Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

A Member of the Law Professor Blogs Network

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Colorado and Washington Senators press White House for clearer marijuana policy guidance

As detailed in this official press release, titled "WA, CO Senators push Obama Administration to set clear, consistent policies so states can implement marijuana laws," the four Senators representing the two states which have legalized recreational marijuana have sent a letter to the White House Chief of Staff and Attorney General Eric Holder urging more federal guidance about state marijuana activities.  The full letter is available at this link, and here is how it starts:

We write to request that the Administration provide guidance to departments and agencies ensuring a consistent and uniform application of federal laws that could affect licensed marijuana businesses, dispensaries, and growers in Washington state and Colorado.

As you know, our states are implementing regulatory and licensing schemes to ensure any production and sale of marijuana is in accord with state law, and is conducted in a manner that preserves public health and safety. In working toward this goal, in some instances, our states will have to react to new information and evolving circumstances as this process moves forward. We believe the federal government should support Colorado and Washington state’s effort to establish a successful regulatory framework in a way that achieves greater certainty for local officials, citizens, and business owners as they tackle this complicated and important task. At times, however, certain federal agencies have taken different approaches that seem to be at odds with one another and may undermine our states’ ability to regulate the industry adequately.

In order to provide more regulatory clarity, we believe that the Administration should provide consistent and uniform guidance to departments and agencies regarding the interpretation and application of the Controlled Substances Act (“CSA”) and other federal laws that could impact the marijuana industries in our states. Without such guidance, our states’ citizens face uncertainty and risk the inconsistent application of federal law in Colorado and Washington state, including the potential for selective enforcement actions and prosecution.

July 29, 2014 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, July 27, 2014

New York Times now advocating: "Repeal Prohibition, Again"

NYTThe title of this post is the headline in this (historic?) new New York Times editorial calling for the legalization of marijuana.  Here are excerpts:

It took 13 years for the United States to come to its senses and end Prohibition, 13 years in which people kept drinking, otherwise law-abiding citizens became criminals and crime syndicates arose and flourished. It has been more than 40 years since Congress passed the current ban on marijuana, inflicting great harm on society just to prohibit a substance far less dangerous than alcohol.

The federal government should repeal the ban on marijuana.

We reached that conclusion after a great deal of discussion among the members of The Times’s Editorial Board, inspired by a rapidly growing movement among the states to reform marijuana laws.

There are no perfect answers to people’s legitimate concerns about marijuana use. But neither are there such answers about tobacco or alcohol, and we believe that on every level — health effects, the impact on society and law-and-order issues — the balance falls squarely on the side of national legalization. That will put decisions on whether to allow recreational or medicinal production and use where it belongs — at the state level.

We considered whether it would be best for Washington to hold back while the states continued experimenting with legalizing medicinal uses of marijuana, reducing penalties, or even simply legalizing all use. Nearly three-quarters of the states have done one of these.

But that would leave their citizens vulnerable to the whims of whoever happens to be in the White House and chooses to enforce or not enforce the federal law.

The social costs of the marijuana laws are vast. There were 658,000 arrests for marijuana possession in 2012, according to F.B.I. figures, compared with 256,000 for cocaine, heroin and their derivatives. Even worse, the result is racist, falling disproportionately on young black men, ruining their lives and creating new generations of career criminals.

There is honest debate among scientists about the health effects of marijuana, but we believe that the evidence is overwhelming that addiction and dependence are relatively minor problems, especially compared with alcohol and tobacco....

There are legitimate concerns about marijuana on the development of adolescent brains. For that reason, we advocate the prohibition of sales to people under 21.

Creating systems for regulating manufacture, sale and marketing will be complex. But those problems are solvable, and would have long been dealt with had we as a nation not clung to the decision to make marijuana production and use a federal crime.

In coming days, we will publish articles by members of the Editorial Board and supplementary material that will examine these questions. We invite readers to offer their ideas, and we will report back on their responses, pro and con.

We recognize that this Congress is as unlikely to take action on marijuana as it has been on other big issues. But it is long past time to repeal this version of Prohibition.

In addition, today's New York Times has these related signed editorial pieces to kick off its series of coverage:

July 27, 2014 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Analysts predict Oregon would generate $38.5 million in tax revenue in first year of pot legalization

OregonAs detailed in this lengthy new report, titled simply "Oregon Cannabis Tax Revenue Estimate," a prediction of marijuana usage is at the heart of economists' prediction of significant tax revenues is the citizens of Oregon legalize recreational marijuana this fall. Here is the report's Executive summary:

Oregonians are slated to vote on the “Control, Regulation, and Taxation of Marijuana and Industrial Hemp Act” in November 2014. The measure would regulate, tax, and legalize marijuana for adults 21 and older with legal use beginning in July, 2015.

Economists at ECONorthwest conducted an independent study to estimate the amount of money that would be generated in the short term if the Act passes. The money generated in taxes would go to schools, state and local police, and programs for drug treatment, prevention, drug education, and mental health.

The key findings of this analysis are:

• $38.5 million in excise tax revenue would be generated during the first fiscal year of tax receipts;

• $78.7 million in excise tax revenue would be generated during the first full biennium of tax receipts.

The report does not look at the impact on courts, police, and jail operating costs due to legalization. The forecast is based on a comprehensive methodology that includes the following: the cost of production; price elasticity; the price of marijuana and its retail products; market demand; the short-term demand remaining in the gray market; accessibility of non-medical sales; new market entrants; home production; and non-resident demand.

The “Control, Regulation, and Taxation of Marijuana and Industrial Hemp Act” legalizes the growth, processing, wholesaling, and retailing of marijuana for adult purposes. If enacted, retail sales in Oregon could begin July 1, 2016.

Petitioners for this Act asked ECONorthwest to forecast state government tax revenues that would arise in the first fiscal year of its implementation, presumed to be July 1, 2016 through June 30, 2017 (FY 2017). Similarly, they asked ECONorthwest to estimate tax revenues in the first full biennium, July 1, 2017 to June 30, 2019 (2017-19 biennium). This report summarizes ECONorthwest’s research and forecast.

July 24, 2014 in Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Could Vermont become the first state to legislatively legalize marijuana?

