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The House I Live In

MPP - Fri, 09/11/2012 - 15:49

The House I Live In, a newly released documentary from director Eugene Jarecki, dissects the United States’ failed drug prohibition policies, both previous to and following the declaration of the “War on Drugs” under the Nixon administration. Endorsed by Brad Pitt, who is one of the producers, the film deals with the serious consequences of our anti-drug crusades, including world-record rates of incarceration, the development of an influential prison-industrial complex, and, connected with these, the exacerbation of racial and class-based divisions in society. As with the prohibition of alcohol, current drug laws also enrich the organized crime elements, which now control large and extremely profitable drug markets.

The director makes his case largely through interviews with supporters and opponents of the War on Drugs who are involved in it in various ways, including judges, prison guards, and narcotics officers, as well as drug users and dealers. David Simon, notable as the director of the critically-acclaimed HBO series The Wire, which was centered on inner-city drug gangs, is also one of the main interview subjects. Jarecki concludes that the War on Drugs is a cruel, expensive, and ineffective policy which has done great harm to the country, including the people who are ostensibly being protected from drugs by the law.

The film opened in select theaters on October 5 and in Los Angeles on October 12 and received an average rating of 95% on Rotten Tomatoes. The trailer can be found here.

If you would like to attend a screening in your area, check the schedule here. We’ll be alerting our members of upcoming screenings as they happen.

Could D.A.R.E. Quit Lying About Marijuana?

MPP - Thu, 08/11/2012 - 07:58

The infamous school drug-education program known as D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) may be removing marijuana from its curriculum. D.A.R.E. officer Mike Meyer of Kennewick, Washington explains that program’s materials for December make no mention of the substance, though he says he does not know why.

If true, this is a welcome step, although eliminating D.A.R.E. altogether would be preferable. All credible studies of the program, including a report from the Government Accountability Office, have failed to find any decrease in drug use connected with participation in D.A.R.E. Officials with the organization have apparently been slow in admitting this, however. In a libel suit brought by D.A.R.E. against Rolling Stone magazine, Federal Judge Virginia Phillips ruled that allegations printed in the magazine, including that D.A.R.E. had actually tried to suppress scientific research critical of the program, were “substantially true.” D.A.R.E. appealed the decision, but the Ninth Circuit Court upheld the ruling.

Although D.A.R.E. officials admitted their failure in 2001 and proposed a new, less hysterical curriculum, research since then has still failed to demonstrate any success. The “new” curriculum, as it is described on the website, does not seem to involve any increased commitment to facts, but rather now involves “role-playing sessions” and “discussion groups.” The summary of the new program, revealingly, makes insinuations that drug use is connected to terrorism, and in place of facts, explains that officers will be using “stunning brain imagery” as “tangible proof of how substances diminish mental activity, emotions, coordination and movement.”

Although they have possibly abandoned the anti-marijuana crusade in their school curriculum, D.A.R.E. still disseminates dishonest information on their website. An ironically named “fact sheet” repeats claims that marijuana “has a high potential for abuse,” and although it is short on the details or prevalence of this abuse, it does claim that marijuana can weaken the immune system and cause insanity and lung disease. The “fact sheet” categorically denies the medical benefits of marijuana, suggesting that it causes only “inebriation.” At the same time, it admits that THC, which the page describes as “the psychoactive [in other words mind-altering or “inebriating”] ingredient in marijuana,” has medical benefits. It implicitly denies the countless cases of experiences of medical marijuana patients who tried conventional treatments without success, claiming simply that “existing legal drugs provide superior treatment for serious medical conditions,” and “the FDA has approved safe and effective medication for the treatment of glaucoma, nausea, wasting syndrome, cancer, and multiple sclerosis.” The page even quotes the Institute of Medicine study, “Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base,” the very same study which confirms the medical usefulness of marijuana and refutes claims that it poses a major proven risk of addiction or lung cancer, or that it causes brain damage, amotivational syndrome, suppression of the immune system, use of other illicit drugs, or premature death from any cause. The study further points out the shortcomings of existing legal medications for the relevant medical conditions, including the slow and unreliable action of synthetic THC pills.

According to Mike Riggs at Reason, D.A.R.E. headquarters has neither confirmed nor denied any shift in policy.

The beginning of the end of marijuana prohibition: Day 1

MPP - Wed, 07/11/2012 - 15:29

Last night, the voters in both Colorado and Washington approved ballot measures to repeal their states’ prohibition on marijuana and replace it with a system of taxation and regulation. These new laws, which will go into effect within the next month, will also remove criminal penalties against the possession and private use of marijuana by adults 21 and older. Colorado’s law also allows adults 21 and older to cultivate up to six marijuana plants (three of which may be mature). Both laws direct state agencies to develop rules and regulations for the registration of marijuana cultivators, product producers, and retail establishments.

As you can probably guess, we here at MPP are overjoyed! Colorado voters approved Amendment 64 54.8% to 45.1%, and Washington voters approved I-502 by a margin of 55.44% to 44.56%. These historic victories represent the first bricks to be knocked out of the marijuana prohibition wall. While we are grateful and joyous in victory, we know there is plenty more work that needs to be done. And so we will continue to work. We will work as hard as we can to change the hearts and minds of all Americans, while continuing to pressure state and federal lawmakers who have the power to enact real change.

MPP is proud to have been the primary financial backer of the Colorado campaign and to have played a key role in the drafting of Amendment 64 and in the coordination of the campaign. We are also so very grateful and proud of the work done by The Colorado Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol out of Denver – where MPP had three paid staffers – and both the ACLU-WA and the New Approach Washington campaign for drafting and passing I-502. These professional, savvy, and intelligent campaigns demonstrated that the public at large much prefers a well regulated and taxed system of adult marijuana use to the tired and failed marijuana prohibition. They proved that when presented with a well thought out plan, voters will listen.

Repeal of marijuana prohibition in Colorado and Washington are the first and most important steps towards seeing an end to marijuana prohibition. The federal government and 48 states still cling to failed prohibitionist policies that do nothing to prevent use or abuse while costing taxpayers a fortune. Please continue to write, email, and call your state and federal lawmakers and urge them to reconsider failed marijuana prohibition. Please remember to be respectful, and be prepared to have an intelligent conversation about the need to reform marijuana laws; we have background materials available. If your friends and family don’t already support reform, start a conversation with them, too.

