Medical Marijuana

More Potency Nonsense

June 30th, 2008 No Comments Kate Zawidzki

A newspaper in Texas essentially rewrites a recent White House press release about the horrors of increased marijuana potency. Reporters who take time to do some actual research can quickly learn that scientists consider these alarming claims completely unproven. One really does get tired of having to repeat this stuff, but repeat it we must — and will. 

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Medical Marijuana

News Flash! Cannabinoids Have Medical Value!!!

June 30th, 2008 No Comments Kate Zawidzki

A smattering of news outlets, including Wired, have picked up on a recent study showing that a cannabinoid in marijuana called beta-caryophyllene may have all sorts of useful medical properties and doesn’t make the user high. But this is nothing new: A number of cannabinoids, such as cannabidiol (CBD) have similarly broad medical potential and no psychoactive side effects. Here’s a link to one recent scientific article about CBD.

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Prohibition, Tax and Regulate

Growers May a Get Raise, Courtesy of the Feds

June 27th, 2008 No Comments Kate Zawidzki

Hank Sims of the North Coast Journal in Humbolt County, Calif., makes a good point about the true likely consequences of the gaudy, high profile federal raids on marijuana grows in Southern Humboldt County this week:

“We’ll know soon whether the operation has any connection to actual, bad crimes — violent crimes. Perhaps it does; more likely it does not. In which case, what will it accomplish? Well, the price of dope has fallen steadily over the last few years, and the regular Mom ‘n’ Pop marijuana farmers populating the hills around Humboldt County have had to plant more and more to keep their income up. The reason? Oversupply. Everyone and their uncle is a dope grower, at least in Arcata. As always, the net effect of prohibition-style federal operations will be to reestablish a decent, inflated price for the product. Growers who don’t end up in jail might end up sitting pretty this time next year.”

The idea that we can simply “eradicate” all the marijuana growing in our parks, forests, backyards, attics, and bedrooms and wipe it off the face of the earth forever is pure fantasy. This is America’s largest cash crop after all. In California alone, we’re talking about more than $12 billion that’s up for grabs to anyone willing to assume the risk.

Still, it obviously comforts some to have a small army running around town brandishing uprooted plants as though they were war trophies. Despite the fact that the feds are only just packing out of town today, and no arrests have even been made yet, the Eureka Reporter editorial board has already declared the operation a “success,” gushing about how “impressive” the whole spectacle was.

Less impressive, but far more effective, would be to stop playing cops and robbers and bring the whole marijuana industry out of the shadows and into the legitimate market. Until we do, count on more law enforcement-induced windfalls for drug dealers.

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Prohibition, Tax and Regulate

Will Our Next Vice President Be a Marijuana Reform Advocate?

June 27th, 2008 12 Comments Kate Zawidzki

Short answer: Don’t hold your breath!

It could certainly be interesting though if Senator Obama offered the slot to Senator Jim Webb (D-Va.), who says the following in his new book: “The time has come to stop locking up people for mere possession and use of marijuana. It makes far more sense to take the money that would be saved by such a policy and use it for enforcement of gang-related activities.”

Other then Webb, Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico stands out for his yeoman’s work on getting his state to become the 12th to allow medical marijuana access.

On the Republican side, the pickings are pretty slim although most people would probably be interested to know that although former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich is no reformer on this issue, he has a very interesting history with medical marijuana and his own personal use in the 1970’s when he admitted, “Smoking marijuana was a sign we were alive and in graduate school in that era.”

Of the above listed, the safe bet says Senator Webb is probably the only one even being seriously considered for the gig. We will see.


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Terminology Matters

June 27th, 2008 No Comments Kate Zawidzki

Below is a letter I just sent to the producers of National Public Radio’s Morning Edition, as well as to NPR’s ombudsman. I think we all need to start insisting that news organizations use accurate terminology, rather than the language used by drug warriors to deliberately cloud the picture.


