MJ News for 07/25/2014


Jul 25, 2008
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(Illinois) Marijuana-friendly ordinances OK'd

URBANA — It's high time to let medical marijuana cultivators and dispensaries open up shop in town, city officials say.

What's your take? Tell Tom Kacich here

They are looking to change their own rules to allow the businesses made legal under the state's new medical marijuana law to find a place within the city. Right now, Urbana does not have any laws that govern cannabis dispensaries and cultivation, and the plan commission Thursday night approved changes to city ordinances that regulate where and how pot shops can open.

That could be the first step in allowing the shops or a grow center to open in Urbana. Assuming the city council gives the green light, the businesses that operate legally under the new state rules on medical marijuana would be allowed to open in the city's industrial, business or agricultural districts.

The state law prescribes the security and licensing requirements for the businesses. City rules will govern where they can be located.

Cultivation centers, where marijuana plants are grown, would need approval from either the city council or zoning board of appeals. Dispensaries, where medical marijuana is sold to customers, would not need special approval.

Neither would be allowed anywhere near schools or day care facilities — cultivation centers would need a 2,500-foot buffer from those areas, and dispensaries would need 1,000 feet of separation. Cultivation centers would also need a 2,500-foot buffer from residential areas, and dispensaries would be prohibited from operating out of any house, apartment or condominium.

That leaves only one small area of the city where cultivation centers would be allowed to open: in an industrial area west of Lincoln Avenue in the far northwest corner of the city.

Dispensaries would have considerably more options: Among them are anywhere within a couple blocks of the intersection of University and Cunningham avenues, near North Lincoln Avenue, on University Avenue immediately north of the University of Illinois campus, and just about anywhere north of Interstate 74.

The businesses are competing for a limited number of state permits. In the entire state of Illinois, licenses will be granted to only 60 dispensaries and 21 cultivation centers.

And those numbers are further divvied up among several districts. The numbers are far fewer in Urbana's nine-county district, where only one cultivation center and two dispensaries would be allowed to open, said city planner Kevin Garcia.

Given those limits, he said, the addition of medical marijuana businesses would reinforce the city's strong health care industry.

"We feel that allowing these uses, if somebody chose to site one or more of them, would certainly strengthen Urbana's role as a regional health care center," Garcia said.

And potential business owners are looking at Urbana. Plan commissioner Andrew Fell asked city administrators if it is something they are trying to lure to the area.

"We have received a few inquiries from businesses," said city planner Jeff Engstrom. "Yeah, we feel it would be compatible with the city. It would help our standing as a regional medical center. It would be good for taxes."

Plan commission chairman Tyler Fitch pointed out that, as limited as the available licenses are, Urbana could be the medical marijuana center of East Central Illinois.

"We could conceivably corner the market in this district," he said.


Jul 25, 2008
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3 More Jurisdictions That Could Legalize Marijuana By The End Of The Year

This week a marijuana legalization initiative officially qualified for the ballot in Oregon. Voters will also consider legalization measures in Alaska and (probably) the District of Columbia this fall, so by the end of the year three more jurisdictions could join Colorado and Washington in allowing recreational use of cannabis. The differences among the five measures illustrate the advantages of federalism, which allows policy experiments that will help chart the course to the end of marijuana prohibition in America.


The Oregon initiative, known as the Control, Regulation, and Taxation of Marijuana and Industrial Hemp Act, combines elements of Colorado’s Amendment 64 and Washington’s I-502. Like both of those initiatives, it would allow adults 21 and older to purchase and possess up to an ounce of marijuana at a time. Like Amendment 64, it allows nonprofit transfers of up to an ounce. That provision protects people from arrest for sharing pot, which otherwise can be treated as criminal distribution, even if it’s limited to passing a joint.

The Oregon measure’s decriminalization of marijuana use does not apply to consumption in any “public place,” defined as “a place to which the general public has access.” By comparison, Colorado prohibits “consumption that is conducted openly and publicly,” while Washington forbids consumption “in view of the general public,” both of which seem to cover less ground. Like Colorado (and unlike Washington), Oregon’s initiative allows home cultivation, but with stricter limits: up to four plants and eight ounces of usable marijuana per household, compared to six plants and whatever amount they produce per adult in Colorado.

