Rob Kampia

The Pro-Pot Juggernaut Continues to Gain Steam: 10 Victories in 2015

In 2015, state legislators considered bills to legalize marijuana in 21 states, decriminalize marijuana possession in 17 states, and legalize medical marijuana in 19 states.

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Barney Frank and Ron Paul Introduce Bill to End Federal Marijuana Prohibition

 I just left a landmark news conference on Capitol Hill where -- along with Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA) and spokespersons from three other advocacy organizations -- we announced the introduction of the first-ever bill to end marijuana prohibition on the federal level.

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Lunatic Drug Warriors Still Ignore Powerful Pot Science

Twenty years ago, on Sept. 6, 1988, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's chief administrative law judge issued a landmark ruling, but don't expect any celebrations or commemorations in Washington, D.C. Our government has ignored this historic decision since the day it was issued, inflicting needless misery on millions.

Indeed, most Americans don't know it ever happened.

In response to a petition asking that marijuana be moved from Schedule I of the federal Controlled Substances Act, which bars medical use, to a lower schedule that would permit physician prescriptions, Judge Francis Young held extensive hearings that began in the summer of 1986. He heard from an impressive array of expert witnesses, resulting in thousands of pages of documentation.

Young laid out his findings in a detailed, 69-page ruling, walking readers through the scientific evidence. He concluded that the law didn't just permit moving marijuana to Schedule II, but required it.

"Marijuana, in its natural form, is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man," he wrote. "By any measure of rational analysis marijuana can be safely used within a supervised routine of medical care. ... The evidence in this record clearly shows that marijuana has been accepted as capable of relieving the distress of great numbers of very ill people, and doing so with safety under medical supervision. It would be unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious for DEA to continue to stand between those sufferers and the benefits of this substance in light of the evidence in this record."

Remember, this was no pot-addled "legalizer" writing. It was the chief administrative law judge within the top federal agency responsible for enforcing our drug laws. Unfortunately, the ruling had no legal force. In legal terms, it was a recommendation, not an order that had to be followed.

And the DEA chose not to follow it. Six years after top DEA officials rejected Young's recommendation, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. circuit ruled that the agency did have the right to ignore its own administrative law judge.

Because the federal government chose to disregard the results of its own investigation, the medical marijuana controversy continues to rage today. Losing patience with the feds, 12 states have acted to permit medical use of marijuana under their state laws. If Michigan passes the medical marijuana initiative on its November ballot, that number will increase to 13, comprising roughly 1 in 4 Americans.

But while those state laws provide considerable protection for medical marijuana patients, states cannot provide an exemption from federal law. Even in the 12 states that have medical marijuana laws, patients and caregivers have been arrested, terrorized and even had their children taken away.

Meanwhile, the medical evidence continues to mount. Another federally commissioned study, this time by the Institute of Medicine, confirmed in 1999 that marijuana has legitimate medical uses.

More recently, newly published clinical trials have found that marijuana effectively relieves certain types of hard-to-treat pain, including the nerve pain that often accompanies multiple sclerosis, HIV/AIDS and other diseases. Other research suggests that by relieving the nausea and vomiting often caused by the harsh drugs used to treat hepatitis C and HIV, medical marijuana can help patients stick to these challenging drug regimens -- and live.

Because our government has ignored science, needless suffering has been inflicted on millions of Americans who have benefited or could benefit from medical marijuana. In 2009, we will have a new president and a new Congress, and they should move quickly to end this sorry record of federal stonewalling.

New Study Shows Medical Value of Marijuana

Ever since California and other states began passing medical marijuana laws in 1996, the federal government has claimed that -- as a 2003 White House press release put it -- "research has not demonstrated that smoked marijuana is safe and effective medicine." A new study, just published in the journal Neurology, definitively refutes that claim and underlines the urgent need for the federal government to change its prohibitionist policies.

The study, conducted by Dr. Donald Abrams of the University of California at San Francisco, found marijuana to be safe and effective at treating peripheral neuropathy, which causes great suffering to HIV/AIDS patients. This type of extreme pain, which is caused by damage to the nerves, can make patients feel like their feet and hands are on fire, or being stabbed with a knife. Similar pain is seen in a number of other illnesses, including multiple sclerosis and diabetes, and cannot be treated effectively with conventional pain medications. Standard pain medicines -- even addictive, dangerous narcotics -- have little effect on this type of pain.

