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  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director May 6, 2014

    Federal agencies are moving forward with plans to increase the US government’s production of research-grade cannabis.

    Last week, the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) publicly announced in the Federal Register that it is increasing its marijuana production quota from 21 kilograms to 650 kilograms (about 1,443 pounds) in order to meet increasing demand for the plant from clinical investigators.

    Federal regulations permit a farm at the University of Mississippi to cultivate set quantities of cannabis for use in federally approved clinical trials. Regulators at the DEA, the US Food and Drug Administration, PHS (Public Health Service), and the US National Institute on Drug Abuse must approve any clinical protocol seeking to study the plant’s effects in human subjects.

    On various occasions, marijuana reform advocates and researchers have publicly criticized NIDA for failing to approve proposed trials seeking to assess the therapeutic benefits of cannabis. However, in March, federal regulators finally signed off on a long-delayed clinical protocol from researchers at the University of Arizona College of Medicine to evaluate the use of cannabis its in war veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress. Also this spring, lawmakers in several states, including Alabama, Kentucky, and Wisconsin, passed legislation encouraging state-sponsored clinical trials to assess the therapeutic potential of cannabidiol – a nonpsychotropic organic component of cannabis – in the treatment of intractable epilepsy.

    “The additional supply [of cannabis] to be manufactured in 2014 is designed to meet the current and anticipated research efforts involving marijuana,” A NIDA spokesperson told TheHill.com. “[T]his projection of increased demand is due in part to the recent increased interest in the possible therapeutic uses of marijuana.”

    According to a keyword search using the terms ‘smoked marijuana’ on the clinicaltrials.gov website, eight trials are presently ongoing to evaluate the plant’s effects in humans. Two of these trials are assessing the plant’s potential therapeutic efficacy.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director December 18, 2013

    Adolescent consumption of alcohol and tobacco fell to historic lows while self-reported annual use of cannabis held steady, according to survey data released today by the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor — which has been sampling teens consumption of various licit and illicit substances since the mid-1970s.

    But you wouldn’t know these facts if you read today’s mainstream media headlines.

    For example, the accompanying headline of McClatchy’s wire story inaccurately claims that marijuana consumption among young people rose between 2011 and 2012, stating “Feds decry rising marijuana use among kids”, despite the fact that the title of the study’s own press release affirms “The rise in teen marijuana use stalls.”

    Other news outlets, such as PBS News Hour (in which I am quoted here) predictably highlight the federal government’s talking point that adolescents’ perception of pot’s risk potential is dipping (e.g., ’60 percent of 12th grade students do not view marijuana as harmful’). Unreported is the fact that this trend is is not new, but is rather an ongoing one. According to the University’s year-by-year data, teens’ perceptions regarding marijuana’s risks first began declining in the early 1990s — a time that predates the passage of statewide medical cannabis laws or more recent statewide depenalization/legalization laws. (Looking for an explanation for this trend? Try this: More and more teens are wising up to the fact that cannabis is not as equally dangerous as heroin, despite the federal government’s claims to the contrary.)

    Overlooked in the mainstream media’s reporting is that the use of both alcohol and tobacco among all grades surveyed has fallen consistently since the mid-1990s and now stands at all-time lows. (In fact, more teens now acknowledge using marijuana than cigarettes, the study found.) Teens are also finding alcohol to be less availabile and are far less likely to engage in binge drinking now than ever before.

    By contrast, teens self-reported annual use of cannabis has largely held steady since the late 1990s but remains elevated compared to the historic lows reported in the earlier that decade. (Present use levels, however, still remain well below the highs reported in the late 1970s.) Approximately 8 out of 10 12th graders surveyed said that marijuana was “fairly easy” or “very easy” to obtain, a percentage that has remained largely unchanged since 2009, but is well below previously reported highs circa the late 1990s.

    Nevertheless, federal officials are utilizing the latest University of Michigan data to once again sound the alarm about cannabis, stating that the cannabis ‘problem’ is even “worse” than the data suggests while the Drug Czar once again tries to misleadingly link long-term trends to the passage of recent changes in law.

