Marijuana legalization is an issue that has been present in California politics for years. Just now, however, it is coming to a head, as the possibility of its full legalization looms before us in 2010.
Until recently, those politicians who outwardly supported marijuana legalization have been ignored or even discounted as “potheads” who then faded into obscurity. Three hundred thousand signatures have been gathered in the last month alone, however, which means that the legislation could easily be on the November 2010 ballot for all of California’s voters to decide on.
Though still illegal federally, medical marijuana has been legal in California since 1996, and President Obama recently declared federal raids on legal state cannabis dispensaries unlawful. On the heels of this declaration and the increasing acceptance of marijuana use by the general California public, there is now developing legislation that could fully legalize cannabis in California. Some reports state that this legalization could mean selling it at liquor stores to those 21 and over, but there is nothing definite as of yet.
When used medically, marijuana boasts a number of significant benefits, such as giving cancer patients a renewed appetite, curing insomnia, reducing anxiety, and relieving chronic pain. Having recognized these benefits, 56 percent of those who voted on Proposition 215 (which eventually legalized medical marijuana) opted to decriminalize the drug.
Following the limited legalization of cannabis, it cannot be denied that California’s relatively lax stand on the drug was taken advantage of. We all know one or two or 10 people who have medical marijuana cards who aren’t actually in medical need of it, and some of us know people who have entered or even worked in a clinic without proper authorization. This could indicate to some that fully legalizing marijuana would be disadvantageous, spurning a lazy and dissociated population.
It is beneficial, however, to recognize the facts in the situation before forming an opinion.
Already earning California about $14 billion a year, it has been estimated that legalizing marijuana could generate anywhere between $1.5 and $4 billion (from taxing the drug) in revenue for California, a boost that we most undeniably need.
Additionally, our country as a whole spends $68 billion a year on its prisoners, one-third of which are imprisoned for nonviolent drug crimes. About half of these criminals are marijuana offenders, which means one-sixth of our country’s prisoners are in jail for marijuana-related charges. Legalizing the drug would mean spending $11.3 billion less a year on prisons (that’s your tax money).
Monetary gain is not the only advantage to marijuana being legalized, however. It is important to understand the medical benefits of the drug, even if it is already lawful when used with a prescription. Marijuana, unlike most other legal drugs, is not physically addictive. It can be argued that it is psychologically addictive, of course, just as substances like food are addictive. There is a difference, though, between food and marijuana. When used incorrectly, food is much worse for a person’s health than cannabis is.
The abuse of food intake is directly linked to more than half of the top 10 leading causes of death in our country—the same cannot be said of marijuana. The total death toll of those users and abusers of cannabis: zero. Contrary to popular belief, evidence shows that smoking marijuana does not actually lead to health problems like cancer and heart disease. Of course it is not harmless, as prolonged usage (more than 15 years at more than one marijuana cigarette a day) can possibly increase risks of damage, although it is not entirely clear of what exactly that damage could be.
Among its other legal drug counterparts, marijuana is by far the least physically harmful. Cigarettes, alcohol, prescription painkillers, and even sleep aids are all highly addictive, and all can lead to death. Even Tylenol is so damaging that Vicodin and Percocet are being considered to be illegalized because of the Tylenol, not the opiates, in them. So I must ask, why is there such opposition to a drug whose primary use is to alleviate symptoms of the ill, when many other legal drugs only contribute to or even cause those symptoms?
It is a social standard. Because marijuana has been socially unacceptable in our country for so long, many are not ready to accept its legalization. We must attempt to overcome these social blocks, however, so we can see the substantially beneficial properties of marijuana.
To combat those who argue that our country will be walking zombies in the wake of marijuana legalization, I say this: If a person has not already chosen to partake in smoking marijuana, it is highly unlikely that they will do so simply because they cannot be arrested for it. In California especially, the legal system is already quite flexible on marijuana use. If found with small amounts of the drug, one will almost never be arrested unless another, more serious, crime is also committed.
It is not a difficult drug to locate—those who will choose to smoke legally, already do so illegally. Legalizing the drug would only serve to increase California’s income, downsize crime, and benefit the mood of already recreational and medical users.