The legislature's decision to tighten regulations developed on the suspicion that there was more to the state's marijuana industry than medicating the terminally ill. At the beginning of this year, Colorado health-department records show, only 2% of registered patients had cancer and 1% had HIV/AIDS, while 92% suffered "severe pain" — a catchall condition that can be entirely subjective and difficult for a doctor to measure or verify. About 3 out of every 4 patients are men under 40. Brian Vicente, the executive director of the pro-pot group Sensible Colorado, dismisses these numbers. Young men are more likely to work the kind of jobs that result in chronic pain, he says. "All this really shows is that pain is more prevalent in society than AIDS and cancer."
Friday, June 17, 2011
Sunday, November 22, 2009
Students taught how to grow marijuana i | Society | guardian.co.uk
It goes without saying that there's no smoking in class. But there is a good deal of sniffing of leaves, discussion of the finer points of inhaling and debate over which plant gives the biggest hit.
Welcome to Detroit's cannabis college, recently opened with courses on how to grow marijuana – and harvest, cook and sell it too – after Michigan legalised the drug as a medicine.
Students get instruction from horticulturalists, doctors and lawyers as well as hands-on experience cultivating plants and guidance on how to protect their stash from the criminal element.
"Growing pot by chucking seeds in the garden is fine for the recreational industry," says the college co-founder, Nick Tennant, whose wholesome and youthful appearance, including acne-covered cheeks, startles some of the more ragged-looking students. "But when we're using this from a medicinal standpoint, you really need to document your strains and your genetics. The horticultural process is very complex. If you want to do it right you're going to need to learn. There's a lot of money in this if you do it right."
With more than 1,000 medical marijuana certificates issued each month in Michigan for users and growers to sell to them, there is demand for places at MedGrow Cannabis College, located in a small office block.
Among the first students paying $475 (£285) for six evening classes are people reliant on marijuana for pain relief and those who help them, including a clergyman who runs an Aids clinic.
Then there are young men such as Ryan Hasbany, a 20-year-old business student. He's still a year too young to get a grower's licence but he wants to learn the trade. "My father is a family practice doctor and he is issuing medical marijuana cards so I know there are a lot of people getting them. It could turn into a very lucrative business. The street prices are ridiculously high," he says of medical grade marijuana, which sells at $250 (£150) an ounce in Michigan. "There's Harvard economists who say this is what we need to bring the economy back."
Hasbany has no hesitation in admitting that he might be in a good position to judge the quality of what he grows. "I smoke it. In my high school graduating class, I'd say 25% of them were smoking it," he said.
Michigan became the 14th state to legalise medicinal marijuana this year after about two-thirds of voters supported the measure in a referendum. The move reflects growing acceptance of the drug in large parts of the country. In the past week, the US's first marijuana cafe opened in Oregon and Colorado ordered cannabis sales subject to tax.
The path was carved by California, where permission to buy marijuana requires little more than telling a sympathetic doctor it would make you feel better. Attitudes are changing in Washington too, where the Obama administration has told the FBI and other federal agencies to adhere to state marijuana laws in deciding who to arrest.
For all that, there is still hesitation over identification with what is now a legal industry in Michigan.
The first class of the evening at cannabis college is led by a physician who wants to be known only as Dr Powell. "Don't mention my first name. It'll make it harder for them to identify me," he says.
Powell explains to the students the range of conditions that permit him to issue a medical marijuana certificate, from cancer and Aids to a broad category of severe chronic pain. "If someone's had back surgery or a gunshot wound," says Powell.
There are questions. "Can I get it for gout?" asks a student. Powell thinks it unlikely.
The doctor says he is not concerned about addiction but regular cannabis users should find an alternative to smoking. That's why the course also includes a cookery class with recipes as varied as hash cakes and marijuana sushi.
The horticulture lecturer is even more wary than the doctor about being identified. "They might ask how I know how to grow all this stuff," he says. "I've been doing it for rather longer than it's been legal."
He, like many of those who lecture at Cannabis College, is also a consumer because of severe injury in a bad sporting accident. Tennant obtained a medical marijuana certificate to deal with a stomach condition that causes nausea. It is what brought out his acne.
The horticulturalist pulls open a couple of large white doors that act as an entire wall at the front of the classroom. Bright white light streams through the cracks and across the classroom to reveal a den of silver-lined walls, air conditioning ducts, fans and intense lights. At the heart sit a handful of plants – some of them bushes really.
