An Exploration of Recreational Marijuana

As California, along with four other states around the country, prepares to vote on a ballot measure that would legalize the recreational use of marijuana, the issue of marijuana legalization has once again been thrust into the national spotlight [1].

A small majority of Americans currently support the legalization of marijuana. Younger generations support marijuana legalization significantly more than their older counterparts (68% of millennials in favor versus 29% of the silent generation) [2].

Though marijuana is federally a Schedule-1 drug, with the likes of ecstasy and heroin, it’s been legalized for medicinal use in half of U.S. states and recreationally in four states, with the District of Columbia making both lists [3]. Simply put, marijuana is the most widely used illicit drug in the U.S.. Forty-nine percent of Americans have tried the drug at least once, and for citizens of age 12 years and older, 7.3% have used marijuana as recently as within the past month [4].

Proponents of marijuana legalization tend to cite the large number of Americans incarcerated for marijuana possession, the potential to earn government revenue on a marijuana sales tax, the personal liberty to consume marijuana, and the legality of alcohol and nicotine, which are both potentially much more dangerous than marijuana.

Opponents of recreational marijuana legalization often discuss the cognitive dangers marijuana imposes on its users, the irreversibility of drug legalization as seen by the prohibition of alcohol in the 1920s, and the possibility for marijuana use to increase instances of public dangers such as driving under the influence.

While many argue that we lack the necessary information to make a decision (possibly due to the drug’s Schedule-1 classification, which imposes obstacles to research), some individuals on each side of the argument beg to differ [5][6].

David Brown

Current efforts to enforce Marijuana Prohibition have created detrimental impacts on our civil society through wasted tax dollars, racist application of laws, soaring incarceration rates, and the deprivation of both medical care and research.

In an era when a balanced budget is a bipartisan objective, reasonable application of tax dollars should be at the forefront of goals amongst most political pundits and elected officials. The legalization of marijuana presents such an opportunity to cut government spending. Harvard Economics Professor Jeffrey Miron published in his study “The Budgetary Implications of Drug Prohibition”, that the United States reaches costs for marijuana related arrest, prosecution, and incarceration reaches as much as $13.7 billion annually [7]. For some context, in 2014, the U.S. Federal Budget allocated $13.4 billion to energy expenditures [8]. Upon legalization, the sales tax on marijuana will serve as a source of revenue for the government. Republicans assert that the key to balancing the budget is to reduce spending. Legalizing marijuana does just that. On the other hand, Democrats often oppose budget cuts while favoring tax hikes. Marijuana legalization also can do precisely that. Rather than falsely labeling legalization as a some sort of gift to American potheads, America should see legalization for what it really is — a bipartisan approach to reducing the deficit.

With the highest incarceration rate in the world, the United States — for the preservation of culture, economy, and liberty — must find a way to prevent its citizenry from being wrongfully imprisoned. In 2014, out of 1,561,231 national arrests for nonviolent drug possession, 700,993 of them were for marijuana possession [9]. According to the FBI Database, this reduction would constitute a 5.3% reduction in total arrests for the year of 2010. More than one in 20 arrests in America are for nonviolent possession of marijuana, a victimless crime [10]. What’s more, these arrests for marijuana possession are largely discriminatory. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, despite the fact that white Americans of ages 18-25 have been consuming more marijuana per year, African Americans are four times as likely to be arrested for mere possession [11]. This discriminatory trend perpetuates a national stigma of en masse black youth incarceration, crippling both black communities, future job prospects of inequitably incarcerated black youth and, by extension, the national economy.

The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) categorizes drugs and chemicals into “Schedules” which convey the national stance on legality, medical research, and punitive measures regarding the drug. Currently, marijuana sits in Schedule 1, alongside heroin and LSD. However, in a recent letter to the U.S. Senate, the DEA indicates that they will have talks regarding rescheduling Marijuana as a Schedule-2 drug [12]. This would be a breakthrough for academics who have been trying to perform research on the medicinal uses of marijuana. Limited existing studies show promise for the use cannabinoids in the treatment of diseases ranging from cancer to Alzheimer’s. To even determine whether marijuana has a place in prescribed medicine, the U.S. government must allow for greater research on its potential applications, but the rescheduling of marijuana would only be a single step toward legalization. Nonetheless, it may prove to be a crucial step toward shifting the role marijuana is allowed to play in the medical field. Before legalization can become widely accepted by the government and populace, efforts to decriminalize marijuana, such as this one, must happen first.

