Will Newly Legalized Drugs Increase the Potential for Addiction?

The war on drugs, a term first introduced by then-United States President Richard Nixon in 1971, is coming to a slow. Legalized drugs are becoming the norm. In the past 10 years, 15 states have legalized recreational marijuana use, and in 2020, Oregon residents voted for the decriminalization of low amounts of heroin and cocaine. Voters are sending a clear message that they want more lax drug laws.

Decriminalization of small amounts of hard drugs could prove promising for incarceration rates. This also goes for legalized marijuana, but will it leave more room for substance use disorder to develop? Will legalized drugs mean more arrests? We’ll explore this and more.

Legalized Drugs and Drug Amounts

Certain drugs that were considered dangerous and taboo 50 years ago are now becoming more accepted in society. Below, we’ll talk about drugs that have become legalized. 


In 1996, California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana. Although medical marijuana is legal in 35 states, recreational use is becoming more popular.

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As mentioned earlier, several states throughout the United States have legalized recreational marijuana. New Jersey and Arizona voted to do the same in 2020. The law in many states says that people can only possess between 1 and 2.5 ounces of marijuana.

Recreational marijuana use has been legal in Colorado and Washington, the first two states to legalize it, since 2012.


Although cocaine isn’t legal in Oregon, you won’t get as severe punishment now if you have a small amount. You will have to pay a $100 fine, but you can avoid paying this fine by participating in a health assessment. Manufacturing and selling drugs is still illegal in the state, but having small amounts of it in Oregon won’t get you into too much trouble.


Along with cocaine, methamphetamine, and oxycodone, small amounts of heroin are decriminalized in Oregon as of Feb. 1, 2021. This measure was passed with about a 58% vote, which shows how many people wanted this change.

Psilocybin (Magic Mushrooms)

Oregon is the first and only state in the U.S. to allow supervised and regulated use of mushrooms. This measure passed with more than 56% percent of the vote. Washington, D.C. residents also voted to decriminalize mushrooms with about 76% of the vote. 

Support and Opposition for Legalized Drugs

Even though more scientific evidence is needed to determine the effectiveness of marijuana in treating certain conditions, both sides of the legalized drugs argument have valid points. Let’s take a look and see what supporters and opponents of legalized drugs have to say. 


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Proponents of legalized drugs including marijuana believe that legalization will boost the economy. In 2016, the legal marijuana industry generated more than $7 billion in economic activity. By 2025, the marijuana industry (both medical and recreational) could make more than $24 billion by 2025. 

Marijuana can also be an effective chronic pain reliever, reducing nausea and vomiting as well as appetite loss.

Those in support of legalized drugs also feel that fewer teens will feel inclined to use marijuana. According to the Marijuana Policy Project, repeated studies show that marijuana legalization doesn’t cause teen use to increase. About two years after marijuana was legalized in Colorado, teens in the state aged 12 to 17 reported about a 12% drop in use.

If marijuana is legalized, it can be regulated as well. Arrests and traffic deaths don’t increase and might even decrease. Marijuana use would also be regulated if it’s legalized. Supporters feel that it would phase out black markets and take money away from drug cartels.

People of color are also disproportionately impacted by drug charges. Reports from Stanford University, New York University, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) show that minorities are still heavily searched for marijuana-related offenses, even in states with legalization. The ACLU also reported that from 2010 to 2018, in a survey of 6.1 million marijuana-related arrests, a black person was 3.64 times more likely to be arrested for possession than a white person.

However, with this information, police officers are still less likely to search people in states with legalized drugs like marijuana.


Opponents of legalized drugs like marijuana feel that legalization would mean steep costs for taxpayers and society that outweigh tax revenues. They also feel that because of wider availability, marijuana use will increase in teens instead of decrease. Traffic accidents and deaths could also increase.

Since drugs like marijuana can be addictive, dependence will increase. The black market would benefit instead of suffering from it, and more medical emergencies would result from legalization. 

