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Oakland Lab Creates 'Low Anxiety' Pot

Harborside Health Center has the answer for folks who don't want to get too high. Plus, an interview with a former warrior in the drug war who now preaches against prohibition.

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One of the nation's most sophisticated cannabis testing labs has yielded powerful results this spring, isolating a "low-anxiety" strain of the plant by closely tracking the potency of local crops. The strain of medical marijuana from Oakland's Harborside Health Center is based on findings from the dispensary's new Steep Hill laboratory. The strain is a custom-bred True Blueberry crossed with OG Kush, said Harborside Health Center Director Stephen DeAngelo.

Patients report getting pain relief without getting too stoned. "They're not saying that it's no buzz at all; what they're saying is that it's diminished," DeAngelo explained. "They describe it as being mellow, even, steady, not overwhelming, not producing anxiety."

Anxiety has become an increasing problem with modern cannabis. After testing 4,000 marijuana samples, the Steep Hill lab confirmed that breeders are pushing levels of the psychoactive molecule, Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC — which can cause anxiety — to historic new heights; from a few percent decades ago to more than 15 percent today. "The standard view of cannabis is it's something people do to get high, and THC is the part of the plant that gives that quality, along with others," DeAngelo noted.

But cannabis also relieves pain and nausea, and part of that relief comes from another psychoactive molecule, Cannabidiol, or CBD. "CBD is another component in cannabis that is medically effective without being psychoactive," DeAngelo explained.

The Steep Hill lab confirmed that California breeders are selecting for THC at the expense of CBD, creating high-THC cannabis with the potential to cause anxiety and panic attacks in patients. Harborside has started reversing that trend by identifying and then breeding CBD-rich strains, the first of which is on the shelves now.

Prohibition Doesn't Work

Noted Law Enforcement Against Prohibition speaker Russ Jones — a Bay Area native and retired San Jose Police Department undercover narcotics detective — is speaking in Rotary clubs and colleges around the Bay this week and next. Below, we excerpt some of the full interview with Jones that has been running online daily:

Legalization Nation: How did your worldview develop? Was it slowly or did you have an epiphany?

Russ Jones: I never had an epiphany. Mine was a slow, gradual change. In fact in 1986, '87 I was already speaking at rotary clubs on a very informal basis throughout San Jose and the Bay Area. ... I didn't quite have the facts and evidence, but in 1989 I traveled as a guest of the Soviet Union and Red China. I traveled throughout their countries and I worked with their law enforcement. I worked with their narcotics detectives, and the Soviet Union would let me go out on the street and I saw drug dealing on the streets in Moscow, Leningrad, and Yalta and I went on search warrants where they seized meth labs and saw rehabilitation programs.

And I came home and I said, "If the communist Soviet Union couldn't control drugs in the country through law enforcement means and through totalitarianism, then how are we as a free people ever going to?"

I always ask this in the crowd, I say, "Show me a drug-free prison." We can't keep drugs out of prison. How more secure can you get than that? So prohibition doesn't work. Prohibition has never worked. The first historical prohibition event was one cop, two people, and one apple tree — and it didn't work.

Legalization Nation: Incarceration rates in America have skyrocketed in the last two decades and we're now the worst in the globe. Are we as a society becoming more criminal, better at catching criminals, or have we just gotten more cruel?

Russ Jones: We're actually getting worse at catching criminals — our clearance rate for murder is down 10 to 15 percent since the 1970s and robbery is the same way. Burglary clearance rates have dropped from 20 percent to 15 percent. The only arrest percentage that has gone up is drug arrests. The cop has his butt in the air looking for that marijuana seed on the floorboard of the car while the robber drives by.

Legalization Nation: But isn't just a tiny, tiny fraction of those in jail in there for cannabis?

Russ Jones: No. We arrest 1.9 million people every year and almost half of those are for simple possession and 88 percent of those are for marijuana. We put a lot of people in jail.

Oakland's Weed 'Emergency?'

The Oakland City Council routinely declares a lack of medical cannabis as a "local public health emergency," and yeah, it's kind of funny, too. Oakland Chief Assistant City Attorney Barbara Parker explained that the proclamation was originally issued in 1998. It effectively means nothing, but it does buttress city policies, such as permitting medical cannabis dispensaries and ordering Oakland police to effectively ignore pot offenses.

Parker said the city originally issued the declaration because federal and state law enforcers were busting local growers and cancer patients. And though much has changed since President Obama took office, the threat of imprisonment persists to this day. The declaration says people could die due to lack of cannabis, so it's cause for Oakland to continue the declaration.

The city council is expected to quickly pass the declaration — as usual — at its meeting this week.

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