America, Up in Smoke
Marijuana is a gateway drug. Multiple studies have confirmed that individuals who use marijuana have a higher incidence of usage of other illicit drugs over the course of their lives. Many opponents of marijuana legalization have used this correlation as justification for the continued criminalization of marijuana — if it leads people to use other, more dangerous drugs, why legalize it at all?
Alcohol is also a gateway drug. Multiple studies have confirmed this too, and those same studies show that nicotine also falls under the same category. Even caffeine usage has been found to correlate with the risk of use of hard drugs like cocaine. People who like drugs tend to try other drugs, and marijuana is no exception.
Yet, caffeine, alcohol and tobacco can be bought at any store nationwide. Societally, we seem to be comfortable with the legalization of drugs that can lead to other bad behaviors provided those drugs themselves are not overly harmful or addictive. Marijuana fits that bill and should, therefore, be legalized recreationally on both the state and federal level.
The current criminalization of marijuana costs the federal government $7.7 billion per year, according to one petition signed by over 300 economists, including three Nobel laureates. In addition to the cost of enforcing criminalization, the report predicted that if it were to be taxed similarly to alcohol and nicotine, marijuana legalization would create an additional $6 billion in tax revenue. And that’s just on the federal level — California, which legalized marijuana in 2018, raked in $345 million in tax revenue from its first year of legal pot sales, and that number is only expected to grow as the marijuana industry develops. By market standards, that’s enough to buy every Californian their own joint.
Marijuana decriminalization isn’t just about the profits. Records of arrests on federal and state levels repeatedly show that although the incidence of usage is roughly similar for whites and minorities, minorities are imprisoned for possession of marijuana at a vastly higher rate. In New York City, 86 percent of arrests for marijuana possession of the fifth degree — between twenty-five grams and two ounces, normal for a heavy recreational user — were of people of color, while only 9 percent were of whites. The war on drugs has turned into a nightmare for minorities, and legalization could end unnecessary police antagonism in minority communities.
Legalization could even prevent people from turning to more dangerous drugs. Opioids, the most pressing drug problem in America today, were responsible for 40 thousand overdoses in 2017. A 2018 study of opioid prescription rates in states that legalized marijuana and had open dispensaries showed that prescriptions of opioids through Medicare dropped by 16 percent, a staggering reduction in the supply of addictive and dangerous substances to the population.
Critics argue that evidence has shown an increase in road accidents in states that have legalized marijuana. But this correlation isn’t a reason to criminalize the drug. Marijuana is new in the public eye, and much of the public remains uneducated on issues related to marijuana use. Many users wrongly believe that it is safe to drive under the influence of marijuana, and educational programs could be implemented to help the public understand that marijuana impairs driving ability, just like alcohol does.
The evidence shows that marijuana is a relatively safe, profitable and helpful drug. At this point, it’s universally supported among Democratic 2020 hopefuls, and over 60 percent of Americans are in favor of legalization. There are almost as many pot smokers nationwide as cigarette smokers — it’s time for our laws to reflect that.
Photo Caption: The evidence shows that marijuana is a relatively safe, profitable and helpful drug.
Photo Credit: Picpedia