Releaf Magazine
6Oct/160

California Legalization Opposed By Local Growers

California marijuana legalization faces unlikely foe: growers

Reuters- By Rory Carroll    10/4/16marijuana-california

 

Hezekiah Allen is a third-generation marijuana farmer in this Northern California county, where the cool coastal fog pours off the Pacific Ocean, coaxing pot plants to heights of 20 feet.

The executive director of the California Growers Association trade group, Allen has long sought an end to what he calls "prohibition" and has looked forward to a day when he and the thousands of pot farmers here would no longer be outlaws.

But he said he can't bring himself to vote for Proposition 64, a referendum on California's November ballot that would legalize cultivation, sale and recreational use of marijuana.

While pot purveyors might seem to be likely Prop. 64 supporters, Allen's ambivalence is widespread within the industry.

The California Growers Association took a neutral stance after a recent poll among its 750 farmers, distributors and retailers found a split: 31 percent supported, 31 percent opposed, and 38 percent were undecided.

The larger Prop. 64 debate has focused on moral, social and health consequences of legalized pot use, but growers' concerns are more prosaic. Some fear going legit will mean too much red tape and burdensome oversight. Some fear an onslaught of big business - and competition that could wipe them out.

"I don't want to replace a criminal injustice with an economic injustice," Allen said.

Steve Dodge, the CEO of the Humboldt Growers Collective, another trade group, said he is voting against the initiative because it would allow regulatory inspections that some pot growers view as tantamount to warrantless searches.

"We are asking farmers to come out from behind the curtain, but not providing the assurances they need," he said. "This law is setting the state up for failure."

California, the sixth-largest economy in the world, already has legalized marijuana for medical use. It is the biggest producer in a U.S. market that includes 24 other states and the District of Columbia with some form of legalization. Brokerage Cowen pegs legal and illegal U.S. market at about $30 billion.

The approval of recreational use on such a big scale would be a turning point. It would more than double sales in California to $6.46 billion in 2020 from the $2.76 billion in medical use receipts last year, according to a projection by market researcher New Frontier.

Polls suggest the measures will pass. But growers' concerns show it won't be easy to move a multi-billion-dollar gray industry into the light.

Growers would face tax bills and the expense of improving their farms' ecological footprints to meet environmental regulations. And, after a five year grace period, industrial-sized farms would be allowed, a prospect that is expected to attract corporate agriculture.

Some growers believe going legit would be less lucrative than selling to states where marijuana remains illegal, a calculus that could drive them further underground.

"OUTLAW, NOT CRIMINAL"

Six hours north of San Francisco, old growth forests in what is known as the "Emerald Triangle" nurture vast marijuana production. Thousand-year-old redwoods have sheltered growers from raids by authorities since the collapse of logging here in the 60s and 70s gave rise to the illicit industry.

Wearing a sweatshirt bearing a pot leaf and the slogan, "I'm an outlaw, not a criminal," a black market grower tended to small plants bursting with buds raised in a room under high powered lights and the breeze of fans. The grower, who identified himself only as Jason B for fear of prosecution, said he wants to keep big business "out of our neighborhood."

"The reason I will vote 'no' on the proposition is that it will be corporate influenced and it would be a sub-par product," he said.

Standing in his outdoor grove of plants that tower above him, Stephen Dillon said the Humboldt Sun Growers Guild he heads is split over Prop. 64. Growers in the group also are concerned that it will open the industry to big agriculture, as well as taxes and penalties, he said.

Dillon acknowledged some illegal growers hurt the environment, draining creeks for irrigation, pouring pesticide-laden runoff back into the water supply and creating mountains of trash on their sites. Prop. 64 would allow the state to revoke the licenses of such bad actors. But Dillon said its environmental regulations could cost $20,000 to $100,000 per farm to meet.

DOUBTS IN HAIGHT-ASHBURY

Doubts are not confined to growers.

Patrice Scott is a receptionist for Green Evaluations, a medical marijuana clinic above Amoeba Records in San Francisco's historic Haight-Ashbury district, the epicenter of the hippie movement in the late 1960s that promoted free love, psychedelic music and pot.

