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SOCIETY

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director April 3, 2014

    Seventy-five percent of Americans believe that the sale and use of cannabis will eventually be legal for adults, according to national polling data released this week by the Pew Research Center. Pew pollsters have been surveying public opinion on the marijuana legalization issue since 1973, when only 12 percent of Americans supported regulating the substance.

    Fifty-four percent of respondents say that marijuana ought to be legal now, according to the poll. The total is the highest percentage of support ever reported by Pew and marks an increase of 2 percent since 2013. Forty-two percent of respondents said that they opposed legalizing marijuana for non-therapeutic purposes. Only 16 percent of Americans said that the plant should not be legalized for any reason.

    Demographically, support for cannabis legalization was highest among those age 18 to 29 (70 percent), African Americans (60 percent), and Democrats (63 percent). Support was weakest among those age 65 and older (32 percent) and Republicans (39 percent).

    Seventy-six percent of those surveyed oppose incarceration as a punishment for those found to have possessed personal use quantities of marijuana. Only 22 percent of respondents supported sentencing marijuana possession offenders to jail.

    Fifty-four percent of those polled expressed concern that legalizing marijuana might lead to greater levels of underage pot use. (Forty-four percent said that it would not.) Overall, however, respondents did not appear to believe that such an outcome would pose the type of significant detrimental health risks presently associated with alcohol. As in other recent polls, respondents overwhelmingly say that using cannabis is far less harmful to health than is drinking alcohol. Sixty-nine percent of those polled said that alcohol “is more harmful to a person’s health” than is marijuana. Only 15 percent said that cannabis posed greater health risks. Sixty-three percent of respondents separately said that alcohol is “more harmful to society” than cannabis. Only 23 percent said that marijuana was more harmful.

    The Pew poll possesses a margin on error of +/- 2.6 percent.

    Recent national polls by Gallup and CNN similarly report majority support among Americans for legalizing and regulating the adult use of the plant.

    Commenting on the poll, NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said: “Advocating for the regulation of cannabis for adults is not a fringe political opinion. It is the majority opinion among the public. Elected officials who continue to push for the status quo — the notion that cannabis ought to be criminalized and that the consumers of cannabis ought to be stigmatized and punished — are holding on to a fringe position that is increasingly out-of-step with the their constituents’ beliefs.”

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director March 25, 2014

    Marijuana-related initiatives are likely to increase voter turnout, according to polling data released by George Washington University.

    Nearly four out of ten participants in the nationwide survey said that they would be “much more likely” to go to the polls if an initiative seeking to legalize marijuana appeared on the ballot. An additional 30 percent of respondents said that they would be “somewhat” more likely to participate in an election that also included a marijuana-specific ballot measure.

    Presently, two statewide cannabis reform measures have qualified to appear on the 2014 ballot. Alaska voters will decide whether to allow for the commercial production, retail sale, and use of cannabis by those over age 21. The measure will appear on the August 19 primary ballot. According to the results of a February Public Policy Polling survey, 55 percent of registered Alaska voters “think (that) marijuana should be legally allowed for recreational use, that stores should be allowed to sell it, and that its sales should be taxed and regulated similarly to alcohol.”

    Florida voters in November will decide on a measure to allow for the use and dispensing of marijuana by those who are authorized by their physician to engage in cannabis therapy. Survey data released in November by Quinnipiac University reported that 82 percent of Florida voters support reforming state law to allow for the medicinal use of marijuana.

    Several proposed ballot measures to regulate the production and sale of marijuana for adults also are pending in Oregon. All of these measures are still in the signature-gathering phase.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director

    At a public signing ceremony today, Utah’s Republican Gov. Gary Herbert will approve House Bill 105 — aka “Charlee’s Law.” The law, and others like it, ostensibly allows children with treatment-resistant pediatric epilepsy access to extracts of the marijuana plant high in the cannabinoid cannabidiol (CBD).

    While some media outlets are reporting that the passage of these measures are akin to ‘approving medical marijuana,’ such claims are far from accurate.

    Specifically, Utah’s HB 105 — which takes effect on July 1 — is largely unworkable. As written, the law only exempts from state prosecution those with “intractable epilepsy” who possess a cannabis extract that contains more than 15 percent CBD and no more than 0.3 percent THC. Patients must receive a written recommendation from a Utah board certified neurologist and be registered with the state Department of Health before seeking such extracts, which for the time being may only be procured from outside of the state. The extracts must be produced in a lab that possess a state-license to manufacture such products.

