States That Legalize Marijuana See ‘Significant Reductions’ In Synthetic Cannabinoid Poisonings, Study Finds | Big Indy News
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States That Legalize Marijuana See ‘Significant Reductions’ In Synthetic Cannabinoid Poisonings, Study Finds

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Poisonings by synthetic cannabinoids, often known by trade names such as K2 or Spice, are significantly lower in states with legal marijuana access, according to a new study using data from the National Poison Data System (NPDS). Authors posit that more permissive cannabis policies could reduce both the motivation to use and harm associated with synthetic cannabinoids, which are harder to detect through drug tests than THC but can cause serious medical complications and even death.

From 2016 to 2019, states with “permissive” cannabis policies reported 37 percent fewer synthetic cannabinoid exposures annually than states where marijuana remains illegal, according to the peer-reviewed paper published on Tuesday in the Journal of Clinical Toxicology.

Medical cannabis states, defined as those allowing high-THC cannabis for patients, showed 13 percent fewer reported poisonings, although that finding was not statistically significant.

Compared to states allowing only medical cannabis use, those that opened retail stores to all adults 21 and older reported 36 percent fewer exposures.

“Adoption of permissive state cannabis policy was independently and significantly associated with 37% lower reported annual synthetic exposures, relative to restrictive policies.”

Researchers from the Washington State University College of Nursing, Oregon Health Authority and University of Arkansas College of Medicine assessed NPDS data, which is gathered from reports submitted to regional poison control centers by clinicians and the general public.

Overall, there were 7,600 reported synthetic cannabinoid exposures during the study period, of which nearly two-thirds (64.8 percent) required medical attention. Sixty-one people died.

States were categorized into three groups: permissive, meaning legal for adults; medical, specifically states allowing patients access to high-THC cannabis; and restrictive, or those where neither medical nor adult-use cannabis was legal.

“This study shows some potential public health benefits to the legalization and regulation of adult use of cannabis,” lead author Tracy Klein, a WSU associate professor of nursing, said in a press release. “Based on both past research and this current study, it’s evident that users who have a choice to use a less toxic product would potentially do so.”

Synthetic cannabinoids, which are not found in cannabis itself, are chemicals designed to interact with the same receptors in the brain that cannabis does. They’re often applied to inert material that resembles marijuana. The high can be somewhat similar to that from marijuana but with far more medical risk.

Although research cited in the new study indicates that most synthetic cannabinoid users prefer natural cannabis, people sometimes opt for synthetic cannabinoids because, unlike with THC, use typically can’t be detected by drug tests. That can be a big factor for people in the military, law enforcement or other jobs in which they face the risk of being fired or disciplined for a positive cannabis test.

Researchers note that because synthetic cannabinoid use is so hard to detect, the study’s integrity relies on accurate reporting by clinicians and others who contacted poison control centers to report exposures.

They also point out that the number of real-life poisonings is likely higher than the reported numbers show, because not all cases are relayed to poison control centers. Nevertheless, the study describes NPDS as “the largest and only near real-time national database of exposures.”

“More permissive cannabis law may have the unintended benefit of reducing both motivation and harms associated with use of synthetic cannabis products.”

Data indicated an overall decline in synthetic cannabinoid exposures during the 2016–2019 study period, which authors write could be caused by a number of factors, but they add that “we do not believe these potential contributors to general trends could explain the patterns of the policy-specific observations we observed.”

“Adoption of permissive cannabis law can be associated with significant reductions in synthetic cannabinoid exposures,” the study found. “While medical cannabis alone did not show a statistically significant impact on synthetic cannabinoid poisonings, the magnitude and direction of change were similar in both our models consistent with a hypothesized dose-response relationship between more permissive cannabis law overall and fewer reported synthetic cannabinoid poisonings.”

The study’s lead author also acknowledged that the study doesn’t take into account synthetically derived delta-8 THC, which has surged in popularity in recent years. The psychoactive molecule is produced naturally in small amounts by the cannabis plant but can be concentrated or synthesized in labs. It’s commonly sold in states where delta-9 THC, the main psychoactive component in cannabis itself, is illegal.

“We know that there are many cannabinoids being developed and on the market—and the regulators are struggling to catch up,” said Klein, who is also the assistant director of WSU’s Center for Cannabis Policy, Research and Outreach.

Meanwhile, a study last month by Michigan State University researchers found that cannabis legalization doesn’t lead to more young people trying the drug. It does, however, seem to lift the number of adults sampling marijuana for the first time.

Biden DOJ Says Medical Marijuana Patients Are Too ‘Dangerous To Trust’ In Motion To Dismiss Lawsuit On Gun Rights

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Wisconsin Governor Signals Willingness To Compromise With Republicans On Medical Marijuana

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Wisconsin’s Democratic governor said he thinks Republicans who control the state legislature may be willing to work with him to legalize medical marijuana in 2023.

