Addressing marijuana legalization and policy reform

This week in North Philly Notes, Clayton Mosher and Scott Akins, provide talking points about the legalization of marijuana, the subject of their new book, In the Weeds

In the Weeds is a historically grounded examination of marijuana policy reform and ultimately the move toward legalization over a period extending back more than 100 years, that also deconstructs the arguments of marijuana prohibitionists/demonizers. Examined under a larger historical lens, and given use of the substance for both medicinal and recreational purposes for thousands of years, we emphasize that prohibition of marijuana constitutes a historical anomaly.  We review the findings of several government commissions on marijuana from a variety of countries from the 1890s to 1970s, almost all of which concluded that marijuana was not a dangerous drug, was not physiologically addicting, and was not a “gateway” to the use of harder drugs. Marijuana prohibitionists (conveniently or deliberately) ignore this history.

Beginning with the passage of the Marijuana Tax Act  in 1937, the U.S. federal government has taken a negative, science-optional, and essentially evidence-free approach to marijuana, most notably reflected in its refusal to remove marijuana from Schedule I status (i.e., no medical applications and high addictive liability/potential for abuse) under the Controlled Substances Act.  This refusal has several negative implications, including depriving scientists from accessing quality marijuana for the research needed to demonstrate its medicinal applications, as well as its possible negative effects; it affects the ability of marijuana-related businesses to secure financial services from banks; prevents the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating pesticides and other chemicals used on cannabis crops, and, allows companies to fire, or refuse to hire, people who test positive for marijuana. The placement of marijuana in Schedule I also ultimately gives the federal government the ability to overturn both medical and recreational legalization of marijuana in states.

In the WeedsIn the Weeds also assesses the outcomes of current marijuana legalization “experiments,” with a focus on Colorado and Washington State (the first states to legalize recreational marijuana, in 2012, with sales commencing in 2014). Marijuana prohibitionists predicted that legalization would lead to skyrocketing youth use of the substance, and that our highways would be full of carnage due to “stoned drivers.” Neither of these outcomes have manifested. Youth use of marijuana in both Colorado and Washington State has stabilized and even declined. And while there have been modest increases in drivers involved in collisions (fatal and otherwise) testing positive for marijuana, and somewhat greater increases in the prevalence of drivers testing positive for marijuana in combination with other psychoactive substances,  we do not have sufficient data to prove that marijuana “impairment” caused these collisions (i.e., finding mere traces of marijuana in one’s system does not prove that the person was impaired, nor that the alleged impairment caused the collision). We also do not have sufficient historical data (i.e., pre-legalization) to determine whether there has been an actual increase in such incidents. It is important to stress that people drove under the influence of marijuana well before its legalization. Legalization did not invent marijuana.

Marijuana prohibitionists emphasize that marijuana use among adults in the U.S. is increasing, as is heavy and frequent use among certain individuals. There are legitimate concerns regarding these increases in heavy and frequent use. However, marijuana prohibitionists have not acknowledged the emerging research indicating that cannabis may serve as a substitute for other drugs such as alcohol, opiates, and even stimulant drugs. And importantly, it is by no means clear that increases in heavy and frequent use of marijuana is attributable to the legalization of recreational or medical marijuana – that is, marijuana use, including heavy use, began increasing in the mid-2000s.

Marijuana prohibitionists (conveniently or deliberately) ignore that, although cannabis is now legal for recreational purposes in 10 U.S. states, pursuit of the substance by law enforcement continues to be a major component of the ongoing war on drugs. In fact, the most recent FBI data indicate that marijuana arrests nationally increased in both 2016 and 2017, reaching almost 600,000 arrests for possession alone in both of these years. Over the last two decades, police in the United States have made more than 11 million arrests for marijuana possession.

Marijuana prohibitionists also conveniently or deliberately ignore the fact that the defining characteristic of marijuana (and other drug law) enforcement in the United States is the gross racial/ethnic disparities in these arrests. Nationally, blacks, who consume marijuana in roughly similar proportions to whites, are about four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession – in some U.S. jurisdictions, the disparity ratio is as high as 30.

Even in the rare cases where they do acknowledge the number of arrests and disparities, prohibitionists will claim that none of this is a big deal, because “no one goes to jail for marijuana possession.” This is simply not true. A 2015 report by the Department of Justice found that 11,553 people in the United States were in prison on marijuana-related charges (compared to only 5,800 for heroin). In addition, each year, tens of thousands of people arrested for marijuana possession are held in jail for several days or months because they cannot post bail. There are also collateral costs associated with these arrests – they commonly result in criminal records that show up on background checks when individuals apply to rent apartments or obtain and keep their jobs.

Marijuana prohibitionists have emphasized the fact that the marijuana available today is “not your father’s marijuana” – in particular, that the THC levels in marijuana available in states where the substance is legal is much higher than in the past. This assertion is debatable to begin with – people in the United States and elsewhere who wanted high potency marijuana have always been able to obtain it (consider hashish, for example). While high potency marijuana (especially as contained in edibles and other such products) may be problematic for novice users, there is scientific evidence that more experienced users will respond to higher potency marijuana by titrating their doses to achieve their desired high.  And importantly, one of the advantages of legalization is that consumers are informed of the content of the product they are consuming.  This obviously does not occur when marijuana is only available through the black market.

Marijuana prohibitionists (especially, recently, Alex Berenson in his book Tell Your Children) have emphasized a connection between consumption of cannabis and psychosis/schizophrenia. As we document in In the Weeds, prohibitionists have overstated the results of the complex science on this issue, and confuse correlation and causation.

