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Medical Marijuana



All Reason.com articles with the "Medical Marijuana" tag.



Published: Sun, 10 Dec 2017 00:00:00 -0500

Last Build Date: Sun, 10 Dec 2017 19:15:40 -0500

 



Don’t Register Anything

Tue, 05 Dec 2017 00:01:00 -0500

If we needed yet another demonstration that getting yourself on the government's radar is just a bad idea, Hawaii handed it to us in spades last week. That's when we learned that the Honolulu Police Department was putting the screws to people so honest—and trusting—as to comply with state laws requiring registration of certain goods and activities. They shouldn't have been so honest and trusting. Like too many jurisdictions, Hawaii requires gun owners to register their firearms. Also like an excess of other control-freaky places, the state requires medical marijuana users to register themselves with the state Department of Health. As it turns out, those who dutifully abide by both requirements find themselves in trouble. Hawaii may allow the use of marijuana for medicinal uses, and even require registration of its users, but the state continues to regard the practice as a violation of federal law. As a result, Honolulu residents who legally complied with requirements that they enter themselves in both registries have received threatening letters signed by officials including Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard. These letters read, in part: "Your medical marijuana use disqualifies you from ownership of firearms and ammunition. If you currently own or have any firearms, you have 30 days upon receipt of this letter to voluntarily surrender your firearms, permit and ammunition to the Honolulu Police Department or otherwise transfer ownership." Federal law restricts the possession of firearms by anybody who is an "unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance," and marijuana remains a controlled substance according to the folks in D.C. That's enough of an excuse for Honolulu police officials to try to disarm locals who've done their best to abide by state gun and marijuana laws. But it's not just a Hawaii problem. As Jacob Sullum previously noted, "Last year the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, which includes Hawaii, upheld the ATF's policy of banning gun sales to people who are known to have medical marijuana cards, even if they do not currently consume cannabis." So putting your name on a medical marijuana registry anywhere has the potential to make it more difficult to legally buy a firearm. Actually, entering your information into a medical marijuana registry can put a red flag next to your name in so many ways. Colorado marijuana patients have been surprised during traffic stops to discover that cops knew they were registered users. Cops are supposed to have access to the registry only under limited circumstances, but the data has obviously been shared more widely than many people envisioned. Even so, the state's Board of Health rejected a petition to block sharing of registry information with law enforcement, with the head of the board insisting, "We don't know that we are doing anything wrong." The same issue developed in Oregon, where a 2012 news report noted that "Law enforcement ran more than 20,000 queries on potential patients and grow sites from March through October of this year." Unlike Colorado, Oregon deliberately gave police open access to the medical marijuana registry, and they apparently browsed it at will—at least until the courts gave them a slap. In 2010, a state judge told cops to stop running concealed carry permit applicants' names through the system, saying "the statute does not authorize the use of database information for purposes of helping to determine whether an individual uses, or may use, marijuana." Complaints about police in Colorado and Oregon browsing marijuana registries for excuses to hassle people seem to have subsided in recent years, perhaps because both states have legalized recreational use, which does not require people to put their names on lists that officials can easily peruse. On the other hand, states including Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Vermont are now under pressure to share data from their medical marijuana registries with the federal government. The feds swear that they won't abuse the information, but once they have it they [...]



Hawaii, Which Registers Guns and Medical Marijuana Users, Starts Disarming Patients

Wed, 29 Nov 2017 09:35:00 -0500

Hawaii is one of 29 states that allow medical use of marijuana, but it is the only state that requires registration of all firearms. If you are familiar with the criteria that bar people from owning guns under federal law, you can probably surmise what the conjunction of these two facts means for patients who use cannabis as a medicine, which Hawaii allows them to do only if they register with the state. Some of them recently received a letter from Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard, instructing them to turn in their guns. "Your medical marijuana use disqualifies you from ownership of firearms and ammunition," Ballard says in the November 13 letter, which Leafly obtained this week after Russ Belville noted it in his Marijuana Agenda podcast. "If you currently own or have any firearms, you have 30 days upon receipt of this letter to voluntarily surrender your firearms, permit, and ammunition to the Honolulu Police Department (HPD) or otherwise transfer ownership. A medical doctor's clearance letter is required for any future firearms applications or return of firearms from HPD evidence." Although medical marijuana states typically register patients and/or issue them ID cards, Hawaii is unusual in making its registry both mandatory and accessible for purposes other than confirming eligibility, which is how Ballard knew where to send her warning. The letter, which comes just three months after Hawaii's first medical marijuana dispensary opened, does not say what will happen to gun owners who fail to "voluntarily" give up their weapons. But if police decide to pay them a visit, it should be easy enough to locate them by comparing the state's list of patients with its list of gun owners. As authority for disarming medical marijuana users, Ballard cites Section 134-7(a) of Hawaii's Revised Statutes, which says "no person who is a fugitive from justice or is a person prohibited from possessing firearms or ammunition under federal law shall own, possess, or control any firearm or ammunition." The relevant federal provision prohibits possession of firearms by anyone who is "an unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance." Since federal law does not recognize any legitimate reason for consuming cannabis, all use is unlawful use, as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives makes clear in a boldfaced warning on the form that must be completed by anyone buying a gun from a federally licensed dealer: "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." Last year the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, which includes Hawaii, upheld the ATF's policy of banning gun sales to people who are known to have medical marijuana cards, even if they do not currently consume cannabis. The appeals court reasoned that possessing a medical marijuana card is a good if imperfect indicator of illegal drug use, which is in turn associated with violence, "impaired mental states," and "negative interactions with law enforcement officers." The 9th Circuit concluded that there is a "reasonable fit" between the ATF's policy and a substantial government objective, which means it passes "intermediate scrutiny" and is consistent with the constitutional right to keep and bear arms. Most people probably do not realize how casually the federal government strips Americans of their Second Amendment rights, because enforcement of these longstanding rules is spotty and haphazard. Federal law notionally bars gun ownership by all of America's 38 million or so cannabis consumers, along with millions of other unlawful users of controlled substances, including anyone who takes a medication prescribed for someone else or uses it for a purpose different from the one specified by a doctor (for back pain rather than tooth pain, say). But enforcing that ban is difficult because the FBI and the ATF generally don't know who the unlawful users are. Hawaii has begun to li[...]