The Oregon initiative takes a different approach to taxation than Colorado or Washington, both of which imposed levies based on a percentage of wholesale and retail prices. Oregon’s initiative instead would impose taxes on cannabusinesses based on weight: $35 per ounce of buds and $10 per ounce of leaves, plus $5 per immature plant.

One distinct advantage of the Oregon initiative is that it would not change the standard for driving under the influence of intoxicants (DUII, a.k.a. DUID). Under current law, convicting someone of DUII requires showing that he was “affected to a noticeable degree” by marijuana or another controlled substance, based on the “totality of the circumstances.” By contrast, Washington’s current rule, established by I-502, says any driver whose blood contains five or more nanograms of THC per milliliter is automatically guilty of DUID, a standard that in effect prohibits driving by many daily consumers, including patients who use marijuana as a medicine, even when they are not actually impaired. Amendment 64 did not directly change Colorado’s DUID law, but after it passed the state legislature approved a law that created a “rebuttable presumption”of DUID at five nanograms, which in ”practice may have the same impact as Washington’s law. Oregon’s initiative instead instructs the state Liquor Control Commission, which as in Washington would be charged with regulating the newly legal cannabis industry, to study “the influence of marijuana on the ability of a person to drive a vehicle” and advise the legislature on whether changing Oregon’s DUII rule is appropriate.

A previous Oregon legalization initiative failed in 2012, when 53 percent of voters said no to Measure 80. A recent Survey USA poll put support for marijuana legalization in Oregon at 51 percent, with 41 percent opposed and 8 percent undecided.


Alaska has taken a unique approach to marijuana since 1975, when the Alaska Supreme Court decided that the state constitution’s privacy clause allows people to possess small amounts of cannabis at home for personal use without fear of arrest or punishment. But that ruling raised an obvious question: Where are people supposed to get the pot they are allowed to use?

Measure 2, which was originally set to appear on the primary ballot next month but was switched to the November ballot for technical legal reasons, answers that question with a system similar to Colorado’s. It would allow adults 21 or older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana at a time, grow up to six plants at home, and transfer up to an ounce at a time to other adults “without remuneration.” It authorizes state-licensed growers, cannabis product manufacturers, and retailers, to be regulated by Alaska’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board or a separate agency created by the state legislature.

Alaska’s tax would be $50 per ounce, collected from growers. From the government’s perspective, the advantage of that approach, which is similar to the way alcohol is taxed (by volume), is that proceeds from a given quantity of marijuana remain the same as prices drop, which is what will happen as the market develops unless something goes terribly wrong. The disadvantage, from a social engineer’s perspective, is that a tax based on weight does not take potency into account (unlike alcohol taxes, which fall more heavily on liquor than on beer). In fact, a weight tax might encourage higher potency, especially as it becomes a larger and larger component of the retail price. If production costs fall as expected, Alaska’s weight tax could amount to a rate of 100 percent or more within a few years, giving consumers an even bigger incentive to buy the strongest pot they can find.

Measure 2 prohibits marijuana consumption “in public,” making it “a violation punishable by a fine of up to $100.” The initiative does not define “in public,” but that language probably will prevent people from legally consuming marijuana in any setting other than their homes. As in Colorado, the effort to keep cannabis consumption hidden will make enjoying the newly legal product especially problematic for visitors.

Like Oregon’s initiative, Alaska’s does not change the state’s DUID rules. Under current law, blood test results can be used as evidence that someone was driving “while under the influence of” marijuana, but they are not necessarily conclusive. Alaska does not have a “per se” standard like Washington’s, which makes drivers automatically guilty of DUID when the amount of THC in their blood exceeds a specified level.

A March poll commissioned by the Alaska House Majority Caucus found that 52 percent of voters favored Measure 2, a few points lower than the support found in a survey by Public Policy Polling the previous month.

District of Columbia

The District of Columbia’s marijuana initiative—which has not officially qualified for the ballot yet but probably will soon, since the campaign submitted more than twice the required number of signatures earlier this month—is the least ambitious of this year’s three legalization measures, since it does not allow commercial production and sale. Instead Initiative 71 would legalize home cultivation of up to six plants by adults 21 or older, along with possession of up to two ounces and transfer of up to an ounce at a time “without remuneration.” Residents who are not horticulturally inclined and do not have friends who are would be out of luck.

