Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Sunday, August 11, 2019

"After the Grand Opening: Assessing Cannabis Supply and Demand in Washington State"

The title of this post is the title of a notable new RAND Research Report authored by Beau Kilmer, Steven Davenport, Rosanna Smart, Jonathan Caulkins and Gregory Midgette.  This 54-page report can be downloaded from this RAND webpage, which also sets out the research questions, an overview, key findings and a recommendation:

Research Questions

What types of cannabis products are produced and sold in Washington State?

What is the size of the cannabis market in Washington State three years after licensing cannabis production and sales for nonmedical purposes?

Overview

This report provides detailed information about state-legal cannabis production and sales in Washington, as well as insights about the total amount of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) obtained from legal and illegal sources by Washington residents.  Using data from Washington's traceability system, the authors estimate that approximately 26 metric tons (MT) of THC were sold in licensed retail stores in Washington from July 1, 2016, through June 30, 2017.  About 18 MT were from flower, 6 MT from extracts for inhalation, and the remaining 1–2 MT from other products.  This 26 MT is more than double the amount of THC sold in licensed stores in the previous year. Calculating the total amount of THC obtained by residents via legal and illegal sources is difficult with existing data sources, but using additional data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health and a survey of cannabis users in Washington, author calculations suggest that in the third year after implementing a regulatory system for cannabis, between 40 percent and 60 percent of THC obtained by state residents was likely purchased in Washington's state-licensed stores.  Learning more about why some residents are still obtaining cannabis products through other channels, what share of legal sales are to nonresidents, and the efficiency of various cannabis products at delivering THC and other cannabinoids would be fruitful areas for future analysis.

Key Findings

  • Approximately 26 MT of THC were sold in licensed retail stores in Washington from July 1, 2016, through June 30, 2017.
  • About 18 MT were from flower, 6 MT from extracts for inhalation, and the remaining 1–2 MT from other products.
  • This 26 MT is more than double the amount of THC sold in licensed stores in the previous year.
  • Calculating the total amount of THC obtained by residents via legal and illegal sources is difficult with existing data sources, but using additional data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health and a survey of cannabis users in Washington, author calculations suggest that in the third year after implementing a regulatory system for cannabis, between 40 percent and 60 percent of THC obtained by state residents was likely purchased in Washington's state-licensed stores.

Recommendation

  • Learning more about why some residents are still obtaining cannabis products through other channels, what share of legal sales are to nonresidents, and the efficiency of various cannabis products at delivering THC and other cannabinoids would be fruitful areas for future analysis.

August 11, 2019 in Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 9, 2019

"The Effects of Recreational Marijuana Legalization and Dispensing on Opioid Mortality"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new article recently published in the journal Economic Inquiry authored by Nathan Chan, Jesse Burkhardt and Matthew Flyr. Here is its abstract:

This study documents how the changing legal status of marijuana has impacted mortality in the United States over the past two decades. We use a difference‐in‐difference approach to estimate the effect of medical marijuana laws (MML) and recreational marijuana laws (RML) on fatalities from opioid overdoses, and we find that marijuana access induces sharp reductions in opioid mortality rates.  Our research corroborates prior findings on MMLs and offers the first causal estimates of RML impacts on opioid mortality to date, the latter of which is particularly important given that RMLs are far more expansive in scope and reach than MMLs.

In our preferred econometric specification, we estimate that RMLs reduce annual opioid mortality in the range of 20%–35%, with particularly pronounced effects for synthetic opioids.  In further analysis, we demonstrate how RML impacts vary among demographic groups, shedding light on the distributional consequences of these laws. Our findings are especially important and timely given the scale of the opioid crisis in the United States and simultaneously evolving attitudes and regulations on marijuana use.

August 9, 2019 in Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

"The short-run effects of marijuana dispensary openings on local crime"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new empirical article authored by Jesse Burkhardt and Chris Goemans.  Here is its abstract:

The recent legalization of marijuana in several states has led to increased public interest regarding the effect of legalization on crime.  Yet, there is limited empirical evidence relating the legalization of marijuana use and distribution to criminal activity.  This paper uses a difference-in-differences design to estimate the effect of marijuana dispensary openings on local crime rates in Denver, Colorado. 

We find that the opening of dispensaries actually decreases violent crime rates in above median income neighborhoods, an important finding in light of increased political debate surrounding legalization.  We also find robust evidence that non-marijuana drug-related crimes decrease within a half-mile of new dispensaries but do not simultaneously increase within a half-mile to mile of new dispensaries, with one possible explanation being that legal marijuana sales and hard drug sales are local substitutes.  Finally, in line with previous research, we find that vehicle break-ins increase up to a mile away from new dispensaries.

Cross-posted at SENTENCING LAW AND POLICY.

August 6, 2019 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

"Is Cannabis a Gateway Drug? Key Findings and Literature Review"

The title of this post is the title of this lengthy report published in November 2018 produced by the Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress in conjunction with the National Institute of Justice.  For some reason, I missed this notable report when it was first released and tripped across it just this past week.  Here are the three lead findings of the full report:

1. The existing statistical research and analysis show mixed results and do not clearly demonstrate scientific support for cannabis use leading to harder illicit drug use.  As a result, FRD has determined that no causal link between cannabis use and the use of other illicit drugs can be claimed at this time.

2. The current state of research on this topic is very limited and existing studies suffer from difficulties in gathering information and applying the findings to a larger population.

3. While many of the studies reviewed in this report did find statistically significant associations between cannabis use and one’s later use of other illicit drugs, there is not yet conclusive evidence to assert that cannabis is a gateway drug. Moreover, the practical significance of these findings was limited.

