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Pot and profit: Business owners replace idealists in marijuana movement

Business owners are replacing idealists in the pot-legalization movement as the nascent marijuana industry creates a broad base of new donors, many of them entrepreneurs willing to spend to change drug policy.

Unlike in the past, these supporters are not limited to a few wealthy people seeking change for personal reasons. They constitute a bigger coalition of business interests. And their support provides a significant financial advantage for pro-legalization campaigns.

“It’s mainly a social-justice movement. But undoubtedly there are business interests at work, which is new in this movement,” said Kayvan Khalatbari, a one-time pot-shop owner and now head of a Denver marijuana consulting firm.

The donors offer a wider foundation of support for the marijuana-related measures on the ballot next month in nine states. The campaigns are still largely funded by national advocacy organizations such as the Drug Policy Alliance, the Marijuana Policy Project and the New Approach PAC. But those groups are less reliant on billionaire activists.

On the other side, legalization opponents are attracting new support from businesses as diverse as trucking, pharmaceuticals and even gambling.

In 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first states to pass ballot initiatives legalizing recreational marijuana for adults. Oregon, Alaska and Washington, D.C., followed in 2014. The result is a bigger pool of existing businesses that see expansion potential in more states authorizing use of the drug.

Take Darren Roberts of Boca Raton, Florida, co-founder of High There!, a social network for fans of pot. He donated $500 this year to a campaign to legalize marijuana for medical purposes in Florida. Roberts is also encouraging his customers to donate to legalization campaigns in their own states.

“I would say it’s a combination of both the philanthropic social interest and the potential financial interest,” Roberts said.

All five states considering recreational marijuana _ Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada _ have seen more money flowing to groups that favor legalization than to those fighting it. The same is true in the four states considering starting or reinstating medical marijuana _ Arkansas, Florida, Montana and North Dakota.

The donors who contribute to anti-legalization efforts have changed, too.

Some deep-pocket donors who drove opposition campaigns in years past are opening their pocketbooks again.

Casino owner Sheldon Adelson of Nevada, for example, gave some $5 million in 2014 to oppose a medical-pot measure in Florida. This year, as his home state considers recreational pot and Florida takes a second look at medical marijuana, Adelson has spent $2 million on opposition in Nevada and $1 million to oppose legalization in Massachusetts.

Other casinos are donating to Nevada opposition efforts, too, including MGM Resorts International and Atlantis Casino & Resort. Nevada gambling regulators have warned that marijuana violates federal law.

Some new opponents have also emerged, moving beyond the typical anti-pot base that includes law enforcement groups, alcohol companies and drug-treatment interests.

A pharmaceutical company that is working on a synthetic version of marijuana’s psychoactive ingredient, Insys Therapeutics Inc., has given at least $500,000 to oppose full marijuana legalization in its home state of Arizona.

The company did not return a message for comment on the donation. Company officials said in a statement last month that Insys opposes the Arizona ballot measure because marijuana’s safety has not been demonstrated through the federal regulatory process.

Other new names popping up in opposition disclosures include U-Haul, which gave $25,000 to oppose legalization in Arizona, and Julie Schauer, a Pennsylvania retiree who gave more than $1 million to a group opposing legalization. Neither returned messages seeking comment on their donations.

Smaller donors to opposition campaigns say they are hopelessly outgunned by the young pot industry, but are giving out of a sense of duty.

“Everyone’s talking about it like it’s a done deal, but I can’t sit by when I’ve seen firsthand the destruction that marijuana does to people,” said Howard Samuels, a drug-treatment therapist in Los Angeles who donated some $20,000 to oppose recreational legalization in California.

Samuels and other marijuana opponents insist that the pot industry cynically hopes to get more people addicted to the drug to line its own pockets, comparing pot providers to tobacco companies.

But marijuana-industry donors insist that they are simply carrying on a tradition started by the tie-dye wearing drug activists who pushed legalization long before there was any business model attached to it. They insist they would contribute financially even without any money-making potential.

