Ten Reasons to Legalize Marijuana Now

Official prescription tablet for medicinal alcohol, 1933 (Source: The Rose Melnick Medical Museum)
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Note from the author: This article was originally published in March of 2012. With attempts to legalize marijuana on ballot measures in three different states this November– Colorado, Oregon, and Washington– here are ten reasons to legalize marijuana in the United States right now. If you agree, please “Like” and share! If you disagree, please feel welcome to discuss why in the comment thread below or even submit your own article to IVN!

Thanks!
-Wes Messamore

1. Marijuana prohibition violates liberty.

America has a long and proud tradition of believing in, and increasingly upholding, the right of its citizens to make their own choices about their own bodies, their own property, their own finances, and their own lives. On the progressive left, activists have worked hard for decades to guarantee that civil liberties are respected in America and a common self-description among progressives is “pro-choice.” On the conservative right, activists abhor what they deride as “the nanny state” and its proclivity to regulate every aspect of our personal decisions down to the kind of light bulbs we use, the amount of water in our toilets, and even our food choices. If liberty is a principle most Americans value, and their typical rhetoric is more than just lip service, then the government should stop prohibiting marijuana for the same reason it doesn’t prohibit alcohol use, cigarette smoking, birth control, certain kinds of foods, and other choices that Americans make about their own bodies every day: because in America we believe in liberty.

2. Marijuana is safer than its legal alternatives.

According to former US Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders, the active drug ingredient in marijuana, THC, is not physiologically addictive the way nicotine and caffeine are, and it’s not fatally toxic to the brain and body in high amounts the way alcohol is, yet these alternatives are legal and marijuana is not. It’s not even a gateway drug. The argument for prohibition from the standpoint of health and safety then, is curiously suspect. In a rigorous twenty year study of over 5,000 men and women published just this January by the American Medical Association, researchers found that casual marijuana use (defined as smoking up to a joint a week for twenty years or even a joint a day for seven years) not only doesn’t harm lung function, but “was associated with increases in lung air flow rates and increases in lung capacity.” Seriously.

3. Marijuana prohibition harms addicts.

While marijuana is not physiologically addictive and users are not subject to physiological withdrawal symptoms if they discontinue prolonged marijuana use, those users who suffer from a psychological addiction to the drug are stigmatized and marginalized by a policy that treats them as criminals, not as sick people in need of medical help. Prohibition discourages them from seeking help for their addiction should they want it. According to David Linden, professor of neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the chief editor of the Journal of Neurophysiology, “When you look at the biology, the only model of addiction that makes sense is a disease-based model, and the only attitude towards addicts that makes sense is one of compassion.” Dr. Linden also says, “Simple possession should never be dealt with predominately in the penal system. It is a medical phenomenon.”

4. Marijuana prohibition is unconstitutional.

Federal marijuana prohibition by way of the Controlled Substances Act is unconstitutional. Back in 1919, when the federal government wanted to prohibit “the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors” within the United States, it knew that it had to pass a constitutional amendment in order to affect the policy change. That’s because Article I Section 8 of the Constitution clearly defines Congress’ powers, and the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution states: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” Prohibiting marijuana, like prohibiting alcohol, is outside of the legal scope of the federal government’s enumerated powers in the Constitution, so like alcohol, it can only be legally and constitutionally prohibited by constitutional amendment.

5. Legalizing marijuana would actually make our streets safer.

Many critics of drug legalization worry that lifting the prohibition on illegal drugs like marijuana will increase crime and make our streets less safe. A study released last year by the prestigious nonprofit, RAND Corp., indicates that just the opposite might be true. Counter-intuitively, stricter drug policies might actually lead to an increase in crime. The study found “that when hundreds of medical marijuana dispensaries were closed last year in Los Angeles crime rates rose in surrounding neighborhoods.” Neill Franklin, the retired Baltimore narcotics cop who now leads Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), argues that “If we legalized and taxed drugs… we’d make society safer by bankrupting the cartels and gangs who control the currently illegal marketplace.” If we legalize the sale of marijuana, law-abiding corporations will sell it instead of criminals. You could buy a pack of marijuana cigarettes at the 7-Eleven down the street. Against their massive economies of scale and base of capital investments, the violent drug dealer on the sidewalk would be put out of business overnight and our cities and suburbs would start becoming a lot safer.

