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How Uncle Sam Launders Marijuana Money

Sun, 01/21/2018 - 15:15
Under federal law marijuana remains a Schedule I controlled substance.

Thirty states and the District of Columbia currently have laws broadly legalizing marijuana in some form. The herb has been shown to have significant therapeutic value for a wide range of medical conditions, including cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, glaucoma, lung disease, anxiety, muscle spasms, hepatitis C, inflammatory bowel disease and arthritis pain. The community of Americans who rely on legal medical marijuana was estimated to be 2.6 million people in 2016 and includes a variety of mainstream constituency groups like veterans, senior citizens, cancer survivors and parents of epileptic children. Unlike patented pharmaceuticals, which are now the leading cause of death from drug overdose, there have been no recorded deaths from marijuana overdose in the U.S. By comparison, alcohol causes 30,000 deaths annually, and prescription drugs taken as directed are estimated to kill 100,000 Americans per year.

Under federal law, however, marijuana remains a Schedule I controlled substance—a “deadly dangerous drug with no medical use and high potential for abuse”—and its possession remains a punishable offense.

On the presidential campaign trail, Donald Trump said the issue of marijuana legalization should be “up to the states,” continuing the “hands off” policy established under President Obama. Under the 2013 Cole memorandum, the Department of Justice said it would not prosecute individuals and companies complying with robust and well-enforced state legalization programs. But on January 4, Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded that memo and gave federal prosecutors the authority to pursue marijuana cases at their own discretion, even in places where the herb is legal under state law. The action has made banks even more afraid to take marijuana cash, which can be prosecuted as money laundering, an offense that can incur stiff criminal penalties.

The Government Has “Unclean Hands”

As explained by Dr. Richard Rahn, author of “The End of Money and the Struggle for Financial Privacy”:

Money laundering is generally understood to be the practice of taking ill-gotten gains and moving them through a sequence of bank accounts so they ultimately look like the profits from legitimate activity. Institutions, individuals, and even governments who are believed to be aiding and abetting the practice of money laundering can be indicted and convicted, even though they may be completely unaware that the money being transferred with their help was of criminal origin.

The law has focused on banks, but all sorts of businesses accept money without asking where it came from or being required to report “suspicious activity.” As Rahn observes, even governments can be indicted for and convicted of money laundering. Strictly construed (as Sessions insists when interpreting the law), that means the U.S. government itself could be indicted.

In fact, the U.S. government is the largest launderer of marijuana cash in the nation. The IRS accepts this tainted money in the payment of taxes, turning it into “clean” money; and it is not an unwitting accomplice to the crime. Estimates are that marijuana business owners across the U.S. will owe $2.8 billion in taxes to the federal government in 2018.

The government makes a massive profit off the deal, snatching up to 70 percent of the proceeds of the reporting businesses, as opposed to the more typical rate of 30 percent. It does this by branding marijuana businesses criminal enterprises, which are not entitled to deduct their costs when reporting their income.

This is not only a clear case of the unequal protection of the laws but is a clear admission by the government that it is knowingly accepting illegal funds. The government is a principal beneficiary of a business the government itself has made illegal.

Under those circumstances, both marijuana businesses and banks should be able to raise the “unclean hands” defense. As summarized in Kendall-Jackson Winery, Ltd. v. Superior Court (1999):

The defense of unclean hands arises from the maxim, “He who comes into Equity must come with clean hands.” The doctrine demands that a plaintiff act fairly in the matter for which he seeks a remedy. . . . The defense is available in legal as well as equitable actions. . . . The doctrine promotes justice by making a plaintiff answer for his own misconduct in the action. It prevents a wrongdoer from enjoying the fruits of his transgression.

The government is enjoying the fruits of money it considers “dirty.” It has unclean hands and should not be allowed to prosecute others for the same crime.

Should “Money Laundering” Even Be a Crime?

If the government itself is profiting handsomely from this laundered money, the question arises whether money laundering should even be a crime. Rahn thinks it should not. It became a criminal activity in the U.S. only in 1986, and in many countries it still is not a crime. Banks operating in the U.S. must now collect and verify customer-provided information, check names of customers against lists of known or suspected terrorists, determine risk levels posed by customers and report suspicious persons, organizations and transactions. The reporting requirements are so burdensome and expensive that they have caused many smaller banks to sell out to larger banks or close their doors. Moreover, they have not been cost-effective in deterring crime. According to Rahn, in an article titled “Why the War on Money Laundering Should Be Aborted”:

[I]t has failed to produce the advertised results and, in fact, has not been cost effective, has resulted in wholesale violations of individual civil liberties (including privacy rights), has violated the rights of sovereign governments and peoples, has created new opportunities for criminal activity, and has actually lessened our ability to reduce crime. …

Banks are required to supply the government with not only Currency Transaction Reports but also Suspicious Activity Reports. These reports impose huge regulatory costs on banks and require bank employees to operate as police officers. As a result, the total public and private sector costs greatly exceed $10,000,000 per conviction. This whole effort not only does not make any economic sense, but is clearly incompatible with a free society. The anti-money laundering laws allow almost complete prosecutorial discretion.

One small banker complained that banks have been turned into spies secretly reporting to the federal government. If they fail to comply, they can face stiff enforcement actions, whether or not actual money-laundering crimes are alleged. In 2010, one small New Jersey bank pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate the Bank Secrecy Act and was fined $5 million for failure to file suspicious-activity and cash-transaction reports. Another small New Jersey bank closed its doors after it was hit with $8 million in fines over its inadequate monitoring policies. The cost of compliance and threat of massive fines for not complying have been major factors in the collapse of the community banking sector. The number of community banks has fallen by 40 percent since 1994 and their share of U.S. banking assets has fallen by more than half, from 41 percent to 18 percent.

“Regulation is killing community banks,” Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin said at his confirmation hearing in January 2017. If the process is not reversed, he warned, we could “end up in a world where we have four big banks in this country.” That would be bad for both jobs and the economy. “I think that we all appreciate the engine of growth is with small and medium-sized businesses,” said Mnuchin. “We’re losing the ability for small and medium-sized banks to make good loans to small and medium-sized businesses in the community, where they understand those credit risks better than anybody else.”

If the goal of the anti-money laundering statutes is to identify and deter criminal activity, strictly enforcing the law could actually backfire in the case of state-legalized marijuana businesses. As noted in a Jan. 9 article in The Daily Beast:

Marijuana businesses have to register and incorporate in states and that puts them on the IRS radar. … Sky-high federal taxes on top of state taxes can make it almost impossible to operate a legal business. … If the government fails to cut businesses a break, legal marijuana could be sold on the black market to dodge taxes.

On the black market, cash proceeds can be dispersed in a way that avoids banks and makes the money hard either to trace or to tax.

Federal Law Needs to Change

With more than half the states legalizing marijuana for medical purposes, Congress needs to acknowledge the will of the people and remove this natural herb from the Schedule I classification that says it is a deadly dangerous drug with no health benefits. The Tenth Amendment gives the federal government only those powers specifically enumerated in the Constitution, and regulating medical practice is not one of them. Federal courts have held that the federal Controlled Substances Act does not allow the federal government to usurp states’ exclusive rights (pursuant to their inherent police powers) to regulate the practice of medicine.

H.R. 1227, the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act, sponsored by Virginia Republican Thomas Garrett and 15 cosponsors, would remove marijuana from Schedule I and eliminate federal penalties for anyone engaged in marijuana activity in a state where it is legal. Congress just needs to pass it.

In its zeal for eliminating burdensome, costly and ineffective regulations, the Trump administration should also consider lightening the heavy reporting burden that is killing community banks and the local businesses that have traditionally relied on them for affordable credit. On Tuesday, a bipartisan coalition of state attorneys general sent a letter to leaders in Congress requesting advancement of legislation such as the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act to “provide a safe harbor” for banks that provide financial products or services to state-legal marijuana businesses. If the government can accept marijuana money in the payment of taxes, banks should be able to accept it, keep track of it and prevent the crimes associated with storing and transporting large sums of cash.


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Tom Petty's Family Publicly Releases Cause of Death to Help Forward Opioid Crisis Discussion

Fri, 01/19/2018 - 18:50
Click here for reuse options! The rocker's death was confirmed as an accidental overdose.

Legendary rocker Tom Petty's cause of death was confirmed to be an accidental drug overdose, according to a new statement from his family. Petty was 66 years old at the time of his death.

“Our family sat together this morning with the medical examiner-coroner’s office and we were informed of their final analysis that Tom Petty passed away due to an accidental drug overdose as a result of taking a variety of medications,” the family's statement read.

