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MJ News for 09/04/2014


Jul 25, 2008
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The other side of multimillion-dollar marijuana busts

The news of high-profile busts of large marijuana-growing operations has been a constant in the headlines this summer and have also been eye-popping successes, according to officials, but suspects have been scarce.

Benigno Ramirez of Michoacan, Mexico is currently wanted by the Fort Bend County Sheriff's Office after authorities allegedly found a cellphone containing a "selfie" of him at the site of the $10 million pot farm located just north of Sugar Land Regional Airport. That remote grow was only accessible by boat and helicopter.

Lt. Josh Dale, commander of the Fort Bend County Narcotics Task Force, said Wednesday that his department is still working the case in the hopes that Ramirez turns up.

A large marijuana plantation discovered in early August in Polk County may be linked to an even larger farm found in July worth $175 million, a record haul for Texas law enforcement, according to officials. On Tuesday yet another growing operation was discovered in Polk County, with officials announcing the confiscation of some 9,600 plants.

Dean Becker, a Houston-based author and expert on the drug war, has followed the recent news reports of multimillion-dollar marijuana busts in and around Houston these past few months and has his own questions.

Becker has watched the recent round of marijuana busts in Fort Bend, Polk and Harris counties with some derision. He is of the mind that the recent numbers and shocking photos of man-sized marijuana plants are all for theater, trumped-up to look better for media outlets.

“They like to exaggerate the street values to make themselves and their work seem to be making a difference,” Becker said.

That’s not the case, Dale says.

“We really go off the potential street value that a plant may have once it is cultivated, so we assume that two pounds of marijuana could yield "X" amount of dollars, say, on the open market,” Dale says.

Texas doesn’t have a cultivation statute, but they do have statutes regarding possession and weight of marijuana seized. Contrary to popular belief, the levels of Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, in seized plants is not taken into account when sizing up an announced street value and assessing criminal charges.

Dale says his agency sets a rate of about $500 a pound for outdoor-grown marijuana and $3,600 to $4,000 for indoor-grown hydroponic product, which is more sought-after for its potency.

In plain terms, according to Dale, law enforcement doesn’t differentiate between the most powerful marijuana and the most lowly, “reggie” dirt weed out there. It’s the weight they care about.

“Street value has nothing to do with the actual charge itself, we just go off pure weight, which is actually what we base charges on,” Dale says.

The public can get a better picture of what is being done if they have a street value they can understand, Dale says.

“Law enforcement cares more about extreme drug traffickers and possible cartel involvement and the violence that comes with it,” says Dale.

Marijuana is of course big business for traffickers who have learned that it’s easier to grow inside the United States on remote land that is not theirs for a period of time rather than chance growing in Mexico and smuggling it over the border.

Sophisticated indoor operations are troublesome for officials like Dale. He says that indoor grows can cause a myriad of issues for the people who live next door or in the immediate area. Unregulated electrical work, curious neighbors, and the risk of violence effecting innocent bystanders are big problems.

Right now his agency is tracking numerous indoor operations in their county.

The THC levels are also usually much higher with product grown indoors compared to that which grows outdoors. With outdoor operations, you really don’t know what pesticides are being used either. Dale says that since there is no regulation it’s hard to tell what is being sprayed on the plants.

Becker accuses law enforcement of monitoring grows until they can make a big splash with a bust.

“Some of these grow sites have been 'on the radar' of cops for weeks and months and they waited until the plants were a few feet taller so that the exaggeration could be expanded,” Becker says.

According to Dale it’s not for theatricality.

“We try to target a grow, monitor it, let them grow it, and then execute a bust. We really want to watch it long enough so we can see people coming and going and possibly make arrests,” Dale says.

The fact that the plants grow in size during that time doesn’t seem to come into account, he says.

In Becker’s mind these multimillion-dollar announcements play into the bad guy’s plans.

“The black market needs these busts to justify their high prices for a weed that if it were truly legal would sell for $10 to 20 a pound,” Becker says.