New Mexico Study Suggests Medical Cannabis Helps Chronic Pain Patients Reduce Opioid Use

Tue, 28 Nov 2017 17:20:00 -0500

Chronic pain patients who enroll in New Mexico's Medical Cannabis Program while using prescription opioids are likely to reduce their dosage of opioids and even to cease using opioids altogether, according to a new study from researchers at the University of New Mexico. Participants in the program also reported "improvements in pain reduction, quality of life, social life, activity levels, and concentration, and few side effects from using cannabis one year after enrollment in the MCP." Published earlier this month in the open access journal PLOS One, the study had a small sample size: 37 of the surveyed patients enrolled in the marijuana program, while 29 used opioids alone. The study also relied on a cohort model rather than a randomized control trial. That means investigators had no say over who ended up in the comparison group versus the Medical Cannabis Program (MCP) group. The UNM researchers concluded the "clinically and statistically significant evidence of an association between MCP enrollment and opioid prescription cessation and reductions and improved quality of life warrants further investigations." That finding dovetails neatly with a growing body of research that medical marijuana works as well as some prescription drugs for the treatment of pain, while imposing fewer side effects on users. Researchers at the University of Michigan, for instance, reported in 2016 that chronic pain patients participating in Michigan's medical marijuana program reported a large reduction in opioid use and improved quality of life. Other studies have found that doctors in medical marijuana states prescribe fewer prescription drugs, and that states with legal medical marijuana have experienced a smaller increase in opioid overdose rates compared to states where medical marijuana is not legal. Albert Einstein College of Medicine announced earlier this year it had received a $3.5 million grant from the National Institute of Health to conduct a five-year study on medical marijuana's potential to reduce opioid use in patients with chronic pain. The more of these studies I see, the more I'm reminded of something psychiatrist Scott Alexander noted about the renaissance in psychedelic research: "There's a morality tale to be told here about how the War on Drugs choked off vital research on some of the most powerful psychiatric compounds and cost us fifty years in exploring these effects and treating patients." Marijuana's schedule I status precluded it from competing with prescription opioids in the early 1990s as a treatment for chronic pain. That it remains in schedule I, despite a procession of state-level reforms, precludes today's medical professionals and patients from using it the way they use far more potent drugs. I'm not convinced we need marijuana to be a perfect substitute for prescription opioids, but it seems pretty obvious that chronic pain patients—like PTSD and anxiety patients who want to try MDMA, or depression patients who wish to try psilocybin—would benefit from a wider range of legal drug options than they currently have.[...]



Former NFL Players Say League Should Allow Players to Use Marijuana to Treat Pain, Injuries

Sun, 22 Oct 2017 12:30:00 -0400

Medical marijuana has been legalized in 29 states, but it remains illegal for professional football players to use as a treatment for injuries and chronic pain. That doesn't mean players in the National Football League aren't using the drug. Quite the opposite. Eben Britton, who retired in 2014 after seven years in the NFL and who has admitted to playing games while high on marijuana and painkillers, estimates that more than half of the players in NFL locker rooms are using marijuana recreationally, or to treat injuries and control pain. During a discussion hosted by Herb.co, a marijuana culture website, Britton talked about his experience using marijuana versus using opioids and other pain-killers. "I would take these pills and I would feel insane," Britton says. The opioids made him feel "more depressed, more helpless, more pissed off." Britton's assessment of widespread marijuana use in the NFL is supported by other players' experience. In a survey conducted earlier this year by BudTrader.com, an online medical marijuana marketplace, 68 percent of the current and former players polled said they had used marijuana (either for recreational or medical purposes) during their career, while 87 percent said they would use it if the league allowed it (and 89 percent said they believed it would be an effective treatment for pain and other ailments). That tracks pretty closely with how the rest of the country feels about medical marijuana. A Quinnipiac University Poll conducted in February found support for medical marijuana at 93 percent nationwide, with large majorities cutting across all demographics. According to Gallup's latest polling, support for legalizing recreational marijuana is at 60 percent, the highest percentage recorded in the polling firm's 47 years of tracking that question. As Steve Chapman wrote earlier today here at Reason, legal marijuana is becoming the norm. The NFL has never allowed players to use marijuana for any reason—though league officials and the head of the NFL's players' union have begun discussing the possibility of allowing players to use the drug for medical purposes. But there is a well-documented history of teams handing out pharmaceutical pain-killers by the handful. Several former players are suing the NFL, alleging that official team doctors ignored federal laws for prescription drugs and disregarding medical guidance by handing out piles of opioids and other painkillers before, during, and after games. "I've seen plenty of guys leave the game addicted to pain pills. I've never seen anyone leave the game addicted to marijuana," says Marvin Washington, who played 11 seasons in the league and participated in the Herb.co discussion. src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/zMFEpkoZo-o" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0"> The NFL's position on marijuana could soon change. Jerry Jones, the Dallas Cowboys' owner and possibly the most powerful billionaire in the NFL's inner circle of powerful billionaires, has floated the idea of loosening the NFL's ban on marijuana. And Allen Sills, the league's new chief medical officer, is interested in researching how marijuana could be used to help players manage their pain. "Certainly the research about marijuana and really more particularly cannabinoid compounds as they may relate to the treatment of both acute and chronic pain, that is an area of research that we need a lot more information on and we need to further develop," Sills, a Vanderbilt University neurosurgeon, said in an interview with The Washington Post. Despite overwhelming public support, and evidence the NFL's ban is no preventative, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has remained unmoved. Goodell suspended Buffalo Bills offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson last year for using medical marijuana to treat Crohn's disease, even though Henderson had a prescription for it. "I think you still have to look at a lot of aspects of marijuana use," Goodell said during an April intervie[...]



