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Why the Federal Cannabis Crackdown May Be a Blessing in Disguise for Legal Weed

Mon, 01/15/2018 - 12:19
Don’t panic, legalization advocates say: Jeff Sessions’ anti-marijuana policy will have little impact and may even hasten the formal end of prohibition

Now that the dust has settled around attorney general Jeff Sessions’ promise of harsher federal marijuana enforcement, advocates of legalization have largely exchanged their initial disappointment over the move for one of long-term optimism.

“I think there was a knee-jerk reaction of something approaching panic, but once everyone calmed down, they’ve come to realize that practically this is going to have little impact,” said Patrick Moen, a former Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agent who now works as council to an investment firm in the nascent legal marijuana industry.

Some, like Moen, even believe the decision could be the best thing for the growing marijuana movement, hastening the formal end of weed prohibition in the US.

“There will probably a short term chilling effect, but this could ultimately be the best thing that’s ever happened to accelerate the pace of change,” Moen said.

The markets have reflected this somewhat counterintuitive sentiment. The United States Marijuana Index, which tracks 15 leading publicly traded legal marijuana-related companies, initially dropped 21% on the heels of the Department of Justice (DoJ) announcement, but it turned out to be a blip. By early this week the index had rebounded to within a few points of its one-year high.

Sessions’ announcement formally rescinded guidance, known as the Cole Memo, issued by the Obama-era DoJ that essentially told federal prosecutors to respect state laws with regards to marijuana. Importantly, though, Sessions’ decision did not direct or incentivize US attorneys to pursue marijuana cases, it just allowed them to if they so choose.

“The Cole Memo guidance was eminently reasonable and was a common sense good policy,” Moen said. “I think that despite the fact that it’s been formally rescinded, federal prosecutors will effectively continue to abide by it.”

One of the primary reasons concern has been tempered is that Sessions announcement is not actually likely to ensnare individual marijuana users into the criminal justice system.

Federal prosecutors almost never pursue simple possession charges against recreational users, whether in states where it is legal or not.

According to the Bureau of Justice statistics, 99% of those serving federal sentences for marijuana-related crimes were convicted of trafficking offenses, which typically relate to quantities far in excess of what individual recreational users would have.

"It is unlikely that this will affect them in any tangible negative way, other than depriving of the ability to buy marijuana legally,” said Justin Strekal, Political Director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (Norml).

The Sessions memo is unlikely to trigger a nationwide dragnet of marijuana users, and is also unlikely to cause wide-scale disruptions to legal cultivators, Moen notes.

“If federal prosecutors decide to ‘go rogue’ and start charging otherwise compliant state businesses, there’s going to be repercussions with regard to their relationships with the local [law enforcement],” Moen said.

Strekal notes, however, that because of civil-forfeiture laws, local law enforcement would have one very good reason to work with federal agents seeking to enforce marijuana laws on legal weed businesses. Although local law enforcement can’t bust those businesses on their own – they aren’t breaking any state or local laws – by joining with feds to enforce federal law, they get to claim a portion of any assets seized in a potential drug raid.

“In an area where you have a prohibitionist minded sheriff or a law enforcement agency, they will look at state-lawful marijuana facilities and see a big pile of money,” Strekal said.

The 4 January move by Sessions was sandwiched by two major wins for legalization advocates. On the first of the month, recreational weed became legal in California, after more than a decade of a quite lax medical marijuana program. Then on 10 January, Vermont became the first US state to legalize the substance with an act of legislation, rather than a popular referendum, as has been the case in states like California, Colorado and Oregon.

The decision may ultimately precipitate another win, as Moen observed. Within hours of Sessions’ announcement, a bipartisan group of legislators had come out against the decision and some, including Hawaii senator Brian Schatz, announced that legislation was already being crafted that could overrule Sessions, by changing the extent to which Marijuana is classified as illegal at the federal level.

“It’s great that we’ve had a number of members of Congress over the course of the last six days last week step up and say what the attorney general did is wrong. Now time for every single one of those members of Congress to put their names on the pending legislation,” Strekal said.


Jamiles Lartey is a reporter for Guardian US. Click here for Jamiles' public key. Twitter @JamilesLartey


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A Montana 'Handmaid's Tale': Local Prosecutor Calls for 'Immediate Crackdown' on Pregnant Drug and Alcohol Users

Fri, 01/12/2018 - 14:41
Click here for reuse options! A prosecutor tells the public to rat out pregnant women who are using drugs or alcohol.

A Montana prosecutor called this week for an "immediate crackdown" on women who use drugs or alcohol while pregnant, urging friends, family members, health care providers, and even strangers to turn in women they suspect to authorities. The prosecutor also warned drug- or alcohol-using pregnant women to "immediately self-report" to state health authorities to avoid criminal prosecution.

Even though there is zero scientific evidence supporting policies of coercion and punishment directed to pregnant women, some jurisdictions, mainly in the South, have taken to prosecuting women who give birth to children with drugs in their system. That's not good enough for Big Horn County Attorney Gerald Harris, who has concocted a toxic brew of right-wing, anti-choice, so-called fetal rights policies, and war on drugs ideology, along with a nice dollop of real-world racial disparity, to call for prosecuting pregnant women—and to go after them if they seek abortions to avoid prosecution.

In a Thursday press release, County Attorney Harris announced the crackdown, saying he will seek protection orders restraining pregnant women from any non-medically prescribed use of illicit drugs or alcohol, and those who violate the orders will be jailed to "incapacitate" them.  

"It is simply not satisfactory to our community that the protection of innocent, unborn children victimized in this manner and subject to a potential lifetime of disability and hardship relies exclusively on social workers removing the child from the custody of the mother at birth," Harris said. "This approach is not timely and has not proven to be a sufficient deterrent to this dangerous, unacceptable behavior and will no longer be the state’s policy in Big Horn County."

Big Horn County, home to the Crow and Northern Cheyenne Native American reservations, is 60% Native American and 33% white.  

Harris called on both the reservations and other prosecutors in Montana to join him in his crusade, which National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW) described as a "reckless call to hunt down pregnant women." The advocacy group said it was "shocked by this attack on the health, liberty, and basic human rights of women in Big Horn County."

Harris' statement "irresponsibly promotes medical and scientific misinformation, promotes an environment of fear and reflects a shocking disregard for the rights and well-being of women and families," NAPW charged.

NAPW warned that Harris has no legal authority to carry out such a policy, saying enforcement would violate state and federal law. It also had a heads-up for potential busy-bodies: "People who heed the prosecutor's call to report pregnant women and violate patient privacy and confidentiality may themselves be subject to legal action," the group advised.

As NAPW noted, policies of coercion and punishment directed at pregnant women are actually counterproductive. Such policies discourage women from seeking prenatal health care and may even drive some to seek abortions to avoid arrest. This is where Harris' anti-choice politics and view of women as essentially little more than incubators rears its head.

"In the event an expecting mother chooses to abort an unborn child instead of refraining from drug or alcohol use and litigation extends beyond our local courts, we trust Attorney General Fox will make the right decision on behalf of all Montanans and continue this fight to the extent necessary to ensure justice is afforded to the most vulnerable of our society," he warned.

The NAPW, for its part, cautions women against "self reporting" to government agencies that could incarcerate them and is urging "every medical and public health provider in Big Horn County to immediately oppose this dangerous, unethical, and counterproductive policy." The group also encourages everyone who supports the health, dignity, and human rights of pregnant women to contact Harris "to let him know you oppose this outrageous action." 

Harris thoughtfully provided his office phone number on his press release: (406) 665-9721. 

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What Jeff Sessions Doesn't Understand About Medical Marijuana

Fri, 01/12/2018 - 11:01
Marijuana has legitimate medical uses. It should not be a Schedule I drug and should not be denied to patients.



What Jeff Sessions doesn't understand about medical marijuana

C. Michael White, University of Connecticut

On Jan. 4, Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the Cole memo, a 2013 document that limits federal enforcement of marijuana laws.

