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Medical Marijuana



All Reason.com articles with the "Medical Marijuana" tag.



Published: Thu, 19 Oct 2017 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Thu, 19 Oct 2017 23:48:54 -0400

 



Feds Admit Their Prosecution of Medical Marijuana Users in Washington Was Illegal

Wed, 18 Oct 2017 14:05:00 -0400

Since 2012 federal prosecutors have been trying to imprison three medical marijuana users in Washington, arguing that they grew cannabis for profit rather than relief of their symptoms. In a startling shift this week, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Spokane finally conceded what the defendants—Rhonda Firestack-Harvey; her son, Rolland Gregg; and his wife, Michelle Gregg—have been saying all along: that they grew marijuana in compliance with Washington's law allowing medical use of the plant. The government also admitted in a brief filed on Monday night that its pursuit of the case has therefore been illegal since December 2014, when Congress first passed a spending rider that prohibits the Justice Department from prosecuting people for conduct permitted by state medical marijuana laws. "This filing is a victory for the family and lawful medical marijuana users all across the country," says Phil Telfeyan, the defendants' attorney. "Our government should not use federal money to prosecute people abiding by state laws. This filing will have far-reaching effects that should help end the federal prosecution of marijuana users in states where it's legal." The Greggs and Firestack-Harvey, who received sentences ranging from one year to 33 months in October 2015, are the remaining defendants in what was dubbed the Kettle Falls Five case. The other two defendants were Jason Zucker, a family friend who pleaded guilty in exchange for a 16-month sentence just before the trial started in February 2015, and Firestack-Harvey's husband, Larry Harvey, who died of pancreatic cancer in August 2015. The Justice Department is now admitting that whole ordeal was illegal, because "the United States was not authorized to spend money on the prosecution of the defendants after December of 2014." The Greggs and Firestack-Harvey plan to seek dismissal of the case on that basis. Beginning in 2012, federal prosectors argued that the Kettle Falls Five, whose combined plant total was less than the limit set by Washington's medical marijuana law, were growing too much cannabis for their own use and must have been selling it. But there was never much evidence to support that theory, and the weakness of the government's case was reflected in the March 2015 verdict. The jury convicted the Greggs and Firestack-Harvey of growing marijuana but acquitted them of distribution and a related conspiracy charge. It also rejected the government's attempt to count plants grown in previous years, which would have triggered a five-year mandatory minimum sentence, and the allegation that the defendants possessed firearms "in furtherance of" a drug trafficking crime, a charge that carries an additional five-year mandatory minimum. The jury was not allowed to hear testimony about the medical use of marijuana, which the prosecution argued was irrelevant under federal law. But that was not actually true, since Congress had by the time of the trial barred the Justice Department from interfering with the implementation of state medical marijuana laws. In 2016 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, which includes Washington, ruled that the restriction made it illegal to prosecute people for actions that comply with such laws. Last June the 9th Circuit made it clear that the Justice Department was also barred from continuing to pursue cases initiated prior to the ban on interference. Before the Kettle Falls Five trial, Telfeyan argued that the case should be dismissed in light of the spending rider. U.S. District Judge Thomas Rice disagreed, noting that the prosecution was arguing that the defendants had not complied with state law. What has changed since then is not just the 9th Circuit's rulings, which prosecutors cited in this week's brief, but the government's abandonment of the claim that the defendants used medicine as an excuse to operate a marijuana business serving recreational users. "The United States concurs with the Attorneys for Appellants' statement of the issues presented as it relates to the Department of Justice not having congressional authorization[...]



Disjointed Coughs Out Some Tired Dope Humor

Fri, 08 Sep 2017 15:00:00 -0400

Disjointed. Available now on Netflix. Way back when, my college newspaper ran a review of a Cheech and Chong show under a headline that qualified as remarkably confessional for the time: "Dope Humor Has Its Limits." I don't know if we've got to make royalty payments to whatever youthful copy editor wrote that headline, but I can't think of a single other thing to say about Netflix's new sitcom Disjointed. Dopers so wrecked they can't talk. Dopers so wrecked they can't move. Dopers so wrecked they use the Heimlich maneuver to make each other exhale dope smoke rings. (Okay, that one's new, at least for the first five seconds.) Basically, there's not a gag in Disjointed that wouldn't have fit into—or worn itself out as quickly as—a Cheech and Chong sketch or an early 1970s give-me-another-brownie flick like The Groove Tube. But even back then, the driving force of cannabis comedy—hey, man, they're smoking weed right there on the screen, my parents would be so freaked—lasted about as long as the pizza you ordered to counter the munchies. These days, with reefer madness reduced to reefer eccentricity (one in five Americans lives in states where it's pretty easy to find a legal joint), the potency is even slighter. If Disjointed were actually dope, it would be growing-along-the-river skankweed. The wispy premise of Disjointed is that its dope-addled characters get wasted under the pretense of working in a Southern California medical-marijuana dispensary. Kathy Bates plays Ruth Whitefeather Feldman, the senescent hippie owner, who says she's preaching "the gospel of marijuana: the miraculous plant that has the power to heal the sick, calm the afflicted, and usher in a golden age of people of people not being such dicks all the time." Mostly, she's just oversampling her own product, with occasional timeouts to bicker with her son Travis (Aaron Moten, The Night Of), an MBA with more secular motives: "Petty soon, somebody is going to become the Walmart of cannabis. Why not us?" Then there are employees: Jenny (Elizabeth Ho, Melissa & Joey), who introduces herself in one of the clinic's Internet ads as "your tokin' Asian," whose tiger mom thinks she's a surgeon; Olivia (Elizabeth Alderfer, Game Day), a refugee from a meth-blighted midwestern town who harbors secret doubts about the benignity of drugs; and Carter (Tone Bell, Truth Be Told), who has a secret of his own, one not usually associated with comedy. If the substance of Disjointed seems straight out of 1972, so does its structure. It's less a sitcom than a muddled series of stream-of-semi-consciousness sketches, punctuated by cut-ins of the clinic's commercials, kind of a stoner version of Laugh-In. Though for you 1980s connoisseurs, there's a running gag in which Jennie speaks Chinese to her mother—that's it, no jokes, no punch lines, just the sound of Chinese—to the uproarious delight of the canned laugh track that's been appended to the show. Not since John Hughes foreshadowed every appearance of a Chinese character named Long Duck Dong with the crashing sound of a gong in 1984's Sixteen Candles has a producer or director deemed Asian ethnicity so innately amusing. The producer in question is Chuck Lorre, the mastermind of The Big Bang Theory, Mom, and Two and a Half Men, whose association with Disjointed is as inexplicable as quantum physics after a bong full of Maui Wowie. "Back in the day, marijuana was a cause," says Ruth. "Now it's just a commodity." Marijuana humor, too.[...]



