There has been a sea-change in how the public perceives marijuana. A Gallup Poll in October 2017 found that 64% of Americans are now in favor of legalizing cannabis. Weed is now legal for recreational or medicinal use in 29 states plus D.C, which means more than half the American population theoretically has access to cannabis.
Despite the best efforts of Jeff Sessions and co. to prove otherwise, marijuana is turning out to be a boon to the nation in a variety of ways. Rather than creating a nation of addicts in crime-riddled inner-city areas, the legalization of weed has had a variety of positive effects.
1 – Countering the Opioid Epidemic
The impact of the opioid epidemic is terrifying, yet it seems as if over 90 deaths a day from an opioid-related cause is not enough to ban them. It is hoped that marijuana will prove to be an effective painkiller, and recent studies have shown that weed could potentially reduce a person’s reliance on opioids.
A study* by Bradford, Bradford, and Abraham, published in JAMA Internal Medicine in May 2018, compared opioid prescription patterns in states where weed is now legal with trends in states where it is still illegal. Overall, the researchers discovered that states where weed is legal for medicinal use had 2.21 million fewer opioid dosage prescriptions annually under Medicare Part D than in states where marijuana is not permitted.
According to Hefei Wen of the University of Kentucky*, there was a 9% reduction in opioid use in Colorado and a 10% reduction in Oregon amongst Medicaid patients once marijuana became legal as a medicine in both states. With approximately 42,000 deaths a year from opioid overdoses, marijuana could be a genuine lifesaver if it enables people to wean themselves off deadly drugs such as Fentanyl.
2 – Increase in Tax Revenue
One of the most obvious, yet often overlooked, benefits of marijuana legalization is the boost in tax revenue it offers to states where it is legal. When California legalized it in January 2018, it included a 15% statewide tax on recreational and medicinal weed products, along with extra local taxes and fees. Amongst the states where marijuana is legal for recreational use, California, Washington, and Colorado have all surpassed the $1 billion mark in sales.
Individual states have their own success stories. In Nevada for example, the state benefited from $30 million worth of marijuana taxes during the first six months of legalization. Once residents of the Silver State grow comfortable with the use of weed, expect this level of tax revenue to increase drastically. Nevada charges a 15% tax on wholesale marijuana and a 10% tax on retail sales. The state’s legal weed market is set to be worth $622 million by 2020.
The success of legalized marijuana has forced some cash-strapped states to look at it as a means of balancing the budget. In Connecticut for example, Governor Daniel Malloy is against legalization but recognizes its earning potential. According to a report by New Frontier Data, if weed legalization is allowed to take its natural course, it could add an incredible $130 billion to the United States’ tax coffers by 2025.
3 – Employment Boost
The New Frontier Data report* also claimed that marijuana legalization could inject 1.1 million new jobs into the American labor market across the same timeframe. To be clear, this data is based on a theoretical model where weed becomes legalized in every state. We know that won’t happen, which means billions of dollars are being wasted by the federal government’s refusal to see common sense. Incidentally, if no other state legalizes cannabis by 2025, it will still add $76.8 billion in revenue to the budgets of state governments.
Also, if cannabis were legalized today, it would add an incredible 782,000 jobs to the economy! As it happens, the impact of allowing weed to be purchased has had a significant impact on states with the foresight to make it legal. In June 2017, three years after marijuana was legalized, Colorado announced an unemployment rate of just 2.3% – the lowest in the United States! While the state’s business-friendly policies have played a significant role, so has the growth of the marijuana industry. In 2015 for example, the sector created 18,000 jobs in Colorado.
In June 2017, MJ Biz Daily’s annual Marijuana Business Factbook report* revealed something amusing. It discovered that in states where weed had been legalized, there were more employees in the industry than there were dental hygienists! In January 2017, Leafly estimated that there were over 122,000 full-time cannabis jobs. Remember, this is before the herb became legalized in several other states, including recreationally in California.
4 – Decreased Crime
If you were to listen to marijuana critics such as Jeff Sessions, legalizing weed would lead to a dystopian reality where drug-addled criminals would prowl the streets seeking to rob, rape and murder. Much to their chagrin, the opposite has happened. According to a study* by Gavrilova, Kamada, and Zoutman, published in The Economic Journal in June 2017, the rate of violent crime, including murder, aggravated assault, and robberies, fell 12.5% in counties close to the Mexican border after medical marijuana laws (MMLs) were introduced.
According to one of the study’s authors, Professor Evelina Gavrilova, MMLs enable people to grow weed legally, which means drug traffickers have fewer customers. The mere fact that these illegal operators are less active near the border implies crime has fallen significantly. Drug-related murders have dropped by an incredible 41% in a short period.
A report* by Morris, TenEyck, Barnes, and Kovandzic, published in PLOS One in March 2014, looked at the impact of MMLs on crime between 1990 and 2006. During this period, 11 states had legalized weed for medicinal use. The research team found that legalization of marijuana not only didn’t cause an increase in crime such as rape, homicide, and theft, but it actually created a reduction in violent crimes such as murder and aggravated assault.
It is also true that crime figures are improved by a reduction in convictions for marijuana possession as most states have decriminalized weed. There are a disproportionate number of African-American men charged with this ‘crime,’ and they suffer from a higher conviction rate and stiffer punishments on average. In states where cannabis is legal, especially for recreational use, it is no longer possible to cherry-pick black men and ruin their lives for no good reason.
5 – Improved Health in the Country
This is yet another area where enemies of marijuana have got it completely wrong. They assumed it would cause an increase in mental health disorders for one thing. In reality, studies* show that certain strains, mainly low in THC and high in CBD, could improve a person’s mental health as it is used as a treatment for PTSD, depression, and anxiety.
The relatively low addiction rates are also something that has stumped weed opponents. We have heard some ridiculous statements claiming that 30% of users become addicted. The truth is that between 4% and 9% develop an addiction, and an overwhelming number of these individuals have other issues that heighten their potential for dependence. For reference, marijuana is less addictive than cocaine, heroin, opioids, nicotine, and caffeine!
Admittedly, we need to see a lot more research to determine marijuana’s overall impact on public health, but it is thought that it could potentially be safer than opioids and other forms of pharmaceutical drugs. At the time of writing, marijuana is used to treat pain, depression, epilepsy, muscle spasms associated with MS, migraines, and much more.
Final Thoughts on How Marijuana is Changing the Nation
Opponents of marijuana have spent decades trying to convince the public that the herb would lead to the breakdown of society. Meanwhile, easy access to opioids has led to around 500,000 deaths from overdoses since 2000; compared to zero overdoses on marijuana. Easy access to assault rifles has resulted in mass shootings almost every day.
The real story is that marijuana has not destroyed America as depicted in Reefer Madness. In fact, it has resulted in a tax revenue increase in states where it is legal, a decrease in crime, an employment boost, and early evidence shows it could be used to fight against the opioid epidemic. As the data begins to weigh heavily in favor of comprehensive marijuana legislation, we expect opponents of the industry to continue peddling their lies, myths, and half-truths, because real evidence is fast vanishing as a viable weapon for them.