30 December 2011

NORML’s Top 10 Marijuana Policy Stories of 2011

#1 NORML Sues to Halt Government’s Prosecution of Medical Cannabis Providers

In October, the United States Deputy Attorney General, along with the four US Attorneys from California, announced their intentions to escalate federal efforts targeting the state’s medical cannabis dispensaries and providers. In response, members of the NORML Legal Committee filed suit in November against the federal government arguing that its actions were in violation of the Ninth, Tenth, and Fourteenth Amendments of the US Constitution. Plaintiffs further argued, using the theory of judicial estoppel, that the Justice Department had previously affirmed in federal court that it would no longer use federal resources to prosecute cannabis patients or providers who are compliant with state law. NORML’s lawsuit remains pending. Read the full story here.

#2 Members of Congress Introduce First Bill Since 1937 to Legalize Cannabis 
House lawmakers introduced legislation in Congress in June to end the federal criminalization of the personal use of marijuana. The bipartisan measure – HR 2306, the ‘Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2011′ – prohibits the federal government from prosecuting adults who use or possess cannabis by removing the plant and its primary psychoactive constituent, THC, from the five schedules of the United States Controlled Substances Act of 1970. The bill awaits Congressional action. Read the full story here.

#3 Gallup: Majority of Americans Support Legalizing Cannabis
A record 50 percent of Americans now believe that marijuana ought to be legalized for adult use, according to a nationwide Gallup poll of 1,005 adults published in October. The 2011 survey results mark the first time ever that Gallup has reported that more Americans support legalizing cannabis (50 percent) than oppose it (46 percent). Read the full story here.

#4 Over One Million Americans Now Use Cannabis Legally Under State Law
Between one million to one-and-a-half million US citizens are legally authorized by the laws of their state to use marijuana, according to data compiled in May by NORML from state medical marijuana registries and patient estimates. Read the full story here.

#5 Marijuana Prosecutions For 2010 Near Record High
Police made 853,838 arrests in 2010 for marijuana-related offenses according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s annual Uniform Crime Report, released in September. The annual arrest total is among the highest ever reported by the agency. Marijuana arrests now comprise more than one-half (52 percent) of all drug arrests in the United States. Read the full story here.

#6 Largest State Doctors Association Calls For Legalizing Cannabis
The California Medical Association in October called for the “legalization and regulation” of cannabis for adults. The association, which represents some 35,000 physicians, recommends that cannabis be taxed and regulated “in a manner similar to alcohol.” Read the full story here.

#7 Connecticut Decriminalizes Cannabis Possession Offenses
Statewide legislation took effect in July reducing the penalties for the adult possession of up to one-half ounce of marijuana from a criminal misdemeanor (formerly punishable by one year in jail and a $1,000 fine) to a non-criminal infraction, punishable by a $150 fine, no arrest or jail time, and no criminal record. Read the full story here.

#8 Vaporized Cannabis Augments Analgesic Effect of Opiates in Humans
Vaporized cannabis significantly augments the analgesic effects of opiates in patients with chronic pain, according to clinical trial data published online in the journal Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics in November. Investigators surmised that cannabis-specific interventions “may allow for opioid treatment at lower doses with fewer [patient] side effects.” Read the full story here.

#9 State Governors Call on Obama Administration to Reclassify Cannabis
In December, governors from Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington formally requested the Obama administration to reclassify cannabis under federal law in a manner that would allow states to regulate its therapeutic use without federal interference. The administration in July had previously rejected a nine-year-old petition calling on the agency to initiate hearings to reassess the present classification of marijuana as a schedule I controlled substance without any ‘accepted medical use in treatment.’ Read the full story here.

#10 Delaware Becomes 16th State to Legalize Limited Medical Use of Marijuana
State lawmakers in May approved legislation to allow patients with a qualifying illness may legally possess up to six ounces of cannabis, provided the cannabis is obtained from a state-licensed, not-for-profit ‘compassion center.’ The law is anticipated to be implemented in 2012. Read the full story here.

29 December, 2011
Opposing Views

29 December 2011

UK's GW Pharmaceuticals aims to build on cannabis drug

There are few entities that can publicly boast that they grow 20 tonnes of cannabis a year with government approval. GW Pharmaceuticals, however, is one of them.

The crop’s Home Office-approved location is shrouded in mystery, with the only hint from GW being that it is “somewhere in the south” of the UK.

From a plant better known for its illicit use, the British biotech group created the drug Sativex, an oral spray medication used to ease spasticity in multiple sclerosis patients, which is available on prescription in New Zealand, Canada, Spain and the UK, and has recently been approved in Sweden.

Sativex, launched in the UK in June, is the only cannabis-based medicine to receive approval from medical authorities for use as a prescription drug, and has been the driving force behind Aim-traded GW.

However, Justin Gover, managing director, believes that the drug is only the first of several that the company will bring to the market.

“We have done this for Sativex and there is no reason why we can’t do it for three or four more,” he says in an interview with the Financial Times. “All our medicines are cousins – they all come from the same plant and are therefore very similar.”

Mr Gover believes that the active molecules found in cannabis, known as cannabinoids, can be used to treat conditions including diabetes, high cholesterol, liver problems and even cancer itself.

The group has spent £5m of its own cash in developing treatments for what Mr Gover calls “metabolic syndrome” – or the effects of modern diets and lifestyles on our health.

“It is part of taking the company from being a young drug development company with a focus on a lead product to expand into other areas,” he says.

“We have two major ambitions for us. The first is to maximise the opportunities of Sativex itself . . . and the second is to realise value from the use of cannabinoid’s across multiple therapeutic areas. And that’s our competitive and strategic position in the industry.”