Massive, acres-strong outdoor grows are dangerous since it mostly entails that the growers trespass on someone else's property. This can lead to volatile confrontations between an unsuspecting land owner and someone charged with guarding a crop, especially when the growers are heavily-armed. Numerous semi-automatic weapons and pistols have been found at the site of abandoned operations.

He says that law enforcement has pushed for state legislation that would put the emphasis on cultivation of marijuana and not just weight.

“The street value would then be able to make a difference in our charges,” he says.

He sees laws in Texas one day evolving to make big-time growers – the traffickers – the real, main offenders and maybe not the guy growing marijuana in his backyard for recreational use.

“Someone who is cultivating it to make money and to traffick it worries us, but it’s still against the law in any case and we still must prosecute anyone caught with it,” Dale says.

“The pictures and descriptions I see regarding these busts strike me as continuing the "reefer madness" idea,” Becker says.

In the wake of these busts many have asked how the seized plants are disposed of. Dale laughs off talk these giant hauls being burned to the ground with a free contact high for all in the air. Once representative samples are taken from the marijuana confiscated the rest goes to an incinerator.

“We have an outdoor incinerator with two chambers so that no smoke escapes,” Dale says.


Jul 25, 2008
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Marijuana Legalization Supported By A Growing Majority Of Americans, Survey Shows

A broad new survey shows that a majority of American adults continue to support marijuana legalization in the United States, and that support appears to be growing.

The survey, released last week from online polling data company CivicScience, asked more than 450,000 U.S. adults over the last two years this question: "Would you support or oppose a law in your state that would legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana like alcohol?"

Fifty-eight percent of respondents said they support marijuana legalization -- with 39 percent saying they "strongly support" and 19 percent saying they "somewhat support" reformed marijuana laws in their states. Thirty-five percent oppose legalization of marijuana -- with 29 percent "strongly" opposing and 6 percent "somewhat" opposing laws that would regulate marijuana like alcohol. Seven percent of respondents had no opinion on the issue.

CivicScience then broke out the data from just the last three months of responses -- from May to August -- and saw an increase in support and decrease in opposition to the regulation of marijuana like alcohol. Of those who responded most recently, 61 percent said they strongly or somewhat support marijuana legalization, while only 30 percent were opposed.

Men were found to be slightly more in favor of legalization than women were, by 60 to 55 percent, according to CivicScience's survey data. Support for legalization was strongest among people ages 25-34; the only age group in which the majority of people opposed legalization was those over 65.

The question, asked between November 2012 and August 2014, was hosted on as many as 400 different websites across the U.S. Each respondent was anonymous and answered the question "just for fun," according to CivicScience.

Jennifer Sikora, a spokesperson for CivicScience, explained to The Huffington Post that although the survey was online, the company uses browser cookies to keep respondents from answering the question more than once. In order to further hedge against a person answering the same question multiple times, the question is part of a pool of more than 1,000 rotating questions on multiple websites to further decrease the possibility that a respondent might happen upon the same question again. Still, Sikora says, there is a very small percentage of respondents who do repeat the answer (after all, cookies can be deleted), but the 453,653 U.S. adults in this survey are unique.

"This huge poll is yet another indication that marijuana legalization is officially a mainstream issue," Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority, told HuffPost. "With ending prohibition polling better with voters than most elected officials do these days, it'll be really interesting to see which 2016 contenders realize that supporting marijuana reform is good politics and which still don't get it."

This isn't the first recent poll to show a majority of Americans supporting marijuana legalization. In April, a survey from Pew found that 54 percent of Americans support legalizing marijuana use, and about three-quarters of Americans told Pew that if marijuana use isn't legalized, those found in possession of small amounts of the substance should not go to jail. Just last year, Gallup found for the first time that a clear majority of Americans -- 58 percent -- say marijuana should be legalized.

To date, 23 states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for medical purposes and two states -- Colorado and Washington -- have legalized marijuana for adult, recreational use. Voters in three states and our nation's capital will also decide on new marijuana laws in November. Oregon and Alaska voters will decide on the legalization of recreational marijuana, while voters in Florida will decide on a medical marijuana ballot measure. D.C. voters will decide on a measure that would legalize the adult possession of small amounts of marijuana as well as limited home cultivation; however, the sale of marijuana would still be prohibited under the measure.


