Pitfalls of legalization can lead to a better regulatory scheme

The industry should aim to understand the long-term impacts

The pro-cannabis crowd — myself included — often accuses prohibitionists of covering up the facts, using data selectively to further their argument and ignoring the overwhelming statistical and anecdotal evidence supporting the legalization of marijuana. And rightfully so.

Legalization opponents have been cherry-picking whatever details they can to portray the negative impacts of cannabis for nearly a century. Harry Anslinger, the first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, ignored evidence provided in the 1930s by medical doctors that was contrary to his assertion that marijuana was highly addictive and led to violence among its users.

In 1972, the Shafer Commission recommended the decriminalization of marijuana. Instead, then-President Richard Nixon, who appointed the commission, ignored its report as he proceeded with the opening salvo of the War on Drugs — revealed decades later to be weaponized propaganda against minorities and Vietnam War protestors.

Today, the federal government’s misinformation campaign has been well-documented — yet remains intact.

That being said, I also see a lot of people in the cannabis community who do the exact same thing when it comes to information that might be negative regarding marijuana. The immediate reaction is to dismiss anything that suggests a negative health implication or a social harm.

I understand this is a defense mechanism. After decade upon decade of stigmatization and blatant lies from the authorities, it’s only natural to be on high alert for the next wave of propaganda or another government-sponsored study that knocks the legalization movement back 20 years.

But I think it’s time to embrace good, solid research, even if it means shining a light on some of the less appealing side effects of legalization.

Overall, I think everybody in this industry can agree that the dangers of prohibition far outweigh those of legalization. But being a reliable source of the best information available means taking the good with the bad.

A couple research projects in particular have caught my eye recently.

Most people probably saw the good news that marijuana consumption among youths has hit a 20-year low — a critical detail supporting the concept that a legal, regulated marketplace is ultimately safer than a world where drug dealers don’t require a valid ID to make a purchase.

But on the flip side, university research from the Netherlands indicates that college students with access to recreational cannabis earn worse grades on average and fail classes at a higher rate. It’s not a detail that’s worth panicking about, but it’s also not so insignificant that it should be swept under the rug. Does it mean that college students should be prohibited from pot shops? Obviously not. But we can’t gloss over something that exposes a potential downside of legalization — in this instance, decreasing academic achievement.

This is what the tobacco industry did for years. The same can often be said of the alcohol, sugary snack food and automobile industries.

But I look at this research as a positive: These insights will help us build a better regulatory system. They’ll help us differentiate between genuine pitfalls and emotionally-driven concerns from those who still believe banning something makes it go away.

Let’s not bury our heads in the sand when it comes to information that might help us understand the long-term impacts of legalization. We can embrace these studies. We can embrace more research.

We need to be better than Anslinger, better than Nixon, and better than modern-day fear-mongers like Kevin Sabet if we hope to continue bringing this industry out of the shadows.


Garrett Rudolph


This story was originally published in the November 2017 issue of Marijuana Venture, on sale now. 



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