On 1-9-19, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) introduced H.R. 420, the “Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act.” Blumenauer, the co-sponsor of the Rohrabacher–Blumenauer amendment, better known as the on-going appropriations provision that prohibits the Justice Department from spending federal funds to enforce federal law that is in conflict with state medical cannabis laws.
Proposed Bill 420 is a total overhaul of the federal government’s treatment of marijuana. Among other things, the bill:
1. Decriminalizes marijuana by removing it from the Controlled Substances Act;
2. Amends the Federal Alcohol Administration Act to enable the Secretary of the Treasury to issue permits to those who want to to manufacture, distribute, or sell marijuana;
3. Transfers jurisdiction from the DEA to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives;
4. Prohibits widespread advertising for marijuana; and
5. Grants to the FDA the same authority for marijuana as it has for alcohol.
Rep. Blumenauer noted: “Congress cannot continue to be out of touch with a movement that a growing majority of Americans support. It’s time to end this senseless prohibition.” In this vein, per a Pew Research Center study released last fall, nearly 66% of Americans support legalization at the federal level.
The new co-chairs of the 2019 bipartisan Congressional Cannabis Conference are Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Dave Joyce (R-OH), Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Don Young (R-AK).
On December 27, 2018, the Northern District of California dismissed a civil RICO claim brought against the owners and operators of a Sonoma County cannabis growing operation and the operation’s landlord. See Bokaie v. Green Earth Coffee LLC, 3:18-cv-05244-JST, 2018 WL 6813212 (N.D. Calif. Dec. 27, 2018). The lawsuit was filed by neighbors who alleged that the operation’s “skunk-like stench” interfered with the enjoyment of their property and drove down their property values. The Bokaie court found that such alleged harms did not constitute a “RICO injury,” and thus dismissed plaintiffs’ claim (albeit without prejudice, allowing 30 days to amend).
The Bokaie case is part of a growing trend of RICO lawsuits filed in legalized states—to date, roughly a dozen have been filed in California, Colorado, Massachusetts and Oregon—that seek to exploit the tension between state law and the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA). RICO defines “racketeering activity” to include CSA violations, and a civil lawsuit can proceed upon allegations that an enterprise’s pattern of racketeering activity caused damage to the plaintiffs’ business or property. 18 U.S.C. §§ 1961(1), 1962(c), 1964(c). RICO’s civil remedy provision awards prevailing plaintiffs triple damages and attorneys’ fees, id. § 1964(c), thus giving “not in my backyard” plaintiffs and their attorneys a powerful tool against their neighbors. By alleging that the smell of cannabis interferes with the enjoyment of their property and drives down their property value, plaintiffs in these cases are effectively elevating common law nuisance claims into federal RICO lawsuits.
The Controlled Substances Act defines “marijuana” as: all parts of the plant Cannabis sativa L., whether growing or not; the seeds thereof; the resin extracted from any part of such plant; and every compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of such plant, its seeds or resin. Such term does not include the mature stalks of such plant, fiber produced from such stalks, oil or cake made from the seeds of such plant, any other compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of such mature stalks (except the resin extracted therefrom), fiber, oil, or cake, or the sterilized seed of such plant which is incapable of germination.
Just like THC-containing products that are lawful under a state’s marijuana laws, CBD that may be lawful under a state’s marijuana laws, is still federally unlawful if sourced from the parts of the plant included in the definition of marijuana.
The US Senate, by an overwhelming 86-11 vote, last week approved the sweeping Farm Bill containing language which fully legalizes industrial hemp. As we know, hemp, which is derived from cannabis plants, is used to make products from rope to clothing and does not contain THC, the psychoactive part of the plant. In colonial days hemp was so crucial that farmers, like George Washington, were legally required to grow it.
Most believe the House will follow suit. Hemp has not been legal on a federal level since federal criminalization of cannabis in the 1930s. Many believe that occurred in part because of fears of hemp competing with powerful timber interests and DuPont’s then new patent on nylon. After the 1930s bill was declared unconstitutional in 1968, the Nixon Administration helped orchestrate passing the Controlled Substances Act. That law, still in force, declared all parts of the cannabis plant as Schedule I drugs, as dangerous as heroin and LSD. A top Nixon aide later admitted, “Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.” Constitutional challenges thus far have been unsuccessful.
Legalization of hemp could yield a variety of products that previously could only be produced with imported hemp. These could include food, building materials, paper products and many others. Currently, it it believed that China is the largest producer of hemp, since it is legal to do so in a number of Chinese provinces. They started farming it during the Vietnam War to make more breathable uniforms for their soldiers in the intense heat. This Senate vote is indeed a significant step towards relaxation of federal cannabis regulation.
