In 2012, voters in Colorado and Washington state passed initiatives legalizing cannabis for adults 21 and older under state law. In November 2014, Oregon, Alaska, and Washington D.C also approved recreational use of marijuana. In November 2016, four more states - California, Massachusetts, Maine, and Nevada - voted in recreational marijuana. It is important to note that the federal government still considers cannabis a dangerous drug and that the illegal distribution and sale of marijuana is a serious crime. Under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), marijuana is still considered a Schedule 1 drug. Cultivation and distribution of marijuana are felonies; possession for personal use is a misdemeanor; possession of “paraphernalia” is also illegal. Cultivating 100 plants or more carries a mandatory minimum sentence of five years according to federal statutes.
Guzmán leads me around his cramped lab—centrifuges, microscopes, beakers, petri dishes, a postdoc researcher in a white smock extracting tissue from a mouse corpse pinned under bright lights. It’s your typical bioresearch lab, except that everything is devoted to the effects of cannabis on the body and brain. The lab focuses not just on cancer but also on neurodegenerative diseases and on how cannabinoids affect early brain development. On this last topic the Guzmán group’s research is unequivocal: Mice born of mothers regularly given high doses of THC during pregnancy show pronounced problems. They’re uncoordinated, have difficulty with social interactions, and have a low anxiety threshold—they’re often paralyzed with fear at stimuli, such as a cat puppet placed near their cage, that don’t upset other juvenile mice.
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