Will 2015 be the year for medical marijuana?

ATLANTA — Marlo Smith used to have up to 30 seizures a day. Now she’s down to roughly one seizure every two or three days.

The improvement in the youngster’s condition came after she and her mother and siblings moved from Georgia to Colorado.

Colorado has relaxed its laws against marijuana use, and has drawn many families from other states seeking medical cannabis treatment. Marlo, 7, is receiving three doses a day of cannabis oil there.

Meanwhile, her father, Dr. James Smith, is still in Georgia, living apart from his family and continuing his work as an emergency physician at Gwinnett Medical Center.

But if a Georgia House bill to legalize medical marijuana is approved in next year’s General Assembly, the Smiths could be reunited and resume their normal family life in metro Atlanta.

If that occurs, a hopeful Dr. Smith told reporters Wednesday, “I get to see her all the time. I get to have my family back. It’d be Christmas.’’

State Rep. Allen Peake introduced James and Courtney Smith at a state Capitol news conference focused on his bill to make medical marijuana legal in Georgia. Peake, a Macon Republican, said the Smiths are among at least 17 Georgia families living in Colorado so they can have access to medical marijuana.

“We need to bring Georgia families home,’’ Peake said. He cited the Smiths in saying, “That’s why I’ll fight to my last breath for [these] families.”

Peake led the charge in the 2014 General Assembly session for medical marijuana, but his measure ultimately collapsed in the Legislature’s final hours.

Marijuana legalization is a complex, controversial subject. Some states that have legalized medical marijuana, such as Colorado, have also legalized recreational pot.

But many medical marijuana advocates strongly oppose allowing recreational use and say it’s a totally different issue. Meanwhile, federal laws against marijuana remain on the books, although they are not currently being zealously enforced against medical users.

Smith is hopeful the Georgia medical marijuana bill will pass this time around. “I think we’re smarter,’’ he told reporters. “We’re better prepared. Our goal is to come up with the best medical cannabis legislation in the country.”

Peake said that under his proposal, the cannabis would be grown in Georgia. It would be available for other diagnoses besides children’s seizure disorders. Those could include multiple sclerosis, ALS, Crohn’s disease, autism, cancer, glaucoma and chronic pain, he said.

He added that he hoped that the oil could be available for patients within a year of the governor signing a legalization bill.

“We’ve learned from last year’s failure,’’ Peake said.

He said he is against a recent legislative proposal by state Sen. Curt Thompson (D-Tucker) to allow recreational use of marijuana in Georgia. Peake said his own House Bill 1, which would legalize medical marijuana only, is “very tight, very restricted.”

Peake’s bill would allow a limited number of licensees to grow, manufacture and distribute medical marijuana in Georgia. Use would be restricted to medicine that’s a liquid, pill or injection. Smokable marijuana would not be allowed.

Only registered patients would have access to the treatment, and it would only be dispensed by licensed entities within the state. The bill would also decriminalize the possession of medical cannabis oil in Georgia for those patients who legally obtained the medicine in another state.

Gov. Nathan Deal has pushed for clinical trials of medical marijuana at Georgia Regents University in Augusta.

Also Wednesday, Peake chaired a legislative study committee hearing on medical marijuana. He told lawmakers that 33 states have approved medical marijuana.

But other testimony sounded alarms about passing a bill in Georgia. Rick Allen of the Georgia Drugs and Narcotics Agency noted that the federal stance remains that cannabis is a Schedule 1 controlled substance, and as such, cannot be prescribed.

Federal law prohibits marijuana and its products. The Justice Department has told Colorado and Washington that their state-regulated marijuana programs won’t be a priority for federal law enforcement.

Virginia Galloway of the Faith and Freedom Coalition of Georgia told the committee Wednesday that she has concerns about the lack of adequate scientific research on the efficacy of medical marijuana. Galloway also said there are potential problems with monitoring the use of marijuana, as well as the legal issues involving federal laws on marijuana.

“I have tremendous sympathy for these families,’’ Galloway added.

Dr. Smith asked the lawmakers to look at him as more of a “desperate father’’ than a physician.

