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Bob McCoskrie

Does legalization increase teen marijuana use? A case of dueling studies

A study published this week in JAMA Pediatrics contradicts one published last month in the American Journal of Public Health. Both studies used data from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey conducted every other year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The newer study analyzed YRBS data from 1993 to 2017. It finds that the eleven states that have legalized marijuana for recreational use are associated with an 8 percent decreasein the odds of past-month adolescent marijuana use and a 9 percent decrease in the odds of frequent marijuana use (10 or more times in the past month).

These findings directly contradict last month’s study which finds a 10-fold increase in past-month adolescent marijuana use over roughly the same time. This researcher analyzed YRBS data from 1991 to 2017.

What are we to make of such a jarring contradiction?

Following the old adage “when in doubt, ask,” we’ve decided to write the authors of both studies and ask them to explain how their analyses of the same survey over nearly the same time could result in such different outcomes. We will publish their explanations in a future issue of The Marijuana Report as soon as we hear from them. Stay tuned.

Read JAMA Pediatrics article here. Read American Journal of Public Health abstract here.

The Marijuana Report

JAMA Pediatrics study doesn’t provide enough data to support its findings
Last week, The Marijuana Report covered two studies: “Association of Marijuana Laws with Teen Marijuana Use” published last week in JAMA Pediatrics and “Trends in Single, Dual, and Poly Use of Alcohol, Cigarettes, and Marijuana Among US High-School Students: 1991-2017” published last month in the American Journal of Public Health.

The JAMA study found no evidence that medical marijuana laws increased adolescent marijuana use but did find evidence that legalizing the drug for recreational use may decrease past-month and more frequent adolescent marijuana use by 8% and 9%, respectively. The public health study found a 10-fold increase in teen marijuana use, using data from the same survey – the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) – over nearly the same period (JAMA: 1993-2017; Public Health: 1991-2017). The YRBS Survey collects data in the spring every other year.

The studies seemed contradictory to us. We wrote to their authors asking for clarification. Here’s what they said:

Author of the American Journal of Public Health study, Hongying (Daisy) Dai, PhD: “Our study focused on marijuana use patterns. We provided discussions in the article. Hope this helps.”

Lead author of the JAMA Pediatrics study, Mark Anderson, PhD: “Our study is interested in estimating the effects of policies, while the other is interested in documenting trends. I do not see how the two are comparable. They ask fundamentally different questions, using entirely different methods.”

In their study, Dr. Anderson and his colleagues say without identifying them that “7 states contributed data to the YRBS before and after RML [recreational marijuana law] adoption.” They later note the odds of recreational legalization decreasing adolescent marijuana use is consistent “with the argument that it is more difficult for teenagers to obtain marijuana as drug dealers are replaced by licensed dispensaries that require proof of age.”

But if licensed dispensary sales, rather than the year states legalized marijuana for recreational use, are the criteria used in this study, only four states fall within its time frame.

Colorado and Washington State legalized recreational marijuana November 2012. Licensed retail sales began in the former January 2014, the latter July 2014.

Alaska and Oregon legalized recreational marijuana November 2014. Licensed recreational sales began in Alaska February 2016 and in Oregon via medical marijuana dispensaries October 2015 until January 2017, when licensed recreational sales began.

These are the only states that licensed recreational marijuana sales before the YRBS study ended in 2017.

Although the District of Columbia and Maine legalized recreational marijuana in November 2014 and 2016 respectively, and Vermont did so in 2018, none allow licensed recreational sales. (Maine’s governor just signed a new bill that will allow licensed sales as of March 2020.)

California, Massachusetts, and Nevada legalized recreational marijuana in 2016 but licensed retail sales began after 2017, the end point of the YRBS study.

Michigan legalized recreational marijuana in 2018 as did Illinois in 2019.

Dr. Anderson told CNN, “Because many recreational marijuana laws have been passed so recently, we do observe limited post-treatment data for some of these states. In a few years, it would make sense to update our estimates as more data become available.”

With only four states inaugurating recreational marijuana sales before the YRBS study closed, we agree.

Read Dr. Anderson and colleagues’ study here. Read abstract of Dr. Dai’s study here.


Government warned against commercial sale of cannabis-infused products like gummy bears, brownies

NewsHub 9 July 2019
Family First Comment: “cannabis-infused brownies, lotions and gummy bears should be okay for people to make at home.” – Ministry of Justice.
Wrong, wrong, wrong. Think of the kids. Think of the families.

The Ministry of Justice warned the Government that cannabis-infused edibles should not be sold commercially if New Zealand votes to legalise cannabis.

But despite the advice, the Government is pushing ahead, with New Zealanders set to vote on legislation on legalising recreational cannabis in 2020.

The same Ministry of Justice officials talked up the benefits of legalising cannabis – especially for Māori.

A December 2018, document obtained by Newshub under the Official Information Act shows the Ministry of Justice told the Government that cannabis-infused brownies, lotions and gummy bears should be okay for people to make at home.

But while officials were fine with home baking, they recommended cannabis-infused products should not be manufactured commercially.

“We do not recommend that these products are manufactured commercially, given how appealing they are to new users,” the document reads.

“These products are often much more appealing to new and young users and could, therefore, increase cannabis use. This would be contrary to our objective of improving the wellbeing of New Zealanders,” it adds.


Study claims legalising cannabis doesn’t make teens want to smoke it (Altho that’s not what the study says!)

Legalising cannabis doesn’t make teens want to smoke it – study
NewsHub 9 July 2019
Family First Comment: “It simply confirms that New Zealand would do well to wait and watch. At the end of the day, it’s a society-wide policy that will affect all age groups.”

New research finding legalising cannabis doesn’t result in more teens taking up toking has been dismissed by opponents of the widely-used drug.

Researchers in the US looked at 25 years of survey data in 33 states, including 27 which have legalised medicinal use and seven where it’s legal to smoke for fun. All-up 1.4 million high school students’ responses were looked at.

According to the findings, published Tuesday (NZ time) in journal JAMA Pediatrics, there was no link between legalisation for medicinal or recreational purposes and increased rates of teenage cannabis use. In fact, they found the opposite.

“Recreational marijuana laws appear to be associated with a decrease in the odds of both measures of marijuana use, which may be because it is more difficult for teenagers to get marijuana if drug dealers are replaced by licensed dispensaries that require proof of age,” the Montana State University researchers said in a statement.

Skepticism from opponents
But conservative lobby group Family First says the study has flaws – the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YBRS), from which the researchers pulled their data, only covers teenagers who go to school.

“All YRBS data is also self-reported, and underreporting or overreporting of behaviours cannot be determined,” said national director Bob McCoskrie, who also took aim at one of the groups which funded the study.

“The Koch Foundation is pro-cannabis law reform.”

He said the latest study “goes against other governmental evidence showing higher usage rates in legalised states”, citing data collected by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) – an annual survey run by the US government.

“Colorado, where recreational marijuana has been legal since 2012, has the highest rate of first-time marijuana use among youth,” said McCoskrie.

The NSDUH data shows use in states where it’s legal is generally higher than where it isn’t across all age groups, including youth. But states where cannabis was popular when illegal were arguably the most likely to vote for legalisation in the first place.

The NSDUH data also shows that in Colorado – the first state to legalise cannabis – first-time use rates amongst 12- to 17-year-olds are in fact the highest in the country, as McCoskrie says.

But past data collected by the NSDUH also shows since 2012, usage rates amongst 12- to 17-year-olds in Colorado has fallen. In 2012 17.6 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds reported using cannabis in the previous year, and 10.47 percent in the previous month.

By 2017, those rates had fallen to 16.97 and 9.02 respectively – backing up what the latest study has found. Across the US, the data shows past-month use for teenagers falling from 9.82 percent to 6.46 percent, and past-year from 13.86 to 12.19.

“Yes – overall use around the US is reducing in parts of that specific age group – but legalised states continue to buck the speed of that trend,” McCoskrie replied.

