The debate over marijuana needs to be about ending the prohibition, rather than legalization. In fact, marijuana has been legal for far more of America’s history than it has been illegal. Just like prohibition of alcohol failed in the 1920s, America’s experiment with criminalizing cannabis has proven to be extremely harmful.
While it has not been in use for quite as long as alcohol, marijuana was originally used as for medicinal properties as early as 2700 B.C. By 1937 (CE), nearly every state in the U.S. had made the drug illegal. Most people today do not realize that the negative view of the plant is a rather recent historical shift. In the past decade, the drug has become the focus of the War on Drugs, with arrests for simple drug possession or use being significantly higher for marijuana users than any other drug. Rather than focusing their efforts on harder, more dangerous drugs, the government has shown itself to be very strict in regard to marijuana. Yet statistics tell a story of costly enforcement of the “safer” drug at the tax payer’s expense.
A 2005 study done by an economics professor who taught at Harvard found that “legalization” of marijuana would save $7.7 billion in government expenditures. As if that wasn’t reason enough to end the prohibition, the same study also estimated that marijuana would raise $2.4 billion if the plant were taxed at “normal” levels, and a staggering $6.2 billion if taxed at the rates of alcohol and tobacco. Fiscally speaking, it makes sense to end the prohibition and allow our states and federal government the chance to make tax dollars off of the substance, just as it does with alcohol and tobacco.
For the first time in recent decades, public opinion has shifted to over 50 percent of the populace supporting “legalizing” marijuana. However, many still have concerns about the effects of legalization. Questions about the health risks of the plant and availability for children tend to be the frontrunners with most opposition groups, yet when taking a fair look at the drug, both of these objections fall short.
Despite what many would have the public believe, alcohol is substantially more dangerous to the user’s health.
If there is one statistic that demonstrates the difference in danger between the substances, it is the fact that 37,000 people die every year solely from overconsumption of alcohol, while there has never been a recorded case of a user dying from an overdose of marijuana. But I encourage every reader to do his/her own research. Most sites against marijuana will use phrases like “long-term studies have not been conclusive” or “there have yet to be any extensive studies on the long term effects of cannabis,” but what these sites fail to mention is that the government completely controls the research permissions for marijuana and does not allow these type of independent studies to occur in full.
As far as concerns regarding youth access to marijuana, the fact is that kids have much more access while marijuana remains illegal than they would if it were regulated. The drug dealer at the end of the block does not care if his customer is of age as long as they have money, yet shopkeepers, who can face punitive damages and have licenses revoked, have a very vested interest in the age of their customers.
This may be a hard argument to grasp, but ask most kids and they will say that if they wanted to do so, marijuana would be much easier to purchase than alcohol. This is because the purchase of alcohol requires someone over the age of 21, while marijuana only requires is cold, hard cash.
When it comes to the legal status of marijuana, the math just doesn’t add up. We, as a nation, can either continue spending billions every year criminalizing a drug that is less harmful that alcohol or end the prohibition on cannabis and make billions in taxes while doing a better job of keeping the substance away from youth.