In an interview with Wisconsin Public Radio on Tuesday, Gov. Tony Evers (D) said there is “no question” that he will again include recreational cannabis legalization in the biennial budget request he submits to the legislature early next year, but indicated his willingness to proceed with a more limited medical marijuana program if GOP leaders remain unwilling to end prohibition altogether.

“There’s an increasing number of people in the legislature that might be willing to go towards medicinal marijuana,” Evers said. “If the legislature can rally around medicinal marijuana, I certainly would sign that bill.”

“Even though the people of Wisconsin by huge numbers in polling support recreational marijuana in the state of Wisconsin, I just don’t know if the Republicans are there yet,” he continued. “All I know is that there is talk on the Republican side, from what I’ve heard, around medicinal.”

Earlier this month, an overview of state agency budget requests showed the Department of Revenue (DOR) asked the governor to again include recreational and medical marijuana programs in his forthcoming budget proposal, as he did in his last request. The overview also included a suggestion from the State Public Defender to decriminalize cannabis possession.

The DOR request called for the creation of a medical marijuana registry program through which patients over the age of 18 who are diagnosed as “having or undergoing a debilitating medical condition or treatment” could obtain authorization to purchase cannabis from licensed dispensaries.

The agency also wants the authority to issue retail marijuana permits and levy taxes on recreational sales, which it estimates would generate annual revenues of $165.8 million for Wisconsin beginning in 2024. Democrats have repeatedly complained that the state is bleeding tax revenues to the illicit market and legal marijuana programs in neighboring states like Illinois.

DOR did not request funding, administration, or enforcement powers for either cannabis program, but instead indicated it would “like to collaborate with the governor and other state agencies” around the resources needed to manage them.


Marijuana Moment is tracking more than 1,500 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

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Evers’ offer to compromise around medical marijuana comes after several years of Republican obstruction around his efforts to deliver on his reform pledge, even though a top GOP assemblymember has admitted legalization is essentially inevitable.

Evers won re-election last month after campaigning on cannabis reform and has relentlessly pursued the issue since taking office in 2019. His first biennial budget sought marijuana decriminalization and the establishment of a medical program. The GOP-controlled legislature has, however, stymied every one of his attempts.

The governor included broader marijuana legalization in his 2021 proposal but Republicans stripped it out of the budget. Democrats tried to add it back in via amendment that summer but were rebuffed by the GOP-controlled Joint Finance Committee. The conflict led the governor and other Democratic policymakers to call on Wisconsinites to pressure their representatives to support Evers’ agenda.

Assemblyman Evan Goyke (D) argued at the time that the state was becoming “more and more of an island” among neighboring states that had embraced reform, framing medical marijuana as “an attempt at compromise” with Republicans opposed to a recreational program. He argued that the “sky has not fallen” in other states that have allowed patients to access cannabis.

Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers have proposed modest decriminalization measures for marijuana possession but none of those proposals advanced in the last session.

A GOP-introduced bill to create a medical marijuana program that received a hearing this year was restrictive, prohibiting smokable marijuana products and forbidding patients to grow cannabis for personal use. Patients could only obtain cannabis preparations in the form of oils, pills, tinctures or topicals.

The measure, sponsored by Sen. Mary Felzkowski (R) and Rep. Patrick Snyder (R), also did not contain equity provisions like expungements that are favored by progressives.

Other Republicans, like Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, have expressed support for medical cannabis reform.

“Currently 36 other states, including our neighbors Michigan, Illinois, and Minnesota, have passed laws allowing patients with certain medical conditions to access medical marijuana if their doctors recommend it,” a co-sponsorship memo that Felzkowski and Snyder sent to fellow legislators says. “Medicine is never one-size-fits-all, and it is time for Wisconsin to join the majority of the country in adding another option which may help patients find the relief they need.”

A strong majority of Wisconsinites support marijuana legalization and nine local non-binding advisory questions on the subject passed by wide margins in the 2022 election.

Upon winning reelection this year, Evers told the media that “at some point in time, the will of the people will become the law of the land.” He has even taken steps via executive order to urge the legislature to start the process of amending the state Constitution to allow citizens to place initiatives on the ballot. Advocates believe such an amendment could help voters advance marijuana reforms on their own.

Until those laws change, marijuana possession in Wisconsin is punishable by a maximum $1,000 fine and up to six months in jail for a first offense. People convicted of a subsequent offense would face a felony charge punishable by a maximum $10,000 fine and up to three and a half years in prison.

Maryland Lawmakers’ Marijuana Workgroup Examines Employment And Driving Concerns Following Voter-Approved Legalization

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Marijuana Banking Bill Sponsor Makes Final Symbolic Push In Last Committee Hearing Before Retiring

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The lead sponsor of marijuana banking legislation made one final symbolic push for his measure on Friday in his last committee meeting as a member of Congress before he retires.

