Barr: Feds Won’t Interfere With State Pot Legalization

During his Senate confirmation hearing Tuesday, A-G nominee William Barr indicated he would return to the Obama-era policy of not enforcing federal law prohibiting the possession and sale of marijuana in states that had legalized it. Meanwhile, Massachussetts pot entrepreneurs are rising to the challenge of finding catchy but legally accepted names for their product..

In what may be encouraging news to the marijuana legalization movement, Attorney General nominee William P. Barr has pledged not to interfere with the District of Columbia’s decriminalization of marijuana.

During his Senate confirmation hearing Tuesday, Barr suggested that he would return to the Obama-era policy of not enforcing federal law prohibiting the possession and sale of marijuana in states that had legalized it, reports the Washington Post.Former attorney general Jeff Sessions had reversed that guidance last year.

At the hearing, Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) asked Barr whether he would enforce federal marijuana laws in states that have legalized marijuana — as well as the District.

“To the extent people are complying with the state laws in distribution and production and so forth, we’re not going to go after that,” Barr replied.

In other news from the marijuana front, The Boston Globe reports on the struggle of entrepreneurs in the now-legal recreational pot industry in Massachussetts to gain leverage in an expending marketplace.  New sellers need to balance the need to stand out with catchy brand names,  while staying within state regulators’ limits on referring, directly or colloquially, to the main product.

From 2014 through November, most marijuana firms in the state were medical dispensaries that, in picking their appellations, sought to avoid stoner stereotypes and evoke professionalism and health, leading to such names as Alternative Therapies Group, New England Treatment Access, and Theory Wellness. But now that recreational sales are flowing, the market is changing. More creative names have emerged, such as The Green Lady and The Verb Is Herb

So far, lots of companies have tapped into Boston’s healthy hometown pride with names such as Baked Bean, Mayflower Medicinals, and Patriot Care — a localized version of national parent company Columbia Care. Beantown Greentown is also growing local strains called Boston Skunk, 617 Haze, and Wicked Pissa.

The local angle works because people want to support Massachusetts businesses over big marijuana companies from out of state, said Hillary King, a Boston-based consultant with 5 Point Management Group, who has worked on cannabis store branding.

Meanwhile, the first medical marijuana sales in Ohio are expected to begin Wednesday, reports Cincinnati.com. Dispensary owners prepared for large crowds on what is essentially the program’s opening day. They set up heated tents for waiting customers and planned to serve coffee and hot chocolate.

Initial prices were expected to be high and three dispensaries planned to set limits on how much dried marijuana flower – the only product available at first – could be bought to ensure there is enough to go around.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Will Marijuana Legalization Have a ‘Gateway’ Effect?

It doesn’t take an excess of optimism to conclude that soon the entire continent of North America may be weed-friendly. It may pave the way for a closer look at other now-illicit drugs that can be used for therapeutic purposes.

Marijuana’s reputation as a gateway drug—a drug whose use almost inevitably leads to the use of other, stronger, harder drugs—has been largely (though not completely) discredited.

But will the legalization of marijuana lead to the legalization of other, stronger, harder drugs? If it does, is that a good or bad thing?

It doesn’t take an excess of optimism to conclude that soon the entire continent of North America may be weed-friendly.

On Nov. 6, Michigan voters approved a ballot proposal legalizing recreational marijuana, and it has already gone into partial effect. In Michigan, it is now legal to grow up to 12 marijuana plants at home, to possess up to 10 ounces of marijuana, and to carry (though not smoke in public) 2.5 ounces if you are at least 21 years old.

The state (which is mostly opposed to marijuana legalization) has until Dec. 6, 2019 “to form regulations and make applications available for recreational marijuana businesses,” and up to another year to expand sales beyond existing medical marijuana dispensaries.

Two more states (Missouri and Utah) voted to permit medical marijuana only. That makes 32 medical marijuana states, 10 of which also permit recreational use.

More than one-fifth of the U.S. population—about 73 million people—now live in one of the 10 states (plus the District of Columbia) where recreational marijuana use is now legal to some extent.

That’s more than twice the population of Canada (35 million), where recreational marijuana became legal on Oct. 17. Canada was only the second nation in the world, after Uruguay, to enact such legislation.

Despite predictions of calamity, the major problem so far has been marijuana shortages.

The number of people in North America who can enjoy legal recreational marijuana may have doubled Oct. 31 when Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled that “the effects caused by marijuana do not justify an absolute prohibition on its consumption.”

That in effect decriminalized marijuana. (Under the country’s legal system, once the Supreme Court reaches a similar decision in five separate cases, the standard set by the rulings applies to the country’s entire court system.)

So Mexico’s 119 million citizens (the adults anyway) can now light up, vape, eat or otherwise engage in marijuana consumption. That doesn’t make it legal for you to sell it to or buy it from anyone.

A senator in Mexico has introduced legislation to officially confirm the ruling making recreational marijuana legal. According to World Politics Review, Mexico’s new President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador favors legalization, and plans to hold a public referendum on how and whether to legalize marijuana within his first three years in office.

With the U.S. likely to formalize the laissez-faire attitude towards state legalization at the federal level—in June, President Donald Trump said he, would “probably” sign the STATES (Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States) Act—North America could in effect become the first continent with legal recreational marijuana.

If marijuana becomes completely legal to the south and the north of us, the fear of missing out on those legal marijuana tax revenues may be enough to turn the tide.

On the other hand, there are still a couple of big stumbling blocks, not least of which is the U.S. Senate—which may find it politically unacceptable to make marijuana use more acceptable in any way. That also includes the regulatory agencies (the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Food and Drug Administration) which seem more interested in criminalizing kratom than legalizing cannabis.