“It simply confirms that New Zealand would do well to wait and watch. At the end of the day, it’s a society-wide policy that will affect all age groups.”

National drug reform spokesperson Paula Bennett echoed McCoskrie, saying flatlining use was not an argument in favour of legalisation.

“This doesn’t align with the Government’s intention of minimising harm, as drug use hasn’t decreased but instead stayed the same,” she told Newshub.

“There is also mixed evidence on how prevalent the black market still is. There are some places where the use of the black market has increased, especially when people can obtain a cheaper product with a higher potency.”

She said more time was needed to evaluate the effects of legalisation in Colorado and Canada “so we can make the best-informed decision before we go ahead with legalising recreational marijuana”.

Bennett in May declined invitations to debate Swarbrick on cannabis legislation, saying a “‘for and against’ argument at this time is not the best way for the public to get the best information”.
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New Data By Koch-Funded Researchers Claiming Legalization Discourages Teen Use Is Deeply Flawed

Smart Approaches to Marijuana SAM 8 July 2019
Family First Comment: “If you truly think that the legalization, commercialization, and normalization of marijuana has led to less young people using it, I have a bridge to sell you.”
– Kevin Sabet, SAM

Today, a study published in JAMA Pediatrics purports to show the legalization of marijuana leads to a reduction in teen use of the substance. This study, funded in part by the pro-drug legalization Charles Koch Foundation, is flawed for several reasons:

  • It is based on the CDC YRBS, which completely omits Oregon and Washington – two large legal states – in 2017
  • It also excludes young people who are not in school, such as dropouts
  • According to the most comprehensive survey on drug use, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health — which includes all young people in households, not just those who gave permission to take a school survey — youth use of the drug is on the rise in legal states while declining in states that have not legalized the substance
  • The study was partially funded by the Charles Koch Foundation, which is partially dedicated to legalizing marijuana (like Koch Industries)

“To put it simply, this study is awash with problems,” said Dr. Kevin Sabet, founder of Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) and a former senior drug policy advisor to the Obama Administration. “The data here runs counter to what we see from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health: youth use is on the rise in ‘legal’ states while declining elsewhere. If you truly think that the legalization, commercialization, and normalization of marijuana has led to less young people using it, I have a bridge to sell you.”

According to NSDUH data, the percentage of youth aged 12-17 using marijuana is declining faster in states where marijuana is not “legal,” and overall use is high in legal states while declining in non-legal states. Further, the percentage of youth in this age range using the drug in “legal” states was 7.7% versus 6.2% in non-legal states.

“More research will be needed on this front,” continued Sabet. “A perfect example of the need for additional research comes from this very same publication. In 2014, JAMA  published an article purporting that states that have legalized marijuana saw a reduction in opioid overdoses over states that did not. In the years since, this study has been among the key talking points of the marijuana industry and its supporters. Then just last month, a study using the same methods and published in the same journal showed the completely opposite result. When it comes to drug policy, we simply cannot put all of our eggs in one basket.”

To note, the same researchers authoring this study have also previously claimed marijuana legalization reduces traffic fatalities (although the overwhelming majority of state data shows otherwise) and reduces suicide (although numerous studies show use of high potency marijuana is linked with suicide ideation).


National Correct to Oppose Decriminalisation of All Drugs

Media Release 8 July 2019
Family First NZ is welcoming National’s opposition to the decriminalisation of all drugs. The statements in the Select Committee report of the Misuse of Drugs Amendment Bill echo the exact concerns raised by Family First in their submission regarding the de facto decriminalisation of possession and use of all drugs including cannabis, cocaine, P and heroin.

“Maintaining the illegality of drugs is important because we should continue fighting drugs and the devastation its use causes on both the users, their families, and society in general. Police discretion is already being used by the Police. They say: ‘Officers apply discretion on a daily basis in dealing with a range of matters, including the possession and use of drugs. Applying this discretion increasingly includes the use of alternative resolution options including pre-charge warnings, Te Pae Oranga, and referrals to health and other support services. Our focus continues to be on targeting the organised criminal networks who supply these harmful drugs to our communities. However, the possession and use of illicit drugs remains illegal and prosecution remains an option in order to prevent harm and keep people safe.’ In the 20 years to 2014, the number of arrests for cannabis per 100,000 head of population dropped by 70%.”

