Two new studies published online today in JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) Psychiatry provide little support for previous claims that cannabis exposure is significantly harmful to the developing brain.
The first study, which assessed the effects of cannabis exposure on brain volume in exposed and unexposed sibling pairs, reported that any identifiable differences “were attributable to common predispositional factors, genetic or environmental in origin.” By contrast, authors found “no evidence for the causal influence of cannabis exposure” on brain morphology.
The trial is “the largest study to date examining the association between cannabis exposure (ever versus never used) and brain volumes.”
The study is one of two recent clinical trials to be published in recent months rebutting the claims of a widely publicized 2014 paper which alleged that even casual marijuana exposure may be linked to brain abnormalities, particularly in the region of the brain known as the amygdala. In January, researchers writing in The Journal of Neuroscience reported “no statistically significant differences … between daily [marijuana] users and nonusers on [brain] volume or shape in the regions of interest” after researchers controlled for participants’ use of alcohol. Similarly, today’s JAMA study “casts considerable doubt on hypotheses that cannabis use … causes reductions in amygdala volumes.”
A second study appearing today in the journal assessed whether cannabis use during adolescence is associated with brain changes that may be linked to an increased risk of schizophrenia. While researchers reported finding an association among male subjects who possessed a high genetic predisposition toward schizophrenia, authors reported that no such association existed among male subjects who were at low risk for the disease, or among females in either the high risk or low risk categories. The finding is consistent with the theory that early onset cannabis use may potentially exacerbate symptoms in a minority of subjects predisposed to the disease, but it contradicts claims that marijuana exposure is a likely cause of schizophrenia, particularly among those who are not already vulnerable to the disease.
Abstracts of both new studies appear online in JAMA Psychiatry here and here.
A new scientific review of burn injuries in Colorado confirms what many of us have been saying for some time – that the popularity of dabbing (i.e., the use of hash oil) brings with it some real dangers and some potential political dangers.
I have previously written about my own preference for flowers, rather than concentrates or edibles, but that is largely the result of my age. I began smoking marijuana 50 years ago, when I was a freshman at Georgetown Law School, and back then one was lucky if you could establish a reliable source for good marijuana, and these more esoteric versions of marijuana were largely unheard of. Occasionally the dealer would have a little hash (allegedly imported from Lebanon or some other distant country, although one never really knew), but it was usually terribly expensive and treated more as something to be saved for a special occasion, like champagne. Most of the time it was difficult enough just to find good pot.
But it is clear that the culture has evolved over the decades, and many of those wanting to enjoy the marijuana experience today prefer something other than flowers. In the states that have legalized marijuana, many seem to prefer edibles or concentrates. Whether that trend will continue is uncertain, but so long as a significant segment of the consuming public wants to obtain edibles or concentrates, we should focus on ways to permit that without endangering the public.
Regarding edibles, as our initial experience in Colorado has demonstrated, the key components to using edibles safely are:
Proper labeling, to avoid accidental ingestion
Proper dosage per unit, to avoid inadvertent overdosing (which is never fatal, but can be terribly unpleasant).
Better educational outreach to novice users, so they understand the lag time between ingesting the marijuana before the full psychoactive effects are felt.
So the initial concern over a few mishaps involving edibles in Colorado seems to have abated. Informed consumers should experience no problems enjoying the marijuana experience from infused edibles.
With concentrates, the most serious issue is the risk of explosions by those who attempt to extract the THC using butane. Novice consumers need to be made aware of the increased strength of marijuana in this form, and concentrates, like edibles, must be kept safely away from children.
Hash oil is a potent marijuana concentrate that can be as strong as 90 percent THC, and is easily manufactured (the process is readily available on the Internet) using butane as a solvent. But the process is also highly volatile and can result in dangerous explosions that all too often cause serious, and sometimes deadly, burn injuries. The similarities with the rash of meth explosions a few years ago is difficult to avoid.
New Study Released from Colorado
A new study just published in the Journal of Medical Toxicology, analyzed the incidents of burn injuries from butane hash oil extraction in Colorado from January 1, 2008 through August 31, 2014, comparing the two years prior to the legalization of medical use in the state; the period of medical use only in Colorado; and the first eight months of 2014, the first year of full legalization.
According to this study, there were no such incidents during the two years prior to the adoption of medical use; 19 cases during the medical use only phase lasting from October 2009 through December 2013; and 12 cases during the first eight months of 2014. So the total number of these explosions was small.
Those involved in these butane extraction explosions were largely white (72 percent), male (90 percent); and young (median age of 26). And the medium length of their hospital stay was 10 days.
The study’s authors concluded: “Hydrocarbon burns associated with hash oil production have increased since the liberalization of marijuana policy in Colorado. A combination of public health messaging, standardization of manufacturing processes, and worker safety regulations are needed to decrease the risks associated with BHO (butane hash oil) production.”
Potential Political Backlash
Another risk associated with these burn incidents is the possibility that the non-smoking public may be influenced to oppose further legalization proposals, because of the dangers presented by these explosions. Although the actual numbers of explosions are relatively low, each of them are scary, and most become major news stories, at least on the local and state level, thereby frightening large numbers of citizens, many of whom base their support for legalization on the premise that prohibition causes far more harm than the use of marijuana itself.
These incidents of butane burn injuries may well cause some of our supporters to re-evaluate their prior support. And there is no reason for us to incur this political baggage; we have an alternative production method that is safe.
This is a risk that could be avoided by using a CO2 extraction method, instead of butane, to produce concentrates, and as a culture we need to get the word out that it’s time to bring an end to the use of butane extraction altogether. It’s dangerous to produce concentrates with butane, at least by amateurs, and it may well present a health risk to the consumer.
The CO2 extraction method is safe and non-volatile, avoiding any danger of an explosion. And consumers are further protected because bacteria, mildews and molds are destroyed, and there is no butane residue in concentrates made this way.
It’s a win-win solution, but we need to better inform those who produce and use concentrates. If consumers begin to demand CO2-extracted concentrates, and reject products made with butane, the industry will quickly fall into line.
