European observations on cannabis legalization
Green light for medicinal cannabis but AMA says proceed with caution
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To cite this article: Johnson, Chris. Green light for medicinal cannabis but AMA says proceed with caution [online]. Australian Medicine, Vol. 29, No. 3, 07 Mar 2017: 9. Availability: <http://search.informit.com.au/documentSummary;dn=703616704877745;res=IELAPA> ISSN: 2202-1701. [cited 26 May 17].
Personal Author: Johnson, Chris; Source: Australian Medicine, Vol. 29, No. 3, 07 Mar 2017: 9 DOI: Document Type: Journal Article ISSN: 2202-1701 Subject: Cannabis–Therapeutic use; Cannabis–Law and legislation; Cannabis–Social aspects; Australian Medical Association;
Creating a drug law enforcement research agenda
Drug law enforcement (DLE) research has been poorly funded relative to drug treatment research. The literature is slight in volume and not yet very insightful. Taking the lack of funding to represent a chronic lack of public interest in the effects of DLE, the article offers a set of suggestions for how to create of a stronger DLE research community.
Research on drug treatment is highly sensitive to the nature of the intervention involved. A typical study will be of a specific type of treatment, for example contingency behaviour therapy, administered to a specific patient population with well-described outcomes (e.g. Copeland, Swift, Roffman, & Stephens, 2001; Kakko, Svanborg, Kreek, & Heilig, 2003). A caveats section will identify the numerous qualifications to internal and external validity. Each study is a contribution to a literature that is large enough that it has already its own literature of meta-analyses (e.g., Minozzi et al., 2006; Prendergast, Podus, Chang, & Urada, 2002).
Contrast that with research on drug law enforcement. The studies are few, the interventions are usually described in very broad terms, there is little effort to specify the settings (population, environment, history) in analytically relevant terms. Caveat sections are brief. The literature is not cumulative and meta-analyses are few and impoverished, in terms of the studies that fit the criteria for systematic reviews (Mazerolle, Soole, & Rambouts, 2006; Werb et al., 2011).
Why these differences, all of which point to the greater strength of treatment research? One answer is surely money. In the USA, the principal source of research funding, the budget for NIDA is over $1 billion, of which perhaps $600 million goes to treatment related research. Other agencies such as the Department of Veteran Affairs, also provide substantial funding. For enforcement research there is primarily the National Institute of Justice, with a paltry $50 million for all law enforcement research, of which a small fraction goes to drug law enforcement studies. Foundations have shown little interest in drug enforcement research; for example, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s large Substance Abuse Policy Research Initiative in the 1990s and 2000s included few projects on law enforcement. There is at least an order of magnitude difference in the funds available for drug treatment and research and those available to study the effects of enforcement.
The problem though is not just money. There are also specific challenges to work in this field that are not encountered in an individually oriented and experimental field such as treatment. For example, enforcement experiments are possible but so far only of very narrow interventions in atypical settings, such as policing of crack houses in the poorest neighbourhoods of declining American cities (Sherman et al., 1995, Weisburd and Green, 1995). These experiments are expensive to mount and require lengthy negotiations with suspicious enforcement agencies. There are many outcome measures that are fundamental to the field but only available at very aggregate levels whereas learning will come from analysis at much more local levels. For example, federal nations might have variation in the intensity of enforcement across provinces/states but almost no country reports drug prices below the national level, so that the price effects of differences in enforcement intensity cannot be studied.
A further complication is that enforcement goals are multiple and sometimes contradictory. In addition to reducing the use of drugs by shifting the supply curve through increasing the risks faced by sellers, enforcement also aims to make users and communities safer and to reduce the power of drug selling organizations in transshipment and producing countries (Caulkins & Reuter, 2010). A useful research literature will take all these outcomes into account but only rarely are these multiple outcomes available at the same level of aggregation. Thus individual studies usually emphasize just one outcome because of data availability (e.g. systematic quantitative data on prices but little on user victimization).
ELSEVIER Uruguay’s middle-ground approach to cannabis legalization
Assessing the concordance between illicit drug laws on the books and drug law enforcement: Comparison of three states on the continuum from “decriminalised” to “punitive”
Volume 41, March 2017, Pages 148–157
Variations in drug laws, as well as variations in enforcement practice, exist across jurisdictions. This study explored the feasibility of categorising drug laws “on the books” in terms of their punitiveness, and the extent of their concordance with “laws in practice” in a cross-national comparison.
“Law on the books”, classified with respect to both cannabis and other drug offences in the Czech Republic, NSW (AU) and Florida (USA) were analysed in order to establish an ordinal relationship between the three states. Indicators to assess the “laws in practice” covered both police (arrests) and court (sentencing) activity between 2002 and 2013. Parametric and non-parametric tests of equality of means, tests of stationarity and correlation analysis were used to examine the concordance between the ordinal categorisation of “laws on the books” and “laws in practice”, as well as trends over time.
The Czech Republic had the most lenient drug laws; Florida had the most punitive and NSW was in-between. Examining the indicators of “laws in practice”, we found that the population adjusted number of individuals sentenced to prison ranked across the three states was concordant with categorisation of “laws on the books”, but the average sentence length and percentage of court cases sentenced to prison were not. Also, the de jure decriminalisation of drug possession in the Czech Republic yielded a far greater share of administrative offenses than the de facto decriminalisation of cannabis use / possession in NSW. Finally, the mean value of most “laws in practice” indicators changed significantly over time although the “laws on the books” didn’t change.
While some indicators of “laws in practice” were concordant with the ordinal categorisation of drug laws, several indicators of “laws in practice” appeared to operate independently from the drug laws as stated. This has significant implications for drug policy analysis and means that research should not assume they are interchangeable and should consider each separately when designing research.