This opens the door for a crackdown in the nine states with legal recreational marijuana.

The Cole memo is one of two documents that prevent the U.S. Justice Department from treating marijuana as a Schedule I drug, defined as a substance with no accepted medical treatment and high potential for abuse. The other is the 2014 Rohrabacher–Farr amendment. This legislation bars the Department of Justice from spending any funds to keep states from implementing their own laws about “the use, distribution, possession or cultivation of medical marijuana.”

The amendment’s language needs to be reinserted into law each year – and it’s currently set to expire on Jan. 18. That would leave patients in the 29 states with legal medical marijuana without their treatments and at risk of prosecution.

I have researched a number of drugs of abuse and natural products for safety and effectiveness. Just because a drug has abuse potential doesn’t mean it’s always bad and just because it’s natural doesn’t mean it’s always safe. While I’m no fan of legalizing recreational marijuana use, I believe there has to be special dispensation for patients with a legitimate medical need.

Medical marijuana works

There are approximately 1.2 million users of medical marijuana in these 29 states. Some of the most common ailments include pain or muscle spasms, nausea and vomiting, cancer, PTSD, seizures and glaucoma.

The body has a system of receptors that can be stimulated by the chemicals in marijuana, called cannabinoids. In animal studies, cannabinoids have been used to treat symptoms like harmful weight loss, vomiting, seizures and fluid pressure in the eyes.

There isn’t much human research on medical marijuana, thanks to the product’s illegal status and a lack of federal research funding. Large trials are nearly impossible to conduct, since products are often adulterated and the concentrations of cannabinoids vary from plant to plant.

Even so, human trials from around the world and pockets of the U.S. offer modestly strong evidence of marijuana’s benefits in a number of disorders, such as intractable nausea and vomiting, chronic pain and severe muscle spasms and epilepsy.

For example, a study published in May looked at the effects of cannabadiol – an active marijuana compound that does not cause euphoric high or hallucination – on children with Dravet syndrome, a rare genetic disorder characterized by frequent, severe drug-resistant seizures. Those who took cannabadiol cut their median number of convulsive seizures per month in half, from 12 to six. These findings may be applicable to other people with hard-to-treat seizures.

I bring up this example because it uses the highest quality study design. Also, seizures are not subjective symptoms like pain or nausea that critics may be skeptical of.

When patients become criminals Different types of THC-infused confections on display at a pot dispensary in Eugene, Ore. AP Photo/Ryan Kang

In my home state of Connecticut, medical marijuana is legal. Doctors are required to certify that potential medical marijuana users have a disease for which there is adequate medical evidence for marijuana’s benefit. The patient then visits a licensed dispensary facility, where a pharmacists helps to select the type of product that would work best.

In such a dispensary, pharmacists know the exact amount of the active chemicals that each product contains. Unlike illegal marijuana, their products aren’t contaminated with heavy metals, bacteria, fungi, herbicides or pesticides.

What if patients can no longer access these products? They will either have to go without and lose the benefits of their treatment, leading to moderately intense marijuana withdrawal symptoms, such as insomnia, chills, shakiness and stomach pain.

Or, they might try to switch to the black market, where products may be inconsistent and prosecution is possible. In so doing, they would be supporting organized crime and exposing themselves to additional dangers. I especially worry about children with epilepsy who might have to use illegal marijuana that gives them a high due to the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) rather than a legal version with little to no THC.

A balanced approach

Since 2014, the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment has been routinely included in the appropriations language with support from both parties. But in the past year, things have broken down. So far, the amendment has survived through resolutions to extend government spending, but it’s unclear whether it will appear in the new federal budget.

Sessions has already written to members of Congress asking them not to support this amendment, saying it inhibits the department’s authority. A new subcommittee at the Department of Justice plans to assess the legalized use of marijuana.

Legal recreational marijuana comes with potential benefits and drawbacks to society, and I’m not sure yet that we know what the impact will be over the long term. But the research on medical marijuana is clear: Marijuana has legitimate medical uses. It should not be a Schedule I drug and should not be denied to patients. There’s virtually no upside to banning a potentially effective therapy for patients with diseases like cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy.

C. Michael White, Professor and Head of the Department of Pharmacy Practice, University of Connecticut

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Report: Legal Marijuana Would Create One Million Jobs

Fri, 01/12/2018 - 10:52
If we could only get Jeff Sessions and federal marijuana prohibition out of the way.



Legal Marijuana Would Create One Million Jobs: Report

Legalizing marijuana nationwide would create more than one million new jobs within the next decade, a new study says. Analysis from New Frontier Data, a firm that focuses on the marijuana industry ...

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Microdosing Marijuana: What Doctors Say Is The Best Way To Consume

Thu, 01/11/2018 - 11:27
What is microdosing and why is it better?

There are those cannabis connoisseurs who enjoy getting super stoned at the end of a long day at the office, while others are now embracing an emerging trend called microdosing, a procedure that allows the user to moderate their mind by taking small doses throughout the day.

The concept of microdosing is simple: instead of consuming enough THC to join the land of catatonia, the user leans on somewhere between 3 to 10 milligrams to feel some effect without entering into a realm of laughing fits, paranoia and ravenous hunger. It is increasingly popular practice that Rolling Stone calls “Marijuana 2.0,” an idea that less is actually more when it comes to using cannabis for its therapeutic and creativity-inducing benefits.

However, there are some challenges involved. What is considered a low dose for some may not cut it for others. It is similar to how it would be if measuring the effectiveness of Ibuprofen on a large group of people. Some of them would find relief with 200 milligrams, while it might take others near pharmaceutical levels to cut through the pain. So, the core of this dosing principle is really just about the individual finding the perfect “micro-buzz” that allows them to feel comfortable and productive.

Dr. Duston Sulak, who has been working with medical marijuana patients in Maine for the past eight years, told Rolling Stone that he has developed a system to help people find their optimal microdose.

“Abstain from cannabis for two days. On day three, consume one milligram of THC and one milligram of CBD, preferably in a tincture or oil where they can be measured precisely,” he said. “Before consuming, ask yourself three questions, and answer on a scale of one to 10: How easy is it to breathe, how comfortable and calm does your body feel and how easy is it for you to smile authentically, to feel content and grateful?”

Feel nothing? Increase your dose by one milligram, the doctor says.

“You repeat this process over the next few days, increasing the dose by small increments,” he explained. “When you reach a point where you feel a difference after consuming, you’ve found your minimal effective dose.”

No matter how high of a tolerance a person has, the doctor says 48 hours of abstinence is all that is needed to hit the rest button.

Although microdosing may go against the grain of the old time stoner philosophy, medical experts say that finding the “minimum effective dose” is the key when treating a patient with any medication. After all, it is not advised to take other medications at intoxicating levels, so why should marijuana be treated any differently?


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Iran Eases Drug Laws; Could Halt Execution of 5,000 Prisoners

Wed, 01/10/2018 - 23:07
One of the world's leading drug executioners is taking a dramatic step away from the death penalty--and it's retroactive.

The lives of more than 5,000 prisoners on death row in Iran could be spared as a change in the law abolishes capital punishment for some drug-trafficking offences.

Iran is second only to China in the number of prisoners executed in recent years, the majority put to death for drug offences. More than 500 people were executed in 2017.

The softening of drug-trafficking laws was put into force in a communique by the head of the Iranian judiciary to all judicial officials on Tuesday.

Campaigners said it was a potentially significant step towards halting executions worldwide.

The Iranian parliament passed measures in August raising the threshold for a death sentence to possession of 50kg of opium, 2kg of heroin or 3kg of methamphetamine. Under the previous law, possessing 5kg of opium or 30g of heroin was a capital offence.

The new limits are set to be applied retrospectively, potentially saving the lives of thousands on death row. Mizanonline, the news agency affiliated to Iran’s judicial system, reported on Tuesday that its chief, Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani, had asked officials to halt executions of those affected by the new amendments, reconsider their cases and commute their sentences if possible.

