Archive for the ‘United States Cannabis News’ category

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/

Study Finds Signs of Brain Changes in Pot Smokers

April 18th, 2014

A small study of casual marijuana smokers has turned up evidence of changes in the brain, a possible sign of trouble ahead, researchers say. The young adults who volunteered for the study were not dependent on pot, nor did they show any marijuana-related problems.

“What we think we are seeing here is a very early indication of what becomes a problem later on with prolonged use,” things like lack of focus and impaired judgment, said Dr. Hans Breiter, a study author.

Longer-term studies will be needed to see if such brain changes cause any symptoms over time, said Breiter, of the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and Massachusetts General Hospital.

Previous studies have shown mixed results in looking for brain changes from marijuana use, perhaps because of differences in the techniques used, he and others noted in Wednesday’s issue of the Journal of Neurosciences.

The study is among the first to focus on possible brain effects in recreational pot smokers, said Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The federal agency helped pay for the work. She called the work important but preliminary.

The 20 pot users in the study, ages 18 to 25, said they smoked marijuana an average of about four days a week, for an average total of about 11 joints. Half of them smoked fewer than six joints a week. Researchers scanned their brains and compared the results to those of 20 non-users who were matched for age, sex and other traits.

The results showed differences in two brain areas associated with emotion and motivation — the amygdala and the nucleus accumbens. Users showed higher density than non-users, as well as differences in shape of those areas. Both differences were more pronounced in those who reported smoking more marijuana.

Volkow said larger studies are needed to explore whether casual to moderate marijuana use really does cause anatomical brain changes, and if so, whether that leads to any impairment.

The current work doesn’t determine whether casual to moderate marijuana use is harmful to the brain, she said.

Murat Yucel of Monash University in Australia, who has studied the brains of marijuana users but didn’t participate in the new study, said in an email that the new results suggest “the effects of marijuana can occur much earlier than previously thought.” Some of the effect may depend on a person’s age when marijuana use starts, he said.

Another brain researcher, Krista Lisdahl of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, said her own work has found similar results. “I think the clear message is we see brain alterations before you develop dependence,” she said.

AP Medical Writer Lindsey Tanner in Chicago contributed to this report.

Source: Associated Press (Wire)
Author: Malcolm Ritter, Associated Press
Published: April 16, 2014
Copyright: 2014 The Associated Press

Are Baby Boomers Ready To Give MJ a Second Chance?

April 15th, 2014

Are aging baby boomers ready to rekindle a long-ago love affair with marijuana? That is a weighty question for cultural anthropologists and cool-eyed business analysts alike as the once celebrated, later maligned, but explicitly contraband cannabis plant goes legit — for the first time in nearly 80 years — in a new era of medical and recreational use.

For many who smoked marijuana in their dorms in the ’60s and ’70s, it was an act of rebellion, a communal experience, and maybe a political statement. Today’s product is more likely to be marketed as anti-inflammatory than anti-establishment. And, to the distinct discomfort of some, it may come in a neat corporate package rather than an illicit nickel bag.

“I remember the smoke-filled theaters of our college years,” said Kathryn Maynes, 57, a Beacon Hill boomer who works for a real estate development firm. “There was the obligatory ‘Reefer Madness’ (film) on the screen and people blowing weed. It was very sociable. You didn’t just light up and have a joint to yourself. It was inclusive, it was friendly.”

Maynes, however, gave up marijuana in her 20s and never returned, partly because it left her with feelings of anxiety.

“If it were legalized tomorrow for recreational use, I would think twice about it,” Maynes said. “If I did it, it would only be with people I really trust.”

In fact, 20 states, including Massachusetts, already have legalized marijuana for medical purposes, while Colorado and Washington state have made recreational marijuana legal. Fully three quarters of Americans have told pollsters that they now see legalization for recreational use as inevitable, according to Martin A. Lee, director of Project CBD, a medical marijuana information service, and author of “Smoke Signals,” a social history of marijuana.

“On a cultural level, the debate is virtually over,” said Lee. “It’s widely recognized that marijuana has health benefits. For baby boomers who got high in the ’60s and ’70s, their experience was largely benign. And now it’s becoming mainstream. It’s not just long-haired rebels and stoners. It’s Mom and Dad, Republicans and Democrats, a real slice of America.”

Marijuana’s use for medicinal purposes dates back to ancient China. In the United States, it was used in a variety of treatments from the 1850s to the 1930s when, after getting snared in the Prohibition-era dragnet, it was made illegal.

The plant was formally removed from the US Dispensatory, a compendium of medicines, in 1942. But after a resurgence among hippies and college students in the 1960s, it emerged as a popular, though illegal, treatment in the 1980s for AIDS patients who found it could dull pain, stimulate appetite, and relieve nausea. That inspired a campaign to legalize or decriminalize medical marijuana in California and other states.

Since then, “it’s sort of been a U-turn back to the time when marijuana was widely used in medicine,” Lee said. The momentum was aided by a rediscovery of strains containing cannabidiol, called CBD, a marijuana component with low levels of the psychoactive agent THC. That has made it more appealing as a therapy for treating diseases ranging from cancer and Alzheimer’s to diabetes, cardiovascular disease, chronic pain, alcoholism, psychosis, and depression.

Studies project the growth of a $10 billion legal marijuana industry by 2018, and entrepreneurs and investors are scrambling to capitalize. In addition to growers and sellers, support services and enabling technologies have been cropping up in the emerging niche.

“We’ve developed two products that can help the baby boom generation adapt to all of the choices out there,” said David Goldstein, communications director for Potbotics, a Palo Alto, Calif., startup. “A lot of them feel overwhelmed by the consumer buying process.”

Later this year, Potbotics plans to launch BrainBot, a high-frequency monitoring system that can be used in doctors’ offices to evaluate the brain’s reaction to marijuana and recommend which strains might reduce anxiety or eliminate insomnia for specific patients. The company also plans to roll out PotBot, a recommendation engine in the form of an avatar that can suggest marijuana options for medical and recreational uses.

