By: Julian Denison
Throughout the 1920s, the United States experienced a period of prohibition from alcohol that allowed for the creation of an entirely new culture, through things such as speakeasies and women known as “Flappers”, that would take over the Jazz Age and would result in the 21st amendment, ending the prohibition of alcohol in the United States forever. Unfortunately, the United States has been experiencing a newer, more modern prohibition through the restriction of marijuana. It has been an important social issue within the nation for many years, and as author Scott C. Martin states, in his Time Magazine article on marijuana law, “This movement toward the medicalization of cannabis has been hailed by some and decried by others—but unquestionably, its path has been unique in the history of American drug and medical policy” (Martin). Additionally, one 53-year-old man suffering from fibromyalgia and chronic pain could not respond efficiently to both Oxycodone and Naproxen and after being introduced to medicinal marijuana through Dr. Jacob Mirman, he was off all prescription medicine within 3 months and now has manageable pain and normal testosterone levels (LifeMedical). The time for marijuana’s prohibition must come to an end, as its legalization is dire for not only those who need it for medical use but for recreational use as well. The legalization of marijuana should take effect in all states and territories under the United States of America due to the immense economic benefits of the legalization of marijuana, because of the disproportionate effects marijuana’s prohibition has on minorities in the country, and since the regulation of marijuana after its legalization will lead to a better, safer America.
Firstly, we must understand what the reasoning was for restricting marijuana in the United States in the first place. The first ever instance of marijuana prohibition by the federal government under Congress was the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937. This act was the initial cause of marijuana being completely illegal throughout the country (Martin). The most prominent development in the restriction of marijuana though was the Controlled Substance Act of 1970, a major part of the infamous war on drugs. The passing of the Controlled Substance Act of 1970 placed marijuana in the Schedule 1 category of drugs, equivocating marijuana to other drugs such as heroin and LSD as well as placing it in a schedule inherently worse than drugs such as cocaine. Furthermore, this biased decision to schedule marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug under the Drug Enforcement Administration was mostly due to the current President Nixon’s opinion on the counterculture movement at the time and the connection that counterculture had with marijuana (Martin). Since those who participated in the counterculture movement used marijuana along with LSD, ecstasy, and heroin, -and simply because major politicians did not support the counterculture movement, marijuana was illogically placed into the Schedule 1 section. In recent years, many developments regarding the restriction of marijuana in the United States have been for the legalization of marijuana. For example, Proposition 215 was the first ever instance of the legalization of marijuana in the United States, leading to legalization in California. Since then, marijuana has been legalized for medicinal purposes in 40 states, as well as D.C. and Guam, and has been legalized for recreational use in 22 states, also along with D.C. and Guam (Casacchia). Although it is legalized in nearly half of the states, the mission to legalize marijuana for complete adult use is far from over.
Admittedly, there is a large disagreement on the health repercussions of using marijuana. Many claim that marijuana can cause many health issues. Health experts claim that inhaling any substance other than normal air is largely unhealthy and can cause many damaging effects on the body. More specifically, “[m]arijuana may contain five times as much carbon monoxide concentration and three times as much tar as tobacco” (“Should Recreational Marijuana”). Although this might be true and there possibly could be negative health effects to smoking marijuana, the opposite appears to be more evident. There is a great deal of evidence to support that marijuana has more health benefits than negative impacts on the human body. Research done by Johnson and Wales University has provided seven examples of the benefits of the use of marijuana such as reduction of inflammation, reduction of blood pressure, preventing of relapse in drug and alcohol addiction, treating of anxiety disorders, treating of gastrointestinal disorders, preventing of seizures, and even the fighting of cancer (Johnson and Wales University). Thus, as further experimentation and research are done on the plant, we are constantly discovering more and more health benefits rather than negative health effects on the human body regarding the use of marijuana.
Along with the evident health benefits that the use of marijuana could provide for of-age adults, one of the biggest premises in supporting the complete legalization of marijuana is from an economic standpoint. There are many economic benefits of legalizing marijuana, such as how tax regulation of marijuana after its legalization would create enormous tax revenue for the entire American economy. For example, the tax revenue on marijuana is already constantly increasing due to the states that have already legalized it within the country. In the Investopedia article on the economic benefits of legalizing marijuana author Mrinalini Krishna delineates that in the year 2021 alone, the state of Washington collected $559.5 million of legal marijuana, which was $85 million more than the year prior. Furthermore, the state of Colorado collected $423 million of marijuana tax revenue in 2021, which is a 10% increase from Colorado’s marijuana tax revenue in 2020 (Krishna). There is an evident continual rise in marijuana tax revenue among the states that have already legalized marijuana, and other states that haven’t yet legalized marijuana are missing out on many benefits and millions of dollars. Additionally, Krishna also mentions that in 2019, the total tax revenue collected by all states that legalized/decriminalized marijuana topped $1.7 billion. In 2021, the total dollar revenue within the same states had increased by more than double (Krishna). This again shows that there is an evident increase in the tax revenue provided by the legalization of marijuana; if all the remaining states followed in the footsteps of those that have already legalized marijuana, they too could reap the benefits and boost the American economy greatly.
