With so little scientific evidence that medical marijuana does what it is purported to do, it may be time to retire the medical model — at least in states like Colorado where marijuana can be legally purchased by any adult.
A recently released comprehensive review of dozens of clinical trials on medical marijuana found scant reliable evidence to support the drug’s use for all but a handful of maladies.
Medical marijuana proponents argue the results don’t tell the whole story because of federal barriers to legitimate research. That may be true. Both the state and feds should support and encourage more research so decisions around medical pot can be guided by high-quality evidence.
Nor do we discount the sincerity of the many personal testimonials regarding medical pot across a range of conditions.
Nonetheless, an editorial by Yale University physicians that accompanied the study in the Journal of the American Medical Association pointed out that states have generally approved medical marijuana use by relying on “low-quality scientific evidence, anecdotal reports, individual testimonials, legislative initiatives and public opinion.”
Imagine if other drugs were approved this way, said the editorial, observing that medical marijuana fails to meet the standards of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for most conditions.
Critics have long suspected that medical claims were mostly a ruse to legalize weed. If that is not the case, then medical pot should be able to prove its efficacy through the same research methods as every other medicine.
This JAMA review of 79 trials involving nearly 6,500 patients concluded medical pot helped with specific pain syndromes and spasticity from multiple sclerosis. But there was poor evidence it is good for other conditions that make up most medical marijuana programs. And meanwhile, patients suffered side effects with disturbing frequency.
Colorado is spending money on its own research. And the Obama administration has lifted some barriers to federal studies. However, if research continues to find pot is useless for many of the maladies for which it is used, states will want to revisit the extent of their support for it.
Colorado’s Amendment 20, which legalized medical marijuana in 2000, lists several “debilitating medical conditions” — such as glaucoma — for which there is still apparently little or no good evidence of a true benefit. And while it would be extremely difficult to change the measure, that doesn’t mean the possibility shouldn’t be discussed.
The state of Colorado was the first in the modern world to plow ahead into the unknown depths of legal, regulated recreational marijuana, and its experiment with retail pot has been considered so successful that many within the cannabis industry refer to what is known as “the Colorado model.”
But there are still a number of unresolved issues in the state — including a severe lacking of spaces where locals and tourists alike can actually legally consume the weed they’re buying.
With public consumption being one of the most contentious issues in Colorado pot, marijuana editor Ricardo Baca asked University of Denver law professor Sam Kamin – known for his expertise in cannabis law – about his opinion on the subject.
Does Colorado need to allow pot clubs or marijuana bars, so tourists and locals alike have a safe and legal place to consume?
“Some people can’t even smoke in their homes, right, so there may be no legal place for some people to smoke, and that’s just not what the voters voted for,” Kamin said while on The Cannabist Show. “What they voted for was to treat (marijuana) like alcohol, and alcohol means there’s places to do it.”
Hear more of Kamin’s thought process in the above video.
Despite medical marijuana’s unquestionable worldwide momentum, it hasn’t yet been proven scientifically to remedy most of the conditions governments have authorized it to treat, according to an influential new analysis of existing research.
While pro-legalization advocates don’t disagree with the analysis’ findings, they point out that the barriers to legitimate research on cannabis’ medical efficacy have been so substantial in the U.S. that President Barack Obama’s administration this week slashed some of those bureaucratic hurdles in a historic action — and yet marijuana still remains more difficult to study than cocaine or heroin.
It’s been a little over a year since Colorado began allowing stores to sell marijuana for recreational use and the market continues to grow rapidly. But there are clouds (ahem) on the horizon.
Nicholas Colas and his team at Convergex, a global brokerage company based in New York, surveyed a number of marijuana stores in Colorado last week to get a better picture of the state of the nascent market.
What they found was that prices are declining faster than some had expected, while the number of people visiting the stores has increased.
It took the Colorado Supreme Court a year to come up with the ruling, issued on Monday, that upheld the firing of a man who used medical marijuana legally under state law to help ease the pain he has suffered since a car accident left him paralyzed. A lot of that time had to be devoted to twisting the logic behind the decision.
There has been a lot of speculation about what the ruling means for Colorado’s legal marijuana industry, and other states that have permitted the use of marijuana for medical, and in a few cases, recreational, purposes.
But really it only makes one thing clear: the only solution to the pointless and profoundly damaging marijuana prohibition in this country is a federal solution. As long as the federal government continues not only to outlaw marijuana, but to classify it as one of the most dangerous narcotics, anti-prohibition efforts in states are subject to the sort of capricious ruling issued in Colorado.