Following a pattern familiar to families throughout the country, Petty's overdose coincided with a pain-related medical issue. Fentanyl, a synthetic opiate prescribed for pain, was identified by name in the statement.

“As a family we recognize this report may spark a further discussion on the opioid crisis and we feel that it is a healthy and necessary discussion and we hope in some way this report can save lives. Many people who overdose begin with a legitimate injury or simply do not understand the potency and deadly nature of these medications,” the statement continued.

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction to prescription or recreational drugs, inform your health care provider or call the free National Helpline for a referral at 1-800-662-4357.

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How Big Pharma Infiltrated the Boston Museum of Science

Fri, 01/19/2018 - 13:47
Pharma pushes its questionable psychiatric drugs on cash-hungry museums.

Do you overeat? Did your boyfriend just break up with you? Does no one return your emails? Do you fall asleep at night and wake up in the morning? If so, you may be suffering from mental illness! Mental illness is a highly stigmatized, life-long condition, which millions do not even realize they have and only a pharmaceutical drug can fix, claims Big Pharma and its operatives.

Few marketing gambits have been as successful as Pharma’s elevation of everyday symptoms into “mental illness.” The campaign has enabled Pharma to aggregate “patient” groups to petition lawmakers, insurers and Medicaid and Medicare for payment of high-priced psychiatric drugs. It has allowed groups like the Pharma-funded Active Minds and NAMI to infiltrate college campuses and proclaim the ups and downs of growing up and college life are “mental illness”––thus growing the market. And now it has even infiltrated Boston’s Museum of Science.

Last spring, an exhibit called Many Faces of Our Mental Health debuted at the museum, taking Pharma’s everyone-is-mentally-ill message to museum-goers and the general public. Visitors to the exhibit “might gain new insights and better understand the complex nature of mental health,” said the press release. They might “reflect on how mental health affects their own lives or the lives of friends and family.” Hey, they might have a mental illness, too!

Funders of the exhibit included the Pharma-backed NAMI and the Sidney R. Baer Jr. and Sidney A. Swensrud foundations, both of which stress screening and early intervention for childhood “mental illness.” Both mechanisms are widely seen as a way to grow the market for psychiatric drugs. In fact, the Baer Foundation funds the Pharma-funded Joan Luby, who not only finds mental abnormalities in toddlers but also thinks they are present in “late preterm” babies!

There is no biological test for mental illness—whether depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder—and until recently, depression and anxiety were not even considered mental illnesses. Now, television drug ads, faux patient groups and faux public service announcements and online quizzes have produced a groundswell of self-diagnosed "mentally ill" people. Pharma-funded patient groups like Active Minds and NAMI have even made the badge of mental illness “cool” on high school and college campuses.

“When insurers balk at reimbursing patients for new prescription medications,” says the Los Angeles Times, these groups “typically swing into action, rallying sufferers to appear before public and consumer panels [and] contact lawmakers.”

With an estimated one-quarter of the population now taking expensive psychiatric drugs, Pharma’s everyone-is-mentally-ill ploy enriches Wall Street and raises our health care costs. Gone are the days when bad moods were attributed to problems with finance, romance, debt, jobs, housing, careers, family, marriages and health. Worse, Pharma’s everyone-is-mentally-ill ruse siphons off legitimate activist anger at a government system that keeps people poor and powerless by suggesting they have a personal problem and the answer is a happy pill. Also known as—retreat into individualism.

“People living with mental illness can lead very productive lives and this exhibition highlights this important concept,” said Christine Reich, vice president of exhibit development and conservation, about the Museum of Science exhibit adding this commercial for expensive Pharma drugs: “Mental illness is greatly affect[ed] by the treatment options that are available.”


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Injection Sites Provide Safe Spots to Shoot Up

Fri, 01/19/2018 - 12:05
Moralists hate them, but the harm reduction interventions have proven beneficial.

NEW YORK — In about one hundred locations across Canada, Europe and Australia, supervised drug injection facilities allow visitors to inject heroin and other drugs in a clean, well-lighted space under the watchful eye of trained personnel who can rescue them if they overdose. 

Tens of thousands of drug users have visited the facilities, thousands have overdosed and, researchers say, no deaths have been reported. Studies show that a substantial number of drug users who visit safe injection sites end up in treatment, which is routinely offered to them. Research also has shown that the facilities help contain hepatitis C and HIV infections and are a cost-effective way to save lives

The United States — with an overdose death rate that far exceeds that of any other country — has failed to open a single government-sanctioned facility. 

This year, that may change. 

Legislatures in California and Vermont are considering bills that would legalize and, in some cases, fund safe injection facilities. Seattle and surrounding King County have approved and budgeted for two such facilities. And advocates in Boston, Denver, New York, Philadelphia and San Francisco are pursuing similar initiatives. 

Political momentum for sanctioned injection sites has been building in the United States over the past three years, advocates say. And this year, more state legislatures and local officials appear closer than ever to providing the needed government support. 

Groups including the American Medical Association and some state medical societies have backed efforts to launch pilot injection sites. But those and other efforts have been stymied by widespread stigma against drug users and concerns about federal drug law enforcement. 

As a result, drug users who do not have a safe place to live furtively inject drugs in parking lots, stairwells, public bathrooms and hidden corners of public parks. And with the increasing presence of the deadly synthetic drug fentanyl in the heroin supply, more of those users are dying. 

New York City is no exception. 

But in the Washington Heights neighborhood in the northern tip of Manhattan, word has spread about a place called the Corner Project, a drop-in syringe exchange center that provides clean needles, hot coffee, access to health and welfare services — and bathrooms. 

Although not sanctioned by the city or state as a safe haven for drug use, it’s an open secret that Corner Project is a place where people can inject drugs in one of two bathrooms while a staff member waits outside the door — and rushes to rescue drug users if they don’t respond to a knock after three minutes. 

“It really is just a bathroom. We don’t know that everyone who goes in will be injecting,” said Liz Evans, executive director of Corner Project and founder of Canada’s first safe injection site. “It’s our obligation as a public health facility to make sure nobody dies.” 

Stiff Opposition 

Opponents of safe injection sites, including some police departments and prosecutors, point to the federal Controlled Substances Act and state laws prohibiting the possession and use of heroin and other drugs. They say sworn police officers and federal agents can’t be expected to ignore people who walk into an injection facility, knowing they likely have dope in their pockets. 

And the U.S. attorney in Vermont, Christina E. Nolan, said a proposal in the state legislature to sanction safe injection facilities would violate federal laws that prohibit “maintaining a premises for the purpose of narcotics use.” 

Many local officials also worry that allowing people to use drugs in a public facility would send a signal that drug use is acceptable. 

Seattle and surrounding King County, Washington, have approved two facilities, but it has been difficult to find a place for them because officials in suburban towns outside Seattle have filed suits to block the facilities from their communities. 

Similarly, Boston Mayor Martin Walsh, a Democrat, opposes a bill in the Massachusetts legislature that calls for creating multiple injection facilities in the city. 

But despite high-level opposition, advocates for the services say it is only a matter of time before some city, county or state sanctions the first injection site. After that, they predict the results will be so positive that the proven public health approach to reducing drug overdose deaths will spread rapidly. 

“Whoever steps up first, despite the controversy, will be recognized as a leader on this in the long term,”said Daniel Raymond, policy director of the Harm Reduction Coalition, a national group that supports safe injection and other public health strategies aimed at saving lives and improving the health of drug users. 

Increasing Demand 

Earlier this month, a spell of arctic weather brought record crowds to Corner Project’s always busy second-story respite a flight above bustling West 181st  Street. 

Throughout the day, a steady procession of men and women of all ages checked in at the front desk and began peeling off layers of clothing, pouring cups of coffee and finding spots to rest and talk with fellow drug users. 

Others headed straight to the back of the large open space where the facility’s two bathrooms are located. Before using one of them, visitors must sign in with a staff member who stands outside the door and sets a timer. Every three minutes, he checks on visitors with a knock on the door to make sure they haven’t overdosed. 

If there’s no answer or he hears the thud of a body collapsing on the floor, he quickly unlocks the door, calls 911 and administers the opioid antidote naloxone. Staffers here say they have rescued overdose victims hundreds of times since Corner Project began monitoring its bathrooms nine years ago. So far, no one has died. 

Alison Darveaux, 34, comes here every day for the coffee and to use the bathroom to brush her teeth, clean up and inject heroin. She’s also been working with one of the center’s social workers to get a photo ID so she can qualify for Medicaid and sign up for a local methadone treatment program. 

A Florida native, Darveaux hitched a ride with a trucker and got dropped off here about six months ago. She spends her nights outside the George Washington Bridge bus terminal, and says her life right now is about as bad as it’s ever been. “But it would be much worse without Corner Project,” she said. “This place has saved my life.” 

