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Fix PAT with Pot

Pennsylvania is experiencing a budget crisis. No shock there. The state has been experiencing budget shortfalls for what seems like forever.

This morning, WTAE TV 4, Pittsburgh, is reporting on proposed legislation in the state House that would significantly cut funding for public transportation. The cuts would have a catastrophic effect on Pittsburgh public transportation.

The Port Authority of Allegheny county could lose as much as $100 million between the loss of funding coupled with the loss of revenue the proposed cuts would cost PAT through discontinued routes and service cuts.

It would mean a significant loss of jobs as well, forcing layoffs for a substantial number of PAT employees.

The loss of evening and weekend service would leave thousands in Pittsburgh without the means to get to and from work, school, doctor appointments, grocery shopping, etc. It would force PAT to raise rates (that are already among the highest in the nation) to levels that would disproportionately impact the poor and disenfranchised, as well as senior citizens who depend on buses and the T to get around town, and would leave many people stranded in outlying communities, where getting a cab or Uber is not a financially viable option for them.

There are an estimated 1 million marijuana users in Pennsylvania who spent an estimated $2.3 billion on illegal weed last year.

Translation: Pennsylvania missed out on approximately $585 million in tax revenue. That’s just one year.

That’s money that could easily solve many of Pennsylvania’s budget woes. It’s money that could go to educate kids, treatment for addiction, infrastructure repairs and, yes, keep the buses and trains running on time.

And that figure does not include the savings to law enforcement and the justice system from not prosecuting and incarcerating citizens for marijuana. It would allow them to focus on truly dangerous drugs like heroin and meth.

The state of Pennsylvania already sells alcohol. Why not marijuana? The most harmless and least toxic intoxicant there is.

 

 

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Vinni BelfioreFix PAT with Pot
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Cannabis Business and Taxes: Section 280E

One of the greatest challenges facing the emerging Pennsylvania Medicinal Cannabis Industry is addressing taxes and appropriate deductions for operating expenses.

Because Marijuana is classified as a Schedule 1 controlled substance, it falls under Section 280E of the Internal Revenue code, which denies a medical marijuana business from deducting the business operating expenses on their tax return, even in states where the sale of medical marijuana is legal.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit recently ruled on it’s second tax case involving IRC 280E in Canna Care vs. The Commission.

Canna Care, Inc., of California, appealed a decision by The United States Tax Court that IRC 280E applies to a business engaged in the sale of a substance that, while legal in California, is still illegal under Federal law.

The Tax Court ruled that medical marijuana is a Schedule 1 controlled substance and that the sale of medical marijuana is always considered trafficking under IRC 280E, even when permitted by state law.

The Ninth Circuit ultimately upheld the Tax Court ruling, however, Canna Care attempted to raise new issues on appeal, including a Constitutional challenge of IRC 280E as being a violation of the 8th Amendment protection against imposing excessive fines, however, because the issue was not raised in the original case, the Ninth Circuit did not rule on the Constitutional argument.

Challenging federal statues on constitutional grounds can often be difficult, but the constitutional arguments may have some merit. It is a best practice to raise all arguments before the court so they are not waived on appeal.

Further, all cannabis related businesses should consider filing protective refund claims, which will keep open the statute of limitations in the event IRC 280E is overturned by a court.

It is important for a cannabis business to understand the impact of IRC 280E on it’s tax liability and the potential risks of NOT applying IRC 280E when filing a return. The immediate tax savings may be attractive but in the long run, those savings must be weighed against the potential costs of having to defend their position down the road.

Cannabis Legal Solutions is available to help cannabis businesses develop a plan for dealing with IRC 280E and creating a strategy to negotiate the negative affects of IRC 280E and defend their position if challenged.

