from the too-long-didn't-read-just-blaze-it dept.
April 20th (420) is a celebration of stoner/cannabis culture. In recent years, decriminalization and legalization of marijuana has accelerated as public opinion has shifted, so there are more reasons to celebrate...
In a #rare coincidence, April 19th, 1943 was the day that chemist Albert Hofmann accidentally discovered the hallucinogenic effects of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD). Vice has an article about that day and the subsequent history of LSD. Claims of "DNA damage" and adverse mental health effects have been long since debunked, and research into the safety and potential benefits of psychedelics is gaining acceptance.
Vice also has an article today about the quest to create the most "powerful" strain of weed. The reliability of testing methods is questioned, but it is clear that legalization has allowed growers to share and experiment. New strains can now regularly achieve tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) levels above 20%, compared to an average of 1.37% in 1978 and 8.5% in 2008. RB-26's Gorilla Glue 4 regularly tests above 25%, and has been measured as much as a staggering 33.5% THC by weight. As fun as it might be to hit these milestones, Kayvan Khalatbari, the co-founder of Denver Relief asks "What really is the difference between 33 percent and 28 percent on the effect that its providing you with? That's like saying there's a big difference between 55 proof alcohol and 60 proof alcohol. With THC, once you get into the upper 20s, it's all the same thing."
Weed may be a fun way to induce euphoria, but it and its components are also used for legitimate medical treatments across the country. Sanjay Gupta's upcoming documentary WEED 3: The Marijuana Revolution identifies 10 diseases where marijuana could have an impact, according to early research. HIV/AIDS patients have taken it to improve sleep, mood, and appetite. THC may halt the development of amyloid plaque associated with Alzheimer's. It can help relieve arthritis pain and inflammation. Some studies have shown a reduction of asthma symptoms (others report a tightening in chests and throats — perhaps vaping should be considered rather than smoking). "Marijuana cures cancer" is a meme with some truth to it: extracts have been shown to kill certain cancer cells and THC can improve the impact of radiation therapy. It can also be used to control nausea following chemotherapy treatment. Cannabis-based medicines have been widely used to treat chronic pain as well as Crohn's disease and multiple sclerosis. Trials have shown a reduction in epileptic seizure frequency. THC may help to slow the progression of glaucoma. All told, not bad for a drug on the Schedule I list with "no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States."
Several state legislatures and localities have considered marijuana-related legislative measures in recent days. A Wisconsin state representative introduced a bill on the 13th that would legalize marijuana, but it is highly unlikely to pass. In a political move to drum up support for legalization in Vermont, two representatives introduced a bill that would reinstate alcohol prohibition. "The object was to basically embarrass leadership to say that we have [marijuana legalization bills] in front of us, and they're going absolutely nowhere," said Rep. Jean O'Sullivan. "We're certainly not going to ban alcohol, but when you say you'll let a drug like that be legalized and then you have a drug like marijuana that's far safer that's still banned, it's completely ironic." The Cook County State's Attorney in Chicago, Anita Alvarez, is planning to implement an "alternative prosecution program" that would divert repeat low-level drug offenders out of the criminal justice system. Newly-reelected Mayor Rahm Emanuel supports the ordinance.
2016 will see a spate of new ballot initiatives that may normalize marijuana in additional states. Massachusetts advocates Bay State Repeal have submitted draft language for a ballot question that would legalize marijuana but not establish a tax. Arizona voters could vote on the Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act to permit recreational marijuana and growth in private residences, establish a Department of Marijuana Licenses and Control, and enact a 20.6% sales tax on recreational marijuana. In California, dispensary-locating startup WeedMaps.com has donated $2 million to Californians for Sensible Reform, which supports what the app developer feels is the strongest marijuana legalization initiative on the 2016 ballot. The Ballotpedia encyclopedia has a list of marijuana ballot measures slated for 2016 that you can bookmark.
