Published: Wed, 28 Sep 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Last Build Date: Wed, 28 Sep 2016 20:34:41 -0400
Mon, 26 Sep 2016 06:30:00 -0400Insys Therapeutics, the Arizona-based pharmaceutical company that recently became the biggest financial supporter of the campaign against marijuana legalization in that state, makes an oral spray that delivers the opioid painkiller fentanyl and plans to market another one that contains dronabinol, a synthetic version of THC. Insys says it gave $500,000 to the main group opposing Arizona's legalization initiative because the measure "fails to protect the safety of Arizona's citizens, and particularly its children." But one needn't be terribly cynical to surmise that Insys also worries about the impact that legalization might have on its bottom line, since marijuana could compete with its products. A new study suggests Insys has good reason to worry. In an article published last week by the American Journal of Public Health, Columbia University epidemiologist June Kim and her colleagues report that fatally injured drivers are less likely to test positive for opioids in states that allow medical use of marijuana. That finding, together with the results of earlier studies, indicates that making marijuana legally available to patients saves lives by reducing their consumption of more dangerous medications. Kim et al. collected data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) for 1999 through 2013, focusing on 18 states that drug-tested at least 80% of drivers who died in crashes. They found that drivers between the ages of 21 and 40 were half as likely to test positive for opioids in states that had implemented medical marijuana laws (MMLs) as in states that had not. "Among 21-to-40-year-old deceased drivers, crashing in states with an operational MML was associated with lower odds of testing positive for opioids than crashing in MML states before these laws were operational," the researchers write. "Although we found a significant association only among drivers aged 21 to 40 years, the age specificity of this finding coheres with what we know about MMLs: a minimum age requirement restricts access to medical marijuana for most patients younger than 21 years, and most surveyed medical marijuana patients are younger than 45 years." The fact that a driver tested positive for opioids does not necessarily mean the painkillers he took contributed to the crash, so it is not safe to draw any conclusions about medical marijuana's impact on traffic safety from this study. But the FARS data are an indirect way of measuring the extent of opioid consumption in a given state. Kim et al. note that "severe or chronic pain is among the most common indications cited by medical marijuana patients." It therefore makes sense that opioid use would decline (or rise less) in states that recognize cannabis as a medicine. The FARS numbers reinforce the results of another recent study, published last July in the journal Health Affairs, that looked at prescriptions covered by Medicare from 2010 through 2013. Ashley Bradford, a graduate student in public policy at the University of Georgia, and her father, W. David Bradford, an economist at the same school, found that "the use of prescription drugs for which marijuana could serve as a clinical alternative fell significantly once a medical marijuana law was implemented." The most dramatic decline was in painkiller prescriptions, which fell by 3,645 daily doses per physician after medical marijuana laws were implemented. There were also statistically significant drops in prescriptions for drugs used to treat seizures (down 1,370 daily doses per doctor), depression (1,280), psychosis (1,123), anxiety (1,106), nausea (1,028), and sleep disorders (615). Meanwhile, Bradford and Bradford "found no changes after implementation of a medical marijuana law in the number of daily doses filled in condition categories with no medical marijuana indication," which "provides strong evidence that the observed shifts in prescribing patterns were in fact due to the passage of the medical marijuana laws." Medicare prescription drug coverage is mainly available to people who are 65 or older, although people receiving [...]
Fri, 23 Sep 2016 06:30:00 -0400
(image) While sounding the alarm about an "opioid epidemic" that included a record number of painkiller-related deaths in 2014, the federal government insists marijuana has "no currently accepted medical use." As I explain in my latest Forbes column, that dogmatism may be deadly:
Insys Therapeutics, the Arizona-based pharmaceutical company that recently became the biggest financial supporter of the campaign against marijuana legalization in that state, makes an oral spray that delivers the opioid painkiller fentanyl and plans to market another one that contains dronabinol, a synthetic version of THC. Insys says it gave $500,000 to the main group opposing Arizona's legalization initiative because the measure "fails to protect the safety of Arizona's citizens, and particularly its children." But one needn't be terribly cynical to surmise that Insys also worries about the impact that legalization might have on its bottom line, since marijuana could compete with its products.
A new study suggests Insys has good reason to worry. In an article published last week by the American Journal of Public Health, Columbia University epidemiologist June Kim and her colleagues report that fatally injured drivers are less likely to test positive for opioids in states that allow medical use of marijuana. That finding, together with the results of earlier studies, indicates that making marijuana legally available to patients saves lives by reducing their consumption of more dangerous medications.
