In an increasing number of U.S. states, voters are approving (or will be voting on) the legalization of marijuana for medical or recreational purposes. These decisions could have far-ranging impacts in various areas.
Obviously, legalizing marijuana could change medicine. Studies have found that marijuana can help reduce pain. People with access to marijuana might use it instead of other painrelieving drugs.
It looks as if this has already started to happen. Researchers have reported that U.S. states that have legalized medical marijuana have issued millions of fewer prescriptions for opioid drugs (painkilling drugs related to opium, morphine, and heroin).
This could have profound implications for
• Drug users. Opioid drugs can be highly addictive. People who are addicted to opioids still crave the drugs when they finishing using their prescriptions. The cravings might prompt them to obtain prescriptions illegally or use similar illegal drugs, such as heroin.
• Drug-related businesses. Companies that produce and market opioids may experience financial problems as people turn to using marijuana to relieve pain. Companies related to medical cannabis may emerge to serve medical marijuana users.
Legalizing marijuana could also lead to developments related to crime and law enforcement:
• If fewer people use opioids, fewer people might become addicted to them and illegal opioids. This could mean that fewer people might obtain prescriptions illegally or buy illegal drugs. This could use fewer law enforcement and legal resources and allow authorities to focus such resources elsewhere.
• If marijuana becomes legal, authorities might seal or expunge the criminal records of people convicted of possessing or using small amounts of the drug.
These possibilities illustrate that the legalization of marijuana – or any legislative act – often affects many areas of life. These areas might not be obvious at first, but the potential wide-ranging benefits of legalization might make it worth considering.