Marijuana doesn't cure neuropathy, but in the UCSF study marijuana was clearly shown to give relief. In this randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial (the design that's considered the "gold standard" of medical research), a majority of patients had a greater than 30 percent reduction in pain after smoking marijuana. For many, that level of relief means having a bearable quality of life.

This result is all the more remarkable because researchers like Abrams are only allowed to test government-supplied marijuana, which is of notoriously poor quality. There's every reason to believe the results would be even better if scientists were permitted to study a better-quality product.

Abrams' study is only the latest in a growing mountain of research showing that medical marijuana can provide real -- and potentially even life-saving -- benefits. In a study published last year of patients being treated for the hepatitis C virus (HCV), those who used marijuana to curb the nausea and other noxious side effects of anti-HCV drugs were significantly more likely to complete their treatment. As a result, the marijuana-using patients were three times more likely to clear the deadly virus from their bodies -- in other words, to be cured -- than those not using marijuana.

Clearly, the White House and its drug czar, John Walters, should abandon their rigid, unscientific rejection of medical marijuana and start reshaping federal policy to match medical reality.

Unfortunately, this is unlikely; what's more likely is that the Bush administration will ignore the scientific data during its last two years in power, just as it has for the past six years.

That puts the ball in Congress's court. There are a number of actions Congress can take to put federal medical marijuana policy on a path toward sanity.

The first, and simplest, is to prohibit the Drug Enforcement Administration from spending money to raid and arrest medical marijuana patients and caregivers in the 11 states where the medical use of marijuana is legal under state law. This taxpayer-friendly act would remove the cloud of fear that now hangs over tens of thousands of desperately ill Americans and those who care for them.

But that should be just the beginning. Everything about federal medical marijuana policy should be reconsidered. That includes the arbitrary rules that needlessly hamper research, as well as the absurd law that classifies cocaine and methamphetamine as having more medical value than marijuana, which is grouped with heroin and LSD as having "no currently accepted medical use."

The guiding principle must be to handle medical marijuana as science, common sense, and simple human decency dictate. Recent research leaves no doubt that our government's war on the sick and dying must end immediately.

Your Tax Dollars On Drugs

Americans' annual day of reckoning with the IRS on April 15 is a good time to consider where our money is going -- and where it's being wasted. With the federal budget deficit ratcheting past $400 billion per year and the White House and Congress looking at cutting spending for Medicare, education and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is no excuse for squandering billions of dollars on programs that don't work.

No. 1 on the failure list is our government's war on marijuana users. This war has not only failed to curb marijuana use and availability, but it has done real harm to our nation while chewing up billions of dollars every year.

How many billions? Last year, Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron estimated that the federal government spends about $2.4 billion annually on enforcing anti-marijuana laws, which is on top of about $5.3 billion that local and state governments spend annually. Under prohibition, we also forgo the roughly $6.2 billion in tax revenues that Prof. Miron says would be generated if marijuana were regulated and taxed like alcohol and tobacco.

But that's only part of the cost of marijuana prohibition. The federal government has spent over $1 billion since 1998 on TV, radio and print anti-drug ads that have focused overwhelmingly on marijuana, often neglecting far more dangerous drugs like methamphetamine. And the government spends millions of additional dollars conducting and publicizing research that's designed to justify marijuana prohibition -- and an unknown amount campaigning against state and local efforts to reform marijuana laws.

The goal of all this is to choke off the marijuana supply and put a stop to marijuana use. Are we getting our money's worth?

In a word, no.

According to the U.S. Justice Department's 2006 National Drug Threat Assessment report, "Marijuana availability is high and stable or increasing slightly." In another recent federal government survey, 86 percent of high school seniors said that marijuana was "easy to get" -- a figure that has remained virtually constant since 1975.

All this, despite an all-time record marijuana "eradication" campaign in 2005, with over four million plants seized. Marijuana arrests have also set a record: 771,984 in one year. That's the equivalent of arresting every man, woman and child in the state of Wyoming plus St. Paul, Minnesota -- every year.

