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IACM-Bulletin of 23 May 2004

USA: Vermont is the ninth state to allow the medical use of cannabis

On 19 May the Senate gave a bill that allows the medical use of marijuana final legislative approval. Governor James Douglas said later that he would allow it to become law without his signature. Vermont now becomes the ninth state to allow qualified patients to grow, possess, and use cannabis for medical purposes without fear of arrest under state law, and the second state after Hawaii to do so via the state legislature rather than an initiative of voters. Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, Oregon and Washington State already have similar laws.

The bill's enactment culminates a three-year effort in Vermont. Despite overwhelming public support, the measure faced opposition from powerful elected officials, including former Governor Howard Dean and his successor James Douglas.

In contrast to other states the Department of Public Safety, which includes the State Police, and not the Department of Health is responsible for the law. The law allows patients to possess only three cannabis plants. In addition, the law will require the patient and one caregiver to register with the Department of Public Safety. It also requires marijuana to be kept in a locked room accessible only by the sick person and caregiver.

Douglas said he believed that the "mechanisms for preventing the diversion of the drug" have helped to convince "a majority of the people's representatives - and indeed many Vermonters themselves - that allowing this bill to become law is advisable."

(Sources: Associated Press of 19 May 2004, MPP of 20 May 2004)

Science: No strong evidence that use of cannabis causes psychological problems, results of a new study show

Various reports indicate that young people who use cannabis tend to experience psychological and social problems. However, there is no evidence that cannabis use is directly linked with such problems, according to the results of a study published on 15 May in The Lancet.

"Available evidence does not strongly support an important causal relation between cannabis use by young people and psychosocial harm, but cannot exclude the possibility that such a relation exists", Dr. John Macleod of the University of Birmingham in the UK and his colleagues wrote.

"There is a great deal of evidence that cannabis use is associated with these things, but this association could have several explanations," he told Reuters, citing factors such as adversity in early life, which may be associated with cannabis use and psychosocial problems. Macleod and his team reviewed 48 long-term studies, 16 of which provided the highest quality information about the association between illicit drug use reported by adolescents and young adults and later psychological or social problems.

"Claims about the dangers of cannabis are often overstated," according to a comment by Dr. Franjo Grotenhermen of the nova-Institut, Germany. But, "there is reason to believe that cannabis can cause psychological and social harm to young people even if the causal association is not proven yet," he told Reuters. However, "there is little reason to believe that criminalisation has a strong effect on the extent of cannabis use by young people."

(Sources: Reuters of 17 May 2004, Macleod J, et al. Lancet 2004;363(9421):1579-88; Grotenhermen F. Lancet 2004;363(9421):1568-9.)

News in brief

Canada: Bayer applies to market Sativex
The pharmaceutical company Bayer has applied to market a cannabis-based drug in Canada. Bayer and GW Pharmaceuticals of Britain announced on 11 May they applied for a license for Sativex, an oral spray, to the health ministry. A spokesperson for Health Canada said it typically takes about 18 months for the department to rule on a submission. A spokesman of Bayer said the companies are confident, based on early discussions with the department, that the submission will be approved. (Source: Canadian Press of 11 May 2004)

Science: Multiple sclerosis
With an anonymous Internet-based survey conducted by Australian researchers, people with MS were asked how various factors affected their condition. From September 2001 to July 2002, a total of 2529 people completed the questionnaire. Common factors reported as beneficial were cannabis use, cold baths, meditation and dietary factors. Common adverse factors reported were high stress, exposure to high temperatures and viral infections. (Source: Simmons RD, et al. Mult Scler 2004;10(2):202-11)

Russia: Decriminalisation of small amounts
New drug laws took effect on 12 May decriminalising the possession of small amounts of drugs. Under the old law, possession of even a single cannabis cigarette could result in a three-year prison sentence. Under the new law people possessing no more than 10 times the "average single dose" will no longer be charged with a crime, but will be punished with a fine. The limit for marijuana is 20 grams and for hashish 5 grams. Possession of between 10 and 50 times the average single dose is punishable by a larger fine. (Source: Drug War Chronicle of 14 May 2004)

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