Other visitors there last week -- most couch surfing or homeless -- said they felt the same way. In the early years, about 300 new people checked into Corner Project annually. But two years ago, the numbers started growing. Last year, at least 600 new people signed in and even more are expected this year.  

The increase is partly because of greater neighborhood outreach and word-of-mouth awareness over time, Evans said. But it’s also a result of the increasing threat of deadly fentanyl in the heroin supply. 

More than 64,000 people in America died of drug overdoses in 2016, a 21 percent increase over 2015, primarily due to the growing presence of the powerful synthetic drug fentanyl. 

In New York, Democratic assemblywoman Linda B. Rosenthal said she plans to refile a bill she offered last year that would authorize Corner Project and a handful of other existing syringe exchanges in the state to add supervised injection services to their existing facilities, which would allow users to inject in the open rather than behind a bathroom door. 

In New York City, the city council in 2016 funded a study of the feasibility of creating multiple injection sites in the city. Slated for release in February, the study is widely expected to recommend development of a handful of injection sites across the city. If approved, the sites would be reviewed for their effectiveness with an eye to wider adoption.  

Underground Sites

Corner Project isn’t the only unofficial safe injection site in the United States.  Another syringe exchange center in the city, VOCAL-NY in Brooklyn, also monitors its bathrooms while users inject drugs. And a site run by a physician in Boston allows drug users to visit after they’ve injected drugs to be watched by health professionals who can rescue them if they overdose.

Those are just the ones that have gotten publicity, said Alex H. Kral, an epidemiologist and director of the Urban Health Program at North Carolina-based research organization RTI International who studies harm reduction. There are dozens of syringe exchange centers like Corner Project throughout the country where visitors inject in the bathrooms and the staff stands ready to rescue them if they overdose, he said. “Most don’t want to be identified.”

But far more injection bathrooms are located in fast food restaurants and libraries, Kral said, noting that to varying degrees, the management stocks naloxone and trains staff to rescue people who overdose.

Kral says just one truly supervised injection facility exists in the United States, where visitors can inject drugs in the open instead of in a bathroom. Created in September 2014, its location remains undisclosed to protect visitors and management from potential criminal charges. 

The clandestine facility allows visitors to use drugs in open booths similar to those in Australia, Canada and Europe, where trained personnel can observe them throughout the injection process. Medical professionals also observe visitors in a “chill room” after they have injected to make sure they have no delayed adverse effects. 

Kral and a coauthor, the only researchers who have access to the facility, offered limited data on its results in a recent report: No one who has overdosed at the facility has died and many have been able to get into treatment and sign up for social services.  

In Vancouver, at Canada’s first supervised injection facility, Insite, the staff says it saved more than 2,700 lives and referred at least 3,500 to addiction treatment in the first decade after it opened in 2003.

Researchers also found that Insite was responsible for a 35 percent decline in overdoses in the surrounding neighborhood and a 9 percent reduction in the city overall. One study pegged the resulting health care cost savings to the city at $1.8 million per year. 

At Corner Project, the staff says it rescued 65 people from drug overdoses last year and referred 150 to treatment. This year, the numbers are expected to be higher. But not as high as they could be if the facility were sanctioned, Evans said. 

By sanctioning safe injection sites, the city would not be condoning drug use, Evans said. It would be letting drug users know: “We see you as a human being, and we want to help.”



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Mixing These Drugs With Marijuana Can Be Dangerous

Fri, 01/19/2018 - 11:51
Read this and then go have a talk with your doctor.

Medical students do not get an education in the endocannabinoid system, which is a shame. Most doctors have a firm understanding about pharmaceuticals and other traditional Western medicinal therapies. You might get lucky and have a personal physician who has a basic knowledge about holistic medicine, herbal therapies and other integrative health techniques. Sadly, this lack of information puts patients at risk and encourages some to self-diagnose and self-medicate. If you are consuming cannabis — for medicinal, recreational, spiritual, wellness or any other purpose — it is vitally important to share this information with your doctor. While cannabis is a safe drug, you need to be careful when you mix these drugs with marijuana.

Don’t be afraid to share; there is a thing called doctor-patient confidentiality. Besides, eight states have already legalized recreational marijuana and 29 states allow some form of medicinal use.

Why is it vital? Even though cannabis is considered to be a fairly safe psychoactive substance — and there has never been a documented case of fatal overdose — there can be medical issued when mixed with some prescription medications.

According to Dr. Sarah T. Melton, associate professor of Pharmacy Practice at the Gatton College of Pharmacy at East Tennessee State University:

“Marijuana has potentially serious drug interactions with prescription and over-the-counter medications. By sharing details of marijuana use, the prescriber can best make decisions about medication choices and educate the patient about any potential contraindications or need for monitoring.”

Since science regarding the interaction of pharmaceuticals and cannabis — still a Schedule I drug, which means research is difficult — there is no definitive list of what medications are unsafe to use in combination with marijuana. To be clear, this is true for most herbal medications, which are tested by the FDA under a different protocol than pharmaceuticals.

According to the Mayo Clinic, cannabis may adversely interact with:

  • anabolic steroids
  • barbiturates
  • benzodiazepines
  • central nervous system depressants
  • corticosteroids
  • dopamine antagonists
  • nicotine
  • nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories
  • opioid receptor antagonists
  • pain relievers
  • phytoestrogens

Another trusted source is, an independent medicine information site that provides “independent, objective, comprehensive and up-to-date information for both consumers and healthcare professionals.”

According the, definitely check with your physician before combining cannabis and these pharmaceutical medicines:


Using cannabis together with benztropine can increase nervous system side effects such as dizziness, drowsiness, and difficulty concentrating. Some people may also experience impairment in thinking and judgment.

Buprenorphine and cannabis

Using buprenorphine together with cannabis can lead to serious side effects such as respiratory distress, coma, or even death. You may need a dose adjustment or more frequent monitoring by your doctor to safely use both medications.

Levomethadyl acetate

Using levomethadyl acetate together with cannabis may increase side effects such as drowsiness, dizziness, lightheadedness, confusion, depression, low blood pressure, slow or shallow breathing, and impairment in thinking, judgment, and motor coordination.


First some good news: Propoxyphene hasn’t been on the market since 2o1o after the FDA issued a warning. If you come across some in the back of your medicine closet, toss him out.

Using propoxyphene together with cannabis may increase side effects such as dizziness, drowsiness, confusion, and difficulty concentrating. Some people, especially the elderly, may also experience impairment in thinking, judgment, and motor coordination. You should take propoxyphene exactly as prescribed by your doctor.

Sodium oxybate

Using sodium oxybate together with cannabis may increase side effects such as drowsiness, dizziness, lightheadedness, confusion, depression, low blood pressure, slow or shallow breathing, and impairment in thinking, judgment, and motor coordination.


Using cannabis together with SSRI’s such as escitalopram may increase side effects such as dizziness, drowsiness, confusion, and difficulty concentrating. Some people, especially the elderly, may also experience impairment in thinking, judgment, and motor coordination. You should avoid or limit the use of alcohol while being treated with these medications.


Using cannabis  together with alcoholic beverages may increase side effects such as dizziness, drowsiness, confusion, and difficulty concentrating. Some people may also experience impairment in thinking, judgment, and motor coordination. You should avoid or limit the use of alcohol while being treated with cannabis. Do not use more than the recommended dose of cannabis, and avoid activities requiring mental alertness such as driving or operating hazardous machinery until you know how the medication affects you.

Yes, booze and buds can be a dangerous concoction. If you enjoy a craft beer with your joint or a chardonnay with your vape, use caution and know your limit!

This is not a complete list. It is vitally important for you to have the conversation with your doctor. And do a little homework on your own. It’s better to be safe than sorry.


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A Sick 12-Year-Old Is Suing Jeff Sessions Over Medical Marijuana

Fri, 01/19/2018 - 08:53
Alexis Bortell will have her day in court soon.

A 12-year-old suing the federal government may have a whiff of adorableness. But for Alexis Bortell, who filed a lawsuit against Attorney General Jeff Sessions last fall, it's a choice she had to make to save her life. Bortell has epilepsy and Sessions has made it his mission to make it impossible for her to access…

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Re-Criminalizing Cannabis Is Worse Than 1930s-Style Reefer Madness

Thu, 01/18/2018 - 11:56
We know better now.

 Editor's Note: This article has been updated to clarify that ‘Reefer Madness’ is a film, not a documentary.

In the 1930s, parents across the U.S. were panicked. A new film, “Reefer Madness,” suggested that evil marijuana dealers lurked in public schools, waiting to entice their children into a life of crime and degeneracy.

