Illinois Decriminalizes Marijuana. Really.

Huge (albeit expected) news today that Illinois Governor has signed SB2228 – otherwise known as the Marijuana Decriminalization Bill!

Here is what it does:

  1. Possession of 10 grams or less of cannabis is now only subject to a fine of $100-$200.
  2. Changes our driving while impaired laws, setting the maximum cannabis impairment standards at 5 nanongrams of THC in whole blood, or 10 nanograms of other bodily substances.
  3. Paves the way for automatic expungement of current arrests that fall under the civil penalty/fine starting 6 months from today.

Governor Rauner did the right thing today, and let’s give due credit to the incredible State Representative Kelly Cassidy and State Senator Heather Steans.  Maybe you want to call their office and thank them, give a small contribution, or let them know the next time you see them how much you appreciate what they’ve done?

Effective Immediately.  BOOM-shacka-lacka.

 

IL Courts Push For Unprecedented Med Cann Expansion

The action continues for the Illinois Medical Cannabis Program, with courts stepping in to push the program to add new medical conditions.

Not since Arizona’s administrative judge forced the government to add PTSD has the judiciary weighed in so heavily on the expansion of a medical cannabis program.

Let’s recap:

  1. PTSD – We covered that here and we are still waiting to hear if IDPH will appeal the ruling.  We’ll know more in the next few days.  Since SB10 (already signed into law by the Governor) added PTSD, the question of whether to appeal raises bigger issues for IDPH (such as executive power, and what the ruling means for other pending patient lawsuits like for intractable pain).
  2. Migraines – last week Judge Novak ruled that migraines, too, were inappropriately denied by IDPH.  Unlike with PTSD, Novak reversed the denial but remanded the case – sending it back to IDPH to consider this specific condition.
  3. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) – Judge Demacooulous today ruled in a similar way as migraines, sending the condition back to IDPH for a new review.

Between these three decisions, we now have a template for the remaining patient-condition cases.  Judge Cohen is likely to rule in the same way for a) chronic post-operative pain and b) osteoarthritis as he did for PTSD.  The other judges are likely to reverse and the remand the cases (intractable pain, autism, Polycystic Kidney Disease)- shipping them back to IDPH for a new review.

What’s next?

You should expect the next news to be whether IDPH appeals the Cohen/PTSD decision.

If they do not, there is a much better chance that osteoarthritis and chronic post-operative pain are coming soon to a medical cannabis program near you.  If they appeal, all the conditions could be put on hold while the litigation plays out.

Either way, PTSD is here for good (as is terminal illnesses).

Keep your seatbelts on, campers – this ride ain’t over yet.

What if Illinois were more like Colorado?

       VS.             

 

Colorado had $117 million dollars in cannabis sales in the month of April.  In one month.  $117 million.

Illinois was a little less than that.  $2.57 million in medical cannabis sales in June 2016.

Of course the comparison is not fair – looking back to Colorado’s medical cannabis sales in 2013 (before recreational sales began in 2014), medical sales were still nearly $27 million per month.  Ten times that of Illinois, and Colorado has less than half the population.

As you probably already know, all of this is by design.

Illinois purposefully designed a new medical cannabis law that was heavily regulated, and limited to a small number of medical conditions (excluding chronic pain).  Colorado’s medical cannabis law developed over many years, and was designed to be liberal and inclusive.  The results are clear.

But what if Illinois had been more like Colorado or California?  What if physician recommendations were more like a suggestion than a strictly-enforced, physician license-risking requirement? What if we had added severe pain, or had unlimited business licenses to grow or sell, or if Illinois patients could grow their own cannabis at home?  As a former regulator, I am instinctively partial to strong regulations and government oversight – but this comes at a price.

For starters, we know Illinois would have hundreds of thousands of medical cannabis patients if the law had reflected California or Colorado.  In turn, there would have been more revenue and taxes, more patients with less pain and better health, more diversity in products and more of a free market.

But maybe the biggest difference would be less tangible, and more of a policy shift – I think it would change the way we think about cannabis – and it would have a profound impact on social justice and criminal justice.

If home cultivation were permitted, would cannabis be so stigmatizing?  No, of course not.

If medical cannabis were more easily accessible to those in daily pain, would we have such opioid addiction and drug incarceration problems?  No, of course not.

If Illinois had a medical cannabis program that reflected those last seen in Colorado and Washington, would we have more jobs, more local tax revenue, and a smaller black market for marijuana?  Yes, of course we would.

Luckily, Illinois is on the verge of fixing one of these problems: decriminalizing possession of small amounts of cannabis.  In the next few days SB 2228 is set to be enacted into law – if you want to let Governor Rauner know why cannabis decriminalization is a step in the right direction, you can contact him about SB2228 here.

Why Pot Lawyers Have More Fun

It is a lot of fun being a cannabis attorney.

For the non-attorneys reading this blog, you might not be aware of the endless ways to practice law.  For starters, you can be a litigator, a government attorney, and in-house counsel, or private practice corporate lawyer.  You could focus on family law, public housing rights, labor disputes, real estate, sports law, and yes, even marijuana.  There are some commonalities for all of these attorneys:

-We all attended multiple years of law school learning to “think like a lawyer.”

-We all have a code of ethics and professionalism to follow.

-We all know the TV show Law & Order is as accurate in depicting the practice of law, as Grey’s Anatomy is in depicting the practice of medicine. (Note – there is more overlap than you think)

Many of the lawyers I know enjoy their jobs, but they don’t love them.  Some are significantly underpaid in government or non-profit jobs, others make plenty of money but are unfulfilled by the work.

pot-lawyers

 

Depending on the subject area, a lawyer may be working in a newer segment like my friends in social media or comic book law.  They may also be working on boring, super-old law that existed before any of us were born.  The lawyer may be researching insurance coverage laws, or arguing with other lawyers about the meaning behind the word “they.”

While a lawyer’s personality is the best indicator of what kind of law they will most enjoy, I would like to suggest that pot law is the most fun.

Our work is anything but boring.

Pot lawyers get the opportunity to work in the gray zone; developing an area of law with no precedent.

This is an industry that literally is forbidden by the federal government but somehow exists and is thriving in 50% of the states in the U.S.

Mind.  Blown.

Cannabis law transcends nearly every other kind of law – so a true “cannabis lawyer” actually works in many other practice areas, including corporate, litigation, regulatory, intellectual property, banking, employment, finance, product liability, and of course, criminal law.

More often than not, a legal question in the cannabis industry is answered with “I don’t know, but here is the most likely answer.”  We counsel clients on high risk activities, with the backdrop of inevitability of national marijuana reform.  We hang on every new state and local regulation, and collectively hold our breaths for when marijuana is no longer a Schedule 1 drug under the U.S. Controlled Substances Act (more on that topic in future blog posts).

We are an indirect part of an movement working to right the wrongs of decades of the War on Drugs.  We work to create an industry that reflects the diversity of the community it serves.

We hear pot jokes.  Endless, mostly recycled, pot jokes.

Cannabis law is expanding into traditional companies and traditional law firms.  Before you know it, cannabis law will be mainstream and common.

Until then, just know that the pot lawyers are having the most fun.