Legalization Hits a Tipping Point in Congress This Year

Legalization Hits a Tipping Point in Congress This Year

[Editor’s Note: Your help is needed. Contact your Senator and let them know you support the STATES Act. Let’s make 2019 the cannabis breakthrough year.]

Legalization has hit a historic tipping point in Congress this year, says Neal Levine, a longtime political operative and head of the Cannabis Trade Federation, which is deploying a record number of lobbyists on Capitol Hill for the issue in 2019.

Levine’s been in the legalization game since 2002, and he said voter support can end prohibition this year through the STATES Act, which exempts legalization states from the 1972 Controlled Substances Act. While it’s cliché to say legalization is “always 10 years away,” Levine says it’s here. In the below Q&A with Leafly, Levine points to some key factors:

  • 10 adult-use legalization states, plus Washington, DC
  • 33 medical legalization states
  • hundreds of thousands of American jobs on the line
  • billions and billions of dollars in domestic economic impact
  • polling at 61% for legalization, 75% for federal noninterference, 90% for medical

“We got an issue here that people are starting to care passionately about that can swing elections,” he tells Leafly.

Strap in. You’re riding with veteran activist and policy wonk turned industry lobbying powerhouse Levine, before his Friday appearance at the International Cannabis Business Conference in San Francisco. The ICBC is sponsored in part by Leafly.

Leafly: I’ll play devil’s advocate. It took 33 states to enact marijuana prohibition before the federal government followed in the ’30s. What makes you think we he have enough states to stop prohibition this year? There’s only nine legalization states.

Neal Levine: First off, prohibition ended in 10 states, plus the District as of today. But fortuitously it’s 33 states plus the District that have opted out in some form. And so prohibition has become untenable.

We have Canada up and roaring. We have Mexico about to set up legal markets. We got countries in South America, Europe, the Middle East, and now Asia all starting to opt out of prohibition. We are ceding what should be an American industry to international competition, and there’s no reason for it, outside of bad policy.

The states are now moving at lighting speed to opt out on their own. We have now reached that point and Congress must act. That’s why we’re focused on the federal level, and that’s why we’re so optimistic we can get this done.

Talk with Neal Levine at the International Cannabis Business Conference Friday, Feb. 8 — sponsored by Leafly

And the reason we’re so optimistic, and we have bipartisan support, and the president said he’d sign [the STATES Act] into law—is because the polling is so over the top in favor. [Federal noninterference] is polling 10 points higher than legalization, and that’s the STATES Act — it’s polling in the mid ’70s, and that’s why I think we can get this done.

It is no coincidence that every single Democrat in the US Senate who is running for president or talking about running for president is putting their name on a cannabis bill.

Yes, but there are like a half-dozen bills in Congress, why is the STATES Act the one to back?

So Rep. Earl Bluemenaur (D-OR) has a whole suite of bills. … But the STATES Act is a bipartisan bill that the president said he would sign into law if it hits his desk. Based on that, that’s why we’re focused on the STATES Act.

Our intel is that the STATES Act is the one game-changing piece of legislation that we can pass into law in the next Congress.

Look the STATES Act is not the entire loaf—but it’s 60% to 70%. It fundamentally ends the conflict between federal and state law and it opens the door to have the conversation move from “Should we do this?” to “How should we do this?” The “How should we do this?” piece is full social equity.

There’s been a lot of talk about equity lately. That’s not in the STATES Act.

If you look at what’s going on in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, California—all the social equity pieces are happening locally. Denver is doing expungement. The state of Colorado is talking about stuff. So a lot of that stuff is happening at the state level, because that’s where the laws are. The STATES Act will speed up the pace of legalization in the states exponentially.

Can the STATES Act help with banking, or tax reform? The current banking situation redlines out anyone who can’t raise a million dollars from an angel investor, friend, or relative.

It immediately fixes [IRS tax penalty] 280E for every licensed legal state business. It doesn’t open up all banking, but it’s going to open up a lot commercial banking services from FDIC-insured banks.

Will Wells Fargo and B of A jump in? Probably not. But will community banks start offering real commercial banking services? Yes.

And it ends the threat of the DOJ coming in and kicking in our doors and seizing our assets for the crime of running a state-legal business.