“When a movement becomes an industry, of course the advocacy picture gets shuffled,” said Bob Hoban, a Denver attorney specializing in marijuana law and a $1,000 donor to the Marijuana Policy Project. “It shifts away from activists to more traditional business interests, because the skill sets don’t exactly transfer.”

Cocaine investigation leads to discovery of 2 Van Gogh paintings

Police investigating suspected Italian mobsters for cocaine trafficking discovered two Vincent Van Gogh paintings hidden in a farmhouse near Naples, masterpieces that had vanished in 2002 during a nighttime heist at Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum, authorities said this past week.

The two paintings were “considered among the artworks most searched for in the world, on the FBI’s list of the Top 10 art crimes,” Interior Minister Angelino Alfano said.

They were found in a farmhouse near Castellammare di Stabia as Italian police seized some 20 million euros ($22 million) worth of assets, including farmland, villas and apartments and a small airplane.

Investigators contend those assets are linked to two Camorra drug kingpins, Mario Cerrone and Raffaele Imperiale, according to a statement by prosecutors Giovanni Colangelo and Filippo Beatrice.

The recovered masterpieces, propped up on easels, were unveiled for reporters at a news conference in Naples.

Museum director Axel Rueger said Italian investigators contacted the museum earlier in the week and art experts determined the paintings were authentic.

“Needless to say, it’s a great day for us today,” Rueger told Sky TG24 TV. “We hope they are soon back where they belong.”

With their frames removed and covered by cotton cloths, the paintings appeared to be in relatively good condition despite their long odyssey, the museum said.

One of the paintings, the 1882 “Seascape at Scheveningen,” is one of Vincent Van Gogh’s first major works.

It depicts a boat setting off into a stormy sea, and the thick paint trapped grains of sand that blew up from the Dutch beach as Van Gogh worked on it over two days.

The other is a 1884-85 work, “Congregation leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen,” which depicts a church in the southern Netherlands where the artist’s father was the pastor.

Experts believe it was done for Van Gogh’s mother.

Despite the wishes of the museum, the paintings are not leaving Italy anytime soon. They are evidence in an investigation of whether gangsters from the Camorra crime syndicate were behind the original theft or might have become involved with the artworks later.

The Camorra is one of Italy’s three largest organized crime syndicates, with the Calabria-based ‘ndrangheta by far the most powerful. The Camorra consists of many crime clans, based in Naples as well as many of the Campania region’s small towns.

Financial Police. Col. Giovanni Salerno said investigators looking into the syndicate’s cocaine trafficking operations got a tip that the Camorra might have the Van Gogh artworks.

“One of those being investigated made some significant comments about their illegal investments made with earnings from drug trafficking, and he indicated two paintings of great value that supposedly were purchased by Imperiale. They were the result of a theft carried out in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam almost 14 years ago,” Colangelo, the chief prosecutor in Naples, told reporters.

When renowned masterpieces are stolen, it’s usually a theft commissioned by a private collector who has already agreed to buy them, since it’s virtually impossible to sell them in the legitimate art market.

The Camorra and other Italian crime syndicates, awash in illegal revenues from drug trafficking, designer-goods counterfeiting and toxic waste dealings, are increasingly looking to launder their dirty profits and make even more money in the process.

Salerno said a person at the farmhouse when the paintings were found “didn’t say a word” about how they wound up there. He declined to elaborate, saying the case is still under investigation.

The museum said the paintings, inspected by a curator, do show “some damage.” Authorities don’t know where the paintings were kept in the 14 years since they were stolen by thieves who broke into the museum overnight and made off with the works from the main exhibition hall, where dozens of Van Gogh paintings were on display.

The seascape painting had some paint in the bottom left corner broken away, while the other painting had “a few minor damages at the edges of the canvas,” a museum statement said.

Police who arrived at the Amsterdam museum on Dec. 7, 2002, discovered a 4.5-meter (15-foot) ladder leaning against the rear of the building.

The thieves had apparently climbed up to the second floor using a ladder and broke in through a window, according to Dutch police at the time. Within a year, Dutch authorities had arrested two suspects, but the paintings’ whereabouts remained a mystery _ until Italian authorities searched the farmhouse.

