Congress Asks DEA to End Monopoly on Medical Marijuana Research

Sixteen Members of Congress Urge Attorney General Holder to change DEA policy

More medical cannabis will be available for research soon, if members of Congress have their way.
After lobbying by ASA, Sixteen members of Congress sent a letter last month to Attorney General Eric Holder, urging the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to act “swiftly to amend or withdraw” an order that significantly curtails medical marijuana research in the United States.

At issue is a 2001 request by a University of Massachusetts, Amherst researcher, Dr. Lyle Craker, to grow pharmaceutical-grade cannabis for federally approved research studies. Currently, many approved studies are unable to proceed for lack of research materials. In February of 2007, DEA Administrative Law Judge Mary Ellen Bittner ruled that monopoly should end because expanded medical marijuana research is “in the public interest.” The DEA sat on the ruling for nearly two years before rejecting it less than one week before the new administration took office.

For more than forty years, the government has given the University of Mississippi a monopoly on cultivating marijuana for medical research. Not only is this arrangement unlike that for any other controlled substance regulated by the federal government, no other country restricts research in this way.

The Congressional letter authored by John Olver (D-MA) notes the broad scientific and political support for Craker’s proposal: “Forty-five members of the House of Representatives and Senators Edward Kennedy and John Kerry, as well as a broad range of scientific, medical and public health organizations including the Lymphoma Foundation of America, the National Association for Public Health Policy, and the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation have all written to DEA in support of Professor Craker’s efforts.”

In her 87-page Opinion and Recommended Ruling, Administrative Law Judge Bittner concluded that the quality and quantity of marijuana supplied by NIDA was inadequate for the level of research that cannabis deserves.

The ACLU, which represents Professor Craker in this matter, is requesting reconsideration and an opportunity to respond to new evidence used by the DEA in its decision.

California: Assemblyman Introduces Measure To Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Proposal Will Raise Over $1.3 Billion Per Year, State’s Tax Collection Agency Says

San Francisco: State Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) introduced legislation this week to legalize and regulate the commercial production and sale of cannabis for adults age 21 or over. The proposal – Assembly Bill 390: The Marijuana Control, Regulation and Education Act – is the first bill ever to be introduced in the California legislature that seeks to tax and control the sale of cannabis.

Ammiano introduced AB 390 at a press conference Monday. Joining the assemblyman in support of the measure were Betty Yee, Chairwoman of the California Board of Equalization (Taxation), Oakland City Council member Rebecca Kaplan, Orange County Superior Court Judge James P. Gray (retired), and Dale Gieringer, Coordinator of California NORML, which provided legislative text and financial analysis for the bill.

“With the state in the midst of an historic economic crisis, the move toward regulating and taxing marijuana is simply common sense,” Ammiano said. “This legislation would generate much needed revenue for the state, restrict access to only those over 21, end the environmental damage to our public lands from illicit crops, and improve public safety by redirecting law enforcement efforts to more serious crimes. California has the opportunity to be the first state in the nation to enact a smart, responsible public policy for the control and regulation of marijuana.”

Local news anchors from CBS, ABC, NBC, and PBS television covered the press conference. National stories regarding Ammiano’s bill have appeared in USA Today, as well as on Air America and CNN.

As introduced, AB 390 would raise over $1.3 billion in annual revenue by taxing the retail production and sale of marijuana, according to financial estimates provided by the California Board of Equalization. An economic analysis by California NORML estimates that a legal, statewide retail market for cannabis could generate additional revenues totaling some $12 to $18 billion dollars per year.

The noncommercial cultivation of marijuana for personal use – defined as ten plants or fewer – would not be subject to taxation under the proposal. In addition, AB 390 would not alter existing legislation on the use of medicinal cannabis, nor would it impose new taxes or sanctions on the medical cultivation of cannabis.

A recent Zogby poll of 1,053 likely voters, commissioned by California NORML and Oaksterdam University, reported that nearly six out of ten respondents on the west coast favor taxing and legally regulating cannabis like alcohol.

“This bill is a winning proposition for California taxpayers,” Gieringer said. “It’s time that California stops wasting resources trying to enforce marijuana prohibition, and instead realizes the tax benefits derived from a legal, regulated cannabis market.”

For more information, please contact Dale Gieringer, California NORML Coordinator, at (415) 563-5858, or Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director, at: paul@norml.org. Additional information on AB 390, as well as contact information for the California Assembly, is available at: http://capwiz.com/norml2/issues/alert/?alertid=12758896.

Voter Power makes the News! Initiative 28 MMJ

Voter Power’s recent events have garnered good media attention for both Initiative 28, the Regulated Medical Marijuana Supply System Initiative and medical marijuana in general.  Voter Power’s efforts to help all patients have access to medicine and generate additional revenue for the state were featured in both the Oregonian and local Fox affiliates.

