Ever since Colorado and Washington first legalized recreational cannabis, being the first two states in the United States to do so, the effects on society have been the subject of much study. Now, with many more states have followed suite, and with the rest to join the fray soon, sufficient data exists to show the social impact of legalization as being much the same from place to place, and mostly positively.
It is now clear that legalizing weed has various benefits on society. Statistics from almost all categories, such as social justice, crime, law enforcement, education, safety, public health, and youth programs, seem to flourish. Much of the taxes collected by pot-friendly states goes toward social investments, which include restoring the environment, preventing abuse, improving health care, and much more.
Based on data gathered by years-long research, these are the social impacts of legalizing marijuana:
Social Justice and Crime
Data from both law enforcement and researchers show crime levels going down in states that legalize cannabis, most notably certain types of crimes, and especially marijuana-related offenses, such as weed delivery, cultivation, and possession, which drop dramatically after freeing the herb. According to the Drug Policy Alliance, crime rates dropped in different ways after each state legalized:
- Alaska: Between 2013 and 2015, the state legalized marijuana in 2014, there was a 93 percent drop in arrests for sales, manufacturing, and possession.
- Colorado: After legalizing cannabis in 2012, pot-related court filings fell by 81 percent by 2015.
- Oregon: From 2013 to 2016, arrests for weed-related crimes dropped by 96 percent. Oregon legalized back in 2014.
- Washington D.C.: Marijuana became legal in 2014, and between 2013 and 2016, arrests for possession declined nearly 99 percent, with arrests for other marijuana-related offenses falling 76 percent in the same period.
- Washington State: Between 2011 and 2015, the legalized weed in 2014, low-level court filings for cannabis-related offenses fell 98 percent.
Furthermore, according to Science Direct, a report compiled in 2017 found that cannabis dispensaries generate over $30,000 extra annually in social benefits for local communities, and this solely because of a notable decline in larcenies. These are all incredibly promising statistics, with other studies also showing lowering levels of other crimes in states where weed is legal, such as domestic violence.
The money saved on arresting fewer people also has a significant social impact. Not only are officers able to utilize their time more efficiently to tackle real crimes, but more people are at home with their families instead of languishing in prisons at taxpayer expense. Such savings accrue into the hundreds of millions of dollars, which law enforcement is now reallocating to other social investments.
However, there is a downside. Ever changing cannabis laws make enforcement difficult for officers and confusion reigns supreme. According to the Pueblo’s Institute of Cannabis Research at Colorado State University, the complexity of these changing laws confuses citizens and police alike. Fortunately, they now have more funds to implement education programs that could address these issues.
Legalizing marijuana has a few public safety concerns. The report by the Drug Policy Alliance showed that legalization did not affect road safety negatively in any states. The study instead discovered that arrests for driving under the influence, or DUI, declined significantly after both Colorado and Washington State took the plunge and legalized.
Additionally, the researchers saw no correlation between wreck rates and legalizing cannabis either. According to the Journal of American Public Health Association, this only supports early findings, which found no increase in road fatality statistics the first three years of legalization in either Colorado or Washington. Few people drive stoned, and those that do tend to be overly cautious, not reckless.
Youth and Education
In states with liberal marijuana laws, the Drug Policy Alliance report showed use among the youth remaining stable after legalization, and with similar patterns to those in states that have yet to legalize. However, there are some studies that show incredibly promising results, with findings of declining usage rates in legalized states among those still younger than 21-years of age.
According to a study conducted in 2017 by the U.S. National Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration, teen marijuana use slowed in most places where adult use was now legal and under regulation. This includes in California, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, D.C., and in Washington State, where these rates are at their lowest in a decade.
Many studies show cannabis legalization reducing rates of opioid-related addiction, harm, overdoses, and fatalities, a crucial necessity in combating existing crisis levels. The same report by the Drug Policy Alliance shows the availability of medical marijuana not solely responsible for improving this aspect of public health, but also the legalization of cannabis recreationally.
In states with legal medical weed laws, fatalities by opioid overdose are nearly 25 percent lower. Additionally, there is a 23 percent decrease in dependence- or abuse-related opioid hospitalizations, and another 15 percent decline in admissions for opioid treatment. This is remarkable, capable of making a sizeable and lasting impact on entire families.
The Drug Policy Alliance’s report further references another study in Colorado, which found opioid fatalities decreasing at a steady rate of .70 every month after it legalized adult use in 2014. For many years before that, even decades, death by opioid overdose rates had been rising incrementally each year in Colorado, but after legalizing weed recreationally, this trend began reversing.
Study shows many positive social effects associated with legalizing cannabis, with more to come as legalization spreads across states. More research is crucial and currently underway, with more tracking and analysis of social impact metrics. However, available data debunks age-old myths once touting social danger if legalization should ever happen. We now know the opposite is true.
The benefits are obvious for all to see. Just ordering marijuana delivery in Los Angeles, for example, increases employment and community reach. It keeps stoned drivers off the road, thereby ensuring public safety. Weed delivery slashes the overall cost of legalized marijuana and eliminates any chance of accidental arrest by rightfully confused officers of the ever-changing law.