Embassy Headlines, Issue 111

Moral judgement has proven to be a very effective weapon in suppressing activists and alienating the millions of Australians who choose to consume their substance of choice illegally. Distinguishing between what is morally right or wrong in the issue of Cannabis use requires observing the facts.

Blind faith in the erroneous ‘Reefer Madness’ propaganda campaign displays a distinct lack of understanding of the damage to the health and welfare of our society that prohibition is continuing to cause. There are ‘before the fact’ moral judgements, and there are ‘after the fact’ moral judgements. 

The Embassy Headlines are a selection of recent articles from news services and media sources primarily concerning Cannabis issues, the consequences of prohibition and the challenges for law reform. Here are the selected headlines for this week.


Hemp as Food [Food Standards Australia]

At present, hemp cannot be used in food in Australia and New Zealand as it is prohibited in the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code. A review is now due to be completed on 5 December 2014 for consideration in late January 2015. Let’s make the most of the extended deadline. How to make a submission. Application number: A1039 (Low THC Hemp as a Food) 

Medicinal cannabis trial gets green light on Norfolk Island: Tasman Health Cannabinoids gets production licence [ABC]

The Tasmanian company that applied to trial medicinal cannabis in the state has been given the go-ahead elsewhere. Like Tasmania, Norfolk Island has an historic past that struggles financially and depends on assistance from the Commonwealth. But as the island’s Health Minister Robin Adams explained, it was keen to pull itself out of that mire. “We are open for investment, we are open for business on Norfolk Island,” she said. Norfolk Island is an external territory of Australia – it is not part of Australia’s taxation or welfare system. Dependent on tourism, it was hit hard by the global financial crisis. Ms Adams said the island saw visitor numbers halve from around 40,000 a year to 20,000. “We see this as a great opportunity both for the economy of Norfolk Island whilst providing a much needed medical product for export,” she said. The island’s government has given Tasman Health Cannabinoids (THC) approval to grow medical cannabis.

Medicinal cannabis: delaying the inevitable? [Canberra Times]

Australians with distressing symptoms from serious conditions are still unable to legally try to alleviate their symptoms with medicinal cannabis. The conventional medicines for these conditions often work but they are sometimes ineffective or produce unacceptable side effects. A large recent Reachtel poll showed that 66 per cent of Australians support and 14 per cent oppose medicinal cannabis. There are majorities of supporters of medicinal cannabis among voters for the major political parties (Liberal/National, ALP, Greens, PUP), men, women and the four major age groups. The ban on using medicinal cannabis does not have ‘the consent of the governed’ and hasn’t for a long time. Hence the civil disobedience supply of medicinal cannabis in many parts of the country. The main problem with medicinal cannabis is that this is a medical issue being decided by politicians. It’s time to take the politics out of the issue. Experts regulate medicines like penicillin, not politicians. Experts, not politicians, should also be deciding whether and how cannabis is regulated as a medicine.

Mum fights to have medicinal marijuana legalised to save son [Courier Mail]

Jai’s mum Michelle Whitelaw, a mum-of-five, said Mr Dutton’s refusal to acknowledge or allow studies and trials of medicinal cannabis was putting Jai’s — and thousands of other lives — at risk. The Eatons Hill State School Year 4 pupil, who has autism and was first diagnosed with LKS epilepsy in 2010, has tried 25 medicines and treatments to stop his seizures. None have worked. Mrs Whitelaw said she wanted the option to try Mullaways Cannabinoid Tincture — which includes an ultra-low dose of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana — to give her youngest son the life he deserves. Mrs Whitelaw — who is aware of six families in Brisbane using the cannabis oil, all with great success — said she wanted the debate and the buck-passing surrounding the issue to stop and for someone to take action. “(The tincture) gives us hope … the 150 families in Australia using it cannot be wrong, 23 states in America, and other countries including the UK, Canada and Israel (where medicinal cannabis is legal) cannot be wrong. What is holding Australia back?”

Families thrown into medical marijuana wrangle [The Age]

A knock at the door of a home in Melbourne’s outer suburbs last month threw three parents, all with children who suffer debilitating epilepsy, into the centre of a political debate about legalising medicinal marijuana in Australia. The man standing at their front door was Epping Sexual Offences and Child Abuse Detective Sergeant Brett Meadows, who had been tasked with investigating the couple after a report about Cooper’s welfare was made to police. But Detective Sergeant Meadows knew better than most what the couple were facing.  His eldest daughter has undergone three brain surgeries to stop life-threatening seizures and if they hadn’t worked, his wife says they don’t know what they would have turned to.

