Medical Marijuana

Rescheduling Marijuana: Don’t Get Too Excited

November 30th, 2011 31 Comments Kate Zawidzki

Huge news broke today in the world of marijuana policy reform. Governors Christine Gregoire (D-WA) and Lincoln Chafee (I-RI) announced in a joint conference call that they had petitioned the federal government to reschedule marijuana. We can expect that this will produce headlines across the country. We can also expect that the coverage will tout this as a far more significant – and positive, from the perspective of patients – event than it actually is.

Before harping on the negative, let’s appreciate the positive aspect of the announcement. What we have here is two governors filing a petition with the federal government, backed by extensive documentation, saying that marijuana has an accepted medical use in our society. We have known this for years, but it is nice that it is becoming the general consensus. Unfortunately, that’s about all we have on the positive side of the ledger. After that, it is mostly bad news wrapped in good news clothing.

The misleading coverage started the moment the news broke, when The New York Times published its exclusive on the announcement. Describing how the governors wanted marijuana moved from Schedule I to Schedule II, the Times wrote, “Such a classification would allow pharmacies to dispense marijuana.” While technically true, in the sense that pharmacies cannot dispense Schedule I drugs, the reader is led to believe that marijuana would be available in pharmacies as soon as it is rescheduled. This is far from certain and could be a long way off on the horizon.

Given the long-held position of the federal government that it is the FDA that determines whether a substance is a medicine, it is likely that marijuana will not be available in pharmacies until it has made its way through the FDA approval process.* This is a process that could take up to a decade under the best of circumstances. But marijuana research does not exist in this country under the best of circumstance. In fact, as I wrote about recently in a Washington Post piece about stalled research on the use of marijuana for PTSD, it is almost impossible to conduct research on marijuana in this country. Moving marijuana to Schedule II will not change the rules under which marijuana research is (or is not) conducted.

Even if we were to ignore this not-so-minor problem about research and FDA approval, the governors clearly left the impression that they were pursuing rescheduling over embracing, implementing and defending existing medical marijuana laws in their own states. Yet they know that the rescheduling process will take years, perhaps more than a decade. In the meantime, patients in their states will suffer. The best Gov. Gregoire could say about this unfortunate delay during the press conference was that she was going to “encourage the federal government to not take nine years” to consider the petition. Woo. Hoo.

Finally, there is the additional matter of the specific request for Schedule II, a category of drugs defined under law as having a “high potential for abuse” that “may lead to severe psychological or physical dependence.” Drug like cocaine and morphine fall in this category. Marijuana does not belong there. At worst, marijuana should fall in Schedule III – where Marinol, which is synthetic THC is placed – a category of drugs that “may lead to moderate or low physical dependence or high psychological dependence.”

The New York Times article even included a quote from Governor Gregoire, suggesting that marijuana was not on the same level as the more dangerous Schedule II drugs.

Ms. Gregoire noted that many doctors believe it makes no sense to place marijuana in a more restricted category than opium and morphine. “People die from overdose of opiates,” she said. “Has anybody died from marijuana?”

No, Ms. Gregoire, they haven’t. And the harms from marijuana overall are quite limited. You and Mr. Chafee have come a long way today. Now it is time to step entirely out of the world of negative marijuana stereotypes and allow medical marijuana programs to move forward in your states. Rescheduling will happen eventually — and we commend you for petitioning for it — but you shouldn’t make patients in your state suffer in the meantime.

* The author would like to include a clarification, or perhaps it is a correction, here. After consulting with experts, he believes that a lengthy FDA approval process, meaning full trials to prove that marijuana is effective for a specific condition, would not be needed before marijuana could be available in pharmacies. However, there could still be a significant delay before marijuana appears in pharamacies after rescheduling (a process that could be quite lengthy itself). The DEA would have to license entities to cultivate the marijuana — a process likely to be slow, given the DEA’s history in this area. Then, maybe six months to a year later, the FDA would need to examine the marijuana produced by any entity to ensure that it is a consistent, reliable and pure product. And even after all of these steps have concluded, patients may have to deal with obstacles stemming from marijuana being listed as a Schedule II drug, including the fact that doctors and pharmacies would have to report every prescription to the DEA and that there would be no refills allowed, increasing the number of times patients would need to see doctors.

