The good word on the funky herb, happy mids-October snowliage...
As it cools down, things are only going to continue to heat up, so stay tuned to Vermontijuana this upcoming week as we've got our first exclusive celebrity interview, a Burlington business profile, and our first candidate spotlight. October has proven to be a huge month for VT cannabis news, here are the top stories from October 10-18:
- In Bristol, the elementary school is refusing to issue doc-approved hemp oil to a sick child; a grower at a medical dispensary was just arrested for felony cultivation;
- two employees of the Vermont Patients Alliance were arrested for home cultivation and possession, highlighting a recent crackdown, apparently fueled by tips to police
- incredibly, a local Montpelier news outlet, The Bridge, published a profile of that same dispensary the next morning;
- despite no breathalyzer, a cannabis DUI was issued in Manchester;
- Bernie Sanders & others talked legalization during the first debate;
- Vermonters wrote various op-eds in Rutland, Manchester, and Burlington
- and we'll preview a Vermontijuana interview with a founder of Green State Gardener, who just released a study showing cannabis legalization inspiring up to 24.5M new gardeners in the U.S....
Bristol Elementary School Won't Allow Student to Use (Hemp Oil) Meds On School Ground
Like many others, I was saddened to read this story in the Free Press about a school being unwilling to accommodate a little girl with a tough illness and seizures, all because her (doctor-approved) treatment involves hemp oil. The conflict is both legal and ethical:
Does the school violate federal laws and risk losing funds to accommodate an ill student's treatment plan? If the family and physician know that a treatment plan (that the VT Attorney General says residents shouldn't fear possessing) helps reduce the seizures suffered by a little girl, does it matter that it comes from hemp oil?
Tough questions for school administrators and officials, who did not comment publicly in the Freeps story. I had hoped that the school might see the educational opportunity that arises from this situation, so I followed up with the school and reached out to the principal, school board, and superintendent's office.
Below is a bit of my email, including the questions I'd (still) like to hear them address, and some free PR advice to suggest ways they could both educate the community, and prevent us from reading national stories smearing Bristol Elementary (too late: "This Elementary School Banned the One Thing Helping a Student Control Her Seizure Disorder") and our state's understanding of alternative medicine:
Regardless of speaking to me or not, what I'd objectively recommend as a former PR consultant is that whether through me or someone else, you get in touch with Annie Galloway (her daughter is a VT patient and she's a regular parent who's educated herself on the issue) and her associates (check out Realm of Caring) to learn more, then consider coordinating some kind of community forum where people can dispel myths about the student using her meds at school.
Whether in person (I'm happy to travel to Bristol), via email, or audio interview, I'd love to be the outlet that shares the administration's perspective. Below are a few questions that I think the other article leaves unanswered:
How had the family previously communicated with the district about the child's treatment program?
Has the family's physician ever had direct contact with the administration or school nurse?
The concerns that informed the school's decision to neither store nor administer the hemp oil, were those raised from other parents, a staff member, etc?
Have you or the school health team ever seen the medication process yourself? If so, what was your reaction?
Before, during, or after the implementation of the policy, how has the administration been educated about the use of cbd hemp oil in treating children?
Unfortunately, the very nice executive assistant at the superintendent's office could only tell me, "we have been advised by Counsel not to comment on this subject due to the student-specific nature of the article". That is why you haven't heard back from anyone. Sorry!"
So, while it looks like Bristol isn't interested in leading the way, clearly there's a mandate for a compromise that doesn't force schools or parents to decide between following the letter of the law, or reducing a little girl's pain and discomfort. For those who want to learn more about the use of hemp oil and resources for families, check out Realm of Caring. For those running for statewide office (esp. an AG candidate who supports medical), here's an opportunity to help out a VT family and school district.
Medical Growers, Dispensary Managers Cited for Home Cultivation & Possession...
(WCAX - Updated 10/16/15) By all accounts, this is the first time that an employee of a VT medicinal dispensary has been arrested. According to the official state police report, they received a tip that marijuana was being grown at a private residence, in which happen to reside two top employees from the Vermont Patients' Alliance medicinal marijuana dispensary, located in Montpelier. During the subsequent search, "they allegedly found more than an ounce of marijuana and potted pot plants leading to citations and at least one felony charge. (WCAX)".
