Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

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Thursday, March 6, 2014

Florida conservatives now talking up nuanced positions on marijuana reform

FloridaAs reported in this lengthy local article, headlined "Conservative committee opens door to medical marijuana for Florida," a notable swing/southern state now has a number of notable legislators talking in notable ways about marijuana reform.  Here are excerpts:

One conservative Republican who has suffered from brain cancer talked about the deceit of the federal government in hiding the health benefits of marijuana for his cancer.  Another legislator reluctantly met with a South Florida family, only to be persuaded to support legalizing the drug.

Then there was Rep. Charles Van Zant, the surly Republican from Palatka who is considered the most conservative in the House. He not only voted with his colleagues Wednesday to pass out the bill to legalize a strain of marijuana for medical purposes, he filed the amendment to raise the amount of psychoactive ingredients allowed by law — to make it more likely the drug will be effective.

The 11-1 vote by the House Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, was a historic moment for the conservatives in the GOP-dominated House. It was the first time in modern history that the Florida Legislature voted to approve any marijuana-related product. “That’s because people here in Tallahassee have realized that we can’t just have a bumper-sticker approach to marijuana where you’re either for it or against it,” said Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Shalimar, the committee chairman and sponsor of the bill after the emotional hearing. “Not all marijuana is created equally.”

The committee embraced the proposal, HB 843, by Gaetz and Rep. Katie Edwards, D-Plantation, after hearing heart-wrenching testimony from families whose children suffer from chronic epilepsy. A similar bill is awaiting a hearing in the Senate, where Senate president Don Gaetz, a Niceville Republican and Matt’s father, has said he has heard the testimony from the families and he wants the bill to pass as a first step. “Here I am, a conservative Republican but I have to try to be humble about my dogma,” Senate President Don Gaetz told the Herald/Times....

For a committee known for its dense, often tedious scrutiny of legal text, the debate was remarkable. Rep. Dave Hood, a Republican trial lawyer from Daytona Beach who has been diagnosed with brain cancer, talked about how the federal government knew in 1975 of the health benefits of cannabis in stopping the growth of “brain cancer, of lung cancer, glaucoma and 17 diseases including Lou Gehrig’s disease” but continued to ban the substance. “Frankly, we need to be a state where guys like me, who are cancer victims, aren’t criminals in seeking treatment I’m entitled too,” Hood said.

Rep. Dane Eagle, R-Cape Coral, said he had his mind made up in opposition to the bill, then changed his mind after meeting the Hyman family of Weston. Their daughter, Rebecca, suffers from Dravet’s Syndrome. “We’ve got a plant here on God’s green earth that’s got a stigma to it — but it’s got a medical value,” Eagle said, “I don’t want to look into their eyes and say I’m sorry we can’t help you,” he said. “We need to put the politics aside today and help these families in need.”

The Florida Sheriff’s Association, which adamantly opposes a constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana for medical use in Florida, surprised many when it chose not to speak up. Its lobbyist simply announced the group was “in support.” The bi-partisan support for the bill was summed up by Rep. Dave Kerner, a Democrat and lawyer from Lake Worth. “We sit here, we put words on a piece of paper and they become law,” he said. “It’s very rare as a legislator that we have an opportunity with our words to save a life.”

The only opposing vote came from Rep. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, an advocate for the Florida Medical Association. Her husband is a doctor. She looked at the families in the audience and, as tears welled in her eyes, she told them: “I can’t imagine how desperate you must be and I want to solve this problem for you.” But, she said the bill had “serious problems.” It allowed for a drug to be dispensed without clinical trials and absent the kind of research that is needed to protect patients from harm. “I really think we need to address this using science,” Harrell said, suggesting legislators should launch a pilot program to study and test the effectiveness of the marijuana strain. “This bill takes a step in the right direction … but it’s not quite there.”

Cross-posted at Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform

March 6, 2014 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Science | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Does marijuana make you hungry?

I've always thought one of the strangest things about the DEA's insistence that marijuana has no currently accepted medical use is that one of the claimed medical uses is as an appetite stimulant.  When I cover CSA scheduling of marijuana in my Controlled Substances class, I sometimes joke about whether we really need scientific studies to know that marijuana can make people hungry.  

The DEA's position, of course, is that there isn't enough evidence to say that marijuana can stimulate the appetites of cancer and AIDS patients.  (The synthetic-THC drug Marinol, on the other hand, has been officially determined to make people hungry.)

Though I don't think it will be enough to satisfy the DEA, today brings some new scientific evidence of (and explanation for) marijuana's effect as an appetite stimulant.  The blog Toke of the Town reports:

In a new study published this week in Nature Neuroscience, European researchers claim to have proven that smoking weed does, in fact, give you the munchies. Beyond that, they appear to have isolated the specific region of the brain that is affected by THC consumption, and identified the process through which that desire to eat an entire box of Lucky Charms at 2am comes from. 