“A smart arrest policy can both provide a societal stamp of disapproval and provide an opportunity to intervene and stop the progression of use. Keeping all drugs illegal through an appropriate application of the laws that cater for ‘youthful indiscretions’ and which focus on supply and dealers is as much a public safety policy as it is a public health policy,” says Bob McCoskrie, National Director of Family First NZ.

“But at a time when New Zealand’s mental health system is bursting at the seams, we should go no further and legitimise mind-altering products which will simply add to social harm?”

“If we listen to drug advocates internationally, there will be further calls for the legalisation of all these drugs. The Drug Foundation has already admitted that it wants to legalise cannabis and decriminalise all other drugs. They have also admitted that their expectation is that Police should never prosecute for possession of drugs. This is a shocking scenario and sends a terrible message to families and communities affected by drug abuse.”

“Maintaining its illegality but using a smart arrest policy combined with the coercion of the law is the correct response to drug use. Drug use is a major health issue, and that’s why the role of the law is so important. This is not a ‘war on drugs’ – this is a defence of our brains.”

Family First

  • supports the intent of the bill to allow consideration (but not requirement) of a health-based approach for certain cases of low-level and/or first-time drug use & possession
  • opposes any change to the legal status of marijuana and other drugs (separate from the Class A drugs proposed in this bill) because of the significant health and addiction issues around recreational drug use, and the need for the law to reflect those and to protect society
  • calls for increases in resources and funding for both drug prevention programmes, and addiction and mental health services

Family First also submitted that a child-centered drug policy is an imperative. Protecting children from illicit drug use is not an option for States / Parties to the United Nations Human Rights Convention on the Rights of the Child, it is an obligation. Therefore, drug policy in NZ must be child-centered, not user-centered.

In a shock poll result released in April, less than 20% (one in five) New Zealanders support legalisation of marijuana, but there is strong support for lifting restrictions for medical use (65%). There is also significant concerns about the mental health and societal costs of cannabis.


Whanganui man claims he smoked cannabis to help with emphysema, sentenced in Whanganui District Court

NZ Herald 3 July 2019
Family First Comment: “I use cannabis for my emphysema. It helps me breath better.” 😊
Yeah right.

“I use cannabis for my emphysema. It helps me breath better.”

That was Eric John Bariball’s explanation to police after showing them where he was stashing two small containers holding cannabis leaf in his house.

Police officers visited his Whanganui East property at 9.17am on Tuesday, June 11 with a search warrant.

Bariball did not lead them on a wild goose chase, immediately showing the officers where his cannabis was, as well as several utensils used to consume it.

These included a glass bong, wooden pipe and butter knives used for spotting.

Bariball appeared in Whanganui District Court on Tuesday charged with procuring or possessing cannabis and possessing a pipe or utensils for cannabis.

Lawyer Anna Brosnahan said her client entered immediate guilty pleas.
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Perth cafe owner charged after mum, two children eat marijuana-laced brownie bought from store

TVNZ One News 2 July 2019
Family First Comment: Edibles’ potency (several times that of an average joint) and their attractiveness to kids have led to serious problems in legalized states. Edibles comprise at least half of Colorado’s marijuana market.

A cafe owner has been charged after two young children and their mother ate a brownie allegedly laced with marijuana at his Perth business.

The complainants, known only as Michael and Sharon, told the ABC their family went to the Bada Bing Cafe in Woodlands on March 2.

Afterwards their five-year-old daughter Emily described things as “jumping” and her vision became impaired, they said.

The family went to hospital and soon Sharon began developing similar symptoms, while their three-year-old son Thomas was drowsy.

Hospital tests showed Sharon and the children had traces of marijuana in their system, they said.

Michael, who did not eat the brownie or have any symptoms, said he returned to the cafe the next day and bought another brownie.