Tue, 13 Sep 2016 08:45:00 -0400
(image) Insys Therapeutics, the Arizona-based pharmaceutical company that recently became the biggest financial supporter of the campaign against marijuana legalization in that state, makes an oral fentanyl spray that might compete with cannabis as a painkiller. But as Lee Fang notes at The Intercept, Insys has another, more direct financial interest in defeating marijuana legalization: It is about to introduce an oral spray to deliver dronabinol, a synthetic version of THC, marijuana's main active ingredient, as a treatment for AIDS wasting syndrome and the nausea and vomiting caused by cancer chemotherapy.
In a 2007 disclosure statement that Insys filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the company noted the competitive threat posed by marijuana legalization:
Legalization of marijuana or non-synthetic cannabinoids in the United States could significantly limit the commercial success of any dronabinol product candidate.…If marijuana or non-synthetic cannabinoids were legalized in the United States, the market for dronabinol product sales would likely be significantly reduced and our ability to generate revenue and our business prospects would be materially adversely affected.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Marinol, a dronabinol capsule, in 1985 for the same two indications cited by Insys. The company's oral spray, which the FDA approved in July, should take effect faster than Marinol and be easier for patients suffering from severe nausea to absorb. But smoked or vaporized marijuana has those same advantages and will no doubt be considerably less expensive than the product Insys plans to sell, especially in a full-scale legal market like the one voters could decide to authorize this fall in Arizona, where marijuana is already legal for medical use.
Insys says it gave $500,000 to Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy, the main group opposing Arizona's legalization initiative, because the measure "fails to protect the safety of Arizona's citizens, and particularly its children."
Fri, 09 Sep 2016 13:15:00 -0400"I was sitting in the training room one day and I just watched player after player come in to take a Toradol shot just to practice," says former NFL player Ricky Williams. "I realized if we have to take all this medication, all these pharmaceuticals, just to practice it can't be good for our bodies in the long run. And that's when I started to look at my health seriously and look for alternatives." Williams, the Heisman-winning running back who set multiple rushing records for the Miami Dolphins, was suspended by the NFL and then retired under a cloud of shame in 2003 for testing positive for marijuana. Dolphins fans, the media, and the league all turned on Williams, labeling him an underachiever with a drug problem. Williams ultimately returned in 2005 and played several more seasons in the NFL, but the stigma never went away. But what if the league and the public were wrong to judge Ricky Williams? What if he was just ahead of his time? Some researchers are now finding evidence that cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) have two major benefits for athletes: 1) they act as a non-addictive pain reliever and 2) they can protect the brain from injury. These healing properties could be beneficial in a league where opioid addiction and concussions have become significant health concerns. Williams is now part of a group of former NFL players who are lobbying the league to reconsider its position on marijuana. The former NFL star was one of several athletes in attendance at the 420 Games in Santa Monica, CA this Spring representing the Gridiron Cannabis Coalition, a group dedicated to the advancement of medical marijuana. Cannabis is a banned substance under the NFL's player agreement and commissioner Roger Goodell has made clear that he will not change league policy to allow medicinal marijuana until research proves it is a legitimate drug. But marijuana is classified as an illegal substance at the federal level, which makes getting grants and approval for research a long and arduous process. So former players are putting up their own money to get around the government's tight regulations and fund their own studies. "Cannabis has been in the closet. It's been suppressed. It's coming out," says Constance Finley, founder of the cannabis extract firm Constance Therapeutics. Finley is working with the Gridiron Cannabis Coalition to produce the evidence players need to change NFL policy. "The owners have to see responsible, smart people who are completely mainstream to have their experiences reflected, have their minds opened," says Finley. "I think that we could move past the impasse with the level of research that we're talking about doing. It will be irrefutable." Players like Ricky Williams are hoping their participation in these studies can lead to change and help future athletes stay healthy long after their playing days are over. "Hopefully as public opinion starts to change the leagues will soften their stance," says Williams. "Especially the NFL. They could really be ahead of the charge as far as getting this medicine to people who really need it." "Wouldn't it be great if the NBA and the NFL and the other professional sports organizations accepted the validity of the science and the experience of their players and we came to a compromise of efficacy and performance and using cannabis oil to promote health instead of using opioids and other drugs [that] kill health?," says Finley. "There's this marvelous plant that with regular use could really truly minimize that damage. That's a beautiful story." Approximately 5 minutes. Produced by Alexis Garcia. Camera by Alex Manning and Zach Weissmueller. Graphics by Joshua Swain and Meredith Bragg. Music by Podington Bear, VYVCH, and Alex Fitch. Scroll down for downloadable versions. Subscribe to Reason TV's YouTube channel for daily content like this.[...]
