Update / FYI

You will notice that this site has not had a new post in a very long time – that’s because it was created as a project for a semester-long course (Writing for the Public) at the University of Pittsburgh. The information on this site is accurate to the best of my research abilities, but reflects primarily one side of the marijuana legalization/decriminalization debate. Most of these posts have not lost their relevance, as this nation-wide debate continues to drag on.

 

I recommend checking out these posts:

Must-See Marijuana Movies

These are not your average Dazed & Confused or Pineapple Express… these videos are smart, educational, and entertaining!

Marijuana Inc., Inside America’s Pot Industry (2009)

CNBC takes a look inside the United States’ pot industry, focusing on the “Emerald Triangle” in California. This quasi-legal pot heaven generates up to $1 billion annually in revenue for the state. Watch it Here.

Super High Me (2007)

Ever seen the movie “Supersize Me” where that guy eats McDonald’s for 30 days straight and is noticeably unhealthier (and grosser)? It’s similar – except comedian Doug Benson smokes a ton of pot for 30 days and saw no real health deficits. In fact, his SAT score actually increased 50 points! The film also includes interviews with doctors, activists, patients, and politicians.

HIGH: The True Tale of American Marijuana (2008)

This documentary simply “exposes the drug war for what it is,” according to the official site.

Emperor of Hemp: The Story of Jack Herer (2005)

Jack Herer is a “prophet of pot” to many and this film pays tribute to his outspoken activism by capturing historic moments in the cannabis movement.

Breaking the Taboo (2011)

The film’s official website states that part of its mission is breaking the cycle of misinformation that pot is best kept out of public hands and prosecuted strictly. “The policies of prohibition create more harms than they prevent. We must seriously consider shifting resources away from criminalising tens of millions of otherwise law abiding citizens, and move towards an approach based on health, harm-reduction, cost-effectiveness and respect for human rights.” The mission statement, called the Beckley Foundation Public Letter, is signed by dozens of noted global activists (like Yoko Ono), Nobel Prize winners, President Jimmy Carter and many NGOs.

* BONUS: Narrated by Morgan Freeman!

Industrial Hemp in America

The United States was the destination for 59% of Canada’s hemp exports in 2007, an industry that makes them well over $3 million annually (1) Although hemp grown for industrial purposes (such as clothing fiber and paper) contains no THC, the United States still classifies and criminalizes the plant the same way as marijuana. THC is the active ingredient in marijuana that gets a user “high,” and hemp simply does not contain enough to impair a person – less than 1% (2).

A report to the Missouri House of Representatives noted back in 1991 that “with current interest in natural fiber clothing, hemp’s advantages of strength and absorbency suggest it could establish a viable place in American textile markets.”

Hemp is such an incredible plant, it even leaves the soil better than how it found it: “Advantages from an agronomic standpoint seem to be that it requires few pesticides or herbicides, is relatively disease free, and is a good rotation crop because it may enhance yields in crops that follow it.” (3)

Two industrial hemp bills have been introduced in the 113th Congress this year, both in February 2013. The bills “define industrial hemp, exclude it from the definition of ‘marihuana’ in the Controlled Substances Act, and give states the exclusive authority to regulate the growing and processing of industrial hemp under state law,” according to Vote Hemp )a non-profit with the ultimate goal of getting industrial hemp commercially grown in the US). Here are links to full information about the bills:

Hemp urban legends (that may or may not be true):

  • Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence on hemp paper
  • George Washington and Thomas Jefferson both grew hemp
  • Ben Franklin owned a hemp paper mill
  • Rudolph Diesel designed his engine to run on hemp oil
  • Hemp fibers are stronger than cotton
  • Hemp fibers block UV rays better than other materials
  • Hemp paper can be recycled more times than wood-based paper

FACT: “Over 30 industrialized democracies do distinguish hemp from marijuana. International treaties regarding marijuana make an exception for industrial hemp.” – The United States does not!

