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  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director June 22, 2017

    thumbs_upThe enactment of statewide laws regulating the adult use and sale of cannabis is not associated with subsequent changes in traffic fatality rates, according to an analysis of traffic safety data (“Crash fatality rates after recreational marijuana legalization in Washington and Colorado”) published today in the American Journal of Public Health.

    Investigators from the University of Texas-Austin evaluated crash fatality rates in Colorado and Washington pre- and post-legalization. They compared these rates to those of eight control states that had not enacted any significant changes in their marijuana laws.

    “We found no significant association between recreational marijuana legalization in Washington and Colorado and subsequent changes in motor vehicle fatality rates in the first three years after recreational marijuana legalization,” author concluded.

    They further reported, “[W]e also found no association between recreational marijuana legalization and total crash rates when analyzing available state-reported nonfatal crash statistics.”

    Commenting on the findings, NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said: “These conclusions ought to be reassuring to lawmakers and those in the public who have concerns that regulating adult marijuana use may inadvertently jeopardize public safety. These results indicate that such fears have not come to fruition, and that such concerns ought not to unduly influence legislators or voters in other jurisdictions that are considering legalizing cannabis.”

    A prior study published last year by the same journal reported that the enactment of medical marijuana legalization laws is associated with a reduction in traffic fatalities compared to other states, particularly among younger drivers.

    Fatal accident rates have fallen significantly over the past two decades — during the same time that a majority of US states have legalized marijuana for either medical or social use. In 1996, the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that there were an estimated 37,500 fatal car crashes on US roadways. This total fell to under 30,000 by 2014.

    A summary of the study appears online under ‘First Look’ on the apha.org website here.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director December 21, 2016

    cropsThe passage of medical marijuana legalization is associated with reduced traffic fatalities among younger drivers, according to data published online ahead of print in the American Journal of Public Health.

    Investigators from Columbia University in New York and the University of California at Davis analyzed traffic fatality data from the years 1985 to 2014.

    They reported that states with medical cannabis laws had lower overall traffic fatality rates compared to states where cannabis is illegal, and that there was an immediate decline in motor vehicle deaths following the establishment of a legal cannabis market – particularly among those under 44 years of age.

    Authors concluded: “[O]n average, MMLs (medical marijuana laws) states had lower traffic fatality rates than non-MML states. …. MMLs are associated with reductions in traffic fatalities, particularly pronounced among those aged 25 to 44 years. … It is possible that this is related to lower alcohol-impaired driving behavior in MML-states.”

    An abstract of the study, “US traffic fatalities, 1985-2014, and their relationship to medical marijuana laws,” appears online here.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director May 10, 2016

    cbd_trichomesPer se driving limits for the presence of THC are arbitrary and may improperly classify motorists who are not behaviorally impaired, according to the findings of a study published today by the American Automobile Association (AAA) Foundation for Traffic Safety.

    Per se driving limits criminalize the act of operating a motor vehicle if the driver possesses detectable amounts of specific drugs or drug metabolites above a set threshold. Under these laws, drivers are guilty per se of violating the traffic safety laws even absent evidence of demonstrable behavioral impairment.

    Five states – Montana, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Washington – presently impose per se limits for the detection of specific amounts of THC in blood while eleven states (Arizona, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Utah, and Wisconsin) impose zero tolerant per se standards. In Colorado, the presence of THC in blood above 5ng/ml “gives rise to permissible inference that the defendant was under the influence.” Legislation similar to Colorado’s law is presently pending in California.

    However, the AAA report concludes, “[A] quantitative threshold for per se laws for THC following cannabis use cannot be scientifically reported.” This is because the body metabolizes THC in a manner that is significantly distinct from alcohol. In particular, acute effects of cannabinoids lag well behind the presence of maximum THC/blood levels. Additionally, residual levels of THC may be present in blood for extended periods of time, long after any psychomotor-related effects have ceased.

    The Automobile Association’s finding is similar to that of the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which acknowledges: “It is difficult to establish a relationship between a person’s THC blood or plasma concentration and performance impairing effects. … It is inadvisable to try and predict effects based on blood THC concentrations alone.”

    NORML has long articulated a similar opposition to the imposition of per se driving thresholds for THC and/or its metabolites, stating, “[R]ecently adopted statewide per se limits and zero tolerant per se thresholds in the United States criminally prohibiting the operation of a motor vehicle by persons with the trace presence of cannabinoids or cannabinoid metabolites in their blood or urine are not based upon scientific evidence or consensus. … [T]he enforcement of these strict liability standards risks inappropriately convicting unimpaired subjects of traffic safety violations, including those persons who are consuming cannabis legally in accordance with other state statutes.”

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director March 10, 2016

    VA NORML Adopt-a-Highway cropCannabis-influenced driving performance is significantly different from alcohol-induced driving behavior, according to driving simulator data published in the Journal of Applied Toxicology.

    Investigators with the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the University of Iowa evaluated simulated driving performance in subjects following their consumption of vaporized cannabis, alcohol, or placebo.

    Researchers reported that cannabis administration was associated compensatory driving behavior, such as decreased mean speed and increased mean following distance, whereas alcohol administration was associated with faster driving. Their findings are similar to those of other driving studies, like those here and here.

    Investigators also reported that cannabis dosing in combination with low quantities of alcohol “mitigated drivers’ tendency to drive faster with alcohol” – a finding that contrasts with prior data acknowledging that the two substances combined typically possess an additive adverse effect on psychomotor performance.

