Tag Archives: medical

Answering objections to natural medicinal cannabis

OPPONENTS of patients being able to medicate with natural herbal cannabis, including our own Ministry of Health, can no longer ignore its medical effectiveness. Instead, they deny relief to seriously ill people by hiding behind smokescreens and circular arguments. CHRIS FOWLIE explains.

The Ministry of Health supports allowing the cannabis-extract Sativex. This in itself is not a bad thing. Sativex is, after all, a natural extract made from whole cannabis. Its genetics are based on quality Sensi Seed Bank stock. But it’s not yet available in New Zealand – and it’s not for everyone. Sativex has a fixed ratio of just two cannabinoids, whereas the variety of cannabis strains allow patients to pick and choose to match strains to symptoms. And Sativex is expensive – an estimated cost of $150-$300 per week, with no sign Pharmac will offer any funding.


Objectors to herbal cannabis say smoking anything must be bad. That assumes all smoke is smoke, but cannabis smoke is different: for a start, it contains THC, a powerful antioxidant with tumour-fighting abilities. THC kick-starts the lung’s immune response, and clears the lungs. Several large-scale studies have thus found cannabis-only smokers to be more healthy than even non-smokers!

Next they talk about cannabis smokers taking deep breaths and holding it in longer. But it is the vastly-inflated value caused by its illegal status that forces tokers to maximise the bang for their buck. If cannabis cost the same as tobacco ($20 per ounce including taxes), we’d see a more relaxed smoking style.

Even if we accept anti-smoking arguments, herbal cannabis does not have to be smoked. Patients can avoid smoke entirely by growing cannabis and turning it into foods, drinks or tinctures, or even skin creams or massage oils. They can use a vaporiser to get the instant effect and dose control of inhalation without any smoke at all.

Standard dosages

The next objection that is usually raised is that there can be no standardisation or dosage control with herbal cannabis. But smoking actually provides patients with very precise dosage control, due to the instant onset of effects. Furthermore, baked foods, drinks, candies, chocolates, elixirs and tinctures can all be easily made to a standard recipe that delivers a product of known strength. Anyone who can follow a recipe can do it. For larger-scale production, places overseas have
met patient need by licensing community groups, pharmacies or local companies to produce natural extracts or tinctures of known strength. The Dutch licensed several companies to provide standardised natural cannabis to pharmacies there. The varieties all have fixed and known quantities of active ingredients and are sterilised to be free of mould or fungus. It is that not hard to do, and could easily be done here.

Home invasions

Finally, those who object to herbal medicinal cannabis eventually say that allowing patients to grow their own would expose them to risk of robbery or home invasion, acknowledging that the current drug law creates crime and violence. Regardless, many patients are already growing their own, but are denied any protection. If their medicine is stolen they can’t go to the police. Patients are forced to engage with the illicit market and the risks that go with that. Places overseas that allow patients to grow their own or nominate someone else to do it for them have not noted increased violence of thefts from patients. To the contrary, allowing patients to grow their own is the best way to safely meet their needs.

(NORML News Autumn 2008)

Dosage and plant numbers

Medicinal cannabis patients have widely varying needs: some need only a few specks of pot as their symptoms require, while others may need to medicate almost all the time, although individual dosages may change with time or severity of symptoms.

It is not unusual for patients using cannabis to consume far more than the average recreational user – particularly those with chronic pain or other severe ongoing symptoms.

It’s interesting to consider what the authorities have to say about how much medi-weed is appropriate. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has a dosing guideline for synthetic THC (Marinol) of 30-90mg per day. Researchers applied these guidelines to herbal cannabis and calculated how much would need to be smoked in order to achieve the FDA’s recommended daily dosage. For average cannabis that is 10% THC, 1.8 grams per day would be required for a dose of 30mg THC, or 5.5 grams for a dose of 90mg THC. For cannabis that is very potent, such as 20%
THC, 0.9 grams would be required to achieve a dose of 30mg THC, or 2.8 grams for a dose of 90mg THC. That adds up an estimated range of 339 to 2000 grams per year, which the researchers say is consistent with amounts reported in surveys of patients in California and Washington (Carter, et al, 2004).

The US Federal government’s Compassionate Use Investigational New Drug Program has supplied a handful of patients with federallygrown medical marijuana for almost 3 decades. Patients have received 300 pre-rolled joints per month, every month, since entering the program. Those suffering from chronic pain receive 50% more than the others, or 450 joints per month. The joints each contain about 0.9 grams of marijuana. The US government has therefore established a medical marijuana dose range of between one half and three quarters of a pound per patient per month. (Russo et al, 2002)

Plant numbers

Setting plant limits based on arbitrary amounts risks denying effective treatment to those most in need, and/or criminalising those patients who happen to require more medication than others. If a limit must be set, it would be better to limit the growing area rather than the number of plants. This is because plant yield is more closely related to the available area than to plant numbers. Plants require light to grow and the available light (sunlight or indoor growing lamps) is a fixed quantity. Putting more plants into the same area will result in smaller plants, while the total yield will be about the same.

