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SOCIETY

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director February 24, 2015

    Alaska Legalization Law Takes EffectLegislation enacted by voters in November legalizing the personal use and cultivation of marijuana takes effect today.

    Fifty-three percent of Alaska voters approved Ballot Measure 2 on Election Day, permitting those over the age of 21 to lawfully possess up to one ounce of marijuana and/or to grow up to six marijuana plants (no more than three mature) for non-commercial purposes. Sharing or gifting personal use quantities of marijuana is also permitted under the new law; however the consumption of cannabis in public remains an offense.

    Lawmakers will now begin the process of establishing licensing requirements for those who wish to commercially produce cannabis and/or engage in the plant’s retail sale. State regulators have up to nine months to enact rules to govern these commercial entities and are expected to begin granting operator permits by February 2016.

    Since 1975, Alaskans have enjoyed personal privacy protections based on a state Supreme Court decision allowing for the possession and cultivation of personal use amounts of cannabis in one’s home. However, state lawmakers had never before codified these protections into law or permitted a legal market for marijuana production and sales.

    Alaska is the third state – following Colorado and Washington – to legalize the personal possession of marijuana by adults and to license the plant’s retail production and sales. Oregon voters in November approved similar legislation (Measure 91), which is scheduled to go into effect later this year.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director February 23, 2015

    Get the Federal Government Out of the Marijuana Enforcement BusinessLegislation was introduced Friday in the US House of Representatives to permit states to establish their own marijuana regulatory policies free from federal interference.

    House Resolution 1013, the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act, removes cannabis from the United States Controlled Substances Act. It also removes enforcement power from the US Drug Enforcement Administration in matters concerning marijuana possession, production, and sales — thus permitting state governments to regulate these activities as they see fit.

    Said the bill’s primary sponsor, Democrat Jared Polis of Colorado: “Over the past year, Colorado has demonstrated that regulating marijuana like alcohol takes money away from criminals and cartels, grows our economy, and keeps marijuana out of the hands of children. While President Obama and the Justice Department have allowed the will of voters in states like Colorado and 22 other jurisdictions to move forward, small business owners, medical  marijuana patients, and others who follow state laws still live with the fear that a new administration – or this one—could reverse course and turn them into criminals. It is time for us to replace the failed prohibition with a regulatory system that works and let states and municipalities decide for themselves if they want, or don’t want, to have legal marijuana within their borders.”

    Separate legislation, House Resolution 1014: the Marijuana Tax Revenue Act, introduced by Democrat Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, seeks to impose a federal excise tax on the retail sale of marijuana for non-medical purposes as well as apply an occupational tax for state-licensed marijuana businesses. Such commercial taxes would only be applicable if and when Congress has moved to defederalize marijuana prohibition.

    “It’s time for the federal government to chart a new path forward for marijuana.” said Rep. Blumenauer. “Together these bills create a federal framework to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana, much like we treat alcohol and tobacco. The federal prohibition of marijuana has been a failure, wasting tax dollars and ruining countless lives. As more states move to legalize marijuana as Oregon, Colorado, Washington and Alaska have done, it’s imperative the federal government become a full partner in building a workable and safe framework.”

    Similar versions of these measures were introduced in the previous Congress but failed to gain federal hearings.

    To contact your US House member and urge him/her to support House Resolution 1013, the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act and/or other pending federal marijuana law reform legislation, please visit NORML’s Take Action page here.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director February 10, 2015

    Study: Marijuana Use Not Associated With Previously Reported Changes In Brain MorphologyIt was less than a year ago when the mainstream media was chock-full of headlines like this one: ‘Brain changes associated with casual marijuana use in young adults, study finds.’ The alarmist headlines were in response to a controversial paper published by researchers at Harvard University in Boston and Northwestern University in Chicago which alleged to have found differences in brain morphology in a cohort of 20 college-age marijuana users as compared to 20 non-users. The study’s investigators attributed the differences to subjects’ cannabis use.

    But a funny thing happened when a team of scientists from the University of Colorado and the University of Kentucky tried to replicate these results in a separate, larger sample (158 participants) of subjects after rigorously controlling for both groups’ use of alcohol.

    They couldn’t.

    Writing in the January 28 edition of The Journal of Neuroscience, authors summarized:

    “[T]his retrospective study examined brain morphology in a sample of adult daily marijuana users (n = 29) versus nonusers (n = 29) and a sample of adolescent daily users (n = 50) versus nonusers (n = 50). Groups were matched on a critical confounding variable, alcohol use, to a far greater degree than in previously published studies.

    We acquired high-resolution MRI scans, and investigated group differences in gray matter using voxel-based morphometry, surface-based morphometry, and shape analysis in structures suggested to be associated with marijuana use, as follows: the nucleus accumbens, amygdala, hippocampus, and cerebellum.

    No statistically significant differences were found between daily users and nonusers on volume or shape in the regions of interest. Effect sizes suggest that the failure to find differences was not due to a lack of statistical power, but rather was due to the lack of even a modest effect.”

