• by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director November 30, 2015

    cannabis_pillsCannabis use is associated with improved outcomes in opioid-dependent subjects undergoing outpatient treatment, according to data published online ahead of print in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

    Researchers at Columbia University assessed the use of cannabinoids versus placebo in opioid-dependent subjects undergoing in-patient detoxification and outpatient treatment with naltrexone, an opiate receptor antagonist. Investigators reported that the administration of oral THC (dronabinol) during the detoxification process lowered the severity of subjects’ withdrawal symptoms compared to placebo, but that these effects did not persist over the entire course of treatment. By contrast, patients who consumed herbal cannabis during the outpatient treatment phase were more readily able to sleep, were less anxious, and were more likely to complete their treatment as compared to those subjects who did not.

    “One of the interesting study findings was the observed beneficial effect of marijuana smoking on treatment retention,” authors concluded. “Participants who smoked marijuana had less difficulty with sleep and anxiety and were more likely to remain in treatment as compared to those who were not using marijuana, regardless of whether they were taking dronabinol or placebo.”

    The findings replicate those of two prior studies, one from 2001 and another from 2009, reporting greater treatment adherence among subjects who consumed cannabis intermittently during outpatient therapy.

    Population data from states where medicinal cannabis is permitted report lower rates of opioid-abuse and mortality as compared to those states where the plant is prohibited. Clinical data and case reports also indicate that the adjunctive use of cannabis may wean patients from opiates while successfully managing their pain. Survey data of state qualified medical cannabis patients demonstrates that subjects with access to the plant often substitute it for opioids because they perceive it to possess fewer adverse side effects.

    Overdose deaths involving opioids have increased dramatically in recent years. While fewer than 4,100 opiate-induced fatalities were reported for the year 1999, by 2010 this figure rose to over 16,600 according to an analysis by the US Centers for Disease Control.

    An abstract of the study, “The effects of dronabinol during detoxification and the initiation of treatment with extended release naltrexone,” appears online here.

  • by Keith Stroup, NORML Legal Counsel

    LegalCommitteeIf you are a practicing criminal defense lawyer, or if you are representing newly legal marijuana businesses, this week presents a great opportunity to pick-up some of your mandatory continuing legal education (MCLE) credits, required by most states, at the annual NORML legal seminar held in the fascinating venue of Key West, Florida.

    The Conch Republic

    The southern-most city in the continental US, Key West, the county seat of Monroe County, is an island located 129 miles southwest of Miami, FL, and 94 miles north-northwest of Cuba. It is accessible both via US 1, a two-lane highway completed in 1938, and via the Key West International Airport, with regularly scheduled flights to and from the mainland.

    Key West was the site of the winter White House selected by President Harry Truman (he spent a total of 175 days visiting during his presidency); and was the long-time home of writers Ernest Hemingway, who later moved to Cuba, and Tennessee Williams.

    The island has also long been known as a refuge for pirates and smugglers, with a culture that is tolerant of outlaws and others who live on the edges of society. Locals, known for their quirky sense of independence, refer to the island as “The Conch Republic,” a name first used in 1982 when Key West briefly declared its “independence” to protest a decision by the Border Patrol to stop every car leaving the Keys looking for illegal immigrants, which, for a time, nearly shutdown the tourism industry.

    With that background, one can easily understand why NORML has been holding a legal seminar in Key West for more than 35 years. As “outlaws” ourselves, we have always found the environment friendly and inviting to marijuana smokers.

    The NORML Legal Committee

    At NORML our overriding goal is to legalize the responsible use of marijuana by adults, regardless of why one smokes. Until we achieve that ultimate goal, we also do our best to provide assistance and support to victims of the current laws. The NORML Legal Committee (NLC), comprised of more than 650 criminal defense attorneys from all across the country, plays a major role in providing that support.

    In addition tLegalCommitteeo their legal work, many of the NLC attorneys also play an active political role in the legalization movement in their states. These are committed defenders of freedom, regardless of the venue.

    Their primary motivation is seeking justice, not simply profits. Day after day they stand-up for the rights of those who have been arrested, seeking to force the authorities to respect our Constitutional protections, and seeking to minimize the harm caused to each individual who is dragged through the criminal justice system. They represent the individual against the awesome power of the government.

    At these NORML legal seminars, we spend our days together listening to experts lecture on new and exciting developments in the law, and refining our trial and appellate skills. And each evening we gather for social events where lawyers from different parts of the country can get to know their counterparts from other states and develop lasting relationships.

    While I certainly do not wish to undervalue the importance of what the lawyers learn from the lectures, I have come to the conclusion that the most valuable benefit to those who attend is the feeling of community they develop with other criminal defense attorneys, allowing them to return to battle the following week with new energy and resolve, and some new allies.

    Marijuana Smokers Still Being Targeted

    Sadly, marijuana smokers are still targeted by aggressive and misguided law enforcement efforts in most states today. Smokers in those states read about the newly won freedoms in a handful of states, and dream of the day when their state will become more tolerant; but they still have to worry that the next knock on the door may be the police with a search warrant, about to destroy their home and wreck their lives, looking for a little pot.

    The recent release of the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report found a modest increase in marijuana arrests in 2014, following a three-year decline. The marijuana arrests for 2014 totaled 700,993, up from 693,481 arrests in 2013, but lower than the 749,825 arrests in 2012 and 757,969 in 2011. The total number of marijuana arrests for 2014 are some 20 percent lower than the totals for 2007, when police made an all-time high 872,721 cannabis-related arrests.

    Using the ACLU estimate of cost per arrest ($750), the cost to the states of making all those marijuana arrests totaled at least $525,744,750; but the real costs would need to factor-in the disrupted lives and careers, and the cost of saddling so many otherwise law-abiding citizens with permanent criminal records, limiting their ability to get good jobs and advance professionally. The real cost of marijuana prohibition would be far higher.

    The Al Horn Award Winner for 2015

    In Key West each year, we also present the Al Horn Award — our lifetime achievement award, named after an early NORML attorney, an outstanding criminal defense lawyer who ran a progressive law collective in Atlanta, GA — to an NLC lawyer who has demonstrated an extraordinary lifetime commitment to justice. Prior award winners have included an array of dedicated men and women from all around the country who have demonstrated an extraordinary commitment to representing individuals charged with a crime, and to ending marijuana prohibition.

    This year the award will be given to Calvin K. Williams from Colby, Kansas. A long-time NLC member and a regular at our legal seminars in both Aspen and Key West, both as an attendee and as a speaker, for many years Cal has been serving on the frontline of the war against marijuana smokers. His specialty has been representing those individuals stopped under the guise of a traffic violation on Interstate I-70, and subsequently arrested for possession of some weed, usually discovered only after the officer claimed he smelled marijuana.

    Where marijuana remains a crime, an officer who claims to have smelled marijuana has the legal right to search the passenger compartment of an automobile without a search warrant. It is “the big lie” that all police officers learn to utilize early; when the driver rolls down the window, claim you smell marijuana and you can avoid the 4th Amendment and search without a warrant.

    Cal Williams in his career has represented more than 1,200 drivers stopped along I-70 (they are so common he calls them “road cases”), many of the cars searched illegally based on the purported smell of marijuana. And over those many years, only one of those individuals (one who had some prior drug felonies on his record) ended up serving time in prison. “A few others,” he adds, “screwed-up on probation and ended up serving a portion of their sentence”.

    Were I in need of a good criminal defense attorney in Kansas, I would be delighted to be represented by Cal Williams, knowing I had a committed and experienced advocate arguing on my behalf.

    Join Us In Key West

    Let me encourage any criminal defense attorney, or marijuana business attorney, reading this, who is not already a member of the NORML Legal Committee, to consider joining the NLC; and encourage any criminal defense attorneys who have not yet attended one of our two annual legal seminars, to take the plunge. You will be glad you did, and you will find a supportive and helpful legal community.

    And the next time you find yourself in need of a good criminal defense attorney because of a drug arrest, go to the NORML website and take a look at the NORML Legal Committee attorneys from your state. If I am a defendant in a marijuana case (and I have been), I want my lawyer to understand there is nothing wrong with the responsible use of marijuana by adults. That’s not the only thing a smoker should look for when selecting an attorney, but that is the first thing. With NLC attorneys, that is not an issue.


    This column originally appeared on Marijuana.com.





  • by Allen St. Pierre, NORML Executive Director November 28, 2015

    Join NORML

    America’s oldest and largest marijuana law reform group turns 45 years old this month, and there is much to be grateful for in the way of substantive, sustained and forward-looking marijuana law reforms in America.

    NORML is over-the-moon grateful to a loyal base of cannabis consumers, patients, ganjapreneurs and civil liberty-minded citizens to see the organization through to this day, when, 4 states have legalized marijuana (the nation’s capital, District of Columbia, has de-penalized possession and personal cultivation), 15 states (and dozens of cities) have decriminalized possession, 36 states and District of Columbia have medical access for cannabis-related products and a few states (example: Kentucky) are for the first time since World War II legally cultivating industrial hemp.

    Join NORML - Vaporizer

    Much more marijuana legalization is on the near horizon in 2016 in over a half dozen states!

