Marijuana News in Arizona and World
Virginia state senator Sen. Adam Ebbin has introduced a bill to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. Under the proposal, the possession of less than an ounce of marijuana would be decriminalized. Currently, possession of less than an ounce of marijuana is punishable by a $500 fine and up to 30 days in jail.
“The criminalization of possession of small amounts of marijuana ruins far more lives than it impacts in any kind of positive ways. [The bill] would decriminalize simple possession of an ounce or less, but not decriminalize it to the extent done recently in Colorado and Washington state,” stated Ebbin.
In addition, the bill also would reduce the criminal penalties for distribution and possession with the intent to distribute and would also limit the forfeiture of property from the sale or distribution of 1 pound or more.
“This is not just a conversation starter; we need to pass this bill. We’ve been talking to many of the members. … I think there is general support for the core of the bill, which is removing criminal penalties for people who possess small amounts — even from Republicans.” said Edward McCann, policy director for Virginia NORML.
Three weeks after voters in Washington, D.C., overwhelmingly voted to legalize marijuana in the nation’s capital, the City Council approved legislation that charges D.C.’s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) with regulating and licensing marijuana producers and retailers.
According to the legislation, the ABRA would have 6 months to write the regulations. After the regulations are written, they would begin accepting license applications so that recreational cannabis stores could open by 2016.
Licensing marijuana business was not included in Initiative 71, which legalized recreational marijuana. Instead, the licensing is part of a bill introduced last year by Council Member David Grosso. Not only does the bill would allow the ABRA to licensing marijuana businesses, but it also eliminate penalties for possessing two ounces or less of marijuana, for growing up to six plants at home, and for transferring small amounts to other adults without payment.
Grosso’s bill would combine medical and recreational marijuana into one industry regulated by ABRA. However it would also define different tax rates for medically prescribed marijuana (6%) and marijuana purchased for recreational use (15%). By comparison, Colorado collects a 15 percent excise tax AND a 10 percent sales tax on recreational marijuana. Washington state imposes a 25 percent tax at each of three levels.
So far only the sections of the bill which deal with licensing, regulation, and taxation, have been approved by City Council’s committee. The other 10 sections must be approved by two other committees before the bill can be considered by the entire D.C. Council.
A team at Washington State University is developing a breath test to test for marijuana to help law enforcement determine whether a driver is under the influence of marijuana. Currently no device exists to test for marijuana impairment using a breath sample. Officers and prosecutors have to instead rely on blood tests to determine how much activeis present in a driver’s blood. Initially, the marijuana breath test probably won’t be able to pinpoint the level of THC in the body; it will only tell officers that some active THC is present.
According to WSU chemistry Professor Herbert Hill, existing technologies that are used by airport security to detect drugs can be re-purposed to test breath for THC. The handheld device will use a technique called ion mobility spectrometry to detect THC in someone’s breath.
“We believe at least initially that it would lower the false positives that an officer would have,” Hill said. “They would have a higher level of confidence in making an arrest.”
Officers would still have to obtain follow-up-test results to use as evidence in court, just as they do after a positive preliminary breath test for alcohol impairment in a DUI arrest.
Hill said he and his research team plan to finish laboratory tests with a prototype marijuana breath test this year, then start testing human breath between January and June 2015.
Attorney: There’s a loophole in AZ medical marijuana.
Medical marijuana still creates a lot of controversy in Arizona. But Valley DUI attorney Craig Rosenstein says what’s happening now is just plain wrong.
Rosenstein is urging state lawmakers to fix a possible loophole in the state’s medical marijuana law, which Arizona voters passed in 2010.
According to Rosenstein, dozens of legal medical marijuana users are facing jail time, fines and a suspended license, all because they have trace amounts of marijuana in their system.
Rosenstein told CBS 5 News that if someone is accused of a DUI, they are not allowed to mention in court that they have a legal medical marijuana card.
“To me – that is horrible because the jurors don’t know,” Rosenstein said. “It would be like saying you’re not allowed to introduce your prescription for Vicidin. You’re basically being treated like someone who went and bought it off the street, instead of someone who went to a doctor.”
Dr. Elaine Burns, with the Southwest Medical Marijuana Center, said that medical marijuana can stay in someone’s system for up to 30 says, which means a patient can still face criminal prosecution weeks after they actually took the drug for treatment.
“Now, the cancer patients, in addition to the fact they are dealing with this horrific medical condition, are now faced with this new information and have to decide if they can even drive now – and that shouldn’t be.”
Since the medical marijuana law was a voter initiative it would take a super majority vote from the state Legislature to make any changes.
Rosenstein is hoping a bill to address the issue is introduced during the 2015 legislative session.
