Legal Marijuana Comes to Washington, D.C. - Robert Capecchi Explains the New Law

On February 26, 2015, possession of small amounts of marijuana became legal in Washington, D.C. as a result of the city’s adoption of Initiative 71. There was some opposition in Congress, but no action was taken, so the new law went quietly into effect. Legislative analyst Robert Capecchi discusses the new law and what it will mean for the nation’s capital.

Robert Capecchi

Robert Capecchi

Capecchi notes that there is still a disconnect between the city law in the District of Columbia and the federal government, which still treats marijuana as a controlled substance under the Controlled Substances Act. Representative Jason Chaffetz has warned city officials that legalization would be a violation of federal law. It appears that there will be no lawsuit from Congress, although it has been suggested that the Department of Justice should take action. Capecchi does not expect any action, given that the Congress had a thirty-day window to pass a disapproval resolution but failed to act.

The D.C. law is more restrictive than the laws in Colorado and Washington. It does not allow for regulated sales or cultivation for those sales. There is also no provision for taxing and regulating marijuana like alcohol, Capecchi explains, although there is support for the idea among city council members in the District and in the mayor’s office. He adds that the Marijuana Policy Project will continue efforts to get the council to move forward with taxing and regulating marijuana. The MPP works on changing laws in Congress and in the states on a continuing basis. Lawmakers like the revenue prospect of marijuana legalization and taxation; some also support changing the law as a social policy matter.

The federal government has not entirely abandoned efforts to enforce federal marijuana laws, as indicated by the prosecution of the “Kettle Falls Five” in Washington state. Capecchi notes that the prosecution in that case ignored the policy set at the Department of Justice in 2009 of not prosecuting patients in medical marijuana states. “It’s mind boggling.” People in marijuana states are essentially living under two sets of conflicting laws. Capecchi expresses the hope that the federal government realizes that the tide of public opinion has turned and ends the ban on marijuana. States could then deal with marijuana policy on a state by state basis as is the case with alcohol.

Robert Capecchi is the Deputy Director of State Policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, Washington D.C. As one of four legislative analysts in MPP’s State Policies Department, Robert is the point person for MPP’s legislative work in about a quarter of the various state legislatures. Robert is a 2008, cum laude graduate of William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, Minnesota. He was formerly employed by Cook, Hill, Girard Associates, a contract-lobbying firm in St. Paul. The Legal Broadcast Network is a featured network of the Sequence Media Group.

Supreme Court Hears Arguments in Obamacare Case: Slate's Dahlia Lithwick Explains

On March 4, 2015, the Supreme Court heard arguments in King v. Burwell, a case challenging the validity of tax credits under the Affordable Care Act for lower-income Americans who have bought their health insurance policies through the federal exchange rather than state ones. There are thirty-four states that do not have their own exchanges, so residents of those states have had to use the federal exchange instead. In this report, Slate Senior Editor and Legal Correspondent Dahlia Lithwick discusses the case and what is at stake for Obamacare.

Dahlia Lithwick

Dahlia Lithwick

Lithwick notes that, compared to the Obamacare case considered by the Supreme Court in 2012, the King case is very much under the radar. The King case seems smaller, but it could be very big. The thing that led to this case was an apparent assumption in the Affordable Care Act that states would all create their individual insurance exchanges. Thirty-four states chose not to do so. Residents of those states had the option of buying insurance through the federal exchange, and so they did.

The King case hinges on four words in the Affordable Care Act that seem to imply that tax credits are only available to people who purchased their insurance through state exchanges. In other words, Lithwick explains, the case is concerned with statutory interpretation. One obvious question when considering the meaning of the words and the legislative intent is whether the statute was written using the language in question to encourage states to create their own exchanges. In Lithwick’s opinion, this point of view emerged later. There isn’t a body of evidence clearly showing that this is what the Congress had in mind.