Elsewhere, South Africa, Georgia (the Caucasus), China, and several other Asian nations also are considering legalization, mostly for medical marijuana. Even the United Nations’ World Health Organization is reviewing marijuana’s status as a controlled substance.

Mexico may go even further. There is a movement afoot to also legalize the medical use of opium to relieve pain and to further hurt the illegal drug traffickers who profit off opium-derived heroin.

Opium was brought to the U.S. by Chinese workers in the mid-19th century, then demonized during the anti-Chinese wave of the late 1870s-early 1880s, and made illegal by the Harrison Narcotics Act of 1914. Subsequently—in a pattern repeated following other attempts to prohibit or restrict substances—American addicts resorted to stronger opiates such as codeine, morphine, and heroin.

In a contest over the dangers of opium vs weed, opium is the clear winner. Despite marijuana’s Schedule 1 placement, it’s not a deadly drug. No one has ever died directly due to an overdose of marijuana alone. Opium itself is not as deadly as other opioids, such as heroin and fentanyl.

Then again, there’s even a movement to legalize and regulate heroin so that it will be of a known strength and purity (not laced with fentanyl) that is traced to marijuana’s legalization success. And fentanyl is legal for some conditions.

Opium isn’t the only drug receiving similar consideration. So are so-called “psychedelic”, hallucinogenic, or psychotropic drugs.

Oregon is considering a voters ballot initiative to legalize therapeutic uses of psilocybin, the ingredient in psychedelic or “magic” mushrooms. Like marijuana, it is illegal Schedule 1 drugs under the US federal Controlled Substances Act. Likewise, it and the party drug MDMA (Ecstasy) have been celebrated as “breakthrough therapy” for depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other psychological illnesses.

Digital tech workers and entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley have touted the benefits of microdosing LSD—small doses that produce no hallucinogenic effects—for creativity and treatment of depression although it, too, is a Schedule 1 drug. A placebo-controlled study is now underway in London.

Ibogaine and other psychedelics for the treatment—maybe cure—of addiction is similarly stymied by being confined to Schedule 1. Proponents—who have been around since the 1960s—say that one “trip” can remove addiction and the desire to use drugs again. Ibogaine is only legal in New Zealand, Brazil, and South Africa.

Meanwhile, kratom—an herbal substance related to coffee—is facing renewed criminalization by the FDA and DEA. Heretofore its status has been unclear. It is marketed as a “dietary supplement”, a class of product that “can go to market without any safety, purity, or quality testing by the FDA”.

Some users and scientists say kratom has opioid-like pain relief properties that are safer (no respiratory depression) than opioids. They want it regulated as a dietary supplement, not banned. It is is not mentioned at all by the United Nations Drug Conventions or US law, though it is controlled in several European Union and Asian nations, as well as Australia and New Zealand.

Prohibition doesn’t stop drug use. It only prevents the research evidence of their therapeutic effects that drug legalization opponents claim is lacking, as well as making the substances less safe and turning otherwise law-abiding citizens into criminals. It also can be politically motivated.

Stephen Bitsoli

Stephen Bitsoli

While many people use marijuana because they enjoy it, not for its medical benefits, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have medical benefits, or that such enjoyment is necessarily a bad thing.

Marijuana legalization is long overdue, as is serious research into and consideration of other pharmacological solutions. If that legalization is a bellwether for more scientific and apolitical research, that is a good thing.

Stephen Bitsoli, a Michigan-based freelancer, writes about addiction treatment, politics, history, and related matters for several blogs. A lifelong avid reader, he loves learning and sharing what he’s learned. Readers’ comments are welcome.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Will Marijuana Legalization Have a ‘Gateway’ Effect?

It doesn’t take an excess of optimism to conclude that soon the entire continent of North America may be weed-friendly. This could pave the way for a closer look at other now-illicit drugs that can be used for therapeutic purposes.

Marijuana’s reputation as a gateway drug—a drug whose use almost inevitably leads to the use of other, stronger, harder drugs—has been largely (though not completely) discredited.

But will the legalization of marijuana lead to the legalization of other, stronger, harder drugs? If it does, is that a good or bad thing?

It doesn’t take an excess of optimism to conclude that soon the entire continent of North America may be weed-friendly.

On Nov. 6, Michigan voters approved a ballot proposal legalizing recreational marijuana, and it has already gone into partial effect. In Michigan, it is now legal to grow up to 12 marijuana plants at home, to possess up to 10 ounces of marijuana, and to carry (though not smoke in public) 2.5 ounces if you are at least 21 years old.

The state (which is mostly opposed to marijuana legalization) has until Dec. 6, 2019 “to form regulations and make applications available for recreational marijuana businesses,” and up to another year to expand sales beyond existing medical marijuana dispensaries.

Two more states (Missouri and Utah) voted to permit medical marijuana only. That makes 32 medical marijuana states, 10 of which also permit recreational use.

More than one-fifth of the U.S. population—about 73 million people—now live in one of the 10 states (plus the District of Columbia) where recreational marijuana use is now legal to some extent.

That’s more than twice the population of Canada (35 million), where recreational marijuana became legal on Oct. 17. Canada was only the second nation in the world, after Uruguay, to enact such legislation.

Despite predictions of calamity, the major problem so far has been marijuana shortages.

The number of people in North America who can enjoy legal recreational marijuana may have doubled Oct. 31 when Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled that “the effects caused by marijuana do not justify an absolute prohibition on its consumption.”

That in effect decriminalized marijuana. (Under the country’s legal system, once the Supreme Court reaches a similar decision in five separate cases, the standard set by the rulings applies to the country’s entire court system.)

So Mexico’s 119 million citizens (the adults anyway) can now light up, vape, eat or otherwise engage in marijuana consumption. That doesn’t make it legal for you to sell it to or buy it from anyone.

A senator in Mexico has introduced legislation to officially confirm the ruling making recreational marijuana legal. According to World Politics Review, Mexico’s new President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador favors legalization, and plans to hold a public referendum on how and whether to legalize marijuana within his first three years in office.

With the U.S. likely to formalize the laissez-faire attitude towards state legalization at the federal level—in June, President Donald Trump said he, would “probably” sign the STATES (Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States) Act—North America could in effect become the first continent with legal recreational marijuana.

If marijuana becomes completely legal to the south and the north of us, the fear of missing out on those legal marijuana tax revenues may be enough to turn the tide.

On the other hand, there are still a couple of big stumbling blocks, not least of which is the U.S. Senate—which may find it politically unacceptable to make marijuana use more acceptable in any way. That also includes the regulatory agencies (the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Food and Drug Administration) which seem more interested in criminalizing kratom than legalizing cannabis.

Elsewhere, South Africa, Georgia (the Caucasus), China, and several other Asian nations also are considering legalization, mostly for medical marijuana. Even the United Nations’ World Health Organization is reviewing marijuana’s status as a controlled substance.

Mexico may go even further. There is a movement afoot to also legalize the medical use of opium to relieve pain and to further hurt the illegal drug traffickers who profit off opium-derived heroin.

Opium was brought to the U.S. by Chinese workers in the mid-19th century, then demonized during the anti-Chinese wave of the late 1870s-early 1880s, and made illegal by the Harrison Narcotics Act of 1914. Subsequently—in a pattern repeated following other attempts to prohibit or restrict substances—American addicts resorted to stronger opiates such as codeine, morphine, and heroin.

In a contest over the dangers of opium vs weed, opium is the clear winner. Despite marijuana’s Schedule 1 placement, it’s not a deadly drug. No one has ever died directly due to an overdose of marijuana alone. Opium itself is not as deadly as other opioids, such as heroin and fentanyl.

Then again, there’s even a movement to legalize and regulate heroin so that it will be of a known strength and purity (not laced with fentanyl) that is traced to marijuana’s legalization success. And fentanyl is legal for some conditions.

Opium isn’t the only drug receiving similar consideration. So are so-called “psychedelic”, hallucinogenic, or psychotropic drugs.

Oregon is considering a voters ballot initiative to legalize therapeutic uses of psilocybin, the ingredient in psychedelic or “magic” mushrooms. Like marijuana, it is illegal Schedule 1 drugs under the US federal Controlled Substances Act. Likewise, it and the party drug MDMA (Ecstasy) have been celebrated as “breakthrough therapy” for depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other psychological illnesses.

Digital tech workers and entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley have touted the benefits of microdosing LSD—small doses that produce no hallucinogenic effects—for creativity and treatment of depression although it, too, is a Schedule 1 drug. A placebo-controlled study is now underway in London.

Ibogaine and other psychedelics for the treatment—maybe cure—of addiction is similarly stymied by being confined to Schedule 1. Proponents—who have been around since the 1960s—say that one “trip” can remove addiction and the desire to use drugs again. Ibogaine is only legal in New Zealand, Brazil, and South Africa.

Meanwhile, kratom—an herbal substance related to coffee—is facing renewed criminalization by the FDA and DEA. Heretofore its status has been unclear. It is marketed as a “dietary supplement”, a class of product that “can go to market without any safety, purity, or quality testing by the FDA”.

Some users and scientists say kratom has opioid-like pain relief properties that are safer (no respiratory depression) than opioids. They want it regulated as a dietary supplement, not banned. It is is not mentioned at all by the United Nations Drug Conventions or US law, though it is controlled in several European Union and Asian nations, as well as Australia and New Zealand.

Prohibition doesn’t stop drug use. It only prevents the research evidence of their therapeutic effects that drug legalization opponents claim is lacking, as well as making the substances less safe and turning otherwise law-abiding citizens into criminals. It also can be politically motivated.

Stephen Bitsoli

Stephen Bitsoli

While many people use marijuana because they enjoy it, not for its medical benefits, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have medical benefits, or that such enjoyment is necessarily a bad thing.

Marijuana legalization is long overdue, as is serious research into and consideration of other pharmacological solutions. If that legalization is a bellwether for more scientific and apolitical research, that is a good thing.

Stephen Bitsoli, a Michigan-based freelancer, writes about addiction treatment, politics, history, and related matters for several blogs. A lifelong avid reader, he loves learning and sharing what he’s learned. Readers’ comments are welcome.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Think Twice Before Using Pot to Treat Opioid Addiction: Study Warns

The nation seems to be emerging from the “long tunnel” of the opioid crisis, but substituting medical marijuana as an alternative form of care may land us in a “fog of extensive, additional public health repercussions,” warn Arizona researchers.

While medical marijuana has emerged as an alternative for the treatment of opioid abuse, its effect on public health needs more study before pot is widely used in palliative care, according to a forthcoming paper in the Kansas Law Review.

“Promoting marijuana over opioids is risky, given substantial uncertainties over short- and long-term impacts of its widespread use,” the paper warned.

“Even as the nation slowly exits the long tunnel of the opioid crisis, it may be heading into a fog of extensive, additional public health repercussions.”

The co-authors, James G. Hodge, Walter Johnson and Drew Hensley, observed that while opioids are effective “pain killers,” marijuana is more like a “pain distracter.”

Hodge is law professor at Sandra Day O’Connor School of Law at Arizona State University (ASU). Johnson and Hensley are law students and legal researchers at ASU.