6. Legalizing marijuana would also make the world safer.

This January, the Mexican government updated its death toll figures from the war on drugs, “reporting that 47,515 people had been killed in drug-related violence since President Felipe Calderón began a military assault on criminal cartels in late 2006.” Critics of U.S. drug prohibition argue that the violence in Mexico is a direct result of U.S. prohibition measures, which create a black market for marijuana, a black market that Mexican criminal cartels have found lucrative, using their profits to purchase more weapons and engage in more criminal– often violent– activity. To borrow a common argument from Second Amendment activists: If you outlaw the sale of marijuana, only outlaws will profit from the sale of marijuana. And they will use those profits to fund other criminal activities and to protect the profits themselves, violently if necessary. It’s becoming a national security issue.

7. Legalizing marijuana is fiscally smart.

In June of 2010, Philadelphia effectively decriminalized marijuana with the SAM (Small Amount of Marijuana) program, which turned possession of 30 grams of the plant, or less, into a summary offense instead of a misdemeanor. Before the SAM program, Philadelphia spent thousands of dollars prosecuting each case of $10 or $15 worth of marijuana in someone’s pocket. Taxpayers were footing the bill for trials, judges, court-appointed defense attorneys, prosecutors, lab tests to confirm that the seized plant was in fact marijuana, and overtime pay for testifying police officers. Now, offenders simply pay a $200 fee to attend a 3-hour class on the dangers of drug abuse, and their record is expunged. DA Williams said “We were spending thousands of dollars for when someone possessed $10 or $15 worth of weed. It just didn’t make sense,” estimating just 12 months after the SAM program started, that decriminalization had already saved the city $2 million. Add to all the costs listed above, the severe and growing cost of America’s record incarcerations– many of them due to non-violent drug use– as well as the foregone tax revenues of legalized marijuana in this country, and it’s not hard to extrapolate that the country is wasting billions of dollars at every level of government at a time when its finances are at the point of crisis.

8. More Americans than ever support legalizing marijuana.

Evangelical minister Pat Roberts isn’t the only one supporting the legalization of marijuana (though it certainly says something that he does). This last October, a Gallup poll found that 50% of Americans say that marijuana should be legalized, the largest ever percentage since Gallup started asking the question in 1969. Gallup‘s figures through the decade suggest a recent exponential growth in the percentage of legalization advocates, which has promising implications for the legalization movement over the next decade. It took ten years for the percentage of legalization supporters to jump ten percent from 30% to 40%, and only two years to jump another ten percent to Gallup‘s most recent figure. And that’s just if polling organizations ask respondents point blank if marijuana should be legalized. A 2010 AP/CNBC survey found that when asked if marijuana should be treated like alcohol, 44% say it shouldn’t be treated any differently than alcohol, and another 12% say it should be treated even more leniently than alcohol, making a total of 56% of the population that believes marijuana should be treated as or even more leniently than alcohol. That’s more Americans than there are who approve of the President or Congress right now.

9. The War on Drugs isn’t working.

An FBI report released last September brims with startling figures about the forty-year-old War on Drugs. Shockingly, in the United States, there is a drug arrest every 19 seconds, making for a total of 1.6 million drug arrests in 2010 alone. The FBI report also includes data which show that 81.9% of all drug-related arrests in 2010 were for simple possession, not drug dealing, and 45.8% of all drug-related arrests were for possession of marijuana. After this many decades, this many arrests, this many wasted dollars, and this many ill-effects of the War on Drugs, does any serious policy analyst, pundit, or politician actually claim that the world’s half-century experiment in drug prohibition has worked? Last year, a 19-member panel of a Global Commission on Drug Policy released a 24-page paper arguing that the “global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world.”