A young population and an abundance of cheap, addictive substances, many coming over the border from Afghanistan, pose a twin challenge to Iranian authorities. Almost 3 million Iranians are estimated to be addicted to hard drugs, out of a population of 80 million.

Iran has mostly resorted to a punitive campaign of arrests and executions to tackle drugs. Last year European countries funding Iran’s counter-narcotics programme threatened to cut off contributions if Iran continued to use the death penalty for drug traffickers.

Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, from Iran Human Rights (IHR), an independent NGO based in Norway that has monitored Iran’s use of the capital punishment and has been critical of its record, welcomed the news.

“It is potentially one of the most significant steps to limit the use of the death penalty in the world, which can lead to at least 5,000 people, according to official figures, seeing their death sentences commuted,” he said.

“This is quite unprecedented, but one caveat is that the commute is not automatic and convicts need to take the first step themselves and make sure their case is reconsidered.

“Our concern is that the majority of those on death row belong to the marginalised part of the Iranian society and may not be aware of the changes and not have the possibilities to take this step. Those who are on death row for drug offences must be given legal aid.”

Amiry-Moghaddam said that since November when the law was signed by the president, Hassan Rouhani, “nobody that we know of has been executed for such offences”. According to the Iranian parliament’s judicial committee, more than 5,000 convicts on death row could benefit from the amendment, the majority said to be aged between 20 to 30.

Despite the new measures, Iran executed five juvenile offenders in 2017 and has killed at least one so far this year. Iranian leaders have been repeatedly criticised, including by the UN, for continuing to sentence juvenile offenders to death in defiance of international treaties. According to Amnesty, at least 88 people are on death row in Iran for committing crimes while being under the age of 18.

A July 2017 report by Amnesty said the new change “fails to abolish the death penalty for non-lethal drug-related offences as is required by international law”.


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Vermont Legislature Approves Noncommercial Marijuana Legalization Bill

Wed, 01/10/2018 - 11:57
Click here for reuse options! Adults could possess and grow small amounts of pot, but there would be no pot shops—for now.

The Vermont Senate Wednesday took a final vote on a bill that would legalize the possession and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana, but not taxed and regulated sales. Gov. Phil Scott has said he will sign the bill into law.

If and when he does, Vermont will become the first state to have legalized marijuana through the legislative process. Eight states and the District of Columbia have already legalized marijuana, but those were all through the initiative process.

The bill, House Bill 511, legalizes the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana and the cultivation of two mature and four immature plants by persons 21 or over. It does not allow for legal commerce, instead "retaining criminal penalties for the possession, dispensing, or sale of larger amounts of marijuana."

For now, anyway. The bill also calls for a task force appointed by the governor to study the issue and recommend "legislation on implementing and operating a comprehensive regulatory and revenue system for an adult marijuana market" by December 31.

Vermont very nearly legalized it last year. The bill passed both houses of the legislature only to be vetoed by Gov. Scott, who said it needed small changes to win his approval. The Senate quickly approved the changes, but House Republicans blocked a needed vote on them during a short budget session last summer.

The New Hampshire House approved a similar legalization on Tuesday. The actions in both New England states come just days after Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded Obama-era guidance to federal prosecutors deprioritizing federal pot law enforcement in states where it is legal.

While the threat of federal intervention was not the driving force in the two states' moves to legalize personal possession and cultivation, but not a legal, taxed, and regulated marijuana market, the lack of legal pot commerce may provide some cover from federal prosecutors, who would be left looking for people with an ounce of weed or a couple of plants. They probably have bigger fish to fry. 


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Iowa State Ordered to Pay Pot Reform Students $343,000 in Fees

Wed, 01/10/2018 - 11:17
There is a price to be paid when you try to quash free speech.

DES MOINES, Iowa (CN) — A First Amendment battle between Iowa State University and a student group advocating marijuana law reform will cost Iowa at least $343,000 in appellate attorney fees, under a settlement approved Tuesday.

The ISU student chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) sued Iowa State University in 2014 after the school revoked permission for its use of the school’s logo and athletic mascot on T-shirts bearing the NORML logo and an image of a cannabis leaf.

U.S. District Judge James Gritzner ruled in 2016 that the university violated the students’ constitutional rights because Iowa State allowed other groups to use its logo, so barring NORML constituted viewpoint discrimination. Gritzner’s ruling was upheld on appeal to the Eighth Circuit.

The State Appeal Board last week agreed to pay $75,000 apiece to the two students who sued — Paul Gerlich and Erin Furleigh — plus $178,826 to Davis Wright Tremaine and $14,434 to Faegre Baker Daniels, in Des Moines.

The legal fees are for the law firms’ appellate work. Legal fees for their work at the trial level will be determined on remand by Judge Gritzner. Those fees are expected to be substantially higher than the appellate fees.

The settlement also makes permanent the trial court’s injunction against the university.

Robert Corn-Revere, a partner at Davis Wright Tremaine, called it an important victory in a telephone interview Tuesday. “Any time you have courts uphold your constitutional rights when you are challenging state authority, that’s what’s really important.”

He said the $343,000 fee award sends a signal to government officials that “when they violate people’s rights, it isn’t free.”

The Iowa Attorney General’s office declined to comment on the settlement, but provided a Jan. 4 letter from Solicitor General Jeffrey Thompson to the State Appeal Board. Thompson said in the letter: “We have determined that it is in the State’s best interests to resolve these remaining issues by agreement rather than incurring additional costs and fees that would result from a trial solely on the question of damages.”

The State Appeal Board is made up of the Iowa state treasurer, the state auditor and the director of the state Department of Management.


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'Cannabusiness' as Usual, Despite Sessions’ Pot Crackdown Threat

Wed, 01/10/2018 - 10:57
When your product is federally illegal, uncertainty is a given.

DENVER (CN) – U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recent decision to rescind Obama-era memos guiding federal attorneys in prosecuting marijuana cases left the nation’s cannabis businesses in a hazy place between federal prohibition and state legalization, unable to bank and sustained by inconsistent investment. In other words, it’s business as usual.

“The Cole memo of 2013 didn’t change anything back then and rescinding it doesn’t change anything today,” said Rick Scarpello, CEO and founder of Incredibles, one of a few cannabis companies with a national presence. “It was not binding policy; it was guidance to prosecutors in respect to prosecutorial prioritization. It never altered the Justice Department’s authority to enforce federal law.”

But the deputy director of the marijuana lobbyist firm NORML, Paul Armentano, is anything but optimistic.

Armentano asks himself whether federal prosecutors would “target the bad actors to send the message that they want to clean up this industry, or do they target both good actors and bad actors to try and send the chilling effect that says nobody is safe, even if you play by the rules?”

He continued: “Even if the Justice Department were to succeed in their quest, all they would be doing is removing the controls that now exist on the commercial market, controls that virtually everyone acknowledges are preferable to having this activity once again be regulated to a black market that has no accountability.”

Among the documents rescinded are guidelines for the Department of Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, which gave banks the discretion of deciding whether or not to give accounts to cannabis businesses.

Without this guidance, says Andrew Livingston, director of economics and research for marijuana law firm Vicente Sederberg, “the actors that we are likely to see that decide to no longer participate in the cannabis industry are the most conservative and the least risk taking: first among those are banks.”

Marijuana is the only tax-abiding billion-dollar industry in the United States operating almost exclusively on cash. To date, 29 states have approved some kind of medical marijuana program and eight have legalized the substance for recreational use. Still the plant’s federal status as a Schedule I drug means cannabusinesses are largely prohibited from making bank transactions.

This means the industry operates without payroll, direct deposits and credit card transactions. Additionally, they are uniquely required to hand-deliver their taxes to the Internal Revenue Service.

“Removing this guidance has the potential to increase public safety problems, because of the way the Cole Memo provided a foundation for how to operate legally while banking cannabis businesses,” Livingston said.

