Now that Florida has legalized marijuana for medicinal use, a couple of state lawmakers want to ensure that law enforcement doesn’t put more people in jail for pot possession.
Democratic Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith and Democratic Senator Jeff Clemens recently introduced bills in the state legislature aimed at eliminating the criminal penalties associated with marijuana possession. These bills would allow anyone caught with up to an ounce of weed to simply repay their debt to civil society through a small fine and/or community service rather than through the criminal justice system.
Last year, a number of local jurisdictions across Florida passed decriminalization ordinances – giving police the freedom to issue citations for petty pot possession when the offense was not connected to violent crime. As it stands, 14 cities and counties in the Sunshine States have adopted these policies, including Miami-Dade County and Orlando.
There were almost 40,000 people busted in Florida for this offense in 2016, according to the West Orlando News.
A report from the American Civil Liberties Union shows that Florida spent $228 million in 2010 enforcing marijuana laws – a large majority of these arrests were for minor pot possession.
Case in point: the 2017 High Times Cannabis Cup on the Moapa Band of Paiutes reservation in Nevada near Las Vegas. The most recent update on this particular Cup is that despite receiving two warning letters from U.S. Attorney David Bogden, the Tribe is moving forward this Saturday with the Cup as planned.
Given the Wilkinson statement regarding Tribal cannabis and the Cole Memo regarding federal enforcement of its cannabis laws, it’s easy to see why the Moapa Indians are trying their hand at hosting this Cup. Nonetheless, tribes that have tried to legalize or “medicalize” marijuana on their lands have been met with mixed reactions and enforcement by the federal government (see here, here, here, here, and here). The Moapa are no exception.
On February 16th and 23rd, U.S. Attorney Daniel Bogden sent “warning letters” to the Tribe concerning this upcoming cannabis cup, reiterating that marijuana remains federally illegal and that the Tribe has an “incorrect interpretation” of the Cole Memo and Wilkinson statement. Bogden’s letters also reminded the Tribe that neither the Cole Memo nor the Wilkinson statement alters the power of the federal government to enforce federal laws on tribal lands. At no point in his February 16th letter did Bogden threaten to shut down the Cup. But Bogden’s February 23rd letter states that his office communicated with tribal officials and his understanding is that no cannabis or cannabis products will be present at the Cup.
Since Bogden’s warning letters come on the heels of White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s comments about the likelihood of increased federal enforcement in states with recreational marijuana programs, many are wondering if Bogden’s actions are the beginning of what “increased enforcement” may look like.
Above the Law
A 2016 study conducted by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that states with legal medical marijuana had 25 percent fewer opioid-related deaths than states that still prohibit medical marijuana. Another study, published in Health Affairs, found that prescriptions for often-abused opioids dropped significantly in states with medical marijuana.
Last December, the New York Health Department approved medical marijuana treatment for some patients suffering from chronic pain. Doctors are also hopeful that the new treatment will allow some of these patients to wean themselves off of addictive and dangerous opioid medications.
This January, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released a review of over 10,000 medical marijuana studies published since 1999. The review found substantial evidence that supports the use of medical marijuana to treat chronic pain, but the study also recommended further research into both positive and negative effects of long-term marijuana use.
Earlier this month, Rohrabacher introduced a measure called the Respect State Marijuana Laws Act of 2017, which would protect people from marijuana-related prosecutions under the Controlled Substances Act, provided that they were acting in compliance with state laws. The bill has drawn bipartisan co-sponsorship.
Voters and lawmakers in many states have been liberalizing their marijuana laws since the 1990s, sometimes drastically so. Most have opted to scale back the strict marijuana prohibitions of an earlier era, adopting regulatory structures that allow for everything from limited access to certain marijuana-derived chemicals for medical use all the way up to full-blown commercial legalization and regulation.
The disconnect between state and federal laws leaves many marijuana users, patients, businesses and researchers stuck in an uncomfortable gray area between the two. Federal authorities could technically sweep in at any minute, shutting down businesses and arresting marijuana users even in places where it’s legal under state law.
That this hasn’t happened on any significant scale since Colorado and Washington’s state legalized marijuana in 2012 is partly because federal authorities lack the manpower to do so. Most drug enforcement is handled at the state level, by state and local police. This fact was explicitly acknowledged by Obama’s Justice Department in what came to be known as the Cole Memo, which laid out a federal policy of noninterference with state marijuana laws provided certain guidelines, like preventing underage people from using marijuana, were adhered to.
But a memo is just a voluntary statement. It doesn’t have the force of law, and the new administration could choose to adhere to it or ignore it, depending on its own enforcement priorities.
The Washington Post
Medical cannabis laws passed by the Legislature in 2015 and the recreational legalization measure voters approved in November established similar overarching regulatory frameworks related to cultivation, manufacturing, transportation, sales and other aspects of the marijuana market. State agencies are tasked with developing specific rules to best implement the new laws.
The state intends to create a singular regulatory system for both medical and recreational marijuana by the end of the year. Some question the feasibility of establishing a model for a multi-billion dollar industry in such a short time frame.
The advisory committee will work with the marijuana bureau, food and agriculture and public health departments to help develop “regulations that protect public health and safety while ensuring a regulated market that helps reduce the illicit market for cannabis,” according to the bureau.
