When Canada became the first major world economy to legalize recreational marijuana last week, our northern neighbor lit up in celebration. Thousands of pot fans stood in line for hours at the country’s more than 110 new weed stores, eager to be a part of history. Ian Power, 46, told the Associated Press that he didn’t intend to smoke the gram of weed he’d bought in the first minutes of legalization. “I am going to frame it,” Power said, “and hang it on my wall.” The experience of buying legal pot almost brought tears to the eyes of 29-year-old Marco Beaulieu. “I have never,” he said, “felt so proud to be Canadian.” Demand was so great that many marijuana stores sold out their supplies, angering those who waited in line. “Maybe [stores] should be buying it by the truckload rather than the palletload,” said disgruntled customer John Matheson.
There are sensible arguments to be made in favor of legalization, not least the fact that prohibition has utterly failed. More than 50 percent of Americans over 18 say they’ve smoked weed at least once. So long as the drug is banned, otherwise law-abiding citizens will be criminalized and organized crime will harvest tens of billions of dollars a year from sales. But decriminalizing marijuana doesn’t mean we have to accept, as many pot advocates claim, that it is a harmless substance. Research shows that heavy, long-term weed use can seriously damage cognitive functions—concentration, short-term memory, perceptual reasoning—and permanently affect teenagers’ developing brains. Researchers say about 9 percent of weed users become addicted to it, with a higher percentage becoming dependent. A new study found that three U.S. states that have legalized marijuana—Washington, Oregon, and Colorado—have 5.2 percent more car accidents than their neighboring states. Canadian potheads may be celebrating now, but their buzz will not come without a cost.