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November 2019
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How things have changed

Hearing tomorrow in the United States House Committee on the Judiciary:

Marijuana Laws in America: Racial Justice and the Need for Reform

Having a really hard time even wrapping my head around that concept, when I think back to what Congress was like on marijuana issues when this blog started in 2003.

We always said that the people would have to lead and eventually Congress would follow.

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Britain’s Drug War Problem

Few events are as likely to produce a marijuana legalization activist as the individual who gets busted for pot by their dad and then dumped into some medieval-minded drug rehab. Just ask his current highness the Duke of Sussex. Cannabis concerns in the UK have produced an unusual alliance between church and monarchy aiding legalization:

Now that the UK has the distinction of being the largest global exporter of cannabis for medicinal and scientific purposes, the Church of England appears to be blessing this bounty. As reported by The Times, “The Church Commissioners for England, who handle £8.2 billion of church assets, ban investment in companies that profit from recreational drugs but said for the first time that they would consider investing in companies that work with medicinal marijuana now that it is legal in the UK.” […]

So do these moves point to the advent of a new form of high Anglican church? Here the ICBC blog points to a not-so-surprising source, Meghan and Harry, a.k.a. the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. (Harry had to go to a rehab clinic after being caught by his dad for smoking cannabis, while Meghan handed out cannabis gift bags at her … wedding in 2016, and has a cannabis strain named after her called Markle’s Sparkle.) As this royal couple continues to break with tradition, will they be groundbreakers in normalizing cannabis on a global scale?

Some recently married couples with one or more partners arrested and felonized for marijuana or magic mushroom possession may not appear as optimistic as those now residing in opulent British palaces. Regrettably, US prohibitionist forces still retain control of vast land areas rife with poverty, suicides, opioid ODs, and unavailable or inadequate healthcare services due in part to a drug war that discourages safe medicinal and recreational options that can be astonishingly beneficial.

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Commenting on Illinois legalization

So, the local paper is aware that I’ve been pretty active in drug policy reform and decided to interview me (and others) about the new legalization of marijuana in Illinois.

In today’s Pantagraph, Marijuana legalization proponents, opponents look to future

Not bad, overall, although comments were shortened and sometimes lost context (it was an hour interview), and I’m a bit disappointed that nothing was included about the social justice parts of the new law (expungements, and helping those communities that had been disproportionately affected by the drug war).

A few opponents were also interviewed. The ones from the health care systems were relatively reasonable – concerned about future potential treatment needs, but not taking a major stand on legalization. But we had a real spouting of the old reefer madness from Paul Pederson – president of the Illinois State Medical Society — a lot of mixing correlations with causation, and a complete lack of any kind of preparedness from looking at the vast number of studies that exist, and the results in states where legalization has occurred.

[For those out of the country who couldn’t access the article, here is a pdf of it.]
Marijuana legalization proponents, opponents look to future

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Cannabis vs. Opiates and Big Pharma

An NIDA funded study co-authored by prohibitionist Keith Humphreys and widely distributed by the media says the association of medicinal cannabis and opioid overdose deaths in marijuana-legal states has changed over time, that the earlier results were “spurious” and marijuana now plays no role in countering the opioid crisis. And yet, a University of Texas medical study just revealed decreases in opioid prescriptions in cannabis-legal states:

11-JUN-2019 — Using data from privately-insured adults…revealed that there is a lower level of opioids prescribed in states that have allowed the use of medical marijuana. […]

“We found that the overall prescription opioid use increased by age, which we expected,” said senior author Mukaila Raji, UTMB professor and director, Division of Geriatrics Medicine. “But, when we looked at the results within different age groups, opioid prescription rates varied depending on the stringency of state cannabis laws. In particular, states that implemented medical cannabis laws had lower rates of opioid prescription in people aged 18 to 54.” […]

Earlier studies that analyzed data from Medicaid and Medicare enrollees suggest a relationship between cannabis laws and lower opioid use, but we’re the first to explore whether this link is mirrored among commercially insured adults — which encompasses a wide range of ages and other demographics.” […]

A decrease in opioid deaths might normally be expected to follow a decrease in opioid prescriptions. There are complications.

The Humphreys study was noted by Brendan Saloner, a co-author of the earlier 2014 study and a researcher at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health … who said, “I was not expecting this finding, but I think that it could plausibly be explained by the changing nature of the opioid crisis. Specifically, heroin and fentanyl have been involved in a lot more overdose deaths — including deaths that also involve prescription opioids — and that could reduce the protective effect of medical cannabis.”

It’s too late to incorporate Dr Raji’s UTMB results and data into Prof. Humphreys’ publication. Keith Humphreys’ study is emerging nationally as one more case of helping provide distractions and juggling evidence while refusing to admit marijuana is a safe, effective pain treatment and substitute for the dangerous or deadly side effects of Big Pharma’s pharmacopeia of horrors.

