Embassy Headlines, Issue 124

Recreational Therapy

Recreational Cannabis Therapy is now approved in four states of the USA and the District of Columbia.

The conflict between State and Federal laws is more preposterous now that Washington DC will allow personal use. Relaxing the laws for Cannabis use in the USA contravenes the Controlled Substances Act and The Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs.

The stress and tension for policy makers around Capitol Hill should be much less than before.

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.

Lismore solicitor wants reform of ‘flawed’ drug driving laws [Northern Star]

Lismore solicitor and drug law reform expert Steve Bolt says motorists are being wrongly convicted of drug driving.  Mr Bolt, a partner at Bolt Findlay Solicitors in Lismore, said current laws allow people to be charged for having even miniscule traces of drugs in their system, despite being sober.  He believes drug driving laws need significant changes to prevent innocent people being caught up in the imprecise legislation.  It comes after the NRMA and the Police Association of NSW called for harsher sentencing for drug drivers recently in a press release, which Mr Bolt described as “not particularly focused. The issue is that the current testing regime does not measure impairment; it simply detects the presence of the drug in saliva,” he said. “This is an issue because cannabis, for example, can be detected for two days. We’ve had a number of clients who assured us, and it was accepted by the court, that they had taken the drugs more than 24 hours before they were tested.” Mr Bolt said laws on drug driving should closely mirror drink driving laws, which measure an acceptable level of intoxication.

Medical marijuana inquiry calls for public submissions on draft legislation [Canberra Times]

An ACT Legislative Assembly committee conducting an inquiry into the use of medical cannabis in the community has called for public submissions.  The Standing Committee on Health, Ageing, Community and Social Services is considering draft medical cannabis legislation and a discussion paper released by Greens minister Shane Rattenbury in July. Public hearings are planned for early 2015 and a report is due to be presented to the Assembly and considered by the ACT Government in June.  Organisations and members of the public have until February 13next year to make submissions to the inquiry, expected to be closely watched in Canberra as New South Wales leads a Commonwealth-backed national trial of medical cannabis. 

Mike Baird’s unexpected leap into the unknown with medical cannabis [Sydney Morning Herald]

Over the past few weeks, people have been offering to supply Mike Baird with marijuana. Understandable, perhaps, given that the NSW Premier did admit to “experimenting” in his youth during interviews to mark his first 100 days in office in July. But of course, it’s Baird’s enthusiasm for finding a way to use cannabis to offer relief to the terminally ill and others that has some prospective suppliers excited. Since announcing in September the formation of a working group to establish a clinical trial for medicinal cannabis in NSW, Baird has been receiving correspondence containing bouquets and brickbats for his trouble. Both are coming from enthusiastic supporters of cannabis as a medicinal alternative to pharmaceuticals for illnesses ranging from cancer to epilepsy. Baird is receiving correspondence from people offering to supply the cannabis for a trial, but also criticism of the decision not to act immediately and decriminalise the plant for medical purposes so that those suffering can potentially get some timely – and legal – relief. He has also been condemned by some who don’t believe the drug should be legally available for any purpose. But reports from within the government suggest the overall response has been largely supportive – so far.

Ex-Queensland mayor jailed for peddling drugs [Brisbane Times]

A retired Queensland mayor has been jailed for 10 months for trafficking marijuana over six years, including while he was in office.

Legal limits of drug testing in the bureaucracy [Canberra Times]

Whether viewed as the action of a “Stalinist state” or an essential work health requirement, drug testing employees is controversial. Add in the many layers of complexity of public sector employment, and the topic is enough to bring on a headache. The Canberra Times recently reported that an Australian Crime Commission employee resigned after the commission’s drug-testing program was extended to cover all staff, not solely those in “operational” roles. This raises a host of interesting employment law questions and hypotheticals, the most extreme of which might be: could the Australian Public Service decide to introduce drug testing for all employees?

Medical marijuana company to list on ASX [Sydney Morning Herald]

In the United States, it is known as the dot bong boom. And although in Australia cannabis does not – yet – flow as freely, the first medical marijuana company is about to list on the Australian Securities Exchange. Perth-based PhytoTech Medical will lodge its disclosure document in late November, with the aim of raising $5 million through 25 million shares at 20¢ each. The float will be fully underwritten by BBY. At its helm is Ross Smith, 51, who rode the highs and lows of the dotcom boom and who has a long and colourful history with both marijuana and sharemarket floats. Mr Smith, Israeli-based, smoked and sold cannabis as a teenager and young man, and was convicted and fined $15,000 for possessing and cultivating marijuana in 1989.

