Education

Post Legalization

Many worriers over the legalization of recreational or medical marijuana cite unknown and unintended cultural effects. These tend to include anything from economic shifts, to cultural upheaval to increases in DUIs and public consumption. Fortunately, with many states’ legalizations ahead of the federal government over the years, and a number of studies searching for these purported effects, we can get a general idea of what the US will look like if federal legalization of marijuana ever occurs.

DUIs

Operating a vehicle or heavy machinery while impaired or intoxicated is still illegal, and nothing on that front has changed. While blood ethanol levels can accurately assess the inherent risks of driving while impaired, any correlation with cannabis and driving doesn’t exist. Many rumors abound that those high on marijuana drive more carefully while high, and though a very situational and individual sentiment, it’s still illegal and very dangerous. Do not drive a vehicle while high.

Officers pulling over subjects for suspected Driving Under the Influence (DUI) have to call in a Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) if they are not already one themselves. DREs perform a field sobriety test on the subject, following many common tests in suspected alcohol intoxication, but with a few specialized ones as well. A little-known test is following the officer’s finger, who moves it side to side in front of the subject’s face before moving it inwards towards their nose. More often than not, one of the impaired subject’s eyes will dart to the side upon reaching their nose. Some officers have been known to ask confusingly worded questions to try and spark a tell-tale reaction, though this seems to be more for their amusement and less to be used in court.

A few retrospective studies have indicated a higher risk of auto accidents following cannabis consumption, but further comprehensive reviews have not supported this link, and cannabis is overall considered a low risk substance for operating heavy machinery. Benzodiazepines actually classify as a more dangerous substance to operate a vehicle on. Additionally, numerous studies have found CBD application to bring back a consumer’s visual pursuit, cognitrone, reaction, adaptive tachistoscopic traffic perception and overall scores in driving ability. A survey of 196 MS patients taking nabiximols, a drug containing roughly 50% THC and 50% CBD, found only 2.4% to report decreased driving ability.

A 2016 study by the American Automobile Association examined 602 drivers arrested for DUIs who tested positive for THC, as well as 349 people with no drugs in their system, and compared their data with an additional 4,799 drivers who tested positive for cannabinoids and other substances, such as alcohol. Those with only THC in their system performed better on tests performed by Drug Recognition Experts, but displayed more physical signs of impairment like bloodshot or watery eyes and the tremor of eyelids. 70% of those with cannabinoids in their system that were detained also tested positive for other substances in their system. 

Following federal legalization in Canada, they have not seen a rise in marijuana DUIs, and the majority of cannabis traffic citations come from improper storage during transportation or passengers consuming while in the car. That being said, an officer’s ability to discern whether or not you’re high is rather legally limited. Unless you have committed a traffic violation, an officer does not have the right to drug test you. Whether or not the smell of marijuana is indicative of intoxication is up for debate, though in places like Vermont, the Supreme Court has ruled in the Zullo v. Vermont case that the odor of burnt cannabis emanating from a motor vehicle is not a determinative factor to allow search and seizure. In this case in particular, the police department was found to be racially profiling Gregory Zullo, who had consumed marijuana three days prior and was not intoxicated when pulled over for an “obscured license plate.”

Economic Impact

As of 2017, the legal cannabis industry in the US employs anywhere from 165,000 to 230,000. Compare this to the 169,000 massage therapists that are employed. Careers and employment opportunities are quite varied in the cannabis industry, and can include budtenders, store managers, lab testers, journalists, doctors, growers, trimmers, accountants, attorneys, marketers, graphic designers, bakers, chefs, sales associates, extraction technicians, event organizers, delivery drivers, social media account managers and project managers. Thankfully, though certainly young, the cannabis industry is shaping up to be a model for others to follow. Most businesses pay their employees above minimum wage, maintain a very diverse workforce and truly respect the product that makes it all possible; cannabis.

As of 2016, the legal cannabis industry in the US was generating roughly $6 billion in income, whereas the illegal side was making upwards of $25 billion. Future predictions for the cannabis industry seem rather promising, and analysts have only continued to up their guesses as the industry booms. As regulations continue to be passed and legalization continues to spread, the most agreed upon average income for the legal cannabis industry in the US will have sales exceeding $80 billion by 2030, with the illegal market making less than $1 billion by the year 2026. CBD’s niche economy will continue to surge as well, expecting to generate billions following the 2018 Farm Bill.