We’ve Got Your Election Night Coverage!

MPP - Fri, 02/11/2012 - 11:39

Tuesday, November 6. Election Day. If you’re anything like us, you’ll be watching the news, reading about exit polls, and trying to figure out the results before the major networks make the call. But how are you going to keep track of all the marijuana-related issues on the ballot? That’s where we come in!

We’re going to be providing coverage of the various marijuana-related measures on the ballot on Facebook and Twitter, providing updates and results as they come in. So, if you haven’t already, please use the links below to ‘like’ our Facebook page and ‘follow’ us on Twitter. Please share these accounts with anyone you know who wants to be kept up to date on the latest results!

We’re just days away from making history! There’s still time to make a difference – please use this online phone bank tool from the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol to call Colorado voters and ask them to vote Yes on 64!

Also, if you’re looking for a simple summary of Colorado’s Amendment 64, as well as the latest polling data, be sure to check this out!

2012: Marijuana on the Ballot

MPP - Thu, 01/11/2012 - 18:31

On December 5, 1933, the 21st Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified, and our failed experiment with alcohol prohibition was put to rest. Americans grew tired of the ever-worsening violence associated with the rise of the criminal alcohol market that developed in the absence of a legally recognized and properly regulated industry. As a society, we came to realize that the dangerous and unavoidable collateral markets created by prohibition were in fact more detrimental to society than alcohol itself. On November 6, 2012, some 79 years later, many Americans will have the opportunity to strike the very important first blows against another failed prohibition: marijuana’s.

The upcoming General Election will allow millions of Americans to bypass the legislative process and decide for themselves whether prohibitive marijuana policies should stand. Three states – Colorado, Washington, and Oregon – will be voting on measures to end the state prohibition on adult marijuana possession and use. Two states – Arkansas and Massachusetts – will be voting on whether exemptions should be carved out of their state criminal codes to allow possession and use for the seriously ill. One state – Montana – will vote on a referendum to repeal a law that gutted their previously enacted medical marijuana law. Finally, a host of cities and towns across the country will be voting on measures that either reform city codes or send symbolic messages that greater reform is needed.

State measures to end marijuana prohibition

Three states will be voting on measures to tax and regulate marijuana, and odds are at least one will pass. There has been steady majority or plurality support for both Colorado’s and Washington’s initiatives, and Oregon’s question has seen a recent uptick in the polls as well. If any of the three do pass, it would represent a sea change in American marijuana policy.

While the minutia of all three measures differ – and I highly encourage voters in Colorado, Washington, and Oregon to read their measures – they are born of common goals. The idea is to devise a system where marijuana sales are brought out of the criminal market and instead subjected to careful regulation and taxation. With tight controls, marijuana would be legally grown and sold by law-abiding, tax-paying businesses, as opposed to the criminal enterprises that currently hold a monopoly over the lucrative marijuana market. Creating a legal and regulated market ensures safety and transparency with regard to potency by allowing cultivators to legally test their product. Strict age limits on sales will create barriers to underage consumption by imposing penalties on businesses that sell to minors (when was the last time a drug dealer asked for ID?). A taxed and regulated market also means that states will see added revenue that can help with funding education projects, medical research, etc. The current system ensures that states capture no revue on marijuana sales.

So what will the effect of passage be and what will the feds do? The first question is pretty easy: if one, two, or all three of these pass, millions of Americans 21 and older will no longer be subject to arrest for the possession or private use of a plant proven safer than alcohol. It is clear that states can, and do, create their own criminal laws. In addition, 99% of all marijuana arrests are made under state law. So if states remove their criminal penalties against marijuana possession and private use, we can expect to see a significant drop in marijuana-related arrests.

The second question – how the feds will react – is difficult to predict. The feds can choose to allow the states to proceed with implementation of the regulatory structure without interference. This would be what I like to call the ‘laboratory of democracy’ approach. We already know the results of the marijuana prohibition experiment: control in the hands of criminals, laced product, exposure to all kinds of other illicit drugs, violence, and no decrease in use or abuse. It’s high time a state tests a different approach. Although taxation and regulation may not lead to a decrease in use or abuse, it will certainly eliminate or greatly reduce the negative collateral consequences that are inherent in marijuana prohibition.

The feds could also sue to enjoin the implementation of the new regulatory schemes. At first blush, this may seem scary, but as Dominic Holden recently stated, this too represents a major opportunity for change. A suit against Colorado, Washington, or Oregon would force us to have a national dialogue about our current marijuana policies. With 50% of the population – not to mention an ever-growing list of opinion makers – arguing for the end of marijuana prohibition, it’s a conversation that needs to happen. Look at the increase in support for gay marriage after the first lawsuit was filed challenging California’s Prop 8. If we can have an open and honest conversation, we can expedite policy reform.

Either way, we’re not going to know until a state votes to change their marijuana policies. If you live in Colorado, please vote “yes” on Amendment 64. If you’re in Washington, you’re voting “yes” on I-502. For those of you in Oregon, please vote “yes” on Measure 80. To all of you, I’m envious of your ballot.

State medical marijuana questions

In addition to the three states voting on measures to regulate and tax the adult sales of marijuana, two states have initiatives on the ballot that will create medical marijuana programs. Arkansas and Massachusetts, if passed, will become the 18th and 19th medical marijuana states. They will join the District of Columbia and 17 other states that currently recognize the legitimate medical use of marijuana.

The number of medical marijuana states continues to grow despite obstruction and interference from the federal level, and for the most part, the previously enacted laws continue to thrive. Passage of one or two more laws come November 6 will not only protect citizens of Arkansas and Massachusetts from arrest and prosecution for using a medicine recommended by their physicians, but it will further the momentum and send a loud message to federal policy makers: reform your punitive and unscientific marijuana laws.

