Those opposed to liberalizing marijuana laws allege that legalizing pot will adversely impact society. Yet, as more states move forward with regulatory alternatives to pot prohibition, it is becoming evident that opponents’ fears are largely unwarranted.
Legalization has not increased teen pot use
Nationwide survey data published by the University of Michigan in December reported that marijuana use among teens, including self-reported incidences of daily pot use, declined in 2014. Separate data published earlier this year by the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment similarly found that fewer high-school students are consuming cannabis, despite voters’ decision in 2012 to legalize the possession, production, and sale of the plant to adults. According to the survey, the percentage of Colorado high schoolers reporting having consuming marijuana within the past 30 days fell from 22 percent in 2011 to 20 percent in 2013. High school students’ lifetime use of cannabis declined from 39 percent to 37 percent during the same two years.
Multi-year analyses evaluating the passage of statewide medical marijuana laws and use rates among young people report a similar trend. For example, authors of a July 2014 paper published by the nonpartisan National Bureau of Economic Research assessed federal data on youth marijuana use and treatment episodes for the years 1993 to 2011 – a time period when 16 states authorized medical cannabis use. They determined, “Our results are not consistent with the hypothesis that the legalization of medical marijuana caused an increase in the use of marijuana among high school students. In fact, estimates from our preferred specification are small, consistently negative, and are never statistically distinguishable from zero.”
Mexican drug cartels have not invaded the legal market
To date, there is no tangible evidence indicating that states’ allowances of the production of cannabis for either medicinal or recreational purposes have provided enhanced opportunities for south-of-the-border drug traffickers. In fact, just the opposite appears true. According to a recent NPR report, the advent of legal pot in the U.S. is significantly reducing market demand for Mexican-grown weed – an economic development that is causing some Mexican cartels to steer clear of the pot market.
“Two or three years ago, a kilogram [2.2 pounds] of marijuana was worth $60 to $90,” a 24-year-old pot grower in the northwestern Mexican state of Sinaloa told NPR. “But now they’re paying us $30 to $40 a kilo. It’s a big difference. If the U.S. continues to legalize pot, they’ll run us into the ground. … The day we get $20 a kilo, it will get to the point that we just won’t plant marijuana anymore.”
Legalization isn’t associated with increased crime
According to findings published in April in the scientific journal PLOS ONE, the passage of medical marijuana laws is not positively associated with increases in criminal activity. “The central finding gleaned from the present study was that MML (medical marijuana legalization) is not predictive of higher crime rates and may be related to reductions in rates of homicide and assault,” authors reported. “In sum, these findings run counter to arguments suggesting the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes poses a danger to public health in terms of exposure to violent crime and property crimes.
The Feds have largely stayed out of the states’ affairs
Although marijuana remains illegal under federal law, the Obama administration has largely refused to interfere with state efforts to regulate the plant. A 2013 Justice Department memorandum to U.S. attorneys in all 50 states directed prosecutors not to interfere with state legalization efforts and those licensed to engage in the plant’s production and sale, provided that such persons do not engage in marijuana sales to minors or divert the product to states that have not legalized its use, among other guidelines.
Most recently, the President signed spending legislation into law that includes provisions restricting the Justice Department’s ability to take criminal action against state-licensed individuals or operations that are acting are in full compliance with the medical marijuana and/or hemp laws of their states – meaning that, for the immediate future at least, the feds intend to maintain a ‘hands-off’ approach when it comes to the legalization of pot.
Paul Armentano is the Deputy Director of NORML — the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws — and is a Senior Policy Analyst with Freedom Leaf Inc. He is the co-author of the book, Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink? (Chelsea Green, 2013).