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Wine Country Fires Hit Northern California Marijuana Industry Hard

The wildfires raging through Northern California's Wine Country these past weeks have killed at least 41 people, left dozens missing, and thousands burned out of their homes. They have also put a significant hurt on the region's namesake wine industry, and its up-and-coming country cousin, the weed business.

As of this week, more than 5,000 structures had gone up in flames, including whole neighborhoods in Santa Rosa, a city of 175,000 about an hour north of San Francisco. Tens of thousands of people endured mandatory evacuations as smoke turned skies grey as far south as San Jose.

Vineyards and wineries along the Silverado Trail in Napa County and the Highway 12 corridor between Santa Rosa and Sonoma in Sonoma County have been destroyed or damaged. Wine Country towns like Kenwood and Glen Ellen have been hard hit.

Major tourist hotels like the Hilton Sonoma Wine Country and the Fountaingrove Inn in Santa Rosa have burned. At least one Silverado Trail winery, Signorello Estates, appears to have been destroyed, while damage reports are pending on others. Similarly, Sonoma County wineries including Chateau St. Jean, Kenwood, Kunde and B.R. Cohn, were endangered Tuesday.

"It looks like a bombing run," winemaker Joe Nielsen told the San Francisco Chronicle as he viewed what was left of Donelan Family Wines. "Just chimneys and burnt out cars and cooked trees."

The Wine Country devastation will have an impact not only on tourism, but also on the price of some fine reds. While 75% of the region's grapes have already been picked, premium merlot and cabernet sauvignon crops are mostly still on the vines. The number of wineries burned or threatened could cause shortages of these prized grapes for years, since California produces about 85% of American wine, and Napa and Sonoma counties produce the bulk of its premium wines.

The same temperature Mediterranean climate that makes the area so suitable for grape growing makes it ideal for pot farming, too, and Sonoma County's estimated 3,000 to 9,000 marijuana growers have been hard-hit, as well. While damage reports for the wine industry will take a while, pot people are already reporting losses in the tens of millions of dollars.

The marijuana harvest begins a bit later than the grape harvest, and when the fires reared up, thousands and thousands of outdoor marijuana plants were still in the ground. Now, some of those fields are little more than ash, including in neighboring Mendocino County, where the Redwood Valley fire is burning up pot crops, too.

This is shaping up to be "the worst year on record for California's growers," California Growers' Association head Hezekiah Allen told SFGate last week, adding that at least two dozen members had lost their entire farms.

"This is going to leave a deep scar," he said. "I had one conversation today where the family was in tears, saying, 'We don't know how we're going to make it to January, let alone next planting season.'"

Sonoma County Growers Alliance chair Tawnie Logan reported significant losses among her membership.

"We have a lot of people who have lost their farms in the last 36 hours, and their homes," she said last week, citing a $2 million greenhouse crop that went up in smoke on the first night of the fires. "There's no way for them to recover the millions in anticipated revenue they just lost," she said. "It's gone. It's ashes."

The San Francisco dispensary SPARC reported that while it had suffered "some pretty substantial damage" at its farm in Glen Ellen, it was preparing Tuesday to try to salvage some of its crop. The Sonoma County Cannabis Company also was also hit hard -- and working frantically to avoid a total wipeout.

"There are no words right now to describe the loss, the heart break and the trauma that our beloved home and community is going through," the company posted to its Instagram account. "We are trying to save what we can."

While the losses could put a dent in the county's multi-hundred million dollar pot industry, consumers are unlikely to notice any impact. The state already grows so much marijuana that downward pressures are already keeping prices low, and even the losses incurred in this week's fires aren't going to shake the market.

But unlike the wine industry, marijuana growers are unlikely to be able to obtain insurance to replace lost crops and facilities. Those pot farmers who took losses are going to be feeling the pain for a good while.

North Americans Are Spending Nearly as Much on Weed as They Do on Wine

Move over, Napa Valley, there's a new kid on the block. When it comes to spending on mind-altering substances, Americans and Canadians are shelling out just about as much for marijuana as they do for wine.

