Embassy Headlines, Issue 115

Cannabis prohibition must be repealed before extensive medical research can commence. Unofficial trials have produced overwhelming positive anecdotal evidence from millions of Australians on the safety and efficacy of Cannabis in raw form and as a preparation.

Official Australian trials should discover that prohibition is a major cause of harm and an ineffectual expensive failure.

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.


Victorian government medicinal marijuana trials plan described as ‘nonsense’ by expert [Sydney Morning Herald]

A Victorian government plan to make clinical trials of medicinal marijuana easier to conduct will do little to expand access to the drug, an expert on drug law reform says. In response to growing calls for cannabis to be legalised for people with certain illnesses, including children with intractable epilepsy, Victorian Health Minister David Davis said on Thursday that he would amend the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Act to make it easier for doctors to conduct clinical trials of medicinal cannabis. President of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation and addiction medicine specialist Alex Wodak described the Coalition’s announcement as “nonsense” and said: “It sounds good, but if you look at the small print, it’s really nothing. This might benefit 10 people in Victoria in five years time”. While the Victorian branch of the Australian Medical Association welcomed the government’s approach, some doctors questioned what, if anything, would change given a cannabis pharmaceutical – Sativex – is already being used in clinical trials in Australia. Cancer patients at the Royal Melbourne Hospital have been receiving it in a clinical trial since 2012 to see if it eases difficult-to-treat pain. Leading psychiatrist Pat McGorry,  who is planning to trial a compound of cannabis thought to treat psychosis – cannabidiol (CBD) – said he did not know of any major barriers to conducting clinical trials of cannabis-based pharmaceuticals in Victoria. “My perception is that it should be possible already, especially if it’s synthetic,” Professor McGorry said.

Patients risk prosecution as medicinal cannabis faces long road to legalisation[The Age]

After a week of political announcements, Victorians who believe in the healing powers of marijuana feel no closer to sourcing the drug legally and say they will continue to risk prosecution for buying questionable products on the black market. In response to growing calls for cannabis to be legalised for people with some medical conditions, Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews last week made an election promise to seek advice from the Victorian Law Reform Commission on how people “in exceptional circumstances” could access the drug. While the plan opens up the possibility of approved people growing their own cannabis or being protected from criminal charges for possessing it, Health Minister David Davis said he would only allow more clinical trials of cannabis-based pharmaceuticals.

Decriminalising marijuana is going to happen [Cairns Post]

The hippies are right about ganja. Inevitably, marijuana is going to be decriminalised in Australia. It may not happen with the current government, despite the Member for Leichhardt’s best intentions, but it is going to happen, whether you like it or not. Whether it’s a smokescreen, as I cynically imagine to reinstate his relevance with left-leaning voters or not, Warren Entsch is 100 per cent correct about the need to legalise cannabis for medical purposes. It is outrageous that a natural herb (that grows fantastically well in the Wet Tropics, I might add) can provide so much relief to sufferers of such horrific diseases as cancer, multiple sclerosis and other chronic conditions, is still outlawed in 21st century Australia, because of a perceived risk to human health.

With all the knowledge, studies and wisdom we have about the harmful effects of tobacco, you can still pop down to the corner store and order a sneaky packet of smokes – as exorbitant as the price may currently be – and not worry about having a SWAT team rappel down the side of your home to bust in and arrest you for possession. If we’re so concerned about harming our bodies with a natural plant, then let’s put our money where our tumour-lined mouths are, and outlaw tobacco in this country, too. Marijuana, the wackier tobaccy, is the illicit drug of choice for a majority of Australians. A National Drug Strategy household survey, for instance, found it was used at least once by a third of all Australians aged 14 years or older. A whopping 1.6 million people have reported using the drug. It’s reefer madness, all right. But no matter which way you crunch those numbers – that’s a hell of a lot of police resources we have tied up trying to clamp down on something that, from the outset, doesn’t appear to be causing nearly as much harm as good.

Medical benefits of cannabis must be examined, say health experts [Daily Telegraph]

Health experts warn Australia is falling behind the rest of the world by turning its back on the potential medical benefits of cannabis. It comes as the doctor asked to treat a sick Victorian boy said he was disappointed by the results of conventional medicine. But Dr Paul Carter has not been able to prescribe or ­recommend the cannabis for fear he could get into trouble with authorities.

