2015: The Year In Review – NORML’s Top 10 Events That Shaped Marijuana Policy

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

2015: The Year In Review - NORML's Top 10 Events That Shaped Marijuana Policy

#1 Congress Reauthorizes Medical Marijuana Protections
Members of Congress approved language in the fiscal year 2016 omnibus spending bill that continues to limit the federal government from taking punitive action against state-licensed individuals or operations that are acting are in full compliance with the medical marijuana laws of their states. The provisions reauthorize Section 538 of the Continuing Appropriations Act of 2015, which states, "None of the funds made available in this act to the Department of Justice may be used … to prevent … states … from implementing their own state laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana." Read the full story at: http://norml.org/news/2015/12/17/congress-omnibus-spending-bill-reauthorizes-medical-marijuana-protections.

#2 Federal Judge Upholds Marijuana’s Schedule I Status
A federal judge in April rejected a motion challenging the constitutionality of cannabis’ classification as a Schedule I prohibited substance. "At some point in time, a court may decide this status to be unconstitutional," Judge Kimberly Mueller said from the bench. "But this is not the court and not the time." Judge Meuller had presided over five days of hearings in October 2014 in a challenge brought by members of the NORML Legal Committee. Read the full story at: http://norml.org/news/2015/04/16/federal-judge-upholds-marijuana-s-schedule-i-status.

#3 Medical Cannabis Access Associated With Less Opioid Abuse
States that permit qualified patients to access medical marijuana via dispensaries possess lower rates of opioid addiction and overdose deaths, according to a study published in July by the National Bureau of Economic Research, a non-partisan think-tank. The findings mirror those published in 2014 in The Journal of the American Medical Association concluding, "States with medical cannabis laws had a 24.8 percent lower mean annual opioid overdose mortality rate compared with states without medical cannabis laws." Read the full story at: http://norml.org/news/2015/07/16/study-medical-cannabis-access-associated-with-reduced-opioid-abuse.

#4 DC Depenalizes Marijuana; Arrests Plummet
Despite threats from members of Congress, District officials implemented voter-approved legislation earlier this year eliminating penalties associated with the possession and cultivation of personal use quantities of marijuana by adults. Following the law’s implementation, marijuana-related arrests in the nation’s capital fell 99 percent. Read the full story at: http://norml.org/news/2015/12/04/cities-see-major-decline-in-marijuana-possession-arrests.

#5 Marijuana Law Changes Don’t Change Youth Use, Attitudes
Rates of youth marijuana use are unaffected by changing laws, according to data published in July in The American Journal of drug and Alcohol Abuse. Investigators evaluated trends in young people’s attitudes toward cannabis and their use of the substance during the years 2002 to 2013 – a time period where 14 states enacted laws legalizing the medical use of the plant, and two states approved its recreational use by adults. "Our results may suggest that recent changes in public policy, including the decriminalization, medicalization, and legalization of marijuana in cities and states across the country, have not resulted in more use or greater approval of marijuana use among younger adolescents," researchers reported. Read the full story at: http://norml.org/news/2015/07/16/study-changes-in-state-marijuana-laws-are-not-associated-with-greater-use-or-acceptance-by-young-people.

#6 Gallup Poll: More Americans Than Ever Say Marijuana Should Be Legal
Fifty-eight percent of Americans believe that "the use of marijuana should be made legal," according to nationwide survey data released in October by Gallup pollsters. The percentage ties the highest level of support ever reported by Gallup, which has been measuring Americans’ attitudes toward cannabis since the late 1960s. The percentage is more than twice the level of support reported in the mid-1990s. Read the full story at: http://norml.org/news/2015/10/22/gallup-support-for-legalizing-marijuana-at-historic-high-2.

#7 Study: Marijuana Use Not Associated With Changes In Brain Morphology
Marijuana use is not associated with structural changes in the brain, according to imaging data published in January in The Journal of Neuroscience. Investigators assessed brain morphology in both daily adult and adolescent cannabis users compared to non-users. They found "no statistically significant differences … between daily users and nonusers on volume or shape in the regions of interest" after researchers controlled for participants’ use of alcohol. "[T]he results indicate that, when carefully controlling for alcohol use, gender, age, and other variables, there is no association between marijuana use and standard volumetric or shape measurements of subcortical structures," researchers reported. Read the full story at: http://norml.org/news/2015/02/19/study-marijuana-use-not-associated-with-previously-reported-changes-in-brain-morphology.