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Give Health Care Providers a Break

Seventy-three percent of surveyed medical specialists providing health care think cannabis benefits their patients, but only forty-six percent felt comfortable recommending it. Topping the list of complaints is the usual drug war collateral harm involving uncertainties in marijuana strains versus specific medical effects, product availabilities, and punitive state or federal regulations:

“I think in some cases we’re missing out on providing a useful tool. Providers think it has benefit,” says Ashley E. Glode, PharmD, assistant professor at the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, and the study’s first author. […]

Providers … reported legal and regulatory concerns, especially providers working in academic medical centers who expressed uncertainty whether recommending medical marijuana could jeopardize federal funding (marijuana remains a [DEA] Schedule 1 drug). Providers felt as if additional clinical data describing the effectiveness of medical marijuana and endorsed guidelines describing the conditions and situations in which it should be used would increase their comfort in prescribing. […]

“Knowledge is an issue,” Glode says. “If we could do a better job educating our healthcare providers, it might be used more often….”

Continued use of DEA scheduling to deliberately obstruct education and research on marijuana is futile. Research gets diverted elsewhere to countries such as Canada, making Canadians the first to profit from any patentable discoveries in their labs. Even those who reject marijuana for moral reasons become better informed about cannabis and its consumers when confronted by a diversity of people–some of them medicating cancer patients–who exemplify the fact marijuana use has nothing to do with a person’s moral character.

One possibility for US hesitancy to reschedule cannabis is it sees it as an admission of an embarrassing and crushing trillion-dollar defeat. Perhaps the beleaguered traditionalists in the federal government can find some comfort in knowing that defeats like those of the drug war, Viet Nam, General Custer’s last stand at the Little Bighorn, are a new national tradition thanks to prohibitionists.

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My home state comes through

It’s been rough living in Illinois and seeing all the progress in Colorado, California, Washington, etc., with only one of the most meager and restrictive medical marijuana programs.

So, it’s pretty thrilling to now be living in the first state in the union to pass marijuana legalization through the legislature. The final bill passed today and is expected to be signed by the Governor.

And it’s not bad-looking.

From the MPP:

The CRTA would end cannabis prohibition in Illinois and replace it with a system to tax and regulate cannabis for adults 21 and older. Starting January 1, 2020, adults could possess cannabis and purchase cannabis products in licensed stores. Possession would be limited to 30 grams of raw cannabis, cannabis-infused products containing no more than 500 mg of THC, and five grams of cannabis product in concentrated form.

In addition to legalizing cannabis for adult use, the CRTA would create robust measures to redress the harms caused to those communities targeted for cannabis arrests and convictions. The bill would: (1) clear the records of 770,000 cases, according to the Illinois State Policy Advisory Council, through unprecedented expungement provisions; (2) direct a significant amount of the tax revenue to communities hard hit by the drug war; and (3) include groundbreaking measures to ensure an inclusive, equitable industry. A summary of the bill is available here, and a more detailed look at the social and criminal justice reforms included in the legislation is available here.

Looking forward to January.

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Reversing the Effects of Teen Cannabis Use

Prohibitionists tread heavily on possible cannabis consumption by children or teens who somehow managed to acquire the plant despite its high cost. Researchers in Montréal now indicate any effects of THC on the structural development of the adolescent brain in animals or humans, harmful or not, can be permanently reversed by an application of additional drugs:

Dr. Patricia Conrod, at Université de Montréal, studied the year-to-year changes in alcohol and cannabis use and cognitive function in a sample of adolescents consisting of 5% of all students entering high school in 2012 and 2013 in the Greater Montreal region (a total of 3,826 7th grade students). […]

The researchers found substance use to be linked to low cognitive functioning, a finding that could be indicative of an underlying common vulnerability. Cannabis use was linked to impairments in working memory and inhibitory control, which is required for self-control. Cannabis use was also linked to deficits in memory recall and perceptual reasoning. Alcohol use was not linked to impairments in these cognitive functions, suggesting cannabis could have more long-term effects than alcohol. […]

Dr. Steven Laviolette presented research on the effect the primary psychoactive component of cannabis, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, on the adolescent brain, in rodent animal models. His team demonstrated that adolescent exposure to THC induces changes in a specific region of the brain called the prefrontal cortex (PFC) and in a brain circuit, the mesolimbic pathway, that closely resemble the abnormalities observed in schizophrenia. Furthermore, adolescent THC exposure also caused affective and cognitive abnormalities including deficits in social interactions, memory processing and anxiety regulation.

