When key states like California, Nevada and Colorado voted to allow recreational marijuana, it was unclear what the economic outcome would be. Many people thought the only stimulus the new laws would provide would be to Seven Eleven and the local head shop.
Now that enough time has passed to make an informed assessment of legal weed's impact on America's economy, it is clear that there are real and lasting effects.
The drug’s medicinal qualities are being put to use in new ways and helping reduce the cost of health care for people who otherwise would have been prescribed powerful narcotics, and that is only one example of the positive outcome legal weed promises.
Let’s take a closer look at how legalization is a boon for the economy and health care.
The government is the only drug-selling operation in the country more prosperous than Starbucks — you didn't think they were going to allow legal weed without making a buck on it, did you?
In 2015, the state of Colorado brought in over $996 billion in marijuana sales. North American sales increased 30% in 2016 to $6.7 billion and are expected to continue gaining momentum toward $20.1 billion gross sales in 2021. The tax revenue that these operations generate goes toward state programs.
Building roads, funding education, staffing public offices — these are all areas where states have seen more leeway after the introduction of legal weed.
On top of that, the dispensaries and related businesses create jobs. In California, the industry has introduced an estimated 81,000 new direct and indirect jobs and is projected to generate more than $1.7 billion in labor income.
Marijuana users have promoted the drug's medicinal qualities for decades. However, without state support, they couldn't legally treat medical conditions using pot.
The drug's anti-inflammatory properties and pain suppressant effects are only a few of the medical benefits marijuana can offer at a fraction of the price patients pay for narcotics.
For some patients, pot isn't an alternative — it's the only answer.
When the family of a 5-year-old stricken with epilepsy couldn't find an effective treatment for her dangerous grand-mal seizures, an Orlando doctor recommended a particular strain of medical marijuana. After seeing signs of hope using low-THC marijuana in Florida, the girl’s family relocated to Colorado where they could legally treat her with more potent drugs and finally find a way to stop her seizures entirely.
Additionally, for the millions of Americans covered by Medicare, the cost of narcotics and many other drugs is passed along to the government. With medical marijuana available, they have an alternative that is less damaging, equally or more effective, and cheaper than habit-forming painkillers and opioids.
The lower cost of the drug means Medicare is charged less. It’s a win-win.
Speaking of opioids — perhaps the most frightening new development in American drug use has nothing to do with marijuana.
In the last decade, the nation has experienced a dramatic uptick in heroin overdoses. Urban centers like New Hampshire and northern California have been plagued by the influx of fentanyl-laced super heroin that can kill in a single dose.
Getting clean when you’re addicted to opioids can be life-threatening. The drug’s physical hold on users is incredibly powerful. Many clinics use methadone, a less powerful opiate, to wean users off of heroin.
However, new studies show that when heroin-dependent users were given marijuana, three-quarters of them were successful in tapering off of heroin use. States with medical cannabis available see a nearly 25% lower rate of overdose fatalities from opiates than those without.
Ultimately, health care exists to keep people healthy. A system in financial turmoil can't do that.
However, the introduction of cannabis, both medically and recreationally, has created new revenue streams and reduced costs for social care programs, bolstering the medical community’s ability to deliver care with next-to-no downside.
For patients who rely on the benefits of medical cannabis, there's no going back.
For states, shutting down dispensaries would be forfeiting significant tax revenue and destroying jobs. Neither seems likely, and although the federal government still takes a negative stance toward marijuana, it seems that nationwide legalization is only a matter of when, not if.