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Marijuana USA

Changing federal marijuana laws in the U.S. has proven problematic. But a couple of drug policy specialists have some marijuana legalization models that Congress might actually support, according to journalist Will Yakowicz:

The case for empowering states:

Mark Kleiman, a professor of public policy and the director of the Crime Reduction and Justice Initiative at New York University’s Marron Institute, proposes that the federal prohibition on marijuana remain in place but the state experiments with regulated adult markets should be formalized. The program could operate through state waivers, similar to welfare reform waivers. Kleiman adds that this could be easily adopted without requiring Congress to do much.

“There is a federal paraphernalia statute that says you can’t sell water pipes and stuff unless they are legal in the state you’re selling them in. Congress could create a waiver that says you can’t sell marijuana unless you’re in a state where it’s legal,” says Kleiman.

Kleiman’s ideal plan, which has not been adopted, is a less extreme than full-blown commercialization. Kleiman’s company, BOTEC Analysis, was contracted to advise Washington state regulators and rule-makers before legalizing marijuana for adult use. He believes states should make marijuana available to people for responsible use, as it would put an end to marijuana-related arrests, minimize drug abuse and block sales and marketing to minors. By contrast, he says full-blown commercialization–like what’s in place in the alcohol industry–will be “dependent on dependent users” and free market forces will lead to companies maximizing profits by maximizing consumption. That, he says, is bad for the public.

More on Kleiman’s state-waiver idea: the 25 states that have some form of regulated marijuana right now would get a waiver from the attorney general and the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. Of course, the states would need to present a plan to control abuse, diversion, underage consumption, and set rules like monthly quotas for customers and other factors.

Kleiman also proposes state-owned stores, a model some states have adopted for liquor stores. When states receive a waiver, they would have to agree to certain provisions like no more than 5 percent of the crop gets exported to other legal states, that the price doesn’t fall below a certain threshold, and marketing of certain kinds are not allowed. Kleiman says the regulatory program would be expected to do just as well at preventing so-called cannabis-use disorders than prohibition.

“The reason why Congress might go with the waiver idea is so we are not locked in a single national commercial system before we know anything about the impacts of legalization,” says Kleiman. “We should use the laboratory of the states to learn as much as we can about legalization.”

The case for all or nothing:

John Hudak, senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, says federal prohibition has caused a range of serious problems for society, especially as minorities continue to be disproportionately effected by arrest and prosecution. The current model, where half the states have legalized some form of marijuana and the federal government has only made slight policy changes while keeping the drug in the same category as heroin, has created “incoherent public policy,” he says.

State-legal marijuana businesses have to pay taxes under a tax code created for illegal drugs dealers, which doesn’t allow them to take most traditional business deductions. Illegal marijuana businesses, rather, typically aren’t forthright about the nature of their revenues, allowing them to circumvent these restrictions, Hudak says. The effect is legal marijuana business pay higher taxes and face an outsized financial burden compared to people in the black market. Further, employees of national companies can be fired for using marijuana legally. FDIC-insured financial institutions, credit card companies and payment processors are still apprehensive about serving the industry, which forces most businesses to conduct transactions in cash.

These issues encourage armed robberies and money laundering, says Hudak, who adds: “How do you justify that as effective public policy?”

As such, he proposes going further than just state-level reform. “You either have legal marijuana, or you don’t,” says Hudak. “I think the state-level reforms are important, but the right legalization model would give states some freedom, a range in which they can operate, but fix certain issues that are federal in nature, like banking and taxes and criminal justice issues. These issues have to be addressed in concert with state-level reforms. Otherwise, you get a nonsensical public policy that works to a limit and then no longer works.”

While legalization is still hotly debated on Capitol Hill, Hudak points out that Congress has already tweaked federal policy. Consider the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment, a federal spending bill rider passed in 2014, which prevents the Justice Department from interfering with state medical marijuana laws.

If the federal government wants to perpetuate certain aspects of prohibition, he says, it shouldn’t let states reform. But since the federal government has tolerated state-level reform, Hudak argues, Congress has a responsibility to involve itself with reform.

“Coherent policy at the state and federal level is better than incoherent policy in every case, it’s not unique to marijuana,” says Hudak.

Why neither idea has taken root:

Kleiman says another pathway to legalization could be created if Congress writes an exemption for cannabis under the Controlled Substances Act. They would also have to write a separate law regulating cannabis, like Congress did with alcohol and tobacco. The chances of that happening soon is slim, he says.

“It’s clear you can’t get cannabis legalization through this Congress, but it’s also clear you can’t get cannabis prohibition through this Congress,” says Kleiman. “The status quo bias makes it’s hard to get anything through.”

Fifteen years ago, public opinion was not in favor of legalizing marijuana. As attitudes and culture around drugs and policing change, politicians and citizens are questioning the merits and effects of President Richard Nixon’s “War on Drugs.”