Unfortunately, the federal government’s attempt to undermine state medical marijuana laws worked in at least one state, Montana. This past legislative session, Montana lawmakers debated a series of bills that proposed severe restrictions and even outright repeal of the voter-approved medical marijuana law. The amendments the legislature settled on are onerous enough that many took to calling it “repeal in disguise.” After passage, enough signatures were gathered to put the new restrictive law to the voters as an up or down referendum. By rejecting the ‘repeal in disguise’ law, voters in Montana can once again affirm their desire to see sensible marijuana policies.

Reform on the local ballots

Reform comes not just from the state level, but from the local level as well. Municipalities across the country will have marijuana policy related questions – some binding, others not – on their ballots.

Five municipalities in Michigan will be voting on marijuana policy measures. Kalamazoo will be voting on whether to allow three medical marijuana dispensaries to operate within city limits. Residents of Detroit and Flint will decide if their city codes should be amended to remove criminal penalties for possession of less than one ounce of marijuana on private property. Grand Rapids will ask its residents if the code should be amended to replace the possibility of arrest for marijuana possession with a nominal civil fine. Finally, Ypsilanti voters will decide on a measure to make the use and/or consumption of one ounce or less of marijuana by adults 21 years or older the lowest priority for law enforcement personnel.

In addition to voting on medical marijuana, voters in certain districts in Massachusetts will also vote on non-binding public policy questions that direct elected officials to support taxing and regulating marijuana. While they do not have the effect of law, passage of the questions would send a strong message to the representatives of those districts that their constituents support taxing and regulating marijuana. Further north, voters in Burlington, Vermont will be asked if the city should “support the legalization, regulation, and taxation of all cannabis and hemp products?”

Finally, many cities and localities across California will be voting on measures to allow or ban medical marijuana dispensaries from operating in their municipality. Unlike most laws with regulated distribution, California’s medical marijuana law allows localities to regulate medical marijuana dispensaries as opposed to the state.

High-level political support for marijuana policy reform

It is worth pointing out that marijuana policy reform is not just relegated to a ballot issue. There are many top-level politicians who are starting to either speak up, or speak louder, on the need to reform our marijuana policies. For instance, Gov. Pete Shumlin in Vermont has long supported decriminalizing the possession of marijuana. The Democratic Attorney General and candidate for Governor in Montana, Steve Bullock, opposes the recent assault on patients rights’ and will vote against IR-124. More impressive is the fact that the entire political delegation representing Seattle, Washington, including Mayor Mike McGinn, supports taxing and regulating marijuana like alcohol.

The beginning of the end of marijuana prohibition

We very well may remember Wednesday, November 7 as the morning we woke up to discover marijuana’s been legalized. If not, then we most certainly will have seen the most support for a regulation and taxation measure to date. Regardless of the outcomes of the various questions, we will have advanced the conversation in a major way. Marijuana policy reform is not about letting a bunch of people get high. It’s about adequately addressing the harms that are associated with marijuana use while stamping out the atrocities that were born from marijuana prohibition. The ballot measures in Colorado, Washington, and Oregon would do just that, while the medical questions being asked of the citizens in Montana, Massachusetts, and Arkansas and the various municipal questions would impact the marijuana policy conversation as well. As a nation, we are moving ever closer to acceptance of a taxed and regulated marijuana marketplace; it’s now just a matter of time.

Dutch “Weed Pass” Rejected

MPP - Thu, 01/11/2012 - 07:50

The incoming Dutch government has rejected a proposal for a “wietpas” or “weed pass,” a compulsory registration for anyone using the country’s famous marijuana cafes. The proposal would have limited access to the cafes to Dutch residents. The mayors of the Dutch cities of Amsterdam, The Hague, Rotterdam, and Utrecht expressed opposition to the proposal, citing a probable increase in black-market street dealing if the measure were implemented. Instead, the coalition government produced an agreement, which, although lacking a registration system, would still ostensibly allow only Dutch residents access to the cafes.

The weed pass proposal was apparently connected with complaints of “drug tourism” in the Netherlands. Tourists from neighboring countries such as Germany, Belgium, and France are a daily sight and apparently a major source of revenue for the Dutch “coffee shops.” Use of the drug by Dutch citizens is actually relatively rare, even in comparison with residents of other European countries, with less than 6% of adults having used it in the past year. Ard van der Steur, a member of parliament for the right-wing People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, described the current situation as “an incredible criminal industry that we need to get rid of,” and complained that “we now function as a supplier of drugs for the rest of Europe.” Tahira Limon, a spokeswoman for the city of Amsterdam, stated however that marijuana is not a serious problem for the country. “The problems we have with substance abuse are almost always related to alcohol,” she said.

How much, or even if, this new revised restriction will be enforced is still in question. The coalition’s new policy agreement states that it will be “if necessary phased in,” and that details of enforcement will be determined “in discussion with the local councils concerned.” Some cafe owners say that they do not expect an actual change in policy, while others complain that the policy is still unclear.

Marijuana is still technically illegal in the Netherlands, as the country is a signatory to treaties such as the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, requiring the prohibition of cannabis along with several other drugs. In practice, however, small-scale marijuana distribution and possession is tolerated in licensed cafes in several cities, including Amsterdam. This policy has been in place since 1972, when it was recommended by a government commission.

FBI Study Shows Marijuana Arrests Do Not Deter Use

MPP - Tue, 30/10/2012 - 12:29

Marijuana arrests continued at disturbing levels in 2011, the vast majority of which were for simple possession. According to the FBI’s annual Uniform Crime Report, 757,969 arrests were made nationwide for marijuana, more than 87% of which were for possession. This is a slight decrease from 2010.  Marijuana arrests accounted for slightly less than half of all drug arrests last year.

In 2011, one American was arrested for marijuana possession every 42 seconds.

Despite intensive law enforcement resources being used to arrest and punish marijuana users, rates of marijuana use continue to rise. The “National Survey on Drug Use and Health” — commissioned by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and released in late September — showed that marijuana use had slightly increased nationally between 2010 and 2011. According to the report, more than 29.7 million people aged 12 and older used marijuana at least once in the past year.