 

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Educational Cannabis Law Presentations with Patrick Nightingale

Patrick K. Nightingale is a leader in the formation of Pennsylvania’s medicinal cannabis industry. In fact, Mr. Nightingale was a central figure in getting Pennsylvania’s Act 16 Medicinal Cannabis Law passed. He has testified at the Pennsylvania State House on behalf of patients and has worked with state and local officials to bring about meaningful change in Pennsylvania’s treatment of cannabis as medicine.  He is currently working with the city of Pittsburgh to implement a decriminalization policy for possession of small amounts of marijuana.

Mr. Nightingale is a regular guest speaker on the subject of marijuana law for a number of major media outlets throughout Pennsylvania, including KDKA radio and television, WTAE TV 4, Pittsburgh City Paper and the Pittsburgh Tribune Review.

His knowledge and experience are unparalleled and he is available to bring that knowledge to your next conference or group meeting.

Mr. Nightingale has been the featured speaker at many medicinal cannabis-related events, and has also taught his fellow attorneys at various Continuing Legal Education (CLE) classes for the Allegheny County Bar Association, Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office and the 2017 Westmoreland County Bench Bar Conference.

If you’d like to book Mr. Nightingale to speak at your next event or conference, please contact Cannabis Legal Solutions at 412.553.1744.

 

 

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Cannabis Legal News Update 08-07-17

There has been a lot of news this week in the world of marijuana law.

New Legislation has been introduced by New Jersey Senator Cory Booker (D) that is being described as ‘the most far reaching overhaul of federal marijuana law ever introduced’. The Bill addresses the disparity between arrests of minorities for marijuana related crimes — African Americans are 4 times more likely to be arrested and incarcerated than white people. Booker’s Bill would legalize marijuana, expunge federal marijuana convictions and penalize states with racially-disparate arrest or incarceration rates for marijuana-related crimes. The changes are aimed at undoing some of the harm the nation’s decades-long war on drugs has inflicted on poor and minority communities.

Read the full Washington Post article here.

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions may be the biggest anti-marijuana politician since Richard Nixon. Since taking over the Justice Department, Sessions has repeatedly called for a crackdown on states with legalized marijuana and he created a Task Force to study ways to do it.

Mr. Sessions got a disappointing response from his team when the panel came back with a recommendation that more study was needed before they could make any suggestions. In fact, the panel pretty much took a wait and see approach that is consistent with the hands-off policy of the Justice Department under President Obama. After initially suggesting he would continue that hands-off approach, President Trump has remained silent on the subject of legalization.

Sessions recent attacks on Washington State’s legal Marijuana program were called, “Uninformed” and are “…based on outdated information.”

Read the full Seattle Times article here.

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Cannabis Legal Solutions’ own Patrick K. Nightingale has been selected by the Allegheny County (Pittsburgh) District Attorney’s Office to teach his peers in the legal profession about medicinal cannabis. The upcoming Continuing Legal Education (CLE) seminar will be held Friday, August 25 in courtroom 313 at the Allegheny courthouse. There is a $15 fee. Contact Lynn Gettings at 412-350-3110 to register.

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Patients in Pennsylvania are one step closer to to getting the medicine they need. The state has confirmed two training courses for Pennsylvania doctors to get certified to recommend medicinal cannabis to their patients. One is online and one is in person.

Check out this article in The Incline for more information.

 

 

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Patient Advocacy Needs to Take Center Stage

Patrick Nightingale testifying at the Pennsylvania State House.

The passage of Pennsylvania’s Act 16 medicinal cannabis act has generated a lot of interest among the business and legal communities, offering many opportunities for a wide variety of professionals.

And it’s not just growers and dispensaries, either.

Contractors, real estate developers, lighting suppliers, medical equipment manufacturers, staffing agencies and many others have jumped into the game.

This is a multi-million dollar industry that is offering many lucrative business possibilities, yet in the rush to generate profits, it’s important those of us in this rapidly growing field bear in mind why we’re all here: Getting patients medicine they desperately need.

Cannabis Legal Services is literally built on a long track record of patient advocacy. We are extremely proud of the central role founding partner Patrick Nightingale played in bringing Act 16 to life, and it’s important we as a firm continue to be a leading voice defending the rights of patients and their doctors to choose how they treat their medical conditions.