Scott said she will vote against Prop. 64, viewing it as a money grab by state and local governments she fears will squander the revenue. She said the medical marijuana rules, which require purchasers to obtain a card from a physician, work fine.

"No one has a problem getting a card," she said. "This is just a way for them (government) to profit."

But opposition is not universal in the industry. Some, noting a glut in pot is driving down prices, said they welcome legalization if it brings new demand.

"It is just free falling," said Marion Collamar, a Humboldt county grower who supports Prop. 64.

The average price of a pound of wholesale cannabis has fallen from $2,030 in January 2016 to $1,664 in August, according to Cannabis Benchmarks, a wholesale cannabis pricing company.

Chrystal Ortiz, a small farmer and operations manager for the Sun Growers Guild, said she supports Prop 64 because it would eliminate or reduce most criminal penalties, as well as prior convictions, for marijuana offenses.

"Primarily black and brown underprivileged people are the ones being affected by the illegality of cannabis," she said.

 

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27Sep/160

National fire saftey group focuses on marijuana business

marijuana-leaves_largeNational fire safety group focuses on unique issues of marijuana businesses

The Cannabist - By. Alicia Wallace - 09/26/2016

Fire codes adopted by various cities and states across the nation may soon have a chapter on cannabis cultivation and processing facilities.

The National Fire Protection Association, a member-based nonprofit that develops codes and standards for fire safety, is steps closer to adding a chapter on marijuana grows and processing facilities to its NFPA 1, Fire Code.

The chapter has been in the works for more than a year, said Kristin Bigda, NFPA’s principal fire protection engineer who had guided a task force — consisting of NFPA and marijuana industry members — assembled to develop the code language. Following a series of revisions, additions and many meetings, a second draft of the code language is expected to go before the NFPA’s technical committee on Oct. 3 and 4, in Milwaukee, Wis., she said.

“One of the things that the task group has been keeping in mind as they develop this language … is what truly is unique about these facilities and what requirements does NFPA already have,” she said.

Taking a lead role in the development of these guidelines have been fire marshals and industry members in Colorado, which were profiled in the September/October edition of the NFPA Journal:

Public safety agencies have played a key role in shaping the evolution of this fast-moving industry, even as they were often forced to write the textbook while learning the material. “Our knowledge of the industry literally started at zero,” said Brian Lukus, a young fire protection engineer who has led the Denver Fire Department’s marijuana efforts. “Meanwhile, the industry went from zero to a hundred miles an hour in an instant.”

The work done in Colorado — as well as in Washington, Alaska, and Oregon, states where recreational marijuana is also legal — may provide a roadmap for other jurisdictions as the legalization movement continues its methodical march across the nation. Likewise, Colorado’s struggles, some of which are ongoing, could help other states better manage similar issues.

The NFPA Journal cover story highlighted some of the unique challenges presented by the rapidly growing industry, notably the potential dangers of the commercial production processes to manufacture concentrates.

If the technical committee accepts the second draft, the chapter could land in the 2018 edition of NFPA 1, which would publish in the second half of 2017, Bigda said.

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22Sep/160

2.2 Million in marijuana seized after truck accident

stockTexas truck wreck leads to discovery of $2.2 million in marijuana

Associated Press - 9/22/16

VEGA, Texas — Investigators say a pickup truck accident in the Texas Panhandle has led to the seizure of $2.2 million in packaged marijuana found in the bed of the vehicle.

The Texas Department of Public Safety on Wednesday announced the arrest of the driver on a felony charge of possession of marijuana. A Texas trooper seized the nearly 400 pounds of marijuana during the incident before dawn Tuesday on Interstate 40 near Vega.

A statement from DPS in Amarillo says the trooper responded to a report of a one-vehicle accident, then discovered more than a dozen wrapped packages of pot. Officials say the driver was not injured and was booked into the Oldham County jail.

Investigators believe the drugs were being hauled from Tucson, Arizona, to Atlanta.

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18Sep/160

Why Big Pharma is so scared

plantOpioid use decreases in US states that legalize medical marijuana - study

RT - 09/17/2016

New research shows a decline in the use of opioid painkillers in US states that allow people to treat pain with medical marijuana, affirming the fears of Big Pharma who have been vigorously seeking to frustrate efforts to legalize the herb.

