Marijuana Reform News

The Cannabis Chronicles: A Brief Legal History of Cannabis

The Cannabis Chronicles

1906:
Congress passes the Pure Food and Drug Act. Cannabis is regulated as a drug.
1910:
Congress lists cannabis as a narcotic and regulates it as a poisonous substance. Various states begin regulating marijuana in the following years, adding it to a list of “habit forming drugs”.
1930’s:
In 1930, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics is formed, headed by Harry J. Anslinger, causing increased scrutiny of cannabis use.
Anslinger was a virulent racist who saw marijuana regulation as a weapon to use against African Americans, Hispanics and other groups he deemed undesirable, including certain entertainers like Jazz musicians. His agency churned out most of the “Reefer Madness” propaganda we now find laughably outrageous.
The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 made possession and transfer of cannabis illegal except for medical and industrial uses. Cannabis was now being regulated and taxed, putting the United States in the weed business.
In 1938, Congress passes the Pure Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act, resulting in the creation of the Food and Drug Administration. Marijuana remains listed as a “dangerous drug”.
1940’s
During World War II, the need for hemp saw the government encouraging farmers to cultivate more hemp than ever before. Yet the medical efficacy of cannabis was still ignored.
In 1947, the DuPont corporation invented nylon, which competed with hemp as a fiber material, resulting in an end to hemp cultivation by the mid-1950’s.
1950’s
Things got much worse for cannabis in the 1950’s when Congress instituted severe mandatory sentences for a variety of drugs, including cannabis. The penalty for cannabis possession as of 1956 became a minimum 2-10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine.
1960’s
The decade most associated with drug use is ironically the decade of virtually no anti-drug legislation. This would all change after the election of Richard Nixon in 1968.
1970’s
In 1970, the Nixon administration went to war on drugs beginning with the Controlled Substances Act and the creation of the Schedule List for drugs, which identified cannabis as Schedule 1– along with drugs like Heroin– as having the greatest potential for abuse and no medicinal value. In 1973, the DEADrug Enforcement Administration— was formed, and the War on Drugs was truly on.
1980’s
The 1980’s saw the criminal penalties associated with drugs become much harsher under the Reagan administration with the institution of mandatory minimum sentences and the “Three Strikes Rule”. First Lady Nancy Reagan led an anti-drug crusade with increased propaganda– primarily aimed at children and teens– flooding the airwaves. Remember the egg frying while a somber voice intoned, “This is your brain on drugs” commercials?
1990’s
California Proposition 215, passed in 1996, changed everything by legalizing medicinal cannabis in that state. Over the next two decades, other states followed suit, bringing us to the present.
The Present
Currently, there are 29 states with some form of medical and/or recreational use protections for cannabis. States like Colorado are generating huge tax benefits from legal weed while experiencing a net decline in opioid abuse and teen drug use overall. Unfortunately, the appointment of Attorney General Jeff Sessions has cast a cloud of concern on cannabis legalization.

The fight goes on.

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Vinni BelfioreThe Cannabis Chronicles: A Brief Legal History of Cannabis
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The DEA Ignores Congress and Declares War on Hemp

When Congress passed the 2014 Farm Bill, they included industrial hemp as a legitimate agricultural concern.  The bill they passed allowed for research and crops grown by educational facilities and allowed states to determine what private parties could participate.

The Farm Bill defines hemp (Cannabis Ruderalis) as a plant that is separate from marijuana (Cannabis Sativa).  This determination is  based on the  lack of THC and no psychoactive components in hemp.  They defined the level of THC as being, “not more than .03 percent THC”, a level that is far below what it takes to produce a psychoactive effect.  The legislation purposely included ALL parts of the plant, including the flower, and any derivative thereof. This implicitly recognizes that the plant by itself requires processing in order to be of any value. That includes CBD extract.

