Like it or not, Americans use marijuana. Medicinally, recreationally, out of sheer rebellion, or simply driven by curiosity, over half of Americans have tried it. A whopping 22% of Americans use it on a daily basis.
So far, 15 states have legalized the drug for recreational use, and more than 2/3 of the states have laws on the books allowing medical use. Only 6 states still hold true to their federal standing and maintain total illegality.
Given its propensity for medical use, easy access, and low rate of side effects, its classification as a schedule 1 drug is puzzling. The fact that it was deemed worthy of such a high classification puts it on the same level as cocaine and heroin, and drugs known to cause addiction and death. Yet, Americans have been advocating not just for decriminalization and reform, but all-out legalization for years.
In fact, several states have already legalized the drug for recreational use, and many more have allowed its medicinal uses to be explored over the last few years. The findings of most of these studies support medicinal use if not outright legalization.
At the very least, they have found the drug to be effective against a host of diseases and disorders. From PTSD to insomnia and pain management, doctors in states like Florida are free to prescribe the drug in place of harsher, more addicting, or more dangerous drugs. In other states like NJ and WA, citizens can simply walk into a dispensary and purchase the drug without a prescription.
The criminalization of the drug has a long sordid history rife with sensationalism and racism that stems from its association with Mexican immigrants, as, at the time, they were commonly associated with its use. From there it was slowly regulated until it was eventually made illegal.
Meanwhile, the prohibition of alcohol was well underway. Just as alcohol prohibition spawned the rise of organized crime, the prohibition of marijuana has spawned a black market and associated drug cartels, smugglers, dealers, and end-users. The big difference between the two is that Americans eventually repealed the prohibition of alcohol on a federal level.
Marijuana has not received the same treatment. Although legalized on a state level, it is still illegal federally. Efforts to address this discrepancy have so far failed.
Federal legalization, although it seems imminent, is slow to come. Eventually, the benefits of such legislation should be enough to push it over the proverbial hump.
Legalization would certainly mean a boon for state revenue. The associated taxes alone should be enough to catch any lawmaker’s attention. In addition, the job creation, revenue, and investment opportunities should present a strong enough argument to change the minds of even the most stalwart detractors.
Colorado, the first state to legalize marijuana, profits more than a billion dollars a year from the move. Florida, a state that has only legalized marijuana medicinally, makes 600 million a year from its revenue.
Another salient point to mention is the savings rather than the revenue generated by legalization. How much money can be saved by the local government’s freedom from persuing, arresting, charging, and punishing otherwise law-abiding citizens for the crime of possession of a small amount of this drug? Arizona has done the math and concluded a saving of 1.3 million in jail booking costs alone.
That doesn’t include the costs accrued by jailing, prosecuting, or sentencing, not to mention the cost of an associated prison term. In fact, some jurisdictions throughout the US have stopped prosecuting arrests for minor infractions, regardless of the state’s laws, while many states are moving toward decriminalization.
Disparities in the rate at which arrests are spread over racial divides are also having a significant impact on enforcement. The American Civil Liberties Union cites data that suggests African Americans are almost 4 times as likely to be arrested for marijuana as their white counterparts, even though usage statistics are almost identical.
Much like alcohol during the prohibition, marijuana’s status as an illicit substance does very little to stop its use and only serves to benefit those who choose to defy the law for financial gain.
Legalization and regulation would ensure the safety of the product and the legitimacy of the business, while increasing revenue, taxes, business opportunities, and investment potential. Law enforcement would save a significant amount of time and money when freed from the burden of prosecution required by today’s outdated regulations.
With ⅔ of Americans supporting the legalization of marijuana, it’s time our representatives do what they were elected to do, represent the overwhelming majority that demands that the will of the people be heard.