“A lot of Americans, for the first time, are thinking about weighing the costs and risks [of prohibition and legalization] in a more sober way,” says Hudak. “They are doing so through the lens of seeing experimentation around the country, not through the lens of government-controlled rhetoric through a drug war.”

Perhaps the biggest obstacle to get around is the unknown:”Forty years from now we will know if cannabis legalization was a good thing or not,” says Kleiman. “There are too many effects, too many long-term things, too many cross interactions, too many unknowns. Everyone in the world says they know if cannabis legalization is a good thing or bad thing, except for the six of us who study it for a living.”


Marijuana Opiates

In one of the first research studies focused on privately insured patients with opioid problems, researchers uncovered an epidemic of misuse. Researchers found that medical services for patients with opioid dependence diagnoses catapulted by more than 3,000 percent between 2007 and 2014.

The study used claims data from insurers representing over 140 million people, and searched for diagnosis codes associated with opioid dependency and abuse, heroin use, and complications produced by the misuse or abuse of other types of opiates, reports CNN.

Researchers found that the diagnosis of opioid dependency triggers a series of medical services, including office visits, lab tests and other medical treatments. They found that the amount of these services for patients with an opioid dependency diagnosis spiraled from approximately 217,000 in 2007 up to about 7 million in 2014, an increase of over 3,000 percent.

“A 3,000 percent increase is enormous,” said Andrew Kolodny, a senior scientist at Brandeis University. Such a fast increase in a short period of time is a classic definition of an epidemic, said Kolodny.

In July, President Obama signed the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016, which intends to make drug prevention and treatment more available in America.

A study from the Journal of the American Medical Association found that marijuana legalization helps reduce opioid-related use and overdoses. Death records from a period of 1999 – 2010 were analyzed in states where medical marijuana is legal, and researchers found that these states had a 25 percent decrease in opioid-induced overdoses.


Arizona Marijuana Legalization Prop 205

Arizona may soon see recreational marijuana legalized for adult use. If Proposition 205 passes, it would make it legal for adults 21 years of age and older to grow and use limited amounts of marijuana.

Prop 205 will be voted on this November. If voted into law, it would take effect in September 2018.

Here is a basic outline of what Prop 205 will and will not do:

Will do:   

  • It allows adults 21 years of age and older to possess up to one ounce of marijuana and consume marijuana in private.
  • It allows adults to grow up to six marijuana plants in an enclosed, locked space within their residences and possess the marijuana produced by those plants in the location where it was grown. No more than 12 total marijuana plants can be grown in a single residence. Property owners and landlords will have the right to prohibit marijuana from being grown on their property.
  • It establishes the Department of Marijuana Licenses and Control to oversee a tightly controlled system of licensed marijuana retail stores, licensed cultivation facilities, licensed product manufacturing facilities, and licensed testing facilities. The department will include a law enforcement unit that will be responsible for enforcing regulations, conducting compliance checks, and investigating violations.
  • It allows a limited number of licensed marijuana retail stores to sell marijuana to adults 21 years of age and older. The number of retail stores will be capped at 10 percent of the number of liquor store licenses, which is currently fewer than 180.
  • It allows localities to impose limits on where and when marijuana businesses are allowed to operate.
  • It requires businesses to test marijuana products and adhere to strict packaging and labeling guidelines.
  • It enacts a 15% excise tax on retail marijuana sales, which will be used to fund the implementation and enforcement of regulations. Any additional marijuana tax revenue will be allocated as follows: 40% to the Department of Education for school construction, maintenance, and operating costs; 40% to the Department of Education for full-day kindergarten programs; and 20% to the Department of Health Services for public education regarding the relative harms of alcohol, marijuana, and other substances.

Will not do:

  • It does NOT allow marijuana to be used in public. Public use will remain illegal.
  • It does NOT change existing penalties for possession of more than one ounce of marijuana or cultivation of more than six marijuana plants. It will also remain entirely illegal to sell any amount of marijuana without the proper business license.
  • It does NOT allow unlicensed individuals to produce marijuana extracts using butane or other potentially hazardous products.
  • It does NOT affect employers’ current marijuana policies or their ability to establish workplace restrictions on marijuana consumption by employees.
  • It does NOT change existing laws regarding driving under the influence of marijuana. Driving while impaired by marijuana will remain illegal.
  • It does NOT enact a tax on the sale of medical marijuana or affect the rights of medical marijuana patients that were established by Proposition 203

Learn more about Proposition 205

Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Arizona

Today, August 19, a Maricopa County Superior Court judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by opponents of Proposition 205, the Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act, who were attempting to keep the initiative off the November ballot.

The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Arizona, which supports Prop 205, is asking Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery and Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk, who were plaintiffs in the lawsuit, to accept the court’s ruling and focus on fighting serious crimes instead of citizen initiatives.

