Tag Archives: Marijuana

What’s next for Mexico’s drug cartels after El Chapo

As Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman awaitsextradition to the United States, he leaves behind what appears to be a new landscape for Mexico’s drug cartels.

Last week, his son, Jesus Alfredo Guzman, was kidnapped by men authorities believe were members of a rival cartel. Sources tell CNN he was released Saturday, but his abduction signals that the game of thrones for Mexico’s next top drug cartel has already begun.

Continue reading What’s next for Mexico’s drug cartels after El Chapo

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Colorado’s new cannabis laws make it a top spot for pot tourism

A woman blows smoke rings with marijuana smoke in Denver

Cannabis tour operators are heading for Colorado where new dispensaries (shops), and weed-friendly clubs and hotels are popping up to make the most of the relaxation of marijuana laws

As the sun rises over the Rockies, a tour bus pulls up outside the Brown Palace Hotel in Denver and deposits a new load of tourists. It’s not your usual busload, though.

This group has come from Texas for a weekend organised by Spiro, a luxury cannabis tour operator, and its package includes a visit to a spa, dinner, a trip to a farm and a weed-infused cooking class. Some of them will buy and smoke, some are just curious, but they’re all here for the pot.

Marijuana dispensary in Denver, Colorado, USA.

Until now choices for pot tourism have been limited. There’s Amsterdam, of course, where tourists can buy up to five grams and smoke in coffee shops, but this year in the US, since Washington state and Colorado legalised personal recreational purchasing and consumption of marijuana, there’s been a rush to open dispensaries and growing operations, particularly in Denver.

Medicinal marijuana has been available in Colorado since 2000, so many existing suppliers are investing in more plants, space, shops and staff. There are, as yet, no Starbucks-style chains though; many of the dispensaries (selling everything from ready-rolled joints to smoking paraphernalia) are small and independently owned.

Drawn by the mountains and the laid-back atmosphere, tourists arrive daily in Colorado from other US states and, increasingly, from overseas. Buying cannabis is the easy part; smoking it is another story, as Colorado also has tough anti-smoking laws.

Whether in edible or smokeable form, marijuana use is prohibited in public spaces, including streets and parks, and in places visible from public spaces (such as your hotel balcony). You can smoke inside at clubs such as Studio A64 in Colorado Springs, and a new wave of hotels allow smoking (of tobacco or weed) in 25% of the rooms.

Cannabis-infused trail mix is put into containers for participants in a cannabis cooking class in Denver, Colorado.

Cannabis-infused trail mix is put in containers for participants in a cannabis cooking class in Denver. Photograph: Alamy

Since the beginning of 2014, it is estimated that cannabis sales have brought Colorado $47m in tax revenue, with an estimated third of those sales to customers from out of state. From resorts in western Colorado, such as Aspen, to the university town of Boulder, new dispensaries are opening to take advantage of those looking for a more-refined buying experience.

They tend to look like luxury fashion boutiques, with no tie-dye or Bob Marley shirts in sight. You’ll find ads for cannabis yoga, pot reading groups, arts clubs and other social activities meant to help take some of the stigma out of smoking and make it more communal. Edible products are becoming popular, with treats from chocolates to cocktails on sale – their serving sizes limited to 100mg (milligrams) of active ingredient THC per product.

From sea to shining sea, states are watching how the situation in Colorado develops – with, of course, an eye on the tax dollars. It must only be a matter of time before you can book a marijuana tour of the entire US – yoga and chocolate brownies included.

My 420 Tours has packages from $1,295pp, including two nights’ accommodation. Spirotours has half-day tours from $399pp

​Was Marijuana Really Less Potent in the 1960s?

One of the strongest known strains of marijuana in the world is called Bruce Banner #3, a reference to the comic-book scientist whose alter ego is the Hulk. This is probably an appropriate nickname.

With a THC concentration of 28 percent—THC is one of the key chemicals in marijuana—Bruce Banner #3 packs a punch. It’s something like five times as potent as what federal researchers consider to be the norm, according to a 2010 Journal of Forensic Sciencespaper. High Times marveled in a review: “Who knows what you’ll turn into after getting down with Bruce?”

