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The Candy Counter: Georgia Set to Ban Sales of Marijuana-Flavored Lollipops to Kids

Under a bill passed by the Georgia House of Representatives Tuesday, retailers there may soon be barred from selling lollipops, gumdrops, and any other candies flavored to taste like marijuana to children. The bill, HB 280, steamrolled through the House, passing by a margin of 133-26.

The bill is aimed at businesses that sell candies with drug-inspired names like "Pot Suckers" and "Kronic Kandy." Such products are flavored with hemp essential oil to create the taste of marijuana, but do not contain measurable amounts of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.

If it passes the Senate, Georgia would become the first state to enact such a ban. The sale of marijuana-flavored candies has already been outlawed in the city of Chicago, Suffolk County, New York, and parts of Alameda County, California.

"This kind of product is being taken to concerts like the old ice cream pop that is being marketed on the street," said Republican state Rep. Judy Manning of Marietta, the bill's sponsor. "They're selling for $4 to $8 apiece. It's quite expensive and it's quite detrimental to our children."

Manning's bill says the candies promote drug use and promote the "false impression that marijuana is fun and safe." It bans the sale of "marijuana flavored products" to minors, with offenders subject to a $1,000 fine for each offense.

Atlanta is home to Coca-Cola. As Vote Hemp national outreach coordinator Tom Murphy told DRCNet in an e-mail message, "This makes you wonder if they would consider banning a coca-flavored soft drink. That's marketed to children and..."

Murphy also pointed out an error made by the New York Times in an article appearing Wednesday: The Times said the candies were made with hempseed oil -- an ingredient used in many now-mainstream food products that doesn't taste like marijuana -- as opposed to the candies' actual ingredient, hemp essential oil.

Vote Hemp is backing a state Senate bill, SB 258 that would create an exemption for hemp-based foods.

Feature: Reefer Madness Strikes a Leading British Newspaper

Careful observers of the British press are accustomed to tabloid-style grotesqueries. Even a cursory review of stories about drugs in the British press reveals breathless headlines -- "Cannabis Boy in Drugs Shame," "Heroin Girl in Drugs Tragedy" -- and mind-boggling statements right out of Reefer Madness. Just this week, the tabloid Liverpool Echo warned that "SUPER-strength cannabis so potent that just one puff can cause schizophrenia is being grown by Merseyside drug gangs."
UK press: backsliding into reefer madness
Along with topless models, lottery appeals, and gossip, lurid drug stories are to be expected in the tabloid press. It's another thing when one of Britain's premier serious newspapers gets down in the muck with the tabloids, but that's just what happened Sunday when the Independent on Sunday reversed course on cannabis. A decade ago, the upstart newspaper launched a campaign to legalize the weed, but this week it said it was wrong. In a series of articles led by the editorial "Cannabis: An Apology," the newspaper said the emergence of powerful cannabis varieties like skunk and increasing evidence of mental health problems for smokers prompted its recantation.

"In 1997, this newspaper launched a campaign to decriminalize the drug," began the editorial penned by Jonathan Owen. "If only we had known then what we can reveal today... Record numbers of teenagers are requiring drug treatment as a result of smoking skunk, the highly potent cannabis strain that is 25 times stronger than resin sold a decade ago. More than 22,000 people were treated last year for cannabis addiction -- and almost half of those affected were under 18. With doctors and drugs experts warning that skunk can be as damaging as cocaine and heroin, leading to mental health problems and psychosis for thousands of teenagers, The Independent on Sunday has today reversed its landmark campaign for cannabis use to be decriminalized."

The newspaper also cited "growing proof that that skunk causes mental illness and psychosis" and statistics showing "that the number of young people in treatment almost doubled" between 2005 and 2006. And again with the skunk: "The skunk smoked by the majority of young Britons bears no relation to traditional cannabis resin -- with a 25-fold increase in the amount of the main psychoactive ingredient, tetrahydrocannabidinol (THC), typically found in the early 1990s."

