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  • by Russ Belville, NORML Outreach Coordinator March 3, 2010

    Author’s update: the graphics in the post below have been updated to correct some minor mistakes, such as dated information that left out Rhode Island and Maine’s dispensaries and Oregon’s recent acceptance of Alzheimer’s agitation as a qualifying condition. Also, I have outlined Oregon’s attempt at legalization through the OCTA petition as it could be reasonably said to be as far along or farther along than Washington’s I-1068. I regret my errors.

    [caption id="attachment_15808" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Marijuana Law Reform in 2010 (March Update)"]Medipot States 2010 (March)[/caption]

    With New Jersey recently becoming the 14th medical marijuana state, activists in marijuana law reform have been celebrating. After all, over 82 million Americans now live in states where medical use of marijuana is legal – that’s 27% of the US population! Last election, Massachusetts became the 13th decriminalization state, which means over 107 million Americans live in a state where possession of small personal amounts of marijuana no longer merit an arrest – that’s 35% of the US population.

    [caption id="attachment_15809" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="Population of States with Medical Marijuana Laws"]Medical Marijuana Stats 1[/caption] [caption id="attachment_15810" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="Population of States that have Decriminalized Marijuana"]Medical Marijuana Stats 2[/caption]

    However, after watching fourteen years of marijuana activism focused solely on those who use cannabis for medicine, I must warn activists that medical marijuana is not getting any better and the time for re-legalization of cannabis for all adults – even the healthy ones – is now.
    [caption id="attachment_15811" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Comparison of five core rights found in existing medical marijuana law"][/caption]
    Medical marijuana was a great 20th century strategy to get the sick and dying off the battlefield in the war on drugs. It was the perfect vehicle to enlighten the public, who for so long have been indoctrinated into the reefer madness that classifies cannabis like LSD and heroin. But in the 21st century the idea that marijuana is only a medicine is beginning to take hold and governments and voters are crafting ever-more-restrictive medical marijuana laws. For the vast majority of cannabis consumers this threatens to move us from the category of “illegal drug users” to “possessors of medicine without a prescription” – a step up, perhaps, but still left facing criminal prosecution.

    California legalized medical marijuana in 1996. That initiative, Prop-215, established what is clearly the most liberal medical marijuana statute to date:

    • A doctor can recommend for any condition;
    • You needn’t have a “bona fide” doctor/patient relationship;
    • Dispensaries are allowed;
    • Self cultivation is allowed;
    • Patients are protected from arrest.
    [caption id="attachment_15812" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Comparison of plant and possession limits and qualifying conditions in medical marijuana law"]Medical Marijuana Stats 4[/caption]

    If we consider these five attributes of the law the baseline, then in the past fourteen years, all thirteen medical marijuana states that have followed have failed to achieve all five. Eight states only offer three or four of those liberties and the rest offer two or only one. Most disturbingly, the right of patients to grow their own medicine (or have a caregiver do it for them), which has been a bedrock principle in medical marijuana law, was taken away from patients in the most recent medical marijuana state, New Jersey. Bills that were considered but vetoed in 2009 in Minnesota and New Hampshire, and those moving forward in New York, Pennsylvania, as well as an initiative in Arizona, all sacrifice this core right.

    [caption id="attachment_15820" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="New Jersey - The (No Medical Marijuana) Garden State"]No Garden State[/caption]

    A comparison of plant and possession limits also shows the decline from the original starting point in California, where 12 plants and 8 ounces are allowed. Oregon and Washington passed their laws next and have the highest statutory limits: 24 plants and 24 ounces in Oregon and 15 plants and 24 ounces in Washington. (To be fair, all the West Coast states started with lower limits or more vague limits that were modified by the legislature.) But since then, only one state has allowed more than 3 ounces (New Mexico with 6 ounces) and average number of plants allowed is a little less than ten.

    [caption id="attachment_15813" align="alignleft" width="299" caption="The "Big 8" Conditions for which marijuana is recommended in the states"]Medical Marijuana Stats 5[/caption]

    Another decline in medical marijuana freedom appears when we look at the conditions for which medical marijuana protection is afforded in the various states. There are eight conditions which could be considered the “standard” ones: cancer; HIV/AIDS; seizure disorders, like epilepsy; spastic disorders, like multiple sclerosis; glaucoma; chronic nausea; cachexia; and chronic pain. Most medical marijuana states recognize all eight conditions; a couple (Vermont and Rhode Island) recognize seven of eight.

    [caption id="attachment_15814" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Other conditions recognized in state medical marijuana laws (not a complete list)"]Medical Marijuana Stats 6[/caption]

    The latest law in New Jersey, however, eliminated chronic pain, chronic nausea, and cachexia, making it the most restrictive list in the nation. The bill proposed but vetoed in New Hampshire required one to try all other remedies for chronic pain before trying medical marijuana. The vetoed Minnesota bill wouldn’t even allow cancer and HIV/AIDS patients to use medical marijuana unless they could show they were terminal (about to die). The lists in the latest proposed bills continue to become more restricted.

    Until we do have legalization for all, every medical marijuana law is going to fail to adequately serve all medical users and subject them to increasing restriction and scrutiny. Additionally, medical marijuana laws make patients an attractive target for criminals because prohibition maintains huge profits for stolen medical cannabis, as well as becoming targets for overzealous anti-marijuana cops and prosecutors.

    (more…)

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director February 24, 2010

    [Editor’s note: This post is excerpted from this week’s forthcoming NORML weekly media advisory. To have NORML’s media advisories delivered straight to your in-box, sign up for NORML’s free e-zine here.]

    Researchers worldwide have performed 37 separate clinical trials assessing the therapeutic safety and efficacy of inhaled cannabis and marijuana-based medicines since 2005, according to a review published online last week in the journal Cannabinoids: The Journal of the International Association for Cannabinoid Medicines (IACM).

    Investigators from Leiden University in the Netherlands and the nova-Institut in Germany conducted a systematic review of recent clinical trial data pertaining to the medical use of whole smoked marijuana and cannabinoids.

    Authors identified 37 controlled studies since 2005 evaluating the therapeutic effects of cannabinoids. The trials involved a total of 2,563 subjects.

    Of the 37 clinical trials that have been recently conducted, eleven assessed the drug’s impact on chronic neuropathic pain – a difficult to treat type of pain resulting from nerve damage. Other studies assessed the efficacy of cannabinoids to treat multiple sclerosis-associated spasticity (nine separate studies); HIV/AIDS (four); experimental pain (four); intestinal dysfunction (two); nausea/vomiting/appetite (two); schizophrenia (two); glaucoma (one); and ‘other indications (two).

    Authors concluded, “Based on the clinical results, cannabinoids present an interesting therapeutic potential mainly as analgesics in chronic neuropathic pain, appetite stimulants in debilitating diseases (cancer and AIDS), as well as in the treatment of multiple sclerosis.”

    Last Wednesday investigators from the California Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research released the results of a series of double-blind, placebo-controlled trials that determined that cannabinoids could be “a first-line treatment” for patients suffering from neuropathy.

    Commenting on the review, NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said: “The safety and efficacy of marijuana as a medicine has now been established by the ‘gold standard’ of clinical study. Further, over 2,500 patients have used cannabinoids in controlled clinical trials over the past five years alone. This is a far greater total than the number of subjects that would likely be administered any other new drug pending United States FDA approval, and is a large enough population to once and for all establish marijuana’s objective value as a medicine.”