As marijuana goes increasingly mainstream—and, crucially, develops into big (and legal) business—more super-potent novelty strains are likely to crop up. Bruce Banner #3 is the marijuana industry’s answer to The End of History, an ultra-strong Belgian-style ale that the Scottish beer-maker Brewdog made in a specialty batch—which was then served in bottles inside taxidermied squirrels—in 2010.

Its alcohol by volume was 55 percent. That’s way, way stronger than most beers. “It’s the end of beer, no other beer we don’t think will be able to get that high,” James Watt, one of the founders of Brewdog, told me when I visited the Brewdog headquarters in Scotland in 2010.

Yet three years later, another Scottish brewery had whipped up a batch of barley wine called Snake Venom that boasted higher than 67 percent alcohol by volume.

This is human nature. Or maybe it’s just capitalism. One person makes a superlative product, which prompts the next person to best them. Given the opportunity to try something extreme—the biggest, the strongest, the best, the craziest—plenty of people will go for it. But most people don’t pick Snake Venom as their typical pint. And Bruce Banner #3 probably is not representative of the average joint.

But what is?

For years, people have talked about increasing marijuana potency. The idea that pot is getting stronger—much stronger than the stuff that got passed around at Woodstock, for instance—is treated like conventional wisdom these days. Maybe it shouldn’t be.

“It’s fair to be skeptical,” said Michael Kahn, the president of Massachusetts Cannabis Research, a marijuana testing and research lab in New England. “Back then the predominant method for quantitation was gas chromatography, which is not quite appropriate for cannabinoid quantitation. This is because [it] heats up the test material before analysis, which also alters the chemical profile—including breaking down the THC molecule.”

Kahn’s lab uses a technique called liquid chromatography instead. Another potency tester, Denver-based CannLabs, uses a similar method. “Depending on what the sample is—flower, hash oil, hundreds of edibles ranging from ice cream to pasta sauce to seeds—you use different solvents to do the extraction,” said Gennifer Murray, the CEO of CannLabs. “You mix it with a special solvent, basically shake it around, centrifuge it, and then it goes onto the instrument… That’s the liquid chromatograph.”

The federal government has been testing marijuana potency for more than 40 years, and has long acknowledged the limitations to its methodologies. Along with some of the issues with gas chromatography—which it was still using at least as recently as 2008—the National Institute on Drug Abuse potency testing has always depended on what researchers have been able to get their hands on.

Since 1972, tens of thousands of test samples for the Potency Monitoring Program have come from law enforcement seizures, which have varied dramatically in scope and type. A drop in THC concentration in the early 1980s, for instance, was attributed to the fact that most of the marijuana researchers analyzed came from weaker domestic crops.

In National Institute on Drug Abuse studies over the past several decades, the age of samples has varied from a few weeks old to a few years old—and researchers made no attempt to compensate for the loss of THC during prolonged storage, according to a 1984 paper. They also get different results when taking into account how the potency of a particularly large seizure could skew the overall sample.

For example, measured one way, researchers found what looked like a continuous and significant increase in potency in the late 1970s. But normalizing those findings showed there was “an increase up to 1977 with slight decline in 1978 and a significant decline in 1979,” according to a 1984 paper in the Journal of Forensic Science.

More recently, researchers found a THC concentration that “gradually increase[d]” from 1993 to 2008, according to a 2010 paper in the Journal of Forensic Sciences. And despite testing limitations, researchers have always maintained potency is likely trending upward. But they’ve also always been upfront about the limitations to their findings:

“The change in cannabis potency over the past 40 years has been the subject of much debate and controversy… The [Potency Monitoring] program has strived to answer this cannabis potency question, while realizing that the data collected in this and other programs have some scientific and statistical shortcomings.”

Ultimately, researchers have found a “large variation within categories and over time,” they wrote. That’s in part because sample sizes have fluctuated. (In the 1970s, researchers assessed anywhere from three to 18 seizures a year. In 2000, they analyzed more than 1,000 seizures.)

In other words, it’s difficult if not impossible to classify average potency in a way that can be tracked meaningfully over time. So while there’s almost certainly more super-strong pot available today—if only by the fact that it’s now legal to buy in multiple states—it doesn’t mean that all marijuana is ultra-potent today, which is how the narrative about potency is often framed.