July 16, 2019 in Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Notable new data run suggest marijuana reform not (yet?) resulting in increase in teen marijuana use

Earlier this week, the journal JAMA Pediatrics published this notable "Research Letter" titled "Association of Marijuana Laws With Teen Marijuana Use: New Estimates From the Youth Risk Behavior Surveys."  This AP article reports on its findings and why the research is garnering attention:

New research suggests legalizing recreational marijuana for U.S. adults in some states may have slightly reduced teens’ odds of using pot. One reason may be that it’s harder and costlier for teens to buy marijuana from licensed dispensaries than from dealers, said lead author Mark Anderson, a health economist at Montana State University.

The researchers analyzed national youth health and behavior surveys from 1993 through 2017 that included questions about marijuana use. Responses from 1.4 million high school students were included.

Thirty-three states have passed medical marijuana laws and 11 have legalized recreational use — generally for ages 21 and up, many during the study years. The researchers looked at overall changes nationwide, but not at individual states. There was no change linked with medical marijuana legislation but odds of teen use declined almost 10% after recreational marijuana laws were enacted....

Previous research has found no effect on teen use from medical marijuana laws, and conflicting results from recreational marijuana laws. The new results echo a study showing a decline in teen use after sales of recreational pot began in 2014 in Washington state. The results “should help to quell some concerns that use among teens will actually go up. This is an important piece when weighing the costs and benefits of legalization,” Anderson said.

But Linda Richter, director of policy research and analysis at the nonprofit Center on Addiction, questioned the new findings. The center is a drug use prevention and treatment advocacy group. “It sort of defies logic to argue that more liberal recreational marijuana laws somehow help to dissuade young people from using the drug,” Richter said.

Other studies have found that, in states where use is legal, fewer teens think it is risky or harmful than the national average, she said. And teens in those states still have access to marijuana. “There is plenty of research showing that the black market for marijuana is alive and well in states that have legalized recreational use,” Richter said.

As the title of this post suggest, I think it is still way too early to reach any clear conclusions about how marijuana reform laws are impacting marijuana use among any and all populations. I am glad there is a robust effort to keep a close eye on these teen use data, and lots of factors surely impact use patterns locally and nationally.  So this seems to me another bit of data in a story that we must keep watching for many years to come (along with teen use of alcohol and other drugs in a modern marijuana reform era).

July 10, 2019 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 5, 2019

"Use of Cannabis to Relieve Pain and Promote Sleep by Customers at an Adult Use Dispensary"

Ujpd20.v051.i02.coverThe title of this post is the title of this notable new research authored by Marcus Bachhuber, Julia Arnsten and Gwen Wurm and published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs.  Here is its abstract and concluding paragraph:

Medical cannabis patients consistently report using cannabis as a substitute for prescription medications; however, little is known about individuals accessing cannabis through adult-use markets.  A survey at two retail stores was conducted in Colorado, United States.  Between August 2016 and October 2016, store staff asked customers if they wanted to participate and, if so, provided an electronic survey link.  All customers reporting medical certification were excluded.  Of 1,000 adult-use only customer respondents, 65% reported taking cannabis to relieve pain and 74% reported taking cannabis to promote sleep. 

Among respondents taking cannabis for pain, 80% reported that it was very or extremely helpful, and most of those taking over-the-counter pain medications (82%) or opioid analgesics (88%) reported reducing or stopping use of those medications.  Among respondents taking cannabis for sleep, 84% found it very or extremely helpful, and most of those taking over-the-counter (87%) or prescription sleep aids (83%) reported reducing or stopping use of those medications.  De facto medical use of cannabis for symptom relief was common among adult-use dispensary customers and the majority reported that cannabis decreased their medication use.  Adult use cannabis laws may broaden access to cannabis for the purpose of symptom relief.....

In summary, we found that de facto medical cannabis use is common among adult use customers at a cannabis dispensary.  Both pain relief and sleep promotion are common reasons for cannabis use, and the majority of respondents who reported using cannabis for these reasons also reported decreasing or stopping their use of prescription or over-the-counter analgesics and sleep aids.  While adult-use laws are frequently called “recreational,” implying that cannabis obtained through the adult use system is only for pleasure or experience-seeking, our findings suggest that many customers use cannabis for symptom relief.

July 5, 2019 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Colorado reports having collected over $1 billion in marijuana revenue since legalization

Colorado public agencies yesterday produced this news release titled "Colorado marijuana industry continues to grow, revenue surpasses $1 billion to date."  Here are excerpts:

Colorado has surpassed $1 billion in marijuana revenue to date since adult-use marijuana sales began in 2014, according to the Colorado Department of Revenue (CDOR)’s monthly reports for marijuana sales and revenue data released today.

“Today’s report continues to show that Colorado’s cannabis industry is thriving, but we can’t rest on our laurels.  We can and we must do better in the face of increased national competition.  We want Colorado to be the best state for investment, innovation and development for this growing economic sector,” said Governor Polis.  “This industry is helping grow our economy by creating jobs and generating valuable revenue that is going towards preventing youth consumption, protecting public health and safety and investing in public school construction.”

To date, marijuana tax, license and fee revenue has reached just over $1.02 billion and marijuana sales to date exceeded $6.56 billion.  Currently, Colorado has 2,917 licensed marijuana businesses and 41,076 individuals who are licensed to work in the industry....

Marijuana revenue supports statewide efforts such as licensing and regulation of legal marijuana businesses, youth prevention efforts, behavioral health treatment, protecting public health and safety, and coordination across state agencies.

Marijuana tax revenue funds Colorado Department of Education programs such as the Building Excellent Schools Today (BEST) capital construction assistance fund, as well as the Early Literacy Competitive Grant Program, School Health Professional Grant Program and the School Bullying Prevention and Education Grant Program.

