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Secondhand marijuana smoke may be just as bad for you as tobacco

Increasing legalization of marijuana becoming a public health concern

Marijuana is often regarded as a non-starter when it comes to physical effects on the body, but new research finds that secondhand marijuana smoke may damage blood vessels as much as tobacco smoke.

This shouldn't be too surprising since marijuana and tobacco smoke are chemically and physically alike, aside from their active ingredients -- nicotine in the cases of cigarettes, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in marijuana.

"Most people know secondhand cigarette smoke is bad for you, but many don't realize that secondhand marijuana smoke may also be harmful," said Matthew Springer, Ph.D., senior author of the study and cardiovascular researcher and associate professor of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco's Cardiology Division.

The research is being presented at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions 2014.

Growing concern

Now that marijuana is becoming increasingly legalized in the United States, its effect on others is a growing public health concern, Springer said.

"If you're hanging out in a room where people are smoking a lot of marijuana, you may be harming your blood vessels," he said. "There's no reason to think marijuana smoke is better than tobacco smoke. Avoid them both."

Secondhand tobacco smoke causes about 34,000 premature deaths from heart disease each year in the United States among nonsmokers according to the U.S. Surgeon General's 2014 report on the consequences of smoking.

More research is needed to determine if secondhand marijuana smoke has other similar effects to secondhand cigarette smoke in humans.

In the study, blood vessel function in lab rats dropped 70% after 30 minutes of exposure to secondhand marijuana smoke. Even when the marijuana contained no THC, blood vessel function was still impaired.

Reduced blood vessel function may raise the chances of developing atherosclerosis and could lead to a heart attack. Atherosclerosis is the disease process that causes plaque build-up in the arteries which narrows them and restricts blood flow.

The drop in blood vessel function from THC-free marijuana suggests that the compound isn't responsible for the effect. Similarly, this study confirms that nicotine is not required for smoke to interfere with blood vessel function.

Smoking machine

In the study, researchers used a modified cigarette smoking machine to expose rats to marijuana smoke. A high-resolution ultrasound machine measured how well the main leg artery functioned. Researchers recorded blood vessel dilation before smoke exposure and 10 minutes and 40 minutes after smoke exposure.

They also conducted separate tests with THC-free marijuana and plain air. There was no difference in blood vessel function when the rats were exposed to plain air.

In previous tobacco studies, blood vessel function tended to go back to normal within 30 minutes of exposure. However, in the marijuana study, blood vessel function didn't return to normal when measured 40 minutes after exposure.

Marijuana is often regarded as a non-starter when it comes to physical effects on the body, but new research finds that secondhand marijuana smoke may dama...

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Marijuana involvement in fatal accidents increases in Colorado

Percentage of stoned drivers in crashes more than doubled from 1994 to 2011

Marijuana may help reduce frustration with traffic congestion but it's not doing much to increase traffic safety in Colorado, where a new study finds a dramatic increase in the proportion of marijuana drivers involved in fatal traffic accidents since the commercialization of medical marijuana there in mid-2009.

University of Colorado School of Medicine researchers used data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Fatality Analysis Reporting System covering 1994 to 2011. They analyzed fatal motor vehicle crashes in Colorado and in the 34 states that did not have medical marijuana laws.

They found that fatal motor vehicle crashes in Colorado involving at least one driver who tested positive for marijuana accounted for 4.5 percent in the first six months of 1994; this percentage increased to 10 percent in the last six months of 2011. 

The increase in Colorado was significantly greater compared to the 34 non-medical marijuana states from mid-2009 to 2011. The researchers also reported no significant changes over time in the proportion of drivers in a fatal motor vehicle crash who were alcohol-impaired within Colorado and comparing Colorado to the 34 non-medical marijuana states.

Stacy Salomonsen-Sautel, Ph.D, who was a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Pharmacology, is the lead author of the study, which is available online in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence. Christian Hopfer, MD, associate professor of psychiatry, is the senior author.

While the study does not determine cause and effect relationships, such as whether marijuana-positive drivers caused or contributed to the fatal crashes, it indicates a need for better education and prevention programs to curb impaired driving.

Marijuana may help reduce frustration with traffic congestion but it's not doing much to increase traffic safety in Colorado, where a new study finds a dra...

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Study finds marijuana use may increase heart complications

For some young and middle-aged adults, the consequences could be fatal

Now that marijuana use won't get you busted in your state, are you thinking of firing up a doobie and mellowing out? You might want to think again, dude.

According to a French study reported in the Journal of the American Heart Association, smoking pot could result in cardiovascular-related complications -- even death -- among young and middle-aged adults.

"In prior research, we identified several remarkable cases of cardiovascular complications as the reasons for hospital admission of young marijuana users," said Emilie Jouanjus, Pharm.D., Ph.D., lead author of the study and a medical faculty member at the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Toulouse in Toulouse, France. "This unexpected finding deserved to be further analyzed, especially given that the medicinal use of marijuana has become more prevalent and some governments are legalizing its use."

Key findings

Researchers analyzed serious cardiovascular-related complications following marijuana use that was reported to the French Addictovigilance Network in 2006-10. They identified 35 cases of cardiovascular and vascular conditions related to the heart, brain and limbs.

Among their findings:

  • Most of the patients were male, average age 34.3 years.
  • Nearly 2% (35 of the 1,979) marijuana-related complications were cardiovascular complications.
  • Of the 35 cases, 22 were heart-related, including 20 heart attacks; 10 were peripheral with diseases related to arteries in the limbs; and three were related to the brain's arteries.
  • The percentage of reported cardiovascular complications more than tripled from 2006 to 2010.
  • Nine patients, or 25.6 percent, died.

And that may not tell the whole story. researchers note that marijuana use and any resulting health complications are likely underreported.

There are 1.2 million regular users in France, and thus potentially a large amount of complications that are not detected by the French Addictovigilance System.

A harmless activity?

"The general public thinks marijuana is harmless, but information revealing the potential health dangers of marijuana use needs to be disseminated to the public, policymakers and healthcare providers," Jouanjus said.

People with pre-existing cardiovascular weaknesses appear to be more prone to the harmful effects of marijuana.

"There is now compelling evidence on the growing risk of marijuana-associated adverse cardiovascular effects, especially in young people," Jouanjus said. "It is therefore important that doctors, including cardiologists, be aware of this, and consider marijuana use as one of the potential causes in patients with cardiovascular disorders."

Surveillance of marijuana-related reports of cardiovascular disorders should continue and more research needs to look at how marijuana use might trigger cardiovascular events, she said.

Now that marijuana use won't get you busted in your state, are you thinking of firing up a doobie and mellowing out? You might want to think again, dude. ...

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Cannabis chemistry: keeping it pure

Video shows how scientists test pot for potency, safety

With marijuana being legalized in cities and states around the country, more attention is being paid to policing the quality and purity of the popular mood-alterer.

Back in the bad old days when it was illegal throughout the country, marijuana varied widely in quality and was often "cut" with other substances that made it less effective and even, in some cases, harmful.

Noting all the newfound interest, the American Chemical Society has put together a video that explains the chemistry behind marijuana's high and investigates what scientists are doing to ensure that legalized weed won't send users on a bad trip.

With marijuana being legalized in cities and states around the country, more attention is being paid to policing the quality and purity of the popular mood...

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Are medical marijuana commercials coming to TV?

Probably not, despite last week's hoax

American marijuana laws have been in flux for the past few years: at the federal level, marijuana is thoroughly illegal and officially lacking all medicinal value (unless it's sold in synthetic form as “Marinol,” which is available only via prescription). At the state level, things change: some states ban marijuana as thoroughly as do the feds, other states allow marijuana to be sold as a prescription drug, and in two states, Colorado and Washington, it is legal as a recreational drug — like alcohol, only far more restricted.

But there's one particular type of marijuana ban that hasn't changed anywhere in the U.S., and is unlikely to do so: TV watchers won't see ads for marijuana airing during commercial breaks.

It's worth mentioning, however, that marijuana is by no means exclusive in that regard; radio and TV ads for tobacco cigarettes have been banned in the U.S. since 1970. On the other hand, American TV viewers routinely see advertisements for prescription pharmaceuticals, which makes us an outlier by world standards; New Zealand is the only other country where “direct to consumer pharmaceutical advertising” is legal.

Therefore, even assuming a near-future America where all federal and state marijuana-criminalization laws are rescinded, and marijuana became, presumably, the legal equivalent of alcohol where sale, use and possession are concerned — what would its legal status be regarding TV commercials? Banned completely, like tobacco cigarettes, or allowed in certain low-potency circumstances a la beer commercials? [He's the Most Interesting Man in the World, and he says: “I don't always get stoned, but when I do, I prefer San Diego Stinkweed. Stay profound, my friends.”]

And even if recreational marijuana ads were banned, that still leaves open the question of pharmaceutical/medicinal marijuana ads.

Non-existent non-issue

The non-issue of non-existent marijuana ads nonetheless became a short-lived media sensation last week (if you missed it, that's probably because you blinked) after issued a March 7 press release announcing its intention to air the first-ever medical marijuana TV commercials on various Comcast channels. Respected media outlets ranging from CNN and TIME to Comcast subsidiary NBC News reported the story as though the ads actually aired — except they never did (although they are visible on YouTube).

Story continues below video

So it brought free publicity to (exhibits A and B: this article exists, and you are reading it), yet it's worth asking: might this little stunt have somehow harmed the pro-marijuana-legalization cause?

When MediaPost explored the topic on March 11, it noted: “the question remains, can pot ads ever air nationally? Or is the only way for medical marijuana to receive national coverage to engage in this type of trickery?”

Of course, the wide availability of Internet access might render the question moot — content forbidden to broadcast over the airwaves is still easy to find on YouTube, and the very act of “watching TV,” let alone subscribing to cable, is in decline compared to obtaining content through computers or over handheld devices.

American marijuana laws have been in flux for the past few years...

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Buying, treating effects of illegal drugs skyrocketing

Americans may have spent $1 trillion on illegal drugs in 10 years

The economy may still be shaky and unemployment still high, but Americans are somehow finding the resources to purchase marijuana, cocaine, meth and other illicit drugs.

A report compiled for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy by researchers affiliated with the RAND Drug Policy Research Center says Americans likely spent more than $1 trillion on illegal drugs between 2000 and 2010.

America the stoned

Studying illegal drug use over that period, researchers found Americans consumed 30% more marijuana from 2006 to 2010, while cocaine consumption fell by about half. Meanwhile, heroin use was fairly stable throughout the decade. Methamphetamine consumption dramatically increased during the first half of the decade and then declined.

Citing 2012 statistics, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports 8.9% of people in the U.S., age 12 or older, had used an illicit drug in the past month. A large percentage of them reported using marijuana.

"Having credible estimates of the number of heavy drug users and how much they spend is critical for evaluating policies, making decisions about treatment funding and understanding the drug revenues going to criminal organizations," said Beau Kilmer, the study's lead author and co-director of the RAND Drug Policy Research Center. "This work synthesizes information from many sources to present the best estimates to date for illicit drug consumption and spending in the United States."

Legal sales not included

The report's data stops at 2010 so researchers say it does not cover the recent spike in heroin use, or take into consideration the consequences of marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington.

The study provides estimates of the amount of cocaine, heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine used each year from 2000 to 2010. It includes estimates of retail spending on illicit drugs and the number of chronic users, who researchers say account for a majority of drug consumption.

Prevention and treatment

Besides the money consumers spend on illegal drugs, billions more is spent trying to prevent those purchases and treating the effects of drug abuse. The Drug Policy Alliance reports the U.S. spends $51 billion a year on the war on drugs. In 2012 1.55 million people in the U.S. were arrested on nonviolent drug charges.

In 2012 749,825 people in the U.S. were arrested for violating marijuana laws – 88% of them for possession. The number of Americans incarcerated in 2012 in federal, state and local prisons and jails rose to 2.2 million, or one in every 108 adults, the highest incarceration rate in the world.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse keeps track of the costs of substance abuse. By its accounting the abuse of tobacco, alcohol, and illicit drugs is costly, amounting to over $600 billion annually in costs related to crime, lost work productivity and healthcare.

Costs of drug use

It says the health care costs related to illicit drug use is $11 billion a year. Drug use overall, it says, costs $193 billion. Compared to alcohol, which is legal, the health care costs are $30 billion and overall costs $235 billion.

The large uptick in marijuana use appears to be related to an increase in the number of people described as heavy users, who reported using the drug on a daily or near-daily basis. Those estimates are based on the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, which surveys nearly 70,000 people each year.

Estimates for cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine are largely based on information from the Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring Program, or ADAM, which was recently defunded by the U.S. government.

The economy may still be shaky and unemployment still high, but Americans are somehow finding the resources to purchase marijuana, cocaine, meth and other ...

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Marijuana safety: drugs vs. food

Federal food-safety laws don't apply to marijuana edibles

Future historians will be able to build entire specialized careers out of parsing the contradictory American laws regarding marijuana in the second decade of the 21st century.

At the federal level, marijuana is still officially classified as a Schedule 1 drug — meaning that there is absolutely zero medicinal benefit, according to federal regulators. (However, while genuine marijuana officially has no medical use, artificial marijuana in the form of the prescription drug Marinol does.)

So that's the federal view of marijuana, but at the state level things change depending on where you live: marijuana is legal for recreational purposes in Colorado and Washington State, legal via prescription for medicinal purposes in 20 states and the District of Columbia, and a medically worthless felony-offense drug everywhere else (as of presstime).

A considerable paradox

But in those states where marijuana is less than completely illegal, there's a new legal wrinkle to consider: as an op-ed writer for Food Safety Newswondered, “What About Marijuana Food Safety?” and noted: “A considerable paradox exists in U.S. food policy. Although the federal government has named food safety as a top priority, an entire pocket of the food industry remains largely unregulated by, or at least largely under the radar of, most federal agencies. That pocket is marijuana-infused food.”

Here's the problem: for the most part, food safety is overseen by the feds (though states do have the option of adding additional regulations if they wish). Meanwhile, where marijuana at the state level is concerned, the federal government has a sort of “don't ask, don't tell” policy in place: still completely illegal at the federal level, but if a state government chooses to take a different view, the Drug Enforcement Administration and other anti-marijuana federal agencies more or less ignore it.

So — for those who view marijuana as something to eat rather than something to smoke — what policies are the feds implementing to ensure the marijuana-food supply is safe? Thus far, the answer appears to be “no policy at all.”

The Coloradoannoted on Feb. 6 that in Colorado, ever since retail marijuana sales became legal on Jan. 1, foods infused with marijuana have gained in popularity among people who want to enjoy the effects of marijuana without subjecting themselves to clouds of pungent (okay, stinky) pot smoke.

But the only safety issues mentioned in that article are those involving people who confuse marijuana-infused treats with ordinary ones — say, mistaking a marijuana brownie for a regular non-intoxicating chocolate treat. And what state-level rules have been or will be implemented focus mainly on how potent a given batch of marijuana is — an entirely different matter from, say, making sure a given crop is free of E. coli or other contaminants.

We suspect that when future historians write their doctoral dissertations on the evolution of American marijuana laws, they will note that federal food-safety standards did not apply to marijuana crops until after the feds abandoned their “Schedule 1” insistence and officially treated marijuana as akin to alcohol—taxed and regulated far more strictly than ordinary consumer consumables, in some places available only through a state-run monopoly, but completely legal for any adult to possess or ingest.

Future historians will build entire specialized careers out of parsing the contradictory American marijuana laws in the early 21st century...

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World's first marijuana retail license issued in Colorado

Retail marijuana sales one of the fastest-growing businesses in the country

The Chief of Police hand-delivered the world’s first retail license to sell marijuana to Annie’s Central City Dispensaryin Colorado yesterday, a historic occasion in a historic old gold-mining town. 

Though sales to adults 21 and over won’t begin until the first of the year, businesses have already started applying for the licenses, which are expected to bring in close to $67 million in revenue for the state each year.

“Cannabis is one of the fastest-growing industries,” Steve Berg, former managing director of Wells Fargo Bank and editor of a report titled the state of Legal Marijuana Markets, told the Huffington Post. “Domestically, we weren’t able to find any market that is growing as quickly.”

Currently operating medical marijuana dispensaries have been given a three-month head start on other businesses applying for the licenses, though some cities, including Denver, have extended the lead time for current dispensaries to a year or more.

The state’s Marijuana Enforcement Division has accepted 136 applications from recreational marijuana stores so far. Another 400 are eligible to apply, though the state has said only establishments in “good standing” will be accepted. 

“This is a historic occasion, and at each milestone I am reminded of what we have achieved here,” said Major Neill Franklin (Ret.), a former police officer and current head of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a group of law enforcement officials opposed to the war on drugs. “The legalization of marijuana is good for law enforcement, good for families, good for our communities. The voters of Colorado and Washington are leading the way down a path that soon the rest of the nation will follow.”

Law Enforcement Against Prohibition is a group of police, prosecutors, judges and other law enforcement officials who, after fighting on the front lines of the war on drugs, now advocate for its end. #

The Central City Chief of Police hand-delivered the world’s first retail license to sell marijuana to Annie’s, a medical marijuana dispensary t...

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Synthetic marijuana linked to stroke in young people

"Spice" also implicated in heart attacks, psychosis, hallucinations and other bad outcomes

There's a popular belief that anything that's "natural" is better than anything that's not. It's not always true but in the case of marijuana, it just may be that sticking to the real thing is safer than using synthetic substitutes, popularly known as "spice" and "K2." (Using none at all is OK too, of course).

