Currently, 1/3 America suffers from chronic pain, defined as pain that lasts longer than 12 weeks. It commonly coincides alongside secondary symptoms and conditions, from trouble sleeping to a weakened immune system to anxiety and depression. The problem with chronic pain and other health conditions, however, is that many people turn to opioid prescriptions, the reality of which is quite dangerous. Medical marijuana, on the other hand, is a viable alternative to opioids, which you will see in the infographic below.
Apollo Cannabis Clinic aims to offer safe and effective treatment for chronic pain and a variety of other conditions such as PTSD and anxiety via medicinal marijuana. The largest study on cannabis to date found that medical cannabis is effective at relieving not only chronic pain, but also a variety of other conditions, from muscle spasms associated with multiple sclerosis to nausea associated with chemotherapy. Not only is it effective, but it is also highly safe, especially in comparison to opioids. In 2015, 15,000 or more deaths in the United States were the result of opioid overdoses alone – marijuana, on the other hand, caused zero deaths. This is because while it is virtually impossible to overdose on marijuana, the same is not true for opioids.
The opioid overdose epidemic is perhaps compounded by the misleading and often false information that the public has received regarding opioid use. In 2007, for example, three top executives from Purdue Pharma plead guilty to marketing Oxycontin as a safe alternative and for giving inaccurate information regarding the risks of addiction. Another problem in all of this is that that a large percentage of those using opioids – 49 percent – get them from family and friends.
As you will see in the infographic below, however, not only is medical marijuana a safe and effective way to treat chronic pain and a variety of other health conditions, but it is also associated with a decrease in opioid-related deaths.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers sent a letter Wednesday to Attorney General Jeff Sessions expressing concern about a reported move by the Justice Department to halt marijuana research.
The letter from Representatives Matt Gaetz, R-Florida; Dana Rohrabacher, R-California; Jared Polis, D-Colorado; and Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon; referenced a Washington Post report from Aug. 15 that, citing unnamed Drug Enforcement Administration officials, stated the Department of Justice has effectively shut down plans put in motion a year ago to reduce barriers to marijuana research. As of early August, 22 entities applied for marijuana research manufacturing licenses, but none had been approved, DEA officials told The Cannabist earlier this month.
“It is worrisome to think that the Department of Justice, the cornerstone of American civil society, would limit new and potentially groundbreaking research simply because it does not want to follow a rule,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter provided to The Cannabist. “We write to inquire whether the allegations raised by the Post are true, and, if so, to understand the Department of Justice’s rationale in refusing to process these applications.”
Alicia Wallace joined The Cannabist in July 2016, covering national marijuana policy and business. In her 14 years as a business news reporter, her coverage has spanned topics such as the economy, natural foods, airlines, biotech, retail,…
“There are plenty of places where you can consume alcohol. Let’s give people a place to go to consume marijuana,” said Jordan Person, head of Denver NORML, which advocates for pot-friendly public policy.
But Denver’s would-be “social use” clubs have faced one delay after another.
That left gathering places like coffee shops, art galleries and yoga studios. Furthermore, would-be clubs must stay twice as far as liquor stores from schools and anywhere children congregate, including playgrounds and sports fields.
The voter-approved club measure also says the club licenses are a pilot program and neighborhood groups must agree to allow a club before it could open.
“There were no surprises in the rules,” said Dan Rowland, spokesman for the Denver department that regulates marijuana businesses. “They reflect all the comments we got from the community.”
One hopeful applicant says the regulations are stringent but still a step forward for the industry.
“A lot of us are hoping this will … open the doors for a new kind of business,” said Connor Lux, who runs a co-work space for the cannabis industry and plans to apply for a social use license to hold public, weed-friendly events at his business just north of downtown Denver. Applying for a license costs $1,000; the licenses itself is $1,000 a year.
Lux envisions open-to-the-public networking events at his space.
“I don’t think anyone’s planning a giant smoke-out, everybody-coming-to-get-high kind of thing,” he said.
Khalatbari has sued Colorado’s liquor regulators over the ban on pot and alcohol in the same location, a lawsuit that hasn’t yet been heard, and says he is considering a lawsuit against the city for what he believes are onerous club rules.
