Mj news for 02/18/2015

7greeneyes

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http://www.nj.com/essex/index.ssf/2015/02/coalition_launches_to_advocate_for_legalization_ta.html





Marijuana legal in New Jersey? This new coalition launches effort to legalize it, tax it





NEWARK — A group of activists gathered in the state's largest city Wednesday to announce a new coalition that will advocate for the legalization, taxation, and regulation of marijuana. A string of speakers today officially launched "New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform" during a press conference in Newark.

The coalition - which is made up of members like the ACLU-New Jersey, NAACP State Conference of New Jersey, and Law Enforcement Against Prohibition - argued that legalizing the drug would increase revenue to the state, lighten enforcement burdens on police departments and prosecutors, and streamline usage.

"It is time to take marijuana out of our parks, and off of our street corners, and put it behind the counter," ACLU Executive Director Udi Ofer said during the conference. "It is time to stop turning otherwise law-abiding citizens into criminals."

The group cited statistics claiming that New Jersey police officers make about 21,000 marijuana-related arrests each year, and argued that the time spent processing these arrests could be focused on other "more serious" crimes.

"As a municipal prosecutor, I have had to waste countless taxpayer dollars and hours of police officers' time to prosecute New Jerseyeans," said Jon-Henry Barr, the President of the N.J. Municipal Prosecutors Association. "The savings that will be realized will dwarf any drawbacks."

The arrests, the group said, disproportionately target black residents.

"The war on marijuana has failed, and this failure (has) had a devastating impact on black families," NAACP-NJ President Richard Smith said at the conference. "We will work to ensure that a portion of the revenue generated (by the legalization of marijuana)...will be reinvested into our communities that have been most impacted by the enforcement."

Coalition members said they are not advocating for a particular bill or law, and that they plan to examine how legalization efforts in other states play out when formulating the exact law that would go into effect in New Jersey. Usage would be restricted, they said, to adults over 21. Using marijuana while driving would also remain illegal.

The quantity of marijuana each adult would be allowed to have would also likely be limited, the group said.

Dr. David Nathan, a psychiatrist and Rutgers professor, argued that "restricting the points of access to marijuana" would also work to eventually decrease the ease with which minors can acquire the drug.

"Currently, the criminal consequences of marijuana use are far worse than the medical consequences," Nathan said in a statement. "We should use revenues from marijuana taxation to educate young people about the actual harms caused by its recreational use."

New Jersey passed a medical marijuana law in 2009, and the first dispensary in the state opened in 2012. Participation in the program thus far has been relatively low.

Gov. Chris Christie has said that he will not support the legalization of recreational marijuana, arguing that it gives the wrong message to the state's children. Members of the coalition Wednesday said they did not feel that the governor's position was a deterrent to their cause.

"This is not necessarily a direct appeal to the governor," former N.J. Assembly Executive Director William Caruso said at the conference. "(Our focus is) this movement, and getting the message out to the people."
 

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http://abcnews.go.com/US/federal-judge-regrets-55-year-marijuana-sentence/story?id=28869467





Former Federal Judge Regrets 55-Year Marijuana Sentence





Weldon Angelos was just 24 years old when he was sentenced to 55 years in federal prison for three marijuana sales. He is one of the hundreds of thousands of federal prisoners serving decades-long sentences for non-violent crimes, thanks to mandatory minimum sentencing laws created in the 1980s during America’s war on drugs.

As a result, Angelos may not live long enough to experience freedom again. His case has haunted the federal judge that put him there.

"I do think about Angelos,” said Paul Cassell, a now-retired federal judge in the Utah circuit. “I sometimes drive near the prison where he’s held, and I think, ‘Gosh he shouldn’t be there. Certainly not as long as I had to send him there. ... That wasn’t the right thing to do. The system forced me to do it.”

Back in 2002, Angelos was an aspiring music producer and a father of two young boys living in Salt Lake City. Determined to make it big, he founded his own record company, eventually collaborating with big names like Snoop Dogg. But Angelos told ABC News he also started dealing pot on the side.

Federal authorities caught wind of Angelos’s dealings and set up three stings, using a criminal informant to buy about $1,000 worth of marijuana from him. But one critical detail made this case extraordinary -- during the deals, the criminal informant claimed Angelos had a gun in his possession.

