States Gird For Marijuana War With Jeff Sessions

Communities are steeling for a states rights battle over the cultivation and sale of recreationalmarijuanaafter the federal governments warning about a crackdown last week.

Theres still a federal law that we need to abide by when it comes to recreational marijuana, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said last Thursday. Recreational use … is something the Department of Justice will be looking into, he added, saying he believes youll see greater enforcement of federal law.

Pot remains illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act, even though recreational use of marijuana has been approved in eight states and Washington, D.C. Its legal for medical use in 28 states and the nations capital.

Now growers, users and even state officials are preparing for a fight. A major concern is revenue. The nonprofit Tax Foundation estimates that a mature legalized marijuana industry would generate up to $28 billion in tax revenue for federal, state and local governments. Colorado raked in $70 million in taxesin 2015, exceeding expectations.

The legal marijuana industry in the U.S. could create more than 250,000 jobs by the year 2020, according to a New Frontier Data report. Thats more than the projected job gains in themanufacturingindustry, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

States Push Back

In Washington state, which legalized recreational use of the drug with Colorado in 2012, state Attorney General Bob Ferguson vowed to defy a federal crackdown.

I will resist any efforts by the Trump administration to undermine the will of the voters in Washington state, Ferguson told The Seattle Times.

In a Feb. 15 letter to U.S. Attorney Jeff Sessions, Ferguson and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) outlined the arguments for keeping pot legal in the state, including the fact that the legal marijuana industry is expected to generate a whopping$272 million in taxesin financial year 2017.

A federal crackdown would only force the industry back underground, returning bumper profits to criminal groups while once again depleting government resources, the letter adds.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) had opposed legalizing marijuana until voters approved it in his state, but its now part of our [state] Constitution, he said on NBCs Meet The Press on Sunday.

Over 60 percent of American people are now in a state where either medical or recreational marijuana is legalized. Its become one of the great social experiments of our time, he said.

I think its the wrong time to pull back from this experiment, and if the federal governments going to come and begin closing in and arresting people that are doing whats legal in different states, my God, it creates a level of conflict thats going to be very difficult, Hickenlooper told MSNBC on Friday.

California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, also a Democrat,fired off a letterto President Donald Trump on Friday, urging him to work in partnership with California and the other states that have legalized recreational marijuana for adult use.

The government must not strip the legal and publicly-supported industry of its business, and hand it back to drug cartels and criminals, Newsom added.

California legalized recreational use of marijuana in November. State officials formulating specific pot regulations are proceeding with plans to license growers and sellers, despite Spicers warning, they said last week.

Until we see any sort of formal plan from the federal government, its full speed ahead for us, Alex Traverso, a spokesman for the California Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation, told the Los Angeles Times.

Bipartisan Cooperation

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) has introduced a bill called Respect State Marijuana Laws that would block enforcement of federal laws against local operations that comply with state regulations on legalized pot. It has been co-sponsored by 14 members of Congress.

Rohrabacher is part of a new, Congressional Cannabis Caucusthat also includes Reps. Don Young (R-Alaska) and Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.), Fortune reports.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) has also called on the federal government to respect the decisions of Oregon voters.

The Trump Administration is threatening states rights, including the rights of one in five Americans who live in a state where marijuana is legal, Wyden said. I will fight hard against ridiculous federal government intrusions into our state.

Recreational growers and users could switch horses for a time and move into the medical marijuana field, which doesnt seem high on the administrations list of priorities or theyll simply go underground.

I Think Its Up To The States

During the presidential campaign, Trump said marijuana laws should be left up to the states. In a 2016 interview about legal recreational marijuana in Colorado, he said, I think its up to the states, yeah. Im a states person. I think it should be up to the states, absolutely.

But marijuana supporters are concerned that hes changing his tune, in part because of Sessions antipathy toward the drug. Sessions said in April that good people dont smoke marijuana.

Spicer came under fire for linking marijuana use to opioid addictions.You see the opioid addiction crisis blossoming; the last thing we should be doing is encouraging people [through legal marijuana], he said Thursday.

Yet a 2017 analysis of researchby the National Academy of Sciences found little evidence that marijuana use is linked to opioid addictions. Studies have shown that opioid overdose death rates are lower in states that have legalized medical marijuana. Some medical experts even believe that marijuana could be used to help addicts wean themselves from opioids.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misstated that medical marijuana is legal in 30 states. Its legal in 28, plus Washington, D.C.