House Rules Committee Blocks Amendment Protecting Medical Marijuana

Thu, 07 Sep 2017 12:50:00 -0400

Yesterday the House Rules Committee blocked a floor vote on an amendment barring the Justice Department from interfering with state laws allowing medical use of marijuana. The amendment, which was first enacted in 2014 and has been renewed twice since then, could still be included in the final spending bill, since it has been approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee. Any differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill will be worked out by a bicameral conference committee. "By blocking our amendment, Committee leadership is putting at risk the millions of patients who rely on medical marijuana for treatment, as well as the clinics and businesses that support them," said the amendment's current sponsors, Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) and Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.). "This decision goes against the will of the American people, who overwhelmingly oppose federal interference with state marijuana laws. These critical protections are supported by a majority of our colleagues on both sides of the aisle. There's no question: If a vote were allowed, our amendment would pass on the House floor, as it has several times before." Attorney General Jeff Sessions urged Congress to block the Rohrabacher-Bluemnauer amendment last May, arguing that "it would be unwise to restrict the discretion of the Department to fund particular prosecutions, particularly in the midst of an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime." Exactly what medical marijuana had to do with any of that was unclear, but the Justice Department generally opposes limits on its prosecutorial discretion, and Sessions' anti-pot prejudices are well-known. In a Washington Post op-ed piece this week, Rohrabacher rebutted Sessions' clumsy attempt to blame medical marijuana for recent increases in opioid use and opioid-related deaths. To the contrary, he said, marijuana is a safer alternative to opioids. "The drug-war apparatus will not give ground without a fight," he wrote, "even if it deprives Americans of medical alternatives and inadvertently creates more dependency on opioids. When its existence depends on asset seizures and other affronts to our Constitution, why should anti-medical-marijuana forces care if they've contributed inadvertently to a vast market, both legal and illegal, for opioids?" Unlike Sessions, Donald Trump has repeatedly said he supports medical marijuana and thinks states should be free to allow it. So even if the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment is not renewed for the next fiscal year, it is not clear that Sessions will try to shut down state-licensed medical marijuana suppliers. The amendment does not cover state-legal marijuana merchants serving the recreational market, who nevertheless have escaped prosecution so far, even though they are openly committing federal felonies every day. A cannabis crackdown would not be popular. In the most recent Quinnipiac University poll, 61 percent of registered voters said marijuana should be legal for recreational use, while a whopping 94 percent said medical use should be allowed. Seventy-five percent opposed enforcement of the federal ban in states that have legalized marijuana for either purpose. "When an overwhelming majority of Americans oppose federal interference in state medical marijuana programs, it is unconscionable not to let their representatives vote on whether to continue this policy," said Don Murphy, director of conservative outreach at the Marijuana Policy Project. "Unless Congress chooses the Senate budget version, millions of seriously ill patients and the legitimate businesses that provide them with safe access to their medicine will be at risk of prosecution. This vote is a slap in the face of patients, their families, their elected representatives, and the 10th Amendment."[...]



Researcher Says V.A. Obstruction Jeopardizes Study of Marijuana As PTSD Treatment

