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GOVERNMENT

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director July 2, 2014

    Washington’s first wave of state-licensed cannabis retail stores are anticipated to open for business next week. Initiative 502, approved by a majority of voters in November 2012, authorizes the establishment of state-licensed cannabis producers and retail sellers.

    The state’s Liquor Control Board is expected to begin issuing licenses on Monday, July 7. An estimated 20 retail stores are anticipated to open their doors later in the week. Similar state-sanction stores have been operating in Colorado since January 1.

    With only a small number of stores likely to be operational at first, regulators anticipate that consumers’ demand for legal cannabis may initially outpace supply. In Colorado, retailers struggled initially to meet consumer demand, resulting in temporarily inflated retail prices for cannabis. Prices have steadily fallen in Colorado as additional retailers have opened for business.

    Since the passage of Initiative 502, police filings for low-level marijuana offenses have fallen from over 5,000 annual arrests to just over one hundred.

    [UPDATE: Here is a list (c/o of the Seattle Post Intelligencer) of the first 24 state-licensed stores:

    WHIDBEY ISLAND CANNABIS COMPANY — 5826 S KRAMER RD STE, Langley
    WESTSIDE420 RECREATIONAL — 4503 OCEAN BEACH HWY, Longview
    VERDE VALLEY — 4007 MAIN ST, Union Gap
    TOP SHELF CANNABIS – 3857 HANNEGAN RD, Bellingham
    THE HAPPY CROP SHOPPE — 50 ROCK ISLAND RD, East Wenatchee
    SPOKANE GREEN LEAF — 9107 N COUNTRY HOMES BLVD, Spokane
    SPACE – 3111 S PINE ST, Tacoma
    SATORI/INSTANT KARMA — 9301 N DIVISION ST, Spokane
    NEW VANSTERDAM — 6515 E. MILL PLAIN BLVD, Vancouver
    MARGIE’S POT SHOP — 405 E STUEBEN, Bingen
    MAIN STREET MARIJUNA — 2314 MAIN ST, Vancouver
    HIGH TIME STATION — 1448 BASIN ST NW, Ephrata
    GREEN THEORY — 10697 MAIN ST STE B, Bellevue
    GREEN STAR CANNABIS — 1403 N DIVISION ST, Spokane
    FREEDOM MARKET — 820A WESTSIDE HWY, Kelso
    CREATIVE RETAIL MANAGEMENT — 7046 PACIFIC AVE,Tacoma
    CASCADE KROPZ — 19129 SMOKEY POINT BLVD, Arlington
    CANNABIS CITY — 2733 4TH AVE S, Seattle
    BUD HUT — 1123 E STATE ROUTE 532, Camano Island
    AUSTIN LOTT — 29 HORIZON FLATS RD, Winthrop
    ALTITUDE – 260 MERLOT DR, Prosser
    4US RETAIL — 23251 HWY 20, Okanogan
    420 CARPENTER — 422 CARPENTER RD, Lacey
    2020 SOLUTIONS – 2018 IRON ST, Bellingham
    ]

  • by Erik Altieri, NORML Communications Director June 25, 2014

    In a memo obtained by NORML, released in late May, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) clarified their drug policy in light of the growing number of states legalizing marijuana for medical and recreational use.

    In response to inquiries regarding the department’s policy for employees in states that approved recreational or medical use of marijuana, the USDA strongly reaffirmed that their drug testing policies concerning marijuana are still very much in effect, regardless of state law changes.

    The memo states that, “use of Marijuana for ‘recreational’ purposes is not authorized under Federal law nor the Department’s Drug Free Workplace Program policies.” It then elaborates that, “accordingly, USDA testing procedures remain in full force and effect.”

    This policy is largely still being enforced due to marijuana’s current status as a Schedule I drug at the federal level. The USDA described their current ongoing policy by stating that “USDA agencies test for the following class of drugs and their metabolites: (a) Marijuana, Opiate (Codeine/Morphine, Morphine, 6-Acetylmorphine) and PCP; and (b) Cocaine, Amphetamines (AMP/MAMP, Methamphetamine, MDMA). These drugs are listed in the Controlled Substances Act (CSA)…as Schedule I and Schedule II drugs, respectively. Schedule I drugs are substances, or chemicals defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. They are considered the most dangerous of all the drug schedules and invite potentially severe psychological or physical dependence.”