US State medical marijuana programs include various plant limits, several of which regulate growing areas rather than plant numbers:

Alaska: Patients (or their primary caregivers) may legally possess up to an ounce of usable marijuana, and may grow up to six plants, of which no more than three may be mature.

California: Proposition 215 did not set any limits regarding the amount of marijuana patients may possess and/or cultivate. Senate Bill 420, which took effect on January 1, 2004, imposes statewide guidelines outlining how much medicinal marijuana patients may grow and possess. Under the guidelines, qualified patients and/or their caregivers may possess no more than eight ounces of dried marijuana and/or six mature (or 12 immature) marijuana plants. However, SB420 allows patients to possess larger amounts of marijuana when it is recommended by a physician. The law also allows counties and municipalities to authorise patients to possess larger quantities of cannabis than allowed under the new state guidelines. For example, Humboldt County guidelines allow patients a 100 square feet garden and 3 lbs with no plant number limit. San Diego City Council guidelines allow up to 1lb of marijuana, and 24 plants in 64 square feet indoors.

Colorado: Patients (or their primary caregivers) may legally possess no more than two ounces of usable marijuana, and may cultivate no more than six marijuana plants.

Hawaii: Patients (or their primary caregivers) may legally possess up to one ounce of usable marijuana, and may cultivate up to seven plants, of which no more than three may be mature.

Maine: Patients (or their primary caregivers) may legally possess up to one and one-quarter ounces of usable marijuana, and may cultivate up to six plants, of which three may be mature.

Montana: Patients (or their primary caregivers) may possess no more than six marijuana plants.

Nevada: Patients (or their primary caregivers) may legally possess up to one ounce of usable marijuana, and may cultivate seven marijuana plants, of which three may be mature.

New Mexico: The law mandates the state to issue rules governing the use and distribution of medical cannabis to state-authorised patients, including defining the amount of cannabis that is necessary to constitute an “adequate supply” for qualified patients, and the creation of  state-licensed “cannabis production facilities”.

Oregon: Patients (or their primary caregivers) may legally possess no more than six mature
cannabis plants, 18 immature seedlings, and 24 ounces of usable cannabis.

Rhode Island: Patients (or their primary caregivers) may legally possess 2.5 ounces of cannabis and/or 12 plants, and their cannabis must be stored in an indoor facility.

Vermont: Patients (or their primary caregiver) may legally possess up to two ounces of usable marijuana, and may cultivate three plants, of which one may be mature.

Washington: Patients (or their primary caregivers) may possess or cultivate a 60-day supply of marijuana.

(NORML News Summer 2008)

For more information see:


New vaporiser studies remove last objection to Med-Pot

Vaporisation is an effective method to deliver THC according to a clinical study, writes CHRIS FOWLIE.

The most common objection to medical marijuana is that smoking is bad for you. Never mind that marijuana is not tobacco, does not contain nicotine, and has anti-cancer and anti-tumour properties. Or that terminal or seriously ill patients are more concerned with quality of their remaining life than whether they could get lung problems in several decades – if they are still alive. Prohibitionists ignore these facts when they deny patients and doctors access to medical marijuana.

Now, two new studies have blown that last objection away, and should pave the way towards allowing medicinal use.

In a study conducted at the University of California by Dr. Donald Abrams and his colleagues, 18 healthy subjects received three different strains of cannabis (with a THC content of 1.7, 3.4 or 6.8 per cent) by vaporization (The Volcano, made by Storz & Bickel) as well as by smoking a cannabis cigarette.

Unlike smoking, a vaporiser does not burn the plant material, but heats it just to the point at which the THC and the other cannabinoids turn to steam.

Peak plasma concentrations and bioavailability of THC were similar under the two conditions, with the  vaporiser producing a slightly higher level. The levels of carbon monoxide were greatly reduced with vaporization, with “little if any” detected. Researchers concluded “vaporisation of cannabis is a safe and effective mode of delivery of THC.”

In a second study, researchers at the State University of New York interviewed nearly 7000 cannabis users and found vaporiser users were 60 percent less likely than smokers to report respiratory symptoms such as cough, chest tightness or phlegm. The effect of vaporizer use was more pronounced the larger the amount of marijuana used.


  • Abrams et al. Clin Pharmacol Ther. 2007 Apr 11
  • Earleywine et al. Harm Reduct J 2007;4:11


(NORML News Winter 2007)

Thousands of Kiwis need safe legal access to medical marijuana

More than 11,000 New Zealanders could already be using marijuana for medical reasons, or could benefit from doing so. They deserve compassion, not criminalisation.

Estimates of how many New Zealanders suffer from conditions potentially alleviated by cannabis and how many may be already using cannabis illegally can be gauged by extrapolating from Australian figures. Hall et al (2001) estimated NSW has 19,000 medical marijuana users, suggesting New Zealand could have on a population basis 11,400 medical users.

A 2005 British survey of more than 500 HIV/AIDS patients found that one-third of respondents use natural cannabis for symptomatic relief, with more than 90 percent of them reporting that it improves their appetite, muscle pain and other symptoms.

A previous US survey found one out of four patients with HIV had used natural cannabis medicinally in the past month.

Cannabis use is also prevalent among patients with neurologic disorders. Nearly four out of ten Dutch patients with prescriptions for “medical grade cannabis” ( provided by Dutch pharmacies with a standardized THC content of 10.2 percent) use it to treat MS or spinal cord injuries, according to survey data published in 2005 in the journal Neurology. Perceived efficacy is greater among respondents who inhale cannabis versus those who ingest it orally, the study found.

A 2002 British survey of MS patients found that 43 percent of respondents used
natural cannabis therapeutically, with about half admitting they used it regularly. Seventy-six percent said they would do so if cannabis were legal.

A Canadian survey of MS patients found that 96 percent of respondents were “aware cannabis was potentially therapeutically useful for MS and most (72 percent) supported [its] legalization for medicinal purposes.”

A more recent Canadian survey published in Neurology reported that 14 percent of MS patients and 21 percent of respondents with epilepsy had used medical cannabis in the past year. Among epileptics, twenty four percent of respondents said that they believed that cannabis was an effective therapy for the condition.

A 2002 survey of patients with Parkinson’s Disease found that 25 percent of respondents had tried cannabis, with nearly half of those saying that it provided them symptomatic relief.

For sources and more information, see the report “Marinol Versus Natural Cannabis: Pros, Cons and Options for Patients” by Paul Armentano (11 Aug 05) at www.norml.org

(NORML News Winter/Spring 2006)

The Dutch Experience, Manchester UK

By Chris Fowlie, President, NORML New Zealand, 2002

I crossed back over the channel and away from the Spanish sun to visit the Dutch Experience, the UK’s first genuine coffeeshop located in Stockport, near Manchester.

The Dutch Experience opened amidst a huge drugs debate and widely-expected cannabis law reform. Colin Davies and Nol van Schaik opened the Dutch Experience on September 15 last year as a medical marijuana club. They were immediately raided by police, who later threw Colin in jail without trial. Colin suffers from a broken back and takes cannabis for pain relief, but he had spent much of his time in prison chained to a hospital bed and on a morphine drip. Rather than giving up, a band of committed supporters stood firm against the injustice, kept the cafe open and after almost 40 arrests the police backed down and refused to arrest any more supporters even when they smoked cannabis in the police station lobby.

NORML President Chris Fowlie meets Dutch Experience Stockport founder Colin DaviesColin, who has already been acquitted twice on medical necessity grounds, was recently released from Strangeways Prison after the judge suggested the defence make a bail application on the grounds that he would be unlikely to serve any more time than the seven months he had already been behind bars, should he eventually be found guilty. The judge is the same judge who heard Colin’s previous trials and will also preside over his trial later this year. Strict bail conditions prevent Colin from visiting the Dutch Experience or his home town of Stockport, having any contact with his fellow defendants or giving interviews to the media. I briefly met with Colin and then later that week he was again arrested, this time for breaching bail conditions (he was found at his Stockport home by police). Colin was again released by the judge, and then police arrested him again before he even had a chance to leave the court. He was beaten in the courtroom by security guards after his back pain prevented him standing up. It seems the police would like to keep Colin imprisoned until his trial, which is due to start September 9 and run for six weeks at a cost of over one million pounds.

Dutch Experience, StockportMeanwhile the Dutch Experience coffeeshop remains open every day using the tried-and-true Dutch rules: R18, no hard drugs, no alcohol, no advertising, no nuisance and no large deals. The Stockport tourist office happily directs people to the cafe, who have never been cause for a complaint. Like many Dutch coffeeshops, the DE is part of a medi-weed system where social buyers subsidise free or cost-price marijuana for patients. The Dutch Experience has also improved the local cannabis market, with users reporting reduced prices and better quality.

Inside the Dutch Experience, StockportI took in my 5 pounds and passport photograph to become member 1089, signed the form that committed me to following the rules and declared that I am not a cop or an informant, and went out the back to the member’s room. This includes two essential features of a genuine Dutch coffeeshop – a table soccer machine and a dealer’s booth. The booth has been built to look like a machine so no-one can see who the dealer is. Customers put their membership card, money and request in one slot, and what they want drops out the other. The set up appears to conform to what the UK police keep saying about not tolerating “blatant open dealing”. What could be more discreet than whispering your order down a drainpipe in the back room of a cafe in a courtyard down a quiet street in a sleepy town in the north of England?

In early July 2002, after I had returned to London, Home Secretary David Blunkett confirmed that cannabis will be reclassified to Class C, which means possessing and using cannabis will remain an offence but people cannot be arrested or searched for it. This small-but-significant step means millions of British cannabis users no longer have to live in fear of the police. Cannabis seeds have always been legal in the UK and now indoor growing is really taking off as people forget their fears and inhibitions generated by the cannabis prohibition.