The dispensary typically keeps a low profile, but the medical director for the Patients Alliance says the employees have been suspended:
"We would like to make it clear to the public, that our nonprofit organization respects and follow all VT laws. We do not condone any violation of VT laws, and we have a zero tolerance policy for any breach of conduct. We have abided by all VT laws and will continue to do so. We were disappointed to hear about the apparent lapse of judgment on the part of our employees, and the individuals involved in the current situation have been suspended without pay pending further investigation. We are also working closely with our allies at DPS to facilitate their investigation into this incident."
The Patients Alliance and the other three dispensaries operating legally in Vermont are all designated nonprofit businesses and tightly regulated by the Department of Public Safety (DPS). For them and others poised to benefit from legalization, the arrest comes with very inconvenient--but perhaps not a surprising--timing. Just last week dispensaries scored a political victory gaining the right to deliver to patients, host more than one on-site at a time, and research low-THC hemp oil without new oversight from the Department of Ag.
However, as the political season heats up, candidates, individual stakeholders, and interest groups are busy sharpening strategies and increasing lobbying efforts in Montpelier, and this situation raises numerous political questions and sends a clear message to those visible in the industry, or seemingly-quietly in the grey or underground markets to watch out. This is the second bust in a month ("63 plants seized in Williston") that comes from an apparent tip, which portends further discussion regarding civil and criminal rights in enforcement of existing and future laws.
*Note, as a policy, Vermontijuana does not post names and pictures of those arrested for alleged cannabis-related crimes*
Montpelier News Outlet Publishes Dispensary Profile, Outs Location, One Day After Employees Arrested
(The Bridge - Carla Occaso - Oct. 16, 2015) Believe it or not, writing about cannabis isn't always easy, and covering it comes with special challenges. Although all journalists appreciate source bias, when you're talking about a substance that's still illegal and does have serious financial implications (in both the legitimate and illicit market), there are special considerations.
Unless you're a registered medical marijuana patient, or a criminal in search of a target, you have no reason to know the location of the dispensary under the current legal framework.
I can understand that the residents of Montpelier might deserve to know about a dispensary if it had any effect on the public, or was visible and already known to the public. However, when the chief of the Montpelier Police Department, Anthony Falco says, "crime has not been an issue" and that “We haven’t had any negative impacts,”; and the author herself says, "you'd never know what it was", I wonder why it's necessary to reveal the exact location of the dispensary? Unless you're a registered medical marijuana patient, or a criminal in search of a target, you have no reason to know the location of the dispensary under the current legal framework. If your argument is public safety, how does making an anonymous location into a potential target contribute?
The Bridge is a Montpelier news outlet started via kick-starter by a local, Carla Occaso, who has extensive journalism experience covering Vermont and has written, and received awards for, works of fiction. So why write about the dispensary, and why now? In the article, it only says that, "The Bridge visited the facility October 5 at the persistent urging of a curious Montpelier resident.".
When the author showed up at the location, looking for an interview, here's what happened:
Brooke Jenkins, dispensary director, opened the door and told The Bridge the Vermont Patients Alliance board has a “no interview” policy. Therefore, all information had to be obtained from outside sources.
As with all ethical considerations, there are more questions than clear answers. Here are a few that are gnawing at me in considering the recent events:
Who are those outside sources who know so much about this dispensary but can't be identified publicly? Are these sources (assuming there are more than one) involved with other competing dispensaries? There's plenty of information on the VPA website and via other listed sources, but who's that resident who urged so persistently that The Bridge finally ran this story, and why now? Is the persistent source the same that tipped the police? What does it say about trust when the dispensary profile and the arrest of the employees profiled in back to back stories?
CANNABIS DUI IN MANCHESTER ILLUSTRATES ENFORCEMENT CHALLENGES
EVERYONE who drives on VT roads agrees that legalization should not and can not increase unsafe driving and accidents (reminder that motor vehicle crashes are still #1 cause of death for American teenagers) especially from drivers using legal cannabis. But many in law enforcement complain that there's no 'breathalyzer'-type test for doing roadside sobriety tests, which would be more familiar and convenient for cops, but less just and accurate for citizens.
What's first important for everyone to clearly understand, is that the psychoactive THC in cannabis are fat-soluble, not water-soluble, which means that establishing a fair BAC-measure is not currently possible. Read: "Everyone Wants a Marijuana Breathalyzer But No One Knows if That's Possible".
