Recently, the state governments of Colorado and Washington legalized marijuana for recreational use, with certain regulations, of course. Another sixteen states have legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes when a valid physician’s prescription has been issued for a series of disorders.
With the new legislation, do more people smoke marijuana than before? Do the people who already smoked weed now smoke more often, and do they smoke more at one time? And further, did the legalization of marijuana decrease the amount of alcohol that is consumed?
Academic Experts Weigh In
Mark A. R. Kleiman, a UCLA professor and one of the authors of the book Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know, states that, “A small change in alcohol has a bigger social impact than a large change in cannabis. So it ought to matter a lot whether the change is in the right direction or wrong direction.”
Kleiman, and other academics, especially in the world of economics, uses the term “cross-price elasticities of demand” for the ability of researchers to study the relationship alcohol and marijuana will have, and the impact each will have on the other, as both substances function equally on the legal spectrum.
Are the two substances substitutes, meaning people will use one instead of the other, or are they complements, meaning people will drink and smoke weed simultaneously?
Legalization Of Marijuana
Will the legalization of marijuana increase its availability and lower its price? Will the changes made to those factors of marijuana impact the amount of alcohol consumed? Will the demand for alcohol lesson as weed is more available and lower in price? Or will marijuana just be added to the regular consumption list of those who already drink regularly?
Polydrug use, or the intake of more than one drug or substance at a time, is common, and alcohol and marijuana is already the most commonly used combination of drugs. The potential effects of marijuana plus alcohol can cause severe impairment in decision making, motor skills, eye functioning, balance, and the risk of unpredictable side effects that can be different from person to person.
The polydrug user can experience nausea, vomiting, psychological implications like psychotic symptoms, reactions of panic, anxiety, or paranoia, and a lack of awareness of one’s surroundings when mixing alcohol and marijuana.
Beau Kilmer, the co-director of the RAND Drug Policy Research Center, states that, “The social costs of marijuana use really pale in comparison to what we see as the social costs of heavy alcohol consumption.” Alcohol is the cause of car accidents, bodily injury to self and others, physical violence, heart disease, liver failure and cirrhosis of the liver, brain damage, cancer, erectile dysfunction, malnutrition, and many other medical complications. Marijuana does not have the same physical implications that alcohol inevitably causes.
The hope is that those who can now smoke marijuana without legal implications will switch to smoking weed instead of drinking alcohol. However, Beau Kilmer goes on to also say that, “What’s really potentially harmful is when people are using alcohol and marijuana together at the same time.” Driving while intoxicated and high can lead to even more accidents, higher emergency room utilization, and a potentially greater number of deaths each year.
Substance Abuse Analysts
Substance abuse analysts believe that the legalization of marijuana in the states like Colorado and Washington is a great way to see what trends will transpire from the increased availability, lowered price, and reduced rebellious aspect to using a drug that is no longer illegal.
As is the case with alcohol consumption, young people drink less after reaching the legal drinking age then they did before being legally “allowed” to drink. The same may prove true for marijuana. The appeal of the drug may lessen from its legalization.
Jared Friedman is Quality Improvement Manager at Sovereign Health an addiction treatment center helping peopel with substance abuse and mental health services like depression treatment.