SAM RESPONDS TO NEW URUGUAY MARIJUANA POLICY
Today, from a meeting on drug policy in Colombia, SAM co-founder and Director, Dr. Kevin Sabet, made the following comments about Uruguay’s legalization of marijuana:
“Against the vast majority of the will of its citizens, leaders from its own hemisphere, and even medical doctors in its own legislature, Uruguay has embarked on the dangerous public health policy of legalization.
It will be interesting to see if their said goals of reducing the black market of marijuana from Paraguay will be achieved, but it is doubtful. Young people, tourists looking for a safe haven, and others will still get their marijuana from a continued thriving black market.
The United Nations said today in Vienna that Uruguay violates international drug treaties by allowing the cultivation and sale of marijuana. We agree with the International Narcotics Control Board President Raymond Yans that the decision ‘will not protect young people but rather have the perverse effect of encouraging early experimentation, lowering the age of first use, and thus contributing to developmental problems and earlier onset of addiction and other disorders.’
Finally, it is interesting that no other leaders in Latin America are going this route. Uruguay is on it’s own here and other regional leaders have understood that we can indeed have alternatives to current drug policy, but that those alternatives should not violate standards of public health and safety.”
Today, at the Organization of American States 54th Meeting of CICAD in Bogotá, Dr. Sabet released a new document, “Alternatives? Yes. Legalization? No” in both Spanish and English, available at http://drugpolicyfutures.org/publications/.
As the Portland marijuana ordinance goes into effect, and the discussion has pivoted to statewide legalization in Maine, now is the time to examine what this policy path could mean for Maine.
Many Mainers may think marijuana policy doesn’t really impact them in their daily lives. However, there are many risks to public health and public safety that could be created or worsened by bad marijuana policy.
As December is National Drunk and Drugged Driving Prevention Month, a timely issue to consider is marijuana-impaired driving.
Proponents of the Portland marijuana ordinance ran a series of campaign ads on buses that framed marijuana as a “safe” and harmless drug. One ad suggested that marijuana doesn’t make the person using the drug “rowdy or reckless.”
Can one really say that driving while impaired by marijuana isn’t reckless?
It is, of course, a reckless decision that doesn’t just put at risk the driver, but also passengers and other motorists on the road.
Marijuana-impaired driving is already an issue in Maine without the drug being legalized. Data collected by the Maine Department of Transportation from January 2009 through August 2010 shows that in the impaired driving cases where a drug recognition expert was called in, cannabinoids, the drug class that includes marijuana, ranked as the number one drug found.
The fact is there already is a serious issue with marijuana-impaired driving in Maine. A policy of legalization could worsen the issue by putting more marijuana-impaired drivers on the road. The experience in Washington state validates that concern.
A recent report from the Associated Press that appeared in the Seattle Times on Nov. 21 provides that early cautionary tale.
Figures that were reported by the Washington State Patrol show that in the first six months of 2013, 745 people tested positive for marijuana. A majority of positive tests were over the legal limit established in Washington, which is 5 nanograms of active THC per milliliter of blood.
Washington was typically seeing 1,000 motorists test positive during the course of a full year before recreational marijuana was legalized in that state. Six months in and they are already at three-quarters of that figure. And research shows that there are very valid concerns for having marijuana-impaired motorists on the road.
There is a myth that exists that suggests driving under the influence of marijuana is no big deal and doesn’t really cause issues for driving. The science is very clear on this. Marijuana does significantly impair driving abilities.
For most people, a single potent dose of marijuana is going to compromise fundamental driving skills. The typical adverse effect of that single dose is going to be diminished psychomotor performance. Psychomotor skills are essential for the basics of driving — steering, braking and shifting between gears.
Pair that with studies that show that attentiveness, vigilance and perception of time and speed are also affected by the use of marijuana.
That combination of impacts to driving skills is likely why we see the risk of car crashes increase dramatically when marijuana is added to the equation.
Again, the science is clear. Research shows that heavy marijuana use is linked to an increased risk of motor vehicle crashes. In fact, some studies suggest that risk doubles under the influence of marijuana.
Some drivers, under the influence of marijuana, will attempt to compensate for their impairment. They may drive slower or leave more space between their car and the car ahead of them. However, these compensations will not help when faced with an unexpected hazard or event on the road.
We live in a state with moose and deer crossing our roads, and icy, wintry roads for months out of the year. Unexpected hazards can abound. Policies that would put more motorists on the road with marijuana in the mix would not be a smart approach for Maine.
We all deserve safe roadways as we commute and travel in Maine. We should all work together to continue to address our current impaired driving issues by crafting smart policies that reduce and discourage it.
What we should not do is entertain policies that will increase impaired driving and increase risks to Mainers everywhere. That road would be the “wrong way” for Maine.
Scott M. Gagnon is the substance abuse prevention manager for Healthy Androscoggin, the Drug Free Communities coalition serving Androscoggin County. He also serves as the chairman for the Maine Alliance to Prevent Substance Abuse Steering Committee. Scott is leading SAM’s affiliation in Maine.
Marijuana Bill Rejected by ME Legislative Council, Project SAM Commends Legislators & Senate President
PRESS RELEASE Contact: Scott Gagnon
November 21, 2013 207-520-0293
MARIJUANA BILL REJECTED BY MAINE LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL TONIGHT, PROJECT SAM COMMENDS LEGISLATORS & SENATE PRESIDENT
After a close vote, Senate President Justin Alfond, from Portland, votes down proposal to allow legalization bill to go further.
PORTLAND-Despite a push by a multimillion-dollar, Washington, D.C-based lobbying firm and Rep. Diane Russell, legislation failed to go forward tonight that would have legalized marijuana in Maine. Senate President Justin Alfond broke the tie and voted against the bill. SAM Maine, a broad coalition of public health activists, along with the Maine Public Health Association, and national leaders, lauded the move.
“Given the public health consequences of marijuana, we applaud the legislative council’s action,” remarked Maine Public Health Association Executive Director Tina Pettingill.
SAM Maine’s Coordinator, Scott Gagnon, also supported Sen. Alfond’s move: “Maine’s parents, and its public health and youth advocates, thank you tonight, Senator Alfond.”
SAM’s co-founder, Former Congressman Patrick J. Kennedy, along with American Society of Addiction Medicine President and SAM Board Member Dr. Stuart Gitlow, also thanked the elected officials who voted to stop legalization this year.
“We can agree that aspects of our marijuana policy should be reformed, toward a more public health approach, ” they said. “But it makes no sense to replace one policy with another that would create an even bigger disaster – by creating this century’s version of Big Tobacco.”
SAM Maine launched three weeks ago, and it has four main goals:
* To inform public policy with the science of today’s marijuana.
* To prevent the establishment of “Big Marijuana” – and a 21st-Century tobacco industry that would market marijuana to children.
* To promote research of marijuana’s medical properties and produce, non-smoked, non-psychoactive pharmacy-attainable medications.
* To have an adult conversation about reducing the unintended consequences of current marijuana policies, such as lifelong stigma due to arrest.
Research shows that teens who smoke marijuana have a 1 in 6 chance of becoming addicted and can have significantly lower levels of IQ later in life. New research from Washington state shows that marijuana-related impaired driving has risen 50% since the vote in 2012. Colorado also continues to experience problems.
About Project SAM
Project SAM is a nonpartisan alliance of lawmakers, scientists and other concerned citizens who want to move beyond simplistic discussions of “incarceration versus legalization” when discussing marijuana use and instead focus on practical changes in marijuana policy that neither demonizes users nor legalizes the drug. Project SAM has taken its initiative to other parts of the United States including California, Colorado, Vermont, Hawaii, New Hampshire, Ohio, and other jurisdictions.
AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION OPPOSES MARIJUANA LEGALIZATION; SUPPORTS HEALTH-FIRST APPROACH TO MARIJUANA USE
Largest medical group in the US explicitly rejects calls to become “neutral” on legalization; supports full funding of the Office of National Drug Control Policy; calls for proper study of Colorado and Washington policies. It joins the American Psychiatric Association, who issued a statement last week outlining the public health harms of marijuana.
NATIONAL HARBOR, MD-The delegates at the 2013 Interim Meeting of the American Medical Association (AMA) House of Delegates, in National Harbor, Maryland, today voted to pass a resolution on marijuana, “Council of Science & Public Health Report 2 in Reference Committee K,” explicitly opposing marijuana legalization – fending off a challenge to “neutralize” their position. The report changes H-95.998 AMA Policy Statement on Cannabis to read in part that: “Our AMA believes that (1) cannabis is a dangerous drug and as such is a public health concern; (2) sale of cannabis should not be legalized.”
“The AMA today reiterated the widely held scientific view that marijuana is dangerous and should not be legalized,” commented Dr. Stuart Gitlow, Chair-Elect of the AMA Council on Science and Health and SAM Board Member. “We can only hope that the public will listen to science – not ‘Big Marijuana’ interests who stand to gain millions of dollars from increased addiction rates.”
Additionally, the report called for several provisions consistent with Project SAM’s marijuana pillars, including efforts to “discourage cannabis use, especially by persons vulnerable to the drug’s effects and in high-risk situations…support the determination of the consequences of long-term cannabis use through concentrated research, especially among youth and adolescents… support the modification of state and federal laws to emphasize public health based strategies to address and reduce cannabis use.”
“The American Medical Association took a bold step today, and they should be commended,” commented former Congressman Patrick J. Kennedy, SAM’s co-founder. “By explicitly rejecting calls to neutralize their anti-legalization position, they are sending a loud and powerful message to state and local decision makers, the Federal government, and the general public that to be on the side of science is to oppose efforts to expand marijuana use and addiction.”
Furthermore, several other elements in the report are consistent with SAM’s pillars, including calls to support: “the availability of and reduc[tion] (of) the cost of treatment programs for substance use disorders…a coordinated approach to adolescent drug education…community-based prevention programs for youth at risk to fund the Office of National Drug Control Policy… greater protection against discrimination in the employment and provision of services to drug abusers.” The report sums up much of these policy initiatives as a public health approach to marijuana use, which SAM wholeheartedly supports.
The AMA report follows an American Psychiatric Association position paper released last week, which concluded: “There is no current scientific evidence that marijuana is in any way beneficial for the treatment of any psychiatric disorder. In contrast, current evidence supports, at minimum, a strong association of cannabis use with the onset of psychiatric disorders. Adolescents are particularly vulnerable to harm, given the effects of cannabis on neurological development.”
About Project SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana)
Project SAM is a nonpartisan alliance of lawmakers, scientists and other concerned citizens who want to move beyond simplistic discussions of “incarceration versus legalization” when discussing marijuana use and instead focus on practical changes in marijuana policy that neither demonizes users nor legalizes the drug. SAM supports a treatment, health-first marijuana policy.
Ill Effects of Marijuana, New York Times
October 29, 2013
To the Editor:
By focusing on changes in California marijuana use since 1996, and then citing a controversial study called into question by some leading think tanks and experts in marijuana policy, “Few Problems With Cannabis for California” (front page, Oct. 27) does not reflect the growing reality of marijuana as a public health and safety threat in that state.
First, the important year to look at in California isn’t when the medical marijuana initiative passed — 1996 — but rather when it was implemented in the form of “dispensaries,” around 2004. And since then there has been a rise in marijuana use and marketing.
Second, the single academic study used to substantiate the article’s thesis can be called into question for many reasons, including its silence about research that does not conform to the authors’ pro-legalization perspective. That research finds that legally protecting dispensaries equals more marijuana use and more problems.
Finally, absent from the article was any perspective from educators, prevention groups or treatment centers in California, who have reported that as marijuana has become more normalized and accepted, their work has become harder and, in the case of treatment centers, much more in demand.
Also, there was little about the mental or physical health effects of marijuana. Those are not outcomes of marijuana use that should be brushed off, even if bringing them to light hurts the prospects for full legalization in 2016.
PATRICK J. KENNEDY
KEVIN A. SABET
Cambridge, Mass., Oct. 27, 2013
The argument in favour of legalisation has been incredibly oversimplified by its proponents, presented as a silver bullet to failed, heavy-handed law enforcement efforts. As I argue in my new book, “Reefer Sanity: Seven Great Myths About Marijuana“, neither incarceration only nor legalisation stands up to the best evidence. That is why Neil McKeganey’s piece is highly convincing: we can reform the worst parts of current policy without exposing our society to myriad new problems that would inevitably arise from legalisation.
My primary concern with legalisation is that it will come with the large-scale commercialisation, normalisation and reckless promotion that characterise the global approach to our other legal intoxicants, alcohol and tobacco. In America under the (joke) of smoked cannabis as medicine, new, large “cannabusinesses” have already ushered in mass advertising and vending machines. Now with legal cannabis barely in place, they have resorted to product giveaways (really) and they are aggressively embarking on rounds of multimillion-dollar investor fundraising.
Globally, normalisation and commercialisation would drastically cut the price of cannabis, making it cheap, more widely available and, consequently, more prevalent. And we should care about an increase in demand. Cannabis is not the benign drug many readers might fondly remember from the 1960s and 1970s. Its potency has quintupled in the past few decades, and new methods of ingestion—like butane hash oil vaporisation, or “dabbing”—are responsible for a growing number of hospital visits and overdoses. Indeed, the increased harmfulness of cannabis is not the subject of scientific debate—most major medical associations and scientific institutes have acknowledged cannabis’s potential for harm and do not support its legalisation. But since most people who try cannabis do not become addicted or exhibit serious harm to society, the perception of it as a harmless plant persists. The fact that a minority of users suffer the majority of the harm—in the form of a reduction in IQ, mental illness, poor learning outcomes, lung damage, car crashes, addiction and emergency room mentions related to acute panic attacks and psychotic episodes—should not cause us to overlook the seriousness of cannabis. This is the case for most of our legal, addictive drugs today: the use by a small number of users causes most of the harm.
America is about to become the first country in the world to implement large-scale retail and commercial sales of cannabis. Already, cannabis food and candy are being marketed to children (and linked to hospital visits) by an industry dedicated to fighting (quite successfully) any sensible regulation state lawmakers try to impose. To make matters worse, a former Microsoft executive is teaming up with an ex-Mexican president with the intention to “mint more marijuana millionaires than Microsoft” in his goal to create the “Starbucks of Marijuana”.
If this sounds familiar, it should. The tobacco and alcohol industries follow similar patterns while hawking their legal, addictive substances. And we know how that story ends: money-hungry industries, targeting the vulnerable, will stop at nothing to increase addiction and profit. Why on earth would we want to repeat that debacle with cannabis?
And it must be stated: the legalisation movement (the part with the money, anyway) is not only about cannabis. Although I think cannabis legalisation would be bad for society, the legalisation of methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin carries massively different implications. Unfortunately, though, many of the same advocates who call for cannabis legalisation are “gearing up” to extend their crusade to cocaine, heroin and the whole lot. In this very publication a short decade or so ago, such proponents called for the idea to “move on to hard drugs, sold through licensed outlets’ perhaps sold through “pharmacies … or mail distribution”.
Not all advocates share these machinations. Many well-intended people, frustrated with current efforts, think we can legalise responsibly by taxing cannabis to pay for public treatment or education. We could even ban advertising and promotion, enforce age limits, and restrict the potency and kinds of products sold. But experience shows all of that to be no more than a pipe dream. First, for every $1 made on alcohol and tobacco tax revenue, society loses $10 in public health and other social costs. Second, the experience of medical cannabis in America, de facto legalisation in the Netherlands (where use trebled among young adults), and alcohol and tobacco legalisation elsewhere around the world have taught us that normalisation is a necessary legal, financial and/or cultural staple that comes with such policies. And any reasonable restrictions on the strength or type of products will be quickly outdone by an underground market eager to provide the harder stuff (or the same stuff, for kids) at a cheaper price (witness the underground market for tobacco today in Britain).
Global cannabis legalisation would only enrich big business, increase addiction and mental illness and hurt the next generation—all the while making us pawns in another game of corporate chess. Can’t we do better?
Should medical marijuana be legalized in Florida?
As six people are taken ill in England, allegedly due to batch of drugs, Cordelia Lynch visits a scheme in Austria where officials test drugs for clubbers to determine their safety. Followed by a debate by Dr Tim Williams and Kevin Sabet.
SAM’s, Dr. Kevin Sabet’s op-ed on the front page of cnn.com