Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Tobacco historian makes case for why and how "Marijuana Reform Should Focus On Inequality"

The quoted part of the title of this post is the headline of this new Atlantic commentary authored by Sarah Milov.  The piece caught my eye in part because the piece's author, a history professor at the University of Virginia, is also the author of an interesting sounding new book, The Cigarette: A Political History.  Here are some excerpts from this new Atlantic commentary:

Especially because Americans of color have borne the brunt of the drug war, they deserve to share in the marijuana boom now taking hold across the country.  And if America’s long history with another smokable intoxicant — tobacco — is any guide, government rules will decide who can profit from growing the crop.  At the moment, though, those rules favor well-connected corporate growers rather than independent farmers, much less independent farmers of color....

Making up for the brutal inequalities of the drug war should be a major goal of marijuana reformers — but so far, the reality isn’t working out that way.  state that reforms its marijuana laws must decide how it will allocate production rights.  Right now, states severely restrict the number of licenses awarded to cannabis growers, ensuring corporate domination of the industry.  In New York, where medical marijuana is legal, just 10 companies own licenses to cultivate and dispense marijuana.  Competition is fierce over the licenses, which can sell for tens of millions of dollars — even before an ounce of marijuana is sold.  For this reason, licenses tend to go to well-financed pot conglomerates that own cultivation facilities in multiple states.

That outcome should not come as a surprise.  A federally supported program set rules for tobacco growers from the Great Depression until early this century.  Its history suggests that production regulations, when done right, can be a powerful tool to spread wealth — but also that, when done wrong, they are a highly efficient way of excluding people from an industry....

But for all its flaws, the tobacco program succeeded at what it was meant to do: endowing a designated class of Americans with a way of life that buoyed entire regional economies.  Because of strict production restrictions, tobacco farms were among the smallest for any staple commodity, which forestalled the consolidation of farms and an exodus of residents from rural areas.  And there were many tobacco farmers in the middle stratum of the farm income ladder, and relatively few at the top.  Small tobacco farms could still provide for a decent standard of living because tobacco was a high-value crop.  Growing even a small amount could be lucrative.  In 1980, an acre of cigarette tobacco was worth $2,700, as opposed to $150 for corn or $250 for soybeans.  “There is absolutely nothing on this Earth that can compete with tobacco money,” a USDA economist told The Washington Post in 1980.  Except, he added, “illegal smoking material.”...

Now that “illegal smoking materials” are legal in many states, the licensure system for marijuana cultivation is poised to replicate some of the oligopolistic features of the tobacco program, while thwarting its genuinely redistributive ones.  Instead of charging would-be cannabis growers for the privilege of growing, states should award licenses to a larger number of applicants from communities that have been hit hard by the War on Drugs.  Much as small-scale tobacco farms anchored entire communities across the Southeast, cannabis cultivation on a human scale, rather than a corporate one, can build wealth within communities of color where opportunities to amass property have been denied—  frequently at the hands of the government.

Indeed, the excesses of the drug war aren’t the only reason to enact more inclusive policies for marijuana farming.  U.S. agricultural policy, too, has throughout its history been skewed against African Americans.  When black farmers have availed themselves of government programs, they have frequently found discrimination and, ultimately, dispossession.

But those same tools can be put to work in the opposite direction.  The tobacco program was devised to address the emergency of the Great Depression, and it did so in a way that sustained the livelihoods and communities of a targeted group of Americans.  The effects of the War on Drugs are no less severe for communities of color, and the need for opportunity is no less urgent.

October 6, 2019 in Business laws and regulatory issues, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Rocky Mountain HIDTA releases sixth annual report on "impact" of marijuana legalization in Colorado

High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Programs (HIDTAs) are, as explained here, a special kind of drug-enforcement task force that was "created by Congress with the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 [and] provides assistance to Federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies operating in areas determined to be critical drug-trafficking regions of the United States." The Rocky Mountain HIDTA has been especially focused on marijuana reform in Colorado, and it has produced regular annual reports around this time under the title "The Legalization of Marijuana in Colorado: The Impact." Volume six of that report, which runs around 70 pages and was just release, can be accessed at this link.

