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The Evidence—and Lack Thereof—About Cannabis

Research is still needed on cannabis’s risks and benefits. 

Lindsay Smith Rogers

Although the use and possession of cannabis is illegal under federal law, medicinal and recreational cannabis use has become increasingly widespread.

Thirty-eight states and Washington, D.C., have legalized medical cannabis, while 23 states and D.C. have legalized recreational use. Cannabis legalization has benefits, such as removing the product from the illegal market so it can be taxed and regulated, but science is still trying to catch up as social norms evolve and different products become available. 

In this Q&A, adapted from the August 25 episode of Public Health On Call , Lindsay Smith Rogers talks with Johannes Thrul, PhD, MS , associate professor of Mental Health , about cannabis as medicine, potential risks involved with its use, and what research is showing about its safety and efficacy. 

Do you think medicinal cannabis paved the way for legalization of recreational use?

The momentum has been clear for a few years now. California was the first to legalize it for medical reasons [in 1996]. Washington and Colorado were the first states to legalize recreational use back in 2012. You see one state after another changing their laws, and over time, you see a change in social norms. It's clear from the national surveys that people are becoming more and more in favor of cannabis legalization. That started with medical use, and has now continued into recreational use.

But there is a murky differentiation between medical and recreational cannabis. I think a lot of people are using cannabis to self-medicate. It's not like a medication you get prescribed for a very narrow symptom or a specific disease. Anyone with a medical cannabis prescription, or who meets the age limit for recreational cannabis, can purchase it. Then what they use it for is really all over the place—maybe because it makes them feel good, or because it helps them deal with certain symptoms, diseases, and disorders.

Does cannabis have viable medicinal uses?

The evidence is mixed at this point. There hasn’t been a lot of funding going into testing cannabis in a rigorous way. There is more evidence for certain indications than for others, like CBD for seizures—one of the first indications that cannabis was approved for. And THC has been used effectively for things like nausea and appetite for people with cancer.

There are other indications where the evidence is a lot more mixed. For example, pain—one of the main reasons that people report for using cannabis. When we talk to patients, they say cannabis improved their quality of life. In the big studies that have been done so far, there are some indications from animal models that cannabis might help [with pain]. When we look at human studies, it's very much a mixed bag. 

And, when we say cannabis, in a way it's a misnomer because cannabis is so many things. We have different cannabinoids and different concentrations of different cannabinoids. The main cannabinoids that are being studied are THC and CBD, but there are dozens of other minor cannabinoids and terpenes in cannabis products, all of varying concentrations. And then you also have a lot of different routes of administration available. You can smoke, vape, take edibles, use tinctures and topicals. When you think about the explosion of all of the different combinations of different products and different routes of administration, it tells you how complicated it gets to study this in a rigorous way. You almost need a randomized trial for every single one of those and then for every single indication.

What do we know about the risks of marijuana use?  

Cannabis use disorder is a legitimate disorder in the DSM. There are, unfortunately, a lot of people who develop a problematic use of cannabis. We know there are risks for mental health consequences. The evidence is probably the strongest that if you have a family history of psychosis or schizophrenia, using cannabis early in adolescence is not the best idea. We know cannabis can trigger psychotic symptoms and potentially longer lasting problems with psychosis and schizophrenia. 

It is hard to study, because you also don't know if people are medicating early negative symptoms of schizophrenia. They wouldn't necessarily have a diagnosis yet, but maybe cannabis helps them to deal with negative symptoms, and then they develop psychosis. There is also some evidence that there could be something going on with the impact of cannabis on the developing brain that could prime you to be at greater risk of using other substances later down the road, or finding the use of other substances more reinforcing. 

What benefits do you see to legalization?

When we look at the public health landscape and the effect of legislation, in this case legalization, one of the big benefits is taking cannabis out of the underground illegal market. Taking cannabis out of that particular space is a great idea. You're taking it out of the illegal market and giving it to legitimate businesses where there is going to be oversight and testing of products, so you know what you're getting. And these products undergo quality control and are labeled. Those labels so far are a bit variable, but at least we're getting there. If you're picking up cannabis at the street corner, you have no idea what's in it. 

And we know that drug laws in general have been used to criminalize communities of color and minorities. Legalizing cannabis [can help] reduce the overpolicing of these populations.

What big questions about cannabis would you most like to see answered?

We know there are certain, most-often-mentioned conditions that people are already using medical cannabis for: pain, insomnia, anxiety, and PTSD. We really need to improve the evidence base for those. I think clinical trials for different cannabis products for those conditions are warranted.

Another question is, now that the states are getting more tax revenue from cannabis sales, what are they doing with that money? If you look at tobacco legislation, for example, certain states have required that those funds get used for research on those particular issues. To me, that would be a very good use of the tax revenue that is now coming in. We know, for example, that there’s a lot more tax revenue now that Maryland has legalized recreational use. Maryland could really step up here and help provide some of that evidence.

Are there studies looking into the risks you mentioned?

Large national studies are done every year or every other year to collect data, so we already have a pretty good sense of the prevalence of cannabis use disorder. Obviously, we'll keep tracking that to see if those numbers increase, for example, in states that are legalizing. But, you wouldn't necessarily expect to see an uptick in cannabis use disorder a month after legalization. The evidence from states that have legalized it has not demonstrated that we might all of a sudden see an increase in psychosis or in cannabis use disorder. This happens slowly over time with a change in social norms and availability, and potentially also with a change in marketing. And, with increasing use of an addictive substance, you will see over time a potential increase in problematic use and then also an increase in use disorder.

If you're interested in seeing if cannabis is right for you, is this something you can talk to your doctor about?

I think your mileage may vary there with how much your doctor is comfortable and knows about it. It's still relatively fringe. That will very much depend on who you talk to. But I think as providers and professionals, everybody needs to learn more about this, because patients are going to ask no matter what.

Lindsay Smith Rogers, MA, is the producer of the Public Health On Call podcast , an editor for Expert Insights , and the director of content strategy for the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

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research paper on why marijuana should be legalized

Five Reasons Why We Should Legalize Cannabis

Cannabis use in the United States has had a long and complicated history. For decades, people who used cannabis were subject to social ostracization and criminal prosecution. However, attitudes toward cannabis have been evolving in recent years. An increasing number of states have started to legalize cannabis for medical or recreational use. This shift in policy has been driven by a variety of factors including changing public attitudes and the potential economic benefits of legalization. In this article, we will explore the potential benefits of legalizing cannabis in our country.

1. Legalization for the Environment

Legalizing cannabis can have significant benefits for the environment. When cannabis is grown illegally, it is often done in environmentally damaging ways, such as using chemical pesticides or clearing primary forests to make room for crops. Legalization could allow customers to support more environmental growers. This will incentivize more responsible growing practices, such as the use of organic farming methods or the use of renewable energy sources to power indoor grow operations. In addition, the culture of growing cannabis can help to discover and preserve precious marijuana seeds , increasing biodiversity and facilitating a deeper understanding of cannabis plants and their cultivation.

2. Legalization for Justice

Where cannabis is illegal, people are being arrested and charged for possession or sale, which leads to costly court cases and a burden on the criminal justice system. Legalization would free up law enforcement resources to focus on more serious crimes and simultaneously reduce the number of people incarcerated for non-violent drug offenses. This could help to reduce the overall prison population and save taxpayers money.

In addition, legalization can have significant benefits for justice and equity, particularly for marginalized communities that have been disproportionately affected by the criminalization of cannabis. Communities of color have been particularly affected by the war on drugs, with Black Americans being nearly four times more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession than white Americans, despite similar rates of use.

By regulating cannabis cultivation and sales, legalization can help to eliminate the black market and reduce the involvement of criminal organizations in the cannabis industry. This can lead to safer communities and reduced drug-related violence in communities that have been most affected by the criminalization of cannabis.

3. Legalization for Public Health

Cannabis has been shown to have many beneficial and therapeutic effects on both physical and mental health. However, people may be hesitant to seek medical marijuana treatment due to fear of legal repercussions if cannabis is illegal. Legalization can allow more people to enjoy better health outcomes. It can also promote the safer use of cannabis by educating the public on appropriate cannabis use and providing quality control measures for cannabis products. Legalization can also lead to increased research into potential medical applications of cannabis and could lead to the development of innovative treatments.

Another potential perk of cannabis legalization is that it could reduce the use of more harmful drugs. In the absence of cannabis, people may turn to more dangerous drugs like heroin or fentanyl to manage chronic pain or other conditions. By legalizing cannabis, we can provide a safer alternative for these individuals and could reduce the overall demand for these more dangerous drugs. States that have legalized cannabis found a decrease in opioid overdose deaths and hospitalizations, suggesting that cannabis are an effective alternative to prescription painkillers.

4. Legalization for the Economy

The legalization of cannabis can generate significant tax revenue for governments and create new economic opportunities. When cannabis is illegal, it is sold on the black market, and no taxes are collected on these sales. However, when it is legal, sales can be regulated, and taxes can be imposed on those sales. In states that have legalized cannabis, tax revenue from cannabis sales has been in the millions of dollars , with California registering a whopping $1.2 billion in cannabis tax revenue in 2021. This impressive income can be used to reduce budget deficits, fund various public services such as education and healthcare, and create new opportunities for investment in projects that revitalize the economy.

Aside from tax revenue, legalizing cannabis can create new jobs. The cannabis industry is a rapidly growing industry, and legalization could lead to the creation of new jobs in areas such as cultivation, processing, and retail sales. This can help to reduce unemployment and create new gainful opportunities for people who may have struggled to find employment in other industries. Legalization can also lead to increased investment in related industries, such as the development of new products or technologies to improve cannabis cultivation or the creation of new retail businesses. There are now several venture capital funds and investment groups that focus solely on cannabis-related enterprises.

5. Legalization for Acceptance

Finally, legalization could help reduce the stigma surrounding cannabis use. Before cannabis legalization, people who use the plant were often viewed as criminals or deviants. Legalization can help change this perception and lead to more open and honest conversations about cannabis use. Ultimately, legalization could lead to a more accepting and inclusive society where individuals are not judged or discriminated against for their personal and healthcare choices. By legalizing cannabis, we can harness the power of a therapeutic plant. Legalization can heal not just physical and mental ailments of individuals but also the social wounds that have resulted from its criminalization.

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2018 Theses Doctoral

Essays on Cannabis Legalization

Thomas, Danna Kang

Though the drug remains illegal at the federal level, in recent years states and localities have increasingly liberalized their marijuana laws in order to generate tax revenue and save resources on marijuana law enforcement. Many states have adopted some form of medical marijuana and/or marijuana decriminalization laws, and as of 2017, Washington, Colorado, Maine, California, Oregon, Massachusetts, Nevada, Alaska, and the District of Columbia have all legalized marijuana for recreational use. In 2016 recreational marijuana generated over $1.8 billion in sales. Hence, studying marijuana reforms and the policies and outcomes of early recreational marijuana adopters is an important area of research. However, perhaps due to the fact that legalized recreational cannabis is a recent phenomenon, a scarcity of research exists on the impacts of recreational cannabis legalization and the efficacy and efficiency of cannabis regulation. This dissertation aims to fill this gap, using the Washington recreational marijuana market as the primary setting to study cannabis legalization in the United States. Of first order importance in the regulation of sin goods such as cannabis is quantifying the value of the marginal damages of negative externalities. Hence, Chapter 1 (co-authored with Lin Tian) explores the impact of marijuana dispensary location on neighborhood property values, exploiting plausibly exogenous variation in marijuana retailer location. Policymakers and advocates have long expressed concerns that the positive effects of the legalization--e.g., increases in tax revenue--are well spread spatially, but the negative effects are highly localized through channels such as crime. Hence, we use changes in property values to measure individuals' willingness to pay to avoid localized externalities caused by the arrival of marijuana dispensaries. Our key identification strategy is to compare changes in housing sales around winners and losers in a lottery for recreational marijuana retail licenses. (Due to location restrictions, license applicants were required to provide an address of where they would like to locate.) Hence, we have the locations of both actual entrants and potential entrants, which provides a natural difference-in-differences set-up. Using data from King County, Washington, we find an almost 2.4% decrease in the value of properties within a 0.5 mile radius of an entrant, a $9,400 decline in median property values. The aforementioned retail license lottery was used to distribute licenses due to a license quota. Retail license quotas are often used by states to regulate entry into sin goods markets as quotas can restrict consumption by decreasing access and by reducing competition (and, therefore, increasing markups). However, license quotas also create allocative inefficiency. For example, license quotas are often based on the population of a city or county. Hence, licenses are not necessarily allocated to the areas where they offer the highest marginal benefit. Moreover, as seen in the case of the Washington recreational marijuana market, licenses are often distributed via lottery, meaning that in the absence of an efficiency secondary market for licenses, the license recipients are not necessarily the most efficient potential entrants. This allocative inefficiency is generated by heterogeneity in firms and consumers. Therefore, in Chapter 2, I develop a model of demand and firm pricing in order to investigate firm-level heterogeneity and inefficiency. Demand is differentiated by geography and incorporates consumer demographics. I estimate this demand model using data on firm sales from Washington. Utilizing the estimates and firm pricing model, I back out a non-parametric distribution of firm variable costs. These variable costs differ by product and firm and provide a measure of firm inefficiency. I find that variable costs have lower inventory turnover; hence, randomly choosing entrants in a lottery could be a large contributor to allocative inefficiency. Chapter 3 explores the sources of allocative inefficiency in license distribution in the Washington recreational marijuana market. A difficulty in studying the welfare effects of license quotas is finding credible counterfactuals of unrestricted entry. Therefore, I take a structural approach: I first develop a three stage model that endogenizes firm entry and incorporates the spatial demand and pricing model discussed in Chapter 2. Using the estimates of the demand and pricing model, I estimate firms' fixed costs and use data on locations of those potential entrants that did not win Washington's retail license lottery to simulate counterfactual entry patterns. I find that allowing firms to enter freely at Washington's current marijuana tax rate increases total surplus by 21.5% relative to a baseline simulation of Washington's license quota regime. Geographic misallocation and random allocation of licenses account for 6.6\% and 65.9\% of this difference, respectively. Moreover, as the primary objective of these quotas is to mitigate the negative externalities of marijuana consumption, I study alternative state tax policies that directly control for the marginal damages of marijuana consumption. Free entry with tax rates that keep the quantity of marijuana or THC consumed equal to baseline consumption increases welfare by 6.9% and 11.7%, respectively. I also explore the possibility of heterogeneous marginal damages of consumption across geography, backing out the non-uniform sales tax across geography that is consistent with Washington's license quota policy. Free entry with a non-uniform sales tax increases efficiency by over 7% relative to the baseline simulation of license quotas due to improvements in license allocation.