“After all these years, you no longer dare count on a possible return,” Rueger said. “The paintings have been found! That I would be able to ever pronounce these words is something I had no longer dared to hope for.”

Van Gogh's "Congregation leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen." — PHOTO: WikiArt
Van Gogh’s “Congregation leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen.” — PHOTO: WikiArt

UN hears major differences on global approach to drugs

Jamaica defended its decriminalization of possession of small amounts of marijuana. Iran said it seized 620 tons of different types of drugs last year and is helping protect the world from “the evils of addiction.” Cuba opposed the legalization of drugs or declaring them harmless.

The first U.N. General Assembly special session to address global drug policy in nearly 20 years heard major differences on the approach to drug use on its second day on April 20.

On the liberalization side, Canada’s Health Minister Jane Philpott announced that the government will introduce legislation to legalize marijuana next spring. She said Canada will ensure that marijuana is kept out children’s hands, and will address the devastating consequences of drugs and drug-related crimes.

Jamaica’s Foreign Minister Kamina Johnson Smith told delegates that the government amended the Dangerous Drugs Act last year to give tickets for possession of less than two ounces of cannabis instead of making it a felony offense, and to legalize the sacramental use of marijuana by Rastafarians. It also established provisions for the medical, scientific and therapeutic uses of the plant, she said.

Smith said Jamaica is finalizing a five-year national drug plan including programs to reduce demand for drugs, provide for early intervention and treatment of drug users, and promote rehabilitation and social reintegration.

Michael Botticelli, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, stressed that “law enforcement efforts should focus on criminal organizations — not on people with substance use disorders who need treatment and recovery support services.”

He called for drug policies in every country to address the needs of underserved groups including women and children, indigenous people, prisoners, and lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgender people.

On the tough enforcement side, Indonesia’s Ambassador Rachmat Budiman said “a zero-tolerance approach” is needed to suppress and eliminate the scourge of drugs.

He said drug trafficking rings are using new “psychoactive substances” and the Internet to penetrate all levels of society, including the young generation, and pose “a serious threat which requires extraordinary efforts.”

Like Indonesia, Iran imposes the death penalty on drug traffickers.

Iran’s Justice Minister Abdulreza Rahmani Fazli told the high-level meeting that the Islamic Republic has spent billions of dollars in its campaign against armed drug traffickers.

He said Iran is ready to host an international conference on countering drugs and drug-related crimes along the Balkan route, one of the two main heroin trafficking corridors linking opium-producing Afghanistan to the huge markets of Russia and Western Europe. It usually goes through Pakistan to Iran, Turkey, Greece and Bulgaria across southeastern Europe to the Western European market, and has an annual market value of some $28 billion, according to the U.N. Office of Drugs and Crime known as UNODC.

Fazli said the conference, in collaboration with the UNODC and countries on the route, would tackle ways to combat drug-related money laundering and detect drug trafficking ringleaders.

Cuba’s Justice Minister Maria Esther Reus Gonzalez asked how the world couldn’t be worried when the world drug problem has become “deeper and more intensified” with 246 million people using illicit drugs, according to UNODC.

“It will be really difficult to solve the problems of mass production of and trafficking in drugs from the South, if the majority demand from the North is not eliminated,” she warned.

Reus Gonzalez also warned that legalizing drugs won’t solve the problem either and will only open “more dangerous gaps for the stability of our nations.” She reiterated “Cuba’s absolutely commitment to achieving societies free of illicit drugs.”

Milwaukee County reports surge in fentanyl-related deaths

Milwaukee County has started the new year with a surge in deaths linked to the powerful painkiller fentanyl.

The Milwaukee County medical examiner’s office said Friday it is investigating 19 fatalities tied to the drug since late last year.

By comparison, the office investigated 28 fentanyl deaths in 2015 and 16 in all of 2014.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel eports the recent deaths have not been confirmed by toxicology reports, but indications are that fentanyl likely was involved.

