Today, I will be critiquing another hit piece aimed at societal progress. In this case, an article based on a Newport, Rhode Island teachers disbelief in newly released studies that claim to show marijuana use by teens in decline in states with legalized recreational marijuana.
In fairness, this article is not entirely based on a personal rant. The author cites data which would seem to oppose that found in the far more widely distributed studies of recent weeks. Which is why I decided to take a look for myself.
Before I even start, I will acknowledge my bias coming into this. The whole reason why the article grabbed my attention in the first place (unlike the sea of others of a similar nature published daily and weekly) was how it flew in the face of logic, as characterized by me.
Even in the years before Colorado and Washington took the first steps into recreational legalization (2012), I was a supporter of legalization. Though my views were not as streamlined as they are now (personal growth & all), 2 throughlines still run through my main arguments.
One is the human rights argument (it’s a personal choice). And the 2ed being the protection of minors aspect.
The way that current day legal (yet semi-restricted) substances are handled (alcohol, nicotine, etc) sets an age limit for purchase and does a fairly good job of keeping these substances from being directly obtained by minors. No, it’s not 100% effective (store owners or employees knowingly or unknowingly breaking the law, adults looking the other way and purchasing for minors, etc), but no law is or ever will be.
This, compared to the increasingly former status quo of procuring marijuana. Call up or meet your connection, hand over some cash, and off you go. No identification or hard questions required.
This is why I don’t get people that support prohibition as a way of protecting the children. You’re not protecting them, you are just making the substance a WHOLE lot easier for them to get. Aside from various supply issues, it’s likely easier for a teenager to get their hands on ANY illicit substance than it is for an adult to obtain a prescription.
Prohibition just pushes the transaction out of sight. It might be appeasing for a subset of people that don’t want to let the realities of the world darken their rosy outlook. However, it’s not without dire consequences. As in many situations, ignorance has a price.
Anyway, you know where I am coming from. Let’s see where author Carol Formica is coming from.
Prevention Science states there are two factors that contribute to an increased risk of drug use: access and availability.
I don’t think anyone with a fair amount of brain cells would argue this point. It makes sense.
On the other hand, the recent AP article published in the Daily News (July 9) entitled, “Teen odds of using marijuana dip with recreational use laws,” defies all logic.
According to the article, there is new research that suggests legalizing recreational marijuana for adult use in some states may have “slightly reduced teens’ odds of using pot.”
Yes, Carol. Seriously.
The only reason why I can see this as quote defying all logic is if your starting point is “Prohibition = No access to drugs. Legalization = Access to drugs”. If such is the case, then your outlook is SEVERELY flawed. And thus, you are in NO position to be delivering ad hom’s from a place of condescension atop a soapbox.
If you have come this far, you already know my stance.
The lead author of the study, D. Mark Anderson, a health economist at Montana State University, claims there was no change linked with medical marijuana legislation, but “odds of teen use declined almost 10% after recreational marijuana laws were enacted.”
Anderson’s study maintains the new results echo a previous study that showed a “decline in teen use after sales of recreational pot began in 2014 in Washington state.”
The study was recently published in JAMA Pediatrics and was based on national youth health and behavioral surveys from 1993 through 2017.
One point of interest is that the researchers (from the University of Oregon, University of Colorado, and San Diego State University) looked at “overall changes nationwide, but not at individual states.”
As a side note, Colorado, Oregon and California legalized recreational marijuana in 2012, 2014, and 2016 respectively.
Possibly a good critique.
A second point of interest is that the study was partially funded by a grant from the Charles Koch Foundation.
According to businessscene.org, the Koch brothers are described as “powerful libertarian donors” who support states legalizing marijuana.
A possibly good critique as well. Though I would have more gone the route of business than ideology. Marijuana is big money, so naturally, it is in the interest of big business to open the floodgates. The fact that the human freedom aspect also is at play is just the icing on the cake.
At the end of the AP article, Linda Richter, director of policy research and analysis at the nonprofit Center on Addiction, is quoted as saying, “It sort of defies logic to argue that more liberal recreational marijuana laws somehow help dissuade young people from using the drug.”
Ms. Richter also points out that other studies have found that, in states where marijuana is legal, “fewer teens think it is risky or harmful than the national average.”
