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These Four States Will Be Voting on Medical Marijuana in November [FEATURE]

This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

It's been 20 years since California punched through pot prohibition and became the first state to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes. Now, 25 states have medical marijuana laws, and more than a dozen more have taken the half-step of legalizing the medicinal use of cannabidiol (CBD) only -- not raw marijuana.

Coming soon to Arkansas, Florida, Montana, and North Dakota?
While some of the early medical marijuana states have now moved on to full legalization -- and more are set to this year -- states in the South and the Plains are just beginning to embrace the therapeutic use of the herb. This year could see medical marijuana finally assert itself in Dixie and on the Northern Plains.

Medical marijuana is amazingly popular nationwide. A June Quinnipiac poll had support at a whopping 89%. That same month, a Prevention Magazine poll had support at 75%, not nearly as stratospheric, but still very impressive. Support won't be as strong in states where it is on the ballot this year, but should still be strong enough to get voter initiatives over the top.

There are four states where medical marijuana initiatives are approved for the ballot this year, but before we get to those, there are still a handful of loose ends to mention. In Missouri, an initiative campaign is challenging a signature count that had it fail to qualify for the ballot; in Arkansas, a second medical marijuana initiative, this one a constitutional amendment, is still trying to gather signatures (update: that measure has now qualified for the ballot); in Oklahoma, an initiative has just passed a signature-gathering hurdle but has yet to qualify, and in Montana, an anti-medical marijuana initiative is challenging a signature count that found it coming up short. These are all long-shots at this point, but the efforts aren't definitively dead.

In the meantime, the four states definitely voting on medical marijuana in November are:

Arkansas -- The 2016 Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act. A similar initiative was narrowly defeated in 2012, and Arkansans for Compassionate Care hopes to get over the hump this year. The initiative would allow patients suffering from a long list of qualifying diseases or conditions to use medical marijuana with a doctor's recommendation. Patients could possess up to 2 ½ ounces and could grow five plants and 12 seedlings if they live more than 20 miles from a "care center." They could also have a designated caregiver grow for them, with a limit of five patients per caregiver. There would be at least 39 non-profit care centers across the state.

It's going to be a low-budget campaign. ACC says it has raised $15,000 and has a goal of $80,000. There is no significant organized opposition.

The polling is looking favorable. An Arkansas Poll from last November had support for medical marijuana at 68%, with only 26% opposed, while a June Talk Business & Politics-Hendrix College Poll had support at 58%, with 34% opposed.

Florida -- Amendment 2. Medical marijuana backers organized as United for Care were narrowly defeated in 2014 although they won 58% of the vote. That's because their initiative was a constitutional amendment requiring a 60% majority, and so is this one. It would allow patients suffering from a specified list of qualifying diseases or conditions to use medical marijuana upon a doctor's recommendation. The amount they could possess will be determined by the Department of Health. Patients could not grow their own, but would be able to purchase it at state-regulated "Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers."

This is going to be a big bucks campaign in a high-population state, just as it was last time. In 2014, Las Vegas casino billionaire and hard right Daddy Warbucks Sheldon Adelson kicked in more than $5 million to the "no" campaign. This year, he's been quiet so far, but Florida arch-drug warrior Mel Sembler has kicked in $500,000 for the opposition Drug Free Florida, and Publix supermarket heiress Carol Jenkins Barnett gave $800,000 more. United for Care has largely been bankrolled by Florida attorney and Democratic donor John Morgan. It took in more than $3 million last year, spending most of it on signature gathering, and has only raised $555,000 so far this year, although Morgan's deep pockets could come through again in the home stretch.

Even with the needed 60% majority, the polling looks good. In eight polls since January 2015, the lowest support level recorded was 61% and the highest was 80%. But the opposition is going to use that fat campaign war chest to chip away at public support.

