Researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles examined participants who smoke or have smoked tobacco cigarettes, and divided them into three groups: current, former or never pot smokers.
The authors of the study said that limited “data are available regarding marijuana smoking’s impact on development or progression of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in middle-aged or older adults with a variable history of tobacco cigarette smoking.”
“We compared [current marijuana smokers], [former marijuana smokers] and [never marijuana smokers], and those with varying amounts of lifetime marijuana use. Mixed effects linear regression models were used to analyze changes in spirometry, symptoms, health status and radiographic metrics; zero-inflated negative binomial models were used for exacerbation rates,” the research team wrote.
Most participants were followed for four years or more, according to the researchers, who wrote that “incident COPD, respiratory symptoms, health status, radiographic extent of emphysema or air trapping, and total or severe exacerbations were not different between [current marijuana smokers] or [former marijuana smokers] versus [never marijuana smokers] or between those with any lifetime amount of marijuana use versus [never marijuana smokers].”
In their concluding analysis, the researchers wrote: “In a cohort of ever-tobacco smokers of ≥20 pack-years with established COPD or at risk of developing COPD followed over an average of more than 4 years, a history of current and/or former smoking of marijuana of any cumulative lifetime amount was not found to be associated with a significantly deleterious impact on progression of COPD. Among ever-tobacco smokers in the same cohort without COPD at enrollment, self-reported current and/or former concomitant marijuana smoking, including heavy marijuana smoking, was not found to be associated with an increased risk of subsequently developing COPD. However, in view of our study’s limitations and of previously published findings that conflict with our results, additional studies with a larger sample size and longer duration of follow-up that are specifically designed to evaluate this issue are needed for a better understanding of potential long-term effects of marijuana smoking in persons with or at risk of developing COPD.”
NORML’s Deputy Director Paul Armentano touted the findings from the UCLA study, which was published this month in Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Diseases.
“These results are consistent with decades worth of data finding that cannabis smoke exposure is not associated with the same sort of deleterious pulmonary impact as is tobacco smoke exposure,” Armentano said. “They should be reassuring to cannabis consumers and to health professionals alike, and they should help to guide future policies with respect to the crafting of evidence-based public health messages and associated regulations.”
NORML noted that the findings “are consistent with those of prior studies concluding that cannabis inhalation, even long-term, is not positively associated with COPD, lung cancer, or irreversible airway damage,” and added that “the use of vaporization technology, which heats herbal cannabis to a set temperature below the point of combustion, is associated with reduced exposure to toxic gasses and has been identified as a ‘safe and effective’ cannabis delivery device in clinical trial settings.”
In one of the studies cited by NORML, researchers from Great Britain in 2018 said that the “available literature fails to support an association between cannabis smoke exposure and the onset of COPD, emphysema, lung cancer, shortness of breath, or irreversible airway damage,” although they did “identify a link between marijuana inhalation and more frequent cough, sputum production, wheezing, and chronic bronchitis – though they acknowledged that these symptoms largely cease upon quitting.”
“The long-term respiratory effects of cannabis differ from traditional smoking,” the researchers wrote, as quoted by NORML. “[C]annabis smoking does not appear to be carcinogenic.”
NORML recently announced that according to a PubMed.gov keyword search, there were more than 4,300 scientific research papers published about cannabis in 2022. In 2021, there were an estimated 4,200 papers published; over the last 12 years, more than 30,000 research papers have now been published; and in total, there are approximately 42,500 scientific papers exploring cannabis.
While it’s common to hear opponents of cannabis state that more research is necessary before legalization can occur, NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano released a statement to counter that argument. “Despite claims by some that marijuana has yet to be subject to adequate scientific scrutiny, scientists’ interest in studying cannabis has increased exponentially in recent years, as has our understanding of the plant, its active constituents, their mechanisms of action, and their effects on both the user and upon society,” Armentano said. “It is time for politicians and others to stop assessing cannabis through the lens of ‘what we don’t know’ and instead start engaging in evidence-based discussions about marijuana and marijuana reform policies that are indicative of all that we do know.”
NORML compiled numerous scientific studies involving cannabis between 2000-2021, exploring findings from studies on a wide variety of medical conditions such as chronic pain, Huntington Disease, insomnia, Multiple Sclerosis, post-traumatic stress disorder, and so much more. The review analyzes the evolution of researcher’s scope of cannabis. “As clinical research into the therapeutic value of cannabinoids has proliferated so too has investigators’ understanding of cannabis’ remarkable capacity to combat disease,” NORML wrote. “Whereas researchers in the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s primarily assessed marijuana’s ability to temporarily alleviate various disease symptoms—such as the nausea associated with cancer chemotherapy—scientists today are exploring the potential role of cannabinoids to modulate disease.”
Cannabis is more mainstream than it has ever been before. President Joe Biden’s recent monumental signing of the Medical Marijuana and Cannabidiol Research Expansion Act which “establishes a new registration process for conducting research on marijuana and for manufacturing marijuana products for research purposes and drug development.” Biden also signed an infrastructure bill in 2021, which contained provisions for cannabis. It states that in two years, the Attorney General and Secretary of Health and Human Services must submit a report that addresses how researchers can receive increased samples of various strains, establishing a “national clearinghouse” that will help researchers better distribute cannabis products for research, and an increased amount of samples for researchers who don’t live in states with medical or adult-use cannabis legalization.