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Empty Gestures From the Obama Administration

November 28th, 2011 27 Comments Morgan Fox

The Obama administration has always paid lip service to the idea of pursuing more sensible drug policy, but has rarely lived up to its promises. From launching state-to-state crackdowns on medical marijuana providers despite promises to let states determine their own policies to attempting to license the federal government’s marijuana patent for profit while claiming that marijuana has no accepted medical value, the Obama administration continues to disappoint on this issue. Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske may say that the War on Drugs is over, but “legalization” still isn’t in the President’s vocabulary, and the war on marijuana users is still in full effect.

Given this unfortunate history, the administration’s signals of hope last week rang even more hollow.

The three pardons granted last week by Obama to former marijuana prisoners could be viewed as a step in the right direction for an administration that has consistently increased its enforcement against marijuana violations. It is certainly a boon for those three individuals, who will no longer have to deal with the stigma of arrest and incarceration haunting them the rest of their lives. Those three people will find it easier to find employment, apply for student loans and federal education assistance, and will finally be able to vote again.

The recipients of these pardons should be lauded for becoming pillars of their communities after their incarceration. But how many pillars have been torn from their communities by prohibition, whether for providing medicine to sick people or simply choosing to relax with a substance that is safer than alcohol?

Those three people should be celebrating. The mitigation of the effects the war on marijuana has had on their lives is long overdue. But that celebration provides no solace to the 853,000 people arrested in the U.S. in 2010 for marijuana violations, 750,000 of which were for simple possession. Nor does it comfort the families of those who have died at the hands of the police during marijuana raids, or those who have lost beloved family pets and property to marijuana prohibition.

The press conference given by Gil Kerlikowske last Monday is perhaps even more insulting to supporters of drug policy reform. The purpose of this event was to address concerns that minority populations were being disproportionately affected by drug laws and what could be done to fix this problem. While he proposed many positive efforts to reduce the effect that drugs have in the African-American community, he overlooked some glaring facts.

Even though marijuana use among whites is higher than in any racial demographic, minorities are arrested for marijuana violations at a staggeringly higher rate throughout the country. This disparity in arrests, as well as the accompanying disparity in sentencing for drug crimes has an undeniably detrimental effect on African-American and Hispanic families and communities that is directly tied to the ability of police to arrest people for marijuana. Even in New York City, where marijuana possession is technically decriminalized, law enforcement found a loophole to facilitate the arrests of over 50,000 people a year for marijuana violations. The vast majority of those arrestees are people of color. Until we remove the threat of arrest, we cannot adequately or realistically confront the impact of drugs in any community.

Kerlikowske is right: we cannot arrest our way out of our drug problems. Logic would suggest, then, that we stop trying. For the drug czar to propose fixing those problems for minorities while leaving policies in place that undeniably support systemic racism is disgraceful.

It may be a good sign that the Obama administration is looking at this issue with a little more interest, and is moving along harm reduction lines to solve it, but the fact remains that the government is still at war with marijuana users. We need to go further. There must be a legitimate dialogue in the White House to mirror the one occurring on an international level and among voters about the failure of marijuana prohibition.

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MPP Endorses Global Initiative for Drug Policy Reform

November 22nd, 2011 9 Comments Morgan Fox

Last week, the Beckley Foundation announced the launch of the Global Initiative for Drug Policy Reform at the UK’s House of Lords. This project is made up of senior policy representatives from around the world. Together with the Global Commission on Drug Policy, which issued a damning report on current prohibition strategies earlier this year, the Initiative is taking important steps toward starting an international discussion on how to move beyond the failed current drug control system.

MPP is proud to be a signatory to this initiative and will be doing everything we can to help spread the conversation on ending marijuana prohibition worldwide, as well as increasing pressure on the United States to reform their position on international drug treaties.

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Medical Marijuana, Video

The Roots Don’t Trust Michelle Bachmann; Do You?

November 22nd, 2011 7 Comments Morgan Fox

Early this morning on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,” presidential candidate Michelle Bachmann walked onto the stage to be interviewed. As she entered, Fallon’s house band and hip-hop icons The Roots played the beginning of a song by the legendary band Fishbone. While I won’t repeat the title of the song here, it seems to suggest that the Roots … do not think she is a truthful person.

Back in 2009, the Minnesota Legislature passed a medical marijuana bill that was immediately vetoed by then-governor Tim Pawlenty. At the time, Bachmann was a U.S. Congresswoman. One would assume that she was paying attention to the important issues within her state during this period, especially one as contentious as medical marijuana. Read the rest of this entry »

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Drug testing welfare recipients: What’s your take?

November 22nd, 2011 50 Comments Kate Zawidzki

Poll: Should welfare recipients be tested for marijuana and other drug use?

