(Dr. Mitch Earleywine was elected as the Chairman of the NORML Board of Directors in February 2014)
A recent headline reads: “Can Marijuana Kill You? German Scientists Say Yes.” The article focuses on a study of two (count ‘em, two!) young men who died while they had detectable levels of THC in their blood. I take a lot of pleasure in this kind of melodrama. If prohibitionists are stooping this low, we must really be frightening them. (It’s not completely pharmacologically ridiculous. Marijuana does increase heart rate. In fact, it can jack up heart rate almost as much as an espresso or energy drink. Maybe if you already had a weak heart and a coffee and a bong hit, well, something might happen.)
But I want to point out that we should actually expect literally thousands of reports like this. We should hear about lots of people who have heart attacks on the same day that they commune with the plant. It’s not because cannabis causes heart attacks. It’s simple chance.
I hate for my first blog as Chair of The Executive Board to be this nerdy, but I’ve been teaching statistics for more than 20 years. If that doesn’t make me a nerd, I’m not sure what would. But given how many people use cannabis daily and how many heart attacks occur in the United States, it’s actually a miracle that we haven’t heard about this kind of thing before. We also should expect to hear it a lot more often.
According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, roughly 7,600,000 Americans (over age 12) used marijuana daily or near daily in 2012. In addition, the Center for Disease Control suggests that about 715,000 of us have heart attacks in a year. (Let’s assume those under age 12 are probably not grabbing their chests with a myocardial infarction too often.) In addition, let’s guess that the United States has about 280 million people over age 12. It’s hard to know the exact number, but that’s probably in the ballpark.
With this in mind, we can predict how many people should have a heart attack the same day that they used cannabis simply by chance. That is, even if these two things had nothing to do with each other, we should expect some folks to have a heart attack the same day that they used cannabis just by accident.
Okay. It’s going to get nerdy here, but this is comparable to asking simpler questions. If I had a dime and a nickel, I might want to know what the chances are that I’d flip heads on both. I flip heads 1 out of 2 times on average for the dime, for a probability of .5. Then I flip heads on the nickel 1 out of 2 times on average, also for a probability of .5. So the chances of flipping heads on both is .5 * .5 for .25. So we’d expect to get heads on both coins about 1Ž4 of the time. If I flipped both coins 100 times, I’d get around 25 pairs of heads. Note that there’s nothing causal here. The nickel doesn’t know what the dime did. It doesn’t want to be like the dime. It’s not that the dime caused the nickel to flip heads.
So it’s the same deal for the cannabis-related heart attacks. If 7.6 million people use cannabis daily out of 280 million relevant Americans, that’s a probability of .0271. And if 715 thousand of 280 million have heart attacks, that’s a probability of .0026. Multiply these the same way we did with the probabilities for flipping heads (.0271 * .0026 = .00007). Now .00007 is a dinky number. If there were only 100 people in the country, we wouldn’t expect any of them (well, .007) to have a heart attack and smoke cannabis on the same day. But we’re talking about 280 million people here. So we’d expect .00007 * 280,000,000, = 19,600. That’s over 19,000 heart attacks.
So the question isn’t, “How did these two guys die of a heart attack with THC in their blood?” It should be, “Where are the other 19,598 guys who should have had heart attacks with THC in their blood?” In fact, the absence of this many cannabis-related myocardial infarctions inspired my wife to ask, “Does cannabis protect the heart?”
If we repeal prohibition, we’ll get to find out.
Go AS, Mozaffarian D, Roger VL, Benjamin EJ, Berry JD, Borden WB, Bravata DM, Dai S, Ford ES, Fox CS, Franco S, Fullerton HJ, Gillespie C, Hailpern SM, Heit JA, Howard VJ, Huffman MD, Kissela BM, Kittner SJ, Lackland DT, Lichtman JH, Lisabeth LD, Magid D, Marcus GM, Marelli A, Matchar DB, McGuire DK, Mohler ER, Moy CS, Mussolino ME, Nichol G, Paynter NP, Schreiner PJ, Sorlie PD, Stein J, Turan TN, Virani SS, Wong ND, Woo D, Turner MB; American Heart Association Statistics Committee and Stroke Statistics Subcommittee. Heart disease and stroke statistics—2013 update: a report from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2013 Jan 1;127(1):e6-e245.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Results from the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Summary of National Findings, NSDUH Series H-46, HHS Publication No. (SMA) 13-4795. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2013.
HB 350, the Cannabis Compassion Act, would allow people with debilitating medical conditions to access and use medical marijuana without fear of arrest
Thursday - high noon - at the Capitol! The Kentucky House Health and Welfare Committee is scheduled to hold a public hearing Thursday, February 27, at 12 noon ET on a bill that would allow people suffering from conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis (MS), and HIV/AIDS to use medical marijuana if their doctors recommend it. The hearing will be held in Room 169 of the Kentucky Capitol Annex Building.
