Sunday, September 10, 2017
The Washington State Institute for Public Policy (WSIPP), which serves as a chief research arm for Washington’s legislature in Olympia, has been been tasked with assessing the costs and benefits of marijuana legalization in the state. It is required to produce reports in 2015, 2017, 2022, and 2032. The first 2015 WSIPP report, blogged about here, largely said it was too early to start reaching any conclusions about the impact of legalization. This second 2017 WSIPP report, released this past week, is similarly cautious about reaching firm conclusions about the impact of the state's initiative providing for marijuana legalization, the the report does have this useful summary of findings:
Our outcome analyses were designed to identify causal effects of I-502. However, I-502 is a multi-faceted law that may affect outcomes through a variety of mechanisms including changes to criminal prohibitions; the creation of a regulated cannabis supply system; and investments in substance abuse prevention, treatment, and research. The findings we present in this report are only one portion of a larger body of work designed to address multiple aspects of the law.
In these initial investigations, we found no evidence that I-502 enactment, on the whole, affected cannabis abuse treatment admissions. Further, within Washington State, we found no evidence that the amount of legal cannabis sales affected cannabis abuse treatment admissions.
The bulk of outcome analyses in this report used the within-state approach to focus on identifying effects of the amount of legal cannabis sales. We found no evidence that the amount of legal cannabis sales affected youth substance use or attitudes about cannabis or drug-related criminal convictions.
We did find evidence that higher levels of retail cannabis sales affected adult cannabis use in certain subgroups of the population. BRFSS respondents 21 and older who lived in counties with higher levels of retail cannabis sales were more likely to report using cannabis in the past 30 days and heavy use of cannabis in the past 30 days. We also found two effects that are difficult to interpret. Among the portion of the population aged 18 to 21, BRFSS respondents living in counties with higher sales were less likely to report using cannabis in the past 30 days, in some analyses. It may be that legal cannabis sales have made cannabis more difficult to access by persons below the legal age, for instance, by reducing black market supply through competition.
We also found that in the portion of the BRFSS sample who smoked cigarettes, respondents living in counties with higher levels of legal cannabis sales were less likely to report past-month cannabis use. It is particularly difficult to explain why increased sales would lead to lower cannabis use among cigarette smokers.
We look forward to updating these results with additional data to see if these effects persist.
Though not mentioned in this summary, the report reveals a notable decline in marijuana-specific criminal charges in the wake of the legalization vote in Washington. And, not to be overlooked, Washington now has a significant job sector and tax revenue stream as a result of legalization. It seems this WSIPP report was much more focused on changes in marijuana use than in other impacts, which strikes me as the reason why this report creates the impression that there is not much to report.