Public Policy


December 5, 2009 – Canada’s justice minister says people who sell or grow marijuana belong in jail because pot is used as a “currency” to bring harder drugs into the country.

“This lubricates the business and that makes me nervous,” Rob Nicholson told the Commons justice committee yesterday as he faced tough questions about a controversial bill to impose automatic prison sentences for drug crimes, including growing as little as one pot plant.

“Marijuana is the currency that is used to bring other more serious drugs into the country,” the minister said.

Canada’s Controlled Drugs and Substances Act currently contains no mandatory prison sentences and judges use their own discretion about whether to send drug pushers and growers to jail.

But the Conservatives have proposed legislation which would impose one-year mandatory jail time for marijuana dealing, when it is linked to organized crime or a weapon is involved.

The sentence would be increased to two years for dealing drugs such as cocaine, heroin or methamphetamines to young people, or pushing drugs near a school or other places frequented by youths.

The proposed legislation would impose six months for growing one to 200 marijuana plants to sell, and two years for big-time growers of 500 plants or more.

The bill is arguably the most controversial piece of justice legislation introduced by the Conservative and critics have warned that, if passed, it could flood prisons and jails.

Opposition critics voiced concerns yesterday that a crackdown would not only target big-time dealers, but would end up sending drug addicts to provincial prisons, which have few treatment programs in place. Source.

December 4, 2009 – A member of a medical marijuana group in Victoria has been arrested for allegedly making cookies, massage oil and other products from marijuana following a raid that could have implications for similar groups.

Thursday’s bust was sparked by a complaint about the smell coming from a makeshift bakery in a one-bedroom apartment in Victoria, according to Ted Smith, head of Victoria’s Cannabis Buyers Club, which rents the apartment.

Victoria police confirmed the raid took place but released no other details.

One man was arrested and Smith said he too expected to be charged.

Smith said his group, which has 3,000 members, has used marijuana to bake cookies and make massage oil and other products in the apartment for the past two years without a problem.

Health Canada allows people suffering from debilitating illnesses to have access to marijuana for medical purposes. They can get the marijuana through Health Canada or they can get permission to grow it themselves.

But Smith said there is a contradiction in the law, which allows the designated users to smoke marijuana but prohibits them from turning it into any other product.

Seeking city’s help
“If you take legally grown cannabis, or Health Canada’s and make it into one of these products, you’ve actually made an illegal extract,” he said.

Smith said he was found not guilty on a similar charge in 2007.

“We were successful in court, beating those charges, so we are going to use this unfortunate opportunity to point out the fatal flaw in Health Canada’s programs.”

The charge makes all medical marijuana groups vulnerable, Smith said.

He said his group would call on the City of Victoria to help legitimize the club by issuing it a permit or making a representation in any court proceedings. Source.

December 3, 2009 – Marijuana is California’s largest agricultural commodity with $14 billion in sales yearly, distancing itself from the state’s second largest—milk and cream—which bring in $7.3 billion a year. But California’s coffers only receive a fraction of the marijuana sales, $200 million coming from the sale of medical marijuana. That could all change with Assemblyman Tom Ammiano’s (D-San Francisco) Marijuana Control, Regulation and Education Act (AB 390).

Since February, when the bill was introduced, it has made little headway in the Legislature. But in October, a hearing on the bill was held by the Public Safety Committee; marking the first time a legislative committee held a hearing on marijuana legalization.

AB 390 would create a system that would regulate marijuana much like alcohol is regulated. Those over the age of 21 could purchase pot from vendors with licenses to do so. The state’s Legislative Analyst and the Board of Equalization have estimated that pot sales could bring up to $1.3 billion in revenue yearly. That number is based off a proposed $50-per-oz. levy placed on marijuana purchases and sales tax.

With a projected deficit of $20 billion facing the state next fiscal year, sources of guaranteed revenue are needed. But there are those that believe that the social issues legalizing pot could have far outweigh any economic benefits.

“Why add another addictive element to our society? I don’t think we should criminalize marijuana, but I don’t think having marijuana where you can buy it like cigarettes or alcohol is something we ought to be doing as a society. I believe we are moving in the wrong direction on that,” said Steve Francis, a former San Diego mayoral candidate and founder of the site KeepComingBack.com—a site that focuses on news and research of alcohol and drug addiction.

Francis says that legalizing marijuana would ultimately cost the state money. He cited a report issued by the Marin Institute that found the economic cost of alcohol use is $38 billion annually, with the state covering $8.3 billion for health-care treatment of alcohol-caused illnesses, plus crime costs, traffic incidents and reduced worker productivity. The taxes and fees collected from alcohol sales only cover 22 percent of total government costs. He says there is every reason to believe the same would happen with marijuana.