  • Cannabis--Law and legislation
  • Marijuana industry
  • Drug legalization
  • Drugs--Economic aspects

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Americans overwhelmingly say marijuana should be legal for medical or recreational use

An out-of-state customer purchases marijuana at a store in New York on March 31, 2021, when the state legalized recreational use of the drug.

With a growing number of states authorizing the use of marijuana, the public continues to broadly favor legalization of the drug for medical and recreational purposes. 

A pie chart showing that just one-in-ten U.S. adults say marijuana should not be legal at all

An overwhelming share of U.S. adults (88%) say either that marijuana should be legal for medical and recreational use by adults (59%) or that it should be legal for medical use only (30%). Just one-in-ten (10%) say marijuana use should not be legal, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted Oct. 10-16, 2022. These views are virtually unchanged since April 2021.

The new survey follows President Joe Biden’s decision to pardon people convicted of marijuana possession at the federal level and direct his administration to review how marijuana is classified under federal law. It was fielded before the Nov. 8 midterm elections, when two states legalized the use of marijuana for recreational purposes – joining 19 states and the District of Columbia , which had already done so.

Pew Research Center asked this question to track public views about the legal status of marijuana. For this analysis, we surveyed 5,098 adults from Oct. 10-16, 2022. Everyone who took part in this survey is a member of the Center’s American Trends Panel (ATP), an online survey panel that is recruited through national, random sampling of residential addresses. This way nearly all U.S. adults have a chance of selection. The survey is weighted to be representative of the U.S. adult population by gender, race, ethnicity, partisan affiliation, education and other categories. Read more about the ATP’s methodology .

Here are the questions used for this report, along with responses, and its methodology .

Over the long term, there has been a steep rise in public support for marijuana legalization, as measured by a separate Gallup survey question that asks whether the use of marijuana should be made legal – without specifying whether it would be legalized for recreational or medical use. This year, 68% of adults say marijuana should be legal , matching the record-high support for legalization Gallup found in 2021.

There continue to be sizable age and partisan differences in Americans’ views about marijuana. While very small shares of adults of any age are completely opposed to the legalization of the drug, older adults are far less likely than younger ones to favor legalizing it for recreational purposes.

This is particularly the case among those ages 75 and older, just three-in-ten of whom say marijuana should be legal for both medical and recreational use. Larger shares in every other age group – including 53% of those ages 65 to 74 – say the drug should be legal for both medical and recreational use.

A bar chart showing that Americans 75 and older are the least likely to say marijuana should be legal for recreational use

Republicans are more wary than Democrats about legalizing marijuana for recreational use: 45% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents favor legalizing marijuana for both medical and recreational use, while an additional 39% say it should only be legal for medical use. By comparison, 73% of Democrats and Democratic leaners say marijuana should be legal for both medical and recreational use; an additional 21% say it should be legal for medical use only.

Ideological differences are evident within each party. About four-in-ten conservative Republicans (37%) say marijuana should be legal for medical and recreational use, compared with a 60% majority of moderate and liberal Republicans.

Nearly two-thirds of conservative and moderate Democrats (63%) say marijuana should be legal for medical and recreational use. An overwhelming majority of liberal Democrats (84%) say the same.

There also are racial and ethnic differences in views of legalizing marijuana. Roughly two-thirds of Black adults (68%) and six-in-ten White adults say marijuana should be legal for medical and recreational use, compared with smaller shares of Hispanic (49%) and Asian adults (48%).

Related: Clear majorities of Black Americans favor marijuana legalization, easing of criminal penalties

In both parties, views of marijuana legalization vary by age

While Republicans and Democrats differ greatly on whether marijuana should be legal for medial and recreational use, there are also age divides within each party.

A chart showing that there are wide age differences in both parties in views of legalizing marijuana for medical and recreational use

A 62% majority of Republicans ages 18 to 29 favor making marijuana legal for medical and recreational use, compared with 52% of those ages 30 to 49. Roughly four-in-ten Republicans ages 50 to 64 (41%) and 65 to 74 (38%) say marijuana should be legal for both purposes, as do 18% of those 75 and older.

Still, wide majorities of Republicans in all age groups favor legalizing marijuana for medical use. Even among Republicans 65 and older, just 17% say marijuana use should not be legal even for medical purposes.

While majorities of Democrats across all age groups support legalizing marijuana for medical and recreational use, older Democrats are less likely to say this. About half of Democrats ages 75 and older (51%) say marijuana should be legal for medical or recreational purposes; larger shares of younger Democrats say the same. Still, only 8% of Democrats 75 and older think marijuana should not be legalized even for medical use – similar to the share of all other Democrats who say this.

Note: Here are the questions used for this report, along with responses, and its methodology .

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Ted Van Green is a research analyst focusing on U.S. politics and policy at Pew Research Center .

9 facts about Americans and marijuana

Most americans favor legalizing marijuana for medical, recreational use, most americans now live in a legal marijuana state – and most have at least one dispensary in their county, clear majorities of black americans favor marijuana legalization, easing of criminal penalties, concern about drug addiction has declined in u.s., even in areas where fatal overdoses have risen the most, most popular.

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Why Marijuana Should be Legalized, an argumentative essay

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The views that people, the medical community, and governments have toward marijuana continue to shift and in the United States represent a conflict between federal and many state laws. Read the overview below to gain a balanced understanding of the issues and explore the previews of opinion articles that highlight many perspectives on marijuana.

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Marijuana topic overview.

"Marijuana." Opposing Viewpoints Online Collection , Gale, 2022.

In common usage, marijuana refers to the dried flowers of the cannabis plant. These flowers are typically smoked to produce a psychoactive high. In addition, the flowers and other parts of the plant can be processed into hashish, oils, extracts, and other refined products that can be smoked, eaten, and vaporized. The effects of the high can be subjective and often vary depending on whether the user consumed a Cannabis sativa strain, a Cannabis indica strain, or a hybrid strain.

Beyond its popularity as a recreational drug, marijuana also has medicinal applications. Its increasing therapeutic use has brought about the development of novel delivery methods, such as tinctures, balms, transdermal patches, and microdosing preparations. Biopharmaceutical companies are also creating a new generation of controlled delivery methods including regular and time-release capsules with standardized dosages.

Recreational marijuana use is common in the United States. According to results from the annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 17.9 percent of Americans age twelve and older reported using marijuana in 2020. Marijuana use is most common among people between eighteen and twenty-five years old. Though federal law has prohibited the sale and possession of marijuana since 1937, by 2022, thirty-eight states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands had legalized cannabis use in some capacity, typically for medical purposes. In addition, five states have legalized cannabidiol (CBD) oil for medical purposes. CBD is an active ingredient in marijuana which is extracted for use in CBD oil. As of June 2022, recreational adult use of marijuana has been approved in nineteen states and the District of Columbia.

According to a Gallup poll in October 2021, 68 percent of Americans support legalizing marijuana. Public support has steadily increased since Gallup began surveying Americans on cannabis legalization in 1969, when only 12 percent of respondents supported it. Gallup polling has revealed several motivations for supporting legalization, including an appreciation of the plant's medical benefits, a desire to free up law enforcement resources, reducing incarceration rates in communities disproportionally impacted by criminalization, the promise of state and local tax revenue, belief that cannabis use should be a personal choice, and anticipation that government regulation will make its use safer. Opponents of cannabis legalization have expressed concerns about its impact on public safety, noting that legalization may result in more impaired driving and contribute to users moving on to harder drugs.

PROS AND CONS OF LEGALIZING ADULT RECREATIONAL CANNABIS USE

  • Establishing a recreational marijuana industry creates jobs and can generate significant tax revenue for state and local governments. Tax revenue can be applied to drug treatment programs and other public projects.
  • Legalization allows consumers to purchase cannabis and cannabis products from licensed vendors regulated by the government, a safer alternative to acquiring them from the underground market.
  • When passed alongside statutes granting amnesty to past offenders, laws that legalize recreational marijuana use can help reduce racial disparities in the criminal justice system. Similarly, legalization would address backlogged courts and overwhelmed corrections facilities.
  • Ending marijuana prohibition may contribute to a higher incidence of impaired driving and associated fatalities. Law enforcement has encountered challenges in creating methods to reliably test for marijuana-impaired driving.
  • Increased availability heightens the risk of intentional and accidental misuse. Legal retailers often offer cannabis-infused items, such as products that look and taste like candy, that children may mistake as being safe to eat.
  • While the dangers of using cannabis have not fully been studied, researchers have found evidence that using marijuana can have serious physical and mental health implications.

PSYCHOACTIVE EFFECTS

The psychoactive substance that produces the "high" associated with marijuana is known as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC is one of many chemical compounds present in marijuana known as cannabinoids and is the only cannabinoid proven to produce intoxicating effects. The effects of cannabis use can differ, depending on the strain of marijuana consumed, the level of THC content, and the consumption method.

Marijuana use commonly causes altered sensory perception. It can induce temporal distortions, making time seem to pass more slowly. Mood changes can occur; these effects tend to be highly subjective and dependent on the user's mental and emotional state. Many users report that the high causes difficulty with sequential reasoning and problem-solving but stimulates creativity and free-associative thought. At very high doses, marijuana can also induce delusions and hallucinations.

Cannabis users report that sativa strains induce a more energetic high suitable for socializing and creative thinking, while indica strains produce a heavier, more sedative effect. Hybrid strains of the plant, which are typically cultivated to contain a certain percentage of sativa parentage and a certain percentage of indica parentage, can produce different combinations of these effects. Smoked or vaporized cannabis products enter the bloodstream quickly and produce a near-instantaneous high, while edible preparations and tinctures are absorbed at a slower rate and usually take at least thirty to sixty minutes to produce any noticeable effects.

The subspecies Cannabis ruderalis naturally has extremely low concentrations of THC and is not typically consumed recreationally because it does not produce psychoactive effects. However, the plant has been used in traditional medicines in Central Asia. Further, cannabis growers have experimented with blending the subspecies with sativa and indica trains because of its sturdiness and its ability to flower regardless of the light cycle.

PHYSICAL AND MENTAL HEALTH RISKS

Marijuana use can have both short-term and long-term physical and mental effects. Short-term physical effects include decreased blood pressure, increased heart rate, and dry mouth. If the drug is smoked, it also constricts blood vessels. The increase in heart rate associated with marijuana is considered risky for people with heart disease and other cardiovascular conditions. The short-term mental effects of marijuana use include confusion, sedation, impaired memory, inattentiveness, and diminished concentration. Users may also experience psychological side effects including anxiety, paranoia, panic, and delusional or psychotic behavior. More extreme psychological reactions are typically associated with higher dosages.

With regular long-term use, the physical effects of marijuana can include bronchitis, lung infections, and a chronic cough. Mental faculties that can be negatively affected include concentration, memory, and decision-making abilities. Some studies suggest that long-term use could lower a person's intelligence quotient (IQ) score. Such claims have faced scrutiny from researchers who challenge the methodologies and sample sizes used in these studies.

Research also suggests links between marijuana use and serious mental illnesses such as psychosis and schizophrenia. These links are strongest in people who began using the drug at a young age, use the drug heavily and frequently, and have a family history of psychosis and schizophrenia. In general, negative marijuana-related long-term physical and mental health outcomes are more likely to occur in heavy, regular users and users who begin taking the drug at a young age, particularly during adolescence and early adulthood when the brain is still developing.

A commonly held belief suggests that marijuana does not cause physical addiction. However, most mental health professionals recognize the potential for users to develop a psychological dependence on the drug. Physical addiction causes physical withdrawal symptoms when use of a drug is discontinued, while psychological dependence causes withdrawal symptoms identified as purely psychological and emotional. Experts stress that physical addiction can occur in rare cases, primarily in very heavy chronic users. Mental health professionals believe a person has developed marijuana use disorder when cannabis use interferes with a person's life and the person has trouble refraining from use.

Some public health officials, addiction experts, and researchers believe that marijuana may act as a gateway drug, meaning that using it creates an increased chance that a person will go on to take other drugs. While the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) acknowledges marijuana's potential as a gateway drug, it also concedes that most marijuana users do not go on to experiment with or use more dangerous substances.

MEDICAL APPLICATIONS AND LEGAL STATUS

Medical experts have recognized marijuana's potential therapeutic value in treating a wide range of symptoms and conditions, including chronic pain, seizures, inflammation, nausea, and insomnia. Research suggests that cannabis can also ease symptoms like the muscle spasms and stiffness of progressive neurological disorders such as multiple sclerosis (MS). Additionally, marijuana has been shown to help treat nausea and vomiting in some chemotherapy patients and to counteract loss of appetite among people with HIV/AIDS. When combined with other therapies, it may also help individuals suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

One obstacle to full understanding of the potential benefits of marijuana was a federal regulation that scientists could only perform research using marijuana grown in a single authorized facility at the University of Mississippi. This marijuana was described by scientists as "subpar" and not equivalent to the marijuana in actual use. In May 2021 the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced that it was working on rules to allow researchers to purchase marijuana from commercial providers.

Marijuana also has been cited as a possible solution for the abuse of harder drugs, particularly opioids. The products of cannabis plants have noted analgesic properties. In these products, researchers have sought possible alternatives to the powerful narcotic painkillers that have contributed to high rates of opioid addiction in the United States and other countries. Several studies have shown that states with legal access to medical marijuana have fewer opioid-related deaths, and a study published in Health Economics in April 2022 found lower use of prescription painkillers among Medicaid recipients in states with legal recreational cannabis. No death has ever been attributed to marijuana overdose. A University of Washington study published in May 2022 found that between 2014 and 2019, alcohol, cigarette, and improper pain medication use all declined among young adults following recreational marijuana legalization in the state in 2012.

However, some scientists caution that routine marijuana use can still pose dangers, particularly for teenagers and very young adults, and for pregnant women. In addition, Stanford University researchers announced in April 2022 that people who smoke marijuana more than once a month have an increased risk of heart attack and heart disease, though a soy-based supplement may counteract this effect.

The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, more commonly referred to as the Farm Bill, changed the legal status of hemp, a type of cannabis that contains less than 0.3 percent of THC and has traditionally been used to make clothing, rope, and other durable products. Through this change, Congress made allowances for the study of the potential effects of using hemp and the sale of some hemp-derived products, particularly those containing CBD. CBD is not psychoactive and can be found in all forms of cannabis. Interest in CBD products increased after the law's passage, though a consensus has not been reached on the full benefits of CBD. Several studies, however, indicate that it can be effective at treating certain epilepsy syndromes. As of June 2022, CBD products are legal nationwide, as long as they are derived from hemp rather than marijuana. Idaho additionally requires CBD products to have less than 0.3 percent THC content.