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Recreational Drug Use Surges Worldwide, UN Study Reports

Yahoo News 30 June 2019 
Some 271 million people globally, or more than one in 20 of the population aged 15 to 64, used recreational drugs in 2017, according to newly released data from the United Nations World Drug Report. That’s a 30% increase from 2009.

The use of cannabis, cocaine, amphetamines and prescription stimulants are at post-recession highs in the U.S., the study said. And although the use of prescription opioids has dipped recently, the number of overdoses has increased. More than 47,000 deaths were recorded there in 2017, many of them attributed to synthetic opioids such as fentanyl.

The most popular drug globally continues to be cannabis, with an estimated 188 million people having used it in 2017, according to the study. Cannabis usage is most prevalent in North America, where there are an estimated 56.6 million users, followed by Asia with 54.2 million.

One-third of Israeli men in the 15-to-64 age bracket and 28.5% of those in Jamaica used cannabis at a greater frequency than all other countries measured, the study said. American men followed at 21.4% while Canadians and New Zealanders rounded out the top five with 19.1% and 18.6%, respectively, according to the latest data available.

The legalization of cannabis in some North American jurisdictions has contributed to a decline in seizures, which have slumped 77% since 2010, the study said.

Additional Comment from SAM 
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) released its annual World Drug Report this week. The report takes a look at global drug use and specifically called out the United States and states such as Colorado for lax marijuana polices that are driving increased use and negative health harms. The report is a global wake up call. As I have long said, effective drug policy is one that discourages use and creates means for people to get help with substance use disorders. Of course, with a handful of states legalizing marijuana and the marijuana industry churning out stronger, more addictive pot, we are accomplishing exactly the opposite.

The report found that youth use in the US has been on an upward trajectory since 2015, coinciding with the beginning of organized efforts to legalize commercial sales of marijuana at the state level. It also pointed out that “the ongoing policy debate and its coverage in the media appear to have impacted risk perceptions of harm caused by cannabis use, especially among young people.”

Let me be clear: the efforts to legalize drugs – and I say drugs because we are now seeing efforts to legalize mushrooms and even heroin – and the texture of our current discourse, is leading our young people to believe drugs such as marijuana are safe and state-approved. The fact is, it is the overwhelming scientific consensus that marijuana use among young people can lead to addiction, problems learning, a permanent loss of IQ points, memory loss, and can even lead to the development of severe mental health issues such as psychosis.

NHS is forced to open Britain’s first clinic for cannabis psychosis

Daily Mail 30 June 2019
Family First Comment: “In recent years there has been a series of shocking killings committed by cannabis users who had developed psychosis due to their use of the drug. They often become delusional and hear voices.”
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Cannabis-induced psychosis has reached crisis levels, forcing the NHS to open the first clinic specifically treating addicts of the mind-altering drug, The Mail on Sunday can reveal.

The clinic has been launched by a leading psychiatrist who warns that psychosis among users of skunk – a very strong strain of cannabis flooding the streets – has become ‘a crisis that we can simply no longer ignore’, with tens of thousands of people affected.

In recent years there has been a series of shocking killings committed by cannabis users who had developed psychosis due to their use of the drug. They often become delusional and hear voices.

The clinic launch comes amid mounting calls for the legalisation of cannabis for recreational use, with Tory MP Crispin Blunt among the pro-campaigners.

Drug users who have experienced psychosis for the first time after using skunk will undergo a three-month programme, including specialist psychological help aimed at weaning them off the drug.

Among the current patients is a former trainee teacher who is now too addled to even read a book.

Dr Marta Di Forti, one of the principal doctors at the clinic, based at the South London and Maudsley NHS foundation trust, told The Mail on Sunday: ‘This is a crisis of high potency cannabis that we can simply no longer ignore.‘This clinic is now responding to that crisis.


Bob McCoskrie: Don’t let Kiwis go to pot

Gisborne Herald 23 June 2019
Family First Comment: “The law has an important deterrent effect. Most people don’t want to break the law. It sends an important societal message, similar to our drink-driving laws which can also result in a criminal conviction. Ironically, legalisation would mean more use, and therefore more breaches of marijuana-related regulations (including under-age violations), and more drug-driving convictions.”

