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Is the Prohibition of ‘Pot’ coming to an end in the US?


Is the Prohibition of ‘Pot’ coming to an end in the US?

The momentum to legalise marijuana in America is growing – as is the number of smokers. Could the US’s drug war soon be over.

Seattle allows marijuana products to be sold for medicinal purposes. Initiative 502 would allow everyone over the age of 21 in Washington state to go to a government-run shop and buy up to 1oz of marijuana

By Peter Foster

With a beatific smile, Alison the saleswoman picks up a small pot of green-tinged butter from her trestle-table display, removes the lid and invites us to inhale deeply. “The bouquet is just fabulous, isn’t it? It’s one of my absolute favourite products,” she gushes, “you spread a little on a cracker, top with cream cheese, and sprinkle some chives. People think it’s just a little ’erb butter, and then you tell them what it is, and they find they’re already getting high.”

The packed hall in a slightly grungy suburb of Seattle where Alison is selling her wares is filled with the hubbub of many similarly intense conversations, all devoted to the magic ingredient in Alison’s uplifting butter: cannabis.

As we stroll along the lines of tables in what is described as “America’s only daily cannabis farmers’ market”, it is clear that what used to be called plain old ”pot’’ is now a product – like say, French cheese or Italian salami – of almost infinite variety.

As well as the neatly labelled jars of multifarious green ”bud’’ on display, the place bristles with artisanal ingenuity. There is a jar of pesto, a bar of “pack a punch” white chocolate marked “keep out of reach of children”.

If that’s not your cup of (hash) tea, how about a cup of “wake and bake” coffee to get you started in the morning? Not to forget the jams or honeys for your toast; fudges, brownies and some heavenly smelling warm cinnamon buns being sold by Dedrick, whose fiancé is a pastry chef.

The scene in Seattle is not what it seems at first glance. The market is only possible because, officially speaking, the stallholders and their customers are not potheads, but ”patients’’ certified under local laws to use medical marijuana. To enter, everyone must show their ”green card’’ authorisations and sign a declaration promising not to resell on the street. Officially, the market is not a market, but a “meeting point” for licensed marijuana growing collectives, and an “access point” for the patients to get their “medicine” in return for a “donation”. A heavily air-conditioned room is available for patients to “medicate” themselves for conditions that range from terminal cancer to a mildly arthritic neck.

That may all change after November 6 – general election day – when voters in Washington state will decide not just on whether to give Barack Obama a second term, but also whether to legalise marijuana for recreational use. If the referendum – known as Initiative 502 – is passed by a simple majority, everyone over the age of 21 in the state would, in theory, be able to go to a government-run shop and buy up to 1oz of marijuana or equivalent in edible products without fear of being arrested or harassed.

The initiative is just one example of the momentum to legalise marijuana. This week, Andrew Cuomo, the governor of New York, suggested that young people caught with small amounts of marijuana should not be arrested, further decriminalising the drug.

Like Washington, Colorado will also vote in November on a similar motion to fully legalise, while a Rasmussen Reports poll last month found that 56 per cent of Americans now support legalising and taxing marijuana like alcohol. Early polls show similar support (55 per cent) for initiative 502 in Washington state. There is now a distinct possibility that, for the first time, a US state will vote to legalise.

Although there have been previous state-level initiatives to legalise pot – most recently in 2010 when California’s Proposition 19 which failed to win a majority – none has had the kind of establishment backing gathered by the Washington campaign, which is supported by former US attorneys, an FBI supervisor and several judges and public health specialists.

Initiative 502 is different because it has been designed to disarm critics, according to Alison Holcomb, the campaign director who is also a longtime criminal defence lawyer in the state. “We wanted to put a proposal in front of voters that addressed their concerns,” she said at the group’s modest offices in Seattle where the $5m autumn publicity campaign is being coordinated, “which on marijuana are fears over drug-driving and protecting kids.”

To allay concerns, the bill bans marijuana shop-window displays or advertising and insists all marijuana will be produced in-state, under government licence, with growers, refiners and retailers all taxed at 25 per cent. There will also be a strict provision outlawing ”drug-driving’’ just like drink-driving.

There remains, however, one major problem: even if 502 passes, marijuana will still be an illegal drug under federal law. A yes vote in Washington state or Arizona will therefore create a showdown between state and federal governments.

