Archive for the ‘Highlighted’ category

Where The War on Pot Will Go To Die

May 24th, 2014

In some states, there’s an untenable mismatch between the crime and the time, but does anyone think that pot—medical or recreational—will still be illegal in 10 years? Now that a majority of Americans—54% and climbing, according to Pew Research—believe that marijuana should be treated like beer, wine and liquor, it’s time to ask: where does the war on pot go to die?

What episode will trigger that final skirmish that kicks over the hollowed-out edifice of marijuana prohibition like the Berlin Wall? What will be the final outrage against common sense and common decency that triggers an Arab Spring for weed in these U.S.? Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia already have medical marijuana (with more to come), and full legalization has gained 13 percentage points in just the past five years.

Ironically, whatever ends the war on pot won’t happen in Colorado or Washington, which have already legalized recreational pot and have received vague promises from Attorney General Eric Holder that the feds won’t bust people and businesses who comply with state laws. Colorado is further along in the retail process than Washington (where pot shops won’t open until mid-July), and so far the only problem of note is that the state is raking in 40% more tax revenue than originally projected.

Look instead to places such as Round Rock, Texas, where 19-year-old Jacob Lavoro faces a sentence between five and 99 years for allegedly selling a 1.5-pound slab of hash brownies. Under state law, selling up to five pounds of plain old pot is punishable by no more than two years in the clink and a $10,000 fine. But hash, a concentrated form of pot, is considered a controlled substance and even the tiny amount in Lavoro’s brownies qualifies him for what amounts to a potential life sentence. Through a convoluted rationale, you see, the law can count all the brownie ingredients—the eggs, butter, flour, cocoa—as hash.

Oh well, everything’s bigger in Texas, including the unconscionable mismatch between the crime and the time. If he was only a couple of states away, Lavoro wouldn’t be facing jail, he’d be a successful entrepreneur. That sort of mind-blowing disjuncture is exactly the sort of thing that takes the fight out of the war on pot.

Or look to recent comments made by FBI director James Comey, who admitted that he can’t hire the 2,000 cyber-crime fighters the bureau needs to protect America because of workplace drug tests. “I have to hire a great work force to compete with those cyber criminals and some of those kids want to smoke weed on the way to the interview,” Comey said. He was upbraided by Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) for providing yet “one more example of leadership in America dismissing the seriousness of marijuana use.” Whatever you can say about Comey, he’s in good company acknowledging the ubiquity of pot smoking in today’s America. According to the latest government data, 43% of Americans—including the three most recent presidents—have tried pot at least once. And when asked whether alcohol or marijuana is more harmful to society, fully 63% say booze and just 23% say pot. How much longer can the Jeff Sessions of the world hold back the tide of public opinion?

And, finally, look to California, which passed the nation’s first medical marijuana ballot initiative way back in 1996 and saw 46.5% vote in favor of recreational pot in a 2010 proposition. In 2011, federal agents raided the operations of business of dispensary owner and medical grower Aaron Sandusky. This came after repeated promises by the Obama administration that it wouldn’t go after medical pot providers who were operating within state law. And even though officials from the city of Upland, which had tipped off the feds, later admitted in court that Sandusky was operating properly within state law.

Sandusky refused on principle to cop a plea because he thought he was in the right. Tried in federal court, he was unable to offer a defense based on California state law, Sandusky ended up pulling a 10-year sentece. In March of this year, he lost his final appeal. If he’s lucky and stays on good behavior, he’ll be out in 2021. Does anyone think that pot—medical or recreational—will still be illegal by then?

As it happens, Sandusky is doing time in Texas’ Big Spring Federal Correctional Institute, which is only a four-hour drive from Jacob Lavoro’s hometown of Round Rock. As Lavoro ponders whatever deal prosecutors might offer him, he’d be smart to visit Sandusky and ask what life behind bars is like. Because while the war on pot is surely in its final stage, there will still be plenty of casualties before peace is declared.

Source: Time Magazine (US)
Author: Nick Gillespie
Published: May 23, 2014
Copyright: 2014 Time Inc.
Contact: letters@time.com
Website: http://www.time.com/time/

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Feds May Cut Off Water For Legal Marijuana Crops

May 20th, 2014

Some cannabis growers may soon find themselves with a lot less irrigation water if the U.S. government decides to block the use of federal water for state-legal marijuana cultivation.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which oversees management of federal water resources, “is evaluating how the Controlled Substances Act applies in the context of Reclamation project water being used to facilitate marijuana-related activities,” said Peter Soeth, a spokesman for the bureau. He said the evaluation was begun “at the request of various water districts in the West.”

Local water districts in Washington state and Colorado, where recreational marijuana is now legal, contract with federal water projects for supplies. Officials from some of those water districts said they assume the feds are going to turn off the spigots for marijuana growers.

“Certainly every indication we are hearing is that their policy will be that federal water supplies cannot be used to grow marijuana,” said Brian Werner at Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, which handles approximately one-third of all water for northeastern Colorado and is the Bureau of Reclamation’s second-largest user in the number of irrigated acres.

Washington state’s Roza Irrigation District, which supplies federal water to approximately 72,000 acres in Yakima and Benton counties, has already issued a “precautionary message” to water customers that may be involved in state-legal cannabis growing.

“Local irrigation districts operating federal irrigation projects have recently been advised that under Federal Reclamation Law, it is likely project water cannot be delivered and utilized for purposes that are illegal under federal law,” wrote Roza district manager Scott Revell in letters to the Yakima and Benton county commissioners. “Presumably growing marijuana would fall into this category.”

Both Washington and Colorado legalized marijuana for medical use more than a decade ago. Pot remains illegal under federal law. Reclamation’s Soeth said that the issue of cutting off water supplies for marijuana has never come up before.

