DENVER (AP) — Colorado health authorities suggested banning many forms of edible marijuana, including brownies and cookies, then whipsawed away from the suggestion Monday after it went public.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment told state pot regulators they should limit edible pot on shelves to hard lozenges and tinctures, which are a form of liquid pot that can be added to foods and drinks.
The suggestion sparked marijuana industry outrage and legal concerns from a regulatory workgroup that met Monday to review the agency's suggestion. Colorado's 2012 marijuana-legalization measure says retail pot is legal in all forms.
"If the horse wasn't already out of the barn, I think that would be a nice proposal for us to put on the table," said Karin McGowan, the department's deputy executive director.
Talking to reporters after the workgroup reviewed the department's proposal, McGowan insisted the edibles ban was just one of several proposals under review by pot regulators.
Lawmakers have ordered state pot regulators to require pot-infused food and drink to have a distinct look when they are out of the packaging. The order came after concerns about the proliferation of pot-infused treats that many worry could be accidentally eaten by children.
Statewide numbers are not available, but one hospital in the Denver area has reported nine cases of children being admitted after accidentally eating pot. It is not clear whether those kids ate commercially packaged pot products or homemade items such as marijuana brownies.
The Health Department's recommendation was one of several made to marijuana regulators.
"We need to know what is in our food," said Gina Carbone of the advocacy group Smart Colorado, which says edible pot shouldn't be allowed if it can't be identified out of its packaging.
Marijuana industry representatives insisted that marking pot won't prevent accidental ingestions.
"There is only so much we can do as manufacturers to prevent a child from putting a product in their mouth," said Bob Eschino of Incredibles, which makes marijuana-infused chocolates.
Even health officials worried that an edibles ban would not stop people from making homemade pot treats, with possibly more dangerous results.
"Edibles are very, very popular. And I do worry that people are going to make their own. They're not going to know what they're doing," said Dr. Lalit Bajaj of Children's Hospital Colorado.
The meeting came a few days after Denver police released a video about the danger of possible Halloween candy mix-ups.
"Some marijuana edibles can be literally identical to their name-brand counterparts," the department warned in a statement, urging parents to toss candies they don't recognize.
The edible pot workgroup meets again in November before sending a recommendation to Colorado lawmakers next year. The revised edible rule is to be in place by 2016.
DENVER (AP) - Colorado health officials want to ban many edible forms of marijuana, including brownies, cookies and most candies.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has recommended that retail marijuana edibles be limited to lozenges and tinctures.
The recommendation was obtained by The Associated Press in advance of a third and possibly final workgroup meeting Monday on identifiable markers or colors for edible marijuana products so they won't be confused with regular foods.
The health department's recommendation would effectively take most forms of edible marijuana off store shelves. The ultimate decision will be made by the Department of Revenue, which oversees retail marijuana sales.
Lawmakers have ordered state pot regulators to require pot-infused food and drink to have a distinct look when it's out of its packaging.
Deputy Atty. Gen. James Cole has warned that to avoid federal intervention, California should strengthen its regulation of medical marijuana. (Susan Walsh / Associated Press)
California should strengthen its regulation of the medical marijuana industry if the state wants to avoid federal intervention, U.S. Deputy Atty. Gen. James M. Cole said Thursday in an interview with The Times.
If you don't want us prosecuting [marijuana users] in your state, then get your regulatory act together.
- U.S. Deputy Atty. Gen. James Cole
Cole, who announced Thursday that he is leaving the No. 2 job at the Justice Department, said he was proud of his efforts to take a softer approach to enforcing federal marijuana laws. A year ago, Cole sent a memo to all U.S. attorneys, including several in California who had aggressively targeted medical marijuana facilities, telling them to ease up on marijuana prosecutions in states where it was legal.
But in the interview, Cole said that states should still have a strong regulatory system in place for the use and sale of marijuana, something he said California lacks.
"If you don't want us prosecuting [marijuana users] in your state, then get your regulatory act together," he said. Cole added that California must do a better job of stopping marijuana growth on federal lands.
Unlike most other states that have legalized marijuana in some form, California has no statewide regulatory regimen, leaving counties and cities to create a hodgepodge of rules and protections.
Attempts to get marijuana regulation through the state Legislature have failed, but activists are hoping to get an initiative on the 2016 ballot.
The impending departure of Cole, who for nearly four years has been the day-to-day boss of the department, adds to a growing leadership vacuum at the federal government's top law enforcement agency.
Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. announced last month that he would leave as soon as a successor is confirmed, though the Obama administration has so far not announced a replacement.
At least half a dozen other top positions at the Justice Department, including the associate attorney general, the No. 3 job, are currently filled with acting appointees.
Cole said he was proud of his initiation of a project to encourage nonviolent prisoners serving long drug sentences to apply for a presidential commutation, and of the prosecution of Credit Suisse Bank and individual Swiss bankers for helping U.S. citizens evade taxes.
He also has been closely involved in Holder's "smart on crime" initiative to reduce the prison population and the large proportion of African Americans in federal prisons.
Cole said he expects to leave in early January, after someone has been chosen to take his place on a permanent or acting basis.
Marijuana sales in Colorado saw a 10 percent bump in August — and industry leaders don’t expect that growth to slow anytime soon.
The sales of recreational and medical marijuana in Colorado each jumped more than 10 percent from July to August 2014, according to numbers released Thursday by the Colorado Department of Revenue.
In August, customers purchased more than $33 million in recreational cannabis — up from $29.7 million in July and $24.7 million in June. Consumers bought more than $32.2 million in medical marijuana in August — up from $28.9 million in July and $28.6 million in June.
The marijuana tax numbers are also adding up. Since Jan. 1, Colorado has brought in more than $45.2 million in taxes, licenses and fees for recreational and medical marijuana.
Industry experts attribute the growth of the recreational market to the ever-expanding number of stores opening throughout the state.
“Every day that goes by, or at least every week, we have new recreational marijuana businesses opening in Colorado, and that helps explain the increase in tax revenue,” said Mike Elliott, executive director of the Marijuana Industry Group. “The industry is expanding its reach. Recreational is going to continue getting bigger than medical.”
The total sales for recreational and medical pot, individually, remain close, less than $1 million in difference. But recreational sales are still outpacing medical sales — a trend that only started in July. And with one of the biggest cities in the state soon opening its first recreational marijuana shop, these sales and tax numbers will only continue to grow, said Elliott.
“Within the next month we’ll have the first shops opening in Aurora, which is a huge city,” said Elliott. “What we’re probably going to see is a huge bump in the recreational sales numbers beginning in another month or two because of Aurora coming on line.”
MASSACHUSETTS: It was almost an entire month ago that medical marijuana advocates crammed underneath the golden dome of the Massachusetts State House to outline a number of problems the state is perpetuating with the licensing process. Years after the herbal treatment was approved by Bay State voters, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health has yet to allow dispensaries to put seeds in the ground, but they’ve been happy to collect the application fees in the process.
To date, MassDPH has banked $3,271,500 in application fees from prospective dispensaries. Consider that 181 applicants paid out $1,500 apiece. When that number was trimmed down to 100, they subsequently paid out $30,000 each in order to move on. Just 11 dispensaries stand to open their doors at this point.
The fees are nonrefundable for the hopefuls that didn’t make the cut.
But that’s not all. Dispensaries that are approved for licensure will have to pony up annual fees of $50,000 for registration, $500 for dispensary agent registration and another $50 for patient registration. And then there’s an architectural review of the premises that will cost at least $1,500.
The debate over marijuana is raging — except among the patients who use it.
A new study from the Public Health Institute found that 92% of Californians who use medical marijuana say it helps them deal with their ailments. That runs counter to claims of legalization opponents, such as former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg who called it “one of the great hoaxes of all time.”
Legalization isn’t without its policy snags: The Colorado Supreme Court is weighing if an employee can be fired for using medical marijuana despite its legal status.
But whether the drug is effective for patients seems to be a closed case, and this study knocks down a myth believed by many opposed to legalization: that legalization of medical marijuana leads to widespread pot use.
“Our study contradicts commonly held beliefs that medical marijuana is being overused by healthy individuals,” the authors wrote, noting that patients suffer from a variety of conditions, including arthritis, migraines and cancer. “[The] results lend support to the idea that medical marijuana is used equally by many groups of people and is not exclusively used by any one specific group.”
According to the study, about 5% of California adults are medical marijuana users. While white adults and adults ages 18 to 24 were the most common users, every age and racial group had at least a 2% usage rate. Support for medical pot’s positive effects cuts across demographic lines.
Chronic pain was the most common condition reported among users, at about 31%. Arthritis and cancer were next at 11%, with migraines following at 8%.
It’s not just patients who support the drug. A survey published in the New England Journal of Medicine last year found that 76% of doctors approve of medical marijuana. The study sampled doctors from around the world.
