It’s being hailed as a new way to help your favorite furry friend: marijuana has become an increasingly popular way to treat arthritis, cancer and anxiety in pets. NBC’s Jo Ling Kent reports for TODAY on the controversial topic.
The US Department of Justice (DOJ) filed an unusual motion yesterday to stay a notorious federal medical marijuana case in northeastern Washington state, which it has vigorously prosecuted since 2012. After pursuing the case for five years, Justice Department officials yesterday acknowledged that they were prohibited by law from spending money to prosecute the case after Congress passed the Rohrabacher-Farr budget amendment in 2014.
Justice Dept. officials acknowledged that federal law prevented them from pursuing the case after 2014.
Joseph H. Harrington, acting US Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington, filed the motion to stay the appeal of convictions against a family of medical marijuana patients who became widely known as the “Kettle Falls Five.”
Three family members with a medical marijuana garden near Kettle Falls, Washington—Rhonda Firestack-Harvey, her son Rolland Gregg, and his wife Michelle Gregg—were acquitted on almost all federal charges in a March 2015 jury trial, but each was convicted of a single federal charge of cannabis cultivation.
Roland Gregg was sentenced to 33 months in prison, while Firestack-Harvey and Michelle Gregg were sentenced to a year and a day each. Another defendant, Jason Zucker, accepted a plea bargain that included testifying against his co-defendants. He received a 16 month prison sentence. The fifth defendant, Firestack-Harvey’s husband Larry Harvey, who was dismissed from the case after prosecutors discovered he was suffering from terminal cancer, died in August 2015.
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It’s natural for consumers to look for the best bang for their buck when they’re in the marketplace. Valuable cash is on the line when we’re talking about a retail cannabis industry that at times had higher sales than milk, bread and wine in grocery stores during the past year. But can you really trust a potential high by a strain’s THCA levels?
Examining how the state of Washington has categorized recreational pot smoking as similar to drinking, it’s easy for novice cannabis buyers to liken THC and THCA percentages to the alcohol-by-volume percentage of a pint of beer, or the proof of a liquor. But THC levels are far more complicated than that.
THCA is the non-psychoactive raw form of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, the primary psychoactive compound found in cannabis). The THCA percentage is used to tell customers what percentage of the herb will be converted to THC when heated. Depending on the style of testing conducted by the labs, factors such as the amount of water remaining in the plant greatly affect their test results for THC and THCA. Consumers focusing on THC percentages ignore how cannabinoids like CBD (cannabidiol, which also is non-psychoactive) and CBDA affect the results and duration of your high.
As if this all wasn’t complicated enough, pot labs in Washington have recently come under scrutiny for deficiencies. Bellingham’s Peak Analytics was suspended after auditors visited the lab in June. The lab was accused of giving preferential grading on submitted samples from farms, and auditors found irregularities in how the lab concluded potency scores.
The Seattle Times pointed to an auditor’s notes, where at one point of the testing, “One sample of pot was reported to have zero percent moisture… [which] would falsely inflate the potency value.”
The disparity in results have led to questioning of the regulation of labs throughout the state. Nick Mosely, chief science officer at Confidence Analytics in Redmond, told Leafly, “While it is true that in many areas of our work, cannabis science is in need of standardization, it is also true that adequate standards already exist for the relatively simple task of measuring THC in a flower or concentrate.”
The potential illegitimacy in determining potency does no favors for customers, either. Besides the obvious letdown of less-potent pot for those accustomed to real 20-plus-percentage bud, normalized percentage figures could also mislead naive users, causing them to go after an over-the-top flower, tested legitimately, that could leave them in a catatonic cage of paranoia and anxiety.
As the fluctuation of higher THC strains continues, it’s recommended that non-chronic consumers consider mid-level strains with CBD, in order to achieve the sort of long-lasting, fun-filled high that will result in them coming back again.