A Department of Justice official told HuffPost it has no comment on the water issue. The Bureau of Reclamation is likely to announce a decision this month. “We’re going to work with our water districts once that decision is made,” Soeth said.

Marijuana advocates condemned the possibility of a federal water ban for state-legal crops. Mason Tvert, communications director for Marijuana Policy Project and key backer of Amendment 64, which legalized marijuana for recreational use in Colorado, criticized the hypocrisy of a federal government that would prevent water access to some legal businesses and not others.

“If water is so precious and scarce that it can’t be used for state-legal marijuana cultivation, it shouldn’t be used for brewing and distilling more harmful intoxicating substances like beer and liquor,” Tvert said.

The impact on Washington may be more severe, since the state’s marijuana laws allow for outdoor growing and, according to McClatchy, the Bureau of Reclamation controls the water supply of about two-thirds of the state’s irrigated land. In Colorado, marijuana businesses can only grow indoors.

Indoor growing in Denver, home to the majority of Colorado marijuana dispensaries, likely wouldn’t notice a shortage if the Bureau of Reclamation cuts off federal water.

“Because we are not a federal contractor, we would not be affected,” said Travis Thompson, spokesman for Denver Water, the main water authority for the state’s capital and surrounding suburbs.

But many other regions of the state rely on federal water. In Pueblo, about two hours south of Denver, about 20 percent of regional water is Reclamation-controlled. Although the remaining 80 percent of the region’s water is locally controlled, it passes through the Pueblo Dam, operated under Bureau of Reclamation authority.

“Yes, they come through a federal facility, but the federal facility is required to let those water right to pass,” Pueblo Board of Water Works executive director Terry Book said to southern Colorado’s NBC-affiliate KOAA.

The St. Charles Mesa Water District, another Pueblo-area water facility, has already imposed a moratorium on supplying water to marijuana businesses until the Bureau of Reclamation settles the issue.

The Bureau of Reclamation said its facilities deliver water to 1.25 million acres of land in Colorado and 1.2 million acres in Washington state. About 1.6 million acre-feet of water is delivered to Colorado’s agricultural sector from Reclamation and about 5 million acre-feet is delivered to agriculture in Washington.

As McClatchy reported last month that there are several viable alternatives to using federal water. Small-scale marijuana-growing operations may be able to use city-controlled water sources, or drill a well. Greenhouse growers are allowed to use up to 5,000 gallons of well water per day under state law. Any use beyond that requires a permit from the state. While some marijuana plants can require an average of six gallons of water per day, growing operations in the state are likely to fall well within that limit.

However, in areas of the state where much of the water is controlled by Bureau of Reclamation contracts, these alternatives aren’t as accessible.

The potential water ban has already set off local opposition. The Seattle Times’ editorial board urged the Bureau of Reclamation to allow federal water contracts to be used by marijuana farmers.

“The bureau has never had — nor should it have — a stake in what crop is planted. That’s a basic tenet of the 1902 National Reclamation Act, which created the bureau and transformed the arid American west,” read the May 4 editorial. “Yet the federal government is now threatening to forget that history, because some regulators are queasy about Washington and Colorado’s experimentation with marijuana legalization.”

As the Times’ board points out, there is some precedent for the Justice Department to stand down on the water issue. Last August, Attorney General Eric Holder told the governors of Washington and Colorado that the DOJ wouldn’t intervene in the states’ legal pot programs. And earlier this year, federal officials issued guidelines expanding access to financial services for legal marijuana businesses, so long as the business doesn’t violate certain legal priorities outlinedby the Justice Department.

“While we appreciate how the Obama administration has made some administrative concessions to the majority of voters who support legalization by issuing banking guidelines and having the Justice Department largely stand out of the way of state implementation, this water issue highlights the urgent need to actually change federal law,” Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority, told The Huffington Post. “There are bills pending in Congress that would solve this and other state-federal marijuana policy discrepancies, but so far the support from elected officials doesn’t even come close to matching the support from the public. I expect that gap will shrink with each passing election cycle as politicians start to see just how popular this issue is with voters.”

Source: Huffington Post (NY)
Author: Matt Ferner and Mollie Reilly
Published: May 19, 2014
Copyright: 2014 HuffingtonPost.com, LLC
Contact: scoop@huffingtonpost.com
Website: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/

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Marijuana ‘Caregivers’ Getting Little Oversight

May 11th, 2014

The young woman pulled her Subaru wagon into the parking lot of a Framingham hotel Wednesday night for a prearranged meeting with someone she knew only as Kool Guy, a man with short black hair and glasses who resembled actor Joaquin Phoenix.

She handed him $250 cash for an ounce of marijuana dubbed Blue Cheese. He threw in four free samples — chocolate and caramel candies laced with THC, the ingredient responsible for the drug’s high.

“The first time we met, I was nervous,” said the 31-year-old woman named Janeen, who found Kool Guy through a website that matches medical marijuana patients nationwide with “caregivers” in their area who supply cannabis that they have grown or bought from others. Now, making her fourth purchase to help with severe migraines, Janeen felt comfortable enough to bring along the 97-year-old woman she cares for.

Kool Guy is part of a booming cottage industry of self-described caregivers who have jumped in to meet the demand created by the state’s year-and-a-half-old medical marijuana law. While Massachusetts health officials have been preoccupied with vetting and licensing storefront dispensaries, these entrepreneurs are hawking products with names such as Jack the Ripper and Sour Diesel on the Internet. They operate in a legal gray area, with no regulation or oversight.

Bill Downing, a longtime activist for legalizing marijuana who is from Reading, said his company, Yankee Care Givers, delivers medicinal cannabis products grown by “old hippies” to about 940 patients throughout Massachusetts who order from the company’s website. His prices range from $320 an ounce for strains of marijuana called Green Crack, Sweet Tooth, and Blueberry Cannabis Flowers to $7 for another, edible variety, Green Karma Happy Taffy Lollies.

