Cannabis legalization has been a topic of debate in this country since Oregon, California, and Washington began leading the charge for legalization decades ago. People on both sides of the debate have their reasons for pushing their particular positions. Interestingly, many of the arguments they put forth are highly questionable.
It seems like the more controversial a topic is, the more extreme the arguments offered on either side. That certainly is the case with cannabis legalization. Proponents have claimed that legalization does everything from reducing crime to improving public health. Likewise, opponents claim that legalization will harm public health, reduce educational achievement, and increase crime.
Who is right and who is wrong? Based solely on data gathered from states with legal cannabis programs, neither side of the debate can claim victory. Only one claim made by cannabis proponents can be verified with data: legalization increases state tax revenues.
The Cato Institute did an exhaustive analysis of marijuana legalization data a couple of years ago. They looked at data from legal states beginning with when legalization occurred in those states up through 2018. The report was released in 2020 and updated again in 2021 to account for more states legalizing medical and recreational cannabis.
The Institute’s detailed analysis of the data demonstrated that nearly all the claims made by both proponents and opponents could not be verified. There just isn’t enough data to conclusively say that marijuana legalization increases or decreases crime rates. There is not enough data to conclusively say whether it harms or helps public health.
The only claim Cato Institute researchers could verify is that legalization increases tax revenues. That much is abundantly clear just by looking at state tax revenue data. To date, cannabis legalization has churned out billions of dollars in tax revenues.
All of this points to a simple reality: the data is neutral. So why do people on both sides of the debate continue to cite small-scale studies that do not prove anything? Why do they seem to glom on to any little tidbit that supports their particular position? Because that’s how contentious debates are argued.
It is interesting to note that cannabis has a very long history we can easily look into. It has been cultivated for thousands of years for both industrial and personal use. Cannabis has been used to make things like clothing and rope. It has been used as a medicine and a spiritual enhancement. It was even legal in this country up until the early 20th century.
Cannabis was not viewed negatively until a small number of lawmakers got it in their heads that using the plant for its intoxicating benefits was dangerous. At about that same time, America was also dealing with the fallout of the temperance movement and Prohibition.
Despite cannabis being illegal in the U.S. since the 1970s, things are slowly changing. In Utah, a solid red state that few thought would actually legalize cannabis, patients with valid medical cannabis cards can freely purchase cannabis products at the Beehive Farmacy near Logan, UT.
Meanwhile, their medical cannabis counterparts in Arizona live and work side-by-side with recreational users who buy legal marijuana at state-sanctioned dispensaries. And out in Oklahoma, there are so many dispensaries that the market is considered flooded at this point.
It looks like the cannabis debate will continue for the foreseeable future. Unless you are neutral, the position you take is probably supported by ideas that are not rooted in a proven fact. Your arguments may even be questionable.