The legalization of marijuana also holds great pertinence to U.S.-Mexico relations. The Mexican drug cartels, a constant threat to the Mexican government, have already seen loss in profits after the legalization of marijuana in Washington, Colorado, D.C., Alaska, and Oregon. Bear in mind that this reduction in sales is something that decades of a costly drug war could not prevent, yet an economically efficient policy has shown potential to create massive positive change. Legalization of marijuana would allow marijuana consumption to stem from a legal, easy-to-regulate, and safe industry instead of one in which firearm and cash smuggling constitute the norm. This action would not just help U.S. consumers but also would help reduce the reach of drug cartels that have threatened the Mexican government for decades [13].

There are few times in our lives when we find a policy that is economically efficient, potentially life-saving for thousands of Americans suffering from treatable illnesses, a boon for international policy, and a combatant of institutionalized racism, all while decreasing our massive incarceration rate and giving U.S. citizens just a piece of the liberty on which country was founded. Conveniently, four states and the District of Columbia have served as microcosms to test the social impacts of marijuana legalization. So far there have not been significant negative impacts to society due to legalization. In Colorado, there was even a post-legalization drop in teenage consumption rates of marijuana. A policy with budding potential, the U.S. government should reschedule marijuana from Schedule 1 and proceed to legalize it on the federal level for recreational and medical use.
Tobin Hansen

Mr. Hansen paints a delightfully false picture of Marijuana. As with many of the supporters of recreational marijuana, he fails to take into consideration the long-term implications of such a decision.

Cutting government spending is Mr. Hansen’s first argument, one of the most common reasons so many people support the legalization of marijuana. On paper, legalization seems great: more tax dollars and less money spent on incarcerated individuals. This, however, is an extremely simplified version of legalization. It fails to take into account the hidden costs of marijuana. Programs like government-funded drug rehabilitation programs and additional DUI watch officers eat right through the additional funds that marijuana would create. For many, the decline in health prompted by consumption of marijuana would have to be treated using government-subsidized healthcare, which only pulls more money out of the government’s coffers. It could even turn out like alcohol, which costs the government more money than it makes through taxes.

Less than 20% of the incarcerated population are serving time due to drug charges, and far less than that amount are for marijuana-related crimes. If you want to fix the justice system and improve public health, we should focus on developing community policing and keeping our citizens away from harmful drugs, rather than, as Mr. Hansen would have it, increasing their reach. Legalizing marijuana isn’t going to make crime magically disappear; fighting mass incarceration requires comprehensive reform of the justice system, rather than simply letting druggies smoke to their heart’s content. Any other implications are simply ignoring the facts of the matter. If you legalize murder, you’ll also decrease the crime rate. But public dangers like marijuana are illegal for a reason. So perhaps we should stop looking at the crime rate and instead look at the incidence rate of public dangers — something Mr. Hansen fails to mention the legalization of marijuana would increase.

Mr. Hansen argues that marijuana is “potentially life-saving for thousands of americans suffering from treatable diseases.” But this is about recreational marijuana, not medicinal. Fleeing to information of medicinal uses is indicative of a lack of valid argumentation for recreational use. When all’s said and done, legalization would not save lives; rather, it would harm lives through addiction, poor health, and an ever-growing national debt.
Nick Sage

As the the legalization of marijuana swiftly approaches California in the November ballot, Californians cannot afford to turn a blind eye to the public danger that is recreational marijuana. In America, people have a relaxed view on medical marijuana and this is caused largely by an underestimation of the damage marijuana can do to both physical and mental health. While some proponents of legalization choose to deny these effects, others falsely believe that somehow the legalization of marijuana will reinvigorate our economy. If one actually takes the time to delve even a little deeper into the effects legalization would have on America’s economy, government, and health, they’d find that it doesn’t live up to the hype dreamed up by hopeful addicts and enthusiasts.