Montana -- Initiative 182. Voters in Big Sky County approved medical marijuana in 2004, but when the scene grew too bustling, the state's conservative legislature struck back with a vengeance. In 2011, Republicans in Helena essentially gutted the medical marijuana system, shutting down dispensaries and limiting caregivers and doctors. The Montana Medical Marijuana Act repeals the limit of three patients for each licensed provider, and allows providers to hire employees to cultivate, dispense, and transport medical marijuana. It also repeals the requirement that physicians who provide certifications for 25 or more patients annually be referred to the board of medical examiners, and it removes the authority of law enforcement to conduct unannounced inspections of medical marijuana facilities, instead requiring annual inspections by the state. Patients could continue to possess up to an ounce of marijuana and four plants and 12 seedlings. The initiative also adds PTSD to the list of qualifying conditions.

There doesn't appear to be any recent polling on the initiative's prospects. Montana voters have approved medical marijuana in the past, but the earlier phase of medical marijuana expansion sparked a harsh reaction, and the state remains divided over the issue. After a lengthy court fight, some of the restrictions approved in 2011 will go into effect at the end of this month, and cries of lost patient access may bend public opinion.

There doesn't appear to be any significant fundraising or spending by either side in this campaign.

North Dakota -- Question 5. Also known as the North Dakota Compassionate Care Act and sponsored by North Dakotans for Compassionate Care, the initiative would allow people suffering from a list of specified medical conditions to use medical marijuana with a doctor's recommendation. The initiative envisions a system of non-profit "compassion centers," which could grow and sell medical marijuana. Patients living more than 40 miles from a compassion center could grow up to 8 plants, but they must notify local law enforcement in writing. The initiative also includes a creepy provision allowing the Health Department to "perform on-site interviews of a qualified patient or primary caregiver to determine eligibility for the program" and to "enter the premises of a qualified patient or primary caregiver during business hours for purposes of interviewing a program applicant," with 24 hours notice. Patients could purchase up to three ounces of marijuana every two weeks.

The polling data is as scarce as the trees on the North Dakota prairie, but a 2014 poll had support for medical marijuana at 47%, with 41% opposed.

There doesn't appear to be any significant fundraising or spending by either side in this campaign, either.

Will medical marijuana go four for four this year? It seems likely, but we're going to have to wait for November 8 to know for sure.

Chronicle AM: NV Initiative Has Slight Poll Lead, PA MedMJ Draft Regs Released, More... (8/19/16)

An effort to knock the Arizona legalization initiative off the ballot gets slapped down, a new Nevada poll shows a very tight contest for the legalization initiative there, a new study finds that marijuana use is not implicated in organ transplant problems, and more.

coming soon to Pennsylvania (
Marijuana Policy

Arizona Judge Rejects Lawsuit Trying to Knock Legalization Initiative Off the Ballot. Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Jo Lynn Gentry has dismissed a lawsuit brought by opponents of the Prop 205 legalization initiative. The lawsuit had challenged the 100-word initiative summary that will appear on ballots, but Gentry ruled that the summary "substantially complies with the law." The foes, led by Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy, said they will appeal.

Nevada Poll Has Legalization Initiative Under 50%, But Still Leading. A new Nevada poll from Suffolk University shows a tight race ahead. The poll had support for the Question 2 legalization initiative at 48%, with 43% opposed, and 9% undecided.

Medical Marijuana

Study Finds Marijuana Use Not Associated With Bad Organ Transplant Outcomes. A peer-reviewed study from the journal Clinical Transplantation finds that marijuana use is not contraindicated in kidney transplants. "[R]ecreational marijuana use should not be considered a contraindication to kidney transplantation," the authors concluded. "[R]ecreational marijuana use should be systematically evaluated in a larger setting before a decision is made on what, if any, degree of use or abuse should be considered a relative or absolute contraindication, or whether use or abuse should be considered a contraindication." Even in jurisdictions that allow for medical marijuana use, hospitals routinely disqualify patients with a marijuana history from eligibility for organ transplants.

Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana System Moving Forward. The state Health Department has released a draft of the rules for the state's nascent medical marijuana industry. The more than 90 pages of draft regulations create a roadmap for aspiring medical marijuana growers and processors who are competing for 25 lucrative permits.

