Forum

Legalizing marijuana will benefit the economy and lower drug use

Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

Drug policy in the United States is a topic of major concern. Each year, the government spends billions of dollars to deter citizens from drug-related activities, but the question of how to efficiently allocate these funds is still in debate.
Currently, government resources are focused on punishing users, paying for social services like rehabilitation facilities, and employing forces to carry out drug busts. The existing U.S policy of criminalization is expensive, ineffective, and borderline unnecessary.

In contrast, research studies in other countries prove that deregulation with regard to drugs is a beneficial set of policies to adopt. Instead of punishing violators, the solution to minimizing drug use lies in funding education and awareness programs to educate the public about the short- and long-term effects of drugs.

Marijuana is a very controversial drug because of its reputation as one of the three “gateway drugs,” the other two being alcohol and tobacco. Studies conducted by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) support the idea that marijuana is a gateway drug, a substance with moderately harmful effects that can lead to the use of more dangerous, addictive, and typically illegal drugs like cocaine, LSD, and heroin. Among 12- to 17-year-olds, those who had used one gateway drug in the prior month were also 30 times more likely to use another one.

Marijuana has a very negative image in society, but most people can’t identify why marijuana is illegal when asked to consider at the same time why alcohol and cigarettes are not illegal as well. In fact, the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs in California conducted a study on 20 different drugs that analyzed the drugs’ effects based on users’ physical and mental health, social implications, and economic costs. This research concluded that on a scale measuring the negative effects of these substances, alcohol had the most negative effects. Yet the source of so much social distress is a regulated substance.

Clearly, there is a misalignment in government policy. The current policy of criminalizing users isn’t beneficial to individuals, society, or the economy. Looking at the hard facts about the physical and social effects of marijuana, it is rightfully labeled as a gateway drug and should be associated with tobacco and alcohol. Two out of the three substances have been legalized and turned into booming commercial industries that generate high taxes for the government, while the third is illegal.

The government does have a moral obligation to discourage the use of marijuana; however, it should not be outlawed. For most of its history, marijuana has been a legal substance. In fact, it wasn’t until 1913 that the first laws against the drug were enacted because of social tension between Mexicans and Americans. The Mexican revolution led to an influx of immigration and an increase in unemployment in the United States. One of the distinguishing factors of Mexican immigrants at that time was their propensity to smoke and grow marijuana. For this reason, California was the first to outlaw the plant.

This trend quickly spread to Wyoming (1915), Texas (1919), Iowa (1923), Nevada (1923), Oregon (1923), Washington (1923), Arkansas (1923), and Nebraska (1927). Harry J. Anslinger, the director of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, also had a large influence on marijuana laws. He and William Randolph Hearst created a great deal of the hype surrounding the negative effects of marijuana by making false, outlandish allegations that associated marijuana with lunacy, promiscuity, and violence. Hearst wrote, “Was it marijuana, the new Mexican drug, that nerved the murderous arm of Clara Phillips when she hammered out her victim’s life in Los Angeles...? Three fourths of the crime of violence in this country today are committed by dope slaves — that is a matter of cold record.” Clearly, the evidence behind the illegalization of marijuana was far from sound.

It would be in the government’s best interest to decriminalize marijuana, which has the capacity to generate a large amount of tax revenue. A study by Gieringer indicates that the legalization of marijuana could save the government $6 billion to $9 billon per year in narcotics enforcement, and raise anywhere from $6 billion to $10 billion per year in the hemp industry, not including the revenue generated by spinoff industries. Decriminalization of marijuana is a course of action that has shown success in states like Massachusetts, and countries such as the Netherlands, Portugal, and more recently, the UK.

The way to combat negative marijuana use is through education. Similar to alcohol and tobacco, the most effective policy for controlling drug use lies in lowering the demand for the drug market. Educating children and adults about the negative effects of drugs is the best way to reduce consumption, and government resources should be reallocated so that more revenue is focused on spreading awareness.