Oregon cannabis lawyersOregon lawmakers are considering legislation to protect Oregon cannabis consumers and patients against potential federal government enforcement actions. Proposed legislation, Senate Bill 863, would require marijuana retailers to purge patients’ personally identifiable information and would prohibit dispensaries from “record[ing] and retain[ing]” such information. This bill seeks to shield individual cannabis patients and consumers from federal authorities by eliminating a potentially damning piece of evidence. Oregon dispensaries currently keep much of this information, in contrast to other states where purges are commonplace by law or custom.

SB 863 defines “information that may be used to identify a consumer” to include information found on a consumer’s passport, driver’s license, or other identification document.” The information is protected whether it is on a physical copy of the identifying document or stored otherwise, such as in a customer database. Though dispensaries may collect aggregate non-identifying information, the bill would make it unlawful for dispensaries to “record or “retain” individual customer data. The legislation would further limit the spread of personally identifiable information by prohibiting dispensaries from requiring customers to produce any other form of identification.

In addition to preventing the recording of personally identifying information, the bill would also prohibit transferring any personally identifying information in the dispensary’s possession. On its face, this would appear to prevent dispensaries from cooperating with federal enforcement against customers, though it remains to be seen whether a state law requiring something like this would hold up in a federal court.

What personally identifying information does the bill not cover? The bill does not cover other forms of record-keeping that could contain personally identifying information. For instance, the bill would not prevent dispensaries from retaining recorded security footage that could include recognizable images of its customers or from capturing license plate numbers of cars coming and going from the parking lot. The bill also would not cover information received incident to credit and debit card-based transactions.

What about data retained for marketing purposes? A dispensary may record and retain the name and contact information of a consumer for the purpose of notifying them of products, services, discounts, etc. if the consumers gives informed consent. Even then, however, the dispensary may not transfer the information to another person — good news for those wary of their personal data being sold to third party marketers.

Will the bill pass? It seems likely some form of the bill will succeed and our Oregon cannabis lawyers are predicting passage. SB 863 enjoys bipartisan support and lawmakers are moving quickly to consider the proposal. Of course, the bill may change significantly as it gets through committee.

The next action on the bill should come this week of March 20, so keep an eye on this fast-moving issue.

Georgia CannabisGeorgia lawmakers agreed to a compromise bill Thursday to expand the state’s medical marijuana program. The deal comes after competing bills in the Georgia State House and Senate clashed over the direction of the program. If passed, the legislation would open the door for patients with Alzheimer’s disease, AIDS, autism, epidermolysis bullosa, peripheral neuropathy, and Tourette’s syndrome to receive medical marijuana with a doctor’s recommendation.

We ranked Georgia at number 34 among the states for cannabis. If this bill passes, Georgia would likely leap up around ten spots in our next state ranking go-round.

Background. The Georgia legislature approved medical marijuana with the passage of HB1 in late 2015. In its original form, Georgia’s medical marijuana law allowed patients with eight specific conditions to possess up to twenty ounces of cannabis oil with a doctor’s recommendation. The law also permitted only low-THC cannabis oils capped at 5% THC concentration. The combination of these factors has contributed to significant access issues for patients in the state. A 2016 bill failed to solve the problem.

Divergent legislative responses. This session, the Georgia House and Senate each took up efforts to reform the state’s medical marijuana program. The House proposed and passed a bill to expand the program to include the diseases found in the compromise bill. In contrast, the Senate put forth a bill that only added one of these conditions (autism) to the list. The Senate bill would also have lowered the maximum allowable THC concentration to 3%.

The compromise bill looks to include nearly all the House provisions with respect to adding additional qualifying conditions. The 5% THC concentration limit also looks to be safe.

What else is in the bill? In addition to augmenting the list of qualifying conditions and maintaining status quo concentration limits, the final bill could also mold the legal framework for Georgia’s medical marijuana program in other ways. The extent to which many of these provisions – all from the House bill – will survive in the final legislation is uncertain but they are illustrative of Georgia lawmakers’ sentiments and the ways in which medical marijuana programs can be iteratively refined.

