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NORML Blog

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director July 6, 2017

    cannabis_pillsRepresentatives of Florida for Care filed litigation today challenging a statewide ban on medical cannabis smoking. The suit was expected after lawmakers approved legislation (SB 8A) in June amending Amendment 2 — a voter initiated constitutional amendment permitting the use and distribution of medical cannabis. Seventy-one percent of voters approved the amendment in November.

    Senate Bill 8A amends the definition of medical cannabis in a manner that prohibits “marijuana in a form for smoking” and that bars the personal possession of herbal cannabis flowers, except in instances where they are contained “in a sealed, tamper-proof receptacle for vaping.” The Florida for Care suit argues that these changes inconsistent with the constitutional definition of marijuana, as passed by voters, and therefore should not be implemented.

    The lawsuit argues, “Inhalation is a medically effective and efficient way to deliver tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and other cannabinoids, to the bloodstream. … By redefining the constitutionally defined term ‘medical use’ to exclude smoking, the Legislature substitutes its medical judgment for that of ‘a licensed Florida physician’ and is in direct conflict with the specifically articulated Constitutional process.”

    Under the revised law, patients diagnosed with cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, PTSD, ALS, Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, or multiple sclerosis — or who suffer from chronic pain related to any of these diseases — are eligible to receive a 70-day supply of cannabis-infused oils or edible products from a limited number of state-licensed dispensing facilities.

    NORML has long argued against regulations that limit or prohibit patients’ access to whole-plant cannabis in lieu of cannabis-derived extracts or pills. Cannabis inhalation is not associated with increased instances of lung cancer, COPD, or other tobacco-related adverse effects on pulmonary function. Inhaled cannabis is fast acting and permits patients to accurately self-regulate their dose. By contrast, non-herbal forms of cannabis possess delayed onset and their effects can often be far less predictable than those of herbal cannabis. Many patients seeking rapid relief of symptoms do not benefit from pills, tinctures, or edibles, and such restrictions unnecessarily limit patients’ choices.

    If the court invalidates SB 8A, the task of writing the rules for implementing the initiative — which must be operational by October — will fall to the Florida Department of Health.

  • by Daniel Rouleau, Deputy Director, Virginia NORML

    A common cliché for overcoming a difficult obstacle asks, “how do you eat an elephant?” The answer is, “one bite at a time.” In Virginia politics, the tough question facing cannabis policy reform advocates is, “how do you change the minds of political Elephants?” The answer is, “one law at a time.” Although progress in cannabis reform has been slow in Virginia, two recent bills signed by Governor Terry McAuliffe are significant signs that change is coming, and quicker than ever before.

    Ending Automatic Driver’s License Suspension for Cannabis Possession

    In May 2017, Gov. McAuliffe had a signing ceremony for Senator Adam Ebbin’s Senate bill 784 and Delegate Les Adams’ House bill 2051. These companion bills ended the absolute requirement that Virginians convicted of marijuana possession lose their driver’s license. Until this change, which takes effect July 1, the judge had no option but to suspend, even if the offense was totally unrelated to a vehicle. A driver’s license is necessary in commuter-based economies such as Virginia, where most residents work, attend school, receive medical treatment, or worship outside of their home city, and the public transportation is less then reliable.

    Virginia NORML led the lobbying for this bill, and helped sway lawmakers in the General Assembly who were wary of the proposed changes. The legislators were convinced by explaining the law in detail, and highlighting the positive results from allowing individuals to maintain their license for work and education – no extreme rhetoric or exaggeration needed. Ryan Johnson, membership coordinator for Virginia NORML, testified for both pieces of legislation was congratulated by many thankful legislators at the ceremony.

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    Gov. Terry McAuliffe (VA-D) and Ryan Johnson

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    Ryan Johnson with Delegate Les Adams (R-16)

    “With Virginia NORML’s guidance, I was able to craft impactful testimony, helping pass meaningful legislation that will make a difference for thousands of Virginians,” said Ryan Johnson at Gov. McAuliffe’s ceremony. “I was humbled by how many legislators thanked me for stepping outside of my comfort zone and sharing my story in the 2017 General Assembly.” 