The case went to federal court and Angelos was convicted of selling narcotics while in possession of a firearm. These offenses fall under mandatory minimum sentencing laws, and prosecutors treated each of the three marijuana deals as its own individual offense. This is what is called “stacking” the charges, and it means Angelos was facing three prison terms, stacked on top of each other. All in-- 55 years in prison, with no possibility of parole.

"A mandatory minimum is a sentence that says a judge has to impose a particular minimum number of years,” Cassell said. “It ties the judge’s hands… mandatory minimums can be used to send a message, but at some point the message gets lost.”

As many as 210,000 prisoners like Angelos are serving decades behind bars for non-violent crimes. The group Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) has complied hundreds of cases of non-violent offenders serving out what they call extreme prison sentences.

“The drug war totally drove the mandatory minimums that we’re still dealing with today” said Julie Stewart, founder of FAMM. “We have escalated punishments to the point that it’s crazy… Why does any non-violent offenders need to spend more than ten years in prison? Even that is a huge amount of time.”

Paul Cassell, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, now teaches law at the University of Utah. But he says the Angelos case still weighs on him, which is the reason he agreed to speak to “Nightline” about his ruling, something federal judges rarely do.

When Cassell delivered his ruling in the Angelos case, he was quick to point out how severe the sentence seemed compared to other, violent crimes.

“If he had been an aircraft hijacker, he would have gotten 24 years in prison. If he’s been a terrorist, he would have gotten 20 years in prison. If he was a child rapist, he would have gotten 11 years in prison. And now I’m supposed to give him a 55-year sentence? I mean, that’s just not right,”

“I think that most of the time, our federal justice system succeeds,” Cassell continued. “But there are some cases where it fails and the Angelos case is a prime example of that.”

Keeping offenders like Angelos in prison for virtual life sentences is also a heavy burden on the taxpayer -- Angelos alone will cost an estimated $1.5 million dollars by the time his sentence is through.

“I thought the sentence was utterly unjust to Weldon Angelos, but also unjust to the taxpayer,” Cassell pointed out. “I think it’s just a waste of resources to lock him up for 55 years, I don’t really think anyone believe that’s an appropriate sentence."

Since Utah has no federal prisons, Angelos was sent to serve his time at a prison in California, thousands of miles away from his family.

Lisa Angelos remembers vividly the day when her brother was sentenced.

“The one thing he did say to me was that, we’ll never forget, he said ‘please, please help save my life,’ and I told him for as long as it takes, I will,” she said.

Lisa has made good on that promise, writing petitions, filing appeals, even testifying against the use of mandatory minimums in Congress. She’s partnered up with Families Against Mandatory Minimums to campaign for her brother’s release. But after years of trying, the only way Weldon Angelos will leave prison early is if he receives a commutation from President Obama.

"The President has to say, you have served enough time. It’s time to let you out,” says Julie Stewart, the president of FAMM, “And I’m optimistic that he will do that. Because Weldon’s case is an outrage.”

Lisa Angelos knows getting a presidential commutation is no easy task, but feels like her brother’s case may be strong enough. “I look at it and it doesn’t make sense. It’s like pennies worth of marijuana, how can somebody be doing life for that?”

Weldon Angelos is now 35 years old. He’ll be 78 by the time his 55 years are up.

His two young sons, Anthony and Jesse, are now teenagers, and haven’t seen their father for seven years—the last time they were able to buy a trip out to California.

“Being around them you can feel their heart ache, even though their laughter, and watching them play and do the fun stuff, you can still feel it,” Lisa Angelos said. “Seeing what they have gone through by losing their father, it just emotionally destroys me.”

Nearly every week, the boys talk on the phone with their father. During one such phone call, Weldon Angelos was able to talk to “Nightline” briefly.

“I mean it’s difficult to understand. I thought my sentence was definitely unnecessary,” Angelos said. “A 55-year sentence is not going to do any more than a five or 10 year sentence would have done, except take more of my life.”

Lisa said she will continue to fight for her brother’s freedom.

“To think that he will be in there until he is nearly 80 years old, I can’t give up on him, I just can’t do it,” she said.
 