Chronicle AM: Duterte Lashes Out at UN, CA MJ Arrests Haven't Gone Away, More... (8/18/16)

Despite what's been called "de facto legalization," California has arrested a half million for pot in the last decade; Tennessee's Music City moves toward decriminalization, a Montana anti-medical marijuana initiative has come up short, and more.

Filipino President Rodrigo "The Punisher" Duterte (
Marijuana Policy

California Saw Half a Million Marijuana Arrests in the Last Decade. And you thought pot was virtually legal there already. A new report from the Drug Policy Alliance shows that far from "de facto legalization," tens of thousands of Californians are still getting arrested for marijuana offenses each year. Even though the state decriminalized pot possession in 2011, thousands are still arrested for marijuana misdemeanors each year, and the burden of arrests falls disproportionately on blacks, Latinos, and youth.

Report Finds West Virginia Could Make Millions By Legalizing Marijuana. The West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy released a report Thursday saying that if the state legalized marijuana and taxed it at 25% of its wholesale price, the state could collect an estimated $45 million a year. And if just 10% of marijuana users living within 200 miles of the state came to buy legal weed there, the state could make $194 million a year. It would also save most of the $17 million a year it currently spends enforcing pot prohibition.

Nashville Moves Toward Marijuana Decriminalization. Tennessee's second largest city (less than a thousand people fewer than Memphis) is headed for decrim. The city council Tuesday gave its initial approval to a measure that would make possession of up to an ounce a civil infraction punishable by a $50 fine. It's not a done deal yet, though, and the police are grumbling. Stay tuned.

Medical Marijuana

Possible Arizona Pot Legalization Spurs Rush for Medical Marijuana Licenses. More than 750 people or groups have submitted applications for 31 medical marijuana dispensary licenses to be awarded in October. Medical marijuana license holders will get first crack at new adult use licenses if the Prop 205 legalization initiative passes.

Montana Anti-Medical Marijuana Initiative Fails To Qualify for Ballot, But Challenges Signature Shortfall. An initiative seeking to repeal the state's medical marijuana law has failed to qualify for the November ballot after coming up short on valid signatures. The Safe Montana campaign claims the state improperly rejected or lost signatures and has filed suit to challenge the state's decision. Meanwhile, the I-182 initiative, which would rebuild the state's largely gutted medical marijuana program, has already qualified for the ballot.


Philippines President Duterte Slams "Stupid" UN Criticism of Drug War Killings.President Duterte, who has presided over hundreds of drug war killings since assuming office just weeks ago, has pushed back against criticism of his policies by the United Nations. ""Here comes the UN, easily swayed, and coming with a very stupid proposition,"Duterte said in a speech on Wednesday at an event for police officers also attended by foreign diplomats. "Why would the United Nations be so easily swayed into interfering in the affairs of this republic?" Duterte has ordered police not to hesitate to kill and even urged ordinary citizens and communist rebels to join in the war against drugs. Drug users are "not viable human beings," he said.

Medical Marijuana Update

The federal courts remind the Justice Department that Congress passed a law barring it from using federal funds to go after state-legal medical marijuana operations, Maryland takes a step toward getting its industry up and running, California balks at a medical marijuana grower tax, and more.


On Tuesday, a federal appeals court blocked the Department of Justice from going after medical marijuana in states where it is legal. The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Justice Department can't spend money to prosecute federal marijuana cases if the defendants are in compliance with state laws permitting medical marijuana production and sales. The ruling upholds the Farr-Rohrabacher amendment, passed by Congress in 2014, which prohibits the spending of appropriated funds to interfere in medical marijuana states. That amendment "prohibits DOJ from spending funds from relevant appropriations acts for the prosecution of individuals who engaged in conduct permitted by the State Medical Marijuana Laws and who fully complied with such laws," the court said.


Last Friday, a medical marijuana tax bill died in committee. A bill that would have imposed a tax on commercial medical marijuana growers has been killed in the Senate Appropriations Committee. Assembly Bill 2243 would have imposed a tax of up to $9.25 per ounce of marijuana buds, $2.75 for pot leaves, and $1.25 for immature pot plants. The panel killed the bill after patient advocates said it would impose a burden on patients.


