There are some important changes happening in the way the world thinks about cannabis. These changes are most clearly seen in the growing number of countries starting to legalize weed. As this movement grows, it’s easier to see the real-world effects of legalization. There is still a lot we don’t know, but using the information available, here are the four most important long-term effects on countries that have legalized cannabis.
1. Legal Weed Slows Down Illegal Drug Trafficking
From what we have seen so far, legalization does not immediately get rid of the cannabis black market. But the long-term effects definitely slows down illegal drug trafficking.
For example, legalization in Uruguay has helped lower the price of weed on the black market. Reports from 2014 said that weed prices fell by 20 to 30 percent in the years following the country’s decision to make weed legal. These lower prices make it less profitable for drug traffickers to produce and ship weed into and around the country.
Similarly, data from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) shows that drug trafficking is slowing down in the U.S. as more states make weed legal. As of 2015, cannabis seizures at the country’s southwest border fell to their lowest rates in at least a decade. Back in 2009, the DEA seized 4 million pounds of illegal weed. But in 2015, the agency only took 1.5 million pounds.
2. Legalization Leads To Increased Economic Activity
The Netherlands—and especially Amsterdam—is probably the most famous weed-legal place in the world. Since the country has such a strong legal cannabis industry we have some solid data on the legal weed economy. One report found that cannabis coffee shops alone make more than $3 billion every year.
The Wall Street Journal estimated that the legal weed market in Uruguay could be worth around $40 million. Experts also predicted that the industry there would trade between eight and 22 million tons of cannabis.
Similar reports are coming out of states in the U.S. that have legalized weed. For example, the cannabis industry in Colorado created an economic impact worth more than $2 billion in 2015 alone. That impact included the amount of money directly involved in selling and buying legal weed. It also included all the jobs that the legal cannabis industry helped create.
Similarly, Oregon’s legal cannabis industry has created $46 million in new wages. In a struggling economy, that is a significant figure.
The legal cannabis industry as a whole has created more than 120,000 new full-time jobs in the U.S. Whether it’s money, financial transactions, or new jobs, legal weed’s long-term effects generate significant new economic activity.
3. Legal Cannabis Gives Countries New Streams Of Tax Revenue
All that economic activity means a lot of new tax revenue. The Dutch government pulls in over $600 million in weed taxes every year from its coffee shop scene.
In the U.S., states that have legalized weed have also seen huge returns in cannabis taxes. For example, the legal cannabis industry in Colorado was worth more than $1 billion in 2016. That translated into well over $150 million in taxes. The state uses that money to improve infrastructure, build schools, give students scholarships, combat homelessness, and to fund other social programs.
Experts estimate that if weed became legal in the entire U.S., it would generate $28 billion in taxes. Similarly, a report published in 2016 said that if England legalized weed, it would see £1 billion in new taxes.
4. It Gives More People Access To Medical Cannabis
This is one of the long-term effects that is simple logic. When weed is legal, it’s easier for people to get it for medicinal purposes. And that is exactly what happens whenever countries make cannabis legal.
In the U.S., for example, stats show that there are well over 1 million medical marijuana patients in states that have made it legal. On average, there are 8.06 medical cannabis patients per 1,000 residents. If the U.S. chose to make weed legal at the federal level, that would equate to 2.6 million medical marijuana patients.
Final Hit: The Global Cannabis Scene
The global cannabis scene is rapidly evolving. For example, Uruguay became the first country to make cannabis universally legal. But the country has had difficulties implementing legal channels for growing, distributing, and selling cannabis. The country will finally start selling over-the-counter weed this summer.
Similarly, South Africa’s High Court just ruled that cannabis prohibition is unconstitutional. It ordered the federal government to change the country’s cannabis laws. The court’s ruling effectively made it legal to use cannabis in private.
Along with these countries, it is legal to use cannabis in The Netherlands, much of Spain, and in a number of U.S. states. Canada just rolled out legislation to make weed fully legal by 2018.
Other countries that have decriminalized cannabis or that have lax weed laws include: