Cannabis News of the Day

The Green Mountain State lives up to its name and joins the fray: In a tight vote, the Vermont Senate agreed to legalize cannabis, clearing the first legislative hurdle in that state. Governor Shumlin has urged the lower house to follow suit. Detractors argue that the measure will hurt minors and encourage disregard for federal law.

In California, NORML has endorsed the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, the frontrunner among the various legalization efforts in that state. They join the litany of other organizations.

Elsewhere around the country, though, the intrinsic and often unexpected negative effects of legalization are being felt. The legal cannabis industry used $6 billion worth of electricity last year, a figure that continues to cause consternation in the media. New research suggests a correlation between cannabis and the use of other drugs, bolstering the often-ridiculed claim that marijuana is a gateway drug. This bad news was compounded by recent research on the neurological effects of teenage cannabis use. Plus, emergency room visits among Colorado pot tourists suggest a sinister trend. In light of all of this, it is unsurprising that insurance companies aren’t anxious to cover the burgeoning industry.

It’s a mystery whether voters will take these potentially damaging factors into account in two states with nascent legalization campaigns. In Arizona, activists battle over exactly what legalization will mean at a local level, and in Ohio, the Marijuana Policy Project hopes to get things started on the right foot this time.

Southern drawl: In Arkansas, the state’s top lawyer has again rejected the text of a proposed legalization plan. And in Louisiana, it seems unlikely that legalizing green will put the state back in the black.

Meanwhile, in Canada, the Liberal government claims to have “no schedule” when it comes to legalization.

Cannabis News of the Day

Looking for an explanation for police opposition to cannabis legalization? Here it is, in a nutshell.

And here are a few other groups who aren’t so gleeful about the green:

Educators in Arizona, including several superintendents, are amping up the rhetoric against legal pot.

So-called “Stoners Against Legalization,” seem non-plussed about losing prohibition-era profits.

Environmentalists may worry about the surprisingly large energy footprint left by the cannabis industry

Ohio donors only gave $268 to legalization efforts last month, despite a new policy push in the state.

Even Facebook isn’t so hot on pot, at least not according to Colorado cannabis dispensaries.

And public health advocates worry about the right way to move forward in California, in a new report.

Yet, there seem to be ways to meet in the middle – at least that’s what the Ohio pro-legalization camp is banking on.  Meanwhile, more states join the fray in earnest, including Rhode Island, and North Dakota, with more clearly on the way. 

Still, it isn’t easy being green. Just ask the people who are still being imprisoned for pot. Even for those in legal states, the bureaucratic burden may be too much to chew. And some say Obama “blew it” on cannabis reform. Could the next president be any different? And what about the Supreme Court?

Our neighbor to the north is still optimistic, and that, at least, should give us hope that somewhere, sometime, legalization will be done the right way. Thanks, Canada.

Cannabis News of the Day

Big money (and big politics) are still following the cannabis industry closely. Billionaire Sean Parker is doubling down on California marijuana legalization, but he’s still pretty quiet about his motives. And here’s a look at the surprisingly strong ties between the Clintons and the cannabis legalization community.

“What’s that got to do with the price of weed in Colorado?” A lot, apparently. Legal marijuana sales totaled upwards of $1 billion in Colorado last year. Meanwhile, accusations fly about cannabis growers wanting to quash legalization in order to keep prices high. In response to the booming business, the federal government slapped a 70% tax on legal growers in the state. But is all this red tape just foisting the flaws of prohibition on a new and burgeoning market? And who is behind those anti-marijuana lawsuits in Colorado?

In other news: New England rising? The debate over cannabis in Massachusetts, Vermont, and Connecticut is swinging toward legalization:

Massachusetts  sellers are “high” on legal weed,

Connecticut considers a new bill,

and a debate is still underway over legalized marijuana in Vermont.

…but, in a test of how far the current legal definition can be stretched, Massachusetts marijuana activist Bill Downing faces criminal charges.

Plus: The demise of the Washington Eastside task force, which no longer receives funds from seized marijuana assets due to legalization; and the unexpectedly high environmental footprint of the cannabis industry 

RAND Releases Report on 24-7 Sobriety: Program Saves Lives in South Dakota

Swift, Certain, Fair saves lives in South Dakota, or so a new RAND Corporation study argues. The subject of the RAND report, a program that requires alcohol-involved offenders to abstain from alcohol and submit to frequent alcohol tests, has been covered by Vox, Mother Jones, US News and World Report, the National Network for Safe Communities, Medical Daily, Health Day, and other news outlets. Here’s Mark Kleiman’s take: if adopted nationwide, the program might save 100,000 lives per year. RAND released the following, by way of introducing their report:

“Examining the 24/7 Sobriety Program in South Dakota, which started as a pilot in 2005, researchers found that county implementation of the program was associated with a 4 percent drop in deaths at the county level. The associations were most evident among causes of death associated with excessive alcohol use, such as circulatory conditions. The results are being published in the journal The Lancet Psychiatry.

Researchers say they were surprised by the magnitude of the negative association between program implementation and mortality, and emphasize that additional research is needed to better understand the size of this relationship and potential mechanisms. But if a negative association persists in future studies, the findings would represent a significant advance in our understanding of how criminal justice interventions may be used to improve public health.

“Our findings suggest that criminal justice interventions that reduce heavy alcohol consumption may, in turn, influence mortality,” said Nancy Nicosia, lead author of the study and a senior economist at RAND, a nonprofit research organization. “Further work is needed to better understand how programs like 24/7 Sobriety affect not only participants, but also those who are not direct participants such as their spouses, partners or peers.”