Columbia University researchers examined data from 1999 to 2013 and found an association between a state legalizing medical marijuana and a reduction in testing positive for opioids after dying in a car accident, particularly among drivers aged 21 to 40.

The study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, examined data of 69000 traffic fatalities in 18 states and analyzed the cases in which the presence of opioids was detected.

They found that drivers in that age bracket who died in car crashes, after a medical marijuana law had been implemented, were half as likely to test positive for opioids when compared to similarly aged drivers who crashed in states before such laws were in place.

"That's a pretty moderate-to-large reduction," said lead author June H. Kim, a doctoral student in the Department of Epidemiology at Columbia's Mailman School of Public Health, according to Live Science.

“We would expect the adverse consequences of opioid use to decrease over time in states where medical marijuana use is legal, as individuals substitute marijuana for opioids in the treatment of severe or chronic pain," Kim said.

This logic is not applicable to those over 40, however, with researchers finding no decrease in opioid use for over 40s in the states with operational medical marijuana programs.

This is consistent with previous research which has found that most medical marijuana patients are aged under 45.

The study comes only days after it emerged that as the amount of prescription painkillers and heroin dependence-related claims have increased, the private healthcare sector has been struggling to deal with the associated costs.

Research from Fair Health found that in 2015, "private payors’ average costs for a patient diagnosed with opioid abuse or dependence were more than 550 percent higher – almost $16,000 more per patient – than the per-patient average cost based on all patients’ claims."

 The report also coincides with the revelation that Insys Therapeutics, which profits off of a painkiller 50 times more potent than heroin, has been funding an anti-legalization campaign in Arizona in an apparent bid to eliminate 'the competition.'

Insys isn't the first pharmaceutical company to be found bankrolling anti-marijuana legislation though with a number of alcohol and pharmaceutical companies "heavily" invested in such laws in a number of states, according to The Intercept.

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16Sep/160

Bayer and Monsanto Merge

bayerBayer to Buy-Out Monsanto for $66 Billion

Reuters - By Greg Roumeliotis and Ludwig Burger - 09/14/2016

German drug and crop chemical maker Bayer clinched a $66 billion takeover of U.S. seeds company Monsanto on Wednesday, ending months of wrangling with a third sweetened offer that marks the largest all-cash deal on record.

The $128-a-share deal, up from Bayer's previous offer of $127.50 a share, has emerged as the signature deal in a consolidation race that has roiled the agribusiness sector in recent years, due to shifting weather patterns, intense competition in grain exports and a souring global farm economy.

"Bayer’s competitors are merging, so not doing this deal would mean having a competitive disadvantage," said fund manager Markus Manns of Union Investment, one of Bayer’s top 12 investors.

Grain prices are hovering near their lowest levels in years amid a global supply glut, and farm incomes have plunged.

But the proposed merger will likely face an intense and lengthy regulatory process in the United States, Canada, Brazil, the European Union and elsewhere. Hugh Grant, Monsanto's chief executive, said Wednesday the companies will need to file in about 30 jurisdictions for the merger.

Competition authorities are likely to scrutinize the tie-up closely, and some of Bayer's own shareholders have been highly critical of a takeover that they say risks overpaying and neglecting the company's pharmaceutical business.

If the deal closes, it will create a company commanding more than a quarter of the combined world market for seeds and pesticides in the fast-consolidating farm supplies industry.

What the newly-formed company would be named is unclear.

Grant said on Wednesday's media conference call that the future of the Monsanto brand has not yet been discussed, but the world's largest seed company is "flexible" about the name going forward.

The transaction includes a $2-billion break-up fee that Bayer will pay to Monsanto should it fail to get regulatory clearance. Bayer expects the deal to close by the end of 2017.German drug and crop chemical maker Bayer clinched a $66 billion takeover of U.S. seeds company Monsanto on Wednesday, ending months of wrangling with a third sweetened offer that marks the largest all-cash deal on record.

The $128-a-share deal, up from Bayer's previous offer of $127.50 a share, has emerged as the signature deal in a consolidation race that has roiled the agribusiness sector in recent years, due to shifting weather patterns, intense competition in grain exports and a souring global farm economy.

