MJ News for 08/11/2014


Jul 25, 2008
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Medical Marijuana Research Hits Wall of U.S. Law

Nearly four years ago, Dr. Sue Sisley, a psychiatrist at the University of Arizona, sought federal approval to study marijuana’s effectiveness in treating military veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. She had no idea how difficult it would be.

The proposal, which has the support of veterans groups, was hung up at several regulatory stages, requiring the research’s private sponsor to resubmit multiple times. After the proposed study received final approval in March from federal health officials, the lone federal supplier of research marijuana said it did not have the strains the study needed and would have to grow more — potentially delaying the project until at least early next year.

Then, in June, the university fired Dr. Sisley, later citing funding and reorganization issues. But Dr. Sisley is convinced the real reason was her outspoken support for marijuana research.

“They could never get comfortable with the idea of this controversial, high-profile research happening on campus,” she said.

Dr. Sisley’s case is an extreme example of the obstacles and frustrations scientists face in trying to study the medical uses of marijuana. Dating back to 1999, the Department of Health and Human Services has indicated it does not see much potential for developing marijuana in smoked form into an approved prescription drug. In guidelines issued that year for research on medical marijuana, the agency quoted from an accompanying report that stated, “If there is any future for marijuana as a medicine, it lies in its isolated components, the cannabinoids and their synthetic derivatives.”

Scientists say this position has had a chilling effect on marijuana research.

Though more than one million people are thought to use the drug to treat ailments ranging from cancer to seizures to hepatitis C and chronic pain, there are few rigorous studies showing whether the drug is a fruitful treatment for those or any other conditions.

A major reason is this: The federal government categorizes marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, the most restrictive of five groups established by the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. Drugs in this category — including heroin, LSD, peyote and Ecstasy — are considered to have no accepted medical use in the United States and a high potential for abuse, and are subject to tight restrictions on scientific study.

In the case of marijuana, those restrictions are even greater than for other controlled substances. (Marijuana remains illegal under federal law, though nearly half the states and the District of Columbia allow its medical use and two, Colorado and Washington, have legalized its recreational use.)

To obtain the drug legally, researchers like Dr. Sisley must apply to the Food and Drug Administration, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the National Institute on Drug Abuse — which, citing a 1961 treaty obligation, administers the only legal source of the drug for federally sanctioned research, at the University of Mississippi. Dr. Sisley’s proposed study also had to undergo an additional layer of review from the Public Health Service that is not required for other controlled substances in such research.

The process is so cumbersome that a growing number of elected state officials, medical experts and members of Congress have started calling for loosening the restrictions. In June, a letter signed by 30 members of Congress, including four Republicans, called the extra scrutiny of marijuana projects “unnecessary,” saying that research “has often been hampered by federal barriers.”

“It defies logic in this day and age that marijuana is still in Schedule 1 alongside heroin and LSD when there is so much testimony to what relief medical marijuana can bring,” Gov. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island said in an interview. In late 2011, he and the governor of Washington at the time, Christine O. Gregoire, filed a petition asking the federal government to place the drug in a lower category. The petition is still pending with the D.E.A.

Despite the mounting push, there is little evidence that either Congress or the Obama administration will change marijuana’s status soon. In public statements, D.E.A. officials have made their displeasure known about states’ legalizing medical and recreational marijuana.

The agency’s position seems at odds with that of President Obama, whose Justice Department has allowed states to legalize either medical or recreational marijuana as long as they follow certain federal priorities, such as not allowing sales to juveniles. Mr. Obama has also said that he believes marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol and that he is bothered by the disproportionate number of minorities incarcerated for possession of the drug.

Asked if there was an inconsistency between the president’s stance and that of the Drug Enforcement Administration, a White House spokesman, Matt Lehrich, said: “The administration’s policy continues to be that while the prosecution of drug traffickers remains an important priority, targeting individual marijuana users is not the best allocation of federal law enforcement resources. The D.E.A. is carrying out that policy.”

There are signs, though, of a possible shift in attitude within the federal government. In May, the D.E.A. issued new rules to increase the government’s production of marijuana for research this year to 650,000 grams from 21,000 grams.

And at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, for instance, records show that at the beginning of this year there were 28 active grants for research into the possible medical benefits of marijuana in six disease categories. Most of the studies focus on the potential therapeutic uses of individual cannabinoid chemicals from marijuana or synthetic versions and not the plant itself. Furthermore, a dozen or so of those studies are being conducted with animals and not humans.