First things first: marijuana is bad for you, even in moderation. I can hear the potheads reading this right now, thinking, “Oh please, I could be doing meth or heroin.” Yes, you could be doing hard drugs, and indeed they would be worse for you. But saying that one substance is fine because it’s not as bad as meth is not a strong argument. Marijuana can lead to heart attacks, dizziness, slowed reaction time, and lung infections — and those are only a handful of the potential physical effects [14]. The mental effects of marijuana are far more severe, and doctors are still working to understand just how damaging it is to the brain. Weed is known to cause anxiety, paranoia, and even depression, with it having an even more dangerous influence on those who are genetically susceptible [15]. Further, there is also little evidence to suggest that legalizing marijuana would reduce alcohol consumption. If the consumption of alcohol remains more or less the same, the chances of crossing the effects liquor and marijuana increase. Unfortunately, getting crossed worsens the negative side effects of both alcohol and marijuana intoxication. A little-known fact about marijuana is that it makes it more difficult to vomit, which sounds great but can be dangerous. Many people vomit after consuming too much alcohol, so when this reflex is prevented by the effects of marijuana it’s very detrimental to one’s health [16]. Many Americans who use substances have difficulty with moderation. The impulses become too difficult to resist when it is so easy to acquire drugs and alcohol.

Now that I’ve shown that marijuana is dangerous, readers may likely be thinking, “Cigarettes and alcohol are legal and they’re pretty awful for you, so why not treat marijuana?” The thing is, cigarettes and alcohol are undoubtedly toxic, but they’ve become so engrained in our culture that it is hopeless to make any significant change (*cough cough* prohibition). But we still have the power to prevent marijuana from embedding itself in the United States permanently. We have seen the undemocratic influence of alcohol and tobacco lobbyists on various levels of government and marijuana would inevitably reach this level of corporatism [17].

On top of the health risks, the government isn’t even guaranteed to make a profit off the sales tax on marijuana. Alcohol, for example, costs the country 15 times more money that what is gained through sales tax on alcohol. This is due to a variety of hidden costs behind the substance, like government funded rehab programs and car accidents caused by intoxication [18]. With legalization, the overall usage of weed will increase, as will the hidden costs of usage.

Even though the legalization movement is becoming increasingly popular, we must not turn a blind eye to the detrimental effects of marijuana on the economy and the health of our fellow Americans. If we decide to legalize recreational marijuana, it will haunt the nation indefinitely. The failure of prohibition in the 1920s shows us that it will be impossible to eliminate marijuana from the public once it is protected by law. This is more than a quick high that we’re voting on — a decision to legalize weed would have massive and irreversible ramifications.
Nick Sage

Mr. Sage’s article is a prime example of the uninformed stigma surrounding marijuana. His idea that legalization will engrain marijuana into our culture does not recognize the prevalence of marijuana already in society. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 30 million Americans already use marijuana, which is not significantly less than the 40 million Americans who smoke cigarettes [19]. Contrary to Mr. Sage’s belief, continuing the prohibition on marijuana will not stop the American people from using it. Mr. Sage also criticizes the supposed negative impacts of marijuana legalization on the economy. In his criticism, he only discusses the gains from marijuana sales tax, conveniently ignoring the current multi-billion dollar expense of apprehending, prosecuting, and incarcerating for marijuana use. In regards to health, the American people should be able to make their own choices, especially when the substance in question has shown some promise in combating cancer, and far fewer negative effects as compared to alcohol and tobacco. If Mr. Sage truly wants to combat “public dangers,” then I recommend he starts with a danger that has killed a single American [20].

Additionally, the legalization of marijuana would make consumption safer by limiting the potential for lacing marijuana with truly harmful substances such as acid or angel dust. For those of you who doubt the ability of legalization to make marijuana safe, also consider the relative incentives of illegal providers versus companies. Where a street vendor may try to hook you by lacing with a more addictive substance, a company would be blacklisted for providing an impure substance and would make its profit off of a strong reputation and positive customer reviews. Now I would like to touch upon a point in which Mr. Sage was correct. The legalization of marijuana will likely lead to an increase in cost to consumers due to the incorporation of the industry. This point then poses an important question that only the American voters can answer: Would you rather buy unregulated marijuana at a lower cost, from drug rings and criminal organizations, or regulated marijuana from businesses that pay taxes and create jobs for fellow citizens? The choice is anyone’s to make.
Tobin Hansen




One thought on “An Exploration of Recreational Marijuana”

  1. I am impressed with Nick Sage’s arguments against legalizing marijuana. I’m especially concerned about the edibles of marijuana – the desirability and the availability to children.

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