Published: Sat, 25 Mar 2017 00:00:00 -0400
Last Build Date: Sat, 25 Mar 2017 05:23:56 -0400
Fri, 24 Mar 2017 17:00:00 -0400The state of Illinois enacted in 2013 a pretty blatantly unconstitutional law forbidding businesses engaged in (legal) medical marijuana sales or growing from contributing to political campaigns, in effect either directly or via a PAC (though only the latter was literally codified). But since candidates were also barred from accepting such contributions, the real legal effect was on direct contributions as well. Two Libertarian Party candidates, Claire Ball and Scott Schluter, sued over this, with the help of the Pillar of Law Institute and the Liberty Justice Center. I reported on the suit in the case of Ball v. Madigan back in June. This week, Ball and Schluter won a victory in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, eastern division, in a request for summary judgment for them and against Illinois. ("Madigan" is Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan.) Quoting from the decision from Judge John Z. Lee, which considers the notion whether this law must face "strict scrutiny" as a possible First Amendment violation based on content, or the looser "intermediate scrutiny" applying to most campaign finance law: By singling out medical cannabis organizations, § 9-45 [the law being challenged] appears to reflect precisely...a content or viewpoint preference. Although Buckley and its progeny permit the government to regulate campaign contributions to some extent, surely the First Amendment does not give the government free rein to selectively impose contribution restrictions in a manner that discriminates based on content or viewpoint..... § 9-45 fails to pass constitutional muster even under Buckley's less rigorous intermediate standard. The Court therefore need not decide whether the statute would survive the more demanding standard of strict scrutiny, if that standard were to apply..... Since the only reasonable government purpose Judge Lee would accept, based on precedent, for these restrictions is "preventing quid pro quo corruption or its appearance," he finds Illinois failed to: point to any legislative findings raising concerns about corruption or the appearance of corruption in the medical cannabis industry. Nor do they point to any instances of actual corruption involving any medical cannabis cultivation center or dispensary. Rather, they rely solely upon Illinois's general history of political corruption scandals.... Still, the Judge is lenient on Illinois so far, writing that that thin evidence: nevertheless substantiate[s] Defendants' claim that the media and the public have perceived a risk of corruption relating to the medical cannabis pilot program. This is all the more true given that cannabis distribution and use were legally banned in Illinois until the passage of the Medical Cannabis Act. Although thin, such evidence is sufficient under governing law to establish an important government interest for purpose of this analysis. But that's not enough for Illinois to win: they must further demonstrate that § 9-45 is "closely drawn" to this important government interest. For the reasons that follow, they fall short of doing so..... Several features of § 9-45 render it plainly disproportional to the government's interest in preventing quid pro quo corruption or its appearance. First, § 9-45 is a disproportionate measure in that it imposes an outright ban on contributions, rather than a mere dollar limit on contribution amounts.... Defendants in this case have failed to explain why a flat prohibition is proportionate to the government's interest in avoiding the risk of actual or perceived corruption that arises when donors from the medical cannabis industry make monetary contributions to political campaigns. They assert that a wholesale ban is appropriate on the ground that medical cannabis cultivation centers and dispensaries "reap profits from the industry and require State licensure to operate" and therefore "pose the greatest risk of corruption." But this bald assertion is little more than conjecture; Defendants offer no support for their claim that medical cannabis cultivation cen[...]
Mon, 20 Mar 2017 00:01:00 -0400Illicit drug use is an old phenomenon, and Jeff Sessions has an old solution: take off the gloves. "We have too much of a tolerance for drug use," the attorney general complained to an audience of law enforcement officials Wednesday, promising more aggressive policing. "Our nation needs to say clearly once again that using drugs is bad," he declared. "It will destroy your life." That claim will fall on a lot of deaf ears among the 100 million Americans who have used marijuana—most of whom found it did not destroy their lives and some of whom found it made their lives better. He is right, though, that tolerance is rampant. A Gallup Poll last year showed that 60 percent of Americans think pot should be legalized for recreational use—as eight states and the District of Columbia have done. Medical marijuana is allowed in 28 states and D.C. But in his prepared remarks, Sessions insisted cannabis is "only slightly less awful" than heroin. Oh, please. The nation is in the midst of an epidemic of overdose deaths involving heroin and other opioids. In 2015, 32,000 Americans died of such overdoses. Compare that with the number of people who died from ingesting an excess of marijuana: zero. Pot, in fact, appears to be saving lives. A 2014 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that states allowing medical marijuana had 25 percent fewer deaths from prescription drug overdoses than states forbidding it. People often use opioids to relieve pain. But "individuals with chronic pain and their medical providers may be opting to treat pain entirely or in part with medical marijuana, in states where this is legal," said Johns Hopkins University professor Colleen Barry, the lead author. Sessions made a point of commenting on this unwelcome scientific data: "Give me a break." He paid lip service to "treatment and prevention," but don't expect much there. The Affordable Care Act, which the Trump administration and congressional Republicans have vowed to repeal, has been "the largest expansion of drug treatment in U.S. history," according to Stanford University psychiatry professor Keith Humphreys. If they have their way, we can expect the largest contraction of drug treatment in U.S. history. Promoting treatment goes against the approach long preferred by hard-line politicians. The most effective remedy for opioid addiction is medication-assisted treatment, or MAT, with drugs like methadone and buprenorphine. But if you'd like to stop shooting heroin, you may search in vain for help. The Drug Policy Alliance reports that "access to MAT is severely limited by extensive federal and state regulations and restrictions. A scant 12 percent of individuals with opioid dependence receive methadone, and only nine