A University of South Florida neurology team reports that stroke may be among the severe health hazards associated with synthetic marijuana.

An advance online article in the journal Neurology  details case studies by the USF neurologists of two healthy, young siblings who experienced acute ischemic strokes soon after smoking the street drug spice.  Ischemic strokes occur when an artery to the brain is blocked.

Seizures, abnormal heart rhythms, heart attacks, psychosis, hallucinations and other serious adverse effects have been associated with smoking synthetic pot.  Medical journals have also begun to report a growing number of strokes potentially related to the use of natural (non-synthetic) marijuana.

“Since the two patients were siblings, we wondered whether they might have any undiagnosed genetic conditions that predisposed them to strokes at a young age. We rigorously looked for those and didn’t come up with anything,” said senior author W. Scott Burgin, MD, professor of neurology at the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine and director of the Comprehensive Stroke Center at Tampa General Hospital.

“To the best of our knowledge, what appeared to be heart-derived strokes occurred in two people with otherwise healthy hearts.  So more study is needed.”

USF vascular neurology fellow Melissa Freeman, MD, was lead author of the paper.

Herb mixture

Synthetic marijuana refers to a mixture of herbs, often resembling lawn clippings, that have been sprayed or soaked with a solution of designer chemicals intended to produce a high similar to cannabis when consumed.  Spice can be much more potent than conventional marijuana because of the more complete way the psychoactive ingredient in the synthetic product binds to the brain’s cannabinoid receptors, Dr. Burgin said.

People who smoke spice expose their brains to unidentified chemicals untested on humans.

“You don’t know what you’re getting when you smoke synthetic marijuana,” Dr. Burgin said. “It’s like the Wild West of pharmaceuticals, and you may be playing dangerously with your brain and your health.”

Not identified in standard toxicology screens, spice has become second only to natural marijuana as the most widely used illicit drug among high school seniors, according to a 2011 survey sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

More physicians need to be more aware of the potentially toxic effects of recreational synthetic drugs, especially when seeing conditions like heart attack or stroke not as common in young patients, Dr. Burgin said. “Be willing to ask about pot and spice use, because it’s not something patients are inclined to volunteer and synthetic marijuana does not show up on routine drug tests.”

There's a popular belief that anything that's "natural" is better than anything that's not. It's not always true but in the case of marijuana, it just may ...

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Patchwork of state marijuana laws could spell trouble

Never underestimate the War on Drugs' potential for collateral damage

It looks like the beginning of the end for American marijuana prohibition, which has been every bit as successful as 1920s alcohol prohibition while lasting almost ten times as long.

Granted, we’re still a long ways away from a time when we can report on the relative quality of various marijuana brands or which shape of waterpipe is best at filtering smoke. Meanwhile, as America turns into a legal patchwork quilt where marijuana is safe and legal in some states while remaining a super-dangerous Schedule I drug in others, a couple aspects of the law purely scare the hell out of many observers.

The federal government has decreed that, among other things, states with legal marijuana must have systems in place to prevent its being transported to states where it is not legal. But how will this be possible, short of intimately searching every person, package and vehicle exiting a legal-marijuana state? And here’s an even worse thought: given the frequent overzealousness of the anti-drug police, think how ridiculously easy it will be for dishonest people in legal-pot states to utterly destroy the lives of enemies in non-pot states!

After all, American anti-drug laws (or, rather, those who enforce them) have long since abandoned the quaint old notion of “innocent until proven guilty”—if there’s any illicit plant matter in your vicinity, cops automatically assume you are, at minimum, Pablo Escobar 2.0.

For example ...

Consider this example (which I mention not because it’s unique but because it’s so depressingly common): One afternoon in 2008, a man named Cheye Calvo, then-mayor of Berwyn Heights, Maryland, returned home from walking his dogs when suddenly, armed SWAT team members broke into his house, shot and killed his dogs, forced him at gunpoint to walk downstairs in his underwear and sit, handcuffed, next to the stiffening corpses of his beloved pets … because somebody sent his wife a package of marijuana via UPS.

Neither Calvo nor his wife had any knowledge of the package; authorities later admitted they were victims of a scheme wherein drugs are sent to unknowing recipients and then intercepted along the way.

The police, of course, insisted that they did nothing wrong; terrorizing  innocent families and murdering their pets is a small price to pay in exchange for making marijuana slightly more difficult for determined smokers to buy.

So here’s the scenario that's scary: Some sociopath with a few bucks to spare thinks “Hmm, as an evil-minded resident of a legal-marijuana state who absolutely despises law-abiding Maryland [or other illegal-marijuana jurisdiction] resident Joe Blow, I think it’s worth spending a few bucks to anonymously mail Joe a couple ounces of weed, then leave an anonymous tip with the anti-drug squad of Joe’s hometown police force....”

How realistic are those fears? Conventional wisdom says marijuana makes you paranoid; could changes in marijuana law have the same effect? I posed that question to members of LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition),  a non-profit coalition of current and former police, prosecutors and other law-enforcement professionals who have realized that the War on Drugs isn’t working.

As a practical matter

LEAP member and former prosecutor Jim Doherty suspects the fear of legal marijuana being used to frame innocent people is, technically, unfounded—though not for the reason you might think.

“Because state and federal search & seizure laws do not allow thorough searches of all individuals crossing between states, there is always the possibility that individuals will cross a state border with drugs (legal or illegal) in their possession,” he wrote in an email. “Recreational marijuana that is produced by licensed growers in the State of Washington will be transported to licensed retailers [….] The problem, at least for the next few years, is that unlicensed marijuana is still being produced and sold outside the regulated market. Unlicensed, unregulated marijuana is untaxed, so that product will be cheaper and more prone to cross state borders.”

So our hypothetical sociopath won’t frame people with legal marijuana because the illicit variety is cheaper. Still: It’s an undeniable fact that innocent people have been terrorized by police seeking to intercept marijuana mailings. What can be done to protect the Cheye Calvos of the future?

LEAP member and former special agent David Long suggested:  “My short answer is that one would hope that prosecutors would utilize their lawful discretion in considering whether to prosecute such cases and that politicians would have the guts to see cases like this as isolated incidents that have nothing to do with the overall enforcement of the legalized marijuana regime.”

Yes, well, some prosecutors might use discretion but there is no shortage of politically ambitious prosecutors riding roughshod over individuals, innocent and otherwise.

But James Gierach, formerly a prosecutor himself, offered a potentially useful suggestion:  “[H]ow do we prevent an innocent resident of a marijuana prohibition state from being victimized by an enemy or jokester who mails a box of marijuana across state lines, crossing the boundary between legal to illegal?  We need to make it a complete defense to the recipient of the package if the sender uses a false return address on the package.  Then, the insensible will make some sense.”

Were such a policy in place five years ago, nobody outside of Berwyn Heights, Maryland would ever have heard of Cheye Calvo, and he wouldn't have had to watch angry SWAT team members shoot his dogs, either.

As marijuana warriors relent in some states, they might get harsher in others...

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Tide shifts in favor of legalizing marijuana, study finds

Pew survey finds a majority of Americans support legalizing marijuana

When it comes to the discussion of drug use in the United States, the conversation can go in about a million different ways all at the same time.

First, there are some people in the discussion who tend to put all illegal drugs in the same category, and make the point that the war on drugs doesn’t only need to continue, it needs to be stepped up.

Then you have those in the conversation who see a need for a completely new outlook on certain drugs, specifically marijuana, and according to the Pew Research Center, the majority (52%) of U.S. residents believe marijuana should be legal, which is the highest percentage of people sharing that belief in 40 years.

As has happened recently with gay marriage, public opinion seems to have reached a "tipping point," and, after years of slow change, now appears to be moving rapidly.

Time to catch up?

The research is providing added ammunition to proponents of legalized marijuana.

"It's time for politicians to catch up to the voters on this issue. Not too long ago, it was widely accepted in political circles that elected officials who wanted to get re-elected needed to act 'tough' on drugs and go out of their way to support the continued criminalization of marijuana. The opposite is quickly becoming true," said Tom Angell of Marijuana Majority. "A majority of Americans support legalizing marijuana, and you're going to start seeing more politicians running toward our movement instead of away from it, just as we've seen happen with marriage equality recently." 

In fact, it does seem the tide is changing in the favor of those who support legal marijuana use, as there are currently 14 U.S. states that have lowered the penalty for a person carrying small amounts.

In Rhode Island, for example, officials have decriminalized amounts that seem to be for personal use, so someone carrying less than an ounce of marijuana will be subject to a $150 ticket with no jail time.

John G. Edwards, a Rhode Island state representative, feels that decriminalizing small amounts of pot is a move towards a sensible solution to the nation’s drug problem.

“I am very proud that Rhode Island will be able to begin a new chapter in sensible drug policy today,” said Edwards in a press conference.

