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What Will Happen When States Legalize Recreational Marijuana?


legalizing recreational marijuanaI came across an amazing research project that was conducted by D. Mark Anderson from Montana State University, and Daniel I. Rees from the University of Colorado. I’m not sure when the project was conducted, as there is no date. These scholars conducted a research project titled, ‘The Legalization of Recreational Marijuana How Likely is the Worst-Case Scenario?’ The research project looked at the following areas: the effect of legalization on price, the effect of legalization on marijuana consumption, the effect of legalization on alcohol use, the effect of legalization on traffic fatalities, the effect of legalization on teenage use, and the effect of legalization on crime and other public health outcomes.

The project seemed to be quite extensive. There are numerous articles out there from journalists and activists, but I found this study to be particularly interesting since it was from an academic point of view. Colorado and Washington already legalized marijuana in 2012, and four more states are looking good for legalizing in 2014 (Oregon, Alaska, Missouri, and Rhode Island). Even more states should come on board in 2016. This study should be referenced quite a bit during those campaigns.

In the area of legalization’s effects on price, the project found that prices could drop as much as 40% in the next four to five years after legalization. This is an area of the study that I don’t agree with, mainly because of how they collected their data and evaluated it. The price of marijuana will no doubt drop when it becomes legal, but not for the reasons that the study suggests. The project looked at High Times’ price guide, which no offense to High Times, but at the very least the numbers for Oregon are way too high. If that is the case with Oregon, I’m thinking it might also be the case for other states. All of the High Times prices I have seen for Oregon are high 200’s to low 300’s. Anyone paying more than low to mid 100’s needs to do more shopping around. With that being said, pricing marijuana is a very tough thing, especially nationwide, so I will say I agree prices will drop, but why and how much, only time will tell.

The project looked at consumption rates overall, and suggested that consumption would go up after legalization, which I agree with. But again, I disagree with some of their reasoning. They tie consumption rates to price, and reason that as the price falls consumption will increase. In almost every area of economics this would definitely be true. However, marijuana is going from the black market to the legal market, which is significant. I know a lot of people that would buy marijuana if it were legal, but won’t consider it while it’s illegal. Consumption will definitely go up after legalization, but price doesn’t have nearly as much of an effect as does legality.

The most interesting area of this project is marijuana legalization’s likely effect on alcohol consumption and alcohol related social costs. The study states, ‘as marijuana becomes more available, young adults in Colorado and Washington will respond by drinking less, not more. If non-medical marijuana states legalize the use of recreational marijuana, they should also experience reductions in drinking with the accompanying public health benefits.’ I completely agree with this assessment. Marijuana is safer than alcohol, and a lot of people would love to make the safer choice by consuming marijuana rather than alcohol, but don’t currently because one is legal and the other is not.

In the area of traffic fatalities the project states, ‘Reducing traffic injuries and fatalities is potentially one of the most important public
health benefits from legalizing the use of recreational marijuana.’ The project suggests that teenage use will remain the same as it does now, and that violent crime would decrease after legalization due to the fact that more people would use marijuana instead of alcohol. If there’s one thing that a person could gleam from this project it’s that marijuana is clearly safer than alcohol, and that if we can get people to use marijuana instead of alcohol, society would be much better off. Which is something that marijuana activists have been saying for decades.

You can read the full results of the study here.


About Author

Johnny Green


  1. omgg the last paragraph is what i have been saying since i started smoking… you can DIE from to much ALCOHOL but with maraijuana that has not been a death. i have tried smoking tobacco cigs, ciggarellos, cigars ect, and they all make my throw and every sick. and TOBACCO IS LEGAL and has tons of bad things for you in it. when maraijuana is all natural and helps me feel better when i feel like im going to be sick(throw up). yes it makes me hungry, but when i dont smoke i dont eat because i just feel sick.

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  7. Yes there are tests available which can test if you are actively ‘high’ by testing directly for the presence of THC – which subsequently breaks down quickly into the metabolites which are what is currently tested for and which can remain in your system for up to 6 weeks if you are overweight and a heavy smoker. It is a more than a little disingenuous to test for THC metabolites as that has no bearing on whether you are under the influence or not. I think it will be only a matter of time before states that have legalized it forbid the use of tests which do not indicate if you are under the influence at the time of testing for a legal product.

    FYI, there are tests which can determine if you have consumed alcohol for longer than when you are under the influence as well.

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  10. I’ve seen legal “recommendations” that an MMJ patient should wait four hours after medicating to drive, but I have not come across news of this new device. Waiting four hours to do anything after medicating defeats the whole purpose. If they are going to test MMJ patients, they will have to test Vicodin and Oxy patients too.

  11. I think in Texas you can’t buy alcohol until after noon on Sunday. It’s been so long since I bought alcohol that I can’t remember. I remember when the mall wasn’t allowed to open on Sundays, but that didn’t last long. :)

  12. not “WE”… “HE” I meant.I ain’t growing shit. I have “burned water” before. Definitely not a “green thumb” here.

