Marijuana users searching for bigger highs may start injecting THC, doctor fears
By Michael Roberts blogs.westward.com
As a member of the Amendment 64 task force who is deeply troubled by the possible repercussions of legalizing marijuana, as well as a central figure in the national anti-pot organization Project SAM, Dr. Christian Thurstone is controversial in the marijuana community. But he hasn't backed away from warning about the dangers of weed, particularly for adolescent users.
His latest assertion? Users may soon start directly injecting THC, the active ingredient in cannabis, rather than smoking or ingesting marijuana.
"It seems like people are doing more and more to get a deeper high and presenting to us more and more addiction to marijuana," says Thurstone, whose main gig is as medical director of a Denver Health program called Substance Abuse Treatment, Education and Prevention (STEP). "I worry that might be a next step toward the injection of THC."
Thurstone shares this concern in "Higher and Higher, the latest blog on his personal website, DrThurstone.com. The offering revolves around elevated levels of THC found in urinalysis tests conducted on his patients, most of whom range in age from thirteen to nineteen.
The seeds of the study were planted long ago. According to Thurstone, "I started thinking about this in 2004, when Dr. Wilson Compton published an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association showing that the prevalence of marijuana use in the U.S. was staying the same, but the prevalence of cannabis use disorders -- marijuana addiction -- was going up significantly."
The phrase "marijuana addiction" is guaranteed to raise the hackles of many cannabis activists, who insist that the substance is not addictive. Thurstone disagrees.
"I don't think in the mainstream scientific world of addiction that there's debate any more that it's addictive," he maintains. "It works on the same part of the brain as all other addictive substances, and there's an animal model of marijuana addiction now. We know that it's not just psychologically addictive but physically addictive, and studies by Dr. Alan Budney at Dartmouth have characterized a physical addiction to marijuana. Marijuana withdrawal is clinically equivalent to tobacco withdrawal -- and anecdotally, in our experience, we see adolescents coming into treatment extremely addicted to marijuana. They're dropping out of life, giving up on school and families to pursue their marijuana addiction."
Moreover, Thurstone says he's seen addictions become more severe over time, and speculated that one reason might be marijuana's increasing potency.
"We know that there's been an increase from about 2 percent THC a couple of decades ago to more like 10 percent now," he continues. "And in Colorado, it's probably even higher than that."
Continue for more of our interview with Dr. Christian Thurstone about more potent marijuana and the prospect of injecting THC.
For Thurstone's patients at Denver Health, 95 percent of whom are referred for issues concerning marijuana, "we felt the urinalysis ratio had been increasing, too. So we looked at our data as far back as we could -- 2007 -- and analyzed it over time. And we noticed a significant increase in the urinalysis ratios when we analyzed that data pre- and post-2009 and 2010, which is when we had the big commercialization of marijuana."
This period involved the growth of the medical marijuana industry, and while only a handful of patients under the age of eighteen have received red cards allowing them to legally use the substance, Thurstone maintains that plenty of them have been doing so anyhow. "That's right about when our kids started using medical marijuana," he says. "And that's when we saw a big jump in the THC ratio" -- from an average of 358 nanograms per milliliter of urine to 536 nanograms.
Here's a graphic depicting the difference.
"You could make the argument that increased marijuana potency is a good thing," Thurstone acknowledges, "because that would mean people were smoking less of it -- exposing themselves to the same amount of THC, but exposing themselves to it via less smoke. But the data were analyzing for publication is showing no, our young patients are actually exposing themselves to more THC."
Because of what he says is "widespread diversion of medical marijuana to teens," the patients coming to him "have more severe marijuana dependence and more symptoms than teens not using medical marijuana. And it's also consistent with the whole idea that kids are using higher potency marijuana that's probably more addictive. Anecdotally, we're hearing about patients who start with cheap, low-grade marijuana before moving on to more potent marijuana, and then other ways of consuming it: waxing marijuana, dabbing marijuana and chasing a bigger and bigger high."
