Historically, Europe has lagged behind the United States when it comes to cannabis reform, but that may be about to change. Last week, the European Parliament approved a resolution encouraging its member nations to fully explore the medical powers of cannabis. And even though it will soon be leaving the E.U., the United Kingdom is still following the spirit of this resolution. Months after legalizing medical marijuana, Great Britain just received its first shipment of legal weed from the Netherlands.
Back in the US, individual states are still advancing their own efforts to make marijuana prohibition a thing of the past. In Wisconsin, Governor Tony Evers has woven cannabis reform into his proposed state budget, and in West Virginia, legislators just advanced a bill that would ease the financial worries of local medical marijuana firms.
In other news, a new study has discovered that teens in states with legal medical marijuana actually smoke less pot than teens in prohibition states, and former Trump strategist Steve Bannon has proposed that the current immigration “emergency” could be resolved by crowdfunding a border wall made of hemp. Let’s dig in to the past week in weed news.
European Parliament Passes Resolution Encouraging Support of Medical Marijuana
Last week, the European Parliament passed a resolution encouraging all 28 of its member nations to break down any barriers standing in the way of medical marijuana use and research. The resolution “calls on Member States to allow doctors to make free use of their professional judgement in prescribing regulatory-approved cannabis-based medicines to patients with relevant conditions, and to allow pharmacists to lawfully honour those prescriptions,” Marijuana Moment reports.
The resolution also asks “member states to address regulatory barriers which burden scientific research and invites them to properly fund research and promote greater knowledge of medical cannabis among medical professionals.” In support of this resolution, Parliament members expressed their conviction “that there is substantial evidence that cannabis and cannabinoids have therapeutic effects for treating chronic pain in adults, chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, and improve muscle spasticity symptoms in multiple sclerosis.”
The non-binding resolution does not directly change E.U. laws, but given the World Health Organization's recent recommendation that global cannabis prohibition laws be relaxed, it is seeming more likely that Europe will unite in support of medical marijuana.
“This will help facilitate and expedite the well required safety and efficacy studies on cannabinoid solutions beyond the initial markets such as Canada and Israel,” said Aras Azadian, CEO of multinational cannabis firm Avicanna, to Forbes. “There is an ongoing concern of the toxic and inefficacious products being offered as medicine that will be limited with the entrance of qualified studies.”
The U.K. Just Received Its First Bulk Shipment of Legal Medical Marijuana
Last Thursday, the United Kingdom received 800 grams of medical marijuana from the Netherlands, the first-ever bulk shipment of weed to be legally allowed to enter the nation. Last year, the UK Home Office made it legal for doctors to prescribe medical marijuana to patients having an "unmet special clinical need that cannot be met by licensed products,” but up until now, import laws and regulations have made it extremely difficult to source this newly-legal medicine.
“When the regulations changed in November 2018, no one was prepared,” chronic pain consultant Dr. David McDowell told VICE. “It was one thing to assess the patient, but quite another to be able to get access to the medication. That is effectively where we have come to today. Patients can now get their prescriptions.” The new shipment of legal cannabis, grown by Dutch biotech firm Bedrocan, cleared customs last Friday and is already being distributed to pharmacies across the country.
Patients will now be allowed to pick up their weed prescriptions at their local pharmacy, or have it delivered by a licensed courier. The cost of this new medicine may be hard to swallow for many patients, however. Bedrocan cannabis will cost over $900 an ounce, around three times the average cost of black market pot. The supply of available cannabis products is certain to expand in the very near future, though, now that Canadian firm Aurora Cannabis has just completed its first legal commercial export of medical cannabis oil to the UK.
Wisconsin Governor Unveils Plans for Cannabis Decriminalization and MMJ Program
This Monday, newly-elected Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers joined the chorus of state leaders calling for cannabis reform in 2019. At a press conference, Gov. Evers announced that his plan for the next state budget will include proposals to decriminalize minor cannabis possession and legalize medical marijuana. The plan, which will be released in full at the end of this month, would remove all state penalties for the possession, manufacture, or distribution of up to 25 grams of weed. The plan would also create a new program to help minor pot offenders clear their criminal records.
"The bottom line is that we're spending too much money prosecuting and incarcerating people, and often people of color, for nonviolent crimes related to possessing small amounts of marijuana," Evers said, according to the Wisconsin State Journal. In support of his claim, the governor cited a study by the Wisconsin Justice Initiative reporting that 86% of all individuals arrested for second-offense marijuana possession in Milwaukee County from 2015 to 2016 were black.
Evers' plan would also create a comprehensive medical marijuana program allowing patients with “debilitating medical conditions,” including cancer, PTSD, AIDS, and chronic pain, to use medical marijuana. The plan would set up a system of licensed cultivators, retailers, and testers, and would allow patients to smoke medical marijuana and grow up to 12 plants each. The possession and use of CBD oil would also be fully legalized, without requiring a doctor's approval.
