How Bad Is Marijuana for Your Health?

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The Journal of Neuroscience recently published a study linking recreational marijuana use to subtle changes in brain structure. The researchers, led by Jodi Gilman of Massachusetts General Hospital, identified increased gray matter density in the left nucleus accumbens and some bordering areas. The study was fine, but the media coverage was abysmal. Reporters overstated the findings, mischaracterized the study, and failed to mention previous research done on pot smoking and health. Goldfish may not have a three-second memory, but some journalists seem to. When a new paper comes out, it’s often treated as the first ever and final word on the topic. There is a significant body of literature on the neurological and wider health effects of marijuana, and to ignore it when covering new studies seems to me a form of journalistic malpractice.

A press release from the Society for Neuroscience trumpeted the Gilman study’s importance because it looked at casual users rather than regular pot smokers, who form the basis of most marijuana studies. That claim is dubious in the extreme. The subjects averaged 3.83 days of smoking and 11.2 total joints per week. Characterizing these people as casual pot smokers was a great media hook, but it defied common sense. Occasional users wondered if they’d done permanent damage, and parents were concerned that their teenagers might face profound neurological changes from experimenting with pot. Any reporter who read the study, however, should have known not to take that bait.

Even by the standards of past medical studies, it’s a stretch to call these subjects casual pot smokers. Just two years ago, for example, Janna Cousijn and colleagues published a study on a group that she called “heavy” marijuana users. In the average week, they smoked 3 grams of cannabis—approximately 2 grams less than Gilman’s casual smokers. (A joint has about 0.5 grams of cannabis.) The justification for calling Gilman’s subjects casual smokers is that they didn’t meet the criteria for dependence, but when you count up the joints, the study doesn’t look so revolutionary.

Many stories also claimed that the Gilman study showed direct causation between pot smoking and brain abnormalities. That’s wrong. The study looked at differences between pot smokers and abstainers at a single moment. Only a longitudinal study, examining brain changes over time, could have suggested causation. As a letter writer to the Journal of Neuroscience noted, it’s possible that pre-existing brain differences cause some people to seek out marijuana. Gilman’s pot smokers also drank more and smoked more cigarettes than the control group, which supports this interpretation and also raises the possibility that other factors led to brain structure differences.

The biggest problem with the coverage of the marijuana study was that it failed to put the new research into context. Valentina Lorenzetti of the University of Melbourne recently published a widely cited review paper synthesizing dozens of studies on marijuana and the brain. Taking the literature as a whole, there is evidence suggesting that marijuana use causes structural changes in three parts of the brain: the frontal lobes, temporal lobes, and the cerebellum. The data also reinforces the idea that long-term, heavy smokers experience greater changes than casual users. The studies, however, have serious flaws. They are typically small and have been unable to show that the structural changes cause cognitive impairment. Gilman’s study of 20 smokers is a good contribution to the literature, but it doesn’t resolve those problems.

If you are considering smoking pot—or quitting—here is what you need to know.

Smoking marijuana once is very unlikely to harm you. It takes at least 15 grams of cannabis to kill a person, and probably much more than that. A healthy person would have to smoke dozens of joints in a single session to risk death from overdose. People who do die from the acute effects of marijuana die in accidents: A recent study suggested that more than 10 percent of drivers killed in car accidents test positive for cannabis.*

The more likely risk from trying marijuana is dependence. There is a debate over whether marijuana is addictive, but you needn’t bother with it—it’s mainly about semantics. The fact is, approximately 9 percent of people who start smoking pot become dependent by ordinary medical standards. That’s low compared with dependence rates for other drugs: More than 15 percent of people who drink become alcoholics, and 32 percent of people who try cigarettes get hooked. Still, you should think seriously about a 1-in-11 chance of addiction, especially if you have a personal or family history of substance abuse.

What sorts of health risks are these regular cannabis users taking? It’s extremely challenging to study the long-term health effects of marijuana in humans. You can’t legally ask 1,000 people to smoke three joints a week for 40 years just to see what happens, so researchers can only compare health data from people who admit to smoking pot with data from people who don’t admit to it. Retrospective correlational studies like these raise all kinds of problems, such as matching the groups for confounding variables. (Do they smoke cigarettes? Do they have a family history of cancer? What do they eat? Do they exercise?) Even if you assume that everyone is telling the truth, there are also bound to be wide variations in how much pot the subjects used. Most studies suggest that any potential health risks of cannabis are dose-dependent—people who smoke only a little face very few health risks, while people who smoke a lot are more likely to get sick—but this is still largely a matter of conjecture.

With that caveat out of the way, here are some findings. Studies consistently show that frequent marijuana smoking is associated with some forms of respiratory dysfunction. Smokers report problems with coughing, wheezing, and phlegm. Lung cancer is a murkier issue. Cannabis smoke contains higher concentrations of some carcinogens than cigarette smoke does. Some large studies show increased prevalence of respiratory tract cancers in cannabis users, while others find no correlation.

