Stop Making Excuses: Access to Cannabis is a Boon to Public Health

Recently the governor of the Green Mountain State, Vermont,  vetoed a bill that would have legalized the possession of cannabis and authorized a commission that would set up a system to tax a regulate sales of the plant. He gave three reasons for doing so: he wants stricter penalties for selling to or consumption in front of minors, he wants stricter penalties for driving under the influence of cannabis, and he wants the commission in charge of creating the market to include more agencies in Vermont. This all sounds reasonable on the surface until you realize a few things: selling cannabis to minors is already illegal in the state and carries a five year penalty, driving under the influence of any substance is already punishable by up to two years in VT, and many other states have had no problem setting up commissions that focused exclusively on creating a legal cannabis market.

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This is another glaring example of the absurd standards cannabis legislation is held to. Despite the fact that a majority of Americans support these initiatives; that researchers across the globe are discovering ways in which cannabis can treat a plethora medical symptoms; and that cannabis has a pristine safety record that stretches back literally millennia, the debate surrounding legalization unfailingly focuses on mitigating the “dangers” of cannabis. Proponents of cannabis, either in debate or when crafting legislation, often must concede that cannabis is harmful to public health. This results in ridiculously restrictive regulations that do nothing to enhance safety and only function as a means to limit access.

The truth is that legalizing cannabis would bring profound public health benefits. It’s time to change the tone and substance of the conversation. Here are several ways we, as a community of people who recognize the benefits of legal cannabis access, can make a more convincing case.

Reduction in the Use of Prescribed Narcotics

America is currently in the thralls of a heartbreaking epidemic of drug addiction and overdose. Some have described this as the worst public health emergency in US history. Drug overdose is now the leading cause of death of Americans under the age of 50. Much of nationwide tragedy is the result of opioids and, to a lesser extent, narcotic sleep aids and anti-anxiety medication.

How cannabis addresses this problem is by functioning as a safe and effective alternative to these dangerous and addictive medications. Recent studies conclusively show that states that implement comprehensive medical cannabis programs see dramatic decreases in prescriptions of, hospitalizations related to, and overdoses from narcotic prescription drugs. Thirteen medical cannabis states have seen more than 30% reductions in overdose deaths!

Another way cannabis can address this problem is by helping those already addicted ease the symptoms of withdrawal, craving, and underlying pain. As a nation facing this horrifying epidemic we need to implement all the effective tools available.

Treatment of Diabetes and its Symptoms

Diabetes is the costliest and one of the most damaging diseases in the US. Dialysis alone costs nearly 1% of the federal budget. (Most patients on dialysis have suffered kidney failure due to diabetes). More than 29 million Americans have the disease and another 86 million are in danger of getting it. These numbers put an unsustainable strain our healthcare system.

What does this have to do with cannabis? A massive study from Harvard Medical School found that cannabis use correlates with better blood sugar control.  A better understanding of this link could lead to revolutionary new treatments and be not only incredible to those suffering from diabetes but also society as a whole by bringing healthcare costs down significantly.

Cannabis has shown remarkable effectiveness in ameliorating treatment resistant neuropathy or nerve pain. This kind of pain is associated with many different conditions but most commonly with advanced diabetes. Neuropathic pain rarely responds to traditional pain medication but can cannabis can be very helpful.

Reduction in Alcohol and Tobacco

Though completely legal in all 50 states alcohol and tobacco are still the most deadly substances on the planet. There are no plans to ban these substances as it became massively unpopular last time it was tried. Over 80,000 people die each year from alcohol related deaths and over 400,000 die from tobacco. Throughout cannabis’ long history with mankind, it hasn’t killed a single person.

Cannabis addresses this problem by providing an alternative. Obviously cannabis will not replace all tobacco and alcohol use but even if it replaced a tiny fraction it would translate into thousands of lives saved each year. You may not see the correlation here but the alcohol industry certainly does.

Conclusion

As cannabis advocates we should no longer be fighting from our back foot. There’s no need to be shy or to qualify your support with conditions. Cannabis is safe. Cannabis saves lives. The data supports our cause.