Khalatbari noted Denver has much looser distance requirements for places selling alcohol, even allowing bicycle bars to cruise past schools and churches. The mobile bars with drivers ferry groups of pedaling drinkers from one tavern to the next.
“You can ride these stupid moronic bike bars down the street, getting hammered in public. But we’re not giving people a safer choice, even though voters have said over and over again they want to go that way,” Khalatbari said.
• Finding a fresh voice for cannabis in the comedy scene.
• A recreational consumer’s cancer diagnosis sparks a new appreciation of medical marijuana and honest conversations with doctors.
• Why professional heckling is a real job, and how the on-point interruption can help pro athletes and others.
TOP MARIJUANA NEWS
DEA says Justice Department has “effectively shut down” marijuana research: The Justice Department under Attorney General Jeff Sessions has effectively blocked the Drug Enforcement Administration from taking action on more than two dozen requests to grow marijuana to use in research, one of a number of areas in which the anti-drug agency is at odds with the Trump administration, U.S. officials familiar with the matter said. “They’re sitting on it,” said one law enforcement official. –Report by The Washington Post’s Matt Zapotosky and Devlin Barrett
Norman Rockwell Museum being considered for weed dispensary: A father and son are considering the Norman Rockwell Museum property in Vermont as a possible location for a marijuana dispensary. The museum property has been up for sale for several years. –Report by The Associated Press
Gorilla Glue lawsuit: A Nevada cannabis company that lays claim to creating the highly decorated, extremely potent and wildly popular Gorilla Glue #4 strain is in a sticky legal situation over the company’s branding and marketing. The Gorilla Glue Company — maker of adhesive products such as Gorilla Glue, Gorilla Epoxy and Gorilla Tape — is suing GG Strains LLC, the company founded by Peabody and business partner Ross Johnson, alleging trademark infringement, dilution, unfair competition and cybersquatting. By licensing and marketing products under “confusingly similar” names, GG Strains is ultimately trading on the reputation and goodwill that the family-run, Sharonville, Ohio-based company built over 23 years of business, according to the March 24 complaint. –Report by The Cannabist’s Alicia Wallace
This Kansas gov candidate backs medical marijuana, gun rights — BTW he’s 16: He won’t even be able to vote, but a 16-year-old Wichita high school student says he’s serious about his bid to run for governor of Kansas. Jack Bergerson has filed to run as a Democrat in the 2018 race for governor of Kansas, saying he wanted to give people another option, The Kansas City Star reported. “Under Kansas law, there is no law governing the qualifications for governor, not one,” said Bryan Caskey, director of elections at the Kansas secretary of state’s office. “So there’s seriously nothing on the books that lays out anything, no age, no residency, no experience. Nothing.” –Report by The Associated Press
Hawaii’s first medical marijuana dispensary sells out in days: Less than a week after it opened, Maui’s first state-licensed medical marijuana dispensary is reworking its opening hours as demand for its product outstrips supply because of a backlog. Maui Grown Therapies says it had expected its most recent batch of flowers to clear state lab certification by Saturday, but that didn’t happen, The Maui News reported. –Report by The Associated Press
The Lucas Brothers talk pot, philosophy: Show host Jake is joined by Keith and Kenny Lucas at Comedy Works Downtown in Denver, returning to the site where the duo once got so high, Keith said: “Denver weed made me believe in Jesus Christ.” The Lucas Brothers talked with The Cannabist about marijuana, philosophy, New York City’s stop-and-frisk program and much more before their headlining shows at the historic club Aug. 17-19. –Video by The Cannabist’s Vince Chandler
3 Deadly Pharmaceuticals that Could Be Replaced by Marijuana 1. Opioid-Based Painkillers So why is Big Pharma investing millions of dollars every year in researching and creating its own marijuana-based pain killers? Because Big Pharma recognizes medicinal marijuana outshines typical medications in many ways, and the prescriptions drug companies do not want to be left behind when this is recognized on a national level. Medicinal marijuana is indisputably beneficial in its comparative safeness. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “opioids killed more than 33,000 people in 2015, and nearly half of all opioid deaths involved a prescription drug.” Since the recent Marijuana Boom in America, which began nearly a decade ago with the legalization of medical marijuana in several states such as Colorado and California, the misconception that marijuana is “a dangerous street drug” is being questioned more and more. Currently, opioids such as Oxycodone, Fentanyl, and Hydrocodone, among others, are used to treat both chronic and acute pain. Acute pain being immediate, sharp pain, while chronic pain refers to long-term, reoccurring pain. Foreign prescription drug companies, such as Israel-based Intec Pharma Ltd, Nemus Bioscience, and Axim Biotechnologies Inc. are all currently testing non-psychoactive Cannabidoil (CBD) in laboratories to see if these types of pain can be mitigated through the use of CBD. With the results yet to be published, we patiently wait to see if marijuana is the next breakthrough in replacing dangerous opioids. 2. Sleeping Aids According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reported by the New York Daily News, “nearly 9 million US adults resort to prescription sleeping pills.” Sleeping aids like Ambien and Zolpidem are not only addictive, but can lead to ER visits and possibly even death. They become especially dangerous when paired with alcohol or other medications. There is also the risk of overdosing on sleeping pills, where no such risk exists with marijuana. Insomnia affects individuals’ ability to function normally throughout the day. Sufferers experience drained energy, impaired mental acuity, and altered moods. Marijuana comes in two major strains: sativa and indica. Sativa strains tend to worsen insomnia, indica strains tend to relax the body and mind, and result in drowsiness. For prolonged sleep, we recommend taking indica edibles, rather than smoke or vapor. Although smoking or vaporizing makes effects immediate, the high tends to wear off after 3-4 hours, and could result in waking up in the middle of the night. Edibles, on the other hand, take longer to kick in, but last up to 6-8 hours; so restless patients have a better chance of staying asleep throughout the whole night. Please be cautious if you are new to edibles. Do not re-dose if their effects are not felt in the assumed timeframe. 3. Anti-Anxiety Drugs Anxiety disorders are often misunderstood and poorly treated… with benzodiazepines, such as Xanax, Klonopin, Ativan, and Valium. Although not physically addictive, this class of drugs can cause serious dependency issues. According to the American Public Journal, reported by the New York Times, in 2013 nearly 5.6 percent of Americans filled a benzodiazepines prescription, and approximately 3 of every 100,000 people died from overdose. In March 2014, Vanderbilt University led a study on the effectiveness of treating anxiety through medical marijuana. They found that the cannabinoid receptors in the brain are pivotal in regulating anxiety and triggering the flight or fight responses that are essential to human survival. Those suffering from anxiety disorders often accidently trigger these cellular responses in the cannabinoids’ communication (in the amygdala), which can then create “fake” fight or flight scenarios, resulting in unnecessary anxiety. Since marijuana produces endocannabinoids and affects the same receptors in the brain, its use can help regulate anxiety and alleviate anxiety disorders.
(5 Marijuana Strains for Anxiety) It should be noted, the same study also found that some of the heavy, habitual users actually incurred the opposite effect, and showed increased levels of anxiety. Big Pharma is predicting a giant increase in the number of Americans wanting marijuana-based painkillers, sleeping aids, and calmers. When the laws change, they expect to be ready.
Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., has recently introduced legislation to legalize marijuana at the federal level. His bill will no doubt inspire the standard criticisms, one of which is that legalization does not eliminate the black market. Kevin Sabet, director of the Drug Policy Institute, claims that “[e]ven under legalization, there’s a black market.” This view contains a kernel of truth, but it misses the bigger picture.
Most consumers prefer, other things equal, to purchase from legal suppliers. This allows them to resolve disagreements about quality, service, and payment with lawsuits or by reporting to private and public watchdogs; it facilitates repeat shopping from a high-quality seller, and it avoids the risks of adulterated or excessively potent goods. Thus despite the costs created by regulation and taxation for most legal goods, black markets do not often arise.
Instead, black markets arise only when government policy forces markets underground by outlawing them or by imposing excessive regulation or taxation. After the United States repealed Alcohol Prohibition in 1933, most of the market returned to the legal sphere, except in states that continued prohibition or imposed excessive taxes.
