Legalization of Marijuana

1176 words | 4 page(s)

Marijuana has been a major issue in the United States for many decades, dating back to 1937, when the country first made the drug illegal. Federal and state governments have used scare tactics, engaged in propaganda, and trumpeted false facts in order to classify marijuana as a schedule one drug. That puts it in the company of drugs like ecstasy, LSD, and even heroin. Over the last eight decades, marijuana has gained social acceptance, but it remains something of a sore spot for the federal government. In recent elections, Colorado, Washington, and Oregon all put marijuana on the ballot, allowing citizens to decide whether to legalize the plant for recreational use. Colorado is perhaps the seminal example. There, amendment 64 passed in November of 2012, bringing about an era of legal ownership of as much as ounce of the substance.

That particular amendment passed in Colorado with roughly fifty-five-percent of the vote (Tate, Taylor, & Sawyer). Specifically, the law made marijuana possession and use legal for people twenty-one or older. In essence, the state made its marijuana laws similar to the alcohol laws almost everywhere else. Likewise, it chose to regulate how people could grow the plants themselves. Under the law, citizens may grow no more than six plants. In addition, the law regulates how people can act while using marijuana. Just as people are not allowed to drink and drive, operating a vehicle under the influence of marijuana is also against the law. This is something that politicians might refer to as a trial law. The state is going its best to try out a new policy with the understanding that some things are yet to be refined (Hawken et al). While it is not accurate to say that Colorado is still waiting to sort them out, it is fair to say that some interpretations of the law remain to be explored under Colorado’s new statute (Pacula & Sevigny). Colorado’s governor, John Hickenlooper, has played an important role in the process, and he signed into effect a law creating a task force for the regulation of the plant. The idea was to ensure that multiple voices were heard on the subject, giving a wide range of people input on the best way to go about regulating marijuana. The concept, then, was to cobble together a group of decision-makers, with a few representing consumers, some representing producers, and even a few voices from the inside of law enforcement. Implementation did become something of an issue in Colorado, as it was difficult to get all of these groups – which have competing interests – to agree on the best way to bring legalization to the state. Still, Colorado moved forward in 2013 with a plan to make marijuana both legal and accessible to its citizenry.

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These laws have had a major impact on a wide range of different players in the international drug trade. Part of the argument in favor of legalization has centered on the ability to legalization to take away some of the power and influence of Mexican drug cartels. The cartels are some of the largest purveyors of illicit drug importation in the world. They make a tremendous amount of money each year by trafficking drugs into the United States. According to some statistics, somewhere in the neighborhood of one-quarter of the cartels’ profits come from marijuana. As Colorado and Washington have adopted more open policies on marijuana, they have, in effect, taken away one of the major money sources for these dangerous groups. There is a downside to this, of course, With cartels feeling a major pinch from this loss of revenue, they are more likely to make harder pushes with more dangerous drugs (Booth). Cocaine and heroin, for instance, have a tendency to do much more damage than marijuana. This concern is mitigated by the fact that the country’s drug agents have shown an ability and willingness to ferret out the harder drugs.

Some argue that signs point to the total legalization of marijuana in the not-distant future. As it currently stands, federal law makes marijuana illegal, and thus, it is illegal to import the substance. This means that both the Mexican government – which could have been exporting the drug legally – and the American government – which could tax its sale – are missing out on revenue that might have otherwise filled government coffers. Given the amount of money in play, it is not at all an exaggeration to suggest that the tide may be turning on marijuana.

All throughout America, alcohol production and consumption are celebrated. Advertisements are everywhere, and one can hardly turn on a television without seeing a person ordering a drink. This was unthinkably a century ago, as the country cracked down on booze with its prohibition. Over the past four decades, America’s “war on drugs” has brought terror to the streets, causing mass incarceration and an alarming death toll near the Mexican border. Tens of thousands of people are killed in Mexico in drug-related incidents each year (Courtney). The reality of mass incarceration and the death toll of drug-related activity has helped to swing momentum in the favor of legalization. Just as people began to see the light on alcohol, they are coming to see that legalizing marijuana could take away some of the problems associated with keeping it illegal.

Marijuana legalization remains a real and important topic in America. Recently, President Obama noted that marijuana is not any more harmful than alcohol, and he expressed some support for the concept of legalization. With the elections that have taken place in the country and some of the trends, it seems apparent that marijuana legalization will take place in the United States at some point in the next few decades, if not sooner.

In conclusion, marijuana legalization has largely been a success in Colorado. What legislators found there is that they could capitalize on revenue while ensuring that the substance was regulated properly and dispensed in a legal manner. Washington, too, has been showing the country that marijuana legalization is an idea that can work. Keeping marijuana illegal helps to empower the drug cartels and other criminal elements who depend upon the black market for support and revenue. With this knowledge in mind, it seems highly likely that the country is trending in the right direction on marijuana legalization. While the country at large may not follow the precise Colorado model, that state’s success in legalizing the plant has provided much hope for those advocating legalization.

  • Booth, William. “Mexico says marijuana legalization in US could change anti-drug strategies.” Washington Post, accessed January 27 (2013).
  • Courtney, Matthew B. “Drug Trafficking Related Violence and Corruption Among Specific Populations in Mexico.” (2013).
  • Hawken, Angela, et al. “Quasi‐legal cannabis in Colorado and Washington: local and national implications.” Addiction 108.5 (2013): 837-838.
  • Pacula, Rosalie Liccardo, and Eric L. Sevigny. “Marijuana Liberalization Policies: Why We Can’t Learn Much from Policy Still in Motion.” Journal of Policy Analysis and Management 33.1 (2014): 212-221.
  • Tate, Katherine, James Lance Taylor, and Mark Q. Sawyer, eds. Something’s in the Air: Race, Crime, and the Legalization of Marijuana. Routledge, 2013.

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