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420 words on 4/20 weekend

Dear NORML members and supporters,

420 NORML MembershipWe all find ourselves this weekend at the precipice of the year’s most propitious date on the calendar for cannabis consumers and freedom lovers: April 20th.

As always, there will be large public gatherings all around America (and other countries too) to celebrate the responsible adult use of cannabis. The day is a cultural phenomenon, with both substantial media output (some entire cable networks broadcast cannabis-centric programming and entertainment–like Comedy Central) and coverage of public celebrations (cities like Denver expect downtown public pot celebrations drawing 80,000 or more Saturday and Sunday).

The patchwork of cannabis law enforcement in this country is so disparate that in some locations the gatherings will celebrate their appreciation of the herb, but under harsh threat of arrest and criminal sanctions. Contrastingly, in other parts of the country, where I write this letter from, the city of Denver–where I’ve paid an effective 35% tax rate on the retail purchase of a small amount of a strain called ‘Tangie’, and where over 40,000 attendees are expected for High Times’ Cannabis Cup Awards–the events here are decidedly in celebration of the only place currently on earth where an adult can purchase and legally consume cannabis in a similar manner to that of alcohol products.

By July of this year, the citizens and visitors to Washington State will enjoy the same freedoms and responsibilities when their cannabis retail market officially commences.

Two down, forty-eight more states and territories to go…

420 NORML MembershipDozens of NORML’s 150 state and local chapters will be very busy this weekend working to end cannabis prohibition in their region of the country. Check out your local NORML chapter event here.

For over a dozen years NORML has had unique 4/20 fundraisers, promoting an annual membership* for as low as $4.20, and this year is no different. Hats off to legalization–upgrade your membership for $42 and get a limited edition hemp hat* from Grassroots California.

With Alaska and Oregon voters likely propelling their states to join Colorado and Washington this election season via binding voter initiatives, we will all have even more to rejoice (and consumer choices for safe, affordable, legal and taxed cannabis) next April 20th.

Thank you for supporting NORML’s long standing public advocacy efforts to end cannabis prohibition and replace it with a far more rational and responsible public policy that has sustained the organization to this day–when I’m reporting to you the first legal and taxed cannabis purchase in my lifetime.

Cannabem Liberemus,

Allen St. Pierre
Executive Director
NORML

* NORML 420 membership offer is valid until 4/20/14 at 11:59pm EST. (Limited quantity of hemp hats)

Neuropsychological Deficits: Fact and Artifact About Marijuana Tests

By Mitch Earleywine, Ph.D
State University of New York at Albany
Chair, NORML board of directors

A new study claims to show small deficits on neuropsychological tests in college students who started smoking marijuana early in life. It might get a lot of press. Prohibitionists love to bang the drum of marijuana-related cognitive deficits, so I’d like NORMLites to know how to make sense of this sort of research. The recurring themes in this literature involve several alternative explanations that never seem to dawn on journalists. These results often arise from artifacts of the study rather than physiological effects of the plant. I’d like to focus on a few: other drug use, dozens of statistical tests, the incentives for performance, and the demands communicated by the experimenters.NWA Canada Prohibition Car

The latest paper of this type is actually pretty good. Researchers studied over 30 people aged 18-20 who started using before age 17 (their average starting age was around 15) and who smoked at least 5 days per week for at least a year. They compared them to a comparable bunch of non-users. I hate to see 15-year-olds using anything psychoactive, even caffeine. Spending full days in high school with less than optimal memory functioning is no way to lay the groundwork for a superb life. I admit that I want these same people to grow up and be the next generation of activists, so feel free to call me selfish when I emphasize NORML’s consistent message: THE PLANT IS NOT FOR KIDS WHO LACK MEDICAL NECESSITY.

OTHER DRUG USE?
First, we have to keep other drug use in mind. Unfortunately, the marijuana group in this study got drunk more than 4 times as much in the last six months as the controls. Given what we know about binge drinking and neuropsychological functioning, it’s going to be hard to attribute any differences between these groups to the plant. It’s just as likely that any deficits stem from pounding beers. Studying cannabis users who aren’t so involved with alcohol would help address neuropsychological functioning much better.

HOW MANY TESTS?
In addition, we should always consider the number of measures in any study. Many of these neuropsychological tasks have multiple trials that can be scored multiple ways. The more statistical tests you run, the more likely it is that you’ll find a statistically significant difference by chance. It’s kind of like flipping coins. It’s rare to flip four heads in a row. But if you flip a coin a thousand times, odds are high that somewhere in the list of a thousand results will be four heads in a row. These investigators got 48 different test scores out of the participants. You’d expect at least 2 of them to be significant just by chance. They found differences on 14 different scores, suggesting that something’s going on, but we’re not sure which results are the “real” differences and which ones arose by accident. (That’s why we replicate studies like this.) And, as I mentioned, it might all be because of the booze.

WHY WOULD ANYONE DO ALL THESE TESTS?
We also have to consider incentives for performance. Most researchers bring participants to the lab for a fixed fee and ask them to crank out a bunch of crazy puzzles and memory assessments. It’s unclear why people would feel compelled to strain their brains. The authors of this study were kind enough to mention some relevant work by my friend (and former student) Dr. Rayna Macher. Dr. Macher showed that cannabis users respond best when you make the effort worth their while. She focused on people who used the plant at least four times per week for a year or more. She read one group some standard instructions for a memory test. The other group got the regular instructions plus an additional sentence: “It is important that you try your very best on these tasks, because this research will be used to support legislation on marijuana policy.”

As you’d guess, this simple sentence fired them up. Compared to cannabis users who didn’t hear that sentence, they performed better on 3 out of 10 measures. (You’d expect less than one difference by chance.) And compared to the non-users, the folks who got the incentive sentence did just as well on all the tests. For those who didn’t hear the incentive sentence, users did less well than non-users on 1 of the 10.

I know that prohibitionists are going to try to call this amotivation. (See my rant on that when you get a chance) I call it putting effort where it pays. But given what we know about how these studies can hamper the reform of marijuana laws, users everywhere should do their best on all tests whenever they get the chance.

WE OFTEN DO WHAT EXPERIMENTERS EXPECT OF US
Last but not least, we have to consider the demands communicated by the experimenter. Decades of data now support the idea that people often do what others expect them to do, especially if they believe the expectation, too. Another friend and former student, Dr. Alison Looby De Young, showed that these expectations are critical in studies of neuropsychological performance and cannabis. She gave a neuropsychological battery to men who had used cannabis at least three times per week for the last two years. One group of men read instructions that said that cannabis had no impact on their performance on these tests. Another group read instructions that said that cannabis was going to make them perform poorly. You guessed it, those men who heard they were going to flub the tests performed worse on 2 of the 4 tests. (You’d expect less than one difference by chance). As you might imagine, some laboratories communicate their expectations about cannabis and cognitive function subtly or not so subtly. Some participants are bound to behave accordingly. So what looks like a cognitive deficit is just an artifact of the laboratory environment where experimenters stare daggers at cannabis users.

In the end, I’m glad that researchers do this work, but these effects are too small and fleeting to justify prohibition. We already know that cannabis isn’t for healthy kids. People who get heavily involved with the plant early in life might not perform as well as those who never touch cannabis even if investigators control for other drug use, AND use a sensible number of tests, AND provide appropriate incentives, AND communicate a reasonable expectation.

But how many people should go to jail for that?

If you said, “None,” you’ve done an excellent job on an important cognitive test.

Today Show and NPR Features NORML

The Super Bowl bet between Washington and Colorado NORML chapters, along with interviews with NORML board members Rick Steves and Kevin Oliver from Washington, was featured this morning on NBC’s Today Show. Additionally, Marketplace, heard on National Public Radio, also covered NORML chapter wager and the fact that the two teams competing for NFL title are from the states with legal cannabis sales.

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

New York WILL Be The Next Medical Marijuana State

Just Announced: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo released a statement tonight that his state of the union speech next week will include an announcement of an executive order making medical cannabis legal.malemede

After this comes to be New York will become the 22nd state where qualified patients will have legal access to cannabis as a therapeutic.

Marijuana Arrest: Devastation Of A Life Well Lived

If there is another human being who has publicly debated more in favor of cannabis law reform, or, spoken to more legal victims of America’s cannabis laws than me, I want to meet and thank them. From these hundreds of debates and thousands of personal encounters with my fellow cannabis consumers busted for ganja, one single phrase that I constantly hear from those who still support cannabis prohibition that instantly pushes my button is: No one gets busted for pot anymore in America…It’s practically legal.

Thankfully, because of the non-stop work from a cast of thousands of citizen-activists, going back over forty years, the latter is somewhat true for about one-third of America’s population. However the former is a bald face lie that must be confronted every time it is uttered by the proponents of pot prohibition.

Even in states where cannabis is supposed to be decriminalized, where states have passed laws making cannabis a ‘minor civil offense’, an encounter with law enforcement regarding one’s cannabis possession or use can have expensive, life-altering and devastating negative effects on a person’s life.

Kudos to BuzzFeed for producing a very well done video profile of a beloved public school teacher in New York City named Alberto Willmore, who, save for this video, would be yet another faceless victim of New York City’s expensive and reckless enforcement of what should be a minor civil offense, like a parking ticket or citation for spitting on the sidewalk. Instead of simply issuing Mr. Willmore a civil fine for possessing a small amount of cannabis, New York City continues to disrespect state laws governing cannabis possession by arresting, detaining, prosecuting and forcing Mr. Willmore to lose his dream job as an art teacher for what law enforcement deem a ‘serious crime’, when the legislature does not–even more so when almost 60% of the US public support legalizing cannabis sales.

NORML has been advocating for almost twenty years in New York City for the city to return to it’s historic cannabis possession arrest rate of under 1,000 per year, down dramatically from the now nearly 40,000 cannabis possession arrests annually in New York City, which exploded under mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg.

Next time you hear a law enforcement representative, opinion maker or politician declare that ‘nobody gets busted for pot any more’, remind them of one of America’s nearly 700,000 annual cannabis arrests: Alberto Willmore

With the recent release by incoming mayor Bill de Blasio’s family of a video from his daughter talking about her use of cannabis, and incoming police commissioner William Bratton’s long experience in effective policing, NORML hopes that 2014 will finally be the year that New York City ceases being the hotbed for cannabis arrests in America and relents on destroying the lives of it’s otherwise productive and appreciated citizens–like Alberto Willmore–who happen to choose to consume cannabis in their home.