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Updated: 1 week 3 days ago

More States Move Forward With CBD-Only Measures, But Will They Help Patients?

Thu, 04/10/2014 - 20:06

Lawmakers in Alabama and Utah recently approved legislation seeking to authorize the physician-supervised use of varieties of cannabis and/or extracts high in the non-psychotropic cannabinoid cannabidiol (CBD). Both measures, which I previously summarized as ‘largely unworkable,‘ have now been signed into law.

In recent days, lawmakers in three additional states — Kentucky, Mississippi, and Wisconsin — have similarly signed off on CBD-explicit legislation. These measures are now awaiting signatures from each states’ respective Governors.

Similar to Alabama’s SB 174 (aka ‘Carley’s Law), which only permits the use of CBD by prescription during the course of an FDA-approved clinical trial, the pending Kentucky and Wisconsin bills may also be classified as ‘research-centric’ measures. Kentucky’s SB 124 permits physicians “practicing at a hospital or associated clinic affiliated with a Kentucky public university” to “dispense” cannabidiol during the course of an FDA-approved clinical trial. Wisconsin’s AB 726 similarly limits those who may legally dispense CBD to only include those physicians who have obtained an FDA-issued investigational drug permit to prescribe it. In Tennessee, lawmakers are also close to finalizing similar language (included in HB 2461 and SB 2531) that seeks to allow university clinical researchers to “manufacture” and “dispense” high-CBD cannabis oil “as part of a clinical research study on the treatment of intractable seizures.” (By contrast, separate, broader medical cannabis measures seeking to authorize the use of the whole plant failed this year in all three states.)

As I’ve previously written here and here, it is unlikely that specific changes in state law will stimulate these type of proposed clinical trials from taking place in these states any time soon. Because CBD is acknowledged by federal regulators to be classified as a schedule I prohibited substance, multiple federal agencies — including the FDA, DEA, NIDA (US National Institute of Drug Abuse), and PHS (Public Health Service) must all sign off on any clinical investigation of the cannabinoid — a process that typically takes several years. A keyword search of FDA-approved clinical trials using the terms “cannabidiol” and “United States” yields fewer than ten ongoing human trials involving CBD — less than half of which are assessing its potential therapeutic application. (Two additional safety trials assessing the use of GW Pharmaceutical’s patented high-CBD formulation Epidiolex in children with severe epilepsy are also ongoing.)

Unlike the above-mentioned measures, Mississippi’s HB 1231, does not seek to encourage state-sponsored clinical trials. Rather, the measure exempts specific high-CBD formulated oils “that contain more than fifteen percent cannabidiol [and] … no more than one-half of one percent of tetrahydrocannabinol” from the state’s definition of a schedule I prohibited substance. However, like Utah’s HB 105 (aka ‘Charlee’s Law), Mississippi’s pending law does not provide guidance as to where patients could legally obtain such extracts. Though such high-CBD products are presently available in a limited number of medical cannabis states (such as in California and Colorado), these extracts are typically only available to in-state residents who possess authorization from a physician licensed to practice in that state. (Although Colorado state law also allows for a recreational cannabis market, which may be legally accessed by out-of-state residents, at present time such high-CBD concentrates are seldom available at retail outlets.)

Additional cannabidiol-specific measures also remain pending in Florida and South Carolina, among other states. NORML will report on these measures as they progress and we will continue to express caution in regards to their practical utility for those patients who require immediate access to whole-plant cannabis and its variety of naturally-occurring compounds.

Tennessee: Lawmakers Approve Measures Reclassifying Hemp As An Agricultural Commodity

Thu, 04/10/2014 - 18:05

State lawmakers have signed off on legislation, Senate Bill 2495/House Bill 2445, to reclassify and regulate industrial hemp.

The legislation now goes to Republican Gov. Bill Haslam for his signature.

The measures reclassify cannabis possessing less than 0.3 percent THC as an industrial crop rather than a controlled substance. The legislation calls on the state Department of Agriculture to develop rules and regulations governing the licensed production of industrial hemp by Tennessee farmers. Regulators have up to 120 days following the bill’s passage to enact these licensing guidelines.

Lawmakers in Indiana and Utah previously enacted legislation earlier this year authorizing state regulators to oversee the cultivation of industrial hemp for commercial and/or research purposes.

According to the Congressional Resource Service, the US is the only developed nation that fails to cultivate industrial hemp as an economic crop. However, in February, members of Congress for the first time approved language in the omnibus federal Farm Bill allowing for the cultivation of industrial hemp in agricultural pilot programs in states that already permit the growth and cultivation of the plant. Ten additional states — California, Colorado, Kentucky, Maine, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia — have enacted legislation allowing for industrial hemp research and/or reclassifying the plant as an agricultural commodity under state law.