On Tuesday, the state named medical marijuana growers and processors. The state Medical Cannabis Commission has awarded preliminary licenses to 20 companies to grow and process medical marijuana and has named the companies selected. The licenses were actually awarded on August 5, but the commission did not reveal the names of the licensees until Monday, so state officials could conduct background checks and review financial records.

New Mexico

On Wednesday, a patient's mom and a marijuana growers sued over the state's medical marijuana shortage. The mother of an infant suffering from a rare form of epilepsy has joined with a state-legal grower to sue the Department of Health over restrictive rules they say are harming patients by making it impossible for producers to supply patients with the medicine they need.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit]

Chronicle AM: 64% Support Legalization in CA Poll, NM MedMJ Access Lawsuit, More... (8/17/16)

The marijuana legalization campaigns are starting to heat up, a new California poll has the strongest support yet for pot legalization, and more.

Marijuana Policy

New California Poll Has Support for Legalization at Nearly Two-Thirds. A poll released Wednesday by the Institute of Governmental Studies at UC Berkeley has 63.8% supporting legalizing recreational marijuana use. Somewhat surprisingly, when it comes to ethnicity, support was highest among blacks (71.9%) and Latinos (69.3%). The Prop 64 legalization initiative goes before the voters in November.

Sen. Harry Reid "Dubious" on Nevada Legalization Initiative. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is not getting behind the Question 2 legalization initiative. He is "very, very dubious and concerned," he said. "If I had to vote on it now, I wouldn't vote for it," Reid told reporters Tuesday. "That's something we need to look at quite a bit longer. I think it's something that we have to be very careful with. People better start making a case to me. They haven't done it yet."

Barney Frank Supports Massachusetts Legalization Initiative. The former long-time Democratic congressman from Massachusetts is headlining a fundraiser at the Harvard Club for the Question 4 legalization initiative. The fundraiser is August 28. Oregon US Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D) will also be in attendance. Tickets are priced at $250, and the campaign says it needs to raise $3 million in the next 12 weeks.

Medical Marijuana

New Mexico Patient's Mom, Marijuana Producer Sue Over Medical Marijuana Shortage. The mother of an infant suffering from a rare form of epilepsy has joined with a state-legal grower to sue the Department of Health over restrictive rules they say are harming patients by making it impossible for producers to supply patients with the medicine they need.

Chronicle AM: CA Forfeiture Bill Advances, 9th Circuit Blocks DOJ MedMj Meddling, More... (8/16/16)

California is moving to reform its civil asset forfeiture system, a federal court has told the Justice Department it can't spend funds to prosecute state-compliant medical marijuana businesses, and more.

The federal courts have sent a strong signal to the DOJ when it comes to medical marijuana states: Butt out! (Creative Commons)
Medical Marijuana

Federal Appeals Court Blocks DOJ From Going After Medical Marijuana in States Where It Is Legal. The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that the Justice Department can't spend money to prosecute federal marijuana cases if the defendants are in compliance with state laws permitting medical marijuana production and sales. The ruling upholds the Farr-Rohrabacher amendment, passed by Congress in 2014, which prohibits the spending of appropriated funds to interfere in medical marijuana states. That amendment "prohibits DOJ from spending funds from relevant appropriations acts for the prosecution of individuals who engaged in conduct permitted by the State Medical Marijuana Laws and who fully complied with such laws," the court said.

Maryland Names Medical Marijuana Growers and Processors. The state Medical Cannabis Commission has awarded preliminary licenses to 20 companies to grow and process medical marijuana and has named the companies selected. The licenses were actually awarded on August 5, but the commission did not reveal the names of the licensees until Monday, so state officials could conduct background checks and review financial records.

Asset Forfeiture

Bipartisan Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Passes California Assembly. Civil asset forfeiture reform legislation authored by Senator Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) and David Hadley (R-Torrance) passed the Assembly Floor by a 67-7 vote Tuesday. The bill has already passed the Senate, but must now go back for a concurrence vote. The The bill will require that in all cases where law enforcement seize cash under $40,000, that there be a conviction in the underlying criminal case, before that money flows to law enforcement coffers. The same protection would be afforded homes, land, and vehicles, regardless of value. Under current law, there is not such protection for cases sent into the federal system, and the current threshold for cash in state law is $25,000, established in 1994. The measure is Senate Bill 443.