“They’re being discriminated against because of the type of medicine they are using,” Rosenstein said.
If you were to peek inside the brain of someone who regularly smoked marijuana, you would find that it didn’t look quite like the brain of someone who didn’t smoke.
First, you might notice that a critical part of the brain that helps us process emotions and make decisions appeared smaller than in the brains of the nonsmoker.
But you would see something else, too: that the connections passing through that region of the brain were stronger and thicker.
Thankfully, you don’t have to go excavating brains anytime soon. A group of researchers has done the hard work for you. In a recent study, scientists used a combination of MRI-based brain scans to get one of the first comprehensive, three-dimensional pictures of the brains of adults who have smoked weed at least four times a week, often multiple times a day, for years.
Compared with people who don’t use, long-term, heavy marijuana smokers tend to have a smaller orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), a brain region critical for processing emotions and making decisions. But they also have more cross-brain connections that scientists think smokers may develop as a means of compensating for the difference in size.
Unlike previous research, which has looked mainly at short-term smokers or simply at young or older users, this study is one of the first to look at pot’s long-term effects on men and women between 20 and 40 years old who had smoked almost daily for between two and 30 years. The researchers looked at the brains of 110 people — 62 who didn’t smoke and 48 who did — using three different types of MRI scans.
In the smokers, these increased brain connections appeared to help them counteract the behavioral problems commonly associated with weed use, like trouble maintaining relationships or staying motivated enough to find or keep a job.
But while new connections blossom throughout the brain during the first few years of regular use, they eventually recede. Researchers saw a significant drop-off in new brain links after about six years of regular use.
So does smoking weed every day for a decade shrink your brain and make you dumber? Not quite.
The regular smokers did have lower IQ scores overall when compared to the people who didn’t smoke, but there’s no way to know yet whether or how that might be linked to smaller orbitofrontal cortices or marijuana use in general.
“We cannot honestly say that that is what’s happening here,” says Francesca Filbey, the lead study author and professor of neuropsychology at the Center for Brain Health at the University of Texas at Dallas.
For starters, this study — the first ever to look at the long-term effects of weed smoking in heavy adult users across a wide age range — did not show that pot smoking caused certain regions of the brain to shrink. In fact, other studies suggest that having smaller orbitofrontal cortices in the first place could make someone more likely to start smoking. One recent study, for example, found that children as young as 12 who had smaller orbitofrontal cortices were significantly more likely to start smoking weed by the time they hit their 16th birthday.
In other words, it could be that people with naturally smaller versions of this region may simply be more likely to smoke, and the weed might not be shrinking that section of the brain at all. There is also no clear evidence linking the brain differences the researchers found with any particular behaviors.
In addition, all three things the researchers studied — drug-use habits, brain development, and IQ scores — are shaped by a variety of factors. Both the environment we grow up in and the specific combination of genes we inherit from our parents affect behavior and intelligence.
The age when someone starts smoking pot can also be a key clue to how the brain will be different from a non-user’s brain and how often someone smokes thereafter. Picking up the habit while young seems to be especially influential.
“The earlier the use — especially during adolescence, when the brain is developing — the greater the effects,” Filbey says. Of her study participants, those who started using the earliest had the most pronounced differences in brain development in terms of the size of the orbitofrontal cortex and the connections between parts of that region of the brain.
Other studies in people have shown similar links between weed and smaller prefrontal cortex regions, but only research in animals has suggested that marijuana may kill brain cells or reduce their size.
Scientists still don’t know whether giving up weed can reverse its changes to the brain (if the noted differences are indeed caused by pot in the first place — still an open question) or whether the alterations are also present in recreational or short-term users. But as legal marijuana becomes a reality in the US, researchers are scrambling to find out.
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Perhaps one of the most compelling discussions on the drug war took place last month at TEDGlobal 2014 in Rio de Janeiro, where Ethan Nadelmann, Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance unleashed a dose of unforgettable insight into the crooked spine of prohibition, calling the global war on drugs an “international projection of a domestic psychosis.”
Throughout the lecture, Nadelmann touched on a number of interesting thoughts, one of which questioned the historical existence of a sober society. “There’s probably never been a drug-free society,” he said. “Virtually every society has ingested psychoactive substances to deal with pain, increase our energy, socialize, even commune with God.”
“Our desire to alter our consciousness, maybe, is fundamental as our desires for food, companionship and sex,” he continued. “So, our true challenge is to learn how to live with drugs so they cause the least possible harm, and in some cases, the greatest possible benefit.”
The concept of illegal drugs, according to Nadelmann, only exists so the federal government can continue to exploit downtrodden populations. “The reason some drugs are legal and others are not has nothing to do with science or health or the risk of drugs, and everything to do with who uses, and is perceived to use, certain drugs,” he said. “If the principle smokers of cocaine were affluent older white men and the principal users of Viagra were young black men, using Viagra would land you time behind bars.”
Interestingly, he points out that during the late 19th century, most of the drugs that are illegal today were sold legally in drug stores all across the country. It was not until hundreds of thousands of opium smoking Chinese railroad workers started showing up in America that prohibitionbegan to rear its ugly head. This was brought on by fears that immigrants were going to transform wholesome white women into dope fiends and sex slaves – a ridiculous display of racism that has resulted in the majority of prohibition laws.
These days, Nadelmann said, racial fears have shifted and now the majority of the weight rests heavy on the children, which seems to keep us from making significant changes to drug policy. “Sometimes it seems like the entire war on drugs gets justified as one great big child protection act,” he said, adding that he does not want kids to use drugs, but if they do, their safety is of the utmost importance.
“I’ve dedicated my life to building an organization and a movement of people who believe we have no choice but to turn our back on the failed prohibitions of the past and embrace new drug policies grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights,” said Nadelmann. ”We come from across the political spectrum and almost every other spectrum as well. We’re people who love drugs, people who hate drugs, and people who don’t give a damn about drugs, but every one of us believe that this war on drugs — this heartless and disastrous war on drugs — has got to end.”
A recent Australian study found stimulant use is associated with excessive drinking, while cannabis use is not. While not a surprise for anyone that knows anything about partying, this study creates an important foothold for legalization efforts, which need to prove that legal recreational marijuana won’t negatively impact public health. What’s more, legal weed has the power to reduce the damage done by an existing public health problem: alcohol.
The online study took 1,994 Australians ages 18-30 that had drunk alcohol in the past year, and divided them into three groups: past-year ecstasy use, past-year cannabis use (but not ecstasy), and an alcohol-only group. They then asked if the participants drank five or more drinks (the definition of binge drinking) last Saturday night, and whether or not they took either a stimulant (ecstasy, cocaine, speed, or meth) or cannabis the same night.
They found that poly drug users of ecstasy and stimulants drank more than those who took ecstasy. Those who took ecstasy and smoked pot drank less, while marijuana-only users drank even less. The group that was least likely to binge drink was the alcohol-only group, curiously enough.
This proves the association between stimulants and binge drinking, but falls short on proving marijuana makes drinkers drink less. It shouldn’t be hard to design a study that focuses on exactly that, without a complicated pooling of poly drug users. A look into the binge drinking on a college campus should do the trick. Researchers will likely find that drinkers, who get high before or during their night partying, drink less compared to their peers in the same crowd.
The liquor and beer industries don’t need these studies to know that legal weed will hurt their sales; it’s just as obvious to them as it is to us. It’s the legislators that still think marijuana is dangerous that need to be shown that not only is it mostly harmless, it reduces the damage done by a legally existing public health issue.
Thursday, the Arizona Court of Appeals ruled that doctors who certify patients to use medical marijuana can’t be criminally charged if they fail to review the patient’s records going back an entire year. The appeals court said that Arizona’s medical marijuana gives doctors immunity for their referral decisions. However, the 2010 medical marijuana law does allow licensing boards to discipline doctors who improperly write recommendations.
“In enacting the (law), the voters explicitly barred prosecution of a physician for providing ‘written certifications’ or ‘for otherwise stating’ that certain patients may benefit from ‘the medical use of marijuana,’ ” presiding Judge Patricia K. Norris wrote in the opinion, which was joined by two other justices. According to Norris protecting patients and physicians from prosecution was a critical part of the law.
The decision affirms the recent dismissal of charges against Phoenix naturopath Dr. Robert Gear. Gear was charged with forgery and fraud after signing a medical marijuana certification for a police informant in 2012 based on his examination before actually reviewing a year’s worth of records for the patient.
Gear’sKimberly Kent agreed with the court decision stating, “because this is a health care law, this is a health care issue. And issue of compliance should be decided by people like the department of health or the regulatory agencies that oversee physicians and nurse practitioners who choose to participate in the program.”
Mayor de Blasio wants to allow people to pay fines by mail. The convenience would be similar to a system already in place for drivers who can pay parking tickets by mail.
“That’s a choice that the individual citizen would make: If they got a summons, they could mail in and respond to a summons and pay a fine, but they would be accepting that they were guilty of the offense in question. If they wanted to fight it, of course, they’d have to go to the court to fight it if they disagreed with the reason for the ¬summons.” de Blasio said at City Hall.