“As I have said many times before, I firmly believe that people should be able to work, volunteer and live their lives after being caught for a youthful indiscretion or two. What we have been able to do with this law is effectively punish those in possession of small quantities of marijuana while giving people opportunities to redeem themselves by allowing them to be productive members of society.”

Throwing kids in jail

And as far as teen marijuana use is concerned, Sen. Josh Mille of Rhode Island—like other state officials on his side of the argument—says proper education instead of throwing kids in jail may be the right move to get them to stop or at least remove the forbidden fruit aspects of smoking the controversial green stuff.

“It’s clear from what we’ve been able to glean from the Special Senate Commission to study the prohibition of marijuana that education and treatment are better for addressing teen marijuana use than incarceration,” he said.

“We’re also saving money by keeping people out of jail for minor marijuana infractions and putting money where it can best serve our communities: drug education programs for young violators.”

Surf's not up everywhere

However, a bill in Hawaii over the decriminalization of marijuana didn’t go quite the same way. State lawmakers there defeated a bill that would have followed in the footsteps of places like Rhode Island.

Those concerned about decriminalizing pot in the Aloha State, like former Congressman Patrick Kennedy, say lightening marijuana laws will only increase people’s dependence on it.

“Hawaii’s rates of marijuana use are significantly higher than in the rest of the country,” said Kennedy, chairman of SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana), an organization that considers itself bipartisan in the marijuana debate.

SAM wants the U.S. to shift towards laws that will neither criminalize low-level users, nor create policies that will increase people’s dependence on marijuana.

“Fewer kids in Hawaii think smoking marijuana is harmful compared to kids in the United States as a whole," added Kennedy. "I have seen firsthand the debilitating effects of marijuana addiction. It’s more than just the addict, it’s the families who suffer too.”

Advocates of legalizing marijuana note that the Pew Research survey does not support Kennedy's position.

"There is no significant difference in lifetime or recent use between people in states with some form of legalized marijuana and those in other states," the Pew researchers found.
"Opinions about legalizing marijuana vary little among states that have more permissive marijuana laws and those that do not. A majority (55%) of those in states that have legalized medical marijuana or have decriminalized (or legalized) marijuana for personal use favor legalizing marijuana. Yet 50% of those in states in which marijuana is not decriminalized (or legal for any purpose) also favor its legalization," the study found.

Obviously the debate on marijuana use will continue, as more states are tweaking some of their laws, some aren’t changing them at all, and others like New Hampshire are considering legal recreational use, so the conversation is likely to go in a million more places before all is said and done.

In Vermont, Attorney General Bill Sorrel said he’s in favor of the decriminalization of marijuana, and says it’ll lower those crimes that are attached to people seeking out dealers.  Sorrel even said he’s in favor of Vermont residents growing their own marijuana plants for the same reason.

“This might be a surprise to some,” he said in a hearing held by the House Judiciary Committee.

“But the reality is possession of small amounts of marijuana has in effect been decriminalized for quite some time in this state. If you take away the ability to grow your own, you’re pushing someone who wants to possess and use marijuana into the marketplace of having to deal with marijuana dealers. And is that the behavior you essentially want to require and foster?”

It’ll be interesting to see where the nation is on marijuana laws at the close of this year. It’s likely that states as well as public opinion will be split for a long time to come.

When it comes to the discussion of drug use in the United States, the conversation can go in about a million different places all at the same time.First,...

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Two States Vote to Legalize Marijuana

But feds say marijuana use is still against the law

While most eyes were on the presidential contest between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, a number of states voted on ballot initiatives having to do with marijuana -- and not just medical use.

Colorado became the first state to legalize marijuana for recreational use, not just for medicinal purposes. The legalization measure was approved on vote of 53 to 47 percent. Amendment 64 permits people in Colorado to possess up to an ounce of marijuana but does not allow them to use it in a public place. It also allows residents to grow up to six marijuana plants in an area not accessible to others.

Colorado residents would be able to purchase marijuana at one of the medical marijuana dispensaries that currently require a doctor's prescription.

Washington voters also decided to allow recreational marijuana use. The measure allows residents 21 years old or older to purchase up to one ounce from a licensed distributor.

In Oregon, a similar ballot initiative failed to get enough votes to pass.

Medical marijuana

There were also some medical marijuana questions on the ballot. In Massachusetts, voters approved a measure to allow marijuana as a medical treatment but a similar proposal failed in Arkansas. In Montana, a proposal to restrict medical marijuana use appeared to have passed.

GrowLife, Inc., a company active in the medical marijuana field, says the drug is growing in acceptance.

"Marijuana has been shown to be very effective in many different medical scenarios," said GrowLife, Inc. CEO Sterling Scott. "The federal government has long grouped marijuana in the same group as cocaine and heroin, but the reality is that the drug has helped many thousands of people overcome chronic symptoms related to diseases like cancer, glaucoma, AIDS, Crohn's, ALS and Alzheimer's among others."

The Colorado and Washington votes may be the most significant in that they are the first U.S. jurisdictions to decriminalize the recreational use of marijuana. But the new measures face a highly uncertain future.

Still against U.S. law

Possession of marijuana is a violation of U.S. law and federal officials have made clear that this statute remains in force, trumping any state initiatives. When Arizona passed its own immigration law the Justice Department sued, with the U.S. Supreme Court overturning portions of the state law. Experts expect the same to happen with the new marijuana laws.

In fact, the Justice Department does not recognize the legality of medical marijuana in any state but, to date, has seldom intervened.

While most eyes were on the presidential contest between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, a number of states voted on ballot initiatives having to do with mar...

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Justice Department Urged to Oppose Marijuana Ballot Initiatives

Former directors of the Drug Enforcement Administration apply pressure

The presidential race isn't the only contest on the ballot this fall. In several states voters will consider a number of questions about the status of marijuana, most of which would reduce penalties for its possession.

Nine former directors of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) are calling on the U.S. Justice Department to actively oppose the initiatives in states where they appear on the ballot.

The former officials have signed a letter to US Attorney General Eric Holder urging his office to take active steps to make sure measures that seek to de-penalize the personal use and possession of cannabis by adults do not pass.

"We urge you to oppose publicly Amendment 64 in Colorado, Initiative 502 in Washington and Measure 80 in Oregon," the letter states. "To continue to remain silent conveys to the American public ... a tacit acceptance of these dangerous initiatives."

Every former director signs

Every former director of the DEA since the agency was founded signed the letter.

Amendment 64, the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act, Initiative 502, and Measure 80, the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act, all seek to amend state law to allow for the limited possession and distribution of cannabis to adults.

According to the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) both Amendment 64 in Colorado and Initiative 502 in Washington hold solid leads among likely voters. Last week, a Survey USA poll of Washington voters showed I-502 ahead by a margin of 57 percent to 34 percent.

The DEA letter did not specifically address separate state initiatives in Arkansas, Massachusetts, and Montana that seek to regulate the physician-recommended use and distribution of cannabis.

Helped defeat California initiative

Holder's office previously spoke out in 2010 against Proposition 19 in California after receiving a similar letter from past chiefs of the DEA. That measure sought to allow for the limited possession and cultivation of cannabis for adults. The measure was defeated at the polls by a vote of 46.5 percent to 53.5 percent.

State and local moves to lessen penalties for possession and use of small amounts of marijuana puts the states in conflict with the federal government on the issue. Under U.S. law, possession of any amount of marijuana is a misdemeanor punishable by one year in prison and a $1,000 fine.

  The presidential race isn't the only contest on the ballot this fall. In several states voters will consider a number of questions about th...

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Study: Marijuana Use Doubles Risk of Premature Birth

Based on study of more than 3,000 women in Australia and New Zealand

Marijuana use has rapidly increased among young people and health researchers in Australia suggest there could be serious consequences. For women and their children, especially.

The study at the University of Adelaide found that women who use marijuana can more than double the risk of giving birth to a baby prematurely. The use does not have to be while they are pregnant, but can be in the months before they became pregnant.

Premature birth is defined as at least three weeks before a baby's due date and can result in serious and life-threatening health problems for the baby, and an increased risk of health problems in later life, such as heart disease and diabetes.

A study of more than 3000 pregnant women in Adelaide, Australia, and Auckland, New Zealand, has detailed a number of the most common risk factors for preterm birth. The greatest factor was a strong family history of low birth weight babies. Marijuana use by the mother was second on the list.

The results were published online in the journal PLoS ONE.

Widely used

An estimated 20.4 million people in the U.S. use some kind of illicit drug and marijuana is the most common among them. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) estimates there are nearly 15 million marijuana users in the U.S.

Marijuana has been illegal in the U.S. since the early 20th century but in recent years efforts to make it at least partially legal have gained ground. A number of states have legalized marijuana for medicinal use, requiring users to obtain a doctor's prescription.

