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Marijuana Legalization Means Safer Borders And Less Smuggling, Study Shows

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As more states have moved to create a legal supply chain for marijuana, less cannabis is being smuggled over the U.S.’s southern border.

That’s the conclusion of a new analysis from the Cato Institute, which looked at Border Patrol marijuana seizures over time.

“State-level marijuana legalization has significantly undercut marijuana smuggling,” David Bier, an immigration policy analyst at Cato, wrote in the paper, published last week. “Based on Border Patrol seizures, smuggling has fallen 78 percent over just a five-year period. Because marijuana was the primary drug smuggled between ports of entry, where Border Patrol surveils, the value of the agency’s seizures overall — on a per-agent basis — has declined 70 percent.”

Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize cannabis in 2012, with legal sales starting in 2014, and more states have gotten on board each election cycle since. There are now ten states that have ended marijuana prohibition, with several more expected to do so in 2019 and 2020.

The Cato paper also calls into question President Trump’s push to erect a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, which has led to a partisan dispute that caused an ongoing government shutdown this week.

“Given these trends, a border wall or more Border Patrol agents to stop drugs between ports of entry makes little sense,” Bier wrote. “State marijuana legalization starting in 2014 did more to reduce marijuana smuggling than the doubling of Border Patrol agents or the construction of hundreds of miles of border fencing did from 2003 to 2009.”

Marijuana seizures and length of border fences, FY 2013 to FY 2018 | Cato 

“From FY 2003 to FY 2009, Border Patrol doubled its workforce and constructed hundreds of miles of fences, yet this increased enforcement did not reduce marijuana smuggling. Each agent annually seized virtually the same quantity of marijuana through 2013, indicating roughly the same overall inflow of the illegal substance.”

The findings bolster the claims of legalization advocates, who have argued for years that American consumers would much prefer to buy marijuana from licensed producers who test and label their products for potency and purity than via the illegal market, where no such quality control occurs.

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) picked up on the idea in a congressional hearing last week, urging Homeland Security Sec. Kirstjen Nielsen to acknowledge that ending federal marijuana prohibition would make her and her agents’ jobs easier.

“Some think that state-based marijuana is a gateway drug and makes people want illicit products more,” he said, “but the people who’ve looked at your agency—and you’ve got this very difficult job—are saying that if states have the ability to innovate and make legal, high-quality medical cannabis available to people, then we’re not going to have as difficult a job for you and your border patrol agents and for the people who live across our border.”

This piece was first published by Forbes.

Photo courtesy of Max Pixel.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Tom Angell is the editor of Marijuana Moment. A 15-year veteran in the cannabis law reform movement, he covers the policy and politics of marijuana. Separately, he founded the nonprofit Marijuana Majority. Previously he reported for Marijuana.com and MassRoots, and handled media relations and campaigns for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy. (Organization citations are for identification only and do not constitute an endorsement or partnership.)

Politics

First Senate Marijuana Bill Of 2019 Would Force Study On Medical Cannabis For Veterans

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The first Senate marijuana bill of the new Congress focuses on increasing research on the medical benefits of cannabis for military veterans.

The legislation, introduced by Sens. Jon Tester (D-MT) and Dan Sullivan (R-AK) on Thursday, would direct the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) to conduct clinical trials on the effectiveness of medical marijuana in the treatment of conditions common among military veterans.

While the new bill has the same title as a proposal the bipartisan duo filed during the last Congress, its language—which is not yet online but was obtained by Marijuana Moment—much more forcefully directs VA to begin researching medical cannabis than the earlier legislation did.

Whereas last year’s version simply said that the department “may conduct and support research relating to the efficacy and safety of forms of cannabis,” nothing in current federal law actually prevents it from doing so.

This latest version stipulates that the VA, which has been reluctant to engage in marijuana studies, “shall” begin conducting clinical trials on cannabis.