He said that after five months on her medication, Marlo has made remarkable progress.

“Her personality came back,’’ he said. “She’s reading again.”

Smith told the panel that before her medical cannabis regimen took effect, Marlo’s medications “increasingly turned her into a zombie.”

“We tried every other option,” Smith said. “It is working and is the only thing that has worked.”

He said the oil she takes is very low in THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis. (In layman’s terms, that means the oil would not be very effective in making a person ‘‘high.”)

Georgia could take the leading edge in research into medical marijuana if it were legal here, he added.

Smith said his family could afford the move to Colorado, but that ‘‘for many Georgia families, this is not an option.”

Smith urged lawmakers to create a solution for Georgia families. “Fear should never prevent a just result.”  http://www.gwinnettdailypost.com/news/2014/dec/04/will-2015-be-the-year-for-medical-marijuana/

Why Congress should legalize pot

(CNN) -- Following the liberal footsteps of Colorado and Washington, Alaska, Oregon and the District of Columbia passed ballot initiatives to legalize marijuana this month. Florida's medical marijuana law failed, but only because as a constitutional amendment it needed 60% support; 58% voted in favor of it.

In 2016, another five to 10 states will likely consider legalization -- possibly Arizona, California, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, Nevada, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont. It's not surprising. Opinion polls show that marijuana legalization now commands majority support across the country.

Do these developments mean that full legalization is inevitable?

Not necessarily, but one would hope so. Marijuana legalization is a policy no-brainer. Any society that professes to value liberty should leave adults free to consume marijuana.

Moreover, the evidence from states and countries that have decriminalized or medicalized marijuana suggests that policy plays a modest role in limiting use. And while marijuana can harm the user or others when consumed inappropriately, the same applies to many legal goods such as alcohol, tobacco, excessive eating or driving a car.

Recent evidence from Colorado confirms that marijuana's legal status has minimal impact on marijuana use or the harms allegedly caused by use. Since commercialization of medical marijuana in 2009, and since legalization in 2012, marijuana use, crime, traffic accidents, education and health outcomes have all followed their pre-existing trends rather than increasing or decreasing after policy liberalized.

The strong claims made by legalization critics are not borne out in the data. Likewise, some strong claims by legalization advocates -- e.g., that marijuana tourism would be a major boom to the economy -- have also not materialized.

The main impact of Colorado's legalization has been that marijuana users can now purchase and use with less worry about harsh legal ramifications.

Yet despite the compelling case for legalization, and progress toward legalization at the state level, ultimate success is not assured.

Federal law still prohibits marijuana, and existing jurisprudence (Gonzales v. Raich 2005) holds that federal law trumps state law when it comes to marijuana prohibition. So far, the federal government has mostly taken a hands-off approach to state medicalizations and legalizations, but in January 2017, the country will have a new president. That person could order the attorney general to enforce federal prohibition regardless of state law.

Whether that will happen is hard to forecast.

If more states legalize marijuana and public opinion continues its support, Washington may hesitate to push back. But federal prohibition creates problems even if enforcement is nominal: Marijuana business cannot easily use standard financial institutions and transactions technologies such as credit cards; physicians may still hesitate to prescribe marijuana; and medical researchers will still face difficulty in studying marijuana.

 

To realize the full potential of legalization, therefore, federal law must change. The best approach is to remove marijuana from the list of drugs regulated by the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), the federal law that governs prohibition.

Standard regulatory and tax policies would still apply to legalized marijuana, and states would probably adopt marijuana-specific regulations similar to those for alcohol (e.g., minimum purchase ages). State and federal governments might also impose "sin taxes," as for alcohol. But otherwise marijuana would be just another commodity, as it was before the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937.

A more cautious approach would have Congress reschedule marijuana under the CSA.

Currently, marijuana is in Schedule I, which is reserved for drugs such as heroin and LSD that, according to the CSA, have "a high potential for abuse ... no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States ... [and] a lack of accepted safety for use." Hardly anyone believes these conditions apply to marijuana.

If marijuana were in Schedule II, which states it as "a high potential for abuse ... [but a] currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States," doctors could legally prescribe it under federal law, as with other Schedule II drugs such as cocaine, methadone and morphine.