Source: North American Industrial Hemp Council, October 1997

More hemp facts from PBS report on the war on marijuana:

  • American production of hemp was encouraged by the government in the 17th century for the production of rope, sails, and clothing.
  • In 1619 the Virginia Assembly passed legislation requiring every farmer to grow hemp.
  • Hemp was allowed to be exchanged as legal tender in Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Maryland.
  • After the Mexican Revolution of 1910, Mexican immigrants flooded into the U.S., introducing to American culture the recreational use of marijuana. The drug became associated with the immigrants, and the fear and prejudice about the Spanish-speaking newcomers became associated with marijuana.
  • 1932: Uniform State Narcotics Act
  • 1936: Reefer Madness propaganda film released
  • During World War II, imports of hemp and other materials crucial for producing marine cordage, parachutes, and other military necessities became scarce. In response the U.S. Department of Agriculture launched its “Hemp for Victory” program, encouraging farmers to plant hemp by giving out seeds and granting draft deferments to those who would stay home and grow hemp.
  • 1968: Creation of the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs
  • 1973: Creation of the DEA
  • 1986: Anti Drug Abuse Act – imposed mandatory minimum sentences

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Disadvantages of Marijuana Prohibition

Click here to download a shareable PDF of this Marijuana White Paper

Marijuana has been a Schedule I drug since the introduction of the 1970 Controlled Substances Act proposed by President Richard Nixon. This classification puts marijuana under the strictest category of narcotics – those that have no currently accepted medical benefits and a high potential for abuse. However, in more recent times, 18 states plus the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for medical use (2 states include recreational use) and 11 more have similar legislation pending1. It is time for the United States to examine the wide reaching economic and societal costs of the profoundly unsuccessful War on Drugs. It is time to adopt a more progressive policy of regulated and taxed marijuana.

Map: The Legal State of Marijuana

How many people in the United States use marijuana?
According to a 2011 national survey by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHS), marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug in the United States with 18.1 million current users (19%). Of those answered that they used illicit drugs in the past month, 80.5% used marijuana regularly, and about two thirds (64.3%) have used only marijuana in the past month. The SAMHS survey also found that prevention messages did not seem to deter youth from using illicit drugs. The number of youth who used illicit drugs and also reported exposure to drug/alcohol prevention messages was only 0.2% different than those who had not seen such messages. Finally, about half (47.7%) of youths aged 12 to 17 reported that it would be “fairly easy” or “very easy” for them to obtain marijuana if they wanted it2.

Who is actually being arrested for using marijuana?
The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) collects statistics on the prevalence of marijuana arrests in each state. According to their data, approximately 3.5% of all arrests in PA are for simple marijuana possession; only 1% are for the sale of marijuana. The rate of total adult marijuana possession arrests versus total PA drug arrests has increased steadily from 20.1% in 1995 to 24.3% in 2002. The increase is also evident in the number of youths being arrested, which increased from 5.84% in 1995 to 7.1% in 20023.

The data suggest that youth are being unfairly targeted for marijuana arrests in PA – 39.6% of possession arrests and 32.7% of marijuana sales arrests in 2002 were people aged 15-19 years old, the highest number of any age bracket3.   These youths then have a conviction record following them for the rest of their lives and hindering their ability to get accepted to college or find meaningful jobs.

Infographic Blog 2
What has the War on Drugs cost the United States?
The Drug Policy Project estimates that the US spends at least $51 trillion a year on the War on Drugs. In 2011 alone, approximately 1.53 million people in the United States were arrested for nonviolent drug charges. Of those, more than 750,000 were arrested for a marijuana law violation – 86% were simple possession4. Strict anti-drug policies have also cost more than 200,000 students financial aid eligibility because of a drug conviction. In Pennsylvania, possession of 30g or less of marijuana is “a misdemeanor punishable by 30 days in jail and a $500 fine5.” The current laws regarding driving under the influence of alcohol are less strict: no minimum jail time, no required license suspension, and a possible fine of $300 or more depending on the person’s BAC6.

