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The Shake: U.N. Drug Summit Begins With Fireworks, and DEA Science Stinks

April 19, 2016

The biggest international drug summit in 20 years kicked off today. And unfortunately, there’s still a pretty good chance you haven’t heard of it. Well, now you have: It’s called the U.N. General Assembly Special Session on the World Drug Problem (or UNGASS), it runs through Thursday at the U.N. Headquarters in New York, and it’s crucial to changing the global stance on cannabis. All sorts of opinions are colliding at the symposium: Lawmakers from more tolerant jurisdictions are hoping to roll back the prohibitionist mindset of the last global summit, convened in 1998 under the slogan, “A Drug-Free World — We can do it!” Meanwhile, anti-cannabis countries are trying to curb the growing legalization movement. Nothing’s guaranteed, but some signs look promising: A report from medical journal The Lancet last month strongly endorsed legal, regulated markets. And earlier this week, a letter signed by more than a thousand lawmakers, doctors, celebrities, and policy wonks — Bernie Sanders to Busta Rhymes! — urged U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to help end the drug war. (Activists brought copies of the letter to Tuesday’s opener, but U.N. security reportedly confiscated them. If you’re trying to keep an eye on the event as it unfolds, reformers — including a contingent of young people from Students for Sensible Drug Policy — are tweeting under hashtags #UNGASS2016, #StopTheHarm, #NoMoreDrugWar, and others. Get involved! If you think the world needs to take another look at how it deals with cannabis, now’s the time to act.

The U.N. Already Blasted Legalization and the Conference Just Started

What’s the science behind the DEA’s war on cannabis? Spoiler alert: It's abysmal. As more media outlets wake up to how much progress 2016 might bring for cannabis, they’re also exploring past justifications for prohibition (like how the Nixon administration wanted to denigrate hippies and black people). None other than Scientific American is now diving into the issue with a look at how absurd cannabis’ Schedule I classification really is — and how bureaucratic inertia and political distortion have stood staunchly in the way of reform. 

Leafly Science Roundup: Can Cannabis Improve Your Workout?


  • Kids deserve a fact-based education on cannabis. This “weed word search,” given to Tennessee middle school students as part of a drug-awareness week, is a great example of what that doesn’t look like. 
  • University of California scientists want a test to detect stoned drivers. Efforts are already underway to develop cannabis breathalyzers to detect how much THC is in a driver’s blood, but the new effort would focus on impairment: Researchers want to develop sobriety tests that motorists would have to pass on a hand-held device, like an iPad. 
  • Queensland looks to make cannabis punishments more severe. The Australian state’s attorney general is expected to introduce legislation that would match penalties for cannabis crimes to that of “harder” drugs. Experts are describing the push as “scientifically questionable,” presumably because it’s impolitic to call the measure “utter bullshit.” 
  • Medical patients aren’t just “getting high.” Frankly it’s insulting that Dave Murphy, a Canadian medical patient living with brain cancer, even had to write this piece.
  • Trying to start a cannabis business? Canna Law Blog boils down the nitty-gritty of legal compliance into ten steps for the entrepreneur trying to get her new venture off the ground. The guides are organized by state, and Washington’s up first
  • D.C. lawmakers ban cannabis cafés for good. Like far too many other “legal” jurisdictions, you now can’t smoke anywhere other than private residences. 
  • Colorado bill would limit cannabis advertising. The AP says industry members aren’t opposing the legislation, which would prevent medical marijuana entities from advertising to people under 21. A similar restriction exists for recreational cannabis advertisers. 

Why Are Legal States Setting More Limits on Cannabis?

  • A friendly 4/20 reminder from Oregon regulators: Medical dispensary operators can’t sponsor raffles or contests that include free cannabis as a prize. 
  • A good sign for legal, regulated markets: Teens in the U.S. say cannabis is harder to get than it used to be
  • Montana’s new would-be ballot initiative is scrambling for signatures. Backers of I-182, which would lift a three-patient limit on medical cannabis providers and establish license fees, need 24,175 signatures in nine weeks to get the measure on November’s ballot, the AP reports.
  • California congressman endorses adult-use campaign. U.S. Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) backed the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, the Let’s Get It Right California campaign announced. 

Court Ruling Could Doom L.A. Cannabis Deliveries

  • “That’s cannabis the California way.” Billboards have gone up to advertise Flow Kana, a collective of growers who offer products billed as “small-batch, sustainable” cannabis, and people can’t stop talking about it.
  • Seattle is considering parks for public drinking. The city might get BYO beer gardens, but good luck finding a legal place to consume cannabis outside a private residence (which, you know, not everyone has). 
  • And finally, police in New Zealand got grocery shoppers high for free. Because that’s what happens when you burn an enormous heap of confiscated cannabis, geniuses.

What is Shake?