The legalization of recreational marijuana use has been praised by many in the media and the general population. Under President Barak Obama, even the federal government, whose laws prohibit such use, turned a benign eye toward states that legalized recreational pot and the even larger number of states that legalized medical marijuana. And while that policy has been publicly criticized by President Donald Trump’s administration, particularly by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the feds have yet to go after the growing number of states that have legalized marijuana use.
And for those states, big money is at stake. Consider Colorado, which in 2016 earned nearly $200 million in tax revenues from retail marijuana sales, much of which is earmarked for important social programs and education enhancement. However, the legalization of marijuana remains a controversial subject in the United State as a whole, and the following article explores some of the arguments against lifting the prohibition on pot.
Dollars and sense
Finances are a primary concern to key US decision-makers, and the cost of a legislative decision is often the centerpiece of the debate. When it comes to the legalization of cannabis—a substance currently outlawed under the federal Controlled Substances Act—many have advanced the argument that the effects of marijuana on users’ productivity and overall health will ultimately have a negative impact on the economy overall. More specifically, the so-called social costs associated with readily-available pot include the following:
- Decreased cost of marijuana, resulting in increased use/demand
- Increased need for mental health services
- Physical ailments caused by regular use of marijuana
- Absenteeism in the workforce
- Birth defects, low birth weight, and/or pre-term delivery
- Increased accidents and injuries
Anti-marijuana crusaders base their theories about the negative impact of legalized marijuana on the problems associated with alcohol and tobacco use. Actuarial data indicates that for every $1.00 in tax revenue received from alcohol and tobacco, the government must shell out approximately $10.00 to treat the medical issues caused by these two substances. Of course, it’s too soon to tell whether the legalization of marijuana will lead to a similar negative economic result, but prohibitionists are undoubtedly preparing to conduct these in-depth studies once more information becomes available.
Marijuana has been historically linked with positive health effects, including the alleviation of chronic pain associated with cancer and other medical ailments. However, several health studies suggest that the drug may be unsafe, and there is no shortage of medical professionals who take the position that marijuana can cause severe, irreversible health issues.
In April 2016, the Journal of Biological Psychiatry published an article describing the role of cannabis use in the development of neuroanatomic alteration—in other words, changes in brain chemistry. While the article points out that humans have been consuming cannabis for thousands of years, the composition of the drug has changed dramatically in recent years as cultivators develop new strains of the plant. Most notably, producers of recreational cannabis have significantly enhanced the prevalence of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) while minimizing the therapeutic agents in other cannabis compounds—such as cannabidiol (CBD)—thereby emphasizing the psychoactive constituents to the detriment of users’ mental health and cognition.
In April 2017, the American College of Pediatricians issued a statement about marijuana use by adolescents and teenagers, revealing grim news concerning the correlation between pediatric marijuana use and delayed cognitive development, cardio-pulmonary issues, and testicular cancer.
A number of neurologists and psychiatrists have penned articles with a similar theme: regular use of today’s cannabis is harmful to the brain and can cause irreversible mental health problems, as well as addiction and dependence.
Impact on communities
Opponents of statewide marijuana legalization often point to the impact such a decision can have on communities—and, most notably, on young children and adolescents. For teenagers just learning to drive, the mixture of cannabis and cars is undoubtedly a risky one, considering that fatal car accidents involving adult marijuana users are not uncommon. A study found that fatal car crashes involving marijuana increased in Colorado after recreational pot was legalized, and it seems inevitable that tragic automobile accidents involving marijuana consumption will rise as more states legalize recreational use. In addition to the risk for automobile accidents, poorly wired or overloaded circuits in marijuana growing facilities have been blamed for accidental fires, some of which caused the loss of life and widespread property damage.
In sum, the topic of legalization remains contentious, despite seemingly positive results from states like Washington and Colorado. Whether other states will continue the upward trend toward legalization remains to be seen, and the prohibition against recreational marijuana sale and use remains firmly in place in the vast majority of US states—with many lawmakers resting their opposition firmly on the issues described above.