The Colorado Department of Human Services uses marijuana revenue funds to support community behavioral health programs including mental health services for juveniles and adults, crisis services, criminal justice diversion, the Circle Program, substance use disorder and detoxification services.  Additionally, funds support Mental Health Institutes at Pueblo and Fort Logan and Tony Grampsas Youth Services Program, which is a collection of community based programs that target youth and their families for prevention and intervention services in the effort to reduce incidents of youth crime and violence, to prevent youth marijuana use, and prevent child abuse and neglect.

June 13, 2019 in Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Notable analysis of full legalization's impact on medical marijuana regimes

800The AP has this new extended article, headlined "Broad legalization takes toll on medical pot," which looks at the impact of full marijuana legalization on medical marijuana programs.  Here are some excerpts:

When states legalize pot for all adults, long-standing medical marijuana programs take a big hit, in some cases losing more than half their registered patients in just a few years, according to a data analysis by The Associated Press.

Much of the decline comes from consumers who, ill or not, got medical cards in their states because it was the only way to buy marijuana legally and then discarded them when broader legalization arrived. But for people who truly rely on marijuana to control ailments such as nausea or cancer pain, the arrival of so-called recreational cannabis can mean fewer and more expensive options....

States see a “massive exodus” of medical patients when they legalize marijuana for all adults — and then, in many cases, the remaining ones struggle, said David Mangone, director of government affairs for Americans for Safe Access. “Some of the products that these patients have relied on for consistency — and have used over and over for years — are disappearing off the shelves to market products that have a wider appeal,” he said. Cost also rises, a problem that’s compounded because many of those who stay in medical programs are low-income and rely on Social Security disability, he said.

In Oregon, where the medical program shrank the most following recreational legalization, nearly two-thirds of patients gave up their medical cards, the AP found. As patients exited, the market followed: The number of medical-only retail shops fell from 400 to two, and hundreds of growers who contracted with individual patients to grow specific strains walked away.

Now, some of the roughly 28,000 medical patients left are struggling to find affordable medical marijuana products they’ve relied on for years. While the state is awash in dry marijuana flower that’s dirt cheap, the specialized oils, tinctures and potent edibles used to alleviate severe illnesses can be harder to find and more expensive to buy....

Ten states have both medical and recreational markets. Four of them — Oregon, Nevada, Colorado, Alaska — have the combination of an established recreational marketplace and data on medical patients. The AP analysis found all four saw a drop in medical patients after broader legalization.

In Alaska, the state with the second-biggest decline, medical cardholders dropped by 63% after recreational sales began in 2016, followed by Nevada with nearly 40% since 2017 and Colorado with 19% since 2014.

The largest of all the legal markets, California, doesn’t keep data on medical patients, but those who use it say their community has been in turmoil since recreational pot debuted last year. That’s partly because the state ended unlicensed cannabis cooperatives where patients shared their homegrown pot for free....

Getting a precise nationwide count of medical patients is impossible because California, Washington and Maine don’t keep data. However, absent those states, the AP found at the end of last year nearly 1.4 million people were active patients in a medical marijuana program. The AP estimates if those states were added the number would increase by about 1 million.

As more states legalize marijuana for all adults, some who have been using it medically are feeling disenfranchised.

In Michigan, where medical marijuana has been legal for over a decade, the creation of a new licensing system for medical dispensaries has sparked court challenges as the state prepares for the advent of general marijuana sales later this year. A cancer patient there filed a federal lawsuit this month, alleging the slow licensing pace has created a shortage of the products she needs to maintain her weight and control pain.

In Washington, medical patients feel they were pushed aside when that state merged its medical and general-use markets, which also is what’s happening in California. Los Angeles dispensary owner Jerred Kiloh sells medical and recreational marijuana and said those markets are quickly becoming one, since few companies are going to produce products for a vanishing group of customers. He said his medical business has dipped to 7% of overall sales and is dropping month to month. “It’s going to be gone,” said Kiloh, president of the LA trade group United Cannabis Business Association.

June 11, 2019 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, June 6, 2019

SAM releases latest big report on "Lessons Learned from State Marijuana Legalization"

The leading national group opposed to modern marijuana reform, Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), has this big new report titled "Lessons Learned from State Marijuana Legalization"  Here is the short "Executive Highlights" from the start of the report:

Today’s highly potent marijuana represents a growing and significant threat to public health and safety, a threat that is amplified by a new marijuana industry intent on profiting from heavy use.

State laws allowing marijuana sales and consumption have permitted the marijuana industry to flourish, and in turn, the marijuana industry has influenced both policies and policy-makers.  While the consequences of these policies will not be known for decades, early indicators are troubling.

This report, reviewed by prominent scientists and researchers, serves as an evidence-based guide to what we currently observe in various states.  We attempted to highlight studies from all the “legal” marijuana states (i.e., states that have legalized the non-medical use of marijuana).  Unfortunately, data does not exist for several “legal” states, and so this document synthesizes the latest research on marijuana impacts in states where information is available.

Disappointingly, this report does not cover data comprehensively on any single topic from any one state nor does it effectively detail similar data across a number of states.  Rather, as seems common with SAM reports, this latest report focuses on the most troublesome data from a few states to make the case that marijuana reform is creating big problems.  In this way, the report serves as a good review of some of the strongest "data talking points" against marijuana reform, but it does not really provide a sound basis to reach sound conclusions about what lessons should be learned from modern marijuana reforms.

June 6, 2019 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

"Harm Reduction in Domestic Violence: Does Marijuana Make Assaults Safer?"