Except when considering the potential medical benefits of hemp, federal law holds cannabis as illegal and makes no distinction between medical and recreational use. In 2020 the US House of Representatives passed the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act (MORE Act), which would have decriminalized marijuana at the federal level and removed it from the list of controlled substances. The bill stalled after the Senate chose not to vote on it. The same law was reintroduced in 2021, and in April 2022 was passed by the House. However, though Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced plans to introduce a bill to the Senate, expectations that it would pass remained low.

CRITICAL THINKING QUESTIONS

  • What are the risks associated with marijuana use, and do you believe they are great enough to justify the federal government's approach to its use? Explain your answer.
  • Do you believe states that have legalized recreational adult use of cannabis benefit from their decision to do so? Why or why not?
  • In your opinion, should states that legalize cannabis also erase the convictions of people previously convicted of marijuana offenses? Explain your answer.

EFFECTS OF LEGALIZATION

The legalization of recreational marijuana has had positive and negative impacts. On the positive side, states with legal recreational marijuana have enjoyed a major increase in tax revenues. Colorado, which was the first state to legalize the drug for adult recreational use, reported over $423 million in marijuana tax revenue in 2021, up from $266.5 million in 2018. Nationwide, legal marijuana generated a total of $3.7 billion in tax proceeds in 2021. Legal sales of marijuana were expected to exceed $33 billion in 2022, an increase of 32 percent over the $25 billion in sales in 2021. Fortune magazine reported that in 2022, the cannabis industry employed approximately 520,000 people, a figure expected to rise to over eight hundred thousand by 2026. In addition to generating revenue for states, advocates point out that legalizing marijuana saves expenses and frees police and court resources to focus on more serious crimes by eliminating the many misdemeanor marijuana prosecutions. Some activists have also argued for legalization as a racial and social justice issue, as people and communities of color have historically been disproportionately targeted for such prosecutions.

Though public support for cannabis legislation continues to grow in the United States, citizens remain concerned about the risks of impaired driving. The American Automobile Association's Traffic Safety Culture Index reported in 2020 that 70 percent of Americans considered driving after using cannabis to be highly dangerous and 77 percent supported laws criminalizing marijuana-impaired driving. As more states legalized cannabis, the number of fatal traffic accidents involving the drug rose sharply, doubling between 2000 and 2018, according to a 2021 study published in the American Journal of Public Health .

Testing positive for marijuana use after a collision, however, does not prove the person was impaired while driving, as the drug can stay in a person's system for several weeks after use. The lack of a reliable, universally accepted roadside screening test for marijuana impairment poses another complication for addressing impaired driving. While such tests are actively being developed, law enforcement officials must rely on controversial screening processes that may yield inaccurate and inconsistent results, and field sobriety tests reliant on police officers' judgment. Many police agencies indicate that officers frequently lack the knowledge and training to detect marijuana impairment, allowing some drug-impaired drivers to escape.

The wide variation of cannabis laws between states and the possibility of positive test results weeks after actual use has negatively affected employees of various industries. For example, zero-tolerance federal regulations for commercial driving license holders exacerbated the supply-chain issues that began affecting the United States in 2020. A driver can consume marijuana legally in one state while off duty and test positive weeks later, usually leading to instant termination by employers and a complicated series of steps to requalify for commercial driving. As the industry and the federal government have tried to recruit more drivers, they have lost thousands of experienced drivers. Of the nearly 120,000 drivers with a drug violation since January 2020, only about 25 percent have completed the process to resume commercial driving.

Changing marijuana laws have created some legal issues without clear answers. For example, many activists have called for marijuana amnesty, which would erase previous convictions from the criminal records of people found guilty of cannabis possession in states that have legalized it. However, with marijuana remaining prohibited at the federal level, there is no obvious path forward for such a policy at the national level, even though public support for amnesty is strong. As marijuana prohibition has disproportionately resulted in the arrest and incarceration of people of color, many activists have argued that any legal cannabis industry must provide opportunities that benefit these affected communities.

The transportation of recreational marijuana from a state where it is legal to a state where it is not legal causes further complications for law enforcement. Existing federal statutes make interstate transport of marijuana or marijuana products illegal. However, the rise of novel consumption methods, such as marijuana-infused beverages and snacks, has presented law enforcement officials with significant detection and enforcement challenges. Further, in states where such consumption methods are legal, authorities have reported cases of minors mistaking the drug for something safe to eat.

More Articles

Marijuana should be legalized for medical use.

"Marijuana has been used throughout the world for thousands of years, and its medicinal benefits are incontrovertible."

In the following viewpoint, the Drug Policy Alliance argues that marijuana is safe and effective as a medicine for the treatment of many illnesses. The alliance reports that because of this and the change in public opinion, about half the states now allow the use of medical marijuana. The author claims that the federal government should not interfere with the states and should do more to support research about medical marijuana. The Drug Policy Alliance is a national advocacy leader of drug law reform that is grounded in science, compassion, health, and human rights.

The Marijuana Plant Should Not Be Legalized for Medical Use

"Legalizing the marijuana plant ... and allowing open access to it is not necessary and may even create a public health danger for seriously ill patients."

In the following viewpoint, the Drug Free America Foundation, Inc. (DFAF) argues that there is no justification for legalizing use of the marijuana plant as medicine. DFAF claims that there is already a synthetic marijuana-component pharmaceutical product on the market prescribed for medical purposes, and more research is under way for potential effective and safe use of natural or synthetic components of the marijuana plant. DFAF is a drug policy and prevention organization committed to creating an environment where citizens live free of illicit drugs.

Marijuana Should Be Fully Legalized, Not Just Decriminalized

“Despite its benefits, decriminalization falls short in many ways—largely because it still lies within the framework of prohibition.”

In the following viewpoint, the Drug Policy Alliance argues that marijuana prohibition has failed, but marijuana decriminalization policies do not go far enough to remedy the problems with prohibition. The alliance contends that decriminalization does not prevent arrests and criminal records and does nothing to address the harms of the underground—and often violent—marijuana trade. The alliance contends that marijuana ought to be legal, taxed, and regulated in a manner similar to alcohol. The Drug Policy Alliance is a national advocacy leader of drug law reform that is grounded in science, compassion, health, and human rights.

Decriminalization Doesn’t Erase Marijuana’s Class and Race Problems

“Indeed, decriminalization doesn’t change the social conditions that sustain both marijuana use and racially biased responses to it.”

Chris S. Duvall is an associate professor of geography at the University of New Mexico. He is the author of Cannabis , a history of marijuana use throughout the world. In the following viewpoint, Duvall breaks down the historical racial and class biases associated with marijuana. He identifies many misconceptions that persist in the debate over drug legalization, including the idea that African slaves introduced marijuana to the United States and the belief that decriminalization is enough to remove the racial stigma surrounding the drug. However, Duvall states, decriminalization will have a number of benefits, including fewer arrests in minority neighborhoods. He urges readers to consider marijuana’s role in society and explains how tax revenues from legally sold marijuana could be applied to services for those in low-income communities.

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One-year high: the impacts of maryland’s legalization of marijuana.

Mario Macis, professor of economics, health, and management and organization at the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School, shares how tax revenue is up, crime is down, and a recent gubernatorial declaration changes thousands of lives.

Nearly a year after legalizing marijuana in Maryland, some of the early effects of this legislation are beginning to show, marking just the beginning of a broader understanding of its impacts.

On July 1, 2023, Maryland legalized the recreational use of marijuana for individuals 21 years and older. This significant change, affirmed by 67% of voters in the November 2022 Question 4 referendum, comes more than a decade after the state initially authorized medical marijuana use in 2012. Under the new legislation, individuals are allowed to possess up to 1.5 ounces for personal use, cultivate up to two plants at home, and gift cannabis to others without monetary compensation. 

Erasing crime?

On June 16, 2024, Maryland Governor Wes Moore announced pardons for 175,000 persons convicted of crimes related to the possession of cannabis and cannabis paraphernalia. The governor’s action is in line with other governors who have previously legalized marijuana. This provision has important societal implications, influencing the broader opportunities and life outcomes for convicted individuals and their families. 

In Maryland, the pardon applies to everyone convicted of marijuana possession—a population that is  disproportionately Black. Although Black and African American persons make up 33% of Maryland's population, they comprise 70% of persons incarcerated in the state. This has real impacts in Black communities. Convictions on-record make it harder for someone to obtain housing, employment, and education, all of which are crucial for achieving financial stability and building long-term wealth for future generations.

The legislation sparked extensive debates. Detractors express concerns about increased consumption—particularly among youth—a rise in addiction, and elevated crime rates. Proponents counter these arguments by referencing historical events like the Prohibition Era, where criminal activities burgeoned due to the illegal alcohol trade. In fact, legalizing and regulating marijuana can decrease organized crime, enhance consumer safety, and ensure product quality.

Evidence from states where marijuana has been previously legalized tends to support these counterarguments, as detailed in studies such as the one published in the Journal of Economic Literature in 2023 by economists Mark Anderson and Daniel Rees, titled "The Public Health Effects of Legalizing Marijuana." This research contributes to the understanding of the broader impacts of marijuana legalization on public health, crime, and other outcomes, although it is difficult to draw firm conclusions for most outcomes without more post-reform data.

Statistics reveal that crime rates don't necessarily surge post-legalization. This could be because states reallocate law enforcement resources to more severe criminal activities. Various studies have also attempted to shed light on the impact of medical and recreational marijuana legalization on consumption patterns and public health. Youth consumption has not been shown to increase significantly after legalization. Meanwhile, marijuana appears to be a substitute for alcohol, leading to decreased consumption and instances of binge drinking.

That makes a difference, because alcohol is correlated with violence. Several studies suggest that legalization could reduce non-drug related crimes, such as homicides, assaults, rapes, and thefts. The decrease in crime following marijuana legalization can be attributed to a few key factors, including the potential reduction in alcohol use, as well as the elimination of illicit marketplaces that often lead to violence and criminal activity, and the reallocation of law enforcement resources towards more serious offenses. However, the effects of opening and closing dispensaries on crime rates and other societal factors still require more rigorous investigation.

As for the notorious “gateway drug” theory, the evidence doesn't convincingly connect marijuana legalization to increased usage of other, “harder” drugs. In fact, preliminary studies suggest a reduction in opioid use post-legalization. However, these findings require further research to confirm.

Market and tax impacts

The law is reshaping Maryland's cannabis market. In March 2024, Maryland regulators awarded 174 adult-use marijuana social equity licenses from a pool of 1,515 eligible applicants. This was part of a lottery conducted on March 14, which included six different license types, reflecting the state's effort to ensure equitable distribution of licenses in the burgeoning industry. The state distributed licenses across 44 geographic pools, with the number of licenses per area varying based on population density and demand. 

A sales tax on marijuana products has generated significant revenue for the state. According to the Marijuana Policy Project, from July 1, 2023, through March 2024, tax revenues from cannabis sales totaled $40,230,000. In addition to tax revenues, the state benefits from the redirection of resources previously expended on law enforcement, court proceedings, and imprisonment associated with marijuana consumption, letting the state spend more on societal needs.

Public and mental health

Marijuana has shown positive impacts on mental health, with some studies indicating a decrease in prescription medications for mental health conditions. Additionally, while the effect of recreational marijuana on road safety remains under examination, some evidence points to improved road safety following the legalization of medical marijuana.

What to Read Next

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career outcomes

Maryland's journey toward fully understanding the ripple effects of marijuana legalization is just beginning. The state's focus on regulation, equity, and a data-driven approach aims to guide the comprehensive exploration of the benefits and potential hurdles brought about by this new cannabis policy era. However, the post-legalization data is still limited, preventing firm conclusions and highlighting the need for ongoing research and monitoring to fully assess the effects of the new regulations.

Authored by Mario Macis, PhD

Mario Macis, PhD , is a professor of economics at the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School. He is an applied economist who studies the role of incentives in shaping pro-social behavior, attitudes toward morally contentious exchanges and, more generally, the determinants of social support for market-based solutions to social problems. He is also interested in various topics in health, development, labor and organizational economics. 

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More Reasons States Should Not Legalize Marijuana: Medical and Recreational Marijuana: Commentary and Review of the Literature

Recent years have seen substantial shifts in cultural attitudes towards marijuana for medical and recreational use. Potential problems with the approval, production, dispensation, route of administration, and negative health effects of medical and recreational marijuana are reviewed. Medical marijuana should be subject to the same rigorous approval process as other medications prescribed by physicians. Legalizing recreational marijuana may have negative public health effects.

Introduction

Recent years have seen a cultural shift in attitudes towards marijuana. At the time of this writing, medical marijuana is legal in 20 states and the District of Columbia; recreational marijuana is now legal in Washington and Colorado. A substantial and growing literature documents legalized marijuana may have adverse effects on individual and public health.

Medical Use of Marijuana

The term ‘medical marijuana’ implies that marijuana is like any other medication prescribed by a physician. Yet the ways in which medical marijuana has been approved, prescribed, and made available to the public are very different from other commercially available prescription drugs. These differences pose problems unrecognized by the public and by many physicians.

Lack of Evidence for Therapeutic Benefit

In the United States, commercially available drugs are subject to rigorous clinical trials to evaluate safety and efficacy. Data appraising the effectiveness of marijuana in conditions such as HIV/AIDS, epilepsy, and chemotherapy-associated vomiting is limited and often only anecdotal. 1 , 2 To date, there has been only one randomized, double-blind, placebo- and active-controlled trial evaluating the efficacy of smoked marijuana for any of its potential indications, which showed that marijuana was superior to placebo but inferior to Ondansetron in treating nausea. 3 Recent reviews by the Cochrane Collaboration find insufficient evidence to support the use of smoked marijuana for a number of potential indications, including pain related to rheumatoid arthritis, 4 dementia, 5 ataxia or tremor in multiple sclerosis, 6 and cachexia and other symptoms in HIV/AIDS. 2 This does not mean, of course, that components of marijuana do not have potential therapeutic effects to alleviate onerous symptoms of these diseases; but, given the unfavorable side effect profile of marijuana, the evidence to justify use in these conditions is still lacking.

Contamination, Concentration & Route of Administration

Unlike any other prescription drug used for medical purposes, marijuana is not subject to central regulatory oversight. It is grown in dispensaries, which, depending on the state, have regulatory standards ranging from strict to almost non-existent. The crude marijuana plant and its products may be contaminated with fungus or mold. 7 This is especially problematic for immunocompromised patients, 8 including those with HIV/AIDS or cancer. 9 Furthermore, crude marijuana contains over 60 active cannabinoids, 10 few of which are well studied. Marijuana growers often breed their plants to alter the concentrations of different chemicals compounds. For instance, the concentration of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the principal psychoactive ingredient, is more than 20-fold more than in marijuana products used several decades ago. Without rigorous clinical trials, we have no way of knowing which combinations of cannabinoids may be therapeutic and which may be deleterious. As marijuana dispensaries experiment by breeding out different cannabinoids in order to increase the potency of THC, there may be unanticipated negative and lasting effects for individuals who smoke these strains.

