosecute cannabis possession cases and would work to clear the records of certain individuals with prior marijuana convictions, is also being invited to testify.

David Nathan, a physician and board president of the pro-legalization group Doctors for Cannabis Regulation (DFCR), will also appear before the committee. He told Marijuana Moment that he looks “forward to discussing the evidence-based health effects of cannabis, the failure of prohibition, the inadequacy of decriminalization, and the public health and social justice benefits of effective regulation.”...

Finally, Neal Levine, CEO of Cannabis Trade Federation, will be the minority witness—which is noteworthy in and of itself, as Levine advocates for legalization, while one might expect the minority Republican party to invite someone who shares an opposing perspective on ending prohibition. “I cannot comment on what has not been announced publicly by the committee, but I would welcome the opportunity to share the perspective of our members,” Levine, who previously served as a staffer for the Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment. “We are especially well positioned to discuss the challenges arising from the inconsistency between state and federal cannabis laws.”...

While lawmakers aren’t expected to vote on any particular bill at the hearing, it will nonetheless be one of the most significant congressional developments on marijuana reform to date.

July 8, 2019 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Spotlighting (and following) the social equity and justice provisions in new Illinois "Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act"

As everyone likely knows by now, Illinois this week became the eleventh state to fully legalize adult use of marijuana and the first state to do so with regulated sales through the regular legislative process.  But what I did not full realize until reading this local press article, headlined "Countdown begins to Jan. 1 after Pritzker signs bill making marijuana legal in Illinois," are all the particulars of the major social equity and justice provisions in the new law.  Here are the basics:

The most unusual and far-reaching aspect of the bill is its “social equity” component.  It calls for 25% of tax money for grants to fund neighborhood improvement projects in poor minority areas.  Proposals are to be chosen by a board led by Lt. Gov. Julianna Stratton.

In addition, anyone with a marijuana arrest for under 30 grams would have the case automatically cleared, while the governor will pardon convictions for up to 30 grams. Prosecutors and individuals may petition the courts to expunge convictions for amounts between 30 and 500 grams.

The state will also provide lower licensing fees, low-interest loans and preference in awarding licenses to social equity applicants, defined as those from areas most affected by the war on drugs, or having criminal records eligible for expungement.

“What we are doing here is about reparations,” state Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth, a Democrat from Peoria, said. “Black and brown people have been put at the very center of this policy.”

Regular readers know that I think marijuana reform can and should be an impactful form of criminal justice reform, and I have authored an article, "Leveraging Marijuana Reform to Enhance Expungement Practices," which urges jurisdictions to earmark a portion of marijuana revenues to devote to improving the criminal justice system.  In my article, I specifically advocate for the creation of a new criminal justice institution, which I call a Commission on Justice Restoration, to be funded by the taxes, fees and other revenues generated by marijuana reforms and to be tasked with proactively working on policies and practices designed to minimize and ameliorate undue collateral consequences for all people with past criminal convictions.  Though Illinois has not quite created a new criminal justice infrastructure through its "Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act," it merits a good star in my book for achieving more on this front than any other jurisdiction to date.

But, as wise folks say in a variety of settings, effective implementation of the law can often be even more important than its initial reform.  Anyone and everyone seriously interesting in social equity and justice should be seriously interested in following how this law plays out in the months and years ahead.

Prior related posts:

June 26, 2019 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Race Based Statutes at Play with Cannabis: Cultivating a Process for Weeding Out the Competition"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper recently posted to SSRN authored by Tyrus Hudson.  This paper is the seventh in an on-going series of student papers supported by Drug Enforcement and Policy Center.  (The first six  papers in this series are linked below.)  Here is this latest paper's abstract:

The ongoing battle between federal and state cannabis laws have created a perplexing realm of ambiguity for legislatures tasked with establishing drug policy.  In the midst of this intricate conflict lies another issue that is wreaking havoc throughout the legalized cannabis marketplace.  With federal and state governments failing to administer concrete guidance by virtue of lacking to establish policies which govern concurrently and in a harmonious manner, laws have been enforced on both the federal and state levels, that are negatively impacting various minority groups and their potential to capitalize on the multibillion-dollar cannabis industry.