That being said, what we’re trying to do here is end federal prohibition. The end goal is expungement for everybody with old crimes that would not have violated new law.

But it’s much harder to pass that initial, fundamental, game-changing piece of legislation than it is to amend the law later.

An example is the first law I quarterbacked while I was at Marijuana Policy Project was medical marijuana in Vermont in 2004. Vermont became the ninth MMJ state in 2004. That initial law was three plants, one mature, no industry, grow your own, three qualifying conditions: cancer, AIDS and MS. Vermont then became the first state legislature to end adult-use prohibition, and it was also, ironically, the ninth state to [end prohibition].

So you don’t always get the whole loaf at first.

How do Leafly readers make the most impact with their time and energy here? A lot of people feel powerless, or that this might be above their head.

They should call their members of Congress, call their senators, and they should tell them they support this. They should contact their local officials, their mayor, their county commissioners, their governors, and the state’s attorney general, and tell them, “I support this legislation. You should support this.”

And then folks can jump on our website,, and sign up for our list. We’ll be sending updates on ways they can help and be involved, and not just us. Sign up with our partners, the MPP, Drug Policy Alliance, any number of these groups we work in coalition with. They will get a steady stream of things that [they] can do to help us pass this.

What exactly is the six-month-old Cannabis Trade Federation? Your 20-member board includes Pax, Cannacraft, Dixie, Reef Dispensaries, and Tilt?

The Cannabis Trade Federation has the largest-staffed lobbying team the industry has ever seen. If you would have looked at all the other resources that are brought to the table up to this point combined—it’s not as large as what we’re bringing. This is a huge boulder we’re pushing up a steep hill in a short amount of time. We think it’s doable, but we have no illusions about how difficult this is going to be.

Right now we have about 50 companies, and every company has made a minimum financial commitment of a five-figure amount, and board members have made six-figure commitments.

What makes you the guy to lead this macro-group of lobbying groups?

I got into this from a social justice and social equity point of view 15, 16 years ago. So I’ve been here a minute.

When I started working on this issue, there was no real industry. You had California and what was going on there, but all the early medical marijuana laws were grown-your-own laws. The first one we did at the ballot was Arizona that was actually creating industry.

On top of the seven laws I helped to quarterback for MPP, there’s another half-dozen that I played assist role on.

And I led the team that did the decrim initiative in Massachusetts in 2008, and we got 65% of vote for that. At the same time, we did medical marijuana in Michigan and we got 62% of the vote for that. We did both of those at the same time, and that decrim initiative in 2008 is probably to date the purest social equity initiative that we’ve run as a movement, ever.

You went into the industry in 2009 in Colorado and ran communications, government affairs and philanthropy for LiveWell. What brought you back into the fray?

How this all started was the prohibitionists went and tried to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot here in Colorado that would have capped THC in products at 16%, which would have made 86% of everything on the shelf illegal overnight.

We formed a coalition to beat that back. Up until that point, the industry just slit each other’s throats, as opposed to work together. And there was a lot of skepticism … whether or not we could work together.

It worked really well. We were able to do a public education campaign and prevent them from gathering enough signatures to get it on the ballot. Sometimes the best way to win a fight is to avoid it. So that worked. We quickly raised a half-million dollars, we knocked it off the ballot, and we refunded half the money, and everyone was like, “That worked splendidly.”

But then at that point, the prohibitionists had qualified a local ballot initiative down in Pueblo County which would have banned the industry, including 1,200 jobs, and scholarship money, and a bunch of stuff. So the coalition expanded and helped defeat that on Election Day down in Pueblo.

But you didn’t stop there?

Now it’s Election Day 2016 and the Republicans have taken over the entire federal government. I went to DC, and what became very apparent to us is we needed some sort of entity from the industry or movement to be able to talk to the right in their language. Because they were talking about tax reform and we saw an opportunity for 280E.

And then obviously we had Sessions as the AG and we saw a great threat. We knew we needed to engage, and we needed to engage in a way where we were talking to the folks who were in power. So that was the formation of the New Federalism Fund, and this Colorado coalition expanded and became more of a national coalition.

