Tag Archive for 'marijuana'

National Cannabis Bar Association Supports a Growing Number of Marijuana Lawyers

Marijuana is now legal under state law in Colorado, Washington, Alaska, Washington D.C., and, most recently, Oregon. It is also legal for medical use in 23 other states. Businesses that enter the emerging marijuana market stand to make large profits if they produce a good product. The Huffington Post reported in January that estimates say the US market for legal cannabis grew from $1.5 billion in 2013 to $2.7 billion in 2014, a 75% increase. However, participants in this so-called “green rush” also face a confusing legal landscape that involves myriad potential difficulties.

Marijuana has created a rift in the legal field because it is still illegal under federal law. In certain states, it is difficult for marijuana businesses to receive comprehensive legal advice out of concern that lawyers will further illegal activities. The American Bar Association has expressed ambivalence about the legal profession’s involvement in cannabis as well. However, where marijuana law is practiced, lawyers are beginning to tackle complex legal issues.

What is the National Cannabis Bar Association?

In some cannabis-friendly states, the legal profession is embracing marijuana law. As attorneys begin to delve into this area of law, they need to be able to share ideas and to stay up to date with the latest legal advances. Enter the National Cannabis Bar Association, or NCBA, which was founded earlier this year. The simple goal of the NCBA is to “educate and connect with other cannabis industry lawyers for the purpose of providing excellent, ethical, and advanced legal assistance to this growing industry.”  Marijuana Store

The NCBA Board is comprised of a number of firm-based lawyers and solo practitioners who have already embarked on the complex endeavor of representing clients in the marijuana industry. The Executive Director, Shabnam Malek, is a partner in a boutique marijuana law firm, Brand & Branch LLP. She is a specialist in trademark law, a true area of concern for marijuana businesses now. According to her biography, she “also represents clients in disputes, develops worldwide expansion strategies, and negotiates and drafts agreements, including settlement agreements, co-existence agreements, trademark license agreements, and interstate license agreements.” Ms. Malek is the type of lawyer that the marijuana industry may need in 2015— someone with an understanding of several different areas of law, many related to the issues that all modern businesses face.

What are the Legal Needs of the Marijuana Industry?

Meeting a broad demand for a product requires marijuana businesses to seek the same kind of legal advice that any good business would need. In the current climate, the marijuana industry faces new concerns involving corporate, contract, and employment law. As lawyers like Shabnam Malek know, cannabis-related businesses also face intellectual property issues. For instance, a new cannabis cultivar may be patented if it meets certain criteria. And, with the market as lucrative as it is, holding on to a prize variety of marijuana could mean a big difference to a business.

The conflict with federal law also creates certain unique pitfalls in the industry. For example, marijuana businesses have difficulty moving funds through federally regulated banks. Under 2014 federal guidance, banks can now do some transactions with these businesses. However, the banks must still file special reports that show that each marijuana business is following certain procedures. In another example of federal difficulties, businesses may not be able to register certain federal trademarks, based on language in the law that forbids trademarking certain “immoral” or “scandalous” products. This does not mean that nothing is ever trademarked; but this area requires savvy legal advice.

State laws may also create specific obstacles for marijuana businesses. Legalization of marijuana does not always translate into a statewide acceptance of the drug. Local rules and ordinances may place many prohibitions on the distribution of marijuana and other aspects of business. Taxes are often a key rationale for legalization, and so marijuana businesses must comply with specialized state tax schemes designed for their industry. Finally, states that legalized marijuana are in a sense conducting an experiment: the rules are often still evolving and rapidly changing as policymakers grapple with how to implement new laws.

The NCBA will be a welcome voice in dealing with many of the ins and outs of legalized marijuana. The association can help to create best practices for lawyers and policymakers, meeting the goal of ethical and up-to-date understanding of the field. The NCBA will also help businesses conform to the law and ultimately realize the goal of a profitable and well-regulated marijuana industry.

How the Nanny State and Technology Intersect to Stop Crime

Ronald Bjarnason, 59, was arrested in Northern California last week on suspicion of a hit-and-run and for possession of marijuana with intent to sell.

Nanny State Police TechnologyNobody reported Bjarnason, no one was involved in the accident, and there were no witnesses. So how did the police know to show up at the scene?

The BMW he crashed sent out an automated distress call, alerting the police.

Police found the car crashed into a guardrail at around 12:20 a.m., but Bjarnason was nowhere to be found. An officer heard rustling in a bush nearby, and a homeowner said his surveillance system captured a man running across his lawn right after the accident occurred.

