Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Monday, August 22, 2016

Oregon reports collecting over $25 million in marijuana taxes in first half of 2016

As reported in this local article, "Oregon medical marijuana dispensaries have sold an estimated $102 million in recreational cannabis since January, when the state imposed a 25 percent sales tax on pot" which means it "has collected about $25.5 million in marijuana taxes in the first six months of the year and is on track to meet state economists' projections." Here is more about marijuana tax realities in the Beaver State:

The latest tax figures, released Monday by the Oregon Department of Revenue, include the start of marijuana-infused edibles sales.  The products include a wide variety of snacks, sweets and drinks and were available to anyone 21 and older starting in June....

State economists estimate that the state will collect about $44.4 million in marijuana taxes in 2016, the first year of the tax.

The state expects it will cost $28.7 million to regulate marijuana; of that, taxes will cover $12 million with the rest covered by fees and licensing of marijuana businesses.

What's left will be distributed according to a formula spelled out by law: 40 percent to the state's Common School Fund, 20 percent to mental health, alcoholism and drug services, 15 percent to Oregon State Police, 10 percent for city law enforcement, 10 percent for county law enforcement and 5 percent to the Oregon Health Authority for alcohol and drug abuse prevention, early intervention and treatment services.

Oregon's medical marijuana stores have been allowed to sell a limited amount of cannabis flowers, as well as starter marijuana plants and seeds, to anyone 21 and older since last October. The state's temporary 25 percent tax kicked in on Jan. 1.

That tax eventually will be replaced with one ranging from 17 percent to 20 percent once the Oregon Liquor Control Commission takes over regulation of recreational marijuana sales later this year. The Legislature set the base tax rate at 17 percent, but cities and counties can adopt ordinances that add up to 3 percent more.

August 22, 2016 in Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, August 19, 2016

"It’s Not Legal Yet: Nearly 500,000 Californians Arrested for Marijuana in Last Decade"

The title of this post is the title of this new short report from the Drug Policy Alliance, which gets started this way:

Short of legalization, California has some of the most permissive marijuana possession laws in the United States, yet law enforcement continues to arrest, prosecute, and incarcerate thousands of people annually for marijuana offenses. Between 2006 and 2015, there were nearly half a million marijuana arrests in California. During this period, there were on average 14,000 marijuana felony arrests in the state each year. California voters will have the chance to greatly reduce marijuana arrests this November when they vote on Proposition 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act.

August 19, 2016 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Timely new report on benefits of marijuana reform from West Virginia Center on Budget & Policy

This local article, headlined "Could legalizing marijuana be West Virginia's pot of gold?," reports on this interesting new policy brief released by the West Virginia Center on Budget & Policy suggests. The article summarizes the themes of the report, which is titled "Modernizing West Virginia's Marijuana Laws: Potential Benefits of Decriminalization, Medical Marijuana and Legalization." This summary comes directly from the first two pages of the full 27-page report:

Over the last two decades, states across the country have modernized their marijuana laws to reflect the growing evidence that doing so will help reduce criminal justice costs, help treat some medical conditions, and boost tax revenues and their state’s economy. As of 2016, four states and the District of Columbia have legalized the recreational use of marijuana for adults, 25 states (and DC) allow for marijuana to be used for medical purposes, and 21 states have decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana. With several states considering ballot measures this November and public support for legalization rapidly growing (53% of Americans support legalization) among all age groups, the number of states taking action to undo restrictions on marijuana is likely to grow.

While most states have taken at least one step toward modernizing their marijuana laws, West Virginia has not. However, bi-partisan legislation has been introduced in West Virginia over the last several years to legalize medical marijuana and tax marijuana for retail sales to adults. A 2013 poll found that a majority of West Virginians supports decriminalizing marijuana and legalizing it for medical use, while 46 percent supported regulating it like alcohol.

As West Virginia continues to be plagued by large budget deficits (a projected $300 million for FY 2018), an undiversified economy with a fading coal industry, and poor health outcomes, modernizing the state’s marijuana laws could be a step in addressing these problems and could help save the state money in the long run.

This report provides an overview of the states that have modernized their marijuana laws in recent years– including decriminalization, medical marijuana, and recreational use – and the implications for West Virginia if it decided to pursue a similar path. It provides an overview of federal and state marijuana laws (Section 1), an estimation of the potential tax revenue from legalizing recreational marijuana in West Virginia (Section 2), an evaluation of some potential benefits from modernizing West Virginia’s marijuana laws (Section 3), and recommendations on reforming West Virginia’s marijuana laws (Section 4).

KEY FINDINGS

  • If marijuana was legalized and taxed in West Virginia at a rate of 25 percent of its wholesale price the state could collect an estimated $45 million annually upon full implementation. If 10 percent of marijuana users who live within a 200-mile radius of West Virginia came to the state to purchase marijuana, the state could collect an estimated $194 million.

  • In 2010, it is estimated that West Virginia spent more than $17 million enforcing the state’s marijuana laws. Legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana in West Virginia could reduce the number of marijuana-related arrests, especially among African Americans, which in turn, could reduce criminal-justice-related costs.

  • The marijuana industry has the potential to add jobs both directly and indirectly. As of September 2015, Colorado had 25,311 people licensed to work in its marijuana industry and over 1,000 retail marijuana businesses. If marijuana were legal in West Virginia it could also have the effect of increasing tourism to the state, particularly in regions with outdoor recreational activities.

  • Marijuana may potentially have a positive impact on West Virginia’s opioid-based painkiller and heroin epidemic by offering another, less-addictive alternative to individuals who are suffering from debilitating medical conditions.

August 19, 2016 in Business laws and regulatory issues, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Coloardo marijuana sales (and tax revenues) continued to grow to record highs in first half of 2016

This article from the Denver Post report on the latest notable sales numbers from marijuana stores in Colorado.  The full headline of the article highlights the main data: "Colorado marijuana shops sell nearly $600 million of weed in first half of 2016; As Colorado's monthly marijuana sales eclipse the $110 million mark for only the second time, analysts predict a $1.35 billion finish for 2016."  Here is more:

Colorado marijuana shops sold nearly $600 million of recreational and medical cannabis and related products in the first half of 2016, new Department of Revenue data show. And a prominent cannabis industry analyst says the sales are on pace to reach $1.35 billion by year’s end.

The state’s marijuana tax data for June 2016 shows near-record highs for Colorado’s recreational and medical cannabis markets. June’s $73.6 million in recreational marijuana sales marks the second-busiest month for the state’s cannabis stores, according to Cannabist calculations. A few months earlier in April 2016, home to the 4/20 holiday, retail sales totaled more than $76.5 million. The $38.1 million worth of medical marijuana sold in June ranks in the top six most lucrative months of medical pot sales since the recreational era began in January 2014.

