Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Advocates for marijuana reform in Vermont highlight economic development

Vt_magnet_allI have long thought advocates for marijuana reform could and should focus on the economic development benefits that seem to flow from permitting a legal market in cannabis.  I now see from this local article in Vermont, headlined "Marijuana pitched for young VT entrepreneurs," that some folks in the Green Mountain State are making a pitch in this way. Here is how the article gets started:

Entrepreneurs are pitching marijuana as a cash crop that would keep college graduates in Vermont and create thousands of jobs. The Vermont Cannabis Collaborative says in a new report that if Vermont lawmakers bring “order to the chaos” of the underground illegal marijuana market, business opportunities would abound.

“This provides a whole new industry for our young millennials coming out of college and trying to find what to do in Vermont to jump in and become the next Steve Jobs, to become the next Ben and Jerry’s, to become the next Seventh Generation,” Alan Newman, a founder of Seventh Generation and Magic Hat Brewing Company, said Wednesday.

Newman spoke during a news conference in Burlington one day after legalization opponents rallied at the Statehouse in Montpelier. Newman and other members of the Vermont Cannabis Collaborative group have been working for months on recommendations for a legal marijuana industry in the state.

The resulting report, titled “What Cannabis Can Do for Vermont,” suggests that any large-scale marijuana-growing operation should be at least 51 percent owned by Vermonters and certified as a benefit corporation, meaning the business would consider social and environmental values in addition to profit. The proposed Vermont marijuana economy also would include home growers with six or fewer plants, and artisanal craft growers with seven to 99 plants.

The idea is to create a market unlike the kind that Ohio voters recently rejected, which would have allowed just 10 commercial growers. “We think we have a chance here to grow an economy based on Vermont values, based on Vermont tradition, and one that embraces the already-existing infrastructure that can really help keep young people here and make Vermont an attractive place to live,” said Bill Lofy, former chief of staff for Gov. Peter Shumlin.

Lofy’s former boss is publicly coy on whether he will push a legalization bill during his final year as governor. Shumlin, a Democrat, favors legalization and last year accepted thousands of dollars of campaign contributions from the groups that are calling for legalization, but he has hesitated to set a date.

The governor promised this week to make up his mind by January. “I gotta be candid with you,” Shumlin said Monday. “I’m focusing on a lot of other things, like the budget, creating jobs. We will get to that, but I haven’t made a decision.”

Creating jobs is among the goals of the Vermont Cannabis Collaborative, which argues that legalization would create as many as 4,000 positions, because the industry would need growers, architects, lawyers, marketing experts, security experts and more. The group used a custom economic model to estimate the total market at about $250 million, assuming 50,000 pounds of marijuana would be consumed annually.

The Vermont Cannabis Collaborative has a lot of reform resources collected at this web page, and its recent report, titled "What Cannabis can do for Vermont: How to grow a thriving, community-based, legal cannabis economy," is available at this link.

November 19, 2015 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Ohio 2015 results highlight how marijuana elections are different (and not-so-different) than other elections

Vote-ohioAmong the many reasons I was so interested in the controversial ballot initiative to legalize recreation marijuana in Ohio, Issue 3, was my expectation that the campaign and vote in the Buckeye State in an off-off-election year would reveal just whether and how marijuana elections are different than other elections.  With nearly all the votes counted, here are a couple of ways the Ohio 2015 experience shows that marijuana elections are different and not-so-different:

Big difference #1:  Local polls are not so reliable:  I generally surmise that lots of public polls, especially those done by major professional, are pretty reliable.  And Nate Silver has demostrated that combining together a number of polls can produce extraordinary reliable predictions of election day outcomes.  But all the local polling done around marijuana legalization in Ohio suggested a majority of Ohioans were supportive of reform and polls focused on Issue 3 suggested that it would at least be a close vote.  But none of the public polls even hinted that Issue 3 would be a blowout.

Big difference #2:  Big money does not ensure big votes:  I tend to think that concerns and complaints about money "buying" elections can often be overstated.  But, especially in elections for representatives, it is generally true that having lots of money to raise a candidate's profile (and to attack any opponents) can be critical to electorial success.  But in Ohio the backers of Issue 3 had a huge war chest and they spent tens of millions on advertising and other traditional campaign efforts.  But, despite out-spending opponents of Issue 3 more than 10-to-1, the backers of Issue 3 seemingly got very little return at the ballot box for all their spending.

Not-so-big difference #1:  Making enemies of natural allies is not a good political strategy:  At the outset of ResponsibleOhio campaign, I wondered how traditional supporters of marijuana reform would respond to the "corporate" reform plan that Issue 3 represented.  I had expected that the Issue 3 backers would work hard to get the traditional marijuana reform community (both locally and nationally) to support their efforts.  But it seems that the Issue 3 political team was much better at making enemies than making friends in both the local and national reform community.  Throughout the heart of the campaign, I kept discovering that leading marijuana reform activists were far more energizied by the prospect of defeating Issue 3 than by the possibility that passage of Issue 3 could put Ohio at the forefront of the marijuana reform movement.

Not-so-big difference #2:  It is really hard to get young people to vote on off years:  Generational demographics provide a big reason why I think (smart) marijuana legalization campaigns can  be successful  in the years ahead; polling consistently shows that voters under 40 support reform by a significant margin.  But having political support among younger folks does not practically mean  much if these folks do not make it to the polls on election day.  I had expected, and the Issue 3 backers hand banked on, having marijuana reform on the ballot in 2015 would motivate many more younger, reform-supportive voters to go to the polls.  But it appears turn out in Ohio in 2015 was low and that any get-out-the-vote effort by ResponsibleOhio on college campuses produced no tangible results.

November 4, 2015 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Are a lot more Americans smoking pot or are just a lot more now comfortable admitting they are?

The question in the title of this post is my reaction to this CNN report on new marijuana use research released yesterday.   Here are the basics: 

A heck of a lot more Americans were toking up in 2012-13 than 10 years before -- and not for medical reasons, either -- according to a new study.  The percentage of American adults who had used marijuana within the last year was 9.5%, the study found.  That compared to 4.1% in 2001-02.

The study -- published this week in Jama Psychiatry, a monthly journal published by the American Medical Association -- was sponsored by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.  It was based on in-person interviews with more than 36,000 Americans over the age of 18.

With the increase in use has come an increase in the total number of what the study called "marijuana use disorders."  But the authors of the study put that down to the increase in use:  The percentage of pot smokers with such disorders actually dropped, with about one in three showing signs of dependence or abuse.  As the authors of the study put it, "The prevalence of marijuana use disorder among marijuana users decreased significantly from 2001-2013," from 35.6 percent of users to 30.6.

The attitudes toward the use of marijuana are shifting in the United States, as are the laws governing its use.  Twenty-three states now allow the use of marijuana for medical reasons, the study notes, and four of those states also allow recreational use of the drug. "Given changing laws and attitudes toward marijuana, a balanced presentation of the likelihood of adverse consequences of marijuana use to policy makers, professionals and the public is needed," the study said.

I have been struggling this morning to access the full study/article reference in this press report, but I continue to wonder how much identified changes in self-reported marijuana use in recent years reflects changes in self-reporting rates as much as changes in marijuana use rates.  I hope this new study (and any other similar studies about changes in self-reported marijuana use over long periods of time) take this possibility into account. 

I sense that all activities that carry some measure of social stigma (even legal activities like watching pornography or drinking heavily or gambling) are done (a lot?) more than most people will readily admit, and I think the tendency to under-report stigmatized behavior is especially true when an activity involves serious federal and state criminal activity in addition to being shunned by "respectable" people.  Back in 2001-02, the negative stigma (and criminal concerns) surrounding marijuana use was, I think, quite high and claims about valid medical use of marijuana were rarely embraced (especially as compared social views by 2012-13).  For that reason, I wonder if the number of self-reported marijuana users a decade ago was much lower than in more recent years for reasons that are not only about changing rates of actual marijuana use.

October 22, 2015 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Latest Gallup poll shows 58% support for marijuana legalization (and 2/3 support for those under 50)

Bplgz4vavkyps762r8vilqThis new release from Gallup, headlined "In U.S., 58% Back Legal Marijuana Use," reinforces my ever-growing belief that it is no long a question of "if" but rather "when" and "how" blanket marijuana prohibition comes to an end. Here are the reasons why (with my emphasis added):

A majority of Americans continue to say marijuana use should be legal in the United States, with 58% holding that view, tying the high point in Gallup's 46-year trend.

Americans' support for legal marijuana has steadily grown over time. When Gallup first asked the question, in 1969, 12% of Americans thought marijuana use should be legal, with little change in two early 1970s polls. By the late 1970s, support had increased to about 25%, and held there through the mid-1990s. The percentage of Americans who favored making use of the drug legal exceeded 30% by 2000 and was higher than 40% by 2009.

Over the past six years, support has vacillated a bit, but averaged 48% from 2010 through 2012 and has averaged above the majority level, 56%, since 2013.

The higher level of support comes as many states and localities are changing, or considering changing, their laws on marijuana.  So far, four states and the District of Columbia have made recreational use of marijuana legal, and Ohio voters are set to decide a ballot initiative that would do the same this coming Election Day.  The topic has been an issue on the 2016 presidential campaign trail, and several candidates have expressed a willingness to let states set their own marijuana laws even though federal law prohibits marijuana use.

Gallup has previously reported that two of the biggest differentiators of Americans' opinions on legal marijuana are age and party identification.  Younger Americans, Democrats and independents are the most likely of major demographic and political groups to favor legalizing use of the drug, while Republicans and older Americans are least likely to do so.

Younger Americans have always shown the most support of any age group for making marijuana legal, but this has grown from 20% of 18- to 34-year-olds in 1969 to 71% of those in the same age group today.  But even older age groups today are more likely to favor legal marijuana than the comparable age groups in the past. For example, 35% of senior citizens today (aged 65 and older) are in favor of legalization, compared with 4% of senior citizens in 1969. Among all age groups, the increase in support has been proportionately greater over the last 15 years than it was between any of the earlier time periods.

These patterns by age indicate that one reason Americans are more likely to support legal marijuana today than they were in the past is because newer generations of adults, who are much more inclined to favor use of the drug, are replacing older generations in the population who were much less inclined to want it to be legalized. But the increase in support nationwide is also a function of attitude change within generations of Americans over the course of their adult lifespans....

Americans' support for legalizing marijuana is the highest Gallup has measured to date, at 58%. Given the patterns of support by age, that percentage should continue to grow in the future.  Younger generations of Americans have been increasingly likely to favor legal use of marijuana as they entered adulthood compared with older generations of Americans when they were the same age decades ago.  Now, more than seven in 10 of today's young adults support legalization.

But Americans today -- particularly those between 35 and 64 -- are more supportive of legal marijuana than members of their same birth cohort were in the past. Now senior citizens are alone among age groups in opposing pot legalization. These trends suggest that state and local governments may come under increasing pressure to ease restrictions on marijuana use, if not go even further like the states of Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Alaska in making recreational marijuana use completely legal.

The notable dip in support for full legalization that the Gallup polling numbers showed in 2014 had me thinking that the early experience with full legalization in Colorado might have been starting to lead a few more average Americans to question whether they liked full marijuana legalization in practice quite as much as they liked it in theory. But now that support has ticked up to 58% again, I surmise that more folks are now coming to see that full legalization has lots of tangible economic benefits and that much of all the doom-and-gloom predicted by drug warriors have just not (yet?) come to reality.

Of particular importance in my view is the data suggesting that now roughly two-third of all Americans in their prime "parent years" (i.e., between ages 30 and 50) are now expressing support for full legalization. Especially as someone in that cohort, I have long thought that parents of young kids (and of current or future teenagers) cannot help but have lingering concerns and fears about the possible impact of full legalization on their children. But it seems that, at least for now, this generation by a two-to-one margin sees more problems from current marijuana prohibition than what could happen with major reform.

For these (and other) reasons, I think still more major legal reforms at both the state and federal level are getting ever closer to a near certainty unless and until prohibitionists do a much better job demonstrating that the potentiual harms of reform are much greater than what so many have come to see as the current harms of blanket prohibition.

October 21, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, October 11, 2015

If you legalize it, they will come (and buy even more than expected), Oregon edition

DownloadThis local article, headlined "Oregon's first week of recreational pot sales tops $11 million," spotlights the notable reality that individuals given legal permission to purchase marijuana seem eager to do so in large numbers. Here are the details:

After just one week of recreational marijuana sales, Oregon dispensaries have raked in an estimated $11 million. That figure could mean the state's estimate is shockingly low for how much money it'll make when pot taxes kick in this January.

At Nectar on Northeast Sandy Boulevard and 33rd Avenue, they're restocking the shelves a lot this week. "We're seeing about 500 people a day," said Nectar owner Jeff Johnson. Dispensary owners and customers are reporting Oregon's first week has gone very well....

The Oregon Retail Cannabis Association told KGW after tallying up sales from its members statewide and factoring in projections, they estimated there were $3.5 million in sales on the first day, October 1.

One week in, Oregon is already far ahead of dollars spent on pot compared to Colorado's first week of legal recreational sales, at $5 million. Washington took a month to sell its first $2 million, according to Marijuana Business Daily.

When Oregon voters approved recreational marijuana, the state set an estimate of $9 million in net tax revenue for the first full year of 2017. But the Oregon Retail Cannabis Association believes it'll bring in three to four times that much.

"It's just person after person after person," said Rachel Clerk, employee at Fresh Buds in Southeast Portland. For her store, these hundreds of new customers came at a crucial time. They were trying to stay afloat with only 15 medical customers a day.

"There for awhile, towards the end we were thinking we might have to close the doors because we weren't getting any kind of steady business," said Clerk. In this past week, they're back in the black, averaging 10 times as much foot traffic.

And dispensaries are seeing the customer base vary as much as the strains they're buying. "Obviously we're seeing a young crowd but we're also seeing people in their 50s and 60s that would never have bought the product if it wasn't legal," said Johnson.