Law enforcement officials in Michigan, meanwhile, have recently tightened enforcement of the law, claiming drug dealers have abused it to legally sell the drug.

Marijuana is used to treat nausea, vomiting, premenstrual syndrome, unintentional weight loss, insomnia and lack of appetite. It is also used to treat pain, movement disorders and glaucoma.

Marijuana use has rapidly increased among young people and health researchers in Australia suggest there could be serious consequences. For women and their...

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Poll: Treat Marijuana Like Alcohol

Most Americans think private use of marijuana shouldn't be a crime

Nearly six out of ten American voters believe that the personal use of marijuana should no longer be a criminal offense, and 56 percent of Americans say that the substance ought to be legalized like alcohol, according to a nationwide Rasmussen telephone poll of 1,000 likely voters.

According to the poll, 58 percent of respondents believe that it should not be a crime "for someone to smoke marijuana" in private. Only 32 percent of respondents believed that such activity should remain illegal. Among self-identified Democrats, 63 percent agreed that the personal use of marijuana should not be a crime versus 49 percent of Republicans.

A solid majority of respondents, 56 percent, also said that they favored "legalizing marijuana and regulating it like alcohol or cigarettes." (Thirty-four percent were opposed.) Among males polled, 61 percent favored legalization versus 52 percent of females. A majority of respondents of every age group polled favored legalizing cannabis, including 50 percent of those age 65 and older. However, among those respondents with children, only 49 percent said that they favored legalization.

Support for legalizing cannabis rose to 57 percent when pollsters' asked: Do you favor legalizing marijuana if "no one under 18 could buy it, it was banned in public, and there were strict penalties for driving under the influence." The slight gain in overall support was largely because of a spike in support among respondents with children (49 percent to 58 percent) and self-identified Republicans (48 percent to 52 percent).

Growing frustration

The findings came as no surprise to NORML, an advocacy organization that favors legalization of marijuana.

"This poll illustrates, once again, that the public's growing frustration with marijuana prohibition and their desire for market based alternatives crosses conventional ideological and political boundaries," said NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano. "This poll illustrates, once again, that the public's growing frustration with marijuana prohibition and their desire for market based alternatives crosses conventional ideological and political boundaries."

He added: "By and large, voters of all ages and all ideological persuasions support regulating cannabis like alcohol, and they reject the failed policy of arresting, prosecuting, and incarcerating responsible adult marijuana consumers. Lawmakers at the state and federal level ought to recognize this sea change in public opinion and realize that marijuana law reform is no longer viewed by voters as a political liability, but rather as a political opportunity."

In 2011, a nationwide Gallup poll reported that 50 percent of Americans support legalizing the use of cannabis for adults. Forty-six percent of respondents said they opposed the idea. Most recently, an April 2012 Rasmussen Reports telephone survey reported that 47 percent of adults "believe the country should legalize and tax marijuana in order to help solve the nation's fiscal problems." Forty-two percent of respondents disagreed, while ten percent were undecided.

Nearly six out of ten American voters believe that the personal use of marijuana should no longer be a criminal offense, and 56 percent of Americ...

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Survey: Americans Are Pro-Pot

Poll finds 74% of voters support state medical marijuana laws

A new poll finds that three quarters of American voters (74%) want the Obama administration to respect individual state medical marijuana laws.

The just-released poll conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research informed voters that medical marijuana is legal with a doctor’s recommendation in 16 states as well as the District of Columbia, and in some of those states it is legal for licensed and tightly regulated individuals to grow and sell marijuana to qualifying patients.

Respondents were then asked if President Obama should respect the medical marijuana laws in these states, or continue to use federal resources to arrest and prosecute individuals who are acting in compliance with state medical marijuana laws.

"These results are consistent with the clear and growing body of evidence that documents substantial voter support for the legalization of medical marijuana," said Larry Harris, a principal with Mason-Dixon Polling & Research.

Support for keeping the federal government out of state medical marijuana issues was universal across all demographics. With respect to political affiliation, 75% of Democrats, 67% of Republicans, and, notably 79% of Independents said that President Obama should respect state medical marijuana laws. Even among the least supportive group (those identified as over 65 years of age), 64% were in favor of respecting state law.

“The results of this survey demonstrate that there is virtually no support in the country for the Obama administration's crackdown on state medical marijuana laws,” said Steve Fox, director of government relations for the Marijuana Policy Project. “Across all demographic and ideological groups, the American people strongly believe the president should respect state medical marijuana laws, as he promised he would when he campaigned to be president. It is clearly time for President Obama to stand up to the members of his administration who are carrying out the morally wrong and politically unpopular policy of denying patients safe access to this beneficial medicine.”

The nationwide poll of 1000 registered likely voters was conducted May 7 to 11, 2012, and commissioned by the Marijuana Policy Project.  

A new poll finds that three quarters of American voters (74%) want the Obama administration to respect individual state medical marijuana laws.The j...

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Colorado Will Vote on Legalizing Marijuana

Measure will appear on the November ballot; no organized opposition yet

Colorado voters will have a chance to largely decriminalize marijuana when they go to the polls this November.

A statewide proposal that would eliminate civil and criminal penalties for limited possession and cultivation of marijuana by adults was certified by the Colorado Secretary of State's office this week, as state officials certified that the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol had collected sufficient signatures from registered voters to qualify the measure for the 2012 ballot.

If passed by voters this fall, the measure would immediately allow for the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana and/or the cultivation of up to six cannabis plants by those age 21 and over. Longer-term, the measure seeks to establish regulations governing the commercial production and distribution of marijuana by licensed retailers.

While the initiative is said to be popular in Colorado, it's not clear that a similar proposal would fare well nationally.  ConsumerAffairs conducted a computerized sentiment analysis of more than 3.3 million consumer comments on social media and blogs over the last year and found overall sentiment on something of a roller coaster.

"Marijuana is safer than a Big Mac," tweeted one enthusiast.  "Marijuana is better than boys," said another.  "William Randolph Hearst is a HUGE reason why marijuana is illegal," said an anonymous poster from Oklahoma, offering no historical background for the claim.

Quite a few individuals credited marijuana with keeping them sane and motivated. "I'm thankful for marijuana for giving me piece of mind & good sleep," said one.

Overall, we found that the primary objection to marijuana is that it's illegal.

Of course, the fact that something is illegal doesn't have much to do with whether or not it should be legal, although it's a pretty good argument against using it, at least among those who worry as much about their criminal record as about their credit score.

We found only about 140 comments about Colorado's marijuana initiative, too few to be useful. Press reports indicate a notable lack of hysteria about the issue, however.

Former state House Majority Leader Paul Weissmann endorsed the initiative, saying the proliferation of medical-marijuana patients and businesses has not damaged the state.

"The world hasn't come to an end," Weissmann said, according to the Denver Post, which reported that there is so far no organized opposition to the measure.

Backers spent more than $200,000 to get the measure on the ballot and are expected to put at least that much into advertising and get-out-the-vote efforts, the Post reported.

Medical cannabis

The initiative does not change existing medical cannabis laws for patients, caregivers, and medical marijuana businesses. The measure also prohibits the imposition of an excise tax on any retail sale of medical marijuana.

By contrast, the general assembly would be required to propose "an excise tax of up to 15 percent on the wholesale sale of non-medical marijuana applied at the point of transfer from the cultivation facility to a retail store or product manufacturer." This proposed tax must be approved by a majority of voters in a statewide general election before it could be implemented.

Non-commercial transfers of cannabis would not be subject to taxation. In other words, you could get high with a little help from your friends without being required to pay tax on the transaction.


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Colorado voters will have a chance to largely decriminalize marijuana when they go to the polls this November.A statewide proposal that would eliminate...

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California Official Cites Medical Marijuana Abuses

Attorney General asks lawmakers to reform the law

California Attorney General Kalama Harris is the latest law enforcement officials to voice concerns about her state's medical marijuana law. In a letter to California lawmakers, Harris said she is troubled by the exploitation of the law by gangs and criminal enterprises.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has taken a similar position and supported local prosecutors who have tried to close medical marijuana dispensaries in the state.

Harris said her office recently completed a series of meeting across the state with cities, counties and patient groups with the goal of finding a way to revise the state's medical marijuana guidelines.

"I have come to recognize that non-binding guidelines will not solve our problem," Harris said. "State law itself needs to be reformed, simplified, and improved to better explain to law enforcement and patients alike how, when, and where individuals may cultivate and obtain physician-recommended marijuana."

Reform the law

The letter, to the President Pro-Tem of the California Senate and the Speaker of the General Assembly, requested that lawmakers formally take up measures to reform California's medical marijuana law, one of the first in he nation.