John McKay, a former US attorney for Washington state who is backing the initiative, says the showdown is reminiscent of the state-level rebellion that led to the end of Prohibition. “I think the states are going to have to rebel again before the federal government changes its policy,” he said. “States are going to have to say that the policy on marijuana – which creates a black market where only the bad guys profit and criminalises millions of ordinary people – has failed.”

Support for marijuana legalisation comes from different directions. For some, the arguments are economic – Washington state’s government audit office estimates legalisation will generate some $516m a year in much-needed tax revenues. For others, legalising is the only practical response to the failure of the US’s 40-year, $1 trillion “war on drugs” to stop the flow of narcotics. Decriminalising pot, they say, would relieve pressure on overpopulated prisons and free the hands of police who make more than 850,000 marijuana-related arrests every year – that’s one every 37 seconds.

For a fourth group marijuana is genuinely medicinal, like the New York supreme court judge who wrote movingly this month in the New York Times about how, after taking cocktails of pharmaceutical drugs, marijuana was the only drug that gave him an appetite when fighting the nausea brought on by his chemotherapy and allowed him to sleep peacefully.

Ironically, one place support for 502 will not be forthcoming is among the stallholders at that Seattle cannabis farmers’ market, who fear the strict rules would eat into their profits (donations), make their ”medicine’’ too expensive and precipitate a wave of drug-driving convictions. “We don’t want it,” says Dedrick, whose cinnamon buns are flying off the table like the hot cakes they are. “If they license growing, it will drive it away from those who put love into our medicine.”

The opposition among the medical marijuana community, while strong, is not universal. Across town from the market, at the Green Buddha dispensary, the sentiment is different. Muraco, the owner, says she’ll embrace 502 even if it means she’ll go out of business. “It’s what we’ve been fighting for all these years, isn’t it? If it happens, five other states will follow in five years, you watch.” Legalisation, she says, is a natural, inevitable progression. When Washington state legalised medical marijuana in 1998 ”green cards’’ were extremely tightly controlled, and Muraco, who suffered from seizures, was one of the very first to receive one.

But since ”naturopathic’’ doctors were allowed to authorise the use of marijuana, “any dude with a bad foot” can now get a note from his doctor, she admits. As a result, the number of dispensaries, from a handful two years ago, have exploded to more than 200 in Washington state. Certified medical marijuana users are reported to have hit 35,000, with one dispensary owner saying “hundreds” were joining the list every day. Legalisation would, in many ways, be a recognition of existing realities.

Supporters of legalisation say the polls reflect a change in US public opinion. Even those who disapprove of drugs increasingly appear to feel that criminalising marijuana is out of step with an America in which surveys show that 16.7 million citizens used marijuana in the past month, and perhaps as many as 100 million will have smoked at some point in their lives.

Support is not just confined to the liberal Left. Last March, to the anger of anti-drugs groups, Pat Robertson, a deeply conservative Christian televangelist, came out in favour of legalisation, citing the ”social cost’’ of continuing to criminalise marijuana.

Gary Johnson, the two-term Republican governor of New Mexico and 2012 presidential candidate for the Libertarian Party, is also a proponent and will make liberalisation part of his platform during the election, in contrast to both Barack Obama (who has admitted to smoking pot in his youth) and Mitt Romney, who both remain opposed.

“We are at a tipping point and we’re going to legalise marijuana sooner or later,” Johnson said in a telephone interview. “We need to understand that the problems associated with marijuana are caused by prohibition itself. That is what is tearing people and families apart and turning otherwise taxpaying citizens into criminals.”

If 502 passes no one knows how the federal government will react to such a naked affront to its authority. The early signs are that it will fight the rebellious states. In what many take to be a signal of intent, federal agencies have recently mounted raids on ”legal’’ marijuana dispensaries in some of the 14 states that have passed medical marijuana laws.

California, Washington and Arizona have been the focus of raids, which the Department of Justice says are targeted only at people using the medical marijuana laws (which the Department has officially tolerated since 2009) as a cover for large-scale cannabis growing and dealing.

John Mckay, who was once the chief federal prosecutor for drug crimes in Washington state, feels it is almost certain that the federal government will try to assert its authority through the courts. In the short term, this will put legalisation on ice, but as happened with Prohibition, he believes it will start an argument that history suggests will almost certainly – eventually – lead to legalisation.

