TX NORML open meeting notes, August 3rd, 2011
During last month’s meeting we covered these stories:
– THC decreases mortality in primate model of HIV
– Cannabinoids slow progression of Huntington’s Disease
– Cal. NORML estimates 1 million medical marijuana patients now in California
– Connecticut lawmakers approve decrim bill
– Vermont Governor signs dispensaries bill into law
– Washington Supreme Court rules their medical marijuana law does not protect employees “off-the-job” use
– Dutch government moving forward with plans to ban tourists from coffee shops
– Maine lawmakers expand legal protections for medical marijuana patients
– Obama Administration flip-flops on previous statements regarding medical marijuana in states where it’s legal
– Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2011 introduced by Rep. Ron Paul, with dozens of sponsors
– States Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act introduced by Rep. Barney Frank with several co-sponsors
– Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2011 introduced by Reps. Frank & Paul, with several sponsors
Now for news from the past month:
DOJ Revises Administration’s Position Regarding State Medical Marijuana Laws
The United States Department of Justice issued a memorandum just after our last meeting to revise the administration’s position regarding the use of federal resources in states that have enacted laws allowing for the use of distribution of medical cannabis to authorized patients. It is the second such memo issued by the Obama administration.
The new memo seeks to clarify the administration’s stance after US Attorneys this spring sent letters to several state lawmakers threatening to prosecute medical marijuana providers, or in some cases state employees who licensed such providers, even in instances where such conduct was in strict compliance with state law.
According to the latest memo, dated June 29 and signed by Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole, the warnings issued in the US Attorney letters earlier this year are “entirely consistent” with DOJ policy.
The DOJ says in this most recent memo that “Persons who are in the business of cultivating, selling, or distributing marijuana, and those who knowingly facilitate such activities, are in violation of the Controlled Substances Act, regardless of state law.”
This is in stark contrast to the DOJ’s first memo on medical marijuana which stated, “[I]t is likely not an efficient use of federal resources to focus enforcement efforts on individuals with cancer or other serious illnesses who use marijuana as part of a recommended treatment regimen consistent with applicable state law.”
And the kicker here is, as a candidate, President Obama had pledged that he would “not … be using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws on this (the medical marijuana) issue.”
To date, three states — Colorado, New Mexico, and Maine — have allowed for the operation of state-licensed medical marijuana producers and providers. Five additional states — Arizona, Delaware, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Vermont — as well as the District of Columbia have similar laws, but have either suspended or not yet implemented their medical marijuana distribution programs.
DEA Responds To Nine-Year-Old Marijuana Rescheduling Petition Maintaining That Cannabis Has No Medical Value
The United States Drug Enforcement Administration this month formally denied a nine-year-old petition calling on the agency to initiate hearings to reassess the present classification of marijuana as a schedule I controlled substance without any ‘accepted medical use in treatment.
A coalition of organizations including NORML, Americans for Safe Access, and High Times, filed the rescheduling petition with the DEA on October 9, 2002. This past May, the coalition filed suit in the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to compel the Obama administration to respond to their petition to reclassify marijuana under federal law.
DEA administrator Michele Leonhart posted a letter denying the petition in the July 8, 2011 edition of the Federal Register. Leonhart stated that cannabis has “a high potential for abuse; … no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States; … [and] lacks accepted safety for use under medical supervision.”
She added: “[T]here are no adequate and well-controlled studies proving (marijuana’s) efficacy; the drug is not accepted by qualified experts. … At this time, the known risks of marijuana use have not been shown to be outweighed by specific benefits in well-controlled clinical trials that scientifically evaluate safety and efficacy.”
Responding to the DEA’s rejection, NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said: “The DEA is predictably maintaining its decades-old ‘flat Earth’ position in regards to the otherwise well-acknowledged therapeutic properties of cannabis. It is a shame to see an administration that pledged to be guided by ‘scientific integrity’ engage in such blatant politicization.”
The coalition of advocates is planning to file an appeal in federal court.
NORML had previously filed a similar rescheduling petition with the DEA in 1972, but was not granted a federal hearing on the issue until 1986. In 1988, DEA Administrative Law Judge Francis Young ruled that marijuana did not meet the legal criteria of a Schedule I prohibited drug and should be reclassified. Then-DEA Administrator John Lawn rejected Young’s determination, a decision the D.C. Court of Appeals eventually affirmed in 1994.
