Call for Proposals: Drug Policy Research Incubator Pleasure and Self-Regulating Drug Use

Editor’s Note: We’re double-posting today for an exciting reason. See below for a call for proposals from the Drug Policy Alliance that may be of interest to readers. Act fast – proposals are due in one month. 

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The Drug Policy Alliance’s Office of Academic Engagement is committed to improving drug policy research. Through a project called Unbounded Knowledge: Re-envisioning Drug Policy Research (UBK), we have worked with researchers over the past two years to identify gaps and opportunities in the field with the intention of fostering interdisciplinary research and improving the evidence base that informs drug policy in the U.S.

Researchers in the UBK project noted the deficiency of research in the United States on unproblematic drug use and/or drug use motivated by the desire for pleasure and recreation. One of the recommendations from that project was to examine a key factor that shapes U.S. drug research: the pervasive belief that some drugs are inherently harmful and addictive, a position that influences research questions and populations studied, as well as the outcomes that are measured.

• What might we learn from studying non-problematic, normative, or self-regulating drug use?
• What skills, knowledges, choices, and routines do non-problematic drug users employ?
• How might we capture a more representative sample of the complex diversity of people who use drugs?
• What is the role of pleasure in drug use choices?
• How is poly-drug use part of the pleasure equation?
• What other questions will help us better understand pleasure as part of non-problematic drug use?

We invite applications for researchers from all disciplines to join us for a one-day meeting to develop research projects focused on the topic of non-problematic drug use and pleasure. We envision an exciting, creative session wherein scholars from a breadth of fields come together to generate research ideas to advance our understanding in ways that could best influence policy change. Our goal is to use this session to discuss specific research proposals that will then be further developed and circulated to funders.

To apply, please submit:
•  A CV
•  An 800-word statement describing:
• Your specific research interest in this area and your background, if any, in related issues
• How your specific research interest would benefit from an interdisciplinary approach
• Any experience you have working collaboratively across disciplines

We are particularly interested in:
• Proposals that center people who use drugs and people directly impacted by the war on drugs in research design, development, and publication
• Applied projects that are policy-relevant
• Projects requiring an interdisciplinary approach
• Scholars who are willing to “think outside the box” with innovative methods to work beyond the limits of most research currently funded by the public sector

The Drug Policy Alliance will cover all associated travel and lodging costs. This meeting will be held in conjunction with (the day before) DPA’s biennial International Drug Policy Reform Conference, and participants are encouraged to stay and attend the conference.

Email materials to Jules Netherland (jnetherland@drugpolicy.org) and Ingrid Walker (iwalker2@washington.edu).

Screenshot 2019-08-12 at 1.33.00 PMDeadline: September 13, 2019
Workshop: November 6, 2019 in St. Louis, MO

Dr. Robin Room receives the Drug Policy Alliance’s Alfred R. Lindesmith Award for Achievement in the Field of Scholarship

Editor’s Note: Today we bring you an announcement from the Drug Policy Alliance’s Office of Academic Engagement. Last week, from November 18-21, the DPA held its International Drug Policy Reform Conference in Washington, D.C. There they awarded Dr. Robin Room, the sociologist specializing in drug and alcohol research whose work is well-known by readers of Points, with the Alfred R. Lindesmith Award for Achievement in the Field of Scholarship. Points heartily congratulates Dr. Room!

Robin RoomThe Drug Policy Alliance is proud to announce Robin Room as the recipient of its biennial Alfred R. Lindesmith Award for Achievement in the Field of Scholarship, honoring scholars whose personal courage and quality of published research constitute a source of inspiration for all who aspire to break new ground in scholarship on drugs and drug policy. Dr. Room’s extraordinary and prolific work over the past fifty years, driven by both his profound curiosity and a commitment to dealing with drug use and problems in ways consistent with scientific evidence, compassion and human rights, have powerfully informed and bolstered the global movement for drug policy reform. We are delighted that this award coincides with the launch of DPA’s new Office of Academic Engagement to be directed by Julie Netherland. Please join us in congratulating Dr. Room.