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http://www.cincinnati.com/story/news/2015/02/17/marijuana-proposal-allow-home-growers/23569555/





Ohio marijuana proposal would allow home growers





Drafters of this year's proposal to legalize marijuana in Ohio said Tuesday they've added language to allow adults over 21 to get a license to grow at home. They also cut the suggested tax on retail sales from 15 percent to 5 percent.

Until Tuesday, the proposed constitutional amendment from ResponsibleOhio said nothing about people growing at home. Lydia Bolander, the group's spokeswoman, said the organization originally intended to leave the issue to the Ohio Legislature.

"But we had a lot of input from experts and concerned citizens, not just here in Ohio but nationwide," Bolander said, "and the more we thought about it, staying silent on the home-grow issue was only going to create more confusion."

ResponsibleOhio needs to collect at least 306,000 signatures to place the proposed amendment on the November ballot. The amendment would provide for 10 privately owned grow sites – three of which would be in Greater Cincinnati. But potential supporters argued that leaving out home growers could hurt the proposal.

"Even for people who don't smoke or grow just think it's wrong to have a corporation that's the only one that can grow," said Robert Ryan, president of the Ohio chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. "It's like saying no one can grow tomatoes in their backyard."

The revised language is modeled on the Oregon legalization measure that passed in November. It would allow Ohioans over 21 to obtain licenses from a new Marijuana Control Commission to grow up to four plants indoors in an area secured from the reach of minors. Home growers would not be permitted to sell.

Bolander said, "We thought home growing could be a part that we could leave for the General Assembly to decide when we are further along. But we realize that it does need to be accounted for, so we made the decision to include it because it's the right thing to offer adults. Much like alcohol, adults can responsibly grow marijuana at home in the same way that they responsibly brew beer at home."

The original amendment called for a 15 percent tax on retail sales at licensed stores. But the new language cuts that figure to 5 percent. Bolander said the lower proposed tax would smother the black market.

Ohio NORML has not expressed official opinion on the ResponsibleOhio amendment. But Ryan agreed Tuesday with Bolander that cutting the sales tax rate would land a blow on the black market.

"Washington state has a very large black market due to their very high taxes," Ryan said. "Reducing the tax will minimize the black market in Ohio."

Washington state, which legalized marijuana in 2012, has a 25 percent excise tax on marijuana.
 

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http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/20...ana-hijacks-your-brain-to-create-the-munchies





How Marijuana Highjacks Your Brain To Give You The Munchies





Shortly after toking up, a lot of marijuana users find that there's one burning question on their minds: "Why am I so hungry?" Researchers have been probing different parts of the brain looking for the root cause of the marijuana munchies for years. Now, a team of neuroscientists report that they have stumbled onto a major clue buried in a cluster of neurons they thought was responsible for making you feel full.

This cluster, called the POMC neurons, is in the hypothalamus, a region of the brain that scientists typically associate with base instincts like sexual arousal, alertness and feeding. Tamas Horvath, a neuroscientist at the Yale School of Medicine and the team's leader, says that the POMC neurons normally work by sending out a chemical signal telling the brain, you're sated, stop eating.

In the past, when neuroscientists shut down POMC neurons in mice, all the mice became morbidly obese. Horvath figured that in order for the drug in marijuana — compounds called cannabinoids — to spawn that undeniable impulse to feed, it would have to bind the activity of these neurons and make them fire less. Paradoxically, Horvath says, "We found the exact opposite."

The team discovered that when they injected cannabinoids into mice, the drug was turning off adjacent cells that normally command the POMC neurons to slow down. As a result, the POMC neurons' activity leapt up. At the same time, the cannabinoids activate a receptor inside the POMC neuron that causes the cell to switch from making a chemical signal telling the brain you're full to making endorphins, a neurotransmitter that's known to increase appetite.

These two effects combined create a kind of runaway hungry effect. "Even if you just had dinner and you smoke the pot, all of a sudden these neurons that told you to stop eating become the drivers of hunger," Horvath says. It's a bit like slamming down on the brakes and finding weed has turned it into another gas pedal.