Green Rush: The push to legalise medical marijuana for Aussie children [60 Minutes]

Marijuana as medicine – especially for children – is something most people have a very firm view about. That is, they’re against it! But this story will likely change your mind; it certainly changed Michael Usher’s. In parts of America, prescription pot is legal and, many believe, saving lives. Politicians, doctors and patients are also shifting their thinking and there’s now a green rush to legalise cannabis for medicine nationwide. Here, it is a crime, forcing Australian families to break the law to help their children. But they don’t have to do that in the Rocky Mountain state of Colorado where Michael has been to investigate how the medical marijuana business works in practice – and to meet the little girl who’s helped change the laws across America.

Medical marijuana grower Marc Selan escapes conviction [The Age]

An unemployed dental technician who grew marijuana in his backyard to treat a debilitating disease has avoided a conviction after a magistrate  decided to take a “compassionate” approach. Marc Selan, 41, contracted ulcerative colitis – a disease that causes inflammation in the large intestine – in 2011 and turned his recreational use of marijuana into a therapeutic solution when he had an adverse reaction to traditional medications. A Melbourne court heard on Thursday that Mr Selan’s doctor unsuccessfully applied under the Therapeutic Goods Administration for an exemption to use marijuana for medical purposes. Defence lawyer Avi Furstenberg produced in Melbourne Magistrates Court a letter from the doctor that confirmed his client “could not take standard medical treatments” for the disease. Mr Furstenberg also read excerpts from a 2013 NSW standing committee, which considered that “medical cannabis has potential as an effective treatment for some medical conditions”. 

Black market medicinal cannabis in short supply [EchoNet]

The demand for black market medicinal marijuana has become so intense the Nimbin Hemp Embassy is urging people to ‘do it yourself’. Embassy volunteers say they are fielding calls from across Australia on a daily basis from people desperate to get hold of either tinctures or oils to treat conditions ranging from cancer to epilepsy. With medical cannabis advocate Tony Bower due to face court again this month, any remaining supplies of tincture are being reserved for the people, many of them children, that he has been supplying for free. The Embassy has been selling ‘how to’ books for $2, with the proceeds going to Mr Bower’s legal defence.

Anger at police using dogs to target students [EchoNet]

The use of police sniffer dogs to target high school students in Byron and Tweed shires last week prompted an angry response from local politicians and parents. Up to four dogs and their handlers took part in the operation, which also targeted the general public. Tweed/Byron local area command inspector Greg Jago confirmed that a small number of cannabis detections were made outside the schools. ‘The number was under five, and depending on their previous interactions with police they could be dealt with under the young offenders’ act, with a cannabis caution or with a court attendance notice,’ Insp Jago said. North coast Greens MP and ex-Byron mayor Jan Barham described it as wasteful, ineffective and intrusive. ‘We would benefit from a police youth liaison officer rather than sniffer dogs’, she said. NSW Council for Civil Liberties spokesperson Stephen Blanks also slammed the use of dogs to target school children as ‘entirely inappropriate’. Mr Blanks said the effectiveness of sniffer dogs was questionable. Greens MP David Shoebridge, who toldEchonetdaily he is seeking a freedom of information request on the standard sniffer dog operation procedures. ‘The presence of sniffer dogs doesn’t prevent drug taking, it changes behaviour,’ he said. ‘It also damages relations between police and young people. ‘When we ask police how many prosecutions come from these exercises, we are told they “don’t keep statistics.”’

EDITORIAL: Illegal drugs and driving [Newcastle Herald]

When the bus began its work of testing drivers last week it became clear that impairment wasn’t necessarily being measured. Police may have selected particular drivers based on factors such as the manner of their driving, their age and appearance or their location at given times. In fact, police have acknowledged that the selection wasn’t random, and the relatively high monetary cost of the tests might be a factor in that. But that aside, the drug tests are notable in that – unlike tests for alcohol – they have no lower threshold. Given that some illegal drugs are detected at low levels for days and weeks after being used, many drivers were obliged to endure the embarrassment of being ordered off the road for 24 hours following a positive test, despite exhibiting no sign of impairment.

Feds test how stoned is too stoned to drive [USA Today]

A small group of volunteers spent much of the last year getting drunk and stoned on marijuana furnished by the US federal government before getting behind the wheel. The volunteers were part of what federal scientists say was the most comprehensive study ever conducted on how marijuana, and pot combined with alcohol, affect drivers. The data now being analyzed ultimately will help regulators decide how stoned is too stoned to drive. It’s similar to the studies conducted to develop levels for drunken driving. Volunteers were recruited from around Iowa City, home to the University of Iowa’s National Advanced Driving Simulator.