“You don’t need a doctor to talk to the avatar,” Goldstein said, suggesting an older generation may see a “paradigm shift” in how marijuana is viewed in popular culture.

“In the past, baby boomers used marijuana for the same reason they didn’t want their kids to use it. They were abusing the substance. But with the end of prohibition, everything’s been going in a good direction,” Goldstein said. “We’re giving jobs to taxpaying Americans rather than the black market or Mexican cartels.”

Younger generations may have fewer qualms about the emerging marijuana business.

Justin Desjardins, a 35-year-old Worcester man who works for a renewable energy firm, said his high school basketball career was ended when he was caught with marijuana, which he considered a victimless crime. More recently, after he injured his leg playing football at a family gathering, he said he has used it medically to help him cope with arthritis.

“I always thought that you should just make it legal,” Desjardins said. “People are finding out it’s somewhat of a miracle drug. I have no problem with it going corporate if it means you won’t ruin people’s lives if they got caught with a couple of joints.”

Source: Boston Globe (MA)
Author: Robert Weisman, Globe Staff
Published: April 13, 2014
Copyright: 2014 Globe Newspaper Company
Contact: letter@globe.com
Website: http://www.boston.com/globe/

What Perfect Marijuana High Would Feel Like

April 15th, 2014

Marijuana users really enjoy strong weed, but would prefer that it came without paranoia, memory loss and impaired ability to function. That’s according to a new report from the Global Drug Survey in partnership with The Huffington Post, which anonymously surveyed more than 38,000 users around the globe.

All marijuana is not created equal. Effects can vary depending on the plant variety, cultivation, processing and blending. Cannabis has two major plant types — indica and sativa — and hundreds of hybrid strains with different characteristics. It’s produced in forms that include dried flowers, oil and wax.

The survey asked users what they’d like in a “perfect cannabis.” The results show that the “global dominance of high potency [marijuana] leaves many users far from satisfied,” the researchers say.

So what would the effects be of perfect pot — or “balanced bud” as the Global Drug Survey calls it?

Users want their cannabis to be strong and pure. And they want it to have a distinct flavor, and to impart a high marked by greater sensory perception, allowing them to “comfortably” speak to others with more giggles and laughs, while giving them the “ability to function when stoned,” according to the Global Drug Survey report.

Users report they don’t like some side effects of strong marijuana, including hangover feelings, paranoia, harmful effects on the lungs, feelings of becoming forgetful, an urge to use more, and feelings of being distracted or preoccupied, according to the survey.

Responses to the Global Drug Survey:

“There appears to be a paradox in the way people describe their perfect cannabis,” the Global Drug Survey report says. “This is because most the effects of being ‘high’ are due to THC, but higher doses of this drug are associated with more negative psychological effects. So while they want a preparation with overall more pleasurable effects, they also describe wanting less of the negative effects that are also due to THC such as sedation, munchies, memory impairment, restlessness. It might well be what they are describing is a high potency THC containing preparation balanced by CBD which is missing from many current strains.”

Currently, 21 states have legalized medical marijuana. Colorado and Washington have legalized marijuana for recreational use and more than a dozen other states are considering legalization in some form. With all that interest and all those regulated marketplaces, growers and sellers can tap into users’ preferences with the Global Drug Survey data and help design a better plant.

The Global Drug Survey bills itself as the world’s biggest annual survey of drug users. This year, 79,322 people from more than a dozen countries participated in the anonymous online questionnaire.

Because the Global Drug Survey does not involve a random sample of participants, its results cannot be considered representative of any larger population. “Ultimately, the only people that this study (like so many others) can definitively tell you about are those who have participated,” the researchers say.

Source: Huffington Post (NY)
Author: Matt Ferner, The Huffington Post
Published: April 14, 2014
Copyright: 2014 HuffingtonPost.com, LLC
Contact: scoop@huffingtonpost.com
Website: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/

Bill Would Loosen MMJ Restrictions in D.C.

April 8th, 2014

D.C. Council members introduced legislation Tuesday that would greatly expand the availability of medical marijuana to D.C. patients by doing away with the list of qualifying conditions that currently restrict access to the program.

A bill introduced by Council member Yvette M. Alexander, Ward 7 Democrat and chairman of the Committee on Health, would eliminate a list of four conditions that currently allow a patient to seek a doctor’s referral to use medical marijuana. Instead the bill would amend the definition of “qualifying medical condition” to mean any condition that would benefit from medical marijuana treatment as determined by the patient’s physician.

The council’s 13 members unanimously sponsored the bill, virtually assuring its eventual passage.

Currently, the District’s tightly regulated program identifies only four illnesses as eligible for medical marijuana treatment — HIV/AIDS, cancer, glaucoma, and conditions characterized by severe and persistent muscle spasms, such as multiple sclerosis. While officials believe as many as 40,000 of the District’s 640,000 residents could qualify for the city’s medical marijuana program under those conditions, only about 200 patients have been approved since the program got up and running in July.

“It has been made clear that this program is in need of a legislative improvement,” Ms. Alexander said as she introduced the legislation.

In March, the District’s Department of Health announced it would begin accepting petitions from individuals seeking to add new illnesses to the list of qualifying medical conditions, but medical marijuana advocates criticized the process as overly burdensome.

Health department Director Joxel Garcia has testified during prior council hearings that he supports leaving the decision up to doctors rather than government officials.

Ms. Alexander cited Dr. Garcia’s testimony, as well as that of current medical marijuana patients and others who hope to gain access to the drug, as the reason for her support.

“While we are able to legislate what conditions we think are best, it is clear that the medical opinion of a physician should take priority in determining who obtains access to medical marijuana,” Ms. Alexander said.