Here are excerpts from the report's executive summary highlighting some of coverage:

Section I: Traffic Fatalities & Impaired Driving

  • Since recreational marijuana was legalized, traffic deaths in which drivers tested positive for marijuana increased 109 percent while all Colorado traffic deaths increased 31 percent.
  • Since recreational marijuana was legalized, traffic deaths involving drivers who tested positive for marijuana more than doubled from 55 in 2013 to 115 people killed in 2018....

Section II: Marijuana Use

Since recreational marijuana was legalized:

  • Past month marijuana use for ages 12 and older increased 58 percent and is 78 percent higher than the national average, currently ranked 4th in the nation.
  • Adult marijuana use increased 94 percent and is 96 percent higher than the national average, currently ranked 4th in the nation.
  • College age marijuana use increased 18 percent and is 48 percent higher than the national average, currently ranked 6th in the nation.
  • Youth marijuana use decreased 14 percent and is 40 percent higher than the national average, currently ranked 6th in the nation.

Section III: Public Health

  • The yearly number of emergency department visits related to marijuana increased 54 percent after the legalization of recreational marijuana (2013 compared to 2017).
  • The yearly number of marijuana-related hospitalizations increased 101 percent after the legalization of recreational marijuana (2013 compared to 2017).

As I have noted before, the these RMHIDTA "Impact" reports are clearly exclusively interested in emphasizing and lamenting any and all potential negative impacts from marijuana reform in Colorado while deemphasizing and mariginalizing any and all potential positive impacts. This bias toward emphasizing the negative and ignoring positive impacts is most obvious in terms of the report's (almost non-existant) discussion of the economic development and tax revenues resulting from legalization. Jobs created by marijuana reform are not mentioned anywhere in the report, and a short discussion of tax revenues in the final sections of the report highlights only what a small portion of the overall state tax revenue is represented by marijuana taxes.

But, as I have also said before, despite these reporting biases, this report still usefully assembles lots of data and usefully represents the latest, greatest effort by the law enforcement community to make the case that marijuana reform in Colorado is a failed experiment.  Serious students of marijuana law and policy should take the time to review what this report says and how it is saying what it is saying, while also keeping in mind what data is not here assembled.

September 18, 2019 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Advocacy groups urge House leaders not to move forward with banking bill that "does not solve the underlying problems of marijuana prohibition"

As noted in this prior post, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer is reportedly planning to put a marijuana banking bill on the floor of the House of Representatives for a vote in the  coming weeks.  But yesterday a set of advocacy groups sent this short and significant letter to House leaders urging a postponement of the floor vote because the SAFE Banking Act fails to address any criminal justice reform issues.  Here are excerpts from the letter:  

The Congress has a unique opportunity to address the myriad injustices created by this nation’s marijuana laws. For decades, people of color have suffered under harsh and racially-biased marijuana laws. Although marijuana use is equal between whites and Blacks, Blacks are 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana offenses. Despite many states legalizing marijuana, arrests have increased, with one arrest every 48 seconds.  Against this backdrop, we urge Congress to address the issue of marijuana prohibition holistically and inclusively, with timely Committee and Floor consideration of H.R.3884 – the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act of 2019.  Marijuana legislation must first address the equity and criminal justice reform consequences of prohibition.

The banking bill does not address marijuana reform holistically. Instead, it narrowly addresses the issues of banking and improved access to financial services, measures that would benefit the marijuana industry, not communities who have felt the brunt of prohibition.  To be clear, we recognize the challenges facing marijuana businesses that lack access to financial services.  However, we believe it is a mistake to move this issue forward while many of the other consequences of marijuana prohibition remain unresolved.  The banking bill does not solve the underlying problems of marijuana prohibition – namely, that many people of color have been saddled with criminal records for a substance that is now legal in many states, and that communities have been shut out of the emerging and booming marijuana industry....

Since the start of the 116th Congress, we have expressed concern to House Leadership, the House Financial Services Committee, and member offices, that if the banking bill moved to the Floor before broader reform, it would jeopardize comprehensive marijuana reform.  Therefore, we have pushed for a conversation among advocates, Committee leadership, and House Leadership to formulate a plan for moving marijuana legislation in a way that is comprehensive and does not result in carve-outs for the industry and leave behind impacted communities.

We ask that you delay any vote on the banking bill until agreement has been reached around broader marijuana reform.

