Charlie Buttrey

January 5, 2019

When California legalized pot, advocates projected a billion dollars in new revenue, and the end of the black market.

It hasn’t quite worked out that way.

According to this article in the New York Times, while $2.5 billion of legal marijuana was sold in 2018, that figure is $500 million less than in 2017, when only medicinal marijuana was legal. The problem appears to be that California is producing (15.5 million pounds) waaay more pot than it is consuming (2.5 million pounds). The rest is being siphoned off to the black market, much of it out of state.

Meanwhile, the first empirical studies of the effect of legalization are sobering (if you’ll forgive the pun): The first four states to legalize pot — Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington — have seen sharp increases in murders and aggravated assaults since 2014, according to reports from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. While those statistics may be all correlation and no causation, recent research appears to demonstrate that, in the words of a 2017 report issued by the National Academy of Medicine, “Cannabis use is likely to increase the risk of schizophrenia and other psychoses; the higher the use, the greater the risk,” and that “Cannabis use during adolescence is related to impairments in subsequent academic achievement and education, employment and income, and social
relationships and social roles.”

There has, moreover, been a marked increase in emergency room use for people diagnosed with marijuana use disorder: from 30,000 in 2006 to 90,000 in 2014.

Vermont legalized pot in the last legislative session, but the statute was laughably haphazard: it is now legal to possess pot in Vermont, but it is not legal to obtain it. That particular feature of the law is likely to be tweaked in the coming months, but here’s hoping that the legislature goes about the whole process with a little more reflection, with decisions informed by empirical data.

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