Tuesday, February 25, 2020
The title of this post is the title of this new "technical report" from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction and authored by Bryce Pardo, Beau Kilmer and Rosalie Liccardo Pacula of the RAND Europe/RAND Drug Policy Research Center. The full 76-page report is worth reviewing in full, and here are some excerpts from the report's executive summary:
To learn more about these new cannabis regimes and their consequences, the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) commissioned a review of the changes governing recreational cannabis policies in the Americas and an overview of preliminary evaluations. Findings from this research are intended to inform discussions about the development of a framework for monitoring and evaluating policy developments related to cannabis regulatory reform. Key insights include the following.
In addition to the populations of Canada and Uruguay, more than 25 % of the US population lives in states that have passed laws to legalise and regulate cannabis production, sales and possession/use for recreational purposes. In the US, allowing licensed production and sales is often at the discretion of sub-state jurisdictions, which may impose further zoning restrictions on cannabis-related activities. This variation can complicate analyses that attempt to compare legalisation and non-legalisation states, especially when the outcome data are not representative at state level.
The peer-reviewed literature on cannabis legalisation is nascent, and we observe conflicting results depending on which data and methods are used, as well as which implementation dates and policies are considered. It is important to remain sceptical of early studies, especially those that use a simple binary variable to classify legalisation and non-legalisation states. This scepticism should extend to the many studies that fail to account for the existence of robust commercial medical cannabis markets that predate non-medical recreational cannabis laws. Even if a consensus develops on certain outcomes, it does not mean that a relationship will hold over time. Changes in the norms about cannabis use and potentially other substances, the maturation of markets and the power of private businesses (if allowed) could lead to very different outcomes 15 or 25 years after recreational cannabis laws have passed. Evaluations of these changes must be considered an ongoing exercise, not something that should happen in the short term....
One insight arising from the evaluations of the regulatory changes in the Americas to date is the importance of the amount and range of data collected before the change; simply comparing past-month prevalence rates will not tell us much about the effect of the change on health. While US jurisdictions have been moving quickly to legalise the use of cannabis, the data infrastructure for evaluating these changes is limited. In contrast, Canada has made important efforts to field new surveys and create new data collection programmes in anticipation of legal changes. This highlights the importance of any jurisdictions that are considering changes to the regulatory framework for cannabis starting to think about improving data collection and analysis systems in advance.
While there is much to learn from what is happening in the Americas, policy discussions should not be limited to approaches that have been implemented there. There are several regulatory tools (e.g. minimum pricing, potency-based taxes) that receive very little attention — if any — that could have important consequences for health, public safety and/or social equity. It needs to be recognised that all decisions of this nature involve trade-offs and acknowledging that individuals (and governments) have different values and preferences for risk when it comes to cannabis policy is important for productive debates on this controversial topic.