Category Archives: Law/Regulations

New California Bill Aims to Expunge or Reduce Past Pot Convictions

Legalizing marijuana has offered some great benefits to California and the other 8 states who have passed similar legislation.  Some of the main benefits that come to mind are tax revenue, reduction in crime, personal freedom, and job growth.  These are all improvements that will help to make the future a better place.  Like other states in the past, California lawmakers are trying to undo some of the enormous damage the war on drugs has had in the past.  The senate voted in a large majority to require prosecutors to expunge or reduce the punishments for people who were convicted of marijuana related crimes since 1975.  The Department of Justice would need to review all these cases and determine which ones are eligible for reevaluation.  Misdemeanors would be expunged in most cases while some felonies would be able to be downgraded to what is now considered a misdemeanor offense.  This bill has not yet become law; it must be signed/vetoed by Governor Brown or it will go into effect automatically in early September.

Currently Oregon, New Hampshire, Colorado and Maryland have made it easier for past offenders to have their records sealed.  While California wouldn’t be the first state to successfully expunge past marijuana records, other legal states have struggled to offer similar protections.  These bills have faced opposition from prosecutors and other lawmakers who argue that these people knowingly violated the law at the time and it’s a dangerous trend to apply new laws to old cases.  For example in 2014, the year recreational sales began in Colorado, a similar bill died in committee.  The opposition argued that many drug distributors had their charges lowered to low level felonies.  Their concern was that these serious convictions would have the possibility of being changed to misdemeanors.  Luckily later in 2017, a similar bill was passed that just targeted marijuana misdemeanors instead of felonies.  While it won’t have as much of an effect at reducing the damage of the drug war, it is still helpful for many people.

If California is successful at passing this bill, they will have done more than any other state when it comes to requiring judges to excuse past marijuana crimes.  This is likely due to this issue being mentioned in Amendment 64, the initiative that legalized recreational marijuana in the state.  There was no framework established in 2016 when the initiative passed that established how the Justice Department would enforce the changes.  This bill clarifies many of the uncertainties by establishing deadlines for the department and establishing that both misdemeanors and felony pot convictions must be reviewed for eligibility.  There are a total of 218,000 cases that have the possibility of being expunged or downgraded to misdemeanors in the state of California alone.  Imagine how large this number is if we included all Americans since 1975. All these people likely have faced issues when it comes to key parts of life.  Things like seeking great employment opportunities or getting federal loans or grants for education can be nearly impossible.  Regardless what the laws used to be, people convicted of non violent marijuana crimes were never criminals.

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Medical Marijuana and Universities

Medical marijuana legislation in the United States currently provides essential protection from prosecution to approximately 2.3 million patients.  These patients are allowed to take their medicine almost everywhere, but when it comes to a federally funded college campus, those protections can vanish.  Medical marijuana use is viewed as narcotics use thanks to the controlled substance act that still lists marijuana as a dangerous drug.  Colleges are continuing to enforce a complete prohibition of the plant, and I’m afraid some people are not aware that bringing their medicine on campus can have serious consequences.  Not only have some students faced criminal prosecution, but they have also suffered additional penalties from the school administration.

One of the best ways to eliminate running into any trouble would be to seek off-campus housing.  It simply isn’t a viable solution to live in a dorm and hardly ever be able to find relief.  There would be nowhere safe to store it and even the idea of smoking off campus would mean getting a new small supply each time.  Edibles would be effective and stealthy, but many people prefer smoking/vaporization because the effects are immediate and much more predictable.  Storing edibles may be harder to detect but I would still not recommend keeping it anywhere on school grounds.  It wouldn’t surprise me if university police decided to weigh the whole edible and charge as if it were normal cannabis.  Having your medicine at housing near campus guarantees no legal trouble and allows you to use it as needed.  Patient possession limits are often set high enough to be considered intent to sell by police/universities.  In Michigan, patients are allowed to have 2.5 ounces in their possession which would easily land non-patients a felony charge for intent to distribute.  Always remember you’re subject to different laws on school grounds, regardless if it’s a college, high school, elementary etc.