Like any policy-promoting organization, periodically we at MPP take a step back to examine our stance on various issues to make sure that we’re accomplishing two goals. First, we want to promote the best policy possible — the one that leads to the most positive outcomes for all parties involved. Second, as an organization dependent on the generous support of readers and members like you (support our work here), we want to be responsive to our members.

For as long as I’ve been a member of the MPP team, we’ve been opposed to bills that mandate drug testing of beneficiaries of unemployment and other forms of public assistance. While our supporters have generally taken action on these alerts and seem supportive as a whole, one alert generated a number of emails in disagreement. So, we’re using the blog as a means to ask you, our supporters, what you think.

Here are some of the reasons MPP has always opposed drug testing of beneficiaries:

  • Stripping indigent marijuana users — some of whom use marijuana for medical purposes— of aid is likely to be a significantly greater harm to that person than whatever harm results from using marijuana.
  • MPP supports treating marijuana similarly to alcohol. However, beneficiaries are not and cannot be subjected to testing to see if they used alcohol in the past few weeks, while marijuana metabolites stay in one’s system for weeks. The loss of welfare or unemployment benefits is another unfair non-criminal collateral sanction imposed by states to punish individuals who choose marijuana instead of alcohol, like educational discrimination and loss of a driver’s license.
  • There’s the “slippery slope” concern. What’s next, a drug test in order to obtain a driver’s license? In order to register to vote?
  • There’s the civil liberties concern that forcing welfare recipients to submit to drug testing is unconstitutionally invasive. Indeed, a federal judge recently stopped Florida’s drug testing regime on Fourth Amendment grounds.

It’s also noteworthy that testing beneficiaries may not even accomplish its stated goals of saving money.

Still, in this time of austerity, this proposition enjoys substantial support, according to a 2011 Rasmussen poll.

So, now it’s your turn. We’d like to hear from you, our readers and supporters. What do you think of efforts to require welfare and unemployment beneficiaries to take and pass a drug test for marijuana in order to receive benefits?

I’ve set up a simple, one question poll here, and if you have comments to share you can leave them below. Feel free to forward this to others who might be interested, so we can solicit as wide a response from our activists as possible, as we are genuinely curious about what you think.

Thanks everyone, now go have a great Thanksgiving!

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Medical Marijuana, Research

U.S. government attempting to profit off of medical marijuana

November 22nd, 2011 9 Comments Kate Zawidzki

I know what you’re thinking. “The government already profits off of medical marijuana through forfeiture laws every time it raids a dispensary and takes all its cash and equipment without ever pressing charges.” Well, yes. You’re right. But never underestimate our government’s ability to find new and exciting ways to display its hypocrisy.

As we told you on our blog last week, the U.S. government owns a patent on the use of some of marijuana’s components as antioxidant and neuroprotectant. This is despite the fact that it also classifies marijuana as a Schedule I substance with “no accepted medical use” and a “high potential for abuse.”

Late last week, the U.S. government published a notice in the Federal Register, where the government publishes all potential regulatory actions so that the public can provide comments, stating that it was considering licensing its rights to that patent to a company called KannaLife Sciences. The purpose of the license is: “[t]he development and sale of cannabinoid(s) and cannabidiol(s) based therapeutics as antioxidants and neuroprotectants for use and delivery in humans, for the treatment of hepatic encephalopathy …”

How a substance with “no accepted medical use” could be used to treat anything is a mystery. Of course, you and I know better. We know that there are hundreds of studies, including the gold-standard “double-blind, placebo-controlled” variety, showing marijuana and its components are effective in treating myriad ailments. Sadly, we haven’t yet begun to grasp its full potential because of federal obstruction of research (PDF) into marijuana’s medical potential, even for troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

So good luck Kannalife, you’re going to need it. The same government that’s licensing patent rights with one hand is busy blocking the research you’ll need to do with the other. It’s called hypocrisy.

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“Study” on marijuana and driving isn’t really a study, but is loaded with propaganda

November 17th, 2011 10 Comments Kate Zawidzki

Wikipedia defines propaganda as “present[ing] information primarily to influence an audience. Propaganda is often biased, with facts selectively presented (thus possibly lying by omission) to encourage a particular synthesis, or uses loaded messages to produce an emotional rather than rational response to the information presented. The desired result is a change of the attitude toward the subject in the target audience to further a political, or other type of agenda.”

“Marijuana Use and Motor Vehicle Crashes”1 is a typical example of propaganda funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and, ultimately, us, the taxpayers. NIDA, which does not consider finding good things about illegal drugs part of its mandate, funds studies to look for harmful effects of illegal drugs, including cannabis. This is not research but statistical manipulation (meta-analysis) of selected prior research articles. The only science involved was described in the original articles.