Legal Marijuana Is Becoming the Norm

Sun, 22 Oct 2017 00:00:00 -0400

The war on drugs has been going on since 1971, and we have a winner: marijuana. Back then, possession of pot carried heavy penalties in many states—even life imprisonment. Today, 29 states sanction medical use of cannabis, and eight allow recreational use. Legal weed has become about as controversial as Powerball. One sign of the shift came in Wednesday's debate among the Democrats running for governor of Illinois. The state didn't get its first medical marijuana dispensary until 2015, and it decriminalized possession of small amounts of pot only last year. But most of the candidates endorsed legalization of recreational weed, and one supported "full decriminalization." Those positions are not politically risky, in Illinois or in most places. They're mainstream. In 2016, Gallup Poll found that 60 percent of Americans supported full legalization—up from 36 percent in 2005. Given the choice, voters generally favor it. Nine states had cannabis initiatives on the ballot last year. Medical marijuana won in four states, and recreational pot won in another four. Only Arizona's recreational pot measure failed. Next year should further erode pot prohibition. "Campaigns are underway in at least five states to legalize either medical or recreational cannabis," reports Marijuana Business Daily. It also notes that New Jersey, Rhode Island and Vermont could get recreational cannabis through legislative action. All this progress has occurred even though federal law bars possession and use—impeding normal commerce in states that permit dispensaries. Under President Barack Obama, the Justice Department chose to defer to states that allowed cannabis. But banks generally are leery of doing business with pot dispensaries, forcing many to operate on cash alone. As a candidate, Donald Trump indicated he would follow more or less the same course as Obama. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, however, has been an implacable opponent of liberalization. He once joked—well, I assume he was joking—that he had no problem with the Ku Klux Klan until he "found out they smoked pot." He appointed a task force on crime, hoping it would confirm his preposterous claim that Obama's laissez-faire policy was to blame for rising violence. But the panel report, which has not been made public, recommended sticking with that approach. The case for full legalization becomes stronger all the time. One reason is that the disproportionate impact on African-Americans has gained more attention. Blacks are nearly four times likelier to be arrested for pot possession than whites even though there is no racial difference in usage. Drug enforcement has been a major motive for stop-and-frisk tactics that have fostered resentment of cops among black men. Treating cannabis like beer or cigarettes would greatly curtail such encounters. For years, opponents said legalization would lead to disaster. But as Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. noted, "A page of history is worth a volume of logic." We no longer have to rely on ominous forecasts. We now have actual experience in states that have taken the leap, and the results refute the fears. Studies show that after Colorado permitted recreational pot, there was no increase in adolescent use or traffic fatalities. In Washington, which voted for legalization in 2012, crime rates proceeded to decline. California found that when medical dispensaries closed, neighborhood crime didn't fall; it rose. This year, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine found "substantial evidence that cannabis is an effective treatment for chronic pain in adults." That helps explains why states that allow cannabis have far lower rates of opioid overdoses. The simple reality is that marijuana eases suffering and saves lives. States with fiscal problems—Illinois being a prominent example—also stand to gain from allowing recreational pot. First, they don't have to spend so much money arresting, trying, and in[...]



Feds Admit Their Prosecution of Medical Marijuana Users in Washington Was Illegal