Chronicle AM: Thousands March in Berlin, Denver Could See "Cannabis Cafes," More... (8/15/16)

Look for marijuana legalization ads coming to Las Vegas, South Dakota continues to go after marijuana industry consultants, thousands march for pot legalization in Berlin, and more.

Berlin's 20th annual Hanfparade (Hemp parade) took place Saturday. (YouTube)
Marijuana Policy

Nevada Legalization Campaign Prepares $800,000 Ad Buy. The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Nevada has reserved more than $800,000 worth of advertising time slots with major news stations in Las Vegas, where three-quarters of the state's population is. The campaign supports the Question 2 legalization initiative on the November ballot. The ads will run beginning in early October and go through Election Day.

Northern Marianas Legalization Initiative Won't Be on the Ballot. A bill that would have led to a popular vote on marijuana legalization has died in the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands (CNMI) legislature. Senator Sixto Igi-somar wanted the legislature of the US territory to move on the bill for a popular referendum, but the legislature was "too busy," he said.

South Dakota Indian Tribe Marijuana Consultant Pleads Guilty to Pot Charge. A consultant who worked with the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe to establish a marijuana resort after the federal government said Indian tribes were free to do pleaded guilty Monday to a state marijuana charge for receiving marijuana seeds sent from Amsterdam to start the tribe's crop. The tribe tore down the crop over fears the federal government spoke with forked tongue and over threats from the state government, which followed through by indicting two consultants. Consultant Jonathan Hunt is the one who pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate; consultant Eric Hagen pleaded not guilty, and his lawyer says there is no evidence he ever possessed "even a gram of marijuana."

Denver Cannabis Club Initiative Campaign Hands in Signatures. The Neighborhood-Supported Cannabis Consumption Committee has turned in more than 10,000 signatures for a municipal initiative that would allow for cannabis clubs where people can consume on-site. They only need 4,726 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot.


Thousand March for Marijuana Legalization in Berlin. An estimated 5,000 people took to the streets of the German capitol Saturday to call for freeing the weed. It was the 20th annual Hanfparade (hemp parade), and in this one, demonstrators marched under the banner "legalization is in the air." Marijuana is illegal in Germany though possession of small amounts is tolerated by police, and a few hundred people have been given allowances to use it for medical purposes.

New Zealand Poll Shows Strong Support for Marijuana Reforms. A poll commissioned by the New Zealand Drug Foundation finds that nearly two-third of Kiwis want marijuana either decriminalized or legalized. One-third (33%) said legalize it, while 31% said decriminalize it. More than half (52%) said there should also be provisions for people to grow the plant themselves.

Cayman Islands Will Move Forward on Allowing CBD Cannabis Oils. Premier Alden McLaughlin said his government will push through laws to allow the importation and dispensing of CBD cannabis oils, but he warned there are no guarantees patients in the island nation will be able to obtain it. "There are still real and serious practical hurdles to obtaining and importing this drug because it remains illegal in many jurisdictions, including nearby Jamaica," he said.

Chronicle AM: Clinton Renews Rescheduling Call, Kerry Gets MX Human Rights Letter, More... (8/12/16)

The DEA's refusal to reschedule marijuana yesterday elicits reactions from Hillary Clinton and DC activists, a California bill to tax medical marijuana farmers dies in committee, Secretary of State Kerry gets a letter from Congress urging him to prioritize human rights when it comes to financing Mexico's drug war, and more.

DC activists are set to give the White House an earful after the DEA refused to reschedule marijuana.
Marijuana Policy

In Wake of DEA Decision, Hillary Clinton Reiterates Call for Rescheduling Marijuana. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton will move to reclassify marijuana as a Schedule II substance, her campaign said in a statement after the DEA rejected reclassification Thursday. "As president, Hillary will build on the important steps announced today by rescheduling marijuana from a Schedule I to a Schedule II substance. She will also ensure Colorado, and other states that have enacted marijuana laws, can continue to serve as laboratories of democracy," senior Clinton advisor Maya Harris said.