Time for new drugs debate [Herald Sun]

The Herald Sun report into a police raid on the home of desperate parents who were treating their severely damaged son with cannabis oil to relieve his suffering has brought an overwhelming response. Whoever made the complaint to police that forced them to act has unwittingly made the medicinal use of cannabis, medical marijuana as it has become known, a political as well as a health issue. Sadly, three-year-old Cooper Wallace, who has severe brain damage, epilepsy and other significant health problems following bacterial meningitis, is the innocent victim of a ban on the use of cannabis oil. Seizures that were mostly prevented by the oil have now returned, says his mother, causing Cooper severe distress. The illegal oil, she says, was keeping him alive. Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Ken Lay says police do not want to be involved, but were forced to act although no charges have been laid. Mr Lay hopes there will be “a medical solution’’ and that there are “ways and means’’ in which cannabis can be administered.

No date for Cannabis Bill to be tabled [ABC]

The Nationals MP for Tamworth, Kevin Anderson, says he’s still working to address supply concerns, as he prepares a Private Members Bill to legalise cannabis use for the terminally ill. Mr Anderson won’t announce a date for the Bill to be tabled, but says he expects it’ll be before the end of the year. There are around 20 parliamentary sitting days left this year. Two proposed trials for the growth of cannabis for medicinal purposes, in Tasmania and Norfolk Island, have both fallen through. Kevin Anderson says work to find a safe way to supply the drug continues. “There’s a number of options that we’ve put forward, currently my colleagues are looking at that,” he said. “It’s been back and forward a few times and they’ve said “Have you thought about this have you thought about that? Lets refine it just a little bit,” because what we’re going to see, is if this Bill is passed, this will set the precedent for Australia.”

Bogus medical cannabis putting chronically ill children at risk [The Age]

Desperate parents who believe they are using cannabis oil to treat chronically ill children could be administering nothing but methylated spirits, alcohol and water. Forensic testing of medical marijuana has revealed dramatic variations in the contents of the product, which is often spruiked over the internet by unregulated producers who make bold claims about the benefits. A Victoria Police analysis suggests up to 40 per cent of vials bought by Victorian families contained just methylated spirits, pure alcohol and water. The results, seen by The Age, suggest in the remaining 60 per cent of vials tested, THC acid – the active component of cannabis – varied dramatically, ranging from low to high levels.

Top medico Alex Wodak urges intervention to curb black market for illness marijuana [Sydney Morning Herald]

The only way to protect people from questionable black market marijuana is to regulate the supply of medicinal forms of the drug that can be prescribed to suitable people, doctors say. President of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation and addiction medicine specialist Dr Alex Wodak said given it was impossible for people to know what they were getting when they purchased cannabis on the black market in Australia, the only solution was for the government to create a controlled “white market”. “A safe source of medicines is really one of the fundamental tools of public health along with a safe water supply, a safe food supply and safe air to breathe,” he said. “In my view, medicinal cannabis should be regulated by the regulators just like penicillin and insulin are.”

Aussie cannabis users found to self-medicate [Science Network WA]

One in two Australians who grow cannabis for medicinal reasons are doing so without speaking to their doctor, according to responses from cannabis growers to an international survey. The study, involving six countries including Australia, found that 50 per cent of the 175 Australian respondents who said they grew cannabis for medical reasons had not discussed it with their doctor. In 23 per cent of cases growers reported that a doctor suggested they use the drug while 13 per cent of respondents said their doctor either refused to recommend or advised against cannabis use. Almost one in 10 people reported that their doctor was aware of their cannabis use and did not object. National Drug Research Institute deputy director Simon Lenton, who co-authored the study, says people are reluctant to admit to anybody that they are treating themselves with cannabis, particularly in countries where there are no legal methods of accessing the drug. “Obviously cannabis use is illegal in this country as it is in many others and currently there isn’t a system for cannabis being prescribed to people for treatment of a medical condition,” he says. “So there’s a real taboo I think at both ends—from the patient’s point of view but also from the doctor’s point of view—about raising the issue and having an open discussion.”

Royal Australian College of Physicians head says it’s time for clinical trials for marijuana [Sydney Morning Herald]

In recent weeks we have seen the political landscape shifting rapidly as moves to legalise medicinal cannabis in Australia gain momentum. But do we have enough evidence on both its potential long-term adverse effects and the short-term health benefits to fully inform our decisions? I believe the answer to that question is no. That is why I am urging Australian governments at all levels to urgently invest in and support further research and clinical trials. The risks and benefits of medicinal cannabis should be weighed carefully and its ingredients must be subjected to the same scrutiny as other medicines. The legalisation of medicinal cannabis is an emotionally-charged issue with medical, legal, ethical, and moral considerations. I, like every Australian, have been deeply affected by the tragic stories of individuals who are searching for a treatment that will ease their pain and suffering or improve their health. As a parent I deeply sympathise with every parent’s desire to do what is best for their child’s health. After all, what is more important than our own health and that of our families?