Last year, the White House issued a statement declaring opioid abuse a “public health emergency.” More than 300,000 Americans have died from overdoses involving opioids since 2000, and in 2016 alone, opioids killed more Americans than breast cancer.

But as local, state and federal officials work to lessen the impact of opioids, “public health interventions to curb opioids consequentially mean fewer patients are gaining regular access to opioids to control their pain,” said the paper.

The authors noted that some caregivers and substance abusers are turning to medical marijuana as an alternative form of care, since other treatments, such as ibuprofen or physical therapy, can be ineffective or prohibitively expensive.

Though as of September, 2018, medical marijuana was legal in 30 states and the District of Columbia (additional states approved medical marijuana in ballots during the midterm elections), the authors caution there is only a “thin proof of [its] efficacy for treating many conditions.”

The authors don’t dispute the benefits of medical marijuana for many patients in need.

But they note that although medical marijuana can be effective for patients suffering from HIV/AIDS, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and others, “the efficacy of marijuana as a palliative drug is not fully proven.”

Before medical providers exchange opioid prescriptions with medical marijuana prescriptions, the study argued the public needs more substantive research that balances its potential palliative effects against the public health and safety risks of long-term marijuana use.

The full study can be downloaded here.

This summary was prepared by Lauren Sonnenberg, a TCR news intern.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Medical Cannabis and the Law

An ongoing argument about the differences between ‘wet’ and ‘dry’ marijuana is absorbing Michigan courts and politicians. But the debate turns more on politics than science, and is likely to become irrelevant if voters approve full legalization next November, writes a commentator on drug policy.

Justice is perceived as unbiased, fair and wise. The law doesn’t have to be any of those things—it doesn’t even have to make sense—and neither do the courts or its judges.

Take medical marijuana. On July 19, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that while it is legal for someone with a medical marijuana card to possess a certain number of marijuana plants, and that it is legal for someone with a medical marijuana card to possess a certain amount of harvested, dried, and usable marijuana, it is not legal for someone with a medical marijuana card to possess marijuana that has been harvested but is not dried.

Strictly speaking, the Appeals Court ruling in People v. Vanessa Mansour means the weight of the freshly harvested marijuana—referred to as “wet” marijuana, although that term also has been used for marijuana laced with PCP or “angel dust”—can be taken into account in determining if the grower has exceeded the legal limit of marijuana.

In Michigan, a medical marijuana caregiver is permitted 12 plants or 15 ounces/425 grams of “usable” marijuana per patient licensed patient. According to the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act (MMMA), “Usable marihuana means the dried”—not drying—“leaves, flowers, plant resin, or extract of the marihuana plant,” and the Court agreed in People v. Manuel.

In Mansour, the Michigan justices relied on an earlier 2015 court ruling, People v. Carruthers. It was decided before the MMMA was amended in 2016, and before Manuel, but the lower court chose to give Carruthers precedence because it said it was “more comprehensive.”

The Michigan Court of Appeal also claimed:

  • The two rulings were not in conflict,
  • If they were, “Carruthers controls”.
  • “Even if Carruthers were not controlling, we agree with and adopt its rationale.”

That sounds like the judges personally prefer the more restrictive Carruthers interpretation. Michigan’s state court candidates are elected, politically selected, and arguably partisan. Regardless of the will of the people, if they don’t like a citizen initiative, they (like the Legislature) can find or contrive some reason to overturn it or disregard it.

Carruthers turned on whether marijuana brownies consisted of marijuana in a “usable” form. True, you cannot smoke it once it’s been baked into brownies, but you can still get high by eating them. Under such circumstances, it might make sense to consider both “usable” and “unusable” quantities of marijuana. In Manuel, it involved only drying marijuana.

According to one of Mansour’s attorneys, the Michigan Supreme Court has already thrown one case back to the MCA because it was in violation of Manuel. The same fate may be in store for Mansour.

Other reasons not to count wet marijuana include that:

  • It is not usable in this form.
  • The dried weight will be less than the wet weight (only 20-25 percent).
  • Marijuana plants can produce more than the allowable amount of marijuana—up to a pound per plant every three months—so some must be harvested and frozen in a semi “wet” condition for future use.

Why the amount of marijuana matters is the severity of the sentence. Mansour clearly exceeded the 20-plant mark which has the lightest penalty—up to four years in prison and/or a $20,000 fine. If only the plants are counted, her fewer than 200 plants could mean seven years and/or $500,000.

But if you add the drying cannabis, she could face greater penalties of 15 years and $10 million.

Montana is going through a similar dispute. Wayne Steven Penning was transporting drying leaves harvested from his four plants in sealed containers in his car. Only one ounce of “usable” marijuana is permitted to medical marijuana patients in Montana.

Montana’s medical marijuana law defines “usable marijuana” as “the dried leaves and flowers of marijuana and any mixture or preparation of marijuana.” Wet leaves don’t seem to meet any of those criteria.

Also, an article in the Billings Gazette states, “A mature female marijuana plant can produce up to 16 ounces of marijuana per yield, according to Penning’s petition to the Montana Supreme Court.” That means that “at the point of harvest, medical marijuana patients will possess more than one ounce of marijuana plant.”

Penning tried to get the Montana Supreme Court to rule on the issue of usability, but as courts like to do, they punted, declining to rule while the district court has the case, and saying that the issue of “usable” marijuana is a “question of fact, not a question of law.”

Meanwhile, the district court judge says it is a matter for the jury, which seems to make it a question of opinion.

In this instance, the law should be fact-based, but leaving it to a jury with its own predispositions towards marijuana is problematic. Jury nullification has been part of the U.S. jury system before we were a nation—since at least Crown v. John Peter Zenger in 1735. Juries don’t necessarily follow the facts.

