Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol?

© smithore |stockfresh.com

© smithore |stockfresh.com

Paul Gaita of The Fix reported that on February 20th, 2015 two bills were introduced in the House of Representatives that were aimed at legalizing marijuana for recreational purposes and taxing it like tobacco and alcohol. The Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act was introduced by: Rep. Jared Polis of Colorado. The Marijuana Tax Revenue Act was introduced by: Rep.. Earl Blumenauer from Oregon.  Polis and Blumenauer previously introduced similar bills in the past, but they failed to secure approval.

Polis was quoted as saying the legislation was important as the country moves toward a presidential election in 2016. “We don’t know if the next president will have the same hands-off approach that Barack Obama and Eric Holder eventually found their way towards.” Economist Jeff Miron, an advocate for legalization of marijuana, worried that a new president could order the new Attorney General to enforce federal prohibition, regardless of state law.

Tim Devaney, for The Hill, quoted Blumenauer as saying that: “A lot of people are recognizing that it’s insane to shuffle billions of dollars to Mexican drug cartels when we could just be taxing it.” His bill would initially tax recreational marijuana at 10%, gradually raising the rate to 25%. Medical marijuana would not be taxed at the federal level. Blumenauer estimated the federal government could make $10 billion dollars annually through marijuana taxes and the savings in not locking people up for possession of marijuana. “The federal prohibition of marijuana has been a failure, wasting tax dollars and ruining countless lives.”

Matt Ferner, for the Huffington Post, noted the bills would not force states to legalize marijuana. Rather, they would provide a regulatory framework for states that do decide to legalize it. Despite the four states and the District of Columbia who have made recreational marijuana use legal, “the sale, possession, production and distribution of marijuana all remain illegal under federal law.” Existing jurisprudence (Gonzales v. Raich 2005) holds that federal law trumps state law when it comes to marijuana. Only because of the current “hands off” guidance from the current administration has this legalization movement been able to move forward.

Congressman Blumenauer said, “It’s imperative the federal government become a full partner in building a workable and safe framework.” You can review a copy of the “Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act” here. You can review a copy of the “Marijuana Tax Revenue Act” here. The summary of the “Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act” made the following points.

  • It directs the Attorney General to remove marijuana “in any form” from ALL schedules of controlled substances under the Controlled Substances Act.
  • It will revise the definition of “felony drug offense” to exclude conduct relating to marijuana; and eliminate marijuana from “provisions setting forth penalties applicable to prohibited conduct” under the Act.
  • It prohibits the shipment of marijuana from outside the United States into any jurisdiction in the U.S. where its possession, use or sale is prohibited.
  • It will grant the FDA the same authorities with respect to marijuana as it currently has for alcohol. Functions currently under the Drug Enforcement Administration would be transferred to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which will be renamed as: the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Marijuana, Firearms and Explosives. The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau will be renamed as Alcohol, Tobacco and Marijuana Tax and Trade Bureau.

There are several points to raise about the above proposed legislation and statements made by Polis and Blumenauer in support of them. First is Blumenauer’s assertion of a $10 billion dollar annual income for the federal government. If the states are to be allowed to decide to legalize recreational marijuana, how can an annual federal income even be estimated with any accuracy? Federal savings on incarcerations for marijuana possession would only be in federal facilities. Were the savings projections based on ONLY individuals incarcerated in federal prisons for marijuana possession?

Colorado does have a promising new tax income base with marijuana. The state reported that in January of 2015, its total income from all marijuana taxes, licenses and fees for fiscal year 2014-2015 to date was $61,372,000. Would the proposed federal increase in marijuana tax at 10% to 25% be added to the existing tax of states like Colorado? Colorado currently has 2.9% retail and medical marijuana sales tax, 10% retail marijuana special sales tax, 15% marijuana excise tax, and retail/medical marijuana application and license fees. Additional taxes would drive up the price and promote even greater price inequities between legal and black market marijuana, which is already a problem in both Colorado and Washington.

