- Published on 26 August 2014
- Written by Paul Armentano, NORML deputy director
The enactment of medicinal marijuana laws is associated with significantly lower state-level opioid overdose mortality rates, according to data published online today in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Internal Medicine.
A team of investigators from the University of Pennsylvania, the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore conducted a time-series analysis of medical cannabis laws and state-level death certificate data in the United States from 1999 to 2010 — a period during which 13 states instituted laws allowing for cannabis therapy.
Researchers reported, “States with medical cannabis laws had a 24.8% lower mean annual opioid overdose mortality rate compared with states without medical cannabis laws.” Specifically, overdose deaths from opioids decreased by an average of 20 percent one year after the law’s implementation, 25 percent by two years, and up to 33 percent by years five and six.
They concluded, “In an analysis of death certificate data from 1999 to 2010, we found that states with medical cannabis laws had lower mean opioid analgesic overdose mortality rates compared with states without such laws. This finding persisted when excluding intentional overdose deaths (ie, suicide), suggesting that medical cannabis laws are associated with lower opioid analgesic overdose mortality among individuals using opioid analgesics for medical indications. Similarly, the association between medical cannabis laws and lower opioid analgesic overdose mortality rates persisted when including all deaths related to heroin, even if no opioid analgesic was present, indicating that lower rates of opioid analgesic overdose mortality were not offset by higher rates of heroin overdose mortality. Although the exact mechanism is unclear, our results suggest a link between medical cannabis laws and lower opioid analgesic overdose mortality.”
In a written statement to Reuters Health, lead author Dr. Marcus Bachhuber said: “Most of the discussion on medical marijuana has been about its effect on individuals in terms of reducing pain or other symptoms. The unique contribution of our study is the finding that medical marijuana laws and policies may have a broader impact on public health.”
Added co-author Colleen L. Barry in USA Today: “[The study's findings] suggest the potential for many lives to be saved. … We can speculate … that people are completely switching or perhaps supplementing, which allows them to lower the dosage of their prescription opioid.”
Nationwide, overdose deaths involving opioid analgesics have increased dramatically over the past decade. While fewer than 4,100 opiate-induced fatalities were reported for the year 1999, by 2010 this figure rose to over 16,600 according to an analysis by the US Centers for Disease Control.
An abstract of the JAMA study, “Medical Cannabis Laws and Opioid Analgesic Overdose Mortality in the United States, 1999-2010,” see online here.
Also see Recent Research on Medical Marijuana & Chronic Pain in NORML's Library Chronic Pain link
- Published on 03 August 2014
- Written by Paul Armentano
It’s easy to see why. The agency’s lack of credibility when it comes to all matters marijuana has now reached the point where it is simply no longer a participant in the ongoing public conversation surrounding pot policy. Writing on WashingtonPost.com, contributor Christopher Ingraham appropriately castigated the White House’s rebuttal as “incredibly poor” and “misleading.” The federal government’s case against marijuana reform is “surprisingly weak,” Ingraham criticized. “It's built on half-truths and radically decontextualized facts.”
The editors at the New York Times, who were the target of the White Houses’s screed, were equally unimpressed, responding that the Drug Czar’s office was more obligatory than sincere. “The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy is required by statute to oppose all efforts to legalize any banned drug,” the Times David Firestone acknowledged, adding that the agency’s anti-pot stance is not an articulation of a scientific opinion but rather it is a public expression of a legally mandated ideology.
Both Ingraham and Firestone are correct, of course. America’s longstanding drug war mentality – a mentality that forbids the nation’s top anti-drug cop from even publically acknowledging the objective fact that pot poses fewer risks to health than crack cocaine, methamphetamine, or heroin – commands that marijuana policy be based upon rhetoric, not rationality.
“Marijuana legalization is not the silver bullet solution to the issue,” the Drug Czar’s office purported in its rebuttal to The New York Times, as if they or anyone else ever suggested that it was. The agency goes on to warn that heavy cannabis consumption by young people may be associated with poorer academic achievement, ignoring the reality that the Times and other proponents of marijuana regulation explicitly advocate for the imposition of 21-and-over age restrictions. Indeed, it is the imposition and enforcement of age restrictions – coupled with science-based educational campaigns targeting young people – that have directly led to the historic reductions in young people’s use of alcohol and tobacco, the latter of which is at a historic low and is far less popular among teens than is use of the illegal herb.
The ONDCP also revisits the tired arguments that pot may induce dependence in a minority of users (estimated by the Institute of Medicine and others to be approximately 9 percent). But the agency fails to put this figure in context – neglecting to acknowledge that this percentage is similar to that of anxiolytics and is far lower than the dependence liability associated with other substances like alcohol (15 percent) and tobacco (32 percent). Yet, under federal law, marijuana is classified as a schedule I drug – which, by definition, means that it possesses the highest potential for abuse of any controlled substance. Meanwhile, both alcohol and tobacco remain unclassified under the federal Controlled Substances Act.
Predictably, the agency also conjures up the specter of ‘stoned driving’ – a legitimate concern, but also one that is already adequately addressed by traffic safety laws criminalizing the behavior. “Marijuana … is the illicit drug most frequently found to be involved in automobile accidents, including fatal ones,” the ONDCP warned, implying that cannabis is a significant cause of fatal car crashes rather than simply a substance often detected in the blood or urine of motorists. (Because THC or its metabolite may be present in the blood or urine of users for several days post-abstinence, it is far more often detected than other substances which possess far shorter half-lives.) Yet the federal government’s own research on the subject largely downplays the impact of cannabis’ adverse effect on psychomotor performance, finding “The effects of low doses of THC … on … general driving proficiency are minimal when taken alone.”
More recently, a recent meta-analysis of 66 studies assessing drug positive drivers and crash risk concluded that marijuana-positive drivers possessed an odds-adjusted risk of traffic injury of 1.10 and an odds-adjusted risk of fatal accident of 1.26. This risk level was among the lowest of any drugs assessed by the study’s author and it was comparable to the odds ratio associated with penicillin (OR=1.12), anti-histamines (OR=1.12), and antidepressants (OR=1.35). To put cannabis’ odds ratios in context, a separate study published earlier this year in the journal Injury Prevention reported that drivers with a BAC of 0.01 percent are "46 percent more likely (OR = 1.46) to be officially blamed for a crash than are the sober drivers they collide with."
The agency concludes by, once again, calling for a kinder, gentler drug war – making it clear that the White House is not open to the enactment of, or even the consideration of, any substantive alternatives. “The Obama Administration continues to oppose legalization of marijuana and other illegal drugs because it flies in the face of a public health approach to reducing drug use and its consequences.” Yet, marijuana criminalization, by its very definition, is not nor has it ever been a public health initiative. Rather, it is a destructive policy that results in hundreds of thousands of criminal arrests and prosecutions annually and compromises the very credibility of both lawmakers and the law. It makes no sense from a public health perspective, a fiscal perspective, or a moral perspective to perpetuate the prosecution and stigmatization of those adults who choose to responsibly consume a substance that is objectively safer than either alcohol or tobacco.
“Any discussion on the issue should be guided by science and evidence, not ideology and wishful thinking,” the White House concludes. On this point, we all agree. Too bad the Feds can no longer even recognize the difference.
- Published on 18 July 2014
- Written by Erik Altieri, NORML Communications Director
Washington, DC: Proponents of a District initiative to permit the possession and cultivation of limited amounts of marijuana by those age 21 or older have turned in 57,000 signatures to the DC Board of Elections. The number is more the twice the total of signatures from registered voters necessary to place the measure on the 2014 electoral ballot.
District of Columbia election officials will meet in mid-August to certify the measure for the ballot.
The proposed ballot initiative (Initiative Measure 71) seeks to remove all criminal and civil penalties in regard to the adult possession of up to two ounces of cannabis and/or the cultivation of up to six plants (no more than three mature).
Nearly two out of three District residents favor legalizing the possession and use of marijuana by adults, according to a January 2014 Washington Post poll.
Even if approved by District voters this fall, members of the DC City Council still possess the authority to amend the measure. Members of Congress could also potentially halt the law's implementation. Federal lawmakers possess oversight regarding the implementation of all District laws.
This spring, DC city council members approved legislation reducing minor marijuana possession offenses to a $25 civil fine. That ordinance is expected to take effect later this month. However, federal legislation seeking to undermine this measure is presently pending in the US House of Representatives.