GW’s trials of an oral capsule to treat type two diabetes is in the second stage of clinical trials. It has signed two deals worth a total of $21m with Otsuka, the Japanese drug group, on pre-clinical testing of cannabinoid’s to treat epilepsy, as well as various cancers including prostate, breast and glioma (brain cancer).

The company is also working with Otsuka to test Sativex for relief of pain caused by illnesses including cancer, in a market that is estimated to be worth $1.7bn (£1bn) a year in the US alone.
Earlier this year, GW signed a £20.7m distribution deal for Sativex with Novartis for some emerging markets – a deal that includes milestone payments for GW of $34m, conditional on winning regulatory approval and other hurdles, and double-digit royalties – to complement existing alliances with Almirall and Bayer.

“This is the next opportunity for us – to take the same drug and get it approved for a different use,” Mr Gover says.

As GW’s medicines come from cannabis – a natural product – instead of a synthetic compound, intellectual property rights on the drug are limited, extracting the cannabinoids in the manufacturing process is complex, and Home Office regulatory approval is difficult.

However, the complexity of creating its drugs is also a deterrent to possible generic rivals, Mr Gover says. “Our area requires a new expertise for generic drug companies to reproduce these medicines, so we’re not overly concerned with them.”

The approval of Sativex and GW’s expansion into other drugs comes after a lean spell that it endured from 2004-07, when its shares dropped from above 200p to below 30p, after a spate of trials failed to show convincingly that cannabis-based products could relieve pain. The shares stood at 81.50p in late trading on Wednesday.

However, the eventual launch of Sativex and its financial boost to GW has enabled the company to further investigate the medical possibilities for cannabis, Mr Gover says.

“If we can continue to demonstrate that cannabinoid’s – these fascinating molecules that sit within the cannabis plant – have these range of applications and opportunities, we can harness our position in the industry to stay as leaders in this field.”

28 December, 2011
By Mark Wembridge
Financial Times

25 December 2011

Drug Education Should Reflect Reality Not Deny It

Fact: Drugs are pervasive in our society and, one way or another, 
adolescents will be exposed to mind-altering substances.

It is an unmistakable reality that a significant number of high school students will try marijuana.  According to the recent 2011 Monitoring the Future Survey, nearly 40% of all high school seniors admit to having smoked marijuana in the past year – a percentage that has held relatively stable since the study’s inception over 35 years ago.

Some want to use this fact as a justification to deny any opportunity to rationally discuss marijuana, its use, and its risks with children in an open and honest manner.  They think that saying anything about marijuana other than encouraging its total abstinence is condoning its use.  This couldn’t be further from the truth.

When society teaches sex education, are we suggesting that all the teenagers go out and engage in sexual intercourse? No.  Rather, it is an acknowledgement that the best way to reduce the negative effects associated with sex (unwanted pregnancy, STD’s, etc) is through honest, objective information that allow people to understand their options and provides them with the tools they need to make informed decisions.

When we talk to teenagers about the dangers of drinking and driving, are we condoning alcohol use among minors?  No, of course not.  It is, however, a reality that many adolescents will a) likely consume alcohol as seniors in high school and b) have access to a car. Yes, we encourage students not to drink. But, we urge them specifically not to drink and drive.

We can all agree that teens should not smoke pot, or be using any mind-altering substances. Those are important, developmental years. Still, teens should be educated regarding how smoking marijuana can affect their body’s development specifically, how to reduce any harms associated with its use, and to distinguish between use and abuse. There should be honest, truthful drug education.

As Kristen Gwynne states in her AlterNet article, “Give young people accurate information, and they will use it to make better decisions that result in less harm to themselves, because teens, like everybody else, do not actually want to get hurt or become addicts.”

She goes on to say, “Giving students honest information about drugs [will]…increase the odds that they will use drugs safely, and reduce the likelihood of experiencing the [relative] harms associated with [it].”

By contrast, the Drug Czar and federal law advocates for complete prohibition, limited information explaining the real effects of marijuana and condemning any opportunity, as Gwynne states, to provide “education that helps teens understand their health options, and ways of reducing the harm of drugs.” When it comes to our children, like everything else we teach in school for development and behavioral growth, drug education should be based in reality, not a denial of it.

In the words of Thomas Jefferson, “If a state expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.”

23 December 2011
Sabrina Fendrick
NORML Women's Alliance

22 December 2011

Latin American leaders fault U.S. drug users

Demand decriminalisation

MEXICO CITY — Latin American leaders have joined together to condemn the U.S. government for soaring drug violence in their countries, blaming the United States for the transnational cartels that have grown rich and powerful smuggling dope north and guns south.

Alongside official declarations, Latin American governments have expressed growing disgust for U.S. drug consumers — both the addict and the weekend recreational user heedless to the misery and destruction paid for their pleasures.

“Our region is seriously threatened by organized crime, but there is very little responsibility taken by the drug-consuming countries,” Guatemala’s President Alvaro Colom said at a December meeting of Latin leaders in Caracas. Colom said the hemisphere was paying the price for drug consumption in the United States with “our blood, our fear and our human sacrifice.”

With transit countries facing some of the highest homicide rates in the world, so great is the frustration that the leaders are demanding that the United States and Europe consider steps toward legalization if they do not curb their appetite for drugs.

At a regional summit this month in Mexico, attended by the leaders of 11 Latin American and Caribbean countries, officials declared that “the authorities in consumer countries should explore all possible alternatives to eliminate exorbitant profits of criminals, including regulatory or market options.”

“Market options” is diplomatic code for decriminalization.