Jessica Barson and Sarah Leibowitz, two neuroscientists at the Rockefeller University in New York City, say that the study is pretty innovative. The idea that a neuron would flip from firing off one chemical signal to giving the complete opposite signal in this way is a new one, and Leibowitz says that reveals an important driver of overeating in general. And Barson says Horvath's team has just done some excellent experiments. "It's really beautiful to read a study like this," she says.

One caveat is that the study — which appears online in the journal Nature — was done on mouse brains, not human ones. But Horvath says the hypothalamus is such an ancient part of the brain, something that evolved before mammals, that he'd "bet his life" the way these neural circuits work in mice is the same in humans. Barson says that until you do the experiment with humans, "you can't know for sure, but it's reasonable to conclude that it's the same thing."

The study is not, however, the final missing piece of the munchies mystery. A lot of other neural processes get layered on top of what goes inside the hypothalamus, and cannabinoids affect those other parts of the brain as well. Last year, researchers found that cannabinoids lit up the brain's olfactory center, making mice more sensitive to smells. Before that, other researchers discovered cannabinoids were increasing levels of dopamine in the brain; that's the swoon that comes with eating tasty things.

Horvath says the neural circuitry that cannabinoids are subverting in the hypothalamus is the fundamental driver for hunger. It has to do with basic survival. But he also agrees that the munchies are probably the sum result of cannabinoids acting all over the brain.

"For anyone who's experienced it — you realize that's exactly what's happening," he chuckles. "You just can't stop, no matter how much you put in your mouth."
 

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http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/02/17/vermont-marijuana-legalization_n_6662426.html





Vermont Could Be Next State To Legalize Recreational Marijuana





Vermont could become the first state in history to legalize recreational marijuana via state legislature with a new bill submitted Tuesday that aims to end prohibition of the plant.

Senate Bill 95 would legalize the possession, use and sale of recreational marijuana in the state for those 21 and older. Adult residents could possess up to an ounce of marijuana and grow up to nine plants (two mature, seven immature) for personal use, including any additional marijuana produced by those plants. Personal cultivation would be limited to secure indoor facilities.

Non-residents could also enjoy the new laws, legally purchasing up to one-quarter of an ounce of marijuana from a licensed retail shop.

The bill also proposes an excise tax of $40 per ounce of marijuana flower, $15 per ounce of any other marijuana product and a $25 tax on each immature cannabis plant sold by a cultivator.

Forty percent of revenue brought in through marijuana taxation would be earmarked for substance abuse treatment services; public education programs about the risks of using various drugs; law enforcement; and academic and medical research on the plant.

Marijuana would remain banned from being smoked in public.

A Marijuana Control Board would be established to oversee the state industry and enforce regulations.

To date, four states and the District of Columbia have already legalized recreational marijuana use (sales remain banned in D.C.) -- all via a referendum process where voters passed ballot initiatives aimed at loosening their marijuana laws. What makes Vermont unique is that lawmakers have the opportunity to legalize the federally banned substance directly through the legislative process.

Sen. David Zuckerman, sponsor of the bill and member of the state's Progressive party, told The Huffington Post that he's pursuing legalization because it's simply a more rational approach to a substance that is in such widespread use today.

"One can experiment with alcohol, as many do, and use marijuana, as many do, and turn out to be a positive and productive member of our society," Zuckerman said. “Certainly, I’ve not hidden the fact that I recreationally used while I was in college, and yet I turned out to be a productive business person."

Medical marijuana has been legal in Vermont for more than a decade, and Zuckerman says that experience has led to years of "thoughtful dialogue" that has helped inform state lawmakers substantially on the issue of expanding into recreational legalization. But Zuckerman said that while a vote to legalize could take place as early as this year, he expects discussion of the bill could push the vote to 2016.

Last week, a group of Vermont lawmakers, lobbyists and law enforcers spent three days in Colorado on what was billed as a "fact-finding" trip to learn more about the effects recreational legalization has had on the Centennial State. Colorado, along with Washington, became the first state to legalize and regulate retail marijuana for adults in 2012.

If the measure passes, it's likely that Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) would sign it into law.