How Cannabis Can Help Save the Environment

Though rarely a part of the conversation about cannabis, understanding the effects the rapidly expanding legal market will have on the environment is critical. It may seem like we’re taking a bit of a leap here but there are simple and significant ways in which a thriving legal cannabis/ hemp market in the US could protect the soil, water and air; reduce carbon dioxide emissions; and reduce plastic waste. (The following is not exhaustive by the way. We encourage you to tell us more on our Facebook page)

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Soil, Water, and Air

An important way we protect our land, water, and soil is by ensuring that our trees and forests thrive. Trees capture carbon dioxide and emit oxygen. They prevent erosion and keep waterways clear. They provide food and shelter to animals. Yet their industrial qualities are indispensable to the economy. Wood is used to build houses, furniture, and paper, among many other things. As a result the world cuts down the trees at an unsustainable rate. If only there was an alternative.

As it turns out, industrial hemp (a.k.a. Cannabis Sativa-L) can serve as reliable substitute for tree wood for most practical purposes. Hemp can be harvested several times a year as opposed to trees which can take a human lifetime or more to reach maturity. Hemp also does not need land to be cleared and leaves soil in better condition than when it was planted.

The US is one of the very few nations in the world that does not allow hemp farming. If the world’s largest economy replaced a fraction of the wood with hemp it would make a considerable impact on the world’s forests.

CO2 Emissions

With the planet warming and sea levels rising, reducing carbon dioxide emissions has become an economic and moral imperative. Some of the greatest minds in the world are hard at work figuring out how we can do this in ways both big and small.

Surprisingly cannabis has a role in this too. The qualities of hemp make it a an excellent source of biodiesel fuel, if not the best. Using biodiesel emits about 72% less carbon dioxide than conventional diesel. Currently biodiesel is more expensive than conventional diesel but imagine if hemp was legal and subsidized like oil!

Also, as restrictions on cannabis ease, more people who grow cannabis, will do so outdoors without the use of artificial light. This too can make a considerable impact on energy usage.

Plastic Waste

Plastic waste is a major environmental problem. Most of us have heard about the giant mass or plastic floating in the Pacific Ocean. Plastic waste kills wildlife, chokes waterways and leaches toxic chemicals into the water and soil.

Another one of hemp’s many uses is to make plastic. Hemp plastic is biodegradable and does not degenerate into toxic substances. Widespread adoption of hemp plastic could save billions of pounds of plastic waste from reaching our oceans.

Cannabis, if properly exploited, could be an essential segment of the green economy but there is a lot of work ahead. The first step is showing our elected representatives how beneficial cannabis is and reminding them that we’re determined to have a healthier future.

We at CITIVA continue to learn new things everyday about this incredible plant. Do you know anything interesting about cannabis? Reach out to us on Facebook



Law and Cannabis in the US

Cannabis law in the United States is complicated, unevenly applied, and fraught with controversy. It is also a relatively new area of focus, so even many attorneys are unaware of the many contradictions and intricacies of the laws and policy initiatives. With all the confusion surrounding this issue we at CITIVA wants to help with understanding this hazy legal maze.

Federal Law

Any discussion of cannabis law should begin from the federal perspective. In a federal system like the US, the national and local (state) governments share power, with certain authorities assigned to each side. Currently, in 29 states and 3 overseas territories, the laws regarding cannabis are in conflict with federal law.

In 1970, the Controlled Substances Act became law and allowed the federal government to “schedule” (classify) drugs, ostensibly, based on the inherent dangers and benefits. Schedule 1 drugs have been deemed to have no recognized medical applications. Under this scheduling we find drugs like heroin, PCP, LSD, and… cannabis(!).

Unlike drugs like cocaine, fentanyl, and methamphetamine, the federal government believes that there are no safe medical uses for cannabis. While many states have contested this plainly absurd classification by legalizing the use and sale of cannabis, this distinction still has profound consequences. Research into cannabis is hobbled because researchers still require federal approval, which is rarely given. Companies that sell or handle cannabis cannot use most banks and are unable to write off business expenses like normal businesses. Most importantly, patients who require medical cannabis cannot bring their medication with them or purchase more when they leave their home state.

