Law and Cannabis in the US

Cannabis law in the United States is complicated, unevenly applied, and fraught with controversy. It is also a relatively new area of focus, so even many attorneys are unaware of the many contradictions and intricacies of the laws and policy initiatives. With all the confusion surrounding this issue we at CITIVA wants to help with understanding this hazy legal maze.

Federal Law

Any discussion of cannabis law should begin from the federal perspective. In a federal system like the US, the national and local (state) governments share power, with certain authorities assigned to each side. Currently, in 29 states and 3 overseas territories, the laws regarding cannabis are in conflict with federal law.

In 1970, the Controlled Substances Act became law and allowed the federal government to “schedule” (classify) drugs, ostensibly, based on the inherent dangers and benefits. Schedule 1 drugs have been deemed to have no recognized medical applications. Under this scheduling we find drugs like heroin, PCP, LSD, and… cannabis(!).

Unlike drugs like cocaine, fentanyl, and methamphetamine, the federal government believes that there are no safe medical uses for cannabis. While many states have contested this plainly absurd classification by legalizing the use and sale of cannabis, this distinction still has profound consequences. Research into cannabis is hobbled because researchers still require federal approval, which is rarely given. Companies that sell or handle cannabis cannot use most banks and are unable to write off business expenses like normal businesses. Most importantly, patients who require medical cannabis cannot bring their medication with them or purchase more when they leave their home state.

Though the federal government has taken a consistent hardline approach to cannabis there are a few cracks in facade indicating changing attitudes.

Ogden Memorandum

The first signal that the federal government’s position on cannabis was beginning to change came in 2009 in the form of the Ogden Memorandum. This document provides guidelines to federal prosecutors from the Department of Justice regarding cannabis in states where it has been legalized. The memo informs federal prosecutors in states where cannabis is legal, to not prosecute those engaged in the cannabis business as long as they are compliant with state law and do not trigger federal enforcement priorities. These priorities include: unlawful possession or unlawful use of firearms; violence; sales to minors; financial and marketing activities inconsistent with the terms, conditions, or purposes of state law, including evidence of money laundering activity and/or financial gains or excessive amounts of cash inconsistent with purported compliance with state or local law; amounts of marijuana inconsistent with purported compliance with state or local law; illegal possession or sale of other controlled substances; and ties to other criminal enterprises. This document did not have the force of law and was simply guidance but it had the effect of allowing the industry to breathe a little easier and thrive.

Rohrabacher–Farr Amendment

Another major advance for cannabis at the federal level is the Rohrabacher–Farr Amendment. This was a budget amendment that, while not legalizing or reducing penalties for cannabis, barred federal authorities from using resources to prosecute cannabis in states where it is legal. While this amendment has been instrumental in protecting thousands of businesses and millions of patients, it is a very precarious protection. If it is allowed to apse by congress, prosecutions could resume immediately.

DEA’s Decision on Cannabis Research

This initiative probably does the least to protect medical cannabis, it is significant nonetheless. Previously the DEA had strictly controlled all of the cannabis that could be used for research in the US. They enforced this monopoly rigorously which in turn had a chilling effect on cannabis research nationwide. In a weak attempt to compromise with the growing chorus of medical cannabis advocates, the DEA has loosened restrictions on research and is even allowing more universities to grow the plant for such purposes.

State Law

Before 1996 cannabis was fully and highly illegal in all 50 states. Now, 29 states and the territories of Guam, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia have legalized cannabis use and production in some form or another. These programs can be profoundly different in very important ways.

CBD Only

A few states that have legalized medical marijuana have only done so for so called CBD products. States like Alabama and Mississippi allow people with a qualifying condition to recieve low THC, high CBD products.

These states are not much different from states with outright bans on cannabis in two important ways. First, they usually limit the qualifying conditions in such a way as to keep the eligible population small and reduce it even more by making regulations very difficult to navigate. Second, cannabis products with THC levels below 0.3% can already be imported to any state in the country as a hemp product. CBD only laws are simply a way to quiet opposition without doing anything meaningful.