The White House Tries, Fails to Explain Why Marijuana Should Remain Illegal [New York Times]

No sooner had the Times published its opening editorials advocating legalization of marijuana than the White House fired back with an unconvincing response on its website. It argued that marijuana should remain illegal because of public health problems “associated” (always a slippery word) with increased marijuana use. Careful readers will immediately see the White House statement for what it is: A pro forma response to a perceived public relations crisis, not a full-fledged review of all the scientific evidence, pro and con. The White House is actually required by law to oppose all efforts to legalize a banned drug. Besides, it is hypocritical for the White House, whose chefs brew beer for the president, to oppose legalizing marijuana, which poses far less risk to consumers and society than does alcohol. Two recipes for the White House brew are posted on its website under the headline “Ale to the Chief.”

As the marijuana economy takes off, let’s not forget the casualties of the US war on drugs[Guardian]

Throughout America’s history, official and unofficial systems of racial oppression have arisen, been challenged, and then gone underground, shape-shifting themselves to return another day. In the modern era, as lawyer Michelle Alexander has argued in her bookThe New Jim Crow, the drug war stepped in to become the latest system. In 1971, as the gains of the civil rights movement for black Americans and other minorities might have seemed to usher America into a post-racial age, the drug war renewed the nation’s commitment, however subtly, to the obstruction of black progress. Today as the marijuana economies in Colorado and Washington begin to take flight, Alexander noted the inescapable undertow of race that continues to haunt this moment of apparent progress at play: “Forty years of impoverished black kids getting prison time for selling weed, and their families and futures destroyed … Now, white men are planning to get rich doing precisely the same thing.”

One Seattle police officer wrote 80% of the marijuana tickets issued [LA Times]

Yes, you can buy pot. You can smoke pot. You can possess pot here in the Evergreen State. You just can’t do those things in public, smelling up parks and annoying pedestrians. If you’re caught, the police will write you a ticket. Especially if you’re black. Or homeless. And have the bad judgment to light up in the downtown core. And the bad luck to come upon one police officer in particular. City Hall has been in a state of uproar since the first set of arrest statistics was released after the legalization of marijuana. From Jan. 1 to June 30, officers wrote 82 tickets to people consuming marijuana in public, according to the Seattle Police Department report, which was published last week. The first analysis showed that 37% of all tickets were issued to African Americans, an ethnic group that makes up only 8% of Seattle’s population. Nearly 50% went to men and women who listed homeless shelters, transitional housing and even a vacant lot as their address. Needless to say, elected officials in this progressive outpost were appalled by the racial and socioeconomic disparity. And then Chief Kathleen O’Toole, Seattle’s new top cop, weighed in with even more alarming information. “When reviewing data captured for this report, SPD staff discovered that … approximately 80% of marijuana tickets were issued by one officer,” O’Toole wrote on the department’s website Wednesday evening, saying  that the officer’s actions have been reported to the Office of Professional Accountability and are under investigation.

Brookings Institute Report Shows Colorado Successfully Regulating Marijuana [MPP Blog]

Colorado is successfully regulating marijuana, according to a report released Thursday by the Brookings Institution’s Center for Effective Public Management. The report, authored by John Hudak, a Brookings fellow in Governance Studies, determined that “the state has met challenging statutory and constitutional deadlines for the construction and launch of a legal, regulatory, and tax apparatus for its new policy. In doing so, it has made intelligent decisions about regulatory needs, the structure of distribution, prevention of illegal diversion, and other vital aspects of its new market. It has made those decisions in concert with a wide variety of stakeholders in the state.”

Coalition runs full-page New York Times ad to dispute pro-marijuana editorial [Washington Post]

A coalition of groups is running a full-page advertisement in the New York Times this weekend, advocating against the maturing movement to legalize marijuana. The ad comes in response to a New York Times editorial series launched last weekend arguing for an end to marijuana prohibition. In it, the newspaper’s editorial board advocated for an end to the federal ban on the drug. The ad, pictured below, features a businessman with the pasted-on head of a hippie, a visual metaphor for what the groups warn is the disconnected perception and reality when it comes to legalization. “The legalization of marijuana means ushering in an entirely new group of corporations whose primary source of revenue is a highly habit-forming product,” the ad reads. “Sounds a lot like another industry we just put in its place. Many facts are being ignored by this and other news organizations. Go to GrasslsNotGreener.com to see why so many major medical associations oppose marijuana legalization.”

