A Case for Marijuana Legalization

For 50 years, the strict legislative ban on Marijuana has done nothing to stop, or even deter slightly, its rampant use within the United States. Instead, the prohibition has worked to create an underground drug network making criminals out of the roughly 15 million users nationwide, many of whom use the drug recreationally within the confines of their own homes. The criminal action taken against these 15 million pot-using heathens clearly does much more to hurt their future than taking puffs of the drug itself. Citizens who decide to employ mind altering drugs have little legal recourse except to indulge in a far more dangerous, however completely legal, option: tobacco and alcohol. Something needs to be done about marijuana, but what? The answer to the cannabis conundrum is clear: legalize it, regulate it, and tax the marijuana, a substance that DEA Administrative Law Judge Francis Young called "the safest therapeutically active substance known to man".

Regardless of future policy, it does not take much to see that government’s current marijuana policy is in complete disarray. Continuing current policy would mean expending almost 10 billion dollars a year in a fruitless war against marijuana; catching a small fraction of users and making examples of them. Not only are punitive laws ineffectual, but the ban is causing more social problems than the marijuana itself. Though it’s hard to determine the full extent of our government’s marijuana regulation failure, the fact that one third of the United State’s population twelve years or older (85,000,000 people), have admitted to using marijuana at some time in their lives indicates that the policy has failed at its primary goal of stopping usage. Another option—the stance many marijuana prohibitionists take— which is really just an expansion of the current system, would be a large-scale attempt to catch, prosecute, and put a significant percentage of the current marijuana users behind bars. However, not only would this be economically infeasible, but the ethics of a society which attempts to put 5 percent of their population behinds bars because of a relatively harmless plant should be called into question.

Decriminalization, which is a significant decrease in the punishment for marijuana possession, is the in vogue compromise to the escalating controversy about the future of marijuana in America. This solution, which 10 states have adopted, promises to decrease the use of resources spent in the name of marijuana, (resources such as police officers, court rooms, and jails) by ending active pursuit of marijuana users themselves. However, decriminalization offers no solution towards dissolving the thriving drug market (dealing marijuana is still illegal), and despite its name, leaves the user still connected with the criminal market, still jeopardizing the wellbeing of the recreational user. This leaves me to believe that the full legalization of marijuana is the only truly permanent and pragmatic solution the very real issue concerning marijuana’s place in America’s future.

It’s necessary to concede that marijuana is detrimental to one’s health and that legalization may increase use in some respects, however the two should not be taken as self evident truths. In fact, according to a very surprising 2003 reanalysis of 15 previous studies, experts found that “long-term and even daily marijuana use doesn't appear to cause permanent brain damage” adding to evidence that marijuana is not only safe over time, but can be used as an effective treatment for disease. It’s certainly note-worthy that with marijuana illegal, its contents cannot be regulated—making it a potentially more dangerous substance than if it were legalized and regulated under the FDA. Also, increases in statistical marijuana use directly after legalization should not be taken seriously because naturally, once legal, more people will admit to regular use of marijuana, thus skewing the data.

Many pot-prohibitionists will point with fear at the aftermath of the alcohol prohibition repeal. They will remind us of the juggernaut tobacco and alcohol industry aimed at young people. They will claim: Marijuana is bad! We don’t need yet-another drug targeted at our children! They might try to paint you a picture of a complete, drug induced, social breakdown. Where everywhere marijuana is pushed into the social forefront being used, abused, and forced into our lives just like alcohol after prohibition. Don’t succumb to believing this despicable slander! America has matured as a nation. We don’t need to take a laissez-faire attitude like we did with both tobacco and alcohol, allowing a marijuana industry to burgeon rapidly right beneath our noses. No, by devising a feasible post-legalization plan we can regulate the industry by creating age limits, marketing and merchandising restrictions, banning advertising, and regulating marijuana use through high taxation.

The fact of the matter is: our society would reap tremendous economic benefits by taking advantage of a lucrative underground marijuana industry already in place. Rather than loosing 10 billion dollars a year in preventative efforts, we can gain money through taxation. Not only would we gain substantial amounts of money from taxes and save a not insubstantial amount by not pursuing pot-using criminals, but by noting the tremendous number of marijuana related cases a year, it is clear that a lot of police time and jail space can be redirected to more serious offenses.

When confronted with this fact, often prohibition supporters put morality into question: How can a society profit off drugs without condoning its use? Though a valid the concern, the argument is severely flawed. Everyday, people across the country use one type of drug or another. The obligation of the society is not to restrict a person’s right to choice, rather it is to make sure that safe drugs, though discouraged, are available and that unsafe drugs are taxed heavily and not available. The United States already taxes the two most pernicious, yet readily available drugs on the market (tobacco and alcohol) without any qualms concerning ethics, why should a significantly less harmful drug be kept out of the market?

Also, though opponents of legalization might claim otherwise, I believe it its not marijuana itself that is a “gateway” towards more serious drugs, rather it’s the criminal scene in which it’s obtained. The Netherlands, which has used this concept of separating marijuana from the criminal scene by allowing its sale at “coffee shops”, has seen great success and significantly curtailed their industry. Granted, the United States is not the Netherlands and we can’t assume their success would reflect our own, but not only has marijuana use not increased after its legalization (remaining at 3% of the population as apposed to the United State’s 5%) but hard drug usage has actually gone down! This, if anything, proves that a legalization of marijuana would not, by any standards, be disastrous to the sanctity of American society, instead it might help to decrease hard drug use by removing the criminal link between the hard drugs and the recreational marijuana user.

It is clear that the legalization of marijuana, a measure taken with care and sophistication within a system utilizing strict government regulation, can offer many positive benefits economically, medically, and towards the preservation of liberty and personal choice. A federally initiated system that regulates the cost, the content, and the consumers of commercial marijuana would allow a redirection of funds and resources away from a fruitless battle against marijuana and towards more serious law infractions. Whether in fashion or not, when considering the abysmal state of government regulation of marijuana consumption, legalization must be considered as a practical solution to very real issue. Let the historical precedence be considered: prohibition did not work then and clearly it is not working now, I say legalize it!



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