On the side, studies exploring the benefits of other psychedelic substances are also rising. One study in the journal Psychopharmacology found evidence that psilocybin can treat those with autism spectrum disorder. The University College of London released the results of a recent study as well, which analyzed brain imaging of consumers who attended psychedelic retreats. Another from the University of Melbourne explored how ayahuasca benefits outweigh the risks.
The hearing was led by Rep. Jamie Raskin (Chairman of the Subcommittee) and Rep. Nancy Mace (Ranking Member of the Subcommittee), and accompanied by questions from Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, Rep. Peter Anderson Sessions of Texas, Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York, Rep. Brian Higgins of New York, Rep. Alexandria Occasion Cortez of New York, Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (Delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives representing the District of Columbia), Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Rep. James Comer of Kentucky, and Rep. Robin Kelly of Illinois.
Witness speakers included Randal Woodfin (Mayor of Birmingham, Alabama), Paul Armentano (Deputy Director of NORML), Andrew Freedman (Executive Director of Coalition for Cannabis Policy, Education, and Regulation [CPEAR]), Eric Goepel (Founder and CEO of Veterans Cannabis Coalition), Keeda Haynes (Senior Legal Advisor of Free Hearts, who connected remotely), Amber Littlejohn (Senior Policy Advisor of Global Alliance for Cannabis Commerce, and Jillian Snider (Policy Director of Criminal Justice & Civil Liberties).
The discussion covered a wide variety of facts revolving around cannabis legalization, the failed War on Drugs, how Biden’s October announcement to pardon federal cannabis convictions requires state action to help people, the treatment of veterans who seek relief with cannabis, the potential of hemp as a building material (and the legal challenges connected to this).
NORML’s Armentano provided many powerful facts and statements regarding legalization and how the cannabis industry has affected black and brown people. “By descheduling cannabis, tens of millions of Americans who reside in states where cannabis is legal in some form, as well as the hundreds of thousands of people who work for the state-licensed industry that services them, will no longer face needless hurdles and discrimination—such as a lack of access to financial services, loans, insurance, 2nd Amendment rights, tax deductions, certain professional security clearances, and other privileges,” Armentano said.
R Street Institute’s Snider added that the country’s approach to legalization is messy due to the varied levels of regulation. “Proposed federal legislation indicates increased support for alternatives to federal cannabis prohibition, and this increased support is critical to provide clarity on the overall legal status of cannabis, as the current situation presents inconsistency and a quasi-legal conundrum,” Snider said. “The substance may be legal in one state and decriminalized in another, but because it is still prohibited at the federal level, users or possessors of the substance are subject to criminal penalty.”
Toward the later portion of the hearing, Raskin asked Armentano about his hope that Congress can come together to make legalization a reality. “So Mr. Armentano, do you think Congress can catch up with where a majority of the states are now in terms of medical marijuana and decriminalization and legalization, as [Mayor Woodfin] said. Do you think Congress will actually be able to do it? I know this hearing is a promising sign, but what do you think are the chances of actually doing this, in this session of congress or the next?”
Armentano replied, explaining that historically prohibition has never worked, whether you examine the history of alcohol prohibition, or that of cannabis. “Well my business card doesn’t say prognosticator, but one would hope that members of congress see the need to act swiftly,” Armentano explained. “Look, to use your analogy with alcohol prohibition, the federal government got out of the alcohol prohibition business when 10 states chose to go down a different path. The majority of U.S. states have now chosen to go down a different path with cannabis and is untenable to keep this chasm going between where the states are on this policy and where the federal government is. At the end of the day the federal government needs to come to a way to comport federal policy with state policy, and that’s by descheduling.”
Mace and Raskin provided conclusory statements based on what they heard during the hearing, and what they hope it will lead to in the very near future.
Mace condemned an earlier reference comparing cannabis to slavery. She addressed data that shows how black and brown people are four times more likely to be arrested for cannabis, and that its up to congress on both sides to address this issue. “I’m from South Carolina where the difference between rich and poor is often black and white, and cannabis is an area where we can work together on both sides of the aisle to prohibit more of those inequities from happening across our country and right the wrongs that have been going on for decades now,” Mace said. “And I would encourage my colleagues, Republican and Democrat on both sides of the aisle, to get on board with this issue. The American people are asking for it. Seventy percent of Americans support medical cannabis. Half, or more than half, support adult or recreational use across the country, whether they come from the red state of South Carolina to the blue state of California. East coast to west coast. Americans from all communities, all colors, all ages, support this issue. The only place it is controversial is here in the halls of the capital, and it’s wrong.”
Chairman Raskin concluded the hearing with his own statement, addressing the need for action from Congress. “Congress needs to catch up, and that’s what this hearing is about and that’s what I’ve learned today. If we knew our history better, if we all took the time to read into prohibition, we would see that America has been through this before. And it’s not that alcohol is like birthday cake, it’s not. We lose more than 100,000 people a year to alcohol-related illnesses, to alcohol-related fatalities on the highways, that needs to be regulated,” Raskin said.