"My bias on legalization is toward legalization," Shumlin said in January. "Let’s remember, we have this conversation and we pretend that you can’t get marijuana now. In the real world, folks, if you want to get marijuana in Vermont, we’re in Lala Land if we’re pretending you can’t. The question is how do we move to a smarter approach that doesn’t promote addiction, that doesn’t promote abuse and really accepts the reality."

Earlier this year, policy research group RAND Corporation released a detailed report on the myriad marijuana legalization and regulatory options available to the state. The report noted that Vermonters in 2014 likely consumed 15 to 25 metric tons of marijuana, spending between $125 to $225 million on marijuana. If lawmakers wind up legalizing the drug, taxed it and successfully squashed the black market, the report estimates that the state could bring in $20 to $75 million in revenue.

The regulation and taxation of marijuana appears to be supported by a majority of Vermonters -- a 2014 poll found 57 percent were in favor of changing the state's marijuana laws.

Vermont isn't alone in its legislative route to legalization. Lawmakers in Rhode Island are also expected to consider a similar bill this year. In Maryland, bills to regulate marijuana similarly to alcohol have already been introduced.

Legal marijuana is the fastest-growing industry in the U.S., according to a recent report from industry analysts ArcView Group. Their recent report predicts that over the next five years, 14 more states will legalize recreational marijuana. Along with Vermont, at least nine more states are expected to consider recreational marijuana legalization by 2016.

"Vermont legislators have a great opportunity to show leadership by passing a marijuana regulation bill in 2015, and they should seize it," said Matt Simon, New England political director for drug policy reform group Marijuana Policy Project. "Most Vermonters understand that marijuana is objectively safer than alcohol, and they know it makes no sense to punish adults who choose to use the safer substance."
 

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http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwo...-tribes-wanting-grow-medical-marijuana-159208





Proceed With Caution: A Warning to Tribes Wanting to Grow Medical Marijuana





California’s Pinoleville Pomo Nation is poised to become the first American Indian tribe to grow medical marijuana, though investors claim at least 100 additional tribes are exploring their options.

Pinoleville is expected to break ground on a copy0 million, 100,000-square-foot greenhouse within 60 days, said Barry Brautman, president of FoxBarry Companies, a group of Kansas-based operations that specialize in developing Native business enterprises.

Several other tribes may also join the marijuana industry this spring, Brautman said. He declined to name the tribes, citing confidentiality agreements, but said his company has fielded queries from more than 100 tribes—most since December when a federal Justice Department memo became public and stated that sovereign Indian nations can choose to grow or sell marijuana on tribal lands without fear of federal harassment.

“We’ve been contacted by more than 100 tribes from coast to coast that wanted to get into the business in one way or another,” Brautman said. “They have expressed interest and some are certainly actively pursuing the interest.”

In January, FoxBarry signed a consulting and licensing agreement with United Cannabis, a Denver-based consulting and production firm. The agreement allows FoxBarry to be the exclusive distributor of United Cannabis products in California. In return, United Cannabis will receive $200,000 in prepaid royalties and a 15-percent royalty payment on net sales.

FoxBarry has already committed $30 million to establish three sites in California, including the Pinoleville operation.

With more than half of the country’s 1 million medical marijuana patients registered in California, the state easily has the biggest market. It is also home to more than 100 federally recognized tribes, making it the prime location to launch tribally owned marijuana operations.

“California has the most fruitful market, but there’s opportunity in Florida and on the East Coast,” said Derek Peterson, CEO of Terra Tech, a hydroponic farming company with operations in New Jersey and California that joined the medical marijuana industry in January 2014.

“We’re finding that the best markets are large areas with dense populations,” he said. “States with big populations but struggling marijuana programs.”

Investors likely will go after tribes in states where marijuana use is restricted, Peterson said. States like Florida and New York have low supply and high demand, which could lead to lucrative ventures on tribal land.

Terra Tech is negotiating with 10 tribes or groups that are eying the market and weighing their options, Peterson said. He called investments “win-win opportunities” that allow both tribes and companies to take advantage of a unique market.

“Tribes have sovereignty, which means a better level of safety, a better level of protection for investors,” he said. “There’s a level of uncertainty about medical marijuana right now with a presidential election coming up and a new attorney general coming. If the industry can do business with tribes, it’s a lot more stable.”