  13. C’mon now, fella’s, we all know that the beautiful state of GA, where the “bible-belters” and conservatives have a stronghold on policy, will be the VERY LAST STATE to legalize. Fuck, man… one county down the road a bit from me just recently won a vote to sell alcohol on Sundays, which was won by a very narrow margin. These people around here aren’t even living in the same century as some of us transients. I wish GA wasn’t so beautiful because it would be easier to move from here. My neighbor just packed his shit and moved to Boise because we wanted to grow. Not sure how he made out up there. We lost touch.

  14. I was in Colorado earlier this year, and I saw on a local news channel that there is, in fact, some sort of new device that can be used on the roadside to test for “psychoactive” properties that could affect a person’s driving ability. They even made the recommendation that if you smoke, don’t drive for at least 4 hours after if you want to be safe from this test.

  15. GlovesOffMFers on

    Hello, Mr./Mrs./Ms. DEA Agent,
    Can you kindly provide me with your full legal name, badge number, your SSN, your home address, the address of your place of employment, employer and credit references going back 14 years, notarized color copies of three forms of state and/or federal identification…
    …and proof you graduated from fifth grade.

    That should suffice.
    Thank you,
    Concerned Citizen

  16. Exactly, Rob.. that black market exists BECAUSE of the law …because the distillation of some spirits is still illegal…though that particular black market is very small, and does not produce the widespread problems…crime, violence and corruption… that characterize a pervasive and powerful black market (such as existed when there was a general prohibition against alcohol). That is consistent with my point, which was that if absolute prohibition is merely replaced with a burdensome regulatory regime or confiscatory taxes, the black market for pot will persist.

  17. Good link. As I was scrolling through, I got the number for a Drug and Alcohol Help Line. I’m gonna call and see if they can find me some good bud. :)

    And what does this mean: ” Smoking out attractive women for free is ALWAYS acceptable, and HIGHLY encouraged?” Please explain.

  18. Lets not be too greedy I think making it legal and taxing it is a fair trade for them to stop throwing people in prison for 5 or 10 years at a stretch.

  19. Jon ... a Baptist on

    The price would drop to near zero if it was truly legal as everyone could grow their own. Problem is that government smells money by maintaining some level of control which will artificially elevate prices. What is being talked about is not true freedom, the freedom to self supply.

  20. Things may have changed since I admit I haven’t kept up on the cutting edge of drug testing but I’m still under the impression that the swabs are a pass-fail test which is inadequate for a legalized environment. We need a test that can accurately gauge within hours to a day if weed is smoked/ingested and provide some type of intoxication scale similar to blood alcohol content from a Breathalyzer. It needs to be something lawyers, insurance companies, employers and cops can all understand without failing back on a simple pass-fail system that could be measuring pot use from last month and not 2 hours ago.

  21. Robert Dewayne King on

    Cheek swabs are already Cheap , fast and readily available !
    Trouble is that they only prove you have been smoking witin the past 5 to 10 hrs so the cops dont like them ! They prefer the the urine and bloods so that you can be arrested even if its been WEEKS since you last lit up ! It helps the old arrest records and allows them to strip a “felon” of anything they own of any monetary value !

  22. Weed shows up in your urine for 3 weeks or more after you inhale/injest it. Alcohol is gone in hours. The fact it stays in the body so long is enough for the insurance companies and they are the ones making employers drug test so much and so often. Legalization is only half the fight then you need to get the insurance companies to change their rules and criteria. If the new breath test for weed works out and the insurance companies and employers have a cheap, viable , on the spot test to detect intoxication then maybe things will change but not as long as urine and blood are the only yardsticks used to measure marijuana intoxication,

  23. You can be fired for alcohol too if you show up intoxicated. They just dont care to test for it since it’s legal. If they make marijuana legal and still test, then they should make another test for alcohol. Private businesses will still hire like they always have, just because it’s federally legal doesn’t mean you can start showing up to work high or with joints in your hands.

    Also, theres already a huge segment of the population failing at finding work. We don’t need drugs to realize people just don’t want to do grunt work anymore. When you have a family to feed, there’s no such thing as being beneath a job.

  24. I’m more interested to see how people will react when its legal in their state but employers can still drug test and fire for marijuana. In what form will that backlash appear? Increased alcohol abuse or prescription abuse? Will a huge segment of the population just fail and lose their jobs? Its one thing for the government to hold a quasi-parental position in your life 24-7 with the threat of prison and quite another to have your employer tell you that can’t do something that is legal in your free time without some form of extra compensation.

  25. It seems logical to assume a big increase in marijuana consumers after re-legalization, and we likely will have some – at first.

