Weed isn’t all bad. Consider how it’s helped reduce tobacco use, traffic deaths and violent crime


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World News News Legalization

Paper looks at cannabis from public health and economic perspectives, finding that legalization has had benefits.

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Angela Stelmakowich “In general, there is little evidence that legalization has encouraged the smoking of tobacco; if anything, it has discouraged its use.” /“In general, there is little evidence that legalization has encouraged the smoking of tobacco; if anything, it has discouraged its use.” / Photo by Getty Images

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The paper from NBER, a private, non-profit, non-partisan organization, considers a number of different outcomes, namely youth weed use, alcohol consumption, the abuse of prescription opioids, traffic fatalities and crime.

Anderson and Rees point out the literature dealing with the effects of medical marijuana laws (MMLs) had achieved almost near consensus. “As an example, leveraging geographic and temporal variation in MMLs, researchers have produced little credible evidence to suggest that legalization promotes marijuana use among teenagers. Likewise, there is convincing evidence that young adults consume less alcohol when medical marijuana is legalized,” states the paper, dated April 2021.

That is important, FEE reports, since both tobacco and alcohol consumption are associated with deaths from lung diseases and traffic deaths, respectively.

The foundation cited studies in the review that found medical marijuana laws are associated with a drop in cigarette use among teens and legalizing recreational weed has produced a fall in tobacco demand.

“In general, there is little evidence that legalization has encouraged the smoking of tobacco; if anything, it has discouraged its use,” the paper notes. “Similarly, an accumulating body of research suggests that MML adoption is associated with reductions in prescription medications for disorders such as depression, anxiety, and epilepsy,” it adds.

Sit-ups, salads and sobriety: Why Dry January didn’t make me a better runner One study shows that legalizing adult-use cannabis is associated with a five per cent drop in alcohol sales./ Photo by BrianAJackson / Getty Images

As for alcohol, studies show legalizing adult-use cannabis is associated with a five per cent drop in alcohol sales and a 20 per cent drop in binge drinking among respondents to a National Survey on Drug Use and Health survey.

With regard to violent crime, FEE notes the review points to research indicating that opening legal dispensaries was linked to a 19 per cent drop in overall crime.

Those who support cannabis criminalization “have tended to frame their arguments in terms of protecting the public from a supposedly dangerous health hazard,” FEE reports. But the paper shows kicking the war on drugs (in this case weed) to the curb “would literally have life-saving results,” it argues.

“In general, there is a dearth of studies examining the effects of dispensaries, co-ops and growers on neighbourhood-level outcomes. We believe this is an area ripe for future researchers to explore,” Anderson and Rees write.

“It is not yet clear how legalizing marijuana for recreational purposes will affect these and other important public health outcomes,” the authors note in the paper. “We will be able to draw stronger conclusions when more post-treatment data are collected in states that have recently legalized recreational marijuana,” they add.

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