“Whatever taxes the author of the legislation thinks we are going to collect on the taxation of marijuana will be very little compared to the social costs on California,” he said.

But the economic impact legalizing marijuana could have goes beyond taxation. Nearly a fifth of California’s 170,000 inmates are locked up because of drug-related crimes. Although most are convicted on crimes more severe than possession, legalizing marijuana would save the state $1 billion in law enforcement and corrections costs.

Orange County Superior Court Judge James Gray says the best solution is to repeal the prohibition of marijuana, allowing the substance to become regulated and less available to children.

“We couldn’t make this drug any more available if we tried,” he said in TIME. “Unfortunately, every society in the history of mankind has had some form of mind-altering, sometimes addictive substance to use, misuse, abuse or get addicted to. Get used to it. They’re here to stay. So let’s try to reduce those harms, and right now we couldn’t do worse if we tried.”

Even if California were to legalize marijuana, there are those that believe that the gray area between federal and state law would only widen. Since California’s Compassionate Use Act was passed in 1996, medicinal marijuana has become more accessible to those need it. But it has opened the gates of confusion, as federal laws still consider marijuana illegal. In fact, cannabis is described as a Schedule 1 drug by the federal Controlled Substances Act, meaning it has no medical use and cannot be prescribed by a physician. Many California municipalities have been reluctant to allow medical marijuana dispensaries, even though they were legalized 13 years ago.

There has been some indication that the federal government is starting to ease its control of marijuana. A few days after Ammiano introduced AB 390, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced that states should be allowed to determine their own rules for medical marijuana and that federal raids on dispensaries would stop in California. President Obama’s nomination of Gil Kerlikowske to be the so-called drug czar and head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy indicated that a softer federal stance on marijuana is being taken. Kerlikowske is the former police chief in Seattle, where he made it clear that going after marijuana possession was not a priority for his department.

A vote by the Public Safety Committee on AB 390 is expected in January. Ammiano said the bill could take between a year and two years before it is heard or voted on in the Legislature. Until then, the debate over decriminalizing marijuana will continue amidst one of California’s worst economic times. BY Landon Bright Source.

December 2, 2009 – New Jersey is poised to become the next state to allow residents to use marijuana, when recommended by a doctor, for relief from serious diseases and medical conditions.

The state Senate has approved the bill and the state Assembly is expected to follow. The legislation would then head to the governor’s office for his signature.

Gov. Jon Corzine, the Democrat who lost his re-election bid last month, has indicated he would sign the bill if it reaches his desk before he leaves office in January. It would likely be one of Mr. Corzine’s last acts before relinquishing the job to Republican Chris Christie.

Mr. Christie has indicated he would be supportive of such legislation, but had concerns that one draft of a bill he read didn’t have enough restrictions, a spokeswoman said.

The bill has been endorsed by the New Jersey Academy of Family Physicians and the New Jersey State Nurses Association.

Some lawmakers oppose the legislation, saying they fear the proliferation of marijuana dispensaries, as in California, where medical marijuana is legal. “It sends a mixed message to our children if you can walk down the street and see pot shops,” said Republican Assemblywoman Mary Pat Angelini.

Federal law bars the use of marijuana. But legislatures in several states, including California, Colorado, Michigan, New Mexico, Rhode Island and Vermont, permit use of the drug for medical purposes. Attorney General Eric Holder said earlier this year that federal prosecutors wouldn’t prosecute people complying with state medical marijuana laws.

The New Jersey bill would allow people with debilitating medical conditions to grow, possess and use marijuana for personal use, provided that a physician allows it after completing a full assessment of the patient’s history and condition. The conditions that are stipulated in the Senate bill include cancer, glaucoma and human immunodeficiency viruses.

State Sen. Nicholas Scutari, a Democrat who has led the fight for the medical-marijuana bill, said that was not a final list. He said the Senate bill would have to be reconciled with whatever the Assembly might pass.

Support for the legislation stems partly from sympathy for the plight of John Ray Wilson, a New Jersey resident who suffers from multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system. Mr. Wilson is scheduled to go on trial in December on felony drug charges, including operating a drug-production facility and manufacturing drugs. State police said they found 17 mature marijuana plants growing alongside his home in 2008. He has pleaded not guilty.

The Superior Court judge who will oversee the case has barred Mr. Wilson from explaining to the jury that he uses marijuana for his multiple sclerosis instead of more conventional medicines, which he said he can’t afford, since he has no medical insurance.