Tue, 29 Aug 2017 18:15:00 -0400

The first U.S. study to test marijuana as a treatment for posttraumatic stress disorder, which had been in the works since 2009, finally got under way last February and has enrolled 25 subjects since then. But the lead researcher, Phoenix psychiatrist Sue Sisley, says the study, which needs a total of 76 subjects, has been jeopardized by a lack of cooperation from the local Veterans Health Administration hospital. "Despite our best efforts to work with the Phoenix VA hospital and share information about the study," Sisley writes in a recent letter to Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin, "they have been unwilling to assist by providing information to their patients and medical staff about a federally legal clinical trial happening right in their backyard that is of crucial importance to the veteran community." At the current recruitment rate, she says, the study will not be completed within the time required by a $2.2 million grant from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. According to Sisley's letter, the hospital's director, RimaAnn Nelson, "is citing regulations that she cannot support research that does not utilize VA personnel." Sisley is asking Shulkin to intervene so that she can post flyers advertising the study at the hospital, distribute referral letters that can be used by interested patients, and present a lecture about the research to the medical staff. (She says she gave a talk at the hospital four years ago and was told she'd be invited back once the study had received all the approvals needed to proceed with recruitment.) Sisley also asks that the hospital "include information about the PTSD/cannabis study in any kind of electronic communications that are shared with VA staff and patients." Sisley and her colleagues are looking for veterans in the Phoenix area with "chronic, treatment-resistant PTSD arising from their combat-related service in the US armed forces and with duration of PTSD lasting at least six months." The FDA-approved protocol for the study, which is sponsored by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), lists 14 inclusion criteria and seven exclusion criteria. Sisley says she and the other researchers had to screen more than 300 potential subjects to identify 25 who met the criteria. They need 51 more, which Sisley figures will require screening another 700 or so veterans. "If we cannot recruit enough veterans," Sisley writes in her letter to Shulkin, "we will need to change the inclusion criteria to allow subjects with PTSD from any cause to enroll in the study. This is a change that we do not want to make if at all possible." Sisley says the subjects enrolled so far have nearly completed the study. "Once those vets are through, there will be no reason to pay lab staff to sit aimlessly waiting for more veterans to miraculously appear," Sisley says. "There will be no improvement in veteran volunteers until the Phoenix V.A. hospital agrees to start cooperating with us. They have blocked access to appropriate Phoenix area veterans with PTSD for the past two years now." When I ask Paul Coupaud, director of communication at the Phoenix V.A. hospital, why Sisley can't advertise her study there, he notes that "marijuana is still considered federally illegal," adding that "we can't tell people to go and try something that's illegal." When I point out that the study has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration and is therefore legal under federal as well as state law, Coupaud says the real obstacle is that department regulations say "we cannot advertise any research study other than what V.A. is doing; we can't advertise outside research." He said Secretary Shulkin could amend that rule. I emailed the Department of Veterans Affairs about Sisley's complaints last week but have not heard back. The MAPS study has been focused on veterans from the beginning. Rick Doblin, executive director of MAPS, credits that fact with helping to clear a bureaucratic logjam[...]



The Federal Government Is Finally Exploring Marijuana As a Medical Alternative to Opioids

Mon, 14 Aug 2017 16:00:00 -0400

(image) Medical marijuana advocates have claimed for years that cannabis is an effective and safe alternative to prescription opioids for the treatment of pain. But no one put up the money to prove it until last week.

On Tuesday, the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Health System announced a forthcoming study to ascertain whether medical marijuana can alleviate the need for opioids in both HIV-positive and HIV-free patients who suffer from chronic pain. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is putting $3.5 million towards the investigation.

A study published last year suggests the Albert Einstein College of Medicine is on the right track.

In 2016, researchers at the University of Michigan published two years' worth of survey results collected from 185 medical marijuana patients suffering from various ailments. Patients reported a 45 percent improvement in quality of life and a 64 percent reduction in the use of prescription opioids.

"We would caution against rushing to change current clinical practice towards cannabis," said Michigan study leader Kevin Boehnke, "but note that this study suggests that cannabis is an effective pain medication and agent to prevent opioid overuse."

The Albert Einstein College of Medicine is right to point out that we have far less data than one might expect, considering the first state to legalize medical marijuana did so 21 years ago. Most research into Schedule I drugs is paid for by the federal government, which has historically underwritten only those studies that either show the harms of such substances or explain their mechanism of action. The federal monopoly on research marijuana, meanwhile, makes studying the drug's therapeutic qualities an exercise in bureaucratic kowtowing.

But we do know there is a correlation between medical marijuana legalization and opioid use. A 2014 study that looked at 11 years of overdose data found that death rates from opioids increased in both states with liberalized marijuana laws and those without, but that "medical cannabis laws were associated with lower rates of opioid analgesic overdose mortality."

When University of Georgia economist David Bradford looked at Medicare prescribing rates, he found that physicians in medical marijuana states prescribed "1,826 fewer doses of conventional pain medication each year."

In addition to receiving funding from NIH—itself a noteworthy development—the Albert Einstein College of Medicine will conduct its study using marijuana provided by New York medical marijuana dispensaries, rather than the moldy ditchweed provided to researchers by the Drug Enforcement Administration's operation at the University of Mississippi.

Cannabis research has turned another corner.