In this case, Dr. Li’s article starts with the observation that the federal government considers cannabis to have “no currently accepted medical use,” in contrast with “16 states and the District of Columbia [which] have enacted legislation to decriminalize medical marijuana [cannabis].” The authors do acknowledge there are lots of articles on medical use (the U.S. Government, incidentally, owns a patent on medical uses as well as a monopoly on the availability of cannabis for research). The discussion of medical cannabis and legalization do not impact driving but are the target of this article.

Lies by omission: Dr. Li, et al. reference an article by Dr. DP Tashkin on the harmful effects on the respiratory system caused by cannabis use, written in 1987. Follow up research by Tashkin designed to find the harmful effects on the respiratory system, and published in 2007,2 did not find cannabis to be associated with harmful effects. The 2007 article was omitted.

In another example, Dr. Li, et al. reference an article by Dr. K.I. Bolla published in 2002 to document the “host of adverse effects” of long-term cannabis use. This was another NIDA article. With careful reading, including a review of data published separately online, one learns that when subjects were stratified by IQ, the below average persons who used more cannabis performed less well. The above average IQ persons who used more cannabis performed better. One could conclude from the article that chess players who test negative for cannabis use might be advised on the increased accuracy associated with cannabis use.  The authors only dwelt on the below average users studied, omitting the Carl Sagans in their study.

Dr. Li, et al. declare “[t]he only study that failed to detect a significant association between marijuana use and crash risk was a small case-control study conducted in Thailand … .” The authors, however, omit the conclusions of one of the articles from which the meta-analysis is constructed. Dr. KL Movig,3  the author of one of the nine source articles, studied the effects on driving of alcohol and other sedatives, amphetamines, opiates, cocaine, and cannabis, as well as combinations of these. What was found was the combination of drugs is the greatest hazard. No rocket science there — if your judgment is trashed by alcohol and you add a sedative or stimulant you are not going to be a safe driver. “[D]rug use, especially alcohol, benzodiazepines and multiple drug use and drug–alcohol combinations, among vehicle drivers increases the risk for a road trauma accident requiring hospitalization … No increased risk for road trauma was found for drivers exposed to cannabis.” Lying through omission.

The other articles combine apples and oranges, and each stands on the quality of research presented. The meta-analysis is a smoothie. Emphasizing the author’s position on this, the discussion ends as the introduction began, confounding medical cannabis use with recreational use and implying states with medical marijuana laws should see an increase in marijuana-related automobile accidents.

NIDA tried to connect smoking hazards of tobacco with smoking cannabis and failed. This article attempts to connect the hazards of drunk driving with drivers who use cannabis at any time, whether for recreational or medical purposes. Taxpayers should insist that the government not only end the war on drugs but also eliminate NIDA. After all, NIDA controls all the cannabis for research, and the DEA prevents approval of any alternative source of cannabis. Yet, NIDA has refused to provide marijuana to FDA-approved studies on the medical benefits of cannabis. Finally, the propaganda produced by NIDA is used by opponents of medical marijuana as a political tool. The ONDCP also substitutes NIDA propaganda for the science on cannabis, so that it can refuse to consider policy changes to allow medical cannabis or legalization, as occurred last week with the response to the “We the People” petition to the White House signed by 50,000 citizens. Eliminating NIDA, the DEA, and the ONDCP will provide savings to the federal budget. And that is a fact.

1 Mu-Chen Li, Joanne E. Brady, Charles J. DiMaggio, Arielle R. Lusardi, Keane Y. Tzong, and Guohua Li. “Marijuana Use and Motor Vehicle Crashes.” Epidemiologic Reviews (2011): mxr017v1-mxr017.

2 Hashibe M, Morgenstern H, Cui Y, Tashkin DP, Zhang ZF, Cozen W, Mack TM, Greenland S. “Marijuana use and the risk of lung and upper aerodigestive tract cancers: results of a population-based case-control study.” Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. October 2006, 15(10): 1829-34.

3 K.L.L. Movig, M.P.M. Mathijssen , P.H.A. Nagel , T. van Egmond, J.J. de Gier, H.G.M. Leufkens, A.C.G. Egberts. “Psychoactive substance use and the risk of motor vehicle accidents.” Accident Analysis and Prevention 36 (2004): 631–636. [An excellent source on the risks of driving with alcohol and drugs.]

If you have a science-based question about marijuana, email it to us at, and it may be answered in our upcoming “Ask Dr. McSherry” feature.

