Three Data-Based Answers to Top Questions About Marijuana Policy

Pacific Standard dips into the archives for some hard numbers on pot.
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(Photo: sarra22/Shutterstock)

(Photo: sarra22/Shutterstock)

According to a Google search, Pacific Standard has written some 385 times about marijuana. In that body of work, we've answered some important questions relevant to marijuana policy. Today, we're taking a quick look back at some of our favorite stories, which bring some much-needed hard numbers to the current American debate about whether to lessen punishments for, or even legalize, recreational marijuana use.

1. IS MARIJUANA ADDICTIVE?

It can be—even if a pot addiction isn't usually as destructive as being hooked on alcohol, cocaine, or heroin, journalist Maia Szalavitz argued in a story published last year. Studies show about 10 percent of people who use marijuana become addicted, although the rate may be higher for those who start using the drug before the age of 18. The average pot addiction lasts six years.

In her story, Szalavitz wrote beautifully about the consequences:

The negative consequences associated with marijuana addiction tend to be subtler: lost promotions, for example, rather than lost jobs; worse relationships, not no relationships. And of course, no risk of overdose death.

But this is also what can make it insidious. Marijuana addiction may quietly make your life worse without ever getting bad enough to seem worth addressing; it may not destroy your life but it may make you miss opportunities.

2. ARE THE UNITED STATES' MARIJUANA POLICIES FAIR?

As many have pointed out, anti-marijuana laws unfairly punish young black Americans. For example, young black adults use marijuana at slightly lower rates than their white counterparts, but they're much more likely to get arrested for it. "This is old news, but the data never fails to stun," Lisa Wade wrote last year. (Wade's story has got some of the latest numbers on the black-white punishment gap, published by the American Civil Liberties Union in 2014.)

3. WILL MARIJUANA LEGALIZATION EVER SPREAD TO ALL OF THE STATES?

It may. After analyzing the adoption rate of other revolutionary new laws, including the legalization of women's suffrage and same-sex marriage, a writer-scientist team estimated for Pacific Standard that the Supreme Court may rule in favor of legalizing the sale and recreational use of marijuana by 2025. Yet some factors make marijuana legalization more appealing than other new laws, including the business' potential as a tax revenue source, and the rates at which Americans support legalization. As a result, the pair ultimately amended their prediction to 2021.

Data-based models for predicting the future don't always work, of course. But, as Joel Warner (the writer) and Aaron Clauset (the scientist) explain, "Simple models like these are often remarkably good predictors. Simple models focus more on getting the big picture right." Earlier this year, Clauset noted that their model correctly forecasted when the Supreme Court would rule on same-sex marriage.

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