A subsequent petition was filed by former NORML Director Jon Gettman in 1995, but was rejected by the DEA in 2001.
All of this despite the fact that the Federal Government has continued sending 300 pre-rolled joints to the remaining patients of the Investigational New Drug Program which started in 1976, while NORML was awaiting a hearing on the initial rescheduling petition.
White House Report Acknowledges Few Scientists Permitted To Assess Cannabis Use In Humans – Only 14 researchers approved to study ‘smoked marijuana on human subjects’
Only fourteen researchers in the United States are legally permitted to conduct research assessing the effect of inhaled cannabis in human subjects, according to data included in the White House’s 2011 National Drug Control Strategy, released this month.
In a section of the report entitled ‘Medical Marijuana,’ the administration states, “In the United States, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has approved 109 researchers to perform bona fide research with marijuana, marijuana extracts, and marijuana derivatives such as cannabidiol and cannabinol.” However, it later clarifies that of these 109 scientists, only fourteen “are approved to conduct research with smoked marijuana on human subjects.
Among those scientists licensed to work with either cannabis or its constituents — primarily in animal models — most are involved in research to assess the drug’s “abuse potential, physical/psychological effects, [and] adverse effects,” the report stated.
Last year, a spokesperson for the US National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) — the federal agency that must approve any US clinical trial involving marijuana – 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.”
And, as was just mentioned, earlier this month, DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart denied a nine-year-old petition seeking to initiate hearings regarding the federal classification of cannabis as a schedule I substance, stating in part, “[T]here are no adequate and well-controlled studies proving efficacy.”
Well, of course there aren’t because the DEA which has complete control of marijuana research in this country refuses to fund research into the efficacy of medical marijuana!
Meanwhile, in other countries around the world:
Cannabis Compounds Are Found To Offer ‘Promising’ Treatment Option For Neurodegenerative Disorders, By Researchers In Spain and Israel
According to a review published online in the British Journal of Pharmacology, Cannabis’ active components show promise in halting the progression of certain neurodegerative disorders and should be evaluated in clinical trials.
An international team of researchers from Spain and Israel assessed the potential of cannabinoids to moderate Huntington’s disease (HD) and Parkinson’s disease (PD), two degenerative brain disorders that are mostly unresponsive to conventional treatment therapies.
Authors of the study reported that Cannabinoids are promising medicines to slow down disease progression in neurodegenerative disorders including Parkinson’s disease and Huntington’s disease.
Researchers noted that both THC and cannabidiol (CBD) have been demonstrated to “protect neurons in experimental models of both disorders.” Investigators added that the separate “activation of CB(2) [cannabinoid] receptors leads to a slower progression of neurodegeneration in both disorders.”
At last month’s meeting we discussed a team of investigators from Spain, Italy, and the United Kingdom who reported in the Journal of Neuroscience Research that the administration of THC and CBD-rich botanical extracts delays the progress of Huntington’s disease in laboratory animals.
Separate studies have also indicated the potential of cannabinoids to moderate additional neurodegenerative diseases, includingLou Gehrig’s disease and Alzheimer’s.
And this study, which found that Long-Term Marijuana Use Is Not Associated With Deficits In Cognitive Performance, Comes to You from Melbourne, Australia
The consumption of cannabis, even long-term, poses few adverse effects on cognitive performance, according to clinical trial data to be published in the scientific journal Addiction.
Investigators at the University of Melbourne and the Australian National University, Center for Mental Health Research assessed the impact of cannabis use on various measures of memory and intelligence in over 2,000 self-identified marijuana consumers and non-users over an eight-year period.
Researchers reported: “Only with respect to the immediate recall measure was there evidence of an improved performance associated with sustained abstinence from cannabis . . . On the remaining cognitive measures, after controlling for education and other characteristics, there were no significant differences associated with cannabis consumption.”
A 2001 study published in the journal Archives of General Psychiatry found that chronic cannabis consumers who abstained from the drug for one week “showed virtually no significant differences from control subjects (those who had smoked marijuana less than 50 times in their lives) on a battery of 10 neuropsychological tests. … Former heavy users, who had consumed little or no cannabis in the three months before testing, [also] showed no significant differences from control subjects on any of these tests on any of the testing days.”