The question in the title in this post is prompted by news yesterday that Vermont has contracted with RAND to study the possible effects of legalizing marijuana in the state.  

A study like this could provide political momentum and support for a planned 2015 legalization bill.  Though, of course, its actual impact will depend in large part on what the study finds.  At the very least, however, it indicates that a critical mass of elected officials in Vermont have more than just a passing interest in legalization.  

Also of note, Vermont's Governor, Peter Shumlin has been praised by NORML in the past for his support of reforming marijuana laws.  Shumlin is up for reelection this year.  Assuming he retains office, his presence would go a long way toward making legalization via legislation a real possibility.  (Some may recall that New Hampshire's legislative legalization efforts hit a road block earlier this year after opposition from their Governor.)

And, whatever the political outcome, I'm sure RAND's report will be interesting reading for all who follow this issue, especially since the news story indicates Beau Kilmer--whose work in this area is consistently must-read--will be meeting with Vermont officials next week to get the study going.

Here's some highlights from the story about the upcoming study:

Rand Corp. representatives will be in Vermont next week to begin work on a study of the effects that marijuana legalization might have on the state's economy, individual health and public safety.

 

The international, nonprofit research organization was chosen to conduct the study, which was mandated in a bill passed by the Legislature last session.

 

The state will pay $20,000 toward the study, which will be augmented by as much as $100,000 in private donations, officials said Friday.

 

Rand Corp. declined to comment on the research until the organization's senior policy analyst Beau Kilmer meets with Vermont officials next week. More details on the study would be released then, Rand spokesperson Warren Robak said.

 

"We were looking for someone who wasn't going to make a case that we legalize or not legalize," Spaulding said, adding that Rand is "very well-respected."

 

The report generated by Rand should give Vermont legislators the facts they need to have a well-informed debate next winter, one lawmaker says.

 

"I think the study will help with legislators and the public who inherently think it's a good idea but want evidence they can hold up to show people," said state Sen. David Zuckerman, P/D-Chittenden. Zuckerman said he will propose a marijuana regulation and legalization bill in the 2015 legislative session.

 

"It can work in other states," Zuckerman said. "We just have to make some changes."

July 22, 2014 in Current Affairs, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Should marijuana home delivery be embraced or feared?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this notable new AP article headlined "Next up for legal pot? Marijuana at your doorstep." Here are excerpts:

William “Jackrabbit” Large pulls his SUV onto the side of a downtown Seattle street, parking behind an Amazon Fresh delivery truck and carrying a product the online retailer doesn’t offer: marijuana.

The thin, bespectacled Large is a delivery man for Winterlife, a Seattle company that is among a group of new businesses pushing the limits of Washington state’s recreational pot industry by offering to bring marijuana to almost any doorstep. “It’s an opportunity that should not be missed,” Large says with the kind of fast-talking voice meant for radio.

While delivery services have existed for years to supply medical marijuana patients, the rise of similar businesses geared toward serving recreational users in Washington and Colorado highlights how the industry is outpacing the states’ pot laws.

Winterlife’s business model is a felony under Washington state law, which allows only the sale of pot grown by licensed producers at licensed retail shops. Lawmakers should consider changing that, said Alison Holcomb, the author of the 2012 voter initiative that legalized the recreational use of pot, because providing more ways to access marijuana will help push people to the legal pot market.

In Colorado, where marijuana regulations require sales to be done in licensed dispensaries, there’s a flourishing market online for marijuana deliveries made in exchange for donations. The law allows adults over 21 to give one another up to an ounce of marijuana, provided it is done “without remuneration.”

The only known case of criminal charges brought against a Colorado delivery service came last year, when the owner of a pot-for-donations service in the Colorado Springs area faced felony distribution charges. He committed suicide before trial.

In Washington, where the legal pot industry kicked off last week, companies like Winterlife jumped into fill demand from consumers for marijuana while the state spent the past 19 months building the regulations and licensing growers and retailers. Winterlife co-founder Evan Cox, a vegan and bicyclist enthusiast, began by advertising on Craigslist and made deliveries.

Now he has around 50 full and part-time employees, including 25 to 30 delivery personnel in cars and bicycles. Operators field between 400 and 600 calls a day. “We found a way to really fill the need that the Washington voter said that there is,” he says from his company’s headquarters, where workers busily sort, cut and package their different marijuana products into branded clear bags.

The Winterlife model is simple. They have a website that features their products – marijuana flowers, edibles and pipes. After making a call, the consumer’s phone is relayed to a driver, who then asks them where they want to meet.

Cox is fully aware of the shaky legal ground where he stands. All of the drivers operate under animal-inspired pseudonyms. There’s a jackrabbit, a wombat, a possum, among others. Cox is also mostly staying within Seattle, where police have tolerated the company’s presence and voters in the city made marijuana crimes a low priority for law enforcement years ago....

Sgt. Sean Whitcomb, a spokesman for the Seattle Police Department, said Winterlife is undermining the spirit of the legal marijuana law. So far, he said, the police department has bigger priorities. But he said the department could change its stance if it receives information about underage sales or other complaints. The department recently seized more than 2,200 plants from a medical marijuana grow that was bothering neighbors.

July 15, 2014 in Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

"White House Says Marijuana Policy Is States' Rights Issue"

The title of this post is the headline of this new Huffington Post piece.  Here is how it starts:

The Obama administration believes marijuana policy is a states' rights issue, the White House said Monday in opposing Republican-led legislation that would prevent Washington, D.C., from using federal funds to decriminalize marijuana possession.

The GOP-sponsored House amendment would prevent D.C. "from using its own local funds to carry out locally-passed marijuana policies, which again undermines the principles of States' rights and of District home rule," the White House said in a statement. The White House said the bill "poses legal challenges to the Metropolitan Police Department's enforcement of all marijuana laws currently in force in the District."

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) called Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) a "tyrant" for meddling in the District's governing process with the amendment, pointing out that Maryland just voted to decriminalize marijuana possession. The amendment is aimed at blocking a recent D.C. law that lowers the penalty for possessing small amounts of marijuana to a fine.

