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Tags: marijuana

New York Times: No Evidence for ‘Downside of Legal High’



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New York Times reporter Jack Healy comes up empty-handed in his search for widespread disaster following Colorado’s legalization of marijuana, but he still manages to get an article out of it.

“Law enforcement officers in Colorado and neighboring states, emergency room doctors and legalization opponents increasingly are highlighting a series of recent problems as cautionary lessons for other states flirting with loosening marijuana laws,” the Grey Lady reports in an article entitled “After 5 Months of Sales, Colorado Sees the Downside of a Legal High.”

Healy opens with a hat trick of anecdotes and uncorks a live quote from Kevin Sabet, former Senior Adviser for Policy to Drug Czar (Tsar?) Gil Kerlikowske. As a result, the lede doesn’t come until the fifth paragraph:

“Despite such anecdotes, there is scant hard data.”

This claim is not quite true, however. There are data from which to draw early conclusions about how severely Centennial State residents are suffering from the expected uptick in social ills related to hassle-free availability of marijuana. It’s just that the statistics contradict the article’s headline and opening grafs. 

Marijuana supporters note that violent crimes in Denver — where the bulk of Colorado’s pot retailers are — are down so far this year. The number of robberies from January through April fell by 4.8 percent from the same time in 2013, and assaults were down by 3.7 percent. Over all, crime in Denver is down by about 10 percent, though it is impossible to say whether changes to marijuana laws played any role in that decline.

Other parts of Healy’s opening argument fall apart on closer inspection. The complaints from “law enforcement” sources seem to consist of unquantified claims about increased marijuana arrests from one police officer in Nebraska and one in Kansas. But those are outweighed by the Kansas Highway Patrol’s admission that pot busts are down 61 percent year-over-year. The story of Richard Kirk, who shot and killed his wife after purchasing a pack of “Karma Kandy Orange Ginger” pot treats, is not probative. Toxicology results have not been made public, and Kirk was reportedly also taking prescription pain medication. Only the death of Levi Thamba Pongi, an exchange student who died in a four-story fall from a hotel balcony after consuming “six servings” of a marijuana edible cookie from Sweet Grass Kitchen, can confidently be called a marijuana-related fatality — presuming the claim that he ate enough cookie to equal “six high-quality joints” is true.

The lesson to draw from that tragedy (Pongi, a 19-year-old native of the Republic of Congo, was visiting from Wyoming with friends in order to sample pot, apparently for the first time) is less about public policy than about drug indications for individuals. “The thing to realize is the THC that is present in edibles is a drug like any drug, and there’s a spectrum of ways in which people respond,” University of Colorado School of Medicine toxicologist Michael Kosnett told the Associated Press in April. In both of Healy’s anecdotes, the reefer freakouts followed consumption of marijuana edibles, and Pongi in particular seems not to have exercised caution in trying a brand-new intoxicant.

A headline reading “Colorado Experience Shows Eating Pot Still Lamest Way to Get High” might not have been as sexy, but the thing the non-Colorado portion of America is trying to measure here is how much cost an increase in individual freedom will impose on society. Studies of Prohibition give little attention to the Eighteenth Amendment’s success in curtailing overall alcohol consumption, but here’s a claim that puts “annual absolute alcohol consumption rates at between 50 and 33 percent less than those of the preprohibition years.” On the principle that you get less of what you punish, it makes sense that overall consumption of alcohol increased following repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment, and that Colorado’s overall consumption of marijuana will increase following legalization.

The question is how much pain that increase will cause, beyond what already existed under a regime of prohibition. So far, the answer seems to be “remarkably little.”

Tags: marijuana

The Triumphant Moment of Three Popular Bad Ideas



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Back during the argument about Chuck Hagel’s confirmation, I wrote:

The Obama administration’s persistent desire to hold talks with Iran was mentioned, time and again, in the campaigns of 2008 and 2012. Mitt Romney pointed out the spinning of Iran’s centrifuges many times over the past four years again and often on the campaign trail. Hagel’s been so pro-Obama that he was mentioned as a possible running mate in 2008, and has been discussed for the secretary of defense job every time it opened up under Obama. The likelihood that negotiations would not advance any U.S. interest, and instead amount to a propaganda win for regimes and groups hostile to us, is pretty clear. And yet America elected and reelected the guy proposing it. And he carried the Jewish vote by a healthy majority both times.

How many times are we required to save the American people from the consequences of their actions, dragging them kicking and screaming from a bad outcome they keep trying to run toward? If only a small portion of the American Jewish community is willing to loudly oppose Hagel over his “Jewish lobby” comments, how vehemently should those of us outside that community fight a battle that we are quite likely to lose?

At this moment, on three big fronts, we on the right find ourselves in the minority, opposing popular policies that would most directly harm those who disagree with us.

The first front is raising the minimum wage. Minimum-wage hikes make hiring entry-level workers more expensive, and probably slow hiring in those entry-level jobs. (Economists argue passionately about whether hiring slows a lot or just a little bit, but no one would argue that making workers more expensive makes businesses more eager to hire.) A minimum-wage hike will also have an economic ripple effect if employers raise prices to cover the higher wage costs.

The second front is extending unemployment benefits again. There’s nothing wrong with collecting unemployment benefits when you lose a job, but you’re not supposed to be on them forever, and at some point, those benefits create an incentive to not take that not-quite-good-enough job. Usually unemployment benefits can be collected for 26 weeks (six months); Congress offered additional federal aid during the recession, so that some could collect unemployment for as long as 99 weeks in states with extremely high unemployment. (That’s nearly two years.) Congress eventually cut that back to 73 weeks in the hardest-hit states — roughly one year and four months. As USA Today reports, “Last month, however, the House and Senate left for their Christmas break without renewing the program. As of Dec. 28, about 1.3 million people were cut off.”