What is the financial burden on taxpayers?
In 2010, PA spent $283,229,043 on drug abuse prevention and other related programs such as prisoner re-entry programs and general healthy community initiatives7. The criminal justice system refers more marijuana users to substance abuse treatment than any other drug, including alcohol8. According to a 2005 report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, about 64% of substance abuse treatment was paid for by taxpayer funded programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, and CHIP9. In the future, tax revenue from legal marijuana sales could be used for substance abuse treatment and drug education classes for public schools.

How does marijuana legalization affect crime rates?
Recent research has raised questions about the societal effects of marijuana, and if some assumptions we’ve long held may not be true after all. For example, a 2009 report from the Denver Police Department found a 16.8% burglary and robbery rate for marijuana dispensaries, equal to that of regular pharmacies. There was a 19.7% robbery rate for liquor stores and a 33.7% rate for banks. A similar survey of the LAPD in 2009 found that robberies were also more common at banks than dispensaries in Los Angeles10.

In late 2010, the Denver Police Department looked at crime rates in areas that included dispensaries. The analysis showed that through the first nine months of 2010, crime was down 8.2% relative to the same period in 2009. The decrease was comparable to the city’s overall drop in crime of 8.8%. The Denver Post completed a similar analysis and found that crime rates in some areas with the highest concentration of dispensaries saw bigger decreases in crime than neighborhoods with no dispensaries10.

Why is now the time to change our marijuana laws?
With Colorado and Washington legalizing marijuana for recreational use, our federal government is forced to evaluate its stance on marijuana and the effectiveness of current federal policy. Senator Daylin Leach of Pennsylvania claims that even the most conservative estimates say PA could gain $24 million in tax revenue each year from taxing the sales of marijuana similarly to tobacco and alcohol11. He also believes we should take advantage of the systems already in place to regulate alcohol for marijuana sales because these stores are used to following state standards and checking for ID with every customer.

Sources: Please see PDF file for list of sources.

INFOGRAPHIC: PA Marijuana Facts

What this graph says in 10 words or less: Marijuana regulation earns revenue and focuses police efforts.
Infographic Blog

SOURCES:

  1. http://www.senatorleach.com/leach-experts-weigh-in-on-benefits-of-legalizing-marijuana-at-capitol-press-conference
  2. http://norml.org/pdf_files/state_arrests_2004/NORML_PA_Marijuana_Arrests.pdf
  3. http://www.drugscience.org/States/PA/PA.pdf

What Marinol tells us about marijuana

1. Marinol has medicinal effects because of the active ingredient in marijuana.

Marinol is in a class of medications called cannabinoids. Marinol Capsules contain man-made dronabinol (THC). THC is also a naturally occuring component of Cannabis sativa L. (marijuana). THC is the primary psychoactive compound (i.e. cannabinoid) in marijuana.

The commercial Marinol website only says it is used for loss of appetite associated with weight loss in patients with AIDS. This is not surprising, considering that a classic symptom of smoking marijuana is increased appetite (AKA “the munchies”). The research report from Abbott Laboratories says “Marinol Capsules can be used for the treatment of anorexia associated with weight loss in patients with AIDS and nausea and vomiting associated with cancer chemotherapy in patients who have failed to respond adequately to conventional antiemetic treatments.” This suggests more expansive use for Marinol than just cancer patients. Several studies have been done to test it’s effects on patients with Multiple Sclerosis, Tourette’s Syndrome, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

The Marinol website warns of several “adverse effects” a person may experience including feeling high, dizziness, confusion, or sleepiness. However, sleepiness can also be a good side effect – especially for nauseas patients who have trouble settling their minds and stomachs long enough to fall asleep, or to actually stay asleep for a decent amount of time. This is why people like it for anxeity and PTSD as well

 ** Some legal/production information about Marinol:

Marinol is the brand name available in the market, manufactured at Abbott Laboratories in Illinois.  It is licensed (not patented) by AbbVie, Inc. – a pharmaceutical giant with products for sale in more than 170 countries. The corporation’s 2011 revenue was approximately $17.4 billion.