Study: Enactment Of Medical Cannabis Laws Not Associated With Higher Crime Rates

Tue, 04/08/2014 - 21:37

The enactment of medicinal cannabis laws is not associated with any rise in statewide criminal activity and may even be related to reductions in incidences of violent crime, according to data published online in the journal PLoS ONE.

Researchers at the University of Texas at Dallas tracked crime rates across all 50 states between the years between 1990 and 2006, a time period during which 11 states legalized marijuana for medical use. Authors reviewed FBI data to determine whether there existed any association between the passage of medicinal cannabis laws and varying rates of statewide criminal activity, specifically reported crimes of homicide, rape, robbery, assault, burglary, larceny, and auto theft.

Investigators reported that the passage of medical marijuana laws was not associated with an increase in any of the seven crime types assessed, but that liberalized laws were associated with decreases in certain types of violent crime.

“The central finding gleaned from the present study was that MML (medical marijuana legalization) is not predictive of higher crime rates and may be related to reductions in rates of homicide and assault,” authors reported. “Interestingly, robbery and burglary rates were unaffected by medicinal marijuana legislation, which runs counter to the claim that dispensaries and grow houses lead to an increase in victimization due to the opportunity structures linked to the amount of drugs and cash that are present. Although, this is in line with prior research suggesting that medical marijuana dispensaries may actually reduce crime in the immediate vicinity.”

Researchers concluded: “Medical marijuana laws were not found to have a crime exacerbating effect on any of the seven crime types. On the contrary, our findings indicated that MML precedes a reduction in homicide and assault. … In sum, these findings run counter to arguments suggesting the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes poses a danger to public health in terms of exposure to violent crime and property crimes.”

Full text of the study, “The Effect of Medical Marijuana Laws on Crime: Evidence from State Panel Data, 1990-2006,” appears online here.

Maryland: Lawmakers Eliminate Criminal Penalties For Minor Marijuana Possession Offenses

Tue, 04/08/2014 - 17:36

Maryland lawmakers have given final approval to legislation to eliminate criminal penalties for minor marijuana possession offenses.

Members of the state House of Delegates on Saturday passed the measure by a vote of 78 to 55. Members of the Senate on Monday approved the bill by a vote of 34 to 8. Democrat Gov. Martin O’Malley acknowledged that he intends to sign the bill into law.

The forthcoming law reduces existing penalties for marijuana possession offenses involving ten grams or less from a criminal misdemeanor (presently punishable by arrest, up to 90 days in jail, a $500 fine, and a criminal record) to a non-arrestable, non-criminal fine-only offense ($100 fine for first-time offenders, $250 for second-time offenders).

The new law will take effect on October 1, 2014.

According to a recent ACLU report, Maryland in 2010 possessed the fourth highest rate of marijuana possession arrests per capita of any state in the country.

Maryland’s pending law is similar to existing decriminalization laws in California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont where private, non-medical possession of marijuana is treated as a civil, non-criminal offense.

Five additional states – Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, North Carolina, and Ohio – treat marijuana possession offenses as a fine-only misdemeanor offense.

Three states – Alaska, Colorado, and Washington – impose no criminal or civil penalty for the private possession of small amounts of marijuana.

In March, lawmakers for the District of Columbia also approved legislation reducing penalties for the possession or transfer of up to one ounce of marijuana from a criminal misdemeanor (punishable by up to 6 months incarceration and a maximum fine of $1,000) to a civil violation (punishable by a $25 fine, no arrest, no jail time, and no criminal record). The measure is subject to a 60-day review period by members of Congress before it can become District law.

Maryland lawmakers on Monday also approved separate legislation amending the state’s existing medical marijuana law, which had been largely nonfunctional. The pending law will allow for qualified patients to obtain cannabis for therapeutic purposes from state-licensed producers and distributors.

Maine House and Senate to Vote on Putting Marijuana Legalization Before State Voters

Mon, 04/07/2014 - 20:34

Recently, Gov. LePage introduced a bill, LD 1811, to crack down on heroin and cocaine trafficking. While we disagree with his approach (doubling-down on the War on Drugs) Sen. David Dutremble and Rep. Corey Wilson have crafted a compromise proposal in committee that would address many of the hard-drug addiction issues Maine faces, while putting marijuana legalization on the ballot before Maine voters.

Their proposal would create a three-legged stool that includes enforcement of high-level traffickers, increased funding for addiction treatment, and a referendum to legalize, tax and regulate marijuana put before Maine voters in 2015.

