Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

A Member of the Law Professor Blogs Network

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Digging seriously in to "What Science Says About Marijuana"

WonkThe title of this post is drawn in part from the headline of this latest editorial in the New York Times series explaining its editorial judgment that marijuana prohibition should be ended (first noted here).  Here is an excerpt from this editorial:

As with other recreational substances, marijuana’s health effects depend on the frequency of use, the potency and amount of marijuana consumed, and the age of the consumer. Casual use by adults poses little or no risk for healthy people. Its effects are mostly euphoric and mild, whereas alcohol turns some drinkers into barroom brawlers, domestic abusers or maniacs behind the wheel.

An independent scientific committee in Britain compared 20 drugs in 2010 for the harms they caused to individual users and to society as a whole through crime, family breakdown, absenteeism, and other social ills. Adding up all the damage, the panel estimated that alcohol was the most harmful drug, followed by heroin and crack cocaine. Marijuana ranked eighth, having slightly more than one-fourth the harm of alcohol.

Federal scientists say that the damage caused by alcohol and tobacco is higher because they are legally available; if marijuana were legally and easily obtainable, they say, the number of people suffering harm would rise. However, a 1995 study for the World Health Organization concluded that even if usage of marijuana increased to the levels of alcohol and tobacco, it would be unlikely to produce public health effects approaching those of alcohol and tobacco in Western societies.

Most of the risks of marijuana use are “small to moderate in size,” the study said. “In aggregate, they are unlikely to produce public health problems comparable in scale to those currently produced by alcohol and tobacco.”

While tobacco causes cancer, and alcohol abuse can lead to cirrhosis, no clear causal connection between marijuana and a deadly disease has been made. Experts at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the scientific arm of the federal anti-drug campaign, published a review of the adverse health effects of marijuana in June that pointed to a few disease risks but was remarkably frank in acknowledging widespread uncertainties. Though the authors believed that legalization would expose more people to health hazards, they said the link to lung cancer is “unclear,” and that it is lower than the risk of smoking tobacco....

The American Society of Addiction Medicine, the largest association of physicians specializing in addiction, issued a white paper in 2012 opposing legalization because “marijuana is not a safe and harmless substance” and marijuana addiction “is a significant health problem.”

Nonetheless, that health problem is far less significant than for other substances, legal and illegal. The Institute of Medicine, the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences, said in a 1999 study that 32 percent of tobacco users become dependent, as do 23 percent of heroin users, 17 percent of cocaine users, and 15 percent of alcohol drinkers. But only 9 percent of marijuana users develop a dependence. “Although few marijuana users develop dependence, some do,” according to the study. “But they appear to be less likely to do so than users of other drugs (including alcohol and nicotine), and marijuana dependence appears to be less severe than dependence on other drugs.”

There’s no need to ban a substance that has less than a third of the addictive potential of cigarettes, but state governments can discourage heavy use through taxes and education campaigns and help provide treatment for those who wish to quit.

One of the favorite arguments of legalization opponents is that marijuana is the pathway to more dangerous drugs. But a wide variety of researchers have found no causal factor pushing users up the ladder of harm. While 111 million Americans have tried marijuana, only a third of that number have tried cocaine, and only 4 percent heroin. People who try marijuana are more likely than the general population to try other drugs, but that doesn’t mean marijuana prompted them to do so.

Marijuana “does not appear to be a gateway drug to the extent that it is the cause or even that it is the most significant predictor of serious drug abuse,” the Institute of Medicine study said. The real gateway drugs are tobacco and alcohol, which young people turn to first before trying marijuana.

This NY Times piece is a potent and effective review about what we really know about marijuana's health and societal impact.  Even more powerful on the same front, though, is this remarkable new Wonkblog piece from the Washington Post that highlights all the problems with all the science claims by the federal government to justify marijuana prohibition.  The title of this piece, with is a must-read for anyone who really care about both the science and advocacy realities surrounding marijuana reform, is "The federal government’s incredibly poor, misleading argument for marijuana prohibition." Here is how it gets started:

The New York Times editorial board is making news with a week-long series advocating for the full legalization of marijuana in the United States. In response, the White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) published a blog post Monday purporting to lay out the federal government's case against marijuana reform.

That case, as it turns out, it surprisingly weak. It's built on half-truths and radically decontextualized facts, curated from social science research that is otherwise quite solid. I've gone through the ONDCP's arguments, and the research behind them, below.

The irony here is that with the coming wave of deregulation and legalization, we really do need a sane national discussion of the costs and benefits of widespread marijuana use. But the ONDCP's ideological insistence on prohibition prevents them from taking part in that conversation.

July 31, 2014 in Assembled readings on specific topics, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Science | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Concluding on a high note: student papers highlight diversity of important marijuana law and policy topics

I was eager and excited to teach a law school seminar this past term focused on marijuana law, policy and reform in part because I have come to see how many diverse and dynamic legal and policy issues are raised and impacted by states legalizing medical and recreational marijuana use.  Last week, my students providing a fitting final demonstration of this reality when they turned in their final papers.  Below I provide the titles of the seminar papers submitted for this course:

You’re Fired…Maybe: How the Legalization of Recreational Marijuana Will Affect Employee and Employer Relations

The Anonymous Online Black Market

The Pliant Majority: Cognizing the Attitudinal Shift Toward Marijuana Legalization in America

The War on Federalism: Battleground Medical Marijuana

Federal Sentencing in Marijuana Offenses: How Should Federal Judges Reflect the National Changes in Policy When Sentencing Marijuana Offenders?

Marijuana or Xanax: the Lesser of Two Evils

Marijuana Policy and Immigration Law: Policing Borders, Blurring Lines, and Reforming Policies

Privacy Concerns Within the Ever-growing Marijuana Industry

Responsible Smoking – A Guide to Police Powers in a Recreational-Use State

Nuestra Voz Entre La Hierba: the Latino Vote and Marijuana Reform

“Weed Here, Get Your Weed Here!”:The First Amendment and Advertising Legalized Marijuana

Keeping the Flashing Lights On: Using Civil Forfeiture to Fund Law Enforcement by [Not] Punishing Drug Offenders

Additional Revenues for the City of Detroit and State of Michigan: An Initiative for Legalized Marijuana within the City of Detroit

Legalize and Tax Marijuana: The Path to a Better Fiscal Future for Ohio

A Guide to Marijuana Reform in the Buckeye State: How and Why Ohio Should Lead America’s March Towards Marijuana Legalization

Starting a Retail Marijuana Business: Colorado or Washington?

As these paper titles highlight, students used their final papers as an opportunity to explore employment law, cyber-law and markets, public opinion trends and minority voting patterns, privacy law, federalism, the First Amendment, federal sentencing and civil forfeitures, immigration law, and health law as well as the array of tax and business issues that surround marijuana reform policies and practices. (Once I finish grading all the papers, I am planning to post some or all of them in this space if I surmise there is reader interest.)

In some future "wrap-up" posts, I hope to discuss more broadly what I thought worked best (and did not work so well) in my development of this seminar. I also want to discuss a bit why I think I should probably wait until late 2015 or early 2016 to teach a course like this again.

Cross-posted at PrawfsBlawg

December 28, 2013 in Assembled readings on specific topics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Readings providing international/comparative perspectives on drug laws (especially marijuana)

Especially because I tend to be pretty under-informed about to international/comparative  drug laws, I am very excited that the student-selected topic for discussion this week in my Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform seminar is the global regime regarding marijuana and its impact on legalization efforts in the US.  Here are the readings assembled by the students as background:

I. International Law 

International Regulation of Drugs

  • Controlled Substances casebook, pp. 801-804 (International Framework);
  • pp. 813-820 (Impact of United State Policy on Mexico);
  • pp. 836-845 (International Control of Illegal Drugs, "Preventing or Causing Human Rights Violations");
  • pp. 916-921 (US using trade policy to enforce drug laws under the 1986 Narcotics Act)

UN and the power to stop legalization of Marijuana

 

  II. Comparative Law 

Further Comparative law reading:

1 .  WHO report on correlation of drug laws and drug abuse  

2.   North Korea and a marijuana legalization regime

3.   North Korea's meth addiction: Grau, Cutting off the Building Blocks to Methamphetamine Production, 30 Hous. J. Int’l L. 157 (2007);

4.  Reform of North Korea drug laws

November 5, 2013 in Assembled readings on specific topics, International Marijuana Laws and Policies | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

How can, will, should the Fourth Amendment accomodate a new world order legalized marijuana?

The question in the title of this post is the question that one of the students in my Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform seminar is making the focus of our class discussion this week. Here is an outline of issues and resources that he prepared in conjunction with the question:

I. What is Probable Cause?  (Skim Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213 (1983))

    A. Consider Ohio's current approach to P.C./marijuana (Read State v. Moore, 90 Ohio St.3d 47, 2000-Ohio-10 (2000))

    B.  What is a "crime" for Fourth Amendment purposes  (Read Controlled Substances casebook pp. 193-209 (trafficking, etc))

Note: Give thought to issues surrounding drugged driving in this context

    C.  Special topic: drug dogs. When is a "sniff up to snuff?" (Read Florida v Harris, 133 S.Ct. 1050 (2013))

II. State (potential?) remedies

    A.  State Statutes (Consider Atwater v. Lago Vista, 532 U.S. 318 (2001))

    B. State Constitutional Analogues

            -exclusionary rule?

            -fed actors?

October 22, 2013 in Assembled readings on specific topics, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Recommended readings on marijuana reform and tax laws, policies and practices

Over the next two months, the students in my Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform seminar are "taking over" the class and classroom by selecting topics of special interest to them and assembling readings to provide the basis for our classroom discussions of these topics.  I am excited to be able to post those readings in this space, and the first week is devoted to coverage of tax issues.  Here is my students' recommended reading list with links to all the terrific reader-friendly resources they have assembled:

Sources addressing Colorado and Washington's tax plans General sources on marijuana taxation Sources addressing existing State/Federal/Local alcohol taxation

October 13, 2013 in Assembled readings on specific topics, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)