Tag: Politics

What the Federal Shutdown Means for Medical Marijuana

At midnight Friday, the federal government shut down.

What does that mean for medical marijuana? It’s not good.

Rohrabacher-Blumenauer protections are no longer in effect. But they will likely return.

The Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment, which has protected medical cannabis patients and caregivers from federal interference since 2014, was part of the budget appropriations bill. So when the budget expired, so did those protections.

The protections are no longer operative—but that doesn’t mean federal officials are going to start arresting MMJ patients tomorrow.

With the federal government shut down, all non-essential government personnel are furloughed. Even if a federal prosecutor wanted to go after a medical marijuana target, they wouldn’t have the law enforcement personnel on hand to carry out the arrests.

Mind the Gap

In addition, the protections in the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment affect any cases that might be brought during this gap in coverage. In other words, if the next budget that Congress adopts includes the amendment, then federal authorities could not pursue any case that was brought during the lapse in coverage.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) reiterated on Thursday that he will continue working to maintain the provision in whatever funding bill Congress passes next.

Here’s the ‘Good Shutdown’

Even though President Trump said he wanted to avoid a shutdown, the uncertainty he caused through Thursday intensified on Friday. Trump has supported a government shutdown in the past, writing in a tweet last May when the government was in the same position: “Our country needs a good shutdown in September to fix mess!”

This time, Trump’s flip-flopping on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the so-called “Dreamers” immigration policy act, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), providing low-cost health coverage to children in families that earn too much money for Medicaid, accelerated the uncertainty in budget negotiations through the week, resulting in the shutdown on Friday.

Meanwhile, a Flurry of Cannabis Bills

The only upside to the chaos of the shutdown has been the quiet work on marijuana legalization that was happening at the same time on the Hill, much of it since the middle of January.

A new House bill introduced on January 17, sponsored by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) and about a dozen co-sponsors, is a companion bill to Sen. Cory Booker’s “Marijuana Justice Act”, S. 1689 that was introduced in August, 2017, and has languished in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

NORML reports that this is the first time that companion legislation has been introduced in both chambers of Congress to remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).

On January 18th, Lee tweeted that her justice act bill “is a landmark bill to help us end the destructive, discriminatory #WarOnDrugs and rebuild the lives torn apart by these failed policies.”

Barbara Lee: The New Cannabis Champion

Congresswoman Lee is also the sponsor of “States’ Medical Marijuana Property Rights Protection Act” (HR 331), with Blumenauer as one of the six co-sponsors; a co-sponsor, along with both Rohrabacher and Blumenauer, of Colorado Rep. Jared Polis’ bill “Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act” (HR 1841), that saw a surge of six new co-sponsors since the beginning of the year for a total of 23;  a co-sponsor of Blumenauer’s bill “Marijuana Revenue and Regulation Act” (HR 1823); and one of 66 co-sponsors (eight just since January 16) along with both Blumenauer and Rohrabacher, of “Safe and Fair Enforcement Banking Act (SAFE) of 2017” (HR 2215).

She is also a member of the Appropriations and Budget Committees, and is seen as a strong ally in Congress in any discussion of the continuation of the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment.

Old Bills See New Life

Even older marijuana-related bills have been getting traction in January while Congress focused on the budget.

Both Blumenauer and Rohrabacher are co-sponsors of Rep. Tom Garrett’s (R-VA) bill “Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2017” (HR 1227), introduced February 27, 2017, now with 25 co-sponsors – 10 since the beginning of 2018.

Also in February, 2017, Rohrabacher introduced the “Respect State Marijuana Laws Act of 2017” (HR 975), now with 40 co-sponsors including both Blumenauer and Lee – 16 since the beginning of the year.

Now that work will potentially have to face renewed scrutiny because of the shutdown and the elimination of the amendment.

Prohibitionists’ Poll Backfires, Reveals 83% Support for Cannabis Reform

Trial lawyers have a well-known rule of thumb about witnesses: Never ask them a question you don’t already know the answer to.

The ardent prohibitionists over at Project SAM, headed by Kevin Sabet and Patrick Kennedy, may want to consider that advice the next time they commission a poll.

Vox reported earlier today that the anti-cannabis advocacy group hired Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy, of Jacksonville, Florida, to ask 1,000 registered voters around the nation about their views on marijuana legalization.

The question put to the voters was as follows:

QUESTION: I want to ask a few questions about marijuana policy in the United States. Currently, possessing and using marijuana is against federal law. Which one of the following best describes your preference on national marijuana policy?

  • Keep the current policy
  • Keep the current policy, but legalize the use of marijuana for physician-supervised medical use
  • Decriminalize marijuana use by removing the possibility of jail time for possession and also allowing for medical marijuana, but keep the sale of marijuana illegal.
  • Legalize the commercial production, use and sale of marijuana for recreational use, as they have done recently in several states.

