Back in June Canada legalized recreational cannabis for adults over 21. Retail sales begin in October. It was a huge signal to the rest of the “civilized” world that times were a-changing, and the freaks were winning the war. I assumed it bode well for us. After all, America is a nation of hubris, and we'd be damned if we let those weak-kneed, poutine-eating hippies beat us at any race.
Our friendly neighbors to the north received a not-so-friendly message last week when Todd Owen, executive assistant commissioner for the Office of Field Operations with the US Customs and Border Protection agency, told Politico that anyone working in the cannabis industry would not be allowed into the country and would be banned from entering for life. Those with a ban can apply for a waiver, which costs $585 and takes several months to process.
Most shocking was the revelation that anyone who has even invested in a cannabis company will also be barred from entering the US, on the grounds that they're benefiting from drug trafficking. This landed a huge hit to cannabis stocks, which MarketWatch reports fell in the hours following the report's publication.
Section 212 of the US Immigration and Nationality Act says a foreigner “who is determined to be a drug abuser or addict,” or anyone who “is or has been an illicit trafficker in any controlled substance,” is ineligible to receive visas or be admitted into the US.
According to Owen, travelers are not required to announce whether they have ever smoked cannabis or are involved in the industry, but border agents are instructed to ask questions if they believe they've smelled cannabis or if anything is detected by inspection dogs. He pointed out that lying to these agents will also be rewarded with a lifetime ban.
Call me a conspiracy theorist, but this seems like a really sneaky way to undermine the cannabis industry and force investors to flee. But despite the initial reaction, many of the cannabis companies reportedly made up their losses by the end of the day, begging the question: Why would the federal government be so stupid as to make a big fluff about this? Are we really going to start turning business people away at the border to prove a point? Canadians reportedly made more than 42 million same-day and overnight trips into the US last year. Come next month, that number will probably get chopped off at the knees.
Surprise, surprise. New Mexico Department of Health Secretary Lynn Gallagher once again ignored science and the advice of experts to include opioid dependence on the department's list of conditions that qualify a patient to receive a medical cannabis card.
According to the Santa Fe New Mexican, Gallagher wrote in a decision: “I cannot say with any degree of confidence that the use of cannabis for treatment of opioid dependence and its symptoms would be either safe or effective.”
I can relate to an extent—there hasn't been much research in the area yet, thanks to federal bans—but calling it unsafe is ridiculous. And the research that does exist is incredibly positive and compelling. A couple of months ago, I talked to Associate Professor Dr. Jacob Miguel Vigil of the University of New Mexico about the psychology department's research into this exact subject. A paper co-authored by Vigil, “Associations between medical cannabis and prescription opioid use in chronic pain patients” gained plenty of press nationally for finding a correlation between decreased opioid prescriptions and the level of access a patient has to some form of legal cannabis.
I was shocked when he told me over a plate of tacos that he thought Big Pharma was actively keeping research from happening because it was so good at treating opioid addiction. “When we were analyzing some of the data that showed that opiate use dramatically dropped, not only did I get chills,” he told me, “but there was explicit thoughts that the information may put us at physical risk of harm if it were disclosed.”
I doubt Gallagher is unaware of the study. One thing she's definitely aware of is the 5 to 1 vote by the state's Medical Cannabis Advisory Board to recommend the condition be included. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, New Mexico doctors wrote 70 opioid prescriptions for every 100 people in 2015.
In 2016, we had a total number of 349 opioid-related overdose deaths in New Mexico. Compared to the number of cannabis overdose deaths (a whopping zero), the idea of saying you don't think it would be safe is laughable. For shame, Gallagher.
Gallagher also declined the advisory board's recommendations to add muscular dystrophy, Tourette’s syndrome, eczema and psoriasis as qualifying conditions for the state’s medical cannabis program. She did add obstructive sleep apnea. What a peach.
Last week, The Associated Press reported Democratic gubernatorial candidate Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham's campaign finance filings show a number of contributions from state medical cannabis companies.
According to the report, the candidate received more than $20,000 from cannabis contributors since July. Some of the companies included in the list were the Verdes Foundation and MJ Express-O.
Lujan Grisham has expressed support for legalizing recreational cannabis use for adults in New Mexico. Her opponent Rep. Steve Pearce—on the other hand—weirdly said cannabis is an “obstacle in front of people who are struggling to get out of poverty.”