To see the Fox coverage of the symposium at Southern Oregon University regarding the conflict between state medical marijuana laws and the federal government, go to: http://kdrv.com/page/86075

The Oregonian covered the Ed Rosenthal Seminar in Portland and the entire story is reproduced below.  For more info, please visit www.votepower.org

‘YOU’RE ALIVE; YOU’RE NOT LIVING’

Marijuana Legalization Questions Top Obama’s ‘Citizen’s Briefing Book’

Washington, DC: Ending the federal prosecution of adults who use cannabis is the most popular public policy issue facing the Obama administration, according to the results of a new poll conducted by Change.gov – the official website of the President’s Transition Team.

More than 125,000 visitors to the site voted on 44,000 specific policy proposals. The leading vote getters are slated to appear in a ‘Citizen’s Briefing Book,’ which will be delivered to the new President imminently.

The public’s demand to “stop imprisoning responsible adult citizens” who use marijuana received more votes than any other issue in the online poll.

A related question calling on the new administration to “stop using federal resources to undermine states’ medicinal marijuana laws” finished in third place.

The Citizens’ Briefing Book poll marks the third time the Obama Transition Team has asked for the public’s input regarding what they perceive to be the most important public policy questions facing America. Questions pertaining to the legalization of marijuana have dominated online voting in each poll, and have twice finished in the #1 position.

A separate poll, conducted last week by Change.org and the Case Foundation, also reported that the legalization of cannabis for personal use is the most popular issue among online voters.

Commenting on the poll results, NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said: “This past August House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in a live interview with CNN, called on the public to actively voice their support for marijuana law reform. Since then, Americans have expressed their desire to amend our nation’s antiquated and punitive cannabis laws in unprecedented numbers. In short, the people have spoken. Are Congress and the Barack Obama administration listening?”

For more information, please contact Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director, at: paul@norml.org, or Allen St. Pierre, NORML Executive Director, at (202) 483-5500.

Marijuana’s Memory Paradox

Are pot smokers less likely to get Alzheimer’s? A compound similar to the active ingredient in cannabis shows promise as a potential memory protector.

Marijuana isn’t known for being a friend to memory; its short-term effects notoriously impair recall. And although the data is conflicting, some studies link cannabis with memory deficits in those who use excessive doses for long periods of time

But new research suggests that one of the active ingredients in marijuana—THC—and similar compounds could possibly prevent or even reverse one of the most devastating memory disorders of all: Alzheimer’s disease.

In a paper published in the December 2008 issue of the journal Neurobiology of Aging, researchers found that a compound that affects the same brain receptors as THC reduced brain inflammation and improved memory in older rats. (The rodents were the human equivalent of age 65 to 70.) Although there’s debate over the role played by inflammation in Alzheimer’s, many researchers believe it’s an important part of the process that causes dementia.

“We were shocked and surprised that it worked,” says Gary Wenk, Ph.D., one of the study’s authors and a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Ohio State University.

Wenk and his colleagues traced the anti-inflammatory effect of the compound (which has the awkward name “WIN-55,212-2”) to its activation of cannabinoid receptors on brain cells—the same receptors activated by THC.

Other anti-inflammatory compounds studied in rats and humans like NSAID drugs (ibuprofen, etc.) showed effects on young brains, but unlike WIN-55,212-2 did not improve aged brains.

Wenk has also found in these older rats that the  WIN-55,212-2 compound promotes the growth of new brain cells—a process that declines and may even stop in older animals. “The most amazing thing we saw was that it re-initiates neurogenesis—usually, the only drugs that do that are the SSRI antidepressants [selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors, the class of drugs that includes Prozac].”

Timing is everything

How could a drug that clearly impairs memory while people are under its influence function to protect users’ recall in the long term? Wenk theorizes that this could be due to differences in the way young and old brains learn.

Research shows that the neurotransmitter glutamate is involved in storing memory in a process that involves growing both new cells and connections between them, and destroying old ones. Some current Alzheimer’s drugs like memantine affect glutamate—as does THC.

Early in life, this process is in balance, and so interfering with either the growth or the “pruning back” of brain cells and connections—as might occur from using marijuana—might impair memory. But, says Wenk, “The same systems involved in pruning neurons at the beginning of life could be killing them at the end.” Therefore, interfering with the pruning process later in life might actually help, rather than harm.

No need for a high

Rest assured, Wenk and his colleagues aren’t advocating a stoner lifestyle.

Because WIN-55,212-2, like THC, produces a high, the researchers looked for the lowest effective dose. They estimate that that dose is the equivalent to just one toke of marijuana. “A puff is enough,” Wenk says.

Though that dose wouldn’t get someone high, it could, admittedly, have some psychoactive effect. But this wouldn’t necessarily rule out medical use. The drug could be taken before bedtime, for example. And with long-term use, tolerance to these psychoactive effects can develop, so impairment might be minimal with a steady dose anyway.