Along with spooking banks, market uncertainty has some investors thinking twice about going green. The Marijuana Index, which tracks 15 publicly traded companies, showed stocks plunge after Session’s memo was released. This past weekend, prices slowly began to rise but remain more than 10 percent below their Jan. 3 value.

“With the lack of investment here, you’ll see less cannabis businesses spring up or get bought out, so it could slow job growth here,” said Kevin Gallagher, executive director for the Cannabis Business Alliance.

In Colorado alone, cannabis employs some 23,000 full-time employees. Nationwide, Leafly estimates that from the botanists and oil extractor technicians, to budtenders, software developers, and lawyers, the legal cannabis industry has created nearly 150,000 jobs.

“If a marijuana grower decides to say ‘This is too risky,’ those employees will all lose their jobs and some of these businesses are relatively large and employ hundreds of people,” Livingston said. “In the cannabis industry, wage rates are typically higher than they are for many other sectors, particularly if you’re talking about retail store employees, so these are strong, well-paying jobs.”

If outside investment is backing off, Livingston hopes the fear doesn’t spread within the industry.

“Cannabis business owners are typically much younger than the average CEO, they’re excited, they’re hardworking, and they’re looking to expand,” he said. “And that entrepreneurial spark and that entrepreneurial drive is what keeps the cannabis industry moving and is what’s caused our expansion. I really hope that the rescinding of the Obama-era memos does not dampen or put out that spark.”

Looking at data from 2015, Marijuana Policy Group estimated that in Colorado alone, cannabis consumers spent $996 million on marijuana, generating $2.39 billion in economic impact. Because marijuana activities are contained within the state, the group says “spending on marijuana creates more output and employment per dollar spent than 90 percent of Colorado industries.”

Since voters legalized recreational marijuana in 2016 and retail sales began Jan. 1, California is expected to have the nation’s largest industries. New Frontier Data predicts Golden State consumers will generate $1.1 billion in recreational sales and $2.8 billion in medical sales this year.

While all cannabis consumed in-state must be grown in that state, a handful of brands have been growing a national presence.

“If these companies are looking to compete on price and operate at large economies of scale in the next 10 years, they’re going to want to invest heavily in their ability to produce, distribute, retail and brand their products,” said Steven Davenport, an assistant policy researcher at the RAND Corporation. “And so there is a lot of money coming into the industry right now in the form of investment and they do so under the impression that the criminal risk and the risk of having the businesses shut down and losing their investment is relatively low.”

The congressional Rohrabacher-Farr amendment protecting medical marijuana growers and consumers remains untouched, Davenport pointed out.

“The recreational cannabis industry actors generally are at risk of prosecution,” Davenport said. “However, it would be a difficult political battle. If you look at approval for recreational cannabis, the most recent Gallup poll registered 64 percent of the nation in support for recreational cannabis.”

Marijuana legalization is one of few issues with bipartisan support, about 72 percent of Democrats and 51 percent of Republicans.

“Sessions wants to take us backward, but the people have spoken,” Scarpello, the Incredibles CEO, said.

“I have production in five states, that’s not going to change,” he added.

When asked if Session’s actions are impacting these investments, he said, “That’s wrong. I’m talking to people in other states and other countries. People are investing in my company today.”


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VA Clears Air on Talking to Patients About Medical Marijuana Use

Tue, 01/09/2018 - 10:39
With a new directive, the Veterans Health Administration is urging vets and their doctors to open up on the subject.



VA Clears The Air On Talking To Patients About Marijuana Use

“Don’t ask, don’t tell” is how many veterans have approached health care conversations about marijuana use with the doctors they see from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Worried that owning up ...

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Kansas GOPer Makes Outrageous Racist Statement About Effects of Marijuana

Mon, 01/08/2018 - 22:37
Reefer Madness isn't dead yet.

Kansas state Republican lawmaker resurrected a Jim Crow myth that African Americans are genetically predisposed to handle marijuana more poorly than other races during a speech over the weekend.

As the Garden City Telegram reported, State Rep. Steve Alford (R) told an all-white crowd that marijuana was criminalized during the prohibition era in the 1930’s primarily because of black marijuana use when asked a question by a member of the local Democratic party about potential economic boons from cannabis legalization.

“What you really need to do is go back in the ’30s, when they outlawed all types of drugs in Kansas (and) across the United States,” Alford said. “What was the reason why they did that? One of the reasons why, I hate to say it, was that the African Americans, they were basically users and they basically responded the worst off to those drugs just because of their character makeup, their genetics and that.”

As the Telegram noted in their report, Alford’s comments referenced a belief promoted by marijuana prohibitionist Harry Anslinger, the founding commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics.

“Under Anslinger’s leadership, the FBN came to be considered responsible for the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937,” the report noted, “regulating cannabis and further taxing it to the ultimate detriment of the hemp industry that was booming at the time.”

“Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men,” Anslinger said once when explaining why marijuana supposedly caused crime and violence. The commissioner also fought for the prohibition of cannabis due to “its effect on the degenerate races,” the Telegram noted.

Watch Rep. Alford’s comments below, via the Garden City Telegram.

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Experts Predict 4 Surprising Ways Jeff Sessions' Reefer Madness Pot Decision Could Shake Out in 2018

Mon, 01/08/2018 - 16:20
Click here for reuse options! A backlash against the new war on weed could tip the scales to favor federal legalization.

Days after California’s first new adult-use pot shops opened their doors this week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced he would allow federal prosecutors to crack down on marijuana operations in states that have legalized marijuana.

His decision overturns an Obama-era Justice Department policy, set in motion by the Cole Memo, that instructed prosecutors to make pot their lowest priority in legal weed states. While the Obama administration’s decision was lauded on both sides of the aisle, the opposite is true of Sessions’ announcement. The backlash so far has been sizeable and bipartisan, splitting the GOP and bolstering Democrats and others who favor legalization.

Speculations abound over how Sessions’ new decision might impact the nascent legal weed industry in California and the thriving, lucrative industries that already exist in the five other states that have legalized pot over the last half decade.

What might this mean for the future of weed in 2018 and beyond? To help sort through this potentially chaotic new territory, we’ve compiled the best observations from experts on some surprising, unintended consequences of Sessions’ announcement.

1. Federal prosecutors might choose to keep their distance from state-legal weed, despite Sessions’ decision.

Tamar Todd, the Drug Policy Alliance’s senior legal affairs director, told the Washington Post it’s not likely U.S. attorneys in legal pot states will start “busting down the doors of marijuana dispensaries” tomorrow. Todd is quoted in the piece explaining how federal attorneys rely on cooperation with state authorities for many drug cases, and that there are plenty of illicit drug operations for them to focus on already.

Todd’s overall message was that it would be unwise on many levels for federal prosecutors to start attacking states’ legal pot industries, and the prosecutors likely know it. Any feds who went after state-legal weed would be isolated, the Post piece notes, because “such a crackdown would produce an outcry from both Democrats and Republicans, in addition to state government and law enforcement officials.”

Colorado’s Democratic governor, John Hickenlooper, also said it’s unlikely Sessions’ decision will send hordes of prosecutors after his state’s incredibly lucrative pot operations—at least not right away.

According to a New York Times piece by Harlie Savage and Jack Healy, Hickenlooper “expressed skepticism that United States attorneys would want to siphon resources from other prosecutions so they could close a marijuana dispensary operating under state regulations.”

Colorado’s Republican Senator Cory Gardner, chair of NRSC, put an ultimatum out to Sessions in response to his pot decision:

“I will be putting a hold on every single nomination from the Department of Justice until Attorney General Jeff Sessions lives up to the commitment he made to me in my pre-confirmation meeting with him. The conversation we had that was specifically about this issue of states’ rights in Colorado. Until he lives up to that commitment, I’ll be holding up all nominations of the Department of Justice,” Gardner said. “The people of Colorado deserve answers. The people of Colorado deserve to be respected.”