Wed, 18 Oct 2017 14:05:00 -0400

Since 2012 federal prosecutors have been trying to imprison three medical marijuana users in Washington, arguing that they grew cannabis for profit rather than relief of their symptoms. In a startling shift this week, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Spokane finally conceded what the defendants—Rhonda Firestack-Harvey; her son, Rolland Gregg; and his wife, Michelle Gregg—have been saying all along: that they grew marijuana in compliance with Washington's law allowing medical use of the plant. The government also admitted in a brief filed on Monday night that its pursuit of the case has therefore been illegal since December 2014, when Congress first passed a spending rider that prohibits the Justice Department from prosecuting people for conduct permitted by state medical marijuana laws. "This filing is a victory for the family and lawful medical marijuana users all across the country," says Phil Telfeyan, the defendants' attorney. "Our government should not use federal money to prosecute people abiding by state laws. This filing will have far-reaching effects that should help end the federal prosecution of marijuana users in states where it's legal." The Greggs and Firestack-Harvey, who received sentences ranging from one year to 33 months in October 2015, are the remaining defendants in what was dubbed the Kettle Falls Five case. The other two defendants were Jason Zucker, a family friend who pleaded guilty in exchange for a 16-month sentence just before the trial started in February 2015, and Firestack-Harvey's husband, Larry Harvey, who died of pancreatic cancer in August 2015. The Justice Department is now admitting that whole ordeal was illegal, because "the United States was not authorized to spend money on the prosecution of the defendants after December of 2014." The Greggs and Firestack-Harvey plan to seek dismissal of the case on that basis. Beginning in 2012, federal prosectors argued that the Kettle Falls Five, whose combined plant total was less than the limit set by Washington's medical marijuana law, were growing too much cannabis for their own use and must have been selling it. But there was never much evidence to support that theory, and the weakness of the government's case was reflected in the March 2015 verdict. The jury convicted the Greggs and Firestack-Harvey of growing marijuana but acquitted them of distribution and a related conspiracy charge. It also rejected the government's attempt to count plants grown in previous years, which would have triggered a five-year mandatory minimum sentence, and the allegation that the defendants possessed firearms "in furtherance of" a drug trafficking crime, a charge that carries an additional five-year mandatory minimum. The jury was not allowed to hear testimony about the medical use of marijuana, which the prosecution argued was irrelevant under federal law. But that was not actually true, since Congress had by the time of the trial barred the Justice Department from interfering with the implementation of state medical marijuana laws. In 2016 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, which includes Washington, ruled that the restriction made it illegal to prosecute people for actions that comply with such laws. Last June the 9th Circuit made it clear that the Justice Department was also barred from continuing to pursue cases initiated prior to the ban on interference. Before the Kettle Falls Five trial, Telfeyan argued that the case should be dismissed in light of the spending rider. U.S. District Judge Thomas Rice disagreed, noting that the prosecution was arguing that the defendants had not complied with state law. What has changed since then is not just the 9th Circuit's rulings, which prosecutors cited in this week's brief, but the government's abandonment of the claim that the defendants used medicine as an excuse to operate a marijuana business serving recreational users. "The United States concurs with the Atto[...]



Disjointed Coughs Out Some Tired Dope Humor

Fri, 08 Sep 2017 15:00:00 -0400

Disjointed. Available now on Netflix. Way back when, my college newspaper ran a review of a Cheech and Chong show under a headline that qualified as remarkably confessional for the time: "Dope Humor Has Its Limits." I don't know if we've got to make royalty payments to whatever youthful copy editor wrote that headline, but I can't think of a single other thing to say about Netflix's new sitcom Disjointed. Dopers so wrecked they can't talk. Dopers so wrecked they can't move. Dopers so wrecked they use the Heimlich maneuver to make each other exhale dope smoke rings. (Okay, that one's new, at least for the first five seconds.) Basically, there's not a gag in Disjointed that wouldn't have fit into—or worn itself out as quickly as—a Cheech and Chong sketch or an early 1970s give-me-another-brownie flick like The Groove Tube. But even back then, the driving force of cannabis comedy—hey, man, they're smoking weed right there on the screen, my parents would be so freaked—lasted about as long as the pizza you ordered to counter the munchies. These days, with reefer madness reduced to reefer eccentricity (one in five Americans lives in states where it's pretty easy to find a legal joint), the potency is even slighter. If Disjointed were actually dope, it would be growing-along-the-river skankweed. The wispy premise of Disjointed is that its dope-addled characters get wasted under the pretense of working in a Southern California medical-marijuana dispensary. Kathy Bates plays Ruth Whitefeather Feldman, the senescent hippie owner, who says she's preaching "the gospel of marijuana: the miraculous plant that has the power to heal the sick, calm the afflicted, and usher in a golden age of people of people not being such dicks all the time." Mostly, she's just oversampling her own product, with occasional timeouts to bicker with her son Travis (Aaron Moten, The Night Of), an MBA with more secular motives: "Petty soon, somebody is going to become the Walmart of cannabis. Why not us?" Then there are employees: Jenny (Elizabeth Ho, Melissa & Joey), who introduces herself in one of the clinic's Internet ads as "your tokin' Asian," whose tiger mom thinks she's a surgeon; Olivia (Elizabeth Alderfer, Game Day), a refugee from a meth-blighted midwestern town who harbors secret doubts about the benignity of drugs; and Carter (Tone Bell, Truth Be Told), who has a secret of his own, one not usually associated with comedy. If the substance of Disjointed seems straight out of 1972, so does its structure. It's less a sitcom than a muddled series of stream-of-semi-consciousness sketches, punctuated by cut-ins of the clinic's commercials, kind of a stoner version of Laugh-In. Though for you 1980s connoisseurs, there's a running gag in which Jennie speaks Chinese to her mother—that's it, no jokes, no punch lines, just the sound of Chinese—to the uproarious delight of the canned laugh track that's been appended to the show. Not since John Hughes foreshadowed every appearance of a Chinese character named Long Duck Dong with the crashing sound of a gong in 1984's Sixteen Candles has a producer or director deemed Asian ethnicity so innately amusing. The producer in question is Chuck Lorre, the mastermind of The Big Bang Theory, Mom, and Two and a Half Men, whose association with Disjointed is as inexplicable as quantum physics after a bong full of Maui Wowie. "Back in the day, marijuana was a cause," says Ruth. "Now it's just a commodity." Marijuana humor, too.[...]



