It’s officially mid-September and most of us are looking back on a long, dry (or wet) summer filled with good cannabis medicine and memories of having shared it with friends.
So what were the major events or announcements of the summer of 2015? How did medical and recreational cannabis consumers both make advances and suffer setbacks during a summer that continued one of the worse droughts the western part of the nation has ever experienced?
Ohio Leads Red State Legalization
First, Ohio’s privately backed marijuana legalization voter initiative, ResponsibleOhio, will appear on the November ballot as Issue 3. Both proponents and detractors are currently haggling over the exact language that will appear at the voting booth, noting that a tone that leans one way or the other could sway the election—especially in an off-off year in which there are no major federal or state offices up for grabs.
ResponsibleOhio offers the Buckeye State’s patients and tokers the appeal of legal purchase, possession, and consumption, and would even allow those willing to pay a $50 annual fee and be registered in a database (that may or may not find its way to the DEA) to grow up to four mature plants.
Ohioans who have experienced arrest or incarceration due to possession of relatively small quantities of cannabis can empathize with the need to fully decriminalize the herb for use by both recreational and medical users. The state will save millions in law enforcement and judicial system expenses if legalization occurs and a network of cultivation and manufacturing facilities, dispensaries, and retail outlets appears to satisfy consumer demand and push the black market and Mexican cartels out of many communities.
And therein lies the catch: While Ohio’s highly regulated system would permit up to 1,100 manufacturing facilities and retail outlets to be created, it would limit the number of cultivation facilities to only 10 pre-designated locations throughout the state. These facilities would be owned by the 10 investors who currently compose the ResponsibleOhio PAC and investment group.
Should Ohio’s patients and smokers take the bait, supporting a system that some label a “cartel” and others agree is an oligopoly? (Technically, it isn’t a monopoly because more than one company would control production.) Helping thousands of pot-loving citizens forego the embarrassment and expense of a drug bust and possible jail time is certainly a good thing.
But what about Ohio’s farmers and small-scale entrepreneurs? You know, the mom and pop operations. While it can be argued that inclusion of such small businesses may introduce concerns for product quality and customer service, one thing is certain: Ohioans would suffer higher prices and more limited selection with an arbitrary cap on production facilities at only 10. It’s certainly not a “free market” approach.
Despite recently obtaining enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot, ResponsibleOhio still has an uphill battle. Opponents of both legalized cannabis and corporate monopolies in the state legislature recently introduced a bill that would stop ResponsibleOhio in its tracks. If the bill passes, it would nullify ResponsibleOhio’s effort.
One can reasonably ask, what if both cannabis legalization and the anti-monopoly bill pass? Normally, the bill receiving a larger number of votes would take precedence. However, because of the specific language of each of these bills, the anti-monopoly law would take effect immediately, whereas cannabis would not become legalized until 30 days following the election, on December 3.
The “in force” status of the anti-monopoly law would prevent the ResponsibleOhio effort, regardless of how many votes it receives, from ever going into effect. While some might call this a dirty trick and others will label it business-as-usual in politics, it’s easy to understand how the stakeholders in ResponsibleOhio might feel a bit chapped if each has invested nearly $4 million to be on the losing end of a political pissing match.
Employees Get Help & Harm
In other news, employees experienced both a slap and a helping hand from state governments this summer. In Colorado, the state’s Supreme Court ruled that a patient who worked for Dish Network could be fired after testing positive for cannabis—despite the fact that he was a registered medical patient in the state.
The logic of the justices? The fact that the act of consuming cannabis is legal in the state of Colorado, but illegal at the federal level. To defend the behavior, the Court determined that the act must be legal at both the state and federal level. The employer, Dish Network, was therefore acting legally in firing an employee for violating a federal law. Despite the fact that the employee is restricted to a wheelchair, never consumed on the job, and always performed satisfactorily.
In Washington, D.C., however, patients and recreational smokers got a break when the District passed a law prohibiting employers within its borders from drug testing job applicants and employees. Their logic was simple (and should have been embraced by the prohibitionist justices on the Colorado Supreme Court): If it’s legal to cultivate, possess, and consume an herb, it’s illogical to then penalize or prosecute those same legal activities.
Hopefully Colorado’s legislature or a voter referendum will emerge that directly prohibits cannabis testing on the part of companies or government agencies. Anywhere that medical or recreational consumption is legalized, it only makes sense to also prohibit testing for that behavior.
A recent Court of Appeals ruling in Arizona had made use of the smell of cannabis prohibited as probable cause during police stops, arrests, or investigations.
The court based its decision on the fact that legitimate medical marijuana patients would be deemed “second-class citizens,” “losing their rights to privacy and security, including privacy within their own homes.”
Judge Peter Eckerstrom, writing for the majority, said:
“Medical marijuana use pursuant to [Arizona Medical Marijuana Act] is lawful under Arizona law. Therefore its scent alone does not disclose whether a crime has occurred.”
Most of the progress being made in the medical and recreational legalization movements has occurred at the state level. While favorable and progressive legislation continues to be introduced in Congress—often with bipartisan support, as is the case with the Rand Paul-sponsored CARERS Act—there’s also plenty of bad news coming out of Washington.
First, Congress tempted cannapreneurs and business owners with the prospect of an amendment that would grant a federal blessing to merchant banking services for the cannabis industry. Unfortunately, the amendment never got out of a committee run by a conservative Republican.
