Tag: legalization

New Genetics Evidence Should Help Quell “Reefer Madness”Mongering

A team of Australian and Dutch researchers (Gillespie et al), writing in the June 2019 issue of the British medical journal The Lancet, criticized a March 2019 study by British researchers (Di Forti et al) in the same journal that suggested variations in cannabis use and potency may be responsible for variations in psychotic disorders. Opponents of cannabis legalization have used the Di Forti study as evidence to support their position. 

The criticism rests on the fact that the authors of the March study “assume that cannabis causes psychosis or psychotic symptoms without acknowledging compelling, alternative hypotheses.” 

Gillespie and colleagues point out that most studies looking at associations between cannabis and psychosis don’t adjust for “confounding” that arises from correlated genetic and environmental individual differences. They point to their own findings as well as those of other researchers showing cannabis use may be higher among individuals with a genetic liability that predisposes them to both cannabis use and the development of psychotic disorders. 

To address the shortcomings of the March study, they specifically point to the results of their recent meta-analysis of the largest genome-wide association study of lifetime cannabis use to date. The study indicated that genetic risk factors for cannabis use and schizophrenia are positively correlated. The meta-analysis applied bidirectional randomization and found a “consistent pattern of evidence supporting a causal effect of schizophrenia risk on lifetime cannabis use.” The study “found little evidence for any causal effect of cannabis use on schizophrenia.” While conceding their analyses were not based on cannabis use frequency or potency but rather genetic risk factors, they felt confident making the following statement:

Nevertheless, our findings strongly suggested that associations between measures of cannabis use and psychosis or psychotic disorders are far more nuanced than Di Forti and colleagues assume. In addition to correlated genetic liabilities, indirect and bidirectional processes are likely to affect the associations between cannabis use, misuse, and psychotic disorders. By not acknowledging the alternative, compelling and plausible mechanisms, Di Forti and colleagues’ conclusion regarding the harmful effect of high-potency cannabis use on mental health is likely to be overestimated.

Early Results From Canada’s Recreational Cannabis Legalization

Statistics Canada released the National Cannabis Survey results for the fourth quarter of 2018 yesterday. Despite comedic predictions that Canada will become “the stoner living in America’s attic” after it legalized cannabis for recreational use, the early results suggest nothing much has changed. The survey found: 

“About 4.6 million or 15% of Canadians aged 15 and older reported using cannabis in the last three months. That was a similar percentage to what was reported before legalization. In addition, nearly one in five Canadians think they will use cannabis in the next three months.”

Survey respondents stated that quality and safety were the primary factors influencing their decision as to where to purchase the cannabis, with price and accessibility secondary factors. Slightly over half the respondents stated they used cannabis for medical as opposed to recreational purposes. The overwhelming majority of documented medical users were daily users. A large majority of medical users preferred methods other than smoking as their means of consumption.

Recreational marijuana legalization took effect only recently, in October 2018, so this report represents an early snap shot. But based upon what we have seen so far, those who fear that Canada’s economy will collapse as it transformed into a nation of non-working stoners can “mellow out.”

The Return of Reefer Madness

Alex Berenson’s recent attempt to generate panic at the prospect that marijuana use may become legalized and normalized, with his book Tell Your Children: The Truth About Marijuana, Mental Illness, and Violence, even borrows its title from the camp 1930s propaganda film Reefer Madness. While not nearly as over-the-top as the film, Berenson certainly exaggerates suggestions that marijuana can cause psychosis.

Drawing on the 2017 report of the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine on “Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids: The Current State of Evidence and Recommendations for Research,” he directs attention to its conclusion, in Chapter 12:  “There is substantial evidence of a statistical association between cannabis use and the development of schizophrenia or other psychoses, with the highest risk among the most frequent users.” Berenson admits in a January 4 Wall Street Journal column based upon his book, “None of these studies prove that rising cannabis use has caused population-wide increases in psychosis or other mental illness, although they do offer suggestive evidence of a link.” Indeed. But correlation is not causation. And there is always the question of “which came first–the chicken or the egg?” Some schizophrenics might be using cannabis as a form of self-medication.

The NASEM report also notes, “There are a number of proposed explanations for why the comorbidity of substance abuse and mental health disorders exists.” One suggested explanation is “an overlap in predisposing risk factors (e.g., genetic vulnerability, environment) may contribute to the development of both substance abuse and a mental health disorder,” and indeed there are studies suggesting a genetic predisposition exists for some cannabis users to develop schizophrenia. There is also research showing an increased risk for the development of schizophrenia associated with heavy marijuana use where a family history of schizophrenia exists.

But it is also important to note that many countries saw stable or declining rates of psychosis between the 1960s and 1980s, a time when marijuana use in those countries increased dramatically. A 2003 Australian study found “no causal relationship” between cannabis use and schizophrenia, and a 2012 British study found rates of schizophrenia stable from 1950 to 2009, a time of greatly increased marijuana use.

And while there may be a correlation between schizophrenia and heavy marijuana use, the NASEM report stated, “cannabis use does not appear to increase the likelihood of developing depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress disorder.” Yet these are the most commonly cited “serious mental illnesses” that were found to be associated with heavy cannabis use among 18 to 25 year-olds in the National Survey on Drug Use and Health on which Berenson also relies to make his case. 

Psychiatrists have long known that the majority of patients with substance abuse disorders have psychiatric comorbidities, which need to be addressed in concert with the treatment of the substance abuse disorder. What is not yet known is how much the substance abuse disorders are actually driven by the comorbidities. 

No one is arguing here that heavy use of cannabis cannot be associated with a form of psychosis. The same can also be said regarding the heavy use of alcohol. In fact, heavy use of alcohol has been shown to cause organic psychosis and dementia

But just as the risks associated with heavy alcohol use don’t argue for completely avoiding alcohol consumption in those without preexisting vulnerabilities, any risks that may correlate with heavy marijuana consumption don’t argue for completely avoiding marijuana in those who likewise lack preexisting vulnerabilities. 

Perhaps Berenson could have considered a different title for his book, such as “Everything in Moderation.”

Small Marijuana Growers Squeezed Out by Legalization and Regulation

It’s often been noted that regulations can impose larger relative costs on small businesses and can serve to protect incumbent firms from new competitors. Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein noted that new regulations created a “moat” around his firm:

That all industries are being disrupted to some extent by new entrants coming in from technology. We, again, being, you know, technology-oriented ourselves, try to disrupt ourselves and try to figure out what’s the new thing, and come up with new platforms, new forms of distribution, new products. But in some ways, and there are some parts of our business, where it’s very hard for outside entrants to come in, disrupt our business, simply because we’re so regulated. You’ll hear people in our industry talk about the regulation. And they talk about it, you know, with a sigh: Look at the burdens of regulation. But in some cases, the burdensome regulation acts as a bit of a moat around our business.

The Washington Post reports on a new example: the legalized marijuana market in California. Libertarians have long urged the legalization of marijuana and other drugs. Certainly I expect better results from a legal regime where people are not arrested for buying, selling, or using marijuana. But governments can’t just repeal laws and stop arresting people; instead, they prefer to set up a regime of taxes and regulation. And that’s having an effect on the small marijuana growers in the state’s “Emerald Triangle.” As Scott Wilson reports in the Post:

Humboldt County, traditionally shorthand for outlaw culture and the great dope it produces, is facing a harsh reckoning. Every trait that made this strip along California’s wild northwest coast the best place in the world to grow pot is now working against its future as a producer in the state’s $7 billion-a-year marijuana market.

A massive industry never before regulated is being tamed by laws and taxation, characteristically extensive in this state. Nowhere is this process upending a culture and economy more than here in Humboldt, where tens of thousands of people who have been breaking the law for years are being asked to hire accountants, tax lawyers and declare themselves to a government they have famously distrusted. 

