States that permit qualified patients to access medical marijuana via dispensaries possess lower rates of opioid addiction and overdose deaths, according to a study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, a non-partisan think-tank.
Researchers from the RAND Corporation and the University of California, Irvine assessed the impact of medical marijuana laws on problematic opioid use, as measured by treatment admissions for opioid pain reliever addiction (compiled from the years 1992 to 2012) and by state-level opioid overdose deaths (compiled from the years 1999 to 2013).
“[S]tates permitting medical marijuana dispensaries experience a relative decrease in both opioid addictions and opioid overdose deaths compared to states that do not,” authors reported. They found that women over the age of 40 showed the most significant decrease in problematic opioid use.
Data published last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Internal Medicine reported that the enactment of statewide medicinal marijuana laws is associated with significantly lower state-level opioid overdose mortality rates. “States with medical cannabis laws had a 24.8 percent lower mean annual opioid overdose mortality rate compared with states without medical cannabis laws,” investigators reported.
Overdose deaths involving opioid analgesics have increased dramatically over the past decade. While fewer than 4,100 opiate-induced fatalities were reported for the year 1999, by 2010 this figure rose to over 16,600 according to an analysis by the US Centers for Disease Control.
An abstract of the study, “Do Medical Marijuana Laws Reduce Addictions and Deaths Related to Pain Killers?”, is available online here.
The use of marijuana by younger adolescents is falling while their perceived disapproval of cannabis use is rising, according to data published this week in The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse.
Investigators from the University of Texas at Austin evaluated trends in young people’s attitudes toward cannabis and their use of the substance during the years 2002 to 2013 – a time period where 14 states enacted laws legalizing the medical use of the plant, and two states approved its recreational use by adults. (Six states also enacted laws decriminalizing marijuana possession offenses during this time.) Analyses were based on self-reported measurements from a nationally representative sample of 105,903 younger adolescents (aged 12-14); 110,949 older adolescents (aged 15-17); and 221,976 young adults (aged 18-25).
Researchers reported that the proportion of adolescents age 12 to 14 who strongly disapproved of marijuana use rose significantly during this period. The percentage of 12 to 14-year-olds reporting having used marijuana during the past year fell significantly during this same time period.
Among youth age 15 to 17, past year cannabis use also fell significantly, while young people’s perception of marijuana remained largely unchanged.
“Our results may suggest that recent changes in public policy, including the decriminalization, medicalization, and legalization of marijuana in cities and states across the country, have not resulted in more use or greater approval of marijuana use among younger adolescents,” the study’s lead investigator said in a press release.
Young adults age 18 to 25, in contrast to their younger peers, were less likely in 2013 to disapprove of the use of cannabis. However, this change in attitude was not positively associated with significant rises in past year marijuana use by members of this age group, researchers reported.
Separate survey data reported by the University of Michigan has reported an overall decline over the past decade in the percentage of young people perceiving a “great risk” associated with the use of marijuana. However, this decline in perceived risk has not been accompanied by a parallel increase in cannabis use by young people.
The abstract of the study, “Trends in the disapproval and use of marijuana among adolescents and young adults in the United States: 2002-2013,” appears online here.
Over the years, marijuana legalization advocates became effective at gradually building public support for our issue, even as we continued to lose votes when our elected officials focused on marijuana policy. We learned to lose creatively.
We became accustomed to years when it was difficult to identify any real political progress. For example, we won not a single statewide marijuana law reform proposal between 1978, when Nebraska became the last of 11 states to adopt a modified version of marijuana decriminalization, following the release of the first report of the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse (which recommended the country decriminalize minor possession and personal use offenses), and 1996, when California approved Proposition 215, legalizing the medical use of marijuana. Eighteen years without a single significant victory is, by any definition, a long political winter.
But over those years, and continuing still today, we learned to hone the skill of making small gains, at least in public attitudes, even as we lost the immediate political vote, whether at the local level or at the state legislatures. At a minimum we learned to present a public image of marijuana smokers that was more professional and mainstream than our opponents were accustomed to confronting, which over time helped us turn around the exaggerated anti-marijuana biases common in the media, resulting in a more balanced public debate over marijuana policy. That, in turn, began causing many non-smokers to reassess their views on marijuana policy.