The public responded with a loud and overwhelming vote in favor of change. In all, 83% of respondents said they want to see some form of federal cannabis legal reform, which is exactly what Project SAM is working against. Here’s how the numbers broke down:

What is your preference on national marijuana policy?

Source: Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy / Learnaboutsam.org

Gender, Age, and Political Differences

Some of the poll’s most interesting findings came in the areas of gender, age, and political affiliation. There’s still a minor gap between men and women when it comes to adult-use legalization, with 53% of men favoring it compared to only 46% of women. The gender gap was virtually nonexistent when it came to keeping prohibition and legalizing medical only.

People under 50 were much more likely to favor legalization of all types compared to people over 50. Only 8% of the younger demographic wanted to keep cannabis federally illegal, while 25% of people over 50 favored the current policy. On full adult-use legalization, 54% of the younger set favored it, compared to only 44% of the 50+ crowd.

Democrats overwhelmingly supported various forms of legal reform, while one-quarter of Republicans wanted to keep cannabis fully illegal. Interestingly, more Independents expressed a preference for full adult-use (57%) than those who identified as Democrats (55%). Only 36% of Republicans opted for full adult-use legalization.

Source: Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy / Learnaboutsam.org

It’s… a Victory! Kind of.

Officials at SAM spun the poll results as best they could.

“New National Poll Shows Support for Marijuana Legalization Dips Below 50% When Voters Are Given Other Policy Choices,” read the headline on their media release. Well… that’s just not so. Project SAM continues to oppose all forms of cannabis legalization, and has always considered medical legalization as “legalization.” So by their own definition, the poll shows 78% support for exactly the kind of legalization they spend their days opposing.


Liberty, Jobs, and Freedom: How Cannabis Became a Conservative Issue

‘Beyonce Takes THC’: The Week in Cannabis Quotes

Another week, another bunch of people using their mouths—and sometimes their forefingers—to say things about cannabis. From Toronto snow graffiti to politicians’ proclamations, here’s a roundup of the week’s most notable cannabis quotables.

“New Jersey may legalize marijuana. Massachusetts already has. On the other hand, Attorney General Sessions says he’s going to end marijuana in every state. So you have the whole confluence of different information. I think we should fund [the Department of Health] to do a study. Let them work with state police and other agencies to look at the health impact and economic impact.”

– New York Governor Mario Cuomo, addressing the State Legislature and proposing a study to determine the impacts of legalizing cannabis in New York State


Cannabis Strain Recommendations for Beginners and Low-Tolerance Consumers

Late last year, the conservative Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch made a splash by coming out swinging for medical marijuana. This week, he lit up Twitter for removing glasses he’s not wearing.


Which Type of Vaporizer Best Suits You?

Meanwhile in Colorado: What do legal cannabis dispensaries do for home values? The answer may surprise you!

“We went into the project and we weren’t really sure what to expect. We thought maybe there would be a negative impact. I think our takeaway after working on the project was that we don’t see a negative effect—we see results point to a positive effect.”

– James Conklin, University of Georgia real-estate professor and co-author of the study  ‘Contact High: The External Effects of Retail Marijuana Establishments on House Prices,’ which found that after Denver legalized recreational marijuana in 2014, single-family homes within 0.1 miles of a dispensary saw gains of 8.4 percent relative to houses located between 0.1 and 0.25 miles away. (Quote from The Cannifornian.)


The 9 Most Overhyped Cannabis Strains

And in Washington DC:

“This legislation will end this destructive war on drugs. Here on the first day, we have 12 co-signers, which is really remarkable.”

– US Rep. Barbara Lee, introducing the House version of the Marijuana Justice Act, which would end federal cannabis prohibition and help correct decades of injustice surrounding the discriminatory enforcement of marijuana criminalization laws in the United States


Is Cannabis Addictive?

To bring things full circle,  let’s close with another noteworthy snapshot from the streets of Canada:

Lawsuit Aims to Halt Maine’s Medical Marijuana Inspections

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — The owners of a medical marijuana shop and two medical marijuana users are suing to stop Maine from implementing new medical marijuana regulations next month.

The lawsuit in U.S. District Court targets a new rule that allows the state to provide same-day inspections of medical cannabis providers and to inspect a user’s home with a day’s notice.

The lawsuit contends such warrantless searches violated the Constitution.


NJ Court: Medical Cannabis Benefits ‘Abundant and Glaringly Apparent’

The rules are due to go into effect on Feb. 1.

Republican Gov. Paul LePage and Maine Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Ricker Hamilton are critical of the leeway granted to medical marijuana providers.

The lawsuit was filed Thursday by Justin Olsen and Nancy Shaw of New World Organics in Belfast and two patients, a cancer victim and an injured military veteran.

Nebraska Proposal Would Put Medical Marijuana on 2018 Ballot

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — A Nebraska state senator is proposing a ballot measure that would give Nebraska voters the chance to legalize medical marijuana in November.