The caregivers and patients such as Janeen, who asked to be identified by only her first name, said that they’ are following the law and state health regulations. The rules allow patients with doctor-provided certificates to grow marijuana or have a caregiver cultivate it or obtain it for them — up to 10 ounces for a 60-day supply. Caregivers are limited to supplying just one patient at a time, but caregivers, patients, and even some police officials say the rules are unclear and open to interpretation.

The state Department of Public Health issued guidelines for law enforcement in March, but Reading Police Chief James Cormier said they leave many questions unanswered.

“We are in a big state of confusion right now,” he said. “What we need is a clear definition of what is a caregiver.”

The state health agency is aware of the flourishing trade, but has apparently done nothing to stop it. Karen van Unen, director of the department’s medical marijuana program, declined to be interviewed, and did not answer questions submitted through a spokesman about whether the proliferation of online caregivers serving multiple customers violates state regulations.

Van Unen released a statement, saying: “The Department actively cooperates with law enforcement when there are concerns about violations of these regulations, and is developing an online system which will provide law enforcement with real-time access to patient and caregiver registration, and will improve officials’ ability to monitor compliance.”

Since voters legalized medical marijuana in November 2012, the state has granted preliminary approval for 20 dispensaries, but has delayed licensing them amid revelations that some of the companies made misrepresentations on their applications that the state failed to uncover before selecting them.

Many patients have meanwhile received certificates from physicians allowing them to obtain marijuana for an array of conditions. But with dispensaries not expected to open until the fall at the earliest, they have turned to the Internet, where sites such as marijuana-caregiver.com provide a list of eager suppliers.

Patients and caregivers find each other through forums on the website and then arrange purchases through e-mail, private messaging, texting, and phone calls. The site includes patients’ ratings of caregivers, and frequent posts about upcoming deliveries around Massachusetts.

“We are caregivers and patients on Cape Cod looking to help other patients in need,” read one post.

Another person wrote, “Are there any caregivers that would be willing to grow for my wife? Not sure if this is even possible with these ridiculous MA laws.”

Caregivers registered on the site say patients must provide a copy of their doctor’s certificate and identification before they will sell them marijuana. Some refer to their prices as a “donation,” in an apparent effort to comply with state regulations that prohibit caregivers from making a profit on marijuana.

Many of the caregivers have their own doctors’ certificate that allows them to legally carry up to 10 ounces of marijuana in Massachusetts.

“I don’t think I’m breaking the law,” said Kool Guy, who spoke on the condition he not be named for fear of legal problems and because he wants to maintain his privacy.

“You have to fill the void with something and that’s what we’re doing right now. When the dispensaries open up, we are going to dwindle away.”

Kool Guy said he grows a small amount of marijuana and has to buy from other caregivers to meet the demand of about 20 patients. He said he delivers to department store parking lots and million-dollar houses in Boston’s most affluent suburbs, depending on what the patient prefers.

“I feel bad for these people,” said Kool Guy, who described his patients as mostly middle-aged and suffering from various ailments, including cancer, AIDS, Parkinson’s disease, chronic pain, and anxiety.

Another caregiver who posts on the website said he is part of a cooperative composed of a small group of military veterans who grow marijuana for their medical needs and deliver any surplus to other patients.

“We started out as patients and it wasn’t available, or what was available was steeply overpriced or black market,” he said, adding that he works a full-time construction job and only takes “donations” from other patients to offset the cost of cultivation.

“You are not doing it for profit, you are doing it to help people,” he said.

Tom Brandes of Phoenix, the administrator of marijuana-caregiver.com, said he launched the site a couple of years ago when medical cannabis became legal in Arizona, then expanded to other states.

Brandes said he doesn’t charge patients or caregivers to register and post messages. The site does not conduct background checks and it is up to patients and caregivers to vet each other and follow the law, he said.

“I’m not going to try to police it; I can’t,” said Brandes, adding that he can’t keep drug dealers from trying to infiltrate the site, but enlists moderators to monitor activity.

Downing, 55, the owner of Yankee Care Givers, said during a telephone interview that he is different from other caregivers on the Internet.

“I’m the only actual caregiver,” he said. “Those guys are drug dealers.”

Downing said the Department of Public Health is aware of his business because he sends it a form signed by each of his patients, designating him as their caregiver. He said it is unclear what the department does with the forms since the state has yet to create the planned registration system for patients and caregivers.

Downing said the one-patient limit per caregiver does not apply to him because state regulations say personal care attendants are exempt from that rule and his business is defined as a personal services company. (Several other caregivers said in interviews they should not be limited to one patient because people shop around and do not stick with one caregiver.)

Downing, the father of two teenaged boys, said his company is nonprofit and he was growing marijuana at his home until police warned him last month that they suspected he was going to be robbed and that he was endangering his family. He said police told him they believed his business was illegal, but did not arrest him.

Cormier, the Reading chief, said he thinks Downing is breaking the law and has repeatedly asked the Department of Public Health over the last two months for a written opinion on whether he is.

“I am frustrated with the DPH,” Cormier said. “I believe that there’s a potential loophole in terms of the so-called caregiver exception that is being exploited. The frustration comes because we need DPH to give us an opinion in writing and we have not received it.”

Cormier said his department received numerous complaints from neighbors about Downing’s brisk business and he remains under investigation.

Downing said he has relocated his business to an undisclosed site and is buying marijuana from “black market growers who have been in business for decades, servicing the market with high, organic quality marijuana . . . just old hippies.”

Not everybody finds caregivers online. Scott Murphy, a 31-year-old Iraq veteran and father of three young children, said he started using marijuana about two years ago to ease the pain of his degenerative arthritis. Murphy buys tincture, a marijuana-infused oil, from a caregiver he met at a gathering of marijuana advocates.