More cannabis molecules with medicinal properties found [Fraser Coast Chronicle]

After all these years of people using marijuana to get high, it looks like the plant actually has more than about 120 cannabinoid molecules, with only the one molecule, THC, being responsible for getting you stoned. The spotlight is now on the remaining 119 molecules within cannabis, which could become the next generation of drugs and therapies for a wide range of illnesses. University of Sydney’s Professor Iain McGregor, Director of Psychopharmacology and research fellow David Allsop have been working with the plant for some time and have revealed some of their discoveries. “No medicine is perfect: opiates control pain but may be addicting and constipating; antidepressants lift mood but may numb you out and ruin your sex life; statins can lower your cholesterol but can cause muscle wastage,” Prof McGregor said. “All drugs are poisons – it is just a matter of dose,” he said. 

Cannabis oil soothes son [Ballina Shire Advocate]

A Tweed family with a 15-year-old permanently disabled son say they have radically reduced his seizures with cannabis oil after exhausting all other legal treatments. The couple, who do not want to use their real names for fear of prosecution, are calling for politicians to legalise the substance so more families can experience the oil’s therapeutic benefits. And they are not alone. David and Jessica Smith (not their real names), say they know of six other Tweed families using cannabis for cancer, neurological disorders and terminal illness. 

Banned dope doctor Andrew Katelaris vows to keep supplying patients with medical cannabis [Herald Sun]

A dope doctor says he will defy authorities and supply medical cannabis to Australian children, despite the threat of legal action. Cannabis oil producer Dr Andrew Katelaris, who was deregistered in 2005 after refusing to stop recommending and supplying cannabis to patients, says desperate families turn to him because they have run out of options. “When the law is unjust, resistance is mandatory,’’ he said.

Alan Jones fights to legalise medical marijuana  [Radio Info]

It’s not hard to figure out on which side of the political fence Alan Jones sits. For 25 years he’s been the cheerleader in chief for the Liberals while booing the opposition at every opportunity. Yet, more recently, he’s taken on causes that have been left leaning, to say the least. Jones’ vehement opposition to drilling for coal seam gas using a process called “fracking” is more akin to Greens policy than to those of the LNP. But his support for the legalisation of medical marijuana for the terminally ill will surprise most who have pigeon holed him long ago – which makes his argument even more compelling.

NSW may beat Victoria to legalise medical cannabis [Government News]

Momentum is gathering in NSW to legalise cannabis for medical purposes, hot on the heels of Victorian Opposition Labor Leader Daniel Andrews’ pledge to legalise medical cannabis oil for terminally ill people if he wins the state election in November. Labor MP Adam Searle, who was part of a NSW parliamentary inquiry into legalising cannabis for medical purposes in May last year, says NSW could actually beat Victoria to the punch on getting the legislation through. Mr Searle told Government News that the Victorian Opposition Leader’s commitment to asking the Victorian Law Reform Commission for advice on prescribing and regulating the drug with the aim of presenting a bill to Parliament by the end of 2015 if he won the election, was “not quite as radical as it seems”. He argued that the NSW might be closer to legalising medical for people suffering from life-threatening, painful illnesses like cancer and HIV/AIDS because the idea received unanimous crossbench support from the committee conducting the 2013 NSW inquiry, members of which included the Nationals, the Shooters and Fishers Party and the Liberals, as well as Greens and Labor. “Everybody could agree that people with terminal illnesses and their carers were the people who most urgently needed relief,” Mr Searle said.

National study seeks to clarify different approaches to policing cannabis[Canberra Times]

One of Australia’s leading drug researchers has warned authorities have a limited understanding of how different approaches to policing cannabis possession affect individual users across the country. The warning comes after revelations ACT Policing has issued more than 530 fines for simple cannabis since July 2009, which might have resulted in criminal charges in five other Australian states that have not decriminalised the possession of small amounts of cannabis. The National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre’s senior research fellow, Marian Shanahan, said more than 53,000 people were stopped by police for cannabis use or possession each year, although their experiences varied greatly. “We do not currently know which intervention is the most effective or least costly at changing cannabis use, decreasing rates of crime, or improving employment and the general health status of users,” she said.

