The predicted effects of legalizing marijuana are slowly, but surely, starting to reveal themselves. A recent study published by the Cato Institute set out to prove or disprove certain claims made by proponents on both sides of the debate over marijuana legalization.
“Dose of Reality: The Effects of State Marijuana” analyzed marijuana, alcohol and other drug usage, taxes and the economy, marijuana prices, crime, traffic accidents, public health and the affect on teens in Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska using marijuana pre- and post-legalization data.
Taxes & Economy
Perhaps the most noticeable effect of marijuana legalization is tax revenue. The study states that areas in the U.S. that have legalized marijuana for either recreational or medical use “reaped unexpectedly large benefits in state tax revenue.”
In 2015, Colorado generated a total of $135 million solely from recreational marijuana and almost 26% of that revenue funds school construction projects and improvements to the educational system. Current tax revenue from marijuana in Colorado sits over $10 million per month.
Similarly, Washington state brought in $70 million dollars in taxes during their first year of legalization. Although Oregon only legalized in January 2016, it is estimated so far they’ve accrued 14.9 million in tax revenue.
Where does this tax revenue come from? In Colorado, Washington and Oregon, collected taxes on recreation and medical marijuana stem from excise tax, state sales tax and a variety of local taxes and licensing fees.
The marijuana industry appears to be positively affecting employment rates. In 2014, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rates in Colorado fell dramatically. The study notes that this trend coincides with the opening of retail marijuana stores in the state.
Real estate trends in Denver are rising, and many speculate the draw of legalized marijuana is the cause.One analyst went so far as to say that marijuana has essentially ‘kicked-started the recovery of the industrial market in Denver’ and led to record-high rent levels,” states the study.
Marijuana, Alcohol and Other Drug Use
When comparing other predicted effects of legalization, the study found an “absence of significant adverse consequences.” Long-standing claims towards marijuana as a “gateway drug” and its legalization as a perpetuator of alcohol and other drug usage currently stand unfounded.
Neither Colorado nor Washington saw a lift in alcohol or cocaine use post-policy change. While those rates remained untouched, the admission rates to public health treatment centers for marijuana abuse fell after legalization in Colorado and King County, which encompasses Seattle.
“These patterns suggest that extreme growth in marijuana abuse has not materialized, as some critics had warned before legalization,” speculates the study.
Teens, Crime, Traffic and Public Health
Concern for teen usage and academic performance was factored into the study. Both Colorado and Alaska haven’t seen a rise on youth marijuana use. Because a rise in usage was not noted, the study affirms that their “results do not suggest a major change in use, thereby implying no major changes in testing performance.”
Unfortunately, data on crime, traffic accidents and public health are inconclusive. However, the study acknowledges the multitude of factors affecting these data sets and the difficulty of solely singling out data related directly to marijuana.
“All the observed patterns in marijuana use might provide evidence for a cultural explanation behind legalization: as marijuana becomes more commonplace and less stigmatized, residents and legislators become less opposed to legalization. In essence, rising marijuana use may not be a consequence of legalization, but a cause of it,” concludes the study.
“Dose of Reality: The Effect of State Marijuana Legalization” was written by Angela Dills, Sietse Goffard and Jeffrey Miron and was published on September 16, 2016 in Policy Analysis No. 799. You can view the report in it’s entirety here.