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    Del. Paul Krizek (D-44), Del. Les Adams (R-16) ,Sen. Scott Surovell (D-36), Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-49), Ryan Johnson, Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-30)

    Watch the video

    The new law is a significant step for cannabis policy reform in Virginia for two reasons. First, this is one of the very few marijuana-related criminal justice reforms that advocates have successfully pushed through the difficult, Republican-controlled House subcommittees. Those subcommittees are the sticking point for most criminal justice reform legislation, the bottle neck that prevents bills from proceeding to a full House vote. Second, this is important because it allows judges discretion to apply the standard first-offender’s program and community service to an adult discovered possessing cannabis somewhere completely removed from any vehicles. Admittedly, this is a small step. However, every step, even the very small ones, put Virginia closer to a more sensible criminal justice system that does not criminalize marijuana possession or consumption.

    Welcome to the Medical Cannabis States Club, Virginia

    In June 2017, Gov. McAuliffe had another bill signing ceremony, this one for Senator Marsden’s Senate bill 1027. This bill is significant because it officially makes Virginia a medical cannabis state. Medical cannabis dispensaries will be called “pharmaceutical processors,” and will become medical cannabis patients’ legal source of the cannabis oil permitted under Virginia law. The processors will be vertically integrated facilities. That means the plants will be grown, cured, and trimmed onsite; all extraction, distillation, and synthesis of custom biopharmaceutical medicines will be done in the on-site laboratory; and, finally, patients will interact with and receive medication from a pharmacist. Unlike the medical cannabis dispensaries in Colorado, this will more closely resemble a traditional pharmacy.

    Virginia families were instrumental in getting this landmark legislation passed. However, despite the great success, the law has serious shortcomings. There will only be five (5) pharmaceutical processors. This places a huge burden on applicants, financially and logistically, and could result in the exclusion of start-up ventures owned by minorities, women, and veterans without access to large capital resources. Second, the related laws allowing patient access to medical cannabis is very short: one (1). Only one patient group, those with intractable epilepsy, can possess medical cannabis oil. The major legislative goal for the 2018 session is the “Let Doctors Decide” bill, which would end the eugenics-style creation of state-permitted patient groups and instead allow trained medical professionals to decide if cannabis would be effective for the individual patient’s treatment plan. Jenn Michelle Pedini was at the ceremony representing Virginia NORML, and spoke to the families of several epilepsy patients and lawmakers who had supported the bill.

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    Sen. Dave Marsden (D-37) and many families watch as Gov. McAuliffe signs historic medical cannabis legislation. Photo courtesy Michaele White, Governor’s Office.

    “It was an exciting day for the families who spent hours at the General Assembly gaining support for this bill which passed unanimously in both the House and Senate. We are looking forward to continuing this path next year and expanding the current law to include all patients for whom medical cannabis would provide relief,” said Beth Collins, Senior Director Government Relations and External Affairs at Americans for Safe Access, and mother of a child with intractable epilepsy.

    These landmark bills are significant signs of the change coming in Virginia’s cannabis policy. Decriminalization is being studied by the State Crime Commission, following a request by Senate Majority leader Tommy Norment. The Driver’s License bill may be the first overly punitive prohibition measure to fall, and like dominoes, the changes to criminal justice reform will gain momentum and culminate in decriminalization of adult cannabis possession within the next couple years. The pharmaceutical processor bill is a huge hurdle for both patients seeking legal access to medical cannabis medications, and for individuals interested in the regulated cannabis industry. Although Virginia’s cannabis industry will fall under heavy regulation and oversight by the Commonwealth, the new industry presents new opportunities, jobs, and tax revenue.

    Virginia NORML is the leading cannabis law reform organization in Virginia, but we can only continue our success in changing outdated laws with your help! The Summer of Change Campaign is currently underway, and we are trying to raise $42,000 to support our efforts in the 2018 session and the push for “Let Doctors Decide.” Virginia has a major election this year, and the outcome could determine the success – or failure – of our efforts. Donate today to the Summer of Change campaign! With your help, Virginia NORML will continue its track record of success in Richmond bringing marijuana policy reform.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director July 5, 2017

    3410000930_95fc2866fa_zThe closure of medical marijuana dispensaries is associated with an increase in larceny, property crimes, and other criminal activities, according to data published in the Journal of Urban Economics.

    Researchers at the University of Southern California and the University of California, Irvine assessed the impact of dispensary closures on neighborhood crimes rates in the city of Los Angeles. Investigators analyzed crime data in the days immediately prior to and then immediately after the city ordered several hundred operators to be closed. Authors reported an immediate increase in criminal activity – particularly property crime, larceny, and auto break ins – in the areas where dispensary operations were forced to close as compared to those neighborhoods were dispensaries remained open.

    “[W]e find no evidence that closures decreased crime,” authors wrote. “Instead, we find a significant relative increase in crime around closed dispensaries.” Specifically, researchers estimated that “an open dispensary provides over $30,000 per year in social benefit in terms of larcenies prevented.”

    They concluded, “Contrary to popular wisdom, we find an immediate increase in crime around dispensaries ordered to close relative to those allowed to remain open. The increase is specific to the type of crime most plausibly deterred by bystanders, and is correlated with neighborhood walkability. … A likely … mechanism is that ‘eyes upon the street’ deter some types of crime.”

    The findings are consistent with those of prior studies determining that dispensary operations are not associated with ‘spillover effects’ in local communities, such as increased teen use or increased criminality.

    An abstract of the study, “Going to pot? The impact of dispensary closures on crime,” appears online here.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director

    mj_researchThe prolonged daily administration of cannabinoids is associated with a reduction in migraine headache frequency, according to clinical trial data presented at the 3rd Congress of the European Academy of Neurology.

    Italian researchers compared the efficacy of oral cannabinoid treatments versus amitriptyline – an anti-depressant commonly prescribed for migraines – in 79 chronic migraine patients over a period of three months. Subjects treated daily with a 200mg dose of a combination of THC and CBD achieved a 40 percent reduction in migraine frequency – a result that was similar to the efficacy of amitriptyline therapy.

    Subjects also reported that cannabinoid therapy significantly reduced acute migraine pain, but only when taken at doses above 100mg. Oral cannabinoid treatment was less effective among patients suffering from cluster headaches.

    “We were able to demonstrate that cannabinoids are an alternative to established treatments in migraine prevention,” researchers concluded.

    Some five million Americans are estimated to experience at least one migraine attack per month, and the condition is the 19th leading cause of disability worldwide.

    According to retrospective data published last year in the journal Pharmacotherapy, medical cannabis consumption is often associated with a significant decrease in migraine frequency, and may even abort migraine onset in some patients.

    A just published review of several studies and case-reports specific to the use of cannabis and cannabinoids in the journal Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research concludes: “[I]t appears likely that cannabis will emerge as a potential treatment for some headache sufferers.”

    An abstract of the study, “Cannabinoids suitable for migraine prevention,” appears online here.

  • by NORML July 4, 2017

    Legalize marijuanaWhat are your plans this Fourth of July weekend? If you are like most Americans, you are likely to be having a cookout, watching fireworks with friends and family, or engaging in some other social event that celebrates your freedom.

    But for the millions of Americans who consume cannabis, freedom can be fleeting.

    In many states, our fellow citizens still face the possibility of arrest, criminal prosecution, and jail time for a first offense marijuana possession charge. For instance, in Arizona and Florida, first-time possession offenders may face felony charges. In Oklahoma, growing even a single plant is punishable by up to life in prison.

    At NORML we understand that this harsh reality is probably not something that you think about every single day — particularly on July 4th. But we do. That is why we are working hard to empower our national network of engaged citizens — citizens like you — to change America’s antiquated and punitive marijuana laws. And, because of you and your efforts, we are succeeding!

    Support NORML’s effort to empower citizens to participate in the democratic process and reform our nation’s marijuana laws.

    It is the highest ideal of American democracy that our nation has a well-informed and politically engaged electorate. That is why every week — via our blog, social networks, and weekly e-zine — NORML aims to arm our supporters with the latest science and news, as well as legislative and legal developments pertaining to cannabis and cannabis policy. Via the NORML Action Center at www.norml.org/act, we keep you up to date on and engaged in all ongoing state and federal legislative efforts to reform marijuana prohibition and restore our freedoms. And we thank the 100,000+ individuals that have taken action over the past few months.

    Now, more than ever, it is crucial that we come together and assert our authority over our elected officials. The Declaration of Independence explicitly states: That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

    In sum: it’s our responsibility to compel our elected officials to institute change.

    Tens of thousands of NORML people just like you support our mission. Make a contribution today so that we can continue our important work.

    Our system of government is not perfect. In fact, it is far from it. But for hundreds of years, citizens have organized and struggled to come closer to Thomas Jefferson’s iconic aspiration, “That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights; that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

    Thomas Jefferson legally grew cannabis. You should be able to as well.

    Help us change American for the better.

    Happy Fourth of July,
    The NORML Team

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