“It’s obvious that decades of law enforcement efforts have failed to reduce the availability or use of marijuana.  Arresting one American for marijuana possession every 42 seconds is an exercise in futility, especially when one considers that marijuana is safer than alcohol,” said Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, D.C. “A business that continues to employ bad policies will eventually fail, but taxpayers are being forced to continually bail out the fiscally irresponsible and morally bankrupt institution of marijuana prohibition. A majority of Americans are tired of this nightmare.  It’s time for politicians to regulate marijuana like alcohol.”

A Rasmussen poll in May showed that 56% of voters supported removing criminal penalties for adult marijuana use and instead taxing and regulating the substance in a manner similar to alcohol. In November, voters in Colorado, Washington, and Oregon will have the opportunity to end marijuana prohibition in their states.

While the graph below may look like an improvement, it is important to remember several things: 1) Marijuana arrests account for 50% of all drug arrests. 2) 86% of all marijuana arrests are for simple possession. 3) This means that 43% of all drug arrests are for marijuana possession. 4) Arresting 655,416 people in one year for possession of a plant that is demonstrably safer than legal alcohol is indefensible. We must also remember that this number can easily start to climb again if we do not continue to work for reform. Please do your part to help cut marijuana arrests dramatically next year and donate whatever you can to support Amendment 64 in Colorado. There is only one week left until the election, and every little bit helps convince voters who are still undecided. Together, we can help Colorado become the first place in the world to make marijuana legal!

World Series Highlights Importance of Medical Marijuana Reciprocity

MPP - Wed, 24/10/2012 - 14:25

When the San Francisco Giants and Detroit Tigers face off in game one of the World Series tonight, it will be the first time two teams from different medical marijuana states meet in the Fall Classic (The Giants and Angels played an intrastate series in ’02). There may be a smattering of Tigers fans in attendance, but unless they’re transplants living in California, they probably won’t be medical marijuana patients. When the series shifts to Detroit for game three, however, patients in California will be able to follow their team to Detroit with their medicine. Why the difference? Reciprocity.

Reciprocity is what allows patients to travel from one medical marijuana state to another. States that have it recognize the legitimacy of those out-of-state patients’ ID cards, at least for a short period of time and under some limited exceptions. For example, some states only provide protections for visiting patients who would qualify under their own laws, so a patient from California who uses marijuana to treat insomnia would not be able to use marijuana in Arizona, where insomnia is not a qualifying condition.

Here’s what Michigan’s law says:

“Visiting qualifying patient” means a patient who is not a resident of this state or who has been a resident of this state for less than 30 days.

A registry identification card, or its equivalent, that is issued under the laws of another state … that allows the medical use of marijuana by a visiting qualifying patient … shall have the same force and effect as a registry identification card issued by the department.

There are 17 states that allow patients with doctors’ recommendations to use medical marijuana, but only five—Arizona, Maine, Michigan, Montana, and Rhode Island—include reciprocity. All of those states’ laws were drafted by MPP.

So how does a medical marijuana patient travel, you might ask? It would be very risky to drive from, say, California to Michigan, since that would involve passing through plenty of states that don’t recognize any form of medical marijuana. And while you might think the T.S.A. won’t take too kindly to flying with medical marijuana, they do have an unofficial policy of deferring to state and local authorities, and there are a few examples of patients boarding planes after their medication turned up at the security checkpoint. Obviously we don’t recommend Giants fans doing so without checking with the T.S.A. in Detroit first.

So there you have it. No word on whether two-time Cy Young winner, World Series champion, and noted marijuana user Tim Lincecum is aware of the policy.

Denver Medical Marijuana Industry to be Featured on “60 Minutes”

MPP - Fri, 19/10/2012 - 14:29

Denver’s flourishing and tightly regulated medical marijuana industry will be the subject of a “60 Minutes” report this Sunday.

With Colorado voting on whether to regulate and tax the rest of the state’s marijuana market on Nov. 6, this should be an interesting episode.

Viewers can see the segment on Sunday, Oct. 21 at 7:30 p.m. ET and 7:00 p.m. PT on their local CBS affiliate. Those of you in the Denver area can see it at 6:00 p.m. MT on Channel 4.

UPDATE: The full segment can be viewed here.

Brutality of NYPD “Stop and Frisk” Policy Revealed

MPP - Fri, 19/10/2012 - 14:10

A new audio recording reveals a disturbing example of current NYPD practices, specifically the “stop and frisk” policy of stopping and searching pedestrians without warrants or probable cause. A 17-year-old named Alvin, who made the recording, explains in the video below that he had been repeatedly stopped and searched by the police for no apparent reason and so had decided to record the next incident. Upon being asked why they are stopping him, the officers on the recording explain that his offense is “looking back at us like that” and “being a fucking mutt.” They then threaten to slap him in the face and break his arm.

The full audio recording is available at The Nation.

The NYPD’s numbers report that the department stopped and frisked 684,330 people last year, which as the Wall Street Journal points out, was “14 percent more than in 2010 and about seven times the number in 2002.” City officials claim the program is effective in reducing crime and getting guns off the streets. However, the New York Civil Liberties Union disputes this, pointing out that less than 0.2 percent of the stops yielded any guns, and approximately 88 percent of the stops did not result in arrests or even citations.

One aspect of the stop and frisk policy, namely the “Operation Clean Halls” program, is ostensibly aimed at drug dealing in and around low-income apartment buildings. The tactics are now being challenged in court, with Assistant District Attorney Jeannette M. Rucker testifying that people are being arrested on trespass charges for being in or around buildings which they actually live in or where friends they’re visiting live.

The tactic also seems to facilitate arrests on marijuana charges. In 2011, there were approximately 50,000 arrests made in the city for minor marijuana possession. This is despite a New York state law, which since 1977 has essentially decriminalized possession of up to 25 grams of marijuana. Under this law, the offense is only punishable by small fines or up to 15 days in prison if it is the individual’s third such offense within a three-year period. A new lawsuit filed by the Legal Aid Society claims that people are being illegally arrested on minor marijuana charges, sometimes for “public display” of marijuana, which is a criminal offense carrying up to 90 days in prison. Attorneys suggest, however, that the “public display” often simply involves defendants in stop-and-frisk encounters being ordered by police to empty their pockets.