Sen. Anna Wishart of Lincoln introduced a proposed constitutional amendment Thursday after several previous legalization bills stalled in the Legislature.

Wishart says she believes voters should get the opportunity to establish protections for people with chronic conditions who use cannabis to ease pain. She says Nebraska state officials have failed to act.


What Makes a Medical Cannabis Program Succeed?

The proposal would refer the issue to voters in the November general election. Advocates for medical cannabis have tried to get the issue on the ballot before, but so far have not succeeded.

Opponents of medical marijuana have cast it as a slippery slope to recreational use.

The Roll-Up #17: Florida Man, Attorney at Law

The Roll-Up features Leafly editors Bruce Barcott, Ben Adlin, and Dave Schmader in a Friday morning roundtable about the week’s top cannabis news.

Leafly Podcast

Episode 17: Florida Man, Attorney at Law

This week: Ben brings us the story of the world’s worst cannabis lawyer, while Dave debriefs us on Canada’s Lift Conference and Bruce gets stuck watching the federal budget debacle. Also, we salute Hawaii’s cannabis security cows. 

What, are you not familiar with the show? Every Friday, Leafly editors Bruce Barcott, Ben Adlin, and Dave Schmader dissect the week’s top stories in cannabis with analysis, arguments, jokes, and obscure cultural references.

The Roll-Up: It’s a news and culture podcast that hits the sweet spot between stoned and scholarly.

Feedback? We love feedback. Tell us what you loved, what you hated, and what we should talk about next. Email us at therollup@yahoo.com.

News Stories Mentioned In Episode 17:


How a Visionary Cannabis Producer Became This Canadian Town’s Biggest Employer


Now Trump’s ‘Shithole’ Comment Is Affecting Medical Marijuana


‘Security Cows’ Will Guard This Hawaiian Cannabis Farm


Florida Supreme Court Disbars Medical Marijuana Lawyer


Oregon Cannabis Stores Get Failing Grade on Latest ID Test

Previous Episodes:

About Our Music:

The theme song for The Roll-Up is “Turn Me On,” from the EP of the same name by The Shivas. Check out their music on iTunes. For more about the band, see their home page, theshivas.org. This week’s musical excerpt is “Henehene Kou ‘Aka” by Israel Kamakawio’ole, from his classic 1993 album Facing Future.

Washington DC’s Cannabis Market Is Still Untested, Untaxed, and Underground

On a Saturday night in November, a casually dressed crowd mingled outside a chic nightclub in the southern end of Washington D.C.’s Shaw neighborhood. Inside, some two dozen vendors have set up on both floors of the bar for the Capital Cup, vending small amounts of flower, edibles, tinctures and the like from fold-up tables.

Neon-hued smoke filled the air, puffed by patrons smoking joints or taking “free sample” dabs. A DJ blasted stoner classics. Dozens merrily chanted the chorus to Afroman’s “Because I Got High.”

‘It’s weird. It’s built into you to feel nervous. You still feel like you could get in trouble.’

Laura, Guest at DC’s underground Capital Cup

“I had a great time,” said a man named Mike who leaned against the building, awaiting his Lyft. He was visiting from outside the District with his wife, Laura. Their haul included some gummies and a few different types of flower.

“It’s weird,” Laura said, “because it’s still built into you to feel nervous…you just kind of still feel like you could get in trouble.”

Cannabis events are a niche piece of D.C.’s gray economy for legal cannabis. Three years ago, District voters overwhelmingly passed Initiative 71 (I-71), a ballot measure legalizing possession of up to two ounces of cannabis, home-grow of up to six plants and gifting – not sales – of up to an ounce.

The industry that’s emerged has worked its way around the sales ban through the gifting loophole. Dozens of delivery services now sell candies, baked goods, art and more, with the purpose of gifting cannabis to customers. A postcard-sized art print, for example, might cost $55 or $60 – the market price for an eighth in D.C. Vendors at events like the Capital Cup adhere to the same system, selling bracelets, art, rolling papers and more to move their flower, edibles, tinctures and concentrates.

“You’ve gotta follow the rules,” said Mark, the hired head of security at the Capital Cup. “Give ‘em an inch, they try to take a mile.”


Washington DC’s Cannabis Scene Braces for the Trump Era

The Initiative 71 Economy

Many companies in the I-71 economy rely on word of mouth or social media channels like Reddit and Instagram to draw customers. Cannabis event planners share flyers online and take cover charges at the door. Vendors post when and where they’ll be setting up and what products they’ll have. Delivery services use the same tools to announce when they’ve got a new strain in.

‘I-71 makes you be more creative, operationally,’ says one gray market entrepreneur.

Business is booming. Shay Etheridge, owner of The High Society, which planned the Capital Cup, estimated that 2,000 paying patrons attended over the two-day event. (Admission on Saturday cost $20.) She hosts around four events a month, generating revenue from cover charges, working with promoters and renting spots to vendors.

