New federal data released on Thursday shows that adolescent cannabis use in not rising in the age of legalization.
“Marijuana use among adolescents aged 12 to 17 was lower in 2016 than in most years from 2009 to 2014,” the National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported.
In addition to falling youth use, the annual survey also found that rates of teens who develop problematic cannabis misuse patterns are declining over time.
“The percentage of adolescents with a marijuana use disorder in 2016 was lower than the percentages in 2002 to 2013, but it was similar to the percentages in 2014 and 2015,” the report, which is funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, said.
The results run contrary to prohibitionists’ claims that legalization would lead to skyrocketing teen use.
“Critics of legalization worry about the message being sent to youth by marijuana policy reform efforts, but the real message is that marijuana should only be used by responsible adults, and it seems to be sinking in,” Morgan Fox, senior communications manager for the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a press release. “Regulating marijuana for adults reinforces that message and creates effective mechanisms for making it more difficult for teens to obtain marijuana.”
Cannabis consumption among some adult demographics rose slightly, but coincided with a drop in alcohol use, suggesting a possible substitution effect.
V.A. Doesn’t Understand Marijuana Laws, So Veterans Lose Access
Officials with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (V.A.) mistakenly believe that federal law is blocking them from allowing government doctors to recommend medical marijuana or even to conduct research on cannabis, but that’s actually not the case.
“The V.A. is in the position of being required to follow the statutory law, and so as federal employees we are prohibited from recommending marijuana,” Dr. Laurence Meyer, the chief officer for specialty care at the V.A.’s Veterans Health Administration, said on Wednesday. “If Congress would change regulations, we would have more freedom both to investigate and to give therapy.”
He was responding to a question from Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) during an Appropriations subcommittee hearing on “V.A. Efforts to Prevent and Combat Opioid Overmedication.”
Schatz cited a 2014 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association which found that opioid overdose death rates are roughly 25 percent lower in states with legal medical cannabis access than in states where marijuana is strictly prohibited. A number of other studies have reported similar results.
Despite Meyer’s contention that V.A. can’t do anything on marijuana until Congress acts, that’s not true, inasmuch as there is no overarching federal law that blocks the department from allowing its doctors to recommend medical cannabis in states where it is legal, even though the drug is still considered illegal under federal law.
The only thing standing in the way is V.A.’s own internal policy, something that Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin can change at any time.
But Shulkin himself has repeatedly tried to pass the buck to Congress when asked about the issue.
During a White House briefing earlier this year, he said that state medical cannabis laws may be providing “some evidence that this is beginning to be helpful, and we’re interested in looking at that and learning from that.” But he added that “until time the federal law changes, we are not able to be able to prescribe medical marijuana for conditions that may be helpful.”
In a separate interview, he said, “From the federal government point of view, right now we are prohibited by law from doing research on it or prescribing it… We are not going to be out there doing that research or prescribing these different medicinal preparations unless the law is changed.”
In another interview, he said that it is “not within our legal scope to study that in formal research programs or to prescribe medical marijuana, even in states where it’s legal.” He added, “if a law change at the federal level is appropriate, that could happen.”
The distinction between recommendation and prescription is an important one.
No physician in the U.S. — government or private — can prescribe marijuana, because prescription is a federally-regulated process and cannabis currently falls under the Controlled Substances Act’s restrictive Schedule I, a category that is supposed to be reserved for drugs with a high potential for abuse and no medical value.
That’s why the 29 states with medical cannabis access allow doctors to simply recommend the drug, circumventing the prescription process.
Under a current internal V.A. administrative directive, the department’s policy is “to prohibit VA providers from completing forms seeking recommendations or opinions regarding a Veteran’s participation in a State marijuana program.” The directive technically expired on January 31, 2016, but remains in force in practice until a new one is instituted to replace it.
Shulkin has the unilateral authority to rescind the ban and clear the way for V.A. doctors to recommend medical cannabis to veterans in states where it is legal.
Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) told Marijuana Moment last month that V.A.’s position is “disturbing.”
“For years, the V.A. has been throwing up serious barriers to veterans’ safe access to cannabis,” he said. “Yet, it’s had no problem prescribing them highly addictive opioids that have killed thousands. It makes no sense. Our veterans deserve better. They deserve equal treatment from the V.A. doctors who know them best.”