Marijuana use also does impair your judgment and affects your cognitive abilities. It can also damage lung tissue, and it has cancer-causing compounds. Marijuana is also a factor in many workplaces and motor vehicle accidents.

Marijuana Use in California and Colorado

In California, where recreational marijuana use has been legal for years, 29% of adults now use it compared to 23% in 2017. A study by BDS Analytics also showed that 53% of active marijuana users are not “lazy stoners”; they have full-time jobs and make about $70,000 a year.

In Colorado, where marijuana has been legal since 2012, marijuana use is going strong and no real change has happened. According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, as of February 2017, the rate of marijuana use among adolescents and adults hadn’t changed since 2012. High school graduation rates in the state have also increased since 2010, and dropout rates have decreased. 

There isn’t enough information on how legalized drugs like marijuana have affected crime rates in Colorado. 

Will Legalized Drugs Affect Incarceration Rates?

As marijuana use becomes more acceptable in society, the question comes to mind whether this will affect incarceration rates. The Oregon Criminal Justice Commission said in 2020 that that state’s decriminalization measure would reduce misdemeanor and felony convictions for drug possession in the state) by 91%. This would also benefit people of color (94% for Black and Native Americans, 82.9% for Asians). 

According to a study by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Colorado saw a surge of homeless people attracted there due to legalized marijuana between 2017 and 2018. Although this doesn’t necessarily involve incarceration, people who are loitering in certain areas due to marijuana legalization could get arrested. 

Will Legalized Drugs Increase the Potential for Addiction?

Some opponents of legalized drugs feel that making marijuana and other substance legal will increase rates of substance use disorder. However, there isn’t concrete evidence to show that there is a direct correlation.

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A 2019 study published in JAMA Psychiatry showed that heavy marijuana use is linked to both physical and psychological health concerns. It’s also linked to unemployment, motor vehicle crashes, and a decline in social class. 

The study found that marijuana use disorder increased more in states where it’s legalized than in non-legalization states. In one month, use among older adults increased from 5.65% to 7.1%. Frequent use increased from 2.13% to 2.62%, and marijuana use disorder increased from 0.9% to 1.23%. Based on these numbers, it’s safe to say that legalized marijuana is causing some problems.  

While this doesn’t necessarily mean that marijuana shouldn’t be legalized, it means that how it should be legalized and regulated might have to change.

On the other hand, marijuana legalization does seem to affect smaller numbers of opioid overdoses. Opioid deaths are below the national average in Colorado, Oregon, and Washington, where marijuana is illegal. A 2014 JAMA Internal Medicine report showed that states like these with legal medical marijuana had almost one-quarter fewer opioid overdose deaths than those without it. This could be because marijuana is also known to be a pain reliever.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that marijuana addiction rates won’t go up with legalization. However, it’s important to note that marijuana could be the reason why fatal opioid overdoses have gone down.

Treatment Center Responses to Legalized Drugs

With the increase of marijuana use in the U.S., treatment centers have implemented marijuana addiction treatment programs. Now that marijuana is legal in more states, treatment centers have had to open more doors and create new programs. 

Even though small amounts of cocaine and heroin are now decriminalized in Oregon, this doesn’t mean that people should start using them more. Cocaine and heroin are extremely addictive, and even one use could kill you.

Get Help at CNV Detox

If you find that you have a dependence on cocaine, marijuana, or heroin, turn to CNV Detox in Marina del Rey, CA. We evaluate our patients individually and created tailor-made plans for their needs. In addition to non-medical detox, we offer medication-assisted treatment on an as-needed basis. 

Residential treatment is best for people who have a severe addiction to drugs and alcohol. Once detox is complete, we recommend that you pursue aftercare and join a support group like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous. Aftercare programs will also direct you to career-building programs and help you rebuild relationships with your loved ones.

In therapy, you’ll explore why you developed a substance use disorder and learn how to regain the trust of those you care about. Your friends and family have likely been hurt by your addiction, and we can help you make amends.

Don’t wait to start on your journey to sobriety. Contact us today to see what we can do for you!