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What Are the Effect’s of Massachusetts’ Recreational Marijuana Legalization?

It has been almost five years since Massachusetts legalized the recreational use of marijuana. Statewide legalization has effectively changed a few things in the Greater Boston Area. Below are just some of the more notable effects we’ve seen so far. If you feel that you or someone you know has problems with cannabis or other drugs, our team at Boston Drug Treatment Centers is ready to help.

A drop in drug-related crimes

Now that cannabis has been (mostly) legalized, even for recreational use, arrests for possession have, of course, dropped significantly. This has been an ongoing pattern even before cannabis legalization in 2016, as local law enforcement authorities had already been tacitly deprioritizing marijuana-related crimes for quite some time.

Despite some doomsday predictions about a possible post-legalization increase in violent crimes, this thankfully has not happened. The crime rate has remained more or less steady, after accounting for cannabis legalization.

An increase in underage cannabis use

This may, perhaps, be the most concerning change in the past five years since cannabis has been legalized in Boston. While marijuana wasn’t exactly unobtainable for minors pre-legalization, legalization has increased the odds of unauthorized access severalfold.

Greater Boston already has a pattern of underage drinking and illicit drug use, largely thanks to the universities and colleges in and around the area. News reports and our experience here at Boston Drug Treatment Centers show a marked increase in minors consuming cannabis and cannabis products.

While there may be valid reasons for cannabis legalization, there is mounting evidence that cannabis use can be catastrophic for minors. Several recent studies have shown that marijuana use can significantly hamper brain development in adolescent brains, effectively preventing them from fully maturing. Given that it’s now understood that brain adolescence may continue into a person’s mid-20s, even younger adults should be wary about consuming cannabis.

Further complicating things is the extremely high potency of cannabis today, compared to what was available when the legalization movement started a half-century ago. We simply don’t know what the effects of such large doses of THC will be on developing brains, given that super-potent strains are a relatively recent phenomenon.

Cannabis use disorder cases have increased

We have been seeing more patients check into rehab programs for cannabis use disorder (or CUD; previously known as cannabis addiction, dependence, etc.). This checks out with a wider pattern we’re seeing among states that have legalized recreational marijuana or taken a “hands-off” approach on it.

The increase in Boston seems to follow the usual pattern in other cities and states that have legalized recreational cannabis. As mentioned earlier, the increase in cannabis use among adolescents is an ongoing cause of concern. However, it may be years before we can definitively confirm whether or not recreational marijuana legalization has indeed directly resulted in a serious public health crisis.

Cannabis products remain among the most expensive in the nation

Perhaps unexpectedly, legal cannabis and cannabis products continue to be expensive in Boston and the rest of Massachusetts, when compared to legal cannabis in other states. High prices have to a continued demand for black market marijuana. This has the unfortunate effect of exposing people to more serious drugs like cocaine and illicit opioids.

Dealers of illegal substances often sell more than one kind of drug. The giving away of free samples of different drugs is a fairly common practice. Many people who get hooked on opioids, meth, and cocaine often experience these drugs first as a free sample from a dealer or a friend. The high prices of legal cannabis are driving people who would have chosen legal dispensaries to black market sources, inadvertently increasing the demand for other drugs.

Unexpected health and safety issues

Legalization may also be bringing a perception that cannabis is harmless, even though there are multiple health and safety issues related to its use. Cannabis is now the most found drug in fatal car crashes in the state of Massachusetts, a trend that has only accelerated with legalization.

As mentioned earlier, the use of cannabis by children is a cause for concern. However, they are not the only group at risk. Older adults are among the biggest consumers of recreational cannabis today, and the market has seen a massive increase in sales to seniors.

Many of these seniors are seeking alternatives to mainstream medications, particularly opioid painkillers. However, much of this use is self-medication, which may lead to irresponsible use. Seniors are also more likely to suffer from serious injuries from slips and falls, which are more likely when on cannabis. They are also more vulnerable to bad eating habits that often result from cannabis use.


While the worst fears of the anti-legalization activists have not yet been realized, we have seen some reasons to be concerned. The potential effects on teens and young adults are especially concerning, as is the role of cannabis in lethal automobile accidents. If you have children, it may be a good idea to talk with them so that they’re better informed of the risks of legal marijuana.

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