“But the country had its experience with trying to criminalize alcohol. It didn’t work, and it caused much more severe problems and we know that is precisely the history we’re living through today, again, with marijuana, it needs to be regulated, it needs to be carefully controlled, but we should not be throwing people into prison for any period of time for one day because they smoke marijuana. It makes no sense. We should not be ruining people’s lives over this. I think the country has made its judgment, it’s time for Congress to catch up.”
A new study shows that medical marijuana can be an important tool for managing pain, providing patients with an alternative to opioids and reducing their use of the powerful but highly addictive painkillers. The study, which was published last month by the peer-reviewed journal Substance Use and Misuse, found that patients using medical cannabis reported being in less pain and could function better both physically and socially. The research also determined that patients taking oxycodone, codeine and other opioids were able to reduce their use of the medications by using medical cannabis.
Carolyn Pritchett, a neuroscientist and biological psychologist and the lead author of the study, said that the research could lead to safer options for treating acute or chronic pain for some patients.
“A large number of people feel the need to take opioid pain medication,” Pritchett said in a statement from Emerald Coast Research. “If there’s the option to instead use a medicine with less harmful side-effects, including a lower risk of overdose and death, then it should perhaps be considered. But more research, including studies that follow patients over time, is needed before substituting opioid painkillers for medical cannabis becomes commonplace.”
Study Included More Than 2,000 Medical Cannabis Patients
To conduct the study, researchers with the Florida State University College of Medicine collaborated with Emerald Coast Research, a contract research organization based in Florida, to perform a detailed survey of medical cannabis users after medical marijuana was legalized in the state in 2016. The team of researchers recruited 2,183 participants who were using medical cannabis to treat conditions including anxiety disorders, chronic pain, depression, insomnia and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Most patients were using medical cannabis daily. Most participants (95%) were between the ages of 20 and 70 years of age, more than 54% were female, 47% were employed and most (85%) were white.
Answers provided on the 66-question survey revealed that most patients (91%) found medical cannabis to be either very helpful or extremely helpful in treating their medical condition and nearly as many (89%) said that medical cannabis was very important or extremely important to their quality of life. Pain levels improved in 86% of participants, and 84% said that their medical conditions were not interfering with their normal social activities as much as before initiating medical cannabis use. More than half said that physical activities such as running and housework were less difficult with medical cannabis. More than two-thirds experienced at least one side effect, with dry mouth, drowsiness and increased appetite being among the most commonly reported.
79% of Patients Reduced or Eliminated Opioid Use
More than half (61%) of the participants were taking opioids before beginning medical marijuana. Of them, 71% had been taking opioid medications for at least two years. Further analysis of the survey data revealed that among the participants who had been taking opioids, 79% were able to reduce their use or eliminate the drugs altogether. The number of participants taking hydrocodone with acetaminophen (paracetamol) and oxycodone with acetaminophen, the two most commonly used opioids in the study, was reduced by five times.
The authors of the study, including two who have a financial interest in a medical marijuana company, said that the research suggests that when used under medical supervision, medicinal cannabis can be safely used instead of opioids to manage pain. Pritchett added how vital it is that the use of medical cannabis for pain relief be medically supervised.
“Like any other medicine with side-effects, patients should be regularly monitored and assessed for adverse events, abuse disorder and other issues,” she said.
Although opioids can be very effective at providing pain relief, they are highly addictive and potentially deadly when abused. In the United States, more than 932,000 people have died from a drug overdose since 1999, with nearly 75% of drug overdose deaths in 2020 involving an opioid, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Paul Armentano, the deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said that the safety of medical cannabis makes it an attractive alternative for many patients.
“Cannabis has established efficacy in the treatment of multiple conditions, including chronic pain, and it possesses a safety profile that is either comparable or superior to other controlled substances,” Armentano said in a statement about similar research. “So it is no wonder that those with legal access to it are substituting cannabis in lieu of other, potentially less effective and more harmful substances. As legal access continues to expand, one would expect the cannabis substitution effect to grow even more pronounced in the future.”
The new study, “Medical Cannabis Patients Report Improvements in Health Functioning and Reductions in Opiate Use,” was published online last month by the peer-reviewed journal Substance Use and Misuse.
Voters in five states will see recreational marijuana legalization proposals on their ballots for the November midterm elections, giving the cannabis community a chance to gain new ground in the movement to free the plant.
Activists in Arkansas, Missouri, North Dakota and South Dakota have successfully led campaigns to put an adult-use cannabis legalization initiative on the ballot in their states, while lawmakers in Maryland have turned to the voters for guidance with a referendum to legalize recreational marijuana. As the November election nears, the campaigns for reform are busy rallying the voters for support. And with the number of states that have legalized recreational marijuana approaching half the country, each new jurisdiction brings the country one step closer to comprehensive reform.