California legalized marijuana for medical use by voter referendum in 1996. In 2003 legislators established guidelines outlining how much medicinal marijuana patients may grow and possess. Under the guidelines, qualified patients and/or their primary caregivers may possess no more than eight ounces of dried marijuana and/or six mature (or 12 immature) marijuana plants. However, the guidelines allow patients to possess larger amounts of marijuana when such quantities are recommended by a physician.

Critics of the law say it is subject to widespread abuses and serves as a cover for recreational use of the drug. Sixteen states and the District of Columbia now have medical marijuana laws.

California is finding problems with its medical marijuana law...

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Michigan Court Narrows State's Medical Marijuana Law

Limit on number of plants that can be possessed upheld

The Michigan Court of Appeals has issued a decision that further limits the state's medical marijuana law.

The justices ruled that a caregiver's decision to supervise the growth of 88 medical marijuana plants in a single facility on behalf of other registered caregivers and patients, other than his own, violates the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act (MMMA).

The case arose from Kent County, Mich., prosecutor William Forsyth's filing of drug charges against caregiver Ryan Bylsma. The decision will stand as precedent for all other lower court cases, according to Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, who praised the decision.

"This law is narrowly tailored to help those with serious debilitating illnesses, but criminals are exploiting it to construct massive grow operations," said Schuette. "I applaud the Court's decision in this case because it echoes the concerns of the public and law enforcement by protecting public safety. Limits on possession are not optional."

A three judge panel of the Michigan Court of Appeals held Bylsma can be charged with manufacturing marijuana because he possessed 88 plants in one growing facility, in violation of the 12 plant per patient limit enshrined in the MMMA.

The Court concluded that:

  • Caregivers may not possess plants grown for registered qualifying patients who are not officially connected to the caregiver through the State's registration process, or for other registered caregivers;
  • Caregivers who do not comply with the 12 plant per patient limit are not entitled to assert an affirmative defense in Court; and,
  • The State may file drug possession and manufacturing charges against registered patients and caregivers who do not adhere to the 12 plant per patient limit.

In June 2011, Schuette concluded in Attorney General Opinion 7259 that the MMMA does not permit the collective growing or sharing of marijuana plants between caregivers and unconnected patients or other caregivers. Schuette concluded the MMMA requires each patient's plants to be grown and maintained in a separate enclosed, locked facility that is only accessible to the registered patient or the patient's registered primary caregiver.

The law has been a source of concern to law enforcement since it was passed by the Michigan legislature. Schuett earlier this years announced plans to join with some members of the legislature to modify the statute.

The Michigan Court of Appeals has issued a decision that further limits the state's medical marijuana law.The justices ruled that a caregiver's decision ...

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Despite Medical Marijuana Laws, Pot Arrests Soar

FBI reports police vigorously enforcing the law

Even as a number of states have enacted laws allowing the medical use of marijuana, arrests for marijuana-related offenses are on the rise, according to the FBI's annual Uniform Crime Report.

The report, released this week, shows police made 853,838 marijuana arrests in 2010. The annual arrest total is among the highest ever reported by the agency and is nearly identical to the total number of cannabis-related arrests reported in 2009

According to the report, marijuana arrests now comprise more than one-half - 52 percent - of all drug arrests in the United States. An estimated 46 percent of all drug arrests are for offenses related to marijuana possession.

Most frequently mentioned words in a survey of 2.9 million mentions

Consumer attitudes about marijuana are still highly conflicted but have been trending positively over the last year, according to a analysis of more than 2.9 million comments in Facebook, Twitter and other social media and blogs. 

Blue line shows net sentiment

'Minor possession offenders'

"Today, as in past years, the so-called 'drug war' remains fueled by the arrests of minor marijuana possession offenders, a disproportionate percentage of whom are ethnic minorities," National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) Deputy Director Paul Armentano said. "It makes no sense to continue to waste law enforcements' time and taxpayers' dollars to arrest and prosecute responsible Americans for their use of a substance that poses far fewer health risks than alcohol or tobacco."

Of those charged with marijuana law violations, 750,591 (88 percent) were arrested for marijuana offenses involving possession only. The remaining 103,247 individuals were charged with "sale/manufacture," a category that includes virtually all cultivation offenses.

The increasing marijuana arrests come in spite of state laws allowing patients to use marijuana with a doctor's prescription. But at least one such state, Michigan, is re-evaluating that law amid officials' charges that it is being abused.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette is leading a crackdown on what he says are violations of the state's medical marijuana law. Most recently, Schuette charged a Lansing marijuana dispensary owner with violating Michigan election law for allegedly offering free marijuana to citizens who registered to vote as an inducement to influence their manner of voting.

Recreational use

Schuette has charged the medical marijuana law is being used to sell pot for recreational use and has proposed legislation to close what he says are loopholes in the law.

Whatever their feelings about marijuana, consumers remain wary of the substance because of its illegality.  In an analysis of 15,900 consumer comments about mairjuana's attributes, its illegality was by far the most frequently cited.

While medical marijuana laws seem to suggest states are taking a more lenient approach to the drug, the FBI statistics suggest police continue to vigorously enforce drug laws.

By region, the percentage of marijuana arrests was highest in the Midwest (63.5 percent of all drug arrests) and southern regions (57 percent of all drug arrests) of the United States and lowest in the west, where pot prosecutions comprised only 39 percent of total drug arrests.

By contrast, NORMAL points out that, where marijuana arrests were the highest, arrests for heroin and cocaine were lowest.


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Even as a number of states have enacted laws allowing the medical use of marijuana, arrests for marijuana-related offenses are on the rise, according to th...

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Michigan Patient-To-Patient Marijuana Sales Struck Down

State's attorney general sought ruling from appeals court

The Michigan Court of Appeals has ruled that marijuana dispensaries conducting patient-to-patient sales of the drug are illegal and can be shut down under the state's public nuisance law.

The case arose from a legal challenge to a for-profit system of marijuana sales among patients at a Mount Pleasant, Mich., marijuana dispensary, Compassionate Apothecary. The ruling now stands as precedent for all other lower court cases in Michigan and carries immediate effect, according to Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette.

"This ruling is a huge victory for public safety and Michigan communities struggling with an invasion of pot shops near their schools, homes and churches," said Schuette. "The Court echoed the concerns of law enforcement, clarifying that this law is narrowly focused to help the seriously ill, not the creation of a marijuana free-for-all."

Impact to be quickly felt statewide

Schuette said he will send a letter to Michigan's 83 county prosecutors explaining that the ruling clearly empowers them to close dispensaries and provide instructions on how to file similar nuisance actions to close dispensaries in their own counties.

A three judge panel of the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled Compassionate Apothecary is in violation of the state Public Health Code and the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act (MMMA) in State of Michigan v. Brandon McQueen and Matthew Taylor, d/b/a Compassionate Apothecary, LLC. The Court concluded that:

  • The MMMA does not legalize marijuana;
  • The MMMA authorizes marijuana use only in "very limited circumstances;
  • The "medical use" of marijuana does not include the sale of marihuana;
  • The MMMA does not authorize marijuana dispensaries; and
  • The courts can infer that a dispensary's purpose is not to alleviate a debilitating medical condition. 

In March, Schuette joined Isabella County Prosecutor Larry Burdick in his appeal of the case, The Isabella County prosecutor's office sought to have Compassionate Apothecary, a medical marijuana club owned by two Mt. Pleasant residents, declared a public nuisance and closed on the grounds its activities violated the MMMA.  

The club allows patient-to-patient sales of marijuana, with the club profiting by taking a 20 percent commission.

The Michigan court of appeals has struck down patient-to-patient sales of medical marijuana...

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Growing Split In Michigan Over Marijuana

Kalamazoo charter amendment would de-emphasize marijuana arrests

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has made it pretty clear he doesn't think much of the state's medical marijuana law, saying it is being abused by criminals.

Schuette, who took office last year, has drafted legislation to overhaul the law, making it strictly apply only to those who need it for medical treatment and not, as he contends, people who want to use the drug for recreation.

Different point of view

But some people in Kalamazoo seem to be moving in the other direction. City voters may consider a charter amendment instructing local police to treat marijuana offenses as the least important violation of law. In a letter to Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, Schuette said the proposed charter amendment would have the practical impact of police not enforcing state law and likely cause lawsuits against the city.

"It is simply unfathomable that we would ask police officers to look the other way when a crime is being committed," said Schuette. "The amendment is illegal and will send the signal that random marijuana use is acceptable."

In the letter to Snyder, Schuette recommended that the Governor not approve the charter amendment, as is his option during the charter amendment review process prescribed in state law.

Citizens petition

The proposed amendment was not offered by Kalamazoo city officials, but rather is the result of a citizens petition process. Enough local signatures were obtained to place the amendment on the ballot.

But despite its democratic origins, Schuette said telling the local police force to de-emphasize certain crimes is not legal, since it undermines the power of local police to enforce state criminal laws.

Schuette said the practical impact of the amendment is likely to be that law enforcement simply does not enforce state law that makes it illegal for non-medicial marijuana patients and caregivers to be in possession of marijuana.