It’s time we insisted on the responsible production and use of concentrates. Otherwise we may find ourselves facing significant limitations, or even total bans, imposed on the production and availability of these products. Let’s resolve this problem ourselves, so the authorities need not deal with it.
This blog was initially published on Marijuana.com.
Republican voters in the early primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire do not believe that the incoming administration ought to interfere with the enactment of state laws legalizing marijuana, according to polling data conducted by Public Policy Polling and published today by Marijuana-Majority.com.
Sixty-seven percent of GOP voters in New Hampshire agree that “states should be able to carry out their own marijuana laws without federal interference.” Sixty-four percent of Iowa GOP voters agreed with the statement.
This voter sentiment is contrary to the public positions of at least two Republican Presidential candidates, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Florida Senator Marco Rubio — both of whom have espoused using the power of the federal government to roll back changes in state marijuana laws.
Overall, a super-majority of all voters in Iowa (71 percent) and New Hampshire (73 percent) oppose federal interference in state laws permitting marijuana use.
Previous polls surveying a national sampling of voters have reported similar results. Gallup pollsters reported that 64 percent of respondents oppose federal interference in state laws that allow for the legal use of the cannabis by adults, while a Third Way commissioned poll found that six out of ten voters believe that states, not the federal government, should authorize and enforce marijuana policy. Most recently, a 2015 Pew poll reported that a strong majority Americans — including 64 percent of Independents, 58 percent of Democrats, and 54 percent of Republicans — believe that the federal government should not enforce laws in states that allow marijuana use.
We first wrote about this trend in July when Florida’s largest county, Miami-Dade, passed an ordinance allowing local law enforcement to treat marijuana possession offenses involving 20 grams or less as a civil infraction, punishable by a $100 fine.
Key West City City officials are poised to finalize a similar measure in September while lawmakers in Palm Beach County are considering taking similar action. Decriminalization is also gaining momentum among lawmakers in the city of St. Petersburg.
These changes to local laws are especially significant in Florida, where state lawmakers have failed to even consider amending its archaic and overly punitive marijuana policies. Consequently, Florida possesses the third highest annual marijuana possession arrest total (roughly 60,000 arrests per year) in the nation.
But that may soon change. Advocates, including Florida NORML, are pushing a 2016, ballot initiative aimed at legalizing the adult use of marijuana, while a separate measure to amend the state’s medical marijuana laws is also expected to be decided by voters (in 2014 the measure narrowly failed to meet the state’s 60% vote requirement). According to a Quinnipiac poll conducted last year, 88% of Florida residents support legalizing marijuana for medical use and 55% of residents support legalizing the possession of small amounts of recreational marijuana.
It’s clear that Florida residents are fed up with policies that treat those who possess marijuana as criminals and are looking to their local governments to lead the way in reforming these policies. NORML encourages you to contact your local city commissioners and urge them to consider adopting decriminalization policies in your communities.
I recently attended the 2015 Seattle Hempfest, and it was again this year a lovely celebration of all things marijuana. The first day was a rainout, a rarity for this event, but the final two days brought good weather, large crowds, and a good time for all.
If Marijuana Is Legal, Why Do We Need Hempfest?
As someone asked me when I first arrived at my Seattle hotel, “why are they still holding the Hempfest now that marijuana is legal in Washington state?” It is true that the Seattle Hempfest began as a protest against marijuana prohibition – in fact the sponsors frequently use the term “protestival” to describe this annual festival.
Washington state became one of the first two states, along with Colorado, to legalize marijuana in 2012, breaking the chains of marijuana prohibition and forever reshaping the legalization debate both nationally and internationally. But much work remains to be done in Washington (and the few other jurisdictions that have voted for legalization to date).
Personal Cultivation Needed in Washington
Specifically, in Washington state we need to amend the law to permit personal cultivation; the right to grow one’s own marijuana should be respected in all states, both as a basic consumer right and as a guarantee that the legal market will remain responsive to the needs of consumers. Consumers want marijuana that is good quality, safe, convenient and affordable.
Important Improvements Needed in All Legalization Jurisdictions
And in all of the legalization states we need to legalize and license marijuana lounges or coffee shops, where adult smokers can socialize outside the home. Marijuana smoking is a social activity and smokers should certainly be permitted to gather with others in designated venues to socialize. But to date, no state has allowed that.
And we need to continue to improve these early legalization laws, so we treat responsible marijuana smokers fairly in all respects. That is, we need to end job discrimination against legal smokers, absent a showing of impairment on the job; to stop presuming legal smokers are unfit parents, without a showing of abuse or neglect; and to require a showing of actual impairment before someone is charged with a marijuana-based DUID offense.
So marijuana smokers still have lots of policies to protest, even as we are ending prohibition one state at a time. But it is also true that some of these public events, such as the Seattle Hempfest, have now become more celebration than protest – in this instance, celebrations of personal freedom. Following 75-years plus of prohibition, and tens of millions of marijuana arrests, it is understandable that marijuana smokers want to celebrate their hard-won victories.
What Is Legalization?
But I did hear a couple of speakers at the Hempfest make the rather strange claim that marijuana “is not legal” in Washington state, as a way to show their displeasure with some of the limitations and regulations in place in their state. Instead of celebrating with pride the key role Washington state has played in jump-starting the marijuana legalization movement, they were attempting to twist the common meaning of “legalization”, apparently believing that to refer to the current law as “legalization” would somehow undermine their desire for improvements in the law.
So perhaps we need to spend a couple of minutes to see if we can agree on a common meaning of legalization, so we don’t fall into the trap of allowing the perfect to be the enemy of the good. In my dictionary “legalize” is the antonym of “criminalize.” If marijuana is no longer criminal, it is legal.
There are a few vocal protagonists who insist that it is not “legalization” if it is regulated; if there are limits on the quantity one can possess or cultivate; if it is taxed; or even if there are age controls. But under those definitions of legalization, automobiles and automobile driving, for example, would not be “legal”. Nor would alcohol and alcohol drinking, or many other activities that are regulated and taxed, and include age limitations.