Such actions echo the behavior of those using other drugs, Thurstone allows. "People who start with pills may graduate to snorting or smoking heroin -- and then to heroin injection. It's just a way to get a more intense high, because anything that's injected tends to reach the brain pretty quickly."
That's why Thurstone concludes his "Higher and Higher" article with the following line: "It is reasonable now to question how much longer it will be before we see injection use of THC -- especially as marijuana is legalized."
Thus far, however, Thurstone admits that none of his patients have taken this step.
Continue for more of our interview with Dr. Christian Thurstone about more potent marijuana and the prospect of injecting THC.
"I have not seen it clinically," he says, "and I have not seen it described except in research studies, which say it's possible to have an injectable form of marijuana. I don't know exactly how to do the preparation, to be honest, and I don't know how the high would differ. I can only hypothesize."
By floating such possibilities, Thurstone has won the enmity of marijuana advocates like Russ Belville, aka Radical Russ, a talk-show host and media director for the National Cannabis Coalition. In an online response to "Higher and Higher," Belville accuses Thurstone of being a scaremonger and a profiteer. An excerpt from his take:
All you're finding is that the people forced into your business for violating prohibition are getting higher, not that getting higher forces people into your business. You know as well as I do...that for every one person who self-admits to rehab solely for marijuana, another four are forced there by the criminal justice system. Colorado went and added language to the constitution that is really bad for your bottom line.
To that, Thurstone says, "I work with adolescents and young adults, so for pretty much 99 percent of my patients, marijuana is sill illegal. Amendment 64 didn't really change anything in terms of their legal status."
Additionally, he says, "fewer than half of our referrals are court-referred. The majority are not. They come in voluntarily because of their addictions. And we've done a fair amount of research in which we've been able to offer free treatment to teenagers with substance-abuse problems. And when we offer it free, we've had no problems getting kids to come to treatment.
"The whole juvenile-justice-referral thing has a lot to do with the artifact of nobody wanting to pay for treatment. We wait for teenagers to fall into the hole of juvenile justice before we're willing to pay for their treatment. If we had good payment and reimbursement -- third-party payers for substance treatment -- more people would go on their own."
In the meantime, Thurstone says the number of clients he's seeing began growing substantially even before the passage of Amendment 64. "We've doubled our case load since September of 2012," he reveals, "and we're in the process of hiring another therapist to meet the demand."
He's not sure why the number of clients has climbed so quickly, but he's got some ideas. "Is it became more kids are using? Is it because more kids are getting addicted? Is it became more kids are using higher potency marijuana? Is it because there's less stigma about this and more people are willing to go to treatment? Is it because our name has gotten out there? Or is it a combination of all of the above? I can't really answer that, but I'd guess it's a combination of all those factors."
Whatever the case, he says the flood of patients means he and his staff are "all-hands-on-deck to try to meet the demand." And if people start injecting THC, he figures to be busier than ever.
Even if Obama doesn't support it, WE as the PEOPLE have the power and the right to vote, be heard! - ILLA
The movement to legalize marijuana has arrived at Congress' back door.
Later this month the first medical cannabis dispensaries are expected to open in the nation's capital, including one just eight blocks from the Capitol dome.
The milestone is lifting the spirits of pot enthusiasts who believe a safe and profitable in D.C. could help nudge along the drug nationwide.
ABC News recently toured the Metropolitan Wellness Center, one of the district's three soon-to-open shops, located on Capitol Hill.
While pot products have yet to hit shelves – the shop is still awaiting a license from the district – general manager Vanessa West said they will soon offer multiple varieties of cannabis, paraphernalia and a mix of pot-infused products, including brownies, cookies and drinks.
West, a veteran operator of dispensaries in California who admits she "smoked a little grass in college," said the sleek, modern set-up of her "product selection and payment room" underscores a serious focus on patients and treating their pain.