The propaganda film captured the essence of the anti-marijuana campaign started by Harry Anslinger, a government employee eager to make a name for himself after Prohibition ended. Ansligner’s campaign demonized marijuana as a dangerous drug, playing on the racist attitudes of white Americans in the early 20th century and stoking fears of marijuana as an “assassin of youth.”

A still from the 1936 propaganda film ‘Reefer Madness.’ Wikimedia Commons

Over the decades, there’s been a general trend toward greater social acceptance of marijuana by a more educated society, seeing the harm caused by the prohibition of marijuana. But then, on Jan. 4, Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded an Obama-era memorandum suggesting federal agents should let states regulate control of marijuana and focus their efforts on other drugs.

Re-criminalizing marijuana in light of current research findings, including my own research of more than 15 years, makes Sessions’ proposed crackdown on legal marijuana look worse than reefer madness.

Researchers like myself, who regularly talk with people who are actively using hard drugs, know that legal cannabis can actually reduce the harmful effects of other drugs.

A trailer for “Reefer Madness.”

Reefer madness

Re-criminalizing marijuana is a decision that makes little sense unless we consider the motives. History can shed some light here.

Media mogul William Randolph Hearst supported the criminalization of marijuana, in part because Hearst’s paper-producing companies were being replaced by hemp. Likewise, DuPont’s investment in nylon was threatened by hemp products.

Anslinger’s tactics included racist accusations linking marijuana to Mexican immigrants. His campaign included stories of urban black men who enticed young white women to become sex-crazed and instantly addicted to marijuana.

Anslinger’s campaign succeeded beyond his aims. His fearmongering was based more on fiction than on facts, but it made him head of the Bureau of Narcotics for 30 years. The social construction of cannabis as one of the most dangerous drugs was completed in 1970, when marijuana was classified as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act, meaning it had high potential for abuse and no acceptable medical use.

Almost 50 years later, the classification remains and Anslinger’s views endure among many policymakers and Americans.

Spurious relationships

Today, marijuana critics often cite studies that show a connection between marijuana use and a host of negative outcomes, like use of harder drugs, criminality and lower IQ. Anslinger used the same tactics to incite fear.

But a correlation does not mean a causation. Some of these studies used flawed scientific methods or relied on false assumptions.

A 1935 U.S. government advertisement warning about dangers associated with marijuana.

One popular myth, which started in Ansligner’s campaign and continues today, is that marijuana is a gateway to heroin and other opioids. Despite research dispelling this as a causal connection, opponents of marijuana legalization continue to call marijuana a “gateway drug.”

Studies on the brains of long-term marijuana users suggested a link between marijuana use and lower IQ. But later investigation showed that low IQ might actually be caused by smaller orbitofrontal cortices in the brains of children. Children with smaller prefrontal cortices are significantly more likely to start using marijuana early in life than those with larger prefrontal cortices.

One well-designed study that looked at marijuana use and brain development on adolescent twins over 10 years found no measurable link between marijuana use and lower IQ.

In a review of 60 studies on medical marijuana, over 63 percent found positive effects for debilitating diseases – such as multiple sclerosis, bipolar disorder, Parkinson’s disease and pain – while less than 8 percent found negative health effects.

The most harmful effect of criminalizing marijuana may not be its restriction on medical uses, but its devastating cost to American society, which experienced a 500 percent increase in incarceration due to the war on drugs.

The Portugal experiment

The tragedy in this policy is that decriminalizing drugs has shown to lower drug use – not increase it.

In 2000, Portugal had one of the worst drug problems in Europe. Then, in 2001, a new drug policy decriminalized all drugs. Drug control was taken out of the criminal justice system and put under the Ministry of Health.

Five years after Portugal’s decriminalization, drug use by young people was down. Teenagers between the ages of 16 and 18, for example, were 27.6 percent less likely to use drugs. What’s more, the number of people going to treatment went up, while drug-related deaths decreased.

Fifteen years later, Portugal still had lower rates of heroin and cocaine seizures, and lower rates of drug-related deaths, compared to the rest of Europe. Cannabis use in Portugal is now the lowest among all European countries. Moreover, Portugal’s policy change contributed to a reduced number of drug addicts with HIV.

The “Portugal Experiment” shows what happens when we take an honest look at a serious societal drug issue. Taking a tactic used by Anslinger, opponents of marijuana legalization claim it will lead to more use by young people. However, in states that legalized medical marijuana, use by young people did not increase or even went down. Recent data show that use of marijuana by teens decreased even in states that legalized marijuana for recreational use.

As the U.S. battles an opioid epidemic, states where marijuana is legal have seen fewer deaths from opioid overdose.

More studies are finding medical marijuana patients were using marijuana as a substitute for pain pills. After a medical marijuana law was passed, use of prescription medication for which marijuana could serve as a clinical alternative fell significantly.

Faced with a deadly opioid epidemic, more of the medical establishment is beginning to acknowledge the potential of marijuana as a safer therapy for pain than opioids.

Listening to those who are suffering

In my own field research, I’ve conducted hundreds of interviews with people who used heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and other really dangerous drugs. Most of them used drugs to address social isolation, and emotional or physical pain, which led to addiction. They often told me that they used marijuana to help them stop using more problematic drugs or to reduce the side effects of withdrawing.

“In a lot of ways, that was my sanity,” said a young man who had stopped all drugs but cannabis.

Marijuana became a gateway out of heroin, cocaine, crack and other more deadly drugs.

While the Institute of Medicine released a report in 1999 suggesting the development of medically useful cannabinoid-based drugs, the American Medical Association has largely ignored or dismissed subsequent studies on the benefits of cannabis.

Today, in many states, people can use marijuana to treat illnesses and pain, reduce withdrawal symptoms, and combat cravings for more addictive drugs. They can also choose to use cannabis oil or a variety of healthier ways than smoking for consuming cannabis. This freedom may be jeopardized by a return to criminal marijuana.

Worse than ‘Reefer Madness’

Almost a century after Anslinger’s campaign, “Reefer Madness” is mocked in the media for its flagrant propaganda, and Anslinger’s influence on drug policy is shown as an example of government corruption. The ignorance and naiveté of “Reefer Madness” is seen as a bygone era.

So we have to ask, what kind of people want to re-criminalize cannabis today? What are their motives? Who profits from continuing to incarcerate people for using marijuana? Whose power will be diminished when a drug that has so many health benefits is provided without a prescription?

This article was originally publishedonThe Conversation. Read the original article.

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These Proposed Laws Could Protect Legal Pot in 2018

Thu, 01/18/2018 - 11:49
There are a plethora of pot bills on Capitol Hill. Will any of them move?



These Proposed Laws Could Protect Legal Pot in 2018

It could be a big year—or a tumultuous one—for the marijuana movement. Right on the heels of California's historic legalization in early January, Attorney General Jeff Sessions gave federal ...

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In Rebuff to Sessions, Federal Marijuana Justice Act Filed in House

Wed, 01/17/2018 - 16:50
Click here for reuse options! This is not just any marijuana legalization bill.

Attorney General Sessions' announcement last week that he was rescinding Obama-era guidance to federal prosecutors to generally leave law-abiding marijuana operations alone in states where it is legal has paradoxically had the effect of energizing the movement to legalize marijuana at the federal level. The latest evidence of the reaction came Wednesday, as Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Congressman Ro Khanna (D-CA) filed a legalization bill in the House.

And it's not just any legalization bill. Their Marijuana Justice Act would help correct decades of injustice surrounding the discriminatory enforcement of marijuana criminalization laws in the United States.

"We intend to end this destructive war on drugs, and this legislation will do that," said Lee at a press conference rolling out the bill. "It's a roadmap for ending the drug war, but it also begins to address mass incarceration and disinvestment in communities of color. It is an essential step to correcting the injustices of the failed war on drugs, namely racial disparities in arrests and incarceration."

In addition to ending federal marijuana prohibition by removing the drug from the DEA's list of controlled substances, the bill would allow anyone currently serving a sentence for drug possession to appeal for judicial review of his or her sentence. It would also use federal spending to incentivize states to reform their marijuana laws "if those laws were shown to have a disproportionate effect on low-income people and/or people of color."

That last provision is especially striking given that nearly every state disproportionately arrests and imprisons blacks for marijuana. With this language, the federal government could become an engine for state-level marijuana legalization instead of an impediment to it.

"This would force states with records of racial bias in arrests and sentencing to clean up their acts by cutting funds to the worst offenders," said Lee.

But even that would only begin to repair the damage done by the drug war, the Oakland congresswoman explained.

"It's not enough to just expunge records and end over-incarceration," Lee said. "Restorative justice is extremely important, and these victims of our failed policies deserve our support during the reentry process, too."

