Australia’s recreational drug policies aren’t working, so what are the options for reform? [The Conversation]

Some of the greatest harms from using illicit drugs are because they are illegal. Illegal drug production is unregulated and many drugs are manufactured in backyard labs. Users cannot be sure what’s in them or how potent they are, so the risk of adverse reactions, including overdose and death, is high. A large proportion of the work of the justice system – police, courts and prisons – is occupied with drug-related offences. Many people have a criminal record for possessing drugs intended for personal use, which can affect their work prospects. Drug busts have little impact on the availability of drugs and, as we continue to see more harms including overdoses and deaths, it is clear we need a new approach to illicit drugs. This week, a parliamentary drug summit, convened by the Australian Parliamentary Group on Drug Policy and Law Reform, is debating drug policy reform in Australia. This includes the options for reform: depenalisation, decriminalisation or legalisation.

Queensland medicinal cannabis legislation set for April debate [The Age]

Australia’s “most progressive” medicinal marijuana legislation, which would give more sick Queenslanders access to the presently illegal drug, has been released for public comment. If passed, the Public Health (Medicinal Cannabis) Bill 2016 would create a formal process for Queensland doctors to prescribe medicinal cannabis for their patients’ treatment. The government last year announced medicinal cannabis trials at the Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital for children with drug-resistant epilepsy. The Australian Medical Association of Queensland welcomed that trial, but warned against a “laissez-faire” approach to the drug and urged proper scientific trials. The government’s proposed legislation would go well beyond those localised trials, with Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk saying it was a key step in enabling access to medicinal cannabis. “This bill will create the most progressive laws in the country,” she said.

We Need To Know All Your Weird Questions About Drugs [BuzzFeed]

Some of Australia’s most forward-thinking lawmakers are coming together to talk about pills, caps, weed, cannabis and ice at a special parliamentary drugs summit tomorrow.

Hunger strike grandmother Heather Gladman’s ‘health is deteriorating’ [Herald Sun]

A grandmother on a hunger strike in protest over medicinal cannabis legislation says her health is deteriorating — and she has had no response from the government. Heather Gladman has not consumed any food for 13 days. She started the hunger strike after police last month raided her home and seized her supply of cannabis, which she says she compassionately grew for ill patients across the state. Frustrated at not being able to help people with their medicine, Ms Gladman said she knew she had to do more to raise awareness about the government’s “irrational” anti-cannabis laws. She took her hunger strike to Treasury Gardens on Sunday, where she has camped since; a move she hoped would get the attention of the Andrews Government. But she says she has not heard anything from Premier Daniel Andrews, despite his past outspoken support for medicinal cannabis.

NSW Government claim cannabis stays in system for up to 12 hours questioned by magistrate [ABC]

A magistrate has launched a blistering attack on the New South Wales Government’s roadside drug testing regime, challenging the accuracy of its claims that cannabis can only be detected in a person’s saliva for up to 12 hours. In a judgement on Monday, Lismore magistrate David Heilpern said he had heard hundreds of cases over the past few months in which drivers said they had waited days, sometimes weeks, after smoking cannabis before driving. Yet they had still tested positive to cannabis and been charged with the offence of driving with an illicit drug in their blood. “In the vast majority of cases the time frame has been over 12 hours,” Mr Heilpern said. “On not one occasion has the prosecution cavilled with this contention.” Mr Heilpern said the prosecution had also remained silent when people claimed they had tested positive to cannabis after consuming the drug by passive smoking, eating hemp seeds, rubbing hemp balm or taking medicinal tincture. “The prosecution have remained silent when people claim that they consumed cannabis weeks prior,” he said. “Not once has any scientific evidence been produced to this court that supports the contention that the final or any other test only works for 12 hours.

What would effective, fair and just drug-driving laws look like? [The Conversation]

The current drug-driving legislation was introduced without evidence that it would attain road safety objectives (in contrast to the introduction of breath testing for alcohol). It has not been rigorously evaluated to test for possible impacts on road crashes and for unintended adverse consequences.

Drug-driving laws and policy need to be seen, by lawyers and the community, to be fair and just. For this to happen, scientific research needs to demonstrate that the drugs selected for testing are major contributors to road crashes. In other words, the evidence needs to show that a person driving soon after taking drugs has a significantly higher likelihood of a crash than someone who has not taken those drugs, and that the increased risk is caused by the drugs, not by other factors such as speeding or fatigue.