While Colorado cannabis sales totaled $996 million in 2015, this year’s totals are on pace to reach $1.35 billion, according to BDS Analytics, which collects data from dispensaries’ point-of-sale systems. “The rate of growth in this industry never ceases to astound us,” said BDS Analytics founder and CEO Roy Bingham. “The combined recreational and medical markets are more than two years old, yet they both continue to expand rapidly — especially the recreational marketplace. And within the overall market, sales in every segment, from concentrates to flower to edibles, continue to swell.”...

There are three different taxes on Colorado’s recreational cannabis — the standard 2.9 percent state sales tax, a special 10 percent sales tax and a 15 percent excise tax on wholesale transfers, which is earmarked for school construction projects. The $5.4 million collected in June excise tax brings the yearly total to $26.6 million. Through the first six months of 2016, Colorado has amassed more than $88 million in taxes and fees for medical and recreational cannabis.

August 16, 2016 in Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Noting that marijuana users are starting to look more like tobacco users than alcohol users

In a lot of my teaching about marijuana reform and policy advocacy, I try to get my students (and others) to explore and better understand why advocates for marijuana reform often want to talk so much about similarities between alcohol and marijuana, whereas advocates against marijuana reform often want to talk so much about similarities between tobacco and marijuana.  Against that brackdrop, this new Washington Post piece reporting on new research about marijuana use should boost the cause of opponents of marijuana reform.  Here are the details (with links from the original):

A massive study published this month in the Journal of Drug Issues found that the proportion of marijuana users who smoke daily has rapidly grown, and that many of those frequent users are poor and lack a high-school diploma. 

Examining a decade of federal surveys of drug use conducted between 2002 and 2013, study authors Steven Davenport and Jonathan Caulkins paint one of the clearest pictures yet of the demographics of current marijuana use in the U.S.  They found that the profile of marijuana users is much closer to cigarette smokers than alcohol drinkers, and that a handful of users consume much of the marijuana used in the U.S.   "In the early 1990s only one in nine past-month [marijuana] users reported using daily or near-daily," Davenport and Caulkins write. "Now it is fully one in three. Daily or near-daily users now account for over two-thirds of self-reported days of use (68%)."

These usage patterns are similar to what's seen among tobacco users. "What’s going on here is that over the last 20 years marijuana went from being used like alcohol to being used more like tobacco, in the sense of lots of people using it every day," Caulkins said in an email.  

Adults with less than a high school education accounted for 19 percent of all marijuana use in 2012 and 2013 (compared to 13 percent of the total adult population), according to the survey. This is similar to their 20 percent share of all cigarette use, but considerably higher than their 8 percent share of all alcohol use.   Similarly, Americans of all ages with a household income of less than $20,000 accounted for 29 percent of all marijuana use and 27 percent of all cigarette use, compared to only 13 percent of all alcohol use and 19 percent of the total adult population.

The concentration of use among poorer households means that many marijuana users are spending a high proportion of their income on their marijuana habit. Users who spend fully one quarter of their income on weed account for 15 percent of all marijuana use.  One interesting finding is that over the past 10 years as many states have liberalized their marijuana policies, marijuana arrests are down while marijuana purchases are up.  This means that the risk of getting arrested for marijuana use has fallen sharply since 2002. That year, there was one marijuana arrest for every 550 marijuana purchases, according to Davenport and Caulkins. By 2013, there was one marijuana arrest for every 1,090 purchases.

"The criminal risk per marijuana transaction has fallen by half," they conclude.  Much of that risk is still born by non-white marijuana users.

Davenport and Caulkins stress that since the study was conducted over a period preceding the opening of recreational marijuana markets in Colorado and Washington, it doesn't offer any evidence on the merits or lack thereof of legalization.  "Our results can in no way be interpreted as evidence toward the successes or failures of marijuana legalization or even medical marijuana laws," they write.  

However, they say their research presents a number of things to consider as states like California, Arizona and Maine vote on marijuana legalization this fall.   "Most people who have used marijuana in the past year are in full control of their use, and are generally happy with that use," Caulkins said in an email. But, "consumption is highly concentrated among the smaller number of daily & near-daily users, and they tend to be less educated, less affluent, and less in control of their use." 

The median marijuana user, in other words, may be someone who indulges periodically but generally doesn't consume a lot of it.  However, most of the marijuana consumed in the U.S. isn't consumed by the median marijuana user, but rather by the very heavy users who smoke daily or more.  "There is a sharp contrast between what policy is best for the typical user versus what is best for the people who consume most of the marijuana," Caulkins said.  

 

August 14, 2016 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 8, 2016

Gallup reports that self-reports of marijuana use is up in United States ... though I wonder if numbers partially reflect more honest self-reporting

As reported in this new Gallup posting, "[t]hirteen percent of U.S. adults tell Gallup they currently smoke marijuana, nearly double the percentage who reported smoking marijuana only three years ago."  Here is more on what Gallup has found and has to say about its most recent findings:

Although use of the drug is still prohibited by federal law, the number of states that have legalized recreational marijuana use has grown from two in 2013, Colorado and Washington, to four today -- with the addition of Alaska and Oregon -- plus the District of Columbia.  Five states will vote on whether to legalize marijuana this November. Half of U.S. states (including the four above) have some variation of a medicinal marijuana law on the books, and four more will be voting this fall on whether to legalize marijuana for medicinal use.  Both major-party presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, have voiced support for medicinal marijuana but say they defer to the states in terms of policymaking on both recreational and medicinal marijuana use.

States' willingness to legalize marijuana could be a reason for the uptick in the percentage of Americans who say they smoke marijuana, regardless of whether it is legal in their particular state.  Gallup finds residents in the West -- home of all four states that have legalized recreational marijuana use -- are significantly more likely to say they smoke marijuana than those in other parts of the country....

To compare marijuana use among various subgroups, Gallup aggregated data from 2013, 2015 and 2016.  The results show that age and religiosity are key determinants of marijuana use. Almost one in five adults (19%) under the age of 30 report currently using it -- at least double the rate seen among each older age group. Only 2% of weekly churchgoers and 7% of less frequent attenders say they use marijuana, but this rises to 14% of those who seldom or never attend a religious service.

The pattern by age in ever having used marijuana does not show the same skew toward the young; instead, it peaks among the middle-aged. About half of adults between the ages of 30 and 49 (50%) and between 50 and 64 (48%) report having tried it.  Despite being less likely to currently smoke marijuana, these older Americans could be more likely than their younger peers to report having tried it because they've had more years to do so.  But this difference in their rates of experimentation could also reflect generational cultures and attitudes toward marijuana that have shifted over time....

