[Editor's note: This post is excerpted from this week's forthcoming NORML weekly media advisory. To have NORML's news alerts and legislative advisories delivered straight to your in-box, sign up here.]
The enactment of state laws allowing for the limited legal use of cannabis by qualified patients has little to no causal effect on broader marijuana use, according to data published online in the journal Annals of Epidemiology.
Investigators at McGill University in Montreal obtained state-level estimates of marijuana use from the 2002 through 2009 US National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Researchers used difference-in-differences regression models to estimate the causal effect of medical cannabis laws on marijuana use, and simulations to account for measurement error.
Authors reported: “Difference-in-differences estimates suggested that passing MMLs (medical marijuana laws) decreased past-month use among adolescents … and had no discernible effect on the perceived riskiness of monthly use. … [These] estimates suggest that reported adolescent marijuana use may actually decrease following the passing of medical marijuana laws.”
They concluded, “We find limited evidence of causal effects of medical marijuana laws on measures of reported marijuana use.”
Previous investigations by researcher teams at Brown University in 2011 and Texas A&M in 2007 made similar determinations, concluding, “[C]onsistent with other studies of the liberalization of cannabis laws, medical cannabis laws do not appear to increase use of the drug.”
The findings are in direct conflict with public statements made by Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske, who in recent years has frequently alleged that the passage of medical cannabis laws is directly responsible for higher levels of self-reported marijuana consumption among US teenagers.
Full text of the study, “Do Medical Marijuana Laws Increase Marijuana Use? Replication Study and Extension,” can be read online here.
Now streaming on NORMLtv is the latest episode of “This Week in Weed.”
This Week: a congressman calls upon Drug Czar Kerlikowse to reschedule marijuana, per se THC limits for drugged driving stall out in Colorado, and the biggest marijuana rally on the east coast is about to commence.
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New England Remains The Regional Leader In Pot Use — What The Northeast’s Affinity With Cannabis Says About The Viability Of ProhibitionAugust 8, 2011
The federal government has once again released its state-by-state estimate of self-reported licit and illicit substance use. You can download the full report here.
Once again, the northeast leads the nation in self-reported marijuana use in practically every measurable category.
Among states reporting ‘marijuana use in the past year among persons aged 12 and older,’ Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont all rank in the top percentile. (Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, and Oregon round out the list.) Among states reporting ‘marijuana use in the past year among youths age 12 to 17,’ Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont top the list (along with Alaska, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, and Oregon).
The totals in the category ‘marijuana use in the past year among persons age 18 to 25‘ is even more New England-centric, with every northeast state (Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont) all included in the top percentile (along with Alaska, Colorado, New York, and Oregon). In the category, ‘marijuana use in the past month among persons age 26 or older‘ Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont top the list (along with Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, and Oregon).
The findings are notable because they are consistent from previous years and provide plenty of fodder for combating numerous drug warrior myths and stereotypes (such as the notion that high rates of illicit drug use — yes, the New England states lead in this broader category too — are typically relegated to poorer, urban, more racially diverse areas).
They also call into question the notion that marijuana use among the general population is in any way influenced by the legal status of marijuana. State criminal penalties for cannabis vary widely across the New England states. For instance, Maine’s decriminalization law (possession of up to 2.5 ounces is a civil violation punishable by a $100 fine) is among the most liberal in the country. Conversely, New Hampshire (up to one year in jail) and Rhode Island (up to one year in jail and a six month driver’s license suspension) maintain relatively strict penalties. Yet regardless of state law, marijuana use remains similar throughout the region.
Likewise, nationally, Mississippi and Nebraska — which enjoy some of the most liberal marijuana laws (simple possession is a summons and a civil violation, respectively) — also rank among the lowest rates of self-reported cannabis use.
You can review the state-by-state maps for yourself here.
One final note, it should be noted that despite the prevalence of medical marijuana states in these rankings, the authors of the report acknowledge that there is no evidence that the implementation of medi-pot laws is increasing the use of cannabis or other illicit drugs. As noted in the study’s press release:
“Current illicit drug use dropped among adolescents aged 12 to 17 in 17 states between 2002-2003 and 2008-2009 — no increases in current illicit drug use occurred in any state in this age group over this time period.”
This is a point that NORML has made repeatedly, most recently in response to Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske’s false claims. The Marijuana Policy Project also has a newly updated report thoroughly rebuking this claim here.
Latest White House Drug Strategy Report Affirms Our Government Has Virtually No Interest In Actually Studying MarijuanaJuly 12, 2011
The White House yesterday, with little fanfare, issued its annual (and long overdue) 2011 National Drug Control Strategy report.
As usual, the White House’s official justification for the ongoing multigenerational drug war was light on facts and heavy on rhetoric, particularly as it pertained to the federal government’s fixation with criminalizing cannabis. Here are just a few examples (all of which are excerpted from a section of the report, entitled ironically enough, ‘The Facts About Marijuana‘) of your government on pot.