Hemp CBD has no psychoactive effects and may have medicinal benefits.  Any potential medicinal value of hemp is for the FDA to determine, not the DEA.  Additionally, the DEA is not a law making agency. They have absolutely no authority to make the law.  Their authority is to enforce the laws made by Congress.   It is not within the scope of their power to reinterpret, redefine or dilute the law in any way.  And yet, that is exactly what the DEA is attempting to do.  In essence, the DEA is telling Congress, “We get to decide what the law you passed means, not you.”

Congress was very explicit in the wording of the Farm Bill, yet the DEA is attempting to circumvent the intent of the law.  Congress was definitely addressing the necessary processes of turning Hemp into various products. They specifically included ALL parts of the plant, including the flower, which is where CBD extracts come from.

As stated above, the DEA is a regulatory agency with no legislative authority whatsoever, yet they decided to ignore the stated intent of the Farm Bill by parsing the language to suit their own agenda, which in this instance resulted in their classification of CBD as a controlled substance.

The whole issue is now in the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.  An Amicus Brief has been filed by 28 Senators and Congresspersons in support of the plaintiff in Hemp Industries Association v. Drug Enforcement Administration. It is clear Congress will not let the DEA get away with what is a case of over-reach on their part.  We’re keeping a close eye this case as it has far reaching implications.

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Vinni BelfioreThe DEA Ignores Congress and Declares War on Hemp
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A Busy Opening Week for Medicinal Cannabis

A sampling of Cresco Yeltrah products.

The first week of Medicinal Cannabis sales in Pennsylvania is complete, and it was booming.

In fact, dispensaries were so busy demand exceeded supply.

Cresco Yeltrah is the only grow facility which was able to provide products at the current time, and dispensaries went through their first shipment in 3 days.

CY Plus is a Cresco Yeltrah dispensary located in Butler PA, and was the first dispensary to open their doors.

Cannabis Legal Solutions partner Patrick K. Nightingale was the third patient served at CY Plus and consequently was also the third patient in the state of Pennsylvania to receive medication under the new medicinal cannabis law.

Here in Allegheny county, Solevo, located in Squirrel Hill (Pittsburgh) opened their doors on Tuesday and also went through their stock as well.

(At the time of this writing, both dispensaries should be restocked.)

Theresa Nightingale, Patrick’s wife and Chairperson of the Pittsburgh NORML Women’s Alliance, was one of the first patients served at Soleva’s dispensary, which is only a couple blocks from her residence.

Both reported very professional treatment and impressive facilities and the quality of the product was first rate according to the  Nightingales.

Prices were a little higher than expected in Butler, but this is probably a reflection of the lower patient population in that area of Pennsylvania and is something that will level out as more producers come online and the marketplace stabilizes itself over the coming months.

There are still some unanswered questions regarding medicinal cannabis in Pennsylvania, and over the next couple months, many will no doubt be answered.

One of the biggest concerns we’re hearing from potential patients is how having a medical cannabis card will affect gun ownership. It will not affect guns patients already own however, it does mean patients will not be able to purchase additional firearms.

The ATF form for gun purchases requires disclosing use of any controlled substance, including marijuana. Lying on the form is a felony, so we strongly advise patients to purchase any new firearms prior to getting their card.

Of course, the only way to change this situation is to reschedule marijuana from schedule 1 to schedule 2. Cannabis Legal Solutions encourages Pennsylvanians to contact their representatives in the House and Senate and tell them you believe the law needs to change.

The need is real. Twenty nine states now have some form of legalized cannabis, either recreational  and/or medical. Our elected officials can not continue to ignore the winds of change sweeping the nation.

Law abiding citizens should not be under the treat of prosecution by the Federal government for taking medicine that is legal in the state in which they reside.

The overwhelming demand exhibited on opening week shows there is a significant portion of the population who needs this important medication.

That’s a decision that should be left to patients and their primary care physicians, not the federal government.

We are rapidly approaching the inescapable conclusion that the Federal government needs to take action on this, instead of kicking these very real problems down the road.

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Vinni BelfioreA Busy Opening Week for Medicinal Cannabis
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Marijuana For Teens: The Thrill is Gone

Teenagers love testing boundaries. They enjoy courting danger. They are, in general, thrill seekers.

