4 Compelling Reasons to Legalize Marijuana Now

I’m here to suggest we rethink at least one particular theater of the “war on drugs”: marijuana. Here are four reasons why:

1) Criminal Marijuana Laws Are the Tool of a Racist State

We’ve written before about how the statistics bear out clear racial biases against people of color both at the level of law enforcement and in sentencing at the courts, and minor drug offenses like marijuana possession. Marijuana possession has also been used to deport individuals who are citizens in all but name.

To be clear, the higher rates of arrests of and harsh sentencing especially for young black men relative to the general population for all kinds of legal offenses small and large point to a systemic and pervasive problem of racism in American policing, courts and correctional systems.

Douglas Blackmon’s book and the PBS special based on it, Slavery by Another Name, describe how loitering laws and excessive court fines were used to pick up black men off the street and essentially enter them into debt peonage for decades after the completion of the Civil War. Using the same laws that theoretically apply to everyone to disproportionately harm certain groups is not a new thing.

Marijuana laws didn’t create this problem, and overturning criminal laws against marijuana possession would merely remove one weapon that a hostile and biased system uses against people of color. But this weapon is a potent one. So removing it would be a good start.

2) Prohibition Helps to Fund a Gang Economy

While users of marijuana are not necessarily (indeed, not even likely to be) the criminal type, revenue from illicit sales may help fund gangs. It’s true, the market for growing and distributing cannabis is not dominated by organized crime in the same way as serious drugs like crystal meth or heroin, but as U.S. lawmakers and police discovered during the era of alcohol prohibition from 1920 to 1933, an in-demand product blocked from normal distribution channels will tend to promote illicit trafficking, and all the other problems that a robust, well-funded criminal organization bring with them. Legalizing pot does take some money from gangs.

3) Criminalization Precludes Regulation

As long as we’re talking about bootlegging and Capone’s gang, let’s talk about the quality of the product itself in this kind of environment. You may not have heard about the rash of alcohol-related deaths during Prohibition. Chemistry-minded readers may be aware that the types of liquor humans consume recreationally include ethyl alcohol, or ethanol, as the main discombobulating ingredient. Methanol, created under different physical and chemical conditions, has similar inebriating effects to ethanol and is indistinguishable to the human tongue but is extremely toxic, and it was methanol poisoning that caused some 10,000 deaths over the period of a few years. The U.S. government played a role in this, outlined by Deborah Blum here, and explained in much more detail in her non-fiction book, The Poisoner’s Handbook.

Nefarious government conspiracies aside, unregulated products, especially when created in secret by amateurs hiding from the law, are more likely to be of low quality or dangerous, even if the person producing it is not malicious. One of the best ways to avoid pesticide- or herbicide-laced marijuana (the cannabis equivalent of a methanol cocktail) being smoked by unsuspecting consumers is to bring pot-growing into the sunlight, as many countries and indeed U.S. states have done, and ensure safety standards are met by all.

Putting illicit suppliers out of business also means making the drug less accessible to minors, a stance we can hardly expect a majority of street corner dealers to respect. This, too, is a form of regulation that is impossible to enforce unless we make the substance available through legitimate channels.

4) Tax Revenue

As crime dropped, Colorado’s tax revenue increased by over $10 million within months of legalization. There’s money on the table that state governments could use for any number of things. It could even be used to help battle a legitimate drug problem: the opioid epidemic spawned by hapless doctors and our morally ambiguous pharmaceutical industry. Treatment for opioid addiction isn’t cheap.

Conclusion

It’s not for nothing that state after state and country after country are decriminalizing and/or legalizing cannabis for medicinal and recreational use. Governments are realizing that society has a lot to gain from their doing so. We may also lose something in the process: a tremendous black hole of government resources.

Photo credit: ashton

64 comments

Margie FOURIE
Margie FOURIE22 days ago

Quite agree

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Janis K
Janis Kabout a month ago

Thanks for sharing

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David P
David Pabout a month ago

tyfs

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Callie R
Callie Rabout a month ago

I think it is wrong to make a natural substance illegal in the first place. It is even worse when it is illegal for me to put into my body what I wish,

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Brandy S
Brandy Sabout a month ago

Thanks.

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Laura R
Laura Rabout a month ago

Thank you.

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One Heart inc
One Heart incabout a month ago

Thanks!!!

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Kay M
Kay Mabout a month ago

Good afternoon and thank you for this article and petition- which i signed today- great information- I hope it happens- sincerely KAY M.

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Janis K
Janis Kabout a month ago

So far Nevada's recreational laws are working for me.

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Ruth S
Ruth Sabout a month ago

CO legalized marijuana and it is a mess. The driving while impaired laws weren't ready for this. It also invited the drug cartels here. Then there is the problem that the tax money didn't go exactly where the voters thought it would. I agree to medical use of marijuana but am NOT for recreational use.

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