Tue, 06 Sep 2016 14:50:00 -0400These aren't your filthy hippies and stoners looking for an excuse to toke (not that there's anything wrong with that!): The American Legion is calling for the federal government to reclassify marijuana to acknowledge its potential benefits as a medical treatment. As Jacob Sullum previously noted, The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) is stubbornly refusing to change the federal classification of marijuana as a drug that has no "accepted medical use" until science proves them wrong. Fortunately they're easing off on the Catch-22 situation that has resulted in this classification making it extremely difficult for researchers to perform the very scientific testing that could determine marijuana's medical value. One of the potential medical values of medical marijuana is as a treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). And in what must certainly at this point make it abundantly clear where the majority of Americans stand on marijuana use, the American Legion has just voted at its national convention to support a resolution calling on Congress to legislatively reclassify cannabis and place it in a category that recognizes its potential value. The resolution, readable here at marijuana.com, highlights a number of important statistics that have helped push the Legion to support it. Across two years, the Department of Veterans Affairs have diagnosed thousands of Afghanistan and Iraq War veterans as having PTSD or Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI). More than 1,300 veterans in fiscal year 2009 were hospitalized for brain injuries. And the resolution notes that systems in the brain can respond to 60 different chemicals found in cannabis. Therefore, the American Legion wants the DEA to license privately-funded medical marijuana and research facilities and to reclassify marijuana away from being lumped in with drugs like cocaine and meth. Tom Angell over at marijuana.com notes that Sue Sisley, a psychiatrist and medical marijuana researcher, has been lobbying the Legion and their local posts to get their support. Sisley is notable for actually getting federal permission to research marijuana as a treatment for PTSD and then getting dumped by the University of Arizona (where she worked) in 2014. What does this mean for a legislative effort to give VA docs permission to actually talk about medical marijuana as a treatment for veterans? As I noted in May, there was an amendment to a military appropriations bill that would end a gag order that prohibits VA doctors from recommending or even discussing medical marijuana treatment with patients, even in states where it had been legalized. The amendment would end the gag order, but wouldn't permit the VA to prescribe or pay for marijuana. The amendment passed the House and Senate, but as Angell notes, after the two sides went through the reconciliation to hammer out any difference, the language completely disappeared. It is no longer part of the Veterans Administration package. Legislators return to session today to hammer out last-minute spending bills to keep the government running (and the Democrats and Republicans are currently in disagreement on how long to extend spending authorizations for the incoming administration). Technically the amendment's language could be restored.[...]
Thu, 01 Sep 2016 06:00:00 -0400Yesterday a federal appeals court ruled that banning gun sales to people who hold medical marijuana cards, whether or not they actually use marijuana, does not violate their Second Amendment rights. In reaching that conclusion, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit relied on antiquated, scientifically unsupportable assumptions about the violent tendencies of cannabis consumers. The case, Wilson v. Lynch, involves a Nevada woman, Rowan Wilson, who in 2011 tried to buy a firearm from a gun shop in Mound House, a tiny town in Lyon County, but was turned away because the owner, Frederick Hauser, knew she had recently obtained a medical marijuana registry card from the state Department of Health and Human Services. Hauser had just received a letter from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) that said anyone who uses marijuana as a medicine, "regardless of whether his or her State has passed legislation authorizing marijuana use for medicinal purposes," qualifies as an "unlawful user of a controlled substance" and is therefore forbidden to buy or possess guns under 18 USC 922. The ATF added that "if you are aware that the potential transferee is in possession of a card authorizing the possession and use of marijuana under State law, then you have 'reasonable cause to believe' that the person is an unlawful user of a controlled substance," meaning "you may not transfer firearms or ammunition to the person." Since violating that edict is a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison, Hauser was understandably reluctant to sell Wilson a gun. Two weeks later, Wilson filed a federal lawsuit arguing (among other things) that the ban on gun sales to illegal drug users in 18 USC 922(d)(3), as interpreted by the ATF, violates her constitutional right to keep and bear arms. In 2014 a federal judge rejected that claim, noting that the 9th Circuit had upheld the federal ban on gun ownership by illegal drug users in the 2011 case United States v. Dugan. In yesterday's ruling, the 9th Circuit said Dugan did not dispose of the matter, since Wilson "alleges that, although she obtained a registry card, she chose not to use medical marijuana for various reasons, such as the difficulties of acquiring medical marijuana in Nevada, as well as a desire to make a political statement." The question posed by Wilson's appeal, then, was whether it is constitutional to block gun sales to someone who is not an unlawful user of a controlled substance but is suspected of being one because she has a medical marijuana card. The appeals court decided that rule is constitutional, based on the same silly pharmacological prejudices reflected in Dugan. The 9th Circuit concedes that the ATF's reading of 18 USC 922(d)(3) "directly burden[s Wilson's] core Second Amendment right to possess a firearm" but says the burden "is not severe," since she could have bought a gun before registering as a medical marijuana patient and could regain her right to buy a gun by "surrendering her registry card." The court therefore applies "intermediate scrutiny," which requires "(1) the government's stated objective to be significant, substantial, or important; and (2) a reasonable fit between the challenged regulation and the asserted objective." Since Wilson concedes that the government's interest in preventing gun violence is substantial, the only question is whether a rule preventing people like her from buying guns is a reasonable way of accomplishing that goal. "The Government argues that empirical data and legislative determinations support a strong link between drug use and violence," the 9th Circuit notes. The government did not actually present any of that evidence, but that's OK, because "studies and surveys relied on in similar cases suggest a significant link between drug use, including marijuana use, and violence." In case you doubt that marijuana makes people violent, the court adds a few other rationa[...]
