The Austin Chronicle

Reefer Roundup: 5/17/11

By Jordan Smith, May 17, 2011, 4:20pm, Newsdesk

It's a mad, mad, mad world. No getting around it. This week we've got support for hemp, an increase in overdose deaths, and the push to ban not-pot.


First off, lets just point out the stupid when we see it, shall we? Like this bit from Forbes: Kentucky Tea Bagger GOP gubernatorial candidate Phil Moffett has been taking heat from his primary opponent for his support for reauthorizing the cultivation of industrial hemp. Seriously. The running mate, Bill Vermillion, of GOP challenger Bobbie Holsclaw sent a letter to Kentucky churches claiming that hemp is a "gateway crop to legalizing marijuana."

Totally dumb. And we'll just leave it at that.

Meanwhile, also on the hemp front, Texas' own favorite Surfside Liberpublican (and Prez candidate) Rep. Ron Paul last week again filed a bill that would remove all restrictions on hemp production in the U.S. This is the fourth time that Paul has filed the bill – and we're certain he'll keep at it until he's outta there or until one of the nation's oldest crops is back out in the fields. Vote Hemp, an industry group advocating for bringing back to the land one of the nation's oldest agricultural crops says it has lined up a Dem sponsor in the Senate. Paul's hemp bills have earned plenty of cosponsors in the past, but have yet to move. "It is due time for the Senate as well as President Obama and the Attorney general to prioritize the crop's benefits to farmers and to take action like Rep. Paul and the cosponsors of H.R. 1831 have done," Vote Hemp President Eric Steenstra said in a press release. "With the U.S. hemp industry valued at over $400 million in annual retail sales and growing, a change in federal policy to allow hemp farming would mean instant job creation, among many other economic and environmental benefits."

Indeed, although the hemp-products industry continues to grow – hemp is used in everything from corn chips to shampoo, car parts and paper – a ban on growing hemp here means that all of those products must be made from hemp imported from other countries, from as near as Canada and as far away as China. That's just silly.

Maybe the fourth time's the charm?


The Travis County Medical Examiner's Office reports that overdose deaths related to prescription medications rose again in 2010, with these deaths now outpacing those related to use of all illicit drugs.

Of the 102 accidental deaths last year related to overdoses, in 58 prescription "medications were on board," says Deputy Chief ME Satish Chundru. "It's just crazy." The 44 remaining ODs were due to illicit drug use. The most common scrip drugs leading to death were pain killers, anti-anxiety meds, and muscle relaxants, all of which – especially when taken in combination with alcohol (a big no-no) – "decrease your drive to breathe," says Chundru. (There were 100 OD deaths in 2009; the number of OD deaths related to opiate use has increased steadily since 2005.)

Both patients and doctors are partially to blame for the rise in ODs, he says – patients need to better educate themselves and doctors need to hold back with the scrip pad. Lots of pain management is done by family practitioners who may not have the expertise in treating complex pain, he notes. Moreover, some chronic long-term pain can be at least partially psychosocial and when that is treated the need to medications can decrease. "The number one prescribed medication [in the country] is Hydrocodone," he says. "That's pretty ridiculous that the number one prescribed drug is a pain killer."

We first reported about the increase in opiate-related deaths back in December, noting that in Texas these preventable deaths increased 150% between 1999 and 2007. The Drug Policy Alliance says the increase is due to a complex set of interrelated matters – including not only the problem of patient and doctor education, but also related to the lack of so-called "Good Samaritan Laws." You can read more from that report here.


Texas Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, was successful in getting passed her bid to outlaw the use and sale of not-pot. Senate Bill 331, which passed the Senate on a 31-0 vote back in March, got the nod of the House last week, passing unanimously. The bill would criminalize possession of a laundry list of synthetic pot compounds, unless prescribed by a doctor. That may make it a tad more palatable – for many of these compounds there may be medical promise or use as yet undetermined medical – but I still find the ban-now approach to drug regulation entirely lacking.

On that note, still up in the air is what will happen to the proposed ban on Salvia divinorum – a hallucinogenic member of the sage family – proposed by Waco GOP Rep. Charles "Doc" Anderson. Ironically, the House passed his measure on April 20, but the bill (HB 470), which would ban the substance entirely – a move opposed by medical researchers because the substance is promising for the treatment of Alzheimer's and schizophrenia, among other diseases – hasn't moved in the Senate. In that chamber, Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, has proposed only banning the sale of salvia to minors. That proposal, SB 348, passed on a 31-0 vote on April 21, but is still pending in the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee.

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