"When we find out what a patient's symptoms are, we can make a recommendation about what the best strain is for them and what the best possible route for ingesting that strain is," she said.
"Forget about the recreational part for a second," she says to skeptics. "Listen to how cannabis has changed patients' lives for the better."
Only employees and patients registered with the District of Columbia Department of Health will be allowed inside the dispensary once weed sales officially commence. The shop will effectively go on lockdown, protected by a high-tech security system of a dozen cameras and motion sensors keeping watch.
"This is sort of a delicate business," West said. "It's like a bank or a high end jewelry store. We want to protect the product and the people that are inside this building."
Under district law, no one is allowed to consume pot on the premises, West said. Approved users are required to head directly home after making their purchases.
The rules for obtaining legal access to the drug are equally stringent. A prospective patient must be a district resident with one of the few qualifying diseases, such as AIDS, glaucoma or multiple sclerosis. A doctor must formally recommend the drug, and that recommendation must be certified by the Department of Health. Each patient must also submit an application and pay a license fee.
"It's a pretty difficult process, but it sort of needs to be," said West. "You don't want to create a free for all."
The dispensaries in D.C. will remain illegal under federal law, which still bans the cultivation and sale of marijuana as a dangerous and addictive "Schedule I" drug under the Controlled Substances Act. Officially, marijuana is classified has having "no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the U.S."
The headquarters for the Justice Department, the federal agency responsible for enforcing federal law, is located just four miles from the Metropolitan Wellness Center.
West says she's not worried about a raid.
"History has shown that if you are a dispensary operating in a state that is transparent and heavily regulated, the federal government is not interested in intervening," she said.
Medical marijuana is now allowed in 18 states plus the District of Columbia. In November, voters in Colorado and Washington took the movement further, endorsing the sale of marijuana without a prescription for recreational purposes. Both states are establishing regulatory regimens for pot similar to alcohol.
A poll released last month by the Pew Research Center found for the first time a majority of Americans now favor full legalization of marijuana. Fifty-two percent favor decriminalization, with 45 percent opposed.
The level of support is a landmark shift from 40 years ago when just 12 percent backed legalized pot, according to Gallup.
In light of the trend, President Obama told ABC News' Barbara Walters in December that he's re-thinking federal prosecution of some marijuana users.
"It does not make sense, from a prioritization point of view, for us to focus on recreational drug users in a state that has already said that under state laws that's legal," Obama said.
"We've got bigger fish to fry," he added.
The big question now for pro-pot states: Will the Justice Department spoil plans for dozens of new dispensaries, and a potential bonanza of millions in taxes and fees?
The Department, which is reviewing the new Colorado and Washington marijuana laws, has yet to formally decide whether or not they will be challenged in court.
Meanwhile, lawmakers from those states have re-invigorated legislative efforts to repeal or weaken the federal ban on pot. So far this year, seven bills dealing with marijuana have been introduced in the U.S. House, including one that would entirely decriminalize the drug.
All of the bills face an uphill climb, which means for now at least, the new D.C. dispensaries will remain at odds with the law.
Colorado Lawmakers Set Taxes And Rules For Marijuana Sales
Colorado is set to become the first U.S. state to regulate and tax sales of recreational marijuana, after lawmakers approved several bills that set business standards and rules. Legislators expect enforcement of the rules to be paid for by two taxes on marijuana — a 15 percent excise tax, and a 10 percent sales tax.
Other measures included in the package set limits on how much marijuana visitors to Colorado can buy (a quarter of an ounce), as well as a limit on how many cannabis plants a private citizen can grow (six).
Gov. John Hickenlooper has indicated he will sign the legislation, according to Colorado voters first approved the legalization of pot for recreational use by people over age 21 in a ballot initiative last November.
Voters adopted a similar measure in Washington state, where plans for regulation and taxation are still being formed.
"The first legal marijuana should be on sale in Washington in March 2014," reports the , "and Colorado will have its cannabis stores open as soon as Jan. 1."
