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Europe: Austrian Parliament Okays Medical Marijuana, But Only State Agency Can Grow It

The Austrian parliament approved a bill July 9 that allows for the cultivation of marijuana for medical and scientific purposes, Agence France-Presse reported. But the bill gives the exclusive right to grow marijuana to a health and food safety agency under the control of the Health Ministry.

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Maria-Theresien-Platz with Kunsthistorisches Museum and Hofburg Palace in background, downtown Vienna
Still, it is progress, said Michael Bach, president of the Austrian pain studies association OeSG. "Any initiative that makes it possible to develop and provide new drugs for pain therapy is welcome," he said. "Substances drawn from cannabis have been used for medical purposes more and more in the last few years," he added.

It is unclear whether or how quickly this move will result in the provision of medical marijuana to patients or whether it signals a softening of official attitudes toward medical marijuana users. Currently, possession or sales of marijuana will get you six months in prison in Austria.

Chronicle Book Review: "Dying to Get High: Marijuana as Medicine," by Wendy Chapkis and Richard J. Webb (2008, NYU Press, 244 pp., $22.00 PB)

Click here to order this book today!

Phillip S. Smith, Writer/Editor

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In "Dying to Get High," sociologists Wendy Chapkis and Richard Webb have written a sympathetic yet academically rigorous account of the contemporary controversies surrounding medical marijuana. They trace the use of marijuana as medicine in the US, its decline as a medicine in the early 20th Century, its removal from the pharmacopeia in 1941 (just four years after it was banned by federal law), the continuing blockage of research into its medical benefits by ideologically-driven federal authorities, and the renaissance of medical marijuana knowledge today, much of it derived from -- gasp! -- patients, not doctors or researchers.

As sociologists, Chapkis and Webb have a keen eye for the broader social, cultural, and political forces surrounding the issue of medical marijuana, from the rise of the pharmaceutical and medical establishments to the "culture war" contempt for marijuana and users among many Americans. But as much as middle America may disdain pot-smoking hippies, it seems that it is marijuana's location on the wrong side of the modern scientific and pharmaceutical discourse that most hinders its acceptance as a medicine.

Pot is a plant, not a pill. It is an herbal medication, not a chemical compound. It is a "crude plant material," not a "pure drug." All of this, Chapkis and Webb suggest, make it difficult indeed for the medical and scientific establishment to wrap its head around medical marijuana. And when scientific bias is coupled with cultural disdain and fear of widespread "abuse," that the federal government remains resistant to medical marijuana is hardly a surprise.

Chapkis and Webb deliver a resounding, well-reasoned indictment of the political and (pseudo) scientific opposition to medical marijuana, and their succinct discussion of the issues surrounding the controversy is worth the price of admission.

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But "Dying to Get High" is also an in-depth portrait of one of the country's most well-known medical marijuana collectives, the Wo/Men's Access to Medical Marijuana (WAMM) collective in Santa Cruz, California, and it is here that the authors are really breaking new ground. They go from the big-picture sociology of medical marijuana in the past century to narrowly focus on ethnography of a patient collective, describing in loving detail the inner workings, dynamics, and tensions of a group with charismatic leadership -- Mike and Valerie Corral -- more than 200 seriously ill patients, and the specter of the DEA always looming.

Their account of the emergence and permanence of WAMM is both moving and enlightening. Rooted in the fertile soil of Santa Cruz, already well-tilled by previous social movements such as feminism, gay rights, and AIDS activism, WAMM may only have been possible in a place that friendly to radical movements and that familiar with activism around issues of medical care and social justice. Chapkis and Webb chart its formation, its growth, its conflicts and problems, and the humanity of its suffering members.

They also tell the story of the 2002 DEA raid on the WAMM garden and its devastating impact on members. But that raid and its aftermath were not just a blow to the sick and dying, they were a call to arms, impelling WAMM into ever more overtly political action to protect itself and the broader movement.

More broadly, Chapkis and Webb do a great service by dissecting WAMM, looking at how it works, how it handles dysfunction, and how it provides a service far beyond mere medical marijuana to its members. WAMM is perhaps the model medical marijuana collective, and it has many lessons to offer the interested reader.

Would a WAMM-style collective work elsewhere? Chapkis and Webb emphasize the importance of the cultural and political backdrop in Santa Cruz in making WAMM possible, but I think the very emergence of WAMM as a successful collective makes the possibility of similar collectives coming into being elsewhere all the more likely. After all, even California as a whole is not as radicalized as Santa Cruz or San Francisco, but similar collectives are popping up in Santa Rosa and the San Fernando Valley, among other places.

