How do you reason with someone who says that cannabis is “only slightly less awful than heroin”: with facts, with statistics, and with research. In an attempt to refute the claims coming out of Trump’s Whitehouse, we will be exploring the truth behind the effects of cannabis legalization on the U.S.
Despite recent efforts by the Trump Administration and Attorney General Jeff Sessions to interfere with states that have passed and implemented their own cannabis laws, market research reports predict that marijuana legalization will continue to spread throughout the U.S., with one report even suggesting it will reach all 50 states by 2021.
A recent segment on Fox News featuring Medical Marijuana, Inc. addressed Sessions promised crackdown on legal marijuana and the pushback he has seen from advocacy groups, cannabis business leaders, and even a bipartisan group of lawmakers and governors. In the piece, CEO of Medical Marijuana, Inc. investment Kannalife™ Sciences Dean Petkanas argued for states to be allowed to work with the free market to create a robust, functional, and safe industry, and that “decriminalizing marijuana will promote a ‘smooth and organized marketplace’”.
Far from the stereotype of the lazy, good-for-nothing stoner, it appears that most cannabis users are well-educated and fully employed, and the money these consumers are spending is fueling growth and filling tax coffers in states around the country.
However, Sessions still challenges the idea that cannabis legalization can benefit the country. Sessions has even made it clear in the past that he is “dubious” about the benefits of medical marijuana, going against the beliefs of most Americans. Cannabis has shown to possess therapeutic properties in decades of research, including a massive research review conducted earlier this year by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.
Trump’s Attorney General Jeff Sessions has left no doubts about where he stands on cannabis legalization and has even taken active steps to make it easier for the Justice Department to prosecute those functioning legally under state cannabis regulations.
In a letter to Congress in May stating that cannabis increases drug abuse and crime, Sessions asked lawmakers to remove federal protections for state legal cannabis businesses. Sessions requested that Congress abolish the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment, which prevents the use of federal funds to interfere in states passing or implementing medical marijuana policies. First passed in 2014, the amendment protects medical marijuana businesses and patients from federal prosecution. Even with Sessions’ urging against it, the spending budget passed in May renewed the amendment through September, giving cannabis businesses protection for the time being.
Here are just a few of the untruths that Jeff Sessions and the rest of the Trump administration has relied on in their condemnation of cannabis.
A common refrain from among prohibitionists is that cannabis legalization will increase teen drug use due to increased access and a belief that marijuana is harmless.
A recent Gallup poll shows that almost half of American adults have tried cannabis at least once in their lives, with Baby Boomers and Generation X aged adults as the largest generational groups for cannabis experimentation.
However, despite this rise in adult cannabis use and contrary to the claims of many cannabis prohibitionists, cannabis legalization does not increase drug use among teens. In fact, the opposite appears to be true, and legalization trends seem to reduce teen cannabis use.
According to findings in a study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, cannabis use by young people has decreased as marijuana legalization has expanded throughout the United States. Federal investigators from the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration examined the rates of cannabis use among adolescents aged 12 to 17 between the years 2002 and 2014.
“In the United States, compared to 2002, even after adjusting for covariates, cannabis use decreased among youth during 2005-2014, and cannabis use disorder declined among youth cannabis users during 2013-2014,” the investigators concluded.
The prevalence of past-year cannabis use fell by 17 percent (from 15.8 percent in 2002 to 13.1 percent in 2014) during the time period, and the prevalence of problematic use by adolescents fell by 25 percent (from 27 percent in 2002 to 20.4 percent in 2014), with the downward trend beginning in 2011 before the first state legalized recreational marijuana, hinting that teens were already turning away from cannabis use before legalization.
A common argument among opponents to marijuana legalization is the potential negative impact on use by teens. However, as we’ve published time and time and time again, studies have found that legalization has had zero negative impact on the prevalence of adolescent marijuana use.
Prohibitionists like Sessions also often claim that cannabis is bad for the health of Americans, using scare tactics like claims that cannabis use can damage the lungs, harm the brain, and even cause death. However, research published in reputable medical journals demonstrate that these claims simply are not true. In fact, cannabis consumers seem to be healthier, wealthier, and more active outdoors than non-consumers.
Even the DEA has acknowledged that no one has ever died of a cannabis overdose. “No deaths from overdose of marijuana have been reported,” writes the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) in its new 2017 resource guide, Drugs of Abuse.
Cannabis cannot cause a fatal overdose because it doesn’t have any effect on the brainstem, the posterior part of the brain that controls core functions like breathing and heart rate. Instead, cannabinoids interact with cannabinoid receptors found on cells within the immune system and the central and peripheral nervous systems.
As the National Cancer Institute states: “Because cannabinoid receptors, unlike opioid receptors, are not located in the brainstem areas controlling respiration, lethal doses from cannabis and cannabinoids do not occur.”
The fact that there are no reported deaths due to cannabis overdose means that marijuana is safer than both alcohol and opioids. Alcohol poisoning, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, claims the lives of an average of 6 Americans each day. Prescription opioids, commonly used to treat pain, cause an average of 62 deaths per day.
Regardless of the evidence standing against him, Sessions continues to argue that drug abuse is caused by marijuana use. Sessions’ attempt to link legal medical cannabis and the “historic drug epidemic” is unsupportable and completely inaccurate. Americans also largely disagree with Sessions on the safety of cannabis and opioids. In a poll this year, Americans overwhelmingly view marijuana as safer than opioids.
It’s true that the nation is facing a serious drug abuse problem. Drug overdose deaths in the U.S. in 2016 exceeded an estimated 59,000, a 19 percent jump from the year before. However, this public health issue is predominantly caused by addiction and overdose of opioid substances – many of which begin as a medication prescribed by doctors. Every day in the U.S., 91 people die from an opioid overdose, with about 1,000 people treated in emergency rooms for not using prescription opioids as directed.
Even though Sessions is intent on fighting the war on drugs and the opioid epidemic through attacks on legal cannabis, his actions may end up hurting his cause, pushing more patients to deadly opioids for their treatment.
“Maybe Sessions should spend more time cracking down on pill mills and the illicit use of opioids rather than outlawing cannabis,” Petkanas told Fox News.
It has also been shown that cannabis use is not associated to with negative changes in brain structure. Researchers from the University of Colorado, Boulder, and the Oregon Health & Science University investigated neuroimaging data among adults between the ages of 18 and 55 years and adolescents between the ages of 14 to 18 years that use alcohol or marijuana. They found alcohol consumption to be associated with lower gray matter volume and poorer white matter integrity. These negative structural measures, however, were not observed in the adults and adolescents that had used cannabis within the past 30 days, hinting that it is not cannabis but alcohol that presents the higher risk to America’s health.
It is a popular belief in Trump’s administration that cannabis legalization will increase crime rates in states that pass it. However, once again the research portrays a radically different picture.
Sessions has written an op-ed piece in the Washington Post to justify his more hardline approach against drug offenses. In it, he argued that violent crime in the U.S. has surged as a result of the previous administration’s policies, and that the only way to address it is to jail more drug offenders and impose harsher sentences. Statistics, however, show otherwise. According to data released by the FBI, between 1993 and 2015, violent crime plummeted by 50 percent.
One study has instead found that cannabis shops make neighborhoods safer by reducing crime in the immediate area. Researchers at University of California, Irvine found that the closure of dispensaries caused about a 12 percent increase in crime in the surrounding area. The findings directly oppose the common misconception that cannabis dispensaries contribute to local crime.
“Given all the pretty strong rhetoric about dispensaries generating or at least attracting crime, it was not the result we expected,” said Mireille Jacobson, a health economics professor at UCI and one of the study’s authors. “But I feel comfortable saying it’s very unlikely that these places are crime magnets.”
Within a third of a mile surrounding a closed dispensary, property crimes increased by 12 to 14 percent. At a fourth of a mile out, low-level crimes increased by 14 to 16 percent. Even closer in, at an eighth of a mile, crime jumped 23 to 24 percent once dispensaries closed.
Not only does the cannabis industry seem to dissuade local crime, but it also feeds resources into local and state economies.
Benefits of Tax Revenue and Jobs
The U.S. cannabis industry has already become a major job generator. According to a newly published market research report from Marijuana Business Daily, the nation’s cannabis industry has so far generated 165,000 to 230,000 full- and part-time jobs, up from 100,000 to 150,000 jobs last year.
“To put this in perspective, there are now more marijuana industry workers than there are bakers and massage therapists in the United States,” reads the report.
These jobs cover a range of businesses, including cannabis retailers, wholesale grows, testing labs, infused products and concentrates companies, and ancillary firms servicing the larger cannabis industry.
California’s upcoming recreational market alone is expected to generate up to $5 billion in annual retail sales. This would more than double the nation’s entire legal cannabis industry in 2016. The impact on businesses and employment in the state is expected to be significant.
“The increase in retail sales over the next five years will provide a substantial economic boost for the United States,” the report reads. One piece of market research predicts that cannabis will add $70 billion to the U.S. economy by 2021.
Cannabis taxes are already being used in states with legalized cannabis use to improve the quality of life for citizens there. States with legalized adult use marijuana are expected to generate $1.4 billion from cannabis-specific taxes, licenses and fees in 2017, according to the latest annual report from New Frontier Data.
Marijuana tax surpluses have been used by Colorado to establish grants to help combat bullying in schools and feed and house the homeless community. Pueblo County in Colorado is using their tax revenue to give students in need in the county the opportunity to attend college. The fund has already given out $420,000 in scholarships.
For the four governors in states with active marijuana markets, that tax revenue is clearly worth fighting for. After officials in the Trump administration alluded to greater enforcement of federal prohibitions on marijuana, the four collectively sent an open letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, urging them to not interfere with their adult use programs.
Andrew Hard, CEO of Medical Marijuana Inc.’s PR firm CMW Media, told Fox News that Sessions’ renewed war on cannabis is a “personal vendetta” that doesn’t match growing public opinion on marijuana legalization.
A clear majority of Americans want the federal government to allow states to run their cannabis industries free from interference. A nationwide Survey USA poll, commissioned by Marijuana Majority, found that 76 percent of Americans want states to operate free from federal government interference. Only 14 percent said that the Trump administration should intervene.
This shift in opinion in favor of cannabis legalization has been felt among lawmakers as well. A group that includes Republican and Democrat senators recently reintroduced the CARERS Act, which would protect states with legalized cannabis from federal interference, reschedule cannabis to Schedule II, and veterans to access medical marijuana, among other changes.
Even those with a history within the Department of Justice disagree with Sessions. In an op-ed published July in the Washington Post, former acting Attorney General Sally Yates condemned Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ hardline approach against drug offenses. Yates briefly served as acting attorney general this year after working in the Justice Department as an assistant U.S. attorney, U.S. attorney, and deputy attorney general from 1989 to 2017.
“While there is always room to debate the most effective approach to criminal justice, that debate should be based on facts, not fear. It’s time to move past the campaign-style rhetoric of being ‘tough’ or ‘soft’ on crime. Justice and the safety of our communities depend on it,” Yates wrote.
Facts, not fear, should be the basis of America’s approach to cannabis. Unfortunately, with the current administration, that does not seem to be the case. While the Justice Department searches for a way to prosecute legal marijuana businesses across the U.S., everyday Americans are being arrested and jailed for even small amounts of cannabis, even as support for America’s war on marijuana dwindles.
You can help by showing your support for cannabis legalization both locally and nationally. Contact your local, state, and federal lawmakers and inform them on the outstanding benefits cannabis provides for our country. You can also reach out to advocacy groups like Americans for Safe Access to donate your time or resources to changing attitudes towards marijuana.
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