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IACM-Bulletin of 14 November 2004

USA: Montana becomes tenth state to legalize the medical use of cannabis

On 2 November a medical cannabis initiative passed by a 62% to 38% margin in Montana, making it the tenth state to legalize the medical use of cannabis in the USA. Besides Montana, nine other states have laws that effectively protect medical marijuana patients from arrest: Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington. A Maryland law enacted in 2003 protects patients from the threat of jail but does not provide protection from arrest, since even the medical use remains illegal.

Thus nearly three-fourths of Western states now have such laws, while only two of the remaining 37 states have adopted them. This may have two main reasons. First, Westerners are less willing than other Americans to tell their neighbours what they can and can't do. Secondly, it is easier to get cannabis issues on Western ballots because most states in the region allow initiatives. Across the country, just 24 states allow citizens to put issues on the ballot by petition, bypassing the Legislature. Eleven of those 24 states are in the West.

Two further state initiatives of 2 November were not successful. The Alaska initiative that wanted to decriminalize cannabis use by adults lost by 43% to 57%. The Oregon initiative that wanted to allow registered patients to obtain their medicine from state-regulated dispensaries lost by 42% to 58%. Around the country, additional 17 local cannabis reform initiatives appeared on city or legislative district ballots, and 16 passed. These included a medical marijuana proposals in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and in Columbia, Missouri.

(Sources: Associated Press of 3 November 2004, The Oregonian of 10 November 2004)

Canada: Decriminalization of cannabis for personal use

On 1 November the Canadian Government announced that possession of small amounts of cannabis will no longer result in a criminal record but reduced to a fine-only offence. The bill introduced by Canadian Justice Minister Irwin Cotler, is nearly identical to legislation previously considered by Prime Minister Jean Crétien in 2003. His successor Paul Martin announced in December 2003 that he will go ahead with eliminating criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of cannabis. He said that it achieves "absolutely nothing to give a criminal record to young people caught with minimal amounts." “Cannabis use is harmful and it will remain illegal in Canada . What would change is the approach to enforcement,” said Minister Cotler.

If approved, the bill would reduce penalties on the possession and use of up to 15 grams of cannabis and/or the cultivation of up to three plants to a fine-only offence. However, those convicted of growing larger amounts of marijuana would face increased penalties under the new proposal compared to today's law.

Another bill would allow police to demand a sample of a driver's urine or saliva "to determine whether [that] person has a drug in their body," if the officer has "reasonable grounds" to believe the motorist is under the influence of a controlled substance.

(Sources: Press releases of the Canadian Government of 1 November 2004)

Science: News at Society for Neuroscience meeting

At the 2004 meeting of the Society for Neuroscience on 23-27 October in San Diego, California, several scientists presented results of basic research on possible clinical applications of cannabinoids, including Parkinson's disease and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS).

Dr Mary Abood from California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco presented animal research on ALS. “Our research indicates that select marijuana compounds, including THC, significantly slow the disease process and extend the life of mice with ALS,” she said. “The only FDA approved drug for ALS, riluzole, extends life on average by about two months. Evidence from our study suggests that a marijuana-based therapy could create a much greater effect, perhaps extending life by three years or more."

Another animal study also indicates that a cannabinoid can protect brain cells from the damage produced by the disorder Parkinson's disease. “For the first time, our research shows the neuroprotective value of marijuana-like compounds in a well-established animal model of Parkinson's disease,” says study author Dr Andrea Giuffrida of the University of Texas in San Antonio.

(Source: News release of the Society for Neuroscience of 26 October 2004)

News in brief

Luxembourg: Medical Cannabis
On 26 October 2004 the State Council of Luxembourg proposed a law to make cannabis based medicines available. The council suggests that a program for the distribution of these drugs should be developed and that details on the medical indications should be precised. (Source: Conseil d`Etat. Proposition de loi instaurant un programme de délivrance de médicaments à base de cannabinoïdes, 26 October 2004)

Belgium: Cannabis law reform revoked
The reform of the drug law approved by the Belgium parliament in March 2003 was revoked because its wording was too imprecise. The reform legalized the possession of cannabis for private use by adults so long as this did not cause public molestation and would not lead to problematic use. The State Council revoked the reform because the terms "public molestation" and "problematic use" were defined too imprecise. The Belgium court of justice had criticized the terms as blurred and source of legal uncertainty.(Source: www.guidesocial.be of 22. October 2004)

Holland: Only one supplier remains
The Office of Medicinal Cannabis decided that it will not renew the contract with one of the two growers of medicinal cannabis in the first half of 2005. The choice for the company to continue will fell on Bedrocan and not on the Stichting Institute of Medical Marijuana (SIMM). (Source: Newsletter of the Office of Medicinal Cannabis of 30 July 2004)

USA: National Clinical Conference
Patients Out of Time will hold The Fourth National Clinical Conference on Cannabis Therapeutics on 5-8 April 2006 in Santa Barbara, California.

Science: Endocannabinoids and pregnancy
British researchers found that levels of anandamide, an endocannabinoid, rise sharply in a pregnant woman's body when she is about to go into labour. The scientists believe the finding may help to identify women at risk of giving birth prematurely. It may also help to explain why smoking cannabis is linked to a greater risk of premature labour. The mean anandamide levels in blood plasma of pregnant women were 0.9 nanomol in the first three months and 0.4 nanomol in the following six months. During labour, anandamide levels rose 2.5 nanomol in plasma. (Source: Habayeb OM, et al. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 2004;89(11):5482-7)

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