“I’m growing every day,” she says. “The more people that we can get to come out to events, the more people don’t have to go and find somebody on a corner somewhere, or feel like they’re in a bad situation.”


We Made Infused Dips and Drinks With Pearl2O Cannabis Water

Plenty of Room for Growth

A quick search for “#dcweed” or “#i71” on Instagram indicates there’s plenty of product to go around, with demand to match.

‘Someone could enter the market today and be making enough money to live in D.C., which is saying something.’

‘Henry Mullins’, delivery service operator

“The market is not at all saturated,” says the operator of a delivery service called High Focus, who identified himself with the pseudonym Henry Mullins. “Someone could enter the market today and be making enough money to live in D.C., which is saying something.”

Mullins started High Focus in February 2017, selling small art prints online for $60 each. Those looking for a specific strain or, more generally, indica or sativa, can check his Instagram for updates and order via his webpage. If it’s available, he’ll give them a time window for delivery.

He says he makes 35 to 50 weekly deliveries, and as many as 60 per week during the summer.

“It’s like legal sales with the same method that people used for decades,” he says. “All you have to do to start one of these companies is have a website that people can order from, and have supply.”


Can Landlords Ban Legal Cannabis? Here’s What the Law Says

300 Deliveries a Month

Canamelo, another delivery company, launched in April 2017. Its founder, who also spoke with Leafly using a pseudonym, Melo, uses traditional business tools like inventory management and analytics software to keep track of supply and customer trends. He’s hired two drivers, effectively tripling his delivery capacity – a key upgrade in light of the two-ounce possession limit. Nine months in, he says Canamelo makes around 300 deliveries a month by selling candies and gifting cannabis to customers.

“[I-71] makes you be more creative, operationally,” he says. “We kind of have to be strategic…how do we restock, how do we control our inventory?”


Sessions Rescinds Cole Memo, Which Protected State-Legal Cannabis From Feds

Tourists Getting in on the Action

Tourists and wealthy D.C. residents, both common commodities in the capital, have fed the boom.

“I deliver to a lot of people who are like, ‘Oh my god, I haven’t smoked weed since the 70s,’ or just tourists visiting D.C.,” Mullins says. Many of High Focus’ deliveries take place downtown, a largely non-residential area of the city.

Melo says his clientele are “working professionals, 30 and up, highly educated people. It’s not uncommon for us to be in like an exclusive penthouse-type situation…I’ve got some people that just give me $100 and say ‘keep the change.’”

Keeping it Craft Scale

Cannabis activist Adam Eidinger is arrested by Capitol Hill police during a rally to support the legalization of marijuana, Monday, April 24, 2017, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Smoking cannabis in public remains illegal everywhere in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Not everyone in the I-71 economy is seeking rapid growth. Lucy Parker started making small-batch flavored tinctures as a side gig last year. She flavors each one, turning them into breath mint-like concoctions. She works with promoters to gift them to customers under the brand Lucy Parker’s Herbal Solutions.

“Plenty of the value of my product is my actual time,” she says. “One flavor can take an hour to get right, and I don’t produce gallons of it – I produce ounces.”

For her, staying small allows her to keep a low profile, where she’s comfortable.

“You don’t want to get too big to attract attention,” she says, “but you want people to know who you are.”

Pushing the Law, or Breaking It?

While many D.C. residents have embraced their gray market, tensions have emerged over how some participants interpret or skirt the law. Leafly spoke with multiple vendors who expressed concern that public use at events – as well as the crowds – risks drawing unwanted attention from law enforcement.

Cannabis consumption events are ‘totally illegal,’ says Adam Eidinger, co-founder of DCMJ. ‘The bar can be shut down by the mayor, and there’s no appeal.’

I-71 didn’t permit public consumption, such as the dabs and smoking seshes happening at bars, and D.C. lawmakers banned social clubs last year.

“Totally not legal,” says Adam Eidinger, a prominent D.C. cannabis activist. “The bar can be shut down by the mayor, and there’s no appeal. This is something that is on the books.”

Eidinger drafted the language for Initiative 71, and has been organizing large-scale cannabis protests since 1999. He remains a prominent booster of homegrow and of gifting, in the most basic sense of the word, but shies away from any transaction involving cash and cannabis. On the day of our interview, he said he’d just declined an invitation for a $50 invitation-only cannabis-infused dinner. “I don’t care if it’s in your house,” he said. “You’re still selling the cannabis.”


DC Cannabis-Dealing Arrests Back to Pre-Legalization Levels

Etheridge, of The High Society, acknowledged the risks associated with hosting events, such as random checks of host venues from the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board. However, she says the board is more focused on ensuring vendors aren’t selling cannabis, and that public use isn’t a major concern.