Last March a survey by Public Policy Polling found that Initiative 71 was supported by 49 percent of D.C. residents, with 33 percent opposed and 18 percent undecided. By contrast, a 2013 survey by the same organization found that 63 percent of D.C. voters either “strongly” or “somewhat” supported allowing commercial distribution as well as possession and consumption.

Legalizing the marijuana business would require action by the D.C. Council, which probably will not be ready to take that step anytime soon, although it did decriminalize possession of up to an ounce this year, making it a violation punishable by a $25 fine rather than a misdemeanor that can result in arrest and jail time. Even if local legislators were inclined to favor full legalization, they could be overridden by Congress, which has veto authority over D.C. laws. Congress could also block implementation of Initiative 71 if it passes, as it did for years with the medical marijuana initiative that D.C. voters approved in 1998.

Even the decriminalization of possession in D.C. was a step too far for some members of Congress. The House version of an appropriations bill making its way through Congress includes an amendment introduced by Rep. Andy Harris HRS -0.26% (R-Md.) that bars D.C. from spending money “to enact or carry out any law, rule, or regulation to legalize or otherwise reduce penalties associated with the possession, use, or distribution” of any controlled substance, including marijuana. The impact of the Harris amendment on the new penalty for possession, which took effect last week, is uncertain, since it is not clear in what sense not arresting and prosecuting people for marijuana possession results in an additional expenditure of public funds. But if the amendment is part of the appropriations bill approved by both houses (which looks unlikely, since that would require the assent of Senate Democrats), it could effectively nullify Initiative 71. In fact, the Yes on 71 campaign worries that Harris’s rider “could prevent the District of Columbia Board of Elections from using its funds to print the ballots that include Initiative #71.”

The White House opposes the Harris amendment, and its rationale is heartening:

The Administration strongly opposes the language in the bill preventing the District from using its own local funds to carry out locally passed marijuana policies, which…undermines the principles of States’ rights and of District home rule. Furthermore, the language poses legal challenges to the Metropolitan Police Department’s enforcement of all marijuana laws currently in force in the District.

Strictly speaking, “states’ rights” do not apply to the District of Columbia. Still, it’s encouraging to hear the administration explicitly invoke federalism (as opposed to, say, Justice Department priorities) in the context of marijuana reform. The local autonomy preserved by the Constitution creates leeway for states to give pot peace a chance, and the experience of those that do will guide others in the coming years. In 2016 more states are expected to consider legalization, most likely including California, Arizona, Nevada, Montana, Maine, and Massachusetts.

“Colorado is not going to be the top dog for much longer,” says Kayvan Khalatbari, co-owner of Denver Relief, one of the state’s best-known dispensaries. “By 2016 we’re going to have up to a dozen other states in this country that are legalizing cannabis. I think it’s only a matter of time before Colorado really gets overlooked.”


Jul 25, 2008
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Guatemalan president still mulling whether to legalize marijuana

Will Guatemala ever legalize marijuana? Maybe.

The country's president, Otto Perez Molina, didn't rule out the possibility of legalizing the drug during an interview with The Washington Post on Thursday.

Molina and the leaders of El Salvador and Honduras are in town for meetings Friday with President Obama and Vice President political name to discuss the historic influx of immigrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. Ahead of their White House stop, the leaders huddled Thursday with lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

A former military general, Molina caused a stir last year when he used his annual address at the United Nations General Assembly to credit the states of Colorado and Washington for their "visionary decision" to legalize marijuana.

Molina first raised the specter of legalization in 2012, just a few months after taking office. He admitted that the possibility of legalizing at least some drugs might help stem the flow and diminish the clout of violent drug gangs who rule over wide swaths of Central America. His change in tactics and rhetoric was notable since Molina had campaigned in 2011 on a law-and-order platform known as "Mano Dura," or "iron fist."

During his chat with The Post, Molina said that the global media might have initially misinterpreted his comments on drug legalization as a suggestion that all drugs should be legalized. "But little by little, there have been more incidents that suggest that the issue should be looked at differently, based out of the level of addiction and the damage they can cause," he said.

