Celebrating a day of thanksgiving has a long history in this country, dating back to the first year of George Washington’s first term as president, when he proclaimed Nov. 28, 1789 “as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favours of Almighty God.”
The tradition continued, although on different dates in different states, until President Abraham Lincoln in 1863, in the middle of the Civil War, proclaimed the final Thursday in November as Thanksgiving nationwide. Of course the Confederate States refused to recognize Lincoln’s authority, and it was not until after the war ended, during reconstruction in the mid-1870s, that all states participated in the national Thanksgiving celebration.
The date for Thanksgiving was then changed from the final Thursday in November to the fourth Thursday in November by a Joint Resolution of Congress signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on Dec. 26, 1941, during the early days of our involvement in World War II.
And we will continue that tradition this Thursday, when most of us pause for a day to consider and give thanks for the people who enrich our lives, and the freedoms we enjoy in our everyday lives. We have much for which to be thankful, regardless of our individual stories. As a member of the American family, we have been privileged in many ways by birth.
The Threat of Terrorism in the Background
It would be foolish not to acknowledge the uncertainties and fears caused by the threat of terrorism in our world today.
None of us will ever be quite the same once our sense of innocence and well-being has been dashed by the reality of a terrorist act, such as we all witnessed in horror on September 11, 2001. When we see the frightening and horrendous death and destruction caused over the last few days by a few evil terrorists in Paris, or in Mali, we can but wonder how long it will be before we experience another 9/11 in our own country.
The innocence of the victims in these attacks appears to be the purpose — to shock and terrorize — and the irrationality and unpredictability of when and where these attacks occur only serves to make all of us fearful.
And that, of course, is the purpose of these heinous acts. And it is why we must not allow the despicable, uncivilized acts of a few extremists to distract us from our regular lives, filled with family and friends and meaning and purpose. Yes, life involves some risks, and lots of uncertainties, but as the Parisians have demonstrated, living life to the fullest, and getting back to one’s regular life, is the best revenge.
Which finally brings me to the topic I am supposed to be writing about – legalizing marijuana. The marijuana legalization movement, at least from my perspective, is only incidentally about marijuana. It is really about personal freedom.
The freedom to decide for oneself whether to smoke marijuana, free from governmental interference. The government has no business coming into my home to find out what books I read; what music I listen to; how I conduct myself in the privacy of the bedroom; or whether or not I smoke marijuana or drink alcohol when I relax in the evening. It is simply none of their business.
The freedom to be free from government searches, absent the issuance of a search warrant, based on probable cause to believe a crime has been committed, is a most important freedom that we win back for the individual, once marijuana is legalized. The sight or smell of marijuana no longer gives the police the ability to ignore our Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. When marijuana is no longer a crime, neither is it the basis to obtain a search warrant.
So this Thanksgiving, I will be giving thanks that as a country we are moving away from the war on marijuana smokers, and moving ever so cautiously towards the legalization and regulation of the responsible use of marijuana by adults. And in doing that, we are returning a measure of personal freedom, once lost, to the tens of millions of marijuana smokers in America.
Cannabinoids are safe and effective for the treatment of chronic pain, according to the results of a systematic review of randomized controlled trials published in the Journal of Neuroimmune Pharmacology.
Investigators from Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia and McGill University in Montreal evaluated the results of 11 placebo-controlled trials conducted between the years 2010 and 2014. Trials assessed the use of various types of cannabinoid preparations, including herbal cannabis, liquid and oral cannabis extracts, and nabilone (a synthetic analog of THC), in pain treatment.
Cannabinoids possessed “significant analgesic effects” and were “well tolerated” in the majority of studies reviewed.
Authors concluded, “The current systematic review provides further support that cannabinoids are safe, demonstrate a modest analgesic effect and provide a reasonable treatment option for treatment chronic non-cancer pain.”
A 2011 review of 18 separate randomized trials evaluating the safety and efficacy of cannabinoids for pain management similarly reported, “[C]annabinoids are a modestly effective and safe treatment option for chronic non-cancer (predominantly neuropathic) pain.”
In September, Canadian researchers reported that pain patients who consumed herbal cannabis daily for one-year experienced decreased analgesia and no increase in serious adverse side effects compared to matched controls.