For bill cosponsor Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), it's the economics, but not just in the traditional sense of increased economic activity and tax revenues. While he pointed to the potential economic gains of legalization, he also highlighted the opportunity costs of pot prohibition and underlined provisions in the bill that would spend federal funds to invest in communities ravaged by the drug war.

"The estimates are that legalization would lead to a $40 billion a year industry, with a million jobs and $7 billion tax revenues, which would more than offset the $500 million in the bill to help invest in communities of color. It's a net gain for government and for job creation," Khanna noted.

"But the economic impact is so much broader," he pointed out. "How many people of color got arrested at 19, 20, or 25? That represents hundreds of millions of dollars in lost economic potential. With this bill, we're not just talking about legalization, but about giving people a second chance."

The Marijuana Justice Act is the House version of the bill introduced in the Senate earlier this year by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Senate Bill 1689. Booker was at Wednesday's press conference for the House version.

"There is a rush of enthusiasm for legalization," he said, "but it seems like hypocrisy and injustice if you legalize it but don't try to undo the damage of the war on drugs. You can't get a Pell grant or a business or professional license for doing something three out of our last four presidents have admitted doing. The war on drugs is one of the greatest assaults on people of color since Jim Crow, and that's why this is a very happy day for me. We're trying to make this nation live up to its promise of liberty and justice, not just for the privileged few, but for all.

"I think we are seeing momentum growing," Booker continued. "People who were skeptics are being converted. A lot of people are aware of how unjust this has been, and now there is more confidence from seeing early states like Colorado be so successful."

Indeed. One of the most politically striking moments since the Sessions announcement was Colorado Republican Sen. Cory Gardner—not a supporter of legalization—taking to the Senate floor to excoriate Sessions over the move and vow to block Justice Department nominees until Sessions reverses himself.

"More than 30 states have passed marijuana reforms," said Lee. "The grassroots and democracy is working. You will see members of the House and Senate move forward because the public supports this. It can't be stopped."

"We are at a tipping point, with nearly two-thirds supporting marijuana legalization and an overwhelming 91 percent supporting medical marijuana," said Queen Adesuyi of the Drug Policy Alliance, which has been working closely with Booker and Lee on the bills. "Eight states have already legalized it, with Vermont and New Hampshire on the cusp. Yet, Attorney General Sessions continues to threaten the states. It's time to legalize marijuana, protect patients, and end federal marijuana prohibition."

While momentum is building, the bills both face an uphill battle in their respective chambers. The Booker bill, introduced last August, still has only one cosponsor, Oregon Democrat Sen. Ron Wyden, and there is no indication it will get even a committee hearing this session. Lee and Khanna's House version of the bill already had a dozen cosponsors on day one, but again, it is unlikely to get a hearing under the House Republican leadership.

But the legalization bills could fare better next year if the Democrats manage to take back the House and/or the Senate. And Jeff Sessions' war on weed could help them to do just that. 


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Everything You Need To Know About Vaping Marijuana

Wed, 01/17/2018 - 11:37
Put down the lighter.

Joints. Bongs. Pipes. Matches. Lighters. Forget about ’em. Let’s vape instead.

Vaporizers have become the ubiquitous gadget for the modern-day cannabis enthusiast.

What is vaporization? Simply, it is a method of activating raw plant matter without combustion. In other words, get high without fire. You inhale vapor, not smoke.

For most cannabis enthusiasts – especially beginners – vaporizers allow for a milder, easier-to-control high compared to smoking. Added bonus: No smoke!

Vaporizers have been around for decades, but the trend has take off in the last decade or so. As the benefits of vaporization have become known, the variety of devices has been increasing.

Which vaporizer fits into your lifestyle? Do you want to vape on the go or in the comfort of your home? Do you want to buy flower (herb) or concentrate (oil)? Let’s review the options:

Portable Or Stationary?

It seems you can’t walk down the street these days without seeing someone using the ubiquitous vape pen. These handy, low-cost devices are ideal for the on-the-go commuter or those wanting a few puffs throughout the day. Vape pens contain a concentrated oil that heats up just enough to create a thin, wispy vapor.

If you prefer using dried herb (flower), consider vaping devices such as the Firefly 2 or the Pax a try. These units are not as easy to use as the vape pens, and the price may shock those on a tight budget. But for some enthusiasts, there is nothing better than vaping herb rather than oil.

If you plan on vaping primarily at home, consider buying a pricier stationary unit. Brands such as the VolcanoVapeXhale Cloud EVO and the Herblizer are great plug-in vaporizers for home use, but are not portable enough for on-the-go vaping.

Herb Or Oil?

Personal preference is the key here. Oil-based vape pens are everywhere for a reason: portability, price, and availability. But for some of us, vaping ground-up herb provides a tastier experience. My suggestion: Try a vape pen first to see if it suits your needs. After a few months, you may want to try another device.

Conduction Or Convection?

Conduction vaporizers are generally less expensive and easier to maintain. The vapor is released as a result of the low heat from the heating element.

Convection vaporizers push hot air from the heating element through the herb, releasing vapor without direct contact. These devices (the high-end Volcano, for example) are pricey, but are considered more effective in releasing the cannabinoids.

There is no standard way to vaporize. If you choose this method to enjoy your cannabis, take the time to find the form factor best suited to your personal needs. It’s your chance to find the perfect cannabis tool. Experiment. Don’t be afraid to ask your friends.

My advice: Start with a vape pen and see how it works for you. Vape pens are generally the most economical way to experiment. But you may soon be “graduating” to higher end devices in order to enhance your enjoyment.

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To Cut Smoking's Harm, Switch to Vaping?

Wed, 01/17/2018 - 11:19
The notion that vaping is as harmful or more harmful than smoking is mistaken.

Alternative nicotine products like e-cigarettes are emerging as a promising option for people who are trying to quit smoking, a new article that focuses on harm minimization and smoking cessation suggests.

Harm minimization recognizes that while quitting smoking altogether is ideal, reducing exposure to harmful cigarette smoke by switching to safer nicotine products like e-cigarettes is beneficial. Compared to vaping, smoking is much more harmful and prematurely kills over half of lifetime smokers.

“Studies show that if most current American smokers switched to vaping e-cigarettes over the next 10 years, there could be as many as 6.6 million fewer premature deaths and 86.7 million fewer life years would be lost,” says David Abrams, professor of social and behavioral sciences at New York University’s College of Global Public Health and lead author of the article in the Annual Review of Public Health.

“The safest course is to stop smoking or, better, never to start,” Abrams says. “But a harm minimization approach recognizes that demanding absolute perfection is often counterproductive and that, when a harmful behavior cannot be eliminated, we can still dramatically reduce adverse health consequences.”

It’s not the nicotine

When people smoke cigarettes, they consume nicotine in a lethal mix of carbon monoxide and 70 known cancer-causing chemicals; contrary to what some may believe, however, nicotine causes little if any of the health harms of smoking. The toxic smoke inhaled is the culprit and is the overwhelming cause of tobacco-related disease and death.

Many alternative nicotine products have been developed—including e-cigarettes and nicotine gums, patches, and lozenges—that do not burn tobacco and are therefore substantially less harmful.

The authors call for the correction of mistaken beliefs that vaping is as harmful or more harmful than smoking cigarettes. Most reviews of toxicological, clinical, and epidemiological evidence show that the chemicals found in e-cigarettes are far fewer and well below levels seen in cigarette smoke.

In fact, the Royal College of Physicians in the United Kingdom and other systematic reviews of all the evidence to date estimate that e-cigarettes are about 95 percent less harmful than smoking.

The ‘sweet spot’

What makes someone use—and continue to use—different nicotine products? In addition to considering the harm they can cause, the authors also consider the appeal and satisfaction of products containing nicotine.

Cigarettes are the most appealing, most addictive, and most toxic of all nicotine products, while nicotine replacement therapies like gum or patches are lowest in harm, but are expensive and less appealing to consumers.

E-cigarettes fall into a “sweet spot” of high appeal and satisfaction, but low harm, making them a promising tool for smoking cessation or switching for smokers who want to use nicotine but want to safely avoid deadly smoke. As evidence of their appeal, e-cigarettes are now used more often than nicotine replacement therapies when smokers try to quit in both the United States and the United Kingdom.

“A smoker who finds an e-cigarette that is enjoyable can switch. Successful switchers have either switched quickly or slowly after a period of both vaping and cutting back on smoking and by trying a flavor other than tobacco,” Abrams says.

Government strategy

The US government is taking notice of the evidence on harm minimization. In July 2017, the Food and Drug Administration announced a major shift in its tobacco strategy, including recognizing the role of less harmful products, such as e-cigarettes, for smokers who want a satisfying alternative to smoking cigarettes.

