In recent years, states that legalized medical cannabis are dealing with rising illegal cannabis use. This is in comparison to states that have no such laws, new research suggests. In addition to that, the percentage of marijuana abusers, or people who use the drug in unhealthy ways, is increasing in the same states. This is according to the findings in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.
Stats about Legal Medical Cannabis and Illegal Cannabis Use
In states where medical marijuana laws are absent, the use of illegal cannabis rose from 4.5% to 6.7%. This indicates an increase of 2.2%. On the other hand, states where medical cannabis is legal saw the figures go up from 5.6% to 9.2%. This shows an increase of 3.6% in illegal cannabis use.
The authors also see a similar rise in marijuana use disorders. Their incidence is increasing faster in states with medical marijuana laws than the states without. Marijuana dependence or Marijuana use disorder is demarcated in the 5th amendment of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). The sustained use of cannabis in spite of clinically noteworthy impairment, ranging from minor to severe.
The Positive Impact of Legalization
However, even though the study concludes an increase in disorders typically in adults, other studies show that a decline in the same disorder in teens from 2002 to 2013. In the research, two states, Colorado and California, are at the top for their higher percentages of illegal cannabis use. For instance, from 2001/2002 to 2012/2013, the rates of illegal use rose by 7 percentage points in Colorado. The corresponding increase in California is 5.3%. Both these states legalized marijuana for recreational use.
Deborah Hasin, a professor of epidemiology at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, explains how the medical marijuana laws discreetly send a message that the drug is safe for use and acceptable in some way. With this unspoken message, more and more people feel free to use weed just like alcohol. They use it as a way to relax or deal with problems, such as depression or anxiety.
The spread of medical cannabis dispensaries translates to greater availability of the drug. This might also encourage unlawful use, as per director of the RAND Corporation’s Bing Center for Health Economics, Rosalie Pacula. Mason Tvert of the pro-legalization Marijuana Policy Project criticized Hasin’s team’s data. He said it contradicted previous research on the same subject.
Overall, researchers admit to a number of limitations in the study. These include potential inaccuracies and discrepancies regarding self-reported data. For example, many marijuana users today may feel more comfortable about disclosing their use of the substance. This was not the case in the past. It will take more research and studies to draw a solid conclusion. Only then we can explain exactly why medical cannabis laws trigger the increase of illegal cannabis use.