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Working to reform marijuana laws
Updated: 4 min 42 sec ago
The new law takes effect in January.
Illinois joins more than a dozen states — including Hawaii, Indiana, Nebraska, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Utah earlier this year — that have enacted legislation redefining hemp as an agricultural commodity and authorizing state-sponsored research and/or cultivation of the crop.
Our friends at High Times (and former NORML director Dr. Jon Gettman) are running an online poll asking for consumers’ choice regarding the preferred marijuana distribution that emerges post-prohibition.
Legal Marijuana: Which Market Do You Prefer?
As we approach the new inevitability of legalized cannabis, three models have been proposed for a national marijuana market.
By Jon Gettman
In the past, the goal of marijuana legalization was simple: to bring about the end of federal prohibition and allow adults to use the plant without threat of prosecution and imprisonment. But now that legalization is getting serious attention, it’s time to examine how a legal marijuana market should operate in the United States.
Below are descriptions of the three kinds of legal markets that have emerged from various discussions on the subject. We would like to know which one you prefer.
First, though, let’s touch on a few characteristics that all of these proposals share. In each one, the market has a minimum age for legal use, likely the same as the current age limits for alcohol and tobacco. In each of these legal markets, there will be penalties for driving while intoxicated, just as with alcohol use. You can also assume that there will be guaranteed legal access to marijuana for medical use by anyone, regardless of age, with a physician’s authorization. The last characteristic shared by all three mar- kets is that there will be no criminal penalties for the adult possession and use of marijuana.
Under this approach, there would be no commercial marijuana market allowed. Marijuana would be grown and processed for sale under government contracts, supervised and/or managed by a large, government-chartered nonprofit organization. Marijuana would be sold in state-run retail outlets (similar to the state-run stores that have a monopoly on liquor sales in places like Mississippi, Montana and Vermont, among others), where the sales personnel will be trained to provide accurate information about cannabis and its effects. Products like edibles and marijuana-infused liquids with fruity flavors would be banned out of a concern that they can encourage minors to try the drug. There would be no advertising or marketing allowed, and no corporate or business prof- its. Instead, the revenue earned from sales would pay for production costs and the operation of the state control organization; the rest of the profits would go to government-run treatment, prevention, education and enforcement programs. Regulations would be enforced by criminal sanctions and traditional law enforcement (local, state and federal police). No personal marijuana cultivation would be allowed. The price of marijuana would remain at or near current levels in order to discourage underage use.
Limited Commercial Market
Under this approach, the cultivation, processing and retail sale of marijuana would be conducted by private companies operating under a limited number of licenses issued by the federal government. Advertising and marketing would be allowed, but they would be regulated similar to the provisions governing alcohol and tobacco promotion. Taxation would be used to keep prices at or near current levels in order to discourage underage use. Corporate profits would be allowed, and tax revenues would be used to fund treatment, prevention, education and enforcement programs. Regulations would be enforced by criminal sanctions and traditional law enforcement (local, state and federal police). No personal marijuana cultivation would be allowed.
Regulated Free Market
Under this approach, entrepreneurs would have open access to any part of the marijuana market. Cultivation, processing and retail operations could be legally undertaken by anyone willing to bear the risks of investment and competition. Advertising and marketing would be allowed, but they would be regulated similar to the provisions governing alcohol and tobacco promotion. Prices would be determined by supply and demand, with taxation set at modest levels similar to current taxes on alcohol, tobacco and gambling. (These vary widely from state to state, but assume that under this model, the price of marijuana would be substantially lower than it is in the current market.)
Also, home cultivation would be allowed. Licenses may be required for any sort of cultivation, but these would be for registration purposes only and subject to nominal fees based on the number of plants involved. Individuals and corporations would be allowed to make whatever profits they can through competition. Tax revenues would fund treatment, prevention, education and enforcement programs. Competition and market forces would structure the market rather than licenses or government edicts, and regulatory agencies rather than law enforcement would supervise market activity.
A Different Approach
There are two key issues when it comes to deciding among these proposals. First, should the price of marijuana be kept high through government intervention in order to discourage underage use as well as abuse? Second, does commercialization translate into corporate money being spent to convince teenagers to use marijuana? Many of the proposals for how a legal market should operate are based on assumptions about these two issues, which leads to recommendations that the government must, one way or another, direct and control the marijuana market.
Obviously, the first two proposals outlined above reflect those very concerns. The third takes a different approach, in which marijuana is treated like similar psychoactive commodities, and the public relies on education, prevention and age limits to discourage underage use as well as abuse.