Like all new Colorado taxes, voters must approve the new taxation system in a ballot initiative this autumn.
Other states are already taxing pot, but those levies cover medical marijuana. California reportedly raises more than $100 million a year on such sales.
The Colorado legislation adopted Wednesday also includes a requirement that "pot must be sold in child-resistant packages with labels that specify potency," . "Edible marijuana products will have serving-size limits."
California Medical Marijuana Crackdown Ramps Up As More Dispensaries Targeted For Closure
SAN FRANCISCO -- Several dozen protesters gathered in downtown Berkeley Wednesday afternoon to fight federal action against one of California's oldest medical marijuana dispensaries, targeted for closure by the Justice Department.
"The Obama administration's ongoing war against patients is despicable and has to stop," Steph Sherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access, told the crowd. "This is a mean, vindictive move aimed at shutting down one of the oldest and well-respected dispensaries in the country."
U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag on Friday served pot shop Berkeley Patients Group with a lawsuit that attempts to seize the property and ultimately shut the business. Berkeley officials say the dispensary provides significant benefits to the community.
"BPG has served as a national model of the not-for-profit, services-based medical cannabis dispensary," Berkeley City Council member Darryl Moore said in a resolution opposing the lawsuit. "They have improved the lives and assisted the end-of-life transitions of thousands of patients; been significant donors to dozens of other organizations in our city; [and] shaped local, state and national policies around medical cannabis."
Berkeley Patients Group received a letter from Haag last year, claiming its location within 1,000 feet of a school broke state law. The operation later relocated, and the lawsuit makes no mention of its proximity to schools or violation of specific laws.
Dispensaries throughout northern California have received similar legal threats from the U.S. attorney over the past few weeks. San Francisco's Hemp Center and seven pot shops in San Jose all received letters warning of property seizures and prison sentences should they not shut down. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration is reportedly investigating a handful of other San Francisco dispensaries.
"This round of U.S. attorney threat letters is just the latest move to undermine President Obama's repeated pledges that his federal government would respect state medical marijuana laws," Marijuana Majority's Tom Angell told The Huffington Post. "This is part of a continuing effort to try to intimidate the legal marijuana industry out of existence."
California became the first state to legalize cannabis for medicinal purposes when voters legalized Proposition 215 in 1996. Since then, medical marijuana has flourished statewide, generating upwards of $100 million in annual tax revenue.
But marijuana remains illegal under federal law. Despite early promises to ignore states that had legalized it, the Obama administration launched an aggressive crackdown against California's cannabis operations in late 2011. Since then, hundreds of businesses have been forced to close and thousands of jobs have been lost.
In a further blow to the industry, the California Supreme Court ruled on Monday that cities have the authority to ban dispensaries outright.
Angell said he believes the crackdown comes from bureaucrats within the Justice Department who feel threatened by the growing national acceptance of marijuana. Washington and Colorado legalized recreational use last fall.
"Whoever is coordinating these attacks in the federal law enforcement apparatus is clearly terrified about what the increasing acceptance of a legal and regulated marijuana trade means for the drug war bureaucracy that employs them," Angell said.
A recent poll showed that a clear majority of Americans support legalizing marijuana if it would be taxed and regulated like alcohol.
Meanwhile, advocates said they hope to place a ballot measure that would legalize pot for recreational use before California voters in 2016. Elected officials, including Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, have expressed their support.
"It seems clear that California is on pace to legalize marijuana for adult use," Angell said. "Hopefully more politicians will soon sense which way the wind is blowing and get in front of this issue before voters leave them behind."
In a speech in Mexico City on Friday, President Obama shut the door on any possibility that he'll support efforts in his second term to legalize certain recreational drugs.
“I’ve been asked, and I honestly do not believe that legalizing drugs is the answer,” the president told a large gathering of young Mexicans at the city’s Anthropology Museum.