HB 350, known as the Cannabis Compassion Act, introduced on February 10 by Rep. Mary Lou Marzian (D-Louisville), a registered nurse, is the first effective medical marijuana bill ever introduced in the Kentucky House of Representatives. It would allow licensed patients and caregivers to possess and cultivate limited amounts of marijuana.
It would also establish safety compliance facilities and permit one medical marijuana compassion center for every 100,000 state residents. Sen. Perry Clark (D-Louisville) introduced a similar measure, SB 43, earlier this year.
Members of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators recently resolved at their Annual Legislative Conference in favor of decriminalizing marijuana.
“Whereas state and local governments could potentially stand to save billions of dollars that they currently spend regulating marijuana use by decriminalizing the recreational use of marijuana, therefore be it resolved that the National Black Caucus of State Legislators recognizes the decision of the Administration to not challenge the choice made by citizens of these states, and urges the continued respect of state law, and encourages other states to consider decriminalization,” the Caucus resolved.
It added, “[The] NBCSL supports the states’ authority to make a determination as to what age, at or above 18, qualifies as a “legal adult” who may purchase, possess, or consume marijuana [and] … urges the federal government to reduce the penalties associated with the use and simple possession of marijuana.”
The 2014 resolution is LJE-14-40: Supporting States’ Rights to Decriminalize Marijuana Use.
A 2013 report by the American Civil Liberties Union reported that blacks nationwide were approximately four times as likely as whites to be arrested for marijuana possession in 2010, even though both ethnic groups consumed the substance at similar rates.
The National Black Caucus of State Legislators represents more than 650 African-American legislators from 45 states, the District of Columbia, and the Virgin Islands.
By Steve Elliott
I guess no group is immune to ignorance. A group representing 57 Native American tribes in the Pacific Northwest on Wednesday morning announced it opposes the legalization of marijuana for recreational purposes.
The Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians are hurting my heart, announcing they have passed a resolution calling for the group to work closely with the dim-witted Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) anti-cannabis group spearheaded by former U.S. Congressman Patrick Kennedy and former federal drug policy advisor Kevin Sabet.
The Native American organization and SAM on Wednesday morning jointly released a statement that the tribes "stand strongly in opposition" to legalized marijuana in the Pacific Northwest, reports Noelle Crombie at The Oregonian. The group represents tribal governments in Oregon, Idaho, Washington, southeast Alaska, northern California and western Montana.
The Indian tribes "stand with SAM in support of their principles," said Simon Lee Sampson of Yakama Nation.
According to a statement from the Native American group, it supports "drug prevention, intervention, treatment, and recovery efforts that focus on reducing marijuana use, especially among youth."
"We cannot deny that marijuana legalization will have a devastating impact on our communities and we want none of it," said a deeply clueless Sampson.
By Steve Elliott
The San Diego City Council on Tuesday passed regulations for medical marijuana dispensaries limiting the stores to no more than four per council district.
On an 8-1 vote, with Council Mark Kersey casting the lone dissenting vote, the council set zoning and operating restrictions for the medical marijuana collectives, reports ABC 10 News.
The council has visited the issue numerous times since the Compassionate Use Act was approved by California voters in 1996. Zoning and operating rules passed in 2011 were repealed after medical marijuana advocates got enough signatures to force their reconsideration.
While advocates considered the 2011 rules too strict, calling them a "de facto ban," removing them had the effect of making all dispensaries in San Diego illegal. The restrictions in the new plan are even tighter than the 2011 ones were.
"We can't afford to turn our backs on this, otherwise there will be a continued proliferation of these illegal operations and, chances are, there will be further and greater abuses of the system," alarmist Councilwoman Marti Emerald claimed. "These drugs are going to wind up in the hands of kids and people who really don't need this for medicine," she said, not mentioning where she got her medical credentials.
Emerald asked for a staff report in a year, to make sure the dispensaries are abiding by the rules while still providing safe access for patients.
By Steve Elliott
Despite hostility from Governor Martin O'Malley, Maryland lawmakers are moving forward on bills which would either reduce marijuana penalties, or legalize cannabis entirely.
Dozens of people on Tuesday testified before legislators and called for an end to the state's war on marijuana, which they said has done more harm than good, reports Megan Brockett at Capital News Service/a>.
One bill would reduce the penalty for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana to a ticket and a fine, reports Pat Warren at CBS Baltimore. The other would make pot legal for adults 21 and older, with regulation and taxes.