It is not all good news, however. When making the announcement, the British government capitulated to a small but vocal number of anti-drugs campaigners and the tabloid press and doubled the maximum sentence for dealing in cannabis from 5 years imprisonment to 14 years, with their only explanation that they wanted to “send a message” that they are not going “soft” on drugs. This contradictory policy shift – reduced penalties for using but increased penalties for dealing – has already confused the public. Unlike the Dutch policy, the new British policy will increase the link between cannabis and hard drugs instead of breaking it.

The so-called “gateway” effect is a result of the procedure of forcing cannabis buyers to shop in an illicit multi-drug market. This gateway effect therefore can only be broken at the point of supply, by separating the vast majority of people who only want to smoke cannabis from those dealers who want to sell them something else. The increased penalties will make friends less likely to want to sell to their mates because cannabis supply will be on a par with aggravated robbery and sexual assault. Cannabis users will therefore be more likely to have to resort to street dealers to score. Those street dealers will be more likely to offer hard drugs like crack as the penalties will be the same but the potential profit is much higher.

It was time to cross the North Sea and visit a Scandanavian haven where the hard and soft drug markets are separated – Christiania in Denmark.

London, UK

By Chris Fowlie, President, NORML New Zealand, 2002

J Day is now celebrated in over 150 cities around the world, and London is the biggest. The International Cannabis Coalition March and Festival is held in Brixton in the Lambeth police district where public pressure has forced police to stop arresting people for cannabis possession.

J-Day, London

I volunteered for the job of march steward which meant walking along the side of the march with an orange sash on. I caught up with Russell Cronin, pot author and medical marijuana coordinator for NORML when he lived in New Zealand last year. We donned our sashes, put on our happy faces with some herbal help, and set off from Kennington Park towards Brixton.

J Day main field J Day march with Russell Cronin
J Day stall menu J Day Rinky Dink Sound System

By the time we reached Brockley Green the march had grown to ten thousand people and in the end more than fifty thousand potheads filled the park along with ten sound systems in marquees and on stages. Ganja fairies greeted the crowds, most of whom donated a pound as they entered the park, and there was a huge array of market stalls and food on offer. In the hemp tent, in addition to hemp rope, clothing and foods, there were ganga flapjacks, falafels and pot chocolates. Dealers circulated through the crowd offering hash and skunk and pungent smoke clouds hung over the crowds. The police were nothing but smiles and made no arrests.

Lambeth Pilot Decriminalisation Scheme

Lambeth police have saved almost 3000 hours in the six months since they stopped arresting cannabis users – enough for two more officers on the beat to target hard drug dealers – and now the scheme is set to be expanded across the UK.

There have been some complaints about the scheme:

Cannabis users also complain that police have seized more people’s weed than before, even if they are not arresting them for it.

Some locals complain that street dealing appears to have increased as the dealers have came out of the shadows, but police have actually arrested more Class A dealers than ever before, and the number of robberies and muggings in Lambeth has halved since the scheme began.

There were also concerns expressed that outside dealers would move into the area and drug tourists would flock to score there, but on the contrary, an analysis of arrests by the Metropolitan Police has shown that people who live outside the Lambeth area make up a smaller proportion of drug arrests now than before the scheme began.

There have also been the familiar cries that not arresting adults who use cannabis sends a “green light” to children to also use cannabis, but Lambeth police contacted all schools in the area and found no incidents of cannabis use.

A survey of local residents found widespread support for the scheme, and drug treatment agencies in the area are also satisfied as they want to concentrate on hard drugs like crack and heroin.

I attended a community meeting in the Brixton Town Hall about the scheme, and found many locals want to have coffeeshops to get the dealers off the streets and provide safe environments for adults to responsibly use cannabis.

There are actually two coffeeshops already open in Brixton, both little known to the outside world and hard to find unless you know about them. Cafe Cairo is a really nice place with middle-eastern decor and plenty of large hookah pipes. You can smoke openly but not score. Go next door, and you can score at Sweetleaf, a Jamaican outfit that does a poor job of pretending to be a fruit shop. You must buy something from the shop – a banana or anything – and then you can go out the back where in the interests of research I spent some of The Dominion’s settlement money on some average-quality Jamaican weed from a really wasted yardie.

Chris has a session outside the House of Parliament, LondonAt the public meeting, Shane Collins, spokesperson for the Green Party Drugs Group, quizzed new police chief Brian Moore about why they had recently raided Sweetleaf but not Cafe Cairo. Many in the audience said it was racist, and a leaflet was circulating accusing Moore of once being part of a racist police social group, but Moore only said the now-standard police line of not being able to tolerate “blatant open dealing.” Their words are significant, meaning they can choose to tolerate anything that isn’t blatant open dealing, just don’t push it under their noses. Both cafes remain open, and in addition coffeeshops are also open in Stockport and Bornemouth with about a dozen more planned. Coffeeshops are strongly supported in opinion polls and seem inevitable.

