Nine states have legalized recreational marijuana in the US and twenty-nine states have legalized medical marijuana. Despite these legalization measures it still remains illegal on a federal level. Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently rolled back an Obama-era policy of not interfering with cannabis businesses in states who have legalized the drug, despite campaign assurances by President Trump that he would allow states to continue operating as they have been.
That does not mean that there is no hope. Particularly not if the legislature follows the will of the people. A Quinnipiac poll released last August showed that an overwhelming 94% of Americans support medical marijuana. The same poll revealed that 75% of Americans do not want the government to interfere in states where voters and lawmakers have chosen to legalize cannabis.
Another poll, this time conducted by Gallup, shows similar support for the federal legalization of marijuana. 64% of Americans are in support of full legalization and for the first time in the history of the poll, a majority of Republicans – 51% – support legalization as well.
Can Cannabis be Legal on a Federal Level?
In order for cannabis to become legal at a federal level and then possibly taxed and regulated like cigarettes and alcohol, Congress must first vote to reclassify cannabis from a Schedule I drug to a lower classification.
Colorado Senator Cory Gardner, a Republican, made a stirring speech on the Senate floor promising to stall any new Justice Department nominees until Sessions walks back the rescinding of the Cole memo. Additionally, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker (D) introduced the Marijuana Justice Act, a bill that would completely remove cannabis from the U.S. list of controlled substances.
If Congress does suddenly decide to reflect the will of the majority of people and deschedule cannabis, there would obviously be some pros and cons of legalizing marijuana in one fell swoop. While the majority of the American people may be for legalization in some form, there are some concerns. It will remain to be seen if the benefits outweigh the potential drawbacks.
The Pros of Marijuana Legalization
Economic Benefits – Dismantling the Black Market
Legalizing cannabis would put a significant strain on what has been, up until now, the only way for most people not living in legal states to obtain marijuana. That would be through the black market. When people are able to obtain their recreational or medical cannabis legally, the black market will have strong competition. Legalization doesn’t just make it okay to get cannabis. Dispensaries often have a higher quality product and far better labeling. They will know the strain and even the percentages of THC and CBD, a thing that can be a crapshoot when obtaining cannabis on the black market.
In states where cannabis is legal, consumers are taxed on what they buy. Colorado has been paying down its debts and is even allocating portions of the tax proceeds from legalized marijuana towards improving the educational system. The tax revenue has been so good that residents of the state were given a refund using the proceeds of the taxes on marijuana goods. Imagine this kind of benefit from taxation on a federal level.
This ties in with the tax benefits. Cannabis is one of America’s biggest selling agricultural products. Colorado claims that the four-year revenues from sales to be $4.5 billion. In addition to the money that could be brought in and the jobs that would be created if cannabis were legalized on a federal level, an estimated $8 billion would be saved from enforcing cannabis prohibition.
Medical Benefits of Legalizing Cannabis
The medical benefits of the primary cannabinoids in marijuana, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) have been proven to treat a variety of illnesses. Among these are so-called “untreatable” illnesses such as Crohn’s disease, epilepsy, Multiple Sclerosis, and PTSD. Legalizing an all-natural product that can be used either as a flower, a concentrate, or infused into edibles and topicals would help to decrease the drain on the health care system.
Reduce Opioid Dependency
Jeff Sessions would like people to believe that marijuana is the “gateway” drug that has led to America’s current opioid epidemic. This is in spite of evidence pointing to the contrary. It is believed that not only can cannabis help with chronic pain, but it can also ease people off of prescription opioids. In states where medical marijuana is available, deaths related to opioid overdose have decreased steadily since legalization.
MJ Legalization Community Benefits
Projections indicate that the legal cannabis industry is expected to create more than a quarter of a million jobs. Between the jobs that will be created in the cultivation sector to the jobs that will open in dispensaries, legalized cannabis will create an economic boom, possibly further lowering unemployment.
Free Up Law Enforcement to Tackle More Violent Crime
FBI crime statistics reveal that in 2016, 587,700 people were arrested for simply possessing marijuana, an average of just over 1,600 Americans per day. Legalizing marijuana would allow for police departments and courts who are overburdened with prosecuting marijuana offenders to focus on more serious and more violent crime.
The Cons of Marijuana Legalization
Just like some people cannot tolerate the smell of cigarette smoke – not to mention the harm it can do – some people will have adverse reactions to second-hand cannabis smoke. Most states make it illegal to smoke or vaporize cannabis in public spaces. One possible way to reduce this is the utilization of vape mods and dry herb vaporizers. Vaporization produces almost none of the toxins that are produced by combustion and almost no odor.
Cannabis May be Addictive
While some claim that marijuana may not be as addictive as harder drugs like heroin, meth, or cocaine, as many as one in ten long term users do display some level of dependence. Pairing that with the fact that quitting long-term use of cannabis cold turkey can lead to symptoms such as anxiety and irritability. However, these symptoms are also the same of those trying to quit smoking cigarettes.
Lung Health of Users at Risk
The belief is that marijuana users may put themselves at greater risk of lung cancer due to the amount of time they hold the smoke in the lungs. However, while there are studies linking the combustion of cannabis to increased instances of bronchitis and lung irritation. This effect can be reduced if not eliminated by ingesting the marijuana via a vape mod and cartridge or dry herb vaporizer. There is also the option of edibles, topicals, and tinctures.
Marijuana, particularly strains that are high in THC can alter a person’s perspective. This, in turn, can alter one’s ability to drive. Opponents fear an increase in the incidences of driving under the influence, which would put the public at risk. In considering this, one should also consider that there is currently no test available that can prove when a person last smoked marijuana. Depending on the test, marijuana can remain in the system several days to several weeks. Marijuana smoked weeks ago could lead to prosecution for impaired driving under current laws even though the driver may be completely sober.
There are pros and cons to just about anything and the legalization of cannabis is no exception. While the economic and social benefits of legalization may outweigh the downfalls, not everyone is in support of legalizing cannabis. Despite the fact that more studies are being conducted as to the efficacy of marijuana in treating a number of ailments – including cancer – there are those that still cling to the perceived downfalls.
Since the majority of Americans now favor, at the very least, the widespread availability of medical cannabis, hopefully legislation will soon be enacted guaranteeing the availability of the drug. Or perhaps the federal government will see that the economic and social benefits of descheduling cannabis from the illicit drugs list would far outweigh the risks.