Marijuana is the only ‘medication’ that is smoked, and, while still incompletely understood, there are legitimate concerns about long-term effects of marijuana smoke on the lungs. 11 , 12 Compared with cigarette smoke, marijuana smoke can result in three times the amount of inhaled tar and four times the amount of inhaled carbon-monoxide. 13 Further, smoking marijuana has been shown to be a risk factor for lung cancer in many 14 , 15 but not all 16 studies.

High Potential for Diversion

In some states, patients are permitted to grow their own marijuana. In addition to contributing to problems such as contamination and concentration as discussed above, this practice also invites drug diversion. Patients seeking to benefit financially may bypass local regulations of production and sell home-grown marijuana at prices lower than dispensaries. We do not allow patient to grow their own opium for treatment of chronic pain; the derivatives of opium, like marijuana, are highly addictive and thus stringently regulated.

Widespread “Off-label” Use

FDA-approved forms of THC (Dronabinol) and a THC-analog (Nabilone), both available orally, already exist. Indications for these drugs are HIV/AIDS cachexia and chemotherapy-associated nausea and vomiting. Unlike smoked, crude marijuana, these medications have been subject to randomized, placebo-controlled, clinical trials. Yet despite these limited indications where marijuana compounds have a proven but modest effect in high-quality clinical trials, medical marijuana is used overwhelmingly for non-specific pain or muscle spasms. Recent data from Colorado show that 94% of patients with medical marijuana cards received them for treatment of “severe pain.” 17 Similar trends are evident in California. 18 Evidence for the benefit of marijuana in neuropathic pain is seen in many 19 - 21 but not all 22 clinical trials. There is no high-quality evidence, however, that the drug reduces non-neuropathic pain; this remains an indication for which data sufficient to justify the risks of medical marijuana is lacking. 4 , 23 – 25

If marijuana is to be ‘prescribed’ by physicians and used as a medication, it should be subject to the same rigorous approval process that other commercially available drugs undergo. Potentially therapeutic components of marijuana should be investigated, but they should only be made available to the public after adequately powered, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials have demonstrated efficacy and acceptable safety profiles. Furthermore, these compounds should be administered in a way that poses less risk than smoking and dispensed via standardized and FDA-regulated pharmacies to ensure purity and concentration. Bypassing the FDA and approving ‘medicine’ at the ballot box sets a dangerous precedent. Physicians should be discouraged from recommending medical marijuana. Alternatively, consideration can be given to prescribing FDA-approved medicines (Dronabinol or Cesamet) as the purity and concentration of these drugs are assured and their efficacy and side effect profiles have been well documented in rigorous clinical trials.

Recreational Marijuana

The question of recreational marijuana is a broader social policy consideration involving implications of the effects of legalization on international drug cartels, domestic criminal justice policy, and federal and state tax revenue in addition to public health. Yet physicians, with a responsibility for public health, are experts with a vested interest in this issue. Recent legislation, reflecting changes in the public’s attitudes towards marijuana, has permitted the recreational use of marijuana in Colorado and Washington. Unfortunately, the negative health consequences of the drug are not prominent in the debate over legalizing marijuana for recreational use. In many cases, these negative effects are more pronounced in adolescents. A compelling argument, based on these negative health effects in both adolescents and adults, can be made to abort the direction society is moving with regards to the legalization of recreational marijuana.

Myth: Marijuana is Not Addictive

A growing myth among the public is that marijuana is not an addictive substance. Data clearly show that about 10% of those who use cannabis become addicted; this number is higher among adolescents. 26 Users who seek treatment for marijuana addiction average 10 years of daily use. 27 A withdrawal syndrome has been described, consisting of anxiety, restlessness, insomnia, depression, and changes in appetite 28 and affects as many as 44% of frequent users, 29 contributing to the addictive potential of the drug. This addictive potential may be less than that of opiates; but the belief, especially among adolescents, that the drug is not addictive is misguided.

Schizophrenia and Other Psychotic Disorders

Marijuana has been consistently shown to be a risk factor for schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders. 30 – 32 The association between marijuana and schizophrenia fulfills many, but not all, of the standard criteria for the epidemiological establishment of causation, including experimental evidence, 33 , 34 temporal relationship, 35 – 38 biological gradient, 30 , 31 , 39 and biological plausibility. 40 Genetic variation may explain why marijuana use does not strongly fulfill remaining criteria, such as strength of association and specificity. 41 , 42 As these genetic variants are explored and further characterized, marijuana use may be shown to cause or precipitate schizophrenia in a genetically vulnerable population. The risk of psychotic disorder is more pronounced when marijuana is used at an earlier age. 32 , 43

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There is some evidence that compounds naturally found in marijuana have therapeutic benefit for symptoms of diseases such as HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, and cancer. If these compounds are to be used under the auspices of ‘medical marijuana,’ they should undergo the same rigorous approval process that other medications prescribed by physicians, including randomized, placebo- and active-controlled trials to evaluate safety and efficacy, not by popular vote or state legislature.

Effects on Cognition

Early studies suggested cognitive declines associated with marijuana (especially early and heavy use); these declines persisted long after the period of acute cannabis intoxication. 44 – 46 Recently, Meier and colleagues analyzed data from a prospective study which followed subjects from birth to age 38; their findings yielded supportive evidence that cannabis use, when begun during adolescence, was associated with cognitive impairment in multiple areas, including executive functioning, processing speed, memory, perceptual reasoning, and verbal comprehension. 47 Rogeberg 48 criticized the study’s methodology, claiming that the results were confounded by differences in socioeconomic status; this claim, however, was based on sub-analyses that used very small numbers. Additional sub-analyses 49 of the original study cohort showed that marijuana was just as prevalent in populations of higher socioeconomic status, suggesting that socioeconomic status was not a confounding variable. Any epidemiological study is subject to confounding biases and future research will be needed to clarify and quantify the relationship between cognitive decline and adolescent marijuana use. However, the findings of the original study by Meier et al show there is indeed an independent relationship between loss of intelligence and adolescent marijuana use. This finding, moreover, is consistent with prior studies. 44

Other Negative Health Effects

Substantial evidence exists suggesting that marijuana is harmful to the respiratory system. It is associated with symptoms of obstructive and inflammatory lung disease, 11 , 50 an increased risk of lung cancer, 14 , 15 and it is suspected to be associated with reduced pulmonary function in heavy users. 51 Further, its use has been associated with harmful effects to other organ systems, including the reproductive, 52 gastrointestinal, 53 and immunologic 10 , 54 systems.

Social Safety Implications: Effects on Driving

Marijuana impairs the ability to judge time, distance, and speed; it slows reaction time and reduces ability to track moving objects. 55 , 56 In many studies of drug-related motor vehicle fatalities, marijuana is the most common drug detected except for alcohol. 57 , 58 Based on post-mortem studies, Couch et al determined that marijuana was likely an impairing factor in as many fatal accidents as alcohol. 59 One study showed that in motor vehicle accidents where the driver was killed, recent marijuana use was detected in 12% of cases. 57 Other research confirms a significantly increased risk of motor vehicle fatalities in association with acute cannabis intoxication. 60

Risk Perception and Use in Adolescents

Marijuana use among adolescents has been increasing. Data that has tracked risk perception and use of marijuana among adolescents over decades clearly shows an inverse relationship; as adolescent risk perception wanes, marijuana use increases. 61 As more states legalize medical and recreational marijuana, risk perception is expected to decrease, causing the prevalence of use among adolescent to continue to rise. This is among the most concerning of issues about the drug’s legalization because so many of the negative effects of marijuana—including cognitive impairment and risk for short- and long-term psychosis— are heightened when used during adolescence.

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There is some evidence that compounds naturally found in marijuana have therapeutic benefit for symptoms of diseases such as HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, and cancer. If these compounds are to be used under the auspices of ‘medical marijuana,’ they should undergo the same rigorous approval process that other medications prescribed by physicians, including randomized, placebo- and active-controlled trials to evaluate safety and efficacy, not by popular vote or state legislature. Furthermore, these therapeutic compounds should be administered via a route that minimizes long-term health risk (i.e., via oral pill) and should be dispensed by centrally regulated pharmacies to ensure the purity and concentration of the drug and allow for the recall of contaminated batches.

Marijuana for recreational use will have many adverse health effects. The drug is addictive, with mounting evidence for the existence of a withdrawal syndrome. Furthermore, it has been shown to have adverse effects on mental health, intelligence (including irreversible declines in cognition), and the respiratory system. Driving while acutely intoxicated with marijuana greatly increases the risk of fatal motor vehicle collision. Legalization for recreational use may have theoretical (but still unproven) beneficial social effects regarding issues such as domestic criminal justice policy, but these effects will not come without substantial public health and social costs. Currently there is a lack of resources devoted to educating physicians about this most commonly used illicit substance. The potential benefits and significant risks associated with marijuana use should be taught in medical schools and residency programs throughout the country.

Samuel T. Wilkinson, MD, is in the Department of Psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, Ct.

Contact: [email protected]

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None reported.

Argumentative Essay On Marijuana Legalization

Published by gudwriter on May 27, 2018 May 27, 2018

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Why Marijuana Should be Legalized Argumentative Essay Outline

Introduction.

Thesis: Marijuana should be legalized as it is more beneficial that it may be detrimental to society.

Paragraph 1:

Marijuana has not caused turmoil in some of the countries where it has been legalized.

  • Marijuana does not increase violent, and property crimes as many suggest.
  • Studies reveal that in Colorado, violent crimes have declined following the legalization of marijuana.

Paragraph 2:

Prohibiting use of marijuana does not limit its consumption.

  • In spite of the many laws prohibiting the use of marijuana, it is one of the most highly abused drugs.
  • 58% of young people from all over the world use marijuana.
  • It has not been attributed to any health complications.

Paragraph 3:

Legalization of marijuana would help state governments save taxpayers money.

  • Governments spend lots of funds on law enforcement agencies that uphold laws restricting the use of marijuana.
  • They also spend vast sums of money on sustaining arrested dealers and consumers in prison.
  • Legalizing marijuana would result in saving vast sums of money.

Paragraph 4:

Marijuana is less noxious than other legal substances.

  • Marijuana has less health side effects than other legal substances such as alcohol and tobacco.
  • Alcohol is 114 times more destructive than marijuana.

Paragraph 5:

Marijuana has been proven to have medical benefits.

  • Marijuana helps stop seizures in epileptic patients.
  • It helps stop nausea in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy .

Paragraph 6:

Marijuana has been proven to be a stress reliever.

  • Marijuana relieves stress and depression in their users by causing excitement.
  • Its use reduces violence and deaths related to stress and depression.

Conclusion.

There are many misconceptions about marijuana existent in the modern world. People have continued to ignore health benefits linked to this substance citing their unproven beliefs. Owing to its ability to stop seizures, nausea, and stress in individuals governments should highly consider marijuana legalization. Its legalization will also help state governments reduce expenses that result from maintaining suspects convicted of marijuana possession and consumption.

Why Marijuana Should be Legalized Argumentative Essay

The argument that marijuana use should be made legal has gained momentum both in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world in recent years. This has seen the drug being legalized in some states in the U.S. such that by 2013, twenty states had legalized medical marijuana. As of the same year, Colorado and Washington had legalized recreational marijuana. The arguments behind the push for legalization majorly revolve around the idea that the drug has medicinal effects. However, there are also arguments that there are serious health effects associated with the drug and this has only further fueled the already raging debate. This paper argues that marijuana should be legalized as it is more beneficial that it may be detrimental to society.

Marijuana has not caused any notable negative effects in countries where it has been legalized. There is a general belief that marijuana consumers are violent. However, no authentic research can prove these assertions. As already seen, some states in the United States have legalized both medicinal and recreational marijuana. In spite of this, no cases of marijuana-related violence have been recorded so far in such states (Markol, 2018). Reports reveal that the rate of violence and property crimes have decreased in Colorado following the legalization of the drug. If marijuana does not increase violent crimes, there is no reason as to why it should not be legalized.

It is also noteworthy that prohibiting marijuana use does not limit its consumption. Less than 10% of countries in the world prevent the use of marijuana, but according to research, 58% of young people in most of these countries are marijuana users (Head, 2016). General reports reveal that marijuana is one of most commonly abused drug in the world. It is also readily available in most states as it is a naturally growing plant (Head, 2016). In spite of its continued use, there are few cases, if any, of marijuana-related health complications that have been reported in any of these countries (Head, 2016). Therefore, if the illegality of marijuana does not limit its consumption, then state governments should consider its legalization.

Legalization of marijuana would further help state governments save taxpayers’ money. It is widely known that in countries where marijuana is illegal, authorities are stringent and will arrest any individual found in possession of the drug (Sanger, 2017). However, as earlier mentioned, laws prohibiting the use of the drug do not prevent its consumption, and this means that many people are arrested and prosecuted for possessing it (Sanger, 2017). State governments therefore use a lot of funds to support law enforcement agencies that seek to uphold laws prohibiting the use of marijuana (Sanger, 2017). Many people have been arrested and incarcerated for either possessing or consuming the drug, and the government has to use taxpayers’ money to sustain such people in prison. Since these actions do not limit consumption of marijuana, state governments should legalize the drug so as to save taxpayers money.

Another advantage of marijuana is that it is less noxious than other legal substances. According to research, marijuana is the least harmful drug among the many legal drugs existent in the world today (Owen, 2014). There are millions of campaigns every year cautioning people against smoking cigarettes, but there has been none seeking to warn people about marijuana consumption (Owen, 2014). Lobby groups have even been making efforts to push for legalization of marijuana. If marijuana had severe health effects as many purport, state governments would be investing heavily in campaigns aimed at discouraging its consumption (Owen, 2014). According to studies, alcohol, which is legal in many countries, is 114 times more harmful than marijuana (Owen, 2014). Therefore, if such harmful substances can be legalized, then there are no justifications as to why marijuana should not be legalized.