This article will examine the arguments for, and against, current and proposed legislation that impacts licensure for minority groups trying to enter the legalized cannabis marketplace.  Particularly, this article will address the primary obstacles that most negatively affect minorities and the specific role that each barrier has played in preventing minority entrepreneurs from becoming business owners and seizing the opportunity to cash in on this new lucratively flourishing agricultural business that is taking the nation by storm.  While not much research has been conducted on the topic of minority business owners obtaining licenses to operate in the legalized cannabis market, the primary goal of this article is to stimulate dialogue and encourage further research into the impact that legalizing cannabis is having on minority business owners trying to establish themselves as legitimate participants in this up-and-coming industry.

Prior student papers in this series:

June 26, 2019 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Illinois officially now the eleventh US state to legalize marijuana for adult use

Though it was nearly a month ago that the Illinois legislature passed a full legalization bill, it was only today that Gov JB Pritzker signed this marijuana legalization bill into law.  This new Vox piece provides some of the particulars and context (as well as an updated marijuana reform map):

Illinois just became the 11th state to legalize marijuana — and the first where the legislature legalized selling the drug. Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who advocated for legalization in his 2018 campaign, signed a marijuana legalization bill on Tuesday. The legislature had sent the bill to him in May.

Illinois’s marijuana legalization law will allow recreational possession and sales starting on January 1, 2020, creating a new system of taxes and regulations.  Adults 21 and older will be allowed to possess and buy cannabis, although tourists in Illinois will be allowed to buy less than state residents.  Cities and counties may prohibit sales, but not possession, within their borders. Personal growing will only be fully legal for medical use.  Previous low-level convictions and arrests for marijuana will be pardoned and expunged.

The law will go into effect on January 1, 2020.  The state previously allowed marijuana for medical purposes.  Marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, with federal law classifying cannabis as a Schedule 1 substance with no medical value and a high potential for misuse.  But the federal government has generally taken a hands-off approach toward state laws loosening access to the drug.

Ten other states and Washington, DC, have legalized marijuana.  But Vermont (which also legalized through its legislature) and DC have not yet allowed sales.  Besides Vermont and now Illinois, states have legalized through ballot initiatives. Several other states, including New York and New Jersey, have considered legalization in their legislatures this year, but the proposals have so far failed to pass despite support from the governors in those states.

Prior related post:

Illinois poised to become first big state to legalize adult use/recreational marijuana via traditional legislation

June 25, 2019 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 13, 2019

New Gallup poll (imperfectly) explores reasons Americans support or oppose marijuana reform

Gallup has this new story reporting on the results of its recent intriguing poll about marijuana reform under the headline "In U.S., Medical Aid Top Reason Why Legal Marijuana Favored."  Here are excerpts:

As public support for legalizing marijuana has surged, a new Gallup poll finds 86% of U.S. supporters of legal marijuana saying its medicinal benefits are a very important reason they support legalization.  Majorities also say freeing up police resources to focus on other crimes, respecting people's personal freedom, and generating tax revenue for state and local governments are key reasons for their support.

Marijuana legalization supporters are less likely to say that increasing the drug's safety through government regulation or believing that marijuana is not harmful are very important reasons they hold the opinion they do.

The results are based on a May 15-30 Gallup poll that sought to explore some of the reasons behind Americans' opinions for, or against, making marijuana legal. Gallup has documented a sharp increase in the percentage of Americans favoring legal marijuana in the past decade, from 44% in 2009 to 64% in the current survey. Gallup has measured support as high as 66% in an October 2018 update. In 1969, the first time Gallup polled on the issue, just 12% were in favor of legalizing marijuana.

For the most part, different subgroups of marijuana legalization advocates are similar in their stated reasons for supporting legal marijuana.  One modest difference concerns the importance of tax revenue for state and local governments, something that 63% of male supporters versus 50% of female supporters regard as very important.