For some, the thrill of scoring illegal drugs is very tempting.

Most drug users will tell you there is a “high” in the act of just scoring more drugs.  There is danger, excitement, suspense.

Legalization of marijuana has removed a lot of that real and/or perceived danger from purchasing marijuana.

For starters, legalization takes away the profit motive for drug dealers.  Why sell marijuana and risk prosecution if your customer base can just go to a dispensary to get their stash?

Of course, teens cannot buy marijuana at dispensaries in the first place, but the same is true of alcohol and the liquor store.  Unless we missed something, no one is running a still that caters to the teen market.

Drinking alcohol is a social thing and is far more acceptable to society as a whole, which goes a long way in explaining why teens drink to begin with.

Alcohol is sold and consumed at a variety of gatherings– sporting events, concerts– and is advertised on television and in magazines.

This is not true of marijuana, even in states where is legal for recreational use.

There are no ads on TV featuring supermodels or characters like Spuds McKenzie, glamorizing marijuana use for impressionable young people to see.

Even where it is legal, public consumption of marijuana is generally restricted and more frequently, banned altogether.

Going to score drugs from a drug dealer is an exciting adventure.  Buying them at the store is rather mundane.  For a teenager, there is not much danger involved with standing in front of a liquor store asking adults to buy you a bottle of booze.

In fact, it’s kind of pathetic and not exactly, “cool”.

In states where marijuana is legal, and the black market no longer exists, the thrill of scoring weed is gone.

Perhaps this explains the drop in teen marijuana use in states where it’s been legalized. It’s just not cool anymore.

Add to that the negatives of smoking in general.

Teen cigarette use is way down from 20 years ago, in part because it’s been vilified as unhealthy and a nasty habit to boot.  Not smoking is way cooler than smoking to today’s youth.

Which brings us to Tide Pods.

Tide Pods have killed more people in the past 6 months than marijuana has in it’s whole history, and they don’t even get you high!

Yet we see thrill seeking teenagers eating plastic detergent pods simply for the thrill.

No high, no addiction issues… just the thrill of doing something, well, incredibly stupid.

Legalization for recreational use means no more dangerous drug deals in seedy neighborhoods. No more dealers battling for turf. Just a trip to the store.

No excitement there.

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Vinni BelfioreMarijuana For Teens: The Thrill is Gone
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Legalization: The Fight Goes On

Since Pennsylvania passed Act 16, the state medicinal cannabis program has been in the news with regularity.

On the one hand, the coverage has been a plus in terms of raising awareness and ‘normalizing’ the idea of marijuana as medicine.  It has opened the door to frank discussion.

On the other hand, the victory in getting Act 16 passed seems to have lulled the public into the idea that marijuana is legal– that the work of legalization is done.

This is of course not the case at all.

Marijuana remains on the Federal Schedule 1 list (meaning it has no medical benefits and a high potential for abuse), despite the overwhelming body of evidence showing it does in fact have medicinal efficacy.

The conflicting positions of the Federal government and States where it is legal in some form– either medicinal or recreational– has opened a proverbial legal can of worms.

The are still many questions that have no clear answers.

Questions like, how does having a medical marijuana card impact an individual’s rights? For example, does having a medical marijuana card affect gun ownership? How does it affect the right to privacy regarding medical records?  What is the role of the IRS and tax laws regarding profits and/or income from a Schedule 1 substance being deposited in banks?

What about potential criminal penalties when taking medicine into a State that does not have a medicinal cannabis law on the books?

How about DUI laws and medicinal cannabis, or possessing an otherwise legal medication on Federal property?

Will health insurance cover treatment in the future?  Will companies continue to drug test employees for marijuana in States where it legal for recreational use?

And the big question, what is the position of the Federal government on all this?

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been ambiguous when asked whether or not the Justice Department will work to curtail the legalization process or respect the will of the people.

