Researching Possible Consequences of Marijuana Legalization
The legalization of marijuana is a very taboo issue in America, mainly due to the fact that it is the "most commonly abused illicit drug in the United States," reports the website of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). It is currently illegal in the United States, but legal in other countries such as the Netherlands, India and Denmark. We see this as an issue for many reasons including addiction, health risks and possible "gateway drug" effects. However, it is difficult to separate fact from fiction when it comes to an illegal substance, due to lack of experimentation and supplied information.
If one is to understand how legalization would work for marijuana, NORML, a pro-legalization interest group, describes that ideally, cannabis should be regulated much like alcohol is today:
- It would be illegal to cultivate it yourself.
- It may only be sold by licensed vendors.
- Purchase of marijuana would be limited by amount per day per person.
- Use and purchase would be permitted to those aged 21 and over.
- Use of marijuana would only be permitted indoors on private property.
- Driving while intoxicated would be illegal.
It is often told that THC, the active ingredient in cannabis, is an addictive toxin which results in tolerance, dependence and withdrawals. While this is true, according to NIDA, it is important to look at the specific symptoms and timeframes as compared to cigarettes and tobacco:
Long-term alcohol consumption has been linked to an "incurable, but treatable disease". Alcoholics may stay sober for years, but a relapse is always possible. Long-term abuse has also been linked to stomach cancer, cirrhosis, permanent damage to the central nervous system, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, chronic pancreatitis, and many other effects.
The addictive additive to tobacco in cigarettes is nicotine. According to the American Heart Association, "Nicotine addiction has historically been one of the hardest addictions to break." The pharmacological and behavioral characteristics that determine tobacco addiction are similar to those that determine addiction to drugs such as heroin and cocaine. Long-term abuse has been linked to lung cancer, throat cancer, heart disease and more.
According to the NIDA, "Long-term marijuana abusers trying to quit report irritability, sleeplessness, decreased appetite, anxiety, and drug craving, all of which make it difficult to quit. These withdrawal symptoms begin within about 1 day following abstinence, peak at 2-3 days, and subside within 1 or 2 weeks following drug cessation." The only known damaging long-term effect known to be linked to THC are changes in the activity of nerve cells containing dopamine, a common effect of any drug including alcohol and cigarette smoke. Dr. Christine Hartel, Acting Director of Research at NIDA admitted that pot does not kill brain cells, cited by the State of Hawaii Dept of Health, Alcohol and Drug Abuse Division in memo of Feb. 4, 1994.
It is important to understand that cannabis may certainly not be a "miracle drug" or may not even be perceived as safe, depending on one's standards. However, research has indicated that the effects of marijuana are less harmful than that of alcohol and cigarettes, which are legal. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, in 2006, 14.8 million Americans age 12 or older reported using marijuana at least once in the month prior to being surveyed.
The only issue with chronic marijuana usage is lower productivity and inability to problem solve while intoxicated, as well as slightly increased risk of accidents due to bad coordination. Over 50% of people involved in road accidents are drunk, while statistically, only 7% of people were found to have THC in their systems. As far as social accidents, there is no evidence that the prohibition of marijuana reduces the net social risk of accidents. On the contrary, recent studies suggest that marijuana may actually be beneficial in that it substitutes for alcohol and other, more dangerous drugs. Research by Karyn Model found that states with marijuana decriminalization had lower overall drug abuse rates than others; another study by Frank Chaloupka found decriminalized states have lower accident rates too.
Marijuana is illegal both federally and by state. Attempts have been made to legalize marijuana for medical use in states such as California in the past, but have been deprecated due to its federal standing. Nearly 40,000 Americans are presently incarcerated in state and federal correctional facilities for marijuana violations, not including local jails.
The cost to imprison one inmate is about $50 each per day, which is paid directly through taxes. The combined costs of maintaining all of those convicted marijuana users add up to $730,500,000 per year. In the event that marijuana would be legalized, that money could be instantly used for greater purposes. That does not even include the revenue that could be brought in from taxing its sale. Marijuana is California's largest cash crop. It is valued at $14 billion annually, or nearly twice the value of the state's grape and vegetable crops combined, according to government statistics. A national legalization effort would save nearly $13 billion annually in enforcement costs and bring in $7 billion in yearly tax revenues, according to a study by Harvard University economist Jeffrey Miron.
So with the financial potential of marijuana and its safe effects (compared to alcohol and cigarettes), should it be illegal? My opinion is no, it should be regulated and taxed just like any other legal drug on the market.