#8 Marijuana Consumers Less Likely To Be Obese, Suffer Diabetes Risk
Those who consume cannabis are 50 percent less likely to suffer from metabolic syndrome as compared to those who do not, according to findings published in November in The American Journal of Medicine. Metabolic syndrome is a group of risk factors, including high blood pressure, high blood sugar, unhealthy cholesterol levels, and abdominal fat, which are linked to increased risk of heart disease and adult onset diabetes, among other serious health consequences. The findings are similar to those of previous studies reporting that those who use cannabis are less likely to be obese or suffer from diabetes. Read the full story at: http://norml.org/news/2015/11/19/study-marijuana-consumers-less-likely-to-suffer-from-metabolic-syndrome.

#9 NHTSA: THC-Positive Drivers Don’t Possesses Elevated Crash Risk
Drivers who test positive for the presence of THC in their blood are no more likely to be involved in motor vehicle crashes than are drug-free drivers, according to a case-control study released in February by the United States National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration. Authors reported that drivers who tested positive for the presence of THC possessed an unadjusted, elevated risk of accident of 25 percent (Odds Ratio=1.25) compared to controls (drivers who tested negative for any drug or alcohol). However, this elevated risk became insignificant (OR=1.05) after investigators adjusted for demographic variables, such as the drivers’ age and gender. The study is the largest of its kind ever conducted in the United States. Read the full story at: http://norml.org/news/2015/02/12/feds-thc-positive-drivers-no-more-likely-to-be-involved-in-motor-vehicle-crashes.

#10 Legal Marijuana States Collect Over $200 Million In New Tax Revenue
Taxes on the legal production and sale of cannabis in the states of Colorado and Washington have yielded over $200 million in new revenue since going into effect in 2014, according to calculations reported by The Huffington Post in September. Colorado collected more than $117 million dollars from marijuana sales while Washington collected over $83 million. Cannabis sales commenced in Oregon in on October 1, 2015 and have yet to begin in Alaska. Read the full story at: http://norml.org/news/2015/09/03/legal-marijuana-states-collect-over-200-million-in-new-tax-revenue.

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California’s New Medical Marijuana Legislation: Cue the Bad Lawsuits

By Alison Malsbury on November 1, 2015 Posted in Advocacy, California, Legal Issues, Litigation, Medical Cannabis

We’ve written extensively of late about both California’s Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act (MMRSA) and about the nationwide uptick in cannabis-related litigation (see here, here and here), so it comes as no surprise that there is already a lawsuit challenging the state constitutionality of California’s new marijuana legislation.

As I explain more fully below, this is not a good case for the cannabis industry. Not at all.

Please don't ask courts to declare all state legalization illegal.

Please don’t ask courts to declare all state legalization illegal.

Passage of the MMRSA signals California’s shift away from a loosely regulated, ambiguous grey marijuana market to a robust, state law regulated medical marijuana regime. For us as lawyers, that’s a great thing. And it’s a great thing for marijuana business owners too, since a solid state law regulatory scheme that meets the Federal Department of Justice’s requirement of “robust regulation” goes a long way towards keeping the Feds away.

But not everyone is celebrating California’s adoption of the MMRSA. Tight regulation inevitably means bad actors will be weeded out. It also means, in this case, that patient access will not be as loose and free as it has been under the current system. This is a tradeoff. The big benefit of a regulated system for California patients means things like product testing, safety and quality control requirements will be implemented and enforced.

Armstrong, plaintiff in the lawsuit against the State of California and operator of a medical cannabis collective in Santa Clara County, alleges that “the MMRSA violates the California Constitution because it amends a voter initiative without voter approval.” The complaint goes on to allege that the MMRSA “restricts the manner in which ill Californians are able to possess and grow marijuana for medical purposes and allows for criminal penalties and professional discipline for physicians who recommend marijuana under certain circumstances.”

Though we agree that the MMRSA does contemplate additional restrictions on cultivating and distributing marijuana in California, we do not believe that the intent of the voter initiative was to provide for unfettered and unregulated access to medical cannabis. The initiative and resulting regulations just did a poor job of creating a sufficient, logical regulatory framework. The MMRSA and the resulting implementation of a robust regulatory scheme is attempting to address the very real threat, caused by this insufficient framework, of federal intervention.

