Now that eight states, plus Washington D.C, have legalized the recreational use of marijuana, it's clear that attitudes on cannabis use are beginning to shift in a big way. One of the common themes in all of the legal states is that most of the time, the legalization of cannabis only passed by a thin margin.
In Oregon, for example, the 2014 measure to legalize recreational marijuana only passed by a margin of 12%! While the Portland metro area was enthusiastic about the proposal, most of the eastern part of the state wanted nothing to do with legal weed.
The story is the same in many other states, but now we've had time to gather some more evidence of legal pot's effects, so it's time to see if any of their fears are confirmed. Let's take a look at the legalization of cannabis pros and cons we've seen so far!
Obviously, the greatest pro to legalization of cannabis is simply the fact that those of us who feel like it can smoke up or eat a brownie without worrying about the police breathing down our necks. But, here are the top three positive outcomes we've observed.
1) Tax Revenue: The most noticeable and measurable pro of legal cannabis is that some of its proceeds go right back into state coffers. Oregon taxes weed at 17%, and municipalities can choose to add a tax up to an additional 3%. The tax money is distributed mostly to the Common School Fund, and services for mental health, drug, and alcohol abuse. In 2016, Oregon raked in over $54 million in marijuana tax dollars.
2) Product Regulation: With legal structures in place, states that have legalized cannabis can test product to ensure purity as well as potency. This is a bigger deal than you might think. Washington set a great example back in 2014 when it made rigorous third-party testing a requirement. That year, 13% of tested pot was rejected due to contaminations of yeast, mold, salmonella and even e.Coli! Rigorous testing is a huge advantage for those of us who partake.
3) Medical Made Easier: Unfortunately, there are many states where even medical marijuana is still outlawed, so legalization is certainly a win for medical patients. While states are handling the merging of medical and recreational cannabis industries, medical patients are benefitting from lower prices and more options for pot shopping. Legalization of cannabis is also ideal for people who have medical conditions that don't qualify for medical marijuana programs – but might benefit from cannabis anyway.
When opponents of legalization get out their con list, it's often full of horror stories about people freaking out after eating too many edibles, or the idea that every schoolchild will become addicted to pot because it's too easy to get to. While those predictions are often far-fetched, here are some of the cons that hold up.
1) DUIs: Unfortunately, there has been a distinct uptick in the number of people driving while under the influence of marijuana – at least in Oregon. Even though 1 in 10 Oregonians already smoked pot before it became legal, the number of motorists stopped with cannabis in their systems more than doubled from 2015 to 2016, from 44 to 93. It seems that this con is a correct one.
2) Public Conduct: Of all the legalization of cannabis pros and cons, this one affects smokers the most. There's no state where it's legal to consume cannabis in public, which means the places you can smoke are few and far between. Colorado experienced such an issue with this that their issuance of public consumption tickets shot up 471% over the course of 2015! Until states designate areas where cannabis use is legal, people won't have anywhere to smoke, and this will continue to be a problem.
3) Remaining Uncertainty: The bottom line is this is a new industry, and we just don't know as much about its public health effects as we would like. It hasn't been long enough to determine how or if legalization will affect the rates of marijuana use in kids and teens, for example. We do know that there's been a rise in calls to Oregon Poison Center every year since 2013, but will that level off as more information on cannabis becomes widely available, and consumers become more informed in this new market? There's no way to tell – yet. Both Oregon and Washington are investigating the impact of legalization on public health, but it may take a couple of years for that research to manifest.
Overall, legalization of cannabis pros and cons are fairly straightforward, and it's easy to block out one or the other in favor of your personal position. Are millions of tax dollars enough to overlook a rise in public consumption tickets? Is strict regulation of plants for their quality enough to offset the slight increase in hospital admissions and poison control calls from people who didn't read the instructions? These are the questions that will determine the future for states that haven't legalized yet and will guide policies on legal cannabis in the future. But it's up to you to decide for yourself!
Article By: Spencer Grey