And even as we continued to lose reform proposals, we were also identifying more and more elected officials who has the political courage to stand-up to the “war-on-drugs,” who would sponsor our reform legislation in the coming years. Out of necessity, our political misfortunes had forced us to learn how to lose creatively; to come out of a losing effort with more support than when we started.
What To Do With Majority Support
But then something incredible occurred. Beginning in 2010, for the first time we demonstrated sufficient public support to approve full legalization initiatives in two states, a step that only a few years ago had seemed unrealistic and out-of-reach. And beginning in 2012, a handful of national polls began to reflect the new reality that for the first time, a majority of Americans nationwide now oppose marijuana prohibition and favor legalization.
That growing public support made it possible for us to win legalization proposals in additional states, as we did in 2014 and expect to do again in 2016. So long as we are willing to make some concessions to satisfy the concerns of non-smokers, who comprise the vast majority of voters (86 percent), we can continue to win these precedent-setting laws to legalize and regulate the use of marijuana, and to stop the arrest of marijuana smokers, in more and more states.
It is important as we continue to move forward that we recognize the value of slow, steady change, and that we learn to accept and enjoy our victories as they occur, even though they will seldom be as complete as we might wish, and will require additional work in coming years to fix problems that remain. It is far easier to fine-tune these laws to make them work in a more equitable manner, once marijuana smoking has been legitimized and marijuana smokers are no longer considered criminals.
Learning To Accept Victory, and Build On It
I have been reminded of that fact recently when I observed colleagues who are allies in the legalization movement, but who were upset with political compromises that occurred as part of the implementation of legalization in Oregon, and were making allegations that all was lost, that some advocates had sold their souls, and that legalization in Oregon is not “real” legalization, since there are limits and regulations that apply. In fact, the version of legalization adopted in Oregon is the best to date, from the perspective of marijuana smokers.
Incidentally, there were a handful of voices, loud but not large, in both Colorado and Washington, who made those same claims when those states were passing and implementing legalization, and who continue today to file suits seeking to have the state legalization initiatives declared invalid and unconstitutional, leaving prohibition still in effect in those states, and in other ways seeking to undermine the new legalization systems currently in effect.
To some degree we should recognize that social movements attract “true believers,” many of whom are purists who oppose compromise and insist on demands that would never be acceptable to a majority of the voters in the state. We should welcome their involvement and support when they join us in opposing prohibition, but separate ourselves from them politically when they insist that we should not adopt marijuana legalization because the version they are voting on is less than perfect.
Standing tall for a principle is a good thing, but knowing which principles are important, and which are self-defeating, is an essential skill for any advocate. Accepting reasonable compromises that assure a majority of the voters in a state will support an end to prohibition, and agree to a system of regulating the legal sale of marijuana to adults, is basic to winning this fight.
Most Americans are not marijuana smokers (only 14 percent are), nor are they “pro pot.” In fact, one recent national survey found that while a majority of the public nationwide now support an end to marijuana prohibition, 54 percent of those same individuals had a negative impression of recreational marijuana smokers! They support ending prohibition because they now recognize prohibition causes far more problems than the use of the drug we were trying to prohibit; but they are not “pro pot” and they remain concerned that legalization may result in some unintended consequences that will harm society. Just this past week we learned from a new Gallup Poll, taken at the end of June 2015, that 47 percent of the public believe, for example, that legalization will make driving in those states less safe (30 percent believe it will make driving “a lot less safe”; 17 percent say “a little less safe”)
Fortunately, the data from the first few states to legalize marijuana have not shown an increase in DUID cases or accidents blamed on pot intoxication, but we still must deal with that concern, and take reasonable steps to reassure those non-smokers that we too oppose impaired driving and support reasonable efforts to get them off the road. (Note: I am not talking about drivers with some THC in their system, but drivers who are actually impaired. There is an important distinction between those two categories.)
Those of us who work for legalization must occasionally stand back a step and take a realistic assessment of the enormous progress we have made over the last few years, especially the legalization victories we have achieved in four states and the District of Columbia. Of course, none of these first few state laws are perfect from the standpoint of those of us who smoke. Looking forward, we must find ways to treat responsible marijuana smokers fairly regarding employment issues, child custody issues, and in the definition of impaired driving.