We want to know what type of legal marijuana market you prefer. Please take part in our poll on the HIGH TIMES website.
Marijuana use by newly married couples is predictive of less frequent incidences of intimate partner violence perpetration, according to longitudinal data published online ahead of print in the journal Psychology of Addictive Behaviors.
Investigators at Yale University, Rutgers, and the University of Buffalo assessed over 600 couples to determine whether husbands’ and wives’ cannabis use was predictive of domestic abuse at any time during the first nine years of marriage. Researchers reported: “In this community sample of newly married couples, more frequent marijuana use generally predicted less frequent IPV perpetration, for both men and women, over the first 9 years of marriage. Moderation analyses provided evidence that couples in which both spouses used marijuana frequently were at the lowest risk for IPV perpetration, regardless of the perpetrator’s gender.”
Stated the study’s lead author in a press release: “Although this study supports the perspective that marijuana does not increase, and may decrease, aggressive conflict, we would like to see research replicating these findings, and research examining day-to-day marijuana and alcohol use and the likelihood to IPV on the same day before drawing stronger conclusions.”
According to a previous study, published in January in the journal Addictive Behaviors, alcohol consumption — but not cannabis use — is typically associated with increased odds of intimate partner violence. Authors reported: “On any alcohol use days, heavy alcohol use days (five or more standard drinks), and as the number of drinks increased on a given day, the odds of physical and sexual aggression perpetration increased. The odds of psychological aggression increased on heavy alcohol use days only.” By contrast, researchers concluded that “marijuana use days did not increase the odds of any type of aggression.”
The abstract of the study, “Couples’ marijuana use is inversely related to their intimate partner violence over the first 9 years of marriage,” is online here.
The enactment of medicinal marijuana laws is associated with significantly lower state-level opioid overdose mortality rates, according to data published online today in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Internal Medicine.
A team of investigators from the University of Pennsylvania, the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore conducted a time-series analysis of medical cannabis laws and state-level death certificate data in the United States from 1999 to 2010 — a period during which 13 states instituted laws allowing for cannabis therapy.
Researchers reported, “States with medical cannabis laws had a 24.8% lower mean annual opioid overdose mortality rate compared with states without medical cannabis laws.” Specifically, overdose deaths from opioids decreased by an average of 20 percent one year after the law’s implementation, 25 percent by two years, and up to 33 percent by years five and six.
They concluded, “In an analysis of death certificate data from 1999 to 2010, we found that states with medical cannabis laws had lower mean opioid analgesic overdose mortality rates compared with states without such laws. This finding persisted when excluding intentional overdose deaths (ie, suicide), suggesting that medical cannabis laws are associated with lower opioid analgesic overdose mortality among individuals using opioid analgesics for medical indications. Similarly, the association between medical cannabis laws and lower opioid analgesic overdose mortality rates persisted when including all deaths related to heroin, even if no opioid analgesic was present, indicating that lower rates of opioid analgesic overdose mortality were not offset by higher rates of heroin overdose mortality. Although the exact mechanism is unclear, our results suggest a link between medical cannabis laws and lower opioid analgesic overdose mortality.”
In a written statement to Reuters Health, lead author Dr. Marcus Bachhuber said: “Most of the discussion on medical marijuana has been about its effect on individuals in terms of reducing pain or other symptoms. The unique contribution of our study is the finding that medical marijuana laws and policies may have a broader impact on public health.”
Added co-author Colleen L. Barry in USA Today: “[The study's findings] suggest the potential for many lives to be saved. … We can speculate … that people are completely switching or perhaps supplementing, which allows them to lower the dosage of their prescription opioid.”
Nationwide, 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 JAMA study, “Medical Cannabis Laws and Opioid Analgesic Overdose Mortality in the United States, 1999-2010,” appears online here.
Think you know a lot about cannabis and it’s history? Could you relate the ‘history of hemp’, thousands of years worth of human experience, in just four minutes and twenty seconds?
Comedian and pot activist extraordinaire Steve Berke’s 4 Twenty Today production company’s first video ‘History of Marijuana in Four Minutes and Twenty Seconds’ achieves such in high fashion and invoking laughter all the way.
Two of Steve’s previous pro-cannabis law reform pot song parodies are found here, the Macklemore parody has been seen by almost 14 million viewers:
The next production of 4 Twenty Today is set for release on September 8th (an absolutely hysterical parody of a classic American movie musical!), which is meant to correspond as being supportive for this fall’s big election in Florida on Amendment Two (which will legalize medical access for qualifying patients if 60% of the voters approve the initiative).