The roughly one-third of Americans who oppose legalization were asked to say how important each of six factors is to their position on the issue.  Foremost among these is the possibility of increased car accidents involving drivers who use marijuana -- 79% say this is a very important reason they oppose legalizing the drug.

Additionally, at least six in 10 opponents rate three other factors as very important reasons behind their objections: the possibility that marijuana users would try stronger and more addictive drugs; the potential for marijuana usage to increase; and that legalizing marijuana would not benefit society much.  A slim majority of opponents cite its potential harm to users....

The most compelling reason for legalization, according to those who hold that position, is the help it gives to those who use it for medicinal purposes. Also, supporters tend to point to the possible benefits legal pot would have on law enforcement, state and local governments, and personal freedom.  A "lack of harm" for users does not appear to a be a major reason why people want marijuana legalized.

Opponents, though smaller in number, point more to the societal risks, including those related to car accidents and marijuana users trying more potent drugs that likely would have a greater societal cost for those who become addicted.

Though these poll results are interesting (and not all that surprising), it is somewhat disappointing that the questions exploring support for and opposition to marijuana reform were not more refined.  In particular, given concerns about the "war on drug" and its racial skew, I would have liked to seen more "support" questions focused on various criminal justice reform concerns.  Similarly, the opposition questions did not explore widespread concerns about increasing youth access to and use of marijuana.  Some of the existing questions get near to these topics, but I suspect more or more refined questions would have impacted the outcomes.

June 13, 2019 in Polling data and results, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 6, 2019

SAM releases latest big report on "Lessons Learned from State Marijuana Legalization"

The leading national group opposed to modern marijuana reform, Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), has this big new report titled "Lessons Learned from State Marijuana Legalization"  Here is the short "Executive Highlights" from the start of the report:

Today’s highly potent marijuana represents a growing and significant threat to public health and safety, a threat that is amplified by a new marijuana industry intent on profiting from heavy use.

State laws allowing marijuana sales and consumption have permitted the marijuana industry to flourish, and in turn, the marijuana industry has influenced both policies and policy-makers.  While the consequences of these policies will not be known for decades, early indicators are troubling.

This report, reviewed by prominent scientists and researchers, serves as an evidence-based guide to what we currently observe in various states.  We attempted to highlight studies from all the “legal” marijuana states (i.e., states that have legalized the non-medical use of marijuana).  Unfortunately, data does not exist for several “legal” states, and so this document synthesizes the latest research on marijuana impacts in states where information is available.

Disappointingly, this report does not cover data comprehensively on any single topic from any one state nor does it effectively detail similar data across a number of states.  Rather, as seems common with SAM reports, this latest report focuses on the most troublesome data from a few states to make the case that marijuana reform is creating big problems.  In this way, the report serves as a good review of some of the strongest "data talking points" against marijuana reform, but it does not really provide a sound basis to reach sound conclusions about what lessons should be learned from modern marijuana reforms.

June 6, 2019 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Spotlighting former congressional leader John Boehner (and his cohorts) following the marijuana money

1541019214-screen_shot_2018-10-31_at_1.52.43_pmThe New York Times has this notable new account of the work of the former US House Speaker as salesman for marijuana reform.  The front-page lengthy piece, headlined "John Boehner: From Speaker of the House to Cannabis Pitchman," is an interesting read and here are a few excerpts:

John A. Boehner, the former speaker of the House, once stood second in line for the presidency and staunchly against legalized marijuana.  Now you can find the longtime Republican standing before a wall-size photo of the Capitol, making an online infomercial pitch for the cannabis industry.  “This is one of the most exciting opportunities you’ll ever be part of,” Mr. Boehner says in an endlessly streaming video for the National Institute for Cannabis Investors.  “Frankly, we can help you make a potential fortune.”

Mr. Boehner’s pro-weed epiphany coincides with the prospect of a payday as high as $20 million from the industry he once so vigorously opposed.  He sits on the board of Acreage Holdings, a marijuana investment firm whose sale to a cannabis industry giant hinges on Mr. Boehner’s ability to persuade Congress and the federal government to legalize, or at least legitimize, marijuana.