“The VA needs to listen to the growing number of veterans who have already found success in medicinal cannabis in easing their pain and other symptoms,” Tester, the ranking member on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said in a press release. “Our bill will make sure the VA takes proactive steps to explore medicinal cannabis as a safe and effective alternative to opioids for veterans suffering from injuries or illness received in the line of duty.”

The proposed double-blind randomized controlled clinical trials are meant to cover the potential therapeutic applications of marijuana for post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain.

In particular, the department would have to study areas such as medical marijuana’s effect on opioid, benzodiazepine and alcohol consumption, as well as inflammation, sleep quality, spasticity, agitation, quality of life, mood, anxiety, social functioning, suicidal ideation and frequency of nightmares or night terrors.

Marijuana reform advocates praised the new legislation’s more forceful language as compared to the prior bill.

“The more assertive language is great improvement to this commonsense research bill that could ultimately help veterans with debilitating conditions,” Michael Liszewski, principal of The Enact Group, a lobbying and consulting firm that focuses on cannabis issues, told Marijuana Moment.

“The Department of Veterans Affairs already has the ability to conduct this research and the previous language would have let the Department continue to drag its heels,” he said. “It’s sort of like the difference between a parent telling their child ‘maybe you should clean up your room’ versus ‘you will clean up your room, now.'”

Sullivan said that he’s heard from many veteran constituents who are interested in finding an alternative to prescription painkillers for their pain.

“Many of our nation’s veterans already use medicinal cannabis, and they deserve to have full knowledge of the potential benefits and side effects of this alternative therapy,” he said in a press release.

During the last Congress, the Senate version of the legislation garnered six cosponsors, while 55 representatives ultimately signed onto the House version. The bill became the first standalone piece of marijuana legislation to clear a congressional panel when the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee approved it in May.

Nonetheless, VA leadership remained reluctant about engaging in marijuana research.

“VA is committed to researching and developing effective ways to help Veterans cope with post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain conditions,” VA Secretary David Shulkin wrote in a letter to lawmakers last year. “However, federal law restricts VA’s ability to conduct research involving medical marijuana, or to refer veterans to such projects.”

That isn’t true.

Meanwhile, top officials in the Trump administration have talked about pressuring the VA to conduct studies on medical marijuana for veterans, emails revealed, but they expressed concerns about how the Justice Department would react.

Read the full text of the new Senate veterans medical cannabis bill below:

Senate Veterans Medical Mar… by on Scribd

GOP Congressman Talks To Trump About Marijuana And Slams ‘Stupid’ Anti-Cannabis Republican Colleagues

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Politics

Federal Officials Recognize How Marijuana’s Legal Status Blocks Research, Documents Show

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Federal government officials openly acknowledged that cannabis’s restrictive federal classification inhibits progress on necessary medical and public health research during a workshop last month, according to presentation materials obtained by Marijuana Moment.

Representatives from various federal agencies—including the Food and Drug Administration, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)—convened for a December workshop meant to provide guidance on researching cannabis while the plant remains federally illegal. The workshop was explicitly not about “challenging or changing current federal laws, policies or regulations.”

But during at least two presentations, officials with NIDA and the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) listed ways that marijuana’s status as a Schedule I drug under federal law complicates research efforts.

NIDA’s director of the division of extramural research, Dr. Susan Weiss, included a slide in her presentation that laid out administrative and scientific “cannabis research barriers.” On the administrative level, that includes the “complex and lengthy registration process” required for researchers interested in studying the plant, the lack of alternative sources for research-grade marijuana and the ongoing Schedule I status of “non-intoxicating components of cannabis” such as CBD.

Via NCCIH.

Dr. Emmeline Edwards, the director of the division of extramural research for NCCIH, echoed some of those points in her presentation.