Recently-released polls on cannabis have consistently shown a decreasing appetite for the legalisation of recreational dope use.

It seems that while we all strongly support a compassionate response to those in real need with a cautious and researched approach around cannabis medicine, when we thoughtfully consider the real implications of legalising the recreational use of cannabis, we completely reject the proposal, and rightly so.

Recent polling by Curia Market Research found that 85 percent of New Zealanders think that cannabis use can damage the brains of young people, 81percent think that drivers using cannabis are more likely to cause accidents, 63 percent think that cannabis-users aged under 25 are less likely to get a job, and half of us think that cannabis usage will increase if restrictions are reduced (35 percent think usage would remain the same).

When people think about ‘cannabis’, they probably immediately think about the same overused photos by the media of a marijuana plant and a joint being smoked. Think Woodstock Weed.

But legalising today’s marijuana will be far more than that. Big Marijuana’s aim will be to have people popping it between classes, sucking on it while driving, drinking it before work, chewing on it while they talk to others, and eating it as a dessert. The potency of edibles and dabbing (significantly more than that of an average joint) and their attractiveness to kids will lead to serious problems.

Evidence shows that marijuana — which has skyrocketed in average potency over the past decades — is addictive and harmful to the human brain, especially when used by adolescents.

In the US states that have already legalised the drug, there has been an increase in drugged driving crashes, youth marijuana use, and costs that far outweigh tax revenues from marijuana. These states have seen a black market that continues to thrive, sustained marijuana arrest rates, and tobacco company investment in marijuana.

Two key arguments are used as a basis for legalising dope.

Firstly, that legalisation will disempower the gangs and get rid of the black market. But the black market in Canada is absolutely thriving, with over 79 percent of marijuana sales in the last quarter of 2018 occurring outside the legal market — a similar trend to California, Oregon, Portugal and Colorado.

The problem with regulation — however well-intentioned and devised — is that as soon as you put restrictions on potency, product and availability, and create a commercial price, this simply creates a black market. The goal is to get drugs, and to get high, at the cheapest possible price.

Organised criminal syndicates and gangs adapt to changing political and economic environments, because their ultimate goal is not to break the law but to commercialise and exploit human nature. It’s about the money.

The second argument is that people shouldn’t be in jail for smoking a joint. The problem with that argument is — they’re not.

Statistics obtained from the Ministry of Justice show that fewer than 10 people have been given a prison or home detention sentence for cannabis possession offences in each of the last three years, and that these sentences will have been ‘influenced by their previous offending history’. International studies show that most are imprisoned for drug ‘related’ offences — that is, crimes committed while on drugs (murder, armed robbery, theft, assault, child abuse, etc.) or crimes committed in order to obtain drugs.

The law has an important deterrent effect. Most people don’t want to break the law. It sends an important societal message, similar to our drink-driving laws which can also result in a criminal conviction.
Ironically, legalisation would mean more use, and therefore more breaches of marijuana-related regulations (including under-age violations), and more drug-driving convictions.

There is no adequate reason why the government can persistently and successfully target smoking and not do likewise with drugs. The end goal of the SmokeFree 2025 campaign is not ‘slow down’ or ‘moderate’ but ‘QUIT’, and a realistic understanding about the effort required to reach that end, with numerous strategies and support agencies assisting on the journey. And the numbers overwhelmingly suggest that it is working.

Yet supporters of marijuana are peddling the same myths that we believed for far too long about tobacco — that marijuana is harmless, not addictive, and won’t be targeted at young people.

Keeping marijuana illegal through an appropriate application of the law which focuses on suppliers and dealers, that caters for “youthful indiscretions”, and provides an opportunity to intervene with addiction services and stop the progression of use, is as much a public safety policy as it is a public health policy.

At a time when New Zealand’s mental health system is bursting at the seams, why would we go and legitimise a mind-altering product which will simply add to social harm?

This is not a “war on drugs” — this is a defence of our brains and mental well-being.

• Bob McCoskrie is the national director of Family First NZ.

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