Currently, marijuana is considered a dangerous controlled substance—as bad as (heroin) or worse than (fentanyl) the drugs causing the opioid epidemic. That designation is not based on its addictiveness. At worst, it is less addictive than tobacco, with little or no withdrawal.

Fewer substance abuse treatment centers—faith-based 12 step programs, or evidence-based non 12 step rehab centers—specialize in marijuana dependence than do alcoholism. The risk of cancer is less than tobacco, too, and no one has ever died of a marijuana overdose. The animus towards cannabis is based on prejudice and maybe politics.

One small sign that Michigan legislators and judges don’t want to deal with marijuana is in how they spell it: marihuana with an “h”. Marihuana is an older spelling, dating back to the U.S. Marihuana Act of 1937. Marijuana with a “j” has been the preferred spelling for decades, but a state website says “An act of the Michigan Legislature would be required in order to change the spelling of marihuana in the Michigan statutes, such as the Public Health Code or the newer marihuana laws.”

A more important sign is that while the Michigan medical marijuana initiative was passed by the voters in 2008, full implementation has been delayed for a decade as the legislature and the governor’s office have dragged their feet. Earlier this year the legislature got testy, declaring that all the medical marijuana dispensaries that have opened in lieu of their final regulations must close down until licenses are finally issued.

This reluctance of legislators to do their job may have backfired. Marijuana again will be on the ballot in Michigan this November, but this time it is for full legalization, recreational as well as medical, and it is supported by 61 percent of voters, with only 5 percent undecided.

Stephen Bitsoli

Stephen Bitsoli

In addition to the people who want recreational marijuana, some may support legalization because the state so passive-aggressively delayed medical marijuana, the voters may not trust the legislators or judges.

If the state doesn’t want to deal with it, the people may leave them no choice.

There’s a well-known legal maxim that justice delayed is justice denied. Politicians and judges would do well to remember that.

Stephen Bitsoli, a Michigan-based freelancer, writes about addiction, politics and related matters for several blogs. He welcomes readers’ comments.

from https://thecrimereport.org

The Newest Allies for Pot Legalization: Conservatives

In an unlikely reversal of roles, key conservative Republicans are supporting state moves to legalize medical or recreational marijuana, while progressive Democrats are wary. That could trump hardcore opponents like AG Jeff Sessions, says an addiction specialist.

Now that marijuana legalization seems to have reached a tipping point, it may be necessary for conservatives in politics and government to give it that last push to legalization at the federal level.

At least 28 states already have legalized medical marijuana use and nine of those have also approved recreational use. Voters in three more states seem poised to approve medical use this November, and another may add recreational use.

As many as eight other states have at least a chance of some form of legalization sometime this year.

It’s not a surprise, then, that longtime anti-cannabis warrior and US Attorney General Jeff Sessions wants to enforce the federal marijuana laws and wage drug war on states that have willfully violated those laws.

The fact that those violations almost exclusively were at the behest of their voters doesn’t matter.

On average more Democrats than Republicans seem to favor marijuana legalization—although even 90 percent of Republicans support making medical marijuana legal. Recreational pot gets a thumbs-up from 51 percent of Republicans, though much of that support comes from younger cohorts.

In Michigan, where a recreational legalization proposal has made it onto the November ballot, the Republican-majority legislature considered passing an identical law first to keep at least some Democrat supporters home.

Relatively few Democrats and liberals in Congress have come out for legalization, perhaps fearful of seeming like extreme leftists or otherwise “soft” on drugs or crime. Even former US President Barack Obama, who had a reputation as a heavy-duty toker in college, didn’t do much to push a pro-legalization agenda.

Sitting politicians of either stripe seem far more reluctant to embrace those state laws, oftentimes doing what they can to prevent the laws going into effect or adding requirements—such as not allowing marijuana in cigarette or vape form, or delaying or refusing to grant the licenses to marijuana businesses.

In New York, one of the more progressive states in the country, marijuana legalization has been opposed by progressive Democrats.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has resisted all moves towards legalizing cannabis, as has New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. Now Cuomo—perhaps due to the inevitability, possibly because of a primary challenge from actress and marijuana proponent Cynthia Nixon—“has appointed a commission to study the issue”. De Blasio also—maybe bowing to pressure from his district attorneys—agreed to stop arresting marijuana users where there is no public safety concer, citing apparent racist enforcement of existing laws.

Still, many observers believe that the momentum towards marijuana legalization in the US reached a point of no return just in time for this year’s 4/20 informal cannabis celebration.

What’s changed? For an answer, look to some top conservative Republicans.

Current president Donald Trump doesn’t seem to believe in anything more intoxicating than cola—his elder brother died of alcoholism-related causes—but he’s been of at least two minds about marijuana legalization.

He appointed ferocious marijuana opponent Jeff Sessions as Attorney General, and Trump’s first Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tom Price, also opposed legalization in the strongest possible terms.

During the presidential campaign, however, Trump more-or-less stated he would let the states decide whether and how to legalize marijuana. His choice of Sessions seemed to be a reversal, but lately, it seems as if he’s been holding Sessions back.

Last month he agreed, under pressure from Colorado’s Republican US Sen. Cory Gardner to not interfere with Colorado’s marijuana industry. (Gardner had vowed to block every Justice Department nominee until he received such a reassurance.).

Another politician who recently has reversed himself and now supports legalization—at least for medical use and study—is former House Speaker John Boehner. He has joined the board of Acreage Holdings, a cannabis company “with cultivation, processing and dispensing operations across 11 states.”

In 2011, Boehner wrote, “I am unalterably opposed to the legalization of marijuana or any other FDA Schedule I drug” because he was “concerned that legalization will result in increased abuse of all varieties of drugs, including alcohol.”