    To both celebrate these long-sought socio-political changes in law and to keep NORML’s reform efforts rolling along into the new year, please consider making a donation of $50 or more to the organization, in return, we’ll send you a cool vape pen that have very kindly been provided to NORML by VapeWorld.

    These vape pens are only going to be available through an online donation to NORML for one week–so please don’t procrastinate or space as these are unique donor premiums.

    Again, many thanks to supportive companies like VapeWorld and NORML’s broad and colorful array of individual supporters for empowering the organization for over five decades to help end cannabis prohibition once and for all in America (and around the world).

    Join Us. It's Time. NORML

  • by Danielle Keane, NORML Political Director November 25, 2015

    ballot_box_leafWhile Thanksgiving is cutting the work week short for many, there is no shortage of legislative news in marijuana law reform. Keep reading below to find out what new developments have taken place in the past week related to marijuana!

    A full list and summary of pending state and federal legislation is available here. Summaries of the dozens of marijuana law reform bill approved this year is also available here.


    The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) was in the spotlight this past week for a couple reasons.

    First, organizers of a Change.org petition calling for President Obama to fire the agency’s acting administrator, Chuck Rosenberg personally delivered over 100,000 printed signatures to DEA headquarters last Friday. The petition is still garnering support so make sure to sign it if you haven’t already!

    Second, a group of Democratic lawmakers led by Representative Ted Lieu (D-CA) wrote a letter to House leadership this week urging them to include language in the final spending package for FY 2016, that would remove a significant portion of funding from the DEA that is currently being used to eradicate marijuana plants across the country and instead direct it to more worthy causes. The language is from an amendment that Lieu sponsored and was passed by the House in June.

    The letter reads, “The Cannabis Eradication Program’s sole mission is to eradicate marijuana plants and arrest growers. However, historical data indicates that the vast majority of plants seized under this program are wild plants descendant from industrial hemp. They are not intentionally grown, and they are not suitable for recreational or medical use. Therefore, the seizure of these plants has served neither an economic nor public-safety nor a health related purpose. Its sole impact has been to expend limited federal resources that are better spent elsewhere.”

    Other members that signed the letter are Reps. Jared Polis (CO), Earl Blumenauer (OR), Steve Cohen (TN), Eric Swalwell (CA), Mark Pocan (WI), Mike Honda (CA), Barbara Lee (CA), Jan Schakowsky (IL), Raúl Grijalva (AZ), Beto O’Rourke (TX) and Sam Farr (CA).


    Alaska: Last Friday, Alaska became the first state to allow residents age 21 or older to consume cannabis in retail facilities that sell it . Members of the Marijuana Control Board voted 3 to 2 in favor of permitting limited public use of cannabis. This lack of public use facilities has proven to be an obstacle elsewhere, most notably among tourists who wish to indulge while on vacation in states that regulate the plant’s social use.

    Florida: On Monday, following over a year of legal battles, state regulators finally approved five nurseries to cultivate high-CBD strains of marijuana. This decision marks the first real step forward in the implementation of a 2014 law to allow the use of CBD extracts by qualified patients with intractable epilepsy, muscle spasms and advanced forms of cancer. To qualify for the low-THC-based cannabis treatment, patients must obtain permission from a qualified doctor and be added to the state’s Compassionate Use Registry. The law establishes a number of steep requirements in order for nurseries to qualify for licensure. Applicants must have been in business for at least 30 years and possesses the ability to grow at least 400,000 plants. The selected applicants must post a $5 million performance bond before receiving a license from the state.

    Washington: Members of the Senate Committee on Commerce and Labor held a hearing on Friday in regards to SB 6083, legislation to allow adults to legally cultivate personal use amounts of marijuana in private. “This bill is about consistency, congruency and especially, freedom” said Rep. Brian Blake, who is sponsoring the measure in the House. “Adults in our state can brew their own beer and make their own wine for personal consumption. Just like alcohol, marijuana can be used safely and responsibly, so it makes sense to allow adults to home grow their own if they want to.”

    You can contact your lawmakers in Washington to urge their support for this legislation here.

    Pennsylvania: On Wednesday, November 18, members of the House Rules Committee passed Senate Bill 3, to allow for the production and distribution of non-herbal marijuana products to qualified patients. The bill will now awaits a floor vote by House lawmakers.

    While this measure is a step forward for Pennsylvania patients, SB 3, as presently written, contains several provisions opposed by NORML, specifically its restrictions on smoking and vaporization. House lawmakers are expected to amend the measure further when debating it on the floor.

    Please ask your House members to consider changes that would further expand patients’ access and choices by clicking here.

    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!

  • by Keith Stroup, NORML Legal Counsel November 23, 2015

    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.

    Personal Freedom

    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.


    This column first appeared on Marijuana.com:6_8_NORMLK.StroupPortrait_z



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