Immunization from prosecution?

This concern was also raised by the Kalamazoo City Attorney earlier this year when he said that passage of the petition could be seen as an attempt to extend the immunization from prosecution and law enforcement currently enjoyed by lawful medical marijuana patients and caregivers to the general population.

Schuette went on to note that if the proposed charter amendment is passed by local voters, the revision could indeed be challenged in court.

Michigan Attorney General opposes Kalamazoo proposal to de-emphasize marijuana arrests...

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Michigan May Change Medical Marijuana Law

New legislation to be introduced in the fall

State officials in Michigan who believe the state's medical marijuana law is being abused have revealed their strategy for revising the statute.

Miichigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, members of state and local law enforcement, prosecutors, representatives of the medical community and some members of the legislature have proposed a legislative package, including new laws to ensure safety on the roads and hold accountable criminals who abuse the state medical marijuana certification process.

Michigan is one of several states that has a law allowing marijuana to be prescribed for some medical uses, but Schuette maintains the law is so poorly written that it is being abused.

"This law has been hijacked by pot profiteers who threaten public safety on the roads and in our communities," said Schuette.

At a media event this week to announce details for the proposed legislation, Schuette introduced two Republican and one Democrat lawmakers who support the measure, along with Dr. Steven E. Newman, President of the Michigan State Medical Society, and various police officers.

Two laws at odds

Schuette noted confusing inconsistencies between the Michigan Motor Vehicle Code and the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act must be eliminated to preserve safety on Michigan roadways. A longstanding safety provision in the Michigan Motor Vehicle Code prohibits driving with any amount of marijuana in your system.

In contrast, the medical marijuana law prohibits only driving "under the influence of marijuana," a term which Schuette says is not defined in state law or by uniform scientific standards, and creates a different standard for medical marijuana users. This inconsistency, he says, has created confusion for law enforcement, and is currently under review by the Michigan Court of Appeals in the case, People v. Koon.

Schuette cited statistics recently released by the Michigan State Police which indicate that marijuana-related fatalities remain the most common drug-related automobile fatality, and that such fatalities are on the rise in Michigan.

"Driving with marijuana in your system is unsafe and jeopardizes the safety of our roadways," said Schuette.  "If you take drugs, don't take the wheel."

More tools for prosecutors

Schuette also proposed legislative reforms to the Penal Code that will give prosecutors and law enforcement the tools they need to crack down on criminals who exploit the loopholes of the medical marijuana law.

Schuette has proposed the creation of new crimes to crack down on criminal abuse of the medical marijuana certification system:

  • Make it a felony for physicians to knowingly falsely certify a debilitating medical condition for patients seeking to use medical marijuana;
  • Make it a felony to knowingly submit false information on an application for a patient or caregiver card;
  • Make it a felony to knowingly alter a patient or caregiver card;
  • Make it a felony to knowingly possess another person's card or to transfer or allow a person to use another person's card;
  • Prohibit felons from being caregivers (Currently only those convicted of drug-related felonies are prohibited); and
  • Make it a misdemeanor for a patient or caregiver to fail to report a lost or stolen card within seven days.

Schuette says the proposed regulation would also strengthen the hand of law enforcement, limit criminal access to medical marijuana, empower local communities to regulate marijuana facilities, ensure high standards for patient care, and avoid confusion and excessive litigation regarding insurance claims and coverage for medical marijuana users.

Schuette said he expects the bills to be introduced and considered by the legislature in the fall.

Michigan officials have proposed tightening the state's medical marijuana law...

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Reps. Frank, Paul Introduce Marijuana Legalization Bill

Legislation would end federal prohibitions against marijuana use and production

They don't have much in common but Barney Frank and Ron Paul agree on one thing: marijuana laws should be set at the state, not federal level. Perhaps surprisingly, a group of judges and police officers agree with them.

The liberal Massachusetts Democrat and conservative Texas Republican yesterday introduced legislation in Congress that would prohibit the federal government from prosecuting adults who use or possess marijuana.

Their “Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2011” (HR 2306) is the first legislation that seeks to decriminalize marijuana since the Marijuana Tax Act was enacted in 1937.

Joining Frank and Paul as co-sponsors were Reps. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.).

"The federal government shouldn't be spending its time on marijuana," Lee said.

Cops agree

"Clearly the 'war on drugs' has failed, and nowhere is that more clear than with respect to marijuana," said Neill Franklin, a former Baltimore narcotics cop and executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. "Making marijuana illegal hasn't prevented anyone from using it, but it has created a huge funding source that funnels billions of dollars in tax-free profits to violent drug cartels and gangs. More and more cops now agree: Legalizing marijuana will improve public safety."

The measure's a long way from being enacted, however.  Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), who heads the House Committee on Judiciary, has already said he "would not even consider" scheduling a hearing on the bill.  

End of Prohibition

Language in the bill is similar to that used to repeal the federal prohibition of alcohol. It would remove the conflict between federal law and the laws of the 16 states that allow for limited use of marijuana under a physicians' supervision.

It would also allow states to fully legalize and regulate possession, use, production and distribution without federal interference.

NORML, an organization that has lobbied for legalization of marijuana since the lkate 1960s, was understandably euphoric.

"The federal criminalization of marijuana has failed to reduce the public's demand or access to cannabis, and it has imposed enormous fiscal and human costs upon the American people,” said NORML Executive Director Allen St. Pierre. “It is time to end this failed public policy and to provide state governments with the freedom to enact alternative strategies -- such as medicalization, decriminalization, and/or legalization -- without running afoul of the federal law or the whims of the Department of Justice."

They don't have much in common but Barney Frank and Ron Paul agree on one thing: marijuana laws should be set at the state, not federal level....

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Michigan Attorney General Targets Medical Marijuana Law

Says it sanctions criminal activity

Michigan is one of the states with medical marijuana laws on its books, but the state's attorney general says the law is poorly written and having unintended consequences.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, joined by two Republican state legislators, has announced his plans to revise the law in the next session of the legislature.

"Michigan voters didn't count on pot shops springing up across from their schools and churches," said Schuette.  "That's why I'm taking action today to support local governments' authority to protect their communities."

Schuette filed a brief today in support of the City of Livonia in the case, Linda Lott and Robert Lott v City of Birmingham, City of Bloomfield Hills, and City of Livonia. The case involves a legal challenge brought by the ACLU regarding the authority of communities to prohibit medical marijuana use or sales on the grounds that marijuana possession violates federal law.

'Illegal activity'

In a brief filed with the court, Schuette sides with Livonia, arguing that the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act is preempted by federal law and that local communities should not be forced to sanction criminal activity. The case is scheduled for oral argument on June 30, 2011 at 11:00 A.M.

Schuette said that conservative estimates suggest there are hundreds of dispensaries across the state, with eighty-four in the Lansing area alone.

While state courts complete their review of cases involving the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act, Schuette is working with legislators to make changes to the law.

"I welcome legislative reforms that will give prosecutors and law enforcement the tools they need to crack down on criminals who exploit the loopholes of this law," said Schuette.

Also today, Schuette issued an Attorney General's Opinion, declaring that the law allows no more than 12 marijuana plants to be cultivated in a single location. He further declared that each set of plants grown by a caregiver is required to be in a separate, enclosed and locked facility, accessible only to the caregiver and a single patient.

Out of control

Calling medical marijuana “out of control,” Schuettte said the Michigan law did not legalize marijuana, but criminals are exploiting it to sell the drug.

This week in Washington, Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) and Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) introduced legislation that would remove the federal prohibition against marijuana. The measure would essentially leave it up to the states to make their own laws with regard to the drug.

Michigan's attorney general says he plans to push for changes in the state's medical marijuana law...

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Report: Congress To Consider End Of Marijuana Ban

Bi-partisan bill expected today

For the first time, Congress may consider a measure to remove federal penalties for possession and use of marijuana, a news agency reported late Wednesday.

In a dispatch from Washington, AFP, the French news agency, said Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) and Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), lawmakers from opposite ends of the political spectrum, plan to introduce the legalization bill sometime today. AFP based its report on comments from unnamed officials in organizations promoting the legalization of the drug.

According to the report, the sweeping bi-partisan bill would limit the federal government's role to stopping smuggling. People would be free to grow and use marijuana in states that choose to legalize it.

Controlled substance

It would effectively end the federal sanction against cannabis, which is outlawed under the Controlled Substances Act. Prior to the federal prohibition, a number of states outlawed the drug in the early 20th century.

Ironically, it has been states in recent years that have been inching toward legalization. Fifteen states now have medical marijuana laws, making it legal for health care professionals to prescribe marijuana for treatment.

However, recreational use of marijuana, which gained widespread popularity among Baby Boomers during the 1960s and 70s, remains outlawed. The AFP report mentioned no specific details of the expected bill.