By cherry-picking the most favorable statistics, the White House has tried to convince us that marijuana use has dropped in a big way, but this simply isn't so.

Although changes in survey methodology make direct comparisons difficult, the latest edition of the federal government's National Survey on Drug Use and Health, released last September, reports a higher percentage of 12- to 17-year-olds using marijuana at least monthly than when President Nixon first declared a "war on drugs" in 1971. The number of Americans who admit to having tried marijuana has reached an all-time record -- nearly 100 million.

Nearly 15 million say they use marijuana at least monthly. That's more people than attend all college and professional football games in a typical month, more than three times as many as buy Apple's red-hot iPod in a month, and eight times as many as attend rock concerts in a month.

The futile effort to "eradicate" marijuana has produced a harvest of misery. By forfeiting any chance to regulate the marijuana market -- you can't regulate what's illegal, after all -- we've given criminals and gangsters an exclusive franchise. We've guaranteed that marijuana will be grown in dangerous locations -- even hidden in wilderness areas or national parks -- instead of by regulated producers who are subject to environmental and labor standards. Unlike liquor merchants, who could lose their very lucrative liquor licenses if they sell to children, marijuana dealers have no incentive not to sell to kids.

Marijuana prohibition may be the most spectacular policy failure since -- well, since the prohibition of alcohol in the 1920s. It's time to stop wasting money on this boondoggle. It's time to tax and regulate marijuana similarly to alcohol.

The Lesson of Sativex

On April 19, the Canadian government delivered what should be the final blow to the U.S. government's irrational prohibition against the medical use of marijuana. It approved prescription sale of a natural marijuana extract -- for all practical purposes, liquid marijuana -- to treat pain and other symptoms caused by multiple sclerosis.

Sativex, produced by GW Pharmaceuticals in Britain, brings the medical marijuana debate full circle. Though the technology has advanced in 70 years, this product is a direct descendent of the marijuana extracts and tinctures that were a standard part of the medical armamentarium until the late 1930s -- universally recognized as being safe and effective for certain conditions. These products were taken away from patients and doctors as a result of the prohibition on marijuana that began in 1937, despite the public opposition of the American Medical Association.

In short, the Canadian government has just certified that virtually everything our own government has been telling us about marijuana is wrong. In defiance of a large and growing pile of scientific studies, our government still claims that marijuana has no medical value. White House Drug Czar John Walters even compared medical marijuana to "medicinal crack."

Such statements were always scientifically ridiculous, as has been noted by a wide range of authorities, including the American Public Health Association, the American Nurses Association, and the state medical societies of New York, California and Rhode Island, to name just a few. Now, GW Pharmaceuticals' research has definitively put such nonsense to rest.

Make no mistake: Sativex is liquid marijuana. It is nothing like Marinol, the synthetic THC pill sold in the U.S. and sometimes falsely touted as an adequate substitute for marijuana.

Sativex is a whole-plant extract, containing the rich variety of naturally occurring compounds called cannabinoids that are unique to marijuana. It also contains trace elements of other compounds contained in the plant, which scientists believe contribute to its therapeutic value.

On its web site, GW Pharmaceuticals explains, "We believe very strongly that many of the advantages of using the whole plant come from the inclusion of other components of cannabis [marijuana]," not just THC. "In the cannabis plant, it appears that some of the components added together give better effect. Some components seem to work to counteract some of the side effects of others, and the whole plant is generally well tolerated by humans."

Sativex is to marijuana as a cup of coffee is to coffee beans. If Sativex is safe and effective, marijuana is safe and effective. And Sativex is safe and effective. Studies have shown significant effect against pain and other symptoms caused by multiple sclerosis and other debilitating conditions. Over 600 patient-years of research have established a remarkable record of safety.

Sativex should certainly be approved in the U.S., but the process may take years -- if it is allowed to happen at all. Sadly, our government's reflexive hostility to the medical use of marijuana shows no sign of abating.

But an even larger issue looms: Now that we know beyond doubt that marijuana is a safe, effective medicine, how long will our government continue to arrest patients who use it?