“I have worried in the past” about getting in trouble for public use, she said. “But no, not so much because we’ve already kinda gone through the scariest part, I hope.”

Her chief priority is hiring extra security to make sure her vendors adhere to the gifting rule and possession limits. Mark, her security director, says he verifies that all vendors pre-package their gifts, IDs patrons to make sure they’re 21 or older, and keeps patrons from bringing lit joints outside.

Oftentimes, vendors come from other legal states like California and Colorado, and aren’t familiar with D.C.’s I-71 restrictions, Etheridge says.


Why a Good Smoke Session Is the Ultimate Bonding Experience

Dabs at ‘Stoner Saturdays’

Three miles east of the Capital Cup, a young upstart event planner who declined to give his name is hosting “Stoner Saturdays” at a Benning Road creative arts space. His event is much smaller, with about six booths inside and around a dozen patrons sifting in and out. He stands outside the door taking $5 cover charges, chatting with friends, patrons and passersby, some of them neighbors who he knows from growing up nearby.

His guests are taking dabs inside, but, like Etheridge, he says it’s not a risk. “As long as you’re not outside with it…cops, they know,” he says.

Eidinger worries about the brazen nature of some events, particularly those that draw large crowds. He still suspects a “mass crackdown” could happen any day, especially with Jeff Sessions, an outspoken legalization opponent, helming the U.S. Justice Department in the same city. “There have been raids,” he says. “There was a raid this summer. A lot of people got arrested during one of these grassroots cannabis events.”

But he agrees that largely, there may be some unspoken code by which law enforcement “are so altruistic in the city that they know what’s going on, that they’d rather just manage it than arrest everybody.”

The District government’s motto, he says, has been, “‘if there’s no one complaining, we’re not looking for it.’ It just isn’t a high priority. And that’s great. I really appreciate that perspective.”

 What’s In This Stuff?

A visitor from a state with a fully regulated cannabis economy will notice what’s missing in D.C.: Vendors aren’t required to track supply chains, test products or pay taxes on cannabis sales.

The delivery operators, vendors and event planners who spoke with Leafly said they’d prefer to have a regulatory structure with all of those pieces.

‘We keep it as honest as possible,’ says one vendor, ‘but I do know of companies that take advantage, and just have shitty stuff.’

“My heart is for the medical [patients],” says Selena at Stoner Saturdays. She worked behind a stand for her edibles company, Bud Baker Products. “If you don’t regulate it, people are gonna get turned off or get sick.”

It would bring some added credibility to those producing high-quality products, adds Parker, the tincture maker. “I think we’d all be happier with testing because then we’d have numbers and actual certifications to back up our product claims.”

Some have taken the responsibility upon themselves.

As a minimum, Mullins, of High Focus, checks every batch from growers, and won’t sell any bud that’s not up to snuff. “We do keep it as honest as possible, but with there being no actual structure, I can definitely imagine this being taken advantage of. I do know of companies that take advantage of the structure and just have shitty stuff.

Parker bought a tCheck machine to measure the potency of her tinctures and adjust them as needed. “It’s not a perfect system,” she admits.


7 Signs It Might Be Time for a Break From Cannabis

Voluntary Testing

Canamelo pays a testing company to verify product quality before packaging and labeling any goods. Melo says he preemptively deducts sales tax and pays it to the government in advance. He argues it could help his case if marijuana eventually becomes regulated similarly to Colorado, Oregon and other states.

“We’re hoping that by paying taxes early, we’ll be looked at favorably when it’s time to apply for licenses.”

The Home Rule Act Blocks Progress

While enthusiasm seems high for future regulation, federal law stands firmly in the way. Under the Home Rule Act, D.C. has the ability to set its own laws, but all are subject to congressional review. Congress used this power to try to block Initiative 71 from taking effect in 2014, when Maryland GOP Rep. Andy Harris added a rider to the federal budget blocking the District from using any federal to legalize a Schedule I substance.

Congress was then given 30 days to review the law that passed, but didn’t overturn it, despite members threatening local officials with jail time. What was left was an economically toothless legal market.

“After the initiative was passed, the District could not do anything to lessen criminal restrictions on marijuana,” explained D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson in November. “We are unable to develop a regulatory scheme as long as Congressional riders exist. This is very frustrating and not just from a Home Rule point of view, but it’s as if we’re caught in the middle decriminalizing and legalization as well as adopting a control system.”

Mendelson argues cannabis should be regulated similarly to alcohol, “but we can’t get there because Congress has a crudely constructed prohibition on us changing the criminal law.”


Here’s Where US Attorneys Stand on Cannabis Enforcement

Getting Well-Positioned

The future Eidinger envisions is one where public consumption is taxed similarly to alcohol at bars and restaurants, and where retail sales are subject to the city’s 5.75% sales tax. Homegrow and any medically prescribed cannabis should remain untaxed, he adds. Down the line, he hopes outdoor growing will replace indoor cultivation industry-wide.