New legalization efforts will build upon the successes and failures of the "experiments" in Colorado and Washington (as well as Oregon and Alaska). Medical Daily has a glowing evaluation of Colorado legalization. Governor John Hickenlooper, who had opposed legalization, has admitted that a teenage "a-pot-calypse" did not occur and that drugged driving hasn't increased in frequency. Although other states have seen increased traffic fatalities after medical marijuana legalization, Colorado's have dropped and legalization has had no effect between 2013 and 2014. Recreational weed sales have generated $53 million in tax revenue. That's short of the $70 million that was expected, but the state is also saving over $40 million in reduced law enforcement costs due to decriminalization. Crime has also declined. NYT columnist Maureen Dowd's edible "overdose" shocker and a rise in child hospital visits for accidental ingestion of edibles have prompted the industry to label serving sizes more clearly and implement child-resistant packaging. For April 20th, Colorado law enforcement are promoting a "safe pot use" message focused primarily on preventing DUIs.
In Washington state, a bill that will tighten medical marijuana regulations has been approved. The measure will phase out "collective marijuana gardens," create a voluntary database of medical marijuana patients, and set new standards for medical marijuana authorization. A companion bill would "restructure how marijuana is taxed, create a marijuana-research license and give cities financial incentive to not ban pot businesses." Seattle is also planning additional regulations to crack down on lightly regulated medical marijuana businesses. Marijuana businesses already face regulatory uncertainty. For example, the state's Liquor Control Board uses a lottery to approve new dispensaries.
National polling has shown that marijuana supporters are gradually "winning the battle for hearts and minds." A Pew Research Center survey indicates that 53% of Americans support marijuana legalization. More supporters than opponents indicated that they had changed their minds on the issue. Oddly, 16% of legalization opponents said that "marijuana should be illegal because it is illegal." A solid 59% of Democrats and 58% of independents now support legalization, but Republican support has risen from 21% in 2006 to 39% today. Although some 2016 Republican hopefuls say they want the states to make decisions about marijuana, Chris Christie has recently come out against legalization, saying that the federal government should enforce federal marijuana laws in states that allow use. Pew's survey found that just 43% of Republicans support that position. A Bloomberg poll has found that 58% of Americans believe that marijuana will be legal nationwide within 20 years.
At the federal level, progress on marijuana continues to be glacial. Judge Kimberly J. Mueller of the United States District Court in Sacramento declined to remove marijuana from the Drug Enforcement Administration's Schedule I list. The conflict between state laws, federal laws, and treaty obligations remains unresolved. President Obama has come out in support of medical marijuana and scaling back the drug war. However, the Department of Justice (DoJ) has sent mixed signals on decriminalization. The DoJ has previously deferred its right to challenge legalization laws, but has recently flaunted a bipartisan amendment that prohibited the Dept. from spending money to undermine medical marijuana laws.
The marijuana issue remains divisive. The Washington Post reports that a cannabis oil activist was arrested after her 11-year-old son defended medical marijuana during a drug "education" presentation. Shona Banda faces a custody battle for her son today. In another article, former anti-marijuana campaigners reflect on the 70s and 80s movement against decriminalization. "Back in the 1980s, there were just as many African American parents involved in the movement as there were whites," said Joyce Nalepka. "Everyone thought we could turn things around if we had the time to organize and save these kids. Back then, we were able to educate parents and adults in the District and across the country. We had support from families and from leaders." She does not see that support in the statements by President Obama and Congress members who have spoken openly about their own marijuana use. Although some members of Congress have threatened city officials over Washington D.C.'s Initiative 71, the "incomplete reform" remains intact.
Employers are another major obstacle to full implementation of marijuana reform. Companies are choosing whether or not to drive away employees that test positive for marijuana, and some employees are suing (often unsuccessfully), saying that state laws allow them to use marijuana away from work. One-in-five Denver employers reported that they would "make their drug-testing policies more stringent" after Colorado's legalization.
You made it to the end.
It's that time of the year again. Time to talk about drugs and the war on them because some stoners declared a holiday or something.
At the time, I was writing a book about the politics of drug prohibition. I started to ask Ehrlichman a series of earnest, wonky questions that he impatiently waved away. "You want to know what this was really all about?" he asked with the bluntness of a man who, after public disgrace and a stretch in federal prison, had little left to protect. "The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I'm saying? We knew we couldn't make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did."
[Oh yes, it continues...]
Since this time last year, Ohio, Florida, North Dakota, and Arkansas legalized medical cannabis, Illinois decriminalized it, and California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts legalized recreational cannabis. An attempt to legalize recreational cannabis in Arizona narrowly failed.