“Despite marijuana being ‘legal’ in some states, the federal government has not legalized cannabis and continues to enforce restrictive policies and regulations,” one slide states. Edwards also discussed marijuana’s Schedule I status and the limited supply of research-grade cannabis from NIDA, which does “not sufficiently reflect the variety of products used by consumers.”

Via NCCIH.

Outside researchers who were invited to speak at the event also pointed out that the process to study cannabis could be simplified if federal restrictions on the plant were loosened. Dr. Margaret Haney, a professor of neurobiology at the Columbia University Medical Center, included a recent quote about marijuana rescheduling from Surgeon General Jerome Adams in her presentation.

“Our scheduling system is functioning, but not as ideally as it could,” Adams said last month. “Things aren’t static. We have to continue to evolve.”

Via NCCIH.

(Adams later walked back his comments, however, and clarified that he is “not in favor of legalizing marijuana, of rescheduling it, but I do want to make sure we do research so that policy decisions are evidence-based.”)

Haney, during her presentation, said that one piece of federal cannabis reform legislation that was introduced last Congress—the Marijuana Effective Drug Studies (MEDS) Act—is “promising” for researchers and “a hot topic” that could be taken up in 2019. That bill would, among other things, expand sources for research-grade marijuana and require the DEA to register additional cannabis manufacturers and distributers.

All told, the materials reviewed from the federally hosted workshop revealed a surprising amount of candor from government officials about the roadblocks current policy place in front of research, and an intense level of interest in expanding studies into marijuana’s therapeutic potential as well as any public health impacts from state-level reform. And while speakers didn’t seem to directly violate the stated event rule against “challenging or changing” federal marijuana policy, the issues that prohibition present to researchers did not go unacknowledged.

At the same time, agencies like NCCIH have stepped up calls for research into cannabis, including one proposal to fund studies on how terpenes and cannabinoids other than THC affect pain.

Feds Call For Even More Marijuana Research After Hosting Cannabis Workshop

Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.

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Science & Health

Most Medical Marijuana Patients Stop Or Reduce Pharmaceutical Use With Cannabis, Survey Finds

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Medical marijuana patients generally have more faith in cannabis than the mainstream health care system—and that’s probably because they’ve found the plant more therapeutically effective compared to traditional pharmaceuticals—according to a new survey.

Researchers distributed about 400 surveys to medical cannabis patients at a pro-reform public event, inquiring about their usage and attitudes toward the U.S. health care system. The results were published this week in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs.

The participants reported using marijuana for various medical conditions, including chronic pain, muscle spasms, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. Most of them said that cannabis represented an effective and relatively harmless alternative to pharmaceuticals that are conventionally prescribed for their respective conditions.

“In comparison to pharmaceutical drugs, medical cannabis users rated cannabis better on effectiveness, side effects, safety, addictiveness, availability, and cost,” the study found. “Due to the medical use of cannabis, 42 percent stopped taking a pharmaceutical drug and 38 percent used less of a pharmaceutical drug.”

The most common drugs that patients stopped or reduced using were opioid-based painkillers, non-opioid painkillers, benzodiazepines and anti-depressants.

Of course, given the fact that the respondents were participating in a pro-reform advocacy event when they completed the surveys, it could be argued that the results skew in favor of marijuana over pharmaceuticals.

Even so, the surveys reflect trends that have been identified in past studies: access to medical cannabis seems to lead a portion of patients to cut out or reduce their use of prescription medications, some of which can carry serious side effects.

“This study advances knowledge in the evidence-based approach to harm reduction and benefit promotion regarding medical cannabis,” the researchers wrote. “Given the growing use of cannabis for medical purposes and the widespread use for recreation purposes despite criminalization, the current public health framework focusing primarily on cannabis abstinence appears obsolete.”

“Those working in public health and medicine have an obligation to reduce harm and maximize benefits to the health of individuals and society, and thus serious consideration and scientific investigation of medical cannabis are needed,” the study concluded.

New Analysis Explores Relationship Between Medical Marijuana And Opioid Overdoses

Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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