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              An American flag flies atop the stage at the first day of Hempfest, Friday, Aug. 16, 2013, in Seattle. Thousands packed the Seattle waterfront park for the opening of a three-day marijuana festival — an event that is part party, part protest and part victory celebration after the legalization of pot in Washington and Colorado last fall. Hempfest was expected to draw as many as 85,000 people per day. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Taxpayers funding study of link between marijuana, domestic violence

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Chuck Ross
Reporter

A federally-funded drug abuse research agency is granting nearly $2 million to study the link between marijuana use and domestic violence in what some supporters of marijuana decriminalization call another example of the organization’s “profound and unhidden political bias.”

The National Institute on Drug Abuse, a part of the Department of Health and Human Services, is granting $1.86 million to the University of Buffalo’s Research Institute on Addictions to investigate the drug’s link to aggression.

“Although marijuana is commonly believed to suppress aggression,” says the study’s summary, “surveys consistently reveal positive associations between marijuana use and perpetration of intimate partner violence.”

The study will run from 2013 to 2017 and will follow couples in which one or both partners use marijuana to determine whether its use “results in affective, cognitive, or behavioral effects consistent with partner aggression.”

NIDA, which describes itself as supporting “most of the world’s research on the health aspects of drug abuse and addiction,” has a $1.05 billion budget for 2013.

Maria Testa, a University of Buffalo professor who is the lead researcher for the project, tells The Daily Caller News Foundation that NIDA funded research “is designed to consider negative health effects of alcohol and other substances because of how they affect public health.”

She said that despite short-term relaxation and calming effects, in her 20-plus years of research, “marijuana use frequently emerges in survey studies as a predictor of partner violence.”

Testa hopes the new research will test the veracity of those surveys. She said that there has been very little research into the immediate effects of marijuana on aggression.

She said that the research will explore a variety of explanations for the link including whether “certain marijuana users” may be predisposed to partner aggression, whether using the drug itself causes conflicts between couples, and how marijuana interacts with alcohol and other drugs. Testa also wants to explore whether marijuana leads to violence for a subgroup of users while leaving most users unaffected.

“If we find that there is a relationship between marijuana use episodes and increased aggression, that would give us new insight into why we are seeing the correlation in survey data,” she said. “If we don’t find a relationship, that suggests that the survey data results are spurious,” she added.

But some question the NIDA funding saying that it is a prohibitionist organization that only looks at the drawbacks of marijuana use.

Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), told TheDCNF that NIDA’s political bias severely skews cannabis research.

“NIDA’s mission isn’t so much to conduct and report on scientific research… as it is to manipulate said research in a manner that attempts to prop up what is none other than a failed, intellectually bankrupt federal public policy.”

Armentano points out that NIDA has publicly acknowledged that it does not fund research into the potential benefits of medical marijuana.

“This inherent bias makes it clear that NIDA is not an objective arbiter of the science pertaining to cannabis, but rather a primary tool of the federal government in maintaining the ongoing enforcement of cannabis prohibition.”

Testa disagrees that a NIDA-funded study would be biased. “Science is done to increase knowledge, not toward an agenda,” she said. “We publish our findings regardless of what [NIDA] tell us.”

Mitch Earleywine, who sits on the NORML Board of Directors and is a psychologist at SUNY-Albany, said that the RIA researchers have a great track record of looking at alcohol-related domestic violence, but that “the idea that marijuana intoxication increases aggression is too preposterous for words.” “I think the RIA investigators know this,” he told TheDCNF.

“Funding is incredibly tight now and they are at a research institute where external funding is essential to anyone who wants to stay employed,” said Earleywine.

Overall the University of Buffalo’s RIA received over $6 million for five grants in 2013 for studies, including one on the effects of mixing alcohol with energy drinks and another on the relationship between substance use and bullying.

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