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A Tale of Two Marijuanas

This month, the Wall Street Journal reports about yet another invaluable drug derived from the marijuana plant; Canada moves to distribute marijuana at pharmacies; and a one-legged Vietnam vet is serving life in prison in Alabama for purchasing a pound of pot from a police informant in a sting operation.
 
 
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It seems governments maintain two standards for marijuana. The "good" kind is synthetically derived from the raw plant by pharmaceutical corporations, to be sold at top dollar to those fortunate souls with health insurance. The "bad" kind is the inexpensive, unpatentable raw plant variety that can land a person in jail for life for daring to smoke it.

This month, the Wall Street Journal reports about yet another invaluable drug derived from the marijuana plant; Canada moves to distribute marijuana at pharmacies; and a one-legged Vietnam vet is serving life in prison in Alabama for purchasing a pound of pot from a police informant in a sting operation.

March 10- The Wall Street Journal reports: It sounds too good to be true. A drug developed from research into how marijuana affects the brain shows remarkable promise as a potential magic bullet against many of the major risks for heart disease.

Researchers at the annual science meeting of the American College of Cardiology here presented two large studies of an experimental drug called rimonabant, being developed by France's Sanofi-Synthelabo SA, demonstrating its ability to help people to both lose weight and quit smoking.

The drug generated the meeting's principal buzz: "It's exercise in a pill," one cardiologist quipped. The findings showed that study patients who lost weight also had significant improvement in such measures as HDL ("good cholesterol"), blood sugar and other factors that at abnormal levels are precursors to both diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The drug's primary benefit may result from its ability to reduce abdominal fat.

March 21- AP reports: Canada plans to make government-certified marijuana available in local pharmacies, a move that would make it only the second country in the world to allow the direct sale of medical marijuana.

Officials are organizing a pilot project in the British Columbia province modeled on a year-old program in the Netherlands.

Currently, there are 78 medical users in Canada permitted to buy government marijuana, which is grown in Flin Flon, Manitoba. An ounce sells for about $113, and the marijuana is sent by courier to patients or their doctors.

But the department is changing the regulations to allow participating pharmacies to stock marijuana for sale to approved patients without a doctor's prescription, similar to regulations governing so-called morning-after pills. Those emergency contraceptives can be obtained directly from a pharmacist without the need for a doctor's signature.

The Canadian government also has suggested it may decriminalize marijuana, a move criticized by U.S. drug and border agencies, which threaten more intrusive searches of cross-border travelers.

March 28- Birmingham (AL) News reports: Vietnam Veteran Douglas Lamar Gray had a roofing business in Moulton, a wife and a son. In 1989, he bought $900 worth of marijuana in a motel room and lost everything to prison.

Until then, the longest Gray had been locked up was a few months for a burglary in his teens, then two more burglaries in his early 20s. After the marijuana conviction, a Morgan County judge, working from Alabama's Habitual Felony Offender Law, sentenced Gray to life without parole for drug trafficking.

A police informant with a criminal record had lured Gray to the motel. Gray bought the marijuana, and drove away into a swarm of police cars. He ditched the pot before they arrested him. He thought he wouldn't be found guilty if the evidence was elsewhere, so he refused a plea bargain.

That no one was injured during his crimes doesn't matter. Gray, 49, will die behind bars.

Before the drug bust, he had not been arrested in 14 years.

"Made real good money, owned my own house, my own land," he said. "Watched my little boy grow up, then they set me up and sold me a pound of pot."

Morgan County District Attorney Bob Burrell, who was a prosecutor at the time, declined comment, and the judge who sentenced Gray is dead.

The case is so old no one from the DA's office or the clerk's office could find out how much marijuana was involved. Gray says it was a pound. The indictment indicates it had to be at least 2.2 pounds to qualify for a "trafficking" charge, which does not mean he sold any but that he had more than what is considered "personal use" by Alabama's marijuana laws, some of the country's strictest.

The state has spent $150,000 to keep Gray locked up. So far.

Gray lives in St. Clair prison's medical dorm because a train accident took his right leg years ago. He relies on wooden crutches to get around.