Jeff Sessions Issues Ominous Warning On State Marijuana Legalization

WASHINGTON Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Monday restated his opposition to marijuana use and offered an ominous warning about state-level marijuana legalization efforts, suggesting that such policies would open states to violence, as well as potential repercussions from the federal government.

I dont think America is going to be a better place when people of all ages, and particularly young people, are smoking pot, Sessions said to reporters Monday at the Department of Justice. I believe its an unhealthy practice, and current levels of THC in marijuana are very high compared to what they were a few years ago, and were seeing real violence around that.

Sessions said he had a meeting on Monday with the attorney general of Nebraska, who is very concerned about marijuana flowing in from Colorado, which legalized weed in 2012. Experts are telling me theres more violence around marijuana than one would think and theres big money involved, he said.

Nebraska has been pushing back against its neighbor states marijuana laws for years. In 2014, Nebraska, along with Oklahoma, filed a federal lawsuit against Colorado in an attempt to invalidate its nascent laws allowing the sale of recreational marijuana, which the states claimed was increasing trafficking of the drug into their states. The Supreme Court dismissed the suit last year.

You cant sue somebody for drug debt; the only way to get your money is through strong-arm tactics, and violence tends to follow that, Sessions said.

States, they can pass the laws they choose, he added. I would just say it does remain a violation of federal law to distribute marijuana throughout any place in the United States, whether a state legalizes it or not.

His comments appear to line up with White House Press Secretary Sean Spicers comments last week that opened the door for a Trump administration crackdown on recreational marijuana.

Spicer raised concerns among advocates for marijuana policy reform when he said states that have legalized recreational marijuana will see greater enforcement of federal laws surrounding the plant. Spicer explained that President Donald Trump sees the legalization of medical and recreational marijuana as two separate issues, and while the president understands the importance of the drugs availability for medical purposes, Spicer said recreational use of the drug is something the Department of Justice will be looking into.

Spicers statements marked a shift from Trumps own remarks during his campaign, when he repeatedly said he would respect states rights on the issue.

Marijuana remains illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act, despite statesefforts to scale back on criminalizing the plant over the past few years. Legal recreational marijuana has been approved in eight states and Washington, D.C., which continues to ban sales, unlike the state programs. A total of 28 states have legalized marijuana for medical purposes.

Former President Barack Obamas Justice Department allowed states to forge their own way on marijuana policy with guidance urging federal prosecutors to refrain from targeting state-legal marijuana operations. But this guidance is not law and can be reversed by the Trump administration.Sessions said they were looking at the memos that set out enforcement priorities, which he said had some points of value.

Trumps selection of Sessions to head the DOJ alarmed drug policy reformers who view the former Alabama senator as a drug war dinosaur. Thats because Sessions has long held retrograde views on marijuana and the disastrous war on drugs. During a Senate hearing last year, Sessions spoke out against weed and urged the federal government to send the message to the public that good people dont smoke marijuana. He went on to criticize Obama for not speaking out more forcefully against the drug, saying that we need grown-ups in Washington to say marijuana is not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized. In separate comments last year, Sessions also called the legalization of marijuana a mistake.

And while Sessions didnt appear to suggest there would be radical changes to federal enforcement of marijuana laws during his confirmation hearings last month, he only offeredvague answers about how he might approach the drug and left the door open for increased federal interference with states.

Drug policy reformers have raised concerns that Sessions could use the FBI to crack down on marijuana operations nationwide, or direct the Drug Enforcement Administration to enforce federal prohibition outside of the jurisdiction of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. The court ruled in August that a federal rider blocks federal officials from prosecuting state-legal marijuana operators and patients. But that rider must be re-approved annually, and if its allowed to expire, Sessions could then order the DEA to enforce federal law nationally. He could also sue the various state governments that have set up regulatory schemes.

Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit substance in the United States, and the trend of states bucking prohibition in favor of legal regulation of the plant reflects a broad cultural shift toward greater acceptance of marijuana. National support for the legalization of the drug has risen dramatically in recent years, recently reaching historic highs in multiple polls. And states like Colorado, the first to establish a regulated adult-use marijuana marketplace, have seen successes that have debunked some lawmakers and law enforcers predictions that such policies would result in disaster.