The state Senate and the House of Representatives are expected to vote on this measure very soon. Please call your State Senator and urge them to support the “Dutrumble/Wilson minority report on LD 1811. Let the people decide on marijuana legalization.”

The number for the Senate switchboard is (207) 287-1540. The number for the House switchboard is (207) 287-1400 (they can direct you to your appropriate legislator).

You can also look up your elected officials and their contact information to reach them directly here.

If the governor insists on cracking down on hard drug traffickers lets at least take responsible, adult marijuana consumers off the battlefield.

Maryland House of Delegates Approves Marijuana Decriminalization

Sat, 04/05/2014 - 22:49

Today, the Maryland House of Delegates voted 78 to 55 in favor of Senate Bill 364 which reduces the penalty for possession of 10 grams or less of marijuana from a criminal misdemeanor to a civil offense.

Senate Bill 364 was originally amended by the House Judiciary Committee to simply form a task force to study the issue of marijuana decriminalization. However, this morning, under pressure from the House Black Caucus, the House Judiciary Committee reversed their vote and instead voted 13 to 8 to approve an amended version of SB 364. As amended by committee, the bill would make possession of 10 grams or less a civil offense with the first offense punishable by a $100. The fine for a second offense would be $250, and the fine for a third and subsequent offenses would be $500. The original Senate version set the fine at $100, no matter which offense it was. SB 364 is now expected to go to conference committee to resolve the differences between the version approved by the House and the one approved by the state Senate.

Commenting on today’s vote, NORML Communication Director Erik Altieri stated, “This bill represents a great step forward in reversing the devastating effect current marijuana policies have on communities in Maryland. While the state must now move forward on the legalization and regulation of marijuana, we applaud Maryland legislators in taking action to end the 23,000 marijuana possession arrests occurring in the state every year.”

According to a 2013 ACLU report, Maryland possesses the fourth highest rate of marijuana possession arrests per capita of any state in the country. Maryland arrests over 23,000 individuals for simple marijuana possession every year, at the cost over of 100 million dollars.

NORML will keep you updated on the progress of this legislation.

Majority of Law Enforcement Officers Want to Reform Marijuana Laws

Sat, 04/05/2014 - 17:55

A survey released this week by the publication Law Officer revealed that a majority of law enforcement officers want to see our country’s marijuana laws reformed.

The poll, which questioned over 11,000 law enforcement officers regarding their opinions on drug policy, revealed that just over 64% believed our marijuana laws needed to be relaxed in some form. When asked “Do you believe possession of marijuana for personal use should…” and presented with several options, 35.68% of respondents stated that marijuana be legalized, regulated and taxed, 10.84% chose that it should be be legalized for medical reasons and with a doctor’s prescription only, 14.24% said it should continue to be illegal but only punished via fines (no incarceration), and 3.68% said marijuana should simply be decriminalized. Only 34.7% believed marijuana should continue to be illegal with the criminal penalties that are currently in place.

“This poll reveals that support for marijuana prohibition is eroding even amongst those who are serving on the front lines enforcing it,” stated NORML Communications Director Erik Altieri, “When a majority of the American people and most of those tasked with implementing a law disagree with it in principle, it is time to change that law.”

You can view the full results of this survey here.

“Prohibition cannot be enforced for the simple reason that the majority of the American people do not want it enforced and are resisting its enforcement. That being so, the orderly thing to do under our form of government is to abolish a law that cannot be enforced, a law which the people of the country do not want enforced.” – New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia on alcohol prohibition.

WebMD Poll: Medical Community Backs Legalizing Cannabis

Fri, 04/04/2014 - 18:26

An estimated 70 percent of physicians acknowledge the therapeutic qualities of cannabis and over half believe that the plant should also be legal for medical purposes, according to survey data released this week by WebMD/Medscape.

Sixty-nine percent of respondents say that cannabis can help in the treatment of specific diseases and 67 percent say that the plant should be available as a legal therapeutic option for patients.

Oncologists and hematologists were most likely to express support for the use of cannabis for medical purposes, with 82 percent of those surveyed endorsing the plant’s therapeutic use. Rheumatologists (54 percent) were least likely to say the cannabis provides therapeutic benefits.

Over 1,500 physicians representing more than 12 specialty areas participated in the survey which possesses a margin of error of +/- 2.5 percent.

Pew Poll: Three-Quarters Of US Adults Say That Marijuana Legalization Is Inevitable

Thu, 04/03/2014 - 17:54

Seventy-five percent of Americans believe that the sale and use of cannabis will eventually be legal for adults, according to national polling data released this week by the Pew Research Center. Pew pollsters have been surveying public opinion on the marijuana legalization issue since 1973, when only 12 percent of Americans supported regulating the substance.