I feel comfortable saying that the vast majority of Americans would say if it is legal for adults to smoke marijuana, and if they can buy it from a legal market, that is “legalization”. It may not be a perfect system, but it is nonetheless legalization.
Whether you approve of all the provisions of the Washington marijuana law or not, private marijuana use is now legal and adults can buy their marijuana from retail stores. It is, without question, a version of legalization, and smokers in 46 states would love to have the Washington marijuana law in effect in their states.
Those who advocate for systems which include fewer regulations and controls, or none at all (some are demanding that marijuana be considered a commodity, like tomatoes or sweet corn) surely have the right to try to convince a majority of their state’s voters, or state legislators, to adopt such a system. But it is silly, and to some degree self-defeating, to claim that other versions of a legal system are not “legalization.” These new laws, although none are perfect, should be a subject of great pride, evidence of the incredible progress we have made reforming marijuana policies in this country over the last few years.
In Washington state there were, before prohibition was ended, about 7,000 individuals arrested on minor marijuana charges annually. This year there have been less than 150 marijuana arrests. I’m sure most smokers in Washington state would view that dramatic change as evidence that the legalization law approved by the voters in 2012 was an important step forward, even as they realize it is far from perfect.
So instead of making the bizarre claim that marijuana is not legal in Washington state, those who support improvements to that law should celebrate and take pride in the fact that they were one of the first two states to challenge the federal government and bring an end to marijuana prohibition, and get to work tweaking their legalization law so it is even better.
Otherwise, they are just sore losers who remain committed to undermining the new law.
This column was first published on Marijuana.com.
Inhaling cannabis is associated with the remission of refractory idiopathic angioedema, according to a clinical report published in the journal Case Reports in Immunology. Angioedema is a condition characterized by rapid swelling under the skin in regions around the face and throat, which may result in airway obstruction or suffocation.
Investigators from the Soroka University Medical Center in Israel reported on the progress of a 27-year-old male patient with life-threatening, recurrent angioedema of unknown origin. Doctors placed the patient on a regiment of 20 grams of inhaled cannabis monthly after he failed to respond favorably to prescribed steroids and antihistamines.
Authors reported: “The use of inhaled cannabis resulted in a complete response, and he has been free of symptoms for 2 years. An attempt to withhold the inhaled cannabis led to a recurrent attack within a week, and resuming cannabis maintained the remission, suggesting a cause and effect relationship.”
They concluded: “This is the first report in which a cannabis product for the treatment of refractory idiopathic angioedema was associated with an excellent clinical response. … More research into the exact mechanism of action of cannabis products in cases of idiopathic angioedema and on the modulation of the immune response in general is indicated.”
The Israeli government has authorized the limited production and distribution of marijuana as a medical treatment since 2011, and preparations of the plant are expected to be available in pharmacies imminently.
Full text of the report, “Life threatening idiopathic recurrent angioedema responding to cannabis,” appears online here.
Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner on Friday issued an amendatory veto to House Bill 218, which seeks to decriminalize minor marijuana possession offenses.
As initially approved by the legislature in May, HB 218 reduced personal use possession penalties (up to 15 grams) from a Class A criminal misdemeanor, punishable by up to 6 months in jail, a $1,500 fine, and a criminal record, to a petty offense, punishable by a fine only (up to $125.00) – no arrest, and no criminal record. Governor Rauner’s amendatory veto seeks to decrease the proposed possession limits from 15 grams to 10 grams, whole also seeking to raise fines to $200.00.
Governor Rauner also seeks to lower the state’s proposed per se THC/blood limit from 15ng/ml to 5ng/ml. Under present Illinois law, drivers with any detectable amount of THC in their blood are in violation of the state’s traffic safety laws.
If a majority of lawmakers fail to approve of the Governor’s amendments, the measure will be dead for this year’s legislative session.
To date, 20 states and Washington, DC have passed legislation eliminating the threat of incarceration for marijuana possession offenses via either legalization or decriminalization.
For those of us who have spent years in the trenches of marijuana policy reform, it has been a rare sight to see elected leaders actually lead. It has been the voting public who have paved the way.
But there is a glimmer of hope in Oregon.
In the four states, and the District of Columbia, that have legalized marijuana in the face of federal prohibition, those courageous and innovative steps were taken by the voters, not the elected officials in those jurisdictions.
In fact, not only were most elected officials unwilling to seriously consider enacting legalization legislatively, most also publicly opposed the proposals and urged their defeat at the polls. Fortunately the voters led the way, and left their “leaders” to follow.
So we are accustomed to the challenge of moving progressive marijuana legislation forward despite the active opposition of most politicians. It means we mostly focus on those states that offer a voter initiative as a way to change public policy by going around the legislature. And it sometimes results in constitutional amendments being proposed, despite higher approval requirements in some states, to protect against the possibility that the legislature might simply ignore the will of the voters and reverse a legalization initiative by a vote of the out-of-touch legislators still holding on to their war-on-marijuana mentality.
But there are some new signs that this overwhelming opposition of elected officials to marijuana legalization may be coming to an end, at least in some states, and that some elected officials are now deciding to embrace these new changes and to take steps to implement them in a common-sense manner, to serve the public interest.
I am referring specifically to the recent decision of the Oregon legislature to begin offering legal recreational marijuana sales a year earlier than had been expected. They had no legal requirement to make this change, but they decided to accept the will of the voters and to implement the new law sooner rather than later. They acted like leaders, rather than sore losers.
SB 460 Approved by Legislature, Signed by Governor
Measure 91, the legalization initiative that was approved by 56 percent of Oregon voters in November of 2014, would have been implemented in two-steps. First, as of July 1, 2015, it became legal for those 21 and above to possess up to an ounce of marijuana, to possess up to 8 ounces in the home, and to privately cultivate up to four plants. But provisions in the initiative that gave the Oregon Liquor Control Commission the authority to begin issuing licenses for commercial growers and sellers, delayed this process until January 4, 2016, and legal dispensaries were not expected to be operational until October of 2016.
