Skip to content
Equality
QuickTake

How Legal Weed Has Changed the US for Better and Worse

Sales generated more than $11 billion in tax revenue for states and localities from 2014 through 2021.

Sales generated more than $11 billion in tax revenue for states and localities from 2014 through 2021.

Photographer: Pablo Monsalve/VIEW press/Getty Images

From

Turn an illicit product into a highly taxed and regulated one and you have a classic business experiment. Do it with a little-studied psychoactive substance that has both medical promise and addictive potential and you have a public health trial, too. That’s what the US has done with cannabis, otherwise known as marijuana, pot or weed. Changes in state laws since 1996 have given 74% of the US population access to some form of legal cannabis. The impact of that shift has been difficult to measure, as each state tracks data differently, if at all. What evidence there is shows that while legitimizing cannabis has generated jobs and tax revenue, the larger effects on society are a mixed bag. The effects on crime rates and social justice have been positive, but not entirely so. Some people seem to benefit from access to marijuana, but there are signs its easy availability puts more people at risk of addiction to it and increases cases of impaired driving.

Apart from getting people high, there’s solid evidence that it reduces chronic pain, multiple-sclerosis-related muscle spasms, and chemotherapy-related nausea, according to one of the largest studies, a 2017 report that reviewed more than 10,000 scientific abstracts since 1999.