This doesn’t seem to be a way to simply divert income from the Mexican drug cartels into the state and federal treasuries.  A future post, “The Economics of Heroin,” will indicate that instead of planting marijuana, the cartels are simply having their drug farmers plant opium poppies. And if cartel marijuana is cheaper than the state approved kind, it will still have a market.

Marijuana is currently a Schedule I Controlled Substance, according to the DEA. That means it is considered to have no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. While its harm potential is lower than many other drugs, including alcohol, completely removing it from classification in the Controlled Substance Act is an unrealistic expectation. Reclassifying it into a lower Schedule would increase its availability for research—and legitimize its medical use.

The potential harm and benefit of marijuana could be looked at in future research. With what we already know about the harmful effects of alcohol on the human body, would we want to remove all restraint on marijuana at the federal level before we know more about it? Isn’t it likely that similar to tobacco, we could see an increasing consensus of the public health problems with widespread marijuana use and then look to institute a similar public health program to address them? How many countless lives would be ruined if marijuana was regulated as alcohol is currently?

There also seems to be a hidden trap in making the proposed changes on the federal level by the “Regulate Marijuana Like Marijuana Act.” While the legislation may not force states to legalize marijuana, if existing jurisprudence, such as Gonzales v. Raich 2005, has been used to hold that federal law trumps state law when it comes to marijuana, could the “Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act” be used to undermine and challenge any existing state laws with more restrictive laws on marijuana than the federal government? No, I don’t think we should regulate marijuana like we do alcohol.


Avoiding Temptation

© Bernd Schmidt | 123RF.com

© Bernd Schmidt | 123RF.com

“It is the great duty of all believers to use all diligence in the ways of Christ’s appointment, that they fall not into temptation.” (John Owen)

Owen said that he knows God is able to deliver us out of temptation (2 Peter 2:9); and that he is faithful to not let us be tempted beyond our ability, but gives us a way to escape (1 Corinthians 10:13). However, he was resolved to convince us that it is our great duty to be diligent so that we don’t enter into temptation. Owen emphasized here the theme verse of his work on temptation, Mathew 26:41: “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation.” Simply put according to Owen, “If we are led into temptation, evil will befall us” (Matthew 6:43).

First he looked at individuals he referred to as “ungrounded” believers. By this he meant someone—as in the Parable of the Sower—who received the word of God joyfully, but had sown it in rocky soil. Temporarily they brought forth some “good fruit,” but when temptation came, they fell away. Owen said the storm of temptation withered their profession and slew their soul. Citing Matthew 7:26, he likened these individuals to the foolish person who built his house on sand. When the storm came against it, it fell. “Entrance into temptation is, with this sort of man, an entrance into apostasy, more or less, in part or in whole; it faileth not.” Judas was an example of such a person.

Owen then suggested that when we consider ourselves with regard to temptation, we should recognize we are weakness itself. “We have no power to withstand.” As with Peter (Mark 14:29), “Confidence of any strength in us is one great part of our weakness.” What’s worse, it is a weakness stemming from treachery in our hearts. He said not to flatter ourselves that we can withstand the temptation. There are secret lusts lurking in our hearts. Perhaps they are not stirring just now, but they are ready to rise up as soon as temptation befalls us. They will never give up until they are either killed or satisfied.

The power of temptation darkens the mind so that the individual may not be able to make a right judgment of things as he did before entering into it. It does this in various ways. First, it fixes the imagination and thoughts upon the object of temptation, so that the mind is diverted from considering the things that would relieve it. “By the craft of Satan the mind shall be so fixed to the consideration of this state and condition, with the distress of it, that he shall not be able to manage any of the reliefs suggested and tendered to him against it.”