10. Legalizing marijuana has worked everywhere it’s been tried.

But everywhere drugs, including marijuana have been legalized or decriminalized, the effects have been stellar. After a year of decriminalization in Philadelphia, the city saved $2 million and crime did not increase. Philadelphia police have told the Philadelphia Daily News “that there has been no noticeable impact on the quality of life in Philadelphia since the [SAM] program went into effect.” In an even more significant case, Portugal decriminalized all drugs– including hard drugs, not just marijuana– over ten years ago. A decade later, Portugal has not only managed to avoid becoming a trainwreck of rampant drug addiction– its drug situation has actually improved. According to TIME Magazine, when Portugal made its sweeping drug reform in 2001, it “had some of the highest levels of hard-drug use in Europe.” Only five years later, “illegal drug use among teens in Portugal declined and rates of new HIV infections caused by sharing of dirty needles dropped, while the number of people seeking treatment for drug addiction more than doubled.” And: “Following decriminalization, Portugal had the lowest rate of lifetime marijuana use in people over 15 in the E.U.: 10%. The most comparable figure in America is in people over 12: 39.8%. Proportionally, more Americans have used cocaine than Portuguese have used marijuana.”

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you knew of any forums that cover the same topics talked about here?

I'd really love to be a part of group where I can get advice from other experienced individuals that share the same interest. If you have any suggestions, please let me know. Thank you!

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Dennis Mesecher
Dennis Mesecher

I live in Washington and to date we see little benefit to legalization for society but a great deal for government and users. For government is is popularity and for users it is less risk of incarceration. For gang and crilminal acitivity there is almost no change only bigger domestic grows owned by foreign cartels.

Rosemary
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quit smoking
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Wow, this post is pleasant, my younger sister is analyzing these kinds of things, therefore I am going to inform

her.

William Boardman
William Boardman

Legalizing marijuana -- and hemp, please -- is

pretty much a no-brainer.

That's one reason you can be pretty sure

it won't happen.

Michael Higham
Michael Higham

I think legalization of marijuana will definitely help develop a new perspective on the drug war. If we can get past the legality of the drug, new approaches to can be considered and implemented. The focus shouldn't be on punishment of users.

Evan
Evan

To avoid this issue you simply need to warn people before entering an area that there will be marijuana consumtion. Like some diners have a smoking section and others have a non-smoking section. Also you've completely ruled out the use of edibles, but I won't touch that. So basically if youre allergic, simply don't go near it or use it.

Anthony Garcia
Anthony Garcia

That was the worst example of why pot shouldn't be legalized that I've ever read. Not everyone smokes marijuana, so if you're one of the 7% that marijuana affects it's probably a long shot that you will even see a change if laws were relaxed. People aren't going to be smoking on the streets or in bars, It's for use in your own home or with a friend if you so choose. Get over it people, it's a plant for Gods sake, which by the way, God put it here for our enjoyment and use.

Bob Morris
Bob Morris

In the SF Bay Area and parts of Oregon, people walk down the streets smoking marijuana and it already is de facto legal.

But many profit from it being illegal, like the prison-industrial complex, and dirty banks,  and crooked hedge funds.

Hippiehooper
Hippiehooper

This is so wrong it is not legal ! Wake up America 

Ryan Allein
Ryan Allein

The fact is if we preach free trade and capitalism in the United States, then the free flow of marijuana around North America should be allowed because it is such a waste of federal money to try and stop the illegal trade

Ronald Edwards
Ronald Edwards

I just have one question. What are the people who are deathly allergic to marijuana supposed to do? I understand there are about 7% of the population that are highly allergic to this weed (the anaphylactic shock kind that causes death, like people allergic to peanuts and bee stings). I understand all the positive aspects of marijuana and I generally agree with them, but legalization will invariably lead to smoking marijuana whenever and wherever the smoker chooses to. The question is "Is it so important that we make some people's "good times" legal that we must put 2.2 million people at risk for death?" Why can't we come to a more civil solution to the problem and make THC available in pill form or even some trans-dermal patch? With added freedom comes added responsibility. Certainly, if anything like this were to become legalized, it should necessarily include increased penalties for mishandling or misuse and require jail time for "slipping someone a mickey" and death resulting from misuse of the drug.

jway
jway

In more than 5,000 years of human use there hasn't been a single verifiable death caused by cannabis. Cannabis has repeatedly been proven to NOT cause cancer, heart disease, brain damage, liver disease, emphysema, or any other significant health issue, and its addiction potential is about on par with coffee.