Though the federal government has taken a consistent hardline approach to cannabis there are a few cracks in facade indicating changing attitudes.

Ogden Memorandum

The first signal that the federal government’s position on cannabis was beginning to change came in 2009 in the form of the Ogden Memorandum. This document provides guidelines to federal prosecutors from the Department of Justice regarding cannabis in states where it has been legalized. The memo informs federal prosecutors in states where cannabis is legal, to not prosecute those engaged in the cannabis business as long as they are compliant with state law and do not trigger federal enforcement priorities. These priorities include: unlawful possession or unlawful use of firearms; violence; sales to minors; financial and marketing activities inconsistent with the terms, conditions, or purposes of state law, including evidence of money laundering activity and/or financial gains or excessive amounts of cash inconsistent with purported compliance with state or local law; amounts of marijuana inconsistent with purported compliance with state or local law; illegal possession or sale of other controlled substances; and ties to other criminal enterprises. This document did not have the force of law and was simply guidance but it had the effect of allowing the industry to breathe a little easier and thrive.

Rohrabacher–Farr Amendment

Another major advance for cannabis at the federal level is the Rohrabacher–Farr Amendment. This was a budget amendment that, while not legalizing or reducing penalties for cannabis, barred federal authorities from using resources to prosecute cannabis in states where it is legal. While this amendment has been instrumental in protecting thousands of businesses and millions of patients, it is a very precarious protection. If it is allowed to apse by congress, prosecutions could resume immediately.

DEA’s Decision on Cannabis Research

This initiative probably does the least to protect medical cannabis, it is significant nonetheless. Previously the DEA had strictly controlled all of the cannabis that could be used for research in the US. They enforced this monopoly rigorously which in turn had a chilling effect on cannabis research nationwide. In a weak attempt to compromise with the growing chorus of medical cannabis advocates, the DEA has loosened restrictions on research and is even allowing more universities to grow the plant for such purposes.

State Law

Before 1996 cannabis was fully and highly illegal in all 50 states. Now, 29 states and the territories of Guam, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia have legalized cannabis use and production in some form or another. These programs can be profoundly different in very important ways.

CBD Only

A few states that have legalized medical marijuana have only done so for so called CBD products. States like Alabama and Mississippi allow people with a qualifying condition to recieve low THC, high CBD products.

These states are not much different from states with outright bans on cannabis in two important ways. First, they usually limit the qualifying conditions in such a way as to keep the eligible population small and reduce it even more by making regulations very difficult to navigate. Second, cannabis products with THC levels below 0.3% can already be imported to any state in the country as a hemp product. CBD only laws are simply a way to quiet opposition without doing anything meaningful.

Medical Use

In 1996, California was the first state to legalize cannabis use and sales for medical purposes. Since then many states have followed their lead. In states with a medical cannabis program patients can buy cannabis or cannabis products from licensed dispensaries with a recommendation from their doctor.

Medical cannabis states vary widely in their application. In states like Arizona, patients with a recommendation can consult with dispensaries and choose from a variety of strains and products. In states like New York on the other hand, the medical cannabis program functions a lot more like a traditional pharmaceutical approach. The doctor recommends a specific product and dosage, no raw cannabis is sold, and recommendations must be renewed for refills.

Recreational

A small but growing number of states have decided to abandon the medical approach to cannabis all together and legalize use and sale for all adults in the state. Colorado was the first to take this approach. There, all adults 21 and over can purchase cannabis and cannabis products freely, without prior recommendation or approval. Though initially wary of legalizing cannabis, the government of Colorado was taken aback by the many benefits that legalization provided. Due to its massive success other states have followed and many more are sure to come.

* This information should not be construed as legal advice. If you have questions about your particular circumstance you should contact a licensed attorney in your state.