We didn’t get a 280E fix into tax reform, then Sessions pulled the Cole memo, Sen. Gardner put a hold on all DOJ appointments, and that turned in to the STATES Act for the release of these DOJ appointments.

And here we are saying, “We need something that’s both sides of the aisle.” And a lot of our folks didn’t feel well served by their options and were talking about pulling together an actual association, and so that led to the natural evolution of what the Cannabis Trade Federation is.

And instead of forming an association, we’re forming a [tax-exempt] federation so we can share some of these resources that we are bringing and spread it around to all of the other entities, so all boats can hopefully rise.

So the Cannabis Trade Federation is much larger than any individual entity. It’s right in our logo what our DNA is about: professionalize, unify, diversify.

Catch Neal Levine at the International Cannabis Business Conference Friday, Feb. 8 — sponsored by Leafly

(Featured Image: AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

Original Post: Leafly: Legalization Hits a Tipping Point in Congress This Year

California Cannabis Labs Are Finding Toxic Metal in Vape Carts

California Cannabis Labs Are Finding Toxic Metal in Vape Carts

[Editor’s Note: California’s tolerance for lead in vape carts is the lowest of all states, plus Canada. Zero tolerance for us all, please.]

Looks like it’s time to get the heavy metal out of vape carts.

Yes, the toxic, heavy metal “lead” (chemical symbol Pb) is showing up in lab tests of recreational cannabis products in California. Specifically, those disposable, pen-sized e-cigarette devices dubbed “vaporizer cartridges” or “vape carts.”

Vape carts are a surging, highly profitable new sector of legal cannabis. They let you inhale a cool, potent cannabis mist anywhere at any time without anyone noticing. Since January 1 in California, all legal cannabis vape carts are subject to stringent new testing for heavy metals, including lead. Labs are reporting that some percentage of vape carts are showing a concerning amount of lead.

That’s a problem, because the Centers for Disease Control has found that there is no safe level of exposure to lead. It’s a neurotoxin that can decrease IQ, as well as sicken and kill you. The US and other countries have spent decades throttling lead exposures—banning lead paint, leaded gasoline, and other sources.

“California’s high standards promise to help get the lead out of e-cigarettes, too, not just in California but worldwide.”

“Lead is a boogeyman metal,” says Peter Hackett, a vape hardware expert with the company AiR Vapor, which imports vaporizer cartridges to the US. “Baby boomers and their children are very aware of its dangers.”

At SC Labs, founder Josh Wurzer reports that about 0.5% of the vape cart batches he’s tested have failed for lead. “We’ve seen some issue,” he said. “Out of the thousands we’ve tested, we’ve had a very small portion over the limit.”

Other labs might have higher fail rates, Wurzer said. “I have heard anecdotally some people have had issues with weird, wonky metal results and a ton of failures.”

David Hua runs Meadow, a cannabis software company, and sits on the board of the California Cannabis Industry Association. He, too, is hearing reports about lead in carts.

“We’ve had a number of people that I’ve run into who are saying that there’s issues with cartridges passing — primarily in heavy metals,” Hua said.

Peter Hackett, with AiR Vapor, says there’s definitely a lead problem in vape carts. It’s a global problem, he says, and it starts at the metal foundries in China.

A spokesman for California’s regulators — the Bureau of Cannabis Control — reviewed Leafly’s findings and affirmed they are correct.

Lead in carts californiaCannabis samples await testing in a California lab in 2018. Statewide lab-testing for heavy metals commenced Jan. 1. (David Downs | Leafly)

Why Is There Lead In Carts?

The Chinese add lead to brass and copper to make the metals more moldable when shaping all types of electronics, Hackett explains.

Chinese foundries had been following the toughest rules in the world, which until now had been European laws capping lead in metal electronics at 4% lead, or 40,000 parts per million. That standard is now outdated.

California’s standard, as of Jan. 1, 2019, is 0.5 parts per million (ppm) lead in a cannabis product. That’s more than twice as strict as Washington’s limit of 1.2 ppm. Oregon does not ban heavy metals in cannabis products.

What’s In A Cartridge?

A vaporizer cartridge is a tiny tank that holds cannabis oil. Little holes inside the bottom of the tank allow cannabis oil to flow to a metal gap, where an electrical current from a battery flash-boils the oil, creating an inhaled aerosol.

Vape carts can be made of all plastic, or a mix of plastic, metal, and glass. Just because a cart contains 4% lead in its metal does not automatically mean the oil inside the tank is contaminated.

Wurzer suspects that cannabis oil—which is acidic—is leaching lead from some carts, causing the oil to fail tests. “Maybe some oil is picking up some of the lead and failing there,” Wurzer says. “We have tested actual empty cartridges and confirmed a number of ‘over the limit’ hits for lead.”

Variance in lab results is also a major challenge, Wurzer adds.

Hackett agrees. The best vape carts—so-called “CCELLs”—may pass or fail California testing requirements depending on which lab is doing the testing, and the methods the lab uses.

“The lab has to be very careful to make sure they’re not actually contaminating the concentrate with lead,” says Wurzer.

CCELL carts that are failing test at 0.6 or 0.7 ppm lead, Hackett said. That’s legal in Washington state, but not in California. The ones that are passing often do so barely—at 0.3 or 0.4 ppm lead. Hackett said even if a CCELL tests at 0.6 ppm, it doesn’t necessarily mean the carts have 0.6 ppm lead, due to the issue of variable test results from differing lab testing procedures.

CCELLs are the best carts China makes, Hackett says. Cheaper cartridges might have more lead, because more lead makes metal more moldable, thus shaving pennies off a cart’s production price per unit. At scale, that adds up to millions of dollars.

“Seventy percent-plus of the visible brands are using CCELL. This is something that’s widely affecting the industry,” says Hackett. “But it’s only getting popped in California,” because of the state’s strict testing requirements, which are the toughest in the nation.

The best way to ensure lead can’t leach is to prevent any lead from being in the cart in the first place.

“I don’t want any lead in anything,” Hackett says. “I don’t want 4%, not 0.5 ppm. I don’t want any in there.”

“If it’s two or three parts per million lead, I don’t want people smoking that,” says Wurzer. “I’m glad we’re catching it.”

Removing lead from the equation requires changes way up the production chain—which means revising the metal recipe at the Chinese foundries. But Chinese foundries are offline right now for Chinese New Year. Hackett has ordered lead-free carts, but they won’t hit the California market until the end of February. The increased per-unit cost of lead-free carts will not be felt by consumers, he says.

California’s high standards promise to help get the lead out of e-cigarettes, too, not just in California but worldwide. Canada is considering using California’s standards, according to Wurzer.

“As California goes, so goes the world,” Hackett says.

The Bottom Line For Consumers

  • All vape carts made before Jan. 1, 2019 in California may or may not contain some lead in the oil—no one was testing for heavy metals. Retailers are allowed to sell all inventory manufactured in 2018 to consumers. All vape carts made for the licensed, adult-use market in California after Jan. 1, 2019 should be lab-tested and contain less than 0.5 ppm lead. Look for “manufactured on” dates on the label.
  • If you want to inhale 100% lead-free vapor, you should abstain from using cartridges until carts with lead-free metal start hitting California shores later this winter.
  • There is no heavy metals testing on the illicit market, which often sources cheaper carts from China.

Original Post: Leafly: California Cannabis Labs Are Finding Toxic Metal in Vape Carts

Bloomberg Calls Legalization ‘Stupidest Thing Ever Done’

Bloomberg Calls Legalization ‘Stupidest Thing Ever Done’

[Editor’s Note: This falls under the category ‘things you need to know about certain Democrats before you vote for them’.]

Here’s one way to stand out in a crowded pack of Democratic presidential candidates: Go on the radio and shoot yourself in the foot.

Former New York mayor and one-time presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg blasted cannabis law reform efforts Tuesday.

Bloomberg went on the radio station WBNG and said taxing and regulating cannabis — instead of locking mostly young people of color up for it — “is perhaps the stupidest thing anybody has ever done.”

We could think of stupider things, like mulling a presidential run after calling most voters stupid for supporting legalization by 61 percent in the US, and 75 percent among Democrats. Ten states have ended the marijuana war. More than one in five Americans live in a legal adult-use state.

More dangerously, Bloomberg tied liberalization of cannabis — which has no lethal overdose level — to America’s opioid overdose epidemic, echoing former Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ talking points.