The caregiver process is far better than buying it off the street, he said, because it’s cheaper and his caregiver sells only products that have been lab-tested.

“My caregiver switched to a delivery service that can meet you wherever it’s convenient for you, whether it be your house or another location,” said Murphy, a Newton resident who is completing his undergraduate degree, applying to law school, and running a nonprofit that promotes veterans’ health issues.

Matthew Allen, executive director of the Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance, said he gets calls daily from patients who are seeking a medical marijuana caregiver, but his organization is unable to help them because it does not have a system to ensure the services that are springing up are reliable and comply with state law.

The alliance is lobbying to change the state regulation restricting caregivers to one patient, and wants to adopt the rules in Rhode Island and Maine, which allow five patients per caregiver.

“We do want caregivers to offer this service, staying within the boundaries of the law,” Allen said. “But this regulation makes it impossible to do that even for those with the best intentions.”

Source: Boston Globe (MA)
Author: Shelley Murphy and Kay Lazar, Globe Staff
Published: May 10, 2014
Copyright: 2014 Globe Newspaper Company
Contact: letter@globe.com
Website: http://www.boston.com/globe/

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It’s High Time For Canada To Talk Pot

May 7th, 2014

Marijuana exists in a funny limbo in this country.

Despite a growing number of people who feel it should be decriminalized, or outright legal – and regulated – it remains a controlled substance.

And, as such, we have a multibillion-dollar industry in Canada attempting to operate under the radar of the law.

Weed is grown covertly on farms, in houses, condos or industrial bays, but is used widely across the country.

Often, the grow sites are booby trapped, electricity is stolen, and the property is contaminated, both with chemicals used in growing and mold damage.

A fire at a Calgary grow op even levelled a number of homes in 2009.  Police say there is also the risk of break-ins and home invasions associated with these things.

Despite all of these apparent dangers Albertans just don’t care, or aren’t aware.

That’s one of the key findings in a new provincial report prepared by Calgary MLA Rick Fraser, the associate minister of public safety.

“The prevalent view of marijuana use is that it is either used as a recreational drug or for medical purposes,” he says in the report.

“There is a misperception that growing marijuana is a victimless crime, and this perception detracts from community involvement in reporting suspected MGOs.  Many Albertans do not report marijuana grow ops when they know or suspect a residence in their community has been converted into one.  The crime is likely not viewed as a danger to the community.”

It’s not really until people find themselves living next to one that they perceive this as a problem.

And so, because of the damage done to homes and the potential risk to public safety, the final recommendations report for Grow Op Free Alberta lists a host of solutions to existing problems, including requiring real estate agents to disclose a home was used to grow pot, guidelines for proper and safe remediation and bumping up tools to identify grow ops.

The one solution missing? Legalization and regulation.

I get it – all the province can really do in its power is mitigate the damage, try to hold people accountable when properties are made unfit for habitation, and ensure that remediation is done properly.

But, as public attitude shifts towards acceptance of marijuana, and a desire that governments leave adults alone to smoke what they please, the province could also take the lead in pushing the feds to make changes to criminal law in Canada.

So long as the status quo exists, residential grows will remain a big problem, with thousands estimated to be operating in Alberta.

The recommendations in the report give significant focus toward education, but I think despite the emphasis placed on informing the public, I don’t think we’ll start to see an increase in police reports.

Even if more people start reporting grow ops, that won’t necessarily mean there will be a reduction in people looking to grow marijuana.

So long as the trend toward supporting decriminalization and legalization continues, the public will believe that the key is a change in federal drug laws, not provincial public safety endeavours, no matter how wise they may be.

When looking at people opting not to report grow ops, the reasons behind their complacency are key.

And, with as many as two thirds of Canadians in support of decriminalization or legalization, we shouldn’t be surprised people aren’t reporting grows, and perhaps it should be taken as further sign we’re ready for greater debate on the issue.

As we’re approaching a federal election in 2015, here’s hoping we get one.

Source: Calgary Sun, The
Copyright: 2014 The Calgary Sun
Contact: http://www.calgarysun.com/letter-to-editor
Website: http://www.calgarysun.com/
Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/67
Author: Dave Breakenridge

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Pot Smoking Stats Real Eye Opener

May 6th, 2014

Do you smoke pot? According to stats I saw this week, 12 per cent of Ontario residents 15 and over smoked marijuana at least once over a recent 12-month period.  Which is about 1.3 million Ontarians.  Or about 130,000 people here in York Region.

This is according to Statistics Canada’s Canadian Community Health Survey for 2012, which asked Canadians over 15 if they used cannabis or hash.

Keep in mind these were only the people willing to admit to using pot.

The real numbers could be a lot higher, pardon the pun, considering this is a type of behaviour not everyone would readily admit to on a government form.

For political prognosticators, that’s a lot of Justin Trudeau supporters.  Maybe that’s why Stephen Harper’s poll numbers seem to be going up in smoke.

And here I thought some people were just really happy, really hungry, or had the giggles.

Next time someone laughs at one of your jokes, you’ll be tempted to ask, “Did you actually think that’s funny, or are you just high?” And stop eating those Cheesies.

Obviously it can’t be just teenagers, whose current slang words for cannabis or getting high – according to this thing called Google I have on my computer – include to get blazed, chief, burn one, bent, kush and, well, by the time someone like me is using them in a community newspaper, they may already be obsolete.

Point is, considering the stats, there must be professors, lawyers, MPs ( such as the aforementioned Mr.  Trudeau ), journalists, the Ford family, and many others out there, who you would not think of as your typical pot smokers, who are, in fact.

Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t have a whole lot against people who smoke up.

They used to bother me more, when I thought of all the mayhem created by the people growing the pot, with law enforcement chasing them – all in the quest to supply herbal refreshment to people who rationalized that their little illegal indulgence was harmless.