The legislation loosening the restrictions comes as D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray last week signed a bill decriminalizing marijuana.

Source: Washington Times (DC)
Author: Andrea Noble, The Washington Times
Published: April 8, 2014
Copyright: 2014 The Washington Times, LLC
Website: http://www.washtimes.com/
Contact: letters@washingtontimes.com

Feds Favor Anti-Pot Research

April 8th, 2014

As the nation’s only truly legal supplier of marijuana, the U.  S.  government keeps tight control of its stash, which is grown in a 12-acre fenced garden on the campus of the University of Mississippi in Oxford.

From there, part of the crop is shipped to Research Triangle Institute in North Carolina, where it’s rolled into cigarettes, all at taxpayer expense.

Even though Congress has long banned marijuana, the operation is legitimate.  It’s run by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, part of the U.  S.  Department of Health and Human Services, which doles out the pot for federally approved research projects.

While U.  S.  officials defend their monopoly, critics say the government is hogging all the pot and giving it mainly to researchers who want to find harms linked to the drug.

U.  S.  officials say the federal government must be the sole supplier of legal marijuana in order to comply with a 1961 international drug- control treaty.  But they admit they’ve done relatively little to fund pot research projects looking for marijuana’s benefits, following their mandate to focus on abuse and addiction.

“We’ve been studying marijuana since our inception.  Of course, the large majority of that research has been on the deleterious effects, the harmful effects, on cognition, behavior and so forth,” said Steven Gust, special assistant to the director at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which was created in 1974.

With polls showing a majority of Americans supporting legalization, pot backers say the government should take a more evenhanded approach.  The National Institute on Drug Abuse and the White House drug czar have become favorite targets to accuse of bias, with both prohibited by Congress from spending money to do anything to promote legalization.

Some critics hope the situation will change; federal officials recently approved a University of Arizona proposal that will let researchers try to determine whether smoking or vaporizing marijuana could help veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, known as PTSD.  The researchers got the green light to provide the equivalent of two joints per day for 50 veterans.

The approval was a long time coming.

Suzanne Sisley, clinical assistant professor of internal medicine and psychiatry at the University of Arizona’s medical school, said the Health and Human Services Department waited more than three years to approve the project after it was first sanctioned by the Food and Drug Administration.  She said the extra federal review should be scrapped and that approval by the FDA should be sufficient for a study to proceed.

“Nobody could explain it – it’s indefensible,” she said in an interview.  “The only thing we can assume is that it is politics trumping science.”

After the long delay, Sisley said she’s excited to get started and hopes to launch the project late this spring or early this summer, after getting the marijuana from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.  She said pressure by veterans helped get the project approved.

For critics, the process is far too slow.  In the fight to sway public opinion, the research battles have assumed a sense of urgency, with opponents and proponents of legalization scrambling to find more evidence to advance their positions.

For opponents, it means trying to link pot use to such things as increased highway deaths, student dropouts and emergency hospital admissions.  That could help defeat a plan to legalize pot for recreational use in Alaska, set for an August vote.

For supporters, it means trying to find new ways to use pot to treat diseases.  That could get voters in more states to approve medical marijuana; 20 states and the District of Columbia already have done so, and Florida could join the list in November.

Dan Riffle, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, a pro-legalization group, said President Barack Obama should end the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s monopoly and remove all other research barriers.  The legalization of marijuana “is inevitable” and more studies are needed, he said.

“That is exactly why federal law and policies shouldn’t tie the hands of scientists by favoring certain kinds of research over others,” Riffle said.

The national institute’s Gust said the federal government is open to the idea of looking for more medical applications for marijuana and that it’s a “red herring” to say that his agency is blocking research.

“This is an untruth that’s been put out there by certain groups, and quite frankly I wonder if it’s not having the perverse effect of actually decreasing the amount of applications and interest in research,” Gust said.

National Institute on Drug Abuse officials said they gave more than $30 million in government grants to finance 69 marijuana-related research projects in 2012, a big jump from the 22 projects that received less than $ 6 million in 2003.  While the institute would not provide exact figures, Gust said it has funded at least five to 10 projects examining possible medical applications.

The institute also provides marijuana for privately funded projects approved by the Health and Human Services Department.  Of the 18 research applicants who requested marijuana from 1999 to 2011, 15 got approval, officials said.

The University of Mississippi received nearly $847,000 in 2013 to produce and distribute the pot for the research projects, mainly Mexican, Colombian, Turkish and Indian varieties.

The university grows 6 kilograms ( a little more than 13 pounds ) of marijuana each year, or more if the demand is higher.  Nine employees are involved in the work.  Among the university’s tasks, it analyzes marijuana confiscated by drug enforcement agents and sends “bulk plant material” to North Carolina’s Research Triangle Institute, just outside of Durham at Research Triangle Park, where marijuana cigarettes are produced and packaged.

Some of the pot is sent to a handful of Americans who won the right to smoke the drug for medical reasons under a court settlement in 1976, 20 years before California became the first state to approve medical marijuana.

Source: Austin American-Statesman (TX)
Copyright: 2014 Austin American-Statesman
Contact: letters@statesman.com
Website: http://www.statesman.com/

America Is Turning A Corner On Marijuana

April 2nd, 2014

Since the beginning of the year, more than 70 bills related to hemp have been introduced in more than half of the states in the U.S. That’s more than triple the number of hemp bills introduced during the same legislation period last year, and nearly double the total amount of 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. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), one of the congressmen who introduced the industrial hemp amendment to the Farm Bill, told The Huffington Post that all the progress on hemp legislation is a key indicator of just how fast policy is changing in the U.S.

“It’s not just turning a corner, it’s turning a corner and running downhill,” Blumenauer said. “The case against industrial hemp production has always been flawed, but now three things are happening. One, we’ve been able to make some significant inroads in a variety of states that have already passed legislation easing [production]. Second, the actual amendment to the Farm Bill was a beacon. And third, we are just seeing [that] the ice dam that has been containing modernization of our marijuana laws generally is cracking.”

