Table of Contents
Marijuana usage is currently prohibited by the federal government in the United States of America. However, individual states are allowed to decriminalize the system and as of now, marijuana is legal under state law in sixteen states. To solve the problem of the failure of prohibition of marijuana by federal laws, this report proposes legalization of marijuana as a solution and discusses four ways in which it can benefit the nation. Firstly, legalization of marijuana will increase access to medical marijuana for patients suffering from cancer, multiple sclerosis and HIV’AIDS. Secondly, it will boost the US economy through the generation of revenue and creation of jobs. Third, legalization of marijuana will trigger regulation of product testing which will protect uninformed consumers from hazardous marijuana. Lastly, it will decrease the disparity in racially based arrests in relation to marijuana. This report, therefore, recommends legalization of marijuana by the federal government as a solution to the failed prohibition laws.
Statement of the Problem
Prohibition of marijuana by the federal laws is an utter failure. According to Bagley (2012), laws on prohibition waste billions of dollars criminalizing marijuana possessors, users and dealers even for low-level offenses. Blake & Finlaw (2014) state that in New Jersey, more than $125 million dollars is used annually to arrest people for possession of marijuana. This absurd policy as posited by Bagley (2012) harms the innocent citizens and waste resources that would have been used to combat serious crimes like terrorism and public safety issues. According to analysis by ACLU, marijuana arrests account for half of all drug arrests in the US as shown in figure 1 below (Anderson, Hansen & Rees, 2015). This implies that a larger part of the population either possesses, uses or sales marijuana. Furthermore, overall, the nationwide arrest data showed one consistent trend: increased racial based arrest. Despite having equal usage rates, it was discovered that blacks are 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana compared to whites (Caulkins, Kilmer & Kleiman, 2016).
Friese & Grube (2013) also contend that due to prohibition laws in some states, very ill patients who would benefit from the medicinal properties of marijuana are unable to access it. Additionally, prohibition encourages illegal marijuana market that benefits illegal activities like gangs, drug cartels and organized crimes. It has been asserted by Garcia (2013) that enforcing marijuana laws costs the US about $3.6 billion annually yet the law enforcement agencies have not been able to diminish the availability and use of marijuana. Although proponents of marijuana legalization that it is a gateway drug, DeAngelo & Redford’s (2015) study confirmed that use of marijuana does not increase the usage rates of other drugs. Therefore, legalizing marijuana may be the only solution to these problems.
As per the figure below, compared to heroin/cocaine and other drugs, marijuana arrests are very high.
Figure 1: Number of arrests, by drug type, 1982-2007
(Source: Anderson, Hansen & Rees, 2015)
Statement of the Hypothesis
Legalization of Marijuana will help law enforcement agencies to concentrate on real crime and reduce crimes that result from its illegal use.
Several arguments have been raised for and against legalization of marijuana. Supporters of this policy often quote medical benefits as the basis of their argument while proponents argue that it will result in an overall increase in drug abuse. Although the use and sale of marijuana is illegal under the federal state in the United States, individual states are allowed to decriminalize marijuana for medical and recreational use as long as they have a regulatory system in place. These states include California, Nevada, Washington, Alaska, Oregon, Massachusetts, Colorado and Maine (Garcia, 2013). Furthermore, psychoactive medical marijuana has been legalized in twelve states, Puerto Rico and Guam. The remaining five states have completely prohibited marijuana sales and possessions. It was highlighted by Hall & Weier (2015) that the law enforcement agency spends a substantial amount of money ion arresting marijuana criminals. Furthermore, prohibition of marijuana has resulted in the growth of deadly drug cartels which greatly benefit from the sale of the drug. It is this notion that this report proposes the legalization of marijuana in all states as a solution to the problem of the negative effects of illegalizing it.
Legalization of Marijuana
Increased Access to Medical Marijuana
Legalization of marijuana will increase access to its medical benefits by patients. The potential medical characteristics of marijuana and its constituents have been the subject of research and debates for many years. Scott, Dalgleish & Liu (2014) argue that the effectiveness of marijuana as a medical drug is evident in the fact that its access has been endorsed by health organization like the American Public Health Association, AIDS Action Council, American Nurses Association and American Academy of HIV Medicine among others. Marijuana is effective in relieving chronic pain when patients are treated with cannabinoids or cannabis (Hasin et al., 2015). More particularly, for adults with muscle spasms, there is significant evidence indicating that short-term use of specific oral cannabinoids can improve symptoms (Scott, Dalgleish & Liu, 2014).
