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The emergence of legal cannabis

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An increasing number of states are legalizing recreational marijuana as sales rise. Will there be a hidden cost? Here’s everything you need to know:

Where is cannabis now legal?

The nation has experienced a seismic shift since Washington and Colorado became the first two states to legalize recreational cannabis a decade ago. Rhode Island recently became the 19th state to end the pot ban, joining states like California, New York, Nevada, Virginia, Illinois, and Vermont. Another 20 states have legalized medical marijuana, including Mississippi, Missouri and West Virginia. Bills to legalize recreational or medical marijuana are under consideration in at least six other states, including Pennsylvania, Kansas and North Carolina. About 44 percent of Americans now live in states that allow recreational cannabis use — and business is thriving.

How big is it?

Last year, legal cannabis sales were $25 billion, and are expected to reach $40 billion by 2025 and at least $57 billion by 2030. One of the main reasons states are jumping on the legal bandwagon is that it creates huge tax gains. : Since licensing sales began in 2014, states have received $10 billion in various tax revenue, according to the Marijuana Policy Project. “It’s going to be an economic engine,” said New Jersey Senator Nicholas Scutari. Both Illinois and Massachusetts got more taxes last year from marijuana than from alcohol sales. Massachusetts raised $112 million, more than three times the initial forecast. Cannabis entrepreneurs are drooling over the official opening of the New York City legal market, where the first legal sellers may be licensed by the end of the year and many city streets already smell of weed. “New York will be Amsterdam on steroids,” said cannabis investor Jane Sullivan. But since legal dispensaries “donors” trade buffo in gum, tinctures, and high-quality sativa strains, some question whether there are understated costs to legalizing cannabis.

What are the negatives?

Not surprisingly, rationing has many people stoned — for some, every single day. The percentage of Americans over 26 who reported using cannabis in a given month doubled between 2010 and 2020, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. In Colorado, one of the first states to legalize, the rate of cannabis use is rising nearly 48 percent every day. A 2019 study led by a New York University epidemiologist found that adult marijuana use was 26 percent higher in legal states than in illegal states, and problematic use among teens was 25 percent higher. The negative consequences of frequent use on a large scale are increasing. The percentage of deaths from cannabis use in cars doubled from 2000 to 2018, according to a recent analysis. It’s a “huge and emerging issue,” said Helen Witty, the former president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Some studies have found evidence that cannabis use in people under the age of 18 impairs cognitive development and poor academic performance. Doctors are also sounding the alarm about mental disorders associated with cannabis use – particularly the highly potent extracts sold in legal clinics.

What is the link?

Study after study has shown a link between marijuana use and schizophrenia and psychosis in people predisposed to developing mental illness. While these studies call for questions about causation, a 16-expert panel convened by the National Academy of Medicine ruled in 2017 that cannabis use “likely increases” the risk of these disorders, noting that “the higher the use, the higher the risk.” “. There has been a “very significant increase in psychosis” associated with marijuana use, said Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Doctors say the astonishing potency of marijuana concentrates such as candy and e-cigarette oils — which can carry high levels of THC as high as 90 percent, compared to 5 percent in the pot smoked decades ago — trigger psychotic episodes. “I see him almost every day [such] sick,” said Brad Roberts, an emergency room physician in Pueblo, Colorado. Doctors have also reported increased cases of cannabis hyperemesis gravidarum, including severe, uncontrollable vomiting, and cannabis use disorder, which the CDC defines as The inability to stop using the drug even though it causes “health and social problems.” Studies show that as many as 3 in 10 cannabis users become problem users. Deborah Hassin, an epidemiologist at Columbia University, said dependence is “a risk of Bigger than people suppose.

What can be done?

Some states, including Washington and Colorado, are considering limiting the potency of cannabis products – a move that has met opposition from the cannabis industry. (Currently, only Vermont has potency cap.) Some doctors and lawmakers are pushing for warning labels. One under study in California may point to a possible link with “psychotic disorders.” Experts aren’t calling for marijuana to be decriminalized, but they do want more education about the potential downsides of frequent use. The concern, they say, is the message that stoning is just harmless pleasure or even good for you—a message that the huge legal marijuana industry is promoting. “The risks are hidden,” said Ronit Leaf, an addiction specialist at Scripps Mercy Hospital in San Diego. “I want the public to make informed decisions.”

Federal vs. states law

While state after state gives the green light to legal weed, federal law hasn’t budged. Despite heavy pressure from legalization advocates, marijuana is still classified as a Schedule 1 drug, along with heroin and LSD. In April, the House of Representatives, largely on a partisan vote, passed the Marijuana Reinvestment and Deletion Act, which would legalize cannabis nationally and remove convictions for cannabis-related offenses. Republican Representative Nancy Mays of South Carolina introduced a more limited legalization bill that won support from the conservative group Americans for Prosperity.

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer has called legalization nationwide a “priority,” but few expect any bill to legalize to withdraw the 10 Republican votes needed to pass the Senate. President Biden failed to support legal cannabis, and early in his term sent a message by firing five White House staffers who tested positive for marijuana use. However, advocates of federal law believe ultimately is inevitable given the cultural shifts around cannabis. “I think the momentum is there,” said Stephen Hawkins of the American Cannabis Council.

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