Thus far, 12 states have legalized industrial hemp production and about two dozen others have introduced legislation that, if passed, would authorize research, set up a regulatory framework or legalize the growing of industrial hemp in the state.

In February, President Barack Obama signed the Farm Bill, which legalized industrial hemp production for research purposes. The state bills, like the hemp amendment to the Farm Bill, represent a sharp departure from a long-standing ban on hemp under the federal Controlled Substances Act, which doesn’t make a distinction between marijuana, the drug, and hemp, the plant.

Hemp is the same species as marijuana — Cannabis sativa — but they are cultivated differently in order to enhance or diminish their THC properties, depending on the crop. Hemp contains little to no THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana associated with the “high” sensation.

Last year, Colorado farmer Ryan Loflin harvested the first known hemp crop grown on American soil in nearly 60 years, after the 2012 passage of Amendment 64 in Colorado legalized marijuana for recreational use and laid the groundwork for industrial hemp production in the state. An eager Loflin planted 55 acres of hemp before regulations were officially in place, but he met with no interference from the federal government or state officials. With Colorado’s regulations now on the books, the state has become the first in the nation to legally regulate hemp since the federal government allowed for limited production.

Hemp — sometimes called marijuana’s “sober cousin” — has a long history in America, one that skews largely toward legal use and encompasses a range of household products, including paper, oils, cosmetics and textiles. In the 1700s, American farmers were required by law to grow the plant in Virginia and other colonies. For hundreds of years hemp was grown and used to make rope, lamp oil, clothing and much more in the U.S.

American industrial hemp production peaked in 1943, with more than 150 million pounds from 146,200 harvested acres. But production dropped to zero in the late 1950s as a result of “anti-drug sentiment and competition from synthetic fibers,” according to the Associated Press.

Source: Huffington Post (NY)
Author: Matt Ferner, The Huffington Post
Published: April 2, 2014
Copyright: 2014 HuffingtonPost.com, LLC
Contact: scoop@huffingtonpost.com
Website: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/

Marijuana Research Hampered by Access from Gov.

March 24th, 2014

Millions of ordinary Americans are now able to walk into a marijuana dispensary and purchase bags of pot on the spot for a variety of medical ailments. But if you’re a researcher like Sue Sisley, a psychiatrist who studies post traumatic stress disorder, getting access to the drug isn’t nearly so easy.

That’s because the federal government has a virtual monopoly on growing and cultivating marijuana for scientific research, and getting access to the drug requires three separate levels of approval.

Marijuana offers hope for 6-year-old girl with rare condition: In marijuana, Lydia Schaeffer’s family members think they might have found a treatment that works. Now, they are trying to help legalize the drug.

Sisley’s fight to get samples for her study — now in its fourth month — illuminates the complex politics of marijuana in the United States.

While 20 states and the District have made medical marijuana legal — in Colorado and Washington state the drug is also legal for recreational use — it remains among the most tightly controlled substances under federal law. For scientists, that means extra steps to obtain, transport and secure the drug — delays they say can slow down their research by months or even years.

The barriers exist despite the fact that the number of people using marijuana legally for medical reasons is estimated at more than 1 million.

Stalled for decades because of the stigma associated with the drug, lack of funding and legal issues, research into marijuana’s potential for treating diseases is drawing renewed interest. Recent studies and anecdotal stories have provided hope that marijuana, or some components of the plant, may have diverse applications, such as treating cancer, HIV and Alzheimer’s disease.

But scientists say they are frustrated that the federal government has not made any efforts to speed the process of research. Over the years, the Drug Enforcement Agency has turned down several petitions to reclassify cannabis, reiterating its position that marijuana has no accepted medical use and remains a dangerous drug. The DEA has said that there is a lack of safety data and that the drug has a high potential for abuse.

Sisley’s study got the green light from the Food and Drug Administration in 2011, and for most studies, that would have been enough. But because the study is about marijuana, Sisley faced two additional hurdles.

First, she had to apply to the Department of Health and Human Services to purchase ­research-grade samples from the one farm in the United States — housed at the University of Mississippi and managed by the National Institute on Drug Abuse — that is allowed to grow marijuana under federal law. HHS initially denied her application but then approved a revised version March 14 — more than four months after it was submitted.

Now, Sisley must get permission from the DEA to possess and transport the drug.

Spokeswoman Dawn Dearden said that the agency is supportive of medical research on marijuana but needs to follow regulations under the Controlled Substances Act. “DEA has not denied DEA registration to a HHS-approved marijuana study in the last 20-plus years,” she said.

Sisley, who began her work with PTSD while at the Department of Veterans Affairs and now works at the University of Arizona College of Medicine, says she considers the HHS news a “triumph” for marijuana research. But she says the study has “a potentially long road with the DEA who is famous for delays.”

“There is a desperate need for this research, but it’s impossible to study this drug properly in an atmosphere of prohibition,” she said.

Orrin Devinsky, director of the epilepsy center at New York University’s Langone Medical Center, said many would-be marijuana researchers are driven to abandon projects after they discover how time-consuming and expensive it can be to obtain the drug.

“There is no rationale for this except for the federal government’s outdated 1930s view about marijuana,” said Devinsky, who is studying the use of an extract of the plant for the control of seizures.

A Resurgence in Research

The cannabis plant was once a staple in American pharmacies, but since the turn of the 20th century, some states began to see it as a poison and introduced restrictions. Research on its medicinal uses came to a virtual standstill.

There are now 156 active researchers who are approved by the DEA to study marijuana — a number that has remained steady in recent years — but scientists say most are government-funded and focus on the ill effects of smoking marijuana rather than on potential medicines.