“There is no doubt that 502 sets up a major showdown,” he said. “I bet the federal government already has its case prepared, but, at last, both sides will get to make the argument in the open. For supporters of legalisation, that can only be a good thing.”

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Hemp legalization added to Senate farm bill

Hemp legalization added to Senate farm bill

By Stephen C. Webster

In a last minute addition to the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) has submitted an amendment that would legalize the production of industrial hemp, a potential new bumper crop for U.S. farmers.

“Industrial hemp is used in many healthy and sustainable consumer products. However, the federal prohibition on growing industrial hemp has forced companies to needlessly import raw materials from other countries,” Wyden said in prepared text. “My amendment to the Farm Bill will change federal policy to allow U.S. farmers to produce hemp for these safe and legitimate products right here, helping both producers and suppliers to grow and improve Oregon’s economy in the process.”

Allowing American farmers to produce industrial hemp, which is different from its more notorious cousin marijuana, would yield significant and immediate profits the first year, according to an analysis conducted in 1998 (PDF) by the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Kentucky.

Researchers found that farmers in the state of Kentucky alone could see between $220 to $605 in net profits per acre of hemp. Adjusted for inflation using the consumer price index, those 1998 dollars would actually be worth $310 and $854 today, although the study’s authors note that variables in supply and demand for hemp could change that valuation.

The average price farmers are getting on an acre of corn, which has been falling thanks to relatively strong supply this year, clocked in at roughly $921 according to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) figures out last week, but their overall take drops significantly due to the costs of production, leaving them in the $200 range on net profits. While a legalized hemp industry would likely never become as essential to Americans as corn, the potential for a high value crop and hundreds of millions, if not billions, in new economic activity is clear.

“This is the first time since the 1950s that language supporting hemp has come to the floor of the House or Senate for a vote. The last time such language was presented was the Miller’s Amendment to the Marihuana Tax Act,” Eric Steenstra, president of the advocacy group Vote Hemp, said in an advisory. “The time is past due for the Senate as well as President Obama and the Attorney General to prioritize the crop’s benefits to farmers and to take action… With the U.S. hemp industry valued at over $400 million in annual retail sales and growing, a change in federal policy to allow hemp farming would mean instant job creation, among many other economic and environmental benefits.”

It’s not clear if the bill has a shot, however. Conservative groups like the Club for Growth are urging Senators to vote against the farm bill, which is under consideration this week, because it has too many attachments unrelated to the agricultural sectors.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), has also called on other Senators to stop adding unrelated amendments, which the Senate spent much of Wednesday doing. If the Senate’s top partisans cannot find an agreeable solution to limiting the bill’s amendments, it is likely to languish and die.

The federal government does not differentiate between marijuana and industrial hemp, but it allows the importation of thousands of products made from industrial hemp. President Barack Obama’s drug czar, Gil Kerlikowske, warned as recently as April in comments made online that industrial hemp was a “controlled substance,” which sent hemp advocates on a rhetorical tirade.

Bills seeking to legalize industrial hemp have cleared at least one legislative chamber in 17 states overall, including Maine, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, Vermont and West Virginia, where those bills became law. Scientists say the psychoactive component of marijuana is almost completely undetectable in hemp.
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Yes, We CAN-NABIS!

Cannabis plant extracts can effectively fight drug-resistant bacteria.

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By NORA SCHULTZ

Substances harvested from cannabis plants could soon outshine conventional antibiotics in the escalating battle against drug-resistant bacteria. The compounds, called cannabinoids, appear to be unaffected by the mechanism that superbugs like MRSA use to evade existing antibiotics. Scientists from Italy and the United Kingdom, who published their research in the Journal of Natural Products last month, say that cannabis-based creams could also be developed to treat persistent skin infections.

Cannabis has long been known to have antibacterial properties and was studied in the 1950s as a treatment for tuberculosis and other diseases. But research into using cannabis as an antibiotic has been limited by poor knowledge of the plant’s active ingredients and by the controversy surrounding its use as a recreational drug.

Now Giovanni Appendino of the Piemonte Orientale University, in Italy, and Simon Gibbons of the School of Pharmacy at the University of London, U.K., have revisited the antibiotic power of marijuana by systematically testing different cannabinoids’ ability to kill MRSA.