Without robust merchant banking services, the cannabis cultivation and retail markets will remain the red headed stepchild of the business world. Working almost exclusively in cash (and paying vendors and others in money orders) is not only a ridiculously 20th century hassle, but also dangerous. Cultivators and dispensary owners have enough security headaches, given the value of their product, without having to worry about the theft of their cash.
Congress has also failed to pass any legislation that helps military veterans with PTSD get treatment with medical cannabis. While advocacy groups promote the fact that at least 22 veterans commit suicide each day—many of whom are suffering from severe PTSD and other anxiety disorders—the nation’s leaders are dragging their heels.
There is overwhelming anecdotal evidence that cannabis is one of the most therapeutic treatments for veterans who have suffered from severe trauma and have returned to the civilian world. While war veterans both suffer and die, senators and representatives on both sides of the aisle continue to bury their heads in 20th century ideology and an anti-progressive mindset.
Another blow for PTSD: On July 15, the Colorado Board of Health voted 6-2 against including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder on the list of medical conditions recognized by the state’s medical cannabis program.
Other federal-level shakeups included the firing/resignation of former DEA chief Michele Leonhart, mostly over the Mexican cartel-funded prostitutes who were cavorting with DEA agents in Columbia—not her prohibitionist zeal for ignoring the medical benefits of cannabis and prosecuting growers, patients, and dispensaries. Of course, a vote of “no confidence” by 20 lawmakers on the House Oversight committee certainly didn’t help Ms. Leonhart’s chances of surviving in the organization.
The new DEA chief, Chuck Rosenberg, made headlines in early August when he admitted that heroin is more dangerous than cannabis—and then promptly put his foot in his mouth by saying that he wasn’t an expert on the topic. Thousands of cannabis activists world-wide cried foul, asking “Don’t we want drug experts running our Drug Enforcement Administration?”
Speaking of the DEA, which falls under the Department of Justice, two Representatives from California, Democrat Sam Farr and Republican Dana Rohrabacher, lashed out at former Attorney General Eric Holder with a letter in April, basically asking why the hell the DEA was still investing federal tax dollars in going after individuals and businesses in states that have legalized medical or recreational cannabis.
According to the Justice Department, the law prevents it “from impeding the ability of States to carry out their medical marijuana laws, not from taking actions against particular individuals or entities, even if they are acting compliant with State law.”
However, this clearly isn’t the spirit of the law. In April, Rohrabacher and Farr sent a letter to then-Attorney General Eric Holder to clarify their position and the intent of the law. “As the authors of the provision in question, we write to inform you that this interpretation of our amendment is emphatically wrong.”
The new Attorney General, Loretta Lynch, has yet to speak up regarding the DEA’s role in states that have legalized cannabis and where, culturally, it is a common and accepted medical therapy or recreational activity. How will she respond to Reps Farr and Rohrabacher?
With the DEA basically telling members of Congress that it reports to a higher authority (called the Controlled Substances Act) and the Schedule I status of cannabis, Lynch will inevitably be pressured to take action or speak up on the topic and address the concerns of representatives from the most populated state in the nation. Farr and Rohrabacher will no doubt pressure her on the issue that the DEA is, basically, breaking the law when it hassles patients or dispensaries in states like California, Colorado, and Washington.
States Push to Eliminate Federal Interference
In early August, the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) approved a resolution asking Congress that federal laws “be amended to explicitly allow states to set their own marijuana and hemp policies without federal interference.”
With efforts like the CARERS Act in Congress getting little traction (despite some big name backing from New Jersey Senator Cory Booker and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul), progressive state legislatures are asking the feds to make it official. Essentially, state governments are asking Congress to officially step back from any interference with state laws intended to legalize cannabis and provide safe access for both patients and recreational users.
Of course, with progressive states pestering the feds for true independence when it comes to the legalization and regulation of cannabis and a thriving cannabis marketplace, there are also the Luddite states. New York, for example, over the summer chose only five companies to win lucrative cultivation permits to build large facilities in the state. The Empire State’s medical program is so restricted, however, that many observers and advocates claim it will be nearly worthless.
Meanwhile, both Kansas and Oklahoma sued Colorado back in the spring, claiming that its legalization will result in plenty of cannabis product making its way across state borders. Colorado responded by saying that Kansas and Oklahoma are free to also legalize, obliterating cartel control and black markets in both states and, with it, any fear that illegal contraband is crossing over their borders.
The two states are also suing the federal government on the grounds that the lazy feds are being negligent by allowing states like Colorado and Oregon to legalize and regulate a thriving and rapidly growing cannabis market. Of course, it’s a market that caters to the desires of consumers and contributes tens of millions of dollars in tax dollars to the school system. It also results in decreased crime rates, lower teenage usage levels, and fewer traffic fatalities (going counter to prohibitionist predictions).
That’s enough for this blog post. Next week, I’ll tackle the dearth of cannabis research and how other federal shenanigans, including the sluggish progress of the CARERS Act, has maintained the Schedule I status of cannabis and prevented any significant research or human trials into its efficacy in the United States.
Gooey Rabinski is a counterculture writer who has contributed to magazines such as High Times, Cannabis Culture, SKUNK, Heads, Weed World, and Cannabis Health Journal. He is currently a contributing writer at Whaxy and the author of Understanding Medical Marijuana (2015 Edition), available on Amazon Kindle.