The next week and by chance, David Hadorn arrived in town and we paid a visit to Tony’s Herbal Corner in King’s Cross. The shop itself does a good trade selling health foods, with the medical marijuana dispensary tucked away down a side street and upstairs. A video camera on the door means only members can get in. The menu offered a couple of Dutch skunks, outdoor Swiss sativa, Thai, Swazi, plus Afghan and Maroccan hash. There is a great THC balm to soothe your aches and pains away, and a rooftop ganga garden in full view of nearby offices which was truly a delight to behold. It appears this medical marijuana supply operation is being left alone by police. Tony even had six boxes of Swiss marijuana delivered to him after customs had initially stopped it. Again, this is not “blatant open” dealing that the police say they cannot tolerate; it is a medical marijuana dispensary that they can tolerate.

It was about time to investigate some blatant open dealing that is being tolerated, to see if it was better or worse than trying to force cannabis underground. I headed for Amsterdam. >>

Vancouver, Canada

By Chris Fowlie, President, NORML New Zealand, 2002

Chris visits Vancouver on the west coast of Canada. Features the Bubble Bag hash extraction system (pictured), Cannabis Culture publisher/seed mail order businessman Marc Emery, the BC Marijuana Party, cannabis-friendly cafes Blunt Brothers and Cafe Amsterdam, www.pot-tv.net, medical suppliers the Compassion Club, the Senate Special Committee on Drugs discussion paper, Philippe Lucas, founder of the Vancouver Island Compassion Society, David Hadorn, protesting outside the IDEAS conference, and the first annual Toker’s Bowl.

After the annual NORML conferenceheld in the medical marijuana capital of San Francisco, I headed north to Vancouver, home of the B.C. Bud and the city recently voted by High Times readers as the most marijuana-friendly place on earth.

Marc EmeryUpon arrival I called in to see Cannabis Culture publisher Marc Emery, who also owns a large marijuana seed mail-order company and funds most Canadian law reform efforts. I managed to arrive with impeccable timing. A potential supplier had sent over an ounce each of 25 different strains to Marc for his consideration. “Any kind of marijuana you’ve always wanted to try?” he asked, passing me a 3 foot colour-changing glass bong. I got to work immediately.

Hastings StreetThe next day I visited the downtown Hastings Street area which is home to Vancouver’s cannabis community. A couple of pot-friendly cafes and a seed store flank the BC Marijuana Party. It’s effectively a prohibition-free zone in this city where the law still says pot is illegal.

Blunt Brothers and Cafe Amsterdam don’t sell cannabis, but they will happily let adults use their glassed-walled smoking rooms. Vancouver has strict anti-tobacco laws that restrict any smoking indoors and these sort of rooms were first installed in a few bars around town. After several cannabis-related raids, the cannabis cafes argued that if bars could have tobacco smoking rooms then they should have pot smoking rooms, and the local police agreed. They have more important things to get on with, and can keep an eye on the cafes and visit them if necessary.

BC Marijuana PartyActivists at the BC Marijuana Party make sure everyone who visits gets to try their giant bongs. They have a great bookstore and house the studio for www.pot-tv.net, an internet site largely funded by Marc Emery that broadcasts pro-pot programmes over the internet. I caught up with Reverend Damuzi who I had met in New Zealand in 1999 when he covered the last election for Cannabis Culture magazine. Damuzi has a daily show on pot-tv.net and I was happy to be interviewed by him and give an update on what we have been up to in New Zealand.

Vancouver also has a thriving medical marijuana scene. Hillary Black runs the Compassion Club, which aims to provide “access to medical marijuana in an environment conducive to healing”. The Club has a good selection of organic cannabis, both indoor and outdoor, plus some hash and baked delights all at very reasonable prices, but only if you have a letter from your doctor. A registered non-profit society, the Compassion Club also offers naturopaths, massage, reiki and other alternative healing for their patients. They work closely with the health department and have pioneered systems of evaluating and monitoring patient’s med-pot usage and the effects of different strains.

Unlike the Californian medical clubs, the Vancouver Compassion Club does not have the protection of any law, but they do have around 2000 members and makes them almost untouchable by the authorities. They are, after all, only doing what the Canadian government has failed to do.

Two Supreme Courts, in Ontario and Alberta, have ruled that because the law does not distinguish between medical and recreational use of cannabis, it is unconstitutional and will be struck down. The Minister of Health responded by announcing they would provide medical marijuana on prescription. A $6.5 million contract was awarded to Prairie Plant Systems to grow the medical herb underground in an old mine shaft, but instead of using the standardised strains offered by seed companies such as Marc Emery’s, they took an unknown mix-bag of seeds from police seizures. While I was in Vancouver the news emerged that the whole crop will probably be destroyed as they have grown something like 180 different strains, all with varying cannabinoid profiles and therefore different therapeutic effects. Meanwhile, the Compassion Club already has a wealth of data they have collected from their patients about which particular strains work the best for their conditions…

While I was in Canada, the Senate Special Committee on Drugs released a discussion paper supporting marijuana decriminalisation, saying there is no scientific evidence that it leads to harder drugs. After more than a year of studying the issue, Committee chairman Sen. Pierre Claude Nolin said marijuana should be treated “more like alcohol or tobacco than like the harder drugs.”