Now, Boehner says, “my thinking on cannabis has evolved. I’m convinced de-scheduling the drug is needed so we can do research, help our veterans, and reverse the opioid epidemic ravaging our communities”.

Cynics might say the money Boehner will no doubt receive was a motivating factor, but opponents of legalization face similar suspicions.

Former Rhode Island Democrat Patrick Kennedy is and has been a strong opponent of legalization. Just last month he urged Congress not to do as fellow Democrat Chuck Schumer proposed and legalize marijuana.

Kennedy’s opposition seems to come from deeply held beliefs, and his experience of addiction personally and among his family in general. Kennedy, whose father was Sen. Ted Kennedy, has seen the effects of alcoholism as a son and in his personal life. He also had an addiction to prescription pills and other drugs, and suffered from bipolar disorder.

(Mental illness and drug addiction often go together; it’s called a dual diagnosis.)

Kennedy is an “honorary adviser” for Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), though a more accurate name would be No Approaches to Marijuana. Among its goals are:

  • Stopping and reversing “the commercialization and normalization of marijuana,” including preventing the creation of a Big Marijuana after the model of Big Tobacco.
  • Finding “a middle road between incarceration and legalization”.
  • Decreasing “marijuana use and its consequences.“

According to SAM, it wants “an approach that neither legalizes nor demonizes marijuana.” They don’t believe it’s healthy or helpful, though they wouldn’t imprison users or prevent research.

Kennedy also is a founder of Advocates for Opioid Recovery (AOR), which promotes non-moralistic and scientific opiate addiction treatment, and The Kennedy Forum which promotes effective behavioral health treatment.

What gives some pause is that a firm that makes a scientific opiate addiction treatment of the kind advocated by AOR has contributed to one or more of his organizations, and Kennedy is on the board of an addiction treatment center.

One of Kennedy’s co-founders of AOR is conservative former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. While in 1996 he called for the execution of dealers of drugs, including marijuana, in 1982 he wrote in support of medical marijuana in the Journal of the American Medical Association. During his 2012 campaign for president, he said (without fanfare) that he wasn’t in favor of busting people for marijuana possession.

Other conservatives who have voiced some support for the relaxation of marijuana laws include Meghan McCain (daughter of Arizona Sen. John McCain), right-wing pundit Glenn Beck, former Alaskan mayor and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, Fox News host Sean Hannity and televangelist Pat Robertson.

Not that there’s a full red wave of legalization support.

Last year the final report of the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis—led by former New Jersey Governor and Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie—was opposed to marijuana use even as a treatment for opioid addiction.

Still, as the worst fears of recreational marijuana opponents fail to materialize in states such as Colorado, Washington, and California, and with full legalization of cannabis in Canada likely to begin by summer’s end, politicians are faced with the consequences of not legalizing marijuana: lost profits, tax revenues, and credibility.

In almost a half-a-century of the War on Drugs and “Just Say No,” Americans have learned they can’t believe what their government says about the dangers of marijuana. Their own experience refutes it.

Prohibition never works when what you’re prohibiting is something the people want or maybe need.

Stephen Bitsoli

Stephen Bitsoli

Many Americans, including war veterans, believe marijuana helps them cope with their post-traumatic stress disorder or chronic pain. Marijuana can be harmful, but so can any legal product, most notably tobacco, alcohol and prescription opiate drugs.

Conservatives often espouse Henry David Thoreau’s belief “That government is best which governs least.”

Some are now concluding that should apply to marijuana, too.

Stephen Bitsoli, a Michigan-based freelancer, writes about addiction, politics and related matters for several blogs. He welcomes readers’ comments.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Pot Wars: Will Fear Trump Voters’ Decisions?

This week, Congress must decide whether to extend the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment, which bars the feds from enforcing anti-pot laws in states that have approved the use of marijuana for medical purposes. Extensions have been pro-forma since 2014, but Washington’s new hardline drug policies could be a game-changer.

Voters in 29 states (plus the District of Columbia) have so far approved medical marijuana, and eight states have similarly legalized recreational pot. But many state governments, and most recently the feds, don’t appear to be listening.

In Florida, legislators tried to limit marijuana availability to pill form. In Michigan, it took the legislature almost nine years after medical marijuana was approved to craft a licensing process. Then it threatened to deny licenses to any of the existing dispensaries that didn’t shut down before applying for one.

And in Maine, the governor refused to sign a bill implementing the people’s vote. Among his reasons: he wanted to wait until US Attorney General Jeff Sessions decides if or how he’s going to enforce federal marijuana law.

On Jan. 4, Sessions delivered his answer, announcing he would let federal prosecutors decide how aggressively to enforce the law even in states where pot was legal—a blatant reversal of the policy pursued by his predecessor Eric Holder. The impact of that decision is still unclear, with some observers suggesting it was just a “symbolic” move.

What is clear, however, is that the federal laws on marijuana, which treat it as an illegal “Schedule 1” drug, will remain on the books for the foreseeable future. Sessions rescinded two documents, written by previous deputy attorneys generals, that mandated restraint on enforcing federal marijuana laws in states where marijuana had been legalized: the 2009 so-called “Ogden Memo,” written by David W. Ogden; and the 2013 “Cole Memo,” written by James Cole.

Legal medical marijuana is still partly protected by the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment (formerly known as Rohrabacher-Farr), originally enacted in 2014 and repeatedly extended—most recent as part of the annual budget resolution to Jan. 18. The amendment says federal funds cannot be used to prevent states from “implementing their own state laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession or cultivation of medical marijuana.”

