The Weed Experiment: The Effects of Legalizing Marijuana


Image from The Tico Times

Over the past few years, the conversation regarding the legalization of cannabis has made it to the forefront of many countries’ political debates. Advocates of the recreational drug claim that it is less harmful than alcohol and that it isn’t addictive like cigarettes, while those in the anti-cannabis party claim that it is a dangerous drug that caused an increase in crime and acts as a gateway drug into harder narcotics, such as heroine. Cannabis only became illegal in the early to mid-20th Century, while before that it existed in medications and used for recreational purposes.

The Criminalization of Cannabis

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In the early 20th Century, the Mexican Revolution had just ended and many Mexicans were immigrating to American states like Texas and Louisiana. As the influx of Mexicans in the country kept rising, many began to fear that their way of life was being threatened. As a result, a few policies were enacted to reassure the people, one of which was the criminalization of cannabis. It is true that Mexicans smoked cannabis; it was a relaxant, not unlike cigarettes, which at the time were also prescribed for a variety of medical reasons.

Now, just under 100 years later, the conversation regarding cannabis has resurfaced in many places, not just in the United States.

To understand the effects of cannabis on modern day society, we look at the poster child of cannabis in Europe, the Netherlands, and the poster child in the U.S., namely the state of Colorado.

The Netherlands

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In this small European country, marijuana has been normalized over the last four decades, with policies increasingly in favor of relaxing laws that pertain to the drug. In a Washington Post article that explores the Dutch experiment with marijuana, it is revealed that the Dutch population as a whole consumes less weed than its neighbours who have not legalized the plant. The many studies conducted in the Netherlands also disprove that it is in fact a gateway drug.

However, in a 2015 study at Maastricht University in Holland, it was revealed that crime in the city of Maastricht had tripled since the legalization of weed in coffee shops and dispensaries. This is clarified further in the study, when it revealed that most of these crimes were committed by what the study’s authors referred to as “bad tourists.” Cars filled with French, German and Belgian youth go there for ‘drug tourism’ and end up wreaking havoc, not the Dutch themselves. Since then, there has been a tightening of laws; only allowing people with certain passports to enter a weed store in the city of Maastricht.

The United States (Colorado)

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In January 2014, the state of Colorado legalized the recreational use of marijuana to the delight of many of the plant’s proponents. In the 2016-2017 fiscal year, Colorado added 18,005 new jobs and a staggering 2.4 billion USD to its economy. It is estimated that every dollar spent in the weed industry generates between 2.13-2.40 USD in revenue, higher than almost any other retail product.

In a 2017 article for Money magazine, it is revealed that the money that came in from the weed industry is now being used to address mental health issues, helping create permanent housing for the homeless, and tackling the state’s opioid epidemic.

Weed growers in Colorado, because they are legal entities within the state, are now renting warehouses, purchasing irrigation systems and special lighting, and acquiring the services of lawyers, accountants and contractors of all sorts, creating more and more jobs relying solely on the cannabis industry.

The Bottom Line

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Many studies have been funded in different countries around the world, and many show that with the legalization of weed, crime goes down, the economy gets a big boost, and consumption of the drug actually decreases. On the other hand, a study in Maastricht University found that after following some students split into two groups (those who can buy cannabis legally and those who cannot) found that those who could not purchase cannabis legally anymore saw a rise in their grades, especially in subjects that were more number-based.

A lot of ethical and religious questions regarding cannabis are still at play in many of the countries considering to legalize. One school of thought believes that the economic benefits alone seem to merit the questioning of whether this is in fact worth pursuing or not, while others are worried about the potential effects of cannabis, particularly in the long run. While there will always be contrasting viewpoints regarding legalizing the drug, The Netherlands and the state of Colorado have shown that the conversation is still worth having.

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