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Working to reform marijuana laws
Updated: 15 min 27 sec ago
Seventy-five percent of Americans believe that the sale and use of cannabis will eventually be legal for adults, according to national polling data released this week by the Pew Research Center. Pew pollsters have been surveying public opinion on the marijuana legalization issue since 1973, when only 12 percent of Americans supported regulating the substance.
Fifty-four percent of respondents say that marijuana ought to be legal now, according to the poll. The total is the highest percentage of support ever reported by Pew and marks an increase of 2 percent since 2013. Forty-two percent of respondents said that they opposed legalizing marijuana for non-therapeutic purposes. Only 16 percent of Americans said that the plant should not be legalized for any reason.
Demographically, support for cannabis legalization was highest among those age 18 to 29 (70 percent), African Americans (60 percent), and Democrats (63 percent). Support was weakest among those age 65 and older (32 percent) and Republicans (39 percent).
Seventy-six percent of those surveyed oppose incarceration as a punishment for those found to have possessed personal use quantities of marijuana. Only 22 percent of respondents supported sentencing marijuana possession offenders to jail.
Fifty-four percent of those polled expressed concern that legalizing marijuana might lead to greater levels of underage pot use. (Forty-four percent said that it would not.) Overall, however, respondents did not appear to believe that such an outcome would pose the type of significant detrimental health risks presently associated with alcohol. As in other recent polls, respondents overwhelmingly say that using cannabis is far less harmful to health than is drinking alcohol. Sixty-nine percent of those polled said that alcohol “is more harmful to a person’s health” than is marijuana. Only 15 percent said that cannabis posed greater health risks. Sixty-three percent of respondents separately said that alcohol is “more harmful to society” than cannabis. Only 23 percent said that marijuana was more harmful.
The Pew poll possesses a margin on error of +/- 2.6 percent.
Commenting on the poll, NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said: “Advocating for the regulation of cannabis for adults is not a fringe political opinion. It is the majority opinion among the public. Elected officials who continue to push for the status quo — the notion that cannabis ought to be criminalized and that the consumers of cannabis ought to be stigmatized and punished — are holding on to a fringe position that is increasingly out-of-step with the their constituents’ beliefs.”
This afternoon, “The Simple Possession of Small Quantities of Marijuana Decriminalization Amendment Act of 2013” was signed by the mayor after being approved by the city council in a 10 to 1 vote. This measure amends the punishment for the possession or transfer of up to one ounce of marijuana from a criminal misdemeanor (punishable by up to 6 months incarceration and a maximum fine of $1,000) to a civil violation (punishable by a $25 fine, no arrest, no jail time, and no criminal record).
“DC has the most egregious racially disparate marijuana arrests of any city in the country,” stated NORML Communications Director Erik Altieri, “This measure is a great first step in ending the devastation marijuana arrests have on the city’s communities and will allow law enforcement to better allocate their resources towards more dire crimes.”
NORML commends Councilman Tommy Wells on championing the measure through the city council.
“This is a victory for the District and a victory for justice. This bill is a tremendous stride to end the disproportionate sociological and economic impact of marijuana arrests on African Americans – arrest that pull families apart and keep our residents from jobs, higher education and housing opportunities,” Councilman Tommy Wells said about the bill signing.
Due to federal oversight of the District, this measure will not officially become law until it is received by the US Congress and undergoes a period of review. This review period is likely to extend into late summer, we will update you when it has been finalized. If Congress choses not to act to overturn the measure, it becomes DC law.
Marijuana-related initiatives are likely to increase voter turnout, according to polling data released by George Washington University.
Nearly four out of ten participants in the nationwide survey said that they would be “much more likely” to go to the polls if an initiative seeking to legalize marijuana appeared on the ballot. An additional 30 percent of respondents said that they would be “somewhat” more likely to participate in an election that also included a marijuana-specific ballot measure.
Presently, two statewide cannabis reform measures have qualified to appear on the 2014 ballot. Alaska voters will decide whether to allow for the commercial production, retail sale, and use of cannabis by those over age 21. The measure will appear on the August 19 primary ballot. According to the results of a February Public Policy Polling survey, 55 percent of registered Alaska voters “think (that) marijuana should be legally allowed for recreational use, that stores should be allowed to sell it, and that its sales should be taxed and regulated similarly to alcohol.”
Florida voters in November will decide on a measure to allow for the use and dispensing of marijuana by those who are authorized by their physician to engage in cannabis therapy. Survey data released in November by Quinnipiac University reported that 82 percent of Florida voters support reforming state law to allow for the medicinal use of marijuana.
Several proposed ballot measures to regulate the production and sale of marijuana for adults also are pending in Oregon. All of these measures are still in the signature-gathering phase.