percent of substance abuse treatment facilities in the United States offer specialized treatment of opioid dependence with MAT." Among the people who could most benefit from this sort of treatment are prison inmates. But a DPA survey found no state correctional systems that provide it—even though a report last year from the surgeon general compared it to giving insulin to diabetics. Upon release, opioid-prone offenders are particularly susceptible to dying of an overdose, apparently because addicts' physical tolerance diminishes while they are locked up. Zealous drug warriors bridle at anything except prohibition and abstinence. Closing down "pill mills," where physicians allegedly overprescribe opioids, is a favorite option. Such lifesaving measures as facilitating access to sterile syringes and naloxone, which is used to reverse overdoses before they kill, are inherently suspect. The criminalization of opioid use often has fatal consequences, because it leaves addicts to obtain supplies from street dealers rather than pharmacists. The drugs they get may be surreptitiously laced with fentanyl or other synthetic opioids that are cheaper than prescription meds but much more potent—raising the overdose risk. Crackdowns have other unhealthy side effects. "When the police shut down a local pill mill, the[...]
Sat, 11 Mar 2017 13:45:00 -0500
"It didn't resemble cannabis. It didn't smell like cannabis."
So says Sue Sisley, who is pissed, and with good reason. She didn't get ripped off by an illegal dealer or a legal dispensary. No, she got screwed by the federal government, which seems incapable of growing good-quality marijuana. Sisley is an Arizona-based primary-care doctor who was awarded a grant to study the use of pot to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in military veterans. It took Sisley and her colleagues two years to get the shipment from the "12-acre farm at the University of Mississippi, run by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)...[which] since 1968...has been the only facility licensed by the DEA [Drug Enforcement Administration] to produce the plant for clinical research."
Working with Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), Sisley and her colleagues tested the pot and found that it was contaminated with mold and not at the right potency for their research. Your tax dollars at work, growing schwag that doesn't even rise to the level of reggie.
From a PBS account of the story:
Rick Doblin, MAPS' director, says this recent episode "shows that NIDA is completely inadequate as a source of marijuana for drug development research."
"They're in no way capable of assuming the rights and responsibilities for handling a drug that we're hoping to be approved by the FDA as prescription medicine," he says.
Via Twitter feed of Mike Hewlett.
Watch "Transplant Denied: How Medical Marijuana Policy Kills Patients," a powerful Reason TV video from 2012. Not for the faint of heart.
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Wed, 01 Mar 2017 07:00:00 -0500Last week White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer suggested that marijuana legalization contributes to opioid abuse. "When you see something like the opioid addiction crisis blossoming in so many states around this country," he said, "the last thing we should be doing is encouraging people" by allowing recreational use of marijuana. As critics such as NORML's Paul Armentano and Washington Post drug policy blogger Christopher Ingraham pointed out, Spicer had things backward: The evidence suggests that loosening marijuana prohibition results in less consumption of opioids. No way, says Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who seems to be planning a crackdown on state-licensed marijuana businesses. During a speech to the National Association of Attorneys General yesterday, Sessions mocked the notion that "marijuana is a cure for opiate abuse": Give me a break. This is the kind of argument that has been made out there. It's just almost a desperate attempt to defend the harmlessness of marijuana or even its benefits. I doubt that's true. Maybe science will prove I'm wrong. But at this point in time, you and I have a responsibility to use our best judgment, that which we've learned over a period of years, and speak truth as best we can. While the evidence that marijuana works as a treatment for opioid abuse is inconclusive, several studies have found an association between medical marijuana laws and reductions in opioid prescriptions, opioid-related deaths, and fatally injured drivers testing positive for opioids. These results make sense to the extent that marijuana can be substituted for narcotics as a way of relieving physical or emotional pain, a switch than can be expected to reduce serious side effects because marijuana is safer. Although Sessions claims he is open to refutation by science, he clearly has not bothered to look at the research. Such incuriosity is consistent with the former Alabama senator's history as a diehard drug warrior who knows lots of things that aren't so. Consider his outrage a few years ago when President Obama publicly conceded that marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol. Although there is plenty of evidence to support that conclusion, it did not jibe with Sessions' anti-pot prejudices, so he could not accept it: I have to tell you, I'm heartbroken to see what the president said just a few days ago. It's stunning to me. I find it beyond comprehension….This is just difficult for me to conceive how the president of the United States could make such a statement as that....Did the president conduct any medical or scientific survey before he waltzed into The New Yorker and opined contrary to the positions of attorneys general and presidents universally prior to that? Sessions tried to rebut Obama's statement about the relative hazards of marijuana and alcohol by declaring that "Lady Gaga says she's addicted to [marijuana] and it is not harmless." Putting aside the merits of treating Lady Gaga as an expert on the effects of marijuana, or of extrapolating from this sample of one to the experiences of cannabis consumers generally, Sessions did not seem to understand that Substance A can be less dangerous than Substance B without being harmless. To say that marijuana is less hazardous than alcohol by several important measures (including impairment of driving ability, the risk of a fatal overdose, and the long-term damage caused by heavy use) is not the same as saying that marijuana is 100 percent safe. Either Sessions does not grasp that basic point, or he is so determined to justify marijuana prohibition that he deliberately obscures it. Is this what he means by "speak[ing] truth as best we can"? Sessions claims supporters of legalization are "desperate" to "defend the harmlessness of marijuana." But it's Sessions who is grasping at straws to defend a policy built on a mountain of lies.[...]