First and foremost, Hempfest is truly an enormous undertaking that requires several days of long hours to assemble the stages and hundreds of individual exhibitor and vendor booths; three days of long hours to manage, including a security team to guard the park overnight and provisions to feed the hundreds of volunteers each day; and then several days of equally long hours to disassemble everything, clean the grounds and replace any damaged turf.
And keep in mind this is an all-volunteer event sponsored by Seattle Events, a not-for-profit corporation, and is also free to the public. The event costs the Hempfest organization nearly $900,000 to put on, and that money is raised largely from vendors, exhibitors and sponsors. The volunteer effort is headed by Hempfest co-founder and Executive Director Vivian McPeak. McPeak leads a core group of volunteers who meet year around to plan for the next Hempfest, and who run a downtown store called Hempfest Central selling all sorts of hemp-based products.
There are three primary stages (the Share Parker Memorial Main Stage; the Peter McWilliams Memorial Stage; and the Ralph Seeley Memorial Stage, all named for beloved legalization activists who are no longer with us) spread along a narrow piece of parkland called the Myrtle Edwards Park. The park extends more than a mile along the downtown Seattle waterfront, from which an array of bands perform each day, with several speakers scheduled for brief 5-minute speeches between music sets (while the next band is setting-up). Some of the prominent speakers this year included Congressman Dana Rohrabacher from CA, former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes and public television travel guru and author (and NORML board member) Rick Steves.
Earlier today, the Democratic Party of Oregon came out in support of Measure 91, which would legalize and regulate the adult use, cultivation, and sale of marijuana in the state.
These endorsements were made by a “voting body comprised of the State Central Committee delegates, alternates, and associates.” A measure required a two-thirds vote for or against for the Party to take an official position.
In a press release highlighting their supportive position, the Democratic Party of Oregon stated that “a majority of Americans and large majority of Democrats now support state regulation of legal marijuana use. Measure 91 is the right approach to legalization in Oregon, strictly regulating use while funding law enforcement and schools. Vote Yes on 91.”
You can read the full release here.
You can learn more about Measure 91, including ways you can donate or volunteer, by visiting their website here.
NORML will be providing much more coverage on this and other ballot initiatives as election season heats up. Stay tuned.
As I prepared to leave for the Seattle Hempfest, a lovely celebration of all things related to marijuana, I could not help but think about what a wonderful time it is right now for those of us who smoke marijuana. We have the best quality marijuana in the world grown right here in the US, and even in those regions of the country that do not yet offer legal marijuana, the selection of different strains on the black market is outstanding. Of course, in those states with some version of legal marijuana, that selection is also conveniently available in retail outlets (at least for those who qualify).
When I began smoking marijuana in the mid-1960s, the question we generally asked the dealer-man was simple: do you have anything available? It was a simple yes-or-no question; and seldom did he have more than one or two strains. And worst of all, during the late summer and early fall, while we were waiting for the marijuana harvest to finish and work its way through the inefficient black market network from field to consumer, most years we experienced what we called a “drought.” During these droughts, there was simply no marijuana available, or at least nothing other than ditchweed, which was not worth smoking. Those dry periods would usually last for several weeks. But eventually we would get the word that the supply system was once again working, and we could again stock-up with a supply of adequate, but seldom great weed.
As best I can recall, I generally paid about $60 per ounce, so the cost was affordable, and there was usually an even less expensive version for those who were looking for a bargain, although I think most of that lower quality marijuana was likely headed for the college campuses all across America. According to a recent article published by the IvyGate website, citing a review of pot prices at all Ivy League schools published by the Yale Daily News in 1971, prices at the Ivy League colleges at the time were as low $8 and as high as $25 (for the best quality, usually obtained from Vietnam vets) per ounce. And the quality of what we then thought of as good marijuana would not compare favorably with what we routinely get today, whether from the black market or from a legal market.
The administration of a single dose of whole-plant cannabis via a thermal-metered inhaler is effective and well tolerated among patients suffering from neuropathy (nerve pain), according to clinical trial data published online ahead of print in the Journal of Pain and Palliative Care Pharmacotherapy.
Israeli investigators assessed the efficacy of a novel, portable metered-dose cannabis inhaler in eight subjects diagnosed with chronic neuropathic pain. Researchers reported that the device administered an efficient, consistent, and therapeutically effective dosage of cannabinoids to all participants.