Wilson estimates that “Fewer than 1 in 10 of the county’s estimated 12,500 marijuana farmers are likely to make it in the legal trade….Less than 1 percent of the estimated 69,000 growers statewide have received a permit to farm marijuana since the beginning of the year.”

Ted Cruz’s Mixed Record on Immigration Reform

Republican presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio both impressed audiences in the last debate.  Senator Rubio’s positions on immigration are discussed frequently, but Senator Cruz is normally viewed as an immigration restrictionist – an unfair characterization.  It’s more important to look at Senator Cruz’s actions when he offered amendments to the 2013 “Gang of Eight” comprehensive immigration reform bill (S. 744) than it is to cherry-pick a few quotes.  Senator Cruz did end up voting against S. 744, but only after he offered many amendments.   

Senator Ted Cruz was a tremendous supporter of skilled immigration and supported massively expanding the size of those programs, even beyond what was proposed in S. 744.  He offered four amendments (1324, 1326, 1586, 1587), to expand the number of employment based green cards to over a million annually.  Senator Cruz offered two amendments (1325 and 1585) to increase the number of H-1B visas issued annually to 325,000 while S. 744 allowed an upward bound of 180,000 annually (with some upward adjustments possible).  In other words, Senator Cruz’s amendment intended to practically double the number of H-1B visas over that which was proposed in the Senate’s 2013 comprehensive immigration reform bill.  Amendment 1587 also increased the number of H-1B visas and employment based green cards.  Senator Cruz’s amendments would have also allowed the spouses of all H-1B visa holders to work legally – going beyond President Obama’s actions to increase work eligibly for those spouses.  Expanding the number of green cards and H-1B visas for skilled workers would have been a tremendous boost to the U.S. economy.   

Should Prostitution Be Legalized?

Does three make a trend? I can’t recall hearing much discussion of legalizing prostitution in the recent past, and suddenly this week I’ve seen three significant reports in the media. Are they straws in the wind? Could the legalization of prostitution be the next social reform to come to the fore?

First, last Thursday the Telegraph reported on a new study from the venerable free-market think tank in London, the Institute for Economic Affairs:

The sex trade should be fully decriminalised because feminism has left modern men starved of sex, one of Baroness Thatcher’s favourirte think-tanks claims.

A controversial new paper published by the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) calls for Britain’s prostitution laws to be scrapped, insisting it is “inevitable” that men will resort to paying for sex as women become more empowered through participation in the workplace.

As IEA notes, the paper got plenty of publicity in the British media.

Then on Tuesday Amnesty International voted, as the New York Times put it, “to support a policy that calls for decriminalization of the sex trade, including prostitution, payment for sex and brothel ownership.” The full policy, which still requires final approval from the board, can be found here. The new policy

is based on the human rights principle that consensual sexual conduct between adults—which excludes acts that involve coercion, deception, threats, or violence—is entitled to protection from state interference (bearing in mind that legitimate restrictions may be imposed on sex work, as noted below).

And then today I see this in the Washington Post:

Interpreting Obama’s Immigration Executive Action

President Obama will soon announce an executive action to defer the deportations of somewhere between 1 million and 4.5 million unauthorized immigrants. Those whose deportations are deferred will be eligible for a temporary work permit through a 1987 provision in the Code of Federal Regulations.

Those who support immigration reform note that any executive action by the President will poison the well for reform, making it impossible for Congress to move piecemeal bills to the President’s desk.  Last year, one of the most effective arguments against immigration reform was that President Obama would not enforce the law as written, a prediction that seems to be borne out with this executive action.  The Wall Street Journal editorial board said it the best:

If he does issue an executive order, we hope Republicans don’t fall for his political trap.  He and many Democrats want Republicans to appear to be anti-immigrant.  They want the GOP to dance to the Steve King-Jeff Sessions blow-a-gasket caucus.

To poison the well of reform there actually had to be water in the well to begin with. I’m not convinced there was.  If there was a serious Congressional effort to reform immigration in the immediate future, then the President’s actions here would totally derail it.

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