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Overregulation Drives Illegal Marijuana Market In Legal States, Study Suggests

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Excessive state regulations may be the reason illegal marijuana markets continue to exist after legalization, a new exploratory study found after looking at data from the first two U.S. states to end cannabis prohibition.

“The qualitative analysis of news reports reveals that regulation is one of the main reasons that people stay in the illicit market,” the paper states. “The comparison of marijuana crime trends in Colorado and Washington shows mixed findings. While marijuana offense rates in Colorado largely remained steady over the years, those in Washington increased dramatically after the implementation of more intensive regulations.”

Published in July, the research is the master’s thesis of Sikang Song, a graduate student of the criminology and criminal justice department at Portland State University.

Song writes that he was interested in understanding why the unregulated marijuana market persists in states where cannabis is legal. Since growers, sellers and consumers have “legitimate channels” to produce, trade and obtain cannabis, these illegal avenues should presumably diminish.

Yet research shows they haven’t disappeared altogether: Last year, one report found that 18 percent of cannabis consumers in California said they purchased marijuana products from an unlicensed seller.

For his analysis, Song investigated whether there’s an association between how intense state cannabis-related regulations are and the extent of the remaining illegal market. First, he reviewed news articles published between late 2013 to April 2019 featuring interviews with cultivators, sellers and consumers who shared the various reasons why they remain in the unregulated market. He then looked into whether marijuana arrest rates changed in the first two legal states after new sets of regulations were installed.

In Washington, he used June 2016 as the intervention point, and in Colorado, he used November 2015 and January 2017 as intervention points. (In 2017, for example, Colorado state lawmakers passed new rules regarding labeling and packaging of all containers holding marijuana flower and trim, concentrates and other products.)

According to the study, the reasons most people said they grew or sold marijuana illegally were “strict regulations and the high cost associated with the compliance.”

“Over two thirds of recording units (68%; n = 115) contain interviews and quotations from black market participants stating this reason,” the paper states. “Terms such as ‘overregulation,’ ‘cost of compliance,’ ‘high taxes’ are frequently used in the headlines and texts to describe ‘barriers’ for ‘small producers’ to enter the legal market or ‘drive’ them to the black market.”

Other reasons for staying in the illegal marijuana market included high taxes, market fluctuations and organized crime.

Using an interrupted-time series analysis, Song also found that Washington’s crime rate increased after the state introduced more regulations. “In 2014 and 2015, the marijuana crime rates per 100,000 residents were both at around 26,” he writes. “This number was increased to more than 28 incidents per 100,000 residents in 2016. In 2017, a total of 2,628 marijuana crimes were reported by law enforcement agencies in Washington, making the annual crime rates 35.96 per capita.”

Colorado, on the other hand, did not see any significant short- or long-term changes to its cannabis-related crime rates after the state implemented new marijuana regulations.

“Although the findings are not conclusive, the results of Washington data show that regulation intensity may be one of the main factors that influences or explains the persistence of illegal cannabis transactions after the legalization,” the study states. “The fact that Washington’s marijuana black market kept growing after the implementation of more complex and sophisticated regulations at least indicates a correlation between regulation intensity and the increase of the black market in the case of Washington.”

The fact that similar findings were not reported in Colorado, the study continues, suggests “the magnitude of illicit marijuana activities may be affected by regulation intensity in some states.”

Ultimately, the author points out, these results raise questions about “the possible adverse effect of intensive regulations to researchers and policy makers.”

If one of the goals in marijuana legalization is to eliminate the unregulated market, Song writes, it’s important for lawmakers to consider the implications of unnecessarily strict state rules. Instead, they should focus on creating an “equitable and accessible market that allows the coexistence of both large and small businesses.”

“The cost of compliance to regulations should be reduced to remove the barriers of establishing a legal marijuana business,” Song concludes, adding that “future policies should also pay more attention to cracking down [on] persistent illegal growers and sellers and organized crime groups who are unwilling to participate the legal market.”

Legalizing Marijuana Leads To Fewer Illegal Grow Sites In National Forests, Study Finds

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.

Kimberly Lawson is a former altweekly newspaper editor turned freelance writer based in Georgia. Her writing has been featured in the New York Times, O magazine, Broadly, Rewire.News, The Week and more.

Science & Health

Dogs Are Being Exposed To Marijuana Through Human Poop And Pet Owners Should Beware, Study Finds

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A word of caution to dog owners: apparently some canines are getting intoxicated off marijuana by eating the feces of people who’ve consumed cannabis, according to a new study.

