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Drug Policy

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Published: Sun, 22 Jan 2017 00:00:00 -0500

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What We Don't Know About Marijuana's Risks and Benefits

Fri, 13 Jan 2017 10:00:00 -0500

The last time the National Academy of Sciences issued a report on marijuana, three states allowed medical use of the drug. Eighteen years later, there are 28 states that recognize marijuana as a medicine, and eight of them also allow recreational use. But as a new NAS report published yesterday shows, there are still big gaps in our knowledge of marijuana's risks and benefits. The 1999 report, commissioned by a drug czar who insisted there was no evidence that marijuana is medically useful, refuted that claim but highlighted the paucity of relevant research. "The accumulated data indicate a potential therapeutic value for cannabinoid drugs, particularly for symptoms such as pain relief, control of nausea and vomiting, and appetite stimulation," it concluded. The new report, which takes into account studies conducted during the last two decades, is less tentative but still finds the evidence for most medical applications inconclusive. "We found conclusive or substantial evidence...for benefit from cannabis or cannabinoids for chronic pain, chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, and patient-reported symptoms of spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis," the authors say. "For these conditions the effects of cannabinoids are modest; for all other conditions evaluated there is inadequate information to assess their effects." The report notes that investigation of marijuana's medical utility has been constrained by legal and bureaucratic barriers, including continued federal prohibition and the Drug Enforcement Administration's refusal to license more than one producer of cannabis for research. "There are specific regulatory barriers, including the classification of cannabis as a Schedule I substance, that impede the advancement of cannabis and cannabinoid research," the authors say. "It is often difficult for researchers to gain access to the quantity, quality, and type of cannabis product necessary to address specific research questions." Last August the DEA once again refused to reclassify marijuana but agreed to start accepting applications from additional marijuana producers. As state-legal marijuana products proliferate across the country, federal prohibition prevents scientists from investigating their properties: Cannabis concentrate sales doubled in Colorado from 2015 to 2016, reaching $60.5 million in the first quarter of 2016, and yet current federal law prevents chemists from examining the composition of those products as it may relate to safety, neuroscientists from testing the effects of those products on the brain or physiology in animal models, and clinical scientists from conducting research on how these products may help or harm patients. And while between 498,170 and 721,599 units of medical and recreational cannabis edibles were sold per month in Colorado in 2015, federal law also prohibits scientists from testing those products for contaminants, understanding the effects of these products in animal models, or investigating the effects in patient populations. Regarding the potential dangers of these products, the report is mostly reassuring, finding little or no evidence that marijuana impairs the immune system or increases the risk of heart attacks, lung cancer, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (contrary to the claims of anti-pot activists). Regular pot smoking seems to worsen bronchitis symptoms, and marijuana consumption by pregnant women is associated with lower birth weight, although there is little evidence of a link to pregnancy complications or postnatal health problems. Marijuana use is associated with schizophrenia, suicide, poor academic performance, and abuse of other drugs, but the causal relationships remain murky. The report says "there is limited evidence of a statistical association between sustained abstinence from cannabis use and impairments in the cognitive domains of learning, memory, and attention"—i.e., effects that persist long after people have stopped using marijuana, which remains a subject of much controversy. The report notes that marijuana legalization has [...]

Sessions Offers Unclear, Useless Answers on Marijuana During Confirmation Hearing

Tue, 10 Jan 2017 17:52:00 -0500

Senators on both sides of the aisle pressed their colleague Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama) on Tuesday to flesh out his views on state-level marijuana laws, but president-elect Donald Trump's pick to be the next attorney general downplayed his history of being a hardline drug warrior. Instead, we got vague and unconvincing answers about how Sessions views the relationship between the states and the federal government. "I think one obvious concern is that the United States Congress made the possession of marijuana in every state and the distribution of it an illegal act," Sessions said when questioned by U.S. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah). "If that's something that's not desired any longer, Congress should pass a law to change the rule. It is not much the attorney general's job to decide what laws to enforce. We should do our job and enforce laws effectively as we are able." As a matter of basic civics, yes, Sessions is right about all that. Congress should be the ones to decide when marijuana is legal or illegal at the federal level and the Justice Department is supposed to enforce the laws, not make them. That's hardly a controversial or revealing statement. Practically, though, Sessions would have tremendous power as attorney general to decide exactly what "enforce laws effectively as we are able" means. Without needing approval from Congress, Sessions could send federal agents to arrest growers, shut down dispensaries, and freeze the bank accounts of marijuana businesses. In the past, Sessions has encouraged the federal government to take a more activist approach to enforcing marijuana prohibition. In an April hearing about recreational marijuana laws in the states, Sessions observed that "good people don't smoke marijuana" and longed for the days when the federal government was more aggressive in going after drug dealers and users. If Sessions brings that approach to the executive branch, his decisions on marijuana policy could have huge implications for individuals and businesses in states where forms of marijuana have been legalized and could change the landscape for further state-level marijuana policy changes in coming years. As Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) pointed out during Tuesday's confirmation hearing, even Sessions' home state of Alabama has legalized a marijuana derivative known as cannabidiol oil, or CBD oil, for the treatment of some medical conditions. Leahy asked whether Sessions, as attorney general, would allow such laws to stand. "I won't commit to never enforcing federal law," Session said. "But absolutely it's a problem of resources for the federal government." Again, this is not an informative answer. "We are no closer to clarity in regards to Sessions' plans for how to treat state marijuana laws than we were yesterday," said Erik Altieri, executive director for NORML, which lobbies for marijuana reform at the state and federal level. "If Sessions wants to be attorney general for all Americans, he must bring his views in line with the majority of the population and support allowing states to set their own marijuana policies without fear of federal intervention." Sean Spicer, Trump's spokesman, was asked about Sessions' views on marijuana legalization during a Tuesday appearence on Fox News, but offered more vaguries. Some have pointed to this exchange as an indication Sessions won't go after state-legal cannabis. That's not what it says. It's a nonanswer. — Ben Adlin (@badlin) January 10, 2017 During the Obama administration, eight states legalized recreational marijuana and dozens of state-level medical marijuana laws were passed. Marijuana remains completely illegal at the federal level. It is included on the federal Schedule I list, a set of drugs considered by the Drug Enforcement Administration to have "no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse," including heroin, LSD, and ecstasy. More states are likely to approve marijuana for recreational and medicinal use in the coming years, but the federal government would have the p[...]