In Wake of DEA Decision, Emergency Demonstration at the White House Tonight. Washington, DC, DCMJ legalization activists are gathering in front of the White House tonight at 8:20 PM to protest the DEA's refusal to move marijuana from Schedule I, the same schedule as heroin. "Here we are, 43 years and millions of marijuana arrests later, and we being told that cannabis is still as dangerous as heroin. WHAT THE HELL?!?!" organizers wrote on Facebook. "The Obama Administration's DEA thinks Americans should go to jail for a non-toxic plant. WE THINK OTHERWISE!"

Medical Marijuana

California Medical Marijuana Tax Bill Dies in Committee. A bill that would have imposed a tax on commercial medical marijuana growers has been killed in the Senate Appropriations Committee. Assembly Bill 2243 would have imposed a tax of up to $9.25 per ounce of marijuana buds, $2.75 for pot leaves, and $1.25 for immature pot plants. The panel killed the bill after patient advocates said it would impose a burden on patients.


Canadian Medical Marijuana Patients Will Be Able to Grow Their Own. Health Canada said Thursday that medical marijuana patients will be able to grow limited amounts for themselves or have a caregiver do so. The move comes as the government attempts to comply with a federal court ruling that struck down the previous Conservative government's ban on patients growing their own. Patients would also still have the option of buying from one of 34 producers licensed by the federal government.

Congresspersons Sign Letter to Secretary of State Kerry Urging That US Prioritize Human Rights in Mexico. Some 68 members of Congress have signed onto a letter urging Kerry to make human rights a priority in US relations with Mexico. The letter expresses concern over the "27,000 unresolved cases of people who have disappeared in Mexico since 2007, and the slow pace of reforms in the military, law enforcement and justice sectors," as well as the persistent use of torture in criminal investigations. It calls for US support for the ongoing investigation and search for the 43 disappeared students from the Ayotzinapa rural teachers' college. And it reiterates the need for accountability and justice in the cases of grave abuses committed by Mexican security forces in Oaxaca and Tlatlaya. The letter comes as the State Department is reviewing the Mexican government's compliance with human rights conditions attached to US anti-drug funding.

(This article was prepared by"s lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

DEA's Marijuana Rescheduling Rejection Is Disappointing, But Doesn't Have Much Impact [FEATURE]

This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and an earlier version appeared here.

The DEA's decision Thursday not to move marijuana from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) ended months of speculation about whether the agency would finally act in accordance with an ever-increasing mountain of evidence of marijuana's medicinal utility and either schedule it less restrictively or deschedule it altogether.

Supporters of more enlightened marijuana policies were disappointed, but not surprised. After all, the DEA has a long history of rejecting and impeding science when it comes to marijuana. But even had DEA acted (it did ease the University of Mississippi's monopoly on growing marijuana for research purposes), the most likely move would have been grudgingly incremental, shifting marijuana from a schedule where it is grouped with heroin down to Schedule II, where it would be grouped with cocaine and methamphetamines, and still not prescribable absent FDA approval.

Or the agency could have taken some other largely unpalatable stance, such as making cannibidiol a Schedule III substance (like synthetic Marinol) while leaving the whole plant Schedule I. In any case, any move short of descheduling it entirely and treating it like alcohol and tobacco, would have left marijuana medicalized, but not normalized.

The article below was written days before the DEA's decision, but we think the discussion remains germane for understanding the issues around rescheduling and why most reformers are disappointed, but not devastated by the agency's stubborn refusal to budge.

While the DEA may move to reschedule marijuana to a lesser schedule, keeping it within the purview of the Controlled Substances Act means that it would still be illegal, even for medical use in the absence of FDA approval. Even with FDA approval, a years-long process, it would still require a prescription to obtain, which would do nothing to address legal adult marijuana sales, production, or possession in the states. Removing it from the CSA, or descheduling, is what consumers and the industry are calling for, but that is the unlikeliest outcome, even though that's how we deal with the two most commonly used recreational drugs in the United States, alcohol and tobacco.