Putting aside, however, the main issue of the case involving violation of the California state constitution, the plaintiff in this case also raises the issue of federal preemption. Never have we seen a pro-pot plaintiff raise this issue in a lawsuit, though we have seen the issue raised in cases advocating for cities’ rights to ban state-legal commercial marijuana activity. In those cases, courts have punted the issue, deciding the case on the narrowest grounds possible. Though this case will likely be resolved on state law grounds, it is incomprehensible to us why the plaintiff in this case opted to raise the federal preemption issue. By doing so, they are essentially arguing that NO state can legalize in ANY manner because the federal government treats cannabis as illegal and federal law controls (preempts) state law.

We’ve said it before: Bringing a bad lawsuit in no way helps the cause.

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Foreign Investors in the U.S. Cannabis Industry Face Their Own Special Risks

By Dylan Moore on October 30, 2015 Posted in Federal law and policy, Legal Issues, Medical Cannabis, Recreational Marijuana

Foreign investment in the cannabis industry. It's complicated.

The cannabis industry has always been international. Our first cannabis client was actually a Dutch company that hired us years before either Colorado or Washington had legalized. This client hired us to figure out what it would need to do as a foreign company investing in a U.S. cannabis business in a cannabis industry which this company was certain would eventually be legal. That client was unique for years, but nowadays, many more of our cannabis clients come from outside the United States. So far, they are mostly coming from Canada, the Netherlands, Australia, Germany, and Israel, with a smattering of clients from elsewhere in Europe, Latin America and Asia.

The foreign companies that contact us generally split fairly evenly between those seeking to get involved with ancillary companies and those seeking to get involved in the growing, processing or selling of cannabis. Invariably, they most want to know whether foreigners can invest in the U.S. cannabis industry and, if so, at what risk?

The short answer is a qualified yes for ancillary businesses and a qualified maybe for businesses directly involved with the plant. The immigration issues faced by foreign investors is just one of the many issues they face when investing into the US cannabis industry. But because we have been dealing with this issue frequently of late, we use it to illustrate how foreign involvement in US cannabis can be tricky.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services maintains broad authority to limit entry of foreigners into the United States. This includes the authority to bar entry (or deport) a foreign citizen who has committed a crime, including a mere misdemeanor. Since any business activity involving marijuana remains illegal under federal law, a foreigner doing business with a cannabis company – even one operating completely legally in a state with the robust regulations required by the Cole Memo – is technically committing a crime and therefore may be deported. The Cole Memo dictates federal enforcement policy by prioritizing prosecutorial discretion; it does not create a legal defense for marijuana related crimes, even in states with legal cannabis, and it therefore offers no help to a foreign citizen in a deportation proceeding. Marijuana related activity (including involvement with state-legal marijuana) can also constitute “moral turpitude” in the eyes of immigration authorities and this designation can bar entry into the U.S. and prevent any chance of gaining U.S. citizenship.

Immigration authorities have the power to deport foreigners without having to comply with many of the legal safeguards to which U.S. citizens are entitled. For example, when immigration authorities are determining whether to deport someone for alleged criminal activity, the mere admission of the crime can often be enough to warrant summary deportation, even absent a formal conviction. This means a foreigner can be deported without ever being able to tell his or her side of the story, to explain the extenuating circumstances, or to make any other argument before a judge as to why deportation is unwarranted.

Though we are not aware of any foreign investor being deported for investing in a business that provides ancillary services or products to the cannabis industry, it is always possible that a zealous prosecutor or the USCIS will seek deportation by asserting that even ancillary businesses violate U.S. law by acting as an accessory to businesses that violate the Federal Controlled Substances Act. The deportation risks are greater for foreign investors who put their money into businesses that grow, process or sell cannabis.

Foreign investors must also always be mindful of the laws in their own country as well. And again, though we are not aware of any such prosecution, it is possible that some countries will prosecute their own citizens for having gotten involved in the cannabis industry of another country.

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6 Stories That Prove You Can Still Be Arrested For Growing Marijuana In Colorado

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By TNM News on October 9, 2015 Latest Headlines, Legal, News Feed

Although it may be “Legal” in some way, some operations for making your own marijuana are being targeted by both the Federal and State governments. Much like the law that you cannot make and distribute your own alcohol without the proper licensing and adhering to certain guidelines, the Marijuana industry follows suit.

