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NORML Blog

  • by Keith Stroup, NORML Legal Counsel August 31, 2015

    Many of us who try to stay current with legalization efforts around the country were amazed this past week when ResponsibleOhio, the group that recently qualified a full legalization initiative for the November 2015 Ohio ballot, managed to offend almost everyone, regardless of their views on marijuana legalization, with their ham-fisted attempt to be cute.

    As part of their bus tour to college campuses around the state, called the “Green Rush Bus Tour” (a questionable name for a group of investors who hope to get rich off of legal marijuana in Ohio, but that’s a different question for a different day), to try to familiarize college students with the legalization proposal and build excitement among the millennials, the campaign introduced the world to “Buddie”, a life-sized, super-hero, caped-crusader pot mascot, with a muscular green and white body and a green pot bud as a head, and a large B across his chest.

    A cartoon character to help advance the legalization of marijuana. Now that is an advertising approach that seems to have a familiar ring to it.

    Ever Hear of ‘Joe Camel’?

    Apparently no one on ResponsibleOhio’s staff or working for their ad agency is old enough to remember “Joe Camel,” the infamous cartoon mascot utilized by R.J. Reynolds to advertise their Camel cigarette brand from 1987 until 1997, to attract young cigarette smokers to the practice, and habit, of smoking cigarettes, and to their brand. Following years of pressure from the American Medical Association, Congress and several public-interest organizations, and a pending civil suit brought against the company, Reynolds finally ended the decade long Joe Camel campaign.

    But to a large degree, the damage had been done. During the decade of the Joe Camel campaigns in magazines, billboards and other print media, teen Camel brand sales had increased from less than $6 million a year to more than $500 million.

    Internal documents obtained during the civil suit, and by Congress, made it clear that the tobacco companies were intentionally targeting youth as young as 14, referred to as “tomorrow’s cigarette business,” to protect their future profits, even as the true dangers from smoking tobacco were becoming clear and anti-smoking campaigns were being funded with public dollars.

    Americans were willing to permit the continued sale and adult use of tobacco, despite its many health dangers, but they would not permit the sellers of cigarettes to target our nation’s youth.

    And neither will they permit those who will profit from legal marijuana to target our nation’s youth. The introduction of Buddie was a tactical blunder that should never have happened, and it caused the focus of the public debate in Ohio to move, at least for the moment, from the merits of legalizing marijuana for adults, to the perceived dangers presented by adolescent marijuana smoking. And we brought this trouble on ourselves.

    Our Opponents Jump At This Distraction

    Not surprisingly, it took only hours for the usual opponents to marijuana legalization to make the connection with Joe Camel, and to make the claim that the campaign in Ohio was adopting the tactics of “big tobacco,” trying to entice America’s youth to smoke marijuana. “Tobacco had Joe Camel. Marijuana has Buddie,” tweeted Kevin Sabet, who has largely stopped trying to defend prohibition, and now focuses his anti-legalization efforts on warning of the pending dangers of “big marijuana.”

    “This is at best, irresponsible. The superhero theme clearly appeals to a younger crowd. A shameless attempt to entice young people,” said Ohioans Against Marijuana Monopolies spokeswoman Jen Detwiler.

    ResponsibleOhio Attempts to Defend the Campaign

    In response to the widespread criticism of the use of the mascot, ResponsibleOhio made an effort to justify the program, and denied any attempt to target youthful smokers. Spokewoman Faith Oltman said the group is “being very careful about where Buddie’s going and who he’s talking to,” telling reporters that the bus and mascot will be making more than 150 campaign stops in all 88 Ohio counties.

    ResponsibleOhio’s executive director Ian James further explained that “Buddie is a fictitious character that has a ‘21 and Up Club’. Buddie works on the college campuses to reach the millennial voters and talks to them, helps them with voter registration, both by mail and social media. It’s all geared to the folks who are 21 and up.”

    But that will not, of course, silence the critics, not will it get the debate in Ohio back on the merits of legalization for adults, and away from the issue of youthful marijuana smoking.

    Only putting Buddie into quick retirement can accomplish that, and the sooner the better. No amount of explaining what was not intended by the program will overcome the unnecessary political baggage that has now been introduced into the Ohio legalization campaign. ResponsibleOhio should immediately acknowledge the mistake, apologize, and move forward to legalize marijuana in Ohio. We are all opposed to juvenile marijuana smoking, and it should not be an issue in Ohio.

    What Comes Next in Ohio?

    The fact that such a silly, and potentially politically harmful public educational initiative would have been launched raises serious questions about how professional this sponsoring group of investors really are.

    When the group of investors sponsoring this rather unique, investor-driven legalization initiative held a press conference in June of this year, they were described in the Columbus Dispatch as a group with lots of talent and campaign experience, and the ability and willingness to spend up to $20 million on the effort.

    “Leading up to a November ballot-box showdown over marijuana legalization, ResponsibleOhio is suited up, on the field, and has lots of strength on the bench. … If nothing else, the marijuana-legalization debate shows that ResponsbileOhio is no fly-by-night organization of potheads. It’s a diverse, business-oriented team that includes veteran Republican strategist Neil Clark and 270 Strategies, a group which helped run President Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign.”

    Those of us who support the legalization of marijuana in Ohio will be watching closely in the coming weeks to see if this debacle was just an isolated stumble, reflecting a lack of sensitivity to the special concerns that apply to drug use and drug policy; or if it is a symptom of a group with more money than common sense.

    Let’s hope for the former.

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    This column was originally published on Marijuana.com.

    http://www.marijuana.com/blog/news/2015/08/no-more-joe-camel-please/

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  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director August 26, 2015

    Latest JAMA Studies Largely Fail To Support Past Claims About Marijuana And Brain HealthTwo new studies published online today in JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) Psychiatry provide little support for previous claims that cannabis exposure is significantly harmful to the developing brain.

    The first study, which assessed the effects of cannabis exposure on brain volume in exposed and unexposed sibling pairs, reported that any identifiable differences “were attributable to common predispositional factors, genetic or environmental in origin.” By contrast, authors found “no evidence for the causal influence of cannabis exposure” on brain morphology.

    The trial is “the largest study to date examining the association between cannabis exposure (ever versus never used) and brain volumes.”

    The study is one of two recent clinical trials to be published in recent months rebutting the claims of a widely publicized 2014 paper which alleged that even casual marijuana exposure may be linked to brain abnormalities, particularly in the region of the brain known as the amygdala. In January, researchers writing in The Journal of Neuroscience reported “no statistically significant differences … between daily [marijuana] users and nonusers on [brain] volume or shape in the regions of interest” after researchers controlled for participants’ use of alcohol. Similarly, today’s JAMA study “casts considerable doubt on hypotheses that cannabis use … causes reductions in amygdala volumes.”

    A second study appearing today in the journal assessed whether cannabis use during adolescence is associated with brain changes that may be linked to an increased risk of schizophrenia. While researchers reported finding an association among male subjects who possessed a high genetic predisposition toward schizophrenia, authors reported that no such association existed among male subjects who were at low risk for the disease, or among females in either the high risk or low risk categories. The finding is consistent with the theory that early onset cannabis use may potentially exacerbate symptoms in a minority of subjects predisposed to the disease, but it contradicts claims that marijuana exposure is a likely cause of schizophrenia, particularly among those who are not already vulnerable to the disease.

    Abstracts of both new studies appear online in JAMA Psychiatry here and here.

  • by Keith Stroup, NORML Legal Counsel August 25, 2015

    A new scientific review of burn injuries in Colorado confirms what many of us have been saying for some time – that the popularity of dabbing (i.e., the use of hash oil) brings with it some real dangers and some potential political dangers.

    I have previously written about my own preference for flowers, rather than concentrates or edibles, but that is largely the result of my age. I began smoking marijuana 50 years ago, when I was a freshman at Georgetown Law School, and back then one was lucky if you could establish a reliable source for good marijuana, and these more esoteric versions of marijuana were largely unheard of. Occasionally the dealer would have a little hash (allegedly imported from Lebanon or some other distant country, although one never really knew), but it was usually terribly expensive and treated more as something to be saved for a special occasion, like champagne. Most of the time it was difficult enough just to find good pot.

    But it is clear that the culture has evolved over the decades, and many of those wanting to enjoy the marijuana experience today prefer something other than flowers. In the states that have legalized marijuana, many seem to prefer edibles or concentrates. Whether that trend will continue is uncertain, but so long as a significant segment of the consuming public wants to obtain edibles or concentrates, we should focus on ways to permit that without endangering the public.

    Edibles

    Regarding edibles, as our initial experience in Colorado has demonstrated, the key components to using edibles safely are:

    Proper labeling, to avoid accidental ingestion
    Proper dosage per unit, to avoid inadvertent overdosing (which is never fatal, but can be terribly unpleasant).
    Better educational outreach to novice users, so they understand the lag time between ingesting the marijuana before the full psychoactive effects are felt.
    So the initial concern over a few mishaps involving edibles in Colorado seems to have abated. Informed consumers should experience no problems enjoying the marijuana experience from infused edibles.

    Concentrates

    With concentrates, the most serious issue is the risk of explosions by those who attempt to extract the THC using butane. Novice consumers need to be made aware of the increased strength of marijuana in this form, and concentrates, like edibles, must be kept safely away from children.

    Hash oil is a potent marijuana concentrate that can be as strong as 90 percent THC, and is easily manufactured (the process is readily available on the Internet) using butane as a solvent. But the process is also highly volatile and can result in dangerous explosions that all too often cause serious, and sometimes deadly, burn injuries. The similarities with the rash of meth explosions a few years ago is difficult to avoid.

    New Study Released from Colorado

    A new study just published in the Journal of Medical Toxicology, analyzed the incidents of burn injuries from butane hash oil extraction in Colorado from January 1, 2008 through August 31, 2014, comparing the two years prior to the legalization of medical use in the state; the period of medical use only in Colorado; and the first eight months of 2014, the first year of full legalization.

    According to this study, there were no such incidents during the two years prior to the adoption of medical use; 19 cases during the medical use only phase lasting from October 2009 through December 2013; and 12 cases during the first eight months of 2014. So the total number of these explosions was small.

    Those involved in these butane extraction explosions were largely white (72 percent), male (90 percent); and young (median age of 26). And the medium length of their hospital stay was 10 days.

    The study’s authors concluded: “Hydrocarbon burns associated with hash oil production have increased since the liberalization of marijuana policy in Colorado. A combination of public health messaging, standardization of manufacturing processes, and worker safety regulations are needed to decrease the risks associated with BHO (butane hash oil) production.”

    Potential Political Backlash

    Another risk associated with these burn incidents is the possibility that the non-smoking public may be influenced to oppose further legalization proposals, because of the dangers presented by these explosions. Although the actual numbers of explosions are relatively low, each of them are scary, and most become major news stories, at least on the local and state level, thereby frightening large numbers of citizens, many of whom base their support for legalization on the premise that prohibition causes far more harm than the use of marijuana itself.

    These incidents of butane burn injuries may well cause some of our supporters to re-evaluate their prior support. And there is no reason for us to incur this political baggage; we have an alternative production method that is safe.

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    This is a risk that could be avoided by using a CO2 extraction method, instead of butane, to produce concentrates, and as a culture we need to get the word out that it’s time to bring an end to the use of butane extraction altogether. It’s dangerous to produce concentrates with butane, at least by amateurs, and it may well present a health risk to the consumer.

    The CO2 extraction method is safe and non-volatile, avoiding any danger of an explosion. And consumers are further protected because bacteria, mildews and molds are destroyed, and there is no butane residue in concentrates made this way.

    It’s a win-win solution, but we need to better inform those who produce and use concentrates. If consumers begin to demand CO2-extracted concentrates, and reject products made with butane, the industry will quickly fall into line.

    It’s time we insisted on the responsible production and use of concentrates. Otherwise we may find ourselves facing significant limitations, or even total bans, imposed on the production and availability of these products. Let’s resolve this problem ourselves, so the authorities need not deal with it.

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    This blog was initially published on Marijuana.com.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director

    GOP Voters In Early Primary States Oppose Federal Interference In State Marijuana LawsRepublican voters in the early primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire do not believe that the incoming administration ought to interfere with the enactment of state laws legalizing marijuana, according to polling data conducted by Public Policy Polling and published today by Marijuana-Majority.com.

    Sixty-seven percent of GOP voters in New Hampshire agree that “states should be able to carry out their own marijuana laws without federal interference.” Sixty-four percent of Iowa GOP voters agreed with the statement.

    This voter sentiment is contrary to the public positions of at least two Republican Presidential candidates, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Florida Senator Marco Rubio — both of whom have espoused using the power of the federal government to roll back changes in state marijuana laws.

    Overall, a super-majority of all voters in Iowa (71 percent) and New Hampshire (73 percent) oppose federal interference in state laws permitting marijuana use.

    Previous polls surveying a national sampling of voters have reported similar results. Gallup pollsters reported that 64 percent of respondents oppose federal interference in state laws that allow for the legal use of the cannabis by adults, while a Third Way commissioned poll found that six out of ten voters believe that states, not the federal government, should authorize and enforce marijuana policy. Most recently, a 2015 Pew poll reported that a strong majority Americans — including 64 percent of Independents, 58 percent of Democrats, and 54 percent of Republicans — believe that the federal government should not enforce laws in states that allow marijuana use.

  • by Danielle Keane, NORML Political Director August 24, 2015

    thumbs_upLocal governments in Florida are taking marijuana law reform into their own hands by adopting marijuana decriminalization ordinances as an alternative to more severe state sanctions.

    We first wrote about this trend in July when Florida’s largest county, Miami-Dade, passed an ordinance allowing local law enforcement to treat marijuana possession offenses involving 20 grams or less as a civil infraction, punishable by a $100 fine.

    Many other communities have followed suit. City commissioners in Miami Beach imposed a similar policy in July; authorities in Hallandale Beach acted likewise last week. 

    Key West City City officials are poised to finalize a similar measure in September while lawmakers in Palm Beach County are considering taking similar action. Decriminalization is also gaining momentum among lawmakers in the city of St. Petersburg.

    These changes to local laws are especially significant in Florida, where state lawmakers have failed to even consider amending its archaic and overly punitive marijuana policies. Consequently, Florida possesses the third highest annual marijuana possession arrest total (roughly 60,000 arrests per year) in the nation.

    But that may soon change. Advocates, including Florida NORML, are pushing  a 2016, ballot initiative aimed at legalizing the adult use of marijuana, while a separate measure to amend the state’s medical marijuana laws is also expected to be decided by voters (in 2014 the measure narrowly failed to meet the state’s 60% vote requirement). According to a Quinnipiac poll conducted last year, 88% of Florida residents support legalizing marijuana for medical use and 55% of residents support legalizing the possession of small amounts of recreational marijuana.

    It’s clear that Florida residents are fed up with policies that treat those who possess marijuana as criminals and are looking to their local governments to lead the way in reforming these policies. NORML encourages you to contact your local city commissioners and urge them to consider adopting decriminalization policies in your communities.

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