Just weeks after Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass) and Cory Gardner (R-Colo) introduced bi-partisan legislation to make marijuana lawful under a state’s marijuana laws also lawful under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) introduced legislation removing marijuana from the CSA altogether on Wednesday, June 27. Schumer’s bill also comes just one day after Oklahoman’s passed legislation legalizing medical marijuana in their traditionally red state, and one day before the U.S. Senate passed legislation legalizing hemp for all purposes, including extracts from hemp, such as cannabidiol.
By removing from the purview of the CSA, state-legal cannabis and proceeds derived therefrom, the Warren/Gardner legislation, if passed, would likely have the effect of nationwide legalization, but state operators and consumers would still need to be concerned about marijuana’s Schedule 1 status under the CSA, whereas the Schumer bill, if passed, would eliminate those concerns by removing marijuana from the CSA.
Senators Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) today introduced the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act. While we have not seen the text yet, Sen. Warren has published a summary. The bill would amend the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) saying it no longer applies to anyone acting in compliance with state (or tribal) laws relating to the manufacture, production, possession, distribution, dispensation, administration or delivery of cannabis. It also legalizes industrial hemp and removes it from the CSA. In addition to other provisions, the bill prohibits the distribution or sale of cannabis to anyone under 21 other than for medical purposes.
There are a number of pending bills promising various levels of cannabis legalization or decriminalization. This bill is important because it is the result of conversations between Sen. Gardner and the President. When Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the 2014 Cole Memo which de-emphasized cannabis enforcement against legal state actors, Sen. Gardner angrily stopped approving new judicial nominations. That led to Trump’s commitment to Gardner to support “states rights” legislation if brought to him. Advocates hope this bill has a chance to move quickly as a result.
While not listed in the summary, according to MJBizDaily, the bill also would repeal tax code Section 280E which prohibits cannabis companies from deducting their ordinary business expenses, and also would allow federally insured banks greater ease in accepting cannabis customers. Stay tuned!
Authored by Robert Prince, Ph.D, https://www.duanemorris.com/attorneys/robertwprince.html
On Thursday April 18, 2018, at 8:00AM-12:30PM EST, an FDA advisory panel will consider whether to recommend or not recommend approval of GW Pharmaceutical’s cannabis-based drug Epidiolex ® for use in treating two rare types of epilepsy in children- Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. Epidiolex is an oral formulation of a purified form of cannabidiol (CBD) a component found in cannabis. CBD does not have any psychoactive effects as compared to another component of cannabis tetrahydocannabinol (THC). Epidiolex has less than 0.1 percent of THC.
If approved, Epidiolex would be the first botanical cannabis product approved in the U.S. for any indication. The FDA has approved Marinol® and Syndros® for uses in the U.S. for the treatment of anorexia associated with weight loss in AIDS patients. Both products contain dronabinol, a synthetic delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol. Another FDA approved drug Cesamet® contains nabilone, which is a synthetic drug with a structure similar to THC that is used to treat nausea and vomiting.
The FDA released briefing documents on April 17, 2018, which did not seem to raise any major issues with Epidiolex, resulting in the share price of GW Pharmaceuticals to rise sharply- up 2.27%. The Center for Drug for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER) indicates that it plans to provide a free of charge, live webcast of the April 19, 2018 meeting of the Peripheral and Central Nervous System Drugs Advisory Committee. Information regarding the webcast, including the web address for the webcast, will be made available at the following website: http://www.fda.gov/AdvisoryCommittees/Calendar/default.htm. At the time of writing this note, the FDA has not provided any login information for the webcast.
Although, in making the above comments, Sessions was clear that marijuana was still illegal in the U.S., he appears to have drawn a box around those types of marijuana-related criminal activities on which federal prosecutors are focused. The above comments are not inconsistent with the Sessions memo of January 4, 2018, and may help clarify what prosecutorial discretion looks like under that memo. Based on the above comments, it would seem that activities conducted pursuant to state marijuana programs are not the types of activities on which federal prosecutors are focused.
Another breakthrough for the cannabis space occurred on Tuesday, February 27, 2018, when Toronto-based Cronos Group Inc. began trading on the Nasdaq Stock Market. (MJN:CN). This marks the first listing of a company focused purely on cannabis on a major U.S. stock exchange. The listing of Cronos comes within two months of the memorandum issued by Attorney General Sessions that rescinded the federal government’s previous guidance regarding enforcement of state-lawful cannabis activities under the Cole Memorandum. That earlier guidance is credited with providing the cannabis space with a window of opportunity for the warp-speed growth the space has seen in recent years. The Sessions memo was intended to slow the growth of the cannabis space, especially with respect to the capital markets. The Nasdaq listing of Cronos suggests that 2018 could be another strong year for cannabis-related investments; 2017 was believed to have resulted in approximately $2 billion in cannabis-related investments in the U.S.