A Pew Research Center poll from earlier this year revealed that three-quarters of respondents think marijuana will eventually be legal nationwide. 23 states currently allow it for medicinal use, while two states — Colorado and Washington — have legalized recreational use. Both numbers could go up depending on the outcome of numerous November ballot initiatives in states including Alaska, Florida and Oregon.
For now, the question of whether medical marijuana works has been answered by those who know best — patients themselves.
Rick Steves arrives in Oregon Tuesday to promote marijuana legalization. (Rick Steves)
Rick Steves, the travel guru who was a key supporter of Washington's recreational marijuana law in 2012, arrives in Oregon Tuesday to kick off a 9-stop tour promoting the campaign to legalize pot.
Steves recently wrote a commentary on Measure 91, which would legalize marijuana for anyone 21 and older, calling the proposal a "smart law" designed to address the reality of marijuana use.
"Marijuana is a drug," wrote Steves, who sits on the board of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. "It's not good for you. It can be addictive. But marijuana is here to stay. No amount of wishing will bring us a utopian "drug-free society."
On his website, Steves explains that running his own business has given him freedom to address his personal views of marijuana and drug policy in general without fear of being fired.
"When it comes to America's prohibition on marijuana, I can consider lessons learned from my travels and say what I really believe when I'm back home," he writes.
Last year, the Marijuana Policy Project named Steves one of the 50 most influential marijuana consumers.
In this 2013 interview with High Times, Steves said he does not consider himself a proponent of marijuana.
"I just believe that if somebody wants to smoke it, that’s their right," he said.
I'm sitting down with Steves before his first event this afternoon. Got questions you'd like me to ask? Leave them in the comments section below.
In this Sept. 14, 2014 photo, Abdelkhalek Ben Abdellah inspects cannabis in his fields in the Rif mountains in the Village of Bni Hmed in the Ketama Abdelghaya valley, northern Morocco. (Abdeljalil Bounhar/AP)
PAUL SCHEMM AND SMAIL BELLAOUALLI
KETTAMA, Morocco — The Associated Press
Published Tuesday, Oct. 07 2014, 5:25 AM EDT
Last updated Tuesday, Oct. 07 2014, 5:27 AM EDT
In the rugged Rif mountains, Abdelkhalek Benabdallah strode among towering marijuana plants, checking the buds for the telltale spots of white that indicate they are ready for harvest.
Much of the crop had been picked and left to dry on the roofs of stone-and-wood huts that dot the valley, the heart Morocco’s pot-growing region. Benabdallah says he openly grows the crop, while understanding the risk: “We are regularly subject to blackmail by the gendarmes,” he said as he scythed through stalks and wrapped them into a bundle.
Morocco’s marijuana farmers live in a strange limbo in which the brilliant green fields are left alone, while the growers themselves face constant police harassment. A new draft law may bring some reprieve: It aims to legalize marijuana growing for medical and industrial uses, a radical idea for a Muslim nation. It could alleviate poverty and social unrest, but the proposal faces stiff opposition in this conservative country, as well as the suspicions of farmers themselves, who think politicians can do nothing help them.
Morocco is joining many other countries in the world, as well as some U.S. states, in re-examining drug policies and looking to some degree of legalization. Morocco’s situation is unusual, however, in that Islamic traditions create deep taboos against drugs, despite the centuries-old tradition of growing marijuana in the north.
There are some 80,000 families in the northern Rif mountains of Morocco who make their living from growing pot, according to U.N. estimates; the region supplies nearly all of Europe’s hashish and is the world’s top supplier along with Afghanistan. The World Customs Authority reported that in 2013, 65 per cent of hashish seized at customs worldwide came from Morocco. Estimates vary wildly for how much the business is worth but legalization would certainly provide a substantial boost to farmers and to Morocco’s anemic economy, which is forecast to grow by just 2.5 per cent this year.
For now, the profits go to the buyers and smugglers who pay the farmers little for their crop and reap huge profits in Europe — where consumption in places like Amsterdam’s famed coffee shops has been decriminalized. The trade has brought little wealth to the region, with farmers saying a kilogram of kif, as the plant is known locally, sells for $8 and they make an average of just $3,000 to $4,000 a year.
They say they are completely neglected by the state — except for its police force.
Growers say that neighbours with scores to settle file anonymous complaints with authorities resulting in a visit from the paramilitary gendarmes, confiscation of the crop and months or years in prison — unless a bribe can be paid. Nourredine Mediane, a lawmaker from the region, said some 15,000 people from the area are currently in detention and another 30,000 are wanted by authorities.
Clutching his wide-brimmed straw hat, one deeply lined farmer described how he learned he was wanted by police when he went to renew his national ID card in a nearby town. Since then, he has not left his mountainside village and relies on family members to pick up supplies.
“I am scared to even go to the doctor,” he said, asking that his name not be used for fear of arrest. “I don’t even have the national identity card and I’m stuck in the village.”
Despite fear of arrest, many locals have no choice but to grow pot. The valley’s rocky soil is poor and the only crop that seems to thrive is marijuana, which was legal to grow under royal mandate in certain regions of the Rif until 1974, when the government passed a blanket ban on the cultivation and consumption of all drugs.
The marijuana ban was passed just as European visitors to the marijuana growing regions taught the farmers to produce hashish for export to feed rising demand across the Mediterranean. The ban also brought Morocco in line with the 1961 UN convention against drugs it had signed.
The security-centred approach to the problem has failed, argued Mehdi Bensaid, a lawmaker with the opposition Party of Authenticity and Modernity that was founded by a close associate of the king. The party’s draft law would keep pot consumption — widespread among young Moroccans in parts of the country — illegal, but legalize production.
Under the legislation, the entire crop would go to a state agency that would use it to produce new cannabis-based medications that have been developed to aid cancer and multiple sclerosis patients, and eventually for industrial uses such as textiles, paper and fiberboard as well. Under the U.N. drug conventions, marijuana can be legally be grown for industrial and medical uses. Factories would be set up in the region to process the plant and provide jobs. The state-driven industry would prevent cannabis from being turned into hash and going to the smugglers.
Bensaid added that he has already been contacted by European and American pharmaceutical companies interested in investing in the venture if the law passes. It is not clear, however, if there is sufficient demand for medical purposes to meet the vast supply coming from Morocco’s fields. And U.N. conventions would prevent the state-sanctioned crop to be sold abroad for recreational purposes.
Still, Bensaid sees legalization as a potential economic saviour.
“If Morocco has a crop that could produce these medicines that could be sold today in the U.S., Canada and France, it is an employment opportunity for citizens living in a miserable situation,” Bensaid told The Associated Press. “It’s a win-win, for the state, because there is tax, for the citizens, because they are in an illegal situation, and for the sick, who get their medicine.”
Bensaid’s party is backed in its effort by Morocco’s oldest political party, the Istiqlal or Independence Party. The two have presented a draft law to both the upper and lower houses of parliament. It is unclear, however, if the draft is on the schedule to be debated when parliament re-opens this month.
The laws have received some high-profile backing, including the ministers of health and higher education, who have supported the idea of using marijuana for scientific research.
However, the Islamist-led government and the powerful palace have remained silent, with few wanting to break a deep-rooted taboo against illegal drugs. While not specifically banned in Islam, marijuana’s effects are likened by most imams to alcohol, which is banned by the religion.
Mustapha Khalfi, Morocco’s government spokesman and communications minister, refused to discuss the draft law, pointing only to government efforts to combat drug smuggling and reduce the amount of land under cultivation.
Members of the Islamist Party for Justice and Development have accused those behind the law of merely looking to boost their standing in the Rif Valley region ahead of key local elections next year.
“These people are not just trying to get votes from the poor peasants in these regions, but are also looking for the sympathy and money from the drug barons ahead of the 2015 elections,” said Abdelaziz Aftati, a leading member of the Islamist party.
The growers themselves express suspicion about the plans concocted by politicians in Rabat. Farmers worry that legalization would mean a fall in the already low price for their crop and competition from wealthy estates with vast acreage and the latest agricultural technology.
“If legalization happened for all of Morocco, we could never compete with the other farmers that have lots of land and the price of cannabis wouldn’t be any different than that of carrots — we’d make nothing,” said local activist Mohammed Benabdallah.
More than any other region in Morocco, the wild Rif mountains have seen little government investment, in no small part due to a history of rebellions and the marijuana cultivation itself.
The locals are mostly Berbers, North Africa’s original inhabitants, rather than Arabs. In the 1920s, the region threw off Spanish rule and declared an independent republic that was subdued only after years of attacks by French and Spanish soldiers.
The Rif revolted again in 1958, soon after Morocco’s independence. In the aftermath, it was left poor and undeveloped with bad roads and few schools and hospitals. Locals say the police don’t dare to destroy all the marijuana fields for fear of provoking another uprising.