  • Delineating qualifying conditions
    • The House legislation would strike the requirement that cancer be in its “end stage” to qualify absent particular symptoms like vomiting. The bill would also strike language that would require patients with Parkinson’s or sickle cell to be in the “severe or end stage” of the disease before being eligible to receive medical marijuana treatment.
  • Removing barriers to access
    • The House legislation would also remove the residency requirement that limits access to medical marijuana for patients who are new to the state. The bill would additionally provide reciprocity for medical marijuana patients with proper documentation from other medical marijuana states qualifying them as such.

Next steps? The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that the bill would reach committee late Thursday. The bill is, of course, tentative until a final version is passed by both houses and signed into law, but indications are that the bill has significant support from both chambers and is likely to be signed by the governor.

 

 

American lawyer in BarcelonaAs we have written previously (See Marijuana in Spain: Our on the Ground Report), the Catalonia region of Spain — particularly its flagship city of Barcelona, home of our Spanish outpost — is a major European cannabis hub. Despite this, the laws in Spain and in Catalonia and in Barcelona are complicated and their enforcement is uneven, and all of this makes for difficulties and risks for cannabis businesses and even ancillary companies there.

The following should give you a quick “lay of the land” regarding cannabis in Spain:

  • Spain has emerged as a prominent center for cannabis culture in Europe
  • Barcelona is home to 200-plus private cannabis clubs
  • The Spanish government is not terribly interested in enforcing its national cannabis laws, especially in Catalonia
  • Cities in Catalonia have already taken steps towards sanctioning cannabis legalization, despite foot-dragging on the regional and national levels

In 2016, the regional Parliament of Catalonia proposed reforms in line with a 2014 initiative advocated by the Rosa La Verda platform in advance of the 2014 elections. The initiative’s aim was to create a framework for national reform of cannabis laws to permit regions like Catalonia and cities like Barcelona to set their own cannabis policies.

Though the 2016 legislative initiative stalled, our Barcelona attorneys report that this issue has recently reemerged and anticipation is building for a revised version of the bill.

So, what are the key points of the earlier legislation as proposed in 2016? The aim of the 2014 effort was to advocate for reforms to allow adults in Spain age 21 and over to safely and legally obtain and consume marijuana. How has the legislative rules proposal manifested in the most recent legislation?

  • The proposal would define what a cannabis association is under the law.
  • The proposal would set standards requiring the business to disclose the chemicals used on cannabis products.
  • The proposal would obligate the supply chain to document the cultivation of cannabis distribution to consumers.

It remains to be seen how – and to what extent – these policy goals will take form in new legislation. It is also uncertain whether such legislation would actually pass, and how its success or failure might interact with other regional and local action on the issue.

Nonetheless, Catalonia, Spain – and Barcelona in particular – are certain to remain at the forefront of cannabis reform and reform-minded culture both in Spain and in the Europe. The success of progressive cannabis policy in the Spanish government would undoubtedly accelerate cannabis reform in Europe and beyond.

Stay tuned as we keep you updated with the latest developments in Spain’s cannabis reform efforts.

Cannabis LawA litany of comments made by White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and many other Tump administration officials have sent tremors through the cannabis industry in the weeks since Trump’s January inauguration.

Most alarming to many cannabis industry stakeholders was the administration’s uncertain position on state-legal cannabis programs. True to form, Press Secretary Sean Spicer predicted, “greater enforcement” of the Controlled Substances Act in recreational states under the Trump administration during a press conference two weeks ago. More recently, Attorney General Jeff Sessions reportedly reassured some GOP senators that he will not be moving away from Obama-era deference to state-legal cannabis programs. To many invested in the marijuana industry, however, Sessions’ statement is cold comfort coming from an Attorney General who harbors an irrational hatred of cannabis and intends to enforce existing federal drug laws to the letter.

