The battle between the people, states, and the federal government has been long and tedious. Many people have pushed for legalization citing a variety of optimistic speculations about the big economic boom and others have held more critical aspects noting the lack of information around medicinal and industrial applications of cannabis. Regardless of the reason for legalization or not, it is undoubtedly going to lead to rapid economic change.
The cannabis industry has seen explosive development recently in legal states and has shown some success. It was estimated in 2017 that the industry could exceed $24 billion in revenue by 2025 (The Cannabist). Today, that estimate has changed from a meager $24 billion to nearly $80 billion by 2022 (Marijuana Business Factbook 6th Edition). Additionally, if the federal government established coherent laws instead of leaving it up to individual states, the United States could see $132 billion in federal tax revenue by 2025 and add more than 700,000 jobs to the economy (Business Insider).
Not only does Cannabis provide economical benefit through state and federal taxes, but it also means payday for many other industries as well. Construction companies would see growth as they are contracted for new cultivation facilities, dispensaries would attract consumers which boosts economic activity for the local economy, and printing companies are hired to produce packaging for products on the market. Following this, cannabis contributes to many other industries through its other form - the hemp plant.
Hemp has already found itself an established place in our economy as it has a broad set health and wellness, industrial, and commercial uses. In more recent years, it was been described as “Marijuana’s more lucrative sibling” because of its applications in both the medicinal and industrial markets however it has seen more growth in medicinal applications through its high CBD (cannabidiol - a non psychoactive substance found in cannabis) content. CBD has a variety of medicinal uses as an anti-inflammatory, preventing and reducing the symptoms of cancer, and treating glaucoma because it decreases the intraocular eye pressure. Aside from its versatile uses in the world of medicine, hemp products have been shown to be more durable, financially viable, and higher quality than its alternatives. For example, fabrics made from hemp are better quality and more sustainable than cotton, hemp paper is more eco-friendly durable than tree paper, and hemp extract contains antioxidant and neuroprotective properties to help your body’s homeostasis (Ministry of Hemp).
With the ever-growing leniency in laws around adult-use and medical cannabis, the hemp industry has also begun to see growth and movement in the decision to federally prohibit the growth of cannabis, which unfortunately groups hemp along with it. From 2016 to 2017, the number of hemp producers doubled and the top 10 hemp-growing states acreage licensed for cultivation grew by 140 percent (The Legal Intelligencer). Moreover, a 377 percent increase in the average number of acres licensed for production was observed between 2016 and 2017.
It hasn’t been a “straight A” streak for the cannabis industry though, there are still many concerns and obscurities around the claims made from enthusiasts and scientists.
One of the biggest concerns with the salvo of legal cannabis is its societal costs. Societal costs are expenses to an entire society, which include paying for increased emergency room visits and addiction treatment programs for the uninsured, higher DUI crime rates, and a negative impact on health from second-hand smoke (Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, “The Legalization of Marijuana in Colorado: The Impact”). Many worry that the societal cost of cannabis will far outweigh its revenue. To help create a better visualization of how much societal cost is, for alcohol it is approximated at $223.5 billion and $193 billion for tobacco (Ellen E. Bouchery, “Economic costs of Excessive Alcohol Consumption in the U.S.”).
In addition to societal costs, it is also widely believed that legalization will lead to increased use among teens. The percentage of underage cannabis use in every legal state is higher than the national average - 12.3% from 2015 to 2016 (SAMHSA, “National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Comparison of 2013-2014 and 2014-2015”). Prior to legalization, 16.21% of Colorado teens reported using cannabis in the past year; after legalization, that number jumped up to 20%. Similarly to alcohol, because the brain is not fully developed, exposure to cannabis can cause permanent adverse effects like impaired short-term memory, decreased concentration, and a slow-down in their cognitive performance (American Academy of Pediatrics, “The Impact of Marijuana Policies on Youth: Clinical, Research, and Legal Update”).
Furthermore, contrary to popular belief, organized crime has actually increased following the progression of legal states. It has opened up more opportunities to cartels and crime organizations for the black market. According to the Colorado Attorney General, cartels are trading drugs like heroin for cannabis which has since given rise to drug and human trafficking rates (Colorado Department of Public Safety, “Marijuana Legalization in Colorado: Early Findings”).
Despite the glaring issues that the legalization of cannabis poses to our society, I believe that it is still the right decision to decriminalize and legalize it. Cannabis can help push our economy into a prolific future with a positive outlook. Many of the concerns around it were already existent prior to the legalization of cannabis and will either way require intervention at some point in the future. The sustainability and viability of cannabis outweighs its alternatives on the market and offers a gateway into higher quality and more environmentally friendly products.
Cannabis has applications in all areas of our economy and is an already expanding presence on the market. Although it is still early, we can still observe many of its economical benefits over the past year in legal states. Moreover, scientists and research groups have been conducting studies to assess the risks of long-term cannabis use and its medical applications. With so many fronts, cannabis can lead to rapid and explosive development of many different industries in our economy.
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