Additionally, other National Institutes of Health entities have been supporting marijuana research. As for independently funded marijuana research, the federal government has cleared 16 projects since 1999, 13 of them at the University of California, San Diego.

Moving the drug to a less restrictive category could do more than reduce some obstacles to research, proponents say. It would be a significant step toward allowing doctors around the country to prescribe the drug. Federal lawmakers say it could also permit medical marijuana operations that are legal at the state level to take business deductions on their federal taxes.

Dr. Sisley’s predicament shows that even in states like Arizona, where medical marijuana is legal, the matter remains politically volatile. Last month, Arizona authorized the use of marijuana for patients undergoing conventional treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder. Dr. Sisley’s study is supposed to use five different strains of marijuana that would be smoked or vaporized by 70 veterans. The goal is to develop a marijuana drug, in plant form that would be smoked or vaporized, approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

Her firing seemed to stem from a fight over money. In March, the Arizona House passed a Republican-sponsored bill designed to provide her project with some funding from fees collected in the state’s medical marijuana program. But the measure died when State Senator Kimberly Yee, a Republican who is the chairwoman of the Education Committee, refused to put the legislation on the panel’s agenda. Ms. Yee said at the time that she preferred the funds be used for antidrug education.

Angry about her opposition to the bill, a group of veterans began a recall effort against Ms. Yee. Some of those veterans had been treated by Dr. Sisley in the past, and Senate leaders concluded that Dr. Sisley herself was involved in the campaign.

The State Senate president, Andrew Biggs, called the university’s chief lobbyist, Tim Bee, to complain that Dr. Sisley seemed to be lobbying too aggressively and inappropriately. “Tim said he would call me back after he found out more,” Mr. Biggs said in an interview. “And then he did and told me, ‘This will not be a problem going forward.’ ”

In April, a university vice president, who said he was calling on behalf of the president, Ann Weaver Hart, told Dr. Sisley that Mr. Biggs thought she should resign, Dr. Sisley recounted. In June, she received a letter from the university saying her annual employment contract would not be renewed as of Sept. 26.

Dr. Sisley denied participating in the recall effort. She acknowledged talking to senators and their aides about funding, but as a member of the Arizona Medical Association. “The university could not take the political heat from the hyperconservative legislators and fired me and deserted all these veterans who have been fighting alongside me for years,” she said.

A university spokesman, Chris W. Sigurdson, said that while university policy prevented him from discussing specifics about Dr. Sisley’s case, the school had not been pressured to fire her. (Mr. Biggs also denied trying to get her fired.) He added that the university had proposed that another faculty member take over the project as lead investigator.

Late last month, the university notified Dr. Sisley that it had denied her appeal for reinstatement. Rick Doblin, founder and executive director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, which is sponsoring Dr. Sisley’s research, said he would now try to persuade the Arizona Board of Regents to allow the study to continue at another state institute with Dr. Sisley as the lead investigator.

Mr. Doblin said he was committed to staying with her as the lead investigator and would help her look for an alternate research location. A switch to a new study location would require further regulatory review for the proposed research, which still needs another approval from the D.E.A., Mr. Doblin said.


Jul 25, 2008
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(Fl) Medical marijuana opponents say pot is often involved in fatal car crashes

Medical marijuana opponents are taking to the streets to oppose Amendment 2, citing statistics that drugged driving would be a major side effect of legalizing cannabis.

Don’t Let Florida Go To Pot, a coalition of more than 40 organizations fighting against the proposed medical marijuana amendment, says on its website that the drug is implicated in a fourth of all fatal accidents.

“Twenty-five percent of all drug-related fatal vehicle accidents in the U.S. involve marijuana,” the group says under the header “ Statistics“ (the number is repeated on an infographic on the site).

Was marijuana a factor in a quarter of all fatal car accidents involving drugs? PolitiFact Florida hit the books to see what Don’t Let Florida Go To Pot was driving at.


First of all, we have to note this check began when we noticed on Aug. 4, 2014, that the Statistics page actually had the sentence, “25 percent of all fatal vehicle accidents in the U.S. involve marijuana.” That certainly sounded like too much to us, so we asked the group about it.

Eric Pounders, spokesman for the Florida Sheriffs Association, responded to our questions that evening by saying the statement included the phrase “drug-related.” That’s not what we read, but it’s what the site says now.