2. California will likely join forces with other pro-pot states to stand up for the weed industry.

The states where pot is legal have heavy incentive to protect their pot businesses, because, as the industry has already proven, legalization brings with it staggering tax revenues, cash flow, jobs and other benefits. California alone is set to collect $1 billion in taxes this year via retail cannabis.

California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom has vowed to encourage cooperation between states with legal cannabis laws, and said to the New York Times: “This brings states together around issues of freedom, individual liberty, states’ rights... all of the principles that transcend red and blue.”

Newsom said in a separate statement, “Today, Jeff Sessions and the Trump administration destructively doubled down on the failed, costly and racially discriminatory policy of marijuana criminalization, trampling on the will” of voters.

California may be poised to designate itself a “sanctuary state” for pot, following the model of its designation as a sanctuary state for immigrants against deportation. In response to Sessions announcement, Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles) has redrafted an earlier proposal of Assembly Bill 1578, which would prevent state and local agencies from assisting federal drug enforcement agencies in targeting the state’s cannabis industry without a federal court order.

Jones-Sawyer said in a statement to the Sacramento Bee:

“The impacts of this ill-conceived and poorly executed war [on marijuana] are still being felt by communities of color across the state. The last time California supported the federal government’s efforts, families were torn apart and critical state resources were used to incarcerate more black and brown people than ever before in the history of our state.”

California State Attorney General Xavier Becerra has been reaching out to the Department of Justice on the issue, and told Sacramento Bee he has not ruled out a lawsuit to “protect the state’s laws.”

“We’ll do whatever we must to make sure that California’s laws are obeyed,” Becerra said.

Authorities in Colorado, Oregon, Washington and other states with cannabis legalization laws have also made statements to indicate they will stand by voters and protect their in-state marijuana industries.

3. More skittish cannabis investors might pull out, and a pot stock sell-off has already begun. But many cannabis investors are activists for the industry who were there prior to the Cole Memo, and they're not going anywhere.

The cannabis investment firm Poseidon Asset Management was managing investments in pot more than six months before the Cole Memo came out in 2013. Attorney Cristina Buccola, whose practice focuses on the pot industry, says in a Forbes article that Sessions’ memo has not impacted her clients. “This is not causing [investors] to turn away from these investment opportunities,” she told Forbes. “None of the projects have been put on pause.”

Forbes also quotes an email from Ryan Ansin—a cannabis investor, president of the Family Office Association and managing director of Revolutionary Clinics—noting that Sessions’ memo doesn’t impact the laws. Pot was already federally illegal, and continues to be federally illegal, “and informed investors know that,” Ansin says.

4.  The political, economic and social effect of Sessions' decision might boost the Dems and tip the scales in Congress to legalize pot at the federal level.

A growing majority of Americans think pot should be legal in some form; 61 percent think it should be legal for adult use, according to the most recent Pew Research Center polling, out this week.

Even Republicans hate Sessions’ pot announcement, and the GOP is split apart in its wake. This is one of many reasons Paul Waldman gives in his Washington Post article, “Why Jeff Sessions’s marijuana crackdown is going to make legalization more likely," arguing that the backlash to Sessions’ decision could spell doom for Republicans and prohibitionists. "A backlash could help more Democrats get elected, and push elected Democrats to more unambiguously support legalization,” he writes.

Public opinion is so far away from backing Sessions and the Trump administration’s attempt at reversing marijuana legalization progress that Republicans are in an “awkward position,” Waldman notes. Many have "released outraged statements condemning the decision, but it might not be enough to persuade voters not to punish President Trump by voting them out. ”

In Politico, James Higdon quotes California Republican Dana Rohrabacher in a conference call with five members of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, arguing that the Sessions announcement is likely to have an inverse effect of turning a states issue into a national priority.

“It’s a big plus for our efforts that the federal government is now aware that our constituents have been alerted,” Rohrabacher said. "We can be confident we can win this fight, because this is a freedom issue.”

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California Just Might Declare Itself a 'Sanctuary State' for Legal Weed

Mon, 01/08/2018 - 10:44
A bill in Sacramento would bar state and local law enforcement agencies from cooperating with the feds on pot busts.

SACRAMENTO (CN) — A California lawmaker is aiming to protect the state’s budding marijuana industry by barring law enforcement agencies from cooperating with federal drug agencies on pot busts.

Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer, D-Los Angeles, says his bill “protects the will of California voters,” who overwhelmingly legalized marijuana in 2016.

His proposal, which would create a so-called sanctuary pot state, came less than a week after recreational pot became legal in California, and was sparked by Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ announcement of a federal policy shift on enforcement of marijuana laws.

Jones-Sawyer said California voters made it clear they don’t want Sessions’ “cannabis-centric war on drugs” waged in the Golden State.

“The intent of Assembly Bill 1578 is to provide state agencies with the protection they need to uphold state laws without federal interference,” Jones-Sawyer said in a statement. “What Jeff Sessions is proposing is not a return to ‘Rule of Law’ as he claims; instead he is taking away access to cannabis for children with chronic diseases, cancer patients, seniors and veterans.”

The measure would prevent local and state law enforcement agencies from assisting federal authorities on marijuana activities that are legal under California law, without a court order. Jones-Sawyer’s bill would also bar state agencies from providing the federal government with information on licensed marijuana growers and retailers.

The bill is based on a 2017 California law that restricts state law enforcement agencies from cooperating with federal immigration agencies. Sessions has called California’s immigration sanctuary bill a “threat to public safety.”

This is the second time around for AB 1578, which stalled in the Legislature in August last year. The Assembly narrowly approved Jones-Sawyer’s pot bill 41-33 but it never made it to a vote in the Senate. The American Civil Liberties Union and a host of labor unions supported the bill, which was opposed by California law enforcement agencies.

Jones-Sawyer, a second-term assemblyman and former Los Angeles deputy mayor said the decades-long war on drugs has had a disparate impact on minority communities and that his bill will protect Californians from the federal government’s outdated drug laws.

“The last time California supported the federal government’s efforts, families were torn apart and critical state resources were used to incarcerate more black and brown people than ever before in the history of our state,” Jones-Sawyer said.


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U.S. Asks Targets of Trump Attacks--U.N., China, Mexico--to Help With Opioid Crisis

Mon, 01/08/2018 - 10:31
Washington has asked the U.N. to help declare fentanyl illegal in U.S. and China, as White House works with Mexico to address the drug’s spread.

While Donald Trump criticizes and argues with the United Nations, Mexico, and China over embassies, walls and trade deals, his administration is relying upon them as he attempts to combat the opioid epidemic.

The president declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency last year, with most recent government estimates suggesting the more than 64,000 fatal overdoses in 2016 outnumber the total number of American deaths in the Vietnam war.

Richard Baum, acting director of the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy, told the Guardian that the US had requested the UN help declare fentanyl – an opioid at the heart of the crisis in the US – illegal in both the US and China.

The US claims fentanyl manufactured in China – available for purchase online or imported into the US via established trafficking routes – contributes to the epidemic currently facing the country. A UN effort to outlaw the drug would empower international law enforcement to stem the flow across borders.

“It creates a better environment if [fentanyl] is illegal in the US and it’s illegal in China,” said Baum. “So we’re cooperating. We are trading information about what’s happening. They are banning substances [and] we are. We’re working together at the UN.”

The importance of the UN in coordinating international cooperation on an American drug problem underlines the complex relationship the Trump administration has with the world body – as well as countries it needs to partner with to face down critical domestic issues.

Trump is a strong critic of the UN, saying after his 2016 election that it was “just a club for people to get together, talk, and have a good time”. He also slammed the general assembly’s rebuke of his plan to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem last year.

But Baum, Trump’s top adviser on drug control issues, said global cooperation was key to addressing the US opioid epidemic and must be maintained.