In a heated debate, proponents of both bills pointed to what they called the negative consequences of marijuana prohibition, including barriers to employment and education created by pot arrests and the racial disparities that often surface in enforcement. In 2010, Maryland had the fourth-highest marijuana arrest rate in the nation, with African-Americans being arrested for possession at higher rates than whites in every county in the state, according to a report released last October by the American Civil Liberties Union.
By Steve Elliott
A group in Texas called Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition (RAMP) will hold their inaugural meeting in Houston on March 15. According to RAMP, the group "serves as a voice for all Republicans who opposed the failed policy of prohibition."
The meeting, which will be held at King Street Patriots, "will highlight the fundamentals of marijuana policy," according to the group. "RAMP will explore the four major initiatives gaining traction nationwide: medical marijuana, decriminalization, industrial hemp, and the legalization model to tax and regulate marijuana like alcohol," according to a press release.
RAMP says its mission is to "work within the GOP to educate and connect with lawmakers, party leadership, and grassroots activists."
According to the group's founder and executive director, Ann Lee, the conservative principles of limited government, fiscal responsibility, and individual liberty are the focal point of RAMP's message. "RAMP believes these core Republican ideals have been greatly eroded by government policies that criminalize responsible adults for using cannabis," a statement from the group reads.
Lee, the group's founder, is a lifelong Republican, octogenarian, and mother of five sons. She changed her viewpoint on marijuana after a workplace accident left her son, Richard Lee, as a paraplegic.
NORML filed an “amicus curiae” brief with the Massachusetts Supreme Court on Tuesday, February 18, urging the court to place more limits on police questioning and searches for possession of small amounts marijuana. Attorneys Steven S. Epstein, of Georgetown, and Marvin Cable, of Northampton, authored the brief.
In Western Massachusetts, a judge ruled that based on the odor of raw marijuana an officer could question the defendant about the presence of marijuana and seize a bag of marijuana at the direction of defendant in response to those questions. She reasoned, “a strong odor of marijuana to the officers training and experience triggered a suspicion that there was more than one ounce present.” That suspicion justified asking the Defendant about it and police entering his car to retrieve the marijuana he told them was there.
She further ruled that once police retrieved that bag they lacked the authority to search for more marijuana. She reasoned that a belief the bag was “probably” a criminal amount alone and combined with an officer’s characterization of the odor as “strong” amounted to nothing more than a “hunch.” She ordered the “other bags and the statements subsequently made by the defendant” could not be used at trial. The state appealed.
In its friend of the court brief, NORML reminds the Court of the precarious constitutionality of marijuana prohibition. It then proceeds to ask the Court to rule that: a police officer may not question a person about possible marijuana in his possession or control based only on the officer’s perception of odor, a civil violation in Massachusetts; and, that absent objectively reasonable evidence derived from weighing a bag suspected of containing over an ounce police may not detain, arrest or search a person or their possessions.
NORML argues the citizens of Massachusetts by voting to decriminalize an ounce or less of marijuana do not want police bothering people with anything more than a ticket when there are no articulated facts that a suspected possession of marijuana is criminal in nature. One of the intents of the decriminalization law was to free police to pursue more pressing issues than marijuana possession.
Oral argument in the case of Commonwealth v. Overmyer is scheduled for March 3, with a decision possible before the summer of 2014.
Republican State Senator, Joe Robach, and Former U.S. Senator Al D’Amato, Announce Support for Compassionate Care Act
Patients, Families, Doctors, Advocates: No More Delays, It’s Time for the State Senate to Vote
Senator Joseph Robach (R, C, IP – Rochester) stated his support for the Compassionate Care Act in a Monday meeting with the Breast Cancer Coalition of Rochester. The bill would allow New Yorkers with serious and debilitating conditions to access to medical marijuana under the supervision of their healthcare provider.
Senator Robach is the third senate Republican to announce his support for the Compassionate Care Act. Last week, two Western Region Republicans -- State Senator George Maziarz (R - Newfane) and State Senator Mark Grisanti (R, IP - Buffalo) -– declared their support and called for a vote.
The Breast Cancer Coalition of Rochester has worked tirelessly to secure support for the Compassionate Care Act and released a statement Monday with comments by its leaders and members applauding the Senator’s leadership in supporting a comprehensive legislative solution to help seriously ill New Yorkers. Caregivers and patients also applauded the Senator’s support.
“As a constituent and a mother of child with a severe seizure disorder that would be alleviated by the use of medical marijuana, I am thrilled that Senator Robach stated his support for the Compassionate Care Act,” said Christine Emerson of Rochester. “Too many seriously ill New Yorkers, including my daughter Julia have suffered long enough.