First Meeting Of Trump’s Opioid Commission: Will It Be Effective?

Marijuana medicineToday, the Office of National Drug Control Policy convened its first meeting of President Trump’s “Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis.”

The Commission is tasked with making recommendations for improving the Federal response to opioid misuse and abuse.

Best evidence informs us that medical marijuana access is associated with reduced levels of opioid-related abuse, hospitalization, and mortality. Nonetheless, this administration continues to express skepticism with regard to the safety and efficacy of medical marijuana.

Today in The Hill newspaper, NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano writes:

With opioid overdose deaths having risen four-fold since 1999, it is imperative that lawmakers and public health experts approach this issue with an open mind and remain willing to entertain all potential alternatives.

For many patients, cannabis provides a safe and effective substitute for the use of opioids and other potentially harmful substances. Committee members should set their political ideologies aside and give strong consideration to this rapidly growing body of scientific evidence.

You can read the full piece in The Hill by clicking here.

It is crucial that our government hear from us. Click here to send a message to the Commission urging them to include medical marijuana as part of any national response to the opioid crisis.

Study: No Increase In Problematic Cannabis Use Following Passage Of Medical Marijuana Laws

no_marijuanaThe enactment of medical marijuana laws is not associated with increased rates of problematic cannabis use, according to data published online in the journal Addiction.

Columbia University investigators assessed cannabis use trends in states in the years following the passage of medicalization. They reported “no significant change in the prevalence of past-month marijuana use among adolescents or young adults (those ages 18 to 25)” following legalization. They also found no evidence of increased cannabis abuse or dependence by either young people or adults. States with largely unregulated medical programs were associated with increased self-reported use by adults age 26 and older, but states with stricter programs were not.

The study’s findings are consistent with those of numerous other papers reporting no uptick in youth marijuana use or abuse following medical marijuana regulation, including those here, here, here, here, here, and here. The findings contradict those of a recent, widely publicized paper in JAMA Psychiatry which speculated that medical marijuana laws may increase the prevalence of cannabis use disorder among adults.

An abstract of the study, “Loose regulation of medical marijuana programs associated with higher rates of adult marijuana use but not cannabis use disorder,” is online here.

Review Identifies 140 Controlled Clinical Trials Related to Cannabis

Marijuana researchScientists have conducted over 140 controlled clinical trials since 1975 assessing the safety and efficacy of whole-plant cannabis or specific cannabinoids, according to a new literature review published in the journal Critical Reviews in Plant Sciences.

A pair of German researchers identified 140 clinical trials involving an estimated 8,000 participants. Of these, the largest body of literature focused on the use of cannabis or cannabinoids in the treatment of chronic or neuropathic pain. Authors identified 35 controlled studies, involving 2,046 subjects, assessing the use of marijuana or cannabinoids in pain management. In January, the National Academy of Sciences acknowledged that “conclusive or substantial evidence” exists for cannabis’ efficacy in patients suffering from chronic pain.

Cannabinoids have also been well studied as anti-emetic agents and as appetite stimulants. Researchers identified 43 trials evaluating marijuana or its components for these purposes, involving total 2,498 patients. They also identified an additional 14 trials examining the role of cannabis or cannabis-derived extracts in the treatment of multiple sclerosis.

Researchers also identified several additional trials evaluating the use of cannabis or cannabinoids for Crohn’s disease, Tourette’s syndrome, Parkinson’s disease, glaucoma, epilepsy, and various other indications.

A 2014 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that new drugs typically gain FDA approval on the basis of one or two pivotal clinical trials.

Full text of the study, “Medicinal uses of marijuana and cannabinoids,” appears online here.