The chain-smoking, merlot-sipping, former 12-term congressman from Ohio says he had never lit a joint in his life when he and the former Massachusetts governor William F. Weld, now a Republican candidate for president, joined Acreage’s board last year.  This year, Acreage announced plans to sell itself to Canopy Growth, a Canadian company that is the biggest cannabis holding in the world.  The deal, worth around $3 billion, based on current stock prices for both Acreage and Canopy, would create an $18 billion behemoth, industry analysts say.  Buried deep in a financial filing from Nov. 14, 2018, is Acreage’s disclosure that the two men each hold 625,000 shares in the company, which if sold after the company’s sale to Canopy would net them a fortune.

Representative Earl Blumenauer, Democrat of Oregon and a founder of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, said he saw Mr. Boehner at a dinner on Capitol Hill the day he joined Acreage.  “I said, ‘John, where were you when we needed you?’ And he said, ‘I’ve evolved,’” Mr. Blumenauer recalled in an interview, imitating Mr. Boehner’s smoky baritone.  (Mr. Boehner had made a similar statement on Twitter earlier that day.)

“He’s nothing if not entrepreneurial,” Mr. Blumenauer said.  “The more the merrier.”  But there is a catch.   The takeover will not happen without substantial changes in marijuana policy, leaving it up to Mr. Boehner and his team of lobbyists to work their magic in Washington.

Mr. Boehner declined to be interviewed for this article.  Terry Holt, a spokesman for the National Cannabis Roundtable, which Mr. Boehner founded in February, declined to speculate on Mr. Boehner’s potential income from the sector. Mr. Boehner “sees an investment opportunity in cannabis,” Mr. Holt said. Citing statistics suggesting most Americans favor “some kind of marijuana reform,” he added, “Who wouldn’t want to be involved?”

A slew of former lawmakers agree.  Among those who have signed on in recent months to represent the weed industry are former Senator Tom Daschle of South Dakota, a longtime Democratic leader in the Senate; former Representative Dana Rohrabacher, Republican of California; former Representative Joseph Crowley, Democrat of New York; and former Representative Carlos Curbelo, Republican of Florida....

In 2016, [Boehner] joined Squire Patton Boggs, successor to the marquee Washington law and lobbying firm, as a “strategic adviser.”  About the same time, Mr. Boehner, who once handed out campaign checks from the tobacco industry to lawmakers on the House floor, joined the board of the tobacco giant Reynolds American, makers of his favorite Camel brand.

Reynolds directors with his profile earn roughly $400,000 a year, and Mr. Boehner holds other board seats, too, Mr. Holt said.  Combined with a pension derived from his $223,000 annual congressional salary, Mr. Boehner likely earns a seven-figure retirement income, even without the potential Acreage windfall.

Mr. Boehner and Mr. Weld joined Acreage’s board in April 2018, and together issued a statement: “We both believe the time has come for serious consideration of a shift in federal marijuana policy.”  For evidence, “We need to look no further than our nation’s 20 million veterans, 20 percent of whom, according to a 2017 American Legion survey, reportedly use cannabis to self-treat PTSD, chronic pain and other ailments,” they said, denouncing “the refusal of the V.A. to offer it as an alternative” to opioids.

Chanda Macias, the National Cannabis Roundtable’s first vice chairwoman and the owner and general manager of the National Holistic Health Center medical marijuana dispensary in Washington, said that she had seen more than 10,000 patients who suffer from a lack of research, education and access to medical marijuana.  “This is not about Boehner,” Ms. Macias added, “this is about saving lives.”

June 4, 2019 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, May 31, 2019

Illinois poised to become first big state to legalize adult use/recreational marijuana via traditional legislation

Soc_rr_no_shadow2A couple of big states on the east coast, New Jersey and New York, saw efforts this year to fully legalize marijuana via traditional legislation falter.  But it seems that the biggest midwestern state, Illinois, got this done this legislative session as reported in this local article:

A recreational marijuana legalization bill will soon land on Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s desk after the Illinois House on Friday voted to pass the comprehensive measure.