Pounders concluded that although the prior phrasing had been used as recently as three months ago, it had been clarified to be more accurate. He told PolitiFact Florida that we may have “encountered a previous version of the site that had been temporarily restored to fix an issue.”

In any event, he said the 25 percent stat came from an October 2011 White House Office of National Drug Control Policy report that measured the rate of positive results among drivers who had been tested for drugs in fatal crashes between 2005-2009. The study used the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System data of accidents across 50 states in which the driver was killed and subsequently tested for drugs.

The report noted that of the roughly 127,000 fatal crashes in that time frame, almost 78,000 drivers were tested for drugs. Winnowing down those results, positive tests for cannabinoids rose steadily from 22.6 to 26 percent between 2005 and 2008, dropping slightly to 25.3 percent in 2009.

There are some problems with that data. First of all, there is no set procedure or uniform level of toxicity for drug-testing among the states, as laws and protocols vary widely. The report says “a positive test result does not necessarily imply impairment or causation” and says testing often is inaccurate. Furthermore, data in which a driver may have been using drugs but survived a crash in which someone else died is not included.

There is often no universally accepted threshold of impairment for illicit drugs, the White House report says. There also is some question as to whether the specific presence of cannabinoids, including the main psychoactive chemical component, tetrahydrocannabinol, is an accurate indicator of impairment.

The NHTSA states, “It is difficult to establish a relationship between a person’s THC blood or plasma concentration and performance impairing effects.” That’s in part because cannabinoids linger in a person’s system long after they’ve ingested the drug.

“Marijuana, unlike alcohol and most other drugs, stays in a person’s system for up to 30 days,” says Ben Pollara, spokesman for United for Care, the group promoting Florida’s Amendment 2. “So its presence in a person’s blood is not an indicator that they were impaired at the time of the accident.”

That 25 percent figure seems to track with other studies of drug-related fatal crashes, however. One 2011 study from the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation in Calverton, Md., examined fatal single-vehicle accidents between 1998 and 2009 that involved speeding, failure to obey or yield, inattention, and failure to use a seat belt.

That study found that about 23 percent of those crashes involved cannabinoids, although the study adds the caveats that the drivers’ drug levels were not available, and those deaths most often involved speeding and the driver not using a seat belt.

When you change the parameters of the research, the numbers vary. A 2014 Columbia University study looking at six states reported that marijuana was present in 12 percent of accidents in 2010, up from 4 percent in 1999.

A University of Colorado School of Medicine study released in May 2014 comparing Colorado with 34 other states concluded marijuana was present in 10 percent of fatal accidents by the end of 2011, as opposed to 4.5 percent at the beginning of 1994.

But yet another study from 2012 from universities in Oregon, Montana and Colorado measured crashes in medical marijuana states. The study found that while instances of drugged driving went up in those places, total fatal accidents dropped somewhere between 8 and 11 percent overall.

The possible reason, in a nutshell? Most people probably smoke their weed at home instead of driving home drunk from a bar, the study’s authors hypothesized.

Alcohol still remains the most abused substance involved in fatal drug-related accidents — as high as 60 percent, depending on the year and study.

Montana State University economics professor D. Mark Anderson, one of the authors of the study showing a decrease in fatalities, said that the numbers didn’t supply a direct link between marijuana use and accidents. Indeed, none of the research PolitiFact Florida cited above claimed to establish a definite cause and effect.

“Maybe 25 percent of all people involved in fatal vehicle accidents also drank milk for breakfast,” Anderson said.


Don’t Let Florida Go To Pot said, “25 percent of all fatal drug-related vehicle accidents in the U.S. involve marijuana.”

Some other research backs up that number, although the studies are limited in scope and descriptiveness. Reports usually don’t show whether marijuana use was the cause of the accident or how long ago the drug was ingested, and are limited in several other ways. Marijuana, for example, can be detected in person’s system for weeks after ingestion. The study cited by the group also only measured drivers who died and were tested for drugs, a very specific scope that doesn’t tell the whole story.

Experts warned it’s not wise to imply causation among marijuana users in fatal crashes, but a 25 percent rate of involvement has been established in some studies. We rate the statement Half True.


Jul 25, 2008
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Gavin Newsom Vows to Support Marijuana Legalization on 2016 Ballot

“I happen to believe that marijuana is a helluva lot more benign than heroin,” Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom said at a luncheon in Marin County on Tuesday, where he pledged to back whichever initiative makes it onto the 2016 ballot.