Dogs are natural scavengers, and so the instinct to eat poop—while gross—is just a fact of life. But a team of Australian researchers found that, in some cases, that instinct can become dangerous, warranting the attention of puppy parents.

The study, published in the Australian Veterinary Journal, looked at 15 cases of confirmed THC toxicosis in dogs who were suspected of, or observed to have, ingested human feces in Melbourne from 2011-2020.

The dogs presented symptoms of incoordination, dilated pupils, urinary incontinence and stupor. Urine tests from eight of the dogs showed THC metabolites in their system.

However, study author Clara Lauinger told Marijuana Moment that this shouldn’t necessarily be taken to mean that any level of THC is toxic in dogs.

“The animals in my study had ingested an unknown quantity of feces that contained an unknown concentration of THC and so one would assume this concentration would be at a level that clearly caused toxicity,” she wrote in an email. “However this does not mean that all THC ingestions can lead to toxicity.”

In fact, there are other studies where animals were administered a controlled dosage of THC and “not a single one of them displayed any adverse effects that we might see with toxicity,” she said.

“There are so so many anecdotal reports of the huge benefits that THC administration has on animals, albeit reports are from owners perception rather than peer reviewed research, but this does not mean the industry should disparage THC as a therapeutic agent,” Lauinger said.

Most of the dogs in her new study apparently ate the poop at local parks, while others ingested it at the beach, camp sites and walking trails.

“All dogs survived to discharge. Ingestion of human feces containing THC may lead to marijuana toxicosis in dogs,” the study states. “Veterinary staff and owners should be attentive in regard to using appropriate hygiene measures when managing these dogs.”

The authors said that there are a number of reasons that a dog might eat poop—or, put scientifically, engage in coprophagy. But they floated one possibility for the marijuana-specific feces-eating trend: “It is possible that the presence of marijuana in feces increases its attractiveness for ingestion by altering its scent, texture and/or taste.”

Also, while this study is limited to data on about two dozen dogs in one city of Australia, the authors also said that the habit “might be more common than what owners report,” pointing to Google search results from people reporting a dog ate feces and exhibited signs of lethargy.

The idea of dogs getting high off THC-containing human waste might seem like a stretch on its own, but the study also explains that canines have more cannabinoid receptors than humans, “making dogs more sensitive to the effects of THC.”

“In conclusion, this case series suggests that ingestion of feces produced by a human marijuana user may lead to signs of marijuana toxicosis,” the researchers said. “Clinical signs of toxicosis were similar to those previously reported for dogs with conrmed marijuana toxicosis though gastrointestinal signs were not the most common feature despite coprophagy.”

“Veterinary staff and owners should be mindful of this exposure source to ensure appropriate hygiene measures are taken when managing these dogs,” the study says.

Lauinger said that there “needs to be an industrywide understanding of the fact that there are so many different strains of cannabis and each of these strains has different cannabinoid profiles that have possible potential for beneficial therapeutic effects.”

“These strains could be researched with a focus on what ones are suitable for animals and at what dose rather than blanketing all strains as being toxic,” she said. “I hope the public can be patient and also get behind us researching the dosing more.”

While there are clear concerns about dogs ingesting excess levels of THC, studies have found promising results when it comes to the therapeutic potential of other cannabinoids like CBD for pets.

For example, dogs with epilepsy experience considerably fewer seizures when treated with CBD oil, a study published in the journal Pet Behaviour Science in 2019 found.

The prior year, a separate study determined that CBD can alleviate the symptoms of osteoarthritis in dogs.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), for its part, has repeatedly warned pet owners about using CBD to treat firework-related anxiety in pets around the July 4 holiday.

“You should be aware that FDA has NOT evaluated these products and can’t say whether they are safe or effective, how they are manufactured, or whether they contain CBD,” the agency said this year.

Germany Will Legalize Marijuana And Promote Drug Harm Reduction, Governing Party Coalition Officially Announces

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Psychedelics Use Associated With 55 Percent Decrease In Daily Opioid Consumption, Study Finds

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The use of psychedelics like LSD, psilocybin, mescaline and DMT is associated with a significant decrease in illicit opioid consumption, according to a new study.

Researchers looked at data from “three harmonized prospective cohorts of community-recruited” people with substance misuse disorders. A total of 3,813 individuals were involved, including 1,093 who reported illicit opioid consumption and 229 who said they’d used psychedelics in the past six months.

“Recent psychedelic use was associated with 55% reduced odds of daily opioid use,” the Vancouver-based study, published last week in the Journal of International Drug Policy, found.