One obstacle to moving the marijuana market fully above ground is that all state legalizations to date — and the regulatory frameworks imposed at the state or city level — impose substantial restrictions on the marijuana market. Details vary, but regulations generally limit the number of retail outlets, the specific products they can sell, the amount customers can purchase per visit, and the location of stores. Much regulation also restricts or bans home delivery, bars some individuals from obtaining retail licenses, and imposes a minimum purchase age of 21. Apart from this over-regulation, some states impose a tax burden that prices legal marijuana well above illegal marijuana.
Additionally, regulation currently protects those lucky enough to already have licenses. In Oregon owners of legitimate marijuana businesses are losing customers to the black market. They blame “delays in the state’s permitting process for new entries into the recreational marijuana market, which acts as an artificial control on supply, which… in turn pushes customers to explore cheaper options.”
All these factors encourage continued black markets even under legalization.
The critics are therefore right that partial legalization will not eliminate the black market, but the solution is trivial: full legalization. Most importantly, federal law must legalize marijuana so that marijuana businesses can access the legal banking sector and comply with federal tax codes without putting themselves at a competitive disadvantage.
More broadly, the desire to control the marijuana market via regulation is misguided.
If regulation is mild, it has no meaningful effect. Consider a rule that limits purchases to one ounce per customer per month. For most users an ounce lasts at least a month anyway. And consumers who want more can purchase at multiple stores or have friends or family purchase for them
If regulation is instead strict, it promotes continuation of the black market. Consider a requirement for registration of every purchase and enforcement of the rule of only one ounce per month across all stores in a state. This would be expensive and would place real barriers to using retail stores, ultimately resulting in less tax revenue, more need for enforcement, and perpetuation of the illegal market.
Thus legalization without excessive regulation or taxation is the only way to eliminate the black market. And this approach has the added virtue of maximizing tax revenue from legalized sales, minimizing enforcement costs, and respecting the freedom of those who wish to consume marijuana.
Jeffrey Miron is director of economic studies at the Cato Institute and the director of undergraduate studies in the Department of Economics at Harvard University.
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Do you want to be a better budtender? Then go to Amsterdam. Working in the industry in America with knowledge of the old world is priceless and it can be a good way to reconnect with cannabis if you are a long-time budtender. After a time, so much weed goes through your hands that it can start to become just another commodity. It is easy to get in a rut, and it is easy to forget how much you love this plant when you find yourself cranking it out daily at work. Visiting the city of Amsterdam can provide a memorable and immersive learning experience that can provoke imagination, introduce unknown subject matter, and offer unique environments that may never be seen stateside. A journey to Amsterdam will provide a budtender the opportunity to be exposed to new experiences and explore new things. This unique exposure can provide the foundation for creativity as well as critical thinking in the workplace. I have been twice and I am already thinking ahead to my next trip.
The 1960’s brought a heady lifestyle into this city and it has remained ever since. Amsterdam has been a place where weed smokers can go and openly discuss and use cannabis without fear of imprisonment. The city is a modern-day salon for cannabis revolutionaries and it has played an integral role in the cultural and intellectual development of cannabis for us here in the west. It is a cultural hub for spreading ideas. You will find that most influences for western cannabis culture began in Amsterdam. The city combines a mixture of the contemporary and the historical. The entire place can be enjoyed on foot, so sampling the different coffee shops is safe and easy.
The cannabis capital has restaurants that allow you to sit down with a cup of coffee and smoke a joint. Although we have legal cannabis on both coasts there is not anywhere to socially smoke or consume cannabis like you can in Amsterdam. Weed is not social here, although I do believe that is the next stage in our evolution. I mean, you can order breakfast and weed off the same menu in Amsterdam. The concerns that lawmakers have for the public is cranked up to eleven here in the states and as a result, it can take some of the fun out of it. Packaging and restrictions are such that you must take your products to a small dark room with no windows and get high alone. Not in Amsterdam!