I’m uncertain how long this type of prosecution will continue but I would expect to see some legislation taking effect before federal law officially changes.  Arizona has already made headlines this year when the supreme court ruled that banning medical marijuana on public colleges violated the protections of the voter-approved law.  Students in Arizona who have medical marijuana cards will not face criminal prosecutions but they have faced administrative penalties.  The possession, use, and sale are all still prohibited on college grounds due to the federal funding provided by the U.S. government.  That funding would not be threatened based on whether students are criminally prosecuted, but instead would be based on whether schools still prohibit the substance.  This is definitely a step in the right direction as students will likely be willing to risk administrative action in order to have their medicine easily accessible.  While other states have yet to enact similar policies, colleges across the country are removing the requirement that first-year students need to live on campus.  Universities are doing this so patients can continue using their medicine and pursue an education without the risk of endangering their future.  We still have a long way to go to ensure protection in the educational environment is not limited to those who treat their illnesses with pharmaceutical drugs.

 

New Bill Would Allow Government Workers to use Legal Weed

As things stand right now, private corporations across the country in states with or without legal weed are drug testing applicants and current employees for marijuana.  This is not required by law but instead has been a common practice among businesses since the drug war was launched in the 1970’s.  Even when states began legalizing the herb for medical and recreational purposes, things have remained the same.  There may have been a decrease in the number of employers testing for marijuana or other drugs, but it’s still very common.  A large reason for this is insurance companies refusing to provide service to businesses unless they make a considerable effort to maintain a drug-free workplace.  Even though there is evidence showing the ineffectiveness drug testing has had on workplace safety, tradition has trumped information.

It was exciting to hear that on July 26th a bipartisan bill was introduced to Congress called the “Fairness in Federal Drug Testing Under State Laws Act”.  If passed it would prevent the government from denying employment to new employees or punishing existing employees for a positive THC drug test given that the cannabis use is legal in that state.  Civilian government employees cannot be punished as long as the use was outside of the workplace.  The only other exception to the bill is that positions requiring a high-security clearance are not barred from testing for the drug.  This would be an enormous positive change for the entire country because many private companies would likely follow suit and stop testing for the drug as well.  Also, I’m sure there are a ton of recreational/medical marijuana users who have passed up an opportunity or never considered working for the federal government due to their marijuana use.  The government has been notorious for its strict policies on cannabis use citing its schedule 1 status under federal law.  My mother and other people I know who are civilian employees have been randomly drug tested and went through a thorough background check to ensure there’s no history of drug use or other criminal activity.

The fat-soluble nature of THC is what allows the government and companies to be able to detect its use.  Essentially all other drugs that are known to man exit the body in a much shorter period of time.  For example, meth is only detectable in urine for around 72 hours.  One long weekend and you’re good to go back to the office on Monday after a tweaked out Friday night.  Heroin and Cocaine are the same way.  It seems the hard drugs are eliminated by the body much quicker as if our body is flushing them out for our own well being.  With marijuana and other drugs, detection times will vary from person to person due to an individuals metabolism among other factors.  Marijuana metabolites are stored in fatty tissues and are slowly released into the bloodstream over the course of days or weeks.  If this weren’t the case there would be little reason to drug test employees. It would be much harder for those who use other drugs to be detected by an upcoming drug screening.  The effectiveness of workplace drug testing would be further questioned and likely eliminated shortly after marijuana is no longer tested for.