In addition, not only does the legalization of marijuana lead to enormous tax revenue for the American economy, but it would also benefit the citizens of the United States as it would create an enormous amount of new jobs. Analysts have provided sufficient evidence to show that the legalization of marijuana leads to the creation of jobs. In January 2022, the legal marijuana industry created 428,059 new American jobs, along with 107,000 new jobs in 2021 alone according to the Leafly Jobs Report (“Should Recreational Marijuana”). In addition, the report also noted that between 2020 to 2021, there was a 33% increase in the number of American jobs, meaning that 280 new jobs were created per day thanks to the legalization of marijuana (“Should Recreational Marijuana”). There is a clear correlation between the creation of new jobs and the legalization of marijuana, especially when hundreds of thousands of new American jobs are being created. This will not only benefit the economy by boosting it exponentially, but it will also benefit United States citizens immensely by offering them much-needed jobs. However, there are other ways that the legalization of marijuana would benefit a large majority of U.S. citizens, specifically minority groups. In addition to the economic benefits of the complete legalization of marijuana, there are also positives on a societal level. The main reason for this is because of the largely disputed fact that there is a disproportionate impact on minorities in the United States largely due to current restrictions on marijuana. There is an evident racial bias toward the arrests of blacks concerning marijuana-related charges, and blacks are disproportionately impacted by these arrests. To further this argument, the American Civil Liberties Union released statistical comparisons between marijuana-related arrests between both whites and blacks. Essentially, although marijuana use is equivalent between both groups, African Americans are “3.73 times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession” (ACLU). This shows that there is a clear racial bias toward the arrests of African Americans with marijuana-related crimes because although the use of marijuana between the two groups is equal, African Americans are more targeted for marijuana-related arrests than whites. Furthermore, for every minority arrested for marijuana-related charges, as well as other groups, it adds to the United States having one of the highest incarceration rates in the entire world. These arrests are highly unnecessary and are a waste of time and money. As the ACLU also delineates, “enforcing marijuana laws costs us about $3.6 billion a year, yet the War on Marijuana has failed to diminish the use of the availability of marijuana”, meaning that even though the United States spends billions of dollars against marijuana, there is no effect on the availability of marijuana within the country (ACLU). Therefore, money is being spent unnecessarily and for no logical reason since it is not fulfilling its purpose. This is precious money that could be focused on problems that matter, such as the current United States debt or fixing the problem of homelessness throughout the country, rather than on an unsuccessful attempt at decreasing the availability of marijuana. The reason that this is important to realize is that when the United States is spending billions of dollars enforcing laws against the availability of marijuana along with the fact that African Americans are arrested at a rate that is 3.73 times higher, it means the money that is going towards prohibiting the use and availability of marijuana is also money that goes towards the heightened arrests of African Americans in the country. The disproportionate impact on minorities because of the prohibition of marijuana in the United States is completely unnecessary and this clear racial bias wouldn’t exist if marijuana was legalized. Along with this, the disproportionate number of arrests of blacks in the country at the hands of the police departments of the United States could be avoided if marijuana was legalized since “police officers could focus on serious crimes including rape, assault, and homicide” (“Should Recreational Marijuana”). It is apparent that there are more pressing matters than the use of a mere plant throughout the country, and the legalization of marijuana would allow the police force to have more time and ability to make arrests on actual crimes that impact other people negatively. This is evident as well since the observation of police forces throughout states that have already legalized marijuana has shown this exact situation. In the state of Washington, when marijuana was legalized, it allowed for law enforcement resources to be greatly freed up and allowed marijuana possession arrests to drop from 5,531 to 120 after legalization. If this was implemented throughout the country, not only would the disproportionate arrests of blacks would decrease but unnecessary arrests would drop in general.
Finally, along with a superior economy and the disappearance of disproportionate impacts towards minorities, the legalization of marijuana would allow for the regulation of marijuana usage and distribution to lead to a better and safer America. Essentially, marijuana legalization would largely benefit the criminal justice system and cause a major reduction in crime, as well as provide the country with a safer public environment. Criminal enterprises utilize violence to deliver illicit goods and services to resolve conflict, and recent research has shown that the legalization of marijuana would reduce violence and trafficking associated with the illegal drug trade, therefore reducing the power and wealth of cartels and drug gangs (Jorgensen). Since the illegal drug trade is filled with violence and trafficking, the legalization of marijuana would cause the need for this violence and trafficking to cease, therefore reducing, or even stopping further crime throughout the nation, specifically between cartels and large drug gangs that control the drug trade. Therefore, the legalization of marijuana is not only a desire for many adult Americans but is a necessity for the betterment of the country. Furthermore, many claim that the legalization of marijuana would lead to more traffic accidents and deaths as there would be an increase in driving under the influence, however, this is far from the truth. As ProCon.Org states, “Traffic deaths dropped 11% on average in states that legalized medical marijuana” (“Should Recreational Marijuana”). Although it seems as though it would be unlikely because drivers under the influence of marijuana have been proven to be more cautious and take fewer risks -- such as fewer lane changes and reduced speed -- than drunk drivers, it causes fewer traffic deaths (“Should Recreational America”). Since they are more cautious than drunk drivers, legalizing marijuana would allow people who possibly would have been drunk driving to take in marijuana instead and would drive more carefully and more safely than others under the influence of alcohol. This is a major step toward a safer public environment, as a lot of deaths that occur in the United States and worldwide are traffic related. Not only would legalizing marijuana provide a better and safer United States, but it would also benefit America’s youth. Although legalization would only primarily impact adults since they would be the only people permitted to purchase marijuana, the youth of the United States would be indirectly impacted by the legalization of marijuana as well. For example, ever since Colorado legalized adult-use marijuana sales, “lifetime cannabis use has fallen an estimated 30 percent amount high-schoolers and an estimated 40 percent among middle schoolers” (norml.org), meaning that although high-schoolers and middle schoolers wouldn’t be able to purchase marijuana regardless of it was legalized or not, the legalization of marijuana would cause students to stop smoking at an enormous rate. Furthermore, as Christopher Ingraham delineates in his Washington Post article on marijuana, data acquired from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health displayed nearly a 12% decrease in the use of marijuana between ages 12-17 from 2014/2015 to 2013/2014 (Ingraham). This further supports the idea that the legalization of marijuana will not only have benefits for adults in the country but will provide a safer environment for America’s youth to thrive in.
As the current President of the United States, Joe Biden stated when speaking on his reform on marijuana, “Sending people to prison for possessing marijuana has upended too many lives and incarcerated people for conduct that many states no longer prohibit. Criminal records for marijuana possession have also imposed needless barriers to employment, housing, and educational opportunities” (Biden). Marijuana’s legalization will provide an unimaginable number of economic benefits that will be useful to the United States, it will free minority groups such as African Americans from being disproportionately affected by the prohibition of marijuana, and it will allow all United States citizens to live in a safer environment and nation. It is imperative that we shift towards this major change collectively, for the sake of our generation and those that will follow.
“Article - Medical Marijuana - Five Success Stories.” Life Medical - Minnesota Medical & Rehabilitative Services, 24 July 2017, lifemedical.us/article-medical-marijuana-five-success-stories/.
Casacchia, Chris, et al. “Where Marijuana Is Legal in the United States.” MJBizDaily, 30 May 2023, mjbizdaily.com/map-of-us-marijuana-legalization-by-state/. Accessed 10 June 2023.
Ingraham, Christopher. “After Legalization, Teen Marijuana Use Drops Sharply in Colorado.” The Washington Post, 24 Nov. 2021, www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/12/21/one-of-the-greatest-fears-about-le galizing-marijuana-has-so-far-failed-to-happen/.
Jorgensen, Cody. “How Marijuana Legalization Would Benefit the Criminal Justice System.” The Blue Review, 4 Apr. 2023, www.boisestate.edu/bluereview/how-marijuana-legalization-would-benefit-the-criminal-justice-system/. Accessed 10 June 2023.
Krishna, Mrinalini. “The Economic Benefits of Legalizing Marijuana.” Investopedia, 25 May 2023, www.investopedia.com/articles/insights/110916/economic-benefits-legalizing-weed.asp. Accessed 11 June 2023.
“Marijuana Regulation and Teen Use Rates.” NORML, 4 May 2023, norml.org/marijuana/fact-sheets/marijuana-regulation-and-teen-use-rates/?amp. Accessed 11 June 2023.
Martin, Scott C. “A Brief History Of Marijuana Law In America” Time Magazine, 20 Apr. 2016, https://time.com/4298038/marijuana-history-in-america/ Accessed 19 May 2023. “Pros & Cons - ProCon.Org.” Recreational Marijuana, 1 Feb. 2023, marijuana.procon.org/. Accessed 10 June 2023.