29 U.S. states and the District of Columbia have legalized cannabis for medical use, although restrictions vary widely from state to state.
Germany's medical cannabis law was approved in January and came into effect in March. Poland has also legalized medical cannabis, and Georgia's Supreme Court has ruled that imprisonment for possession of small amounts of cannabis is unconstitutional.
🍁 Cannada: Not So Fast 🍁
Last week, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau unveiled (archive) legislation (archive) that would make Canada the first major Western country to legalize recreational cannabis (the only country to legalize it to date is Uruguay, although implementation has taken years), dealing a serious blow to the crumbling United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. However, the Liberal Party of Canada intends to wait more than a year to act on its campaign promise, during which time Canadians can still face prosecution for possession of the drug:
True to form, this government has written down a series of talking points, in this case, trying to make it sound like it's cracking down on pot rather than legalizing it. And Justin Trudeau's ministers are sticking to the messaging from party central like a child reciting Dr. Seuss.
Not once in that As It Happens interview did [Justice Minister Jody] Wilson-Raybould explain why the government intends to keep on criminalizing Canadians so unfairly (see the Liberal party's website statement) for another year. Instead, literally every second time she opened her mouth, she re-spouted the line about "strictly regulating and restricting access." Off asked eight questions. Four times, Wilson-Raybould robotically reverted to the same phrase.
Meanwhile, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, a parliamentary lifer who mastered the art of repetitive dronetalk sometime back in the last millennium, was out peddling more or less the same line, but with an added warning: Not only will the government continue to criminalize Canadians for what it considers a trifling offence, enforcement will be vigorous. "Existing laws prohibiting possession and use of cannabis remain in place, and they need to be respected," Goodale declared. "This must be an orderly transition. It is not a free-for-all." Why the government cannot simply decide to invoke prosecutorial and police discretion, and cease enforcing the cannabis laws it considers unjust, was not explained. Why that would necessarily be a "free for all" also went unexplained.
The Liberal Party of Canada has taken pains to remind everyone that the Conservative Party will "do everything they can to stop real change and protect a failed status quo". Unfortunately, they did not get the memo that "marijuana" is a term with racist origins.
Make like a tree and legalize it, Cannadia... Cannibinoidia.
President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions
Backtrack to April 20th, 2016. Bernie Sanders still seemingly had a shot at becoming the President of the United States. Sanders, as well as Hillary Clinton (though begrudgingly), supported decriminalization of cannabis, medical use, and the continuation of states making decisions about recreational use. The #2 Republican candidate Ted Cruz also had a "let the states sort it out" stance.
One contender stood out, and he went on to become the @POTUS to #MAGA. The widely predicted "third term" was prevented, and that outcome may greatly affect a burgeoning semi-legal cannabis industry. One recent casualty are Amsterdam-style "cannabis clubs" (think: brewpubs). Colorado's legislature has backed off on a bill that would have allowed on-site consumption of cannabis at dispensaries due to the uncertain future of federal enforcement of cannabis prohibition.
Trump's position on cannabis has been ill-defined, although he supports medical use and has indicated that states should handle the issue. But the same can't be said of his Attorney General, former Senator Jeff Sessions. Here are some quotes about the drug from Mr. Sessions:
We need grown-ups in charge in Washington to say marijuana is not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized, it ought not to be minimized, that it's in fact a very real danger.
I think one of [President Obama's] great failures, it's obvious to me, is his lax treatment in comments on marijuana... It reverses 20 years almost of hostility to drugs that began really when Nancy Reagan started 'Just Say No.
You can't have the President of the United States of America talking about marijuana like it is no different than taking a drink... It is different... It is already causing a disturbance in the states that have made it legal.
Good people don't smoke marijuana.
Cannabis advocates are becoming increasingly paranoid about the federal government's stance towards the states (and a certain District) that have legalized cannabis. And this is following an Obama administration that was criticized for conducting raids in states with legalization. It is too early to tell how the Trump administration will choose to deal with cannabis, but there are signs that harsher policies and greater enforcement could be coming:
On Wednesday, [April 5th,] Jeff Sessions directed Justice Department lawyers to evaluate marijuana enforcement policy and send him recommendations. And some state officials are worried. This week the governors of Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington wrote the attorney general. They asked Sessions and the new Treasury secretary to consult with them before making any changes to regulations or enforcement.