Allowing government employees to use cannabis on their own free time could benefit the employer as well.  It gives them a much larger list of qualified applicants to choose from and likely a better candidate for the position.  Outside of new employees, existing employees may decide that using cannabis to relax and unwind is a much more effective than alcohol.  Having access to a safer alternative could help prevent work-related problems caused by alcohol abuse.  Also, employees won’t have to hide their use from co-workers and will be less hesitant to build stronger relationships with the people they work with.  Those suffering from medical conditions that interfere with their effectiveness on the job would be able to find relief without turning to prescription medication that comes with a long list of side effects.  The list of positive results from a bill like this passing could go on forever and I can’t wait to see the workforce begin to openly accept the cannabis community.

 

 

Michigan Increases it’s Number of Qualifying Conditions for Medical Marijuana

Yesterday was a major victory for patients suffering from a variety of serious diseases in Michigan.  People who couldn’t qualify to use marijuana legally either risked prosecution or continued to use less effective pharmecutical drugs.  The existing list before the change took effect only included eight conditions.  They more than doubled that list by adding 10 new qualifying conditions that a physician can legally recommend marijuana for.  The old list included cancer, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS, Chron’s disease, Alzheimer’s, chronic pain, and post-traumatic stress disorder.  Now protection will be expanded to those suffering from arthritis, autism, ulcerative colitis, inflammatory bowel disease, obsessive-compulsive disorder, Parkinson’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, spinal cord injury, Tourette’s syndrome, and colitis.  I would expect to see an explosion in the number of registered patients in my state as a result of this change.  The number of people who have one of these new conditions is enormous, but many will not take advantage of the expanded coverage.

I think that the most noticeable difference will be an increase in the amount of elderly medical marijuana users.  One of the key conditions that now qualifies is arthritis.  This disease is more common among the older generation and its addition to the list will likely attract some senior citizens.  I also believe that with the success of marijuana legalization across the country and in Canada, more people will be questioning their negative attitude surrounding the plant.  When I have visited local dispensaries rarely did I see anyone over the age of 65 in there.  However, this is likely because they have registered caregivers that grow or acquire their medicine for them so they don’t have to travel.  This age group is generally known for their opposition to drugs that have been illegal their entire lives.  Those facing old age are the ones who need cannabis the most and hopefully, these new conditions will lead more elderly patients to try alternative medicine.

There seems to only be positive results when more conditions are allowed to be treated using marijuana.  If I were to write the law it wouldn’t be a list of qualifying conditions, but rather discretion would be given to physicians. They should be able to recommend marijuana whenever they feel it could positively benefit their patient.  Leaving it up to the government to decide what conditions should qualify doesn’t make sense.  Doctors are the ones who have the most knowledge regarding the side effects of diseases and are familiar with each patient’s unique scenario.  Either way, there will be a noticeable growth in the economy of medical marijuana businesses in order to meet the demand of more registered patients.  More jobs are going to come to the state if recreational marijuana passes in November and now we don’t need to wait until then.  Dispensaries and cultivation facilities will need additional help and more new facilities will probably start springing up as well.

Compared to other states medical marijuana programs, Michigan is definitely blessed.  Looking at Ohio cities banning home cultivation or other states like Texas only allowing CBD oil for seizures makes our laws feel relaxed.  We pretty much lie right in the middle of the spectrum of marijuana enforcement.  There are lots of dispensaries to shop from across the state but only in large cities like Detroit, Ann Arbor, Lansing, and a few others.  For people who live far away from these areas, their selection is limited to the black market or what they themselves can grow.  At least these patients are still being provided protection from the law despite accessibility issues.  Ten years down the line I envision Michigan’s marijuana industry to be developed like the west coast currently is.  We are just a little behind the marijuana pioneers but still on the right track.