Chris Christie Has Zero Credibility on Drug Policy

From Forbes:

Legalize marijuanaAccording to Erik Altieri, Executive Director of the decades-old drug reform nonprofit NORML, Christie has spent much of time as governor (and, as it happens, much of the opioid epidemic) fighting the rising tide of calls for cannabis reform in his state. Last week, as part of opioid-themed comments, Christie even called the ever more crucial and commonplace drive to bring regulated adult and medical cannabis use to New Jersey “total stupidity” and “baloney,” and described any tax revenues from the industry as “blood money.”

“We are in the midst of the public health crisis on opiates,” Christie said. “But people are saying pot’s OK. This is nothing more than crazy liberals who want to say everything’s OK.”

In response, NORML released an open letter to the governor days later, explaining in simple terms how scientific and social research have repeatedly shown that cannabis offers rather the opposite of “baloney” in the face of opioid addiction. Citing years of evidence-based conclusions, the letter pointed out, “It makes no sense from a public health perspective, a fiscal perspective, or a moral perspective to perpetuate the prosecution and stigmatization of those adults who choose to responsibly consume a substance that is safer than either alcohol or tobacco.” It continued:

“In truth, America’s real-world experiment with regulating marijuana has been a success. Thirty states, including New Jersey, now regulate the plant’s therapeutic use and eight states authorize its use and sale to all adults. These policy changes are not associated with increased marijuana use or access by adolescents or with adverse effects on traffic safety or in the workplace. Marijuana regulations are also associated with less opioid abuse and mortality . In jurisdictions where this retail market is taxed, revenue from marijuana sales has greatly exceeded initial expectations.”

Altieri explained by phone that the new tactic is one of many advocates have tried over the years in order to convince Christie and lawmakers like him to accept the science on cannabis, and to invest in further study rather than stalwart opposition. Rather than acknowledge evidence that cannabis is a cheap, relatively quite safe method of treating pain and other conditions, and even effective for helping addicts quit much harder drugs, however, Christie has stayed his anti-pot course throughout, according to Altieri.

“Governor Christie has 0% credibility on drug policy, or any other policy, for that matter,” Altieri said. “When it comes to cannabis’ relationship to opioids from real-world experience, not bluster and rhetoric, states that have medicinal and recreational cannabis laws on the books see lower rates of overdose, lower rates of use, and lower rates of opioids being prescribed to patients.”

“This cannot be disputed,” Altieri added. “This is happening on the ground in many states, and he should know this better than others, having seen data on his own state, despite his protestations and attempt to block it.”

But at this point, Altieri said, whether such outreach finally touches Christie’s heart and brain, unlikely as it may be, is no longer of import to the state of New Jersey.

“In consistent polling, 60% of New Jersey residents support legalizing, regulating, and taxing cannabis, in line with the national average, and that’s three times the number of residents that support Governor Christie in his current position,” he said. “He further weakens his position by displaying his ignorance to basic and readily available science. We know that marijuana has a very low harm profile, that you can’t overdose on it, and that the side effects tend to be minor and temporary. Unlike opioids.”

Altieri continued, “It’s important to point out that Christie will be gone by the end of this year, and that so far, every single Democratic candidate for governor and a number of Republican candidates have come out in support of legalization. So it’s really a question of not if but when in New Jersey. And there’s nothing Chris Christie can do about it.”

 

READ THE FULL ARTICLE HERE

LIVE IN NEW JESREY? CLICK HERE TO CONTACT GOVERNOR CHRIS CHRISTIE AND CORRECT THE RECORD.

Houston Has Decriminalized Marijuana, Reveals Conflicting Attitudes and Budget Priorities of Law Enforcement

Cannabis PenaltiesOn March 1, Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg decriminalized marijuana by instituting the new Misdemeanor Marijuana Diversion Program. This decision in Harris County, which includes the city of Houston, affects more than 4.5 million Texans. As a result, possession of less than 4 ounces of marijuana is now punishable by up to $150, required attendance of a “decision making” class, and no criminal record.