Lindsay Carter forced to go to US for cannabis treatment for brain tumour  [Courier Mail]

Lindsay Carter and his family will continue to be “refugees” in the United States until medical-grade marijuana is legalised in Australia.  The 16-year-old from Loganholme suffers from a life-threatening brain tumour which causes him chronic pain and has so far left his parents about $65,000 out of pocket. Unable to access cannabis at home, Lindsay and his mother, Lanai Carter, have returned to the United States to access legal cannabis treatment. It’s the fourth time in 12 months the Carter family will suffer the emotional toll of being away from home and endure the costs of travel, accommodation, medical consultations and treatment. “We don’t want to have to move (permanently) to another country for our son to get the treatment he needs but that’s really where we’re at now,” Lanai Carter said. “(US doctors) have basically said our son won’t survive in a country where he can’t have access to this treatment every day.”

Oregon, Washington, D.C. legalize marijuana [CNN]

Voters in Oregon and Washington, D.C., have voted to approve sweeping pro-marijuana legalization, according to a CNN projection. In Oregon, the law legalizes personal possession, manufacture and sale of marijuana for people 21 years of age and older. Mimicking similar plans in Washington State and Colorado, the Oregon law will also create a commercial regulatory system for the production, distribution and sale of marijuana. Washington, D.C.’s proposal, while scaled back compared to the Oregon proposal, allows for a person over 21 years old to posses up to two ounces of marijuana for personal use and grow up to six cannabis plants in their home. It also allows people to transfer up to one ounce of marijuana to another person, but not sell it. The issue is not fully resolved for the District of Columbia, however. Because of its unique status as a district, not a state, Congress has the authority to overrule D.C. laws and some lawmakers have signaled that they would likely work to overrule the popular vote. Pro-marijuana activists heralded the victories as “huge” on Tuesday.

Judge Could Smash Marijuana Law [Daily Beast]

Three states, one district, and two cities will vote on various aspects of the nation’s drug laws on Tuesday but the most crucial marijuana decision being weighed in the coming days will be made by just one person. U.S. District Judge Kimberly J. Mueller could be about to start a legal revolution. After a five-day hearing in California, she is considering the validity of the science surrounding pot’s classification as one of the most dangerous drugs in the world. In May, she became the first judge in decades to agree to hear evidence relating to the Drug Enforcement Administration’s classification of marijuana which puts it in the same category as heroin and meth. Over the next few weeks, Mueller will comb through hundreds of pages of witness testimony, scientific research, and public health policy to determine whether the Schedule I Substance classification of marijuana is unconstitutional. Her ruling will only apply in the specific case she is hearing, but some argue that a first judicial ruling against the legality of the DEA’s current drug classifications would invite a flood of similar legal challenges all over the country.

Alaska Becomes the Fourth State to Legalize  [NORML]

Alaska voters approved Measure 2, to legalize and regulate marijuana, with 52% voting in favor (94% of the total vote counted as of writing). The state now joins Oregon and the District of Columbia in legalizing marijuana this election. “This victory in Alaska is the coda to a perfect evening for marijuana legalization supporters,” stated NORML Communications Director Erik Altieri, “In a year where Republicans swept many state and local races, marijuana reform brought voters of both parties together in their support for ending marijuana prohibition. Lawmakers in Congress should recognize that a majority of Americans are ready to see marijuana legalized and regulated and should move to make substantial changes to federal law to reflect that reality.”

A Family’s Truth About Marijuana Depends on the Family [New York Times]

Through my reporting and through personal experience, I came to see the truth about marijuana is that, like most things, there is no one truth. It can be good and it can be bad, and which depends on how and when it is used, how often, and by whom. In a family with a history of drug abuse, marijuana can be deadly. In a family with severe anxiety, it can be a lifesaver.

California Raids Destroy Sick Kids’ Medical Marijuana Supply [Huffington Post]

A spate of recent raids in California has destroyed an abundance of medical marijuana plants intended to treat children with debilitating seizure disorders. Two weeks ago, a local narcotics task force raided a collective in the San Diego area, and similar agencies destroyed private farms farther north, in Mendocino and Modesto, in August. All the individuals targeted maintain they were operating within the confines of state law, and each was cultivating a supply that would be turned into medicine for children. “It’s devastating,” Joe, a Modesto-area resident whose 18-month-old son, Joey, suffers from a chronic condition that can lead to more than a hundred seizures per day, told The Huffington Post. “This has saved my son’s life. Now what are we supposed to do?”  Joe, who wouldn’t give his full name for fear of further prosecution from the county, says Joey has been seizure-free since he began taking cannabis oil two months ago. His supplier, Steve Boski, had also been growing medical marijuana for HIV and cancer patients before local authorities intervened in August. Now, Joe’s family only has a 90-day supply left and limited resources with which to procure more.