July 15, 2014 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, State court rulings | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 11, 2014

Unsurprisingly, two very divergent views of the impact of marijuana legalization in Colorado

As everyone might have expected, proponents and opponents of marijuana reform have quite diverse perspectives on the success or failure of the legalization experiment in Colorado over the first six months of regular recreation pot sales.  Examples of the divergent views are well demonstrated by these two recent commentaries:

From Jacob Sullum, reform proponent, here in Forbes, "How Is Marijuana Legalization Going? The Price of Pot Peace Looks Like a Bargain."

From Kevin Sabet, reform opponent, here at CNN, "Colorado's troubles with pot."

The enduring problem posed by these divergent perspectives is that it become so much very harder for marijuana reform "agnostics" to know whether the sky is really falling or if in fact all is swell in the wake of recent reforms. Perhaps usefully, though, the divergent views may help ensure that we go a number of years with the on-going experiment before anyone should feel extra confident asserting great success or great failure in recent reforms.

July 11, 2014 in Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Seattle's City Attorney Makes an Opening Day Marijuana Purchase

Seattle's City Attorney Pete Holmes was a prominent, and early, backer of Washington's legalization.  Among other things, Holmes authored a 2012 op-ed in the Seattle Times making the case for legalization.  And yesterday, Holmes may have become the most prominent politician to buy now-legal--well, except under federal law--marijuana.  Holmes purchased two 2-gram bags of marijuana, saying he would keep one "for posterity" and use the other "for personal enjoyment at some point when it’s appropriate.”

Though his "personal enjoyment" quote has received the most media coverage so far, Holmes also took the opportunity to reiterate his reasons for supporting marijuana legalization:

“This can happen responsibly,” said Holmes.  “Driving this market this industry this amazingly demanded product into the shadows does not advance public safety.  The best way you can support law enforcement is to make this legal and regulate it and tax it and that’s the message here.”

July 9, 2014 in Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Lines form to greet start legal recreation marijuana sales in Washington

WapotAs reported in this AP article, headlined "Line forms early, trucks deliver goods as Washington’s legal pot sales start," today officially kicks off legal recreational marijuana sales in a second US state. Here are the basics:

Marijuana growers loaded trucks with boxes of packaged pot on Tuesday as lines of customers grew outside a handful of stores poised to be the first to sell recreational cannabis legally in Washington state.

“I voted for it, and I’m just so excited to see it come to be in my lifetime,” said Deb Greene, a 65-year-old retiree who waited all night outside Cannabis City, the only licensed shop in Seattle. “I’m not a heavy user; I’m just proud of our state for giving this a try.”

Tuesday’s start of legal pot sales in Washington marks a major step that’s been 20 months in the making. Washington and Colorado stunned much of the world by voting in November 2012 to legalize marijuana for adults over 21, and to create state-licensed systems for growing, selling and taxing the pot. Sales began in Colorado on Jan. 1.

The final days before sales have been frenetic for growers and retailers alike throughout Washington. Cannabis City owner James Lathrop and his team hired an events company to provide crowd control, arranged for a food truck and free water for those who might spend hours waiting outside, and rented portable toilets to keep his customers from burdening nearby businesses with requests to use the restrooms.

Store openings are expected to be accompanied by high prices, shortages and celebration. As soon as the stores were notified Monday, they began working to place their orders with some of the state’s first licensed growers. Once the orders were received through state-approved software for tracking the bar-coded pot, the growers placed their products in a required 24-hour “quarantine” before shipping it Tuesday morning.

Sea of Green Farms co-owner Bob Leeds got an early start Tuesday as he loaded about seven pounds of marijuana into boxes for a drive to Bellingham and delivery to the Top Shelf Cannabis store in time for its 8 a.m. opening. The pot was packaged in 1 gram plastic bags. An AP survey of licensees awarded by Washington state to store owners showed that only about six planned to open Tuesday, including two stores in Bellingham, one in Seattle, one in Spokane, one in Prosser and one in Kelso. Some were set to open later this week or next, while others said it could be a month or more before they could acquire marijuana to sell.

Officials eventually expect to have more than 300 recreational pot shops across the state. Pot prices were expected to reach $25 a gram or higher on the first day of sales — twice what people pay in the state’s unregulated medical marijuana dispensaries. That was largely due to the short supply of legally produced pot in the state. Although more than 2,600 people applied to become licensed growers, fewer than 100 have been approved — and only about a dozen were ready to harvest by early this month.

Nevertheless, John Evich, an investor in Bellingham’s Top Shelf Cannabis, said his shop wanted to thank the state’s residents for voting for the law by offering $10 grams of one cannabis strain to the first 50 or 100 customers. The other strains would be priced between $12 and $25, he said.

July 8, 2014 in Current Affairs, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 3, 2014

New rules for edible marijuana products are moving forward in Colorado

From Colorado comes news that updated regulations for edible marijuana products are moving forward.  The Denver Post reports the details:

Under a draft proposal, the state would essentially regulate out of existence bite-sized products that pack in 100 milligrams of active THC, the maximum allowed by state law.

 

The draft rules from the Department of Revenue would provide incentives for companies to produce 10 milligram products — the standardized serving size under state law — by putting greater burdens on manufacturers of products between 10 and 100 milligrams.

 

For example, a candy bar in that range would need to be divided into sections that can easily be broken off, with each section marked or stamped with its THC content. Edibles that don't lend themselves to such division — say, granola or potato chips — would need to come in packages with no more than 10 milligrams total.

As I wrote here a few weeks ago, I believe that permitting the sale of bite sized candies that contain 10 doses of marijuana is regulatory insanity.  It's good to see that Colorado is moving quickly to address the problem. 

July 3, 2014 in Food and Drink, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Another new chapter for marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington getting underway

The second half of 2014 brings notable new developments in both Colorado and Washington, as detailed in these two notable press reports:

"Colorado recreational marijuana industry begins major transformation":

Only six months old, Colorado's recreational marijuana industry starts a transformation Tuesday that could add hundreds of new pot businesses to the state and reconfigure the market's architecture.

Previously, only owners of existing medical marijuana shops could apply to open recreational stores, and all businesses had to be generalists, growing the pot that they sold. The model matches what is required of medical marijuana dispensaries.