Source: Numbers Can Lie
Governors from the first four states to legalize recreational marijuana are asking the Trump administration to let the pot experiments continue. The governors of Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington say that marijuana legalization has expanded their economies. The governors also say in Monday’s letter that legal weed can be regulated to protect public safety and that legalization reduces “inequitable incarceration,” or people of color being disproportionately jailed for pot crimes. The letter was addressed to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. The governors say they opposed legalization at first, but warn that a federal pot crackdown now “would divert existing marijuana product into the black market.” The governors also ask for the Treasury Department not to change instructions to banks for handling marijuana money. (Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
It’s a movement charging ahead — for now.
Legalizing recreational marijuana is currently a priority in more than a dozen states as polls show overwhelming support and lawmakers see a way to bring in hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue. So far, eight states have legalized recreational cannabis.
But in recent weeks, the Trump administration has alarmed some pot supporters by warning states that have legalized recreational marijuana — California, Colorado and Oregon, among them — that federal law enforcement agents could soon come after them.
“I am definitely not a fan of expanded use of marijuana,” U.S. Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions told reporters recently. (Last year, Sessions characterized marijuana as a “very real danger.”)
Here’s a look at the current state of marijuana in America:
When did marijuana legalization begin?
The movement began more than 20 years ago.
In 1996, Californians overwhelmingly passed Proposition 215, which legalized marijuana for medicinal use. Since then, 27 other states and the District of Columbia have passed laws — a mix of voter-approved ballot measures and legislation — legalizing marijuana for medicinal use.
Scientific research has consistently shown that, for certain conditions, marijuana can be of medical value.
Indeed, a report released in January by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine found that there is conclusive and substantial evidence that cannabis is effective for the treatment of chronic pain in adults, including nausea from chemotherapy and multiple sclerosis-related spasms.
Similar findings have shown up in medical reports over the years.
But wait, isn’t marijuana still illegal at the federal level?
Yes — kind of.
Under federal law, marijuana is viewed as a Schedule I drug — the highest classification, also including heroin and ecstasy.
“States, they can pass the laws they choose. I would just say, it does remain a violation of federal law to distribute marijuana throughout any place in the United States, whether a state legalizes it or not,” Sessions told reporters.
But states that have legalized medicinal pot have some leeway.
In 2014, Congress passed a spending bill that included a provision that bars the Justice Department from using funds to go after state medical cannabis programs. The provision remains in place.
What about recreational marijuana?
It’s not protected under that provision.
Since 2012, eight states — with Colorado and Washington state leading the way — have legalized the sale and possession of marijuana for anyone over the age of 21. One result is that the states are raking in big bucks.
Last year, Colorado brought in nearly $200 million in tax revenue off sales, while Washington state netted about $256 million.
What is the Trump administration planning to do?
It’s unclear. Aside from saying states that legalized recreational pot could be targeted for federal action, the administration did not get into specifics, though it certainly suggested a sterner approach than the Obama administration.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer likened marijuana use to the opioid addiction epidemic and said the Justice Department would review how to proceed.
What did Trump the candidate say about legal marijuana?
Trump, who rarely faced questions about cannabis legalization on the campaign trial, made remarks that appear at odds with the recent comments from Sessions and Spicer.
“I think it’s up to the states,” Trump said in an interview with a Denver television station in August. “I’m a states person. I think it should be up to the states, absolutely.”
So recreational legalization began under President Obama. What did he do?
To be blunt, mostly nothing.
Other than a few raids early on, the Obama administration viewed marijuana legalization mostly as a states’ rights issue.
In a memo released in August 2013, then-Deputy Atty. Gen. James Cole noted that as long as state legalization efforts didn’t undermine a range of federal priorities — such as keeping pot out of the hands of minors and preventing marijuana from being grown on public land — his office would exercise prosecutorial discretion.
In other words, the Justice Department directed law enforcement resources to other drug priorities, such as the growing use of opiate painkillers across the country.
Obama, in an exit interview with Rolling Stone in November, said he was not “somebody who believes that legalization is a panacea.”
“But I do believe that treating this as a public-health issue, the same way we do with cigarettes or alcohol, is the much smarter way to deal with it,” he said.
Are states that have legalized pot looking for help from the federal government?
Because marijuana is illegal under federal law, banks are prohibited from taking money from dispensaries selling pot, forcing an all-cash business that creates persistent fears of violent crime among employees.