    While this language may appear to allow Utah patients to procure CBD products in neighboring medical cannabis states like Colorado, the likelihood of this scenario is highly doubtful. Colorado’s medical marijuana law only allows those who are state residents and who possess a state-issued patient identification card to legally purchase such products. In other words, Utah parents would have to violate Colorado law to obtain high-CBD extracts (which are likely to only be available from a medical dispensary, not a retail cannabis market). Colorado medical marijuana dispensaries would also be in violation of not just the letter of the law, but also the spirit of the law by providing a product they know is intended to be transported across state lines — a clear violation of the guidelines put forward in the August 2013 Department of Justice memo which call for “preventing the diversion of marijuana from states where it is legal in some form to other states.”

    Utah’s forthcoming law also calls on the state Department of Agriculture “to grow or cultivate industrial hemp for the purpose of
    agricultural or academic research,” ostensibly for the purpose of one-day producing high-CBD cannabis medicines. However, it remains to be seen whether such industrial crops can yield therapeutically effective CBD extracts or whether federal lawmakers would even allow such a state-sponsored research project to move forward.

    In Alabama, members of the House and Senate unanimously approved CBD-specific legislation, Senate Bill 174 aka “Carley’s Laws,” late last week. Republican Gov. Robert Bently has announced his intent to sign the measure into law.

    However, like the Utah law, Alabama’s forthcoming law will also be largely unworkable for those who seek to benefit from it. The measure appropriates $1 million dollars for University of Alabama-sponsored research in CBD extracts. Whether such research will actually take place is another story. Because CBD is, like the cannabis plant itself, classified under federal law as a schedule I controlled substance, multiple federal agencies — including the FDA, DEA, NIDA (US National Institute of Drug Abuse), and PHS (Public Health Service) must all sign off on any clinical investigation of the drug — a process that typically takes several years and often ends with federal regulators rejecting the protocol outright. Yet, under “Carley’s Law,” patients may only legally access CBD under if it is “prescribed” during the course of such a federally approved clinical trial.

    Nevertheless, despite these obvious limitations in implementation, lawmakers in various other states — including Florida, Kentucky, Minnesota, South Carolina, and Wisconsin — are considering passing similar measures. (A similar Georgia measure died when lawmakers adjourned late last week.) While the passage of these measures may pose symbolic victories for legislators, they fail to provide tangible benefits to the constituents that they are intended to serve.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director March 18, 2014

    A rise in the self-reported consumption of cannabis during the years 2006 to 2010 corresponds with a significant decline in Americans’ use of cocaine and methamphetamine during this same time period, according to a new RAND study commissioned by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP).

    Researchers estimate that Americans increased their consumption of cannabis by approximately 30 percent during the years 2006 to 2010. During this same time, authors estimated that the public’s use of cocaine and methamphetamine declined, with Americans’ use of cocaine falling by half.

    Americans’ consumption of heroin remained largely stable throughout the decade, the study reported. According to statistics compiled by the US Substance Abuse And Mental Health Services Administration, an estimated 4.5 million Americans have tried heroin in their lifetimes. By comparison, an estimated 12 million Americans have tried methamphetamine, 37.5 million have tried cocaine, and 111 million have consumed cannabis.

    Authors estimated that Americans spent approximately one trillion dollars on the purchase of cocaine, heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine between 2000 and 2010.

    Commenting on the report, NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said, “These figures belie that notion that marijuana exposure is an alleged ‘gateway’ to the use of other illicit substances and instead suggest that for some people, cannabis may be a substitute for other so-called ‘hard drugs’ or even an exit drug.”

    Survey data published in 2013 in the journal Addiction Research & Theory reported that among a cohort of medical marijuana consumers, 75 percent of subjects acknowledged that they used cannabis it as a substitute for prescription drugs, alcohol, or some other illicit substance.

    A 2010 study published in the Harm Reduction Journal reported that cannabis-using adults enrolled in substance abuse treatment programs fared equally or better than nonusers in various outcome categories, including treatment completion.

    Full text of the study, “”What America’s Users Spend on Illegal Drugs, 2000-2010,” is available online from the Office of National Drug Control Policy here.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director March 12, 2014

    Americans believe that consuming cannabis poses less harm to health than does the consumption of tobacco, alcohol, or sugar, according to the findings of a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released today.

    Respondents were asked which of the four substances they believed to be “most harmful to a person’s overall health.” Most respondents said tobacco (49 percent), followed by alcohol (24 percent) and sugar (15 percent).

    Only eight percent of those surveyed said that they believed that marijuana was most harmful to health.

    The poll possesses a margin of error of +/- 3.10 percent.

    Commenting on the poll results, NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said: “These results once again reaffirm that an overwhelming majority of the American public understands that any potential risks associated with the use or abuse of cannabis are relatively minor to those associated with many other legal and regulated substances. Criminalizing cannabis and those who consume it responsibly is a disproportionate public policy response to what is, at worst, a public health issue but not a criminal justice concern.”

    Under federal law, marijuana is classified as a schedule I controlled substance, meaning that its alleged harms are equal to those of heroin.

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