State by state efforts

Meanwhile, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) reports A coalition that includes former U.S. Attorney John McKay, Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes and travel guide Rick Steves is launching an initiative that would legalize marijuana in Washington state.

The group, led by the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, reportedly decided to push the initiative after Gov. Chris Gregoire vetoed most of a medical-marijuana bill that had passed the state Legislature.

The initiative would regulate the recreational use of marijuana in a way similar to how the state regulates alcohol.

It would legalize marijuana for people older than 21, authorize the state Liquor Control Board to regulate and tax marijuana for sale in “stand-alone stores” and extend drunken-driving laws to marijuana, with blood tests to determine how much of the substance’s active ingredient is present in a driver’s blood.

Political odd couple plan to introduce legalization bill...

Medical Marijuana Business Attracts Hedge Funds, Venture Capitalists

15 States from Maine to California have legalized marijuana for medical purposes

Marijuana has been a cash crop for many years in this country. The only problem is that most of that crop had been grown illegally. Now, that medical marijuana is legal in 15 states and the District of Columbia, legalized marijuana has quickly become so popular it is attracting attention from hedge fund managers and venture capitalists, not to mention a whole new batch of entrepreneurs.

Doctors still can't prescribe marijuana because it is categorized as a schedule one drug like LSD. But they can recommend it and that's all anyone needs to get a medical marijuana license that allows them to buy marijuana legally in those 15 states, with three more states about join them.

Each license sells for around $130 and some clinics selling the licenses have brought in more than a million dollars in just their first year. The once illegal joint is selling like hot cakes throughout middle America to consumers who no longer have to worry about getting arrested for possession, at least by local or state authorities.

The federal government still outlaws marijuana possession but it's unlikely someone with a medical marijuana license will be busted by an FBI or DEA agent if caught smoking in his or her own home. In fact, just last year U.S. enforcers promised to leave medical marijuana operations alone if they complied with state law.

That prompted a significant increase in interest among entrepreneurs. Today, there are an estimated 2,400 medical marijuana dispensaries from California to Maine. In Colorado, they outnumber Starbucks two to one.

Making a profit, however, can still be problematic. In every state except Colorado, medical marijuana dispensaries must be structured as a not-for-profit, which is not a problem for some. Steve DeAngelo, founder of Harborside Health Center in Oakland, California, told Smart Money magazine that he likes that model because it preserves the business for local owners and keeps big-money players out.

He adds that at Harborside, he uses profits to support in-house charities that offer free pot to people who can't afford to buy it along with free addiction counseling. But he's in the minority.

Others see a lot of money in medical marijuana. Even DeAngelo's not for profit clinic brings in $50,000 a day so he also founded the for-profit CannBe, a management-consulting firm for medical marijuana start-ups.

Plus, there are a growing number of hedge fund managers and venture capitalists who are taking a close look at what is an estimated $36 billion market. They're also predicting that many states who need cash will continue to relax rules and legalize marijuana for medical use.

According to Smart Money, two hedge funds announced at a recent National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws seminar that they would consider buying any medical marijuana dispensaries available for sale.

A recent Gallup poll found that 44% of Americans are in favor of legalizing marijuana, which is almost twice as many as 15 years ago. It's still not enough however to change the laws surrounding recreational use. In November, California voted against ending cannabis prohibition all together.

Meanwhile, medicinal use of pot continues to be the acceptable method of allowing marijuana into the mainstream, even as critics clamor that it's just a legal loophole to get high.

That may be, but the debate over lost tax revenue and expensive jailing for offenders continues to grow louder and that just might be enough of a tipping point to justify a closer look into the financial viability of legal sales.

Legal medical marijuana is becoming a growth industry as more entrepreneurs attract hedge fund and venture capital to start new businesses ...

California Lawmakers Consider Legalizing Marijuana Sales

Supporters say tax revenue could raise nearly $1 billion

California, struggling with budget deficits and growing debt, is seriously eyeing the legalization of marijuana as the answer to its money woes. A key legislative committee this week approved a bill that would tax and regulate the sale of marijuana.

According to the bill, which was introduced almost a year ago, marijuana would be treated much the same way the state treats the sale of alcohol; you would have to be over 21 years of age to possess it, to smoke it, or to grow it.

And then there's the tax. Assembly Bill 390 would impose a fee of $50 per ounce on legal sales of marijuana.

Supporters say the money would be used for eradication of illegal drugs and other drug-related issues, but there is no doubt lawmakers are eyeing the tax as at least one answer to California's budget crisis. Supporters say the marijuana tax could raise nearly $1 billion a year.

While the measure is controversial, it has some unexpected backers. A group of former police officers, judges and prosecutors, calling itself Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), has advocated pot legalization for some time. It is throwing its support behind Assembly Bill 390.

Revenue source

"In our current economic climate, we simply cannot afford to keep arresting more than three people every minute in the failed 'war on drugs,'" said Jack Cole, a retired undercover narcotics detective who now heads LEAP. "Plus, if we legalized and taxed drug sales, we could actually create new revenue in addition to the money we'd save from ending the cruel policy of arresting users."

Another LEAP official, retired Orange County California Supreme Court Judge Jim Gray, says the state's economic crisis gives the group hope the measure can pass. A year ago, he says, it would never have gotten out of committee.

Now that it's passed the Public Safety Committee, the legalization measure will come up for a vote before the full Assembly. It will be the first time any state has considered repealing the prohibition on marijuana, which was imposed at the federal level in 1913.

And for California, and any other state considering a tax on legal pot sales, that's where their hopes could go up in smoke. Federal agencies will not change their policies and enforcement procedures based on actions of a state legislation. For proof, Californian need look no further than to the previous administration in Washington, which instructed the Drug Enforcement Agency to continue making marijuana use arrests, even though the state allowed some uses for medical reasons.

To prevent federal laws and regulations from pre-empting the state's legalization measure, California would need to persuade Congress to change federal drug laws. LEAP is working at the federal level too, arguing that the "war on drugs" has failed and that some drugs like marijuana should be controlled and taxed, not prohibited.

California Lawmakers Consider Legalizing Pot...

Medical Uses of Marijuana

The Healthy Geezer

Q. I heard that marijuana helps glaucoma. Id like to try it, but wont I get in trouble?

A. Marijuana can help your glaucoma and it could definitely get you in trouble because its illegal.

Marijuana refers to the parts of the Cannabis sativa plant, which has been used for medicinal purposes for more than 4,800 years. Doctors in ancient China, Greece and Persia used it as a pain reliever and for gastrointestinal disorders and insomnia.

Cannabis as a medicine was common throughout most of the world in the 1800s. It was used as the primary pain reliever until the invention of aspirin.

The United States, in effect, made prescriptions for Cannabis illegal through the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937. The only opponent to the legislation was the representative of the American Medical Association.

Marijuana contains at least 60 chemicals called cannabinoids. THC is the main component responsible for marijuana's mind-altering effect. Marinol (dronabinol), a prescription drug taken by oral capsule, is a man-made version of THC

One of THC's medical uses is for the treatment of nausea. It can improve mild to moderate nausea caused by cancer chemotherapy and help reduce nausea and weight loss in people with AIDS.

Older people, especially those with no marijuana experience, may not tolerate THCs mind-altering side effects as well as young people. Doctors generally prescribe several kinds of newer anti-nausea drugs with fewer side effects before resorting to Marinol.

Glaucoma increases pressure in the eyeball, which can lead to vision loss. Smoking marijuana reduces pressure in the eyes. Your doctor can prescribe other medications to treat glaucoma, but these can lose their effectiveness over time.

Researchers are trying to develop new medications based on cannabis to treat pain. THC may work as well in treating cancer pain as codeine. A recent study found that cannabinoids significantly reduced pain in people with multiple sclerosis, a disease of the nervous system.

Though some doctors and patients suggest marijuana has a legitimate use, the federal government disagrees.

The law classifies marijuana as one of the most dangerous drugs that have no recognized medical use. The penalties for possession of marijuana can range from a small fine to a prison sentence.

Along with the legal implications of smoking marijuana are the health problems such as memory impairment, loss of coordination and the potential for withdrawal symptoms and hallucinations. And, inhaling marijuana smoke exposes you to substances that may cause cancer.

One study has indicated that the risk of heart attack more than quadruples in the first hour after smoking marijuana. The researchers suggest that a heart attack might be caused by marijuanas effects on blood pressure, heart rate and the capacity of blood to carry oxygen.

Most polls show that about three out of four people approve of medical marijuana. This has led to the introduction of bills in Congress which would eliminate federal controls in states which approve medical marijuana. None of these bills has been voted into law.

There is legislation on the books in the majority of states allowing the medical use of marijuana. Most require that it be prescribed. This provision presents a problem because federal agencies control the power to prescribe.

All Rights Reserved © 2007 by Fred Cicetti

Medical Uses of Marijuana...