NFL Owners Agree To Consider Letting Players Use Medical Marijuana

Sun, 06 Aug 2017 09:31:00 -0400

The National Football League is back in action this weekend—if you count preseason games as "action"—after taking a tiny step toward maybe, possibly, someday letting players use marijuana to treat pain. NFL owners agreed to work together with the NFL Players Association on a study to determine the effectiveness of marijuana as a medical treatment. Yes, there have already been numerous studies on the medical value of marijuana—29 states have legalized the drug for that reason—but this seemingly small step is a pretty big shift for the league, which has always maintained a strict prohibitionist stance on pot. "Certainly the research about marijuana and really more particularly cannabinoid compounds as they may relate to the treatment of both acute and chronic pain, that is an area of research that we need a lot more information on and we need to further develop," Allen Sills, a Vanderbilt University neurosurgeon hired earlier this year to be the NFL's chief medical officer, said in an interview with The Washington Post. Sills said examining the feasibility of players using marijuana to manage the pain that comes from repeated full-speed collisions with other muscle-bound athletes was "really important" to players' long term health. While the NFL has never allowed players to use marijuana for any reason—the players' union is also reportedly seeking reduced punishments for recreational use as well—there is a well-documented history of teams handing out pharmaceutical pain-killers by the handful. The NFL currently is fighting a lawsuit from several former players who allege that official team doctors literally handed out piles of opioids and other painkillers—ignoring federal laws for prescription drugs and disregarding medical guidance—before, during, and after games. "The medicine being pumped into these guys is just killing people," former player Nate Jackson told Rolling Stone last year, as part of an excellent piece on the league's nonsensical marijuana rules and how they've led to an over-reliance on opioids. The NFL's slowly changing stance on the issue comes a few months after Jerry Jones, the Dallas Cowboys' owner and possibly the most powerful billionaire in the NFL's inner circle of powerful billionaires, floated the idea of loosening the ban on marijuana. Much as it pains me to admit it, Jones is absolutely right. The NFL's anti-marijuana stance simply doesn't make sense as more state governments adopt more liberal views toward medical and recreational weed. A player on the Seattle Seahawks or Denver Broncos (or any of the California-based teams in the league) can buy and use marijuana legally in the state where he spends most of his time during the season, but could face a suspension and a fine if he's caught with it in his system. Twenty of the 32 NFL teams play in states where medical marijuana is legal. This, too, mirrors the society-wide debate over the relationship between legal recreational weed and employment contracts that prohibit the use of marijuana. The league, and individual teams, are within their rights to require certain behavior from their players as a condition of employment, of course, but given the NFL's troubled history with punishing more serious offenses like, say, serial sexual assaults or domestic violence by star players, enforcing an absolute prohibition against marijuana use seems like it should be a lesser priority. Sills seems to recognize the NFL is both influenced by the changing views on marijuana in society, and in a position to reinforce that shift. "These really aren't just football issues," Sills told the Post. "These are society issues, right? We know right now that as a society that the treatment of both acute and chronic pain is a huge public health problem. "But I think that we in professional sports are in a unique position to help inform the public and to do research and really advance our state of understanding about th[...]



Rejecting Sessions' Plea, Senate Panel Votes to Protect Medical Marijuana

Thu, 27 Jul 2017 13:20:00 -0400

(image) Jeff Sessions' former Senate colleagues, dismayed at Donald Trump's humilating tweets and comments about him, are rallying to his defense, urging the president to stop castigating an attorney general he describes as a "beleaguered" and "very weak" disappointment. But their solidarity with Sessions goes only so far, as demonstrated by today's vote on a spending rider that blocks Justice Department interference with medical marijuana laws.

The Senate Appropriations Committee approved the rider, known as the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, by a voice vote, indicating that it was not controversial among the panel's members, who include 16 Republicans. The committee thereby rejected a personal plea by Sessions to let the amendment lapse.

"I write to renew the Department of Justice's opposition to the inclusion of language in any appropriations legislation that would prohibit the use of Department of Justice funds or in any way inhibit its authority to enforce the Controlled Substances Act," Sessions said in a May 1 letter to Senate and House leaders. "I believe it would be unwise to restrict the discretion of the Department to fund particular prosecutions, particularly in the midst of an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime."

Evidently Sessions' former colleagues found that logic, tying medical marijuana to violence and heroin use, unpersuasive. The committee's approval of the rider Sessions opposes, which was first enacted in 2014 and has been renewed each year since then, sets the stage for its inclusion in the final bill providing funding for the Justice Department.

"This vote is not only a blow against an outdated Reefer Madness mindset," says Marijuana Majority Chairman Tom Angell, who first reported Sessions' letter. "It is a personal rebuke to Jeff Sessions. The attorney general, in contravention of President Trump's campaign pledges and of public opinion, specifically asked Congress to give him the power to arrest and prosecute medical marijuana patients and providers who are following state laws. A bipartisan group of his former Senate colleagues just said no. A majority of states now allow medical cannabis, and we will not allow drug warriors in the Justice Department to roll back the clock. The war on marijuana is ending, even if Jeff Sessions doesn't realize it yet."

Two weeks ago, the same Senate committee, by a vote of 24 to 7, approved an amendment that would have permitted Veterans Health Administration doctors to recommend marijuana as a treatment in states that allow medical use. Last year that amendment passed the Senate and House by wide margins but did not end up in the final appropriations bill. Yesterday the House Rules Committee voted to keep the rider from proceeding to a floor vote.




Juries Can Acquit the Guilty, 9th Circuit Says, but 'There Is No Right to Nullification'