House Rules Committee Blocks Amendment Protecting Medical Marijuana

Thu, 07 Sep 2017 12:50:00 -0400

Yesterday the House Rules Committee blocked a floor vote on an amendment barring the Justice Department from interfering with state laws allowing medical use of marijuana. The amendment, which was first enacted in 2014 and has been renewed twice since then, could still be included in the final spending bill, since it has been approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee. Any differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill will be worked out by a bicameral conference committee. "By blocking our amendment, Committee leadership is putting at risk the millions of patients who rely on medical marijuana for treatment, as well as the clinics and businesses that support them," said the amendment's current sponsors, Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) and Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.). "This decision goes against the will of the American people, who overwhelmingly oppose federal interference with state marijuana laws. These critical protections are supported by a majority of our colleagues on both sides of the aisle. There's no question: If a vote were allowed, our amendment would pass on the House floor, as it has several times before." Attorney General Jeff Sessions urged Congress to block the Rohrabacher-Bluemnauer amendment last May, arguing that "it would be unwise to restrict the discretion of the Department to fund particular prosecutions, particularly in the midst of an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime." Exactly what medical marijuana had to do with any of that was unclear, but the Justice Department generally opposes limits on its prosecutorial discretion, and Sessions' anti-pot prejudices are well-known. In a Washington Post op-ed piece this week, Rohrabacher rebutted Sessions' clumsy attempt to blame medical marijuana for recent increases in opioid use and opioid-related deaths. To the contrary, he said, marijuana is a safer alternative to opioids. "The drug-war apparatus will not give ground without a fight," he wrote, "even if it deprives Americans of medical alternatives and inadvertently creates more dependency on opioids. When its existence depends on asset seizures and other affronts to our Constitution, why should anti-medical-marijuana forces care if they've contributed inadvertently to a vast market, both legal and illegal, for opioids?" Unlike Sessions, Donald Trump has repeatedly said he supports medical marijuana and thinks states should be free to allow it. So even if the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment is not renewed for the next fiscal year, it is not clear that Sessions will try to shut down state-licensed medical marijuana suppliers. The amendment does not cover state-legal marijuana merchants serving the recreational market, who nevertheless have escaped prosecution so far, even though they are openly committing federal felonies every day. A cannabis crackdown would not be popular. In the most recent Quinnipiac University poll, 61 percent of registered voters said marijuana should be legal for recreational use, while a whopping 94 percent said medical use should be allowed. Seventy-five percent opposed enforcement of the federal ban in states that have legalized marijuana for either purpose. "When an overwhelming majority of Americans oppose federal interference in state medical marijuana programs, it is unconscionable not to let their representatives vote on whether to continue this policy," said Don Murphy, director of conservative outreach at the Marijuana Policy Project. "Unless Congress chooses the Senate budget version, millions of seriously ill patients and the legitimate businesses that provide them with safe access to their medicine will be at risk of prosecution. This vote is a slap in the face of patients, their families, their elected representatives, and the 10th Amendment."[...]



Researcher Says V.A. Obstruction Jeopardizes Study of Marijuana As PTSD Treatment

Tue, 29 Aug 2017 18:15:00 -0400

The first U.S. study to test marijuana as a treatment for posttraumatic stress disorder, which had been in the works since 2009, finally got under way last February and has enrolled 25 subjects since then. But the lead researcher, Phoenix psychiatrist Sue Sisley, says the study, which needs a total of 76 subjects, has been jeopardized by a lack of cooperation from the local Veterans Health Administration hospital. "Despite our best efforts to work with the Phoenix VA hospital and share information about the study," Sisley writes in a recent letter to Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin, "they have been unwilling to assist by providing information to their patients and medical staff about a federally legal clinical trial happening right in their backyard that is of crucial importance to the veteran community." At the current recruitment rate, she says, the study will not be completed within the time required by a $2.2 million grant from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. According to Sisley's letter, the hospital's director, RimaAnn Nelson, "is citing regulations that she cannot support research that does not utilize VA personnel." Sisley is asking Shulkin to intervene so that she can post flyers advertising the study at the hospital, distribute referral letters that can be used by interested patients, and present a lecture about the research to the medical staff. (She says she gave a talk at the hospital four years ago and was told she'd be invited back once the study had received all the approvals needed to proceed with recruitment.) Sisley also asks that the hospital "include information about the PTSD/cannabis study in any kind of electronic communications that are shared with VA staff and patients." Sisley and her colleagues are looking for veterans in the Phoenix area with "chronic, treatment-resistant PTSD arising from their combat-related service in the US armed forces and with duration of PTSD lasting at least six months." The FDA-approved protocol for the study, which is sponsored by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), lists 14 inclusion criteria and seven exclusion criteria. Sisley says she and the other researchers had to screen more than 300 potential subjects to identify 25 who met the criteria. They need 51 more, which Sisley figures will require screening another 700 or so veterans. "If we cannot recruit enough veterans," Sisley writes in her letter to Shulkin, "we will need to change the inclusion criteria to allow subjects with PTSD from any cause to enroll in the study. This is a change that we do not want to make if at all possible." Sisley says the subjects enrolled so far have nearly completed the study. "Once those vets are through, there will be no reason to pay lab staff to sit aimlessly waiting for more veterans to miraculously appear," Sisley says. "There will be no improvement in veteran volunteers until the Phoenix V.A. hospital agrees to start cooperating with us. They have blocked access to appropriate Phoenix area veterans with PTSD for the past two years now." When I ask Paul Coupaud, director of communication at the Phoenix V.A. hospital, why Sisley can't advertise her study there, he notes that "marijuana is still considered federally illegal," adding that "we can't tell people to go and try something that's illegal." When I point out that the study has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration and is therefore legal under federal as well as state law, Coupaud says the real obstacle is that department regulations say "we cannot advertise any research study other than what V.A. is doing; we can't advertise outside research." He said Secretary Shulkin could amend that rule. I emailed the Department of Veterans Affairs about Sisley's complaints last week but have not heard back. The MAPS study has been focus[...]