    And what no public officials wish to acknowledge is the obvious elephant in the room. The reality that an increasing number of teens are steadily turning away from the legally regulated intoxicants alcohol and tobacco — a factoid that once again affirms that the most effective way to keep substances out of teens’ hands isn’t through criminal prohibition; it is through legalization, regulation, and public education. So why does the federal government (as well as the mainstream media) acknowledge the effectiveness of this strategy when it comes to booze and cigarettes, but continue to turn its back on these common sense principles when it comes to pot?

  • by Allen St. Pierre, NORML Executive Director August 7, 2013

    Washington, DC: I jumped into a cab Monday afternoon at the airport at the top of the hour, when the all-news radio station led with an almost hysterical-in-tone news flash of the Washington Post being sold to Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. While most of established Washington and media circles rightly buzz about this cataclysmic change in ownership…my mind has raced for nearly 48 hours thinking back to the PROFOUND influence the Washington Post has had in in maintaining cannabis prohibition—acting at times barely more than a government organ; a ‘rip-n-read’ anti-pot propaganda machine.

    Call it professional pique, intellectual disgust or adopted hometown embarrassment after twenty-three years of reading Washington, DC’s ‘paper of record’ and the nation’s “premiere” political digests in regards to most everything having to do with cannabis:

    Activism (one time the Washington Post compared 10,000 cannabis activists gathered in DC to protest prohibition laws to UFO enthusiasts…instead of listening to concerned citizens about a failed government policy like cannabis prohibition, the ‘activists’ The Post has largely focused on are faux activists that work for government agencies or their chosen grant recipients; CADCA, CASA, PDFA, PRIDE (which is now NFIA) and DARE*)

    Science (The Post has almost exclusively relied upon federal anti-drug agencies like NIDA, SAMHSA and IOM for its cannabis-related information, who’re as bias against cannabis as NORML is for the herb)

    Culture (movies, TV shows, songs, books, magazines, musical and comedic acts who dabbled in cannabis-related theming were generally panned and mocked as being culturally irrelevant)

    Politics (pre-Marcus Brauchli, The Post’s editor from 2008-2012, the paper’s coverage of local, state, federal and international was decidedly statist and prohibitionist)

    Economics (despite near ubiquity of opinion within economic circles that cannabis prohibition is an economic failure, The Post historically cast economists who identify such obvious failings as ‘libertarian’, as if this were a pejorative)

    Race (skewed through the prism of upper-middle class African American editors and columnists from early 1980s until more recent years with their retirements, many of whom reached national prominence [Carl Rowan, Bill Raspberry and Colby King immediately come to mind], The Post cast cannabis as the precursor to most all things bad in the DC black community from heroin use in the 1970s, to cocaine in the 80s, to crack in the early 90s, to ecstasy in the late 90s….to gun violence, gang banging, teen pregnancy, underperforming schools, rap music, high rates of arrest and incarceration and broken families. So wanton to cast this narrative, The Post first won and then had to give back a Pulitzer prize for a writer making up a drug-addicted young boy in a totally fabricated narrative)

    Opinion-making (from about 1977-2008 the Washington Post’s editorial board and the widely read ‘commentary’ section was mainstream media central’s feeding trough for some of the most institutionalized Reefer Madness imaginable. A steady diet of mindless, fact-challenged and intellectually dishonest op-eds could be counted on bi-weekly from wild-eyed anti-cannabis professionals like Joseph Califano, William Bennett, John Walters, Peter Bensinger, Robert DuPont and whoever the ‘drug czar’ du jour. Conversely, one of the most prolific and syndicated columnists of the last forty years, William F. Buckley, The Post rarely ran any one of the dozens of pro-cannabis law reform columns he penned, often critical of the men mentioned above for their words and deeds vis-à-vis their continued support for cannabis prohibition, but for no sane, logical reasons or well reasoned reasons. In the early 1990s NORML director Richard Cowan contacted then managing editor Robert Kaiser, a classmate of his from Yale, imploring the two men to meet and discuss The Post’s news and editorial coverage of cannabis. Mr. Kaiser, while responsive to the letters, was not at all inclined to meet with a group like NORML and didn’t think anything wrong with The Post’s coverage and choice of ‘experts’ to broadcast to the reading audience…)

