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IACM-Bulletin of 21 July 2002

UK: Government announces to relax cannabis laws

On 10 July Home Secretary David Blunkett told parliament cannabis would be downgraded from a Class B to a Class C drug, putting it in the same category as anabolic steroids and growth hormones, and making its use and possession less serious crimes.

"The message to young people and families must be open, honest and believable," Blunkett said. "Cannabis is a potentially harmful drug and should remain illegal. However, it is not comparable with crack, heroin and Ecstasy." Prime Minister Tony Blair said the proposal did not amount to decriminalisation and had wide support among the police because it would allow them to spend more time fighting more serious drugs.

In Britain, possession of a Class B drug currently carries a maximum penalty of five years in jail. Possession of a Class C drug carries a maximum sentence of two years, but that penalty is rarely invoked for first-time offenders. Blunkett said that in most marijuana possession cases police would simply confiscate the drug and issue a warning to the offender.

(Sources: Reuters of 10 July 2002, AP of 11 July 2002)

USA: California's Supreme Court rules in favour of medical cannabis

Medical marijuana users are immune from criminal prosecution in California state courts under a ruling by the state's Supreme Court.

Under California law, possessing or growing marijuana "is no more criminal - so long as its conditions are satisfied - than the possession and acquisition of any prescription drug with a doctor's prescription," the California Supreme Court ruled on 18 July.

The ruling stems from the arrest and conviction of Myron Mower, who uses cannabis to alleviate complications from diabetes. Mower was arrested in 1997 and convicted of possessing and cultivating marijuana. The appeals court affirmed Mower's conviction. The ruling of the Californian Supreme Court sent the case back to the appeals court for a new trial.

Medical users of cannabis in California, however, are still subject to prosecution under federal law which prohibits cannabis even for medical use.

(Source: AP of 19 July 2002)

News in brief

Canada: Acquittal for cannabis club president
On 5 July Philippe Lucas, 32-year-old man from Victoria and president of the Vancouver Island Compassion Society, received an absolute discharge from illegally possessing cannabis by the Victoria provincial court. His society has operated in Oak Bay for 14 months and with tacit police approval distributed cannabis to patients. When Lucas reported a break-in and that one kilogram of marijuana had been stolen, he was charged with illegal possession when he claimed ownership of the stolen drug. (Source: Victoria Times-Colonist of 6 July 2002)

USA: Washington DC
Voters of the District of Columbia (Washington DC) could get another chance to vote on legalizing cannabis for medicinal uses following an earlier vote in 1998. On 8 July the Marijuana Policy Project presented to the Board of Elections and Ethics 39,000 signatures from residents who want to bring the issue to referendum. If at least 17,500 signatures are verified, the issue will be on November's ballot. (Source: Washington Post of 8 July 2002)

Science: Colon movement
Endocannabinoids are a physiological regulators of colon propulsion in mice. Researchers found that anandamide and the synthetic CB1 receptor agonist WIN 55,212-2 inhibited colonic propulsion, an effect that was blocked by the selective CB1 receptor antagonist SR141716A. Administered alone, SR141716A increased motility. Additionally high amounts of endocannabinoids (2-AG, anandamide) were found in the colon. (Source: Pinto L, et al. Gastroenterology 2002 Jul;123(1):227-234)

Science: Schizophrenia
Researchers found that a small proportion of schizophrenias might have been precipitated by cannabis use. They interviewed a sample of 232 individuals with first episodes of schizophrenia. 62% of the patients with drug abuse (mainly cannabis) and 51% of those with alcohol abuse began the habit before illness onset (=first sign of the disorder). Abuse onset and illness onset occurred highly significantly within the same month. (Source: Buhler B, et al. Schizophr Res 2002 Apr 1;54(3):243-51)

Europe: Cannabis report of health ministers
The Belgium Health Minister has published a report on a meeting of 25 February in Brussels. About 100 invited scientists and governmental representatives participated in a scientific conference on cannabis, initiated by the health ministers of Belgium, the Netherlands, France, Switzerland, and Germany. The 167 page report (in English) "Cannabis 2002 Report" is available at: Ministry of Public Health, Brussels, Belgium, Phone: 0032-2-2104807. (Source: Cannabis 2002 Report)

Germany: Cannabis and Driving
The Federal Constitutional Court announced on 12 July that sole cannabis possession is not a sufficient reason to call in question driving ability. The court ruled in favour of a car driver who lost his driving license after he refused to let his urine screened for drugs. The highest German court argued that there was no connection between drug use and driving in this case. (Source: Press release of the Federal Constitutional Court of 12 July 2002)

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