We encourage anyone getting into the medicinal marijuana industry to make patient advocacy central in their core business philosophy.

After all, patients who need medicine are the reason we’re all in this business in the first place.

Mr. Nightingale is available for speaking engagements to assist you in educating your employees and staff.  We’ll offer sound advice and counseling when it comes to patients rights, as well as advice regarding the continually evolving business landscape of Pennsylvania’s Act 16.

Email info@cannabislegalsolutions.net for more information on booking Mr. Nightingale to be a speaker at your next business meeting or event.

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“Play That Funky Music, White Boy” — Censorship, Art, and the Law

Art becomes entangled with the law through censorship, resulting in unintended consequences and a perversion of justice.
This clip from the past is an example of censorship utterly destroying a work of art and even worse, altering the facts to obscure an inconvenient truth.
And still worse, the censorship of the past has spread to the justice system itself.
Today.
The back story of this song, as well as the infamous chorus line, are absolutely true. It really happened.
It is significant to note “Play That Funky Music” is the most licensed song in history. That’s how much it resonates with people, and it crosses all barriers– race, religion, politics– all become irrelevant when this song comes on.
 
This is, to me, proof that as human beings, we all have some core traits that ultimately unite us. Music and art are most often examples– expressions– of our shared humanity.
Music and art also define us as a society. History museums prove this out.
Photographs, statues, paintings, poetry, symphonies and folk songs and crude markings on cave walls– these are most often the representatives of societies throughout history.
 
Unfortunately, there are many people who can ignore this inconvenient truth, and worse, try to bury it under their own prejudice, ignoring their own humanity in the process.
 
So we can fairly say those who endorse censorship will ultimately lie and hide the truth in order to impose their morality on others.
 
The real import of this is the underlying attempt at altering history itself, in order to fit a narrative based on motivated self-interest, regardless of the stated intent.
 
This struck me as being interesting in the current climate of restricting and controlling, “The Fourth Estate” and freedom of speech itself.
 
We are currently preparing a Supreme Court case involving a Rap song which was deemed a terrorist threat to police officers, so I’m very aware of how censorship can take on a life of it’s own and work it’s way into the justice system itself.
Censorship is a cancer that spreads throughout the body politic and eventually, the legal system itself.
.Censorship is not justice.
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Medicinal Marijuana in Pennsylvania FAQ

marijuana law reformWith the long awaited announcement of the recipients of Medicinal Cannabis Licenses, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania moves ever closer to bringing Act 16 to life, joining a majority of states recognizing the medicinal value of cannabis.

There are many questions about Pennsylvania’s Medicinal Marijuana legislation (Act 16), so we thought we’d address some of the most frequently asked questions here.

Keep in mind, Pennsylvania is treating medicinal cannabis as medicine, subject to the same restrictions and quality control standards for any other medicine available to the public– prescription or otherwise. Because of marijuana’s status as a recreational drug, there are some additional regulations in place to ensure the law is not abused by those simply looking to get high.

 

1. What are the qualifying medical conditions covered under Act 16?
A serious medical condition is any one of the following listed under the statute:

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis
Autism
Cancer
Crohn’s Disease
Damage to the nervous tissue of the spinal cord with objective neurological indication of intractable spasticity.
Epilepsy
Glaucoma
HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) / AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome)
Huntington’s Disease
Inflammatory Bowel Syndrome
Intractable Seizures
Multiple Sclerosis
Neuropathies
Parkinson’s Disease
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder
Severe chronic or intractable pain of neuropathic origin or severe chronic or intractable pain in which conventional therapeutic intervention and opiate therapy is contraindicated or ineffective
Sickle Cell Anemia

2. Will I be able to possess and smoke marijuana legally if I have a qualifying condition?

Smoking cannabis is strictly prohibited under the Act.  No patient with a recommendation may smoke cannabis.  Additionally, dry flower or dry herb is NOT an approved medical marijuana product under Act 16.  The DOH can considering dry flower as a “medical marijuana product” but ingestion would be restricted to vaporization and not smoking.