This seems to be not only an attempt to get around the decriminalization law, but also in violation of the recent directive from the city’s Police Commissioner criticizing such practices. Governor Cuomo also introduced legislation earlier this year to remove the “public display” loophole, but the proposed measure did not pass.

As marijuana possession is generally a private activity, which goes mostly undetected without intrusive practices by the police, the stop-and-frisk program is likely responsible for the bulk of these unnecessary arrests. The solution seems obvious: the city should simply abandon the stop-and-frisk program, thereby saving a great deal of time and money, not to mention sparing innocent New Yorkers needless harassment.

How Will Mainstream Media Spin This Government Study?

MPP - Fri, 19/10/2012 - 13:20

The Rorschach Inkblot test asks people to make up stories about ambiguous pictures. Rorschach’s hope was that the tales people told about each blot would reveal something about personal predilections and an approach to the world. Well, our friends at the National Institute on Drug Abuse have just published a nice inkblot test for the media. The experiment, “Tolerance to Effects of High-Dose Oral D9-Tetrahydrocannabinol and Plasma Cannabinoid Concentrations in Male Daily Cannabis Smokers,” is about (you guessed it!) developing tolerance to THC. We’ll see how media handle the implications of the results. It’s either a reassuring result for those concerned about safety on the roads or a chance for misguided alarms about purported dependence.

The experimenters drafted 13 guys who were experienced cannabis smokers to stay in the lab for several days. Each day, they had to swallow more and more Marinol. Marinol is pure THC in a pill, but without the cannabinoids and various compounds found in whole plant cannabis that mitigate the psychotropic effects of THC and perform other beneficial health functions. Many people have reported that Marinol left them far more impaired than plant cannabis, undoubtedly for this very reason. In fact, one guy dropped out “for personal reasons” and another “due to psychological reactions to THC.” These guys had smoked marijuana at least 1,000 times, so I’m guessing that they would have had a handle on “psychological reactions to THC” if they’d been allowed to (heaven forbid!) use their own stash. But the dosage was nothing to sneeze at — 120 mg of THC per day — or the equivalent amount of THC as three joints of decent medical cannabis in the U.S.

Why use Marinol instead of vaporized cannabis? As the authors proudly assert, “Many patients take oral cannabinoids daily for weeks or months with persisting beneficial clinical effects.” Yes. It is now okay for researchers at NIDA to say that oral cannabinoids are good. They mean Marinol, of course, but explaining why this wouldn’t apply to edibles is going to take quite the pretzel twist of logic. Stay tuned.

So what happened? As the title suggests, subjective reactions dropped dramatically in a few days. The guys were only about half as “high” by day five as they were on the first day of taking Marinol. But the amount of THC in their blood remained the same. That’s the definition of tolerance — a decreased effect with the same dosage. So the same guy with the same amount of THC in his blood felt fewer effects on one day than he did a couple days before.

What does this mean? Ah! That’s the real Rorschach Inkblot test for the media. What it really means is that tolerance to the subjective effects of THC is a lot like the tolerance we see for prescription drugs like Vicodin and other over-the-counter drugs like Benadryl. Folks who feel high at first don’t feel it after a few doses. It’s not much of a leap to assume that these effects correlate with motor skills. All the worry about medical users screwing up at work is probably misplaced; they’ll be tolerant after a few doses. And per se driving laws that suggest that a certain amount of THC in the blood means someone is definitely impaired are on thin ice. Different people with different levels of tolerance will react differently to the same dosage.

But Vicodin and Benadryl are not the center of fierce and emotional debates about driving. Antihistamines and prescription opiates alter subjective states. They can impair performance on the road, too, but their subjective effects decrease after a few doses. Notice that you don’t see widespread debate about how much of each of these drugs you’re allowed to have in your blood when you sit behind the steering wheel. Why should cannabis be any different?

As an aside, roadside sobriety tests that require actually doing something (standing on one foot, walking a straight line) are a good indicator of how well people can drive. They certainly beat the number of nanograms of metabolites of cannabis, Vicodin, or Benadryl per unit of blood. They’re also sensitive to conditions that have nothing to do with drugs, like fatigue or illness. But if the media mention any of these points, color me surprised.

What will the media do instead? I’m guessing here, and I hope I’m wrong. But I bet they’ll scream, “Tolerance! Oh no! That means THC leads to dependence.” This little logical leap is quite elegant. Alarmists might use these data to say that THC must be likely to cause dependence. Of course, one symptom does not make a dependence diagnosis. And we might actually have to think a minute about why tolerance is a symptom of dependence in the first place. With toxic drugs like alcohol and tobacco, the more you ingest, the more you hurt yourself. So tolerance to these drugs means people take more to get the same subjective effect, leading them to more and more damage. For alcohol and tobacco, this means greater risks of cancer, for example. But THC’s toxicity has been hard to find without elaborate equipment looking intensely at dinky portions of the brain after multiple years of use. And some of these studies end in big surprises. For example, two years of exposure has made rodents more likely to stay alive and less likely to get tumors, which is the exact opposite of toxicity.

So, we’ve discovered that the subjective effects of THC decrease after repeated doses. The finding’s unambiguous, but the stories people will tell about it could be as different as responses to an ink blot. Unfortunately, this ambiguity could end up having serious implications as states continue to experiment with alternatives to marijuana prohibition.

 

Dr. Mitch Earleywine is Professor of Clinical Psychology at the University at Albany, State University of New York, where he teaches drugs and human behavior, substance abuse treatment and clinical research methods. He is the author of more than 100 publications on drug use and abuse, including “Understanding Marijuana” and “The Parents’ Guide to Marijuana.” He is the only person to publish with both Oxford University and High Times.

Want to Help Make Marijuana Legal this November? It’s Your Call …

MPP - Fri, 19/10/2012 - 09:46

We are now 18 days away from the elections, and three states are poised to lead the way in ending marijuana prohibition! Passage of any of these initiatives will set the tone for marijuana reform nationwide, so it’s important to everyone who cares about this issue, no matter what state you live in.