"Bayer’s competitors are merging, so not doing this deal would mean having a competitive disadvantage," said fund manager Markus Manns of Union Investment, one of Bayer’s top 12 investors.

Grain prices are hovering near their lowest levels in years amid a global supply glut, and farm incomes have plunged.

But the proposed merger will likely face an intense and lengthy regulatory process in the United States, Canada, Brazil, the European Union and elsewhere. Hugh Grant, Monsanto's chief executive, said Wednesday the companies will need to file in about 30 jurisdictions for the merger.

Competition authorities are likely to scrutinize the tie-up closely, and some of Bayer's own shareholders have been highly critical of a takeover that they say risks overpaying and neglecting the company's pharmaceutical business.

If the deal closes, it will create a company commanding more than a quarter of the combined world market for seeds and pesticides in the fast-consolidating farm supplies industry.

What the newly-formed company would be named is unclear.

Grant said on Wednesday's media conference call that the future of the Monsanto brand has not yet been discussed, but the world's largest seed company is "flexible" about the name going forward.

The transaction includes a $2-billion break-up fee that Bayer will pay to Monsanto should it fail to get regulatory clearance. Bayer expects the deal to close by the end of 2017.

The details confirm what a source close to the matter told Reuters earlier.

Baader Helevea Equity Research analyst Jacob Thrane, with a "sell" rating on Bayer, said the German company was paying 16.1 times Monsanto's forecast core earnings for 2017, more than the 15.5 times ChemChina agreed to pay for Swiss crop chemicals firm Syngenta last year.

He also said there was uncertainty over what the combined company would look like as regulators might demand asset sales.

Bernstein Research analysts said on Tuesday they saw only a 50 percent chance of the deal winning regulatory clearance, although they cited a survey among investors that put the likelihood at 70 percent on average.

"We believe political push-back to this deal, ranging from farmer dissatisfaction with all their suppliers consolidating in the face of low farm net incomes to dissatisfaction with Monsanto leaving the United States, could provide significant delays and complications," they wrote in a research note.

Bayer said it was offering a 44-percent premium to Monsanto's share price on May 9, the day before it made its first written proposal.

It plans to raise $19 billion to help fund the deal by issuing convertible bonds and new shares to its existing shareholders, and said banks had also committed to providing $57 billion of bridge financing.

Bayer shares were up 2.2 percent at 95.32 euros. Monsanto's were up 0.8 percent at $106.89.

One-Stop Shop

Bayer's move to combine its crop chemicals business, the world's second-largest after Syngenta AG, with Monsanto's industry-leading seeds business, is the latest in a series of major agrochemicals tie-ups.

The German company is aiming to create a one-stop shop for seeds, crop chemicals and computer-aided services to farmers.

That was also the idea behind Monsanto's swoop on Syngenta last year, which the Swiss company fended off, only to agree later to a takeover by China's state-owned ChemChina.

U.S. chemicals giants Dow Chemical and DuPont plan to merge and later spin off their respective seeds and crop chemicals operations into a major agribusiness.

And on Tuesday, Canadian fertilizer producers Potash Corp of Saskatchewan Inc and Agrium Inc agreed to combine to navigate a severe industry slump, but the new company's potential pricing power may attract tough regulatory scrutiny.

The Bayer-Monsanto deal will be the largest ever involving a German buyer, beating Daimler's tie-up with Chrysler in 1998, which valued the U.S. carmaker at more than $40 billion. It will also be the largest all-cash transaction on record, ahead of brewer InBev's $60.4 billion offer for Anheuser-Busch in 2008.

Bayer said it expected the deal to boost its core earnings per share in the first full year following completion, and by a double-digit percentage in the third year.

Bayer and Monsanto were in talks to sound out ways to combine their businesses as early as March, which culminated in Bayer's initial $122 per-share takeover proposal in May.

Antitrust experts have said regulators will likely demand the sale of some soybeans, cotton and canola seed assets.

Bayer said BofA Merrill Lynch, Credit Suisse, Goldman Sachs, HSBC and JP Morgan had committed to providing the bridge financing.

BofA Merrill Lynch and Credit Suisse are acting as lead financial advisers to Bayer, with Rothschild as an additional adviser. Bayer's legal advisers are Sullivan & Cromwell LLP and Allen & Overy LLP.