February 11, 2014 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Science | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 14, 2013

"Medical marijuana advocates in Colorado give pot to pets"

KlibbenThe title of this post is the headline of this notable story via UPI.  Here are excerpts:

Some medical marijuana enthusiasts in Colorado are taking the "holistic approach" by giving their pets pot to deal with pain.

As animals age, it’s harder for them to do things like fetch, run and play, prompting some owners to prescribe marijuana to help fix the problem. "Arthritis is the really big thing for our pets as they get older, for being able to move about and get their exercise,” pet owner Barbara Novey told local Fox affiliate KXRM.

"So medication of any type that will help someone that is natural will help their pet as well, and I think that maybe our pets can help us purge this reefer madness mentality and realize that it's not the dangerous drug that you think it is."

Novey thinks pot is therapeutic for her pooch, but NorthWest Animal Hospital veterinarian Dr. John Sudduth asserts that giving a dog medical marijuana can be deadly. "There just hasn't been enough research that has been presented to the medical community that would inform us to how to safely use medication such as marijuana. You're really playing with fire. You don't really know what you're giving and what kind of side effects it could have. It could result in serious illness and it could result in death in some cases."

"Pets are not necessarily people in fur coats," Sudduth added. "And how they metabolize medications and utilize medications those are all separate issues that have to be determined."

It is still illegal for veterinarians to prescribe medical marijuana pills. "We need to know about the indications, the usage, the side effects the toxicities and all of those things would have to be worked out before any of these medications, like marijuana might be used," Sudduth said.

November 14, 2013 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Science | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 22, 2013

What are the best statistics and strongest research/arguments to support marijuana prohibition and strict criminal enforcement? (Now updated with some...)

I posed the question in the title of this post toward the end of my first class session of the exciting new seminar I am teaching this Fall 2013 semester at OSU's Moritz College of Law.  Indeed, I challenged the terrific (and seemingly very insightful and knowledgeable) students taking the seminar to spend the next week looking for (and sending to me for posting here) the very best statistics and the strongest research and arguments they could find to support marijuana prohibition.

Helpfully, and to provide a running start on a question that I hope will generate some dialogue in the comments, there are more than a few anti-drug advocacy groups which have already marshalled materials in support of prohibition.  A research assistant helped me assemble links to these notable advocacy groups:

I am hoping that seminar students and other readers might help me cull through the materials on these sites and elsewhere to help provide a sophisticated and detailed answer to the question in the title of this post. 

UPDATE:  So far, three students from my seminar have sent me a bunch of materials and links concerning what they perceive to be the "best" ideas and arguments to support marijuana prohibition.  Here are a few highlights from these efforts:

The DEA in 2010 produced this impressive 81-page booket, titled Speaking Out Against Drug Legalization, which says it is "designed to cut through the current fog of misinformation with hard facts [by] present[ing] an accurate picture of America’s experience with drug use, the nature of the drug problem, and the potential for damage if the United States adopts a more permissive policy on drug abuse." Here are a few (of dozens) of the bullet points from this document discussing the health risks posed by marijuana:

  • Harvard University researchers report that the risk of heart attack is five times higher than usual in the hour after smoking marijuana.
  • The National Institute of Health found that a person who smokes five joints per week may be taking in as much tar and cancer-causing chemicals into their lungs as someone who smokes a pack of cigarettes every day.
  • Smoking marijuana weakens the immune system, and raises the risk of lung infections. Other studies indicate that smoked marijuana causes cancer, respiratory problems, increased heart rate, loss of motor skills, and damage to the immune system.
  • According to several recent studies, marijuana use has been linked with depression and suicidal thoughts, in addition to schizophrenia. These studies report that weekly marijuana use among teens doubles the risk of developing depression and triples the incidence of suicidal thoughts.

I have not sought to check or question the references cited for these statements, but I am inclined to take the claims at face value.  In addition, building largely on these sorts of medical claims while making a few other arguments, here are links to a couple notable and prominent commentaries making the case in favor of marijuana prohibition:

Last but certainly not least, the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, R. Gil Kerlikowske, gave this notable public statement to California Police Chiefs Association Conference in March 2010 titled "Why Marijuana Legalization Would Compromise Public Health and Public Safety." Here is how he summed up his main arguments against marijuana legalization at the start and tail end of this speech:

The concern with marijuana is not born out of any culture-war mentality, but out of what the science tells us about the drug’s effects. And the science, though still evolving, is clear: marijuana use is harmful. It is associated with dependence, respiratory and mental illness, poor motor performance, and cognitive impairment, among other negative effects....

Legalizing marijuana would also saddle government with the dual burden of regulating a new legal market while continuing to pay for the negative side effects associated with an underground market whose providers have little economic incentive to disappear....

Legalization means the price comes down, the number of users goes up, the underground market adapts, and the revenue gained through a regulated market will never keep pace with the financial and social cost of making this drug more accessible.

August 22, 2013 in Current Affairs, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Science | Permalink | Comments (1)