Nowadays we go out to dispensaries and purchase cannabis strains most Americans never heard of twenty years ago which is wonderful, but cannabis capital has the classics. I was a child of the 90’s so when I think of weed strains I think of White Widow, White Russian, Northern Lights, Blueberry, Acapulco Gold, Haze #1, and Matanuska Thunderfuck just to name a few. You just cannot find these strains in the states right now, everyone wants the new stuff. Visiting Amsterdam is like going back in time, similar to what it must be like for a car aficionado when visiting Cuba. You are seeing history alive and breathing right in front of you. For a budtender, knowledge is the best thing you could ask for, and it is not like there is a graduate school for cannabis.
Amsterdam is not only the cannabis capital, but a state of mind, it is a place where you can lose yourself and find yourself. It is a place where you will assert focus, and regain consciousness, like a pilgrim making a journey to the homeland. It is a city where millions of people set aside differences of race, economic status, and nationality to get a little high. Visiting Amsterdam will open your eyes to different ideas and perspectives that are not relevant in the United States. The cannabis culture in America still treats marijuana like it is illegal, they do not do that in Amsterdam, it is just another thing. A trip to the Dutch capital will help develop awareness for our industry and your job. Go to Amsterdam, smoke a joint in the park then again at a restaurant, go to the Heineken museum, stop in a smart shop, walk through the red-light district, try Amstel beer, and have dinner at ten o’clock because the sun stays out late. Man, I love Amsterdam and I cannot wait to go back. So, when are you going?
Cannabis products are designed for adults 21 and older. Please consume responsibly.
• While Denver works out how to enact its first-of-its-kind voter-approved social marijuana use initiative, some spaces are finding ways to be 420-friendly in the meantime.
• Vaping vs smoking, the debate rages on: Should one be allowed indoors while the other is sequestered to the open air?
• Getting the munchies while enjoying edibles: A tale of imbibing too much.
TOP MARIJUANA NEWS
Upcoming solar eclipse causing record demands for weed: Next month there will be a solar eclipse that some people are calling “The Great American Eclipse” because such large swaths of people across the United States will be able to see it. Since this is such a rare occurrence, many people are planning to trek around the country for the occasion. Perhaps unsurprisingly, one of the most popular destinations for viewing the eclipse is Oregon, and it all has to do with marijuana. The Oregon Liquor Control Commission estimates that one million people will visit Oregon to view the solar eclipse, and predicts that demand for marijuana will be at an all-time high. They’re also recommending that business begin stocking up on product so they don’t run out the day of the eclipse. –Report by Civilized’s Joseph Misulonas
Opinion: Employers testing for weed will increasingly miss out on good workers: In Youngstown, Ohio, the employment problem is not a shortage of jobs. Nor is it a shortage of workers. The problem is not stingy employers who don’t want to pay enough to attract good workers. Nor is the problem that potential workers are too busy playing video games to show up for their job interviews. So what’s the trouble? The only thing standing between willing employers and willing workers is a drug test. Unfortunately, these aren’t jobs where you can say uptight, moralizing employers are prying too deeply into the private lives of their employees. They’re industrial jobs where the risk of accidents — potentially fatal accidents — is high. Employers cannot run the risk of people showing up intoxicated and killing themselves or their co-workers. Even if they were willing to run their workplace that way, safety inspectors and insurers wouldn’t let them. –Report by Bloomberg Views’ Megan McArdle
Scientists go through trouble to research if regular weed users are more relaxed than others: Recreational marijuana use is now legal in eight states plus the District of Columbia, giving public health researchers more leeway than ever to investigate some of the foundational underpinnings of cannabis culture: How much weed is in a joint? What happens to your brain when you get high? And now: Are chronic marijuana users really more relaxed than everyone else? You might be surprised to learn that the research to date on this question is mixed. One recent study found that while low doses of THC (the active chemical compound in pot) helped people cope with stressful situations, moderate to higher doses actually made people stress out even more. –Report by The Washington Post’s Christopher Ingraham
Willie Nelson video interview: America’s political divide, Jeff Sessions and marijuana: In an interview with The Washington Post aboard his tour bus, Willie Nelson urged Americans to bridge what he calls a great divide in politics. At 84 years old, Willie Nelson still has a strong voice as one of America’s leading songwriters. He sat down in his tour bus with The Washington Post’s Libby Casey to talk politics, pot, and what Americans can do to come together. He even sang The Washington Post’s new motto. –Report by The Washington Post’s Libby Casey
