Arizona Lawmakers Approve Funding to Study Correlation Between Marijuana, Mental Illness

By Allan Stein
Allan Stein
Allan Stein
Allan Stein is an Epoch Times reporter who covers the state of Arizona.
July 10, 2021 Updated: July 10, 2021

Arizona lawmakers on June 30 approved a Republican-led spending plan to study possible links between marijuana use and mental illness, a move widely criticized by cannabis advocates as political.

The bill, SB1847, earmarks $250,0000 for specific use in “research on the correlation between marijuana use and mental illness, including psychosis and violent behavior.”

It also contains $2.5 million for suicide prevention and a provision that requires the development of a warning label that includes a statement that marijuana use “may affect the health of a pregnant woman and the unborn child.”

The bill stems from a larger spending bill introduced a year ago by Republican House Speaker Rusty Bowers, which draws upon his reading of a book titled “Tell Your Children: The Truth About Marijuana, Mental Illness and Violence” by former New York Times reporter Alex Berenson.

Hailed among conservative circles as a definitive work on the dangers of cannabis, the book has been criticized by marijuana advocates as being unscientific, while confusing correlation and causation with regard to mental illness.

“It is a debunked book. There’s no mention at all about causation. What does correlation really tell us?” said Mike Robinette, state director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) in Arizona.

“We just feel [the bill] is a political statement. We feel it’s kind of a biased statement that creates the findings,” Robinette said.

The book drew criticism from some 100 scholars and clinicians in an open letter that accused Berenson of engaging in “junk science” and “cherry-picking” the book’s findings.

Berenson, in an email to The Epoch Times, defended the work for its “original research, interviews with the preeminent researchers in the field, and a 17-page bibliography so readers can judge the accuracy of my use of primary source materials for themselves.”

“I have been invited to speak about its findings by psychiatrists in several countries, and presented alongside Dr. Nora Volkow, the head of the National Institute of Drug Abuse,” Berenson added. “I encourage people who are interested in the subject of the psychiatric risks of cannabis to read and judge the book for themselves. They will find that the industry hates ‘Tell Your Children’ because it is meticulously researched and accurate, not the reverse.”

In 2010, Arizona legalized medical marijuana and in 2020 Proposition 207 was passed, legalizing recreational marijuana for adults.

There are currently about 130 licensed cannabis dispensaries for medical and adult use in Arizona.

In 2011, the Arizona Department of Health Services published an article titled “Marijuana Use & Earlier Onset of Psychosis?” which stated that “a number of published studies have found that using marijuana (and other psychoactive substances) is associated with an earlier onset of psychotic illness.”

“National mental health surveys have repeatedly found more substance use, especially cannabis use, among people with a diagnosis of a psychotic disorder,” according to the article.

Robinette noted again that association is not the same as causation.

“What I see happening is the next phase of [political] pushback” against marijuana law reform, Robinette said. “I am not against good research. This study is political in nature.”

Susan Sisley, president and principal investigator for the Scottsdale Research Institute in Phoenix, a clinical trial site currently running a phased study of medical cannabis for veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, said the state funding plan falls short in terms of providing long-term random human control trials.

“As a scientist, I support anything that supports rigorous research,” Sisley said. “I’m hoping it’s enough to look for some signals” regarding links between cannabis use and mental illness “to do more rigorous control trials.”

“I just want to make sure the money goes into the hands of true science and doesn’t end up in the hands of a political agenda,” Sisley said.

Allan Stein
Allan Stein
Allan Stein is an Epoch Times reporter who covers the state of Arizona.