Despite several attempts by the media and policy makers to associate the rising number of state regulated medical marijuana programs (and popular legalization efforts) with a rise in use and a drop in associated risk, the 2012 Monitoring the Future Survey reports that there was no rise in daily or annual marijuana use among teens. According to the report, “annual marijuana use [among 8th, 10th and 12th graders] showed no further increase in any of the three grades surveyed in 2012… [And the] daily use of marijuana…remained essentially flat.” Also of note, despite the sharp decline in perceived risk of marijuana use across all three grades, there was a statistically significant decline of use among 8th graders. These numbers are consistent with other recent studies showing that states with regulated marijuana programs have not seen an increase in teen use. Some have even seen a decrease in pot use among their youth population.
“This study suggests that exposure among teens to the concept of marijuana regulation policies (one third of whom live in such states) does not cause an increase in use. It is also important to consider that a drop in perceived risk is likely associated with their rejection of the overzealous scare tactics used in most schools’ drug education programs” said Sabrina Fendrick, Director of Women’s Outreach.
It is important to note, however, that marijuana use rates and availability nationwide remain at relatively high levels, while alcohol use rates remain historically low. This is most likely due to the fact that the former is illegal and thereby not subject to government controls, while the latter substance is legally restricted to adults only. The same goes for tobacco. We did not have to outlaw cigarettes to reduce the use among minors. A policy of education and regulation (not prohibition) has created an environment in which cigarette usage has fallen to an all time low. According to the principal investigator of the study, Lloyd Johnston, “[A] lowering teen smoking rates…likely…depend[s] on…changes such as raising cigarette taxes, further limiting where smoking is permitted, bringing back broad-based anti-smoking ad campaigns, and making quit-smoking programs more available.” It has been proven that age restrictions, coupled with the imposition of government regulation and education are the most effective at reducing youth access to adult-only recreational substances. According to the 2011 MFS report, the drop in alcohol use can be attributed to a strict regulation scheme that include educational campaigns focusing on responsible use and age restrictions which, in turn, lowers availability.
The report concluded; “In the 1980’s a number of states raised their minimum drinking age to twenty-one, which these researches were able to demonstrate reduced drinking.” It goes on to say “the proportion of 8th and 10th graders who say they could get alcohol ‘fairly easily’ or ‘very easily’ had been declining since 1996 and continued to drop in all three grades in 2011. Various other factors of likely importance include…higher beer taxes and restrictions on alcohol promotion to youth.” The 2012 survey reported that again, “there was no increase in perceived availability of alcohol.”
One can therefore conclude that the only sensible answer to restricting marijuana access to [as well as use among] minors is through state and local government regulation and a message of moderation.
This past weekend, National NORML, with the help of its Tennessee affiliate hosted the first NORML Southeastern Regional Conference. NORML representatives from several southeastern states, including North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia met to discuss strategy for legalizing marijuana across the region. This southern coalition met in Nashville with members of NORML’s National board and leaders in the cannabis reform movement.
The event was a great success with informative speakers and an energized, engaged audience. The conference opened with a special statement from US Representative Cohen who was “sorry [he] couldn’t be there in person,” but wanted to extend his personal support and commitment to our cause.
Speakers included NORML board members Greta Gaines and Paul Kuhn, Chris Butts and Ron Crumption from the Alabama Medical Marijuana Coalition, public health epidemiologist (and victim of prohibition) Bernie Ellis and Texas NORML board member Cheyanne Weldon. They covered a multitude of topics ranging from the utility of hemp, medical marijuana research, lobbying and public education. There was also a workshop on team management based on the New Organizing Institute’s development training seminars.
[North Carolina NORML put together a fantastic roundup of content and information from the conference. Click here to see their report.] That evening, the Douglas Corner Café hosted a successful fundraiser featuring local musicians Tish Lindsey, Don Ray, Greta Gaines, Chuck Foster and Daniel Lawrence Walker. Invariably, the Southeast has some of the most draconian marijuana laws, and the lowest level of support for reform in the United States. This conference and subsequent events will help reformers lay the groundwork for education and effective activism in the most politically conservative region in the country.
If you don’t live in the Southeast, do not fret! NORML Regional Conferences will be coming to your area of the country soon.
Up next: NORML’s First Northeastern Regional Conference in Philadelphia. Stay tuned to norml.org for more info in the coming weeks.
[Editor's note: Along with signing the below White House petition encouraging the president to grant clemency to these federal prisoners with life sentences for cannabis-only related offenses, please take a moment to do something even more important and write letters of support to the clemency petition to both the President (1600 Pennsylvania, NW, Washington, DC, 20500-0004) and the Office of Pardon Attorney (1425 New York Ave., NW, Suite 1100, Washington, DC 20530) asking for immediate commutation of these prisoners' sentences.
Additionally, please mention each man by name: John Knock, Paul Free, William Dekle, Larry Duke and Charles Cundiff.]
Cannabis Prohibition is ending in America (and likely soon around the world too). It is not going to end without prolonged legal, political and regulatory battles. This is well known and anticipated by reformers.
Social justice movements take decades to build up credibility, social impetus and political saliency. There are, necessarily, many angles by which cannabis prohibition laws can be assaulted: legislation, binding voter initiatives and impact litigation.Recently, the law office of Michael Kennedy (the principle behind Trans High Corporation, publishers of High Times Magazine; lifetime member of NORML Legal member) filed an historic legal petition with the federal government seeking clemency for five elderly prisoners serving lifetime sentences for cannabis-only related crimes. In the many hundreds of debates and discussions I’ve had with law enforcement officials and elected policymakers about the need to replace cannabis prohibition laws with logical alternatives, I’m vexed to no end when they make the ridiculous claim: ‘no one gets arrested for marijuana anymore and certainly no one is incarcerated for the stuff!’