Blue Dream: I’m not sure which I’ve recommended more over the past five years: Blue Dream or “Breaking Bad.” The former is seemingly ubiquitous in Colorado, and there’s something fitting about such an active, uplifting strain bearing our standard. The latter is a cable show and not marijuana, for those of you too cool to own a television but who can still afford a giant rock to live under. If I had cataloged the most common request at dispensaries where I’ve worked, it wouldn’t be, “What’s going to get me the highest?” but rather, “What can I smoke that won’t knock me out?” Then I’d recommend something with the word “dream” in the name and they’d look at me like I was high. –Review by The Cannabist’s Jake Browne
Gorilla Glue #4: When I talk about self-medicating with cannabis it’s with trepidation, as if I’m an illicit drug user and not one of the millions of Americans who choose something like coffee or seconds at dinner instead. It’s that pesky “self” in there. Diagnosis is fine when it comes from a medical professional, not Google. So when I say that tonight I’m treating the mild obsessive-compulsive disorder that I’m fairly sure I have, and I’m doing so with Gorilla Glue #4, I’m painfully aware of the potential reactions. Then, I get to exhale them away until they vanish into the yellow light below my ceiling fan. And I don’t need to clean the ceiling fan. –Review by The Cannabist’s Jake Browne
The Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety, a group of prosecutors and federal law enforcement officials, has come up with no new policy recommendations to advance the attorney general’s aggressively anti-marijuana views. The group’s report largely reiterates the current Justice Department policy on marijuana.
It encourages officials to keep studying whether to change or rescind the Obama administration’s hands-off approach to enforcement — a stance that has allowed the nation’s experiment with legal pot to flourish. The report was not slated to be released publicly, but portions were obtained by the AP.
Sessions has been promising to reconsider that policy since he took office six months ago. He has assailed marijuana as comparable to heroin and blamed it for spikes in violence. His statements have sparked support and worry across the political spectrum as a growing number of states have worked to legalize the drug.
Eight states and the nation’s capital have legalized marijuana for recreational use. Threats of a federal crackdown have united liberals, who object to the human costs of a war on pot, and some conservatives, who see it as a states’ rights issue. Some advocates and members of Congress had feared the task force’s recommendations, which have not been released publicly, would give Sessions the green light to begin dismantling what has become a sophisticated, multimillion pot industry that helps fund schools, educational programs and law enforcement.
But the tepid nature of the recommendations signals just how difficult it would be to change course on pot.
Some in law enforcement support a tougher approach, but a bipartisan group of senators in March urged Sessions to uphold existing marijuana policy. Others in Congress are seeking ways to protect and promote pot businesses.
The vague recommendations may be intentional, reflecting an understanding that shutting down the entire industry is neither palatable nor possible, said John Hudak, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who studies marijuana law and was interviewed by members of the task force.
“If they come out with a more progressive, liberal policy, the attorney general is just going to reject it. They need to convince the attorney general that the recommendations are the best they can do without embarrassing the entire department by implementing a policy that fails,” he said.
The task force suggestions are not final, and Sessions is in no way bound by them. The government still has plenty of ways it can punish weed-tolerant states, including raiding pot businesses and suing states where the drug is legal, a rare but quick path to compliance. The only one who could override a drastic move by Sessions is President Donald Trump, whose personal views on marijuana remain mostly unknown.
The Justice Department declined to comment.
Rather than urging federal agents to shut down dispensaries and make mass arrests, the task force puts forth a more familiar approach.
The report suggests teaming the Justice Department with Treasury officials to offer guidance to financial institutions, telling them to implement robust anti-money laundering programs and report suspicious transactions involving businesses in states where pot is legal. That is already required by federal law.
And it tells officials to develop “centralized guidance, tools and data related to marijuana enforcement,” two years after the Government Accountability Office told the Justice Department it needs to better document how it’s tracking the effect of marijuana legalization in the states.