Fentanyl is used to put patients under for surgery and to alleviate severe pain. The medical examiner’s office says none of the 19 deaths appear to be related to the misuse of a fentanyl patch but stem from the illicit use of controlled substances and multiple-drug abuse.

Consumer group warns FDA-approved flibanserin poses risks to women

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s decision to approve flibanserin as a treatment for women with hypoactive sexual desire presents serious dangers to women, with little benefit, according to the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen.

Flibanserin has been referred to in various media reports as the “female viagra.”

The national organization, in a statement released this week, alleged the FDA recklessly disregards the risk information in the agency’s briefing package to the advisory committees that met on June 4 to review the drug.

Public Citizen, in the statement, said it would not be surprising that after enough women have been seriously harmed by the “irreversible, or life threatening injuries” about which the FDA is concerned, flibanserin will have to be taken off the market. The group also said it is unconscionable that the FDA does not have the courage to prevent such damage from a drug with such a high ratio of risks to benefits.

The FDA’s analysis showed that women using the drug had an average of only half to one more “satisfying sexual encounter” every month compared to those using a placebo.

Meanwhile, the FDA’s list of serious risks includes abnormally low blood pressure and fainting. The agency noted that these could be experienced when flibanserin is taken alone or with alcohol, and that these side effects “can result in serious, irreversible, or life threatening injuries.”

The agency also noted that one study showed taking the drug with alcohol consumed over 10 minutes led to drowsiness, low blood pressure when standing up, and fainting. Although the study subjects were predominantly male (23 of 25 subjects), the FDA stated that “the effect of the combination of flibanserin and ethanol may be more pronounced in females.”

The FDA noted the difficulty of preventing alcohol use in women using the drug, saying that limits on such prevention would exist even with the implementation of a type of risk management plan intended to ensure that the benefits of prescription drugs outweigh their risks.

Study: Potent new drug candidate blocks HIV strains

U.S. scientists say they have created a novel drug candidate that is so potent and universally effective, it might work as part of an unconventional vaccine and could be used in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

The research, which involved scientists from more than a dozen research institutions, was published February 18 online ahead of print by the prestigious journal Nature.

The study shows that the new drug candidate blocks every strain of HIV-1, HIV-2 and SIV (simian immunodeficiency virus) that has been isolated from humans or rhesus macaques, including the hardest-to-stop variants. It also protects against much-higher doses of virus than occur in most human transmission and does so for at least eight months after injection.

“Our compound is the broadest and most potent entry inhibitor described so far,” said Michael Farzan, a TSRI professor who led the effort announced on Feb. 18 by The Scripps Research Institute in Jupiter, Florida. “Unlike antibodies, which fail to neutralize a large fraction of HIV-1 strains, our protein has been effective against all strains tested, raising the possibility it could offer an effective HIV vaccine alternative.”

Blocking a Second Site

When HIV infects a cell, it targets the CD4 lymphocyte, an integral part of the body’s immune system. HIV fuses with the cell and inserts its own genetic material — in this case, single-stranded RNA — and transforms the host cell into an HIV manufacturing site.

The new study builds on previous discoveries by the Farzan laboratory, which show that a co-receptor called CCR5 contains unusual modifications in its critical HIV-binding region and that proteins based on this region can be used to prevent infection.

With this knowledge, Farzan and his team developed the new drug candidate so that it binds to two sites on the surface of the virus simultaneously, preventing entry of HIV into the host cell.

“When antibodies try to mimic the receptor, they touch a lot of other parts of the viral envelope that HIV can change with ease,” said TSRI research associate Matthew Gardner, the first author of the study with Lisa M. Kattenhorn of Harvard Medical School. “We’ve developed a direct mimic of the receptors without providing many avenues that the virus can use to escape, so we catch every virus thus far.”

The team also leveraged preexisting technology in designing a delivery vehicle — an engineered adeno-associated virus, a small, relatively innocuous virus that causes no disease. Once injected into muscle tissue, like HIV itself, the vehicle turns those cells into “factories” that could produce enough of the new protective protein to last for years, perhaps decades, Farzan said.