Wed, 24 Aug 2016 06:30:00 -0400
(image) Rick Doblin, who as head of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) has been trying for years to jump through the hoops required to get marijuana approved as a medicine, says the Drug Enforcement Administration's new willingness to license more than one producer of cannabis for research will finally make it at least theoretically possible to complete that process.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has long had exclusive control over the legal supply of marijuana, which is grown by a single contractor at the University of Mississippi. In a legal battle that lasted more than a decade, MAPS tried to break that monopoly, which was a crucial barrier to meeting the Food and Drug Administration's requirements for approving a new medicine. The problem was not just the quality and variety of marijuana available from NIDA, or the agency's lack of enthusiasm for studies aimed at demonstrating the drug's benefits rather than its hazards. It was also the fact that NIDA's marijuana is available only for research, not for sale to patients following FDA approval.
"The FDA requires the Phase III studies be conducted with the exact same drug that the sponsor of the research is trying to market," Doblin explained in a recent interview on the Pacifica drug policy show Century of Lies. "So as long as the NIDA monopoly was in existence, FDA would never accept its marijuana for use in Phase III, and we could never get data that was necessary to reschedule."
MAPS is about to start a Phase II study of marijuana as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder in veterans, for example, but it has to use marijuana from NIDA. Since federally approved researchers are not allowed to buy marijuana from state-licensed suppliers in Colorado or Washington, NIDA is the only legal source. One problem with that is MAPS could not get all the strains it wanted: It asked for one with 12 percent THC and 12 percent cannabidiol (CBD), which NIDA did not have. But even if NIDA had a bigger variety, its marijuana would not be suitable for Phase III studies should the Phase II results look promising.
Now that the DEA has agreed to authorize other growers, research sponsors like MAPS can apply for licenses or contract with new licensees, which will make it possible to ensure that the marijuana used in their studies is the same as the marijuana they plan to make available as a medicine. "What's been so frustrating [is] that, on the one hand, the federal government has said there's not enough evidence to reschedule marijuana," Doblin said, "but on the other hand, they've blocked the ability to get the evidence. And so now that DEA has said that they'll end the NIDA monopoly, that evidence can be gathered....It's going to take four to six years, it could be $15 to $25 million, to gather it. But at least it's possible now, whereas before it was not possible."