Most critically, and without offering direction, it says officials “should evaluate whether to maintain, revise or rescind” a set of Obama-era memos that allowed states to legalize marijuana on the condition that officials act to keep marijuana from migrating to places where it is still outlawed and out of the hands of criminal cartels and children, among other stipulations. Any changes to the policy could impact the way pot-legal states operate, but the task force offers no further guidance on how to do that.
The recommendations are not surprising because “there’s as much evidence that Sessions intends to maintain the system and help improve upon it as there is that he intends to roll it back,” said Mason Tvert, who ran Colorado’s legalization campaign. He pointed to Sessions’ comment during his Senate confirmation hearing that while he opposed legalization, he understood the scarcity of federal resources and “echoed” the position of his Democratic predecessors.
It remains unclear how much weight Sessions might give the recommendations. He said he has been relying on them to enact policy in other areas. Apart from pot, the task force is studying a list of criminal justice issues and the overall report’s executive summary says its work continues and its recommendations “do not comprehensively address every effort that the Department is planning or currently undertaking to reduce violent crime.”
Attorney General Jeff Sessions says Colorado isn’t making good on its promises to stop marijuana from spilling over its borders, nor is the state keeping it out of the hands of kids.
Sessions raised “serious questions” about the state’s marijuana regulation and called on Gov. John Hickenlooper to remedy the situation in a letter obtained by The Cannabist. It is dated July 24 and arrived at the Colorado Capitol late Thursday, officials said.
The governors of at least two other states that have legalized adult-use cannabis also received letters from the attorney general addressing the efficacy of their respective state marijuana regulatory structures.
In his letter to Hickenlooper, Sessions cited data from a September 2016 report by the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA), a federally funded agency operated by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. The report on the impact of marijuana legalization in Colorado claimed increases in highway patrol seizures, youth use, traffic deaths and emergency department visits since the state legalized adult-use sales of cannabis in 2014.
“These findings are relevant to the policy debate concerning marijuana legalization,” Sessions wrote. “… please advise as to how Colorado plans to address the serious findings in the Rocky Mountain HIDTA report, including efforts to ensure that all marijuana activity is compliant with state marijuana laws, to combat diversion of marijuana, to protect public health and safety, and to prevent marijuana use by minors.”
The letter’s structure and message were practically identical to that of a separate letter Sessions sent to Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a correspondence that the Huffington Post obtained and reported late Thursday evening. Officials for Oregon Gov. Kate Brown’s office told The Cannabist late Friday that they also received a letter from Sessions, but declined to immediately provide it.
Notable passages in both the Colorado and Washington letters highlight where Sessions sees flexibility for federal enforcement actions under the 2013 Cole Memorandum — Obama-era guidance for how prosecutors and law enforcement could prioritize their marijuana-related enforcement efforts. Both letters cited bullet-pointed data from each region’s respective HIDTA.
“What is interesting here, however, is that Sessions’ accusations (are) that states are not complying with the Cole Memo, perhaps suggesting he is fine with the Cole Memo just not the previous administration’s enforcement of it,” said John Hudak, a drug policy expert and senior fellow with the Brookings Institution.
Colorado officials are taking the issues Sessions raised in the letter “very seriously,” said Mark Bolton, Hickenlooper’s marijuana adviser, adding that state officials share the attorney general’s concerns.
But as to whether he thinks Sessions is hinting at any forthcoming federal enforcement actions on marijuana in this new letter, Bolton said, “We don’t take it that way.”
“We want to engage in a dialogue with the attorney general, the White House, the Justice Department about the most effective ways that the state and the federal government can work together to protect our priorities of public safety, public health and other law enforcement priorities,” he said.
It’s unclear whether Alaska received similar correspondence to those received by Colorado, Washington and Oregon; inquiries from The Cannabist to the governor Bill Walker’s office were not immediately returned.
Sessions has taken a hard-line stance against state-level marijuana legalization efforts since his appointment as attorney general. His bellicose language has generated concern among legalization advocates that the Trump Administration might abandon the hands-off approach of the previous administration and increase enforcement actions of federal marijuana laws.