As more and more people learn about the failure of marijuana prohibition and are presented with the facts, support for changing our laws grows. We can’t change the conversation, however, until we start it. Now, you have the opportunity to start a conversation about marijuana reform with the people in a position to make that reform reality: registered voters.

The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol has set up a system that makes it easy for anyone to call registered voters in Colorado and ask them to vote “YES” on Amendment 64.

Just click here and you can help change history:

 

You can make the difference in this election. It’s your call.

 

“Code of the West” illustrates need for sensible regulation

MPP - Wed, 17/10/2012 - 11:57

Of the 17 states that have passed medical marijuana laws, only one — Montana — has experienced a serious legislative effort to repeal the law.

How could this have happened, and what can advocates in other states learn from Montana’s experiences?

Fortunately for those of us who work to pass — and improve — medical marijuana laws, an excellent new documentary film provides a unique and insightful view of Montana’s 2011 repeal effort. Code of the West, directed and produced by Rebecca Richman Cohen, recently made its debut and is now being screened at film festivals and other venues across the United States.

I had the honor of presenting Code of the West at its New Hampshire debut Friday evening at the New Hampshire Film Festival in Portsmouth. As an MPP legislative analyst monitoring the ongoing action in Montana, I was familiar with the events depicted, but seeing these events unfold on the big screen — against the stunning backdrop of Montana’s rugged mountains — provides a more complete experience than any number of newspaper articles could possibly supply.

In a nutshell, the repeal advocates depicted in Code of the West are appalled by the proliferation of unregulated medical marijuana dispensaries in Montana and by the ease with which non-patients appear to be qualifying for medical marijuana cards. Instead of seeking regulations to curb these perceived abuses, they lead an organized effort to repeal the law.

Despite being a very well-made film, a few scenes in Code of the West are difficult to watch:

  • One repeal-supporting legislator foolishly compares medical marijuana to the deadly poison arsenic.
  • A grandmother suffering from advanced cancer loses access to medical marijuana and is left with no choice but to manage her pain with morphine.
  • A repeal supporter admits that some seriously ill patients benefit from medical marijuana but continues pushing — not for regulation and restrictions to prevent abuse, but for a full repeal.

The film’s main subjects are medical marijuana advocates led by Tom Daubert — a well-respected political professional whose life is turned upside-down by an unjust federal prosecution — and repeal advocates led by a group of concerned parents and Montana House Speaker Mike Milburn.

Although the attempt at full repeal does not succeed, the film does not have a happy ending for patients and their advocates, as legislators resist common sense efforts to regulate the medical marijuana industry. Instead, they opt to pass SB 423, an ultra-restrictive “repeal in disguise” that will dramatically limit patients’ access.

A year after the film’s action concludes, Montana’s struggle to achieve a sane medical marijuana policy continues, and many conflicts described in the film remain unresolved.

Despite his efforts to pass regulations and improve Montana’s medical marijuana law, federal prosecutors brought felony charges against Daubert for his involvement with a medical marijuana dispensary, giving him little choice but to plead guilty. In September, Judge Dana Christenson ignored prosecutors’ request for a lengthy prison term and instead sentenced Daubert to five years of probation.

Another of the film’s subjects, Daubert’s former business partner Chris Williams, was recently convicted on eight felony counts and, astonishingly, faces mandatory minimum sentences that could keep him incarcerated for life. Williams’ attorney is currently seeking a new trial. Sadly, yet another of Daubert’s former business partners, Richard Flor, was sentenced to a five-year prison term earlier this year and died in federal custody August 30 after being denied medical care that had been recommended by a judge.

Fortunately, Montana voters will have an opportunity to reject the legislature’s “repeal in disguise” when they go to the polls Nov. 6. Regardless of how Montana’s IR-124 fares at the ballot box, Montana’s legislature should learn from the experiences portrayed in Code of the West and pass sensible regulations for medical marijuana providers in 2013.

For more information on Code of the West, including how to schedule a screening in a town near you, click here. If you submit a request, you’ll receive more details, including information on screening fees and the option to preview the film.

Maine Police Support State Law, Return Patient’s Medicine

MPP - Wed, 17/10/2012 - 10:50

A medical marijuana grower in Ellsworth, Maine received a pleasant surprise on Saturday: a marijuana delivery from the police. Thomas Davis, a state-licensed medical marijuana caregiver and grower, lost 17 marijuana plants from his greenhouse in a burglary on Wednesday night. The thief, 32-year-old Aaron Pert, was arrested soon afterward and charged with offenses including marijuana possession, burglary, and theft. He confessed to breaking into the greenhouse and stealing the plants and led the police to the location where he had hidden the majority of the stash. However, the police delayed returning the marijuana to Davis for two days, concerned that they might be violating federal law, which makes all marijuana possession, cultivation, and distribution criminal offenses.

According to Ellsworth police lieutenant Harold Page, this was the first case in the state in which marijuana had been stolen from a licensed medical marijuana provider, so the police department consulted with the Maine DEA as well as the state’s attorney general as to whether they should return the plants. Ellsworth Police Chief John DeLeo stated on Monday that as far as he was concerned, returning the plants was legal.

The delay led to the majority of the marijuana being ruined by mold. Davis estimated that he lost about six months’ worth of the crop and could only salvage 15 percent of it, enough for one month. He mentioned other licensed marijuana providers who are considering giving him some of their own plants to make up for the loss, but said that otherwise, his patients might soon need to look elsewhere for their medicine.

Davis, however, sees an upside to the situation. He said thieves may have assumed that they could steal from legal medical marijuana growers with impunity, since theft of plants from illegal marijuana growing operations would certainly go unreported to the police. Hopefully, as Davis suggests, his case will serve as a precedent for both the police, who might not be so hesitant to return stolen marijuana in the future, and to potential thieves. “It’s not the Wild West out here,” he said. “I feel like most of what I’m salvaging is a chance to get this out to the public, to let people know they can’t target medical marijuana patients and growers. The police will protect us.”