The complaints are not exactly new but are remarkable for being nearly unanimous. The critique comes from sitting presidents left to right, from persistent U.S. antagonists such as President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, and from close U.S. allies such as President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia, which has received almost $9 billion in aid to fight the cartels.

‘Rethinking’ the war on drugs

The criticism has been bolstered by opinion leaders in the region, including the former presidents of Brazil, Colombia and Mexico, who called for the legalization of marijuana and an overhaul of U.S. thinking on the 40-year drug war, which has cost a trillion dollars by some estimates but has done little to reduce supply and demand.

Senior Obama administration officials say the resentment is understandable, that the production and transit countries are shouldering more of the violence but that the rhetorical attacks against the United States are misdirected.

“I refuse to accept that there has not been progress” in the fight against drug trafficking and consumption, said William Brownfield, assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.

Gil Kerlikowske, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, said there has been a sustained reduction in demand for cocaine in the United States. According to the 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the number of Americans aged 12 and older who are current users of cocaine has dropped by 21 percent since 2007. The purity of seized cocaine is down; prices are up.

“No one single issue drives this global drug problem,” Brownfield said. “Everybody plays his role, everybody shares responsibility.”

Yet while cocaine use may be dropping in the United States in the past few years, it is surging in Europe and Asia. In the United States, seizures of methamphetamine, heroin and marijuana are increasing, and the most recent health surveys found that American 10th-graders are more likely to smoke pot than tobacco.

“The biggest challenge faced by many Latin American countries is the rising threat of organized crime funded by U.S. drug consumption. That is without a doubt,” said Andrew Selee, director of the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute.

Lack of political will

“But the cruel irony is that drug violence is down in the United States, and so it is hard to build a political constituency that wants to do much more to help Latin America,” he said.

National leaders in Latin America and the Caribbean say that the United States is not only responsible for the cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin and marijuana that moves north, but — far more dangerous to them — the bulk cash profits and military-style weapons that flow south.

One of the most outspoken critics of U.S. drug consumption has been Mexico’s center-right President Felipe Calderon, a U.S. ally in a drug war that has left some 45,000 dead in Mexico.

“We are next to the largest illegal drug market in the world,” Calderon said in September at a public dinner held in his honor by the Council of the Americas in Washington. “We are living in the same building, and our neighbor is the largest consumer of drugs in the world and everyone wants to sell him drugs through our door and our window.”

The United States has provided Mexico with almost $700 million of $2 billion in promised aid, including Black Hawk helicopters, police trainers, sophisticated eavesdropping technologies and a mountain of classified drug intelligence, from snitches to drones.

Presidents from Bolivia to Mexico say that the U.S. government is failing to control the nation’s hunger for narcotics, even as U.S. politicians lecture Latin America on how to confront its problems with criminal impunity, official corruption and failed institutions.

“All the money, regardless how much it is multiplied, and all the blood, no matter how much is spilled” will not stop the drug trade “as long as the north continues consuming,” said Nicaragua President Daniel Ortega.

Latin American leaders zeroed in on what they see as glaring contradictions in U.S. law, which allows for-profit dispensaries to legally sell “medical marijuana,” while at the same time marijuana growers south of the border are hunted down by the military.

“If all you’re doing is sending our citizens to prison while in other places the market is legalized, then we must ask: Is not it time to review the global strategy against drugs?” said Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos.

“I wonder if the world’s eighth-largest economy, California, which so successfully promotes its modern technology, movies and fine wines, will allow the importation of marijuana into their own market,” Santos said.

Picking up the tab

At the summit in Venezuela’s capital this month, Ortega suggested that the group “monitor and rate” anti-drug efforts by the United States, just like the U.S. State Department does for the region.

In another forum, Costa Rica’s President Laura Chinchilla proposed that the United States reimburse the transit countries.

“Our region is victim of the brutal onslaught of organized crime, which jeopardizes the safety of our population and attacks the foundations of our democracy," Chinchilla said. “I propose the creation of a fund that would oblige countries with drug users to pay a kind of fee for every kilo of cocaine intercepted in the Isthmus.

“We speak of a drug-trafficking route that moves about a hundred-billion dollars a year, culminating in the world’s largest market and biggest consumer of these substances, the United States,” said El Salvador President Mauricio Funes, who added that the United States had a “moral responsibility” to do more.

19 December 2011
Martin Steldinger
European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies (ENCOD) 
16 December 2011
Washington Post

16 December 2011

Denver Cannabis Company Announces Success With Cancer Treatment

Denver-based Cannabis Science, Inc. announced this week that a cancer patient has had success using the company’s cannabis-based product in the treatment of skin cancer.

The biotech company, which develops pharmaceutical cannabis products, said this is the second patient to use the product successfully. “This patient has photo-documented dramatic results that we will release to the public once treatment is completed and has been properly vetted by clinical biopsy,” the company said in a press release. “Cannabis Science, in conjunction with several Colorado-licensed dispensaries and physicians, consults with a number of cancer patients who were seeking to inform themselves of the current peer-reviewed scientific literature, regarding modern and historical use of cannabis preparations for treating cancers so that they can make informed decisions regarding their self-directed cancer treatment.”

More from the press release:

Cannabis has an outstanding safety profile as determined in 1988 by Federal Administrative Law Judge Francis Young who recommended cannabis be removed from Schedule I. The refusal of the DEA to follow this recommendation has resulted in 16 states allowing some form of medical marijuana access for their citizens. Numerous other states are moving in this direction. Consequently, patients in states with medical marijuana laws are able to make an informed decisions to try various state-legal cannabis preparations and to determine what is most effective for their particular condition. As a result, there is an unprecedented accumulation of “anecdotal” data

Currently, there are a variety treatments available for treating various skin cancers including standard surgical excision (Mohs Surgery), chemotherapy, radiation, and cryosurgery. Unfortunately for many, the cancer frequently returns and requires additional treatments. Chemo and radiation therapy are typically used by patients who aren’t candidates for surgery (i.e. where surgical excision could disfigure or make it difficult to reconstruct the excised area). If reoccurrence occurs, radiation therapy is often not repeated as it may further damage the tissue (and) lead to resistance.

