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Study: Rise In Marijuana Use Not Caused By Legalization

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Marijuana use is is sharply rising in the United States, but the trend is not the result of the growing number of state laws that allow legal use of recreational or medical marijuana.

That’s the conclusion of a study in the journal Addiction that was published online this week.

“Medical and recreational marijuana policies did not have any significant association with increased marijuana use,” the study found. “Marijuana policy liberalization over the past 20 years has certainly been associated with increased marijuana use; however, policy changes appear to have occurred in response to changing attitudes within states and to have effects on attitudes and behaviors more generally in the U.S.”

Researchers at the Public Health Institute’s Alcohol Research Group analyzed data from periodic National Alcohol Surveys and stacked its results on marijuana use against changes in state laws.

Twenty-nine states and Washington, D.C. have comprehensive legal medical cannabis programs, and eight states and D.C. have legalized marijuana for adults over 21 years of age.

They found that instead of being caused by policy changes, the rise in cannabis use was “primarily explained by period effects,” meaning societal factors that affect populations across age and generational groups. The authors identify a decreasing disapproval of marijuana use as one such factor potentially at play.

But they are clear that the rise in use was not caused by changes to marijuana laws.

“The steep rise in marijuana use in the United States since 2005 occurred across the population and is attributable to general period effects not specifically linked to the liberalization of marijuana policies in some states,” the paper’s abstract says.

They authors also reasoned that respondents in earlier surveys taken pre-legalization may have been less likely to admit to marijuana use because of its criminalization. If true, and people are now more likely to admit to consumption under legalization, that would even further emphasize the point that ending prohibition doesn’t necessarily increase use; it just makes people more likely to fess up to it when a stranger calls on the phone with survey questions about the drug.

The new results come one week after the latest edition of an annual federal survey found that cannabis consumption by teens is at its lowest level since 1994 despite the fact that more states are changing their marijuana laws every year.

California was the first state to legalize medical cannabis in 1996.

“Marijuana use among adolescents aged 12 to 17 was lower in 2016 than in most years from 2009 to 2014,” that survey, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, reported.

Colorado and Washington State became the first places to legalize recreational marijuana in 2012, with sales going into effect in 2014.

Together, the results of the two studies provide a counterpoint to legalization opponents’ claims that ending prohibition leads to skyrocketing use rates.

This story was first published on Forbes.

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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 serves as chairman of 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.)

Science & Health

People Really Do Have A Marijuana “Jay-Dar,” New Study Finds

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Even in the era of legalization, marijuana consumers continue to face discrimination—socially and, sometimes, in employment. That’s why a team of researchers set out to research the “jay-dar” phenomenon, which refers to the ability of individuals to identify cannabis users based on physical attributes.

It turns out that visual cues do appear to help people spot tokers, because the results of a new study confirmed that individuals were more likely to rate cannabis users as users as compared to non-users.

“The present results provide evidence that individuals can discriminate between cannabis users and nonusers based on appearance alone,” the study authors concluded. “This ability is consistent regardless of the raters’ user status or gender, and age of the target.”

The study did find one gender-based distinction, however. People who haven’t used marijuana were slightly more likely to identify males as cannabis users, compared to females. In general, marijuana use “explained over 9 percent of the variance in ratings across all photographs,” the researchers determined in the new study, published late last month in the journal Substance Use & Misuse.

But what were the primary visual cues people used to identify marijuana users? Well, let’s run our own experiment. Try rating the likelihood of marijuana use on a scale of 1-7 based on these photos, which come from an earlier study on the so-called “jay-dar” phenomenon.

OK, which (if any) of these individuals pictured above use marijuana, either for medical or recreational purposes? If you’re a non-user, then you might be inclined to choose the former based on gender and gender stereotypes. (Full disclosure: the study doesn’t actually identify which is the user, so this was a hypothetical test).

What were the physical attributes that study participants most commonly used to identify marijuana users?

  • Eyes (e.g. red, glossy): 49.2%
  • Age (younger or older): 28.7%
  • General appearance (e.g. unkempt, professional): 27.9%
  • Facial expression (e.g. blank stare): 24.8%
  • Smile (e.g. small/big, yellow teeth): 20.5%
  • Hair (e.g. disheveled): 13.6%
  • Skin (e.g. acne scars, wrinkles): 12.4%
  • Race/ethnicity: 9.7%
  • Clothing (e.g. style of dress): 9.7%
  • Gender: 8.5%
  • Intuition (e.g. “gut feeling”): 7.8%
  • Demeanor (e.g. relaxed): 6.6%
  • Perceived personality (e.g. outgoing, laid back): 6.6%

“Individuals considering legal recreational cannabis use who fear social or occupational consequences due to negative stereotypes should be aware that others may be able to determine their use based upon appearance,” the study authors wrote. “Further, individuals may want to consider the cues being used to identify their cannabis use. The present study indicates that individuals may judge people to be cannabis users based on the appearance of their eyes, facial expression, and how ‘well-kempt’ they appear.”

“As such, individuals who use cannabis should be aware of these features, especially considering the accuracy in determining substance user status.”

Legalizing Marijuana Doesn’t Lead To Higher Youth Use, New Study Shows

Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.

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Science & Health

Legalizing Marijuana Doesn’t Lead To Higher Youth Use, New Study Shows

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Yes, states with legal marijuana have slightly higher rates of youth cannabis consumption compared to non-legal states. But the act of legalization doesn’t appear to be the primary factor behind that trend, according to a new study.

Instead, researchers concluded that “differences between states with and without legal non‐medical cannabis may partly be due to longer‐term patterns established prior” to legalization’s enactment.