A survey from Quinnipiac University released last week found a strong majority of American voters 71 percent want the federal government to respect state marijuana laws. In that survey, majorities of Republicans, Democrats, independents and every age group polled agreed the feds should not enforce prohibitionist laws on states that have legalized marijuana.

Marijuana policy reform advocates said Sessions comments actually show the need for further reform.

By talking about marijuana and violence, the attorney general is inadvertently articulating the strongest argument that exists for legalization, which is that it allows regulated markets in a way that prohibition does not, said Tom Angell, chairman of drug policy reform group Marijuana Majority. The only connection between marijuana and violence is the one that exists when illegal sellers battle it out for profits in the black market.


Sickened students suspect marijuana-laced gummy bears

(CNN)Several high school students in a Chicago suburb were taken to a local hospital after eating gummy bears some said may have been laced with marijuana.

“This candy made those students both uncomfortable and sick,” according to a statement from the Naperville School District.
    Students began showing up at the Naperville North High School nurse’s office late morning Tuesday, reported CNN affiliate WLS.
    Fourteen students were taken to Edward Hospital for treatment. At least 12 of the students had eaten the gummy bears, said the school district in a Facebook post.
    “Our ER physicians suspect it was marijuana that caused the students’ symptoms,” hospital spokesman Keith Hartenberger told CNN. “However, confirmation that the substance was marijuana would have to come from the Naperville Police Department — they were going to do the official testing,” Hartenberger said.
    Their symptoms included fast heart rate, dizziness and dry mouth.
    By the afternoon, most of the students had been released from the hospital with two remaining for further evaluation.
    Students told police that they thought the gummy bears were “laced with something with marijuana, like a liquid-based marijuana substance,” said Naperville Police commander Jason Arres.
    Testing is underway to figure out what was inside the gummy bears.
    A 17-year-old male student was taken into custody, but released without being charged, reported WLS.


    Regular marijuana use might affect vision, study says

    (CNN)A marijuana habit may alter your vision, according to a new study.

    Regular cannabis use delays the processing of visual information at its very beginning, in the retina, the results of a study published Thursday in JAMA Ophthalmology suggest. This disruption may impact the eyesight of regular pot smokers and edibles eaters, even if the influence is very weak, the authors noted.
      “At present, the authors only tested the retinal ganglion cell signaling,” Frishman noted. She added that this is a flaw, since the recorded measurements reflect the function of other retinal cells and photoreceptors, not just ganglion cells. The researchers, then, did not determine precisely how cannabis affects the retina.
      The research was supported, in part, by a grant from the French Interministerial Mission for Combating Drugs and Addictive Behavior.
      Dr. Christopher Lyons of the department of ophthalmology and visual sciences at University of British Columbia and Anthony G. Robson of the department of electrophysiology at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London believe the article addresses an important and neglected issue: the possible toxic effects of cannabis.
      Any negative effects on the visual system “would also have implications for driving, work and other activities,” Lyons and Robson wrote in an editorial accompanying the study. Though they believe the topic worthy of study, Lyons and Robson point out flaws in the research, including the small number of participants and the inability to determine how pure and how much cannabis each participant consumed.
      “Shortcomings in the study design, methods, and data analysis, acknowledged in part by the authors, weaken their conclusions,” wrote Lyons and Robson.

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      “Of course, this is a preliminary study, and we have to be prudent in the interpretation of the results,” Laprevote said. “We have now to verify if this delay is also present in later stages of visual processing in the brain.”
      Frishman also believes further study is warranted. “An effect of cannabis on visual processing would be important,” she said, “because of its impact on many human activities that require precise timing in the visual pathways.”


      New medical marijuana research could greenlight more uses in treatment

      Though the US Drug Enforcement Agency hasnt reclassified marijuana, easier availability of the drug for study has the potential to unearth new medical uses

      Despite its continuing hardline stance against marijuana, the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has shown some signs of relenting and this summer opened the door to allowing more farms to grow cannabis for official research purposes. Thats an important step forward that may change the potential marijuana has for medical treatment. Up to this point, researchers have had to depend on just one farm at the University of Mississippi to supply cannabis for all studies.

      Eight states have voted to legalize recreational marijuana, and 28 states now allow its use for medical purposes. Under federal law, however, marijuana continues to be classified as a highly dangerous illegal drug. Despite the DEAs resistance to reclassification, marijuana has a broad list of potential medical applications, from treating pain to neurological diseases. Further study could open up many new medical treatments.