Mon, 22 Aug 2016 00:01:00 -0400On August 11, when the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) rejected two petitions asking it to reclassify marijuana, Fox News anchor Shepard Smith did not try to conceal his contempt. "LSD, MDMA, a plant that grows in the yard—all one thing," he said sarcastically. "The DEA announced today it will keep marijuana on the list of the most dangerous drugs in all the world, along with heroin, LSD, and MDMA….Thanks, DEA, you've really got a lot of credibility." Smith's dismay was echoed by activists, scientists, commentators, and members of Congress from both major parties, who said the DEA's decision was at odds with what we know about marijuana's hazards and benefits. There is a lot of truth to that critique, and the DEA can reasonably be faulted for stubbornly refusing to remove marijuana from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), a category that is supposedly reserved for drugs with "a high potential for abuse," "no currently accepted medical use," and "a lack of accepted safety for use…under medical supervision." But bureaucratic intransigence is only part of the story. The other part is the CSA itself, a legal morass that leaves crucial phrases undefined, gives the DEA wide discretion to decide where drugs belong, and establishes arbitrary, inconsistent rules that make it impossible to properly classify many drugs. Since Schedule I is the CSA's most restrictive category, people tend to assume it's supposed to be a list of "the most dangerous drugs in all the world," as Shepard Smith put it. But Chuck Rosenberg, the DEA's acting administrator, says that's a misleading way of describing Schedule I. In fact, he says, the decision to keep marijuana in that category did not involve an assessment of its relative hazards. While the DEA's determination that marijuana belongs in Schedule I was widely interpreted to mean it thinks marijuana is about as dangerous as other drugs in that category and more dangerous than drugs in lower schedules, the head of the DEA insists that is not what the decision means. "Schedule I includes some substances that are exceptionally dangerous and some that are less dangerous (including marijuana, which is less dangerous than some substances in other schedules)," Rosenberg writes in an August 11 letter to Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, whose predecessors filed one of the rescheduling petitions that the DEA rejected this month. "That strikes some people as odd, but the criteria [sic] for inclusion in Schedule I is not relative danger….It is best not to think of drug scheduling as an escalating 'danger' scale—rather, specific statutory criteria (based on medical and scientific evidence) determine into which schedule a substance is placed." Rosenberg's concession that marijuana "is less dangerous than some substances in other schedules" stands in stark contrast with his predecessor's refusal to say whether heroin is more dangerous than marijuana. A year ago, Rosenberg admitted that "heroin is clearly more dangerous than marijuana," and now he is taking the further step of saying some drugs in lower schedules are also more dangerous. But he argues that such observations do not mean marijuana should be reclassified. According to the DEA's official explanation of its decision, the only factor that mattered was whether marijuana has a "currently accepted medical use." The agency says meeting that criterion requires the sort of large, expensive clinical studies that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) demands before approving a new medicine. While such studies have been conducted with marijuana's main active ingredient (which is how Marinol, a capsule containing synthetic THC, was approved by the FDA in 1985) and are under way with Sativex, an oral cannabis extract spray, they have not been conducted with the whole plant. So unless the DEA was willing to reco[...]
Fri, 19 Aug 2016 06:30:00 -0400
(image) Last week the Drug Enforcement Administration was widely criticized for refusing to move marijuana out of Schedule I, the most restrictive drug category under the Controlled Substances Act. But as I explain in my latest Forbes column, Congress shares the blame for marijuana's puzzling legal status because it created a classification scheme that defies logic:
Last week, when the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) rejected two petitions asking it to reclassify marijuana, Fox News anchor Shepard Smith did not try to conceal his contempt. "LSD, MDMA, a plant that grows in the yard—all one thing," he said sarcastically. "The DEA announced today it will keep marijuana on the list of the most dangerous drugs in all the world, along with heroin, LSD, and MDMA….Thanks, DEA, you've really got a lot of credibility."
Smith's dismay was echoed by activists, scientists, commentators, and members of Congress from both major parties, who said the DEA's decision was at odds with what we know about marijuana's hazards and benefits. There is a lot of truth to that critique, and the DEA can reasonably be faulted for stubbornly refusing to remove marijuana from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), a category that is supposedly reserved for drugs with "a high potential for abuse," "no currently accepted medical use," and "a lack of accepted safety for use…under medical supervision."
But bureaucratic intransigence is only part of the story. The other part is the CSA itself, a legal morass that leaves crucial phrases undefined, gives the DEA wide discretion to decide where drugs belong, and establishes arbitrary, inconsistent rules that make it impossible to properly classify many drugs.
