The Top 10 Events of 2016 that Shaped Marijuana Policy
#1 Adult Use Marijuana Laws Win Big on Election Day
Voters in eight states on Election Day decided in favor of legalizing marijuana. In four states – California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada – voters backed statewide initiatives regulating the adult use, possession, and sale of cannabis. Voters in four additional states: Arkansas, Florida, Montana, and North Dakota endorsed initiatives either legalizing or expanding the use of marijuana for therapeutic purposes. Twenty-nine states now recognize the medical use of cannabis by statute, while eight states permit its adult use and retail sale.
#2 Record Percentage of Americans Say Marijuana Use Should Be Legal
A greater percentage of American adults than ever before say that the use of cannabis should be legal. An October Gallup poll reported that 60 percent of respondents back legalization, the highest percentage ever reported by the poll. Sixty-three percent of respondents age 18 or older endorsed legalization in this year’s American Values Survey, a 30 percent increase in public support since 2014.
#3 Marijuana-Related Tax Revenue Exceeds Projections
Tax revenue collection from retail marijuana sales is greatly exceeding initial projections. In Colorado, regulators took in $129 million over the 12-month period ending May 31, 2016 – well exceeding initial estimates of $70 million per year. In Washington, tax revenue totaled $220 million for the 12-month period ending June 30, 2016. Regulators had initially projected that retail sales would bring in only $162 million in new annual tax revenue. In Oregon, marijuana-related tax revenues are yielding about $4 million per month – about twice what regulators initially predicted.
#4 Medical Cannabis Access Associated With Less Prescription Drug Use
Patients who have legal access to medical cannabis mitigate their use of prescription drugs, particularly opiates. Data published by University of Georgia researchers in July reported that patients in medical marijuana states spent $165 million less on conventional prescription drugs, particularly those used to combat anxiety, depression, and pain. Separate data published in September in the American Journal of Public Health reported lower rates of opioid prevalence in medical marijuana states, while an April study commissioned by Castlight Health also reported lower rates of opiate abuse.
#5 Teens’ Marijuana Use, Access Falls In Era of Legalization
Fewer teens report being able to obtain marijuana, according to federal data released in 2016. Data reported by the US CDC in September found the percentage of teens that perceived cannabis to be “fairly easy or very easy to obtain” fell by 13 percent between the years 2002 and 2014, while separate data compiled by the University of Michigan determined that younger teens are finding it more difficult than ever before to procure the substance. The CDC report concluded, “[S]ince 2002, the prevalence of marijuana use and initiation among U.S. youth has declined” – a finding that is consistent with prior studies.
#6 Anti-Marijuana Zealot Tapped For US Attorney General
President-Elect Donald Trump has selected Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions to serve as US Attorney General. Senator Sessions has been one of the most outspoken opponents of marijuana law reform in Congress. He received a failing grade on NORML’s 2016 Congressional Scorecard for stating, “[G]ood people don’t smoke marijuana.” His confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee are scheduled for January 10-11, 2017.
#7 Medical Cannabis Laws Associated With Fewer Traffic Accidents
The passage of medical marijuana legalization is associated with reduced traffic fatalities among younger drivers, according to data published in December in the American Journal of Public Health. Investigators from Columbia University reported: “[O]n average, MMLs (medical marijuana laws) states had lower traffic fatality rates than non-MML states. …. MMLs are associated with reductions in traffic fatalities, particularly pronounced among those aged 25 to 44 years. … It is possible that this is related to lower alcohol-impaired driving behavior in MML-states.”
#8 DEA Reaffirms ‘Flat Earth’ Position With Regard to Scheduling Marijuana
The United States Drug Enforcement Administration in August rejected a pair of administrative rescheduling petitions challenging the federal classification of cannabis as a Schedule I controlled substance with no accepted medical utility. The decision continues to classify marijuana in the same category as heroin. In a separate announcement, the DEA acknowledged for the first time that it will consider issuing cannabis cultivation licenses for private entities engaged in “commercial product development.”
#9 Twin Study: Marijuana Use Does Not Adversely Impact IQ
The cumulative use of cannabis by adolescents has no direct effect on intelligence decline, according to longitudinal data published in January in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Investigators evaluated intellectual performance in two longitudinal cohorts of adolescent twins. Participants were assessed for intelligence at ages 9 to 12, before marijuana involvement, and again at ages 17 to 20. They concluded: “In the largest longitudinal examination of marijuana use and IQ change, … we find little evidence to suggest that adolescent marijuana use has a direct effect on intellectual decline.”
#10 Cannabis Use Not Associated With Increased Health Care Utilization
Marijuana consumers do not access health care services at rates that are higher than non-users, according to data published in August in the European Journal of Internal Medicine. Researchers assessed the relationship between marijuana use and health care utilization in a nationally representative sample of 174,159,864 US adults aged 18 to 59 years old. They concluded, “[C]ontrary to popular belief, … marijuana use is not associated with increased healthcare utilization, [and] there [is] also no association between health care utilization and frequency of marijuana use.”
About Anthony Martinelli
Anthony, co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of TheJointBlog, has worked closely with numerous elected officials who support cannabis law reform, including as the former Campaign Manager for Washington State Representative Dave Upthegrove. He has also been published by multiple media outlets, including the Seattle Times. He can be reached at TheJointBlog@TheJointBlog.com.