The title of this post is the title of this interesting new paper now available via SSRN authored by Jacob Kaplan and Li Sian Goh.  Here is its abstract:

While all forms of domestic violence can be uniquely traumatizing, incidents resulting in serious injury can lead to lasting physical, mental, and financial consequences for the victim.  Hence, it is surprising that most literature on the effects of policy intervention on domestic violence treats such incidents as homogeneous rather than considering differing levels of victim injury.  This study provides evidence that decriminalization of marijuana leads to substantial declines in victim injury.  Among domestic violence assaults where the victim suffered a serious injury, there was a significant decline in incidents where the offender was under the influence of alcohol or used a weapon.

May 15, 2019 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Interesting data on marijuana arrests in DC after 2014 legalization initiative

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The American Civil Liberties Union of the District of Columbia has this notable new report titled "Racial Disparities In D.C. Policing: Descriptive Evidence From 2013–2017," which includes a section on marijuana arrests. Here is what this report reports (with some added emphasis):

Passed in 2014, Initiative 71 made it legal for people to possess, use, grow, and share small quantities of marijuana.  The law does not authorize individuals to consume marijuana in public or sell the drug to other people.  As a result, public consumption and distribution remains illegal.

The marijuana statute became effective in February 2015 and, that year, the overall number of arrests for marijuana-related offenses plummeted, from 1,747 arrests in 2014 to just 216 arrests in 2015.  The drop was largely driven by the reduction in arrests for marijuana possession.

However, while arrests for marijuana possession remained low, the number of arrests for public consumption of marijuana has been steadily increasing, particularly for Black people.  After marijuana legalization, consumption arrests briefly declined before starting to rise, increasing from 79 arrests in 2015 to 217 in 2017.  Arrests for that offense are racially skewed: even though white and Black D.C. residents use marijuana at similar rates, Black individuals comprised 80% of the individuals arrested for marijuana consumption from 2015–2017.

This disparity could stem from officers’ racial bias.  Alternatively, the disparity could be the result of another statute that makes it illegal to do in public what is legal to do in private — thereby penalizing those who have less access to private property.  These explanations could also work in tandem. No matter the cause, the consequence of the current marijuana regime is that Black people are ensnared in the criminal justice system at disproportionate rates for what the D.C. government agrees is a minor offense.

I understand the continued concern, as expressed here, that even after marijuana legalization "Black people are ensnared in the criminal justice system at disproportionate rates."  But I think the dramatic decline in the total number of marijuana arrests is the much bigger story and one that cannot be emphasized too much.  Because even the most minor of drug convictions or even just arrest can have profound impact on all sorts of future employment, schooling and housing opportunities, a yearly reduction of 1500 arrests means (somewhat invisible) yearly improvements in 1500 lives (and all those touched by those lives) thanks to marijuana reform.

May 15, 2019 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Shouldn't every major marijuana investor make major investments in marijuana research?

Research-data-analysisThe question in the title of this post is prompted by this notable story out of Boston headlined "Harvard, MIT share $9 million gift to study marijuana's health effects." Here are the interesting details:

An investor in the cannabis industry has donated $9 million to Harvard and MIT to study the drug’s health effects, in what the institutions describe as the largest private gift to support marijuana research in the United States.  The Broderick Fund for Phytocannabinoid Research, announced Tuesday morning, will be shared equally by Harvard Medical School and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, with the goal of filling vast gaps in the understanding of how marijuana affects the brain and behavior.

“The lack of basic science research enables people to make claims in a vacuum that are either anecdotal or based on old science,” said the donor, Charles R. “Bob” Broderick, an alumnus of both universities. “For generations we haven’t been able to study this thing for various sorts of societal reasons. That should end now, as well as the prohibitions that are falling around the world.”

Broderick has invested heavily in the booming marijuana business, starting in Canada in 2015 and more recently the United States, through his family-run Uji Capital. Although Broderick stands to profit if the studies find benefits from marijuana, the universities and the researchers said the donor will have no say in the work process or its results. They also pledged to publish their findings even if they find marijuana doesn’t help or causes harm.

Broderick recalled the first time he raised the idea of funding cannabis research with a Harvard development officer: “There was silence on the other end. Then she said, ‘I don’t think we do it.’ And I said, ‘That’s the problem.’ ” The official soon called back to say that Harvard researchers studying brain chemicals would be interested in examining marijuana’s effects.

Dr. Igor Grant, a longtime California marijuana researcher who is not involved with the Harvard-MIT project, said the grant “will really let them move forward with research that has been difficult to fund.”

“The work in this area has been very, very slow coming,” said Grant, director of the Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research at the University of California San Diego.

“This is exactly the type of research we need,” said Dr. Peter Grinspoon, a Massachusetts primary care doctor and board member of Doctors for Cannabis Regulation, a group promoting legalization and regulation of marijuana. Whether for or against marijuana, Grinspoon said, “Everybody wants more research.” The marijuana studies to date vary in quality, often have conflicting results, and typically involve either purified extracts or smoked marijuana — not the gummies, cookies, vapor, oils, or highly potent buds that people consume today....

Until recently researchers could work only with marijuana grown at a federal farm in Mississippi, whose plants are less potent than those purchased at dispensaries in states where the drug is legal. But John Gabrieli, a professor of brain and cognitive sciences at MIT and one of the grant recipients, said “a fast-changing regulatory environment” is allowing access to better material.

The MIT researchers intend to use extracts from the plants to tease out the effects of marijuana in people with schizophrenia — about half of whom are heavy cannabis users, Gabrieli said. The researchers want to pursue intriguing evidence that a component in marijuana known as tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, improves cognitive function in people with schizophrenia. They will look at how THC as well as another key component — cannabidiol, or CBD — affect cognition alone and in combination.

Another MIT researcher will study how chronic exposure to THC and CBD may alter the cell types implicated in schizophrenia, potentially shedding light on why teens who use cannabis are at greater risk of developing schizophrenia and why the drug may be more dangerous for teens than adults.