Starting Tuesday, newcomers to the industry can apply for recreational marijuana business licenses. What's more, when these new businesses begin opening in October, all recreational marijuana companies will be allowed to specialize — as wholesale growers without a storefront, for instance, or as stand-alone stores that don't grow their supply. The only requirement is that owners be Colorado residents.

"We are going into uncharted territory," said Sam Kamin, a University of Denver law professor who has tracked developments in Colorado's marijuana industry. "It's something that hasn't happened in medical (marijuana), and it hasn't happened in recreational."

"Bumpy road for marijuana legalization in Washington"

Pete O'Neil saw Washington's legalization of marijuana in 2012 as a path to retirement, or at least to his kids' college tuition. He's paid tens of thousands of dollars of rent on possible locations for a pot-shop chain, hired lawyers and picked out flooring. But now the nation's second legal recreational marijuana industry is about to start without him.

O'Neil struck out in Washington's lottery for coveted pot-shop licenses. He has unsuccessfully tried to buy companies that scored a lucky number. In frustration, he's turning what would have been his Seattle retail store into a medical marijuana dispensary. "Our company is bleeding money, and I haven't sold a single joint," O'Neil says.

As Washington plows toward the legalization of pot, it's finding that getting the cannabis market off the ground has been tougher than anyone imagined. Among the frustrated are growers who have been waiting months for permission to start raising their bar-coded plants; advocates who wish more public health messaging had been done by now; and would-be pot vendors like O'Neil who say bad luck, minor oversights on their applications or errors by state officials have torpedoed otherwise promising efforts.

Washington's Liquor Control Board expects to issue the first 15 to 20 marijuana retail licenses July 7, months later than first expected, but it's not clear how many of those shops are ready. Board staff members said last week only one shop in Seattle is prepared for its final inspection.

July 2, 2014 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 27, 2014

Oregon joins Alaska and Florida as states for marijuana reformers to watch extra closely in campaign 2014

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As reported in this Christian Science Monitor article, headlined "Marijuana: Oregon and Alaska could be next to legalize recreational use," a submission of petition signatures yesterday in the Beaver State now seems to make likely that at least three states will have significant marijuana reform initiatives before voters in November 2014:

While the fight is heating up in Florida over a ballot measure to legalize medical marijuana, voters in Oregon and Alaska will decide whether to join Colorado and Washington in legalizing recreational use.

If marijuana advocates have their way, the number of states where recreational pot is legal could double this year. On the November ballot in Oregon and Alaska are measures allowing the sale of recreational marijuana to adults. If those initiatives pass, the two states would join Colorado and Washington in legalizing cannabis.

Meanwhile, Florida voters will decide on a constitutional amendment legalizing the use of marijuana for medical purposes. That would make it the 24th state, plus the District of Columbia, to legalize medical marijuana.

In Oregon Thursday, supporters of marijuana legalization turned in 145,000 signatures – far more than the 87,213 valid signatures of registered voters necessary to qualify as a ballot initiative. “The Control, Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana and Industrial Hemp Act strictly regulates marijuana sales and possession,” according to New Approach Oregon, the advocacy group that submitted signatures to the Oregon secretary of state. “It legalizes the use of marijuana by adults only and taxes marijuana and its products to generate money for education, public safety, drug treatment, and drug prevention.”

Initiative Petition 53, as the measure is also known, would allow adults to possess up to eight ounces of marijuana and up to four plants. Sales would be subject to a flat tax of $35 per ounce for marijuana flowers, $10 per ounce of marijuana leaves, and $5 per immature cannabis plant....

In Alaska, a November ballot measure would legalize the adult possession of up to one ounce of cannabis as well as the cultivation of up to six plants (three flowering) for personal consumption, according to “The Daily Chronic,” a newspaper produced by marijuana reform activists. It would also allow for the establishment of licensed, commercial cannabis production and retail sales of marijuana and marijuana-infused products to those over the age of 21....

Polls show a majority of Floridians support medical marijuana legalization, but constitutional amendments need a 60 percent majority in order to pass. Still, a Quinnipiac University poll last month showed 88 percent support for allowing adults to legally use marijuana for medical purposes, if a doctor prescribes it. By a smaller 53-42 percent majority, Florida voters support allowing adults to legally possess small amounts of marijuana for personal use, according to this poll.

While proponents of the referendum got a head start in fundraising, deep-pocketed Republicans have since jumped into the battle. The Drug Free Florida campaign, which opposes the amendment, has raised $2.7 million, including a $2.5 million contribution from Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, a major Republican donor. Earlier this month, the nonpartisan Florida Sheriffs Association began a separate “educational campaign” against the amendment....

The Florida amendment is also enmeshed in the hot race for governor. Republican Gov. Rick Scott opposes it, while former GOP Gov. Charlie Crist, who is seeking to return to the office as a Democrat, supports it.

June 27, 2014 in Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 26, 2014

So far, no Colorado marijuana stores have been found to have sold to minors

The Denver Post reports today that police inspections have not found any incidents of Colorado marijuana stores selling to minors:

Police have so far sanctioned no recreational marijuana stores for selling to minors during underage compliance stings across the state, according to the Colorado Department of Revenue.

 

Authorities in Denver and Pueblo, working with regulators from the state Marijuana Enforcement Division, have conducted 20 undercover stings in which they see whether a store will sell pot to someone under 21. Sixteen of the compliance checks have occurred in Denver, home to most of the state's recreational marijuana stores.

 

So far, no store has sold to someone under 21 in the checks.

As the Toke of the Town blog notes, this compares very favorably to liquor stores, where Colorado authorities typically find a good number of violations every year.  

Of course, direct sales are not the only way that legal marijuana might make its way to underage users.    As with alcohol, an adult who legally buys from a marijuana store could share with a minor (or act as a straw purchaser for a minor.)  The extent to which this sort of thing is happening--and the extent to which it results in any increase in availability or use among teens--remains to be seen.  But for now, it is certainly good news for regulators that no marijuana stores have been found to be selling to minors. 

June 26, 2014 in Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Is God a supporter of marijuana reform?

