October 2009


October 29, 2009 – SACRAMENTO — Marijuana legalization advocates and law enforcement officials duked it out in a three-hour legislative hearing Wednesday on whether making the drug legal under state law would be good public policy.schwarzenegger_marijuana_debate

Advocates said legalization and regulation could bring as much as $1.4 billion in state and local excise and sales tax revenue per year; control the drug’s potency; do more to keep it out of children’s hands; and end a century long double standard in which alcohol and tobacco — which they say are more harmful — are legal while marijuana isn’t, leading to a war on drugs particularly destructive to people of color.

Law enforcement officials testified the harms caused by marijuana legalization would far outweigh whatever tax revenue it might bring — more, not less, use by children; more people driving under the influence, causing more injuries and deaths; decreased worker productivity that could hurt the economy; and a still-thriving black market.

The hearing was convened by Assembly Public Safety Committee Chairman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, who earlier this year introduced a bill to legalize and tax marijuana under a system not unlike that used for alcohol. Even as several proposed ballot measures for legalization seek to qualify for next year’s ballot, Ammiano is rewriting his bill to bring it forward again in January, and Wednesday’s hearing was supposed to help him gather input for that revamp.

First up Wednesday were the Legislative Analyst’s Office, which said state and local law enforcement could save “several tens of millions of dollars each year” by no longer pursuing marijuana cases, and the Board of Equalization, which has estimated $1.4 billion in annual revenue from taxes on legalized marijuana.

Then came the lawyers. Drug Policy Alliance staff attorney Tamar Todd and American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Allen Hopper testified California is free to criminalize or not criminalize whatever it wants, and can and should chart its own course as a laboratory for new social and economic policy.

But Martin Mayer, general counsel to the California Peace Officers’ Association and the California Police Chiefs Association, underscored there would be no protection from federal law enforcement agencies arresting, charging and prosecuting Californians for violating the federal marijuana ban.

California Peace Officers’ Association President John Standish said there’s “no way marijuana legalization could protect or promote society — in fact, it radically diminishes it” by impairing educational ability, worker productivity, traffic safety and drug-related crime rates.

Ammiano asked whether police resources now used to fight marijuana would be better spent fighting harder, more harmful drugs such as methamphetamine.

“That’s like, ‘When did you stop beating your wife?’ Standish replied, calling marijuana and methamphetamine “both equally critical problems our society needs to address.”

Sara Simpson, acting assistant chief of the state Justice Department’s Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement, said much of California’s major marijuana cultivation is run by Mexican drug cartels on remote public lands, and she recited a litany of violent and deadly clashes with armed guards at such sites. Such growing operations also are environmentally devastating, she said, and produce marijuana far more potent than that used just years ago. There’s no reason to believe the cartels would adhere to state laws on cultivation, potency and taxation any more than they adhere to prohibition now, she said.

Rosalie Pacula, co-director of the Drug Policy Research Center at renowned think-tank RAND Corp., said prohibition has kept marijuana prices high, and legalization with heavy taxation that elevates marijuana’s price far above the cost of its production will lead to a thriving black market.

But Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice Executive Director Dan Macallair said arrest statistics from the past 20 years show California law enforcement is far more focused on prosecuting simple possession and use than cultivation and sales. Various counties are more or less tolerant of marijuana use, he said, a lack of consistency and continuity that could be solved by regulation.

And retired Orange County Superior Court Judge Jim Gray said the state can allow and regulate marijuana without condoning its use just like alcohol and tobacco, but any legalization legislation must ban advertising lest marijuana use become glamorized. By Josh Richman. Source.

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October 28, 2009 – BILLINGS, Mont. – Montana this month issued its first license for an industrial hemp-growing operation to a woman who said she wants to develop a domestic market for the plant despite federal law barring its cultivation. votehemp_baner1

Laura Murphy, of Bozeman, was the first to apply for the two-year license since the state Legislature approved hemp’s commercial cultivation in 2001.

