Marijuana Legalization Has a Surprising Effect On Crime

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Cannabis continues to provide economic and health benefits in states that have made it legal. Some of the results were expected, such as police arresting fewer people in those states on marijuana-related charges.

But others have been welcome surprises.

A new study shows that cannabis legalization may be partly responsible for reducing the use of opioids, alcohol, and nicotine in legal cannabis states. The impact has been significant among those between the ages of 21 and 25.

While some anticipated that cannabis and CBD could impact opioid use (even replacing it for post-operative patients), the other benefits have raised eyebrows.

Researchers at the University of Washington said that their findings undermine concerns by cannabis legalization opponents that marijuana serves as a gateway drug.

“Contrary to concerns about spillover effects, implementation of legalized nonmedical cannabis coincided with decreases in alcohol and cigarette use and pain reliever misuse,” they wrote.

RELATED: More Americans Support Cannabis Legalization, Prefer Weed Over Alcohol

The study looked at six tears of data

Published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, the study analyzed data from 12,694 adults from 2014 to 2019. Researchers found a reduction of the following among those between the ages of 21-25:

  • Prevalence of past-month alcohol use
  • Heavy episodic drinking (HED)
  • Cigarette use
  • Prevalence of past-year pain reliever misuse

While they wrote that the “weakening association of cannabis use with the use of other substances” requires further research, their findings suggested increased importance in cannabis-specific prevention and treatment.

In a blog post about the study, NORML’s Deputy Director Paul Armentano said that “real-world data from legalization states” continue to undermine arguments that cannabis will act as a gateway drug to using other substances.

“In fact, in many instances, cannabis regulation is associated with the decreased use of other substances, including many prescription medications,” he wrote.

RELATED: Americans Choosing Marijuana Over Alcohol: Healthy New Trend?

Other studies have reached similar conclusions

Armentano and other marijuana advocates are correct in saying that findings from recent studies have shown a correlation between decreased opioid use and legalized marijuana. Other studies have also found that marijuana offers effective pain management.

For example, a study published in the Pain Medicine Journal found that patients who used cannabis reported better pain management and quality of life and reduced use of opioids. Another study from Canada, where cannabis has been legal since 2018, found that people who used cannabis reported improvement in sleep, PTSD, and pain management.

A 2022 study from the University of Michigan found that a combination of flower, tinctures, oils, and edibles provided the best pain management results.

A study published in the British Medical Association Journal found that counties in the United States with cannabis dispensaries had fewer opioid-related deaths when compared to counties without a dispensary.

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