What was scheduled as a hearing by the House Judiciary Committee regarding Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ testimony about possible Russian Government contacts with the Trump Campaign, also included another hot-button issue: Jeff Sessions’ views regarding marijuana.
Representative Steve Cohen, a Democrat from Tennessee, stated some of the purported benefits of marijuana, and his hope that the Department of Justice would consider states as the “laboratories of democracy.” (Justice Louis Brandeis). Attorney General Sessions stated that they would look at purported benefits and would conduct a “rigorous analysis of marijuana usage,” but he added that he was not as “optimistic” as Representative Cohen. Further, when Attorney General Sessions was asked to clarify his comment that people who use marijuana are “not good people,” he tried to explain that the context in which he made this comment was his experience as a U.S. Attorney where “it was seen” that “good people did not use marijuana.”
In the end, Jeff Sessions did not explain his prior comments on marijuana. Nonetheless, his statement that he is not optimistic that any investigation or research would show any purported benefit of marijuana may be a harbinger of things to come.
The Ohio Board of Pharmacy releases model dispensary applications
Today the Ohio Board of Pharmacy released, through the Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program Website, the application materials for Ohio dispensaries. The Board will accept applications electronically beginning on November 3 at 8:00am and ending on November 17 at 2:00pm.
Similar to what the Department of Commerce did for medical marijuana cultivator applicants, the Board will hold two Q&A periods where it will accept questions from the public. These Q&A periods will be from September 19 – October 5 and October 16 – October 20. The Board will host an informational webinar on October 3.
Ohio will license 60 dispensaries, allocated among several geographic districts. There is a $5,000 fee per dispensary application.
Application materials for medical marijuana processors have not been released yet by the Department of Commerce, though it is anticipated that processor applications will be accepted after cultivator provisional licenses are awarded in November.
Conflicting messages from the federal government results in continued uncertainty in the legal marijuana industry.
Tom Angell reports that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein discussed the 2013 Cole Memo during an appearance at the Heritage Foundation recently. According to Angell, Rosenstein said, “[w]e are reviewing that policy. We haven’t changed it, but we are reviewing it. We’re looking at the states that have legalized or decriminalized marijuana, trying to evaluate what the impact is[.]” He continued, “[a]nd I think there is some pretty significant evidence that marijuana turns out to be more harmful than a lot of people anticipated, and it’s more difficult to regulate than I think was contemplated ideally by some of those states[.]”
Rosenstein also reiterated that while the Cole Memo may be interpreted to mean that the risk of prosecution is unlikely, it does not mean that an individual’s conduct is legal under federal law, even if that individual is acting in compliance with a conflicting state law.
While Rosenstein is right that the Cole Memo merely guides federal law enforcement in making decisions whether or not to charge marijuana businesses, Rosenstein apparently did not discuss the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment that has been renewed in every appropriation bill since 2014 – and was recently renewed until this December.
Under Rohrabacher-Farr, the Department of Justice is prohibited from using funds to interfere in the implementation of state medical marijuana programs. The Ninth Circuit has held that this means the Department cannot prosecute individuals acting in strict compliance with state law. United States v. McIntosh, 833 F.3d 1163 (9th Cir. 2016). And at least one Michigan federal court has allowed a hearing to determine whether a federal defendant can take advantage of Rohrabacher-Farr’s protections. United States v. Samp, E.D. Mich. No. 16-cr-20263 (March 29, 2017). Attorney General Jeff Sessions objected to the renewal of Rohrabacher-Farr earlier this year.
The conflicting signals by various federal officeholders could be the new normal for marijuana policy. Over the last year, for example, we have seen the following:
For more information on the application process for Ohio medical marijuana dispensaries and processors, please contact Frantz Ward attorney Tom Haren or another member of the firm’s Marijuana Law & Policy group.
Shortly after being confirmed as Attorney General, Jeff Sessions created various task forces to review Obama-era DOJ policies. In late July he received a report back from the task force evaluating federal marijuana enforcement policy, and the Associated Press is reporting that the news is good for state-legal marijuana businesses:
The Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety, a group of prosecutors and federal law enforcement officials, has come up with no new policy recommendations to advance the attorney general’s aggressively anti-marijuana views. The group’s report largely reiterates the current Justice Department policy on marijuana.It encourages officials to keep studying whether to change or rescind the Obama administration’s more hands-off approach to enforcement — a stance that has allowed the nation’s experiment with legal pot to flourish. The report was not slated to be released publicly, but portions were obtained by the AP.