Federal law prohibits such activity, but the license issued by the Montana Agriculture Department on Oct. 14 could challenge whether the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration is willing to override the state.

Hemp is similar to illegal marijuana but without the mind-altering ingredient of the drug. It is grown in parts of Canada and Europe and has a range of uses, from fibers for clothing to a source of biofuels.

Murphy called the application process “pretty easy.”

“I went in and had a criminal history check and fingerprints and said I had land to grow it on,” she said. “They didn’t have an official license for me; it’s just a letter.”

She said she intends to lease 160 acres of unused ranch land near Ennis and is trying to arrange contracts with buyers.

Murphy, 42, said she is a former dog groomer who works as the office manager for a Bozeman medical marijuana business. She said there would be a separation between that business, which is run by her fiance, and the planned hemp growing operation.

The Obama administration last week loosened guidelines on federal prosecution of medical marijuana operations, which grow potent forms of the plant used to treat Parkinson’s disease, chronic pain, glaucoma and other ailments.

The Justice Department told federal prosecutors that targeting people who use or provide medical marijuana in compliance with state laws was not a good use of their time.

Montana applied to the DEA in 2002 for recognition of the state’s hemp growing law. The request was denied, but Montana Agriculture Department attorney Cort Jensen said it could be reconsidered now that a license has gone out.

“Obviously hemp is a little different than ordinary marijuana, but they have declined in the past,” he said. In the meantime, he added: “We will administer the state law.”

In her license, Murphy was warned by Jensen that “growing hemp is still illegal.”

“You still need to get permission from the Drug Enforcement Agency in order to grow it without facing the possibility of federal charges or property confiscation,” he wrote.

DEA spokesman Mike Turner said federal drug agents will be watching to see if Murphy moves ahead without the federal permit – something she said she has no intention to seek.

“We try to concentrate our investigations on major criminal organizations that traffic drugs. That’s our priority,” Turner said. “We can’t speculate about what’s going to happen until somebody actually does something.”

He said some hemp operations had received clearance to grow after installing fencing and security to prevent public access, but he could not say how many permits have been issued.

Jensen also said that if she wished to use pesticides, Murphy would have to make arrangements through the Agriculture Department since none is currently approved for hemp.

The advocacy group Vote Hemp lists Montana as one of nine states that have removed barriers to hemp production or research.

Angela Goodhope with the Montana Hemp Council said the license given to Murphy marks “a big deal as far as state’s rights go.”

“The wheels are turning to allow our farmers to have another good alternative rotational crop,” Goodhope said. By MATTHEW BROWN. Source.

October 27, 2009 – Montana has issued its first license for an industrial hemp-growing operation, setting up a possible test case of whether the Drug Enforcement Administration is willing to override a hemp-educate-yourselfstate law allowing propagation of the plant.

Hemp is similar to illegal marijuana but without the mind-altering ingredient of the drug. Montana’s Legislature in 2001 approved the commercial cultivation of hemp, although federal law still prohibits such activity.

Montana Department of Agriculture attorney Cort Jensen said the first license issued under the state law, on Oct. 14, went to a woman who wants to grow hemp on 160 acres in Madison County.

Hemp is grown in parts of Canada and Europe and has a range of uses, from fibers for clothing to a source of biofuels. Source.

October 27, 2009-SAN FRANCISCO — These are heady times for advocates of legalized marijuana in California — and only in small part because of the newly relaxed approach of the federal government toward medical marijuana.915692621578182322b5790tr1

State lawmakers are holding a hearing on Wednesday on the effects of a bill that would legalize, tax and regulate the drug — in what would be the first such law in the United States. Tax officials estimate the legislation could bring the struggling state about $1.4 billion a year, and though the bill’s fate in the Legislature is uncertain, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, has indicated he would be open to a “robust debate” on the issue.

