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Commentary: Marijuana legalization remains relevant

With Oregon and Alaska joining Washington and Colorado as states legalizing use and sale of marijuana, what I wrote at the beginning of the year seems to remain relevant.  Marijuana legalization continues its march and will likely claim California, and perhaps a handful of other states, in 2016. 

For those of us not in the actual trenches of this fight, it’s important to remain objective and have in mind practical solutions to public and campus health concerns.  For instance, as commercialization of marijuana takes hold, an expected outcome will be more processed products. In fact we’re seeing this already within the medical marijuana market. The actual plant has profit potential, but eatables and concentrates allow for businesses to market products not as easily reproduced.  However eatables are turning out to have a risk profile that should be raising alarm bells that prompt much stricter regulation. 

Eatables often contain extremely high doses of THC and their slow absorption mean effects can last for 8-16 hours.  Further, their onset is delayed by as much as an hour.  Therefore, the likelihood of someone engaging in behaviors that pose risk (such as driving) while impaired is much higher.  We are also seeing that accidental ingestion of eatables is a serious hazard for children.  Obvious solutions would be to either ban the sale of these, or substantially limit the THC dose permitted (with concomitant childproof packaging and labeling).  Further, on-premise service of eatables should be prohibited because it is impossible to serve a future driver one of these without creating an impaired driver for the public to contend with.

But knowing the risks and even some regulatory concerns may not be enough to change the course of this legalization march.  We continue to see the process played out on the initiative ballots instead of within the legislatures.  Therefore, widely disparate state laws are emerging due to activists’ whims and their cool calculus of what they believe to be minimally restrictive yet publicly palatable laws.  It’s a shame because given the blank slate that commercially regulated marijuana starts with, public health could have taken center stage if we were at the table.

So this means… From today’s perspective it appears marijuana will be a legal and regulated product for those over 21 in many more states (including California) by the end of 2016.  Further, the pressure on the Federal government to de-schedule marijuana will only increase.  Colleges and universities will likely be permitted to ban use on campus, however with likely de-scheduling, California schools may be required to accommodate constitutionally protected medical use even by those who are under 21 and within the residential buildings.


Ironic Consequences of Health Information

Educating students about the risks and associated harms of AOD use and abuse is a bedrock element of our prevention effort. We implicitly and explicitly assume that if we rationally put forth the options, students will make an “educated” decision, which will naturally be less risk prone.  Knowledge of risks will counteract the salient social and physiological positives of use.  Further, it is assumed that risk knowledge is at least benign, but usually helpful.  Recent research puts this assumption in doubt.

Read more: Ironic Consequences of Health Information

In Praise of the Ambiverted Peer

How do you pick your peer educators?  Summer is a time for our fall planning, and I’ve been thinking about how we select our peer educators.  Of course, those students with an interest in alcohol and drug prevention—or at least student behavioral health—meet the first criterion; but what’s next? Often it seems to also center on personality factors that we believe will make for an effective presenter.  Perhaps with a sales model in mind, we may believe that persuading students to change their attitudes and behaviors will require the salesperson personality: an extrovert. 

But new research calls into question the basic premise that extroverts make for better salespeople.  Wharton School researcher Adam Grant (2013) has published a study that demonstrated that sales success and extroversion follow an inverted U-shaped relationship.  He reviewed the checkered evidence that extroversion helps sales (turns out to only weakly correlate) and then analyzed the revenue brought in from a call center.  Strongly extroverted did no better than the weakest.  The sweet spot was those at 4.5 on a 7-point extroversion scale.  These mid-point people (called ambiverts) can switch modes from confident spokesperson to active listener.  The author posits that the overbearing nature of a strong extrovert can generate negative responses.  Of course, this jives well with anyone who detests shopping for a car.

And so this means…To the extent that we need peer health educators that have personalities that conform to a persuasion model of prevention, our best bet will be the ambiverts: too little confidence and they’ll fail to present with authority on sensitive topics; too much and they may appear dogmatic, arrogant and pushy.

If you have other personality traits that you think are critical to an effective peer health educator, join the discussion on Facebook.


Grant, A. M. (2013). Rethinking the Extraverted Sales Ideal The Ambivert Advantage. Psychological Science, 24(6), 1024–1030.


Survey hints at what's to come

As we enter the final weeks of the academic year, I thought I would share a bit of research on the high school students who will be matriculating this fall. Consider this grist for your cognitive mill as you ponder next year's programming while relaxing on the warm sands of a California beach.

A new national survey (The Partnership at America and the MetLife Foundation, 2013) of students grades 9-12 was released last week.  It is a longitudinal study of teen alcohol and other drug use.  Its findings jive pretty well with the Monitoring The Future study.

Alcohol remains king
It appears that we are in an upward trend for teen alcohol use.  The downward trend from 2002 to 2007 gave rates moving from 60% to 51% reporting past-year alcohol use; since then there has been an almost annual increase to the 2012 level of 57%.  Teens' perception of parental permissiveness has also gone up: disapproval of drinking was 32% in 2010, 28% in 2012.

Read more: Survey hints at what's to come

Fatal Crashes Down: Progress Continues

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports the positive news that fewer deaths occurred on our nation's roads in 2011 (NHTSA’s National Center for Statistics and Analysis, 2012a, 2012b).  A lower, but still depressingly high 32,367 people were killed in crashes in 2011.  That’s a 1.9% decrease from 2010, and represents the fewest fatalities since 1949.  When controlling for population growth and increased vehicle miles driven, the fatality rate is about a third what it was back in the early 1980s.

Drunk driving (or more precisely driving with a BAC=.08+) continues to account for a large proportion of the fatal crashes.  But those too declined by 2.5% and now account for 31% of the deaths.

Here are a few important national statics from the report:

Read more: Fatal Crashes Down: Progress Continues