TIME Drugs

Officials Seize 15 Tons of Pot in Second-Largest Border Drug Bust

US Pot Bust
AP More than 15 tons of marijuana hidden in a truck was seized by the Border Patrol at the Otay Mesa border crossing with Mexico in San Diego, Calif., Feb. 26, 2015.

Federal authorities confiscated more than 15 tons of marijuana en route to the United States from Mexico last week in the second-largest drug seizure at a U.S. border ever, officials said.

The attempted smuggling, which occurred Friday at a California border crossing, in some ways seems like a textbook case of how not to try to fool border patrol officers. The driver listed the contents of his trailer as “mattresses and cushions,” but instead the vehicle contained 1,296 unhidden packages of marijuana that didn’t resemble mattresses. Border officials noticed the discrepancy during an X-ray scan and opened the truck to find it overflowing with almost $19 million in pot. There were a few mattresses at the opposite end of the trailer.

“I am extremely proud of the work my officers do. Officers never give up their enforcement posture and demonstrate each and every day that they remain guardians of our nation,” said Rosa Hernandez,Director at Otay Mesa Cargo Port, where the stop occurred.

 

TIME Drugs

Colorado Sold Nearly 5 Million Marijuana Edibles in 2014

Smaller-dose pot-infused cookies, called the Rookie Cookie, sit on the packaging table at The Growing Kitchen, in Boulder. Colorado on Sept. 26, 2014.
Brennan Linsley—AP Smaller-dose pot-infused cookies, called the Rookie Cookie, sit on the packaging table at The Growing Kitchen, in Boulder. Colorado on Sept. 26, 2014.

The state's marijuana overseers issued their first annual report

Colorado just got its first year-long batch of data on the state’s grand experiment with legal marijuana. In the first annual report on supply and demand, Colorado’s Marijuana Enforcement Division disclosed on Friday that 4.8 million edible marijuana products and nearly 150,000 lbs. of marijuana flowers were sold in 2014.

The numbers will give state officials a baseline for gauging the size of the market, particularly for edibles. In July, the state attempted to estimate how much marijuana would be sold in 2014 and said they really didn’t have a method of estimating edible demand. “The data reported into the system clearly illustrates a strong demand for edibles in general, but especially for retail marijuana edibles,” the authors conclude.

The totals take into account both medical and recreational sales. While more flowering marijuana—the kind one smokes—was sold in the medical market, far more edibles were sold in the recreational market.

Colorado issued licenses to 322 retail stores and 505 medical dispensaries in 2014, according to the report. Just 67 of the state’s 321 jurisdictions, or around 20%, opted to allow medical and retail sales, but those jurisdictions include many of the state’s most populous areas. In February, a poll from Quinnipiac University found that 58% of Colorado residents say they still support the law, while 38% oppose it.

The sales figures for edibles come as Colorado officials struggle with how to regulate the marijuana-laced treats, which can range from pastries to soda pop. Some advocacy groups and state lawmakers want to ban certain types of products—like gummy bears and rainbow belts—that may be especially appealing to children and are indistinguishable from regular candy once removed from the package. Several children showed up in Colorado emergency rooms last year after accidentally ingesting the substance.

But the more value edibles represent, the harder time those advocates are going to have in convincing the industry to shut down or revamp product lines. At one point last year, officials from Colorado’s public health department floated the idea of limiting edibles to tinctures and lozenges, eliminating everything else. But their announcement caused such uproar that officials issued a release clarifying that it was “just” a recommendation and did not represent the view of the governor’s office.

Proponents of the current system argue that cracking down on popular edibles will drive consumers to the underground market—where there is no one regulating THC content or mandating childproof packaging. Eliminating the black market, while bringing in revenue for the state, was one of the selling points when voters decided to legalize marijuana in the first place.