“Last year, in 2017, 72,000 Americans OD’d on drugs,” Bloomberg said. “In 2018, more people than that are OD-ing on drugs, have OD’d on drugs, and today, incidentally, we are trying to legalize another addictive narcotic, which is perhaps the stupidest thing anybody has ever done.”

That might be a catchy radio sound bite, but it misleads citizens. First, cannabis is not a narcotic. Studies conclude cannabis carries less risk for psychological addiction — or physical dependence — than more toxic, legal drugs such as nicotine and alcohol, let alone legal opioids (which are narcotics). Still, the federal government deems cannabis more medically useless and far riskier than opioid drugs like vicodin and codeine.

In terms of dependence, cannabis withdrawal is considered “mild and medically benign.” By contrast, alcohol withdrawal can be deadly.

As for trouble stopping use, someone who uses cannabis might have a nine percent chance of developing a cannabis use disorder at one point in their lives, a fraction of the addiction risk of other drugs.

Bloomberg has said he would fight cannabis legalization through Bloomberg Philanthropies — part of a broad public health agenda that has included taxing sugary drinks as mayor of New York.

Bloomberg’s comments further isolate him among prominent Democrats, including the current governor of New York state and the mayor of New York City, who have outlined terms for ending the war on cannabis. Most of his potential opponents in the Democratic primary for the 2020 election have also voiced support for national cannabis law reform.

Original Post: Leafly: Bloomberg Calls Legalization ‘Stupidest Thing Ever Done’

Photos: Cannabis Goes Beyond Organic in California’s Wine Country

Photos: Cannabis Goes Beyond Organic in California’s Wine Country

[Editor’s Note: A fabulous day-in-the-life of a biodynamic cannabis farm photo series. For growers and those who love them.]

Terra Luna Farms grew almost 50 different strains on two outdoor parcels licensed for up to an acre of canopy in 2018.

Harvest yield totaled around 1,600 dried, cured pounds with an estimated wholesale value of around $2.8 million.

Terra Luna battled a late splash of rain that threatened mold in October. Biodynamic farmers cannot combat mold or mildew with powerful, synthetic chemistry.

“There’s no silver bullets,” said Mike Bensinger, a longtime biodynamic evangelist from the wine industry.  “If you have a problem you’re already fucked. It’s a super-anticipative type of farming.”

sparc Weed
(Jason Henry for Leafly)

SPARC’s harvest reaches consumers as high-quality top-shelf buds, as well as cannabis oil that goes into vape pens and edibles.

Terra Luna farms is situated in the Moon Mountain region of Sonoma County. The growing location and inputs influence the final product, they said.

“Both flowers flavors and effects are enunciated by the unique climate of the Moon Mountain AVA which benefits from a warmer climate just above the fogline and a consistent breeze with winds from both the Pacific Ocean and San Pablo Bay,” SPARC states.

“The finish has been great,” said Terra Luna owner Ereneta.

“If anything it’s been a little scary. We’ve had deja vu with several red flag warnings up until today about windy dry weather. We have a little PTSD.”

SPARC founder Erich Pearson has survived not only the brutal transition from medical cannabis to recreational in the brutal market of San Francisco. Wildfire tested his renegade spirit in 2017.

SPARC's Erich Pearson after Nuns Fire. (Courtesy SPARC)(Courtesy SPARC)

Above, Pearson amid the ruin of the Nun’s Fire. The fires interrupted a multi-year plan to get the farm Demeter-certified.

Michael Bensinger at Terra Luna(Courtesy SPARC)

Biodynamic evangelist Mike Bensinger, left, helps remediate Terra Luna farms after the Nuns Fire.

“It’s really important for plants to have some relationship to humans,” said Bensinger, a local wine celebrity and biodynamic grower.

(Jason Henry for Leafly)

A tag denoting strain type sticks out of the soil next to a cannabis plant.

Biodynamic farming and demeter-certification is all about the soil. The unique, local soil gives a plant its terroir—or unique smell, taste and effect.

Terra Luna’s soil needed three year’s work to get demeter certified. Conventional farmland cannot qualify for five years unless they remediate.

Terra Luna grew in fabric pots with holes to allow the roots to tap into the ground soil.

(Courtesy SPARC)

After the fires, SPARC planted cover crops included purple vetch, fava beans and oat hay helped fix the nutrient nitrogen. Those crops got mulched back into the soil. “Biodynamic cannabis farming, with its emphasis on good health, natural inputs and cycles, and honoring the Earth, is the best way to grow this healing plant.”

“It’s not easy to grow this way, but it is simple, because it most closely mimics what nature would do itself,” Pearson said. “The result is a clean, flavorful cannabis with extraordinary powers. I’m delighted to be able to offer these two new strains to our patients and adult consumers alike.”

Biodynamic farming uses all on-farm inoute like manure for fertilizers, instead of synthetic nutrients.(Courtesy SPARC)

All-natural compost included worm castings, manure, all organic OMRI-certified inputs. Going biodynamic means sourcing all farm inputs from the farm itself. Terra Luna also fertilized with bat guano from nearby deposits.

SPARC worked to pioneer biodynamic certification for cannabis since 2015.

Finishing Strong

(Jason Henry for Leafly)

With trichomes ripe and mature, farm workers chop cannabis stalks and move them on trays into a processing building. Strains of 2018 included Cookies, Tangie, Bubba Kush, and Remedy.

Terra Luna demeter harvest(Jason Henry for Leafly)

Workers process the cannabis—removing debris and fan leaf, spreading out buds for drying. The fall’s full-sun harvest creates a seasonal spike in demand for labor. Processing wages are declining while regulatory costs have kicked in for the first time.

(Jason Henry for Leafly)

Hundreds of pounds of cannabis dries in a large drying room. The buds get laid flat in single layer per tray. The stackable trays go on rolling dollies. Buds dry for five to seven days in a cold, dark room humming with fans.

Later they go to move on to a stage called ‘curing’. During curing, buds get trimmed and polished.

(Jason Henry for Leafly)

A cannabis bud dries in the drying room. Fresh on shelves at SPARC’s four Bay Area dispensaries this fall, Biodynamic Black Light offers potent, high-THC indica effects. The musky, floral cross of Black Domina and Northern Lights #1 can help with relaxation and sleep.

(Jason Henry for Leafly)

A top-shelf cannabis strain sits in the gloved hand of a processor. Strains of 2018 include Biodynamic Purple Punch is an indica flower with a sweet berry-like flavor and hails from a beloved cross between Larry OG and Grand Daddy Purple which produces a sedating feeling perfect for winding down the day.

Terra Luna’s official demeter-certification coincided with its harvest hitting shelves.

Terra Luna's demeter certification(Courtesy SPARC)

Original Post: Leafly: Photos: Cannabis Goes Beyond Organic in California’s Wine Country

Washington Teens Smoked Less Pot Amid Legalization, Study Concludes

Washington Teens Smoked Less Pot Amid Legalization, Study Concludes

[Editor’s Note: The original article was published in JAMA Pediatrics, a peer reviewed magazine. Studies are starting to come out from real life data. While this report is positive, we all need to be concerned about teen use. More good research please!]

The authors of a new study on teen marijuana use say legalization in Washington has not caused rates to go up — they appear to be in decline

Cannabis legalization for adults 21 and over in Washington has not led to increased teen use of the drug, according to an authoritative, new non-partisan study.

The research team, which included public health researchers at the RAND Drug Policy Research Center, found that the prevalence of marijuana use generally fell among Washington teens amid the commercial sales launch of 2014 to 2016, as compared to the period 2010 to 2012.

The study, published in JAMA Pediatrics, also found that:

  • Among eighth graders, cannabis use declined from 9.8% to 7.3%.
  • Among tenth graders, cannabis consumption dropped from 19.8% to 17.8%.
  • No changes were reported among 12th graders.

Amid a fierce, fact-limited national debate, the research letter gives a better snapshot of what’s going on in Washington teens’ lives.

Teens have had relatively easy access to marijuana since the ‘70s, surveys have shown. Both legalization supporters and opponents have long-argued that ‘anyone who wants marijuana can get it.’

In 2012, Washingtonians chose to tax, regulate, and control cannabis like alcohol or tobacco. Deterring teen use was one of the goals of that initiative.