    Citing the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) Medical Review Officer Manual for Federal Agency Workplace Testing Programs, the USDA also made clear this policy applies equally whether marijuana is being used for recreational use or medical purposes:

    “State initiatives and laws, which make available to an individual a variety of illicit drugs by a physician’s prescription or recommendation, do not make the use of these illicit drugs permissible under the Federal Drug-Free Workplace Program. These State initiatives and laws are inconsistent with Federal law and put the safety, health, and security of Federal works and the American public at risk. The use of any substance included in Schedule I of the CSA, whether for non-medical or ostensible medical purposes, is considered a violation of Federal law and the Federal Drug-Free Workplace Program.”

    “The USDA’s stance on testing employees for marijuana use, regardless of the laws of the state in which they live, is unfortunate,” stated NORML Communications Director Erik Altieri, “Patients will be denied effective medicine and individuals will be denied civil liberties being given to their fellow state citizens. This situation highlights the fact that the existing, inherent conflict between state laws seeking to legalize and regulate cannabis for recreational or medical purposes and federal policy, which classifies the substance as illicit, are ultimately untenable. To resolve this conflict there must be a change in marijuana’s federal classification. Without such a change, we will consistently have a lack of clarity and ongoing conflict between public sentiment, state law, and federal policy.”

    You can read the full USDA memo here.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director June 19, 2014

    Senate members are expected to vote imminently in regard to language that seeks to bar the US Justice Department from interfering in activities that are compliant with state medical cannabis laws.

    Senators Rand Paul (R-KY) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) will introduce the bipartisan amendment, which will be similar to language approved by the US House of Representatives earlier this month. As with other legislation, the amendment must be approved by majorities in both legislative chambers before it is sent to the President for approval.

    This will be the first time in recent memory that US Senators have ever decided on provisions specific to liberalizing America’s marijuana policies.

    It is time that we allowed our unique federalist system to work the way it was intended. Patients and providers should be permitted to engage in state-sanctioned, medical cannabis-related activities free from the threat of federal interference or federal prosecution.

    Please write or call your members of Senate today and tell them to stop using taxpayer dollars to target and prosecute state-authorized medical marijuana patients and providers. For your convenience, a pre-written letter will be e-mailed to your Senators when you visit here.

  • by Erik Altieri, NORML Communications Director

    Today, the full Philadelphia City Council voted 13 to 3 in support of a measure that would lower the penalty for possession of up to one ounce of marijuana to a civil infraction, punishable by a $25 fine.

    All 13 of the Democratic members of the City Council voted for it and all three Republicans voted against. The measure now goes to Philadelphia Mayor Nutter’s desk for signature. NORML’s local chapter, Philly NORML, has been working hard on advancing these reforms for many years and those efforts seem to be finally paying off.

    Councilman Bill Greenlee, who voted in support of decriminalization, stated, “It does not seem fair for what most people consider a minor incident to potentially risk people’s future.”

    Councilwoman Cindy Bass, who also voted “Yes” on the bill, said, “To spend the time and the amount of money that is really required to prosecute someone with small amounts of marijuana, while we have so many other bigger issues in the city, does seem a little bit not where we need to be headed.”

    Bill sponsor Councilman Jim Kenney estimates that the new pot policy could save the police department and the courts about $4 million a year.

    NORML will keep you updated if and when the mayor signs this measure.

  • by Keith Stroup, NORML Legal Counsel June 17, 2014

    Most of us were caught off-guard by the rush of states this year that approved the limited use of CBD-only marijuana extracts because these traditionally conservative states had heretofore rejected the medical use of marijuana. So it seems worth a moment to consider how this occurred, and what it means on a grander scale.

    But first, a little recent history.

    Throughout this year’s state legislative season, a total of 10 states enacted laws seeking to provide limited access to medical marijuana products that contain high levels of CBD and virtually no THC for qualified, typically pediatric patients suffering from severe and disabling seizures: Alabama, Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah and Wisconsin.

    On one level, this unexpected embrace of the medicinal qualities of marijuana by states that previously rejected the concept must be seen as a favorable development. These serendipitous adoptions reflect a degree of compassion not obvious in the previous legislative debates in those states.

    But it is far from certain that these laws will actually help the young patients they are intended to help.

    First, such products are primarily only available in a handful of states like California and Colorado and none of these new state laws create a viable in-state supply source for such products. Further, even if a patient from out-of-state could find these products in California or Colorado, it would be a violation of federal law (and also likely state law) to take the medicine back to their home state.