There may also be a legal hurdle. The amendment voters passed in 2012 defined marijuana as: “all parts of the plant of the genus cannabis … and every compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of the plant.” While industry players say that makes every kind of edible fair game, the Denver Post argued in an editorial that “there is no constitutional provision that says edible marijuana must be available as granola, soda pop, or candy bars that look like what children eat.”

Washington, which followed Colorado as the second state to open a recreational marijuana market, has set much stricter limits on the types of allowed edibles. Regulators setting up recreational markets in Oregon and Alaska say that avoiding the edible problems they’ve seen in Colorado will be a big focus of their work in coming months.

TIME politics

The Conservative Case for Legalizing Marijuana

William F. Jr. Buckley
Truman Moore—The LIFE Images Collection/Getty William F. Buckley Jr., riding in airplane en route to Washington DC, in 1965

American conservatives haven't always opposed legalizing pot

The United States’ latest skirmish in the battle over marijuana laws is still ongoing and, for lawmakers, it hits close to home. On Thursday, possession of a limited amount of the drug became legal for adult residents of Washington, D.C. — but, thanks to the intervention of a group of Congressmen, there’s still no way to legally buy it or sell it there, which may lead to the development of a “free weed economy.”

The legislative action taken to stop the District from developing a monetary economy for pot has broken down along party lines, with Republican lawmakers against the change in stance toward the drug and Democrats urging the city to go ahead.

It may seem like a natural thing for conservatives to be, well, conservative about changing drug laws — polls have shown that Republicans are much less likely than Democrats to support legalization —but that wasn’t always the case. In fact, there was a time during the 1970s when the nation’s leading conservative voices spoke out on behalf of legalizing marijuana, for many of the same reasons that advocates of legalization cite today.

At that time, in late 1972, a large study from the nonpartisan Consumers Union had just come out, urging legalization, as well as government-supported treatment for addictions to other substances. The report found that it was too late for law enforcement to keep pot from becoming part of American culture — and, surprisingly, its authors weren’t the only ones to think so, as TIME reported that December:

…American conservatives may have arched their eyebrows well above the hairline when they glimpsed the latest issue of William F. Buckley Jr.’s staunchly nonpermissive National Review. There on the cover was the headline: THE TIME HAS COME: ABOLISH THE POT LAWS. Inside, Richard C. Cowan, a charter member of the conservative Young Americans for Freedom, sets forth his arguments that the criminal penalties for marijuana possession and use should be stricken from the books. Cowan contends that pot is comparatively harmless, demonstrably ubiquitous and that the laws against it only alienate the young and breed disrespect for American justice.

The attitude was a shift for Buckley, who in 1971 testified against loosening penalties but wrote in 1972 that he agreed with Cowan. “It seems, in fact, that Buckley has smoked grass himself—but only on his sailboat, outside the three-mile limit,” TIME noted. “His verdict: ‘To tell the truth, marijuana didn’t do a thing for me.'”

See the full story, here in the TIME Vault: Concerning Pot and Man at The National Review

TIME Crime

Ohio Steps Up Fight Against Heroin Deaths

TIME.com stock photos Health Syringe Needle
Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME

Heroin-related fatalities have surged in recent years

Ohio lawmakers are looking to expand access to a drug that helps revive heroin overdose victims, as the state attorney general attempts to reduce its cost.

An Ohio House committee approved a bill Wednesday that would allow any individual—not just emergency responders—to provide heroin overdose antidote Naloxone to friends and family members without a prescription and/or fear of prosecution.

MORE: Heroin Deaths Have Doubled in 2 Years

The bill expands a law passed last year that provided increased access to the drug and allowed police and emergency responders to carry it. The latest bill, approved by the House Health and Aging Committee, would also allow pharmacies to hand out the drug without prescriptions.

Naloxone has been shown to temporarily revive overdose victims, allowing them to breathe and giving paramedics time to save their lives.

Heroin overdoses have grown into a public health crisis in Ohio within the last few years. According to the Ohio Department of Health, heroin-related deaths have increased from 16% of all drug-involved deaths throughout the state in 2008 to 35% in 2012, when 680 people died from a heroin overdose.