Other studies at MIT will examine whether marijuana ingredients can help people with autism and with Huntington’s disease, and will study the effects of cannabis ingredients on attention and working memory. It’s been “incredibly hard” to get funding for marijuana research, Gabrieli said. “It’s been illegal all over the place until very recently. Without the philanthropic boost, it could take many years to work through all these issues.”

At Harvard, the $4.5 million gift establishes the Charles R. Broderick Phytocannabinoid Research Initiative, involving some 30 basic scientists and clinicians at the medical school and its affiliated hospitals. The Harvard team plans to study the effects of marijuana ingredients on brain cell function and the connections between brain cells, testing purified ingredients on mice and rats.

Researchers at Harvard have been studying natural brain chemicals known as endocannabinoids, which are involved in a variety of functions, including memory, appetite, and stress response. The grant will enable them to expand that research to encompass cannabinoids derived from plants. “Marijuana has about 100 different cannabinoid compounds. We understand very little about the specific effects of each of them on the nervous system,” said Bruce Bean, Harvard neurobiology professor and one of the project’s researchers....

The research, however, is funded by someone who could profit if the findings are favorable or lose money if new dangers are discovered.  Could knowing this somehow, even unconsciously, bias the results?  Josephine Johnston, director of research at the Hastings Center, a think tank concerned with bioethics, said such conflicts of interest are commonplace. “In a pure world, you wouldn’t have a situation like this.  But it’s pretty much a fact of life of biomedical research in the United States that you have interested parties funding research,” said Johnston, co-editor of a book on conflicts of interest in biomedical research. Institutions can enact safeguards to ensure both that the research is unbiased and that it’s perceived as trustworthy.

Both MIT and Harvard said they have such policies in place, requiring that gifts come without strings attached and that researchers have control over their work and its publication.  Grant, the California marijuana researcher, agreed that conflict of interest is an important concern. But, he added, if people profiting from the marijuana boom invest in science, “maybe that’s not a bad thing. They could just as easily buy yachts or do something else.”

Because I am a kind of marijuana researcher (focused on law and social science, rather than medical science), I realize I have a bias when suggesting that everyone involved in the marijuana industry ought to be funding academic marijuana research.  Also, as a director of the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center at The Ohio State University, I am sensitive to the concern that research funded by the marijuana industry or investors carries real conflict risks that can come with any private funding of public research. 

All that said, this article helps highlight just some of the many reasons why a lot more private funding (and a lot more public funding) is needed for all sorts of marijuana research.  There are many times I end up feeling truly overwhelmed by all the important research questions that arise in this space and all the formal and informal barriers to conducting all the needed research.   And especially with so many legal and social changes in this space, this period seems like an "all hands on deck" moment.  And I do not think it is misguided to believe that everyone involved in the marijuana industry and especially its investors ought to be swabbing the deck as best they can.

May 1, 2019 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 15, 2019

Fascinating map and data highlighting prevalence and intensity of marijuana's criminal enforcement footprint

MIUJRLKJWJFCFOZTWYLD2U6JUI.pngOver at the Washington Post, Christopher Ingraham has this great new piece fully titled "Where the war on weed still rages: In some U.S. counties, more than 40 percent of all arrests are for marijuana possession."  The title highlights the piece's themes, but the text and a map therein reinforce the point in various ways:

Marijuana possession led to nearly 6 percent of all arrests in the United States in 2017, FBI data shows, underscoring the level of policing dedicated to containing behavior that’s legal in 10 states and the nation’s capital.

But the figure obscures the considerable variations in enforcement practices at the state and local levels. In many areas of the country in 2016, more than 20 percent of all arrests stemmed from pot possession, according to newly released county-level arrest figures from the National Archive of Criminal Justice Data.  The figure exceeds 40 percent in a handful of counties, topping out at nearly 55 percent in one Georgia county.

The data tracks arrests, not individuals, so there’s no mechanism for winnowing out repeat offenders. Nor does it include arrests for the sale or production of marijuana.  But the numbers still illustrate how marijuana enforcement continues to make up a big part of many police agencies’ caseloads.

The findings reflect, in part, a few simple realities: The federal government incentivizes aggressive drug enforcement via funding for drug task forces and generous forfeiture rules that allow agencies to keep cash and other valuables they find in the course of a drug bust. And because marijuana is bulky and pungent relative to other drugs, it’s often easy for police to root out.

But given that recreational marijuana is legal throughout the West, and that two-thirds of the public supports legalization, critics view such aggressive enforcement tactics as wasteful, ineffective and even racially biased....

Nationwide, a few clear patterns emerge in the county-level arrest statistics from 2016, the latest year for which data is available. A swath of mostly conservative states, running from North Dakota through Texas, is home to many counties where marijuana enforcement accounts for 10 percent or more of all arrests — well above the national average.

But those conservative states are by no means alone. On the East Coast, New York and New Jersey stand out for relatively high arrest rates for marijuana possession. In New England, New Hampshire — the “Live free or die” state — also shows a high number of arrests relative to its neighbors.

States that have legalized marijuana, on the other hand, tend to have lower arrest rates. Colorado and Washington, where recreational use had been legal for two years at the time the data was taken, few counties attributed more than 2.5 percent of their arrests to marijuana enforcement.  Not a single county in California, which legalized the drug in 2016, met that threshold. Alabama and Kentucky — which are not known for liberal marijuana policies — also appeared to place a low priority on marijuana possession enforcement.

