Eleven states, with a combined population of 77 million people and representing roughly one-fourth of America, have legalized the adult-use of cannabis for any reason. Another 120 million live in states that have legalized some form of medical cannabis. This makes for a grand total of 197 million or over 60 percent of the country.
Based on the predictions of drug warrior groups opposing cannabis legalization, we should be experiencing substantial increases in youth consumption, increased driving fatalities from impaired drivers and dramatic increases in physical and mental health ailments.
Far from their sky is falling pronouncements, the results published in peer-reviewed evidentiary-based medical journals have found that all states that legalized the medical and adult-use of cannabis have experienced positive benefits. It’s not to say that there haven’t been some problems, but overall, the effects are beneficial for public health.
A study published in the October 2019 The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse found that “medical cannabis laws increase adult but not adolescent cannabis use,” although the report did caution that “provisions of the laws associated with less regulated supply may increase adult cannabis use disorders.” The same proved true for recreational cannabis laws as the report noted their “findings suggest little impact on the prevalence of adolescent cannabis use, potential increases in college student use, and unknown effects on other substance use.” The study went on to recognize that “these laws may reduce some opioid-related harms, while their impacts on alcohol and tobacco use remain uncertain.”
“Reducing opioid-related harm is one of the major public benefits of legalizing cannabis.”
Reducing opioid-related harm is one of the major public benefits of legalizing cannabis. Multiple research studies substantiate its pain-relieving abilities with medical researchers reporting in a 2018 study published by the American Medical Association that “marijuana liberalization may serve as a component of a comprehensive package to tackle the opioid epidemic.”
As for the ability of cannabis to reduce alcohol consumption, another recent study also published in October 2019 in the Forum for Health Economics & Policy examined the impact of medical cannabis laws and the prevalence of “active and legally protected dispensaries” reporting that “medical marijuana laws have harm reduction effects across a variety of outcomes related to risky health behaviors.”
Elaborating on this conclusion and highlighting the need for legal access, the study reported “strong improvements in health among non-white individuals, those reporting chronic pain, and those with a high school degree, driven predominately by whether or not the state had active and legally protected dispensaries.” Most importantly, the study concluded “that the aforementioned demographic groups experience large reductions in alcohol consumption after the implementation of a medical marijuana law.”
Even a modest reduction in alcohol consumption from the use of cannabis will provide substantial public health benefits.
As for bloodbaths on the highways, The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration and the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety have all found that, unlike alcohol’s contribution to highway mayhem, there is no evidence of any relationship between THC levels in the bloodstream and impairment.
A September 2019 study published in the medical journal Cureus concluded, “There is no clear or stated correlation between the legalization of cannabis and crash rates.” The article substantiated that conclusion finding, “The correlation between alcohol and crash risk is clear and the findings are so consistent. Some research shows that THC only causes minimal impairment and has a little contribution to crash risk.”
A 2015 study published by the University of Chicago Law School found that “the legalization of medical cannabis is associated with reduced alcohol consumption, especially among young adults.” Cannabis is not going to make you a better driver, but unlike alcohol, it is not going to make you a menace on the highway.
One of the most unambiguous conclusions found in the Cureus and other studies has been the effect on crime and punishment. In every state that has legalized cannabis, arrest rates have plummeted—98 percent in Washington, 81 percent in Colorado, 76 percent in Washington D.C., 96 percent in Oregon and 94 percent in Alaska with comparable reductions in all other legalization states. The public health benefits resulting from the saving of hundreds of millions of dollars and sparing hundreds of thousands of people from being saddled with lifelong criminal records is almost beyond measure.