At a public signing ceremony today, Utah’s Republican Gov. Gary Herbert will approve House Bill 105 — aka “Charlee’s Law.” The law, and others like it, ostensibly allows children with treatment-resistant pediatric epilepsy access to extracts of the marijuana plant high in the cannabinoid cannabidiol (CBD).
While some media outlets are reporting that the passage of these measures are akin to ‘approving medical marijuana,’ such claims are far from accurate.
Specifically, Utah’s HB 105 — which takes effect on July 1 — is largely unworkable. As written, the law only exempts from state prosecution those with “intractable epilepsy” who possess a cannabis extract that contains more than 15 percent CBD and no more than 0.3 percent THC. Patients must receive a written recommendation from a Utah board certified neurologist and be registered with the state Department of Health before seeking such extracts, which for the time being may only be procured from outside of the state. The extracts must be produced in a lab that possess a state-license to manufacture such products.
While this language may appear to allow Utah patients to procure CBD products in neighboring medical cannabis states like Colorado, the likelihood of this scenario is highly doubtful. Colorado’s medical marijuana law only allows those who are state residents and who possess a state-issued patient identification card to legally purchase such products. In other words, Utah parents would have to violate Colorado law to obtain high-CBD extracts (which are likely to only be available from a medical dispensary, not a retail cannabis market). Colorado medical marijuana dispensaries would also be in violation of not just the letter of the law, but also the spirit of the law by providing a product they know is intended to be transported across state lines — a clear violation of the guidelines put forward in the August 2013 Department of Justice memo which call for “preventing the diversion of marijuana from states where it is legal in some form to other states.”
Utah’s forthcoming law also calls on the state Department of Agriculture “to grow or cultivate industrial hemp for the purpose of
agricultural or academic research,” ostensibly for the purpose of one-day producing high-CBD cannabis medicines. However, it remains to be seen whether such industrial crops can yield therapeutically effective CBD extracts or whether federal lawmakers would even allow such a state-sponsored research project to move forward.
In Alabama, members of the House and Senate unanimously approved CBD-specific legislation, Senate Bill 174 aka “Carley’s Laws,” late last week. Republican Gov. Robert Bently has announced his intent to sign the measure into law.
However, like the Utah law, Alabama’s forthcoming law will also be largely unworkable for those who seek to benefit from it. The measure appropriates $1 million dollars for University of Alabama-sponsored research in CBD extracts. Whether such research will actually take place is another story. Because CBD is, like the cannabis plant itself, classified under federal law as a schedule I controlled substance, multiple federal agencies — including the FDA, DEA, NIDA (US National Institute of Drug Abuse), and PHS (Public Health Service) must all sign off on any clinical investigation of the drug — a process that typically takes several years and often ends with federal regulators rejecting the protocol outright. Yet, under “Carley’s Law,” patients may only legally access CBD under if it is “prescribed” during the course of such a federally approved clinical trial.
Nevertheless, despite these obvious limitations in implementation, lawmakers in various other states — including Florida, Kentucky, Minnesota, South Carolina, and Wisconsin — are considering passing similar measures. (A similar Georgia measure died when lawmakers adjourned late last week.) While the passage of these measures may pose symbolic victories for legislators, they fail to provide tangible benefits to the constituents that they are intended to serve.
Dogs trained to detect the presence of illegal drugs are most likely to provide false alerts in situations involving the search of a motor vehicle, according to the findings of a study published online in the journal Forensic Science International.
A team of researchers from the United States and Poland assessed the ability of trained drug sniffing dogs to accurately detect the presence controlled substances – including marijuana, hashish, amphetamines, cocaine and heroin – in various environments.
Dogs were most likely to correctly identify the presence of contraband, particularly marijuana, during searches of individual rooms. If the dog had previous exposure to the room prior to the search, it was least likely to provide a false alert (83 percent correct identifications versus 10 percent false alerts).
Dogs were far less reliable in scenarios designed to mimic real-world traffic stops. In situations where dogs accessed the perimeter of a motor vehicle, the animals accurately alerted to the presence contraband only 64 percent of the time. Fifteen percent of the time dogs failed to recognize the presence of illicit drugs. Twenty-two percent of the time the dogs indicated that illegal drugs were present when they were not.
Drug dogs’ failure rates were even more pronounced in situations where the animals had access to the inside of a vehicle. In this scenario, dogs correctly responded to the presence of contraband only 58 percent of time. They provided false alerts 36 percent of time.
Previous studies have similarly documented drug dogs’ tendency to provide false alerts. In 2011, researchers at the University of California at Davis reported that the performance of drug-sniffing dogs is significantly influenced by whether or not their handlers believe illicit substances are present. That same year, a review of Australian government statistics, published in the Sydney Morning Herald, found that some 80 percent of drug dog alerts in New South Wales yielded no illicit substances.