Of course, actions speak louder than words and so far, the AG is quietly pushing an agenda that appears unfriendly to the legalization movement.  His is a process of incrementalism, which includes what could be called, ‘vaguely stated, thinly veiled threats’ to roll back the progress legalization has made.

During the Presidential campaign, Sessions’ boss, President Trump, was quoted as saying he would not interfere with the legalization process,  but has since been silent on the subject.

Sessions was in Pittsburgh about a week ago, speaking at the Federal courthouse downtown. Pittsburgh NORML and other groups gathered to protest the AG, but to be candid, the turnout was exceptionally small.

A large turnout would have made a strong statement to the AG, which is why we’re concerned that people may think our work is done.

With an Attorney General in office who is openly hostile to marijuana law reform, it is more important than ever for people to make their voices heard.

Call your representatives. Let them know it’s time for a change at the Federal level. Marijuana should be rescheduled.

 

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Vinni BelfioreLegalization: The Fight Goes On
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Fentanyl: The True Gateway Drug

Prince

Lil’ Peep

Tom Petty

Delores O’Riordan

All were famous musicians… ‘rock stars’, as it were.

All of them overdosed.

Not the cliche’ heroin OD with a dirty needle in a seedy setting like so many rock stars have done in the past.

They were taking a prescribed drug. A drug that doctors apparently pass out with little regard for the potential consequences. A drug from which pharmaceutical companies reap profits that rival a cartel.

All of them are now dead and all were killed by Fentanyl.

Tom Petty, who was prescribed this medication for chronic pain from a broken hip, simply wanted to keep touring, and the pain was preventing him from performing. Unfortunately, the potential for abuse with any pain killing medications is a real concern. With Fentanyl, it is especially so.

Fentanyl is a highly addictive and extremely powerful drug that mimics the effects of heroin. It is regularly mixed with heroin because it is very cheap to manufacture, significantly increasing the potential profits of dealing heroin. The Federal Government estimates as much as 70% of the heroin they seize is now laced with Fentanyl.

And while the tragedy surrounding the untimely deaths of beloved musical icons is painful, it is a drop in the bucket of death when compared with loss of life among the thousands of average people who have died because of this scourge.

This is truly a problem of epic proportions for society as a whole, and it’s being caused by the very people and agencies who are supposed to be looking out for, We, the People.

Fentanyl prescriptions almost always lead to abuse, and once the prescription runs out, people who have become addicted often turn to illegal substances like heroin to fill their need.

Talk about a Gateway Drug!

And it’s FDA approved.

The Federal government thinks marijuana is a problem, but Fentanyl is okay.

The facts make this position untenable.

The arguments against legalization of marijuana are becoming increasingly absurd, bordering on delusional.

The government is playing both sides of the street, and they’re getting away with it.

The United States holds a patent on marijuana as a medicine for the treatment of cancer and brain trauma, yet marijuana remains a Schedule 1 drug, on par with heroin, because according to the patent holder, it has no medical efficacy.

We’ll wait a moment while you read that last paragraph again.

It can be fairly stated that at this point, the fox is truly guarding the hen house.

And meanwhile, thousands continue to die while the FDA, Attorney General, DEA and Congress continue to ignore the mounting evidence that Fentanyl is deadly and marijuana is truly the least toxic and safest of all recreational drugs. In fact, in states where marijuana is legal, the rates of opioid abuse have actually decreased by as much as 25%.

If there is a Gateway Drug, Fentanyl is it, and the gate keeper is the United States government.

This is madness and it needs to stop.

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Vinni BelfioreFentanyl: The True Gateway Drug
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AG Sessions and the Emerging Cannabis Industry

With today’s bombshell announcement from Attorney General Sessions, what is the future for the medicinal and recreational cannabis industry?

To be candid, we just don’t know.

On January 4, 2018, AG Sessions announced he was rescinding the Cole Memorandum drafted by former Deputy Attorney General James Cole in 2013.  The Cole Memo directed United States Attorneys to weigh a number of factors before exercising federal jurisdiction in states with medicinal or recreational cannabis programs.  The Cole Memo directed federal prosecutors to consider whether there is an increase in overall criminality, cannabis related DUI, increased use by minors and other factors.  In a recent federal prosecution the Court held that the United States must make a prima facie showing that the factors in the Cole Memo justified prosecution.

With the rescission of the Cole Memo, individual United States Attorneys are free to utilize their resources however they see fit without considering whether a state cannabis program was actually harmful.  The Department of Justice does not have unlimited funding, and issues such as the opioid crisis and wire fraud command significant federal law enforcement resources.

In addition to the Cole Memo, Congress attached the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment to the federal budget restricting the Department of Justice from utilizing Congressionally authorized funding to prosecute state cannabis programs.  AG Sessions sought relief from these restrictions in May, 2017, but was rebuffed.  Rohrabacher-Farr’s future is tenuous at best.  If it is not included in the final federal budget then there will be nothing stopping the Department of Justice from using its full weight against the emerging cannabis industry.

With over 60% of Americans polled supporting full legalization, it is difficult to understand why the Administration is on the apparent verge of a crackdown.  The cannabis industry is projected to be a 20 billion dollar industry employing tens of thousands.  Critically needed tax revenue is repairing Colorado’s schools and Washington’s infrastructure.  Countless Americans are no longer faced with arrest and prosecution for possession of a simple non-toxic plant.

What is the path forward?

Federal legalization is the only answer that will solve the push-pull between conflicting state and federal jurisdiction.  Rescheduling cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule II may go far in protecting personal medicinal use, but cultivation facilities and dispensaries could still easily be targeted.  The “hands off” approach of the Obama Administration may not have been perfect, but it allowed the emerging industry to demonstrate it was a net benefit for the communities and state in which it operated.

Here in Pennsylvania we do not believe that the United States Attorney for any of our three federal districts will shift resources from investigating large scale heroin trafficking organizations to focus on our highly regulated medicinal cannabis program.  We expect our United States Representatives and Senators here in Pennsylvania to respect the will of 88% of Pennsylvanians who support medicinal cannabis.

Once, not too long ago, we were assured that the President is “a businessman.”  He had no intention of killing the goose that laid the green egg.  The President respected state’s rights and supported limited government.  Well, with the announcement by AG Sessions, that has apparently been proven false.

Patrick K. Nightingale, Esquire

Partner, Cannabis Legal Solutions

Executive Director, Pennsylvania Medical Cannabis Society.

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Vinni BelfioreAG Sessions and the Emerging Cannabis Industry
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Medicinal Cannabis: Frequently Asked Questions, Part 2

Now that Pennsylvania has begun issuing Medicinal Cannabis Cards to Pennsylvania patients, we thought we’d revisit some of the frequently asked questions we often field here at Cannabis Legal Solutions.

Q: Can I grow my own marijuana?

A: Absolutely not. Cultivation of marijuana is a felony offense.  Depending on the circumstances, Manufacturing with Intent to Distribute can carry penalties of ten years or more. A medicinal cannabis card is no defense.

Q: Can I use my medicinal card in other states?

A: Yes and No, depending on the state in question.

Q: Can someone with a medicinal card issued by another state use their card in Pennsylvania?

A: No. Currently Pennsylvania has no reciprocal agreement with any other state allowing for out of state medicinal cards.

Q: If I have a medicinal cannabis card and get caught with marijuana, will I get charged with a crime?

A: Yes. Possession of marijuana is illegal even if you have a medicinal cannabis card. Only products certified by the Pennsylvania Department of Health will be available to patients and they must be purchased through a licensed dispensary.

Q: What does it cost to be registered with the program?

A: Compassionate Certification Centers charges $200 for the registration process. The Pennsylvania Department of Health also charges a non-refundable fee of $50 for the actual registration card. Charges may vary from other providers.

Q: Can my doctor give me a certification?

A: Only doctors registered with the PA Dept of Health can make a recommendation. You will need a diagnosis for your medical condition from your primary care physician no matter where you go to get registered.