Given the broad range of conditions for which marijuana may be useful, including muscle spasms caused by multiple sclerosis, nausea from cancer chemotherapy, poor appetite and weight loss caused by chronic illness such as HIV, chronic pain, stress, seizure disorders and Crohn's disease, doctors would have wide reign to prescribe, making marijuana all but legal as occurs under the broadest state medical marijuana laws, such as California and Colorado.

Medical science would also face fewer regulatory hurdles to marijuana research. This "medicalization" approach, while perhaps politically more feasible than full legalization, has serious drawbacks.

Federal authorities such as the Drug Enforcement Administration could interfere with marijuana prescribing -- as sometimes occurs with opiate prescribing. Taxing medical marijuana may be harder than taxing recreational marijuana. And the medical approach risks a charge of hypocrisy, since it is backdoor legalization. But medicalization is still better than full prohibition, since it eliminates the black market.

For 77 years, the United States has outlawed marijuana, with tragic repercussions and unintended consequences. The public and their state governments are on track to rectify this terrible policy. Here's hoping Congress catches up.  http://www.cnn.com/2014/11/19/opinion/miron-marijuana-legalization/

Marijuana legalization: The rise of a drug from outlaw status to retail shelves

After voters in Washington and Colorado voted to legalize marijuana in 2012, Alison Holcomb would tell pot activists it was too early to say that the rest of America was ready to accept the drug.

Holcomb, an American Civil Liberties Union official who managed Washington's legalization campaign, recalled that nearly a dozen states – including Oregon – decriminalized possession of small amounts of the drug in the 1970s.

"And then the '80s came and the pendulum swung back hard," she said, as President Ronald Reagan called marijuana "probably the most dangerous drug in America" and stepped up federal enforcement against all illegal drugs.

Holcomb now feels more confident that marijuana will be widely legal after watching Oregon and Alaska voters approve the possession and retail sales.

Legalization in two more states -- in a non-presidential year when fewer younger people vote – marks an important milestone in the drive to sweep away criminal penalties against a drug routinely used by millions of Americans, Holcomb and other activists say. On top of that, in Washington, D.C., voters said adults should be able to grow and possess the drug.

"A decade or a generation from now, people will look back on the marijuana wars and say, 'What the hell was that about," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, the group that primarily funded Oregon's marijuana initiative.

Not everyone agrees that marijuana is on its way to the mainstream.

Kevin Sabet, a former White House drug official and prominent national opponent of legalization, said supporters so far had an overwhelming financial advantage and that "the country is not ready to fully embrace legalization."

Regardless, the growing strength of the movement to legalize marijuana represents a sea change for a drug that first became prominent as a symbol of the 1960s counterculture.

Portland Congressman Earl Blumenauer has probably been voting on marijuana issues longer than any politician in America.

As a 24-year-old state representative in 1973, Blumenauer supported Oregon's first-in-the-nation law to punish possession of up to one ounce with a citation comparable to a traffic ticket.

Ten states followed and President Jimmy Carter in 1977 urged Congress to eliminate federal penalties for possessing small amounts of pot.

"We can, and should, continue to discourage the use of marijuana, but this can be done without defining the smoker as a criminal," said Carter. "States which have already removed criminal penalties for marijuana use, like Oregon and California, have not noted any significant increase in marijuana smoking."

Blumenauer thought the country was well on the way toward ending criminal sanctions.

But Reagan, running as the champion of traditional values, turned that around.

"Marijuana, pot, grass, whatever you want to call it, is probably the most dangerous drug in the United States," Reagan proclaimed at one campaign stop, "and we haven't begun to find out all of the ill effects."

After he was elected in 1980, first lady Nancy Reagan led a "Just Say No" approach to drugs and championed toughened laws. For Ronald Reagan, accustomed to using anti-war protesters, dissident college students and the hippie movement as foils, the move made political sense.

"Reagan campaigned against the counterculture," Blumenauer said, noting that his anti-drug push came when crime rates were rising and "people didn't want to be seen as soft on crime."