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted July 13-17, 2016, with a random sample of 1,023 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

Though not discussed by Gallup, I cannot help but speculate that these latest results may reflect a greater willingness by marijuana consumers to admit to marijuana consumption (especially in states that have recreational or medical reforms in place) as well as a greater number of persons consuming marijuana. Just speaking for myself, I think I would be generally be much more willing to admit to a telephone interviewer my involvement with activities that are legal under state laws than to those that are illegal under state law. For this reason (and others), I always wonder whether changes in self-reported marijuana use primarily reflects changes in actual use rates or instead is impacted significantly by changes in self-reporting honesty.

August 8, 2016 in Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The latest government data on marijuana use and attitudes

This new USA Today article, headlined "Study examines evolving rates, perceptions of marijuana use," reports on some new data on marijuana consumption and related topics in the United States. Here are excerpts from the press report on the marijuana report:

A new study from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration provides an in-depth examination of marijuana use in the United States, as well as data regarding the public’s perception of the risks associated with the drug.  Using data collected by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health from 2012 to 2014, SAMHSA analyzed various regions around the country and within states to determine the rates of marijuana use and “perceptions of risks of harm” associated with the drug’s use in different parts of the U.S.

“This report provides a very detailed understanding of marijuana use and perception patterns in communities across the nation,” said Fran Harding, Director of SAMHSA’s Center for Substance Abuse Prevention. “This information can help public health officials and others better gauge the marijuana-related prevention and treatment needs in their communities and fine-tune their programs and services to best address them....

According to the study, 20.3 million people age 12 or older used marijuana in the past month, or approximately 1 in 13 people over the age of 12.

Although the federal government still classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug, many states have begun to make changes to their cannabis laws. Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington and the District of Columbia are currently the only states with legalized recreational marijuana, but 23 states and the District of Columbia have legalized forms of medical marijuana while an additional 14 have taken measures to decriminalize the drug.

The report comes several months ahead of the November elections, where eight states will have the option to legalize either recreational or medical cannabis. Five states — Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada — are pursuing recreational marijuana, while three more — Arkansas, Florida and Missouri — could legalize medicinal cannabis.

Breaking their study into several regions — West, Northeast, Midwest and South — SAMHSA identified several states with multiple high use substate regions. Among those identified were Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and the District of Columbia. Rhode Island and Vermont are the only two of those states to have either not legalized recreational marijuana or not have it on the ballot in 2016.

In spite of the increasingly relaxed marijuana laws, the SAMHSA study also found that approximately 74.9 million people aged 12 or older “perceived great risk of harm” from using marijuana once a month, or approximately 2 out of every 7 people above the age of 12. The states with the highest percentages of perception of risk were all from the South — Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. Alabama, Louisiana and Texas were among the states with the lowest use rate. The states with the lowest perception of risk include high marijuana use areas like Oregon, Washington and the District of Columbia.

The SAMHSA 19-page "short report" that is the basis for this article is available at this link under the title "Marijuana Use and Perceived Risk of Harm from Marijuana Use Varies within and across States."  For anyone really interested in marijuana data, especially divided by regions, the particulars and graphics from this report will be really interesting.

July 26, 2016 in Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 22, 2016

"Republican support for legal marijuana hits a new high: For the first time Republicans narrowly support legalizing marijuana"

Marijuana1The title of this post is the headline of this summary report by YouGov of the results of its latest polling on marijuana reform opinions. Here is some of the text of the report:

YouGov's latest research shows that most Americans still support legalization of marijuana, and that support for legalization has increased slightly, from 52% in December 2015 to 55% today. Most of this change is a result of changing attitudes among Republicans. In fact, for the first time, Republicans narrowly tend to support legalization, 45% to 42%.

In December 2015, Republicans had opposed marijuana legalization by 50% to 36%. Prior to this Republicans support for legalization was even more limited. In January 2014 60% of Republicans opposed legalizing marijuana and only 28% supported legalization.

Broader attitudes towards marijuana among Republicans are largely unchanged however, indicating that Republican opinion of prohibition is changing not broader attitudes towards marijuana. Notably, while 44% of Republicans viewed marijuana as a gateway to harder drugs in December, this figure is still essentially unchanged at 43% today. In December 55% of Republicans thought government efforts to enforce marijuana laws cost more than they were worth, something 54% of Republicans still think.

The full poll results which are the product of questions asked of 1000 respondents from July 17-18, 2016, are available at this link.

July 22, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Political perspective on reforms, Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 21, 2016

New psychology research suggests why we ought to consider encouraging adults to use more marijuana and less alcohol

15As highlighted by this Washington Post piece, headlined "Researchers got people drunk or high, then made a fascinating discovery about how we respond," some notable new research provide yet another reason why society might be better off encouraging marijuana use rather than alcohol use. Here are the basics from the WaPo piece:

[R]esearch on the link between marijuana and aggression has been mixed. Marijuana seems to make most people relaxed, but it can also cause anxiety and paranoia, conditions which can occasionally manifest themselves in violent ways....

So a recent study from the Netherlands, published in the journal Psychopharmacology, attempts to put this question to bed using the gold standard of scientific research: a random controlled trial. They recruited a group of 20 heavy alcohol users (three-plus drinks a day for men, two-plus for women), 21 heavy marijuana users who smoked at least three times a week, and 20 controls who didn't use either drug heavily at all.... Then they made all three groups complete a number of tests designed to get people riled up....

The researchers measured aggression, before and after the respondents took the test, by asking them how aggressive they felt on a 100-point scale. For good measure, they had the marijuana and alcohol users go through the whole thing again one week later, this time without getting high or drunk, as a kind of separate control. They found, first of all, that "alcohol intoxication increased subjective aggression in the alcohol group." The alcohol users, in other words, acted more aggressive when they were drunk than they did when they were sober. By contrast, the smokers became less aggressive when they were high.

These findings held through both the self-assessments — alcohol users rated themselves as more aggressive when drunk — and through the responses to the tests: The drinkers tried harder to undermine their computer opponents when they were drunk. But the smokers actually acted less aggressive toward their computer opponents when they were high. "The results in the present study support the hypothesis that acute alcohol intoxication increases feelings of aggression and that acute cannabis intoxication reduces feelings of aggression," the researchers conclude.

This is in line with other research. A study in 2014, for instance, found that marijuana use among couples was linked to lower rates of domestic violence. In a fun study from the 1980s, researchers gave undergraduates varying doses of marijuana and then asked them to administer electric shocks to people in another room. The more stoned the undergrads were, the less interested they were in zapping other people.