Listening to Morning Edition today, I was surprised to hear a story about violence related to ongoing battles between law enforcement and Mexican drug trafficking organizations refer to this as “drug violence.” The reference was clearly inaccurate and misleading.

What is occurring is not “drug violence” — that is, violence related to the actions or effects of drugs. Rather, it is violence caused by drug prohibition, the criminalization of popular products that relegates their production and distribution to an unregulated underground that exists in a constant state of battle with the police. That some of this violence is connected to the marijuana market is the clearest evidence that it is in fact prohibition violence, not drug violence.

Marijuana, after all, reduces violent or aggressive tendencies in users. Only breathtakingly stupid public policies can take a product that suppresses violence and turn its production and sale into a source of violence. 

Even alcohol — a drug that irrefutably is a cause of violence and aggression — is generally produced and sold without significant violence or disorder. The only time that changed was the 1920s, during America’s disastrous experiment with Prohibition.

Accurate terminology matters. Please refer to prohibition-related violence by its proper name. Thanks for listening.


Bruce Mirken

Director of Communications

Marijuana Policy Project

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ONDCP Admits Alcohol is “Gateway Drug”

June 26th, 2008 No Comments Kate Zawidzki

In a refreshing, though no doubt unintended, bit of honesty, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy seems to be acknowledging that alcohol is the true “gateway drug.” In a June 26 post on ONDCP’s blog, the federal drug warriors proclaim, “More than 67 percent of young people who start drinking before the age of 15 will try an illicit drug. Children who drink are over 7 times more likely to use any illicit drug, are over 22 times more likely to use marijuana, and 50 times more likely to use cocaine than children who never drink.”

ONDCP regularly uses similar correlations between marijuana and use of other drugs to argue that marijuana is a “gateway drug” that must be kept illegal for adults, but they make no such argument for banning booze. The truth — which the folks at ONDCP know  but will never say — is that neither alcohol nor marijuana causes people to try other drugs. People inclined to try mood-altering substances simply start with what’s most easily available.

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Medical Marijuana

Why I Do What I Do

June 26th, 2008 No Comments Kate Zawidzki

Whenever people find out that I work for the Marijuana Policy Project the first question I’m asked is…well, forget the first question, it’s usually pretty inane.  The second question I’m generally asked is, “How did you get into that?” or “Why’d you decide to work there?”

I have a few reasons.  One of them is social justice.  Rarely do I find myself getting fired up so much as when I talk about the outrages suffered by people of color in the name of the War on Drugs.  Though most of us will never experience it, systematic racism is alive and well throughout America.

But, there is another reason–one that’s only gotten my attention in the last year or so.  Basically, it boils down to the lack of compassion and understanding for medical marijuana patients.  The recent case of Tim Garon, a Seattle patient who was denied a liver transplant for having used doctor-recommended medical marijuana is just one example of a number of similar situations. Brilliant, now we’re turning patients back into victims.

Check out the news clip from his story below, but be advised, it can be hard to watch:

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Tax and Regulate

New European Report: Regulated Marijuana Sales in the Netherlands Have Little Effect on Use Rates

June 26th, 2008 1 Comment Kate Zawidzki

A new report from the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction has a fascinating chapter on regulated marijuana sales through “coffee shops” in the Netherlands. The bottom line: Despite tall tales spun by U.S. drug warriors, the Dutch system appears to have had little effect on rates of marijuana use. Dutch use rates have shown the same “wave-like” up-and-down trends as in other European countries and the U.S., which pursue prohibitionist policies. “This leads to the conclusion” the report argues, “that regulating the cannabis market through law enforcement has only a marginal, if any, effect on the level of cannabis consumption.”

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Prohibition Claims Another Victim

June 25th, 2008 No Comments Kate Zawidzki

Can cops be victims in the war on marijuana users?

Consider the story of Det. Jarrod Shivers, a Chesapeake, Va., police officer who was allegedly shot and killed by Ryan Frederick – a young man with no history of violence or any real criminal tendencies save a fondness for marijuana.

