07.07.16

Two years and counting: cannabis legalization efforts are starting to paint a clearer picture

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By Philipp Nagel and Fernanda Alonso 

A month ago, rumors spread that the DEA was about to reschedule cannabis from a Schedule I to a Schedule II drug in the Controlled Substances Act. Even though this rescheduling would not have many impacts in terms of legalization, it would allow derivatives of cannabis to be made available through medical prescription, if approved by the FDA. Even more importantly, the rescheduling would allow medical and scientific research under more relaxed conditions.

Randall Benton/Sacramento Bee/MCT via Getty Images

Randall Benton/Sacramento Bee/MCT via Getty Images

While those rumors have collectively been considered a false alert, there was reason to think things were finally starting to move at the federal level. In late 2015, the FDA apparently forwarded a recommendation on a potential rescheduling of cannabis to the DEA, the content of which remains unknown. The DEA, which would effectively be in charge of conducting a rescheduling, has yet to take any action. In a letter to Sen. Elizabeth Warren and seven other Democratic senators, the DEA had stated that a decision would be made within the first half of 2016. One week into the second half of 2016, however, the decision-making process appears to be more controversial than initially thought. In the meantime, lack of federal action leaves the states as the powerhouse for cannabis legalization and its effects.

It has been almost four years since Colorado passed Amendment 64, legalizing cannabis for personal use, and 2 and a half years since the first shops opened. We are no longer completely in the dark about the effects that legalization has had and should start using this state’s example when thinking about further legalization efforts. One of the major arguments used by the opponents of cannabis legalization is that widespread availability will – almost naturally – trigger increased use among the population, especially amongst youth. Looking at available data from Colorado, it would appear this is not the case. The 2015 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey indicates that use among teenagers has hardly changed since the first retail store for recreational cannabis opened in Colorado in January 2014. This is in line with the findings of a previous study conducted shortly after legalization occurred in Colorado. Read More

Posted in Uncategorized; Tagged: , , , .

06.30.16

Finding Calm in the Storm- Some Benefits of Meditation

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It can feel like now is a particularly difficult time to be a citizen of the World. The news is full of stories of insecurity from the violence and terror that continues to occur at a global scale both at home and abroad, fear of disease through the spread of the zika virus, economic uncertainty from the recent “Brexit” referendum and a political and popular environment that continues to become more bizarre and unsettling by the day. I thought that perhaps the most useful thing that I could write about would be a way to find quiet and stillness in the midst of all of this noise and chaos- meditation. If the idea of meditation makes you think of hippie communes or monks who have dedicated their lives to silent reflection then there is a lot of recent science to encourage you to give it a try.

We all know that we have very little, if any, control over our external environment. What we can control is how we react to and think about our environment, and changing how we take in and process the chaos on the outside can have significant benefits to us as individuals. There are lots of ways to meditate and the basic idea is to focus your attention on a single thing whether that is your breath, an action, a single thought or noise or an external object. Research has shown that this one act of focusing attention on a regular basis can decrease stress, anxiety and depression and even make us more empathetic and understanding people in our interactions with and thoughts about others. There may even be health benefits as well such as increased immune function and the capacity to reduce pain. Meditation can also help you improve memory, creativity and attention span- all in sessions that can be as short as 10 minutes.

If you have never meditated before and you want some guidance on how to start, there are lots of free tools. One app that I use is called Simply Being and is on the Apple Store- it allows you to set a meditation for a certain amount of time based on what is happening in your day. You don’t need classes, books, apps or equipment to get started, you just need to give yourself the time to be quiet and focus your attention however you choose. This long weekend, try and take some time to switch off the constant flow of chaos, news and worry and find a moment or two for a deep breath and some quiet time for yourself. Hopefully you will be pleasantly surprised at the way it will feel!

Posted in Uncategorized;

06.24.16

Philadelphia’s soda tax: a win for public health (and the city’s budget)

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soda taxOn June 16, despite vehement opposition from the beverage industry, the City of Philadelphia adopted a 1.5 cent per ounce tax on sodas. The tax will be applied to both regular and diet sodas and is predicted to raise over $90 million in the first year. Philadelphia’s tax is widely viewed as an important step towards addressing high levels of overweight and obesity Philadelphia and as laying the foundations for soda taxes in many other US jurisdictions. In this blog, I’ll explore 3 lessons emerging from the passage of Philadelphia’s new tax.

