Tag Archives: States Rights

“At a certain point, you have to realize this is against the law…”

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Lawyers Handling Marijuana Business Operate in Hazy Legal Zone

By Brian Melley | December 12, 2017

Just as entrepreneurs getting into the retail pot industry need a good lawyer, some of those lawyers might be wise to consult an attorney of their own.

Lawyers in the burgeoning business are entering a legal gray zone where the drug is permitted for some purpose in most states but illegal under federal law – in the same controlled substances category as heroin. Missteps could lead to prosecution for conspiracy, money laundering or aiding and abetting drug dealers.

“Any lawyer that goes into this should be aware that a literal reading of federal law permits such a prosecution,”

said Sam Kamin, a University of Denver marijuana policy law professor, whose research five years ago found lawyers more susceptible to being disbarred than criminally charged for cannabis-related work. “It probably makes sense for a lawyer to at least talk to a legal ethicist or get an opinion from a legal ethicist.”

Attorney General Jeff Sessions reiterated his opposition to legal weed last week and a congressional amendment prohibiting federal prosecutors from targeting medical marijuana is due to expire at the end of the year.

Sessions has not said if he will reverse a longstanding Justice Department policy not to interfere with purveyors complying with state laws but to focus prosecutions on trafficking, sales to minors, cartels and gangs in the business, violence or gun use in cultivation or distribution, and pot grown on public land.

Despite a few instances of lawyers being prosecuted in federal and state court – including a pending San Diego County case – more attorneys are jumping into cannabis law. Legal needs range from financing to permits, real estate, water law, intellectual property, contracts and banking.

With California allowing recreational pot retail sales Jan. 1, interested investors are reaching out to attorneys like Mitch Kulick to find out how to safely finance the potentially lucrative industry.

Kulick, a New York lawyer who offers his expertise in many states, recently gave his typical scare spiel to a real estate magnate about the possible legal consequences, and said he could only help mitigate risk so much.

“At a certain point, you have to realize this is against the law. There’s no insurance policy to take away the risk,” Kulick said he told the man. “If I was already a billionaire, I might not be taking the risk.”

Kulick, who once worked as a lawyer for the Securities and Exchange Commission and a major international firm, had to do a similar risk analysis and soul searching before deciding to commit to the higher cause, so to speak.

There has been a tipping point for many lawyers setting up boutique pot law firms and jumping from old-school law firms as demand for their services trumps fear of legal repercussions and the stoner stigma fades as more states legalize marijuana use.

Attorney Chris Davis, who grew up in Berkeley around friends and family who use the drug, found people operating in the shadows who wanted to go legit when he returned to California from New York two years ago.

“So many people were asking how to go legal and how to worry less,” said Davis, executive director of the National Cannabis Bar Association, which has about 300 members in the U.S. and Canada and is growing rapidly. “It became impossible to turn people away.”

Lawyers specializing in the business see themselves at the frontier. That leaves a fascinating opportunity to shape laws and regulations and the daunting prospect of the unknown.

“Lawyers like things to be settled,” Davis said. “It’s hard to get a lawyer to give you a yes or no answer. In the cannabis industry, there really is no yes or no answer.”

Some state bar associations have given lawyers cover to counsel marijuana clients within the bounds of state law. Others say federal law keeps the area off-limits because ethical rules prevent them from helping clients commit crimes.

Attorney Larry Donahue had several medical marijuana clients at his firm in Albuquerque, New Mexico, until the state bar issued a January 2016 opinion that said lawyers could be exposed to ethics charges for such work. Donahue had to terminate four or five clients.

“It was a very chilling opinion,” he said. “It basically scared the hell out of us.”

While prosecutions of attorneys are rare, a case in San Diego has gotten the attention of many lawyers, mainly because of aggressive tactics employed by the district attorney.

Attorney Jessica McElfresh was charged with several felonies alleging she helped a client hide evidence of marijuana manufacturing.

The case might have received less notice if prosecutors didn’t unsuccessfully try to get around the sacrosanct lawyer-client privilege and seek communications with all her marijuana clients.

McElfresh, who vehemently denies the charges, said she knew specializing in pot law carried risks, but she couldn’t foresee “in a million years” police raiding her house. She and her boyfriend and mother were escorted into her backyard, where she was handcuffed barefoot in her pajamas during the search.