While this report does not bind the DOJ to any particular policy stance, it is in line with recent comments that have come from Jeff Sessions. Indeed, he said that the 2013 Cole Memo was “valid,” while noting he may have some “different ideas . . . in addition to that, but essentially we’re not able to go into a state and pick up the work that the police and sheriffs have been doing for decades.”
In a meeting with Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper earlier this year, Sessions appeared open to maintaining the “hands off” approach the DOJ has taken in legal states. “He’s obviously reviewing the Cole (Memo),” Hickenlooper said. “(They’re working on) a version of that that makes sense for this administration. We’ll have to see how far they go.” Doug Friednash, Hickenlooper’s chief-of-staff, told The Denver Post that Sessions said the Cole Memo was “not too far from good policy.”
Now that’s all good news, but the DOJ has also sent letters to Colorado, Oregon, and Washington state officials questioning the efficacy of their state regulatory structures. Washington state officials, for their part, have begun responding to the allegations contained in the letter they received.
The news from the DOJ comes on the heels of a bill introduced by New Jersey Senator (and likely 2020 presidential candidate) Cory Booker that would legalize marijuana. While Booker’s bill is unlikely to get much traction in Congress, it is a sign that legal marijuana could shape up to be a pivotal issue in the 2020 race.
Marijuana policy at the federal and state levels continues to change at seemingly breakneck speed. I’ll be updating this blog more often to keep you all up-to-date on the most recent news. Check back for new posts on Ohio’s proposed districts for Ohio medical marijuana dispensaries, the release of applications for Ohio medical marijuana testing laboratories, information about Ohio’s medical marijuana cultivator applicants, and other marijuana law and policy news.
Finally, later this week I’ll also be sharing some pretty big personal news. So I’ve got that going for me. Which is nice.
Two recent events serve as continuing examples of how attitudes towards marijuana are changing in the U.S. The National Football League (“NFL”), which strictly enforces its drug policies, may be changing its mind on medical marijuana. The NFL Players Association (“NFLPA”) has already been working on its own study for the potential use of medical marijuana for pain management. On August 1, 2017, the NFL wrote a letter to the NFLPA indicating its willingness to work together to study the potential use of marijuana for pain management and for acute and chronic conditions for players.
Further, former players have come out in favor of the use of marijuana for medical reasons. For example, on July 24, 2017, former New York Jets Defensive End Marvin Washington was one of five plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed in the Southern District of New York against Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the Department of Justice, and the Drug Enforcement Agency. See Washington, et al. v. Sessions, et al., No. 1:17-cv-05625 (S.D.N.Y.). The lawsuit seeks to remove marijuana from the list of Schedule I drugs, as it is currently classified under the Controlled Substances Act. Marijuana is classified in the same category as heroin, LSD, and Quaaludes, to name a few. However, drugs such as methamphetamine and cocaine are classified as Schedule II drugs and are subject to less strict enforcement.
In Cristina Barbuto v. Advantage Sales & Marketing LLC and Joanne Meredith Villaruz, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Case No. SJC-12226, the Massachusetts Supreme Court held on July 17, 2017, that an employee in Massachusetts can bring a claim of disability discrimination after being fired for using medical marijuana.
Medical marijuana was approved by Massachusetts voters in 2012, and the law provides that individuals who qualify for the use of medical marijuana cannot be punished for using it. Barbuto suffers from Crohn’s disease and was using medical marijuana two to three times per week, although never during the work day, when she began working for Advantage Sales in 2014. After failing a mandatory drug test, Barbuto was terminated by Advantage Sales on the basis that Advantage follows federal law and not state law, and of course the use of marijuana is illegal under federal law.
In upholding Barbuto’s right to bring a disability discrimination claim under State law, the Massachusetts’ high court stated that although an employee’s possession of medical marijuana may violate federal law, that fact does not make it a per se unreasonable accommodation. The court further stated that even if allowing the use of medical marijuana was unreasonable, Advantage should have still engaged in the interactive process with Barbuto to determine if there was another potential, reasonable accommodation, such as using another drug that did not violate the company’s drug policy. Advantage will have the opportunity to demonstrate the unreasonableness of medical marijuana as an accommodation on remand.
While the court allowed Barbuto’s disability claim to stand, it did state that employers do not have to tolerate the use of medical marijuana during work time, nor allow medical marijuana for individuals in safety-sensitive jobs or those covered by the federal drug-free workplace laws. The court additionally stated that there is no implied statutory cause of action for individuals alleging a violation of the state’s medical marijuana law.