AbbVie got approval for Marinol back in May of 1985. AbbVie’s Marinol is the “Reference Listed Drug” for its particular formula, meaning that any generic versions are compared against it as the standard. There are two other companies approved to sell generic versions of the pill in the United States: INSYS Therapeutics, Inc. and SVC Pharma LP.

2. Medical marijuana changes people’s lives.

The Huffington Post published this editorial by Dan Duffy, a filmmaker and co-founder of the Half Fund, which finances cancer awarenesss campaigns with mass media potential. In the piece, he writes about the empathy he felt for a mother who gave her young daughter medical marijuana because it seemed to be the only thing that made her feel better during cancer treatment – something he’s been through himself.

He admits to being skeptical and a bit naïve about taking Marinol at first. “My wife explained to me that they (Marinol pills) take the edge off, without giving you the high that comes from regular marijuana… But holy crapjack did it work! It actually brought my nausea back to Round 1 levels, which in relative terms, was a remarkable achievement. It was just enough to get me through my last week of purgatory, and I’m forever grateful for it.”

After remembering the agony of his own personal experience with battling the nausea associated with cancer, Duffy had these closing words of encouragement for the mother being condemned on national television: “And if Marinol or marijuana oil is the only thing on God’s green earth that keeps you from wanting to physically crawl up and die, then you by all means take it. For the mom of this little girl, I applaud you for doing what you can to make your daughter’s life tolerable. I hope we would all have the courage to do the same.”

3. Marinol has more potential for harm than natural marijuana.MarinolA

A comprehensive analysis comparing deaths from marijuana versus 17 other FDA-approved drugs revealed the incredibly pertinent fact that marijuana has never been a legimate primary cause of death. The statistics come directly from the FDA, made public by a Freedom of Information Act request from ProCon.org. According to the reports they turned over, the 17 FDA approved drugs caused a total of 10,008 deaths between 1997 and 2005. Marijuana was the primary suspect of death in zero cases, but a secondary suspect in 279. However, this only speaks to the danger of combining marijuana with other drugs – not any danger posed by the plant alone. 

Now consider this statement on the official Marinol website: “Do not smoke marijuana while using Marinol. This can cause an overdose.” This seems to suggest that whatever scientists did to Marinol that makes it different than natural THC is turning a harmless plant into a potentially dangerous medicine. This is why it is important to be extremely wary of the pharmaceutical industry’s interest in keeping marijuana illegal.

4. There is such a thing as marijuana tolerance.

The research report by Abbott Laboratories explicitly reveals that “volunteers developed tolerance to the cardiovascular and subjective adverse CNS effects of dronabinol within 12 days of treatment initiation.” This suggests a growing tolerance to the disorienting effects of THC/marijuana.

“Dronabinol also demonstrates reversible effects on appetite, mood, cognition, memory, and perception. These phenomena appear to be dose-related, increasing in frequency with higher dosages, and subject to great interpatient variability.” Essentially, they are saying that the more Marinol a person ingests the more intense the effects are – but this also depends on the individual – i.e. tolerance to THC likely exists in some of the volunteers for this study (who may very well be marijuana users).

“Tachyphylaxis and tolerance do not, however, appear to develop to the appetite stimulant effect of MARINOL Capsules.” Basically, tolerance did develop for some effects of Marinol, but patients always felt hungry after ingesting it.

5. The FDA approved statements claiming that a person may be able to drive under the influence of Marinol.

This is important to note in relation to #4, the idea of tolerance in individuals. It’s no secret that many marijuana smokers think they can drive under the influence, but are they just overconfident in their abilities?

The Marinol website has these two (FDA-approved) statements regarding driving under the influence of Marinol:

  • You should not drive, operate machinery, or engage in any hazardous activity until you know how this medication affects you and until you are sure you can perform such tasks safely.
  • Do not drive or attempt other activities requiring full alertness while taking MARINOL Capsules. Your doctor will advise when you may resume these activities.

So is it safe to drive high? The FDA says maybe.

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