Guest columnist Robert Mabee has a right to his own opinions, he does not have a right to his own facts.
Regulated statewide marijuana markets have provided an economic boost to numerous cities and states–leading to increased tax revenues, tourism, and home values. A 2017 state-by-state analysis by content provider Leafly.com identified 149,304 full-time jobs in the legal cannabis sector.
In Colorado, cannabis-specific taxes and fees have yielded $506,143,635 in state revenue since January 1, 2014—a total that is well above initial projections, and exceeds social costs. Marijuana sales in Washington State continue to grow at a steady rate, with total 2017 sales topping $1.1 billion at the end of September.
Marijuana poses a relatively low risk of dependence compared to other controlled substances; it is not a gateway to hard drug use and it has been consistently shown to be a safer substitute to deadly opioids.
According to a comprehensive review published by the National Academy of Sciences, an estimated 9% of those exposed to cannabis ever exhibit symptoms of dependence. This percentage is nearly identical to the dependence liability associated with caffeine, and is far lower than the abuse potential associated with alcohol, tobacco, and opioids.
With regard to Mabee’s “gateway” claim: Some 60% of American adults acknowledge having tried cannabis, but the overwhelming majority of these individuals never go on to try another illicit substance. Further, nothing in marijuana’s chemical composition alters the brain in a manner that makes users more susceptible to experimenting with other drugs. Both the Institute of Medicine and the Rand Corporation’s Drug Policy Research Center conclude that "Marijuana has no causal influence over hard drug initiation."
Numerous peer-reviewed studies conclude that legal cannabis access is associated with lower rates of opioid abuse, as well as reduced incidences of opiate-related hospitalizations, accidents, and mortality. According to a recent RAND study, “States permitting medical marijuana dispensaries experience a relative decrease in both opioid addictions and opioid overdose deaths compared to states that do not.”
One-in-five Americans resides in a jurisdiction where the adult use of cannabis is legal under state statute, and the majority of citizens reside where the medical use of cannabis is legally authorized. Were the effects of these policies not preferable to those associated with criminal prohibition, or as dire as Mabee alleges, public and political support for marijuana policy reform would be rapidly declining. Yet, according to the latest nationwide Gallup poll, 64% of Americans now say that adult marijuana use ought to be legal—the highest level of support ever reported.
Instead of reflexively opposing proposed efforts to amend cannabis criminalization, pharmacists, health professionals, and others should welcome the opportunity to bring necessary and long overdue controls to the marijuana market. A pragmatic regulatory framework that allows for the legal, licensed commercial production and retail sale of marijuana to adults—but restricts and discourages its use among young people—best reduces the risks associated with the plant's use or abuse. By contrast, advocating for marijuana’s continued criminalization only compounds them.