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Vinni BelfioreMedicinal Cannabis: Frequently Asked Questions, Part 2
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Compassionate Certification Centers Begins Issuing Recommendations for Patients

Ken Shultz, Dr. Bryan Doner (CCC) and Patrick Nightingale

Our client, Compassionate Certification Centers opened its Downtown Pittsburgh office December 8 and is accepting patients seeking a medical cannabis recommendation.

Act 16 does not require a prior physician patient relationship. If you have a qualifying condition and your doctor is not registered you may seek a recommendation from ANY physician registered with the Department (provided said physician is accepting new patients.)

Theresa Nightingale, wife of Cannabis Legal Solutions founding partner Patrick Nightingale, is a cancer survivor. She was one of the first patients to get registered.

It was an emotional moment for Theresa, who was diagnosed with Non Hodgkins Lymphoma at age 13.

“It feels like a dream” said Theresa. “We worked so hard to make this happen. I’m almost in tears!”

Theresa has in fact worked very hard for legalization, petitioning lawmakers, making speeches, and she is the founder of the Pittsburgh NORML Women’s Alliance.

Theresa is herself the mother of a nine year daughter, so medicinal cannabis is something she works for not just for herself, but for all patients, young and old.

An estimated 10,000 patients were registered this week so far, and those numbers will continue to grow.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health is already issuing the cards for some of those certifications and they expect to send out quite a few over the next couple weeks.

Compassionate Certification Centers has locations throughout Pennsylvania and can assist patients wanting to register for a medicinal cannabis card.

Visit their website at www.compassionatecertificationcenters.com for information on costs, the process of getting registered and a complete list of qualifying medical conditions

It is important to note there is also a $50 fee for getting a medical card from the Department of Health.

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Vinni BelfioreCompassionate Certification Centers Begins Issuing Recommendations for Patients
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Ending Net Neutrality Strikes at Modern Activism

Why Net Neutrality Matters to All People

That’s really the whole point. Net Neutrality benefits ordinary people. It offers everyone a chance to research and access information on a scale that dwarfs all previous methods of communication.

More than that, it levels the playing field.

Net Neutrality stands for freedom.

Freedom of thought, of expression, of belief.

Net Neutrality has but one rule: Everyone has a voice and a chance to be heard.

The internet is as much a part of daily life as plumbing and streets. It is more than that in one aspect: It treats EVERYONE the same. We can all access it and determine what we feel has value to us.

We can choose to subscribe to a particular website if we want additional access to content on that website. Freedom of choice through access limited only by the website itself, not by one of three major corporate distribution entities and their partners, the government.

Think of it like channels on TV.

Corporations, are trying to turn the Internet into cable TV.

You’re going to pay for the channels whether you want them or not.  In fact, if you want access to channels you actually do want to pay extra  for, like Sling or Netflix, you’re gonna pay for that, too.

Even worse, the speeds at which you can stream will be limited by how much you pay, and worse still, the cable providers who control the majority of internet access, also operate their own streaming services.

Ending net neutrality will allow them to slow the streams of competing services in order to drive business to their own streaming services.

The truly disheartening part of all this is the effect it will have on ordinary people and activists in particular.

The Internet has been vital in the effort to attain legalization of medicinal marijuana. Activists can communicate easily and quickly with like minded individuals, sharing information to rally people to their cause.

Social media sites like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are integral parts of every activists game plan.

Sites like YouTube allow activists to instantly share video and information.

Once people have to pay extra to access those sites, what will happen to activism? How much will that limit their reach and potential impact?
If corporations can arbitrarily decide who can access what, and at what speeds that access will allow, what happens to the voice of the average person?

What happens to independent news sites when they are forced to compete directly with corporate controlled major media that is owned by the service providers themselves?

What will happen to activism then?

We urge everyone to contact their congressperson and the FCC and tell them Net Neutrality matters to you. To all of us.

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Vinni BelfioreEnding Net Neutrality Strikes at Modern Activism
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