One of the most controversial issues in the US is whether marijuana should be legalized or not. Marijuana is a popular illegal drug and the World Health Organization estimates that 2.5% of the world’s population uses it recreationally (1). This psychoactive substance is very popular in the US and millions of Americans use it each year.
Despite this huge popularity, marijuana remains illegal in most states and individuals who use it risk being subjected to criminal penalties by the authorities. However, the last few decades have witnessed a rise in support for marijuana legalization in the US. This paper will provide a concise yet informative overview on the issue of legalizing marijuana in the US.
The most compelling argument made in support of criminalizing marijuana is that usage of this drug leads to many damaging health effects. Volkow asserts that marijuana use leads to adverse physical and mental outcomes (1). Research indicates that there are links between heavy marijuana use and decline in memory abilities and even psychosis. Marijuana use diminishes the ability of a person to make sound judgments and it also affects his/her verbal skills.
The inhalation of marijuana smoke can damage lungs and lead to respiratory disorders. In addition to this, marijuana increases the risk of developing testicular cancer in male users. Considering these many adverse effects of marijuana use, the government feels justified to criminalize the drug and therefore reduce its usage. Opponents of legalization argue that it would be irresponsible for the government to decriminalize a drug that exposes people to these major negative health effects.
Another reason for the criminalization of marijuana is that it is a gateway drug. While there is general agreement that marijuana is not as dangerous or addictive as hard drugs such as cocaine and heroine, research shows that many users of marijuana move up to using the highly addictive and dangerous hard drugs. Volkow notes that many users of cocaine and heroine admit that they first began by using marijuana and then moved to the hard drugs (1).
Opponents of legalization declare that decriminalizing will lead to an increase in the number of people using dangerous drugs. These hard drugs are not only unsafe but they are also highly addictive. Users of cocaine and heroine often engage in crime to obtain the money needed to support their drug habit.
On the other hand, there are a number of arguments made in support of legalization. The changing view on marijuana has partly been caused by new research findings that indicate that the drug is not as dangerous as it has historically been assumed to be. The strong laws against marijuana have been based on the presumption that the drug is very dangerous.
However, current research demonstrates that if used responsibly, the adverse effects of marijuana use are minimal. Sullum indicates that contrary to popular believe, marijuana is a safe drug and it is objectively less harmful than alcohol (25). In addition to this, studies have revealed that the drug has therapeutic benefits. The world’s leading organization in health, the WHO, accepts that marijuana can be used for a number of medical reasons including managing nausea and relieving pain.
The government has been forced to acknowledge that the current policy of criminalizing marijuana use is not effective in spite of it being very expensive. Miron documents that the US government uses over $7.7 billion each year in its efforts to stop marijuana use in the country (1). This large sum of money is used to enforce marijuana prohibition laws and fund deterrence measures. In spite of this huge expenditure, marijuana use is on the rise all over the US. Some activists believe that it would be more prudent to decriminalize the drug and save the government this expensive bill.
Revenue considerations have also increased the support for making marijuana legal. As it currently stands, marijuana is a massive industry worth billions of dollars annually. However, the illegal status of the drug makes it impossible for the government to gain revenue from commerce in this drug.
Advocates of legalization declare that the government would gain significant profit if it legitimized this drug and taxed it at the same rate as it taxes other legal drugs such as tobacco (Miron 1). This is a desirable outcome since the government is constantly looking for ways to boast its tax base. The States that have legalized marijuana are already benefiting from the profits obtained from trade in this drug.
While the issue of legalizing marijuana is still highly polarized, current trends suggest that most states are more accommodating of marijuana use today than at any other time in history. As it currently stands, some states have already approved marijuana use within their borders. In addition to this, there is a general trend towards wholly or partially legalizing marijuana use in a number of States. Even so, this does not mean that marijuana will be legalized all over the US in the near future since strong opposition to legalization still exists all over the country.
Miron, Jeffrey. The Budgetary Implications of Marijuana Prohibition. 2005.
Sullum, Jacob. “Pot Goes Legit.” Drugs and Alcohol 45.6 (2013): 23-26. 2014.
Volkow, Nora. Marijuana Abuse. 2009.
World Health Organization (WHO). Management of substance abuse: Cannabis. 2010.