To wit, 1) there are over 750,000 annual cannabis arrests (90% for possession-only) that generate many tens of thousands of cannabis-only offenders sent to jail or prison, and 2) these five men are serving lifetime sentences, for a product that is no longer contraband in two states, decriminalized in fourteen states and eighteen states (and the District of Columbia) now have medical cannabis laws (with six states allowing commercial retail access to the herb with a physician’s recommendation).
This federal petition to release these men back to their loving families and to get off the tax roll is born out of the non-profit organization called Life For Pot (where the groups is tracking at least twenty prisoners serving life sentences for cannabis-only related offenses), the heart felt project of volunteer Beth Curtis.
Mr. Obama indicated to ABC News that ‘he has bigger fish to fry’ when asked about what if anything the feds are going to regarding Colorado and Washington voters recently approving cannabis legalization measures. Whether the president is going to expend any political capital at all in actually advancing cannabis law reforms in his last four years remains to be seen, but, the man should act post haste, giving a nod to the new legal era America has entered regarding cannabis prohibition, on this well researched and written petition by granting clemency to these former and now elderly pot cultivators and smugglers.
We can all help place greater public focus and attention on this federal petition by letting the White House know that President Obama should ‘do the right thing’ and pardon these lifetime prisoners for growing and supplying cannabis to a willing and wonting population of cannabis consumers while unpopular (and largely unenforceable) prohibition laws were still in place.
History was made once again today when Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signed an Executive Order that makes an “official declaration of the vote” related to Amendment 64. This declaration formalizes the amendment as part of the state Constitution and makes legal the personal use, possession and limited home-growing of marijuana under Colorado law for adults 21 years of age and older.
“Voters were loud and clear on Election Day,” Gov. Hickenlooper said in a prepared statement. “We will begin working immediately with the General Assembly and state agencies to implement Amendment 64.”
Colorado joins Washington as the first two states in modern history to legalize the consumption of cannabis by adults.
As of today, the following acts are no longer unlawful under Colorado state law for persons 21 years of age or older:
(a) POSSESSING, USING, DISPLAYING, PURCHASING, OR TRANSPORTING MARIJUANA ACCESSORIES OR ONE OUNCE OR LESS OF MARIJUANA.
(b) POSSESSING, GROWING, PROCESSING, OR TRANSPORTING NO MORE THAN SIX MARIJUANA PLANTS, WITH THREE OR FEWER BEING MATURE, FLOWERING PLANTS, AND POSSESSION OF THE MARIJUANA PRODUCED BY THE PLANTS ON THE PREMISES WHERE THE PLANTS WERE GROWN, PROVIDED THAT THE GROWING TAKES PLACE IN AN ENCLOSED, LOCKED SPACE, IS NOT CONDUCTED OPENLY OR PUBLICLY, AND IS NOT MADE AVAILABLE FOR SALE.
(c) TRANSFER OF ONE OUNCE OR LESS OF MARIJUANA WITHOUT REMUNERATION TO A PERSON WHO IS TWENTY-ONE YEARS OF AGE OR OLDER.
(d) CONSUMPTION OF MARIJUANA, PROVIDED THAT NOTHING IN THIS SECTION SHALL PERMIT CONSUMPTION THAT IS CONDUCTED OPENLY AND PUBLICLY OR IN A MANNER THAT ENDANGERS OTHERS.
(e) ASSISTING ANOTHER PERSON WHO IS TWENTY-ONE YEARS OF AGE OR OLDER IN ANY OF THE ACTS DESCRIBED IN PARAGRAPHS (a) THROUGH (d) OF THIS SUBSECTION.
Governor Hickelnlooper also announced today the formation of 24-member task force to oversee the implementation of the law, which ultimately mandates for the commercial production and sale of cannabis by those licensed to do so. A representative of Colorado NORML sits on this task force.
As I previously wrote last week, to be clear: This is not decriminalization — a policy change that amends criminal penalties for minor marijuana offenses, but that continues to define cannabis as illegal contraband under the law and subjects its consumers to civil penalties. Today in Colorado, like in Washington, cannabis — when possessed in private by an adult in specific quantities — is a legal commodity. And it is likely that there is very little that the federal government can do to stop it. States are not mandated to criminalize marijuana or arrest adult cannabis consumers and the federal government cannot compel prosecutors in Colorado or Washington to do otherwise.
The voters have spoken and change is upon us. Can you smell the freedom?
Voters in four Michigan cities — totaling over a million people — will also decide on Tuesday whether to legalize or depenalize the adult use of cannabis.
In Flint, Michigan voters will decide on a citizens’ initiative to amend the city code so that the possession on private property of up to one ounce of marijuana or cannabis paraphernalia by those age 19 or older is no longer a criminal offense.
Grand Rapids voters will act on Proposal 2, which seeks to allow local law enforcement the discretion to ticket first-time marijuana offenders with a civil citation, punishable by a $25 fine and no criminal record.
In Ypsilanti, voters will decide on a proposal to make the local enforcement of marijuana possession offenses the city’s lowest law enforcement priority.
Under state law, possessing cannabis is a criminal misdemeanor offense, punishable by up to one year in jail and a $2,000 fine.
More information on this year’s cannabis-centric state and local initiatives may be found at NORML’s Smoke the Vote page here.