"That’s why you can separate marijuana from cocaine, or from heroin. It’s clear how marijuana doesn’t cause the same level of addiction, or damage to health, and these are steps we’re taking in the right path," he added.

Molina will be hosting an international conference on drug policy in September in Guatemala. He's hoping for a robust discussion about reviewing global policy and protocol on illegal drugs.

And how does he think the first few months of marijuana legalization has gone in Colorado and Washington? He wouldn't say. Will Guatemala ever legalize marijuana?

"Right now we have a commission that’s following what’s been happening in Uruguay, Portugal, Holland, Colorado, and the state of Washington," he said, calling out other jurisdictions with lenient pot laws. "I expect to receive the studies, analysis and recommendations at the end of the year and from there we will make the decisions that would best fit our country."

Guatemalan presidents serve only one term, and Molina's time is up in early 2016. So there's still time.


Jul 25, 2008
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There's a budding business in loans for marijuana startups

Stiff financial hurdles for starting a medical marijuana business in Illinois are creating a way for well-heeled investors to get involved.

“There will be a whole heckuva lot of need for investment,” said Michael Griffin, CEO of HedgeACTLLC, a Chicago provider of Web-based software for managing hedge funds. “There could be hundreds of applicants.”

He and two other organizers of Prairie Wellness Fund Ltd. plan to provide loans and letters of credit totaling tens of millions of dollars to help Illinois pot-related firms get started.

Each of the 21 cultivation centers the state plans to license will have to put up a $2 million surety bond and prove it has $500,000 in working capital available to start the business, with somewhat lower requirements for the 60 dispensaries that will be allowed around the state.

“They don't want a cottage industry, they want bigger players,” said Stephen Denari, a political consultant in Chicago and another principal of Prairie Wellness Fund.

Building a cultivation center to meet the state's strict security requirements is expected to run as high as $10 million, and even dispensaries will need $1 million to $2 million for inventory, he added. “There are really good applicants who couldn't reach that hurdle.”

Illinois regulators are near the end of the comment period on final regulations for medical marijuana, after which applications will be available. It isn't clear when applications will be due, but the expectation is that the deadline will be sometime in the last three months of the year, said Chicago attorney Thomas Cronin, the third principal of Prairie Wellness Fund.


While others are said to be eyeing the same opportunity, Prairie Wellness Fund “would be the first I've heard of a business model based on financing applicants, but I'm not surprised to see it emerge,” said Khurshid Khoja, a principal of Greenbridge Corporate Counsel, a San Francisco law firm that specializes in marijuana business law. He also is on the board of the Illinois Cannabis Industry Association.

“I see investor pitches almost every week from startups that are in the process of applying for one or more (medical marijuana) licenses and need to raise debt or equity financing,” he added. “It was only a matter of time before someone addressed that lucrative debt market.”

Prairie Wellness Fund originally intended to raise about $50 million to meet demand in Illinois, but after announcing its plans earlier this month the level of interest among potential applicants has increased its goal to “somewhere between $50 million and $100 million,” said Mr. Denari, who is CEO of Political Action League and chief political strategist for Democrats and Independents for Rauner, a super PAC formed by East St. Louis Mayor Carl Officer. In 1994, Mr. Denari was the Democratic opponent of former House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert after chairing Texas billionaire Ross Perot's 1992 presidential campaign in the Chicago area.

The organizers of Prairie Wellness Fund are still gauging demand and aren't yet soliciting investors until they prepare and issue a private placement memorandum, probably around Sept. 1. They plan to seek investors only from Illinois, primarily wealthy individuals and family-run investment pools.
In addition to the short-run opportunity of providing loans and letters of credit for applicants, there may be long-term financing needs to get marijuana businesses up and running. With plans to charge interest rates of about 24 percent, Mr. Griffin said returns to investors should range somewhere above 20 percent, net of fees and before taxes.

The loans will carry rates like credit cards because they will be based on the personal guarantees of borrowers. Illinois regulations are very strict, so there's risk that a borrower could be put out of business overnight. Licenses can't be transferred, so the assets of a growing center or retail shop, let alone its inventory, would be useless as collateral. And there's always a possibility that investments will be for naught if the pilot program expires in three years.