Fox31 Denver Reports:

DENVER — 20,000 marijuana plants, 700 pounds of dried weed and more than 30 guns, all found right out in the open.

“You see a group of people who are actually actively engaged, farming the marijuana. So that means there are tents, cookhouses. There are irrigation systems in place. There’s a lot of pesticides,” said United States Attorney for the District of Colorado John Walsh.

The busts started Aug. 19 and spanned the state of Colorado as listed below. Six of them took place through Thursday.

Pike National Forest, Aug. 19 in the Green Mountain Area in Jefferson County. Investigation is ongoing.

Law Enforcement Officers from the U.S. Forest Service, Department of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office and the Colorado National Guard Joint Counter Drug Task Force joined together to complete an eradication of an illegal marijuana grow site in the Pike National Forest. The eradication team collected more than 3,900 plants and over 3,000 pounds of irrigation pipe, pesticides, flammable liquids, camping gear and trash.

Routt National Forest, Aug. 28, Buffalo Pass Area in Routt County, two arrested.

Law Enforcement Officers from the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Routt County Sheriff’s Office joined together to eradicate an illegal marijuana grow site located in the Buffalo Pass area, northeast of Steamboat Springs. The eradication team collected approximately 1,000 plants and removed camping gear from the site. Further, a handgun was found. Additional site clean-up of trash and other items will be ongoing by the U.S. Forest Service. Two Mexican Nationals in the country illegally were arrested.

Private Land, Sept. 1, Cotopaxi and Westcliffe in Freemont and Custer County. 20 people arrested.

A DEA-led task force executed eight search warrants in Cotopaxi and Westcliffe as part of a major drug trafficking organization investigation. Agents and officers found well over 1,000 marijuana plants, 50 pounds of dried marijuana, 28 firearms, and $25,000 in cash. The investigation and seizures resulted ultimately in the arrest of 20 individuals, many from Cuba, acting in an organized manner according to investigators. Those arrested were growing the marijuana in Cotopaxi and Westcliffe, and then either driving or using UPS to get it to Florida.

San Isabel National Forest, Sept. 7, Cordova Pass Area northwest of Trinidad in Huerfano County, two arrested.

Hunters discovered an illegal marijuana grow site located in the Cordova Pass area approximately 40 miles northwest of Trinidad. The eradication team collected more than 11,700 plants as well as irrigation pipe, pesticides, flammable liquids, camping gear and trash. The U.S. Forest Service and Huerfano County Sheriff’s Office are working together to identify the individuals. The cultivation site spread across 10 acres with some of the growing areas above 10,000 feet in elevation. The overall grow area included a kitchen structure, three sleeping areas and a rifle. Two men were arrested at one of the campsites within the cultivation area.

Bureau of Land Management land, Sept. 15, along the Dolores River corridor between Gateway and Naturita in Montrose County, four arrested.

BLM Rangers discovered more than 1,200 fully mature marijuana plants, many exceeding six feet tall, along with 211 kilograms of dried marijuana and a rifle. Because of the size of the operation, officers spent two-and-a-half days eradicating and removing the plants. The rangers arrested four Mexican nationals who were on-scene and believed to be working the grow site.

Bureau of Land Management land, September 30, also along the Dolores River corridor between Gateway and Naturita in Montrose County, six arrested.

Law enforcement officers identified a marijuana grow site, also along the Dolores River. Evidence of at least 1,000 marijuana plants appeared recently harvested with approximately 69.6 kilograms of processed marijuana still on site. The rangers arrested one Honduran and five Mexican nationals at or near the site.

“We think this is being grown in Colorado to be shipped all around the United States to states where it’s not legal,” said Walsh.

Some grows discovered by hikers and hunters, others uncovered by law enforcement. Walsh calls operations like these a multifaceted problem.

“A major concern is this marijuana is worth a lot of money and there may be violence in connection with protecting it. It’s causing Colorado to be a source state for marijuana for other states that don`t want our marijuana. Its creating environmental damage in our mountains. Its creating safety problems in our mountains,” Walsh said.

32 people are now in custody in connection with these illegal operations

Some face up to life in prison.

Walsh has one message for anyone who thinks because weed is now legal in the state, they can just come in and grow it.

