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.
Fifty-eight percent of Americans believe that “the use of marijuana should be made legal,” according to nationwide polling data released today by Gallup.
The percentage ties the highest level of support ever reported by Gallup, and is more than twice the level of support reported in the mid-1990s.
Younger Americans, Democrats and independents are the most likely to favor legalizing cannabis, while Republicans and Americans over the age of 65 are least likely to do so. Among those poll respondents age 18 to 34, 71 percent endorse legalization. Among respondents age 35 to 49 years of age, 64 percent support legalizing marijuana.
“Americans’ support for legalizing marijuana is the highest Gallup has measured to date, at 58 percent,” pollsters concluded. “Given the patterns of support by age, that percentage should continue to grow in the future. Younger generations of Americans have been increasingly likely to favor legal use of marijuana as they entered adulthood compared with older generations of Americans when they were the same age decades ago. … Now senior citizens are alone among age groups in opposing pot legalization.
“These trends suggest that state and local governments may come under increasing pressure to ease restrictions on marijuana use, if not go even further like the states of Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Alaska in making recreational marijuana use completely legal.”
The 2015 Gallup poll possesses a margin of error of +/- 4 percent.
Commenting on the latest polling data, NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said: “Supporting the status quo — the notion that marijuana and those adults who consume it responsibly ought to be criminalized — is now a fringe position in America. These results ought to embolden campaigning politicians, as well as elected officials, to take a more pronounced stance in favor of legalizing and regulating cannabis in a manner that is consistent with the desires of the majority of their constituents.”
Fifty-five percent of Americans favor making cannabis legal for adults, according to the findings of a CNN/ORC International survey released late Monday. The percentage is the highest ever reported by the survey, which has been tracking public opinion on the issue since 1973, and marks a 12 percentage point jump in support since the last time pollsters posed the question in 2012.
In addition, only 35 percent of those polled responded that consuming cannabis was “morally wrong” — down from 70 percent in 1987, the last time pollsters posed the question.
The CNN/ORC polled surveyed 1,010 Americans and possesses a margin of error of +/- 3 percent.
The survey’s findings are similar to those of a fall 2013 Gallup poll which reported nationwide support for legalizing marijuana at 58 percent, the highest level of support ever recorded in a national scientific poll.
#1 Public Support For Legalizing Marijuana Hits Historic Highs
An unprecedented 58 percent of Americans believe that marijuana ought to be “made legal” for adult consumption, according to survey data reported in October by Gallup. The percentage is the highest level of support ever recorded by Gallup, which has been inquiring on the issue since 1969, and marks a ten percent increase in voter approval since 2012. Regional polls conducted this year in several states, including California, Louisiana, and Texas, also reported majority support for legalization.
#2 Nation Of Uruguay Passes Legislation Regulating Cannabis Use
Lawmakers in the South American nation of Uruguay enacted legislation authorizing the licensed production and retail sale of cannabis to all citizens age 18 and older. Residents will be able to legally purchase up to 40 grams of cannabis per month from state-licensed stores at a price of $1 per gram. Uruguay is the first country in modern history to officially legalize and regulate the licensed production and retail sale of cannabis.
#3 Feds Pledge Not To Interfere In State-Licensed Retail Sales Of Cannabis
Deputy Attorney General James Cole issued a three-page memorandum in August affirming that the US Justice Department will allow Colorado and Washington to move forward with statewide efforts to license and regulate the adult marijuana market. Cole later reaffirmed the agency’s position in testimony before the US Senate, stating, “We will not … seek to preempt state ballot initiatives.”
#4 States Finalize Regulations Governing Adult Cannabis Sales
Regulators in Colorado and Washington this fall began accepting applications from businesses seeking to engage in the licensed cultivation, production, and retail sale of cannabis and cannabis-infused products. In Washington, several thousand applicants have applied to pot business licenses. In Colorado, regulators have begun approving licenses and several commercial establishments are expected to be open for business on January 1, 2014.