In any case, Chapkis and Webb provide plenty to chew on, for those who want to pick up some historical knowledge and debating points, for those interested in the genesis of the contemporary marijuana movement, and for those who are pondering the viability of similarly radical approaches to health and self-organizing.

Click here to order this book today!

Medical Marijuana: Seattle Police Seize Hundreds of Patient Files in Raid on Co-op

Seattle police who acted after a bicycle officer smelled marijuana seized files on nearly 600 medical marijuana patients Tuesday, the Associated Press reported. After consulting with prosecutors, police raided the Lifevine cooperative and seized 12 ounces of marijuana and a computer, as well as the patient files.

According to Martin Martinez, who heads the co-op as well as Cascadia NORML, no marijuana was being grown at the scene and no one was arrested. The patient files were on hand because Cascadia NORML was preparing ID cards and needed proof the patients were legitimate, he said.

Under Washington's medical marijuana law, patients can have a 60-day supply of marijuana. The law does not define that quantity, but the state Health Department this month proposed that it be defined as 24 ounces of usable marijuana, and six mature and 18 immature plants. Seattle voters in 2003 passed an initiative making adult marijuana possession offenses the lowest law enforcement priority.

Apparently somebody in the city's law enforcement establishment didn't get the message. A spokesman for the King County prosecutor's office told the AP that police consulted a deputy prosecutor before raiding the co-op. The Seattle police have so far not commented.

Martinez and Seattle medical marijuana attorney Douglas Hiatt said they tried to persuade police and the deputy prosecutor not to raid the premises since the state's medical marijuana law was not being violated. But that didn't work.

The police "have a heck of a lot of patient records I don't think they should have," said Hiatt. "For one thing, those records are protected under federal privacy laws. If you're a medical marijuana patient, you don't want the police to know who you are or where you live, and this is why -- because you don't get treated very well."

Washington ACLU attorney Alison Chinn Holcomb told the AP there was no evidence the co-op was growing or providing marijuana and no information so far revealed that would justify seizing patient records. "These are very sick people with very serious conditions, and we're sure none of them want the nature of those conditions made available to the public or to anyone who doesn't have a valid need for it," she said.

Journalists Lie About Marijuana Like it's Their Job

Margaret Wente at The Globe and Mail writes:

The UK made marijuana possession semi-legal a few years ago, but experienced an explosion of pot use among minors, as well as a sharp rise in harmful effects attributed to more potent strains of weed.
She's just factually wrong. Here's what the Guardian says in an Oct. 2007 article entitled Fewer young people using cannabis after reclassification:
Cannabis use among young people has fallen significantly since its controversial reclassification in 2004, according to the latest British Crime Survey figures published today.

The Home Office figures showed the proportion of 16 to 24-year-olds who had used cannabis in the past year fell from 25% when the change in the law was introduced to 21% in 2006/07 - still about 1.3 million users.
Similarly, her claim that there's been "a sharp rise in harmful effects attributed to more potent strains of weed" is utterly false. There has been research suggesting that marijuana may increase the risk of certain mental illnesses, but there has been no increase in people actually developing those conditions. The idea that marijuana potency is a factor here is also purely theoretical and unproven. Here's what the Britain's Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs has to say:
"The evidence for the existence of an association between frequency of cannabis use and the development of psychosis is, on the available evidence, weak. The council does not advise the reclassification of cannabis products to Class B; it recommends they remain within Class C. [Telegraph]
There simply was no "explosion of pot use among minors" and no "sharp rise in harmful effects". Those things never happened, can't be cited, and don't belong in print. The article's flaws don't stop there either, but I want to focus on these points because they demonstrate reckless and presumably willful disregard for basic facts, rather than simple manipulation or selectivity. There's a difference in terms of journalistic ethics, and I think Margaret Wente forgot that.

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Let's let The Globe and Mail know about these clear factual errors. It's easy:
Letters to the Editor - The editor of The Globe and Mail welcomes letters on any subject but reserves the right to condense and edit them. Brevity counts. All letters should be less than 200 words, and must include the name, mailing address and daytime phone number of the writer. The copyright becomes the property of The Globe and Mail if they are accepted for publication. You may also reach us by fax at 416-585-5085.
I know, I know, it feels like you're banging your head against a wall, but enough letters can provoke a response. Do it right now so you won’t forget.

Medical marijuana on Retirement Living TV

Debate rages nationwide over the use of marijuana for pain relief: http://www.rl.tv/VIEWPOINT/.

