|Health Factors:||Alcohol & Drug Use|
|Decision Makers:||State Government|
|Population Reach:||50-99% of WI's population|
|Impact on Disparities:|
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Legalizing marijuana entails removing prohibitions on its production, distribution, and possession by adults. Legalizing may simply repeal laws prohibiting marijuana, or may also institute regulations and impose taxes on the marijuana market (RAND-Kilmer 2012).
There is mixed evidence about the health risks and benefits of legalizing marijuana, and the effects it would have on alcohol use (Caulkins 2012). Available evidence indicates that legalization would drastically reduce the price of marijuana (RAND-Kilmer 2012), increasing the likelihood of use among youth (RAND-Kilmer 2012) and possibly lowering the age of initiation (Van Ours 2012). Initiation before adulthood could increase the likelihood of dependence and related harms (Caulkins 2012, Wilsey 2008, Bostwick 2012) whereas initiation over the age of 25 rarely results in dependence (Bostwick 2012).
Smoking marijuana could lead to respiratory problems, heart attacks, and cancers (Leung 2011); vaporizing instead of smoking may reduce these effects (Caulkins 2012, Bostwick 2012). Marijuana use may also increase the risk of psychotic and schizophrenic symptoms and may worsen schizophrenia, especially in genetically susceptible individuals and youth (Caulkins 2012, Bostwick 2012).
Using marijuana for medical purposes, however, appears to reduce neuropathic pain in some patients (Caulkins 2012, Cinti 2009, Wilsey 2008), and could also control nausea and stimulate appetite (Caulkins 2012). Some studies find that legalizing marijuana use for medical purposes does not increase use in the general population, but others find associations between legalization and use, perhaps because medical marijuana laws vary considerably (RAND-Kilmer 2012).
There are conflicting findings about the relationship between marijuana and alcohol use. Some studies suggest that marijuana availability increases alcohol use, other studies suggest that availability decreases use. Marijuana use impairs driving, although less so than alcohol use. If marijuana legalization reduced alcohol use, dependence, crime, and automotive crashes would decrease (Caulkins 2012).
Legalizing marijuana may not reduce drug-related violence in communities (RAND-Kilmer 2012, Caulkins 2012). States rarely imprison offenders for possession alone, but do arrest and detain them pretrial (RAND-Reuter 2010); only 8% of state and federal prisoners incarcerated for drug offenses are serving time for marijuana offenses alone (Caulkins 2012). Blacks are more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites, despite similar prevalence rates (Ramchand 2006). Preliminary, California-based research suggests that state financial gains from legalization could offset associated increases in youth treatment costs and hospitalization (RAND-Pacula 2010). State taxation could counter expected increases in marijuana use, but very high taxes would lead to tax evasion (RAND-Kilmer 2012).
No nation has fully legalized recreational marijuana. Nations such as Portugal and the Netherlands have decriminalized marijuana possession but not production, and some nations have legalized marijuana for medical purposes (RAND-Kilmer 2012). Marijuana is illegal in the United States at the federal level. Colorado and Washington legalized recreational marijuana in 2012 (Coffman 2012). Both state governments regulate but do not own marijuana distribution venues, and impose modest sales taxes (RAND-Kilmer 2012). Alaska allows citizens to grow a small amount of marijuana for personal use only (Caulkins 2012). As of 2014, 20 states and Washington DC allow residents to use medical marijuana (LawAtlas-Marijuana). State and local police conducted approximately 736,000 arrests for marijuana possession and 96,000 for sales in 2010 (Caulkins 2012).
Possession and sale of marijuana is illegal in Wisconsin (FindLaw-WI Marijuana).
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