While the above treatments may to be effective for many, few patients would choose to go through surgical procedures, radiation, or chemotherapy if a better alternative were available. Patients self-administering cannabis extracts in the convenience of their own home appear to be effectively resolving their cancerous lesions over a period of a few weeks to a few months.

Cannabis Science is committed to making cannabis-based medicines available to the public as rapidly as possible. The Company is taking multiple approaches to accomplishing this aim in the United States. The science of cannabinoids has exploded over the past decade, laying the scientific foundation for the many medicinal uses of this unique plant. Cannabinoids are a class of biologically active compounds produced by all vertebrates (endocannabinoids) the Cannabis plant (phytocannabinoids), and more recently patentable synthetic compounds produced by chemists. Today’s modern peer-reviewed science supports the many historical uses that were discovered over thousands of years of medicinal use by herbalists.

About Cannabis Science, Inc.

Cannabis Science, Inc. is at the forefront of pharmaceutical grade medical marijuana research and development. The second formulations will address the needs of patients choosing to use concentrated cannabis extracts to treat their ailments. Eventually, all Americans will have access to a safe and effective FDA approved medicine regardless of which state they live in. To maintain that marijuana is a dangerous, addictive drug with no medical value is scientifically absurd. Cannabis medicines, with no effective lethal dose, are far safer than aspirin, acetaminophen, and most other OTC drugs that kill thousands of Americans every year.

The Company works with world authorities on phytocannabinoid science targeting critical illnesses, and adheres to scientific methodologies to develop, produce and commercialize phytocannabinoid-based pharmaceutical products. In sum, we are dedicated to the creation of cannabis-based medicines, both with and without psychoactive properties, to treat disease and the symptoms of disease, as well as for general health maintenance.

From a paper on the Cannabis Science website, written by Robert Melamede, Ph.D, a University of Colorado-based biologist:

Over 600 peer reviewed articles show that numerous cancer types (lung, breast, prostate, glioma, thyroid, leukemia, lymphoma, basil cell carcinoma, melanoma, etc) are killed by cannabinoids in tissue culture and animal studies. Furthermore, cannabinoids inhibit the biochemical pathways involved in metastasis and drug resistance. The question that naturally arises is “Why is a plant that inhibits aging, kills cancers, and whose activity is found in mother’s milk illegal?

Because federal and state governments have failed to implement marijuana policies that are reflective of modern scientific knowledge and thousands of years of medical history, the people have demanded, and gained access to this miraculous medicine through direct vote with the initiative process. In effect, marijuana clinical efforts are now in the hands of the people and the medical marijuana community.

Phoenix tears

The concentrated cannabis extracts referred to by the company are commonly known as phoenix tears. The Colorado Independent has documented the use of such concentrated cannabis oils by several patients, including Bob Crouse, currently set for trial early next year in El Paso County for possession of marijuana with the intent to distribute.

Crouse has leukemia. The former Colorado Springs restaurant owner says he was never a recreational user of marijuana and describes himself as very law-and-order oriented.

Things changed when he got cancer. Like many cancer patients he began searching for alternatives to chemo. What he found was phoenix tears, or cannabis oil. Because it takes a pound of marijuana to make an ounce of oil, Crouse got himself a medical marijuana license and began growing marijuana in the attic of his house. His doctor recommended he grow at least 75 plants at a time in order to have enough bud to provide him with about a gram of oil a day.

Crouse says he was getting better when he could self-administer a daily regimen of cannabis oil. Then the police came and took his plants away. Today he asks a simple question, “Why does (El Paso County DA) Dan May want to kill me?”

While the National Institute of Health at one point noted that cannabis had a possible therapeutic effect on cancer, for the most part cancer patients using cannabis do so without the blessing of official medical science. Theirs is the science of the underground, of anecdote, of stories told by the cured, of explanations offered by doctors willing to step outside the mainstream, and of scientists like Melamede.

Cancer patient Cash Hyde became somewhat famous in the world of medical cannabis, when his father began smuggling phoenix tears into his hospital room and administering the drug on the sly. Hyde, suffering from a brain tumor, immediately began getting better.

15 December, 2011
Scot Kersgaard 

15 December 2011

Want to end Mexican drug gang violence? Legalize drugs and the cartels will collapse

Rather than curb their prolific use and propagation around the world, the global "war on drugs" has actually made the drug problem worse. According to the latest statistics, drug use around the world is on the rise in almost every category, despite the numerous anti-drug policies in place to supposedly curb their use. Heightened government crackdowns on drug trafficking in many countries have actually led to more, not less, drug-related gang violence.

Irrespective of where they are enacted, anti-drug policies everywhere have had the unintended consequence of actually leading to more violence and criminal activity, while doing little or nothing to actually lower drug use rates. In other words, enforcing anti-drug policies is a monumental waste of taxpayer dollars that seems to only be making the situation worse rather than better.

Mexico is a perfect example of the failed war on drugs. In 2006, Mexican President Felipe Calderon summoned a military crusade of 50,000 troops to crack down on the nation's drug cartels, which are a main source of drug flow into the US, one of the world's largest consumers of illicit drugs. But rather than contain the violence, these new enforcements have resulted in more than 45,000 deaths, as drug gangs have resorted to fighting each other for the best remaining smuggling routes.