Marijuana profits up in smoke under IRS rules [USA Today]

Voters in Oregon, Alaska and Washington, D.C., legalized recreational marijuana Tuesday. But without the support of the U.S. Congress, any of the new, voter-approved pot shops may not be able to survive a drug war-era tax code that already threatens many businesses in Colorado and Washington state. Under this tax code the federal government stands to make more money from the sale of marijuana than those legally selling it. And that could be enough to shut down many shops. “It’s almost like they want us to fail,” said Mitch Woolhiser, while walking through his store called Northern Lights Cannabis Co. in Edgewater, Colo. “Everything I do is aimed at keeping us in business because if I don’t, then (the feds) win. And I’m not going to let them win.” Woolhiser believes the federal government is actively seeking to undermine his business.

Backers of medical marijuana launch effort to legalize recreational use in Arizona[Arizona Capitol Times]

The people who brought medical marijuana to Arizona four years ago now want marijuana legal for everyone over the age of 21. The Marijuana Policy Project has filed paperwork with state election officials to form a committee to begin raising funds for a 2016 citizens initiative to legalize recreational marijuana use. Arizona voters narrowly passed Proposition 203 allowing medical cannabis use in 2010. Communications Director Mason Tvert said the group has plenty of support in Arizona despite the state’s traditionally conservative voting patterns. “It appears most Arizona voters are ready to adopt a more sensible policy,” he said. “There were a large number of supporters who got on board (in 2010) and are ready to move forward.” Tvert said the Arizona initiative would be modeled closely on a previous movement in Colorado, which became the first state to legalize recreational marijuana in 2012. Washington was a close second. According to Tvert, the medical marijuana business here needn’t worry about losing its 52,000 registered cardholders. Like Colorado, there would likely be a differentiation in the medical and recreational business models. First, only people 21 and older could purchase recreational weed. In both Arizona and Colorado, the threshold for a medical card is 18 years old. Those under 18 can obtain a medical card if their legal guardian is their designated caregiver. There could also be a marked difference in pricing.

Growing number of Vietnamese nationals arrested for producing cannabis  [Gazette Live UK]

A growing number of Vietnamese nationals have been arrested on Teesside producing cannabis in farms linked to organised crime. From 2011 until May this year, 47 people from Vietnam have been arrested by Cleveland Police for producing the Class B drug. This is only a small proportion of all the arrests for cannabis production – there were 4,923 in the same period – as revealed by a Freedom of Information request to Cleveland Police. But police say that many of these arrests concern people growing small amounts for personal use, while Vietnamese producers are often growing commercially.

Punitive drug law enforcement failing, says Home Office study  [Guardian]

There is no evidence that tough enforcement of the drug laws on personal possession leads to lower levels of drug use, according to the UK government’s first evidence-based study. Examining international drug laws, the groundbreaking Home Office document brings to an end 40 years of almost unbroken official political rhetoric that only harsher penalties can tackle the problem caused by the likes of heroin, cocaine or cannabis. It is signed off by the Conservative home secretary, Theresa May, and the Liberal Democrat minister Norman Baker, and will be published alongside an official expert report calling for a general ban on the sale and trade in legal highs. Baker said the international comparisons demonstrated that “banging people up and increasing sentences does not stop drug use”. He said the last 40 years had seen a drugs debate in Britain based on the “lazy assumption in the rightwing press that if you have harsher penalties it will reduce drug use, but there is no evidence for that at all”.

The Netherlands – where people openly smoke marijuana [BBC]

There is “no obvious” link between tough laws and levels of illegal drug use, a UK government report has found. Liberal Democrat Home Office minister Norman Baker said the report, comparing the UK with other countries, should end “mindless rhetoric” on drugs policy. The BBC’s Anna Holligan visited a cafe in Amsterdam where people smoke as much marijuana as they like, and the government gets a share of the proceeds.