Frustrated that the Senate has consistently failed to take up the bill even after it has passed the House several times, Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) filed the text of his Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act as an amendment to large-scale omnibus appropriations legislation.

The congressman called the exclusion of his cannabis provisions one of a handful of “glaring omissions” from the bill, but he did not end up forcing a vote on the issue, saying that “there is not a lot of latitude to be making big amendments and sending things back to the Senate” in light of a looming storm as well as what would be a government shutdown if the spending bill is not enacted in short order.

“We passed it to the Senate seven times to watch it go nowhere, under Democrats and Republicans, so the blame goes across both sides,” the congressman told fellow members of the Rules Committee, which prepared the Senate-passed omnibus legislation for a last-minute House floor vote before members head home for the Christmas holiday.

Advocates had hoped that a so-called SAFE Plus package involving banking, expungements and other cannabis provisions would be included in the omnibus bill, but that didn’t happen. Even though key legislators agreed on the framework of the marijuana reform deal, they couldn’t push past opposition from Republican leaders who refused to allow it to be attached to the legislation.

Perlmutter said senators played a “chess game” that led to that chamber being in control of what got included in the year-end government funding bill.

“I feel like they’ve played the game by delaying up to a Christmas holiday, and you jam it down the House members’ throats,” he said. “It puts a lot of power into the Senate and to our leadership.”

Other members of the Rules panel, which began considering the omnibus on Thursday evening before finishing up on Friday, cheered Perlmutter, who is retiring at the end of this Congress, for his longstanding efforts on cannabis banking.

“On the SAFE Banking Act, you have so imprinted in our brains that legislation that even in your absence we will continue to offer those amendments, because it’s the right thing to do,” committee Chairman Jim McGovern (D-MA) said.

“I’ve had people come up to me who run cannabis businesses who say that because people can’t use credit cards, because people can’t use checks, people wait in line with lots of cash,” he said. “There’s a public safety issue here, and it makes no sense. If states have already moved ahead, why is it taking the federal government so long to make the necessary adjustments so that these businesses can operate like any other business? We will get there, I hope sooner rather than later.”

McGovern also joked that the the panel should adopt a “bipartisan resolution naming your chair the SAFE Banking chair, so that whoever sits there can know that that’s their job” to push the marijuana reform in the future.

Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK), the GOP ranking member of the Rules Committee, said that Perlmutter “even finally beat me into submission on SAFE banking,” noting that he has ended up voting for the legislation several times.

“Whether I agree with legalization or not, I talk to many law enforcement professionals and people in the financial services industry and they tell me about the hardships that this creates and frankly the opportunities for criminals because they know these are cash-heavy enterprises and the difficulties that can be associated with money laundering,” he said. “All those things would be improved enormously if we passed your legislation.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) had worked in recent weeks to craft the SAFE Plus compromise, but it faced opposition from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and other Republicans.

McConnell’s opposition has also been cited as the reason the reform wasn’t included in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) earlier this month.

A Senate source had said last week that Schumer was “making a last ditch effort” to attach the cannabis banking language to the spending bill—but the majority leader wasn’t able to get the deal done. He said the issue would need to wait until the next Congress, which will see Republicans in control of the House.

It’s clear that negotiations were sensitive around adding anything new to the spending bill, and drug policy reform suffered as a final deal was forged. In addition to the lack of SAFE Banking or SAFE Plus language, the legislation also omitted several other reform proposals that were attached to spending measures approved in the House and Senate earlier this year. The final bill also maintains a rider that blocks Washington, D.C. from implementing a system of regulated cannabis commerce—another major setback for advocates.

Advocates will now look ahead to 2023 and the possibility of advancing the reform in a divided Congress.

Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown (D-OH) had signaled that he viewed cannabis banking as a likely 2023 issue, though a staffer said last week that he was still be open to passing it through the spending package if it contained broader provisions.

Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC), who will serve as chairman of the House Financial Services Committee in the next Congress, recently indicated that he similarly feels the issue will need to be decided after the lame duck. The congressman said that he remains opposed to SAFE Banking, but he left the door open to advancing it if that’s the will of his Republican colleagues.

“What I’ve pledged is having an open process. I told my members my view of it,” he said. “Members are able to come to their own conclusion about the bill. It’s so variable state by state.”

For his part, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) has also pinned blame on McConnell, saying that his vocal opposition to cannabis reform has had a chilling effect of GOP members who might otherwise be amenable to passing legislation that contains SAFE Banking language.

“They’re dead set on anything in marijuana,” he said, referring to Republican leadership. “That to me is the obstacle.”

“The caucus is clearly divided but the people in power in their caucus are clearly against doing anything on marijuana,” he added.

