Embassy Headlines, Issue 65

Medicinal use is one important facet of psychoactive drugs. The urge to alter your consciousness is as primary as the drive to satiate thirst, hunger or sexual desire.

The long history of drug use and even children’s desire for spinning, swinging, or sliding indicates that the drive to alter your state of mind is universal.

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.

Embassy Headlines 65

Synthetic drugs to be outlawed in NSW [SMH]

The NSW government said the laws are the first of their kind in Australia and will target the manufacture, supply and advertising of synthetic drugs such as synthetic cannabis, cocaine and LSD.  NSW Greens MP John Kaye said the government’s legislation was “doomed to failure”. “The O’Farrell government has shifted the arms race between the drug manufacturers and the regulations to a new plane. The new battle ground will be over the meaning of psychoactive and will inevitably result in yet another generation of extremely dangerous drugs. “The New Zealand approach of testing and regulating the availability of relatively safe substances, not only works but reduces the unnecessary criminalisation of both users and suppliers.”

And not just synthetic drugs . . . Attack on plants as well!!

A bill before the NSW parliament this week will make it illegal to possess or sell any live plant that contains mescaline or a mescaline structural analogue. The problem phrase is in the definitions under ‘substance’, where it says that a substance includes any PLANT, fungus or natural organism. The bill also affects all DMT, harmaline, ephedrine and cathinone containing plants.

For instance, more than half the cactus family contains mescaline compounds in trace amounts, but the law makes no distinction between trace amounts and usable drug amounts. It is likely that the NSW government was aiming at the handful of abusable species such as Trichocereus pachanoi and Lophophora williamsii and is probably unaware of what they are about to do. This law will apply to some of the most popular collectible cactus species. Almost all cacti alkaloids are structural analogues of mescaline [as defined under NSW drug law], even if they are not psychoactive. Basically any cactus that contains phenylethylamines will become illegal regardless of the concentration and also regardless of whether the owner knew about it or what purpose it was grown for. The bill has already had its first reading and is moving to second reading in the next few days. It could be passed as early as this week, but more likely next. Either way, this will be law by the end of this month unless a lot of people make a lot of noise. Please contact your local state parliament member immediately to protest this. Please also contact the NSW Attorney General to voice your concern. 

Cash-in-hand economy and illegal drugs trade costing Australia billions [The Age]

Australia’s black economy and illegal drugs trade are officially worth $30 billion a year. The Bureau of Statistics has estimated the nation’s “underground production” – otherwise known as the cash economy – is worth 1.5 per cent of gross domestic product or about $24 billion a year. An Australia Institute report estimated the black economy was robbing federal and state government coffers of at least $5 billion a year and more than half a million workers used cash-in-hand payments. The annual trade in illegal drugs is worth another 0.4 per cent of GDP or about $6.5 billion a year.  The bureau used the “best available” data to estimate the value of illegal drug production. It assumed the most “economically significant” drugs were cannabis, amphetamines, ecstasy, heroin and cocaine.

Study highlights medico-legal complications of marijuana blood tests [ABC]

If you’ve ever smoked cannabis and your job requires drug testing you might be well advised not to run or cycle to work. Researchers from the University of Sydney have found that THC, the main intoxicating ingredient of marijuana, is released from a user’s body fat stores during exercise. That means that in many cases, enough of it is released to trigger a positive drug test, despite the fact that the drug may actually have been used months previously.

Drugs are not a moral issue [Ideas at the House]

Hitchens’ argument ignores the fact that for many, drug-taking is a spiritually profound practice. Without psychically traumatizing repression and self-denial, drugs can offer, just like religion, new insight into and appreciation for the nature of the world and the blessing of life. Drugs can promote a sense of oneness with others, and nature, that promotes social and ecological harmony. And drugs are scientifically proven to be invaluable in the alleviation of emotionally stunting psychological trauma. Catch Peter Hitchens at Sydney’s Festival of Dangerous Ideas in November.