If convicted, Mr. Wilson faces up to 20 years in prison. “It definitely helps for pain,” Mr. Wilson said. “Stress can bring MS on. And I’m definitely under some stress.”

David Wald, a spokesman for the state attorney general, which is arguing the state’s position, said: “We’re prosecuting the law.”

At least two lawmakers, including Mr. Scutari, have asked Mr. Corzine to pardon Mr. Wilson. “I think it’s unfair,” said Mr. Scutari. “To try to incarcerate him for years and years doesn’t serve a good government function.”

The governor’s office said it wouldn’t comment on pardons involving an ongoing case.

Mr. Wilson’s case hasn’t persuaded Ms. Angelini, who voted against it in the health committee. As the executive director of Prevention First, an antidrug and antiviolence nonprofit, she said she was concerned that the bill would open the door for more liberal drug policies.

“If the drug laws are lax,” she said, “that can open it up to eventual drug legalization.”

By SUZANNE SATALINE. Source.

December 2, 2009 – Stephany Bowen suffers from fibromyalgia, diabetic neuropathy and chronic pain from four back surgeries, a metal plate in the back of her neck and hypertension in her right leg.

Her daily ritual includes insulin, Vicodin and up to two bowls of marijuana, which she claims eases nausea caused by her medication and takes her mind off her pain.

She said she is unable to work and rarely leaves home. Her marijuana use is a crime under state law, but she is hopeful that one day that will change.

“I believe it does have medicinal qualities to it,” said Bowen, 46, of Penn Hills. “Since marijuana is grown naturally, it should be legal.”

Momentum supporting that position is growing. Since 1996, 13 states have legalized medical marijuana.

State Rep. Mark Cohen, D-Philadelphia, introduced House Bill 1393 in April that would legalize marijuana for medical purposes. A public hearing is scheduled tomorrow in Harrisburg before the House Health and Human Services committee.

The bill aims to ease the lives of suffering patients, take money away from the drug trade and create about $25 million a year in tax revenue from the sale of marijuana, Cohen said.

“The bill has a 1-in-4 chance of becoming law, but I think that health care groups will lean toward it,” he said.

Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski, D-Luzerne, chairman of the subcommittee on drugs and alcohol, said the decision to legalize marijuana should rest with the medical community.

“Doctors should determine whether there’s a place for the drug in the treatment of their patients,” he said.

The American Medical Association last month changed its position on medical marijuana, urging the federal government to reconsider pot’s classification as a Schedule 1 drug. The goal is to clear the way to conduct clinical research and develop marijuana-based medicines, according to the association.

The AMA’s statement was a topic of conversation recently at the first meeting of Pittsburgh NORML, the local chapter of the National Organization for the Reformation of Marijuana Laws.

A group of about 20 members, who ranged widely in age and profession, discussed methods of spreading information about medical marijuana.

“We will be organized and professional,” said Patrick Nightingale, a Downtown defense attorney and founder of Pittsburgh NORML. “We’re not a bunch of freaks getting together to get stoned.”

Nightingale, a former Allegheny County assistant district attorney, said he supports complete legalization.

“It concerns me as an attorney that I’ve had to prosecute and defend folks for conduct no different than buying a six-pack or bottle of wine,” he said.

Tomorrow’s public hearing is a small step forward for supporters of the bill, but with just six co-sponsors there’s a chance it will never reach a vote, said Rep. Randy Vulakovich, R-Shaler.

“Marijuana is still considered a gateway drug, and a lot of the people who are fighting for this bill want to use the legislation as a step-off point for legalizing all marijuana,” said Vulakovich, a former police officer.

Gov. Ed Rendell maintains his position on medical marijuana, said spokesman Gary Tuma.

“If a reasonable, well-crafted bill reached his desk,” Tuma said, “he would sign it.” By Kyle Lawson Source.

About state House Bill 1393
Although federal law prohibits the use of marijuana, Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington permit the use of marijuana for medical purposes. In Arizona, doctors are permitted to prescribe marijuana. (The Obama administration recently directed federal prosecutors to back away from pursuing cases against medical marijuana patients.)

State House Bill 1393 would legalize marijuana for use by patients with cancer, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS or any other health issues that a licensed doctor deems treatable by marijuana in a manner that is superior to treatment without marijuana.

Patients who qualify would be required to have a registry identification card and possess no more than six marijuana plants and one ounce of pot.

To read the bill, go online, select “Bill #” at the top under “Find Legislation By,” type in “H 1393” and click “Go”

Source: State House Bill 1393

All those in favor

A Gallup poll in October found that 44 percent of Americans were in favor of making marijuana legal — not just for medicinal purposes — and 54 percent opposed it. U.S. public support for legalizing marijuana was fixed in the 25 percent range from the late 1970s to the mid-1990s, but acceptance jumped to 31 percent in 2000 and has continued to grow throughout this decade, according to Gallup.

