Politics & Social Justice Archive


Rhode Island: Lawmakers Moving Forward With Marijuana Decriminalization Measures

Saturday, June 9th, 2012

On Tuesday, separate legislative committees in the Rhode Island House and Senate approved measures to significantly reduce the state’s criminal marijuana possession penalties.

House Bill 7092 and its companion legislation, Senate Bill 2253, amend state law so that the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana by an individual 18 or older is reduced from a criminal misdemeanor (punishable by one year in jail and a $500 maximum fine) to a non-arrestable civil offense, punishable by a $150 fine, no jail time, and no criminal record. You can read NORML’s testimony in favor of the measures here.

According to a recent statewide poll, commissioned by the Marijuana Policy Project, 65 percent of Rhode Island’s residents are in favor of decriminalization. In recent years, neighboring Connecticut (in 2011) and Massachusetts (in 2009, via a voter-approved initiative) have enacted similar decriminalization laws.

Rhode Island lawmakers have a long history of supporting medical marijuana law reform legislation. However, yesterday’s vote marks one of the first times in recent memory that lawmakers have taken action to amend the state’s marijuana penalties for non-patients.

The decriminalization measures now await floor votes in their respective chambers. These votes could come as early as this week. Therefore, if you reside in the Ocean State, it is vital that your elected officials hear from you. You can contact your state elected officials directly via NORML’s ‘Take Action Center’ here.

Similar decriminalization legislation is also pending in New Jersey, where the full Assembly is expected to vote on the measure imminently. Further information on this effort is available here.

Presently, in eight states — California, Colorado, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New York, and Oregon — the private, non-medical possession of marijuana by an adult is defined under the law as a civil, non-criminal offense.

Five additional states — Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, North Carolina, and Ohio — treat marijuana possession offenses as a fine-only misdemeanor offense. Alaska law imposes no criminal or civil penalty for the private possession of small amounts of marijuana by adults.

In all other states, marijuana possession for personal use remains a criminal offense — punishable by an arrest, potential incarceration, and a criminal record.

Paul Armentano is co-author of the book
Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink

Yet Another Way Drug Testing Fails: Baby Products Linked To False Positive Drug Test Results In Newborns

Thursday, May 24th, 2012

Commercially available baby soaps and other wash products that are commonly used with newborns may yield false positive results for THC in immunoassay drug screens, according to a just published study in the journal Clinical Biochemistry.

Investigators at the University of North Carolina, Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, assessed the impact of various baby wash products on drug-free urine samples after a number of false positive cannabinoid screening results were suspected at their hospital.

Researchers reported: “Mixtures of drug-free urine with various commercial products and materials that commonly contact newborns in our nursery were prepared and tested using the immunoassay screening methods in our laboratory. … Addition of Head-to-Toe Baby Wash to drug-free urine produced a dose dependent measureable response in the THC immunoassay. Addition of other commercially available baby soaps gave similar results, and subsequent testing identified specific chemical surfactants that reacted with the THC immunoassay.”

They concluded: “We have identified commonly used soap and wash products used for newborn and infant care as potential causes of false positive THC screening results. Such results in this population can lead to involvement by social services or false child abuse allegations. Given these consequences, it is important for laboratories and providers to be aware of this potential source for false positive screening results and to consider confirmation before initiating interventions.”

Read the abstract of the study, “Unexpected interference of baby wash products with a cannabinoid (THC) immunoassay,” here.

Paul Armentano is co-author of the book
Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink

Time: What Is President Obama’s Problem With Medical Marijuana?

Tuesday, May 8th, 2012

Michael Sherer at Time Magazine has posted online today a particularly astute examination of the Obama administration’s flip-flop on marijuana policy. Below are some key excerpts. Michael’s full article appears in the newsstand edition of Time.

What Is President Obama’s Problem With Medical Marijuana?
via Time.com

[T]he Obama Administration is cracking down on medical marijuana dispensaries and growers just as harshly as the Administration of George W. Bush did. In 2011, the Department of Justice revised its guidance to U.S. Attorneys, allowing them to target any medical marijuana activity except for ill patients and their immediate caregivers. The Drug Enforcement Administration has made it clear that “medical marijuana is not medicine,” and even called it a “mortal danger.” … In many states, U.S. Attorneys have advised state and local officials to back away from plans to create rules and regulations that would codify the medical pot industry, in some cases raising the possibility that lawmakers could be prosecuted for promoting drug use that is legal under state law.