Further, marijuana has been proven to have medicinal benefits. Several countries, particularly in Europe, and the United States have legalized both medicinal and recreational marijuana. Their move to legalize marijuana was based on medical reports that showed a variety of health benefits linked to the drug (Noonan, 2017). Research shows that marijuana can reduce seizures in epileptic persons. Several studies have also proven that the drug indeed has a variety of health benefits. For instance, Charlotte Figi, who is now aged 10, used to have more than 100 seizures every month at age three, but since Colorado legalized medicinal and recreational marijuana, her parents started treating her with the substance, and today her seizures have significantly reduced (Noonan, 2017). Marijuana has as well been proven to reduce nausea in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. Owing to this medicinal value, state governments should consider legalizing the drug.

Additionally, marijuana has been proven to be a stress reliever. Consumption of the drug causes excitement among its users enabling them to forget about troubling situations. Unlike alcohol which is likely to aggravate stress and depression, marijuana works wonders in alleviating anxiety and depression (Sanger, 2017). There are many health and social effects associated with stress, including mental disorders and violence against others (Sanger, 2017). To avoid cases of stress-related violence and mental disorders, state governments should make marijuana consumption legal.

There are many misconceptions about marijuana in the world today. People have continued to ignore the health benefits linked with this substance and have instead focused on citing yet-to-be proven misconceptions. Owing to the ability of the drug to stop seizures, nausea, and stress in individuals, governments should seriously consider its legalization. The legalization will also help state governments reduce expenses that result from sustaining suspects convicted of marijuana possession and consumption. So far, there is more than enough evidence proving that marijuana has lots of benefits to individuals, the society, and the government, and therefore should be legalized.

Head, T. (2016). “8 reasons why marijuana should be legalized”. ThoughtCo . Retrieved June 27, 2020 from https://www.thoughtco.com/reasons-why-marijuana-should-be-legalized-721154

Markol, T. (2018). “5 reasons why marijuana should be legalized”. Marijuana Reform . Retrieved June 27, 2020 from http://marijuanareform.org/5-reasons-marijuana-legalized/

Noonan, D. (2017). “Marijuana treatment reduces severe epileptic seizures”. Scientific American . Retrieved June 27, 2020 from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/marijuana-treatment-reduces-severe-epileptic-seizures/

Owen, P. (2014). “6 powerful reasons to legalize marijuana”. New York Times . Retrieved June 27, 2020 from https://www.alternet.org/drugs/6-powerful-reasons-new-york-times-says-end-marijuana-prohibition

Sanger, B. (2017). “10 legit reasons why weed should be legalized right now”. Herb . Retrieved June 27, 2020 from https://herb.co/marijuana/news/reasons-weed-legalized

Why Marijuana Should be Legal Essay Outline

Thesis:  Marijuana has health benefits and should thus be legal.

Benefits of Marijuana

Marijuana slows and stops the spread of cancer cells.

  • Cannabidiol can turn off a gene called Id-1 and can therefore stop cancer.
  • In an experiment, researchers were able to treat breast cancer cells with Cannabidiol.

Marijuana helps with pain and nausea reduction for people going through chemotherapy.

  • Cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy suffer from severe pains and nausea.
  • This can further complicate their health.
  • Marijuana can stir up their appetite, decrease nausea, and reduce pain.

Paragraph  3:

Marijuana can control epileptic seizure.

  • Marijuana extract stopped seizures in epileptic rats in ten hours.
  • The seizures were controlled by the THC.

Disadvantages of Marijuana

Marijuana is addictive.

  • One in ten marijuana users become addicted over time.
  • If one stops using the drug abruptly, they may suffer from such withdrawal symptoms.

Marijuana use decreases mental health.

  • Users suffer from memory loss and restricted blood flow to the brain.
  • Users have higher chances of developing depression and schizophrenia.

Marijuana use damages the lungs more than cigarette smoking .

  • Marijuana smokers inhale the smoke more deeply into their lungs and let it stay there for longer.
  • The likelihood of lung cancer can be increased by this deeper, longer exposure to carcinogens.

Why Marijuana Should Be Legal

Paragraph 7:

Improved quality and safety control.

  • Legalization would lead to the creation of a set of standards for safety and quality control.
  • Users would know what they exactly get in exchange for the money they offer.
  • There would be no risks of users taking in unknown substances mixed in marijuana.

Paragraph 8:

Marijuana has a medicinal value.

  • Medical marijuana treats a wide assortment of “untreatable” diseases and conditions.
  • Public health would be improved and the healthcare system would experience less of a drain.  

Paragraph 9: 

Among the major arguments against marijuana legalization is often that legalization would yield an increase in drug-impaired driving.

  • This argument holds that even now when the drug is yet to be fully legalized in the country, it is a major causal factor in highway deaths, injuries, and crushes.
  • It however beats logic why marijuana is illegalized on the ground that it would increase drug-impaired driving while alcohol is legal but also significantly contributes to the same problem.

Legalization of marijuana would have many benefits. The drug is associated with the treatment of many serious illnesses including the dreaded cancer. Legalization would also save users from consuming unsafe marijuana sold by unscrupulous people.

Why Marijuana Should Be Legal Essay

There is an ongoing tension between the belief that marijuana effectively treats a wide range of ailments and the argument that it has far-reaching negative health effects. There has nevertheless been a drive towards legalization of the drug in the United States with twenty nine states and the District of Columbia having legalized it for medical and recreational purposes. It was also found by a study that there is a sharp increase in the use of marijuana across the country (Kerr, Lui & Ye, 2017). Major public health concerns are being prompted by this rise. This should however not be the case because marijuana has health benefits and should thus be legal.

Marijuana slows and stops the spread of cancer cells. A study found that Cannabidiol can turn off a gene called Id-1 and can therefore stop cancer. A 2007 report by researchers at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco also indicated that the spread of cancer may be prevented by Cannabidiol. In their lab experiment, the researchers were able to treat breast cancer cells with this component (Nawaz, 2017). The positive outcome of the experiment showed that Id-1 expression had been significantly decreased.

Marijuana also helps with pain and nausea reduction for people going through chemotherapy. Cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy suffer from severe pains, appetite loss, vomiting, and painful nausea. This can further complicate their already deteriorating health. Marijuana can be of help here by stirring up the appetite, decreasing nausea, and reducing pain (Nawaz, 2017). There are also other cannabinoid drugs used for the same purposes as approved by the FDA.

It was additionally shown by a 2003 study that the use of marijuana can control epileptic seizure. Synthetic marijuana and marijuana extracts were given to epileptic rats by Virginia Commonwealth University’s Robert J. DeLorenzo. In about ten hours, the seizures had been stopped by the drugs (Nawaz, 2017). It was found that the seizures were controlled by the THC which bound the brain cells responsible for regulating relaxation and controlling excitability.

Some scientists claim that marijuana is addictive. According to them, one in ten marijuana users become addicted over time. They argue that if one stops using the drug abruptly, they may suffer from such withdrawal symptoms as anxiety and irritability (Barcott, 2015). However, the same argument could be applied to cigarette smoking, which is notably legal. There is need for more studies to be conducted into this claim being spread by opponents of marijuana legalization.

It is also argued that marijuana use decreases mental health. Those opposed to the legalization of recreational marijuana like to cite studies that show that users of the drug suffer from memory loss and restricted blood flow to the brain. They also argue that users have higher chances of developing depression and schizophrenia. However, these assertions have not yet been completely ascertained by science (Barcott, 2015). The claim about depression and schizophrenia is particularly not clear because researchers are not sure whether the drug triggers the conditions or it is used by smokers to alleviate the symptoms.

It is further claimed that marijuana use damages the lungs more than cigarette smoking. It is presumed that marijuana smokers inhale the smoke more deeply into their lungs and let it stay there for longer. The likelihood of lung cancer, according to this argument, can be increased by this deeper, longer exposure to carcinogens. However, the argument touches not on the frequency of use between marijuana and cigarette smokers (Barcott, 2015). It neither takes into account such alternative administration methods as edibles, tinctures, and vaporizing.

Legalization of marijuana would lead to improved quality and safety control. Purchasing the drug off the street provides end users with no means of knowing what they are exactly getting. On the other hand, legalizing it would immediately lead to the creation of a set of standards for safety and quality control (Caulkins, Kilmer & Kleiman, 2016). This would certainly work in the marijuana industry just as it is working in the tobacco and alcohol industries. Users would be able to know what they exactly get in exchange for the money they offer. Additionally, there would be no risks of users taking in unknown substances mixed in marijuana sold on the streets.

Marijuana should also be legal because it has a medicinal value. It has been proven that medical marijuana treats a wide assortment of “untreatable” diseases and conditions. These include problems due to chemotherapy, cancer, post-traumatic stress disorder, migraines, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, and Crohn’s disease (Caulkins, Kilmer & Kleiman, 2016). Public health would be improved and the healthcare system would experience less of a drain if medical cannabis products were made available to those suffering from the mentioned conditions. Consequently, more public funds would be available for such other public service initiatives as schools and roads.

Among the major arguments against marijuana legalization is often that legalization would yield an increase in drug-impaired driving. This argument holds that even now when the drug is yet to be fully legalized in the country, it has already been cited to be a major causal factor in highway deaths, injuries, and crushes. Among the surveys those arguing along this line might cite is one that was conducted back in 2010, revealing that of the participating weekend night-time drivers, “8.6 percent tested positive for marijuana or its metabolites” (“Why We Should Not Legalize Marijuana,” 2010). It was found in yet another study that 26.9% of drivers who were being attended to at a trauma center after sustaining serious injuries tested positive for the drug (“Why We Should Not Legalize Marijuana,” 2010). It however beats logic why marijuana is illegalized on the ground that it would increase drug-impaired driving while alcohol is legal but also significantly contributes to the same problem.

As the discussion reveals, legalization of marijuana would have many benefits. The drug is associated with the treatment of many serious illnesses including the dreaded cancer. Legalization would also save users from consuming unsafe marijuana sold by unscrupulous people. There are also other health conditions that can be controlled through the drug. Arguments against its legalization based on its effects on human health also lack sufficient scientific support. It is thus only safe that the drug is legalized in all states.

Barcott, B. (2015).  Weed the people: the future of legal marijuana in America . New York, NY: Time Home Entertainment.

Caulkins, J. P., Kilmer, B., & Kleiman, M. (2016).  Marijuana legalization: what everyone needs to know . New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Kerr, W., Lui, C., & Ye, Y. (2017). Trends and age, period and cohort effects for marijuana use prevalence in the 1984-2015 US National Alcohol Surveys.  Addiction ,  113 (3), 473-481.

Nawaz, H. (2017).  The debate between legalizing marijuana and its benefits for medical purposes: a pros and cons analysis . Munich, Germany: GRIN Verlag.

Why We Should Not Legalize Marijuana. (2010). In  CNBC . Retrieved June 25, 2020 from  https://www.cnbc.com/id/36267223 .

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Opinion: Why legal weed is one of the most successful — yet disappointing — social movements

A law enforcement officer pours liquid onto marijuana plants

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Cannabis prohibition remains central to America’s failed war on drugs — upwards of half a million people were arrested for a cannabis offense in the U.S. in 2018, accounting for more than 43 % of all drug arrests .

But times are changing: Cannabis reform is one of the most successful social movements in recent memory. Today, 24 states and Washington, D.C., allow cannabis for adult use. Although the drug remains prohibited at the federal level, the Biden administration recently began the process of reclassifying cannabis as a less dangerous substance (going from Schedule I to Schedule III). This will dramatically loosen federal restrictions on the U.S. cannabis industry, which is forecast to generate more than $30 billion in retail sales in 2024.

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Yet legal cannabis has been something of a disappointment. High barriers to entry prevent many small-business owners from breaking into the industry. A 2023 survey found that less than 25% of U.S. cannabis businesses are profitable, with most of the money going to a small group of large multistate corporate operators led by predominantly white ownership groups. A 2021 report found that less than 2% of U.S. cannabis business owners are Black.

These are the somewhat predictable outcomes of concessions cannabis activists made to the business community. States that have yet to pursue legal cannabis should take heed of the dangers of these compromises, or they will end up replicating the very power dynamics that legalization was supposed to disrupt.

Equity has always been a priority for some legal cannabis activists. Washington state legalized cannabis for adult use in 2012 with a law drafted by a small team of local activists and supported by the American Civil Liberties Union. Advocates were primarily concerned with protecting small independent operators, including protections such as residency requirements for cannabis license holders, caps on the number of licenses owned and tight limits on the amount of “canopy” a cannabis cultivator was permitted to grow. This has allowed small operators to gain a larger share of the market in Washington than in other states .

skull and crossbones formed by cannabis and two vape pens on a black background with marijuana plants

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But by the time California legalized cannabis in 2016, corporations had come to realize the enormous profit potential of legal weed. Local activists spent years drafting a progressive legalization initiative in California that included many of the same protections implemented in Washington. This effort was backed by prominent national cannabis advocacy groups such as the Drug Policy Alliance and the Marijuana Policy Project. Before they could qualify their amendment for the ballot, however, Silicon Valley billionaire Sean Parker backed another legalization campaign with $8.5 million of his own money . Some groups pulled funding from the older draft legislation and pressured local activists to support the new, better-resourced campaign instead, which led to a more business-friendly bill without residency requirements or license caps.

In other states, activists have tried to develop consumer- and patient-focused legalization bills. Michigan’s cannabis industry, for example, enjoys relatively low barriers to entry, making it easier for small operators to establish themselves, increasing competition and lowering costs for consumers. This came about only because local activists resisted corporate influence. In the run-up to the 2018 Michigan campaign, they were pressured to draft a business-friendly cannabis legalization bill by national groups and corporate donors seeking the same types of market advantages enjoyed in California. They bucked the pressure and as a result lost a considerable amount of financial support; on average, pro-legalization ballot measure campaigns outraise their opponents by more than 400% , but in Michigan campaign spending was much closer. Voters still overwhelmingly supported the bill.

Even so, Michigan has struggled with one of the most stubborn challenges of legalization: racial equity. A 2021 study found that just about 3.8% of cannabis business owners in Michigan were Black and only around 1.5% were Latino.

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Some states have been experimenting with ways to address these concerns, with mixed results. In 2019 Illinois became the first state to build specific racial equity provisions into its cannabis law , creating a social equity applicant system, providing technical and financial assistance to first-time business owners and distributing 25% of cannabis tax receipts to communities disproportionately affected by the war on drugs. A recent report estimates that 27% of legal cannabis business owners in Illinois are Black — but only 5% identify as Latino, and 3% as Asian.

New York’s cannabis law, passed in 2021, followed in Illinois’ footsteps and has been hailed as the most progressive cannabis law instituted, with a goal of awarding at least 50% of its cannabis licenses to equity applicants. But delivering on that promise has so far proved elusive. After the New York cannabis market gained momentum this year, the initial results have been disappointing for equity advocates.

Still, these more progressive laws make achieving equity easier. Among the biggest barriers for people of color seeking to enter the industry are excessive regulations and fees, which tend to disproportionately affect small operators. Passing reforms has been challenging because stakeholders that benefit from the current system fight hard to protect their piece of the market, even when the regulations they are protecting make little practical sense.

And the reforms that make it face an uphill battle. In Washington, activists finally passed reforms designed to help equity applicants succeed in the cannabis industry in 2020, eight years after marijuana was legalized in that state. Yet in recent years, the percentage of the state’s cannabis business owners who are Black has been stuck at 4% .

It may be too late to prevent corporate domination of the cannabis industry. The California market is already showing the effects of consolidation : The number of cannabis licenses in the state has fallen from a high of 18,000 to 4,000. Where Californians once had about 6,000 cannabis brands to choose from, now only 1,600 are sold legally in the state. A 2022 L.A. Times analysis found that the 10 companies with the largest growing operations in California hold 22% of the state’s cultivation licenses.

But the beer industry suggests it is possible to secure more for the small operators who are more likely to be people of color. Independently operated craft breweries have grown their market share, hitting the small but significant level of 13% in 2021.

If legal cannabis isn’t pushed in a more diverse and progressive direction, it will fail to deliver the social change that motivated many activists to pursue it in the first place.

Joseph Mello is an associate professor of political science at DePaul University and author of, most recently, “ Pot for Profit: Cannabis Legalization, Racial Capitalism and the Expansion of the Carceral State .”

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Community Voice

Steve Alm: Marijuana Legalization Carries Risks For Hawaii

The Honolulu prosecutor says greater usage would mean more negative and harmful consequences.

By Steve Alm

June 27, 2024 · 10 min read

research paper on why marijuana should be legalized

About the Author

research paper on why marijuana should be legalized

As an active participant in the effort to stop commercial (recreational) legalization of marijuana (personal use has already been decriminalized), I read Neal Milner’s recent column with great interest ( “How Both Sides In Marijuana Debate Blew Smoke Up Our Okole” ).

research paper on why marijuana should be legalized

There are a number of points that Milner got wrong in his article.

First, there is a lot of good research now from credible sources that show the negative consequences of using marijuana. There is also good research that concludes that legalizing the commercial (recreational) sale of marijuana increases usage. As a result, more usage would mean more negative consequences that would be harmful for Hawaii.

I have pointed to some of these sources in some of my past articles and testimony and I have included some of them later in this article. Milner is either unaware of or has ignored the existence of this research.

Second, Milner supports the Rand Corporation’s advice to rely on transparent, nonpartisan and impartial review processes to arrive at a shared set of facts to guide better policymaking. That is exactly what I am doing in citing sources such as the Journal of the American Medical Association, the New England Journal of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health.

More research is certainly needed on the cost/benefit effects of legalization, looking at a specific state with its unique features, like Hawaii, with our overwhelming reliance on the tourist industry.  We asked a committee chair at the legislature to do a cost/benefit analysis for Hawaii and he was not interested. I would argue that until that is done, there are enough red flags in the current research done by reputable organizations about marijuana that should give us all pause.

research paper on why marijuana should be legalized

Third, while legislation and policymaking may be done by other people through feelings and beliefs, all of which is passed off as unadorned “real” facts, that is not the case with us here. Our criminal justice policy positions are based on facts and are backed up by well-researched studies.

I didn’t publicly comment on the marijuana legalization issue before or during the 2023 legislative session because I had not yet done my due diligence in researching it. I had an open mind when looking at the marijuana of today and in carefully considering the evidence, pro and con.

Currently, in Hawaii, medical marijuana is available and personal use has been decriminalized.

The pros that I identified include the following: First, there will be some tax money collected (although it may be negated by resultant social costs). Second, a number of people will be employed at the marijuana stores and in the grow fields. The more stores and fields, the more people employed.

Third, if testing is done at the stores, they should be able to control for harmful additives like fentanyl. At the same time, many people will still buy from the sources they have always bought their marijuana from, as the black market, without taxes, will always be cheaper.

Fourth, depending on what legislative bill might actually pass, possession of up to 30 grams (60 joints) would no longer be illegal. Now, possession of up to an ounce (28.34 grams) is a petty misdemeanor, typically punished by a fine. Possession of three grams (6 joints) or less is a violation.

Fifth, those favoring legalization might say it will remove the stigma and marijuana possession and use. Those opposed would say legislation of this new powerful drug would send the wrong message to kids that, if it is legal, it must be safe.

Finally, some would argue that “social equity” provisions would help disadvantaged individuals and communities that had been disproportionately impacted by marijuana laws.

Pot Lowers IQs

Next, I shall include but a small sample of the good research from reputable sources that I found compelling. Due to space considerations, I am not including research showing, for example, how the proportion of drivers involved in fatal car crashes who test positive for marijuana increases or how marijuana grows negatively impact the environment and water usage, or how the black market for marijuana actually increases after legalizing commercial (recreational) marijuana.

Studies point to a decline in IQ among cannabis users, especially in teenagers. In 2021, the National Institutes of Health, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration published a systemic review and meta-analysis of longitudinal studies of frequent and dependent cannabis use in adolescents. The researchers found an average decline of approximately two IQ points following exposure to cannabis in youth.

Further, a study published by the National Institutes of Health, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in 2013 surveyed 1,037 people in New Zealand and found that those who were dependent on cannabis before age 18 lost an average of eight IQ points.

For this group, “quitting or cutting back their cannabis use did not fully eliminate the IQ loss.” The authors, from Duke University, King’s College London and The University of Otago said “their findings accord with other data that have suggested that cannabis use may harm the developing brain.”

Marijuana use also leads to a number of health problems. In February 2024, the Journal of the American Heart Association published a study by the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, which analyzed survey data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention of 434,104 adults from 2011 to 2020.

Any use of marijuana was linked to a higher risk of heart attack and stroke, with daily users having a 25% increased likelihood of a heart attack and a 42% increased risk of a stroke.

Studies point to a decline in IQ among cannabis users, especially in teenagers.

Noted local physician, Dr. Scott Miscovich, has pointed to studies in Canada that looked at cannabis emergency department poisoning over two periods of legalization: when cannabis was legalized in 2018, and when the sale of cannabis edibles (e.g., gummies, chocolates, and baked goods) was legalized in 2020.

The New England Journal of Medicine published a study in August 2022 about the unintentional marijuana poisoning in children across Canada. Hospitalization rates were 2.6 times as high as before legalization. When edibles were legalized, the hospitalization rates were 7.5 times as high as before legalization.

“Our data indicates that legalization was associated with increases in hospitalizations for cannabis poisoning in children. Most of the increase occurred after legalization of cannabis edibles and despite strict regulations aimed at reducing poisoning in children,” according to the study.

More Emergency Room Visits

A study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association in May 2024 found that, for older adults, the rate of emergency department visits for cannabis poisoning was substantially higher than pre-legalization (15.4 versus 5.8 per 100,000 person-years.)

The rate of emergency department visits was even higher, at 21.1 per 100,000 person-years. During the eight-year study period, there were 2,322 emergency department visits for cannabis poisoning in older adults whose average age was 69.5 years.

Even some of the data from a resource that was touted by Milner is alarming. He points us, through a link, to a September 2023 publication by the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, “Economic Benefits and Social Costs of Legalizing Recreational Marijuana.”

The authors said, “Given the significant increase in the number of states that have legalized recreational use over the past decade, this paper aims to fill a gap in the literature by considering both the potential benefits and costs using state-level data from every U.S. state.”

They found that “Post-legalization, average state income grew by 3%, house prices by 6% and population by 2%. However, substance use disorders, chronic homelessness and arrests increased by 17, 35 and 13% respectively.

The marijuana of today is much more potent than it was in the past. A study published in 2023 by Deepak Cyril D’Souza and Albert E. Kent, professors of psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine, noted: “In 1995, the average THC content in cannabis seized by the Drug Enforcement Administration was about 4%. By 2017, it had increased to 17% and continues to increase.”

Beyond the plant, a staggering array of other cannabis products with an even higher THC content like dabs, oils and edibles are readily available — some as high as 90%.

States that have legalized commercial (recreational) marijuana have higher usage rates. A study published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine (July-August 2020), titled “Differences in Opinions About Marijuana Use and Prevalence of Use by State Legalization Status,” found that prevalence of past-year use of any form of marijuana use was more common among residents of recreationally legal states compared with other states (20.3% in recreationally legal states, 15.4% in medically legal states and 11.9% in non-legal states) is concerning.

This survey sampled a representative sample of U.S. adults, comprising 16,280 participants.

Additionally, in a study published in the Addictions journal in 2022, researchers from the University of Colorado’s Boulder Center for Antisocial Drug Dependence and the Minnesota Center for Twin and Family Research in Minneapolis found that usage increased with legalization among the 3,452 surveyed. The study looked at cannabis usage before 2014, when it was illegal to sell recreational cannabis, and after 2014, when it became legal to sell in Colorado. Only medical cannabis was legal in Minnesota during the post-2014 portion of the study.

The participants, many of whom were born in Colorado and Minnesota, but had since relocated, were surveyed pre- and post–2014 on the number of days they used cannabis in the previous six months. Researchers found there was about a 24% increase in usage in states that legalized recreational cannabis compared with ones that did not.

Based on where the subjects were living at the time of the surveys, nearly every state was represented, along with Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. The study included 111 pairs of identical twins, as well, with one twin living in a state that legalized recreational cannabis and the other in a state that did not legalize.

Among the identical twins, researchers found that marijuana usage increased about 20% in states that legalized recreational cannabis compared with ones that did not. As identical twins share so many similarities, that percentage is a more accurate estimate of the causal influence of commercial legalization on cannabis use, according to lead researcher Stephanie Zellers, now a researcher at the University of Helsinki. Co-author John Hewitt stated, “This is the first study to confirm that the association between legal cannabis and increased use holds within families in genetically identical individuals. That makes it much more likely that legalization does, in itself, result in increased use.”

Being cautious about legalizing commercial (recreational) marijuana is prudent in the face of these, and other studies. An action such as this would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to reverse. It is not “overselling limited evidence or generating more heat than light.” Why expose ourselves to the potential harm shown in study after study, all for the sake of a few tax dollars?

I commend the Legislature for doing the right thing in declining to legalize commercial (recreational) marijuana in the 2024 session. I, and others, will continue our efforts to keep providing relevant research and information to assist the legislators in making research- and data-informed policies and decisions.

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research paper on why marijuana should be legalized

Waikiki Needs A Campaign To Clean Up All The Litter

By Helena Andrade · June 28, 2024 · 6 min read

Local reporting when you need it most

Support timely, accurate, independent journalism.

Honolulu Civil Beat is a nonprofit organization, and your donation helps us produce local reporting that serves all of Hawaii.

Steve Alm is the prosecuting attorney for the City and County of Honolulu.

Latest Comments (0)

Checked into getting a Cannabis card. $$$$! No wonder they want to keep it illegal, they're making to much money with the Medical racket.

moc · 16 hours ago

Yeah, legalization is coming, Mr. Alms, matter of time and regardless of your words and efforts and this year. Matter of time, would not be surprised if the issue comes RIGHT BACK start of 2025.

Willmarch · 1 day ago

Steve, do you realize that your same arguments can be made for alcohol use? How come you're not against repealing the use of alcohol? It kills way more people, and is much more dangerous. Marijuana overdose does not kill people. Many drugs do. Why are you trying to impose your views on the citizens of this state?

Scotty_Poppins · 1 day ago

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103 Marijuana Legalization Essay Topic Ideas & Examples

🏆 best marijuana legalization topic ideas & essay examples, 👍 good essay topics on marijuana legalization, ⭐ most interesting marijuana legalization topics to write about, ✅ simple & easy marijuana legalization essay titles.