There’s also a point at which most strains can’t get much stronger. “Anyone getting a reading over 25, it’s really hard to do,” said Murray of CannLabs. “And then it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to quote-unquote get higher. There’s a lot of things that go into the plant—over 500 constituents of the plant that play into this.”

Federal researchers, too, have characterized marijuana strains with THC concentrations above around 15 percent as unusual. “The question over the increase in potency of cannabis is complex and has evoked many opinions,” researchers at the University of Mississippi wrote in a National Institute on Drug Abuse analysis of marijuana potency between 1993 and 2008.

“It is however clear that cannabis has changed during the past four decades. It is now possible to mass produce plants with potencies inconceivable when concerted monitoring efforts started 40 years ago.”

Even without knowing reliably what potency was like in the 1960s and 1970s, it’s reasonable to guess it will increase, says Kahn, of Massachusetts Cannabis Research. “I think the mega-potent strains may soon represent the norm, if not already—the market selects for potency.”

But with customers clamoring for the strong stuff, there’s also a question of whether manufacturers are labeling accurately. A Denver Post investigation last year found wide discrepancies between labeling and THC content—in many cases, products advertised a much higher percentage of THC than an edible product actually contained.

Either way, a shift toward high potency has arguably more to do with contemporary market forces than with a younger generation of marijuana enthusiasts. “The Baby Boomers have been growing for 40 years,” Murray said. “And now they can grow without being worried about the police.”

Marijuana Compound Holds Promise for Alzheimer’s

New research shows that a compound in marijuana can cure Alzheimer’s disease.

Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychotic component in cannabis, reduced production of amyloid beta, the toxic proteins responsible for the brain disease, to slow and halt progression of the brain disease.

The compound also improved mitochondrial function and helped keep the brain healthy. Mitochondria are those parts of the cells that are responsible for converting sugar and oxygen into energy required for proper functioning of the cells.

Amyloid beta is a protein fragment produced during normal activity of the brain. It is found in the fatty membrane surrounding the nerve cells. In healthy individuals, these toxic proteins get cleared regularly, but as people age, due to various reasons, these proteins build up into plaques, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

“THC is known to be a potent antioxidant with neuroprotective properties, but this is the first report that the compound directly affects Alzheimer’s pathology by decreasing amyloid beta levels, inhibiting its aggregation, and enhancing mitochondrial function,” lead author of the study Dr Chuanhai Cao, a neuroscientist at the Byrd Alzheimer’s Institute and the USF College of Pharmacy, said in a news release.

Several studies on marijuana have linked regular use to cognitive decline, poor attention, memory and IQ. So for the new study, neuroscientists at the University of South Florida in US created a cellular model of Alzheimer’s disease and used low doses of the THC component so that adverse effects associated with the drug including THC toxicity and memory impairment, will be avoided.

At present there is no cure for the brain disease. Researchers revealed their plans to use their findings to develop a proper cure for Alzheimer’s.

“Decreased levels of amyloid beta means less aggregation, which may protect against the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Since THC is a natural and relatively safe amyloid inhibitor, THC or its analogs may help us develop an effective treatment in the future,” Dr Cao, added.

Legalization of medical marijuana has been a hot topic of discussion around the world from quite some time.

Previous research has shown marijuana was promising for treating several medical conditions including glaucoma, rheumatoid arthritis, epilepsy and pregnancy morning sickness. In July, the same compound was found effective in shrinking tumours.

However, the researchers cautioned people against self-medicating the illegal drug. “It’s important to keep in mind that just because a drug may be effective doesn’t mean it can be safely used by anyone. However, these findings may lead to the development of related compounds that are safe, legal, and useful in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease,” co-author of the study Neel Nabar, said.

Secret pot garden found floating on Hungarian lake

Potted marijuana plants found floating on Lake Neusiedl. (Hungarian Police)

BUDAPEST, Hungary, Sept. 11 (UPI) — Hungarian police said a fisherman was hiding a secret garden of 42 potted marijuana plants among the reeds of a lake on the Austrian border.