“You are not going to stay long in Colorado because you are going to be in a Federal prison somewhere,” he said.

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The Science of Toxicology and U.I. or "Under the Influence and/or Intoxication?" of Cannabis/Marijuana and D.O.A. Drug Testing

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The Official Court Documents that I present to you below here, {THIS ONE TIME, FOR FREE = this offer will not last and is for a limited amount of time = THIS SET OF DOCUMENTS WILL GO MISSING AND A FEE WILL BE CHARGED LATER FOR THIS INFORMATION} The following Documents were presented, accepted and registered by the Criminal or Courts as “Evidence” as they were listed by the Kentucky Courts in a case I recently Advocated in on behalf of James E. Coleman.
Are in fact, the PROOF, that Cannabis/Marijuana/Hemp or Unspecified levels of Cannabinoids are natural within the human body and that their presence or levels or “analytical threshold” combined with the fact that this test measures “no quantification of a specific compound” in the blood, are proof, there has been no measure of  intoxication, performed by this test where cannabiniods are concerned and that this test can not show toxicity.
According to this Expert Witness.
Therefore they are unable to test levels for intoxication as they claim is claimed by the manufacture of the test and/or Law Enforcement in U.I. charges or related cases. These documented facts apply to the Test it’s self given and the Cannabinoid levels… Therefore apply to all these D.O.A. = “Drug of Abuse” Blood Serum U.I. Test used by Law Enforcement and Not the Individual. As these facts apply to all humans and all these Test.

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PLEASE CONTINUE READING…

For some in the South, defying medical marijuana laws is the Lord’s work

By Quint Forgey, News21 August 19 at 6:30 AM

Image result for For some in the South, defying medical marijuana laws is the Lord’s work

Editor’s note: This is one in a series of articles on the legalization of marijuana, produced in partnership with the 2015 Carnegie-Knight News21 national student reporting project.

CHESTER, S.C. — She lives in the wooden house her grandfather built more than a century ago in Chester, S.C., a rural community about a two-hour drive southeast of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

The cluttered home is dimly lit and not air-conditioned, with the low hum of floor fans filling in rare lulls in conversation. Two chihuahuas, Cricket and Joe, scuttle around Ada Jones’s feet as she peers down through her eyeglasses at the iPad in her hands.

The tablet looks conspicuously out of place among the black-and-white photos hanging on the walls and the dangling, beaded divider into the next room. It serves as her connection to the outside world, as well as the outside world’s connection to Jones.

If someone needs medical marijuana, they contact her over the Internet.

Jones encourages those who reach out to her to purchase marijuana illegally and make their own cannabis oil. If they’re unsuccessful, she puts them in contact with a supplier who can sell them a more refined product.

“It’s almost like playing God,” Jones said. “If somebody contacts me, I have to look at them and wonder. I wonder if that’s police first, not if I can help their kid. I try not to do that, but you have to because you’re scared.”

Jones helps everyone she can, whether they be young mothers of epileptic children or older patients suffering from chronic pain. Her specific brand of civil disobedience, like so many other facets of Southern life, is captained by her faith.

“They talk about the South being the Bible belt, and praise the Lord we are,” Jones said. “I cannot not help somebody. I have to. As a Christian, that’s what I’m here for.”

Many Southern states have a long and failed history with medical marijuana, mired deep in forgotten statutes and a lost generation of patients. Only recently, as the marijuana movement sweeps through statehouses, have those laws become political tinder for a new debate in the Old South.

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Is Marijuana A Benefit Or A Bad Idea For Autism And Schizophrenia?

 

 

When Jim Carrey co-opted the image of a distressed boy with tuberous sclerosis complex (TSC) in an effort to reinforce the actor’s views about vaccines, he inadvertently brought attention to TSC, which is, unlike vaccines, associated with autism. In using the image of Alex Echols, for which he later apologized, Carrey may also have brought attention to another topic of discussion in autism circles: the use of marijuana as a therapeutic.

Alex’s parents have a blog where they’ve written about Alex and his needs for many years. Among those needs, they argue, is therapeutic marijuana, which they say helps Alex with his self-injurious behaviors. They have published their clear agenda for accomplishing this for their son, who currently lives in a group home.

