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Drug and pot legalization

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 Pot terminology     States with legalized marijuana     National Institute of Drug Abuse

NIDA 2021 youth drug use survey

Posted 3/19/24


Three years into its ambitious experiment,
Oregon moves to re-criminalize hard drugs

Barn doorM

    For Police Issues by Julius (Jay) Wachtel. “Without some external pressure, most people will not attempt to reduce their drug use via treatment or other means.” Addiction researcher Keith Humphreys’ sobering words highlight the challenges that authorities faced carrying out Oregon’s pioneering approach to drug abuse. Approved by voters in November 2020, and taking full effect in February 2021, Measure 110, the “Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act of 2020” used marijuana tax revenue to fund a host of programs, from medical care to housing, that could ostensibly help addicts kick their habits.

     Throughout, the emphasis was on treatment. Possession for personal use of small quantities of drugs including LSD, methadone, oxycodone, heroin, meth and cocaine was decriminalized (Sections 11-17). Unless drugs were present in substantial amounts or were possessed by felons or repeat drug offenders, getting caught with them became a civil infraction carrying a maximum fine of $100. And even that small penalty was forgiven for violators who agreed to be screened by telephone for a drug abuse disorder (Section 22).

Click here for the complete collection of drug and pot legalization essays

     By design, law enforcement remained in the deep background. Inevitably, the issue of voluntary compliance reared its problematic head. According to the drug screening hotline, “only 92” of the approx. 2,000 drug possessors cited during the program’s first year actually called, and of those “only 19” asked for services. Why such a tepid response? Here’s Section 22’s closing provision: “Failure to pay the fine shall not be a basis for further penalties or for a term of incarceration.”

     Ergo, why comply?

Oregon reportM     In January 2023 Oregon Health Authority auditors published “Too Early to Tell: The Challenging Implementation of Measure 110 Has Increased Risks, but the Effectiveness of the Program Has Yet to Be Determined”. It prominently mentions the “racist and brutal history”  that presumably inspired the measure. But its recommendations seem exclusively focused on bureaucratic challenges. Even the hotline’s pronounced under-use is attributed to poor program design and management. Nothing at all is said about the culture of drug abuse or the possibility that its adherents may have taken advantage of decriminalization to keep doing what they prefer. And possibly even increase their use of drugs.

     So, did they? A sidebar at the top of the report notes that Oregon had “the second highest rate of substance use disorder in the nation and ranked 50th for access to treatment.” That reference, we assume, is to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. This graph uses its data to depict the percent of persons age 12+ who self-reported illicit drug use between 2016 and 2022 in the ten States with the highest drug abuse rates (SAMHSA left out 2020-2021 for methodological reasons, and 2022-2023 data isn’t in).

Ten worst drug useM

     Note that Oregon was “number one” in the U.S. – meaning, the worst – five years preceding decriminalization. (It climbed there from sixth-worst during 2013-2014, when “only” 14% of its respondents age 12+ admitted using illegal drugs.) Self-reported drug use then slightly abated, and Oregon fell to second place. And while it remained number two, the State’s percentage of self-admitted drug users actually worsened during 2021-2022, when Measure 110 was in effect.

Drug OD ratesM     For the possible consequences of drug abuse we turned, first, to the CDC. The graph on the left compares drug overdose rates reported between 2018-2021, the most recent year available. Although it was signed into law in 2020, Measure 110 took effect in February 2021. That year, Oregon’s drug overdose death rate of 26.8 was 43 percent worse than its 2020 rate of 18.7. During the same period the mean U.S. rate, which has always been higher than Oregon’s, went up by the far smaller amount of eight percent.

     TA death ratesMMight unhindered access to “hard” drugs lead to a lot of addled driving? We used data provided by the CDC Wonder website to look into traffic accident deaths. On the right is a four-year comparo between Oregon and the U.S. Their traffic accident death rates seem quite close. Again, the only deviation of note is for 2021. That year, Oregon’s rate jumped 17 percent from the previous year’s figure. Meanwhile the U.S. rate increased by a considerably lesser 10 percent.

     What about crime? “Does Legal Pot Drive Violence?” reported that three of ten States that legalized pot during 2012-2016 – Alaska, Colorado and Oregon – suffered substantial post-legalization increases in their UCR violent crime rates (31.8, 37 and 17.9 percent, respectively). However, three other early pot-legalizing states – Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada – enjoyed substantial decreases in violence (-11.5, -23.8 and -24.2 percent, respectively). Perhaps not-so-coincidentally, nine of the top-ten early-pot States (California excluded) landed in our top-ten hard-use graph (see above).

Oreg hom aggasltM

     Criminal violence-wise, marijuana seemed very much a mixed bag. So what about hard drugs? These graphs depict 2018-2022 homicide and aggravated assault data from the UCR. Both show substantial increases in Oregon rates between 2020-2021, and particularly for homicides. Their contrast with the marginal changes in U.S. rates seems profound.

     Full stop. An accurate analysis of the reasons behind Oregon’s surge in drug overdose deaths and homicides, and the substantial increase in traffic accident deaths and violent crimes, would require taking a host of potential influencers into account. Still, most of the numbers, from drug use self-reports through Oregon’s homicide and aggravated assault rates, seem consistent with criticisms that decriminalizing the possession of hard drugs and transforming it into a civil infraction may have been a step too far.

     Last July, as Oregon’s measure was into its third year, the (normally, very liberally-inclined) New York Times took a deep dive into Portland. “At four in the afternoon the streets can feel like dealer central. At least 20 to 30 people in ski masks, hoodies and backpacks, usually on bikes and scooters.” That’s how coffee-shop owner Jennifer Myrle described her city’s new normal. What’s more, “there was no point calling the cops.” Her pessimism about that was seconded by a bicycle-mounted officer who frequently gave Narcan shots. “So we cite them and give them the drug screening card. Then they’ll say they don’t want treatment or they’ll tell us, ‘OK, I’ll call the number.’ And two hours later we run into them again, and they’re smoking or even overdosing.”

     By September 2023, Measure 110 seemed to be in its last gasps. Leading members of Oregon’s business community and a former lawmaker filed ballot measures to recriminalize drug possession and prohibit its public use. Bemoaning that “people don’t feel safe on the streets,” Senate Majority Leader Kate Lieber (she’s a “Blue”, by the way) soon held hearings on the drug crisis. But impatience was growing. “Oregonians believe that Measure 110 has been a failure,” said Senator Tim Knopp, her “Red” counterpart. “I really don’t want to wait another year for a ballot measure.”

     He didn’t have to. Two weeks ago a bill to replace Measure 110 sailed through the State legislature. While House Bill 4002’s focus remains on funding and providing substance abuse treatment – “treatment over penalties” is its watchword – possessing even small, single-use amounts of hard drugs returns to being a misdemeanor (click here for the legislative summary). And yes, Oregon Governor Tina Kotek has promised to sign it.

     So we’ll see. Recriminalizing hard drugs may discourage their use, or at least their flagrant public use, and to that extent Portlanders may feel reassured. But Oregon’s homicide and aggravated assault rates markedly increased during 2020-2021 (they edged back somewhat in 2022.) Might reducing the use of hard drugs keep things on a positive track?

     Eager to crunch a few numbers, we used simple correlation (the “r” statistic) to analyze the relationships between 2021 drug use rates, drug overdose rates, homicide rates, aggravated assault rates, and percent in poverty, for all fifty States. (Drug overdose death rates came from the CDC, crime rates from the UCR, and poverty rates from the Census.) Correlations range from zero, meaning no relationship between variables, to one, which represents a “perfect”, lock-step association. Positive r’s mean that variables go up and down together; negative r’s, that they move in opposite directions. Coefficients of plus-or-minus .40 or greater are generally considered substantial. Here are the results:

Oreg crosstabM

These graphs portray the relationships between the three hypothesized “causes” (drug use, drug death and poverty) and their two possible “effects” (aggravated assault and homicide). Each State appears as a “dot”:

Oreg graphM

     Self-reported drug use rates seem unrelated to either homicide or aggravated assault. Drug overdose death rates have a weak relationship with aggravated assault and a moderate relationship with homicide. But what clearly matters most is poverty. No, we’re not saying that impoverished citizens are criminals. Yet as our essays have often pointed out (see, for example, “Fix Those Neighborhoods!”), economic conditions are strongly linked to a host of factors, such as unemployment and lack of child care, that do drive crime.

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     Bottom line: tinkering with drug laws may have little effect on criminal violence. Our assessment of State violent crime numbers pre-and-post marijuana legalization (“Does Legal Pot Drive Violence?”)  concluded that legalizing marijuana was unlikely to “cause violence to explode.” And if self-reports accurately measure drug use, that seems true for legalizing hard drugs as well. Neither should we expect that re-criminalizing possession will substantially reduce violence.

     That doesn’t mean that Oregon’s retrenchment won’t have any noteworthy effects. If Governor Kotek puts pen to paper (she has yet to sign the bill, but is expected to do so any day now), many drug users will likely revert to “lighting up” in private. And if they do, that should make Portland, and its cops, happy!

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Neighborhoods special topic

Does Legal Pot Drive Violence?     Policing Can’t Fix What Really Ails

America’s Violence-Beset Capital City     Fix Those Neighborhoods!     Fair But Firm

Posted 11/24/22


Marijuana affects judgment. But what do the numbers say?

     For Police Issues by Julius (Jay) Wachtel. Colorado and Washington kicked off recreational pot in 2012. Leaving out Washington D.C. and Guam, which have also said “yes”, its recent legalization by Maryland and Missouri brings the number of “green-lit” States to the age of majority: twenty-one. As for the U.S., in April the House passed “MORE”, the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act.” It would remove marijuana from “Schedule I”, a list of Federally-forbidden substances that have “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”

     Full stop. MORE’s narrow, 220-204 House victory was “largely along party lines”. Here’s what a prominent (Red) opponent, Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, thought:

    Record crime, record inflation, record gas prices, record number of illegal immigrants crossing our southern border and what are Democrats doing today? Legalizing drugs.

President Biden recently pardoned everyone who had ever been Federally convicted of “simple possession of marijuana”. His move benefited several thousand residents of Federally-administered areas, including the District of Columbia and Tribal lands. Of course, given the power of the filibuster, MORE, a mostly “Blue” initiative, faces major hurdles in the Senate. That’s likely tempered the President’s approach. While urging Governors to follow his example and pardon convicted pot users under their jurisdiction, he nonetheless emphasized that current restrictions on “trafficking, marketing, and under-age sales” should stay in place.

Click here for the complete collection of drug and pot legalization essays

     That seems thoughtful. But can one really have it both ways? Recreational marijuana, but under control? Not according to a massive investigative effort by the Los Angeles Times. Its inquiry found that soon after California Proposition 64 legalized recreational pot in 2016, “a global pool of organized criminals and opportunists” swarmed the Golden State, setting up thousands of illegal untaxed growths tended by armies of fearful, literally “indentured” immigrants:

    The pitch for Proposition 64 focused on grand benefits: an end to drug possession laws that penalized the poor and people of color, and the creation of a commercial market that in 2021 generated $5.3 billion in taxed sales. But California failed to address the reality that decriminalizing a vast and highly profitable illegal industry would open the door to a global pool of organized criminals and opportunists.

