Marijuana Legalization Analysis

Consequences of Legalizing
Marijuana for Recreational use in 2012
(Washington state, March 2016)

Youth Impact
  • Pot is disrupting the classroom.

  • Recreational marijuana is driving more young teens to smoke in states with legalization and may be normalizing pot use among young Americans.

    Among 8th and 10th graders in Washington, perceived harmfulness of marijuana use decreased and marijuana use increased following legalization of recreational marijuana use in 2014.   (Source:  Association of State Recreational Marijuana Laws with Adolescent Marijuana Use,” Original Investigation, Journal Club, JAMA Pediatr. published December 27, 2016) 

    The numbers in Washington are leaving health officials anxious over the potential unintended consequences of recreational marijuana legalization.

    “While legalization for recreational purposes is currently limited to adults, potential impacts on adolescent marijuana use are of particular concern,” Magdalena Cerdá, a researcher at UC Davis and lead author of the study, told PsyPost. “Some adolescents who try marijuana will go on to chronic use, with an accompanying range of adverse outcomes, from cognitive impairment to downward social mobility, financial, work-related and relationship difficulties.” (Source:  “Legal Weed has the Exact Effect on Teens Everyone Feared,” Steve Birr, The Daily Caller News Foundation, December 28, 2016)

  • 98% of student drug violations were due to marijuana in Seattle Public Schools between September of 2013 and May of 2014.

  • 77% of all alcohol and drug violations in Seattle schools were related to marijuana 
from September 2014 to January 2015.

  • 45% of Washington Poison Center calls in 2014 were made by or for youth under the age of 20. The number of those calls has since increased to 80% since legalization.  

  • Calls related to marijuana edibles and other products infused with marijuana have taken a big leap at the Washington Poison Center since legalization, especially related to youth. The center has logged 312% more calls related to infused products, and calls related to marijuana oil jumped 350% over three years. A report published by the center in 2014 states that children under the age of 18 account for 50% of their intoxication calls related to chocolate and candy, with 25% of the reports related to goods baked with marijuana.

Adults and Young Adults   
  • Adults in Washington state rank among the highest users of marijuana in the nation.
 According to a national survey that studies past-month marijuana use, Washington State young adults (between 18 and 25) and use by adults older than 26 was an overall 5% higher than the national average in 2012-2013.

Big Business
  • Marijuana is big business in Washington. Between June 2014 and the end of July 2015, the state generated nearly $308 million in sales. This includes all sales from producers, processors, and retailers. Retail sales now surpass $2 million per day, according to the Washington Liquor and Cannabis Board.

  • Cookies and desserts comprise nearly 70% of the state approved marijuana-infused products in most stores.
  • Legal marijuana production is balanced about equally between counties in western Washington and eastern Washington, although the number of retail stores in western Washington far exceeds stores east of the Cascades. The counties with the highest total number of licenses issued (including producer, processor and retailer) are King, Snohomish, Spokane and Okanogan, with Spokane County the highest at 189 of which 97 are licensed growers. Okanogan has the second highest number of licensed growers at 42.
  • Seventeen THC extraction lab explosions occurred in Washington in 2014. THC is the component of marijuana that produces the “high,” and is used to make products like high-THC concentrates and oils.  Extraction processes typically include the use of highly flammable butane gas, which can be ignited by static electricity from clothing or even a refrigerator cycling.


  • The incidents of marijuana-impaired driving are increasing. Drivers with active THC in their blood who were in a fatal driving accident have risen 122% from 2010 (16) to 2014 (23) according to the Washington State Traffic Safety Commission.
  • 32,059 grams of illegally possessed marijuana were seized during the first nine months of 2015 off highways and interstates across Washington.
  • A strong relationships exists between crime and marijuana use, with a stark rise in marijuana related incidents following legalization, according to data provided by the Spokane Valley and Seattle police departments.
  • Cannabis grown in the Evergreen State is being illegally exported across America. Since legalization in 2012, Washington-grown marijuana was destined for 43 states across the United States, despite measures in the initiative that aimed at stopping it at state lines. 

  • Marijuana is being sold and moving through the mail. Since 2012, 320 pounds of Washington origin marijuana was seized via parcel detection.

What We Have Learned
  • “The decision to legalize marijuana was not without harm," according to data compiled in this report.  "Unfortunately, many of the reported outcomes show the exact opposite of the goals that sold the initiative to voters. We now see clearly that marijuana is increasingly hurting our youth, black market sales have not disappeared, the amount of crime due to marijuana has actually gone up, and Washington has become a net exporter of cannabis to other states.”  (Director Dave Rodrigues of NW HIDTA)

  • The report indicates that even with the legalization of recreational marijuana, the black market is still thriving in the state, fueled in part by the medical marijuana industry that has gone largely unregulated and continuing market demand beyond what is sold in legal retail stores. The recreational and medical markets are slated to merge in July due to legislation passed in 2015.
The primary author of this report is Alison Wassall, a project research analyst employed by NW HIDTA to document the impacts and consequences of the legalization of recreational marijuana. Ms. Wassall received bachelor’s degrees in law and justice as well as psychology from Central Washington University and a master’s in criminal justice from Seattle University. She completed internships with Puyallup Police Department and the U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Service.

The Washington State Marijuana Impact Report was prepared by the Northwest High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (NW HIDTA) a Seattle-based office administered by the National Office of Drug Control Policy. Besides law enforcement, NW HIDTA provides assistance to the state’s substance abuse prevention community, drug courts, tribes and other organizations in areas that are known for the movement of drugs and other illicit substances.