At what point is the government, on behalf of the taxpayer, allowed to say, “That’s enough, you have to accept and begin work at the next job that’s offered to you”? Collecting unemployment benefits is certainly easier than working in a not-so-good job, but is it better?

The third front is marijuana legalization; the editors of NR offer Colorado a bit of applause for their recent change in the law. Sure, some people can use marijuana recreationally with no ill effects. But some percentage of users do develop an unhealthy focus on using it and/or addiction, and legalization is extremely likely to lead to wider use (after all, the risk of prosecution and legal consequences dropped from small to nil). The use by teenagers is particularly problematic, knowing what we now know about brain development, and widespread availability of those over 21 will make it more accessible to teenagers. In Colorado, they’re already seeing a “dramatic surge” of children eating pot-laced baked goods — cookies, brownies, etc. Go figure, a pot-using parent isn’t the most careful or responsible.

These proposals are all extremely popular. Hart Research finds 55 percent support extending unemployment benefits. Fox News finds 66 percent support raising the minimum wage. Gallup found 58 percent think marijuana should be made legal.

The arguments in favor of these ideas are pretty simple and straightforward: Higher wages! Helping the jobless! Legal use of a recreational drug that was pretty widespread even when it was illegal!

Opposition to these ideas usually requires a bit of thinking ahead: What if we end up making it harder for entry-level or unskilled workers to find a job? What if employers reduce workers’ hours in response to the higher hourly wage? What if our effort to help the unemployed has discouraged them from getting back into the workplace, and their longer stretches of unemployment are making it harder for them to get rehired? What if the very qualities that make marijuana enjoyable make it a very bad idea to have it widespread and in the hands of those under 21?

By and large, the public doesn’t want to think about those questions. And, at least at the moment, there’s no electoral benefit to trying to make them think about those questions.

UPDATE: This is a study of children ingesting marijuana, published in July of last year, when medical marijuana was legal in Colorado:

The proportion of ingestion visits in patients younger than 12 years (age range, 8 months to 12 years)that were related to marijuana exposure increased after September 30, 2009, from 0 of 790 (0%; 95% CI, 0%-0.6%) to 14 of 588 (2.4%; 95% CI, 1.4%-4.0%) (P < .001). Nine patients had lethargy, 1 had ataxia, and 1 had respiratory insufficiency. Eight patients were admitted, 2 to the intensive care unit. Eight of the 14 cases involved medical marijuana, and 7 of these exposures were from food products.

Tags: marijuana , Minimum Wage , unemployment insurance

Enough Pot Happy Talk



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There was way too much giddiness in the media about the first day of legal pot selling in Colorado. Instead of all the happy talk, I think it’s time for some sober discussion and a strong dose of education about the addiction risks of smoking marijuana — particularly among young people. It may start out as a party, but it often ends up as something much, much worse.

With the grace of God, I’ve been clean and sober for over 18 years — a recovery experience that still has me going to a lot of 12-step meetings. And I hear time and again from young people coming into the rooms to get sober how pot smoking led to harder drugs such as cocaine and heroin. Now, this is anecdotal, and I am not an expert. And I will say that many people can control alcohol or pot or other drugs. But I am not one of them. And I am not alone.

Read my full column here

Tags: marijuana

Columnist: Offer Marijuana to Young People Who Sign Up for Obamacare



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Caroline Baum, a columnist for Bloomberg, offers suggestions to the Obama administration that are extremely creative, extremely desperate, or a sign Obamacare’s fans are having a collective nervous breakdown:

First, announce and advertise that everyone between the ages of 18 and 34 who enrolls on the health-care exchanges by the end of the year is automatically entered in a lottery. Winners will receive everything from a free iPhone or iPad to a full-year of health-care underwritten by Uncle Sam. Refer a friend and get a discount. Buy one (year), get one free. In states that have legalized marijuana for recreational use — Colorado and Washington — by all means, throw in a bag of cannabis.

It isn’t fair, you say? Who said life is fair? Obamacare is based on the idea of young, healthy people, who don’t use a lot of health-care services, subsidizing the sick and elderly. Their generation is on the hook for the debt incurred to provide for the baby boomers in retirement. So forget fair.

If you thought Obamacare was unpopular before, just wait until taxpayer dollars are used to purchase and distribute marijuana to young people.

The problem with Obamacare is not that there isn’t enough advertising for it — $500 million from insurance companies alone. The problem is not a lack of celebrity endorsements. Kal Penn tweets about “covering your dong” are not going to spur mass signups, nor is one from Adam Levine. And no, a bag of marijuana won’t change the dynamic either.

The recent Harvard survey found 56 percent of young people disapprove of the Affordable Care Act, 39 percent approve. Only 20 percent said they plan to enroll through the exchanges after they are no longer covered by their parents’ plan; 47 percent described themselves as likely to enroll. Young people are wary because, as Baum acknowledges, it’s a bad deal: 44 percent believe their care will get worse under the new law; only 17 believe it will get better, and 50 percent believe they will pay more for care under ACA; only 10 percent believe they will pay less.

Average premiums for young people will range from $157 to $201 a month, which comes out to $1,884 to $2,412 per year. (This doesn’t account for deductibles, copays, etc.) Most uninsured young people don’t have that extra cash lying around — or if they do, they would prefer to spend it elsewhere.

Tags: Obamacare , marijuana

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