“When the US asked China for help on some of these cases, they have told us that it’s much better for them if [a drug] is something that is illegal in China,” he said. “I always want more cooperation, faster action, but when we put in requests and we’ve documented things that are sourced from China, they’re acting on it.”

Baum said Mexican drug cartels were also importing fentanyl from China and mixing it with heroin trafficked into the US. Fentanyl is also imported to Mexicofrom China, repackaged as pills, and shipped into the US.

“It is the same organizations, the Mexican trafficking organizations, that are moving a lot of product into the US containing fentanyl,” Baum said.

“We have a really positive, collaborative relationship with Mexico. We’re working very closely with them. We have our shared border, and that doesn’t change. The cartels based in Mexico are a hugely difficult and complicated problem and we need to continue to work together with our Mexican colleagues in addressing that problem.”

Yet the necessity of a positive relationship with Mexico on drug control is contradicted by Trump’s continuing public statements about his country’s southern neighbor. A campaign declaration that Mexicans are “bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists” and demands for Mexico to pay for a border wall contributed to a low in relations when Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto cancelled a 2017 state visit. Immigration and trade issues are also contentious.

Baum, however, said a longstanding relationship between law enforcement and on-the-ground diplomatic efforts by the US embassy in Mexico City overcome top-level tension between the countries.

“We understand the blood and treasure the Mexican government has spent trying to address the drug cartels,” Baum said. “We understand it’s an enormous problem and challenge for Mexico. They are working very hard. They’ve lost a lot of good people trying to address the problem. It’s a relationship based on professional law enforcement people working together to address a shared problem.”

Trump’s 2016 national health emergency declaration was criticized for freeing up just $57,000 in federal funds but Baum said the president had proposed a $28.7bn overall federal drug budget – including $10.8bn for drug treatment programs for 2018.

“We’re doing more against drugs than we ever have before but it’s not enough,” Baum said.


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Jeff Sessions' Threatens New War on Weed and Both Sides of the Aisle Fire Back

Fri, 01/05/2018 - 14:42
Click here for reuse options! The attorney general may have done us a favor by heightening the contradictions of federal marijuana prohibition.

With his announcement that he is freeing federal prosecutors to go after marijuana operations in states where it is legal, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has excited strong bipartisan opposition, splitting the Republicans, providing a potential opening for Democrats in the 2018 elections, and energizing supporters of just ending marijuana prohibition once and for all.

On Thursday, after a year of dilly-dallying, the fervently anti-marijuana Sessions declared that he was rescinding Obama-era guidance to federal prosecutors that basically told them to keep their hands off marijuana operations that were acting in compliance with state laws. The move not only puts Sessions at odds with public opinion, it also puts the lie to President Trump's campaign position that marijuana policy is best left to the states.

With legal marijuana enjoying consistent majority support in opinion polls—a Pew poll released Friday at support at 61%--the blowback has been immediate, fierce, and across the board. Feeling particularly vulnerable, legal pot state Republicans howled especially loudly.

Republican Howls

"I am obligated to the people of Colorado to take all steps necessary to protect the state of Colorado and their rights," said Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO), taking to the Senate floor to announce his amazement and dismay at the move. He threatened to block all Justice Department nominees until Sessions relents.

Gardner, who has been a staunch Trump supporter, said that both Trump and Sessions had assured him before he voted to confirm Sessions as attorney general that going after legal marijuana in the states was not a priority. He wasn't happy with the turnabout.

Neither was another Republican legal pot state senator, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. In a statement released Thursday afternoon, she said she had repeatedly urged Sessions to leave legal weed alone. His move Thursday was "regrettable and divisive," she said.

Maine is about to become a legal pot state—if Sessions' move doesn't throw a wrench in the works—leaving Republican Sen. Susan Collins, who supported Sessions' nomination, walking a tightrope.

While acknowledging the medical uses of marijuana, "here is considerable scientific and medical evidence of the detrimental impact that marijuana can have on the brain development of otherwise healthy teenagers, Collins spokesman Christopher Knight said. Congress and the Department of Justice should review the Controlled Substances Act, which generally prohibits growing, distributing or using marijuana, in light of current medical evidence as well as actions taken by states."

Marijuana should be a "states' rights issue," said Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who doesn't represent a legal pot state, but has long been a proponent of drug law reform. "The federal government has better things to focus on."

Another leading Trump ally, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), doesn't represent a legal pot state, but he does represent a medical marijuana state. He's not happy either, calling the move "heartless and cold." Sessions' move "shows his desire to pursue an antiquated, disproven dogma instead of the will of the American people. He should focus his energies on prosecuting criminals, not patients."

And that's from friends of the administration. The Democrats, unsurprisingly, are even harsher.

Democratic Growls

Congressional Democrats were quick to pounce on what they correctly perceived as an opening to attack Trump and Sessions on an issue where the public is not on their side. And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), whose state just began the legal sale of recreational marijuana this week, led the way.

"Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision bulldozes over the will of the American people and insults the democratic process under which majorities of voters in California and in states across the nation supported decriminalization at the ballot box," Pelosi said. "Yet again, Republicans expose their utter hypocrisy in paying lip service to states’ rights while trampling over laws they personally dislike."

Pelosi and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said they would attempt to block Sessions by extending a current ban on Justice Department funding to go after medical marijuana in states where it is legal. But that would not protect the legal pot states.

Other legal pot state Democrats were also quick to go on the offensive and happy to throw the "states' rights" issue in the face of Republicans.

"It is absurd that Attorney General Sessions has broken Trump’s campaign promise and is now waging war on legal marijuana and states’ rights," said Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO), cochair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus. "The growing Colorado economy is in jeopardy with the news that the Attorney General will now go after states that have decided to regulate marijuana.  The Trump Administration needs to back off, and allow marijuana to be treated like alcohol under the law.  At stake is a growing industry that has created 23,000 jobs and generated $200 million in tax revenue in Colorado. I’m calling on President Trump to overrule Attorney General Sessions and protect consumers, our economy, the will of the voters, and states’ rights."

"Trump promised to let states set their own marijuana policies," charged Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR). "Now he's breaking that promise so Jeff Sessions can pursue his extremist anti-marijuana crusade." Wyden is demanding that any budget negotiations must include protection for legal marijuana states. "Any budget deal," Wyden said, "must ... prevent the federal government from intruding in state-legal, voter-supported decisions."

That's just a representative sample of statements from congressional Democrats, who consider Sessions' move an enormous political gift. California House Republicans were already facing an uphill battle this year, thanks to Trump's unpopularity in the state. With a Republican administration messing with legal weed in the Golden State, Republicans could go extinct in November.

State Officials Stand Up to Washington

It isn't just politicians in Washington who are taking umbrage with Sessions. Across the legal pot states, elected officials are sticking up for the will of the voters.

"As we have told the Department of Justice ever since I-502 was passed in 2012, we will vigorously defend our state's laws against undue federal infringement," said Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat. "In Washington state we have put a system in place that adheres to what we pledged to the people of Washington and the federal government. We are going to keep doing that and overseeing the well-regulated market that Washington voters approved."

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, a former US attorney herself, said Seattle police wouldn't cooperate in any crackdown: "Federal law enforcement will find no partner with Seattle to enforce the rollback of these provisions," she said. "Let's be clear: Our Seattle Police Department will not participate in any enforcement action related to legal businesses or small personal possession of marijuana by adults," she said in a statement. "Federal law enforcement will find no partner with Seattle to enforce the rollback of these provisions."

Calling Sessions' move "deeply concerning and disruptive," Oregon Gov. Kathleen Brown (D) told the feds to back right off. "States are the laboratories of democracy, where progressive policies are developed and implemented for the benefit of their people," she said. "Voters in Oregon were clear when they chose for Oregon to legalize the sale of marijuana and the federal government should not stand in the way of the will of Oregonians. My staff and state agencies are working to evaluate reports of the Attorney General's decision and will fight to continue Oregon's commitment to a safe and prosperous recreational marijuana market."