The bud of the herb is catching up with the fruit of the vine. (Wikimedia/Creative Commons)
In its executive summary of a yet-to-be-released report, Arcview Marijuana Research pegs the size of the North American marijuana market -- legal and illegal -- at $53.3 billion, which puts it roughly even with the market in wine. According to Statista, US retail wines sales sit at $55.8 billion, and Canadian government figures put sales there at $3.2 billion.

Weed has not yet overtaken wine, but it's damned close. And this is happening in a marijuana market that is still mostly illegal. Yes, Canada will legalize marijuana, but it hasn't done so yet. And yes, more than half the states allow medical marijuana and eight of them have legalized it for adults, but illegal sales still account for 87% of the market, according to Arcview.

For Arcview CEO Troy Dayton, the huge illegal market is not a bane, but a boon.

"The enormous amount of existing, if illicit, consumer spending sets cannabis apart from most other major consumer-market investment opportunities throughout history," he explained. "In contrast to comparable markets with fast growth from zero to tens of billions in recent decades such as organic foods, home video, mobile, or the internet, the cannabis industry doesn’t need to create demand for a new product or innovation -- it just needs to move demand for an already widely-popular product into legal channels."

As the adult use markets in the newest legal US states (California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada) and Canada are established, Arcview predicts the illegal market's share of total sales to decline. The legal market should grow from $6.9 billion last year to $21.6 billion by 2021. But even then, Arcview says, the black market will still account for two-thirds of all sales.

That's because black market operators in states that have not legalized even medical marijuana, not to mention recreational weed, will continue to thrive on an "illegality premium" or "prohibition tax" built into black market prices with no competition from legal operators.

Conversely, state-legalized sales also include an illegality premium due to federal law, and businesses are unable to reap the efficiencies of scale that fully legal businesses are able to. The marijuana prices of tomorrow may be markedly lower than the marijuana prices of today, which could mean a smaller market eventually if measured by dollars spent, even if it is larger in terms of number of customers.

Stil the marijuana market is huge by any meausre, and it's not going away -- despite what happens in Washington, DC. That's something to ponder as you sip your Chablis.

In Legal Marijuana States, Consumers Are Turning to Buds Over Beer

A new industry study says access to legal marijuana is having a negative impact on beer sales. That's bad news for the brewing industry, but good news from a public health perspective.

According to the industry site Brewbound, the research firm Cowen & Company analyzed the beer industries in Colorado, Oregon, and Washington -- three states that have recreational pot shops -- and found that their beer markets have "collectively underperformed" in the past two years.

The "magnitude of the underperformance has increased notably" as beer volumes have dropped more than 2% year-to-date in the trio of pot states, with big mainstream brewers like MillerCoors and Anheuser-Busch InBev seeing the biggest declines, with volumes down 4.4%. Craft beers have done a little better, but are down, too, seeing a 2.2% drop.

"While [marijuana] retail sales opened up in these markets at different points of time, with all three of these states now having fully implemented a retail infrastructure, the underperformance of beer in these markets has worsened over the course of 2016," wrote Vivien Azer, Cowen and Company's managing director and senior research analyst.

That's not exactly a shock, Azer wrote, since government survey data has shown "consistent growth in cannabis incidence among 18-25 year olds" in those three states at the same time that age group has seen declines "in alcohol incidence (in terms of past month use)." The change is most evident in Denver, one of the centers of the legal pot culture, where beer volumes have dropped 6.4%.

Numbers like these, if they continue, should soothe the concerns of public health advocates and academics worried that legal marijuana could complement alcohol use instead of substitute for it. Would legal pot mean more drinking or less? If legal pot meant increased alcohol consumption, with all its dangers, that would be a bad thing from a public health perspective. But if legal pot leads to less alcohol consumption, such problems can be alleviated.

And this bad news for the brewing industry suggests it does. It's not the only evidence suggesting a substitution effect, either.

In a review in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, Montana State University economist D. Mark Anderson and University of Colorado economist Daniel Rees reported that "studies based on clearly defined natural experiments generally support the hypothesis that marijuana and alcohol are substitutes."