They concluded, “This trial suggests the potential use of the Syqe Inhaler device as a smokeless delivery system of medicinal cannabis, producing a delta-9-THC pharmacokinetic profile with low inter-individual variation of (maximum drug/plasma concentrations), achieving pharmaceutical standards for inhaled drugs.”
A series of clinical trials conducted by investigators affiliated with the Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research at the University of California, San Diego previously determined that the inhalation of whole-plant cannabis is efficacious in the treatment of neuropathic pain.
Full text of the study, “The pharmacokinetics, efficacy, safety, and ease of use of a novel portable metered-dose cannabis inhaler in patients with chronic neuropathic pain: A phase 1a study,” will appear in the Journal of Pain and Palliative Care Pharmacotherapy.
Nearly seven out of ten Pennsylvania voters believe that marijuana should be legal for either medicinal or recreational use, according to the results of a statewide survey released by Keystone Analytics.
Sixty-nine percent of respondents said that cannabis should be made legal under state law, with 47 percent of voters endorsing its medicinal use and another 22 percent agreeing with the statement, “It should be legal for any adult to use for any reason.”
Twenty-seven percent of respondents believed that cannabis “is a harmful substance that should remain illegal to buy and use in Pennsylvania.”
The poll possesses a margin of error of +/- 4.4 percent.
House and Senate legislation (HB 1181/SB 1182) seeking to authorize cannabis therapy to qualified patients remains pending in the state. A Senate floor vote on the measure is expected when lawmakers return from their summer recess.
In coming months, the Pennsylvania State Nurses Association will be holding a series of educational seminars on the subject of cannabis and its potential therapeutic application. The Association is on record in support of “the establishment of efficient drug (cannabis) delivery, growing and dispensing systems as contained within SB 1182.”
Sixty-six percent of Americans believe that adults ought to legally be able to consume cannabis in the privacy of one’s own home, according to results of a nationwide HuffingtonPost/YouGov survey released late last week.
Seventy-two percent of self-identified Democrats and 70 percent of Independents said that the private consumption of cannabis should be legal. Republican respondents endorsed private consumption by a margin of 50 percent to 39 percent.
Fifty-five percent of respondents — including 62 percent of Democrats and 60 percent of Independents — also said that they supported statewide laws seeking to tax and regulate the commercial production and retail sale of cannabis to adults, such as those recently enacted in Colorado and Washington. By contrast, only 37 percent of Republicans said they supported such a plan.
The HuffPost/YouGov survey possesses a margin of error of +/- 3.9 percent.
Washington state-licensed marijuana retailers sold an estimated $3.8 million in cannabis products in July, the first month during which such sales were allowed under state law. The sales are estimated to have already generated more than $1 million in tax revenue.
To date, the state’s Liquor Control Board has issued marijuana retail licenses to some 40 facilities. However, only 16 of those stores reported sales in the month of July, according to the Associated Press. Under state regulations, the Board may issue a total of 334 licenses to retail facilities statewide.
Voters in both states in 2012 approved ballot measures regulating the commercial production, retail sale, and adult use of cannabis.
While the US government effectively bans scientific research regarding cannabis and any potential therapeutic uses, you can help University of Texas at Dallas associate professor of Criminology Dr. Robert Morris, II conduct another in a series of cannabis policy research-related questions.
This time around Dr. Morris and his colleagues are asking the sensible question public policy question: ‘Does Medical Cannabis Legalization Impact Police Officer Safety?’
NORML’s curious, aren’t you too?
Let’s help fund the research via crowdsourcing and find out the important answer to the above question after the data is gathered, crunched, analyzed and published.
Thanks for advancing science and public policy making in America regarding cannabis!
*The answer from the paper on medical cannabis’ impact on violent crime rates: ‘no’, violent crime rates do not rise because of the presence of medical cannabis retail stores.
The political and cultural victories for the marijuana legalization movement continue to accumulate as new developments lead us closer to the ultimate goal of full legalization. Just in the last couple of weeks, we’ve seen the powerful, unambiguous endorsement of full legalization by the most influential newspaper in America: The New York Times.
That endorsement was followed by a series of six follow-up editorials explaining in more detail precisely why the Times decided to join the fight to end prohibition. Additionally, The Brookings Institution, a highly respected Washington, DC think tank, published a very favorable report card on the first six months of the legal sales of marijuana in Colorado.
These were both significant events, because they involved respected institutions known for their careful and thorough analysis of important public policy issues. Neither has a history of backing a pro-pot agenda, so their support both elevates the issue and makes a strong argument for regulation.
Dear NORML members and supporters,
It is nearly impossible to detect the precise moment when support for a change in social policy reaches the "tipping point", but for the marijuana legalization movement, that time was likely July 26, 2014, when the editorial board of the New York Times published their editorial entitled Repeal Prohibition, Again.
For those who may have missed it, here an excerpt; it is one of the strongest endorsements I have ever read.
"The federal government should repeal the ban on marijuana." …
"The social costs of the marijuana laws are vast. There were 658,000 arrests for marijuana possession in 2012, according to F.B.I. figures, compared with 256,000 for cocaine, heroin and their derivatives. Even worse, the result is racist, falling disproportionately on young black men, ruining their lives and creating new generations of career criminals."
"There is honest debate among scientists about the health effects of marijuana, but we believe that the evidence is overwhelming that addiction and dependence are relatively minor problems, especially compared with alcohol and tobacco. Moderate use of marijuana does not appear to pose a risk for otherwise healthy adults. Claims that marijuana is a gateway to more dangerous drugs are as fanciful as the "Reefer Madness" images of murder, rape and suicide."…
"Creating systems for regulating manufacture, sale and marketing will be complex. But those problems are solvable, and would have long been dealt with had we as a nation not clung to the decision to make marijuana production and use a federal crime."…
"it is long past time to repeal this version of Prohibition."
And that is only beginning. The Times editors, with whom NORML’s staff and board have been assisting for some time, are now publishing additional editorials, dealing with different aspects of marijuana legalization on a daily basis. The editors of America’s most influential newspaper have not just changed their position; they are now determined to lead the change from marijuana prohibition to legalization.
Their new position on marijuana policy reflects a gradually evolving perspective, going back to 1966, when the paper warned readers that marijuana "for a considerable number of young people who try it, it is the first step down the fateful road to heroin."
By 1969, they were calling for some "distinction between soft and hard drugs," and by 1972, with the release of the Marijuana Commission report, the Times acknowledged "the dangers inherent in smoking marijuana appear to be less than previously assumed," and called for the elimination of penalties for possession and use.
But it was not until early 2014 that they heralded the opening of the first licensed marijuana shops in Colorado, noting that the experiences in Colorado and Washington "will serve as test cases for full-on legalization."
And now they have taken the crucial, final step to endorse full legalization for all adults, the position NORML has advanced since 1970.
New York Times
- 1966 – "for a considerable number of young people who try it, it is the first step down the fateful road to heroin."
- 1969 – "distinction between soft and hard drugs,"
- 1972 – "the dangers inherent in smoking marijuana appear to be less than previously assumed,"
- 2014 – "The federal government should repeal the ban on marijuana."
So we trust you will understand if, to those of us at NORML, who have been fighting for full legalization for 44 years, we see this latest endorsement by the New York Times as the unofficial tipping-point for legalization.
Sure, there remains a great deal of work to move legalization forward in the remaining 48 states. But with the favorable reviews coming out of Colorado and Washington, and with the national polling demonstrating that we currently enjoy the support of between 53% and 58% of the American public, we think it is fair to say we have turned the corner politically, and victory will be ours within just a few years.
And that is why we are writing today, to ask that you please make a generous contribution to NORML so we can expand our lobbying activities, and media and educational outreach efforts so that we can continue to build on this momentum. Without question, we are finally winning this struggle, but nevertheless marijuana arrests continue unabated in most states today, and seriously ill patients still do not have access to medical marijuana in more than half of the states.
Let us take a well-deserved moment to celebrate the enormous progress we have made, but then let’s get back to work to stop the senseless arrests of marijuana consumers. We must stop destroying the lives and careers of so many otherwise law-abiding citizens, simply because they prefer to use marijuana when they relax in the evening, just as tens of millions of Americans enjoy a beer or a glass of wine at the end of the day. And we need to put in place regulations for licensed marijuana growers and sellers, to bring the black market above ground.
NORML was the first marijuana legalization lobby in America–with over 1.5 million supporters and members we’ve been the voice for marijuana consumers now for more than four decades.
Please make a tax-deductible donation to NORML Foundation (for public education and mass communications) and/or a regular charitable donation to NORML (in support of our direct lobbying and other political activities).
With your generous support, we can continue to lead the charge for full legalization, both state and federal, all across this country.