Polls show that more and more Americans favor ending the federal ban on pot. A handful of states in the U.S. have lifted legal restrictions on the drug in recent years — including Colorado and Washington — putting Obama in an awkward place. A pot smoker in his younger days, he must decide whether to instruct his Department of Justice to challenge those state laws, or to simply let them be.
The president likely felt it necessary to touch on drugs in his speech today since marijuana is a chief import from Mexico to the United States. It is also largely to blame for the rising swell of cartel violence that has killed thousands in Mexico over the years, and has occasionally spilled over into the southern U.S.
Obama said that his administration must focus on an all-encompassing strategy to deal with drug users at home, as well as figure out a way to reduce demand for drugs.
“We understand that much of the root cause of violence that’s been happening here in Mexico, for which many so Mexicans have suffered, is the demand for illegal drugs in the United States. And so we’ve got to continue to make progress on that front.”
He added that fixing the problem will require “a comprehensive approach — not just law enforcement, but education and prevention and treatment.”
Those words reflect the latest plan put forth by Obama’s Office of National Drug Control Policy, which essentially considers recreational drug use to be a public health issue. Rather than advocating for reforming drug users through jails and prisons, the plan calls for blending strong prevention techniques with effective rehabilitation programs in order to curb future drug use.
The Obama administration’s strategy, though, is somewhat controversial since it technically defines regular pot users as people with brain diseases — addiction, the administration says, is a brain disease. Scores of marijuana defenders, however, say that there is no proof that the drug is addictive.
Advocates of legalized marijuana march through downtown Fort Worth
By Susan McFarland
FORT WORTH — In what was perhaps the largest legalize marijuana demonstration in Fort Worth, more than 200 activists marched through downtown Saturday with the noticeable aroma of cannabis lingering behind as they passed.
Organizers said several hundred more had turned out last year for a similar march in Dallas, which had provided police security.
But there was no particular Fort Worth police presence as demonstrators, carried signs, some openly toking on pipes and chanting, “Le-gal-ize! Le-gal-ize!”
One person dressed as a marijuana plant and several played instruments while a march organizer drove a recycled police car with flashing green lights and covered with logos of the Dallas/Fort Worth chapter of NORML, the national group to reform cannabis laws.
“We want the Metroplex to know the movement is strong here,” said Shaun McAlister, executive director of DFW NORML, which promoted the event. “A lot of people overlook the DFW area as being friendly to the cause. A lot of people have no idea that we have a NORML chapter.”
“Not only do Texans deserve legal marijuana, just like Colorado and Washington, Texas patients deserve medical marijuana just as much as the other nineteen states with medical marijuana,” said McAlister, 28, an Arlington videographer.
One of the marchers, Mike Farner, 53, of Springtown, wore pink overalls and carried a burlap “marijuana” sack filled with crumpled newspaper. He said his medical use of marijuana helped him through treatment for throat cancer. Then he corrected himself, saying it was glaucoma.
Michael Burns, 30, of Mansfield, said he marched because he believes that people have been misled for “years and years” about the effects of marijuana.
“It’s more about the uses of it, not the fact that it’s a drug,” he said.
Fort Worth attorney David Sloane, a NORML spokesman, predicted that Texas likely will be among the last states to legalize marijuana even though legislators are holding discussions about decriminalization.
But Sloane said events such as the march on Saturday confirm how strong the movement is both locally and worldwide.
“It lets the powers that be see that we’re here and not afraid to step out in the street and discuss this with them,” he said.
The march was peaceful, with no known arrests and only a few bicycle police in sight.
Two opera goers, Rick and Marianne Williamson of Fort Worth, ran into the group while trying to get a quick dinner before the performance.
“The funny thing is, we were just talking about this whole thing, the legalization of it,” Rick Williamson said. “And why not? I’ve never been in a bar and seen someone stoned on marijuana have a fight. They’re mellow; that’s probably what we need a little more of around here.”