Law enforcement and prosecutors want simple numbers (0 good, 10 bad), but cannabis impairment is not so simple, and law enforcement and the supporting scientific community (who will eventually develop a cannabis breathalyzer) haven't had the mandate or funds to update their understanding until recent state legalization efforts.
But, despite whatever you might hear, today, in October 2015, law enforcement in Vermont do have tools to make cannabis DUI arrests:
On October 15, 2015, at approximately 19:49 hours, Shaftsbury Troopers stopped a vehicle for a moving violation, on VT Route 11/30, in the town of Manchester (VT). Troopers identified the operator as REDACTED age 24, of Pawtucket, RI.
Further investigation led Troopers to believe that REDACTED had drugs within the vehicle and was operating under the influence of drugs. During a search of the vehicle, Troopers located approximately 6 grams of marijuana and additional drug paraphernalia.
After completion of the Standard Field Sobriety Tests, REDACTED was taken into custody for suspicion of DUI Drugs and transported to the Shaftsbury Barracks.
While at the Barracks, REDACTED was evaluated by a Drug Recognition Expert (DRE). REDACTED was ultimately determined to be driving under the influence of cannabis (marijuana) and processed for DUI Drugs.
At the conclusion of processing, REDACTED was released on a citation and is scheduled to appear in the Bennington County Superior Court/ Criminal Division on November 9, 2015, at 08:15 hours to answer to the above charge.
The first question I asked myself when reading this, was why was he pulled over? The second was, "what is a Drug Recognition Expert and how does he/she determine that someone is under the influence of cannabis?". Since I saw this story at 4:45pm on a Friday afternoon and can't get more information to the former question, I did some quick googling as to the latter (what is a drug recognition expert); check out the Drug Evaluation and Classification Program website, the source of the following:
What They Do
A drug recognition expert (DRE), sometimes referred to as a drug recognition evaluator, is an individual who has successfully completed all phases of the Drug Evaluation and Classification Program's (DECP) training requirements for certification as established by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). A DRE is skilled in detecting and identifying persons under the influence of drugs and in identifying the category or categories of drugs causing the impairment.
The DRE Protocol
The DRE protocol is a standardized and systematic method of examining a Driving Under the Influence of Drugs (DUID) suspect to determine the following: (1) whether or not the suspect is impaired; if so, (2) whether the impairment relates to drugs or a medical condition; and if drugs, (3) what category or combination of categories of drugs are the likely cause of the impairment.
The 12-Step DRE Protocol
The DREs utilize a 12-step process to assess their suspects:
Breath Alcohol Test - The arresting officer reviews the subject’s breath alcohol concentration (BrAC) test results and determines if the subject’s apparent impairment is consistent with the subject’s BrAC. If so, the officer will not normally call a DRE. If the impairment is not explained by the BrAC, the officer requests a DRE evaluation.
Interview of the Arresting Officer - The DRE begins the investigation by reviewing the BrAC test results and discussing the circumstances of the arrest with the arresting officer. The DRE asks about the subject’s behavior, appearance, and driving. The DRE also asks if the subject made any statements regarding drug use and if the arresting officer(s) found any other relevant evidence consistent with drug use.
Preliminary Examination and First Pulse - The DRE conducts a preliminary examination, in large part, to ascertain whether the subject may be suffering from an injury or other condition unrelated to drugs. Accordingly, the DRE asks the subject a series of standard questions relating to the subject’s health and recent ingestion of food, alcohol and drugs, including prescribed medications. The DRE observes the subject’s attitude, coordination, speech, breath and face. The DRE also determines if the subject’s pupils are of equal size and if the subject’s eyes can follow a moving stimulus and track equally. The DRE also looks for horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) and takes the subject’s pulse for the first of three times. The DRE takes each subject’s pulse three times to account for nervousness, check for consistency and determine if the subject is getting worse or better. If the DRE believes that the subject may be suffering from a significant medical condition, the DRE will seek medical assistance immediately. If the DRE believes that the subject’s condition is drug-related, the evaluation continues.
Eye Examination - The DRE examines the subject for HGN, vertical gaze Nystagmus (VGN) and a for a lack of ocular convergence. A subject lacks convergence if his eyes are unable to converge toward the bridge of his nose when a stimulus is moved inward. Depressants, inhalants, and dissociative anesthetics, the so-called "DID drugs", may cause HGN. In addition, the DID drugs may cause VGN when taken in higher doses for that individual. The DID drugs, as well as cannabis (marijuana), may also cause a lack of convergence.