NORML Founder and Legal Counsel
As an old farm boy, it has always seemed strange to me that most states, and the federal government, treat someone who grows a few marijuana plants for personal use as a more serious offender than someone who buys cannabis from the black market. In practice, by penalizing personal cultivation, the government encourages a thriving black market with absolutely no controls over age, potency or purity. At least if one grows their own marijuana, they can be assured it includes no pesticide residue or other harmful additives. This is an arbitrary policy that has absolutely no basis in public safety.
But marijuana prohibition has never been a rational policy, and this bias against home cultivation is just another example of that principle.
At NORML, we have always supported the right of individuals to grow their own marijuana, as a logical option compared to purchasing it from licensed dispensaries. On one hand, growing your own just makes common sense. We can brew up to 100 gallons of home-brew beer in our basements under current law, even if very few Americans actually make their own beer. The same should be true for cultivating our own marijuana.
The passage of state laws legalizing the physician-recommended possession and consumption of cannabis by qualified patients has not led to an increase in adolescents’ use of the plant, according to a working paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research – a non-partisan research organization based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Investigators from the University of Colorado at Denver, the University of Oregon, and Montana State University assessed federal data on youth marijuana use and treatment episodes for the years 1993 to 2011 – a time period when 16 states authorized medical cannabis use.
Authors reported, “Our results are not consistent with the hypothesis that the legalization of medical marijuana caused an increase in the use of marijuana among high school students. In fact, estimates from our preferred specification are small, consistently negative, and are never statistically distinguishable from zero.”
A separate analysis published in April in the Journal of Adolescent Health similarly determined, “This study did not find increases in adolescent marijuana use related to legalization of medical marijuana. … This suggests that concerns about ‘sending the wrong message’ may have been overblown.”
Full text of the study, “Medical marijuana laws and teen marijuana use,” is available online here.
Law enforcement in many states are making a greater number of marijuana arrests than ever before despite polling data showing that the majority of Americans believe that the adult use of the plant ought to be legal.
According to a just published report, “Marijuana in the States 2012: Analysis and Detailed Data on Marijuana Use and Arrests,” which appears on the newly launched RegulatingCannabis.com website, police made an estimated 750,000 arrests for marijuana violations in 2012 – a 110 percent increase in annual arrests since 1991. Yet, despite this doubling in annual marijuana arrests over the past two decades, there has not been any significant reduction in marijuana consumption in the United States the report found.
In 2012, marijuana arrests accounted for almost half (48.3 percent) of all drug arrests nationwide. Marijuana arrests accounted for two-thirds of more of all drug arrests in five states: Nebraska (74.1 percent), New Hampshire (72 percent), Montana (70.3 percent), Wyoming (68.7 percent) and Wisconsin (67.1 percent).
From 2008 to 2012, seventeen state-level jurisdictions experienced an average annual increase in marijuana arrests, the report found. South Carolina (11.6 percent) and the District of Columbia (7.7 percent) experienced the highest overall percentage increase in arrests during this time period. By contrast, annual marijuana arrests fell nationwide by an average of 3.3 percent from 2008 to 2012.
Overall, the study reported that the five state-level jurisdictions possessing the highest arrest rates for marijuana offenses are the District to Columbia (729 arrests per 100,000 citizens), New York (577), Louisiana (451), Illinois (447) and Nebraska (421). District of Columbia lawmakers decriminalized the adult possession of marijuana earlier this month.
The two states possessing the lowest marijuana arrest rates are California and Massachusetts, the report found. Both states decriminalized marijuana possession offenses in recent years.
Stated the report’s author, Shenondoah University professor Jon Gettman, “After a generation of marijuana arrests, nearly 19 million and counting since 1981, the results are that marijuana remains widely used, not perceived as risky by a majority of the population, and widely available. The tremendous variance in use and arrests at the state level demonstrate why marijuana prohibition has failed and is not a viable national policy.”
The New York Times has joined the majority of US citizens in the call for a more rational marijuana policy. The White House responded with an attempt to explain why a taxed and regulated market is no “silver bullet solution.” Alluding to The Lone Ranger probably wasn’t a great idea, but I think they mean that this isn’t a panacea for every problem related to cannabis.
Of course, all our other legislation is perfect, so we shouldn’t change this policy until we have a solution with all advantages and no disadvantages.