Negative economic impacts have been seen in a few industries caused by cannabis legalization. Notably, the alcohol industry has taken a particularly large hit. Analyst Vivien Azer of Cowen and Company noted that 2018 was the worst year for beer sales in the US, and she predicts it will only decrease in the future due to rising cannabis use. Industry leaders seem to be recognizing this trend as well, notably Corona beer brewer Constellation Brands, who invested $4 billion into Canopy Growth Corporation, a cannabis cultivation company based in Ontario.

Public Consumption

There has been a growing question in the US following the legalization of CBD-rich hemp; can you smoke a CBD hemp joint in public? Unfortunately, there’s not a reliable answer. Upon contacting my local police department, I spoke to a 311 operator, a desk officer, the captain of the police department, the secretary of the Director of the Nevada Department of Taxation (who oversees the legal cannabis industry’s laws in my state) and eventually back to the police department to finish my conversation with a different desk officer. No one has any firm answer. To quote the captain, “… That’s a really good question, and I don’t think I have an answer.”

The issue comes from the fact that to a policeman’s eye and nose, hemp is marijuana, and smoking marijuana in public is still illegal in the vast majority of states. There’s no way they can test for the difference, and even then, 

I was told numerous times that police have received zero training on new cannabis laws and how to handle the substances; two of the officers I spoke to didn’t even know the difference between hemp and marijuana, that hemp was federally legalized at all, and one of them had no idea that CBD came from cannabis. He thought it was a vitamin. 

This is one of those situations where, if you’re going to do it, understand that you’re within the legal law to do so, but there’s a solid chance you’re gonna have a hard time with the police if they get called about someone smoking marijuana in public. They won’t understand the difference and you’ll have to take it to court with all the costs that entails. It’s better to take a CBD tincture or use a vaporizer, or just smoke CBD-rich hemp at home.

Tax Revenues

Tax revenues generated by the legal cannabis industry have been of particular interest to government entities looking into legalization, and for good reason. Tax revenues generated in 2018 by Washington reached $319 million, California made nearly $300 million, Colorado made $266.6 million, Oregon made $94.4 million, Nevada made $69.8 million, Alaska made $11 million and Massachusetts made $5.2 million. Cannabis tax collections for California are expected to hit $1 billion by 2022. California in particular has spent this tax revenue thus far furthering cannabis regulators to better secure the industry, as well as funding the police, public health and social justice programs. Nevada decided to spend $27.5 million of its revenues on education via the State Distributive School Account, with the remaining amount going to the state’s Rainy Day Fund.

Teen Use

Legalization for recreational marijuana has always been set at an age limit of 21+, similar to alcohol. Many fear that legalization will encourage teenagers and younger to try it at younger ages, develop an unhealthy habit or abuse the substance beyond recreational means.

Analyses conducted by the US Government General Accounting Office (GAO) discovered no increase in associated drug crimes or youth usage rates after the passage of state laws allowing medicinal cannabis, and subsequent studies have failed to show any systematic increases, with some studies actually showing an overall decrease. Public health researchers at the RAND Drug Policy Research Center compared youth cannabis consumption in Washington between the years of 2014 and 2016, to that of 2010 and 2012 before the state’s legalization. They found that among 8th graders, cannabis use declined from 9.8% to 7.3%, among 10th graders it declined from 19.8% to 17.8%, and they did not discover any changes among 12th graders. Prior studies looking at these effects used national, generalized survey methods to describe individual state usage, which has been proven incorrect. This study’s lead authors, Dr. Julia A. Dilley and Susan M. Richardson of the Oregon Public Health Division worked with Beau Kilmer of RAND, Mary B. Segawa of the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board, and Magdalena Cerda of the New York University using better, state-level data from the Washington Healthy Youth Survey.

In a much larger study that concluded in 2019, conducted by Dr. Rebekah Levine Coley, over 800,000 high school students were anonymously surveyed from 45 states in the US over the last 16 years, and after controlling for tobacco and alcohol variables, as well as unique state laws and demographics, found an overall decrease in the number of teens using cannabis following a state’s legalization. The study also examined the effects on teenagers in states that decriminalized cannabis use, and found no noticeable differences, excluding the 14 year old Hispanic demographic, which saw decreased use, and the general white demographic, which saw a slight increase.

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