Assessing the public health impacts of legalizing recreational cannabis use: the US experience

By May 21, 2020 Recent News

Source: National Families in Action
Published in the June 2020 issue of World Psychiatry, the official journal of the World Psychiatric Association.

How has recreational legalization affected US marijuana markets? The authors of this paper, Wayne Hall, PhD, and Michael Lynskey, PhD, begin their paper examining this question. Dr. Hall is a professor at the University of Queensland Centre for Youth Substance Abuse Research in Brisbane Australia. Dr. Lynskey is a psychiatrist and professor in the National Addictions Centre at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology, and Neuroscience of King’s College London.

They write that legalization in some US states has brought about a substantial decrease in the price of retail marijuana, allowed adults to obtain a regular supply of marijuana without risk of criminal penalty, and led to a major diversification of marijuana products.

Most legal states tie taxes to the retail price of marijuana products. As prices fall, tax revenue declines, giving industry an incentive to increase THC potency to increase profits. If legalization becomes national policy, prices are likely to fall even further as the marijuana industry expands and attracts large-scale investment from the alcohol, tobacco, and finance sectors.

Experience with alcohol and tobacco suggests that more access to high-potency marijuana at a lower price is likely to increase amounts of the drug consumed by current users as well as motivate the industry to increase the number of users and the amounts they use in order to maximize profits. Industry will likely use promotional techniques like advertising and price discounts to achieve this goal. As more people use marijuana, and use it more frequently, public health impacts will also likely increase.

The authors devote the rest of their paper reviewing the health effects of marijuana use to date, as well as those that broader legalization is likely to intensify. Both lists are too long for us to summarize here. We encourage readers to click here to read this full, groundbreaking paper.