Final note: Points will be enjoying Thanksgiving on Thursday. Check back next week for more alcohol and drug history, and happy holidays to all! 

Points Roundtable, “Becoming a Marihuana User”: Amanda Reiman

Editor’s Note: This week, we welcome Amanda Reiman to the roundtable on Howard Becker’s Becoming a Marihuana User. Reiman is the Manager of Marijuana Law and Policy at the Drug Policy Alliance, where she works to develop DPA’s marijuana reform work as it relates to litigation, legislative and initiative drafting, campaign strategy, policy advocacy, media relations, fundraising, and public education in the local, state, federal, and international jurisdictions in which DPA is active. You can follow her work on twitter.

ReimanMarijuana prohibition is fruitless, because we have already learned to enjoy it.

Howard Becker’s seminal work, Becoming a Marihuana User, lays out the pathway to marijuana use based on the experiences of those who have used the substance. The gist of the piece is that there are three steps to becoming a marijuana user: 1) learning how to correctly ingest it; 2) recognizing the effects; and 3) interpreting the effects as enjoyable. According to Becker, if a person completes the three steps they will continue to use marijuana until they can no longer feel the effects and/or it is no longer enjoyable, at which time they will stop their use.

This theory is supported by the fact that most people who stop using marijuana do so without formal treatment. The term “aging out” is often used to refer to folks who discontinue their marijuana use once they take on the responsibilities of job and family. This makes sense in the context of Becker’s work, because he purports that changes in how marijuana use is viewed in one’s peer group and community can change the ability to derive pleasure from smoking. Indeed, today we see many people age out of marijuana use, and then return to the practice once they no longer have as many daily responsibilities and/or are beginning to feel the aches and pains of aging.

Becker is a sociologist and his work on social learning focuses on interviews with marijuana users, but there is a vital policy implication that can be derived from this work as well. According to Becker, the single driving force behind continued marijuana use is the ability to derive pleasure from it. If this is indeed the case, how could prohibiting marijuana ever be successful at reducing use? Prohibition relies on the theory that punishment influences drug using behavior. When it comes to drugs with a more serious level of dependence potential, we know this is not the case. Those experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms are not necessarily dissuaded from use because of the threat of criminal justice intervention. The data support this, as harder drug use in the United States has remained fairly stable even in light of rising financial support for the war on drugs. But what about marijuana?

Marijuana use among adults has been increasing. As Becker points out, no severe withdrawal syndrome drives use, but rather the presence of pleasure. It seems, then, that prohibitionist policies for marijuana are futile because continued use is about pleasure and shared experience, something that prohibition has been unable to influence. As laws change and marijuana use is no longer dampened by the threat of incarceration, and the market provides a wide variety of products and potencies, the experiences of pleasure will become even more common.

What are the impacts of changing views of marijuana on expectation effects? It is commonly said that in order for drug use to occur, two things must be present: predisposition and availability. Becker is critical of predisposition and likens it to an underlying desire or need to use a substance before initiation even occurs. However, if we have gotten to a place in society where the use of marijuana is perceived as a positive, healthful practice, even prior to initiation, then predisposition might be replaced with expectation. Interestingly, recent research shows that this new expectation of a positive marijuana experience seems to be limited to adults. Approval of marijuana use and use itself among young people is down. This could be attributed to the rejection by young people of what is considered desirable among adults. If this is in fact the case, and youth expectations for pleasure from marijuana are inversely related to those of adults, increased acceptance and positive expectations around marijuana use in the adult population might be the best deterrent for youth use that we have come across.

As Becker rightfully points out, in some ways marijuana itself has changed since this study was first conducted. Advanced cultivation techniques and the threat of arrest have resulted in higher potency strains (think Moonshine during alcohol prohibition). However, in states that now have legal marijuana systems, we are starting to see lower potency strains and products come back into fashion, especially among those who are re-initiating use after aging out. It would be fascinating to replicate Becker’s study today to assess the evolution of becoming a marijuana user.