“We are pleased with the court’s ruling and that Arizona voters will be able to exercise their right to vote on Proposition 205,” said J.P. Holyoak, CRMLA Campaign Chairman. “This was a frivolous and politically motivated lawsuit. If these county prosecutors dislike this ballot measure, they should take their arguments to the voters, not to our overburdened court system. We hope they will accept the court’s ruling and return to waging legal battles against dangerous criminals rather than citizen initiatives.”

If passed, Prop 205 will allow adults 21 and older to possess limited amounts of marijuana, establish a government-regulated system in which marijuana is regulated similarly to alcohol, and enact a 15-percent tax on retail marijuana sales. A majority of the tax revenue would be directed to Arizona schools and other education programs.

“Roughly 84 years ago, it was the voters who put an end to the failed policy of alcohol prohibition in Arizona,” Holyoak said. “Today’s ruling confirmed they will have the opportunity to end an equally disastrous prohibition policy this November.”


Arizona Cannabis Conference and Expo

Healthcare, law, politics, pro sports, investment opportunities, business and consumer trends, entrepreneurs and startups are among the many national cannabis industry hot topics that will be covered at the upcoming Arizona Cannabis Conference and Expo.

The event will be in downtown Phoenix at the Phoenix Convention Center on Saturday, October 15 and Sunday, October 16. Admission is $50 each day.

Along with marijuana industry professionals speaking, there will be more than 300 businesses, non-profit organizations and budding entrepreneurs at the expo.

Organizers say the Arizona Cannabis Conference and Expo is expected to draw nearly 10,000 attendees from across Arizona and the nation to learn about the blooming industry.

“We have created national demand for our shows because they uniquely merge business, education and entertainment. They allow participants to reach medical patients, mainstream consumers, and business-to-business professionals. Attendees can learn directly from industry leading doctors, scientists, attorneys, finance experts and even their favorite former NFL gridiron heroes,” said an event spokesperson.


Marijuana Science

Most scientists admit that studying marijuana is safe, and that researching it shouldn’t be such an arduous process.

Gregory Gerdeman, an Assistant Professor of Biology at Eckerd College, told TIME: “A question that is not on the lips of researchers is whether or not the consumption of cannabis-based medicines is safe… in the biomedical research community, it is universally understood that cannabis is a very safe, well-tolerated medicine.”

Here are the main scientific issues that researchers told TIME they want to understand about marijuana:

Is marijuana an effective cancer therapy?

“It is already widely understood that marijuana is valuable and safe as a palliative medicine, which undermines the tenets of the Schedule 1 status,” says Gerdeman. “But additionally, there are anecdotal patient reports, increasing numbers of legitimate clinical case studies, and large amounts of preclinical studies that all indicate tumor-fighting activities of cannabinoids, and with great mechanistic detail.” Gerdeman says he wants to know whether herbal marijuana is effective in cancer therapy, and if it is, for what cancer types.

What does it do to the brain?

Studies have shown small structural changes in the brains of people who use marijuana, and researchers say there is little doubt that using marijuana has effects on the brain. However, whether those changes are actually bad, remains unknown. “This is an important question with tremendous policy implications,” says Gerdeman. “While the media interpret such [changes] de facto as evidence of damage, they are within the range of normal human variation as far as we currently understand.”

What dosage or strains have the best use in medicine?

Researchers say they want to know more about how much marijuana is needed to treat a person’s disorder, and for how long. “Like all drugs, FDA-approved therapeutics or recreational, marijuana will have some unwanted side effects,” says Sinai’s Hurd. In addition, researchers are still looking into what strains are most beneficial and whether a person needs the whole plant, or just one compound.

Can marijuana help brain and cognitive problems?

Some researchers, like Gerdeman, want to study whether marijuana could stave off Alzheimer’s disease or even mitigate brain damage from stroke or concussions. One 2014 study suggested a compound in marijuana could slow the production of proteins that accumulate when a person has Alzheimer’s.

What about anxiety?

There’s some evidence suggesting marijuana could help people with anxiety, but the relationship is still not well understood. “Without the clinical trials it may be a long time before we know for sure,” says Patel.

Can pot help end the opioid epidemic?

As TIME has previously reported, several doctors are interested in the use of marijuana as an alternative or adjunct to opioids, since the U.S. is currently in the midst of an epidemic of painkiller addiction. “If you give [opioids] alongside cannabis, there is a synergistic effect which means you can give less of the opioid and or you can give the opioid for a shorter period,” says Dr. Lester Grinspoon is Associate Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. A 2016 study found doctors in a state where marijuana was legal prescribed an average of 1,826 fewer doses of painkillers per year.

Are there long term consequences of using pot?

Scientists also want to understand whether marijuana can cause any effects over the long term, since some people may use the plant medicinally for some time. “What are the effects on the developing brain?,” says Hurd. “This is a particularly important question for me since our preclinical studies suggested that prenatal and adolescent THC exposure can have long-term impact into adulthood long after the drug was administered.”