The Federal Government Is Finally Exploring Marijuana As a Medical Alternative to Opioids

Mon, 14 Aug 2017 16:00:00 -0400

(image) Medical marijuana advocates have claimed for years that cannabis is an effective and safe alternative to prescription opioids for the treatment of pain. But no one put up the money to prove it until last week.

On Tuesday, the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Health System announced a forthcoming study to ascertain whether medical marijuana can alleviate the need for opioids in both HIV-positive and HIV-free patients who suffer from chronic pain. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is putting $3.5 million towards the investigation.

A study published last year suggests the Albert Einstein College of Medicine is on the right track.

In 2016, researchers at the University of Michigan published two years' worth of survey results collected from 185 medical marijuana patients suffering from various ailments. Patients reported a 45 percent improvement in quality of life and a 64 percent reduction in the use of prescription opioids.

"We would caution against rushing to change current clinical practice towards cannabis," said Michigan study leader Kevin Boehnke, "but note that this study suggests that cannabis is an effective pain medication and agent to prevent opioid overuse."

The Albert Einstein College of Medicine is right to point out that we have far less data than one might expect, considering the first state to legalize medical marijuana did so 21 years ago. Most research into Schedule I drugs is paid for by the federal government, which has historically underwritten only those studies that either show the harms of such substances or explain their mechanism of action. The federal monopoly on research marijuana, meanwhile, makes studying the drug's therapeutic qualities an exercise in bureaucratic kowtowing.

But we do know there is a correlation between medical marijuana legalization and opioid use. A 2014 study that looked at 11 years of overdose data found that death rates from opioids increased in both states with liberalized marijuana laws and those without, but that "medical cannabis laws were associated with lower rates of opioid analgesic overdose mortality."

When University of Georgia economist David Bradford looked at Medicare prescribing rates, he found that physicians in medical marijuana states prescribed "1,826 fewer doses of conventional pain medication each year."

In addition to receiving funding from NIH—itself a noteworthy development—the Albert Einstein College of Medicine will conduct its study using marijuana provided by New York medical marijuana dispensaries, rather than the moldy ditchweed provided to researchers by the Drug Enforcement Administration's operation at the University of Mississippi.

Cannabis research has turned another corner.




NFL Owners Agree To Consider Letting Players Use Medical Marijuana

Sun, 06 Aug 2017 09:31:00 -0400

The National Football League is back in action this weekend—if you count preseason games as "action"—after taking a tiny step toward maybe, possibly, someday letting players use marijuana to treat pain. NFL owners agreed to work together with the NFL Players Association on a study to determine the effectiveness of marijuana as a medical treatment. Yes, there have already been numerous studies on the medical value of marijuana—29 states have legalized the drug for that reason—but this seemingly small step is a pretty big shift for the league, which has always maintained a strict prohibitionist stance on pot. "Certainly the research about marijuana and really more particularly cannabinoid compounds as they may relate to the treatment of both acute and chronic pain, that is an area of research that we need a lot more information on and we need to further develop," Allen Sills, a Vanderbilt University neurosurgeon hired earlier this year to be the NFL's chief medical officer, said in an interview with The Washington Post. Sills said examining the feasibility of players using marijuana to manage the pain that comes from repeated full-speed collisions with other muscle-bound athletes was "really important" to players' long term health. While the NFL has never allowed players to use marijuana for any reason—the players' union is also reportedly seeking reduced punishments for recreational use as well—there is a well-documented history of teams handing out pharmaceutical pain-killers by the handful. The NFL currently is fighting a lawsuit from several former players who allege that official team doctors literally handed out piles of opioids and other painkillers—ignoring federal laws for prescription drugs and disregarding medical guidance—before, during, and after games. "The medicine being pumped into these guys is just killing people," former player Nate Jackson told Rolling Stone last year, as part of an excellent piece on the league's nonsensical marijuana rules and how they've led to an over-reliance on opioids. The NFL's slowly changing stance on the issue comes a few months after Jerry Jones, the Dallas Cowboys' owner and possibly the most powerful billionaire in the NFL's inner circle of powerful billionaires, floated the idea of loosening the ban on marijuana. Much as it pains me to admit it, Jones is absolutely right. The NFL's anti-marijuana stance simply doesn't make sense as more state governments adopt more liberal views toward medical and recreational weed. A player on the Seattle Seahawks or Denver Broncos (or any of the California-based teams in the league) can buy and use marijuana legally in the state where he spends most of his time during the season, but could face a suspension and a fine if he's caught with it in his system. Twenty of the 32 NFL teams play in states where medical marijuana is legal. This, too, mirrors the society-wide debate over the relationship between legal recreational weed and employment contracts that prohibit the use of marijuana. The league, and individual teams, are within their rights to require certain behavior from their players as a condition of employment, of course, but given the NFL's troubled history with punishing more serious offenses like, say, serial sexual assaults or domestic violence by star players, enforcing an absolute prohibition against marijuana use seems like it should be a lesser priority. Sills seems to recognize the NFL is both influenced by the changing views on marijuana in society, and in a position to reinforce that shift. "These really aren't just football issues," Sills told the Post. "These are society issues, right? We know right now that as a society that the treatment of both acute and chronic pain is a huge public health problem. "But I think that we in profess[...]