Full-Page Marijuana Ad to Appear in New York Times [AdWeek]

Leafly, a website and mobile app that locates and reviews medical marijuana dispensaries, has bought a full-page ad in the print edition of Sunday’s New York Times. A Times rep said it is likely the first ad by a for-profit cannabis entity in the paper’s 163-year history. 

British Study: Small Doses Of Cannabis May Help Treat Schizophrenia [Medical Jane]

There has been an abundance of conflicting information about the potential relationship between schizophrenia and cannabis. Acontroversial study published in December suggests that smoking cannabis may exacerbate a genetic disposition that makes people more vulnerable to schizophrenia, but multiple studies (12) have shown that the plant can greatly benefit schizophrenic patients. In hopes of expanding our knowledge on this relationship, a group of researchers from the University of Manchester (UK) and the University of Lancaster (UK) published “The Impact of Cannabis Use on Clinical Outcomes in Recent Onset Psychosis” in Schizophrenia Bulletin last month. Their results suggest that cannabis does not worsen the experience of schizophrenia, and it may in fact help.

Barcelona’s booming cannabis clubs turn Spain into ‘Holland of the South’ [Guardian]

Catalonia’s public health agency has proposed strict new measures to regulate cannabis clubs in the region, amid claims that Barcelona is on its way to rivalling Amsterdam as a smoker’s haven. Amsterdam has tightened restrictions on cannabis sales just as the number of clubs in Spain has proliferated from some 40 in 2010 to more than 700 today, say smokers’ groups. The Catalan capital is home to more than half of these clubs. From swanky clubs that span three floors to others with a small room and a few plastic chairs, the clubs take advantage of a provision in Spain’s drug laws that allow marijuana to be grown and consumed for private use. The clause has turned Spain – and especially Barcelona – into what Spanish media call the “Holland of the South”. But unlike Amsterdam’s coffee shops, which are open to the public, Spain’s clubs are for members only.

Austrian Activists start Parliamentary Initiative to Legalize Cannabis [Hanf Institute]

Austrian cannabis activists have started a parliamentary initiative to legalize cannabis in Austria on Wednesday. Initiated by „Legalize! Oesterreich“ and supported by the Hemp Institute, Austrian voters can now sign an online initiative on the website of the Austrian parliament which is obliged to discuss the matter. In the first six hours it collected more than 1,000 signatures and the initiators hope that a significant number of the one million cannabis consumers and patients – that is 1 in 8 Austrians – will put their weight behind this movement which seeks to exclude cannabis from Austrian drug laws.

The magic of hacking reality [Boing Boing]

And here takes the stage another ancient “reality hacking technology”, straight from the shaman’s bag: psychedelics. Mind altering substances are one of the most radical tools to access the transpersonal domain, a “gratuitous grace”, fast track to direct encounters with high weirdness, to catch a glimpse of the “peacock angel”. 

How did enlightenment thinkers distinguish between ‘drugs’ and ‘medicines’? And how should we? [Aeon]

I found my first hint of this Enlightenment obsession in the journals of Newton’s great rival, the quarrelsome but brilliant polymath Robert Hooke. On a fall day in 1689, Hooke ducked into a London coffee shop to buy a sample of cannabis from an East India Company merchant who’d become an aficionado of the plant. Hooke tested the drug’s effects on an anonymous subject and reported that it left the patient ‘unable to speak a Word of Sense’. Despite this, the verdict was good: the consumer was ‘not giddy, or drunk’ and seemed ‘very merry’, laughing, dancing and performing ‘many odd Tricks’. Hooke reported to his fellow members of the Royal Society that cannabis was a valuable sleep aid, and could even ‘be of considerable Use for Lunaticks’. He predicted that London merchants might make a fortune selling it. In other words, the same novel sensory effects that made substances such as tobacco, opium and cannabis desirable to global consumers also made them fascinating for the earliest experimental scientists. But what did those drugs mean – for them, and for us? How did our modern binary between ‘illicit drug’ and ‘valuable medicine’ come into being?

Interview: The case for medical LSD, mushrooms, and ecstasy [Vox]

Charles Grob is a professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at UCLA who is highly active in a burgeoning field of psychiatric research: medical hallucinogens. Grob has conducted research into the drugs as a potential treatment for anxiety in late-stage cancer patients, and he co-wrote an article in the Scientific American on the topic in 2010. I spoke with Grob earlier this week about the potential of medical hallucinogens.

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