Nevertheless, the business is expected over the long term to be very lucrative, as it has been in other states that have legalized marijuana.

“If anybody can't afford 2 percent a month in this business, you don't want them,” Mr. Denari said. “There's something wrong with their business model.”


Jul 25, 2008
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"Miracle" Cannabis Oil: May Treat Cancer, But Money and the Law Stand in the Way of Finding Out

First it was a cough. Then it was bronchitis. Then it was time to say goodbye to Michelle Aldrich.

The year 2011 was supposed to be a good one for the 66-year-old. That June, she and her husband, Michael, were feted with a lifetime achievement award by High Times magazine for their four decades of work on marijuana legalization. Yet something was off. She was smoking a lot, maybe more than ever.

And she couldn't get high.

In the fall of that year — a bad time for the local marijuana movement, as the federal Justice Department began shutting down hundreds of California medical cannabis dispensaries — Aldrich went in to see a series of doctors for what she thought was a flu that just refused to go away.

After six weeks of progressively worse diagnoses — flu became bronchitis, which became pneumonia — a CT scan revealed the cause behind the "heat" she felt in the middle of her chest. A tumor, "poorly-differentiated non-small cell adenocarcinoma." In other words, stage 3 lung cancer.

Lung cancer is a killer, with nearly 70 percent of new cases resulting in deaths, according to statistics published by the National Cancer Institute. "I thought I was going to die," Aldrich says from her Marina District apartment. But she didn't. And now, she is busy telling anyone who will listen that, along with diet and chemotherapy, a concoction of highly concentrated cannabis oil eliminated her cancer in less than four months.

She was diagnosed in January 2012; by April, CT scans revealed that the tumor had shrunk by 50 percent. Her surgeon at California Pacific Medical Center removed what was left of the tumor that May. (CPMC did not return calls by press time.) She isn't "officially" cured yet — a cancer patient needs five years of cancer-free living to beat the disease — but her most-recent scan, on March 27, was all clear. Her doctors — one of whom noted the effect of "homeopathic treatments, including hemp oil" to reprogram the cancer cells to kill themselves — "are floored," she says. "They've never seen anything like it."

Constance Finley has. She says that, over the last year, a "world-class oncologist" — who for now wants to remain nameless, perhaps to preserve his practice — has referred 26 people to her, a skilled East Bay marijuana grower who knows how to distill a pound of high-grade bud to an ounce of oil.

The oil itself is simple. Anyone with a bucket, a pile of pot, and a solvent can make it. First devised by Canadian cannabis pioneer Rick Simpson — from which it derives one of its names, Simpson oil — the oil is merely cannabis distilled to its essential active cannabinoids, with as much of the plant material as possible removed using the solvent. Aldrich's providers of what they call "milagro oil" at Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana in Santa Cruz use Everclear; Finley uses 99 isopropryl alcohol.

The oil also is extremely potent. Finley says her concoction is 72 percent tetrahydracannabinol, or THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana that gets you stoned, and which in lab studies has shrunk tumors in rats; and 11 percent cannabidiol, or CBD, the cannabinoid in marijuana that studies suggest doesn't get you high but has anti-inflammatory and anti-anxiety properties.

It may not be for everyone: Patients start with a dose as small as a grain of rice before ramping up to a full gram per day, a hit that can leave some people woozy and dizzy — uncomfortably high. And it's expensive. A pound of good bud runs $2,500 to $3,000 in the Bay Area, and Finley delivers to anywhere in California. Aldrich says a three-month regimen cost her $1,200 a month; Finley charges $5,500 for a two-month cycle.

But it might be money well-spent. All 26 of Finley's referrals had stage 4 cancers — brain tumors, colon cancers, lung cancers — which means the malignant growths had metastasized to other organs. Most had prognoses of a few months to live, some had less than six weeks. All complemented modern Western medicine treatments such as chemotherapy with the concentrated oil — and all but one have survived, she says. A patient's prognosis can very widely depending on the type of cancer, but the disease is a reliable killer at stage 4, meaning Finley's patients' 96 percent survival rate is unheard-of.