Data from the new study showed the drug candidate binds to the envelope of HIV-1 more potently than the best broadly neutralizing antibodies against the virus. Also, when macaque models were inoculated with the drug candidate, they were protected from multiple challenges by SIV.

“This is the culmination of more than a decade’s worth of work on the biochemistry of how HIV enters cells,” Farzan said. “When we did our original work on CCR5, people thought it was interesting, but no one saw the therapeutic potential. That potential is starting to be realized.”

In addition to Farzan, Gardner and Kattenhorn, authors of the study, “AAV-expressed eCD4-Ig provides durable protection from multiple SHIV challenges,” include Hema R. Kondur, Tatyana Dorfman, Charles C. Bailey, Christoph H. Fellinger, Vinita R. Josh, Brian D. Quinlan, Pascal Poignard and Dennis R. Burton of TSRI; Jessica J. Chiang, Michael D. Alpert, Annie Y. Yao and Ronald C. Desrosiers of Harvard Medical School; Kevin G. Haworth and Paula M. Cannon of the University of Southern California; Julie M. Decker and Beatrice H. Hahn of the University of Pennsylvania; Sebastian P. Fuchs and Jose M. Martinez-Navio of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine; Hugo Mouquet and Michel C. Nussenzweig of The Rockefeller University; Jason Gorman, Baoshan Zhang and Peter D. Kwong of the National Institutes of Health; Michael Piatak Jr. and Jeffrey D. Lifson of the Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research; Guangping Gao of the University of Massachusetts Medical School; David T. Evans of the University of Wisconsin; and Michael S. Seaman of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

The work was supported by the National Institutes of Health through multiple grants.

Gay rights group endorses once-a-day pill intended to prevent HIV infection

The nation’s largest LGBT civil rights group over the weekend endorsed efforts to promote the use of a once-a-day pill to prevent HIV infection and called on insurers to provide more generous coverage of the drug.

Some doctors have been reluctant to prescribe the drug, Truvada, on the premise that it might encourage high-risk, unprotected sexual behavior. However, its preventive use has been endorsed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization and many HIV/AIDS advocacy groups.

The Human Rights Campaign joined those ranks with the release of a policy paper strongly supporting the preventive use of Truvada. It depicted the drug as “a critically important tool” in combatting HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

“HRC does not take this position lightly,” the policy paper said. “We recognize there is still ongoing debate … and that there are those out there who will disagree with our stance.”

Truvada has been around for a decade, serving as one of the key drugs used in combination with others as the basic treatment for people with HIV. In 2012, the Food and Drug Administration approved it for pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP – in other words, for use to prevent people from getting sexually transmitted HIV in the first place.

“Today, there is an unprecedented chance to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic, in part through PrEP’s aggressive prevention of new HIV infections,” said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign. “There is no reason – medical or otherwise – to discourage individuals from taking control of their sexual health and talking to their doctor about PrEP.”

The CDC says studies have shown that Truvada, when taken diligently, can reduce the risk of getting HIV by 90 percent or more. Research discussed at the International AIDS Conference in July found that use of the drug does not encourage risky sex and is effective even if people skip some doses.

As part of its announcement, the Human Rights Campaign called on insurers, regulators and Truvada’s manufacturer to take steps to reduce costs, raise public awareness, and make the option available to all medically qualified individuals who could benefit from it, regardless of ability to pay.

The cost of Truvada varies widely; a New York State Health Department fact sheet gives a range of $8,000 to $14,000 per year. The manufacturer, California-based Gilead Sciences Inc., has a program that provides assistance to some people who are eligible to use Truvada but cannot afford it.

The Human Rights Campaign urged all states to emulate Washington state, which implemented a program earlier this year offering assistance in paying for PrEP. The preventive option also was endorsed by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo when he announced initiatives in June aimed at ending the state’s AIDS epidemic by 2020.

The HRC called on state insurance regulators to take action against any insurers who deny legitimate claims from patients who’ve been prescribed PrEP by their doctors.

