Members of Congress approved spending $250,000 to examine ties between marijuana use and “psychosis,” a theory supported by a controversial book that experts have condemned as “junk science.” The measure was passed on the last day of the legislative session.
A component of cannabis potency-regulating legislation filed a year ago, the spending was connected to a more extensive package that transfers money from the state’s medical marijuana fund to public health, mental health care, and suicide prevention.
House of Representatives speaker Rusty Bowers said that his 2020 legislation was inspired by his reading of the manuscript “Tell Your Children: The Truth About Marijuana, Mental Illness, and Violence,” which has been widely criticized for cherry-picking data presenting correlation as causation.
The book, written by former New York Times reporter Alex Berenson, has received widespread condemnation from the scientific community, including researchers whose papers he used as evidence.
As a result of one of her studies being prominently included in Berenson’s book as evidence that marijuana causes aggressiveness and psychosis, UCLA cannabis researcher Ziva Cooper took to Twitter to refute the charges made in the book.
In addition, 100 academics and practitioners have signed an open letter calling the book “junk science,” claiming that it infers causality from association without first showing cause.
Marijuana Advocates Question Research Funding
Because of how the Arizona Department of Health Services is required to use money from the voter-approved medical marijuana fund, marijuana advocates have criticized the research plans and questioned whether the spending and the rest of Senate Bill 1847 would pass constitutional muster.
“We had a name for this bill,” explained Arizona NORML Director of Politics Julie Gunnigle. “It was the Christmas tree of bad marijuana ideas.”
Other funding for suicide prevention includes $2.5 million for the Department of Human Services and AHCCS (Arizona’s Medicaid program), $2 million for rural primary care providers, $5 million for county public health departments to help combat drug abuse.
The benefits of funding the other programs outweigh any perceived risks involved with funding marijuana research, according to Will Humble, former commissioner of the Department of Health Services.
If people are concerned about the outcomes of this investigation, Humble advises taking a “chill pill.” However, he also points out that $250,000 is a “pocket change” and is unlikely to provide any new or surprise findings.
In Humble’s opinion, the correlations between marijuana and aggression appear to be exaggerated. However, he hopes that future studies would examine potential relationships between marijuana and the start of schizophrenia and other psychiatric illnesses in adolescents and young adults rather than older adults.
Legislators Want the Research Fund Closed
On the other hand, Humble expressed alarm about the legislature’s departure from voter intent on how patient money was supposed to be spent.
Unless a bill amending a voter-created law is passed by three-fourths of the legislature, and that amendment is also within the color and scope of the law, modifications to voter-created rules are prohibited under the Voter Protection Act.
According to Arizona medical marijuana law, money collected from applications should be used to conduct research into the safety of marijuana and assist in distributing the medical marijuana fund.
SB1847, according to Gunnigle, does not pass that litmus test.
Other provisions of Bowers’ previous HCR are reinstated in the law, including new warning labels that will be displayed on marijuana products sold in the state. The labels will state that marijuana use during pregnancy may harm the pregnant mother’s health or her unborn child.
It also grants ADHS the right to visit any dispensary during regular business hours at any time and conduct an unannounced inspection of the establishments inside.
Although the bill relies on outdated stereotypes about marijuana users, Gunnigle expressed optimism about the plant’s future in the state despite the legislation.
As Gunnigle put it: “I have big expectations for the state of cannabis in Arizona, no pun intended.”