She said she didn’t take the risks some lawyers do by sitting on the boards of a client’s company, owning a share in a business or introducing clients to one another.

“I am one of the most conservative and boring people you would ever meet in cannabis law,” she said. “The only way I could have been more careful would have been not to engage in this area of law at all.”

A new district attorney took office after McElfresh was charged and allowed five co-defendants facing similar charges to plead guilty last month to misdemeanors and get probation.

The San Diego district attorney’s office wouldn’t comment, but in a statement cited the recreational pot law passed by voters last year and the new administration’s “changing focus” as part of the reason for the plea deals. It’s not clear if that change will affect McElfresh’s pending case.

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Senator Ron Wyden and Representatives Earl Blumenauer and Jared Polis have introduced legislation in the House and Senate — The Marijuana Revenue and Regulation Act —

Marijuana Treated Like Alcohol? Legislation Filed In Senate and House

by NORML March 30, 2017

Senator Ron Wyden and Representatives Earl Blumenauer and Jared Polis have introduced legislation in the House and Senate — The Marijuana Revenue and Regulation Act — to permit states to establish their own marijuana regulatory policies free from federal interference. In addition to removing marijuana from the United States Controlled Substances Act, this legislation also removes enforcement power from the US Drug Enforcement Administration in matter concerning marijuana possession, production, and sales — thus permitting state governments to regulate these activities as they see fit.

Email your members of Congress now and urge them to support this effort.

“The first time introduction of this particular piece of legislation in the US Senate is another sign that the growing public support for ending our failed war on cannabis consumers nationwide is continuing to translate into political support amongst federal officials,” said NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri, “With marijuana legalization being supported by 60% of all Americans while Congress’ approval rating is in the low teens, ending our country’s disastrous prohibition against marijuana would not just be good policy, but good politics.”

Twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for qualified patients, while eight states now regulate the production and sale of marijuana to all adults. An estimated 63 million Americans now reside in jurisdictions where anyone over the age of 21 may possess cannabis legally. Voters support these policy changes. According to a 2017 Quinnipiac University poll, 59 percent of Americans support full marijuana legalization and 71 percent believe that states, not the federal government, should set marijuana policy. 

“If we are truly going to move our nation towards sensible marijuana policies, the removal of marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act is paramount. Annually, 600,000 Americans are arrested for nothing more than the possession of small amounts of marijuana and now is the time for Congress to once and for all end put an end to the national embarrassment that is cannabis prohibition,” said Justin Strekal, NORML Political Director. “Passing this legislation would end the current conflict between state and federal laws and allow the states to implement more sensible and humane marijuana policies, free from the threat of federal incursion.”

These statewide regulatory schemes are operating largely as voters and politicians intended. The enactment of these policies have not negatively impacted workplace safety, crime rates, traffic safety, or youth use patterns. They have stimulated economic development and tax revenue. Specifically, a 2017 report estimates that 123,000 Americans are now working full-time in the cannabis industry. Tax revenues from states like Colorado, Oregon, and Washington now exceed initial projections. Further, numerous studies have identified an association between cannabis access and lower rates of opioid use, abuse, hospitalizations, and mortality.

Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR)

Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR)

“The federal government must respect the decision Oregonians made at the polls and allow law-abiding marijuana businesses to go to the bank just like any other legal business.” Senator Ron Wyden said. “This three-step approach will spur job growth and boost our economy all while ensuring the industry is being held to a fair standard.”

Congressman Jared Polis (D-CO)

Congressman Jared Polis (D-CO)

“Colorado has proven that allowing responsible adults to legally purchase marijuana, gives money to classrooms, not cartels; creates jobs, not addicts; and boosts our economy, not our prison population,” Representative Jared Polis said. “Now, more than ever, it is time we end the federal prohibition on marijuana and remove barriers for states’ that have chosen to legalize marijuana.  This budding industry can’t afford to be stifled by the Trump administration and its mixed-messages about marijuana.  The cannabis industry, states’, and citizens deserve leadership when it comes to marijuana.”

Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR)

Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR)

“As more states follow Oregon’s leadership in legalizing and regulating marijuana, too many people are trapped between federal and state laws,” Representative Earl Blumenauer said. “It’s not right, and it’s not fair. We need change now – and this bill is the way to do it.”