That’s poised to radically change. As an increasing number of states have legalized the use of medical marijuana, a bustling industry of start-up drug companies and medical groups focused on finding marijuana-based treatments has emerged. GW Pharmaceuticals, a British company, is studying two different extracts of marijuana that have shown promise for patients with Type 2 diabetes and epilepsy. ISA Scientific, based in Utah, is researching medications for pain and diabetes made from the cannabinoids found in marijuana that could be swallowed in capsule form.

Some of these new-generation researchers are exploring ways to try to speed up their work by bypassing the federal process for obtaining the drug. In Colorado, for instance, academic researchers have asked state officials whether they would allow them to study extracts grown within the state. In Georgia, scientists are seeking legislative action to allow the state’s five medical research universities to cultivate marijuana. A bill allowing them to do so recently won the backing of a House committee.

Much of the debate surrounding marijuana research is focused on its classification by the DEA as a Schedule I drug, the most restrictive of five categories. Schedule I drugs are considered to have a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use. Other drugs in that group include LSD, heroin and ecstasy.

The American Medical Association said in November that it does not support state medical marijuana efforts and still considers the drug dangerous. But it also called on the government to encourage more clinical research — by reconsidering its classification as a Schedule I drug. A lower-level classification would allow researchers to obtain marijuana more easily.

The fact that the Obama administration in recent months has moved to loosen restrictions on marijuana in other regards has raised hopes that it will take similar action that will help scientists. The Justice Department said last year that it would not challenge state laws legalizing marijuana, and in February, the Treasury announced new guidelines meant to make it easier for cannabis businesses to open bank accounts in states where the drug is legal.

Kevin Sabet, a former White House senior adviser for drug policy who has been dubbed the No. 1 legalization enemy by Rolling Stone magazine, said he supports efforts to break down barriers for researchers. But he proposed that this could be done more efficiently without rescheduling the drug — which remains highly controversial and would have implications for the criminal justice system.

Sabet signed a letter sent this month to senior administration officials by a coalition of people working in drug prevention and related causes. The letter suggested that the DEA could instruct field offices to process applications without delay after FDA approval and could relax storage requirements for the components of marijuana used in the context of an investigational new drug.

‘The Whole Process is Wrong’

In the brave new world of medical marijuana, family doctors, psychiatrists and other community practitioners are the gatekeepers and must determine whether a patient truly needs the drug. But in many cases, doctors are prescribing the drug for their patients against the recommendations of medical societies and with only limited research to back up what they are doing.

“The whole process is wrong,” said Andrew Weil, the American doctor and author who conducted the first double-blind clinical trials of marijuana in 1968.

“There is a great deal of evidence both clinical and anecdotal of its therapeutic effects, but the research has been set way back by government polices,” Weil added.

“We are at the point where we are really just learning about this, and for doctors that means a lot of experimentation,” said Bonnie Goldstein, a pediatrician who is medical director of the Ghost Group, which manages WeedMaps.com, a searchable directory of doctors and dispensaries.

In many states, for instance, marijuana is approved for pain and prescribed for those with arthritis. But a study published in the journal of the American College of Rheumatology this month found that the effectiveness and safety of marijuana to treat conditions such as arthritis are not supported by medical evidence.

Another condition for which medical marijuana is widely prescribed is PTSD. Yet the American Psychiatric Association discourages doctors from using it to treat psychiatric disorders. In a statement in November, the APA said, “There is no current scientific evidence that marijuana is in any way beneficial for the treatment of any psychiatric disorder.”

Sisley said she has been working with marijuana for several years to treat soldiers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq who have flashbacks, insomnia and anxiety, but she has had questions about dosages that haven’t been answered. Is one gram a day optimal? Or two? Is it better to smoke the marijuana or use a vaporizer, which heats ground marijuana leaves to produce a gas?

Sisley — who is working on the PTSD study with Rick Doblin, a psychologist and executive director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies — says she thinks the next big political fight over marijuana may come from studies such as hers. If research shows that marijuana is an effective medical treatment, it could force the federal government’s hand on reclassifying it.

Source: Washington Post (DC)
Author: Ariana Eunjung Cha
Published: March 21, 2014
Copyright: 2014 Washington Post Company
Contact: letters@washpost.com
Website: http://www.washingtonpost.com/

Steep Drop in Pot Cases Has Freed Up Resources

March 20th, 2014

A steep drop in charges filed against adults over 21 in Washington state after legalization of marijuana shows the new law is freeing up court and law-enforcement resources to deal with other issues, a primary backer of the law said Wednesday.

The state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) found that such low-level charges were filed in just 120 cases in 2013, down from 5,531 cases the year before. “The data strongly suggest that I-502 has achieved one of its primary goals — to free up limited police and prosecutorial resources,” Mark Cooke, criminal-justice policy counsel with the state ACLU, said in a news release.

Ian Goodhew, deputy chief of staff at the King County Prosecutor’s Office, said that hasn’t been the case in his office. He said prosecutors handled only a few misdemeanor pot cases a day before the law went into effect.

“There’s no great relief of workload,” Goodhew said. “All this has meant is maybe our calendar in District Court in the Seattle division is maybe, instead of 46 cases in a day, 44 or 43 or 42. We’re no longer filing misdemeanor marijuana cases, but we were not expending any significant resources on those cases at the time I-502 passed.”

Cooke conceded the law hasn’t fundamentally changed what prosecutors do every day but said when considered more broadly, I-502 has saved resources, from basic investigation and filing of paperwork to court time. He noted King County’s adult misdemeanor pot cases fell from 1,435 in 2009 to 14 last year.

“I can’t fault their logic,” said Mitch Barker, executive director of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs. “If we took speeding off the books, that would free up time. If we took robbery off the books, that would free up time.

“The question we all have to look at is, is it good public policy? My sole concern is that when you expand access to marijuana for adults, you expand access for underage people.”

