From its first national regulation in the United States with the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, to its eventual decriminalization in the 70’s and legalization in 2012, the legalization of marijuana has remained a controversial topic. Although controversial, 23 states have legalized marijuana for medical purposes, with another ten states legalizing marijuana for recreational use. As marijuana becomes slowly becomes widely accepted all over the nation, one is left wondering what impacts the legalization of marijuana will have on our society, health, and economy.
Before even considering the implications the legalization of marijuana will have, it’s a good idea to understand what it is. Marijuana, also commonly referred to as cannabis, weed, or hemp, can usually be found in the form of a green or brown mixture of dehydrated parts of hemp plants (Drugs.com). However, marijuana can also come in the form of food products, such as brownies or gummies, pills, nasal sprays, and oils (National Institute of Health). As of now, scientists and researchers are aware of over 100 different compounds found in marijuana, some of the most notable ones being THC, the component producing the euphoric effect, and CBD, the component that has been found to have positive effects on one’s health. When used for medicinal purposes, the THC component can be removed so that the medicinal effect is still delivered, while keeping the patient’s consciousness the same.
When considering the social impact legalization would have, one of the impacts that comes to mind is the end of criminalization. While the belief that legalization would end criminalization serves as another argument to push for legalization, it is mostly false. In a study done in 2015 in Washington and Colorado, where marijuana has been mostly legalized, it showed that while overall crime rates dropped, marijuana related arrests remained steady. However, while marijuana related arrests remained steady, even increasing sometimes, traffic stops in which police conducted drug searches dropped a whopping 34% for African Americans, and 25% for Hispanics (Lift&Co). This represents a decrease in cases of racial profiling, as Hispanics and African Americans make up a large majority of those who are stopped for drug searches.
Likewise, another false assumption that is made is the idea that crime would increase in accordance with the legalization of marijuana. According to a crime report published in 2016 concerning Washington, there was an increase in the number of crimes involving unlicensed marijuana distribution, however, overall violent crime rates dropped. According to the report, Washington reached a 40-year low crime rate in 2014 occurring alongside the legalization of marijuana. In it, the report showed a 13% drop in murder rates, and a 10% drop in overall violent crimes; Colorado showed similar results (Lift&Co).
Another concern for our society that comes with legalization, is the worry that teenagers would begin using and they’d be put at risk. But, just like the many other arguments made, this is false. In a study provided by Lift&Co Magazine, data showed that marijuana usage by students in the 6th, 8th, 10th, and 12th grades dropped following the decriminalization of marijuana. For instance, 18% of 10th grade students reported using marijuana in 2006. That number eventually rose to 20% in 2010 but dropped back down to 17% in 2016. Although, this data cannot be too heavily relied on as there is a lot to consider, such as changing trends, or an evolving culture.
After considering the social implications of legalization, we can now analyze the impacts marijuana has on one’s health. Marijuana offers relief for people with chronic diseases because of its medicinal effects. According to Peter Grinspoon, a writer for Harvard Health Publishing, the component CBD gives little to no high, therefore having little to no effect on one’s consciousness or brain function. At the same time, however, it delivers a great deal of positive impacts on one’s health without the euphoric effect. For instance, cannabidiol (CBD) is known to relieve insomnia, muscle spasms and tremors for people with Parkinson’s, anxiety, and chronic life-threatening conditions specifically in children, such as epileptic seizures in which they seize many times each day (Harvard Health Publishing).
Additionally, marijuana serves as a safer alternative for pain relief. Deaths from opioid overdoses numbered 42,000 in 2016 due to their addictive nature. Marijuana is less addictive than opioids, and it is virtually impossible to overdose on marijuana. Studies that have been conducted in states with flexible laws concerning marijuana laws showed reduced deaths caused by opioid overdose (Harvard Health Publishing).
However, although marijuana may deliver a plethora of benefits to one’s health, it can be dangerous, specifically for children and teenagers. Edibles in the form of gummies, brownies, and cookies pose a threat to innocent kids who are unaware of the danger. Over the course of 2014, 14 children had ingested marijuana products, seven of which were sent to the ICU.
Additionally, marijuana can be detrimental to the brain, especially of those who haven’t fully developed yet. Judith Grisel with the Washington Post explains the effect marijuana has, even speaking from experience before becoming a prominent neuroscientist. She explains that the component delta-9-THC acts and mimics as our natural endocannabinoids, which are a series of receptors and neurotransmitters present in our nervous system. When using marijuana, delta-9-THC triggers widespread activity of the endocannabinoids, and as she explains from her very own experience, makes the most boring task entertaining. Why is this so wrong? Well, she makes the comparison that “as watering a flooded field is moot, widespread cannabinoid activity, by highlighting everything, conveys nothing.” What effect does this have on a teenager? They lose the ability to see some events or things as valuable or important and depend on marijuana to see events that way (Grisel). However, this can ultimately be reverted by abstinence in adults, but can be more permanent in adolescents.
Finally, what some people may view as more important, is the economic impacts marijuana would have if legalized. According to Lift&Co Magazine, in states where marijuana has been legalized, like Colorado and Washington, the cannabis industry has been booming. Colorado has experienced a profit of $76 million in tax revenue from cannabis in 2014, which increased to $135 million by 2015. Washington, however, experienced an even bigger boom, making $83 million in 2015 on excise tax alone, and another $185 million in 2016. That number was expected to rise to $230 million by 2017.
A more recent example shows booming business in newly legalized Canada. Ian Austen with the New York Times explains the phenomenon. The company Canopy Growth, founded in 2013 and situated in Canada, is now valued at over $10 billion. At this point, it’s worth more than Canada’s plane and train manufacturing company Bombardier, known worldwide for its planes and trains. Canopy Growth has made its way into America, debuting on the New York stock exchange. With over 120 businesses in Canada licensed to sell marijuana both medically and recreationally, businesses and entrepreneurs are left scrambling to get their hands on a license of their own. However, even in this booming industry, companies continue to lose money in their first year. For instance, Tweed, a subsidiary of Canopy Growth, lost $70 million, making zero profit that year. But, even with the hefty loss, entrepreneurs and business owners remain hopeful as the industry grows.
Most articles that argued against legalization concerning the economic implications were written before the legalization of marijuana in some states in the United States and used theories and assumptions. Now that there are states to use as examples, such as Colorado and Washington, their theories and assumptions have been disproved with facts and numbers. For example, CNBC argued in 2010 that the cost of legalizing it would exceed tax revenue, but that wasn’t the case for Colorado and Washington, in fact they made profit.
After considering all the facts, it’s clear to see why the legalization of marijuana remains a controversial topic. For some, it may seem an easy choice to oppose or support legalization, but there are two sides to the story to be considered. In an era where marijuana is becoming more and more acceptable, one should know what marijuana is, and how it will affect them or their loved ones if, or rather when, it’s legalized. In the end it feels like the legalization of marijuana will appeal to most in some way, whether it be through social impacts, economic impacts, for their health, or to just use recreationally without the fear of being incarcerated.