The ongoing enforcement of cannabis prohibition financially burdens taxpayers, encroaches upon civil liberties, engenders disrespect for the law, impedes legitimate scientific research into the plant’s medicinal properties, and disproportionately impacts communities of color.

By contrast, regulating the adult use of marijuana stimulates economic growth, saves lives, and has the support of the majority of the majority of Americans. 

Send a message to your members of Congress urging them to support the Marijuana Revenue and Regulation Act

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https://www.finance.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/(4)%20Marijuana%20Revenue%20and%20Regulation%20Act%20Summary.pdf

https://consumermediallc.files.wordpress.com/2017/03/mrra.pdf

Top 6 Marijuana Bills to Follow

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by Nanette Porter on March 11, 2017

 

Lawmakers have been busy introducing a variety of marijuana bills since the election. While there is no guarantee that any of these bills will actually become laws, a perusal of the bills introduced offers useful insight into how the decisions made regarding cannabis might affect our lives more immediately than the slow churn of Washington, D.C.

In the current political climate, it more important than ever to spend some time getting familiar with these bills. Please click on the links to get more information about each proposed bill. We strongly encourage you to get in touch with your elected representatives to express your views and opinions.

Below are six (6) cannabis-related bills that are worth following closely:

H.R. 975 – Respect State Marijuana Laws Act of 2017

The Rohrabacher-Farr amendment has been law since 2014 and prohibits the Department of Justice from using funds to prosecute individuals who are acting in compliance with a State’s laws. Unfortunately, it was passed and signed into law as part of an omnibus spending package, and to remain legally binding it must be included in the end-of-year spending package for FY2017. The spending restriction is temporary and Congress must act to keep it in place.

California Congressman Dana Rohrabacher has sponsored H.R.975 to limit federal power on marijuana. Rohrabacher is a Republican and professed Trump-guy, but feels the government has become too involved in States’ rights and asset seizures, and believes this is the best way to proceed.

The Rohrabacher-Farr provision comes up for renewal on April 28, and rather than trying to convince the new administration to renew, he says he hopes this paves the way for them to leave it up to the States. If passed by Congress, it will then move to the Senate, and hopefully on to the President’s desk for signature to become law.

H.R. 1227 – Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2017

Virginia Congressman Tom Garrett introduced legislation aimed at federally decriminalizing marijuana. H.R. 1227 asks that marijuana be removed from the federal controlled substances list, in essence putting it in the same arena as alcohol and tobacco.

“Virginia is more than capable of handling its own marijuana policy, as are states such as Colorado or California.” – Congressman Garrett

Garrett claims “this step allows states to determine appropriate medicinal use and allows for industrial hemp growth…something that is long overdue. Virginia is more than capable of handling its own marijuana policy, as are states such as Colorado or California.”

H.R. 331 – States’ Medical Marijuana Property Rights Protection Act

Sponsored by California Rep Barbara Lee, H.R.331 seeks an amendment to the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) so as to prevent civil asset forfeiture for property owners due to medical marijuana-related conduct that is authorized by State law.

H.R. 714 – Legitimate Use of Medicinal Marihuana Act (LUMMA)

Virginia Rep H Morgan Griffith introduced H.R. 714 to provide for the legitimate use of medicinal marijuana in accordance with the laws of the various States by moving marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II of the Controlled Substances Act.

The bill also includes a provision that, in a State in which marijuana may be prescribed by a physician for medical use under applicable State law, no provision of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) or the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act shall interfere with such State laws. (This provision is also included in H.R. 715.)

At present, no U.S. healthcare professional can legally prescribe cannabis. Several states have laws on the books that were passed many, many years ago in expectation that federal law would change; but until then, doctors even in these states are legally prohibited from prescribing it. Doing so, would expose medical practitioners to prosecution and loss of his/her license.

H.R. 715 – Compassionate Access Act

Also sponsored by Griffith is H.R. 715. This bill asks for “the rescheduling of marihuana (to any schedule other than I), the medicinal use of marihuana in accordance with State law and the exclusion of cannabidiol from the definition of marihuana, and for other purposes,” and that cannabidiol (CBD), derived from the plant or synthetically formulated and containing not greater than 0.3 percent THC on a dry weight basis, be excluded from the definition of “marihuana.”