In addition to refusing to let doctors issue recommendations, V.A. has blocked federally-approved researchers from recruiting veterans for research on medical cannabis.
One such study on marijuana’s effects on PTSD has been prevented from reaching veterans at the Phoenix, Arizona V.A. hospital.
“This study needs 50 more participants and the Phoenix V.A. is in the best possible position to assist by simply allowing principle investigators to brief [V.A.] medical staff on the progress of the study, and by allowing clinicians to reveal the existence of the study to potential participants,” the American Legion, which represents more than 2.4 million military veterans, wrote to Shulkin in September. “Your immediate attention in this important matter is greatly appreciated. We ask for your direct involvement to ensure this critical research is fully enabled.”
Shulkin hasn’t yet responded, but the group has been increasing pressure on the recommendation and research issues. This month the organization released a poll finding that 81 percent percent of veterans want marijuana to be a “federally-legal treatment.”
Congresswoman Dina Titus (D-NV) said in an interview with Marijuana Moment this month that she’s “disappointed” in Shulkin for not taking initiative to remove V.A.’s internal ban on medical cannabis recommendations. And last month, a group of ten lawmakers wrote to the secretary asking him to direct the department to increase research on the drug’s potential benefits.
Despite the misunderstanding of federal law, Meyer and another V.A. official testifying at the Wednesday Senate hearing seemed to understand that the potential for cannabis has shown to help veterans warrants further investigation and application.
“I don’t think we can wait to have the perfect evidence for everything,” Meyer said. “If you have evidence that something is working, you don’t need to wait to figure our what it’s working — I’m talking in very general terms here — in order to employ it.”
Dr. Friedhelm Sandbrink, the V.A.’s acting national program director for pain management, testified that it is important to determine what’s behind the correlation between increased legal marijuana access and reduced opioid deaths in the study Schatz cited.
“For those states that have implemented cannabis laws and implemented the availability of cannabis for medical purposes…there has been about a 25 percent reduction of overdose deaths,” he said. “Obviously, that’s a very important finding. We need to understand what is truly providing this what seems to be a protectional reduction of overdose deaths.”
Schatz, who called the existing study “compelling,” pushed the V.A. officials to step up research.
“You need to do the academic and scientific inquiry to try to figure out really what’s going on here,” he said.
But that likely won’t happen until V.A. officials realize that federal law isn’t actually preventing it from participating in such research or increasing veterans’ access to cannabis.
Photo courtesy of U.S. Air Forces Special Operations Command.
Sen. Tim Kaine Wants More Marijuana Research
In the span of less than a week, U.S. Tim Kaine of Virginia has signed on to two separate bills to expand marijuana research.
The 2016 Democratic vice-presidential nominee isn’t exactly a champion of cannabis law reform, but he does support broadening scientific inquiry into the drug’s potential medical uses, according to his recent actions in the Senate.
On Monday, Kaine cosponsored a bill sponsored by GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah that would ease researchers’ access to marijuana for studies on its medical benefits and require the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to develop recommendations for good manufacturing practices for growing and producing cannabis for research.
And last Wednesday, Kaine signed on to legislation authored by Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California to allow the use of cannabidiol (CBD) for epilepsy, remove barriers to research on its benefits and require federal officials to make a scheduling determination on the marijuana component within a year.
“Senator Kaine is open to commonsense changes to marijuana laws and recently co-sponsored bills to expand research looking into the medical benefits of marijuana, including a focus on whether it’s a safe alternative to opioids,” a Kaine spokesperson told Marijuana Moment in an email.
He has not signed onto more comprehensive bills pending in the current Congress to increase CBD access, respect state medical cannabis and recreational legalization laws, allow marijuana businesses to access banks or instill tax fairness for cannabis providers.
Last year, one day before the election, Kaine incorrectly claimed in a radio interview that President Obama’s administration had rescheduled marijuana.
— 102.5 The Bone (@1025TheBone) November 7, 2016
“President Obama has recently rescheduled marijuana to a different classification of drugs. Because before, the classification of marijuana was such that you couldn’t even do research into its effects,” he said. “And I think there’s some research that needs to be done, for example about marijuana and pain management. It may be that marijuana, for some kinds of pain management, would be much less harmful than opioid prescription medicines, for example.”