The drugs to be included for testing need to be on the basis of their relative risk, relatively common use and significant contribution to road crashes, but not because of their legal or therapeutic status. This is because some of the legal drugs used therapeutically, such as benzodiazepines like Valium, impair drivers even more than some illegal drugs do.

The amount of the drug in the system also needs to be taken into account. Someone who took an ecstasy tablet a few days ago may still have detectable levels in their system, but will have significantly different levels of impairment to someone who took one an hour ago.

As the use of combinations of drugs increases risk, the thresholds of elevated risk need to take into account drivers using more than one drug, especially where the additional drug was alcohol. The risk of a crash occurring when the driver has consumed both alcohol and cannabis is many times that of a driver who has consumed cannabis alone.

Any test of impairment as assessed by police at the roadside needs to be reliable and truly random. Targeted testing carries a considerable risk that vulnerable minorities could be over-represented.

Lastly, programs need to be evaluated and be able to demonstrate not only a reduction in road crashes, including a reduction in fatalities and severe injuries, but also a reasonable level of cost-effectiveness and an absence of significant unintended adverse consequences.

Sanho Tree talks with Fran Kelly [ABC Radio]

A clip of @SanhoTree: Director Drug Policy Project’s radio spot on ABC Radio in Australia on drug reform. Brilliant!

Pill testing trial to begin at Sydney music festivals, vows drug expert Alex Wodak [Sydney Morning Herald]

The Australian drug expert who pioneered the nation’s first legal injecting centre has put himself on a collision course with the Baird government and NSW Police by vowing to break the law and roll out pill testing at Sydney’s forthcoming music festivals. President of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation, Alex Wodak, has joined forces with emergency medical specialist David Caldicott in announcing a privately funded drug testing “trial” will commence with or without the blessing of a government that has repeatedly blocked the proposal in favour of a hard line, law enforcement strategy.

Despite its strict opposition to pill testing at festivals, Fairfax Media can also reveal that the NSW government has sought a secret briefing on how such a concept might occur, receiving a detailed,18-page research dossier.

“We are going to do this,” said Dr Wodak. “Doctors, analysts who know how to operate the [testing] machines and peer interviewers who can translate the scientific results and explain to people why the drug they bought is talcum powder or highly toxic. The idea is to save lives. I am prepared to break the law to save young people’s lives.”

Dr Caldicott said: “It’s very straight forward. We want to run a trial at a place where everyone is using drugs anyway. “It’s time for our politicians and elected representatives to catch up with what the majority of parents want for their children, which is for them to return home safe.”

Stereosonic throws full support behind pill testing [Sydney Morning Herald]

Electronic music company Totem OneLove Group, which runs the Stereosonic festivals, gave their “full support” to hold a pilot pill-testing program at the Sydney leg, providing the NSW government and other key stakeholders support the process.

The NSW government renewed its staunch opposition to drug-checking services on Monday, after it was revealed in the Sun Herald a team of drug law reform advocates planned to roll out privately-funded pill testing at NSW festivals by the end of the year. Deputy Premier Troy Grant said the architects of the pilot pill-testing program, led by emergency medical specialist Dr David Caldicott and President of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation Dr Alex Wodak, risked arrest for drug supply and manslaughter should they attempt to carry out the testing in NSW.

FactCheck: does Australia spend $1.5 billion a year on drug law enforcement, with 70% due to cannabis? [The Conversation]

We found no evidence to support Senator Leyonhjelm assertion that A$1.5 billion is spent annually on drug law enforcement. While approximately 70% of all illicit drug offences are cannabis-related, there is no definitive evidence to suggest that 70% of drug law enforcement costs are attributable to cannabis.

Law Reform Commission report a wake up call to restore rights and freedoms in Australia [Human Rights Law Centre]

The Australian Government should remove unjustified limits on basic rights and freedoms in Australia, said the Human Rights Law Centre today. HRLC Director of Advocacy and Research, Emily Howie, welcomed the Australian Law Reform Commission’s report, Traditional Rights and Freedoms – Encroachments on Commonwealth Laws, that adds to the growing evidence of Australian laws that infringe on rights.