(Source:  “Marijuana legalization has consequences, new Washington-focused study finds,” Northwest High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, Director Dave Rodrigues, March 10, 2016, Seattle, WA, (206) 352-3600.  Download the full report at


Washington's Path to Legalization
and the Impact on Society

Year 2012
  • Washington state passed a new, voter-approved marijuana law effective December 6, 2012.   This was the most permissive law in the nation regarding recreational use of marijuana.  Following were some of the terms of this law:
    • Growing or selling any amount of marijuana is still a crime as of this date.  Marijuana can only be purchased under a doctor's recommendation for a medical problem.
    • Under age 21, you cannot legally possess marijuana.
    • Over age 21, you must follow federal legal restrictions on drugs.  Marijuana remains illegal under Federal law.  State law does not override federal law.  The limit is 1 ounce per person; then, there are numerous other restrictions for more than 1 ounce.
    • Marijuana cannot be smoked or consumed in a public place.
    • Driving with a lit marijuana cigarette is a civil infraction, even if you are not impaired.  This will be determined by a blood test at a local medical facility.  ("Marijuana law takes effect at midnight," The Spokesman-Review, December 5, 2012)

Year 2013
  • As states legalize Marijuana, it is pushed more and more into the mainstream.   Some 111 million people in the U.S. have tried marijuana at least once; more than 31 million have used it in 2013 alone; and 19 million admit to using marijuana on a regular basis. 

  • Marijuana is considered a highly dangerous drug under federal law with no accepted medical uses.  The decision keeps in place an odd legal split over marijuana, a drug deemed to be as dangerous as heroin and worse than methamphetamine by federal authorities, but one that has been legalized for medical use by voters or legislators in 21 states...three judges said they had a duty to defer to the judgment of federal health experts who had concluded they needed more evidence before reclassifying marijuana...

    Judge Harry Edwards,
    writing for the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, said the judges did not dispute that "marijuana could have some medical benefits."  Instead, he said they were not willing to overrule the DEA because they had not seen large "well-controlled studies" that proved the medical value of marijuana."  ("U.S. Appeals Court refuses to reclassify marijuana," by David G. Savage, McClatchy-Tribune, January 22, 2013)

Year 2014
  • Legalizing marijuana is the birth of the next tobacco industry.  Like other drugs, the cost to society is much bigger than what any community is going to make in tax revenue.  Some of the costs to society include
    • Treating marijuana addiction.  10% of those who try it become habitual users.
    • High school and college student use will rise quickly.  Grades fall and athletes decline in health and their ability to continue in sports.
    • Creates greater promotion and access to the drug
    • Legitimizes the drug
    • Marijuana edibles attract young people by marketing a wholesome, healthy image.  Many kids are simply not concerned about the effects of pot.    (Bob Doyle, Smart Approaches to Marijuana, April 2014) 

Year 2015
  • The Washington State Legislature passed Senate Bill 5052, signed by Governor Jay Inslee, which states that minors under age 21 can be charged with a felony for marijuana possession, a crime which could net them up to 5 years in prison.  ("Three teens facing marijuana felonies," Lewiston, WA, The Spokesman-Review, September 19, 2015)  

  • Children as young as 11 years old are becoming addicted to marijuana.  (Spokane Valley Police Dept. Chief Rick VanLeuven, GVSN meeting, November 2015)

Year 2016
  • A new AAA study reports a disconnect between science and the law about marijuana and driving.  The study says it is not possible to pinpoint a blood level  for THC that proves a driver is impaired. Six states, (Including Washington, allow drivers to have some THC in their blood. six more states have introduced similar legislation. Another AAA report shows a rise in fatal crashes involving drivers who have smoke marijuana.    ("Legal limits for driving on Pot not backed by science," The Chicago Tribune, CBS This Morning, May 10, 2016)

  • Washington was the nation’s 6th largest outdoor producer of marijuana, and the second top indoor-producing state in 2006.  We produced a $1 billion-a-year crop that was second in value only to the state’s famed apple harvest.  Marijuana has become the biggest cash crop in the U.S., bringing in more annually than corn and wheat combined.
  • 1 of 5 10th graders in Washington state use marijuana.  (Washington Lights Up,” CBS Morning News, July 8, 2014)

  • Children as young as 11 years old are becoming addicted to marijuana.  (Spokane Valley Police Dept. Chief Rick VanLeuven, GVSN meeting, November 2015)

What You Can Do
  • Learn About Marijuana - science-based information for the public.  Information for Parents to prevent underage use, Teens, Espanol, Research, Marijuana fact sheets, Reproduction and Marijuana, Adult consumers, Recovery help, Driving under the influence.   (University of Washington’s ADAI (Alcohol & Drug Abuse Institute)  

  • Legalizing marijuana is a social experiment, and like most experiments, it will take time to understand all of its consequences. As if cigarette smoking, alcohol abuse, and an opiate epidemic were not harmful enough to society, we now see society pushing legalization of recreational marijuana.  Encourage law enforcement and schools to keep stats on marijuana-related crimes and incidents.  (see Abby Goodnough, “Opioid Tide from Coast to Coast,” New York Times, Jan. 8, 2017)

  • Encourage politicians to act responsibly.  Political decisions are racing ahead of science and research, ignoring many red flags.  In one study of 3,000 patients, in the one hour following the smoking of marijuana, there was a 5 times increased risk of heart attack. Marijuana causes an abnormal heart rhythms, increase in the heart rate and BP rate, potential for blood clots and strokes, and damage to blood vessels.    Source:   Journal of the American Heart Assn, Dr. Tara Marula