At the White House, press secretary Sean Spicer said recently that the president is sympathetic to people who use marijuana for medical reasons. He pointed out that Congress has acted to bar the Justice Department from using federal money to interfere in state medical cannabis programs. But Spicer took a harsh view of recreational marijuana. "When you see something like the opioid addiction crisis blossoming in so many states around this country, the last thing we need to be doing is encouraging people. There is still a federal law we need to abide by," Spicer said.
Really, Spicer? Recreational cannabis use shouldn't be encouraged during an opioid addiction crisis? Read on.
Politics nexus unavailable for comment.
The Opioid Crisis Drags On (it's relevant)
Heroin use has become more dangerous as dealers have increasingly added other substances that massively increase potency without affecting the size of a dose significantly. Carfentanil, which is used as an elephant tranquilizer, has led to hundreds of deaths over very short timespans. It is impossible for the average user to predict the potency and potential danger of street heroin. While there have been international responses to these compounds, new chemical analogues are being created all the time:
Chinese labs producing the synthetic opiates play hide-and-seek with authorities. On their websites, they list fake addresses in derelict shopping centers or shuttered factories, and use third-party sales agents to conduct transactions that are hard to trace. The drugs themselves are easy to find with a Google search and to buy with a few mouse clicks. A recent check found more than a dozen Chinese sites advertising fentanyl, carfentanil, and other derivatives, often labeled as "research chemicals," for sale through direct mail shipments to the United States. On one website, carfentanil goes for $361 for 50 grams: tens of thousands of lethal doses.
The cat-and-mouse game extends to chemistry, as the makers tinker with fentanyl itself. Minor modifications like adding an oxygen atom or shifting a methyl group can be enough to create whole new entities that are no longer on the list of sanctioned compounds. Carfentanil itself was, until recently, unregulated in China.
2016 saw the addition of kratom to Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act in the U.S. Advocates for the tree leaf drug, which was formerly classified as a supplement, believe that its painkiller effects and low risk factors make it a useful replacement for the oft-deadly opioids that millions of Americans are addicted to. Kratom users have treated their pain and opioid withdrawal symptoms using the formerly "legal high". The DEA has refused to acknowledge this application and points out the "skyrocketing" number of calls to the Poison Control Center regarding kratom in recent years. One skeptic of kratom, Dr. Josh Bloom of the American Council on Science and Health, has looked at the same evidence and concluded that the trail of bodies left by substances like fentanyl and the scarce number of deaths (perhaps wrongly) attributed to kratom make it clear that the substance is the better "poison". He also notes that:
The number of calls to poison control centers is not reliable for determining how many poisonings actually occurred. It is a crude approximation at best.
Much like kratom, medical cannabis has been touted as a solution to the opioid crisis. States with legalized medical cannabis have seen a reduction in reported instances of opioid dependence [DOI: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2017.01.006] [DX] So it is puzzling that White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer would use opioids as a bludgeon against cannabis legalization while AG Sessions expresses astonishment over the suggestion of using cannabis as a "cure" for the opioid crisis.
Bonus: Here's a video (2m14s) of a woman getting administered Narcan/naloxone. Here's an alternate video (2m39s) in which a man who overdosed on heroin is able to sit up in about a minute after being administered naloxone.
⚚ The Slow March for Science ⚕
While the Drug Enforcement Agency has refused to reclassify cannabis from its current Schedule I status, citing the supposedly rigorous conclusions reached by the Food and Drug Administration, it will allow more than one institution to grow cannabis for research purposes, ending the monopoly held by the University of Mississippi. However, the Schedule I status of cannabis remains an impediment to further research:
[...] DEA's decision not to reschedule marijuana presents a Catch-22. By ruling that there is not enough evidence of "currently accepted medical use"—a key distinction between the highly restrictive Schedule I classification and the less restrictive Schedule II—the administration essentially makes it harder to gather such evidence.