But as the pot laws become more relaxed, particularly in the U.S., the people who smoked up despite the laws and the negative consequences for society, seem a little less selfish, a little more mainstream.

Things are being legalized, taxed, in some U.S.  states, including Colorado and Washington.  In Canada, we are just getting a sniff of this brave new world.

So now, there is a rush by all kinds of people to get into Canada’s “medical” marijuana business.  Why?

Because of several recent court decisions, the projection in the next few years is that up to 400,000 Canadians will have gotten themselves permits to use medical marijuana, as in daily, up from 40,000, which now must be supplied by government approved growers ( think $ signs ), with Canada’s doctors forced to take part in the approval process for “patients”.

This despite what the Canadian Medical Association says is a lack of scientific evidence that marijuana is anything other than a recreational drug, even if it is, anecdotally – for some – helpful dealing with illnesses that cause pain or seizures.  Fine.  But 400,000 people?

Maybe, like the U.S., it’s time to give everyone the right to smoke pot ( responsibly – no driving ) and leave the doctors and Ottawa out of it.  Something to put in your bong and smoke before the next federal election.

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Federal Government Ordered 1000 Lbs Of Marijuana

May 6th, 2014

The federal government just ordered all the marijuana it wants — something it would send most Americans to prison for doing.

On Monday, the Drug Enforcement Administration issued a new rule that increases the U.S. government’s production quota for medical marijuana from an annual 21 kg to 650 kg. That’s about 1,433 pounds of pot in total.

The U.S. government grows marijuana for research purposes at the University of Mississippi in the only federally legal marijuana garden in the U.S. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) oversees the cultivation, production and distribution of these crops.

“NIDA recently notified the DEA that it required additional supplies of marijuana to be manufactured in 2014 to provide for current and anticipated research efforts involving marijuana,” reads a recent Federal Register’s statement from the DEA.

The statement goes on to specify a production quota of 650,000 grams of pot for the current year.

The DEA decided to grant NIDA access to more marijuana “in order to provide a continuous and uninterrupted supply” of cannabis for research, according to the statement, which also says that the federal government was “unaware” of NIDA’s need for additional marijuana when the initial production quota of 21 kg was set in 2013.

Twenty-one states have legalized marijuana for medical use, and recreational marijuana is legal in Colorado and Washington, with sales in Colorado having already begun. About a dozen other states are considering legalizing marijuana in some form in the coming years.

Still, under federal law the plant remains illegal and classified as a Schedule I drug, meaning it’s considered one of “the most dangerous” substances “with no currently accepted medical use.”

The feds have long been accused of only funding marijuana research that focuses on the potential negative effects of the substance, but that trend appears to be changing.

According to The Hill, NIDA has conducted about 30 studies to date on the potential benefits of marijuana.

The most recent research effort was approved in March, when the Department of Health and Human Services signed off on a study assessing medical cannabis as a potential treatment for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. Researchers will provide the equivalent of two joints per day, cultivated from the federal government’s stash at Ole Miss, for 50 veterans.

The federal government’s interest in marijuana certainly appears to be growing. Since 2003, more than 500 grants for marijuana-related studies have received approval from the feds, with a marked upswing in recent years, according to McClatchy. Only 22 grants were approved in 2003 for cannabis research, totaling $6 million, but in 2012, 69 grants were approved for a total of over $30 million.

Source: Huffington Post (NY)
Author: Matt Ferner, The Huffington Post
Published: May 5, 2014
Copyright: 2014 HuffingtonPost.com, LLC
Contact: scoop@huffingtonpost.com
Website: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/

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DEA Chief Says Marijuana-Trafficking Spiking

May 2nd, 2014

The Drug Enforcement Administration is concerned about a surge in the illegal shipment of marijuana from Colorado since the state legalized the drug, and is trying to crack down on minors’ use of the substance, the head of the agency said Wednesday.

Administrator Michele Leonhart said the DEA is troubled by the increase in marijuana trafficking in states surrounding Colorado and worries that the same phenomenon could be repeated around Washington state, where recreational marijuana is expected to be sold legally soon. In Kansas, she said, there has been a 61 percent increase in seizures of marijuana from Colorado.

Speaking to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Leonhart said the softening of attitudes nationwide about the risk of marijuana has confirmed some of the agency’s fears.

“The trends are what us in law enforcement had expected would happen,” she said. “In 2012, 438,000 Americans were addicted to heroin. And 10 times that number were dependent on marijuana.”

The Obama administration released a memo in August saying it would not challenge legalization laws in Colorado and Washington as long as the two states maintained strict rules regarding the sale and distribution of the drug. In the memo, Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole stressed that marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

The Justice Department directed federal prosecutors not to target individual users but instead to focus on eight areas of enforcement. Those aims include preventing the distribution of marijuana to minors, stopping the drug from being grown on public land, keeping marijuana from falling into the hands of cartels and gangs, and preventing the diversion of the drug to states where it remains illegal.

DEA officials have expressed frustration privately about the legalization of marijuana by Colorado and Washington state, where local officials consider the change an opportunity to generate tax revenue and boost tourism.

But in January, James. L. Capra, the DEA’s chief of operations, called marijuana legalization at the state level “reckless and irresponsible,” and warned that the decriminalization movement would have dire consequences.

“It scares us,” he said during a Senate hearing. “Every part of the world where this has been tried, it has failed time and time again.”

Two years ago, nine former DEA administrators wrote a letter to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to express their concern about the states’ movements to legalize marijuana and urge him to oppose the ballot initiatives.

“To continue to remain silent conveys to the American public and the global community a tacit acceptance of these dangerous initiatives,” wrote the former administrators, who oversaw the DEA under Democratic and Republican presidents from 1973 to 2007.

On Wednesday, Leonhart spoke about why she thinks marijuana is dangerous. She said that marijuana-related emergency-room visits increased by 28 percent between 2007 and 2011 and that one in 15 high school seniors is a near-daily marijuana user. Since 2009, she said, more high school seniors have been smoking pot than smoking cigarettes.