“[C]onfusing messages being conveyed by the entertainment industry, media, proponents of ‘medical’ marijuana, and political campaigns to legalize all marijuana use perpetuate the false notion that marijuana use is harmless and aim to establish commercial access to the drug. This significantly diminishes efforts to keep our young people drug free and hampers the struggle of those recovering from addiction.”
“Marijuana and other illicit drugs are addictive and unsafe. … The science, though still evolving in terms of long-term consequences, is clear: marijuana use is harmful. Independent from the so called ‘gateway effect’ — marijuana on its own is associated with addiction, respiratory and mental illness, poor motor performance, and cognitive impairment, among other negative effects.”
“The Administration steadfastly opposes drug legalization. Legalization runs counter to a public health approach to drug control because it would increase the availability of drugs, reduce their price, undermine prevention activities, hinder recovery support efforts, and pose a significant health and safety risk to all Americans, especially our youth.”
You get the idea.
Of course, none of these allegations represent anything new for this (or previous) administrations, and NORML has responded in detail to most of the Drug Czar’s claims previously. I did, however, take notice of this particular paragraph in the report, which appears under the title ‘Medical’ Marijuana.’
“In the United States, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has approved 109 researchers to perform bona fide research with marijuana, marijuana extracts, and marijuana derivatives such as cannabidiol and cannabinol. Studies include evaluation of abuse potential, physical/psychological effects, adverse effects, therapeutic potential, and detection. Fourteen researchers are approved to conduct research with smoked marijuana on human subjects.”
Only in an environment of absolute criminal prohibition can the administration imply, with a straight face, that allowing a grand total of 14 legally permitted scientists to study a substance consumed by tens of millions of Americans for therapeutic and/or recreational purposes is somehow to be construed as ‘progress.’ That total doesn’t even legally allow for one scientist per medical marijuana state to actively assess how cannabis is impacting that state’s patient population.
Moreover, this acknowledgment comes from the very same administration that on Friday flat out rejected the notion of even allowing hearings on the question of marijuana’s schedule I classification because, in their opinion, “there are no adequate and well-controlled studies proving efficacy.” Of course, with only a dozen or so scientists in the whole county even permitted to interact with pot and humans can there be any wonder why such studies aren’t more prevalent?
(By the way, remember the results last year of the series of FDA-approved ‘gold standard’ clinical trials assessing the safety and efficacy of inhaled cannabis in severely ill patients? Apparently neither does the DEA. Nor are they aware of these ‘well-controlled’ studies of medical cannabis. Or these.)
Interestingly, according to the DEA’s 2010 white paper on cannabis (no longer online), last year there were a total of 18 scientists licensed by the government to work with marijuana in a clinical setting. Perhaps next year there will only be ten. If the DEA and NIDA have there way perhaps by 2013 there will be zero.
As for the other 95 US scientists legally authorized by the federal government to assess the efficacy of ‘marijuana extracts and marijuana derivatives’ in animals, most of them were here last week — at the annual meeting of the International Cannabinoid Research Society. But even these ‘chosen few’ acknowledge that their work has next to no influence on the very administration that authorizes it.
Marijuana Researchers Meet At Pheasant Run
Researchers from around the world studying the effects of marijuana and exploring possible medical uses meet each year to compare notes and share their findings
About 250 scientists from around the world have gathered this weekend at Pheasant Run Resort sitting through seminars titled “Endocannabinoid Signaling in Periimplantation Biology,” and “Cannabinoids and HIV Pathogenicity,” to name a few, for the 21st Annual Symposium of the International Cannabinoid Research Society.
ICRS members meet once a year to compare notes on research studying how cannabinoids, compounds from the cannabis plant (more commonly known as marijuana) or from the brain called endocannabinoids, affect the body and how it functions.
While most attendees are scientists, many are graduate students or training scientists as well as physicians interested in learning how these chemicals might be useful in treating human disease.
“We are all around the world working on our own projects,” said Cecilia Hillard, ICRS executive director, professor of pharmacology and director of the Neuroscience Research Center at the Medical College of Wisconsin.
“That’s why it’s so wonderful for us to get together once a year so we can really share things that we learn,” she said.
For example, she said someone may be studying how bone is formed, and she is studying how the brain works.
“I learn a lot by learning how the bone is formed, and they learn about how neurons work,” Hillard said. “It’s really a lot of what we call a ‘cross-fertilization’ of ideas.”
While the society is not political, Hillard says the type of research that is done on the controversial topic of medical and personal use of marijuana is nonetheless important.
“We’re carrying out scientific investigations trying to understand what these molecules do,” Hillard said. “What we try to contribute to the debate is the reality.”
She said scientific investigation is done in a very neutral way, trying to understand what these molecules do.
“The mass appeal is, ‘is there a good use for this in the treatment of human disease?’” Hillard said. “Most of us really have a passion for looking at these molecules because there is a lot of potential for treatment of human disease.”
The findings of this research are published in scientific journals so that the information is available to anyone. She said sometimes “you have no idea the impact your work is having.” Hillard said part of the mission of the ICRS is to educate the public.