Second, temptation blinds our mind and darkens our understanding by entangling our affections (emotions). If there is anyone who does not realize this, let them open their eyes and they will quickly learn it. Owen said show him an individual who is caught up emotionally (i.e., with love, hope, fear) with regard to a specific temptation, and he will show you where that person is darkened and blinded. Their present judgment will not be totally altered, but it will be darkened and rendered too weak “to influence the will and master the affections.” Set free by temptation, these affections will run wild.

Third, temptation will give “oil and fuel to our lusts.” It will incite, provoke and make them rage beyond measure. For a time, it will heighten it and make it wholly predominant. “It will lay the reins on the neck of a lust, and put spurs to the sides of it, that it may rush forward like a horse into the battle.” You don’t know the pride, fury or madness of a corruption until it meets with a suitable temptation.

Temptation can be either public or private. If it is public, there will be strong reasons and pretences to justify it or minimize it. Owen likened this to a person carried into exile. There they degenerate from “the manners of the people from whence they came, and fall into that of the country whereunto they are brought; as if there were something in the soil and the air that transformed them.”

If the temptation is a private one, it will unite with a lust. The temptation will intertwine with it, and they will receive mutual support from each other. “Now, by this means temptation gets so deep in the heart that no contrary reasonings can reach unto it; nothing but what can kill the lust can conquer the temptation.” Self-will may for a season work against it, “but it must come to this—its lust must die, or the soul must die.”

Regardless of where the lust is situated within the soul, the temptation will strive to conqueror the whole soul, one way or another. Suppose someone struggles with ambition. There are a variety of ways to rationalize why they should bridle their desire to cling to God. Not only will this prevent sound reasoning, which it does necessarily, but it will also try to draw the whole soul into the same frame of mind.

In brief, there is no particular temptation, but, when it is in its hour, it hath such a contribution of assistance from things good, evil, indifferent, is fed by so many considerations that seem to be most alien and foreign to it, in some cases hath such specious [attractive] pleas and pretences, that its strength will easily be acknowledged.

You should also consider the consequences of any previous temptations. Didn’t they defile your conscience, disquiet your peace, weaken your obedience and cloud the face of God? Even if you were not overcome to the point of total powerlessness over the temptation, weren’t you still foiled by it? Weren’t you greatly perplexed by it? Did you ever in your life come out of a struggle with some temptation without some loss? Would you be willingly entangled with it again? If you are free, take care. Do not enter into again, if possible, “lest a worse thing happen to thee.”

Owen then cautioned that the person who willfully or negligently enters into temptation has no reason to expect any assistance from God or any deliverance from the temptation. “The promise is made to them whom temptations do befall in their way, whether they will or not; not them that willfully fall into them,—that run out of their way to meet with them.” To enter into temptation in this way is the same as continuing in sin so that grace can thrive (Romans 6:1-2).

Once again, I found myself thinking of how what John Owen said here in Of Temptation applies to addiction and recovery. I see the echoes of powerlessness over alcohol and drugs. In fact, a nonreligious person could substitute the words “addiction” and “addictive thinking” for “temptation” and read it as a treatise on how to avoid addictive thinking and behavior. A digital copy of Owen’s work, Of Temptation, is available here.


Better Living Through Electricity

© Kineticimagery | Dreamstime.com

© Kineticimagery | Dreamstime.com

It almost sounds like a scene from a Star Trek movie. “Imagine a day when electrical impulses are a mainstay of medical treatment. Your clinician will administer electroceuticals that target individual nerve fibers or specific brain circuits to treat an array of conditions.” In other words, you will get a bioelectrical implant that will stimulate nerves to treat disease. This hybrid medical-engineering product could be used to modulate neural impulses that control the body or repair lost functioning. They could treat hypertension, diabetes, obesity, hear failure, pulmonary and vascular disease.

