[Editor’s Note: In an installment on the Drug Policy Alliance Blog called “Ask The Doctors,” experts Dr. Malik Burnett and Amanda Reiman, PhD, answer reader’s drug-related questions. This week’s installment contains particularly helpful advice on how to talk to your relatives about the nation’s shifting marijuana laws over the holidays, in a direct, educated way. See their advice below.]
“With all the recent change taking place in marijuana policy in recent months, I am sure the topic is going to come up when my family gets together for the holiday season. Given the controversial nature of this topic, how do I discuss it without dampening the good tidings?”
The Other Mistletoe
Thanks so much for your question.
You’re right, marijuana policy reform has gotten a lot of coverage this year, so the topic just may become a hot topic of conversation amongst friends and family during the holiday season.
Over the Thanksgiving holiday, our colleague Jill Harris wrote a great blog post, “Talking Turkey about Drug Policy,” where she outlines the importance of beginning with areas of agreement, making the issue about people, and listening.
All those principles apply here and will serve you well as you talk about marijuana policy with your friends and family members. We offer some additional insight specifically related to marijuana policy which you might find helpful in rounding out your discussions:
Results from Colorado and Washington continue to be positive: Earlier this year, Drug Policy Alliance released a report analyzing the first six months of Colorado legalization. The report revealed that crime rates were down 10 percent, the state had collected $10.8 million in tax revenue, and was on track to save between $12-40 million by not enforcing marijuana prohibition.
Since that time, Colorado has raised approximately $60 million in tax revenue and is using that funding to help schools, construction projects, and conduct research on the effects of marijuana. In Washington state, which began recreational sales in July, similar results are occurring in terms of crime and traffic fatalities. Additionally the Economic and Revenue Forecast Council has increased the projected tax revenue for the state from $25.5 million to $42.7 million.
Federal Marijuana Policy is shifting: This year, we witnessed a significant shift in federal policy on marijuana. Prior to this year, the only acknowledgement of the need for marijuana policy reform came from the Executive Branch, with President Obama commenting that marijuana is safer than alcohol. Attorney General Eric Holder expressed a willingness to work with Congress to reschedule marijuana.
Now Congress is getting into the act, recently passing amendments in its $1.1 trillion spending bill which protects medical marijuana dispensaries in states with medical marijuana laws. Additionally, Congress passed the Agricultural Act of 2014, which allows universities and state departments of agriculture to cultivate hemp. They followed this up by preventing the Department of Justice from using funds to interfere in states with hemp production.
The Judicial Branch is even considering a case in California federal court which will review marijuana’s status as a Schedule I drug. While the fundamentals of this case are not on the side of reform, the arguments are very timely.
Public Health is improving: As states and the federal government continue to reform their policies around marijuana, public health indicators continue to vindicate these moves. Many who have expressed concern about the message marijuana reform sends to kids can put their minds at ease as the most recent Monitoring the Future survey on teen drug use shows a decline in teen marijuana use from 26 percent in 2013, to 24 percent in 2014. Daily use is also down to 5.8 percent in 2014 from 6.5 percent in 2013.
This is largely attributed to the fact that teens are reporting marijuana is more difficult to attain, mostly due to the increased regulatory framework around marijuana and the strong adherence to these rules in states which have reformed their marijuana laws.
Interestingly, marijuana is beginning to show promise in combatting the prescription drug problem in the U.S. In a study released in the Journal of the American Medical Association in October, states which have reformed their marijuana laws have seen a 25 percent decrease in prescription overdose deaths.
Overall, 2014 has been a year of significant progress for marijuana policy reform nationwide. More and more people are realizing that prohibition has failed. They are voting and encouraging their elected officials to pursue a different course.
As you discuss this issue with your family, have an open mind to their concerns, and dispel misconceptions without disrespecting them. We all have to play a role in shaping the society we envision, therefore it is imperative to maintain an open dialogue.
Being able to disagree without being disagreeable, ultimately makes for better holiday cheer.
This piece first appeared on the Drug Policy Alliance Blog.
Dr. Malik Burnett is a former surgeon and physician advocate. He also served as executive director of a medical marijuana nonprofit organization. Amanda Reiman, PhD, holds a doctorate in Social Welfare and teaches classes on drug policy at the University of California-Berkeley.