With the cannabis conversation growing louder in California thanks largely to Proposition 19, there is one fact in particular can be recited verbatim: Under federal law, it is currently illegal to possess, use, buy, sell or cultivate marijuana.
In the last 20 years, however, many states have legalized the medical use of marijuana, citing several health benefits. It has been used as a progressive treatment for patients suffering from cancer, HIV/AIDS and even multiple sclerosis.
Although the federal government does not recognize marijuana as holding any medical benefits, many states have shown through law that they believe cannabis has a practical medicinal application.
In 1979, Virginia created a precedent by passing a law that allowed marijuana prescriptions for patients with cancer or glaucoma.
According to CNN, 14 other states have since followed suit. The federal government has always been fundamentally opposed to the legalization of marijuana, however, whether for medical or recreational purposes.
The Obama administration has taken essentially the same stance as previous administrations, the key difference being that it has refused to raid dispensaries throughout the country and are allowing individual states to continue to use the drug as a treatment.
But politics aside, it appears that public opinion about marijuana is shifting. Polls show that many Americans believe marijuana is an inherently harmless drug. A January 2010 poll conducted by ABC News and The Washington Post showed that 81 percent of Americans believe that medical marijuana should be legalized.
A 2009 National Survey on Drug Use showed that marijuana usage increased in all but two age groups — 45 to 49 year olds and those over 65 — in just one year. If marijuana held the addictive power that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration asserts, then where are the millions “addicted” to cannabis?
Cigarettes, unlike marijuana, have never been proven to hold any medicinal benefits. In fact, nicotine is one the most addictive forces known to modern science, and smoking cigarettes has been shown to greatly increase the likelihood of developing any of multiple forms of cancer.
Yet cigarettes remain legal, and are sold in almost every convenience store or gas station in the United States. Hypocrisy, thy name is the U.S. government.
Along with health benefits, the economic benefits of the legalization of marijuana would bolster both the California and national economies. or so say advocates of Proposition 19, the proposition originated by activist Richard Lee that proposes the full legalization of the sale of marijuana to adults over the age of 21.
It would tax and regulate marijuana in the same manner as alcohol, meaning that laws about driving under the influence and public intoxication would remain in place, theoretically preventing the “mind-altering” effects of marijuana that lead to accidents and fatalities.
Marijuana is one of California’s highest-yielding cash crops and has created a $14-billion industry even while illegal. The revenue created by legalization — estimated to be another $1.4 billion — would immensely benefit the state’s tanking economy. It would also allow for more open research about the substance.
Although a full federal and nation legalization of cannabis is probably far-fetched, the country seems to be shifting toward a more liberal view of the substance itself.
More and more states are legalizing marijuana for medical use, and some states are researching the potential economic benefits of a full legalization. It is a controversial issue that requires deep research into both sides of the story.
However, the writing is already on the wall. Attitudes are changing, and the benefits of marijuana are coming to light. The passage of Proposition 19 could definitively alter the future of California’s economy and budget crisis — it is one step of many to get the state back on the right track.
The taboo about marijuana is shifting with the times. The more we talk about it, the more moderated use of it becomes socially acceptable. We can now hope that legal acceptance will follow as well.
Cyrus Behzadi is a freshman majoring in communication.