The data shows that Dooley County, Ga., has the highest rate of marijuana arrests in the nation. Out of 422 total arrests in 2016, 230, or 54.5 percent, were for marijuana possession. The next highest was Hamilton County in New York’s Adirondack Mountains, where 43.5 percent of the 130 arrests logged in 2016 targeted marijuana offenders. That’s followed by Sterling (42.1) and Hartley (42.0) counties in Texas, with South Dakota’s Edmunds County (33.3 percent) rounding out the top five.

While these counties are all small and rural, some larger counties in and around big cities also reported unusually high arrest rates. In Chesapeake, Va., (population 233,000), for instance, 23 percent of its nearly 3,600 arrests were for marijuana possession. In Maryland’s Montgomery County (population 1 million), just outside of Washington, D.C., about 20 percent of its 24,000 arrests were for pot....

Another notable component of the study is what’s missing. Individual police agencies share arrest statistics with the FBI as part of its Uniform Crime Reporting Program. But participation is voluntary, and different states use different systems to report crime and arrest data, which means that some jurisdictions have more complete coverage than others. The map above omits all jurisdictions where the reporting rate is less than 90 percent, which eliminates large parts of some states and removes others, like Illinois and Florida, completely.

Not all marijuana arrests lead to convictions or prison time. But an arrest can be highly disruptive in and of itself: Legal fees, bail and bond costs, time lost from work and the potential for pretrial detention can take a heavy toll on arrested individuals. In a number of cases, suspects have been inadvertently or deliberately killed while in police custody for possessing small quantities of pot. In one recent high-profile case, a Pennsylvania man was crushed by a bulldozer as he fled from police attempting to apprehend him over 10 marijuana plants — a quantity that is legal in other parts of the country.

April 15, 2019 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Federal scheduling and research challenges for cannabis and psychedelics

The second of four student presentation this coming week in my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar will focus on  federal scheduling under the Controlled Substances Act and the research and market realities impacted by the placement of marijuana in Schedule I.  Here is how my student has summarized his topic, along with the background readings he has provided:

The placement of cannabis in Schedule I practically prevents comprehensive and meaningful research into its medical applications and potential harms.  The federal government cites cannabis' placement in Schedule I as the reason rigorous research must be conducted before it can be rescheduled, but places restrictions on its research, because of its schedule, that are nearly impossible to overcome.  Is there an alternative pathway to federal cannabis legalization, or at least rescheduling, so that more meaningful research can be conducted? 

My presentation will examine U.S. drug scheduling, looking at the criteria and examples of substances in each schedule.  I will then provide an overview of the FDA research model by which new drugs come to market, contrast it with the type of research conducted on cannabis, and discuss why meaningful, rigorous research into cannabis is so difficult.  With this background, I will discuss the findings of a former UK drug-policy adviser that suggests substantial rescheduling is necessary, and how these findings helped initiate research into other Schedule I drugs.  Finally, I will provide an overview of research into other Schedule I substances, particularly psychedelics, and how this research may accelerate the rescheduling or federal legalization of cannabis so that its impact on health may be studied more effectively.

Background Resources:

March 31, 2019 in Assembled readings on specific topics, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Minority Cannabis Business Association engages OSU College of Law 3L Chris Nani to evaluate social equity efforts in Los Angeles

Download (3)I am always so very excited when students here at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law get so very excited about marijuana law and policy.  One such student whose work I have spotlighted here is Christopher Nani, who took my marijuana seminar back in Fall 2017 and has been doing amazing work in this space ever since.  In addition to getting articles published at the Cannabis Law Report discussing federal tax treatment of cannabis businesses (see prior posts here and here) and co-hosting a podcast focused on business development in the cannabis industry (called Cannabiz with Canna-Chris), Chris has produced this notable article detailing a "Model Social Equity Equation for the Cannabis Industry."  

I describe Chris' article as notable in part because the Minority Cannabis Business Association took note of the work, and MCBA has now engaged Chris to use his equation to "score"  Los Angeles.  This press release, titled "MCBA Engages in Case Study to Rate Efficacy of Los Angeles’ Social Equity Program," explains:

The Minority Cannabis Business Association (MCBA) announced plans to take a score of social equity policies implemented by the city of Los Angeles intended to increase diversity in the burgeoning cannabis industry.  Partnering with the MCBA on this effort is Chris Nani, an Ohio State Law student who recently released a similar study that focused on these equity policies in three other California cities.

The results of Nani’s preliminary study had outcomes for Sacramento, San Francisco and even the much-lauded Oakland program that didn’t fully meet the intent of those policies, and underlines the necessity of reassessment once these programs have been implemented.  As one of the largest markets in California, Los Angeles is an important influencer in the industry and will serve as an example for future efforts on this topic.

“We are excited to see municipalities across the country starting to implement social equity programs as a way to reinvest in communities that for decades have been disproportionately harmed by the War on Drugs,” says Kayvan Khalatbari, MCBA’s Board Chair. “Now we need to ensure their intended outcomes are being met.  If they’re not, we need to reexamine those policies and work on them until we get it right. We must develop an effective and repeatable model.”

The case study will utilize an “Equity Equation”, which provides a scored assessment to rate the effectiveness of municipal social equity programs based on 10 separate factors, all of which have been determined to play a major role in the ultimate success or failure of these policies.  One factor commonly cited as a barrier to entry for people of color to find a place in the cannabis industry, regardless of policies in place, is a lack of available capital.

“Social equity programs are an important progression for the cannabis industry,” says Chris Nani. “As new markets come online and use Los Angeles as a model in their own programming, it’s critical that we understand what is working and what is not.  The equation I developed is meant to grade the efficacy of these programs and offer suggestions for improvement.  I look forward to working with lawmakers, social equity applicants and MCBA to work towards improving these policies across the country.”

