New Report Sets Baseline for Tracking Cannabis Legalization Impacts

New Report Sets Baseline for Tracking Cannabis Legalization Impacts

While there’s been plenty of coverage of the economic potential of Michigan’s adult use cannabis market, a new report zeroes in on the public health implications of legalization, establishing a baseline for stakeholders to reference for years to come. 

The University of Michigan’s Injury Prevention Center published a report last week that could set the stage for future cannabis policy in the state, where cannabis became legal for adult use in 2018, a decade after it was legalized for medical use. The report, funded through a grant by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, looks at “cannabis-related injury, social, and health indicators prior to 2018” in order to allow for later reports to monitor for changes.

“We thought it was very important to show the available data up to this current point, so that we can understand what health and social outcomes, if any, change over time following legalization,” Erin E. Bonar and Kipling M. Bohnert of the Injury Prevention Center, who helped research and write the report, told Cannabis Wire. They said they hope the report “will prompt more comprehensive and systematic assessment of cannabis-related measures, especially pertaining to health, well-being, and injury in the state.”

One of the main findings: Cannabis use, especially for young adults between the ages of 18 and 25, is “increasing and remains higher in Michigan than the Midwest region and the U.S. as a whole.” 

Specifically, past year cannabis use among residents aged 12 and older, reported for 2016-2017, was 16.7% in Michigan, compared to 13.9% in the Midwest and 14.5% in the US. Past month use for the state is around 12%, while it is around 9% for the Midwest and US. (It’s important to note that past year and past month use increased not only in Michigan, but regionally and in the US, as well.)

Bonar and Bohnert added that, although the findings did not surprise them, the increased cannabis use in Michigan, along with evidence of increased cannabis-related emergency room visits, suggest that “a number of people are experiencing negative physical and mental health-related outcomes of cannabis use.”

Some additional highlights from the report:

• The report found that the most common way (48%) that Michigan residents reported obtaining cannabis in 2014 is “getting it for free (does not include growing it oneself) or sharing it with someone else.” (This had been the most common way since 2002.)  

• Cannabis use during pregnancy has been a major policy debate as more states legalize cannabis. The report found that the “vast majority,” or 86.7%, of Michigan residents who were pregnant “did not use cannabis before, during, or after pregnancy.” Roughly 3% said they consumed cannabis during pregnancy. 

• Symptoms linked to cannabis use disorder are “relatively stable,” or on a slight decline. The report notes, “Currently, there are no conclusive explanations for why this prevalence may have decreased, especially given that cannabis use has increased within some of these populations during the same time period.” 

• Cannabis use in the workplace has also become an emerging policy issue as states move to legalize for adult or medical use. Court cases have become more common, as both employers and patients and consumers seek to exercise their rights. The report found that Michigan employees have a “higher prevalence” of tests that come back positive for cannabis than the national average. 

“Additional data are needed on workplace policies for hiring and employee assistance programs for employees who test positive and may have a cannabis use disorder,” the report noted. 

• While there is increasing, though not definitive, research on the role that cannabis legalization plays in the opioid epidemic, as cannabis is seen as a safer alternative for pain relief, the report found that opioid-related deaths in Michigan have increased in recent years. 

“The potential impact of legal recreational cannabis remains to be seen, and data do not tell us about individuals who were at risk for overdose who may have switched from opioids to cannabis or other options for pain management,” the report found.  

• Cannabis-impaired driving is another flash point among lawmakers and elected officials considering legalization. One reason is that no reliable test is available for widespread use in the United States, so law enforcement has largely relied on Drug Recognition Experts to determine cannabis impairment. Also, cannabis impairment remains poorly understood in the context of driving. 

The report found that while the overall number of fatal car accidents in Michigan have dropped, the percentage of those “cannabis-involved” fatal motor vehicle crashes is rising, “underscoring the need for public health approaches to prevent drivers operating vehicles under the influence of cannabis.” 

• When it comes to police seizures of cannabis, seizures of outdoor cannabis are “decreasing the most,” and seizures of edible related products are “increasing the most,” the report noted, adding that “these changes may reflect trends in cannabis production and/or law enforcement priorities.” 

Specifically, the report highlighted that seizures of outdoor cannabis crops plummeted 96.8% from 2010 to 2018, and that the “total weight of edible cannabis product seizures increased by a factor of over 400 times” between 2013 and 2018, from 2.48 kilograms to 1,082 kilograms. 

“Based on threat assessments produced annually, Michigan HIDTA enforcement teams have focused their investigative efforts and resources on prescription drug diversion, heroin and opioid trafficking for the past several years due to the seriousness of the threat posed by these drugs,” the report noted. 

• Local cannabis, according to law enforcement data, goes for $1,800 to $4,000 a pound, while “imported” cannabis (from Mexico) goes for $450-$1,200 a pound.

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