    Why the contradictory results? Investigators speculated that previously reported imaging studies failed to adequately control for the impact of alcohol, a substance that “unlike marijuana, … has been unequivocally associated with deleterious effects on brain morphology and cognition in both adults and adolescents.” In other words, researchers theorized that previously reported differences in the brain images of marijuana consumers as compared to non-users were likely because of subjects consumption of booze, not cannabis.

    They concluded, “In sum, the results indicate that, when carefully controlling for alcohol use, gender, age, and other variables, there is no association between marijuana use and standard volumetric or shape measurements of subcortical structures. … [I]t seems unlikely that marijuana use has the same level of long-term deleterious effects on brain morphology as other drugs like alcohol. The press may not cite studies that do not find sensational effects, but these studies are still extremely important.”

    An abstract of the study, “Daily Marijuana Use Is Not Associated with Brain Morphometric Measures in Adolescents or Adults,” is online here.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director February 4, 2015

    US Surgeon General: Marijuana Can Be HelpfulNewly appointed US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy believes that cannabis possesses therapeutic utility — an acknowledgment that contradicts the plant’s present placement as a Schedule I controlled substance under federal law.

    Speaking to CBS News, Murthy said: “We have some preliminary data showing that for certain medical conditions and symptoms that marijuana can be helpful.” He added, “I think we have to use that data to drive policy making and I’m very interested to see where that data takes us.”

    Dr. Murthy was confirmed as US Surgeon General late last year.

    His statements appear to be inconsistent with the Schedule I classification of marijuana under federal law — a scheduling that defines the plant and its organic compounds as possessing “no currently accepted medical use …. in the United States” and lacking “accepted safety … under medical supervision.”

    Next week in Sacramento, a federal judge will hear final arguments in a motion challenging the constitutionality of cannabis’ Schedule I classification. In October, defense counsel and experts presented evidence over a five day period arguing that the scientific literature is not supportive of the plant’s present categorization.

    Briefs in this ongoing federal case are available online here.

    [Update: Perhaps predictably, the Surgeon General has dialed back his initial comments to CBS News. Late last night, The Department of Health and Human Services issued a statement attributed to Murthy stating: “Marijuana policy — and all public health policies — should be driven by science. I believe that marijuana should be subjected to the same, rigorous clinical trials and scientific scrutiny that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) applies to all new medications. The Federal Government has and continues to fund research on possible health benefits of marijuana and its components. While clinical trials for certain components of marijuana appear promising for some medical conditions, neither the FDA nor the Institute of Medicine have found smoked marijuana to meet the standards for safe and effective medicine for any condition to date.”

    Interesting that Dr. Murthy cites the IOM which hasn’t formally commented on the issue of medical marijuana since releasing its report some 15 years ago, long before the results of FDA-approved clinical trials like this had been completed. Also notable that he leans on the FDA for guidance when the agency largely does not review the safety and efficacy of botanical products.]

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director February 3, 2015

    Cannabis use is inversely associated with incidences of bladder cancer in males, according epidemiological findings published in the February issue of the journal Urology.

    Investigators at the Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center, Department of Neurology assessed the association of cannabis use and tobacco smoking on the risk of bladder cancer in a multiethnic cohort of more than 80,000 men aged 45 to 69 years old over an 11-year period.

    Researchers determined that a history of cannabis use was associated with a decreased risk of bladder cancer. By contrast, tobacco use was associated with an increased risk of cancer.

    “After adjusting for age, race or ethnicity, and body mass index, using tobacco only was associated with an increased risk of bladder cancer (hazard regression 1.52) whereas cannabis use was only associated with a 45 percent reduction in bladder cancer incidence (HR 0.55),” investigators reported.

    Subjects who reported using both tobacco and cannabis possessed a decreased risk of cancer (HR 1.28) compared to those subjects who used tobacco only (HR 1.52).

    The study is the first to indicate that cannabis use may be inversely associated with bladder cancer risk.

    Authors concluded:

    “In this multiethnic cohort of 82,050 men, we found that cannabis use alone was associated with a decreased risk of bladder cancer. … [M]en who used tobacco alone were 1.5 times more likely to develop bladder cancer when compared with men who did not use tobacco or cannabis. … However, among men who used both substances, this risk of bladder cancer was mitigated. … If this represents a cause and effect relationship, this pathway may provide new opportunities for the prevention and/or treatment of bladder cancer.”

    In 2009, Brown University researchers similarly reported that the moderate long-term use of marijuana was associated with a reduced risk of head and neck cancers in a multi-center cohort involving over 1,000 subjects. Investigators further reported that marijuana use “modified the interaction between alcohol and cigarette smoking, resulting in a decreased HNSCC (head and neck squamous cell carcinoma) risk among moderate smokers and light drinkers, and attenuated risk among the heaviest smokers and drinkers.”

    Read the abstract of the study, “Association between cannabis use and the risk of bladder cancer: Results from the California Men’s Health Survey,” online here.

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