Arizona Marijuana Initiative will not make the 2018 Ballot

The state of Arizona has not had much luck when it comes to passing marijuana laws.  Despite their geographic location putting them close to many states that have progressive weed laws, they still only permit those with qualifying medical conditions to indulge.  Nevada, California, and Colorado all allow different legal protections for those older than 21, with some minor differences in what exactly is allowed.  This week on July 5th, was the deadline for The Safer Arizona Cannabis Legalization Act to submit the required amount of signatures to qualify for the ballot.  Altogether they were able to collect just over 75,000 but the requirement calls for over 150,000.  So this initiative missed by a long shot.  This is extremely disappointing news and yet another heartbreak for those living there.  Just two years back in 2016, a similar initiative had qualified for the ballot but narrowly failed to receive the popular vote.  The opposition received more funding than those supporting legalization and it had a major effect.  One of the largest donors was Insys Therapeutics a company that produces synthetic painkillers.  The pharmaceutical companies have no shame in admitting with their large contributions that they don’t want their drugs to be replaced by something they can not sell and is also not physically addictive.

These large contributions from companies help spread a lot of misinformation about the post-legalization effects that have yet to happen in the 9 states that have legalized it.  While different businesses have targeted every single state that has successfully got an initiative on a ballot, they have had very little success outside the state of Arizona recently.  Within the past four years, the only other legal marijuana ballot initiative to fail was in 2014 when Florida tried to pass medical marijuana.  Many attribute that failure to the high supermajority requirement of 60%.  It narrowly missed it with a 57.6% approval vote.  These opponents should stop wasting their money on funding the opposition and use it to innovate and react to the change in the economic environment.  It should make it easier for them to do so considering people are being thrown in jail and having their future destroyed as a result of their contributions.

This year it seems it should have been easier to reach success considering as more time goes on more people seem to join the marijuana movement.  The group collecting signatures, Safer Arizona, claims that the main reason they were not much able to get support was medical marijuana dispensary owners.  I believe there are plenty of dispensary owners out there who might not want recreational marijuana to pass yet so that they can cash in as long as possible.  However, I also know there are plenty of dispensary owners who can’t wait for legalization because that would give them the opportunity to apply for a license and expand to a larger market with an advantage of already having a location and experience.  It would not be easy for dispensaries to convince patients at their stores and other people they know to keep weed illegal and have people continue to get prosecuted for possession.  This ballot failure more than likely came down to the group doing a poor job of hiring volunteers or targetting the right locations for signatures.  Polls nationwide have shown over 60% of the population wants weed to be legal for adults.  There simply is no excuse for them to fail to meet even half the required number of signatures.  Hopefully in the future, a more organized campaign can spread the word more efficiently and develop a more solid framework for the bill.

FDA gives Approval to CBD based Epidiolex Drug

The drug that was given approval this week, is a liquid medicine treatment derived from CBD-dominant strains that have been cultivated by GW Pharmaceuticals.  There have been sufficient clinical trials to prove that it significantly reduces the number of seizures suffered by epileptic patients.  Nothing related to the cannabis plant has ever come close to approval from an entity as important as the FDA.  The closest thing to marijuana that has been approved by the FDA is a synthetic version of THC called dronabinol.  It is a man-made version of tetrahydrocannabinol and is not derived from any natural plants.  Its prescribed to cancer patients suffering from nausea as a result of chemotherapy.  This ruling is a much larger step in the right direction because in order for it to be marketed to patients with Dravet or Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, it must be rescheduled by the DEA.  CBD still currently holds a schedule 1 status preventing it from being prescribed to patients.  The Drug Enforcement Agency is expected to do so within 90 days due to the scientific confirmation of its effectiveness through numerous trials.

I believe this is going to start a wave of cannabis-based medicines being introduced into the pharmaceutical environment.  People are going to see the acceptance of Epidiolex as an open door to try and treat other ailments using derivatives from the plant.  The Healthcare and pharmaceutical companies can not make money off something that can be grown from a seed so none of these medicines will be cannabis in its natural form.  In the case of epileptic patients, especially children, smoking the buds from plants is not a viable option.  Children suffering from these awful diseases will no longer have to fear criminal punishment on top of trying to just live a somewhat functional life.  Patients suffering from Dravet Syndrome have an average life expectancy of 8 years (National Institute of Health).