A prominent provider of services to HIV-positive people, the Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation, remains a vocal critic of the preventive use of Truvada. In an ad campaign launched in August, the foundation says many gay men fail to adhere to Truvada’s once-a-day regimen and describes government promotion of the drug as “a public health disaster in the making.”

On Oct. 10, an alliance of about two-dozen HIV/AIDS organizations in New York released an open letter to the Healthcare Foundation, asking it not to extend the ad campaign to their state.

“We believe your campaign could prevent people at risk for HIV from using this potential lifesaving medication,” the letter said.

The Healthcare Foundation’s president, Michael Weinstein, said his organization did plan to run ads soon in New York City asserting there is data casting doubts on Truvada’s effectiveness.

“Censoring the discussion is not the answer,” he said.

Weinstein also noted that – according to figures from Gilead – only a few thousand people thus far have filled prescriptions for Truvada.

“If people really felt it was the answer, it’s hard to imagine it wouldn’t have spread like wildfire,” Weinstein said. “It’s obvious there is enormous ambivalence in the medical community.”

According to the CDC, there are about 50,000 new HIV infections annually, with gay and bisexual men accounting for nearly 63 percent of them.

On the Web…

Human Rights Campaign: http://www.hrc.org/

AIDS Healthcare Foundation: http://www.aidshealth.org/(hash)/

CDC factsheet: http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/pdf/PrEP-GL-Patient-Factsheet-PrEP-English.pdf 

Colorado police: Student who died in fall ate more pot than recommended

A Wyoming college student who jumped to his death at a Denver hotel had eaten more of a marijuana cookie than was recommended by a seller, police records show — a finding that comes amid increased concern about the strength of popular pot edibles after Colorado became the first state to legalize recreational marijuana.

Levy Thamba Pongi, 19, consumed more than one cookie purchased by a friend — even though a store clerk told the friend to cut each cookie into six pieces and to eat just one piece at a time, said the reports obtained late last week.

Pongi began shaking, screaming and throwing things around a hotel room before he jumped over a fourth-floor railing into the hotel lobby March 11. An autopsy report listed marijuana intoxication as a “significant contributing factor” in the death.

Marijuana cookies and other edibles have become increasingly popular since Colorado allowed people 21 and over to buy recreational marijuana this year at regulated stores. Federal authorities don’t regulate the edibles because marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

After voters approved recreational pot, Colorado lawmakers tasked regulators with setting potency-testing guidelines to ensure consumers know how much pot they’re eating. Those guidelines are expected to be released next month.

Lawmakers also required edible pot to be sold in serving sizes of 10 milligrams of THC, marijuana’s intoxicating chemical.

The cannabis industry tries to educate consumers about the potency of marijuana-infused foods. But despite the warnings — including waiting for up to an hour to feel any effects — complaints by visitors and first-time users have been rampant.

In a separate case, a Denver man accused of killing his wife while she was on the phone with a 911 dispatcher ate marijuana-infused candy and possibly took prescription pain medication before the attack, according to a search warrant affidavit released last week.

It wasn’t known if pot influenced the behavior of Richard Kirk, 47, who is accused of shooting Kristine Kirk, 44. The affidavit says the woman told a dispatcher her husband had ingested marijuana candy and was hallucinating.

Pongi, a native of the Republic of Congo, and three friends from Northwest College in Powell, Wyo., traveled to Colorado for spring break.

At their hotel, the group of four friends followed the seller’s instructions. But when Pongi felt nothing after about 30 minutes, he ate an entire cookie, police said.

Within an hour, he began speaking erratically in French, shaking, screaming and throwing things around the hotel room. At one point he appeared to talk to a lamp.

Pongi’s friends tried to restrain him before he left the room and jumped to his death, police said.

One of his friends told investigators it may have been his first time using marijuana — the only drug toxicology tests found in his system. All three friends said they did not purchase or take any other drugs during their stay.

