Weed — after it’s le­gal

The Labradorian - - EDITORIAL - Andy Wells St. John’s

What can we ex­pect with the le­gal­iza­tion of mar­i­juana?

Pro­po­nents ar­gue that le­gal­iza­tion will re­duce crime, lower crim­i­nal jus­tice costs, im­prove pub­lic health, im­prove traf­fic safety and stim­u­late the econ­omy. Op­po­nents ar­gue that le­gal­iza­tion will spur mar­i­juana and other drug and al­co­hol use, in­crease crime, di­min­ish pub­lic safety and lower ed­u­ca­tional achieve­ment.

There is re­search avail­able with some in­ter­est­ing re­sults, but the most im­por­tant point to be made is that at this stage re­search must be con­sid­ered pre­lim­i­nary, since there has been in­suf­fi­cient time for con­clu­sive eval­u­a­tion and pre­dic­tive re­sults.

Two of the most im­por­tant ar­eas of con­cern are driv­ing un­der the in­flu­ence and the im­pact of le­gal­iza­tion on the most vul­ner­a­ble, the young.

United States data shows no in­crease in driv­ing un­der the in­flu­ence as a re­sult of le­gal­iza­tion. It is pos­si­ble that mar­i­juana users who drive have height­ened si­t­u­a­tional aware­ness and drive more slowly. Ac­ci­dents rates among users are in­dis­tin­guish­able from those of driv­ers who use nei­ther al­co­hol nor mar­i­juana. A ref­er­ence to a French study I found noted that mar­i­juana users and al­co­hol users rep­re­sent 2.9 per cent and 2.6 per cent of driv­ers, but al­co­hol was a fac­tor in 10 times as many fa­tal ac­ci­dents than mar­i­juana: 28.6 per cent vs. 2.5 per cent.

With re­spect to youth im­pacts, here are some pre­lim­i­nary ob­ser­va­tions (in the words of one re­searcher, “a use­ful if in­com­plete perspective of what we could ex­pect from le­gal­iza­tion”): drug use did not sky­rocket. In the Nether­lands, drug push­ers have largely aban­doned Dutch schools. While the teenage con­sump­tion of al­co­hol and to­bacco is sim­i­lar in the U.S. and the Nether­lands, the con­sump­tion of mar­i­juana and co­caine in the Nether­lands is only 10 per cent to 40 per cent of U.S. us­age.

In Por­tu­gal, which de­crim­i­nal­ized drug us­age in 2001, by 2006 fewer high school stu­dents were us­ing drugs of any type. And dru­gre­lated deaths were re­duced by half by 2003.

In the U. S., in states that le­gal­ized mar­i­juana, the ef­fects have been min­i­mal. Re­searchers have noted that strong in­fer­ences can­not be made. But again, con­sump­tion has not sky­rock­eted. Traf­fic ac­ci­dents have not in­creased. Over­dose deaths are down. Pre­scrip­tion drug OD deaths are down. There ap­pear to be no neg­a­tive ef­fects on in­tel­li­gence or ed­u­ca­tional out­comes.

So, with re­spect to driv­ing and youth ef­fects, le­gal­iza­tion has not had ob­serv­able neg­a­tive ef­fects to date.

An­other ex­pected out­come will be the emer­gence of brand names.

Brand names, as Amer­i­can econ­o­mist Thomas Sow­ell (one of my favourites) has noted, “are a way of econ­o­miz­ing on ar­cane knowl­edge, and favour con­sumers in com­pe­ti­tion re qual­ity and price. There may be no phys­i­cal dif­fer­ence, but con­sumers will pre­fer the fa­mil­iar over the not. Thus the dan­gers of im­pu­ri­ties should sub­stan­tially re­duce and qual­ity should im­prove.”

Lives should be saved; the iron law of pro­hi­bi­tion in ac­tion.

There should be in­creased re­search into the med­i­cal value of mar­i­juana, which could help in the treat­ment of a range of dis­eases, al­though, as I noted in an ear­lier ar­ti­cle, the plant is com­plex and not bi­o­log­i­cally con­sis­tent, and the placebo ef­fect may be high. None­the­less, re­search should be pur­sued to try and de­lin­eate its clin­i­cal value.

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