In case you haven’t been reading the news for a while, here’s a little newsflash for you: California legalized recreational marijuana use as of the beginning of 2018.
Following in the footsteps of Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Nevada, Alaska, Massachusetts, Vermont, and Maine, the state now allows adults to use cannabis for non-medicinal purposes, opening up what some are predicting will be “the world’s largest market for legalized recreational marijuana.”
With the wave of states choosing to legalize the plant’s recreational use come many questions about it’s safety and whether or not it could cause the use of more illicit drugs to become more common.
Today we’ll discuss the reasons why states are choosing to legalize pot, and address a few of the biggest concerns that critics have about recreational cannabis use.
Health Benefits of Cannabis Use
Studies have shown that marijuana has properties that make it helpful for a variety of medical conditions.
In particular, it appears to ease the nerve pain of challenging conditions like multiple sclerosis, when few other medical options are available.
Marijuana is a viable alternative to NSAIDS like Advil or Aleve, and isn’t nearly as addictive as opiates.
But despite the promising indications for marijuana use, conclusive evidence of its effect on various condition is hard to come by. This is due in part to its classification by the FDA as a “Schedule 1” drug, which makes it illegal to conduct a rigorous level of research on the plant in meaningful clinical trials.
Legalizing Recreational Marijuana: Why Now?
If you follow the money trail, states have much to gain from legalizing marijuana use.
In 2017 alone, legal marijuana sales in the US reached a staggering $9.7 billion dollars, an increase of 33% over the previous year.
That means a whole lot of fresh tax dollars pouring in to state governments to fund things like school construction, marijuana enforcement and general state needs.
Tax revenues in Colorado, Washington, and Oregon alone have exceeded all estimates, coming in at over $552 million dollars since legalization.
Is Marijuana a “Gateway Drug”?
Ultimately, whether or not to use cannabis recreationally is a personal choice, but for many a legacy of illegality cast a shadow over the possible benefits of the plant.
Critics of legalization frequently raise the concern of marijuana becoming a “gateway drug,” leading users to further use of other drugs.
But while research has shown that adults who report marijuana use are statistically more likely to also have alcohol and nicotine use disorders, the majority of people who use marijuana do not go on to use other “harder” substances.
Does Legal Recreational Pot Increase Adolescent Drug Use?
Another question raised by legalization opponents is whether legalizing cannabis use for adults will make adolescents more likely to begin using the substance at an earlier age.
In states where marijuana has been legal for long enough to study the outcomes, the results have been eye-opening.
According to a recent study by the Drug Policy Alliance, legalization in Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska has not led to more teen drug use, and marijuana-related arrests have plummeted in the time since legalization.
What Does California’s Legalization of Marijuana Mean for the Rest of the US?
An Obama-era policy removed marijuana from the list of federal drug enforcement priorities at the same time that many states considered legalization, essentially paving the way for it to become legal on the state level without as much fear of federal regulatory action.
And while current Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded this policy, allowing U.S. attorneys to choose how stringently to prosecute local offenders for marijuana-related crimes, up to 64% of Americans (according to a late 2017 Gallup poll) support legalization for recreational use.
It is unclear what the effects of AG Session’s action will be, however states continue to move in the direction of this overall tide of pro-legalization policy.