Not surprisingly, Sessions doesn’t like Rohrabacher-Blumenauer. He has listed a number of specious reasons for his unqualified opposition to any type of marijuana legalization, including implying that it causes more automobile deaths than alcohol (in support, he cited one contested study’s measure of all drug-related deaths); or that legalization might make opioid addictions worse. (In fact, opioid deaths seem to decline where legal cannabis is available.)

But even the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)—certainly no friend to marijuana—states, “No death from overdose of marijuana has been reported.”

Where does this hostility come from?

Fear of Change

The answer is simple: fear. Fear of change, fear of being blamed for actions, fear of being blamed for inaction. Politicians prefer delaying tactics, CYA, don’t put off until tomorrow what you can put off until next fiscal year.

That cannabis was made illegal for all uses, including medical, dates back to the early 20th century, when then-commissioner of the US. Treasury Department’s Federal Bureau of Narcotics Harry Anslinger drummed up anti-cannabis fever— according to author Alexandra Chasin, who notes that Anslinger popularized the word marijuana or marihuana.

She argued that his efforts were aimed at protecting his government fiefdom after the repeal of Prohibition. Lifting the ban on alcohol meant he would have less power, less authority, less budget and fewer staff.

Arguably, his efforts led to the federal government effectively banning cannabis with the 1937 Marihuana Tax Act (although many states had already outlawed it).

When President Richard Nixon placed marijuana on Schedule I of the new Controlled Substances Act in 1970—the most restricted schedule, meaning that it was considered to have “a high potential for abuse,” has “no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States,” and demonstrated “a lack of accepted safety for use [even under] under medical supervision”—it was really a fear of counterculture generation emerging during the Vietnam War era.

At least that’s what Nixon counsel John Ehrlichman told journalist Dan Baum in 1994 (in a 2016 article).

The claim that marijuana has no accepted, safe use is a Catch-22. Schedule I status means it’s almost impossible to get permission to test it. Doctors are reluctant to endorse a drug that hasn’t undergone rigorous scientific tests for fear of causing harm or losing their medical licenses.

In fact, cannabis has been a part of the United States Pharmacopeia from 1850 to 1941, and used for millennia before that, including in a compendium attributed to mythical Chinese emperor Shen-Nung.

Some students of history have alleged the use of “marijuana” instead of “cannabis” in the 1930s was racist. Exploiting the fear of foreigners, it was a way to link the drug with Mexicans; and it was also associated in much of the rhetoric of that era with African Americans.

But it could also have been a cynical attempt to change the name so people wouldn’t know that what they were banning was a longtime medicine.

AMA Wants Review

The American Medical Association (AMA), the country’s most prestigious group of medical physicians, appeared to acknowledge that. In a draft AMA resolution presented in October, it urged “that marijuana’s status as a federal Schedule I controlled substance be reviewed with the goal of facilitating the conduct of clinical research and development of cannabinoid-based medicines, and alternate delivery methods.”

Without such testing, most of the existing evidence can be challenged as partisan, anti-drug screeds by politicians such as Sessions, or as hippy-dippy paeans of the wondrous effects of marijuana for human consciousness and pain ease—or, equally off-putting, as a product of the avarice of entrepreneurs who want to profit from legal cannabis.

Not that the canna-business is easy. Banks won’t accept deposits from them or issue paychecks for their employees because of continuing federal illegality.

Stuck in the middle are people who suffer from ills that anecdotal evidence suggests cannabis or its components might alleviate. Those ills include chronic pain, nausea, post-traumatic stress disorder, and even opioid addiction in the best drug rehab centers. (One such center has opened in West Los Angeles.)

Stephen Bitsoli

Stephen Bitsoli

Legalization—of medical marijuana at least—could make their lives easier and do little harm.

The more immediate danger to their peace of mind comes this week, when Congress decides whether to renew Rohrabacher-Blumenauer.

Will reason once again carry the day—or will fear win the argument?

Stephen Bitsoli, a Michigan-based freelancer, writes about addiction, politics and related matters for several blogs. He welcomes readers’ comments.

from https://thecrimereport.org

How Uruguay Left Pot ‘Prohibitionism’ Behind

The South American nation last month became the first in the world to legalize the production and sale of recreational marijuana.  But a Uruguayan writer says some of his compatriots, including the president, are still skeptical.

Large lines of customers and tons of expectations. That was the scene outside a handful of Uruguayan pharmacies on the chilly morning of July 19. It was not an ordinary morning, but the first day of legal marijuana sales in my home country.

The demand proved to be so high that only few hours after sales started, many pharmacies had run short of pot. Additionally, collapses in the fingerprint system installed to identify authorized customers were reported several times due to high activity.

Interest and enthusiasm rapidly spread among customers, many of whom became registered users that very same day. Only ten days after sales started, the registry of users increased from nearly 4,500 to 8,500, and 21 kilos of weed had been sold in the 16 authorized selling pharmacies across the country.

The long campaign to legalize marijuana reflected a notable change from the moderate and discrete tone in public policy which we Uruguayans are used to. It was celebrated not just by cannabis advocates, but by social organizations, liberals and progressives—all of whom saw the right to consume marijuana as an essential step in our country’s political process.

But for the government, arguably, the four-year process produced a very painful migraine.

The law that regulates the market of cannabis was approved by the Uruguayan Congress in 2013. The law allows Uruguayan citizens older than 18 years of age to obtain the substance in three different ways: by growing it at home, forming “cannabis clubs” to collectively produce and distribute marijuana between members, or through direct purchase in pharmacies.

The legislation had two main goals. First, it aimed to reduce illegal drug trafficking by removing cannabis from the illegal drug market. In other words, the state would take the illegal cannabis market from the hands of drug dealers.