September 18, 2019 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Keeping up with the times: how national public health and governmental organizations communicate about cannabis on Twitter"

The title of this post is the title of this new "Short Report" authored by Jenna van Draanen, Tanvi Krishna, Christie Tsang and Sam Liu for the journal Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy.  Recognizing the partial M.C. Escher-like quality of blogging (and automatically tweeting) this piece, here is its abstract:

Background

Public health and governmental organizations are expected to provide guidance to the public on emerging health issues in accessible formats.  It is, therefore, important to examine how such organizations are discussing cannabis online and the information that is being provided to the public about this increasingly legal and available substance.

Methods

This paper presents a concise thematic analysis of both the volume and content of cannabis-related health information from selected (n = 13) national-level public health and governmental organizations in Canada and the U.S. on Twitter.

Results

There were eight themes identified in Tweets including 1) health-related topics; 2) legalization and legislation; 3) research on cannabis; 4) special populations; 5) driving and cannabis; 6) population issues; 7) medical cannabis, and 8) public health issues.  The majority of cannabis-related Tweets from the organizations studied came from relatively few organizations and there were substantial differences between the topics covered by U.S. and Canadian organizations.  The organizations studied provided limited information regarding how to use cannabis in ways that will minimize health-related harms.

Conclusions

Authoritative organizations that deal with public health may consider designing timely social media communications with emerging cannabis-related information, to benefit a general public otherwise exposed to primarily pro-cannabis content on Twitter.

September 18, 2019 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Web/Tech, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 16, 2019

Exploring the intersection of police work and marijuana (and marijuana reform)

This past week bought two notable news pieces on the ever-important and ever-dynamic intersection of policing and marijuana.  Here are headlines, links and small excerpts:

From the AP, "In era of legal pot, can police search cars based on odor?":

Sniff and search is no longer the default for police in some of the 33 states that have legalized marijuana.  Traditionally, an officer could use the merest whiff of weed to justify a warrantless vehicle search, and whatever turned up — pot, other kinds of illegal drugs, something else the motorist wasn’t allowed to have — could be used as evidence in court.

That’s still true in the minority of states where marijuana remains verboten.  But the legal analysis is more complicated in places where pot has been approved for medical or adult use, and courts are beginning to weigh in.  The result is that, in some states, a police officer who sniffs out pot isn’t necessarily allowed to go through someone’s automobile — because the odor by itself is no longer considered evidence of a crime.

From the New York Times, "Officers Said They Smelled Pot. The Judge Called Them Liars.":

Police officers can often justify a search with six words: “I smelled an odor of marijuana.” Courts in New York have long ruled if a car smells like marijuana smoke, the police can search it — and, according to some judges, even the occupants — without a warrant.

But in late July, a judge in the Bronx said in a scathing opinion that officers claim to smell marijuana so often that it strains credulity, and she called on judges across the state to stop letting police officers get away with lying about it. “The time has come to reject the canard of marijuana emanating from nearly every vehicle subject to a traffic stop,” Judge April Newbauer wrote in a decision in a case involving a gun the police discovered in car they had searched after claiming to have smelled marijuana.

September 16, 2019 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Serious talk of marijuana banking bill moving forward in Congress

This new Politico piece, headlined "Hoyer plans cannabis banking vote this month," reports that there is new momentum behind a small but very important federal marijuana reform bill.  Here are the details:

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer intends to put cannabis banking legislation on the floor this month, a historic step toward legitimizing the marijuana industry nationwide.

A Hoyer spokesperson said the Maryland Democrat was discussing the matter with members but hasn't scheduled the vote just yet. He shared his plans at a whip meeting yesterday.  Other House Democratic aides said they expected the bill to be on the floor during the week of Sept. 23.

The bipartisan legislation would shield banks from federal penalties if they serve cannabis-related businesses in states where the drug has been legalized. Banks have been lobbying for the bill because cannabis remains banned at the federal level.

The new movement in the House comes as the legislation appears to be getting unexpected traction in the Senate, where Banking Chairman Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) is planning to hold a vote on a cannabis banking bill this year.

