[excerpt] A new study identifying minor differences in the brain imaging of habitual marijuana consumers compared to non-users may be ideal for stimulating sensational headlines (e.g., “Regular pot smokers have shrunken brains, study says,” Los Angeles Times, November 10), but tells us little in regard to whether pot poses actual health risks.
Specifically, an MRI scan revealed less gray matter in the orbital frontal cortex of pot-smoking subjects compared to those who had never used the drug. Researchers also identified increased connectivity between certain regions of the brain in regular marijuana users compared with non-users.
So precisely what do these findings tell us in regard to pot use and health? Not much. Since the study design is not longitudinal, investigators cannot determine whether these differences are caused by subject’s cannabis use, whether these differences existed prior to subjects’ ever trying cannabis, or whether these differences persist when users’ cannabis consumption ceases.
Most importantly, investigators in this study failed to determine whether any of these differences are positively associated with any measurable adverse performance outcomes, such as cognitive performance or quality of life. It may be that these cannabis users are functioning in their daily lives in a manner that is indistinguishable from controls, in which case the imaging differences may hold little if any real-world significance. (In fact, one of the paper’s authors acknowledged, “[C]hronic users appear to be doing fine.”)
Full text of NORML’s response, “Media Leaping to Extremely Faulty Conclusions from Study on the Effects of Marijuana on the Brain,” appears online here.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner William Bratton publicly announced plans yesterday to halt the NYPD’s practice of arresting tens of thousands of minor marijuana offenders annually.
Under the new plan, set to take effect November 19, city police would issue first-time marijuana offenders a summons, payable by a fine, in lieu of making a criminal arrest.
Though the Mayor and the Police Commissioner have made pledges in the past to reduce the city’s marijuana arrest totals, which average nearly 30,000 per year, they have previously failed to do so. Of those arrested for minor marijuana offenses in New York City, a disproportionate percentage (86 percent) are either Black or Latino. Nearly three out of four arrested possessed no prior criminal record.
Although New York state law classifies minor marijuana possession offenses as a non-criminal offense, separate penal law (NY State Penal Law 221.10) defines marijuana possession in a manner that is ‘open to public view’ as an arrestable offense.
Mayor de Blasio called the City’s proposed depenalization policy “a smart policy that keeps New Yorkers safe, but it is also a more fair policy.”
The poll revealed that 56% of Delawareans support legalizing marijuana while just 39% were opposed. Individuals over the age of 60 and self-identified conservatives were the only demographic groups without majority support.
Commenting on the poll, University of Delaware political communications professor Paul Brewer stated, “I would say the numbers suggest solid support for fully legalizing marijuana in Delaware. The results also reflect what’s going on in public opinion at the national level, where the trends show a growing majority favoring legalization.”
Pro-legalization state Senator Bryan Townsend said he hopes this data helps compel the state to move forward on broad reforms.
“The poll just shows there is broad support for this,” said Sen. Townsend (D-Newark), “I hope this is a wake-up call to the General Assembly that a majority of Delawareans support us moving in this direction.”
The data coming out of Delaware is in line with the ongoing trend to support marijuana legalization at the national level. Clearly, seeing the path blazed by Washington and Colorado has only embolden residents of other states to support similar reforms.
You can read more about this poll here.
As anticipated, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter signed municipal legislation this week removing criminal penalties for the possession of minor quantities of cannabis by adults. (Watch a video of the Mayor’s ordinance signing and accompanying press conference here.)
The new measure amends citywide penalties pertaining to the possession of up to approximately one ounce of cannabis (30 grams) from a criminal misdemeanor to a non-summary civil offense, punishable by a $25 fine – no arrest and no criminal record. Public use of cannabis will be punishable by up to a $100 fine and/or the completion of community service.
Philadelphia NORML had long lobbied in support of a change in the city’s criminal classification of marijuana possession offenses. A 2013 review of marijuana arrest data by the organization reported that African Americans are arrested in Philadelphia for minor marijuana violations at five times the rate of whites despite both races consuming the substance at nearly equal rates.
Council member James Kenney, who sponsored the decriminalization ordinance, acknowledged that it was Philadelphia NORML’s outreach on this issue that ultimately persuaded him to push for the change in law.
The reduced penalties go into effect on October 20, 2014.
A new Maryland law depenalizing marijuana possession offenses takes effect this Wednesday.
Senate Bill 364, signed into law this past April, amends statewide penalties for marijuana possession offenses involving ten grams or less from a criminal misdemeanor (presently punishable by arrest, up to 90 days in jail, a $500 fine, and a criminal record) to a non-arrestable, non-criminal, fine-only offense ($100 fine for first-time offenders, $250 for second-time offenders).
The new law does not reclassify penalties involving the possession of marijuana paraphernalia, which remains a criminal offense.
A 2013 ACLU analysis of state-by-state marijuana arrests data reported that Maryland has the fourth highest rate of marijuana possession arrests in the nation.