Studies have also implied that cannabis may be neuroprotective against alcohol-induced cognitive deficits. A 2009study by investigators at the University of California at San Diego reported that binge drinkers who also used cannabis experienced significantly less white matter damage to the brain as compared to subjects who consumed alcohol alone.
This next study was actually done in the US by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a Federal agency, however the study itself was done using a synthetic cannabinoid, not cannabis.
Stimulation Of Marijuana Receptor Reduces Cocaine Consumption, Study Says
The stimulation of a specific endocannabinoid receptor by a synthetic cannabinoid agonist significantly reduces the desire for cocaine, according to preclinical data published online in the scientific journal Nature Neuroscience.
Investigators at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), Intramural Research Program reported that activation of the CB2 receptor via the administration of a selective cannabinoid agonist reduced intravenous cocaine administration in mice by up to 60 percent.
Researchers concluded, “These findings suggest that brain CB2 receptors modulate cocaine’s rewarding and locomotor-stimulating effects, likely by a dopamine-dependent mechanism.
Separate studies have previously documented that THC is associated with reduced sensitivity to opiate dependence and that moderate cannabis use may improve retention to naltrexone treatment among opiate-dependent subjects.
We have discussed this subject many times in the past, and I have to say it again, but this just adds to the litany of evidence to disprove the supposed “gateway effect.”
Montana Judge Halts Imposition Of New Restrictions On Medical Marijuana Doctors And Providers
A District Judge earlier this month issued a temporary injunction barring the enforcement of several new, restrictive provisions in the state’s medical marijuana law.
We’ve discussed the roller coaster ride in Montana nearly every month this year, but in May, Democrat Gov. Brian Schweitzer allowed Senate Bill 423 to become law without his signature. The new law, which legislators enacted with the intent of significantly reducing the existing number of state authorized patients, took effect on July 1.
However, several of the more restrictive provisions in the law will not go into effect. Specifically, Helena District Judge James Reynolds enjoined the requirement that advising physicians be reported to the state Board of Examiners if they recommend cannabis to more than 25 patients per year. Other restrictions limited marijuana providers to distributing to a maximum of three patients, allowing for unannounced searches of providers, and barring them from receiving anything of value for their product were also struck down.
State medical marijuana advocates are also moving forward with a referendum to allow voters to decide in 2012 whether any provisions of SB 423 should remain law. In June, the Secretary of State’s office approved the language of the proposed petition. Advocates have until September the gather the necessary number of signatures from registered voters. Doing so will block the entirety of the law from taking effect pending a vote of the people in 2012.
Montana NORML held a fundraising concert on July 23rd called, Marijuana Aid 2011, to help offset the legal and campaign costs.
Philadelphia Saves Millions By Ceasing Criminal Marijuana Prosecutions
The city of Philadelphia saved an estimated $2 million last year by ceasing criminal prosecutions for minor marijuana offenses, according to comments made by District Attorney Seth Williams to the Philadelphia Daily News.
In April 2010, Williams publicly announced a citywide policy change whereby law enforcement officials would issue a summons rather than arrest and criminally prosecute minor marijuana offenders. Philadelphia NORML had actively lobbied for the policy change after finding that the city punished minor marijuana violations more severely than many neighboring counties. A February 2010 Philly NORML report also found significant racial disparities in the city’s marijuana prosecutions — noting that African American males comprised an estimated 83 percent of all persons in Philadelphia arrested for minor marijuana possession offenses.
The new enforcement policy took effect in June 2010.
Previously, minor (under 30 grams) marijuana possession offenders in Philadelphia were criminally prosecuted with a misdemeanor offense punishable by up to 30 days probation or jail time, a $500 fine, and a criminal record.
Approximately 4,160 defendants were diverted under the program, called the SAM (Small Amount of Marijuana) program, during its first year, the Philadelphia Daily News reported. Defendants in the program pay a $200 fine and must attend a three-hour drug awareness class. Those who complete the class and pay the fine do not have to appear in criminal court and will not have a criminal record.
Tacoma, Washington, Voters To Decide On Marijuana ‘Deprioritization’ Measure
Tacoma voters will decide this November on a municipal initiative that seeks to make marijuana law enforcement the city’s “lowest priority.”
Proponents of the measure submitted over 4,000 valid signatures from registered municipal voters to qualify the measure for the 2011 ballot.