This multi-author research can be examined at this link and under the title "Subjective aggression during alcohol and cannabis intoxication before and after aggression exposure." And here is how the abstract of the article describes the results anf findings:

Results: Subjective aggression significantly increased following aggression exposure in all groups while being sober. Alcohol intoxication increased subjective aggression whereas cannabis decreased the subjective aggression following aggression exposure. Aggressive responses during the PSAP increased following alcohol and decreased following cannabis relative to placebo. Changes in aggressive feeling or response were not correlated to the neuroendocrine response to treatments.

Conclusions: It is concluded that alcohol facilitates feelings of aggression whereas cannabis diminishes aggressive feelings in heavy alcohol and regular cannabis users, respectively.

July 21, 2016 in Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, June 27, 2016

DC Department of Health issues big new report: "MARIJUANA in the DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA"

Cl14w03WYAAlJOCThe District of Columbia is a unique locale with unique laws and practices in many arenas. But, as highilighted by a big new report issued by the DC's Deprtment of Health, the District's relationship with marijuana law, policy and reform has much in common with a number of other jurisdictions.  This big new report, available here, is titled "Marijuana in the District of Columbia," and here is the report's executive summary:

In recent years, marijuana related policies have gone through many transformations throughout the United States, with the District of Columbia being no exception.  This report provides insight through current research and data that outlines the disadvantage, benefits and societal ramifications that accompany decriminalization and legalization of marijuana in the District of Columbia.  Factors that have been analyzed include short-term and long-term health consequences, public safety issues like driving while under the influence of the substance, marijuana’s co-use relationship with other drugs, and effects on fetal, infant, and adolescent development.

Highlights

• 53.8% of adults in the District have ever tried marijuana and 17.8% currently use it.

• Marijuana was the second most commonly detected drug in traffic accidents that resulted in fatalities, District of Columbia in 2012.

• Medical marijuana has demonstrated promising results for various ailments, including neuropathic pain, nausea due to chemotherapy, and muscle spasms.

• Short term marijuana-related effects can include cyclic vomiting, disorientation, impaired body movement, increased heart rate, and difficulty thinking or problem-solving.

• There is some evidence that marijuana use may increase cancer risk.

• Among individuals at risk for mental illness, marijuana use may worsen symptoms.

• 8.9% of marijuana users will transition from casual use to dependence.

• Cigarette use and binge drinking are significantly higher among marijuana users than nonusers.

• Marijuana use among expecting mothers has demonstrated various adverse effects, including low birth weight and pre-term delivery.

• Marijuana use has been associated with a decline in IQ when regularly used among individuals under the age of 18.

• Throughout the U.S., marijuana possession arrests tend to occur significantly more among African Americans than any other race/ ethnicity despite rates of use are fairly similar across all categories.

June 27, 2016 in Initiative reforms in states, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Effective coverage of impact of marijuana reform on migration of poor and homeless to Colorado

Joel Warner has penned these two interesting and important new lengthy pieces about homelessness in Colorado and its intersection with marijuana reform:

Marijuana Legalization In Colorado: How Recreational Weed Is Attracting People, But Spiking The State’s Homeless Rate

Marijuana Legalization: Pot Brings Poor People To Colorado, But What’s Being Done To Help Them?

Here are brief excerpts from both articles (which ought to be read in full):

While much has been made of the tourists, entrepreneurs and investors lured to Colorado’s blossoming marijuana industry, very little attention has been paid to another population drawn to the state’s cannabis experiment: marijuana migrants moving to the state who wind up on the streets. Interviews with people at homeless shelters in Denver and other Colorado cities like Pueblo suggest that since Colorado launched its legalized cannabis system in 2014, the percentage of newcomers to the facilities who are there in part because of the lure of marijuana has swollen to 20 to 30 percent.

All told, several hundred marijuana migrants struggling with poverty appear to be arriving in Colorado each month. Some of them, like Butts, come to use cannabis recreationally or medically without the fear of arrest. Others are hoping to get jobs in the new industry. But many arrive to find homeless services stretched to the breaking point, local housing costs increasingly prohibitive and cannabis use laws that penalize those without private residences....

Homelessness experts point out that there’s no proof that marijuana leads to homelessness, or that cannabis is the main culprit behind the growing numbers. Study after study has concluded that the major factors leading to homelessness are a lack of affordable housing, inability to find work and family crises. “There is very little safety when you are homeless,” said James Gillespie, community impact and government relations liaison for the Comitis Crisis Center, a shelter in Aurora, near Denver. “How many people want to trade their safety for access to something like marijuana or any other substance?”

But there is evidence that people who were already struggling to get by in other states are relocating to Colorado in part because of marijuana. So far, however, research on the phenomenon has been limited. A survey of Denver shelter workers by Metropolitan State University in the fall of 2014 found that eight of the 11 shelters said they were seeing client increases due in part to marijuana, said lead researcher Rebecca Trammell, but the study did not examine what, exactly those increases looked like. Plus some shelters actively avoid asking about marijuana use....

Marty Otañez, a University of Colorado Denver anthropology professor who’s been studying the state’s marijuana industry, said he’s met multiple cannabis workers who are on their way to becoming homeless. It’s left him convinced that it’s time for people in charge of the industry to address the problem. “The flow of ‘trimmigrants’ and other cannabis workers into Colorado and the added pressure on homeless shelters and social services for unemployed or poorly paid cannabis workers is a symptom of the broader problem of cannabis capitalism gone awry,” said Otañez. “Nominal efforts to fund corporate social responsibility schemes demonstrate the lack of seriousness on the part of cannabis business people to address in any genuine way the social ills associated with green gold.”

With nearly a billion dollars in revenue and more than $135 million in statewide taxes and fees generated by Colorado marijuana sales last year, some shelter managers would like to see a portion of the proceeds devoted to homeless services. “If some of those dollars can go to serving those folks, it could really help people,” said Tom Luehrs, executive director of Denver’s St. Francis Center day shelter. “We are not saying we want to become rich; we just want to help these people because Colorado is doing something good and it’s bringing people here.”

So far, none of Colorado’s marijuana tax revenues have gone to homeless programs. That will soon change. In Aurora, the city council recently voted to earmark $1.5 million of marijuana tax proceeds for homeless services annually for the next three years. According to Nancy Sheffield, project manager for Aurora’s neighborhood services department, the decision wasn’t based on concerns that marijuana was increasing local homeless numbers; it’s simply a matter of allocating resources to high-priority issues.

Whatever the reason, homeless advocates celebrated the move. “It’s a brilliant move by Aurora,” said James Gillespie, community impact and government relations liaison for the city's Comitis Crisis Center, a shelter. “It’s not every day that a municipality gets a new funding stream. To reinvest that to meet the needs of struggling families is a good moral imperative stand.”

June 22, 2016 in Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

"Colorado's Teen Marijuana Usage Dips after Legalization"

Logo-combined-Rev-05-06-15The title of this post is the headline of this new press report on a new Colorado government report about marijuana usage in the Centennial State.  Here are the details:

Marijuana consumption by Colorado high school students has dipped slightly since the state first permitted recreational cannabis use by adults, a new survey showed on Monday, contrary to concerns that legalization would increase pot use by teens.

The biannual poll by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment also showed the percentage of high school students indulging in marijuana in Colorado was smaller than the national average among teens. According to the department, 21.2 percent of Colorado high school students surveyed in 2015 had used marijuana during the preceding 30 days, down from 22 percent in 2011, the year before voters statewide approved recreational cannabis use by adults 21 and older.  The first state-licensed retail outlets for legalized pot actually opened in 2014.

Nationwide, the rate of pot use by teens is slightly higher at 21.7 percent, the study found.  “The survey shows marijuana use has not increased since legalization, with four of five high school students continuing to say they don't use marijuana, even occasionally,” the department said in a statement.

The department conducts the voluntary survey every two years in conjunction with the University of Colorado and a citizens advisory committee.  About 17,000 students responded to the poll....

A pro-legalization advocacy group said the findings show fears of widespread pot use by minors in states with legalized cannabis are unfounded.  "These statistics clearly debunk the theory that making marijuana legal for adults will result in more teen use,” said Mason Tvert, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project.

But Diane Carlson, of SMART Colorado, an organization that pushes for tighter regulations to keep cannabis away from children, said data from a 2015 survey by the federal Department of Health and Human Services showed that Colorado ranks first in the nation for marijuana use by youth between the ages of 12 and 17.

Carlson said it was “deeply concerning” that the Colorado survey showed that just 48 percent of the students polled viewed regular marijuana use as a risky behavior.  "Youth marijuana use can have lifelong implications. The risks, which include psychosis, suicide, drug addiction and lower IQs, have been reported based on research on much lower THC potencies than are typically sold on Colorado's commercial market,” she said.

The survey from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and related materials can be accessed at this link, and this news release from the Department is sub-titled "Youth marijuana use unchanged, alcohol, tobacco use down in Colorado." I found especially interesteing this infographic headed "Marijuana Use Among Youth in Colorado."

June 21, 2016 in Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Notable CDC survey data showing no changes in youth marijuana use despite massive state changes in marijuana law and policy

Via Tom Angell, the founder of Marijuana Majority, I just saw this interesting data report from the Center For Desease Control under the heading "Trends in the Prevalence of Marijuana, Cocaine, and Other Illegal Drug Use, National YRBS: 1991—2015." For those who do not know, the YRBS refers to the nation Youth Risk Behavior Survey which "monitors priority health risk behaviors and "is conducted every two years during the spring semester and provides data representative of 9th through 12th grade students in public and private schools throughout the United States."

The first three lines of data from this link will be of greatest interest to marijuana reform advocate, as it reports from the last 25 years the survey results on the issues of how many high-schoolers have "Ever used marijuana (one or more times during their life)" and have "Tried marijuana before age 13 years (for the first time)" and "Currently used marijuana (one or more times during the 30 days before the survey)."  Though I am simplifying the particulars, for all these survey questions, it appears that teen use of marijuana as reported via these surveys generally increased some in the 1990s and generally decreased over the last 15 years. And, of particular note, the CDC report that from 2013 to 2015, these was essentially and statistically speaking "No change." (Also, encouragingly, it appears that use of harder drugs by teens is also either not changing or even "decreasing" in recent years.)

Long story short, while adult use of marijuana is being legalize recreationally in a few states and medically in many more, it appears that so far we are seeing no obvious impact on teen use of marijuana.   I am not confident that these trends will persist over a long period of time if marijuana is legalized for recreational use by adults nationwide, but for now there is preliminary data to contradict assertions by opponents that marijuana reform that reform will be leading to significant increases in use by underage populations.

June 9, 2016 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

"As more states legalize marijuana, adolescents' problems with pot decline: Fewer adolescents also report using marijuana"

Journal-american-academy-childThe title of this post is the headline of this notable Science Daily release that reports on this notable newly published research in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry that surely should be getting lots and lots of attention from marijuana reform advocates.  Here are the basics via the Science Daily:

A survey of more than 216,000 adolescents from all 50 states indicates the number of teens with marijuana-related problems is declining. Similarly, the rates of marijuana use by young people are falling despite the fact more U.S. states are legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana use and the number of adults using the drug has increased.

Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis examined data on drug use collected from young people, ages 12 to 17, over a 12-year span. They found that the number of adolescents who had problems related to marijuana -- such as becoming dependent on the drug or having trouble in school and in relationships -- declined by 24 percent from 2002 to 2013.

Over the same period, kids, when asked whether they had used pot in the previous 12 months, reported fewer instances of marijuana use in 2013 than their peers had reported in 2002. In all, the rate fell by 10 percent. Those drops were accompanied by reductions in behavioral problems, including fighting, property crimes and selling drugs. The researchers found that the two trends are connected. As kids became less likely to engage in problem behaviors, they also became less likely to have problems with marijuana.

The study's first author, Richard A. Grucza, PhD, an associate professor of psychiatry, explained that those behavioral problems often are signs of childhood psychiatric disorders. "We were surprised to see substantial declines in marijuana use and abuse," he said. "We don't know how legalization is affecting young marijuana users, but it could be that many kids with behavioral problems are more likely to get treatment earlier in childhood, making them less likely to turn to pot during adolescence. But whatever is happening with these behavioral issues, it seems to be outweighing any effects of marijuana decriminalization."

The new study is published in the June issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. The data was gathered as part of a confidential, computerized study called the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. It surveys young people from different racial, ethnic and income groups in all 50 states about their drug use, abuse and dependence.

In 2002, just over 16 percent of those 12 to 17 reported using marijuana during the previous year. That number fell to below 14 percent by 2013. Meanwhile, the percentage of young people with marijuana-use disorders declined from around 4 percent to about 3 percent.

At the same time, the number of kids in the study who reported having serious behavior problems -- such as getting into fights, shoplifting, bringing weapons to school or selling drugs -- also declined over the 12-year study period. "Other research shows that psychiatric disorders earlier in childhood are strong predictors of marijuana use later on," Grucza said. "So it's likely that if these disruptive behaviors are recognized earlier in life, we may be able to deliver therapies that will help prevent marijuana problems -- and possibly problems with alcohol and other drugs, too."

May 24, 2016 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Science | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Marijuana Legalization & Taxation: Positive Revenue Implications for New Jersey"

AOiGwZE3The title of this post is the title of this new report produced by Gargen State public policy groups. This ACLU of New Jersey press release, which is subtitled "NJ Policy Perspective & NJ United for Marijuana Reform analysis projects $300 million in annual sales tax revenue to come with legalization for adults," provides this context and highlights:

New Jersey would bring in hundreds of millions of dollars in new revenue by legalizing marijuana, a new report released by New Jersey Policy Perspective and New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform has found. Legalization, taxation, and regulation of marijuana for use by adults aged 21 and older would ultimately add an estimated $300 million in sales tax to state coffers rather than divert consumers to the illegal market, the two policy-focused groups said at a Trenton press conference.

"The lessons from around the country are loud and clear: marijuana legalization makes fiscal sense, and it makes practical sense," said New Jersey Policy Perspective Policy Analyst Brandon McKoy, a co-author of the report. "Expanding economic opportunities and addressing our persistent budget deficit aren't the only reasons to legalize and regulate marijuana, but they are extremely persuasive ones."

The report estimates that New Jersey would bring in at least $300 million annually if marijuana legalization were fully implemented, using graduated tax increases over a three-year period, going from 5 percent, to 15 percent, to the final rate of 25 percent. The first-of-its-kind report in New Jersey relies on conservative estimates, predicting the tax revenue only from marijuana sales. The report's projections are based on the experiences of other states, current information on marijuana users in New Jersey and the surrounding area, current pricing, and the tax structure of other states as they relate to New Jersey's interests.

Including a small percentage of New Yorkers and Pennsylvanians from counties neighboring New Jersey who are expected to participate in the legal, regulated market, the state could take in approximately $305.4 million once the sales tax is fully scaled to 25 percent, the report said. The report estimates that approximately 343,100 New Jerseyans would participate in a legal marketplace, spending $1.2 billion each year. Currently, New Jerseyans spend more than $850 million on marijuana each year. The calculation of tax revenue was based on a price of $350 per ounce, similar to the current estimated price of $343 per ounce in New Jersey.

Legalization would bring other economic benefits not covered in the report, such as job creation, growth in business, research and development, and boosts in property, agricultural, business, and income taxes. In addition, it would increase public safety, protect young people, save resources, advance racial justice, bolster public health, and reduce the strain on the police, corrections, and the criminal justice system, the report argues. New Jersey arrests more people for marijuana possession each year than for any other crime. A June 2015 Rutgers-Eagleton poll found that 58 percent of New Jerseyans support legalizing, taxing and regulating marijuana for use by adults aged 21 and older.

May 24, 2016 in Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Taxation information and issues , Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Even among skeptics, benefits of marijuana reform seem to eclipse drawbacks in Colorado

Colorado.first_.to_.legalize.250-1I am a fairly strong proponent of marijuana reforms in large part because there seem to be a number of tangible immediate benefits from legalizating, regulating and taxing the marijuana marketplace, while significant drawbacks rarely prove to be as dire as predicted by opponents of reform.   Two new stories in major newspapers today discussing developments in Colorado reinforce my views. Here are headlines, links and exceepts:

From USA Today here, "These kids are going to college on pot": 

Colorado pot smokers are helping send 25 students to college, the first scholarships in the U.S. funded with taxes on legal marijuana.  The awards offered by Pueblo County, in southern Colorado, are the latest windfall from legal Colorado marijuana sales that are also helping build schools and aid the homeless — and in one county, providing 8% raises to municipal workers.

Pueblo County is granting $1,000 each to the students, with recipients to be announced later this month.  “It’s incredible,” said Beverly Duran, the executive director of the Pueblo Hispanic Education Foundation, which is overseeing the scholarships.  "Every year we get a nice pool of students … but we can always only award to a small percentage.  This for us expands that to extraordinary lengths.”...

Further south in Colorado, Huerfano County expects to collect an extra $500,000 in cannabis taxes this year. That’s bankrolling an 8% raise for almost all of the county's 96 municipal employees, a big deal in an area where a county road worker earns $12 an hour and most employees haven’t had a raise in more than five years....

In Aurora, the state’s third-largest city, marijuana taxes are helping improve roads, pay off a municipal recreation center, and provide direct services for homeless men and women.  Aurora has nearly 20 pot shops and five grow sites, generating a projected $5.4 million in new taxes this year.

From the Los Angeles Times here, "Governor who called legalization 'reckless' now says Colorado's pot industry is working":

“The predictions of fire and brimstone have failed to materialize,” said Mason Tvert, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, a national group working to reform pot laws.  “Most Coloradoans, including the governor, recognize that the law is working.”

From the start, [Colorado Gov] Hickenlooper saw the legalization of marijuana as a great national experiment, something utterly new in this country and fraught with potential public health and safety issues.  He fretted about a potential rise in drug use among children and was clearly uncomfortable with an amendment directly conflicting with federal law, which considers pot an illegal drug on par with cocaine.

There were plenty of snags at first.  Marijuana edibles proved especially problematic because few people had experience with them. High-profile overdoses made national news.  Just last week a lawsuit was filed against the maker of a marijuana-laced candy, alleging the product triggered a "psychotic episode" that caused a man to kill his wife in 2014.  Still, none of Hickenlooper’s worst fears were realized.

Colorado is booming.  The state has a 4.2% unemployment rate, one of the best in the country.  High-tech companies are moving in.  Small towns across the state, some once teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, have been saved by tax revenues from pot dispensaries.  And the $1-billion-a-year cannabis business will pump $100 million in taxes into state coffers this year.

Andrew Freedman, director of marijuana coordination for Colorado, said the governor’s views reflect a growing sense of optimism about how the industry is regulated.  “In the short run, there have been a lot fewer public safety and health issues than the governor feared in the beginning,” said Freedman, who is often referred to as the state’s marijuana czar.  “In the beginning, we had problems with edibles and hash oil fires but now, for the most part, Colorado looks a lot like it did before legalization.”

Marijuana consumption has not changed much from pre-legalization levels and there has been no significant increase in public health and safety problems, he said.  As for the $100 million in tax revenue, Freedman noted, that's out of a $27-billion state budget.  Some 70% of the money is earmarked for school construction, public health initiatives and other projects.  The rest goes back into regulating the industry.  

“The governor has called this a grand experiment from the beginning.  He looks at data points as he goes along and I think he’s pleasantly surprised that there were not as many challenges as he thought,” Freedman said. “He would say the jury is still out on this experiment but he’s optimistic.”

Some are less circumspect.  “The state’s image is actually rising.  We were just ranked as the best place to live in America,” Tvert said.  “The idea that businesses would not relocate here or conferences wouldn’t be held here was untrue.  In fact, attendees at conferences are now offered pot tours as day trips.”

May 17, 2016 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Taxation information and issues , Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Marijuana sales and tax revenues keep going up and up in Colorado ... while tangible new serious problems seem still not to have (yet?) materialized

This new Denver Post piece, headlined "Colorado pot shops have already sold $270 million of marijuana in 2016," reports that "in the first three months of 2016, Colorado's pot shops sold more than $270 million of marijuana and related products." Here is more:

The state’s latest data shows that its marijuana shops sold nearly $90 million of cannabis in March 2016. The licensed stores sold more than $55 million in recreational marijuana and more than $33 million in medical cannabis in March, the latest month for which the department has released tax data for the industry. Totals for retail and medical marijuana dipped slightly in March after a bustling February, which was the state’s fifth most lucrative month for sales since they began in January 2014, according to Cannabist calculations and state data.

March 2016 totals for recreational pot sales are up 30 percent from March 2015, which shows that “marijuana sales remain strong,” said Christian Sederberg, an attorney for the cannabis industry. “As the regulated system continues to work, we’re also on pace to have over $40 million in excise taxes, meaning there could be additional taxes available from the excise tax to be used for something beyond the public school construction fund.”

Among the taxes collected on retail pot sales is the school-funding 15 percent excise tax on wholesale marijuana transfers, which amounted to $3.5 million in March. One of the cornerstones of the campaign that successfully ran Colorado’s pot-legalizing Amendment 64 says that the first $40 million raised by that excise tax will go toward school construction projects. That specific tax totaled $13.3 million in 2014 and $35 million in 2015, and industry analysts — Sederberg included — say they are confident it will top $40 million in 2016.

Colorado marijuana outlets sold more than $699 million of product in 2014 and more than $996 million in 2015. Year-over-year totals for taxes and license fees grew too, from $76 million in 2014 to $135 million in 2015. There are three types of state taxes on recreational marijuana: the standard 2.9 percent sales tax; a 10 percent special marijuana sales tax; and a 15 percent excise tax on wholesale marijuana transfers. For March, Colorado collected more than $11.3 million in recreational taxes and fees and more than $1.7 million in medical taxes and fees.

Intriguingly, this notable new Atlantic piece, headlined "The Failed Promise of Legal Pot: New laws on marijuana were supposed to boost tax revenues and free up cops to go after “real” criminals. But underground sales — and arrests — are still thriving," details that marijuana legalization in Colorado and other states has not yet completely eliminated the historic black-market realities of marijuana distribution.   Though I find useful this article's reminder that, even after legalization, there can be many persistent black market and prohibition problems, I also think the article highights reasons why we may expect marijuana sales and tax revenues to keep on increasing over time as more and more local marijuana consumers come to prefer engaging with the newer-and-always-innovating legal market over their older-and-surely-less-dynamic black market.

In addition to noting these sales and tax revenue trends, the headline of my post here is meant to flag the reality that we do not seem to have yet seen evidence of increasing serious new problems in Colorado to parallel the evidence of increasing sales and tax revenue.  If there were significant tangible short-terms harms that follow directly from legalizing recreational  marijuana and having robust retail sales, I think those harm would now start to become very obvious now nearly 45 months since Colorado voters enacted full legalization and 30 months into having retail outlets selling lots of this product.  Moreover, if there were  significant tangible short-terms harms that follow directly from legalizing recreational  marijuana, not only should they be evident by now, but they should be contining to grow and become even more evidence as legal sales continue to increase.

Critically, it is certainly possible that there are significant long-term harms for Colorado and elsewhere that can be linked directly to marijuana legalization and increasing legal sales, especially with respect to health concerns.  (The parallel here to tobacco should be clear: having lots of people smoke lots of cigarettes does not produce a lot of obvious short-term harms, but the long-term harms we now know are quite significant.)  But if sales and tax revenues keep going up and evidence of major problems are not yet materializing, it is going to be difficult to effectively campaign in other states against marijuana reform when the tangible cost-benefit realities in Colorado so far seem pretty darn good.

May 12, 2016 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

"Marijuana Arrests Down In Colorado For White Teens, Up For Black And Latino Teens"

Enhanced-mid-11604-1462934362-1The title of this post is the headline of this BuzzFeed report.  Here are excerpts:

Black and Latino adolescents in Colorado are being arrested for marijuana offenses at more disproportionate rates than they were before the state legalized recreational use of the drug, according to a new report from the Colorado Department of Public Safety.

The report, released in March, found a striking racial disparity in how adolescents aged 10–17 are being arrested: White juvenile marijuana arrests decreased by 8% between 2012 and 2014, while black juvenile arrests increased by 58% and Latino juvenile arrests increased 29%.

Colorado voters passed an initiative legalizing recreational marijuana use in 2012 — the year is used in the report to represent pre-legalization. The first full year that the state’s 21-and-older recreational marijuana market was operational was 2014.

Between 2012 and 2014, Colorado elementary and secondary schools saw a 34% increase in marijuana arrests, the overwhelming majority of which were for possession. These arrests were often done by “school resource officers” — local police officers who have increasingly been stationed on campuses in recent years. Although most of these juvenile arrests do not involve jail time, the student must pay a fine and, in order to get the arrest expunged from their permanent record, pay to participate in a drug education class....

According to a 2013 survey done by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Pueblo County has the highest rates of teen marijuana use in the state — 32.1% of high schoolers — but only five adolescents were arrested for marijuana-related crimes there in 2014. Compare that to Arapahoe County, which has about average rates of teen marijuana use (20.6% of high schoolers) when compared to the rest of the state (19.7%), but where nearly 400 students were arrested for marijuana in 2014.

Tustin Amole, the director of communications at Cherry Creek Schools in Arapahoe County, said that while her district decides how to handle marijuana offenses on a case-by-case basis, she felt the students who are being arrested accurately reflect which students are smoking pot. “We don’t really have zero tolerance policies, because there are so many variations and circumstances. You have to take them all into account,” Amole told BuzzFeed News. “All I can say is while it may seem disproportionate, those are the students we’re catching with the drugs.”

The state also found that while marijuana arrests among adults have nearly been cut in half since legalization, the racial disparities among those still being arrested grew slightly worse. In 2014, black people were arrested and cited for marijuana-related offenses at almost triple the rate of white people. Back in 2012, black people in Colorado were being arrested for pot crimes at a little less than double the rate of whites.

While national data has shown that adults and juveniles of all races use and sell marijuana at very similar rates, the 2013 survey done by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment found that a slightly bigger percentage of black (25.9%) and Latino (23.6%) high schoolers had used marijuana in the past 30 days, compared to white students (17%). But even if the disparity in that sample was representative for the entire state, the marijuana arrest numbers for black juveniles would still be wildly disproportionate. Other states and cities that have decriminalized or legalized recreational marijuana use — including Massachusetts, Chicago, and Washington state — have seen a similar trend: a drop in overall arrests but persistent or increased racial disparities among those still being arrested.

May 11, 2016 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

AAA study properly highlights challenge of assessing marijuana impairment for highway safety laws

As reported in this press piece, headlined "Legal limits for driving on pot not backed by science, study shows," the folks at AAA have released a valuable new report on marijuana impairment and driving. Here are the basics via the press report:

Legal blood limits for marijuana are not an accurate way to measure whether someone was driving while impaired, and can lead to unsafe drivers going free while others are wrongfully convicted, according to a new study.

The study released Tuesday by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that drivers can have a low level of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, in their blood and be unsafe behind the wheel, while others with relatively high levels may not be a hazard.

Marijuana is not metabolized in the system in the same way as alcohol. So while a person with a blood-alcohol level of .08 or higher is considered too drunk to drive, it's not possible to say the same thing absent other evidence about a person testing at 5 nanograms per milliliter of blood of THC — the level used to find impairment by Colorado, Montana and Washington, the study found.

The difference matters, because Illinois and 11 other states have laws that forbid any level of marijuana in the system while driving. A pot decriminalization bill being considered in the Illinois legislature would raise the level to 5 ng/ml. The bill faces opposition from law enforcement and anti-pot advocates.

Efforts to legally measure marijuana impairment have become a major concern for lawmakers as more states move to legalize cannabis, either for medical use or adult recreational use. Four states have legalized pot for recreational use by adults, and 24 states — including Illinois, plus Washington, D.C. — allow medical use, according to the Marijuana Policy Project, a D.C.-based advocacy group.

"It's an attempt to try to do an apples-to-apples comparison with blood alcohol concentration," said Chris Lindsey, senior legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project. He noted that the AAA findings echo earlier research. "They found out that these things can't really be compared."

Another problem is that high THC levels may drop before a test is administered, because the average time to collect blood from a suspect driver is often two hours, the AAA study found. Frequent pot users can exhibit high levels of the drug long after use, while levels can decline rapidly among occasional users, so it is difficult to develop fair guidelines, the study found.

Because of the problem in measuring whether someone is impaired with a blood test, AAA urged states to also look at behavioral and physiological evidence through field sobriety tests, such as seeing whether a driver has bloodshot eyes or is able to stand on one leg. "That kind of testing has proved effective in court," said J.T. Griffin, chief government affairs officer for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, or MADD.

He pointed to a 2015 study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that found no big crash risk associated with people driving with marijuana in their system but says more study is needed. Alcohol remains the biggest drug problem on the highways, he said. "We know that almost one-third of all traffic deaths are caused by alcohol," Griffin said.

AAA released a second study Tuesday that showed fatal crashes involving drivers who recently used marijuana had doubled in Washington after that state legalized the drug in December 2012 — the percentage of drivers involved in fatal crashes who had used marijuana jumped to 17 percent from 8 percent between 2013 and 2014. Most drivers who had THC in their systems also had alcohol or other drugs in their blood at the time of the crash, the study found. The study noted that the drivers who had THC in their blood were not necessarily impaired nor were they necessarily at fault in the crashes.

Much of the work by AAA in this space can be found at this link.

May 11, 2016 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, April 18, 2016

Colorado Department of Public Safety releases "Marijuana Legalization in Colorado: Early Findings"

This new Denver Post piece, headlined "Fewer Coloradans seek treatment for pot use, but heavier use seen," reports on this notable new official state government report from Colorado (which I believe was just released today, but bears a cover date of March 2016). Here is a basic summary via the Denver Post piece:

Colorado's treatment centers have seen a trend toward heavier marijuana use among patients in the years after the state legalized the drug, according to a new report from the Colorado Department of Public Safety.  The 143-page report released Monday is the state's first comprehensive attempt at measuring and tracking the consequences of legalization.

In 2014, more than a third of patients in treatment reported near-daily use of marijuana, according to the report. In 2007, less than a quarter of patients reported such frequency of use.  Overall, though, the number of people seeking treatment for marijuana has dropped since Colorado voters made it legal to use and possess small amounts of marijuana.  The decrease is likely due to fewer people being court ordered to undergo treatment as part of a conviction for a marijuana-related crime.

The finding is among a growing body of evidence that marijuana legalization has led to a shift in use patterns for at least some marijuana consumers. And that is just one insight from the new report, which looks at everything from tax revenue to impacts on public health to effects on youth.  Among its findings is a steady increase in marijuana use in Colorado since 2006, well before the late-2000s boom in medical marijuana dispensaries.  The report documents a sharp rise in emergency room visits related to marijuana. It notes a dramatic decline in arrests or citations for marijuana-related crimes, though there remains a racial disparity in arrest rates.

But the report, which was written by statistical analyst Jack Reed, also isn't meant as a final statement on legalization's impact. Because Colorado's data-tracking efforts have been so haphazard in the past, the report is more of a starting point.  "[I]t is too early to draw any conclusions about the potential effects of marijuana legalization or commercialization on public safety, public health, or youth outcomes," Reed writes, "and this may always be difficult due to the lack of historical data."

It's not just the lack of data from past years that complicates the report.  Reed also notes that legalization may have changed people's willingness to admit to marijuana use — leading to what appear to be jumps in use or hospital visits that are really just increases in truth-telling.  State and local agencies are also still struggling to standardize their marijuana data-collection systems.  For instance, Reed's original report noted an explosive increase in marijuana arrests and citations in Denver, up 404 percent from 2012 to 2014.  That increase, however, was due to inconsistent data reporting by Denver in the official numbers given to the state.

Intriguingly, though this lengthy report comes from the Colorado Department of Public Safety, not very much of the report discusses general crimes rates at much length. But what is reported in this report is generally encouraging:

  • Colorado’s property crime rate decreased 3%, from 2,580 (per 100,000 population) in 2009 to 2,503 in 2014.

  • Colorado’s violent crime rate decreased 6%, from 327 (per 100,000 population) in 2009 to 306 in 2014. 

April 18, 2016 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)