Nevertheless, a glimmer of silver lining shines from the House of Representatives hopper for Democrats in the form of HR 1227 or the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2017. The bill, introduced by Congressman Tom Garrett (R-VA), is co-sponsored by congressional Democrats Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii and Peter Welch of Vermont. This law would de-schedule cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act and allow for states to self-regulate their own cannabis programs.

If passed, the Act would be an unprecedented win for the cannabis industry as a whole and fundamentally change the landscape of legal cannabis in the United States. Here are the details:

What would HR 1227 do?  Essentially, the Act would remove cannabis from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). This is distinct from hints from the Drug Enforcement Administration in 2015 that it might consider re-scheduling cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule II of the CSA. Though de-scheduling cannabis would allow state marijuana programs to carry on essentially unfettered, re-scheduling could introduce new obstacles akin to those that other fledgling and experimental drugs must overcome.

What wouldn’t HR 1227 do? HR 1227 will not give blanket permission for transferring cannabis across state lines; states would be free to prohibit shipments of cannabis to and from their own jurisdictions. The bill also would not override state-level regulations that set standards for licensure, labeling, and purity. The status quo of state cannabis laws would therefore persist, but against a far less draconian backdrop of federal criminal law.

What are the bill’s prospects in 2017? Not great, unfortunately, but it is not all its fault. Congress has a lot on its plate this session – including still-pending confirmations of several presidential appointees – and cannabis reform is just not a high priority for lawmakers on either side of the aisle. Prospects for meaningful cannabis reforms on the federal level are dim under a unified Republican government absent an ideological shift. At least in the short term.

Why does this sound so familiar? The bill is identical to the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2015 introduced by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VA). The 2015 bill was a hit among Sanders’ core supporters at the time but it failed to gain any significant traction in Congress.

 

 

Medical Marijuana ArkansasThe Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission issued draft rules this week that outline the process and particulars for obtaining a cultivation or dispensary license. The rules dictate the number of licenses of each type issued and set the criteria for obtaining a license.

What are the new rules?  Arkansas’ medical marijuana program is just starting to get off the ground and, accordingly, many of the draft rules issued this week are familiar variations on the basic rules that underpin other states’ mature medical and recreational cannabis markets. Some features of the AMMC’s proposed rules do stand out, however.

License Cap. The draft rules mandate that a minimum of four cultivation licenses be approved, but limit the initial total number of cultivation licenses to eight. For dispensaries, the minimum number of license approvals is 20, not to exceed 40.

Dispensary licenses are to be allocated across eight geographic zones within the state, per the draft rules. This distribution, according to the AMMC, is to ensure patient access in regions throughout the state.

Transfer, Board, and Management Restrictions. The draft rules include tight restrictions on transfers of ownership interest in medical marijuana businesses. Licensees will be required to obtain permission from the AMMC before any transfer of ownership interest. Even more constraining is that licensees must get AMMC approval before making changes to their board of directors or to their officers. Together these aspects of the draft rules represent an extraordinary limitation on a medical marijuana business’s business judgment and corporate governance.

Ownership Restrictions. No one may have an ownership interest in more than one cultivation and one dispensary medical marijuana license. This rule precludes much horizontal expansion for medical marijuana businesses, but leaves open the possibility of at least some vertical integration.

What happens next?  The AMMC’s proposed rules remain draft rules, and they will be open to a public comment period before anything becomes final. There is slated to be a public hearing on March 31 at the University of Arkansas – Little Rock law school campus where stakeholders and other members of the community can share their input. Then the rules, pending any modifications, go to the state legislature for ultimate approval.

What else is going on with medical marijuana in Arkansas?  While the AMMC is busy with its rulemaking process, other Arkansas state agencies are formulating rules of their own to govern other aspects of the state’s new medical marijuana program. Medical marijuana also remains a hot topic in the state legislature. Medical marijuana-related legislation on the docket includes, among other bills, the following:

  • House Bill 1392, which would prohibit edibles as part of the medical marijuana program.
  • Senate Bill 238, which would delay implementation of the medical marijuana amendment to the Arkansas constitution until medical marijuana is federally legal.
  • Senate Bill 357, which prohibits smoking medical marijuana – a bill in slight tension with HB 1392 should both pass.
  • Other bills are also in the hopper that would increase license fees, force medical marijuana facilities farther away from schools, churches, and other designated locations, as well as impose a smattering of other restrictions on the fledgling program.