Marijuana advocates say that concerns about the drug’s danger are exaggerated. In an interview with the New Yorker magazine, President Obama compared the use of marijuana to drinking alcohol.

“As has been well documented, I smoked pot as a kid, and I view it as a bad habit and a vice not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life,” he said. “I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol.”

Leonhart also spoke out in support of mandatory minimum sentencing for drug crimes, an issue Holder has highlighted recently as part of his initiative to reduce prison crowding and foster equity in criminal sentencing.

Holder has instructed his 93 U.S. attorneys to use their discretion in charging low-level, nonviolent criminals with offenses that impose severe mandatory sentences.

Leonhart, in response to a question from Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), said: “Having been in law enforcement as an agent for 33 years [and] a Baltimore City police officer before that, I can tell you that for me and for the agents that work at the DEA, mandatory minimums have been very important to our investigations. We depend on those as a way to ensure that the right sentences equate the level of violator we are going after.”

Source: Washington Post (DC)
Author: Sari Horwitz
Published: April 30, 2014
Copyright: 2014 Washington Post Company
Contact: letters@washpost.com
Website: http://www.washingtonpost.com/

 

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How Bad Is Marijuana for Your Health?

May 2nd, 2014

The Journal of Neuroscience recently published a study linking recreational marijuana use to subtle changes in brain structure. The researchers, led by Jodi Gilman of Massachusetts General Hospital, identified increased gray matter density in the left nucleus accumbens and some bordering areas. The study was fine, but the media coverage was abysmal. Reporters overstated the findings, mischaracterized the study, and failed to mention previous research done on pot smoking and health. Goldfish may not have a three-second memory, but some journalists seem to. When a new paper comes out, it’s often treated as the first ever and final word on the topic. There is a significant body of literature on the neurological and wider health effects of marijuana, and to ignore it when covering new studies seems to me a form of journalistic malpractice.

A press release from the Society for Neuroscience trumpeted the Gilman study’s importance because it looked at casual users rather than regular pot smokers, who form the basis of most marijuana studies. That claim is dubious in the extreme. The subjects averaged 3.83 days of smoking and 11.2 total joints per week. Characterizing these people as casual pot smokers was a great media hook, but it defied common sense. Occasional users wondered if they’d done permanent damage, and parents were concerned that their teenagers might face profound neurological changes from experimenting with pot. Any reporter who read the study, however, should have known not to take that bait.

Even by the standards of past medical studies, it’s a stretch to call these subjects casual pot smokers. Just two years ago, for example, Janna Cousijn and colleagues published a study on a group that she called “heavy” marijuana users. In the average week, they smoked 3 grams of cannabis—approximately 2 grams less than Gilman’s casual smokers. (A joint has about 0.5 grams of cannabis.) The justification for calling Gilman’s subjects casual smokers is that they didn’t meet the criteria for dependence, but when you count up the joints, the study doesn’t look so revolutionary.

Many stories also claimed that the Gilman study showed direct causation between pot smoking and brain abnormalities. That’s wrong. The study looked at differences between pot smokers and abstainers at a single moment. Only a longitudinal study, examining brain changes over time, could have suggested causation. As a letter writer to the Journal of Neuroscience noted, it’s possible that pre-existing brain differences cause some people to seek out marijuana. Gilman’s pot smokers also drank more and smoked more cigarettes than the control group, which supports this interpretation and also raises the possibility that other factors led to brain structure differences.

The biggest problem with the coverage of the marijuana study was that it failed to put the new research into context. Valentina Lorenzetti of the University of Melbourne recently published a widely cited review paper synthesizing dozens of studies on marijuana and the brain. Taking the literature as a whole, there is evidence suggesting that marijuana use causes structural changes in three parts of the brain: the frontal lobes, temporal lobes, and the cerebellum. The data also reinforces the idea that long-term, heavy smokers experience greater changes than casual users. The studies, however, have serious flaws. They are typically small and have been unable to show that the structural changes cause cognitive impairment. Gilman’s study of 20 smokers is a good contribution to the literature, but it doesn’t resolve those problems.

If you are considering smoking pot—or quitting—here is what you need to know.

Smoking marijuana once is very unlikely to harm you. It takes at least 15 grams of cannabis to kill a person, and probably much more than that. A healthy person would have to smoke dozens of joints in a single session to risk death from overdose. People who do die from the acute effects of marijuana die in accidents: A recent study suggested that more than 10 percent of drivers killed in car accidents test positive for cannabis.*

The more likely risk from trying marijuana is dependence. There is a debate over whether marijuana is addictive, but you needn’t bother with it—it’s mainly about semantics. The fact is, approximately 9 percent of people who start smoking pot become dependent by ordinary medical standards. That’s low compared with dependence rates for other drugs: More than 15 percent of people who drink become alcoholics, and 32 percent of people who try cigarettes get hooked. Still, you should think seriously about a 1-in-11 chance of addiction, especially if you have a personal or family history of substance abuse.

What sorts of health risks are these regular cannabis users taking? It’s extremely challenging to study the long-term health effects of marijuana in humans. You can’t legally ask 1,000 people to smoke three joints a week for 40 years just to see what happens, so researchers can only compare health data from people who admit to smoking pot with data from people who don’t admit to it. Retrospective correlational studies like these raise all kinds of problems, such as matching the groups for confounding variables. (Do they smoke cigarettes? Do they have a family history of cancer? What do they eat? Do they exercise?) Even if you assume that everyone is telling the truth, there are also bound to be wide variations in how much pot the subjects used. Most studies suggest that any potential health risks of cannabis are dose-dependent—people who smoke only a little face very few health risks, while people who smoke a lot are more likely to get sick—but this is still largely a matter of conjecture.