MORE: Holder Urges Use of Drug to Fight Heroin Overdoses

As heroin-related deaths have increased, the price of Naloxone has gone up as well. According to the Dayton Daily News, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine is currently negotiating with Amphastar Pharmaceuticals, Inc., to decrease the cost by getting a price rebate for the drug.

TIME Drugs

Police Arrest Four Wesleyan Students Tied to Mass ‘Molly’ Overdose

Undated handout of ecstasy pills, which contain MDMA as their main chemical
Reuters Ecstasy pills, which contain MDMA as their main chemical, are pictured in this undated handout from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration

Two students remain in the hospital

Police in Middletown, Conn., have arrested four Wesleyan students in connection with a mass MDMA overdose over the weekend involving a bad batch of “molly” that left 12 people hospitalized.

The four students are reportedly in police custody and authorities are collecting evidence related to the incident.

“We take very seriously allegations concerning the distribution of dangerous drugs, and the university will continue to cooperate with state and local officials,” said Michael Roth, Wesleyan’s president, in a statement released Tuesday night.

School officials also announced that only two Wesleyan students are still being treated at a hospital in nearby Hartford.

Molly is the street name for MDMA, colloquially known as ecstasy, that is thought to be unusually pure and normally consumed in capsule form.

TIME Jamaica

Jamaica Decriminalizes Marijuana and Moves Toward Cultivation

Jamaican ganja farmer checks his marijuana plants
John Greim—LightRocket/Getty Images Jamaican ganja farmer checks his marijuana plants

New law decriminalizes possession of small amounts

A law passed in Jamaica on Tuesday decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana, while also laying the groundwork for regulating the drug’s cultivation and medical usage.

The new law states that possession of up to 2 oz. of pot or weed, as it is otherwise known, will be considered a petty offense without going on a person’s criminal record, the Associated Press reported.

It also legalizes the cultivation of up to five marijuana plants on any premises and the use of the drug for religious purposes. Furthermore, tourists prescribed medical marijuana abroad can apply for a permit to buy it locally.

The amendment in Jamaica, where weed has long been a part of daily life but remained illegal, comes soon after Alaska became the third U.S. state to legalize recreational marijuana.

However, both American and Jamaican authorities insisted that this does not change the strict rules and guidelines around cross-border drug trafficking and illegal cultivation.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: February 24

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. For some returning from war, a ‘G.I. bill for farming’ eases the transition home.

By Abby Wendle at Harvest Public Media

2. In Egypt, a class project to fight sexual harassment has grown into a campus-wide movement encouraging women to “Speak Up.”

By Ahmed Fouad in Al-Monitor

3. Your kid’s school is missing the tech revolution, and it’s all your fault.

By Jason Tanz in Wired

4. Community courts focus on rehabilitation and compassion for non-violent offenders.

By Henry Gass in the Christian Science Monitor

5. A new ‘Uber for packages’ service is partnering with Waffle House to build a network of delivery points around the south.

By Amar Toor in the Verge

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Drugs

Marijuana Is Now Officially Legal in Alaska

Alaska Marijuana
Mark Thiessen--AP Alaska Cannabis Club CEO Charlo Greene prepares to roll a joint at the medical marijuana dispensary in Anchorage, Alaska, on Feb. 20, 2015

In small amounts, for use in private, if you are over the age of 21

On Tuesday, Alaska’s new marijuana law officially goes into effect, which means that as of Feb. 24 recreational weed is now a legal substance in three states. Oregon is set to follow in July.

Adult residents in America’s northernmost state are now able to personally consume weed in their homes — as well as grow up to six plants — and confidently be on the right side of the law. If they get pulled over for expired tags and have up to an ounce of weed on their person, the latter is no longer going to get them in trouble. (So long as they haven’t been toking and driving.)