California voters are also taking up legalization. Three separate initiatives are being circulated for signatures to appear on the ballot next year, all of which would permit adults to possess marijuana for personal use and allow local governments to tax it. Even opponents of legalization suggest that an initiative is likely to qualify for a statewide vote.

“All of us in the movement have had the feeling that we’ve been running into the wind for years,” said James P. Gray, a retired judge in Orange County who has been outspoken in support of legalization. “Now we sense we are running with the wind.”

Proponents of the leading ballot initiative have collected nearly 300,000 signatures since late September, supporters say, easily on pace to qualify for the November 2010 general election. Richard Lee, a longtime marijuana activist who is behind the measure, says he has raised nearly $1 million to hire professionals to assist volunteers in gathering the signatures.

“Voters are ripping the petitions out of our hands,” Mr. Lee said.

That said, the bids to legalize marijuana are opposed by law enforcement groups across the state and, if successful, would undoubtedly set up a legal showdown with the federal government, which classifies marijuana as an illegal drug.

California was the first state to legalize marijuana for medical purposes, in 1996, but court after court — including the United States Supreme Court — has ruled that the federal government can continue to enforce its ban. Only this month, with the Department of Justice announcement that it would not prosecute users and providers of medical marijuana who obey state law, has that threat subsided.

But federal authorities have also made it clear that their tolerance stops at recreational use. In a memorandum on Oct. 19 outlining the medical marijuana guidelines, Deputy Attorney General David W. Ogden said marijuana was “a dangerous drug, and the illegal distribution and sale of marijuana is a serious crime,” adding that “no state can authorize violations of federal law.”

Still, Mr. Lee anticipates spending up to $20 million on a campaign to win passage of his ballot measure in California, raising some of it from the hundreds of already legal medical marijuana dispensaries in Los Angeles, which have been recently fighting efforts by Los Angeles city officials to tighten restrictions on their operations.

“It’s a $2 billion industry,” Mr. Lee said of the medical marijuana sales.

Opponents said they are also preparing for a battle next year.

“I fully expect they will qualify,” said John Lovell, a Sacramento lobbyist for several groups of California law enforcement officials that oppose legalization.

Any vote would take place in a state where attitudes toward marijuana border on the schizophrenic. Last year, the state made some 78,500 arrests on felony and misdemeanors related to the drug, up from about 74,000 in 2007, according to the California attorney general.

Seizures of illegal marijuana plants, often grown by Mexican gangs on public lands in forests and parks, hit an all-time high in 2009, and last week, federal authorities announced a series of arrests in the state’s Central Valley, where homes have been converted into “indoor grows.”

At the same time, however, there are also pockets of California where marijuana can seem practically legal already. At least seven California cities have formally declared marijuana a low priority for law enforcement, with ballot measures or legislative actions. In Los Angeles, some 800 to 1,000 dispensaries of medical marijuana are in business, officials say, complete with consultants offering public relations services and “canna-business management.”

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, a San Francisco Democrat and author of the legalization bill, said momentum for legalization has built in recent years, especially as the state’s finances have remained sour.

“A lot of people that were initially resistant or even ridiculed it have come aboard,” Mr. Ammiano said.

In Oakland, which passed a tax on medical cannabis sales in July, several people who signed a petition backing Mr. Lee’s initiative said they were motivated in part by the cost of imprisoning drug offenders and the toll of drug-related violence in Mexico.

“Personally I don’t see a way of getting it under control other than legalizing it and taxing it,” said Jim Quinn, 60, a production manager. “We’ve got to get it out of the hands of criminals both domestic and international.”

Mr. Lovell, the law enforcement lobbyist, however, said those arguments paled in comparison to the potential pitfalls of legalization, including people driving under the influence. He also questioned how much net revenue a tax like Mr. Ammiano is proposing would actually raise. “We get revenue from alcohol,” he said. “But there’s way more in social costs than we retain in revenues.”

The recent history of voter-approved drug reform laws in California is not encouraging for supporters of legalization. Last November, voters rejected a proposition that would have increased spending for drug treatment programs and loosened parole and prison requirements for drug offenders.

None of which seems to faze Mr. Lee, 47, a former roadie who founded Oaksterdam University, a medical marijuana trade school in Oakland, in 2007. Mr. Lee says he plans to use the Internet to raise money, as well as tapping out-of state sources for campaign money.

More than anything, however, Mr. Lee said he was banking on a basic shift in people’s attitudes toward the drug.

“For a lot of people,” he said, “it’s just another brand of beer.” Source.

October 27, 2009 – Last week, the Justice Department ordered its staff to back off prosecution of people who use marijuana for medical purposes in the 14 states in which such use is legal. The directive reopened a med_mary_4question that has been part of the debate on U.S. drug policy for decades.

To understand more about the drug’s medical properties, we turned to Daniele Piomelli, who since 1998 has led a program, funded by the National Institutes of Health, to study the impact of marijuana and other psychoactive drugs on the brain. He is a professor of pharmacology and biological chemistry at the University of California at Irvine as well as and director of the center for Drug Discovery and Development at the Italian Institute of Technology in Genoa.

What medical benefits does marijuana offer? Have these benefits been demonstrated in rigorous scientific studies?

Several controlled clinical trials have been carried out in the last few years, using either smoked marijuana or a mouth spray that contains an extract of the marijuana plant. The results are quite consistent. They show that marijuana improves the well-being of patients with multiple sclerosis and alleviates chronic pain in patients with damage or dysfunction of nerve fibers (so-called neuropathic pain). Other work has shown that marijuana and its active ingredient THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) reduce the nausea that accompanies chemotherapy, stimulate appetite in AIDS wasting syndrome and lessen tics in Tourette’s syndrome. By and large, the use of marijuana in these trials was associated with few and mild side effects (for example, dry mouth and memory lapses).

What are the risks of medical use of marijuana? Could it become addictive or lead to use of other, more dangerous drugs?
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Marijuana can produce dependence, though less aggressively than, say, tobacco or the so-called opiate painkillers. Frequent use is risky, however, particularly during adolescence when the neural circuits in the brain are still maturing. It turns out that the brain employs its own marijuana-like substances, called endocannabinoids, to send signals from one neural cell to another, and that THC mimics these substances. The endocannabinoids seem to be very important in brain development, so messing with them before the nervous system becomes fully mature is not a smart thing to do.

There is little hard evidence that using marijuana leads to the subsequent use of other addictive drugs. On the other hand, it is becoming increasingly clear that stressful life events (particularly in critical periods such as adolescence) can encourage drug use and facilitate the development of addictions.

How would a marijuana user be sure to get the correct dose of the active ingredient?

It is difficult to say, because the various types of marijuana now available contain widely different concentrations of THC. Standardized marijuana preparations that contain a fixed amount of THC are not currently sold to the public, though the National Institute on Drug Abuse does provide them to investigators for use in clinical trials.

Is there an alternative way to get the same ingredient in some other form?

A clinical form of THC was approved by the Food and Drug Administration many years ago. It is marketed under the name of Marinol and is used to treat nausea in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy as well as loss of appetite in AIDS patients. It comes in capsules and is taken orally. Many medical marijuana users say the fixed dose of oral THC creates a problem; they say they prefer smoked marijuana because its dosage can be adjusted simply by changing the length and intensity of the puffs. They may be right, but the burning of a marijuana joint creates tars and other toxic chemicals that can be harmful with prolonged exposure. An alternative is to use so-called smokeless delivery systems such as vaporizers and sprays. Source.

“If we were talking about medical use of marijuana, THC, or cannabinoids,” Clinton administration drug czar Barry McCaffrey said on CNN last week, “I’d be 100 percent for it.”

For anyone familiar with McCaffrey’s history, this opening whopper made it hard to pay attention to anything else he had to say. Here is McCaffrey in August 1996 on the subject of medical marijuana:

There is not a shred of scientific evidence that shows that smoked marijuana is useful or needed. This is not medicine. This is a cruel hoax that sounds more like something out of a Cheech and Chong show.

At a December 1996 press conference, McCaffrey was asked whether there was “any evidence…that marijuana is useful in a medical situation.” His reply was unequivocal: “No, none at all.”

While research since then has added to our knowledge of marijuana’s medicinal properties, there was plenty of evidence at the time McCaffrey made these dismissive remarks that the plant is medically useful, especially in fighting nausea and restoring appetite but also in treating various kinds of pain. You might conclude that McCaffrey just didn’t know what he was talking about then and has since read up on the subject, except that he is still playing the same games.

Although he’s “100 percent for” the medical use of marijuana, McCaffrey told Lou Dobbs it isn’t necessary to let patients use the plant because they already have access to the prescription drug Marinol, an FDA-approved capsule containing a synthetic version of THC, marijuana’s main active ingredient. (Marinol also was around back in 1996, and the double-blind clinical trials necessary to get it approved conclusively showed that McCaffrey was wrong when he insisted there was no evidence that marijuana is medically effective.) But right after presenting Marinol as a perfect substitute for marijuana, McCaffrey cut it down, saying “it’s available for patients” but “not much used” because “it’s not a very good drug.” In fact, that is an assessment you will often hear from medical marijuana users who have tried Marinol. But if McCaffrey delved into the reasons many patients prefer marijuana to Marinol—e.g., it’s easier for people suffering from severe nausea, it takes effect much faster, the dosage is easier to control, and the psychoactive effects are less disturbing—he would be making the case for medical marijuana. Which he would be totally for if he weren’t completely against it.

McCaffrey’s stance against medical marijuana went beyond denying the evidence in its favor. As the Cato Institute’s Tim Lynch pointed out in the same segment of Dobbs’ show, McCaffrey helped spearhead the Clinton administration policy of threatening to prosecute doctors or take away their prescribing privileges simply for discussing marijuana’s benefits with their patients. That policy, which in some respects was more extreme than anything the Bush administration later did in this area, was slapped down by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit on First Amendment grounds. Source.

GREELEY, Colo. — Health and law enforcement officials around the nation are scrambling to figure out how to articleLargeregulate medical marijuana now that the federal government has decided it will no longer prosecute legal users or providers.

For years, since the first medical marijuana laws were passed in the mid-1990s, many local and state governments could be confident, if not complacent, knowing that marijuana would be kept in check because it remained illegal under federal law, and that hard-nosed federal prosecutors were not about to forget it.

But with the Justice Department’s announcement last week that it would not prosecute people who use marijuana for medical purposes in states where it is legal, local and state officials say they will now have to take on the job themselves.

In New Hampshire, for instance, where some state legislators are considering a medical marijuana law, there is concern that the state health department — already battered by budget cuts — could be hard-pressed to administer the system. In California, where there has been an explosion of medical marijuana suppliers, the authorities in Los Angeles and other jurisdictions are considering a requirement that all medical dispensaries operate as nonprofit organizations.

“The federal government says they’re not going to control it, so the only other option we have is to control it ourselves,” said Carrol Martin, a City Council member in this community north of Denver, where a ban on marijuana dispensaries was on the agenda at a Council meeting the day after the federal announcement.

At least five states, including New York and New Jersey, are considering laws to allow medical marijuana through legislation or voter referendums, in addition to the 13 states where such laws already exist. Even while that is happening, scores of local governments in California, Colorado and other states have gone the other way and imposed bans or moratoriums on distribution even though state law allows it.

Some health and legal experts say the Justice Department’s decision will promote the spread of marijuana for medical uses because local and state officials often take leadership cues from federal policy. That, the experts said, could lead to more liberal rules in states that already have medical marijuana and to more voters and legislators in other states becoming comfortable with the idea of allowing it. For elected officials who have feared looking soft on crime by backing any sort of legalized marijuana use, the new policy might provide support to reframe the issue.

“The fact that the feds are backing off is going to allow changes that are going to make it more accessible,” said Bill Morrisette, a state senator in Oregon and chairman of a committee that oversees the state’s medical marijuana law. Mr. Morrisette said he expected a flurry of proposals in the Legislature, including a plan already floated to have the state grow the marijuana crop itself, perhaps on the grounds of the State Penitentiary in Salem.

“It would be very secure,” he said.

Here in Greeley, anxiety and enthusiasm were on display as the City Council considered a ban on dispensaries.

Most of those who testified at the hearing, including several dispensary operators, opposed the ban and spoke of marijuana’s therapeutic benefits and the taxes that dispensary owners were willing to pour into Greeley’s budget, which has been battered by the recession.

But on the seven-member Council, the question was control. Mr. Martin, for example, said that he hated to see the spread of marijuana, but that the barricades had fallen. Still, he said he opposed a local ban on dispensaries.

“If we have no regulations at all, then we can’t control it, and our police officers have their hands tied,” Mr. Martin said.

Mayor Ed Clark, a former police officer, took the opposite tack in supporting the ban, which passed on a 6-to-1 vote.

“I think we do regulate them, by not allowing dispensaries,” Mr. Clark said.

The backdrop to the debate here in Colorado is a sharp expansion in marijuana dispensaries and patients, fueled in part by the State Board of Health decision in July not to impose limits on the number of patients handled by each marijuana provider.

The state attorney general, John W. Suthers, said the federal government’s retreat, combined with the growth in demand, had created a legal vacuum.

“The federal Department of Justice is saying it will only go after you if you’re in violation of state law,” Mr. Suthers said. “But in Colorado it’s not clear what state law is.”

In New Hampshire, by contrast, where the state legislature is scheduled to meet this week to consider overriding the governor’s veto and passing a medical marijuana law, government downsizing has colored the debate.

The state agency that would be responsible for licensing marijuana dispensaries has been battered by budget cuts, said Senator Sylvia B. Larsen, the president of the New Hampshire Senate and a Democrat. Concerns about the department, Ms. Larsen said, have made it harder to find two more votes in the Senate to reach a two-thirds majority that is needed to override a veto by Gov. John Lynch, a Democrat.

An even odder situation is unfolding in Maine, which already allows medical marijuana and where residents will vote next month on a measure that would create a new system of distribution and licensing.

The marijuana proposal, several political experts said, has been overshadowed by another fight on the ballot that would overturn a state law and ban same-sex marriage.

The added wrinkle is that opponents of same-sex marriage, said Christian Potholm, a professor of government at Bowdoin College, have heavily recruited young, socially conservative voters, who by and large tend to not be concerned about medical marijuana expansion.

“The 18- to 25-year-old vote is going to be overrepresented because of the gay marriage situation, so overrepresented in favor of medical marijuana,” Professor Potholm said.

Some legal scholars said the federal government, by deciding not to enforce its own laws (possession and the sale of marijuana remain federal crimes), has introduced an unpredictable variable into the drug regulation system.

“The next step would be a particular state deciding to legalize marijuana entirely,” said Peter J. Cohen, a doctor and a lawyer who teaches public health law at Georgetown University. If federal prosecutors kept their distance even then, Dr. Cohen said, legalized marijuana would become a de facto reality.

Senator Morrisette in Oregon said he thought that exact situation — a state moving toward legalization, perhaps California — could play out much sooner now than might have been imagined even a few weeks ago. And the continuing recession would only help, he said, with advocates for legalization able to promise relief to an overburdened prison system and injection of tax revenues to the state budget. Source.

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