The question in the title of this post is my (only slightly) tounge-in-cheek response to this Christian Post article headlined "Oklahoma Senator Quotes Genesis 1:29 to Seek Marijuana Legalization." Here are excerpts:

Oklahoma state Sen. Constance Johnson announced the filing of a statewide initiative petition to legalize marijuana, telling supporters that the campaign is based on Genesis 1:29, which suggests that God created "this wonderful, miraculous plant."

"We're putting forth Genesis 1:29 as the basis of this campaign," KFOR.com quoted Sen. Johnson, a Democrat, as telling supporters at the State Capitol on Friday after filing the petition with the office of the Oklahoma secretary of state.

"God created this wonderful, miraculous plant and we know that it has been vilified for the last 100 years, and it's time to change that in Oklahoma," added the senator, who has led efforts, along with attorney David Slane, to legalize pot.  The advocates of marijuana will require 160,000 signatures from registered voters within three months to get the proposal on a statewide ballot....

The petition states that up to one ounce of marijuana should be allowed for recreational use, and three ounces for medical reasons.  The senator is of the opinion that resultant tax benefits would benefit the state.... Johnson also says that decriminalizing possession would ease the burden on prisons. "We're locking up non-violent, marijuana possessing people, giving them felonies and filling up our prisons."

"It's just the right thing to do. It's a plant. It's a God given plant and it could change the world," Fox 25 quoted a petition supporter, Pamela Street, as saying Friday....

Marijuana is different in nature from caffeine, Christian theologian John Piper wrote on the blog of his Desiring God ministry recently. While marijuana "temporarily impairs the reliable processing of surrounding reality," caffeine "ordinarily sharpens that processing," he said.

June 15, 2014 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Is a home rule/preemption local/state/federal legal battle brewing in Wenatchee, Washington?

Images (1)The question in the title of this post is prompted by this new New York Times article headlined, "With Marijuana Legalized, a City in Washington State Says, ‘Not So Fast’."  Here are the details of a legal battle that is sure to be followed closely by proponents and opponents of marijuana reform:

The first retail shops selling legal recreational marijuana in Washington State are preparing to open next month. Cash registers are standing by, and the first crops are almost ready for harvesting. But not every part of the state is joining the party.

The state attorney general, in a nonbinding legal opinion, has said local governments can regulate marijuana under the statute legalizing its recreational use, and at least 10 cities and counties in Washington have gone even further, banning marijuana businesses outright. An additional 69 municipalities, and 12 counties, have voted for moratoriums on such businesses, according to the Municipal Research and Services Center, a nonprofit group in Seattle that works with local governments on multiple issues.

Now, a lawsuit brought by a man who was denied a license to sell marijuana in Wenatchee in central Washington’s apple-growing country is challenging the rights of local governments to ban marijuana businesses — and also raising the possibility that the state’s marijuana law will come under sharp legal scrutiny.

The plaintiff, Shaun Preder, has been told by the city that he will not get a local business license to sell marijuana because the drug remains illegal under federal law — and that all Wenatchee businesses must comply with federal law. Mr. Preder, who runs an office furniture store in Woodinville, near Seattle, said he spent about $12,000 in rent for a 3,000 square-foot shop in Wenatchee that he had hoped to open for marijuana sales.  But uncertainty about a license has kept him from spending more to get the place ready.

Wenatchee’s City Council is scheduled to meet on Thursday to decide whether to respond to the suit, which was filed in Chelan County Superior Court . A resolve to fight — especially if the city takes the position that federal law pre-empts state law — could ultimately take the suit to the United States Supreme Court, where the conflicts between federal and state laws on marijuana have never been addressed, legal experts said.

Washington’s marijuana law could be affirmed by the courts, or struck down.  And what unfolds in Wenatchee, a city of about 33,000 that was closely divided from the start about the wisdom of legal marijuana — with a narrow majority in the county supporting it in 2012 — could set the stage.  Backers of legalization say it is a fight they are eager for, asserting that the statute will be affirmed.

“We need clarity,” said Alison Holcomb, the criminal justice director at the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington State and primary author of the Initiative 502 statute. Ms. Holcomb said the A.C.L.U. would seek to intervene in the case only if Wenatchee specifically claims federal protection for its position.  “The federal pre-emption issue hasn’t been resolved,” she said....

Mr. Preder’s lawyer, Hilary Bricken, said that no matter what the Council decides on Thursday, her client has already been harmed by Wenatchee’s actions because the Washington State Liquor Control Board, which regulates recreational marijuana, said it would proceed first in license applications in places where the local authorities are not trying to bar the door.  She said she would seek an emergency court order holding the city’s ban in abeyance if the suit goes forward.

June 11, 2014 in Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Why Maureen Dowd's experience with marijuana edibles is no joke

As you may have seen by now, Maureen Dowd went to Colorado, ate a marijuana candy, and had a very bad experience.  

HuffingtonPost has chronicled some of the reaction from twitter to Dowd's column.  For the most part, it hasn't been kind.  Gawker jokes, for example, that the column tells us Dowd is a "a really paranoid stoner."  The reaction is not surprising.  As the BBC put it, "[t]here's just something so tempting about imagining straight-laced paper-of-record columnists high as kites."  

But the issues raised by Dowd's experience with marijuana edibles are real.  And they are nothing to joke about.  

On a policy level, one of the key selling points of legalization is the ability to regulate the market.  Regulation brings many benefits (no more violent black market, the collection of taxes, and so on.).  One of these benefits is that regulation can help to make sure users know what they are getting as far as quantity, quality, etc.  Regulations can (and should) make it possible to use a substance more safely than under a prohibition model.

When it comes to edibles, I think it's fair to say that Colorado's regulations aren't really achieving that goal--at least not for a key segment of users (inexperienced users and/or users from out of state.)  

Here's the problem: Colorado permits 100mg of marijuana in a candy but says that 10mg is a single serving size.  In other words, a tiny piece of chocolate or single gummy bear might have 10 servings of marijuana in it.  

This is, quite frankly, crazy.  Why?  Because it is entirely inconsistent with how people are used to consuming other intoxicants (like alcohol) and other candies (like, well, any candy you've ever purchased.)

