Five things to expect after cannabis is legalized

A brief look at existing states and countries post legalization or decriminalization

In another recent Lift article we’ve chronicled some of the key events that led up to the announcement of Canada’s legalization bill. Here we take a look at some of the key events likely to be seen in the months and years following the implementation of that bill, if and when it makes it through the ratification process.

These projections are based on what has been demonstrated by U.S. states that have legalized cannabis, like Colorado, Washington, and California, as well as states and countries that have decriminalized cannabis, like Portugal. Some of these results were exactly what everyone expected, but some surprised both critics and advocates alike.

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1) A drop in crime rates

Having suffered a century of propagandists associating cannabis with gangs and criminal activity, one of the biggest concerns among policy makers in locales where legalization has been discussed has been the potential for an increase in cannabis access leading to an increase in crime rates. But statistics from states and countries that have implemented increases in cannabis access not only fail to demonstrate a rise in crime rates—in many cases they indicate the opposite.

The state of Washington saw a 10 per cent drop in violent crimes within the first three years after cannabis was legalized. In Colorado, Denver saw a 6.9 per cent drop in violent crime in its first year of legalization, accompanied by an 11.1 per cent drop in property crime.

While California hasn’t seen any changes in overall crime rates associated with cannabis legalization, there has been a notable decrease in drug arrests among young offenders. A state law signed into effect by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2010 bolstered California's existing decriminalization regime by reclassifying simple cannabis possession from a misdemeanor to a civic infraction. The result, surpassing even some of the most lofty expectations, was that decriminalization was identified as the largest contributor to an over 47 per cent reduction in youth drug offense arrests in the following year.

2) Social program stimulus

A lower crime rate means reduced judicial and law enforcement burdens on regional and federal budgets. Enforcement is expensive. Prosecution is expensive. Incarceration is expensive. When cannabis offenses are removed from the equation, money the taxpayers would have been putting towards enforcing prohibition can be reallocated to social programs across the board.

Between the year 2000 and 2010, the state of Washington spent over $200 million on the enforcement of cannabis laws. After implementing the legalization initiative bill I-502, Washington saw a decrease of 81 per cent in the number of cannabis-related convictions, and an astounding decrease of 98 per cent in court filings for low-level cannabis offenses.

In addition to the money saved by the judicial branch, law enforcement, and corrections, taxing cannabis sales provides even more funding for social programs. In Colorado, tax revenues from recreational dispensaries and other cannabis sales have provided grants for local schools, and have funded efforts to reduce homelessness.

3) Research boom

The cannabis available for research in the US is so dismal it recently made headlines for being wholly unsuitable for medical research.

Scientists in the U.S. who want to study cannabis have only one legally approved source from which to acquire research samples: the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). But NIDA’s mandate for limiting their study to the harmful effects of cannabis has been criticized as running contrary to the facilitation of open research on the medical benefits of cannabis, let alone its recreational value. Researchers lament that the general lack of product quality—with even vague resemblance to real-world cannabis—has limited their ability to study it properly.

In virtually every locale, from states in the U.S. to countries in Europe and South America, decriminalization and legalization have rapidly been followed by a proliferation of new studies and research initiatives.

4) Drop in opioid addiction rates

A 2014 study showed that U.S. states with medical cannabis laws had a 24.8 per cent lower mean annual opioid overdose mortality rate than states where cannabis remained prohibited. More recently, doctors in Massachusetts have been specifically treating opioid addiction through the use of cannabis.

5) Stock market growth

Introducing an entirely new cannabis industry sector always brings with it an influx of new companies to produce and distribute cannabis, but cannabis business doesn’t end with growers and retailers. Adjacent to the cannabis industry itself, a plethora of related industries can usually be found already active on public stock exchanges, ranging from manufacturing and design to real estate and business consulting. As new multi-million and multi-billion dollar industry sectors become available to the general public, these adjacent industries often see a swell of attention from investors.

As an example, following legalization in Colorado and Washington, Scotts Miracle Gro—a long-standing U.S. gardening supply company—started acquiring cannabis oriented garden supply companies that sold fertilizers, hydroponics, etc. They invested over a hundred million dollars to get into the cannabis industry, and with every new legalized or decriminalized state, we see related upticks on SMG’s stock price charts.

What not to expect

This article has covered a number of things likely to be seen in the wake of legalization in Canada, but critics are still apprehensive. Real-world cases of legalization and decriminalization show some of their most frequently cited concerns are unlikely.

The loudest concern voiced to date has been the potential for increased use among teens and young adults. However in Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska, usage rates in those age groups stayed the same or decreased slightly.

Another common concern is the potential for increased traffic fatalities. Contrary to that preconception, both Colorado and Washington have consistently shown rates lower than the national average since implementing legalization.

Whether Canada will demonstrate similar results to the examples shown above remains to be seen.

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1 comment

  1. Max Catski Reply

    Obviously, smoking pot leads to less criminal behavior than drinking alcohol. Is anyone actually surprised?