"I'm not a stoner," she says now, almost defensively, noting that classmates at Oakland-based cannabis grow college Oaksterdam University, where she honed her cultivator skills, at times mistook her for an undercover cop. "It was against my own prejudice that this could really be true."

These survival stories are becoming more common. One of the most high-profile was the case of Montana toddler Cash Hyde, diagnosed with a brain tumor at 20 months, whose family credits cannabis oil for keeping the tumor at bay and keeping him alive — until a change in Montana state law cut off his access to oil for a few months. The tumor returned and he died in November, at age four.

These stories are remarkable, but for now they're also just stories — which means they're all but worthless to the medical community, which needs hard data. "Anecdotes are not evidence — you need to do research, controlled studies," says Dr. Donald Abrams, the chief of oncology at San Francisco General Hospital and an integrative medicine specialist at the University of California at San Francisco. Abrams, a personal friend of the Aldriches who has researched cannabis's medical value extensively — and is a believer in its value — is still a scientific skeptic. "I hear stories all the time — 'I was cured of cancer by this or that' — and most of the time it's frankly bogus."

This skepticism helps explain why, right now, it appears no scientists in the United States are researching the health benefits of this purported miracle oil. Which means that more and more Americans are turning to something that for now is little more than a folk remedy — in the same scientific category as snake oil — and, so they claim, finding a faster, less toxic cure to near-incurable diseases.

Most maddening to some is the fact that none of this is new. Israeli researcher Raphael Mechoulam first isolated CBD and THC 50 years ago. His research led to the discovery of the human body's endocannabinoid system. Not only does every human being have receptors on cells specifically designed to interact with cannabis molecules, but the body creates some of these same marijuana-like compounds naturally, suggesting they already have a role in the body.

In the United States, studies in the 1970s first showed tumor shrinkage in the presence of cannabinoids. A toxicology study of THC conducted in the 1990s found that rats exposed to large amounts of THC lived longer and had fewer instances of tumors. (The study was not released to the public until 1997, when it was discovered by AIDS activists.) Spanish researcher Manuel Guzman's findings in 2000 were similar: Tumors exposed to compounds in marijuana experienced "negative cell growth" — the cancers shrunk and died, with no adverse side effects to the patient.

But future studies along these lines are threatened for a couple of reasons.

One is the money. Federal funding for medical research has dropped, another victim of an insecure economy. The National Institutes of Health spent $91 million for all medical research in 2012, down from $131 million in 2007. "Right now," Abrams says, "it's hard enough to get a grant to study anything from the NIH."

Funding for marijuana research is even scarcer. Two California research centers — the Center for Medical Cannabis Research at the University of California at San Diego, and UCSF, where much ground has been broken in the efficacy of cannabinoids — have been hit with funding troubles. The San Diego institution was founded with a state budget surplus that is long gone, a spokeswoman says. And scientists in San Francisco were close to getting a grant for a study examining inhaled cannabis' effects on sickle cell disease when sequestration eliminated the necessary funding.

Grants to study marijuana can come from places other than the government, and studies into the drug's efficacy in some situations are ongoing, but there appears to be no work of note that would put an FDA-approved oil in the hands of cancer-sufferers.

Marijuana researchers have an extra layer of difficulty, notes UCSF's Abrams, who has had to turn away others who, like Aldrich, have asked him to study various concoctions of oil. "I can't," he explains. "It's not legal." To study cannabis in a clinical setting, while not running afoul of federal law, researchers must acquire the material from one place: a farm at the University of Mississippi run by the National Institute of Drug Abuse. A researcher at the University of Massachusetts has famously tried for years to get Drug Enforcement Administration approval to grow his own crop, but has always been denied. The message is clear: Marijuana research must show the plant is dangerous, not helpful.

However, a doctor at Ole Miss is creating a version of cannabis oil — and is willing to make it available for researchers to study, says Abrams, who has been promised a sample. The problem is, even with DEA-approved oil in hand, researchers still need both funding and the patients willing to be government guinea pigs — neither of which appear to be in the offing.