Tue, 20 Jun 2017 10:15:00 -0400

Advocates of jury nullification argue that jurors have both the power and the right to acquit a guilty defendant if they believe the law or its application is unjust. According to a recent ruling by a federal appeals court, they are half right. USA v. Kleinman involves an operator of medical marijuana dispensaries in California who was convicted of federal drug charges and sentenced to nearly 18 years in prison. Among other things, the defendant, Noah Kleinman, argued that the judge had improperly instructed the jury regarding nullification. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit agreed but said the error was harmless because "there is no right to nullification." Here is what the judge told the jury: You cannot substitute your sense of justice, whatever that means, for your duty to follow the law, whether you agree with it or not. It is not for you to determine whether the law is just or whether the law is unjust. That cannot be your task. There is no such thing as valid jury nullification. You would violate your oath and the law if you willfully brought a verdict contrary to the law given to you in this case. The 9th Circuit had no problem with the first three sentences, which (not surprisingly) reflect the view of most judges and prosecutors: The jury's job is to determine the facts, not to judge the law. If a juror concludes beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant's actions meet the statutory definition of the crime with which is charged, the juror's duty is to vote for conviction, even if he thinks the statute is unjust or that applying it to the defendant would be grossly unfair. "If Kleinman's jury had exercised its power to nullify, it presumably would have disregarded the court's instructions on federal drug law and the court's antinullification instructions," the appeals court said. "The court had no duty to make the jury aware of its power to nullify, and properly instructed the jury that it could not (1) substitute its sense of justice for its duty to follow the law, or (2) decide whether a law is just or unjust." But the 9th Circuit said the last two sentences of the jury instruction went too far by implying that a not-guilty verdict in such a case would be legally invalid and that jurors might be punished for it. "The court's statement that the jury 'would violate [its] oath and the law if [it] willfully brought a verdict contrary to the law given to [it] in this case,' may imply punishment for nullification, because 'violate your oath and the law,' coming from the court in a criminal trial, could be understood as warning of a possible violation with associated sanctions. Additionally, the statement that '[t]here is no such thing as valid jury nullification' could reasonably be understood as telling jurors that they do not have the power to nullify, and so it would be a useless exercise. While jurors undoubtedly should be told to follow the law, the statement that there is no valid jury nullification misstates the role of nullification because an acquittal is valid, even if it resulted from nullification." The appeals court nevertheless rejected Kleinman's argument that the erroneous jury instruction required reversal of his conviction. "It is not fundamentally unfair for a defendant to be tried by a jury that is not fully informed of the power to nullify," the court said, "or even that is stripped of the power to nullify, because there is no right to nullification. Although a jury should not be led to believe that jury nullification will result in punishment or an invalid acquittal, the court's misstatement by implication does not rise to the level of denial of Kleinman's due process rights." The decision, which was issued last Friday, also dealt with the proper application of the Rohrabacher/Farr amendment, a spending rider that bars the Justice Department from interfering with the implementation of state [...]



This Bill Would Protect Medical Marijuana Suppliers From Jeff Sessions' Whims

Thu, 15 Jun 2017 08:30:00 -0400

Today a bipartisan group of senators plans to introduce a new version of the CARERS Act, which aims to protect medical use of marijuana in the 29 states that allow it. Among other things, the bill would provide a more permanent shield from prosecution and forfeiture than the Rohrabacher/Farr amendment, the spending rider that bars the Justice Department from interfering with the implementation of state medical marijuana laws. As Mike Riggs noted on Tuesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions sent congressional leaders a letter urging them not to include the rider, which has to be reapproved each fiscal year, in the DOJ appropriations bill enacted last month. After Congress rejected Sessions' request, President Trump signed the bill but issued a statement implying that he might ignore the rider if that was necessary to meet his "constitutional responsibility to take care that the laws be faithfully executed." Such a scenario is hard to imagine, since those laws include the restrictions imposed by the Rohrbacher/Farr amendment. It's not clear how significant the letter and the signing statement are as indicators of Sessions' intentions because the Obama administration also opposed the Rohrabacher/Farr amendment and urged courts to read it narrowly. Under Eric Holder, the DOJ argued that the rider covered only direct legal challenges to medical marijuana programs. Last year the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit rejected that interpretation, ruling that the rider also prohibits the prosecution of people who supply or possess marijuana for medical use in compliance with state laws. Despite opposing the rider, the Obama administration eventually settled on a policy of prosecutorial restraint, generally tolerating state-licensed marijuana businesses, including those serving recreational consumers, unless they violated state law or impinged on "federal law enforcement priorities." Sessions has said he agrees with much of that policy but thinks it was not applied vigorously enough—an attitude that, along with his well-known anti-pot prejudices, could signal a crackdown. But so far Sessions has not tried to shut down state-legal cannabusinesses, which federal prosecutors could easily do simply by writing some threatening letters. Nor has he challenged state marijuana laws in federal court, even as lawsuits by other parties (neighboring states, local law enforcement officials, and anti-drug activists) have fizzled out. Sessions' restraint may have something to do with positions taken by his boss before and after the presidential election. During the campaign, Trump repeatedly said states should be free to legalize marijuana, and he has consistently said medical use should be permitted. A crackdown on medical marijuana would break Trump's promises, and it would stir up a lot of political trouble with no obvious upside, other than gratification of Sessions' prohibitionist impulses. Still, it would be nice to have some lasting protection from the attorney general's whims. In addition to prohibiting federal prosecution of patients and their suppliers, the CARERS Act would eliminate some obstacles to marijuana research, allow doctors employed by the Veterans Health Administration to recommend medical marijuana in states where it is legal, and remove cannabidiol, a nonpsychoactive but therapeutically promising component of marijuana, from Schedule I, the most restrictive category under the Controlled Substances Act. The bill, which was originally introduced in 2015, no longer includes provisions that would have removed marijuana from Schedule I and protected banks that serve the cannabis industry. Those provisions were cut in the hope of attracting broader support for the bill. The initial sponsors this year include Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who did not back the 2015 version, as well as Se[...]