The result, like the current situation in the District of Columbia, is that recreational marijuana is now legal in Oregon, but there is no legal market. But unlike the District, where the City Council has been hamstrung by Congress in their efforts to establish licensed growers and sellers, the Oregon legislature decided to fix the problem with a short-term solution – they enacted emergency legislation allowing the existing 300-plus licensed medical marijuana dispensaries, which are regulated by the Oregon Health Authority, to begin selling to adult recreational smokers on October 1, 2015.
Recreational consumers will also be able to purchase marijuana seeds and up to four non-flowering plants. (In a nod to local control, counties that opposed Measure 91 with at least 55 percent of the vote, all located on the east side of the state, were given the right to ban recreational sales during this interim program.)
That’s right! The legislature enacted, and Gov. Kate Brown promptly signed, SB 460, bringing full legalization to Oregon a full year ahead of schedule. For once, instead of trying to undermine the new law, they have embraced it and elected to try to make it work as intended by the voters.
Gov. Brown’s office called the measure “a smart solution to a short-term logistical problem,” adding, “If marijuana is legal to use, it shouldn’t be illegal to buy.”
The new law will permit recreational users to purchase up to one-quarter of an ounce of marijuana per transaction from any of the licensed medical dispensaries. The Oregon Liquor Control Commission will continue forward with the process of issuing recreational licenses after the first of the year, and when those new recreational dispensaries are up and running, consumers will be permitted to purchase up to one ounce of marijuana per transaction.
A Model for Elected Officials Moving Forward
One admirable, common sense step by one state legislature does not make a trend, but it does establish a powerful example of how elected officials can get ahead of the curve and work cooperatively to implement these new laws, without delay, and one that can be the model for elected officials in the states that are expected to adopt legalization in the coming months.
A majority of the voters nationwide now support full legalization, and that support appears to be growing. They understand that prohibition is a failed public policy and legalization with regulation is a better option for everyone, smokers and non-smokers alike. When voters clearly register their approval for marijuana legalization, it’s time for the politicians to acknowledge that change, embrace it, and take steps to implement the new laws in a timely and responsible manner. It is time to lead, for a change.
This column first appeared @ marijuana.com.
The Ohio Secretary of State’s office yesterday confirmed that a statewide ballot proposal seeking to permit the personal use and commercial production and retail sale of cannabis will appear on the November ballot. Proponents of the measure, Responsible Ohio, gathered sufficient signatures to place the issue before voters as a constitutional amendment.
Ohio now has the opportunity to join Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska and Washington D.C. as states that have passed laws allowing for the personal possession and consumption of cannabis by adults.
If enacted, the measure would initially establish 10 state-licensed commercial growing sites. (State regulators will have the opportunity to grant additional licenses if these initial production sites do not adequately meet demand.) Commercially produced cannabis will be sold at over 1,000 proposed retail dispensaries.
A minimum of five regional marijuana testing facilities will be established to regularly check the chemical compounds found in the product for adequate labeling for consumers and regulators.
Additionally, residents over the age of 21 will be allowed to purchase a $50 license to grow their own marijuana plants with a limit of 4 plants per household and/or 8 ounces of useable product at a time. The amendment also establishes a non-profit medical marijuana dispensary system to provide access to those patients with a recommendation from a physician. Medical marijuana will not be taxed and will be provided on a needs-based fee system. Commercial marijuana production will be taxed at 5% when purchased for personal use and 15% at the wholesale and manufacturing level.
You can read the full text of the amendment here.
A history of cannabis use is associated with a lower likelihood of obesity and diabetes, according to population-based data published in the journal Obesity.
Investigators from the Conference of Quebec University Health Centers assessed cannabis use patterns and body mass index (BMI) in a cohort of 786 Inuit (Arctic aboriginal) adults ages 18 to 74. Researchers reported that subjects who consumed cannabis in the past year were more likely to possess a lower BMI, lower fasting insulin, and lower HOMA-IR (insulin resistance) as compared to those who did not use the substance.
Specifically, researchers reported that cannabis users possessed an average BMI of 26.8 compared to an index of 28.6 for non-users, after controlling for age, gender and other factors. Those subjects who reported using cannabis but never having used tobacco, or who were former users of tobacco, possessed on average the lowest BMI.
Authors concluded: “In this large cross-sectional adult survey with high prevalence of both substance use and obesity, cannabis use in the past year was associated with lower BMI, lower percentage fat mass, lower fasting insulin, and HOMA-IR. … The inverse association observed in our work supports evidence from a larger proportion of previous cross-sectional and follow-up investigations. … As a result, cannabinoids from cannabis may be viewed as an interesting avenue for research on obesity and associated conditions.”
Observational trial data published in 2013 in the American Journal of Medicine reported that subjects who consumed cannabis possessed favorable indices related to diabetic control compared to those without a history of recent marijuana use. Separate observational trial data published in 2012 in the British Medical Journal reported that marijuana users had a lower prevalence of type 2 diabetes and possessed a lower risk of contracting the disease than did those with no history of cannabis consumption, even after researchers adjusted for social variables such as subjects’ ethnicity, family history, and levels of physical activity.
Cross-sectional data published in 2011 in the American Journal of Epidemiology similarly reported that the prevalence of obesity in the general population is sharply lower among marijuana consumers than it is among nonusers.
Houston NORML Calls on Harris County Sheriff, District Attorney To Act On Illegal Body Cavity Search
Representatives from the Houston affiliate of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws will hold a joint press conference tomorrow calling for Harris County Sheriff Ron Hickman to immediately take administrative action against three sheriff’s deputies who forcibly conducted an illegal body cavity search on a 21-year-old woman in Houston. You can read more about the case, which has attracted national attention, here. Houston NORML will also call for Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson to investigate the allegation and file any necessary criminal charges against the deputies involved.
Police conducted the search without a warrant or consent after claiming to have smelled marijuana. Two deputies forced the woman’s legs apart and conducted an intrusive manual cavity search in a public parking lot.
“Atrocities like this should not be happening in our community,” says Jason Miller, executive director of Houston NORML. “This is a blatant violation of our Constitution. When law enforcement has its way, marijuana-smokers are afforded no Fourth Amendment rights whatsoever. They are discriminated against and violently abused over nothing more than mere suspicion of possessing a plant. It has to stop.”