The newspaper cited several academic specialists who have been at the forefront of the campaign to prove that cannabis has serious mental health consequences. According to Professor Robin Murray of the London Institute for Psychiatry, cannabis use accounts for fully 10% of all schizophrenics in the UK. "The number of people taking cannabis may not be rising, but what people are taking is much more powerful, so there is a question of whether a few years on we may see more people getting ill as a consequence of that."

The Independent also cited veteran anti-drug campaigner Professor Neil McKeganey from Glasgow University's Centre for Drug Misuse Research. "We could well see over the next 10 years increasing numbers of young people in serious difficulties," he said.

But proponents of drug law reform and academic marijuana experts were shocked and dismayed by the Independent's new stance and its seeming fall into tabloid-style reporting. "This is very reminiscent of the potency panics in the US a few years ago," said Steve Rolles of the London-based Transform Drug Policy Foundation, who earlier this week wrote a highly critical blog post about the Independent's change of course. "If you take the weakest cannabis from one era and compare it to the strongest from the current era, you can make that 25:1 argument, but that just doesn't represent reality. It is fair to say there has been an increasing prevalence of more potent indoor grown cannabis, but the Independent was just cherry-picking the data. What they did was to grossly overstate it to make it seem a bigger issue than it is, and that's both bad science and lazy journalism."

"This is one of the most ridiculous and flaccid attempts to justify prohibition I have ever seen," said Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). "The UK media is ensconced in incredible reefer madness that even the US can't match at this point. I keep a file called bad journalism. It's a fairly large dossier, but I never added so much material to it as I did last Sunday. That skunk they keep talking about must be extremely strong; look at the incredibly deleterious effect just writing about it has on people's ability to think rationally," he told Drug War Chronicle.

Dr. Mitchell Earleywine, professor of psychology at the State University of New York at Albany and author of "Understanding Marijuana: A New Look at the Scientific Evidence," scoffed at the Independent's claims about potency and the link between marijuana and schizophrenia. "There has probably been a two- or three-fold increase in potency on average," he told Drug War Chronicle. "Estimates from the 1970s are likely underestimates because we didn't understand how storage in hot police evidence lockers degraded THC. Most of the estimates from back then were around 1% THC. When we give folks marijuana that's 1% THC in the laboratory today, it's so weak that they get a headache and think they've received a placebo. Obviously, the plant wouldn't have become popular if it just gave people headaches."

Even if cannabis is stronger today, it does not follow that it is more hazardous, and stronger may even be better, Earleywine added. "The tacit assumption that stronger equals more dangerous is also wrong. Data on the subjective high that people obtain suggest that folks don't get any higher than they used to," he pointed out. "They may end up smoking less, using less total cannabis as a result, and therefore limiting the chances of developing any respiratory symptoms. Although cannabis use doesn't increase lung cancer risk, it can increase cases of cough, wheezing, et cetera. Those who smoke stronger cannabis tend to take smaller hits and deposit less gunk in their lungs."

Earleywine also raised questions about the science behind the claimed link between marijuana and schizophrenia. "The obvious stuff, that pot doesn't cause schizophrenia but schizophrenics like pot, tends to apply here," he said. "The longitudinal studies often do a great job of assessing psychosis at the end of the period but a poor job of assessing symptoms at the beginning of the study. There are now about five longitudinal studies suggesting increases in 'psychotic disorders' or 'schizophrenic spectrum disorders' in folks who are heavy users of cannabis very early in life. There are also six studies to show more symptoms of schizo-typal personality disorder in cannabis users. Note that none of these are full-blown schizophrenia, the rare, disabling disorder that affects about 1% of the population," he said.

"The best argument against this idea comes from work showing that schizophrenia affects 1% of the population in every country and across every era, regardless of how much cannabis was used at the time or up to ten years before," Earleywine added.

The alleged schizophrenia connection is more hype, said Rolles. "Nothing has really changed. The dangers associated with cannabis have been documented for years. Certain groups, particularly teenagers and people with preexisting mental health problems, can have problems if they use cannabis," he conceded. "But again, this is more cherry-picking of the statistics, the Reefer Madness thing used to justify prohibition. You hype the dangers. We see this over and over again with all drugs."

As for the Independent's claims that strong cannabis is driving record numbers of young Britons into drug treatment, Rolles was equally skeptical. "The experience in America is instructive," he said. "There, your drug czar talks about huge numbers of young people in treatment for cannabis-related problems, but if you look at the numbers, most of them are referred by the courts. The same is true here."

"This schizophrenia thing is unique to England and, to a lesser degree, Australia," NORML's St. Pierre said. "The principle advocate of this thesis, researcher Robin Murray, is literally trying to create a new myth around cannabis. It seems like we have a new myth every decade or so. In the '30s, pot made you crazy; in the '40s, it made you a criminal; in the '50s, it made you want to use hard drugs; in the '60s; it made you a hippie or radical communist; in the '70s, it made you apathetic and unmotivated. Now we have this latest version -- that cannabis is a source of psychoses. The way the British media has bought into this is a disgrace," he said.

"Empirically, this is one of the easiest marijuana myths to shoot down," St. Pierre said. "From London, you can practically see the Netherlands, a country where cannabis is readily available and fairly potent. If one one-hundredth of what they claim were true, you would be walking over bodies in Amsterdam."

St. Pierre noted that the marijuana-schizophrenia connection has not migrated to the United States. "Where is the American Psychological Association, where is the American Psychiatric Association?" he asked. "They should be the natural allies of the Brits on this, but they're not because this is absolutely bonkers."

Like NORML, Transform is an advocacy group working to end marijuana prohibition. British mental health organizations have a different take. "We now know that cannabis can be a trigger for mental health problems and smoking it under the age of 18 can double people's chances of developing psychoses," a spokesman for the mental health group Rethink told Drug War Chronicle. "The government must invest in a wide-scale public health campaign so that young people know cannabis is not risk-free."

While Rethink has led the charge for higher awareness of the dangers of cannabis through its Cannabis and Mental Illness Campaign, the group is not advocating for a reclassification of the drug. Instead, it believes its current classification as a Class C drug is appropriate.

That's not what Member of Parliament Paul Flynn thinks. Evidence of possible harms doesn't change the underlying dynamic of his anti-prohibitionist position. "My view is exactly the same. Prohibition doesn't work," he said. "It's much worse to have the market controlled by dangerous criminals than for it to be properly controlled."

And so the debate over cannabis in Britain roils.

It's Been an 'All Out War' on Pot Smokers for 35 Years

United States
AlterNet (CA)

Perils grow in battle for medical pot

United States
San Francisco Chronicle

Medical Marijuana: Minnesota Bill Approved By Second House Panel

Members of a Minnesota House committee Monday voted to approve a medical marijuana bill despite the objections of law enforcement. The House Public Safety and Civil Law Committee approved the bill, HF655, on an 11-8 vote. It has already passed the House Health and Human Services Committee and is now headed for the House Finance Committee.

A Senate companion bill passed the Senate Health, Housing and Family Committee a month ago. It currently sits in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The bill would allow seriously ill patients to use marijuana upon obtaining a recommendation from a doctor and registering with the state. But in an effort to address law enforcement concerns, the public safety committee amended the bill so that individual patients cannot grow their own supply. Instead, sanctioned nonprofit organizations would be permitted to grow up to 12 plants and 2.5 ounces per patient.

The law enforcement contingent was out in force at the committee hearing. "Immediate and obvious areas of concern include existing conflicts with federal law, the potential for youth access and abuse, and the potential for this action being used as a platform for legalizing marijuana on a larger scale," Mitch Weinzetl of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association told KARE TV 11 News in Minneapolis-St. Paul.

"Smoking is harmful to the human body in any form, and it's particularly harmful with marijuana, which has significantly more dangerous chemicals than tobacco," said Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom.

But while committee members attempted to ease law enforcement worries by amending the bill as noted above, they seemed more moved by the testimony of patients like Don Haumont, who suffers from liver cancer and other ailments. He told lawmakers only one thing helps: marijuana.

"I ate more, I gained weight, I felt healthier, I felt that I could take care of myself, I could do things," he said. "I could work and be productive." A former California resident, Hauman said he could smoke legally there. "And then when I moved here, it was harder to obtain and the quality was less," he said.