Fifty-four percent of respondents say that marijuana ought to be legal now, according to the poll. The total is the highest percentage of support ever reported by Pew and marks an increase of 2 percent since 2013. Forty-two percent of respondents said that they opposed legalizing marijuana for non-therapeutic purposes. Only 16 percent of Americans said that the plant should not be legalized for any reason.

Demographically, support for cannabis legalization was highest among those age 18 to 29 (70 percent), African Americans (60 percent), and Democrats (63 percent). Support was weakest among those age 65 and older (32 percent) and Republicans (39 percent).

Seventy-six percent of those surveyed oppose incarceration as a punishment for those found to have possessed personal use quantities of marijuana. Only 22 percent of respondents supported sentencing marijuana possession offenders to jail.

Fifty-four percent of those polled expressed concern that legalizing marijuana might lead to greater levels of underage pot use. (Forty-four percent said that it would not.) Overall, however, respondents did not appear to believe that such an outcome would pose the type of significant detrimental health risks presently associated with alcohol. As in other recent polls, respondents overwhelmingly say that using cannabis is far less harmful to health than is drinking alcohol. Sixty-nine percent of those polled said that alcohol “is more harmful to a person’s health” than is marijuana. Only 15 percent said that cannabis posed greater health risks. Sixty-three percent of respondents separately said that alcohol is “more harmful to society” than cannabis. Only 23 percent said that marijuana was more harmful.

The Pew poll possesses a margin on error of +/- 2.6 percent.

Recent national polls by Gallup and CNN similarly report majority support among Americans for legalizing and regulating the adult use of the plant.

Commenting on the poll, NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said: “Advocating for the regulation of cannabis for adults is not a fringe political opinion. It is the majority opinion among the public. Elected officials who continue to push for the status quo — the notion that cannabis ought to be criminalized and that the consumers of cannabis ought to be stigmatized and punished — are holding on to a fringe position that is increasingly out-of-step with the their constituents’ beliefs.”

DC Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Signed

Mon, 03/31/2014 - 21:05

This afternoon, “The Simple Possession of Small Quantities of Marijuana Decriminalization Amendment Act of 2013” was signed by the mayor after being approved by the city council in a 10 to 1 vote. This measure amends the punishment for the possession or transfer of up to one ounce of marijuana from a criminal misdemeanor (punishable by up to 6 months incarceration and a maximum fine of $1,000) to a civil violation (punishable by a $25 fine, no arrest, no jail time, and no criminal record).

“DC has the most egregious racially disparate marijuana arrests of any city in the country,” stated NORML Communications Director Erik Altieri, “This measure is a great first step in ending the devastation marijuana arrests have on the city’s communities and will allow law enforcement to better allocate their resources towards more dire crimes.”

NORML commends Councilman Tommy Wells on championing the measure through the city council.

“This is a victory for the District and a victory for justice. This bill is a tremendous stride to end the disproportionate sociological and economic impact of marijuana arrests on African Americans – arrest that pull families apart and keep our residents from jobs, higher education and housing opportunities,” Councilman Tommy Wells said about the bill signing.

Due to federal oversight of the District, this measure will not officially become law until it is received by the US Congress and undergoes a period of review. This review period is likely to extend into late summer, we will update you when it has been finalized. If Congress choses not to act to overturn the measure, it becomes DC law.

New Hampshire House of Representatives Votes Overwhelmingly in Favor of Marijuana Decriminalization

Wed, 03/12/2014 - 21:39

Today, the New Hampshire House of Representatives voted 215 to 92 in favor of House Bill 1625. This legislation to significantly reduce marijuana penalties in New Hampshire.

Under present law, possession of any amount of marijuana is a criminal misdemeanor, punishable by up to 1 year of incarceration and a maximum fine of $2,000. Passage of this act would eliminate criminal penalties for possession of one ounce or less of marijuana and replace them with a civil fine of $100 — no arrest and no criminal record. It would lower the classification of cultivation of six marijuana plants or less to a Class A misdemeanor. You can read the full text of this measure here. House Bill 1625 now awaits action in the state Senate.

New Hampshire Residents: Click HERE to quickly and easily contact your member of the state Senate and urge them to support this important legislation. You can also view how each member of the House of Representatives voted here.

Poll: Americans View Pot As Less Harmful To Health Than Tobacco, Alcohol, Or Sugar

Wed, 03/12/2014 - 19:26

Americans believe that consuming cannabis poses less harm to health than does the consumption of tobacco, alcohol, or sugar, according to the findings of a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released today.

Respondents were asked which of the four substances they believed to be “most harmful to a person’s overall health.” Most respondents said tobacco (49 percent), followed by alcohol (24 percent) and sugar (15 percent).