The Department of Justice Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety, created earlier this year, was expected to review existing policies in the areas of charging, sentencing and marijuana. As of last week, Sessions received the recommendations from the task force, some on a rolling basis, and plans to announce policy changes “when appropriate,” Justice Department officials have told The Cannabist.
Any Justice Department interference in state-regulated marijuana regimes would be “unacceptable,” Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in a statement posted Friday:
I was disappointed by Attorney General Sessions’ letter, which relies on incomplete, inaccurate and out-of-date information on the status of Washington’s marijuana regulations. I’m also disappointed that he has yet to accept my repeated invitations to meet in person to discuss this critical issue face to face. If he does accept, I look forward to providing him with a more complete picture of the robust regulatory program that exists in our state.
Any action from the Department of Justice short of allowing our well-regulated, voter-approved system to continue is unacceptable. I will continue to defend the will of Washington voters.
Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman said she will continue to defend Colorado’s marijuana laws.
“But at the same time, I have always said that legalized marijuana presents significant challenges and public officials need to remain vigilant,” she said in an emailed statement. “That’s the message I gave to officials from the White House and Justice Department when they visited our state last month, and that’s why my office has been responsible for some of the most significant marijuana busts in recent history. We cannot allow bad actors to use our laws as a shield.”
She added she is hopeful that Colorado can work in concert with federal officials.
“In recent years, Washington, D.C., has offered little leadership on this issue. Attorney General Sessions’ letter suggests new interest in a strong federal-state law enforcement partnership aimed at protecting public safety in this area, something I look forward to exploring.”
When Hickenlooper met with Sessions in Washington, D.C., in late April, the governor explained Colorado’s regulatory structure, and how officials are tracking data related to public health and safety concerns. Likewise, Hickenlooper outlined how state marijuana tax revenue is supporting enforcement efforts against illegal activity.
Two weeks ago, officials from the Justice Department and other federal agencies met with about 20 representatives from a variety of Colorado agencies involved in marijuana regulation. Colorado officials presented a slew of charts, data and information about marijuana regulation and how the state is addressing public health, safety and law enforcement concerns, according to presentation materials provided by Hickenlooper’s office in response to a public records request made last week by The Cannabist.
Sessions’ latest letter is a continuation of the dialogue between Colorado and federal officials, Bolton said.
“We take (this letter) as an opportunity to continue the conversation that we’ve worked on for the past several months,” Bolton said.
Data questions remain
Colorado officials are preparing a response, which will include a comprehensive review of the relevant data, Bolton said.
However, the state has been cautious about drawing hard conclusions about the correlation of marijuana to various public health and safety issues, he said. The data are still quite new and there needs to be greater points of comparison.
“I think we need to give it some time,” he said.
The HIDTA reports Sessions cited in his letters to Colorado and Washington have come under criticism in the past, and the law enforcement agencies compiling them are “notorious for using data out of context or drawing grand conclusions that data ultimately do not support,” Hudak said.
“This is an inappropriate use of data from the attorney general and shows an obvious disinterest in seeking the right answer that can advance effective public policy,” he said. “Instead, Mr. Sessions is committed to cherry-picking information that fit into his worldview. When it comes to Mr. Sessions and marijuana, ignorance seems to be a pre-existing condition, and he has no interest in seeking treatment for that ailment.”
Washington Gov. Inslee also criticized Sessions’ approach — and use of HIDTA data.
“While Washington has been successful in creating a tightly regulated marketplace and generating needed revenue for the state, challenges do remain,” he said in a statement. “Most importantly, marijuana remains a Schedule I controlled substance by the federal government. This determination affects all aspects of our state systems, from banking to research to consumer safety.
“It is clear that our goals regarding health and safety are in step with the goals AG Sessions has articulated. Unfortunately, he is referring to incomplete and unreliable data that does not provide the most accurate snapshot of our efforts since the marketplace opened in 2014.”
Officials for the Rocky Mountain HIDTA did not return multiple queries for comment.
Alicia Wallace joined The Cannabist in July 2016, covering national marijuana policy and business. In her 14 years as a business news reporter, her coverage has spanned topics such as the economy, natural foods, airlines, biotech, retail,…