They pointed to one study that found a higher drinking age increases teen pot consumption and that pot smoking drops off sharply at 21, when alcohol becomes legal, "suggesting that young adults treat alcohol and marijuana as substitutes."

Maybe we need to start talking about the public health benefits of marijuana legalization.

Chronicle AM: MS Legalization Initiatives, SD Decrim Initiative, AZ MedMJ PTSD Restrictions, More (7/30/15)

All eyes are turning to 2016 when it comes to marijuana reform, PTSD gets second-class status under Arizona's medical marijuana law, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Now There Are Two Mississippi Legalization Initiatives. Mississippians will have two chances to support marijuana legalization this year and next. Initiative 48 was filed earlier this year by Kelly Jacobs of Hernando, and now, Initiative 52, the Mississippi Cannabis Freedom Act, has been filed as well. The proposed ballot summary for that initiative reads as follows: "Initiative Measure No. 52 would amend the Mississippi Constitution to include the Mississippi Cannabis Freedom Act ('the Act'). The Act legalizes cannabis for persons eighteen years of age and older, legalizes cannabis for medical purposes, authorizes the collection of taxes on cannabis, and includes various other definitions and mechanisms for implementation of the Act. For purposes of this measure, 'cannabis' means hemp, weed, herd, marijuana, grass, wax, concentrate extract, and hashish." Each initiative will need 107,000 valid voter signatures by October 2 to qualify for the November 2016 ballot.

South Dakota Decriminalization Initiative Campaign Officially Kicks Off. South Dakotans Against Prohibition officially began its campaign to put a decriminalization initiative on the November 2016 ballot at a confab in Sioux Falls Wednesday night. Signature-gathering actually began several weeks ago, but this event signals the beginning of the big signature push. Proponents have until November 9 to collect 14,000 valid voter signatures.

Vermont Marijuana Legalization Bill Coming Next Year. At a meeting earlier this week in Brattleboro, state Sen. Jeannette White (D-Putney) vowed to write and file a legalization bill next year. The promise came at a meeting called by the Vermont Cannabis Collaborative and Vermont Home Grown, advocates for legalization and the pot industry.

Wyoming Panel Begins Studying Legalization Issues. The state's Marijuana Impact Assessment Council, which is to study how legalization might affect the state, held its first meeting Wednesday. The council, appointed by anti-legalization Gov. Matt Mead (R) includes one Mead advisor and no marijuana reform advocates.

Medical Marijuana

Arizona Judge Blocks Effort to Remove Limits on Medical Marijuana for PTSD. In a ruling Wednesday, a Maricopa County Superior Court judge rejected efforts by patient advocates to overturn a decision by then state health chief Will Humble that medical marijuana could be used for PTSD, but only for palliative care. Judge Crane McClennen said there was "substantial evidence" to support Humble's restrictions.

International

Drug Abuse Up Threefold in Indian State After Bars Are Closed. The state of Kerala has shut down all but a handful of bars serving alcohol, but the results weren't exactly what the state government expected. "After the bars were closed, the use of drugs has gone up by three times in the state," Home Minister Ramesh Chennithala told the state Assembly. He said there had been an increase in young people using drugs and psychotropic substances, some 228 of which are available at local "medical stores."

ProCon.org: Minimum Legal Drinking Ages in 138 Countries

Did you know that the minimum legal drinking age by country varies between 16 and 21 -- with some countries having no minimum drinking age, and some prohibiting alcohol?

Read about state felon voting laws, on DrinkingAge.ProCon.org, part of the ProCon.org family.

This is the fourth installment in a Drug War Chronicle "Did You Know" series of important facts from ProCon.org. Follow the Chronicle the next two weeks to read the rest, or sign up for ProCon.org's email list or RSS feed. Read last week's installment here.

ProCon.org is a web site promoting critical thinking, education, and informed citizenship by presenting controversial issues in a straightforward, nonpartisan primarily pro-con format.