     It's not just a problem of illegal growths. Opportunities to profit and weak penalties – violations are misdemeanors – have overwhelmed regulatory efforts in L.A. Ditto New York City. Although retail cannabis licenses are yet to be issued, entrepreneurs eager to profit “have cropped up in droves”.

     And it’s not only about illegal sales. Increased access to marijuana has inevitably increased its consumption. President Biden’s positive words about pot hinted at one of the minuses – that its use can negatively affect youths. His concern was forcefully addressed in 2020 by Dr. Nora D. Volkow, Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse:

    “Because marijuana impairs short-term memory and judgment and distorts perception, it can impair performance in school or at work and make it dangerous to drive. It also affects brain systems that are still maturing through young adulthood, so regular use by teens may have negative and long-lasting effects on their cognitive development...Also, contrary to popular belief, marijuana can be addictive, and its use during adolescence may make other forms of problem use or addiction more likely.”

An extensive Research Report that accompanied Dr. Volkow’s remarks warned about marijuana’s harmful effects on the physical and mental health of persons regardless of age. And earlier this year, one NIDA “Monitoring the Future” survey reported that young adults’ use of marijuana and hallucinogens “reached all time-high in 2021”. Another warned that the “severity” of drug consumption during adolescence affected the likelihood of developing a substance use disorder later in life.

     NIDA isn’t alone. In 2018, responses to a national survey led a team of academics to conclude that “liberal laws” and “past year cannabis use” were “significantly associated with higher prevalence of serious mental illness.” Three years later the National Institutes of Health warned of “a link between cannabis use and higher levels of suicidal ideation, plan, and attempt.” And last November, researchers from Mount Sinai Medical School reported that marijuana use during pregnancy led to increased levels of aggression, anxiety and hyperactivity in young children. Cannabis, they wrote, can affect a mother’s immune function, thus degrade the neurobehavioral development of the unborn.

     Given marijuana’s physical, physiological and mental effects, one might anticipate more traffic accidents and criminal mischief as well. There the evidence is mixed. Colorado legalized recreational marijuana in 2012. University of Colorado researchers would later conclude that medical and recreational marijuana dispensaries were “associated with statistically significant increases in rates of neighborhood crime and disorder” in Denver during 2012-2015. But another study found that while “street segments adjacent to recreational dispensaries” did have “notably higher levels of crime related to drugs (17%) and disorder (28%) during the post-legalization period,” the increases were not statistically significant. And a 2018 study that depicted itself as particularly robust found “no statistically significant long-term effects” on violent or property crimes in either Colorado or Washington, the first two States to legalize recreational pot.

     Washington State’s cops, though, beg to differ. According to an academic study, they’ve observed more marijuana use by youth and experienced a substantial uptick in “drugged driving” and “nuisance” calls since legalization. Their observations were seconded by a 2019 Insurance Information Institute report, “Recreational marijuana and impaired driving,” which warned that legal pot = more impaired driving = more accidents. In a notorious recent example, seventy-five police recruits were recently on an early-morning training run near the L.A. Sheriff’s Academy when an approaching SUV veered into the formation. Twenty-five recruits were injured, five critically. Police suspect that the driver (he said he was “sleepy”) was affected by something other than alcohol, as he tested clean on a Breathalyzer. Marijuana was reportedly found in his vehicle. But when interviewed on T.V., the 22-year old driver said that he fell asleep while driving to work (he’s an electrician). His lawyer also pointed out that blood tests came up clean for alcohol and drugs. According to NIJ, though, current field sobriety and blood, urine and oral fluid tests cannot reliably identify persons who have been cognitively or physically impaired by marijuana. Full legalization is a relatively recent phenomenon, while detection technology is in its infancy.

     Bottom line: pot’s deleterious effects can’t be easily quantified. We’re left with a collection of unfortunate episodes whose causal mechanisms are easily disputable. But the FBI has tracked serious violent crime for decades. So have pot-friendly places suffered? This table uses mean scores to compare the 21 States that have said “YES” since 2012 with the 29 that are still “NO”:


     Violent crime rates for 2012 are from the UCR and, for 2020, from the NIBRS. “Gun laws” are from Gifford’s 2021 gun law scorecard, which ranks States from 1-50 in a kind of reverse order: 1 reflects the strongest gun laws (California) and 50 the weakest (Arkansas). Ideological bias was filched from Pew’s “Religious Landscape Study”, which surveyed a sample of Americans for their religious and political beliefs. And for poverty scores we turned to the USDA, which offers 2020 State poverty percentages in a handy table.

     How do the “YES” and “NO” States compare? Mean poverty scores are fairly close (the 50-State range was 7.0 to 18.7). Both camps exhibit nearly identical 2020 violence/100,000 rates. As for 2012, violence scores for the 50 States ranged from 122.7 to 643.6, so the difference between the “YES” and “NO” States is actually quite small. But when it comes to gun law strength (range 1-50), the “NO” States do trend weaker. That seems consistent with their residents’ more conservative political beliefs.

     Let’s examine violent crime rates more closely. Not including the District of Columbia (it said “YES” in 2014), eight States legalized recreational pot during 2012-2016. This table displays what happened during the period:

Here’s a like comparo for eight randomly-drawn “NO” States (“50” is the U.S. overall):

And here are two graphs that display the overall change in violence for each State:

     It’s definitely a mixed bag. Three “YES” States – Alaska, Colorado and Oregon – endured substantial post-legalization increases in violence. On the other hand, Maine and Massachusetts did well, but their trends were already favorable when they green-lit pot. Legalization may have benefited Nevada, though, as the State’s steep drop in violence began after legalization. As for our randomly-drawn “NO” States, violence rates substantially improved in Delaware but worsened in Nevada, North Dakota, Utah, Wisconsin and Wyoming. Overall, America’s mean rate hardly budged.

     Before coming to conclusions, let’s examine some other factors. Say, political ideology. Residents of “NO” States seem to have “more conservative political beliefs.” How might that affect, say, gun law strength? Here’s the scattergram:

Correlation, the “r” statistic, ranges from zero, meaning no relationship between variables, to one, meaning that both are in perfect sync. Check out how closely those fifty red dots (each represents a State) cluster around that “line of best fit.” A robust r of .74 definitely supports the notion that as conservatism increases, weak gun laws become far more likely.

     But do gun laws make a difference? This graph displays the relationship between gun law strength and violence rates:

To be sure, many States closely hew the line. But many others lie scattered about. An r of .3 is nothing to boast about.

     What about Police Issues’ favorite “explainer”, poverty? Our “Neighborhoods” essays argue that the social benefits produced by robust economic conditions are vital in keeping violence at bay. Check out the graph:

Given the vicissitudes of the underlying data – each State follows the beat of its own drummer – one couldn’t expect as robust a statistic as, say, the r=.73 we computed for the relationship between poverty and violence among New York City neighborhoods. But most States seem to tread the line quite closely, and the overall .51 is fairly robust. Indeed, once we eliminate those two pesky outliers, it leaps to .71!

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     Back to decriminalization. Legal recreational pot is still in its infancy, so it’s too early to draw any firm conclusions. Although the numbers we crunched ease our fear that recreational marijuana will cause violence to explode, its negative effects on physical and mental health, task performance and adolescent development seem indisputable. But these downsides are easily glossed over. That drove the normally pot-friendly Los Angeles Times to publish a pair of skeptical editorials earlier this year. One condemned a plan by the California State Fair to award prizes to the chemically most potent plants (“Are state fair officials high?”). Another endorsed a proposed law, bitterly contested by the marijuana industry, that would require prominent warning labels on marijuana packaging (“Legal pot needs better warning labels”).

     What do we find most troubling? Pot’s ability to impair judgment. As cops well know, citizens “under the influence” of psychoactive substances such as marijuana are more likely to misbehave. They’re less likely to voluntarily comply with requests or orders, thus increasing the possibility that officers might think it (or find it) necessary to use force. And when they do, it often forces us to pen yet another essay. After one and one-half decades of doing just that, we, too would like a break.

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Guide to weed terminology     National Institute of Drug Abuse     NIDA 2021 youth drug use survey



Ideology (Still) Trumps Reason     Shutting the Barn Door     “Woke” Up, America!

Four Weeks, Six Massacres     Fair But Firm     Sanctuary Cities, Sanctuary States     Merrily Slippin’

Posted 9/5/17


Should states legalize recreational pot?

     For Police Issues by Julius (Jay) Wachtel. In Part I we explored what happens when local jurisdictions resist or impede the enforcement of Federal immigration laws. Here we’ll discuss the intensifying struggle between the Feds and the states over marijuana’s legal status, and particularly its recreational use.

     Before we begin please note that we’ve argued against pot’s full legalization on three separate occasions, most recently four years ago (see links below). But with California taking that fateful step it seems appropriate to revisit the issue. What of consequence has been learned since our last put-down of the “evil weed”? Should the Feds be more flexible? Is the recreational use of marijuana really as harmless as its boosters claim?

     Let’s start with chemistry. Marijuana’s active ingredient, THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) alters the senses and creates a pleasurable “high” by overstimulating chemical receptors that help the brain function and develop. And yes, there are consequences. NIDA’s latest Drug Facts (August 2017 revision) warns that, among other things, THC interferes with thinking and problem solving and that high doses can bring on hallucinations and trigger psychotic reactions. Perhaps the most important concern is over pot’s consequences for the developing mind:

    When people begin using marijuana as teenagers, the drug may impair thinking, memory, and learning functions and affect how the brain builds connections between the areas necessary for these functions.

Click here for the complete collection of drug and pot legalization essays

     Could such effects prove permanent? Apparently the jury’s still out. But there is some unsettling research. According to a 2012 paper (footnote 5 in NIDA’s posting) heavy pot use by teens costs a staggering eight IQ points by middle age, and discontinuing doesn’t fully right the ship.

     To marijuana enthusiasts NIDA’s warnings might ring a bit hollow. After all, it’s the National Institute of Drug Abuse, right? Well, if more “facts” are useful, the knowledge community has come to the rescue! In January 2017 the most authoritative scientific source in the U.S., the National Academy of Sciences released a massive report that summarizes and evaluates decades of marijuana research. Ten chapters are devoted to its reportedly problematic effects:

  • Cancer
  • Cardiac risk
  • Respiratory diseases
  • Impairment of the immune system
  • Role in workplace and vehicle accidents
  • Risks to infants and the unborn
  • Psychosocial effects, including cognition and academic achievement
  • Severe mental health problems, including schizophrenia, depression and suicide
  • Problem marijuana use
  • Links between marijuana and other substance abuse

     Overall findings in each area are rated as to their certainty: conclusive, substantial, moderate, limited, none or insufficient. We’ll focus on pot’s role in vehicle accidents, its consequences on cognition and academic achievement, and its effects on mental health.

     Vehicle accidents: A previous meta-analysis of 21 studies in thirteen countries found that vehicle crashes were twenty to thirty percent more likely for drivers who either self-reported marijuana use or had THC in their bodily fluids (p. 228). Driving simulators have also revealed that driving skills decrease as cannabis dosage increases (p. 230) NAS concludes that “there is substantial evidence of a statistical association between cannabis use and increased risk of motor vehicle crashes” (p. 230).

