Legalizing cannabis: Do licensed stores increase consumption?

The U.S. has a complicated history with cannabis. Designated an illegal substance for decades, in recent years we’ve witnessed a greater understanding of its medicinal potential with a growing number of states legalizing it for that purpose, as well as for recreational use. However, federally it remains classified as an illegal “Schedule 1 drug” under the Controlled Substances Act. I guess it’s still pretty complicated.

Last year however, a bill passed in the House of Representatives that would have legalized the use of cannabis federally (but died in the Senate). In addition, more senators and representatives on both sides of the aisle are expressing an interest in decriminalizing cannabis use, so it looks like things will continue to change. 

Joining me to share some insight on what the future could hold for cannabis use in the U.S. – including the impact of legalized stores on overall cannabis usage and user numbers – is Michael Armstrong with Brock University in Ontario, Canada, where cannabis use was legalized three years ago. 

My research suggests that places, regardless of whether they open stores or not, are probably going to get about the same increase in users after legalization. So if you allow licensed stores than at least you’re going to get some more of the benefits of legalization, such as people will start buying legally, which means they are buying a tested product rather than something that may have contamination. It means they’re buying a taxed product as opposed to paying money to the black market. The number of users you’re going to get apparently is going to be much the same, so if you’re going to get the pains of legalization, whatever they might be, you might as well get some of the gains to go with that as well.

Interviewed this episode:

Michael Armstrong

Brock University

Professor Armstrong teaches courses on quality improvement, game theory, and operations management. He holds a PhD in management science from the University of British Columbia, an MBA from the University of Ottawa, and a BSc from the Royal Military College of Canada. Before his academic career, he worked as an aircraft maintenance manager. His professional certifications from the American Society for Quality include a Six Sigma Black Belt in quality improvement.