Chronicle Interview: Drug Policy Researcher Beau Kilmer [FEATURE]

Beau Kilmer is a senior policy researcher at the RAND Corporation, where he codirects the RAND Drug Policy Research Center. His research lies at the intersection of public health and public safety, with a special emphasis on substance use, illicit markets, crime, and public policy. Some of his current projects include estimating the size of illegal drug markets, assessing the consequences of alternative marijuana policies, measuring the effect of South Dakota's 24/7 Sobriety Program on drunk driving and domestic violence outcomes, and evaluating other innovative programs intended to reduce violence. Kilmer's research has appeared in leading journals such as Addiction, American Journal of Public Health, Journal of Quantitative Criminology, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and his essays have been published by the BBC, CNN, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today. His book on marijuana legalization, "Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know" (co-authored with Jonathan Caulkins, Angela Hawken, and Mark Kleiman) was published by Oxford University Press in 2012. Before earning his doctorate at Harvard University, Kilmer received a Judicial Administration Fellowship that supported his work with the San Francisco Drug Court.

Beau Kilmer (rand.org)
The Chronicle interview took place by phone Wednesday morning.

Drug War Chronicle: What are we learning from marijuana legalization so far in Colorado and Washington, especially about prices, tax rates, and regulatory structures?

Beau Kilmer: With respect to prices, I think it's too soon to make a serious judgment. I would expect them to fall eventually as the number of producers increases and there is more competition. Regarding taxes, there is clearly tax revenue coming in, but not as much as expected, partly because medical marijuana markets don't face the same taxes. These markets are in transition, and there are data lags. It's too early to do cost-benefit analyses, and when the data does start coming in, what happens a year or two from now, good or bad, could be completely different from what happens in five or 10 years.

There are two other things we need to consider in doing a cost-benefit analysis. First, when you hear that factor X or Y has decreased or increased, it's important to ask: Compared to what? People will say that this changed in Colorado, but how did it change or not in other states? This is often outside the capacity of news organizations, but when you hear people making these claims, you need to be asking questions. What about neighboring states? If media organizations did that, it could actually improve the quality of the discussion we're having.

The second thing is, don't forget about alcohol. If people are more likely to use alcohol and marijuana together, you have to worry about driving under the influence. Marijuana impairs you somewhat, alcohol impairs you more, and the interaction between marijuana and alcohol can increase the probability of impairment. On the other hand, if they are economic substitutes, if some heavy alcohol users are moving away from consuming it and consuming more marijuana, that could potentially be a net win for society. There are social costs associated with heavy marijuana use, but the social costs associated with alcohol are much greater -- fatal overdoses, chronic disease, violence. We really need to pay close attention to how legalization influences not only marijuana consumption, but also alcohol consumption. We will be watching this, not only in Colorado and Washington, but also in Uruguay.

Chronicle: How worried do we have to be about marijuana dependence, anyway? Is it any worse for the individual or society than, say, dependence on coffee?

Kilmer: Some people do run into problems. It affects their relationships, their employment, their daily behaviors, and can impose costs on them and some of their intimates. Some of those people may benefit from substance abuse treatment. On the other hand, some users get arrested and diverted into treatment when they don't really need it. Many experts agree that it poses less addictive risk than other drugs, not only in the likelihood of addiction, but also the degree. Having a cannabis use disorder is different from having a heroin use disorder.

When it comes to costs to society, a lot of it comes down to different intangibles. It's hard to quantify consequences, say, in terms of relationships with family members. We reviewed studies that look at marijuana compared to other substances, and when it comes to addiction risk, marijuana seems to be at the bottom of the list. It's not that it's not without costs, but in terms of harms associated with it, there seems to be much more harm associated with cocaine, heroin, or alcohol use disorders.

Chronicle: There are several different legalization models out there -- state monopoly stores vs. private stores, for example. Do you have a favorite model?

Kilmer: I completely understand why some jurisdictions would try something other than marijuana prohibition. There's a lot I don't like about it, especially the collateral consequences, but I'm not sure what the best alternative regime is. What's best for one jurisdiction may not be best for another. It's not clear that one size fits all. My opinion is that I will pay close attention to what happens in Colorado and Washington and Uruguay and some of these other places and use that information to update my opinions about marijuana policy. I hope other people do the same.