Marianne Williamson called alcohol a “far worse epidemic” in the country. “People drink alcohol, it’s broadly accepted. I don’t think there is a big difference between the two.”
Medical marijuana in Illinois will be ‘wildly different’
May 2, 2013
The proposed Illinois medical marijuana program is not what you think it is. Lawmakers, policy experts, patients and advocates joined together to create legislation, although restrictive, that allows residents safe and legal access to medical marijuana. The four-year Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program will be self-sustained - not generating any revenue.
“We want the best marijuana program in the nation,” said Mike Graham, an Illinois resident who uses medicinal marijuana to treat severe pain caused by a degenerative disc disorder. “The way the bill is set up, we want a clear black and white picture of what the program is.”
Graham said that marijuana, which is still illegal in Illinois, gave him a better quality of life and while he advocates its use, he wants a tightly controlled program so the drug doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.
“We don’t want this getting to kids on the playground,” said Graham. “We just want to sick people to have safe afford access to a product that improves quality of life.”
Unlike the big, first state program in California, which generates $100 million in tax revenue, Illinois will have a self-sustaining program, tightly regulated by the state with dispensary fees and a sales tax designed to simply cover all state costs. Unlike Colorado’s program that allows its patients to qualify for usage with the broad condition of “chronic pain,” Illinois legislation does not accept chronic pain as qualifying for use. Unlike Alaska, Delaware, Maine, Michigan and Rhode Island, which recognize patients from other states, Illinois will not.
“When you start looking at some of the specifics of the bill you see that it’s really wildly different from what California and Colorado and some of other states out West are doing,” said Dan Riffle, deputy director of government relations for the Marijuana Policy Project, a national marijuana advocate group.
Dr. Burak Emin Gezen, an internist in downtown Chicago, has a few patients who currently use marijuana, illegally, to alleviate pain. He thinks it’s an underutilized and undervalued treatment.
“If it’s legal and we start using it more, I think I’ll have a lot more patients who will be getting benefits from it, there’s no question about that,” said Gezen.
But it’s not as simple as that. To qualify for the Illinois program, the bill requires an established doctor-patient relationship before a physician can make a marijuana recommendation. A narrow and specific list of more than 30 conditions qualifies for use. Conditions include cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS and spinal cord injuries.
Riffle explained that in Colorado, 94 percent of those who qualify for medical marijuana cite chronic pain. Because chronic pain won’t qualify for use in Illinois, organizations like MPP and NORML, a marijuana law advocacy group, believe that although Illinois has a high proportion of residents currently receiving medical care, marijuana enrollment will be low.
“Given the restrictive nature of this pilot program, you might see a pretty low turnout of people who could potentially qualify, actually going through and enrolling the program, and getting their medicine from one of these dispensaries,” said Dan Lin, the executive director of Illinois NORML.
The Illinois population is just under 13 million, but MPP believes that a mere 3,500 to 10,000 Illinois patients would enroll during the first few years. MPP believes Illinois would have one of the lowest per-capita rates of participation in the county.
In comparison, more than 107,000 people qualify in Colorado with a state population of just over 5 million residents.
The proposed Illinois legislation passed the House, 61-57, on April 17. While it’s still pending before the Senate, Illinois could be the 19th jurisdiction, including Washington D.C., to allow residents who qualify safe and legal access to medical cannabis. If passed, the law would take effect on January 1, 2014.
The bill would establish up to 22 cultivation centers and 60 dispensing organizations throughout Illinois. Three state departments would regulate the medical cannabis system. The Department of Agriculture would oversee regulation centers. The Department of Financial and Professional Regulation would control dispensing centers. The Department of Health would distribute patient cards and keep a registry of registered marijuana patients.
California voters passed Proposition 215 in 1996, making it the first state legalizing marijuana for medicinal use. Since then, 17 additional states and the District of Columbia have enacted similar laws.
At the federal level, marijuana is classified under the Controlled Substances Act as having a high potential for dependency, making distribution of marijuana – regardless of medical purposes – a federal offense.