And even if Sativex is approved here someday, it won't be the answer for every patient now benefiting from medical marijuana. For one thing, it has been clearly shown that different strains of marijuana -- with different blends of cannabinoids -- work better for some conditions and less well for others. Sativex just comes in one formula, and it won't be right for everyone.

And Sativex will be expensive. Will we force patients to buy a pricey pharmaceutical version of a plant they could grow themselves for pennies? At a time when our healthcare system is drowning in rising costs, that's insane. We could end up with a policy every bit as silly as telling coffee drinkers that they can buy a cappuccino, but they'll be arrested on sight if caught in possession of coffee beans.

The lesson of Sativex is simple: Our government was wrong. Marijuana is medicine, and patients and doctors should be able to use it in whatever form works best for their particular situation.

Is the Drug Czar Afraid to Debate?

On September 10, White House Drug Czar John Walters called for "a national debate" about marijuana policy. The Marijuana Policy Project hopes he meant it.

As soon as Walters' offer to debate was reported in the September 17 Seattle Weekly, we faxed the following letter to his office:

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Moment of Truth for Medical Marijuana

On May 22, the state-federal conflict over medical marijuana heated up, as Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich defied White House pressure and became the first Republican governor to sign a medical marijuana bill. Meanwhile, on June 4, a federal court in California is scheduled to sentence Ed Rosenthal to at least five years in federal prison for the crime of providing medical marijuana to seriously ill people.

Rosenthal was convicted on January 31 of growing marijuana, but he was convicted by a jury that heard only half the story. When the jurors discovered the crucial facts that had been withheld from them, half of them took the extraordinary step of publicly renouncing their own verdict and apologizing to the man they had just convicted.

Juror Marney Craig wrote in the San Jose Mercury News, "Rosenthal's attorneys were not allowed to tell us the critical facts: He grew marijuana for use by people suffering from cancer, AIDS and other horrible diseases whose physicians had recommended it. ... I helped send a man to prison who does not belong there."

The evidence for marijuana's medical usefulness grows every day. Just this May, the esteemed medical journal, The Lancet Neurology, stated that marijuana's active components "inhibit pain in virtually every experimental pain paradigm" and suggested that marijuana might become "the aspirin of the 21st century."

The American public overwhelmingly supports protecting medical marijuana patients -- 80 percent, according to a CNN/Time poll released in November. By signing the medical marijuana bill, Gov. Ehrlich placed himself squarely in the American mainstream.

The response thus far from White House Drug Czar John Walters is simply to lie -- making absurd statements comparing medical marijuana to "medicinal crack."

Walters clings to the federal Controlled Substances Act, enacted back in 1970, which arbitrarily and wrongly declared marijuana to be without medical value. Because of this outdated law, federal courts -- like the one that tried Ed Rosenthal -- bar any discussion of medical use.

Think about this: If you shoot your neighbor, you are allowed to explain why. Did you shoot in self-defense or to protect someone else from harm? Motivation is often the key to guilt or innocence.

As Marney Craig put it, "All Ed Rosenthal did was grow some plants, but he wasn't allowed to tell us why."

This is crazy, but Congress can fix it. A bipartisan coalition of U.S. House members has introduced the Truth in Trials Act (H.R. 1717). This bill would remove the federal gag placed on medical marijuana defendants in states that have chosen to allow medical use. The bill would let seriously ill patients or people assisting them explain that they were acting to relieve suffering in a manner permitted by state law, allowing them to avoid federal prison if the jury finds their evidence persuasive.

This is a modest bill, one that would have no effect at all in states that have not chosen to legalize medical marijuana. In the states that have done so, juries would be able to hear the truth. Defendants facing federal prison for trying to help the sick could tell their stories without censorship.

It's too late to help Ed Rosenthal, who faces a minimum of five years -- and possibly as many as 40 years -- in federal prison. But it's not too late to help others.

This is an issue of basic fairness. Congress should pass the Truth in Trials Act without delay. And John Walters needs to start telling the truth or find another job.

Robert Kampia is executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project ( in Washington, D.C., which led the lobbying effort for the Maryland medical marijuana bill.

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