Our government says that this use of law enforcement and court time targets marijuana users because the plant alters brain development, impedes academic achievement, impairs driving, and creates addiction. The tacit assumption, that prohibition is going to prevent all of these problems, is tenable at best. (We’ve had police officers whip out the handcuffs over 18 million times since 1981. From 1995 until now, we’ve had at least one marijuana arrest per minute. The plant is more available than ever.) But let’s forget about how prohibition isn’t going to help and address the White House’s Furious Four Factors.
The first two (brain development and academic achievement) fall under the “what about the children” category. When all else fails, it’s great to play the baby card. NORML has condemned juvenile consumption for decades now. Of course, the underground market is notoriously bad at carding purchasers. When was the last time a dealer asked for ID? Licensed distributors who could lose their livelihood for underage sales would be markedly more motivated to keep the plant from children. But let’s address the claims.
Brain Development. Regular use early in life could alter brain development. But here’s the point no one is supposed to mention: we don’t really know for sure. It’s likely. It works in animals. But it’s not proven. The niftiest gizmos that take pictures of brains often can find differences between those who’ve used early and those who haven’t. But we don’t have a time machine. We don’t really know if these people had deviant brains before they ever saw the plant.
Investigators who run these expensive studies also have a hell of a time publishing results unless they find some differences. Many would rather leave the data in a drawer than battle editors and reviewers in an attempt to publish a paper that says that marijuana has no impact. What has been found is not always consistent. It’s one brain area showing differences in one study and another in the next. Reports that find nothing, or that the non-users actually have deviant brains (e.g. Block, O’Leary, Ehrhardt, et al., 2000, who found bigger ventricles in non-users), never get mentioned. Big reviews try to tell a coherent story, but effects are small. Binge drinking is markedly worse. (See Lisdahl et al.). Cigarette smoking leads to detectable changes in brain structure, too. I’d joke that we should make alcohol and tobacco illegal following this logic, but I’m afraid some people will actually try to do so.
Academic achievement. If the government genuinely cared about my academic achievement, I think I would have learned more in public school. But that’s another issue. We know that mastering new material immediately after using cannabis is extremely difficult. Going to class high is a dumb waste of time. It would certainly interfere with grades. But what’s the real issue here?
Decades ago, researchers showed that college students who used the plant had better grades than their peers who didn’t (Gergen, Gergen, & Morse, 1972; Goode, 1971). It’s not that marijuana’s a study aid. Students who liked the plant might have taken classes they enjoyed and flourished as a result. Subsequent studies didn’t always confirm these results, and investigators lost interest.
But high school kids who use the plant often bonk their exams. Most heavy users had earned lower grades prior to their marijuana consumption, suggesting cannabis could not have caused the poorer performance (Shedler & Block, 1990). Essentially, cannabis users with bad grades in high school also had low marks when they were in fourth grade. Cannabis might not lead to bad grades, but folks with bad grades often turn to cannabis. In addition, high school students who smoke cannabis heavily also tend to use alcohol and other illicit substances. Once these factors are taken into account, the link between cannabis and academic performance disappears. These results suggest that drugs other than marijuana might lower grades (Hall, Solowij, & Lennon, 1994).
In truth, if the government wants to see better achievement in school, the best answer would require schools with funding. Perhaps we could attract more of the energetic, enthusiastic, well-trained teachers who inspire learning if we offered better salaries. Students might find school more engaging when teachers are delighted and facilities are excellent. Busting teens for possession seems too indirect a strategy for improving education.
Driving. Paul Armentano has done such a superb job of summarizing the relevant data on this topic that I don’t want to belabor it.
A few points are worth emphasizing. NORML has always opposed impaired driving. People who can’t pass appropriate roadside sobriety tests should not operate a motor vehicle. Note that passing a sobriety test has little to do with the content of anyone’s blood or urine.
A recent meta-analytic review suggests that, at most, cannabis is no worse than antihistamines and probably on par with penicillin when it comes to culpability for accidents. If we’re going to make all drugs that impair driving illegal, we’re going to have a lot of runny noses and infections to handle.
Research from The Netherlands shows that folks who use cannabis in the laboratory lose their willingness to drive (source). When the experimenter forced them, they go slower, avoid trying to pass other cars, and start putting on the breaks earlier when they have to stop. These compensatory steps probably explain why a couple of studies have found cannabis users less culpable than drug-free drivers. Surprise surprise! This work never got any press. (Drummer, 1994, Bates & Blakely, 1999).
A study of over 300 drivers involved in fatal crashes in California focused on motorists who tested positive for cannabis but no other drug. Unexpectedly, they were half as likely to be responsible for accidents as those who were free of substances (Williams,,Peat, & Crouch, 1985). Another investigation of over 1,800 fatal crashes in the United States found that drivers who used only cannabis were only 70% as likely to have caused an accident as the drug-free group (Terhune, Ippolito, & Crouch, 1992). These are literally impossible to publish anymore, potentially suggesting the bias alluded to in the Elvik meta-analysis. So don’t drive high, but drive as if you were. Go slowly. Don’t try to pass. Leave room to stop.
Addiction. The new DSM V definition of addiction qualifies me for a caffeine disorder, so I’m obviously biased. Better take what I say with a grain of salt. But be careful, salt allegedly has addictive properties, too.
After five millennia and a series of moving definitions, researchers have finally identified something that they can call marijuana withdrawal and marijuana addiction. I’m guessing that prohibitionists really love this one. it conjures up images of sweaty heroin users snatching purses and plunging needles into infected arms. Have you met people who mug girl scouts to maintain their marijuana money? Neither have I. So what is marijuana addiction supposed to be? Among the most common symptoms are disturbed sleep and, I can barely say this with a straight face, loss of appetite. Anybody who uses every day and then gets irritated on a day without the plant could end up qualifying. If you tell anyone struggling with the opiates that these are the symptoms of your addiction, you’re likely to get a swift kick in the crotch. Expert opinions suggest that only the hallucinogens are less addictive than marijuana.
The most negative thing a government can do to its citizens is punish them. If we want to use punishment, we need outstanding reasons. These four simply do not qualify.
Block, R. I., O’Leary, D. S., Ehrhardt, J. C., Augustinack, J. C., Ghoneim, M. M., Arndt, S., et al. (2000). Effects of frequent marijuana use on brain tissue volume and composition. NeuroReport, 11, 491–496.
Drummer, O. H. (1994). Drugs in drivers killed in Australian road traffic accidents. (Report no. 0594). Melbourne, Australia: Monash University, Victorian Institute of Forensic Pathology
Gergen, M. K., Gergen, K. J., & Morse, S. J. (1972). Correlates of marijuana use among college students. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 2, 1–16.
Goode, E. (1971). Drug use and grades in college. Nature, 239, 225–227.
Hall, W., Solowij, N., & Lennon, J. (1994). The health and psychological consequences of cannabis use. Canberra: Australian Government Publication Services.
Shedler, J., & Block, J. (1990). Adolescent drug use and psychological health: A longitudinal inquiry. American Psychologist, 45, 612–630.
Terhune, K. W., Ippolito, C. A., & Crouch, D. J. (1992). The incidence and role of drugs in fatally injured drivers (DOT HS Report No. 808 065). Washington DC: U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Williams, A. F., Peat, M. A., & Crouch, D. J. (1985). Drugs in fatally injured young male drivers. Public Health Reports, 100, 19–25.
“Sen. Johnson has been an outspoken supporter of legalizing marijuana for medical and recreational use during her tenure in the Oklahoma legislature,” stated NORML PAC Manager Erik Altieri. “Few state legislators have rivaled her passion and acumen on marijuana law reform and, if elected, Sen. Johnson would be an invaluable ally in the fight to legalize marijuana nationwide.”
“We encourage Oklahomans to support her campaign and send Sen. Johnson to Washington, D.C. to work toward ending our country’s failed prohibition on marijuana.”
“I’m incredibly thankful for NORML’s endorsement, ” said Sen. Johnson. “After years of stonewalling in the state legislature, I’m taking this fight to the people. It’s time for the people of Oklahoma to speak on this issue.”
Sen. Johnson began circulating a petition in early July to put marijuana legalization and commercialization on the Oklahoma November ballot.
“As taxpayers, we’re spending over $30 million each year policing, jailing, and incarcerating our citizens on marijuana-related offenses—often on simple possession. Yet, marijuana is almost universally available,” Sen. Johnson stated. “It’s time for a smarter approach, particularly in regards to how we spend our taxpayer dollars.”
“We have teacher shortages in Tulsa and Oklahoma City public schools, as well as in our smaller school districts. Why? Because Oklahoma pays teachers some of the lowest salaries in the nation. How many Oklahoma teachers does $30 million a year pay for?”
While serving in the state legislature, Sen. Johnson introduced measures to legalize marijuana for recreational and medical use and has been the outspoken champion of marijuana reform in the Sooner State.
The Oklahoma Democratic Primary will have a runoff election on August 26th. You can click here to check the status of your voter registration and to find your polling place.