Jul 25, 2008
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You Can Now Sip On A Marijuana-Infused Drink In Washington

This isn’t your average herb-infused drink.

Nearly two months after recreational marijuana sales started in Washington, drinkable forms of the drug have hit store shelves.

Produced by Washington-based company Mirth Provisions, an aptly titled beverage line called “Legal” is currently available at eight of the state’s 22 recreational marijuana stores, according to Fortune. The drinks come in five different flavors, including sparkling pomegranate and cold brew with milk and sugar.

Though all Legal beverages are infused with 22 milligrams of THC -- "enough to know that you're high, but not so much as to overwhelm," Mirth Provisions founder Adam Stites told The Huffington Post -- each flavor touts a slightly different high.

The high produced by the cold brew with milk and sugar, for example, is described on the company’s website as “an uplifting, euphoric head high and a gentle body buzz.”

We’re particularly fond of the description for the sparkling lemon ginger flavor:

Couch, meet butt. This delicious fusion of tangy lemon and spicy ginger is so ridiculously relaxing that you may find yourself becoming one with your furniture. Whether you’re melting into a beach blanket or parked on the sofa, prepare for many glorious hours of doing absolutely nothing.
Stites says "drinkables" don’t carry as much of a taboo as other forms of marijuana.

"It’s much more approachable, as opposed to ‘Hey, mom and dad, do you want a joint?'” Stites told Portland, Oregon, news outlet KGW-TV.

Mirth Provisions had previously announced that the beverages would hit store shelves in July, but the company faced some minor setbacks that pushed back the product's release date.

Stites says his company has learned a lot from observing Colorado's struggle with implementing recreational marijuana sales.

"Washington is learning from some of the challenges Colorado has seen, we're slower, more deliberate, more regulated (we had to get city approvals, Liquor Control Board approvals, and approvals from the Washington State Department of Agriculture), and in the end, I believe we'll have a strong sustainable legalized marijuana system," he told HuffPost.

He says “green” beverages are an amazing, untapped new market, and he's happy to be able to "create a product that allows others to enjoy their new freedoms."

“It's an opportunity to make an amazing, unique, unusual, and delicious product while also making history,” Stites said. “I think my grand-kids will be amazed to know that people used to go to jail for having a plant.”


Jul 25, 2008
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Finally, Some Hard Science on Medical Marijuana for Epilepsy Patients

A groundbreaking clinical trial may provide some answers to medical marijuana as a seizure treatment

For years, some parents have turned to medical marijuana to treat their children’s debilitating epilepsy, crediting the drug with dramatically reducing seizure activity. A groundbreaking clinical trial about to begin recruiting test subjects may finally provide some science to back their claims.

In what is believed to be the first study of its kind, researchers at the University of Colorado, Denver will study the genes of those with a kind of epilepsy called Dravet Syndrome who have been treated with a strain of medical marijuana known as Charlotte’s Web. The study will attempt to determine if specific genetic components can explain why some epilepsy patients see positive results from ingesting Charlotte’s Web, while others do not.

The plant, grown by five brothers in Colorado through a non-profit organization called Realm of Caring, is low in THC, the compound that produces marijuana’s psychoactive effects, and high in CBD, a compound believed to reduce seizures in those suffering from certain forms of epilepsy. It is administered to epilepsy patients, including many children, in the form of an oil. The plant is named after Charlotte Figi, a young girl who was the first epilepsy patient successfully treated with the strain.

While anecdotal evidence suggests Charlotte’s Web can be highly effective in treating such conditions, scientific investigation of the product has been stymied by federal drug laws that severely limit marijuana research. Edward Maa, the principal investigator of the Charlotte’s Web study, says the new trial could be a first step toward building a body of research on how and why medical marijuana can be used to treat epilepsy. “This is the first attempt to get the information people are interested in that is observational in nature,” says Maa, an assistant professor at UC Denver and chief of the Comprehensive Epilepsy Programs at Denver Health.