Only eight percent of those surveyed said that they believed that marijuana was most harmful to health.

The poll possesses a margin of error of +/- 3.10 percent.

Commenting on the poll results, NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said: “These results once again reaffirm that an overwhelming majority of the American public understands that any potential risks associated with the use or abuse of cannabis are relatively minor to those associated with many other legal and regulated substances. Criminalizing cannabis and those who consume it responsibly is a disproportionate public policy response to what is, at worst, a public health issue but not a criminal justice concern.”

Under federal law, marijuana is classified as a schedule I controlled substance, meaning that its alleged harms are equal to those of heroin.

Maryland House Committee to Hear Decriminalization and Legalization Bills, Advocates to Rally in Support

Wed, 03/12/2014 - 18:52

Tomorrow, the Maryland House Judiciary Committee will be holding a public hearing to discuss House Bill 880 (legalization) and House Bill 879 (decriminalization) at 1:00pm in Annapolis.

Maryland residents can click here to contact their legislators in favor of decriminalization and here to contact them in favor of legalization. It only takes a few minutes, so please take a moment of your time to let your voice be heard.

Please also consider calling both House Judiciary Committee Chairman Delegate Vallario and Speaker of the House Delegate Busch to let them know that Marylanders support reforming the state’s marijuana policies. These two will be key in seeing these measures advance and have had prior history of opposing such efforts. Their contact information is below:

House Judiciary Committee Vallario
P: 301-858-3488

Speaker of the House Delegate Busch
P: 301-858-3800

Prior to the hearing, marijuana law reform advocates will be rallying at Lawyers Mall outside of the state house at 11:00am to show support for these important pieces of legislation. They will be joined by legalization and decriminalization bill sponsor, and NORML PAC endorsed candidate for Maryland Governor, Delegate Heather Mizeur. More information on the rally is available here.

Thank you for supporting our efforts to legalize marijuana in Maryland. Together, we can bring about great change in the state this legislative session!

Colorado: First Month Of Legal Marijuana Sales Yields $3.5 Million In Taxes And Fees

Wed, 03/12/2014 - 18:36

Retail sales of cannabis in the month of January yielded an estimated $3.5 million dollars in state tax revenues, according to financial data released online this week by the Colorado Department of Revenue.

Under Colorado law, commercial cannabis producers must pay a 15 percent excise tax, while retail customers must pay an additional ten percent sales tax (on top of the state’s existing 2.9 percent sales tax) on any cannabis purchased at a licensed facility. The majority of Colorado voters approved the imposition of cannabis-specific taxes (Proposition AA) in November 2013.

For the month, customers spent an estimated $14 million on the purchase of marijuana and cannabis-infused goods at state-licensed facilities. This figure is anticipated to grow larger as more and more facilities become operational.

State law authorized the retail sale of cannabis beginning on January 1st to those age 21 or older. At that time, only 24 retailers were operational. By month’s end, nearly 60 facilities were up and running. Presently, over 150 licensed facilities are operational.

Similarly licensed retail operations are anticipated to be operational in Washington by this summer.

Patients Ought To Be Skeptical Of Proposed CBD-Only Legislation — Here’s Why

Thu, 03/06/2014 - 23:18

In recent weeks, lawmakers in several states have moved forward with legislative proposals to permit specific strains and/or extracts of cannabis possessing high quantities of the cannabinoid cannabidiol (CBD), but otherwise maintaining criminal prohibitions on the whole plant.

But is this new direction in the best interest of patients? As I wrote in a recent column for Alternet.org (republished with permission by Cannabis Now under the title “Patients Ought To Be Skeptical Of Proposed CBD-Only Legislation — Here’s Why”), I believe the answer is ‘no.’

Ultimately, patients should not be unnecessarily forced to decide between either accessing the whole plant or its isolated components. They should have safe, legal access to both, and politicians, even well-intentioned ones, should not restrict patients’ right to choose the most suitable option.

Below are excerpts from my commentary. You can read the entire text here.

Patients Ought To Be Skeptical Of Proposed CBD-Only Legislation — Here’s Why
via Cannabis Now

[excerpt] If the plant ain’t broke, why fix it?

For longtime marijuana law reformers, the ongoing political conversation surrounding CBD is instructive. It makes it clear that many politicians’ public opposition to the idea of patients using marijuana therapeutically isn’t because of supposed unanswered questions surrounding the plant’s safety or efficacy. Rather, it is because lawmakers oppose the idea of some people getting high from a naturally growing herb. (The fact that patients can get equally high or even higher from FDA-approved synthetic THC has, for whatever reason, never been an expressed concern of either lawmakers or prohibitionists.) After all, the very same politicians who argue that marijuana isn’t medicine because it hasn’t been approved by the FDA or who allege that the substance hasn’t yet been subjected to sufficient scientific scrutiny utter no such public objections to the idea of legalizing patient access to CBD – a schedule I compound that hasn’t been reviewed, much less approved by the FDA, and that has been clinically studied far less than cannabis.