The pot cases that were filed in the state last year likely involved people caught with more than an ounce of weed, or the 28 grams, they’re allowed to have under Washington’s Initiative 502, but less than the 40 grams that can trigger felony possession charges.

The data, which came from Washington’s Administrative Office of the Courts, also suggest racial disparities remain a concern in marijuana charges, Cooke said.

Before I-502’s passage in 2012, blacks were nearly three times as likely as whites to face misdemeanor marijuana-possession charges in Washington, and that remained true among the 120 cases filed last year, he said.

Of the 120, white defendants accounted for 82 cases and blacks for 11. That equated for whites to 2 cases per 100,000 residents; for blacks, to 5.6 per 100,000.

The number of misdemeanor filings for those older than 21 had been dropping for several years, the group said, from 7,964 in 2009 to 5,531 in 2012.

Court filings for all drug felonies, including marijuana growing and selling, have remained fairly constant since 2009, at about or slightly under 20,000.

Among people younger than 21, misdemeanor marijuana-possession charges have also fallen in the past two years from 4,127 in 2011 to 3,469 in 2012 and 1,963 last year. People younger than 21 aren’t allowed to have pot under the state law.

Source: Associated Press (Wire)
Author: Gene Johnson, The Associated Press
Published: March 19, 2014
Copyright: 2014 The Associated Press

The Landscape-Scarring Reality of Pot Farming

March 18th, 2014

Starting about 90 miles northwest of Sacramento, an unbroken swath of national forestland follows the spine of California’s rugged coastal mountains all the way to the Oregon border. Near the center of this vast wilderness, along the grassy banks of the Trinity River’s south fork, lies the remote enclave of Hyampom (pop. 241), where, on a crisp November morning, I climb into a four-wheel-drive government pickup and bounce up a dirt logging road deep into the Six Rivers National Forest. I’ve come to visit what’s known in cannabis country as a “trespass grow.”

“This one probably has the most plants I’ve seen,” says my driver, a young Forest Service cop who spends his summers lugging an AR-15 through the backcountry of the Emerald Triangle—the triad of Humboldt, Mendocino, and Trinity counties that is to pot what the Central Valley is to almonds and tomatoes. Fearing retaliation from growers, the officer asks that I not use his name. Back in August he was hiking through the bush, trying to locate the grow from an aerial photo, when he surprised a guy carrying an iPod, gardening tools, and a 9 mm pistol on his hip. He arrested the man and alerted his tactical team, which found about 5,500 plants growing nearby, with a potential street yield approaching $16 million.

Today, a work crew is hauling away the detritus by helicopter. Our little group, which includes a second federal officer and a Forest Service flack, hikes down an old skid trail lined with mossy oaks and madrones, passing the scat of a mountain lion, and a few minutes later, fresh black bear droppings. We follow what looks like a game trail to the lip of a wooded slope, a site known as Bear Camp. There, amid a scattering of garbage bags disemboweled by animals, we find the growers’ tarps and eight dingy sleeping bags, the propane grill where they had cooked oatmeal for breakfast, and the backpack sprayers they used to douse the surrounding 50 acres with chemical fertilizers and pesticides. The air smells faintly of ammonia and weed. “This is unicorns and rainbows, isn’t it?” says Mourad Gabriel, a former University of California-Davis wildlife ecologist who has joined us at the site, as he maniacally stuffs a garbage bag with empty booze bottles, Vienna Beef sausage tins, and Miracle-Gro refill packs.

According to federal stats, trespass grows in California alone account for more than one-third of the cannabis seized nationwide by law enforcement, which means they could well be the largest single source of domestically grown marijuana. Of course, nobody can say precisely how much pot comes from indoor grows and private plots that are less accessible to the authorities. What’s clear is that California’s marijuana harvest is vast—”likely the largest value crop (by far) in the state’s lineup,” notes the Field Guide to California Agriculture. Assuming, as the guide does, that the authorities seize about 10 percent of the harvest, that means they would have left behind more than 10 million outdoor plants last year, enough to yield about $31 billion worth of product. That’s more than the combined value of the state’s top 10 legal farm commodities.

Even before voters in Colorado and Washington legalized recreational pot in 2012, marijuana was quasi-legal in California, and not just for medical use. Senate Bill 1449, signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2010, reclassified possession of an ounce or less from a misdemeanor to a maximum $100 infraction—you’ll get a bigger fine for jaywalking in Los Angeles. Indeed, many states have eased restrictions on pot use. But with the exception of Colorado and Washington, whose laws dictate where, how, and by whom marijuana may be grown, they have had little to say about the manner in which it is cultivated—which is challenging to dictate in any case, since growers who cooperate with state regulators could still be prosecuted under federal statutes that classify pot as a Schedule 1 drug, the legal equivalent of LSD and heroin. So where is all this legal and semilegal weed supposed to come from? The answer, increasingly, is an unregulated backwoods economy, the scale of which makes Prohibition-era moonshining look quaint.

To meet demand, researchers say, the acreage dedicated to marijuana grows in the Emerald Triangle has doubled in the past five years. Like the Gold Rush of the mid-1800s, this “green rush,” as it is known locally, has brought great wealth at a great cost to the environment. Whether grown in bunkers lit with pollution-spewing diesel generators, or doused with restricted pesticides and sown on muddy, deforested slopes that choke off salmon streams during the rainy season, this “pollution pot” isn’t exactly high quality, or even a quality high. “The cannabis industry right now is in sort of the same position that the meatpacking industry was in before The Jungle was written by Upton Sinclair,” says Stephen DeAngelo, the founder of Oakland’s Harborside Health Center, a large medical marijuana dispensary. “It simply isn’t regulated, and the upshot is that nobody really knows what’s in their cannabis.”

It’s not just stoners who are at risk. Trespass grows have turned up everywhere from a stand of cottonwoods in Death Valley National Park to a clearing amid the pines in Yosemite. “I now have to spend 100 percent of my time working on the environmental impacts of marijuana,” says Gabriel, who showed up at Bear Camp in military-style cargo pants and a kaffiyeh scarf. “I would never have envisioned that.”

Gabriel grew up in Fresno, the son of immigrants from Mexico and Iraq, at a time when the Central Valley city was plagued by turf wars among pot-dealing street gangs, notably the local Norteños chapter and their rivals, the Bulldogs. That world did not interest Gabriel, who spent a lot of his free time catching frogs and crawdads on the banks of the San Joaquin River. His love of the outdoors led him to study wildlife management at Humboldt State University, where he became fascinated with fishers, the only predators besides mountain lions clever and tough enough to prey on porcupines. The fisher, which resembles the love child of a ferret and a wolverine, was nearly eradicated from the West by logging and trapping during the early 20th century. It still hasn’t rebounded. This year, the US Fish and Wildlife Service will consider listing it as a threatened species.

When Gabriel first began venturing into the woods to trap and radio-collar fishers, he assumed that most of them were dying from bobcat attacks, disease, and cars running them over. But then, in 2009, he discovered a dead fisher deep in the Sierra National Forest that showed no signs of any of those things. A toxicology test indicated that it had ingested large quantities of rat poison.

Back in his lab, he tested frozen tissue from 58 other fisher carcasses he’d collected on some of California’s most remote public lands and found rodenticide traces in nearly 80 percent of them. Rat poison isn’t used in national forests by anyone except marijuana cultivators, who put it out to protect their seedlings. Rodents that eat the poison stumble around for a few days before they die, making them easy prey for hungry fishers.

In 2012, after Gabriel published his rat poison results, he was the target of angry calls and messages. One person accused him of helping the feds “greenwash the war on drugs.” Another made vague threats against his family and his dogs. Gabriel also received a prying email, later traced by federal agents to Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, soliciting the locations of his home, office, and field study sites. In Lost Coast Outpost and other local news sites, commenters shared links to his home address. “Snitches end up in ditches,” one warned.

Then, last month, Gabriel’s Labrador retriever, Nyxo, died after someone fed him meat infused with De-Con rat bait.

The types of threats Gabriel has received are not uncommon, and they have frightened scientists away from studying the environmental impacts of pot farming. “At my university, there is nobody who will even go near it,” says Anthony Silvaggio, a sociologist with the state university’s Humboldt Institute for Interdisciplinary Marijuana Research. Biologists who used to venture into the wilderness alone to survey wildlife now often pair up for protection. In July 2011, armed growers in the Sequoia National Forest chased a federal biologist through the woods for a half-hour before giving up. The following year, researchers surveying northern spotted owls on Humboldt County’s Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation were shot at with high-caliber rifles. Each growing season, a significant chunk of one designated fisher habitat in the Sierra National Forest becomes inaccessible to scientists because it’s dangerously close to illegal gardens.

Gabriel won’t go near a known grow site before it’s been cleared by law enforcement, as Bear Camp has. Scattered across the hillside, his team finds 4,200 pounds of chemical fertilizer, five kinds of insecticide, and three kinds of rodenticide. The stash includes a restricted pesticide capable of killing humans in small doses. Gabriel’s friend and colleague Mark Higley dons a gas mask and seals the canister in a garbage bag. “If it does erupt, I want everyone to be at least 20 to 30 feet away,” Gabriel warns. “It’s aluminum phosphide, and when it hits the air, it turns into phosphine gas.” Breathing it can kill you.

The Emerald Triangle’s pot culture has changed a lot since the hippies drove up from San Francisco in the early 1970s in search of peace, freedom, and blissful communion with nature. At first, the back-to-the-landers grew pot primarily for themselves, but news that the United States was paying to have Mexican pot farms sprayed with paraquat, a toxic weed killer, convinced American stoners to seek out the hippie weed.

Before long, Humboldt had become a name brand, but marijuana might never have come to define the Emerald Triangle had the old-growth timber industry not logged itself out of business by the mid-1990s. In 1996, when California became the first state to legalize pot for medical use, out-of-work loggers took advantage of the opportunity. “Then you had everybody like, ‘Sure, I’ll grow some weed,’” recalls Humboldt State’s Silvaggio. The size of the harvest grew, helped along by post-9/11 border enforcement, which made it harder for Mexican pot to enter the country. The latest leap in production was the result of Prop. 19, California’s 2010 legalization measure; although it lost narrowly at the polls, the Emerald Triangle’s growers boosted output in anticipation of having a mainstream product. Now marijuana “is all we have,” Silvaggio says. “Every other thing is built here to serve that economy.”

Drive around the Emerald Triangle during harvest season with the radio on, and you’ll hear ads openly pitching Dutch hydroponic lamps, machines “for trimming flowers,” and 2,800-gallon water storage tanks—because “you don’t want to be the one that has to call the water truck in for multiple water deliveries late in the season.” Even mainstream businesses like furniture stores get in on the green rush with “harvest sales.” Talk of bud-trimming parties and the going price per pound dominates restaurant conversations. And in backwoods hamlets where you’d expect high unemployment, you come across a lot of $50,000 pickups.

As with much of the state’s agricultural industry, the pot trade is stratified, and much of the labor is done by undocumented farmworkers. The man arrested at Bear Camp confessed to the police that he’d traveled north from Michoacán, Mexico, to pick apples in Washington, but knew he could make more money tending pot in California. Industry observers believe that at least some of the trespass grows are run from south of the border, but Silvaggio adds that many are financed by locals. Either way, the grunt workers tend to be the only ones busted when the grows are raided.