As reported in prior postings, Ohio’s medical marijuana law is much more protective of employers than the law passed in Massachusetts, but it is of course difficult to prevent determined courts from finding ways around what would otherwise be clear provisions of the law.
The uncertainty as to how the Trump administration will proceed in the current environment of marijuana being illegal under federal law while legal, to some extent, in 29 states, has not yet caused significant angst within the $6 billion marijuana industry. Attorney General Sessions’ most recent statements on the issue may change that.
On Monday, June 12, 2017, Massroots.com published a letter it was able to obtain, that Sessions sent to Senators McConnell and Schumer, and Speaker Ryan and Representative Pelosi on May 1, 2017. In this letter, AG Sessions renewed the DOJ’s opposition to the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment. (The law which prohibits the DOJ from spending funds to interfere with the implementation of state marijuana laws.) He asked that Congress not include such restrictions in DOJ appropriations. Sessions cites “an historic drug epidemic,” “potentially long-term uptick in violent crime,” and that smoking marijuana “has significant health effects,” to support his position in this letter. Sessions also states that drug traffickers and criminal organizations cultivate and distribute marijuana and do so “under the guise of medical marijuana laws.”
It is not yet clear what effect, if any, this letter will have. Nonetheless, it seems to signal a change in the Trump Administration’s stance on marijuana that could turn a $6 Billion industry on its head.
A copy of the letter can be obtained at: https://www.scribd.com/document/351079834/Sessions-Asks-Congress-To-Undo-Medical-Marijuana-Protections.
Has it really been more than a month since my last post? Holy cow, we’ve got a lot to cover. Here’s what you need to know about what’s been happening in Ohio’s medical marijuana industry.
Cultivator applications due in June
The biggest news is that the Department of Commerce has finally given us all an indication of when we can expect medical marijuana cultivator applications to be due:
The Department has scheduled two separate deadlines for applications because it does not know how many applications to expect, and does not want to be overwhelmed at the outset. We should have a much better idea of the hard deadlines once the applications themselves are released.
Interestingly, following the release of the applications later this month, the Department will hold a webinar explaining the applications, followed by two 1-week periods in which the public can submit questions for clarification on the application. The webinar, as well as answers to any questions, will all be posted on the Medical Marijuana Control Program website.
We do not know much about the substance of the application yet, except that it will contain two main sections:
Also, the Department of Commerce has totally eliminated the designated territories referenced in the last post, so it will judge all of the cultivator applicants in each Level against one another statewide. This is a welcome change, in my opinion. You can view the latest medical marijuana cultivator rules by clicking here.
The financial requirements for processors have been amended
The Department also has provided some information regarding updates to the rules for medical marijuana processors. To begin, the designated territories have been removed (as was the case for cultivators), although the total number of medical marijuana processors to be licensed in Ohio remains at 40.
There have also been changes to the financial requirements for processors:
Various other changes have been made to the processor rules, including changes to non-solvent extraction methods, the ability to acquire expired medical marijuana from dispensaries, and packaging/labeling requirements. This updated draft will now be submitted to the Common Sense Initiative and, accordingly, there will be further opportunity for public comment. The updated rules for processors have not yet been posted publicly, but when they are they can be viewed by clicking here.
The Board of Pharmacy will limit medical marijuana possession based on THC content
The State Board of Pharmacy has taken an unusual step of limiting the statutorily-mandated 90-day supply based on THC content. Here are the limits of medical marijuana that may be possessed by Ohio patients in each 90-day period as initially proposed by the Board:
Note: for medical marijuana products the supply is limited based THC content, not the overall weight of the product. You can review the Board’s reasoning by clicking here. Read the full draft of form and method rules by clicking here.
Congress signals a willingness to consider marijuana reform while the Trump administration signals a willingness to engage in stricter enforcement
We are all watching Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Press Secretary Sean Spicer, and everyone else in the Trump administration to try to figure out how they will approach state-legal marijuana markets throughout the country. Initially, Sean Spicer warned that we might see stepped-up enforcement, although he also indicated that the administration may take different approaches for adult-use and medical marijuana markets.
Jeff Sessions has also said that the 2013 Cole Memo was “valid,” and recognized that the Department of Justice may not have the resources to start prosecuting state-legal operators. That being said, he’s kept up his drug warrior rhetoric in public.
Most recently, a DOJ task force has been formed to address crime reduction and public safety. Part of their job will be to review policies relating to “charging, sentencing, and marijuana” to “ensure consistency with the Department’s overall strategy on reducing violent crime and with Administration goals and priorities.”
Here’s some unsolicited advice for Attorney General Sessions and his Task Force: if you want to reduce violent crime, then leave states alone to regulate marijuana to eliminate the black market, increase transparency and safety, and take money away from dangerous cartels.
Meanwhile, over in Congress there have been several bills introduced in both the House and the Senate — by both Republicans and Democrats — that would reform federal marijuana laws in various ways. Marijuana Business Daily provides a good summary of some of the proposed legislation that has been introduced, and their would-be impact on marijuana businesses:
While passage of these bills may be a pipe dream, this could signal an increasing likelihood of reform on the federal level sometime in the next few years.
Join me at the Marijuana Business Conference & Expo in Washington D.C.
Last but not least, come out to the Spring Marijuana Business Conference & Expo sponsored by Marijuana Business Daily! The conference will take place from May 16-19 in Washington, D.C., and takes place during the same time as the National Cannabis Industry Association Lobby Days. The Conference will feature over 60 presenters, 275 exhibitors, and attendance is expected to top 3,500 cannabis industry professionals. Believe me when I tell you that this is a terrific conference that you do not want to miss.
I will be speaking about Ohio’s market on the Friday of the Conference, so you know there will be some information directly applicable to prospective Ohio medical marijuana cultivators, processors, and dispensary owners. Message me if you would like a discount code to get an additional $50 off of your admission!
As always, if you are interested in becoming involved in Ohio’s medical marijuana industry, don’t hesitate to give me a call at (216) 566-8200.
This Saturday, February 25, I will be speaking on a panel at the MPP Ohio Canna-Business Seminar in Columbus. My firm, Seeley, Savidge, Ebert & Gourash Co., LPA, is also one of the event’s sponsors.
MPP promises “a deep dive into Ohio’s emerging medical cannabis program in Columbus.” The Seminar will feature policy and industry experts, as well as Ohio medical marijuana regulators. Topics covered will include best practices for operating in Ohio’s medical marijuana market, accounting, tax, and liability issues.
The Seminar will be hosted at the Sheraton Columbus Hotel at Capitol Square, located at 75 East State Street, Columbus, OH, 43215. Tickets are $600 each, two for $1,000, or three for $1,300. The seminar will run from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and will include a boxed lunch. But, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll give you a promotional code for a discount on your ticket!
Click here to register for the event. See you there!
Ohio medical marijuana cultivator territories announced
The Department of Commerce recently identified how it will designate territories for Ohio medical marijuana cultivators. By way of background, the current draft of Section 3796:2-1-01(A) provides for up to three Level I cultivators and three Level II cultivators in each of 4 designated territories. This is a change from the original drafts where the Department was to split up Ohio into 12 designated territories.
The Department announced recently precisely how it intends to divide the state for purposes of cultivator licenses, and the result ends up with Northeast Ohio’s quadrant including what will likely be 4 of the more competitive counties in the state for medical marijuana cultivation: Cuyahoga, Summit, Mahoning, and Lorain. Here is an image from the Department’s announcement:
This design runs the real risk of making some quadrants so competitive that well-qualified applicants are shut out based solely on the number of applicants in that territory. In other words, the 5th best Level I applicant in Northeast Ohio may very well be a more qualified applicant than the top applicant in Northwest Ohio, but there will only be 3 Level I licenses awarded in Northeast Ohio. Furthermore, such large territories may encourage consolidation of applicants in closer proximity, as opposed to having cultivators more widely disbursed as would be the case if Ohio had a larger number of territories.
It will be interesting to see if this map changes at all as we continue with the rule-making process, and do not be surprised to see some border counties transition into neighboring territories (for instance, Lorain could very well end up as part of the Northwest quadrant).
Changes to Ohio medical marijuana dispensary rules
On January 27, the Ohio Medical Marijuana Advisory Board met and received an update from the Board of Pharmacy on the comments received relative to the proposed dispensary rules. Notably, the Board referenced three major changes to its initial draft rules:
New dispensary rules have not yet been issued, but rest assured I will post an update when they are.
Proposed Ohio medical marijuana processor rules
The Department of Commerce also proposed its initial set of draft rules for Ohio medical marijuana processors. The first round of public comments are being accepted through close of business on February 10, 2017. Here are the highlights:
Check out the latest draft processor rules by clicking here.