1.) Neither legalization nor prohibition serves to dissuade teenagers from any substance. If anything, the forbidden fruit tends to be the sweetest. When you are a minor, this encompasses pretty much everything. Legal or illegal, it’s a restricted product.
What legalization does is limits availability. Instead of marijuana being on par with candy in terms of accessibility, it becomes on par with alcohol and tobacco. Viewing laws as a way to dissuade is ENTIRELY missing the point.
2.) I would be curious what Ms. Richter’s definition of risky and harmful are, in the context of marijuana. Does this national average constitute a reality-based apprehension towards marijuana’s drawbacks, or is it amplified by hyperbole from the anti-drug crusaders?
While legalization can also have the effect of reducing the perceived harm of legally obtainable substances (like alcohol), both extremes have to be measured. Because both have unintended consequences in their own right.
While Anderson’s study may be skewed in favor of legalization, being partially funded by a libertarian donor and including researchers who hail from states that have already legalized marijuana, there are other studies that paint a very different picture on the matter.
The High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) initiative is a federal program administered by the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Its goal is to address drug-related issues by supporting and collaborating with law enforcement, treatment and prevention partners.
The Rocky Mountain HIDTA report of October 2017, (Vol. 5), showed that after Colorado legalized recreational marijuana in 2012, “youth past month marijuana use” increased 12% in the three-year average (2013-2015).
It also showed that Colorado’s “youth past month marijuana use” for 2014/2015 was 55% higher than the national average compared to 39% higher in 2011/2012.
In the Northwest HIDTA report of March 2016, it states that youth under the age of twenty had accounted for 45% of statewide marijuana calls answered by Washington state’s Poison Center in 2014; a number that has since increased to 80% with the legalization of marijuana in 2012.
The same report revealed that from September 2013 to May 2014, the Seattle Public Schools reported 758 student violations involving drugs/alcohol. Of that total, “651 involved drug offenses only and 98% of those violations involved marijuana.”
The report further added that those violations occurred at “all levels of the public school system: elementary, middle, and high schools.”
However, it’s always good to know when the source has a potentially blatant bias driven agenda.
The RMHIDTA, a federally supported task force dedicated to suppressing marijuana and other illegal drugs, claims only 50 percent of Colorado voters supported legalization in that Quinnipiac survey—eight points lower than the actual result. It also understates the 2012 vote for Amendment 64 by a point, but the comparison still supports the story that the task force wants to tell: The consequences of legalization in Colorado have been so bad that public support for the policy already has fallen.
Even assuming that the RMHIDTA’s misrepresentation of the Quinnipiac survey was a mistake, the direction of the error is not random. You can be sure that if the report had overstated support for legalization by eight points, someone would have caught it before the text was finalized. Which underlines a point that should be obvious by now: Despite its pose as a dispassionate collector of facts, the RMHIDTA, which issued similar reports in 2013 and 2014, is committed to the position that legalization was a huge mistake, and every piece of information it presents is aimed at supporting that predetermined conclusion. So even when the task force does not simply make stuff up, it filters and slants the evidence to play up the purported costs of legalization while ignoring the benefits.
He has some examples, too.
The report says “there was a 32 percent increase in marijuana-related traffic deaths” after legal recreational sales began in 2014 (emphasis in the original). Here is an interesting fact about “marijuana-related traffic deaths”: They do not necessarily have anything to do with marijuana. The report uses this phrase to describe fatalities from accidents involving vehicle operators who “tested positive for marijuana,” which could indicate the presence of inactive metabolites or THC levels so low that they had no impact on driving performance. A positive result does not mean a driver was impaired at the time of the crash, let alone that marijuana contributed to the accident.
As the report emphasizes in another chapter, adult marijuana use has been rising in Colorado since 2006. You would expect the percentage of drivers who “test positive for marijuana”—whether or not they are impaired and whether or not they get into accidents—to rise as well. It is not clear to what extent recent increases in what the RMHIDTA insists on calling “marijuana-related traffic deaths” are due to this population-wide trend and to what extent they are due to an increase in dangerously impaired drivers. The task force seems determined to obscure this crucial distinction.