The teacher runs through soil versus hydroponics, lights (red and blue better than LED), pruning (pluck, don't cut) and the intricacies of cloning. There's an explanation of ozone generating devices to cover the smell. "You might not want the neighbours to know. You don't want them raiding your house for your supply," he says.
Pasted to the wall is a chart of the labyrinth of marijuana species, their effect on different diseases and their particular tastes.
The horticulturist explains that there's money to be made from the trade in medicinal marijuana but growers must tailor the plant to the customer's need. "There's pot that makes you not shut up for five hours. There's pot where you sit on the couch and drool for five hours. That's not what you need if you're going to hold down a job. There's thousands of people getting patient cards and they all have needs. If you can work out how to meet those individual needs you're gonna get rich," he says.
Friday, May 22, 2009
A Brief History of The War on Drugs - TIME
It's a war without a clear enemy. Anything waged against a shapeless, intangible noun can never truly be won — President Clinton's drug czar Gen. Barry McCaffrey said as much in 1996. And yet, within the past 40 years, the U.S. government has spent over $2.5 trillion dollars fighting the War on Drugs. Despite the ad campaigns, increased incarceration rates and a crackdown on smuggling, the number of illicit drug users in America has risen over the years and now sits at 19.9 million Americans. And a large portion of their supply makes its way into the country through Mexico.
The U.S. International Narcotics Control Strategy reports that 90% of cocaine, for example, reaches the United States through its southern border. Drug-related violence in Mexico has gotten so bad that it is now spilling over into states such as Arizona, which has suffered a rash of kidnappings and ransoms. (Arizona's 370-mile border with Mexico serves as the gateway for nearly half of all smuggled marijuana.) Texas' request for National Guard protection from Mexican drug crime prompted Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair to declare last week that the Mexican government had lost control of its own territory. President Felipe Calderón responded by pointing out that his nation shared a border with "the biggest consumer of drugs in the world and the largest supplier of weapons in the world." In an attempt to partly smooth over any feathers ruffled by the Blair-Calderón spat, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will travel to Mexico on Mar. 25 and 26. (See pictures of Mexico's drug wars.)
Although the U.S. government has battled drugs for decades — President Eisenhower assembled a 5-member Cabinet committee to "stamp out narcotic addiction" in 1954 — the term "War on Drugs" was not widely used until President Nixon created the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in 1973 to announce "an all-out global war on the drug menace." While reports of widespread heroin use among soldiers in Vietnam sparked an intense outcry, but by 1975 attention had turned to Colombia's cocaine industry. When Colombian authorities seized 600 kilos of cocaine hidden in everything from shoeboxes to a dog cage containing a live dog, drug traffickers retaliated by killing 40 people in one weekend. Nicknamed the "Medellin Massacre" after the city at the center of Colombia's drug trade, the murders ignited years of raids, kidnappings, and assassinations (a 1985 Medellin cartel "hit list" even included names of U.S. businessmen, embassy members and journalists).
During a 1984 appearance at an Oakland, Calif. school, then-First Lady Nancy Reagan was asked by 10-year-old Angel Wiltz what to do if someone offered her drugs. "Just say no," replied Reagan. Within a year, 5,000 "Just Say No" clubs had formed around the country, with Soleli Moon Frye, (Punky Brewster) as honorary chairperson. The Los Angeles Police Department's 1983 Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) school lecture program, grew into a national phenomenon that, by 2003, cost $230 million and involved 50,000 police officers. Partnership for a Drug-Free America launched a similarly memorable campaign in 1987 with an abrasive television ad featuring a hot skillet, a raw egg, and the phrase, "This is your brain on drugs."
Catchy slogans are no match for chemical addictions, however, and study after study showed that programs such as D.A.R.E. — no matter how beloved — produced negligent results. And while the Bush administration's 2002 goal of reducing all illegal drug use by 25% led to unprecedented numbers of marijuana-related arrests, pot use only declined 6% (and the use of other drugs actually increased). Drug trends tend to wax and wane, and a dip in the use of one type of drug might lead to a rise in another, causing officials to play a never ending game of narcotic whack-a-mole.
As far as Mexican attempts to halt trafficking, a newly elected President Felipe Calderón declared open season on drug cartels just days after being sworn into office in 2006 when he sent 6,500 troops to quash a rash of execution-style killings between two rival drug gangs. The following year, Calderón's public security minister Genaro Garcia Luna removed 284 federal police commissioners — all suspected of corruption — and replaced them with a hand-selected group of officers who successfully arrested several drug kingpins. The gangs have responded with what seems to be an endless stream of violence; 5,300 people were killed in drug-related crimes in 2008 and over 1,000 have already died this year. (Read "Mexico's Cocaine Capital.")