Butch Otter Still Opposes Legalizing CBD Oil; Uses Hyperbole to Explain Why

Sat, 07 Jan 2017 09:02:00 -0500

In November, my first feature story for Reason profiled a young man from Idaho who suffers from intractable seizures and asked why Butch Otter, the state's governor, did not help him when he had the chance. That young man is Josh Phillips, and he has been suffering from uncontrollable seizures since he was 10 years old. He's tried dozens of different drugs, but none have helped him. Out of other options, Josh and his family believe a marijuana-derived substance called Cannabidiol oil, or CBD oil, might offer some relief. It's worked for some people suffering from similar ailments in states where CBD is legal, including 17 states that don't have medical marijuana laws but have passed narrower CBD oil bills. Otter had a chance to sign a CBD oil bill for Idaho in April 2015, but he vetoed it. He is still the only governor in the country to veto such a bill. It's possible that the state legislature will give Otter another chance to sign a CBD oil bill this year, but the governor on Friday reiterated his opposition. During a press conference in Boise, Otter told reporters that there had been no change in his view on the subject. src="" width="100%" height="450" frameborder="0"> The real change is between Otter's view today and the view he held for most of his political career. As my story noted, Otter had been a proponent of marijuana legalization for decades—from way back when he first broke into politics in the 1970s, through his successful run for governor in 2006. There's a few different reasons why Otter seems to have changed his mind—lobbyists for law enforcement groups and pharmaceutical companies seem to have played a significant role, Reason's investigation found—but the most important consequence of his decision is that people in Idaho suffering from intractable seizures are left with fewer choices when it comes to treatment. Otter had, after vetoing the CBD oil bill, issued an executive order creating a clinical trial for a drug called Epidiolex, which is produced by a British pharmaceutical company trying to gain FDA approval to sell the drug in the United States. The drug is basically a synthetic version of CBD, but Otter's team preferred the clinical trial because it was more standardized and controlled than CBD oil. On Friday, Otter said the clinical trial is showing that there is "sufficient relief in many cases." That's good news for the children who got into the Epidiolex trials—the program was capped at 25 kids (the Otter administration later lifted the cap to 38 children)—but does nothing to help anyone who unable to get into the trial or anyone who was over 18, like Josh Phillips, who will turn 20 next month. It also doesn't help Katie Donahue, an Idaho resident who says she literally has prayed for death because she can't find a way to treat her seizures. "I am deeply saddened at the freedom Butch Otter continues to deny extremely ill Idahoans," Donahue said in a statement provided to Reason on Friday. "I am devastated for the children who will continue forced suffering from diseases as well as stigma. I am sickened to think of families from other states having success with cannabinoid therapy not being able to experience the beauty of Idaho because freedom has been replaced with fascism." While we're picking apart Otter's comments, there's one more thing he said Friday that deserves some scrutiny, because it speaks to his administration's overall approach to medical marijuana. Without being asked, Otter launched into an explanation of why he opposes medical marijuana (around the 1:30 mark of the audio file above). Like his spokesman did in responding to questions from Reason two months ago, Otter referenced a conversation with a governor of another state (without giving a name) who supposedly told Otter that medical marijuana was "a disaster." "Almost anybody [...]

Drug War Is Over (If You Want It!): Hollyweed Edition

Tue, 03 Jan 2017 09:08:00 -0500


Over the New Year's weekend, pranksters found their way to the Hollywood sign and mocked it up to pay tribute to Calfornia's November vote to legalize recreational marijuana.

Here's a map via Governing magazine that lays out where pot is legal and under what circumstances. It's interactive, so click through for full effect.