  • Reason Why Marijuana Should Be Legal This is an important consideration since data on the prevalence of Marijuana indicates that the US is still the world’s largest single market for the drug.
  • Legalizing Marijuana: Pros and Cons The focus of this paper will be on the impact of the legalization of the U.S.economy with possible positive and negative sides of the matter.
  • Analysis of Arguments: Should Marijuana Be Legalized? Pro Arguments: The majority of Americans agree on the necessity to legalize marijuana. This initiative is accompanied by concerns regarding the actual use of marijuana.
  • The Issue of Legalization of Marijuana The issue of the legalization of marijuana in the territory of the state is not unambiguous, therefore it is analyzed by a large number of specialists.
  • Marijuana Legalization: Controversial Issue in Canada Canada became the second country in the world to legalize the cultivation and consumption of cannabis in 2018. Besides, the substance is addictive, and it is challenging to stop consuming it.
  • Marijuana Legalization and Issues to Consider If marijuana is fully legalized, there might be a rise in use among youth, which is dangerous from the physiological point of view, and there will be no legal justification to end it.
  • The Relationships Between Marijuana and the Legal System The most common ideas discussed within a framework of this debate are connected to the issues of permission to keep marijuana at home for personal needs such as medical needs, and a total ban on […]
  • Pros and Cons of Legalization of Medical Marijuana It is evident that medical treatment with the use of marijuana would be beneficial for both: patients and the government because of the opportunity to earn on taxation.
  • Legalization of Recreational Use of Marijuana The role of the Supreme Court in the specified case boils down to stating the conditions, in which the prescription and the following use of marijuana by the patient, can be deemed as legitimate.
  • Marijuana Legalization: Chronic Seizure Treatment With that said, despite numerous states already having legalized one or both applications, the federal government remains opposed to either form of legalization, and marijuana possession and use remain federal offenses.
  • Legalized Marijuana: Negative and Positive Sides The economy and finance from the very beginning were anticipating that this law will bring the largest income to the state’s budget and create plenty of job opportunities under the rule of law.
  • Ethical Perspective of the Legalization of Marijuana In spite of a popular view of the medical benefits of marijuana, doctors insist that the use of marijuana provides the same dangerous effect as other drugs.
  • Marijuana Legalize: Advanatages and Disadvantages The truth that marijuana is illegal and prohibited is suitably caused by the number of funds invested in the war against drugs.
  • Arguments for Banning the Legalization of Marijuana Marijuana is a dangerous drug that should not be legalized even if it is in the context of it containing the medicinal value.
  • Medical Marijuana: Pros of Legalizing It must be admitted that at the time of the passage of these laws, histories from some, but not all, heroin users indicated that the use of marijuana had preceded the use of heroin.
  • Medical Marijuana Legalization Concerns This change raises political concerns and requires the government to review its economy to adapt to the use of MM. The representation of the legal process highlighted the history of previous legislations and reported on […]
  • Medical Marijuana: Legal and Research Concerns However, while the purpose of recreational marijuana is often disconnected from its long-term effects on people’s health in scholarly discussions, the use of medical marijuana is viewed from the point of patient’s health and the […]
  • Should Marijuana Be Legalized? Marijuana legalization is a topic of social trends and beliefs that are based not only on health but political and economic factors as well.
  • Marijuana Legalization in 5 Policy Frameworks The legalization of marijuana is still one of the debatable issues at the federal and state levels. For instance, the use of marijuana is prohibited at the federal level while the recreational and medical use […]
  • Marijuana Legalization in California The muscle relaxation effect of marijuana also appears to be a positive effect that should be used to argue for its legalization.
  • Medical Marijuana Legalization by National Football League However, it must be realized that some of these players are usually in excruciating pain to the point that some may have lost consciousness.
  • Medical Marijuana Legalization Rebuttal The claim of fact is that A.C.A.continues to be beneficial despite the arguments of Republican politicians and current challenges. The claim of policy is the appeal to Republicans and Democrats to work together on the […]
  • Legal Marijuana Market Analysis and Taxes Impact Consequently, the primary goal of this paper is to understand the impact of taxes on the financial stability of the market for legal marijuana with the help of the law of supply and demand and […]
  • Controversy Around Medical Marijuana Legalization The consideration of the problem of marijuana legalization from the perspective of public safety involves such points as crime rates and traffic accidents. The fact of economic benefits of the Cannabis legalization is also apparent: […]
  • The Legalization of Marijuana: Regulation and Practice It is imperative to note that legalization of marijuana is a topic that has been quite controversial and has led to numerous discussions and disagreements.
  • Concepts of Legalizing Marijuana Although in most cases, most individuals associate Marijuana with numerous health complications and social problems, for example, brain damage, and violent behavior hence, supporting its illegalization, such individuals take little consideration of its significance in […]
  • Marijuana Legalization in Illinois The case for legalization of marijuana in Colorado evidences the need to alter federal laws prohibiting marijuana for its legalization law to have both statutory and federal backing in the state of Illinois.
  • Public Safety and Marijuana Legalization Some of the states have failed to tax marijuana. Hence, it is difficult to get the precise figures in terms of tax values that states could collect from marijuana.
  • History and Effects of Legalization of Marijuana As predicted, the legalization of marijuana in several states has led to an increase of marijuana abuse among youngsters Studies have shown a pattern of the use of cannabis and risky behavior of the individuals.
  • Debates Around Legalization of Medical Marijuana The supporters and opponents of the legalization of marijuana have opted to focus on either the positive or the negative aspects of the effects of the drug to support their views on policies to legalize […]
  • Should Marijuana Be Legal? It is perhaps very essential to be acquainted with an account of laws that surround marijuana in order to understand the reasons why the drug ought to be legalized.
  • How New York Would Benefit From Legalized Medical Marijuana The arrests resulting from possession of marijuana in New York is quite huge compared to those in California and New Jersey states in America.
  • Should Be It Legal to Sell the Marijuana in the United States? What I want to know is the reasons of why so many people use such serious psychoactive drug as marijuana of their own accord and do not want to pay special attention to their activities […]
  • Supporting of Marijuana Legalization Among the Adult Population Proponents argue that legalization of marijuana will lead to increased revenues for the government amid economic challenges. Legalizing marijuana will not lead to cancer and deaths but will spark the debate for apparent effects of […]
  • Marijuana: The Issues of Legalization in the USA To understand all the possible effects of the marijuana legalization, it is necessary to pay attention to the definition and classification of the drug with references to determining the most important social and legal aspects […]
  • Reasons for Legalization of Marijuana The legalization of the drug would bring to an end the discrimination of the African Americans in marijuana-related arrests, reduce the sales of the drug and its use among teenagers, encourage the development of hemp […]
  • Legalizing Marijuana: Arguments and Counter-Arguments On the other hand, many groups have outlined that the legalization of marijuana would lead to an increase in the rate of crime in addition to opening up of the gateway to the abuse of […]
  • Should We Legalize Marijuana For Medical Use? In addition to that, the use of Marijuana especially by smoking either for medical reasons or to heal ailments, is a social activity that will help bring them together and improve their social ties.
  • Why Marijuana Should Be Legalized? The government should save that money it uses in prohibiting the use of marijuana as it has no proved harm to the users.
  • Arguments on Why Marijuana Should Be Illegalized The greater part of the population believes that the sustained use of this product is beneficial in numerous ways. Therefore, it is clear that the negative effects of the drug outdo the constructive ones.
  • A Case for Legalizing Marijuana Marijuana is one of the drugs that the government policy targets and as it currently stands, the government uses a lot of resources in prosecuting and punishing marijuana consumers through the legal system.
  • Federal Government Should Not Legalize the Use of Marijuana On the other hand the use of marijuana actually increased in the country. It is not only the DEA or the federal government that is reluctant in the legalization of marijuana.
  • Issues with Marijuana Legalization in the United States This is the reason why the debate on the legalization of marijuana has been on the increase since the past 10 years.
  • Does Legalizing Marijuana Help or Harm the United States? The latter measure is not merely being advocated by the proponents of marijuana use since the legalization of marijuana has been supported by NAACP not because it fully backs the smoking of marijuana.
  • The Debates on the Legal Status of Marijuana This means that the use of marijuana encourages the consumption of other drugs such as alcohol and cigarettes. Additionally, the use of marijuana is associated with increase in crime and consumption of other illicit drugs.
  • Argument About Legalizing Marijuana in America Therefore, if at all the government of the United States is to prohibit the use of marijuana in the country, it should be ready to cater for the high costs that come in hand with […]
  • The Moral and Ethical Reasons Why Marijuana should be legal It is my humble opinion that the billions of dollars being spent on the war against marijuana should be diverted to more useful projects like feeding the less fortunate in the society.
  • The Problem of Legalization of Marijuana and Hemp Many individuals tend to believe that the use of Marijuana is morally wrong as it alters the mental state of the user and leads to dangerous addictions and actions in the end.
  • Minor and Major Arguments on Legalization of Marijuana Premises 1: If marijuana were to be legalized it would be impossible to regulate its’ sell to, and use by the minors. Making marijuana illegal is denying them a right to the use of this […]
  • The Reasons Why Marijuana Should be Made Legal Among the reasons that support the legalization of marijuana include: the medical basis that marijuana has some benefits and that the state could gain revenue from the trade of marijuana as opposed to the costs […]
  • Why Is Marijuana Legalized In Some States And Not Others? I consider the legalization of marijuana to be a positive step as its prohibition entails intrusion of personal freedom and just like any other substance it is only harmful when it is not taken in […]
  • Marijuana Legalization and Crime Rates The possible outcome of this effort will be the safe consumption of the drug, easy monitoring, and creation of awareness to the public on the dangers of excessive use of the drug and lastly the […]
  • The Effect of Legalization of marijuana in the Economy of California It has been predicted that if the government legalizes the drug, there will be a lot of changes pertaining to the demand for the drug in the market and as a result, there will be […]
  • Marijuana Must Not Be Legalized According to the national institute of drug abuse, the active chemical in marijuana, tetrahydrocannabinol, act on the region of the brain responsible for time awareness, sensory, attention, thoughts, memory and pleasure.
  • Policy Brief: Why Marijuana Use Should Be Legalized in the Us In this perspective, it is valid to argue that marijuana users may be undergoing long incarcerations in US jails due to the misconceived fantasies that took root in the public mind in the 1930’s, and […]
  • Analyzing Arguments Against Marijuana Legalization
  • America Requirements Medicinal Weed: Marijuana Legalization
  • Arguing for Medical Marijuana Legalization
  • Benefits Associated With Marijuana Legalization
  • Analysis of Marijuana Legalization in Canada
  • The Relationships Between Marijuana Legalization and the DEA
  • Governmental Regulation of the Marijuana Legalization
  • Exploring the Pros and Cons of Marijuana Legalization
  • Defining the First Steps Toward Marijuana Legalization
  • Going Green: Analyzing Marijuana Legalization
  • How Marijuana Legalization Will Affect Public Health
  • Debate on Whether It’s Time for Marijuana Legalization
  • Economic Benefits of Marijuana Legalization
  • Marijuana Legalization and How It Affects the GDP
  • Link Between Marijuana Legalization and National Debt
  • The Relationships Between Marijuana Legalization and Taxation
  • Marijuana Legalization: Arguments and Criticism
  • Benefits of Marijuana Legalization for Society
  • Marijuana Legalization: Cause and Effect
  • Benefits of Marijuana Legalization for Medical Purposes
  • Marijuana Legalization Could Lower Crime Rates
  • Social Issues Associated With Marijuana Legalization
  • Marijuana Legalization: The Reasons for Legalizing Marijuana and for Keeping It Illegal
  • Medical Marijuana Legalization and Controversy
  • The Link Between Modern Liberalism and Marijuana Legalization
  • Marijuana Legalization Could Reduce the Amount of Money the Government Spends on Prisons
  • Principles of State and Federal Marijuana Legalization
  • Marijuana Legalization: Good for the Nation?
  • Support for Marijuana Legalization Against First Age
  • Marijuana Legalization: Growing the Economy or Destroying Lives?
  • The Controversy Over Marijuana Legalization
  • Marijuana Legalization: Implications for Property or Casualty Insurance
  • The Cross-Border Spillover Effects of Recreational Marijuana Legalization
  • Marijuana Legalization: Should the Federal Government Legalize the Use of Marijuana?
  • The Debate Over the Controversial Subject of Marijuana Legalization in the U.S.
  • Marijuana Legalization: PREPARE and IMAGINE Models
  • Overview of Medical Marijuana Legalization Initiative
  • Marijuana Legalization: Adverse Health Effects
  • The Problem of Marijuana Legalization and Criminalization
  • Analysis of Marijuana Legalization and Possible Effects
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A grape vine grows out of the label of a wine bottle.

In Defense of Wine

Sales are down, and health concerns are up. But wine’s history of providing beauty, joy and affirmation should not be forgotten.

Credit... Craig Frazier

Supported by

Eric Asimov

By Eric Asimov

  • June 25, 2024

Around the globe, much of the wine world is feeling besieged and stigmatized.

Sales are down , way down for some. New studies suggest that any consumption of alcohol is unhealthful. New diseases are preying on grapevines, older maladies seem more prevalent and climate change — which has caused subtle and violent changes to weather patterns and more frequent catastrophic events like spring frost, hail, drought and fire — poses a threat to the existence of small growers and producers.

I don’t want to speculate here on the systemic reasons that wine sales are down, or question the credibility of the World Health Organization, which published the 2023 study asserting that even moderate consumption of alcohol was unhealthy. Others have tried to do that .

Instead, I want to stand up for the beauty and joy of wine, which has been embraced by humans since the dawn of civilization. Wine has played a role in religions and been a beloved element of many societies. It is often integral to people’s cultural identities . For centuries, wine was a necessity for many people, safer to drink than water.

It’s not essential to survival any longer. People in countries like France and Italy drink far less wine than they once did because it’s now a choice, not a necessity. Wine endures because of the deep and subtle pleasures it offers.

Yes, wine is an alcoholic beverage. Good wine is far more. Wine drinkers enjoy the buzz, but if that were the only element sought, wine would be no more than an intoxicant.

Sadly, many in the wine industry fear that, as marijuana has become easier and less risky to obtain, wine will lose out to legalized cannabis as people trade one high for another.

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Opinion: Here’s why marijuana should not be reclassified as a lower-risk drug

Editor’s Note: Michael Brown is the global director of counter-narcotics technology at Rigaku Analytical Devices. His career as a special agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) spanned more than 32 years and saw him involved in the interdiction of multi-ton amounts of marijuana in the United States and overseas. Most recently he was the DEA Headquarters staff coordinator for the Office of Foreign Operations for the Middle East-Europe-Afghanistan-India. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. Read  more opinion  at CNN.

The Biden administration is moving toward reclassifying marijuana as a less dangerous drug, which will foreseeably embolden Mexican cartels and Chinese legal growing operations to generate millions in profit while creating greater strains on law enforcement and increasing health-related risks, from severe depression to impairing psychosis.

The Justice Department moved forward last month with the rulemaking process to reclassify marijuana from a Schedule I drug, which includes substances with high potential for abuse such as heroin, to a Schedule III drug, which is defined as having “moderate to low potential for physical and psychological dependence” and includes substances such as testosterone and Tylenol with codeine.

If it is approved, marijuana will still be regulated, but the rules would not be as strict as they are now. Currently, medical marijuana is legal in 38 US states, and recreational use is legal in 24 states. These state laws have led to the growth of a  $30 billion industry .

The federal reclassification of marijuana would most likely be popular among many people who support the open use of marijuana , especially young people .

However, popularity doesn’t mean the product is safe: The Department of Health and Human Services recommended the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reclassification, but there are inescapable  health risks associated with regular marijuana use including a higher risk of stroke and heart attacks; negative impacts on attention, memory and learning in young people; an increased risk of developing schizophrenia ; and harm to fetal brain development.

The number of daily marijuana users is now higher than the number of people who consume alcohol daily. While alcohol can also be abused (as regulations on sale and consumption reflect), there is increasing evidence from serious long-term effects of high-potency THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, the primary psychoactive ingredient in the cannabis plant) marijuana use such as cardiac and lung problems .

Health concerns, especially among the African American population, are reason enough to object to the reclassification of marijuana as a Schedule III drug. Unfortunately, many people are choosing the grandiosity effect of smoking weed over the established health risks.

A big business opportunity for cartels

Proponents of open domestic marijuana markets say that allowing the growth and sale of marijuana and associated products in the United States promises to raise more taxes and impair Mexican cartels that have been smuggling the drug into America for years. In fiscal year 2023, marijuana outpaced all other types of drugs seized by US Customs and Border Protection.

Instead of being hamstrung by a new marijuana rule, however, the cartels will adapt their business strategy to take advantage of the rule and use it to make more money, which they will in turn use to fund the spread of deadly narcotics such as fentanyl .

Based on my 32 years of experience dealing with narcotics domestically and internationally, it is clear to me that the cartels will simply continue to adapt and evolve around new federal regulations, ensuring that their profit margins continue to increase.

The cartels already have numerous illegal marijuana-growing operations on the West Coast of the US that are undercutting the legal cannabis market and have been doing so for a while . As cannabis becomes more in demand, the illicit market would also increase to meet what I believe will be a cannabis gold rush.

Based on historical actions of the cartels , it can be anticipated that they will establish front companies and invest in legal marijuana farming in states where it is legal to grow and sell marijuana, such as California and Maine, while simultaneously increasing their illegal production.