In 2008, President Bush signed the Mérida Initiative, which would provide $1.4 billion to Mexico and other countries over three years to help combat drug smuggling and violence. So far, only $456 million has been approved and President Obama has not yet said whether he plans to follow through on the remaining billion dollars. But money or no money, the drugs keep coming, and they keep coming fast.
Read why Bolivia quit the war on drugs
The Grass-Roots Marijuana Wars - TIME
Don Duncan says he is not a pot smoker. "I haven't in eight or nine years now," says Duncan, 37. "It wasn't the right thing for me." Which is ironic, since he spends most of his day around plenty of cannabis as part owner of a West Hollywood, Calif. dispensary of medical marijuana, a storefront operation where as many as 100 customers — Duncan is careful to call them patients — line up daily with letters from their doctors to procure products with names like L.A. Confidential and Purple Urkel.
Lately, however, Duncan directed more energy toward his role as California director of Americans for Safe Access, a group of merchants, doctors and patients that aims to make it easier to dispense and obtain marijuana for medical purposes. The organization's central mission: fighting U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration raids on dispensaries.
California is the largest of 12 states allowing marijuana for certain medical uses, but the federal government considers all marijuana illegal. The conflicting statutes have led to an uncomfortable existence for California's growing ranks of marijuana providers. "At any moment, the DEA can come kicking down the door," says Duncan.
That is just what happened on May 27 to Virgil Edward Grant III, 41, owner of six L.A.-area dispensaries. Grant and his wife Psyhra Monique Grant, 33, were charged with 41 counts, including, drug conspiracy and money laundering and aiding and abetting the distribution of marijuana near a school. Grant pleaded not guilty on June 2. An employee, Stanley Jerome Cole, 39, pleaded not guilty to charges of selling a pound of marijuana to an undercover agent from the back door of one dispensary.
Timothy J. Landrum, special agent in charge of the DEA in Los Angeles, called the suspects "nothing more than drug traffickers." Prosecutors say Cole sold marijuana to a motorist charged with gross vehicular manslaughter in connection with a December accident near Ventura, Calif. His truck hit a parked car on a highway shoulder, killing the driver and seriously injuring a California Highway Patrol officer. Police said the driver was under the influence of marijuana that he said he had purchased at a dispensary in Compton, where one of Grant's operations is located.
Even before the Grants' arrest, Duncan's group had stepped up its efforts to fight the DEA, securing letters from six California mayors to U.S. Rep. John Conyers, a Democrat from Michigan who is chair of the House Judiciary Committee, requesting that the DEA halt the raids. In an April letter, Conyers asked the DEA to explain its use of "paramilitary-style enforcement raids" against medical marijuana patients and suppliers in California. Duncan's group also backs a California state senate bill that would callon the federal government to respect the state's marijuana laws.
In fact, the day the Grants were arrested, Duncan was at L.A.'s city hall with a group of protesters delivering a petition to enlist the help of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (who has not taken a position on the issue). When they learned that DEA agents were at one of Grant's dispensaries, just a few blocks away, the group quickly moved to the dispensary, surrounding its entrance while the DEA agents were still inside. The bust proceeded as Los Angeles Police Department officers stood by, but also not interfering with the peaceful rally.
Duncan has been an activist for more than a decade, starting out by helping to gather signatures for the 1996 initiative that legalized marijuana for medical purposes. At first skeptical, the Texas-born son of a physician and a nurse was moved by meeting a Berkeley schoolteacher who used marijuana to cope with the pain of glaucoma. "I thought, 'this isn't somebody wanting to get high — this is real,'" recalls Duncan. "I want to help."
Four years ago, he moved to Los Angeles, helping to open a dispensary and working to recruit activists and local politicians to the cause. Now he does that from a small office just upstairs from his four-room dispensary, which sits next to a Tattoo parlor and around the corner from a Target store. Two beefy security guards watch the door and a smiling receptionist sits next to a case displaying bongs and other paraphernalia. Inside, patients examine samples in glass cases. Some day, Duncan says, this will be as normal as visiting Walgreens. For now, he's less focused on his inventory than on his group's efforts to supply activists with "raid kits" — protest signs, bullhorns, and sunscreen — so they can show up on a moment's notice to confront DEA agents. Says Duncan: "I predict we're going to have a very long summer."
