April 2014

Big happenings in Heather’s little marijuana land

Well, its been about a month since I’ve posted and, as we’ve all seen, the tidal wave of good news in the federal marijuana scene keeps on a’coming.  As there is so much happening all over the place, this is not intended to be a meta-analysis,  but rather just a short summary of whats happening in my little world, with a focus on the feds.  With that said, here’s the biggest fed news that’s coming across my desk as of late:

First, the U.S. House of Representatives has twice (yeah, you heard that right, TWICE) voted to de-fund the executive branch (law enforcement & prosecution) from investigating and prosecuting marijuana related conduct that is protected in medical and recreational states.  As we all know from watching School House Rocks (still my “go-to” when I need a civics refresher), once the House of Representatives passes a bill, a.k.a. a resolution, it goes to the Senate, where it then goes on to the President and, then, becomes law.  I think the Senate has until September to move the bill along, so be on the lookout for that.  Beware, this is no amendment to the Controlled Substance Act, the federal statutory scheme that relegates marijuana to be the most dangerous drug in the Nation.  I say “the most,” rather than “one of the most,” because National Institute of Drug Abuse [NIDA] Director Dr. Nora Volkow recently admitted before Congress that scientists wanting to study marijuana have to go through several more hoops to get marijuana to study than does any other drug!  She admitted its easier to test heroin and cocaine on human subjects than it is to test marijuana.  When pressed about the rationale for these extra hoops, Dr. Volkow shrugged.  So yeah, a shrug pretty much sums up our federal drug policy today.

Secondly, this morning, the Congressional Committee on Oversight & Government reform held the 5th of a 5 part series on the “mixed signals” the feds are sending with their haphazard marijuana policy.  Today focused on transportation and marijuana, and was surprisingly bland, with the government witnesses (all transportation bureaucrats) admitting that a causal link between THC and marijuana fatalities has not been established at this time.  While they have shown some correlation, even they have to admit that correlation is not causation.  My hero, Rep. Connolly (D. VA) summed up the hearing pretty well:

I just think it is amazing with some of the hyperventilated rhetoric about marijuana use and THC that 50 years after we’ve declared it a class 1 substance, we still don’t enough data to know just how dangerous it is in (regards to) operating a vehicle. That really raises questions about either the classification (of marijuana) itself, whether that makes any sense, or raises serious questions about how our government is operating in terms of the data it does not have and the science it does not know and yet the assertions that we (the federal government) make. That is not a good recipe for rational public policy.

Next, and possibly of the least importance to the legality of the situation, but of great importance to the public discourse on the subject, the New York Times came out very publicly against the fed’s grossly unjust marijuana prohibition (I would call the fed’s stance “draconian,” but that word is just getting old in this context.  Its true…, but too often overused nonetheless.)  I’m not sure that this will have any more impact than the Pope saying marijuana should remain illegal, but I suppose it should be noted.  I also should admit that I didn’t initially think that Gupta’s about-face was a big deal, but he is cited by law-makers left and right, so hopefully the NYT position will do some good, above and beyond simple public perception.  (Side note: I don’t mean to downplay public perception in the movement, but look how far that got us with the 100:1 crack-cocaine to powder-cocaine sentencing disparity: nowhere…. not with the executive or the judiciary, despite the vast public understanding that the law was utterly racist.  I digress…)

Finally, and what I believe to be most importantly, the direct examinations in the federal case ofUnited States v. Pickard in E.D. Cal. (Sac) have been completed, as of this week!  For those of you who have not yet heard my constant blabbering about the historical impact of this case, ya better listen up!

Earlier this year, a federal judge granted our motion for an evidentiary hearing to determine whether cannabis’ current designation as a Schedule I substance violates Equal Protection and, more excitingly, the Equal Sovereignty of the States.  Its a new legal theory had, as far as I know, has never been filed in a federal cannabis case.  Its a pretty big deal to get an evidentiary hearing, very rare indeed.  My colleague, lead counsel Zenia Gilg, and myself, recently filed the written direct exams of our seven witnesses: Dr. Carl Hart, Dr. Gregory Carter, Dr. Phillip Denney, Dr. James Nolan, Chris Conrad, Sgt. Ryan Begin, and Jennie Storms.  I attached the direct exams that have to do with the cannabis science below, including the government witness, Dr. Bertha Madras.  Like I said, federal prosecutors filed the direct examination of their only witness, Dr. Madras, this week too.  It is also attached.  So we go to a hearing on August 18, in just under 3 weeks, where the Court and the parties will decide when to set the live hearing, where each of these witnesses will be testifying in person and will be subject to cross-examination.  The declarations are filled with science, and I’ve had to read them about 100 times to even get the gist, so enjoy if you have the time!

Well, there’s about a billion other things , and the federal wall appears to be crumbling, whether by executive, judicial, or legislative action.  Since I can’t get through everything in this short blog, these are just the biggies on my federal marijuana radar this month.

In sum, my thought is to look out and look alive. Shits gonna be coming down the fed pipeline so quick that the righteous need to be alert.  No time to slack.  As noted by the great Busy Signal in the video (linked below), “We nah go a jail again.”  #Knowthis! #legalizeit

Ps, quick note regarding what’s up in California; my colleague Omar Figueroa and I are meeting with the attorney from the California Office of the Legislative Counsel in a week or two to cement language for the CA regulation/legalization bill (if Tom Ammiano and the Police Chiefs Union doesn’t get to it first, yuck!).  So, another blog about that to follow in the coming weeks.

Dr. Hart Direct Exam (filed) 

Denney Direct (Filed)

Carter Direct (Filed)

Bertha Madras PHD Declaration Direct Exam July 29 2014

As always, my musical meditation of the moment.  Busy Signal, “Nah Go Jail Again:” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W73K8p-TW2Y