An abstract of the study, “Cannabinoids for the treatment of chronic non-cancer pain: An updated systematic review of randomized controlled trials,” appears online here.
The flight out of Washington, D.C., to Charlotte, N.C., to catch my connecting flight to Jamaica, looked like most flights when I am leaving D.C.: A lot of suits and ties and business people on board heading to or returning from a business meeting or a meeting with their members of Congress, or their office in the nation’s capital.
But the flight from Charlotte to Jamaica left no doubt that this was no longer a business trip for most on the plane. They were dressed casually, and some were obviously dressed for the beach. Something about Jamaica that suggests relaxing on the beach with a nice rum drink and some good ganga — the term generally used for marijuana in Jamaica.
I realized I might well be one of the only people on my flight who were actually going to Jamaica on a business trip – albeit heading to the first High Times Jamaica Cannabis Cup in Negril. I know; it’s tough work, but someone has to do it!
Jamaica – Yeah, Mon!
The flights from DC to Montego Bay, the closest airport to Negril, take about five hours, and once one is on the island and through customs, it is then another 90-minute drive to Negril. That travel time allows one to slow down a bit, to begin the necessary emotional process of getting in sync with the Jamaican pace of life, and to begin to enjoy the island culture.
In Jamaica, one really has no choice but to leave the hard-charging lifestyle aside. The Caribbean island nation operates on its own take-life-easy pace – it is called “Jamaica time” — which is one of the appealing aspects for those coming to Jamaica on vacation, along with the endless sandy beaches and beautiful blue Caribbean water.
The first thing one notices is that Jamaicans drive on the “wrong” side of the road, an unsettling practice for us Americans, a reminder that Jamaica was a long-time British colony, before finally gaining their independence in 1962. That also explains their decidedly British accent, which sometimes is difficult for Americans to understand.
The Jamaican High Times Cannabis Cup
High Times, as many readers will know, has been holding an annual Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam for 28 years, on Thanksgiving weekend. And with the advance of legalization in the U.S., they now hold a number of domestic Cannabis Cup events each year. But this event in Negril is their only other event held outside the U.S. And because of the long relationship between ganga and Jamaica, the decision to schedule a Cup in Jamaica seemed only appropriate.
In late February of this year, the Jamaican Parliament enacted new laws governing ganja, which took effect on July 15, removing criminal penalties for possession of up to two ounces of marijuana, substituting a $5 civil fine with no arrest or criminal record. In addition, households are now permitted to cultivate up to five marijuana plants. The legislation also authorized officials to enact regulations licensing the cultivation and dispensing of medical and industrial cannabis, as well as recognizing the right of the Rastafarians to use ganja as a religious sacrament.
Already they have invited U.S. marijuana tourism by announcing that those from the U.S. who hold medical recommendations will also qualify to obtain up to 2 ounces of medical ganja while they are in Jamaica. Justice Minister Mark Golding described the reforms as “long overdue.”
But still planning the Jamaican Cup was not easy. Before the required government permits could be obtained, High Times was advised it would be necessary to win the approval and cooperation of the Rastafarians. Under the new Jamaican marijuana law, only the Rastafarians are legally permitted to hold public demonstrations using ganga, and that is because it is now their legally recognized religious sacrament.
The ancestors of present day Rastafarians arrived in Jamaica as African slaves destined to work in the Jamaican sugar cane fields during the early 1800s. Thought slavery was abolished in Jamaica in 1834, by edict of the British Parliament (some three decades before it was ended by the Civil War in the U.S.), Rastafarians remained the underclass of Jamaica society.
As with other communities, there are several factions and different leaders who speak for and represent the four different tribes of Rastas in Jamaica. The task of building a coalition with the Rastas fell to the Associate Publisher Rick Cusick and Board Chair Michael Kennedy from High Times, and to Harvard Law Professor Ron Nesson, a man with a long relationship with Jamaica and the Rastafarians. And Jamaican Justice Minister Mark Golding was an active participant in that process, which might not have been possible otherwise.
The negotiations leading-up to the permit for the event were challenging for all the parties, with several deadlines missed and new deadlines set, but somehow in the end common sense prevailed and the event was approved by all the stakeholders.
The government saw this event as an appropriate way (at last) to show respect to the Rastafarians, a culture with a long history of discrimination, and the Rastafarians astutely saw this as an opportunity to showcase their religion, and their culture, in a more favorable light.