For more on medical marijuana in Arkansas, see the following:

 

Washington State cannabis delivery serviicesAre cannabis delivery services legal in Washington State? 

Strong demand for home-delivery cannabis services in Washington – and particularly Seattle – is apparent, as demonstrated by the numerous delivery services operating in plain sight, as revealed by a simple Google or Yelp search. Yet, such operations remain illegal following the passage and implementation of I-502. In 2016, Seattle proposed a law to permit a pilot project for legal delivery in Seattle (which failed in the state legislature). This year, Seattle officials are pushing for similar legislation, with certain modifications, that they hope will open the door to cannabis delivery throughout the state.

What’s the status quo in Washington State?

Cannabis delivery services are as old as old-school weed dealing itself. The common trope is of the marijuana dealer who delivers late (and stays past their welcome) – and only after multiple calls or texts. Today’s pot delivery services, particularly in states with legal medical or adult-use cannabis, are exponentially more professional operations – yet, in large part, they remain illegal under both state and federal law. Such is the case in Washington State.

What happened with the 2016 proposal?

Last January Seattle city officials supported Washington State House Bill 2368, which would have authorized a pilot plan for home cannabis delivery in Washington in cities with 650,000 or more people – effectively just Seattle.

HB 2368 was seen by as “Seattle-centric” and lawmakers outside Seattle and greater King County did not vote for the bill because it would not directly benefit their constituents. Also, Washington can be a deceptively conservative in general and in terms of cannabis, especially on outside its urban centers and especially on the East side of the mountains. Ultimately, HB 2368 did not become law.

How does the new proposal differ?

MyNorthwest.com reports that Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes intends to broaden support for the 2017 bill by allowing home cannabis delivery statewide. Such marijuana delivery services would still be subject to county and municipal regulations and prohibitions.

Will it pass?

The bill’s ultimate fate is unclear. City Attorney Pete Holmes said in January that the bill was in the early stages of finding a bill number and sponsor, though he was optimistic going forward. Ultimately, only time will tell if this or a different bill authorizing cannabis delivery eventually becomes law in Washington State. Though it is far from certain, I think pot delivery services will within the next few years become legal in Washington and I say this because the longer Washington legalization goes on without the sky falling down (and I do not foresee the sky falling down), the more Washingtonians will come to realize it is no big deal and the less they will care about restricting it by doing things like forbidding cannabis deliveries.

Why is this important for the future of cannabis reform in Washington State?

Other jurisdictions with legal medical or adult-use cannabis have experimented with home delivery, and “gray market” home delivery operations are thriving in Washington and other state-legal cannabis states since before legalization. This despite many arrests in Seattle.

The demand for cannabis delivery ensures and proves its durability as a market force. Allowing illegal delivery operations to prosper erodes the legitimacy of legal cannabis markets, and undercuts its economic rationale. Our cannabis clients resent having to pay big taxes and be subject to massive regulations while at having to compete with illegal operations that avoid both of those things. The solution is to permit legal home delivery for medical and/or recreational users and to license and treat those cannabis delivery services  as any other cannabis business.

Why is this important to medical patients and adult-use cannabis consumers?

The ability to legally provide home cannabis delivery services is particularly important to medical marijuana patients with limited mobility or other disabilities that make it impossible or unduly burdensome for them to personally go to a dispensary to obtain cannabis. Also, even adult-use recreational patients can benefit from the convenience and added value of a cannabis delivery service. Just look at Amazon Prime.

For its part, earlier this month a Seattle Times editorial endorsed legalizing cannabis deliveries.

 

Washington state cannabis licenseAdvocates for cannabis reform often point to favorable studies documenting the positive medicinal and wellness effects of marijuana to debunk federal law scheduling of cannabis as a substance on par with heroin. Opponents of cannabis reform invoke statistics that purport to show a relationship between cannabis and crime and violence. What both sides must agree upon, however, is the need for new, in-depth, and nuanced research of legal cannabis’ effect on society. At least if they belive in scientific research over anectdote.

