The California State Assembly passed a measure June 1 to create a state board to enact and enforce clearer regulations regarding the growing, transportation and distribution of medical marijuana.
A 2011 survey published by Time states that as many as 42 percent of Americans have tried pot. If marijuana’s illegality isn’t enough to keep people from smoking it, perhaps it’s time the government took a different approach.
The legalization of marijuana would allow for the immediate generation of billions of dollars of tax revenue through the taxation of production and sale. More importantly, what legislators need to realize is that legal marijuana would not only generate revenue but save it as well, by stopping the waste of billions of taxpayer dollars a year in an unnecessary drug war.
Here’s a hypothetical example of that: Enter Jane, a recent college graduate who gets arrested for possession of marijuana. Jane loses her job and is forced to pay a hefty fine. She is no longer able to make purchases to stimulate the economy and now collects unemployment checks. And because of time spent in court and looking for a job, Jane is no longer able to volunteer on weekends as often as she used to.
Significantly, it is the legal action Jane faces and not the marijuana she smokes that leads to her becoming an unproductive member of society.
The Drug Enforcement Administration spends a considerable amount of its $2-billion budget each year pursuing and prosecuting “criminals” like Jane, many of whom are otherwise law-abiding citizens. Billions more are spent by states and cities independently trying to control the drug. In New York City alone, more than 50,000 people were arrested for possession of marijuana in 2011, costing the city an estimated $75 million.
Obviously, this is money that could be spent on everything from public education to controlling far more dangerous drugs.
Marijuana’s lamented role as a gateway drug is also made worse by its illegal status. The DEA classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 substance for supposedly having a high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical use and a lack of accepted safety for use, even under supervision. This puts marijuana in the same category as drugs like heroin and LSD and is a gross mischaracterization of the drug.
If law enforcement equates marijuana with these drugs, however, the general population might as well, making people more likely to try these drugs if they have already tried pot and liked it. Conversely, such a classification gives the clear impression that the DEA has no idea what its talking about, invalidating its warnings about other controlled substances.
For most of the country, marijuana’s illegal nature necessitates purchasing from dealers in criminal drug networks to obtain the drug. This can often open up channels to other illegal drugs through the dealer; such funneling can be especially problematic in communities such as college campuses, where drug experimentation is often more prevalent than at home and dozens of these connections can be found.
Legalizing marijuana is about more than just the right to enjoy a relatively harmless drug. It is about reducing the harm that can come to our society by eliminating the serious problems created by its illegal status.
Francesca Bessey is a sophomore majoring in narrative studies and international relations.