Opponents of Marijuana Reform Can't Keep Their Story Straight

If there's one thing we can count on in the marijuana debate, it is the ceaseless propensity of our opposition to say the first thing that pops into their head. This effect becomes particularly pronounced when state-level reform initiatives threaten to deprive entrenched drug enforcement professionals of their cherished authority over petty marijuana offenders.

The latest examples come from Massachusetts, where a November ballot initiative aims to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana.

Local law enforcement personnel are sharply opposed to dropping the criminal penalties for possession, saying that dealers who travel with more than an ounce of marijuana can simply carry around less, to avoid criminal charges.

District Attorney David Capeless said decriminalizing marijuana will mean a proliferation of use, as dealers pick up more customers. [Berkshire Eagle]

So dealers will carry less, but sell more? David Capeless's enthusiasm for ruining young lives over marijuana is already well-documented, but is this really the best he can come up with?

It is exactly these sorts of plainly ridiculous protestations that lead one to wonder what the hell these people even want. And solving that riddle becomes a greater challenge the longer you listen to them:

[William] Breault, an activist who heads up the Main South Alliance for Public Safety, said citizens have an obligation to get educated about the issue. He accuses the decriminalization advocates of using "deceptive tactics" to gain voter support.

… he claimed that few, if any, inmates in the state's jails are sent there for minor marijuana possession alone; in local courts, it's not uncommon for first-time possession offenders to receive an eventual dismissal of the charges, with no criminal record resulting.

Huh? That's frickin' great, but if you're cool with it then why are you arguing with us? The whole point of the initiative is to stop running people through the gauntlet over petty marijuana offenses. If some people are already beating their charges without society coming to a crashing halt, then obviously we're onto something with this. Our opponents are literally going around exclaiming that we absolutely must vigorously prosecute marijuana offenders, then two seconds later they're boasting about how that's not what we're doing now anyway.

Of course, observing, as we often do, that our opponents' arguments are just transparently silly and disingenuous brings us to the question of why they even bother. There will always be better things to do with billions of dollars than investigate and bust marijuana users, so it's tempting to ponder how anyone struggling to grasp that concept nonetheless manages to put pants on in the morning.

Personally, I don't think it's just greed or meanness, although there's plenty of that to go around. Really, I think they're just scared of what a post-drug war America might look like. I can't wait to show them.

Hope Unlimited San Diego Cannabis Support Group Meeting

Hope Unlimited San Diego Cannabis Support Group is proud to welcome Jeff W. Jones, Executive Director of the Patient ID Center (PIDC) -- formerly known as Oakland Cannabis Buyers Cooperative (OCBC) -- to our July 24th meeting! Free food - come meet other patients, growers, caregivers, friends, family of the San Diego medical cannabis community! This is a relaxed, chill place to make new friends, learn about San Diego cannabis politics, how to get involved, MEETING A CAREGIVER, GROWER...some of many possibilities at a Hope meeting! The goal of PIDC is to provide seriously ill patients with a safe and reliable source of medical cannabis information and patient support. Our cooperative is open to all patients with a verifiable letter of recommendation for medical cannabis used to alleviate or terminate the effects of their illnesses. The PIDC is currently unable to dispense medical cannabis due to federal court order -- this ruling is currently under appeal and we will post updates as they become available. Federal statutes currently prohibit the use of cannabis as medicine. However, scientific evidence, including anecdotal evidence, documents the relief that cannabis provides to many seriously ill patients. The cooperative is dedicated to reducing the harm these patients encounter due to the prohibition of cannabis. PIDC's offices are multi-faceted facilities, accessible to people with disabilities. We provide a professional atmosphere for patients to obtain photo ID cards qualifing them under the Health and Safety Code section 11362.5, with trained member advocates on hand to offer advice and assistance. We also offer self-help services such as cultivation meetings and massage therapy by appointment. In addition, PIDC provides information on a variety of topics, including AIDS prevention and treatment, safe sex, and cannabis reform in general. (See our calendar.) The Patient ID Center currently operates under the auspices of California Proposition 215 and Oakland City Council Resolution No. 72516. Resolution 72516, and pursurant to Oakland Municpal Ordinance 8.42. Furthermore, the city has appointed a working group to oversee PIDC functions and to determine the most effective means to protect and assist seriously ill patients. For more information, see: www.hopeisunlimited.blogspot.com & www.hopeforfree.blogspot.com, or contact cannabiscaregiver@yahoo.com or 414.418.0140.
Date: 
Thu, 07/24/2008 - 8:00pm
Location: 
3949 North Ohio Street (in the North Park neighborhood)
San Diego, CA 92104
United States

Marijuana: Georgia Grand Jury Foreman Says Legalize It

Grand juries are charged with evaluating potential crimes presented to them by prosecutors and deciding whether indictments are merited. The grand jury empanelled in March in Chatham County, Georgia, did just that, delivering numerous indictments for drugs and other criminal offenses.