Newsom is currently leading an American Civil Liberties Union task force that is evaluating the many facets of cannabis legalization. The committee is in the process of researching the potential impact of marijuana legalization in California, studying the complexities of taxing and regulating the drug for adults. It hopes to release a report on the matter by the end of the year.

In a recent interview with KQED Newsroom’s Thuy Vu, Newsom said he has never ingested marijuana. He doesn’t like the smell.

“I don’t like drug abuse, or drug use. That said, I dislike the ‘war on drugs’ more,” Newsom said. “It is a war on people of color, it is a war on poor people, and it is an outrage.”

Newsom said the federal government’s efforts to legislate marijuana are not working and the inability to consistently and meaningfully regulate the drug is a driving force behind the task force’s research.

While the past 40 years have been spent “drumming the beat to the ‘war on drugs,’ ” drugs are more “plentiful, more powerful and potent” than ever, Newsom said, adding it is time to question the socioeconomic discrimination inherent in marijuana-related incarceration.

But with this failure comes opportunity. Newsom believes marijuana legalization is the nation’s opportunity to own up to the past, putting an end to the unnecessary expansion of the criminal justice system.

Over that past decade, polls have increasingly shown public approval of marijuana policy reform across the political aisle. In 2014, a Pew Research Center poll found 54 percent of Americans favored the legalization of marijuana usage. According to the poll, although legalization continues to be a more liberal viewpoint, both Democrats and Republicans agree that federal enforcement of punitive marijuana laws is not worth the cost.

Despite statistics from Columbia University’s Center for Addiction and Substance Abuse, which demonstrate addictive properties in marijuana for 9 percent of adult users, Newsom said the idea that the federal government classifies marijuana side by side with heroin and LSD and above methamphetamine and cocaine, is “absurd.” However, concerns about legalization, concerning health or otherwise, are merited, Newsom said.

In 2010, when Californians voted down Proposition 19 (the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act), Newsom said he was too “cowardly” to campaign for marijuana legalization. He said the proposal, although proving important for the nation’s discourse on marijuana usage, had holes in it, citing the excessive regulatory autonomy given to counties.

“I admired the courage of those that put [Prop. 19] on the ballot to begin that conversation,” Newsom said. “Had Prop. 19 not have been on the ballot, you would not have had the Colorado initiative and a Washington state initiative to move forward on this debate in an implementable way and a substantive way.”

Even in Colorado and Washington, however, reports of expanded out-of-state black markets with once-legal trafficked marijuana supplies are cropping up. According to reporting by the International Business Times, marijuana from Colorado has reached 40 other states.

“Polls agree something needs to change,” Newsom said. “It is time we become more mature on this topic.”

Newsom said he is not looking to allow marijuana on the sidewalks and parks of California, but that the goal is to keep it off the black markets and out of the hands of children.

As for his own kids, if he ever finds out they are smoking marijuana, they are grounded, Newsom said.


Jul 25, 2008
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(Illinois) Medical marijuana applications now available online

Patients in Illinois may now get applications for medical marijuana online, though the requests cannot be officially submitted until later this year.

Applications are also available online for doctors and caregivers, and application information is posted for business owners to see how regulators will weigh who will be awarded licenses to operate in the state's new medical marijuana industry.

Dispensary licenses will be awarded depending on a ratings system that places the greatest emphasis on business and operations plan, security, and record-keeping and inventory.

Cultivation center applications will be weighted toward the cultivation and security plans. Applicants must show whether their location meets all local zoning requirements, if they have applied for local zoning approval, or if there is no applicable zoning in place at their proposed site.

Officials will hold three public meetings around the state to answer questions about the process.

The Chicago-area hearing will be at 10 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 20 at Northeastern Illinois University, Alumni Hall (North), Student Union Building, 5500 N. St. Louis Ave., Chicago.

Patients with last names beginning with A through L may submit their applications from Sept. 2 through Oct. 31 of this year.

Patients with last names beginning with M through Z may apply from Nov. 1 through Dec. 31.

Officials anticipate the application window for dispensary and cultivation center applicants to be Sept. 8 through Sept. 22.


Jul 25, 2008
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Marijuana Studies Show Regular Use is Bad for Teen Brains

WASHINGTON — Teenagers and young adults who frequently use marijuana may be hurting their brainpower, according to studies about pot and adolescence presented today at the American Psychological Association's annual convention.