Second, the law intended to promote and improve the public health of cannabis users by reducing risks and damages associated to its use through preventive and educational campaigns, as well as provide treatment and rehabilitation to problematic users.

In spite of being celebrated by some groups, the law never found full support in the public opinion. Even today, 62% of Uruguayans oppose the measure.

Such skepticism is noticeable, considering that only 16 of nearly 1.000 pharmacies in Uruguay decided to sell legal cannabis.

Pharmacists have been reluctant to sell marijuana mainly for three reasons.

First, because of the assumption that by doing this, pharmacies would become attractive targets to offenders. Second, because selling weed contradicts the notion of “health center” traditionally linked to pharmacies.

Third, because of the belief that the system would not report economic benefits to pharmacies.

Uruguayan President Dr. Tabaré Vasquez. Photo courtesy Wikipedia

It is true that pharmacies have been a strong obstacle to the full implementation of the law. However, personal interests have been at stake as well.

In 2014, in the midst of the debate around marijuana, Dr. Tabaré Vázquez was elected president. With him, the government’s public health paradigm changed substantially.

Vázquez had already been president between 2005 and 2010. An oncologist and strong anti-smoking advocate, he implemented firm no-smoking legislation in his first term.

When the debate on the marijuana legislation began, he made clear that he opposed the measure. His position, combined with his alignment to moderate viewpoints on public policy, had unfortunate implications for the marijuana legislation.

His reelection was seen with concern by cannabis advocates and progressive left groups, who saw in the new president a potential obstacle for the full implementation of the legislation.

And so it was.

In most of his public appearances during the election campaign and his first two years as president, Vázquez avoided mentioning the new legislation. But when he did, he never hesitated to show his skepticism towards the measure.

His position about drugs was always clear. “We don’t need to use drugs. Our body doesn’t need them,” he said in a talk with students in 2014.

His references to the new legislation were a mix of resignation and caution. In an interview he gave during the election campaign, when asked what he thought about the new legislation he responded: “It is unbelievable, but if the law says so, so be it.”

The law, however, had already been partially implemented. After domestic cultivation of cannabis and cannabis clubs had been legalized, the harvest increased and, with this, so did the pressure from social organizations and advocacy groups to fully implement the norm.

The government still balked at announcing implementation of the last and most discussed measure of the legislation: pot sales in pharmacies. Vázquez himself promised several times that this was eventually going to happen, but it seemed always too soon for him to announce a date.

Last month, it finally happened.

But in contrast to the exhaustive local and international coverage of the news, the government remained silent. Once again, the president did not hide his skepticism.

Surprisingly (or not), there was no official press release about the measure. The only words came from Vázquez himself during a speech in which he insisted that “our organism does not need drugs.”

At the same time,he also criticized the recreational use of drugs, stating that his government “strictly” opposes drug use, except “those indicated by doctors, who are those authorized to prescribe medications.”

Finally, he declared that “We must not stigmatize drug users”—but immediately added that “they are sick people who need support and help”.

Federico del Castillo

But the legislation has brought Uruguay a step closer to the goals of eliminating illegal drug traffic, promoting responsible use of drugs, and reducing the damages linked to the clandestine use of illicit drugs.

Last, but not least, Uruguay has emerged as more progressive and brave in the fight against drug traffic and the prohibitionist paradigm in contrast to its neighbors in the region.

Marijuana legislation took too long to be fully implemented. But, now that the law is operational, Uruguay can make up for the lost time by demonstrating to the rest of the world how to leave behind the prohibitionist paradigm once and for all.

Federico del Castillo is a John Jay College graduate student. He has worked on the implementation of crime prevention policies in Uruguay and Mexico, and has conducted research on policing, restorative justice and juvenile violence. He welcomes comments from readers.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Pot Seizures Down in North America, Adult Use Up: UN

The decline in marijuana seizures between 2010 and 2015 roughly tracks the period when U.S. states began enacting measures to legalize or decriminalize pot, according to the UN’s Office on Drugs and Crime. Meanwhile, marijuana use among adults has risen.

North America has seen an overall decline in marijuana seizures between 2010 and 2015—roughly the period when U.S. states began enacting measures to legalize or decriminalize pot, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

According to the UNODC’s 2017 World Drug Report, released Thursday, the U.S., Mexico and Canada still account for 39% of all global seizures in 2015. At the same time, marijuana use has steadily been on the increase, particularly within the U.S.

While is still early days to draw any hard conclusions about the public health and criminal justice outcomes of the pot legalization measures enacted by states, the UNODC says there has been a marked decline in cannabis use by adolescents.

“The prevalence of past-year and past-month cannabis use across the United States has declined among 8th and 10th grade high school students and has remained unchanged among 12th graders in the past five years or so,” the report says.

In April, West Virginia became the 29th state to pass medical marijuana legislation; eight states and the District of Columbia allow recreational use.

According to national data analysed by the UNODC, laws permitting medical use appear to have increased the recreational use of pot among adults in the U.S., but as yet “have had little effect on the prevalence rate of recreational use of cannabis among adolescents.”

This decline in use among adolescents contributed to an overall decline in cannabis use disorders between 2002-2015. Marijuana use disorders remain higher among adults without a high school diploma; as well as those who are underemployed, depressed, single, or those who have other substance abuse issues.

As of March 2016, an estimated 1.2 million Americans were registered for medical cannabis cards. California, Colorado, Washington and Oregon had the highest concentration of registered medical marijuana users.

Mexico, followed by Canada, continue to be the largest source countries for transnational shipments of marijuana in North America.

For more information, see the UNODC 2017 World Drug Report.

This summary was prepared by Victoria Mckenzie, deputy editor (content) of The Crime Report. Readers’ comments welcome.

from https://thecrimereport.org