Unfortunately, not everyone in the state shares Evers' enthusiasm for pot reform. State Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has said that he is open to medical marijuana, but said that Evers' plan “makes it easier to get recreational marijuana and provides a pathway to full legalization, which I do not support,” the Journal reports. State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald has repeatedly said that he is opposed to any form of cannabis legalization, medical or otherwise, and also doesn't believe that the bill has enough support to pass the Senate.
West Virginia House Passes Medical Marijuana Banking Bill
Late last week, the West Virginia House of Delegates approved a bill that aims to increase medical marijuana firms' access to banking and financial institutions. Even though the majority of states have legalized cannabis in some form, federal law prohibits banks from handling funds connected with marijuana, forcing practically every U.S. cannabis company to operate on a cash-only basis. Federal lawmakers have proposed numerous bills to address the issue, but no solution has made it out of Congress to date.
West Virginia’s new bill, introduced by Del. Eric Nelson, would authorize the state treasurer to begin accepting bids from local banks willing to handle medical marijuana businesses' fees and taxes. The bill would also prohibit the state from taking any punitive action against financial institutions that service medical marijuana companies. There is no way that the state could prevent the federal government from cracking down on weed-friendly local banks, but the bill would mandate that state officials take all steps “permitted by law” to defend them, including covering “payment of the amount of any judgment obtained, damages, legal fees and expenses, and any other expenses incurred.”
West Virginia legalized medical marijuana in 2017, but the program has not yet gotten off the ground, in part due to the lack of banking alternatives available. “The Legislature finds and declares that the inability to provide banking services needed to collect and remit the fees, penalties, and taxes authorized under the West Virginia Medical Cannabis Act has delayed the implementation and is precluding access by the patients potentially eligible to be prescribed medical cannabis,” the bill reads.
Teens Are Smoking Less Weed in States with Legal Medical Marijuana
Opponents of marijuana reform often argue that legalizing weed will increase the prevalence of teen pot use, but a growing body of research is showing that the exact opposite is true. A new study, published last week in The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, is reporting that the rate of teen marijuana use was 1.1% lower in states with medical marijuana laws (MML), as compared to states that still prohibit all forms of cannabis.
The researchers studied national youth drug surveys conducted between 1999 and 2015, collecting information on over 860,000 adolescents across the country. "We found that for every group of 100 adolescents, one fewer will be a current user of marijuana following the enactment of medical marijuana laws," Dr. Rebekah Levine Coley, study author and Boston College psychology professor, said in a statement. "When we looked at particular subgroups of adolescents, this reduction became even more pronounced. For example 3.9% less black and 2.7% less Hispanic youths now use marijuana in states with MML.”
"Some people have argued that decriminalizing or legalizing medical marijuana could increase cannabis use amongst young people, either by making it easier for them to access, or by making it seem less harmful,” Dr. Coley said. "However, we saw the opposite effect. We were not able to determine why this is, but other research has suggested that after the enactment of medical marijuana laws, youths' perceptions of the potential harm of marijuana use actually increased. Alternatively, another theory is that as marijuana laws are becoming more lenient, parents may be increasing their supervision of their children, or changing how they talk to them about drug use."
The researchers also investigated states that have decriminalized pot, but found that decriminalization was not associated with the same decrease in teen weed use. The study found that neither decriminalization nor medical marijuana legalization had any impact on heavy pot users, who continued to smoke the same amount of weed regardless of state laws.
Steve Bannon Is Helping to Crowdfund a Border Wall Made From Hemp
It’s looking like President Trump's attempt to use a national emergency to fund his infamous border wall will be hung up by legal challenges, but a team of his most outspoken supporters have come up with an alternative idea – crowdfunding a border wall made out of hemp. The new plan, spearheaded by former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, and baseball legend Curt Schilling, would fund the wall via private donations rather than an act of Congress. And to keep costs down, the team has proposed building the wall out of hemp.
“I'm obsessed with the hempcrete,” Bannon said, VICE News reports. “I think this plant has got tremendous entrepreneurial aspects to it, and it's innovative. We're not sitting there saying, ‘Hey, just a concrete wall or just a steel barrier.’ It has to be advanced technology.” Bannon's team has reportedly partnered with America's Hemp Academy, a Kansas company that launched immediately after hemp was legalized at the end of last year. The project has raised $22 million to date, but experts have cast doubts on the team's ability to raise the hundreds of millions necessary to fully complete the project.
Bannon asked POLITICO if they understood “the irony of using hempcrete to keep out marijuana” smuggled from Mexico. But the real irony is the fact that not only has illegal immigration been steadily decreasing since 2007, but border seizures of smuggled marijuana have also decreased dramatically over the past five years. “State-level marijuana legalization has significantly undercut marijuana smuggling,” a recent Cato Institute report concluded. “Based on Border Patrol seizures, smuggling has fallen 78 percent over just a five-year period.”