Brooke Butler, vice president of partnership at cannabis compliance tech company Simplifya, told Cannabis Now that in addition to giving voters a chance to weigh in on cannabis reform in their own states, the ballot measures in this year’s election can help inform policy and spur progress in other jurisdictions and at the national level.
“As we head into midterms, we’re going to see a number of cannabis ballot initiatives take center stage,” Butler said. “Ballot initiatives are one of the truest forms of democracy in action and a great barometer of where America stands on key issues. When it comes to cannabis, historically, Americans have said yes in overwhelming numbers.”
In Arkansas, voters will see Issue 4, a proposed initiative to amend the state’s constitution, on their ballots. If passed, the measure from Responsible Growth Arkansas would allow adults 21 and older to possess up to one ounce of cannabis and permit licensed dispensaries to sell recreational marijuana. Taxes raised on sales on adult-use cannabis would be used to fund hospitals and healthcare research, law enforcement and drug courts, which focus on reducing repeat offenses and substance abuse among nonviolent offenders with substance misuse disorders.
Polling by Talk Business & Politics-Hendrix College released last month showed that Arkansas’ legalization proposal was supported by 59% of likely voters, with just 29% opposed and 13% undecided. Brian Vicente, founding partner of the cannabis and psychedelics law firm Vicente Sederberg, said that the legalization of recreational marijuana in Arkansas would be a significant victory for the cannabis reform community. But provisions of the measure that favor the state’s existing medical marijuana industry have left segments of the movement unsatisfied with the legislation.
“A win for legalization in Arkansas would be seen as a major win for legalization advocates due to the fact that the current Governor Asa Hutchinson is a rabid prohibitionist who served as a chief architect of the nation’s Drug War when he was the head of the DEA,” Vicente noted. “However, this measure is the most controversial of the five ballot initiatives, since it provides a major benefit to the relatively small number of current medical marijuana business owners and only allows a very narrow path for new business entrants.”
Voters in Maryland will decide on Question 4, a referendum that would amend the state constitution to legalize marijuana for adults 21 years of age or older beginning in July 2023. The measure also directs the state legislature to pass laws for the use, distribution, regulation and taxation of marijuana. Currently, marijuana is legal for medicinal use in Maryland under a 2013 law, while possession of 10 grams or less of cannabis was decriminalized in 2014. Question 4 is overwhelmingly supported by Maryland voters, with a poll from The Washington Post and the University of Maryland showing 73% in favor of the proposal.
In July, California firm The Parent Company, home of Jay-Z’s Monogram brand, announced that it would be entering Maryland’s medical marijuana market through a partnership with Curio Wellness. TPCO CEO Troy Datcher said that if Question 4 succeeds, the company will be well-positioned to grow with the state’s newly legal market for adult-use cannabis. As might be expected, Datcher told Cannabis Now in an email that “TPCO is in favor of passage of Question 4.”
“Cannabis criminalization in Maryland has been a major public policy failure and has resulted in the disproportionate incarceration of communities of color,” said Datcher. “It is critical that the state take a new direction, particularly as many of its neighboring states begin adopting adult-use programs. In addition, legalizing cannabis in Maryland would stimulate the state’s economy and create tens of thousands of new jobs for locals.”
Midterm election ballots in Missouri will include Amendment 3, which would change the state constitution to legalize the possession, use, sale and delivery of marijuana for personal use and sets a 6% tax on commercial cannabis sales. The proposal, advanced by Legal Missouri 2022, also includes provisions for the expungement of certain marijuana-related convictions. Polling on Amendment 3 is mixed, with a survey commissioned by the Missouri Scout in early September finding only 43% of respondents in support of Amendment 3, compared to 47% against and 10% undecided. However, a SurveyUSA poll conducted only days later found that 62% of voters were “certain to vote yes” on Amendment 3.
Mark Toigo, CEO of Organic Remedies Missouri (ORMO), said that his company supports the ballot measure, noting that polling has shown that a significant majority of the state’s residents support legalizing adult-use cannabis. But the state legislature has failed to act in accordance with the will of the people. Noting that the initiative campaign collected more than 400,000 signatures from supporters, Toigo believes the whole state will benefit if the measure is approved.
“If the ballot question receives a majority vote it will transform the Missouri cannabis industry into one of the strongest in the country. With existing infrastructure, a well-trained workforce, and some of the best brands in cannabis already established in the Missouri Medical Marijuana program, Missouri will be positioned to no longer lose its tax revenue to states like Illinois and Oklahoma,” Toigo explained in an email. “Legal Mo 22 ensures sustained job creation, economic development and revenue flow to Missouri, while also righting the wrongs of cannabis’ past prohibition and providing ample opportunities for those most harmed by the failed war on drugs.”
Statutory Measure 2 in North Dakota would legalize recreational marijuana for adults 21 and older and permit the home cultivation of up to three cannabis plants. Retail sales of marijuana would be permitted by the measure, although the initiative includes a cap of 18 dispensaries and seven production facilities. The measure also requires the state Department of Health and Human Services to enact regulations governing commercial cannabis cultivation, manufacturing and sales by October 1, 2023. Although statewide polling data is not available, a poll of southwestern North Dakota residents in July found that only 39% supported the marijuana legalization initiative from New Approach North Dakota, while 43% were opposed and 18% were indifferent. A similar effort in 2018 failed at the polls, with 59% voting against the measure and 41% in favor. But the campaign manager for both efforts, David Owen, believes this year might be different.
Voters in neighboring South Dakota will also have the opportunity to legalize recreational marijuana in November. If they vote in favor of the measure, it wouldn’t be the first time. A 2020 ballot measure to legalize adult-use cannabis passed with 54% of the vote, but a legal challenge supported by Gov. Kristi Noem led to the state Supreme Court invalidating the measure on procedural grounds. The vote on this year’s proposal, Initiated Measure 27, could be closer than two years ago, with the results uncertain as election day approaches. A South Dakota State University poll released on October 14 showed that 45% were in favor of the legalization bid and 47% against, with 8% undecided.
If Measure 27 prevails on election day, possession and use of cannabis and marijuana paraphernalia will be legalized. Adults 21 and older would be permitted to possess or distribute up to one ounce of marijuana. Those living in a jurisdiction without a licensed marijuana retailer would be allowed to grow up to three cannabis plants in a secure location. Attorney Vicente says legalization in the Dakotas could put additional pressure on lawmakers in Congress to finally achieve national marijuana reform.
“Despite their small populations (both Dakotas have more cows than people), legalization votes in these states could move the needle in a profound way at the federal level,” Vicente wrote in an email. “Upon their states’ voting to legalize, the four U.S. Senators representing the Dakotas would be faced with an important decision—do they continue to vote to uphold federal prohibition and criminalize their own constituents, or do they join the growing number of voices in the Senate who are looking to legalize.”
How Will Legalization Efforts Fare in 2022?
With just weeks to go before the midterm elections on November 8, pollsters and pundits are closely watching the marijuana legalization proposals in Arkansas, Maryland, Missouri, North Dakota and South Dakota. Beyond their intended effect on each state’s respective cannabis policy, the ballot measures could also affect other races on those ballots. Ellen Mellody, vice president at cannabis public relations firm Mattio Communications and a former spokesperson for the Obama-Biden campaigns, said that the marijuana legalization measures on the ballot this year are likely to spur turnout among prospective voters who support cannabis legalization efforts. Additionally, she noted that President Joseph Biden’s recent announcement that he would pardon federal convictions for marijuana possession, which she termed a “brilliant move” that is “likely to pay out dividends,” could also boost turnout and encourage voters to support Democratic candidates and bolster efforts to legalize cannabis at the federal level.
“These ballot initiatives will absolutely swing results in certain states and districts, and the pollsters are finally catching on. At the federal level, it’s unlikely the timing of Biden’s announcement last week was an accident,” Mellody wrote in an email to Cannabis Now. “Even in red states Arkansas, Missouri and South Dakota, you’re seeing numbers come in at over 50 percent. It’s no wonder why more electeds at the federal level are hopping on the legalization bus. At a minimum, the results of these initiatives should solidify that the dam is breaking.”
With polling showing that at least three of the cannabis policy reform measures on the ballot are likely to succeed, it’s becoming clear that this year’s election will make new strides in the efforts to end the prohibition of marijuana in the United States. A clean sweep similar to 2020, when voters in all five states deciding on cannabis legalization measures approved the efforts, would be a significant victory for the movement. Datcher of TPCO said that if cannabis policy reform measures post a strong showing next month, it would reenergize efforts to pass comprehensive national marijuana legalization.
“If all five measures pass, the number of states that have legalized adult-use cannabis will increase from 19 to 24, nearly half of the states in the country,” he said. “We are thus getting increasingly close to a ‘tipping point’ where we will hopefully see meaningful movement at the federal level.”
But even if all five states are added to the recreational marijuana fold, activists warn the progress won’t necessarily be the end of story in those states. In addition to South Dakota’s invalidation of the successful 2020 measure, the Mississippi Supreme Court also struck down a medical marijuana legalization initiative that passed the same year. And Paul Armentano, the deputy director National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, noted that several of this year’s ballot measures faced opposition and efforts to keep them off the ballot. The tactic worked in Oklahoma, where voters will have to wait until 2024 to decide on State Question 820. In September, the state Supreme Court ruled that the recreational marijuana legalization measure would not appear on the November ballot, despite the campaign’s adherence to the state’s regulatory guidance and deadlines.
“With public support for marijuana policy reform reaching super-majority status in recent years, prohibitionists and other political opponents have largely abandoned efforts to try and influence public opinion,” Armentano said in a statement from the agency. “Rather, they are now relying on anti-democratic gamesmanship to prevent voters from weighing in on the issue.”
On November 9, the day after this year’s midterm elections, the cannabis community is sure to have new wins to celebrate. But the parties should be tempered with a realization that the job is not yet done. More than half the states in the nation will still have bans on adult-use cannabis, and prohibitionists will regroup to stand their ground, dwindling as it is. To maintain progress once the ballots are counted, the cannabis community must celebrate the victories, assess the failures and stay vigilant for the fight ahead.
Ever heard the old adage, “don’t knock it ‘til you try it’? Gallup’s latest polling data seems to support that concept, showing that 70% of American adults—the ones who have actually tried it—think its effects on users are positive.
These results were collected July 5-26 from Gallup’s Consumption survey, conducted annually during the month of July.
A large majority, or 70% of Americans who have ever tried cannabis think pot’s effects on users are “very” or “somewhat positive,” and 66% think pot’s effect on society is “very” or “somewhat positive.”
But on the other hand, a similarly large majority of people who have never tried cannabis think its effects are negative, with 72% saying its effect on society is “very” or “somewhat negative” and 62% saying its effects on users are “very” or “somewhat negative.”
In other words, one might assume that some people dislike cannabis until they try it for themselves, or see the miraculous healing powers of the plant first-hand, with their own two eyes.
“This survey data indicates that personal experience with cannabis is a relatively surefire cure for ‘reefer madness,’” NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said. “As greater percentages of adults continue to become familiar with marijuana for either therapeutic purposes or for their own personal use, expect to see many of the more sensational yet specious claims that once dominated the cannabis narrative be regulated to the dustbin of history.”
While about half of Americans have tried pot at some point—48%—just 16% say they are currently smoking it.
America’s Overall View
Americans are split down the middle over pot’s effect on society with 49% considering it positive and 50% considering it negative. Slightly more support for pot’s effect on users was found, with 53% saying it’s positive and 45% negative.
Armentano is “not particularly” surprised American adults remain divided about their views on cannabis.
“We’ve known for some time that there is a percentage of Americans who believe that marijuana ought to be legalized and regulated,” Armentano tells High Times. “Because criminalizing it is a policy that has not worked, and that comes with very high costs. And I think that is reflected in the fact that Gallup finds a supermajority of Americans think marijuana ought to be legal, yet, America’s fairly evenly divided on whether or not marijuana use per se is beneficial. You have a percentage of the public that may not necessarily like cannabis, but they dislike prohibiting cannabis even more.”
Americans, however, appear to recognize the harms of alcohol and see cannabis far more positively than they do alcohol. An earlier Gallup released last month shows that three in four adults in America believe alcohol negatively affects society, and 71% said they believe it is harmful to drinkers.
When Gallup began surveying Americans about cannabis in 1969—only 4% said they thought it should be legal. Through the decades that number has climbed slowly but steadily to reflect the rapidly changing attitudes in the country. According to Gallup’s most recent survey, 68% of U.S. adults, tied for the record high, think pot should be legal.
Witnessing the Benefits of Cannabis
The second-best thing to first-hand experience is the power of social media and how it’s showing the world that cannabis has fewer harms than alcohol and most of all, that it can help heal.
These types of videos might help convert opponents of cannabis reform or the undecided.
An example of this would be viral videos on social media showing the healing powers of THC or CBD. Facebook user Pete Starostecki was a cross-state cannabis refugee, and posted a viral video of CBD oil stopping seizures in real time with his son. Professional British Boxer Anthony Fowler, for instance, posted a video of a dog having a seizure and how fast CBD oil stopped the dog from shaking.
The further influence of cannabis in the media helps to normalize hard-working, functional Americans who choose to consume cannabis responsibly, as evident in the rising numbers in successive Gallup polls.
The study on drivers was conducted by researchers at the Center for Health, Analytics, Media and Policy, RTI International and Office of Research Protection in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, which was published online on April 23, but is slated to be published in Preventive Medicine Reports in June 2022.
The study analyzed consumption behaviors of 1,249 individuals. Over one third of participants reported driving under the influence within three hours of getting high in the last 30 days, and another one third shared their use of cannabis within 20 or more days within a 30-day period.
“Current cannabis users in recreational and medical-only cannabis states were significantly less likely to report driving within three hours of getting high in the past 30 days, compared to current users living in states without legal cannabis,” researchers wrote. “The one exception was frequent cannabis users who lived in medical cannabis states. Their risk of DUIC [driving under the influence of cannabis] did not differ significantly from frequent users living in states without legal cannabis.”
Researchers suggested a solution to address driving under the influence of cannabis, which should be specifically targeted toward states without legal cannabis programs. “Our findings suggest that DUIC prevention is most needed in states without legalized cannabis. Because regulation of cannabis products in non-legal environments is not possible, mass media campaigns may be a good option for providing education about DUIC.”
Overall, researchers concluded that education campaigns could help continue to prevent people from driving under the influence after consuming cannabis. “Although all states should educate its citizens about the potential dangers of using cannabis and driving, this analysis suggests that states without legal cannabis are particularly in need of DUIC prevention efforts,” they wrote. “States should consider mass media campaigns as a method of reaching all cannabis users, including more frequent users, with information about the dangers of DUIC. Medical states may consider targeting frequent users by disseminating information about DUIC through medical dispensaries.”
The study also shared that it found three other studies that mirrored this evidence. Two were shared in 2020, and one was published in 2021, with varying levels of approach regarding analyzing the effect of recreational and/or medical cannabis legalization.
NORML’s Deputy Director Paul Armentano commented on the results of this study with the hope that it will educate those who fear the negative effects of cannabis legalization. “These findings ought to reassure those who feared that legalization might inadvertently be associated with relaxed attitudes toward driving under the influence,” said Armentano. “These conclusions show that this has not been the case and that, in fact, consumers residing in legal marijuana states are less likely to engage in this behavior than are those residing in states where cannabis possession remains criminalized.”
States such as Massachusetts are gearing up to increase how they enforce influenced driving laws. Governor Charlie Baker announced legislation in November 2021 that would “provide law enforcement officers with more rigorous drug detection training and will strengthen the legal process by authorizing the courts to acknowledge that the active ingredient in marijuana can and does impair motorists.” However, Baker’s legislation does not address how to approach measuring impairment or properly identifying if a person has recently consumed cannabis and is impaired, or if they consumed days or weeks before an incident and are no longer impaired.
A recent study published in Canada expresses the need for a better way to detect impairment accurately. “We would love to have that one measure that says, okay, this person is impaired, or they aren’t,” said lead author Sarah Windle. “But unfortunately, in the case of cannabis, it just isn’t that simple.”
Cannabis advocates have a reason to rejoice this Friday with federal legislation moving forward to decriminalize cannabis at the federal level, which would change everything. The U.S. House of Representatives approved the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act, or H.R. 3617, in a floor vote Friday. It’s the second time the House approved the bill as the historic piece of legislation makes its way to the Senate.
The MORE Act was approved April 1 on a mostly party-line 220-204 vote. A previous version of the bill was approved in December 2020—also on a mostly party-line vote—which was the first comprehensive cannabis policy reform legislation to receive a floor vote or be approved by either chamber of Congress.
The MORE Act would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act, allowing states to legalize cannabis markets without fear of federal interference. It would include provisions for the expungement or resentencing of people with nonviolent federal cannabis convictions.
It would also promote diversity in the cannabis industry at the state level, and help repair the disproportionate harms caused by America’s War on Drugs. According to a recent Congressional Budget Office analysis, the Act, if passed, would increase tax revenues by over $8 billion over a 10-year period and would also drastically reduce federal prison costs.
High Times obtained several statements from leadership of national cannabis organizations.
“At a time when the majority of states regulate marijuana use and when the majority of voters of all political ideologies support legalization, it makes no sense from a political, fiscal, or cultural perspective for federal lawmakers to continue to support the ‘flat Earth’ failed federal prohibitionist policies of the past,” NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano told High TImes. “It is time for members of the Senate to follow the House’s lead and take appropriate actions to comport federal law with majority public opinion and with the plant’s rapidly changing legal and cultural status.”
“It is time for the Senate to have the courage to do what the House of Representatives has now done twice, vote to end our failed and racist war on marijuana consumers,” NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri told High Times. “The American public, no matter their political persuasion, overwhelmingly support legalization and the federal government should acknowledge the will of the people and promptly send the MORE Act to the president’s desk.”
“This vote is a clear indicator that Congress is finally listening to the vast majority of voters who are sick and tired of our failed marijuana criminalization policies and the damage they continue to inflict in communities across the nation every day,” said NORML’s Political Director Morgan Fox. “It is long overdue that we stop punishing adults for using a substance that is objectively safer than alcohol, and that we work to address the disparate negative impacts that prohibition has inflicted on our most vulnerable individuals and marginalized communities for nearly a century.”
Fox replaced outgoing NORML staffer Justin Strekal last January when he assumed the role as political director, and already, federal legislation is moving forward quickly.
“The time has come for federal lawmakers to put aside partisan differences and recognize that state-level legalization policies are publicly popular, successful, and are in the best interests of our country,” Fox added. “Now that the House has once again supported sensible and comprehensive cannabis policy reform, we strongly urge the Senate to move forward on this issue without delay.”
Other organizations agreed about the urgency of the legislation. The US Cannabis Council (USCC) is a leading force for ending federal prohibition—particularly creating an equitable and values-driven cannabis industry, which is one of the defining factors between the MORE Act and similar legislation.
“Descheduling of cannabis is on the march across the United States, and the House has now passed the MORE Act in two successive sessions of Congress,” USCC CEO Steven Hawkins said in a statement sent to High Times. “Today’s historic vote comes as the Senate prepares for the formal introduction of the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act. Taken together, Congress is strongly signaling that the end of federal cannabis prohibition is nearing.”
Hawkins also acknowledges the uphill battle the bill will face.
“There is much more work to be done before any bill reaches the President’s desk, but we are approaching the end of the cannabis prohibition era,” Hawkins said. “As more states launch medical and adult-use cannabis programs, as the majority of Americans who support reform continues to grow, and as more Americans have jobs in an industry that already employs over 400,000 people, the pressure will build on Congress to act.
“Despite the April 1 timing, cannabis reform is serious business. USCC broadly supports descheduling alongside specific reforms such as banking reform, expungement and tax relief.”
The bill now heads to the Senate where it needs 60 votes to advance. There is currently no companion bill in the Senate, however Majority Leader Schumer along with Senators Booker and Wyden are expected to introduce a comprehensive cannabis reform bill in the next month.
“With voter support for legal cannabis at an all-time high and more and more states moving away from prohibition, we commend the House for once again taking this step to modernize our federal marijuana policies,” stated NCIA Chief Executive Officer and co-founder Aaron Smith. “Now is the time for the Senate to act on sensible reform legislation so that we can finally end the failure of prohibition and foster a well regulated marketplace for cannabis.”
The MORE Act is certainly not the only federal bill moving forward. Meanwhile, on March 24, 2022, the Senate unanimously passed the Cannabidiol and Marihuana Research Expansion (CMRE) Act. The current version of the CMRE Act would streamline the application process for researchers, allowing them to study cannabis and push the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to promote and develop cannabis-based pharmaceuticals.
In addition, Sen. Nancy Mace introduced the States Reform Act, which some advocates believe has better chances in the Senate, while others disagree.
Because 10 Republican Senators are needed to pass the MORE Act in the Senate, some worry about its chances of crossing the finish line. George Macheril, CEO of cannabis industry lender Bespoke Financial, is one of those people. “While the House vote on the MORE Act is expected to pass again, we see this as more of a symbolic gesture which will have very little chance of surviving the Senate,” Macheril toldHigh Times on March 25.
Louisiana’s path to a medical marijuana program has been a tortuous and frustrating one. State lawmakers passed a law instating a limited program in 2015, but cannabis products did not begin to reach patients at the nine approved pharmacies until August of last year. There are still fewer than 4,500 patients registered to access cannabis products under the law.
After what has been an agonizing delay for many patients, Louisiana’s legislature has finally taken moves to expand the program.
The program will still allow only extracts, tinctures and other such preparations — not actual herbaceous cannabis, either smoked or vaped. And only two “agricultural centers” are permitted to cultivate and process — one at Louisiana State University and one at Southern University, both in Baton Rouge and the latter a historically Black university. LSU, partnering with the private Wellcana Group, finally produced enough cannabis to begin supplying the approved pharmacies a year ago, Associated Press notes. The Advocate, the state’s biggest newspaper, reported the happy news that Southern University, partnering with Ilera Holistic Healthcare, finally shipped out its first tinctures and other products last month.
And now, under a trio of new laws that were passed in June and went into effect Aug. 1, the ability of patients to access these products will be expanded. At last, the program seems poised for growth.
A Trio of New Bills
The most significant of the new measures, House Bill 819, expands the discretion of physicians to recommend cannabis. Rather than having to conform to the list of conditions named in the 2015 law, doctors can now approve cannabis products for “any condition” that they consider “debilitating to an individual patient,” providing that the condition is one the doctor “is qualified through his [or her] medical education and training to treat.”
The 2015 law, known as Therapeutic Marijuana A, lists the standard conditions, including HIV/AIDS, cancer, glaucoma, post-traumatic stress disorder, Parkinson’s disease, and epilepsy and other seizure disorders.
According to the national advocacy group NORML, Louisiana joins a handful of other states — including California, Virginia and Maine — that have enacted similar measures giving physicians the ability to recommend cannabis preparations to any patient they believe may benefit from them.
When Gov. John Bel Edwards signed the bill in June, NORML hailed it as meaningful progress.
“This is common sense legislation that provides physicians, not lawmakers, the ability and discretion to decide what treatment options are best for their patients,” NORML deputy director Paul Armentano said in a statement. Continuuin, he said, “Just as doctors are entrusted to make decisions with regard to the supervised use of opioids and other medicines — many of which pose far greater risks to patients than cannabis — the law should provide doctors with similar flexibility when it comes to recommending cannabis therapy to a bona fide patient.”
Another of the new measures to take effect addresses the question of cannabis use in hospitals and other healthcare facilities. HB 418 provides immunity from prosecution to “any facility that is licensed by the Louisiana Department of Health that has patients in its care using medical marijuana.” HB 211 similarly provides immunity for banks and other financial institutions that provide services to state-licensed cannabis businesses.
Slowly Moving Towards Social Justice
As an AP account observes, these three bills were part of a modest wave of progressive legislation passed by Louisiana lawmakers this year. Other measures limit the use of solitary confinement on pregnant prisoners and increase the ways those sent to prison as juveniles can seek parole.
Local activists feel that progress is long overdue in the Pelican State. In 2016, a “JustSouth” index produced by the Jesuit Social Research Institute at Loyola University sought to measure social justice across the Southern states. It ranked Louisiana dead last on measures of poverty, racial disparity and exclusion. The Research Institute’s Jeanie Donovan called it a “a grim picture” in comments to NOLA.com.
Low-income families, immigrants and workers of color are worse off in Louisiana than anywhere else in the United States, the report found. The average low-income household in Louisiana earned only $11,156 in 2014. The Research Institute calculated that a two-person family needs to earn “$45,840 a year to afford basic necessities,” Donovan said.
These conditions reflect the region’s history of “slavery, Jim Crow segregation and continuing inequality,” added the Rev. Fred Kammer, director of the Research Institute.
The other Gulf states ranked almost as poorly. Alabama placed 48th, Texas 49th and Mississippi 50th. Florida had the highest ranking in the region, at 41st place.