Fri, 24 Feb 2017 08:00:00 -0500Yesterday afternoon, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer suggested that the Justice Department under newly installed Attorney General Jeff Sessions will be more inclined to enforce the federal ban on marijuana in states that have legalized the drug for recreational use. A large majority of Americans, including most Republicans, think that's a bad idea, according to poll numbers released the same day as Spicer's comments. Answering a question from an Arkansas reporter wondering how the DOJ will respond to that state's new medical marijuana law, Spicer said "there's two distinct issues here: medical marijuana and recreational marijuana." He reiterated President Trump's support for laws that allow patients to use marijuana for symptom relief, which 28 states have enacted. Spicer also noted that Congress has repeatedly approved a spending rider that restrains the DOJ from taking action against medical marijuana suppliers in those states. But he said "there is a big difference between that and recreational marijuana," which eight states have legalized, and predicted there will be "greater enforcement" of the federal ban in those states under Sessions, saying "they are going to continue to enforce the laws on the books with respect to recreational marijuana." While Spicer emphasized the difference between medical and recreational marijuana, he overlooked a more important distinction: between opposing state laws that allow recreational use of marijuana and supporting federal intervention aimed at overriding them. That distinction is clear in the latest Quinnipiac University poll, which finds that 71 percent of Americans "oppose the government enforcing federal laws against marijuana in states that have already legalized medical or recreational marijuana." By comparison, 59 percent think marijuana "should be made legal in the United States." That means many Americans who oppose legalization nevertheless think states should be free to adopt that policy. A disproportionate number of those people are members of Trump's party: While only 35 percent of Republicans in the Quinnipiac poll supported marijuana legalization, 55 percent opposed federal interference with it. A CBS News poll conducted last April found even stronger Republican opposition to the sort of meddling Spicer predicted. Asked if "laws regarding whether the use of marijuana is legal" should be "determined by the federal government" or "left to each individual state government to decide," 70 percent of Republicans said the latter, compared to 55 percent of Democrats (who as usual were more likely to favor legalization). These results make sense to the extent that conservatives take seriously their avowed commitment to federalism, which Trump also claims to support. At the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference, Trump said he favored medical marijuana but had concerns about broader legalization, a decision he nevertheless said should be left to the states. "If they vote for it, they vote for it," he said. Trump confirmed that position at a 2015 rally in Nevada: "In terms of marijuana and legalization, I think that should be a state issue, state by state." Sessions, a former Alabama senator, also pays lip service to federalism. After the death of William Rehnquist in 2005, Sessions gave a floor speech in which he praised the chief justice for recognizing the limits of federal power: He understood that the Federal Government, through the Commerce Clause, has broad power, but there are limits to the reach of the Commerce Clause. It does not cover every single matter the United States Senate may desire to legislate on, to the extent that the federal government controls even simple, discreet actions within a State. He reestablished a respect for state law and state sovereignty through a number of his federalism opinions. In 2013 Sessions cosponsored the Restoring the 10th Amendment Act, which would have facilitated lawsuits by state officials challenging[...]
Fri, 17 Feb 2017 16:45:00 -0500
(image) As more and more Americans grow comfortable with exempting marijuana from the drug war, we've seen massive shifts in state regulations toward decriminalization and legal use (medicinal and recreational).
Federal laws and regulations still lag terribly behind, leaving Americans in an area of uncertainty in enforcement, particularly as we change administrations. President Donald Trump has stated that he thinks marijuana regulation is a state issue, but he has also been acting like a pretty major drug warrior as part of his border control push. His Attorney General Jeff Sessions has a lengthy history as a supporter of tough drug laws as well.
Now four members of the House of Representatives, two from each party, have come together to form a Congressional Cannabis Caucus. From the left, we've got Reps. Jared Polis (Colo.) and Earl Blumenauer (Ore.). From the right, we've got Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (Calif.) and Don Young (Alaska). Note that all four come from states where voters have legalized recreational marijuana use.