    *Conduit of government (…to Mr. Kaiser’s insistence to Mr. Cowan that The Post was objective re cannabis, it was not long after that I came to understand how bias The Post, under the Graham family, was to cannabis when they employed a respected essayist who leans libertarian in his writings named James Bovard to write a profile in 1994 on what was then the controversial DARE program, and more specifically on children who were encouraged and even taught by visiting DARE officers on how to turn their parents in for cannabis and other drug use. Many of these DARE cases were first vetted through NORML and forwarded to national and state media outlets, so Mr. Bovard had plenty of material fodder to cull through for his Post piece.

    Apparently troubled by the tone and light cast on the DARE program in Mr. Bovard’s well written and compelling guest column, Post editors and lawyers intervened three days before publication without informing Bovard, sent the story to DARE lawyers to review, the column was then substantively edited and items added by Post editors that were not from Bovard’s original reportage, amazingly, some of the information was libelous in the minds of a family in Georgia mentioned, who filed a lawsuit against The Post.

    I called the Washington Post and spoke to the legal counsel about the Post’s actions, and she informed me when I inquired with her whether or not from that point forward as a daily Washington Post reader should I believe that the words written by a columnist/guest writer are in fact their own, her reply was, in effect, ‘they might write them, but we print them, so, the answer to your question is “no”’. Believing her, from that point forward, I have never read The Post fully confident at all that I’m reading the writers’ work more than the viewpoints of the editors and owners.

    Indeed, on the rare occasion, probably to lend to the appearance of being balanced, The Post would publish a pro-reform essay from Drug Policy Alliance’s Ethan Nadelmann, Harvard’s Lester Grinspoon or ACLU’s Ira Glasser; or their less read ‘Foreign’ section would occasionally publish a field report from a Post reporter about what they were witnessing in Amsterdam, for example.)

    The big question:Does having an all-controlling family who largely hire statist editors and lawyers, with a former District of Columbia police officer in the ownership ranks, running the national capital’s major newspaper ceding the sale of the property to an apparently libertarian-leaning west coast, high tech billionaire located in a pro-cannabis city, in a state where the citizens have propelled the state to the vanguard of ending cannabis prohibition by voting last year to legalize the possession and sale of cannabis for adults have a MAJOR impact on the future and rapidity of cannabis law reforms in America—but maybe most importantly on Washington, D.C. and the federal government that created cannabis prohibition in 1937, has maintained it viciously and without remorse, ultimately the entity that can best end this nearly seventy-five year public policy, free market debacle?

    The big answer: I dunno.

    But, wow, I sure hope so.

    Really, think about it. Amazon is the most innovative and largest retailer in the world. When cannabis prohibition ends, and technology securely and safely delivers adult commerce directly to the consumer, what other company (and their much smaller product providers) better stands to benefit from the billions of dollars annually from cannabis moving from being illegal to legal commerce? Who? Costco?? Starbucks? Hmmm…they’re also Washington State-based companies.

    Of the many hundreds of thousands of items in NORML’s large archives about the history of cannabis prohibition, the day the Washington Post was sold from the Graham family to Jeffrey Bezos may indicate major epoch change in America’s intellectual and business society from one of enthusiastically embracing cannabis prohibition to possibly challenging its continued existence to profiting from the needed change in policy.

    Talk about doing well at the same time as good! Something tells me that one day I’ll look forward to morning read of my Bezos-owned Washington Post–questioning failed government policies rather than being a lapdog for them–and probably enjoying some home-delivered Amazon cannabis too.

     

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director July 5, 2012

    [Editor's note: This post is excerpted from this week's forthcoming NORML weekly media advisory. To have NORML's news alerts and legislative advisories delivered straight to your in-box, sign up here.]

    The use of cannabis and cannabinoids appears to mitigate symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to a new review of clinical and preclinical evidence published online in the scientific journal Drug Testing and Analysis.

    An international team of investigators from Germany, the United States, and the United Kingdom reported that the use of cannabis to “dramatically reduced” PTSD symptoms in a single 19-year-old male patient.