    “THC concentration-dependent associations with decreased speed, increased time below the speed limit and increased following distance suggest possible awareness by drivers of potential impairment and attempts to compensate,” authors concluded. “The compensatory behavior exhibited by cannabis-influenced drivers distinctly contrasts with an alcohol-induced higher risk behavior, evidenced by greater percent speed.”

    According to the findings of a recently published literature review of crash culpability studies, “[A]cute cannabis intoxication is related to a statistically significant risk increase of low to moderate magnitude [odds ratio between 1.2 and 1.4].” By contrast, a 2015 case-control study by the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that driving with legal amounts of booze in one’s system is associated with a nearly four-fold increased crash risk (odds ratio = 3.93).

    An abstract of the study, “Cannabis effects on driving longitudinal control with and without alcohol,” appears online here.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director December 29, 2015

    2015: The Year In Review - NORML's Top 10 Events That Shaped Marijuana Policy

    NORML reviews the top news stories of 2015.

    #1 Congress Reauthorizes Medical Marijuana Protections
    Members of Congress approved language in the fiscal year 2016 omnibus spending bill that continues to limit the federal government from taking punitive action against state-licensed individuals or operations that are acting are in full compliance with the medical marijuana laws of their states. The provisions reauthorize Section 538 of the Continuing Appropriations Act of 2015, which states, "None of the funds made available in this act to the Department of Justice may be used … to prevent … states … from implementing their own state laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana."

    #2 Federal Judge Upholds Marijuana’s Schedule I Status
    A federal judge in April rejected a motion challenging the constitutionality of cannabis’ classification as a Schedule I prohibited substance. "At some point in time, a court may decide this status to be unconstitutional," Judge Kimberly Mueller said from the bench. "But this is not the court and not the time." Judge Meuller had presided over five days of hearings in October 2014 in a challenge brought by members of the NORML Legal Committee.

    #3 Medical Cannabis Access Associated With Less Opioid Abuse
    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 in July by the National Bureau of Economic Research, a non-partisan think-tank. The findings mirror those published in 2014 in The Journal of the American Medical Association concluding, "States with medical cannabis laws had a 24.8 percent lower mean annual opioid overdose mortality rate compared with states without medical cannabis laws."

    #4 DC Depenalizes Marijuana; Arrests Plummet
    Despite threats from members of Congress, District officials implemented voter-approved legislation earlier this year eliminating penalties associated with the possession and cultivation of personal use quantities of marijuana by adults. Following the law’s implementation, marijuana-related arrests in the nation’s capital fell 99 percent.

    #5 Marijuana Law Changes Don’t Change Youth Use, Attitudes
    Rates of youth marijuana use are unaffected by changing laws, according to data published in July in The American Journal of drug and Alcohol Abuse. Investigators 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. "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," researchers reported.

    #6 Gallup Poll: More Americans Than Ever Say Marijuana Should Be Legal
    Fifty-eight percent of Americans believe that "the use of marijuana should be made legal," according to nationwide survey data released in October by Gallup pollsters. The percentage ties the highest level of support ever reported by Gallup, which has been measuring Americans’ attitudes toward cannabis since the late 1960s. The percentage is more than twice the level of support reported in the mid-1990s.

    #7 Study: Marijuana Use Not Associated With Changes In Brain Morphology
    Marijuana use is not associated with structural changes in the brain, according to imaging data published in January in The Journal of Neuroscience. Investigators assessed brain morphology in both daily adult and adolescent cannabis users compared to non-users. They found "no statistically significant differences … between daily users and nonusers on volume or shape in the regions of interest" after researchers controlled for participants’ use of alcohol. "[T]he results indicate that, when carefully controlling for alcohol use, gender, age, and other variables, there is no association between marijuana use and standard volumetric or shape measurements of subcortical structures," researchers reported.

    #8 Marijuana Consumers Less Likely To Be Obese, Suffer Diabetes Risk
    Those who consume cannabis are 50 percent less likely to suffer from metabolic syndrome as compared to those who do not, according to findings published in November in The American Journal of Medicine. Metabolic syndrome is a group of risk factors, including high blood pressure, high blood sugar, unhealthy cholesterol levels, and abdominal fat, which are linked to increased risk of heart disease and adult onset diabetes, among other serious health consequences. The findings are similar to those of previous studies reporting that those who use cannabis are less likely to be obese or suffer from diabetes.

    #9 NHTSA: THC-Positive Drivers Don’t Possesses Elevated Crash Risk
    Drivers who test positive for the presence of THC in their blood are no more likely to be involved in motor vehicle crashes than are drug-free drivers, according to a case-control study released in February by the United States National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration. Authors reported that drivers who tested positive for the presence of THC possessed an unadjusted, elevated risk of accident of 25 percent (Odds Ratio=1.25) compared to controls (drivers who tested negative for any drug or alcohol). However, this elevated risk became insignificant (OR=1.05) after investigators adjusted for demographic variables, such as the drivers’ age and gender. The study is the largest of its kind ever conducted in the United States.

    #10 Legal Marijuana States Collect Over $200 Million In New Tax Revenue
    Taxes on the legal production and sale of cannabis in the states of Colorado and Washington have yielded over $200 million in new revenue since going into effect in 2014, according to calculations reported by The Huffington Post in September. Colorado collected more than $117 million dollars from marijuana sales while Washington collected over $83 million. Cannabis sales commenced in Oregon in on October 1, 2015 and have yet to begin in Alaska.

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