Perhaps most ironically is that were it not for the advent of legalized whole plant marijuana, a policy change publicly opposed by many present day CBD-only political advocates, lawmakers (and anti-pot groups like SAM) today wouldn’t be aware of CBD, much less advocating for it. The reality is that it was the stakeholders in medical marijuana states, and those who provide for them, who have done the most to explore and promote cannabidiol as a legitimate therapeutic agent. And they were able to do so because they, unlike most federally licensed medical researchers, had access to the whole plant.

We’ve been down this road before. Not long ago, lawmakers and anti-marijuana zealots were dismissing patients’ desire to access the marijuana plant because they alleged that the THC-pill Marinol could adequately meet patients’ needs. Patients and their advocates were skeptical of lawmakers’ claims then, and properly so. Now many of these same politicians are once again dismissing patients’ calls for whole plant medicine by claiming that products and strains containing CBD alone only will suffice. Patients and their advocates ought to be equally skeptical once again.

Legal Pot’s Cash Conundrum

Thu, 03/06/2014 - 17:39

On Sunday February 16th, I bought legal weed for the first time from a recreational cannabis store in Denver, Co.  I spent a few minutes speaking with some of the employees, as I was eager to hear how things were going under this newly sanctioned marijuana market.  Unsurprisingly, business was great.  Some items were selling quicker than others, but everyone was in agreement that the rollout of Colorado’s legal cannabis retail system had been a great success, except for one crucial component that was as unsettling as it was expected – we were standing in one of a few dozen high profile stores, well-known for having excessive amounts of cash on hand (in the first week of sales, businesses generated $5 million in cash-only transactions) and no where to put it, because the banks won’t take it.

Clearly, denying these pot stores the ability to safely deposit their earnings poses an imminent threat to public safety.  These shops are easy targets for robbery and assault (as well as other forms of criminal activity), which puts customers and employees at serious risk.  Some of these shop owners are considering banning backpacks or other large bags – others are arming their workers.  Neither of these options are a viable solution.

This problem isn’t new however, nor is it going unnoticed.  On February 14th, the Department of Treasury released a nonbinding memorandum, in conjunction with the Justice Department stating that banks may consider working with pot retailers without fear of prosecution – so long as they remain in compliance with state laws, and followed other instructions outlined in the memo.  Though a truly historic and progressive action by the federal government’s leading financial regulatory body, these guidelines are largely symbolic, providing no actual legal protection to banks working with cannabis shops.   As such, most financial companies remain skeptical about getting involved with a market existing under so many contradictory laws.

According to federal law, these banks could technically be found guilty of money laundering (among other offenses) for handling the proceeds of what the US government still considers an illegal drug.  The Colorado Bankers Association rightly notes that the guidance issued by the Department of Justice and the U.S. Treasury “only reinforces and reiterates that banks can be prosecuted for providing accounts to marijuana related businesses.”  The Association further criticizes these new guidelines, stating that “Bankers had expected the guidance to relieve them of the threat of prosecution should they open accounts for marijuana businesses, but the guidance does not do that.  Instead, it reiterates reasons for prosecution and is simply a modified reporting system for banks to use. It imposes a heavy burden on them to know and control their customers’ activities, and those of their customers.”

Is it any surprise then that these guidelines – which include a multi-tiered labeling structure and a requirement for banks to maintain ‘suspicious activity reports’ – have left many financial institutions with cold feet?  Two of Colorado’s largest banks, Wells Fargo and FirstBank have already announced they won’t work with weed-related enterprises.  In fact, most financial trade associations have widely rejected these latest overtures because there are no tangible, legal policies in place.

Despite the skepticism held by many federal administration officials and other politicians, the government can and should be doing much more to enable the success of this new, legal market. Unfortunately, many are sitting on their hands, and holding their breath – hoping to quietly ride out this growing wave of support for legalization, which shows no sign of subsiding.  Over 50% of the US population supports a regulated marijuana retail system for adults.

Its time for these officials to concede to the will of the electorate, and address the legitimate needs of this new industry. Lawmakers now have an opportunity to show true leadership in this changing political landscape by supporting legislation that would give states and businesses the resources necessary to enable a responsible and successful implementation of this new “great experiment.” Specifically, they should get behind the “Marijuana Businesses Access to Banking Act,” introduced by Colorado representative Ed Perlmutter.  This bill (HR 2652), already endorsed by the Colorado Bankers Association, would alter various banking laws to protect banks providing services to marijuana-related businesses from the threat of federal prosecution and other penalties.