#5 Record Number Of Statewide Marijuana Reform Measures Enacted Into Law
Lawmakers in a dozen states approved some 20 pieces of marijuana law reform legislation in 2013. Specifically, lawmakers in Colorado and Vermont enacted legislation licensing commercial hemp production; Illinois and New Hampshire legalized the use and distribution of marijuana for medical purposes; Oregon and Nevada approved regulations allowing for the establishment of medical cannabis distribution facilities; and Oregon and Vermont significantly reduced marijuana possession penalties.
#6 Cannabis Dispensaries Open In Washington, DC
Medical cannabis facilities opened for business in Washington, DC in 2013. The establishments are licensed and regulated by the District of Columbia, which finally unveiled its long-awaited medical marijuana program earlier this year. State-authorized dispensaries also opened for the first time this year in New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Vermont. Lawmakers in four states, Illinois, Oregon, Nevada and New Hampshire, enacted legislation in 2013 allowing for the establishment of medicinal cannabis facilities.
#7 Study: Blacks Arrested For Pot Offenses At Rates Four Times That Of Whites
African Americans are far more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession offenses than are whites, according to an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) report released in June that analyzed arrest data from 945 counties nationwide. The report found that blacks were approximately four times as likely as whites to be arrested for marijuana possession in 2010, even though both ethnicities consumed the substance at similar rates. Authors reported that the racial disparity in arrest rates had grown significantly over the past decade and that in some states African Americans were nearly eight times as likely as whites to be arrested for cannabis possession.
#8 FDA Approves Clinical Trials Of CBD In Cases Of Pediatric Epilepsy
The US Food and Drug Administration this fall granted approval for the importation of cannabidiol (CBD) extracts as an experimental treatment for a rare, intractable form of pediatric epilepsy known as Dravet syndrome. Preliminary clinical trials assessing the safety and tolerability of the compound in children are scheduled to begin in early 2014. Cannabidiol is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid that has been documented to possess a variety of therapeutic qualities, including anti-inflammatory, anti-diabetic, anti-epileptic, anti-cancer, and bone-stimulating properties.
#9 Study: No Association Between Cannabis Smoking And Lung Cancer
Subjects who regularly inhale cannabis smoke possess no greater risk of lung cancer than do those who consume it occasionally or not at all, according to data presented in May at the annual meeting of the American Academy for Cancer Research. UCLA investigators analyzed data from six case-control studies, conducted between 1999 and 2012, involving over 5,000 subjects (2,159 cases and 2,985 controls). They reported, “Our pooled results showed no significant association between the intensity, duration, or cumulative consumption of cannabis smoke and the risk of lung cancer overall or in never smokers.”
#10 Members Of Congress Introduce Legislation To End Federal Pot Prohibition
Members of Congress in February introduced historic legislation, HR 499: The Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act, to remove cannabis from the control of the Drug Enforcement Administration and authorize the US Department of Treasury to license state-authorized retail marijuana producers and distributors. Although Congress refused to vote on the measure in 2013, it was the most-viewed legislation on the Congress.gov website.
A majority of Indiana residents believe that marijuana should be legally regulated like alcohol and nearly 80 percent of Hoosiers support taxing it, according to recently released statewide polling data released by the Bowen Center for Public Affairs at Ball State University.
Fifty-two percent of respondents said that cannabis “should be regulated like alcohol.” Forty-five percent of respondents opposed legalization. Among self-identified Democrats, 64 percent of respondents backed regulation. Forty-nine percent of self-identified Republicans did so.
Hoosiers support for taxing cannabis was even stronger. Seventy-eight percent of respondents, including strong majorities of both major political parties, answered ‘yes’ to the question, “Should we tax marijuana like alcohol/cigarettes?” Only 19 percent of respondents opposed the idea.
Under present state law, first-time marijuana possession offenses of under 30 grams are punishable by up to one-year in jail and a $5,000 fine. Subsequent offenses are classified as felonies, punishable by up to 3 years incarceration.
Six hundred randomly selected Indiana residents participated in the survey, which has a margin of error of +/- 4.8 percent.
The Indiana poll is the latest to show growing support for marijuana law reform among so-called ‘Red State’ voters. Recent statewide surveys in Arizona, Louisiana, and Texas have similarly shown majority support for legalization.
According to an October 2013 nationwide Gallup poll, 58 percent of Americans believe that marijuana should be legal, an all-time high.