In 2005, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Illinois v Caballes that an alert from a police dog during a traffic stop provides a constitutional basis for law enforcement to search the interior of the vehicle.
Lawmakers in four states — Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, and Utah — are poised to enact legislation in the coming days/weeks aimed at providing patients, primarily children with forms of intractable epilepsy, with strains of cannabis and/or cannabis extracts high in the compound cannabidiol (CBD).
I have previously written why, in theory, these proposals will likely provide only limited relief for patients. A closer look at the text of these proposed laws indicates that, in fact, they are largely unworkable and will most likely provide no tangible relief or protection for the patient community they are intended to serve.
Excerpt via Alternet.org. (Read the entire article here.)
Alabama: Senate lawmakers unanimously approved SB 174, aka “Carley’s Law,” which seeks to allow investigators at the University of Alabama to study CBD in FDA-approved trials. But no change in state law is actually necessary to permit state university researchers to conduct clinical trials on cannabidiol. Such FDA-approved protocols are already permitted under federal law, but they require the added approval of regulators at the DEA, NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse), and PHS (Public Health Service). However, since CBD (like marijuana) is classified as a Schedule I substance under federal law, these agencies have historically been reticent to allow such studies to go forward, a fact that will likely remain unchanged even if House members similarly sign off on Carley’s Law.
Georgia: A Senate panel last week amended and approved House Bill 885, aka “Haley’s Hope Act.” …The amended Senate plan … only provides for an exemption from state prosecution for those who obtain CBD oil from a legal medical marijuana state and transport it back to Georgia. In theory, this would allow Georgia parents to visit a state like Colorado to obtain medicine for their children. But in practice, Colorado’s medical marijuana law only allows those who are state residents and who possess a state-issued patient identification card to legally purchase such products. In other words, Georgia parents would have to violate Colorado law to obtain CBD-oils (which are likely to only be available from a medical dispensary, not a retail cannabis market). Colorado medical marijuana dispensaries would also be in violation of not just the letter of the law, but also the spirit of the law by providing a product they know is intended to be transported across state lines—a clear violation of the guidelines put forward in the August 2013 Department of Justice memo which call for “preventing the diversion of marijuana from states where it is legal in some form to other states.”
Kentucky: Senators last week gave unanimous approval to Senate Bill 124. Like Alabama’s proposal, the bill calls on University of Kentucky researchers to study CBD in clinical trials — something they could do with or without passage of a new state law, if the necessary federal agencies agreed to it. The measure also seeks to allow physicians at state teaching hospitals to recommend CBD to patients. However, past experience from other states indicates that this latter scenario is unlikely. In 2013, Maryland lawmakers enacted legislation to allow physicians at the state’s limited number of teaching hospitals to dispense cannabis. To date, no Maryland hospitals have taken up the state’s invitation to do so.
Utah: House and Senate lawmakers have given final approval to House Bill 105. Utah’s governor is expected to sign the measure into law imminently. Like Georgia’s proposal, the Utah measure, which sunsets in 2016, provides protection from state prosecution for parents who can acquire CBD-oil for their epileptic children, assuming a neurologist has authorized the treatment. But, as will be the case in Georgia, Utah patients will likely only be able to obtain CBD from out of state, an act that would violate neighboring states’ medical cannabis laws. The Utah proposal also calls on the state Department of Agriculture to grow industrial hemp for the purposes of one day producing cannabis medicines. However, it remains to be seen whether such industrial crops can yield therapeutically effective CBD-extracts or whether federal lawmakers would even allow such a state-sponsored research project to move forward.
House and Senate lawmakers have signed off on legislation, Senate Bill 357, to reclassify and regulate industrial hemp.
Members of the Senate had initially approved the legislation by a vote of 48 to zero. House members then voted 93 to 4 in favor of a slightly amended version of the measure. Lawmakers in both chambers agreed last week on a final version of the bill — sending it to Republican Gov. Mike Pence, who must either sign the measure into law or veto it.
As passed, the measure reclassifies cannabis possessing less than 0.3 percent THC as an industrial crop. It also seeks to establish licensing requirements and regulations governing the production of and commerce in hemp, as well as for the scientific study of the crop. The proposal mandates state regulators to seek federal waivers by no later than January 1, 2015 so that officials can begin the process of licensing applicants to cultivate the crop.
According to the U.S. Congressional Resource Service, the United States is the only developed nation that fails to cultivate industrial hemp as an economic crop. However, in February, members of Congress for the first time approved language in the omnibus federal Farm Bill allowing for the cultivation industrial hemp in agricultural pilot programs in states that already permit the growth and cultivation of the plant. Ten states — California, Colorado, Kentucky, Maine, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia — have enacted legislation reclassifying hemp as an agricultural commodity under state law.