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper has called on Congress to pass legislation that halts federal regulators from penalizing financial institutions for serving the marijuana industry.
He has support from members of Congress, such as Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), who in February helped form the bipartisan Congressional Cannabis Caucus. The group aims to craft and pass federal legislation that helps states that have legalized marijuana.
“The results are in,” Polis said in a statement last month. “A majority of Americans live in a state that has some form of legal access to cannabis, and the federal prohibition of marijuana has been a complete and utter failure.”
Are more states looking to legalize?
Yes — many more.
So far this year, lawmakers in 17 states — Connecticut, Minnesota and Hawaii, to name a few — have introduced more than two dozen measures to legalize recreational pot for adults and tax its sales.
“Our focus is on revenue and bringing in cash to the state as legalization becomes more and more widespread,” Mary Washington, a state delegate from Maryland who introduced a bill recently that would tax marijuana like alcohol, told The Times. “Why not get it done now? We’re elected to do a job. More and more states are moving in this direction.”
What Are Cannabis Terpenes?
Cannabis terpenes are responsible for the different aromas and flavours of our favourite varieties. Amazingly, Cannabis has a wide range of aromas and flavours – researchers have uncovered over 100 different Cannabis terpenes to date.
Some of the most common Cannabis terpenes are; Myrcene, Limonene, Caryophyllene, Linalool, and Pinene.
They originally evolved as mechanism to repel predators and attract potential pollinators, but these days, in a controlled growing environment, terpenes are more associated with the smells and flavours they create for the consumer.
Terpenes are found in most plants, hence Cannabis may sometimes remind us of pine needles, lemongrass, citrus, berries or even cheese. According to Wikipedia Terpenes are a diverse class of organic compounds.
Given Cannabis terpenes wide range of tastes and aromas, it is possible there is a variety or two that won’t specifically appeal to you. Peace Naturals takes great pride providing our clients with premium, non-irradiated terpene rich medicinal Cannabis.
Cannabis terpenes have a unique role other than just creating a specific smell or taste. The entourage effect suggests terpenes play a tremendous role in influencing Cannabis interaction with our brain and cannabinoid receptors. Some terpenes interact with the same section of your brain that Cannabinoids such as THC and CBD do. Interestingly, these terpenes may actually control how much THC your brain intakes.
Fascinatingly, Cannabis terpenes are created from the same plant glands which produce THC, CBD, and other Cannabinoids.
Who’s most in jeopardy from a Trump administration? Where to start? People of color, women, workers, and the environment all stand to lose if Donald Trump implements the policies he campaigned on. But the legal weed market faces serious uncertainty, too, with billions of dollars in tax and start-up capital and millions of possible federal felony charges on the line.
It used to be that every 50 minutes in Washington State, someone was arrested on cannabis charges. A disproportionate number of those arrests were people of color. After I-502 passed, which legalized recreational weed in this state, those arrests rarely happen now. But now the people who built and are carrying out I-502’s regulatory system are in legal jeopardy in light of existing federal drugs laws.
President-elect Trump—who doesn’t drink, smoke, or use drugs—has tapped die-hard prohibitionist Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) to be his attorney general. Sessions said just this year, according to Politico, “Good people don’t smoke marijuana.” He has said that cannabis policy reform has been a “tragic mistake.” He even once said he thought the KKK “were okay until I found out they smoked pot.”
So while it’s unlikely the federal government will send DEA agents into states like Washington to enforce federal laws, what if Sessions decides it’s worth it? What if, in his political calculation, this is the issue he wants to be remembered for?
The lawyer responsible for legal pot in Washington has an unlikely answer: We could burn the whole legal cannabis system down.
“The most effective way to defeat federal interference in cannabis regulatory systems may very well be for state legislators to repeal all laws and regulations relating to cannabis,” said Alison Holcomb, the ACLU attorney who wrote I-502 and ran the successful legalization campaign in 2012.