But grand juries and their foreman also have the opportunity to speak their minds about what they have observed while serving. The Chatham County grand jury did so in its final report to Superior Court Judge Perry Brannen.

Its observations and recommendations were not surprising. "A high percentage of our cases were drug-related and a high percentage were repeat offenders," the grand jury noted. Authorities should "institute more effective methods of drug treatment and rehabilitation aimed at minimizing repeat offenders" and "as far as possible, use stricter or more effective methods of punishment," the jurors recommended.

While the grand jury's recommendations were pretty standard stuff, grand jury foreman Gordon Varnadoe used the opportunity to call for the legalization, regulation, and taxation of marijuana sales in his personal recommendations. Varnadoe also called for the legalization of prostitution.

"It is my considered and strong opinion that marijuana should be legal, controlled, and taxed," Varnadoe wrote. "There is no evidence that it is a 'gateway drug' that leads to other drugs. It is not found to be present in cases of domestic violence, highway fatalities, or death caused by consumption. This can be completely turned around to change from a tax burden and expense to a source of great revenue."

The grand jury reports are not binding, and a grand jury or foreman using them as a platform to call for drug law reform is rare. But it has happened before.

As Eric Sterling of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation reminds, drug policy reform has also been on the mind of grand juries in at least one large American city, Baltimore. In 1995, a city of Baltimore grand jury issued a report that studied drug law enforcement during its September 1994 term. While that grand jury said "legalization is not an acceptable solution" to the larger drug problem, it also recommended that "consideration be given to decriminalizing marijuana" and "medicalization may be the best solution for managing addiction and drug proliferation."

By the summer of 2003, another Baltimore grand jury was ready to go further. In its report, that grand jury called for the "regulated distribution" of now illegal drugs -- not just marijuana. That grand jury report helped lay the groundwork for hearings in the Maryland Senate in 2003 where drug reformers got an opportunity to lay out the rationale for reform.

While usually considered the domain of prosecutors -- "a grand jury would indict a ham sandwich if a prosecutor told it to," goes the old saw -- grand juries have a chance to speak their minds in their reports, and perhaps lead the way to a reconsideration of current policies. There is as yet no sign that the Chatham County grand jury foreman's recommendations will lead to similar reflection, but it is a start. As drug policy reform makes its long march through the institutions of society, the grand jury should not be forgotten.

Marijuana: Oregon Initiative For Regulated Sales Starts Gathering Signatures

Oregon has already decriminalized marijuana possession and enacted the second-largest state medical marijuana program in the country, and now some Oregon activists are ready to move to the next level. This week, signature gathering began for the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act (OCTA), which would provide for marijuana to be sold in retail stores, among other things.

According to initiative sponsors, the act would provide for "regulating and taxing adult sales; licensing the cultivation of the drug for sale in state-run package stores and adults-only businesses; allowing adults to grow their own and farmers to grow industrial hemp without license; and letting doctors prescribe untaxed cannabis to patients suffering from a variety of illnesses and injuries."

The initiative effort is being led by D. Paul Stanford of the Campaign for the Restoration and Regulation of Hemp (CRRH) and Madeline Martinez, head of Oregon NORML. Whether other elements of the state's sometimes fractious marijuana community will come on board remains to be seen.

Parts of the community had been in the defensive mode as they prepared to fend off an attack on the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act (OMMA) by conservative crime-fighting initiative specialist Kevin Mannix. But Mannix recently took the assault on OMMA off the table, at least for now, and Stanford and Martinez are ready to sail through the breach.

Organizers need 80,000 signatures to put the measure before voters in the November 2010 election. They say the measure will generate millions of dollars a year for the state's general fund through sales to adults. Additional revenues from pot taxes would go to drug treatment programs.

"Clearly there's no LSD, and how long does it take to test a chocolate-chip cookie for marijuana?"

Total pandemonium broke out this week after a young man doing community service delivered cookies to police and they became convinced he tried to drug them with LSD and marijuana.

They said the basket smelled like pot and the cookies initially tested positive for LSD. Now it's become clear the cookies were just, well, regular cookies, but not before throwing the young man in jail on $75,000 bond and creating a media circus.

Lesson learned: don't feed the cops. Everything smells like drugs to them.

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