While law enforcement and Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) oppose the bill, it is gathering bipartisan support in the legislature. "It's more of a left and right coming together, which I think is a very good bill and one Minnesota should become the 13th state to pass," said Rep. Steve Sviggum (R-Kenyon), who once opposed such a measure.

Eleven states have working medical marijuana programs. New Mexico is about to become the 12th once Gov. Bill Richardson (D) signs the bill that passed there last week.

"Marijuana" Candy Banned In Georgia

Atlanta, GA
United States

More Reefer Madness in the UK Press

The current anti-cannabis crusade in the UK press is going hot and heavy. I imagine we're all used to the "cannabis boy in drugs shame" tabloid headlines from over there, and, as I blogged a couple of days ago, we now see respectable newspapers like the Independent on Sunday flip-flopping on marijuana (now it's bad). But sometimes, it's just too ridiculous. Here are the opening paragraphs of a story about potent weed from the Liverpool Echo:
Police issue warning about super strength Cannabis Mar 20 2007 by Ben Rossington, Liverpool Echo SUPER-strength cannabis so potent that just one puff can cause schizophrenia is being grown by Merseyside drug gangs. Cannabis resin, usually smuggled in from Morocco, has been replaced by home-grown super skunk as the drug of choice for sale by criminal gangs on Merseyside. Experts warn this new strain of cannabis is so incredibly strong it can bring on the early signs of schizophrenia from a single puff. Today Merseyside’s police chief has warned that organised gangs are moving into the production of the drug as a quick way of making cash.
Wow, that stuff must have a 150% THC content. The article also repeats the claim that this super-skunk is 25 times more potent than what Brits are used to. But here's what the most recent peer-reviewed scientific evaluation of THC levels in Europe had to say:
EDITORIAL Cannabis potency in Europe There has been much recent interest in the possibility that the concentration of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active principle in cannabis, is now greater than it was. If pronouncements in the popular media are to be believed, the THC content (potency) is 10 or 20 times the levels of only a generation ago, giving apparent cause for concern about increased problems. The more cynical might comment that this is also a convenient rallying cry for those against an increasingly permissive attitude to cannabis use. But to what extent do the available data justify this fear? If one begins to explore the issue in more detail, it becomes evident that concerns about high potency cannabis are by no means new, and the reality appears both less alarming and more complex. THE FACTS AS FAR AS THEY ARE KNOWN A recent study [1] found that data overall were weak, but the evidence available suggested that the potencies of resin and herbal cannabis that have been imported into Europe have shown little or no change, at least over the past 10 years or so. This is hardly surprising, as these products have been made by traditional methods that have probably remained the same for generations. In Europe, average potencies of imported resin and herbal cannabis are typically between 2% and 8%. Cannabis (hash) oil is uncommon in Europe, but its THC content has also shown no clear trend over many years. What has changed throughout Europe and elsewhere is the appearance, from the early 1990s, of herbal cannabis grown from selected seeds by intensive indoor methods. This material, best described as domestically produced 'sinsemilla' (from the Spanish sin semilla—without seeds), is also known as 'skunk', 'buds' or 'nederwiet'. Its hydroponic cultivation, with artificial control of 'daylight' length, propagation of female cuttings and prevention of fertilization certainly does produce cannabis with a higher potency; on average it may be twice as high as imported herbal cannabis, although the two potency distributions overlap and some samples of imported cannabis are, and have always been, of high potency [2]. The increased THC content of herbal cannabis produced by indoor methods is a consequence of both genetic and environmental factors as well as freshness (i.e. production sites are close to the consumer and storage degradation of THC is thus avoided). There is some evidence that the potency of domestically produced sinsemilla is gradually increasing, perhaps as a result of continual improvements in technique. This product is distributed through the same networks as other cannabis products but, as indicated by the presence of home-grow shops in some European countries, consumers are also producing the drug at home. However, a note of caution is needed when assessing this information. Data on potency trends over 5 years or more were available only from five countries in Europe; in some of these the test sample sizes were low or unknown. Questions exist in terms of how representative the seizures are of the overall illicit market and in terms of the subsampling and selection of material from individual seizures for forensic testing. In addition, for a number of methodological reasons, both the reliability and comparability of data from different forensic laboratories were questionable. By far, the greatest number of THC analyses was carried out in Germany, with over 7000 measurements annually, but no distinction was made between imported and home-grown herbal cannabis. There has also been a rise in overall potency in North America, but in Australia and New Zealand the picture is less clear. THE IMPLICATIONS FOR PUBLIC HEALTH If the strength of some forms of cannabis has increased, then is this a cause for concern? The first matter to address is whether the availability of a more 'concentrated' form of a drug is in itself an issue. A parallel might be drawn here with the consumption of alcohol. Public health consequences of alcohol consumption are not a simple function of the strength of the beverage consumed, be it beer, wine or spirits. Rather, at population level, research suggests that it is the total quantity of alcohol consumed that is important rather than the concentrations in which it is sold. How far this parallel holds for cannabis is unknown, but it does raise the question of whether the availability of high potency cannabis impacts on total consumption levels of THC. It is still unknown whether those who smoke higher potency cannabis have higher blood levels of THC or whether they titrate the dose according to the subjective and relatively immediate pharmacological effects. It should be noted that even if we consider only the smoking of cannabis cigarettes/joints, all the following factors will influence an individual smoker's dose exposure: the amount used per cigarette/joint, sharing with others, the number of cigarettes/joints consumed per session, the number of sessions in any given time period, and individual smoking technique. As Hall et al. [3] note, age of onset of use and frequency of use are likely to be more influential than changes in potency in determining consumption levels. It is also important to note that, as far as we can tell, for most countries the market share of sinsemilla appears to be currently quite low. For example, in the United Kingdom it is estimated that resin comprises 70% of consumption. Of the remainder, about half comprises 'traditional' herbal cannabis and half sinsemilla. In other words, if the effective potency (the weighted average) had been 5%, then the appearance of sinsemilla can be estimated to have increased this to no more than 6%.
There is more from this academic review at the link above. This week, I'll be talking to people in Britain about all this for a feature article out Friday.
United Kingdom