In 2014, Washington retail cannabis stores opened for ID-card carrying adults 21 and over.

Valid, epidemiological data is scant. A major study published in JAMA in 2017 found slight increases in Washington teen use among 8th, 10th, and 12th graders. RAND fact-checked those findings using better data, which they published last week.

Look for Actual Data, Not Guesswork

The study’s lead authors, Dr. Julia A. Dilley, and Susan M. Richardson of the Oregon Public Health Division, said consumers must vet survey methods to make sure claims are generalizable. In this case, amajor 2017 study used national survey results to make state-level conclusions. That proved incorrect.

Dilley and Richardson—along with Beau Kilmer of RAND, Mary B. Segawa of the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board, and Magdalena Cerdá of New York University—obtained better, state-level data from the Washington Healthy Youth Survey. That survey came from a random sample of Washington public schools every two years. When you look at actual Washington student survey results instead of national models, use rates went down, not up.

Surveys of actual Washington teens show cannabis use going down (green lines). Inaccurate models of national data show use going up (yellow lines).Sky Not Falling: Surveys of actual Washington teens show cannabis use going down (green lines). Inaccurate models of national data show use going up (yellow lines). (JAMA Pediatrics)

“The [national, Monitoring the Future survey] includes some Washington kids. But it really isn’t built to generalize to the state,” Dilley told Leafly.

“The effect of legalization on youth marijuana use is an important public health question that needs to be revisited using a multitude of data sets,” said Rosalie Liccardo Pacula, co-author of the study and co-director of the RAND Drug Policy Research Center. “This work underscores the importance of understanding who is being captured in each data set so we can better understand how representative the sample is when trying to draw policy conclusions from the analysis.”

RAND is non-partisan, and the analysis offers some of our best, most current information on Washington as a laboratory of democracy with regard to cannabis law reform. It’s a better source than guesses from both the pro and anti-legalization side. Dilley said to look for neutral sources when judging legalization, not someone’s biased personal experience.

“A lot of public health researchers are trying to understand what’s happening, and do it within the framework of the decisions voters have made,” Dilley explained.

Why Teens Might Pass on Grass

The paper does not guess at why prevalence might decline amid taxing and regulating cannabis. It could simply be an overall trend in the teen cohort. Millennials seem to use less drugs and have less sex than Gen Xers or Boomers.

Dilley said the facts on the ground continue to change with regard to adult-use cannabis’ price, availability, public messaging, and advertising.

“I think it’s going to be a long time before we know why,” she said. “I’m still at ‘What’s happening?’ rather than ‘Why it’s happening.’”

Reformers think the lower teen use rates might be due to better messaging and control of the adult trade.

Teens’ historically high access to cannabis makes it “little surprise that legalization appears to be having little effect on teen usage rates,” said Mason Tvert, Marijuana Policy Project spokesperson. “It is still illegal for teens in those states, and there are still plenty of consequences that are likely deterring use. More research is needed to know what impact legalization is having, if any, but it’s clear that it does not result in an immediate or significant increase in teen use, as opponents have long predicted.”

Tobacco use has collapsed among modern teens—a result of heavy public messaging paid for by high tobacco taxes and lawsuit settlement funds. That paradigm is coming to cannabis.

“Smart regulations, combined with evidence-based messaging, are far preferable to criminalization. These findings further make the case for removing cannabis from the black market, and should assuage the concerns of those who feared that doing so would inadvertently promote use among young people. Such concerns, fortunately, have not come to fruition,” said Paul Armentano, deputy director of NORML.

More Fodder For Debate

Researchers say that the results are an “encouraging trend”, but they don’t predict the future. Clusters of stores or intense advertising blitzes could one day drive more teens to weed, but researchers don’t know.

“These findings do not provide a final answer about how legalization ultimately may influence youth marijuana usage,” Pacula said. “A variety of factors may influence the behavior of adolescents and those factors are likely to influence behaviors in different ways over time.”

“Kids don’t care about what happens in the state capitol, they care about what happens in their own neighborhoods,” Pacula said. “Commercialization in local neighborhoods is likely to be more important than changes in the law.”

Original Post: Leafly: Washington Teens Smoked Less Pot Amid Legalization, Study Concludes

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