Report: Adult-use cannabis legalization in the U.S. is not associated with adverse social effects

Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

A report published by the Cato Institute on February 2 has not found any link between recreational cannabis legalization in the United States and adverse social effects. 

Titled, “The Effect of State Marijuana Legalization: 2021 Update,” the new report expands on previous research regarding the effects of cannabis legalization in states that had enacted reforms before mid-2018.

Analysts reported that the variation of positive and negative effects were in most instances exaggerated by lobbyists on both sides of the issue.

“At the time, our data showed that state‐​level legalization of [cannabis] had generally minor effects,” the authors of the report wrote. “One notable exception was the increase in state tax revenue from legalized [cannabis] sales; states with legal [cannabis] markets have collected millions of dollars in state tax revenues.”

The latest update features data from states that contributed to the original report, in addition to Information from states that have legalized recreational cannabis since the initial report was released.

“New data reinforce our earlier conclusions,” reads an excerpt from the authors’ latest update. 

  • Drug Use

One of the main things that the researchers wanted to find out was what effect, if any, recreational cannabis legalization has had on cannabis (and other drugs) consumption rates. Although states that had legalized cannabis appeared to have more cannabis consumers, analysts say that the trend existed before cannabis reform was enacted in those states.

“Legalizing states display higher and increasing rates of use prevalence, but these patterns existed prior to legalization,” the report states. Interestingly, consumption rates for other type(s) of drugs, such as cocaine, were not overly influenced by recreational cannabis legalization in the U.S.

“These data suggest no clear relationship between [cannabis] legalization and cocaine use. Although Oregon saw an upward trend in cocaine use after legalization, Massachusetts saw a downward trend,” wrote the analysts. “In other states, including Washington and Maine, cocaine use rates are consistent with nationwide trends.”

  • Road Safety

Another aspect of this investigation focused on the impact(s) that cannabis legalization has had on road safety. The team hypothesized that nationwide legalization will likely trigger an increase in the number of drivers who are impaired by the plant, which, consequently, will negatively impact road safety.

Nonetheless, cannabis reform lobbyists argue that legalization could help to reduce the number of alcohol-impaired drivers on the roads, thus minimizing the overall safety risk. The report authors concluded by saying that the “relevant measure for public safety is the net effect” and cited research that found “no effect on traffic fatalities among legalizing states.”

  • Crime And Violence

Crime rates are likely to increase if cannabis is legalized for recreational purposes. This is according to the authors of this study, who noted that “proponents of [cannabis] legalization argue that legalization reduces crime by diverting [cannabis] production and sale from underground markets to legal venues.”

“At the same time, legalization may lower the burden on law enforcement to patrol for drug‐​related offenses, freeing up financial and personnel resources for law enforcement to address more severe crimes,” they added.

Although cannabis reform opponents are cautious about the repercussions of cannabis legalization particularly so in underground markets data featured in the report suggests that “overall, violent crime has neither soared nor plummeted in the wake of [cannabis] legalization.”

Factors relating to cannabis’ impact on mental health and suicide also appeared to be mixed. In their notes, the team concluded that while cannabis is sure to rake in plenty of tax revenue, governments are also likely to see a significant dent in their budget due to cost(s) associated with this ever-evolving market.

You can read more about the team’s findings by clicking here.