    It’s interesting to note that every country that has reduced, or eliminated, penalties for marijuana has less use than the U.S. The Netherlands has HALF the rate of consumption here.

    It appears there is a forbidden fruit cachet with the (hush-hush) black market. We may be in for the biggest surprise of all if marijuana consumption goes down.

  26. Just give moonshine another name and poof! it’s legal. We’re going to have to do the same for cannabis for the stronger extractions. Thanks for the search term. How come I always seem to find myself back at HuffPost? My goodness, it’s like the Walmart of News up in there.

  27. I see marijuana as having grown (no pun intended) out of an underground movement that has lasted decades. I don’t see that being dismantled as easily as you suggest. Considering what I am going through to find out exactly what I’m getting in my medicine (which I still don’t know) and finding the right strain, I think the MMJ industry has a substantial head-start on the needs of the patient market (although I don’t see that here in New Mexico). Patients talk, especially pain patients. We want to know what other people are trying and how it worked. Cannabis has the same kind of following, just more intense. It will grow even more intense as the years go by. Personally, I look forward to traveling from hippie commune to hippie commune to sample all kinds of American Bud. (trademark that)

    Marijuana has so far been mostly bred for THC content, which we now know is not the whole story. There will be decades of experimentation on the medical side in the search for specific strains. Specific AND local strains. It’s going to be an exciting ride!

  28. The drop in crime rates is something that has been going on for decades everywhere, so some of that 40% might reflect that.

  29. Its a very small black market,relatively speaking, mostly based out of rural areas. The feds do crack down on them but the busts are mostly small time and usually only make local news. The jail sentences are a joke compared to weed but they usually get hit hard in fines and back taxes. Google “Popcorn Sutton”.

  30. I’ve been growing oranges in New Mexico. Wanna trade? You send me $1000 and I’ll send you the oranges.

  31. So, what, the government is not going after the bootleggers for taxes too? How come that black market gets to exist without federal agents knocking down people’s doors?

  32. There is definitely still a small black market for distilled alcohol AKA Corn Liquor or Moonshine. That market exists out of tradition and because the distillation of spirits at home is still illegal.

  33. So are you saying that there is absolutely no black market for alcohol? Because I think there is, but I could be mistaken.

  34. Under any moderate regulatory and tax regime, the black market will be utterly unable to compete with legal cannabis… that remains true regardless of the size and scope of the black market under conditions of prohibition. It is prohibition that creates and sustains the black market. Only if prohibition is replaced by a truly onerous burden of regulation and taxation can ANY significant black market for this commodity endure.

  35. I always wondered how big the black market for cannabis was. I mean, I know it’s big, but how does it compare to the black market for cocaine and harder drugs? I read a poll recently that said 80% of teenagers say they have easy access to pot. Well, polls are polls, take them for what they are, but that percentage is outstanding to me (assuming 80% of teenagers are consuming “black-market” product).

    So I’m wondering if the black market will ever truly disappear, or how much of the black market will go legal. Then I’m wondering if all the taxes that have been promised to states will actually pan out. And while we’re at it, I’m wondering who is going to be keeping track of all this so we can look at hard numbers. ( I have tried to find any kind of analysis for New Mexico’s MMJ program but haven’t found anything yet.)

    I was thinking that the legalization movement could maybe find some opportunity here. People don’t seem to be aware of the positive effects of MMJ programs on cities and states, and yet these should be running across my news feed. Positive, local stories, not just Dr. Gupta on CNN. If the government wants to tax the hell out of my favorite plant, then earmark some of that tax money for a media program too. Perhaps cannabis lovers will not be so mad to pay higher taxes (for awhile) if they can also download some great pro-cannabis commercials. (We can say, we paid for that!) Of course, you would want to limit the higher tax structure for a year or two, then maybe gradually bring it down. (See, I learned something from Obamacare!)

    Anyway, just trying to think of a compromise… :)

  36. Here’s the thing. Shhhh. Don’t let anyone hear. See, I don’t do text. Don’t have the money for a smart phone. Plus, and spread this around, the DEA can find you anywhere. p.s. can’t you see you’re taking up important real estate here, dude? What, are we in a mall?

  37. Intergalactic Pimp on

    I’m glad you feel that positive about Missouri. I live here and I would of course love to see legalization in 2014, but I’ve always felt we’ll be one of the last states in the union to go legal. I surely hope I’m wrong!