The bureau expects the committee to consist of individuals from the cannabis industry, labor unions, public health and state and local agencies, among others.
The bureau said it will accept applications for at least one month. The positions are unpaid and offer reimbursements for travel-related expenses.
The Sacramento Bee
The good news is that the State of Oregon brought in over 60 million dollars in taxes from adult-use marijuana sales. That is significantly higher than what was estimated to be brought in before 2016 started. However, the bad news is that the tax revenues are declining at a significant pace.
Per The Statesman Journal:
“Taxes collected on sales totaled $5.6 million in December, a 13 percent decline from November and a 28 percent drop from the peak of $7.8 million in October. ”
“For the year, tax collections totaled $60 million, a sizable boost above the $45 million expected by state officials at the beginning of the year. ”
Anyone who is involved in the marijuana industry has already known that the adult-use industry has been suffering. Testing issues and foot-dragging on issuing industry licenses has often been the reasons cited for the industry slowdown.
This upcoming legislative session in Oregon is going to be extremely vital to the future success of the marijuana industry in Oregon. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people in Oregon right now that value profit over compassion and fairness, and the mindset of ‘I’m going to get mine, to hell with yours’ is way too common. Oregon’s legislative session starts in February. I suggest you get in touch with your elected officials early and often.
The committee who conducted the review concluded that patients who were treated with cannabis or cannabinoids are likely to experience a huge decrease in pain symptoms. In adults suffering from multiple sclerosis-related muscle spasms, temporary use of oral cannabinoids led to a marked improvement in their condition, according to a news release.
The first attempt by the government to control the use of pot was commissioned by then New York mayor Fiorello La Guardia in response to the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937. The LaGuardia report concluded that pot did not have any effect on a person’s sensibilities or decision-making ability.
Former U.S. President Richard Nixon also commissioned a scientific assessment of marijuana in the early 1970s. Commissioned by Nixon, the Schaefer Report came up with the conclusion that cannabis does not rank high in social problems in contemporary America.
There is a huge difference in the landscape of cannabis in 1999 and 2016. Currently, medical marijuana is legal in 28 states (as of this writing), while 16 states have CBD laws. Last summer, the DEA did not reschedule marijuana, which means that it has no medical value.
Testing It Up
A new study from Columbia University found that traffic fatalities have fallen in seven states where medicinal cannabis is legal and that, overall, states where medical marijuana is legal have lower traffic fatality rates than states were medical marijuna remains illegal.
The study found that “medical marijuana laws were associated with immediate reductions in traffic fatalities in those aged 15 to 24 and 25 to 44 years, and with additional yearly gradual reductions in those aged 25 to 44 years.” Medical marijuana is now legal in 28 states.
The researchers used traffic accident data from 1985 to 2014, about 1.2 million accidents. They focused on the relationship between medical marijuana laws and the number of fatal traffic accidents, examining each state with legalized medical marijuana separately.
They also looked at the relationship between the existence of medical marijuana dispensaries and traffic accidents, finding a reduction in the number of fatal accidents among those ages 25 to 44 in areas where dispensaries were open.
The researchers concluded that both medical marijuana legalization and dispensaries were, on average, associated with a reduction in traffic fatalities, particularly among drivers 25 to 44-years-old.
They suggested a few possibilities for this conclusion.
Those under the influence of marijuana are more aware of their impaired condition than those under the influence of alcohol and may more often make the choice not to drive.
More people have replaced going out to drink in bars with partaking of marijuana at home, reducing the number of impaired drivers on the road.
An increased police presence in areas where medical marijuana is legal could have led to fewer people attempting to drive while under the influence of marijuana.
“Instead of seeing an increase in fatalities, we saw a reduction, which was totally unexpected,” Julian Santaella-Tenorio, the lead researcher on the study, told Reuters.
Medical marijuana supporters rejoiced today as the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released findings which concluded that marijuana is an effective medicine. The federal government classifies marijuana as a Schedule I substance which is based off of a determination that marijuana has no medical value.
Today’s report obviously shoots down that claim, as does the fact that the federal government owns patents based on marijuana’s medical properties, in addition to the federal government growing and distributing marijuana for medical purposes.
The National Academy of Science’s conclusions that marijuana possesses established therapeutic utility for certain patients and that it possesses an acceptable safety profile when compared to those of other medications or recreational intoxicants are not surprising. This evidence has been available for some time, yet for decades marijuana policy in this country has largely been driven by rhetoric and emotion, not science and evidence.
Today, 29 states and Washington, DC permit physicians to recommend marijuana therapy. Some of these state-sanctioned programs have now been in place for nearly two decades. Eight states also permit the regulated use and sale of cannabis by adults. At a minimum, we know enough about cannabis, as well as the failures of cannabis prohibition, to regulate its consumption by adults, end its longstanding criminalization, and to remove it from its Schedule I prohibitive under federal law.
Currently 28 U.S. states have medical marijuana laws, and 16 additional states have CBD laws (a non-psychoactive component of medical marijuana). Last summer, the DEA announced that it would not reschedule marijuana. The NAS report notes that “There are specific regulatory barriers, including the classification of cannabis as a Schedule I substance, that impede the advancement of cannabis and cannabinoid research.”