“The Law Reform Commission’s report is a wake up call about the state of our fundamental rights and freedoms in Australia,” said Ms Howie. “It provides expert advice on where Australia is falling short in ensuring that people can enjoy basic rights like freedom of movement and the right to a fair trial. It’s imperative that the government take immediate steps to restore these rights.”

The report highlights the erosion of basic rights through a raft of counter-terrorism and migration laws, two areas highlighted in the HRLC’s earlier submissions to the Law Reform Commission’s inquiry.

So Can New Zealand Legalise Medicinal Weed Now? [Vice]

If New Zealand is shrouded by a long white cloud of anything, it’s dope smoke. So how is it that Australia has not only beaten us to legalising medical marijuana, but the bill passed parliament with almost complete support? It’s not like Australia is some bastion of liberal, touch-feely values either. Their last holdout state didn’t give women the vote until 1911, almost 20 years behind New Zealand, and they held on to the death penalty until 1967, again, four years after its abolition in New Zealand. If anyone here is likely to force a rethink on medicinal weed, it’s cancer patient and former Union leader Helen Kelly. While she’s gaining public sympathy for her calm campaigning, so far Kelly has got the cold shoulder from Peter Dunne who declined her application to use medicinal cannabis while undergoing chemo. So how long will it take to pass similar legislation passed here? And will Australia’s move make any difference for Kiwi lawmakers? We asked New Zealand Drug Foundation executive director Ross Bell for an update.

Helen Kelly’s Battle for Medical Cannabis Has Exposed the Mess of New Zealand’s Drug Policy [Vice]

Helen Kelly, former president of the Council of Trade Unions, revealed last May that she was terminally ill with lung cancer (she has never smoked). In October, days before stepping down from her post, she went public with the fact that she was treating herself with cannabis oil. “I was going on [TV current affairs show] The Nation anyway to talk about my health,” Kelly explained to VICE. “And it was a really interesting drug that was making a big difference to my health. If I was going to get it illegally and it was all going to be fine for me, I thought, well there’s other people it won’t be fine for. You’ve got to put these things out in the open.” Kelly didn’t stop at talking about it. A section of the Medicines Act 1981, allows doctors to apply to the responsible minister for permission to import and prescribe “new medicines.” That was Associate Minister of Health Peter Dunne. The medicine Kelly and her doctor sought was cannabis oil packaged in a vaporiser from Californian medpot company Bloom Farms.

What happened next had everything to do with the first such bid under the Medicines Act. Last year, doctors for 18-year-old Alex Renton applied under the same section of the act to get a cannabis product called Elixinol. Renton had been placed in an induced coma by doctors trying to protect his brain from status epilepticus—a constant seizure. Elixinol, which contains cannabidiol (CBD) and only negligible quantities of THC, was the last resort. The application was successful, but shortly after his treatment began, Renton died. Minister Dunne told the press the case had tugged “the nation’s heartstrings.” Privately, he asked Ministry of Health officials to draft up criteria to guide his consideration of future applications. It was these new criteria that Kelly had to meet. And the bar was high. Her oncologist, Dr Anthony Falkov, had to show not only that the treatment might work, but also that that all other “reasonably applicable conventional treatments” had been tried and found ineffective.

Peter Dunne: Medical cannabis guidelines to be reviewed [NZ Herald]

The guidelines for considering applications from people wanting to use cannabis for medical purposes will be reviewed, Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne has announced. Mr Dunne said the need for “fine-tuning” was inevitable, given that medical cannabis was a new policy area for the Ministry of Health and wider medical profession. “The guidelines were set up at my request following the Alex Renton case in 2015, so far the only case where ministerial approval was granted, following an application from Mr Renton’s treating clinicians to administer the restricted product Elixinol,” Mr Dunne said.

Here’s Why Cannabis Plants Are Growing Wild All Over Britain’s Cities [reset.me]

Cannabis plants have been spotted sprouting in public places up and down the UK, a country where the plant is categorized as a Class B drug and possession alone can lead to a five year prison sentence. The majestic herb can be found humbly sunning itself near some of the nation’s most iconic locations in central London, such as the BBC headquarters, Tower Bridge and The Shard.