It's important to keep in mind that there is a lot of policy space in between prohibition and what we see in Colorado and Washington. There are a lot of options out there. You could just allow home cultivation, or you could do something like production co-ops or collectives. It will be really interesting to watch Uruguay, which has three routes: grow your own, join a co-op, or go to the pharmacy.

From a public health perspective, a state monopoly makes a lot of sense. It makes it easier to control prices and advertising. There is a lot of research that has looked at the state monopoly model for alcohol, and it tended to be better for public health. This model doesn't get a lot of attention in the United States, but there are other jurisdictions that may want to think about it.

The other potential advantage of starting with a state monopoly, is that it gives you more options. If a jurisdiction later decides it wants to allow commercial business, you can transition to a commercial model. But once you go from prohibition to a commercial model with for-profit firms and lobbyists, it gets a lot harder to put that genie back in the bottle. It gets entrenched. That's something to keep in mind.

The commercialization aspect is something we need to pay close attention to. In Uruguay, there is no advertising. The folks in Colorado and Washington are working hard to develop reasonable restrictions on advertising, but with the First Amendment here, we can't ban it.

Sunset laws may be advisable. There is a lot of uncertainty, and we don't know what the best model might be. You could start with a co-op model, try that for five or 10 years, then make a decision about whether to continue or go in a different direction. There are a lot of options, and we don't necessarily have to treat policy changes as permanent.

Another thing jurisdictions will want to think about it designing in some flexibility, especially with respect to taxes. No one knows the best way, and there are a number of different models. Colorado and Washington tax as a function of weight, but you could tax as a function of amount of THC, for instance. The takeaway is that we want to make sure that as we get information, we can incorporate that information in our decision-making about how to tax.

Chronicle: What about eliminating black markets?

Kilmer: You have to think about this over time. No one thinks we're going to eliminate the black market overnight. In both Colorado and Washington, it's been a slow roll-out of the stores, especially in Washington, so you have to look at this over the long run. Also in the long run, prices will fall, and as prices fall, ad valorem taxes based on price will fall, too. That's something else to think about.

Another issue to consider is that we have to remember that depending on where you are in the country, people under 21 will account for 20%-25% of consumption. It will be interesting to see what happens when they catch them, what penalties are imposed on the users and those that supply them. Will it be like the alcohol model or more severe? These are the kinds of issues that can be addressed in new initiatives or legislation.

Chronicle: Where and how does medical marijuana fit into all this?

Kilmer: Good question. It's going to be very interesting to see how this plays out with regard to medical marijuana. In both Colorado and Washington, there were very robust medical markets before legalization. In other jurisdictions, as they write initiatives or bills, will they try to build that in? I don't know what's going to happen.

Chronicle: Where is this all heading? We could have 10 legal states after 2016. Then what?

Kilmer: I guess we'll see how far we get.

Chronicle AM -- December 2, 2013

The Denver city council votes today on where you can smoke pot, a Tennessee bill equates meth-making with child abuse, there's dissent on drug policy at the UN, India fights a drug menace, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Denver City Council to Vote Today to Ban Marijuana Smoking on Private Property if Visible to the Public. The Denver city council is expected to give final approval today to an ordinance that would ban marijuana smoking on one's own property if it is visible to the public. The measure won an initial 5-7 vote last week. The measure is opposed by the ACLU of Colorado, Sensible Colorado, and even the Denver Post, which editorialized against it today.

Medical Marijuana

Medical Marijuana Returning to Iowa Legislature; Event in Des Moines Tonight. State Sen. Joe Bolckom (D-Iowa City), who has introduced medical marijuana bills in four previous sessions, will try again next year. He said he will introduce legislation modeled on the New Mexico program. Bolckom and Dr. Steven Jenison, who helped create the New Mexico bill, will be speaking about the New Mexico program at the Des Moines Public Library at 6:00pm tonight.