A survey of more than 4,000 teenagers throughout the United States found evidence that legal states experience higher consumption rates “regardless of how long the policy had been implemented or whether markets had been established.”

The finding appears to run counter to claims made by legalization opponents. A primary concern when it comes to legalization, according to prohibition advocates such as Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), is that establishing legal marijuana markets would cause more youth to seek out cannabis.

But this study, published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Review, came to a different conclusion.

“Relatively few differences were observed between states with an established market and those that only recently legalized, which suggests that differences between legal and non-legal states may be partly due to pre-established trends and a type of ‘self-selection’ effect, in that states that legalize non-medical cannabis typically have higher rates of cannabis use anyway,” the authors wrote.

Survey respondents were asked questions about their level of consumption, mode of use, perceptions of access and risk and driving under the influence.

When it comes to consumption patterns, there was a difference between legal and non-legal states: 13.3 percent of respondents in states without any legal marijuana laws reported using cannabis in the last month, whereas 17.6 percent of those in states with new recreational markets and 20.3 percent of those in states with long-established recreational markets reported consumption over the same time period.

However, the survey also revealed some interesting, behavioral differences between those in legal and non-legal states. Young people in states without recreational marijuana laws are slightly more likely to use marijuana with tobacco, they’re less likely to worry about future health issues developing as a result of their cannabis use and they’re more likely to report having driven a vehicle within two hours of consuming marijuana.

Another interesting tidbit: perceptions of harm from smoking marijuana are actually somewhat higher in states with long-established recreational marijuana states compared to flatly prohibitionist states.

That would appear to throw another wrench in arguments from anti-legalization groups about the end of prohibition causing young people to think cannabis use is totally without risk.

For instance, SAM’s FAQ suggests under a chart labeled, “Youth use rates in states that have legalized marijuana outstrip those that have not,” that “youth perception of the risks associated with drug use is perhaps the most important determinant of whether they will engage in illegal drug use.”

“In other words, young people who perceive a high risk of harm are less likely to use drugs than young people who perceive a low risk of harm from that drug.”

While there are plenty of studies that draw differing conclusions concerning the effects of legalization, this latest research raises serious doubts about the causal relationship between ending prohibition and youth marijuana use.

Here’s a selection of data points included in the study.

Used cannabis in the last month
Prohibited states 13.30%
New, non-medical states 17.60%
Established, non-medical states 20.30%

 

Smoked cannabis WITH tobacco in a joint or blunt
Prohibited states 32.70%
New, non-medical states 30.60%
Established, non-medical states 20.50%

 

Not worried that using cannabis will damage your health in the future
Prohibited states 67.40%
New, non-medical states 55.90%
Established, non-medical states 63.80%

 

Driven a car or other vehicle within two hours of using cannabis
Prohibited states 29.30%
New, non-medical states 19.10%
Established, non-medical states 26.10%

 

Medical Marijuana Reduces Opioid Prescriptions, Another Study Finds

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Politics

New York Enacts Emergency Rules Allowing Medical Marijuana As Opioid Replacement

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New York regulators are moving to allow patients who would normally be prescribed opioids for any condition to use medical marijuana instead.

That means people suffering from severe pain, opioid dependency or other maladies will now qualify to receive medical cannabis, the state Department of Health announced on Thursday.

“Medical marijuana has been shown to be an effective treatment for pain that may also reduce the chance of opioid dependence,” New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said in a press release.

“Adding opioid replacement as a qualifying condition for medical marijuana offers providers another treatment option, which is a critical step in combatting the deadly opioid epidemic affecting people across the state.”

Research has consistently demonstrated the ingredients in cannabis can treat various forms of pain, including neuropathic, acute and chronic pain.

Adding severe pain and opioid dependency to the list means that 13 health conditions now qualify patients for medical marijuana in New York. Currently, more than 62,000 patients and about 1,700 practitioners are registered under the state’s medical cannabis program, according to the release.

Numerous surveys have shown that, given the option of using cannabis as an alternative to prescription opioids, pain patients would opt for the former. Unlike opioids, marijuana does not come with the same risk of dependency and nobody has fatally overdosed on the plant.

There’s also evidence that states that provide legal access to marijuana experience significantly fewer opioid-related hospitalizations. A study released this week found that medical marijuana laws were associated with an almost 30 percent reduction in the amount of Schedule III opioids prescribed to Medicaid enrollees.

New York’s Department of Health first announced its plans to add severe pain and opioid dependency to the list of qualifying conditions last month, and is now releasing the emergency regulations to implement the decision.

New York Sen. George Amedore Jr. (R) said in a press release that he’s been “strongly advocating to remove barriers and allow the use of medical marijuana as an alternative to opioids because it will help patients, reduce the number of highly addictive opioids in circulation and ultimately, it will save lives.”

“We continue to be faced with an opioid epidemic that is devastating communities throughout our state. It’s important we continue to do everything possible to address this issue from all sides, so I’m glad the Department of Health is taking this measure that will help high risk patients, as well as those that are struggling with, or have overcome, addiction.”

The move from the state health department reflects an evolving approach to marijuana in New York. The New York Democratic Party recently endorsed full marijuana legalization, for example.

And Zucker, the health commissioner, said last month that “the pros outweigh the cons” when it comes to ending cannabis prohibition in the state. A report from his department will recommend full legalization, he added, but a date for its release has not yet been announced.

Last week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), who is facing a primary challenge from pro-legalization actress Cynthia Nixon, encouraged banks to begin working with medical cannabis and hemp businesses.

Broad City’s Stars And NY Gov Candidate Cynthia Nixon Are Giving Away A Bong

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