Last week, NORML, the nation’s oldest marijuana legalization organization, published in their weekly newspaper that “medical marijuana has no discernible impact on marijuana use.” NORML cited a new article in the Annals of Epidemiology (a respected journal for sure; the same one that will soon release a study showing that marijuana is significantly linked with car crashes) which critiques an earlier article by Wall and colleagues showing an increase in marijuana use among states with medical marijuana. Essentially, the authors replicated the Wall study using different methods and got different results.
Certainly medical marijuana is a complex issue – one where politics, compassion, ethics and science collide. Sixteen states and D.C. technically have laws allowing marijuana as medicine on the books, but these laws, like other drug laws, vary widely in implementation, so it is tough to even perform studies linking medical marijuana with use changes. NORML doesn’t seem too bothered by that. They went on to cite a Brown University study looking at Rhode Island – a state with a barely discernible medical marijuana program in the first place – as further “proof” that medical marijuana doesn’t impact use. And the usual folks, like Reason Online (I’m just waiting for Maia Szalavitz to get to this as well), essentially republished the NORML line without any critical analysis.
A closer look at these studies shows something a little different, and much more nuanced. First, they completely ignore the more thorough studies that in fact do show increases in use. A major study published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence by researchers at Columbia University looked at two separate datasets and found that residents of states with “medical” marijuana had marijuana abuse/dependence rates almost twice as high than states without such laws.
Most importantly, the studies discussed by NORML miss the mark, by failing to take into account the actual implementation of medical marijuana laws. For example, California did not have “dispensaries” until 2003, seven years after the law officially was on the book. And Rhode Island, the state used in the Brown study, had about 1,500 people in the entire program, so it’s not a revelation that would not see any significant effect on teens. Time will tell, with further study and analysis, how medical marijuana is affecting attitudes and use rates in the long term.
What of course is never talked about is how medical marijuana programs in states that have gone full steam ahead actually work. Rarely mentioned is the fact that, for example, according to a 2011 study in the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis that examined 1,655 applicants in California who sought a physician’s recommendation for medical marijuana, very few of those who sought a recommendation had cancer, HIV/AIDS, glaucoma, or multiple sclerosis. A study published in the Harm Reduction Journal (not exactly an anti-drug mouthpiece), analyzing over 3,000 “medical marijuana users in California, found that an overwhelming majority (87.9%) of those queried about the details of their marijuana initiation had tried it before the age of 19, and the average user was a 32-year-old white male. 74% of the Caucasians in the sample had used cocaine, and over 50% had used methamphetamine in their lifetime. Hardly any had life-threatening illnesses.
Finally, we know from other surveys like the University of Michigan Monitoring the Future that the perceived harm for smoking marijuana occasionally or regularly has been decreasing among the 8th grade since 2007. Social disapproval for smoking marijuana once or twice, occasionally, and regularly has been decreasing among 8th graders since 2007. That has translated into a major increase in use, which is no surprise to researchers who know that attitudes effect youth use rates.
And how can we say that today’s medical marijuana programs aren’t having an effect on youth attitudes toward the drug? “Marijuana is medicine” has become a common slogan in America today, as people like Dr. Christian Thurstone, a Colorado doctor working with kids, recently talked about on National Public Radio.
It’s time to get the legalization lobby out of the business of medical marijuana and instead focus our attention on scientists developing non-smoked marijuana-based medications for the truly ill. That would make this issue no longer the sick joke that it is today.
Author: Kevin Sabet
Marijuana is a topic of significant public discourse in the United States, and while many are familiar with the discussions, it is not always easy to find the latest, research-based information on marijuana to answer to the common questions about its health effects, or the differences between Federal and state laws concerning the drug. Confusing messages being presented by popular culture, media, proponents of “medical” marijuana, and political campaigns to legalize all marijuana use perpetuate the false notion that marijuana is harmless. This significantly diminishes efforts to keep our young people drug free and hampers the struggle of those recovering from addiction.
The Administration steadfastly opposes legalization of marijuana and other drugs because legalization would increase the availability and use of illicit drugs, and pose significant health and safety risks to all Americans, particularly young people.
This Web-based resource center provides the general public, community leaders, and other interested people with the facts, knowledge, and tools to better understand and address marijuana in their communities.
This resource center will be regularly updated and expanded to address emerging issues, research, and prevention tools, and highlight successful local efforts to reduce marijuana use.
Visit Resource Center http://www.whitehouse.gov/ondcp/marijuanainfo
It is important to recognize that these state marijuana laws do not change the fact that using marijuana continues to be an offense under Federal law. Nor do these state laws change the criteria or process for approval of safe and effective medications, including marijuana.
Many of these state laws began in order to create a legal defense to state criminal possession laws or to remove state criminal penalties for purported medical use of marijuana. Since then, many have evolved into state authorization for state-based production and distribution of marijuana for purported medical purposes. These state laws vary greatly in their criteria and implementation, and many states are experiencing vigorous internal debates about the safety, efficacy, and legality of their marijuana laws. Many local governments are even creating zoning and enforcement ordinances that prevent marijuana dispensaries from operating in their communities.
There are critical differences in marijuana laws from one state, county or city to another. For more information, see the chart, excerpted from information from the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).
Of course there are variables, but at .5 grams of marijuana per points, one pound makes about 900 joints — almost 3 a day for a year! (Using half a gram per joint, 28.35 grams per ounce and 16 ounces per pound.)
Recently a Oregon man with a “medical marijuana” card was found in Idaho with almost 69 pounds of marijuana on his way to Utah. He claimed it was legal because he had a card. That was over 62,000 joints worth of pot headed for Utah consumption.
The Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986. requires that the Governor cause to be published a list of those chemicals “known to the state” to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity. The Act specifies that “a chemical is known to the state to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity … if in the opinion of the state’s qualified experts the chemical has been clearly shown through scientifically valid testing according to generally accepted principles to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity.”
The lead agency for implementing Proposition 65 is the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) of the California Environmental Protection Agency. The “state’s qualified experts” regarding findings of carcinogenicity are identified as the members of the Carcinogen Identification Committee of the OEHHA Science Advisory Board.
OEHHA announced the selection of marijuana smoke as a chemical for consideration for listing by the CIC in the California Regulatory Notice Register on December 12, 2007, subsequent to consultation with the Committee at their November 19, 2007 meeting. At that meeting, the Committee advised OEHHA to prepare hazard identification materials for marijuana smoke.
At their May 29, 2009 meeting the Committee, by a vote of five in favor and one against, found that marijuana smoke had been “clearly shown through scientifically valid testing according to generally accepted principles to cause cancer.”
Read the full report Marijuana Smoke and Cancer
Today a full 16 percent of the U.S. population is dependent on alcohol, nicotine or other drugs. Another 27 percent of the general population engages in use of these substances in ways that put themselves and others at risk, including underage and adult excessive drinking, tobacco use, and misuse of pain relievers, stimulants and depressants. For a staggering 43 percent of the nation, then — nearly every other American — addiction and risky substance use are a matter of public health.
Addiction is America’s number one health care and health cost problem. Approximately 30 percent of our federal and state health care spending is attributable to this disease. Across all government spending, the total financial cost is nearly $500 billion annually.
The extent of human misery is incalculable.