Rejecting Sessions' Plea, Senate Panel Votes to Protect Medical Marijuana

Thu, 27 Jul 2017 13:20:00 -0400

Jeff Sessions' former Senate colleagues, dismayed at Donald Trump's humilating tweets and comments about him, are rallying to his defense, urging the president to stop castigating an attorney general he describes as a "beleaguered" and "very weak" disappointment. But their solidarity with Sessions goes only so far, as demonstrated by today's vote on a spending rider that blocks Justice Department interference with medical marijuana laws. The Senate Appropriations Committee approved the rider, known as the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, by a voice vote, indicating that it was not controversial among the panel's members, who include 16 Republicans. The committee thereby rejected a personal plea by Sessions to let the amendment lapse. "I write to renew the Department of Justice's opposition to the inclusion of language in any appropriations legislation that would prohibit the use of Department of Justice funds or in any way inhibit its authority to enforce the Controlled Substances Act," Sessions said in a May 1 letter to Senate and House leaders. "I believe it would be unwise to restrict the discretion of the Department to fund particular prosecutions, particularly in the midst of an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime." Evidently Sessions' former colleagues found that logic, tying medical marijuana to violence and heroin use, unpersuasive. The committee's approval of the rider Sessions opposes, which was first enacted in 2014 and has been renewed each year since then, sets the stage for its inclusion in the final bill providing funding for the Justice Department. "This vote is not only a blow against an outdated Reefer Madness mindset," says Marijuana Majority Chairman Tom Angell, who first reported Sessions' letter. "It is a personal rebuke to Jeff Sessions. The attorney general, in contravention of President Trump's campaign pledges and of public opinion, specifically asked Congress to give him the power to arrest and prosecute medical marijuana patients and providers who are following state laws. A bipartisan group of his former Senate colleagues just said no. A majority of states now allow medical cannabis, and we will not allow drug warriors in the Justice Department to roll back the clock. The war on marijuana is ending, even if Jeff Sessions doesn't realize it yet." Two weeks ago, the same Senate committee, by a vote of 24 to 7, approved an amendment that would have permitted Veterans Health Administration doctors to recommend marijuana as a treatment in states that allow medical use. Last year that amendment passed the Senate and House by wide margins but did not end up in the final appropriations bill. Yesterday the House Rules Committee voted to keep the rider from proceeding to a floor vote.[...]



Juries Can Acquit the Guilty, 9th Circuit Says, but 'There Is No Right to Nullification'

Tue, 20 Jun 2017 10:15:00 -0400

Advocates of jury nullification argue that jurors have both the power and the right to acquit a guilty defendant if they believe the law or its application is unjust. According to a recent ruling by a federal appeals court, they are half right. USA v. Kleinman involves an operator of medical marijuana dispensaries in California who was convicted of federal drug charges and sentenced to nearly 18 years in prison. Among other things, the defendant, Noah Kleinman, argued that the judge had improperly instructed the jury regarding nullification. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit agreed but said the error was harmless because "there is no right to nullification." Here is what the judge told the jury: You cannot substitute your sense of justice, whatever that means, for your duty to follow the law, whether you agree with it or not. It is not for you to determine whether the law is just or whether the law is unjust. That cannot be your task. There is no such thing as valid jury nullification. You would violate your oath and the law if you willfully brought a verdict contrary to the law given to you in this case. The 9th Circuit had no problem with the first three sentences, which (not surprisingly) reflect the view of most judges and prosecutors: The jury's job is to determine the facts, not to judge the law. If a juror concludes beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant's actions meet the statutory definition of the crime with which is charged, the juror's duty is to vote for conviction, even if he thinks the statute is unjust or that applying it to the defendant would be grossly unfair. "If Kleinman's jury had exercised its power to nullify, it presumably would have disregarded the court's instructions on federal drug law and the court's antinullification instructions," the appeals court said. "The court had no duty to make the jury aware of its power to nullify, and properly instructed the jury that it could not (1) substitute its sense of justice for its duty to follow the law, or (2) decide whether a law is just or unjust." But the 9th Circuit said the last two sentences of the jury instruction went too far by implying that a not-guilty verdict in such a case would be legally invalid and that jurors might be punished for it. "The court's statement that the jury 'would violate [its] oath and the law if [it] willfully brought a verdict contrary to the law given to [it] in this case,' may imply punishment for nullification, because 'violate your oath and the law,' coming from the court in a criminal trial, could be understood as warning of a possible violation with associated sanctions. Additionally, the statement that '[t]here is no such thing as valid jury nullification' could reasonably be understood as telling jurors that they do not have the power to nullify, and so it would be a useless exercise. While jurors undoubtedly should be told to follow the law, the statement that there is no valid jury nullification misstates the role of nullification because an acquittal is valid, even if it resulted from nullification." The appeals court nevertheless rejected Kleinman's argument that the erroneous jury instruction required reversal of his conviction. "It is not fundamentally unfair for a defendant to be tried by a jury that is not fully informed of the power to nullify," the court said, "or even that is stripped of the power to nullify, because there is no right to nullification. Although a jury should not be led to believe that jury nullification will result in punishment or an invalid acquittal, the court's misstatement by implication does not rise to the level of denial of Kleinman's due process rights." The decision, which was issued last Friday, also dealt with the proper application[...]