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Medical Marijuana, Research

Survey Shows Marijuana Can Replace Prescription Drugs

November 17th, 2011 2 Comments Morgan Fox

The Obama administration calls prescription drug abuse the nation’s most pressing drug problem. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, prescription drug deaths are at an all time high and account for more deaths and hospitalizations in the U.S. than any other drug. Advocates of affordable health care are decrying the exorbitant price of prescriptions and the toll such costs take on them and their families.

Well, guess what non-toxic and inexpensive medicine patients use as a substitute for those expensive, dangerous pharmaceutical drugs? If you said marijuana, you are correct!

recent survey conducted by the Berkeley Patients Group and reported in the American Psychiatric Association’s Institute on Psychiatric Services found that 66% of their medical marijuana patient clients reported using marijuana as a prescription drug substitute. Most patients said they used marijuana because it was more effective than their prescribed drugs and was accompanied with fewer, and less severe, side effects.

Unfortunately, the federal government insists that marijuana is a dangerous drug with no accepted medical use. Perhaps if it came in a pill, cost a fortune, and had debilitating side effects, it would sail right through the FDA approval process.

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Medical Marijuana

Medical Marijuana Supporters Rally in Sacramento Today

November 9th, 2011 1 Comment Morgan Fox

The Marijuana Policy Project and a coalition of advocacy and labor groups staged a demonstration today to protest the federal government’s escalated attack on California’s medical marijuana laws. A rally of medical marijuana patients and supporters took place in front of the Sacramento Federal Building and features state legislators, advocates, labor unions, and dispensary operators impacted by the recent Department of Justice (DOJ) crackdown in California.

Since the beginning of October, U.S. attorneys in California have released statements giving some medical marijuana businesses 45 days to close or risk prosecution. They have also issued threats to landlords, indicating that they will be prosecuted and their property seized if they rent to medical marijuana businesses. In addition, media outlets have been warned that advertising for medical marijuana businesses, a major source of media revenue in California, could lead to federal charges as well.

“The recent announcements by the U.S. attorneys of the intent to target the California medical marijuana industry are a waste of law enforcement resources and a betrayal of campaign promises made by President Obama,” said Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project. “Shutting down businesses that provide medical marijuana to patients, and threatening their landlords and media advertisers, will not have any effect on the illicit marijuana market. This crackdown will hurt the California economy, deprive state and local governments of vital revenue, and, most importantly, put patients in danger. Any attack on the ability to safely access medical marijuana is an attack on patients.”

“The Department of Justice and President Obama could easily stop this interference at any time and allow California to deal with medical marijuana in the way that is best for its residents,” said Kampia. “Since the federal government cannot be trusted to respect states’ rights when it comes to medical marijuana, concerned citizens should urge their congressional representatives to support H.R. 1983 – The States’ Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act – which would remove the threat of federal intrusion in states that permit the medical use of marijuana.”

Sponsored by Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) and co-sponsored by several prominent lawmakers, this bill would remove the ability of the federal government to enforce provisions of federal law that are contrary to states’ medical marijuana laws. The bill would also pave the way for changing the classification of marijuana in the Controlled Substance Act to Schedule III or lower. For more information on this bill, please visit our Federal Policy page.

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Two more cities de-prioritize marijuana possession

November 9th, 2011 5 Comments Kate Zawidzki

Yesterday, voters in Kalamazoo, Michigan and Tacoma, Washington directed local law enforcement to make marijuana possession the lowest enforcement priority. The measures passed by 2:1 margins, garnering nearly 65% of the vote in Tacoma and 66% in Kalamazoo.

With only 61-66% of homicide cases in this country cleared every year, and only 12% of burglaries cleared, it’s not surprising that voters think police should have more important things to do than arresting individuals who possess a substance safer than alcohol. While crimes with actual victims went unsolved, police found time for the arrests, bookings, and court time associated with more than 750,000 marijuana possession arrests in the U.S. in 2009.

Kalamazoo and Tacoma are far from alone in directing police to find better things to do than arrest marijuana users. More than a dozen cities and counties —with a total population of over 3.3 million — have directed law enforcement to de-prioritize marijuana possession enforcement.

Congratulations to all who were involved in these sensible measures that will prevent the convictions and resulting stigmatization and heartache that can haunt people for life.

This is one more step in the turning tide. In less than a year, voters in Colorado, Washington, and possibly other states will be deciding whether to replace marijuana prohibition with regulation in their states. With 50% of Americans now supporting making marijuana use legal, we are hopeful that the first states will have opted out of prohibition by this time next year.

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