  38. If it can replace alcohol then hell yes.. better then just “medical” its World changing away from killer alcohol (which is proven and has been proven to kill Many Many Many times) So who cares what ppl use it for

  39. If states actually legalize it, nothing will happen. In fact, some things that are happening now will stop. The black market will disappear, and with it the violence, the income stream for narco-traffickers and any property crime that may have been generated by the high prices and other circumstances created by the black market. Prices for pot will fall markedly, and use is likely to increase somewhat because of that, but probably only marginally… most people who like to smoke marijuana probably already do so, and people who don’t like it won’t buy it just because it is cheap. Independent entrepreneurs will dominate the market for awhile, but larger companies will enter the market soon after.. especially those (like tobacco or ag companies) that already have facilities, equipment, techniques or distribution arrangements that would be suitable to the new market. Authorities will certainly impose taxes, and herein lies the greatest danger. Modest taxes should suffice to fund a reasonable regulation regime, and to make a sustainable contribution to public coffers, but if politicians can’t resist the temptation to impose punitive taxes, or attempt to make this commodity the government’s “cash cow”, they will NOT eliminate the black market, and most of the benefits of legalization will be squandered.

  40. Sorry, some of us were here long before the words “medical” and “marijuana” were ever used together, and have the scars to prove it. As you well know, most of the “patients” legally buying herb are young men with questionable medical conditions, which is still an improvement over supporting the local dealer, but not quite medicine. And who said anything about the government? The folks opening legal retail stores in states that allow them are private entrepreneurs who put together real businesses that pay real taxes to the government, provide paychecks to employees and take money out of the cartel’s pockets. Medical marijuana is fine, and there’s no doubt many people benefit from its use,but let’s get real about it – this plant is more than just medicine for the broken body.

  41. hahaha you wish that was the case. here in washington there will be none of that just swag herb that isnt at all useful for medical which are the people who actually focus on breeding the right plants for the right ailments. these so called exoctic strains youre thinking of…well how on earth would the government know anything about high grade top quality cannabis? none of them are qualified for that. they are just trying to make money. LEAVE MMJ ALONE! FUCK ALL THIS “connoisseur” and “recreational” bs.

  42. firetheliberals on

    In washington, where the onl y legal growers will be corporate, we can expect shortages and schwag. Retailers who line up decent growers will do well. However, there is no market for weed. For example, all commodities are bought and sold in markets, physical and virtual. Buyers and sellers congregste to sell current and future crops. The market develops an equilibrium of supply at a certain price. The braniacs in wa govt no nothing of this. They simply think that limiting retail outlets will control the market.

    This is a perfect case where govt needs to get out of the way. The first couple of years in wsshington will be like stores in the former ussr. Lines of people waiting to get low quality weed in order to get any at all.

    But I guess we are the only state with a statue of Lenin our biggest city and Red Square on every campus.

  43. The pricing part is not so simple as X dollars per ounce. That’s like saying, “wine costs $7 a bottle.” Certainly, you can buy wine for that price, but some prefer better tasting and more costly beverages, even though the alcohol content is the same. I think the market for connoisseur cannabis will be surprisingly strong, led by aging hipsters who used to pay $10 for a baggie full of (pathetic) dope. Soon they’ll be lining up for $400/ounce exotic strains and expounding on the benefits of certain soil combinations and hand-trimming techniques. We’ve come a long way, baby.

  44. I am surprised the Anderson and Rees literature review discussed here didn’t also talk about the effect cannabis legalization will have on suicide rates.

    They’ll drop. Significantly.

    Anderson and Rees published this paper, after all — in states with medical cannabis laws, aka, compassionate use, there is a 9% drop in suicide rates for men ages 30-39 and an 11% drop in suicide rates for men ages 20-29.

    Impressive, yes, and we think we know why. CB1 receptors in our brains.

    A little while ago, someone had the brilliant hypothesis — “If using cannabis gives people ‘the munchies’ then blocking the receptors in the brain that cannabinoids bond to with an antagonist will curb hunger.” So they created and began clinical trials on a CB1 antagonist intended to be a new diet drug, called Rimonabant. Whether or not the subjects in the clinical trials lost weight, I cannot say — the trials had to be haulted because several test subjects committed suicide, and the surviving test subjects were all reporting symptoms of severe clinical depression.

    The CB1 antagonists blocked those receptor sites, preventing their activation, which caused the severe depression. Subjects reported loss of hope for the future, insomnia, feelings of worthlessness, anxiety, irritability, etc. Those poor people went through Hell, simply because their cannabinoid receptors were deliberately sabotaged.

    The euphoric “high” isn’t a side-effect that should be talked about distinctly from the medical benefits of cannabis. For some people who suffer from depression, anxiety, and PTSD, that “high” is simply a catch-all description of the total absence of their worst symptoms. Frankly, the VA should be kicking down Congress’s front door demanding cannabis for veterans. The veteran suicide rate is absolutely sickening. And we *CAN* do something about it.

  45. I saw an article in the Chicago Tribune today by Steve Chapman called “The reality of permissive pot laws”.. The author stated in the article that since the MMJ dispensaries opened in California the crime rate dropped almost 40% and a reduction in overall traffic fatalities of at least 8 percent in the first year. I don’t know where the author is getting his numbers but if they are accurate thats pretty huge.

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