In the US, the situation is not much different. While there might be less overall gang violence associated with the drug trade than there is in Mexico, an incredible amount of taxpayer funding is spent on targeting users of marijuana, for instance, which largely pose little or no threat to society. Meanwhile, domestic drug rings profit big time from the high prices they are able to fetch for these drugs on the black market.

Back in June, the Global Commission on Drug Policy published a report highlighting the failures of the global war on drugs. That report called for an end to "the criminalization, marginalization and stigmatization of people who use drugs but do no harm to others." This is particularly true of the many people who use marijuana for legitimate medicinal purposes, as it is far safer and more effective than many legalized pharmaceutical drugs.

In the end, all the war on drugs has accomplished is to further the success of drug cartels, which are wreaking violence and havoc around the world. If many of the drugs that are restricted today were to become legalized, the drug cartels that currently thrive would quickly collapse, leading to a much safer world for everybody.

14 December 2011
Jonathan Benson
Natural News

Teen Marijuana Use Continues To Rise Despite High Arrest Rates in the US

Government Study, Comparing Rates of Marijuana and Alcohol Use, Suggests That Regulation Is More Effective Means of Reducing Teen Use

Cannabis use continues to rise among youth despite the continued policy of arresting nearly a million people a every year for marijuana violations.

Marijuana use by 8th, 10th and 12th grade students increased again in 2011, with more American teenagers now using marijuana for the fourth year in a row, according to numbers released today by tyne National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the University of Michigan as part of the annual Monitoring the Future survey.

In 2011, a slightly larger percentage of high school seniors used marijuana in the last 30 days, while slightly less had used alcohol.

Rob Kampia, MPP: "Arresting people for marijuana simply does not stop young people from using it, and it never will"
​"This report, once again, clearly demonstrates that our nation's policymakers have their heads buried in the sand when it comes to addressing teen marijuana use," said Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) . "Political leaders have for decades refused to regulate marijuana in order to keep it out of the hands of drug deals who aren't required to check customer ID and have no qualms about selling marijuana to young people.

"The continued decline in teen tobacco and alcohol use is proof that sensible regulations, coupled with honest, and science-based public education can be effective in keeping substances away from young people," Kampia said. "It's time we acknowledge our current marijuana laws have utterly failed to accomplish one of their primary objectives -- to keep marijuana away from young people -- and do the right thing by regulating marijuana, bringing its sale under the rule of law, and working to reduce the easy access of marijuana that our irrational system gives teenagers."

One notable finding in the annual Monitoring the Future report is the inclusion of synthetic smokables in the survey for the first time. While past-year marijuana use rates held steady at 36.4 percent among 12th graders, 11.4 percent of 12 graders reported past-year use of synthetics such as Spice.

Jag Davies, DPA: "It's absurd ... that the survey doesn't also include the fiscal, health and human costs of arresting more than 1.6 million Americans each year on drug charges"
​"The decline in cigarette smoking is great news -- not just because it's the most deadly drug but also because it reveals that legal regulation and honest education are more effective than prohibition and criminalization," said Jag Davies, publications manager of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) . "It's absurd, though, that the survey doesn't also include the fiscal, health and human costs of arresting more than 1.6 million Americans each year on drug charges, including more than 750,000 for marijuana possession alone.

"Rather than measuring success based on slight fluctuations in drug use, the primary measure of the effectiveness of our nation's drug policies should be the reduction of drug-related harm," Davies said. "A rational drug policy would prioritize reducing the problems associated with drug misuse itself -- such as overdose, addiction and disease transmission -- and the problems associated with drug prohibition, such as mass incarceration, erosion of civil liberties, and egregious racial disparities in enforcement, prosecution and sentencing.

"Looking at use rates in a vacuum is missing the forest for the trees," Davies said.

Since the survey's inception, overwhelming numbers of American teenagers have said marijuana was easy for them to get. According to the 2011 numbers, the use of alcohol -- which is also regulated and sold by licensed merchants who are required to check customer ID -- continued to decline among high schoolers, as did tobacco use.

"Arresting people for marijuana simply does not stop young people from using it, and it never will," said Kampia. "It is time for a more sensible approach."

Steve Elliott
14 December 2011

10 December 2011

Cannabis and California’s Physicians: A New Perspective

The following statement appears in the December edition of San Francisco Medicine, the journal of the San Francisco Medical Society.

Time for New Perspectives


Steve Heilig, George Fouras, Donald Abrams, and David Pating

There has long been a “drug war” surrounding marijuana, not only in terms of the plant’s legal status but also in words.  As the California Society of Addiction Medicine observes, “Reasonable dialogue regarding marijuana use has historically proven extraordinarily difficult.”  The result is a longstanding stalemate and various symptoms of “reefer madness,” but with a growing consensus that our nation’s marijuana policy has not served us much better than the failed experiment with alcohol prohibition many decades ago.

Most recently, there was this headline: “California Medical Association calls for legalization of marijuana.” It was a cover story in the Sunday Los Angeles Times in October. As the CMA is a large, mainstream medical society, this caused quite a stir.

The four authors of this article served as San Francisco’s representatives on the CMA’s “Technical Advisory Committee” (TAC) tasked with drafting “a comprehensive white paper recommending policy on marijuana legalization and appropriate regulation and taxation.”  The TAC was “selected to represent CMA in the areas of science, ethical affairs, public health, addiction medicine, and expertise in the use of cannabis.”  We met five times; the deliberations were sometimes contentious but each member agreed sufficiently to endorse a final report to the CMA board of trustees.

