Marijuana isn’t heroin. Even so, we can learn some lessons from the opioid crisis that devastated so many American towns. The first is that predatory markets always hit vulnerable populations the hardest. Marijuana abuse may never become a serious problem among educated, financially secure people with strong networks of personal support. The story is likely to be different in regions that are economically depressed and culturally desiccated. Of course, these are also places where people are already insecure, ill-equipped to cope with another catastrophe.
Legalization could have a big impact in those areas, because availability really matters to indigent populations. The opioid crisis was partly driven by Mexican heroin dealers who set up shop in mid-major towns, perfecting their delivery system until it was effectively a black-market Amazon. Another major factor was the “pill mills” (sham clinics that effectively functioned as recreational opioid dispensaries), which flooded America’s most depressed towns with addictive drugs. Both testify to the significance of efficient distribution as the harbinger of widespread addiction. When marijuana is legal, we can be confident that cannabis companies will find their target demographics.