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  • by Erik Altieri, NORML Communications Director November 4, 2014

    pot_shopWith 56 of 58 precincts reporting, voters in Guam have approved a medical marijuana measure with over 56% of the vote.

    You can read the details of the measure here. When implemented, it would allow patients in Guam to obtain a recommendation for medical marijuana from their physician and purchase marijuana from approved dispensary locations.

    Stay tuned to NORML Blog for the latest on the 2014 Marijuana Midterm. Live coverage will begin this evening.

  • by Erik Altieri, NORML Communications Director November 3, 2014

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    Tomorrow is Election Day and voters across the country will be faced with measures regarding marijuana law reform and some difficult legislative races. To help keep you on top of all the upcoming votes, we are issuing this helpful primer on what races to watch as the results begin to roll in. Don’t forget, we will be running live election coverage right here on blog.norml.org all night, so check back in tomorrow evening to stay on top of all the breaking exit polls, news stories, and official results. Don’t forget to get out and cast your ballot, click here if you need help finding your polling place and other voting information.

    On the Ballot:

    Voters in three states and in numerous municipalities, including Washington, DC, will decide this Election Day on ballot measures seeking to significantly amend marijuana laws.

    Voters in Alaska will decide on Ballot Measure 2, which seeks to legalize the adult possession of up to one ounce of cannabis as well as the cultivation of up to six-plants for personal consumption. The measure would also allow for the establishment of licensed, commercial cannabis production and retail sales of marijuana and marijuana-infused products to those over the age of 21. Commercial production and retail sales of cannabis would be subject to taxation, but no taxes would be imposed upon those who choose to engage in non-commercial activities (e.g., growing small quantities of marijuana for personal use and/or engaging in not-for-profit transfers of limited quantities of cannabis.) Public consumption of cannabis would be subject to a civil fine.

    Voters in California will decide on Proposition 47, which seeks to reduce penalties for various drug possession crimes, including offenses involving the possession of hashish or other concentrated forms of cannabis.

    Voters in Florida will decide on a constitutional amendment (Amendment 2) that would permit physicians the discretion to authorize cannabis therapy to their patients. The measure would also direct the state Department of Health to establish regulations for the establishment of licensed medical cannabis cultivators and dispensaries. Under the proposal, authorized patients would not be permitted to cultivate their own marijuana. Because the proposal seeks to amend the Florida state constitution, it requires the support of more than 60 percent of voters in order for passage.

    Voters in Oregon will decide on Measure 91, which seeks to regulate the commercial production, retail sale, and personal use of marijuana by adults. Adults who engage in the non-commercial cultivation of limited amounts of cannabis for personal use (up to four marijuana plants and eight ounces of usable marijuana at a given time) will not be subject to taxation or commercial regulations. Passage of the initiative would not “amend or affect in any way the function, duties, and powers of the Oregon Health Authority under the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act.”

    Citizens residing in the US territory Guam will decide on Proposal 14A, the Compassionate Cannabis Use Act. If approved by voters, the measure would “direct the Department of Public Health and Social Services to regulate the use of marijuana as treatment for medical conditions.” The Department would have up to nine months following the law’s passage to provide rules for the territory’s medical marijuana program.

    In the District of Columbia, voters will decide on Initiative 71, which would remove criminal and civil penalties regarding the adult possession of up to two ounces of cannabis and/or the cultivation of up to six plants. Adults who engage in not-for-profit transactions of small quantities of cannabis or who possess marijuana-related paraphernalia would also no longer be subject to penalty under this act. The measure would not establish a regulatory framework for the regulation of a commercial cannabis market. Because Washington, DC does not possess statehood, all District laws are subject to Congressional approval prior to their implementation.

    In Maine, voters in the cities of Lewiston and South Portland will decide on municipal measures eliminating local penalties in regard to the adult possession of up to one ounce of cannabis.

    In Massachusetts, voters in eight select districts in the state will decide on non-binding public policy questions asking, “Shall the State Representative from this district be instructed to vote in favor of legislation that would allow the state to regulate and tax marijuana in the same manner as alcohol?” There will also be several other ballot questions regarding the legalization of marijuana in other locations, you can read about these in-depth here and here.

    In Michigan, voters in eleven cities – Berkley, Clare, Frankfort, Harrison, Huntington Woods, Lapeer, Mt. Pleasant, Onaway, Pleasant Ridge, Port Huron, and Saginaw – will decide on local ballot measures seeking to depenalize minor marijuana possession offenses by adults.

    In New Mexico, voters in Bernalillo will decide on a non-binding countywide ballot measure asking citizens whether to reduce minor marijuana possession offenses from a criminal misdemeanor to a fine-only, civil offense.

    Voters in several additional cities in California and Colorado will also decide on Election Day on various measures specific to marijuana cultivation, taxation, and dispensing. Washington state voters will also decide on an advisory measure (Advisory Vote No. 8) in regard to agricultural tax preferences for the marijuana industry.

    NORML PAC Candidates:

    The NORML Political Action Committee has made endorsements of candidates in a variety of states. View the below list to see if a NORML PAC endorsed candidate will be on the ballot in your state:

    US House of Representatives

    US Senate

    Other:

    Be sure to stay tuned to blog.norml.org for coverage all Election Day, including a live blog in the evening as the results begin pouring in. Most importantly, don’t forget to get to your local polling place and SMOKE THE VOTE!

  • 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 Erik Altieri, NORML Communications Director June 19, 2014

    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.

  • 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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