The new study will recruit epilepsy patients who have already taken Charlotte’s Web. The patients will be divided into two groups—those who have seen seizure activity reduced by at least 50 percent on Charlotte’s Web and those who have had less dramatic or no results from taking the marijuana oil. Genetic analysis of the patients in both groups will then be performed in hopes of discovering what genetic components may cause a patient to be responsive to medical marijuana. Interventional studies, in which patients would be given Charlotte’s Web to measure its efficacy, are far more difficult to conduct. “That would be the Holy Grail,” says Maa.

Still, researchers on the UC Denver team will collect data on dosages used by patients in the study, for example, which could allow for further research down the line. “The more data we are able to collect in a large sample, the closer to the truth we will get,” says Maa. He says the study could allow children with Dravet Syndrome to be genetically screened before taking Charlotte’s Web so parents could know ahead of time if their children would benefit. It’s possible to conduct the study in Colorado because Charlotte’s Web is grown there legally and is home to many families who have moved to the state to specifically to access the marijuana strain.

“Do you uproot and move your entire family to not have an effect? I think this could be very helpful to answer this question,” says Maa.

Recruiting for the new study will begin within a month and data will be collected until February 2016.


Jul 25, 2008
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Smoking cannabis IS addictive: New study claims 40% of adolescents show withdrawal symptoms when they give up the drug

Cannabis is widely believed to be nonaddictive - but a new study claims 40 per cent of young users show signs of addiction.

Researchers say adolescents receiving outpatient treatment for substance use disorder reported experiencing symptoms of withdrawal.

Experts say this is considered a clear sign of drug dependence.

The study by Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) will be published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine.

'Our results are timely given the changing attitudes and perceptions of risk related to cannabis use in the U.S.,' says John Kelly, PhD, of the Center for
Addiction Medicine in the MGH Department of Psychiatry, who led the study.

'As more people are able to obtain and consume cannabis legally for medical and, in some states, recreational use, people are less likely to perceive it as addictive or harmful.

'But research shows that cannabis use can have significant consequences, and we know that among adolescents it is second only to alcohol in rates of misuse.'

Of the 90 cannabis-using participants, 76 (84 percent) met criteria for cannabis dependence – which include increased tolerance and use of cannabis, unsuccessful efforts to reduce or stop using, and persistent use in spite of medical and psychological problems made worse by cannabis.

Withdrawal symptoms were reported by 36 participants (40 percent of the overall group), all of whom also met criteria for dependence.

Teens who exhibited withdrawal symptoms were more likely to experience negative consequences such as trouble at school or on the job, or financial or relationship problems, Kelly's team said.

While the presence of withdrawal symptoms is a strong indicator of cannabis dependence, the authors say, it did not significantly impact the ability of participants to reduce their use of cannabis during the 12-month follow-up period.

The factor that did appear to make a difference was whether or not an individual recognized having a problem with substance use upon entering the study.

Participants who both reported withdrawal symptoms and recognized having a problem had a small but steady improvement in abstinence through the entire study period.

Those who reported withdrawal symptoms but did not recognize a substance use problem had a slight increase in abstinence in the first 3 months, but then had some increase in cannabis use during the subsequent 9 months, a pattern that was also seen in participants not experiencing withdrawal.

'We hypothesize that participants who experience withdrawal symptoms but do not recognize having a substance use problem may not attribute those symptoms to cannabis withdrawal,' said Claire Greene,a co-author of the report.

'Those who do acknowledge a substance-use problem may correctly attribute those symptoms to cannabis withdrawal, giving them even more motivation to change their substance use behavior.'

She called for further research.

'Unfortunately, the general trend in attitudes in the U.S. is to minimize the risks and not recognize the addictiveness of cannabis.'

'Further research is needed determine the impact of these changing public attitudes and investigate the benefits of programs that reduce these misconceptions, which could allow us to predict whether increased education and awareness could help reduce the onset of, and harm caused by, cannabis use disorders.'

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