Morgan Stanley and Ducera Partners are acting as financial advisers to Monsanto, with Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz its legal adviser.

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6Sep/160

Murrayisms’ 101!

bill-murray-marijuana-quote-weedmemes2

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3Sep/160

A Conversation On Allowing Cannabis Smoking in Public Areas

rsz-are-cannabis-taxes-excessive-or-exactly-right-640x401Denver Could Soon Allow Marijuana In Cafes, Concert Halls And Yoga Studios

Huffington Post - Ryan Gernoble - 09/03/2016

When Colorado legalized recreational use of marijuana in 2012, it did so only for private consumption. This fall, voters in Denver will have the chance to legalize some use of cannabis outside the home.

Supporters of the “social marijuana use” initiative have gathered the 4,726 signatures required to make the ballot in November, the Denver Elections Division confirmed Thursday.

Key to its possible success is that the initiative would give individual neighborhoods a significant say in where and when these “designated consumption areas” would operate. Anyone seeking a permit would first have to obtain approval from the local neighborhood association, business improvement district or merchant association. Only then would Denver licensing officials consider an application.

Kayvan Khalatbari, one of the architects of the proposal and a co-owner of the pro-marijuana advocacy group Denver Relief Consulting, said that type of flexibility is fundamental.

“We wanted to make sure that we’re considerate of these neighborhoods and these organizations in this process of social consumption,” Khalatbari told The Huffington Post. “What they can choose to do is create stricter guidelines that really fit into the needs or the concerns of that community.”

As an example, Khalatbari said community leaders would be free to impose certain stipulations or even reject social cannabis use outright in areas frequented by kids.

“So if they say, ‘We have a lot of schoolkids here on weekdays, we don’t want this around,’ maybe they just say it’s a Saturday and Sunday permit, or it only happens after 7 p.m., or whatever it may be,” he said.

Permits could vary in duration from one night to a full year, and would be open to a broad range of businesses ― from yoga studios and holistic healing organizations to cafe owners, concert venues and art galleries.

But cannabis still could not be sold at these sites. Patrons would have to supply their own marijuana.

Khalatbari emphasized that the initiative represents a starting point. “There is not a single municipality that’s regulated the social use of cannabis, so we don’t purport to know everything on the front end,” he said. “This is going to take some time for all the stakeholders to really learn about this process and what these best practices are to be able to implement them properly.”

The initiative would launch a four-year pilot project. “If after four years, at the end of 2020, the city council doesn’t vote to extend what we have already or create something new, theoretically this would shut down,” he said.

One sticking point for social marijuana use in Denver may be the Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act, which prohibits smoking anything in most indoor areas. According to several state lawmakers, that means those designated consumption areas could technically be in violation of state law.

“I believe it conflicts with state law,” said state Rep. Dan Pabon (D-Denver) in an email. “The Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act specifically outlaws smoking indoors. This Act would need to be amended.”

Pabon added that he supports the idea of allowing cannabis consumption on certain business premises if that means marijuana smokers are kept out of public parks and off sidewalks.

State Rep. Jonathan Singer (D-Longmont) seconded that sentiment and cautioned that Colorado law also prohibits anyone from consuming other intoxicating substances in a business that has a liquor license. So bars wishing to allow marijuana use might be in a tricky position, but that doesn’t mean a solution couldn’t be found.

“Lawmakers like myself should have pushed harder the last few years on responsible social use and we wouldn’t be in this quandary,” said Singer. “We’ve had since 2013 to figure this out.”

Regardless of what happens, nobody in Denver ― residents or tourists ― should expect to legally smoke in public anytime soon.

“No one is allowed to smoke on the sidewalk or in a park,” Singer said, “and this initiative won’t change that.”

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1Sep/160

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26Aug/160

DEA Will Eventually Have To Give In

shutterstock_383706865DEA Wins the Battle but Is Losing the War on Marijuana

Alternet - Gabrielle Gurley - 08/24/2016

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s refusal to decontrol marijuana has raised the hackles of doctors, patient advocacy groups, cannabis entrepreneurs, and potheads almost everywhere. Under the agency’s recent directive, marijuana remains an illegal, controlled substance like heroin and LSD that has no medical value. But unlike most federal regulations, the DEA move will have little to no effect on state-level marijuana politics.