With so many Sheriffs Associations and prosecutors traditionally advocate for maintaining marijuana prohibition, even lobbying our legislators with our tax dollars in order to cash in on asset forfeitures, what happened in Harris County marks a real tipping point for ending prohibition in the state of Texas and reveals a growing organization within law enforcement that wants to correct currently ineffective marijuana policy by deprioritizing arrests for simple possession.

Harris County courts and jails were long overwhelmed by arrests and prosecutions for small marijuana possessions. According to internal data provided from the Harris County District Attorney’s office, the cost of enforcing marijuana prohibition in Harris County tax dollars prior to decriminalization (including court fees, indigent defense, DA fees, jail costs, crime labs and labor costs from local police) were estimated at $26,663,800 annually.

To put that amount of money into perspective, that’s more than enough money for the city of Houston to build a new high school or a 17-bed medical facility every year. Another way to look at it is that these freed up resources can now give prosecutors and police the ability and time required to test the backlog of rape kit evidence and investigate unsolved violent crimes in Harris County. What a concept! Instead of confiscating assets and ruining the lives of nonviolent citizens, we can prosecute the violent criminals that law enforcement are sworn to protect us from.

These estimates don’t include the tax dollars or collateral damage that marijuana prohibition on families including separation from loved ones, lost income from jailed parents or the emotional toll time spent in state custody can have on children. Even for Harris County, these remain real threats under state and federal law.

But after Ogg’s March 1st decision in Harris County, something changed. It was a change that could be felt in the halls of the Texas state capitol. During the Committee hearing on HB81 to decriminalize marijuana in Texas on March 13th, unlike any previous marijuana bill, not a single Sheriff’s Association came to testify against the bill; just one lonely prosecutor from Odessa. By contrast, the halls of the Texas State Capitol filled with members of the Law Enforcement Action Partnership, friendly state Congressman like Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso) and Jason Isaac (R-Dripping Springs), Executive Director Jax Finkle of Texas NORML, and Heather Fazio of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy all lobbying on our behalf to get HB 81 and SB 170 into committee.

However, as Bob Sechler from the Austin American Statesman recently reported, “Still, some law enforcement representatives are dubious, saying among other things that low-volume pot possession can provide police with probable cause to investigate bigger crimes, and that there currently isn’t a good, on-the-spot test to determine if a driver is under the influence of marijuana.”

The other argument made by Lawrence, that “low-volume pot possession can provide police with probable cause to investigate bigger crimes,” is evidence of a different addiction: an addiction distinct to law enforcement for asset forfeitures. When an informant remains planted on a suspect for decades after a plethora of evidence to close the case, or when law enforcement stops only the cars going south with cash and not the ones going north with drugs, we have what can only be described as an asset forfeiture epidemic lead by the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. Lawrence doesn’t even take into consideration if the detection of marijuana is either a violent or dangerous threat to roadway safety, admitting his worry is he can’t determine if someone is impaired. (Hint: a good indication the driver is not impaired). By that logic, Lawrence implies he is satisfied with the casualties, tax expenses and arrests of nonviolent citizens whose only offense is possession of marijuana, so long as a portion of those arrested lead to “serious” crimes (or asset forfeitures). This erroneous argument is so preposterous he doesn’t appear to realize he is admitting that encountering someone who has consumed marijuana is relatively safe.

So let’s look at the financial motivations of law enforcement that remain loyal to marijuana prohibition. On the other side of Texas from Harris County, on the I-10 corridor near El Paso, federal grants used to be the major motivator for marijuana possession arrests by a self-proclaimed “Boss Hog” in Hudspeth County, where to fill a federal quota the Sheriff infamously arrested Willie Nelson and even Snoop Dog on road tours for possession. Those funds were more bureaucratic in that the grants kept the Sheriff and private jail facilities employed, but the profit motives were parasitic. The Obama administration tried to do away with private prison contracts but Trump and Sessions are bringing them back.

But what about those civil asset forfeitures? Sheriff’s Associations or prosecutors using our tax dollars to lobby for asset forfeitures are more sinister in that not all the money seized gets accurately reported, and since property and money are seized without due process, victims find it difficult and expensive to go to court dockets titled “The State of Texas vs. $10,000,” only to find in some instances a prosecutor instead of a judge in court.

However, looking at the DOJ’s Asset Forfeiture Program Annual report for 2012, the local money being reported as seized just doesn’t add up to the cost of incarcerating so many non-violent people in possession of marijuana. Harris County reported: $1,387,430 in seized assets, more than most other Texas counties. But we would have to add up the entire state total of $31,520,522 in local asset forfeitures before we can get passed the $26,663,800 in annual costs for prosecuting and jailing minor marijuana possessions in just Harris County alone. Federal agencies target all the big asset seizures but according to this inspector general’s report, what gets accurately reported of that money causes more corrupt internal fighting and competition between federal agencies than any shared resources with local law enforcement.

In short, for local jurisdictions, decriminalizing marijuana makes plain economic sense. And for districts with law enforcement overwhelmed and under budget decriminalization may be the only logical choice to keep up with the payroll.

What do we do as activists? We can pay attention to candidates for District Attorney and Sheriff to vet them on marijuana policy so we can take local action to decriminalize. (After they become Sheriff? Just say “Am I being arrested?” and make sure you know what a Motion to Suppress Evidence is: example here)

But the real people we need to contact to make effective improvement in marijuana policy is not the President, the DA, a cop or anyone in the executive branch: It’s our state and local Congressman in the legislative branch. And this is the right website to do so.

Texas resident? Take Action:

HB 81 and SB 170 to decriminalize marijuana is pending in their respective chambers. Contact your Texas Representative to support HB 81 and SB 170 by clicking here

Vice Chair Todd Hunter is also the Chair of the Calendar Committee which decides if bills get a floor vote in Texas. Hunter held up a decriminalization bill in 2015 by failing to put the vote on the Calendar. If you live in Chorpus Christi, give Todd Hunter a call and tell him to give HB81 a floor vote!

Also in Texas do not forget to mention SB380 to abolish civil asset forfeiture in the state of Texas.

Visit Houston NORMLs website and follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

NORML Responds To National Academy of Sciences’ Marijuana Report

for_painThe National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released a comprehensive report today acknowledging that “conclusive or substantial evidence” exists for cannabis’ efficacy in patients suffering from chronic pain, and sharply criticized longstanding federal regulatory barriers to marijuana research – in particular “the classification of cannabis as a Schedule I substance” under federal law.

Authors of the report also addressed various aspects of marijuana’s effect on health and safety, acknowledging that the substance may pose certain potential risks for adolescents, pregnant women, and for those who may be driving shortly after ingesting cannabis. In each of these cases, these risks may be mitigated via marijuana regulation and the imposition of age restrictions in the marketplace.

Commenting on the report, NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said:

“The National Academy of Science’s conclusions that marijuana possesses established therapeutic utility for certain patients and that it possesses an acceptable safety profile when compared to those of other medications or recreational intoxicants are not surprising. This evidence has been available for some time, yet for decades marijuana policy in this country has largely been driven by rhetoric and emotion, not science and evidence.

“A search on PubMed, the repository for all peer-reviewed scientific papers, using the term ‘marijuana’ yields over 24,000 scientific papers referencing the plant or its biologically active constituents — a far greater body of literature than exists for commonly consumed conventional drugs like Tylenol, ibuprofen, or hydrocodone. Further, unlike modern pharmaceuticals, cannabis possesses an extensive history of human use dating back thousands of years, thus providing society with ample empirical evidence as to its relative safety and efficacy.

“Today, 29 states and Washington, DC permit physicians to recommend marijuana therapy. Some of these state-sanctioned programs have now been in place for nearly two decades. Eight states also permit the regulated use and sale of cannabis by adults. At a minimum, we know enough about cannabis, as well as the failures of cannabis prohibition, to regulate its consumption by adults, end its longstanding criminalization, and to remove it from its Schedule I prohibitive under federal law.”