Tomorrow’s press conference will take place at the Harris County Criminal Justice Center located at 1201 Franklin St downtown on Thursday August 13, at 11am.
You can read the full text of Houston NORML’s press release here.
[UPDATE: Watch archived video from the press conference here.]
Marijuana use by adolescents, including self-reported chronic use, is not associated with adverse health effects later in life, according to an assessment of longitudinal data published in the journal Psychology of Addictive Behaviors.
Investigators from the Pittsburgh School of Medicine and Rutgers University prospectively examined whether young men who consumed cannabis during adolescence and/or young adulthood experienced a heightened risk of developing physical and mental health problems in their mid-30s. Researchers controlled for several potential confounding factors, including subjects’ socioeconomic status, co-occurring use of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs, and access to medical care and health insurance.
Researchers reported that marijuana users, including chronic users, were no more likely to self-report experiencing physical or mental health issues than were non-users. Investigators further reported that early onset chronic marijuana use was not associated with an increased risk for the development of depression or anxiety disorders in early adulthood.
The findings contradicted researchers’ initial hypothesis, as their stated motivation for conducting the study was to “provide empirical evidence regarding the potential adverse consequences of marijuana legalization.”
Authors concluded: “The present study used prospective, longitudinal data that spanned more than 20 years to examine whether patterns of marijuana use from adolescence to young adulthood were related to indicators of physical and mental health in adulthood. … Overall, data from this sample provide little to no evidence to suggest that patterns of marijuana use from adolescence to young adulthood … were negatively related to the indicators of physical or mental health studied. … This is particularly striking given that men in the early onset chronic group were using marijuana (on average) once per week by late adolescence and continued using marijuana approximately 3-4 times a week from age 20 to 26 years.”
Full text of the study, “Chronic adolescent marijuana use as a risk factor for physical and mental health problems in young adult men,” appears online here.
One of the most troubling aspects of current marijuana policy in this country, even in those states that have legalized marijuana, is the continuing job discrimination faced by those who smoke marijuana.
In 49 states (Arizona is the sole exception), a private employer is legally free to fire anyone who tests positive for THC in their system, without the slightest suggestion the individual came to work in an impaired condition. It is a relic left over from the “reefer madness” days when marijuana smokers were considered bad people, and employers were anxious to identify smokers and get rid of them.
Arizona does not permit employers to discriminate against legal medical marijuana users (they do not yet have legal recreational use) “unless a failure to do so would cause an employer to lose a monetary or licensing benefit under federal law or regulations.” Of course, employees in Arizona are not protected if they come to work in an impaired condition, or possess or use marijuana in the workplace. Until we manage to change federal law, that is a good model for new states to consider, as they draft either medical use or full legalization proposals.
For those who may not know, it is important to understand that THC remains in the system for days, or for heavy, long-term users even weeks, after the individual has smoked marijuana. But the individual is only impaired for about 90-minutes after smoking. It is the impairment that should be of concern to the employer, not the off-work usage.
The Absurdity of the ‘Drug-Free Workplace’
For too many years, private employers have been encouraged by the federal government to drug test their employees, as a way to enforce the anti-marijuana laws. These employers who opted for what is called a “drug-free workplace,” seemed unaware of the hypocrisy of allowing workers to get drunk in the evening and come to work the following morning, while treating off-job marijuana use as a disqualifying factor, even if it occurred days or weeks earlier.
They justified that distinction on the basis that marijuana was illegal, while alcohol was not. But with the changing marijuana policies and attitudes in this country, including four states and the District of Columbia that have legalized adult use, and a total of 37 states that have adopted some form of legal medical use, that justification no longer applies.
Testing for THC determines only whether the individual has smoked marijuana over the last few days; it is not a test for whether one is impaired when the test is taken. Yet today, even in states where marijuana is legal, the majority of employers continue to fire good employees who test positive for THC, without any indication that the individual has ever come to work in an impaired condition. It is an ignorant and self-defeating policy that no longer has any place in the American workplace.
Unless the off-the-job marijuana use is interfering with that employee’s ability to perform their job in a safe and efficient manner, it should be irrelevant.
We need to better educate employers about marijuana and marijuana smoking, and convince them that drug testing, at least for the purpose of identifying marijuana smokers, is a costly waste of money for the employer and will inevitably result in the unnecessary loss of good, productive employees. Whether one enjoys a glass of wine or a marijuana joint when they relax in the evening has absolutely nothing to do with their fitness as an employee.
Another Reagan Legacy
Workplace drug testing was largely popularized by President Ronald Reagan, who in 1986 issued an executive order requiring federal agencies to establish regulations to achieve a “drug-free workplace,” making it clear that federal employees are forbidden to use illegal drugs “whether on duty or off duty,” and requiring drug testing for all applicants for federal employment, and for federal employees deemed to hold sensitive position.
At that time only about 20 percent of private employers drug tested their employees. Today that number exceeds 80 percent. Private corporations have been enlisted in the war on marijuana smokers in a big way, and it will take some time and effort to turn them around. For too long, employers were made to feel that it would almost be unpatriotic if they refused to drug test their employees, that somehow they would share the blame for the perceived drug abuse problems in America. The unmistakable message was “If you love America, help us enforce the marijuana laws and drug test your employees.” And most fell in line.
We all agree that those who operate dangerous machinery, or have the safety and welfare of large numbers of people in their hands, such as bus drivers and airline pilots, can and should be subject to random drug testing. But the vast majority of employers have no such excuse for violating their employees’ privacy.
Influence of the Drug Testing Industry
Another factor driving workplace drug testing is the influence of the drug-testing industry, which includes some of the former drug czars who have cashed-in on the “drug-free workplace” mantra. Most private employers have no drug abuse expertise, and they are regularly warned by those in the drug-testing industry that if they do not hire these drug-testing companies to test the urine of their employees, they will be losing valuable production by workers who are stoned on the job.
There is not the slightest evidence that stoned employees on the job is a serious problem for employers, or that the money employers spend on these needless drug tests is money well spent. In fact, the National Academy of Sciences in 1994, following a three-year study, published a report entitled Under the Influence: Drugs and the American Workforce, which challenged the cost-effectiveness of drug testing employees.
And the inevitable result of workplace drug testing is the loss of many good, loyal, productive employees who are fired for testing positive for THC, but who have never come to work in an impaired condition. That’s both unfair to the employees and damaging to the employer. As marijuana legalization continues forward across the country, those companies that continue to drug test for marijuana will end up in an uncompetitive position, as other more innovative companies accept the legalization of marijuana and protect their employees from job discrimination.
As we move forward with legalization proposals in more and more states, it is important that those proposing the changes do polling to test the impact of including language similar to that adopted by Arizona voters to protect legal smokers from being fired. If the polling demonstrates that legalization can win with the anti-job discrimination provisions included, then obviously they should be. Next to stopping the arrest of smokers, ending the unfair job discrimination marijuana smokers face must be our highest priority.
But if the polling suggests the inclusion of those job-protection provisions will cause the defeat of the initiative, then the language should be deleted and we should deal with this issue in the second phase of reform. We will continue to work to end the unfair job discrimination faced by marijuana smokers, as well as other needed improvements involving child custody and DUID issues, but it is easier politically for us to fine-tune these new laws once marijuana has been legalized and de-stigmatized, and marijuana smokers are no longer seen as criminals.
And we should focus our efforts on better educating private employers that drug testing their employees for marijuana use is both unnecessary and a waste of resources. In the end, it is the cultural acceptance of responsible marijuana smokers as good citizens that will finally end this destructive policy.
National Council of State Legislatures Passes Resolution “In Support of States Determining Their Own Marijuana and Hemp Policies”
The National Council of State Legislatures passed a resolution yesterday urging the federal government to amend the Controlled Substances Act and to refrain from interfering with state laws permitting the legal production and use of cannabis.
The National Council of State Legislatures is a bipartisan, non-governmental organization founded in 1975 to unite members of legislature’s from around the United States. The council works to improve the quality and effectiveness of state legislatures, promote innovative policy and communication among state legislatures, and to magnify their voice in the federal system.
The NCSL resolves “[S]tates and localities should be able to set whatever marijuana and hemp policies work best to improve the public safety, health, and economic development of their communities.” Members passed the resolution overwhelmingly by a voice vote.
The vote represents a strong consensus among state lawmakers that the federal government should embrace, not impede the progress states have made to amend their marijuana laws, and encourages federal lawmakers to consider rescheduling marijuana in order for states to safely and effectively move forward in their reforms.
Currently 23 states and the District of Columbia have medical marijuana laws on the books, and half of all US states recognize industrial hemp. Four states plus Washington D.C. have legalized marijuana for recreational use. There is no doubt states have recognized the failed efforts of marijuana prohibition and are eager to try out other policies. NORML commends the resolution adopted by the National Council of State Legislatures and will continue to advocate for the federal government’s compliance.
We read with interest the recent review of medical use of cannabinoids (1). As the authors attempt to emphasize, they focus on a heterogeneous collection of experiments that employed a range of treatments, including synthetic THC, CBD, and THC-mimicking drugs.
Lay readers might inappropriately generalize these results specifically to whole plant medical cannabis But few (only two) of these experiments were conducted using medical cannabis; most of the studies reviewed focused on outcome measures that do not address the plant’s potential advantages over a single, compound agent in pill form.
For example, the authors conclude that evidence of individual, synthetic cannabinoids to help nausea and vomiting due to chemotherapy was low in quality. Within hours of the publication of the paper, mainstream media coverage applied these conclusions to medical cannabis per se, not just medical cannabinoids (2). In fact, as the authors emphasize, only 6 of the 28 studies assessing nausea and vomiting used THC, and none of these actually employed vaporized or inhaled botanical cannabis. The dependent measures were also not sensitive to the key advantage of medical cannabis for nausea: speed of onset. (Inhaled medicines can work within seconds. Sprayed extracts require at least a half hour while cannabinoids in pill form can take multiple hours.) The authors were generally careful about these caveats, but the disparate and inaccurate media coverage suggests that flagship journals in all fields now have to be even more diligent when cautioning readers about the inappropriate generalization of results. Despite increasing popularity, medical cannabis remains controversial and, apparently, newsworthy. As reviews of the effects of cannabinoids proliferate, authors, editors, journal staff, and journalists might welcome a reminder that cautions about interpretation need to be spelled out in more effusive, detailed, and thorough ways.
Mitch Earleywine, Ph.D.
University at Albany
Department of Psychology
Chair, NORML Board of Directors
National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML)
Amanda Reiman, Ph.D.
Drug Policy Alliance
1) Whiting PF, Wolff RF, et al. Cannabinoids for Medical Use: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. JAMA, 2015: 313(24):2456-2473
2) Seaman, AM. Medical marijuana: good evidence for some diseases, weak for others. Reuters. June 24, 2015. http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/06/23/us-marijuana-medical-evidence-idUSKBN0P31WT20150623
As first reported by Marijuana.com, a Justice Department internal memo distributed to U.S. House Representatives last year misinformed members on the scope of a medical marijuana amendment they were voting on.
Last year, lawmakers approved 219 to 189 an amendment aimed at prohibiting the Department of Justice from using funds to interfere with the implementation of state medical marijuana laws.
We have now learned that in the days before this vote, Justice Department officials distributed “informal talking points” incorrectly warning members that the amendment could “in effect, limit or possibly eliminate the Department’s ability to enforce federal law in recreational marijuana cases as well.” The realization came from a footnote contained in the memo stating that the talking points previously released were, “intended to discourage the passage of the rider but does not reflect our current thinking.”
The talking points seemed to have an effect on several members, who prior to the final vote on the amendment, argued against it claiming the “amendment as written would tie the DEA’s hands beyond medical marijuana.” Representative Andy Harris (R-MD) went on to claim, “The problem is that the way the amendment is drafted, in a state like Maryland which has medical marijuana, if we ever legalized it, the amendment would stop the DEA from going after more than medical marijuana.”