The above picture of the potential of electroceutucals is taken from Drug Discovery: A Jump-Start for Electroceuticals. Our nervous system transmits electrical impulses (action potentials) throughout the body. “Virtually all organs and functions are regulated through circuits made of neurons communicating through such impulses.” As a result, these circuits can be targeted for therapeutic intervention. There are two features of these circuits that make them attractive targets for therapeutic intervention. First, they are made up of discrete components that permit pinpoint intervention, unlike most drug-related therapeutics. Second, since the circuits are controlled by the patterns of electrical impulses, they can be altered for treatment.

Current neurostimulators (See Deep Brain Jolts) do not generate natural action potential patterns. But researchers believe that it is “now possible to transcend these constraints and create medicines that control action potentials” in ways that are compatible with biological function. The first step towards electroceuticals is to do a better job in mapping neural circuits associated with disease and its treatment. Anatomically, research needs to map disease-associated nerves and brain areas in order to find the best points for intervention. The signal patterns for both healthy and diseased states also need to be decoded and identified.

“Developing the technology to record from and stimulate larger sets of central and peripheral neurons will be critical to this pursuit of mapping disease-associated circuits.” The electroceuticals these researchers envision will be “closed loop,” meaning they will record incoming electrical impulses, analyze the data in real time, and modulate the signals in the neural circuit accordingly.

Sara Reardon on Nature.com noted that both the federal government and the pharmaceutical industry, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) in particular, are confident this field will someday “produce real medicines.” In December of 2013 GSK announced a $1 million prize for the first team to develop a miniaturized, implantable device that could read specific electrical signals and stimulate an organ to perform a specific function reliably for 60 days. In July of 2014 the NIH announced a $248-million effort to map the body’s electrical wiring and develop such devices. GSK has already spent $50 million in-house on electroceutical research. And it is funding scientists at 25 different universities to develop devices “that can be made available to the broader research community.” Forbes.com reported that GSK has already funneled support to over 30 academics doing research into bioelectronics (electroceuticals).

GSK’s five-year plan starts with creating what it calls a “nerve atlas”—a giant roadmap defining all of the nerves of the body and the organs and processes they affect. From there, the challenge will be to build electronic platforms that can tap into those nerves and control them for therapeutic effect. “GSK is agnostic as to how we affect diseases. We want to have the best tools or technologies or medicines,” says Kris Famm, head of GSK’s bioelectronics R&D unit. “We have nerves that crisscross our entire body and control every organ, but from a therapeutic point of view we haven’t been able to use that for disease intervention. That is about to change.”

The NIH electroceuticals project is tentatively called Stimulating Peripheral Activity to Relieve Conditions (SPARC). It plans to focus on the mechanisms that underlie electrical control of organ systems. The first SPARC grants will be awarded in early 2015. The hope is that in the next six years, five organ systems will be have their nerves and electrical activity mapped out. Then electrode devices will be developed that can attach to the nerves and maintain high-resolution recording and stimulation with them for decades without causing damage. Sounds great, but wait for it …

Bioelectronic implants seem promising, but it is often unclear why they work. “Right now, a lot is based on phenomenology,” says Kip Ludwig, director of neural-engineering programs at the US National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke in Bethesda, Maryland. “You put an electrode in the body, you stimulate, and you get an effect.”

GSK isn’t the only pharmaceutical company with an interest in electroceuticals. In Forbes, Arlene Weintraub noted that Johnson & Johnson invested $29.6 million into a startup company that is developing an implantable device to treat hypertension and heart failure. “And Boehringer Ingelheim struck a three-year deal with Menlo Park, CA-based Circuit Therapeutics to investigate the role of neural pathways in psychiatric disorders.” See a video embedded in the article on how bioelectronics might work.

The most challenging task will be to tease apart the hundreds of signals running to and from each organ. The goal is to target only the signal that elicits a desired effect, not those that could alter functions on other parts of the body. Brian Litt, a bioengineer at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, said: “It’s like putting a device across a highway, and trying to figure out, by looking at the cars passing, which will get off at which exit.”