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Cannabis News Briefs - February 23, 2018

By Rick Schettino
Feb 22, 2018

Federal Judge Acknowledges Medicinal Benefits of Cannabis

Manhattan Federal Judge Alvin Hellerstein appeared to be sympathetic to the idea of ending federal prohibition cannabis by removing it from the list of Schedule I substances. The lawsuit was originally filed in July 2017. The long-anticipated event drew so many spectators that the courtroom and two overflow rooms were filled to capacity.

The U.S. assistant who argued the government's case reiterated long-since-debunked prohibitionist talking points, saying marijuana had no accepted medical use and should remain classified as a Schedule I drug.

Addressing Michael Hiller, the five plaintiffs’ lawyer, Hellerstein said, “Your clients are living proof of the medical effectiveness of marijuana. How could anyone say your clients’ lives have not been saved by marijuana? You can’t.”

“I couldn’t agree more, your honor,” Hiller replied.

A decision as to whether or not to dismiss the case is expected within the next few days.

Bill Introduced To Replace Cole Memo

A bipartisan bill meant to replace the protections provided by the now-defunct "Cole memo" has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives.

If passed, the bill would replace the Obama-era memo in protecting states’ legal cannabis programs from interference by federal law enforcement agencies, helping to create a more stable cannabis industry. It would also protect individuals from prosecution for both legal medical and recreational marijuana use.

Philly DA Tossing Marijuana Cases

Philadelphia’s new District Attorney is dropping over 50 marijuana possession cases. DA Larry Krasner, a former civil rights attorney, known for suing the police department, noticed a spike in arrests for simple pot possession recently and decided the city’s resources were best used elsewhere.

In addition to Krasner’s announcement about dropping cannabis possession cases, the new District Attorney also announced a lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies in relation to the ongoing opioid crisis. According to Krasner, both moves are related.

New York Leads World In Cannabis Consumption

Seedo has released a list of the top ten major cities across the globe that consume the most marijuana, only three of which, it turns out, are in the United States.

New York takes first place by a long shot with a whopping 77 metric tons. Los Angeles is in fourth place with a respectable 36 tons. Chicago comes in number 8 with 25 tons.

The report does not make it clear how much of the tonnage is sold legally and how much is sold on the black market, but by most estimates, the black market in all three cities is still far larger than the legal market - even with legalization.

Millions of People Will Live, Jim! (If They Have Dispensaries)

A new federally funded research project published by the Journal of Health Economics concluded that dispensaries save lives by contributing to the decline in opioid overdose death rates.

The study, entitled, “Do medical marijuana laws reduce addictions and deaths related to painkillers?” was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Examination of data from 1999–2010 suggests that opioid mortality rates fell by 40 percent more in states with easy access to medical marijuana than in states which simply legalized its use without regulated access.

California Goes Passive-Aggressive on Unlicensed Sellers

California’s Bureau of Cannabis Control sent letters to around 500 illegal marijuana dispensaries. In LA alone there are between 200-300 illegal dispensaries. Some of these businesses are mired in red tape. Others have no plans to follow the rules.

The letters were non-threatening and encouraged businesses to start the process of becoming adequately licensed and warned them of potential consequences.

A report released by the California Growers Association estimates that around 700 of the state's 68,000 growers - about 1 percent - have been licensed. The report estimates that 80 percent to 90 percent of growers who were legal prior to January 1 when new licensing requirements went into effect “are being pushed to the black market.”

Michigan Brandishes MMJ Symbol

Michigan has released an official medical marijuana symbol which will be required on the labels of all medical marijuana products sold in the state.

The symbol, an upside-down green triangle with an image of a green marijuana leaf in the middle, warns that the product  “CONTAINS THC.”

The “Medical Marihuana Facilities Licensing Act” requires products to display the amount of THC, the date of harvest, and other identifying information.

Top Massachusetts Regulator Calls For Government-Run Cannabiz Banking

Massachusetts top cannabis official suggested that the state should consider creating a state-run bank to serve recreational marijuana companies.

Cannabis Control Commission chairman Steve Hoffman said no local banks or credit unions are providing financial services to recreational marijuana as of yet.

“There’s a high degree of urgency, so it’s something we need to start talking about,” Hoffman said in an interview. “Unfortunately, it’s a real possibility” that the recreational industry won’t have access to any banking services, he said. “We’re working as hard as we can to preempt that, but we can’t force any bank or credit union to service this industry.”

Without access to banking, marijuana businesses must deal exclusively in cash sales, suppliers, payroll, and tax payments. Storing and handling tens of thousands of dollars in cash invites robberies, law enforcement officials warned.

Recreational pot sales are scheduled to begin in July.

Utah Inches Forward on MMJ Legislation

Two medical marijuana bills were up for debate in a Senate Committee hearing in Utah. Next obstacle is the Senate floor.

The two bills had already passed through the House. House Bill 195 would allow those who are terminally ill to use medical marijuana. House Bill 197 deals with the supply of medical marijuana for patients.

A possible ballot initiative in November to legalize medical marijuana may make the debate a moot point.

Photo credit: Phillip Bump

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