Especially after California's move, it's legitimate to say that the war on pot is decisively going against the prohibitionists. Having said that, there's still a ton of territory to be won and there remain massive actions that still need to happen: Laws in the 21 states that still ban all forms of pot need to change, legal banking practices need to be established in states that allow recreational and medical marijuana, the disposition of prisoners serving sentences for marijuana-related crime needs to be addressed, and more.

In 2017, activists will be especially busy in states such as Texas, Kentucky, and Missouri, which currently don't allow legal consumption, but also will be working to further liberalize laws in places such as New Jersey and Rhode Island. The question for all of us who believe that adults should be allowed to use marijuana legally is, to paraphrase John Kerry, Who will we let be the last person to die for this mistake? A more-pressing question for all Americans is, What will the federal response to state-level legalization be under a Trump administration. There are good reasons to be very worried. Watch now:

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2 Books To Help You Thrive in Trump's America!

Thu, 29 Dec 2016 12:05:00 -0500

I didn't vote for Donald Trump (I proudly voted for Gary Johnson, thank you very much) and I do worry about some (most?) of his policy ideas. Yet unlike many progressives, liberals, Democrats, libertarians, conservatives, and #NeverTrump, I'm not trembling in fear or quaking in anger over the transfer of power that happens on January 20. Part of the reason for my lack of pants-wetting is because of two books I've read in the past year. Neither is specifically about Trump—or even contemporary politics—but each holds some great lessons about how to deal broadly with the billionaire developer and the bigger question of out-of-control government power. Penn Jillette's Presto! How I Made Over 100 Pounds Disappear and Other Magical Tales is a lean, mean diet memoir by the well-known magician that is leavened with tales of his two tours on the Trump-hosted Celebrity Apprentice. You'll not only learn how to go cold turkey from what Jillette calls the "Standard American Diet" (or SAD!) but get a strong sense of what makes the Donald tick. The other is a sobering book about the long-range hangover from the "noble experiment" in banning booze during the 1920s. Harvard historian Lisa McGirr's The War on Alcohol: Prohibition and the Rise of the American State is a tour de force of deep, serious research and analysis that's also a real page-turner. Most important to the current moment, she documents how federal powers don't ever really disappear. Instead, like parasites they find a new host to do their bidding after their original purpose is served. Presto! begins a couple of years ago, with Jillette weighing in somewhere north of 330 pounds (folks that fat, he notes, stop weighing themselves). After years of high-blood pressure, self-delusion about what a "fat fuck" he had been for years, and a serious cardiac event, he's given an ultimatum by his doctor to lose lots of weight in six months or submit to stomach stapling. Jillette follows the diet advice of his friend Ray Cronise, a former NASA engineer turned nutrition guru. He eats nothing but plain potatoes for a couple of weeks and then slowly adds back other vegetables, fruits, and whole plants, all while losing almost a pound a day. Once he hits his target weight of around 230 pounds, he settles into a version of the "nutritarian" approach elaborated by Joel Fuhrman, the medical doctor behind Eat To Live and an ever-expanding web empire. It's a rollicking and profane story of self-control and literal and figurative reinvention. "The kind of guy I am," writes Jillette, "if I couldn't eat nothing, I was going to eat everything….There is nothing fun and sexy about moderation. To be thin, I needed to find a way to make my diet as extreme as my other lifestyle choices." But what about Trump? As a very public libertarian who supported Gary Johnson throughout the presidential race, Jillette had little love for the Democratic nominee. "Eating pizza is voting for Hillary Clinton," he writes, meaning that casting a ballot for her would be the equivalent of one of his old comfort-food binges during which he would slather a hunk of cheese with peanut butter while driving to The Cheesecake Factory and eating two entrees and a dessert or three before heading to the movies and downing a bucket of buttered popcorn in which he's tossed a boxful of Milk Duds. And yet, he has warmer feelings for her than his TV boss on Celebrity Apprentice (indeed, in a complicated vote-swapping gambit, he actually voted for her in tightly-contested Nevada in exchange for a dozen other people voting for Johnson). "I really thought there could be no one worse than Hillary Clinton, and there is no one worse than Hillary Clinton except Donald Trump." Jillette likens Trump's hair to "cotton candy made from piss" and that's the closest he comes to a compliment. Trump, Jillette says in a characteristic passage, has "filled our country with embarrassment, hate, and fear…fuck Trump in the neck." Presto! do[...]

Teenagers Dismay Prohibitionists by Consuming Less Cannabis

Wed, 14 Dec 2016 07:00:00 -0500

At a Senate hearing last April, Jeff Sessions, Donald Trump's choice for attorney general, worried about the message that marijuana legalization sends to the youth of America. "I can't tell you how concerning it is for me, emotionally and personally, to see the possibility that we will reverse the progress that we've made," he said. "Colorado was one of the leading states that started the movement to suggest that marijuana is not dangerous. And we're going to find it, in my opinion, ripple through the entire American citizenry, and we're going to see more marijuana use." We have been hearing similar warnings from drug warriors for two decades. When teenagers see that states have legalized medical or recreational marijuana for adults, prohibitionists predicted, they will be more inclined to smoke pot. But as survey data released yesterday confirmed once again, there is no evidence that is happening.