The four had a short press conference on Thursday to preview their agenda. Fundamentally, they want federal regulation to catch up with what the states are doing. They explained they want to do everything from making sure medical marijuana research is permitted and that veterans get access to allowing marijuana businesses that are operating legally under state laws to use the banking system and not have to operate cash-only. And of course, there's the ultimate goal of getting marijuana removed from Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substance Act, an absurd federal classification that the drug has no medical use.
The four representatives all have a history of attempting to legislatively loosen cannabis laws. As more and more Americans agree, maybe some more of those 431 other members of Congress will join the caucus as well.
Watch their press conference below:
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Mon, 06 Feb 2017 07:30:00 -0500In his 2006 book about assisted suicide, Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch takes issue with the "libertarian principle" that requires legalization of the practice. The same principle, Gorsuch argues, would also require the government to allow "any act of consensual homicide," including "sadomasochist killings, mass suicide pacts...duels, and the sale of one's life (not to mention the use of now illicit drugs, prostitution, or the sale of one's organs)." That's right: If the government lets people kill themselves, it might also have to let them smoke pot. Despite the horror of taboo intoxicants suggested by that passage, Gorsuch does not seem to be blinded by pharmacological phobia when he hears drug cases. Two opinions he wrote in 2015—one involving mens rea, the other the Fifth Amendment's ban on compelled self-incrimination—demonstrate a sophisticated understanding of drug policy issues and suggest Gorsuch is less eager than some judges to facilitate enforcement of prohibition by compromising civil liberties. In U.S. v. Makkar, a 2015 case involving Oklahoma convenience store owners arrested for selling "incense" containing a synthetic cannabinoid, Gorsuch noted that the merchants, Iqbal Makkar and Gaurav Sehgal, seemed to be concerned about complying with the law: When questions surfaced about the incense they carried on their shelves, the men spoke with state law enforcement officers, offered to have the officers test the incense to determine its legality, and offered as well to stop selling the product until the results came in. But this cooperation with state authorities apparently won the men little admiration from federal investigators: soon enough they found themselves under indictment and convicted for violating the Controlled Substance Analogue Enforcement Act (Analogue Act), conspiracy, and money laundering. Writing for a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, Gorsuch agreed with Makkar and Sehgal that they had been improperly convicted under the Analogue Act, "a curious animal" that is meant to criminalize production and distribution of psychoactive substances that are not explicitly prohibited by the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). To be covered by the Analogue Act, according to the Supreme Court's interpretation, a substance must be substantially similar in chemical structure and effect to a drug listed in Schedule I or II of the CSA. To convict a supplier of violating the Analogue Act, the government must prove he knew the drug had these features or knew the drug was banned by that law or by the CSA. Gorsuch noted in passing that the Supreme Court's construction of the Analogue Act may not adequately address "vagueness concerns," since "it's an open question...what exactly it means for chemicals to have a 'substantially similar' chemical structure—or effect." In any case, he said, prosecutors failed to prove that Makkar and Sehgal met the law's men rea requirements. "The government didn't attempt to show that Mr. Makkar or Mr. Sehgal knew the incense they sold was unlawful under the CSA or Analogue Act," he writes. No did it try to show the defendants knew the incense contained a substance with a chemical structure similar to that of a Schedule I or II drug. "As far as we can tell," Gorsuch said, "at trial the government introduced no evidence suggesting that the defendants knew anything about the chemical structure of the incense they sold." Instead prosecutors convinced the trial judge to approve "an instruction permitting the jury to infer that the defendants knew the incense they sold had a substantially similar chemical structure to JWH–18 [a synthetic cannabinoid] from the fact they knew the incense had a substantially similar effect to marijuana." That inference is "scientifically unsound," Gorsuch noted, because two substances can have similar effects despite having very different chemical struc[...]
Wed, 25 Jan 2017 15:20:00 -0500
(image) A new Georgia bill calls for a statewide vote on legalizing the production and sale of medicinal marijuana, according to the Associated Press. The bill, H.R. 36, would set up a referendum for the November 2018 midterm election and give voters the opportunity to allow cultivation in the state. The proposal was introduced by Rep. Allen Peake (R–Macon) on January 12.
Peake also authored the 2015 bill that allowed limited access to low-THC cannabidiol (CBD) oil to treat severe cases of eight medical conditions, including seizure disorders and cancer. However, that bill only provides protection from prosecution for authorized possession. It does not legalize the cultivation or sale of marijuana, even for medicinal purposes.
"There are still logistical and financial hardships even for the folks that are properly registered with the state," Peake informed The Atlanta Journal-Constitution back in 2016.
Currently, the only way for Georgians to legally obtain CBD oil is to purchase it from out of state or order it from a reputable producer online, but individuals risk breaking federal law by crossing state borders with the stuff. Peake has even put himself at risk to ensure his constituents have access to medical marijuana, according to McClatchyDC. "He won't say exactly how he broke the law to help them," Rob Hotakainen reported, "only that he has been in possession of cannabis oil and given it to registered families. And he won't say where he got the oil, either."