This piece at Marijuana Moment, headlined "Marijuana Banking Bill Will Get A Full House Floor Vote This Month," provides more context and quotes concerning these developments. It also has this account why matters are now moving forward:

While sources told Marijuana Moment that Hoyer made his decision to allow cannabis banking vote following an earlier Wednesday meeting on the issue, it is likely that building momentum in the GOP-controlled Senate added to pressure on the House to act so that Democrats wouldn’t be seen as lagging behind Republicans on cannabis reform, an issue the party has sought to take political ownership of.

I have generally been pessimistic about the prospects for any form of federal marijuana reform primarily because Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has seemed disinclined to allow any reforms to get to the Senate floor.  I fear that this remains a reality that will thwart passage of even a modest reform bill that might have considerable support on both sides of the aisle. But, as proved true with the sentencing reform legislation last year, it seems possible that Senator McConnell would be willing to move the bill if President Trump and a significant number of GOP Senators expressed support for it. Stay tuned.

September 16, 2019 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 13, 2019

"Beyond Cannabis: Psychedelic Decriminalization and Social Justice"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper authored by Dustin Marlan now available via SSRN. Here is its abstract:

Psychedelics are powerful psychoactive substances which alter consciousness and brain function.  Like cannabis, psychedelics have long been considered prohibited Schedule I substances under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970.   However, via the powerful psychological experiences they induce, psychedelics are now being shown to be viable therapeutic alternatives in treating depression, substance use disorders, and other mental illnesses, and even to enhance the well-being of healthy individuals.

In May 2019, Denver, Colorado became the first city in the country to decriminalize psilocybin (the active compound in “magic mushrooms”) — a potential major shift in the War on Drugs. Ballot initiatives for the decriminalization of psilocybin and similar substances are now reaching voters in other cities and states.  What principles might justify this decriminalization — eliminating criminal penalties for, at a minimum, the use and possession — of psilocybin and other psychedelics?

This Article provides background on psychedelics and a historic overview of the laws surrounding them.  It then considers several potential justifications for decriminalizing psychedelics: (1) medical value; (2) religious freedom; (3) cognitive liberty; and (4) identity politics.  Lastly, the Article proposes a reframed justification rooted in principles of social justice. 

September 13, 2019 in Initiative reforms in states, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 9, 2019

Politico rides with the high times with new cannabis newsletter

Main_1547760102-Cheech-Marin-Tommy-Chong-Signed-High-Times-Magazine-Cover-16x20-Photo-Beckett-COA-PristineAuction.comOld folks like me remember when one had to track down a hard copy of an issue of High Times in order to read about marijuana and policy reform.  But times sure have changed, and the latest media marker of modern high times may be the new newsletter that was rolled out today by Politico,  a highly respected inside-the-beltway media outlet covering politics and policy.  This newsletter is described this way:

This newsletter launches at a historic moment for marijuana and cannabis policy.  Marijuana is legal on some level in 33 states but illegal at the federal level, creating a bewildering and complex web of legal, regulatory and business questions that even the most expert policy makers and lawyers struggle to answer.

This newsletter offers a sneak preview of what we will do for our Pro subscribers starting next month.  Our mission for Pro readers is to cover these policy issues with passion and expertise, to deliver exclusive news and analysis, and to report on cannabis from a neutral, unbiased point of view.  We come to this issue with no pre-cooked narrative about what should happen on cannabis policy.  Our stories will focus on what POLITICO Pro does best: explaining policy issues and the politics behind them and delivering the news in an easy to digest format so that you can use our content to make business decisions.

And here are two new stories from the Politico team about happenings inside and outside the Beltway:

"Why the most pro-marijuana Congress ever won’t deal with weed":

This could be a big moment for marijuana and Congress. But Democrats are fighting Democrats over whether to focus on social justice issues or industry priorities like banking. Marijuana advocates are divided among themselves over whether to push for full legalization or settle for less far-reaching legislation.  And many Republicans — some of whom are seeing the benefits of cannabis legalization in their home states — are still decidedly against any legalization on the national level, even for medicinal uses.

At the same time that Congress is in gridlock, there is growing national support for cannabis, which is illegal at the federal level but at least partially legal in 33 states.  In addition, public opinion is shifting rapidly, with nearly two-thirds of Americans supporting legalization according to Gallup — double the level of support two decades ago.  That’s led to a steadily growing number of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who represent states with legal cannabis markets, making them more sympathetic toward legislation aimed at helping the burgeoning industry — which brought in roughly $10 billion in sales last year.