In this case, Dish Network fired a worker, Brandon Coats, in 2010 after he underwent a random drug test that showed he was using marijuana. Mr. Coats said he used the drug away from his place of employment and during his own time, and claimed protection from a state law that prohibits firing workers for conducting “any lawful activity” outside the workplace.
Marijuana was legal for medical purposes in 2010 with the proper authorization, which Mr. Coats had. But the court said the law only applied to activities that were legal under both state and federal law.
There are signs that the ice is starting to crack a bit in Washington. In June, the conservative-dominated House of Representatives voted 242-186 to prevent the federal government from blocking states that want to permit medical use of marijuana.
But the country needs a real solution on this issue and that will only come when Congress repeals the federal marijuana laws, which have no real grounding in medicine or logic, and are racist in their application – destroying the lives of millions of African-Americans while having almost no impact on white Americans, who smoke pot with the same frequency.
States could then regulate, or ban, marijuana use as they chose, and localities could refuse to permit marijuana growing or sale within their borders, as some in Colorado now do.
This should not be a partisan issue. In fact, right-wing Republicans who claim to be modern-day Federalists should lead the demand for an end to marijuana prohibition.
DENVER — Even in one of the country’s most marijuana-friendly states, smoking pot off the job and away from work can still get an employee fired.
That was the unanimous conclusion of the Colorado Supreme Court on Monday, in a closely watched workplace lawsuit involving a customer service worker who uses medical marijuana to help soothe the painful spasms he has suffered since a car accident left him paralyzed. The worker, Brandon Coats, was fired from Dish Network in 2010 after testing positive for marijuana in a random drug test.
The court’s decision was a blow to marijuana advocates, who have consistently seen court rulings go against them, with judges in Colorado and elsewhere saying that companies have the right to create their own drug policies. The loss by Mr. Coats highlights the limits of marijuana legalization at a time when more states are approving medical or recreational uses of a drug that is still outlawed as a Schedule I controlled substance by the federal government.
“The federal government has in many ways the last say,” said Sam Kamin, a law professor at the University of Denver who studies legal issues swirling around marijuana’s growing place in society. “As long as that federal prohibition is in place, the states can only do so much.”
Twenty-three states allow medical marijuana, and Colorado is one of four that have legalized the drug’s recreational use for adults. But Colorado is now confronting a backlash from two neighboring states, sheriffs, rural property owners and a hotel company who argue in separate lawsuits that Colorado’s network of state-licensed marijuana retailers and dispensaries is illegal, bad for property values and public safety, and should be dismantled.
In another backlash, dozens of cities in Colorado and Washington State have banned marijuana dispensaries from their limits.
Despite those conflicts, the regulated marijuana industry has become a presence here. There are marijuana-themed yoga classes, cooking seminars and gallery events, and the state is taking in millions in tax dollars from marijuana sellers. Federal law enforcement officials have largely allowed states to proceed with their efforts to regulate medical and recreational marijuana.
But the federal prohibitions on the drug have made it difficult for dispensaries and regulated growers to get bank accounts or lines of credit, and have forced marijuana businesses to pay abnormally high tax bills. Marijuana advocates said the court’s ruling on Monday highlighted the legal gray areas where marijuana intersects with employment law and other matters, such as custody disputes and housing cases.
Lawyers for Mr. Coats argued that his medical marijuana use should have been covered by a Colorado law aimed largely at protecting smokers from being fired. It says that employers may not fire workers for “any lawful activity” outside the workplace.
Mr. Coats, who said that marijuana had worked “like a miracle,” had a medical marijuana card from the state, and said he smoked only at home, away from work, and that his use did not affect his job performance answering calls from cable-service customers.
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But though marijuana may be legally grown in basements here and sold in downtown Denver dispensaries, the state’s high court ruled that the clash in state and federal laws meant that Mr. Coats’s use was not “lawful.”
“Employees who engage in an activity such as medical marijuana use that is permitted by state law but unlawful under federal law are not protected by the statute,” Justice Allison H. Eid wrote in the court’s 6-to-0 decision.
The Colorado Supreme Court’s ruling upheld two lower-court decisions. In a statement, Mr. Coats’s lawyer, Michael Evans, said that the decision was “devastating,” but that it at least clarified the boundaries of marijuana use for employees.
Lawyers said the ruling could have wide ripples in Colorado. Cathy Klein, a lawyer in the Denver area, represents a nurse who was fired after testing positive for marijuana. Ms. Klein said that the state nursing board has been trying to order her client into a drug treatment program, and that Monday’s decision would reinforce societal images of marijuana users as low-level criminals.