Divided Attention Psychophysical Tests - The DRE administers four psychophysical tests: the Romberg Balance, the Walk and Turn, the One Leg Stand, and the Finger to Nose tests. The DRE can accurately determine if a subject’s psychomotor and/or divided attention skills are impaired by administering these tests.
Vital Signs and Second Pulse - The DRE takes the subject’s blood pressure, temperature and pulse. Some drug categories may elevate the vital signs. Others may lower them. Vital signs provide valuable evidence of the presence and influence of a variety of drugs.
Dark Room Examinations - The DRE estimates the subject’s pupil sizes under three different lighting conditions with a measuring device called a pupilometer. The device will assist the DRE in determining whether the subject’s pupils are dilated, constricted, or normal. Some drugs increase pupil size (dilate), while others may decrease (constrict) pupil size. The DRE also checks for the eyes’ reaction to light. Certain drugs may slow the eyes’ reaction to light. Finally, the DRE examines the subject’s nasal and oral cavities for signs of drug ingestion.
Examination for Muscle Tone - The DRE examines the subject’s skeletal muscle tone. Certain categories of drugs may cause the muscles to become rigid. Other categories may cause the muscles to become very loose and flaccid.
Check for Injection Sites and Third Pulse - The DRE examines the subject for injection sites, which may indicate recent use of certain types of drugs. The DRE also takes the subject’s pulse for the third and final time.
Subject’s Statements and Other Observations - The DRE typically reads Miranda, if not done so previously, and asks the subject a series of questions regarding the subject’s drug use.
Analysis and Opinions of the Evaluator - Based on the totality of the evaluation, the DRE forms an opinion as to whether or not the subject is impaired. If the DRE determines that the subject is impaired, the DRE will indicate what category or categories of drugs may have contributed to the subject’s impairment. The DRE bases these conclusions on his training and experience and the DRE Drug Symptomatology Matrix. While DREs use the drug matrix, they also rely heavily on their general training and experience.
Toxicological Examination - After completing the evaluation, the DRE normally requests a urine, blood and/or saliva sample from the subject for a toxicology lab analysis. Nothing in or about the DRE protocol is new or novel. The DRE protocol is a compilation of tests that physicians have used for decades to identify and assess alcohol- and/or drug-induced impairment.
Despite our quintessentially American belief that innovative technology will save us from having to change behavior, there won't be an accurate cannabis breathalyzer in the next year. Vermonters want to be assured that legalization won't make the roads more dangerous, law enforcement want to be able to make those assurances. If we focus on impairment and take off the breathalyzer blinders, there's no reason to worry.
"In 1984, when I started practicing law, we didn't have any such thing as a Datamaster test," said Sen. Joe Benning, R-Caledonia, referring to the brand of alcohol breath tester used by police in Vermont. "And yet people were being prosecuted all the time for drunken driving." (source)
*Note, as a policy, Vermontijuana does not post names and pictures of those arrested for alleged cannabis-related crimes*
Bern Cruise: Sanders First Major-Party Candidate to Endorse Legalization During First Dem Primary Debate
In Burlington, Vermontijuana joined hundreds gathered at ArtsRiot! (maybe the center of the Bernie universe, metaphorically and literally) to watch the first democratic primary debate, sponsored and streamed (poorly) by CNN. While it's perversely fun to recount the ridiculous statements made by Republican candidates (next R primary at UC-Boulder, look for lots of pot talk), the discussion at the Democratic Primary debate was considerably more accurate and constructive.
One thing to keep in mind as debates continue and legalization is discussed more frequently (and not necessarily more accurate) is that advocates are also guilty of misrepresenting facts. The very wise Jacob Sullum, outlines a common fallacy in his article, "Sanders and Clinton Offer Cannabis Clarity and Confusion":
Although Sanders did not say anything that was literally untrue, he left the misleading impression that many drug offenders in prison are pot smokers who were caught with a little weed. Picking up on that implication, Clinton made a statement that is clearly wrong:
"I agree completely with the idea that we have got to stop imprisoning people who use marijuana. Therefore, we need more states, cities, and the federal government to begin to address this so that we don’t have this terrible result that Senator Sanders was talking about where we have a huge population in our prisons for nonviolent, low-level offenses that are primarily due to marijuana." (Clinton, during response)
Reformers who seek to “end the era of mass incarceration,” as Clinton says she wants to do, need to understand the nature of the problem, which is not “primarily due to marijuana.” Releasing every marijuana offender would barely make a dent in the prison population, which last year totaled 1.6 million. Even releasing all drug offenders, who represent 50% of federal prisoners but only 16% of state prisoners (a much bigger group), would still leave a lot to do. It would reduce the prison population to its level in the mid-1990s, following a dramatic increase that began a decade before then.