The Illinois House voted 66-47 after more than three hours of debate. The Illinois Senate on Wednesday cleared the measure. The governor issued a statement applauding the bill’s passage and pledging to sign it. “The state of Illinois just made history, legalizing adult-use cannabis with the most equity-centric approach in the nation,” Pritzker said. “This will have a transformational impact on our state, creating opportunity in the communities that need it most and giving so many a second chance.”

While there are giant swaths of criminal justice and social equity reforms attached to the measure — including giving a second chance to thousands of people convicted of marijuana possession — practically speaking it will allow Illinois residents over 21 to buy cannabis from licensed dispensaries as soon as Jan. 1.

If signed into law, Illinois will become the first state to approve cannabis sales through the Legislature, instead of a ballot measure. There are laws regulating and taxing cannabis in nine states. In Vermont and Washington, D.C., cannabis possession and cultivation is legal but sales are not regulated.

The measure would also allow Illinoisans over 21 years old to possess 30 grams, or just over an ounce of cannabis flower, and 5 grams, or less than a quarter-ounce, of cannabis concentrates such as hash oil. Additionally, Illinoisans would be able to carry up to a half-gram of edible pot-infused products.

“It is time to hit the reset button on the war on drugs,” bill sponsor state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, said during the debate. “What is before us is the first in the nation to approach this legislatively, deliberately, thoughtfully, with a eye toward repairing the harm and the war on drugs. We have an opportunity today to set the gold standard for a regulated market that centers on equity and repair.”...

Others weren’t convinced. State Rep. Mary Flowers, D-Chicago, said “the reset button is broken.” “The fact of the matter is nothing in this bill addresses the harm that’s been done to our community,” Flowers said. “Our community is still being used for people to make a profit and get rich and give nothing to the community.”

Amid opposition, some initiatives in the initial measure, which was filed in early May, were scaled back. A House committee this week approved changes that include allowing only medical marijuana patients to have up to five plants in a home. There were also changes made within the expungement provisions, which would have initially automatically expunged hundreds of thousands of marijuana possession convictions.

Now, convictions dealing with amounts of cannabis up to 30 grams will be dealt with through the governor’s clemency process, which does not require individuals to initiate the process. For amounts of 30 to 500 grams, the state’s attorney or an individual can petition the court to vacate the conviction.

The updated language means those with convictions for cannabis possession convictions under 30 grams can get pardoned by the governor. States attorneys would then be able to petition the court to expunge the record. A judge would direct law enforcement agencies and circuit court clerks to clear their record. This only applies to those convicted with no other violent crime associated with the charge. And it only applies for convictions that have taken place when the bill takes effect on Jan. 1....

Designed to address concerns about impaired driving, the measure would also add a DUI Task Force led by Illinois State Police to examine best practices. Those would include examining emergency technology and roadside testing.

Sales from recreational marijuana is expected to bring in $57 million in this year’s budget and $140 million next year, sponsors have said. It should eventually rise to $500 million a year once the program is fully running.

May 31, 2019 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Split Second Circuit panel gives small victory to medical marijuana users while turning away their high-profile court challenge to Schedule I placement

I have noted in a number of prior posts linked below the notable lawsuit seeking to ensure legal access to medical marijuana that was filed in federal district court in New York in July 2017 (first discussed in this post.)   In February of 2018, as noted in this post, US District Judge Alvin Hellerstein dismissed the suit, ruling the litigants had "failed to exhaust their administrative remedies” while concluding that "it is clear that Congress had a rational basis for classifying marijuana in Schedule I."  In response to that ruling, I said "plaintiffs in this suit could appeal this dismissal to the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, and doing so would likely keep the case in the headlines [but] I am not optimistic it would achieve much else."  