Since Colorado and Washington state green-lighted recreational marijuana in 2012, the DEA has gotten swamped by a tidal wave of legalization campaigns across the country for recreational and medical marijuana. Most states have moved fast, first, to allow doctors and patients who suffer from diseases like cancer and conditions like chronic pain to be able to use marijuana without the omnipresent threat of arrest and prosecution. But states, especially ones that already have medical marijuana, have also picked up the pace toward complete legalization for a simpler reason: beaucoup tax dollars.

To date, 26 states have legalized or decriminalized marijuana. There are a plethora of ballot initiatives on tap for voters to weigh in on this November. Initiatives in Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada would legalize possession of specific amounts of marijuana and cultivation of a certain number of plants. (The Massachusetts question also proposes to tax the substance like alcohol.) Arkansas, Florida, Montana, and North Dakota will consider legalizing or expanding access to medical marijuana. Several other states are awaiting the outcomes of conflicts over access to the ballot for marijuana initiatives.

Taxpayers may nix other tax increases, but they embrace sin taxes on marijuana. Though marijuana sales in states new to the industry can be slow going, recreational marijuana tax revenues can run into the hundreds of millions of dollars. Colorado has made an airtight case for marijuana revenues. The state takes in a 2.9 percent retail and medical marijuana sales tax, but more importantly, it takes in a 10 percent retail marijuana special sales tax and a 15 percent marijuana excise tax, as well as application and license fees for both retail and medical marijuana. In June, Colorado took in nearly $16.8 million in taxes and other fees compared to nearly $10.8 million in 2015, a whopping 55 percent increase.

In 2014, Colorado recreational marijuana businesses tallied nearly $700 million in sales, while the state took in $76 million in taxes. Last year was even better: Colorado took in $135 million in fee and tax revenues on nearly $1 billion in sales. The good citizens of the Centennial State even rejected a $66 million tax refund plan; instead, the monies stayed in state coffers and went to school construction, law enforcement and substance-abuse programs, and other budget line items.

Future recreational marijuana revenues are a major selling point in the states that have marijuana ballot questions.Nevada would slap marijuana sales with a 15 percent excise tax on top of the state’s 10 percent sales tax; projected tax annual revenues are nearly $465 million.

Overall, the DEA directive will have little impact on the booming industry. Meanwhile, a recent Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision may make medical marijuana dispensary owners breathe a little easier. The court ruled last week that the U.S. Department of Justice cannot prosecute people who comply with their state laws on medical medical marijuana sales.

The DEA decision did relax regulations on using marijuana plants in medical research (a sticking point that has long frustrated the medical community), which will allow scientists to cultivate plants in DEA-approved facilities. Medical marijuana use may be flourishing but doctors and other medical professionals have had to forge ahead without the rigorous research and clinical protocols that usually accompany new drug regimes, which can take years.

Currently, there is only one DEA-approved medical research facility in the country at the University of Mississippi. But researchers have a long list of issues with accessing the Ole Miss cannabis, including finding that the university cannot offer enough varieties of the plant which complicates testing. Some researchers have even complained that the university’s marijuana was inferior and did not compare favorably to products that can obtained in states were marijuana is legal. (Nor are they convinced that the DEA plans to make life easier for researchers to set up their own facilities.)

There are also more dollars for states in the economic development opportunities to be had in research and development. After Ohio’s Republican Governor John Kasich signed medical marijuana legislation into law in June, officials in Johnstown, a small town north of Columbus, gave the go-ahead for more marijuana businesses to set up shop.

The community already has one marijuana business (a manufacturer of equipment that uses a carbon dioxide separation process to separate oils from marijuana and other types of plants.) now headquartered at a nearly empty office park. The owner of that firm, Apeks Supercritical, has visions of a $500 million medical marijuana research and development campus. Johnstown may even corner the the R&D market since other Ohio communities are not keen on marijuana dispensaries. (At the other end of spectrum, even behemoths like Microsoft want in.)