Schedule I is reserved for substances that have "no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse," the DEA notes. "Schedule I drugs are the most dangerous drugs of all the drug schedules with potentially severe psychological or physical dependence." Those drugs include heroin, Ecstasy, LSD, peyote…and marijuana.

For more than 40 years, the DEA has blocked efforts to have marijuana placed in a more appropriate schedule, one that reflects the plant's medicinal uses as well as its relative harmlessness compared to other scheduled substances. But that stance has grown increasingly untenable in the face of state-level medical marijuana programs and in the face of an ever-larger mountain of research that fails to find significant serious health consequences from marijuana use.

Now, the DEA is considering a decision on the most recent rescheduling petition. Earlier this year, the agency told lawmakers it "hopes to release its determination in the first half of 2016," but that clearly didn't happen. Late in June, DEA spokesman Russ Baer said the agency is "in the final stages" of making its determination. And just last week, Baer said, "We're closer than we ever were. It's a very deliberative process."

If the DEA decides not to keep marijuana in Schedule I, the most obvious incremental move would be for it to bump it down one step to Schedule II, placing pot in the same category as morphine, cocaine, and methamphetamine. That could pave the way for eventually allowing doctors to prescribe it, and would remove some roadblocks to further research. It might open the way for broader changes in financial and business regulations, although a shift to Schedule III or greater would be needed to address the debilitating 280E tax provision, which prevents cannabusinesses from deducting ordinary expenses like rent or payroll.

The DEA still doesn't see the "medical" in "medical marijuana." (Wikimedia/Creative Commons)
But Schedule II, or any of the lesser schedules, would require that marijuana be approved by Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a lengthy and expensive process that could bankrupt businesses attempting to overcome those regulatory hurdles. And until that happens, there is no approved marijuana for doctors to prescribe. It's also unclear whether the FDA would ever approve smoked marijuana.

Members of the marijuana industry, medical marijuana advocates, and marijuana consumer advocacy groups alike expressed skepticism about the DEA's willingness or ability to respond to the scientific evidence, uncertainty about what the agency was likely to do, and a demonstrated a pronounced -- if not unanimous -- preference not for rescheduling, but for descheduling.

Matthew Huron is a founder and former board member of the National Cannabis Industry Association and founder and current CEO of Good Chemistry Colorado, a vertically integrated cannabis company, as well as the co-founder of the Wellspring Collective, which caters to seniors with health challenges. Huron isn't exactly enthused by the prospect of Schedule II.

"Just to move it to Schedule II is more complicated than we're reading about," he said. "It might just be the molecule that gets rescheduled -- not cannabis. I don't think moving it to Schedule II would really have much effect on the states. It wouldn't hurt, but it wouldn't really help. Most of us in the industry would like to see it descheduled."

The medical marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access (ASA) is pushing for Schedule II, but it's not relying on the DEA to make it happen.

"We don't have a crystal ball, and we don't know what the DEA will do, but based on past history, we don't have high hopes they will reschedule," said ASA spokesperson Melissa Wilcox. "It's possible they will de- or reschedule CBD and leave whole plant cannabis at Schedule I. Who knows? The DEA tends to ignore the science."

Schedule II "would remove barriers to scientists wishing to do research, so we know best how to use cannabis -- targeting, dosing, all the questions we haven't been able to study because it is such a pain to get research done now," said Wilcox.

But with little faith in the DEA, ASA is instead pushing for a legislative solution, the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States' Rights (CARERS) Act, also known as S. 683, which is currently bottled up in the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by octogenarian prohibitionist Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA).

The CARERS Act would move marijuana to Schedule II, as well as deschedule CBD, open up access to marijuana business banking, and end the NIDA monopoly on growing marijuana for research, among other provisions.

"We're pretty sure this could pass, but Grassley is the gatekeeper, and we're pushing hard to get him to schedule a vote," said Wilcox.