The other disease that this drug can soon be prescribed for is Lennox-Gastaut syndrome.  According to the LGS Foundation, one clinical trial at New York University showed a 47% of patients showed a 50% reduction in seizures after 3 months of treatment.  It’s also important to mention that 9% of these people were actually seizure free at that time frame.  This is just incredible that it is actually eliminating seizures altogether for certain patients.  Results like these are backed up by many other studies that show even higher numbers of participants seeing a large reduction in the number of their seizures. The DEA should see rescheduling CBD as a number one priority for these children.  With limited years to live and any seizure having the potential to be their last, officials need to act fast to provide a reliable source of the medication.  It will be treated like any other prescribed drug and can be picked up from local pharmacies, not compassion centers or dispensaries.

Traditional medical marijuana dispensaries offer a variety of extracts that could work well with seizures as well.  The only difference is they have not been given the attention from government officials that Epidiolex received likely due to its non-psychoactive properties and its easy to use liquid consistency.  Patients will be able to ingest the medicine by the use of a dropper for precise dosing.  This can be done anywhere without drawing any attention that smoking marijuana brings.  It’s also possible that there will be additional medical uses approved by the FDA for this exact same drug with no chemical changes being made.  Its unique features give it a higher potential of being approved than other new and existing marijuana medicines that may be tested by the FDA.

Canadian Senate Legalizes Marijuana

Smoking, possessing, and growing cannabis will no longer be a criminal offense across the nation of Canada thanks to the approval of a legalization bill by the Senate this past Tuesday.  The bill passed with a vote of 52-29.  As of today, the bill has been given royal assent, the final step in the Canadian legislative process.  While it is officially passed, the law does not take effect until October 17th so don’t become careless and be aware you can still be charged with a crime.  The regulation of cannabis will be done in a much different way then it has been done in individual U.S. states.  One of these differences is the minimum age required to legally consume and purchase the plant.  The federal government has set the age at 18, but provinces can set some of their own unique rules and many are expected to add another year to that federal requirement.  Canadian officials argue that setting the age too high will encourage many young adults who will use cannabis regardless to seek out their weed from the black market.  Youth consumption rates in Canda are among the highest in the world, and they believe that setting a similar age to the states will only encourage criminal organizations.

When it comes to possession limits the maximum amount a person can possess is 30 grams.  While an oz is a decent amount for personal use, setting magical limits is kind of a ridiculous practice.  You aren’t allowed to only have 30 cans of beer per person.  Every state so far has also set their own unique limits in the U.S.  The cool thing about the legislation in Canada is there is no possession limit within a private dwelling.  This is a key addition to the law because growing the 4 allowed plants will provide much more than 30 grams of usable cannabis and that’s not taking into consideration leftovers from the last harvest.

Another aspect of the law that makes it unique is the idea of mail order weed.  This is already a practice in the medical marijuana industry for registered patients.  Soon it will become available for recreational users as well.  To protect against youth accessing marijuana, it will not be delivered unless someone is home and able to show I.D. for the package.  There aren’t any specific details regarding how much can be ordered at a time but it can be assumed that it’s the possession limit of 30 grams.  It will be interesting to see how popular this method of purchase will become in comparison to the retail shops that will also be dispensing marijuana.  The convenience of a quick delivery could cause the same problems Amazon has caused for retail shopping giants.

Altogether the Parliment did a good job drafting a well thought out piece of legislation.  They thought about many different factors when drafting the rules with the main one being protecting the youth.  Limiting advertising and lowering the legal age of consumption are just two of the steps they have taken to eliminate the damage from years of prohibition.  The only thing that wasn’t mentioned in the bill that I would have liked to see included would be the expungement of records for those previously convicted of cannabis possession or cultivation crimes.  This will likely be something that happens in the future after the law takes effect but it is a crucial step nonetheless.