These statements coupled with the rest of the long debate that took place before the amendment, clearly signal that lawmakers on both sides of the argument believed the amendment to prohibit federal interference in states with medical marijuana.
However, in a very narrow interpretation of the amendment, the Justice Department memo claims that the restriction of federal funds for the use of interfering in state-sanctioned medical marijuana programs is strictly for states and state officials implementing the laws themselves. That is to say, the federal government would still be allowed to arrest and prosecute people who grow marijuana and operate dispensaries but the state officials issuing the licenses are protected from federal intrusion. This explains the continued action taken by the federal government against individuals in states with legal medical marijuana laws on the books.
The same amendment protecting medical marijuana states from federal intervention was passed again this year with a larger margin of support, 242-186.
Representatives Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Farr (D-CA) (sponsors of the medical marijuana amendment) requested last week the Department of Justice’s inspector general hold an internal investigation into the continued action taken by the federal government. They feel Congress has made it clear by passing the amendment two years in a row, federal funds should no longer be used to prosecute individuals acting in compliance with their state laws.
Currently 23 states and the District of Columbia have passed medical marijuana laws. Check out our State Info page to check on your state’s current marijuana laws.
The NORML Nation Membership Drive went live this morning, and will run until August 12th!
Click HERE to go the the NORML Nation Membership Drive page, where you can join the NORML Nation and fight for legalization in 2016!
NORML has big things planned for the 2016 election season, and we need more grassroots volunteers to help us fight for cannabis legalization!
We’re working with multiple partners in the cannabis industry to build NORML’s ranks. The goal of this membership drive is to add 1,000 new members to NORML! We’re offering three ways to participate:
If you’re already NORML Chapter Leader or Member, you can earn money for your local NORML Chapter through the NORML Nation Chapter Contest! The top three chapters with the most referrals to the NORML Nation will earn $1,000, $500, and $250!
Thank you in advance for helping us make this a successful membership drive. You can help us reach our goal by encouraging others to become members of NORML and to donate to our work. You can also join the NORML Nation Membership Drive Facebook event, and invite your friends!
Our nation’s capital may well be the next jurisdiction to legalize recreational marijuana dispensaries. And if that occurs, it will inevitably help shape the debate in Congress over marijuana policy.
That is, of course, important for the 658,893 people who live in the District, and the 6,033,737 people who live in the metropolitan area, but it will also be a helpful step in eventually persuading Congress to remove federal impediments to full legalization at the state level.
Every member of Congress, all 435 House members and 100 senators, maintain two homes: one in the home state district where they were elected, and a second in DC, where they spend at least three days each week when Congress is in session. And while many of these elected officials from around the country currently hold exaggerated views of the dangers of marijuana smoking, simply living here and seeing the sky doesn’t fall when prohibition is ended and marijuana is legalized, is likely the most effective way for us to continue to build support for legalization in the Congress. There is nothing more persuasive than personal experience.
Many in Congress have made their reputations and based their election campaigns on the backs of the victims of the long war on marijuana smokers, and they are not likely to change overnight. Indeed, most will continue as long as they think it is a winning political argument in their home district. But seeing the nation’s capital embrace legal marijuana with few, if any, unintended consequences, and lots of measurable improvements in the criminal justice system, the police-community relations, and the quality of life in the District, will help temper the perspective of all who live here, including those members of Congress.
The Tortured History of Marijuana Policy in the District
Constitutionally, the District of Columbia is controlled by the US Congress, and since 1973, when Congress passed the District of Columbia Home Rule Act, the city has enjoyed a degree of local control, electing a mayor and a 13-member City Council to determine local laws and policies. However, each new law is subject to a 30-day review by Congress before becoming effective. Should the Congress wish to override a local law, they have that legal authority.
While the Congress does not often directly override a District law enacted by the elected City Council, they do on a more regular basis use the budget process to stop the District from adopting a policy opposed by a majority of the party then in control of Congress, by enacting a rider to the DC appropriations bill that bars the District government from spending any money to advance the targeted issue. And marijuana policy in the District has at times been the target of the anti-marijuana zealots in Congress.
When DC residents originally passed Initiative 59 in 1998 with 69 percent support, legalizing the medical use of marijuana, Congress, led by Republican Rep. Bob Barr from Georgia, at the time a leading anti-marijuana crusader, quickly passed a budget amendment banning the District from spending any money to implement the measure. That ban was repeatedly renewed with each new budget and stayed in effect for a decade, until 2009. Following the lifting of the ban, the City Council passed legislation licensing medical dispensaries, three of which currently operate in the District.
Similarly, when Initiative 71 was approved by 70 percent of the voters in 2014, legalizing marijuana for all adults in the District, Republican Rep. Andy Harris, an anti-drug warrior from rural Maryland, led a successful effort, supported by top congressional Republicans, to add a rider to the DC appropriations bill banning the use of any money to implement legalization, a ban that remains in effect until October 1, 2015.
Harris had initially claimed his amendment blocked Initiative 71 from taking effect, and threatened to have the mayor arrested should she implement the new law. But the DC Attorney General held the initiative took effect despite the budget amendment (allowing the new law to take effect did not require the expenditure of any funds), although the amendment would preclude the City Council from moving forward to establish recreational dispensaries. The question now is whether the anti-marijuana coalition in Congress will have the votes to include the ban in the appropriations bill currently being considered. At least for now, it appears likely they will not.
The Budget Battle Ahead
When Obama sent his proposed 2016 budget to Congress earlier in the year, he did not include any ban on spending District funds to legalize marijuana (the ban against using federal funding was retained), taking the position that this is a matter for the District to decide, not the Congress.
And while the latest House Appropriations Committee budget did contain the ban, when the Senate Appropriations Committee recently completed their District appropriations bill, the ban was not included.
So the issue will be resolved in conference committee, where the real behind-the-scene horse-trading often occurs, and there is a fair chance the ban will not be included in the new budget.
