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Teen Marijuana Use Not Up Since Legalization, Another Federal Study Finds

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A new federally-funded survey finds that marijuana use by 8th, 10th and 12th graders has increased slightly over the course of the past year but is generally lower than levels seen prior to when states began legalizing cannabis in 2012.

While measures of lifetime, annual, monthly and daily consumption of cannabis across the grade levels have variously gone up and down over the years, the new national data indicate that legalization of marijuana in certain states has not led to the skyrocketing of youth use that opponents predicted would occur.

The findings, from the annual Monitoring the Future survey, represent the second federal report released in the past week to indicate that prohibitionists’ fears were overblown.

A separate study looking specifically at state-by-state numbers showed that teen marijuana use is generally lower now in places with legalization as compared to when the prohibition on adult cannabis consumption was still in place.

8th Grade Marijuana Use By Year, In Percentages:

 

10th Grade Marijuana Use By Year, In Percentages:

 

12th Grade Marijuana Use By Year, In Percentages:

The data is part of the annual Monitoring the Future survey, conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan. The survey is now in its 43rd year, and includes responses from 45,000 students in 380 public and private secondary schools across the U.S.

The new numbers are scheduled to be published on Thursday, but Marijuana Moment was able to obtain them early.

Marijuana Moment takes seriously its obligation to respect embargoes to which it has agreed. In this case, however, no such agreement was made. Rather, the data was found on a publicly available website and is thus fair game for publication.

The study also found that use of drugs other than marijuana is on the decline among 10th and 12th graders. Use of cigarettes, which are legally available to adults, is at historic lows across all grade levels surveyed.

Raw Data: Marijuana Use, By Grade And By Year, In Percentages

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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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