Similar notes were heard from California.

"Akin to the ill-conceived positions the Trump administration has adopted on so many important public policy topics during the past year, Attorney General Session’s decision today is out of step with the will of the people of not only California, but the 29 states that have legalized either or both medicinal and recreational-use cannabis," said California Treasurer John Chiang. "The action taken by Attorney General Sessions threatens us with new national divisiveness and casts into turmoil a newly established industry that is creating jobs and tax revenues. Until the slow, clunking machinery of the federal government catches up with the values and will of the people it purportedly serves, states like California will continue to both resist, and more importantly, to lead."

California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) also weighed in on what he called Sessions' "harmful and destructive attempt to revive the failed war on drugs." Sessions' position, he added, "defies fact and logic, threatens the promise of a safe, stable, and legal framework for legal marijuana, and is just another part of the Trump administration's cynical war on America's largest state—its people and its policies—through policy reversals, health care repeals, and now, marijuana policing."

The Republicans Own This

Despite the howls from legal pot state Republicans (and a handful of others), this backwards-looking policy shift lies squarely with the GOP and the Trump administration. It is driving wedges between Republicans and widening the gap between the GOP and the desires of the nation.

Whether the Republicans pay a penalty for messing with marijuana come November remains to be seen, but Jeff Sessions may have inadvertently done us a favor. Not only does his move hurt Republican prospects, even endangering control of the House, it will spark movement to quit dancing around with the end of marijuana prohibition and just get it done once and for all. 

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Why Jeff Sessions' War on Weed Is a Futile Pursuit

Fri, 01/05/2018 - 14:13
Click here for reuse options! He can do some damage, but he can't roll back the clock.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions' announcement Thursday that he is rescinding Obama-era guidance to federal prosecutors directing them to take a laissez-faire approach to state-legal marijuana except under specified circumstances (violence, out-of-state diversion, money laundering, etc.) is sending shock waves through the marijuana industry, but its impact is likely to be limited.

That's because marijuana prohibition is a dying beast, and while the twitching of its tail in its death throes could cause some injury, neither the attorney general nor his minions are going to be able to get that beast back up and roaring again. They are too late.

At least one of them recognized as much Thursday afternoon. Colorado U.S. Attorney Bob Troyer, a Sessions appointee, said within hours that there would be no changes in his office's enforcement priorities. He  would continue "identifying and prosecuting those who create the greatest safety threats to our communities around the state," he said, an approach "consistent with Sessions' guidance." 

Sessions' move comes days after California, the nation's most populous state, began recreational marijuana sales, joining Alaska, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington. Maine and Massachusetts have also already legalized marijuana, with taxed and regulated sales being just a matter of time. Washington, D.C., has also legalized marijuana possession and cultivation, although not sales, and another 21 states allow for medical marijuana.

More states are likely to legalize it this year (although the Sessions move could cause some hesitation at state houses), as even slow-to-act legislators eye marijuana legalization's ever-increasing popularity. The latest Gallup poll has 64 percent supporting legalization, suggesting that going after legal weed is likely to be a political loser.

Which is not to say that Sessions and the Justice Department can't do some serious harm. The mere announcement of the move saw marijuana stocks plummet in value Thursday. And unleashed federal prosecutors could attempt arrests and prosecutions of marijuana businesses. Even more dire, they could seek—and likely win—permanent injunctions in the federal courts shutting down state marijuana programs. They do, after all, violate federal law.

Such moves could totally disrupt legal marijuana regimes, shuttering pot businesses and turning off the pot tax revenue spigot, but they can't end legal weed. And Sessions' announcement doesn't mean he has ordered an immediate crackdown; instead, he has signaled to federal prosecutors that they are free to move forward against legal marijuana if and as they wish.

Even if they do, here are four reasons why Sessions' war on weed is a quixotic quest.

1. The federal government cannot make states recriminalize marijuana.

The federal government can make marijuana illegal under federal law and it likely has the ability to enjoin pot businesses and state regulatory apparatuses from selling, regulating, and taxing marijuana, but it cannot dictate to the states what their marijuana laws should be. In other words, the feds may have the ability to disrupt legal marijuana markets and states' ability to tax and regulate them, but not to make weed illegal again in California or any of the other states that have or will legalize it.

2. There aren't enough DEA agents to effectively enforce pot prohibition.

Just as the federal government cannot force states to recriminalize marijuana, neither can it force state law enforcement to enforce federal marijuana laws. With legal marijuana states extremely unlikely to give cops the go-ahead to enforce federal pot laws, that leaves the DEA. But there are only 4,000 DEA agents worldwide, and they have other pressing issues to deal with, such as the opioid epidemic, not to mention meth and cocaine. Even if every DEA agent worldwide dropped everything and rushed to California to enforce federal pot laws, that's only one agent for every 10,000 state residents. And that's just California. They could do exemplary raids on a token number of pot businesses, which could indeed have a chilling effect, but they will be unable to effectively enforce pot prohibition.

3. Shutting down legal pot regimes will only strengthen the black market.

Even conservative federal prosecutors will understand this. To the degree that the Justice Department is successful in shuttering marijuana businesses and squeezing off legal access to marijuana, it will drive marijuana consumers to obtain their weed elsewhere. That strengthens the black market and the very criminality that Attorney General Sessions rails against. For a law and order administration, policies that strengthen criminal networks are counterproductive.

4. The reaction is fierce, and only just beginning.

Trump, Sessions, and federal prosecutors are just beginning to get a taste of the condemnation the move is inspiring. Industry spokespeople are calling out the president for appearing to back away from the Trump campaign promise that marijuana legalization would be left up to the states, and a Republican senator, Cory Gardner of Colorado, has already announced from the Senate floor that he will place a hold on every Justice Department nomination until Sessions reverses course and lives up to what Gardner says was a promise to him not to reverse Obama-era policy.

Democrats are also hollering and screaming, and it's worth noting that more than half the Senate and more than a hundred House members now represent states that have legalized marijuana in some form, either medicinally or recreationally or both.

Short of just legalizing marijuana, where Congress has real power over the Justice Department is in appropriations. When it comes to medical marijuana, for the past three years Congress has approved an amendment that bars the use of Justice Department funds to go after the medical marijuana states. Look for a similar appropriations bill rider barring Justice from going after legal marijuana states, too. 

Jeff Sessions is leaving decisions about marijuana enforcement to his U.S. attorneys. They could impose huge disruptions on the legal, regulated marijuana business, which is bad enough, but they can't bring back pot prohibition. Sessions is fighting a lonely, rear-guard battle not even supported by his own party or the president he serves. It's a battle he will lose, although it could cause some casualties. 

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Pharmacists Slow to Dispense Lifesaving Overdose Reversal Drug

Fri, 01/05/2018 - 10:29
Costs, limited awareness and stigma all appear to be playing a part in naloxone not getting to those who need it. This article originally appeared on Kaiser Health News.

Gale Dunham, a pharmacist in Calistoga, Calif., knows the devastation the opioid epidemic has wrought, and she is glad the anti-overdose drug naloxone is becoming more accessible.

But so far, Dunham said, she has not taken advantage of a California law that allows pharmacists to dispense the medication to patients without a doctor’s prescription. She said she plans to take the training required at some point but has not yet seen much demand for the drug.

“I don’t think people who are heroin addicts or taking a lot of opioids think that they need it,” Dunham said. “Here, nobody comes and asks for it.”

In the three years since the California law took effect, pharmacists have been slow to dispense naloxone, which reverses the effects of an overdose. They cite several reasons, including low public awareness, heavy workloads, fear that they won’t be adequately paid and reluctance to treat drug-addicted people.

In 48 states and Washington, D.C., pharmacists have flexibility in supplying the drug without a prescription to patients, or to their friends or relatives, according to the National Alliance of State Pharmacy Associations. But as in California, pharmacists in many states, including Wisconsin and Kentucky, have divergent opinions about whether to dispense naloxone.