So instead, the economy remains firmly anchored to marijuana. Every year with the approach of the cold autumn months, villagers take their dried bundles of kif, place them over fine mesh and rhythmically beat them with sticks to extract a powder which is then rolled into bricks of hash. Pot is still smoked by the older generation in long-stemmed pipes called “sebsis.”
By November, the sheer walls of this valley will resound with the sound of tapping. “It is a like music,” said Benabdallah, “a festival of hashish.”
The government has repeatedly tried to persuade farmers to grow other crops, but efforts have failed. By 2010, most alternative crop programs had been suspended.
Walking along terraces of rocky earth, 63-year-old Mohammed Fathi said he tried to grow other crops, not least to fend off 32 police complaints against him. He was part of a co-operative that grew olives, figs and almonds, but it failed due to lack of rain — and he turned back to growing pot.
“Marijuana,” he said, “resists the drought that kills other plants.”
Many marijuana-related arrests in the US may not result in a prison sentence; but this does not mean there is no damage done.
In 2013, US public support swung in favor of reforming cannabis laws for the first time, with 58 percent of Americans supporting the legalization of marijuana, according to a Gallup poll. This attitudinal shift sits in stark contrast to the most recent statistics on marijuana-related arrests in the country; across the United States, nearly 750,000 people were arrested in 2012 -- equating to a marijuana-related arrest every 42 seconds -- with 658,231 (88 percent) of those individuals charged for possession only.
Based on figures cited in the 2012 book Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know, approximately 40,000 inmates in the US penitentiary system have a conviction related to marijuana, with an estimated half of those incarcerated solely for a marijuana offence (and less than 1 percent for possession alone). Thus, while marijuana arrests surge, they seemingly rarely translate into serving time.
This is not to say, though, that there is little or no impact on the person’s life if no sentence is ultimately received. With or without a conviction or custodial sentence, a marijuana arrest increases the vulnerability to severe, life-changing consequences -- from diminishing education prospects and employment security, to housing opportunities and immigration status.
The devastation that exposure to the criminal justice system can cause is poignantly depicted in the below video, “A Marijuana Arrest”. Based in New York City (NYC), the short film shows the troubling case of an individual arrested for marijuana possession. Owing to the arrest -- and irrespective of the fact that they were not, in fact, in possession and weren’t charged due to the lack of evidence -- the individual ended up losing their job.
Although New York effectively decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana in 1977, there is a significant loophole in the legislation regarding possession.
In short, “private” possession of up to 25 grams of marijuana is tolerated, on the condition that it is kept out of sight. On the other hand, “public” possession states marijuana cannot be possessed in open view, regardless of the amount. If this law is not complied with, a criminal misdemeanor charge can be issued. As cited in the video, the ambiguous nature of this statute – combined with exploitation by the police -- has contributed, in part, to the rise in marijuana arrests across NYC, with an increase in arrests over a 20 year period from 812 (in 1992) to 39,320 (in 2012).
As the video notes, the motives behind police enforcement of the public possession law are highly questionable at times. Arguably driven by the requirement to meet a certain (illegal) arrest quota, a common police practice is to request “suspect” individuals to empty their pockets. If marijuana is found on the person, the possession moves from private to public. In such an instance, the police are effectively engineering marijuana misdemeanors.
Stemming from the police manipulation of such searches, many individuals are unfairly ensnared in the already overstretched criminal justice system. Attorney Scott Levy notes how these low-level marijuana arrests are “clogging [the] court system,” adding that while marijuana misdemeanors are “supposed to be brought to trial within 60 days [in New York] ... 60 days can become 600 days.”
The potential damages associated with cannabis arrests, are furthermore (and sadly unsurprisingly), concentrated among certain ethnic groups who are already in some cases suffering from societal marginalization. As demonstrated by a comprehensive report by American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in 2013, on average, black people are 3.7 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana offences than white people, despite their long history of comparable usage levels.
Racial discrimination is even more explicit in specific areas across the US, with black people more likely to be arrested in Iowa (8.3 times), Washington DC (8 times), Minnesota (7.8 times) and Illinois (7.6 times).
It is clear that avoiding incarceration for cannabis does not mean that one has successfully escaped an event that could prove extremely detrimental to their future. The magnitude of the level of harm caused by a marijuana arrest alone must be considered, particularly in states where these laws are being disproportionately applied and leading to the increased marginalization of certain communities. Reform initiatives that are currently being brought into play in the US will help address these issues, but given the scale of the problem, there is a long way to go to combat these issues.