Marijuana sales are mostly cash-based , but rescheduling the drug will open the door to numerous legal and illegal cryptocurrency accounts and provide federal banking access to the new millions in profits being generated. This will enable the cartels to launder millions in untraceable cash, making it harder to regulate the industry. The cartels are already capitalizing on the crypto market to launder the proceeds of their fentanyl sales; they would most likely reinvest legal profits from marijuana sales back into their cocaine, heroin and fentanyl operations.

These profits will enable cartels to procure from countries such as China more precursor chemicals needed to make synthetic drugs , which will be exported to Mexican cartels’ clandestine laboratories to be turned into fentanyl or methamphetamine before being smuggled into America.

The production, smuggling and sale of dangerous and more profitable narcotics into America is an expensive but lucrative business. Costs incurred in this addiction supply chain include paying for and transporting the precursor chemicals, producing the narcotics, hiring smugglers to transport the contraband into America, potentially bribing officials on both sides of the border, distributing drugs inside the US and fueling inner-city violence as drug markets expand. They also must pay protection teams to look after their product and the cash profits.

Reclassifying marijuana means that instead of risking losing vast amounts of product or cash to law enforcement operations, cartels would have greater opportunities to openly transfer money in and out of the country as law enforcement operations will increasingly be redirected to other issues seen as more pressing.

Moreover, profits from marijuana sales will be used to support the supply chains for other cartel businesses, including human trafficking and sex trafficking . It will also give them safe operational bases within the country because their growing facilities will be viewed as legitimate businesses and thus attract less attention from officials. This also reduces some of their supply chain costs — it’s a winning strategy for the cartels.

International and local investments

The Mexican cartels would not be the only beneficiaries of cannabis trading under the proposed DEA reclassification.

Chinese companies — potentially backed by their government — are already heavily invested in cannabis production in America, controlling most of the illegal marijuana farms. A less-restricted market will allow them to expand rapidly throughout the country. Additionally, from what I’ve seen, the number of smaller cash-based businesses run by Chinese nationals in the US could potentially provide an additional money laundering route for any organization’s illegal production.

A license to produce marijuana can be very expensive , favoring organizations with the resources to start large cannabis facilities. If marijuana is reclassified and fees to legally operate remain high, more smaller growers will likely appear and operate illegally , especially indoor farms, which will add to the amount of illegal cannabis and related products available.

Chinese-owned cannabis farms in the US have been found to be staffed by undocumented Chinese immigrants. This is a form of human trafficking that results in indentured labor at slave wages , with the migrants too afraid to complain or seek help from authorities. And naturally, with human trafficking comes sex trafficking and drug abuse , further exacerbating problems for at-risk workers and law enforcement in the surrounding communities.

The impact on law enforcement

From a law enforcement perspective, while the number of people being arrested for personal possession of marijuana has been declining over the years , the pressure on law enforcement is likely to increase if marijuana is reclassified.

Cannabis plantations are likely to spread beyond the historic marijuana-growing region in California called the Emerald Triangle (Humboldt, Trinity and Mendocino counties). The spread of growing operations to new or underdeveloped areas will make it a national law enforcement issue to find unlawful growers and distributors who supply unregulated products.

Police departments will also face the risks to officers associated with addressing the increase in human trafficking and, of course, the dangers of challenging drug dealers, users and distributors. Marijuana may not be as dangerous to the user as fentanyl, but the cartels will remain brutal and violent in their quest for profit.

These enforcement concerns intersect with the documented health effects of marijuana use. Officers will likely be called on to respond to a growing number of domestic mental health calls due to cannabis-induced psychosis , particularly as consumers demand higher-potency products . (And given that 1 in 5 people fatally shot by police suffer from mental illness, these calls could possibly result in more fatal shootings , especially among communities of color.) Those predisposed to psychoses and schizophrenia may succumb to uncontrolled hallucinations and irrational behaviors as a result of using marijuana with a  high percentage of THC .

American citizens will also feel the impact of more marijuana flooding the market on the streets and highways of their hometowns. We already see about 37 fatalities per day due to drunk driving . Imagine how this number of needless deaths will increase when more people are impaired by marijuana and can’t concentrate or react in time, or if they hallucinate while behind the wheel.

Opening the market to the production and sale of marijuana in all its forms will result in an ever-expanding usage problem for society. Those who don’t smoke may try it because it is supposedly safe and readily available, those who partake irregularly may become regular users and this supposedly harmless, feel-good substance will spread like wildfire, especially in the poorest communities that can least afford the drug itself or afford the consequences.

Components of marijuana, such as CBD (cannabidiol) and THC, have medical uses, such as pain relief, preventing seizures and more — when professionally manufactured and used under medical supervision . It is not, however, safe for general, regular consumption , especially if there are relaxed regulations allowing for legal sale of stronger products .

We all aspire to live in a progressive society where peace and safety prevail. However, this can only be achieved by safeguarding the vulnerable and less educated from the destructive operations of cartels who prioritize profits over ethics. Despite the allure of tax revenues or how well a reclassification of marijuana may score in a poll, those making the rules must not allow unrestricted and unopposed cartel activities that aim to harm the fabric of our society.

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  1. Why Marijuana Should Be Legalized for the Medical Benefit/Purpose

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  2. Final Research Paper

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  3. Policy Brief: Why Marijuana use should be legalized in the US

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  4. Marijuana should be legalized?

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  5. Legalizing Marijuana Essay Outline

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  6. Policy Brief: Why Marijuana use should be legalized in the US

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  1. The MJ Files X Files Marijuana Truth Facts Video NOFX Sdtrk

COMMENTS

  1. Risks and Benefits of Legalized Cannabis

    Thirty-eight states and Washington, D.C., have legalized medical cannabis, while 23 states and D.C. have legalized recreational use. Cannabis legalization has benefits, such as removing the product from the illegal market so it can be taxed and regulated, but science is still trying to catch up as social norms evolve and different products ...

  2. The Impact of Recreational Cannabis Legalization on Cannabis Use and

    Introduction. Cannabis is one of the most widely used substances globally, with nearly 2.5% of the world population reporting past year cannabis use. 1 Cannabis use rates are particularly high in North America. In the U.S., 45% of individuals reported ever using cannabis and 18% reported using at least once annually in 2019. 2,3 In Canada, approximately 21% of people reported cannabis use in ...

  3. Five Reasons Why We Should Legalize Cannabis

    3. Legalization for Public Health. Cannabis has been shown to have many beneficial and therapeutic effects on both physical and mental health. However, people may be hesitant to seek medical marijuana treatment due to fear of legal repercussions if cannabis is illegal. Legalization can allow more people to enjoy better health outcomes.

  4. Legalization, Decriminalization & Medicinal Use of Cannabis: A

    Introduction. In recent years, there has been a strong pressure on state legislatures across the US to legalize or decriminalize use and possession of specified amounts of cannabis and/or to pass laws that allow smoking of crude cannabis plant (also known as marijuana, weed, Mary Jane, pot, reefers, ganja, joint and grass) for prescribed medical purposes (so called "medical marijuana").

  5. Medical Marijuana and Marijuana Legalization

    Abstract. State-level marijuana liberalization policies have been evolving for the past five decades, and yet the overall scientific evidence of the impact of these policies is widely believed to be inconclusive. In this review we summarize some of the key limitations of the studies evaluating the effects of decriminalization and medical ...

  6. PDF The Public Health Effects of Legalizing Marijuana National ...

    Thirty-six states have legalized medical marijuana and 14 states have legalized the use of marijuana for recreational purposes. In this paper, we review the literature on the public health consequences of legalizing marijuana, focusing on studies that have appeared in economics journals as well as leading public policy, public health, and ...

  7. Essays on Cannabis Legalization

    Essays on Cannabis Legalization. Thomas, Danna Kang. Though the drug remains illegal at the federal level, in recent years states and localities have increasingly liberalized their marijuana laws in order to generate tax revenue and save resources on marijuana law enforcement. Many states have adopted some form of medical marijuana and/or ...

  8. Legalizing Marijuana for Medical, Recreational Use Largely Favored in

    As more states pass laws legalizing marijuana for recreational use, Americans continue to favor legalization of both medical and recreational use of the drug.. An overwhelming share of U.S. adults (88%) say marijuana should be legal for medical or recreational use.. Nearly six-in-ten Americans (57%) say that marijuana should be legal for medical and recreational purposes, while roughly a third ...

  9. Americans overwhelmingly say marijuana should be legal for medical or

    Nearly two-thirds of conservative and moderate Democrats (63%) say marijuana should be legal for medical and recreational use. An overwhelming majority of liberal Democrats (84%) say the same. There also are racial and ethnic differences in views of legalizing marijuana. Roughly two-thirds of Black adults (68%) and six-in-ten White adults say ...

  10. PDF Should marijuana be legalized in the United States?

    In 2012 Colorado and Washington legalized the use of recreational marijuana for adults over 21. The states will attempt to regulate the use of marijuana similar to how they regulate alcohol. Washington will place a 25 percent tax on marijuana purchases. In Colorado individuals over 21 can grow up to six plants for personal use and purchase one ...

  11. Debating the legalisation of recreational cannabis

    Cannabis is the most widely used illicit drug globally, particularly in North America and high-income countries in Europe and Oceania. Although the use of medicinal cannabis is legal in many countries, for example to treat chronic pain, poor appetite, or nausea due to chemotherapy, legalisation of non-medicinal or recreational cannabis is a topic of growing public discussion and debate globally.

  12. Why Marijuana Should be Legalized, an argumentative essay

    Why Marijuana Should be Legalized, an argumentative essay. June 2011 ... This article is a continuation of two essays by the same author on Soviet and Russian economic debates between 1987 and ...

  13. Scholarly Articles on Marijuana: History, Legislation & Activism

    Legal sales of marijuana were expected to exceed $33 billion in 2022, an increase of 32 percent over the $25 billion in sales in 2021. Fortune magazine reported that in 2022, the cannabis industry employed approximately 520,000 people, a figure expected to rise to over eight hundred thousand by 2026.

  14. The Reasons Why Marijuana Should be Made Legal Research Paper

    Marijuana has been illegalized because it is considered to be risk factors in people's health and is believed to temper with the brain. It is also associated with criminal acts such as gang behavior and is discouraged. The purpose of this research paper is to address the reasons why marijuana should be made legal.

  15. One-year high: The impacts of Maryland's legalization of marijuana

    Marijuana has shown positive impacts on mental health, with some studies indicating a decrease in prescription medications for mental health conditions. Additionally, while the effect of recreational marijuana on road safety remains under examination, some evidence points to improved road safety following the legalization of medical marijuana.

  16. Analysis of Arguments: Should Marijuana Be Legalized?

    Pro Arguments (Support for your position): The majority of Americans agree on the necessity to legalize marijuana. Its medical and recreational use is a sufficient basis for this change. Con Arguments (Opposing Views): The resistance of older populations to this idea is highly possible. This initiative is accompanied by concerns regarding the ...

  17. Marijuana Should be Legal

    Why Marijuanas Should Be Legal: Essay Conclusion. Marijuana consumption is pervasive in the US, and this drug has become the favorite recreational drug despite measures by the government to curb its supply and discourage its usage. This has resulted in the issue of whether to legitimize marijuana or not being heavily debated in the country.

  18. Why Marijuana Should Be Legalized and Its Benefits

    This essay will argue that marijuana should be legalized for several reasons, including its potential medical benefits, the reduction of criminal activity, and the economic advantages it offers. In the realm of medical marijuana, there is a wealth of evidence supporting its potential therapeutic properties.

  19. PDF The Effects of the Legalization of Recreational Marijuana

    As of 2018 there have been eight states in the United States legalize the recreational use. of Marijuana: Colorado, Washington, Nevada, California, Oregon, Alaska, Maine and. Massachusetts. This research paper is going to discuss the history of marijuana and why it was. originally made illegal throughout the United States.

  20. More Reasons States Should Not Legalize Marijuana:

    Data that has tracked risk perception and use of marijuana among adolescents over decades clearly shows an inverse relationship; as adolescent risk perception wanes, marijuana use increases. 61 As more states legalize medical and recreational marijuana, risk perception is expected to decrease, causing the prevalence of use among adolescent to ...

  21. Argumentative Essay On Marijuana Legalization

    Why Marijuana Should be Legalized Argumentative Essay Introduction. The argument that marijuana use should be made legal has gained momentum both in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world in recent years. This has seen the drug being legalized in some states in the U.S. such that by 2013, twenty states had legalized medical marijuana.

  22. The Impact of Recreational Cannabis Legalization on Cannabis Use and

    Cannabis is one of the most widely used substances globally, with nearly 2.5% of the world population reporting past year cannabis use. 1 Cannabis use rates are particularly high in North America. In the U.S., 45% of individuals reported ever using cannabis and 18% reported using at least once annually in 2019. 2,3 In Canada, approximately 21% of people reported cannabis use in the past year ...

  23. Opinion: Why legal weed is one of the most successful

    A member of the San Bernardino County sheriff's Marijuana Enforcement Team destroys cannabis plants while raiding an illegal operation in 2022 in Phelan, Calif. Access to the legal weed market ...

  24. Policy Brief: Why Marijuana Use Should Be Legalized in the ...

    However, growing, using or possessing the drug still remains unlawful under US Statutes and users can be punished under the law as part of the US $13.2 billion a year war on drugs (Lauber para. 3). Diverse views have been advanced on whether marijuana use should be legalized in the US. Proponents of legalization argue that the controversy ...

  25. Steve Alm: Marijuana Legalization Carries Risks For Hawaii

    A study published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine (July-August 2020), titled "Differences in Opinions About Marijuana Use and Prevalence of Use by State Legalization Status," found that ...

  26. Opinion: Here's why marijuana should not be reclassified as a ...

    Marijuana sales are mostly cash-based, but rescheduling the drug will open the door to numerous legal and illegal cryptocurrency accounts and provide federal banking access to the new millions in ...

  27. 103 Marijuana Legalization Essay Topic Ideas & Examples

    Marijuana Must Not Be Legalized. According to the national institute of drug abuse, the active chemical in marijuana, tetrahydrocannabinol, act on the region of the brain responsible for time awareness, sensory, attention, thoughts, memory and pleasure. Policy Brief: Why Marijuana Use Should Be Legalized in the Us.

  28. Why You Should Drink Wine?

    Sadly, many in the wine industry fear that, as marijuana has become easier and less risky to obtain, wine will lose out to legalized cannabis as people trade one high for another.

  29. Opinion: Here's why marijuana should not be reclassified as a ...

    Marijuana sales are mostly cash-based, but rescheduling the drug will open the door to numerous legal and illegal cryptocurrency accounts and provide federal banking access to the new millions in ...