Cannabis is FAR safer than alcohol, and a great many lives could be saved by giving alcohol consumers the right to switch to the far safer recreational drug, cannabis. Our government insists that it cares about the safety of the people, so why isn't it doing this?!!

Kevin Hunt
Kevin Hunt

Marijuana prohibition has become politically unpopular. As an example, In Colorado the Denver County Republican party recently voted on their party's platform.  The vote was 73% in favor of medical marijuana and 56% in favor of outright legalization.  

Chris O'Hara
Chris O'Hara

 can you prove that? because cannabis has no toxic levels to the human body ive never read about or heard about anyone dieing form an allergic reaction am going to have to research this one....

Patrick
Patrick

You're more likely to be killed by a drunk driver.  Yet those "good times" are legal.  I have asthma, and can be triggered by cigarette smoke.  Still legal.  See where I'm going with this?

Also, citation, please. 

Swpetersonii
Swpetersonii

should peanuts have strict penalties for misuse ?

like someone bakes something has peanuts in it should they have a strict penalty enforced on them if someone with an allergy accidentally eats the product with peanuts?

or should the person with the allergy be responsible for themselves and be sure to make sure what they are eating doesnt have peanuts or nuts in it

cuz if i want to bake a cake and put peanuts in it i dont see any reason i shouldnt be able to 

just cuz 1 person is allergic doesnt mean i should have my right to enjoy it taken away im certainly not allergic

so if i enjoy peanuts should everybody else have to enjoy them?

Swpetersonii
Swpetersonii

people are allergic to everything not everyone can enjoy a grilled cheese or eat bread so why is it a problem that 7 % would be left out of being able to enjoy marijuana lots of people cant play video games with out having seizures we dont take away the game systems or entertainment systems just because some percentage of people cant do it thats just crazy 

its like saying we arent gonna help a blind person find someway to achieve every day tasks or that if 7% of people are blind we all shouldnt be allowed to watch or use our eyes 

just saying

should they stop selling peanuts cause quite a few people have an allergy to them?

Callbuulshit
Callbuulshit

''7% of the population that are highly allergic to this weed (the anaphylactic shock kind that causes death, like people allergic to peanuts and bee stings'

Please provide your source. I assume it's reliable as you undoubtedly are.

rick
rick

Coffee, well caffeine, is way more addictive, and has much more severe withdrawal symptoms, than any compound found in cannabis.

Angry Cannuck
Angry Cannuck

Unless you live in Canada where it's more illegal to grow a plant than it is to rape children.

Greghodson4
Greghodson4

"You're more likely to be killed by a drunk driver.  Yet those "good times" are legal"

Drunk driving is not legal...

thinkaboutit
thinkaboutit

While I am for legalization, I see what he's getting at.  If you're allergic to peanuts and you walk past someone who is eating peanuts, it doesn't affect you, but it you walk past someone smoking weed you could potentially inhale the smoke. I think it should be legalized, but his point does have some validity on that level.

Wes Messamore
Wes Messamore

I think Patrick just means that drinking alcohol is still legal even though it kills people every year. Not only through alcohol poisoning, but because of drunk drivers. Obviously, if marijuana were ever legalized, driving while under the influence of it would never be legal.

Aurajamin Avitas
Aurajamin Avitas

 I like the idea.  Personally, etiquette requires me to ask if anyone around would be bothered by smoke around them.  Smoking anything for that matter whether it be a pipe, or cannabis, perhaps even a cigar.  It's simply polite to ask at a party or if someone cannot handle smoking pot not to bother them about it.