Home Office drug strategy: Time to refresh or rethink? [BBC News]

With deaths from illegal drugs in England and Wales at the highest rate ever recorded one might imagine the Home Office would be desperate to ensure it had a robust and effective strategy for dealing with this current crisis. So it comes as a surprise to discover that Ministers have quietly abandoned the idea of a formal consultation process in advance of a new drugs strategy later this month. Traditionally, these five-year plans are put together after weeks of discussions and submissions from experts and the general public. In 2010 there were 1,850 responses to the drug strategy consultation, including from health professionals, charities, lobby groups, local authorities, government advisors, police and service providers. Individuals with a close interest in drug policy, often because of the death of a close relative, were also encouraged to participate. But not this time. The new five-year strategy has been written with hardly any public discussion at all. You won’t find any details on the Home Office website. Nothing. It is almost as though the department doesn’t want to consider alternative options – which is odd because next month UK ministers will be attending the most important United Nations meeting on global drug strategy for decades.

Can You Tell Which of These Ten-Year-Olds Took Cannabis Oil Today? [Vice]

It is now widely accepted that weed is effective in treating nausea, pain, loss of appetite, and many other side effects associated with traditional cancer treatments. What’s less accepted is the use of pot to treat children suffering from life-threatening illnesses. In the premiere episode of Weediquette, our VICELAND show devoted to the science and culture of all things stoned, we visit a number of families who are using THC to medicate their seriously ill kids. Some of the parents even believe that marijuana on its own can cure cancer, and they are using it as an experimental treatment. While the idea of a small child stoned out of her mind on dank nugs might be what most people imagine when they picture this form of medication, the kids profiled in the Weediquette episode are smart, funny, and full of life. One of them, a seven-year-old named Lauranne suffering from leukemia, takes a dose cannabis oil that is equivalent to “ten bong rips of high-grade medical marijuana,” according to host Krishna Andavolu. While Lauranne’s mother admits she can definitely tell when her daughter’s medicine kicks in, the reaction isn’t nearly as pronounced as one might expect from such a high dose of THC, and Lauranne is able to communicate coherently and play outside.

Pot is power hungry: why the marijuana industry’s energy footprint is growing [The Guardian]

Marijuana might look and smell natural, but its ecological footprint is anything but green. Pot is power hungry. The $3.5bn cannabis industry is one of the nation’s most energy intensive, often demanding 24-hour indoor lighting rigs, heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems at multiplying grow sites. As many as 10 states could legalize recreational marijuana this year, which means the resultant electricity consumption could cause problems for public utilities and city officials.

A study by scientist Evan Mills, with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, revealed that legalized indoor marijuana-growing operations account for 1% of total electricity use in the US, at a cost of $6bn per year. Annually, such consumption produces 15m tons of greenhouse gas emissions (CO2), equal to that of three million average cars.

In 2012, Colorado became the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. Two years later, Denver’s 362 marijuana grow facilities consumed more than 2% of the city’s electricity usage. Statewide facilities are behind roughly half of Colorado’s new power demands. Cannabis growers are moving slowly toward energy efficient practices, largely out of fear for how changes might affect the quality of their product. “They approach these things with a great deal of caution, especially when you talk about things that have a crop-wide effect,” said Ron Flax, sustainability examiner for Boulder County, Colorado. “Each crop cycle has a lot of dollars associated with it, so they’re really hesitant to try something new and hope it works. But they’re also paying very high utility bills.”

Cannabis 2.0: Are Terpenes The Secret To Customizable Highs? [International Business Times]

Chooze is calling its tailor-made highs “Cannabis 2.0.” The product is based on terpenes, the organic compounds in marijuana and many other plants that are responsible for aromas. For years, marijuana producers have focused on maximizing THC, selectively breeding the plant to emphasize the psychoactive component over all others and developing cannabis concentrates free of other parts of the plant. But recently, many in the industry are starting to think marijuana’s psychoactive effects are shaped by its pungent terpenes, similarly to how aromatherapy works. Now marijuana websites are deconstructing the potential psychoactive properties of different terpenes: concentrate makers are championing pricey terpene-packed “live resin” and “terp juice” extractions, and ebbu, a Colorado startup co-founded by a videogame designer, has attracted millions in funding by promising to deliver customizable highs based on specific formulations of terpenes and other cannabis components.

Beyond Silos: A New Conversation About Drug Reform? [Volteface]

Almost 50 years ago The Times published one of the most famous editorials in the history of British newspapers. A few weeks before Mick Jagger was heavily fined thousands of pounds after a punitive trial for possession of cannabis. Conservative and middle-aged England thought he deserved it. But William Rees-Mogg, the then editor of The Times was unhappy. In a legendary leader he invoked Alexander Pope as he railed against the “primitive” impulse to “break a butterfly on a wheel”.