City of Fontana Tries to Restrict Californians' Pot Growing Rights, Gets Sued with Help of ACLU

Tue, 06 Jun 2017 19:20:00 -0400

California's Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA) passed into law last year with 57 percent support. The city of Fontana in California reacted in February to the law, known on the ballot as Proposition 64, by passing Ordinance 1758, which restricts the rights to grow marijuana for personal use granted in that state law. This week, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Northern California and the Drug Police Alliance (DPA) filed a lawsuit in California Superior Court in San Bernardino County challenging the Fontana ordinance. In Harris v. Fontana, plaintiff Mike Harris, a 61-year-old Fontana resident (and a former union iron worker and registered nurse), claims marijuana helps him with pain resulting from his prosthetic hip and shoulder reconstruction. Harris wishes to grow his medicine for himself in his Fontana home as is his right under AUMA, but says Fontana's ordinance is preventing him. (The lawsuit notes that local support for the state law was also high, with 53.5 percent of the city of Fontana and 52.5 percent of San Bernardino County voting for it.) The AUMA does allow cities to reasonably regulate marijuana growing, but also insists that "no city … may completely prohibit persons" from cultivating marijuana "inside a private residence … that is fully enclosed and secure." The suit argues that Fontana's policies in Ordinance 1758 amount to an illegitimate interference in the rights protected by AUMA. Specifically, the suit claims that elements of the ordinance such as demanding a local permit that costs more than $400, forcing applicants to make "statements that admit to a violation of federal law and that federal authorities could easily obtain," and forcing Fontanans to "submit to (and pay for) a warrantless search of their homes by government agents" are "transparently designed to deny residents the benefits and rights conferred by the AUMA." The ordinance also forces citizens to "submit to (and pay for) an illegal, costly, and wholly unnecessary criminal database search" in order to illegitimately prevent "some citizens with criminal records from growing under any circumstances." The suit notes, with many specific examples, that Fontana politicians very clearly stated that the purpose of the ordinance was to be "as restrictive as possible" toward pot cultivation in their city. Under AUMA, the lawsuit says: "it shall be lawful under state and local law, and shall not be a violation of state or local law, for persons 21 years of age or older to … (3) Possess, plant, cultivate, harvest, dry, or process not more than six living marijuana plants and possess the marijuana produced by the plants." Other than limiting the lawful activity to adults aged 21 and over, the AUMA places no further restrictions on who may engage in activities such as possession and cultivation of nonmedical marijuana, and makes such behavior affirmatively lawful under state and local law. The various requirements to get a permit to grow pot in Fontana, which the suit lays out in detail: are plainly intended to make it unreasonably difficult and expensive for persons desiring to cultivate marijuana to do so. Many residents of Fontana will be unable to afford to dedicate a separate room in their home entirely to the cultivation of six or fewer marijuana plants, or to undertake the construction necessary to create a separate, locked room accessible by a single door. Occupants of single rooms, in-law units, studios, one bedroom apartments, and other smaller homes may be denied a license based solely on the design of their homes. Residents who have unpaid municipal fines or fees are also denied permission to cultivate, even though this has no reasonable relation to public health or safety, let alone to the cultivation of marijuana. The requirement to submit to fingerprinting "for a search [...]



Iowa Expands Medical Marijuana Access; Looks to Strike Deal With Minnesota for Quicker Access

Tue, 16 May 2017 12:36:00 -0400

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad on Monday signed a bill to expand access to medical marijuana in his state, but it might take as long as 18 months before patients with cancer and other diseases can get the drug in Iowa, as the state has to find growers and license distributors. In the meantime, Iowans might be able to travel to Minnesota to obtain medical marijuana, under a proposed agreement that would be the first of its kind in the country. "Iowa is trying to provide an innovative path to help patients obtain relief while the state gets its own system up and running," says Kate Bell, an attorney with Marijuana Policy Project, a national pro-legalization nonprofit. A component of the bill signed by Branstad directs state official in Iowa to contact Minnesota's Department of Health with the intention of opening a sharing agreement between the two states. Iowa Speaker of the House Linda Upmeyer (R-District 54) told the Associated Press last week that a deal between the two states could allow Iowans to have access to medical marijuana while the state is going through the process of setting up its own network of growers and distributors. "It's providing access to Iowans and doing it as quickly as we can," Upmeyer told the AP. "I just want to be sure if we have a tough time finding a grower, we have another source available." Minnesota would have to agree. A spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Health's medical cannabis program told Reason that the state legislature would have to change the rules to allow Iowans to access the drug in Minnesota. Minnesota Speaker of the House Kurt Daudt (R-District 31A) told the AP that he sees the potential for a sharing agreement with Iowa that would be "mutually beneficial thing" because it would allow manufacturers in Minnesota to find more customers. If Minnesota changes its rules along the lines of what has been floated by Upmeyer, the bilateral agreement between the two states would be unique, but it would not be the first time that a state has allowed out-of-state residents access to medical marijuana. According to the Marijuana Policy Project, 14 of the 29 states with legal medical marijuana allow some form of "reciprocity" to accept out-of-state marijuana prescriptions. The MPP says it's important for states to include reciprocity agreements in their medical marijuana laws so patients can safely obtain the drug while visiting a different state or, as is the case in Iowa, while waiting for dispensaries to be licensed and become operational in their home states. Despite the fact that medical marijuana is now legal in a majority of states, marijuana remains on the federal government's Schedule I list—a classification given to drugs with "no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse," according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. There are concerns about a potential crackdown on state-level legalization efforts by the U.S. Department of Justice, particularly in the wake of Attorney General Jeff Sessions' comments last week encouraging prosecutors to seek harsher penalties for drug traffickers. But moving medical marijuana from Minnesota to Iowa is unlikely to get you in any more trouble than if you'd been transporting it within Minnesota. That's because of a 2005 Supreme Court ruling (Gonzalez v. Raich) that gave Congress the authority to regulate even intra-state non-commercial cannabis activity. "So the fact that it's interstate doesn't make it 'more illegal,'" Bell told Reason via email. Since patients can go directly from one state to the other—without having to pass through any states where medical marijuana is illegal—there should be limited law enforcement issues, she said. Since legalizing medical marijuana in 2015, Minnesota has seen steady growth in the number of patients accessi[...]