Medical Use

In 1996, California was the first state to legalize cannabis use and sales for medical purposes. Since then many states have followed their lead. In states with a medical cannabis program patients can buy cannabis or cannabis products from licensed dispensaries with a recommendation from their doctor.

Medical cannabis states vary widely in their application. In states like Arizona, patients with a recommendation can consult with dispensaries and choose from a variety of strains and products. In states like New York on the other hand, the medical cannabis program functions a lot more like a traditional pharmaceutical approach. The doctor recommends a specific product and dosage, no raw cannabis is sold, and recommendations must be renewed for refills.

Recreational

A small but growing number of states have decided to abandon the medical approach to cannabis all together and legalize use and sale for all adults in the state. Colorado was the first to take this approach. There, all adults 21 and over can purchase cannabis and cannabis products freely, without prior recommendation or approval. Though initially wary of legalizing cannabis, the government of Colorado was taken aback by the many benefits that legalization provided. Due to its massive success other states have followed and many more are sure to come.

* This information should not be construed as legal advice. If you have questions about your particular circumstance you should contact a licensed attorney in your state.



US Opioid and Cannabis Policy are Incompatible

Across the country communities are suffering from opioid addiction in epidemic proportion. For the first time in modern history overdose is killing more Americans than automobile accidents. Around 30,000 people are dying each year from opioids. Some have described it as “a 9/11 every month”. While the causes for these grim statistics are complicated and controversial, what is apparent is that we have a growing public health crises on our hands.

 

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Though it has taken some time to get the federal government’s attention on this issue the problem of opioid addiction is now squarely on its agenda. Politicians and administrators big and small have recognized the problem and are beginning to invest resources into addressing it. While some measures have been effective, others have been ineffective, or worse.

As public health experts, law enforcement, communities, and governments grapple with the issue and experiment with remedies, researchers continue to stumble on a correlation that should not be ignored. Everywhere cannabis is legally obtainable, fewer people are dying of opioid overdoses. Not only that, people are filling fewer prescriptions for opiates and fewer people are being hospitalized for opioid use.

The numbers are not statistical anomalies either. States with comprehensive medical cannabis programs have had a roughly 25% lower opioid mortality rate that states without one. These numbers show conclusively that access to cannabis saves lives and medical resources.

Cannabis may end the opioid epidemic; its causes are incredibly complicated. What it can do is prevent first time users of opiates by offering an analgesic alternative, it can help those suffering from withdrawal find relief, and it can help those with a medical need for opioids take less.

We can save thousands of lives and billions of dollars in healthcare dollars each year by changing our cannabis laws. It’s time to let our elected officials know: cannabis saves lives!



CITIVA Submits Application to Grow Cannabis for LSU

On Friday, CITIVA was one of seven companies to complete an application to Louisiana State University (LSU) for their medical cannabis program. LSU and the state of Louisiana accepted 7 final applicants for consideration. The chosen applicant would run the cannabis cultivation site at LSU, with oversight by the university.

 

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Louisiana became the first state in the Deep South to pass a law creating a functional medical cannabis program in 2015. Though the state had medical cannabis law on the books since 1976 it was largely symbolic. The 2015 bill allows patients true legal access.

Currently the program is restricted to patients suffering from one of the following conditions: chemotherapy for treatment of cancer, glaucoma, and spastic quadriplegia, a rare form of cerebral palsy that causes chronic muscle stiffness. However, the number of disease states could expand during next year’s legislative session.

Should CITIVA be selected as LSU’s cannabis cultivator, this would be our second medical university-based program and of the first of its kind in the United States. CITIVA’s flagship Research, Cultivation and Product Development Center is located on the medical campus of the University of the West Indies with current research focused on epilepsy and diabetes amongst others. If selected, this would allow CITIVA to bring the level of expertise needed to ensure Louisiana patients receive safe and effective cannabis medicines and expand the available research for physicians nationwide. We look forward to bringing our experience and passion to the Bayou State.