Methamphetamine

Under Proposed Tennessee Bill, Meth Making = Child Abuse. A bill filed last week, Senate Bill 1438, would allow meth-making parents to be charged with child abuse or neglect, even if the child has not suffered any child abuse or neglect. Current state law allows such charges to filed against meth-making parents if there is physical injury as a result of exposure to meth, but that's not good enough for state Sen. Doug Overbey and state Rep. Dale Carr, the bill's sponsors.

Prescription Drugs

Rhode Island Task Force to Study Electronic Prescription Monitoring. A legislatively-mandated commission meets for the first time today to consider whether the state should track certain medications in a bid to prevent prescription drug abuse. The commission is led by Rep. William O'Brien (D-North Providence), and includes state health officials, physicians, and a community health expert -- but apparently no pain patients. About half the states have moved to enact some form of electronic prescription monitoring in recent years.

International

Leaked Document Reveals Splits Ahead of UN Drug Session. A draft of a UN document setting out the organization's long-term strategy for fighting drugs has been leaked to British media and reveals an accelerating erosion of the decades-long, but increasingly shaky, drug prohibition consensus. In the leaked draft, both Latin American and European nations demanded that the UN's drug policy open itself up to new directions. This is all run-up to the 2016 UN General Assembly Special Session on drugs.

Another Dark Web Drug Marketplace Shuts Down. The Black Market Reloaded web site, which offered illicit drugs and other items for sale, has closed, a victim of its own success. The site operator said it had grown too big to be able to guarantee anonymity for its customers. The move comes after a competitor, Silk Road, was shut down by US officials, and another competitor, Sheep Marketplace, closed claiming someone had stolen more than $2 million worth of bit coins, a virtual currency. Silk Road 2.0 is reportedly up and running, however.

In Wake of Mass Bootleg Alcohol Deaths, Indian State Wants More Alcohol Prohibition. Responding to a 2009 mass bootleg alcohol ("hooch") poisoning that left at least 156 people dead, the Gujarat high court Sunday called for tougher enforcement of alcohol prohibition. While the high court appreciated the state government's move to impose the death penalty for "hooch tragedies," it also called for stricter enforcement of prohibition to fight "the menace of illegal transportation, manufacturing and possession of liquor."

Jamaica's First Medical Marijuana Company Set to Open. Jamaican scientist Dr. Henry Lowe is expected to open the island nation's first medical marijuana company this week. Lowe said he plans to develop marijuana extracts to treat psychosis and severe pain, and, possibly, "mid-life crisis in men."

Iranians in 550 Armed Clashes with Drug Smugglers in Past Three Months. Iranian officials said Monday that there had been more than 550 armed clashes with drug traffickers in the past three months. Iran borders Afghanistan, the world's largest opium producer by far, and is both a transit country and a final destination for tons of Afghan opium each year. It has destroyed more than 60 tons of illicit drugs a year in recent years. It also hangs hundreds of drug traffickers each year.

Chronicle AM -- November 29, 2013

Uruguay's marijuana legalization bill passes another hurdle, a Berlin borough wants cannabis cafes, Chicago proposes tough medical marijuana regulations, Kentucky officials hound the DEA about hemp, and more. Let's get to it:

Is this the face of marijuana legalization? Uruguayan President Jose Mujica (wikimedia.org)
Medical Marijuana

Chicago Proposes Strict Medical Marijuana Regulations. Chicago officials have proposed regulations that would allow medical marijuana dispensaries and grows only in manufacturing districts, would limit the number of grows to 22, and would require that dispensaries and grows be at least 2,500 feet from a school, day care center, or residential area. Medical marijuana becomes legal in Illinois on January 1.

Michigan Appeals Court to Hear Cases on Unemployment Benefits. The Michigan Appeals Court has agreed to hear two cases to determine whether someone fired for using medical marijuana can collect unemployment benefits. Lower court judges have overturned state agency rulings denying the benefits, but medical marijuana foe Attorney General Bill Schuette argues that the law only protects people from criminal prosecutions, not civil penalties.

Hemp

Kentucky Officials Send Letter to DEA Requesting Clarification on Hemp. Kentucky officials have sent a letter to the DEA asking for clarification of its position on industrial hemp. Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, US Sen. Rand Paul (R), and US Reps. John Yarmouth and Thomas Massie want the agency to tell them whether growing hemp in states that have enacted a regulatory framework remains illegal. They point to the federal government's response to marijuana legalization and argue that hemp should be treated the same way.