"They're setting a standard that can't be met," says David Bradford, a health economist at the University of Georgia, Athens. "That level of proof is never going to be forthcoming in the current environment because it requires doing a really extensive clinical trial series, and given that a pharmaceutical company can't patent whole plant marijuana, it's in no company's interest to do that."
Schedule I status presents obstacles for clinical researchers because of restrictions on how the drugs must be stored and handled, Bradford says. Perhaps more significant, that listing may evoke skittishness at funding agencies and on the institutional review boards that must sign off on research involving human subjects.
"It doesn't resemble cannabis. It doesn't smell like cannabis," Sisley told PBS NewsHour last week.
Jake Browne, a cannabis critic for the Denver Post's Cannabist marijuana news site, agrees. "That is, flat out, not a usable form of cannabis," he said. Browne should know: He's reviewed dozens of strains professionally and is running a sophisticated marijuana growing competition called the Grow-Off.
"In two decades of smoking weed, I've never seen anything that looks like that," Browne said. "People typically smoke the flower of the plant, but here you can clearly see stems and leaves in there as well, parts that should be discarded. Inhaling that would be like eating an apple, including the seeds inside it and the branch it grew on."
Research on cannabinoids and psychedelics is proceeding, slowly. One study published yesterday (74 years after the first LSD trip) came to an astounding conclusion: Psychedelics can induce a "heightened state of consciousness":
Healthy volunteers who received LSD, ketamine or psilocybin, a compound found in magic mushrooms, were found to have more random brain activity than normal while under the influence, according to a study into the effects of the drugs. The shift in brain activity accompanied a host of peculiar sensations that the participants said ranged from floating and finding inner peace, to distortions in time and a conviction that the self was disintegrating.
[...] What we find is that under each of these psychedelic compounds, this specific measure of global conscious level goes up, so it moves in the other direction. The neural activity becomes more unpredictable," said Anil Seth, a professor of neuroscience at the University of Sussex. "Until now, we've only ever seen decreases compared to the baseline of the normal waking state."
Increased spontaneous MEG signal diversity for psychoactive doses of ketamine, LSD and psilocybin (open, DOI: 10.1038/srep46421) (DX)
♯ Ending on High Notes ♯
And now to scrape the bottom of the barrel:
- Americans Don't Care If Their Parents Know They Smoke Weed, Survey Says
- California Today: At Newspapers, Covering Pot Like Wine (archive)
- Nation's first public needle vending machine for drug users debuts in Las Vegas
- GRiZ Won the Celebrity Weed Game Without Selling Out
- Secret A.T.F. Account Paid for $21,000 Nascar Suite and Las Vegas Trip (archive)
- Legal Marijuana Ends at Airport Security, Even if It's Rarely Stopped (archive)
- Anti-Heroin Video From a Florida Sheriff Appalls Critics but Impresses Constituents (archive)
U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has come out in support of federal cannabis decriminalization, just in time for 4/20:
The Minority Leader of the Senate is making it official the day before 4/20: He's down with legal weed. In an exclusive interview with VICE News, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) confirmed he is putting his name on legislation that he said is aimed at "decriminalizing" marijuana at the federal level. For Schumer, this is a shift. While he has backed medical marijuana and the rights of states to experiment with legal sales of pot, what he is proposing is a seismic shift in federal drug policy.
"Ultimately, it's the right thing to do. Freedom. If smoking marijuana doesn't hurt anybody else, why shouldn't we allow people to do it and not make it criminal?" Schumer said.
The legislation should be available within a week or so, and would remove cannabis (still listed as "Marihuana") from the Drug Enforcement Administration's list of Schedule I substances. States would then be free to regulate or continue to prohibit the plant. Cannabis advertising would be regulated as are alcohol and tobacco advertising. (Also at NPR, CNN, The Washington Post, and CNBC, as well as Reason taking a shot at Schumer for not doing it sooner.)
A majority of Americans support the legalization of cannabis, including, for the first time, a majority (51%) of Republicans, according to Gallup. Nine states and the District of Columbia have legalized cannabis for recreational use. 29 states, D.C., Guam, and Puerto Rico have legalized medical use of cannabis, and another 17 states have legalized the use of cannabidiol (CBD). Cannabis became available for recreational purposes in California on January 1.