Although the original Northern California growers saw pot cultivation as an extension of their hippie lifestyles, their environmental values haven’t readily carried over to the next generation. “They are given a free pass to become wealthy at a young age, to get what they want,” Silvaggio explains. “And do you think they are going to give it up when they turn 20, with a kid in the box? They can’t get off that gravy train.” But with prices dropping as domestic supply expands, “you can’t go smaller; you’ve got to go bigger these days to make the amount of money you used to make. So what does that mean? You have to get another generator. You have to take more water. You’ve got to spray something because you may lose 20, 30 grand if you don’t.”

Smaller growers operating on their own properties tend to use slightly better environmental practices— avoiding rodenticides, for instance—than the industrial growers who have moved in solely to make money. Even so, Silvaggio says, “we found that it’s just a tiny fraction of folks who are growing organic.”

Among the downsides of the green rush is the strain it puts on water resources in a drought-plagued region. Scott Bauer, a biologist with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, calculates that irrigation for cannabis farms has sucked up all of the water that would ordinarily keep local salmon streams running through the dry season. Marijuana cultivation, he believes, “is a big reason why” at least 24 salmon and steelhead streams stopped flowing last summer. “I would consider it probably the No. 1 threat” to salmon in the area, he told me. “We are spending millions of dollars on restoring streams. We are investing all this money in removing roads and trying to contain sediment and fixing fish path barriers, but without water there’s no fish.”

At Bear Camp, Gabriel leads me to a steep slope where the growers have plugged a freshwater spring with a makeshift dam of logs and tarps, one of 17 water diversions found at the site. Where moisture-loving ferns and horsetails should be flourishing, a plastic pipe leads downhill to a 1,000-gallon reservoir feeding a vast irrigation network. Gabriel unkinks a hose to release an arc of water from a sprinkler. National Guard troops enlisted to help out have already yanked the cannabis plants here, leaving behind a hillside of girdled white oaks and bare soil. “When we have a two-to-four-inch rain, this will just be a mud river,” Gabriel says. Sediment laced with pesticides and other chemicals will find its way into the salmon stream below. We hike down to a clearing where a helicopter is pulling out sling loads of irrigation piping. “Look at this!” Gabriel shouts after plunging into a thicket to help the soldiers rip out another dam. “Insect killer right in the middle of it!”

He and his colleagues have seen much worse. At a grow site in July, he found a fisher that had died from eating one of many poisoned hot dogs strung around the site on a trotline. A state game warden raiding a grow in 2011 discovered a black bear and her cubs convulsing on the ground, having eaten into a stash of pesticides. Two threatened northern spotted owls, the species once at the center of a bitter fight between loggers and environmentalists, tested positive for rodenticides in Gabriel’s lab; he’s now looking into whether toxins from grow sites could be impeding that species’ recovery as well. “When there is no adequate regulatory framework,” Silvaggio warns, “you are going to have nature taking a hit.”

Most growers just want to be left alone, but the small minority who are politically outspoken tend to favor regulation. Kristin Nevedal chairs the Emerald Growers Association, the triangle’s marijuana trade group. The coauthor of an ecofriendly pot-farming guide, she often consults with state and local lawmakers about how to make the industry more responsible. “Prohibition hasn’t curbed the desire for cannabis,” she says. “So we really need to look at changing our policy and starting to treat it like agriculture, so we can manage it.”

One of the most serious efforts on that front was a system put in place by Mendocino County, which as of 2010 allowed the cultivation of up to 99 plants, provided growers registered and tagged each one with zip ties purchased from the county. Sheriff’s deputies monitored the grow sites and checked that they complied with environmental laws. “That program was in a lot of ways fabulous,” Nevedal recalls. Almost 100 growers participated, but the program was shut down in early 2012, after federal agents raided one of the grows and US Attorney Melinda Haag hinted that she might just take the county to court. Later that year, a federal grand jury subpoenaed the county’s zip tie records.

Since then, efforts to regulate pot farming have mostly shifted to the state level. In Colorado, pot vendors are required to list on their packaging all the farm chemicals used to produce their products, and the state recently implemented a “seed to sale” tracking system. Most Coloradans grow indoors due to the climate, which reduces pesticide use and makes it easier to keep pot off the black market, but it’s highly energy intensive. In the journal Energy Policy, researcher Evan Mills estimated that indoor grows suck up enough electricity to supply 1.7 million homes—in California, they account for a whopping 9 percent of household energy use. The newly minted regulations for Washington state allow outdoor grows so long as they are well fenced and outfitted with security cameras and an alarm system.

In the next few years, new legalization measures appear destined for the ballot in California, Alaska, and Oregon. But while it may help create a market for responsibly grown cannabis, legalizing pot in a few states won’t wipe out the black market, with its steep environmental toll. There’s simply too much money to be made shipping weed to New Yorkers at $3,600 per pound, and too few cops to find all the grows and rip them out. “The trespass grows are really an issue because of prohibition,” says Gary Hughes, the executive director of the Environmental Protection Information Center, a 37-year-old Emerald Triangle environmental group that cut its teeth fighting the logging industry. “It is not the growers who are a disease. They are just a symptom. The real disease is the failed drug war.”

Yet without the drug war, the region’s pot sector might fade into oblivion. Take away the threat of federal raids, and to some extent pot becomes just another row crop, grown en masse wherever it’s cheapest. “A shift in cultivation to the Central Valley is definitely possible,” Hughes acknowledges.

There will likely still be a niche for the Emerald Triangle growers who started it all, Nevedal believes, just as there has been for craft whiskey distilleries in post-Prohibition Kentucky. Growing really good weed is simply too much work and too much strain on the environment to make sense on an industrial scale. As it happens, Nevedal speculates, the Emerald Triangle might just end up where it started, providing artisanal dank for a high-end market. “The future,” she says, “is the small family farm.”

Josh Harkinson is a staff reporter at Mother Jones.

Source: Mother Jones (US)
Author: Josh Harkinson
Published: March/April 2014 Issue
Copyright: 2014 Foundation for National Progress
Website: http://motherjones.com/
Contact: backtalk@motherjones.com