Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

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Tuesday, October 7, 2014

New article provides meta-review of latest health research concerning recreational marijuana use

This new monograph, which has just been published via the peer-reviewed journal Addiction, has a title that perfectly describes the piece's research and discussion, "What has research over the past two decades revealed about the adverse health effects of recreational cannabis use?".  Here are all the parts of the piece's abstract:

Aims:  To examine changes in the evidence on the adverse health effects of cannabis since 1993.

Methods:  A comparison of the evidence in 1993 with the evidence and interpretation of the same health outcomes in 2013.

Results:  Research in the past 20 years has shown that driving while cannabis-impaired approximately doubles car crash risk and that around one in 10 regular cannabis users develop dependence.  Regular cannabis use in adolescence approximately doubles the risks of early school-leaving and of cognitive impairment and psychoses in adulthood.  Regular cannabis use in adolescence is also associated strongly with the use of other illicit drugs.  These associations persist after controlling for plausible confounding variables in longitudinal studies.  This suggests that cannabis use is a contributory cause of these outcomes but some researchers still argue that these relationships are explained by shared causes or risk factors.  Cannabis smoking probably increases cardiovascular disease risk in middle-aged adults but its effects on respiratory function and respiratory cancer remain unclear, because most cannabis smokers have smoked or still smoke tobacco.

Conclusions:  The epidemiological literature in the past 20 years shows that cannabis use increases the risk of accidents and can produce dependence, and that there are consistent associations between regular cannabis use and poor psychosocial outcomes and mental health in adulthood.

October 7, 2014 in Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 6, 2014

"Study Links Marijuana Use to Lower Mortality Rate among Patients With Traumatic Brain Injuries"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable media report on a notable new study suggesting marijuana use can have a positive impact on those who suffer brain injuries.  Here are the details:

Researchers found that patients with traumatic brain injuries using marijuana were more likely to survive. The study, led by researchers at Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute, surveyed emergency patients for levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), an active ingredient present in marijuana. They found that those tested positive for THC had a lower mortality compared to people who tested negative for the illicit substance.

According to the researchers THC plays a key role in protecting the brain in case of a traumatic brain injury. The researchers looked at 446 patients with a traumatic brain injury. Urine samples were collected to test the presence of THC in their body. It was observed that 82 of the total patients had THC in their system and out of these 2.4 percent patients had died compared to 11.5 percent deaths of patients who had tested negative for the illicit substance.

"Previous studies conducted by other researchers had found certain compounds in marijuana helped protect the brain in animals after a trauma," said David Plurad, MD, an LA BioMed researcher and the study's lead author. "This study was one of the first in a clinical setting to specifically associate THC use as an independent predictor of survival after traumatic brain injury."...

Other researchers conducted have highlighted how THC helps boosts appetite, lowers ocular pressure, reduces muscle spasms, relieves pain and alleviates symptoms linked with irritable bowel disease. However, this new study has certain significant limitations. "While most - but not all - the deaths in the study can be attributed to the traumatic brain injury itself, it appears that both groups were similarly injured," Dr. Plurad said. "The similarities in the injuries between the two groups led to the conclusion that testing positive for THC in the system is associated with a decreased mortality in adult patients who have sustained traumatic brain injuries."

The finding is published in the edition of The American Surgeon.

October 6, 2014 in Medical Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 2, 2014

"92% of patients say medical marijuana works"

The title of this post is the headline of this new Wasington Post summary of some notable recent research concerning California marijuana users.  Here is how the piece starts (with links from the original):

2013 survey in the New England Journal of Medicine found that nearly 8-in-10 doctors approved the use of medical marijuana. Now, a wide-ranging survey in California finds that medical marijuana patients agree: 92 percent said that medical marijuana alleviated symptoms of their serious medical conditions, including chronic pain, arthritis, migraine, and cancer.

The data come from the California Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, a representative health survey of 7,525 California adults produced by the Public Health Institute in partnership with the CDC. Researchers found that in total, five percent of California adults said they had used medical marijuana for a "serious medical condition."

"Our study’s results lend support to the idea that medical marijuana is used equally by many groups of people and is not exclusively used by any one specific group," the authors write. There were similar usage rates among both men and women. Adults of all ages reported medical marijuana use, although young adults were the most likely to use it.

There were some small differences in medical marijuana use across members of different races, although the authors stress that "the absolute difference in prevalence between the racial/ethnic groups is less than three percentage points, which may not have much importance in practical terms."