Drug possession laws are failing to lower use levels – so what are they for? [Sydney Morning Herald]

According to the British government’s “first evidence-based study“, released at the end of last week, tough laws for personal possession of illicit drugs fail to lower levels of their use. This is not news to anyone who has spent any time looking into the social cost of the “war on drugs“, so what is the purpose of these laws? After 50 years of drug prohibition, we know our current regulatory structure is a catastrophic failure. We also know that what is sometimes called “harm minimisation” has been remarkably successful in reducing deaths from drug overdose, levels of HIV infection in the population of intravenous drug users, and so on. But the “zero tolerance” approach to illicit drugs continues to hold sway, most notably in the United States. And through the international drug control treaty system, that gives signatories little freedom to go their own way. The puzzle is why political hostility to harm minimisation is still so dogmatically entrenched. When our friends and family behave irrationally, acting in self-destructive ways, in the end we stop trying to reason with them and send them to an analyst. It is their irrational impulses that need to be understood. So it is with law. It’s time to reassess what drug laws are “for” if we’re to understand why they have proven so hard to change.

Norman Baker: I resign – and it’s Theresa May’s fault  [Independent UK]

“If anyone is soft on drugs it’s my Conservative colleagues, because they are the ones who allow the process to go on whereby drug dealers continue to make money and people continue to get fined and carry on taking drugs.”

Call to devolve laws on cannabis [Herald Scotland]

As Westminster Government partners fall out over the UK’s long-standing policy of prohibition, the Scottish Council of Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) is lobbying for drug laws to be devolved. The umbrella group has formally asked the all-party Smith Commission, which is working on new Home Rule proposals, to move control of the Misuse Of Drugs Act north of the Border. Charities backing the move include Addaction, one of the biggest bodies supporting addicts in the UK. Ruchir Shah, SCVO’s policy manager, said: “Many voluntary organisations want Scotland to have powers over the control of illegal drugs. Tackling substance abuse could then be tailored more closely to Scotland’s particular challenges and needs. Some of SCVO’s member charities have raised concerns the current approach tries to criminalise people. They would prefer to see policies coming from a health, care and community approach.” Such an approach could see Scotland move to a more liberal regime within the UK – mirroring America. There, different states take very different attitudes to drugs, with two having legalised cannabis and several other decriminalising the substance.

Surprising source offers signs the global ‘war on drugs’ may be ending [Reuters]

The contentious debate over international drug policy was potentially transformed a few weeks ago, when the United States strongly reiterated a major shift in policy. William R. Brownfield, assistant secretary of state in the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs summed up the key idea underpinning the shift at the United Nations on Oct. 9:

Things have changed since 1961. We must have enough flexibility to allow us to incorporate those changes into our policies … to tolerate different national drug policies, to accept the fact that some countries will have very strict drug approaches; other countries will legalize entire categories of drugs.

The statement is hugely significant as it represents a new diplomatic doctrine and a potential tipping point in efforts to end the disastrous “war on drugs” that has lasted six decades. It recognizes that immediate reform of the UN drug control conventions (the core of which is the 1961 Single Convention), while necessary, is not yet feasible. But it acknowledges that UN conventions should never serve as a barrier to improving global drug policies and that different policies will work for different regions and nations. Lastly, it accepts that member states can reinterpret the conventions in response to new scientific evidence and with careful regard to other international human rights norms and obligations — as Uruguay has done in the case of cannabis regulation.

Barcelona to lift cannabis club age limit to 21 [The Local Spain]

Cannabis clubs in Catalonia will face stricter regulations from Thursday with the region’s parliamentary health commission set to raise the minimum age for membership from 18 to 21 while prohibiting new clubs from opening near schools and nurseries.

Uruguay cannabis growers’ clubs: Registration begins [BBC]

Uruguay has started registering cannabis growers’ clubs as part of the government’s plan to legalise the drug. Licensed clubs of up to 45 members will be allowed to grow a maximum of 99 plants each year. In August, growing up to six plants of cannabis at home became legal. Uruguay legalised the production and sale of cannabis last December and the government hopes to sell it from pharmacies in the new year.

Guam Legalizes Medical Marijuana [Huffington Post]

Voters in Guam approved a ballot initiative Tuesday that would legalize marijuana for “debilitating medical conditions” such as epilepsy, HIV, cancer and glaucoma. The bill, which passed by more than 56 percent, makes Guam the first U.S. territory to legalize medical pot. “This is just the beginning of a very big day,” Tom Angell, chairman of the advocacy group Marijuana Majority, told HuffPost. “People all across the world are ready to move beyond failed prohibition laws, especially when seriously ill patients are criminalized just for following their doctors’ recommendations.”

Book Review: A New Leaf The End of Cannabis Prohibition [The New Press]

The most vivid and comprehensive account yet of the rocky road to cannabis legalization—and where we are headed next—by two award-winning journalists.


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