Pubdate: Thu, 20 Oct 2016
Source: Elko Daily Free Press (NV)
Copyright: 2016 Elko Daily Free Press
Author: Ron Knecht and Geoffrey Lawrence


Nevadans will vote in coming days on legalizing the recreational use
of marijuana here, as four other states have already done.

Both advocates and opponents have made strident cases to support their
views. However, the two camps cite data that appears to conflict. We
have mixed views on this initiative, but we are interested in
informational clarity.

So, we were delighted recently to read an analysis of the objective
trends by Harvard economics professor Jeffrey Miron and his
co-authors. They use recent data from Colorado, Washington, Oregon and
Alaska to dispel many myths propagated by both sides.

They examine how drug use patterns have changed in states following
legalization of marijuana. For data, they rely on the federally funded
National Survey on Drug Use and Health. It shows the proportion of
respondents who report having used marijuana in the past year has
remained basically stable since 2002, at 55 to 60 percent in each
state. Although there are few data points since the first
legalizations in 2012, there has been no observable increase in use.

In their words: "The data do not show dramatic changes in use rates
corresponding to either the expansion of medical marijuana or
legalization. Similarly, cocaine exhibits a mild downward trend over
the time period but shows no obvious change after marijuana policy
changes. Alcohol use shows a pattern similar to marijuana: a gradual
upward trend but no obvious evidence of a response to marijuana policy."

Miron and company suggest that a long-running trend of increasing
exposure to marijuana among the adult population has reduced its
stigma and generated the cultural acceptance that leads to
legalization in the first place. "In essence," they say, "rising
marijuana use may not be a consequence of legalization, but a cause of

They also address the impact of legalization on measures of public
health, crime, road safety, educational outcomes, the economy, and
state fiscal health.

In each area, the claims of proponents and critics are wildly
contradictory. Proponents argue that marijuana can treat or prevent
many diseases and that legalization will lead to improved public
health. Opponents believe marijuana causes depression, anxiety,
schizophrenia and other disorders. But the data shows no observable
trends in public health following legalization.

Critics believe legalization would cause a spike in crime while
proponents believe that black markets are the true cause of
drug-related crime and that legalization makes everyone safer. But
records from the Denver police department show no change in overall
crime rates following legalization. In Seattle, crime "has neither
soared nor plummeted in the wake of legalization."

A particular concern of critics is that children could face greater
exposure to marijuana through a legal and regulated market than a
black market. As parents, we're sensitive to this concern, but Miron's
team finds no discernable changes in teen use or academic performance
following legalization.

Proponents tell us that legalization would create a whole new
industry, boost economic growth, and create a huge source of tax
revenues for state and local coffers. These claims are overblown, too.
"Data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis show little evidence of
significant Gross Domestic Product (GDP) increases after legalization
in any state."

In all, Miron and company conclude, "state marijuana legalizations
have had minimal effect on marijuana use and related outcomes. We
cannot rule out small effects of legalization, and insufficient time
has elapsed since the four initial legalizations to allow strong
inference. On the basis of available data, however, we find little
support for the stronger claims made by either opponents or advocates
of legalization."

Ultimately, legalization has many complex, mixed and uncertain
effects, and which side the balance favors depends also on people's

But the choice also greatly depends on details of an initiative. And
initiatives don't present the pure question as it might be discussed
in a Saturday night college dorm bull session. Instead, because major
economic interests are involved on both sides, such measures are
always freighted with particulars that favor the hidden interests of
proponents. And many opponents have hidden special interests too.

So, folks should make their own reasoned decisions knowing that many
claims they hear from both sides are all huff and puff with no
empirical support.

Ron Knecht is Nevada Controller. Geoffrey Lawrence is Assistant
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