But operations like the one in Pinoleville are raising concerns among attorneys and Native groups. Medical marijuana is illegal in 27 states, and some experts fear tribes are taking unnecessary risks, which could be costly or even land tribal members in jail.

“There are lots of outside forces looking to take advantage of potential economic development in the tribal context,” said Anthony Broadman, a partner at Galanda Broadman, a Seattle-based, Native-owned law firm. “So you would expect that the outside entities are looking to help, exploit, assist, develop, incubate—all the good and bad things that happen with development in Indian Country.”

In states where medical marijuana is legal, tribes can’t afford to ignore the industry, Broadman said. But with federal, state and tribal governments involved in its regulation, marijuana is still a sticky topic.

“The DOJ memo was not a blank check to just got out and start growing weed,” he said. “If anything, regulation is going to be more robust on tribal lands.”

All eyes may be on Pinoleville as it forges its way into the industry, and Broadman cautions all tribes to act slowly.

“There’s going to be a lot of money poured into this,” he said. “That will drive a lot of poor decision-making. Tribes that are being cautious are taking the right approach.”

Walter Lamar, president of Lamar Associates, a Native-owned consulting and professional services company, also warns tribes to be cautious when considering pot. At the end of the day, marijuana is still an illegal drug, he said.

“We’re going to have to watch out for opportunists and hucksters,” said Lamar, who is Blackfeet and Wichita. “The promise of substantial revenues that are coming from this will lure some tribes into it blindly.”

The Pinoleville Pomo Nation did not respond to phone calls seeking comment. Its medical marijuana plant is expected to create between 50 and 100 jobs, with preference going to tribal members.
 

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http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/02/17/congress-medical-marijuana_n_6702128.html





Members Of Congress Stand Up For California Medical Marijuana Dispensary





Three congressional lawmakers from California are accusing the U.S. Department of Justice of overreach in an ongoing crackdown against Harborside Health Center, widely considered to be the largest and one of the most well-respected medical marijuana dispensaries in the nation.

"We believe DOJ has overstepped its bounds in the Harborside case," Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R), Sam Farr (D) and Barbara Lee (D) wrote in a letter last week about U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag's effort to shut down the Oakland, California-based Harborside. "We believe DOJ is not acting within the spirit or the letter of the law nor in the best interests of the people who depend on Harborside for reliable, safe medical marijuana."

The letter notes that public acceptance of medical marijuana has grown nationally, even as federal policy on the substance "stagnates." To highlight his support, Rohrabacher posed with Harborside's co-founder and executive director, Steve DeAngelo, at the dispensary:

Twenty-three states so far have legalized marijuana for medical purposes, and 11 others have legalized limited medical use of a specific marijuana-derived compound. But the federal government continues to ban the plant, classifying it as one of the "most dangerous" substances with "no currently accepted medical use."

The law that the three lawmakers reference in their letter is the Farr-Rohrabacher amendment, named after its main co-sponsors. The historic measure, which was part of the $1.1 trillion federal spending bill passed in December, prohibits the Justice Department from using funds to interfere with state-legal medical marijuana programs.

Despite that new provision, lawyers from Haag's office appeared before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit earlier this month to argue that the prosecution of Harborside should be allowed to proceed.

The Justice Department declined to comment on the lawmakers' letter due to the ongoing federal investigation.

Haag first sought to close down Harborside in 2012 on the grounds that the facility, which says it brings in roughly $25 million a year in revenue, had grown too large. Later that year, lawyers for Oakland sued to block Haag's actions, arguing that Harborside is an asset to the community and that closing it may create a public health crisis.

Harborside isn't the only medical marijuana operation that Haag has tried to shutter. Berkeley Patients Group, with the support of the city of Berkeley, is involved in a similar effort to beat back the U.S. attorney. Earlier this month, a 9th Circuit judge appeared to signal support for the Berkeley facility, which bills itself as California's oldest pot shop, by allowing it to continue operating while the court considers the pending litigation.

Despite the legal proceedings, Harborside's Oakland storefront and its sibling operation in San Jose are still open as well. Their clientele includes several children who suffer from severe forms of epilepsy, whose families have said cannabis tinctures are the only treatment that has helped.

