Weekly News Roundup August 10th

August 5, 2017

The cannabis industry is of a period of unprecedented change - so much so that it can be easy to lose track of the most recent developments. Here are our top three stories from last week.

Marijuana cultivation creates environmental concerns in California

A team of environmental scientists recently published an article in BioScience calling for environmental concerns to be one of the key issues in the debate over cannabis legalization. According to the article, widespread cannabis cultivation is causing significant damage to California already fragile ecosystem, with effects that are worsening environmental conditions during one of the worst droughts in the state’s history.

The impact of unregulated cultivation on water reserves is of key concern, as well as chemical waste disposal and deforestation. Scientists have found evidence linking the proliferation of marijuana farms to decreased water levels in wetlands and streams, particularly in northern California’s “Emerland Triangle” where a large proportion of the crop is grown.

Although Governor Jerry Brown earmarked $3.3 million in 2014 to provide for the regulation and enforcement of environmental laws surrounding cannabis cultivation, many conservation organizations and ecologists are calling for far greater measures to be implemented.

California currently produces about two-thirds of all the cannabis consumed in the United States. 

Cannabis policy still on shaky ground in Washington, D.C.

Although D.C. residents have been able to grow, possess, and consume cannabis since February, the line between legal and illegal activity is often blurry and misunderstood. This has caused problems for both residents and law enforcement officers, many of whom are not up to speed on the new regulations. 

However, it has also opened up opportunities for clever entrepreneurs who are able to find creative ways to make money on the cannabis trade within the boundaries of the law. Accessories manufacturing and retail business are proliferating throughout the city, while cultivators are building name recognition in online communities in anticipation of further liberalization that they feel is inevitable.

The U.S. Congress, which controls the city’s budget, has blocked all efforts in D.C. to create a system of regulation and taxation on cannabis sales. Even with Congressional approval, most lawmakers believe that it would take over a year to implement such a system unless the City Council passes emergency legislation. Although residents approved a ballot initiative by almost 70% to legalize medical marijuana in 1998, Congress found ways to prevent its sale in the city until 2013.

DEA admits that heroin is “clearly more dangerous than marijuana”

The head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Chuck Rosenberg, announced last Wednesday that heroin was “clearly more dangerous than marijuana.” His statement came on the heels of one he made a week before, when he said that marijuana was “probably not” as dangerous as heroin. This marks a significant change in the DEA’s attitude towards cannabis, as Rosenberg’s predecessor was adamantly opposed to any legal or medical disparity between marijuana and other more dangerous drugs.

The Controlled Substances Act continues to classify marijuana alongside heroin and LSD as a Schedule I Controlled Substance. These are considered highly addictive and of no medical value, which is one of the cornerstones of the controversy surrounding legalization. Recent research suggests that cannabis may be an effective treatment for a wide range of diseases, including HIV/AIDS, post-traumatic stress disorder, glaucoma, cancer, and even diabetes.

Rosenberg remains fully committed to enforcing current marijuana laws, but he believes that the DEA should focus on "the biggest and most important cases," and that agency heads should concentrate on only "the most important cases in their jurisdictions." Typically, he said, that's "heroin, opioids, meth and cocaine, in roughly that order, and marijuana tends to come in at the back of the pack."