A close look at the under-25 age group shows cognitive decline, poor attention and memory and decreased IQ among those who regularly smoke pot, defined as at least once a week, says Krista Lisdahl, director of the brain-imaging and neuropsychology lab at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

"It needs to be emphasized that regular cannabis use, defined here as once a week, is not safe and may result in addiction and neurocognitive damage, especially in youth," says a study she co-wrote in the June issue of the journal Current Addiction Reports.

Lisdahl says recent moves toward legalization and decriminalization of marijuana as well as increases in youth use have focused new attention on studies such as hers and others seeking to know more about the impact on youth and their developing brains.

"The adolescent period is a sensitive period of neurodevelopment," she says.

Overall, marijuana use begins in the later teens, around age 16 or 17, peaks in the early 20s and drops off between ages 23 and 25, says Lisdahl.

"Is it a coincidence that use significantly goes down at 25 when the brain is at its full maturation? I don't think so," she says.

Lisdahl says recent studies show increases in marijuana use among high school seniors and young adults. And brain-imaging studies of these regular marijuana users have shown significant changes in brain structure, especially among teens. Brain imaging shows abnormalities in the brain's gray matter — which is associated with intelligence — have been found in 16- to 19-year-olds whose pot smoking increased in the previous year, she says.

A study co-written by Bettina Friese, a research scientist at the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation in California, analyzed data from 17,482 teenagers in Montana and found that pot smoking was higher in counties where larger numbers of people voted to legalize medical marijuana in 2004.

"People don't perceive it as a very harmful substance, and these community norms translate to teens," she says. "From the teen study, they do reference legalization: 'If it was that bad a drug, they wouldn't be trying to legalize it.' "

But psychologist Alan Budney, of Dartmouth College, (who works in treatment) says marijuana now is likely a more dangerous product and may mean greater chances for addiction since some legalized forms have higher levels of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the major psychoactive chemical.

"Unfortunately, much of what we know from earlier research is based on smoking marijuana with much lower doses of THC than are commonly used today," he says. "All we know so far is that more people are showing up in the ERs with adverse effects. We've only seen a little bit of it with marijuana, but now we're seeing more of it."

Budney worries that teen pot use is "much, more troublesome" because teens are more vulnerable to the negative consequences of overuse.

"It is just as hard to treat cannabis addiction as it is to treat alcohol addiction," he says.


Jul 25, 2008
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11 cards issued in Utah cannabis oil program

SALT LAKE CITY – Utah issued nearly a dozen registration cards in the first month of its limited medical marijuana program that allows those with severe epilepsy to possess cannabis extract oil.

As of Friday evening, the state has issued 11 cards since the program started July 8, said Janice Houston, the state registrar and director of the Utah Department of Health’s records office.

About half of those 11 cards were issued for child patients, Houston said. An application for another card is pending.

Health Department officials on Friday also announced the $400 annual fee for the cards had been cut in half.

The program’s startup fees were less than expected, and the registration cards will now cost $200, Houston said.

“It’s a huge relief,” said Jennifer May with Hope 4 Children with Epilepsy. “We’ve been trying to find ways to help the families come up with that money along with the money for the oil itself.”

Those who already paid the higher fee will be refunded, health officials said.

Utah’s law doesn’t allow the distribution of medical marijuana, but it permits those meeting certain requirements to possess the extract after getting it from other states.

The extract, called cannabidiol, is believed to help with severe seizures, particularly those experienced by children with a severe form of epilepsy. The oil doesn’t have the psychoactive properties that get users high and can be mixed with food such as applesauce.

The cost of the cannabidiol varies, depending on the size of the patient and the level of the dose the patient is receiving. For a 100-pound person, a month’s supply of a beginning dose is about $40. A maximum dose for that same patient could cost up to $900 a month.

The main producer of the extract in Colorado has a waiting list with thousands of names and doesn’t expect to have more supply until fall, and other producers of the product also have waiting lists, May said.

Because Utah’s registration cards expire after a year, many families are expected to apply later this year.

About 100 families are expected to take advantage of Utah’s program, Health Department officials said.

May, whose 12-year-old son can suffer hundreds of seizures a day, said she and many other families are also waiting to see if they secure a spot in a pending drug trial by neurologists at Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City.

Once families receive a registration card, they could face additional hurdles to actually get the extract from other states, including enrolling in that state’s medical marijuana program.

All state marijuana programs, medical or otherwise, are still illegal under federal law, and some doctors and advocacy groups have warned there’s no proof the extract is effective at treating epilepsy.

But families say it’s worth the time and cost if it brings relief to those suffering from severe seizures.

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