This election has been called one of the most pivotal points in our nation’s history. While choosing our next President is the focal point, there is another issue on the ballot with the potential to change America forever. For the second time, a constitutional amendment to legalize recreational marijuana use is on the ballot in Colorado.
Unlike a similar measure defeated in 2006, the current campaign enjoys bi-partisan support as well as backing from the medical industry and law enforcement. The most recent public opinion polls indicate it has a good chance of passing. If it does, Colorado’s policy could become an example for other states looking to generate revenue and cut down on alcohol-related accidents. Successful state-wide legalization of marijuana possession in Colorado would demonstrate to the federal government that recreational use can be safely regulated, and be another nail in the coffin of the failed “War on Drugs.”
Despite the piles of scientific data demonstrating marijuana’s therapeutic and beneficial properties, it’s still demonized because of the plant’s illegal status. No one disputes an adult’s right to drink alcohol even though the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that more than 37,000 annual U.S. deaths, including more than 1,400 in Colorado, are attributed to alcohol use alone (i.e. this figure does not include accidental deaths). On the other hand, the CDC does not even have a category for deaths caused by the use of marijuana.
Still, social norms are hard to change, and there are doubtless many people, in Colorado and throughout the country, who feel threatened by the fact that Amendment 64 may pass. Not sure what to think? Here are three reasons legalization of recreational marijuana use is good for consumers, communities, and the economy.
1. Amendment 64 Will Reduce Teen Drug Use
Critics say that if legalized, marijuana will flood the streets, and all of our children will be reduced to couch-dwelling pot heads. According to the latest report from the federal government, however, marijuana use by Colorado high school students has dropped since the state and its localities began regulating medical marijuana in 2009. Amendment 64 would regulate marijuana and restrict its sale to licensed stores, as is currently done with alcohol. Doing so dramatically reduces consumers’ exposure to harder drugs (often available from the same dude selling the illegal marijuana) and their temptation to experiment with them.
2. Amendment 64 Will Bolster Colorado’s Economy
In 2007, there were 872,720 marijuana-related arrests in the United States. (89 percent of these were for mere possession.) That’s one marijuana arrest every 36 seconds. When you calculate law enforcement costs and depriving governments of the revenue that could be gained by taxing marijuana sales, prohibition costs U.S. taxpayers $41.8 billion per year, according to a 2007 estimate by public policy researcher Jon B. Gettman, Ph.D. In a time when most states are scrambling to absorb federal budget cuts, an independent analysis of Amendment 64 found that the law would initially result in $60 million annually in combined revenue and savings for state and local governments in Colorado, which could double to more than $100 million within the first five years of implementation. Gee, think of all the teachers who could get raises with that money…
3. Amendment 64 Will Create Sustainable Fuel, Textiles, Paper, Plastic and Food
Hemp is genetically similar to marijuana, but it contains less than 0.3 percent of the psychoactive chemical tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Hemp is illegal to produce in the U.S. because our current laws do not distinguish between the two. Amendment 64 creates separate definitions for marijuana and industrial hemp. Allowing the legal cultivation and processing of industrial hemp would create new jobs and tax revenue in the near-term. It would also make it a leader in the development of a major new industry that includes biofuels, fiber, eco-friendly paper, biodegradable plastics and hemp seed which is high in dietary fiber, an excellent source of B-vitamins, and one of the world’s richest sources of Omega-3 and -6 essential fatty acids.
Image via RegulateMarijuana.org