Michigan physicians may now authorize cannabis for the treatment of post traumatic stress.
Members of the Medical Marihuana Review Panel voted 6 to 2 to expand the state’s list of qualifying conditions to include PTSD. The Director of the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs has signed off on the recommendation.
This is the first time that regulators have expanded the state’s list of qualifying conditions since voters initially legalized the physician authorized use of cannabis in 2008.
Six other states — Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, New Mexico, Nevada, and Oregon — explicitly allow for the use of cannabis to treat symptoms of post-traumatic stress. Nevada regulators expanded their law to include PTSD earlier this year. Oregon and Maine lawmakers amended their medical cannabis laws last year to include post-traumatic stress.
California physicians may recommend medical cannabis at their discretion.
Clinical trial data published in the May issue of the journal Molecular Psychiatry theorized that cannabinoid-based therapies would likely comprise the “next generation of evidence-based treatments for PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).”
Post-traumatic stress syndrome is an anxiety disorder that is estimated to impact some eight million Americans annually. To date, there are no pharmaceutical treatments specifically designed or approved to target symptoms of PTSD.
Last week, federal officials at the Public Health Service approved the use of cannabis in a privately funded pilot trial at the University of Arizona College of Medicine to assess its potential risks and benefits in war veterans suffering from PTSD, including the plant’s potential impact on subjects’ anxiety, suicidality, and depression. Although the study was initially approved by the FDA in 2011, neither PHS nor the US National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) signed off on the protocol until this month. Both agencies, as well as the US DEA, must approve any clinical trial involving cannabis.
A rise in the self-reported consumption of cannabis during the years 2006 to 2010 corresponds with a significant decline in Americans’ use of cocaine and methamphetamine during this same time period, according to a new RAND study commissioned by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP).
Researchers estimate that Americans increased their consumption of cannabis by approximately 30 percent during the years 2006 to 2010. During this same time, authors estimated that the public’s use of cocaine and methamphetamine declined, with Americans’ use of cocaine falling by half.
Americans’ consumption of heroin remained largely stable throughout the decade, the study reported. According to statistics compiled by the US Substance Abuse And Mental Health Services Administration, an estimated 4.5 million Americans have tried heroin in their lifetimes. By comparison, an estimated 12 million Americans have tried methamphetamine, 37.5 million have tried cocaine, and 111 million have consumed cannabis.
Authors estimated that Americans spent approximately one trillion dollars on the purchase of cocaine, heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine between 2000 and 2010.
Commenting on the report, NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said, “These figures belie that notion that marijuana exposure is an alleged ‘gateway’ to the use of other illicit substances and instead suggest that for some people, cannabis may be a substitute for other so-called ‘hard drugs’ or even an exit drug.”
Survey data published in 2013 in the journal Addiction Research & Theory reported that among a cohort of medical marijuana consumers, 75 percent of subjects acknowledged that they used cannabis it as a substitute for prescription drugs, alcohol, or some other illicit substance.
A 2010 study published in the Harm Reduction Journal reported that cannabis-using adults enrolled in substance abuse treatment programs fared equally or better than nonusers in various outcome categories, including treatment completion.
Full text of the study, “”What America’s Users Spend on Illegal Drugs, 2000-2010,” is available online from the Office of National Drug Control Policy here.
Inhaling whole-plant cannabis provides symptomatic relief in patients with Parkinson’s disease (PD), according to observational trial data published in the March/April edition of the journal Clinical Neuropharmacology. Parkinson’s is a progressive disorder of the central nervous system that results in tremor, slowed movement, and muscle rigidity.
Investigators at Tel Aviv University, Department of Neurology evaluated Parkinson’s disease symptoms in 22 patients at baseline and 30-minutes after inhaling cannabis.
Researchers reported that inhaled cannabis was associated with “significant improvement after treatment in tremor, rigidity, and bradykinsea (slowness of movement). There was also significant improvement of sleep and pain scores. No significant adverse effects of the drug were observed.”
They concluded: “[T]his observational study is the first to report an amelioration of both motor and non–motor symptoms in patients with PD treated with cannabis. The study opens new venues for treatment strategies in PD especially in patients refractory to current medications.”
Israel has formally allowed for the licensed production and distribution of the substance for therapeutic purposes since 2011.
An abstract of the study, “Cannabis (Medical Marijuana) Treatment for Motor and Non–Motor Symptoms of Parkinson Disease: An Open-Label Observational Study,” is online here.
“Councilman Wells is a passionate crusader for the cause of marijuana law reform,” stated NORML PAC manager Erik Altieri, “Wells showed his skill and acumen for the issue when he championed the District’s marijuana decriminalization measure, which was overwhelmingly approved by the DC City Council just this month. The District of Columbia would greatly benefit from having his compassion, knowledge, and strong leadership in the mayor’s office. Under a Tommy Wells administration, DC will continue to roll back its failed prohibition on marijuana and move towards a system of legalization and regulation.”
“Decriminalization is the first step in ending the failed War on Drugs that has unfairly affected our minority communities and ruined countless lives,” stated Councilman Wells, “We still have much to do to bring about common sense changes – like legalization – so that DC can set an example for the rest of the country.”
A large majority of Washington, DC residents agree with Wells’ position. A poll of District residents released by the Washington Post in January revealed that 63% were in favor of legalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use, only 34% were opposed. Legalization had majority support amongst every single demographic surveyed.
The District of Columbia currently leads the rest of the country in marijuana arrests per capita, with 854 individuals arrested for every 100,000 residents. These arrests are also disproportionately impacting people of color. While only accounting for about 51% of the population, African Americans constitute 90% of all marijuana possession arrests. This is despite the fact that African Americans and whites use marijuana at similar rates. Councilman Wells’ recently approved marijuana decriminalization measure will be a great first step in rolling back this social injustice.
The Democratic primary for the DC mayor’s race will be held on April 1st. DC voters can get more information on how and where to vote in the primary on the District of Columbia’s website here.
Today, the New Hampshire House of Representatives voted 215 to 92 in favor of House Bill 1625. This legislation to significantly reduce marijuana penalties in New Hampshire.
Under present law, possession of any amount of marijuana is a criminal misdemeanor, punishable by up to 1 year of incarceration and a maximum fine of $2,000. Passage of this act would eliminate criminal penalties for possession of one ounce or less of marijuana and replace them with a civil fine of $100 — no arrest and no criminal record. It would lower the classification of cultivation of six marijuana plants or less to a Class A misdemeanor. You can read the full text of this measure here. House Bill 1625 now awaits action in the state Senate.New Hampshire Residents: Click HERE to quickly and easily contact your member of the state Senate and urge them to support this important legislation. You can also view how each member of the House of Representatives voted here.
Americans believe that consuming cannabis poses less harm to health than does the consumption of tobacco, alcohol, or sugar, according to the findings of a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released today.
Respondents were asked which of the four substances they believed to be “most harmful to a person’s overall health.” Most respondents said tobacco (49 percent), followed by alcohol (24 percent) and sugar (15 percent).
Only eight percent of those surveyed said that they believed that marijuana was most harmful to health.
The poll possesses a margin of error of +/- 3.10 percent.
Commenting on the poll results, NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said: “These results once again reaffirm that an overwhelming majority of the American public understands that any potential risks associated with the use or abuse of cannabis are relatively minor to those associated with many other legal and regulated substances. Criminalizing cannabis and those who consume it responsibly is a disproportionate public policy response to what is, at worst, a public health issue but not a criminal justice concern.”
Under federal law, marijuana is classified as a schedule I controlled substance, meaning that its alleged harms are equal to those of heroin.
Maryland House Committee to Hear Decriminalization and Legalization Bills, Advocates to Rally in Support
Tomorrow, the Maryland House Judiciary Committee will be holding a public hearing to discuss House Bill 880 (legalization) and House Bill 879 (decriminalization) at 1:00pm in Annapolis.
Maryland residents can click here to contact their legislators in favor of decriminalization and here to contact them in favor of legalization. It only takes a few minutes, so please take a moment of your time to let your voice be heard.
Please also consider calling both House Judiciary Committee Chairman Delegate Vallario and Speaker of the House Delegate Busch to let them know that Marylanders support reforming the state’s marijuana policies. These two will be key in seeing these measures advance and have had prior history of opposing such efforts. Their contact information is below:
House Judiciary Committee Vallario
Speaker of the House Delegate Busch
Prior to the hearing, marijuana law reform advocates will be rallying at Lawyers Mall outside of the state house at 11:00am to show support for these important pieces of legislation. They will be joined by legalization and decriminalization bill sponsor, and NORML PAC endorsed candidate for Maryland Governor, Delegate Heather Mizeur. More information on the rally is available here.
Thank you for supporting our efforts to legalize marijuana in Maryland. Together, we can bring about great change in the state this legislative session!
Retail sales of cannabis in the month of January yielded an estimated $3.5 million dollars in state tax revenues, according to financial data released online this week by the Colorado Department of Revenue.
Under Colorado law, commercial cannabis producers must pay a 15 percent excise tax, while retail customers must pay an additional ten percent sales tax (on top of the state’s existing 2.9 percent sales tax) on any cannabis purchased at a licensed facility. The majority of Colorado voters approved the imposition of cannabis-specific taxes (Proposition AA) in November 2013.