Cannabis research is controversial

To find out if THC has a protective effect on humans, scientists could study marijuana smokers as they age. If the theory holds, such users might be expected to develop Alzheimer’s disease at lower rates than non-users—although the timing and extent of use would almost certainly also matter.

Given the controversy that would likely arise if a protective effect were to be discovered, however, no one has funded the epidemiological studies that would be needed to show this.

It’s even hard to get experimental research published, according to Kim Janda, Professor of Chemistry at the Scripps Research Institute in California. In 2006, he published a paper demonstrating that THC interfered with another process implicated in the pathology of Alzheimer’s disease: the formation of amyloid-beta plaques and fibrils.

Janda’s THC research was rejected by several big-name journals and eventually published in the journal Molecular Pharmacology; it’s now one of his most frequently cited articles by fellow scientists. Unfortunately, the article was also denounced in the press by the likes of Rush Limbaugh as an example of politicized science by hidden supporters of legalization—despite the fact that Janda also works on anti-cocaine addiction vaccines.

Although Janda would like to investigate further, he currently does not have grants to enable him to do so.

Why further marijuana studies should be funded

Bill Thies, Ph.D., chief medical and scientific Officer of the Alzheimer’s Association, says of Wenk’s research, “The authors of the paper make the case that one way to modulate the inflammatory reaction is to activate cannabinoid receptors. I think that’s perfectly reasonable basic science.”

Thies notes, however, that it’s a long way from basic science to a usable drug, and pleads for a rational discussion. “The issue of marijuana is highly emotional and political and the minute it’s put in context of legalizing marijuana, the discussion loses all sensible aspects.”

Don Abrams, M.D., chief of hematology/oncology at San Francisco General Hospital, has studied medical marijuana use in people with HIV for more than a decade. He says, “I think the safety profile of marijuana compares very favorably to many other prescribed drugs,” noting that there have not been any reported overdoses, and that most research does not support a link between smoking the drug and lung cancer (which may be because marijuana users  tend to not smoke nearly as much as cigarette smokers).

“Cannabis is anti-inflammatory and it is also an antioxidant, and those are two things that we seek in treating neurodegenerative disorders,” he says, “It’s there, it’s in nature, if the research does find that it has these benefits, why not take advantage of it?”

With five million Americans currently living with Alzheimer’s and no highly effective treatment or prevention method known, any promising lead—even one as politically fraught as marijuana and related synthetics—could be worth following.

California Supreme Court Ruling Limits Medical Marijuana Distribution

California Supreme Court Ruling Limits Medical Marijuana Distribution

November 24th, 2008 By: Allen St. Pierre, NORML Executive Director
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Smelly Money Leads To Major Legal Review Of California’s Medical Marijuana Distribution

In an important legal case decided today that cannabis reform advocates have been waiting on for nearly two years, the California Supreme Court ruled that criminal defendants are not entitled to a defense as Proposition 215 (Prop 215) caregivers if their primary role is only to supply marijuana to patients.

“We hold that a defendant whose care-giving consisted principally of supplying marijuana and instructing on its use, and who otherwise only sporadically took some patients to medical appointments, cannot qualify as a primary caregiver under the Act and was not entitled to an instruction on the primary caregiver affirmative defense. We further conclude that nothing in the Legislature’s subsequent 2003 Medical Marijuana Program (Health & Saf. Code, § 11362.7 et seq.) alters this conclusion or offers any additional defense on this record. ”

Prop 215 defines primary caregiver to be the “individual designated by the [patient]… who has consistently assumed responsibility for the housing, health, or safety of that person.” According to the Court, these words ” imply a caretaking relationship directed at the core survival needs of a seriously ill patient, not just one single pharmaceutical need. ”

The Court concluded, ” a defendant asserting primary caregiver status must prove at a minimum that he or she (1) consistently provided care-giving, (2) independent of any assistance in taking medical marijuana, (3) at or before the time he or she assumed responsibility for assisting with medical marijuana. ”

The Court’s ruling effectively limits the caregiver defense to relatives, personal friends and attendants, nurses, etc. In particular, it excludes its use by medical marijuana “buyers’ clubs,” retail dispensaries and delivery services.

The remaining legal defense for medical marijuana providers is to organize as patient cooperatives and collectives, which are legal under SB 420.

“The Mentch decision highlights the inadequacy of California’s current medical marijuana supply system,” California NORML coordinator Dale Gieringer told the Indy Bay News . “The law needs to allow for professional licensed growers, as with other medicinal herbs.”

Amazingly, this case found its way to California’s high court because bank tellers reported Mentch to law enforcement because his cash deposit smelled strongly like cannabis (Mentch was caught with approximately 200 cannabis plants that he believed he was lawfully tending, in compliance with Prop 215, for five medical patients who possessed a physician’s recommendation).

Full text of the People vs. Mentch is found here. Listen to NORML Legal Counsel and founder Keith Stroup on today’s AudioStash talk about the significance of the court ruling and likely implications on how patients can continue to lawfully access medical cannabis.