3. Can my current physician recommend medicinal cannabis for me if I have a qualifying condition?

Your physician must be qualified to treat your condition, and you must be under the physician’s “continuing care.”  The physician must complete a 4 hour training course approved by the DOH and the physician must register with the DOH.  The registration is reviewed annually.  (There is a link on DOH website for info to provide your physician)

4. Can I get ‘pre-certified’ for medical cannabis treatment?

The short answer is, No. Check out my recent blog on this topic for more information.

5. What qualifies as an approved medical cannabis delivery method, ie: medicine,  under Act 16?

Vaporization, nebulization, oral ingestion of oil or pill, topical.  IF a physician recommends a patient MAY incorporate their medical marijuana product in to an “edible” but edibles are otherwise prohibited.

6. Will I be allowed to grow marijuana for personal use to treat a qualifying medical condition?

Absolutely not.  PA does not permit “home grow” in any form whatsoever.  A single plant is a felony “manufacturing marijuana” offense.

7. Am I allowed to drive if I am a legal medicinal cannabis patient?

Act 16 places a 10 ng/ml limi of active THC.  Unfortunately, a patient may find him or herself over this limit merely by using their medicine.  A MMJ patient in PA runs a very real risk of a DUI even if using pursuant to their recommendation.

8. Can being a medicinal cannabis patient affect my employment status?

There is no single answer for this question. There are many factors involved, but it basically comes down to issues involving safety, security and insurance coverage.  Drug testing is often part of employment contracts. Even if an employer recognizes medicinal marijuana, their insurance provider(s) may not.
Legally speaking, employers have a right to know if an employee is using prescription drugs with deleterious effects, especially jobs involving heavy machinery, driving, law enforcement, EMS personnel, etc.

9. Will medicinal cannabis treatment be covered by my health insurance?

There is no medical insurance coverage for MMJ.  Act 16 specifically sets forth that insurance carriers are NOT required to provide coverage.
This doesn’t mean they won’t, but providers have thus far been silent regarding inclusion of  MM in their coverage. We suggest contacting your provider for more information.

10. Will medicinal cannabis products be available at my local pharmacy?

No – medical marijuana products will ONLY be available via a licensed dispensary.  A patient’s purchases will be tracked preventing a patient from “double dipping”.  Medical marijuana products MUST be kept in their original packaging.  A patient may only possess up to a 30 day supply.

 

 

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Ignorance or lies? Either way Jeff Sessions simply does not understand federal drug prosecution and federal drug sentencing

This morning I awoke to an op-ed published in the Washington Post authored by none other than Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, Attorney General of the United States of America.  Attorney General Sessions opines that the Department of Justice must “get tough” on drug offenders and the only path forward in increased incarceration.

 

What strikes me is Attorney General Sessions stunning ignorance of the effect of the United States Sentencing Guidelines, sentencing enhancements such as “Career Offender” or “Armed Career Criminal” and the potentially devastating effect of a Rule 851 Notice of a prior drug felony conviction.  Combined these sentencing provisions can put a young person (most often a person of color according to Bureau of Prisons statistics) in prison for twenty years to life for “conspiring” to sell an amount that triggers a mandatory.  And, remember, the mandatory provisions apply to Conspiracy to Distribute A Controlled Substance – meaning the feds can add up all of the weight allegedly distributed by ALL members of the Conspiracy when determining the applicable sentencing guidelines range for the street level dealer.

 

While the Department of Justice and federal law enforcement has the resources to tackle large drug distribution conspiracies, the fact remains that MOST drug investigations and prosecutions are at the state level.  While taking out a “drug trafficking organization” may feel satisfying to the investigating agents, it has zero effect on reducing DEMAND from drug users.  In other words, doubling down on arrests and prosecutions are, quite literally, meaningless when it comes to addressing the root causes of addiction, drug use and drug abuse.