     Cognition: Prior studies found that marijuana use “acutely” interferes with memory, learning and attention. Whether such effects endure after pot use ends is uncertain (pp. 274-5). NAS concludes that “there is moderate evidence of a statistical association between acute cannabis use and impairment in the cognitive domains of learning, memory, and attention” but only “limited evidence” that impairment continues after a “sustained abstinence.”

     Academic achievement: A prior “systematic review” of sixteen “high-quality” studies concluded that marijuana use “was consistently related to negative educational outcomes” (p. 276). Another study suggested that dosage was important. However, marijuana use is associated with a host of factors, including intelligence, use of other substances, parental education, socioeconomic status, and so on, each of which may also influence academic achievement. Absent a major study that “controls” for each important variable, parceling out marijuana’s unique contribution remains out of reach. NAS concludes that there is “limited evidence of a statistical association between cannabis use and impaired academic achievement and education outcomes” (p. 279).

     Mental health: A review of ten studies found a strong link between marijuana use, psychoses and schizophrenia; a “pooled analysis” of thirty-two studies found an increased likelihood of psychosis, with risk increasing along with frequency of use (pp. 291-3). Research involving psychiatric patients paints an equally gloomy picture. A study that compared first psychotic episode patients with non-patients revealed that the former “were more likely to have lifetime cannabis use, more likely to use cannabis every day, and to mostly use high-potency cannabis as compared to the controls” (p. 294). Reviewers concluded that there was “substantial evidence” that marijuana use could cause schizophrenia and lead to other psychoses, “with the highest risk among the most frequent users” (p. 295).

     Marijuana does have some medical benefits. NAS found “substantial evidence” that pot is effective for chronic pain (p. 90) and “conclusive evidence” that it can reduce or eliminate nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy (p. 94). NORML, the nation’s leading pro-marijuana organization, prominently touts pot’s beneficial aspects. In “Marijuana: A Primer” Paul Armentano, the organization’s deputy director, glows about THC’s safety, “particularly when compared to other therapeutically active substances.” Yet his discussion also cautions that “cannabis should not necessarily be viewed as a ‘harmless’ substance”:

    Consuming cannabis will alter mood, influence emotions, and temporarily alter perception, so consumers are best advised to pay particular attention to their set (emotional state) and setting (environment) prior to using it. It should not be consumed immediately prior to driving or prior to engaging in tasks that require certain learning skills, such as the retention of new information. Further, there may be some populations that are susceptible to increased risks from the use of cannabis, such as adolescents, pregnant or nursing mothers, and patients with or who have a family history of mental illness.

     Other than for Mr. Armentano’s paragraph, which is buried in a longer piece, NORML’s consistent position is that marijuana is harmless, even for youths. For example, a post on its website approvingly reports that, according to a new study, the substantial IQ decline noted for teen-age marijuana users is caused by “family background factors” (one of the confounding variables cited in the NAS report) rather than by pot. NORML also consistently rejects the notion that legalizing marijuana might increase its use by youths (for one such post click here).

       Federal law (Title 21, United States Code, Section 812) places marijuana in Schedule I, reserved for substances that have a “high potential for abuse”, “no currently accepted medical use” and are deemed unsafe to use even under medical supervision. Manufacturing and possessing Schedule I drugs is illegal except when authorized for research purposes. In 1996, when California authorized medical marijuana, it became the first state to ignore the Feds and chart its own course. Other states have since joined in, and at present medical pot is legal in twenty-nine states plus D.C. and the territories (a handful of additional states allow the use of marijuana oil but not THC.)

     According to the NAS, marijuana has some medical use. So why is it stuck in Schedule I? Officially, it’s because there supposedly hasn’t been enough research to demonstrate that pot’s benefits outweigh its risks. Unofficially, we suspect that the Feds fear any endorsement could open the floodgates to diversion and ultimately lead to full legalization.

     Are such concerns valid? To be sure, medical marijuana has probably encouraged the timid to partake, for both good reasons and bad. But showing ID, signing forms and forking over a lot of dough for a small dose has little appeal for the recreationally-minded, who can readily source cheap pot (admittedly, of varying quality) on the street. On the other hand, that feared “slippery slope” to full legalization has been partly realized. Recreational pot laws are now on the books in eight states – Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon and Washington – and have passed (but remain Congressionally unauthorized) in the District of Columbia. With capitalists scrambling to get in the mix, competitively-priced, certified “safe” marijuana may soon become as available and affordable as a bottle of beer.

     Pot’s freshly scrubbed image has set off worries about an explosion of use, particularly by youths. While marijuana boosters are nonplussed – as we cited earlier, NORML claims that marijuana use by teens has declined – a recent report suggests abundant reason for alarm. “Association of State Recreational Marijuana Laws With Adolescent Marijuana Use” (JAMA Pediatrics, 2017) reports the findings of national surveys administered to high school students between 2010-2015 about their use of marijuana and perceptions of its risk. Researchers discovered that after Washington legalized recreational pot its teens became significantly more likely than peers in other states (whose self-reported use slightly declined) to use pot and downplay its harmfulness. No such differences were reported for youths in Colorado after that state legalized recreational pot. (However, there is evidence that pot use by Colorado teens had already increased, in 2009, when that state enacted highly permissive medical marijuana laws.)

     Colorado’s Department of Public Health issues yearly reports about marijuana’s impact on health. While its 2016 version strives to reassure (e.g., marijuana use hasn’t changed since legalization; it’s also used less than alcohol) there are bombshells everywhere (e.g., “one in four adults age 18-25 reported past month marijuana use, and one in eight use daily or near-daily”). Its assessment of marijuana’s health consequences for “adolescents and young adults” seems particularly damning:

    The committee reviewed the relationships between adolescent and young adult marijuana use and cognitive abilities, academic performance, mental health and future substance use. Weekly marijuana use by adolescents is associated with impaired learning, memory, math and reading, even 28 days after last use. Weekly use is also associated with failure to graduate from high school. Adolescents and young adults who use marijuana are more likely to experience psychotic symptoms as adults, such as hallucinations, paranoia, delusional beliefs and feeling emotionally unresponsive….

In fact, the report (from a pot-friendly state, no less) contains so much negative stuff that a Mother Jones contributor who admits he enjoys the occasional toke was openly dismayed.

     Marijuana legalization is proving problematic for relations between the states and the new Administration. Since 2014 Congressional spending bills have prohibited the Feds from spending money to fight medical marijuana  in states where it’s legal (for the 2017 bill click here and scroll to p. 231). Even so, in February Attorney General Jeff Sessions testily announced his firm opposition to pot’s broad use:

    …I don’t think America is going to be a better place when more people of all ages and particularly young people start smoking pot. I believe it's an unhealthy practice and current levels of THC in marijuana are very high compared to what they were a few years ago…States they can pass the laws they choose. I would just say it does remain a violation of federal law to distribute marijuana throughout any place in the United States, whether a state legalizes it or not.

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     Sessions’ comments signal a dramatic shift from the permissive tone his agency adopted in 2013, when it announced that it would defer to state recreational use laws based on “assurances that those states will impose an appropriately strict regulatory system.” A detailed policy pronouncement limits Federal enforcers to tasks such as keeping pot away from minors and preventing its distribution to states where marijuana is completely illegal. To back up the A.G., then-Press Secretary Sean Spicer made clear that the President saw “a big difference” between medical marijuana and its recreational use. In Blue California, where smoking pot for fun becomes legal in January 2018, that “difference” has been characterized as a potential “flashpoint” in state-Federal relations. Meanwhile Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who vigorously (and successfully) backed recreational pot, urged the Feds to get over their pique and help the Golden State (no pun intended) “wipe out the black market in pot.”

     As if.

     Police Issues isn’t overly fond of analogies, but here we can’t resist. Americans can thank their ready access to a cornucopia of highly lethal guns, and the inevitable consequences, to the profit-driven firearms industry, a huge cadre of gun enthusiasts, and the efforts of gun-friendly politicians, many of the ideologically “Red” persuasion. For the coming young-stoner culture, and its inevitable consequences, we’ll one day thank the profit-driven marijuana industry, its ever-expanding cadre of tokers, and the efforts of pot-friendly politicians, many of the ideologically “Blue” persuasion.

     A distinction? Maybe. A difference? You be the judge.

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What’s the Guvernator Been Smoking?

Posted 5/20/13


Two states have approved its recreational use. What will the Feds do?

     For Police Issues by Julius (Jay) Wachtel. Hang on to those joints! Last November voters in Washington and Colorado legalized the recreational use of marijuana for those over 21. And while Federal law continues to classify pot as a Schedule I drug (meaning no accepted therapeutic use), Attorney General Eric Holder, who long ago conceded the fight against medical marijuana, seems in no hurry to challenge states who cross what seems like the final line. During an April Congressional hearing he would only say that DOJ’s decision, when made, would place the needs of children first: “When it comes to these marijuana initiatives, I think among the kinds of things we will have to consider is the impact on children,” he said.

     Holder’s approach undoubtedly reflects the views of his boss. Shortly after Washington and Colorado made their move, President Obama told Barbara Walters that “it would not make sense for us to see a top priority as going after recreational users in states that have determined that it's legal.” Even so, as a Harvard-trained lawyer, our reluctant leader had to concede that sooner or later the conflict between Federal and State laws would have to be resolved. “I head up the executive branch; we’re supposed to be carrying out laws. And so what we're going to need to have is a conversation about, how do you reconcile a federal law that still says marijuana is a federal offense and state laws that say that it’s legal?”

Click here for the complete collection of drug and pot legalization essays

     Of course, it’s more than just the law. Common sense indicates that legalizing marijuana would increase its use, including by youth. If the Attorney General’s decision will hinge on what’s best for kids, the Federal Government’s leading authority on the topic, the National Institute of Drug Abuse, offers some sobering thoughts:

    A recent study of marijuana users who began using in adolescence revealed a profound deficit in connections between brain areas responsible for learning and memory. And a large prospective study...showed that people who began smoking marijuana heavily in their teens lost as much as 8 points in IQ between age 13 and age 38; importantly, the lost cognitive abilities were not restored in those who quit smoking marijuana as adults.

     Increases in marijuana use have led health authorities to raise a red flag. In a recent review of the health implications of legalization, researchers warned that brain scans of persons who regularly smoked pot before age 16 have shown evidence of reduced function in an area associated with impulsiveness:  “The frontal cortex is the last part of the brain to come online,” said Dr. Staci Gruber, “and the most important. Early exposure perhaps changes the trajectory of brain development, such that ability to perform complex executive function tasks is compromised.”

     Marijuana use raises serious health and safety concerns. In 2011 Harvard Health reported that pot use during adolescence is associated with an increased risk of serious mental disorders in early adulthood. In a recent study that tracked 2,000 American teens, scientists found that those who regularly smoked marijuana were twice as likely to develop psychosis or schizophrenia. Pot’s strength has also increased over time. According to NIDA’s potency monitoring program, the mean content of THC, marijuana’s psychoactive ingredient, has gone up more than twofold, from 3.4% in 1993 to 8.8% in 2008. Many fear the consequences of unleashing this “new, improved” chemical on the public. Do we really need more learning-disabled teens? More addled drivers on the road?  More smoking of any kind?

