Legalizing America’s Number One Cash Crop

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DISCLAIMER: I apologize for how long this is… I have written at length in the past about this topic and am passionate about it.  And, no, I am not a pothead — I simply do not believe in governmental inanity, and this is one of the greatest misrepresentation of American laws in the history of our country.

One of every two Americans has smoked marijuana at least once in their life. Moreover, it is estimated more than 20 million Americans have at least once within the last year.  The overwhelming majority of these users did not go on to become regular marijuana users, try other illicit drugs, or suffer any harmful effects to their health. So who cares? Well, it is a growing issue in both Congress and in society. Should the entire United States, much like some areas of many individual states already have, decriminalize the possession and regulated use of marijuana?

Much to the dismay of anti-marijuana advocates and misinformed high school health teachers, there is a wealth of scientific, as well as social, evidence pointing in the direction of the substance’s decriminalization having a positive outcome.  If marijuana is decriminalized, there is a broad list of social and scientific benefits borne by its legality. Obviously, strict policy restraining a completely unregulated use of marijuana would be necessary, including an age limit. In the most ideal sense, marijuana would be sold much in the same way as alcohol is currently distributed. Marijuana would only be legal for those ages 21 or over, and it would be illegal for minors to produce, purchase, transport, furnish, or use. Secondly, it would only be sold in “state” stores in small amounts, and it would be illegal to produce or sell without proper licensing.  Being psychedelically enhanced in public or driving while under the influence would also still be illegal.

As former President Jimmy Carter acknowledged, “Penalties against drug use should not be more damaging to an individual than the use of the drug itself. Nowhere is this clearer than in the laws against the possession of marijuana in private for personal use.” In 2002, according to governmental studies, 24.8 percent of all incarcerations were drug related. Of these, most only involved the use of marijuana, according to NORML. If the use of marijuana was legalized, think of how many arrests would not have to be made.  A recent fact showed it now costs more than 84,000 tax dollars to keep a single inmate behind bars for one year, making small possession cases a useless waste of time and money.

Another social benefit is the considerable reduction in crime rate. Of all drug-related crime, marijuana is the single largest contributor of all other drugs. Marijuana prohibition needlessly destroys the lives and careers of literally hundreds of thousands of good, hard-working, productive citizens each year in America. Convicted marijuana offenders are denied federal financial student aid, welfare and food stamps, and may be removed from public housing. Also, one instance of possession of marijuana may bar an otherwise hardworking, dedicated individual a position he or she is completely capable of filling. Other non-drug violations do not carry such penalties. In many states, convicted marijuana offenders are automatically stripped of their driving privileges, even if the offense is not driving related. According to studies done by the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), more than 700,000 Americans were arrested on marijuana charges last year, and more than 5 million Americans have been arrested for marijuana offenses in the past decade. Nearly 60,000 individuals are behind bars for marijuana offenses at a cost to taxpayers of $1.2 billion per year. Taxpayers annually spend between $7.5 billion and $10 billion arresting and prosecuting individuals for marijuana violations, of which almost 90 percent were for simple possession — not trafficking or sale. These arrests are inappropriate and waste valuable law enforcement resources that should be focused on serious and violent crimes.

Also, if marijuana was legalized, there would no longer be reason for “back-room deals.” The only reason marijuana has such a high street value is because of its risk of producing and distributing. If there were nationally syndicated marijuana producing corporations, the price would plummet. Without a reason for an inflated street value, there leaves no room for arguments started over its price or quality. No more arguments over the illegal sale of marijuana mean considerably less drug-related violence. Also, if legalized, much of the mystery and awe surrounding marijuana would disappear, making it less appealing to teens and children to be cool by being “rebels against the law.”  Aside from the reduction of violence and crime, the corporate production and sale of marijuana would generate billions of dollars in revenue and taxes, not to mention the creation of hundreds of jobs. The economic benefits from a marijuana industry are almost endless.