These conflicts between state and federal law have created a rash of problems for cannabis companies, including lack of access to banking services, sky-high federal tax rates and bewildering questions about exactly what business practices are legal.

"How marijuana is poised for a North American takeover":

The United States is feeling some North American peer pressure to get in on the cannabis boom.  Producers in Canada, where marijuana is legal for medicinal and recreational uses, are already planning for a future where pot is a globally traded commodity, and some are setting themselves up to profit if it is legalized in the U.S.

In Mexico cannabis is legal for medicinal purposes, and the landscape could shift further: The country's new president, whose party controls a majority in the national legislature, sent a proposal to the Mexican Senate late last year to legalize recreational use.

September 9, 2019 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 6, 2019

"Hemp legalization is slippery slope, and that’s OK"

The title of this post is the headline of this new Columbus Dispatch commentary authored by Benton Bodamer, who is a member of the law firm Dickinson Wright and teaches a Cannabiz course here at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.  Here are excerpts from the piece:

Regulators and law enforcement have a wildly impractical task in attempting to regulate companies, plants and products using a distinguishing factor (hemp vs. marijuana) that is both arbitrary and mutable.  There are no federal guidelines on how dry cannabis must be to test for THC, nor guidelines for the stage of cultivation or processing at which testing should occur.  As cannabis dries, the THC content increases and that process can continue after harvest and testing.  This means that temperature changes during transportation could turn “hemp” into “marijuana” unless we have a federally standardized testing and transportation procedure and methodology, which we do not.

CBD and THC can be extracted from both federally noncompliant marijuana and federally legal hemp.  If it is the exact same substance at the molecular level, should we really care?

In the face of federal illegality, draconian tax burdens, Wild West banking and competition from black market illegal operations, the state-compliant cannabis industry in America has managed to build a base of sophisticated investors, informed customers, medical professionals and even Republican supporters (gasp!), cultivating a promising industry that has generated millions of tax dollars and thousands of jobs. This industry persists in 33 states (and growing) because the vast majority of the country knows that the federal law is wrong and largely unenforced....

When laws are irrational we lose faith in civil institutions.  The cannabis industry is filled with “efficient illegality,” meaning noncompliance meets with little risk of federal enforcement against state-compliant businesses. F ederal prosecutorial dollars for action against state-compliant cannabis businesses are throttled through federal legislative restraints and 33 states have now decided that they would rather generate tax dollars from cannabis than spend tax revenue persecuting its nonthreatening uses.  Continuing the charade of federal illegality is doing far more harm to public perception in the value of laws and law enforcement than full-scale legalization with sensible federal, state, and local regulation would do.

There’s a simple answer to the confusion over “hemp” and “marijuana,” and it’s one that happens to reflect popular opinion.  It’s time to fully legalize the cannabis plant and the cannabinoids extracted from it and build a data-driven industry from the existing state-sanctioned marketplaces.  The sooner we stop pretending that century-old uninformed hysteria constitutes a sound public health policy, the sooner we can heal and grow (cannabis) together.

September 6, 2019 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Ohio's Medical Marijuana Control Program: Online Survey of Consumer Satisfaction"

Image-of-report-1024x585The title of this post is the title of this new report authored by Nicholas Maxwell, who this summer served as a Research Fellow at Harm Reduction Ohio and who put together this report in conjunction with Ohio State's Drug Enforcement and Policy Center (which I help run).   The report will be one of a number of topics discussed at this DEPC event tonight, and here is its "summary and key findings":

An online survey of more than 600 Ohioans, most of whom reported being regular users of marijuana, revealed immense dissatisfaction with the Ohio medical marijuana system.  Consumers were surveyed on a range of topics, from their marijuana consumption habits to their experience with the Ohio MMCP.  The price of medical marijuana in Ohio was the primary driver of consumer dissatisfaction.  Contributing to this dissatisfaction was also reported inconvenience of registering for the program and traveling the sometimes-significant distance to the nearest dispensary.  The vast majority of respondents stated that they preferred to purchase marijuana from medical dispensaries, but reported that Ohio’s existing medical marijuana regime presented significant barriers that deterred them from doing so.
  • 78% of 647 surveyed Ohioans reported a qualifying condition under the medical marijuana program.  Most respondents reporting a qualifying condition reported that they had chronic, severe, or intractable pain, which is consistent with the population of Ohio enrolled in its medical marijuana program.