During the Reagan administration, Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl Gates started a national group, Drug Abuse Resistance Education – DARE – that had officers visit schools to encourage students to pledge to avoid drugs.

Proponents said youth use of marijuana fell during the 1980s, proving the value of the "Just Say No" approach.

But the war on drugs also contributed to an explosive increase in the prison population, leading critics to complain that the focus should be on drug treatment and not incarceration.

At the same time, more activists argued that marijuana was effective in treating such diseases as glaucoma and in easing the pain and nausea of cancer treatments.

Marijuana use became common among AIDS patients, helping to lead to passage of the nation's first medical marijuana law, in California in 1996.

"That's where you began to have a different conversation about marijuana," said Nadelmann, adding that it "helped shift the imagery of a marijuana user" from that of a clueless stoner to a gaunt cancer patient.

Oregon, Washington and Alaska followed two years later; 23 states now have medical marijuana laws.

Critics and supporters of medical marijuana argue over whether those laws are to blame for an increase in under-age use of the drug, with dueling studies drawing opposite conclusions.

At the same time, the millennials – the children of the baby boomers who first grappled with marijuana – entered adulthood with a casual acceptance of the drug, even though surveys showed that most were not regular users.

Nationally, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health said last year that nearly 20 million people 12 and older, or about 7.5 percentof the population, used marijuana in the last month.

In Oregon, estimates prepared by the Legislative Revenue Office to study the tax impact of legalization, said around 300,000 adults used marijuana in the last month.  Another 67,000 have medical marijuana cards.

Just as happened with gay marriage, the millennials provided the strongest force in polls that show rising support for marijuana over the last two decades.

Yet while Americans increasingly came to see marriage equality as a moral right, most didn't put marijuana in those terms, according to an analysis of public opinion by William Galston and E.J. Dionne Jr. of the Brookings Institution. 

"A significant minority favor legalization, not because they think that smoking marijuana is an affirmative good," the two wrote in 2013, "but because they doubt the ability of law to enforce a prohibition against it."

The issue also cut across party lines, with many conservatives saying it was a states' rights issue, or even that it wasn't up to government to tell someone what they could put in their own body. And many respondents say they were soft in their support for legalization.

Still, Gallup found  support for legalizing marijuana outpacing opposition around 2010, just when activists put a legalization measure on the California ballot.

The measure failed by seven percentage points, but just the possibility it could pass in the nation's most populous state attracted copious media coverage and widespread discussion.

Now, after four states have legalized the drug, activists plan to return the issue to the California ballot in 2016. And they reel off other states where they expect to  push for legalization soon.

Galston, the Brookings scholar and former aide to President Bill Clinton, said he thinks a patchwork of mostly blue states will legalize marijuana as part of a "long national conversation" about the drug.

Blumenauer predicted that marijuana will become a serious issue in the 2016 presidential race, with candidates asked where they stand on issues ranging from whether they support legalization to whether they back the Obama administration's decision to let states allow retail sales.

Sabet, the legalization critic, noted that Gallup on Thursday published a poll finding that majority support for legalization dropped from 58 percent to 51 percent in the past year.

That could signal that Americans aren't happy with the growing marijuana industry they're seeing in Colorado and Washington, he said.

The industry is "taking their cues from Big Tobacco," Sabet said in an email, "downplay the risks, encourage heavy use [and] start 'em young."

Legalization supporters scoff at those claims, arguing that regulating marijuana gives authorities more tools to combat under-age use. Also, some other pollsters did not find a drop in support for legalization.

"Anbyody who is afraid that marijuana is going to be a big business has their head in the sand," said Blumenauer, "because it's big business now...It's just that it is in the shadows, or worse."  http://www.oregonlive.com/mapes/index.ssf/2014/11/marijuana_legalization_the_ris.html

D.C., Oregon, Alaska Vote to Legalize Marijuana as Florida Abstains

The measure in the Capital could now be overturned since it is technically a district

 
As numerous statewide marijuana reform laws went to a vote across the country at the midterm elections on Tuesday night, Oregon, Alaska and Washington, D.C. all voted in favor of legalization to varying degrees, while those in Florida found the state's citizens opposing a medical marijuana measure.