Their inquiry report noted that “studies show that in the Netherlands, despite a more liberal approach than other countries, the proportion of youth using cannabis is not higher. In fact, it is in the middle of the pack… Public policies have little impact on use levels and patterns… Prohibition and criminalization entail a criminal record for simple cannabis possession, fuel a black market that brings young people into contact with criminal elements and force them to hide to avoid police scrutiny… Public policies also entail other negative effects. Prohibition makes public health approaches, balanced information, prevention and quality control of substances difficult, if not impossible.” The committee will issue their final report in August.

Chris on the Vancouver Island FerryIn the BC capital city of Victoria on near-by Vancouver Island, I paid a visit to Philippe Lucas, founder of the Vancouver Island Compassion Society (VICS). Phil is facing charges of intent to supply his 170 members after he reported a break-in at the club. Instead arresting the burglar and returning VICS’s stolen medi-weed, local police arrested Phil. An almost identical theft occurred at the Vancouver Compassion Club but they have 2000 members so their medical marijuana was returned by the police with no charges laid.

I attended the latest hearing in Phil’s ongoing trial at the Victoria courthouse. The judge seemed sympathetic and the prosecutor reluctant. A 45-minute documentary about Phil and the VICS called Crime of Compassion was played. In it, then-Minister of Health Allan Rock said “Philippe can show [the government] the way in this transition period… In the next round of regulations, we should recognise the clubs who have shown commitment, kindness and involvement at the community level.”

Phil’s lawyer James Conroy, who is also Canadian spokesperson for NORML, argued that Allan Rock was not just turning a blind eye, but “watching, encouraging and thanking Mr Lucas for his work and contribution.” Conroy asked Judge Higgenbottam for an absolute discharge “to send a message to police to stop arresting people with genuine medical need.” The prosecutor opposed, saying that since Phil continued to operate the the club, he was unrepentant. The judge wondered aloud whether remorse was such an appropriate measure with which to decide a discharge. He reserved his decision and we left the courthouse feeling quite confident of a good outcome.

In Victoria I was stayed with David Hadorn, who had initiated the Drug Policy Forum in New Zealand and was the principal author of their seminal 1998 report, Regulate and Tax Cannabis. Much of our conversation revolved around what policy we could make work in New Zealand. After much toking and talking, our ideas started to coalesce around a private club model, where smoking could be allowed inside member’s clubs similar to RSAs or sports clubs. The club would be private, behind closed doors and limited to adults. If you’re not a member you won’t get in without being invited, and if you don’t want to go there you don’t have to. Membership could also involve a test of knowledge of responsible cannabis use and adhering to a set of club rules defining appropriate behaviour.

David pointed out that the home grow model carries a potential risk in that if half a million pot smokers all grow a few plants at home or in the hills, there will be a lot of cannabis plants out there and therefore it could be argued that access by kids could become even easier than now. A private club could avoid this pitfall by doing all the growing on behalf of members in a secure environment. The members would pay their share of expenses and could either tend the plants themselves or have the club’s expert growers do it for them.

It’s a valid point, but after so many years of campaigning for the right to grow your own, I still wasn’t convinced this was the best policy that we would want the law changed to. After all, people can brew their own beer or distill hard liquor or grow tobacco and the only controls are being aged over 18 and not being able to sell the product without a license.

The iDEAs tank at the protestI got the ferry back to Vancouver in time for the IDEAS conference. This was a pro-War On Drugs event organised by an American outfit descended from Straight Inc, a “rehab” outfit that was closed after allegations of beatings and torture became public. The conference did not get much support in liberal ’Vansterdam’ and a bunch of activists mounted a noisy – and smokey – protest outside the plush hotel venue.

Bubble bags set upI had the good fortune while there to meet Mark, manufacturer of the Bubble Bag hash extraction system, and went back to his place for a demonstration. He lined a large bucket with six silk-screen bags, one inside the other, then filled it with water and ice. Mark then took two ounces of heads (leaf can also be used) and to my initial consternation he threw the buds in the water. “Relax,” he said, “just wait, you’ll like the hash better.”Bubble bag hashA hand-held cake mixer was used to agitate the icey water for twenty minutes in order to break the trichomes from the plant material. The trichomes separate more easily at colder temperatures so ice was liberally added. The mixture frothed up and then we let it settle for another twenty minutes or so. The screen of the first bag is wide enough to let only the trichomes and the water go though, so it contained all the plant material which we discarded. The next five bags yielded five different grades of hash, and the final 25 micron bag was mind-blowing! I was instantly sold on the idea: growers of New Zealand, get your bags and get making water hash!