There can be little argument against the legalization of the possession and use of marijuana. The single biggest misconception of the consumption of THC is it is highly addictive. According to the U.S. Institute of Medicine (IOM), “Substantial research exists regarding marijuana and addiction. While the scientific community has yet to achieve a full consensus on this matter, the majority of epidemiological and animal data demonstrates that the reinforcing properties of marijuana in humans is low in comparison to other drugs of abuse, including alcohol and nicotine. Fewer than one in 10 marijuana smokers become regular users of the drug, and most users voluntarily cease their use after 34 years of age. By comparison, 15 percent of alcohol consumers and 32 percent of tobacco smokers exhibit symptoms of drug dependence.” Also, THC’s short terms effects are comparable to those effects produced by the consumption of alcohol. If alcohol is a widely used and properly regulated substance, where is the problem with legalizing marijuana into the same controlled social environment?

Possibly the most substantial argument opposing the use of marijuana is the misconception it is a gateway drug. It is speculated that users of marijuana are more likely to move on to other drugs than those who have never tried marijuana. More users of hard-core illicit drugs, such as heroine or cocaine, admit to skipping the marijuana stage and actually using alcohol as the gateway to their addiction. According to more studies done by NORML in conjunction with the IOM, “There is no conclusive evidence that the effects of marijuana are causally linked to the subsequent use of other illicit drugs. Preliminary animal studies alleging that marijuana “primed” the brain for other drug-taking behavior have not been replicated, nor are they supported by epidemiological human data.” Statistically, for every 104 Americans who have tried marijuana, there is only one regular user of cocaine and less than one user of heroin. Marijuana is clearly a terminus rather than a gateway for the overwhelming majority of marijuana smokers.

In addition, marijuana is far less dangerous than alcohol or tobacco. According to more studies conducted by NORML and the IOM, it fails to inflict the types of serious health consequences alcohol or tobacco cause. Around 50,000 people die each year from alcohol poisoning. Similarly, more than 400,000 deaths each year are attributed to tobacco smoking. By comparison, marijuana is virtually nontoxic and cannot cause death by overdose. According to the prestigious European medical journal, The Lancet, “The smoking of cannabis, even long-term, is not harmful to health. It would be reasonable to judge cannabis as less of a threat than alcohol or tobacco.”

The bottom line is that the needless arresting of responsible marijuana smokers is put to an end. In recent years, non-profit organizations have significantly reduced the prevalence of drunk driving and tobacco smoking. They did not achieve this by completely prohibiting the use of alcohol and tobacco or by targeting and arresting adults who use alcohol and tobacco responsibly, but through honest and educational campaigns. We should apply these same principles to the responsible consumption of marijuana. The negative consequences primarily associated with marijuana, such as an arrest or jail time, are the result of the criminal prohibition of cannabis, not the use of marijuana itself. The system itself is its own demise.

Marijuana is already one of the most popular recreational drugs in America, despite harsh laws against its use. Millions of Americans smoke it responsibly. It has been around longer than almost all other drugs. Back in the 1970s, it was considered a recreation.  Only since the onset of the public campaign against hard, destructive drugs such as heroine or cocaine has marijuana also been labeled “destructive.” Public policies should reflect this reality, not deny it.

Author’s Note: I used NORML, IOM, the Lancet, and Wikipedia to source the factual information.  A decent amount of this is pieced together from previous writings I have done on the topic.  If you would like to read more of what I have written regarding this topic, just drop me an email.


2 Responses

  1. NO COMMENTS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    That is criminal!

    I would like to know more about who NORML and IOM are. Your links are broken, btw. The Lancet is a well known medical journal. But as the other two seem like advocacy organizations, I would like to know more about them, their methodology and whether any more independent observers come to similar conclusions. This is not to condemn their research, but just to say it needs to be contextualized.

  2. Hmmm…. Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed is on the Boar dof Directors of NORML.

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