Washington State is  moving in this direction with its cannabis research licenses. Here is what you need to know about these cannabis research licenses.

What is a Washington cannabis research license? Washington’s cannabis research license has been set up to facilitate further study of cannabis’ scientific, medical, and industrial properties and applications. According to Washington statute RCW 69.50.372, marijuana research license holders  may “produce, process, and possess marijuana for … limited research purposes.” The law restricts the scope of permitted research to the generously broad categories of: tests of chemical potency and composition; clinical investigation of cannabis-derived drugs; tests regarding the efficacy and safety of cannabis as a medical treatment; and genomic or agricultural research.

Along with a whole host of other factors, these new cannabis research licenses will help solidify Washington state – more specifically the Seattle area – as a hotbed for cannabis research. Existing Seattle cannabis and biotech and technology firms (almost all of which are quite open to cannabis), along with the city’s vibrant vibrant start-up scene should combine to accelerate worthy cannabis research for a wide range of applications.

What is the latest regarding Washington cannabis research licenses? The Washington state legislature passed a law authorizing licenses for researching cannabis’ medical properties, chemical composition, and agricultural potential last year. Following a rule making period, the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board has indicated it will begin accepting applications March 1, 2017. However, absent swift action by the Washington state legislature, this date will probably get pushed back by a requirement in the research licensure law discussed below.

Why might there be a delay in implementing cannabis research in Washington? The law that created cannabis research licenses also mandates that applicants and their research projects be vetted and approved by third-party scientific reviewers. The reviewers are required to audit the research and its reports. This is a an understandable precaution given the state law’s conflict with federal law (which still pretty much makes cannabis illegal for any purpose), and a fair method for ensuring the licenses are being used for their intended purpose.

The problem is that Washington State has not yet approved any third-party scientific reviewers, and no such approvals appear to be forthcoming. Many expected Life Sciences Discovery Fund to serve as a scientific reviewer, but for what appears to be funding reasons, it has not stepped up. Nor unfortunately, have either the University of Washington or Washington State University or any of the other institutions of higher learning in the state. Until a third-party scientific reviewer is approved, applicants will be in limbo.

The new cannabis research law also requires the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board select a scientific reviewer to review the research project and determine the merit of its quality, design, and impact; the adequacy of its personnel, expertise, and other functional capacity; and whether the quantity of marijuana cultivated matches the needs of these objectives. No scientific reviewer, no cannabis research.

Why is this important? Lack of legal and high level cannabis research is a classic “chicken and egg” problem for cannabis legalization. Cannabis is illegal in large part because the powers that be claim it to have no legally recognized medicinal or therapeutic value. And yet — surprise, surprise, efforts to conduct high level research that might show the contrary gets suppressed by a lack of legal access to cannabis and by a reluctance by many to fund research that could be shut down as illegal. Something will have to give in order to overcome this impasse, and it is not sure when or how that might happen.

As cannabis lawyers, we find all of this extremely frustrating, as it not only means that those needing cannabis for medical reasons are cheated out of their medicine in states where cannabis is not legal even for medical treatments, but it also means that in cannabis legal states like Washington, far too many patients do not not get the ideal strain and quantities and ingestion method for their particular conditions because there is no high level research on these things. It also means that countries like Israel and Canada will continue to surpass the United States in cannabis research and technology.

Bottom Line: Do not expect your Washington State cannabis research license soon. And that is too bad.

Cannabis Marijuana pot weedThe world of cannabis has been abuzz since November with anxiety over what a Trump administration could mean for the industry and the future of state- and federal-level cannabis reforms. This was only made worse by the nomination of notoriously anti-marijuana senator Jeff Sessions as Attorney General. Following his party-line approval by the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday, Sessions is likely to be confirmed by the full Senate by a similar vote in short order. Though hope springs eternal, some in the cannabis industry are bracing for the worst and looking for ways to ensure the rapidly growing industry’s does not go to pot (pun intended) under Trump.