Trump's Medical Marijuana Threat Contradicts the Law and His Own Position

Mon, 08 May 2017 08:00:00 -0400

The appropriations bill that President Trump signed on Friday renews a rider that bars the Justice Department from interfering with the implementation of state laws allowing medical use of marijuana. But Trump signaled in a signing statement that he may decide to ignore that restriction, known as the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, notwithstanding his repeatedly expressed support for medical marijuana and for respecting state policy choices in this area. "Division B, section 537 provides that the Department of Justice may not use any funds to prevent implementation of medical marijuana laws by various States and territories," Trump says in the signing statement. "I will treat this provision consistently with my constitutional responsibility to take care that the laws be faithfully executed." The implication is that Trump's duty to enforce the federal ban on marijuana, which makes no exception for medical use, could compel him to disregard the bill's limits on the use of DOJ money. That position makes no sense, since Trump's duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed includes this law, which explicitly tells the Justice Department to refrain from interfering with state medical marijuana programs. Last August the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled that the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment prohibits the Justice Department from prosecuting medical marijuana suppliers who comply with state law, and the same analysis would also apply to civil forfeiture actions. As Steve Bell, a senior adviser at the Bipartisan Policy Center, told Bloomberg News, "It is the constitutional prerogative of the Congress to spend money and to put limitations on spending." Bell described Trump's signing statement as "an extremely broad assertion of executive branch power over the purse." Trump is not only trying to usurp the congressional power to decide how taxpayers' money will be spent; he is threatening to interfere with the autonomy that states are supposed to have under the 10th Amendment. He is also contradicting his own position both before and after his election. At the Conservative Political Action Conference in March 2015, Trump said he was leery of legalizing marijuana for recreational use, but "medical marijuana is another thing." He said he was "100 percent" in favor of medical use. He made similar statements while campaiging in Nevada that October, in New Hampshire the following January, and in Michigan two months later. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer reiterated Trump's support for medical marijuana in February. "There's two distinct issues here: medical marijuana and recreational marijuana," Spicer said. "I think medical marijuana, I've said before that the president understands the pain and suffering that many people go through who are facing especially terminal diseases and the comfort that some of these drugs, including medical marijuana, can bring to them. And that's one that Congress, through a rider...put in an appropriations bill saying the Department of Justice wouldn't be funded to go after those folks. There is a big difference between that and recreational marijuana." The rider to which Spicer referred is the very one Trump has now signaled he may flout. Mind you, Trump has said states should be free even to legalize marijuana for recreational use, although he does not think that's a good idea. In the case of medical marijuana, he has taken the further step of saying he supports the policy, which makes this latest threat all the more puzzling. "Donald Trump continues to send mixed messages on marijuana," says Michael Collins, deputy director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "After stating during the campaign that he was '100 percent' in support of medical marijuana, he now issues a signing statement casting [...]



Marijuana Policy in the Trump Era

Thu, 04 May 2017 12:00:00 -0400

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has called marijuana "only slightly less awful" than heroin. But with cannabis legal in 28 states and Washington, D.C., it's clear that federal and state drug policies are at odds. Does the Trump administration want to stop marijuana legalization? How is California dealing with the uncertainty that surrounds this legal industry? What can we expect in the next four years and beyond?

On April 20, 2017, Reason hosted a panel of experts interested in the state of marijuana legalization. Lynne Lyman, California State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance, Diane Goldstein of Law Enforcement Action Partnership, Kenny Morrison, president of the California Cannabis Manufacturer's Association and founder of the edibles manufacturer VCC Brands, and Jeff Chen, a researcher at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine, answered questions from Reason TV's Zach Weissmueller as well as viewers watching live on Facebook about the future of marijuana in America, what California's market might look like, how law enforcement is reacting to the changes, and the current state of marijuana science.


Hosted by Zach Weissmueller. Edited by Alex Manning. Camera by Manning and Paul Detrick.