The Echols are not alone in their belief in and urgency about marijuana as an intervention for neurological conditions. Many other parents and some clinicians also have suggested that the plant—and its active compounds—might offer an effective treatment for some of the intense behaviors related to autism and for schizophrenia, as well. But what do we really know about marijuana and its therapeutic possibilities?

Like so many sources of neuroactive compounds, pot has dual potential to be beneficial or damaging, depending on which ingredient is the focus. One of its active compounds, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, acts through a signaling system that involves some of the same components associated with atypical signaling in schizophrenia. According to Tori Rodriguez, writing at Psychiatry Advisor, studies have shown interesting parallels between altered brain function measures in people with schizophrenia and people who were marijuana intoxicated.

Thus, THC, it seems, is ‘pro-psychotic’ (although that’s controversial), and there’s a chicken–egg question about whether or not it contributes to the development or onset of psychosis-related conditions like schizophrenia or if people with such conditions might be more prone to reach out for it as self-medication. The age at which one reaches for it might also be a factor, but studies show a “consistent” association between pot use during the teens and risk for developing a psychotic disorder.

The only US Food and Drug Administration–approved marijuana-related drug currently available is a synthetic version of THC, for treating nausea and vomiting related to cancer chemotherapy and weight loss associated with AIDS. Not much on the approved drug table for people with schizophrenia.

But marijuana is one of those two-faced offerings from nature that can help or hinder. Now that pot has become legal in various parts of the US, these issues of help or hinder become more critical and will start to settle into some form of commonly accepted wisdom that likely belies the complexities.

As an example of that complexity, another physiologically active compound in marijuana (there are dozens) is cannabidiol, which might act as an antipsychotic, in contrast to its pot-plant partner THC. Plants, you see, are complex organisms just like we are, and banning the entire plant ends up banning every possibility each of its hundreds of active compounds might hold.

So far, the studies of cannabidiol in schizophrenic populations are small, but at least one suggests head-to-head effectiveness against one atypical antipsychotic with less in the way of negative side effects compared to the approved drug. Cannabidiol is one of the target substances that the Echols want to be able to give to their son to reduce his distress and distressing episodes of self-injurious behaviors. Parents of children with epilepsy and other neurological conditions also would like cannabidiol oil to be available as a treatment for their sons and daughters.

In good news for these families desperate to find some therapeutic relief for their children, in late June, the Obama administration removed a bureaucratic obstacle to research into these compounds. Also on tap with some promise of bipartisan support is the proposed CARERS Act, which has 11 co-sponsors and would open up all kinds of legal avenues to applying marijuana medically.

And what about marijuana for autism? Compared to the studies done for schizophrenia, which number more than 1000, autism and marijuana has gotten almost no research attention. That hasn’t stopped a grassroots movement from growing up around using pot as an autism therapeutic, with a Facebook group, MAMMAS (Mothers Advocating Medical Marijuana for Autism), boasting almost 5000 followers, or one writer and autism parent from advocating for its use from a public pulpit.

But as the authors of a recent review note—and PubMed searches bear out—no studies exist suggesting clinical benefit for autism. Indeed, in a news release publicizing the review, the first author, Scott Hadland of Boston Children’s Hospital, is quoted as saying:

in using medicinal marijuana (parents) may be trading away their child’s future for short-term symptom control.

These authors also call for more research into cannibidiol’s effects and more emphasis on developing high-cannabidiol/low-THC products. Perhaps these compounds, rather than the plant, should be what we mention when we talk about these neurological therapeutics. After all, no one brings up using willow trees for pain or blood thinners, even though they originated the active compound in aspirin, and no one says they take ’foxglove’ as a heart medication–they take digoxin instead.

I am a science writer, editor, and educator with a background in developmental biology, physiology, and English literature. Read more about me here and find me (too often) on Twitter.

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‘Embarrassingly Low’ Patient Count in Illinois a Big Concern for MMJ Businesses

By John Schroyer

Scores of dispensaries are hoping to open in Illinois later this year, but they might face an immense challenge right out of the gate: a lack of customers.

Illinois has approved just 2,500 patients for MMJ cards since opening the registry nearly nine months ago, which one attorney with ties to the medical marijuana industry called “embarrassingly low.” That’s a far cry from the state’s initial estimate of 75,000 potential patients and much less than many entrepreneurs had expected at this point.