The bill also calls for control over access to research into the potential medicinal uses of cannabis be turned over to an agency of the executive branch that is not focused on researching for the addictive properties of substances, and empower the new agency to ensure adequate supply of the plant is available for research. It further asks that research performed in a scientifically sound manner, and in accordance with the laws in a State where marijuana or CBD is legal for medical purposes, but does not use marijuana from federally approved sources, may be considered for purposes of rescheduling.

California AB 1578

California lawmakers quickly got to work and proposed AB 1758, aiming to have California declared as a “sanctuary state” from federal enforcement. If passed and signed into law, state or local agencies would be prevented from taking enforcement action without a court order signed by a judge, including using agency resources to assist a federal agency to “investigate, detain, detect, report, or arrest a person for commercial or noncommercial marijuana or medical cannabis activity that is authorized by law in the State of California and from transferring an individual to federal law enforcement authorities for purposes of marijuana enforcement.”

AB 1758 is pending referral and may be heard in committee on March 21.

30+ bills have been introduced in California since voters approved Proposition 64 in November. Most of these have been submitted to help clean-up the administration and the complex and inconsistencies that exist between the medical and recreational systems.

Support for marijuana legalization is at an all-time high

Cannabis has long-established medical uses as an effective treatment for ailments that include HIV/AIDS, inflammatory and auto-immune diseases, gastro-intestinal disorders, PTSD, chronic pain, and many others.

According to a Qunnipiac poll released February 23, 2017, U.S. voters say, 59 – 36 percent, that marijuana should be legal in the U.S.; and voters support, by a whopping 96 – 6 percent, legalizing cannabis for medical purposes if prescribed by a doctor; and an overwhelming 71 -23 percent believe the government should not enforce federal laws against marijuana in states that have legalized it.

Twenty-eight (28) states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and Guam, either through ballot measure or legislative action, have approved the use of medical marijuana when recommended by a physician. An additional seventeen (17) states have approved use of low THC, high CBD products for medical reasons in some situations.

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2015: The Year In Review – NORML’s Top 10 Events That Shaped Marijuana Policy

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

2015: The Year In Review - NORML's Top 10 Events That Shaped Marijuana Policy

#1 Congress Reauthorizes Medical Marijuana Protections
Members of Congress approved language in the fiscal year 2016 omnibus spending bill that continues to limit the federal government from taking punitive action against state-licensed individuals or operations that are acting are in full compliance with the medical marijuana laws of their states. The provisions reauthorize Section 538 of the Continuing Appropriations Act of 2015, which states, "None of the funds made available in this act to the Department of Justice may be used … to prevent … states … from implementing their own state laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana." Read the full story at: http://norml.org/news/2015/12/17/congress-omnibus-spending-bill-reauthorizes-medical-marijuana-protections.

#2 Federal Judge Upholds Marijuana’s Schedule I Status
A federal judge in April rejected a motion challenging the constitutionality of cannabis’ classification as a Schedule I prohibited substance. "At some point in time, a court may decide this status to be unconstitutional," Judge Kimberly Mueller said from the bench. "But this is not the court and not the time." Judge Meuller had presided over five days of hearings in October 2014 in a challenge brought by members of the NORML Legal Committee. Read the full story at: http://norml.org/news/2015/04/16/federal-judge-upholds-marijuana-s-schedule-i-status.

#3 Medical Cannabis Access Associated With Less Opioid Abuse
States that permit qualified patients to access medical marijuana via dispensaries possess lower rates of opioid addiction and overdose deaths, according to a study published in July by the National Bureau of Economic Research, a non-partisan think-tank. The findings mirror those published in 2014 in The Journal of the American Medical Association concluding, "States with medical cannabis laws had a 24.8 percent lower mean annual opioid overdose mortality rate compared with states without medical cannabis laws." Read the full story at: http://norml.org/news/2015/07/16/study-medical-cannabis-access-associated-with-reduced-opioid-abuse.

#4 DC Depenalizes Marijuana; Arrests Plummet
Despite threats from members of Congress, District officials implemented voter-approved legislation earlier this year eliminating penalties associated with the possession and cultivation of personal use quantities of marijuana by adults. Following the law’s implementation, marijuana-related arrests in the nation’s capital fell 99 percent. Read the full story at: http://norml.org/news/2015/12/04/cities-see-major-decline-in-marijuana-possession-arrests.