“I wish the politicians would (look at the data) but I don’t think they do,” she said.
So this is your administration on drugs. Any questions?
The Obama administration said Tuesday that it “firmly opposes” the legalization of any illicit drugs as California voters head to the polls to consider legalizing marijuana this fall.
The president and his drug czar re-emphasized their opposition to legalizing drugs in the first release of its National Drug Control Strategy this morning.
“Keeping drugs illegal reduces their availability and lessens willingness to use them,” the document, prepared by Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske, says. “That is why this Administration firmly opposes the legalization of marijuana or any other illicit drug.”
Is anyone surprised? You shouldn’t be. After all, this is the same Gil Kerlikowske that has said repeatedly that legalization is not in his vocabulary, and publicly stated, “Marijuana is dangerous and has no medicinal benefit.” And this is the same administration that recently nominated Michele Leonhart to head the DEA — the same Michele Leonhart who overruled the DEA’s own administrative law judge in order to continue to block medical marijuana research, and publicly claimed that the rising death toll civilians attributable to the U.S./Mexican drug war “a signpost of the success” of U.S. prohibitionist policies.
UPDATE: Director Kerlikowske will appear live tomorrow on WAMU, Wednesday, May 11, (likely in the first hour between 10-11am, eastern) on the Diane Rehm Show. Listeners can call (1-800-433-8850), email or Tweet their questions to the Drug Czar.
Yet, given that national polls now indicate that an estimated one out of two Americans nationwide support legalization, and that a solid majority of west coast voters and Californians back regulating the retail production and distribution of pot like alcohol, it seems politically counterproductive for the administration to maintain such a ‘flat Earth’ policy. So what could possibly be their reasoning?
It’s actually spelled out here, in the White House’s 2010 Drug Control Strategy:
We have many proven methods for reducing the demand for drugs. Keeping drugs illegal reduces their availability and lessens willingness to use them. That is why this Administration firmly opposes the legalization of marijuana or any other illicit drug. Legalizing drugs would increase accessibility and encourage promotion and acceptance of use. Diagnostic, laboratory, clinical, and epidemiological studies clearly indicate that marijuana use is associated with dependence, respiratory and mental illness, poor motor performance, and cognitive impairment, among other negative effects, and legalization would only exacerbate these problems.
There it is in black and white — in less than 100 words: The federal government’s entire justification for marijuana prohibition; their entire justification for a policy that has led to the arrest of over 20 million Americans since 1965, that is responsible for allowing cops to terrorize families and kill their pets, that has stripped hundreds of thousands of young people of their ability to pursue higher education, and that is directly responsible for the deaths of over 20,000 civilians on the U.S./Mexico border. And that’s just for starters.
Yet the entire premise for maintaining the government’s policy — that keeping marijuana criminally prohibited “reduces [its] availability and lessens willingness to use [it]” — is demonstrably false. Under present prohibition, more than 1/3 of 8th graders, more than 2/3rds of 10th graders, and some 85 percent of 12th graders say that marijuana is “easy to get.” Even according to the stridently prohibitionist group CASA (National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University), more teens say that they can get their hands on pot than booze, and one-quarter say that they can buy marijuana within the hour. That means, President Obama and Gil Kerlikowske, that 25 percent of teens can obtain marijuana as easily — and as quickly — as a Domino’s pizza!
This is your “proven” method for “reducing availability?” Don’t make us laugh.
By contrast, dozens of studies from around the globe have established, consistently, that marijuana liberalization will result in lower overall drug use. For example, no less than the World Health Organization concluded:
“Globally, drug use is not distributed evenly, and is simply not related to drug policy. … The U.S. … stands out with higher levels of use of alcohol, cocaine, and cannabis, despite punitive illegal drug policies. … The Netherlands, with a less criminally punitive approach to cannabis use than the U.S., has experienced lower levels of use, particularly among younger adults. Clearly, by itself, a punitive policy towards possession and use accounts for limited variation in national rates of illegal drug use.”
Of course, the best option to truly reduce youth availability to cannabis is legalization and regulation. This strategy — the same one that we employ for the use of virtually every other product except cannabis — would impose common sense controls regarding who can legally produce marijuana, who can legally distribute marijuana, who can legally consume marijuana, and where adults can legally use marijuana and under what circumstances is such use legally permitted.
But we already know that this option isn’t in the administration’s vocabulary, now don’t we?
I’ve written time and time again that this administration ought to view marijuana legalization as a political opportunity, not a political liability. They obviously aren’t listening. Nevertheless, it is the voters who have led — and will continue to lead — on this issue, and it is the politicians who will follow. Could we expect it to be any other way?
After all it was the federal government that followed the states lead in 1937 — federally criminalizing pot, but only doing so after virtually every state in the nation had already done so. California, for instance, outlawed marijuana use in 1913 — nearly a quarter of a century before the Feds acted similarly. Likewise, it is going to be the states — and California in particular — that are going to usher in the era of re-legalization.
And it will be the Feds who eventually will have no other choice but to fall in line.