Posts Tagged ‘federal law’

Ending Marijuana Prohibition Would Save Lives and Taxpayer Money

A father-daughter duo of public policy researchers from the University of Georgia have published a follow-up to their 2016 research that found in states with a medical marijuana program, prescriptions for medications like painkillers, antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications dropped sharply.

That means that among adults 65 and older who are enrolled in Medicare, many are choosing to self-medicate with cannabis rather than taking medications prescribed by a doctor. It’s a significant shift in approaches to healthcare, and is especially relevant given the opioid epidemic in the U.S. Numerous studies have found that opiate abuse and overdose rates fell in states with medical marijuana laws.

The Bradfords’ new study applies the same analysis as the Medicare study, but this time they looked at Medicaid prescriptions. Medicaid covers low-income people of all ages. The results were similar to the Medicare research: in states with a medical marijuana program, prescriptions for certain drugs fell significantly.

Anti-nausea prescriptions fell by 17 percent, anti-depressants fell 13 percent, and anti-seizure and psychosis drugs fell 12 percent. Prescriptions for painkillers, including opiates, fell by 11 percent.

“Patients and physicians in the community are reacting to the availability of medical marijuana as if it were medicine,” the Bradfords concluded.

They also concluded that a nationwide medical marijuana program would save taxpayers about $1.1 billion on Medicaid prescriptions annually. However, while Medicaid and Medicare see cost savings, medical marijuana must be purchased outside of the insurance system, essentially shifting the burden of cost to low-income and senior patients.

Last summer the DEA affirmed marijuana’s status as a Schedule 1 drug–categorizing cannabis as an addictive drug with no medical benefits. The Bradfords warned that, “This decision was made despite the substantial and growing evidence that the requirements for Schedule I status involving ‘no currently accepted medical uses’ are no longer met by marijuana.”

Illinois Treasurer Urges Trump to Let Banks Work with Cannabis

The uneasy relationship between cannabis and the banking industry could improve if Illinois State Treasurer Michael Frerichs has anything to do with it.

Frerichs issued a press release Monday, urging the Trump administration to give clear guidance to financial institutions regarding medical marijuana. In his letter, he urged President Trump to reassure banks that they will not face penalties or prosecution for doing business with state-licensed marijuana growers and dispensaries.

“Medical marijuana is not right for everyone. However, its positive results for those with debilitating conditions, including Veterans and children threatened by seizures, are undeniable,” Frerichs said. “Updating our banking laws to embrace commonsense change will allow Illinois to properly manage this reasonable program, guarantee uninterrupted access to medical users, and protect financial institutions that serve the industry.”

The nomination of Jeff Sessions as attorney general has marijuana advocates unsure if he’ll reverse President Obama’s directive not to enforce federal marijuana laws. Federal law prohibits banks from processing money from the legal marijuana industry, making day-to-day transactions difficult. Most dispensaries work on a cash-only basis, and business owners have difficulty opening checking accounts and securing loans. The current system also makes it difficult for states to audit sales, verify taxes are collected, and encourages a gray market and criminal activity.

Lack of access to banking has been a thorn in the side of the legal marijuana industry since its inception. Even ancillary cannabis businesses have difficulty accessing banking services to send or receive payment. Frerichs press release notes that “most refuse to provide banking services to those in the medical marijuana industry while smaller community banks do so with great trepidation. The lack of full engagement hobbles the industry despite the availability of marijuana in 27 states.” Currently, marijuana is still considered a Schedule I drug under federal law.

Pro-Cannabis Group to Give Free Marijuana on Inauguration Day

In response to Senator Jeff Sessions’ nomination for attorney general by President-elect Trump, a group of marijuana advocates are lighting up in protest at the upcoming inauguration.

Sessions has been a long-time prohibitionist and marijuana detractor, and should he receive the nomination, many pot supporters are worried.

Representative Jared Polis, a Democrat from Colorado, said that if Sessions decides to pursue enforcing federal drug laws in states with legal weed, “in one fell swoop, the federal government could damage state economies, and discourage entrepreneurship—placing some of our innovators behind bars, all while eroding states’ rights.”