While Eidinger admits D.C.’s legal system pales in comparison to those implemented on the West Coast – “they’re a decade ahead of us” – he argues the District is “the best place on the East Coast to be a cannabis entrepreneur.”

“People are growing in their home, creating products in their home, and using it as an incubator space,” he says. “These small entrepreneurs, they’re all working out systems for how to be cannabis businesspeople. They’re just well-positioned.”

For now, D.C.’s cannabis merchants are doing what they can with the system they’ve been given.

“I feel like it’s a gold rush here in D.C.,” said the host of Stoner Saturdays. “Why not capitalize and take advantage?”

The Next Federal Crackdown Could Look a Lot Like the Last One

Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ desire to slow or stop America’s experiment with marijuana legalization was obvious well before he gave the nod to federal prosecutors to go after state-legal cannabis. But his latest move, rescinding the Cole memo, has triggered speculation over what a Trump administration crackdown would look like.

Recent history might help answer that question. Crackdowns have happened before—and more recently than most people remember. Although they failed to permanently hobble the cannabis industry, enforcement actions from 2011 to 2013 offer examples of what a federal crackdown might look like.

One big lesson: Enforcement doesn’t always involve door-busting, SWAT-style raids. In the last major crackdown in California, the feds simply snuck in through the mailbox.


Cities Swap SWAT-Style Dispensary Raids for Softer Approach

Back in September 2011, California’s medical dispensaries were booming when a number of commercial property owners began to receive foreboding letters. The envelopes were thin, containing just a few sheets of paper, but there was cause for concern well before the first seal was broken: The envelopes bore the return address of the local United States attorney.

Nearly all the recipients were landlords who leased space to medical marijuana dispensaries, which in the years prior had popped up en masse across most of the state. Though many of the property owners had never so much as touched cannabis, they found themselves the target of the biggest attack on America’s marijuana legalization movement in years.

If it was meant to halt the legalization movement’s growing momentum, the crackdown backfired.

The landlords were given a choice: Either kick out their dispensary tenants or risk losing everything. Those who didn’t evict cannabis operators, the letters warned, could see their properties and other assets seized, and be sentenced to up to 40 years in prison.

It was an innovative strategy. And for a while, it worked.

Each US attorney took a different approach, but each saw success. Across California, hundreds of dispensaries closed. In some parts of the state, legal marijuana storefronts vanished entirely. Intimidated elected officials took a step back. Medical marijuana regulatory programs were canceled, and an ambitious plan to unionize the cannabis industry screeched to a halt. Patients protested. Prohibitionists cheered.

But the great California cannabis crackdown didn’t last. Dispensaries disappeared only to re-emerge as clandestine delivery services. The state’s oldest and largest dispensaries, such as Oakland’s Harborside Health Center, challenged the feds in court—and won. In the middle of it all, voters in Colorado and Washington legalized cannabis for all adults, drawing the Justice Department’s attention away from California.

If it was meant to halt the legalization movement’s growing momentum, the crackdown backfired.

Less than a year later, in August 2013, Deputy Attorney General James Cole issued guidance to US attorneys across the country. In a nonbinding memo, prosecutors were advised not to interfere in state-legal cannabis programs unless they ran into specific problems, such as diversion out of state, violence, or sales to minors. The document, which became known as the Cole memo, effectively de-prioritized federal cannabis enforcement in legal states.

By that time, the California asset forfeiture letters had stopped coming. In 2016, with full legalization on the ballot in California, more than a few cannabis advocates and entrepreneurs celebrated a triumph.


The Cole Memo: What Is It and What Does It Mean?

Then came Election Day, which ended with both an exclamation point and a question mark. Passing Prop. 64 made California the largest legal-cannabis state in the nation, but electing Donald Trump—whose views on cannabis seemed friendly but were largely unknown—caught the industry off guard.

Cautious optimism dissolved later that month, when Trump tapped then-Sen. Jeff Sessions as US attorney general. For legal cannabis, the selection of Sessions—who once rejected by his peers for a federal judgeship after joking that Ku Klux Klan members were “OK, until I found out they smoked pot”—was a worst-case scenario.

Since taking office, Sessions has steadily stoked more fears, openly deriding data that suggest cannabis could help ease the opioid crisis and declaring marijuana “only slightly less awful” than heroin.

For the first year, Sessions’ attacks came in speeches or offhand remarks. Then, on Jan. 4, he finally took action, rescinding the Cole memo and returning the nation—or the Justice Department, at least—back to its 2012 stance on cannabis.


A Top Cannabis Lawyer on What Losing the Cole Memo Means

It’s now up to the state’s four federal prosecutors to decide whether to pursue California cannabis businesses. If they do, they’ll be bound by the same constraints that faced the last crackdown: competing policy priorities, a limited budget, and overstretched prosecutors.