According to the Monitoring the Future Study, marijuana use by eighth- and 10th-graders fell this year. It rose slightly among 12th-graders but was still less common than in 2012, the year Colorado and Washington became the first two states to legalize marijuana for recreational use, and about the same as in 2014, when two more states and the District of Columbia joined them. The 2016 legalization campaigns, four of which were successful, likewise did not seem to spur much new interest in pot among teenagers. Nor did the legalization of medical marijuana in 28 states, starting with California in 1996. This is not the pattern you would expect to see if loosening state marijuana laws encouraged underage consumption by improving the drug's reputation among teenagers:

(image) "I don't have an explanation," said Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which sponsors the survey. "This is somewhat surprising. We had predicted based on the changes in legalization [and] culture in the U.S. as well as decreasing perceptions among teenagers that marijuana was harmful that [use] would go up. But it hasn't gone up."

Heroin-Related Deaths Rise As Heroin Use Falls

Mon, 12 Dec 2016 08:00:00 -0500

CDC numbers released last week indicate that the number of heroin-related deaths in the United States rose from 10,574 in 2014 to 12,990 in 2015. That 23 percent increase occurred even though heroin use, as measured by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), declined last year. This development underlines a phenomenon I've noted before: Heroin use is more dangerous than it used to be. Since 2002, according to NSDUH, the number of heroin users has more than doubled, but the number of drug poisoning deaths involving heroin has more than sextupled. To put it another way, heroin users are about three times as likely to die from drug poisoning as they were in 2002. Several factors may help explain this striking development. As the government cracked down on nonmedical use of prescription painkillers, a lot of opioid users switched to heroin, and these new heroin users were not accustomed to the black market's inconsistent potency. One reason heroin can be stronger than expected is the addition of the synthetic narcotic fentanyl, which has become more common in recent years. "Overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids other than methadone rose from 5,544 in 2014 to 9,580 in 2015, an increase of 73 percent," the CDC notes. "This category of opioids is dominated by fentanyl-related overdoses, and recent research indicates the fentanyl involved in these deaths is illicitly manufactured, not from medications containing fentanyl." Fentanyl aside, most heroin-related deaths involve drug mixtures, and it's possible the new heroin users are more inclined to combine it with other depressants. The shift to the black market can't be the whole story, because there was a similar divergence between consumption of legal opioids and deaths involving them. Nonmedical use of these drugs fell slightly between 2002 and 2014, when the number of deaths involving them rose by 150 percent. It seems clear that fatalities are not a simple function of use rates, which means policies aimed at driving down consumption may not be the most effective way to reduce deaths. Such efforts may even have the opposite effect, as the crackdown on painkillers apparently did by driving opioid users to heroin. Taking these points into account, a new set of recommendations from the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) suggests several ways to make opioid use less dangerous, including wider distribution of the overdose-reversing opioid antagonist naloxone, legal reforms to protect bystanders who report overdoses, "drug checking services" that would alert users to the presence of adulterants such as fentanyl, and supervised injection facilities, where people can consume drugs in a safe and sanitary setting monitored by medical professionals. DPA says "SIFs have been rigorously studied and found to reduce the spread of infectious disease, overdose deaths, and improperly discarded injection equipment, and to increase public order, access to drug treatment and other services, and to save taxpayer money." DPA also suggests "heroin-assisted treatment," which gives addicts access to pharmaceutical-quality heroin. It says "research has shown that HAT can reduce drug use, overdose deaths, infectious disease, and crime, while saving money and promoting social integration." These harm reduction measures go beyond "just say no" to grapple with the factors that make opioid use more dangerous than it has to be. It's doubtful that the Trump administration, which so far leans strongly toward old-fashioned prohibitionism, will be open to such ideas. But any response to the rise in opioid-related deaths that does not address the divergence between consumption and fatality trends will be missing an important part of the picture.[...]

Ask Jacob Sullum All Your Questions About Drugs, Policy, and Drug Policy

Thu, 01 Dec 2016 09:00:00 -0500

We need to talk about Jacob Sullum. This Reason senior editor plays it low key, but he's pretty amazing. Our beardy drug guru is the author of two critically acclaimed books: Saying Yes: In Defense of Drug Use (Tarcher/Penguin) and For Your Own Good: The Anti-Smoking Crusade and the Tyranny of Public Health (Free Press). He knows everything there is to know about pretty much any illicit substance you can imagine. And everybody likes him: Saying Yes has been praised by both sides of the political spectrum. National Review called it "a highly effective debunking," and Mother Jones described it as "a healthy dose of sober talk in a debate dominated by yelping dopes."

Just in the last couple of weeks he's delivered killer reporting and analysis on ecstasy, marijuana, kratom, cannabis candy, booze, and even soda. Plus flag burning and criminal justice reform.

So ask him anything over at his Twitter account using the #askalibertarian hashtag. And then donate!

Read the whole Q and A below.

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The Cannabis Exception to the Second Amendment

Wed, 30 Nov 2016 00:01:00 -0500

If you want to buy a gun from a federally licensed dealer, you have to fill out Form 4473, which is aimed at determining whether you are legally allowed to own a firearm. A recent revision to the form by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) underlines how blithely the federal government strips Americans of their Second Amendment rights. "Are you an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana or any depressant, stimulant, narcotic drug, or any other controlled substance?" asks Question 11(e). In the latest version of Form 4473, which dealers are required to start using on January 16, that question is followed by a warning in bold type: "The use or possession of marijuana remains unlawful under Federal law regardless of whether it has been legalized or decriminalized for medicinal or recreational purposes in the state where you reside." If you are one of the 68 million Americans who live in a state that has decided to allow recreational use of marijuana, or one of the 186 million who live in a state that recognizes marijuana as a medicine, you may have been under the impression that legalization makes cannabis consumption lawful. The ATF wants to disabuse you of that notion; hence the warning. "We were concerned that some buyers who use marijuana may read the 2012 language asking if they were an 'unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana' and erroneously say no because in that particular state, marijuana has been legalized," an ATF spokeswoman told The Denver Post last week. "Most dealers recognize that marijuana use prohibits people from purchasing firearms under federal law, but many members of the general public may not be as familiar with the Gun Control Act." Under that law, a cannabis consumer who possesses a gun (no matter where he got it) is guilty of a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Likewise anyone who sells him a gun if has reason to know the buyer is a cannabis consumer. Falsely denying marijuana use on Form 4473 can get you up to five years. The rationale for this rule is risible. Last August the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled that banning gun sales to people who have medical marijuana cards is consistent with the Second Amendment because "empirical data and legislative determinations support a strong link between drug use and violence." The court did not actually cite any such evidence, but it did observe that "illegal drug users, including marijuana users, are likely as a consequence of that use to experience altered or impaired mental states that affect their judgment and that can lead to irrational or unpredictable behavior." The same could be said of drinkers, but it seems unlikely that the 9th Circuit would uphold a law that restricted the Second Amendment to teetotalers. The appeals court also argued that cannabis consumers are "more likely to have negative interactions with law enforcement officers because they engage in criminal activity." It added that "they frequently make their purchases through black market sources who themselves frequently resort to violence." Both of those risks are byproducts of prohibition, and they do not apply to people who grow, buy, or consume marijuana in accordance with state law. The fact that those activities are still prohibited by the federal government does not mean the average cannabis consumer is apt to get into a shootout with DEA agents, let alone with the state-licensed retailer who sells him marijuana. The idea that marijuana makes people violent is a relic of the 1930s that has no relevance in determining who deserves to exercise the fundamental right of armed self-defense—a point the president-elect should recognize. Donald Trump's choice for attorney general may believe that "good people don't smoke marijuana," but Trump himself has repeatedly expressed a devotion to the Second Ame[...]

Indiana TV Station Claims Kids Are Ordering Cannabis Candy Online

Mon, 28 Nov 2016 08:00:00 -0500

The strangers who supposedly were trying to get your kids high by passing out cannabis candy on Halloween apparently have moved online. Or so claims WANE, the CBS affiliate in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The headline over the WANE story—which was reposted by WRIC, the ABC station in Richmond, Virginia—warns that "dealers [are] using THC-laced 'edibles' to attract young people." Reporter Angelica Robinson claims "marijuana dealers are targeting young people," that "much of it is done online," and that "buyers order the candies online and use them to get high discreetly." Jerri Lerch of the Allen County Drug and Alcohol Consortium tells Robinson that drug dealers "tweet targeted young people about the availability of attractive marijuana products." But neither Lerch nor Robinson presents any evidence of such online commerce in cannabis candies for kids. The genesis of the story was an incident that the Noble County Sheriff's Department last week described on Facebook as "a transaction involving suspicious lollipops" at West Noble High School in Ligonier. The post was accompanied by photographs of two cherry lollipops and the package from which they apparently came, which indicates they were made by 2 Baked Gerrls, an edible manufacturer that serves patients in Michigan, a neighboring state that allows medical use of marijuana. The statement from the sheriff's department says nothing about online sales, an idea that seems to have sprung from the combined imaginations of Lerch and Robinson. "They're getting them through some sort of black market," Lerch tells WANE. "That could be online or on the web, or some sort of physical transaction of some kind." It is no stretch to suggest that medical marijuana products from Michigan are sold "through some sort of black market" when they are purchased in Indiana, where marijuana is not legal for any purpose. But the rest, including the teenager-targeting tweets and the websites selling THC-infused treats to high school students, sounds like speculative fiction rather than news. Robinson compounds the deception with some bizarre scaremongering about marijuana edibles. "The small suckers could pack a big punch," she says. "Typically, edibles can contain anywhere between 70 and 100 percent of THC. Marijuana has just 17 to 30 percent." These numbers are nonsensical. A lollipop that was 100 percent THC would not be a lollipop; it would be pure THC. Even a product that was 70 percent THC would not have the taste, consistency, or appearance of a lollipop, which consists mostly of sugar. And if it were possible to create such a thing, a seven-gram lollipop that was 70 percent THC would contain 4,900 milligrams of marijuana's main psychoactive ingredient. The label on the 2 Baked Gerrls package indicates that it contains 50 milligrams of THC, or 25 milligrams per lollipop (assuming both pictured lollipops came from the same package). Such impossible claims about the THC content of marijuana edibles are more common than you might think. In an op-ed piece published last year, Scotts Bluff County, Nebraska, Sheriff Mark Overman averred that "'edibles,' in the form of candy, baked goods, and drinks, have [THC] levels as high as 90 percent." Now that Robinson has upped Overman's ante, we may soon see warnings that the THC content of some edibles exceeds 100 percent. [Via Dank Space; thanks to Joshua Hotchkin for the tip.][...]

Is Trump's Pot Tolerance Fading?

Wed, 23 Nov 2016 00:01:00 -0500

On the same day Donald Trump was elected president, four states legalized marijuana for recreational use, while four others legalized or expanded access to medical marijuana. As a result of those ballot initiatives, most states now recognize marijuana as a medicine, and one in five Americans lives in a state that has decided to tolerate cannabis consumption without a doctor's note. During his campaign Trump said he supports medical marijuana but has concerns about broader legalization, a policy he nevertheless said states should be free to adopt. Trump's recently announced choice for attorney general, Sen. Jeff Sessions, casts doubt on those commitments. The Alabama Republican, a former U.S. attorney and state attorney general, is an old-fashioned drug warrior who pines for the days when Nancy Reagan's Just Say No campaign helped "create a hostility to drug use." He was outraged when President Obama conceded that marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol, and he recently claimed that "good people don't smoke marijuana." Sessions has repeatedly criticized the Obama administration's policy of tolerating state-authorized marijuana suppliers. During a 2009 Senate hearing, he complained that "Attorney General Holder has said federal authorities will no longer raid medical marijuana facilities in California, which is against U.S. law" and "contrary to the position taken by the Drug Enforcement Administration." At a hearing last April, Sessions bemoaned the message sent by marijuana legalization, which he said implies that "marijuana is not dangerous" and encourages teenagers to use it. "We need grownups in charge in Washington to say marijuana is not the kind of thing to be legalized," he said. "The Department of Justice needs to be clear, and the president needs to assert some leadership." Now that Trump has picked Sessions to head the Justice Department, we may get a clearer idea of how far Sessions wants to go in pressing the point that "marijuana is not the kind of thing to be legalized." While medical marijuana suppliers are protected from the feds by a spending rider that is likely to be renewed, if given free rein Sessions could easily wreak havoc in the recreational industry. Every state-licensed marijuana business remains a criminal enterprise under federal law, subjecting its owners to the risk of prosecution and forfeiture. An anti-pot crusader at the helm of the Justice Department could make that risk salient again by raiding growers, manufacturers, and retailers, or just by threatening to do so. Sessions also could challenge state legalization in federal court, although he might not like the results even if he wins. While the DOJ might prevail in arguing that state licensing and regulation of cannabusinesses conflicts with federal law, it cannot force states to recriminalize what those businesses do, so the upshot of a successful lawsuit could be less government oversight of the industry. Any such interference by the DOJ would contradict Trump's commitment to marijuana federalism. "I really believe you should leave it up to the states," he said at a rally in Reno last year. "It should be a state situation…In terms of marijuana and legalization, I think that should be a state issue, state by state." Most Americans agree with that approach. Recent national polls indicate that most Americans (60 percent, according to Gallup) think marijuana should be legal, while most Republicans continue to oppose legalization. But even among Republicans, most—70 percent, according to a CBS News poll conducted last April—think the feds should not try to override state decisions in this area. In other words, marijuana legalization is considerably more popular than Trump, who received less than 47 percent of the vote. Marijuana federalism is more popular still,[...]

How Idaho's Drug Warriors Stole Hope from Epileptic Kids

Mon, 21 Nov 2016 12:05:00 -0500

In December 2014, Josh Phillips' mother answered the phone to news no parent wants to hear. Her son, an epileptic high school senior and champion wrestler, was in the hospital. The whole Salmon High School wrestling team was waiting at Steele Memorial Medical Center when Jeanette and Gary Phillips got there. The team had been on its way home from a match at West Jefferson High, more than an hour away and out of cellphone range in the rugged backcountry of northeastern Idaho, when Josh Phillips suffered the worst seizure of his life. As the bus raced back to Salmon, Josh went in and out of consciousness. He stopped breathing at least once. "We thought we were going to lose him," recalls Jason Bruce, the team's coach. Josh had been diagnosed with epilepsy when he was 10 years old, but he'd been wrestling since he was much younger, following in the footsteps of his father and older brother. Josh was the best of the bunch. He'd never been pinned during his four years at Salmon High, and Bruce says Josh was a clear favorite to win the state championship at the end of his senior season. He never got the chance. After a frantic drive through the mountains, Bruce was finally able to call an ambulance to meet the bus and Josh made it to the hospital where he was stabilized. But the incident on the bus forced the school's hand, and the decision was made that Josh would no longer be allowed to travel with the team. It was too dangerous. Now, instead of dreaming of a championship, Josh is just hoping for a normal life. He's tried more than a dozen different medications and even underwent brain surgery. But the seizures that denied him a shot at a state title now prevent him from pursuing even the most mundane goals of the average 19-year-old. He can't go to college and probably won't be able to move out of his parents' house. He's not allowed to drive a car, and won't get permission until he can show doctors that he's having less than one seizure per month. With pharmaceutical and surgical treatments unsuccessful, the Phillips family and others in Idaho placed their hopes in the legalization of cannabidiol oil, or CBD, a form of medical marijuana. Though not guaranteed to work for everyone, CBD has been shown to be effective in controlling seizures in some epileptic patients. For that reason, it's been legalized in dozens of states as a medical treatment, including many states where more widespread uses of medical marijuana remain banned. In Idaho, a bill to allow people like Josh Phillips to access CBD oil was passed by the state legislature in 2015, only to be defeated by a group of powerful special interests—including cops, prosecutors, and pharmaceutical companies—with direct access to policy makers in Boise. Emails obtained by Reason reveal a behind-the-scenes effort organized by the state's Office of Drug Policy to derail the CBD legislation and, after it passed against the wishes of Gov. Butch Otter and his administration, to use executive authority to replace the bill with an alternative treatment program that has done nothing to help Josh Phillips or many other Idahoans suffering from seizures. In the middle of it all was a governor who had for years professed support for ending drug prohibition, only to turn his back when the opportunity came. Butch Otter: A History Of Supporting Pot Legalization Nearly 20 years before Josh Phillips was born, Clement Leroy "Butch" Otter was already pushing for marijuana to be legalized in Idaho. In 1978, the future governor was a 35-year-old two-term state lawmaker who was running as something of a radical upstart in the state's gubernatorial election. "If a person, of his own free will, wants to use marijuana, I question whether the government has any propriety in telling him he can't." [...]

Who Killed Idaho's Medical Pot Bill? New at Reason

Mon, 21 Nov 2016 12:05:00 -0500

In 17 states where recreational and medical marijuana is still illegal, a marijuana-derived substance called cannabidiol oil, or CBD oil, is available for use as a medical treatment. Only one governor in the country, Idaho's Butch Otter, has blocked the passage of a CBD oil bill.

In a new Reason web feature, Eric Boehm takes a look at Otter's decison to veto Idaho's CBD oil bill in March 2015. The bill would have provided a small measure of hope for Idahoans suffering from chronic, untreatable seizures—people like Josh Phillips, a star high school wrestler who had to give up his dream of a state championship when his seizures became too severe to control.

With pharmaceutical and surgical treatments unsuccessful, the Phillips family and others in Idaho placed their hopes in the legalization of cannabidiol oil, or CBD, a form of medical marijuana. Though not guaranteed to work for everyone, CBD has been shown to be effective in controlling seizures in some epileptic patients. For that reason, it's been legalized in dozens of states as a medical treatment, including many states where more widespread uses of medical marijuana remain banned.

In Idaho, a bill to allow people like Josh Phillips to access CBD oil was passed by the state legislature in 2015, only to be defeated by a group of powerful special interests—including cops, prosecutors, and pharmaceutical companies—with direct access to policy makers in Boise. Emails obtained by Reason reveal a behind-the-scenes effort organized by the state's Office of Drug Policy to derail the CBD legislation and, after it passed against the wishes of Gov. Butch Otter and his administration, to use executive authority to replace the bill with an alternative treatment program that has done nothing to help Josh Phillips or many other Idahoans suffering from seizures.

With the threat of another veto hanging over Boise, even lawmakers who supported the CBD bill in 2015 are reluctant to take up the issue again when the legislature reconvenes in early 2017. More than half the country (including every state that borders Idaho) has some form of medical or recreational marijuana laws, but the drug warriors are still running the show in Boise.

Read the whole thing here.

Trump's Pick for Attorney General Is a 'Drug War Dinosaur'