Oregon recreational marijuana sales are all tax-free until January. Once that 25 percent tax gets added on, it'll go to help fund schools, mental health programs, state police and the cities and counties that are allowing recreational sales.

October 11, 2015 in Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Oregon on the verge of becoming third state with lawful recreational marijuana sales

In a few hours, Oregon will officially join the ranks of Colorado and Washington as states with functioning state-authorized marijuana sales for recreational purposes.  This lengthy Oregonian article, headlined "Pot won't be for sale in many Oregon cities," provides the basic lay of the land on the eve of a new era in the Beaver State.   Here are excerpts:

When recreational cannabis sales start Thursday in Oregon, consumers will be able to buy the drug at most of the state's 300-plus medical marijuana dispensaries. But some communities — ranging from Portland suburbs to cities in eastern Oregon — are keeping the door shut to storefront pot sales of any kind.

In many towns, marijuana remains shunned by the majority and is seen as something that shouldn't be given any official stamp of approval. And even where voters agreed to legalize marijuana, there are worries that retail sales will encourage youth consumption, attract crime or tarnish their commercial districts....

The taboo against the drug is particularly strong throughout many of the state's rural communities. Carol Free, a medical marijuana patient and grower in Baker City, was unable to persuade her city or county to allow even a dispensary — perhaps not a surprise given the nearly 60 percent no vote locally against the Measure 91 legalization measure last year. "It's just a huge fear factor," she said. "People are so wrapped up in the negatives about it."...

In the 15 counties — all in eastern Oregon — where at least 55 percent of voters opposed Measure 91, city councils and county commissions can vote to prohibit marijuana businesses of any kind. In the rest of the state, local governments can refer a measure to the November 2016 ballot to ban sales.

Last, the Legislature decided to allow limited recreational sales at medical marijuana dispensaries starting Oct. 1 to give consumers a way to legally buy the drug after it's allowed under Measure 91 but before the state is ready to issue retail licenses. The Legislature left it to cities and county governments to decide whether to opt out.

At last count, governments in six eastern Oregon counties — plus 13 cities in those counties — have voted to ban medical and recreational marijuana sales, production or processing, according to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission. Meanwhile, Douglas County and eight other cities have decided to take the issue to voters next year....

In many cases, cities have placed tough zoning restrictions on marijuana businesses. Tualatin, for instance, requires a 3,000-foot buffer from residences, schools and parks that restricts them to one corner of the city. So far, no one has applied to open a dispensary there, according to City Manager Sherilyn Lombos.

Lake Oswego has a moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries even though 55 percent of the city's voters approved Measure 91. At a Sept. 15 council meeting, officials fretted about how allowing marijuana businesses would affect life in one of Oregon's wealthiest enclaves....

In more isolated communities, many officials and voters hope to wall themselves off from the effects of Measure 91. "Just pure logic tells you, if there are retail sales, use will go up," said Baker County District Attorney Matt Shirtcliff, who urged officials in both his county and Baker City to ban marijuana businesses....

Don Morse, a Portland dispensary owner who heads the Oregon Cannabis Business Council, said his group is organizing to fight local sales bans on the ballot next year. But he said his group is inclined to give places such as Baker County time for the culture to change. "We have no desire to go into a community and force something down their throat," Morse said. "There were some communities that remained dry for a long time after Prohibition ended."

September 30, 2015 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Colorado tax revenues from marijuana now clearly exceeding those from alcohol

As highlighted by this recent Forbes article, headlined "Colorado Now Reaping More Tax Revenue From Pot Than From Alcohol," the Centennial State now seems to be reaping more public revenue benefits from the wicked weed than from the golden grape. Here are the details:

The tipping point has finally occurred in Colorado: The state is raising more revenue from marijuana taxes than from alcohol.

According to the Colorado Department of Revenue, the state has received nearly $70 million in tax revenue from marijuana from July 1, 2014 through June 30, 2015, easily beating the nearly $42 million in taxes on alcohol....

Colorado is having record recreational sales this summer. In June, recreational marijuana sales hit $50 million for the first time, then in July sales rose over $55 million. If you add in medical marijuana sales, the total comes to $96 million for July, also higher than June’s total of $85 million. The portion of these sales in July that is earmarked for school construction projects is $3 million....

“It’s crazy how much revenue our state used to flush down the drain by forcing marijuana sales into the underground market,” said [Mason] Tvert [of the Marijuana Policy Project] in a statement. “It’s even crazier that so many states are still doing it. Tax revenue is just one of many good reasons to replace marijuana prohibition with a system of regulation.”

September 20, 2015 in Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Rocky Mountain HIDTA releases third annual report on "impact" of marijuana legalization in Colorado

DownloadHigh Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Programs (HIDTAs) are, as explained here, a special kind of drug-enforcement task force that was "created by Congress with the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 [and] provides assistance to Federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies operating in areas determined to be critical drug-trafficking regions of the United States."  Usefully, the Rocky Mountain HIDTA has been especially focused on marijuana reform, and the last three years it has produced a annual report around this time under the title "The Legalization of Marijuana in Colorado: The Impact."  Volume Three of that report, which runs nearly 200 pages and was just release, can be accessed at this link.

Here is an excerpt from the report's executive summary highlighting its coverage:

Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (RMHIDTA) is tracking the impact of marijuana legalization in the state of Colorado. This report will utilize, whenever possible, a comparison of three different eras in Colorado’s legalization history:

• 2006 – 2008: Early medical marijuana era

• 2009 – Present: Medical marijuana commercialization and expansion era

• 2013 – Present: Recreational marijuana era

Rocky Mountain HIDTA will collect and report comparative data in a variety of areas, including but not limited to:

• Impaired driving

• Youth marijuana use

• Adult marijuana use

• Emergency room admissions

• Marijuana-related exposure cases • Diversion of Colorado marijuana

This is the third annual report on the impact of legalized marijuana in Colorado. It is divided into eleven sections, each providing information on the impact of marijuana legalization. The sections are as follows:

Section 1 – Impaired Driving...

Section 2 – Youth Marijuana Use...

Section 3 – Adult Marijuana Use...

Section 4 – Emergency Room Marijuana and Hospital Marijuana-Related Admissions...

Section 5 – Marijuana-Related Exposure...

Section 6 – Treatment...

Section 7 – Diversion of Colorado Marijuana...

Section 8 – Diversion by Parcel...

Section 9 – THC Extraction Labs...

Section 10 – Related Data...

Section 11 – Related Material...

The nature and order of the sections in this big RMHIDTA "Impact" report help highlight that RMHIDTA is almost exclusively interested in emphasizing and lamenting any and all potential negative impacts from marijuana reform in Colorado and deemphasizing and mariginalizing any and all potential positive impacts.  

This bias toward emphasizing the negative and ignoring positive impacts is most obvious in terms of the report's (almost non-existant) discussion of the economic development and tax revenues resulting from legalization.  Jobs created by marijuana reform are not mentioned anywhere in the report, and a short discussion of tax revenues in the final sections of the report starts with this warning: "It will take years of data collection to complete an analysis of whether marijuana legalization is economically positive or an economic disaster."  