The medical community also is slow to catch up. Marijuana is not in medical school textbooks, says Dr. Mark Ware, a Montreal-based researcher and professor at the McGill University medical school. "It'd be naive to say there's no stigma [in medicine around marijuana]. ... If marijuana is mentioned at all [in school], it's as a drug of abuse," he says, adding that "patient-based" stories of marijuana curing ailments is helping to drive what research and conversation there is.

Abrams is fond of saying that if marijuana were discovered in the Amazon today, it'd be front-page news worldwide, a miracle drug. Michael Aldrich puts it another way. "Because it's cannabis, because it's something you can grow in your backyard, it's being silenced," he says, adding that if his wife had had the misfortune to fall ill in a state that didn't allow medical marijuana, or had a doctor or nurse that opposed her taking the oil on the side, things would have been very different. "If we were in South Dakota," he says, naming the Union's most cannabis-unfriendly state, "she'd be dead right now."

It's easy to see how one could be converted, but it's safe to say that not everyone agrees the plant is the missing key to health and wellness. "Anyone who doesn't embrace this as God's miracle plant is immediately cast off as a Reefer Madness-style propagandist," sighs Kevin Sabet, director of the Drug Policy Institute at the University of Florida and co-founder with former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy of the anti-marijuana legalization campaign Project SAM.

Sabet visited San Francisco earlier this month for a debate at the Commonwealth Club with Clint Werner, author of Marijuana: Gateway to Health (who also is Abrams' husband). It wasn't pretty. The Bay Area medical-marijuana echo chamber was more than a bit hostile to Sabet's message that marijuana should never be legalized; the "debate" quickly turned into an "I'm right-you're wrong" back and forth between Werner and Sabet (who chastised Abrams, in the audience, for catcalling). Aldrich, who approached Sabet afterward, launched a few four-letter words his way after he "pooh-poohed" her story, she says.

But even Sabet agrees that the science is sorely lacking. "We should expand research, greatly," he says, calling for the government to "go through the same process that every other medicine went through, including opium. ... We need to advocate for a nonsmoked version of marijuana to be available in a safe way, not in a strip mall next to the tattoo parlor, sold by a 25-year-old with no medical experience."

His perspective is in line with that of the medical community at large, which couches its interest in the potential therapeutic benefits of cannabis with a few caveats: never smoked, and not viable as a drug until it goes through the FDA process. Acceptance is growing: In October, UCSF hosted a conference on cannabis in medical practice, which drew medical professionals from around North America.

Meanwhile, there is plenty of ongoing research into a marijuana-based spray called Sativex, available for years in the Europe and Canada, and currently in clinical trials in the United States. Multiple studies examining Sativex are recruiting patients or have posted results, according to ClinicalTrials.gov, an index of National Institutes of Health studies. Most are concerned with the spray's ability to relieve pain in cancer patients; none appear to be pursuing the potential of cannabinoids to shrink tumors. In other words, what studies are out there are going after the symptoms, not the disease.

This may seem outrageous to cancer-sufferers, those who have seen loved ones die from the disease, or — perhaps worse — those who have used radiation to beat cancer, only to succumb to organ failure later. But science does not move at the speed of Twitter.

"These things take time," says UCSF's Abrams — who pegs the time required for a scientifically sufficient double-blind study at five to 10 years, minimum — and an untold amount of money. A study would need to ascertain if there's any sort of pharmokinetic effect, a reaction between the cannabis oil and the particular cancer drugs in a patient's system, to determine if the oil affects the toxicity of the chemo drugs in the body.

"Then, if you find it's safe, you need to understand the drugs we use for lung cancer are different than the ones we use for brain cancer," Abrams continues. "So does that mean you have to test [the oil] against every chemotherapy agent? That would take a long time and be very expensive." And cancer patients have been unwilling to sign on to such studies involving the oil, he says. Why? Some may be afraid to discuss a renegade rogue treatment with their doctors. Others may just need more data. If so, they're at least a decade away — too long for someone with months to live.

Whether or not science embraces cannabis oil doesn't matter much to Aldrich. She believes that it's what kept her alive — and the good news is spreading. About a month ago she and her husband were out to dinner. "I was telling the waiter, and he knew all about cannabis oil," she says. "If a waiter at Red Lobster knows about it, it's really breaking through. It's like a cab driver giving you tips about the stock market."

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