Using marijuana has public health consequences, and the most responsible public policy is one that restricts its availability and discourages its use.
Well, sorta. Heavy cannabis use has health consequences; evidence that occasional, moderate use – the most common pattern – is bad for health remains elusive. Still, if legalization reduces prices and expands availability heavy use will almost certainly increase; why wouldn’t it?
But the identity of “the most responsible public policy” depends on a balance of effects. If legalizing cannabis eliminates an illicit market with $30 billion in annual revenues, that’s a benefit to set off against the health cost. If legalizing cannabis reduces heavy drinking – which it might, or might not – that’s a health benefit to set off against the direct health cost.
The world is full of tradeoffs. Good policymaking must always start from that simple proposition. Policy rhetoric rarely does.
FOOTNOTE Yes, I’m part of a team advising the Washington State liquor board on how to regulate cannabis. No, I don’t speak for them. I speak for me.