20th Century

No point in legalizing weed for recreational use

By Adam Ramos

Adam Ramos delves into the recent past to see if the promised benefits from legalizing marijuana for recreational use in some parts of the United States have been realized.

Marijuana has never been a controversy in the United States until the past 20 years.  The campaign to legalize recreational marijuana is based upon the arguments that U.S states will earn more money and get rid of criminal activity like gangs, black-markets, and cartels.  When looking at the states where recreational marijuana has been legalized, however, all the great things that were said to come with legalization, never came.  Recreational marijuana should be kept illegal because it does not bring in the money it was promised; it does not take control of the production and sale of marijuana out of the hands of criminals and it comes with health risks.

At a federal level, cannabis is illegal yet many states have and are attempting to make this drug legal at the state level.  So far there have already been nine states, as well as Washington D.C., to legalize marijuana for recreational use and there are 32 states that have legalized the substance for medical use.  The process in which these states went through to legalize marijuana for recreational use, was by passing a ballot like Colorado and Oregon did.  Oregon held a ballot upon so-called Measure 91 which allowed for

Adult possession of less than one ounce of marijuana [which] was decriminalized on the first of July 2015, [then] sales of retail marijuana through existing dispensaries began in October 2015, and licensing of retail stores started in October 2016.[1]

Now, readers were not born yesterday: when someone approaches a black-market cannabis dealer, they ask for a certain amount of the substance, they pay for it, and the transaction is completed with only two parties involved.  When people purchase from a dispensary, however, there are three parties involved in the transaction: the consumer asks the dispensary for the same amount of the substance, and they pay for that in addition to the state tax that they have on marijuana.  This way dispensaries make money from selling marijuana, while the state makes their money from this by adding a tax on it.

One of recreational marijuana biggest claims for legalization, is the fact that marijuana has such a high demand and when the state has it to supply, large amounts of money will be produced, benefiting the state as a whole. Yet when we look at the states that have already legalized marijuana for recreation use, this is not the case.  J. Sullum reveals that

In Feburary 2014, a month after legal recreation pot sales began in Colorado, Gov. John Hickenlooper projected that marijuana taxes would raise $118 million for the following fiscal year.[2]

But when the fiscal year ended, only $66 million had been earned.  That number is just scrapping by $59 million, which is only half of what the Governor predicted would be raised and only represented 0.3 percent of the state’s $23.1 million budget.

After one year, not even one percent of the state’s budget had been affected by marijuana legalization, adding little to state coffers. 

To give the benefit of the doubt, that figure was only one year of marijuana being legalized, so after a few years of operation, this should have surely changed.  The Colorado Legislative Council say otherwise, projecting 83 million in 2017-2018 which, yet again, is nowhere close to the $118 million predicted by Governor John Hickenlooper.  This minute sum of money accumulated from recreational marijuana sales was collected with heavy taxes on marijuana sales.

guzman arrest

Mexican cartel leader, Guzman, arrested – has legalizing marijuana for recreational use really taken control of the drug’s sale out of criminals’ hands?

In Colorado. when they passed the Amendment 64 to legalize marijuana, policy-makers decided that marijuana should be “taxed in a manner similar to alcohol”—that is, that taxes should be kept fairly low. But in practice Colorado is taxing marijuana much more heavily than they do alcohol, and just like Colorado, Washington also places high taxes on recreational marijuana sales with a 37 percent marijuana-specific tax, in addition to standard state and local sales taxes which makes marijuana purchased from state dispensaries almost fifty percent more expensive than it would be normally.

These high taxes do not help recreational marijuana’s campaign at all for a few reasons, and far from taking control away from criminal gangs, criminals’ control of the marijuana trade have actually increased. High taxes are causing a reverse effect by causing consumers to look elsewhere to purchase marijuana, resulting in the increase in black market and the state losing money. In Washington, the Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB) established quotas for marijuana production based on the assumption that state-licensed stores would initially capture 25 percent of the market,[3] but after a year of legal sales the LCB Deputy Director Randy Simmons put the stores’ share of total cannabis consumption at 10 percent, meaning that the other 90 percent was still being distributed by the untaxed black market.  With such high taxes on marijuana, consumers will not want to purchase from state dispensaries, causing the black market to always exist. This of course may make some readers think that the states where marijuana is legal should not tax the substance so highly, but any significant reduction in taxes would decrease the already modest gains from taxable sales of marijuana.

High taxes are not the only reason that the black market is still thriving.  There are other laws that have been made that, again, cause a reverse effect on legalizing recreational marijuana’s campaign.  Vermont allows for home growing of marijuana but there are certain factors that come from this resulting in small scale marijuana distribution.  An adult is permitted to have one plant growing in their house at one time and according to Colorado’s Marijuana Enforcement Division and evidence suggests that one mature plant produces 335 grams a year but can be even more if plants are grown outside.  Even the heaviest of smokers would only need one plant to fulfill their needs as well as exceed the 28-gram limit allowed for recreational use.  In states like Alaska, Colorado and Washington D.C, adults can have up to six plants, but only three can be flowering at one time.  If all three of those plants are mature and in the correct conditions, 1005 grams of weed can be produced.[4]

If one plant can produce more than enough for one person, why can three be grown at one time and produce such an extreme amount?  This is when the question arises: what do they do will all the extra marijuana? This is where the black market is fueled to continue to exist.

All this extra marijuana will not be thrown away but will be sold.  This presents people who would have never sold marijuana with the option of now selling it illegally.  This also presents the opportunity for those people already involved in the black market to grow marijuana legally and then sell it.  This was the case in Colorado where

Local officials said that Mexican cartels were growing marijuana under the cover of legal operations.[5]

If the states that have legalized marijuana for recreational use wanted to maximize their income, why allow for individuals to grow their own to the point where they will not ever spend a penny at one of the state dispensaries? They lose customers who would be initially spending money on the state tax. By allowing for individuals to grow their own, it does nothing but fuel the black market and cause the state to lose money.

Aside from the negative effects Recreational marijuana has on the legalized states, there are also the many negative effects that marijuana has on health.  Marijuana is a substance that impairs you; your vision, way of thinking, actions, and reaction time are all things that occur when a person has taken marijuana. As a result

After retail stores opened in Colorado, emergency room visits related to marijuana shot up nearly 30% and hospitalizations related to marijuana rose 200%.[6]

These health-related incidents are all due to people having attempted to carry out dangerous or hazardous activities such as driving having taken the substance.

Also—in spite of some recreational marijuana activists’ attempts to downplay the health effects of the drug itself—marijuana does affect the brain in many different ways such as increasing the risk of developing schizophrenia, depression and other psychiatric disorders, so researchers at Harvard University and Northwestern University found when their studies revealed that some recreational marijuana smokers had abnormalities in the shape, volume, and density of certain areas of the brain”.[7]

The brain is not the only way health is affected; most people smoke marijuana along with tobacco which damages the lungs and causes respiratory problems—a perhaps unsurprising side effect of the drug’s use. While it is obvious that cigarettes affect your lungs and body in terrible ways, there is evidence to suggest that smoking one marijuana joint is as damaging to the lungs as five tobacco cigarettes.[8]

Critics might say that alcohol has health risks, that it is legal, and adults should make up their own mind about what they want to put in their bodies. To raise such an objection is merely a bit of “whataboutery”. The debate here is about marijuana; many U. S. states are attempting to make it legal without analyzing the effects on other states that have it already legalized it.


Recreational marijuana activists promised less black-market activity—the opposite has happened.  The high state taxes on marijuana caused people to turn back to the black market and allowing home growing resulted in more illegal activity, thereby reducing the amount of money the states can make.  While high promises were made about the amount the amount of revenue a state could earn from legalizing the substance for enjoyment, the amount of money actually coming in is nowhere close to what was promised. And none of the supposed benefits of legalizing cannabis for enjoyment come negate the negative health effects of its use. Medicinal marijuana is fine—but let’s at least be honest about the fact that very few benefits will come from making the substance legal for recreational purposes.

[1] S. Fiala, et al, ‘Exposure to Marijuana Marketing After Legalization of Retail Sales: Oregonians’ Experiences, 2015-2016′, American Journal Of Public Health, 108: 1 (2018), 120-127.

[2] J. Sullum, ‘Americans Love Pot Taxes’, Reason, 47: 9 (2016), 42-46.

[3] Sullum, op cit.

[4] Jonathan P. Caulkins, ‘Considering marijuana legalization carefully: insights for other jurisdictions from analysis for Vermont’, Addiction, 111: 12 (2016), 2082–89.

[5] Anon, 2018. ‘Recreational Marijuana’. [online]. Available at: marijuana.procon.org. [Accessed                  23 September 2018].

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

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