Officers then came upon a duffel bag filled with 13 pounds of marijuana along the suspected path Bjarnason took to escape the scene.

Police eventually found Bjarnason and arrested him. The Corte Madera police, Marin County Major Crimes Task Force, and the Central Marin Special Response team then obtained a warrant to search Bjarnason’s home in Piercy. They discovered 2,000 marijuana plants, pounds of cultivated marijuana, Ecstasy pills, psilocybin mushroom cultivation, weapons, and cash.

Bjarnason is out of custody pending possible charges.

Nanny State and Smart Technology

Would Bjarnason have gotten away if his BMW did not send a distress call? To be honest, probably not. He still crashed, and he was still caught on camera. The only difference is that the police arrived on scene faster. Is this the result of a nanny state?

In my opinion, it’s not. New technology doesn’t hinder us, it allows us to be safer in a world where 1.3 million people die in car crashes every year. That automated distress call can save the valuable seconds a person needs in order to survive.

Marijuana Wars with Maraschino Cherries and D.C.’s Mayor

Washington D.C.’s decriminalization of marijuana went into effect last week, drawing the wrath of prominent Congress members. Rep. Jason Chaffetz reportedly said D.C.’s Mayor could “go to prison for this.” Federal law enforcement’s war against marijuana has been continuous since Congress passed the Controlled Substances Act in 1970. However, that war has often shattered lives, as Arthur Mondella’s tragic story reveals.

Maraschino CherriesWhile the District of Columbia was preparing to decriminalize marijuana, local police and federal agents were conducting a raid on Maraschino Cherries Factory in Brooklyn. Law enforcement claimed to have a warrant to search the factory for violations of environmental laws, but the raid’s true purpose was to search for marijuana. The factory owner, Arthur Mondella, had inherited the business from his father and grandfather. Initially Mondella cooperated with the police. Authorities eventually discovered a secret room concealed by a fake wall. Mondella immediately went to the bathroom.

His sister, obviously concerned, followed. Mondella asked her to “take care of my kids” and then Mondella shot himself. After Mondella’s suicide, police entered the hidden basement. Law enforcement found a 2,500 square foot marijuana farm underneath the cherry factory.

Maraschino Cherries Kingpin vs. Washington, D.C.’s Mayor

Although I drew comparisons between D.C. and Mondella, there are enormous differences. In D.C., the voters had approved a measure decriminalizing marijuana. If D.C. were a state rather than a federal district, Congress would not be as hostile. Mondella, on the other hand, was a private actor growing marijuana in knowing violation of the law. Mondella wasn’t trying to change the law, which would be legal; he was violating the law for, possibly, his own profit.

News coverage of the cherry factory conflict with each other. Most stories quote an unknown police officer claiming Mondella wouldn’t have done any jail time. However, some stories claim the officer wouldn’t have done time for spilling cherry syrup in the water while other stories quote the officer saying Mondella wouldn’t have done jail time for marijuana.

Although Mondella wouldn’t have gone to jail for cherry syrup, the idea that Mondella wouldn’t have gone to jail over marijuana is laughable. Mondella was concealing what looked like a multi-million dollar farm on his property. Federal prosecutors would have indicted Mondella as a drug kingpin and there is no doubt that Mondella would have served significant time. If Congress is threatening to lock up the mayor of D.C. for enforcing an initiative to decriminalize marijuana, imagine what the Justice Department would do to a man caught running an entire drug operation in his factory.

States across the country might be decriminalizing marijuana, but there’s no doubt that some federal actors still want to win the war on marijuana.

Why the Controlled Substances Act Should Be Repealed

Courts have rarely questioned the validity of the Controlled Substances Act‘s classification system, even though the CSA has been law since 1970. Astoundingly, almost all judicial inquiry into the CSA classification system has been confined to footnotes. Judge Mueller herself relied on a Supreme Court footnote in justifying her desire to hear evidence on whether marijuana has any medical value. The branch of government charged with interpreting the law has neglected to interpret whether the CSA scheduling system makes any logical sense.

marijuanaA cursory glance at the drugs classified indicates that the CSA is deeply flawed. Marijuana is a Schedule I drug, which means it has a high potential for abuse, no medical value, and lacks safe use even under medical supervision.