Interestingly, Dr. Laviolette’s team found that administration of drugs that restore normal PFC function in early adulthood could reverse the effects of adolescent THC exposure. They also demonstrated that co-administering THC with drugs that prevent the THC-induced disruption in brain signaling pathways prevented the development of schizophrenia-like effects. These results offer insights into ways to prevent or reverse THC-induced brain signaling defects in adolescents. […]

A chemically reversible biological condition suspected in certain illness prone teenagers who smoked pot illustrates the magic of drugs and the absurdity of drug wars. Prohibitionism will have people ignore the latest Canadian discoveries while the federal government pursues a medieval method involving drugs and law enforcement that avoids solving problems while creating even more problems — often for the financial or political benefit of the few.

Canada’s research findings may yet result in much needed changes in US drug policies. The survival of prohibitionist organizations and lobbyists, those who use the politics of paranoia to raise money and hysteria about teenage cannabis use, is highly in doubt.

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Shouldn’t NASA Get High?

Jim Bridenstine is the Trump-appointed head of NASA who called out SpaceX founder Elon Musk for smoking cannabis in an Internet podcast. Mr. Bridenstine is also a former Oklahoma congressman and a Navy pilot who flew E-2C Hawkeye aircraft in the South American drug war. No fan of marijuana, the NASA administrator wants to subject NASA contractors SpaceX and Boeing to an inquisitorial scrutiny of their corporate cultures:

NASA has ordered a safety review of the two companies it has hired to fly astronauts to the International Space Station, a months-long assessment that would involve hundreds of interviews designed to examine “everything and anything that could impact safety” as the companies prepare to fly humans for the first time, William Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for human exploration, said in an interview with The Washington Post. […]

Bridenstine said he ordered safety reviews of SpaceX and Boeing, another NASA contractor — which were first reported by The Washington Post earlier this month — but stressed that he had wanted the reviews of their corporate culture before Musk was filmed smoking weed.

According to The Atlantic, Bridenstine said his decision was influenced by tragedies in NASA’s history, including the Apollo 1 fire in 1967, which killed three astronauts during a ground test, as well as the Challenger and Columbia space shuttle disasters in 1986 and 2003.

Bridenstine said that a frequent question was whether the culture at NASA and its contractors contributed to those accidents. “Were there people that were raising a red flag that we didn’t listen to, and ultimately did that culture contribute to the failure and, in those cases, to disaster?” he said. […]

The Apollo 1 and Space Shuttle disasters had nothing to do with drugs or drug affiliated cultures. The shuttle mishaps were attributed to a Nixon-appointed NASA leader selected for political reasons. Nixon wanted to pay back Utah and the LDS Church for their enthusiastic political support of him and his policies. The bureaucrat he appointed to NASA effectively promoted the problematic shuttle spacecraft design that was to be serviced by Morton-Thiokol, a Utah-based contractor. Morton-Thiokol’s authoritarian corporate culture resulted in company officials dismissing their own non-authoritarian but highly qualified engineer’s assessments and repeated complaints regarding partial O-ring failures in previous space missions. A total O-ring failure caused the 1986 Challenger explosion.

Imagination and an absence of authoritarianism are crucial for anticipating engineering defects, correcting flaws, or inventing new solutions before failures occur. Bridenstine’s safety inspection threatens those who for professional reasons draw inspiration from mind expanding substances.

Famed astrophysicist Carl Sagan boosted his imagination by smoking weed and writing physics equations on the fogged glass of his shower stall. Nobel laureate Francis Crick, co-discoverer of the helical structure of DNA, said he was inspired by taking LSD. Today’s Silicon Valley is crowded with smart, talented and dedicated professionals who sometimes use low-dose psychedelics to boost their imagination quotient — citizens likely to be targeted by Bridenstine’s inquiry. By using the drug war to obstruct or eliminate alleged deplorables the current NASA administrator may be planting the seeds for space flight’s next big catastrophe.

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Hey! Who Lost Their Stash?

A thousand years ago someone lost their drugs and paraphernalia on a Bolivian mountain located at an elevation of 13,000 feet (3962 meters). Melanie Miller just found it:

MAY 6, 2019 — Led by University of California, Berkeley, archaeologist Melanie Miller, a chemical analysis of a pouch made from three fox snouts sewn together tested positive for at least five plant-based psychoactive substances … trace amounts of bufotenine, DMT, harmine, cocaine and benzoylecgonine.

“Our findings support the idea that people have been using these powerful plants for at least 1,000 years, combining them to go on a psychedelic journey, and that ayahuasca use may have roots in antiquity,” said Miller.

The remarkably well-preserved ritual bundle was found by archaeologists at 13,000-foot elevations in the Lipez Altiplano region of southwestern Bolivia, where llamas and alpacas roam. The leather kit dates back to the pre-Inca Tiwanaku civilization, which dominated the southern Andean highlands from about 550 to 950 A.D.