Source: http://www.gallup.com

November 27, 2009 – Europe has yet to come up with a unified approach to medical marijuana. The Dutch will tell you it is legal to use the drug to treat certain illnesses; while the Swedish don’t recognize any medical use for cannabis at all.

“European policy is not really changing at all and I don’t think this issue is even on the European agenda. The topic is too controversial and too political,” said Catherine Sandvos, a legal expert for the Hague-based Cannabis Bureau, a Dutch national agency aimed at providing high-quality cannabis for medical purposes.

Ms. Sandvos’s native Netherlands has led Europe when it comes to legalizing medical marijuana, which it treats separately from marijuana legally available at one of Amsterdam’s famous coffee shops. The Dutch police stopped enforcing laws against marijuana in 1976 following an overall tolerance policy in the country. “It’s hard when you try to explain to outsiders that it is illegal to grow cannabis in the Netherlands, but that it is tolerated to buy it,” she says.

But those who buy the drug on the streets are not getting the quality severely ill patients would need. The Dutch government set up the Cannabis Bureau — the only institution of its kind in the continent — in September 2003.

“The state realized that so many people wanted to use cannabis, so it said ‘why not give it to them via prescription instead of them accessing the drug illegally,’ ” Ms. Sandvos added.

The Cannabis Bureau ensures that patients who have a prescription from a doctor are getting marijuana that has been tested to make sure it doesn’t contain any pesticides or bacteria. Not only does the Cannabis Bureau sell cannabis across all pharmacies in the Netherlands through a prescription, but it also distributes the drug to Italy, Finland and Germany through the Ministry of Health of each country. According to the agency’s data, it sells around 100 kilos of cannabis every year.

The situation couldn’t be more different in the U.K., where it is unlawful to self-medicate cannabis regardless of the disease people suffer from. In 2005, Barry Quayle and Reay Wales, who were both afflicted by serious and chronic conditions, found no relief in prescription drugs and turned to cannabis to alleviate their pain. But a U.K. court ruled against them.

“The whole debate in relation to the use of cannabis for medical purposes is highly politicized,” said Daniel Godden, an associate solicitor for Hodge Jones & Allen LLP in London. Those who say marijuana is relatively safe can face severe political consequences. Last month, Professor David Nutt, the British government’s chief drug adviser, was removed from his post after he said the drug was less harmful than alcohol.

Favorable views toward cannabis face opposition from some local politicians and international lobbying groups. Jorgen Sviden, director of Stockholm-based European Cities Against Drugs, which represents 261 cities in 30 countries, isn’t convinced of the drug’s medical qualities.

“In principle, we don’t have an argument against cannabis as a treatment, but we haven’t seen any scientific evidence that provides a convincing argument for its medical use,” he said. “If in the future we come across proof that cannabis is a good treatment, then this is good.”

Some initiatives have managed to stay away from the political debate, however. The U.K. happens to be home to GW Pharmaceuticals PLC, which manufactures a drug based on marijuana extract — Sativex. Although it has some ingredients that derived from the actual drug, it has been treated by the U.K.’s regulators as a medicine like any other as it doesn’t contain the psychotropic substances marijuana does. The company is preparing to launch the drug into other parts of Europe, in partnership with Germany’s Bayer AG and Spain’s Almirall SA.

GW is hoping to sell its product, which will treat the symptoms of multiple sclerosis, across all countries in Europe but has initially filed for a license in the U.K. and Spain so far. Paul Cuddon, an analyst with KBC Peel Hunt in London, says he expects the drug to win approval in both countries in the first half of 2010 and then the firm will file for individual approval in each country.

“I’m not anticipating any legal problems in the rest of Europe at all,” Mr. Cuddon added. “This is a treatment that is highly different from raw cannabis and it has undergone rigorous chemical trials.”

Other countries have tough stances, however. Ireland, for example, doesn’t recognize marijuana as a drug with medical benefits. This means that manufacturing, producing, selling or possessing cannabis is unlawful for any purpose. The Ministry of Health is the only government branch that can grant an exception, but a spokesman said it never has.

Noel McCullagh, 34, has learned this the hard way. An Irish citizen, Mr. McCullagh lives in the Netherlands, where he uses cannabis medication to treat the severe effects of his muscular dystrophy. However, Irish authorities have warned him that he will be arrested if he enters his native country in possession if cannabis-based treatment.

