We've Legalized Marijuana – And The Sky Hasn't Fallen

By Paul Armentano
NORML Deputy Director

Marijuana liberalization hasn’t increased rates of teen use

Youth marijuana tends to go up or down irrespective of marijuana policy. In the decade plus following the legalization of medical cannabis in California, cannabis use among young people fell dramatically nationwide. Since 2012, young people’s use of marijuana has once again been in decline.

State-specific studies consistently report that legalizing cannabis for adults doesn’t inspire greater use by teens. A July 2014 paper published by the nonpartisan National Bureau of Economic Research assessed federal data on youth marijuana use and treatment episodes for the years 1993 to 2011 — a time period when 16 states authorized medical cannabis use. They determined, “Our results are not consistent with the hypothesis that the legalization of medical marijuana caused an increase in the use of marijuana among high school students. In fact, estimates from our preferred specification are small, consistently negative and are never statistically distinguishable from zero.” Separate data published by the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment similarly reports that fewer high-school students are consuming cannabis since voters decided in 2012 to legalize its possession, production, and sale.

Americans’ use of other illicit drugs has not risen following marijuana liberalization. Cocaine consumption, for instance, has fallen remarkably in recent years. Even more notably, one recent study reports far fewer deaths from heroin and/or prescription opiates in states that have legalized medical cannabis compared to those states that haven’t.

Organized crime has not infiltrated the legal marijuana market

There is no tangible evidence indicating that states’ allowances of the production of cannabis for either medicinal or recreational purposes have provided enhanced opportunities for criminal drug traffickers. Just the opposite appears to be true. “Two or three years ago, a kilogram [2.2 pounds] of marijuana was worth $60 to $90,” National Public Radio recently reported. “But now they’re paying us $30 to $40 a kilo. It’s a big difference. If the U.S. continues to legalize pot, they’ll run us [Mexican drug rings] into the ground…The day we get $20 a kilo, it will get to the point that we just won’t plant marijuana anymore.”

Marijuana legalization has not caused carnage on the roads

There is little evidence that drivers who tests positive for THC alone possess significantly elevated risks of motor vehicle accidents compared to drug-negative drivers. A 2015 study published by the United States National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that THC-positive drivers possessed no increased accident risk, once investigators controlled for age and gender.

Nonetheless, legalization critics have warned that liberalizing cannabis laws will lead to an increase in pot-related traffic accidents. So far, these fears have not come to fruition. Despite significant changes in states’ marijuana laws, traffic fatalities have declined steadily over the past decades and now stand at historic lows. Further, states that have amended their cannabis laws and penalties have not experienced an increase in traffic fatalities. Specifically, a 2013 study published in the Journal of Law and Economics reported that marijuana legalization is associated with up to an 11 percent decrease in traffic deaths.

Marijuana liberalization is associated with decreased crime

Allegations that pot legalization laws and/or the establishment of retail pot facilities will increase crime have proven false. A 2014 study by researchers at the University of Texas, Department of Criminology tracked crime rates across all 50 states in the years between 1990 and 2006, during which time 11 states legalized medical cannabis access. They concluded, “The central finding gleaned from the present study was that MML (medical marijuana legalization) is not predictive of higher crime rates and may be related to reductions in rates of homicide and assault. … [T]hese findings run counter to arguments suggesting the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes poses a danger to public health in terms of exposure to violent crime and property crimes.”

Furthermore, incidences of violent crime in Denver, the epicenter for the state’s marijuana retail industry, fell more than 10 percent following the opening of marijuana business in 2014. Between January 1 and April 30, 2014, violent crime and property crime dropped 10.6 percent compared to that same span one year earlier. Homicides fell to less than half of last year’s levels, and motor vehicle theft decreased by over one-third.

Public support for marijuana legalization is higher than ever

More Americans favor legalizing and regulating the adult use, production, and retail sale of marijuana now than at any time in our nation’s history. Recent nationwide polls commissioned by Pew, Fox News, CBS News, Beyond the Beltway, and the General Society Survey all report that the majority of voters now endorse legalizing marijuana at unprecedented levels.