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb says, “Nicotine, though not benign, is not directly responsible for the tobacco-caused cancer, lung disease, and heart disease that kill hundreds of thousands of Americans each year.”

“Alternative nicotine delivery systems, such as e-cigarettes, have the potential to disrupt the 120-year dominance of the cigarette and challenge the field on how the tobacco pandemic could be reversed if nicotine is decoupled from lethal inhaled smoke,” adds Abrams. “E-cigarettes could provide a means to compete with, and even replace, cigarette use, saving more lives more rapidly than previously possible.”

Additional coauthors of the study are from the NYU College of Global Public Health, the Schroeder Institute for Tobacco Research and Policy Studies, Truth Initiative, the University of Nevada, and of the University of Vermont.

The Truth Initiative supported the research.

Source: New York University

Original Study DOI: 10.1146/annurev-publhealth-040617-013849


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How You Can Help Veterans Fight for Access to Medical Marijuana

Tue, 01/16/2018 - 11:50
There is a useful medicine for helping vets cope with PTSD. Too bad the federal government refuses to recognize it.

There are about 19 million veterans in the United States. Yet, after their service, many experience a myriad of crippling mental and physiological afflictions, with few resources available to help.

Yearly, a staggering 30 veterans per 100,000 commit suicide. Though that number may seem on the lower end at first glance, when compared to the civilian rate of 14 in 100,000, it paints a disheartening picture of the post-war reality many veterans face.

If you wish to speak to somebody immediately, please call your local crisis line, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255).

On any given night, approximately 39,471 veterans are homeless.  While this number demonstrates a decrease in veteran homelessness, veterans still comprise 8.6% of the homeless population, a disproportionate amount.

The reason for this may be that as of 2014, 3.8 million veterans have a service-related disability.  Veterans suffer from ailments both physical and mental—often both—including anxiety, depression, PTSD, other mental health issues, damaged nerves due to exposure to chemical agents, damaged hearing due to exposure to elevated noise and vibrations, traumatic brain injury, chronic pain, amputations, and more.

The Federal Government’s Gold Standard of Treatment for Wounded Veterans…

…is not cannabis.  At the end of the day, disabled veterans are experiencing some sort of pain be it physical or mental.  To remedy that, Veterans Affairs (VA) medical professionals prescribe synthetic drugs, usually a combination of those drugs, and often a cocktail that creates new and potentially lethal problems for the veterans taking them including addiction, overdose, adverse reactions, or complications for drug interaction.

This “gold standard” of treatment is especially troubling given the very vulnerable position in which injured veterans find themselves.  Having a disability can make it difficult to sustain work, relationships, and a sense of normalcy.  These conditions make veterans particularly susceptible to mental illness, and that certainly explains the extraordinarily high veteran suicide rates.  It also makes veterans vulnerable to addiction, and according to the National Veterans Foundation, veteran substance abuse is on the rise with alcohol being the primary substance of choice and prescription drugs a growing source, especially since it is handed out to them like candy.

These prescription drugs are federally legal—they’ve been approved by the FDA.  However, that does not mean that they aren’t dangerous, deadly and addictive.  Veterans know this since many of them experience the adverse reactions these synthetic medications cause.  But there is an alternative drug therapy that could (and has) improve their lives and manage their symptoms.

This alternative drug contains chemical compounds that have a symbiotic relationship with our endocannabinoids systems(ECS), the combination of chemicals, enzymes, and receptors that regulate day to day activities and promote homeostasis.  Research shows that the ECS regulates sleep, digestion, memory, mood, pain, pleasure and reward (addiction), motor control, immunity, and reproduction.  In short, a healthy ECS makes a healthy mind and body.

In addition to its powerful interaction with the ECS, this alternative therapy is organic in the sense that it is notsynthesized.  It is a natural product from the earth.  In fact, depending on where they live, some patients can grow it themselves, significantly reducing the cost of medical treatment.

Users cannot overdosefrom it.  Negative symptoms go away once it leaves the system, but those symptoms are mild compared to synthetic drugs: increased appetite (which is often desired by patients dealing with nausea or decreased appetite), temporary paranoia, dry mouth, and the sensation of euphoria.  It is also significantly less addictive than opioidsand alcohol; in fact, research suggests that this drug can help addicts overcome their substance abuse.

So what is it?  What is this drug that has been found to treat mental illness, brain injury, chronic pain, and inflammation(the root cause for an array of medical conditions)?  It’s cannabis.  And it’s federally illegal.

Because of its status as a Schedule 1 drug, veterans cannot use VA benefits to access it, and that can make things very complicated and expensive for this country’s heroes.  According to the VA, veterans who participate in state-sanctioned medical marijuana programs cannot be denied access to VA healthcare, but the use or possession of cannabis is prohibited at all VA medical centers, VA medical professionals cannot prescribe cannabis or complete paperwork required for veterans to participate in legal medical marijuana programs, VA money cannot cover cannabis related expenses, and veterans who are also employees of the VA are subject to drug testing and will be penalized if they test positive for cannabis use.

Veteran Organizations Advocating for Veteran Access to Cannabis

The troubling state of cannabis’ legal status and veteran well-being has motivated some to take up the cause of cannabis access for vets.  Here are some of those organizations.

Weed for Warriors Project—Founded by a Marine Corps veteran who found relief from marijuana, this organization provides veterans with a safe environment to learn about cannabis, socialize with other veterans, and free medicine with proof of military service and a current recommendation from a health care provider.

Veterans Cannabis Group—In addition to helping cannabis businesses improve relations with their local governments, this organization’s mission is to “provide education, safe access, information on VA resources and benefits, and an opportunity for veterans to work with other veterans within the cannabis industry.”

Grow for Vets—This organization is deeply concerned with veterans’ vulnerability to drug overdose.  Its mission is to “help save the more than 50 veterans who die each day from suicide and prescription drug overdose” by providing them with cannabis as an alternative medication.

Veterans Cannabis Project—The VCP envisions in a country where medical marijuana is a legal, socially acceptable, and affordable treatment for veterans.  To bring that vision into fruition, they “foster an environment that is politically and legally favorable to US military veterans using medical marijuana to address service-related health challenges that prevent them from living the high quality of life that they have earned.”


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Who Changed Trump's Mind About Leaving Marijuana Up To The States?

Tue, 01/16/2018 - 11:37
Whoever it was, the move leaves a huge opening for Democrats. Will they step up?



Who Changed Trump's Mind About Leaving Marijuana Up To The States?

A few days ago, Roger Stone sent out a VICE News article, "The GOP has a marijuana problem only Trump can fix," reminding its readers that Trump said multiple times on the campaign trail ...

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Why the Federal Cannabis Crackdown May Be a Blessing in Disguise for Legal Weed

Mon, 01/15/2018 - 13:19
Don’t panic, legalization advocates say: Jeff Sessions’ anti-marijuana policy will have little impact and may even hasten the formal end of prohibition.

Now that the dust has settled around attorney general Jeff Sessions’ promise of harsher federal marijuana enforcement, advocates of legalization have largely exchanged their initial disappointment over the move for one of long-term optimism.

“I think there was a knee-jerk reaction of something approaching panic, but once everyone calmed down, they’ve come to realize that practically this is going to have little impact,” said Patrick Moen, a former Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agent who now works as council to an investment firm in the nascent legal marijuana industry.

Some, like Moen, even believe the decision could be the best thing for the growing marijuana movement, hastening the formal end of weed prohibition in the US.

“There will probably a short term chilling effect, but this could ultimately be the best thing that’s ever happened to accelerate the pace of change,” Moen said.

The markets have reflected this somewhat counterintuitive sentiment. The United States Marijuana Index, which tracks 15 leading publicly traded legal marijuana-related companies, initially dropped 21% on the heels of the Department of Justice (DoJ) announcement, but it turned out to be a blip. By early this week the index had rebounded to within a few points of its one-year high.

Sessions’ announcement formally rescinded guidance, known as the Cole Memo, issued by the Obama-era DoJ that essentially told federal prosecutors to respect state laws with regards to marijuana. Importantly, though, Sessions’ decision did not direct or incentivize US attorneys to pursue marijuana cases, it just allowed them to if they so choose.

“The Cole Memo guidance was eminently reasonable and was a common sense good policy,” Moen said. “I think that despite the fact that it’s been formally rescinded, federal prosecutors will effectively continue to abide by it.”

One of the primary reasons concern has been tempered is that Sessions announcement is not actually likely to ensnare individual marijuana users into the criminal justice system.

Federal prosecutors almost never pursue simple possession charges against recreational users, whether in states where it is legal or not.