While there have been numerous studies connecting legal marijuana access to reduced opioid use and fewer overdose deaths, this is “the first longitudinal study to link psychedelic use with lower daily opioid use,” the paper says.

“Over study follow-up after adjusting for a range of potential confounders, psychedelic use remained independently associated with a significantly reduced odds of subsequent daily opioid use,” the study states. “While confirmation in other settings is required, these findings align with growing evidence that psychedelic use may be associated with detectable reductions in subsequent substance use including illicit opioid use.”

While there’s not a clear explanation for the trend—and the researchers urged additional studies—psychedelics like psilocybin and MDMA have been touted as potentially powerful tools in mental health treatment, effectively treating conditions like severe depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and addiction.

“These findings align with growing evidence demonstrating that psychedelic use may be associated with detectable reductions in subsequent opioid use, and warrant further research on psychedelics for opioid and other substance use disorders,” the study’s lead author, Elena Argento of the University of British Columbia, told Marijuana Moment.

“This study found naturalistic psychedelic use to be independently associated with a significantly reduced odds of subsequent daily illicit opioid use among a community-based sample of [people who use drugs],” the study concluded. “More research with controlled trials and longer-term follow-up is required to elucidate the therapeutic potential of psychedelics to augment existing interventions for substance use disorders, including among more diverse populations. Additional qualitative studies would also provide opportunities to improve understanding of the possible psycho-social mechanisms underpinning psychedelic experiences.”

Another recent study found that when people use cannabis together with psychedelics, it was “associated with higher scores of mystical-type experience, ego-dissolution and visual alterations.”

With respect to marijuana alone, a study published earlier this year found that cannabis use is associated with significant reductions in dependence on opioids and other prescription drugs, as well as an increase in quality of life

Another study released last year determined that states with active medical marijuana laws saw certain opioid prescription rates drop nearly 20 percent compared to prohibition states.

Using Marijuana With Psychedelics Intensifies The Mystical Experience, Study Finds

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Marijuana Legalization In Canada Did Not Result In Increased Traffic Injuries, Study Finds

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Canada’s move to legalize marijuana did not result in increased traffic injuries, a new study has found.

In a paper published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, researchers said they sought to investigate claims that establishing the cannabis legalization law, which took effect in October 2018, would make roads less safe, as prohibitionists frequently argue.

But after analyzing Ontario and Alberta emergency department data from April 2015 to December 2019, however, they couldn’t find any evidence to support that hypothesis.

“Implementation of the Cannabis Act was not associated with evidence of significant post-legalization changes in traffic-injury [emergency department] visits in Ontario or Alberta among all drivers or youth drivers, in particular,” the study states.

“Legalization not associated with changes in traffic injuries in all drivers or youth drivers.”

That’s despite the fact that “worldwide momentum toward legalization of recreational cannabis use has raised a common concern that such policies might increase cannabis-impaired driving and consequent traffic-related harms, especially among youth.”

The study’s lead author, Russ Callaghan, said in a press release that his team’s results “show no evidence that legalization was associated with significant changes in emergency department traffic-injury presentations.”

The researcher admitted that the outcome of the study is “somewhat surprising,” adding that he “predicted that legalization would increase cannabis use and cannabis-impaired driving in the population, and that this pattern would lead to increases in traffic-injury presentations to emergency departments.”

“It is possible that our results may be due to the deterrent effects of stricter federal legislation, such as Bill C-46, coming into force shortly after cannabis legalization,” he said, referring to a separate impaired driving bill. “These new traffic-safety laws imposed more severe penalties for impaired driving due to cannabis, alcohol, and combined cannabis and alcohol use.”

While Callaghan said he wasn’t expecting the results that his team ended up with, there is a body of existing research that’s also challenged the idea that legalization leads to increased traffic risks.

A U.S. congressional research body said in a 2019 report that concerns expressed by lawmakers that cannabis legalization will make the roads more dangerous might not be totally founded. In fact, the experts tasked by the House and Senate with looking into the issue found that evidence about cannabis’s ability to impair driving is currently inconclusive.

Other researchers have found on several occasions that traffic fatalities do not increase after a state legalizes marijuana.

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association late last year found that small doses of CBD appear to have no significant impact on driving, whereas comparable doses of THC were associated with short-term impairment “modest in magnitude and similar to that seen in drivers with a 0.05%” blood alcohol concentration.

In any case, House-approved report language related to funding for the Departments of Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development addresses drug-impaired driving from substances such as marijuana and urges the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to take steps to address the issue.

DEA Boosts Psilocybin, MDMA And DMT Production Levels Again In Final Quotas For 2021

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