Similarly, changes in overall crime rates are only briefly discussed in the final "related data" section of the report, probably because the news seems pretty positive: property crime rates seem to be going down since marijuana reform throughout Colorado while violent crimes rates seem flat.  Of particular note, as this semi-official chart reveals, it appears Denver (which is sort-of ground-zero for marijuana reform relalities and likely impact) experienced a significant decrease in reported homicides, rapes and robbery in 2014 relative to 2013.   I suspect that this RMHIDTA report would have made much of Colorado and/or Denver homicide rates if they had gone up, but instead this "impact" goes undiscussed. 

Reporting biases notwithstanding, this is still an important report that assembles lots of data. And, perhaps in part because of its biases, this report now stands as the latest, greatest effort by the law enforcement community to make the case that marijuana reform in Colorado is a failed experiment. Any and all serious students of marijuana law and policy should take the time to review what this report says and how it is saying what it is saying.

September 15, 2015 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 11, 2015

If you build it (and make it legal), they will keep coming and coming....

With apologies to the Field of Dreams mantra, the title of this post was my first reaction to this news via The Cannabist headlined "Colorado pot sales spike in July, continue to set records; The latest monthly data for Colorado marijuana: more than $96 million sold in July, with recreational and medical each setting a new bar in the legal era." Here are the basic details:

Colorado pot sales — recreational and medical — were thriving in July 2015, the most recent month for which the Department of Revenue has released marijuana tax data.

After topping $50 million for the first time in June, recreational sales cleared the $55 million hurdle in July when sales totaled more than $56.4 million — a record for retail cannabis in Colorado.  Medical marijuana sales numbers in July were also at their highest in the recreational era’s 19 months of recorded data, reaching more than $39.8 million....

In total, more than $96 million of marijuana was sold in Colorado shops in July — up from $85 million in June.  For context, 2014’s most robust month of recreational and medical cannabis sales was August, when those sales totaled $67 million....

“Those numbers are showing that our pot tourism is surely increasing,” said Tyler Henson, president of the Colorado Cannabis Chamber of Commerce.  “People want to come here and try this out and tell their friends and family that they came to Colorado and tried some of the best cannabis the world has to offer and they had a great time.”

September 11, 2015 in Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Praising the first big marijuana report from Washington state for saying so little

Wsipp-imageThis new Brookings FixGov post by Phillip Wallach, titled "What does the first major official report on the outcomes of marijuana legalization tell us?," heeps praise on a big report released this week by Washington State Institute for Public Policy in large part because the report says very little. Here are highlights from the posting:

[The report tells us...] Not too much…and that’s greatly to its credit! The Washington State Institute for Public Policy (WSIPP, pronounced “wissip”), which is the official think tank for Washington’s state legislature in Olympia, has been charged with comprehensively assessing the costs and benefits of marijuana legalization for Washington’s citizens. The initiative that legalized recreational marijuana back in 2012, I-502, explicitly requires reports from WSIPP in 2015, 2017, 2022, and 2032. It published the first of those reports (authored by Senior Research Associate Adam Darnell) yesterday [and is available here].

Naturally, advocates on both sides are ready to pounce on any hint of a conclusion in the report, however preliminary. WSIPP makes sure to disappoint them, declaring right in the second paragraph of the introduction: “We want to emphasize that this preliminary report does not contain findings on whether I-502 has had any effects on outcomes.” That’s a prudent concession to reality, since “effects of the law will not be detectable until several years after implementation, and it may take longer for any effects to stabilize.”

As I argued in my August 2014 report about Washington’s knowledge-sensitive approach to legalization, we can only hope that having a respected, independent research organization announce that it is too early to judge the results of legalization will help create a space for calm, evidence-based policymaking in what are still the very early days of this brave new policy regime. Advocates awaiting official results will have to wait until September 1, 2017, for WSIPP’s preliminary evaluation of outcomes.

In the meantime, yesterday’s WSIPP report is a rich resource for anyone hoping to understand the evolution of Washington’s marijuana policies. First there is an excellent narrative account of legal and regulatory developments in Washington from the passage of the state’s Uniform Controlled Substances Act of 1971 through the recent 2015 laws designed to harmonize medical marijuana with the new regulated recreational system, simplify the tax structure, and share revenue with local governments. There is also a thorough review of local government policies and the level of commercial marijuana activity in each county.

Then the report lays out a plan for studying outcomes as data are collected in the coming years. In doing so, it presents an excellent model of clear thinking about the effects of marijuana legalization....

There are undoubtedly plenty of questions for WSIPP as it goes forward. Some of the most important effects of legalization may be subtle or difficult to monetize. Measurement issues will be thorny, as will the attempt to untangle causal effects of legalization from other ongoing trends — challenges WSIPP is well aware of, but could benefit from thoughtful outside perspective on. I encourage interested readers to read the whole report.

September 2, 2015 in Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

"Legal Marijuana in Arizona Would Generate $72M Yearly in Tax Revenue, New Report Says"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable Phoenix New Times article reporting on a notable new policy report emerging in Arizona.  Here are the details (with links from the original article):

Previous marijuana tax-revenue estimates were far too low, states a new report by the nonpartisan Grand Canyon Institute.

Arizona would raise about $72 million in revenue annually beginning in 2019 if voters make recreational marijuana legal in Arizona with an anticipated ballot initiative in 2016, says the report, published on the group's website.

Backers of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol announced August 19 that their planned ballot measure would raise at least $40 million a year for Arizona schools. The campaign, sponsored in part by the Marijuana Policy Project, claims to have gathered about 65,000 signatures already toward a citizens' initiative expected to appear on the ballot in November 2016.

The institute "finds that the revenue projections were conservative as proponents claimed," the GCI report states. If the program were in effect now, sales of marijuana products would produce about $64 million annually, it says.

"If the initiative were to make the ballot and be passed by voters," the report goes on, "the GCI expects 2019 to be the first year with a full rollout of retailers and at that point, due to inflation and population growth, the expected totals would be $72 million: with almost $29 million each to K-12 education and helping fund all-day Kindergarten, plus $14 million to the Dept. of Health Services."

The report begins by stating that the GCI, which has a 12-member board of directors made up of local leaders on both sides of the political aisle, neither supports nor opposes marijuana legalization. "Our estimate was done conservatively so, if anything, it understates [total] revenue a bit — enough to give some wiggle room for administrative costs," Dave Wells, GCI research director and author of the report, tells New Times.

September 1, 2015 in Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Latest survey data shows marijuana use up, while other drug and alcohol use down, on college campuses

This news release from the University of Michigan, which reports on new data from its Monitoring the Future study, provides some evidence to support the notion that marijuana reform movements and other social factor may be lead college students to use more marijuana while also using less other illicit and licit drugs.  Here is some of the interesting new data via the press release:

Daily marijuana use among the nation's college students is on the rise, surpassing daily cigarette smoking for the first time in 2014. A series of national surveys of U.S. college students, as part of the University of Michigan's Monitoring the Future study, shows that marijuana use has been growing slowly on the nation's campuses since 2006.

Daily or near-daily marijuana use was reported by 5.9 percent of college students in 2014 — the highest rate since 1980, the first year that complete college data were available in the study. This rate of use is up from 3.5 percent in 2007. In other words, one in every 17 college students is smoking marijuana on a daily or near-daily basis, defined as use on 20 or more occasions in the prior 30 days....