Police said they chanced upon the plants floating among the dense reeds of Lake Neusiedl while they were in the area on an unrelated matter and a 35-year-old fisherman admitted ownership of the water-top garden.

The man told police he bought the seeds in Austria and was growing the plants, which investigators said were near maturity, for his own use.

Police said the man could face up to 8 years in prison if he is found to have been selling marijuana.

Jakarta police accidentally get their neighbourhood high with marijuana bonfire

View image on Twitter

Indonesian police sparked up a three-tonne pile of marijuana – and accidentally got the residents of West Jakarta high in the process.

According to the Jakarta Post, Palmerha police set fire to a 3.3-tonne heap of cannabis right outside their office, creating a giant cloud of smoke which then dispersed around the local area.

After being engulfed by the fumes, residents reportedly had headaches and felt “dizzy”.

The police had anticipated the powerful plumes and protected themselves with gas masks before setting fire to the pile of drugs,  but did not think to warn people that the potent smoke was about to descend on them.

“I got a headache because I wasn’t wearing a mask,” one resident said.

Other passers-by said that the smell of marijuana in the area was “too strong” and overwhelmingly “tangy”.

Several high level officials from the West Jakarta municipality were present when the pile was set on fire.

The weed haul was destroyed along with 1.8 kilograms of crystal methamphetamine and 2,538 ecstasy pills, which the police decided to blend.

Jamaica is about to legalize pot. Here are 11 others that could, too

A proposal to reform marijuana laws in Jamaica cleared a big hurdle this week when it gained the approval of the prime minister and her cabinet.

Jamaica isn’t the only nation ready to loosen laws that outlaw ganja. Here are 12 countries around the world that could end marijuana prohibition:

1. Jamaica

Bunny Wailer

Jamaica has been debating legalization for decades. Once Uruguay and several U.S. states approved cannabis for recreational use, however, public officials saw an opening to change their own pot policies.

The legislation would make marijuana possession of two ounces or less a ticketable offense that would not result in a criminal record.

The drug would also be permitted for religious, medical, scientific and therapeutic uses. This would allow the country’s Rastafarians, who use cannabis in sacred rites, to grow and consume it within the confines of the law.

The Jamaican Parliament is expected to debate the law within the next several weeks. If it passes there, the country could launch its own medical marijuana industry, available to tourists, as well.

“Jamaica definitely is going to be the pioneer in the Caribbean on marijuana law reform,” said Hannah Hetzer, policy manager of the Americas at the Drug Policy Alliance, which backs marijuana legalization.

Other neighbors in the Caribbean could follow: governments in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, and Puerto Rico are all debating the issue.

2. Canada

Visitors pose in front of a flag similia

Canada isn’t just famous for the maple leaf. The western province of British Columbia is well known for its marijuana production and activists there have been clamoring for the government to remove criminal penalties on pot.

Medical marijuana is already legal throughout the country. Last year, the government began allowing companies to grow and ship cannabis to patients.

Most Canadians are ready for a change, too. An August 2014 poll found that six in 10 think marijuana should be legal. The fate of the nation’s pot laws could rest on this October’s general election. Opposition candidates might be open to legalization; sitting Prime Minister Stephen Harper isn’t.

3. Colombia

COLOMBIA-MILITARY-SANTOS

After decades of a brutal drug war, Colombia took a fresh approach in 2012 when the government legalized possession of small amounts of marijuana and cocaine. President Juan Manuel Santos had openly criticized the war on drugs a year earlier.

“A new approach should try and take away the violent profit that comes with drug trafficking,” he said. “If that means legalizing, and the world thinks that’s the solution, I will welcome it. I’m not against it.”

Colombia’s Congress is expected to vote on the medical use of marijuana in March.

4. Guatemala

Lake Atitlan

Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina first spoke of legalizing drugs in 2012, saying the fight against it was “too high a human cost.” But not much has happened since then.

During a visit to the U.S. in July 2014, he said he would review studies on marijuana legalization by the end of the year and a few months later, hetold Venezuela-based TeleSur he would make a decision in 2015.

“You have presidential leadership, but not necessarily a strong domestic movement pushing for it,” said Ethan Nadelmann, the executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. A 2012 Cid Gallup Latinoamérica poll found that 79 percent of Guatemalans opposed legalizing the use of marijuana, cocaine and heroin.