Big Soda is on a relentless quest to undermine soda taxes – but can be beaten

Mirroring their activities in Berkeley and San Francisco, California, the beverage industry unleashed a highly coordinated, heavily resourced campaign against Philadelphia’s proposed tax. In the four months prior to the City Council’s vote, the industry spent over $4 million on radio and television ads designed to turn the public against the tax. Members of the American Beverage Industry funded front group known as Philadelphians Against the Grocery Tax led protests against the tax outside City Hall. Following the passage of the tax, the American Beverage Industry announced it would continue the battle in court. Industry has begun foreshadowing a range of legal arguments, including that the tax runs foul of the Pennsylvania Constitution’s uniformity clause, which requires that all items in the same class must be taxed at the same rate. And while the City’s lawyers appear confident that the soda tax will withstand legal challenges, Big Soda will ensure that the City faces a long and expensive fight.

Narrative matters

Last Thursday’s vote was the third time the Philadelphia City Council had tried to pass a tax on sodas. Indeed, Philadelphia is one of just three US cities to levy such a tax, along with Berkeley, California, and Chicago. More than 40 other cities and states have tried and failed, in large part due to strong industry opposition. Many commentators are attributing Philadelphia’s recent success to Mayor Kenney’s narrative around the proposed soda tax as a source of revenue. Rather than discussing the tax as a public health measure, the Mayor has focused on using revenue from the tax to fund pre-kindergarten and improvements to city infrastructure including recreation centers and libraries. Industry is extremely well-versed at opposing public health-based taxes – claiming that the “Nanny State” should not tell Americans what to eat and drink. The case of the Philadelphia soda tax suggests that casting taxes as an opportunity to raise revenue makes it harder for industry to run its hallmark – and up until now relatively successful – “personal choice” campaigns.

An opportunity to evaluate taxation of diet sodas

In a last minute compromise, Philadelphia’s proposed soda tax was amended to include diet sodas. Ideally, the Philadelphia tax will result in consumers switching to non-taxed beverages – such as bottled water – which would be a public health success. On the other hand, by extending the tax to diet sodas, the City has removed the possibility of the tax encouraging consumers to switch from sugar-sweetened beverages to less harmful artificially-sweetened beverages – which is arguably an easier transition for some consumers.

Overall, the soda tax is good for Philadelphia’s health (and for its coffers). Given that Philadelphia’s tax extends to diet sodas the City – and public health advocates – have the opportunity to monitor and evaluate this configuration of a soda tax to make sure it is resulting in healthier beverage purchases and improved health.

Posted in Non-communicable diseases;

06.23.16

Obamacare Premium Increases – Time to freak out? Not so fast.

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As the individual marketplace health insurance exchanges enter their 4th year of operation, growing pains still abound. Insurance providers are still struggling to determine appropriate pricing for various plans and are requesting a wide range of pricing changes – including some substantial premium increases – from state insurance regulators. The following are 5 key points regarding the upcoming open enrollment period for 2016:

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Posted in National Healthcare, Updates;

06.15.16

A healthy dose of film at AFI DOCS Festival

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AFI DOCS, the nation’s capital’s biggest documentary film festival is back! This year, the festival created by the American Film Institute and the Discovery Channel in order to showcase the best in national and international documentaries, will run from June 22-26 in multiple venues in DC and Silver Spring, Maryland.  The festival has been providing us with thought-provoking films since 2003 and this years line up is no exception.

Although the festival will showcase over 40 films, I want to make a special emphasis on all of those documentaries that explore some highly relevant areas related to health. This year there are several films exploring issues related to sexual and reproductive rights, including abortion, sexual violence and LGTB rights. Other films look at patient care, disability rights and mental health. Finally—and perhaps in a less obvious way—are those films that show the importance of the social determinants of health, exploring problems of violence, poverty and incarceration.

The following is a list of health related documentaries that should not be missed at AFI DOCS:

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The views reflected in this blog are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily represent those of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law or Georgetown University. This blog is solely informational in nature, and not intended as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed and retained attorney in your state or country.

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