“The state of Illinois doesn’t want to set up a medical cannabis program that’s going to then have the federal government come in, shutting it down or raiding different dispensaries,” said Lin.
Len Goodman, a criminal defense attorney at Len Goodman Law Office LLC in Chicago, said there is always a risk that the Justice Department could decide to enforce the federal law.
“It comes down to keeping your program really low key so you don’t attract the attention of the federal government,” said Goodman. “If you drive a really crappy car, then maybe car thieves won’t steal your car. They’ll steal the nicer car.”
Goodman said that having a self-sustaining program might keep the Feds at bay. While the Illinois medical marijuana program will not generate any excess revenue, it could save taxpayers thousands in healthcare costs.
Although Graham, the medicinal marijuana user, comes from a law enforcement family, he said he wanted to stop his dependency on OxyContin, a prescription painkiller. He found that marijuana alleviated his pain and allowed him to function better than opiates. Because Medicaid does not cover the cost of medicinal marijuana, Graham’s costs dropped to just over $12,000 per year, alone saving the state $87,000.
While other patients individual needs will vary from Graham's, if 1,000 people were able to reduce their Medicaid expenses by 10 percent of his savings, that would yield $8.7 million in state savings.
“The biggest impact on the state, revenue wise, is that a lot of these folks currently being prescribed Vicodin or morphine or OxyContin are being covered by state Medicaid,” said Riffle, of MPP. “So that’s an expensive drug that the taxpayers are paying for right now.”
The Illinois patients who qualify for the program would be allowed to purchase 2.5 ounces of marijuana every two weeks from state-regulated dispensaries. The cannabis cultivated in Illinois will be sold in the form of buds, edibles, tinctures or topicals. Regardless of the form, the 2.5-ounce limit will be strictly enforced. The patients would be taxed at 1 percent, the same rate as pharmaceutical and over-the-counter medicines. Cultivation centers would be taxed 7 percent.
The cost of the two-week permitted dose has not been established. According to Lin, that will depend on the cost to build cultivation centers. While Lin could not give an approximate estimate, he said building a cultivation center could be costly.
In addition to Medicaid savings, Lin would like to see the pilot program continue past the four years allotted in the bill. He said he hopes some initial restrictions will eventually be relaxed, to allow users to cultivate their own, and to permit people with prior drug convictions to enroll in the program.
“I get a lot of people calling and complaining about how restrictive the program is. People think patients and advocates have compromised too far. Unfortunately, in the political process, compromises had to be made,” said Lin.
Graham said that pain sufferers like himself should have a legal alternative to expensive prescription opiates. "Since using marijuana I can count on one hand the number of times I've taken oral opiates in the last 10 years. But that makes me a criminal, and I don't want to be a criminal.
Proposed MA DPH regulations regarding medical-marijuana patients and caregivers
Posted by MikeCann via MikeCann.net
To: Massachusetts Department of Public Health
From: Andy Gaus
Re: Proposed regulations regarding medical-marijuana patients and caregivers
Thank you for providing this forum to comment on the proposed DPH regulations on medical marijuana.
Two provisions in particular appear to make it virtually impossible for caregivers to provide the marijuana patients need while dispensaries are slowly organizing themselves:
1) Each caregiver must provide marijuana for only one patient.
2) The caregiver is not supposed to receive any compensation whatever from the patient for providing the marijuana.
Put these two provisions together, and very few people can practically step forward and become caregivers.
