Marijuana Policy Project

Walmart Fires Cancer Patient for Legally Using Medical Marijuana

Joseph Casias, 29, has sinus cancer and an inoperable brain tumor.

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More Evidence That Marijuana Prevents Cancer

Among the more interesting pieces of news that came out while I was on vacation the first half of August was a new study in the journal Cancer Prevention Research, which found that marijuana smokers have a lower risk of head and neck cancers than people who don’t smoke marijuana. Alas, this important research has been largely ignored by the news media.

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Could Medical Marijuana Have Saved Michael Jackson?

Okay, let me say right up front that a) I know that headline is provocative, and b) neither I nor anyone can answer the question with any certainty given what we know and don’t know so far about Michael Jackson’s death. But the question needs to be asked.

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Can THC Help Some Schizophrenics?

The surprising finding that THC might help at least a small percentage of schizophrenia patients for whom conventional treatments have failed was reported in the June issue of the Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology.

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Will Legalizing Pot Save California from its Cash Crunch?

California state Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) has announced the introduction of legislation to tax and regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcoholic beverages. The bill, the first of its kind ever introduced in California, would create a regulatory structure similar to that used for beer, wine, and liquor, permitting taxed sales to adults while barring sales to or possession by those under 21.

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Letter from Steve Fox

Yesterday, the Marijuana Policy Project, in conjunction with the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), scored a major victory in Congress. Due primarily to the efforts of these two organizations, Republicans in control of the U.S. House Government Reform Committee were forced to postpone the vote on the "Office of National Drug Control Policy Reauthorization Act of 2003" (H.R. 2086).

Readers like you deserve a great deal of credit for this victory. From the time we e-mailed you our alert last Friday until the day before the committee hearing -- a span of only six days -- more than 3,500 faxes were sent to Congress through our Web site. If you were one of the thousands to respond, thank you. (MPP would also like to thank organizations such as the ACLU and Working Assets for inspiring their members and supporters to take action in this grassroots lobbying effort.)

At issue was a provision that would have made the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign available to the drug czar for political purposes. Under this new provision, the drug czar would have been able to spend up to $1 billion over the next five years on ads designed to defeat ballot initiatives or candidates who support drug policy reform legislation.

This provision very likely would have quietly passed through the committee, if not for the work of MPP and DPA. Instead, the issue ended up on the cover of Roll Call, a must-read newspaper on Capitol Hill, and inspired some great editorial coverage in the Orange County Register and the Baltimore Sun.

Now, all of Congress is questioning whether the ultimate purpose of the Media Campaign is prevention or politics. Moreover, the Democrats now appear to be unified against the drug czar's use of taxpayer dollars to oppose ballot initiatives.

In no uncertain terms, this incredible turn of events in Washington is the direct result of MPP's "War on Drug Czar." Here is how we reached the current situation:

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Maryland Protects Pot Patients

Maryland's General Assembly today rebuffed White House "Drug Czar" John Walters, becoming the second state legislature to protect medical marijuana patients from the threat of jail. Gov. Robert Ehrlich (R), who cosponsored the States' Rights to Medical Marijuana Act as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, is expected to sign the measure into law.

Maryland law presently provides penalties for marijuana possession of up to a year in state prison and a $1,000 fine. Under S.B. 502, which the Senate passed today by a 29-17 vote, patients using marijuana to treat the symptoms of illnesses such as cancer, AIDS and Crohn's disease would face no more than a $100 fine.

Seven of the existing state medical marijuana laws -- in Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington -- were enacted via ballot initiatives. In 2000, Hawaii became the first state to pass a medical marijuana law through the state legislature.

Drug Czar John Walters made a last-ditch attempt to stop Maryland's bill on Monday, calling it a "cynical, cruel and immoral effort to use the sick and suffering," according to the Associated Press.

"Today is an historic day," said Robert Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, D.C. "The Maryland legislature has shown the courage to defy the federal drug czar by reducing penalties for medical marijuana, right in the backyard of a hostile White House. Unfortunately, the bill is weaker than the laws in the eight states where medical marijuana is legal. The bill protects marijuana-using patients from jail, but they can still be arrested, handcuffed, prosecuted, and forced to pay thousands of dollars in legal fees."

"I am proud of the Senate for ignoring the last-minute campaign of lies conducted by John Walters," said Erin Hildebrandt, a medical marijuana patient and mother of five from Smithsburg, who testified for the bill. "Crohn's disease used to leave me too sick to even get out of bed, other than to go to the bathroom or the doctor's office, until I discovered that marijuana helped me more than any medicine I had ever tried. Medical marijuana literally gave me my life back. It is John Walters who is `cruel, immoral and cynical,' not the people working to protect patients."

"John Walters lost this battle because science, compassion, and common sense -- not to mention 80 percent of the American people -- are on our side," Kampia added. "We will be back next year to enact full legal protections for patients, and we expect to win."

With 11,000 members nationwide, the Marijuana Policy Project is the largest marijuana policy reform organization in the United States. MPP works to minimize the harm associated with marijuana -- both the consumption of marijuana and the laws that are intended to prohibit such use. MPP believes that the greatest harm associated with marijuana is imprisonment. To this end, MPP focuses on removing criminal penalties for marijuana use, with a particular emphasis on making marijuana medically available to seriously ill people who have the approval of their doctors.