      Researchers who conduct experimental studies and administer cannabis to their research participants have difficulty obtaining cannabis for their research, says Madeline Meier, assistant professor of psychology at Arizona State University, who has studied the safety of long term marijuana use. But the end to a 50-year monopoly on medical research marijuana will change that, potentially opening up new areas of medical utility and easing the way to federal reclassification.

      Marijuana has long been categorized as a Schedule I drug, which means that from the point of view of the government it has no medical benefit and a high potential for abuse. It is in the same category as heroin and LSD, and is in a more regulated schedule than drugs like methamphetamine and cocaine.

      Despite that, researchers have slowly been making progress in studying it as a potential treatment for a host of diseases.

      A small number of pharmaceutical companies are betting on cannabinoid treatments for a variety of diseases. GW Pharma in California markets a medication targeted at treating spasticity from multiple sclerosis, while UK-based Nemus Biosciences is developing a glaucoma treatment. Another pharmaceutical company, Kalytera, is looking at developing non-psychoactive cannabinoid medicines to treat osteoporosis and bone regeneration.

      Using non-psychoactive synthetic derivatives of marijuana is one potential way to get around the Schedule I restrictions of the drug, explains Seth Yakatan, CEO of Kalytera. But to really move the needle on medical applications for marijuana, the drug would need to be reclassified by the DEA, says Yakatan.

      While pharmaceutical companies explore new potential uses for marijuana derivatives, there are a number of medical uses with good research behind them for the plant itself, says Lester Grinspoon, associate professor emeritus of psychiatry at Harvard University. One of the most common medicinal uses is for cancer, though Grinspoon emphasizes that there is not enough research into cannabis use to treat the disease itself.

      Anyone who claims it cures cancer has very little basis to say that, Grinspoon says. But it is a great adjunct therapy for patients already undergoing traditional cancer treatment, he says, as it helps with nausea and other symptoms related to chemotherapy.

      Marijuana has also been found to be helpful in alleviating pain for MS patients, as well as helping with spasms for paraplegics and quadriplegics.

      Similar to its uses for cancer patients, marijuana is helpful for treating the wasting associated with Aids, says Grinspoon. Aids patients were the first to educate their doctors about cannabis, when the Aids epidemic spread like wild. Grinspoon points out that patients discovered on their own that smoking marijuana would help them keep food down, and doctors consequently learned about that use from their patients.

      Chronic pain is another area where marijuana has been useful, says Grinspoon. While research in the area has been somewhat mixed, with a number of studies finding it helps while others saying marijuana is not an effective pain medication, opioid pain medication use has declined in states with liberal marijuana laws. That correlation made headlines in light of the alarming epidemic of opioid abuse in the US.

      While some people are troubled by the psychoactive effects of the drug, there are strains that have minimal psychoactive effects, says Grinspoon, making them ideal for medical use.

      Researchers continue to try to tease out other potential benefits of cannabis and provide further evidence for its use, with the number of studies increasing every year. But for a promising treatment with so many applications, there is still a lot of stigma associated with the drug.

      Studies like Meiers, showing the safety of long term recreational cannabis use, chip away at that stigma. Her longitudinal study, published in June in JAMA Psychiatry, followed people who already used marijuana recreationally, collecting extensive health information on participants when they were 26 and 38 years old. The study found that participants had no long term physical health risks from the drug except for a higher likelihood of periodontal disease.

      Grinspoon says its past time that the DEA change the classification of cannabis. Unlike an opioid, no one has ever died of an overdose of marijuana, Grinspoon says. Aspirin causes about 1,000 deaths a year, so why dont we schedule aspirin?


      Beer sales declining in markets with legal marijuana, says financial firm

      Beer may need to watch its back.

      A new report from financial services firm Cowen and Company says beer sales have been dropping in markets where marijuana is now legal.

      Vivien Azer, the managing director and senior research analyst at Cowen, says the beer business isn’t booming in Colorado, Oregon and Washington– all states where recreational cannabis use has been legalized.

      While (marijuana) retail sales opened up in these markets at different points of time, with all three of these states now having fully implemented a retail infrastructure, the underperformance of beer in these markets has worsened over the course of 2016, Azer wrote in the report detailed on Brewbound.


      Looking into the data, Azer noted that the magnitude of the underperformance has increased notably, with beer volumes falling more than two percent year-to-date. Sales in the states also trail the overall U.S. beer market.