Twenty-seven states plus the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana in some form, and eight states currently allow for cultivation with varying degrees of regulation. H.R. 36 could add Georgia to that list—if lawmakers approve putting the measure on the ballot.
"It's clear we're going to have a hard time passing a cultivation bill (in the state Legislature) for the next two years," Peake said, according to the Macon Telegraph. "So why not put it in front of the voters, where every poll shows there's clear evidence that voters support this?"
An Atlanta-Journal Constitution poll found that 71 percent of Georgians support establishing an in-state cultivation program, while a 2016 Gallup poll found that 60 percent of Americans now favor legalizing marijuana use. Florida was the first Southern state to legalize medical pot. Thanks to Peake, Georgia may be next.
Fri, 13 Jan 2017 10:00:00 -0500The last time the National Academy of Sciences issued a report on marijuana, three states allowed medical use of the drug. Eighteen years later, there are 28 states that recognize marijuana as a medicine, and eight of them also allow recreational use. But as a new NAS report published yesterday shows, there are still big gaps in our knowledge of marijuana's risks and benefits. The 1999 report, commissioned by a drug czar who insisted there was no evidence that marijuana is medically useful, refuted that claim but highlighted the paucity of relevant research. "The accumulated data indicate a potential therapeutic value for cannabinoid drugs, particularly for symptoms such as pain relief, control of nausea and vomiting, and appetite stimulation," it concluded. The new report, which takes into account studies conducted during the last two decades, is less tentative but still finds the evidence for most medical applications inconclusive. "We found conclusive or substantial evidence...for benefit from cannabis or cannabinoids for chronic pain, chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, and patient-reported symptoms of spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis," the authors say. "For these conditions the effects of cannabinoids are modest; for all other conditions evaluated there is inadequate information to assess their effects." The report notes that investigation of marijuana's medical utility has been constrained by legal and bureaucratic barriers, including continued federal prohibition and the Drug Enforcement Administration's refusal to license more than one producer of cannabis for research. "There are specific regulatory barriers, including the classification of cannabis as a Schedule I substance, that impede the advancement of cannabis and cannabinoid research," the authors say. "It is often difficult for researchers to gain access to the quantity, quality, and type of cannabis product necessary to address specific research questions." Last August the DEA once again refused to reclassify marijuana but agreed to start accepting applications from additional marijuana producers. As state-legal marijuana products proliferate across the country, federal prohibition prevents scientists from investigating their properties: Cannabis concentrate sales doubled in Colorado from 2015 to 2016, reaching $60.5 million in the first quarter of 2016, and yet current federal law prevents chemists from examining the composition of those products as it may relate to safety, neuroscientists from testing the effects of those products on the brain or physiology in animal models, and clinical scientists from conducting research on how these products may help or harm patients. And while between 498,170 and 721,599 units of medical and recreational cannabis edibles were sold per month in Colorado in 2015, federal law also prohibits scientists from testing those products for contaminants, understanding the effects of these products in animal models, or investigating the effects in patient populations. Regarding the potential dangers of these products, the report is mostly reassuring, finding little or no evidence that marijuana impairs the immune system or increases the risk of heart attacks, lung cancer, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (contrary to the claims of anti-pot activists). Regular pot smoking seems to worsen bronchitis symptoms, and marijuana consumption by pregnant women is associated with lower birth weight, although there is little evidence of a link to pregnancy complications or postnatal health problems. Marijuana use is associated with schizophrenia, suicide, poor academic performance, and abuse of other drugs, but the causal relationships remain murky. The report says "there is limited evidence of a statistical association between sustained abstinence from cannabis use and impairments in the cognit[...]