March 27, 2019 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

"The contribution of cannabis use to variation in the incidence of psychotic disorder across Europe (EU-GEI): a multicentre case-control study"

The title of this post is the title of this important new study appearing in The Lancet Psychiatry.  Here is its summary:

Background

Cannabis use is associated with increased risk of later psychotic disorder but whether it affects incidence of the disorder remains unclear.  We aimed to identify patterns of cannabis use with the strongest effect on odds of psychotic disorder across Europe and explore whether differences in such patterns contribute to variations in the incidence rates of psychotic disorder.

Methods

We included patients aged 18–64 years who presented to psychiatric services in 11 sites across Europe and Brazil with first-episode psychosis and recruited controls representative of the local populations.  We applied adjusted logistic regression models to the data to estimate which patterns of cannabis use carried the highest odds for psychotic disorder.  Using Europe-wide and national data on the expected concentration of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in the different types of cannabis available across the sites, we divided the types of cannabis used by participants into two categories: low potency (THC <10%) and high potency (THC ≥10%). Assuming causality, we calculated the population attributable fractions (PAFs) for the patterns of cannabis use associated with the highest odds of psychosis and the correlation between such patterns and the incidence rates for psychotic disorder across the study sites.

Findings

Between May 1, 2010, and April 1, 2015, we obtained data from 901 patients with first-episode psychosis across 11 sites and 1237 population controls from those same sites.  Daily cannabis use was associated with increased odds of psychotic disorder compared with never users (adjusted odds ratio [OR] 3·2, 95% CI 2·2–4·1), increasing to nearly five-times increased odds for daily use of high-potency types of cannabis (4·8, 2·5–6·3).  The PAFs calculated indicated that if high-potency cannabis were no longer available, 12·2% (95% CI 3·0–16·1) of cases of first-episode psychosis could be prevented across the 11 sites, rising to 30·3% (15·2–40·0) in London and 50·3% (27·4–66·0) in Amsterdam.  The adjusted incident rates for psychotic disorder were positively correlated with the prevalence in controls across the 11 sites of use of high-potency cannabis (r = 0·7; p=0·0286) and daily use (r = 0·8; p=0·0109).

Interpretation

Differences in frequency of daily cannabis use and in use of high-potency cannabis contributed to the striking variation in the incidence of psychotic disorder across the 11 studied sites. Given the increasing availability of high-potency cannabis, this has important implications for public health.

March 19, 2019 in Medical community perspectives, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

"Law enforcement practices in the first two states in U.S. to legalize recreational marijuana"

1-s2.0-S0955395918X00097-cov150hThe title of this post is the title of this recent article published in the International Journal of Drug Policy that I just recently came across. Here is its abstract:

Background

There is a lack of research regarding law enforcement practices where recreational marijuana sales are legal.  Given that legalization of recreational marijuana is expanding, lessons learned from areas with existing legalization can help inform future practices.  This pilot study is an evaluation of enforcement of marijuana laws in the first two states in the U.S. to legalize sales of recreational marijuana, Colorado and Washington, several years post legalization.

Methods

We surveyed a random sample of local law enforcement agencies in the two states (25 agencies per state).  We also attempted to survey the state-level marijuana enforcement agency but only Washington responded.  Surveys focused on youth marijuana use, youth access to marijuana, and impaired driving but included other topics.  Chi-square tests assessed differences between states (p < .05).

Results

All local agencies reported underage use was somewhat or very common in their jurisdictions.  Thirty percent of local agencies conducted enforcement targeting underage use/possession.  Twenty percent of agencies overall conducted underage compliance checks at licensed stores, with more agencies conducting checks in Colorado (32%) than Washington (8%; p = .03).  Most agencies in both states reported marijuana-impaired driving was somewhat or very common in their jurisdictions.  One local agency in each state specifically targeted marijuana-impaired driving.  The state-level agency in Washington reported that their agency is the one primarily responsible for enforcing marijuana retail laws and they conducted routine underage compliance checks at all licensed marijuana stores three times per year.

Conclusion

Our findings indicate that marijuana enforcement can be improved regarding sales/provision to underage youth and impaired driving in these states, particularly given that underage use and impaired driving are perceived to be common.  Larger studies with additional jurisdictions and types of agencies (e.g., highway patrol) are warranted.

March 12, 2019 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, March 10, 2019

New report details big decrease in pedestrian fatalities in marijuana legalization states ... but makes no mention of trend despite fear-mongering last year

2_StateChangesIn this post last year, titled "New report suggests big increase in pedestrian fatalities in marijuana legalization states... but only by leaving out California," I noted a big report by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) which expressed concern about pedestrian fatalities in 2017 and spotlighted that the legalization of recreational marijuana in several states seemed to correlate with an uptick in pedestrian fatalities in those states.    That prior GHSA report stressed  in graphic and text how "seven states (Alaska, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Washington) and DC that legalized recreational use of marijuana between 2012 and 2016 reported a collective 16.4 percent increase in pedestrian fatalities for the first six months of 2017 versus the first six months of 2016, whereas all other states reported a collective 5.8 percent decrease in pedestrian fatalities." 

But, as I lamented in my post, the GHSA accounting completely left out the state of California (which also legalized recreational use of marijuana in 2016), perhaps because the GHSA data from that year showed a big decrease in pedestrian fatalities in that state for the first six months of 2017.   Had California been included in the analysis by GHSA, as it rightly should have been in that prior report, the data in last year's report on legalized recreational use of marijuana and pedestrian fatalities would have looked a whole lot different.

