Marijuana or cannabis

Neil deGrasse Tyson’s quote — as one would expect — is extremely rational. There is no reason for cannabis to be illegal now, nor for it to have been made illegal in the first place. As deGrasse Tyson points out, alcohol is legal and it has more known health detriments than cannabis. Similarly, tobacco is legal, and that too is more detrimental to one’s health than cannabis. Keeping cannabis illegal is irrational and unscientific. We are not calling for prohibiting alcohol or cigarettes. We are here though to use them as a basis for legalizing cannabis.

And if a great scientist sees the rationality in that, are we off base in wondering why our government cannot?

 

Cannabis lawyersPresident Trump spent some time attacking Jeff Sessions on Twitter in July. There are plenty of reasons why that was a bad thing. You don’t want the leader of the executive branch attacking the chief law enforcement officer in the nation for failing to stand in the way of an investigation into that leader. But if you temporarily ignore the threats to democracy, it was pretty fun watching Sessions get metaphorically slapped around. Mr. “Good people don’t smoke marijuana” was only able to come back with a lame comment that Trump’s behavior was “kind of hurtful” while still calling him a “strong leader.” Show some backbone.

Despite the attacks, it looks like Sessions is sticking around, which means we have to continue guessing how his Department of Justice is going to treat marijuana. On that front, there is some bad news and some potentially good news.

On the negative front, the Huffington Post uncovered a letter Sessions sent to Washington Governor Jay Inslee on July 24. In that letter, which was in response to various requests to Sessions from Inslee and others that Sessions reaffirm the validity of the Cole Memo, Sessions does not deviate from the Cole Memo. Instead, he cherry picks data and presents statistics in a way that negatively reflects on Washington’s marijuana regulatory system. The vast majority of his criticisms are unfair or are outright misleading.

This post isn’t a good place to refute each of his arguments, but here are some of the highlights. He states that Washington’s medical marijuana system is considered “grey” due to a lack of regulation. But his information dates back to 2014 — Washington folded medical marijuana into its regulated system in 2015. He claims that 90% of the “public safety violations” that occur in Washington involve minors. But this is because Washington groups its violations into four categories, and all violations involving minors are in the “public safety” category. Other violations that are more common are in other categories. Additionally, a percentage without any reference to the whole is meaningless — referring to the 90% without reference to the whole is purposefully misleading. Finally, he stupidly claims Washington State isn’t well regulated because the leading regulatory violation is “failure to utilize and/or maintain traceability.” If the state is policing traceability so much that it is consistently nailing businesses for any deviation from the law, that is the definition of robustly regulating an industry. Regulatory enforcement isn’t evidence of a lack of regulation — it is the opposite.

My firm’s cannabis lawyers have since 2010 represented clients all over the country, and from this I can tell you that Washington State tends to have the toughest regulations and the strictest enforcement. The idea that Washington isn’t robustly regulating the cannabis industry is laughable. If Jeff Sessions wants to attack the principles of the Cole Memo, he should just do it instead of hiding behind weak accusations that Washington is violating its tenets.

But this is where the potential good news comes in, or at least a reason why Sessions is trying to couch his arguments within the terms of the Cole Memo. Sitting on Sessions’s desk right now is a report from his own Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety. The Department of Justice hasn’t released that report, but the Associated Press got a copy of it, and contrary to expectations, the Task Force does not recommend any changes to current DOJ policy in the Cole Memo. That makes sense of course. Even if you hate marijuana, the Department of Justice doesn’t have an unlimited budget. Every penny and every man-hour dedicated to marijuana is taken away from opioids, terrorism, violent crime, etc. If the states are not acting as partners in federal law enforcement, why would the feds use resources to target marijuana businesses and their customers in those states?

But no matter what policy the Department of Justice ends up pursuing, Sessions will never back down on the marijuana rhetoric. “Drugs are bad” are ingrained in his identity, as they have been in every hippie-hating conservative politician since Nixon. Marijuana usage, homosexuality, and alternative lifestyles that are indicative of someone being an “other” are anathema to the Sessions dream of Americana. But as demographics and polling show us, there are a lot more of us than there are of him.

Oregon cannabisThis week, Republican lawmakers blocked the “Veterans Equal Access” amendment from the Veteran Affairs (VA) department’s funding bill for the coming year. This amendment proposed VA doctors consider medical cannabis as a possible pain reliever for patients in states with legal medical marijuana and advise interested patients accordingly. VA doctors are currently not permitted to recommend (or even discuss) medical marijuana, even though many veterans use cannabis as an alternative to opioids for relief of PTSD and pain.

We have been writing since 2015 about the issue of veterans’ access to medical cannabis and unfortunately very little has changed since then. Our veterans deserve better. This is indeed a matter of life and death and yet our government will not act. How sad.

 

Cannabis legalization Washington Oregon California

Today is America’s 241st Birthday where we celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence and our country’s creation. In honor of Independence Day, we’d like to take a moment to celebrate American federalism, which has permitted states to legalize marijuana in light of the federal government’s prohibition.

For the first 161 years after our Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence, cannabis was legal. That changed in 1937 when the Marihuana Tax Act was signed into law. This Act served as the precursor for including cannabis in the Controlled Substance Act which makes cannabis illegal on the federal level to this day.

In the last twenty years, states have started to push back on the federal government’s prohibition on cannabis. It started when California became the first state to permit the medical use of cannabis in 1996. Now, 29 states and Washington DC permit medical marijuana. In 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize recreational cannabis. Alaska, California, Oregon, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, and Washington DC have all since followed suit, to one degree or another

Federalism allows these states to pass laws that conflict with the federal government’s prohibition. In America, both the federal government and state governments have powers to create laws. This system is fundamental to American government and is rooted in our Constitution. Federalism allows states to experiment with laws without making the entire country subject to the effects of those laws. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famously referred to states as “laboratories of democracy” in his dissenting opinion in New State Ice Co. v. Liebmann (1932):

To stay experimentation in things social and economic is a grave responsibility. Denial of the right to experiment may be fraught with serious consequences to the nation. It is one of the happy incidents of the federal system that a single courageous State may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.

This Fourth of July Americans should celebrate that states are free to enact laws they deem fit, even when those laws are at odds with federal law. We should also celebrate those states like California, Washington, Colorado, Alaska and Oregon that have truly been in the forefront on cannabis legalization.

Our federal system has allowed states to chip away at federal cannabis prohibition and our “courageous States” that have legalized cannabis are laying the groundwork to end federal cannabis prohibition by proving legalization can and does work. States with legal cannabis are models for how the Federal Government can and should legalize and regulate cannabis. For now, we can take a moment on our Independence Day to celebrate cannabis’s progress and to look forward to ending cannabis prohibition at the federal level soon.

 

Chance the Rapper on Cannabis

Congratulations to Chance the Rapper, who made the above statement in his acceptance speech for the BET Humanitarian Award earlier this week. Chance’s words highlight an important point: many remain in prison for cannabis-related crimes, yet in eight states, there are people selling cannabis legally according to the legislation of their respective states.

Does that make sense to you? Is that in any way fair? Should anyone be in prison for cannabis? Are cannabis laws applied fairly across all demographics and geographies? If someone is imprisoned for cannabis in a state where cannabis has been legalized, should they be set free in light of legalization? Should cannabis be legalized across all states and if so, should people imprisoned for cannabis be set free when legalization finally happens? Should or could the cannabis industry do more to assist or include those  imprisoned for cannabis? Do these questions have a bearing on, as Chance says, making the world a better place?

We’d love to hear your feedback in the comments.

The Darth Vader of CannabisRoger Stone, the infamous conservative strategist and provocateur, seems to want to emerge as an angel on Trump’s shoulder to balance out Attorney General Jeff Sessions when it comes to federal cannabis prohibition. As readers may be aware, Mr. Stone recently announced the launch of his United States Cannabis Coalition, which bills itself as a bipartisan non-profit organization dedicated to protecting the states’ right to choose sensible cannabis policies. Though the goal is noble, Mr. Stone’s involvement will likely attract attention like a lightning rod.

It is understandable that a man with a back tattoo of President Nixon’s face is no stranger to controversy (warning: NSFL). Stone helped re-elect Nixon in 1972 and then served the Nixon administration in the Office of Economic Opportunity. After Nixon’s downfall, Mr. Stone remained with Nixon as an advisor, respecting Nixon’s willingness to go to any lengths to win. So it is unsurprising that Mr. Stone kindled a life-long friendship with President Trump, urging Trump to run for President decades ago and arguably masterminding Trump’s recent rise to power. After a lifetime of toxicity, Stone now wants to leverage his relationship with Trump for good. It can all seem a bit too much like an attempt at Darth Vader’s redemption over Endor, and at least some cannabis activists think Stone should sit this one out.

Cannabis LawAt the start of a video on the United States Cannabis Coalition’s website, Stone says “Richard Nixon is my mentor. Among the biggest mistakes that President Nixon made was the War on Drugs. The War on Drugs has proved to be an expensive, ignominious and racist failure.” Though this is a nice sentiment a half century later, the problem is that Nixon’s administration knew exactly what it was doing. Harper’s Magazine published the highly disturbing details of a decades old interview with Nixon’s domestic policy chief, John Ehrlichman, who made an appalling admission that deserves to be repeated in its entirety:

You want to know what [the drug war] was really all about? The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.

So though it is certainly tempting to dismiss Stone’s current efforts as more grandstanding, at the same time, any insider ally against Trump’s parade of drug zealots might be critical while we ride this administration out. Despite Stone’s past, I’m tempted to rest a little bit easier knowing at least someone in Trump’s inner orbit is pushing for an end to the cannabis war madness.