Our 14-page report, titled “Cannabis and the Regulatory Void”, was submitted to the CMA’s Board of Trustees and approved, unanimously, in October. Reactions from all sides were immediate.  The CMA was called “irresponsible” and at least one opponent utilized the cliché “What are they smoking?”  But there has also been much positive response as well, with editorials saying we took “a bold step” towards “a prescription for the medical pot mess” and that that the CMA’s “traditionally conservative doctors” are “simply acknowledging the obvious: Our current laws and the resulting war on drugs aren’t working. “

1. Impact on Cannabis use:  The primary concern regarding “legalization” or any lessening of legal penalties regarding cannabis is that it might increase use, particularly among teens.  We share such concerns, especially in light of growing evidence regarding negative effects on neurodevelopment.  But there is no good evidence that laws have much effect on use; in fact, long evidence is that our punitive approaches have little deterrent effect.  Thus we should seek approaches which maximize knowledge about the impacts of cannabis use, and which do not worsen the problem by criminalizing otherwise law-abiding people, kicking kids out of schools to no productive end, wasting resources, and hampering research.  Evidence-based drug education is difficult but likely to be at least as effective as legal approaches – and likely more so.

2. Resources and costs:  Enforcing largely futile laws is expensive, especially when prison is involved.  Appropriate treatment and education is far more cost-effective. While our report recommends an approach closer to that taken towards alcohol, at least for adults, we have no illusion that such an approach is easy or ideal, or that the taxation we endorse will be a simple matter or yield massive funding.  But we are confident that it will be more cost-effective than longtime, failed “drug war” or prohibition-type policies.  And very importantly, the funds saved and generated should be directed towards treatment of addiction.

3. Medical Marijuana: We join the many experts and organizations holding that cannabis be placed in a less restrictive category that would facilitate more research.  And while we support some legal medical use of cannabis such as allowed since 1996 in California, we note that a decriminalization approach would have the salubrious effect of lessening or even eliminating the need for physicians to serve in the oft-uncomfortable “middle man” role of “gatekeeper” for medical use of cannabis – and also allow for more rigorous regulation of questionable practices at “cannabis dispensaries.”

An ever-growing roster of medical, legal, political, and other authorities of all political stripes feel that the time has come for a serious change in our drug laws, especially with respect to cannabis.  We have joined them, as has the CMA.

Interestingly enough, another new CMA policy was independently adopted this year, which could have served as a preamble to our own report:

MEDICAL VS. LEGAL SOLUTIONS TO DRUG ABUSE: CMA encourages the federal government to re-examine the enforcement- based approach to illicit drug issues (“war on drugs”) and to prioritize and implement policies that treat drug abuse as a public health threat and drug addiction as a preventable and treatable disease.

We agree, and know that many others do as well.  We hope our elected leaders will listen.

Steve Heilig is with the San Francisco Medical Society and editor of the Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics.  George Fouras is a child and adolescent psychiatrist and President of the San Francisco Medical Society; Donald Abrams is chief of Hematology-Oncology at San Francisco General Hospital and a leading medical cannabis researcher at the University of California, San Francisco; David Pating is an addiction psychiatrist and past-president of the California Society of Addiction Medicine. Their opinions here are their own and not necessarily representative of their affiliated organizations.

For more information:
The California Society of Addiction Medicine
The San Francisco Medical Society
Los Angeles Times: “California Medical Association calls for Legalization of Marijuana

9 December 2011

Study Says Marijuana No Gateway Drug

Marijuana is not a “gateway” drug that predicts or eventually leads to substance abuse, suggests a 12-year University of Pittsburgh study. Moreover, the study’s findings call into question the long-held belief that has shaped prevention efforts and governmental policy for six decades and caused many a parent to panic upon discovering a bag of pot in their child’s bedroom.

The Pitt researchers tracked 214 boys beginning at ages 10-12, all of whom eventually used either legal or illegal drugs. When the boys reached age 22, they were categorized into three groups: those who used only alcohol or tobacco, those who started with alcohol and tobacco and then used marijuana (gateway sequence) and those who used marijuana prior to alcohol or tobacco (reverse sequence).

Nearly a quarter of the study population who used both legal and illegal drugs at some point – 28 boys – exhibited the reverse pattern of using marijuana prior to alcohol or tobacco, and those individuals were no more likely to develop a substance use disorder than those who followed the traditional succession of alcohol and tobacco before illegal drugs, according to the study, which appears in this month’s issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry.

“The gateway progression may be the most common pattern, but it’s certainly not the only order of drug use,” said Ralph E. Tarter, Ph.D., professor of pharmaceutical sciences at the University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy and lead author of the study. “In fact, the reverse pattern is just as accurate for predicting who might be at risk for developing a drug dependence disorder.”

In addition to determining whether the gateway hypothesis was a better predictor of substance abuse than competing theories, the investigators sought to identify characteristics that distinguished users in the gateway sequence from those who took the reverse path. Out of the 35 variables they examined, only three emerged to be differentiating factors: Reverse pattern users were more likely to have lived in poor physical neighborhood environments, had more exposure to drugs in their neighborhoods and had less parental involvement as young children. Most importantly, a general inclination for deviance from sanctioned behaviors, which can become evident early in childhood, was strongly associated with all illicit drug use, whether it came in the gateway sequence, or the reverse.

While the gateway theory posits that each type of drug is associated with certain specific risk factors that cause the use of subsequent drugs, such as cigarettes or alcohol leading to marijuana, this study’s findings indicate that environmental aspects have stronger influence on which type of substance is used. That is, if it’s easier for a teen to get his hands on marijuana than beer, then he’ll be more likely to smoke pot. This evidence supports what’s known as the common liability model, an emerging theory that states the likelihood that someone will transition to the use of illegal drugs is determined not by the preceding use of a particular drug but instead by the user’s individual tendencies and environmental circumstances.