State officials can work around Uncle Sam since many Americans have come to believe that pot has important medical benefits and is not as dangerous as a drug like heroin. That means that the DEA is now confronted with a paradox: There is new and entirely appropriate alarm about the opiate abuse crisis nationwide. However, the agency has obliterated the old canard that marijuana was a “gateway” drug to hard drugs. It makes no sense for the DEA, other federal agencies, and state and local law enforcement to continue enforcing existing restrictions on pot as they grapple with a far more serious opioid epidemic.

States are the laboratories of democracy, so it is no surprise that the federal government has failed to keep up with regulating the pot industry. But this November, the feds could fall even further behind. As more states legalize marijuana, the DEA will have think hard about how the agency continues to prosecute its war on a drug that is a medical and fiscal lifesaver in most of the 50 states. To his great credit President Obama has made headway on Cuba normalization, relief for Dreamer kids, and entente with Iran. But this issue continues to demand more federal law enforcement attention than it should. Perhaps his successor will finally leash the DEA and get real on marijuana.

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21Aug/160

Cheers to Portugal!

portugal-1024x661Celebrating 15 Years of Decriminalization In Portugal

Cannabis Now - Janika Takats - 08/18/16

Last month Portugal commemorated the 15th anniversary of its 30/2000 law – the law that decriminalized the use of all drugs in the country. The law dictates that the possession for personal use is no longer considered a crime but a regulatory offense. With this step, the Southern-European country waved goodbye to the War On Drugs that had been dominating Portugal’s drug policy for decades and dared to take a whole new approach.

Instead of prosecuting and convicting drug users and people who suffer from addiction, the Portuguese health system focuses on education and prevention of addiction. Every person can carry up to 25 grams of marijuana buds or five grams of hashish, two grams of cocaine and one gram of heroine, MDMA, amphetamine or methamphetamine without having to fear being arrested.

Portugal suffered from a heroin-epidemic in the mid-1990s before the 30/2000 law came into effect. During this period, roughly 100,000 people were addicted to heroin, which was approximately one percent of the population. The number of people dying from overdoses and HIV transmission via shared needle usage was also increasing. This led the government to form an anti-drug commission to tackle the problem.

One of 11 experts in the commission was Joao Goulão, a family physician from Faro, located on Portugal’s Algarve Coast, who is now chairman of Portugal’s Institute on Drugs and Drug Addiction.

“Drug users aren’t criminals, they’re sick” Goulão is convinced.

He has been the chief of Portugal’s national anti-drug program since 1997 and helped to shape the new law significantly. What started as a brave experiment has proved to be an effective approach to combating rising drug addiction rates and infections that arise from drug use. Since 2001, the number of heroin addicts has dropped by more two thirds. The majority of the remaining persons are accommodated in government programs to treat their addiction. Additionally, the number of people dying through drug abuse decreased by 75 percent. Both drug use among adolescents as well as the number of people who tried drugs for the first time in their life dropped.

While addicts are offered the support they need, drug dealer and traffickers still have to fear stiff penalties. This includes people who grow cannabis. Even if growers own just a small number of plants it is often difficult to prove that those are intended for personal use only. Therefore, people are still convicted for cannabis cultivation.

Besides all these positive effects Portugal’s drug policy in not without its flaws. Unlike other European countries such as Czech Republic, Finland, Spain, Germany or Austria, Portugal has no formalized programs for medical marijuana. While drug users are no longer prosecuted as criminals, decriminalization does not offer a solution for the drug trafficking that has continued unabated during the last 15 years. In 2012 the left-wing party Bloco de Esquerda drafted a bill that would have legalized and regulated cannabis in the country. Unfortunately, the proposal has never been discussed by the parliament and the plant remained illegal.

Although Portugal’s drug laws make it one of the most progressive countries to regulate drugs in the world —and for the last few years statistics have shown that Portugal’s decision to decriminalize the use of drugs has been a step in the right direction — there is still much work to be done. While more and more countries debating new laws concerning cannabis regulation, Portugal’s drug laws have not changed over the last 15 years.

Cannabis users, patients and activists still have a long way to go until the legalization and regulation of cannabis will be implemented. Nevertheless, the steps taken by the Portuguese government highlight the fact that there are effective alternatives to criminalization and the prosecution of drug-users that are far less harmful for individuals and society in general.

Do you think Portugal’s decriminalization strategy could be applied elsewhere?

 

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