5. Costa Rica

Coasta Rica, Rincon De La Vieja, Sunset

Marijuana is illegal in Costa Rica and carrying more than a personal amount can land you some serious jail time. But medical marijuana is under consideration.

A Costa Rican lawmaker wants to make the country the first in Central America to legalize medical marijuana and introduced a bill last summer.

A 2013 survey from the University of Costa Rica found that while a sizable majority of Costa Ricans opposes legalization, more than half supported medical pot.

6. Mexico

A Mexican soldier walks at a marijuan fi

An estimated 60,000 people died in Mexico’s drug war during the six-year administration of its last president. The death rate is lower under the current president, Enrique Peña Nieto, who took office in December 2012—but not that much lower.

Reforming marijuana laws seems like an obvious move to combat the reach of drug cartels and Peña Nieto has hinted he’s open to the idea. He said in June that he’s not personally in favor of legalization, but that Mexico and the U.S. can’t have incongruent drug policies.

“We can’t continue on this road of inconsistency between the legalization we’ve had in some places, particularly in the most important consumer market, the United States, and in Mexico where we continue to criminalize production of marijuana,” he said.

Mexicans, however, aren’t crazy about the idea. A 2013 poll found only one in three supported legalization.

7. Netherlands

Coffee Shops In Amsterdam Remain Open To Tourists

Amsterdam is famous for its hazy coffee shops, where tourists can legally buy and enjoy all types of pot. But cannabis production is still illegal in the country, forcing the suppliers to operate outside of the law.

In November, Amsterdam’s city council called for regulated marijuana production, a position shared by mayors across the country. Although Justice Minister Ivo Opstelten opposes regulated production, the city still reportedly plans to go forward with the experiment.

8. Denmark

Street art, Copenhagen, Denmark, Oct 2012

If it was up to Copenhagen, marijuana would have been legal years ago. City officials there have been asking the national government for permission to set up a regulated cannabis market since 2012, to no avail.

Marijuana use is largely permitted in Copenhagen anyway (there’s an open-air drug market in Christiania, the city’s hippie “free zone”). But the mayor would like to set up a trial run of full legalization to see if it helps combat crime.

9. Spain

Cannabis Clubs Boom In Barcelona

Hundreds of cannabis clubs have opened up in Barcelona and the surrounding area in recent years, turning it into a more low-key alternative to Amsterdam, Europe’s established capital of weed tourism. The policy didn’t change—businesses took cover under a decades-old law permitting marijuana to be grown and smoked in non-profit clubs.

Cannabis is decriminalized in Spain, but trafficking and public consumption is illegal.

10. Czech Republic

CZECH-DEMONSTRATION-MARIJUANA

The freewheeling tourist destination tweaked its laws in 2010 to lessen criminal penalties for people caught with small amounts of marijuana, a move that seemed in line with its reputation as a Euro party town. Marijuana possession isn’t decriminalized—you’re still subject to a misdemeanor charge and a fine—but attitudes appear to be relaxed.

The laws around medical cannabis have changed in recent years, as well. In 2013, the Czech Republic began allowing doctors to prescribe the drug for pickup at pharmacies.

11. Australia

Heat Wave Hits South Australia

Marijuana is illegal in Australia, although the drug is decriminalized in some states. Full tax-and-regulate legalization probably isn’t on the horizon just yet, but popular support is mounting for medical marijuana.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott is behind it, too. “I have no problem with the medical use of cannabis, just as I have no problem with the medical use of opiates,” he wrote in August.

12. United States

Colorado Scenics

Four states have already legalized marijuana and 23 states allow it for medical use. The next big push will come in California, where activists will try to legalize the drug for recreational purposes in 2016.

But even with all the changes at the state level, it’s unlikely Congress will roll back all prohibitions on the drug. Marijuana is still classified alongside heroin and LSD as one of the most dangerous illicit drugs.

Reform is coming incrementally, though. In December, Congress passed a measure that prohibited federal agencies from using their funds for enforcement operations against medical marijuana businesses. The president has shown he’s willing to let states experiment with recreational pot, as well.

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