Oregon's new law allows adults age 21 and up to possess, manufacture and sell marijuana. It also allows for commercial regulation of the marijuana system within the state, similar to those of Colorado and the state of Washington, according to CNN.

Alaska also passed a law allowing it to regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol. It, too, allows the state to create a control board to regulate its marijuana industry. Prior to this election, Alaska had murky laws with relation to weed, after a 1975 Alaska Supreme Court ruling that set a precedent allowing for people to keep marijuana at home; full legalization measures were on Alaska ballots in 2000 and 2004, but failed to pass. The new measure passed with 52 percent of voters favoring it. It will not become law until 90 days after the election is certified, according to Alaska Dispatch News.

In Washington, D.C., voters approved a law allowing for adults 21 and over to possess up to two ounces of weed for personal use and grow up to six cannabis plants at home. A person can also give up to an ounce of marijuana to another but cannot sell it. It also lacks a taxation system, USA Today reports, since voters cannot implement taxes themselves.

Despite the measure passing, CNN reports that some politicians will attempt to overrule the vote since D.C. is a district and not a state. With Republicans winning the majority of the Senate this week, the law's prospects look grim.

But while weed measures passed in the northern United States, Florida voted down a measure that would allow for the medical use of marijuana. That measure received 58 percent approval, falling just two percent shy of the mark that would have made it a constitutional amendment in the state, according to NPR. While Florida said no to medical marijuana, the United States territory Guam passed a law in favor of it, USA Today reports.

Twenty-three U.S. states and Washington, D.C. allow medicinal marijuana use, while Colorado and Washington also allow recreational marijuana use.

8 Months Since Legalizing Marijuana, Here's What's Happening in Colorado

The news: If you had any doubts as to what would happen when Colorado legalized weed, the state is doing just fine. And making mint, as a matter of fact.

Eight months since becoming the first U.S. state to legalize recreational pot, Colorado is seeing record-high sales: According to the latest figures from the Colorado Department of Revenue, recreational sales totaled around $34.1 million in August, up from $29.3 million in July.

September also marked the first time that recreational marijuana sales exceeded those of medical marijuana, which advocates see as a sign that the state's experiment is paying off, with the retail industry taking customers from the black market.

"Most adults use marijuana for the same reasons they use alcohol. Now that it's a legal product, they are choosing to access it in a similar fashion," Mason Tvert, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project, told Time. "For most Coloradans, buying marijuana in a retail store will just become the norm. It appears that shift in behavior is already taking place."

The chart above, from Christopher Ingraham at the Washington Postshows just how much recreational sales have climbed in the past few months.

And things are looking stable. As activists on both sides of the legalization debate in Colorado have conceded, the state's model is a work in progress. And while Colorado is far from the lawless hellscape skeptics predicted — Denver's crime rates have actually gone down since legal weed became available — authorities erring on the side of caution.

Last month, the state tightened regulations for both recreational and medical marijuana dispensaries, putting a cap on greenhouse or outdoor production and requiring "responsible vendor training." Pro-legalization activists have also rolled out a statewide awareness campaign to promote responsible pot use.

But there is still political pushback in Colorado. Despite weed tax revenue filling state coffers and worries of a pot-fueled crime spree going unfounded, there is still healthy skepticism in the state regarding its legalization experiment, and it's become a touchstone in the upcoming gubernatorial election.

Republican challenger Bob Beauprez has taken Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper to task for heading Colorado's legalization, while Hickenlooper has continued to distance himself from the effort, pointing out that he was acting at the behest of the voters.

"I think for us to do that without having all the data, there is not enough data, and to a certain extent you could say it was reckless," Hickenlooper said at an election debate last week. "[I]f it was up to me I wouldn't have done it, right. I opposed it from the very beginning. In matter of fact, all right, what the hell — I'll say it was reckless."

Still, despite Hickenlooper's reservations, he has been at the head of a historical experiment. And so far, things seem to be working out.  http://mic.com/articles/101390/8-months-since-legalizing-marijuana-here-s-what-s-happening-in-colorado