Tue, 10 Jan 2017 17:52:00 -0500Senators on both sides of the aisle pressed their colleague Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama) on Tuesday to flesh out his views on state-level marijuana laws, but president-elect Donald Trump's pick to be the next attorney general downplayed his history of being a hardline drug warrior. Instead, we got vague and unconvincing answers about how Sessions views the relationship between the states and the federal government. "I think one obvious concern is that the United States Congress made the possession of marijuana in every state and the distribution of it an illegal act," Sessions said when questioned by U.S. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah). "If that's something that's not desired any longer, Congress should pass a law to change the rule. It is not much the attorney general's job to decide what laws to enforce. We should do our job and enforce laws effectively as we are able." As a matter of basic civics, yes, Sessions is right about all that. Congress should be the ones to decide when marijuana is legal or illegal at the federal level and the Justice Department is supposed to enforce the laws, not make them. That's hardly a controversial or revealing statement. Practically, though, Sessions would have tremendous power as attorney general to decide exactly what "enforce laws effectively as we are able" means. Without needing approval from Congress, Sessions could send federal agents to arrest growers, shut down dispensaries, and freeze the bank accounts of marijuana businesses. In the past, Sessions has encouraged the federal government to take a more activist approach to enforcing marijuana prohibition. In an April hearing about recreational marijuana laws in the states, Sessions observed that "good people don't smoke marijuana" and longed for the days when the federal government was more aggressive in going after drug dealers and users. If Sessions brings that approach to the executive branch, his decisions on marijuana policy could have huge implications for individuals and businesses in states where forms of marijuana have been legalized and could change the landscape for further state-level marijuana policy changes in coming years. As Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) pointed out during Tuesday's confirmation hearing, even Sessions' home state of Alabama has legalized a marijuana derivative known as cannabidiol oil, or CBD oil, for the treatment of some medical conditions. Leahy asked whether Sessions, as attorney general, would allow such laws to stand. "I won't commit to never enforcing federal law," Session said. "But absolutely it's a problem of resources for the federal government." Again, this is not an informative answer. "We are no closer to clarity in regards to Sessions' plans for how to treat state marijuana laws than we were yesterday," said Erik Altieri, executive director for NORML, which lobbies for marijuana reform at the state and federal level. "If Sessions wants to be attorney general for all Americans, he must bring his views in line with the majority of the population and support allowing states to set their own marijuana policies without fear of federal intervention." Sean Spicer, Trump's spokesman, was asked about Sessions' views on marijuana legalization during a Tuesday appearence on Fox News, but offered more vaguries. Some have pointed to this exchange as an indication Sessions won't go after state-legal cannabis. That's not what it says. It's a nonanswer. pic.twitter.com/hKHDg7FeqN — Ben Adlin (@badlin) January 10, 2017 During the Obama administration, eight states legalized recreational marijuana and dozens of state-level medical marijuana laws were passed. Marijuana remains completely illegal at the federal level. It is included on the federal Schedule I list, a set of drugs considered by the Drug Enforcement Administration to have "no currently accepted medica[...]
Sat, 07 Jan 2017 09:02:00 -0500In November, my first feature story for Reason profiled a young man from Idaho who suffers from intractable seizures and asked why Butch Otter, the state's governor, did not help him when he had the chance. That young man is Josh Phillips, and he has been suffering from uncontrollable seizures since he was 10 years old. He's tried dozens of different drugs, but none have helped him. Out of other options, Josh and his family believe a marijuana-derived substance called Cannabidiol oil, or CBD oil, might offer some relief. It's worked for some people suffering from similar ailments in states where CBD is legal, including 17 states that don't have medical marijuana laws but have passed narrower CBD oil bills. Otter had a chance to sign a CBD oil bill for Idaho in April 2015, but he vetoed it. He is still the only governor in the country to veto such a bill. It's possible that the state legislature will give Otter another chance to sign a CBD oil bill this year, but the governor on Friday reiterated his opposition. During a press conference in Boise, Otter told reporters that there had been no change in his view on the subject. src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/301269762&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true" width="100%" height="450" frameborder="0"> The real change is between Otter's view today and the view he held for most of his political career. As my story noted, Otter had been a proponent of marijuana legalization for decades—from way back when he first broke into politics in the 1970s, through his successful run for governor in 2006. There's a few different reasons why Otter seems to have changed his mind—lobbyists for law enforcement groups and pharmaceutical companies seem to have played a significant role, Reason's investigation found—but the most important consequence of his decision is that people in Idaho suffering from intractable seizures are left with fewer choices when it comes to treatment. Otter had, after vetoing the CBD oil bill, issued an executive order creating a clinical trial for a drug called Epidiolex, which is produced by a British pharmaceutical company trying to gain FDA approval to sell the drug in the United States. The drug is basically a synthetic version of CBD, but Otter's team preferred the clinical trial because it was more standardized and controlled than CBD oil. On Friday, Otter said the clinical trial is showing that there is "sufficient relief in many cases." That's good news for the children who got into the Epidiolex trials—the program was capped at 25 kids (the Otter administration later lifted the cap to 38 children)—but does nothing to help anyone who unable to get into the trial or anyone who was over 18, like Josh Phillips, who will turn 20 next month. It also doesn't help Katie Donahue, an Idaho resident who says she literally has prayed for death because she can't find a way to treat her seizures. "I am deeply saddened at the freedom Butch Otter continues to deny extremely ill Idahoans," Donahue said in a statement provided to Reason on Friday. "I am devastated for the children who will continue forced suffering from diseases as well as stigma. I am sickened to think of families from other states having success with cannabinoid therapy not being able to experience the beauty of Idaho because freedom has been replaced with fascism." While we're picking apart Otter's comments, there's one more thing he said Friday that deserves some scrutiny, because it speaks to his administration's overall approach to medical marijuana. Without being asked, Otter launched into an explanation of why he opposes medical marijuana (around the 1:30 mark of the audio file above). Like his spokesman did in respo[...]
