Lessons Learned From Four Years of Marijuana Legalization — The SAM Report

Lessons Learned After Four Years of Marijuana LegalizationThough it is still early, these “experiments” in legalization are not succeeding. Marijuana commercialization is failing as a public health approach to drug use.

In the wake of multimillion-dollar political campaigns funded with out-of-state money, Colorado and Washington voted to legalize marijuana in November 2012. Though it would take more than a year to set up retail stores, personal use (CO, WA) and home cultivation (in CO, which includes giving away of up to six plants) were almost immediately legalized after the vote. (Get the full 18-page Slide Deck Here)

Public marijuana use, though illegal, remains a common way to observe the law. Also, a brand-new marijuana industry selling candies, cookies, waxes, sodas, and other marijuana items has exploded—and with it a powerful lobby to fight any sensible regulation.

Though it is still early—the full effects on mental health and educational outcomes, for example, will take many more years to fully develop—these “experiments” in legalization and commercialization are not succeeding by any measure.


Marijuana youth use rates are highest in states with recreational and medical marijuana lawsColorado now leads the country in past-month marijuana use by youth, with Washington not much further behind. Other states that have since legalized marijuana occupy 4th place (District of Columbia) and 5th place (Oregon). States with lax “medical marijuana” laws occupy 2nd and 3rd place (Vermont and Rhode Island, respectively).
Additionally, as explained in greater detail below, the laws have had significant negative impacts on public health and safety, such as:
• Rising rates of pot use by minors
• Increasing arrest rates of minors, especially black and Hispanic children
• Higher rates of traffic deaths from driving while high
• More marijuana-related poisonings and hospitalizations
• A persistent black market that may now involve increased Mexican cartel activity in Colorado

(Get the full 18-page Slide Deck Here)