… Over the last few weeks, I have talked with nearly a dozen people in the medical marijuana business, three U.S. Attorneys, White House officials and local officials who oppose the federal crackdown for a story that will appear in this week’s newsstand issue of TIME. The answer on the ground is, predictably, far more complicated than either medical marijuana advocates or the Obama Administration is willing to describe. And it all comes down to this: Despite Obama’s promises during the 2008 campaign, federal prosecutors have lost faith in the ability of state and local officials to control a booming commercial industry for a drug that is still illegal to grow, possess or sell under federal law. As a result, a once broad exemption from prosecution for medical marijuana providers in state where it’s legal has been narrowed to a tiny one. … [T]he nation is left with an uneasy status quo: The federal government is not trying to eliminate medical marijuana altogether, but it has decided that it cannot stand for the commercialization or large scale production of marijuana for the stated purpose of helping the sick, even when that production is technically within the bounds of state law.

…[I]n a different world, the federal government might work with state and local officials to more tightly regulate the growing of marijuana for medical purposes. But since pot is illegal under all circumstances under federal law, the opposite has been happening. Attempts, particularly in California, to more tightly regulate and thereby provide greater legal protection for the drug, have been shut down by the federal government.

And so, medical marijuana is left in a no man’s land. Individual sick users are safe from prosecution, but they are likely to find it harder in the coming months to get the drug. Growers and dispensers are not protected by state law from federal prosecution, especially if they become large enough to get noticed by federal investigators. And the likely result is that more of the medical marijuana industry will be pushed underground in the coming years, making it more difficult for local officials to track the business. This arguably will only increase some criminal activity, as large amounts of money and a very profitable commodity move through the system by way of small-time dealers working without sophisticated security systems.

…“What this really screams for a cohesive national policy.”

But there is no such policy on the horizon. Obama has shown little interest in elevating the issue. Some in federal law enforcement–and at the Office of National Drug Control Policy–hope that the advent of new pharmaceutical replacements for grown medical marijuana, like the Canadian drug Sativex, [Editor's note: Sativex is a British drug, not a Canadian manufactured product -- though it is legal by prescription in Canada.] will make the entire issue moot in the coming decade. But that looks unlikely in the short term, given the lack of concern among the general public with medical marijuana. A 2010 poll by the Pew Center for the People and the Press found that 73% say they favor “their state allowing the sale and use of marijuana for medical purposes if it is prescribed by a doctor.”

In other words, don’t hold your breath for clarity anytime soon. The haze is here to stay.

Originally published here.

Paul Armentano is co-author of the book
Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink

JAMA: Long-Term Exposure To Cannabis Smoke Is Not Associated With Adverse Effects On Pulmonary Function

Wednesday, April 4th, 2012

Exposure to cannabis smoke, even over the long-term, is not associated with adverse effects on pulmonary function. That’s the conclusion of a major clinical trial published today in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

Investigators at the University of California, San Francisco analyzed the association between marijuana exposure and pulmonary function over a 20 year period in a cohort of 5,115 men and women in four US cities.

Predictably, researchers “confirmed the expected reductions in FEV1 (forced expiratory volume in the first second of expiration) and FVC (forced vital capacity)” in tobacco smokers. By contrast, “Marijuana use was associated with higher FEV1 and FVC at the low levels of exposure typical for most marijuana users. With up to 7 joint-years of lifetime exposure (eg, 1 joint/d for 7 years or 1 joint/wk for 49 years), we found no evidence that increasing exposure to marijuana adversely affects pulmonary function.”

The study concludes, “Our findings suggest that occasional use of marijuana … may not be associated with adverse consequences on pulmonary function.”

To those familiar with the science of cannabis, JAMA’s findings should come as no great surprise. They are consistent with previous findings reporting no significant decrease in pulmonary function associated with moderate cannabis smoke exposure. For instance, according to a 2007 literature review conducted by researchers at the Yale University School of Medicine and published in the Archives of Internal Medicine (and summarized by NORML here), cannabis smoke exposure is not associated airflow obstruction (emphysema), as measured by airway hyperreactivity, forced expiratory volume, or other measures.

Further, in 2006, the results of the largest case-controlled study ever to investigate the respiratory effects of marijuana smoking reported that cannabis use was not associated with lung-related cancers, even among subjects who reported smoking more than 22,000 joints over their lifetime. (Read NORML’s summary of this study here.)

“We hypothesized that there would be a positive association between marijuana use and lung cancer, and that the association would be more positive with heavier use,” the study’s lead researcher, Dr. Donald Tashkin of the University of California at Los Angeles stated. “What we found instead was no association at all, and even a suggestion of some protective effect” among marijuana smokers who had lower incidences of cancer compared to non-users.