In Sweden, the law doesn’t recognize the cannabis to have any medical use.

Beyond the debate of marijuana’s use, Dr. Willem Scholten, of the World Health Organization, believes patients should have access to high-quality medicine. So if cannabis has medical attributions, “there needs to be a system in place to ensure that patients get their medicine without any contamination and that they get the same content every time.”

Despite the radically different approaches in Europe, some believe the continent will eventually adopt it as a medical treatment.

“I can imagine European citizens will eventually think cannabis is a good medicine and that it should be accessible to people who suffer from serious pain as a result of HIV, multiple sclerosis or other grave illnesses,” said Brendan Hughes, senior legal analyst of the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction in Lisbon. By JAVIER ESPINOZA. Source.

November 23, 2009 – The same day they rejected a gay marriage ballot measure, residents of Maine voted overwhelmingly to allow the sale of medical marijuana over the counter at state-licensed dispensaries.

Later in the month, the American Medical Association reversed a longtime position and urged the federal government to remove marijuana from Schedule One of the Controlled Substances Act, which equates it with heroin and cocaine.

A few days later, advocates for easing marijuana laws left their biannual strategy conference with plans to press ahead on all fronts — state law, ballot measures, and court — in a movement that for the first time in decades appeared to be gaining ground.

“This issue is breaking out in a remarkably rapid way now,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “Public opinion is changing very, very rapidly.”

The shift is widely described as generational. A Gallup poll in October found 44 percent of Americans favor full legalization of marijuana — a rise of 13 points since 2000. Gallup said that if public support continues growing at a rate of 1 to 2 percent per year, “the majority of Americans could favor legalization of the drug in as little as four years.”

A 53 percent majority already does so in the West, according to the survey. The finding heartens advocates collecting signatures to put the question of legalization before California voters in a 2010 initiative.

At last week’s International Drug Reform Conference, activists gamed specific proposals for taxing and regulating pot along the lines of cigarettes and alcohol, as a bill pending in the California Legislature would do. The measure is not expected to pass, but in urging its serious debate, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) gave credence to a potential revenue source that the state’s tax chief said could raise $1.3 billion in the recession, which advocates describe as a boon.

There were also tips on lobbying state legislatures, where measures decriminalizing possession of small amounts have passed in 14 states. Activists predict half of states will have laws allowing possession for medical purposes in the near future.

Interest in medical marijuana and easing other marijuana laws picked up markedly about 18 months ago, but advocates say the biggest surge came with the election of Barack Obama, the third straight president to acknowledge having smoked marijuana, and the first to regard it with anything like nonchalance.

“As a kid, I inhaled,” Barack Obama famously said on the campaign. “That was the whole point.”

In office, Obama made good on a promise to halt federal prosecutions of medical marijuana use where permitted by state law. That has recalibrated the federal attitude, which had been consistently hostile to marijuana since the early 1970s, when President Richard Nixon cast aside the recommendations of a presidential commission arguing against lumping pot with hard drugs.

Allen St. Pierre, the executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said he was astonished recently to be invited to contribute thoughts to the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Obama’s drug czar, Gil Kerlikowske, was police chief in Seattle, where voters officially made enforcement of marijuana laws the lowest priority.

“I’ve been thrown out of the ONDCP many times,” St. Pierre said. “Never invited to actually participate.”

Anti-drug advocates counter with surveys showing high school students nationwide already are more likely to smoke marijuana than tobacco — and that the five states with the highest rate of adolescent pot use permit medical marijuana.

“We are in the prevention business,” said Arthur Dean, chairman of the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America. “Kids are getting the message tobacco’s harmful, and they’re not getting the message marijuana is.”

In Los Angeles, city officials are dealing with elements of public backlash after more than 1,000 medical marijuana dispensaries opened, some employing in-house physicians to dispense legal permission to virtually all comers. The boom town atmosphere brought complaints from some neighbors, but little of the crime associated with underground drug-dealing.

Advocates cite the latter as evidence that, as with alcohol, violence associated with the marijuana trade flows from its prohibition.

“Seriously,” said Bruce Merkin, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project, an advocacy group based in the District, “there is a reason you don’t have Mexican beer cartels planting fields of hops in the California forests.”

But the controversy over the dispensaries also has put pressure on advocates who specifically champion access for ailing patients, not just those who champion easing marijuana laws.

“I don’t want to say we keep arm’s length from the other groups. You end up with all of us in the same room,” said Joe Elford, counsel for Americans for Safe Access, which has led the court battle for medical marijuana and is squaring off with the Los Angeles City Council. “It’s a very broad-based movement.”
By Karl Vick. Source.

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