The report marks the first time since 1999 that the National Academy of Sciences has addressed issues surrounding marijuana and health. Authors reviewed over 10,000 scientific abstracts in their preparation of the new report.

You can read the full report here.

Marijuana could help treat drug addiction, mental health, study suggests

Using marijuana could help some alcoholics and people addicted to opioids kick their habits, a new study suggests. The research also found some evidence that medical cannabis may help with symptoms of depression, PTSD and social anxiety. However, the review concluded that cannabis use might not be recommended for conditions such as bipolar disorder and psychosis.

Compound suggests chronic pain treatment without opioid or medical marijuana side effects

Neuroscientists have found evidence that the brain’s cannabis receptors may be used to treat chronic pain without the side effects associated with opioid-based pain relievers or medical marijuana.

A Personal Message from NORML’s Founder

I’m writing to make sure you saw the post from our Deputy Director Paul Armentano last week. With just a few short weeks to go before the big marijuana legalization votes on Election Day, I first wanted to thank all of you who have already donated. Without support from people like you, NORML wouldn’t have been able to continue our fight for nationwide marijuana legalization for over four decades.

November 8th will be one of the most important days for us as a movement and that’s why I wanted to take a minute to send you a personal message asking you to stand with NORML during these crucial weeks leading up to the big votes:

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO A PERSONAL MESSAGE FROM NORML FOUNDER KEITH STROUP.

A personal message from NORML founder Keith Stroup

In order to ensure big wins on Election Day and take our fight to city councils, state legislatures, and Congress in 2017 and beyond, we need to know you are with us.

Please consider donating $25, $50, $100, or whatever you can afford today.

Together, we WILL legalize marijuana across this great country.

Donate to NORML

URGENT: Marijuana Legalization Needs Your Help!
by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director
October 14, 2016

In just a few weeks, voters in nine states will go to the polls to vote on crucial marijuana policy reforms at a time when national polling shows that the public’s support for legalization has never been greater. I’m pleased to say that NORML is playing a key role in moving public sentiment toward marijuana sanity.

From day one, NORML’s chief mission has been to move public and political opinion sufficiently so that the responsible use of cannabis by adults is no longer criminalized and stigmatized. We do so by presenting credible, evidence-based information about marijuana and marijuana policy reform to the general public, the mainstream media, pundits, and policymakers. And nobody does it better than we do.

NORML remains the most well-known and most trusted source of cannabis-centric information in the United States. Nearly 30 percent of the entire American public is familiar with NORML and its mission, according to a 2016 YouGov poll, and the overwhelming majority of those who identify as marijuana consumers say that they possess a favorable impression of our organization.

Read more »

DEA Reaffirms ‘Flat Earth’ Position With Regard To Scheduling Marijuana

imgresThe United States Drug Enforcement Administration has rejected a pair of administrative petitions that sought to initiate rulemaking proceedings to reschedule marijuana under federal law.

Although the DEA’s ruling continues to classify marijuana in the same category as heroin, the agency also announced in a separate decision that it is adopting policy changes designed to expand the production of research-grade cannabis for FDA-approved clinical studies.

Presently, any clinical trial involving cannabis must access source material cultivated at the University of Mississippi — a prohibition that is not in place for other controlled substances. Today, the agency announced for the first time that it will be seeking applications from multiple parties, including potentially from private entities, to produce marijuana for FDA-approved research protocols as well as for “commercial product development.” This change was initially recommended by the DEA’s own administrative law judge in 2007, but her decision was ultimately rejected by the agency in 2011.

Below is a statement from NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano regarding the DEA’s decisions:

For far too long, federal regulations have made clinical investigations involving cannabis needlessly onerous and have placed unnecessary and arbitrary restrictions on marijuana that do not exist for other controlled substances, including some other schedule I controlled substances.