The South Dakota 24/7 Sobriety Program requires that individuals with an alcohol-involved offense undergo twice-a-day breathalyzer tests, typically once in the morning and once in the evening, or wear continuous alcohol monitoring bracelets. Individuals who fail or skip required tests are immediately subject to a short jail term, typically a day or two for a failed test.

Nearly 17,000 individuals — nearly 3 percent of the state’s adult population — participated in the 24/7 program between January 2005 and June 2011. Nearly half of the participants were enrolled after a repeat DUI offense, while others were enrolled after a first-time DUI offence or being charged with assault or domestic violence.

A previous RAND study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that the 24/7 program reduced county-level repeat DUI arrests by 12 percent and domestic violence arrests by 9 percent. That study also documented that 24/7 Sobriety participants had generated more than 2 million days without a detected alcohol violation during the first five years of the program. The comparable figure through 2013 was more than 4.5 million days without a detected alcohol violation.

The program is now being implemented by other jurisdictions in the United States and the U.S. Department of Justice recently designated 24/7 Sobriety as “promising” in their evidenced-based practices portal, In addition, a modified version of the program was recently piloted by the Greater London Authority.

To examine whether the program was associated with changes in mortality, researchers analyzed county-level mortality data from January 2000 through June 2011, and took advantage of the fact that counties implemented the strategy at different points in time. The model included statistical adjustments for several factors that could influence the number of deaths, such as county demographics, snowfall and even the well-known Sturgis Motorcycle Festival that brings large number of motorcycle riders to the state every August.

The association was evident not only for total deaths, but also among conditions sensitive to alcohol use, including circulatory conditions.

The magnitude of the association was larger than anticipated, suggesting further research is needed not only to better understand the association among participants, but also among nonparticipants. For example, other researchers have found that when someone reduces their alcohol consumption, sometimes their spouse reduces their consumption as well.

“Our results are consistent with research suggesting that frequent testing with swift, certain and fair sanctions for violations can improve public health and public safety,” said Beau Kilmer, a study co-author and senior policy researcher at RAND. “It is time to conduct experimental evaluations comparing 24/7 Sobriety with other drunk driving interventions to determine which option is most cost-effective at reducing injury and death.”

Support for the study was provided by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Paul Heaton of the University of Pennsylvania co-authored the study.

Since 1989, the RAND Drug Policy Research Center has conducted research to help policymakers in the United States and throughout the world address issues involving alcohol and other drugs. In doing so, the center brings an objective and data-driven perspective to an often emotional and fractious policy arena.”

Highs and Lows – Cannabis Policy This Week

Washington State – The federal prosecution of a medical marijuana dispensary owner threatens to disturb the precarious balance of legality in Washington. But is that a bad thing? An article on the libertarian Reason Foundation’s blog suggests that Lance Gloor, the entrepreneur in question, was an innocent victim of selective prosecution. Perhaps he is; that’s a matter for the courts to decide. More importantly, his prosecution creates a precedent of sorts for federal regulation of state cannabis markets. This could be a powerful tool for making those markets work, and it should be approached in a thoughtful manner, not a paranoid one. Hopefully federal prosecutors can be trusted to work constructively with local law enforcement to protect public safety in an equitable way. Meanwhile, the City of Seattle is reducing the buffer zones required around cannabis shops, and in the process allowing them to operate a little more like the real commercial enterprises they are meant to be. But detractors urge the city council to “slow down” and consider the backlash wanton deregulation could create. Read more:

New England – Echoing the call to decelerate aspects of legalization, a Colorado police chief urged the Massachusetts legislative delegation sent to study the pot market in his state to do just that, “Slow it down.” But, as the voters of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts are likely legalize cannabis in the upcoming elections, the delegation’s real task was not to set a tempo but to learn how to deal with their new paradigm. “It is not the purpose of this committee to determine whether or not MA should legalize marijuana–but rather, to really prepare ourselves for that possibility,” said State Senator Jason Lewis, chair of MA’s Senate’s subcommittee on marijuana, in a CBS Boston interview. Other legislators, such as Senator John F. Keenan, seemed less hearty, asking dispensary workers, “If I were to buy this, what would I do with it? Do I…roll it?” Keenan’s blanching is understandable. The big worry in MA seems to be the potential corporatization of weed, especially marketing toward children – heading “down the Joe Camel path,” as MA governor Charlie Baker put it. This is not, seemingly, off-putting to former Vermont Attorney General Kimberley Cheney, who has recently endorsed the legalization effort in his state. Read more:

California – Even with the most money and no opposition, the passage of the “Adult Use of Marijuana Act” is not guaranteed, or so opines SF Weekly columnist Chris Roberts in a recent article. “For true believers, AUMA does not go far enough — and it’s viewed with suspicion solely because of its deep-pocketed backers, who the die-hards accused of wanting to take over the industry.” And those “die-hards” are not wrong. In every state considering legalization at this point (Ohio is a notable example), there are people who realize that, for a time at least, marijuana can be an extremely profitable business. Is fear of corporatization enough to make the purists rise up and quash the law? Probably not, especially if a proposed plan goes through to offer small-scale grow operations “terroir” label protections. But for now, supporters of AUMA are finding it prudent to heap on the endorsements. Recently the California NAACP has seen fit to throw their weight behind legalization (despite unnamed concerns), and former U.S. Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders is set to headline the ICBC in February. And still the anti-legalization side continues to be voiceless. Do they even exist anymore? The do in Arizona, where Governor Doug Ducey vows to fight the “common culprit of drug abuse and addiction.” But for now, despite polls that show only a bare majority of support for legalization in California among likely voters, the smart money is on legal pot in 2016.

Meanwhile in Canada officials are also feeling the influence of the Centennial State (CO), and Justin Trudeau, Kathleen Wynne, and former Toronto police chief Bill Blair are all hunky-dory over weed.


And those are the highs and lows.