A previous 1997 retrospective cohort study consisting of 64,855 examinees in the Kaiser Permanente multiphasic health checkup in San Francisco and Oakland also reported, “[E]ver- and current use of marijuana were not associated with increased risk of cancer … of the following sites: colorectal, lung, melanoma, prostate, breast, cervix.”

Separate studies of cannabis smoke and pulmonary function have indicated that chronic exposure may be associated with an increased risk of certain respiratory complications, including cough, bronchitis, phlegm. However, the ingestion of cannabis via alternative methods such as edibles, liquid tinctures, or via vaporization — a process whereby the plant’s cannabinoids are heated to the point of vaporization but below the point of combustion –- virtually eliminates consumers’ exposure to such unwanted risk factors and has been determined to be a ‘safe and effective’ method of ingestion in clinical trial settings.

Wider Use Of Cannabis Therapy Could Reduce Prescription Pain Drug Deaths

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

Physicians who prescribe opioid drugs to patients with neuropathy (nerve pain) ought to consider recommending cannabis as an alternative therapy, according to a peer-reviewed paper published online this week in the Harm Reduction Journal.

“There is sufficient evidence of safety and efficacy for the use of (cannabis/cannabinoids) in the treatment of nerve pain relative to opioids,” the commentary states. “In states where medicinal cannabis is legal, physicians who treat neuropathic pain with opioids should evaluate their patients for a trial of cannabis and prescribe it when appropriate prior to using opioids. … Prescribing cannabis in place of opioids for neuropathic pain may reduce the morbidity and mortality rates associated with prescription pain medications and may be an effective harm reduction strategy.”

The author notes that between the years 1999 and 2006, “approximately 65,000 people died from opioid analgesic overdose.” By contrast, he writes “[N]o one has ever died from an overdose of cannabis.”

In clinical trials, inhaled cannabis has been consistently shown to reduce neuropathic pain of diverse causes in subjects unresponsive to standard pain therapies.

In November, clinical investigators at the University of California, San Francisco reported that vaporized cannabis augments the analgesic effects of opiates in subjects prescribed morphine or oxycodone. Authors of the study surmised that cannabis-specific interventions “may allow for opioid treatment at lower doses with fewer [patient] side effects.”

Neuropathy affects between five percent and 10 percent of the US population. The condition is often unresponsive to conventional analgesic medications such as opiates and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.

Full text of the paper, “Prescribing cannabis for harm reduction” is available online here.

Paul Armentano is co-author of the book
Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink

New York City: Police Commissioner Calls On Officers To Curb Marijuana Arrests

Thursday, October 13th, 2011

New York City police officers are to cease making misdemeanor marijuana arrests in cases where the contraband was not displayed in public view, according to an internal order issued late last week by Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and reported by the New York Post.

Although simple marijuana possession is a noncriminal violation in New York State, if the marijuana is ‘open to public view’ police can charge a suspect with a criminal misdemeanor.

In 2010, city police made 50,383 lowest level marijuana possession arrests [NY State Penal Law 221.10] involving cases where marijuana was either used or possessed in public. The total was the second highest in the city’s history and was an increase of over 5,000 percent from 1990, when police reported fewer than 1,000 low-level pot arrests. Over 85 percent of those charged typically are either African American or Latino.

However, an investigation in April by New York City public radio station WNYC questioned the legality of many of those arrested. It concluded that police routinely conduct warrantless ‘stop-and-frisk’ searches of civilians, find marijuana hidden on their persons, and then falsely charge them with possessing pot ‘open to public view.’

The Commissioner’s new order stipulates that marijuana discovered during a police search is a violation punishable by a ticket only. The memo states that if the contraband ‘was disclosed to public view at an officer’s direction’ then it is not sufficient evidence that a suspect is in violation of state Penal Law 221.10.

Queens College sociologist Harry Levine, who has documented the racial disparity in arrest rates in New York City and elsewhere, stated: “[I’m] pleased that the NYPD agrees that these marijuana arrests have not been proper and will begin to curtail them. We are always encouraged when the police decide to obey the law.” He added: “New York City’s routine policing practices, especially for drug possession, require major reform. This is only the first step.”

Bipartisan legislation that seeks to reduce penalties for those in violation of Penal Law 221.10 to a non-criminal violation remains pending in the state assembly.

An online analysis of marijuana arrest in New York and other major cities nationwide is now available online by the Marijuana Arrests Research Project at: http://www.marijuana-arrests.com.