When it comes to alcohol, people are used to ordering a beer, a mixed drink, or a glass of wine (or maybe a bottle to share over dinner).  One glass might produce a buzz, but it will take more than that (for almost all users) to become intoxicated.  From that experience, it's natural that many people are going to assume--regardless of the fine print--that one candy is going to be rougly similar to one drnk.  These people will think: "Drink one glass of wine, achieve a mild buzz.  Eat one gummy, achieve a mild buzz."  Instead, people are eating one gummy and feeling like they're getting thrown through the doors of perception.

Similarly, when it comes to candy, people are used to eating a single Bon-Bon, gummy bear, or even full candy bar, all at once.  (Often, when it comes to Bon-Bons and gummies, people will eat a few at a time.)  The idea that you would eat only part of a chocolate truffle or a gummy--whether it be 1/10 or 1/2--is ridiculous.  

So, personally, I'm quite sympathetic when Dowd writes that the "caramel-chocolate flavored candy bar looked so innocent, like the Sky Bars I used to love as a child."  This is how many average people are going to view the product--based on their past experiences eating candies and consuming alcohol. 

I understand the argument that when people make assumptions, they are assuming the risk that they're wrong.  But the fact is that regulators decide the dosage levels and there's no good reason for these levels to be wildly inconsistent with the expectations of novice users.      

Sure, if candies are limited to 10mg per candy, a strong user might have to eat 10 or 20 gummies to get the desired effect.  But I think that is a small price to pay to make sure that the novice or occasional user does not end up having an unexpectedly terrible experience.  

This dynamic also has important implications for the politics of marijuana legalization.  People don't like feeling as though they voted for one thing and got something else entirely.  And I don't think the average voter anticipated there would be bite-sized candies containing 10 servings of marijuana each when they voted for legalization.  

The more out-of-state visitors and casual users that have bad experiences like Dowd's, the greater the potential for a backlash on legalization.  These people will (mistakenly, but perhaps understandly) become skeptical that legalization actually means regulation and control.    

Of course, legalization does mean regulation and control.  And that's why the problems with edibles can be fixed relatively easily in a legalization regime.  It's just a matter of adjusting the serving sizes and labels to better conform with people's expectations and better inform novice users.  (In a world of prohibition, by contrast, nothing is labeled and users have no way of knowing what they're getting.)

Thankfully, Colorado is already at work on this very thing.  A few weeks ago, Gov. Hickenlooper signed a bill for a study into edibles, with an eye toward updating regulations later this year.  Personally, I think these changes can't come soon enough.  Until then, we can expect to be seeing more stories like Dowd's.  

June 4, 2014 in Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, June 2, 2014

"After 5 Months of Sales, Colorado Sees the Downside of a Legal High"

The title of this post is the headline of this lengthy recent article appearing in the New York Times.  As the headline suggests, the article documents glass-half-empty data and perspectives on Colorado's on-going experiment with marijuana legalization.  Here are excerpts:

Five months after Colorado became the first state to allow recreational marijuana sales, the battle over legalization is still raging. Law enforcement officers in Colorado and neighboring states, emergency room doctors and legalization opponents increasingly are highlighting a series of recent problems as cautionary lessons for other states flirting with loosening marijuana laws.

There is the Denver man who, hours after buying a package of marijuana-infused Karma Kandy from one of Colorado’s new recreational marijuana shops, began raving about the end of the world and then pulled a handgun from the family safe and killed his wife, the authorities say.  Some hospital officials say they are treating growing numbers of children and adults sickened by potent doses of edible marijuana.  Sheriffs in neighboring states complain about stoned drivers streaming out of Colorado and through their towns.

“I think, by any measure, the experience of Colorado has not been a good one unless you’re in the marijuana business,” said Kevin A. Sabet, executive director of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, which opposes legalization.  “We’ve seen lives damaged. We’ve seen deaths directly attributed to marijuana legalization. We’ve seen marijuana slipping through Colorado’s borders. We’ve seen marijuana getting into the hands of kids.”

Despite such anecdotes, there is scant hard data.  Because of the lag in reporting many health statistics, it may take years to know legal marijuana’s effect — if any — on teenage drug use, school expulsions or the number of fatal car crashes. It was only in January, for example, that the Colorado State Patrol began tracking the number of people pulled over for driving while stoned. Since then, marijuana-impaired drivers have made up about 1.5 percent of all citations for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Proponents of legalization argue that the critics s are cherry-picking anecdotes to tarnish a young industry that has been flourishing under intense scrutiny.  The vast majority of the state’s medical and recreational marijuana stores are living up to stringent state rules, they say.  The stores have sold marijuana to hundreds of thousands of customers without incident.  The industry has generated $12.6 million in taxes and fees so far, though the revenues have not matched some early projections.

Marijuana supporters note that violent crimes in Denver — where the bulk of Colorado’s pot retailers are — are down so far this year. The number of robberies from January through April fell by 4.8 percent from the same time in 2013, and assaults were down by 3.7 percent. Over all, crime in Denver is down by about 10 percent, though it is impossible to say whether changes to marijuana laws played any role in that decline....

The argument is being waged with fervor because both sides say Colorado’s successes and failures with regulating marijuana will shape perceptions of legalization for voters considering similar measures in other states and for leery federal law enforcement officials.  After the 2012 legalization votes in Colorado and Washington State — where recreational sales are expected to begin this summer — Justice Department officials gave the states a cautious green light. But they warned that they might intervene if marijuana ended up fueling violence or drug trafficking, or flowing across state lines or into the hands of children.

Marijuana opponents like Thomas J. Gorman of the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program, which helps law enforcement, say Colorado is already falling short of those standards.  “In any other state if they were making as much money and growing as much dope, they’d be taken out by the feds,” Mr. Gorman said.

Few agree on how much legally purchased marijuana is being secreted out of Colorado.  Michele Leonhart, the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, told a Senate panel in April that officials in Kansas had tallied a 61 percent increase in Michele Leonhart, the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, told a Senate panel in April that officials in Kansas had tallied a 61 percent increase inseizures of marijuana that could be traced to Colorado. But according to the Kansas Highway Patrol, total marijuana seizures fell to 1,090 pounds from 2,790 pounds during the first four months of the year, a 61 percent decline.