Wed, 14 Dec 2016 07:00:00 -0500
At a Senate hearing last April, Jeff Sessions, Donald Trump's choice for attorney general, worried about the message that marijuana legalization sends to the youth of America. "I can't tell you how concerning it is for me, emotionally and personally, to see the possibility that we will reverse the progress that we've made," he said. "Colorado was one of the leading states that started the movement to suggest that marijuana is not dangerous. And we're going to find it, in my opinion, ripple through the entire American citizenry, and we're going to see more marijuana use." We have been hearing similar warnings from drug warriors for two decades. When teenagers see that states have legalized medical or recreational marijuana for adults, prohibitionists predicted, they will be more inclined to smoke pot. But as survey data released yesterday confirmed once again, there is no evidence that is happening.
According to the Monitoring the Future Study, marijuana use by eighth- and 10th-graders fell this year. It rose slightly among 12th-graders but was still less common than in 2012, the year Colorado and Washington became the first two states to legalize marijuana for recreational use, and about the same as in 2014, when two more states and the District of Columbia joined them. The 2016 legalization campaigns, four of which were successful, likewise did not seem to spur much new interest in pot among teenagers. Nor did the legalization of medical marijuana in 28 states, starting with California in 1996. This is not the pattern you would expect to see if loosening state marijuana laws encouraged underage consumption by improving the drug's reputation among teenagers:
(image) "I don't have an explanation," said Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which sponsors the survey. "This is somewhat surprising. We had predicted based on the changes in legalization [and] culture in the U.S. as well as decreasing perceptions among teenagers that marijuana was harmful that [use] would go up. But it hasn't gone up."
Wed, 30 Nov 2016 00:01:00 -0500If you want to buy a gun from a federally licensed dealer, you have to fill out Form 4473, which is aimed at determining whether you are legally allowed to own a firearm. A recent revision to the form by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) underlines how blithely the federal government strips Americans of their Second Amendment rights. "Are you an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana or any depressant, stimulant, narcotic drug, or any other controlled substance?" asks Question 11(e). In the latest version of Form 4473, which dealers are required to start using on January 16, that question is followed by a warning in bold type: "The use or possession of marijuana remains unlawful under Federal law regardless of whether it has been legalized or decriminalized for medicinal or recreational purposes in the state where you reside." If you are one of the 68 million Americans who live in a state that has decided to allow recreational use of marijuana, or one of the 186 million who live in a state that recognizes marijuana as a medicine, you may have been under the impression that legalization makes cannabis consumption lawful. The ATF wants to disabuse you of that notion; hence the warning. "We were concerned that some buyers who use marijuana may read the 2012 language asking if they were an 'unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana' and erroneously say no because in that particular state, marijuana has been legalized," an ATF spokeswoman told The Denver Post last week. "Most dealers recognize that marijuana use prohibits people from purchasing firearms under federal law, but many members of the general public may not be as familiar with the Gun Control Act." Under that law, a cannabis consumer who possesses a gun (no matter where he got it) is guilty of a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Likewise anyone who sells him a gun if has reason to know the buyer is a cannabis consumer. Falsely denying marijuana use on Form 4473 can get you up to five years. The rationale for this rule is risible. Last August the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled that banning gun sales to people who have medical marijuana cards is consistent with the Second Amendment because "empirical data and legislative determinations support a strong link between drug use and violence." The court did not actually cite any such evidence, but it did observe that "illegal drug users, including marijuana users, are likely as a consequence of that use to experience altered or impaired mental states that affect their judgment and that can lead to irrational or unpredictable behavior." The same could be said of drinkers, but it seems unlikely that the 9th Circuit would uphold a law that restricted the Second Amendment to teetotalers. The appeals court also argued that cannabis consumers are "more likely to have negative interactions with law enforcement officers because they engage in criminal activity." It added that "they frequently make their purchases through black market sources who themselves frequently resort to violence." Both of those risks are byproducts of prohibition, and they do not apply to people who grow, buy, or consume marijuana in accordance with state law. The fact that those activities are still prohibited by the federal government does not mean the average cannabis consumer is apt to get into a shootout with DEA agents, let alone with the state-licensed retailer who sells him marijuana. The idea that marijuana makes people violent is a relic of the 1930s that has no relevance in determining who deserves to exercise the fundamental right of armed self-defense—a point the president-elect should recognize. Donald Trump's choice for attorney general may believe that[...]