Financial institutions don’t operate off good-faith statements (including non-binding memorandums) – even those from the Department of Treasury, or any other enforcement agency.  They operate under explicit legal authorization.  Only when the laws change will the banks truly be free to provide the services these businesses so desperately need, and their communities rightly deserve.

 

 Contact your representative today and tell them to support HR 2652

Dr. Sanjay Gupta: “I Am Doubling Down On Medical Marijuana”

Wed, 03/05/2014 - 22:32

CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta is “doubling down” in his advocacy for patients to have legal access to cannabis as a therapeutic agent.

In a commentary featured on the CNN website today, Gupta writes: “I am more convinced than ever that it is irresponsible to not provide the best care we can, care that often may involve marijuana. I am not backing down on medical marijuana; I am doubling down.”

Last August, Gupta authored a commentary apologizing for his past opposition to medical cannabis, stating, “We have been terribly and systematically misled for nearly 70 years in the United States (in regards to cannabis), and I apologize for my own role in that.”

In today’s editorial, Gupta acknowledges, “Marijuana is classified as a Schedule I substance, defined as (one of) the most dangerous drugs with no currently accepted medical use. Neither of those statements has ever been factual.”

He criticizes President Obama for acknowledging that cannabis poses less harm than alcohol while failing “to remove marijuana from the list of the most tightly controlled substances in the country.” Dr. Gupta also questions how the US government can possess a patent on the therapeutic application of cannabinoids yet still deny that the compounds possess medical utility.

Ultimately, cannabis prohibition is a “Draconian system where politics override science,” Gupta concludes.

Gupta’s forthcoming documentary on the plant, entitled “Weed 2: Cannabis Madness: Dr. Sanjay Gupta Reports,” at 10 p.m. ET on Tuesday, March 11.

District Of Columbia: City Council Finalizes Vote Decriminalizing Pot Possession Offenses

Tue, 03/04/2014 - 21:45

Members of the Washington DC City Council gave final approval today to legislation reducing the District’s marijuana possession penalties to a fine-only violation.

District lawmakers voted 10 to 1 in favor of “The Simple Possession of Small Quantities of Marijuana Decriminalization Amendment Act of 2013,” which amends District law involving the possession or transfer of up to one ounce of marijuana from a criminal misdemeanor (punishable by up to 6 months incarceration and a maximum fine of $1,000) to a civil violation (punishable by a $25 fine, no arrest, no jail time, and no criminal record). Democrat Mayor Vincent C. Gray said that he intends to sign the measure into law.

Offenses involving the public consumption of cannabis remain classified as a criminal misdemeanor under DC law, punishable by up to six-months in jail and a $500 fine. The possession of cannabis-related paraphernalia will be re-classified as a violation, not a criminal offense.

Once signed into law, the measure faces a 60-day review period by members of Congress.

The District measure is similar to existing ‘decriminalization’ laws in California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont where private, non-medical possession of marijuana is treated as a civil, non-criminal offense.

Five additional states – Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, North Carolina, and Ohio – treat marijuana possession offenses as a fine-only misdemeanor offense.

Three states – Alaska, Colorado, and Washington – impose no criminal or civil penalty for the private possession of small amounts of marijuana.

A 2012 analysis published by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland reported that the District possesses the highest percentage of marijuana possession arrests per capita in the nation.

Reefer Madness Continues: Can Marijuana Kill You?

Fri, 02/28/2014 - 20:00

(Dr. Mitch Earleywine was elected as the Chairman of the NORML Board of Directors in February 2014)

A recent headline reads: “Can Marijuana Kill You? German Scientists Say Yes.” The article focuses on a study of two (count ‘em, two!) young men who died while they had detectable levels of THC in their blood. I take a lot of pleasure in this kind of melodrama. If prohibitionists are stooping this low, we must really be frightening them. (It’s not completely pharmacologically ridiculous. Marijuana does increase heart rate. In fact, it can jack up heart rate almost as much as an espresso or energy drink. Maybe if you already had a weak heart and a coffee and a bong hit, well, something might happen.)

But I want to point out that we should actually expect literally thousands of reports like this. We should hear about lots of people who have heart attacks on the same day that they commune with the plant. It’s not because cannabis causes heart attacks. It’s simple chance.

