Public health impacts to date of the legalisation of medical and recreational cannabis use in the USA

Neuropharmacology. 2021 Aug 1;193:108610. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropharm.2021.108610. Epub 2021 May 16.


The legality of cannabis use has been changing in a number of jurisdictions around the world. In the U.S., it has been legalised for medicinal and/or recreational uses in 34 jurisdictions and counting. This study leverages the decades-long experience of legalisation in the U.S. to provide an overview of the associated changes in public attitudes, cannabis markets and adverse health effects. We found a broad-based warming of public attitudes toward legalisation, potentially influenced by the increasingly positive portrayal of cannabis in media and declines in cannabis risk perceptions. Potency of cannabis products increased significantly while prices fell sharply. Although adults were less responsive to price changes than adolescents, adults who use cannabis regularly were sensitive to prices, with an estimated 10% price reduction leading to about 2.5% increase in the rate of use. Overall, past-year cannabis use has increased in adults since 2002, and adults over 26 years old who resided in states with medicinal cannabis laws were more likely to have used cannabis in the past 30 days, to have used daily, and to have higher rates of cannabis use disorders than adults who resided in states without legalised medicinal cannabis. Traffic fatalities involving cannabis temporarily increased in some states post-legalisation, and there were more presentations to medical services related to chronic regular cannabis use. There is suggestive evidence that adverse health consequences have increased among people who use cannabis regularly since legalisation. More robust research is needed to determine whether these effects of legalisation are temporary or long-term.

Keywords: Cannabis; Commercialisation; Legalisation; Perception; Public health.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Cannabis / adverse effects
  • Drug and Narcotic Control / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Humans
  • Legislation, Drug / economics*
  • Legislation, Drug / trends*
  • Medical Marijuana
  • Public Health / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Public Opinion
  • Recreational Drug Use / legislation & jurisprudence
  • United States


  • Medical Marijuana