Meanwhile, the cannabis movement is larger, better funded, and more politically popular than ever. Many entrepreneurs say the opportunity for the Justice Department to stop legalization has come and gone. The DEA has only about 4,000 agents worldwide, and most US attorneys’ offices have relatively small staffs. It’s unlikely such a force could dismantle California’s industry, let alone the thriving cannabis sectors in multiple other states.

Sessions has heard all this before. He does not appear to care. The Trump administration has demonstrated a willingness to punish state and local officials who defy the White House’s agenda, and representatives from legal-cannabis states such as California and Washington have frequently been a thorn in the president’s side.

As the 2011-2013 California crackdown showed, even if the feds don’t have the army of agents necessary to wage an all-out drug war, they can still do significant damage to business plans, public opinion, and lawmakers’ attitudes with little more than lawyers and letterhead.

Within a year of the first letters, “hundreds” of dispensaries throughout the state had closed. There were no official tallies, but according to California NORML, thousands of legal jobs were lost, and tens of millions in local and state tax revenue disappeared with them.


Cannabis Jobs Count: Legal Marijuana Supports 149,304 Americans

Yet from the beginning, the crackdown was both erratic and arbitrary.

It wasn’t always clear who was being targeted—or why. In San Francisco, according to then-US Attorney Melinda Haag of the Northern District, only dispensaries within 1,000 feet of a park or a school—the circumference inside which drug dealing triggered stiff mandatory minimums—were targeted. But it soon became clear that protecting children wasn’t the only criterion.

Several first-generation dispensaries—known for “compassionate” programs that supported patients who were low-income, disabled, or veterans—got the axe. Meanwhile, slick newcomers who landed gushing writeups in the New York Times’ style section went untouched.

In the city’s notorious Tenderloin, tiny dispensaries shut down while street dealers up the street sold prescription pain pills, heroin, and methamphetamines unmolested.

Across the bay, in Berkeley, where Haag and her family lived, only one of the city’s three dispensaries received a letter. (It was chosen, rumor had it, because Haag drove past it on her commute to and from work.)


Here’s Where US Attorneys Stand on Cannabis Enforcement

Laura Duffy, then the US attorney for California’s Southern District, went as far as to threaten jail time for newspapers and other media personnel who ran cannabis-related advertisements. No outlets were ever prosecuted, but many advertisers scuttled contracts that helped keep media in business.

In a Sessions-led crackdown, the uneven approach to enforcement is likely to return. Absent a directive from Washington, DC, and the resources to accomplish it, each US attorney will be responsible for taking action—or not.

Some US attorneys named by Sessions to succeed Obama-era appointees have already aired their anti-cannabis views. McGregor Scott, Sessions’ new man in Sacramento, earned a reputation for pursuing harsh sentences against marijuana operators in the state’s cannabis-saturated Eastern District. Luke Scarmazzo, a Modesto man sentenced to prison for 20 years under a statute designed to pursue hardened drug-cartel capos, was put behind bars by Scott (and denied clemency by Obama).

Rural areas under Scott’s watch, such as Nevada County, where sheriff’s deputies are raiding bigger and bigger marijuana plantings, seem the likeliest locations for federal activity. As with the last crackdown, US attorneys are likely to select symbolic targets meant to maximize deterrence.


The Great Cannabis Clash of Calaveras County

Any federal enforcement actions against legal cannabis is likely to be not only a battle of strength but also one of endurance. While federal prosecutors found early success threatening asset forfeiture in 2011, over time they began to lose ground.

Major dispensaries such as Harborside, Berkeley Patients Group, and Shambhala Healing Center challenged eviction proceedings filed by their landlords and received state judges’ blessing to stay. They weren’t violating the terms of their leases, the reasoning went, so there was no cause to remove them.

When the Justice Department responded by filing asset forfeiture proceedings, those also failed. In Shambhala’s case, the dispensary’s landlord managed to settle its case for $150,000 after a state judge nullified the eviction notice. By 2013, Harborside—still in business and with its own asset forfeiture proceeding locked up in pretrial motions—felt confident enough to commission a short video mocking Haag in caricature.

Pushback had also grown in the form of public protests. In the Northern District, activists were harrying Haag so much that she began to cancel public appearances.

The crackdown was losing steam—and fast. But it would take three more years and Congress’s passage of a budget amendment (the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, now known as Rohrabacher-Blumenauer) forbidding the DOJ funding from pursuing state-legal cannabis for the feds to finally—if not publicly—admit defeat.


Federal Court Bars Justice Department From Prosecuting Medical Cannabis

By then, California’s legalization measure, Prop. 64, had already earned endorsements from high-wattage politicians like Gavin Newsom and millions of dollars in funding from politically prestigious bankrollers like tech billionaire Sean Parker. The country had shifted to a “new model” to address marijuana, Stanford University law professor Robert MacCoun told the San Francisco Chronicle in May 2016.