Wed, 17 Aug 2016 06:30:00 -0400Yesterday a federal appeals court ruled that a spending rider approved by Congress in 2014 and 2015 prohibits the Justice Department from prosecuting marijuana suppliers who "fully comply" with state laws allowing medical use of the plant. The DOJ had argued that the rider, which says the department may not use appropriated money to "prevent" states from "implementing" their medical marijuana laws, applies only to litigation against the states themselves, not to prosecution of individuals who provide cannabis to patients. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit unanimously rejected that interpretation, saying federal marijuana defendants are entitled to evidentiary hearings at which they can try to show their actions were authorized by state law. The case, United States v. McIntosh, consolidates 10 appeals by medical marijuana growers and dispensary operators in California and Washington, including the proprietors of Hollywood Compassionate Care in Los Angeles. The defendants argued that prosecuting them violates Section 542 of the omnibus spending bill that Congress approved last December, which covers the fiscal year that ends on September 30, as well as a similar provision that applied to the previous fiscal year. The amendment, which was introduced by Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) and Sam Farr (D-Calif.), says "none of the funds made available in this Act to the Department of Justice may be used" to "prevent [states] from implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana." The 9th Circuit agreed with the defendants that the Rohrabacher/Farr amendment, although "not a model of clarity," covers criminal prosecution of people who engage in those activities as well as lawsuits aimed at overturning or neutralizing medical marijuana laws: DOJ argues that [Section 542] does not prevent the Medical Marijuana States from giving practical effect to their medical marijuana laws by prosecuting private individuals, rather than taking legal action against the state. We are not persuaded.... DOJ, without taking any legal action against the Medical Marijuana States, prevents them from implementing their laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana by prosecuting individuals for use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana that is authorized by such laws. By officially permitting certain conduct, state law provides for non-prosecution of individuals who engage in such conduct. If the federal government prosecutes such individuals, it has prevented the state from giving practical effect to its law providing for non-prosecution of individuals who engage in the permitted conduct. We therefore conclude that, at a minimum, § 542 prohibits DOJ from spending funds from relevant appropriations acts for the prosecution of individuals who engaged in conduct permitted by the State Medical Marijuana Laws and who fully complied with such laws.... If DOJ wishes to continue these prosecutions, Appellants are entitled to evidentiary hearings to determine whether their conduct was completely authorized by state law, by which we mean that they strictly complied with all relevant conditions imposed by state law on the use, distribution, possession, and cultivation of medical marijuana. Passing that test may not be easy, since neither California nor Washington licensed or explicitly allowed commercial production and distribution of medical marijuana when these defendants were arrested. In both states dispensaries operated based on controversial interpretations of state law, as patient cooperatives or collectives in California and as "collective gardens" in Washington. The 9th Circuit explicitly rejected the argument that Section 542 means th[...]
Thu, 11 Aug 2016 06:30:00 -0400Today the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is expected to reject two petitions asking it to reclassify marijuana while agreeing to loosen restrictions on the supply of marijuana for medical research. Although the drug's legal status will remain the same, the DEA's willingness to allow competition among marijuana suppliers should facilitate research by removing a bureaucratic bottleneck and improving the quality and variety of cannabis available to scientists investigating the plant's medical benefits. The Washington Post reports that the DEA, despite much speculation to the contrary, is sticking to its longstanding position that marijuana belongs in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), a category supposedly reserved for drugs with "a high potential for abuse" and "no currently accepted medical use," drugs so dangerous that they cannot be used safely even under a doctor's supervision. It is doubtful that marijuana meets any of those criteria, let alone all three. But the DEA, which has wide discretion to interpret and apply the CSA criteria, has always insisted that marijuana must stay in Schedule I until its medical utility is proven by the sort of large, expensive, randomized clinical trials the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) demands before approving a new pharmaceutical. While such studies have been conducted with marijuana's main active ingredient (which is how Marinol, a capsule containing synthetic THC, was approved by the FDA in 1985) and are under way with Sativex, an oral cannabis extract spray, they have not been conducted with the whole plant. Consultation with the FDA is part of the scheduling process, and the Post reports that the agency unsurprisingly "concluded that medical and scientific data do not yet prove that marijuana is safe and effective as a medicine." The Post says that conclusion "prohibits the DEA from reclassifying the drug," which is not quite true, because the DEA is not obligated to define "currently accepted medical use" as narrowly as it does. But unless the DEA decided to repudiate that court-approved interpretation, it was inevitable that it would respond to the two latest rescheduling petitions the same way it responded to three earlier ones. The DEA's decision to start licensing additional suppliers of marijuana is more surprising. Currently the only authorized source is the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), which obtains marijuana from a contractor at the University of Mississippi. That monopoly is anomalous, since the DEA allows multiple licensees to produce other Schedule I drugs for research. Scientists have complained that NIDA, whose mission emphasizes marijuana's hazards, has been reluctant to share its stash with researchers interested in marijuana's benefits. They also have been frustrated by the mediocre quality and minimal variety of NIDA's marijuana. Although the agency recently started offering strains that are high in cannabidiol, a compound in marijuana that shows promise in treating seizures, it still does not offer the high-THC strains that some researchers are interested in studying. Despite these problems, the DEA has until now insisted on maintaining NIDA's marijuana monopoly, which is one of the ways it has obstructed the research it says is necessary to move marijuana out of Schedule I. A 2001 attempt to get DEA approval for a private source of marijuana, backed by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), dragged on for a decade and ultimately failed, despite a positive ruling from an administrative law judge. The DEA rejected the MAPS petition in January 2009, just before Barack Obama took office. Instead of reversing that decision, Obama appointed the acting administrator who made it, Michele Leonhart, to head the agency. Now Leonhart, wh[...]
