With the onslaught of states slowly legalizing the commercialization and use of marijuana after the passing of sanctioning initiatives led by Colorado and Washington in 2012, societal attitudes have begun to support this movement in the decriminalization of marijuana for personal use. Based on the 2014 midterms, momentum for this change has been shown in different parts of the U.S., with states such as Oregon, Alaska, and Washington D.C. joining this cause. It is safe to assume that several other states will soon follow suit, with ballot initiatives set for 2016 in states such as Massachusetts, California, Missouri, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, and Arizona (Becker, 2014). However, the long standing debate still stands, is this change for the better In a world with less restrictions on illegal drugs such as marijuana, would the pros outweigh the cons Although the answer may not be clear cut, considering the arguments made by both the supporting side and the opposing side of marijuana legalization for public consumption will help us create an opinion on what values should be taken priority on when it comes to the consequences related to advocating this movement.
Based on the arguments made from the perspective of a supporter in marijuana legalization, complete legalization would bring an end to illicit dealings on the streets, as there would be no reason for consumers to interact with shady sellers when it’s already offered commercially. This in itself, would reduce the amount of risks related to obtaining drugs from unknown third-party sellers, such as the risks of having to meet in isolated, unsafe environments. Buyers would be able to obtain marijuana from retailers, without the fear of coming into contact with a potentially dangerous individual. On the other hand, in the perspective of those opposed against legalization, a few major worries related to the full legalization of marijuana comprise of the influence of the drug on an individual’s mental and physical health, the potential outlook of moral behavior in people operating under the effects of this drug, and the most compelling argument of all, how this change would affect children if legalization initiatives were passed (Wilson 1990).
However, the road to legalization is an extensive and demanding one, with the substantial amount of red tape elongating the process. Advocates can only patiently walk through each stage in the process by depending on initiatives supported by voters to reach their objectives. Even now, the federal government has continued to stay with their classification of cannabis as a schedule -1 status drug (Inciardi, 1999). Although numerous people have continued to resist legalization due to the stigma associated with marijuana use, the enormous amounts of evidence contributing towards the benefits of it has really broadened the views of many individuals. The Americans that were cultivated with the familiarized concept of marijuana as potentially fatal and dangerous drug, capable of causing death and a lack of moral judgment, have started to become more accepting of the substance itself. The change can be attributed to the shared experiences of individuals presiding in communities with access to medical marijuana in a few states, revealing the vast amount of medical advantages cannabis possesses in treating certain diseases and symptoms, which is one of the largest drivers behind the movement to legalize marijuana.
Regardless of the number of oppositions in the way of realizing full legalizations and the negative consequences it may have on society, I believe that the benefits outweigh the costs in the end and that full legalization in the states is possible.
Current U.S Drug Policy
One aspect to consider when questioning the validity and necessity of the full legalization of drugs in the U.S is whether or not the current policy is better. For example, how does the current U.S. policy compare to the actual results of marijuana use in society Is the impact of the Obama administrations current drug policy significant How has the statistics of marijuana use improved under this policy The plan is set up to prevent drug use, expand an individual’s access to treatment, reform our justice system to deter crime, and support those recovering from substance abuse by removing the stigma behind them. Although, this plan seems valid and covers a broad number of issues related to marijuana use, there is a contrast between the plan and the reality of marijuana use in the US.
For example, the President’s plan considers promoting education of the harmful effects of drugs in order to prevent “drug use before it ever begins and breaking the cycle of drug use, crime and incarceration” (Office of National Drug Control Policy, 2014). This indicates that we should at least see a decrease in the number of students using marijuana. However, on the contrary, the 2013 Monitoring The Future survey found that the percentage of students using marijuana have increased compared to before, with more students using marijuana and other substances as they progress through elementary, middle, and high school (O’Malley, 2013). The number of illicit drugs among eighth graders alone has increased by about 150 percent in the last several years. Although this number is relatively less compared to peak drug use of adolescents in the late 1970s, it has considerably increased over the last few years nonetheless. Trends concerning drug use throughout an individual life-cycle have found that it grows from teenage years to young adulthood, and then progressively regresses afterwards (Office of National Drug Control Policy, 2013).
