Marijuana legalization is no longer just a pipe dream; in several states, it’s become a reality. With several states all having passed voter-backed legalization initiatives, residents in three of those states are now free to engage in the purchase and consumption of marijuana and related products from licensed stores and retail locations. It’s a situation that would have been unimaginable just a decade or so ago.
But those political battles weren’t easy to win. There was plenty of pushback from those wishing to keep marijuana illegal, with concerted efforts coming from groups of all kinds. There were strategic messages put into play, warning voters of the potential harm legal pot could do to their communities.
Little, if any of what the doomsayers had to say, however, has come to fruition.
Marijuana legalization: So far, so good
If we take a look at what’s happened in Washington and Colorado, and to a lesser extent Oregon (where legalization is a couple of years younger), we see that not much has really changed. These states have not sunken into the sea, or become festering centers of crime and corruption. In fact, they’re doing just fine — and rolling in dough. As it turns out, many of the warnings and concerns pushed by the anti-legalization crowd turned out to be completely wrong.
With many other states looking at ending marijuana prohibition in the near future, it’s important to take a look at which predictions were off the mark. Here are five that, so far, haven’t proven to be true.
1. Crime will increase
Worries that marijuana legalization would lead to higher crime rates have proven to be fruitless. Of course, when you take a crime and suddenly make it a legal action, you’re naturally going to see lower crime rates. But so far, in areas that have legalized marijuana, crime rates have softened up; and we don’t mean those connected to cannabis. The research is still ongoing, but preliminary reports indicate that legalization has freed up law enforcement to focus on more serious crimes. In Colorado, scientists are looking at the correlation (which doesn’t mean causation, remember) between legalization and lower rates of homicide and assault.
2. Teen use rates will skyrocket
There were some serious fears that legalization would more or less give teenagers the green light to engage in marijuana use. Interestingly enough, there has been an opposite trend — teens in legal states have actually been using pot at lower rates. This could always change, however. It’s likely the case that teens who wanted to use marijuana already were, and that legalization did little to change their behaviors. But we’ll have to keep an eye out for changes.
3. Public health will suffer
Another concern among the pro-prohibition crowd was that widespread legalization would lead to significant public health problems. That’s not been the case, at least not that anyone can measure. If anything, more marijuana has led to better outcomes, as cannabis tends to be a much safer alternative to alcohol, tobacco, and hard drugs. Again, this is another area that will require some additional monitoring and research. But at this point, there hasn’t been much evidence to back up public health concerns.
4. The roads will be more dangerous
People driving under the influence was, and still is, a major concern for those opposing legalization. While there likely are plenty of people who drive high (both in legal states, and those where pot is still illegal), no one should get behind the wheel if they’re under the influence. Police are still trying to develop next-level technology to deal with the problem, but if we look at the numbers, it doesn’t appear that the roads are any more dangerous than they were before prohibition was lifted in legal states.
5. Enforcement costs will spike
There were worries that regulating and keeping tabs on budding marijuana industries would actually end up costing taxpayers more than it did to keep the drug illegal. New systems and rules would need to be devised and implemented, and police would need to be retrained for dealing with the new rules. All of that takes money.
But not more than prohibition cost — which has been estimated at up to $20 billion annually. There was even a case that reached the Supreme Court (and was promptly thrown out) that involved two states suing Colorado for increased enforcement costs along the border. But the truth is, law enforcement costs fall when a black market is no longer around to enforce, and this ends up saving the public gobs of money.