Revisiting the Cannabis Debate
Marijuana has long been demonized and implicated in the War on Drugs. Although listed in the Drug Enforcement Agency’s (DEA’s) Schedule I—along with MDMA, LSD, and heroin—some argue the scheduling is incorrect and advocate for marijuana’s medicinal and recreational use. With large amounts of money being raised to promote decriminalization and legalization, the marijuana issue has become part of the national discussion. Let’s attempt to update the marijuana debate in the following areas.
Under federal law, marijuana is viewed as a controlled substance. Its possession, use, and distribution, even for medical purposes, are illegal under any circumstances. States that permit medical pot are in violation of federal law. Nevertheless, in October 2009, former US Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Obama administration would not prosecute people who were using medical marijuana in compliance with state law (Stout & Moore, 2009). Note that tincture of cannabis was legal and officially listed in the US Pharmacopoeia until 1941.
Marijuana comes from the plant cannabis sativa, with its active ingredient delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, better known as THC. Proposed medical uses include treatment for AIDS’ wasting syndrome, glaucoma, chronic pain, and nausea associated with chemotherapy. Promising research has also been indicated in treatment for an assortment of illnesses including tremors and balance in multiple sclerosis patients, antiepileptic actions, spasticity in spinal cord injury, neurological disorders, anxiety, Parkinsonian tremor, and aspects of Huntington’s disease.
On June 15, 2000, Hawaii became the first state to pass legislation approving medical marijuana (“Medical marijuana,” 2016). Although challenged by the Justice Department, voters in numerous states began approving the drug. In 1998 the case of Conant v. McCaffrey was decided in favor of Californian doctors being able to recommend, rather than prescribe, which would be illegal, cannabis to patients with criminal and civil sanctions. Today twenty-three states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana.
Although four states have approved recreational marijuana—Colorado, Alaska, Washington, Oregon—several additional states are attempting the same thing. California, which has already legalized medical marijuana, has a proposal to legalize recreational marijuana, estimating it would generate about $1.4 billion in much-needed revenue. Officials argue this could help offset the California economic downturn and diminish the power of Mexican drug cartels. In addition, the court systems overburdened by marijuana crimes would be freed up to deal with more serious drug issues.
One of the world’s most durable fibers, industrial hemp, helped win World War II but is currently illegal in many states. That may soon change, as “the Industrial Hemp Farming Act would amend the Controlled Substances Act to exclude industrial hemp from the definition of marijuana and would allow for American farmers in any state to grow the crop” (Ferner, 2015).
Kentucky leads the race to commercialize industrial hemp. On Veteran’s Day an American flag made from Kentucky-grown and -sewn hemp flew over the US Capitol. North Carolina’s Senate Bill 313, the Industrial Hemp Research Act, establishes that, “it is in the best interest of the citizens of North Carolina to promote and encourage the development of an industrial hemp industry in the State in order to expand employment, promote economic activity, and provide opportunities to small farmers for an environmentally sustainable and profitable use of crop lands that might otherwise be lost to agricultural production” (NAIHC, 2015). Ironically, the US is the world’s largest consumer of hemp products, but is the only major industrialized country that outlaws domestic hemp production. Hemp contains little to no THC, the psychoactive ingredient associated with marijuana’s high.
Butane Hash Oil
Also known as “dabs,” this trend started on the west coast and arrived on the east coast in December 2013. The butane method is popular because the solvent, combined with a heat source, extracts the THC from the marijuana producing hash oil with 30 percent or higher THC content. Because of the Internet and YouTube videos, the recipe is available, relatively easy to make, and dangerous. Fires and explosions have occurred with novice chemists.
UK researchers found recreational users prefer BHO because the effects were stronger and onset more rapid. Their study suggests that users reported that “dabs” led to the development of higher tolerance and withdrawal, suggesting that the practice might be more likely to lead to the development of dependence (Winstock & Loflin, 2015).
Also known as “wax” or “710,” shatter is more potent and faster acting than standard hash oil. Shatter is a form of marijuana wax derived from butane hash oil. According to an article in The Washington Post, “. . . some forms of shatter have as much as 90 percent THC . . . about five times the potency of unrefined smoked cannabis and more powerful than standard hash oil. It is produced as a thin, hard translucent layer similar to glass, which can shatter if dropped, and is typically heated and inhaled through a vaporizer rather than smoked” (Jackman, 2015).
Extracting THC from leafy marijuana is dangerous. The process, popular on the west coast, uses highly flammable butane gas and has resulted in numerous explosions and injuries. Additionally, the DEA reported “that marijuana concentrates are growing in popularity and that the drug’s ease of use through portable vaporizers presented new challenges to law enforcement” (Jackman, 2015; DEA, 2015). The drug is legal in Colorado and Washington and retails for $60 per gram in Colorado.
