Legalization Cost Study Relies On Flawed Data

Is the cost of legalized cannabis too high? According to one study commissioned by the Centennial Institute at Colorado Christian University, the answer is yes. Hoping to understand the impact of cannabis legalization fully, the study examined publicly available data in the state of Colorado, highlighting nine areas of interest. Those areas include health, productivity, traffic, crime, housing, environmental impact, cannabis tourism, homelessness, and pets.

According to the study, for $1.00 generated by Colorado’s cannabis industry, state residents spent approximately $4.50 to mitigate the costs of legalization. The most significant contributors to costs were related to the healthcare system and high-school dropout rates.

The study also highlights the dramatic rise in cannabis-related calls to the state Poison Control center, the correlation between cannabis use and those without a college degree, and the yearly estimated costs for cannabis users ($2,200 for heavy users, $1,250 for moderate users, and $650 for light users).

“Studies such as this show that the only people making money off the commercialization of marijuana are those in the industry who profit at the expense of public health and safety,” said Kevin Sabet, an ardent cannabis critic and president of the anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), in a statement.

While the study presents a damning portrait of cannabis legalization in Colorado, the study also relies on flawed estimates and simple correlations to arrive at many of its conclusions.

For example, when addressing the issue of cannabis addiction, researchers are keen on pointing out that the costs of treatment for cannabis addiction are approximately $31.4 million. However, what is not mentioned, although it is clearly presented in the study’s chart, is that the number of individuals admitted for treatment is the lowest it has been in 10 years.

Researchers also note that fewer cannabis users have a college degree (19%) when compared to non-users (27%). However, according to the study itself, on average recreational cannabis users have a slightly above average income ($60,000).

Furthermore, when calculating the potential cost of cannabis use among students, researchers take a specious approach. To come to their conclusion, researchers multiply the number of students who dropped out of high school and multiply it by the number of high school students who use marijuana and the cost of not earning a high school diploma. The study assumes that students who use cannabis will drop out of high school, ignoring all other mitigating factors or the fact that Colorado’s high school graduation rates are at an eight year high.

In the absence of long-term data, studies like the one commissioned by the Centennial Institute will remain inherently flawed; highlighting the need for extensive, peer-reviewed studies into the actual effects of legalizing adult-use cannabis in the United States.

William Sumner

William Sumner

William Sumner is a freelance writer specializing in the legal cannabis industry. You can follow William on Twitter @W_Sumner or on Medium.


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