The proposal (Tacoma Initiative 1) seeks to make cannabis possession related offenses “the lowest enforcement priority of the City of Tacoma.”
The initiative is modeled after a similar measure that was enacted by Seattle voters in 2003. A review of that measure in 2008 reported that implementation of the ordinance was associated with a reduction in local law enforcement costs and “no evident increase in marijuana use among youth and young adults.”
Proponents in Portland, Maine have also turned in signatures to place a similar measure on the November city ballot, but those signatures have yet to be officially certified by city officials.
Proponents in Miami Beach have also turned in signatures for a citywide ordinance that seeks to reduce penalties for marijuana possession to a fine only.
Previous ‘deprioritization’ measures have been approved by voters across the nation, including voters in Oakland, California andDenver, Colorado.
Indiana Studying Sentencing Reforms For Marijuana
A special General Assembly committee is slated to hear testimony this summer regarding whether state lawmakers should significantly liberalize criminal penalties pertaining to the possession of marijuana for medicinal or recreational purposes.
Members of the interim study committee on Criminal Law and Sentencing Policy will review the issue and make policy recommendations.
Under present Indiana law, minor marijuana possession is classified as a criminal misdemeanor offense punishable by up to one year in jail, a $5,000 fine, and criminal record.
New Jersey Medical Marijuana Law Finally To Be Implemented
Governor Chris Christie announced at a press conference on July 19 he is now ready to reverse his suspension of the program and allow six state-licensed medical marijuana dispensaries to move ahead with their operations.
After discussing the various potential conflicts between state and federal laws Christie told the AP, “I have instructed the Commissioner of Health to move forward as expeditiously as possible to implement the [program].”
Medical marijuana advocates have been arguing for the need to revise the medical marijuana regulations previously issued by the administration. “The physician registry is unnecessary and will disqualify numerous patients. Plus the cap on THC level is arbitrary and home delivery is not being permitted. These are all roadblocks to patient access that we hope the Christie Administration will reconsider,” according to Ken Wolski, a registered nurse and executive director of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana New Jersey (CMMNJ).
NAACP Passes Resolution Calling For An End To The ‘War On Drugs’
Founded in 1909, the NAACP is the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization.
The resolution, enacted last week during the organization’s 102th annual convention in Los Angeles, calls for alternative to incarceration for non-violent drug offenders and acknowledges that existing policies disproportionately sanction minorities.
“Studies show that all racial groups abuse drugs at similar rates, but the numbers also show that African Americans, Hispanics and other people of color are stopped, searched, arrested, charged, convicted, and sent to prison for drug-related charges at a much higher rate,” stated Alice Huffman, President of the California State Conference of the NAACP. “This dual system of drug law enforcement that serves to keep African-Americans and other minorities under lock and key and in prison must be exposed and eradicated.”
Last fall, the California NAACP expressed its “unconditional support” for Proposition 19: The Regulate, Control & Tax Cannabis Initiative, which sought to legalize and regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol.
Once ratified by the board of directors in October, the resolution will encourage the more than 1200 active NAACP units across the country to organize campaigns advocating for changes in state and federal drug policies.
I have wondered, personally and publicly, in the past about why the NAACP was not on board with NORML and other Drug Law Reform organizations, but this is a welcomed step taken by them, and of course we hope that their supporters will also continue to support measures that seek to end criminal penalties for marijuana.
Now for a quick legislative update on the three Federal Marijuana-related House Bills:
HR 2306, the ‘Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2011?
This bill would prohibit the federal government from prosecuting adults who use or possess marijuana by removing the plant and its primary psychoactive constituent, THC, from the five schedules of the United States Controlled Substances Act of 1970.
It was introduced by Rep. Barney Frank, a Democrat from Massachusetts, and now has a total of 12 co-sponsors:
Ron Paul [R-TX14],
Eleanor Norton [D-DC]
Steve Cohen [D-TN9]
John Conyers [D-MI14]
Michael Honda [D-CA15]
Barbara Lee [D-CA9]
Dana Rohrabacher [R-CA46]
Fortney Stark [D-CA13]
James McDermott [D-WA7]
Jared Polis [D-CO2]
Charles Rangel [D-NY15]
Jerrold Nadler [D-NY8]
The ‘Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act’ seeks to federally deregulate the personal possession and use of marijuana by adults. It marks the first time that members of Congress have introduced legislation to eliminate the federal criminalization of marijuana since the passage of the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937.
