Embassy Headlines, Issue 123


Treating marijuana as a crime has failed.

Arresting thousands of people for marijuana-related crimes is a distraction to law enforcement and a misuse of taxpayer resources. The time and money spent should go to make our communities safer. Police resources should be focused on violent criminals, thieves and criminal cartels.

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.


Parents take appeal to UN for cannabis ruling [Northern Daily Leader]

A group of desperate parents is set to launch a class action with the United Nations International Court of Justice in a dramatic bid to allow them to use medical marijuana on their sick children. More than 100 families have already signed on to the class action, which will claim that being denied legal use of the medicine they believe is keeping their children alive is a violation of basic human rights. Victorian mum Cherie O’Connell, who has two children with intractable epilepsy, is driving the legal challenge. Despite compelling anecdotal evidence of marijuana’s power to reduce seizures in some epileptic children, only terminally ill patients are being considered in a potential new medical cannabis bill in NSW. Hundreds of Australian parents are illegally using special cannabis tinctures – a form of cannabis oil with little or none of the drug’s psychoactive properties – to treat their children. “This is not a choice; we were told to take our daughter home to die and we’re doing everything we can to keep her alive,” Mrs O’Connell said. “We are being discriminated against for wanting what’s best for our children. This can’t be resolved at a local level so we’re taking it to the UN international court.” She said she had been denied respite and childcare for her two epileptic children because authorities would not allow the tinctures to be used.

Medical use of cannabis [ABC Radio National]

In some countries cannabis is available for medicinal use for certain conditions. However, there is still a debate continuing about its effectiveness and in many countries it is illegal for doctors to prescribe cannabis to patients.

Why some doctors are in favour of medical cannabis [ABC Health & Wellbeing]

With the recent political debate around medical cannabis trials, you could be forgiven for thinking that the notion was something altogether new. In fact, cannabis has been used medicinally for thousands of years in India and Asia. It was introduced to western medicine in the mid-nineteenth century by an Irish doctor William O’Shaughnessy, upon his return from service in India, and become a popular therapy around the world. Even former US president Richard Nixon’s 1972 National Commission on ‘marihuana’ supported studies of its use in the treatment of conditions such as glaucoma, migraine and cancer (although Nixon subsequently ignored his own Commission’s findings and instead declared a ‘war on drugs’). The criminalisation of marijuana saw it swiftly fall from medical favour. However, it seems that medical cannabis’s star is once again rising, with some evidence suggesting it may offer considerable relief in conditions where few other treatments are able to help.

Sex Party looks at cannabis cultivation for Ballarat [The Courier]

Ballarat would be in a good position for the cultivation of marijuana if it is legalised, according to Australian Sex Party president Fiona Patten. Ms Patten visited Ballarat on Monday to launch the party’s regional campaign, which includes candidates in every upper house seat as well as candidate for Wendouree, Liam Hastie. Ms Patten said cultivation would be regulated and would provide a jobs boost in the area. “We need to make a much stronger approach on medical marijuana,”she said.  “Why not set up our own cultivation for it here in Victoria and why not where we are growing poppies, grow another medical crop in medical marijuana.” Ms Patten also highlighted the problems associated with the drug ice as an issue that needed tackling. “We would be looking at more rehab beds rather than prison beds,” she said.  “From our perspective, we should be treating drug use – like ice – as a health issue rather than a criminal one and that does require quite the change from the law and order strategy the other parties will be promoting over the campaign.”

Research supports benefits of medicinal cannabis [Sydney Morning Herald]

Studies of the use of medicinal cannabis suggest it has measurable benefits, argues Dr Alex Wodak.

Question: What are the medicinal uses of cannabis?

