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The Brains of Marijuana Users are Different

By Abby Phillip  
Source: Washington Post

USA — If you’re confused about what marijuana use really does to people who use it, you’re not alone. For years, the scientific research on health effects of the drug have been all over the map.

Earlier this year, one study suggested that even casual marijuana use could cause changes to the brain. Another found that marijuana use was also associated with poor sperm quality, which could lead to infertility in men.

But marijuana advocates point to other research indicating that the drug is far less addictive than other drugs, and some studies have found no relationship between IQ and marijuana use in teens.

Researchers at the Center for Brain Health at the University of Texas in Dallas sought to clear up some of the confusion with a study that looked at a relatively large group of marijuana users and evaluated their brains for a slew of different indicators.

What they found was complex, but the pattern was clear: The brains of marijuana users were different than those of non-marijuana users. The area of the brain responsible for establishing the reward system that helps us survive and also keeps us motivated was smaller in users than in non-marijuana users. But there was also evidence that the brain compensated for this loss of volume by increasing connectivity and the structural integrity of the brain tissue.

Those effects were more pronounced for marijuana users who started young. Read More..

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How Legal Marijuana is Reshaping State Economies

By Patrik Jonsson, Staff Writer 
Source: Christian Science Monitor

USA — Forget that postgraduation barista job. Given that four US states have legalized marijuana, “budtender” is now one of the hottest retail jobs in America.

The legalization movement, which began when California voters approved medical marijuana in 1996, has long argued that one big reason to legalize marijuana is to stop sending adults to jail for using a drug that basically doesn’t have fatal implications, unlike legal ones like alcohol and nicotine.

Yet the experiments in Colorado and Washington State, both of which legalized recreational marijuana in 2012 and where pot is now sold in shops, have begun to highlight an economic side to the issue. Residents in Oregon and Alaska will also soon see the impact of regulated marijuana sales.

Nearly a year after implementing its tax-and-regulation regime, Colorado now sports 18,000 state-certified, or “badged,” pot industry workers eligible for jobs ranging from cultivation to trimmers, from “edibles creators” to retail budtenders.

“Think about it: You have to count all the people working at the counter, in a cultivation or testing facility, people who are working for packaging and labeling companies. It extends pretty broad,” says Mason Tvert, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, D.C., which lobbies for marijuana legalization.

To be sure, not everyone is bullish on the ability of pot to drive employment. For one, despite voter enthusiasm at the ballot box for legalized marijuana, pot-related stocks took a tumble this week – probably an investor acknowledgment that the federal government still has the power to squash the market.

“Investors have learned that despite the hype with the populace, marijuana stocks remain risky and mostly something to avoid for now,” writes USA Today’s Matt Krantz.

Critics also worry that a corporatized marijuana industry will, like the tobacco and alcohol giants, target younger Americans in search of profits. Such concerns have in part led to a slide in the polls for marijuana legalization, from 58 percent support a year ago to 51 percent now, according to Gallup. Read More..

In New York City, Marijuana May Mean Ticket

By Joseph Goldstein 
Source: New York Times

New York — The New York Police Department, which has been arresting tens of thousands of people a year for low-level marijuana possession, is poised to stop making such arrests and to issue tickets instead, according to law enforcement officials.

People found with small amounts of marijuana would be issued court summonses and be allowed to continue on their way without being handcuffed and taken to station houses for fingerprinting.

The change would remake the way the police in New York City handle the most common drug offenses and would represent Mayor Bill de Blasio’s most significant effort since taking office to address the enduring effects of the department’s excessive stop-and-frisk practices.

Curbing arrests for small-scale marijuana possession has become a cause for criminal justice reform advocates, and this year, the new Brooklyn district attorney, Kenneth P. Thompson, said he would stop prosecuting such cases. But his announcement did not go over well with Mr. de Blasio and his police commissioner, William J. Bratton, who vowed to continue making low-level marijuana arrests.

Now, the de Blasio administration is publicly embracing the notion that such small-scale possession merits different treatment. And with the changes, City Hall is moving to retake control of a politically potent issue that has enormous resonance in the black and Latino communities, where a vast majority of small-scale marijuana arrests have taken place.

In the first eight months of the year, blacks and Hispanics represented 86 percent of those arrested for marijuana possession in the city, according to a study written in part by Harry G. Levine, a sociology professor at Queens College who is a director of the Marijuana Arrest Research Project. Read More..

Marijuana from Outlaw Status To Retail Shelves

By Jeff Mapes 
Source: Oregonian

Oregon — After voters in Washington and Colorado voted to legalize marijuana in 2012, Alison Holcomb would tell pot activists it was too early to say that the rest of America was ready to accept the drug.

Holcomb, an American Civil Liberties Union official who managed Washington’s legalization campaign, recalled that nearly a dozen states – including Oregon – decriminalized possession of small amounts of the drug in the 1970s.

“And then the ’80s came and the pendulum swung back hard,” she said, as President Ronald Reagan called marijuana “probably the most dangerous drug in America” and stepped up federal enforcement against all illegal drugs.

Holcomb now feels more confident that marijuana will be widely legal after watching Oregon and Alaska voters approve the possession and retail sales.

Legalization in two more states — in a non-presidential year when fewer younger people vote – marks an important milestone in the drive to sweep away criminal penalties against a drug routinely used by millions of Americans, Holcomb and other activists say. On top of that, in Washington, D.C., voters said adults should be able to grow and possess the drug. Read More..

What’s Next For The Marijuana Movement

By Niraj Chokshi  
Source: Washington Post

Washington, D.C. — Marijuana advocates notched three big victories on Tuesday, but they’re just gearing up.

Emboldened by their Election Day victories in Alaska, Oregon and D.C., supporters of legalization are optimistic for the future. We asked a few of them which states will be targeted next for legalization and what lessons they’ve learned from the four successful state campaigns so far.

“The stage is now set for 2016, when measures to regulate marijuana like alcohol are expected to appear on ballots in at least five states,” said Mason Tvert, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project, which was instrumental in passing legalization in Colorado and bankrolled the successful campaign in Alaska. The group contributed about 84 percent of the nearly $900,000 raised by the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Alaska, which successfully lobbied for passage of the ballot measure in Alaska.

The five states where MPP has established committees to push similar ballot measures in 2016 are Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada. An independent Democratic activist in Mississippi is also pursuing a ballot measure there. The measures there will likely mimic the Colorado model, as the measures in Oregon and Alaska did. (The measure passed by voters in Washington in 2012 is typically viewed by advocates as more restrictive than Colorado’s.)

But the group also plans to work to help shepherd legalization through a state legislature for the first time, with a particular focus on Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire, Delaware, Hawaii, and Maryland. New Hampshire’s state House in January became the first legislative body in the country to approve legalization, though the effort ultimately reached a dead end. That state, Rhode Island and Vermont may see action soonest among that group.

The upcoming push to legalize in those nearly dozen states will no doubt draw heavily on lessons learned during the successful campaigns so far, which fall roughly into two categories, Tvert said. Advocates in Alaska and Colorado felt they needed to focus on disarming fears about the harm of marijuana early by drawing the comparison to alcohol, while Oregon and Washington played it safer by arguing that legalization is safer than prohibition. Read More..

Concerns in Criminal Justice System

By Al Baker  
Source: New York Times

New York City — Mayor Bill de Blasio, who took office promising to reform the Police Department and repair relations with black and Latino communities, on Monday unveiled his plan to change the way the police enforce the law on marijuana possession.

Arrests for low-level marijuana possession have had an especially harsh impact on minority communities, and under the change announced on Monday, people found with small amounts of marijuana will typically be given a ticket and cited for a violation instead of being arrested and charged with a crime.

The news, outlined by the mayor and his police commissioner, William J. Bratton, at Police Headquarters, marked the most significant criminal justice policy initiative by Mr. de Blasio since he was sworn in as mayor in January.

While he stressed that he was not advocating the decriminalization of marijuana, Mr. de Blasio said the impact of enforcement on the people arrested and on the Police Department compelled him to rethink how the police handle low-level marijuana arrests.

“When an individual is arrested,” he said, “even for the smallest possession of marijuana, it hurts their chances to get a good job; it hurts their chances to get housing; it hurts their chances to qualify for a student loan. It can literally follow them for the rest of their lives and saddle young people with challenges that, for many, are very difficult to overcome.”

For a Police Department that has devoted enormous resources to tens of thousands of marijuana arrests a year, the shift in strategy should, the mayor said, allow officers to focus on more serious types of crime by freeing up people who would otherwise be occupied by the administrative tasks lashed to minor marijuana arrests. Read More..

Will GOP Congress Undo Legalization?

By Patrik Jonsson, Staff Writer 
Source: Christian Science Monitor

Washington, D.C. voters gave a thumbs up to legal recreational marijuana in Tuesday’s midterm election. But before residents can legally light up, the new Republican-led Congress, as well as President Obama, will have to say either, “Go for it,” or, “Sorry, dude.”

Given dramatic shifts in how Americans view pot – a key target of the “war on drugs” – the majority vote in the District mirrors similar legalization votes Tuesday night in Alaska and Oregon, which followed Washington and Colorado in legalizing a drug still classified by the US government as a highly illicit substance, along the lines of heroin or LSD.

So far, the US Justice Department has cautiously allowed state legalization experiments to move forward to complaints from some conservatives, who say that marijuana and a weed-hazed, hippie culture is not benign.

But with Washington, D.C., voters now pressing the issue, it could force Congress and the White House finally to weigh on legal marijuana. A 2014 Pew poll suggested that 54 percent of Americans now support marijuana legalization.

By law, Congress reviews all legislation passed by the District, which has no voting representation on Capitol Hill. US lawmakers have 60 days to review new laws in the District, and Rep. Andy Harris, an anti-legalization Republican from Maryland, for one, has vowed to make it an issue.

Of course, even if Congress ultimately stays mum, that alone will speak volumes, especially given what Tom Angell, the head of the advocacy group Marijuana Majority, told The Huffington Post last night:

“It’s going to be increasingly difficult for national politicians to continue ignoring the growing majority of voters who want to end prohibition.” What’s more, he added, “Now the road to the White House quite literally travels through legal marijuana territory.”

The pot-in-the-capital theme comes at an interesting time, especially given a midterm election that seemed to steer America to the right, with Republicans taking the reins of the Senate and shoring up power in the House. Read More..