  • 81% of the 505 people who reported a qualifying condition also reported that they currently use marijuana.

  • Only 45% of the 407 people who reported a qualifying condition and to be currently using marijuana have received a doctor’s recommendation under the MMCP.

  • 67% of all 647 respondents reported being “very dissatisfied” or “somewhat dissatisfied” with the Ohio medical marijuana program, with only 16.7% of people reporting being somewhat or very satisfied.

  • 87% of all 647 respondents indicated preference for purchasing marijuana from a legal dispensary if product was similarly priced to product available via the unregulated market.

  • On average, people were willing to pay a 16.9% price premium to buy marijuana at legal dispensaries instead of the unregulated market.  At current levels, the premium stands at more than 100%.

September 6, 2019 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 30, 2019

"Harm Reduction Policing: From Drug Law Enforcement to Protection"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new article just published via the journal Contemporary Drug Problems and authored by Tobias Kammersgaard.  Here is its abstract:

Several drug policy researchers have noted that the concept of harm reduction could be applied to the field of drug policing in order to assess the negative consequences and potential benefits of policing in this area.  However, the application of harm reduction principles to drug policing has only been realized to a limited extent in the current responses to drug use and markets.  Accordingly, studies that empirically investigate already existing policing practices, which might be described as operating within such a harm reduction framework, are relatively scarce.

In order to address this gap, this article provides an investigation of how policing of an open drug scene has been organized in Denmark since drug possession has been partly decriminalized, following the introduction of drug consumption rooms in Copenhagen.  The policing of this open drug scene was investigated through document analysis, interviews, and observations with a patrolling police officer.  The article argues that decriminalization has resulted in a shift in the “logics” of policing by enabling the production of an alternative “governable identity” for the drug-using subject, where people who use drugs could more readily be perceived as citizens with rights rather than just as offenders.  Accordingly, in this new logic, the violence and victimization experienced by marginalized people who use drugs could more readily be identified as proper objects for police action.  The study contributes to our knowledge of how the police can become potential allies rather than adversaries in harm reduction initiatives and broader public health concerns.

August 30, 2019 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 29, 2019

US Surgeon General issues new health advisory on "Marijuana Use and the Developing Brain"

Screen+Shot+2018-09-14+at+4.43.10+PMThis morning, the federal government weighed in on the health risks of marijuana reforms through this new extended US Surgeon General advisory headed "Marijuana Use and the Developing Brain."  Here is how it gets started and some key passages (with lots of cites to research removed):

I, Surgeon General VADM Jerome Adams, am emphasizing the importance of protecting our Nation from the health risks of marijuana use in adolescence and during pregnancy. Recent increases in access to marijuana and in its potency, along with misperceptions of safety of marijuana endanger our most precious resource, our nation’s youth.

Background

Marijuana, or cannabis, is the most commonly used illicit drug in the United States.  It acts by binding to cannabinoid receptors in the brain to produce a variety of effects, including euphoria, intoxication, and memory and motor impairments.  These same cannabinoid receptors are also critical for brain development.  They are part of the endocannabinoid system, which impacts the formation of brain circuits important for decision making, mood and responding to stress....

The risks of physical dependence, addiction, and other negative consequences increase with exposure to high concentrations of THC7 and the younger the age of initiation. Higher doses of THC are more likely to produce anxiety, agitation, paranoia, and psychosis.  Edible marijuana takes time to absorb and to produce its effects, increasing the risk of unintentional overdose, as well as accidental ingestion by children and adolescents.  In addition, chronic users of marijuana with a high THC content are at risk for developing a condition known as cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome, which is marked by severe cycles of nausea and vomiting.

This advisory is intended to raise awareness of the known and potential harms to developing brains, posed by the increasing availability of highly potent marijuana in multiple, concentrated forms.  These harms are costly to individuals and to our society, impacting mental health and educational achievement and raising the risks of addiction and misuse of other substances.  Additionally, marijuana use remains illegal for youth under state law in all states; normalization of its use raises the potential for criminal consequences in this population.  In addition to the health risks posed by marijuana use, sale or possession of marijuana remains illegal under federal law notwithstanding some state laws to the contrary.