Answer: Medicinal cannabis is a useful drug for reducing severe and distressing symptoms, particularly when conventional medications have been ineffective or were accompanied by severe side effects. The conditions for which there is strongest evidence include: chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting; chronic non-cancer pain, especially due to nerve damage; wasting in advanced cancer and HIV infection; and muscle stiffness in multiple sclerosis. A recent review concluded that there are 82 favourable and nine unfavourable controlled trials supporting medicinal cannabis. Many prestigious scientific and medical organisations and reviews support medicinal cannabis. There are no studies yet proving that cannabis is curative for any conditions in humans. Inhalation of cannabis vapour is an efficient method of ingestion and preferable to inhalation of cannabis smoke or swallowing pharmaceutical agents made from cannabis extracts. Devices for gently heating plant cannabis to produce vapour are now available, convenient and inexpensive.

Govts back historic cannabis trial [Australian Medical Association]

Medicinal cannabis should be subject to the same safety and efficacy tests as any other drug before being made available on the Australian market, according to the AMA. As the New South Wales Government works through the details of the nation’s first-ever clinical trial of medicinal cannabis, the AMA has warned against the legalisation of the raw dope plant, or any oils and tinctures made from it, and urged that only fully-tested cannabis-based medicines should be considered for use. In a significant development for those who argue cannabis is effective in alleviating chronic pain and providing relief from symptoms including nausea and muscle spasms and should be legalised, the NSW Government has secured the support of the Commonwealth and its State and Territory counterparts to trial the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes. “NSW wants to better understand if and how medicinal cannabis can help improve quality of life for seriously ill patients,” NSW Premier Mike Baird said.

ACC staff member caught using drugs prompts call for wider tests[Sydney Morning Herald]

The Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity has called for more “high risk” public service agencies to consider drug testing after a staff member at a major corruption fighting agency was caught out. But Australian Privacy Foundation chairman Roger Clarke said blanket policies to test more public servants would be heading toward a Stalinist state which turned employers into police. An ACLEI report published in recent days revealed an Australian Crime Commission employee resigned earlier this year days after the ACC widened its testing program to include all staff and not just those in operational jobs. The ACC employee walked out of the office when told of a looming test that same afternoon and ACLEI later confirmed the staff member was using recreational drugs.

Oregon Family Uses Marijuana to Treat 11 Year Old Son with Severe Autistic Rage [Earth Are One]

An Oregon family was out of options. Alex, their 11 year old son’s autistic rage was out of control to the point that his parents had to institutionalize him. He was hurting himself and others. His parents wanted their son back, so they tried treating Alex with medical marijuana. The results have been life changing. “When you’ve got no other options, are you honestly gonna say no?” 

Report: Legal weed in Alaska could be a $107 million industry[Washington Post]

The state of Alaska stands to gain $23 million in annual tax revenues from a fully ramped-up legal marijuana market, according to a report released this week by the Marijuana Policy Group, a research organization that does not take a stance on marijuana legalization issues. If Alaska voters approve a legalization measure on the ballot next week, the report estimates that total sales in a legal marijuana market would climb from $56 million in 2016 to $107 million in 2020.

How marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington is making the world a better place [Washington Post]

No pressure, Colorado and Washington, but the world is scrutinizing your every move. That was the take-home message of an event today at the Brookings Institution, discussing the international impact of the move toward marijuana legalization at the state-level in the U.S. Laws passed in Colorado and Washington, with other states presumably to come, create a tension with the U.S. obligations toward three major international treaties governing drug control. Historically the U.S. has been a strong advocate of all three conventions, which “commit the United States to punish and even criminalize activity related to recreational marijuana,” according to Brookings’ Wells Bennet. The U.S. response to this tension has thusfar been to call for more “flexibility” in how countries interpret them. This policy was made explicit in recent remarks by Assistant Secretary of State William Brownfield, who last week at the United Nations said that “we have to be tolerant of different countries, in response to their own national circumstances and conditions, exploring and using different national drug control policies.” He went on: “How could I, a representative of the Government of the United States of America, be intolerant of a government that permits any experimentation with legalization of marijuana if two of the 50 states of the United States of America have chosen to walk down that road?”