In addition to the fox-snout pouch, the leather bundle contained intricately carved wooden “snuffing tablets” and a “snuffing tube” with human hair braids attached, for snorting intoxicants; llama bone spatulas; a colorful woven textile strip and dried plant material. All the objects were in good shape, due to the arid conditions of the Andean highlands. […]

“A lot of these plants, if consumed in the wrong dosage, could be very poisonous,” Miller said. “So, whoever owned this bundle would need to have had great knowledge and skills about how to use these plants, and how and where to procure them.”

Of particular fascination to Miller is the pouch made of three fox snouts. She describes it as “the most amazing artifact I’ve had the privilege to work with.”

“There are civilizations who believe that, by consuming certain psychotropic plants, you can embody a specific animal to help you reach supernatural realms, and perhaps a fox may be among those animals,” Miller said. […]

Ethnobotany is making great strides in disrupting civilization’s stifled worldview involving illicit drugs. Science is leading us to a new and better era, one allowing informed citizens to override erroneous and disruptive official decisions about forbidden substances. It promises to be an era that incorporates better methods for treating or curing physical or mental disorders – public health problems sometimes brought on by uncaring or poorly informed political leaders. In spite of the drug war, a wonderous new age of realism and discovery shines upon us, even though it may be a thousand years late in arriving.

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Plan Colombia is a Fraud

Prohibitionists make themselves useful to governments by enabling drug geopolitics to influence weaker governments and cultures on behalf of more aggressive and dominating groups.

Illustrating the tactic, human rights activist John Lindsey-Poland, author of Plan Colombia, U.S. Ally Atrocities and Community Activism, reveals the drug war in Colombia to be a scam, a vehicle linking its legitimacy to countering drug trafficking. Its purpose is to support US and international corporate interests operating in Colombia. It uses DEA personnel, taxpayer funding, and US materials to achieve its goal, while drug enforcement is made a sideshow:

The Andean Initiative announced by President George H. W. Bush in August 1989 was followed quickly by a $65 million emergency delivery of equipment that included tens of thousands of weapons, warheads, and mortars, part of $127 million in U.S. nominally counterdrug assistance to Colombia that year. Although the military openly acknowledged that its missions were not focused on counterdrug operations, which were carried out by police, more than three-quarters of the package went to the military. [Kindle 873]

As the 1990s progressed, debate heated up among policy makers about the purposes of the U.S. role in Colombia. Official policy dictated that U.S. activities were restricted to fighting the production and trafficking of narcotics, particularly cocaine, and were not to cross the line into counterinsurgency. Some leaders saw the drug war as better terrain on which to establish the legitimacy of a U.S. role than fighting guerrillas, which politically had gone poorly in both Vietnam and, to a lesser extent, Central America. This official line met with increased resistance from counterinsurgency hawks, especially military officers, both U.S. and Colombian. [Kindle 948]

“We need to find a mechanism,” former ambassador Morris Busby told Congress in 1997, “which will permit us to express our extreme displeasure with the political leadership of a country such as Colombia … but at the same time permit us to go forward with assistance to gentlemen like Generals [Harold] Bedoya [army commander] and Serrano [police chief].” [Kindle 958]

Such an outlook did not require proving that the United States had ulterior motives to fight a drug war. Instead, it measured the negative impact of escalating war, as well as the results of counternarcotics operations, which were ineffective by any meaningful measure (such as the ease of buying and street price of narcotics and the relative efficacy of treatment). [Kindle 983]

The indigenous people of Colombia were targeted as guerrillas or supporters of FARC by corrupt military and paramilitary units eager to produce an abundant body-count favored by military leaders. Meeting the quotas was rewarded with cash bonuses and holiday perks. Between 1990 and 2010 US funded and trained soldiers occasionally raided remote villages using machetes to slaughter its inhabitants, men, women and children, scenes vividly described by the author who interviewed witnesses. The innocent victims were dismissed as “false positives.”

The 1997 Leahy Amendment, the 2011 to 2017 updated Foreign Assistance Acts, and an impressive worldwide human rights public relations campaign directed at Colombia curtailed the attacks and led to the arrests of 4000 Colombian military personnel.

Partial justice for Colombians is not why some US politicians claim Plan Colombia is successful. Drug interdiction was a failure. Coca growers continued production by relocating into larger territories and reducing the size of their plots to escape aerial detection. The success was measured in developing and testing policies and strategies for intervening in countries such as Colombia, Mexico, or Afghanistan to combat communists, insurgents, socialists, journalists, witnesses, critics, and any others deemed threatening to business interests. Colombia has since become the US training center for foreign military operatives in the tradition of the infamous School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia. Prohibited drugs filled their traditional roles as scapegoats and a means of foreign and domestic social exploitation.

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