Fast forward a year, and now the GHSA has recently released its latest data and report on pedestrian fatalities.   This new GHSA report expresses again a deep concern with increases in the number of pedestrian fatalities.  But while last year's report mentioned marijuana 14 times, this year's report does not use the word once and does not spotlight or even mention the states that legalized recreational use of marijuana between 2012 and 2016.  Why not?  Perhaps because the story looks very different this year, as seven of the eight states to legalize recreational use of marijuana between 2012 and 2016 had notable decreases in pedestrian fatalities according to the latest GHSA data: Alaska down 29%, California down 8%; Colorado down 8%, Maine down 40%, Massachusetts up 9%, Nevada down 28%, Oregon down 18%, Washington down 4%.  These numbers would be notable even if pedestrian death were flat in other states, they are particularly encouraging given that so many other states saw increases in pedestrian fatalities in the first part of 2018.

Critically, these latest GHSA data showing a decrease in pedestrian fatalities in so many which have legalized recreational use of marijuana do not prove any causal relationship.  And, in the same spirit, the older data did not clearly prove anything, either.  Rather, there is every reason to suspect this is all just usual statistical noise.   

Prior related post:

New report suggests big increase in pedestrian fatalities in marijuana legalization states... but only by leaving out California

March 10, 2019 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Travel | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Leafy report finds"more than 211,000 cannabis jobs across the United States"

DownloadThis story at Leafy, headlined "As of 2019, Legal Cannabis Has Created 211,000 Full-Time Jobs in America," reports on Leafy's effort to account for job creation in the legal marijuana industry.  Here is how the article starts:

How many jobs are there in the legal cannabis industry?  It’s a common question — and one the government refuses to answer. Because cannabis remains federally illegal, employment data agencies such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics ignore all jobs related to the industry.

Over the past three months Leafly’s data team, working in partnership with Whitney Economics, has gone state-by-state to tally the total number of direct, full-time jobs in the state-legal cannabis industry.

There are now more than 211,000 cannabis jobs across the United States.

The Leafy accounting is set forth in this relatively short document titled "Special Report: Cannabis Jobs Count."  Here is an excerpt:

In early 2017, roughly 120,000 Americans worked in the legal cannabis industry.  At that time, 29 states allowed medical marijuana.  Four states and the District of Columbia had legalized the adult use of cannabis.  National sales in legal markets topped $6.7 billion.

Today, two years later, 34 states have legalized medical marijuana.  Ten states and the District of Columbia have legalized cannabis for adult use.  Annual sales nationwide are nearing the $11 billion mark.  And the number of Americans directly employed in this booming industry has soared to more than 211,000.

When indirect and ancillary jobs — think of all the lawyers, accountants, security consultants, media companies, and marketing firms that service the cannabis industry — are added, along with induced jobs (local community jobs supported by the spending of cannabis industry paychecks), the total number of full-time American jobs that depend on legal cannabis rises to a whopping 296,000.

By comparison, there are currently about 52,000 coal mining jobs in the United States.  American beer makers employ 69,000 brewery workers.  And 112,000 people work in textile manufacturing.

March 9, 2019 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

"Marijuana Dispensaries and Neighborhood Crime and Disorder in Denver, Colorado"

Rjqy20.v035.i06.coverThe title of this post is the title of this notable new article just published in the journal Justice Quarterly and authored by Lorine Hughes, Lonnie Schaible & Katherine Jimmerson. Here is the paper's abstract:

Beginning with Colorado and Washington State in 2012, longstanding bans on the sale, possession, and use of marijuana for recreational purposes have been overturned in nine states and the nation’s capital. Consistent with the logic of routine activity theory and broken windows theory, critics of legalized marijuana argue that dispensaries are magnets for crime, attracting criminal offenders to the area with large sums of cash and valuable goods. The current study addresses this possibility by examining the effects of both medical and recreational marijuana dispensaries on yearly crime rates in N = 3981 neighborhood grid cells in Denver, Colorado, 2012–2015. Estimates from Bayesian spatiotemporal Poisson regression models indicate that, except for murder and auto theft, both types of dispensaries are associated with statistically significant increases in rates of neighborhood crime and disorder. The theoretical and policy implications of these findings are discussed.

This notice about the research provides additional background and findings. Here are excerpts therefrom:

"We found that neighborhoods with one or more medical or recreational dispensary saw increased crime rates that were between 26 and 1,452% higher than in neighborhoods without any commercial marijuana activity," notes Lorine A. Hughes, associate professor in the School of Public Affairs at the University of Colorado Denver, who led the study. "But we also found that the strongest associations between dispensaries and crime weakened significantly over time."...

The study found that except for murder, the presence of at least one medical marijuana dispensary was associated with a statistically significant increase in neighborhood crime and disorder, including robbery and aggravated assault. The study also found a relatively strong association between medical marijuana dispensaries and drug and alcohol offenses, with a decline in the strength of the link after recreational marijuana was legalized. The pattern of results was similar for recreational marijuana dispensaries, though the study found no direct relation to auto theft.

The authors caution that the results of the study, based only on information from Denver immediately after legalization and before market saturation, may not be generalizable to other geographic areas. They also note that because the study relied on official police data to measure crime and disorder, it's possible that police targeted neighborhoods with marijuana dispensaries, which would over-estimate the association between these facilities and crime and disorder.

"Our findings have important implications for the marijuana industry in Denver and the liberalization of marijuana laws nationwide," suggests Lonnie M. Schaible, associate professor in the School of Public Affairs at the University of Colorado Denver, who coauthored the study. "Although our results indicate that both medical and recreational marijuana dispensaries are associated with increases in most major crime types, the weak strength typical of these relationships suggests that, if Denver's experience is representative, major spikes in crime are unlikely to occur in other places following legalization."

The authors suggest that, rather than fighting to oppose legalized marijuana, which has become a multibillion-dollar industry and is expected to create more than a quarter of a million jobs by 2020, it may be more expedient to develop and support secure and legal ways for dispensaries to engage in financial transactions.

February 19, 2019 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)