Paul Armentano is co-author of the book
Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink

Latest Studies Imply That Cannabinoids are Protective Against Alcohol Induced Brain Damage

Thursday, September 15th, 2011

The administration of the synthetic cannabinoid agonist HU-211 decreases nerve cell death in an in vitro model of ethanol withdrawal, according to data published online in the journal of the Public Library of Science (PLoS ONE).

An international team of researchers from France and Spain assessed the anti-excitotoxic effects of the synthetic cannabinoid HU-211 in culture. Researchers demonstrated that cannabinoid administration protected neurons from cell death in an experimental model of ethanol withdrawal. By contrast, the administration of a cannabinoid antagonist (rimonabant) during ethanol withdrawal greatly increased cell death.

“[T]hese observations show, for the first time, that the stimulation of the endocannabinoid system could be protective against the hyper-excitability developed during alcohol withdrawal,” investigators concluded. “By contrast, the blockade of the endocannabinoid system seems to be counterproductive during alcohol withdrawal.”

In humans, the abrupt cessation of alcohol in dependent subjects may be associated with tremor, delirium, brain damage, and death.

Separate pre-clinical studies have previously documented that administration of the non-psychotropic organic cannabinoid cannabidiol (CBD) in animals is neuroprotective against cerebral infarction and ethanol-induced neurotoxicity (alcohol poisoning).

In 2009 and 2010, a pair of studies conducted by investigators at the University of California at San Diego reported that the consumption of cannabis may offset certain alcohol-induced brain abnormalities, including the loss of white matter integrity and impaired memory, in human subjects with a history of both alcohol and marijuana use.

Full text of the study appears online in PLoS ONE here.

Paul Armentano is co-author of the book
Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink

Student Drug Testing Fails To Reduce Teens’ Self-Reported Substance Use

Thursday, August 25th, 2011

Students subjected to student drug testing programs in school are no less likely to report consuming illicit drugs, tobacco, or alcohol than their peers, according to survey data published online in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence.

An international team of researchers from the United States, Israel, and Australia assessed the impact of school drug testing programs on a nationally representative sample of 943 high school students.

Investigators reported that the imposition of such programs had no positive impact on males’ self-reported drug use. Student drug screening programs were associated with minor reductions in females’ self-reported drug history, but only among women who attended schools with ‘positive’ environments. By contrast, investigators found that the enactment of drug testing programs in ‘negative’ school environments were most likely to be associated with “harmful effects on female youth.”

Authors reported, “[C]onsistent with previous research, students in schools that conduct drug testing do not report less substance use. … In total, the results indicate that, to the extent drug testing is effective, it is primarily for female students in schools with positive climates.”

They concluded: “The current research expands on previous findings indicating that school drug testing does not in and of itself deter substance use. Indeed, drug testing appears to be particularly ineffective for female students in negative climate schools, which tend to have higher substance use rates and thus are in most need of effective substance prevention programs. Interventions that improve school climate may have much greater efficacy. Thus, our findings indicate that drug testing should not be undertaken as a stand-alone substance prevention effort and that improvements in school climate should be considered before implementing drug testing.”

Previous studies assessing the impact of student drug screening programs, including a 2010 study by US Department of Education, have similarly failed to report that drug testing deterred student drug use.

More than one-fifth of US high schools impose some form of student drug testing, according to data compiled by the US Centers for Disease Control.

NORML’s fact-sheet, ‘Just Say No to Random Student Drug Testing,’ is available here.

Let states enact their own marijuana policies

Monday, July 11th, 2011

Editor’s note: Paul Armentano is the deputy director of NORML , the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, and is the co-author of the book “Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink?” (2009, Chelsea Green).

(CNN) — It is hardly surprising that former drug czar William Bennett would, in his CNN.com op-ed, oppose any changes to America’s criminalization of marijuana. But it is surprising that he would lump Barney Frank and Ron Paul’s proposal to allow states the opportunity to enact their own marijuana policy with the effort to legalize drugs.

Let’s be clear: HR 2306, the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2011, proposed by Reps. Barney Frank and Ron Paul, does not “legalize drugs” or even so much as legalize marijuana. Rather, this legislation removes the power to prosecute minor marijuana offenders  from the federal government and relinquishes this authority to state and local jurisdictions. In other words, HR 2306 is just the sort of rebuke to the “nanny state” that conservatives like Bennett otherwise support. Barney Frank and Ron Paul: Get feds out of pot regulation

The House bill mimics changes enacted by Congress to repeal the federal prohibition of alcohol. Passage of this measure would remove the existing conflict between federal law and the laws of those 16 states that already allow for the limited use of marijuana under a physician’s supervision.

It would also permit states that wish to fully legalize (for adults) and regulate the responsible use, possession, production and intrastate distribution of marijuana to be free to do so without federal interference. In recent years, several states, including California and Massachusetts, have considered taking such actions either legislatively or by ballot initiative. It is likely that several additional states will be considering this option in 2012, including Colorado and Washington. The residents and lawmakers of these states should be free to explore these alternate policies, including medicalization, decriminalization and legalization, without running afoul of the federal law or the whims of the Department of Justice.

Of course, just as many states continued to criminalize the sale and consumption of alcohol after the federal government’s lifting of alcohol prohibition, many states, if not most, might continue to maintain criminal sanctions on the use of marijuana.

But there is no justification for the federal government to compel them to do so. Just as state and local governments are free to enact their own policies about the sale and use of alcohol — a mind-altering, potentially toxic substance that harms the user more than marijuana — they should be free to adopt marijuana policies that best reflect the wishes and mores of their citizens. Does Bill Bennett believe that state and local governments cannot be trusted with making such decisions on their own?

Speaking during an online town hall in January, President Obama acknowledged the subject of legalizing and regulating marijuana was a “legitimate topic for debate,” even as he expressed his opposition. Yet Texas Rep. Lamar Smith, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, recently boasted that he would not even consider scheduling HR 2306 for a public hearing.

There might be another reason people like Smith and Bennett will go to such lengths to try to stifle public discussion of the matter. To do so would be to shine light on the fact that the federal criminalization of marijuana has failed to reduce the public’s demand for cannabis, and it has imposed enormous fiscal and human costs upon the American people.

Further, this policy promotes disrespect for the law and reinforces ethnic and generational divides between the public and law enforcement. Annual data published in the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report, and compiled by NORML, finds that police have made more than 20 million arrests for marijuana violations since 1970, nearly 90% of them for marijuana possession offenses only.

It is time to stop ceding control of the marijuana market to unregulated, criminal entrepreneurs and allow states the authority to enact common sense regulations that seek to govern the adult use of marijuana in a fashion similar to alcohol.

In Bennett’s own words, “We have an illegal drug abuse epidemic in this country.” How is such a conclusion anything but a scathing indictment of the present policy? After 70 years of failure it is time for an alternative approach. The “Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2011″ is an ideal first step.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Paul Armentano.

Read the original article here.

Paul Armentano is co-author of the book
Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink

Ron Paul Backs Industrial Hemp Farming Bill

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011

Texas Republican Ron Paul and a coalition of 25 co-sponsors are once again seeking to allow for the commercial farming of industrial hemp.

House Bill 1831, The Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2011, would exclude low potency varieties of marijuana from federal prohibition. If approved, this measure will grant state legislatures the authority to license and regulate the commercial production of hemp as an industrial and agricultural commodity.

Several states — including North Dakota, Montana, and Vermont– have enacted regulations to allow for the cultivation of hemp under state law. However, none of these laws can be implemented without federal approval. Passage of HR 1831 would remove existing federal barriers and allow states that wish to regulate commercial hemp production the authority to do so.

“We are pleased to see the re-introduction of the Industrial Hemp Farming Act in Congress. Vote Hemp is currently working with a Democratic Senator who is preparing to introduce companion legislation in the Senate in support of industrial hemp farming,” says Vote Hemp President, Eric Steenstra. “It is due time for the Senate as well as President Obama and the Attorney General to prioritize the crop’s benefits to farmers and to take action like Rep. Paul and the cosponsors of H.R. 1831 have done. With the U.S. hemp industry valued at over $400 million in annual retail sales and growing, a change in federal policy to allow hemp farming would mean instant job creation, among many other economic and environmental benefits,” adds Steenstra.

According to a 2005 Congressional Resource Service report, the United States is the only developed nation that fails to cultivate industrial hemp as an economic crop. As a result, U.S. companies that specialize in hempen goods — such as Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, Patagonia, Nature’s Path, and Nutiva — have no choice but to import hemp material. These added production costs are then passed on to the consumer who must pay artificially high retail prices for hemp products.

Previous versions of The Industrial Hemp Farming Act were introduced, but failed to receive a public hearing or a committee vote. Please write your members of Congress today and tell them to end the federal prohibition of industrial hemp production. For your convenience, a prewritten letter will be e-mailed to your member of Congress when you enter your contact information below.

For more information about industrial hemp, please visit:http://www.votehemp.org.

Thank you for assisting NORML’s federal law reform efforts.

Read the original post on Opposing Views

Paul Armentano is co-author of the book
Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink