Lawmakers on the final day of the legislative session approved spending $250,000 to research connections between marijuana use and “psychosis,” an idea promoted by a controversial book that scientists have panned as “junk science”
The spending, which was attached to broader bill that allocates money from the state’s medical marijuana fund to public health, mental health treatment and suicide prevention, was a component of legislation introduced a year ago that sought to reduce the potency of marijuana sold in Arizona.
House Speaker Rusty Bowers said that his 2020 measure stemmed from his reading “Tell Your Children: The Truth About Marijuana, Mental Illness and Violence,” a book that has been widely criticized for cherry-picking data and presenting correlation as causation.
The book by former New York Times reporter Alex Berenson has been widely condemned by the scientific community – even from those whose studies he cited as evidence.
UCLA cannabis researcher Ziva Cooper took to Twitter to dispute claims made in Berenson’s book, as one of her studies was heavily cited as evidence that marijuana causes violence and psychosis.
Additionally, 100 scholars and clinicians have signed an open letter denouncing the book as “junk science,” claiming that it infers causation from correlation.
Marijuana advocates panned the research plans, and questioned whether the spending, and the rest of Senate Bill 1847, passes constitutional muster because of how it orders the Arizona Department of Health Services to use money in the voter-approved medical marijuana fund.
“We had a name for this bill: It was the Christmas tree of bad marijuana ideas,” said Julie Gunnigle, director of politics for the Arizona Chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
In addition to the research component, the bill also sets aside $2.5 million — half each to ADHS and to AHCCS, the state’s Medicaid program — for suicide prevention. Another $2 million is directed to a student loan repayment plan for rural primary care physicians, while $5 million is being sent to county public health departments for drug addiction prevention.
Will Humble, who led the Department of Health Services when the state’s medical marijuana system was created, said despite the concerns some may have about the marijuana research, the benefits from funding these other programs outweigh any perceived issues.
“If you are afraid of the results that are going to come out of this, you can take a chill pill,” Humble said, adding that the $250,000 is “pocket change” and will likely not generate any new or surprising results.
Humble said the connections between violence and marijuana seem overblown, and he hopes that the research focuses more on possible links between marijuana and early onset of things like schizophrenia and other psychiatric disorders in younger adults.
But Gunnigle said she is concerned about how the legislature moved away from the voters’ intent of how patient money was supposed to be used.
The Voter Protection Act disallows the legislature from enacting changes to voter created laws unless they pass a bill changing that law with a three-fourths vote and that change must also be within the color and scope of the law.
The medical marijuana law states that monies collected from applications should be used to research marijuana safety and help with the distribution of the medical marijuana fund.
Gunnigle believes that SB1847 doesn’t pass that test.
The bill also resurrects other parts of Bowers’ old HCR, including new warning labels that will now be present on marijuana in the state. The labels will read that marijuana use may impact the health of a pregnant woman or their unborn child.
It also gives ADHS the authority to enter any dispensary during regular business hours at any time to inspect them unannounced.
Despite the bill, which hits on old tropes about marijuana users, Gunnigle said she is hopeful about the future of the plant in the state.
“I have high hopes, pun intended, for the state of cannabis in Arizona,” Gunnigle said.