One recent source of optimism is last week’s announcement that Boulder County, Colorado, District Attorney Stan Garnett will be part of a group of prosecutors advising the Trump administration on marijuana policy. The group – comprised of 14 district attorneys, including some from weed-friendly states California and Oregon – is part of the National District Attorneys Association, a prosecutor and criminal justice policy think tank. Advocates for relaxed marijuana laws hope Garnett’s appointment foreshadows a group that will be a voice of reason to the administration and a force against rolling back marijuana reforms in legal states.

Yet it remains unclear exactly what role the NDAA group will play in advising the administration and how its cannabis agenda will take shape. After all, in discussing his selection, Garnett (who is also Colorado’s NDAA state director) remarked that he “always end[s] up on the more liberal position than anyone else, particularly on marijuana.” This observation is borne out by a report entitled “Policy Positions on Control and Enforcement” adopted by NDAA in 2005. Though dated, it reflects NDAA’s most recent official positions on cannabis reforms – and it is not a pretty picture.

In the report, NDAA states that it “opposes the legalization of illicit substances” and notes that it “specifically opposed” California’s 1996 legalization of medical marijuana. It goes on to state that NDAA “opposes the opposition of any state legislation or adoption of voter initiative that legitimizes and legalizes the ‘medicinal use’ of marijuana.” NDAA also alleges in the report that the cannabis reform movement’s “strategy is to legalize all illicit drugs” using “the sick and dying as pawns” and “myths” that cannabis is not harmful, among other claims. One might assume that the NDAA’s position likely evolved in the intervening years, but, according to Garnett, the group’s first meeting saw some prosecutors urge that the governor of every medical and recreational cannabis state be sent a letter demanding closure of all cannabis businesses in 90 days. Garnett, to his credit, “was not shy” about denouncing the idea, but one must wonder how much one or even a small contingent of forward-thinking committee members can affect institutional policy.

Let’s face it people, prosecutors are not generally friendly to cannabis.

It also appears the group’s role and influence in the Trump administration has been overhyped. As reported by Leafly, the Director of Policy and Government affairs at NDAA said in a statement that “[c]ontrary to other reporting, the working group is not affiliated with any other organization or entity, including the incoming administration.” So do not get your hopes up that some pro-cannabis Justice League of prosecutors is about to save the day if Sessions decides to crack down on weed.

It is undoubtedly a positive development that Garnett and other pro-cannabis reform prosecutors are in a position to help shape an important trade group’s position on marijuana. But, industry stakeholders and advocates should temper their expectations for the impact and direction of the NDAA taskforce.

Like pretty much everything else related to cannabis and the Trump administration, the safest stance is probably wait and see.

Cannabis attorneysIf you live and work in a state where cannabis is illegal, can you be fired for going on vacation to a state like Colorado and using cannabis while there? A Texas administrative law judge says no.

This week’s Cannabis Case Summary covers the case of Maryam Roland, a high school teacher from Texas, who recently prevailed before the Texas State Office of Administrative Hearings. During winter break of the 2014-2015 school year, Ms. Roland took a vacation to Colorado. While in Colorado, she admits she consumed an edible cannabis product. Roland then returned to Texas to continue teaching for the spring term. Following accusations of marijuana use, she resigned from her teaching position in February 2015.

According to court documents, a “disgruntled” co-worker had notified the school administration by email that a number of school employees used cocaine, marijuana and other substances. Though Roland was not directly named in the email, she was implicated in the matter. In an interview with authorities, Roland stated she had previously used cannabis “occasionally” but had resolved to stop using cannabis and “get her life together” for the new year. She denied any use of drugs or alcohol on school premises or during the time she was working. Roland was then given both a follicle and urine drug test. She passed the urinary analysis, but there was evidence of cannabis in her hair sample.