Marijuana "Decriminalization" Bills In Six States

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Vermont Senate Passes Medical Marijuana Bill

Marijuana Policy Project press release

The Vermont Senate today passed S. 76, the medical marijuana bill, by a vote of 22-7. In the wake of this resounding endorsement, supporters are increasingly optimistic about the measure's prospects for becoming law this year.

"Last year, the Vermont House passed a nearly identical bill by a vote of 82-59, becoming the first Republican-controlled state legislative chamber ever to pass a medical marijuana bill," said Billy Rogers, director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, based in Washington, D.C. "We have every reason to expect a similar vote this year. Then, the question will be whether or not Governor Jim Douglas follows the will of Vermont's citizens and their elected representatives."

Vermonters strongly support protection from arrest for seriously ill medical marijuana patients. In a poll conducted last year by the Lucas Organization, commissioned by the Marijuana Policy Project, 75.7 percent of Vermonters said they "support changing the law to allow people with cancer, AIDS, and other serious illnesses to use and grow their own marijuana for medical purposes, if they have the approval of their physicians."

Gov. Douglas has given somewhat mixed signals on the issue. In a Feb. 26 interview with the Rutland Herald, he implied he might oppose the bill, citing federal opposition to medical marijuana. But in an interview in the March issue of Out in the Mountains, Douglas said, "There's a lot of evidence that it does some good and is effective where other substances aren't for certain patients and certain types of pain." He promised to speak to the governors of the eight states with existing medical marijuana laws "and ask them about their experience."

"If Governor Douglas speaks to those eight other governors, what he will hear is that across the board these laws have worked smoothly, with few problems," Rogers said. "He will hear that the federal government has never challenged the right of states to protect seriously ill medical marijuana patients under state law. And once he hears that eight state medical marijuana laws are working well, we are optimistic he will act to protect the sick and vulnerable in Vermont from the risk of arrest and jail for the simple act of taking their medicine."

With 11,000 members nationwide, the Marijuana Policy Project works to minimize the harm associated with marijuana -- both the consumption of marijuana and the laws that are intended to prohibit such use. MPP believes that the greatest harm associated with marijuana is imprisonment. To this end, MPP focuses on removing criminal penalties for marijuana use, with a particular emphasis on making marijuana medically available to seriously ill people who have the approval of their doctors.

TEENS AND DRUGS

A new survey of U.S. teenagers released August 20 by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse generated shocked headlines nationwide. Newspapers across the country blared variations on the same theme: "Students Say Pot Easier to Buy than Beer, Cigarettes."

Well duh.

What almost no one in the media picked up on is that NCASA and others have been reporting similar results for years. The real story, which went virtually unreported, is that the new survey demonstrates the harm done to our youth by the "War on Drugs." We are, quite literally, driving kids to drink. Teens have been telling NCASA survey-takers since the mid-1990s that marijuana is easier for them to buy than beer -- at roughly the same proportion as in the new survey. The only real change is that the recent push to curb cigarette sales to minors has had some success in making tobacco harder for teens to get.

Last year, the government-funded Monitoring the Future study reported, "Since the study began in 1975, between 83% and 90% of every [high school] senior class has said that they could get marijuana fairly easily or very easily." Other government figures show that youth marijuana use has risen over 2000% since marijuana was banned by federal law in 1937. If the idea is to discourage teens from using marijuana, maybe -- just maybe -- prohibition hasn’t worked.

The real news in the survey is what’s happening to teens attitudes toward drinking. While a larger percentage than ever reported their schools as being "drug-free," the number of kids saying they get drunk at least once a month went up by over a third from last year.

An insight into that disturbing statistic is buried on page 37 of the NCASA report. Asked to rank tobacco, marijuana, cocaine, ecstacy and alcohol from most harmful to least harmful, 42% of teens ranked alcohol as "least harmful, while only 15% gave marijuana the "least harmful" rank. 27% rated marijuana as either the first or second most harmful, compared to just 10% for alcohol. That should scare any responsible parent out of their wits. By the two most objectively quantifiable measures, toxicity and addiction potential, alcohol is far more dangerous than marijuana. Alcohol kills over 100,000 Americans each year. It’s easy to fatally overdose on alcohol and, sadly, we hear of college kids and others doing just that every year. But the medical literature has never documented a single fatal marijuana overdose. Indeed, scientists have long agreed that it’s impossible to fatally overdose by smoking marijuana.

As for addiction, the Institute of Medicine -- in a 1999 study commissioned by the White House -- noted that 15% of alcohol users become dependent, compared to 9% of marijuana users. The British government’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs came to the same conclusion earlier this year, stating that the addiction potential of marijuana is "well below nicotine and alcohol." But those potentially life-saving facts aren’t part of what we teach our kids. Instead, we bombard them with Drug War propaganda that crudely exaggerates the dangers of illegal drugs, leaving them with the mistaken impression that alcohol is relatively harmless. The price, alas, will be paid in corpses.

Bruce Mirken, a longtime health journalist whose work has appeared in Men’s Health, AIDS Treatment News and the San Francisco Chronicle, now serves as Director of Communications for the Marijuana Policy Project.

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