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Hawaiian Senate Approves Bill to Remove Cannabis Felony Charges

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On March 3, the Hawaii Senate passed a bill that would get rid of the felony charge for low-level drug possession.

According to Marijuana Moment, anyone with two grams or less of a controlled substance would just be charged with a fourth-degree misdemeanor, and any more than that would be a felony. Since only that small amount would be treated differently, this would be considered “defelonization,” not decriminalization. The Senate approved the bill, SD-1, with a 21-4 vote.

The bill claims that “criminal justice policies that impose harsh prison sentences increase incarceration rates and costs, but frequently do not result in a commensurate reduction in crime rates.”

“The legislature further finds that the imposition of incarceration to punish simple, low-level drug possession offenses should be limited in favor of the reduced or alternative sentencing options of misdemeanor classification,” it continues. “This will help reduce prison overcrowding, save taxpayer dollars, and free up resources to be reinvested into more effective treatment programs.”

Nikos Leverenz of the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii told Marijuana Moment how he felt about the state moving forward to assist those who have been convicted for cannabis possession: “This measure is an improvement upon existing law, but no person should face criminal consequences for what is effectively the possession of nothing,” Leverenz said. “The law enforcement lobby says that criminalization is a gateway to treatment, but criminalizing a person who may or may not have substance use disorder is simply not beneficial for them or larger society.”

“Perpetuating long cycles of recidivism for drug possession is detrimental to individual and public health,” he added. “Placing persons who have substance use disorder in correctional settings is also highly problematic from a human rights perspective, but many don’t see it that way as drug users have been categorically dehumanized in law and policy for at least a half-century.”

Hawaiian officials are currently working on passing cannabis legislation, and cannabis has already been decriminalized.

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FDA Provides Updates on Research Gaps for Regulating Cannabis

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It has long been a point of contention for the legal cannabis industry that cannabis products have not yet been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). While cannabis is still federally illegal, the FDA recently addressed some of the challenges in regulating cannabis compounds and products containing cannabis.

According to the FDA, not having access to enough research data is one of the main issues that the organization faces. Specifically, the FDA’s Office of Women’s Health notes that many CBD products are marketed toward women, such as sex products, and more research is essential in order to better understand the effects of those products. “As women are generally the principal healthcare consumers in the US, understanding sex and gender differences between women and men must be at the forefront of our minds,” said Kaveeta Vasisht, director of the FDA’s Office of Women’s Health and associate commissioner for women’s health.

In addition to regulating CBD, one of the most popular legal cannabis derivatives on the market, the FDA is also looking for more information on regulating THC and other popular compounds such as CBN and CBG, as well as terpenes. “FDA’s responsibilities are over the entire spectrum of the products derived from cannabis and the FDA must be prepared to regulate them in the most appropriate ways,” said Douglas Throckmorton, deputy director for regulatory programs at the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.

Overall, the FDA outlines some major problem areas due to lack of knowledge, including logistics, evolving legislation, increased legality of cannabis and scientific uncertainty. The plan is to tackle these areas and gain more knowledge so they can properly regulate cannabis of all types. This includes employing the help of cross-agency committees called the “CBD Working Group,” which enlists the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, Center for Drug Evaluation, Center for Biological Evaluation and Research, Center for Devices and Radiological Health, Center for Veterinary Medicine, National Center for Toxicology Research, Center for Tobacco Products and Coordinated by the Office of the Commissioner.

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California Cannabis Czar Lori Ajax to Step Down

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After overseeing the California Bureau of Cannabis Control (BCC) for nearly five years, the woman known as California’s Cannabis czar is calling it quits.

Alex Traverso, spokesperson for the BCC, confirmed her resignation and said she informed staff at the agency last week. Her resignation is effective Dec. 2.

Lori Ajax was initially appointed in February 2016 to oversee California’s Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation by then-Governor Jerry Brown. She was appointed only months after legislators approved the first statewide regulatory system for medical cannabis in California.

Ajax stayed in charge of the agency after the name was changed to the BCC following the 2016 election when recreational cannabis was legalized in California. She oversaw the rollout of California’s recreational cannabis market in January 2018, and was retained by Governor Gavin Newsom after he took over in office in January 2019.

The BCC recently donated nearly $30 million in public university grant funding to various universities across California. The BCC received more than 100 applications and awarded up to $2 million for any specific research proposal. “The research conducted through these public university grants will provide critical information for evaluating our legal cannabis system and its impacts,” said BCC Chief Lori Ajax said. “This research will be a valuable tool to inform future cannabis policy in California.” The top five universities to receive some of this grant money is University of California, San Francisco, University of California, Santa Barbara, Cal State University Dominguez Hills, University of California, Berkeley and University of California, Los Angeles.

Traverso said it’s unclear whether an interim chief will be appointed and some of the concern is due to the BCC merging with two other state regulatory agencies that oversee the cannabis industry in the state. The merger is expected to happen next year and the new department will be called the Department of Cannabis Control.

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Two Studies on Cannabis and Heart Disease Reveal New Findings

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Two new studies shed light on the effects that cannabis can have on patients with heart disease.

Presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions, which is an annual conference that has since gone digital due to COVID-19, two new studies are helping to fill in the unknown gaps regarding how cannabis may affect those who suffer from heart disease. Some findings were negative, such as increased risk of stroke or bleeding after surgical procedures. However, the studies revealed that those who use cannabis were also less likely to encounter issues with sudden kidney failure as well.

“Marijuana is becoming more accessible, and patients should be aware of the increased risk after [angioplasty],” said Dr. Sang Gune Yoo, an internal medicine resident at the University of Michigan and lead author of one of the studies. “While these are risks to be aware of, they shouldn’t deter patients from obtaining this lifesaving procedure.” Yoo and his team examined information on 113,477 Michigan patients, 3,970 of which said that they consumed cannabis. Researchers paired nearly 3,903 cannabis consumers with non-users to find a pattern regarding which group experienced more bleeding and strokes. Ultimately, results showed that 5.2 percent of cannabis consumers experienced bleeding, and 0.3 percent experienced a stroke (non-users were reported at 3.4 percent bleeding and 0.1 percent strokes, respectively).

The other study analyzed national data from patients who went through artery-cleaning procedures following a heart attack. Researchers found that cannabis consumers had an increased chance of subsequent heart attacks over those who don’t consume cannabis (7.2 percent versus 4.5 percent). However, they also discovered that risk factors such as hypertension, diabetes and high cholesterol were significantly lower in cannabis consumers. “I have spent the last 25 years studying the effects of marijuana and THC [the psychoactive component in cannabis], and I think the Yoo study raises some important questions, especially since we’ve seen more and more reports of cardiovascular events occurring in the context of marijuana,” said professor of psychiatry at the Yale University School of Medicine, Dr. Deepak Cyril D’Souza. “This is an interesting paper.”

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