That’s why DCMJ, a marijuana advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., plans to give away thousands of free joints on January 20. DCMJ was integral in getting Initiative 71 passed in 2014, making it legal in Washington, D.C. to possess two ounces or less or marijuana, to grow it, and to give it away, but, because of congressional interference, it’s not legal to sell cannabis.

The advocacy group will start handing out 4,200 joints at 8 a.m. on the west side of Dupont Circle. Participants will then walk to the National Mall and toke at 4 minutes and 20 seconds into Trump’s inauguration speech.

“We are going to tell them that if they smoke on federal property, they are risking arrest. But, that’s a form of civil disobedience,” said Adam Eidinger, the founder of DCMJ. “I think it’s a good protest. If someone wants to do it, they are risking arrest, but it’s a protest and you know what, the National Mall is a place for protest.”

Eidinger says that the protest isn’t anti-Trump or looking to disrupt the inauguration. “The main message is it’s time to legalize cannabis at the federal level.”

President Obama Talks Marijuana

obamaIn an “exit interview” with Rolling Stone, President Obama spoke about decriminalizing marijuana and treating cannabis as a public-health issue rather than a criminal one.

“Look, I’ve been very clear about my belief that we should try to discourage substance abuse. And I am not somebody who believes that legalization is a panacea. But I do believe that treating this as a public-health issue, the same way we do with cigarettes or alcohol, is the much smarter way to deal with it. Typically how these classifications are changed are not done by presidential edict but are done either legislatively or through the DEA. As you might imagine, the DEA, whose job it is historically to enforce drug laws, is not always going to be on the cutting edge about these issues.”

Throughout his presidency, Obama has taken a hands-off approach to pot. In 2013, his administration announced that they wouldn’t sue to stop recreational marijuana in Colorado after voters passed Amendment 64. Soon after, the Justice Department followed suit. However, advocates in state’s that have some form of legal cannabis are nervous about what the Trump incoming administration means for the cannabis industry.

“If you survey the American people, including Trump voters, they’re…in favor, in large numbers, of decriminalizing marijuana,” Obama said.

It’s unclear what stance Trump will take on marijuana, but many advocates are concerned about the president-elect’s choice for attorney general, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.). Sessions is a long-time opponent of cannabis, perhaps best known for his statements that, “Good people don’t smoke marijuana,” and that he thought members of the Ku Klux Klan “were okay until I found out they smoked pot.”

Even if this new administration plans to shut down marijuana, it may be difficult to put the pot genie back in the bottle. After this year’s election, more than that half of U.S. states have legalized medical marijuana and seven states plus the District of Columbia have approved recreational marijuana.

“It is untenable over the long term for the Justice Department or the DEA to be enforcing a patchwork of laws, where something that’s legal in one state could get you a twenty-year prison sentence in another. So this is a debate that is now ripe, much in the same way that we ended up making progress on same-sex marriage,” said Obama.

The State of Marijuana: 2016

We made it! The election is finally over–and the big winner is definitely cannabis.

mmj-chart

Recreational marijuana initiatives were on the ballot in five states, with Arizona as the only holdout.

Here are the state-by-state results:

  • Arizona: Proposition 205, which would have legalized recreational marijuana use for adults 21 and older, failed, with 52% against.
    Medical marijuana was legalized in Arizona in 1996.
     
  • California: Voters approved Proposition 64, and the state is poised to become the country’s largest cannabis market. The measure had 4,952,476 votes for, or 56 percent, to 3,920,303 votes against, or 44 percent. Proposition 64 legalizes recreational cannabis use for people 21 and older. Marijuana will be subject to 15% sales tax.
    In 1996, California was the first state to make medical marijuana legal.
     
  • Maine: Results of a ballot measure to legalize recreational cannabis in Maine is still too close to call. “Yes” votes to Question 1 are in the lead, but votes are still being counted.
     
  • Massachusetts: Question 4 passed in Massachusetts with 54% in favor. Medical marijuana became legal in Massachusetts in 2012.
    The passage of Question 4 allows people 21 and older could use, possess or grow cannabis. They can have under 10 ounces in their home and under 1 ounce in public and be allowed to grow six plants.
     