Why Legalizing Marijuana Makes Sense - TIME
For the past several years, I've been harboring a fantasy, a last political crusade for the baby-boom generation. We, who started on the path of righteousness, marching for civil rights and against the war in Vietnam, need to find an appropriately high-minded approach to life's exit ramp. In this case, I mean the high-minded part literally. And so, a deal: give us drugs, after a certain age — say, 80 — all drugs, any drugs we want. In return, we will give you our driver's licenses. (I mean, can you imagine how terrifying a nation of decrepit, solipsistic 90-year-old boomers behind the wheel would be?) We'll let you proceed with your lives — much of which will be spent paying for our retirement, in any case — without having to hear us complain about our every ache and reflux. We'll be too busy exploring altered states of consciousness. I even have a slogan for the campaign: "Tune in, turn on, drop dead."
A fantasy, I suppose. But, beneath the furious roil of the economic crisis, a national conversation has quietly begun about the irrationality of our drug laws. It is going on in state legislatures, like New York's, where the draconian Rockefeller drug laws are up for review; in other states, from California to Massachusetts, various forms of marijuana decriminalization are being enacted. And it has reached the floor of Congress, where Senators Jim Webb and Arlen Specter have proposed a major prison-reform package, which would directly address drug-sentencing policy. (See pictures of stoner cinema.)
There are also more puckish signs of a zeitgeist shift. A few weeks ago, the White House decided to stage a forum in which the President would answer questions submitted by the public; 92,000 people responded — and most of them seemed obsessed with the legalization of marijuana. The two most popular questions about "green jobs and energy," for example, were about pot. The President dismissed the outpouring — appropriately, I guess — as online ballot-stuffing and dismissed the legalization question with a simple: "No." (Read "Can Marijuana Help Rescue California's Economy?")
This was a rare instance of Barack Obama reacting reflexively, without attempting to think creatively, about a serious policy question. He was, in fact, taking the traditional path of least resistance: an unexpected answer on marijuana would have launched a tabloid firestorm, diverting attention from the budget fight and all those bailouts. In fact, the default fate of any politician who publicly considers the legalization of marijuana is to be cast into the outer darkness. Such a person is assumed to be stoned all the time, unworthy of being taken seriously. Such a person would be lacerated by the assorted boozehounds and pill poppers of talk radio. The hypocrisy inherent in the American conversation about stimulants is staggering.
But there are big issues here, issues of economy and simple justice, especially on the sentencing side. As Webb pointed out in a cover story in Parade magazine, the U.S. is, by far, the most "criminal" country in the world, with 5% of the world's population and 25% of its prisoners. We spend $68 billion per year on corrections, and one-third of those being corrected are serving time for nonviolent drug crimes. We spend about $150 billion on policing and courts, and 47.5% of all drug arrests are marijuana-related. That is an awful lot of money, most of it nonfederal, that could be spent on better schools or infrastructure — or simply returned to the public. (See the top 10 ballot measures.)
At the same time, there is an enormous potential windfall in the taxation of marijuana. It is estimated that pot is the largest cash crop in California, with annual revenues approaching $14 billion. A 10% pot tax would yield $1.4 billion in California alone. And that's probably a fraction of the revenues that would be available — and of the economic impact, with thousands of new jobs in agriculture, packaging, marketing and advertising. A veritable marijuana economic-stimulus package! (Read "Is Pot Good For You?")
So why not do it? There are serious moral arguments, both secular and religious. There are those who believe — with some good reason — that the accretion of legalized vices is debilitating, that we are a less virtuous society since gambling spilled out from Las Vegas to "riverboats" and state lotteries across the country. There is a medical argument, though not a very convincing one: alcohol is more dangerous in a variety of ways, including the tendency of some drunks to get violent. One could argue that the abuse of McDonald's has a greater potential health-care cost than the abuse of marijuana. (Although it's true that with legalization, those two might not be unrelated.) Obviously, marijuana can be abused. But the costs of criminalization have proved to be enormous, perhaps unsustainable. Would legalization be any worse?
In any case, the drug-reform discussion comes just at the right moment. We boomers are getting older every day. You're not going to want us on the highways. Make us your best offer.
Drugs in Portugal: Did Decriminalization Work? - TIME
Pop quiz: Which European country has the most liberal drug laws? (Hint: It's not the Netherlands.)
Although its capital is notorious among stoners and college kids for marijuana haze–filled "coffee shops," Holland has never actually legalized cannabis — the Dutch simply don't enforce their laws against the shops. The correct answer is Portugal, which in 2001 became the first European country to officially abolish all criminal penalties for personal possession of drugs, including marijuana, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine.