According to the Bureau of Justice statistics, 99% of those serving federal sentences for marijuana-related crimes were convicted of trafficking offenses, which typically relate to quantities far in excess of what individual recreational users would have.

"It is unlikely that this will affect them in any tangible negative way, other than depriving of the ability to buy marijuana legally,” said Justin Strekal, Political Director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (Norml).

The Sessions memo is unlikely to trigger a nationwide dragnet of marijuana users, and is also unlikely to cause wide-scale disruptions to legal cultivators, Moen notes.

“If federal prosecutors decide to ‘go rogue’ and start charging otherwise compliant state businesses, there’s going to be repercussions with regard to their relationships with the local [law enforcement],” Moen said.

Strekal notes, however, that because of civil-forfeiture laws, local law enforcement would have one very good reason to work with federal agents seeking to enforce marijuana laws on legal weed businesses. Although local law enforcement can’t bust those businesses on their own – they aren’t breaking any state or local laws – by joining with feds to enforce federal law, they get to claim a portion of any assets seized in a potential drug raid.

“In an area where you have a prohibitionist minded sheriff or a law enforcement agency, they will look at state-lawful marijuana facilities and see a big pile of money,” Strekal said.

The 4 January move by Sessions was sandwiched by two major wins for legalization advocates. On the first of the month, recreational weed became legal in California, after more than a decade of a quite lax medical marijuana program. Then on 10 January, Vermont became the first US state to legalize the substance with an act of legislation, rather than a popular referendum, as has been the case in states like California, Colorado and Oregon.

The decision may ultimately precipitate another win, as Moen observed. Within hours of Sessions’ announcement, a bipartisan group of legislators had come out against the decision and some, including Hawaii senator Brian Schatz, announced that legislation was already being crafted that could overrule Sessions, by changing the extent to which Marijuana is classified as illegal at the federal level.

“It’s great that we’ve had a number of members of Congress over the course of the last six days last week step up and say what the attorney general did is wrong. Now time for every single one of those members of Congress to put their names on the pending legislation,” Strekal said.


Jamiles Lartey is a reporter for Guardian US. Click here for Jamiles' public key. Twitter @JamilesLartey


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A Montana 'Handmaid's Tale': Local Prosecutor Calls for 'Immediate Crackdown' on Pregnant Drug and Alcohol Users

Fri, 01/12/2018 - 15:41
Click here for reuse options! A prosecutor tells the public to rat out pregnant women who are using drugs or alcohol.

A Montana prosecutor called this week for an "immediate crackdown" on women who use drugs or alcohol while pregnant, urging friends, family members, health care providers, and even strangers to turn in women they suspect to authorities. The prosecutor also warned drug- or alcohol-using pregnant women to "immediately self-report" to state health authorities to avoid criminal prosecution.

Even though there is zero scientific evidence supporting policies of coercion and punishment directed to pregnant women, some jurisdictions, mainly in the South, have taken to prosecuting women who give birth to children with drugs in their system. That's not good enough for Big Horn County Attorney Gerald Harris, who has concocted a toxic brew of right-wing, anti-choice, so-called fetal rights policies, and war on drugs ideology, along with a nice dollop of real-world racial disparity, to call for prosecuting pregnant women—and to go after them if they seek abortions to avoid prosecution.

In a Thursday press release, County Attorney Harris announced the crackdown, saying he will seek protection orders restraining pregnant women from any non-medically prescribed use of illicit drugs or alcohol, and those who violate the orders will be jailed to "incapacitate" them.  

"It is simply not satisfactory to our community that the protection of innocent, unborn children victimized in this manner and subject to a potential lifetime of disability and hardship relies exclusively on social workers removing the child from the custody of the mother at birth," Harris said. "This approach is not timely and has not proven to be a sufficient deterrent to this dangerous, unacceptable behavior and will no longer be the state’s policy in Big Horn County."

Big Horn County, home to the Crow and Northern Cheyenne Native American reservations, is 60% Native American and 33% white.  

Harris called on both the reservations and other prosecutors in Montana to join him in his crusade, which National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW) described as a "reckless call to hunt down pregnant women." The advocacy group said it was "shocked by this attack on the health, liberty, and basic human rights of women in Big Horn County."

Harris' statement "irresponsibly promotes medical and scientific misinformation, promotes an environment of fear and reflects a shocking disregard for the rights and well-being of women and families," NAPW charged.

NAPW warned that Harris has no legal authority to carry out such a policy, saying enforcement would violate state and federal law. It also had a heads-up for potential busy-bodies: "People who heed the prosecutor's call to report pregnant women and violate patient privacy and confidentiality may themselves be subject to legal action," the group advised.

As NAPW noted, policies of coercion and punishment directed at pregnant women are actually counterproductive. Such policies discourage women from seeking prenatal health care and may even drive some to seek abortions to avoid arrest. This is where Harris' anti-choice politics and view of women as essentially little more than incubators rears its head.

"In the event an expecting mother chooses to abort an unborn child instead of refraining from drug or alcohol use and litigation extends beyond our local courts, we trust Attorney General Fox will make the right decision on behalf of all Montanans and continue this fight to the extent necessary to ensure justice is afforded to the most vulnerable of our society," he warned.

The NAPW, for its part, cautions women against "self reporting" to government agencies that could incarcerate them and is urging "every medical and public health provider in Big Horn County to immediately oppose this dangerous, unethical, and counterproductive policy." The group also encourages everyone who supports the health, dignity, and human rights of pregnant women to contact Harris "to let him know you oppose this outrageous action." 

Harris thoughtfully provided his office phone number on his press release: (406) 665-9721. 

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What Jeff Sessions Doesn't Understand About Medical Marijuana

Fri, 01/12/2018 - 12:01
Marijuana has legitimate medical uses. It should not be a Schedule I drug and should not be denied to patients.



What Jeff Sessions doesn't understand about medical marijuana

C. Michael White, University of Connecticut

On Jan. 4, Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the Cole memo, a 2013 document that limits federal enforcement of marijuana laws.

This opens the door for a crackdown in the nine states with legal recreational marijuana.

The Cole memo is one of two documents that prevent the U.S. Justice Department from treating marijuana as a Schedule I drug, defined as a substance with no accepted medical treatment and high potential for abuse. The other is the 2014 Rohrabacher–Farr amendment. This legislation bars the Department of Justice from spending any funds to keep states from implementing their own laws about “the use, distribution, possession or cultivation of medical marijuana.”

The amendment’s language needs to be reinserted into law each year – and it’s currently set to expire on Jan. 18. That would leave patients in the 29 states with legal medical marijuana without their treatments and at risk of prosecution.

I have researched a number of drugs of abuse and natural products for safety and effectiveness. Just because a drug has abuse potential doesn’t mean it’s always bad and just because it’s natural doesn’t mean it’s always safe. While I’m no fan of legalizing recreational marijuana use, I believe there has to be special dispensation for patients with a legitimate medical need.

Medical marijuana works

There are approximately 1.2 million users of medical marijuana in these 29 states. Some of the most common ailments include pain or muscle spasms, nausea and vomiting, cancer, PTSD, seizures and glaucoma.

The body has a system of receptors that can be stimulated by the chemicals in marijuana, called cannabinoids. In animal studies, cannabinoids have been used to treat symptoms like harmful weight loss, vomiting, seizures and fluid pressure in the eyes.

There isn’t much human research on medical marijuana, thanks to the product’s illegal status and a lack of federal research funding. Large trials are nearly impossible to conduct, since products are often adulterated and the concentrations of cannabinoids vary from plant to plant.

Even so, human trials from around the world and pockets of the U.S. offer modestly strong evidence of marijuana’s benefits in a number of disorders, such as intractable nausea and vomiting, chronic pain and severe muscle spasms and epilepsy.

For example, a study published in May looked at the effects of cannabadiol – an active marijuana compound that does not cause euphoric high or hallucination – on children with Dravet syndrome, a rare genetic disorder characterized by frequent, severe drug-resistant seizures. Those who took cannabadiol cut their median number of convulsive seizures per month in half, from 12 to six. These findings may be applicable to other people with hard-to-treat seizures.

I bring up this example because it uses the highest quality study design. Also, seizures are not subjective symptoms like pain or nausea that critics may be skeptical of.

When patients become criminals Different types of THC-infused confections on display at a pot dispensary in Eugene, Ore. AP Photo/Ryan Kang

In my home state of Connecticut, medical marijuana is legal. Doctors are required to certify that potential medical marijuana users have a disease for which there is adequate medical evidence for marijuana’s benefit. The patient then visits a licensed dispensary facility, where a pharmacists helps to select the type of product that would work best.

In such a dispensary, pharmacists know the exact amount of the active chemicals that each product contains. Unlike illegal marijuana, their products aren’t contaminated with heavy metals, bacteria, fungi, herbicides or pesticides.

What if patients can no longer access these products? They will either have to go without and lose the benefits of their treatment, leading to moderately intense marijuana withdrawal symptoms, such as insomnia, chills, shakiness and stomach pain.

Or, they might try to switch to the black market, where products may be inconsistent and prosecution is possible. In so doing, they would be supporting organized crime and exposing themselves to additional dangers. I especially worry about children with epilepsy who might have to use illegal marijuana that gives them a high due to the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) rather than a legal version with little to no THC.

A balanced approach

Since 2014, the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment has been routinely included in the appropriations language with support from both parties. But in the past year, things have broken down. So far, the amendment has survived through resolutions to extend government spending, but it’s unclear whether it will appear in the new federal budget.

Sessions has already written to members of Congress asking them not to support this amendment, saying it inhibits the department’s authority. A new subcommittee at the Department of Justice plans to assess the legalized use of marijuana.

Legal recreational marijuana comes with potential benefits and drawbacks to society, and I’m not sure yet that we know what the impact will be over the long term. But the research on medical marijuana is clear: Marijuana has legitimate medical uses. It should not be a Schedule I drug and should not be denied to patients. There’s virtually no upside to banning a potentially effective therapy for patients with diseases like cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy.

C. Michael White, Professor and Head of the Department of Pharmacy Practice, University of Connecticut

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Report: Legal Marijuana Would Create One Million Jobs

Fri, 01/12/2018 - 11:52
If we could only get Jeff Sessions and federal marijuana prohibition out of the way.



Legal Marijuana Would Create One Million Jobs: Report

Legalizing marijuana nationwide would create more than one million new jobs within the next decade, a new study says. Analysis from New Frontier Data, a firm that focuses on the marijuana industry ...

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Microdosing Marijuana: What Doctors Say Is The Best Way To Consume

Thu, 01/11/2018 - 12:27
What is microdosing and why is it better?

There are those cannabis connoisseurs who enjoy getting super stoned at the end of a long day at the office, while others are now embracing an emerging trend called microdosing, a procedure that allows the user to moderate their mind by taking small doses throughout the day.

The concept of microdosing is simple: instead of consuming enough THC to join the land of catatonia, the user leans on somewhere between 3 to 10 milligrams to feel some effect without entering into a realm of laughing fits, paranoia and ravenous hunger. It is increasingly popular practice that Rolling Stone calls “Marijuana 2.0,” an idea that less is actually more when it comes to using cannabis for its therapeutic and creativity-inducing benefits.

However, there are some challenges involved. What is considered a low dose for some may not cut it for others. It is similar to how it would be if measuring the effectiveness of Ibuprofen on a large group of people. Some of them would find relief with 200 milligrams, while it might take others near pharmaceutical levels to cut through the pain. So, the core of this dosing principle is really just about the individual finding the perfect “micro-buzz” that allows them to feel comfortable and productive.

Dr. Duston Sulak, who has been working with medical marijuana patients in Maine for the past eight years, told Rolling Stone that he has developed a system to help people find their optimal microdose.

“Abstain from cannabis for two days. On day three, consume one milligram of THC and one milligram of CBD, preferably in a tincture or oil where they can be measured precisely,” he said. “Before consuming, ask yourself three questions, and answer on a scale of one to 10: How easy is it to breathe, how comfortable and calm does your body feel and how easy is it for you to smile authentically, to feel content and grateful?”

Feel nothing? Increase your dose by one milligram, the doctor says.

“You repeat this process over the next few days, increasing the dose by small increments,” he explained. “When you reach a point where you feel a difference after consuming, you’ve found your minimal effective dose.”

No matter how high of a tolerance a person has, the doctor says 48 hours of abstinence is all that is needed to hit the rest button.

Although microdosing may go against the grain of the old time stoner philosophy, medical experts say that finding the “minimum effective dose” is the key when treating a patient with any medication. After all, it is not advised to take other medications at intoxicating levels, so why should marijuana be treated any differently?


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Iran Eases Drug Laws; Could Halt Execution of 5,000 Prisoners

Thu, 01/11/2018 - 00:07
One of the world's leading drug executioners is taking a dramatic step away from the death penalty--and it's retroactive.

The lives of more than 5,000 prisoners on death row in Iran could be spared as a change in the law abolishes capital punishment for some drug-trafficking offences.

Iran is second only to China in the number of prisoners executed in recent years, the majority put to death for drug offences. More than 500 people were executed in 2017.

The softening of drug-trafficking laws was put into force in a communique by the head of the Iranian judiciary to all judicial officials on Tuesday.

Campaigners said it was a potentially significant step towards halting executions worldwide.

The Iranian parliament passed measures in August raising the threshold for a death sentence to possession of 50kg of opium, 2kg of heroin or 3kg of methamphetamine. Under the previous law, possessing 5kg of opium or 30g of heroin was a capital offence.

The new limits are set to be applied retrospectively, potentially saving the lives of thousands on death row. Mizanonline, the news agency affiliated to Iran’s judicial system, reported on Tuesday that its chief, Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani, had asked officials to halt executions of those affected by the new amendments, reconsider their cases and commute their sentences if possible.

A young population and an abundance of cheap, addictive substances, many coming over the border from Afghanistan, pose a twin challenge to Iranian authorities. Almost 3 million Iranians are estimated to be addicted to hard drugs, out of a population of 80 million.

Iran has mostly resorted to a punitive campaign of arrests and executions to tackle drugs. Last year European countries funding Iran’s counter-narcotics programme threatened to cut off contributions if Iran continued to use the death penalty for drug traffickers.

Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, from Iran Human Rights (IHR), an independent NGO based in Norway that has monitored Iran’s use of the capital punishment and has been critical of its record, welcomed the news.

“It is potentially one of the most significant steps to limit the use of the death penalty in the world, which can lead to at least 5,000 people, according to official figures, seeing their death sentences commuted,” he said.

“This is quite unprecedented, but one caveat is that the commute is not automatic and convicts need to take the first step themselves and make sure their case is reconsidered.

“Our concern is that the majority of those on death row belong to the marginalised part of the Iranian society and may not be aware of the changes and not have the possibilities to take this step. Those who are on death row for drug offences must be given legal aid.”

Amiry-Moghaddam said that since November when the law was signed by the president, Hassan Rouhani, “nobody that we know of has been executed for such offences”. According to the Iranian parliament’s judicial committee, more than 5,000 convicts on death row could benefit from the amendment, the majority said to be aged between 20 to 30.

Despite the new measures, Iran executed five juvenile offenders in 2017 and has killed at least one so far this year. Iranian leaders have been repeatedly criticised, including by the UN, for continuing to sentence juvenile offenders to death in defiance of international treaties. According to Amnesty, at least 88 people are on death row in Iran for committing crimes while being under the age of 18.

A July 2017 report by Amnesty said the new change “fails to abolish the death penalty for non-lethal drug-related offences as is required by international law”.


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Vermont Legislature Approves Noncommercial Marijuana Legalization Bill

Wed, 01/10/2018 - 12:57
Click here for reuse options! Adults could possess and grow small amounts of pot, but there would be no pot shops—for now.

The Vermont Senate Wednesday took a final vote on a bill that would legalize the possession and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana, but not taxed and regulated sales. Gov. Phil Scott has said he will sign the bill into law.

If and when he does, Vermont will become the first state to have legalized marijuana through the legislative process. Eight states and the District of Columbia have already legalized marijuana, but those were all through the initiative process.

The bill, House Bill 511, legalizes the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana and the cultivation of two mature and four immature plants by persons 21 or over. It does not allow for legal commerce, instead "retaining criminal penalties for the possession, dispensing, or sale of larger amounts of marijuana."

For now, anyway. The bill also calls for a task force appointed by the governor to study the issue and recommend "legislation on implementing and operating a comprehensive regulatory and revenue system for an adult marijuana market" by December 31.

Vermont very nearly legalized it last year. The bill passed both houses of the legislature only to be vetoed by Gov. Scott, who said it needed small changes to win his approval. The Senate quickly approved the changes, but House Republicans blocked a needed vote on them during a short budget session last summer.

The New Hampshire House approved a similar legalization on Tuesday. The actions in both New England states come just days after Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded Obama-era guidance to federal prosecutors deprioritizing federal pot law enforcement in states where it is legal.

While the threat of federal intervention was not the driving force in the two states' moves to legalize personal possession and cultivation, but not a legal, taxed, and regulated marijuana market, the lack of legal pot commerce may provide some cover from federal prosecutors, who would be left looking for people with an ounce of weed or a couple of plants. They probably have bigger fish to fry. 


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