“The fact that it is a crime under federal law, that part of the decision is going to be persuasive,” she said.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is conducting a series of Retail Marijuana Public Health Advisory Committee meetings. These meeting are open for public attendance. This month’s topics will cover;
Marijuana Secondhand Smoke and Marijuana Vaporization
Monday June 22, 2015
Carson room (limited capacity)
Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment
4300 Cherry Creek Drive South
Denver, CO 80246
There will be delegated time for public comment at this meeting. For information on future meetings, please visit the department’s Retail Marijuana webpage.
The Retail Marijuana Public Health Advisory Committee was established pursuant to Senate Bill 13-283, Section 10, C.R.S.25-1.5-110 signed May 28, 2013. This bill establishes the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment as the responsible department to 1) monitor changes in marijuana use patterns, 2) monitor emerging science and medical information relevant to the health effects associated with marijuana, 3) appoint a panel of health care professionals with expertise in cannabinoid physiology to monitor the relevant information.
The Retail Marijuana Public Health Advisory Committee will be expected to produce a report every two years beginning January 31, 2015. The reports will a) establish criteria for studies to be reviewed b) review data and studies with the intent of making recommendations for policies intended to protect consumers of marijuana and/or marijuana products and the general health of the public. These reports will be presented to the State Board of Health, Department of Revenue, and the General Assembly.
DENVER — Colorado schools will begin compiling data on students who get busted for using or distributing marijuana, an effort aimed at gauging the effects of the drug’s legalization in the state.
The new requirement is an addition to a 2012 law directing law enforcement and district attorneys to collect information on how students are punished and whether they’re being arrested or ticketed when they should be disciplined by educators for minor offenses.
Schools have been tracking all drug offenses involving students, but marijuana has not been separated on its own. Anecdotally, some schools say they’ve noticed an increase in marijuana use while others have not, according to Jane Urschel, deputy executive director of the Colorado Association of School Boards.
Lawmakers want definitive data now that recreational marijuana pot shops have been in business for almost 18 months.
“I think we need to get an accurate picture of what our trends are at our schools, what sort of impact legalization has had on our kids,” said Republican Rep. Polly Lawrence, one of the lawmakers behind the bill to track marijuana use.
Gov. John Hickenlooper signed the bill last week.
Washington state, which also has recreational marijuana sales, began tracking student suspensions and expulsions for pot use during the 2013-14 school year. That year, 4,116 students were suspended for marijuana and another 265 were expelled, according to state data. Numbers for the latest school year are not available yet.
When Colorado lawmakers passed the new marijuana reporting requirements for schools, they also revised the state’s 2012 law to track police involvement in student discipline, such as citations and arrests. That law was designed to spot demographic trends on student punishment, and whether school officials were referring youths to law enforcement instead of handling a matter themselves.
But compliance with that law has been spotty. When this year’s bill was drafted, only 74 out of 246 law enforcement agencies in the state sent data to the Colorado Department of Public Safety, along with just six of the 22 Colorado district attorneys.
Colorado is leading again, this time with a permanent tax break on recreational marijuana. The state is lowering the tax from 10% to 8% effective in July 2017, a move that could cut into Colorado’s black market. Colorado was the first state to legalize marijuana for recreational use, and now it’s passed a marijuana tax relief. There is even a one-time tax holiday on September 16, 2015, from the 10% state sales tax.
Gov. John Hickenlooper signed the provisions into law, noting that this should lower the price of legal cannabis. A voter initiative is set too. The question for voters is whether Colorado can keep the estimated $58 million in pot taxes collected this fiscal year. Colorado’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights—TABOR—requires the state to issue refunds to taxpayers if the state’s spending or revenue collections exceed the previous projections. To try to avoid the refund requirement, legislators introduced HB 15-1367, creating a ballot initiative to allow Colorado voters to approve of the state keeping the $58 million in marijuana revenue.
As we’ve reported, many of the Republican hopefuls who have either declared for the 2016 presidential contest or are expected to do so — including Jeb Bush — have taken semi-moderate positions in regard to Colorado’s legalization of limited recreational marijuana sales.
The approach of Bush, senators Rand Paul and Ted Cruz and others involves expressing an antipathy for marijuana use but supporting the right of states to make their own policies about it, even if their laws contradict federal statutes.
But New Jersey Governor Chris Christie isn’t following this trend. In an interview with CBS’ Face the Nation broadcast on Sunday, he stressed that if he becomes president, a Colorado crackdown will soon follow.
At least he’s consistent. In April 2014, as we’ve reported, Christie ripped Colorado’s pot laws in an appearance on a New Jersey radio station.
Here’s a video featuring part of the exchange…