Vireo Health of Albany, New York will market the world’s first certified kosher marijuana. The group announced that the Orthodox Union of New York had authenticated it as having met Jewish dietary laws and that the cannabis came from insect-free plants. Vireo says the certification will help the company serve patients among New York’s Jewish population, the nation’s largest (Hamilton, 2015). The program was scheduled to begin in March 2016.
Colorado lawmakers are debating whether the state should allow cannabis to be certified as organic. The state could be the first to regulate organic labels in its marijuana products. According to an article by the Associated Press, “Consumer confusion over organic marijuana peaked in Colorado earlier in 2016, when Denver health authorities seized thousands of marijuana plants from growers suspected of using off-limits chemicals on their plants. Most of the plants were ultimately released, but some were sold with names that suggested the products were natural or organic” (Wyatt, 2016).
On July 22, 2010 the US Department of Veterans Affairs issued a long-awaited directive allowing its patients to use marijuana for medical reasons without jeopardizing their access to government sponsored health care. VA patients who register for a medical marijuana card, demonstrating compliance in one of the states where use is legal, may use the natural painkiller.
Medical pot is being used by military veterans to treat aspects of PTSD, but in their article “Marijuana Use and PTSD among Veterans,” Bonn-Miller and Rousseau warn,
Marijuana use for medical conditions is an issue of growing concern. Some Veterans use marijuana to relieve symptoms of PTSD and several states specifically approve the use of medical marijuana for PTSD. However, controlled studies have not been conducted to evaluate the safety or effectiveness of medical marijuana for PTSD. Thus, there is no evidence at this time that marijuana is an effective treatment for PTSD. In fact, research suggests that marijuana can be harmful to individuals with PTSD (2016).
Marijuana’s popularity waxes and wanes with the media’s antidrug message. Everything begins with perception, and with marijuana the news is troubling. The perception that smoking marijuana once or twice weekly is not dangerous has become a more prevalent attitude among American high school students. Research by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) “found that when a teen’s sense of a substance’s perceived harm goes down, his/her rate of use of that substance goes up” (Steiner, 2015).
It has been sixteen years since Hawaii became the initial state to legalize medical marijuana. At this point, nearly half of the states have climbed aboard the cannabis bandwagon and, despite objections from drug and alcohol professionals, the wagon does not appear to be slowing down.
Bonn-Miller, M. O., & Rousseau, G. S. (2016). Marijuana use and PTSD among veterans. Retrieved from http://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/co-occurring/marijuana_use_ptsd_veterans.asp
Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). (2015). 2015 national drug threat assessment summary. Retrieved from http://www.dea.gov/docs/2015%20NDTA%20Report.pdf
Ferner, M. (2015). Bill aims to end federal ban on US hemp production. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/01/22/hemp-legalization_n_6525106.html
Hamilton, M. (2015). Kosher-approved medical marijuana. Timesunion. Retrieved from http://www.timesunion.com/local/article/Kosher-approved-medical-marijuana-6729049.php
Jackman, T. (2015). Shatter, a super-high-potency marijuana, is appearing on the east coast. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/public-safety/shatter-super-high-potency-marijuana-now-appearing-on-east-coast/2015/12/23/e09dfde4-a8fa-11e5-bff5-905b92f5f94b_story.html
Join Together. (2016). Law enforcement sees more high-potency marijuana, called ‘shatter.’ Retrieved from http://www.drugfree.org/join-together/law-enforcement-sees-high-potency-marijuana-called-shatter/?utm_source=Stay+Informed+-+latest+tips%2C+resources+and+news&utm_campaign=5331cf6db7-JT_Weekly_News_Heroin_Overdoses_Becoming3_10_2016&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_34168a2307-5331cf6db7-223274169
“Medical marijuana dispensaries opening soon; Hawaii legislature considering decriminalization and legislation bills.” (2016). Retrieved from https://www.mpp.org/states/hawaii/
North American Industrial Hemp Council (NAIHC). (2015). States race to grow industrial hemp. Retrieved from http://www.naihc.org/home/352-states-race-to-grow-industrial-hemp
Steiner, A. (2015). ‘It’s just pot’: Does legalization of medical marijuana change teens’ attitudes about it? MinnPost. Retrieved from https://www.minnpost.com/mental-health-addiction/2015/11/it-s-just-pot-does-legalization-medical-marijuana-change-teens-attit
Stout, D., & Moore, S. (2009). US won’t prosecute in states that allow medical marijuana. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/20/us/20cannabis.html?_r=0
Winstock, A., & Loflin, M. J. (2015). Butane hash oil – The good, the bad, and the ugly. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/adam-winstock/butane-hash-oil-good-bad-ugly_b_6154208.html
Wyatt, K. (2016). Colorado debates organic labels for marijuana. Retrieved from http://bigstory.ap.org/article/3bb9c7b1670d402aae029115f2822e7d/colorado-debates-organic-labels-marijuana