MRSA, short for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, is a bacterium that can cause difficult-to-treat infections since it does not respond to many antibiotics. Many healthy people carry S. aureus on their skin, but problems arise when multi-drug-resistant strains infect people with weak immune systems through an open wound. In the worst cases, the bug spreads throughout the body, causing a life-threatening infection.

To make matters worse, resistance to antibiotics is rapidly increasing, and some strains are now even immune to vancomycin, a powerful antibiotic that is normally used only as a last resort when other drugs fail.

But when Appendino, Gibbons, and their colleagues applied extracts from five major cannabinoids to bacterial cultures of six strains of MRSA, they discovered that the cannabinoids were as effective at killing the bugs as vancomycin and other antibiotics.

The cannabinoids even showed exceptional activity against the MRSA strain that makes extra amounts of the proteins that give the bugs resistance against many antibiotics,” says Gibbons. These proteins, he explains, allow the bacteria to “hoover up unwanted things from inside the cell and spit them out again.”

Conveniently, of the five cannabinoids tested by the researchers, the two most effective ones also happen to be nonpsychoactive, meaning that they cannot cause a high. “What this means is, we could use fiber hemp plants that have no use as recreational drugs to cheaply and easily produce potent antibiotics,” says Appendino.

This isn’t the first time Marijuana has been shown to have medical benefits. Recently, the father of a 2 year old boy allegedly healed his son of brain cancer by feeding him medical marijuana.

In an attempt to discover how the cannabinoids kill MRSA, the team manipulated several chemical groups within the compounds. Most of the changes did not affect the antibiotic activity at all, and those that did seemed to influence only how well the cannabinoid is taken up by the bacterial cells.

“Everything points towards these compounds having been evolved by the plants as antimicrobial defenses that specifically target bacterial cells,
” says Gibbons. “But the actual mechanism by which they kill the bugs is still a mystery. We’ve tested whether the cannabinoids affect common antibiotic targets like fatty acid synthesis or the [DNA-bending enzyme] DNA gyrase, but they don’t. I really cannot hazard a guess how they do it, but their high potency as antibiotics suggests there must be a very specific mechanism.”

Appendino and Gibbons say that cannabinoids could quickly be developed as treatments for skin infections, provided the nonpsychoactive varieties are used. “The most practical application of cannabinoids would be as topical agents to treat ulcers and wounds in a hospital environment, decreasing the burden of antibiotics,” says Appendino.

Whether the cannabinoids could also be delivered in the form of an injection or in pills is less clear, the pair says, because they may be inactivated by blood serum.

Frank Bowling of the University of Manchester, who has had success treating MRSA-infected wounds with maggots, says that “any alternative treatment that removes MRSA from the wound and prevents it from spreading into the body is fantastic and preferable to using antibiotics that have strong side effects and against which resistance is already developing.” He cautions, however, that the researchers still need to show that the cannabinoids are safe to use.

This is not something that Appendino is too concerned about: “The topical use of cannabis preparations has a long tradition in European medicine, and no allergies have been reported.”

Mark Rogerson of GW Pharmaceuticals, a U.K.-based company that develops cannabinoid-based drugs to treat severe pain caused by multiple sclerosis and cancer, says that the discovery that cannabinoids kill MRSA “really underlines the potentially great diversity of medical applications that cannabis-based medicine can have. You can almost think of the cannabis plant as a mini pharma industry in its own right.” But Rogerson says that it is unlikely that existing cannabis-based medicines could be used to treat MRSA because the exact effect will depend on the correct combination and dosage of cannabinoids.

Meanwhile, Appendino and Gibbons hope that antibacterial effectiveness could also make cannabinoids suitable preservatives for cosmetics and toiletries. “The golden standards of preservatives are parabens and chlorinated phenols,” says Appendino, but these compounds do not degrade well in the environment and are strongly suspected to be hormonal modifiers. He also argues that, since all major cannabinoids are similarly effective, complete purification of a single compound isn’t necessary. So semipurified cannabinoid mixtures extracted from nonpsychoactive plants could make a cheap and easy alternative to conventional preservatives.

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If at first you don’t succeed……throw another billion at it.

Name one government program that for 40 years has failed to achieve any of its goals, yet receives bigger and bigger budgets every year. If you said “the War on Drugs,” you’ve been paying attention.

The Obama Administration is unable to show that the billions of dollar spent in the WAR ON DRUGS have significantly affected the flow of illicit substances into the United States, according to two government reports and outside experts.