With the legalization of recreational marijuana in some states, many people have asked whether they can minimize cancer risk by ingesting rather than smoking cannabis. It’s a reasonable suggestion. At this point, however, the question is unanswerable. There simply aren’t enough people with a long history of eating marijuana, but not smoking it, to put together a study. Ingestion may be risky, because it seems easier to overindulge in food products than in smoking. Colorado is currently reviewing its regulations after accidental deaths involving ingested cannabis. Keeping cannabis brownies is especially risky if you ever have children in your home. A study released last year suggested that an increasing number of children in Colorado are accidentally eating marijuana-laced food products.

The cognitive effects of chronic marijuana use are uncertain. If you’re an adult who smokes occasionally, there appears to be little or no reason to believe your mental performance will suffer. Several studies also show that those who experience impairments may recover if they stop smoking. Heavy, long-term smokers may experience memory and attention loss. There is also some indication that heavy marijuana users are more likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia, but it’s not clear which is the cause and which the effect, if indeed there is such a relationship; it may be the case that people with schizophrenia are self-medicating with marijuana.

As with alcohol and tobacco, it’s fairly clear that minors should not use marijuana. Many studies show that kids who smoke pot do poorly in school, and some studies suggest that they commit suicide at higher rates. Although the causal relationship isn’t clear, the risks are too great.

You probably have plenty of other questions. For example, is marijuana less bad for you than alcohol or tobacco? The comparison is basically impossible to make. Mountains of data link cigarette smoking to a staggering collection of adverse events. It’s difficult to know whether the same goes for marijuana, because fewer people smoke it, and those who do typically smoke less pot than cigarette smokers do tobacco. Comparing alcohol with marijuana—aside from differences in acute toxicity and driving competence—is also impractical.

Seriously, though, if you’re trying to decide among smoking pot, taking up cigarettes, and drinking alcohol based on health risks, I suggest finding a different hobby.

*Correction, May 1, 2014: Due to an editing error, this piece misstated that almost 25 percent of drivers killed in car accidents test positive for cannabis. Almost 25 percent test positive for non-alcohol drugs; of those, about 12 percent test positive for cannabis.

Brian Palmer is Slate’s chief explainer. He also writes How and Why and Ecologic for the Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter.

Source: Slate Magazine (US Web)
Author: Brian Palmer
Published: May 1, 2014
Copyright: 2014 The Slate Group, LLC.
Contact: [email protected]

CNN’s Gupta To Drop Another MMJ Bombshell Tonight?

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He rocked the medical-marijuana world last year and drew attention from Congress when he apologized for giving short shrift to medical marijuana. At 10 p.m. Tuesday, CNN medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta will be at it again, airing “Weed 2,” his second, hour-long special on the health benefits of cannabis.

Michigan’s medical-pot advocates say it could be a second bombshell in the national debate on pot. “We think it’ll be another big deal across our country, and hopefully even in other parts of the world where they are thinking about changing their laws,” said Heidi Parikh of Romulus, founder of the Michigan Compassion education groups that meet in Royal Oak and Southgate.

Gupta, who grew up in Novi and graduated from the University of Michigan School of Medicine, will narrate the show, which will include sick youngsters and their parents struggling to obtain cannabis against legal barriers placed by state and federal authorities.

“If you want to understand the science, this is something you’ll want to watch,” Gupta told the Free Press on Monday. “The drug continues to be unfairly rejected by most of the American medical establishment and by government drug regulators,” he said.

“My sense as a doctor is that people have an option now, something that actually was an option up until the 1940s (when the federal government made marijuana illegal).

“There’s a lot of evidence now that this not only works for many ailments but it often works where nothing else has,” he said. The show will discuss how cannabis can ease symptoms of epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, arthritis, cancer and other diseases.

As a father as well as a brain surgeon and medical professor, Gupta said he remains opposed to exposing young people to marijuana. And he hedged when asked about legalization for recreational use, calling that an issue for a future show. But he said medical cannabis clearly has a key role to play in seizure disorders, the safe alleviation of pain and numerous other health applications.

Last week, the Medical Marijuana New Conditions Review Board in Lansing approved one new use for medical marijuana, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), while denying applications that it be allowed for insomnia and bipolar disorder.

“If you look at the science, you don’t see the longer-term side effects (in adults who use marijuana) that you see in someone whose brain is still developing,” Gupta said. He said brain development is still incomplete in most young adults all the way to age 25, so marijuana and alcohol use should be strictly limited before then.

“Traditionally, we consider 21 to be the age of adulthood. But research clearly shows that our brains are still developing at 21,” he said.

Gupta said he’d reviewed reams of medical studies in preparation for the show, delving into the regulatory hurdles of getting medical marijuana accepted over the vested interests of giant drug companies, the medical colleges that teach doctors how to prescribe it, and the government regulators who are wedded to caution and the war on drugs.

Many illnesses don’t respond well to existing, FDA-approved drugs, he said.