  • Nevada: Question No. 2 passed with 52% in favor. The initiative is similar to laws adopted in Washington and Colorado, which tax and regulate cannabis like alcohol. Legalization in the Silver State permits anyone 21 or over to purchase recreational cannabis.
     

As of Tuesday’s election, medical cannabis is legal in more than half of U.S. states (28 states and Washington D.C.).

  • Florida: Medical marijuana was one of the most contested issues on the Florida ballot, but in the end 71% of voters approved Amendment 2. Florida is the second largest medical marijuana market in the country, behind California.
    A vote in 2014 barely defeated a similar medical marijuana amendment. The measure received about 57% of the vote; 60% support is required to pass a ballot measure in Florida.
     
  • Arkansas: With the passage of Issue No. 6, Arkansas is the first state in the Bible Belt to legalize medical marijuana. The initiative passed with 53% in favor.
     
  • North Dakota: 64% of voters approved Statutory Measure No. 5, legalizing the use of medical marijuana to treat defined debilitating medical conditions, such as cancer, AIDS, hepatitis C, ALS, glaucoma, and epilepsy.
     
  • Montana: Ballot Initiative 182 passed on Tuesday, loosening restrictions on medical marijuana as well as adding post-traumatic stress disorder to the list of eligible conditions.
     

While the results of the presidential election may leave some questions up in the air as to the state of legal marijuana federally, this was a huge state-by-state advancement for cannabis!

Gary Johnson Predicts Obama Reclassification Of Cannabis

garyjohnsonFormer New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson said that he thinks President Obama could reschedule marijuana from a Schedule I drug to Schedule II.

Schedule I drugs include LSD and heroin–drugs that are considered high risk for abuse and addiction and that have no currently accepted medical use. Schedule II drugs include cocaine and painkillers like oxycodone. The reclassification would green-light cannabis research and enable doctors to prescribe the drug.

Tom Angell, chairman of the advocacy group Marijuana Majority, said rescheduling marijuana doesn’t require an act of Congress–the attorney general and secretary of Health and Human Services could reschedule cannabis without further legislation under the Controlled Substances Act.

“It’s tough to predict what the president will do on this issue before he leaves office, but if he’s willing to uphold his pledge to set policy based on science, and he listens to the majority of Americans who support marijuana reform, he will exercise his administrative authority for rescheduling,” Mr. Angell said.

Supreme Court Denies Suit Against Colorado Marijuana Laws

marijuana-bankingBy a 6-2 majority, the Supreme Court has declined to hear a suit filed by Nebraska and Oklahoma against Colorado. Two conservative justices, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, said they would have heard the case.

Legal proceedings began after Colorado legalized marijuana for recreational use in 2014. Nebraska and Oklahoma cited the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA), saying that marijuana can’t be
regulated at the state level. Additionally, the two states claimed that marijuana purchased in Colorado and brought over state lines was a burden on law enforcement and their criminal justice systems, as well as a danger to the health and safety of children.

“This was a meritless lawsuit, and the court made the right decision,” Mason Tvert of the pro-legalization Marijuana Policy Project said. “States have every right to regulate the cultivation and sale of marijuana, just as Nebraska and Oklahoma have the right to maintain their failed prohibition policies. Colorado has done more to control marijuana than just about any other state in the nation.”

Randy Barnett, an attorney who litigated a Supreme Court case exploring the limits of the CSA, claimed that, “Congress has no power to compel states to prohibit the cultivation, possession and transfer of marijuana. In the absence of such state prohibition, all such activities are completely legal under state law, notwithstanding that they are illegal under federal law,” he wrote last year.

Presidential Candidates Weigh in on Marijuana

white-house-cannabisBoth marijuana and the political race have dominated the news in recent months, and the outcome of the presidential election could have a huge impact on marijuana policy nationwide. Democrats and Republicans have widely different positions on medical and recreational cannabis. The Marijuana Policy Project has published the candidates’ positions and on-the-record statements, summarized here:

Democrats:

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (D)

In November 2015, Senator Sanders proposed legislation that would allow states to regulate marijuana like alcohol and tobacco. He has expressed concern regarding marijuana incarceration rates: “Someone in the United States is arrested every minute on marijuana charges. Too many Americans have seen their lives destroyed because they have criminal records as a result of marijuana use. That’s wrong. That has got to change.”

The proposed legislation would remove marijuana from federal drug schedules, and marijuana businesses would have access to banking and standard tax deductions.

“Bernie favors removing marijuana from the list of controlled substances regulated by federal law. Under Bernie’s proposal, people in states which legalize marijuana no longer would be subject to federal prosecution for using pot. Owners of stores that sell marijuana could fully participate in the banking system, like any other business.”

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (D)

Secretary Clinton supports reclassifying marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II, which would finally allow broader scientific research. She does not support incarceration for marijuana use or possession. Clinton has not taken a clear position on recreational marijuana laws, saying that she wants to wait and see what happens in states that have legalized it.

“I think that we have the opportunity through the states that are pursuing recreational marijuana to find out a lot more than we know today. I do support the use of medical marijuana, and I think even there we need to do a lot more research so that we know exactly how we’re going to help people for whom medical marijuana provides relief.”

Republicans:

Donald Trump (R)

TV personality and businessman Donald Trump has changed his position on marijuana since 1990, when he supported legalizing all drugs. He supports medical marijuana and states’ rights in constructing marijuana policies. He does not support legalizing marijuana for adult recreational use.

In June 2015, Trump said, “I’d say [regulating marijuana] is bad. Medical marijuana is another thing, but I think it’s bad and I feel strongly about that. [Moderator: “What about the states’ right aspect of it?”] If they vote for it, they vote for it… But I think, medical marijuana, 100%.”

U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R)

Senator Cruz has previously criticized President Obama for not enforcing federal law after Colorado and Washington approved recreational marijuana use. In more recent months, he’s come out in favor of states’ rights, although he does not support drug legalization.

“That’s a legitimate question for the states to make a determination. And the citizens of Colorado and Washington State have come to a different conclusion. They’ve decided that they want to legalize it. I think it is appropriate for the federal government to recognize that the citizens of those states have made that decision. One of the benefits of it … is we can now watch and see what happens in Colorado and Washington State.”

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R)

Senator Marco Rubio does not support legalization of recreational or medical marijuana. In February 2016, he said, “There’s no positive impact to using marijuana,” and that if there are any medical benefits it should be taken to the FDA for approval. In a July 2014 interview, Senator Rubio said, “If there are medicinal uses of marijuana that don’t have the elements that are mind-altering or create the high but do alleviate whatever condition it may be they are trying to alleviate, that is something I would be open to.”

He believes that the federal government should enforce drug laws, even in states that have legalized marijuana. When asked if he would enforce federal law and shut down regulation in Colorado:

“Yes. Yes, I think, well, I think we need to enforce our federal laws. Now do states have a right to do what they want? They don’t agree with it, but they have their rights. But they don’t have a right to write federal policy as well. It is, I don’t believe we should be in the business of legalizing additional intoxicants in this country for the primary reason that when you legalize something, what you’re sending a message to young people is it can’t be that bad, because if it was that bad, it wouldn’t be legal.”

Governor John Kasich (R)

Ohio Governor John Kaisch is “totally opposed” to medical and recreational marijuana.

When asked about states that have adopted laws making marijuana legal for adults: “The people in those states have voted that way. The federal government has decided to kind of look the other way. I feel very strongly in my state, I’m going to oppose, and they’re going to put something on the ballot to legalize drugs. I’m totally opposed to it, because it is a scourge in this country. Now I would have to give it thought as to, I probably would not from the standpoint that the states have gone forward to prove that. I haven’t thought about this. I’d have to give it a little thought. … In my state and across this country, if I happened to be president, I would lead a significant campaign down at the grassroots level to stomp these drugs out of our country.”

 

Read more about presidential candidates and their positions on cannabis at Marijuana Policy Project: https://www.mpp.org/2016-presidential-candidates/

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