So this latest event – the High Times 2015 Jamaica Cannabis Cup – a four-day Cup, held at a public park on the beach in Negril, with lots of exhibitors and Jamaican live music and the annual awards ceremony judging the finest ganga in Jamaica on the final evening — was officially sponsored by the Rastafari Rootzfest. And the Rastafarian culture and religion were common themes throughout the four days, with drum circles and Rastafarian chants prominently featured in the opening ceremonies, and Rasta speakers featured daily at the seminar tent. And the Rastas maintained a food-court next door to the Cup, with traditional Rastafarian offerings.
The most significant thing I gleaned from this brief Jamaican visit was a far greater appreciation of the Rastarian culture and the importance they attach to the legalization of marijuana in Jamaica. It was clear that these Rastafarian leaders perceive the recent changes legalizing ganga in Jamaica as a significant step towards recognizing the legitimacy of their entire culture – not just their use of ganga – and to them this moment has the feeling of freedom and dignity, after a long period of disrespect and discrimination.
For most Americans, I suspect Rastas are seen as colorful people, with their bright orange, yellow and green clothing, and their distinctive dreadlocks, but aspects of the Rastafarian religion may seem strange; e.g., the worship of the late Ethiopian leader Haile Selassie as their savior. I am not here to try to convince anyone that they should worship Haile Selassie, or that they should become a practicing Rastafarian.
But I recognize now that those who truly hold this religion in their hearts and their lives deserve the same respect we show other religions; such as those who believe the Pope is infallible and is a direct descendant of St. Peter; or those who believe one must be baptized in the blood of Christ to have ever-lasting life. All religions require a giant leap of faith, but most of them also appear to play an important cohesive role in the disparate cultures. And the specific beliefs of the Rastafarians do not seem to me more difficult to abide, than do the beliefs of many of the more prominent religions.
As they see the full legalization of ganga looming in the near future in Jamaica, the Rastas want to assure that their culture will at last benefit financially from the legalization of their sacred herb, and that they will not be shoved aside and exploited by outside interests.
Legalizing marijuana in Jamaica is a change that has brought a measure of freedom, and promise of a brighter future, economically and culturally, to the Rastafarians. That is a milestone we can all celebrate.
The fight to legalize marijuana was never limited to the U.S., and while we continue to lead the way, legalization is alive and well and moving forward in many other countries, including Jamaica. It’s a lovely thing to see.
Current consumers of cannabis are 50 percent less likely to suffer from metabolic syndrome as compared to those who have never used the substance, according to findings published online ahead of print in The American Journal of Medicine. Metabolic syndrome is a group of risk factors, including high blood pressure, high blood sugar, unhealthy cholesterol levels, and abdominal fat, which are linked to increased risk of heart disease and/or type 2 diabetes, among other serious health consequences.
Investigators from the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine analyzed the association between cannabis use and metabolic syndrome in a cohort of nearly 8,500 subjects aged 20 to 59 who participated in the 2005-2010 National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys. Researchers classified subjects as suffering from metabolic syndrome if they possessed more than three of the following symptoms: elevated fasting glucose levels, high triglycerides, low HDL cholesterol, elevated systolic/diastolic blood pressure, and increased waist circumference.
Among subjects with no history of cannabis use, 19.5 percent met the criteria for metabolic syndrome. By contrast, 17.5 percent of former users and only 13.8 percent of current users met the criteria.
“Among emerging adults, current marijuana users were 54 percent less likely than never users to present with metabolic syndrome,” investigators reported. Specifically, mean fasting glucose levels were significantly lower among current marijuana users when compared to never users, while waist circumference was significantly lower among males who reported current marijuana use when compared to those with no cannabis use history.
“These findings have important implications for the nation as marijuana use becomes more accepted and we simultaneously face multiple epidemics of obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes,” authors concluded.
The findings are consistent with those of previous observational studies showing an inverse relationship between cannabis use and diabetic markers, and support previous population data showing that those who use cannabis typically possess smaller waist circumference and lower body mass index than those who do not.
An abstract of the study, “Metabolic Syndrome among Marijuana Users in the United States: An Analysis of National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey Data,” is online here.