"Moving marijuana to Schedule II is not a solution," said Mason Tvert, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project, which has played -- and continues to play -- a major role in advancing both medical marijuana and legalization at the state level. "It would certainly remove barriers to research, but it would still treat marijuana as if it were as harmful as cocaine and other illegal substances, when it is objectively less harmful than alcohol. We fully support removing marijuana from the schedules and treating it like alcohol," Tvert emphasized.

"We think marijuana should be removed entirely from the Controlled Substances Act," said Dale Gieringer, long-time head of California NORML, representing consumers and small growers in the nation's most populous state. "As a fallback position, we've been litigating since 1972 to get it rescheduled to Schedule II. If they do that, that would be good -- they'd only be 45 years overdue," he noted.

"From the standpoint of states that have state-legal suppliers, Schedule II doesn't accomplish a whole lot," Gieringer said. "Those state-legal suppliers wouldn't become federally legal; they'd have to first obtain FDA approval. Until that happens, everybody is an illegal producer of a scheduled drug under federal law," he said.

"Schedule II would allow doctors to write prescriptions -- but nobody could fill them," Gieringer noted. "There are international prescriptions and international suppliers, though. But the main impact would be doctors would feel better and cops couldn't argue that marijuana isn't a medicine. If they're trying to create a niche for existing legal medical marijuana state, putting it in Schedule II is like creating a square hole for a round peg."

Marijuana patients, consumers, and the industry are all waiting for the DEA to act, but aren't really holding out much hope it will do the right thing. And even the half-steps it might take, such as moving it to Schedule II or separating out CBDs for lower scheduling, aren't going to substantially alter marijuana's legal status or resolve the conflicts between state-level legality and federal marijuana prohibition. When it comes to rescheduling marijuana, there's just not that much there there.

Medical Marijuana Update

The DEA again rejects marijuana rescheduling, a North Dakota initiative makes the ballot, a South Dakota one doesn't, a Missouri one hangs on by a thread, and more.


On Thursday, DEA again refused to reschedule marijuana. The DEA today again refused to reschedule marijuana, arguing that its therapeutic value has not been scientifically proven. The move rejecting a rescheduling petition from two governors comes despite medical marijuana being legal in half the states and in the face of an ever-increasing mountain of evidence of marijuana's medicinal utility. Today's action marks at least the fourth time the DEA has rejected petitions seeking to reschedule marijuana. The effort to get the DEA to move marijuana off the same schedule as heroin has been going on since 1972, and once again has garnered the same result. The agency did announce one policy change that could make it easier to conduct marijuana research. It said it would end the University of Mississippi's monopoly on the production of marijuana for research purposes by granting growing licenses to a limited number of other universities.


On Monday, a medical marijuana initiative campaign vowed to go to court to try to overturn invalidated signatures. New Approach Missouri announced that it will go to court this month to overturn invalidated signatures so that its medical marijuana initiative can appear on the November ballot. The campaign has enough valid signatures to qualify in every congressional district except the state's second, where local election officials invalidated more than 10,000 signatures, leaving the campaign roughly 2,200 short of the 32,337 required in that district.


On Tuesday, Ohio took the first step toward getting medical marijuana up and running. The state Medical Marijuana Control Program has unveiled a website with the first information on how it plans to implement the state's new medical marijuana law. Medical marijuana will not be available before September 2018, as the state works to develop rules and regulations.

North Dakota

On Tuesday, a medical marijuana initiative qualified for the November ballot. The secretary of state's office has confirmed that Compassionate Care Act initiative has submitted enough valid signatures to qualify for the November ballot. The initiative would allow patients suffering from a list of specified medical conditions to possess up to three ounces of marijuana and grow their own if they are more than 40 miles away from a licensed dispensary. Dispensaries would be nonprofits.

South Dakota

On Tuesday, a state court judge rejected a medical marijuana initiative campaign's appeal. The state will not be voting on the issue this November after a state court judge denied a request from the campaign to overturn Secretary of State Shantel Krebs' finding that the group did not hand in enough valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot. South Dakota has twice previously rejected medical marijuana at the polls -- the only state to do so.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit]

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