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West Virginia Becomes the 29th State to Allow Medical Marijuana Use

Thu, 20 Apr 2017 09:45:00 -0400

Yesterday West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice signed a bill that makes his state the 29th to allow medical use of marijuana. West Virginia is the sixth state to legalize medical marijuana in the last year and the third (along with Ohio and Pennsylvania) to do so through the legislature. In the other three states—Arkansas, Florida, and North Dakota—voters approved ballot initiatives authorizing medical marijuana last November. West Virginia's new law recognizes marijuana as a treatment for patients with terminal illnesses or any of 14 specified conditions, including cancer, HIV/AIDS, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, Crohn's disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, and intractable pain. Patients whose doctors recommend marijuana will be able to obtain it in the form of pills, oils, gels, creams, ointments, tinctures, liquids, and vaporizable extracts from state-regulated dispensaries. The dispensaries will not sell buds for smoking or marijuana edibles, although patients can prepare their own at home. The law does not allow home cultivation, and patients can legally possess no more than a month's supply at a time. "This legislation is going to benefit countless West Virginia patients and families for years to come," says Matt Simon of the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), a West Virginia native. "Medical marijuana can be effective in treating a variety of debilitating conditions and symptoms. It is a proven pain reliever, and it is far less toxic and less addictive than a lot of prescription drugs. Providing patients with a safer alternative to opioids could turn out to be a godsend for this state." One downside to West Virginia's law is a new standard for driving under the influence of marijuana that erroneously equates impairment with a blood THC level of three nanograms per milliliter. That's even lower than the unfair and unscientific five-nanogram cutoff that Colorado and Washington adopted when they legalized marijuana for recreational use. As MPP notes, West Virginia's DUID standard "could make it illegal for some patients to ever drive, since many patients have THC levels at this amount or greater many hours or days after last administering cannabis." West Virginia's rules put it on the less liberal end of a medical marijuana spectrum that ranges from highly permissive (e.g., California) to highly restrictive (e.g., New York). Eight of the 29 medical marijuana states also allow recreational use. Medical use was approved by ballot initiative in 14 of those states, beginning with California in 1996. In the rest, as in West Virginia, medical marijuana laws originated in the state legislature. Another 18 states have approved medical marijuana laws that MPP deems "ineffective because they are either unworkable or exceptionally restrictive." These laws allow use of specific cannabis products—typically low-THC, high-CBD extracts—and often do not provide a way to legally obtain them. But if you count those 18 states, MPP says, "only three states—Idaho, Indiana, and Kansas—have not approved any form of medical marijuana law." Although the federal government still does not recognize any legitimate use for marijuana, surveys find strong popular support for letting patients have access to it. A Quinnipiac University Poll conducted in February and a Marist Poll conducted last month put support for medical marijuana at 93 percent and 83 percent, respectively. In both surveys, large majorities of both Republicans and Democrats favored medical access, as does President Trump. Even his attorney general, arch-prohibitionist Jeff Sessions, concedes that "dosages can be constructed in a way that might be beneficial."[...]



Marijuana Is Bad, DHS Chief Says, Although It's 'Not a Factor in the Drug War'

Wed, 19 Apr 2017 07:30:00 -0400

In a Meet the Press interview on Sunday, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said "marijuana is not a factor in the drug war," which is instead focused on methamphetamine, heroin, and cocaine. Apparently that dismissive comment got Kelly into trouble, because two days later, in a speech at George Washington University, he gave marijuana top billing in his description of the drug threat posed by "transnational criminal organizations." And lest anyone think Kelly does not take marijuana seriously, he added three paragraphs emphasizing that he does: Let me be clear about marijuana. It is a potentially dangerous gateway drug that frequently leads to the use of harder drugs. Additionally, science tells us that it is not only psychologically addictive but can also have profound negative impact on the still developing brains of teens and up through the early 20s. Beyond that, however, its use and possession is against federal law and until the law is changed by the U.S. Congress we in DHS are sworn to uphold all the laws on the books. DHS personnel will continue to investigate marijuana's illegal pathways along the network into the U.S., its distribution within the homeland, and will arrest those involved in the drug trade according to federal law. CBP will continue to search for marijuana at sea, air and land ports of entry and when found take similar appropriate action. When marijuana is found at aviation checkpoints and baggage screening TSA personnel will also take appropriate action. Finally, ICE will continue to use marijuana possession, distribution and convictions as essential elements as they build their deportation / removal apprehension packages for targeted operations against illegal aliens. They have done this in the past, are doing it today, and will do it in the future. No doubt Kelly's marijuana comment on Meet the Press annoyed Attorney General Jeff Sessions, an old-fashioned drug warrior who believes "good people don't smoke marijuana" and has hinted that he plans to ratchet up enforcement of the federal ban in states that have legalized pot. Before yesterday's conspicuous correction, Washington Post reporter Derek Hawkins claimed Kelly and Ashcroft had staked out "two vastly different positions on marijuana" and "could hardly be further apart." But it's not as if Kelly has ever expressed any doubt about the wisdom or fairness of pot prohibition. As head of the U.S. Southern Command in 2014, Kelly complained that marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington had made foreign officials less keen to help him stop Americans from getting the drugs they want. He reiterated that complaint in a Military Times interview last November, during which he said he was, like Donald Trump, open to medical use of marijuana but against broader legalization. "It is a gateway," Kelly said. "There's no doubt." Sessions sounds only somewhat more skeptical about marijuana's medical potential, saying, it "has been hyped, maybe too much," although "dosages can be constructed in a way that might be beneficial." Even Kelly's statement about marijuana to Meet the Press host Chuck Todd seemed to be aimed at deflating the idea that anything good could come from legalization: Todd: Marijuana legalization, does that help your problem or hurt your problem? Kelly: Yeah, marijuana is not a factor in the drug war. Kelly's concern about marijuana's role as a "gateway" to "harder drugs," of course, implicitly concedes that marijuana is less dangerous than other illegal intoxicants. But such talk has been a staple of anti-pot propaganda since Harry Anslinger was running the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, and even Sessions concedes that marijuana is "slightly less [...]