Language in this Act 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 sixteen states that allow for the limited use of marijuana under a physicians’ supervision. It would also allow state governments that wish to fully legalize and regulate the responsible use, possession, production, and intrastate distribution of marijuana for all adults to be free to do so without federal interference.
NORML, along with representatives from the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), and theMarijuana Policy Project (MPP), worked closely with members of Congress in drafting the measure.
HR 2306 is assigned to two committees in the House of Reps:
The House Committee on Energy and Commerce, chaired by Rep. Frederick Upton [R-MI6], and more important to us in Central Texas, it is also in the House Judiciary Committee, which is chaired by Rep. Lamar Smith [R-TX21], whose district includes portions of both the Austin and San Antonio metro areas.
Rep. Smith has already expressed his intent to block HR 2306 from having a fair hearing and vote in the Judiciary Committee, and we have been actively asking our supporters and friends to contact his offices to ask him to at least give this bill a fair hearing and vote.
We have even sent representatives to meet face to face with Rep. Smith at a luncheon here in Austin a little more than a month ago.
Of course, we also need to try to get more co-sponsors for the bill, as well as looking towards all the members of those two committees for any possible support.
The other two Federally proposed bills are:
The Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2011, has been re-introduced by Rep. Ron Paul and a coalition of 25 co-sponsors
HR 1831, 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.
The “States’ Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act” has been re-introduced by Rep. Barney Frank and a coalition of eight of co-sponsors
HR 1983, would ensure that medical cannabis patients in states that have approved its use will no longer have to fear arrest or prosecution from federal law enforcement agencies. It states, “No provision of the Controlled Substances Act shall prohibit or otherwise restrict in a State in which marijuana may be prescribed or recommended by a physician for medical use under applicable State law.”
It also calls for an expedited rescheduling review by the federal government that would reclassify cannabis fromSchedule I to Schedule III under the federal Controlled Substances Act, recognizing the plant’s accepted medical use and streamlining the federal approval process for medical marijuana research.
16 states, and the District of Columbia, have enacted laws protecting medical marijuana patients from state prosecution.
Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington
Yet in all of these states, patients and providers still face the risk of federal sanction — even when their actions are fully compliant with state law.
And, of course, in recent months the Federal government has dramatically stepped up it’s harassment and threats of medical marijuana in many of those states.
Before we get to the upcoming events, I would like to let you know that one of our members has a pending possession case stemming from a run-in with the border patrol in Sierra Blanca, TX, a spot that has been notorious in recent years for the number of marijuana arrests made there; but even more so when earlier this year Willie Nelson was arrested at the same location.
The Texas NORML member, who I’ll call Matthew, is a card-carrying medical marijuana patient, registered in California, and is suffering from serious illness. But he has been charged with a state jail felony for possession of hashish. Unfortunately, Matthew is disabled and living on a mere $800/month from disability, so you can imagine how difficult this situation is for him.
If any of you have it in your hearts, and can spare a little, please consider making a donation to Matthew’s legal defense fund, at our table, and thanks.
Upcoming Events & Announcements
This isn’t an event, per se, but Texas NORML will very soon have our own 420 Truth Enforcement Vehicle, like the one that DFW NORML has had for several months now. DFW NORML’s car was financed by Attorney David Sloane.
The project here has been financed by one of the NORML Legal Committee Attorneys from Austin, Lifetime Member, Jamie Spencer. So, be on the lookout for that car at our upcoming events, perhaps even at a meeting in the near future.
The next Texas NORML meeting will be on Wednesday, September 7th, right here at Flamingo Cantina.
The date for our 6th Annual 6th St Smokeout has been set, on Saturday, October 15th, and we have already confirmed Subrosa Union and The Rafiki Project, as 2 of the bands to play it.
Stay tuned for more info and updates as they become available.
Texas NORML’s Women’s Alliance will have a team this year for the Susan G. Komen “Race for the Cure” which will be held in downtown Austin on Sunday, November 13th.
We have a modest goal set for this race, but any help you could give would be greatly appreciated.
This event is an opportunity for Texas NORML to reach out to the broader community and put a positive face on the marijuana law reform movement.