Among the most significant incentives for recreational marijuana legalization is that the substance can be regulated, controlled, and taxed by government entities rather than the regulation and profit remaining in the hands of criminal enterprises. For governments that have legalized recreational marijuana, the tax revenue has been substantial, far exceeding expectations, and these revenues have been used to fund a variety of societal needs, including drug prevention and treatment programs, general health services, and public education.

In the Weeds concludes that marijuana has been legalized, and the sky has not fallen.

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Temple University Press’ Spring 2019 Catalog

This week in North Philly Notes, we feature highlights from our Spring 2019 catalog.

sp19 cover As the cover of this catalog proclaims, 2019 is the Press’s 50th anniversary, and there’s much to celebrate.

We’ve published more than 1600 titles in the past five decades, starting with Marxism and Radical Religion: Essays Toward a Revolutionary Humanism, edited by John C. Raines and Thomas Dean. Since that auspicious beginning, Temple University Press has dedicated itself to publishing socially engaged scholarship. Our list is chock-full of titles related to social justice and social change. We pride ourselves on being pioneers in advancing the scholarly value and social importance of disciplines such as women’s studies, ethnic studies, and the study of race. To that end, we launched highly regarded lists in African American studies and Latin American and Latino/a studies and a field-shaping series in Asian American studies. We’ve been recognized for publishing award-winning titles in urban studies, political science, and gender and sexuality studies. And we have the premiere list of titles on Philadelphia and the region, from arts and culture to history and sports and more.

The titles in this catalog are built upon the strengths of our past. They in turn lay the groundwork for our next 50 years. If past is prologue, our future looks bright. Here’s to 50 more years!—MARY ROSE MUCCIE,  Director


Highlights from the Spring Catalog include: 
contested_image_smThomas Eakins’ 1875 painting, The Gross Clinic, the Rocky Statue, and the Barnes Foundation are all iconic in Philadelphia for different reasons. But around the year 2000, this painting, this sculpture, and this entire art collection, respectively, generated extended—and heated—controversies about the “appropriate” location for each item. Contested Image revisits the debates that surrounded these works of visual culture and how each item changed through acts of reception—through the ways that viewers looked at, talked about, and used these objects to define their city.

Laura Holzman investigates the negotiations and spirited debates that affected the city of Philadelphia’s identity and its public image. She considers how the region’s cultural resources reshaped the city’s reputation as well as delves into discussions about official efforts to boost local spirit. In tracking these “contested images,” Holzman illuminates the messy process of public envisioning of place and the ways in which public dialogue informs public meaning of both cities themselves and the objects of urban identity.


getting_away_from_it_all_smVacations are a delimited period during which social rules and responsibilities are eased, removed, or shifted, and people have increased autonomy over what they choose to do. Recent trends in the travel industry emphasize the appeal of vacations for voluntary identity changes—when bankers can become bikers for a week or when “Momcations” allow mothers to leave their families behind. But how do our vacations allow us to shape our identity?

Getting Away from It All is a study of individuality and flexibility and the intersection of self-definition and social constraint. Karen Stein interviews vacationers about their travels and down time, focusing on “identity transitions.” She shows how objects, settings, temporal environments and social interactions limit or facilitate identity shifts, and how we arrange our vacations to achieve the shifts we desire. Stein also looks at the behavior, values, attitudes, and worldview of individuals to illuminate how people engage in either identity work or identity play.

Vacations say a lot about individuals. They signal class and economic standing and reveal aspirations and goals. Getting Away from It All insists that vacations are about more than just taking time off to relax and rejuvenate—they are about having some time to work on the person one wants to be.


in_the_weeds_smMore and more states are legalizing marijuana in some form. Moreover, a majority of the U.S. population is in favor of legalizing the drug for recreational use. In the Weeds looks at how our society has become more permissive in the past 150 years—even though marijuana is still considered a Schedule I drug by the American government.

Sociologists Clayton Mosher and Scott Akins take a deep dive into marijuana policy reform, looking at the incremental developments and the historical, legal, social, and political implications of these changes. They investigate the effects, medicinal applications, and possible harms of marijuana. In the Weeds also considers arguments that youth will be heavy users of legalized cannabis, and shows how “weed” is demonized by exaggerations of the drug’s risks and claims that it lacks medicinal value. Mosher and Akins end their timely and insightful book by tracing the distinct paths to the legalization of recreational marijuana in the United States and other countries as well as discussing what the future of marijuana law holds.


the_palestinian_idea_061818_smIs there a link between the colonization of Palestinian lands and the enclosing of Palestinian minds? The Palestinian Idea argues that it is precisely through film and media that hope can occasionally emerge amidst hopelessness, emancipation amidst oppression, freedom amidst apartheid. Greg Burris employs the work of Edward W. Said, Jacques Rancière, and Cedric J. Robinson in order to locate Palestinian utopia in the heart of the Zionist present.

He analyzes the films of prominent directors Annemarie Jacir ( Salt of This Sea, When I Saw You) and Hany Abu-Assad ( Paradise Now) to investigate the emergence and formation of Palestinian identity. Looking at Mais Darwazah’s documentary My Love Awaits Me By the Sea, Burris considers the counterhistories that make up the Palestinian experience—stories and memories that have otherwise been obscured or denied. He also examines Palestinian (in)visibility in the global media landscape, and how issues of Black-Palestinian transnational solidarity are illustrated through social media, staged news spectacles, and hip hop music.

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