As illustrated by the ONDCP pamphlet, exaggerating marijuana’s role in mass incarceration gives ammunition to prohibitionists, who cite such hyperbole as evidence that critics of the war on drugs don’t know what they’re talking about. It also undermines sentencing reform, since people who support lighter penalties while imagining a pot smoker serving hard time over a joint may change their minds when they realize the main beneficiaries are cocaine, meth, and heroin dealers. Maybe worst of all, invoking the mostly mythical travesty of imprisoned pot smokers confuses the public about what is actually wrong with pot prohibition.
This sentiment was also echoed by High Times, whose Friday 'Radical Rant' column was titled, "Teaching Hilary Clinton and Bernie Sanders How to Frame Marijuana Legalization". It outlines the same statistical fallacy RE: marijuana incarceration as above, but offers some advice for politicians talking about legalization:
The key for any candidate wishing to discuss marijuana legalization is to replace the word “imprison” with the word “punish.” Look at how using that word changes the framing of the argument:
“We have a criminal justice system that lets CEOs on Wall Street walk away,” Sanders said, “and yet we are punishing young people who are smoking marijuana.”
With those kinds of statements, Kevin Sabet and other opponents are forced to defend why it is necessary to punish adults for using marijuana, rather than attack how Sanders and Clinton lied to the American people. Used properly, the punishing adults frame can be combined with the safer than alcohol frame to force the listener into cognitive dissonance—wait, we allow adults to use dangerous alcohol, but we punish them for safer marijuana?
ANTI-LEGALIZATION OP-EDS AND COLUMNS CONTINUE TO SPROUT ACROSS VERMONT
First came a Rutland Herald op-ed, to which I felt compelled to reply in detail on 10/13...
Almost lost in the google alerts, was a very interesting column from the Manchester Journal, titled, "Where is the Common Sense", and penned by biweekly columnist, Don Keelan. His logic for delaying the question of Marijuana is summed up succinctly:
I will leave it to others to put forward the merits of the legalization of marijuana. My question is, why take up this legislation at this time when Vermont currently, has so many important issues to resolve?
Those other important issues to resolve: upgrading DCF, combating heroin, improving mental health treatment, boosting the economy, and equipping a new administration to handle an entirely new regulatory framework (in addition to generally adjusting).
It's hard to argue with any of those points, in fact, I'd agree that all are huge priorities for state government. For those in favor of continuing prohibition, it's an effective and specific update to the popular 'wait and see'. For legalization advocates, it presents a challenge for outlining how legalized cannabis revenues would support the above efforts, and/or why urgency.
The latest opinion piece was published in the Free Press at midnight on 10/18 and tries to assert that there's a silent majority who should be ready for "Pandora's Box" and oppose legalization.
VT GARDENING COMPANY CONDUCTS NATIONAL POLL:
LEGALIZATION A POTENTIAL 'GATEWAY TO GARDENING' FOR MILLIONS OF AMERICANS
Later this week (Monday or Tuesday), we'll feature an extended interview with Dylan Raap, CEO of Green State Gardener, which was conducted on Friday, October 16. My thanks again to Dylan and Green State Gardener for sitting down with me. They're in the news this week for releasing a national survey done by the VT-based nonprofit National Gardening Association--who have the domain, www.garden.org, talk about gardening x tech intersection--which examined the potential effects of legalization on encouraging more gardening.
The results favoring a liberalization of marijuana laws were not a surprise in themselves, said NGA Research Director and study author, Bruce Butterfield, "...but this (study) is the very first time we took a look at marijuana from a gardening perspective. I don't believe anyone's done that before."
We'll share the in-depth interview with Green State Gardener CEO, Dylan Raap, but in the meantime, full study results online.