Consuming weed in public remains illegal. As Cynthia Franklin, director of the state’s liquor control board, said on Monday “People will not be legally lighting up out in the park tomorrow.” Should someone feel compelled to celebrate the occasion in public, they’re looking at a $100 fine. In the hopes of keeping everyone informed and behaving, legalization-advocacy group the Marijuana Policy Project will also be launching ads on the sides of Anchorage buses with messages like “Consume responsibly” and “With great marijuana laws comes great responsibility.”

MORE How Colleges Are Dealing With Legal Pot

Weed has been quasi-legal in Alaska since 1975, when the state’s supreme court ruled that Alaska’s constitutional right to privacy included the ability to possess and use a small amount of marijuana at home. But the force of that historic ruling became unclear when lawmakers explicitly criminalized the possession of pot, even at home, in 2006. While getting arrested for smoking weed at home was not a common occurrence before Alaska voters legalized it in 2014, Franklin says Tuesday marks a moment of clarity. “For the people of Alaska, it’s a day where all of this ‘Is it legal?’ or ‘Isn’t it legal?’ is straightened out,” she says.

Franklin’s team at the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board is in charge of setting up the state’s legal market. Tuesday also marks the first day they can get to work, though Franklin says she isn’t quite sure what that job will look like in a few months. On Feb. 22, Alaska Gov. Bill Walker introduced a bill that would set up a new Marijuana Control Board to oversee and enforce the law, rather than leaving it to the board that oversees liquor licenses. Franklin is also expecting lawmakers, currently in the midst of a busy session, to pass other marijuana-related bills that will affect the scope of their work, like legally defining the term edibles, or food prepared with marijuana.

Alaska officials have already visited Colorado to see how the social experiment is being run there, and they’re planning on a visit to Washington soon. Franklin is grateful that her state, the fourth to legalize marijuana, had a chance to learn from those trailblazers’ successes and challenges. A prime example is what she calls “the gummy bear problem” of children accidentally ingesting THC-packed treats that look like regular candy or snacks. She says that edibles in Alaska will be well labeled with recommended serving sizes and may be going before a board, one-by-one, to get pre-approved before they go to market.

But those details are just a few in a pile that officials will be racing through in hopes of getting the first marijuana business licenses issued in early 2016. “It’s really just the beginning for us,” Franklin says.

Read next: 7 Dizzying GIFs of Spinning Cannabis Strains

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Drugs

11 Wesleyan Students Hospitalized After ‘Molly’ Use

Q - Dance Ecstasy Pills
Getty Images

One student is in critical condition

Eleven students at Wesleyan University were hospitalized after experiencing bad reactions to the party drug “Molly”, Bloomberg reports.

The school announced that one of the eleven students is in critical condition. On Sunday, seven of the students were transported to the hospital and four students took themselves.

Molly, also known as MDMA, is a psychoactive drug that has effects that can last around 3 to 6 hours. The controlled substance increases neurotransmitter activity in the brain, and in some cases, it can interfere with the body’s ability to regulate its temperature. The drug has also been found to cause long-lasting confusion, depression, and sleep abnormalities.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse writes: “Ecstasy tablets and even capsules of supposedly pure “Molly” sometimes actually contain other drugs instead or in addition. These substances are harmful alone and may be particularly dangerous mixed with MDMA. Users who intentionally or unknowingly combine such a mixture with additional substances such as marijuana and alcohol may be putting themselves at even higher risk for adverse health effects.”

The school has not released any further information about the conditions of the students.

[Bloomberg]

Read next: How Colleges Are Dealing With Legal Pot

 

TIME Drugs

The Marijuana Wars Claim New Fronts in Congress, Courts

Mason Tvert
David Zalubowski—AP Mason Tvert, spokesperson for the Marijuana Policy Project, talks during a news conference in reaction to the announcement that a federal lawsuit is being filed on behalf of two Colorado citizens by a Washington D.C.-based group to shut down the state's $700-million-a-year marijuana industry, Feb. 19, 2015, in Denver.