    Authors reported: “In the case report presented in this review, the patient displayed a grave pathology involving anxiety, dissociation and heavy flashbacks as a consequence of PTSD. … The patient stated that he found cannabis more useful than lorazepam. … It is evident from the case history that the patient experienced reduced stress, less involvement with flashbacks and a significant decrease of anxiety.

    Authors further cited “accumulating clinical and preclinical evidence that cannabinoids may mitigate some major symptoms associated with PTSD.”

    They concluded: “Cannabis may dampen the strength or emotional impact of traumatic memories through synergistic mechanisms that might make it easier for people with PTSD to rest or sleep and to feel less anxious and less involved with flashback memories. … Evidence is increasingly accumulating that cannabinoids might play a role in fear extinction and anti-depressive effects. It is concluded that further studies are warranted in order to evaluate the therapeutic potential of cannabinoids in PTSD.”

    Last year, administrators at the United States Department of Health and Human Services, National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) blocked investigators at the University of Arizona at Phoenix from conducting an FDA-approved, placebo-controlled clinical trial to evaluate the use of cannabis in 50 patients with PTSD.

    Under federal law, any clinical trial evaluations involving cannabis must receive NIDA approval because the agency is the only source of legal cannabis for FDA-approved research purposes. In 2010, a spokesperson for the agency told The New York Times: “[O]ur focus is primarily on the negative consequences of marijuana use. We generally do not fund research focused on the potential beneficial medical effects of marijuana.”

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director May 14, 2012

    Is it any wonder that the US government fights tooth-and-nail to hinder researchers’ attempts to conduct clinical trials assessing the therapeutic utility of cannabis as a medicine? After all, each and every time the federal government begrudgingly allows for such studies they’re faced with credibility-shattering results like this:

    Marijuana relieves muscles tightness, pain of multiple sclerosis: Study
    via the Toronto Star

    Smoking marijuana can relieve muscle tightness, spasticity (contractions) and pain often experienced by those with multiple sclerosis, says research out of the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine.

    The findings, just published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, included a controlled trial with 30 participants to understand whether inhaled cannabis would help complicated cases where existing pharmaceuticals are ineffective or trigger adverse side effects.

    MS is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system, which is made up of the brain and spinal cord.

    The disease attacks the myelin, the protective covering wrapped around the nerves of the central nervous system, and — among other symptoms — can cause loss of balance, impaired speech, extreme fatigue, double vision and paralysis.

    The average age of the research participants was 50 years with 63 per cent of the study population female.

    More than half the participants needed walking aids and 20 per cent used wheelchairs.

    Rather than rely on self-reporting by patients regarding their muscle spasticity — a subjective measure — health professionals rated each patient’s joints on the modified Ashworth scale, a common objective tool to evaluate intensity of muscle tone.

    The researchers found that the individuals in the group that smoked cannabis experienced an almost one-third decrease on the Ashworth scale — 2.74 points from a baseline score of 9.3 — meaning spasticity improved, compared to the placebo group.

    As well, pain scores decreased by about 50 per cent.

    We saw a beneficial effect of smoked cannabis on treatment-resistant spasticity and pain associated with multiple sclerosis among our participants,” says Dr. Jody Corey-Bloom of the university’s department of neuroscience.

    To those familiar with medicinal cannabis research, the results are hardly surprising. After all, Sativex — an oral spray containing plant cannabis extracts — is already legal by prescription to treat MS-related symptoms in over a dozen countries, including Canada, Germany, Great Britain, New Zealand, and Spain. Further, long-term assessments of the drug indicate that in addition to symptom management, cannabinoids may also play a role in halting the course of the disease.

    Nevertheless, the National MS Society — like the US government — shares little enthusiasm for cannabis medicine, stating, “Studies completed thus far have not provided convincing evidence that marijuana or its derivatives provide substantiated benefits for symptoms of MS.”

    Patient advocacy organizations, like the MS Society, have a responsibility to represent the interests of their constituents and to advise practitioners regarding best treatment practices. Why then does this responsibility not extend to patients who use cannabis as an alternative treatment therapy or to those that might one day potentially benefit from its use?

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