Weed — after it’s legal
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.