Legalization of marijuana went through various phases in the United States, Canada, and Europe. Marijuana is usually legalized only for medical use, while other usage types are partially restricted or illegal.
Marijuana Legalization in Colorado
In the year 2000, the use of medical marijuana was allowed for the first time in Colorado (for patients with chronic medical conditions only). Medical marijuana was rarely used by patients until 2009 when the use and sale of marijuana were liberalized by the federal policy. The sale and distribution of medical marijuana increased the number of issued licenses: from 4819 in 2008 to 116 287 in 2014 (Monte, Zane, & Heard, 2015, p. 1). Following conditions are considered as qualifying for the use of medical marijuana: cancer, HIV or AIDS, persistent muscle spasms, seizures, severe pain (Monte et al., 2015, p. 2).
The “retail sale, purchase, and possession of marijuana for state residents and visitors older than 21 years” were legally approved, as well as accepted almost by 60% percent of the voters (Monte et al., 2015, p. 2). On the first day of 2014, the retail stores started to sell marijuana to consumers. Before the legalization, the distribution of marijuana was restricted by patient-caregiver rules where a caregiver was only allowed to distribute marijuana to five patients; this was done to avoid the widespread distribution of marijuana (Monte et al., 2015, p. 2).
Various effects of decriminalization were expected and then confirmed: chronic health conditions had exacerbated, the number of marijuana intoxications had increased. However, unexpected results were also obtained and documented by Monte et al. (2015): the number of burns, sometimes severe, had increased compared to the years when marijuana was not legalized; cyclic vomiting syndrome’s presentations also increased, and more children unintentionally ingested marijuana products (p. 3). To conclude, some patients have gained benefits from legalization, while others were exposed to certain risks.
Effects of Marijuana Legalization in Other States/Europe and Canada
The legalization of marijuana was approved in 25 states, including Colorado. Full legalization law also passed in Washington, Alaska, and Oregon. If a community and the laws of the state support use and decriminalization/legalization of marijuana, rates of marijuana use will most likely increase (Monte et al., 2015, p. 4). Marijuana abuse/dependence rates also increase if the use, retail, and distribution of marijuana are legalized (Monte et al., 2015, p. 4). Nevertheless, recreational use and its approval by the public do not always change with the passing of the laws (Monte et al., 2015, p. 4).
Community norms, however, may influence not only marijuana use/abuse but also drinking and smoking rates. Monte et al. (2015) notice that if a community shows reduced disapproval towards the use of any of the mentioned products, it will shape the group’s behavior and even mental health (p. 4). Moreover, the effectiveness of marijuana products in some cases is doubtful, but there is no clear standpoint in which cases marijuana should or should not be used.
While it may bring relief to some people with headaches, it was not proven that marijuana helps treat all types of headaches. It is still not clear in which cases it is supposed to be used, and the medical community has not delivered any statement on this matter so far (Monte et al., 2015, p. 5). Nevertheless, studying marijuana influence in all 50 states is complicated research that needs attentive management, so conclusions cannot be extremely specific.
In Canada, only medical use of marijuana is allowed. Patients can grow their plants but only if they have a prescription from a physician (Boffey, 2014). Legalization and decriminalization of marijuana are still discussed in Canada. Some European countries (e.g. the Netherlands, Czech Republic, Austria, and Belgium) allow possession of the drug (up to 10 grams) and its cultivation. Germany forbids possession but allows smoking (Boffey, 2014). In France, Hungary, Latvia, Montenegro, Norway, etc. possession, sale, cultivation, and transport of cannabis are illegal.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Legalization
The legalization of marijuana has been discussed since the end of the previous century. Undoubtedly, it has its positive and negative impacts, both on society in general and the individual’s life and health. At first, the list of advantages of legalization will be examined:
1. When marijuana is legal, organized crime will reduce.
Legalizing marijuana means that drug dealers will draw less profit from it. There will also be fewer customers since people will most likely prefer buying marijuana from a legal seller than engaging in criminal activity.
2. Marijuana is safer than alcohol or tobacco.
Unlike alcohol or other drugs, marijuana cannot lead to fatal overdose; moreover, it has a less negative impact on health compared to alcohol or smoking, and the use of marijuana is not connected to cancer development (Boffey, 2014). It seems hypocritical to ban a drug with a medical potential and allow harmful drugs to be legally used.
3. Legalization will bring more taxes to states.
As Colorado’s experience has shown, the government can levy a tax on retail shops and products. This measure will bring millions of dollars to the state thus creating more funds that can be distributed to various institutions, e.g. hospitals or clinics.
4. Medical use is not only for patients with chronic illnesses.
Marijuana can help not only patients with conditions like cancer or epilepsy but also to those who suffer from mental illnesses (e.g. anxiety disorder, PTSD, etc.) or digestive system diseases. These patients can use it to relieve pain or stress caused by the illness.
The disadvantages of the legalization may include the following statements:
1. Marijuana is dangerous for minors.
If it is easy to purchase marijuana, no doubt minors will try to buy it too. Studies have shown that marijuana has a severe impact on the adolescent brain because it is still actively developing (Boffey, 2014). Marijuana may cause loss of I.Q. points and harm cognitive abilities.
2. Marijuana is addictive.
Although marijuana is not as dangerous as alcohol or heroin, it is still able to cause addiction. Since marijuana brings a sense of relief and pleasure to the consumer, he or she might want to increase the portion. Like any other drug, marijuana has various withdrawal symptoms.
3. Driving and using marijuana may cause a catastrophe.
Since an individual is not completely aware of his or her actions after smoking or digesting marijuana, it can lead to serious crimes, including traffic accidents, burglary, assault, or robbery. Driving and being on drugs can not only harm the driver but also injure or kill passengers or pedestrians.
The legalization of marijuana has brought some benefits for the American society, but there are also health and safety concerns that need to be considered if marijuana is fully legalized in all states.
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