Marijuana Legalization

America has been slowly legalizing cannabis on a state level since 2014, first beginning with Colorado. Since then, many states have followed suit, even if it is only for medicinal purposes. In eight states, cannabis is legal for medicinal and recreational use. In twenty other states, it is legal for medicinal use only or law permits the use of cannabis-infused products.

Many argue that the legalization of marijuana on a federal level would be a step in the right direction because the drug has countless medicinal benefits, but many claim that it is also necessary to take into account the amount of marijuana-induced vehicle accidents in states that have legalized cannabis. The legalization of marijuana across the country would lead to an improvement in the quality of life for individuals due to a natural rise in the economy post-legalization, an advance in race relations, and an increase in the quality of life for countless patients suffering from psychiatric and physical problems.

It must be noted that on a federal level, marijuana is still not legalized. This means that the state government helping to license marijuana establishments, such as dispensaries and smoke shops, would technically be assisting in criminal acts, according to the United States government. Another issue is that the state and local taxes that are produced from said dispensaries and smoke shops would also be subject to federal asset-seizure laws.

States have moved past these issues, however, largely because of the Cole memorandum, named for Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole. This was a letter in August 2013 sent from U.S. Attorney General, Eric Holder, to the governors of both Washington and Colorado. In this correspondence, Holder told them that the Justice Department would continue to enforce the Controlled Substances Act, but there would be compromise. He gave them a set of parameters, or guidelines, that must be followed in order for the states to be able to tax the marijuana industry.

According to David Blake and Jack Finlaw of the Harvard Law & Policy Review, a few of the guidelines meant to protect the public interest from the Cole memo are as follows: “Preventing the distribution of marijuana to minors; Preventing drugged driving and the exacerbation of other adverse public health consequences associated with marijuana use; Preventing marijuana possession or use on federal property.” At this point in time, the federal government is compliant with new state legislation as long as state and local governments employ programs and laws that go hand-in-hand with the guidelines in the Cole memo.

The economic benefits from the legalization and decriminalization of marijuana use would be economically astounding. According to Andrew Scherf of The Hamline Journal of Public Law and Policy, “The dispensaries in California are not allowed to collect profits from the retail sale of medical marijuana and instead, the tax revenue generated from medical marijuana sales go straight to the California government.”

Because there is also no state regulation in the medical marijuana industry, there is the possibility for cities and local governments to impose their own taxes on retail sales. Not only does the state of California make between $58 and $105 million annually in tax revenue from medical marijuana sales alone, but the city of Los Angeles also made $2.5 million in 2012 imposing its 0.6 percent tax on gross receipts of revenue. This is just one of the many examples of the positive effect that the sale of medical marijuana would have on communities.

This money could go toward education; for example, in 2012, Colorado’s Amendment 64 contained a provision that the first $40 million in tax revenue annually would be directed to the Public School Capital Construction Assistance Fund. These tax dollars are made by taxing the wholesale of marijuana by 15 percent.

Decriminalization of marijuana would also help to boost the economy. According to The Hamline Journal of Public Law & Policy, the United States spends an annual $25 billion annually to enforce the marijuana prohibition laws. When one takes into account how much money is spent in the court system, police system, and corrections system, it is clear that states where marijuana is decriminalized spend far less money. This would mean that if the entire country decriminalized marijuana, then America would in turn spend less money. Legalization and decriminalization of cannabis would improve the nation’s economy tenfold.

Large clinical trials that involve cannabis are hard to come by because it is still an illegal substance in many states. That is why when it became legalized recreationally, many scientific minds went to those states to complete their research. To understand why marijuana is medically beneficial, first we must understand what is in it. According to researchers who wrote an article in the Multiple Sclerosis Journal:

Cannabis contains more than 60 different oxygen-containing aromatic hydrocarbon compounds unique to the plant, known as cannabinoids. The principal psychopharmacological component in cannabis is D9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), but other derivatives may have therapeutic or synergistic potential. Cannabidiol (CBD) is the most promising of these, especially as it is nonpsychoactive and may modulate the intoxicating and/or memory effects of THC.

The Multiple Sclerosis Journal found that in a 160-patient double-blind trial, cannabis medicinal extracts (called Sativex) were an effective treatment of spasticity associated with MS. This means that the stiffness and muscle spasms in multiple sclerosis patients were significantly decreased, compared to the placebo group.