But those are reasons for rededicating ourselves to continuing the political and education efforts necessary to come back and improve these laws, and to try to assure that each new law that is approved by the voters brings us a little closer to a model law. But most importantly, minor imperfections in these initial laws do not justify opposing or undermining their implementation.
We are ending a corrupt system that resulted in the unnecessary and unfair arrest of tens of millions of otherwise law-abiding Americans, and the resulting damage caused to those individuals and their families. We are achieving what most Americans, only a few years ago, would have thought impossible. Let’s enjoy and celebrate these victories, and stop focusing on what we have not yet accomplished.
These new legalization victories are changing the way the world looks at marijuana and marijuana smokers. It’s a great time to be alive if you are a marijuana smoker. Let’s enjoy it.
As I finish my first month as a NORML staff member, I am in awe of the incredible group of individuals that comprise NORML’s network; I’m also in awe of the political momentum that we presently enjoy.
NORML held a Legislative ‘Fly-In’/Lobby Day in Washington, DC just before I began my tenure here. Attendees visited with their US Senators and urged them to vote in favor of the Veterans Equal Access Amendment, permitting veterans the ability to utilize medical cannabis. The vote marked the first time the U.S. Senate had voted in favor of medical marijuana.
House members have also held important votes in recent weeks, including passing the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, which limits the Justice Department’s ability to take criminal action against state-licensed operations that are acting in full compliance with the medical marijuana laws of their states.
A couple weeks ago, Senators Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Diane Feinstein (D-CA), often known for their opposition to marijuana law reform, held a hearing calling for expedited cannabis research. U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse Director Nora Volkow testified at the hearing and acknowledged the need for systemic federal changes, including the allowance of non-government sources of cannabis for clinical research.
Significant changes in cannabis policy are also afoot at the state level. Oregon enacted their voter approved legalization measure on July 1st and became the fourth state to permit adults to legally possess limited quantities of marijuana for their own personal use. (Separate legislation recently enacted by the Oregon legislature also defelonizes various marijuana-related offenses and provides for the expungement of past marijuana convictions.) Delaware lawmakers recently elected to decriminalize minor marijuana possession offenses, while Louisiana lawmakers have just amended their toughest-in-the nation repeat offender laws. A marijuana decriminalization measure is awaiting approval from the Governor in Illinois, while legislation to permit medical marijuana dispensaries in Hawaii also awaits final passage. Florida’s largest county, Miami-Dade, also recently approved a civil citation program for minor marijuana offenses, becoming the first county to do so in the state.
I choose to highlight these recent successes because they were made possible, in part, by you and your donations to NORML’s Political Action Committee. As we head into election season, the role NORML PAC will play in electing politicians who support sensible marijuana law reform policies will grow to a record level. But we need your help getting there. Please donate $25 or more to the NORML PAC today and understand you have contributed to bringing an end to marijuana prohibition by helping to elect responsible, marijuana friendly politicians who will support legislation that you care about.
NORML is now receiving more requests for funding from elected officials and political hopefuls than ever before. By making a donation to the NORML PAC, you are strengthening our ability to help elect these cannabis friendly politicians and to support our allies at the local, state and federal level.
I’d like to thank you in advance for making your contribution to NORML PAC and I hope you continue to reflect on the importance of electing those who share in NORML’s goals of ending marijuana prohibition.
Democrat Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation today, Assembly Bill 258, to allow medical marijuana patients to receive organ transplants.
Hospitals in California and elsewhere have denied patients from receiving organ transplants solely based on their status as medicinal marijuana consumers. Assembly Bill 258 reads, “A hospital, physician and surgeon, procurement organization, or other person shall not determine the ultimate recipient of an anatomical gift based solely upon a potential recipient’s status as a qualified patient, as defined in Section 711362.7, or based solely upon a positive test for the use of medical marijuana by a potential recipient who is a qualified patient.”
Passage of AB 258 ends these discriminatory practices in California.
The new law takes effect on January 1, 2016.
According to a study published in the American Journal of Transplantation, marijuana use by patients undergoing transplants does not adversely impact survival rates.