In their review of emerging clinical applications for marijuana, Armentano & Carter, (2010) discovered that marijuana is effective in the treatment of patient’s suffering from various diseases. As per the reviewed studies, smoked marijuana as found to be effective in alleviating neuropathic pain associated with diabetes, HIV/AIDS, spinal cord injury and cancer (Torres et al., 2011). Additionally, marijuana resulted in positive patient outcomes when used as a treatment for patients with multiple sclerosis (Torres et al., 2011). Hasin et al. (2015) assert that about one-third of all Americans develop cancer at a time in their life and based on the evidence above, marijuana can be used to relieve the resulting chemotherapy pain in cancer patients. Therefore, it is vital that the federal state legalizes marijuana to make life more comfortable for cancer patients. According to Clark, Capuzzi & Fick (2011), patients have a right to receive beneficial treatments and denying them is a violation of their basic human rights.
Additionally, the findings of the National Institute on Drug abuse show that the drug is safe and effective as a medicine (Monte, Zane & Heard, 2015). As such, the U.S Food and Drug Administration has approved THC-based medications, nabilone and dronabinol for the treatment of nausea in cancer patients undergoing and as an appetite stimulator for AIDS patients (Penner, Buettner & Mittleman, 2013). Furthermore, various marijuana medications have been approved such as Nabiximols as a mouth spray for treating neuropathic pain and spasticity (Schauer et al., 2016). Pacula (2010) contends that in New Jersey, seriously ill patients still cannot access the medicine they need to relieve pain and improve clinical outcomes. Therefore, legalizing marijuana will enable patients from all states to access these medical benefits plus it is much safer than legalized drugs as shown in the figure below. If the federal laws are okay with alcohol and cigarettes, then there is no reason why marijuana should not be legalized.
Based on figure 2 below, it is clear that marijuana is much safer than already legalized drugs. As per the figure, the most harmful drugs are alcohol, heroin, cocaine and tobacco.
Figure 2: Harm caused by legalized drugs
(Source: Schauer et al., 2016)
Reduction In Disproportionate Arrest of Black People For Marijuana
The share of Americans who favour legalization of marijuana continues to increase as shown in figure 3 below. One of the reasons for this increase is the fact that blacks are almost thrice likely to be arrested for possession of marijuana than whites despite the fact that both races utilize marijuana at the same rate. The enforcement of marijuana laws is racially discriminatory. It is this notion that Schuermeyer et al. (2014) posits that there is no better way to solve the issue of racial disparity in arrests than through the legalization of Marijuana. Southall & Healy (2013) report that in 2010, black Americans were four times more likely to be arrested for possession of marijuana even though they use similar rates as whites as shown in figure 2. These disparity has greatly increased as evident in some states like Illinois, Minnesota and Lowa in which blacks were around 8 times likely to be arrested.
Moreover, as per a report by Ezekiel Edwards, the director of A.C.L.U Criminal Law Reform Project, police have wasted taxpayer’s money by enforcing marijuana laws that are racial-based (Volkow et al., 2014). According to researchers, the increasing racial disparities in marijuana arrests are very noticeable due to the inconsistencies in figures even across counties with small/large minority populations (Penner, Buettner & Mittleman, 2013: Garcia, 2013). In Virginia, for example, it was discovered that marijuana arrests numbers were high on blacks compared to whites (Southall & Healy, 2013). Although marijuana arrests had dropped by 6.5% between 2003 and 2014 in the US, possession arrest in Virginia were high by 76% during that period, more importantly, the arrest of black people in Virginia for marijuana increased by 106% from 2003 to 2013 accounting for around 47% of the state’s arrests yet Virginia comprises of only 20% blacks (Southall & Healy, 2013).
From the figure below, the arrest rates of blacks per 100,000 residents is thrice that of whites.
Figure 3: US drug arrest rates, per 100,000 residents of each race
(Source: Southall & Healy, 2013)
Palamar (2014) proposes legalization of marijuana will reduce the pressure on police to meet numerical goals by focusing on minority blacks to increase their drug arrests statistics. When the federal funding agencies pressure law enforcement agencies to meet numerical arrest objectives instead of goals on public safety, there is a high likelihood that it will promote stereotype-based policing resulting in racial gaps. Therefore, by legalizing marijuana, the agency can concentrate on other crimes such as terrorism that are not based on racial stereotype. Furthermore, it will reduce the arrest of blacks for alleged possession of marijuana (Penner, Buettner & Mittleman, 2013). Legalization of marijuana will help in narrowing the disparity between blacks and whites in terms of crimes. Furthermore, most of Americans support legalization of marijuana irrespective of race.
According to figure 4 below, around 57 million people support the legalization of Marijuana compared to 37 million who oppose.