To be sure, Illinois likely will see a surge in patient numbers as dispensaries launch, as has happened in other states. And officials appear close to approving new qualifying medical conditions, which will certainly boost the patient base.

But the numbers to date are so low that several insiders are worried about the future of the state’s entire MMJ industry.

“It’s a huge, huge problem,” said Michael Mayes, CEO of Chicago-based MMJ consultancy Quantum 9. “With the lack of patients into the registry, businesses will suffer greatly… and may even go out of business due to the lack of a market. If all the cultivation centers have all this product, the supply goes way up, and if demand is so low, there’ll be pricing wars.”

Under Illinois law, the medical cannabis program will ultimately license 60 dispensaries and 21 cultivators, so the patient count will have to be in the tens of thousands in order to support all those businesses.

Furthermore, Mayes said he’s “incredibly worried” that the low patient count could actually jeopardize the future of the entire industry because Illinois’ MMJ system is set up as a pilot program that will expire at the end of 2017. If the state doesn’t get enough in tax revenue, or if the program isn’t as widespread and successful as many originally expected it to be, then longstanding opposition to the program (from Gov. Bruce Rauner, for instance) could torpedo an extension.

The low patient count has already led at least one company to turn a cultivation license it won back over to the state, and if the customer base doesn’t expand, other licensees could follow suit.

Factors at Play

There are several issues in Illinois that are likely combining to drive down the current patient count. For one thing, since no dispensaries are yet open and no MMJ available to patients, many potential recipients probably haven’t bothered to undertake the mountain of paperwork necessary to qualify for the state registry.

“The patient needs to complete an application, they need to pay a fee, they have to get fingerprinted, and they need to get a doctor to certify them,” said Brad Zerman, owner of Seven Point, a dispensary that’s slated to open in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park sometime this fall. “It’s quite a process.”

Also, similar to what’s happening in Minnesota, a reluctance on the part of many physicians to recommend cannabis for their patients may also be playing a role in the low turnout, said Julie Stone, co-founder of the Cannabis Association of Illinois.

“It’s all so new that the physicians don’t feel there’s enough concrete information,” Stone said. “Physicians aren’t on board, and without them, it makes it even more challenging for a patient to feel comfortable talking about it… It’s all kind of a big Catch-22.”

Mayes said another big obstacle is a lack of accessibility for a lot of patients with ailments that don’t qualify them for MMJ.

He noted that the Illinois Medical Cannabis Advisory Board last month recommended adding 11 more medical conditions to the state’s list for those who can receive MMJ, but that recommendation hasn’t been approved by the director of the department of health yet. A spokeswoman for the agency said she expects the list will get the green light by the end of July.

“The program will fail if a lot of these conditions aren’t added, and if the patient registry requirements aren’t loosened up a little bit,” Mayes said.

What Can be Done

Zerman, Stone and others are concentrating on public outreach and educational campaigns for both patients and physicians as to the medical benefits of cannabis, and are hoping that will help bolster patient numbers as the months wear on.

“We’re doing a lot of outreach in the area where our dispensary is going to be. We’re contacting doctors to educate them as to how cannabis can be used effectively as part of a treatment program,” said Zerman. “We’re also providing seminars for patients and prospective patients to learn more about the same subject.”

For example, Zerman said, his team is coordinating a free monthly informational seminar on MMJ in the Oak Park Library, which is open to all. One was held Wednesday evening this week, he said.

Stone said more dispensaries probably need to take similar steps to what Zerman’s working on.

“I know that some dispensaries are working on facilitating patients signing up, and what I hope is that they all will start putting energy into that,” Stone said. “It’s ultimately going to be their clients, so it’s in their benefit. They may have more time than cultivators right now.”

Possibly even a larger problem, however, is that the required fingerprinting and federal background check for the patient registry is a major disincentive for potential MMJ recipients.

“The fingerprinting and felony background checks are just killing the program,” Mayes said. That will have to be fixed by the state Legislature, Mayes said, and it’s unclear if any such attempt will be undertaken next year.

Stone, Zerman and Mayes also all agreed that once dispensaries begin to actually open their doors and start serving the public, more patients will flock to the program.

“Nobody really believes it until the first dispensary opens. At that point, patients will come. The patients are here, it’s a matter of getting them registered,” Stone said.

When that may be, however, is still very much up in the air. The general consensus is that dispensaries will likely start opening either in the fall or early winter this year.