Medical marijuana: Please don’t prosecute, lawmaker says [Penn Live]

A state lawmaker has asked the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association not to prosecute offenses related to the medicinal use of marijuana. “Given the likelihood that using lifesaving medical cannabis will not be a legal issue in Pennsylvania for much longer, I ask that you consider using your prosecutorial discretion,” wrote Sen. Daylin Leach, D-Montgomery, in a letter today to the association’s president, Peter Johnson. 

Why Oregon is about to be the poster child for how to legalize and regulate marijuana [Raw Story]

…As a sustainability journalist and solar-powered goat rancher, it is vital to me that the coming cannabis industry (and indeed any industry) prove environmentally sustainable. Unsurprisingly (if you’ve ever spent a minute in Oregon), Measure 91 deals successfully with both of these issues. The home cultivation clause in the initiative is a key one on the sustainability side, to codify the presence of cannabis as part of American outdoor garden, and to prevent big business monopolies and genetic patenting. And the comprehensive addressing of cannabis products like edibles and tinctures pushes cannabis past the final hurdle remaining in front of the true drug peace finish line: social stigma…

No, Drug Addicts Won’t Be Spiking Children’s Sweets This Halloween[Vice]

As usual, this coming Halloween, drug users will be ruining everything for everyone. Police in Colorado, where cannabis is now legal, have released a video warning parents that idiotic weed fiends might put cannabis-laced gummy bears into children’s trick-or-treat bags. They advise parents to sift through all their kids’ Halloween sweets and to discard any that look dodgy. The video acts as both a fresh spin on the “razor blade in the apple” urban myth and a neat way for police and the media to cast stoners as potential child poisoners. The story’s gone global, but this isn’t the first time police in the US have issued warnings over the possibility of people dishing out cannabis-spiked sweets at Halloween. (Appropriately, it’s a seasonal scare story.) Yet, apart from the time a Californian dentist handed out candy-coated laxative pills to trick-or-treaters in 1959, there are no documented cases of kids being handed drugs disguised as treats at Halloween.

Let’s debate drugs [Virgin]

Thrilled to see how international efforts to end the so-called war on drugs are gaining momentum. Just six weeks ago, I was in New York and DC to talk about the latest report by the Global Commission on Drug Policy, of which I am a member. And last week I visited Mexico – in many ways the epicentre of the global war on drugs – to discuss reform with business leaders and policy makers alike. 

Facebook Demands DEA Stop Using Fake Profiles [HighTimes]

The US Drug Enforcement Administration could soon be back to the drawing board in regards to how the federal agency uses its social media skills to trap drug offendersOn Friday, Facebook issued a letter to Uncle Sam’s dope-sniffing cronies demanding the agency stop using fake profiles to investigate potential drug cases. The letter, which was penned by Facebook’s chief security officer, Joe Sullivan, suggests that DEA administrator Michele Leonhart put an end to underhanded tactics that allow agents to set up phony Facebook profiles for the sole purpose of busting people for drugs. Sullivan claims these actions are a clear violation of Facebook’s user agreement, which insist that users be truthful about their identity, and does not provide immunity for drug agents.

Hashish Farmers in Lebanon Armed and Ready to Defend their Crop[SBS]

In Lebananon hashish is an illegal crop but for some farmers it is their livelihood. As violence swells all around them, the farmers vow to protect their crop.

Chile plants cannabis for medicinal use [BBC News]

In most countries in the world, if you asked the local authorities for permission to grow 850 cannabis plants in a residential area of the capital city, you would probably end up in trouble. But in Chile, the state has just agreed to such a project. The cannabis is being planted in La Florida, a district of Santiago. It will be harvested next April and turned into an oil which will be used as a painkiller for 200 cancer patients. It is the first project of its kind with state backing anywhere in Latin America. Much of the recent debate in the region over cannabis use has centred on Uruguay, which this year became the first country in the world to legalize the cultivation, sale and consumption of the drug. But in Chile, the authorities have taken a different approach, permitting the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes only. “We don’t want to get into a debate about the personal use of marijuana,” said Rodolfo Carter, the mayor of La Florida.

