from the legalize-it dept.
The Obama administration has denied a bid by two Democratic governors to reconsider how it treats marijuana under federal drug control laws, keeping the drug for now, at least, in the most restrictive category for U.S. law enforcement purposes. Drug Enforcement Administration chief Chuck Rosenberg says the decision is rooted in science. Rosenberg gave "enormous weight" to conclusions by the Food and Drug Administration that marijuana has "no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States," and by some measures, it remains highly vulnerable to abuse as the most commonly used illicit drug across the nation.
"This decision isn't based on danger. This decision is based on whether marijuana, as determined by the FDA, is a safe and effective medicine," he said, "and it's not." Marijuana is considered a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act, alongside heroin and LSD, while other, highly addictive substances including oxycodone and methamphetamine are regulated differently under Schedule II of the law. But marijuana's designation has nothing to do with danger, Rosenberg said.
The Post article notes:
In the words of a 2015 Brookings Institution report, a move to Schedule II "would signal to the medical community that [the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health] are ready to take medical marijuana research seriously, and help overcome a government-sponsored chilling effect on research that manifests in direct and indirect ways."
However, the DEA will expand the number of locations federally licensed to grow cannabis for research from the current total of... 1: the University of Mississippi.
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)
The Ninth Circuit ruled Tuesday that the Justice Department is barred from using federal funds to prosecute individuals in states where medical marijuana is legal and the individuals are in compliance with state law.
Federal prosecutors in California and Washington state indicted a number of individuals under the Controlled Substances Act on a range of offenses related to the growing and distribution of marijuana plants.
The defendants moved to dismiss the indictments, arguing that an appropriations bill passed by Congress in 2014 and renewed in 2015 and 2016 explicitly bars the Justice Department from using federal funds to interfere with states that have legalized medical marijuana.
The story goes on to characterize the legal battle and the reasoning behind the ruling. Basically that ruling boils down to the fact that the state laws apply in this case, and the funding laws passed by congress seem to be only a bit player in this ruling.
Writing for the three-judge panel, O'Scannlain said that Congress' appropriations bill expressly prohibits the Justice Department from spending money to keep 40 states — including California and Washington — the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico from implementing their own medical marijuana laws. And federal criminal defendants may fight the use of those funds, he said.
The panel appeared to go further than just enforcing the "No Federal Funds" use by stating:
"By officially permitting certain conduct, state law provides for non-prosecution of individuals who engage in such conduct. If the federal government prosecutes such individuals, it has prevented the state from giving practical effect to its law providing for non-prosecution of individuals who engage in the permitted conduct."
That seems as close as you can come to a "States Rights" line of reasoning and still be welcome in liberal circles. The decision is reportedly being carefully scrutinized in the other circuit, and I would expect to see the government seek another venue.