Today, the claim that marijuana lacks any medical value or safe use borders on lunacy. As defense attorneys argued, federal prosecutors must essentially “convince the court that the earth is flat when the rest of society appropriately has concluded that the earth is round.” 23 states have legalized medical marijuana and every year that list of states grows. Doctors have testified that marijuana can be used to treat certain illnesses and many patients have come forward to testify that marijuana has helped them when no other treatments could.

Marijuana is just the tip of the iceberg. Peyote is also classified as Schedule I, but Congress granted the Native American Church an exemption if they used Peyote for religious purposes. If Peyote has a high potential for abuse, it shouldn’t be possible for an entire religion to use Peyote without widespread addiction. And yet, the few members of the church who were adversely affected by peyote were able to walk away without any further health problems.

Cocaine is popularly considered more dangerous than marijuana, but cocaine is classified as Schedule II. According to the CSA, Schedule II substances have accepted medical use. It is absolutely silly that the federal government believes cocaine has medical value while marijuana does not. Medical marijuana is recognized in twenty-three states while medical cocaine cannot be legalized in even a single state.

Wait, it gets better. During Judge Mueller’s hearing, prosecutors presented President Bush’s drug czar, Dr. Bertha Madras, as their sole witness. Madras claimed there was “no such thing as medical marijuana” because “it contains significant amounts of toxic chemicals.” One of those toxic chemicals is THC, the chemical compound responsible for marijuana’s psychological effects. THC is the chemical that police look for when they drug test people suspected of using marijuana.

Curiously, the CSA classifies THC as Schedule III. According to the CSA, Schedule III drugs have less potential for abuse than Schedule I or Schedule II drugs. THC was classified lower than marijuana because Congress gave one research company its blessings to produce “marijuana pills” out of THC. However, the only way to get THC is to extract it from marijuana plants. It is mind-bending that a Schedule III substance has less potential for abuse when it is the main hallucinatory in a Schedule I drug.

I suspect that federal drug agencies realize that the CSA schedule system is completely irrational. Courts have rarely questioned the CSA classifications and what little probing exists is in footnotes. However, those rare footnotes are very disturbing. A footnote in one case concluded that the CSA classification system “cannot logically be read as cumulative in all situations.” Another footnote contains statements from a Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) expert who testified that “marijuana could be rescheduled to Schedule II without a currently accepted medical use.”These footnotes, together with the fact that THC is a Schedule III drug, indicate that the DEA knows that marijuana could safely be removed from the Schedule I list.

The war on drugs is the greatest hoax perpetrated on the American people. Thousands of Americans are denied medication and millions of Americans are incarcerated because of that hoax. It must end.

California Judge to Decide Whether Marijuana Should Still Be a Schedule I Drug

2015 could be the beginning of the end for the war on marijuana. Last year, U.S. District Judge Kimberly Mueller agreed to hear five days of evidence and testimony about whether marijuana has any medical value. Judge Mueller will then rule whether marijuana should continue to be a Schedule I drug.

U.S. District Judge Kimberly Mueller

U.S. District Judge Kimberly Mueller

The case seemed ordinary on its face. In 2011, the California Highway Patrol arrested 15 suspects and uncovered a marijuana farm with more than 500 marijuana plants in a national park. The men faced 10-15 years in prison each. Defense attorneys argued that cultivation of marijuana should not warrant punishment because marijuana itself should not be classified as a drug with no medical value.

For those unfamiliar with federal drug laws, illegal drugs are regulated by the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). The CSA classifies drugs into five different groups known as schedules. Marijuana is classified as a Schedule I substance. In the eyes of the federal government, Schedule I drugs: have a high potential for abuse, have no currently accepted medical use, and lack accepted safety for use under medical supervision. Under the CSA, it is illegal to manufacture, distribute, purchase, or possess Schedule I drugs. If marijuana were to be rescheduled as a different drug, the sentence could be reduced or marijuana could be decriminalized altogether.

Judge Mueller’s decision to hold the evidence hearing was extraordinary in itself. Defense lawyers have argued that marijuana is misclassified before, but this is first time in many decades that a judge has agreed to take such an argument seriously. It’s possible that Judge Mueller could rule that marijuana should remain a Schedule I drug. However, the fact Judge Mueller even bothered to spend five days on the issue indicates there is a real possibility that she may rule in favor of marijuana reclassification, at least in the case before her.

A judicial ruling that marijuana has been misclassified is a step in the right direction. However, this is only the first step. Congress should scrap and replace the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) altogether.