A Look at Marijuana Laws in Latin America [ABC USA]

Here’s a look at the status of marijuana laws in some countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.

— ARGENTINA: Personal possession of marijuana was decriminalized under a 2009 Supreme Court ruling that jail time for small amounts of drugs violates Argentina’s constitution. Although the ruling only referred to pot, in practice it extended to most drugs.

— BRAZIL: Does not punish personal drug use, but trafficking or transporting small amounts of controlled substances is punishable by drug abuse education or community service.

— CHILE: The law allows use of medical marijuana, but so far only one pilot program has been authorized. First legal seeds were planted Wednesday.

— COLOMBIA: President Juan Manuel Santos in August endorsed newly introduced legislation that would legalize marijuana for medicinal and therapeutic use in the drug war-afflicted Andean nation.

— GUATEMALA: President Otto Perez Molina has called the drug war a failed strategy and praised the “visionary” legalization experiments in Washington and Colorado. Currently, prison terms of four months to two years can be imposed for the possession of drugs for personal use.

— JAMAICA: The justice minister in June announced legislation to decriminalize the possession of to 2 ounces (57 grams) of pot and legalize the drug for religious purposes in a country where adherents of the Rastafarian spiritual movement ritually smoke marijuana as a “holy herb.”

— MEXICO: There is no general push to legalize marijuana in a country where tens of thousands have been killed in drug war violence in the past seven years, but lawmakers in the capital, Mexico City, have introduced a measure to allow stores to sell up to 5 grams of pot.

— URUGUAY: Became the first nation to approve a state-overseen marijuana market in 2013. Once registered and licensed, any Uruguayan adult will be allowed to grow plants at home or join a pot-growing club. Soon users will also be able to buy marijuana cigarettes from pharmacies.

There’s No Evidence Heavy Marijuana Use Causes a Drop in IQ[Science Alert]

A 2012 study linking persistent cannabis use to neuropsychological decline has been discredited. In a study published in the journal PNAS in 2012, scientists from Duke University in the US reported that cannabis had a neurotoxic effect on the adolescent brain, causing a loss of up to 8 IQ points in the heaviest users. They found that IQ, learning, memory, and executive functions all declined in heavy users who started smoking before the age of 18. The research was part of a longitudinal study of 1,037 New Zealand children born between 1972 and 1973. Health, intelligence and behaviour measures were taken periodically on all participants, most recently at the age of 38. The scientists warned that there may be other explanations for their findings and that they could not “definitively attest to whether this association [between persistent cannabis use and IQ decline] was causal”. The study did rule out factors such as years of education, schizophrenia, hard-drug and alcohol dependence, but did not account for other relevant factors such as childhood trauma. A study published in PNAS six months after the original research questioned the methodology, saying: “Although it would be too strong to say that the results have been discredited, the methodology is flawed and the causal inference drawn from the results premature.” The researchers argued that if you take into account the effects of socioeconomic status on IQ, the decline in IQ due to cannabis use is overestimated by the previous study – and could in fact be zero.  A new study by the University College London has now shed further light on the Duke University findings. This study drew on a larger sample of adolescents; 2,612 UK children born between 1991 and 1992. They found that heavy cannabis use was in no way linked to IQ decline, although alcohol use was strongly correlated with IQ loss in eight to 15 year olds.

 Oregon Marijuana Legalization Gets Boost From Cops [Huff]

A coalition of law enforcers has come out in support of marijuana legalization in Oregon, less than a week before voters will decide the issue at the polls. “Treating marijuana as a crime has failed,” 30 former police officers, sheriffs, prosecutors and judges write in a letter released Wednesday by Yes on 91, the campaign supporting legalization in Oregon. “Arresting and citing thousands of people in Oregon and elsewhere for marijuana-related crimes is a distraction to law enforcement and a misuse of taxpayer resources. The time and money spent should go to make our communities safer. Police resources should be focused on violent criminals, thieves and criminal cartels.”

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