For the month, customers spent an estimated $14 million on the purchase of marijuana and cannabis-infused goods at state-licensed facilities. This figure is anticipated to grow larger as more and more facilities become operational.
State law authorized the retail sale of cannabis beginning on January 1st to those age 21 or older. At that time, only 24 retailers were operational. By month’s end, nearly 60 facilities were up and running. Presently, over 150 licensed facilities are operational.
Similarly licensed retail operations are anticipated to be operational in Washington by this summer.
In recent weeks, lawmakers in several states have moved forward with legislative proposals to permit specific strains and/or extracts of cannabis possessing high quantities of the cannabinoid cannabidiol (CBD), but otherwise maintaining criminal prohibitions on the whole plant.
But is this new direction in the best interest of patients? As I wrote in a recent column for Alternet.org (republished with permission by Cannabis Now under the title “Patients Ought To Be Skeptical Of Proposed CBD-Only Legislation — Here’s Why”), I believe the answer is ‘no.’
Ultimately, patients should not be unnecessarily forced to decide between either accessing the whole plant or its isolated components. They should have safe, legal access to both, and politicians, even well-intentioned ones, should not restrict patients’ right to choose the most suitable option.
Below are excerpts from my commentary. You can read the entire text here.
Patients Ought To Be Skeptical Of Proposed CBD-Only Legislation — Here’s Why
via Cannabis Now
[excerpt] If the plant ain’t broke, why fix it?
For longtime marijuana law reformers, the ongoing political conversation surrounding CBD is instructive. It makes it clear that many politicians’ public opposition to the idea of patients using marijuana therapeutically isn’t because of supposed unanswered questions surrounding the plant’s safety or efficacy. Rather, it is because lawmakers oppose the idea of some people getting high from a naturally growing herb. (The fact that patients can get equally high or even higher from FDA-approved synthetic THC has, for whatever reason, never been an expressed concern of either lawmakers or prohibitionists.) After all, the very same politicians who argue that marijuana isn’t medicine because it hasn’t been approved by the FDA or who allege that the substance hasn’t yet been subjected to sufficient scientific scrutiny utter no such public objections to the idea of legalizing patient access to CBD – a schedule I compound that hasn’t been reviewed, much less approved by the FDA, and that has been clinically studied far less than cannabis.
Perhaps most ironically is that were it not for the advent of legalized whole plant marijuana, a policy change publicly opposed by many present day CBD-only political advocates, lawmakers (and anti-pot groups like SAM) today wouldn’t be aware of CBD, much less advocating for it. The reality is that it was the stakeholders in medical marijuana states, and those who provide for them, who have done the most to explore and promote cannabidiol as a legitimate therapeutic agent. And they were able to do so because they, unlike most federally licensed medical researchers, had access to the whole plant.
We’ve been down this road before. Not long ago, lawmakers and anti-marijuana zealots were dismissing patients’ desire to access the marijuana plant because they alleged that the THC-pill Marinol could adequately meet patients’ needs. Patients and their advocates were skeptical of lawmakers’ claims then, and properly so. Now many of these same politicians are once again dismissing patients’ calls for whole plant medicine by claiming that products and strains containing CBD alone only will suffice. Patients and their advocates ought to be equally skeptical once again.
On Sunday February 16th, I bought legal weed for the first time from a recreational cannabis store in Denver, Co. I spent a few minutes speaking with some of the employees, as I was eager to hear how things were going under this newly sanctioned marijuana market. Unsurprisingly, business was great. Some items were selling quicker than others, but everyone was in agreement that the rollout of Colorado’s legal cannabis retail system had been a great success, except for one crucial component that was as unsettling as it was expected – we were standing in one of a few dozen high profile stores, well-known for having excessive amounts of cash on hand (in the first week of sales, businesses generated $5 million in cash-only transactions) and no where to put it, because the banks won’t take it.
Clearly, denying these pot stores the ability to safely deposit their earnings poses an imminent threat to public safety. These shops are easy targets for robbery and assault (as well as other forms of criminal activity), which puts customers and employees at serious risk. Some of these shop owners are considering banning backpacks or other large bags – others are arming their workers. Neither of these options are a viable solution.
This problem isn’t new however, nor is it going unnoticed. On February 14th, the Department of Treasury released a nonbinding memorandum, in conjunction with the Justice Department stating that banks may consider working with pot retailers without fear of prosecution – so long as they remain in compliance with state laws, and followed other instructions outlined in the memo. Though a truly historic and progressive action by the federal government’s leading financial regulatory body, these guidelines are largely symbolic, providing no actual legal protection to banks working with cannabis shops. As such, most financial companies remain skeptical about getting involved with a market existing under so many contradictory laws.