Canada’s Marijuana Gray Market Boom Isn’t Going Anywhere [Vice]

Don Briere was once convicted and sent to prison for running British Columbia’s largest network of marijuana grow ops. So on Wednesday, when a Canadian judge ruled that the ban on growing medicinal marijuana at home was unconstitutional, Briere was elated. “The personal production license people are all dancing in the street right now because they’re able to produce quantities, and if they have leftovers they can sell to dispensaries,” said the weed entrepreneur, who feeds his more than 20 dispensaries from these “leftovers.” Those small-scale producers, leftovers from a legal system that refuses to die, are effectively feeding a gray zone of medical marijuana dispensaries — that are, the government continually insists, illegal. Police have raided many of those dispensaries, a fact that hasn’t changed since Trudeau’s election.

What Darwin Teaches About the Drug War [Common Dreams]

As illegal drugs become easier to obtain and more potent, politicians respond in a knee-jerk manner by ramping up law enforcement. After all, drugs are bad so why not escalate the war against drugs? Politicians get to look tough in front of voters, the drug war bureaucracy is delighted with ever expanding budgets, and lots of low-level bad guys get locked up. Everyone wins – including, unfortunately, the major drug traffickers. As politicians intensified the drug war decade after decade, an unintended consequence began to appear. These “get tough” policies have caused the drug economy to evolve under Darwinian principles (i.e., survival of the fittest). Indeed, the drug war has stimulated this economy to grow and innovate at a frightening pace. By escalating the drug war, the kinds of people the police typically capture are the ones who are dumb enough to get caught. These criminal networks are occasionally taken down when people within the organization get careless. Thus, law enforcement tends to apprehend the most inept and least efficient traffickers. The common street expression puts it best: “the dealer who uses, loses.” Conversely, the kinds of people law enforcement tends to miss are the most cunning, innovative and efficient traffickers.

125 Year Old Woman Claimed Smoking Pot Everyday Was Her Secret to Long Life [Café Vale Tudo]

A 125-year-old woman, said to be one of the oldest women in India, died at her home in Orissa, her family said Sunday. Fulla Nayak claimed that smoking cannabis every day was her secret to long life. Fulla Nayak, a resident of Kanarpur village in the coastal district of Kendrapada, died of old age complications Saturday.

Lack of sleep alters brain chemicals to bring on cannabis-style ‘munchies’ [The Guardian]

Too little sleep may bring on a form of the marijuana “munchies”, say scientists who found that sleep-deprived people craved crisps, sweets and biscuits far more than healthier foods. The US researchers believe that skimping on sleep alters brain chemicals in much the same way as the hunger-boosting ingredient in cannabis, which has long propped up snack sales at 24-hour convenience stores. After several nights of poor sleep, healthy volunteers who took part in the study reached for snacks containing more calories – and nearly twice as much fat – than ones they favoured after sleeping well for the same period, the scientists say.

Study points to cannabis’ effect on emotion processing [EurekAlert]

The complex biochemistry of cannabis and how it affects the brain is only beginning to be understood. Lucy Troup, assistant professor of psychology at Colorado State University, has set out to answer specifically how, if at all, cannabis use affects one’s ability to process emotions. A study published Feb. 29 in the journal PLOS ONE suggests that cannabis does, in fact, significantly affect users’ ability to recognize, process and empathize with human emotions like happiness, sadness and anger. But the results also suggest that the brain may be able to counteract these effects depending on whether the emotions are explicitly, or implicitly detected.

Young marijuana users respond differently to social exclusion [Science Daily]

A new study published in the current issue of Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging reports that young adults who regularly use marijuana display altered brain activation patterns during social exclusion. “Peer groups are one of the most important predictors of young adult marijuana use, and yet we know very little about the neural correlates of social rejection in those who use marijuana,” explained Dr. Jodi Gilman, first author and Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School. This led Gilman and her colleagues to conduct a neuroimaging study using a Cyberball task, where participants played a computerized game of catch while undergoing a non-invasive brain scan. They recruited 42 young adults (ages 18-25), about half of whom regularly used marijuana. Unknown to the study participants, the other ‘players’ in the game were computers and were programmed to exclude them for a portion of the game.