      This is perhaps not surprising, Azer says, given that U.S. government data for the states of CO, WA and OR all show consistent growth in cannabis incidence among 18-25 year olds coupled with declines in alcohol incidence (in terms of past month use).

      In the18-25 age range, both craft beer makers and mainstream beer producers have taken a hit.

      Its the latter group, however, which Azer said has been particularly affected.


      According to the report, beer volumes for mainstream beer producers have fallen 2.4 percent while premium domestic volumes like Coors Light have dropped by 4.4 percent.

      Denver has been the hardest hit with total beer volumes in the market falling 6.4 percent over the past year while craft beer volumes have dropped 5 percent.

      Azer said that imported beers appear to be immune from the legalization of pot, although volumes sold in the three western states are still behind the national growth rate.


      Colorado Marijuana Sales Soar To New Heights, Passing $1 Billion Mark

      Colorado marijuana sales soared to new heights in 2016, breaking the $1 billion mark for the first time ever in just the first 10 months of the year.

      Figures released by the Colorado Department of Revenue on Monday show dispensaries in the state sold $720.7 million of recreational marijuana from January through October, and $371.4 million of medical marijuana for the same time period, for a total of almost $1.1 billion.

      That translates into nearly $150 million in taxes for the state budget, $40 million of which is earmarked for public school construction projects, as required by Amendment 64, which allowed for legal recreational marijuana sales in Colorado beginning in 2014. 

      The remainder of the excise tax goes to the state’s public school fund, while a handful of other marijuana sales tax proceeds are directed to substance abuse treatment and prevention, law enforcement and health care programs.

      Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) is hoping to spend some of the funds in 2017 and 2018 on an “aggressive” campaign to help curb homelessness in the state.

      “We spend more than twice as much … perpetuating lives of misery by letting people live under bridges than we would getting them into housing and giving them wrap-around services by which I mean, job training at the top of the list, counseling for addictions and medications for mental health,” Hickenlooper told The Denver Post of the initiative late last month.

      Industry experts told The Denver Post’s Cannabist blog they’re projecting $1.3 billion in sales for the year. With that amount, the total economic impact in the state for legal marijuana sales would surpass $3 billion. 


      Canada’s recreational marijuana should come in plain packaging, panel says

      Official recommendation may pose hurdle for companies looking to build brands as Justin Trudeau prepares push to legalize drug for recreational use

      Canadas government should regulate the production of cannabis when it is legalized for recreational use and require plain packaging for such products, an official panel has recommended, in a potential setback to growers who hoped to build brands.

      How cannabis is sold should be left up to the provinces and should include both retail storefronts and a mail order system, the report recommended. Authorities have been battling a surge in illegal dispensaries over the past year, particularly in Ontario and British Columbia.

      Medical marijuana is already legal in Canada, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeaus Liberal government made legalizing marijuana for recreationa use a part of its successful election campaign last year and will introduce legislation in the spring of 2017.

      Canada is following in the footsteps of some U.S. states that have already legalized recreational use, including Colorado and Washington. While Tuesdays recommendations are not binding, the government said it will take them under consideration.

      On the whole, the report was positive for the existing companies that currently produce and sell medical marijuana, analysts said, with a lower-than-expected age limit of 18 for buyers and the allowance of some forms of edibles, which have been popular in places such as Colorado, where marijuana is already legal.

      Still, the panel recommended that plain packaging be required, while restrictions to advertising should be put in place similar to those currently on tobacco products.

      Thats where the downside is for some of these licensed producers that had been hoping to advertise and really develop brands, said Jason Zandberg, an analyst who covers the industry for PI Financial.

      Canopy Growth, which has a C$1.2bn ($914.98m)market capitalization on the main TSX exchange, was up 3.9% at C$10.39, after initially jumping as much as 8%.

      Producer and seller Aphria Inc soared as much as 10% but similarly trimmed its gains and was up 3.6% at C$5.25.

      Cannabis production should be regulated by the federal government, with licensing and production controls used to ensure a competitive system that includes small producers, the panel said, suggesting the door was open for new producers to get into the burgeoning sector.

      There are currently 36 producers that have received a license to grow and sell marijuana under the medical framework, according to Health Canada. The panel recommended that Canada maintain a separate system for medical marijuana.

      Whether storefronts operate through a government-run model, the way some alcohol is sold in Canada, or through private stores should be left up to the provinces, the report recommended.