Radley Balko of Reason magazine has done an excellent job investigating the story – which is predictably complicated and full of conflicting accounts and sordid details – so I’ll just give a quick recap:

Ryan allegedly shot Det. Shivers through the front door of his house, apparently mistaking him for a burglar, as the cops tried to break it down during a raid.

His home had been broken into just days before – according to Balko’s reporting, it seems likely it was done by the same informants who tipped the police off to Ryan in the first place, possibly at the request of the cops themselves. I told you this was sordid.

Ryan was no drug kingpin. The officers found nothing but a very small amount of marijuana and a modest grow setup in his house.

We may never know the full story, but the facts assembled by Balko suggest a situation fraught with human error: sketchy informants, a sloppy and unnecessary raid, a likely attempt at a cover-up: This particular tragedy was certainly avoidable had cooler heads prevailed at any point.

Incidents like these are inevitable, however, as long as we treat marijuana as a criminal matter and chase adult marijuana users around with assault rifles.

Det. Shivers should never have been at Ryan’s house that day; his death was a needless waste.

But that’s just what happens under marijuana prohibition.

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Medical Marijuana

Adjournment Brings No Relief

June 25th, 2008 No Comments Kate Zawidzki

The New York Senate adjourned yesterday, effectively ending this year’s legislative session, but that will come as no relief to seriously ill New Yorkers who rely on medical marijuana to ease their suffering.

The senators went home without considering a bill that would have allowed people like Burton Aldrich, a Kingston quadriplegic who needs medical marijuana to control his spasms and constant pain, to use the drug with a doctor’s recommendation without fear of arrest.

It’s difficult to explain the lack of enthusiasm in the Senate for protecting patients who wish to use a proven safe, effective medicine to ease their suffering after other options had failed.

It shouldn’t have been fear that voters would disapprove of their compassion and common sense: 76% of New Yorkers said they supported a medical marijuana bill in a poll conducted in 2005. The Senate’s counterparts in the Assembly didn’t appear to suffer any political catastrophes after passing a similar bill last week, 89-52, or last year, 92-52.

The press, with several notable exceptions, often appeared more interested in the horserace aspects of the bill’s chances rather than its merits. Paradoxically, members of the press often saw the Senate’s reluctance to take the bill seriously as a reason not to take it seriously themselves. I was told more than once by reporters that as long as it appeared unlikely that the Senate would take up the medical marijuana bill, their editors weren’t inclined to give it much coverage.

The real story was the patients who were counting on the Senate to protect them. Many of them risked their health to advocate for the bill, going to Albany to talk to their senators, writing letters to their local papers, and granting interviews to the media.

I don’t know if their efforts ever got the attention they deserved, so I’d like to thank some of them here: Bruce Dunn of Otsego County, who suffers chronic pain from a vehicle accident in 1988; Barbara Jackson, a cancer survivor from the Bronx who was arrested for using marijuana to treat dangerous appetite loss; Richard Williams of Richmondville who has battled HIV for 20 years and also has hepatitis C; Joel Peacock of Buffalo, a Conservative Party member who suffers chronic pain from a 2001 car accident; Glenn Amandola, a medically retired New York City police officer who suffers from chronic pain and a seizure disorder after being injured on the job; Jeannine Zagiel of Oneonta, who was disabled in a work injury in 2001; Dr. Kevin Smith, a Saugerties psychiatrist who suffers from a painful genetic defect that causes his immune system to attack his spine and hips as though they were foreign bodies; and Sherry Greene of Cedarhurst, who suffers from fibromyalgia.

There are many, many more.

They will spend this next year as they spent the last: in pain, frustrated by a ridiculous law that makes them criminals if they try to get better. Even so, many will be back next year to fight for their right to make their own health care decisions with their doctors.

Some, however, won’t be around to fight next year. For them, the Senate’s lack of urgency will mean spending their last days in avoidable pain.

Then again, many of New York’s senators may not be back next year either. Like the suffering patients they ignored, they too may find themselves on Election Day wishing they’d had the courage and good sense to pass this bill when they had the chance.

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