Cannabidiol, however, is not only for multiple sclerosis. Another condition that can be managed with the help of CBD is epilepsy. According to the Journal of Clinical Pharmacy & Therapeutics, “The multipharmacological profile of CBD corresponds well with the wide range of therapeutic potentials reported for this compound, including its anti-epileptic activity.” What this journal aimed to do was to compile many experiments to prove that CBD would be a powerful anticonvulsant. In looking at human trials, they cite a renowned study conducted in 1980 by the Journal of Pharmacology. It was a double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial regarding the effects of CBD on epileptic disorders. They tested 15 adults with treatment-resistant epilepsy, and according to their results, seven out of eight patients improved with CBD.

In order to get the health treatment needed for neurological disorders, Americans have been recently flocking to states where they can get it. If marijuana were legal across the country, there would be no denying treatment to those who suffer from multiple sclerosis or epilepsy. Everyone could lead healthy lives, nearly free of their symptoms. Legalization would lead to a healthier and more positive America.

Race relations have been atrocious in the past few decades, but a way that they could improve would be the legalization of marijuana. According to Theodore Thornhill of the Journal of Ethnicity in Criminal Justice, “Between 1986 and 2006 there was a 100% increase in the level of support for the legalization of marijuana in the United States, from 18.3% to 36.8%, respectively. However, when we disaggregate the data by race we find that the proportion of Black respondents supporting legalization increased from 22% to 30% from 1986 to 2006.”

The black population is not supportive of the legalization of marijuana because of the harsh and severe law enforcement practices happening in their own backyards. They also find it hard to welcome the idea of marijuana legalization because they are not on the same page with law enforcement like white people are. Whites generally have an advantage in interactions with police and have a more positive outlook toward them.

At the same time, black people also have expressed their dismay at their communities, which are plagued with high crime and drug rates. Their views on legalization is complex, to say the least; however, the black community would benefit from marijuana legalization. Laws would become more lenient with respect to cannabis, so there wouldn’t be as many instances of black people being treated unfairly. As for communities with high crime and drug rates, the mentality of “lock them up and throw away the key” would be unnecessary. Cannabis would be out in the open rather than being on the streets and in the shadows. As much as they would still be disproportionately targeted, black people and even Latinos would overall benefit from the legalization of cannabis.

The biggest issue in the legalization debate is drugged driving. For example, a recent California law has made driving with an open container of marijuana in the vehicle an offense that is ticketed. However, the problem is not real. According to The American Journal of Public Health, “Three years after recreational marijuana legalization, changes in motor vehicle crash fatality rates for Washington and Colorado were not statistically different from those in similar states without recreational marijuana legalization.” This means that fatal crashes were not happening to the extent that most people thought they would, and thus, drugged driving isn’t as big of a problem.

Marijuana is a drug that has too many benefits to outweigh the costs. It would improve the economy, improve the lives of many with neurological disorders, and improve race relations by decreasing the amount of unfair stereotyping.

 

References

Aydelotte, Jayson D., et al. “Crash Fatality Rates After Recreational Marijuana Legalization in Washington and Colorado.” American Journal of Public Health, vol. 107, no. 8, Aug. 2017, pp. 1329-1331. EBSCOhost, doi:10.2105/AJPH.2017.303848.

Blake, David and Jack Finlaw. “Marijuana Legalization in Colorado: Learned Lessons.” Harvard Law & Policy Review, vol. 8, no. 2, July 2014, pp. 359-380. EBSCOhost, ezlfcc.vccs.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=98968750&site=ehost-live.

Derick T, Wade, et al. “Do Cannabis-Based Medicinal Extracts Have General or Specific Effects on Symptoms in Multiple Sclerosis? A Double-Blind, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Study on 160 Patients.” Multiple Sclerosis (13524585), vol. 10, no. 4, Aug. 2004, pp. 434-441. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1191/1352458504ms1082oa.

Santos, R. G., et al. “Phytocannabinoids and Epilepsy.” Journal of Clinical Pharmacy & Therapeutics, vol. 40, no. 2, Apr. 2015, pp. 135-143. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1111/jcpt.12235.

Scherf, Andrew L. “The Societal and Economic Impacts of Recent Dramatic Shifts in State Marijuana Law: How Should Minnesota Proceed in the Future?.” Hamline Journal of Public Law & Policy, vol. 36, no. 1, Jan. 2015, pp. 119-161. EBSCOhost, ezlfcc.vccs.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=103538238&site=ehost-live.

Thornhill, Theodore E. “African Americans and the Marijuana Legalization Paradox: Do Race-Specific Murder Victimization Rates and Race-Specific Drug Arrest Rates Explain It?.” Journal of Ethnicity in Criminal Justice, vol. 9, no. 2, Apr-Jun2011, pp. 110-135. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/15377938.2011.566813.

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