“I have always loved marijuana. It has been a source of joy and comfort to me for many years. And I still think of it as a basic staple of life, along with beer and ice and grapefruits – and millions of Americans agree with me.” –Dr. Hunter S. ThompsonOne of the serendipitous occurrences in my life was meeting the late Hunter S. Thompson, the original Gonzo journalist, in 1972, at the Democratic National Convention in Miami. Hunter was there to cover the event for Rolling Stone magazine and I was there, along with a myriad of other activists, hoping to find a way to get some national attention on the need to legalize marijuana, and to stop arresting marijuana smokers.
I had founded NORML 18 months earlier in late 1970, but few people were yet aware of our work, so we jumped in my 1961 Volkswagon camper, a common set of wheels for a would-be hippie back then, and headed to Miami to join the anti-Vietnam war activists along with proponents for all sorts of social change, from environmentalism to gay rights to workers’ rights, and everything in-between.
At the time, we didn’t have any party connections and we didn’t really have any idea of what was going to happen in Miami; but we made plans to go anyway because the prior Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968 had been a watershed moment for American political dissent. In what must be a high point in political street theater, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin and the Youth International Party (the Yippies) nominated a pig for president, and captured national media attention in the process.
When I met Hunter he was smoking a joint under the bleachers at the opening night of the convention. I was sitting in the stands listening to the speeches when, quite suddenly — and without any question in my mind — I smelled marijuana, and quickly realized it was coming from down below. I looked below the bleachers and what I saw was a fairly big guy smoking a fairly fat joint. He was trying to be discreet, but it wasn’t working very well. I could see him hunkering in the shadows — tall and lanky, flailing his arms and oddly familiar. Jesus Christ, I suddenly realized, that’s Hunter S. Thompson!
Like every other young stoner in America I had read “Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas” as it was serialized a few months earlier in Rolling Stone. Hunter would soon gather great fame for himself, the kind of fame from which one can never look back upon. But on the night I met Hunter, his star was still ascending.
Screw the speeches, I thought to myself.
I quickly found my way under the bleachers and approached as politely as possible.
“Hu-uh – What the fuck?!! Who’re you?!”
“Hey, Hunter. Keith Stroup from the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. We’re a new smoker’s lobby.” Easy enough.
“Oh. Oh, yeah! Yeah! Here,” Hunter held out his herb, “You want some?”
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.
Subjects who regularly inhale cannabis smoke possess no greater risk of contracting lung cancer than do those who consume it occasionally or not at all, according to data published online ahead of print in the International Journal of Cancer.
An international team of investigators from Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States analyzed data from six case-control studies involving over 5,000 subjects (2,159 cases and 2,985 controls) from around the world.
Authors concluded, “Results from our pooled analyses provide little evidence for an increased risk of lung cancer among habitual or long-term cannabis smokers.”
Investigators had previously presented their data at the 2013 annual meeting of the American Academy for Cancer Research.
Their findings are similar to those of a 2013 review published in the journal Annals of the American Thoracic Society, which concluded: “[H]abitual use of marijuana alone does not appear to lead to significant abnormalities in lung function. … Overall, the risks of pulmonary complications of regular use of marijuana appear to be relatively small and far lower than those of tobacco smoking.”
An accompanying commentary in the same journal affirmed, “[C]annabis smoking does not seem to increase risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or airway cancers. In fact, there is even a suggestion that at low doses cannabis may be protective for both conditions.”
Preclinical studies have documented that cannabinoids possess potent anti-cancer properties, including the inhibition of lung cancer cell growth. To date, however, scientists have yet to conduct controlled clinical trials replicating these results in human subjects.
The abstract of the study, “Cannabis smoking and lung cancer risk: Pooled analysis in the International Lung Cancer Consortium,” appears online here.
Like many marijuana smokers, I’m always fascinated when I travel to other states, especially on the West Coast, and see the popularity of edibles and concentrates, especially the somewhat bizarre practice of “dabbing.”
Now let me be clear that I enjoy getting high, and I’m generally willing to try any variation of marijuana, at least once, just to see what it’s about. So I’m not making a moral judgment on the use of these more potent forms of marijuana. I will also concede that I personally love smoking flowers, and prefer the quality of a flower high to that of the concentrates.
But that’s simply a personal preference shaped by decades of rolling and smoking joints. I’m an old guy and somewhat set in my ways.
What I want to discuss in this column is the potentially adverse political fallout from the increasing popularity of these newer, more potent forms of marijuana. Specifically, I want to sound the alarm that the perceived abuses of edibles and concentrates have the potential to undermine the powerful political momentum we have achieved for full legalization, by frightening many of our supporters–particularly the non-smokers–and causing them to reconsider their positions on cannabis reform.
New York State lawmakers announced today that they have come to agreement to approve a limited pilot program for medical marijuana in the Empire State.
An agreement was reached to amend the bill to include provisions demanded by Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo, including provisions that prohibit the smoking of marijuana. Instead, the amended measure is expected to only allow for non-smoked preparations of cannabis (such as oils). The compromised measure also reduces from the original bill of the number of qualifying conditions, as well as the total number of state-licensed producers and dispensers that will be allowed. (A final draft of the compromised language has not yet been made public.)
The pilot program will be overseen by the State Health Department and would last for seven years, with the option to reauthorize the program after that period has expired. After final approval, the State Health Department will have up to 18 months to establish regulations and authorize entities permitted to dispense it. The governor, upon recommendation by the state police superintendent or the state health commissioner, would have the authority to suspend the program.
NORML will keep you updated as this situation evolves.