We know from the draft cultivator rules that Ohio will award “plant-only processor” licenses to cultivators who wish to sell plant material directly to dispensaries, although those entities will have to meet more stringent packaging and labeling requirements than other cultivators. These plant-only processor licenses will cost $5,000 for Level I cultivators and $500 for Level II cultivators.
Stay tuned as Ohio continues its rule-making process. And, in the event you are interested in getting involved in Ohio’s medical marijuana industry (whether as a cultivator, processor, or dispensary operator), don’t hesitate to contact us at (216) 566-8200 for a free consultation to discuss your plans.
Hi everyone – it’s been a little while since I’ve posted here. Our family moved, work got busier than anticipated (which is a good thing), and all of that occurred right smack in the middle of the holiday season. But fear not, the Ohio Marijuana Law Blog is back in full swing to keep you updated on all of the latest news on medical cannabis in the Buckeye State.
Ohio continues the medical marijuana rule-making process
The rules for Ohio medical marijuana cultivators will be finalized in May, with the rules for medical marijuana dispensaries, processors, testing laboratories, and recommending physicians finalized in September. The Ohio cultivator rules have been submitted to the Common Sense Initiative, and public comment on the rules are being accepted through this Friday, January 27. Ohio dispensary rules are in their initial draft, although this round of public comments closed on January 13 – there will be other opportunities to provide input.
Some highlights from these latest drafts:
I’ll cover each of these drafts in greater detail here in the coming days. It is interesting to note that a draft of House Bill 523 originally required a pharmacist to be present in medical marijuana dispensaries, although that requirement was removed prior to the law going up for a vote. Now it seems the Board of Pharmacy is seeking to re-insert a similar requirement.
The United States Senate Has Yet to Confirm Attorney General Nominee Jeff Sessions
Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, whom President Donald Trump has nominated to be his next Attorney General, is waiting on confirmation from the United States Senate. His confirmation hearings generally went off without a hitch, and when asked about legal marijuana, Sessions would not commit to “not enforcing federal law,” although he acknowledged the problem with scarce federal resources.
On Tuesday, Sessions was not quite as emphatic on the issue as he has been in the past. In reference to the guidelines issued by the Justice Department in 2013 that effectively left marijuana law enforcement up to individual states, Sessions told Sen. Leahy “some of them are truly valuable in evaluating cases, but, fundamentally, the criticism I think that is legitimate is that [the guidelines] may not have been followed.” Sessions went on to say he would need to use “good judgment” when deciding how to enforce federal marijuana laws, should he be sworn in as Attorney General, adding “I know it won’t be an easy decision, but I will try to do my duty in a fair and just way.”
Following his confirmation hearings, Sessions provided written responses that again addressed legal marijuana (which are conveniently packaged in Tom Angell’s new daily marijuana newsletter, which you should all subscribe to):
There can be no doubt that Senator Sessions is a marijuana prohibitionist, but I do think it is fair to say that his responses are no worse than those given by President Obama’s Attorney General, Loretta Lynch, during her own confirmation hearings in 2015. She said the following when questioned by Senstor Lindsey Graham:
“Marijuana is still a criminal substance under federal law. And it is still a crime not only to possess, but to distribute under federal law.”
“With respect to the marijuana enforcement laws, it is still the policy of the administration and certainly would be my policy, if confirmed as attorney general, to continue enforcing the marijuana laws, particularly with respect to the money-laundering aspect of it.”
And she also said this when questioned by Senator Sessions:
“Well, senator, I certainly don’t hold [the view that marijuana should be legalized], and don’t agree with that view of marijuana as a substance. I certainly think that the president was speaking from his personal experience and personal opinion — neither of which I am able to share.”
Sessions can rescind the 2013 Cole Memo at a moment’s notice following his confirmation, although there are significant practical and political risks to doing so: more than half the country has legalized some form of medical marijuana and the industry supports thousands of jobs and a significant amount of taxes to cash-strapped states. For some additional context, see this great article over at The Cannabist: “Would he revive the war on drugs? Five myths about Sen. Jeff Sessions.“
It should also be remembered that Donald Trump has previously expressed his support for legal marijuana, including saying that he supported medical marijuana “100 percent.” His new press secretary, Sean Spicer, implied during Sessions’ confirmation hearings that any member of Trump’s cabinet would implement the “Trump agenda:”
Stay tuned as Ohio moves forward with implementing its medical marijuana program over the coming months.