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Puff, puff, pass the ballot

by Gregory Todaro November 20, 2012
Puff, puff, pass the ballot

Graphic by Phil Waheed.

The tides are changing in the United States. Along with the re-election of President Barack Obama, Washington and Colorado have also voted to legalize marijuana for recreational use.

This huge step for American culture is facing both praise and criticism from the outside, but I think the legalization of marijuana is ultimately a move that, if done effectively, can have a very positive effect.

Why, then, is marijuana still illegal in the rest of the United States? Maybe it’s because marijuana is a so-called gateway drug? It makes sense that the government doesn’t want citizens experimenting with harmful substances.

Too bad this notion is totally inaccurate. According to The National Academy of Sciences, “there is no conclusive evidence that the … effects of marijuana are causally linked to the subsequent abuse of other illicit drugs.”

Furthermore, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has reported that about 76 million adults have tried marijuana and did not become regular marijuana users or go on to try any other drugs. So, that can’t be it.

Maybe the American government is afraid that if they legalize marijuana it will become more mainstream. Perhaps lawmakers feel that the only way to curb the use of the drug is to put in place firm laws against it, but that’s another misconception.

According to the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse’s national working group on addictions, most marijuana users believe their use will go undetected, so fear of legal punishment doesn’t act as an effective deterrent. No matter how strict the laws, people have and will continue to use the drug.

A study by the California State Office of Narcotics and Drug Abuse reinforces that “the reduction in penalties for possession of marijuana for personal use does not appear to [be] a factor in people’s decision to use or not use the drug.” So, that can’t be it either.

The bottom line here is that the ‘war on drugs’ cost the United States at the federal level $15 billion in 2010. On top of that, one person every 19 seconds is arrested for violating a drug law. In a country desperate to climb out of a deficit and with the highest incarceration rate in the world (730 per 100,000 people), legalization of marijuana helps take care of both problems.

On the subject of money, the U.S. could make a lot of money from regulating marijuana use, and the longer it remains unregulated, the more money is lost. Harvard University economics professor, Jeffrey Miron, told CNN that if marijuana was taxed at similar rates as tobacco and alcohol, the United States would save about $14 billion per year, based on the decrease in spending against it as well as the taxation of it.

As far as the arrest record goes, the FBI has reported that 52 per cent of drug arrests are marijuana related. That makes for a total of over 850,000 arrests in 2010 according to the FBI. Keeping these people out of jail will have a noticeable effect on the taxpayer’s money. It’s also worth mentioning that out of the 52 per cent, 88 per cent of those arrests are for possession.

And that’s not even mentioning the positive effects marijuana can have medically. The American Medical Association was very vocal against the initial ban of the drug, which had been used for medicinal purposes for more than 5,000 years. Currently, more than 60 American and international medical organizations support the use of medical marijuana.

And yet, despite all of this evidence in its favour, marijuana continues to be illegal in most of the United States.

Much like the reversal of prohibition, this opposition against marijuana is going to give in eventually. Now is the time for the American federal government to step up and make this happen. Their constituents and their wallets will thank them for it.

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