Bear in mind that growing marijuana indoors requires investing several hundred dollars in equipment to get started, paying high electrical bills in the ensuing months as well as ongoing costs for soil and fertilizer, and putting in hours of very real physical labor. If a patient grows for herself, these costs are repaid by the marijuana harvested and the relief it brings. But if a patient cannot grow for herself, the very considerable costs and burdens of producing the marijuana fall totally on the caregiver, with all compensation prohibited. This isn't just unfair: it has the practical effect of making it virtually impossible to be a caregiver, which means no one can help the person who cannot grow for herself. If you wish to limit the ability of a caregiver to profit from their cottage industry, you could set a maximum number of patients (but not a maximum of one), or a maximum price per ouince, or both. A limit of, say, 20 patients per caregiver and $100 per ounce would keep caregivers and their homes from turning into for-profit dispensaries but would not leave patients with no one to turn to during a long period when cities and towns are enacting moratoriums and potential dispensary operators are clearing numerous legal hurdles.
The provision that a patient must have no more than two total sources of marijuana is also unnecessarily onerous. If all providers are supposed to use a common state database, any user of the database should be able to verify that the same patient isn't filling the same prescription multiple times at different locations. If a further check is needed, patients could be issued something like a ration book.
One senses in all these regulations the underlying assumption that a set of air-tight regulations is both necessary and sufficient to prevent medical marijuana from being diverted to healthy recreational users, and that without such air-tight regulations, large-scale diversion is inevitable, with disastrous social consequences, particularly the increased availability to minors.
Let's be realistic: recreational users, including minors, already have total access to marijuana if they want it. Kids themselves, when surveyed, report that marijuana is easier to get than alcohol. Those who get their dope from dealers needn't fear being rejected as too young, and most of them get it, not from dealers, but from each other, in a vast informal network where everyone is both a user and a distributor. Likewise, almost all Massachusetts adults who wish to consume marijuana recreationally have found or could find a connection: marijuana prices have actually come down in recent years due to market saturation.
As officials responsible for public health, your first priority must be to make sure that patients who need marijuana for relief of painful and debilitating conditions can get it.
Minimizing diversion cannot be the main goal: it will never be effective for its stated purpose and is certain to cause unnecessary stress and pain for patients who need relief now and for the caregivers who would like to provide it .
Legal protections passed for medical marijuana caregivers
Bill headed to governor's desk
"We are expressing our belief that people who are sick should be able to access the drug without civil or criminal penalties," said Sen. Jamie Raskin, a Montgomery County Democrat who introduced the bill.
Patients are protected under a 2011 law that allows them to use medical necessity as an "affirmative defense" in court if caught with marijuana and drug paraphernalia. On Monday, the House of Delegates voted 92-37 to approve a bill extending that defense for patients' caregivers. The Senate has passed the same bill.
The measure now goes to Gov. Martin O'Malley's desk. Spokeswoman Raquel Guillory said he has not decided whether to sign it.
Under the bill, caregivers — as well as patients — could still be charged with a crime for possessing the drug. But the legislation spells out how caregivers could prove themselves not guilty because they had the drug and paraphernalia to help a family member who takes it for medical reasons.
If defendants can prove an affirmative defense, they can admit to the circumstances of the crime but still be found not guilty. Self-defense is an example of another type of affirmative defense.
Raskin said current law provides that legal reprieve to patients with serious illnesses who, under a doctor's care, take marijuana to lessen symptoms. Without the bill approved this week, Raskin said, those patients are not able to get the drug without their caregivers facing jail time.
To use the affirmative defense, a caregiver must be 21 years old, a Maryland resident, an immediate family member of the patient and have been designated as the caregiver in writing before being arrested for possession. In addition, the caregiver can't have criminal convictions for drugs or violence and can only be a caregiver to one patient.
The bill is among several marijuana laws being considered in Annapolis this session.
The House, but not the Senate, has approved creating the state's first medical marijuana program, which would distribute the drug to patients through academic centers. The O'Malley administration supports that bill.
The Senate, but not the House, has approved a bill that makes possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana — roughly one-third of an ounce — a civil offense instead of a criminal one.
Another bill that would completely decriminalize marijuana, then regulate and tax it like alcohol, received a committee hearing in the House but has not been voted on. Lawmakers have until the General Assembly adjourns April 8 to pass legislation this year