Cannabis Diversion Survey [UNSW]

You are invited to take part in a study assessing the effects and costs of police diversion programs in Australia for the use and possession of a small amount of cannabis (marijuana, pot).  We are seeking to assess whether the use of warnings, cannabis cautions, arrests or civil fines for the possession or use of cannabis has an impact on the extent and nature of cannabis use, on employment, health, offending behaviours and costs.

Colorado research grants face federal uncertainty [The Cannabist]

Colorado will begin handing out money for a ground-breaking medical-marijuana research grant program early next year. But the first meeting of a group that will review applications for the grants shows there’s doubt over who will be able to accept the funding. Next week, Colorado’s health department will release the program’s official request for applications. Starting in early 2015, the state expects to distribute $9 million for research on the medical effects of cannabis, making it the largest-ever state-funded effort to study medical marijuana.

California marijuana market poised to explode [San Jose Mercury News]

Looking around last week at the exhibitor showroom of CannaCon, the huge marijuana-business expo held outside Seattle, Greg James had something of an epiphany: The pot industry in America is growing like, you guessed it, a weed. 

“There was everybody from soil companies to grow-light companies to lawyers and security and insurance firms to a TV network doing shows just on marijuana,” said James, whose Seattle-based Marijuana Venture newsletter has exploded from eight to 84 glossy pages since it launched in March and is already turning a profit. “I’m not sure how many of them will survive, but it’s amazing how fast this thing is moving. The legal pot business in the United States, including both the newly legalized retail operations in Washington and Colorado and the medical-marijuana use now allowed in California and 22 other states, is expected to grow this year to $2.6 billion from $1.5 billion in 2013, according to the ArcView Group, a San Francisco-based marijuana research and investment firm. In five years, that number could swell to more than $10 billion. And if backers are successful in getting a legalization measure on the 2016 ballot in California, the Golden State, with its already outsize medical-pot market, could soon be entering a Golden Era of commercialized cannabis.

The US Government Wants to Buy 12 Acres of Marijuana — for Research[Time]

Calling all pot farmers: Uncle Sam is looking to buy. An arm of the National Institutes of Health dedicated to researching drug abuse and addiction “intends” to solicit proposals from those who can “harvest, process, analyze, store and distribute” cannabis, according to a listing posted Tuesday night on a federal government website. A successful bidder must possess a “secure and video monitored outdoor facility” capable of growing and processing 12 acres of marijuana, a 1,000-sq.-ft. (minimum) greenhouse to test the plants under controlled conditions, and “demonstrate the availability” of a vault approved by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Food and Drug Administration to maintain between 400 and 700 kg of pot stock, extract and cigarettes. Back-up plans in case of emergency required. The NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) is looking for growers who have the capability to develop plants with altered versions of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive component of pot, and cannabidiol (CBD), which is known for its medicinal properties. NIDA “anticipates” awarding a one-year contract with four one-year options, according to the posting. The vendor would also have to register with the DEA to research, manufacture and distribute cannabis.

The Marijuana Users Bill of Rights [Ed Rosenthal]

In mid-August I attended Seattle Hempfest. It was the first Hempfest since the implementation of I-502, which passed by popular vote in 2012 and “legalized” marijuana in the State of Washington. What Washington has is not legalization and it is clear to me we must define what legalization really means to users of marijuana through a Marijuana Users Bill of Rights before any more legalization laws of this kind pass. This year’s festival was probably the lamest one held in Seattle since the end of the Drug War. It was a marijuana festival with only two small designated consumption areas and although there were no cops around, most people (with the exception of yours truly) didn’t light up in public areas. Instead people snuck behind vendor tents, lit up backstage or down by the water – out of sight – remembrances of high school past. All the result of I-502. Don’t let anyone say this is legalization. Nothing is legal except possession of under an ounce of store-bought marijuana.

Infographic: How Big is the Drug Trade? [Ladybud]

Did you know that estimates indicate the United States consumes as much as 40% of the world’s illicit drugs? Or that Pablo Escobar wrote off businesses losses from rats chewing on his giant bags of money? A recently published inforgraphic, available on the Top Criminal Justice Schools website, shows some interesting facts about the global drug trade, including how much of the international black market is driven by cannabis (here’s a hint:  it’s a lot).

Bolton duo offer hemp seeds for Brits to scatter across forests in bid to free the weed [Mancunian Matters]

A Bolton business duo are trying to show the world there is more to the hemp seed than its cannabis roots suggest. The pair behind The Hemporium are offering to ship a handful of hemp seeds to anyone who wants one – for free. They are asking those who receive their free handful to scatter the seeds in forests and woodland across Greater Manchester – saying there’s no need for a pot. The wacky (without the backy) scheme hopes to help hemp start growing wild across the UK. Claiming that the crop is more than just the centre of a joint, Marc Greaves has launched an online shop selling clothes, food and other products made from alternative products like hemp and bamboo.

