Montana Governor Vetoes Medical Marijuana Repeal

Medical marijuana is still legal in Montana. Governor Brian Schweitzer has vetoed a Republican bill that would have repealed the state’s medical marijuana law, approved by an overwhelming 62 percent of state voters in 2004.

Schweitzer vetoed the bill on Wednesday, along with several others he called “frivolous, unconstitutional or in direct contradiction to the expressed will of the people of Montana, “reports The Associated Press.

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Jamaica Taking Another Look At Marijuana Decriminalization

 Top government officials in Jamaica have said they will review recommendations to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal and religious use in the Caribbean island nation. Six Cabinet ministers in Prime Minister Bruce Golding’s administration will evaluate a 2001 report by the National Commission for Ganja, reports David McFadden of Bloomberg Businessweek.

The commission, which included academics and doctors and was appointed by a government led by the current opposition party, argued that cannabis was “culturally entrenched” in Jamaica and that moderate use had no negative health effects on most users.

Why now? That’s what observers of the scene are asking themselves. The report in question came out 10 years ago, after all. Why is the Jamaican government is choosing to review the 10-year-old report now, especially since it was sponsored by the opposition party??Rev. Webster Edwards, who served on the commission a decade ago, voiced relief that the report would be reviewed by government officials, and expressed hope that legislators might eventually loosen the laws against marijuana.

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Arizona Gets 110 Medical Marijuana Applications On First Day

The Arizona Department of Health received 110 electronic applications — almost 60 percent of them for chronic pain — and authorized at least 44 people to use medical marijuana on Wednesday, the first day the program was active.

Their cards were mailed on Thursday, reports Mary K. Reinhart at AZCentral, allowing them to buy and possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana every two weeks, and grow up to 12 plants.

Those who live closer than 25 miles to the nearest dispensary eventually won’t be allowed to grow their own, but until the dispensaries are up and running, all patients are allowed to grow.

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THC Driving Limits Could Jail Innocent People For Months

 The Colorado Senate is set to take up HB 1261, a bill that would set THC driving limits at five nanograms per milliliter of blood — a level that’s too low, according to many critics of the bill. Medical marijuana patients, especially, who are accustomed to the presence of cannabis in their systems, could be unfairly targeted, according to advocates.

Even its sponsor, Rep. Claire Levy, now thinks the five-nanogram number may be too strict, reports Michael Roberts at Denver Westword. And according to attorney M. Colin Breesee, there are even bigger problems with the bill, including test results that can take months to come back, and prosecutors who don’t understand them when they do.According to Breesee, a delay of two months between collection of a blood sample and results returned is hardly unusual. In fact, he said, one recent client had to wait nearly three months.

Besides, confusion exists about the difference between THC-COOH — that is, THC that is stored in fatty tissue cells, and is thus inactive — and active THC. Read the rest of this entry »

Portugal’s Drug Policy Pays Off – US Eyes Lessons

These days, Casal Ventoso is an ordinary blue-collar community – mothers push baby strollers, men smoke outside cafes, buses chug up and down the cobbled main street.

Ten years ago, the Lisbon neighborhood was a hellhole, a “drug supermarket” where some 5,000 users lined up every day to buy heroin and sneaked into a hillside honeycomb of derelict housing to shoot up. In dark, stinking corners, addicts – some with maggots squirming under track marks – staggered between the occasional corpse, scavenging used, bloody needles.

At that time, Portugal, like the junkies of Casal Ventoso, had hit rock bottom: An estimated 100,000 people – an astonishing 1 percent of the population – were addicted to illegal drugs. So, like anyone with little to lose, the Portuguese took a risky leap: They decriminalized the use of all drugs in a groundbreaking law in 2000.

Now, the United States, which has waged a 40-year, $1 trillion war on drugs, is looking for answers in tiny Portugal, which is reaping the benefits of what once looked like a dangerous gamble. White House drug czar Gil Kerlikowske visited Portugal in September to learn about its drug reforms, and other countries – including Norway, Denmark, Australia and Peru – have taken interest, too.

“The disasters that were predicted by critics didn’t happen,” said University of Kent professor Alex Stevens, who has studied Portugal’s program. “The answer was simple: Provide treatment.”

Drugs in Portugal are still illegal. But here’s what Portugal did: It changed the law so that users are sent to counseling and sometimes treatment instead of criminal courts and prison. The switch from drugs as a criminal issue to a public health one was aimed at preventing users from going underground.

Other European countries treat drugs as a public health problem, too, but Portugal stands out as the only one that has written that approach into law. The result: More people tried drugs, but fewer ended up addicted.

Here’s what happened between 2000 and 2008:

* There were small increases in illicit drug use among adults, but decreases for adolescents and problem users, such as drug addicts and prisoners.

* Drug-related court cases dropped 66 percent.

* Drug-related HIV cases dropped 75 percent. In 2002, 49 percent of people with AIDS were addicts; by 2008 that number fell to 28 percent.

* The number of regular users held steady at less than 3 percent of the population for marijuana and less than 0.3 percent for heroin and cocaine – figures which show decriminalization brought no surge in drug use.

* The number of people treated for drug addiction rose 20 percent from 2001 to 2008.

Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates, one of the chief architects of Portugal’s new drug strategy, says he was inspired partly by his own experience of helping his brother beat addiction.

“It was a very hard change to make at the time because the drug issue involves lots of prejudices,” he said. “You just need to rid yourselves of prejudice and take an intelligent approach.”

Officials have not yet worked out the cost of the program, but they expect no increase in spending, since most of the money was diverted from the justice system to the public health service.

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