Some sheriffs and police chiefs along Colorado’s borders say they have noticed little change. But in Colby, Kan., which sits along an interstate highway running west to Colorado, Police Chief Ron Alexander said charges for sale, distribution or possession related to marijuana were rising fast.  This year, he tallied 20 such cases through May 23. Two years ago, there were six during that same time period.  Sheriff Adam Hayward of Deuel County, Neb., said he was locking up more people for marijuana-related offenses. “It’s kind of a free-for-all,” he said. “The state or the federal government needs to step up and do something.”...

Police and fire officials across the state have been contending with a sharp rise in home explosions, as people use flammable butane to make hashish oil.. And despite a galaxy of legal, regulated marijuana stores across the state, prosecutors say a dangerous illicit market persists....

Many of Colorado’s starkest problems with legal marijuana stem from pot-infused cookies, chocolates and other surprisingly potent edible treats that are especially popular with tourists and casual marijuana users. On Colorado’s northern plains, for example, a fourth grader showed up on the playground one day in April and sold some of his grandmother’s marijuana to three classmates.  The next day, one of those students returned the favor by bringing in a marijuana edible he had swiped from his own grandmother.  “This was kind of an unintended consequence of Colorado’s new law,” said John Gates, the district’s director of school safety and security. “For crying out loud, secure your weed. If you can legally possess it, that’s fine. But it has no place in an elementary school.”

So far this year, nine children have ended up at Children’s Hospital Colorado in Aurora after consuming marijuana, six of whom got critically sick.  In all of 2013, the hospital treated only eight such cases.

June 2, 2014 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday, May 23, 2014

Brookings discovers "professional businesses that are innovative and scientific" in Colorado

BrookingsI am pleased to learn from this new post on the Brookings Institution's blog that folks at this prestigious think tank "will be researching the new marijuana industry, not as advocates, but as social scientists, interested in how our federal system comes to terms with statewide decisions to legalize a substance that is illegal in the rest of the country, and how states implement those policy changes." And this new post authored by John Hudak, headlined "Dispatch from Colorado: The Interesting Case of Marijuana Entrepreneurs," already provides an interesting and exciting perspective on what the folks at Brookings are discovering as their research begins. Here are snippets: 

I spent last week in the Greater Denver area researching implementation of legalized cannabis. In the process, I found a remarkable situation: a robust entrepreneurialism around an industry that elsewhere lives in the shadows of society....

Regardless of one’s personal feelings on the issue, Colorado has determined (and within bounds, the federal government has allowed) the construction of a legal, recreational, and highly regulated market by which consumers can purchase a vast array of cannabis products. And business is booming....

The legal market in Colorado, from professional grow operations to medical dispensaries to recreational dispensaries, looks nothing like street corner drug operation. These are professional businesses that are innovative and scientific. They bring black market lessons to the new, white market, while using tools of agriculture, engineering, science, manufacturing, and business to advance an industrial effort.

Businesses function in a market — though highly regulated — competing with each other to produce the best product in the highest demand. Surely there are members of the industry — like in any industry — who try to skirt the rules or operate outside of the regulatory structures. However, my interaction with businesses involved talking with executives, operators, and employees who embodied professionalism and care for their craft. They reminded me at every turn that they were quite aware that playing by the rules was a necessary condition to avoid the ever-possible federal intervention. At the same time, they showed pride in their efforts, just as a brewmaster would at a microbrewery or a vintner at a winery.

And the operations were just as scientific. For example, at the grow operation I toured, I was led through a series of rooms, engineered specifically for the growing of cannabis. The process involved water purification, testing pH levels, temperature, and conductivity. There was a genetics room where employees ensure a strain of marijuana is consistent in each subsequent plant of that strain. Lights (as it was an indoor grow) were metered, colored properly for the correct stages of growth, measured the proper distance from plants, and were shut off for the necessary periods of time each day. Feeding and watering were timed and measured, and every plant pinned with the state-required seed-to-sale tracking system identifier tags. While in some ways similar to a greenhouse where one would buy roses or petunias, this space looked nothing like the neighborhood florist’s supply space. It was a warehouse filled with advanced agro-science and manufacturing.

In addition, my visits to dispensaries and a grow operation offered a peek into the emerging labor market within the industry: it employs demographic groups hit hardest by the recent recession. Most employees were young (appearing 30 or under). There were numerous females and individuals of color. Though I lack systematic industry employment data and cannot make broad claims about employment trends, my conversations with those who know the industry best suggested that those observations were more than just anecdotes and reflect real trends among cannabis businesses.

Is the industry perfect? No. Does it need regulatory and legislative solutions to operate in a more effective, safe, and consistent way? Absolutely. I will address these topics in a paper to be released in the coming months.

However, a deep look into Colorado’s industry shows a professionalized marketplace that contrasts starkly with caricatures or stereotypes about marijuana growers and sellers. In Colorado, the marijuana seller may not look or dress the same as the woman selling pharmaceuticals or the man selling insurance, but they’re driven by similar entrepreneurial energy and a willingness to play by the rules in a regulated marketplace. The emergence of that marketplace, the ability of the state to respond to the unprecedented and unique challenges it will present, and its adaptation to the broader federal system will be the topics of more research.

I am especially eager to see this report focus on the "emerging labor market" within the marijuana industry. I have long suspected and have been hoping that the labor force dynamics that can surround a legalized marijuana industry, especially if it is regulated in a manner that encourages job creation, could be very beneficial for many under-employed populations. I hope the folks at Brookings give particular attention to this issue in its coming research, in part because I have not seen any significant coverage of labor issues in other work to date in this field.

May 23, 2014 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)

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Drugged driving is a real concern, but it has little to do with marijuana legalization

Yesterday, Westword reported on the results of a weekend DUI checkpoint in Colorado.  The police caught 21 people driving under the influence of alcohol and none driving while high (or on other drugs.)  The cops did make one marijuana possession arrest, however: a minor in possession.  

Since these figures are from a single checkpoint, they can't be more broadly extrapolated; they qualify as anecdotal. But in this case, alcohol arrests led marijuana busts 21 to one -- and the single exception involved underage possession, not driving under the influence of cannabis.