According to federal law, these banks could technically be found guilty of money laundering (among other offenses) for handling the proceeds of what the US government still considers an illegal drug. The Colorado Bankers Association rightly notes that the guidance issued by the Department of Justice and the U.S. Treasury “only reinforces and reiterates that banks can be prosecuted for providing accounts to marijuana related businesses.” The Association further criticizes these new guidelines, stating that “Bankers had expected the guidance to relieve them of the threat of prosecution should they open accounts for marijuana businesses, but the guidance does not do that. Instead, it reiterates reasons for prosecution and is simply a modified reporting system for banks to use. It imposes a heavy burden on them to know and control their customers’ activities, and those of their customers.”
Is it any surprise then that these guidelines – which include a multi-tiered labeling structure and a requirement for banks to maintain ‘suspicious activity reports’ – have left many financial institutions with cold feet? Two of Colorado’s largest banks, Wells Fargo and FirstBank have already announced they won’t work with weed-related enterprises. In fact, most financial trade associations have widely rejected these latest overtures because there are no tangible, legal policies in place.
Despite the skepticism held by many federal administration officials and other politicians, the government can and should be doing much more to enable the success of this new, legal market. Unfortunately, many are sitting on their hands, and holding their breath – hoping to quietly ride out this growing wave of support for legalization, which shows no sign of subsiding. Over 50% of the US population supports a regulated marijuana retail system for adults.
Its time for these officials to concede to the will of the electorate, and address the legitimate needs of this new industry. Lawmakers now have an opportunity to show true leadership in this changing political landscape by supporting legislation that would give states and businesses the resources necessary to enable a responsible and successful implementation of this new “great experiment.” Specifically, they should get behind the “Marijuana Businesses Access to Banking Act,” introduced by Colorado representative Ed Perlmutter. This bill (HR 2652), already endorsed by the Colorado Bankers Association, would alter various banking laws to protect banks providing services to marijuana-related businesses from the threat of federal prosecution and other penalties.
Financial institutions don’t operate off good-faith statements (including non-binding memorandums) – even those from the Department of Treasury, or any other enforcement agency. They operate under explicit legal authorization. Only when the laws change will the banks truly be free to provide the services these businesses so desperately need, and their communities rightly deserve.
Contact your representative today and tell them to support HR 2652
CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta is “doubling down” in his advocacy for patients to have legal access to cannabis as a therapeutic agent.
In a commentary featured on the CNN website today, Gupta writes: “I am more convinced than ever that it is irresponsible to not provide the best care we can, care that often may involve marijuana. I am not backing down on medical marijuana; I am doubling down.”
Last August, Gupta authored a commentary apologizing for his past opposition to medical cannabis, stating, “We have been terribly and systematically misled for nearly 70 years in the United States (in regards to cannabis), and I apologize for my own role in that.”
In today’s editorial, Gupta acknowledges, “Marijuana is classified as a Schedule I substance, defined as (one of) the most dangerous drugs with no currently accepted medical use. Neither of those statements has ever been factual.”
He criticizes President Obama for acknowledging that cannabis poses less harm than alcohol while failing “to remove marijuana from the list of the most tightly controlled substances in the country.” Dr. Gupta also questions how the US government can possess a patent on the therapeutic application of cannabinoids yet still deny that the compounds possess medical utility.
Ultimately, cannabis prohibition is a “Draconian system where politics override science,” Gupta concludes.
Gupta’s forthcoming documentary on the plant, entitled “Weed 2: Cannabis Madness: Dr. Sanjay Gupta Reports,” at 10 p.m. ET on Tuesday, March 11.
Members of the Washington DC City Council gave final approval today to legislation reducing the District’s marijuana possession penalties to a fine-only violation.
District lawmakers voted 10 to 1 in favor of “The Simple Possession of Small Quantities of Marijuana Decriminalization Amendment Act of 2013,” which amends District law involving the possession or transfer of up to one ounce of marijuana from a criminal misdemeanor (punishable by up to 6 months incarceration and a maximum fine of $1,000) to a civil violation (punishable by a $25 fine, no arrest, no jail time, and no criminal record). Democrat Mayor Vincent C. Gray said that he intends to sign the measure into law.
Offenses involving the public consumption of cannabis remain classified as a criminal misdemeanor under DC law, punishable by up to six-months in jail and a $500 fine. The possession of cannabis-related paraphernalia will be re-classified as a violation, not a criminal offense.
Once signed into law, the measure faces a 60-day review period by members of Congress.
The District measure is similar to existing ‘decriminalization’ laws in California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont where private, non-medical possession of marijuana is treated as a civil, non-criminal offense.