If that occurs, you can expect the DC City Council to move expeditiously to establish a system to license commercial growers and retail recreational marijuana shops. There is near unanimous support for this step among the council, and from Mayor Muriel Bowser. And it is helpful that DC Police Chief Cathy Lanier has been a public supporter of marijuana legalization, stating at a press conference that marijuana is no big deal, and that “alcohol is a much bigger problem.”
So whether Congress likes it or not, their members may soon be spending roughly half of their time living under full marijuana legalization, including retail stores. This is a development that can only be helpful to speed along changes in federal law.
UPDATE: Join the NORML Nation HERE!
One of the most valuable resources that NORML possesses is our members. They are our lifeblood and the driving force behind the multitude of statewide and local reform efforts taking place around the country. That’s why NORML is pushing to build our ranks in advance of the 2016 election by launching the weeklong NORML Nation Membership Drive. As many of you know, presidential elections tend to attract a larger pool of younger and more politically progressive voters. We hope to tap into this expected voting block to achieve unprecedented successes in 2016.
2016 will be a watershed year for ending marijuana prohibition at the local, state and federal level. NORML and NORML chapters are engaging in multistate strategy to assist with marijuana-related ballot initiatives and legislative reform efforts, and we and the NORML PAC are pushing for federal reform by lobbying members of Congress in support of The CARERS Act, The Marijuana Businesses Access to Banking Act, and The Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act, as well as additional budgetary amendments and regulatory reforms.
Funds that we raise through this membership drive will help us cover costs related to our ongoing lobbying efforts and expand our network of NORML Chapters. Also, a portion of the proceeds will be used to establish our Chapter Grant program which will dedicated to directly supporting NORML-led local reform efforts.
If you’re already NORML Chapter Leader or Member, you can earn money for your local NORML Chapter through the NORML Nation Chapter Contest! The top three chapters with the most referrals to the NORML Nation will earn $1,000, $500, and $250! I’ll be sending around an email to Chapter Leaders with more information about the NORML Nation Chapter Contest.
Thank you in advance for helping us make this a successful membership drive. You can help us reach our goal by encouraging others to become members of NORML and to donate to our work. You can also join the NORML Nation Membership Drive Facebook event, and invite your friends!
Newly appointed head of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Chuck Rosenberg, says that marijuana is “probably” not as dangerous as heroin.
Rosenberg’s comments, issued Tuesday, are seemingly in conflict with marijuana’s Schedule I classification under federal law, which places it in the same category as heroin and is a lesser category than cocaine. The law defines cannabis and its dozens of distinct cannabinoids as possessing “a high potential for abuse … no currently accepted medical use, … [and] a lack of accepted safety for the use of the drug … under medical supervision.”
Predictably, Rosenberg did emphasize that he believed cannabis posed potential harms, stating:“If you want me to say that marijuana’s not dangerous, I’m not going to say that because I think it is. Do I think it’s as dangerous as heroin? Probably not. I’m not an expert.”
However, Rosenberg acknowledged that he has asked DEA offices “to focus their efforts and the resources of the DEA on the most important cases in their jurisdictions, and by and large what they are telling [him] is that the most important cases in their jurisdictions are opioids and heroin.”
Rosenberg’s predecessor, Michelle Leonhart vigorously defended marijuana’s Schedule I classification. She oversaw dozens of raids on medical marijuana providers, criticized the President on his remarks of marijuana’s safety in relation to alcohol, and rejected an administrative petition calling for marijuana rescheduling hearings. NORML is pleased that although the new DEA administrator, by his own admission is not “an expert” on cannabis, he apparently possesses a better grasp on marijuana and it’s evident differences compared to other schedule 1 substances.
Rosenberg’s comments, coupled with those of NIDA Director Nora Volkow publically espousing the safety of CBD indicate that it may no longer be a question of if the federal government will move to reclassify cannabis but when.
News & Information
A very well built documentary about cannabis and drug prohibition. Does the drug prohibition work? Have a look and think for yourself.
The term medical marijuana took on dramatic new meaning in February, 2000 when researchers in Madrid announced they had destroyed incurable brain tumors in rats by injecting them with THC, the active ingredient in cannabis.
Medical Marijuana Research - PTSD to Cancer
- Latest JAMA Studies Largely Fail To Support Past Claims About Marijuana And Brain Health
- Extraction Reaction: Let’s Be Smart About Dabbing
- GOP Voters In Early Primary States Oppose Federal Interference In State Marijuana Laws
- Florida Cities Moving Full Speed Ahead With Marijuana Decriminalization
- If It’s Legal To Smoke, and There’s a Legal Market, Then It’s Legalization
- Case Report: Patient With Life-Threatening Angioedema Responds Favorably To Inhaled Cannabis
- Illinois: Governor Sends Marijuana Decriminalization Measure Back To Lawmakers
- Oregon’s Elected Officials Show Leadership
- ResponsibleOhio Initiative Qualifies For The 2015 November Ballot
- Study: Cannabis Users Less Likely To Be Obese, Possess Lower Diabetes Risk
- Barney Frank: “We should press our advantage.”
- Marijuana Reform Comes to the Mountain State
- Obama Says Individual Marijuana Consumers in Colorado and Washington Are Not Priorities
- Study Shows Marijuana Often Substituted for Alcohol and Other Drugs
- Judge upholds Arizona’s law; first dispensary begins serving patients!
- Washington Marijuana Law Takes Effect Tomorrow
- New Poll: Record High Support for Marijuana in U.S.
- The 10 Things That Led to Legalized Marijuana in Colorado
- Irv Rosenfeld’s 30th Anniversary of Getting Marijuana from the Feds
- Rasmussen Poll Shows Huge Majority Thinks U.S. Losing the Drug War
Endocannabinoids: Windows to the Brain
Cannabis sativa (hemp) is a flowering annual that has been in use as a structural material (cordage, cloth, paper) and in medicine for thousands of years.5–7 Reference to the psychoactive effects of its phytochemical products have been found in writing throughout the ancient world.
Laguna Woods Seniors Step Towards Embracing Medical Marijuana And Wants To Open A Medical Cannabis Collective
Aug 14, 2010 Debra Baer