The Times They Are A-changin’

The Marijuana Policy Project is pushing for reform in cannabis legislation. Morgan Fox tells us more.

Why was there a need to establish the Marijuana Policy Project?

The MPP was established to build support, work on advocacy and communications, and fund various initiatives around marijuana laws. The harms caused by marijuana prohibition were clear to many people and mounting daily, but there were no really serious organizations lobbying to change these policies. It was time for a change.

What are the biggest legal hurdles for the medical marijuana industry?

Federal prohibition is the biggest hurdle. Despite medical cannabis being legal at the state level and the current federal policy to not target them, producers and providers can still be prosecuted under federal law, leaving them in a very unstable position. As federally illegal businesses, they cannot claim tax deductions under the 280e tax provision, and they are frequently denied access to banking and credit card systems.

How about scientific research?

Until recently, the federal government limited research in such a way that only studies looking for negative effects were approved – but that is beginning to change. We are only just scratching the surface of knowledge about the endocannabinoid system. Any and all research would help us understand more about cannabis and its potential uses.

How difficult is it for patients to enroll in medical cannabis programs?

Despite doctors being legally allowed to recommend marijuana under the First Amendment, many are unwilling to do so for a variety of reasons, including lack of education on marijuana’s efficacy or the fact that it has not been approved by the FDA.

Any particular successes?

We – along with other groups – have helped make some big changes. In June this year, Ohio became the 25th state to adopt a workable medical marijuana law. The legislation was a direct response to a MPP-funded initiative and sought to qualify for the November 2016 ballot. Eventually, seriously ill patients will be able to purchase and use medical cannabis cultivated and processed in-state – without being treated like criminals. They are not expected to for over a year, but at least they have an affirmative defense until the regulations and roll-out are complete.

What are the MPP’s next steps?

We are currently involved in ballot initiative campaigns to make marijuana legal for adults and regulated like alcohol in Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada, as well as medical marijuana campaigns in Arkansas, Florida, and North Dakota. We continue to lobby Congress and state legislatures as well. In 1995, it was illegal in every state. Now, 25 have comprehensive medical marijuana laws. We need to keep going.

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