One of the final breathless gasps coming from the dwindling anti-cannabis crowd is that legalizing cannabis will create a marketplace driven by the capitalist creed to sell more and more.
This, prohibitionists argue, will lead to spikes in consumption especially, they warn, amongst America’s vulnerable youth.
Instead, they offer a swampy stoop that they consider to be middle ground – decriminalization.
Less than half a solution, decriminalization at best provides limited cover for some low level cannabis consumers, and by definition excludes those on the supply side of the equation that cultivate and sell cannabis.
The contention that cannabis use gets … ahem … higher post-legalization is a myth both among adults and among the kiiiiiiiids. We have 10 states now that have implemented adult use recreational cannabis laws, some dating back more than half a decade, and the numbers don’t lie.
A recent study released by researchers at Colorado Mesa University surveyed 1,400 people from Washington, Colorado, and Australia in an effort to learn how different types of cannabis reform measures impact consumption rates.
The sample group from the state of Washington offered a useful dichotomy in that the state’s voters overwhelmingly approved the legalization of rec weed in 2012 by a 55-44 drubbing, but it took nearly two full years for the state to get the framework for the trailblazing endeavor into operation.
In that window of time in between, reasonable cannabis possession was decriminalized but there was no regulatory system in place for growers or dealers to get legal.
Of course, with a commodity like cannabis, there will never be a shortage of growers and dealers who aren’t really interested in getting legal anyway and so demand is usually met by ample supply, and in that window of time the CMU study revealed that Washington saw a 12-22% spike in reported cannabis use among college undergrads.
Once it began to become accessible for those over the age of 21 in the state in July of 2016, interestingly, no further surge or spike in use was reported.
Data pulled from Down Under in Australia only served to bolster the battle against decriminalization-only cannabis laws. Though there is no legal cannabis industry in the country/continent, when lawmakers decided to decriminalize possession of the plant, reported use of cannabis allegedly rose by 16%.
Now, all of these numbers need to be taken with a healthy dab of skepticism.
The only way for researchers to get data like this is the old fashioned way – they need to ask people. Even though it is easier to communicate with the people you care about now more than ever, it is becoming increasingly difficult to take these telephone survey reports seriously knowing that nobody has ever called me or anyone I know and I probably wouldn’t even answer if they tried.
So what you are left with is whatever half a high school gym full of people telling a stranger on the phone about their possible cannabis habits.
It stands to reason that those spikes that we see in polling results of people fessing up to toking up could, in large part, be due to folks being more willing or less paranoid about discussing their cannabis use with that stranger on the other end.
Polling a subject like cannabis will probably produce unreliable results for years to come as a century of unfair discrimination against the plant and those associated with it will take some time to totally overcome.
But even mainstream polls are always flawed by limited scope and human propensity to play loose with the truth when pressured by the unknown.
Even if that is the argument, it only proves to us that cannabis prohibition makes people uncomfortable talking about pot but they’re still going to smoke it regardless of the law.
Therefore, prohibition doesn’t help people, it only subjects them to a higher potential for crimes committed either by them or on them.
Decriminalization only benefits a fraction of a fraction of the cannabis community and doesn’t lead to a rise in use but rather a rise in the average person’s willingness to admit their use.
For this reason, and on behalf of the risk-takers growing and pushing the plant we love, we cannot ever accept decriminalization as an alternative to full spectrum cannabis legalization. The funny thing is, if everyone in the U.S. really told the truth about their cannabis use, the spike would be off the charts.