“The American Epilepsy Foundation says there’s about a million patients out there who aren’t getting relief from their seizures,” Gupta said.

The show tells the story of many patients who had to move to Colorado to get the medical pot they need. Voters in Colorado, along with those in Washington state, voted to fully legalize marijuana last year.

“We’re all very excited” about Gupta’s second show, said Robin Schneider, legislative chairwoman for the Detroit-based National Patients Rights Association, an advocacy group for medical-marijuana laws.

“We thought his first show raised a lot of awareness about medical marijuana, particularly for children,” Schneider said. The timing is good because two bills that relate directly to Gupta’s program are getting fresh attention in Lansing this week, she said.

At a hearing scheduled for today, lawmakers will receive the first testimony on House Bill 4271, which would let each community in Michigan decide for itself whether to allow dispensaries where state-approved patients could buy tested medical pot, she said.

At the same hearing, lawmakers will discuss House Bill 5104, which would allow non-smokable forms of marijuana in Michigan, which are essential to treating children, Schneider said.

Source: Detroit Free Press (MI)
Author: Bill Laitner, Detroit Free Press Staff Writer
Published: March 10, 2014
Copyright: 2014 Detroit Free Press
Contact: [email protected]

Med Marijuana Advocates Meet Florida Ballot Goal

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A petition campaign to legalize medical marijuana in Florida has gathered enough signatures to put the issue on November’s general election ballot. Just after noon Friday, county elections officials had validated 710,508 signatures — enough to force a vote on a proposed constitutional amendment to allow growth, sale and possession of marijuana for medical uses.

The Florida Supreme Court could still reject the ballot language — and any vote along with it — but organizers expressed jubilation Friday that an expensive, last minute push at least fulfilled the signature requirements for citizen initiated amendments.

“I’ve spent $4 million, hired the best legal minds in the state of Florida, rallied my army of angels and collected more than 1.1 million signatures in five or six months,” said Orlando trial attorney John Morgan, who took over a small, grass roots petition campaign last year and gave it the clout to get on the ballot.

By law, constitutional amendment campaigns for 2014 require signatures from 683,149 registered voters. Morgan’s group, United for Care, added more than 50,000 signatures Friday to exceed that mark.

Morgan, who has paid about three-quarters of United for Care’s expenses, said the petition drive cost twice as much as he planned, largely because signatures lagged by December and the campaign had to gear up.

By paying professional collectors as much as $4 a signature, United for Care began dumping hundreds of thousands of petitions on beleaguered county elections officials. At the 1.1 million mark, the campaign shut down two weeks ago, then waited to see how many signatures actually came from registered voters.

The rejection rate ran about 30 per cent — typical for large petition campaigns. Still, the Florida Division of Elections reported 50,000 new signature validations on Friday, putting the total over the top.

The campaign also met its other requirement: hitting signature targets in at least 14 of Florida’s 27 congressional districts.

The Tampa Bay area proved to be fertile ground: 165,042 valid signatures came from Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco and Hernando counties, nearly one-fourth of the statewide total.

Save Our Society from Drugs, a St. Petersburg advocacy group, down played the significance of Friday’s signature count.

“This really doesn’t change anything,” said Executive Director Calvina Fay. “We are still waiting to hear from the Supreme Court about the ballot language. We believe the language is misleading and are hopeful that the justices will rule soon.

“This also doesn’t change the fact that the initiative is riddled with loopholes that would create de facto legalization in our state. We believe that if this gets to the ballot, Floridians will vote wisely and reject it.”

Twenty states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana. Constitutional amendment proposals in Florida require 60 percent of votes cast to pass, but polls show widespread support for medical marijuana.

The measure also could affect the governor’s race. Republican Gov. Rick Scott opposes medical marijuana while former Republican governor Charlie Crist — the presumptive Democratic candidate who works at Morgan’s firm — favors it.

In the Legislature, Republican majority leadership has so far squelched attempts to legalize medical marijuana by statute.

That could change this year with a bill to legalize Charlotte’s Web, a cannabis strain that seems to help children with seizure disorders without getting them high. The idea has garnered some Republican support, but some fear opening the door to wider use.

The Florida Supreme Court has until April 1 to decide if United for Care’s ballot language is confusing and illegal. If the court agrees, United for Care’s signatures will be invalid. Any future ballot initiatives would have to start from scratch and could not come to a vote until 2016 at the earliest.

Source: Tampa Bay Times (FL)
Author: Stephen Nohlgren, Times Staff Writer
Published: January 24, 2014
Copyright: 2014 St. Petersburg Times

PTSD Sufferers Qualify for Medical Marijuana

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A new state law allowing veterans and others suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder to be prescribed medical marijuana will help them live a normal life, advocates and veterans say.

Under the law that went into effect Wednesday, PTSD joins cancer, glaucoma, hepatitis C and others on the list of conditions patients must have to qualify for medical marijuana use in Maine.

Hundreds of Maine veterans already use marijuana to treat PTSD, but they weren’t previously able to get it from their doctors, said Paul McCarrier, legislative liaison for the Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine.

“This unties the hands of doctors to allow them to treat their patients,” he said.

Retired Marine Corps Sgt. Ryan Begin is one of those veterans already using the drug. Begin lost 4 inches of his right arm, including his elbow, from an IED explosion during his second tour in Iraq in 2004. He started using medical marijuana to deal with the pain, but it has also helped manage his PTSD, which caused flashbacks and nightmares, he said.

“It balances me,” the 33-year-old Belfast resident said. “Instead of being on a roller coaster … you’re more even keeled. … You don’t get too far up, and you don’t get too far down.”

Maine voters legalized marijuana for medical purposes in 1999 and approved a law creating a statewide network of marijuana dispensaries 10 years later. Twenty states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana use, but only six other states allow its use for PTSD, according to the Marijuana Policy Project, a D.C.-based advocacy group.

Gordon Smith, executive vice president of the Maine Medical Association, said the question of medical marijuana use for PTSD treatment is contentious among the medical community.

“We heard both from doctors who felt that particularly people coming back from Afghanistan might be assisted (by it), and we heard from doctors who thought there was not a sound evidentiary basis for it,” Smith said.

Because the drug is still illegal under federal law, there is a lack of federally funded studies on medical marijuana. That has been a challenge to understanding its impact on various conditions, Smith said.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs changed its policy on medical marijuana in 2011 to ensure veterans using medical marijuana in states where it’s legal aren’t punished, said Michael Krawitz, director of the Virginia-based group Veterans for Cannabis Access. But VA doctors still can’t recommend medical marijuana for treatment or provide documentation to get it.

McCarrier said he suspects the new law will bring many new patients into Maine’s medical marijuana program, which had more than 1,450 patients registered with the state in 2012.

Efforts to expand the program to include more qualifying conditions will likely continue in Maine. The first draft of the proposed law would have allowed doctors to prescribe marijuana for any condition they deemed necessary. But the Maine Medical Association opposed that, saying that expanding the program to virtually every condition could essentially legalize recreational marijuana use.

Begin said the new law will be a huge step forward for veterans struggling with PTSD. That’s because marijuana doesn’t cause the negative side effects that prescription medication can, like feelings of weakness or depression, but instead allows patients to stay medicated while remaining social and productive, he said.

“Just because they have to take medication, they shouldn’t be put on the sidelines of life,” he said.

Source: Associated Press (Wire)
Author: Alanna Durkin, Associated Press
Published: October 12, 2013
Copyright: 2013 The Associated Press

Chris Christie Supports Allowing MMJ for Children

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New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Friday asked for changes in a medical marijuana bill to to ease access to the drug for ill children.

Christie signaled that he would sign the bill if the Legislature changed it to stipulate that edible forms of marijuana would be available only to qualified minors, and that a pediatrician and psychiatrist had to approve a child’s prescription.

“Today, I am making common sense recommendations to this legislation to ensure sick children receive the treatment their parents prefer, while maintaining appropriate safeguards,” Christie said in a statement.

Christie agreed to allow sick children access to forms of pot that can be eaten. The move is supported by parents worried that the dry-leaf and lozenge forms of the drug pose health concerns.

He also supported removing a limit on the number of marijuana strains that state dispensaries can provide. That would give patients, adults and children, a variety of marijuana strains to choose from; advocates say different strains carry different medicinal properties.

Christie’s decision came two days after he was confronted at a campaign stop by an epileptic girl’s father, who says the new bill would make it easier for her get a version of medical marijuana she needs.

“Please don’t let my daughter die,” parent Brian Wilson cried to the governor in a moment caught by television cameras.

Wilson’s 2-year-old daughter, Vivian, suffers a version of epilepsy called Dravet syndrome that can cause life-ending seizures. Wilson contends that a certain type of medical marijuana — one with high levels of a compound called CBD and low levels of THC, the chemical that gets pot users high — could help control her seizures.

Limited by law to providing only three strains, the state’s single currently operating dispensary does not offer the high-CBD marijuana that Wilson believes would help.

Christie, who is believed to be a contender in the 2016 presidential election, shot back at Wilson during their Wednesday encounter that “these are complicated issues.” Christie had been criticized by medical marijuana advocates for failing to act on the bill for nearly two months. He has raised concerns that adults could exploit a bill intended to help children.

“I know you think it’s simple and it’s not,” he told Wilson.

Wilson and his wife, Meghan, of Scotch Plains, faulted Christie in a statement Friday for deciding “to make it so difficult for parents, who are already enduring tremendous pain and heartache, to get approval for such a safe and simple medication.”

New Jersey Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, a Democrat, echoed Wilson’s disappointment in Christie for the “extra burdens” his version of the bill would place on parents. But he said he was “pleased to see the governor open to allowing this program to move forward.”

New Jersey is one of 20 states that allow medical marijuana, but has among the most stringent restrictions, especially for young patients.

Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Author: Benjamin Mueller
Published: August 17, 2013
Copyright: 2013 Los Angeles Times
Contact: [email protected]

Fla. Medical Marijuana Petition Pushes For 2014

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Michael Derigo arrived home from a trip to the grocery store June 25 to find half a dozen police cars surrounding his mobile home in Gibsonton. A neighbor had complained about his marijuana plants.

Since he was diagnosed with AIDS in 2004 and started on drugs to suppress it, Derigo, 59, has grown marijuana plants and juiced the leaves to drink. Unlike smoking dried leaves, he said, it doesn’t get him high.

“I’ve been able to keep my weight on where I’ve seen others just shrivel up and die,” he said.

Derigo has pleaded not guilty to possessing and manufacturing marijuana. His lawyer, Michael Minardi of Stuart, who specializes in such cases, plans a medical necessity defense.

“The war on drugs is a war on the American people,” Derigo said. “People sometimes do less time for murder than for marijuana.”

Cases such as his have led to a new petition drive to put a proposal on the 2014 ballot to legalize medical use of marijuana in Florida.

Similar efforts have failed before, but this one is backed by a new level of legal and political muscle — mainly from trial lawyer John Morgan of the Morgan & Morgan firm, a major Democratic political fundraiser. With his help, the United for Care campaign group has crafted a ballot proposal and hired petition gatherers.

Asked how much he’s willing to spend, Morgan, who’s known for seven-figure contributions to charitable and political causes, said simply, “As much as it takes.”

He plans to start running radio ads later this year; newspaper stories on the proposal have already drawn scores of volunteers, he said.

But the proposal could face high-powered opposition, possibly involving Republican political fundraiser, shopping center magnate and former ambassador Mel Sembler of St. Petersburg.

Sembler and his wife, Betty, are the founders of the charitable Drug Free America Foundation and a related public education group, Save Our Society from Drugs, which can act in political causes.

Calvina Fay, executive director of Drug Free America, said discussions are starting on legal and political strategies against the initiative, but she didn’t want to go into details.

Asked whether he’ll be involved, Sembler would say only that if an opposition group “gets organized, I’ll make that decision then.” Betty Sembler couldn’t be reached for comment.

Morgan has a personal interest in the campaign.

His brother Tim, now 55, is a quadriplegic as result of an accident when he was a teenager and uses marijuana to control muscle spasms. Their father, who had esophageal cancer and emphysema, used it for nausea before his death.

His father “was just in agony, nauseated, sick,” Morgan said. “He was one of these guys who said, ‘Don’t smoke, don’t do drugs,’ but Tim said try it. Overnight he was able to sit up and eat meals. He was able to enjoy life. It made his last days more restful and calm.”

Controlling the spasms enables Tim to work for Morgan’s firm, he added.

“This isn’t Cheech and Chong,” Morgan said. “This is people who have ALS, bone cancer where the pain is unrelenting, MS where their body is withering away. It wasn’t party lights and strobe music with my dad and brother. It was just peace and lack of pain.”

Ben Pollara, a veteran South Florida Democratic political strategist prominent in the Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama presidential campaigns and in Alex Sink’s 2010 gubernatorialrun, heads United for Care.

He and Morgan said their proposal is crafted to allow only tightly controlled, medically prescribed uses of marijuana, prohibiting home growing and and without contributing to recreational use — which critics say has happened in other states.

The potential for abuse will be a subject of debate in a referendum campaign, promised Fay. But before that can happen, the organizers face a tight deadline to get the proposal on the ballot. They need petition signatures equal to 8 percent of the 2012 presidential election vote, or 683,149, verified by local elections supervisors by Feb. 1. Allowing for invalid signatures and time for verification, that means getting nearly 1 million by early January, Pollara said.

Paid petition gatherers charge $3 per signature, but volunteers will supply some, Morgan said.

Another hurdle is state Supreme Court approval of the amendment.

Under the state Constitution, amendments proposed by citizen petitions, unlike those proposed by the state Legislature, must deal with a single subject. The court interprets that requirement strictly and has often used it to throw out proposed amendments.

The two-page marijuana amendment, which can be viewed at the, lists medical conditions for which marijuana may be prescribed; exempts it from mandatory insurance coverage; requires that the state Department of Health regulate dispensaries providing marijuana and related products; and sets up a system of state identification cards for prescribed users and their designated caregivers.

Pollara said he hopes to have 10 percent of the necessary signatures — the number required for Supreme Court review — in about a month.

He and Morgan took over a smaller-scale effort launched by a citizen activist, Kim Russell of Orlando, but decided to replace the amendment the group was pushing, ditch 30,000 signatures, and start from scratch.

“When we first met, John said this was not going to be a free-for-all, defacto legalization — it has to be a tightly controlled situation,” Pollara said.

They hired University of Florida law school professor Jon Mills, a former state House speaker whom Morgan called “the best constitutional lawyer in the state,” to rework the amendment with an eye toward Supreme Court approval.

Using money left over from a political committee he ran last year, Pollara commissioned a poll that found support for the measure topped 60 percent, Florida’s threshhold to pass a constitutional amendment.

An organized campaign could cut that level of support, but it would require substantial spending for advertising and voter outreach, said Fred Piccolo, a Republican political strategist.

Fay, with Drug Free America, said there will be a legal challenge to the wording before the Supreme Court and a campaign against the measure if it gets on the ballot.

She called medical marijuana “a scam” intended to lead to legalization for recreational use.

It’s dangerous, she contended, because users, already sick, risk ingesting an unregulated substance subject to contamination whose components and effects haven’t been rigorously studied.

“Just because somebody says it makes them feel good, where do we draw the line? Crack cocaine?” Fay said. “We once had people peddling crude oil as a medicine in this country. Think of Laetrile — it was a disaster,” she said, speaking of the cancer treatment banned as poisonous in most states.

There’s already an FDA-approved drug that includes the most sought after ingredient in marijuana, tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, Fay noted.

But advocates say this drug is a poor substitute, and other ingredients, notably cannabidiol, or CBD, provide some of the most important benefits with no psychoactive effect. Some grow strains rich with CBD but low in THC.

“We get emails from people all the time saying they were prescribed Marinol but couldn’t afford it, or it gets them stoned, whereas one or two puffs of marijuana doesn’t get them stoned and alleviates the symptoms,” Pollara said.

Marijuana user Derigo said his method of juicing the leaves calms nausea that would otherwise prevent him from eating, which would start the “downward spiral” of “AIDS wasting syndrome.” It also eases pain from nerve damage caused by shingles that struck while his immune system was depressed.

Formerly a quality control engineer, Derigo hasn’t worked for several years. He can’t afford the synthetic opiates prescribed at pain clinics, even if he wanted to take them, and the county health department, which provides his AIDS treatment, doesn’t give him anything effective for the nausea, he said.

Minardi, his lawyer, said he has handled about a dozen medical marijuana cases and has half a dozen pending. Prosecutors recently dropped charges against one, Robert Jordan of Parrish, charged with growing marijuana for his wife, who’s confined to a wheelchair with ALS.

Nearly all his marijuana clients are over age 50.

There have been suggestions that Morgan, who hopes to back former Gov. Charlie Crist in a 2014 race against Gov. Rick Scott, hopes the amendment campaign will spur turnout of young and liberal voters likely to oppose Scott.

In response, Morgan said, “I started thinking about this way before I knew that (Crist) would be in this position. I don’t think medical marijuana is going to motivate an 18-year-old. Legalizing it might.”

Morgan is right, according to officials with the Marijuana Policy Project, an advocacy group for legal use of marijuana that has participated in several medical use and legalization campaigns.

“Legalization initiatives do seem to have an impact on young voter turnout, at least based on exit poll studies, but we haven’t seen the same dynamic on medical marijuana issues,” said political director Steve Fox.

A 2012 study found “a significant boost” in youth turnout in elections on legalization measures in Colorado in 2000 and Oregon and Washington in 1998, he said, but there’s been no indication of such an effect in the 2010 vote in Arizona on medical use. It passed by a razor-thin margin, 50.1 percent to 49.9 percent.

Copyright: 2013 the Tampa Tribune (Tampa, Fla.)

Source: Huffington Post (NY)
Author: William March, The Tampa Tribune
Published: August 5, 2013
Copyright: 2013, LLC
Contact: [email protected]

Recreational-Marijuana Merchants Rattled by Raids

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Federal raids of Washington state medical-marijuana dispensaries this week are raising concerns among state officials and entrepreneurs that recreational-marijuana may be similarly targeted when the market opens in the state early next year.

Drug Enforcement Administration spokeswoman Jodie Underwood said agents executed several search warrants involving “marijuana storefronts” Wednesday, but she declined to comment on why they were targeted or whether recreational pot shops might get the same treatment.

A person familiar with the raids said agents went after four medical-marijuana dispensaries related to a 2011 investigation into allegations of money laundering and illicit marijuana sales.

Residents in Colorado and Washington voted to legalize recreational marijuana last year. But federal authorities haven’t said how they will address these new state-regulated markets for marijuana, which remains illegal under federal law. Washington and other states allow medical marijuana, but this is also illegal under federal law, and federal authorities have raided dispensaries around the country.

Washington officials said this week after the raids that they were pushing forward with plans to permit recreational-marijuana production facilities and retail shops. But in light of the raids, coming months before the state rules on recreational marijuana take effect, state officials reiterated the need for guidance from the U.S. Department of Justice.

“We would welcome clarity from the federal government on how they expect to address Washington state’s emerging recreational system,” said Brian Smith, a spokesman for the Washington State Liquor Control Board, which has been charged with regulating legal pot. “With a lack of clarity, you’re always operating in an area of risk.”

Allison Price, a spokeswoman for the Justice Department, said the “department is continuing to review the legalization initiatives passed in Washington and Colorado.”

Bayside Collective in Olympia, Wash., was one of the dispensaries agents raided Wednesday, said Bayside office manager Addy Norton. Ms. Norton said she had just opened at 10:30 a.m. when DEA agents came with guns drawn. Ms. Norton said the DEA agents threw a search warrant on the floor when she asked to see it and they wouldn’t say what they were looking for.

“They said we are part of a two-year ongoing investigation,” Ms. Norton said, adding that agents took “all of our medicine” as well as documents from another medical-marijuana dispensary that Ms. Norton and her partner operated before it closed.

Ms. Underwood declined to comment on details of the raids or names of the dispensaries.

The raids put entrepreneurs set to enter the legal pot market on edge. “It’s really tough, the federal government hasn’t been clear about what their position is and all of us are just waiting, hoping and crossing our fingers,” said Jamen Shively, a former Microsoft executive who is planning to open retail pot shops in Washington and Colorado with his company Diego Pellicer Inc.

“Right now it’s impossible for me to tell whether this is part of a bona fide sting operation with cannabis crossing state lines or something like that, or is this more like sending a message?”

Source: Wall Street Journal (US)
Author: Zusha Elinson and Joel Millman
Published: July 25, 2013
Copyright: 2013 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
Contact: [email protected]

For Patients Like Me, Marijuana is a Necessity

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My breast cancer diagnosis at age 26 was an unwelcome and at times harrowing experience. What allowed me to endure the darkest days was the hope that my rigorous treatment — chemotherapy, surgeries and radiotherapy among them — would allow me to once again live a full and healthy life. It’s what propelled me to walk back into the hospital for more treatments.

But then came A/C: The “A” stands for Adriamycin, a drug neon red in color and injected via large syringes by oncology nurses; its apt nicknames are “red devil” and “red death.” That probably should have been the red flag that I wasn’t going to escape without being slightly worse for wear.

After each of my four biweekly infusions, I lay bedridden for four days, debilitated by severe nausea, heartburn and overall discomfort. I also suffered deep bone pain, a consequence of the Neulasta shot given to keep my white blood cell counts up. I acutely felt all of these side effects, despite being given an intravenous anti-nausea medication, taking anti-nausea tablets every few hours and heartburn medicine and a low-dose prescription narcotic for the bone pain. None of this provided me with the relief for which I longed.

Eventually, though, I was lucky enough to take a medicine that did alleviate my suffering. Not so fortunate was the fact that it came in the form of a drug illegal under federal law: cannabis.

Though cannabis for medical purposes became legal in the District (where I live) in 2010, the city-sanctioned dispensaries that can supply it are only now inching closer to opening their doors.

Nevertheless, marijuana is still banned under the Controlled Substances Act — meaning it continues to be a federal crime to possess or grow marijuana, even in the 18 states plus the District that permit it for medicinal purposes. As a Schedule I drug, cannabis is deemed to have no “accepted medical use” and to lack “safety for use under medical supervision.”

Yet marijuana was the only thing that truly quelled my stomach, provided for restful sleep and allowed me to eat and drink. I was not a cannabis smoker prior to my diagnosis, and I am not one now. I used it only during my chemotherapy treatments, which ended a few months ago. I am willing to go public with my experience because, while the tide may now be turning, there remains a stigma — and many stumbling blocks for patients who would benefit from marijuana — where there should be none.

Legal efforts to shift marijuana to a different schedule under the Controlled Substances Act, thereby loosening restrictions on access to and research on the plant, have failed. The Drug Enforcement Administration’s refusal to change the drug’s classification because of a lack of “adequate and well-controlled studies proving efficacy” has been upheld. No studies of the drug have met the DEA’s criteria to prove that marijuana has an “accepted medical use.”

But a complicated process hinders marijuana studies. With cannabis on Schedule I, investigators interested in researching it must apply for a special license from the DEA and have their study approved by the Food and Drug Administration. To actually obtain the plant, researchers must then apply for access to the National Institute of Drug Abuse’s research-grade supply of the drug.

NIDA is known to refuse requests. When an agency whose mission is to bring “the power of science to bear on drug abuse and addiction” is charged with regulating who conducts research on cannabis, it’s easy to see why this is so. In a 2010 New York Times article, a spokeswoman for NIDA said that the group’s “focus is primarily on the negative consequences of marijuana use,” adding, “we generally do not fund research focused on the potential beneficial medical effects of marijuana.”

Prominent medical associations such as the American Medical Association and the American College of Physicians have called for a review of marijuana’s Schedule I status. Others, such as the Institute of Medicine, have recognized cannabis’s potential and determined that it should be further researched. Yet, the DEA’s stance remains that “smoked marijuana has not withstood the rigors of science — it is not medicine, and it is not safe.”

I tell my story to illustrate the contrary: It was the safest medicine I took over the course of my cancer treatments. Only with further research can we better understand the palliative effects of cannabis — and perhaps finally make it more accessible to the many of us who suffer chronic pain and discomfort. For us, quality of life has special meaning.

Petrides works in an administrative position at the Peace Corps. This is the second article in a series on living with cancer.

Source: Washington Post (DC)
Author: Kathryn Petrides
Published: July 8, 2013
Copyright: 2013 Washington Post Company
Contact: [email protected]

Google Quietly Giving Aid To Marijuana Activists

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Cancer patients who Google the words “chemotherapy nausea” today get a host of advertisements for treatment, including pills, skin patches and folk remedies used to prevent vomiting. Next month, however, the same search will turn up an ad for something a bit more controversial: medical marijuana.

The change comes courtesy of the charitable unit of Google, which last week gifted a Michigan medical marijuana advocacy group $120,000 worth of its services. As part of the grant, the group, Michigan Compassion, will be able to promote medical marijuana use through Google’s popular AdWords platform — the plain-text advertisements that pop up to the right side of any given search result.

Michigan Compassion does not sell marijuana but connects patients and growers, and it says the ads will appear alongside searches likely to be made by chemotherapy patients.

“The goal is to link the negative effects of chemotherapy and the positive effects of cannabis,” Amish Parikh, vice-president of Michigan Compassion, told The Huffington Post.

The ads’ value is small in the scheme of Google’s AdWords program, which brings in over $40 billion per year in revenue, but they represent a change for the Mountain View, Calif. firm, which has a strict policy against hosting ads for marijuana-related searches.

Google’s new generosity toward marijuana advocates fits neatly in Silicon Valley, however, where tech companies and their employees have been quietly contributing to cannabis activism, an area attorney involved in the marijuana legalization movement told The Huffington Post.

“They’re not the ones coming to the city council meetings to protest, but they quietly send in their donations,” attorney Lauren Vazquez said. “And they’re definitely consuming the cannabis,” she added.

A spokeswoman for Google declined to comment on whether the grant made to Michigan Compassion meant the company was taking an advocacy position in favor of medical marijuana.

AdWords has a policy against allowing advertisements for drugs and drug paraphernalia, but is allowing the Michigan Compassion ads since the organization does not directly supply such products. Google does not allow advertisers to link their ads to searches with words like “cannabis” and “marijuana.”

The spokeswoman said the ads would not appear in web searches done by those using a “family safe” filter, and text would show up only in states where medical marijuana is legal. (While legal for medical use in 19 states and the District of Columbia, possessing marijuana for any purpose remains a federal crime.)

It’s been noted before that the culture inside California tech companies is highly supportive of marijuana use, with on-the-job drug testing extremely rare. According to a Businessweek article on the topic earlier this year, the city of San Jose, where many industry workers live, has more than 100 pot clinics, and it’s considered normal for programmers to soothe the stress of long days hunched over a computer with a visit to one of those retailers.

“I think Silicon Valley is very supportive,” said Michigan Compassion’s Parikh. “There’s a lot of testing the waters, though.”

LinkedIn, the professional social networking company also based in Mountain View, is providing Michigan Compassion with free services to help reach potential donors and board members, according to Parikh.

An email requesting comment from LinkedIn was not returned.

Michigan Compassion has also received donated equipment and software from other tech companies channeled through San Francisco-based TechSoup Global. And Vertical Response, an email marketing firm also based in San Francisco, provided the group with several thousand dollars’ worth of free marketing technology.

A spokeswoman for Vertical Response, Connie Sung Moyle, said Michigan Compassion was not given a grant specifically due to the nature of its work but as a result of its non-profit status. Moyle said Vertical Response has provided in-kind donations to some 2,600 charities since 2005. “We don’t really discriminate either way as long as what they’re doing is above the law,” she said.

Source: Huffington Post (NY)
Author: Eleazar David Melendez
Published: June 27, 2013
Copyright: 2013, LLC
Contact: [email protected]

Medical Cannabis Legalized in New Hampshire

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With just one day left to pass it this session, the New Hampshire Legislature has given final approval to a measure aimed at legalizing medical marijuana – including state licensed dispensaries.

After much back anmedical-marijuana-symbold forth between the House and Senate, HB 573 has finally made it through – Governor Maggie Hassan will sign the legislation at any time, stating prior to its passage that: “I encourage the full legislature to pass this compromise so I can sign this legislation into law”.

“This legislation has been a long time coming and is a much-needed victory for those with serious illnesses who find significant relief in medical marijuana,” said Matt Simon, a legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project.

Once signed, the law will go into effect immediately, and a commission will begin the process of establishing a dispensary system. Patients will be allowed to possess up to 2 ounces, and dispensaries will be allowed up to 80 ounces and 80 plants (with 160 seedlings), plus an additional three plants, 12 seedlings and 6 ounces for every patient who designates the dispensary as their primary access point.

The measure mandates that at least two licenses must be issued for dispensaries within the first 18 months of the law’s passage.

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