As Westword notes, data from a single checkpoint means very little.  But it did get me to thinking more about the connection between marijuana legalization and driving under the influence.  

It's always struck me as a bit odd that anytime a marijuana legalization law is proposed, driving under the influence is one of the first areas of concern.  This isn't because I think people should be driving while high.  Far from it.  

What is odd to me about the connection is that it seems to imply that drug imparied driving isn't a big problem already.  And I'm not just talking about marijuana.  I'm talking about all drugs.  

Breathalyzers test for only one mind-altering substance: alcohol.  But Americans use a range of other substances--legal and illegal--that could impair driving.  From prescription medications to cocaine to marijuana.  

Regardless of whether marijuana is legalized, we should be thinking a lot more about how to prevent impaired driving.  We should make sure more officers are trained in conducting road-side testing for impairment (which is currently the only way to catch people who are driving while high on anything other than alcohol.)  We should be putting more research dollars into developing impairment testing devices for prescription drugs, marijuana, etc.  

It shouldn't take a marijuana legalization ballot measure to get people concerned about drug impaired driving.  

The other thing I find odd about this part of the legalization debate is that it seems to assume legalization will result in a dramatic increase in marijuana-impaired driving.  I'm not so sure that legalization is likely to lead to much of an increase in stoned driving, however.  At least not the way it is currently being implemented.  

One of the reasons we have so many DUIs is that alcohol is so often consumed outside the home, in settings like sporting events, restaurants, family gatherings, etc.  We allow alcohol to be sold and publicly consumed in places that we know many people are driving to and from.  

By contrast, Colorado doesn't license "marijuana bars."  Users buy their marijuana to go.  

So, even if marijuana legalization significantly increases the total amount of marijuana use (something that itself remains to be seen), that doesn't mean driving while high will necessarily increase at the same rate.  If most new use incidents occur in the user's home--e.g., a person smoking a joint after work at home--then increases in use may not result in much of an increase in stoned driving at all.  

If states were to start licensing marijuana bars or selling marijuana at suburban sports stadiums, then it would be a different story.  But so long as marijuana is being sold exclusively on a "to go" basis, I'm not sure that legalization will result in noticeable increases in impaired driving.

Again, this doesn't mean stoned driving isn't an issue of concern.  I think we should all be more concerned about the dangers of impaired driving (including alcohol, an area where we can certainly still do far more than we are doing.)  But it shouldn't take a proposal to legalize marijuana to put drug impaired driving on the public policy agenda.

May 15, 2014 in Current Affairs, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (7)

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

This is your brain on drugs: what a recent fMRI study can and can’t tell us about the effects of marijuana use

Two weeks ago (okay, I'm late to the party), news broke of a new study showing that the brains of casual marijuana users are different than those of non-users. The study was just published in the Journal of Neuroscience and can be found here.

The researchers used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to scan the brains of 40 young adults aged 18-25. 20 of those subjects were casual marijuana users and 20 were non-users. Controlling for other behaviors such as alcohol and tobacco use, the researchers found that marijuana use was correlated with changes to the shape, size, and density of particular areas of the brain. From the study:

“The results of this study indicate that in young, recreational marijuana users, structural abnormalities in gray matter density, volume, and shape of the nucleus accumbens and amygdala can be observed. Pending confirmation in other cohorts of marijuana users, the present findings suggest that further study of marijuana effects are needed to help inform discussion about the legalization of marijuana.”

The study generated a lot of media coverage, and, unfortunately, over-statements of the study’s actual implications for ongoing policy debates. For example, the Society for Neuroscience issued a press release for the study. The release, while titled with appropriate caution (“Brain Changes are Associated with Casual Marijuana Use in Young Adults”), relays unsupported claims from scientists regarding the ramifications of the study. One of the authors, Hans Breiter, is quoted as saying ““This study raises a strong challenge to the idea that casual marijuana use isn’t associated with bad consequences.” And Carl Lupica, a researcher from the National Institute on Drug Abuse who was not involved with the study, similarly suggests that “This study suggests that even light to moderate recreational marijuana use can cause changes in brain anatomy.”  

The problem is that the study doesn’t necessarily support such conclusions. The study’s findings, while intriguing and valuable, are still quite limited. For one thing, the study will need to be replicated. The subject pool of 40 is rather small. That’s not reason enough to dismiss the study -- much brain science research relies on small n studies, because MRIs are cumbersome and expensive, and one can find statistically significant results with small pools – but it is reason to be particularly cautious about the results pre-replication.

Second, correlation doesn’t equal causation. Law policymakers commonly ignore this important scientific concept, but even scientists sometimes get ahead of themselves and jump to conclusions not warranted by a study’s design. In this study, for example, it is quite possible that people who use marijuana have differently sized and shaped brains to begin with; for example, maybe their brains are simply wired to seek out more risky behaviors and that’s why they’ve decided to use an illicit substance. Since we don’t know the size and shapes of these brains before they started using marijuana, we can’t say which came first: the marijuana usage or “the structural abnormalities in gray matter density, volume, and shape of the nucleus accumbens and amygdala.”

Third, even if the study’s results could be replicated and even if they could (somehow) demonstrate a causal connection between marijuana use and brain structure, it’s not clear from this study anyway why we should care. To be sure, different areas of the brain are associated with different functions and I wouldn't want to tinker with the size, shape, or density of my brain. But the study’s author’s can’t yet say that the changes they observe in brain structure necessarily cause negative changes in behavior.  For example, some studies suggest that the nucleus accumbens might play a role in drug addiction. But it’s not clear whether that changes observed in this study are associated with (let alone cause) marijuana addiction or any other bad behavioral outcomes; indeed, the authors made a point of excluding “dependent” marijuana users from the subject pool.

Law and neuroscience is a very promising field. It is generating intriguing findings concerning important issues like culpability. But as the best in this nascent field know, there is still much to be learned about the brain. This study is an intriguing development and clearly worthy of more follow ups. I think research on the brain cold help us understand marijuana’s effects and put them in perspective with those of alcohol, tobacco, cocaine, etc. But for now, bold statements about the import of brain science for policy debates over marijuana seem premature.

April 29, 2014 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Current Affairs, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Science | Permalink | Comments (2)