Marijuana Use during Pregnancy

Pregnant women use marijuana more than any other illicit drug.  In a national survey, marijuana use in the past month among pregnant women doubled (3.4% to 7%) between 2002 and 201712. In a study conducted in a large health system, marijuana use rose by 69% (4.2% to 7.1%) between 2009 and 2016 among pregnant women.  Alarmingly, many retail dispensaries recommend marijuana to pregnant women for morning sickness.

Marijuana use during pregnancy can affect the developing fetus. THC can enter the fetal brain from the mother’s bloodstream and may disrupt the endocannabinoid system, which is important for a healthy pregnancy and fetal brain development. Moreover, studies have shown that marijuana use in pregnancy is associated with adverse outcomes, including lower birth weight.  The Colorado Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System reported that maternal marijuana use was associated with a 50% increased risk of low birth weight regardless of maternal age, race, ethnicity, education, and tobacco use....

Marijuana Use during Adolescence

Marijuana is also commonly used by adolescents, second only to alcohol.  In 2017, approximately 9.2 million youth aged 12 to 25 reported marijuana use in the past month and 29% more young adults aged 18-25 started using marijuana.  In addition, high school students’ perception of the harm from regular marijuana use has been steadily declining over the last decade.  During this same period, a number of states have legalized adult use of marijuana for medicinal or recreational purposes, while it remains legal under federal law.  The legalization movement may be impacting youth perception of harm from marijuana.

The human brain continues to develop from before birth into the mid-20s and is vulnerable to the effects of addictive substances.  Frequent marijuana use during adolescence is associated with changes in the areas of the brain involved in attention, memory, decision-making, and motivation.  Deficits in attention and memory have been detected in marijuana-using teens even after a month of abstinence.  Marijuana can also impair learning in adolescents.  Chronic use is linked to declines in IQ, school performance that jeopardizes professional and social achievements, and life satisfaction.  Regular use of marijuana in adolescence is linked to increased rates of school absence and drop-out, as well as suicide attempts. 

August 29, 2019 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical community perspectives, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Code for America helping with automatic marijuana expungement efforts in Illinois

6a00d8341bfae553ef0224e03a3680200d-320wiAs previously noted in posts here and here, the folks at Code for America have been putting their tech expertise to good use in California to aid that state with its marijuana offense expungement efforts.  Now, as reported in this local article from Chicago, the Code folks are going to be doing the same in Illinois.  The article is headlined "Thousands of weed convictions will be automatically expunged in Cook County: ‘We are righting the wrongs of the past’." Here are excerpts:

Tens of thousands of cannabis convictions will be automatically expunged under a partnership between a tech nonprofit and Cook County prosecutors, part of an effort State’s Attorney Kim Foxx characterized as “righting the wrongs of the past.”  Foxx said the collaboration with Code for America would help atone for prosecutors’ role in an overzealous “war on drugs.”

“It is prosecutors who were part of the war on drugs, we were part of a larger ecosystem that believed that in the interest of public safety, that these were convictions that were necessary to gain,” Foxx said at a news conference Tuesday.  “In the benefit of hindsight and looking at the impact of the war on drugs, it is also prosecutors who have to be at the table to ensure that we are righting the wrongs of the past.”...

Under its partnership with the county, the California-based Code for America will automate the process for Cook County convictions involving amounts smaller than 30 grams.  Such offenses include misdemeanors as well as Class 4 felonies, the lowest category of felony in Illinois.  Code for America’s program will sift through state and county data to identify which records are eligible for the expungement, then complete paperwork for prosecutors to submit to judges, who can formally throw out the convictions.  Code for America is a not-for-profit that will begin the work at no cost to the county, said Jennifer Pahlka, the group’s founder and executive director.

The county hopes to begin the automated process as soon as possible, even ahead of Jan. 1 when marijuana legalization takes effect.  Foxx wants the automatic expungements to apply to as many convictions as far back as possible, though she acknowledged the process may be difficult for older, nondigitized records.  Foxx said she has been in talks with other county authorities to prepare for the anticipated flood of expungements, including the possibility of setting up a separate court call for judges to formally vacate the convictions en masse....

