Should Marijuana be Legalized?
Our current political climate has (re)ignited many conversations around a handful of historically controversial topics. One of those debates has been centered around whether or not marijuana (both medicinal and recreational) should be legalized on a federal and state level. Strong arguments from both sides have emerged, but ultimately, the pros dramatically trump the cons, and here are a few.
A primary reason that politicians in particular advocate for marijuana legalization is that it will boost the economy. In 2016, the legal marijuana industry generated $7.2 billion in economic activity and added millions of dollars in federal taxes paid by cannabis businesses. Colorado, raised $78 million in the first fiscal year after starting retail sales, and $129 million the second fiscal year, bringing in three times more tax revenue than alcohol. Washington collected a total of $220 million in tax revenues in its second fiscal year of sales. According to __, experts project that “the marijuana industry (adult-use and medical) in the United States could exceed $24 billion in revenue by 2025.” Food, banking, real estate, transportation, construction, and tourism, are a few of the industries that benefit from legal marijuana. Furthermore, legalizing marijuana creates thousands of jobs. There were an estimated 122,814 legal full-time marijuana jobs in the United States as of Jan. 2017. A report from New Frontier Data found that the cannabis industry could create a quarter of a million new jobs by 2020.
Another major reason that so many advocate for the legitimization of marijuana in the United States is because the enforcement of marijuana prohibition is racist; people of color are disproportionately impacted. Statistics show a significant racial disparity in the enforcement of marijuana laws: even though white and black people use marijuana at roughly the same rate, a black person in the United States is 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession on average. In New York City, 15.8% of marijuana possession cases involving white people result in conviction, compared to 32.3% involving black people and 30% involving Latinx people. These records can impact people's ability to get public housing, financial aid for school, loans, and jobs. “I had a mom who reached out to me, her adult child lost scholarships to college and housing because of an arrest for simple possession,” Wisconsin State Representative Melissa Sargent shared. “Starting out with stopping because they didn’t use the correct turn signal - they weren’t driving while impared, they just had a blunt in their car.” Barry Fitz (11) also points out that in addition to destroying the lives of thousands, it wastes public resources. “I think that legalizing it or at least decriminalizing it will save a lot of money because we are spending a lot of taxes to keep people with drug charges in prison and so not only is that's wasting money, it’s taking up space in jails.”
Besides keeping people out of jail, crime itself goes down. People drink less and alcohol sales drop, and the amount of alcohol-related crime and violence is ten times higher than by marijuana use and alcohol is a factor in around 40% of violent crimes. "We're not seeing any increase in crime rates through marijuana — we're seeing lower crime rates, and there are good rational reasons for that: We're really beginning to cripple the criminal market, which is where violence actually occurs," Taylor West, former deputy director for the National Cannabis Industry Association, said.
Some argue that warrenting weed consumption would encourage use of the substance amongst minors, however, studies conducted in states that have already done so prove the opposite. Researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine found that "the rates of marijuana use by young people are falling despite the fact that more US states are legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana use and the number of adults using the drug has increased.". A study from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found that past-year marijuana use decreased by 17%, from 15.8% in 2002 to 13.1% in 2014, among US kids ages 12 to 17. Additionally, “if you want to smoke weed you smoke weed,” says Fitz. “No matter what you do, it’s always gonna be an issue and instead of punishing people we have to say, ‘how are we gonna help it?’ and [destigmatize it].” Opponents also contend that traffic deaths and arrests for DUIs are at risk of increasing, but a fact sheet about marijuana's effects on drivers posted on the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration website states that some drivers may actually be able to improve performance for brief periods by being more cautious and take fewer risks than drunk drivers, such as making fewer lane changes and reducing speed. This is done as a way to overcompensate for self-perceived impairment. And even if more people were to ingest weed, it is less harmful than alcohol and tobacco, which are already legal. Alcohol and tobacco are legal, yet they are known to cause cancer, heart failure, liver damage, and more. According to the CDC, six people die from alcohol poisoning every day and 88,000 people die annually due to excessive alcohol use in the United States. There are no recorded cases of death from marijuana overdose.
As if those reasons alone weren’t enough to make the decision, legalizing cannabis will ensure the safety of its buyers, allow the government to set age restrictions on buyers and to license and regulate the entire supply chain of marijuana, and satisfy the majority of Americans.A 2018 Gallup poll found a record-high 66% support for legalizing marijuana. While Democrats (72%) and Independents (67%) have been more likely to back legalization, a majority of Republicans (51%) now agree. So what’s the hold up? According to Rep. Sargent, it’s due to a lack of education around the plant, the “inability to actually understand the science and data we have from other states and other countries,” greed, and “Reefer Madness” generation being in political power. Luckily, a bill is being drafted that includes the expungement of records involving non-violent marijuana offenses, and the full legalization in Wisconsin. It’s up to us to vote.