When contemplating the evolving consequences of marijuana legalization, it’s helpful to think about tradeoffs. Now that this “social experiment” is almost two years old, we’re starting to see signs that the influx of legal pot in Colorado and elsewhere may actually be helping remedy some far more serious societal problems than weed could ever cause.
One indication of this emerged last month, when scholars at the National Bureau of Economic Research outlined a study showing that states where medical marijuana has been legalized have seen their citizens’ opioid use drop by almost 25 percent.
A primary selling point of medical marijuana is its ability to act as a substitute for narcotic painkillers and muscle relaxers. Our nation’s addiction to these pharmaceuticals is well documented and has contributed mightily to an alarming spike in heroin abuse and overdose deaths in the past few years. (The number of people who have died from a marijuana overdose remains zero.)
Even though keeping marijuana away from kids remains a top priority, scare-stories about legal weed’s influence over them tend to be overblown, especially when compared to the risks children face from any number of everyday household products.
Another area where the pot tradeoff is encouraging is in traffic fatalities. Among the lowest totals of fatal vehicle crashes in Colorado for each calendar month, 11 of the 12 have occurred since medical marijuana moved into the mainstream in 2010. (Scroll down.) The highest totals for each month all occurred in 2005 or earlier.
The opioid and highway fatality numbers are worth monitoring at any time, and we should always be looking for ways to improve these statistics by any reasonable social, economic, scientific, or political means. But so far the numbers could be indicating that the more people choose marijuana, the less they’re opting for alcohol or prescription drugs. If this trend continues, that’s an obvious net win for Colorado and everyone else, and it suggests that those who are striving to undermine legalization would better serve society by focusing their energy and efforts on more dire and pressing problems.
Follow 5280 editor-at-large Luc Hatlestad on Twitter at @LucHatlestad,