This week, a bill was introduced in Congress that would require a federal study collecting data on the effects of marijuana legalization and prohibition. Introduced by Representative Tulsi Gabbard, the Marijuana Data and Collection Act would require the Department of Health and Human Services to partner with state and federal government agencies to research the effects of statewide legalization on the economy, public health, employment and criminal justice.
“For decades, bad data and misinformation have fueled the failed war on drugs that’s wasted billions of taxpayer dollars, incarcerating Americans for nonviolent marijuana charges,” Gabbard said in House floor speech previewing the bill on Monday evening. “Our outdated marijuana policies have turned everyday Americans into criminals, strained our criminal justice system, cost taxpayers tremendously and torn families apart.”
The bill was introduced with at least a dozen bipartisan cosponsors – though all current cosponsors are Representatives who had previously shown that they were interested in cannabis policy reform, according to NORML.
Specifically, researchers would look into financial benefits, like taxes and other revenues, and the impact these funds have on the state budgets. Also, how many jobs were created both directly and indirectly as a result of legalization, as well as future projections for employment growth. The research would also examine the impact that legalization has on the criminal justice system by looking at data on marijuana arrests and convictions, and the cost of prosecution and incarceration.
Along with looking at the impact of recreational legalization, the bill also calls for researchers to study the use of medicinal cannabis and the conditions being treated with the plant. Interestingly, it also requires review of the use and abuse of opioids and the effects of painkiller addiction on public health – a crisis in the country that marijuana may be able to help curb.
“This is not a marijuana bill, it is an information bill,” Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, said in an interview. “No member of Congress can intellectually justify opposition to this legislation. Our public policy needs to be based on sound data and science, not gut feelings or fear-mongering. Approving the Marijuana Data Collection Act would provide legislators with reliable and fact-based information to help them decide what direction is most beneficial to society when it comes to marijuana policy.”
If passed, the bill would utilize the National Academy of Sciences to conduct the research and collect all the data – and the first report would be due within 18 months. Follow-up reports would be expected to be published every two years after that, which would hopefully allow for more reliable, accurate, and up-to-date information about the progress and benefits – and even possible concerns – of legalizing cannabis.
In the end, perhaps this is the next step that is needed for our government to realize that legalization and regulation is safer and far more beneficial than prohibition and criminalization.