With many state legislative sessions coming to an end and the federal government beginning final budget negotiations, we’ve seen plenty of marijuana legislation move forward this week. Keep reading below to catch up on this week’s legislative action!
On the eve of Veterans Day members of the US Senate adopted language to permit Veterans access to medical marijuana in states that allow for its use. Senate members passed the FY2016 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs APpropriations Bill, which for the first time includes language to allow Veteran’s Administration (VA) doctors to recommend medical marijuana to patients in states where medical marijuana is legal. You can read more about this measure here.
New Jersey: Governor Chris Christie signed legislation into law on Monday, November 9, that allows for the administration of edible forms of cannabis for children attending school.
Additionally, members of the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on Monday, November 16th at 1:00PM in Committee Room 4 of the state capitol to discuss the merits of legalizing and regulating marijuana in New Jersey. The informational hearing comes ahead of the anticipated introduction next session of legislation to legalize the plant’s production, sale, and use. To express your support for legalization in New Jersey, click here.
Vermont: Members of the Senate Government Operations Committee are discussing how best to implement a regulated marijuana industry in Vermont. Statewide polling reports that 57 percent of Vermont voters support legalizing and regulating marijuana production and sales. State lawmakers acknowledge that 2016 is the “time” to regulate cannabis in Vermont and they need to hear from their constituents that legalization is a priority. To contact your lawmakers and urge their support for legalization, click here.
North Carolina: Senate Bill 313, an act to establish a pilot program for hemp cultivation in North Carolina, has become law absent the Governor’s signature. The legislation declares, “The General Assembly finds and declares that it is in the best interest of the citizens of North Carolina to promote and encourage the development of an industrial hemp industry in the State in order to expand employment, promote economic activity, and provide opportunities to small farmers for an environmentally sustainable and profitable use of crop lands that might otherwise be lost to agricultural production.”
New York: Governor Andrew Cuomo has signed legislation that seeks to accelerate medical marijuana access to patients who are suffering from critical conditions and are in urgent need for medical cannabis. Assembly Bill 7060 & Senate Bill 5086 require the Commissioner of Health to establish emergency access to medical cannabis access for patients with conditions for whom a delay would pose a serious risk to the patient’s life or health.
Florida: The Broward County Commission approved a marijuana ordinance on Tuesday, that will give police officers the option of issuing a $150 civil citation to someone caught with 20 grams or less of marijuana instead of filing a misdemeanor criminal charge against that person. Similar ordinances have been passed in Miami-Dade County and Key West.
Palm Beach County will be voting on a similar measure, December 15th. Contact your County Commissioner today and urge their support for the option of issuing a civil citation for the nonviolent possession of marijuana! You can find out who your County Commissioner is here.
Texas: In Houston, District Attorney Devon Anderson announced last Thursday that starting January 1st, those who are caught with less than two ounces of marijuana will be offered a diversion program and released rather than receiving a criminal charge. The suspect must complete the program to avoid facing charges.
Anderson said, “It frees up space in jail. It minimizes the administrative burden that officers face when filing charges. It reduces the cost for prosecution and court proceedings. And of course, it gives the offender an opportunity to have a completely clean record,” she said. “When we don’t offer it until after the offender is charged, we lose a lot of the best benefits of the program.”
Illinois: More than two years after lawmakers initially approved medical cannabis legislation in the state, patients are finally getting relief. This week, several of the state’s licensed dispensaries began serving patients for the first time. About 3,300 patients with Illinois-issued ID cards were able to purchase medical cannabis at one of five dispensaries opening Monday. Besides Canton, retail shops in Addison, Marion, Mundelein and Quincy were among the first to open. An estimated 25 facilities are anticipated to be operational by the end of the year.
Additional information for these and other pending legislative measures may be found at our #TakeAction Center!
** A note to first time readers: NORML can not introduce legislation in your state. Nor can any other non-profit advocacy organization. Only your state representatives, or in some cases an individual constituent (by way of their representative; this is known as introducing legislation ‘by request’) can do so. NORML can — and does — work closely with like-minded politicians and citizens to reform marijuana laws, and lobbies on behalf of these efforts. But ultimately the most effective way — and the only way — to successfully achieve statewide marijuana law reform is for local stakeholders and citizens to become involved in the political process and to make the changes they want to see. Get active; get NORML!