The Controlled Substance Act’s Schedule I — the most restrictive category — is supposed to be reserved for drugs with no medical value and a high potential for abuse. Researchers have long complained that marijuana’s classification there creates additional hurdles that don’t exist for studies on other substances.
Heroin and LSD are also in Schedule I alongside cannabis, yet cocaine and methamphetamine are classified in the less restrictive Schedule II category.
President Obama’s Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) actually rejected rescheduling petitions about three months before Kaine’s statement.
Scheduling aside, the senator supports states’ rights to enact their own marijuana laws without federal interference, a position shared by his 2016 running mate, Hillary Clinton.
“Hillary and I both believe that states can be labs for that and that they should do what they think is right,” he said in the radio interview before Election Day. “Also, we really believe in sentencing reform at the federal level so that folks who’ve been convicted of nonviolent drug offenses should not be in prison to the degree they are in this country. For purposes of the state laws, whether it’s medical or recreational, we feel like we should leave that up to the states.”
Similarly, during a Senate hearing last year, he said, “I actually kind of like this notion of the states as labs and they can experiment [with legalizing marijuana] and we can see what happens.”
Previously, Kaine said he personally opposes legalizing or decriminalizing cannabis.
“I’ve never been a legalization fan. I just haven’t been,” he said in a 2014 radio interview. “Just for a whole series of both health- and sort of crime-related reasons, I think that would not be a good idea.”
But he did say that some sentences for cannabis are too harsh.
“I have generally been for reexamination of sentences because I think often, for sentences for marijuana and marijuana usage, I think some sentences are too strict,” he said. “These are often, if they’re nonviolent crimes, I think it could be handled in a different way on a sentencing standpoint. But in terms of the decriminalization of marijuana, I’ve never been a proponent.”
Speaking to a group of Virginia high school students last year, he said he “support[s] drastic changes in sentencing laws” but “wouldn’t vote for a law at the federal or state level that would decriminalize marijuana.”
Legalization advocacy organization NORML gives Kaine a C+ in its Congressional report card.
Photo courtesy of Tim Pierce.
DEA Wants Feds To Grow Almost 1,000 Pounds Of Marijuana Next Year
That’s how much marijuana the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) wants federally-licensed researchers to grow for use in scientific studies in 2018.
That amounts to a little more than 978 pounds of government-cultivated cannabis.
While that may sound like a lot, it’s actually a slight decrease from this year’s level.
The 2018 aggregate production quotas that DEA laid out in a Federal Register filing slated for publication on Wednesday are amounts the agency thinks will “provide for the estimated medical, scientific, research [and] industrial needs of the United States, lawful export requirements, and the establishment and maintenance of reserve stocks.”
In addition to establishing the quota of nearly 1,000 pounds of marijuana, DEA will allow the production of 384,460 grams of tetrahydrocannabinols (THC) in 2018.
The order, signed by Acting DEA Administrator Robert W. Patterson, also allocates quotas of 92,120 grams of cocaine, 40 grams of LSD, 45 grams of heroin, 30 grams of psilocybin, 30 grams of ibogaine and varying levels of many other substances.
The filing comes just a few days after DEA finalized 2017 drug production quotas, establishing a limit of 472,000 grams of marijuana and 409,000 grams of THC.
In comparison, the proposed reduction for 2018 seems to run counter to DEA’s stated goal of expanding marijuana research. If there are to be more studies, it would probably make sense to allow for an increased supply of cannabis.
But the reduction could also reflect the fact that the Trump administration’s U.S. Department of Justice, of which DEA is a part, doesn’t appear especially interested in additional studies on marijuana.
Since 1968, the only legal source of cannabis for researchers is a farm that the University of Mississippi operates under a license from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Scientists have complained that it is difficult to obtain product from the facility and that it is often of low quality.
Last year, however, DEA moved to end the monopoly by creating a process to license additional cultivators.
But although the agency reportedly received at least 25 applications from would-be legal marijuana growers, higher-level Justice Department officials have blocked action on the proposals.
Members of Congress have pushed U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to allow DEA to process the applications, but he hasn’t yet responded to a bipartisan letter about the issue.
However, Sessions said in a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last month that allowing more research cultivation would be “healthy.”
For now, DEA seems to be operating under the assumption that researchers won’t need more than 1,000 pounds of marijuana for next year. However, that could change, as the agency often adjusts its quotas throughout the year as its assessment of needs changes.
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