Over the past few years, new laws have made cannabis more accessible in countries around the world. The Netherlands decriminalized the substance in 1976, but more recently, other countries such as Israel and Canada have implemented medical marijuana legislation. But the legalization of marijuana in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington has perhaps garnered the most attention.
But old habits die hard, and harmful anti-cannabis rhetoric has continued in the wake of these decisions. In the last Canadian election, for example, then-prime minister Stephen Harper promised to bolster criminal drug laws, claiming that legalization in Colorado resulted in poor health, addiction and children’s use of marijuana. These assertions aren’t just opportunistic, they’re also untrue. Last year, the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy launched the #CannabisClaims campaign to dispel some of the harmful rumours surrounding the legalization of marijuana in these four U.S. states. As you’ll see below, many of these negative claims use distorted information or outright lies to justify political agendas.
MYTH: Legalizing Marijuana Makes It More Available
Harper claimed that legalization resulted in an increase in marijuana use among children. However, prohibition itself is ineffective at preventing youth from using the substance. A study from the Institute for Social Research and the National Institute on Drug Abuse indicated that in 2015, 80 percent of respondents in the 12th grade reported “that they could get marijuana fairly easily or very easily if they wanted some.” #CannabisClaims argues that legalizing marijuana will reduce youths’ ability to access cannabis in a manner similar to the decline in cigarette availability between 1992 and 2015.
MYTH: More People Will Use Marijuana upon Legalization
Again, prohibition and harsh drug punishments do not necessarily deter drug use. A 2011 report from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction found that drug policy changes over the course of ten years did not affect cannabis use. It is too early to study the effects of recreational marijuana legalization will have on use rates in the United States. However, a study in The Lancet Psychiatry of youth cannabis use in jurisdictions that legalized medicinal marijuana found that there was no major difference in marijuana use before and after legalization took place.
MYTH: Legalization Will Lead to More Impaired Driving
Since Colorado legalized marijuana, the state has introduced laws to limit THC blood levels in drivers, as well as a major education push about the substance. This has increased public awareness of potential harmful behaviour, similar to campaigns that have focused on drunk driving. It is also too early to gain credible data about cannabis-related impaired driving rates in the four states that have legalized marijuana, so claiming that the drug will increase impaired driving is irresponsible and not backed up by facts.
MYTH: Drug Crime Will Remain Prevalent Under Legalization
Under prohibition, possession and distribution of marijuana constitutes drug crime. Therefore, if these practices become legal, drug crime will decrease because those who would have been arrested are no longer a threat. Furthermore, the supply of cannabis will no longer come from illegal sources, but from a regulated and credible merchant. While some definition of drug crime, like unlicensed sellers, will always exist, the legalization of cannabis will make a difference in the prevention of such crimes.
MYTH: Marijuana is a Gateway Drug, and Legalization Will Lead to an Increase in the Abuse of Other Narcotics
This is a standard example of confusing correlation with cause. Some users of marijuana will go on to use harder drugs. However, this may be due to other underlying factors such as lifestyle, personality, mental health, and more. The belief that marijuana use causes further drug abuse has never been proven, and some studies have even found that legal substances such as alcohol and tobacco have greater links to narcotics compared to cannabis.