Holcomb’s plan would have the state legislature completely strip any mention of cannabis from Washington’s legal code, removing both the laws currently regulating the state’s legal cannabis market and the much older laws criminalizing cannabis in the first place. Technically, cannabis in Washington is still illegal under the state’s controlled substance statutes, but I-502 carved out an exception to the state’s prohibition of cannabis provided the cannabis business is conducted within the new regulatory framework.
“Repeal it all, so there are no laws on the Washington State books that address marijuana,” Holcomb said.
That would make the state totally blind toward cannabis—no state agency would keep records on cannabis businesses, no law enforcement officer in the state could investigate pot crimes. It would turn the very regulated and rational cannabis market into the federal government’s worst nightmare. The regulations keeping Washington’s legal pot within our state, out of children’s hands, and away from organized crime would all dissolve.
This would not stop the federal government from cracking down on pot. Federal agents would still have every legal right to knock down doors, confiscate bud, and make arrests. But with only about 5,500 sworn DEA agents in the United States, this task would be equal parts Herculean and Sisyphean. Most federal law enforcement raids put the heavy lifting on local law enforcement, which numbers more than 750,000 sworn officers across the country. But if there were no statewide laws on cannabis, local law enforcement would not be able to help.
This is a prospect that the Obama administration has already considered, and used as a basis for not blocking Colorado’s and Washington’s cannabis experiments. When the lawyers at the Department of Justice looked at ways of responding to I-502, they saw that they had legal merit to sue against Washington’s cannabis regulations, but they would be unable to force the state to criminalize cannabis.
Deputy Attorney General James Cole said as much at a Senate hearing in 2013. “It would be a very challenging lawsuit to bring to preempt the state’s decriminalization law. We might have an easier time with their regulatory scheme in preemption, but then what you would have is legalized marijuana and no enforcement mechanism within the state to try to regulate it,” he said.
Not every lawyer looking at legal cannabis is ready to sign on to Holcomb’s plan.
Sam Mendez, executive director of the Cannabis Law and Policy Project at the UW School of Law, said Holcomb’s idea was interesting but he didn’t think it was the best way to block aggression from the Trump administration.
“It’s sort of like a scorched-earth strategy,” Mendez said. “We’re going to burn down our house so the robbers won’t rob it. I am just as terrified of the Trump administration as anybody else is, but it behooves the industry to work with the administration to at least keep a status quo rather than start a war.”
Or maybe, with a deal-maker-in-chief in the White House, the legal cannabis industry could get on Trump’s good side by giving him a bit of the action. Clif Curry, a staff attorney for the King County Council, said it may make sense for states with legal cannabis to offer to pay federal excise taxes on pot sales.
“By letting the federal government in on tax revenues (which they will need for other planned initiatives), the states might be able to preserve their current programs,” Curry said by e-mail.
While there may be few legal barriers stopping Trump from going after the pot industry, he would be picking a difficult fight if he chose to do so. More than half of Americans believe pot should be legal, according to the latest polls, and legalization of recreational weed has spread to eight states and more than 68 million Americans. Almost half the nation has allowed some form of medical cannabis.
Holcomb said she thought it was unlikely Trump would wage a full-on war against cannabis and didn’t think the I-502 system should be preemptively repealed, but she felt it was worth making this point to the incoming administration.
“I think it’s useful for us to remember these arguments and to lay out the argument for why the federal government should hesitate before they step in and frustrate the will of the voters in the states that have passed these regulatory systems,” Holcomb said.
It seems ironic for the architect of I-502 to call for its possible demise, but Holcomb said she still has the same goal in mind that she had when writing the measure in the first place. “The point of I-502 was to stop arresting people for using marijuana,” she said. “And I-502 was the right vehicle at that time to move us in that direction, and depending on what happens now, we may have to move in an entirely new direction. But the North Star is the same North Star: Don’t arrest people… because they use marijuana or grow it and want to share it with others.”
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Despite the DEA’s failure to reschedule marijuana, the cannabis industry has plenty of positives to look forward to.
August began with plenty of promise for the marijuana industry, but those high hopes went up in smoke on Aug. 11, when the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency released its long-awaited decision on whether it would reclassify marijuana.