“The emphasis on the drugs themselves, rather than other, more important factors that shape a person’s behavior, has been detrimental to drug policy and prevention programs,” Dr. Tarter said. “To become more effective in our efforts to fight drug abuse, we should devote more attention to interventions that address these issues, particularly to parenting skills that shape the child’s behavior as well as peer and neighborhood environments.”

Indeed, according to the study, interventions focusing on behavior modification may be more effective prevention tactics than current anti-drug initiatives. For example, providing guidance to parents – particularly those in high-risk neighborhoods – on how to boost their caregiving skills and foster bonding with their children, could have a measurable effect on a child’s likelihood to smoke marijuana. Also, early identification of children who exhibit antisocial tendencies could allow for interventions before drug use even begins.

Although this research has significant implications for drug abuse prevention approaches, Dr. Tarter notes that the study has some limitations. First, as only male behaviors were studied, further investigation should explore if the results apply to women as well. Also, the examination of behaviors in phases beyond alcohol and marijuana consumption in the gateway series will be necessary.

6 December 2011
University of Pittsburgh Medical Center 

09 December 2011

Hemp could get nutritional nod

The debate in Australia over hemp is intensifying, with the food standards watchdog considering permitting the use of the controversial plant as food.
There has been hemp in Australia since the First Fleet when it was planted for its use in ship ropes, but its association with marijuana over the past century has given it a bad name.
Food Standards Australia New Zealand has found no public health or safety concerns to prevent it giving the nod to varieties of the plant that do not contain mind-altering chemicals.
Backers of hemp as food say it is high in protein and contains good fats and essential amino acids. They say hemp seed food provides many nutrients humans need that cannot be found in other food sources.
But critics argue the decision to give hemp food status would send a mixed message in the war on illicit drugs, fearing it could throw up false-positive results in drug tests used on workers, drivers and athletes.
"I don't think it's a good idea. I'm concerned that it might send a message that cannabis is safe, whereas it is not," Opposition primary health spokesman Andrew Southcott said.
"What I'm saying is that cannabis itself as a drug is not safe. Really it does need to be seen as part of a wider campaign to normalise the use of marijuana."
While Food Standards acknowledges the hemp that might be approved for food is from the same plant family as marijuana, it says there is no chance of people getting high from eating it.
"The cannabis plant has many varieties and we're looking at a variety which is commonly called hemp, which has none of those psychoactive properties that the other plant has," Food Standards general manager Dean Stockwell said.
Hemp producer Phil Warner says any fear of it as a food source is born of ignorance.
"There's a lot of hype and misinformation about that, perpetuated not only by the Government but actually unfortunately by the media as well, where people really don't understand the issues at hand," he said.
"The simple facts are that 90% of all the cannabis species have no drug value whatsoever. The second is that hemp seed does not contain any THC at all."
A spokesman for the Parliamentary Secretary for Health, Catherine King, says the Federal Government remains opposed to the introduction of hemp in food.

8 December, 2011
Ashley Hall and staff
ABC Brisbane

06 December 2011

9 Huge Blows to the Catastrophic War on Drugs - Will We Have Sane Drug Policy Some Day?

2011 has been a watershed year for the US movement working to end the country’s disastrous war on drugs. Below are the top stories of the year that exemplify the momentum and give hope that we can find alternatives to drug war madness.

#1. World Leaders Make International News by Calling for Marijuana Legalization and End to Drug War

This summer, the Global Commission on Drug Policy made worldwide news in more than 3,000 outlets when they released a report calling for a paradigm shift  in global drug policy -- including not just alternatives to incarceration and greater emphasis on public health approaches to drug use, but also decriminalization and experiments in legal regulation. The Commission is comprised of former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan; Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group; four former presidents, including the commission's chairman, Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil; George P. Shultz, former U.S. Secretary of State; Paul Volcker, former Chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve; and several other distinguished world leaders.

#2. 40-Year Anniversary of Nixon’s Launch of Drug War Met with Nationwide Protests

June 17 marked forty years since President Richard Nixon, citing drug abuse as “public enemy No. 1”, declared a "war on drugs." A trillion dollars and millions of ruined lives later, a political consensus is emerging that the war on drugs is a counterproductive failure. The Drug Policy Alliance led advocates all across the country in marking the auspicious date with a day of action to raise awareness about the catastrophic failure of drug prohibition and to call for an exit strategy from the failed war on drugs. More than 50 events on the anniversary generated hundreds of local and national stories.

#3. Gallop Poll Shows Historic Support: 50% of Americans Favour Ending Marijuana Prohibition

For the first time a Gallup poll has found that 50% of Americans support making marijuana legal. Public support for making marijuana legal has shifted dramatically in the last two decades, particularly in the last few years. Gallup has been asking Americans since 1970, “Do you think the use of marijuana should be made legal, or not?” Forty years ago support registered at 12%, rose to 28% percent by the late ‘70s, dipped slightly during the 1980s, and then rose gradually to 36% in 2005.  The past six years, however, have witnessed a dramatic jump in support, with important implications for state and national marijuana policy. Majorities of men, liberals, 18-29 year-olds, moderates, Independents, Democrats, 30-49 year-olds, and voters in Western, Midwestern and Eastern states now support legalizing cannabis.