Figure 4: Opinions on legalizing marijuana, 1969-2016
(Source: Palamar, 2014)
Generation of More Revenue through Taxing and Job Creation
Legalization of marijuana implies that one of the nation’s key cash crops is monitored and regulated by the government. The implication of this is that people will be able to trade freely without fear and as such result in the creation of jobs in the formal economy as opposed to illicit markets. In 2015, the state of Colorado created more than 18,000 new jobs and about $2.4 million from the legalized marijuana industry (Hickenlooper, 2014). This just implies that starting and setting up a legal marijuana business is an effective way to quickly create new economic activities. Additionally, a report from New Frontier Data proposes that there will be an increase in employment through the creation of more than 250,000 jobs from the marijuana industry by 2020 (Bagley, 2012). Sales from recreational marijuana are expected to increase from $2.6 billion in 2016 to $11.2 billion by 2020 and those of medical marijuana from $4.7 billion in 2016 to $13.3 billion in 2020 (Anderson, Hansen & Rees, 2015). These numbers confirm that marijuana is key job-creation engineer and economic driver for the U.S economy. Keeping marijuana regulated to the black market implies that profits from its sale as well as the workers, stayed off the books. However, by legalizing it, there is clarity in the picture of the people working within the industry and how much money they pay. Eventually, non-employed citizens will feel free to work in a legalized industry. Examples of these jobs include seed harvester, consultants, farmer, budtender and courier among others.
Blake & Finlaw (2014) argue that due its illegal status, most marijuana trade is conducted by illegal drug cartels in Mexico. These cartels do no incur any taxation and grow substantially from this lucrative business. Therefore, legalizing Marijuana will bring such business under taxation rules and as such, generate more revenue for the country. For example, in Colorado, marijuana taxes accumulated to up to $121 million in revenue in 2015 and are expected to rise to about $150 in 2020 (Monte, Zane & Heard, 2015). A marijuana industry as stipulated by Garcia (2013) could generate up to $28 billion tax revenue for state, federal and local governments. From this statistics, it is evident that marijuana is already pulling in tax revenue thrive the rate of the alcohol industry. If done right, regulated rights and taxed right, the legal marijuana industry can result in substantial economic benefits to individual states (Caulkins, Kilmer & Kleiman, 2016). Based on the above evidence, instead of the government spending billions in racial-based fights against marijuana criminals, it could benefit from the substantial economic benefits of marijuana. Moreover, the citizens will benefit too from the creation of jobs and this will result in a win-win situation at the end of the day.
Promotion of Consumer Safety
In legalized marijuana markets such as in Washington, testing of the product is a standard requirement. This means that consumers are better informed concerning the marijuana they use. The illegal marijuana business does not consider consumer protection standards stipulated in the production of all goods. According to Hain et al. (2015), consumer safety ensures that they are availed with safe and high quality goods and are also aware of all information pertaining to the particular product. Pacula (2010) contends that there are different types of marijuana and in an illegal business, consumers may easily be conned to pay high amounts for low-quality products. The American Public Health Association (2014), reports that legalization of marijuana will provide avenues for authorities to ensure that consumers are protected in terms of labeling requirements, product quality testing, product labeling requirements and advertisement restrictions. A survey by Vitale (2014) discovered a “Wild West” of grey-market marijuana sales in which the quality of products ranged from uneven to potentially unsafe. Based on this scenario, there is a need for the federal government to legalize marijuana to protect consumers from hazardous products.
Although Southall & Healy (2013) state that most products are easy to evaluate before buying such as assessing the colour and texture of a sweater before purchase, Volkow et al. (2014) argues that marijuana is not one these products. Marijuana has a unique characteristic that cannot be easily assessed by consumers even after use. Pacula (2010) asserts that some types of marijuana such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) content are desirable while others are hazardous such as pesticide and bacteria contaminations. Despite this case, buyers are not always aware and cannot discern safe from unsafe marijuana and instead must rely on seller’s claims. Due to the fact that these unforeseen factors influence the health of consumers, it is vital for the government to regulate the marijuana industry. With legalization of marijuana in various states, sellers are required to provide appropriate labeling and comply with quality standards and this way, consumers are protected (Volkow et al., 2013).
Furthermore, the marijuana products themselves also require standards like minimum THC content and maximum pesticide levels. All these processes require legal retailing licensing and product testing to promote consumer safety. For example, in Canada, the Cannabis Canada Association implemented mandatory testing among all its members (Fischer et al., 2011). Furthermore, legalizing will ensure the production of a contaminant-free product which is imperative for medical marijuana.
We can do it today.
Illegalization of marijuana by the federal laws has resulted in racial based arrest to meet numerical goals, the growth of illegal drug cartels and restricted access by patients to medical marijuana. These problems can only be solved through legalization of marijuana. By legalizing marijuana, there will be increased access to medical marijuana. This is backed by evidence from various researchers and health bodies who have confirmed that marijuana can be used to relieve pain in cancer patients, stimulate appetite in patients with HIV/AIDS and treat those with multiple sclerosis. Also, due to the high racial-based arrest in relation to marijuana, legalizing it will reduce this disparity. Moreover, a legalized marijuana industry will boost the US economy in terms of creation of jobs and generation of more revenue. Also, there will be enhanced consumer protection when the government regulates a legalized marijuana industry by initiating product testing programs and increasing consumer awareness on the products.
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