The Truth About Marijuana Use in the UK

As Phil notes below, there's a new wave of reefer madness taking hold in England. The Independent's reporting is hysterical in both senses of the word, so much so that the ONDCP blog wasted no time in picking up the story.

We're told that marijuana addiction among teenagers has skyrocketed, that marijuana is 25 times stronger than it was generation ago, and that marijuana just might cause schizophrenia. And the underlying implication of all this is that the effort to legalize marijuana, culminating in the UK's 2004 reclassification decriminalizing simple possession, has somehow caused all of these horrible problems.

Interestingly, The Independent's multiple articles yesterday reached their conclusions without mentioning usage rates. Here's why: marijuana use in the UK is going down. From The Observer in October, 2006:
According to a report by the Central Narcotics Office, after more than a decade of rapid growth, seizures of cannabis resin in Europe dropped by a fifth last year, to 831 tonnes.

The apparent trend is reinforced by British figures which show that the popularity of cannabis in the UK has plummeted, with 600,000 fewer people smoking or eating marijuana than three years ago.
The failure to address this relevant, yet contradictory fact is a hallmark of alarmist pseudo-scientific drug war reporting. Instead we get this:
Today record numbers of young people are in treatment programmes for skunk [high-grade marijuana] abuse and hospital admissions due to the drug are at their highest ever.
We know that rumors of more potent pot are both wildly exaggerated and largely irrelevant since users adjust their doses to achieve the desired effect regardless of potency. We also know that potency has increased notably (3-4 times, not 25) and that increased potency has much to do with prohibition, which creates a financial incentive for growers to maximize their risk/reward ratio since punishment is determined by weight rather than THC content.

So if it isn't the potency, then what's driving the spike in marijuana treatment in the UK? I think the answer is that reduced stigma and a new policy of not arresting casual users have resulted in more people seeking help. It makes vastly more sense than arguing that marijuana suddenly turned into crack laced with heroin the moment they decriminalized it.