Five additional states – Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, North Carolina, and Ohio – treat marijuana possession offenses as a fine-only misdemeanor offense.
Three states – Alaska, Colorado, and Washington – impose no criminal or civil penalty for the private possession of small amounts of marijuana.
A 2012 analysis published by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland reported that the District possesses the highest percentage of marijuana possession arrests per capita in the nation.
(Dr. Mitch Earleywine was elected as the Chairman of the NORML Board of Directors in February 2014)
A recent headline reads: “Can Marijuana Kill You? German Scientists Say Yes.” The article focuses on a study of two (count ‘em, two!) young men who died while they had detectable levels of THC in their blood. I take a lot of pleasure in this kind of melodrama. If prohibitionists are stooping this low, we must really be frightening them. (It’s not completely pharmacologically ridiculous. Marijuana does increase heart rate. In fact, it can jack up heart rate almost as much as an espresso or energy drink. Maybe if you already had a weak heart and a coffee and a bong hit, well, something might happen.)
But I want to point out that we should actually expect literally thousands of reports like this. We should hear about lots of people who have heart attacks on the same day that they commune with the plant. It’s not because cannabis causes heart attacks. It’s simple chance.
I hate for my first blog as Chair of The Executive Board to be this nerdy, but I’ve been teaching statistics for more than 20 years. If that doesn’t make me a nerd, I’m not sure what would. But given how many people use cannabis daily and how many heart attacks occur in the United States, it’s actually a miracle that we haven’t heard about this kind of thing before. We also should expect to hear it a lot more often.
According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, roughly 7,600,000 Americans (over age 12) used marijuana daily or near daily in 2012. In addition, the Center for Disease Control suggests that about 715,000 of us have heart attacks in a year. (Let’s assume those under age 12 are probably not grabbing their chests with a myocardial infarction too often.) In addition, let’s guess that the United States has about 280 million people over age 12. It’s hard to know the exact number, but that’s probably in the ballpark.
With this in mind, we can predict how many people should have a heart attack the same day that they used cannabis simply by chance. That is, even if these two things had nothing to do with each other, we should expect some folks to have a heart attack the same day that they used cannabis just by accident.
Okay. It’s going to get nerdy here, but this is comparable to asking simpler questions. If I had a dime and a nickel, I might want to know what the chances are that I’d flip heads on both. I flip heads 1 out of 2 times on average for the dime, for a probability of .5. Then I flip heads on the nickel 1 out of 2 times on average, also for a probability of .5. So the chances of flipping heads on both is .5 * .5 for .25. So we’d expect to get heads on both coins about 1Ž4 of the time. If I flipped both coins 100 times, I’d get around 25 pairs of heads. Note that there’s nothing causal here. The nickel doesn’t know what the dime did. It doesn’t want to be like the dime. It’s not that the dime caused the nickel to flip heads.
So it’s the same deal for the cannabis-related heart attacks. If 7.6 million people use cannabis daily out of 280 million relevant Americans, that’s a probability of .0271. And if 715 thousand of 280 million have heart attacks, that’s a probability of .0026. Multiply these the same way we did with the probabilities for flipping heads (.0271 * .0026 = .00007). Now .00007 is a dinky number. If there were only 100 people in the country, we wouldn’t expect any of them (well, .007) to have a heart attack and smoke cannabis on the same day. But we’re talking about 280 million people here. So we’d expect .00007 * 280,000,000, = 19,600. That’s over 19,000 heart attacks.
So the question isn’t, “How did these two guys die of a heart attack with THC in their blood?” It should be, “Where are the other 19,598 guys who should have had heart attacks with THC in their blood?” In fact, the absence of this many cannabis-related myocardial infarctions inspired my wife to ask, “Does cannabis protect the heart?”
If we repeal prohibition, we’ll get to find out.
Go AS, Mozaffarian D, Roger VL, Benjamin EJ, Berry JD, Borden WB, Bravata DM, Dai S, Ford ES, Fox CS, Franco S, Fullerton HJ, Gillespie C, Hailpern SM, Heit JA, Howard VJ, Huffman MD, Kissela BM, Kittner SJ, Lackland DT, Lichtman JH, Lisabeth LD, Magid D, Marcus GM, Marelli A, Matchar DB, McGuire DK, Mohler ER, Moy CS, Mussolino ME, Nichol G, Paynter NP, Schreiner PJ, Sorlie PD, Stein J, Turan TN, Virani SS, Wong ND, Woo D, Turner MB; American Heart Association Statistics Committee and Stroke Statistics Subcommittee. Heart disease and stroke statistics—2013 update: a report from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2013 Jan 1;127(1):e6-e245.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Results from the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Summary of National Findings, NSDUH Series H-46, HHS Publication No. (SMA) 13-4795. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2013.