    And while some of these laws attempt to establish CBD research projects at their major universities or research hospitals, recent experience demonstrates that few universities or research hospitals are willing to enter this confusing field while marijuana remains a federal crime, and those that may be willing to take the bait will face a steep and long learning curve before the first patient will have high-CBD extracts available.

    This legislative rush to CBD-only extracts also suggests (1) the degree to which elected officials are influenced by popular media, (2) their willingness to pick and choose the science they like (while ignoring the science they do not), and (3) the strong puritanical impulse that remains a factor with many elected officials.

    And it all relates to the “Gupta Effect”. When CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s report highlighting how high-CBD marijuana products control debilitating seizures among children suffering from Dravet’s syndrome (the most severe form of childhood epilepsy) went public, few Americans had even heard of cannabidiol. Most people were familiar with THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana that principally accounts for the “high” that marijuana smokers enjoy, but had zero idea that CBD even existed.

    Dr. Gupta, who had previously uncritically accepted the federal government’s consistent claim that marijuana had no legitimate medical use, when confronted with actual children whose lives had been transformed following their use of high-CBD marijuana extracts, understandably felt misled by the government’s anti-marijuana propaganda, and went public with two special programs introducing the importance of high-CBD extracts in reducing or eliminating seizures in these children.

    In the second program Dr. Gupta made it clear that while CBD appeared to be the primary therapeutic ingredient for this class of patients, he also made the point that some level of THC was also required, because of what he termed the “entourage effect.” Without the THC, the CBD would either be less effective, or in some instances ineffective.

    It’s embarrassing that so many of our elected officials would get their scientific understanding of the medical properties of marijuana from a popular television doctor, instead of conducting their own research into the available science, before moving legislation forward. But better they be motivated by a celebrity doctor than continue to ignore the benefits of medical marijuana altogether.

    Of which there are a myriad.

    The marijuana plant is one of the most studied biologically active substances of modern times. A search on PubMed, the repository for all peer-reviewed scientific papers, using the term “marijuana” yields nearly 20,000 scientific papers referencing the plant and/or its constituents, nearly half of which have been published just within the past decade. In addition, more than 100 controlled trials, involving thousands of subjects, have evaluated the safety and efficacy of cannabis and/or individual cannabinoids.

    Most recently, a review of FDA-approved marijuana plant trials conducted by various California universities concluded, “Based on evidence currently available the Schedule I classification (for cannabis) is not tenable; it is not accurate that cannabis has no medical value, or that information on safety is lacking.” The best summary of this research can be found in the publication Emerging Clinical Applications for Cannabis and Cannabinoids, available on the NORML website. So the basic research is available for all who care to learn.

    But few elected officials appear to be aware of this considerable body of science. Rather, the common refrain is to claim they cannot support the medical use of marijuana because the only evidence is “anecdotal”. These officials prefer to remain ignorant because it reinforces their preconceived notion that medical marijuana is a hoax perpetuated by those who simply wish to get “high”.

    So what this latest rush to approve CBD-only marijuana products demonstrates, more than anything else, is the degree to which our public policy can frequently be influenced by a strong strain of puritanism that remains alive among our elected officials. If it feels good, it must be bad!

    These many state legislators were willing to show some compassion by allowing the medical use of marijuana by these poor children suffering from multiple, disabling seizures, so long as the marijuana did not make them feel “high” (i.e., feel better!). These legislators are against pleasure, and if the use medical marijuana includes the feeling of pleasure, then it cannot be approved.

    Excuse me, but is that not the purpose of using medicine when one is ill – to feel better?

    Admittedly, for some of these puritans, the association of the word “high” with the use of marijuana may lie at the heart of the problem for them. Marijuana has long been demonized by conservatives, law enforcement, and many in the medical community, and that has spilled-over to the marijuana “high”.

    If they understood that the marijuana “high” makes the user feel better, and that seriously ill patients almost always want (and need) to feel better, perhaps they could overcome their fear of medical marijuana. But for now at least, it is clear that in their view the marijuana “high”, like marijuana itself, is something to be avoided by responsible Americans, even if that precludes the use of medical marijuana by seriously ill patients.

    It is time we moved beyond the notion that pleasure is bad, and stopped treating the marijuana “high” as something to be avoided, when it makes patient feel better. For them, feeling better and feeling high is often the same.

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