Another factor to consider: The number of cannabinoid screens performed for law enforcement agencies in Colorado nearly tripled between 2009, when the medical marijuana industry started to take off, and 2014, the first year of legal recreational sales. That could reflect increased enforcement, increased stoned driving, or a combination of both. Likewise with last year’s increases in marijuana-related DUID arrests by Denver police, which the RMHIDTA also cites as evidence that legalization has made the roads more dangerous.
Emergency Room Visits and Hospitalizations
In 2014, the report says, “there was a 29 percent increase in the number of marijuana-related emergency room visits” and “a 38 percent increase in the number of marijuana-related hospitalizations.” Like “marijuana-related traffic deaths,” “marijuana-related emergency room visits” and “marijuana-related hospitalizations” are not necessarily marijuana-related. As the report explains, these numbers, also known as “marijuana mentions,” refer to patients whose marijuana use was determined by lab tests, self-reports, or “some other form of validation by the physician.” The fact that a patient had used marijuana at some point “does not necessarily prove marijuana was the cause of the emergency admission or hospitalization.”
It is therefore hard to know what to make of the increases highlighted by the report. They could be due to increased cannabis consumption, increased willingness to admit marijuana use, increased inquisitiveness by hospital staff, or some combination of those factors, none of which necessarily means that marijuana-related medical problems actually went up between 2013 and 2014, although it’s possible they did.
The report says “marijuana-only” calls to the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center “increased 72 percent” in 2014. Here the RMHIDTA is on firmer ground, since these calls really do involve marijuana and have increased in recent years. It is plausible that the increase, which has also been seen in Washington, is related to greater availability of marijuana edibles, first from dispensaries and later from recreational shops.
Most calls involve adults, although about 18 percent involve children 5 or younger. Whether people are mistaking edibles for ordinary food or taking bigger doses than they should have, these calls surely represent undesirable outcomes. But as usual, the RMHIDTA fails to put this troubling trend into perspective. Although the number of marijuana-only calls rose 148 percent between 2012 and 2014, last year’s total, 151, still accounted for just 0.3 percent of the 50,000 or so calls that the poison control center received. The Colorado center does not report outcomes on its website. But according to data from the Washington Poison Center, just 3 percent of marijuana exposure cases involve a “major effect,” and there have been no fatalities.
The RMHIDTA, which has a strong incentive to locate “marijuana-related” deaths in Colorado, describes one homicide, two apparent accidents, and three suicides. Marijuana’s causal role in these six deaths is open to debate. But even if we take it as a given and include all 165 “traffic deaths related to marijuana” (which may or may not actually be related to marijuana) in 2013 and 2014, the death toll attributed to cannabis pales beside the thousands of alcohol-related deaths in Colorado during the same period.
Feel free to continue reading this nice analysis. There is more.
While there are troubling stats to be considered, any good is far outweighed by the bias. If I were to guess, this organization may be on the chopping block if marijuana were to become too well perceived by the otherwise inattentive public.
If the Rocky Mountain and Northwest HIDTA reports aren’t enough to make a person pause when considering the societal impacts of marijuana legalization on our youth, then perhaps the May 20 segment, “Potent Pot,” by Target 12 investigative reporter Tim White will change their mind.
The segment discussed the current uptick of marijuana vaporizers being used within Rhode Island schools.
In this past school year more than a few Rhode Island students had to be taken away by an ambulance after having an “adverse reaction to potent levels of THC,” one of which was described as an “overdose call” by the Coventry Fire Department.
In May, GoLocalProv published a study that showed Rhode Island having the highest percentage of teenage drug users throughout the country.
Prevention Science, as well as common sense, would suggest limiting access and availability of any drug.
Legalizing marijuana would do just the opposite — and our youth will pay the highest price.
First off, a quick look into Rhode Island state guidelines tells us that the sale, possession and use of vaping devices are illegal for persons under 18 years of age. Which would make the question “How are teens getting their hands on vaping devices and fluid?” a more productive way to look at this than “Marijuana = BAD!”.
And the same goes for any locality with a disproportionate problem of minors getting their hands on substances that they shouldn’t be getting ahold of.
At this point, I don’t feel like going any further. The author of this article doesn’t seem interested in much more than pursuing an already debunked status quo. To them, drugs belong in the shadows, out of sight is out of mind.
Consequences be damned.