“The thing to realize is the THC that is present in edibles is a drug, and as with any drug, there’s a spectrum of ways in which people respond,” said Michael Kosnett, a medical toxicologist on the clinical faculty at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

He said a person’s genetic makeup, health issues and other factors can make a difference, and first-time users might consume too much, unaware of how their bodies will react.

“The possibility for misadventure is increased,” Kosnett said.

The marijuana concentration in Pongi’s blood was 7.2 nanograms of active THC per milliliter of blood. Colorado law says juries can assume someone is driving while impaired if their blood contains more than 5 nanograms per milliliter.

In the days that followed the death of Pongi, Denver police confiscated the remaining cookies from the pot shop to test their levels of THC. The wrapper of the cookies bought by the students said each contained 65 mg of THC for 6 1/2 servings. Tests showed the cookies were within the required THC limits, police said.

However, the wrappers also cautioned that “this marijuana product has not been tested for contaminants or potency.” One of Pongi’s friends became sick to his stomach after eating part of the cookie, but the others felt no negative effect.

Colorado law bans the sale of recreational marijuana products to people under 21, and adults can be charged with a felony for giving pot to someone under the legal age.

Authorities, however, said they would not press charges against Pongi’s 23-year-old friend who told police she bought the cookies while he waited outside the store. Denver district attorney’s spokeswoman Maro Casparian said investigators determined there was no crime. She declined to elaborate.

Research: Experimental HIV-prevention drug shows promise

Exciting research suggests that a shot every one to three months may someday give an alternative to the daily pills that some people take now to cut their risk of getting HIV.

The experimental drug has only been tested for prevention in monkeys, but it completely protected them from infection in two studies reported at an AIDS conference on Tuesday.

“This is the most exciting innovation in the field of HIV prevention that I’ve heard recently,” said Dr. Robert Grant, an AIDS expert at the Gladstone Institutes, a foundation affiliated with the University of California, San Francisco.

“Both groups are showing 100 percent protection” with the drug, Grant said of the two groups of researchers. “If it works and proves to be safe, it would allow for HIV to be prevented with periodic injections, perhaps every three months.”

Until a vaccine is developed, condoms are the best way to prevent infection with the AIDS virus and many other sexually spread diseases. But not everyone uses them, or does so all the time, so public health officials have pursued other prevention options.

A drug used to treat people with HIV – Gilead Science’s Truvada – also is used to help prevent infection in people who don’t have the virus. A big study among gay men a few years ago found it could cut this risk by up to 90 percent, depending on how faithfully people take the daily pills.

The new research tested something that could make this type of prevention much more practical – a long-acting experimental drug made by GlaxoSmithKline PLC. The studies tested it in macaques exposed to a human-monkey version of HIV.

Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gave six monkeys shots of the drug every four weeks; six others got dummy shots. All were exposed to the virus twice a week for 11 weeks.

The monkeys who got the fake treatment were readily infected “but the animals that received the long-acting drug remained protected,” said study leader Gerardo Garcia-Lerma of the CDC.

The results mirror what was seen in the CDC’s early research in monkeys on Truvada, the pill that’s available for HIV prevention now.

In the second study, Chasity Andrews and others at the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center at Rockefeller University in New York gave eight monkeys two shots of the drug, four weeks apart, and dummy shots to eight others. The animals were exposed to the virus weekly for eight weeks. Again, all animals given the fake treatment were quickly infected and those on the drug were all protected.

To see how long a single shot would last, they did a second study. The single shot protected 12 monkeys for about 10 weeks on average.

The dose used in a single shot corresponded to what people would get from a shot every three months, researchers said.

“This is really promising,” said Dr. Judith Currier, an infectious disease specialist at the University of California, Los Angeles. The research “supports moving this forward” into human testing, she said.

Currier is on the program committee for the meeting in Boston where the studies were presented – the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections. The New York study also was published online by the journal Science.

Grant said the long-acting drug is chemically similar to certain AIDS medicines sold now that are “extremely safe, well tolerated and extremely potent.” A mid-stage trial testing the long-acting shots in people as a treatment, not a prevention, is already underway, he said.