 

Attorney General Sessions gives cursory treatment to the upsurge in heroin use and abuse in this country.  Completely absent from his statement is the very real role that the pharmaceutical industry has played in dumping enormous amounts of highly addictive prescription opioids on the streets of every American city and town and reaping stunning profits.  Individual states recognize this, and that is why states like Ohio and NJ have sued.  The fact that the United States Attorney General simply ignores this is inexplicable and inexcusable.

 

Further, either Attorney General Sessions is truly ignorant of federal charging policy under the Cole memo or he is deliberately lying about its provisions.  Federal prosecutors were 100% permitted to bring whatever indictments they believed were appropriate.  The Cole memo instructed prosecutors to consider whether or not to subject the addict husting to support their addiction to the full fury of federal prosecution.  Here in the Western District of PA opposing counsel assure me that they always weigh whether not to indict (and then always manage to justify indicting the “mule.”)  In practice, the Cole memo makes it more difficult for me to go to the prosecutor and ask him or her to review the indictment as they will have already done a Cole memo analysis before bring charges.

 

If the federal prison population declines I would submit this is a good thing, not an indication that we need to incarcerate more offenders.  If federal prison sentences are shorter I would submit this is a good thing as Courts are afforded more sentencing discretion to assess the individual defendant as was ALWAYS intended under federal sentencing law.  Seeking enhanced  mandatory minimum sentencing substitutes the sentencing discretion of the Court for the unreviewable discretion of a prosecutor, who is likely not motivated to consider the individual characteristics of the defendant.

 

Attorney General Sessions has hijacked criminal justice reform and veered dangerously towards policies that have been proven an utter failure.  It is up to all of us, conservative and liberal alike, to demand that the Attorney General not destroy bi-partisan sentencing reform efforts as we continue to struggle with our approach to this nation’s drug abuse issues.

 

Patrick K. Nightingale, Esq.

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Patrick NightingaleIgnorance or lies? Either way Jeff Sessions simply does not understand federal drug prosecution and federal drug sentencing
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The Real Marijuana Problem: The Law. Part 1, “Tom”

The US Stance on Medical Marijuana is Confusing at BestThe legal status of Marijuana does far more harm to citizens than using it ever could.

The following story is true. The names have been changed to protect the innocent.

“Tom” goes boating with friends over the holiday weekend on the river in Middleofnowhere County.  He was excited because he had saved up his money and bought a new boat, which he was taking on it’s maiden voyage.

Pennsylvania Fish and Game officers show up and pull him over — we’re still not clear on what their initial reason was– but they end up searching “Tom” and find a whopping gram of weed and a small pipe.

Fish and Game officers policing marijuana instead of protecting Bambi and Thumper is a mystery to me, but instead of just issuing a citation on what should be a simple matter, they arrest “Tom” and the floodgates of potential life-long repercussions open wide.

Just getting arrested, let alone convicted of a crime, has immediate negative ramifications. Family, friends, and more problematic, employers, are all suddenly sources of stress.

Hiring legal representation, missing time for court dates, which are often rescheduled, further dragging out the process and the emotional stress for the accused and their loved ones.

Employers in particular are not likely to ignore an arrest, especially if there are security and safety issues at play.

A marijuana possession conviction automatically results in suspension of driving privileges and can carry substantial fines, as well as a period of probation. Worst of all, it stays on your record.  This can adversely affect employment options and even restrict one’s ability to travel abroad.

Suddenly “Tom” goes from enjoying a holiday on his new boat to facing a complete disruption of his life. All over a gram of weed.

All because of the law.

Does that sound like Justice to you?

In Part 2, we’ll talk about a young lady who could — with the help of the police– graduate from marijuana to heroin in a most unexpected way.

 

 

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Patrick NightingaleThe Real Marijuana Problem: The Law. Part 1, “Tom”
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