Marijuana Legalization: Public Health, Safety, and Economic Factors for States to Consider

Dara Lee Luca

Huihua Lu

Sarah Bardin

Key Findings
  • Legalizing marijuana may reduce criminal justice resources needed for marijuana offenses, which has both economic and societal benefits.
  • Legalization also brings fiscal and societal costs related to addiction, potential long-term health risks (particularly for adolescents), and marijuana-impaired driving.
  • More information channels are needed between agencies (for program coordination), to research and community partners (for data collection and evaluation), and to the general public (for outreach and education).
  • Data are lacking on interactions between economic, health, and safety effects, and the factors that drive black-market purchasing.

States have had a wide variety of experiences with recreational marijuana legalization, based in part on whether their retail program built on an existing medical marijuana program, how well expectations about market size lined up with actual demand in the first years of legalization, and how closely the state regulates sales and cultivation. Drawing on our research for the Massachusetts Marijuana Baseline Health Study, we discuss several factors that state and local governments should consider with respect to tax revenue, public health, public safety, and regulatory oversight. We also describe an online tool we developed to help states anticipate the short-term budgetary impact of retail marijuana legalization, including estimated tax revenues and the costs of establishing proper oversight.

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