The reports specifically criticize the government’s growing use of U.S. contractors, which were paid more than $3 billion to train local prosecutors and police, help eradicate coca fields, and operate surveillance equipment in the battle against the expanding drug trade in Latin America over the past five years, reports Brian Bennett of the Los Angeles Times.

“We are wasting tax dollars and throwing money at a problem without even knowing what we are getting in return,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), who chairs the Senate subcommittee that wrote one of the reports, which was released on Wednesday.

Professor Bruce Bagley, University of Miami: “I think we have wasted our money hugely”

?”I think we have wasted our money hugely,” said Bruce Bagley, an expert in U.S. anti-narcotics efforts. “The effort has had corrosive effects on every country it has touched,” said Bagley, who chairs international studies at the University of Miami at Coral Gables, Florida.

Predictably, Obama Administration officials deny reports that U.S. efforts have failed to reduce drug production and smuggling in Latin America.

White House officials claim the expanding U.S. anti-drug effort occupies a “growing portion” of time for President Obama’s national security team, even though it doesn’t get many Congressional hearings or headlines.

The majority of wasted American counter-narcotics dollars are awarded to five big corporations: DynCorp, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, ITT and ARINC, according to the report for the contracting oversight committee, part of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

Counter-narcotics contract spending increased by 32 percent over the five-year period from $482 million in 2005 to $635 million in 2009. Falls Church, Va., based DynCorp got the biggest piece of the wasted pie, a whopping $1.1 billion.

Sen. Claire McCaskill: “We are wasting tax dollars and throwing money at a problem without even knowing what we are getting in return”

?These contractors have plenty of ways to waste your tax money. They train local police and investigators in anti-drug methods, provide logistical support to intelligence collection centers, and fly airplanes and helicopters that spray herbicides to supposedly eradicate coca crops grown to produce cocaine.

The Department of Defense has wasted $6.1 billion of tax money since 2005 to help spot planes and boats headed north to the U.S. with drug payloads, as well as on surveillance and other intelligence operations.

Some of the expenses are “difficult to characterize,” according to Senate staff members, which is government-speak for “OK, you caught us wasting money again.” The Army wasted $75,000 for paintball supplies for “training exercises” in 2007, for example, and $5,000 for what the military listed as “rubber ducks.

The “ducks” are rubber replicas of M-16 rifles that are used in training exercises, a Pentagon spokesman claimed.

Even the Defense Department described its own system for tracking these contracts as “error prone,” according to the Senate report, which also says the department doesn’t have reliable data about “how successful” its efforts have been. Go figure.

In a separate report last month by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, there is the conclusion that the State Department “does not have a centralized inventory of counter-narcotics contracts” and said the department does not evaluate the overall success of its counter-narcotics program.

“It’s become increasingly clear that our efforts to rein in the narcotics trade in Latin America, especially as it relates to the government’s use of contractors, have largely failed,” Sen. McCaskill said.

The latest criticism of the United States’ War On Drugs comes just a week after a high-profile group of world leaders called the global Drug War a costly failure.

The group, which included former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan and past presidents of Mexico, Brazil and Colombia, recommended that regional governments try legalizing and regulating drugs to help stop the flood of cash going to drug cartels and other organized crime groups.

US protects the Drug Trade

James Gregory, a Pentagon spokesman, demonstrated his willingness to lie his ass off by claiming the Defense Department’s efforts against drugs “have been among the most successful and cost-effective programs” in decades.

“By any reasonable assessment, the U.S. has received ample strategic national security benefits in return for its investments in this area,
” said Gregory, who seems to inhabit a particularly improbable alternate reality.

Back in the real world, the only effects most objective observers can see run along these lines: Backed by the United States, Mexico’s stepped-up Drug War has had the unintended effect of pushing drug cartels deeper into Central America, causing violence to soar in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

Another effect has been the vast expansion of Orwellain surveillance technology, supposedly to combat drugs, but ever-so-useful to the authoritarian regimes in Central America (and in the United States) in suppressing dissent.

The U.S. is currently focusing on improving its efforts to intercept cellphone and Internet traffic (of “drug cartels,” yeah right) in the region, according to U.S. officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.

During a visit to El Salvador in February, William Brownfield, the head of the State Department’s anti-drug programs, opened a wiretapping center in San Salvador, as well as an office to share fingerprints and other data with U.S. law enforcement.

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