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Maintaining Americans’ Healthier Marijuana Habits

By: Thursday July 31, 2014 7:08 am

There is one aspect of America marijuana consumption that public health experts should consider good news. American marijuana consumers have a tradition of not mixing their marijuana with tobacco, unlike most other industrialized nations.

Used with permission from the Global Drug Survey

The 2014 Global Drug Survey found only 7 percent of American marijuana users who chose to take part in the survey said they smoke marijuana by mixing it with tobacco. By comparison in many European countries, like France, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, it is over 80 percent. It is very common in other countries to mix tobacco in with marijuana when rolling joints. This survey does suffer the limitation of being a self nominating sample but it should provide a decent general idea of basic patterns.

Tobacco is more addictive than marijuana and more harmful to the lungs. In addition there is some research that indicates mixing them can created added issues. Studies indicate combining them might increase the chances of dependency for one, the other or both.

American policymakers who design the regulations around legal marijuana should focus on trying to maintain or even improve this relatively healthier habit. Fortunately it is easy to maintain cultural habits than break them or start new ones.

Already we are moving this direction. For example, Colorado’s rules specifically forbid marijuana retailers to sell or give away cigarettes or tobacco products.

As there is a growing acceptance that marijuana should be legalized more focus should be put on how to regulate in the best way possible.

Jon Walker is the author of After Legalization: Understanding the future of marijuana policy

Study Indicates Medical Marijuana Laws Don’t Increase Use by Teenagers

By: Wednesday July 30, 2014 11:16 am
teen marijuana

Critics may be off base to suggest that legalizing marijuana for adults will cause youth usage to skyrocket

We have gotten to the point where the most common arguments against marijuana reform often focus on children. The implication is usually that legalizing marijuana for adults will cause youth usage to skyrocket. Yet there is now more research that indicates even these fears could be misplaced.

A new NBER Working Paper from D. Mark Anderson, Benjamin Hansen, and Daniel I. Rees examined what happened to marijuana use rates among minors after states legalized medical marijuana. They found the data didn’t indicate medical marijuana legalization laws increased teen consumption and there might actually be a small negative correlation. From the paper’s conclusion:

Our results are not consistent with the hypothesis that the legalization of medical marijuana caused an increase in the use of marijuana among high school students. In fact, estimates from our preferred specification are small, consistently negative, and are never statistically distinguishable from zero. Using the 95 percent confidence interval around these estimates suggests that the impact of legalizing medical marijuana on the probability of marijuana use in the past 30 days is no larger than 0.8 percentage points, and the impact of legalization on the probability of frequent marijuana use in the past 30 days is no larger than 0.7
percentage points.

Obviously, there are some key differences between medical marijuana laws and laws which would legalize adult use so these results might not translate — but there is good reason to suspect they may.

While medical marijuana programs vary greatly among states there are several where the rules are extremely permissive. In these states it was easy for most adults to get a recommendation and a large number of dispensaries were opened. The result is these states had something fairly close to a de facto legalization.

Jon Walker is the author of After Legalization: Understanding the future of marijuana policy

Photo by Travis Lupic under Creative Commons license

New York Times Acknowledges Marijuana Prohibition Was Founded in Racism

By: Wednesday July 30, 2014 8:29 am

While this isn’t new information to anyone who’s been paying attention to the issue of marijuana reform, it is great to see the New York Times lay out in detail how the origins of marijuana prohibition were based entirely on lies and racism. From the New York Time’s editorial series on marijuana.

The federal law that makes possession of marijuana a crime has its origins in legislation that was passed in an atmosphere of hysteria during the 1930s and that was firmly rooted in prejudices against Mexican immigrants and African-Americans, who were associated with marijuana use at the time. This racially freighted history lives on in current federal policy, which is so driven by myth and propaganda that is it almost impervious to reason. [...]

In 1930, Congress consolidated the drug control effort in the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, led by the endlessly resourceful commissioner, Harry Jacob Anslinger, who became the architect of national prohibition. His case rested on two fantastical assertions: that the drug caused insanity; that it pushed people toward horrendous acts of criminality. Others at the time argued that it was fiercely addictive.

This reminds me of my one criticism of Michelle Alexander’s excellent book The New Jim Crow. The title may give readers the impression that racist drug laws are something new. It is more appropriate to view them as piece of the old Jim Crow regime that was allowed to survive and expand.

Marijuana prohibition was founded in racism, originally used to advantage the objectives of racists, and up to today marijuana laws are still enforced in extremely racially biased ways. More Americans need to learn this basic fact.

Jon Walker is the author of After Legalization: Understanding the future of marijuana policy

The Study That Could Shape the Future of Marijuana in Vermont and the Rest of the Country

By: Wednesday July 30, 2014 7:34 am

Rand’s Beau Kilmer will lead Vermont’s marijuana study

Vermont is poised to potentially make marijuana reform history. While two states have already legalized marijuana and two more states could join them this November, in all these states the issue has advanced through the initiative process. Pro-legalization groups wrote their own laws and collected signatures to put them on the ballot, but that tactic can’t be copied in most states. Vermont, on the other hand, is positioned to be the first state to legalize marijuana via state legislature.

Given that the federal government and over half the states don’t allow ballot initiatives, how Vermont proceeds could set the actual precedent for most of the country.

Vermont lawmakers are preparing for a serious discussion about legalization at the beginning of next year and recently commissioned a study by the RAND Corporation of its potential implications. The study should play a big role in shaping the debate locally and potentially beyond.

I interviewed Beau Kilmer, the study’s leader and co-director of the RAND Drug Policy Research Center, who is really excited to be working on such a potentially important project despite the very tight January deadline. While it is still in the very early stages, Kilmer is planning for the study to be comprised of three main pieces:

1) Assessing the current marijuana landscape in Vermont – The first part will provide a very good idea of where things stand. It will assess factors like the current rate of use, the size of the black market, and the cost of current enforcement. “That is not only just useful for helping to make projections later on, but also for helping to prevent some of these debates from being hijacked with really big numbers like we have seen in other places,” Kilmer said.

2) Looking at possible consequences of different alternatives – This is going to be the real “meat of the report.” This section will focus on the pros and cons of a range of different options Vermont could adopt. How Colorado legalized marijuana is “only one alternative to prohibition,” Kilmer points out. “There is a lot of policy space between prohibition and what has happened there.”

The report will look at the different regulated for-profit models but also explore many other alternatives, such as only allowing home production and cooperatives, using regulated non-profits, or even a state monopoly. Each has advantages and drawbacks. For example, many states use a state-run monopoly to regulate alcohol, but as long as marijuana is still schedule I, that option is unlikely to be viable. This option “doesn’t get much attention in the United States because states can’t force their employees to violate federal law,” Kilmer said.

In addition, the study will look at the ways to design a possible marijuana tax. It can be taxed by weight, as a function of value or by THC content. Each tax option creates different incentives.

3) What can we learn so far from other places – The final section will look at how reform has gone in places which have already moved foward. Obviously, exploring how implementation has gone in Colorado and Washington State will receive significant focus, but there are some other jurisdictions that have adopted different approaches, like Uruguay and Spain, that could provide useful information for the legislature in Vermont.

For example, one thing Kilmer thinks researchers have already learned from Colorado and Washington is that many of their early projections about legalization didn’t factor in the existing medical marijuana market as much as they should have.

Once the report is published, it could serve as the road map for Vermont and beyond

In the short term the study will likely set the parameters for the coming legislative debate in Vermont and shape whatever law might emerge there next year. It is also easy to envision how its impact could quickly extend beyond the Green Mountain State. Its basic findings should be very applicable in similar states where lawmakers have shown an interest in legalization, like New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Hawaii, and Delaware.

Long term, what we have learned from the end of alcohol prohibition is that once a state chooses a regulatory system, it tends to stick with that basic design for decades. Systems quickly develop their own inertia. The rules states adopt in the next few years could shape how marijuana is treated for the next century, and this study could be where basic ideas for these future rules will start to take form.

Jon Walker is the author of After Legalization: Understanding the future of marijuana policy

By Patrick Kennedy’s Logic Beer Today Is “Virtually a Different Drug” Compared to 40 Years Ago

By: Tuesday July 29, 2014 9:16 am

Former R.I. Congressman Patrick Kennedy of Project Sam

Among the many distortions put forward by the prohibitionists none bothers me more than this attempt to scare older voters with the claim that the marijuana of their youth has magically changed into something completely different the past few decades. Former Rep. Patrick Kennedy, an anti-legalization spokesman, was again allowed to make this claim in a USA Today op-ed.

The marijuana of today is nothing like the marijuana most baby boomer’s experimented with. It’s virtually a different drug.

While it is true average marijuana found in the United States has gotten somewhat more potent, it is still the same plant producing still the same set of chemicals. It remains the same cannabis sativa which has been used by people for well over 2,000 years. All the increase in average THC content really means is that people tend to smoke slightly less plant material for the same effect.

By this same logic you would claim the beer I drank last night was “virtually a different drug” compared to what the beer baby boomers drank in their youth. After all, the India Pale Ale I enjoyed yesterday is technically twice as potent the most common pilsners sold in the 60′s. Of course this doesn’t mean I’m getting twice as drunk as people 40 years ago. I easily adjust to the higher alcohol content of my favorite craft brew by simply consuming a smaller volume of beer.

Legally regulated marijuana will have its THC content clearly labeled just like beer has its alcohol content labeled, so people will know how strong it is and can adjust.


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