Drug Testing

Idaho Supreme Court Upholds Drug Possession Conviction Based Solely on Drug Test. Idaho's high court Tuesday upheld the conviction of a woman charged with drug possession after blood from her newborn child's umbilical cord tested positive for methadone. The court held unanimously that the drug test result was probable cause to support a possession conviction.

International

Uruguay Marijuana Legalization Bill Wins Senate Committee Vote. Uruguay is one step closer to becoming the first country to legalize the marijuana trade after the Senate Health Commission voted Thursday to approve the bill. The government-supported legislation has already passed the lower house and is expected to win final approval in the Senate next month.

Cannabis Cafes Coming to Berlin? Legislators in the hip Berlin borough of Friedrichschain-Kruezberg voted Thursday to approve cannabis coffee shops there. The move is the brainchild of Green Party Mayor Monika Hermann, who proposed it in September. Now, the borough must get the German federal government to agree. Under Article 3 of the German Narcotics Act, sufficient public interest could lead to law changes, provided there is public support and backing scientific evidence.

European Cancer Docs Say Restrictive Laws Aimed at Drug Abuse Block Millions from Pain Relief. The European Society for Medical Oncology warned that half the world's population lacks effective access to pain relievers because of restrictive laws aimed at reducing drug abuse. The group's Global Opioid Policy Initiative survey estimated that millions of cancer patients don't have access to seven cheap medicines essential for pain relief, including morphine and codeine. Access to such drugs "is catastrophically difficult" in many countries, the report's lead author said.

British Tories, Lib Dems At Odds Over Drug Policy. Britain's governing coalition is at odds with itself over drug policy after the new Liberal Democrat drugs minister, Norman Baker, said earlier this week that marijuana legalization "should be considered." That caused Conservative front-bencher and Justice Minister Chris Grayling to clarify that he and the Home Office "won't be considering it."

Northern Nigeria Alcohol Crackdown Sees 240,000 Bottles of Beer Destroyed. In attempt to deepen a sharia law ban on alcohol imposed in 2001, but largely ignored in hotels and the city's Christian quarter, Islamic police in the northern city of Kano destroyed 240,000 bottles of beer. They chanted "God is great" as they did so, and the head of the religious police warned that they will put an end to alcohol consumption. Multiple bombings of bars in the Christian quarter in late July carried out by suspected Islamic militants who complained the government wasn't enforcing sharia law adequately left 29 dead.

Peru Eradicates Record Amount of Coca. Peru, once again the world's largest coca and cocaine producer, announced Thursday that it had eradicated a record 55,000 acres of coca, about one-fifth of the total estimated 250,000-acre crop. That's a 60% increase in eradication over last year. The government said the increase was due to tougher anti-drug efforts and a weakening of the Shining Path in coca growing areas.

Israel Medical Marijuana Use up 30% This Year. Medical marijuana use is up sharply this year in Israel, according to the Health Ministry, which released figures showing 13,000 patients were approved to us it this year, up from 10,000 last year. The increase comes as the government is working on a new proposal to regulate medical marijuana. The Health, Agriculture, and Public Security ministries are expected to present it within the next couple of weeks.

California Study Suggests Marijuana a Substitute for Alcohol

A New York Times article this week, Few Problems With Cannabis for California, reports that a pending study in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management by Mark Anderson and Daniel Reese has found increased marijuana use to be a substitute for alcohol use in California:

Based on existing empirical evidence, we expect that the legalization of recreational marijuana in Colorado and Washington will lead to increased marijuana consumption coupled with decreased alcohol consumption. As a consequence, these states will experience a reduction in the social harms resulting from alcohol use.
 

The article discusses alcohol's relationship to traffic fatalities and violent crime, including domestic abuse, predicting that marijuana legalization will reduce those problems, with youth use of marijuana remaining stable.

The substitution question has been raised repeatedly at academic fora on marijuana legalization since the Colorado and Washington initiatives passed last year. In our movement we have tended to assume that they are substitutes, but not all academics are sure. At a one-day conference held by the RAND Drug Policy Research Center, at their Washington office, one of the guest presenters said the evidence they've seen "clearly" indicates that marijuana is a complement for alcohol use, e.g. increased availability of marijuana could have the effect of increasing alcohol use and is at least correlated with it. Another one of the guest presenters immediate chimed in to say that the evidence his team has seen "clearly" indicates that marijuana and alcohol are substitutes.

DPRC co-director Beau Kilmer often notes that a change in the amount of alcohol use, up or down, could dwarf any increase in marijuana use in terms of its public health ramifications, because alcohol is more harmful than marijuana. But he's cited evidence pointing in both directions, sometimes in different directions for different groups of people. Hopefully the JPAM study's findings will be born out by further research.

"Should the Drinking Age Be Lowered from 21 to a Younger Age?," on ProCon.org

Did you know the drinking age is an example of continuing societal debate over how best to regulate legal drugs? Read what different thinkers have to say, at "drinkingage.procon.org," part of the ProCon.org family.

This is the fifth in a six-part series of ProCon.org teasers being published in Drug War Chronicle. Keep tuning in to the Chronicle for more important facts from ProCon.org the next several weeks, or sign up for ProCon.org's email list or RSS feed. Read last week's Chronicle ProCon.org highlight piece here.

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Drug War Issues

Criminal JusticeAsset Forfeiture, Collateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Court Rulings, Drug Courts, Due Process, Felony Disenfranchisement, Incarceration, Policing (2011 Drug War Killings, 2012 Drug War Killings, 2013 Drug War Killings, 2014 Drug War Killings, 2015 Drug War Killings, 2016 Drug War Killings, 2017 Drug War Killings, Arrests, Eradication, Informants, Interdiction, Lowest Priority Policies, Police Corruption, Police Raids, Profiling, Search and Seizure, SWAT/Paramilitarization, Task Forces, Undercover Work), Probation or Parole, Prosecution, Reentry/Rehabilitation, Sentencing (Alternatives to Incarceration, Clemency and Pardon, Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity, Death Penalty, Decriminalization, Defelonization, Drug Free Zones, Mandatory Minimums, Rockefeller Drug Laws, Sentencing Guidelines)CultureArt, Celebrities, Counter-Culture, Music, Poetry/Literature, Television, TheaterDrug UseParaphernalia, ViolenceIntersecting IssuesCollateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Violence, Border, Budgets/Taxes/Economics, Business, Civil Rights, Driving, Economics, Education (College Aid), Employment, Environment, Families, Free Speech, Gun Policy, Human Rights, Immigration, Militarization, Money Laundering, Pregnancy, Privacy (Search and Seizure, Drug Testing), Race, Religion, Science, Sports, Women's IssuesMarijuana PolicyGateway Theory, Hemp, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Marijuana Industry, Medical MarijuanaMedicineMedical Marijuana, Science of Drugs, Under-treatment of PainPublic HealthAddiction, Addiction Treatment (Science of Drugs), Drug Education, Drug Prevention, Drug-Related AIDS/HIV or Hepatitis C, Harm Reduction (Methadone & Other Opiate Maintenance, Needle Exchange, Overdose Prevention, Pill Testing, Safe Injection Sites)Source and Transit CountriesAndean Drug War, Coca, Hashish, Mexican Drug War, Opium ProductionSpecific DrugsAlcohol, Ayahuasca, Cocaine (Crack Cocaine), Ecstasy, Heroin, Ibogaine, ketamine, Khat, Kratom, Marijuana (Gateway Theory, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Medical Marijuana, Hashish), Methamphetamine, New Synthetic Drugs (Synthetic Cannabinoids, Synthetic Stimulants), Nicotine, Prescription Opiates (Fentanyl, Oxycontin), Psilocybin / Magic Mushrooms, Psychedelics (LSD, Mescaline, Peyote, Salvia Divinorum)YouthGrade School, Post-Secondary School, Raves, Secondary School