Legalizing Marijuana: The Issues That Arise

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In Colorado, a couple lose custody of their children because of their medical marijuana card. In Michigan, the authorities claim that legal medical marijuana plants in a couple’s home endangers their child. In New Jersey, police officers pay a visit to a 9 year old’s home because he mentioned his mother’s support of legal marijuana at school.

Statistically, 13% of Americans smoke marijuana. To put that into perspective, that’s more than 1 in 8 Americans, and only 4% less than the percentage that smoke cigarettes. Marijuana won’t be going away anytime soon, so it’s high time we do something about it. Right now, 11 states and Washington DC have legalized recreational marijuana in direct opposition to the federal ban that’s been in place since the Controlled Substances Act was established in the 1930s. But is marijuana in those states legal or illegal? Neither. And that’s the issue.

Marijuana businesses can operate legally in these states, but cannot create a bank account or even file federal taxes. After all, they are technically just official-looking drug dealers in the eyes of the feds. In late September, The Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act was passed through the House of Representatives to go on to the Senate. And while that seems all hunky-dory, political analysts believe there’s little hope for the act once it hits the Senate floor. Back to square one. To put it simply: the current situation with marijuana is solely detrimental while we stand around doing nothing. Legalizing it would be beneficial in our economy, our society, and our future.

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Nearly all of the levels of government would benefit from legalizing marijuana. As it stands now, Marijuana is a 10 billion dollar industry that’s projected to triple by 2025 with none of the money going into federal taxes. With a growing industry such as marijuana, the tax dollars alone should be enough to kick representatives into taking a second look at marijuana. Especially for something that could bring tourism to the US and to states where it is legal recreationally, marijuana would create many new jobs and businesses that would boost the local economy.

Most importantly, the government would be able to permit studies to be performed on marijuana. Few studies have looked into marijuana in depth, because of the amount of legal hurdles that the researchers have to go through in order to properly study the drug. Researchers need to obtain approval from the FDA, a license from the DEA, and review from the NIDA before any studies can take place. This process can take years to complete, and at the end of everything, the only legal source of marijuana is the NIDA’s supply from the University of Mississippi, which is described as “completely inadequate as a source of marijuana for drug development research,” according to Rick Doblin, the director at the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. The current procedures in place to study this drug are only adding to the confusion, since we can’t scientifically prove whether or not marijuana deserves to hold a spot up with heroin and meth as a Schedule I drug. The problem is that we don’t know the true ramifications of using marijuana or its safety as a drug. There just haven’t been enough studies to confirm anything. This isn’t just a superstition, nationwide Gallup polls reveal the reasons why Americans oppose legalizing weed.

Out of those polled, 69% of opposers believe that weed is a gateway drug and legalizing it would lead people to use stronger and more addictive drugs. Time and time again, this point is contested with solid evidence, yet no study as of now has performed a survey any greater than a few hundred people. Roughly half of those polled who opposed marijuana believe that marijuana is harmful to those who use it, a statement that still is debated without any solid conclusions. If these studies were able to be performed, then Americans would have a better idea of how to deal with this situation. Even if we don’t fully legalize it entirely yet, we should at least make it much easier for us to figure out what marijuana is before we decide on it.

Another important point from the Gallup poll is that out of those who supported legalizing marijuana, 4 of 5 did not say so because they wanted to smoke some dank weed, but rather because they believed that marijuana is beneficial for those who use it for medical reasons. From the studies that have been able to be completed, it’s become increasingly evident that marijuana can be effectively used to suppress chronic pain, PTSD symptoms, and in the place of opioids. Again though, while many of these studies have been relatively conclusive, nearly all of them state that more research needs to be done on marijuana before it can be deemed suitable for such use. For example, a specific strain of marijuana called Charlotte’s Web is used to treat children with epileptic seizures, and can only be procured in Colorado, where its production is legal. These children would have nowhere else to turn to treat their suffering if not for legal medical marijuana. Yet legislation is still lagging behind the research and the state developments.

It’s not like the government’s decision wouldn’t be quick: the issues created by keeping marijuana illegal far outweigh those caused by its legalization. Even though there are few studies on the full societal effects of marijuana, those that do exist support its legalization. Back in that Gallup poll about reasons why people though marijuana should stay illegal - 79% stated that legalizing marijuana would make the roads more dangerous due to high drivers. Yet the facts don’t exactly follow such a claim. In a study from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, those who drove with marijuana in their system weren’t much more likely (~0% higher) to get into an accident than when sober. In stark contrast, those who drove drunk were 600% more likely to get into an accident compared to when sober. One of the larger reasons for this is because we have no way to tell how recently marijuana was used, throwing false positives for when someone was actually mentally sober. If more testing isn’t done to determine how to measure marijuana usage, like a breathalyzer, issues are going to increasingly arise with marijuana and driving.

Also, a few studies have noted how marijuana legalization actually decreased the number of underage teen smokers by 28% in legal states. As explained by the study’s rationale, these studies have noted that once the weed deal is taken off of the streets and into official dispensaries, teens have a much harder time getting the drug, even though it’s easier for adults to. Teens also might not receive the same rebellious feeling from attaining something already legal than if it were illegal. Yet another reason to legalize cannabis. If grass, kush, and weed are legalized for medical use, teenagers would smoke less. Veterans and seizure prone children would sleep well. The economy would grow. The government would learn. And, before we decide on it completely, real studies on marijuana can take place.  

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