In fact, an appeal was brought to the Second Circuit, and it did achieve something: an interesting split panel ruling that provides an interesting small victory to the plaintiffs despite ultimately failing to provide an real relief.  Specifically, the majority opinion authored by Judge Guido Calabresi in Washington v. Barr, No. 18-859 (2d Cir. May 30, 2019) (available here), gets started this way:

This is the latest in a series of cases that stretch back decades and which have long sought to strike down the federal government’s classification of marijuana as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), 2 U.S.C. § 801 et seq. See, e.g., Krumm v. Drug Enforcement Admin., 739 F. App’x 655 (D.C. Cir. 2018) (mem.); Ams. for Safe Access v. Drug Enforcement Admin., 706 F.3d 438 (D.C. Cir. 2013); Alliance for Cannabis Therapeutics v. Drug Enforcement Admin., 15 F.3d 1131 (D.C. Cir. 1994) (mem.).  The current case is, however, unusual in one significant respect: among the Plaintiffs are individuals who plausibly allege that the current scheduling of marijuana poses a serious, life‐or‐death threat to their health.  We agree with the District Court that Plaintiffs should attempt to exhaust their administrative remedies before seeking relief from us, but we are troubled by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)’s history of dilatory proceedings.  Accordingly, while we concur with the District Court’s ruling, we do not dismiss the case, but rather hold it in abeyance and retain jurisdiction in this panel to take whatever action might become appropriate if the DEA does not act with adequate dispatch.

Judge Jacobs dissents from the panel's failure to just dismiss the lawsuit, and his opinion starts this way:

The plaintiffs seek a declaration that the classification of marijuana as a Schedule 1 substance is unconstitutional because it does not reflect contemporary learning regarding the drug’s medicinal uses.  I agree with the District Court that this case must be dismissed for failure to exhaust administrative remedies in the Drug Enforcement Agency (“DEA”).  The majority opinion does not actually disagree, though it seems to treat lack of jurisdiction as a prudential speed bump. I dissent from the majority opinion’s decision to hold the case in abeyance so that we may turn back to it if, at some future time, we get jurisdiction.

Prior related posts:

May 30, 2019 in Court Rulings, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Arizona Supreme Court clarifies that state medical marijuana law includes resins and hashish

Last year, an intermediate appellate court in Arizona ruled that a medical marijuana patient could still be criminal prosecuted for possession of hashish because, in the court's view, the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act retained a distinction between cannabis and marijuana and preserved the criminality of the former.  But yesterday, in Arizona v. Jones, No. CR-18-0370-PR (Ariz. May 28, 2019) (available here), the Arizona Supreme Court ruled unanimously that "AMMA’s definition of marijuana includes both its dried-leaf/flower form and extracted resin, including hashish."  Here is an excerpt from the tail end of the opinion:

AMMA appeared on the 2010 ballot as Proposition 203.  The accompanying ballot materials stated Proposition 203’s purpose was to “protect patients with debilitating medical conditions . . . from arrest and prosecution” for their “medical use of marijuana.” Ariz. Sec’y of State, 2010 Publicity Pamphlet 73 (2010).  Proposition 203 was intended to allow the use of marijuana in connection with a wide array of debilitating medical conditions, including “cancer, glaucoma, . . . amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, [and] agitation of Alzheimer’s disease,” including “relief [from] nausea, vomiting and other side effects of drugs” used to treat debilitating conditions.  Id. It is implausible that voters intended to allow patients with these conditions to use marijuana only if they could consume it in dried-leaf/flower form.  Such an interpretation would preclude the use of marijuana as an option for those for whom smoking or consuming those parts of the marijuana plants would be ineffective or impossible. Consistent with voter intent, our interpretation enables patients to use medical marijuana to treat their debilitating medical conditions, in whatever form best suits them, so long as they do not possess more than the allowable amount....

We hold that the definition of marijuana in § 36-2801(8) includes resin, and by extension hashish, and that § 36-2811(B)(1) immunizes the use of such marijuana consistent with AMMA.  We reverse the trial court’s ruling denying Jones’s motion to dismiss, vacate the court of appeals’ opinion, and vacate Jones’s convictions and sentences.