This matter was brought before an administrative law judge charged by the Texas State Office of Administrative Hearings. The judge considered whether there was evidence that Roland had violated Texas law and whether she was “unworthy to instruct and supervise” youth. The judge did not conclude that Roland had violated any law. The judge’s determination was based on the determination that there was no evidence that Roland possessed or used cannabis in the state of Texas. It is crucial to note that the judge observed the plaintiff did not allege any violation of federal law. Had the plaintiff made such an allegation,  the outcome may have been totally different as cannabis is clearly federally illegal.

The judge also considered whether Roland had violated district policies related to employees being under the influence of a controlled substance during working hours. Again, the judge concluded in favor of Roland, finding insufficient evidence that she was ever possessed cannabis or was under the influence of any controlled substance while at work. Despite the positive result of Roland’s hair sample for marijuana, the judge concluded there was no basis for the test because the aforementioned co-worker’s email fell short of giving “reasonable suspicion” that Roland was a drug user. Therefore, the court found, the test was improper.

This is an interesting case at the nexus of employment law and cannabis. Employees, even in states where cannabis is legal, are often unable to secure a right to use cannabis off the clock, whether it be for medicinal or recreational purposes. Though ultimately a rather limited administrative law decision, Roland’s case is an example of how cannabis users and patients may be able to operate going forward. In the judge’s own words: “Possession of a usable quantity of marijuana is a criminal offense in Texas, but so is gambling. The ALJ would not recommend that the Board find a teacher unworthy to instruct in Texas because she legally gambled in Nevada.

Cannabis attorneysEmployment law is often unforgiving of medical marijuana patients. Workers are in many instances subject to the same consequences of using marijuana in cannabis-legal states as in states where cannabis remains illegal. Federal illegality has thwarted attempts by employees in many instances to guard against termination or other negative action linked to their consumption of cannabis.

It is therefore notable that an administrative law judge in New Jersey last month ordered an employer to reimburse an injured employee for his purchase of medical marijuana permitted by New Jersey law. Though not a binding rule of law, the judge’s decision is an undeniably positive outcome for medical marijuana patients and could be a harbinger of things to come as marijuana goes mainstream. This week’s Cannabis Case Summary breaks down the administrative law judge’s decision and what it might mean for the future.

The plaintiff in the case, Andrew Watson, worked for 84 Lumber, where he sustained a serious hand injury on the job. Watson’s psychiatrist/neurologist recommended Watson use medical marijuana to treat the pain from his injury. He then purchased around two and one-quarter ounces of medical marijuana over the course of three months, all legally under New Jersey law. Because 84 Lumber refused to cover the cost of the cannabis under its workers’ compensation policy, Watson was unable to continue using marijuana as a pain reliever. Instead, per the company’s policy, Watson relied upon prescription opiates to cope with his chronic pain.

Watson then brought his case before administrative law judge Ingrid L. French to secure reimbursement for the amount he had spent on marijuana and a ruling that his future purchases of medical marijuana to treat this injury would be covered by his employer. Watson argued that medical marijuana was both effective and a fit substitute for the more dangerous and addiction-linked opiates he was prescribed as an alternative. The judge ultimately sided with Watson, stating on December 15 that reimbursement was appropriate and that Watson’s future medical marijuana expenditures should be covered.

The administrative law judge’s conclusion raises interesting questions. Does it make sense for companies in medical marijuana states to make effort to expressly cover medical marijuana as an alternative to (often more costly) pharmaceuticals to treat pain or other ailments? Can employees bank on this reasoning to carry the day if they decide to obtain medical marijuana as an alternative to narcotic painkillers? The answer to both questions is uncertain and will be affected by political as well as legal shifts in the United States. Nonetheless, the outcome in this case should be encouraging to medical marijuana patients in New Jersey and beyond.

It should be noted that the decision in this case was rendered by an administrative law judge. Such an opinion has similar but different effect than a decision by a state or federal judge. New Jersey is, however, known for its robust state administrative law. The persuasive authority of this decision should not be discounted nor overestimated.

Good news for medical marijuana patient Watson is good news indeed, but the overall place of this decision in the mosaic of favorable rulings amidst continued federal prohibition is inherently precarious.