In the Sessions era, the “new model” includes broad support from conservative lawmakers. Florida U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, who represents one of the most reliably conservative districts in the country, joined U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colorado) in criticizing Sessions from the right. Gardner went as far as to threaten to hold up future judicial nominees in committee unless Sessions relented.

So far, Sessions’ move to pull the Cole memo has had only psychological impact—and not all of it negative. In the days after the memo was yanked Jan. 4, the Vermont legislature voted to legalized small amounts of marijuana for adults. While that bill does not include a legal commercial marketplace, if signed by Gov. Phil Scott, it would be the first time legalization came by the lawmaking process rather than ballot initiative.

Meanwhile, in New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy has promised to follow through with a campaign vow to legalize recreational cannabis within 100 days; and in New Hampshire, an adult-use legalization bill has already passed the state House.

It’s much, much too late to stop marijuana legalization. If Sessions’ goal is to slow it, he must act soon. If he does, we could be in for a repeat of the 2011-2013 era. And that did not end well for the feds.

Florida Supreme Court Disbars Medical Marijuana Lawyer

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — A Florida lawyer was disbarred Thursday for telling clients it was OK to possess, use and grow marijuana for medical use — more than two years before Florida approved medical marijuana.

The Florida Supreme Court said in its order that some of Ian Christensen’s clients were arrested and some lost their jobs because of his bad advice. One client who was provided a “grow sign” to announce he was cultivating marijuana at home was arrested after someone saw the sign and called 911. Another client growing marijuana had a SWAT team storm his home.

The court said Christensen’s ‘Official Legal Certification’ certificates were legally meaningless and his incompetence caused his clients serious harm.

Christensen formed Health Law Services in Jacksonville within a year of being admitted to The Florida Bar in 2013. He referred clients to a doctor who would “prescribe” them marijuana and then issued “Official Legal Certifications” and identification cards saying they had a medical need for the drug and could legally possess use and grow it.

But none of it was legal and the doctor clients paid $799 to see wasn’t even licensed to practice in Florida.

“One of the clients lost her nursing license of twenty-five years and the other lost his engineering job of fifteen years,” the court wrote. “In addition, their landlord sued them for damages to the home during the raid and lost rent.”

Voters passed a constitutional amendment in 2016 to authorize medical use of marijuana, and lawmakers last year put rules in place for its use and cultivation. Homegrown marijuana and smokable forms of the drug aren’t authorized.


Florida Adding 264 Patients Per Day, Outsourcing Medical Marijuana ID Cards

Even so, Christensen was advising clients well before the amendment and subsequent law was passed.

The court said Christensen’s “Official Legal Certification” certificates were legally meaningless and his incompetence caused his clients serious harm.

“Several clients who relied upon (Christensen’s) erroneous advice were arrested and criminally prosecuted, and their lives were devastated,” the court wrote.

A message left for Christensen seeking comment wasn’t immediately returned.

Report Supports Help for Minorities in Medical Cannabis Industry

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Data on discrimination in Maryland’s overall economy provides “a strong basis in evidence” to support helping businesses owned by women and minorities in the types of industries relevant to the state’s fledgling medical marijuana industry, a state report released Wednesday said.

The report, released by Gov. Larry Hogan’s administration, was conducted by Jon Wainwright, an economist and managing director of NERA Economic Consulting. Wainwright noted a state disparity study from last year that found discrimination continues to adversely affect minority- and women-owned firms throughout Maryland.


Data Dive: Breaking Down Maryland’s Medical Cannabis Industry By Race & Gender

The report noted that last year’s study found evidence to suggest that economy-wide state contracting disparities in Maryland’s relevant markets are “even greater than disparities in the public sector.” The report said the difference may be because the state has operated an assertive minority business enterprise program to remedy discrimination — a program that would tend to reduce, but not yet eliminate, the effects of discrimination in public procurement.

“Absent such affirmative remedial efforts by the State, I would expect to see evidence in the relevant markets in which the medical cannabis licensees will operate that is consistent with the continued presence of business discrimination,” Wainwright wrote in the report.


Washington’s Cannabis Law Is an Obstacle to Equity. It Doesn’t Have to Be.

The report supports efforts by lawmakers who are sponsoring legislation that would create five new medical marijuana cultivation licenses for minority-owned businesses. None of the 14 companies licensed to grow marijuana in the state has black owners, even though nearly one-third of the state’s population is black. A bill last year to add licenses failed to pass in the closing minutes of the session.

Maryland’s long-stalled medical marijuana program got off the ground last month, when some dispensaries began selling medical marijuana in the state. Companies have shown a strong interest in Maryland, because the market is expected to be lucrative. That’s because marijuana is available for any severe condition for which medical treatments have been ineffective. Nurse practitioners, dentists, podiatrists and nurse midwives can recommend its use, as well as doctors.