I hate for my first blog as Chair of The Executive Board to be this nerdy, but I’ve been teaching statistics for more than 20 years. If that doesn’t make me a nerd, I’m not sure what would. But given how many people use cannabis daily and how many heart attacks occur in the United States, it’s actually a miracle that we haven’t heard about this kind of thing before. We also should expect to hear it a lot more often.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, roughly 7,600,000 Americans (over age 12) used marijuana daily or near daily in 2012. In addition, the Center for Disease Control suggests that about 715,000 of us have heart attacks in a year. (Let’s assume those under age 12 are probably not grabbing their chests with a myocardial infarction too often.) In addition, let’s guess that the United States has about 280 million people over age 12. It’s hard to know the exact number, but that’s probably in the ballpark.

With this in mind, we can predict how many people should have a heart attack the same day that they used cannabis simply by chance. That is, even if these two things had nothing to do with each other, we should expect some folks to have a heart attack the same day that they used cannabis just by accident.

Okay. It’s going to get nerdy here, but this is comparable to asking simpler questions. If I had a dime and a nickel, I might want to know what the chances are that I’d flip heads on both. I flip heads 1 out of 2 times on average for the dime, for a probability of .5. Then I flip heads on the nickel 1 out of 2 times on average, also for a probability of .5. So the chances of flipping heads on both is .5 * .5 for .25. So we’d expect to get heads on both coins about 1Ž4 of the time. If I flipped both coins 100 times, I’d get around 25 pairs of heads. Note that there’s nothing causal here. The nickel doesn’t know what the dime did. It doesn’t want to be like the dime. It’s not that the dime caused the nickel to flip heads.

So it’s the same deal for the cannabis-related heart attacks. If 7.6 million people use cannabis daily out of 280 million relevant Americans, that’s a probability of .0271. And if 715 thousand of 280 million have heart attacks, that’s a probability of .0026. Multiply these the same way we did with the probabilities for flipping heads (.0271 * .0026 = .00007). Now .00007 is a dinky number. If there were only 100 people in the country, we wouldn’t expect any of them (well, .007) to have a heart attack and smoke cannabis on the same day. But we’re talking about 280 million people here. So we’d expect .00007 * 280,000,000, = 19,600. That’s over 19,000 heart attacks.

So the question isn’t, “How did these two guys die of a heart attack with THC in their blood?” It should be, “Where are the other 19,598 guys who should have had heart attacks with THC in their blood?” In fact, the absence of this many cannabis-related myocardial infarctions inspired my wife to ask, “Does cannabis protect the heart?”

If we repeal prohibition, we’ll get to find out.

Go AS, Mozaffarian D, Roger VL, Benjamin EJ, Berry JD, Borden WB, Bravata DM, Dai S, Ford ES, Fox CS, Franco S, Fullerton HJ, Gillespie C, Hailpern SM, Heit JA, Howard VJ, Huffman MD, Kissela BM, Kittner SJ, Lackland DT, Lichtman JH, Lisabeth LD, Magid D, Marcus GM, Marelli A, Matchar DB, McGuire DK, Mohler ER, Moy CS, Mussolino ME, Nichol G, Paynter NP, Schreiner PJ, Sorlie PD, Stein J, Turan TN, Virani SS, Wong ND, Woo D, Turner MB; American Heart Association Statistics Committee and Stroke Statistics Subcommittee. Heart disease and stroke statistics—2013 update: a report from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2013 Jan 1;127(1):e6-e245.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Results from the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Summary of National Findings, NSDUH Series H-46, HHS Publication No. (SMA) 13-4795. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2013.

National Black Caucus Of State Legislators Calls For Liberalizing Marijuana Penalties

Wed, 02/26/2014 - 22:19

Members of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators recently resolved at their Annual Legislative Conference in favor of decriminalizing marijuana.

“Whereas state and local governments could potentially stand to save billions of dollars that they currently spend regulating marijuana use by decriminalizing the recreational use of marijuana, therefore be it resolved that the National Black Caucus of State Legislators recognizes the decision of the Administration to not challenge the choice made by citizens of these states, and urges the continued respect of state law, and encourages other states to consider decriminalization,” the Caucus resolved.

It added, “[The] NBCSL supports the states’ authority to make a determination as to what age, at or above 18, qualifies as a “legal adult” who may purchase, possess, or consume marijuana [and] … urges the federal government to reduce the penalties associated with the use and simple possession of marijuana.”

The 2014 resolution is LJE-14-40: Supporting States’ Rights to Decriminalize Marijuana Use.

A 2013 report by the American Civil Liberties Union reported that blacks nationwide were approximately four times as likely as whites to be arrested for marijuana possession in 2010, even though both ethnic groups consumed the substance at similar rates.

The National Black Caucus of State Legislators represents more than 650 African-American legislators from 45 states, the District of Columbia, and the Virgin Islands.