Time to get soft on crime [Festival of Dangerous Ideas]

Politicians compete to see who can be the toughest on crime, because they think this gets them votes.  The public insist that the criminal mayhem that spices up our media needs an appropriate response. So politicians come forward with a war on drugs, zero tolerance, mandatory sentencing and maybe a three strikes law to top it off. But is this political theatre or effective crime-fighting? Do we actually carry out these strategies and do they work? The ‘tough on crime’ approach assumes that all we can do is lock people up, preferably for profit. But if we look at the reality of drugs and violence, empirical evidence suggests that being soft on crime, or at least softer on criminals, can be a more effective approach.

The End of Cannabis Prohibition – Beyond the Tipping Point [Transform Drug Policy Foundation]

The first system of US state government regulated production and supply of cannabis for non-medical use came one step closer this week, with the publication by the Washington State Liquor Control Board of its latest draft rules for the production and supply of marijuana. These proposed new rules appear to meet the requirements laid down by US Attorney General Eric Holder in his recent announcement that the Federal Government will allow individual states to proceed with marijuana legalization, as long  they ensure production and supply are well regulated, including restricting access to minors, and preventing excess production being sold into states that have not legalized. Transform welcomes the broad thrust of Washington State’s regulations which, are in line with what we have been calling for, including in our book After the War on Drugs: Blueprint for Regulation, and in our forthcoming publication How to Regulate Cannabis: A Practical Guide.

Oregon Democrat Earl Blumenauer Teaming Up With Grover Norquist to Push Marijuana Industry Tax Reform [MPP Blog]

In yet another case of people with disparate political ideas coming together to support marijuana policy reform, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) president Grover Norquist held a press conference Thursday to announce the release of a white paper protesting the unjust application of tax codes to marijuana businesses, Legal Cannabis Dispensary Taxation: A Textbook Case of Punishing Law-Abiding Businesses Through the Tax Code.

Senate Hearings Reveal Marijuana Businesses May Get Banking Relief [Smell the Truth]

Can Obama’s Justice Department, which has continued the Bush policy of cracking down on medical marijuana dispensaries, really be trusted?

FBI Study Shows Marijuana Arrests Continue at Near Record Levels Despite Changing National Attitudes [FBI]

Marijuana arrests continued at near record levels in 2012, and the vast majority of them were for simple possession. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s annual Uniform Crime Report, an estimated 749,824 arrests were made nationwide for marijuana, more than 87% of which were for possession. This is a slight decrease from 2011. Marijuana arrests accounted for nearly half of all drug arrests last year.  The report also noted that 59.9% of rapes, 53.2% of all violent crimes, and 81% of property crimes reported in 2012 were unsolved or did not result in arrest. These results show that one person is arrested for marijuana possession every 48 seconds on average in the United States. In a nutshell, we continue to waste billions of dollars arresting and prosecuting people for using a substance that is safer than alcohol, which most Americans think should be legal, and allow huge numbers of violent attacks and property crimes to go unanswered and unpunished. And we do this year after year. The only bright side is that arrest numbers, while still unacceptably high, appear to be dropping.

WeedMaps Now Caters to Soccer Moms [East Bay Express]

The world’s largest online cannabis finder, WeedMaps.com, rebooted its website and apps on iOS and Android in mid-August, in a symbolic and very real attempt to re-orient the site toward mainstream America. The sixty-person, Southern California- and Colorado-based company has ditched its weedy, original logo for a much cleaner, more neutral one: “wm” with a smiley emoticon underneath. The site itself is faster and less cluttered, though we experienced some crashes on the iPad app, and app reviewers report some annoying bugs.

Group of observant Jewish drug dealers told customers they were closed for Shabbat [NY Daily News]

“We are closing 7:30 on the dot and we will reopen saturday 8:15 so if u need anything you have 45mins to get what you want,” an April 12 message to over 50 recipients read.