Expunged records will not appear on routine background checks, potentially making it easier for affected people to find jobs and housing.  The expunged marijuana convictions also will not appear in law enforcement databases.  The automatic expungements will require no work on the part of the affected citizens, who will get a letter from the Circuit Court clerk’s office informing them their conviction has been tossed out.

Marijuana cases that were charged along with other offenses will not be eligible for the automated program.  Anyone hoping to expunge those convictions would have to go through the normal process.

Code for America has previously worked with prosecutors in San Francisco, where a pilot program helped them “clear” thousands of convictions dating back to 1974, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón told the Tribune in a phone interview Tuesday.  More than 9,000 convictions were affected, with Code for America handling about 8,000.  Misdemeanors were thrown out and felonies were reduced to misdemeanors, Gascón said. 

The biggest hurdle for Cook County will likely be getting conviction data in a form that Code for America can use, Gascón said.  But once that is done, “literally, you will be clearing out hundreds and hundreds of records per minute.”

Expunging convictions frees people from what Gascón called a “paper prison” that affects people’s lives after they have fulfilled their sentences.  “That marginalizes people in so many different ways,” he said.  “Going through this process will begin to repair the harm that we as a society have been doing to people for so long.”

August 27, 2019 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 26, 2019

"Cannabidiol (CBD) in the Therapeutics Industry"

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

Use of Cannabidiol (CBD) in the therapeutics industry has become increasingly popular in the last few years.  CBD rode into public consciousness on the coattails of three booming consumer trends: the herbal supplement industry, the anxiety economy, and the growing legitimate cannabis industry.  However, many uncertainties remain about the legality, safety, and quality of CBD.  The passage of the 2018 Farm Bill legalized hemp production throughout the US, thereby removing hemp-derived CBD from Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)-regulation.  However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) still stakes a claim on regulating dietary supplements and food additives containing CBD.  The sudden legality of CBD, coupled with uncertainty as to its safety, quality, and effectiveness, means it is imperative for states to support research and impose sufficient regulatory oversight over CBD-infused products.

Prior student papers in this series:

August 26, 2019 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

"DEA Announces Steps Necessary to Improve Access to Marijuana Research"

US._Dept_of_Justice_DEAThe title of this post is the title of this notable new Department of Justice press release.  Here is its full text:

The Drug Enforcement Administration today announced that it is moving forward to facilitate and expand scientific and medical research for marijuana in the United States. The DEA is providing notice of pending applications from entities applying to be registered to manufacture marijuana for researchers. DEA anticipates that registering additional qualified marijuana growers will increase the variety of marijuana available for these purposes.

Over the last two years, the total number of individuals registered by DEA to conduct research with marijuana, marijuana extracts, derivatives and delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) has increased by more than 40 percent from 384 in January 2017 to 542 in January 2019. Similarly, in the last two years, DEA has more than doubled the production quota for marijuana each year based on increased usage projections for federally approved research projects.

“I am pleased that DEA is moving forward with its review of applications for those who seek to grow marijuana legally to support research,” said Attorney General William P. Barr. “The Department of Justice will continue to work with our colleagues at the Department of Health and Human Services and across the Administration to improve research opportunities wherever we can.”

“DEA is making progress in the program to register additional marijuana growers for federally authorized research, and will work with other relevant federal agencies to expedite the necessary next steps,” said DEA Acting Administrator Uttam Dhillon. “We support additional research into marijuana and its components, and we believe registering more growers will result in researchers having access to a wider variety for study.”

This notice also announces that, as the result of a recent amendment to federal law, certain forms of cannabis no longer require DEA registration to grow or manufacture. The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, which was signed into law on Dec. 20, 2018, changed the definition of marijuana to exclude “hemp”—plant material that contains 0.3 percent or less delta-9 THC on a dry weight basis. Accordingly, hemp, including hemp plants and cannabidiol (CBD) preparations at or below the 0.3 percent delta-9 THC threshold, is not a controlled substance, and a DEA registration is not required to grow or research it.

Before making decisions on these pending applications, DEA intends to propose new regulations that will govern the marijuana growers program for scientific and medical research. The new rules will help ensure DEA can evaluate the applications under the applicable legal standard and conform the program to relevant laws. To ensure transparency and public participation, this process will provide applicants and the general public with an opportunity to comment on the regulations that should govern the program of growing marijuana for scientific and medical research.

August 26, 2019 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

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)