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    Until now legal and practical constraints have limited pot’s popularity. But with two states jumping on the legalization bandwagon, it seems only a matter of time before citizens everywhere start clamoring for the right to toke. Meanwhile a host of conflicting laws and policies leave State and Federal authorities unsure how to respond. Should DEA raid marijuana farms? Shut down retail outlets? Can local authorities help? Should they?

     What the country needs most is leadership. If the President feels that smoking weed is no more consequential than having a drink, he needs to say so, and to submit legislation that would remove marijuana from Schedule I. If not, he needs to say that, too.

     We’re waiting.

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What’s the Guvernator Been Smoking?

Posted 10/17/10


First out the gate with medical marijuana, California considers legalizing its recreational use

     For Police Issues by Julius (Jay) Wachtel.  Pitchfork in hand, a robust, bearded man poses proudly amidst his crop.  Close to his side, a statuesque blonde gazes into the distance.  Her full lips, painted a bright cherry, frame a knowing smile.

     No, they’re not farmers, at least not in the conventional sense.  Steve Soltis, an artist, has come to the rural Northern California paradise known as “Life is Art” to help founder Kirsha Kaechele bring in the harvest.  Cannabis, that is.  Marijuana.  Pot.  Grown for resale to medical collectives, its proceeds support several resident artists and help fund art programs in Ms. Kaechele’s hometown of New Orleans.

     First in the nation, California’s medical marijuana law, enacted in 1996, allows physicians to prescribe the drug for a wide range of illnesses, both real and, as many would argue, imagined.  Here is how Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez, who was seeking relief from back pain, described his visit to one of the Southland’s numerous clinics:

Click here for the complete collection of drug and pot legalization essays

    Now I'm not saying it was strange for a doctor to have an office with no medical equipment in it, but I did take note of that fact. And when I described the pain, the doctor waved me off, saying he knew nothing about back problems. “I'm a gynecologist,” he said, and then he wrote me a recommendation making it legal for me to buy medicinal marijuana. The fee for my visit was $150.

     Medical marijuana “clinics” started blanketing California within days of the law’s passage.  The state now hosts a freewheeling pot marketplace that includes a cadre of compassionate M.D.’s who happily issue marijuana cards to anyone who is twenty-one and willing to go through the motions of being “examined.”  Many cities are besieged by dispensaries.  In 2007 Los Angeles imposed a moratorium and required that the nearly two-hundred then in existence register with authorities.  That apparently didn’t work so well, as earlier this year the city ordered 439 unregistered clinics to close.

     To date fourteen states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana.  Like measures are pending in eight states.  Yet cannabis is a Schedule I controlled substance, thus illegal for any use under both Federal law and international treaty.  That didn’t keep Attorney General Eric Holder from issuing a densely worded memo in October 2009 that essentially prohibited DEA from interfering in medical marijuana operations that were in “unambiguous compliance” with state laws.  Now that a critical mass of states are in the medical pot corner the window of opportunity to challenge medical marijuana under the Supremacy Clause has effectively passed.

     Inevitably, the slope has continued to slip, and once again California is leading by a head (pun not originally intended.)  Next month’s ballot features an initiative, Proposition 19, that legalizes the recreational use of pot.  Anyone 21 and older could possess and cultivate marijuana for their own enjoyment.  Commercial production and sale would be regulated and taxed, supposedly generating, according to the law’s backers, “billions” in revenue.  Support for the measure comes from the ubiquitous marijuana lobby, a handful of retired law enforcement executives, a former Surgeon General, and, surprisingly, the influential Service Employees International Union.  Police organizations, D.A.’s, Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the Federal drug czar have lined up in opposition.  (Click here for the official arguments pro and con.)

     Oh, yes, Attorney General Holder is also against.  In a letter directed to retired drug agents, he said that DOJ “strongly opposes” the measure, in part because it would “greatly complicate” federal drug enforcement.  Given the manufacturing and distribution infrastructure that medical marijuana built while DOJ snoozed, he’s already right.  Meanwhile, Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca has angrily vowed to ignore the proposition altogether, calling it unconstitutional and “null and void and dead on arrival.”  It’s anticipated that the Feds will request an injunction citing the Supremacy Clause should the proposition pass.

     Pot is supposedly illegal because of health concerns.  For example, our previous post reported disturbing evidence about marijuana’s effects on cognition.  Yet as election day nears we’ve heard preciously little from the medical community.  Finally the liberally-minded Los Angeles Times stepped in.  Two weeks after publishing a surprising editorial that harshly criticized Proposition 19 because it conflicts with Federal law and could make workplaces unsafe, it ran a piece addressing marijuana’s health hazards.  One expert, a psychiatrist who chairs the California Society of Addiction Medicine (CASM), estimated that 17 percent of 14 and 15 year olds who take up pot will become dependent within two years.  “Marijuana is not devastating in the same way that alcohol is.  But to an adolescent, it can impact their life permanently. When you take a vacation from development in school for five years, you just don't get to the same endpoint that was available to you earlier in life.”

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     But will legalization really draw more people to the drug?  While advocates of marijuana say no – after all, it’s already widely available – some experts estimate that breaking down legal barriers will increase the number of users by 50 percent.  Last year California tax collectors put forward their own, somewhat lower estimate of 40 percent.  Whatever the actual numbers, most CASM members agree that many of these new users will be adolescents, the group with perhaps the most to lose.

     So here’s a question for readers: what percentage of parents would want their kids to figure in the increase?

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Does Legal Pot Drive Violence?     Sanctuary Cities, Sanctuary States (II)

Is the Pot Debate Coming to a Head?   Physician, Heal Thyself   What’s the Guvernator Been Smoking?


DEA decision against rescheduling marijuana     Debate between Judge Gray and Police Chief Joe Polisar

NIDA report on marijuana dependence     Annals of Epidemiology on medical marijuana laws and teens

Posted 5/10/09


Legalizing marijuana shouldn’t just rest on economics

    ...Well, I think it’s not time for [legalizing pot] but I think it’s time for a debate. I think all of those ideas of creating extra revenues, I’m always for an open debate on it...

     For Police Issues by Julius (Jay) Wachtel.  Governor Schwarzenegger isn’t alone.  Fifty-six percent of California voters surveyed in the April 2009 Field Poll said they favored legalizing and taxing pot.  Truth be told, the Golden State always had a soft spot for marijuana.  Its Compassionate Use Act was the first, in 1996, to allow physicians to prescribe pot for treating a wide range of maladies including “cancer, anorexia, AIDS, chronic pain, spasticity, glaucoma, arthritis, migraine, or any other illness for which marijuana provides relief (emphasis added)”.  Twelve more States from Hawaii to Rhode Island have since followed suit.

Click here for the complete collection of drug and pot legalization essays

     It’s not just about medical use.  Support for complete decriminalization has been on the rise throughout the U.S.  Four decades ago the split was twelve percent for and eighty-four percent against.  By late 2005 the gap had narrowed to thirty-four yes versus sixty no, with younger men mostly in favor and women and older men largely opposed.  As might be expected, attitudes vary by region.  There’s far more support for pot on the East and West coasts than in the more conservative South and Midwest.

     In 2008 the World Health Organization surveyed alcohol and drug use around the globe.  Its findings were a bit surprising.  The Netherlands only placed third.  Despite their permissive drug laws, just twenty percent of the Dutch said they had ever used cannabis.  Second place went to New Zealand, with a far higher 41.9 percent.  Taking the crown was the good old U.S.A., where 42.4 percent admitted inhaling at least once.  (Incidentally, we were also number one for ever using tobacco, 73.6 percent, and cocaine, 16.2 percent).

     Surveys by the National Institute of Drug Abuse confirm that marijuana is the most popular illicit drug in the U.S.   Parents won’t like it but in 2008 nearly one-fourth of 10th-graders and one-third of 12th-graders admitted smoking pot at least once during the preceding twelve months.

     Marijuana’s proponents claim that it’s a harmless mood elevator, no worse than alcohol or tobacco.  Many scientists disagree.  Smoking pot is believed to pose a host of significant health risks, including cancer and  diseases of the lungs and respiratory tract.  Because they tend to inhale deeply and hold smoke for a prolonged period, pot smokers are likely worse off than those who only use tobacco.  And it doesn’t stop there.  There is good reason why popular culture pokes fun at potheads.  Marijuana’s active ingredient, THC (tetra-hydro-cannabinol) affects key brain functions including memory and learning.  Pot has been linked with poor performance at school and work, and even low dosages can seriously impair judgment and motor skills, making it dangerous to use machinery and drive a car.

     THC does have therapeutic qualities.  It’s in anti-nausea medications used by chemotherapy patients.  Marijuana, a powerful appetite stimulant, is of value for those suffering from AIDS and other wasting illnesses.  Of course, it’s these benefits (and not pot’s recreational potential) that justified medical use laws in the first place.

     Yet, as well intentioned as the compassionate use statutes may be, their application leaves something to be desired.  California’s permissive approach (physicians need only give verbal approval) lets unscrupulous clinics sell pot under the flakiest of pretenses.  About the best that can be said of these profitable centers of stoner culture is that they don’t sell to children.  Calling the situation “Looney Tunes,” LAPD Chief Bratton strongly criticized the lack of oversight:  “They pass a law, then they have no regulations as to how to enforce the darn thing and, as a result, we have hundreds of these locations selling drugs to every Tom, Dick and Harry.”

     The good Chief hasn’t seen anything yet.  Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) has introduced California State Assembly bill 390, which legalizes pot for everyone 21 and over.  Although the measure includes detailed provisions for licensing producers and retailers, growing marijuana and making reefers is ridiculously simple, so combating illicit manufacture, collecting taxes, preventing sales to minors and controlling purity and potency could easily drain away a good chunk of the $1.3 billion a year that the law would reportedly generate.  (Naturally, it’s all contingent on the Feds allowing it.  But that’s a story for another day.)

     There’s little doubt that letting buyers get weed from medical marijuana clinics instead of slimy street dealers has expanded sales.  Whatever the gain, it’s nothing compared to the staggering forty percent increase in consumption that State tax authorities estimate Assemblyman Ammiano’s bill would yield.  So is that what we really want?  Given what’s known and suspected about pot’s effects on health, does it make sense to encourage young people to take on a habit that can cause cognitive disorders and life-threatening medical conditions?  That’s to say nothing, of course, of having even more Toms, Dicks and Harrys driving around in a drug-induced haze.

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     After all the jawboning about obesity, unhealthy food in the schools and the evils of alcohol and tobacco, it’s now proposed that we do an attitudinal U-turn and embrace a mind-altering drug, and all for the sake of a buck.

     Heck, it could make one want to light up!

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6/18/24  In 2022 Maryland voters approved a ballot measure legalizing recreational pot and providing “pathways” for expungement and resentencing. Yesterday Gov. Wes Moore stepped in with an executive order that pardons over 150,000 misdemeanor convictions for simple possession of pot. While these are technically not “expungements”, mentions of the pardon will appear on each person’s record. According to Maryland’s AG, pot convictions are a modern equivalent of the “scarlet letter” and reflect a “deeply rooted bias” from the days of slavery.