Mon, 01 Aug 2016 20:50:00 -0400In 2011, Rowan Wilson sued the U.S. government over part of its gun laws policies. She insisted the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATFE) interpreted Sect. 922(g) of the federal criminal code (from the 1968 federal Gun Control Act) in a way that prevented her from legally buying a gun, just because she held a state of Nevada medical marijuana permit. And she thought that was wrong, for a lot of reasons. A gun dealer who knew Wilson socially and was aware she has a medical marijuana card refused to sell her a gun, aware of a BATFE policy which had been reiterated in a September 2011 memo that read in part: "there are no exceptions in federal law for marijuana purportedly used for medicinal purposes, even if such use is sanctioned by State law...." Even such card holders still fell afoul of 922(g), which says that anyone "who is an unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance" is basically barred from legally possessing or receiving guns or ammo. Wilson thought this policy violated her Second Amendment rights, as well as her First Amendment rights, since she maintains there's an expressive element to her signing up for the card (especially since at the time, her lawyer Chaz Rainey says, no functioning legal system existed by which one could use the card to buy pot legally in Nevada). The suit also contained a Fifth Amendment challenge, since Wilson claimed her due process rights were violated by the presumption she was an "unlawful user" of drugs on no actual evidence. (Having a state-issued medical pot card does not equal illegal use of a drug.) In March 2014, U.S. District Court Judge Gloria Navarro ruled against Wilson. She appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Navarro relied heavily on a 2011 9th Circuit case, U.S. v. Dugan, which declared that "[h]abitual drug users, like career criminals and the mentally ill, more likely will have difficulty exercising self-control, particularly when they are under the influence of controlled substances." This declaration in Dugan allegedly backs up the idea that a compelling state interest is pursued by keeping Wilson from legally buying a gun. As Rainey told me at the time, "Dugan is like two paragraphs long, no analysis...Our core argument all along is, Dugan is just wrong and needs to be overturned at least in part. Dugan takes an outlier situation in which we have clear obvious criminal conduct and says, well, because he was dealing in massive amounts of controlled substances, the applicability of this federal law prohibiting him from having firearms is constitutionally justifiable." Dugan had just two paragraphs of analysis, and concluded: we see the same amount of danger in allowing habitual drug users to traffic in firearms as we see in allowing felons and mentally ill people to do so. Habitual drug users, like career criminals and the mentally ill, more likely will have difficulty exercising self-control, particularly when they are under the influence of controlled substances. Moreover, unlike people who have been convicted of a felony or committed to a mental institution and so face a lifetime ban, an unlawful drug user may regain his right to possess a firearm simply by ending his drug abuse....Because Congress may constitutionally deprive felons and mentally ill people of the right to possess and carry weapons, we conclude that Congress may also prohibit illegal drug users from possessing firearms. Unlike Dugan, Rainey points out his client Rowan Wilson "was never prosecuted for anything, never found pot on her, never found her dealing, merely found her to have a registry card issued by a state." Dugan had been running both pot and weapon sales operations out of his home, a somewhat different circumstance than being granted by a state the lega[...]
Fri, 29 Jul 2016 16:25:00 -0400California laws prohibit the use of butane as part of the chemical process to create cannabis extracts, used for oils and marijuana products that aren't rolled up in joints or used in bongs. It's considered a safety issue. Butane is flammable, and very nasty accidents may happen if the chemical process goes wrong. Some burn centers reported in 2015 that 10 percent of their cases were a result of butane-related hash oil explosions. The law is generally associated with fighting and shutting down meth labs, but it applies to hash oil manufacturing as well. And this year, marijuana oil extractors who appear to be operating legally under California's medical marijuana laws are seeing this law used as a reason to raid their facilities, arrest people, shut them down, and possibly engage in civil asset forfeiture to take their stuff. Will Yakowicz, who covers marijuana industry issues at Inc., has a long read about two raids on a San Diego-based cannabis extraction company, Med-West Distributors, why it's happening, and what it potentially means. As California is considering legalizing recreational use of marijuana entirely in November, police are still trying to shut down operations and seize their assets: The narcotics task force seized $1.4 million in cash, product, and money from various bank accounts belonging to owner James Slatic ($325,570 in cash was found in the safe). Med-West had been providing hundreds of licensed dispensaries around California with medical CO2-extracted cannabis oil and products under the state's medical marijuana laws since 2010. The company was licensed by the city of San Diego and operating openly. Slatic says his company was raided a second time in late June and is now officially closed. San Diego law enforcement used federal asset forfeiture laws to freeze and seize the company's cash and the money in Slatic's personal bank account, the bank account of his wife (who is a federal employee at Veterans Affairs), and his kids' college savings accounts. The San Diego Sheriff's Office and San Diego County District Attorney's Office declined to explain why they seized Med-West's and the Slatic family's money, but neither has charged Slatic with a crime. There were similar raids in June on cannabis extract producers in Sonoma County. In each case, authorities claimed that sources told them the companies were using the butane illegally for the extractions. In each case, company representatives insisted that they have not and used other methods. And in both cases the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) officials were apparently on hand or involved in the raids. Their participation matters because, first of all, federal law still has marijuana as an illegal substance. There is a federal regulation that is intended to prevent the DEA from interfering or enforcing federal bans in states where marijuana has been legalized. But officials claim that the facilities are operating illegally and therefore not in compliance with how the state set up its program. In addition, the involvement of the DEA opens up the possibility of using the federal government civil asset forfeiture laws rather than California's so that police can attempt to take and keep a huge chunk of money they've grabbed from Slatic and his family. The federal government's rules for asset forfeiture are looser than California's and allow law enforcement agencies in California to keep more of the money they seize. Previous studies have shown that while asset forfeitures under California's state laws have remained static over the past few years, there's been a dramatic increase in money seized in the state using the federal regulations. The raids are not going down well with some California authority figures, Yakowicz notes: A ho[...]
Thu, 14 Jul 2016 08:48:00 -0400
(image) The Democratic Party's platform committee, which already had approved reform-friendly language on marijuana, strenghtened that plank over the weekend, adopting an amendment backed by Bernie Sanders delegates that recommends rescheduling the drug to provide "a reasoned pathway for future legalization." That stance seems like a compromise between the positions staked out by presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton, who says marijuana should be moved from Schedule I to Schedule II of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) to facilitate research, and Sanders, who last fall became the first senator to introduce legislation that would repeal the federal ban on cannabis by removing the plant and its products from the CSA's schedules altogether.
The earlier platform language endorsed marijuana federalism and added, "We support policies that will allow more research on marijuana, as well as reforming our laws to allow legal marijuana businesses to exist without uncertainty." The new language says, "Because of conflicting laws concerning marijuana, both on the federal and state levels, we encourage the federal government to remove marijuana from its list as a Class 1 [sic] Federal Controlled Substance, providing a reasoned pathway for future legalization." Assuming that plank is in the final version of the platform, it will be the first time either major party has endorsed marijuana legalization, even as a distant prospect.
On Monday, meanwhile, the GOP platform committee rejected a much milder plank that voiced support for states that allow medical use of noncombustible marijuana products. The Huffington Post reports that one opponent of the language warned that mass murderers are "young boys from divorced families, and they're all smoking pot." Was that you, Roger Morgan?
Wed, 13 Jul 2016 10:28:00 -0400
If you want to reduce people's overreliance on prescription drugs, your best bet might be to let people smoke pot instead.
A new study by researchers at the University of Georgia (UGA) showed states with legalized medical marijuana had lower rates of prescription drug use. Not only that, but the government is saving money as a result of not having to pay for as much medicine for Medicare patients.
The paper looked at prescriptions filled by Medicare Part D enrollees from 2010 to 2013, narrowing the data to include only conditions where medical marijuana could serve as a possible treatment. The researchers, David Bradford and Ashley Bradford, found that eight out of the nine conditions saw a marked decrease in filled prescriptions.
Medical marijuana saved the Medicare drug program more than $165 million in 2013, a year when 17 states and Washington, D.C., permitted its use. If it had been legal across the nation, according to a UGA press release, the savings "would have been around $468 million."
This is just under half a percent of what was spent in 2013 as part of Medicare Part D (which totaled $103 billion). The results also indicate people may turn toward available alternatives to prescription drugs, even if they're not covered by any insurance program.
The only condition that saw an increase in written prescriptions was glaucoma, a condition that leads to pressure building in the eye and eventually blindness if a person does not get treatment.
The researchers note while glaucoma patients can use medical marijuana to decrease the amount of pressure they're experiencing, it is not an effective treatment method. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the discomfort only lowers for three or four hours, meaning a person would have to smoke marijuana six to eight times a day to get full-time relief.
"On the programmatic side, we do see reductions in expenditures," said David Bradford in a video released by the university. "Those reductions in expenditures could then be reallocated to other kinds of important and unmet medical needs at the moment."
He hopes this research will help people understand the health benefits of medical marijuana rather than just seeing it as a back door to legalizing recreational pot use. "What our evidence is suggesting is that the response that the patients are having and that physicians are having is that there is a significant amount of actual clinical use at work," Bradford said.