I can't prove my theory anymore than addiction "experts" can prove that marijuana had almost no THC in the '60's. But it makes intuitive sense. Wouldn't you expect more people to seek treatment once the risk of arrest is removed?

After decriminalizing marijuana, the British are seeing lower usage rates and more people seeking treatment. Let's talk about that.

United States

The Independent on Sunday Reverses Itself on Decrim, Warns of Killer Skunk, Reefer Madness

A decade ago, the British newspaper the Independent on Sunday made headlines itself when it came out strongly for the decriminalization of marijuana. Now, sad to say, it appears that the venerable newspaper has succumbed to Reefer Madness. In a front page editorial and series of related articles yesterday, the Independent reversed course:
Yes, our front page today is calculated to grab your attention. We do not really believe that The Independent on Sunday was wrong at the time, 10 years ago, when we called for cannabis to be decriminalized. As Rosie Boycott, who was the editor who ran the campaign, argues, the drug that she sought to decriminalize then was rather different from that which is available on the streets now. Indeed, this newspaper's campaign was less avant-garde than it seemed. Only four years later, The Daily Telegraph went farther, calling for cannabis to be legalized for a trial period. We were leading a consensus, which even this Government - often guilty of gesture-authoritarianism - could not resist, downgrading cannabis from class B to class C. At the same time, however, two things were happening. One was the shift towards more powerful forms of the drug, known as skunk. The other was the emerging evidence of the psychological harm caused to a minority of users, especially teenage boys and particularly associated with skunk. We report today that the number of cannabis users on drug treatment programs has risen 13-fold since our campaign was launched, and that nearly half of the 22,000 currently on such programs are under the age of 18. Of course, part of the explanation for this increase is that the provision of treatment is better than it was 10 years ago. But there is no question, as Robin Murray, one of the leading experts in this field, argues on these pages, that cannabis use is associated with growing mental health problems.
Ouch. This is really a shame, and it's even more shameful because the Independent on Sunday appears to have fallen prey to propaganda that could have come straight from the mouth of the American drug czar. This is not your father's marijuana, the newspaper argues with a straight face, this is the KILLER SKUNK! As one of the related articles puts it, "skunk - a form of cannabis so powerful that experts are warning it can be 25 times more powerful than the cannabis used by previous generations." What!? As far as I know, the most high-powered strains of marijuana are capable of THC yields of around 25% to 30%, with what is commonly known as "kind bud" having a yield of 10% to 15%. (These figures may be a bit off, but not much). Marijuana with 1% THC is about the equivalent of ditch weed. For the Independent's claims to be accurate, all those people smoking pot in Swinging London in the 1960s must have been smoking ditch weed and deceived into thinking they were getting high, while everyone in London now must be smoking the most exclusive buds in the world. This "25 times" figure is just plain bogus, and I don’t understand how the Independent fell for it. We've already debunked the American drug czar's version of this. Now are we going to have to do remedial work across the pond? Besides, skunk is but one variety of high-potency weed. What about AK-47 and White Widow? Singling out skunk as the culprit seems to be to be based on ignorance more than anything. I am also struck by the increasingly shrill claims of links between marijuana and madness. These seem to be especially prevalent in the United Kingdom and Australia. (While the UK frets about skunk, the Australians have their own idiosyncratic and equally scientifically indefensible bogeyman: HYDROPONIC! As if the growing medium used to produce marijuana were the determinant of its nature.) I'm not prepared to debunk the Independent on these claims today, but I do wonder about at least two things: Why isn’t this stuff driving us crazy over here, or, at least, why isn’t John Walters raising holy hell about the link between marijuana and madness? And if marijuana use has increased dramatically in the UK in past decades and if potency has indeed increased (which I don't doubt), then where is the accompanying spike in reported schizophrenia cases? I think I'm going to have to do a feature article on this important and disappointing turn of events. I'll use that to look more closely at the claims about marijuana and mental illness. I am starting to get worried, though; I've been smoking that stuff for 35 years, and now madness could be right around the corner. Who knew?
United Kingdom

Feds plan to retry marijuana advocate

San Francisco, CA
United States
San Francisco Chronicle

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