The Top 3 Myths about Cannabis Legalization

As more and more countries loosen their stance on cannabis, we take a look at some of the pervasive myths that surrounded cannabis legalization.

Cannabis legalization has become a hot button issue. Almost every candidate for the 2020 U.S. election has had to put forward their stance on whether they will legalize weed or not, and many are being judged primarily because of it. To date, 11 U.S. states have legalized cannabis for recreational use, and 33 have legalized it for medicinal use.

Meanwhile, countries like New Zealand are holding a referendum on cannabis legalization in January next year, and Mexico plans to push for it too. The conversation surrounding cannabis is constantly growing louder, and we're glad it is.

However, as discussion grows around cannabis, so too do some of the myths surrounding marijuana. We heard presidential candidate Joe Biden attempt to resuscitate the cadaver of the Gateway Theory, and fellow candidate and billionaire Mike Bloomberg said that marijuana legalization was "the stupidest thing ever done."

As a result, we thought it would be a good time to clear the air on some of these hazy marijuana myths.

1. Cannabis Use Will Increase After Legalization

A common fear among those who rally against marijuana is that by legalizing cannabis, governments are effectively giving the "thumbs up" to civilians on cannabis use, and by doing so, are encouraging people to try cannabis who otherwise wouldn't have.

Now admittedly, there is a level of truth to this. According to a report from Deloitte entitled, Nurturing new growth: Canada gets ready for Cannabis 2.0, the company found that legalizing cannabis and the extended range of form factors would attract a new market of older, more conservative consumers.

That is to say, some people will try cannabis once it is made legal. However, overall usage doesn't go up.

In fact, studies show that youth marijuana use has actually decreased in states where medical marijuana has been legalized. For example, in states like Colorado where recreational cannabis has been made legal were associated with an 8% decline in recent/frequent cannabis use among teens.

The author of the study, Mark Anderson, associate professor in agricultural economics at Montana State University in Bozeman, believes that the eroding black market may explain some of this decline:

"It may actually be more difficult for teens to obtain marijuana as drug dealers are replaced by licensed dispensaries that require proof of age. Selling to minors becomes a relatively more risky proposition after the passage of these laws."

Others suggest that some of the allure of cannabis is in its illegality, and by legalizing the plant, you remove it from the rebellious inclinations of youths.

Whatever the reason, if you want kids to stop smoking pot, you may actually be better off legalizing the drug, as counter-intuitive as that sounds.

2. Cannabis Use Leads To Harder Drug Use

You've probably heard this one before.

Arising during the Reagan era in the 80s, the Gateway Theory is the belief that who smoke cannabis will develop an appetite for further illicit substances and spiral down a path of harder and harder drugs. And depending on who you asked and how you ask them, the Gateway Theory could sound anywhere from reasonable to outlandish.

The truth is yes, most hard drug users will likely have tried marijuana prior to most illicit drugs. Though by the same token, they also are likely to have consumed tobacco, alcohol, sugar, and a host of other substances. And as they say, correlation doesn't equal causation.

The Centre for Disease Control has stated that "the majority of people who use marijuana do not go on to use other, "harder" substances." For the majority of cannabis smokers, consuming harder drugs never crosses their minds.

This is backed up by a study posted on Psychology Today, which states that "even among the heaviest marijuana users, approximately 95 per cent did not seem to have opioid-related issues."

In fact, it may be the case that legalizing cannabis is the best thing a country or state can do to lower its harsher drug use.

For example, a study that analyzed 5601 research paper abstracts found that legalizing marijuana for medical resulted in an 8% reduction in opioid overdose mortality and a 7% reduction in prescription opioids dispensed.

Furthermore, legalizing marijuana for recreational use was associated with an additional 7% reduction in opioid overdose mortality in Colorado and a 6% reduction in opioid prescriptions.

Another study found that hospitalization rates for opioid painkiller dependence and abuse dropped on average 23 percent in states after marijuana was permitted for medicinal purposes, while opioid overdoses dropped 13 percent on average.

Part of the decrease in opioid prescriptions is likely the result of doctors having a safer alternative to dangerous painkillers like fentanyl and oxycontin, and instead choosing to prescribe cannabis where it is legal.

Another poignant case against the 'Gateway Theory' has been made in the book Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know, which states that in keeping marijuana illegal, users are forced to procure drugs from drug dealers, who may then offer them harder substances. Legalization will remove black market operators who may be more likely to encourage harsher drug use.

Related Article

Is Weed Legal in the US?

3. Cannabis Legalization Is Bad For The Economy

Cannabis use has often been associated with laziness, a lack of motivation, and therefore with unemployment.

Tropes of the Lazy Stoner have been captured in Cannabis-centric films since time immemorial, from 'Friday' to 'Pineapple Express,' weed smokers are seldom portrayed as ambitious go-getters about to embark on a business venture – that is, unless their business is selling weed.

This myth has been repeated by those as esteemed as former U.S. President Barack Obama himself.

When online audiences asked what Obama thought about legalizing cannabis in order to stimulate job growth and the economy, the then President responded: "no, I don't think that is a good strategy to grow our economy."

Like Obama, many others feared that countries or states that legalized cannabis would promptly see an increase in unemployment and an overall decrease in productivity due to the stonedness of its citizens.

Though if you've paid attention to the global cannabis industry, you'll already know this is false.

As stated in Leafly's 2019 Cannabis Jobs Count, the cannabis industry employs over 211,000 full-time workers in the U.S. alone. And if you factor in ancillary industries that aren't specifically "plant-touching," the number gets closer to 300,000.

In principle, this is a pretty obvious concept. People are consuming cannabis regardless of the plant's legal status, and yet, dealers don't pay tax, and also aren't on a payroll. Simply by shifting the existing cannabis operations out of the black market and into the legal, taxable market will create jobs.

And on the topic of taxes, states like Colorado have imposed a 15 percent excise tax on marijuana sales from cultivators to retailers. On top of this, the state imposes a 15 percent sales tax (up from 10 percent in 2017) on retail sales to customers.

As a result, in just shy of 6 years, Colorado has brought in over USD $1 billion in tax revenue from the cannabis industry. In fact, cannabis was going so well for the state that Colorado's Governor Jared Polis said, "It's going very well. … It's creating tens of thousands of jobs, tax revenue for the state, filling up buildings for landlords and reducing crime.

I think we can safely say that weed doesn't detriment economies, but rather, acts as a tremendous boon.

So there you have it, the top 3 myths surrounding cannabis legalization. Legalizing cannabis leads to a decrease in cannabis use among youths, a decrease in opioid use and prescriptions, and is a massive job creator and tool for generating tax revenue.

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Louis O'Neill
Louis O'Neill

Louis is a writer based in Sydney with a focus on social and political issues. Having interviewed local politicians and entrepreneurs, Louis now focuses on cannabis culture, legislation & reform.

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