Los Angeles City Council Reverses Course, Votes to Rescind Dispensary Ban

MPP - Tue, 02/10/2012 - 13:26

The astute readers of the MPP blog no doubt recall the Los Angeles City Council’s terrible decision to ban medical marijuana dispensaries back in July. Unfortunately, the council didn’t stop there. They then made the decision to circumvent California law by asking the LAPD to work with the Drug Enforcement Agency to shut down dispensaries that were based in L.A. After the ban was passed – and while the council was busy making fast friends with the DEA – activists were busy gathering the necessary signatures to place a referendum on a ballot to repeal this ban. The activists succeeded, meaning the council had two options: repeal the ban themselves or put the referendum on a special election or the March mayoral ballot allowing the residents of Los Angeles to have the final say.

Today the council – joined once again by Councilmember Bill Rosendahl who returned to council duties after going through chemotherapy – held their vote on whether or not the previously enacted ban would stand. In a move that surprised me, the council preliminarily voted to repeal the ban by an 11 – 2 vote. The council will have to take a second vote on repealing the ban next week. If eight of the 11 “yes” votes hold steady, the ban will be repealed.

The council also took up a proposal to urge state lawmakers in Sacramento to pass sensible regulations that would allow medical marijuana patients to safely and immediately obtain their medicine while preventing diversion and unsavory business practices. This entirely reasonable request of Sacramento passed easily: 13 – 0.

MPP is incredibly grateful for all the good and hard work put in by local activists who gathered the necessary signatures to force the repeal vote. This would never have happened without their commitment to safe access.

Arkansas Medical Marijuana Initiative Cleared for Ballot in November!

MPP - Thu, 27/09/2012 - 15:01

The Arkansas Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that a medical marijuana voter initiative can remain on the state’s ballot for the upcoming elections. The Coalition to Preserve Arkansas Values had brought suit against the initiative, claiming that its proposed description on the ballot was misleading, in that it did not sufficiently emphasize the illegality of marijuana under federal law. The proposed language has already been revised more than once in response to similar comments from the state’s attorney general. The court characterized the ballot summary for Arkansans for Compassionate Care’s initiative as “an adequate and fair representation without misleading tendencies or partisan coloring,” dismissing the conservative coalition’s complaint.

If the initiative, known as Issue 5, is successful, medical marijuana patients approved by the state’s Department of Health would be authorized to possess marijuana, as well as to cultivate a limited number of plants for their own use. They would also be permitted to purchase the drug from any of a maximum of 30 non-profit dispensaries. The approved summary of the initiative mentions specific diseases for which marijuana could be authorized as a treatment, including AIDS, cancer, glaucoma, ALS, PTSD, and Crohn’s disease, as well as any “chronic or debilitating” disease which produces particular symptoms including severe nausea, chronic pain, wasting, persistent muscle spasms, or seizures. The measure has a slight lead in the polls.

Arguments from opponents of the issue were based on speculation or distraction rather than medicine. Jerry Cox, president of the Family Council Action Committee, a member of the coalition which filed suit against the measure, claimed that the “real agenda” of the initiative was to completely legalize marijuana. He based this on the fact that many supporters of medical marijuana also support farther-reaching marijuana law reform. Larry Page, the director of the Arkansas Faith and Ethics Council, another member of the coalition, made a similar red-herring argument, calling it “the first incremental step to legalizing marijuana for recreational use.”

But the question on the ballot, of course, deals with the medical use of marijuana for serious illnesses, which the scientific evidence supports. Cox further claimed in complete seriousness that since smoking tobacco is harmful for your health, medical marijuana must be useless and even harmful. He added the claims that marijuana is addictive and that marijuana use would increase if medical use were allowed. Studies show, however, that relaxing criminal penalties has no effect on usage rates, while the Institute of Medicine states that if marijuana dependence exists, it is mild and rare compared to most other drugs. Voters will hopefully see through the coalition’s claims to the contrary, making Arkansas the 18th state in the U.S., and the first in the South, to recognize the medical value of marijuana.

UPDATE: Sierra Blanca Sheriffs to Fiona Apple: Shut Up and Sing

MPP - Tue, 25/09/2012 - 12:02

As we covered earlier, Fiona Apple was recently arrested for possession of marijuana and hash in Sierra Blanca, TX. Penalties for hash are severe in Texas, and Apple is facing up to ten years in prison. She is out on bail and was able to perform on stage. In response to some statements Fiona Apple made about her treatment after being arrested , a spokesman for the Hudspeth County Sheriff’s Office fired off an interesting letter.

From the Daily Beast:

 

First, Honey, I’m already more famous than you, I don’t need your help. However, it would appear that you need mine….

Two weeks ago nobody in the country cared about what you had to say, — now that you’ve been arrested it appears your entire career has been jump-started. Don’t worry Sweetie, I won’t bill you…

Next, have you ever heard of Snoop, Willie or Armand Hammer? Maybe if you would read something besides your own press releases, you would have known BEFORE you got here, that if you come to Texas with dope, the cops will take your DOPE away and put YOU in jail…

Even though you and I only met briefly in the hallway, I don’t know you but I’m sure you’re an awesome and talented young woman and even though I’m not a fan of yours, I am sure there are thousands of them out there, and I’m sure that they would just as soon you get this all behind you and let you go back to what you do best—so my last piece of advice is simple “just shut-up and sing.”

Sincerely,

Rusty Fleming

I’m not sure what is more disturbing: the fact that Fleming is reveling in the fame he gets by wasting taxpayer dollars going after high-profile, non-violent marijuana users, or the condescending, paternalistic tone he uses to try to belittle Apple.

If you have a problem with this sort of behavior from a public official, please call the Hudspeth County Sheriff’s Office at (915) 369-2161 and politely let them know.

 

End Of Democracy Watch: Springfield, Missouri

MPP - Tue, 25/09/2012 - 08:18

When a dedicated group of activists hoping to reform Springfield, Missouri’s punitive marijuana laws turned in thousands of signatures they had collected fair and square, they thought the next step would be for voters in Springfield to decide whether or not to support their proposal. In other words, they thought the initiative process works like common sense says it should. They were wrong. What happened next is an example of disenfranchisement so egregious it belongs in a work of fiction.