#5 Marijuana Law Changes Don’t Change Youth Use, Attitudes
Rates of youth marijuana use are unaffected by changing laws, according to data published in July in The American Journal of drug and Alcohol Abuse. Investigators evaluated trends in young people’s attitudes toward cannabis and their use of the substance during the years 2002 to 2013 – a time period where 14 states enacted laws legalizing the medical use of the plant, and two states approved its recreational use by adults. "Our results may suggest that recent changes in public policy, including the decriminalization, medicalization, and legalization of marijuana in cities and states across the country, have not resulted in more use or greater approval of marijuana use among younger adolescents," researchers reported. Read the full story at: http://norml.org/news/2015/07/16/study-changes-in-state-marijuana-laws-are-not-associated-with-greater-use-or-acceptance-by-young-people.

#6 Gallup Poll: More Americans Than Ever Say Marijuana Should Be Legal
Fifty-eight percent of Americans believe that "the use of marijuana should be made legal," according to nationwide survey data released in October by Gallup pollsters. The percentage ties the highest level of support ever reported by Gallup, which has been measuring Americans’ attitudes toward cannabis since the late 1960s. The percentage is more than twice the level of support reported in the mid-1990s. Read the full story at: http://norml.org/news/2015/10/22/gallup-support-for-legalizing-marijuana-at-historic-high-2.

#7 Study: Marijuana Use Not Associated With Changes In Brain Morphology
Marijuana use is not associated with structural changes in the brain, according to imaging data published in January in The Journal of Neuroscience. Investigators assessed brain morphology in both daily adult and adolescent cannabis users compared to non-users. They found "no statistically significant differences … between daily users and nonusers on volume or shape in the regions of interest" after researchers controlled for participants’ use of alcohol. "[T]he results indicate that, when carefully controlling for alcohol use, gender, age, and other variables, there is no association between marijuana use and standard volumetric or shape measurements of subcortical structures," researchers reported. Read the full story at: http://norml.org/news/2015/02/19/study-marijuana-use-not-associated-with-previously-reported-changes-in-brain-morphology.

#8 Marijuana Consumers Less Likely To Be Obese, Suffer Diabetes Risk
Those who consume cannabis are 50 percent less likely to suffer from metabolic syndrome as compared to those who do not, according to findings published in November in The American Journal of Medicine. Metabolic syndrome is a group of risk factors, including high blood pressure, high blood sugar, unhealthy cholesterol levels, and abdominal fat, which are linked to increased risk of heart disease and adult onset diabetes, among other serious health consequences. The findings are similar to those of previous studies reporting that those who use cannabis are less likely to be obese or suffer from diabetes. Read the full story at: http://norml.org/news/2015/11/19/study-marijuana-consumers-less-likely-to-suffer-from-metabolic-syndrome.

#9 NHTSA: THC-Positive Drivers Don’t Possesses Elevated Crash Risk
Drivers who test positive for the presence of THC in their blood are no more likely to be involved in motor vehicle crashes than are drug-free drivers, according to a case-control study released in February by the United States National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration. Authors reported that drivers who tested positive for the presence of THC possessed an unadjusted, elevated risk of accident of 25 percent (Odds Ratio=1.25) compared to controls (drivers who tested negative for any drug or alcohol). However, this elevated risk became insignificant (OR=1.05) after investigators adjusted for demographic variables, such as the drivers’ age and gender. The study is the largest of its kind ever conducted in the United States. Read the full story at: http://norml.org/news/2015/02/12/feds-thc-positive-drivers-no-more-likely-to-be-involved-in-motor-vehicle-crashes.

#10 Legal Marijuana States Collect Over $200 Million In New Tax Revenue
Taxes on the legal production and sale of cannabis in the states of Colorado and Washington have yielded over $200 million in new revenue since going into effect in 2014, according to calculations reported by The Huffington Post in September. Colorado collected more than $117 million dollars from marijuana sales while Washington collected over $83 million. Cannabis sales commenced in Oregon in on October 1, 2015 and have yet to begin in Alaska. Read the full story at: http://norml.org/news/2015/09/03/legal-marijuana-states-collect-over-200-million-in-new-tax-revenue.

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