6/15/24  Pot is beset by bad news, and not just in the U.S. Thailand’s Prime Minister feels that its recreational use, which was authorized two years ago, has harmed children and made roads even more dangerous. He announced that non-medical applications would be banned by the end of the year. And in California, laboratory analysis discovered excessive or even outright dangerous concentrations of pesticides in “twenty-five of 42 legal cannabis products” that were legally purchased over the counter, including five vapes from “well known brands.”

6/13/24  An amendment on November’s Florida ballot aims to legalize recreational pot. But former Governor (and now Senator) Rick Scott is strongly opposed. His brother, who passed away in April, was beset by a life-long problem with drugs and alcohol supposedly brought on by smoking pot as a teen. While the NIDA reports that most marijuana users don’t follow that path, it’s also warned that THC, pot’s psychoactive component, can make it more likely that someone might become a drug addict.

6/3/24  Hunter Biden’s Federal trial for lying on a gun purchase form begins today. President Joe Biden’s son is accused of falsely denying that he was a drug addict. His brother Beau’s widow is expected to be a prosecution witness. She and Hunter were having a stormy relationship, and when she came across his newly-purchased gun she threw it in the trash. That set off a flurry of text messages, and their content supposedly confirms that Hunter Biden was indeed struggling with addiction.

5/30/24  Fentanyl can be injected or smoked. Injecting it can hurt veins and cause infections, and contaminated syringes can prove fatal. Syringe-exchange groups around the U.S. were established to provide clean needles. To steer users to smoking fentanyl, which is supposedly safer, many started  offering glass tubes and other supplies. But fears that this encourages drug use has led some jurisdictions to prohibit giving users tools for inhaling the drug. And whether smoking is safer is in dispute. According to a recent CDC study, overdose deaths attributed to smoking fentanyl have substantially increased.

5/29/24  Drug-impaired driving may be far more common than what is normally assumed. An analysis of blood samples from 2,514 suspected impaired driving cases in Pennsylvania revealed that 40 percent were positive for alcohol. But a whopping 79 percent were positive for drugs, most frequently cannabinoids. Twenty-three percent were positive for both alcohol and drugs. Only 17 percent were positive for only alcohol; a measly four percent was negative for both.

5/22/24  According to an academic review of national surveys of drug use, self-reported marijuana use has increased as cannabis laws have become more permissive. What’s more, its frequency of use now surpasses that of alcohol. While the “median” drinker reported consuming liquor 4-5 days per month, the median pot user reported using marijuana 15-16 days per month. Daily or “near daily” use was reported by 42.3% of marijuana users and 10.9% of drinkers; “daily” use is 28.2% for cannabis and 3.8% for liquor.

5/21/24  The Administration’s move to reclassify marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule III, which would permit its use for medical purposes, reportedly bypassed DEA, whose leadership and staff remain highly skeptical. And a new article in the Journal of the American Medical Association reports that marijuana’s legalization in Canada led to a substantial increase in medical emergencies for older adults who were poisoned through the consumption of cannabis edibles.

5/15/24  As part of a greater effort to deal with a burgeoning opioid problem and encourage users to seek treatment, in January 2023 British Columbia decriminalized the public possession and use of small quantities of hard drugs. That apparently caused open drug use to spread to previously unaffected neighborhoods, but police no longer had the legal means to respond. So while the possession of small quantities of hard drugs remains legal, their use in public was just re-criminalized. Activists, though, fear that penalizing users and driving them back into the shadows is precisely the wrong approach.

5/1/24  DOJ announced that the Administration is moving forward on a proposal to reclassify marijuana from Schedule I, which makes it illegal for any use, to Schedule III, which allows medical use and lowers the penalties for illicit transactions. But observers who see marijuana as a “gateway” to hard drugs worry about encouraging its use. International treaties would also be affected, and DEA could be badly stressed, as it would have to oversee marijuana dispensaries that wish to take on a pharmaceutical role.

4/23/24  Marijuana use is legal in Maine, but growers must be licensed. Many aren’t. According to Federal authorities, an estimated one-hundred illegal growths dot the state’s countryside. Most are supposedly funded by “international criminal organizations,” including China and Mexico. Dozens of search warrants have been executed on such operations during the past year, and agents recently seized “nearly 40 pounds” of processed marijuana at one rural home.

4/22/24  D.C. legalized recreational pot in 2014 but restricted its commercial sale to a handful of medical dispensaries. An exception, though, allowed retailers to “gift” an ounce or less. That bred a horde of “gifting” shops, where buying a t-shirt or knickknack earned an ostensibly “free” helping of pot. D.C has now opened up medical marijuana licensing, and over 200 “gifting” shops have applied. And no, a prescription isn’t needed. All that customers must do is affirm they have a bona fide medical need.

4/4/24  A nonprofit operates overdose prevention centers in New York City where users can smoke and inject hard drugs under watch. But a move to open centers in Philadelphia was opposed by the city council. It was also nixed by DOJ, which threatened prosecution, and its refusal was just seconded by a Federal judge. Federal lawyers have also suggested they might move against New York’s centers. Other cities have considered opening centers, but many citizens oppose them because of whom they would draw in.

4/2/24  Gov. Tina Kotek signed a bill that modifies the Oregon law which, among many other things, decriminalized the possession of personal-use quantities of hard drugs. Instead of being a civil infraction, possession becomes a misdemeanor, punishable by a jail term of up to six months. But police are authorized and encouraged to divert offenders to treatment programs.

A study recently published in the Journal of the American Heart Association concludes that cannabis users are at a significantly higher risk of “myocardial infarction and stroke,” and that this risk increases as use increases. Data was gathered from responses to a telephone survey of a large, representative sample of American adults conducted each year by the CDC. Cardiovascular issues are the major cause of death, but cannabis use has increased while perceptions of its harm have decreased.

3/29/24  A 22-year old Rockford, Illinois man went on a stabbing rampage that left four persons, ages 16 to 53, dead and wounded seven others. Three remain hospitalized. Christian Soto’s first victim was a friend with whom he was smoking marijuana. Soto (he was arrested without incident) told police that his friend may have “laced” his smokes and turned him paranoid. So he stabbed his friend and his friend’s mother to death, and then proceeded to terrorize his neighborhood. Marijuana is legal in Illinois.

3/18/24  8-THC is a virtual twin of 9-THC, marijuana’s psychoactive element. But 8-THC, which is assertedly legal, is present in a wide assortment of gummies and vapes that are marketed and sold to youths. According to medical researchers, their ingestion, which produces marijuana-like “intoxicating effects”, presents the same risks of addiction and perils to mental development as marijuana. (See 5/15/23 update)

1/31/24  Sheriff’s deputies arrested five men with Hispanic surnames for murdering six Latinos whose burned remains were found in a desert area of San Bernardino County, Calif. Search warrants turned up eight guns in the suspects’ possession. Authorities suspect that the killings were related to disputes over illegal marijuana growths, which dot the surrounding landscape. Cartel involvement is suspected. Meanwhile a state of emergency went into effect in Portland, which is beset by a fentanyl epidemic. Some  blame a recent State law that decriminalized possessing small quantities of hard drugs for personal use. (See 12/12/23 update)

1/22/24  Possessing a small quantity of marijuana for one’s own use is legal in Illinois. But it must be transported in an odor-proof container. And one can’t legally drive while “high”. So can cops still search a car if they detect the odor of pot? State appellate courts have split over the issue, and it’s now up to the state’s Supreme Court to decide.

1/15/24  According to the New York Times, a recent report by scientists at the Food & Drug Admin. and Ntl. Institute for Drug Abuse recommends that marijuana be reclassified to “Schedule III”, thus available by prescription. It’s presently listed under “Schedule I”, the category that includes heroin and other fully illegal drugs. While the scientists concede that users can become psychologically and physically dependent on pot, they claim it has some therapeutic uses and “the likelihood of serious outcomes is low.”

12/26/23  As he did last year, President Joe Biden pardoned “thousands” of persons convicted of marijuana use and possession in D.C. and on Federal lands. He also granted clemency to eleven Federal prisoners presently serving long stretches for “non-violent drug offenses.” Among those freed is a prisoner serving 20 years for conspiring to distribute meth, and another doing 15 years for conspiring to distribute “at least five kilograms of cocaine and 280 grams of cocaine base.”

12/18/23  A Federal agency, the FDA, regulates medicines. And the Feds have just said “NO” to Georgia’s plan to allow pharmacies to dispense medical marijuana prescribed by physicians. Georgia’s pharmacy board recently started accepting applications, and it’s already licensed 23 pharmacies to do so. But the Feds have warned pharmacies that dispensing marijuana violates Federal law. Unless and until pot is removed from Schedule I (a move is in the works), Georgia’s pharmacies will have to hold back.

12/13/23  On June 6 the Third Circuit Court of Appeals interpreted the Supreme Court’s Bruen decision to mean that it bars lifetime gun possession bans on persons convicted of non-violent crimes (Bryan Range v. U.S., no. 21-2835). According to Hunter Biden’s lawyers, that in effect throws out the Federal law [18 USC 922(g)(3)] that bars gun acquisition and possession by users of illegal drugs. Such as Hunter Biden, whose admitted marijuana use led the U.S. to prosecute him for having acquired and possessed a gun in Delaware, which is covered by the Third Circuit, for eleven days. (See 10/4/23 update)

12/12/23  Beset by drug abuse and disorder, how can Portland regain its allure? What would bring major retailers back? Oregon’s (Blue) Governor proposes to throttle back on the state’s 2020 decriminalization law, which legalized the possession of small quantities of even the “hardest” of drugs, including fentanyl, heroin and meth. And yes, cops would come back. Other “Blue” places, including Seattle and San Francisco, are following suit. (See 8/1/23 and 1/31/24 updates)

11/28/23  With the settlement of lawsuits that accused New York state of withholding pot sales licenses from worthy entrepreneurs, more than 400 applicants can now move on with the process. That, authorities hope, will quickly increase the number of licensed pot shops (presently there are “only” 27) into the hundreds, even a thousand, and make a dent in the state’s “600,000-pound” cannabis stockpile.

11/16/23  Twenty-one months in Federal prison. That’s the sentence handed down to Virginia mom Deja Taylor, 26, whose six-year old took her gun to his Newport News school this January and gravely wounded his teacher. Taylor, a chronic marijuana user whose home and vehicle were found replete with weed, pled guilty to falsely denying that she used drugs on the Federal gun-purchase form. A lawsuit filed by the teacher alleging that school authorities ignored warnings the boy was armed is pending. (See 6/13/23 update) NOTE: On 12/15/23 Taylor drew a 2-year prison term for felony child neglect, to run consecutively to her Federal sentence.