New Washington Bill Would Allow Interstate Marijuana Commerce

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Maryland Lawmakers’ Marijuana Workgroup Examines Employment And Driving Concerns Following Voter-Approved Legalization

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Maryland lawmakers who are part of a marijuana legalization workgroup convened on Tuesday, hearing testimony on workplace and impaired driving policy issues related to the reform.

Members of the Cannabis Referendum and Legalization Workgroup—which was formed last year by House Speaker Adrienne Jones (D)—took testimony from representatives of the non-profit National Safety Council (NSC).

The witnesses advised the panel on a number of issues as lawmakers work to inform future regulations following Maryland voters’ approval of a legalization referendum during last month’s election, which triggered the implementation of complementary legislation covering rules for basic policies like possession and low-level home cultivation.

The focus of this latest meeting was on drug testing policy for workers and drivers.

“Throughout this entire process, all of us here have given thoughts and raised concerns about how legalizing recreational cannabis will impact employees in the workplace, how employers could enact or adjust policies when it comes to employment protections for off-duty cannabis cannabis use and how government bodies could legislate laws to appropriately respond to and address this issue and any related concerns,” Del. Luke Clippinger (D), who sponsored both the referendum bill as well as a complementary implementation measure and serves as the chair of the workgroup, said at the beginning of the meeting.

NCS takes a neutral position on marijuana legalization and decriminalization issues, and the conversation generally reflected the organization’s interest in supporting evidence-based practices for states that move ahead with the reform.

Jane Terry, vice president of government affairs at NCS, said that it’s likely a matter of time before every state in the U.S. has “some type of legalization” or cannabis is legalized at the federal level. Lawmakers should take steps to prepare for that inevitability, she said.

“What we really want to drive home is that it is impairing when you use it, and it’s going to have safety impacts,” she said. “So how can we really try to mitigate those impacts?”

One of the group’s main takeaways is that it’s difficult for employers and law enforcement to determine active impairment from THC, as current tests detect metabolites from the cannabinoid that can remain present in a person’s system for weeks after consumption.

Dave Madaras, president of the Chesapeake Region Safety Council, echoed several of Terry’s points, emphasizing to the lawmakers that a person could use cannabis off-duty in compliance with the state’s new law on Friday and “then Monday morning, I could take a drug test, and I can come up positive—but that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m impaired. Actually, I’m probably not impaired at all.”

The witnesses also went over a number of policy recommendations for legislators to consider. Notably, they argued against states setting “per se” THC limits for driving impairment because “it’s not based on science, and it’s not necessarily showing impairment.”

At the workgroup’s prior meeting last month, members talked about how to tax cannabis and distribute revenue.

Maryland House Majority Leader Eric Luedtke (D), who has also served as a member of the legislative workgroup, said in October that he would be voting in favor of legalization at the ballot, and he emphasized that the vote would be “the beginning of the conversation.” It has since been announced that Luedtke will be joining the administration of Gov.-elect Wes Moore (D).

The language of the ballot referendum itself was straightforward, but where the more complex aspects of the reform come into play is with the complementary HB 837.

Under that legislation, the purchase and possession of up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis will be legal for adults. The legislation also will remove criminal penalties for possession of up to 2.5 ounces. Adults 21 and older will be allowed to grow up to two plants for personal use and gift cannabis without remuneration.

Past convictions for conduct made legal under the proposed law will be automatically expunged, and people currently serving time for such offenses will be eligible for resentencing. The legislation makes it so people with convictions for possession with intent to distribute can petition the courts for expungement three years after serving out their time.

Even though voters have passed the referendum, the reform won’t take effect immediately. Possession of small amounts of cannabis will become a civil offense on January 1, 2023, punishable by a $100 fine for up to 1.5 ounces, or $250 for more than 1.5 ounces and up to 2.5 ounces. Legalization for up to 1.5 ounces won’t kick in for another six months.


Marijuana Moment is tracking more than 1,500 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

Advocates have taken issue with that protracted timeline. Having possession legalization take effect sooner was among several asks they made that were not incorporated into the legislation. They also wanted lawmakers to include a provision preventing police from using the odor of marijuana alone as the basis for a search.

Adult-use legalization began to advance through Maryland’s legislature in the 2021 session, but no votes were ultimately held. The Senate Finance Committee held a hearing last year on a legalization bill, which followed a House Judiciary Committee hearing on a separate cannabis proposal.

Maryland legalized medical cannabis through an act of the legislature in 2012. Two years later, a decriminalization law took effect that replaced criminal penalties for possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana with a civil fine of $100 to $500.

Meanwhile, Gov. Larry Hogan (R) separately allowed a bill to create a state fund to provide “cost-free” access to psychedelics like psilocybin, MDMA and ketamine for military veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury to take effect without his signature this year.

New Washington Bill Would Allow Interstate Marijuana Commerce

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