“The fact that we don’t have wider uptake . . . is a public health emergency in and of itself,” said Virginia Herold, executive officer of the California State Board of Pharmacy. She said both pharmacists and the public need to be better educated about the drug.

Pharmacists are uniquely positioned to identify those at risk and help save the lives of patients who overdose on opioids, said Talia Puzantian, a pharmacist and associate professor of clinical sciences at Keck Graduate Institute School of Pharmacy in Claremont, Calif.

“There’s a Starbucks on every corner. What else is on every corner? A pharmacy. So we are very accessible,” Puzantian told a group of pharmacy students recently as she trained them on providing naloxone to customers. “We are interfacing with patients who may be at risk. We can help reduce overdose deaths by expanding access to naloxone.”

Opioid overdoses killed 2,000 people in California and 15,000 nationwide in 2015.

Naloxone can be administered via nasal spray, injection or auto-injector. Prices for it vary widely, but insurers often cover it. The drug binds to opioid receptors, reversing the effect of opioids and helping someone who has overdosed to breathe again.

At least 26,500 overdoses were reversed from 1996 to 2014 because of naloxone administered by laypeople, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Since then, the drug has become much more widely available among first responders, law enforcement officers and community groups. The drug is safe and doesn’t have serious side effects, apart from putting someone into immediate withdrawal, according to the institute.

Information on how many pharmacists are dispensing naloxone is limited, but one study last year showed access to the drug at retail pharmacies increased significantly from 2013 to 2015 from previously small numbers.

Interviews and available evidence from around the U.S. indicate that pharmacists have varying perspectives. In Kentucky, for example, one study found that 28 percent of pharmacists surveyed were not willing to dispense naloxone.

In Pennsylvania, pharmacists weren’t exactly lining up to hand out naloxone when the state passed a law in 2015 allowing them to do it, said Pat Epple, CEO of the Pennsylvania Pharmacists Association. She said there were some initial obstacles, including the cost of the drug and pharmacists’ limited awareness of the law. The association worked with state health officials to raise awareness of naloxone among patients and pharmacists and reduce the stigma of dispensing it, Epple said.

Wisconsin is also among the states that allow pharmacists to dispense naloxone. Sarah Sorum, a vice president at the Pharmacy Society of Wisconsin, said the state’s pharmacists want to expand their public health role and help curb the opioid epidemic. But reimbursement has been a challenge, she said.

Not all health plans across the nation cover the full cost of the drug, and pharmacists also are concerned about getting paid for the time it takes to counsel patients or their relatives.

California and other states require pharmacists to undergo training before they can dispense naloxone to patients who don’t have a doctor’s prescription. Puzantian and others say that in California not enough pharmacists are getting the training, which can be taken online or in person and can cost a few hundred dollars.

So far, the California State Board of Pharmacy has trained between 450 and 500 pharmacists, and the membership-based California Pharmacists Association has added an additional 170. Other smaller organizations offer the naloxone training, according to the association. There are about 28,000 licensed pharmacists in the state.

Once trained, California pharmacists who provide naloxone must screen patients to find out if they have a history of opioid use. They also must counsel people requesting the drug on how to prevent, recognize and respond to an overdose.

Some say training requirements are an unnecessary barrier, especially given the high level of education already required to become a pharmacist.

Some of the bigger pharmacy chains, including CVS, Rite Aid and Walgreens, have made the drug available without a prescription in the states that allow it. Walgreens has announced that it would stock the nasal spray version of naloxone at all of its pharmacies. It said it offers the drug in 45 states without requiring the patient to have a prescription.

Peter Lurie, president of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said not every pharmacy has to dispense naloxone for people to have access to it. “But the greater the number of dispensing pharmacies the better,” he said, adding that it is “especially important in more sparsely populated areas.”

Corey Davis, deputy director of the Network for Public Health Law, said making naloxone available over the counter would also increase access, since people could buy it off the shelf without talking to a pharmacist.

Bryan Koschak, a community pharmacist at Shopko in Redding, Calif., said people should go to a hospital or doctor’s office for naloxone. “I am not champing at the bit to do it,” he said. “It is one more thing on my plate that I would have to do.”

Michael Creason, a pharmacist in San Diego expressed a different view. He did the training after his employer, CVS, required it. He said pharmacies are a great vehicle for expanding access to naloxone because patients often develop a rapport with their pharmacists and feel comfortable asking for it.

Pharmacy associations should educate their members about the laws that allow naloxone to be provided without a doctor’s prescription and persuade more of them to provide the drug to customers who need it, Lurie said. Others say more pharmacists should put up signs to make customers aware that naloxone is available in their shops.

The California Pharmacists Association said it is trying to raise awareness through newsletters and emails to pharmacists in the state. “We want to see every pharmacy be able to furnish naloxone and every person at risk have access to it,” said Jon Roth, the association’s CEO.

The state’s pharmacy schools also include the training in their curriculum. One day recently, Puzantian explained to a classroom full of pharmacy students that naloxone is effective, safe and can prevent death.

“You can’t get a dead addict into recovery,” she told the students. Drug users “might have multiple overdoses, but each overdose reversal is a chance for them to get into recovery.”


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Jeff Sessions Is Coming for America's Legalized Marijuana

Thu, 01/04/2018 - 09:30
"This is not a drill."

On the heels of a California law legalizing recreational marijuana use, which took effect Monday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is planning to rescind the federal policy that has enabled Americans to grow, sell, and use cannabis in places where it has been legalized, without federal intervention, the Associated Press reported Thursday.

"The move will leave it to U.S. attorneys where pot is legal to decide whether to aggressively enforce federal marijuana law," the AP noted, a move that will likely "add to confusion about whether it's OK to grow, buy, or use marijuana in states where it's legal, since long-standing federal law prohibits it." The report cited anonymous sources with knowledge of the decision.

"RED ALERT!" the Drug Policy Alliance tweeted in response to the report. "This is not a drill. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is going after legalized marijuana."

In California—which was the first state to legalize medical marijuana—state officials have, according to the Los Angeles Times, "issued dozens of permits for retailers to begin recreational sales this week, expanding a market that is expected to grow to $7 billion annually by 2020."

California is the sixth state to introduce the sale of recreational cannabis, following Alaska, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington. In response to ballot measures from the 2016 election, Maine and Massachusetts are expected to start sales later this year—despite protest from state leaders like Maine Republican Gov. Paul LePage, who in November vetoed a law that would have regulated the state's marijuana sales. 

Several states have passed legislation or ballot measures to relax statewide policies of marijuana use for medicinal and, increasingly, recreational purposes. The Marijuana Policy Project, which lobbies in favor of cannabis-friendly laws, tracks the state-by-state rules on its website:

Sessions is a long-time opponent of the nationwide push to legalize recreational and medicinal use of marijuana. Journalist and former lawyer Glenn Greenwald used the news to offer the analysis that "Conservatives' self-professed belief in federalism was always a huge fraud," tweeting:

Conservatives' self-professed belief in federalism was always a huge fraud. It never extended to any state policies that they disliked, and still doesn't:

— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) January 4, 2018


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Trump Administration to Target Legal Marijuana

Thu, 01/04/2018 - 09:06
The move is generating a strong bipartisan backlash.



Trump administration to target legal marijuana

WASHINGTON — Attorney General Jeff Sessions is rescinding the long-standing federal policy permitting states to legalize recreational pot, placing thousands of marijuana businesses in several states operating legally under state law at risk to federal raids and seizures.

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A Jeff Sessions Adviser Thinks Doctors Should Force Suspected Addicts Into Rehab and Drug Test All Patients

Wed, 01/03/2018 - 12:25
Robert DuPont has the attorney general's ear.




Attorney General Jeff Sessions received marijuana policy advice from a seasoned veteran of the War on drugs, who helped popularize the phrase "Gateway Drug" and has proposed that doctors force some ...

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