May 29, 2019 in Court Rulings, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, State court rulings, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

"Half-Baked: The Science and Politics of Legal Pot"

The title of this post is the title of this new article authored by Joelle Anne Moreno and now available via SSRN. Here is its abstract:

Weed, herb, grass, bud, ganja, Mary Jane, hash oil, sinsemilla, budder, and shatter.  Marijuana – whether viewed as a medicine or intoxicant – is fast becoming a part of everyday life, with the CDC reporting 7,000 new users every day and the American market projected to grow to $20 billion by 2020.  Based on early campaign rhetoric, by that same year the U.S. could have a pro-marijuana president.

Despite its growing acceptance and popularity, marijuana remains illegal under federal law.  Like heroin, LSD, and ecstasy, marijuana is a DEA Schedule I drug reflecting a Congressional determination that marijuana is both overly addictive and medically useless.

So what is the truth about pot?  The current massive pro-marijuana momentum and increased use, obscures the fact that we still know almost nothing about marijuana’s treatment and palliative potential.  Marijuana’s main psychoactive chemical is THC; but it also contains over 500 other chemicals with unknown physiological and psychological effects that vary based on dosage and consumption method.  Medical marijuana may be legal in 32 states and supported by 84% of Americans, but federal constraints shield marijuana from basic scientific inquiry.  This means that lawmakers and voters are enthusiastically supporting greater access to a drug without demanding critical scientific data.  For policymaking purposes, this data should include marijuana’s short and long-term brain effects, possible lung and cardiac implications, chemical interactions with alcohol and other drugs, addiction risks, pregnancy and breast-feeding concerns, and the effects of secondhand smoke.

This Article treats marijuana as a significant contemporary science and law problem.  It focuses on the fundamental question of regulating a substance that has not been adequately researched.  The Article examines the extant scientific data, deficiencies, and inconsistencies and explains why legislators should not rely on copycat laws governing alcohol or prescription narcotics.  It also explores how marijuana’s hybrid federal (illegality)/state (legality) raises compelling theoretical and practical Constitutional questions of preemption, the anti-commandeering rule, and congressional spending power.  Marijuana legalization has, thus far, been treated as a niche academic concern.  This approach is short-sighted and narrowminded.  Marijuana regulation implicates the reach of national drug policy, the depth of state sovereignty, and the shared obligation to ensure the health and safety of our citizenry.

May 22, 2019 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, May 20, 2019

"Marijuana in the Workplace: Distinguishing Between On-Duty and Off-Duty Consumption"

The  title of this post is the title of this paper recently posted to SSRN authored by Tyler G. Aust, who just recently graduated from The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.  This  paper is now the four of what will be an on-going series of student papers supported by Drug Enforcement and Policy Center.  (The first three papers in this series are linked below.) Here is this latest paper's abstract:

The proliferation of legal marijuana foretells an uncertain future for businesses that implement zero-tolerance drug policies.  In states where recreational marijuana is legal, businesses still have the power to enforce drug policies through employment contracts.  That changed in Maine, where state law prohibits employers from making adverse employment decisions based solely on an employee’s off-duty use of marijuana.  As legalization efforts sweep across the Midwest, it is unclear whether other states will follow Maine’s model.  Some businesses have already relaxed pre employment marijuana testing amid labor shortages.  To prepare for the future, employers should revise their drug policies to distinguish between on-duty and off-duty marijuana consumption and allow employees to use marijuana outside of the workplace.

Prior student papers in this series:

May 20, 2019 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Employment and labor law issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Fitting headlines mark the many challenges of the next era of modern marijuana reforms

There is so much media coverage of so many marijuana related issues that I barely have time to keep up with my reading, let alone blog about all the interesting stories.  (E.g., I keep meaning to blog about the New York Times Magazine's CBD cover story.)  But in the last day, I saw three lengthy and connected stories that relate to the intersection of marijuana reform, politics and social justice that seems to have come now to define the realities and challenges of this space.  The headlines of the three pieces help capture the themes:

In addition to recommending all these pieces, I will seek to summarize them by just saying it has always been clear to me that effective and sound legal reform in this space is very, very hard and calls for lots and lots of folks working very, very hard to get it as right as possible from the outset and then continuing to work very, very hard to assess and refine reform regimes. 

May 20, 2019 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)