The tug-of-war over marijuana continues

The fight over marijuana has moved to Capitol Hill — and the courtroom.

On Feb. 20, Colorado Rep. Jared Polis and Oregon Rep. Earl Blumenauer introduced bills in Congress that would legalize and tax marijuana on a federal level. “Over the past year, Colorado has demonstrated that regulating marijuana like alcohol takes money away from criminals and cartels, grows our economy, and keeps marijuana out of the hands of children,” Polis said in a statement. Both lawmakers are from states where residents have already voted to legalize recreational bud, along with Alaska, Washington and Washington, D.C.

The Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act would remove marijuana from the federal government’s schedule of illegal drugs and transition marijuana oversight to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The Marijuana Tax Revenue Act would impose new taxes on the sale of recreational marijuana, starting at 10% and rising to 25% over time, as well as occupational taxes of marijuana businesses.

But the draw of revenue is unlikely to inspire Republican-controlled Congress to take up the bills. According to Gallup, a slim majority of Americans, 51%, favor legalizing weed, but less than a third of conservatives do. And similar bills, though branded differently, have gone nowhere in Congress.

In February, the final tallies for sales figures in Colorado came out: stores and dispensaries sold nearly $700 million worth of legal medical and recreational marijuana in 2014, the first full year when legal sales of recreational marijuana existed anywhere in the world. In the month of December, the state made an estimated $8.5 million in marijuana-related taxes, licenses in fees.

In his press release announcing the legislation, Polis acknowledged that the federal prohibition of marijuana puts players in the new legal markets at risk. “[S]mall business owners, medical marijuana patients and others who follow state laws still live with the fear that a new administration—or this one—could reverse course and turn them into criminals,” he said.

That’s no abstract argument, either. Opponents of marijuana legalization have already turned to the courts.

Polis and Blumenauer made their announcement a day after two federal lawsuits were filed in Colorado that aim to “end the sale of recreational marijuana in this state,” as one of the plaintiff’s lawyers said at a press conference. Both suits claim that legal marijuana shops are causing nuisances that puts them in violation of federal anti-racketeering laws, claiming that all players in state-legalized pot enterprises are de facto racketeers.

In one suit, a couple joined by the Safe Street Alliance—a D.C.-based group that opposes legalization—claims that the building of a marijuana cultivation facility next to their vacation home is obscuring “sweeping mountain vistas that include views of Pike’s Peak” that has made the property less suitable to hiking and horseback riding. In the other suit, a Holiday Inn in Frisco, Colo., is claiming that the planned opening of a marijuana shop nearby is already hurting their business, driving away families who won’t book there anymore.

These come after the states of Nebraska and Oklahoma asked the Supreme Court to strike down Colorado’s legalization law in December, claiming that sales of marijuana in the neighboring state are undermining their own bans on marijuana, costing them money and making more work for their law enforcement officers. The Colorado Attorney General said that case, which is ongoing, is “without merit.”

Morgan Fox, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, calls the two new suits “fairly frivolous” and the complaints “flimsy.” Marijuana law expert Sam Kamin, a law professor at the University of Denver suggested that the suits had flaws in comments made to the Denver Post, saying that the businesses the plaintiffs are objecting to aren’t even operating yet—and that being angered by obscured views might not be enough of a legal nuisance to stand on. “You have to show that your business or property interest were harmed by a corrupt organization,” Kamin told the Post. “Displeasure is not good enough.” Christian Sederberg, a Colorado lawyer dedicated to working with marijuana businesses, says that the suits appear to have a “a real challenge in terms of showing actual injuries.”

While there’s still no clear winner in the battle over legalizing weed, advocates for the cause are moving apace. In recent weeks, they’ve helped push several state bills to decriminalize or legalize marijuana in places from Texas to Vermont. In response to the Holiday Inn lawsuit, MPP began a Change.org petition on Friday, calling on people to boycott the entire hotel chain until the lawsuit is dropped. In 13 hours, the petition gained more than 5,000 signatures.

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