In sum, quite a number of drugs have been fading in popularity on U.S. college campuses in recent years, and a similar pattern is found among youth who do not attend college. Two of the newer drugs, synthetic marijuana and salvia, have shown steep declines in use. Other drugs are showing more gradual declines, including narcotic drugs other than heroin, sedatives and tranquilizers — all used non-medically — as well as inhalants and hallucinogens....

While 63 percent of college students in 2014 said that they have had an alcoholic beverage at least once in the prior 30 days, that figure is down a bit from 67 percent in 2000 and down considerably from 82 percent in 1981. The proportion of the nation's college students saying they have been drunk in the past 30 days was 43 percent in 2014, down some from 48 percent in 2006.

Occasions of heavy or binge drinking — here defined as having five or more drinks in a row on at least one occasion in the prior two weeks — have consistently had a higher prevalence among college students than among their fellow high school classmates who are not in college.

Still, between 1980 and 2014, college students' rates of such drinking declined 9 percentage points from 44 percent to 35 percent, while their non-college peers declined 12 percentage points from 41 percent to 29 percent, and high school seniors' rates declined 22 percentage points from 41 percent to 19 percent....

Cigarette smoking continued to decline among the nation's college students in 2014, when 13 percent said they had smoked one or more cigarettes in the prior 30 days, down from 14 percent in 2013 and from the recent high of 31 percent in 1999—a decline of more than half. As for daily smoking, only 5 percent indicated smoking at that level, compared with 19 percent in 1999 — a drop of nearly three fourths in the number of college students smoking daily.

September 1, 2015 in History of Alcohol Prohibition and Temperance Movements, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 27, 2015

"Pioneer Pot States Have Collected More Than $200 Million In Marijuana Taxes"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new Huffington Post article.  Here is how it gets started:

The first two states to legalize recreational marijuana have collectively raked in at least $200 million in marijuana tax revenue, according to the latest tax data -- and they're putting those dollars to good use.

In Colorado, after about a year and a half of legal recreational marijuana sales, the state has collected more than $117 million in excise taxes from both the recreational and medical marijuana markets, according to the most recent data from the Colorado Department of Revenue.

Washington state got a slower start. Its retail shops didn't begin selling recreational marijuana until July of last year, but they are keeping pace with Colorado's. About $83 million in excise taxes have already been collected in the year since sales first began, according to the most recent tax data from the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board.

And the total haul for both states is several million higher if all additional revenue from marijuana -- such as sales taxes, jurisdictional taxes, fees and licensing costs -- is included.

August 27, 2015 in Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

"Marijuana Producers Gobble Up Warehouse Space in Denver Area"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new Wall Street Journal article that highlights some of the economic development impacts of the marijuana legalization in Colorado.  Here are excerpts:

Since voters in Colorado and Washington legalized recreational use of the drug in 2012, growers and distributors have gobbled up most of the available warehouse space in the Denver area, a major logistics hub for companies moving goods between the Midwest and the West Coast.

The marijuana industry is poised to expand quickly. Legal sales in Colorado of medical and recreational cannabis totaled about $700 million in 2014, the first full year for which statistics are available, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of Colorado tax data. The number of active licenses to grow the plant for retail consumption shot up to 397 from 204, according to Colorado’s Marijuana Enforcement Division.

The problem for Denver business owners: marijuana producers require lots of space to grow, package and store their products. In all, growers and distributors took up a third of all the warehouse space leased in Colorado over the past 18 months, according to Cresa Partners, a brokerage.

The warehouse crunch means many small businesses are struggling to find the space they need. Mr. Badgley, chief executive of Colorado Specialties Corp., a building-supply business, said his 7,500-square-foot warehouse and showroom is so crammed with bathroom fixtures and other materials that it is difficult to navigate. He would like to move to a building with triple the space, but can’t find anything affordable. “It’s all just getting snatched up by these marijuana people,” he said....

. Rents in the Colorado warehouse market rose 10% last year, to $5 a square foot, according to CBRE Inc., a real-estate services firm. The cost to buy warehouse space has doubled to $80 a square foot since the beginning of last year.

“It seems like every warehouse from 8,000 to 20,000 square feet is being turned into an indoor marijuana farm,” said Tom Glaspern, managing director in Denver for SEKO Logistics, a logistics-services provider. “We had opportunities [with customers] last year that we just had to turn down because we didn’t have the space.”...

Mr. Glaspern says the squeeze is especially tight in Denver because Colorado has relatively little industrial space outside the area. What’s more, because Colorado doesn’t border a state that has legalized recreational marijuana use, there isn’t much transport in or out — it is grown, processed and consumed right there....

Most growers use warehouse space as a combination indoor farm, packaging facility, storage space and distribution center. Employees clip buds from plants, cure them and ready them for shipment.

“It’s a factory that grows plants,” says Tim Cullen, owner of Colorado Harvest Co., a retailer that produced 3,600 pounds of pot last year and expects to produce 10,000 pounds this year. “It does not look like your friend’s basement in college.” Colorado Harvest owns 55,000 square feet of warehouse space to supply its five retail locations and is looking to lease 12,000 square feet more. Last year, after seeing warehouse rental prices increase, Mr. Cullen decided to build his own 35,000-square-foot facility in West Denver.

Growers are most interested in warehouses smaller than 80,000 square feet. Such spaces typically are used by modest manufacturing businesses. Converting them into cannabis-growing facilities often requires hundreds of thousands of dollars in upgrades to lighting, electrical and ventilation systems....

Mark Bowen, vice president in the Denver office of DCT Industrial Trust Inc., a real-estate investment trust that owns warehouses, said demand from marijuana growers has driven up the cost of warehouse space for users from the natural gas and tech industries by 60% or more, and increased lease renewal rates by 25% for DCT’s clients worried that if they don’t re-sign they will lose their space to the pot industry. “We’re happy about it,” Mr. Bowen said. Marijuana growers “are taking some of the space…that startups would maybe go to, and some of those businesses are having to come to buildings like ours.”

Over at, Scott Shackford makes these interesting additional ponits in this follow-up post about this WSJ piece:

[I]f Colorado sees a clear boom in related logistics-focused commercial and industrial developments, then that’s going to be some great ammunition for other states pushing for legalization. Municipal governments absolutely love the logistics market, particularly in places where manufacturing is no longer (or never was) the source for blue-collar jobs. And of course, real estate professionals and developers have always been able to bend the ears of elected officials. Once the "right" people are also making money off legal marijuana, some resistance is likely to go up in smoke.

Among other thoughts, these pieces make me think it might be a real smart financial play to start buying up under-used wharehouse space in states like Arizona and California and Ohio and Michigan and Massachusetts and any other states likely be be voting on serious legalization initiatives in the next few years.  