Granted, the Obama administration’s current drug policy, centralized on substance abuse prevention and recovery, provides a good foundation for pursuing a reduction in drug use. However, it is irrelevant if there is no evidence of it contribution towards marijuana use. Even if students are to be taught about the negative repercussion of illicit drugs and how to classify them, as long as they continue to hold the perspective that marijuana is a safe drug, use of the substance will persist. This is due to the fact that the effects of marijuana have less of a noticeable impact on individuals than legal drugs such as alcohol and tobacco. Compared to illegal drugs, legal drugs that are widely accepted, such as tobacco and alcohol, produce more harm than marijuana because of its usage frequency and overall influence on others (Dupont, 1995) . Marijuana, which has a much larger difference between lethal dose and effective dose, creates a positive image for youths as it is relatively safer than legal drugs, even if there are negative effects on health and cognitive functions (Goode, 2012). Moreover, crimes caused by legal drugs such as alcohol, are significantly higher than those under the influence of marijuana. It is estimated that collisions resulting from drivers under the influence of drugs (usually alcohol), constitute between 10 to 20 percent of total collisions (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 2014) With larger repercussions resulting from a legal substance, the drug policy is unable to justify classifying marijuana as an illicit substance, therefore attitudes and consumption of illegal drugs resume with no intention of decreasing.
ConsequencesBenefits of Legalization
Although evidence exists that outlawing drugs has deterred substance abuse to a certain level, evidence also exists that sanctioning them will reduce abuse too. However, I believe that the benefits of legalization are significantly higher than criminalization. These benefits include
An increase in revenue With an increasing national debt and budget deficit that estimated to rise substantially after 2015, the governments may require and additional source of revenue fund new government projects (Congressional Budget Office, 2014). Legalization of marijuana will provide an extra boost funds by adding taxes to the consumption of marijuana. It is estimated by analysts that a tax on marijuana could raise between $5 and $22 million each year (Ferner, 2012).
An increase in law enforcement efficiency Through the legalization of marijuana, more resources in the law enforcement department will be freed up, as police officers will be able to allocate their time to focus on other crimes such as violence or theft. Moreover, with a reduction in the number of criminals charged for marijuana use, more space would open up in prisons with very little room while reducing costs of operations. A study conducted by Cato Institute indicated that would save government would save approximately $8.7 billion annually if marijuana is decriminalized (Waldock, 2010).
A decrease in cash flow to criminal organizations By providing retail suppliers through the legalization of marijuana, the extra competition would substantially reduce potential revenues of criminal organizations. Furthermore, by reducing profitability of marijuana for criminal organizations, crimes related to marijuana would decrease.
An expanded access to medical care Marijuana possesses a vast potential to treat various symptoms such as epilepsy, Crohn’s disease, sclerosis, and PTSD (Pickert, 2014). The legalization of marijuana will provide patients with more access to treatment of their incurable symptoms.
Putting It Into Action
In the event that the legalization of marijuana is legalized, the US would see an increase in revenue through additional taxes, a reduction in the amount of crimes, and a wider access to medical treatments. To understand how the legalization of marijuana and a program of substantially relaxed, tolerant, less punitive, and less penalized drug control will affect society, I’ll draw reference to Colorado due to its recent legalization. According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting data, the overall crime rate in the state has decreased 10.1 percent from 2013, while violent crime has decreased by 5.2 percent (Rucke, 2014). Moreover, Colorado estimates $60 to $100 million in revenue from sales taxes and licensing fees (Rucke, 2014). To address the concerns originating from the opposition in legalizing marijuana, the affect legalization would have on teens would be minimal at best, as teens already have access to alcohol and tobacco. Regardless if marijuana is illegal or not makes no difference to teens as they are able to acquire access to marijuana through their own channels. Moreover, compared to the problems with alcohol and tobacco, the issues related to marijuana are quite understated. By using Colorado as a comparable, I can assume that the legalization of marijuana would reduce crime rates, and the US itself would advance from its increased revenue stream.
Despite the long ongoing controversial debate about the negative effects that legalizing marijuana would cause, the movement to have it decriminalized has gained enough, with the large majority of the citizens showing acceptance for its use. With four states and Washington D.C. having achieved legalization, 7 potential states are closely gaining speed behind them with the initiatives ballot set on 2016. We can expect the rest of states to follow along soon, creating a snowball effect with full legalization to be realized at some point down the future. Marijuana has begun receiving more positive feedback regarding its medicinal affects to treat incurable diseases and conditions, changing the way people saw it. Although it can be argued that there would be increased exposure to marijuana for teens, leading to an early dependence on the drug and long term detrimental effect, the government’s drug policy can be tailored towards this maintaining the supply of marijuana, now that it’s being sold within legal jurisdiction where it’s easier to track. Moreover, by commercializing the sale of marijuana, the government could increase their revenue stream by adding taxes to the industry, fund developmental projects or human welfare programs, ultimately improving living conditions for its citizens. As the consensus of society changes throughout time, adjustments need to be made in order to accommodate these changes and pursue opportunities for improvement.