With that caveat out of the way, here are some findings. Studies consistently show that frequent marijuana smoking is associated with some forms of respiratory dysfunction. Smokers report problems with coughing, wheezing, and phlegm. Lung cancer is a murkier issue. Cannabis smoke contains higher concentrations of some carcinogens than cigarette smoke does. Some large studies show increased prevalence of respiratory tract cancers in cannabis users, while others find no correlation.

With the legalization of recreational marijuana in some states, many people have asked whether they can minimize cancer risk by ingesting rather than smoking cannabis. It’s a reasonable suggestion. At this point, however, the question is unanswerable. There simply aren’t enough people with a long history of eating marijuana, but not smoking it, to put together a study. Ingestion may be risky, because it seems easier to overindulge in food products than in smoking. Colorado is currently reviewing its regulations after accidental deaths involving ingested cannabis. Keeping cannabis brownies is especially risky if you ever have children in your home. A study released last year suggested that an increasing number of children in Colorado are accidentally eating marijuana-laced food products.

The cognitive effects of chronic marijuana use are uncertain. If you’re an adult who smokes occasionally, there appears to be little or no reason to believe your mental performance will suffer. Several studies also show that those who experience impairments may recover if they stop smoking. Heavy, long-term smokers may experience memory and attention loss. There is also some indication that heavy marijuana users are more likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia, but it’s not clear which is the cause and which the effect, if indeed there is such a relationship; it may be the case that people with schizophrenia are self-medicating with marijuana.

As with alcohol and tobacco, it’s fairly clear that minors should not use marijuana. Many studies show that kids who smoke pot do poorly in school, and some studies suggest that they commit suicide at higher rates. Although the causal relationship isn’t clear, the risks are too great.

You probably have plenty of other questions. For example, is marijuana less bad for you than alcohol or tobacco? The comparison is basically impossible to make. Mountains of data link cigarette smoking to a staggering collection of adverse events. It’s difficult to know whether the same goes for marijuana, because fewer people smoke it, and those who do typically smoke less pot than cigarette smokers do tobacco. Comparing alcohol with marijuana—aside from differences in acute toxicity and driving competence—is also impractical.

Seriously, though, if you’re trying to decide among smoking pot, taking up cigarettes, and drinking alcohol based on health risks, I suggest finding a different hobby.

*Correction, May 1, 2014: Due to an editing error, this piece misstated that almost 25 percent of drivers killed in car accidents test positive for cannabis. Almost 25 percent test positive for non-alcohol drugs; of those, about 12 percent test positive for cannabis.

Brian Palmer is Slate’s chief explainer. He also writes How and Why and Ecologic for the Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter.

Source: Slate Magazine (US Web)
Author: Brian Palmer
Published: May 1, 2014
Copyright: 2014 The Slate Group, LLC.
Contact: letters@slate.com
Website: http://www.slate.com/

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John Paul Stevens Thinks MJ Should Be Legalized

April 26th, 2014

Former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens believes marijuana should be legalized by the federal government, predicting that the public will soon decide prohibiting the substance is “not worth the cost.” In a Thursday interview with NPR’s Scott Simon, the retired justice was asked if he believes the drug should be legal at the federal level.

“Yes,” Stevens said. “I really think that that’s another instance of public opinion [that's] changed. And recognize that the distinction between marijuana and alcoholic beverages is really not much of a distinction. Alcohol, the prohibition against selling and dispensing alcoholic beverages has I think been generally, there’s a general consensus that it was not worth the cost. And I think really in time that will be the general consensus with respect to this particular drug.”

Click over to NPR for the full interview: http://drugsense.org/url/mjtmuHdP

Recent polling has shown that most Americans agree with Stevens. Last October, a Gallup poll found that 58 percent of Americans are in favor of legalization, marking the first time in the poll a clear majority has been in favor of legal pot. And in a Pew Research Center survey released earlier this month, 75 percent of respondents said they believe legalization is inevitable.

“Justice Stevens is right. Public opinion is shifting rapidly in favor of marijuana legalization,” Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority, said in a statement. “Polls now consistently show that a clear majority of the public supports ending prohibition and, as this trend continues, we’ll start to see more prominent people and politicians saying it’s time to change the laws.”

Stevens, who stepped down from the bench in 2010, is currently promoting his new book, Six Amendments, in which he details the changes he would make to the U.S. Constitution. Among his proposals are abolishing the death penalty, imposing stricter campaign finance reforms and changing the Second Amendment to allow tougher gun control laws.

This post has been updated to include Angell’s statement.

Source: Huffington Post (NY)
Author: Mollie Reilly, The Huffington Post
Published: April 24, 2014
Copyright: 2014 HuffingtonPost.com, LLC
Contact: scoop@huffingtonpost.com
Website: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/

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Marijuana Has Come A Long Way Since Last 4/20

April 20th, 2014

What a difference a year makes. From 4/20, 2013, to 4/20, 2014, marijuana has taken big steps out of the shadows of the black market and into the light of the mainstream — from record high popular support and the first legal recreational sales, to an entire country legalizing marijuana.

Here’s a look at the last 12 months of marijuana milestones:

Colorado Sold Legal, Recreational Marijuana For The First Time

The first month of legal sales generated $14 million. Those millions were brought in by only 59 marijuana businesses that were able to get through the application process, and represent just a fraction of the approximately 550 outlets in the state eligible for retail licenses.

Now, as the fourth month of sales winds to a close, Denver has still not descended into the crime-filled hellscape that some members of law enforcement predicted. In fact, overall crime in Mile High City appears to be down since legal pot sales began.

And as time passes, more Coloradan voters are happy with legalization. A recent survey from Public Policy Polling showed that 57 percent of Colorado voters now approve of marijuana legalization, while 35 percent disapprove. Amendment 64, the measure that legalized recreational marijuana in the state, passed by only a 10-point margin.

The Promise Of Medical Marijuana Continued To Grow

“Charlotte’s Web” isn’t just a classic children’s story. It’s also the name of a coveted medical marijuana strain used to treat children with epilepsy.

Over the last year, hundreds of families uprooted themselves and moved to Colorado to take advantage of the state’s expansive medical marijuana laws, and in search of Charlotte’s Web — a strain of pot high in CBD, a non-psychoactive ingredient, and low in THC, which causes users to feel “high.” The strain was developed by the Colorado Springs-based Realm of Caring nonprofit.

The pot strain is named after 7-year-old Charlotte Figi, who used to have hundreds of seizures each week. Charlotte now controls 99 percent of seizures with her medical marijuana treatment, according to her mother Paige.

Also this year, the Food and Drug Administration moved forward with an orphan drug designation for a cannabis-based drug called Epidiolex to fight severe forms of childhood epilepsy. The Epidiolex maker still must demonstrate efficacy of the drug in clinical trials to win FDA approval to market the medicine, but the orphan drug designation represents a tremendous step for cannabis-based medicine.

The federal government signed off on a study using medical marijuana to treat post-traumatic stress disorder in veterans, another sign of shifting federal policy.

Study after study demonstrated the promise of medical marijuana since last 4/20. Purified forms of cannabis were shown to be effective at attacking some forms of aggressive cancer. Marijuana use has also been tied to better blood sugar control, and to slowing the spread of HIV. The legalization of the plant for medical purposes may lead to lower suicide rates.

The Return Of Hemp

A flag made of hemp flying over the U.S. Capitol in July may have been a sign that hemp was going to have a banner year.

Just months later in Colorado, farmer Ryan Loflin planted 55 acres of hemp — the first legal hemp crop planted in the U.S. in nearly 60 years.

Since the beginning of the year, more than 70 bills related to hemp have been introduced in more than half of U.S. states. That’s more than triple the number of hemp bills introduced during the same period last year, and nearly double the number hemp bills introduced in all of 2013.

Added to that is the recent passage of the Farm Bill, which legalizes industrial hemp production for research purposes in states that permit it.

Support For Pot Surges

An October Gallup poll showed for the first time that a clear majority of Americans want to see marijuana legalized. Gallup noted that when the question was first asked in 1969, only 12 percent of Americans favored legalization.

Americans also want an end to the long-running war on drugs. A recent survey from Pew found that 67 percent of Americans say that government should provide treatment for people who use illegal drugs. Only 26 percent thought the government should be prosecuting drug users.

Americans regard marijuana as relatively benign. In that same Pew poll, 69 percent of Americans felt that alcohol is a bigger danger to a person’s health than marijuana, and 63 percent said alcohol is a bigger danger to society than marijuana.

Of all the vices a person can indulge in, Americans told NBC News/The Wall Street Journal that marijuana may be the most benign substance — less harmful than sugar.

More States Approved Progressive Pot Laws

While the title of third state to legalize marijuana is still up for grabs, lawmakers around U.S. the have been scaling back harsh anti-weed laws. Maryland recently became the latest state to officially decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. Washington, D.C., awaits congressional approval of a similar measure. New Hampshire appeared poised to pass a similar law, but it was recently rejected by state lawmakers. Other states, including Illinois, are considering legislation to decriminalize low-level possession.

Medical marijuana has also made some strides since last year’s 4/20. Maryland this month became the 21st state to legalize marijuana for medical use. A new trend has appeared in conservative and Deep South states, as bills to legalize medicine derived from marijuana have found surprising support in places like Alabama, where a measure was signed into law this year.

Uruguay Makes History

At the end of 2013, Uruguay became the world’s first country to legalize a national marketplace for marijuana. Citing frustrations over failed attempts to stem the drug trade, President Jose Mujica signed a law handing the government responsibility for overseeing the new industry.

The move drew some derision from the international community, including the United Nations, but also applause. Mujica was nominated for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, in part for his work legalizing the plant.

In an effort to undercut the black market, the Uruguay government has set the starting price around $1 a gram. Legal weed in the U.S., including at legal pot shops in Colorado, can cost around $20 for the same amount. There are also limits on the amount residents can buy or grow. But with marijuana already accessible in Uruguay before legalization, many pot reformers have hailed the move as an alternative to prohibition that will ultimately give the government more avenues to help protect public health and safety.

Obama Says Pot Is No More Dangerous Than Alcohol

The president was an admitted pot user in his youth. And while he now regards his experiences as foolish, he revealed earlier this year that he didn’t believe his behavior was particularly dangerous.

“I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol,” President Barack Obama told The New Yorker’s David Remnick in a January interview.

The president said that would discourage people from using it, but his comments led to a much bigger question: If marijuana is as dangerous as alcohol, why does Obama’s administration insist that it is rightfully considered an illegal Schedule I substance, alongside heroin and LSD? The irony of this wasn’t lost on Congress. A month after the interview, a group of representatives a called on Obama to drop pot from Schedule I. The administration has resisted the request.

Eric Holder Is ‘Cautiously Optimistic’ About Legal Weed

Some of the biggest advances in pot policy over the last year have come thanks to action — or perhaps inaction — by the Justice Department. Last August, it decided that it would allow legalization laws in Colorado and Washington proceed. And this month, Attorney General Eric Holder told The Huffington Post that he was cautiously optimistic about how those state laws were proceeding.

Holder has said the Justice Department would be happy to work with Congress to reschedule marijuana and has been clear that the administration won’t push the issue without action from lawmakers.

No matter how hard you try, time always wins.

Source: Huffington Post (NY)
Author: Matt Ferner and Nick Wing, The Huffington Post
Published: April 20, 2014
Copyright: 2014 HuffingtonPost.com, LLC
Contact: scoop@huffingtonpost.com
Website: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/

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