The Springfield City Council, as is their legal right, went ahead and passed the ordinance, meaning it would not be placed on the November ballot. Their stated reason for this was that they didn’t want the city to have to front the cost of printing the issue on general election ballots. In other words, they were just trying to save the city some money, they said. Normally, at this point, the story would be over. But this is Springfield.

Immediately after the council passed the ordinance, they voted to “table” it, so they could amend the law to their liking. Some wanted to raise the $150 fine, which they thought was too low. Others wanted to remove a provision establishing a “citizen oversight commission.” It gets worse. After 150 people showed up to offer their testimony—the overwhelming majority in support of the original ordinance—four of the nine councilmembers moved forward with a plan to repeal the entire ordinance, stripping citizens of their fundamental right to vote on the proposal. Here’s a quote from one of those councilmembers, and I promise I’m not making this up: “I’m going to support passing, and then gutting, the entire ordinance,” said Councilman Jeff Seifried. “This is the fiscally responsible way to do business.”

Last night those oligarchs councilmembers followed through on their intentions and repealed the ordinance. The petitioners from Show Me Cannabis Regulation who gathered the signatures are assessing their options now. They have 30 days to gather more signatures to repeal the council’s vote (which, of course, could then be overturned by the council). More likely, they’ll sue to challenge the council’s action as violating the city charter’s initiative language. Either way, one thing is clear: the Springfield, Missouri City Council does not care about your voting rights.

Marijuana Decriminalization Gets Conservative Support In Indiana

MPP - Mon, 24/09/2012 - 09:26

Marijuana reform is a hot topic of conversation in state legislatures around the country and not just in traditionally liberal states like California and Rhode Island. In fact, bills to make marijuana possession punishable by a fine only, rather than jail time, were introduced this year in conservative bastions like Arizona and Tennessee, and it’s a too-well-kept secret that such laws have been on the books since the ’70s in Mississippi, Nebraska, Ohio, and several other less-than-liberal states.

You can now add Indiana to the list of states where the conversation has gone mainstream. Last week, influential Republican state Senator Brent Steele (R-Bedford) announced he’d be introducing legislation to make possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana an “infraction,” punishable by fine, rather than a criminal misdemeanor.

“We have to ask ourselves as a society, do we really want to be locking people up for having a couple of joints in their pocket,” Steele told local media. “Is that how we want to be spending our criminal justice resources?” Steele also pointed out that several other states have already embraced similar policies, noting that “society didn’t melt down, and we didn’t turn into a drug-crazed culture as a result of it.”

Similar legislation has been introduced before by state Senator Karen Tallian (D-Portage), but without the support of Republicans, who hold a majority in both chambers, it never got off the ground. Speculation is that Steele’s support could change that. Steele, who is closely allied with Indiana prosecutors and is described by Indiana political veterans as a “rock-ribbed law-and-order guy,” chairs the powerful Senate Committee on Corrections, Criminal and Civil Matters where the bill would likely be assigned.

New Study Adds to Research Showing Marijuana Could Stop Cancer

MPP - Mon, 24/09/2012 - 08:46

Breast cancer kills. Even mentioning the term can be a little creepy. However, thanks to slow but steady scientific progress, it’s not the killer it once was. We’re starting to understand that genetics plays a role in a minority of cases. We’ve found clear links to obesity, high-fat diets, and cigarette smoking. Lack of exercise probably plays a role, too. Regular screening seems like a good idea, but, like many ideas in science, it has some controversy. Treatments are markedly better than they once were, but they can be tough.

The cannabis plant could help. We all know that THC improves appetite and nausea for anyone enduring chemotherapy. This relief is quite the feat. I don’t want to upset anyone’s stomach with a description, but nausea is no treat. We’re not talking about the average queasiness here. Chemotherapy often creates the kind of nausea that prevents any kind of concentrated effort, any movement, and just about any pleasant thought. Never mind eating enough to stay strong and healthy during a challenging time. Unfortunately, nausea drugs can be pricey. Most require that a patient swallow them — hardly a delightful thought under the circumstances. The lucky few who can get a pill down still have to wait for digestion before they feel better. Inhaled cannabis can do all that in seconds for a fraction of the cost. Which would you choose for yourself or your loved ones?

But new evidence suggests that cannabis has the potential to combat breast cancer itself, not just battle the side effects of chemotherapy. A few years ago, we saw that THC, one of the 60+ chemicals unique to the cannabis plant, keeps human breast cancer cells from spreading. Last year, researchers at Harvard showed that CBD, another treasure from the plant, essentially makes breast cancer cells kill themselves. Now researchers in Japan have focused on CBDA, CBD’s precursor. They showed that it also keeps breast cancer cells from spreading.

What does this mean for use of the plant in treating breast cancer patients or preventing breast cancer in the first place? Alas, we have no idea. That, in some ways, is the saddest part. Wouldn’t it be great to know if the whole plant, with all these helpful substances combined into one source, could ward off breast cancer in an actual human being? It’s going to be hard to find out given our current laws. Prohibition has made research with the whole plant an unparalleled hassle. Most researchers are stuck trying to use one cannabinoid at a time. They often get synthesized chemicals from labs rather than extracts from the plant. They study cell lines in petri dishes instead of breast cancer in real people.

Are those who use cannabis regularly less likely to get breast cancer? It’d be great to know. Currently though, there’s little research funding for any study that might prove that cannabis is not evil. In addition, under prohibition, those who use cannabis are often frightened to tell doctors or researchers that they do. Any study of this type would need money to be done right. And there’s just not much money out there for this kind of work. A cure for breast cancer might rest in a simple green plant that’s been around for millennia. Why don’t we try to find it?

It looks like the U.S. would rather let people die than admit we made a mistake prohibiting marijuana.

 

Dr. Mitch Earleywine is Professor of Clinical Psychology at the University at Albany, State University of New York, where he teaches drugs and human behavior, substance abuse treatment and clinical research methods. He is the author of more than 100 publications on drug use and abuse, including “Understanding Marijuana” and “The Parents’ Guide to Marijuana.” He is the only person to publish with both Oxford University and High Times.

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