The next day the first annual Toker’s Bowl kicked off. It was a three-day extravaganga hosted by Cannabis Culture and the Marijuana Party, with dozens of strains competing to be crowned the finest of the BC Bud. I caught the smoke-filled opening – Mark was there demonstrating his hash with a heat-gun vaporiser – but I couldn’t stay. I had a plane to catch to get to London in time for J Day.

San Francisco

First stop on my world tour was the NORML conference in San Francisco.

The first person I encountered stepping off the bus from the airport was a crack dealer with an outstretched palm full of rocks. “Want some crack?” he asked. Welcome to America, I thought.

I was staying with the manufacturer of the Eterra vaporiser we sell at The Hempstore. I arrived at a fortuitous time, because he was developing a new prototype called the Tulip. It is a hand-held device containing a coil heated by electricity. When you inhale air is drawn past the coil which heats it to just the right temperature to vaporise those trichomes that we love so much. I got to be guinea pig and test the vaporiser for all it was worth, which was a much better welcome to America than that skanky crack dealer.

I had a day to spare before the Norml conference so I paid a visit to Oakland, home of the Oakland Cannabis Buyers Cooperative. The OCBC, led by Jeff Jones, has been at the forefront of efforts to implement Proposition 215, the 1996 State ballot that legalised medical marijuana in California but did not specify how the supply should take place. While some counties and the Federal government continue to harass medical users, the Oakland County deputised Jones and the OCBC as city officials, giving them similar standing to police officers. When I visited, Jones was busy preparing for his latest court battle, this time appealing a US Supremthe Bulldoge Court ruling from last year that third-party clubs such as his could not use “medical necessity” as a defense to a charge under Federal law. That ruling had stopped the OCBC from dispensing marijuana to patients, so instead they act as a first stop for new patients to have their doctor’s recommendation verified and photo-ID card issued. Patients then go two doors down, past the grow shop, and show their card at The Bulldog Cafe or their choice of seven other dispensaries in the SF-Bay area that supply medical marijuana.

From the street the Bulldog, named in honour of the pioneering Amsterdam coffeeshop, looks like any other cafe although you might start to wonder why so many people keep heading out the back. You’ll need an OCBC ID card to get past the doorman to the dispensary, which offers an enticing menu with a half-dozen baggies of top-quality buds and several varieties of hash. This is medical marijuana – guaranteed organic – and a vaporiser is thoughtfully provided for the patients to use.

Norml conferenceMore than five hundred activists from the far pockets of North America attended the Norml conference, held at the 30-storey Crowne Plaza Hotel in downtown San Francisco. We had all heard of California’s medical marijuana law and San Francisco’s liberal reputation and were keen to test it with some public displays of affection for our favourite plant. San Francisco District Attorney Terrence Hallinan opened the conference and declared it a sanctuary. “You have nothing to fear here,” he said, which made us all very happy indeed.

Hemp carLater that afternoon at the customary time of 4:20 the footpath outside was crowded with cannabis people of all shapes and sizes celebrating and socialising. Two cars running on hempseed oil were parked nearby, and police literally looked the other way whenever they passed. Among the crowd were patients sporting vials of medical marijuana labelled like you would get from the pharmacy. Irvin Rosenfeld and Elvy Musikka get their medical marijuana from the US Federal Government. There are only 8 left people on this special programme, and Irvin is the longest serving patient. He showed me his prescription medi-weed, and rather than good shit, I have to say it is just shit. The US Government holds on to the marijuana for two years before they give it to patients, so it is old and musty. It comes pre-rolled in 300-joint containers, but Irvin rerolls his to remove all the sticks and seeds. He much preferred the smell and taste of the California bud on offer, although he says no pot gets him stoned as the THC is used for therapeutic effects with none left to create a high.

A TV crew had interviewed Irvin earlier that day so at six o’clock we went to Irvin’s room to catch the news. It was a nice moment seeing him smoke 100% legal medical marijuana on the television and there right in front of me, both at the same time.

Chris with Richard CowanThe next day former NORML director Richard Cowan hosted an international panel and recounted to the conference all the countries around the world that are in the process of ending cannabis prohibition. “Americans need to pay more attention to what is going on around the world. Other countries have moved ahead of the so-called ’leader’ of the free world.”

I then gave a short talk to the conference about what we have been up to in New Zealand with the cannabis inquiry, having our first hemp crop and the world’s only Rastafarian MP. After that it seemed like everyone wanted to share their marijuana with the person who had traveled the furthest. I thought it would be rude to refuse.

HoneybudMy favourite was called Honeybud, and it was apparantly banned from the Cannabis Cup. The buds had been coated in pure THC, giving them the appearance of being dipped in honey. This stuff was so strong that I had not finished one gram by the time I left four days later. Honeybud goes for US$50 per gram and worth every penny.

