Marijuana News Roundup: Feds Sentenced 3,500 to Prison Last Year for Pot-Related Offenses

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In a report issued earlier this month, the U.S. Sentencing Commission, an independent agency of the judicial branch of the federal government established in 1984 as a response to the wide disparity in federal sentencing, reported that nearly 20,000 Americans were sentenced under federal guidelines related to drug offenses in fiscal year 2016. Of that total, 3,534 were sentenced in cases related to marijuana.

Of the total number of marijuana-related sentences, 96% — 3,398 — were related to trafficking charges, and 122 (3.5%) were related to simple possession. In total drug-related cases, marijuana ranks third behind methamphetamine (6,626, of which 6,567 were trafficking cases) and powder cocaine (3,891, of with 3,642 were trafficking cases).

In all, 19,231 trafficking cases resulted in a median sentence of 48 months and a mean of 66 months. For all federal sentences (e.g., murder, kidnapping, child pornography) last year the median sentence was 21 months and the mean was 44 months.

The median sentence length for a marijuana-related conviction was 18 months, compared with a median of 70 months for a meth-related conviction and 65 months for a crack cocaine conviction.

By race, 77% of marijuana offenders were Hispanic, 11.9% were white, and 8.3% were black.

The full report is available at the Sentencing Commission website along with reports for the previous three years.

A Pharma Company That Spent $500,000 Trying to Keep Pot Illegal Just Got DEA approval for Synthetic Marijuana
Insys Therapeutics, a pharmaceutical company that was one of the chief financial backers of the opposition to marijuana legalization in Arizona last year, received preliminary approval from the Drug Enforcement Administration this week for Syndros, a synthetic marijuana drug.

Insys gave $500,000 last summer to Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy, the group opposing marijuana legalization in Arizona. The donation amounted to roughly 10 percent of all money raised by the group in an ultimately successful campaign against legalization. Insys was the only pharmaceutical company known to be giving money to oppose legalization last year, according to a Washington Post analysis of campaign finance records.

Syndros is a synthetic formulation of THC, the main psychoactive component in the cannabis plant. It was approved by the FDA last summer to treat nausea, vomiting and weight loss in cancer and AIDS patients. The DEA approval places Syndros and its generic formulations in Schedule II of the Controlled Substances Act, indicating a “high potential for abuse.” Other Schedule II drugs include cocaine, morphine and many prescription painkillers.

Whole-plant marijuana remains in Schedule I of the CSA, an even stricter regulatory category that designates a lack of medically accepted use in addition to a high abuse potential.

Read more at The Washington Post.

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Colorado Has a Plan to Avoid a Marijuana Crackdown by President Trump
Colorado is considering an unusual strategy to protect its nascent marijuana industry from a potential federal crackdown, even at the expense of hundreds of millions of dollars in tax collections.

A bill pending in the Legislature would allow pot growers and retailers to reclassify their recreational pot as medical pot if a change in federal law or enforcement occurs.

It’s the boldest attempt yet by a U.S. marijuana state to avoid federal intervention in its weed market.

The bill would allow Colorado’s 500 or so licensed recreational pot growers to instantly reclassify their weed. A switch would cost the state more than $100 million a year because Colorado taxes medical pot much more lightly than recreational weed — 2.9 percent versus 17.9 percent.

The measure says licensed growers could immediately become medical licensees “based on a business need due to a change in local, state or federal law or enforcement policy.” The change wouldn’t take recreational marijuana off the books, but it wouldn’t entirely safeguard it either. What it could do is help growers protect their inventory in case federal authorities start seizing recreational pot.

Read more at Time.com.

Here’s a story we did last month on the cost of a federal crackdown.

Startups Downplay Tobacco as They Talk Up Cannabis
Shops patronized by pot smokers have a long tradition of labeling their pipes and vaporizers “for tobacco use only.” But startups developing smoking and vaping gear are basically asking customers to put their weed in it.

Self-described cannabis product companies are raising capital in droves, while funding for startups in the e-cigarette space has all but, well, vaporized. Not a single company that mentioned tobacco, cigarettes or e-cigarettes in its Crunchbase profile raised a disclosed funding round in the past year. By contrast, at least 45 self-described marijuana and cannabis companies did.

Now, it’s true e-cigarettes were never exactly a smoking hot sector for funding. However, companies in the space do have some history of raising capital. NJOY, an e-cigarette brand launched in 2006, for instance, raised a total of $165 million in private equity funding and closed its last round in 2014 with a reported $1 billion valuation. PAX Labs, a maker of e-cigarettes and vaping products, closed on $47 million a year later.

Read more at TechCrunch.

Marijuana Raids Are More Deadly Than the Drug Itself
Since 2010, at least 20 SWAT raids involving suspected marijuana dealers have turned deadly, according to data compiled by the New York Times.

The list of fatalities includes small-time dealers and people who sold the occasional joint to a friend, as well as people suspected of dealing in more serious drugs like crack or meth, but who were found to be in possession of only marijuana after the fact. It also includes four police officers who were killed during the raids, intentionally or otherwise.

The deadly raids are a reminder that an activity that’s legal and celebrated in some states — selling weed — can get you killed in others.

Read more at The Washington Post.