#4. NYPD Commissioner Directs Police to Stop Improper Marijuana Arrests

In 2010, the New York City Police Department arrested 50,383 people for low-level marijuana offenses. Arrests for low-level marijuana possession offenses are the number one arrest in New York City, making up 15 percent of all arrests. What makes these record number of arrests even more outrageous is that under 7/8 of an ounce of marijuana is supposed to be decriminalized in New York and a non-arrestable offense. The only reason people should be arrested with under an ounce is if they are smoking it in public or it is in plain view. The NYPD has been stopping and frisking 100,000’s of black and Latino youth and then tricking them to emptying out their pockets. Once the person pulls out the joint or small bag of marijuana, the NYPD says it is “in public view” and arrests them.  A campaign led by the Drug Policy Alliance, the Institute for Juvenile Justice Reform and Alternatives, and VOCAL pounded away at Mayor Bloomberg and the NYPD for the racist enforcement of marijuana arrests – and in October, NYPD Commission Ray Kelly issued an internal order  commanding officers to follow existing New York State law by ending arrests for possession of small amounts of marijuana – as long as the marijuana was never in public view. 

#5. Thousands in Mexico Take to Street to Protest Drug War

This summer tens of thousands marched across Mexico to protest the drug war and the 50,000 drug prohibition related deaths since President Calderon launched his “surge” against the drug cartels five years ago . The protests were led by journalist and poet Javier Sicilia, whose son was killed in drug prohibition-related violence. Sicilia has galvanized Mexican society and stirred up international debate. Former President Vincente Fox has been passionately calling for an to drug prohibition as the only way to reduce the carnage in Mexico – and even President Calderon has acknowledged that we need to consider legalization.

#6. Colorado and Washington to Vote on Legalizing Marijuana in 2012

In 2010, Californians voted on Proposition 19, the initiative to control and tax marijuana in California. Prop. 19 both elevated and legitimized public discourse about marijuana and marijuana policy. More people knew about Prop. 19 than any other measure on the ballot this year -- not just in California, but nationwide. In the end, Prop. 19 received more than 46% of the vote, more votes than Republican candidates for governor and U.S. Senate, Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina. Next year the issue will again be brought to the voters in Colorado and Washington State. Demographics, economics and principle all favor the ultimate demise of marijuana prohibition. Now, the debate is shifting from whether marijuana should be legalized to how.

#7 Portugal Celebrates 10-Year Anniversary of Decriminalizing Drugs

Ten years ago Portugal went where no country has gone before and decriminalized not just marijuana, but all drugs including heroin, cocaine and meth. Having small amounts of drugs is no longer a criminal offense. It’s a civil offense – like a ticket. Portugal continues to punish sales and trafficking of illicit substances. Ten years later the results are in: decreased youth drug use, falling overdose and HIV/AIDS rates, less crime, reduced criminal justice expenditures, greater access to drug treatment, and safer and healthier communities. The horror scenarios that opponents of drug policy reform predicted never came to be and Portugal is a real life example of what can happen when a country treats substance abuse as a health issue instead of a criminal problem.

#8  Drug War Critique is All Over TV and Popular Culture

The failures of prohibition and the serious debate around marijuana policy have seeped into mainstream, popular culture. Every week HBO viewers can view the failures of alcohol Prohibition by tuning in to Boardwalk Empire. In October Ken Burns and PBS teamed up for a critically acclaimed series called Prohibition that also showed the utter futility of the 18th amendment to ban the sales of alcohol. This week two new national shows will highlight the medical marijuana issue and trade. The Discovery Channel is doing a reality TV like show on Harborside, the largest medical marijuana dispensary in the country. National Geographic Investigates is also airing a documentary called Marijuana Gold Rush. From movies, to TV, to music, there has been an increasingly more sophisticated approach to this issue. 

#9 New and Powerful Voices Join Movement to End Failed Drug War

The movement to end the drug war is becoming a bigger and bigger tent that is becoming more diverse in all senses of the word. In November more than 1,200 people attended the Drug Policy Alliance’s International Reform Conference. The gathering encompassed people across the political spectrum. Gavin Newsom, the former Democratic Mayor of San Francisco and current Liutenent Governor of California shared the stage with the libertarian former Governor of New Mexico Gary Johnson. Dozens of people who have spent years behind bars for a nonviolent drug offense participated in conversations and panels with dozens of police officers who saw the futility of the drug war and are speaking out against drug prohibition. Students who are just beginning their activism appeared alongside veterans of the movement who have worked for decades against drug war hysteria. The conference was made up of people who love drugs, people who hate drugs and people who don't care about drugs. There are people who enjoy marijuana or other drugs and don't consider themselves criminals just because they like to unwind with a joint instead of a cocktail. There are also people who have seen the horrors of drugs and addiction. Their substance abuse may have led to them going to jail or maybe they lost a loved one to an overdose. There are also people who have never tried illicit drugs, but are outraged at the money and lives wasted due to drug war. What unites all of these people is the belief the war on drugs causes more harm than good.

For all of the progress in 2011, the war on drugs is as vicious as ever. The worst drug war policies remain entrenched, as more than three-quarters of a million people are arrested for marijuana possession every year, and more than half a million people are still behind bars today for nothing more than a drug law violation. The bloodbath in Mexico has taken 50,000 lives in the last five years and shows no signs of slowing down. There is a little-noticed overdose crisis in this country, even though overdose deaths have more than doubled in the last decade. The Obama administration is reversing their past commitments to stop the federal government from interfering with states that have passed medical marijuana laws. 

We are at a paradoxical moment in our country. We are clearly moving in the right direction, toward a more rational drug policy based on science, compassion, health and human rights. But we need to step up our efforts, grow our numbers, and continue to win hearts and minds because the casualties from the war continue to mount every day. Please join the movement to the end the war on drugs. If the people lead, the leaders will follow.

2 December 2011
Tony Newman