While this announcement is a significant step toward better facilitating and expanding clinical investigations into cannabis’ therapeutic efficacy, ample scientific evidence already exists to remove cannabis from its schedule I classification and to acknowledge its relative safety compared to other scheduled substances, like opioids, and unscheduled substances, such as alcohol. Ultimately, the federal government ought to remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act altogether in a manner similar to alcohol and tobacco, thus providing states the power to establish their own marijuana regulatory policies free from federal intrusion.

Since the DEA has failed to take such action, then it is incumbent that members of Congress act swiftly to amend cannabis’ criminal status in a way that comports with both public and scientific opinion. Failure to do so continues the federal government’s ‘Flat Earth’ position; it willfully ignores the well-established therapeutic properties associated with the plant and it ignores the laws in 26 states recognizing marijuana’s therapeutic efficacy.

Under the U.S. Controlled Substances Act of 1970, the cannabis plant and its organic cannabinoids are classified as Schedule I prohibited substances — the most restrictive category available under the law. By definition, substances in this category must meet three specific inclusion criteria:

The substance must possess “a high potential for abuse”; it must have “no currently accepted medical use” in the United States; and, the substance must lack “accepted safety for use … under medical supervision.”

Substances that do not meet these criteria must, by law, be categorized in less restrictive federal schedules (Schedules II through V) and are legally regulated accordingly. Alcohol and tobacco, two substances widely acknowledged to possess far greater dangers to health than does cannabis, are not classified under the Controlled Substances Act.

A recent review of FDA-approved clinical studies evaluating the safety and efficacy of herbal cannabis concluded: “Based on evidence currently available the Schedule I classification is not tenable; it is not accurate that cannabis has no medical value, or that Information on safety is lacking.”

Added Armentano: “The DEA’s decision is strictly a political one. There is nothing scientific about willful ignorance.”

The DEA has previously rejected several other rescheduling petitions, including a 2002 petition filed by a coalition of marijuana law reform and health advocacy organizations, and a 1972 petition filed by NORML. The petitions that triggered this latest DEA action were filed in 2009 by a nurse practitioner and 011 by then-Govs. Christine Gregoire of Washington and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island.

Cannabinoids remove plaque-forming Alzheimer’s proteins from brain cells

Scientists have found preliminary evidence that tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and other compounds found in marijuana can promote the cellular removal of amyloid beta, a toxic protein associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

Heavy cannabis use associated with reduced dopamine release in brain

Evidence of a compromised dopamine system has been found in heavy users of marijuana. Lower dopamine release was found in the striatum — a region of the brain that is involved in working memory, impulsive behavior, and attention. Previous studies have shown that addiction to other drugs of abuse, such as cocaine and heroin, have similar effects on dopamine release, but such evidence for cannabis was missing until now.

Cannabis use in pregnancy linked to low birthweight and intensive care

Use of cannabis during pregnancy is linked to low birthweight and the need for intensive care, reveals an analysis of the available evidence. As cannabis becomes more socially acceptable, it’s important that prospective mums-to-be and clinicians are fully up to speed on the potential harms of using the drug during pregnancy, caution the researchers.

Marijuana survey finds medical users more likely to consume edibles and vaporize

A new study provides some of the first evidence about patterns of marijuana use in states that have legalized medical marijuana. It finds that medical marijuana users are more likely to vaporize or consume edible forms of the drug than recreational users. Researchers also found that 41 percent of people reported having used marijuana recreationally at least once, while only about 7 percent reported using marijuana for medical purposes.

Study adds to evidence that cigarettes are gateway to marijuana

Teen smokers who rationalize their use of cigarettes by saying, “At least, I’m not doing drugs,” may not always be able to use that line. New research supports the theory that cigarettes are a gateway drug to marijuana.

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