Alcohol Has Killed Thousands Of People Since This Morning. Pot Use Has Killed Zero Since Forever. [US Libertarian Party]

A new website launched this month is comparing the direct death tolls from marijuana and alcohol use. If you click over to Since This Morning, you’ll see a number growing on the left, above “Deaths Directly Caused by Alcohol,” while the number on the right, above “Deaths Directly Caused by Marijuana,” remains at zero. These are estimates of the total people directly killed by each drug since the beginning of the day.

These Are Heady Times for Glass Blowers’ High Art [Wall Street Journal]

Craftsmen of glass pipes, known as pipers, have spent years perfecting their craft, shaping rods of multicolored glass into intricate designs. With loosening marijuana laws, many pipers are now showcasing their work in art books and public competitions. 

Legal cannabis market ‘would be worth £1.25bn a year to UK government’ [Guardian]

Legalising and taxing cannabis could be worth as much as £1.25bn a year to the government, a study suggests. The report, by the Institute for Social and Economic Research, quantifies for the first time the revenue to be gained from the regulation and taxation of the cannabis market in England and Wales. It estimates that reduced enforcement costs, such as police, court and prison time and community sentences, could save £300m or more alone, with the remaining three-quarters of the net benefit come from tax revenue.

Licensing and Regulation of the Cannabis Market in England and Wales [Beckley Foundation]

Our present policies based on prohibition, have proved to be a failure at every level. Users are not protected, it puts one of the biggest industries in the world in the hands of criminal cartels, it criminalises millions of users, casting a shadow over their future and it creates violence and instability; particularly in producer and transit countries. In a strictly regulated market, we could control the strength and purity of cannabis. We could educate, and provide treatment instead of prison. 

Drugs: let’s welcome this new starting point for legalisation [Observer]

Indeed, it can be argued that if Britain wants to tackle its drugs problem, it needs to address its information problem first. The hysteria surrounding the threat posed by skunk and a failure to understand the dynamics that have made it popular are axiomatic. Fear thrives on ignorance. But, in a polarised, often emotive, debate, there is little room for the facts to get in the way of ideology. You are either for prohibition or you are against.

“You Are Now Leaving the European Union” [Vanity Fair]

Forty years ago, squatters in Copenhagen set up the “free zone” of Christiania inside an old military base. The main drag is now a drug market called Pusher Street. But against all odds, and with a little help from the establishment, Christiania is doing just fine.

Science for potheads: Why they love to get high [Salon]

Drug warriors have long tried to smear marijuana as a dangerous scourge, seeking to criminalize possession of a leaf they clearly do not understand. The key to comprehending its effects is by better grasping our physiology. Marijuana is not magic. Marijuana (botanical name, cannabis) affects the human body because the plant-based cannabinoids in marijuana, once ingested, can “plug into” the cannabinoid receptors that are used by the cannabinoids made by our own bodies. It’s not just people that have cannabinoid systems. All mammals have them. All creatures do, except bugs. Although cannabinoid systems can utilize the plant-based cannabinoids in marijuana, the cultivation and preservation of cannabinoid systems by the evolutionary process has nothing to do with pot. The cannabinoid receptor appeared on the planet at least 550 million years before marijuana.

Canada a pot nation [National Post]

As a politician’s admission of marijuana use becomes the latest news item to catalyze a national debate on the drug, the Post looks at the status of pot in Canada — its history of use in the country, production, trafficking and what Canadians want to do about it.

Spirit Plant Medicine Conference, Canada

The third annual Spirit Plant Medicine Conference (SPMC) will be held at the University of British Columbia in beautiful Vancouver, BC on the weekend of Oct. 26-27, 2013. The intention behind SPMC is to offer accurate, respectful, and most of all beneficial information and inspiration on the healing and spiritual use of and broader context around such important sacred plants as ayahuasca, psilocybin mushrooms, peyote, iboga, cannabis, and others.

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