Lithwick points out that a win for the plaintiffs in this case could have “near catastrophic effects” on the people in the thirty-four states who bought their insurance on the federal exchange. Such an outcome could force premium rates higher, causing some people to drop out of the program simply because of the expense involved. This could lead to an extreme situation where only the very ill are still insured. This could lead to a “death spiral” where eventually insurers couldn’t afford to insure anyone. No one would really benefit from this, and there are no plans at present to resolve the problem.

Lithwick is pessimistic about the chances that anyone from either political party will be able to come up with a solution, let alone a bipartisan plan that everyone would support. She notes that Congress is struggling with funding the Department of Homeland Security, a much simpler problem than fixing Obamacare. Lithwick suggests that the King decision will be a very close one where Chief Justice Roberts will be the fifth vote on either side of a 5-4 decision.

Dahlia Lithwick is a senior editor and legal correspondent for Slate. She has covered the Microsoft trial and other legal issues. Before joining Slate, she worked for a family law firm in Reno, Nev., and clerked for Procter Hug, chief justice of the ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in 1996. Her work has appeared in the New Republic, Commentary, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Elle and on CNN.com. She is a weekly legal commentator for the NPR show, Day to Day, and a columnist for the New York Times. The Legal Broadcast Network is a featured network of the Sequence Media Group.

Lawsuit Says Purina's Beneful Is Killing Dogs; Attorney Jeffrey Cereghino Explains

A lawsuit has been filed against Nestlé Purina Petcare Company claiming that the company’s Beneful dog food is killing pets. The class action was filed in federal district court in California on behalf of Frank Lucido. The suit alleges that thousands of dogs have become ill or died as a result of eating Beneful. Class action lawyer Jeffrey Cereghino, plaintiffs’ counsel in the lawsuit, explains the case in this report.

Jeffrey Cereghino

Jeffrey Cereghino

Cereghino relates that Mr. Lucido had three pets in three locations who all developed health problems. The only common element was the Beneful dog food. One dog died, the other two became seriously ill. The different locations tended to rule out environmental issues. Then, online research and discussions with veterinarians disclosed that there were many people who had reported problems with Beneful. For example, one woman lost both her dogs in a matter of weeks after switching to Beneful. The lawsuit followed.

Cereghino opines that the problem with Beneful is that mycotoxins are entering the food through its grain components. Purina has a long history as a pet food manufacturer. There are still now clear answers as to how all this is happening. Cereghino says that toxicologists are being hired to analyze samples of Beneful from victims all over the country.

Another unanswered question is whether the mycotoxins got into every sack of Beneful or only some of them. Cereghino says that his firm “is getting inundated” with emails—almost 200 per hour—about the problem. There have been at least 4,000 pets who have died from the food, as alleged in the lawsuit. The claims are spread out all over the country, and some of them go back to 2013. Purina says that it gets its grain locally. However, in some past problems of different kinds, contaminated grain from China somehow found its way into the food chain, and perhaps that is a possibility here.

So far as Cereghino is aware, only Purina is having a problem with its dog food. So far, there has been no recall of any Beneful. In its public statements, Purina has not yet acknowledged that any problems exist with Beneful. There has been no discovery so far, so many things are not yet clear.

Cereghino says that, based on anecdotal evidence, the problem can appear after only one Beneful feeding. Again, more will be known as more evidence is compiled and discovery begins in the lawsuit. Information from toxicologists will help to develop more information about how long it takes for problems to develop. So far, the most common problem has been significant internal bleeding. Other symptoms include lethargy, hair loss, liver failure, and kidney failure are other problems that have occurred.

The issue of damages will be a tough one. Courts have traditionally viewed pets as chattels as opposed to the way humans are treated. Cereghino says that some jurisdictions have begun to change the way the loss of an animal companion if valued in assessing damages.

Jeffrey B. Cereghino is a Partner at Ram, Olson, Cereghino & Kopczynski, LLP, located in San Francisco, California. His practice area primarily focuses upon complex litigation and class actions. He represents consumers in class action matters as well as property owners in complex construction and product liability actions. He is admitted to numerous Federal District Courts, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and multiple state courts. The Legal Broadcast Network is a featured network of the Sequence Media Group.