The legalization of marijuana for recreational use continues to be a hotly-debated topic around the country.

 

Many countries have decriminalized recreational marijuana use (it is only legal in Colombia, Spain, Uruguay, and some states of India) and have had positive results, advocates say, and the United States should follow the lead of those countries.

 

Studies measuring the effects of the legalization of marijuana are being scrutinized as the states in which legalization has occurred collect data to measure effects on economics, crime and health.

 

A study released by the Cato Institute on Sept. 16, 2016, noted the effects the legalization of marijuana in Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska. While an arguably short time had passed since marijuana was legalized for recreational use in those states, the data was analyzed to assess immediate effects.

 

Advocates argue there are many benefits to the legalization of marijuana for recreational use, including freeing up resources in law enforcement, courts and jails. Law enforcement officials would be able to spend more time focusing on violent crimes, prison overcrowding would be eased and the courts would have fewer cases to process.

 

The Cato study found that, in the states studied, reported violent or property crimes had not increased after legalization.

 

Opponents countered that a more widespread use of marijuana may lead to a rise in drug-related crime.

 

In May of 2016, prosecutors in Colorado noted that drug-related murders were increasingly linked to marijuana, with black market sales of small quantities turning violent.

 

Proponents say legalization decreases the volume of black market sales of marijuana. Opponents point out that those who are not able to obtain it legally will turn to other avenues.

 

Though there was a decrease in black market sales, it was affected by how stringent regulations were and at what rate marijuana was taxed in each state, according to the Cato study.

 

Another argument against the legalization for recreational use is the fear that more drivers will operate a vehicle while under the influence of marijuana, putting themselves and those around them at risk of injury or death.

 

The Associated Press reported fatal crashes doubled after legalization in Washington, but the Washington Post found Colorado's fatal crash numbers decreased after legalization.

 

Advocates also point to both the historical use of marijuana and the fact that, according to a 2016 Gallup poll, 43 percent of American adults say they have tried it. On the rise are regular users of marijuana, which is now 13 percent of American adults.

 

While those who have marijuana-related convictions on their criminal records hope to have that stigma dropped, others worry that legalization would send a message to children that drug use is socially and morally acceptable.

 

Not only that, opponents opine that the use of marijuana, especially by young people still in school, will lead to greater unemployment, as the detrimental effects of the drug may force them to take lower income jobs or become dependent on welfare, decreasing their quality of life.

 

The National Institute on Drug Abuse claims that "substantial evidence from animal research and a growing number of studies in humans indicate that marijuana exposure during development can cause long-term or possibly permanent adverse changes in the brain."

 

Cato's 2016 study found that "standardized test scores measuring the reading proficiency of eighth and 10th graders in Washington State show no indication of significant positive or negative changes caused by legalization" but also stated that "drug-related suspensions appear to rise after medical marijuana commercialization in 2009 but stay level after full legalization and the opening of retail shops."

 

Another Cato study released in 2015 found that marijuana use decreased the likelihood of suicide in young adult males, stating that may be partly due to the fact that those who use marijuana tend to consume less alcohol.

 

That is another advantage, advocates say, contending marijuana is less addictive than alcohol or tobacco. Opponents argue it is still an addictive substance and that users are more likely to try and become addicted to harder drugs after smoking marijuana.

 

Cato's study found that "the use of marijuana, alcohol and cocaine did not significantly change after legalization. Marijuana and alcohol continued their slight upward trend in use, while cocaine held to a downward trend in use, all regardless of the age of users."

 

The legalization of marijuana for recreational use could mean a boost to a state's economy, providing jobs and increased tax revenue.

 

Opponents worry that the increase in jobs will not only come in the growth and regulation of marijuana, but also the number of health professionals and other resources needed to deal with marijuana's known and unknown side effects.

 

The burden would be on producers to standardize marijuana levels and reduce overdoses, but users would still be able to overdose and/or become impaired so as to affect their well-being and that of those around them in the home or workplace.

 

The National Institute on Drug Abuse claims that "marijuana use can cause functional impairment in cognitive abilities but that the degree and/or duration of the impairment depends on the age when a person began using and how much and how long he or she used."