Debbie Goldsworthy was an inspiration for all as she told us about the Cannabis Action Network and the Cannabis Consumers Union she set up at Berkerly University. The aim was to work within the “green area” to get cannabis users to a place where they are safe and the police are afraid to bust anyone. The Union mandated a sensible use programme, ran a good neighbours programme to keep the locals happy, made sure everyone was enrolled to vote so they would have political power, and collected 6,000 signatures of support to make the police think twice about doing anything. The arrest rate was halved and an open marijuana market allowed to flourish. She brought more good news to the conference: that morning the Cannabis Action Network had unveiled a huge 8m x 8m banner down the side of a building, reading “No war on patients: Californians say YES to medical marijAdvertuana”. It made the news that night too.

Prof. Craig Reinarman gave a presentation about the study he conducted with Peter Cohen comparing drug use rates in Amsterdam, San Francisco and Bremmen (Germany). The research found drug policies have no effect on drug use, other than taking a little longer to score. “The end result of spending US$17 billion on a drug war is to add about 3 hours 15 minutes to the time it takes to get drugs,” he concluded. “In the Netherlands marijuana use stops being demonised and starts to look just like one more cultural practice in a very sane society.”

That night the SF Patients Resource Centre kindly hosted a party for the conference delegates. It is a real hippie place, so we ate space cake, rolled fat joints and sang folk songs. Centre director Wayne Kuffman welcomed us like family and said “If there’s anything I can advise, it’s never give up hope.” His group worked hard to be responsible. They had produced the first patient ID card, got the city council to change the Health and Safety Code, drafted a resolution making SF a sanctuary.

norml conferenceThe next day at the conference, I got talking to Ed Rosenthal, author of many of the best grow books and the Ask Ed grow section in Cannabis Culture magazine. Ed has just been busted by the DEA and charged with being part of a grow circle for a California patients group. Even though State law says this is legal, Federal law still classifies cannabis alongside heroin and cocaine. Despite the risk of jail time looming, Ed was upbeat and even joined NORML New Zealand. I took great pleasure in welcoming him aboard and wished him the very best for his fight with Uncle Sam.

I also caught up with David Hadorn, the driving force behind the New Zealand Drug Policy Forum and current resident of Victoria, Canada. I was pleased to hear he will be spending more time in New Zealand and putting his many skills to work in our law reform movement. David introduced me to Philippe Lucas, director of the Vancouver Island Compassion Society, who is being prosecuted for his activities while the Canadian government has simultaneously given the go-ahead to medical marijuana on prescription. I decided to visit them both in Victoria, Canada, after the conference.

Keith Stroup of NORML USA speaksThe final day at the conference featured crowd-pleasing appearances by US canna-celebrities, and a lifetime achievement award was presented to drug education expert Marsha Rosenbaum of the Drug Policy Alliance (formerly the Lindesmith Centre). It was great to see her many contributions acknowledged. Marsha and DPA director Ethan Nadelmann came to New Zealand last November at the invitation of the Coalition for Cannabis Law Reform and did a great job testifying to the health select committee’s inquiry into cannabis.

Our other overseas experts, Peter Cohen from the University of Amsterdam and Alex Wodak of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation were also at the conference and it was nice to catch up with them as well as many other people from North American drug policy reform groups, such as Drugsense, MAP (who provide the database for norml.org.nz’s news page), DRC Net, Common Sense for Drug Policy, Marijuana Policy Project, Cannabis Action Network, Vote Hemp, and many of the Californian medical marijuana organisations. In between meeting people there were was an array of panels and forums discussing every aspect of cannabis and the law.

The conference closed with a wild party featuring a semi-naked 40-piece marching band and about a ton of marijuana.

Back in ‘Oaksterdam’ and around the corner from the Bulldog, Compassionate Caregivers has no sign and the doorman wouldn’t let me in without a doctor’s note. I returned to the Bulldog and met Jack Herer, who was in town for the Norml conference. The man at Compassionate Caregivers was all smiles for Mr Herer and we headed upstairs to investigate. Several display cases were bursting with dozens of varieties of marijuana, hash, kief, tinctures, brownies, muffins, chocolates, teas and cuttings for patients or their caregivers to grow. I shared a pipe with Jack on the rooftop ganga garden, and thought that San Francisco is a mighty fine place to be, especially if you have a note from your doctor.

I headed north to Vancouver, home of the B.C. Bud and the city recently voted by High Times readers as the most marijuana-friendly place on earth. >>

Links for more information:

NORML USA www.norml.org
Oakland Cannabis Buyers Cooperative www.ocbc.org
Ed Rosenthal www.quickamerican.com
Drug Policy Alliance www.drugpolicy.org
Drugsense www.drugsense.org
Media Awareness Project (MAP) www.mapinc.org
Drug Reform Coordination Network www.drcnet.org
Common Sense for Drug Policy www.csdp.org
Marijuana Policy Project www.mpp.org
Vote Hemp www.votehemp.org
Jack Herer www.jackherer.com