The DEA denies the marijuana industry a victory
For months, the marijuana industry, cannabis supporters, and medical patients had hoped that the U.S. regulatory agency, with the recommendation of the Department of Health and Human Services, would reschedule marijuana from its current status of Schedule 1 — which deems it an illicit drug with no accepted medical use — to Schedule 2. This would have recognized that cannabis has an accepted medical benefit, and it would have allowed physicians around the country to prescribe medical marijuana to patients with very specific ailments.
However, the decision by the DEA denied the two petitions seeking to reschedule the still-illicit drug. The DEA leaned on three points in its explanation of the decision.
First, the DEA believes marijuana has a high potential for abuse. Both the evaluation from the Department of Health and Human Services and the DEA’s own observations appeared to confirm that.
Second, the DEA pointed out that cannabis has no currently accepted medical use, listing five reasons why that is. Most notably, the drug’s chemistry isn’t known and reproducible, and there are no well-controlled studies to back up cannabis supporters’ claims that it can treat pain, epilepsy, or any other number of ailments.
Finally, the agency believes marijuana lacks an acceptable safety profile. Without any approved cannabis products, the benefits of marijuana don’t appear to outweigh its risks.
For these reasons, marijuana will continue to remain a Schedule 1 drug, and approvals at the medical and recreational level will still be conducted at the state level. The ruling took the wind out of the sails of supporters.
But the marijuana industry succeeds anyway
However, it’s not all bad news for the cannabis industry. The DEA’s decision came with one notable caveat that will allow for easier access into medical marijuana research. Currently, the only approved grow farm in the U.S. is in Mississippi. New regulations could open the door for researchers to gain easier access to cannabis for medical research. Presumably, the sooner researchers can present a series of well-controlled studies on cannabis to the Food and Drug Administration and/or the DEA, the better chance they’ll have of getting the latter to reclassify marijuana in the future.
Even more recently, on Aug. 16, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the cannabis industry by protecting legal recreational and medical marijuana users against federal prosecution. In effect, the 3-0 verdict by the federal court prevents the federal government from providing funding for the prosecution of recreational or medical marijuana users in states where recreational or medical marijuana is legal. With nine states set to vote on whether to legalize cannabis this November, millions of Americans could soon be protected from federal prosecution, according to this ruling. It should be noted that the Appeals Court could change its mind at any time. But for the time being, federal prosecutors will have better ways to spend their money than prosecuting consumers who are using marijuana in accordance with their states’ laws.
There’s also a bright side to the DEA’s decision. Had the DEA rescheduled cannabis, the substance could have been exposed to a laundry list of FDA regulations. For example, the FDA could have placed requirements on packaging and marketing, or it could have demanded consistent levels of THC from each crop of marijuana. Even more importantly, FDA oversight may have forced the cannabis industry to run clinical trials in order to demonstrate the efficacy of the drug for treating certain ailments. These added costs could have put smaller players out of business and essentially handed the industry over to bigger businesses. Given less competition and more regulation, legal marijuana prices would likely rise rapidly.
In other words, marijuana’s DEA defeat is, in many ways, a victory.
The lone loser of the DEA decision
Perhaps the biggest loser here is the individual investor looking to take advantage of the marijuana industry’s incredible growth.
According to ArcView Market Research, a cannabis research firm, legal marijuana sales hit $5.4 billion in 2015, and they’re slated to grow by roughly 30% per year throughout the remainder of the decade. If this trend were to continue, then legal marijuana sales would total nearly $22 billion by 2020. An investment that could grow at 30% per year for five straight years is a real rarity for stock investors, so you can imagine how closely some investors are watching the marijuana industry. Unfortunately, keeping cannabis as a Schedule 1 substance will probably keep big business from gaining substantial market share within the industry. This leaves investors little to no opportunity to profit from the growing legal marijuana market.
Making matters worse for investors is the fact that the vast majority of publicly traded marijuana stocks are penny stocks that trade on over-the-counter exchanges. While reporting standards are improving on the OTC exchanges, it can still be difficult to get accurate financial information on cannabis stocks. Nonetheless, losses remain common among marijuana stocks, and that’s all the more reason to watch the advancement of the industry safely from the sidelines.
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