Monthly Archives: December 2016

What happened in Washington state after voters legalized recreational marijuana

By Christopher Ingraham

(Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

The nation’s first recreational marijuana shop opened nearly three years ago in Colorado. Since then, a growing body of research has shown that the availability of recreational marijuana — in Colorado and elsewhere — is having little to no effect on teens’ propensity to smoke weed.

That’s the conclusion, at least, of the official statistics out of Colorado through 2015. It’s what federal data shows nationwide through this year. And it’s also backed up by other federal surveys of drug use in the states where marijuana is legal.

The data on this point has been consistent enough that longtime skeptics of the merits of marijuana legalization, like Nora Volkow of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, are expressing surprise at the findings. “We had predicted based on the changes in legalization, culture in the U.S. as well as decreasing perceptions among teenagers that marijuana was harmful that [accessibility and use] would go up,” Volkow told U.S. News and World Report earlier this month. “But it hasn’t gone up.”

However, a study out Tuesday in the journal JAMA Pediatrics flies somewhat in the face of the new conventional marijuana wisdom. Examining marijuana use among high school students in Washington state two years before and after the vote to legalize in 2012, it finds that rates of marijuana use increased by about 3 percent among 8th- and 10th-graders over that period.

[Trump’s pick for attorney general: ‘Good people don’t smoke marijuana’]

The authors posit that reduced stigma about marijuana use is one factor leading to the results that they observed.

“Our study suggests that legalization of marijuana in Washington reduced stigma and perceived risk of use,” said lead author Magdalena Cerdá of the University of …read more


The surprising reason the prison population keeps shrinking

By Keith Humphreys



Keith Humphreys is a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University.

Congress failed this year (again) to pass criminal-justice reform legislation, despite strong bipartisan interest in curbing mass incarceration. Nevertheless, a Bureau of Justice Statistics report released Thursday shows that the U.S. imprisonment rate dropped for the seventh straight year in 2015, reaching its lowest level since 1997. How is the country sustaining progress on de-incarceration, congressional paralysis notwithstanding?

The answer is twofold.

First, states, rather than the federal government, control most of U.S. correctional policy. California, for example, has reduced its prison population by tens of thousands in recent years through legislative reforms and ballot initiatives. Many other states have also implemented reforms that cut prison populations — not incidentally while reducing crime, as well — including Alaska, Colorado, Kentucky, Maryland and South Carolina. Because state facilities house more than 85 percent of U.S. prison inmates, states can roll back mass incarceration even when Congress is dithering over parallel federal reforms.

Second, as in many other public policy areas, the Obama administration responded to congressional gridlock on criminal-justice reform by taking executive action instead. Most notably, President Obama has granted clemency to more than 1,300 federal prisoners. His two attorneys general (Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch) have also played a role, for example by pushing the Justice Department to pursue mandatory minimum sentences more sparingly and to allow compassionate release of aging prisoners more often. Holder also urged the U.S. Sentencing Commission to make Congress’s one recent reform success — the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act, which reduced crack-cocaine penalties — apply retroactively to thousands of federal inmates.

Because the federal prison system is a small part of the U.S. correctional system, even all these Obama administration actions accounted for less of 2015’s drop in …read more


How these popular children’s books explain Donald Trump’s victory

By Max Ehrenfreund

(Washington Post illustration; iStock)

(Washington Post illustration; iStockphoto)

Nothing much ever seems to change in Busytown. The fictional place that illustrator and author Richard Scarry created half a century ago to explain the adult world to children remains the ideal American small town, neighborly and thriving. Every character is hard at work.

That cannot be said today of the small towns around the country that Busytown symbolizes. So much is different now. Fewer and fewer people of working age are employed. America is not as busy these days.

To economists, work always has been primarily a source of wages. Yet employment means far more than dollars and cents, as Scarry illustrated on nearly every page. As the size and the composition of the labor force shifts, researchers are beginning to think more about the intangible benefits of a job — the way work creates purpose and meaning in the lives of families and communities.

“That notion of identity involves a lot more than money. It’s something that’s lost when a job is lost,” said Frank Levy, an economist retired from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

If so, those small towns have become detached from their old selves. The data show an indefinable malaise afflicts these places — residents suffer elevated rates of diabetes, disability and death.

Those same residents helped Donald Trump win the presidential election. Trump carried very small cities by 73 points, according to an analysis by The Washington Post. Busytown almost certainly would have gone for Trump.

The relationship between work and identity has “a direct connection to the whole question of the kind of displacement that, at least in part, contributed to Trump’s victory,” Levy said.

The enduring popularity of Scarry’s books helps explain what some Americans who voted for Trump heard in his speeches. They long to live, once again, in a place like Busytown.

‘Everyone is …read more