October 2, 2014 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Illinois already collects $5 million in fees from medical marijuana applicants

Illinois-senate-passes-05-17As reported in this local AP piece, headlined "Illinois Banks $5 Million in Medical Marijuana Applications: More than 350 groups apply to run cultivation centers and dispensaries," the Prairie State is already seeing an economic benefit from its new medical marijuana laws. Here are the details:

Illinois is already seeing a lot of "green" thanks to medical marijuana. A preliminary count showed 158 applications for cultivation centers and 211 applications for dispensaries beat the Monday afternoon deadline. That means that nonrefundable fees collected by the state from the applicants topped $5 million.

"There's a ton of excitement and enthusiasm from the industry," said one applicant, Ben Kovler, founding partner and CEO of Chicago-based Green Thumb Industries. "This shows there is trust in the system the state has set up."

Green Thumb submitted applications for cultivation centers in Normal, Rock Island, Oglesby and Dixon and dispensaries in Mundelein, Chicago and Chicago Heights, Kovler said. Applications were so extensive that they filled many boxes and required the company to rent a truck, he said.

Bob Morgan, coordinator of the state's medical cannabis program, said the volume of applications "will allow us to pick the most qualified applicants." Applicants weren't deterred by stringent qualifications, fees and cash requirements, Morgan added. For cultivation centers, there was a non-refundable application fee of $25,000 and a first-year registration fee of $200,000....

Illinois expects to grant up to 21 permits for cultivation centers and up to 60 permits for dispensaries before the end of the year. The first legal marijuana would be available to registered patients in the spring of 2015.

September 28, 2014 in Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

"Banks, Marijuana, and Federalism"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper by Julie Andersen Hill now available via SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

Although marijuana is illegal under federal law, twenty-three states have legalized some marijuana use. The state-legal marijuana industry is flourishing, but marijuana-related businesses report difficulty accessing banking services.  Because financial institutions won’t allow marijuana-related businesses to open accounts, the marijuana industry largely operates on a cash only basis — a situation that attracts thieves and tax cheats.

This article explores the root of the marijuana banking problem as well as possible solutions.  It explains that although the United States has a dual banking system comprised of both federal- and state-chartered institutions, when it comes to marijuana banking, federal regulation is pervasive and controlling.  Marijuana banking access cannot be solved by the states acting alone for two reasons.  First, marijuana is illegal under federal law. Second, federal law enforcement and federal financial regulators have significant power to punish institutions that do not comply with federal law.  Unless Congress acts to remove one or both of these barriers, most financial institutions will not provide services to the marijuana industry.  But marijuana banking requires more than just Congressional action. It requires that federal financial regulators set clear and achievable due diligence requirements for institutions with marijuana business customers.  As long as financial institutions risk federal punishment for any marijuana business customer’s misstep, institutions will not provide marijuana banking.

September 23, 2014 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 29, 2014

"Leading Anti-Marij​uana Academics Are Paid by Painkiller Drug Companies"

The title of this post is the headline of this recent report from the website VICE. here are excerpts:

As Americans continue to embrace pot—as medicine and for recreational use—opponents are turning to a set of academic researchers to claim that policymakers should avoid relaxing restrictions around marijuana. It's too dangerous, risky, and untested, they say. Just as drug company-funded research has become incredibly controversial in recent years, forcing major medical schools and journals to institute strict disclosure requirements, could there be a conflict of interest issue in the pot debate?

VICE has found that many of the researchers who have advocated against legalizing pot have also been on the payroll of leading pharmaceutical firms with products that could be easily replaced by using marijuana. When these individuals have been quoted in the media, their drug-industry ties have not been revealed.

Take, for example, Dr. Herbert Kleber of Columbia University. Kleber has impeccable academic credentials, and has been quoted in the press and in academic publications warning against the use of marijuana, which he stresses may cause wide-ranging addiction and public health issues. But when he's writing anti-pot opinion pieces for CBS News, or being quoted by NPR and CNBC, what's left unsaid is that Kleber has served as a paid consultant to leading prescription drug companies, including Purdue Pharma (the maker of OxyContin), Reckitt Benckiser (the producer of a painkiller called Nurofen), and Alkermes (the producer of a powerful new opioid called Zohydro)....

Other leading academic opponents of pot have ties to the painkiller industry. Dr. A. Eden Evins, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, is a frequent critic of efforts to legalize marijuana. She is on the board of an anti-marijuana advocacy group, Project SAM, and has been quoted by leading media outlets criticizing the wave of new pot-related reforms. "When people can go to a ‘clinic’ or ‘cafe’ and buy pot, that creates the perception that it’s safe,” she told the Times last year.

Notably, when Evins participated in a commentary on marijuana legalization for the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, the publication found that her financial relationships required a disclosure statement, which noted that as of November 2012, she was a "consultant for Pfizer and DLA Piper and has received grant/research support from Envivo, GlaxoSmithKline, and Pfizer." Pfizer has moved aggressively into the $7.3 billion painkiller market. In 2011, the company acquired King Pharmaceuticals (the makers of several opioid products) and is currently working to introduce Remoxy, an OxyContin competitor.

Dr. Mark L. Kraus, who runs a private practice and is a board member to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, submitted testimony in 2012 in opposition to a medical marijuana law in Connecticut. According to financial disclosures, Kraus served on the scientific advisory panel for painkiller companies such as Pfizer and Reckitt Benckiser in the year prior to his activism against the medical pot bill. Neither Kraus or Evins responded to a request for comment.

These academic revelations add fodder to the argument that drug firms maintain quiet ties to the marijuana prohibition lobby. In July, I reported for the Nation that many of the largest anti-pot advocacy groups, including the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions for America, which has organized opposition to reform through its network of activists and through handing out advocacy material (sample op-eds against medical pot along with Reefer Madness-style videos, for example), has relied on significant funding from painkiller companies, including Purdue Pharma and Alkermes. Pharmaceutical-funded anti-drug groups like the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids and CADCA use their budget to obsess over weed while paying lip-service to the much bigger drug problem in America of over-prescribed opioids.

August 29, 2014 in Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 28, 2014

New research suggest marijuana might help combat Alzheimer's disease

As reported in this notable new FoxNews piece, headlined "Marijuana compound may slow, halt progression of Alzheimer's," some more interesting marijuana research has produced some more reason to hope that marijuana reform could be a real boon for public health.  Here are the details:

Neuroscientists found that extremely low doses of a compound found in marijuana may slow or halt the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.  A study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease reported that neuroscientists using a cellular model of Alzheimer's found low doses of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) reduced the production of amyloid beta, and prevented abnormal accumulation, which is one of the early signs of the memory-loss disease.

“Decreased levels of amyloid beta means less aggregation, which may protect against the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.  Since THC is a natural and relatively safe amyloid inhibitor, THC or its analogs may help us develop an effective treatment in the future,” said lead author Chuanhai Cao, a neuroscientist and PhD at the Byrd Alzheimer’s Institute and the University of South Florida College of Pharmacy.

Neuroscientists also found THC enhanced mitochondrial function which is needed to supply energy, transmit signals and maintain a healthy brain.  “THC is known to be a potent antioxidant with neuroprotective properties, but this is the first report that the compound directly affects Alzheimer’s pathology by decreasing amyloid beta levels, inhibiting its aggregation, and enhancing mitochondrial function,” Cao said.

The research noted that the therapeutic benefits of THC at low doses appear greater than the associated risks of toxicity and memory impairment....

As many as 5 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, with the numbers projected to reach 14 million by 2050, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

August 28, 2014 in Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 14, 2014

"NFL Seeks Right Answer for Marijuana Use"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new AP article. Alex has done a terrific job on this blog keeping track of the intersection of America's favorite sport and America's favorite prohibited substance, and this AP article help highlight how dynamic that intersection can be. Here are excerpts:

Marijuana is casting an ever-thickening haze across NFL locker rooms, and it's not simply because more players are using it. As attitudes toward the drug soften, and science slowly teases out marijuana's possible benefits for concussions and other injuries, the NFL is reaching a critical point in navigating its tenuous relationship with what is recognized as the analgesic of choice for many of its players.

"It's not, let's go smoke a joint," retired NFL defensive lineman Marvin Washington said. "It's, what if you could take something that helps you heal faster from a concussion, that prevents your equilibrium from being off for two weeks and your eyesight for being off for four weeks?"

One challenge the NFL faces is how to bring marijuana into the game as a pain reliever without condoning its use as a recreational drug. And facing a lawsuit filed on behalf of hundreds of former players complaining about the effects of prescription painkillers they say were pushed on them by team trainers and doctors, the NFL is looking for other ways to help players deal with the pain from a violent game....

There are no hard numbers on how many NFL players are using marijuana, but anecdotal evidence, including the arrest or league discipline of no fewer than a dozen players for pot over the past 18 months, suggests use is becoming more common. Redskins offensive lineman Ryan Clark didn't want to pinpoint the number of current NFL players who smoke pot but said, "I know a lot of guys who don't regularly smoke marijuana who would use it during the season."...

Another longtime defensive lineman, Marcellus Wiley, estimates half the players in the average NFL locker room were using it by the time he shut down his career in 2006. "They are leaning on it to cope with the pain," said Wiley, who played defensive line in the league for 10 seasons. "They are leaning on it to cope with the anxiety of the game."

The NFL is fighting lawsuits on two fronts — concussions and painkillers — both of which, some argue, could be positively influenced if marijuana were better tolerated by the league.

The science, however, is slow-moving and expensive and might not ever be conclusive, says behavioral psychologist Ryan Vandrey, who studies marijuana use at John Hopkins. Marijuana may work better for some people, while narcotics and other painkillers might be better for others. "Different medicines work differently from person to person," Vandrey said. "There's pretty good science that shows marijuana does have pain relieving properties. Whether it's a better pain reliever than the other things available has never been evaluated."...

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has treaded gingerly around the subject. Before last season's Super Bowl he said the league would "follow the medicine" and not rule out allowing players to use marijuana for medical purposes. An NFL spokesman reiterated that this month, saying if medical advisers inform the league it should consider modifying the policy, it would explore possible changes.

A spokesman for the players union declined comment on marijuana, beyond saying the union is always looking for ways to improve the drug-testing policy. But earlier this year, NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith said the marijuana policy is secondary when set against the failure to bring Human Growth Hormone testing into the game. Some believe relaxing the marijuana rules could be linked to a deal that would bring in HGH testing....

The NFL drug policy has come under even more scrutiny this summer, after the NFL handed down a season-long suspension of Browns receiver Josh Gordon for multiple violations of the NFL substance-abuse policy. That suspension, especially when juxtaposed against the two-game ban Ray Rice received for domestic violence, has led some to say the league's priorities are out of whack.

In June, Harvard Medical School professor emeritus Lester Grinspoon, one of the forefathers of marijuana research, published an open letter to Goodell, urging him to drop urine testing for weed altogether and, more importantly, fund a crash research project for a marijuana-based drug that can alleviate the consequences of concussions. "As much as I love to watch professional football, I'm beginning to feel like a Roman in the days when they would send Christians to the lions," Grinspoon said. "I don't want to be part of an audience that sees kids ruin their future with this game, and then the league doesn't give them any recourse to try to protect themselves."

The league does, in fact, fund sports-health research at the NIH, to the tune of a $30 million donation it made in 2012. But the science moves slowly no matter where it's conducted and, as Vandrey says, "the NFL is in business for playing football, not doing scientific research."

August 14, 2014 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 11, 2014

"As Colorado Loosened Its Marijuana Laws, Underage Consumption And Traffic Fatalities Fell"

Marijuana-use-by-Colorado-teenagersThe title of this post is the headline of this new commentary by Jacob Sullum at Forbes.  Here are excerpts:

Two consequences that pot prohibitionists attribute to marijuana legalization—more underage consumption and more traffic fatalities—so far do not seem to be materializing in Colorado, which has allowed medical use since 2001 and recreational use since the end of 2012.

Survey data released last week by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) indicate that marijuana use among high school students continues to decline, despite warnings that legalization would make pot more appealing to teenagers. In the 2013 Healthy Kids Colorado survey, 37 percent of high school students reported that they had ever tried marijuana, down from 39 percent in 2011. The percentage who reported using marijuana in the previous month (a.k.a. “current” use) also fell, from 22 percent in 2011 to 20 percent in 2013. The CDPHE says those drops are not statistically significant. But they are part of a general downward trend in Colorado that has persisted despite the legalization of medical marijuana in 2001, the commercialization of medical marijuana in 2009 (when the industry took off after its legal status became more secure), and the legalization of recreational use (along with home cultivation and sharing among adults) at the end of 2012.... Traffic fatalities also have generally declined since Colorado began loosening its marijuana laws. Fatalities rose in 2001, the year that Colorado’s medical marijuana law took effect, but by 2003 had fallen below the 2000 level. Since peaking in 2002, fatalities have fallen by more than a third. Legal sales of recreational marijuana began in January, and so far this year traffic fatalities are down. According to to the Colorado Department of Transportation, there were 258 fatalities from January through July, compared to 263 during the same period last year. In short, Colorado’s experience does not provide much evidence that less repressive marijuana laws make the roads more dangerous (and they might even make the roads safer by encouraging the substitution of cannabis for alcohol).

August 11, 2014 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, August 10, 2014

"Medical Marijuana Research Hits Wall of U.S. Law"

Shutterstock_93947695The title of this post is the headline of this front-page New York Times article.  Here are excerpts:

Nearly four years ago, Dr. Sue Sisley, a psychiatrist at the University of Arizona, sought federal approval to study marijuana’s effectiveness in treating military veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.   She had no idea how difficult it would be.

The proposal, which has the support of veterans groups, was hung up at several regulatory stages, requiring the research’s private sponsor to resubmit multiple times. After the proposed study received final approval in March from federal health officials, the lone federal supplier of research marijuana said it did not have the strains the study needed and would have to grow more — potentially delaying the project until at least early next year.

Then, in June, the university fired Dr. Sisley, later citing funding and reorganization issues.   But Dr. Sisley is convinced the real reason was her outspoken support for marijuana research.   “They could never get comfortable with the idea of this controversial, high-profile research happening on campus,” she said.

Dr. Sisley’s case is an extreme example of the obstacles and frustrations scientists face in trying to study the medical uses of marijuana.  Dating back to 1999, the Department of Health and Human Services has indicated it does not see much potential for developing marijuana in smoked form into an approved prescription drug....

Scientists say this position has had a chilling effect on marijuana research.  Though more than one million people are thought to use the drug to treat ailments ranging from cancer to seizures to hepatitis C and chronic pain, there are few rigorous studies showing whether the drug is a fruitful treatment for those or any other conditions.  A major reason is this:  The federal government categorizes marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, the most restrictive of five groups established by the Controlled Substances Act of 1970.  Drugs in this category — including heroin, LSD, peyote and Ecstasy — are considered to have no accepted medical use in the United States and a high potential for abuse, and are subject to tight restrictions on scientific study.

In the case of marijuana, those restrictions are even greater than for other controlled substances....  To obtain the drug legally, researchers like Dr. Sisley must apply to the Food and Drug Administration, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the National Institute on Drug Abuse — which, citing a 1961 treaty obligation, administers the only legal source of the drug for federally sanctioned research, at the University of Mississippi.  Dr. Sisley’s proposed study also had to undergo an additional layer of review from the Public Health Service that is not required for other controlled substances in such research.

The process is so cumbersome that a growing number of elected state officials, medical experts and members of Congress have started calling for loosening the restrictions.  In June, a letter signed by 30 members of Congress, including four Republicans, called the extra scrutiny of marijuana projects “unnecessary,” saying that research “has often been hampered by federal barriers.”

“It defies logic in this day and age that marijuana is still in Schedule 1 alongside heroin and LSD when there is so much testimony to what relief medical marijuana can bring,” Gov. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island said in an interview.  In late 2011, he and the governor of Washington at the time, Christine O. Gregoire, filed a petition asking the federal government to place the drug in a lower category.  The petition is still pending with the D.E.A.

Despite the mounting push, there is little evidence that either Congress or the Obama administration will change marijuana’s status soon.  In public statements, D.E.A. officials have made their displeasure known about states’ legalizing medical and recreational marijuana.

August 10, 2014 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, August 3, 2014

"Medical Marijuana Laws and Teen Marijuana Use"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new Working Paper coming from the non-profit National Bureau of Economic Research authored by D. Mark Anderson, Benjamin Hansen and Daniel Rees. Here is the abstract:

While at least a dozen state legislatures in the United States have recently considered bills to allow the consumption of marijuana for medicinal purposes, the federal government is intensifying its efforts to close medical marijuana dispensaries.  Federal officials contend that the legalization of medical marijuana encourages teenagers to use marijuana and have targeted dispensaries operating within 1,000 feet of schools, parks and playgrounds.  Using data from the national and state Youth Risk Behavior Surveys, the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997 and the Treatment Episode Data Set, we estimate the relationship between medical marijuana laws and marijuana use.  Our results are not consistent with the hypothesis that legalization leads to increased use of marijuana by teenagers.

August 3, 2014 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

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)

Monday, July 28, 2014

Latest Florida poll shows considerable support for both medical and recreational marijuana

As detailed via this report from the folks at Quinnipiac University, the latest polling numbers suggest Florida voters are keenly in support of marijuana reform. Here are the basics concerning a state seemingly poised to bring marijuana reform movement into the south:

Florida voters support legalized marijuana for medical use 88 - 10 percent, with support ranging from 83 - 14 percent among voters over 65 years old to 95 - 5 percent among voters 18 to 29 years old, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today. The lowest level of support is 80 - 19 percent among Republicans, the independent Quinnipiac University poll finds.

Sunshine State voters also support 55 - 41 percent "allowing adults in Florida to legally possess small amounts of marijuana for personal use," or so-called "recreational marijuana." There is a wide gender gap and an even wider age gap: Men back recreational marijuana 61 - 36 percent while women back it by a narrow 49 - 45 percent. Voters 18 to 29 years old are ready to roll 72 - 25, while voters over 65 years old are opposed 59 - 36 percent. Support is 64 - 32 percent among Democrats and 55 - 40 percent among independent voters, with Republicans opposed 56 - 41 percent.

"Forget the stereotypes of stodgy old folks living out their golden years playing canasta and golf," said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University poll. "Almost nine- in-ten Floridians favor legalizing medical marijuana and a small majority says adults should be able to possess small amounts of the drug for recreational purposes.

"Even though a proposal to legalize medical marijuana, on the ballot this November, must meet a 60 percent threshold, these numbers make a strong bet the referendum is likely to pass," said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University poll....

If medical marijuana is legalized in Florida, voters say 71 - 26 percent they would support having a marijuana dispensary in the town or city where they live. Support ranges from 57 - 37 percent among voters over 65 years old to 79 - 21 percent among voters 18 to 29 years old.

July 28, 2014 in Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 11, 2014

Rodd on workplace discrimination and medical marijuana

Elizabeth Rodd has posted a Note to SSRN on workplace discrimination and medical marijuana titled: "Light, Smoke, and Fire: How State Law Can Provide Medical Marijuana Users Protection from Workplace Discrimination".

Here is the abstract:

Currently, twenty-one states and the District of Columbia have enacted legislation providing an affirmative defense to prosecution under state law for medical marijuana use by qualified patients. Despite growing public and legislative support for the legalization of medical marijuana, medical marijuana use—either recreational or medicinal—remains illegal under the Federal Controlled Substances Act. Given the inconsistency between state and federal law concerning the legality of medicinal marijuana, there is significant uncertainty regarding the rights of employees to engage in state-sanctioned, off-duty use of medical marijuana. To date, courts have refused to grant protections to employees’ who have suffered adverse employment action for their off-duty, state sanctioned medical marijuana use. Although the existing case law appears employer-friendly, employee-friendly dissenting opinions and states that have adopted explicit statutory discrimination protections for medical marijuana users signify that this current trend could easily change. This Note argues that courts should allow employees’ claims for disability discrimination to proceed under state law, and state legislatures should amend their current medical marijuana statutes to afford employment discrimination protection to qualified patients. In doing so, states will be able to protect disabled employees from discrimination due to their use of a state sanctioned therapeutic remedy.

July 11, 2014 in Medical Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 5, 2014

State AG backs corporation in notable Colorado case concerning fired quadriplegic medical-marijuana patient

20140604__brandon-coats-colorado~p1_300As reported in this Denver Post piece, the Colorado "state attorney general's office says Coloradans do not have a right to use marijuana off the job, siding with a satellite television company in its firing of a medical-marijuana patient." This position is articulated in a brief filed in the Colorado Supreme Court in the notable case involving a quadriplegic medical-marijuana patient who was fired by Dish Network after testing positive for marijuana. Here is more of the context:

In a brief filed with the state Supreme Court last month, the Colorado attorney general's office argues that giving workers a right to use marijuana off duty "would have a profound and detrimental impact on employers in the state."

"Contrary to popular perception, Colorado has not simply legalized marijuana for medical and recreational purposes," state attorneys write in the brief. "Instead, its citizens have adopted narrowly drawn constitutional amendments that decriminalize small amounts of marijuana."

The Colorado Court of Appeals — the state's second-highest court — last year upheld Dish Network's firing of a quadriplegic medical-marijuana patient for a positive drug test. Although there is no allegation that Brandon Coats was stoned at work, the company said it has a zero-tolerance policy on marijuana.

Coats say his off-the-job marijuana use should be protected by Colorado's Lawful Off-Duty Activities Statute, which prevents companies from firing employees for doing things outside of work — like smoking cigarettes — that are legal. Dish Network argues that marijuana use can't be considered lawful while cannabis remains illegal federally.

In its brief supporting Dish Network, the state attorney general's office says zero-tolerance policies ensure that employees are able to perform their jobs competently. Requiring employers to prove that workers are stoned on the job before they can be fired would require companies to conduct "intrusive investigations into the personal life of an employee."

"Simply put, zero tolerance policies provide businesses with an efficient means of avoiding difficult employment decisions and even litigation," the attorney general's brief states.

Coats' case is the first time Colorado's highest court has taken up questions about the scope of marijuana legalization in the state, and it has drawn at least six outside groups filing briefs in support of Coats or Dish. The Colorado Mining Association, the Colorado Defense Lawyers Association and the Colorado Civil Justice League — which claims an allegiance with several businesses and groups including the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce — have filed briefs on behalf of Dish. The Colorado Plaintiff Employment Lawyers Association and the Patient and Caregivers Rights Litigation Project have filed briefs supporting Coats.

The Supreme Court has not announced when it will hear the case.

June 5, 2014 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, State court rulings | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The economics of medical marijuana in Michigan

The local article, headlined "State profits $6.8 million from medical marijuana," highlights some of the economic realities surrounding medical marijuana in Michigan. Here are the basics:

The state of Michigan raked in $10.8 million during 2013 through the state medical marijuana program.  With $4 million in expenses, medical marijuana provided a $6.8 million boost to the state finances, according to a Jan. 1, 2014 report on medical marijuana in Michigan filed to the state Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) department.

 Last year’s profits are slightly higher than 2012, when the state generated $6.2 million in revenue from medical marijuana.  As part of the 2008 Michigan Medical Marihuana Act (MMA), a statistical report must be submitted to the state at the beginning of each year. The revenue is generated through licensing fees.  

Between Oct. 1, 2012 through Sept. 30, 2013, 82,193 applications for a medical marijuana card were approved while 11,612 applications were denied. The state approved 36,175 applications for a renewed license and denied 8,672 patients with existing licenses....

 Patients seeking a medical marijuana card must have a health condition to do so. Severe and chronic pain accounted for nearly 70 percent of claims, followed by severe and persistent muscle spasms, severe nausea and seizures.

June 1, 2014 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Jobs, jobs, jobs: why legalization will garner fans among those eager for economic development

This local article from Connecticut, headlined "Medical marijuana's first product, jobs," highlights some of the reasons I believe marijuana reform is going to garner a lot more adherents than opponents among those interesting in economic development. Here are excerpts:

Months before any cannabis-based products will reach patients, Connecticut's new medical-marijuana industry has already created hundreds of jobs -- in construction. Former factories are being reconfigured into secure pharmaceutical facilities for the growing, harvesting, curing and preparation of various strains of marijuana that should be delivered to the state's dispensaries by early fall.

Since the state awarded four marijuana producer licenses in January, an estimated $20 million has been committed to the West Haven, Watertown, Portland and Simsbury buildings that in a few weeks will begin growing thousands of pounds of pot....

In a West Haven industrial zone parallel to Interstate 95, David Lipton, managing partner of the Fairfield-based Advanced Grow Labs, is supervising the conversion of 26,000 square feet of space that will house sterile laboratories, heavily lighted grow areas and budding rooms that will promote marijuana flowers, the part of the plant with the highest concentration of active ingredients. During a tour of the sprawling, noisy one-story building last week, more than a dozen electricians, sheet-rock experts and other subcontractors worked to transform the space....

Advanced Grow Labs is one of a series of new projects that are bringing economic growth, said Joseph A. Riccio Jr., commissioner of development for West Haven. Last year, city building permits brought in $800,000 to the city, but in the first five months of this year, the total has already topped $1 million.

He said the medical marijuana industry is obviously fostering jobs while the region still recovers from the recession. "This is a good boost for tradesmen," he said during a phone interview last week. "Every job is a good job."

Lipton estimates his company has invested about $2.5 million in construction and equipment, employing dozens of workers at a time, from structural and mechanical engineers, to steel fabricators to sheetrock installers, tapers, masons, electricians and plumbers. Those workers are generating Worker's Compensation and payroll taxes for the state. "There's definitely a positive effect on the economy," he said, adding various building and work permits from West Haven generated revenue for the city and that once up and running, the company will also pay personal property taxes....

Thirty-two miles to the north, in a hilltop Watertown industrial park near Route 8, Ethan Ruby, CEO of Theraplant, is supervising a similar conversion to a 63,000-square-foot building, about half of which will be renovated for initial production. The operation will have a 900-square-foot safe for storing market-ready material.

Ruby, who heads the state growers' association, said his company has invested about $8 million, nearly half of the estimated $20 million the four producers have spent for the initial phases of operations. On a recent day, Ruby counted 73 workers on-site, including landscapers, sheetrock installers and electricians.

June 1, 2014 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, May 16, 2014

New study on marijuana and driving in Colorado

Following up on yesterday's post about driving and marijuana legalization, the Cannabist reports that a new study has been released showing an increase in the number of Coloradans in fatal car crashes that tested positive for marijuana.  The study focused on the period from 2009-2011, when Colorado's commercial medical marijuana market came into being.  It does not include post-legalization data.  

Like other studies on marijuana and car fatalities, the study's tests cannot determine whether the drivers were actually impaired or whether they had smoked marijuana at some earlier date.  As a result, we don't know whether the positive tests are simply the result of increased use or indicative or an increase in impaired driving.  

Adding to the complexity, the story notes that traffic fatalities in Colorado decreased overall during the relevant time period.  If there had been a significant rise in marijuana-impaired drivers on the road (as opposed to a rise in people testing positive because of a general increase in use), we might imagine that it would have resulted in an overall increase in traffic fatilities.  Of course, it could be that marijuana impaired driving led to an increase in fatalities but that the increases were more than offset by other developments (e.g., innovations in car safety, effectiveness at deterring other forms of reckless driving, etc.). 

In any event, it will be interesting to see if any future studies are able to tease out whether (and to what extent) legalization is resulting in more marijuana impaired driving.  Here's the beginning of the Cannabist story:

One study shows that more drivers involved in fatal car accidents in Colorado are testing positive for marijuana — and that Colorado has a higher percentage of such drivers testing positive for marijuana than other states even when controlled for several variables. But the data the researchers use do not reveal whether those drivers were impaired at the time of the crash or whether they were at fault.

 

“[T]he primary result of this study may simply reflect a general increase in marijuana use during this … time period in Colorado,” the study’s authors write.

May 16, 2014 in Current Affairs, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 15, 2014

New Congressional effort underway to make it easier to research medical marijuana

Via Mike Liszewski at Americans for Safe Access (disclosure: I currently serve on ASA's Board) comes word of a new Congressional effort to remove a barrier to marijuana research.  In addition to all of the standard research restrictions restrictions for Schedule I substances, marijuana is subject to an additional Public Health Service review that has stalled some medical marijuana research efforts.  A group of Representatives is calling for the PHS review to be eliminated.  

Here's the story from ASA:

A bipartisan group of Members of Congress have drafted a letter seeking that the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) remove a federal barrier to medical marijuana research that no other Schedule I substance is subjected to.

 

Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Morgan Griffith (R-VA), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), and Dana Rohrabacher, (R-CA) are currently seeking additional cosigners to the letter, which seeks to lift the current Public Health Service (PHS) review process that has preventing potentially groundbreaking medical marijuana research from taking place in the United States.

 

Established in May 1999, the PHS review process was the federal government's response to the 1998 Institute of Medicine report that called for more in depth scientific research to understand the medical value of marijuana. While the plain language of the PHS review protocol says that it is, "intended to facilitate the research needed to evaluate these pending public health questions by making research-grade marijuana available for well-designed studies," the review process has largely served to thwart research rather than facilitate it.

May 15, 2014 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

New survey suggests that "medical community supports the use of medical marijuana"

WebMDIn many discussions of modern marijuana reform over at my sentencing blog, frequent commentor Bill Otis was often very quick to highlight that the American Medical Assocation has expressed serious concerns and considerable reservations about the potential health impact of legalizing marijuana.  I largely agree with Bill that the medical community should have a significant role and voice in the on-going national marijuana reform debate, and thus I found notablethis new FOXBusiness article headlined "Survey: 53% of Doctors Support National Legalization of Medical Marijuana."  Here are the details:

Medical marijuana might be legal in 21 states, but it is still not widely prescribe by doctors across the country — despite the majority of doctors and patients supporting its use. According to a survey by online medical resource WebMD, 69% of doctors and 52% of patients polled say marijuana delivers benefits.

“Regardless of past restrictions, a majority of patients and doctors see marijuana as delivering real benefits to treat patients,” says Michael Smith, chief medical editor at WebMD in the research report. “Uncertainty is the next largest response, with 37% of patients unsure of marijuana’s benefits versus 20% of doctors.”

Among the nearly 1,500 doctors surveyed, 82% of the physicians in favor of medical marijuana were oncologists and hematologists. What’s more, a wide majority of respondents say medical marijuana should be an option for patients. However, the support of legalized marijuana has its limits, according to the survey: 53% of doctors and 51% of consumers oppose legalizing it nationally for recreational use.

WebMD and its Medscape unit polled 3,000 consumers along with 1,500 doctors for its report. Support for medicinal use of marijuana is strong even in states where it’s illegal. According to the survey, 50% of doctors practicing in states where it’s banned say it should be legalized, while 52% of doctors practicing in states that are considering legalizing it for medicinal use support the practice. Forty-nine percent of consumers living in states where it’s not legal support legalizing medical marijuana.

Smith says the findings of the survey indicate the medical community supports the use of medical marijuana, but more studies are needed to boost doctors’ confidence as to where medical marijuana can help and where it may not. “Despite more than 20 years of anecdotal evidence about the medicinal effects of marijuana, doctors and consumers remain in search of answers,” he said in a recent press release.

The press release referenced in this article is available at this link, and it provides some more details about the survey and its results.  I also now see WebMD has this entire special section of its website providing coverage of marijuana-related issues.

April 30, 2014 in Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)