11/13/23  Vehicular manslaughter and reckless driving charges have been filed against Nicholas Joseph Gutierrez, the 23-year old man who plowed into a formation of L.A. Sheriff’s recruits who were jogging along a road during a  morning run a year ago. More than two dozen trainees were struck; several were seriously injured, and one recently died. According to prosecutors, Gutierrez may have fallen asleep at the wheel, causing his vehicle to veer onto the wrong side of the road. No evidence has been developed to suggest that his actions were purposeful, as Sheriff Alex Villanueva originally suggested. (See 11/17/22, 11/22/22 and 3/4/23 updates)

11/10/23  With the success of an organized, well-funded campaign to “regulate marijuana just like alcohol,” pot’s become legal in  Ohio. That brings the number of pot-legal states to twenty-four, plus D.C. Whether Ohio’s status as a very “red” place implies a change in conservative attitudes, though, is hard to predict. Meanwhile evidence of pot’s downsides continues to accumulate. High-potency strains now being legally sold are of special concern.

10/25/23  While riding along in the cockpit of  a Horizon Air flight, an off-duty Alaskan Airlines pilot grabbed at controls in an obvious attempt to crash the plane. Crew members forcibly subdued him. Joseph Emerson, 44, has been charged with 83 counts of attempted murder. He reportedly attributed his actions to chronic depression, lack of sleep and, particularly, the recent use of psychedelic mushrooms, which was supposedly the first time he had ever taken them.

10/23/23  A recent academic report on the effects of legalizing marijuana in Illinois indicates that its increased use has led to more traffic accidents, with 37% of drivers in fatal crashes testing positive for pot vs. 35% for alcohol. Other “problem areas” include more children being poisoned by pot, a relationship between pot use and psychoses, and concerns that chronic pot use by expectant mothers has led to more pre-term births. Report

10/11/23  Overwhelmingly approved by California’s House and Assembly, a bill to allow pot dispensaries to serve food and drinks (excluding alcohol) was vetoed by Governor Gavin Newsom. The marijuana industry, which is trying to replace the current “pharmacy-style” approach with  “Amsterdam-style” cafes, isn’t pleased. But the Guv’s thumbs-down was warmly welcomed by the American Cancer Society, which warned of the “cancer-causing substances found in marijuana smoke.”

10/9/23  Fears that legalization would send “a message of normalization” and lead to misuse led California Gov. Gavin Newsom to veto a bill that would have legalized possession and consumption of magic mushrooms and other psychedelics by adults. But the governor encouraged legislators to return with a bill that provides medical oversight and assures that users don’t suffer from psychoses.

10/4/23  Federal law prohibits illegal drug users from buying or possessing guns. In 2018 Hunter Biden  bought a handgun. That required he sign a form certifying he was not addicted to drugs. So he did. Problem is, he had publicly acknowledged being an addict. Recently, his prosecution for that faux-pas was set aside in exchange for his plea to tax charges. But a judge rejected the deal. So Biden has now formally pled innocent to three gun counts. And the tax charges are also likely to come back. (See 8/12/23 and 12/13/23 updates)

9/26/23  A “Research Letter” just published in JAMA Pediatrics reports that marijuana’s widespread legalization and a failure by many online vendors to confirm buyer age has vastly increased its access to children. Most accept payment via “nontraceable” methods and many ship to other States, even those with different laws. According to a 2022 NIDA survey, almost one-third of 12th. graders had used marijuana in the past year, and 6.3 percent used it daily.

8/31/23  Marijuana is presently Federally designated as a “Schedule I” substance. Along with “hard” drugs such as cocaine and heroin, it’s considered highly addictive and without medical use. However, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has recommended it be redesignated as “Schedule III”, a category for drugs, such as some steroids, that are far safer and less habit-forming, and whose unauthorized possession or sale carries far less drastic penalties. DEA drug schedules

8/12/23  Concerns by the presiding judge that prosecutors and defense lawyers disagree about the fundamentals of Hunter Biden’s plea agreement have led her to set it aside. Biden was scheduled to plead to tax and gun charges, but the terms of the agreement (including whether it bars prosecutors from proffering other charges) and the judge’s proposed role are replete with “technical issues”. A.G. Merrick Garland has also appointed Delaware U.S. Attorney David Weiss to oversee a broad-based investigation of the President's son. (See 6/20/23, 10/4/23 and 12/13/23 updates)

8/11/23  Federal law prohibits users of Federally-defined illegal drugs, including marijuana, from acquiring or possessing guns [18 USC 922(g)(3)]. But the Fifth Circuit just ruled that this prohibition is unconstitutional, as it runs afoul of the Supreme Court’s ruling in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen (June 2022), which requires that gun laws be “consistent with this nation's historical tradition of firearm regulation.”

8/1/23  Marijuana can be addictive, and as THC levels increase, dependency can become profound. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, “at least 16.3 million people” suffered from cannabis disorder in 2021. That’s second only to alcohol. Users seeking to quit can turn to Marijuana Anonymous for help, but many are reluctant, as the misconception that pot is a harmless, benevolent substance is widespread.

In 2021 Oregon decriminalized the possession of drugs for personal consumption. Openly using drugs in public can at most bring on a $100 fine. Portland’s sidewalks are consequently crowded by fentanyl addicts and their discards. Unmolested by police, dealers “in ski masks, hoodies and backpacks, usually on bikes and scooters” openly peddle their wares. Street workers encourage users to enroll in treatment programs, but most don’t seek them out. Dismayed residents urge that hard drugs be re-criminalized, but champions of the new approach demand more time to make things work. (See 12/12/23 update)

7/31/23  Want to buy pot? Better peel off that cash! To comply with Federal law, which still classifies marijuana as a prohibited substance, Mastercard has instructed financial institutions that pot cannot be purchased on its debit cards. That’s upset the marijuana lobby. NORML demands that Congress step in so that the growing number of pot businesses and their legions of patrons “are no longer subject to policies that undermine their ability to conduct transactions safely and effectively.”

7/24/23  Ruling in a lawsuit brought by the ACLU, a Federal judge blasted the Kansas highway patrol for disproportionately stopping cars from Colorado and Missouri, two bordering states where marijuana has been legalized. Hoping to find drugs, Troopers then  supposedly try to sweet-talk drivers into consenting to a search. Judge Kathryn Vratil found the approach a violation of the Fourth Amendment.

7/3/23  New Jersey, where adult possession and use of marijuana is legal, has sought to keep teens out of the criminal justice system with laws that restrict police from investigating youths for drinking alcohol or having pot. Officers can be criminally penalized for violations, so they typically avoid enforcing liquor and cannabis laws. And youths know that. According to local politicians, that’s led to an explosion of disorder on weekends and holidays, with teen mobs running rampant through the Jersey shoreline. Moves are afoot to roll back constraints on the cops, but their prospects are uncertain. (See 2/23/21 update)

6/29/23  Portland’s population numbers have dropped three percent in three years. One reason, it’s said, is the city’s rising violent crime rate. Murders, which used to average in the low twenties, reached a record 101 last year. Another is the “civil unrest” that began with protests against the killing of George Floyd, which devolved into “nightly clashes” between demonstrators and police. Growing problems with homelessness and hard drug use (it was decriminalized in 2020) are also blamed.

6/20/23  Hunter Biden, the President’s troubled son, has long admitted having a drug problem, supposedly brought on by the death of his brother. He’s now agreed to plead guilty to misdemeanor tax violations. He is also being charged with being an illegal drug user in possession of a handgun (18 USC 922[g][3]) stemming from his purchase of a Colt Cobra .38 caliber revolver in 2018. But that charge will be held in abeyance and dismissed if he successfully completes a two-year diversion program. (See 8/12/23 update)

6/14/23  Hannah Gutierrez-Reed was the weapons supervisor on the movie set where a live round found its way into Alec Baldwin’s revolver, leading to the accidental killing of one person and the wounding of another. Prosecutors who have charged her with involuntary manslaughter allege that her chronic nightly consumption of alcohol and marijuana caused her to be “hungover” and led her to mistakenly load a real bullet into Baldwin’s gun.

6/13/23   Newport News, Va. resident Deja Taylor, whose unsecured handgun was used by her six-year old son to shoot his teacher, pled guilty to a felony charge of lying on the Federal gun buying form when she asserted that she was not an unlawful user of drugs. Federal agents had found a considerable quantity of marijuana when they searched her home, and she admitted being a user. Taylor still faces State charges of felony child neglect and reckless storage of a firearm. (See 11/16/23 update)

6/1/23  Progressively-minded elected D.A.’s in several Texas counties have made decisions to not pursue election law violations, abortion cases, and marijuana possession. That greatly displeases the majority “Reds”, which includes Texas Governor Greg Abbott. He is soon expected to sign a bill that defines those practices as official misconduct punishable by removal from office.

5/22/23  California pot farms require both State and County licenses. The latter provision is rigorously enforced in Trinity County, where the Sheriff recently raided three of the 134 farms that lack a local permit (345 are presently licensed). To enforce the $500 misdemeanor, armed, armor-clad deputies staged elaborate tactical strikes that included killing one of the farmer’s dogs. Meanwhile the county is beset with numerous fully illegal (and unmolested) grows that supply the State’s illegal retail outlets.

5/15/23  After consuming what they may have thought were marijuana gummies, five Chicago high school students wound up in the hospital. Suspicion is being cast on a local smoke shop that’s not licensed to sell marijuana, so it deals in alternatives. Some contain dangerously high levels of delta-8 THC, a psychoactive substance that comes from hemp, marijuana’s cousin. But hemp is unregulated. (See 3/18/24 update)

4/13/23  As of July 1st. Maryland will become the twenty-first state to legalize recreational marijuana.  Using pot for pleasure is presently legal in twenty states and D.C. It’s also legal in the territories of Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

3/8/23  Even though opponents were outspent “more than 20-to-1,” Oklahoma voters rejected a law that would have made it the 22nd. state to legalize recreational pot. Its highly competitive medical marijuana industry struggles for profits, and boosters hoped that full legalization would draw crowds from Texas. But opposition by religious groups, medical authorities and police helped kill the measure.

3/4/23  Twelve of the L.A. Sheriff’s Academy cadets who were on a training run when an assertedly “sleepy” driver veered into their formation last November were unable to graduate with their classmates. One remains in critical condition. Some plan to resume their training. So far no charges have been filed. (See 11/22/22 and 11/13/23 updates)

2/25/23  With only three licensed marijuana retailers, New York City admits it has a “proliferation of unlicensed cannabis vendors.” Problem is, they’re selling to youths, who can now easily buy gummies and candy-like pot snacks fashioned after “Rice Krispies and Skittles.” Contaminants and varying levels of THC, which can harm young brains, beset samples bought from twenty unlicensed retailers. And as the city threatens the shops with civil actions, cops shrug their shoulders with an “I told you so.”

2/15/23  A proposed California law would let cities permit licensed marijuana retailers to serve food and drink and host performances and other events. According to its sponsors, legal marijuana retailers are struggling to survive, and the change would allow them to offer a full “experience.” At present some retailers have partnered with co-located food businesses, but the profits must be shared. A local politician who supports the measure said that it “might make an opening for people who are otherwise closed off to use of cannabis.” AB 374

2/4/23  “West Town Bakery,” in Wheeling, Illinois, became the State’s “first cannabis store with a bar and a bakery under the same roof.” A photo in the Chicago Tribune depicts employees handling pastries in the clearly well-heeled establishment. For now, though, the spacious and trendy cafe/bar is separate from where marijuana edibles are sold. But the owners hope to add a “consumption area” soon.

1/21/23  At the grand opening of Manhattan’s pioneering recreational marijuana shop, the State’s marijuana chief proudly showed off a container of watermelon-flavored cannabis gummies. Housing Works, the nonprofit that owns the store, displays colorfully labeled cartons containing fruit and even cereal milk-flavored pot. Meanwhile a Columbia University epidemiologist expressed concerns that “mad mango,” “loud lemon” and “peach dream” might entice kids to partake. Really?

1/17/23  One week after a drug-related search at a rural California home netted one arrest and the seizure of guns and narcotics, the residence was struck by suspected members of a Mexican drug cartel. Six persons, including a newborn, were shot and killed. According to authorities, meth is produced and both “legal and illegal” marijuana are grown in Tulare County, which is the birthplace of a leading figure of the cartel.

1/9/23  Illinois earned a record $422 million during FY 2022 from the state’s booming recreational marijuana market, with sales totaling a hefty $1.55 billion. To boost the number of legal outlets - there are presently 113 along with 21 legal grow sites - the state awarded nearly 200 “social equity” licenses, but many would-be retailers have trouble generating start-up funds. Fifty-five percent of pot’s proceeds go to neighborhood projects, substance abuse and mental health, and crime prevention.

1/4/23  A study about the consumption of marijuana edibles by children younger than six found that reported cases soared over 1,000 percent in five years, climbing from 207 in 2017 to 3,054 in 2021. Most happened in residences, and 22.7% led to hospitalization. Of the children whose cases were fully tracked, seventy percent suffered “central nervous system depression.”

12/31/22  When he was a young man Humboldt Co. (Calif.) pot farmer Johnny Casali did eight years Federal time for growing the evil weed. Now licensed by California, he raises marijuana on a family farm. Pot, though, is still Federally illegal and can’t go interstate. Its abundance within the state means low street prices, and supposedly onerous “taxes, fees and regulations” threaten to drive him and other “legal” marijuana entrepreneurs out of the business. “It’s the War on Drugs Part II,” he complains.

12/30/22  Located in Manhattan’s trendy Greenwich Village, New York City’s first licensed recreational marijuana shop opened its doors, and a very long line of excited customers began streaming in. After waiting more than four hours, one walked out with two bags. Each contained an eight-ounce of smokable flower, for which he paid ninety bucks. Such prices, said another client, can’t compete with “my buddy around the corner.” So buying from the dispensary can’t be “an everyday thing”.

12/20/22  California legislators introduced a re-do of Senate Bill 58, a drug decriminalization measure. It would permit adults to possess psychedelics including psilocybin (“magic mushrooms”) and mescaline for personal use. LSD and MMDA (“Ecstasy”), which were in an earlier version, would remain illegal. Advocates, including physicians, tout the usefulness of these drugs for mental health. But opponents, including the Calif. D.A.’s Association, worry about the dangers that users could pose to others.

12/16/22  Is research into the health effects of marijuana scientific? Yes says UCLA, whose “cannabis research initiative” has been active for five years. But the Los Angeles Times questions the true independence of its efforts, as well as those of UCLA, Harvard, MIT and UCSD, as each has accepted major donations from the pot industry. Ethics experts are also troubled. And a supposedly independent, nonprofit research group that praises pot, The Wholistic Foundation, openly partners with the industry.

12/14/22  Remote Trinity County, Calif. was supposed to be the perfect place to grow legalized recreational pot. But local residents were concerned about environmental damage, and a court ruling about that harm invalidated nearly all the licenses that had been issued. With permitting slowed to a crawl, literally no policing, and illegal growing reduced to a misdemeanor, unsanctioned pot farms are now commonplace. And yes, the environment has suffered.

12/12/22  Oregon, which legalized recreational pot in 2014, is beset by illegal pot farms that harm the environment and consume large quantities of precious water. Unlicensed growths are tended by migrants “who live in squalid conditions.” Officers seized 76,930 pounds of weed in a single recent raid. Most illegally grown marijuana is destined for resale in other States, where it fetches far greater profits.

12/8/22  In the second such event at a Southern California middle school in a week, three Moreno Valley students were hospitalized after overdosing on marijuana gummies. A fourth student was treated and released. (See 12/3/22 update)

12/5/22  A free lunch, presentations on cannabis and a “healthy discount” should they wish to make a purchase. That’s what a (natch, also free) “Senior Shuttle” offers residents of an L.A.-area retirement community as it shuttles them to a marijuana dispensary each month. As the Times’  “Green Room” section approvingly calls it, it’s a “field trip on a magic bus to get high.”

12/3/22  "They were acting weird, tired, high.” That’s what a 12-year old L.A.-area middle-school student said about three classmates. Ten students, ages 12-15 were examined by firefighters, and seven were taken to hospitals after they reportedly overdosed on marijuana edibles. (See 12/7/22 update)

11/25/22  Clear Creek County, CO deputies Andrew Buen and Kyle Gould were charged with felonies ranging to 2nd. degree murder for shooting and killing a mentally disturbed man who refused to exit his car last June. Christian Glass, 22, called 9-1-1 after getting his vehicle stuck, then negotiated with deputies for an hour while flaunting a knife. Bean-bag rounds and a stun gun were deployed without effect, and when Mr. Glass made what deputies Buen and Gold thought was a threatening move they opened fire. Marijuana and amphetamines consisted with ADHD medication were found in his system.

11/23/22  Miami police arrested Wu Chen, 45, for the “execution-style” murder of four employees, all of Chinese descent, of a rural Oklahoma marijuana farm. Chen reportedly knew the victims and spent some time at the farm before opening fire. Authorities are investigating whether the farm’s license was fraudulently obtained. Licenses for two-thousand of the state’s 8,500 licensed farms were reportedly acquired by fronting local “ghost owners” to pretend that the farms are legitimate, where in fact they’re being operated by unauthorized immigrants and supply the black market.

11/22/22  In a televised interview with his lawyer present, Nicholas Gutierrez, the 22-year old who plowed his SUV into a group of L.A.-area police academy trainees on a jogging run, insisted that it was not intentional: he fell asleep at the wheel while on his way to work. “They tried to say that I did it intentionally, which I didn’t. I kept on telling them I didn’t.” Gutierrez, an electrician, installs solar panels. He was arrested for attempted murder, but the D.A. has not yet filed charges and he was released. His lawyer said that Gutierrez “had no drugs or alcohol in his system at the time of this tragic accident.” No mention was made of the marijuana reportedly found in the vehicle. (See 11/17/22, 3/4/23 and 11/13/23 updates)

11/17/22  During the early morning hours of November 16, seventy-five police recruits were on a training run near the L.A. Sheriff’s Academy. Although they were accompanied by marked cars, drill instructors, and road guards wearing reflective vests, an approaching SUV veered into the formation. Twenty-five recruits were injured, five critically. Police suspect that the driver (he said he was “sleepy”)  may have been affected by a substance other than alcohol, as he tested clean on a Breathalyzer. Marijuana was found in his vehicle. (See 11/22/22, 3/4/23 and 11/13/23 updates).br>
11/14/22  Colorado voters approved an initiative, effective in 2024, that legalizes psychedelic mushrooms for persons 21 and older. According to the law, the substances are useful for treating mental health conditions. Private “healing centers” where the drugs can be dispensed and used are also authorized. Colorado is the second State, after Oregon, to take this step. (Oregon’s law is effective next year.) However, psychedelics remain illegal under Federal law, and critics warn that their value is unproven and they are easily abused.

11/9/22  With voters in Maryland and Missouri saying “yeah!”, recreational marijuana is now legal in 21 States. It would have been twenty-four, but voters in Arkansas and both Dakotas rejected the measure. Meanwhile Colorado, where recreational pot’s been legal for a decade, is deciding whether to give the green light to some psychedelics. At present the “yeahs!” are ahead by two percentage points.

10/31/22  In 2018, two years after California legalized recreational pot, the State enacted a law to expunge pre-existing convictions for purchasing, possessing or cultivating marijuana for personal use, and to reduce the offense level for more serious transgressions. But “tens of thousands” of these convictions remain on the books. Governor Gavin Newsom just signed a bill that sets a July 1st. deadline to remove the blot of these convictions from State records.

10/17/22  News stories in the (pot-friendly) Los Angeles Times bemoan the official corruption that’s accompanied California’s legalization of recreational marijuana. Politicians, including members of city councils, and other government officials have reportedly accepted bribes “ranging from thousands of dollars to hundreds of thousands” in exchange for awarding licenses to distribute and sell pot, and two such episodes have recently led to Federal indictments.

10/11/22  In the normally very “Blue” trending Washington Post, a health columnist expresses great concern about the “normalization” of marijuana’s recreational use, and particularly about its ability to negatively affect the physical and mental well-being of youths. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse, is quoted complaining that pot’s boosters have turned to the same distortions as what happened with tobacco. “The data were manipulated by those who want to promote it. Now, people say that marijuana is safe and doesn’t lead to addiction, but the data show otherwise.”

10/7/22  Pardoning “about 6,500” Americans who were convicted in Federal court of simple marijuana possession, President Biden released a statement encouraging States to follow suit and decriminalize the possession of cannabis for personal consumption. He also moved to remove marijuana from the Fed’s “Schedule I” list, which includes hard drugs such as heroin and LSD. And while he asked for a  review of the drug’s Federal status, the President stopped short of calling for marijuana’s full legalization.

9/27/22  Last year Oregon became the first State to decriminalize the possession of drugs for personal consumption. Instead, users now pay a $100 civil penalty or agree to undergo a “health assessment” that can lead to counseling for substance abuse. But less than one percent of the 16,000 who chose the latter path accepted actual treatment. Meanwhile fatal overdoses increased twenty percent and Oregon’s addiction rates remain “among the highest” in the U.S.

9/24/22  Despite California’s 2017 legalization of recreational marijuana, only one-third of the State’s cities allow marijuana retail stores. That inherently limits demand. Small-scale pot farms are also stymied by the dominance of the large producers who helped fund Proposition 64, and by the massive quantities of cheap (i.e., untaxed) pot produced by the many illegal farms run by organized crime, a problem to which law enforcement only half-heartedly responds. According to a probing series of articles by the Los Angeles Times, “weed legalization” has definitely “not met expectations”.

9/14/22  The City of Los Angeles requires that marijuana retailers be licensed. But unlicensed pot shops beset the city’s Eastside. Despite occasional police raids, they spring right back into business, using lower prices to drive customers away from licensed, tax-paying retailers. Violations are misdemeanors, and D.A.’s are reluctant to press charges. But the few raids that have taken place are eye-openers, revealing sales volumes that can generate $25,000 worth of revenue in a single day.

7/15/22  An editorial in the Los Angeles Times, long a proponent of legalized pot, argues in favor of a proposed law, highly contested by the marijuana industry, that would require prominent warning labels on marijuana packaging. According to the Times, there is plentiful evidence that frequent consumption can “contribute to psychotic disorders and suicide attempts,” that its use can harm teen’s developing brains, and that “adverse effects are more likely in products with high THC concentrations.

5/5/22  In recreational-pot-friendly California, “cannamoms,” mothers who toke up, shared their experiences raising kids while using pot. “Conversations were deeper,” said one. “Our playtime was more enjoyable. In my head I wasn’t thinking about the bills I had to pay and things I needed to get done...” But the leader of “Parents Opposed to Pot” worries that its use could lead to apathetic parenting. “I’d suggest they find other ways to make themselves less stressed like do yoga or other outside things.”

4/21/22  Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikkie Fried sued the U.S. for prohibiting marijuana users, including those with a medical prescription, from buying and possessing firearms. According to ATF, Federal gun laws prohibit users of controlled substances, including marijuana, from buying or possessing firearms, and the prohibition extends users of medical marijuana, which is legal in a majority of States.

4/5/22  Since February 2021, when Oregon’s first-in-the-nation decriminalization law took effect, residents caught with personal-use amounts of any drug get a non-criminal citation, and the $100 fine is waived if they accept treatment. Deaths from opioid overdose, though, have gone up, and only one percent (19) of the 2,000 who got ticketed during the first year have asked for help. That “surprises” the State Senator who chaired the reform. But he’s not yet ready to require treatment (see 2/2/21 entry.)

3/7/22  In an editorial entitled “Are state fair officials high?” the Los Angeles Times, whose position normally favors recreational marijuana, challenged a plan by the California State Fair to award prizes to the chemically most potent plants at its July 2022 event. According to the Times, “super-potent” cannabis could endanger one’s health, and awarding gold medals to the strongest concoctions is irresponsible. Cannabis awards site  Cannabis awards criteria

1/28/22  California legalized recreational pot, but it remains a cash business. And in San Bernardino county, deputies working with the FBI are stopping armored cars operated by a logistics firm that hauls cash from marijuana dispensaries. No one’s been arrested, but so far more than $1 million has been seized and turned over to the Feds “as tied to Federal drug or money-laundering crimes.” Empyreal Logistics has sued in Federal court for return of the money. It’s run into similar problems in Kansas.

1/5/22  In 2021, the second year of its legal recreational use, Illinois pot sales hit $1.38 billion, twice the 2020 figure. Illinois’ pot boom, with a rapid growth in all sectors from farming to retail, is partly due to its role as a source of weed for residents of surrounding States, where its recreational use is not yet legal. Plans to double the number of licensed dispensaries from the present 110 have hit a snag, though, over criticism that the proposed qualification process unfairly shuts out minority applicants.

12/16/21  Malta has just become the first country in the European Union to fully legalize the recreational use of marijuana. It’s restricted to adults, cannot be consumed in public and can only be sold by authorized nonprofits. Germany, Luxembourg and Italy are considering similar measures. In Netherlands, Portugal and Spain possession of small amounts for personal use is a civil offense.

11/22/21  Mount Sinai Medical School researchers have linked marijuana use during pregnancy to increased levels of aggression, anxiety and hyperactivity in young children. Cannabis reportedly affects the mother’s immune function, which in turn alters the neurobehavioral development of the unborn.

9/28/21  Augmenting the efforts of his predecessor, Los Angeles County’s progressive D.A., George Gascon, is dismissing an additional 60,000 marijuana convictions, including about 20,000 for felony possession or cultivation. His move comes under the authority of Proposition 64. Enacted in 2016, it legalized the personal use and cultivation of marijuana and authorized “dismissal and sealing of prior, eligible marijuana-related convictions.”

9/14/21  A Federally-sponsored study reveals that the use of marijuana by young adults “increased to all-time highs in 2020” (click here for the report.) At the same time, marijuana’s perceived health risks reached “all-time lows.” That troubled Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. “We know that marijuana use, and particularly when it is in regular use…it’s associated to the higher risk of psychosis [and] suicidal thinking...” (click here for a NIDA news release).

8/4/21  An academic study of the effects of legalizing the recreational use of marijuana on rates of violent or property crime found no statistically significant long-term effects in the first two states that did so, Colorado and Washington.

8/2/21  “How big does Chicago want its pot biz to be?” The Chicago Tribune welcomed recreational marijuana, which Illinois legalized last year, as less harmful than drinking, and as a way to avoid needlessly giving folks criminal records. It now worries that pot’s booming commercialization is changing how the city “looks.” And, too, that it can be misused. “It’s better if it’s occasionally used, when the adult smoker is in a safe place. Legal doesn’t always mean wise.”

8/1/21  Helios “Bobby” Dayspring, a major California marijuana grower and distributor, pled guilty to Federal tax and bribery charges for paying off a county supervisor to promote his interests and fend off pot-unfriendly laws. That politician later committed suicide. This prosecution, according to the Feds, is part of “an ongoing public corruption investigation” into the nascent, loosely-regulated pot industry.

7/17/21  A recent academic review of studies about the consequences of marijuana legalization found no evidence that medical marijuana laws increased its use by teens. But the findings about the effects of recreational marijuana laws were “more equivocal.” One study suggested they were associated with a “modest” reduction in teen pot use (Anderson et al); two found no change (Hao and Cowan and Coley et al); and one (Hollingsworth et al) reported a “substantial increase.”

7/12/21  Illegal marijuana farms beset California’s deserts. Massive spreads funded by Mexican cartels rely on illegal immigrants and forced labor, destroying the ecology and upending the lives of residents with violence and gunplay. “When our family moved to Twentynine Palms nine years ago, it was peaceful and calm. The invasion of pot farms changed all that.” But State pot laws are now all misdemeanors, while Federal officials say their main focus is on hard drugs and opioids.

6/7/21  An NIJ-funded study revealed that persons who were cognitively and physically impaired by marijuana passed blood, urine and oral tests designed to detect pot’s main components. Common field sobriety tests in current use were found equally ineffective.

4/4/21  New York State has legalized recreational pot. Citizens age 21 can now possess three ounces, and regulations that will permit cultivation and retail distribution will be in place by next year. Officials have high hopes that marijuana taxes will bring in $350 million per year. But Assemblyman Keith Brown (R-L.I.) bemoaned the move: “I am deeply concerned about the potential impacts legalizing marijuana will have on young adults and our quality of life in New York state.”

3/12/21   “Cannabis use disorder” (use that leads to psychological impairment) is commonplace. But discontinuing the use of marijuana can be difficult. According to NIJ, psychosocial treatments that address “the patterns, thoughts, and external triggers” that lead to its use have proven effective.

2/23/21  New Jersey joined the ranks of thirteen States and D.C. to legalize recreational marijuana. Adults can possess up to six ounces, but growing pot remains forbidden. Underage use and other violations will be treated as a civil offense. A “regulated market” is in time expected to bring millions into the struggling State’s coffers. (See 7/3/23 update)

2/2/21  Oregon’s first-in-the-nation law that decriminalizes possession of personal use amounts of all drugs went into effect. Possession is a civil offense, punishable by a $100 fine. Emphasis will be on prevention and treatment, which will be greatly enhanced with proceeds from the state’s marijuana tax. Possession of larger amounts of drugs and their sale remain crimes (See 11/24 entry.)

1/13/21  On January 12 the 3rd. Circuit Court of Appeal overruled a District Court decision that allowed “Safehouse,” a Philadelphia non-profit, to open a “supervised injection site” where users inject illegal drugs under medical supervision. According to the Court, such sites, which are open and regulated in portions of Canada and Europe, and have been proposed in the U.S., violate Federal drug laws.

1/11/21  New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s third attempt to legalize recreational pot is supported by civil rights advocates who complain drug laws have proven systemically racist. But some liberally-inclined groups oppose the idea, which they claim would benefit wealthy businesspersons but cause more impaired driving and increase the use of high-potency marijuana products by youth.

1/3/21  Illinois legalized recreational pot in 2020. In September the state’s 67 licensees (there are plans for more than twice the number) sold $68 million of recreational pot and passed on $20 million in state taxes, nearly as much as for liquor. As the year ended Governor Pritzker also pardoned 9,210 “low-level” pot convictions and 492,000 misdemeanor marijuana arrest records were expunged.

12/5/20  While a similar move is thought unlikely in the Senate, the U.S. House of Representatives comfortably passed a bill that decriminalizes marijuana, expunges pot-related Federal convictions, and provides financial assistance for “low-income and minority” marijuana businesses.

11/24/20  As drug overdoses rise throughout the U.S. during the pandemic, Oregon may be hard-pressed to provide the treatment mandated by its first-in-the-Nation measure that decriminalizes the possession of small quantities of hard drugs. Some also worry that the State’s drug users will now be less motivated to sober up. But supporters of the measure counter that making drugs illegal never helped. (See 2/2/21 entry)

11/5/20  With voters in Arizona, New Jersey, South Dakota and Montana voting “yes,” fifteen states now allow marijuana’s recreational use, and 36 permit its medical use. Meanwhile Oregon became the first state to partly decriminalize hard drugs, giving persons caught with single-user amounts of heroin, meth and other substances the option to pay a $100 non-criminal fine and enroll in drug treatment.

8/9/20  Anxieties brought on by the coronavirus lockdown are helping recreational marijuana sales “soar” in Illinois. Preexisting users are also turning to pot more frequently. Thanks to the Governor’s labeling of dispensaries as “essential,” the State also profits. In the Tribune’s long article, there’s no mention of pot’s use by teens, nor of any possibly negative health consequences.

6/3/20 Washington state legalized recreational pot in 2012. An academic study that explores police attitudes reveals that they’re not necessarily for recriminalizing it. However, officers report greater use by youth, more “drugged driving,” and a heavier workload due to more pot-related “nuisance” calls.

3/5/20 A San Francisco-area Superior Court panel ruled that California’s legalization of recreational marijuana means that police who stop a vehicle cannot search it based on the odor of pot, or on an occupant’s possession of a legal amount.

1/4/20 An academic study in Denver post-marijuana legalization reported statistically significant increases in property crime, and non-significant increases in disorder and drug crime, for areas with retailers of recreational marijuana. Violent crime did not change. No effects were noted in connection with medical marijuana outlets.

8/29/19 Two years after California legalized pot, illegal marijuana farms run by Mexican cartels besiege the state’s forests, causing major ecological damage and threatening wildlife with dangerous pesticides. Meanwhile a profusion of illegal pot shops in L.A.’s low income areas is blamed for worsening violence and decay (a deadly shooting took place in one this day). Advocates claim the fix lies in more legal more shops, but “most cities” refuse to license them altogether.

3/28/19 Concerns by black legislators about pot’s effects on inner cities and their youth helped torpedo its legalization in New Jersey. A recent Colorado study reported that its legalization has been associated with its increased involvement in fatal accidents (p. 50) and with increases in emergency room visits (pp. 79-80). Colorado youth are also significantly more likely to use marijuana than the national average (pp. 119-120). A new study by the Insurance Information Institute indicates that marijuana legalization may be leading to more impaired driving, thus more accidents.

10/17/18 Canada became the first major country to legalize pot, including for recreational use. Its move was criticized by the nation’s medical association, which called it an “uncontrolled experiment” that valued private profit over “the health of Canadians.”

7/22/18 A recent study about medical marijuana and SMI (serious mental illness) published in the International Review of Psychiatry concluded that “liberal laws” and “past year cannabis use” were “significantly associated with higher prevalence of SMI”.



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