Mon, 28 Nov 2016 08:00:00 -0500The strangers who supposedly were trying to get your kids high by passing out cannabis candy on Halloween apparently have moved online. Or so claims WANE, the CBS affiliate in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The headline over the WANE story—which was reposted by WRIC, the ABC station in Richmond, Virginia—warns that "dealers [are] using THC-laced 'edibles' to attract young people." Reporter Angelica Robinson claims "marijuana dealers are targeting young people," that "much of it is done online," and that "buyers order the candies online and use them to get high discreetly." Jerri Lerch of the Allen County Drug and Alcohol Consortium tells Robinson that drug dealers "tweet targeted young people about the availability of attractive marijuana products." But neither Lerch nor Robinson presents any evidence of such online commerce in cannabis candies for kids. The genesis of the story was an incident that the Noble County Sheriff's Department last week described on Facebook as "a transaction involving suspicious lollipops" at West Noble High School in Ligonier. The post was accompanied by photographs of two cherry lollipops and the package from which they apparently came, which indicates they were made by 2 Baked Gerrls, an edible manufacturer that serves patients in Michigan, a neighboring state that allows medical use of marijuana. The statement from the sheriff's department says nothing about online sales, an idea that seems to have sprung from the combined imaginations of Lerch and Robinson. "They're getting them through some sort of black market," Lerch tells WANE. "That could be online or on the web, or some sort of physical transaction of some kind." It is no stretch to suggest that medical marijuana products from Michigan are sold "through some sort of black market" when they are purchased in Indiana, where marijuana is not legal for any purpose. But the rest, including the teenager-targeting tweets and the websites selling THC-infused treats to high school students, sounds like speculative fiction rather than news. Robinson compounds the deception with some bizarre scaremongering about marijuana edibles. "The small suckers could pack a big punch," she says. "Typically, edibles can contain anywhere between 70 and 100 percent of THC. Marijuana has just 17 to 30 percent." These numbers are nonsensical. A lollipop that was 100 percent THC would not be a lollipop; it would be pure THC. Even a product that was 70 percent THC would not have the taste, consistency, or appearance of a lollipop, which consists mostly of sugar. And if it were possible to create such a thing, a seven-gram lollipop that was 70 percent THC would contain 4,900 milligrams of marijuana's main psychoactive ingredient. The label on the 2 Baked Gerrls package indicates that it contains 50 milligrams of THC, or 25 milligrams per lollipop (assuming both pictured lollipops came from the same package). Such impossible claims about the THC content of marijuana edibles are more common than you might think. In an op-ed piece published last year, Scotts Bluff County, Nebraska, Sheriff Mark Overman averred that "'edibles,' in the form of candy, baked goods, and drinks, have [THC] levels as high as 90 percent." Now that Robinson has upped Overman's ante, we may soon see warnings that the THC content of some edibles exceeds 100 percent. [Via Dank Space; thanks to Joshua Hotchkin for the tip.][...]
Wed, 23 Nov 2016 00:01:00 -0500On the same day Donald Trump was elected president, four states legalized marijuana for recreational use, while four others legalized or expanded access to medical marijuana. As a result of those ballot initiatives, most states now recognize marijuana as a medicine, and one in five Americans lives in a state that has decided to tolerate cannabis consumption without a doctor's note. During his campaign Trump said he supports medical marijuana but has concerns about broader legalization, a policy he nevertheless said states should be free to adopt. Trump's recently announced choice for attorney general, Sen. Jeff Sessions, casts doubt on those commitments. The Alabama Republican, a former U.S. attorney and state attorney general, is an old-fashioned drug warrior who pines for the days when Nancy Reagan's Just Say No campaign helped "create a hostility to drug use." He was outraged when President Obama conceded that marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol, and he recently claimed that "good people don't smoke marijuana." Sessions has repeatedly criticized the Obama administration's policy of tolerating state-authorized marijuana suppliers. During a 2009 Senate hearing, he complained that "Attorney General Holder has said federal authorities will no longer raid medical marijuana facilities in California, which is against U.S. law" and "contrary to the position taken by the Drug Enforcement Administration." At a hearing last April, Sessions bemoaned the message sent by marijuana legalization, which he said implies that "marijuana is not dangerous" and encourages teenagers to use it. "We need grownups in charge in Washington to say marijuana is not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized," he said. "The Department of Justice needs to be clear, and the president needs to assert some leadership." Now that Trump has picked Sessions to head the Justice Department, we may get a clearer idea of how far Sessions wants to go in pressing the point that "marijuana is not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized." While medical marijuana suppliers are protected from the feds by a spending rider that is likely to be renewed, if given free rein Sessions could easily wreak havoc in the recreational industry. Every state-licensed marijuana business remains a criminal enterprise under federal law, subjecting its owners to the risk of prosecution and forfeiture. An anti-pot crusader at the helm of the Justice Department could make that risk salient again by raiding growers, manufacturers, and retailers, or just by threatening to do so. Sessions also could challenge state legalization in federal court, although he might not like the results even if he wins. While the DOJ might prevail in arguing that state licensing and regulation of cannabusinesses conflicts with federal law, it cannot force states to recriminalize what those businesses do, so the upshot of a successful lawsuit could be less government oversight of the industry. Any such interference by the DOJ would contradict Trump's commitment to marijuana federalism. "I really believe you should leave it up to the states," he said at a rally in Reno last year. "It should be a state situation…In terms of marijuana and legalization, I think that should be a state issue, state by state." Most Americans agree with that approach. Recent national polls indicate that most Americans (60 percent, according to Gallup) think marijuana should be legal, while most Republicans continue to oppose legalization. But even among Republicans, most—70 percent, according to a CBS News poll conducted last April—think the feds should not try to override state decisions in this area. In other words, marijuana legalization [...]