This Bill Would Protect Medical Marijuana Suppliers From Jeff Sessions' Whims

Thu, 15 Jun 2017 08:30:00 -0400

Today a bipartisan group of senators plans to introduce a new version of the CARERS Act, which aims to protect medical use of marijuana in the 29 states that allow it. Among other things, the bill would provide a more permanent shield from prosecution and forfeiture than the Rohrabacher/Farr amendment, the spending rider that bars the Justice Department from interfering with the implementation of state medical marijuana laws. As Mike Riggs noted on Tuesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions sent congressional leaders a letter urging them not to include the rider, which has to be reapproved each fiscal year, in the DOJ appropriations bill enacted last month. After Congress rejected Sessions' request, President Trump signed the bill but issued a statement implying that he might ignore the rider if that was necessary to meet his "constitutional responsibility to take care that the laws be faithfully executed." Such a scenario is hard to imagine, since those laws include the restrictions imposed by the Rohrbacher/Farr amendment. It's not clear how significant the letter and the signing statement are as indicators of Sessions' intentions because the Obama administration also opposed the Rohrabacher/Farr amendment and urged courts to read it narrowly. Under Eric Holder, the DOJ argued that the rider covered only direct legal challenges to medical marijuana programs. Last year the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit rejected that interpretation, ruling that the rider also prohibits the prosecution of people who supply or possess marijuana for medical use in compliance with state laws. Despite opposing the rider, the Obama administration eventually settled on a policy of prosecutorial restraint, generally tolerating state-licensed marijuana businesses, including those serving recreational consumers, unless they violated state law or impinged on "federal law enforcement priorities." Sessions has said he agrees with much of that policy but thinks it was not applied vigorously enough—an attitude that, along with his well-known anti-pot prejudices, could signal a crackdown. But so far Sessions has not tried to shut down state-legal cannabusinesses, which federal prosecutors could easily do simply by writing some threatening letters. Nor has he challenged state marijuana laws in federal court, even as lawsuits by other parties (neighboring states, local law enforcement officials, and anti-drug activists) have fizzled out. Sessions' restraint may have something to do with positions taken by his boss before and after the presidential election. During the campaign, Trump repeatedly said states should be free to legalize marijuana, and he has consistently said medical use should be permitted. A crackdown on medical marijuana would break Trump's promises, and it would stir up a lot of political trouble with no obvious upside, other than gratification of Sessions' prohibitionist impulses. Still, it would be nice to have some lasting protection from the attorney general's whims. In addition to prohibiting federal prosecution of patients and their suppliers, the CARERS Act would eliminate some obstacles to marijuana research, allow doctors employed by the Veterans Health Administration to recommend medical marijuana in states where it is legal, and remove cannabidiol, a nonpsychoactive but therapeutically promising component of marijuana, from Schedule I, the most restrictive category under the Controlled Substances Act. The bill, which was originally introduced in 2015, no longer includes provisions that would have removed marijuana from Schedule I and protected banks that serve the cannabis industry. Those provisions were cut in the hope of attracting broader support for the bill. The i[...]



City of Fontana Tries to Restrict Californians' Pot Growing Rights, Gets Sued with Help of ACLU

Tue, 06 Jun 2017 19:20:00 -0400

California's Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA) passed into law last year with 57 percent support. The city of Fontana in California reacted in February to the law, known on the ballot as Proposition 64, by passing Ordinance 1758, which restricts the rights to grow marijuana for personal use granted in that state law. This week, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Northern California and the Drug Police Alliance (DPA) filed a lawsuit in California Superior Court in San Bernardino County challenging the Fontana ordinance. In Harris v. Fontana, plaintiff Mike Harris, a 61-year-old Fontana resident (and a former union iron worker and registered nurse), claims marijuana helps him with pain resulting from his prosthetic hip and shoulder reconstruction. Harris wishes to grow his medicine for himself in his Fontana home as is his right under AUMA, but says Fontana's ordinance is preventing him. (The lawsuit notes that local support for the state law was also high, with 53.5 percent of the city of Fontana and 52.5 percent of San Bernardino County voting for it.) The AUMA does allow cities to reasonably regulate marijuana growing, but also insists that "no city … may completely prohibit persons" from cultivating marijuana "inside a private residence … that is fully enclosed and secure." The suit argues that Fontana's policies in Ordinance 1758 amount to an illegitimate interference in the rights protected by AUMA. Specifically, the suit claims that elements of the ordinance such as demanding a local permit that costs more than $400, forcing applicants to make "statements that admit to a violation of federal law and that federal authorities could easily obtain," and forcing Fontanans to "submit to (and pay for) a warrantless search of their homes by government agents" are "transparently designed to deny residents the benefits and rights conferred by the AUMA." The ordinance also forces citizens to "submit to (and pay for) an illegal, costly, and wholly unnecessary criminal database search" in order to illegitimately prevent "some citizens with criminal records from growing under any circumstances." The suit notes, with many specific examples, that Fontana politicians very clearly stated that the purpose of the ordinance was to be "as restrictive as possible" toward pot cultivation in their city. Under AUMA, the lawsuit says: "it shall be lawful under state and local law, and shall not be a violation of state or local law, for persons 21 years of age or older to … (3) Possess, plant, cultivate, harvest, dry, or process not more than six living marijuana plants and possess the marijuana produced by the plants." Other than limiting the lawful activity to adults aged 21 and over, the AUMA places no further restrictions on who may engage in activities such as possession and cultivation of nonmedical marijuana, and makes such behavior affirmatively lawful under state and local law. The various requirements to get a permit to grow pot in Fontana, which the suit lays out in detail: are plainly intended to make it unreasonably difficult and expensive for persons desiring to cultivate marijuana to do so. Many residents of Fontana will be unable to afford to dedicate a separate room in their home entirely to the cultivation of six or fewer marijuana plants, or to undertake the construction necessary to create a separate, locked room accessible by a single door. Occupants of single rooms, in-law units, studios, one bedroom apartments, and other smaller homes may be denied a license based solely on the design of their homes. Residents who have unpaid municipal fines or fees are also denied permission to cultivate, even though this has no reasonable re[...]