August 25, 2015 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Extended examination on how marijuana reform might (or might not) be impacting black markets

This lengthy new Vice article, headlined "How America's Legal Weed Is Changing the Black Market and Influencing Mexican Cartels," provides an effective (though necessarily incomplete) account of how legal reform developments in the United States are impacting all sort of marijuana markets. The piece merits a full read, and here are excerpts:

And these are mostly happy days for the legal weed industry, whose sales revenues grew from an estimated $1.5 billion in 2013 to $2.7 billion last year; one projection has them hitting $35 billion by 2020. All across Oregon, which legalized medical marijuana in 1998, people are attempting to carve out niches, hawking a dizzying array of weed sodas, candies, extracts, and other products. Oregonians overwhelmingly approved a ballot initiative last year that sanctioned pot sales to recreational users, making the state the next frontier of the so-called "green rush" that began in Colorado and Washington in 2012....

That new day hasn't dawned entirely. The hodgepodge of pot laws nationwide — 23 states plus Washington, DC now allow some form of medical marijuana — has created a situation ripe for exploitation. One of the great promises of marijuana legalization has been the concurrent elimination of the black market for weed, putting local dealers out of business and sticking it to Mexican cartels by cutting into their bottom line.

But while that may happen eventually, the black market in the United States is still thriving. Growers, consumers, dealers, and others in the industry told VICE News about operators that undercut prices at state pot shops, and several sources described illicit operations that ship large quantities of weed across the country from states that have legalized pot to states that haven't. Mexican organized crime experts told us that cartels are still smuggling bricks of bud across the border, and are perhaps even improving the quality of their product to cater to the rising expectations of American stoners.

"You're not going to eliminate the black market overnight," Beau Kilmer, co-director of the RAND Drug Policy Research Center, told VICE News. "It's going to take some time, because essentially when you look at prices in the black market, whether it's marijuana or meth or cocaine, you're compensating drug dealers and everyone in the supply chain for the risk of arrest and incarceration. That goes away with legalization."

Most experts agree with Kilmer, saying that in time, as more states repeal pot prohibition, the dynamics of the marijuana black market will begin to resemble those of America's tobacco and alcohol black markets. There are still people selling untaxed loose cigarettes and running moonshine even though the vast majority of consumers prefer going to the store to buy smokes and alcohol legally. Right now, it's extremely tempting for growers in legal states to export their product to prohibition states, where prices are far higher.

Sam Chapman, cofounder of New Economy Consulting, a firm that specializes in the marijuana industry, told VICE News it's widely known that a significant portion of the weed grown in Oregon and northern California gets exported to the East Coast. "We've been seeing that product end up in Florida, end up in New York — places that don't have cannabis decriminalization and have very harsh punishments," he said. "When you have prohibition in other states, it drives the price up [there] because it's not regulated… I'd guess 80 percent of all product in Oregon is, unfortunately, leaving the state."

August 25, 2015 in Business laws and regulatory issues, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 21, 2015

"Is Marijuana Causing More Car Crashes in Washington?"

The question in the title of this post is the question which necessarily emerges from some recent public safety data released this week in Washington state, and it is also the headline of Jacob Sullum's new Reason column examining this data.  Here are excerpts from Sullum's analysis (with key links preserved):

Data released by the Washington Traffic Safety Commission (WTSC) this week indicate that the number of drivers involved in fatal crashes with active THC in their blood jumped from 38 in 2013 to 75 last year....

Contrary to comments by Staci Hoff, the WTSC's director of data and research, the presence of active THC does not necessarily indicate that a driver was impaired by marijuana at the time of the crash, let alone that marijuana caused the accident. Noting that 85 percent of "cannabis-positive" drivers involved in fatal accidents had active THC (as opposed to an inactive THC metabolite) in their blood last year, Hoff concludes that "most of them were high." That is not a safe conclusion to draw, because (as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration points out) there is no reliable way to relate THC blood levels to impairment....

The picture is further complicated by the presence of other drugs.  The Times notes that "half the drivers with active THC in their blood also were under the influence of alcohol, and the majority of those were legally intoxicated."  Alcohol has a much more dramatic impact on driving ability than marijuana does, and the two together have a greater effect than either alone.  The Times adds that the WTSC's analysis "doesn't account for prescription drugs in the marijuana-positive drivers."

 Although marijuana's contribution to traffic accidents is hard to pin down, it is possible than an increase in cannabis consumption following legalization would lead to more stoned drivers on the road, resulting in more crashes.  Alternatively, if more pot smoking is accompanied by less drinking, the net result could be fewer crashes, since alcohol impairs drivers a lot more than marijuana does.  It is not clear yet whether either of those scenarios is materializing in Washington.

WTSC data show the total number of traffic fatalities rose by 6 percent last year (from 436 to 462) after falling the previous six years (including 2013, the first full year in which recreational use was legal, although state-licensed pot stores were not open yet). The number of fatalities from accidents in which the driver tested positive for marijuana (which does not necessarily mean he was impaired by marijuana) rose by 55 percent (from 64 to 99).  Meanwhile, the number of fatalities from accidents in which the driver was deemed to be impaired by alcohol fell by 13 percent (from 127 to 111). That number had declined or remained steady in the previous six years, except for a 14 percent increase in 2009.

The 6 percent increase in total fatalities is consistent with the idea that legalization raises the number of dangerously impaired drivers.   But that increase occurred entirely in the first half of 2014, before the pot shops started to open, which is a bit of a puzzle. By comparison, Colorado, where state-licensed marijuana merchants were open for business throughout 2014, saw only a 1.5 percent increase in total traffic fatalities that year.   To get a better idea of what is happening, we will need more years of data, plus comparisons to trends in other states that have not legalized marijuana.

UPDATE: Based on data from a local article about marijuana's impact in Washington, I did an additional post on this topic over at my sentencing law blog: "Could marijuana reform be making Washington roadways safer even if more drivers test positive for THC?"

August 21, 2015 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Effective Nature article highlights big gaps in marijuana research

The science journal Nature has this effective Cann3 new feature article discussing the notable challenges in doing good science in the marijuana reform space. The lengthy article is headlined "The cannabis experiment: As marijuana use becomes more acceptable, researchers are scrambling to answer key questions about the drug." Here are excerpts:

In 2013, Beau Kilmer took on a pretty audacious head count. Citizens in the state of Washington had just voted to legalize marijuana for recreational use, and the state's liquor control board, which would regulate the nascent industry, was anxious to understand how many people were using the drug — and importantly, how much they were consuming.

The task was never going to be straightforward. Users of an illicit substance, particularly heavy users, often under-report the amounts they take. So Kilmer, co-director of the RAND Drug Policy Research Center in Santa Monica, California, led a team to develop a web-based survey that would ask people how often they had used cannabis in the past month and year. To help them gauge the amounts, the surveys included scaled pictures showing different quantities of weed. The survey, along with other data the team had collected, revealed a rift between perception and reality. Based on prior data, state officials had estimated use at about 85 tonnes per year; Kilmer's research suggested that it was actually double that, about 175 tonnes. The take-home message, says Kilmer, was “we're going to have to start collecting more data”.

Scientists around the world would echo that statement. Laws designed to legalize cannabis or lessen the penalties associated with it are taking effect around the world. They are sweeping the sale of the drug out of stairwells and shady alleys and into modern shopfronts under full view of the authorities. In 2013, Uruguay became the first nation to legalize marijuana trade. And several countries in Europe — Spain and Italy among them — have moved away from tough penalties for use and possession. Thirty-nine US states plus Washington DC have at least some provisions for medicinal use of the drug. Washington, Colorado, Alaska and Oregon have gone further, legalizing the drug for recreational consumption. A handful of other states including California and Massachusetts are expected to vote on similar recreational-use measures by the end of 2016.

But the rapid shift has caught researchers on the back foot. “Broadly speaking, there's about 100 times as many studies on tobacco or alcohol as there are on illegal substances,” says Christian Hopfer, a psychiatry researcher at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Denver. “I don't think it's the priority it should be.”

Despite claims that range from its being a treatment for seizures to a cause of schizophrenia, the evidence for marijuana's effects on health and behaviour is limited and at times conflicting. Researchers struggle to answer even the most basic questions about cannabis use, its risks, its benefits and the effect that legalization will have.

The quick shifts in policies should provide a plethora of natural experiments, but the window will not be open for long. “There's an opportunity here. Some of the most informative research we can do is right at the moment the market changes,” says Robert MacCoun, a social psychologist and public-policy researcher at Stanford Law School in California who worked with Kilmer on the research done in Washington....

As cannabis use becomes legal, the data may become easier to collect. But the drug's use is still low compared with alcohol and tobacco, says Wayne Hall, an addiction researcher at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, so it is hard to draw firm conclusions. Marijuana may be the most popular illegal drug, he says — about 44% of US adults have used it at some point in their lives according to one source — but only about one in ten have used it in the past year. By contrast, around 70% drank alcohol in that time. “The number of people who use it with any regularity for a long time is pretty small. The longer-term consequences are really understudied,” says Hall.

A major question for researchers — and a complication in interpreting the evidence — is dosing. There are more than 85 cannabinoid chemicals in pot. The one of most interest to researchers — and users — is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Growers have been able to breed high concentrations of the chemical into strains of the plant meant for recreational and medicinal use. A potency- monitoring programme run by the University of Mississippi for the US National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) found that THC levels have steadily increased in the United States11, from 2–3% in 1985–95 to 4.9% in 2010. The increase is even starker for imported cannabis seized by law-enforcement officials. For these drugs, potency has gone from less than 4% in the late 1980s and early 1990s to more than 12% in 2013.

But it is hard to determine the amounts of THC being consumed by the average customer. It is unclear, for example, whether users 'titrate' their doses, adjusting their intake according to the potency. Nicotine users are known to do this with cigarettes, but nicotine does not impair judgement in the same way that cannabis does. And the effects of THC are less immediate, especially for edible forms.

The escalating potency raises questions about previous research because users in older studies may have been consuming lower-potency cannabis, and the effects may be different. A study published earlier this year, for example, linked high-potency cannabis to a threefold-increased risk of psychosis versus non-use but found no association with lower-potency forms. And many researchers have complained that the pot approved for study in experiments funded by NIDA is a poor match for what is used recreationally or medicinally....

Although states are starting to ease restrictions on recreational use of marijuana, what got the ball rolling in changing public perceptions and the legal landscape for pot were the arguments for its medical use.

Colorado introduced its rules allowing medical marijuana more than a decade before it allowed recreational use. The amendment to the state's constitution listed eight conditions for which marijuana was approved: cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, cachexia (a progressive wasting syndrome), persistent muscle spasms, seizures, severe nausea and severe pain. But, says Larry Wolk, executive director and chief medical officer of the CDPHE, “those are dictated by the constitution and not necessarily by medical research”.

Although there is a huge amount of anecdotal evidence — and well-organized advocacy groups that campaign for easier access to medical marijuana — there is little conclusive scientific evidence for many of the claimed medical benefits. One of the reasons for this dearth of evidence is that money generally has been obtainable only for research on the negative effects of cannabis. That is beginning to change.

When Colorado first legalized the drug, its public-health department began collecting fees from patients who applied to purchase pot at medical dispensaries. By 2014, the state had amassed more than US$9 million, most of which was ploughed back into a medical marijuana research programme selected by the CDPHE. Among the projects funded by the Colorado millions, there are two investigating whether cannabinoids can help to mitigate seizures in childhood epilepsy. Similar research is being pursued in the United Kingdom and elsewhere in the United States....

One of the biggest questions is how legalization will change usage patterns. One place in which researchers are looking for answers is Europe, where cannabis regulation tends to be much lighter than it is in the United States (see 'Reefer madness'). In the United Kingdom, some police forces overlook cannabis use and small-scale growing operations. Spain allows private consumption, but still has restrictions on sales.

The most extreme and long-standing example is the Netherlands, which decriminalized the possession and sale of small quantities of cannabis in 1976. But although some streets of Amsterdam have been transformed into pungent tourism hotspots, the country as a whole has not changed its habits much.

Although hard data on cannabis use in Europe is patchy, the Netherlands does not have hugely more users than other nations. Data aggregated by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime put use in the Netherlands at about 7%. That is more than in Germany (5%) and Norway (5%), about the same as in the United Kingdom and less than in the United States (15%). Nor has the Netherlands seen a huge spike in use of harder drugs, dampening fears that marijuana serves as a gateway to more-dangerous substances such as heroin and cocaine. The message from the Netherlands, says Franz Trautmann, a drugs-policy researcher at the Trimbos Institute in Utrecht, the Netherlands, is that “a very liberal policy doesn't lead to a skyrocketing prevalence”. Rather, cannabis is endemic, he says. “We can't control this through prohibition. This is something which more and more is recognized.”

But the lesson from the Netherlands may be limited because the drug is still illegal, and growing and selling large quantities is still punishable by law. Colorado has gone further by legalizing not merely the drug's use, but the whole production chain, and that could have fundamentally different effects on the economics of pot. “Legalized production really raises the prospect of a dramatic drop in price,” says MacCoun. “It's conceivable marijuana prices could drop 75–80% in a fully legalized model.” (Although Uruguay legalized the drug in 2013, it reportedly has struggled to regulate production and to set up working dispensaries.)

The effects of a sharp drop in cost are unknown. Taxation may also have unintended consequences. If states tax by weight, users might look to higher-potency strains to save money. And once cannabis is a business, it gains a business lobby. Cannabis researchers already talk of being bombarded with e-mails from pro-cannabis groups if they make negative comments about the drug. “Marijuana research is like tobacco research in the '60s,” says Hopfer. “Any study about harms is challenged. It's really something.” Many fear that the big money now to be found in cannabis will drive attempts to obfuscate the risks. “If the commercial interests are too big, then the profit interest is prevailing above the health interest. This is what I'm afraid of,” says Trautmann.

Legalization provides an opportunity to answer some important questions. In a few years, Colorado, Washington and others will know (if only roughly) how legalization affects usage patterns, the number of car crashes and the number of people seeking help for drug dependency. The CDPHE-funded programmes will have added to the knowledge of beneficial effects. And continuing long-term studies of large groups of users will provide more evidence for statisticians who are attempting to disentangle correlation and causation on the negative impacts.

“When a jurisdiction changes its marijuana laws, that provides an opportunity for greater leverage on the questions of cause and effect,” says MacCoun. But, he adds, the signals will only really be clear if the laws result in a dramatic increase in use — something that is neither a given, nor necessarily desirable. “Obviously, we don't want marijuana use to rise just to allow us to answer our questions, but if it does, we'll be poring over all the data.”

August 20, 2015 in International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

"Colorado Marijuana Tax Revenue Nearly Doubles in One Year"

The title of this post is the headline of this new Time piece, which includes these passages:

It’s been a year and a half since the legalization of marijuana went into effect in Colorado.  Business for purveyors of marijuana was good from the beginning, but has soared in the past year, according to data collected by the Colorado Department of Revenue.

The state collected $9.7 million in taxes related to marijuana sales in June 2015, up nearly $5 million from the same month last year.  By May, the state had collected more than $88 million in marijuana taxes in 2015.

Revenue from marijuana sales has been used to fund improvements to the state’s public schools.  “The people who were smoking marijuana before legalization still are. Now, they’re paying taxes,” Gov. John Hickenlooper told USA Today in February.

August 19, 2015 in Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 13, 2015

International Centre for Science in Drug Policy releases "State of the Evidence: Cannabis Use and Regulation"

Download (10)I am very pleased to see that the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy (ICSDP), a group of scientists and academics who seek to "ensure that policy responses to the many problems posed by illicit drugs are informed by the best available scientific evidence," has released this effective and timely new report titled "State of the Evidence: Cannabis Use and Regulation."  Here is the report's introduction:

The regulation of recreational cannabis markets has become an increasingly important policy issue in a number of jurisdictions. Colorado and Washington State made headlines in 2012 when they became the first jurisdictions in the world to legalize and regulate the adult use and sale of cannabis for non-medical purposes.  In 2013, Uruguay became the first country to legalize and regulate recreational cannabis markets.  Momentum towards regulation continued in the United States in 2014 with successful ballot initiatives in Alaska, Oregon, and the District of Columbia. Globally, the issue of cannabis regulation is front and center in a growing number of jurisdictions, including Canada, Jamaica, Italy, Spain, several Latin American countries, and a number of additional U.S. states, including California, set to vote on legalization initiatives in 2016.

Unsurprisingly, given the robust global conversation around the regulation of recreational cannabis markets, claims about the impacts of cannabis use and regulation are increasingly part of the public discourse.  Unfortunately, though, these claims are often unsupported by the available scientific evidence.  Another reoccurring problem in the public discourse is the selective inclusion of research studies based on their support for a predetermined narrative.  The intentional exclusion of studies with contradictory findings does not allow for an objective review and analysis of all the evidence.  This “cherry picking” of the evidence is a routine practice that distorts public understanding.  By outlining the current state of all the scientific evidence on common cannabis claims, State of the Evidence: Cannabis Use and Regulation strives to ensure that evidence, rather than rhetoric, plays a central role in policymaking around this important issue.

The harms of misrepresenting the scientific evidence on cannabis should not be overlooked.  Given that policy decisions are influenced by public opinion and media reports, public discourse needs to be well informed.  By addressing knowledge gaps with scientific findings, the ICSDP hopes to dispel myths about cannabis use and regulation, and ensure that the scientific evidence on these topics is accurately represented.  Only then can evidence-based policy decisions be made.

Readers of this report will notice three repeating themes emerge through the discussion of the scientific evidence on common cannabis claims.

First, many of the claims confuse correlation and causation.  Although scientific evidence may find associations between two events, this does not indicate that one necessarily caused the other.  Put simply, correlation does not equal causation.  This is a commonly made mistake when interpreting scientific evidence in all fields, and is unsurprisingly a recurring source of confusion in the discourse on cannabis use and regulation.

Second, for several of these claims, the inability to control for a range of variables (“confounders”) means that in many cases, we cannot conclude that a particular outcome was caused by cannabis use or regulation.  Unless scientists can remove all other possible explanations, the evidence cannot conclusively say that one specific explanation is true.

Third, many of the claims cannot be made conclusively as there is insufficient evidence to support them.  Findings from a single study or a small sample cannot be generalized to entire populations.  This is especially pronounced for claims related to cannabis regulation, as not enough time has passed since the regulation of recreational cannabis in Colorado, Washington State, and Uruguay to examine many of the impacts of these policy changes.

These three common pitfalls are important to take into account when reading media reports and advocacy materials that suggest scientists have conclusively made some finding related to cannabis use or regulation.  In many cases, due to the reasons outlined above, this will actually result in a misrepresentation of the scientific evidence.

State of the Evidence: Cannabis Use and Regulation is comprised of two sections: Common Claims on Cannabis Use and Common Claims on Cannabis Regulation.

Common Claims on Cannabis Use presents evidence on frequently heard claims about cannabis use, including claims on the addictive potential of cannabis, cannabis as a “gateway” drug, the potency of cannabis, and the impact of cannabis use on the lungs, heart, and brain (in terms of IQ, cognitive functioning, and risk of schizophrenia).

Common Claims on Cannabis Regulation presents evidence on frequently heard claims about the impacts of cannabis regulation, including the impact of regulation on cannabis availability, impaired driving, the use of cannabis, drug crime, drug tourism, and “Big Marijuana.”

For each claim, the relevant available scientific evidence is presented and the strength of the scientific evidence in support of the claim is determined.  Readers will notice that none of the claims are strongly supported by the scientific evidence, reinforcing the significant misrepresentation of evidence on cannabis use and regulation.

We hope that the evidence contained in this report meaningfully contributes to the global conversation around cannabis policy and helps policymakers, as well as general readers, separate scientific evidence from conjecture.

August 13, 2015 in Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Science, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

"Study finds no link between teen marijuana use, mental health issues"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable Fox News piece reporting on notable new research published by the American Physiological Association.  Here are the basic details:

A new study reports that chronic marijuana use in teenage boys does not appear to be linked to later physical or mental health issues such as depression, psychotic symptoms or asthma. The study, published by the American Physiological Association, did not include teenage girls.

Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and Rutgers University compiled data by tracking 408 males from adolescence into their mid-30s. The participants were placed into four groups based on their reported marijuana use: low or non-users, early chronic users, participants who only smoked during adolescence, and those who began using marijuana late in their teens and continued through adulthood. Early chronic users reported higher marijuana use, which increased in their teens to a peak of more than 200 days per year on average when they were 22 years old, the news release said.

The study was an offshoot of the Pittsburg Youth Study, which tracked 14-year-old male students in Pittsburgh public schools in the late 1980s, according to a news release. Participants were surveyed annually or semiannually, and a follow up survey was conducted in 2009-2010 when the volunteers were 36 years old.

Based on the results of prior studies, authors expected to find a link between teen marijuana use and the later development of psychotic symptoms, cancer, asthma or respiratory problems but found none, according to a news release. “What we found was a little surprising,” lead researcher Jordan Bechtold, a psychology research fellow at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, said in the release. “There were no differences in any of the mental or physical health outcomes that we measured regardless of the amount of frequency of marijuana used during adolescence.”

August 5, 2015 in Medical community perspectives, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Science | Permalink | Comments (0)