At the recommendation of a national commission charged with addressing Portugal's drug problem, jail time was replaced with the offer of therapy. The argument was that the fear of prison drives addicts underground and that incarceration is more expensive than treatment — so why not give drug addicts health services instead? Under Portugal's new regime, people found guilty of possessing small amounts of drugs are sent to a panel consisting of a psychologist, social worker and legal adviser for appropriate treatment (which may be refused without criminal punishment), instead of jail.
See the world's most influential people in the 2009 TIME 100.
The question is, does the new policy work? At the time, critics in the poor, socially conservative and largely Catholic nation said decriminalizing drug possession would open the country to "drug tourists" and exacerbate Portugal's drug problem; the country had some of the highest levels of hard-drug use in Europe. But the recently released results of a report commissioned by the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, suggest otherwise.
The paper, published by Cato in April, found that in the five years after personal possession was decriminalized, illegal drug use among teens in Portugal declined and rates of new HIV infections caused by sharing of dirty needles dropped, while the number of people seeking treatment for drug addiction more than doubled.
"Judging by every metric, decriminalization in Portugal has been a resounding success," says Glenn Greenwald, an attorney, author and fluent Portuguese speaker, who conducted the research. "It has enabled the Portuguese government to manage and control the drug problem far better than virtually every other Western country does."
Compared to the European Union and the U.S., Portugal's drug use numbers are impressive. Following decriminalization, Portugal had the lowest rate of lifetime marijuana use in people over 15 in the E.U.: 10%. The most comparable figure in America is in people over 12: 39.8%. Proportionally, more Americans have used cocaine than Portuguese have used marijuana.
The Cato paper reports that between 2001 and 2006 in Portugal, rates of lifetime use of any illegal drug among seventh through ninth graders fell from 14.1% to 10.6%; drug use in older teens also declined. Lifetime heroin use among 16-to-18-year-olds fell from 2.5% to 1.8% (although there was a slight increase in marijuana use in that age group). New HIV infections in drug users fell by 17% between 1999 and 2003, and deaths related to heroin and similar drugs were cut by more than half. In addition, the number of people on methadone and buprenorphine treatment for drug addiction rose to 14,877 from 6,040, after decriminalization, and money saved on enforcement allowed for increased funding of drug-free treatment as well.
Portugal's case study is of some interest to lawmakers in the U.S., confronted now with the violent overflow of escalating drug gang wars in Mexico. The U.S. has long championed a hard-line drug policy, supporting only international agreements that enforce drug prohibition and imposing on its citizens some of the world's harshest penalties for drug possession and sales. Yet America has the highest rates of cocaine and marijuana use in the world, and while most of the E.U. (including Holland) has more liberal drug laws than the U.S., it also has less drug use.
"I think we can learn that we should stop being reflexively opposed when someone else does [decriminalize] and should take seriously the possibility that anti-user enforcement isn't having much influence on our drug consumption," says Mark Kleiman, author of the forthcoming When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment and director of the drug policy analysis program at UCLA. Kleiman does not consider Portugal a realistic model for the U.S., however, because of differences in size and culture between the two countries.
But there is a movement afoot in the U.S., in the legislatures of New York State, California and Massachusetts, to reconsider our overly punitive drug laws. Recently, Senators Jim Webb and Arlen Specter proposed that Congress create a national commission, not unlike Portugal's, to deal with prison reform and overhaul drug-sentencing policy. As Webb noted, the U.S. is home to 5% of the global population but 25% of its prisoners.
At the Cato Institute in early April, Greenwald contended that a major problem with most American drug policy debate is that it's based on "speculation and fear mongering," rather than empirical evidence on the effects of more lenient drug policies. In Portugal, the effect was to neutralize what had become the country's number one public health problem, he says.
"The impact in the life of families and our society is much lower than it was before decriminalization," says Joao Castel-Branco Goulao, Portugual's "drug czar" and president of the Institute on Drugs and Drug Addiction, adding that police are now able to re-focus on tracking much higher level dealers and larger quantities of drugs.
Peter Reuter, a professor of criminology and public policy at the University of Maryland, like Kleiman, is skeptical. He conceded in a presentation at the Cato Institute that "it's fair to say that decriminalization in Portugal has met its central goal. Drug use did not rise." However, he notes that Portugal is a small country and that the cyclical nature of drug epidemics — which tends to occur no matter what policies are in place — may account for the declines in heroin use and deaths.
The Cato report's author, Greenwald, hews to the first point: that the data shows that decriminalization does not result in increased drug use. Since that is what concerns the public and policymakers most about decriminalization, he says, "that is the central concession that will transform the debate."
See pictures of Culiacan, the home of Mexico's drug-trafficking industry.