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Cannabis Policy

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The likelihood of arrest or incarceration for using marijuana, or “cannabis,” has dropped dramatically in the U.S. However, policies that create a loosely regulated, legal, for-profit recreational cannabis industry along the lines of the tobacco industry are posing new threats of increasing addiction and other health hazards in the U.S.  And although medical cannabis can help some patients, claims of its benefits have not been subjected to rigorous research. SNAP disseminates research findings that can help policymakers avoid both the damage of aggressive punishment and aggressive corporate promotion of cannabis.

Extended interview transcript


Scope of the Problem:

Marijuana consumption has doubled in the past decade. More than 13% of young adults not in college report using marijuana daily or near daily, an all-time high. 

Extremely high potency forms of cannabis have emerged in multiple countries in recent years and are increasingly used.

Heavy cannabis use, particularly during adolescence, raises risk of poor academic performance, problems with memory and concentration, and psychotic disorders (e.g., schizophrenia).

States that have legalized recreational cannabis use have generally done so on corporate-friendly lines, raising the risks of increased problematic consumption and regulatory capture.

With liberalization, the damage done to users by cannabis possession arrests may drop, but the damage done by the drug itself may increase.


Challenges in Policy and Practice:

Cannabis legalization regimes in the U.S. have largely ignored the painful lessons of loose regulations, such as those that have governed the tobacco and alcohol industries. This has allowed unrestricted potency and aggressive product promotion.

States that failed to expect the cannabis price collapse caused by legalization have been surprised by reduced tax revenue. Low cannabis prices will also likely increase consumption over time.

Current regulations usually allow legal cannabis to be packaged like children’s candy and sold in brownies, gummies, chocolates, and cakes, broadening their appeal and potentially increasing their addictiveness.

Creating a corporate cannabis industry is often incorrectly portrayed as the only way to dramatically reduce cannabis-related arrests, when in fact this can be accomplished by simply decriminalizing or legalizing personal possession and use.

In the U.S., regulatory barriers hamper medical cannabis research, making it difficult to sort out valid therapeutic claims from hype.