"The people have spoken through their elected representatives," DeAngelo, the facility's executive director, said. "It’s time for the DOJ to start obeying the law and dismiss this misguided action against Harborside."
 

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http://www.newscientist.com/article...nly-half-the-cannabis-story.html#.VOUY5fnF-LM





Skunk's psychosis link is only half the cannabis story





Opponents of cannabis use have this week seized on the results of a new study in the UK that highlights the dangers of ultra-powerful "skunk" cannabis. The research suggests that skunk users treble their risk of psychosis compared with non-users, and quintuple it if they use skunk daily.

But New Scientist has found that another purified extract of cannabis is showing great promise as a potential drug to prevent or treat psychosis.

What did the skunk study show?
Researchers explored factors affecting psychosis in 410 people diagnosed with the condition for the first time, comparing their lifestyles with those of 370 controls who'd never had psychosis.

They found that psychosis was three times more likely in those who smoked high-potency skunk cannabis, compared with non-users. "In daily users of skunk the risk rose fivefold," says Robin Murray of King's College London, who co-led the team. People who smoked low-potency hash, by contrast, were no more likely to experience psychosis than non-users, suggesting skunk was the culprit.

What is it that makes skunk disproportionately harmful?
Basically, it is far richer than hash in delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the ingredient that creates the drug's high but which also triggers psychosis. Even more important, skunk contains hardly any of a substance called cannabidiol, or CBD, which has been shown to counteract the psychotic effects of THC. "In traditional hash, the proportions of THC and CBD are about equal, at 4 per cent each," explains Amir Englund of King's College London, who was not involved in the study. "In skunk, THC reaches around 14 to 15 per cent, while CBC tumbles to barely a trace," he says.

How come there's so much THC in skunk?
Both substances are made in the marijuana plant from the same starting material, called cannabigerol, so if the content of one goes up, the other goes down. In hash, typically grown under natural conditions in north Africa, the cannabigerol is converted equally into both.

But producers in the UK have bred strains in which the enzyme for making THC is more dominant, generating cannabis with much higher THC content and much lower CBD content as a result.

Because this type of cannabis is stronger, and more likely to be demanded by regular users who need stronger strains to get their hit, it has come to dominate the black market in the UK over the past 20 years. Hence the increase in psychosis, especially in new, young regular users who have not had time like their older peers to get used to stronger strains. "It's like having a couple of scotch whiskies every day instead of a pint of beer," says Englund.

Is there proof that CBD dampens psychosis?
The evidence is growing, to the point where purified cannabidiol is being tested as a possible treatment for psychosis in people with schizophrenia. A company called GW Pharmaceuticals in Cambridge, UK, is testing it in 80 individuals with schizophrenia split between the UK, Poland and Romania to see if it reduces their risk of psychosis.

Englund and his colleagues published results two years ago in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, DOI: 10.1177/0269881112460109, showing that in 48 healthy volunteers, 42 per cent suffered psychotic episodes following injections of THC, compared with just 14 per cent if they received a tablet of CBD beforehand.

Also, recipients of CBD were less likely to suffer paranoid episodes, and unlike non-recipients, suffered no memory loss on word-recall tests.

Is CBD as effective as existing antipsychotic medicines?
Apparently so. A study in Germany, published two years ago, showed that in 33 patients with schizophrenia, CBD alleviated psychotic symptoms as well as the existing medication, amisulpride, but without the usual side effects, including movement disturbances, weight gain and sexual dysfunction Translational Psychiatry, DOI: 10.1038/tp.2012.15).

That's great, but what can be done now to help users avoid damage from skunk?
Murray favours education, to warn existing and potential users of the risks they face, in the hope that they either give up or failing that switch to hash instead.

David Nutt of Imperial College London, who has argued for decriminalisation of cannabis, believes that skunk would disappear if governments or states made consumption legal by overseeing its production and regulating its sale, supply and content, as is happening in Uruguay and the US state of Colorado. "Prohibition has created the monster of skunk," he says. "The solution is to regulate cannabis trade."

Journal reference: The Lancet Psychiatry, DOI: 10.1016/S2215-0366(14)00117-5.
 
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