John Schroyer can be reached at [email protected]

US Senators Cast First-Ever Vote In Favor of Medical Marijuana Access

US Senators Cast First-Ever Vote In Favor of Medical Marijuana Access

May 26, 2015

via NORML’s Deputy Director, Paul Armentano:

The majority of the US Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday cast votes in favor of expanding medical cannabis access to United States veterans. The committee vote marks the first time that a majority of any body of the US Senate has ever decided in favor of increased cannabis access.

Committee members voted 18 to 12 in favor of The Veterans Equal Access Amendment, sponsored by Republican Senator Steve Daines of Montana and Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon. It was added in committee to a must-pass military construction and veterans affairs spending bill (the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act). The bill is “certain” to pass on the Senate floor, according to a Drug Policy Alliance press release.

Weeks ago, House members narrowly killed a similar amendment in the House version of the Appropriations Act by a floor vote of 210 to 213. Once the Senate version of the act is passed by the Senate floor, House and Senate leaders will need to reconcile the two versions.

The Daines/Merkley amendment permits physicians affiliated with the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to recommend cannabis therapy to veterans in states that allow for its therapeutic use. Under current federal law, VA doctors are not permitted to fill out written documentation forms authorizing their patients to participate in state-sanctioned medical cannabis programs.

Stand-alone legislation (HR 667) to permit VA physicians to recommend cannabis therapy is pending in the US House of Representatives, Committee on Veterans Affairs: Health Subcommittee. A similar provision is also included in Senate Bill 683/HR 1538, The Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States (CARERS) Act.

NORML coordinated its 2015 legislative ‘fly-in’ and lobby day in Washington, DC this past week, where many attendees visited with US Senators and urged them to vote for the Daines/Merkley amendment, among other pending reform legislation. Archived presentations from the conference are online here.

To learn and/or to contact your elected officials in regard to other pending marijuana law reform legislation, please visit NORML’s ‘Take Action Center’ here.

More at: NORML Blog
Upcoming event: NORML Aspen Legal Seminar May 28-30, 2015 – Limited tickets available!

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SUPPORT NEEDED FOR LEGITIMATE MEDICAL MARIJUANA PATIENT FACING FELONY CHARGES

 

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SAN DIEGO: Brandon Smith is a legitimate medical cannabis patient who was part of an informal collective. He was criminally charged by the County of San Diego District Attorney’s Office for providing four grams of cannabis to another member of the collective. The DA’s Office will not back off the case, and will only let Brandon plea to a felony sales charge. Brandon is a student and will lose his financial aid with a felony.

Mr. Smith appeared in court today with his attorney Michael Cindrich in order to trail the start of the trial to Monday. Mr. Cindrich took offense to the fact that the prosecutor indicated that she was appearing on behalf of the “People of the State of California.” Mr. Cindrich responded that he was appearing on behalf of his client Brandon Smith, as well as the MAJORITY of the people of the State of California who feel that prosecutions such as these are not only a waste of taxpayer time and resources, but also a violation of basic civil rights.

Judge Carlos Armour cut Mr. Cindrich off before he could finish, indicating that a courtroom is no place for these statements, and warning Mr. Cindrich that he had a duty to follow the rules and if one more comment like that was made, Mr. Cindrich would be forced to wait in the hallway. Mr. Cindrich responded that he believed he was following his duty.

What do you think? Does the San Diego DA’s office really represent the will of the People of California?

Trial call for this case will begin on April 6, 2015 at 8:40 am in department 5 of the Vista Courthouse located at 325 S. Melrose Dr., Vista, CA 92081. From there the parties will be sent to a different courtroom for motions and jury selection.

Brandon is requesting any support the medical cannabis community is willing to provide.

Please call the North County DA’s office at 760-806-4004, and press 0 until you are connected to an operator. Politely give them Brandon Smith’s name and case number SCN337012, and ask to speak to the prosecutor assigned to his case. Let them know that you do not want your tax dollars wasted on the prosecution of medical marijuana patients, and request that the DA to drop all charges against Brandon. If they refuse to hear you, please call the District Attorney’s public affairs office at 619 531 3890 and file a formal complaint.


The People of the State of California’s voice regarding the decriminalization and regulation of cannabis activities needs to be heard. Here is your chance speak that voice and make a difference.