Hemp-Seed Eating Village in China Holds Oldest, Healthiest People in the World [Minds]

While there is a man in Bolivia said to be the oldest living person in the world, at 123 years of age, a village in China is boasting ages far older than the global average, and few suffer from any health problems. Scientists believe the secret is in their diet, which actually includes lots of hempseed. It also helps that the water and air in Bama Yao, China are exceptionally clean, and that their food contains noticeably less fat, animal proteins, salt, and sugar than let’s say, the standard American diet. But according to some experts, the villagers’ consumption of a superfood high in essential fatty acids (omega 3 and 6) is also part of the reason they live so long. Their primary source of receiving these fatty acids is through a diet rich in hempseed. Life expectancy in Bama Yao is well over 100 years for its inhabitants, one of only five places on the planet where people can expect to live so healthfully for so long. Centenarian hot spots, called blue zones, include Sardinia, Italy, Okinawa just off Japan, and Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica. Among these rare places, there is a commonality of lifestyle habits: they eat a plant-based diet, often with several super foods, invest heavily in family, get moderate exercise daily, and have a sense of faith and purpose in their lives.

Saudi Arabia Beheads Four Brothers Over Marijuana [High Times]

While the United States continues to enforce ridiculous and outdated drug policies to perpetuate slave labor within the American prison system, the drug laws in foreign lands are proving to be even more sinister, with recent reports suggesting that Saudi Arabia is beheading people for smuggling marijuana. Earlier last week, four Saudi brothers charged with trafficking marijuana into the kingdom, were found guilty and sentenced to die by the hands of a sword-wielding executioner. Although the government news agency did not provide much information regarding the actual execution, the initial report indicates the men were decapitated near the southwestern city of Najran for smuggling “a large quantity of hashish” into the Arab state. Unfortunately, the negotiation tactics by the human rights organization Amnesty International were not successful in providing the men with a stay of execution. Family members reached out to the organization in hopes that they could persuade Saudi officials to spare the lives of the brothers, but the interior ministry quickly snuffed out these attempts.

Arrested For Marijuana, Jackie Chan’s Son Could Face Execution [Kotaku]

Chinese actor and singer Jaycee Chan was arrested for marijuana consumption and possession in Beijing Monday. The son of Jackie Chan, he could face up to three years in prison or, at worst, even execution if convicted. Last night,China Central Television (CCTV) reported that Beijing police had arrested 32-year-old Jaycee Chan, real name Fang Zuming, and Taiwanese actor Ko Chen-tung. Both tested positive for marijuana consumption. The younger Chan was also caught with over 100 grams of marijuana in his Beijing home. Jaycee Chan, best known in Taiwan, Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland for film roles in Mulan and 2 Young, joined the Chinese entertainment industry in the 2000’s. His arrest is the highest profile drug bust in recent history.

Fifty Years Ago Today: Bob Dylan Turned The Beatles On To Marijuana[Marijuana]

Exactly 50 years ago, on August 28, 1964, folk legend Bob Dylan ascended the elevator of the Delmonico Hotel on Park Avenue in Manhattan for a momentous first meeting with The Beatles, who were touring the United States. Beatlemania was then at its peak, and 20 police stood guard in the corridor as Dylan and his entourage entered The Beatles’ sixth-floor hotel suite. After an exchange of courtesies, Dylan suggested that they all smoke some grass. He was surprised to learn that The Beatles were marijuana virgins. Dylan had a bag of weed with him and he tried to roll a joint. But Bob was all thumbs, so his driver and close friend Victor Maymudes did the deed. Blinds were drawn and towels carefully placed before locked doors to hide the smell. Dylan lit a reefer and a few minutes later everyone was laughing uproariously. “We were kind of proud to have been introduced to pot by Dylan,” Paul McCartney later remarked. “That was rather a coup.”

How psychedelic drugs could revolutionize American medicine [Salon]

Almost immediately after Albert Hofmann discovered the hallucinogenic properties of LSD in the 1940s, research on psychedelic drugs took off. These consciousness-altering drugs showed promise for treating anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and addiction, but increasing government conservatism caused a research blackout that lasted decades. Lately, however, there has been a resurgence of interest in psychedelics as possible therapeutic agents. This past spring Swiss researchers published results from the first drug trial involving LSD in more than 40 years.

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