Mon, 21 Nov 2016 08:45:00 -0500

When Jeff Sessions, Donald Trump's choice for attorney general, was nominated as a federal judge in 1986, one of the comments that got him into trouble was a joke about the Ku Klux Klan. A federal prosecutor testified that Sessions, at the time the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Alabama, had said he thought the KKK "was OK until I found out they smoked pot." Although Sessions, now a senator from Alabama, confirmed that story, in light of his longtime obsession with the evils of marijuana the anecdote reads like a joke about him. After all, this is the same man who recently opined that "good people don't smoke marijuana." Sessions' retrograde views on marijuana, his opposition to sentencing reform, and his enthusiasm for civil forfeiture do not bode well for drug policy under Trump, who campaigned on a "law and order" platform that was consciously modeled after Richard Nixon's. Trump promised that "safety will be restored" the day he takes office, but he was pretty vague about what that means. It is more than a little disconcerting that an unreconstructed drug warrior like Sessions will help him fill in the details. Sessions, who pines for the days when Nancy Reagan's "Just Say No" campaign helped "create a hostility to drug use," was outraged when President Obama conceded, in a 2014 interview with The New Yorker, that marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol. "I have to tell you, I'm heartbroken to see what the president said just a few days ago," Sessions told then-Attorney General Eric Holder at a Senate hearing. "It's stunning to me. I find it beyond comprehension….This is just difficult for me to conceive how the president of the United States could make such a statement as that....Did the president conduct any medical or scientific survey before he waltzed into The New Yorker and opined contrary to the positions of attorneys general and presidents universally prior to that?" At a hearing last April, Sessions bemoaned the message sent by marijuana legalization. "I can't tell you how concerning it is for me, emotionally and personally, to see the possibility that we will reverse the progress that we've made," he said. "It was the prevention movement that really was so positive, and it led to this decline [in drug use]. The creating of knowledge that this drug is dangerous, it cannot be played with, it is not funny, it's not something to laugh about, and trying to send that message with clarity, that good people don't smoke marijuana." In both of these cases, we see Sessions' insistence that truth be subordinated to the anti-drug cause. It is beyond serious dispute that alcohol is more dangerous than marijuana, as measured by acute toxicity, impact on driving ability, frequency of addiction, and the long-term effects of heavy consumption. But Sessions thinks the president should not admit that, lest he encourage teenagers to smoke pot. It is patently absurd to suggest that everyone who tries cannabis—which includes at least two-fifths of the population and probably more like half, allowing for underreporting by survey respondents—is a bad person. But Sessions thinks the government should "send that message with clarity," the better to discourage teenagers from smoking pot. Sessions did not explicitly say the federal government should try to reverse marijuana legalization by challenging it in court (an iffy proposition) or by raiding state-licensed cannabusinesses. But he clearly did not approve of the Obama administration's tolerance for diverse marijuana policies. "It's far more important than just the details about whether federal prosecutors start prosecuting marijuana cases in Colorado," he said. "Colorado was one of the leading states that started [...]

Surgeon General's Report Mistakenly Treats All Drug Use As a Problem

Fri, 18 Nov 2016 08:35:00 -0500

You might think Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, who acknowledges marijuana's medical utility, has relatively enlightened views on drug policy. But a report he released yesterday reveals that Murthy is utterly conventional in his attitude toward drinking and other kinds of recreational drug use, which he views as a problem to be minimized by the government. Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General's Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health claims "addiction is a chronic brain disease" caused by exposure to psychoactive substances, even while acknowledging that the vast majority of people who consume those substances do not become addicted to them. The report describes even low-risk, harmless, and beneficial drug use as "misuse," giving the government broad license to meddle with personal choices through policies aimed at making drugs more expensive and less accessible. Murthy argues that driving down total consumption, rather than focusing on problematic use, is the most effective way to reduce the harm caused by alcohol and other drugs. As he sees it, every drinker and drug user, no matter how careful, controlled, or responsible, is a legitimate target of government intervention. Murthy's report eschews the term substance abuse, explaining that the phrase "is increasingly avoided by professionals because it can be shaming." Instead the report talks about "substance misuse," which "is now the preferred term." But substance misuse is just as judgmental, vague, and arbitrary as substance abuse. In fact, Murthy cannot quite decide what it means. On page 5 of the introduction, he says misuse occurs when people use drugs "in a manner that causes harm to the user or those around them." But elsewhere (including the very next page), the report uses a much broader definition. "Although misuse is not a diagnostic term," Murthy says, "it generally suggests use in a manner that could cause harm to the user or those around them." Could cause harm? That definition is wide enough to cover all drug use. Murthy does seem to think drug use is problematic even when it causes no problems. As an example of drug misuse, Murthy repeatedly cites a 2015 survey in which 25 percent of the respondents, representing 66.7 million Americans, reported that they had engaged in "binge drinking" during the previous month. "By definition," Murthy says, "those episodes have the potential for producing harm to the user and/or to those around them, through increases in motor vehicle crashes, violence, and alcohol poisonings." But the government's definition of a binge—five or more drinks "on an occasion" for a man, four or more for a woman—encompasses patterns of consumption that do not harm anything except the sensibilities of public health officials. If a man at a dinner party drinks a cocktail before the meal, a few glasses of wine during it, and a little bourbon afterward, he is drinking too much, according to Murthy, even if he takes a cab home. By that standard, at least 44 percent of past-month drinkers are misusing alcohol. Murthy also counts all consumption of federally proscribed drugs as misuse, no matter the context or consequences. As far as he is concerned, all 36 million Americans who consumed cannabis last year misused it, even if they lived in states where the drug is legal for medical or recreational purposes (which is now most states). Unauthorized use of prescription drugs also counts as misuse, whether or not harm results. "In 2015," Murthy says, "12.5 million individuals misused a pain reliever in the past year—setting the stage for a potential overdose." That makes the risk sound much bigger than it is. According to the CDC, there were 18,893 deaths invo[...]