Researchers have found that recreational cannabis laws in the US may be linked to changes in the illegal drug market.
As of 2021, 17 states in the US and the District of Columbia have enforced recreational cannabis laws. These laws allow people aged 21 and above to possess, use and supply limited amounts of cannabis for recreational purposes.
For the study, the researchers examined crowdsourced data from 2010- 2019 Price of Weed and 2010-19 StreetRx, as well as administrative data from the 2006-19 System to Retrieve Information from Drug Evidence (STRIDE) and the 2007-19 National Forensic Laboratory Information System (NFLIS).
In particular, the researchers wanted to find how recreational cannabis laws affected prices per gram of several drugs as well as overall and self-reported quality. To do so, they compared the effects of these laws between 11 states that implemented them and 40 that did not.
All in all, the researchers noted that recreational cannabis laws were associated with a 9.2% decrease in street or illegal cannabis prices, as well as a 19.5% decrease in street prices for low-quality produce. They also noted a 93% decrease in law enforcement seizures of street or illegal cannabis in these states.
The researchers found that states with recreational cannabis laws saw a 64% increase in heroin prices, as well as a 54% increase in heroin potency. This came alongside a 7.3% and a 5.1% increase in prices for oxycodone and hydrocodone from illegal sources. The researchers noted alongside this an over 50% decrease in law enforcement seizures of these drugs.
"Our exploratory findings suggest that markets for illegal drugs may not be independent of legal cannabis market regulation,” says Dr Angelica Meinhofer, lead author of the study.
“As more states move towards legalization and additional post-RCL implementation data become available, we'll need to do more research to determine whether recreational cannabis laws cause those changes in the illegal market and what happens in the long-term."