A Bit of Nuance: The Legalization of Marijuana

Updated: Mar 17

*The views displayed in this article are not reflective of the opinions of the writers. The information presented describes opposite ends of the spectrum regarding the topics being addressed to allow readers to find a median.*

The legalization of recreational marijuana has sparked controversy in recent years. Proponents of the legalization of the drug argue that it would ensue in a financial upturn, while also ending the racial disparity in our country. Opponents say that it could result in economic, medical, and judicial problems. States such as Colorado and California are among the most popular regarding this issue, and their experience with the legalization of cannabis should be taken into account.


Opinion: The Legalization of Marijuana Would Result in Major Progress in the U.S Siddharth Kondam

Opinion: The Legalization of Marijuana Would Stunt the U.S from Prospering Keerthi Padmanabhan

On the Economy: Legalization Would Be a Boon to Our Financial State Legalizing marijuana would strengthen the United States financially due to the impact on tax revenue, investment opportunities, and job creation. Colorado, one of the earliest states that legalized marijuana recreationally, has seen sizeable economic growth since its legalization in 2014. In 2019, Colorado collected more than $302 million in taxes and fees on medical and recreational marijuana. With these funds, the state government started the “Marijuana Tax Cash Fund,” which provided financial aid to over 60 programs that supported mental health, education, and environmental cleanup. A report by the Colorado State University Pueblo’s Institute of Cannabis showed that the cannabis industry gave back more than $80.8 million to the local economy in 2017. Since the start of cannabis legalization, the state government has accrued over one billion dollars in tax revenues, with even more profit projected in the coming years. Since legalization, Colorado’s technology sector has increased steadily, as the field’s economic contribution reached $43 billion in 2017. If the rest of the U.S. were to follow Colorado’s lead and allocate the tax revenues into different areas in need of funding, it would create both socio-economic and technological growth. While individual states have seen significant economic growth from the legalization of marijuana, it has also greatly benefitted the country. In 2019, U.S. sales were at $12.2 billion, while projected revenue was $31.1 billion. If the U.S. were to legalize marijuana fully, the economic rewards would be staggering. New Frontier, a cannabis analytics company, proposed that if marijuana was nationally legalized, it could generate $105.6 billion in federal tax revenue. This is money that could be put into institutions and services that would aid the American people. Additionally, legalization would provide economic gains on both local and national levels through investment opportunities. If legalized, marijuana-based companies would be allowed to go public on all U.S. exchanges, increasing liquidity while also attracting more investors. This would enable these businesses to have boosted growth in the field. Another facet that the decriminalization of marijuana would impact is job creation. The report by New Frontier found that full legalization of marijuana would generate over one million jobs by 2025. The industry added over 64,000 jobs in 2018, claiming its title as the “fastest-growing job market in the country” by CNBC. Currently, the cannabis industry directly employs over 210,000 full-time workers in the U.S. and 90,000 indirect jobs generated by the sector. The influx of jobs created by this industry plays an essential part in driving shared and sustainable economic growth, a necessary fixture for our nation’s well-being

On the Economy: Legalizing Marijuana Is Costly For marijuana to be legalized in the United States, it would take a large amount of money. In Colorado alone, legalizing marijuana was the result of a $5.7 million budget shortfall. Moreover, the legalization of cannabis would result in higher taxes, as recreational marijuana is typically taxed higher than medical marijuana. It is also essential to consider that marijuana legalization would result in higher healthcare costs due to increased marijuana addictions. It is estimated that the number of people treated for drug dependence will rise after the legalization from 1.3 million to 4.8 million. Various state governments are already experiencing a financial deficit, and the additional cost of drug education and rehabilitation that comes with the legalization of marijuana will only increase this debt. Furthermore, several crimes, including dispensary robberies, illegal distribution, and other criminal consequences, have been associated with medical marijuana use in the past. Experts estimate that if cannabis is legalized, these problems will occur on a larger scale. Costs that state governments must pay for criminal facilities and additional costs associated with high crime rates would also increase. A study performed by the Centennial Institute at Colorado Christian University reported that the legalization of the drug caused Coloradans to spend approximately $4.50 for every tax dollar to mitigate the effects of legalized cannabis. However, while marijuana may be costly consumers due to increased taxes, in some states, the price of marijuana has significantly decreased, taking an immense toll on the economy. With dropping prices, some experts say that marijuana may soon be as cheap as common plants such as barley and wheat, thereby causing a tax deficit in state governments. While people may suggest that governments should increase the taxes placed on marijuana, Colorado has proven that this strategy is insufficient for tackling the economic consequences of legalizing cannabis. In 2019, Colorado attempted to raise its taxes on marijuana from 10% to 15%, but the revenue generated from the increased taxes didn’t affect the government. Instead, it was counteracted by additional price drops in the sale of legalized marijuana. Legalizing marijuana would harm the economy as it would result in higher taxes, increased budget cuts in government spending, and other economic consequences. Therefore, legalizing marijuana should be looked at with care, as the financial and economic troubles that it comes with may overpower other potential benefits.

On the Health and Safety of Citizens: The Benefits Far Exceed the Negatives Citizens in the U.S. should be allowed to use their discretion in making their choices. While excessive use of marijuana has been linked to some adverse effects, it is far tamer than tobacco and alcohol, two legal drugs. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported 30,000 yearly deaths due to alcohol effects while the CDC’s annual marijuana deaths remain at a steady zero. Furthermore, a study done by Scientific Reports in 2015 discovered that marijuana’s mortality risk was 114 times less than alcohol. In comparison with tobacco, marijuana is far better for an individual’s health. A large-scale national study led by the University of California San Francisco found that low to moderate marijuana use is much less harmful than exposure to tobacco. Smoking cigarettes has shown to cause significant lung damage, resulting in up to 480,000 annual deaths in the U.S. On the other hand, the risk of death is low to none for marijuana, according to experts. Marijuana has been proven to have countless health benefits as well. Cannabinoids, the active chemicals in medical marijuana, have been shown to have medicinal qualities, aiding the body in diverse functions. One of the many things that cannabinoids have been proven to help is in pain management, as it helps treat conditions such as arthritis, fibromyalgia, endometriosis, and migraine headaches. A particular type of cannabinoid, CBD, has been used to reduce inflammation, which is beneficial to Crohn’s disease, bowel syndrome, and rheumatoid arthritis patients. Regarding neurological and mental disorders, marijuana has been prescribed to treat anxiety, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Many veterans with PTSD and their therapists reported drastic improvement with medical marijuana use, with countless individuals asking for more studies on the impacts on the health benefits of marijuana. If both tobacco and alcohol are legal and socially accepted in society, both of which are more potent drugs, marijuana shouldn’t be criminalized due to its positive health benefits. Restricting the use of marijuana will push away a drug that patients would benefit from to survive in their battles against diseases and disorders.

On the Health and Safety of Citizens: Legalization of Marijuana Endangers the Community Marijuana has often been dubbed as a drug that doesn’t have severe health consequences. However, this statement could not be farther from the truth. Legalizing marijuana not only affects the health of the economy but the health of its users. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has estimated that 10% of all marijuana users will become addicted. With the increased availability of cannabis with its legalization, one in six minors can become addicted to the drug. Using cannabis has negatively affected the brain, reducing focus, attention, and short-term and long-term memory. A study conducted by researchers in New Zealand and students from Duke University demonstrated that those who smoked marijuana in their adolescent years had an average loss of eight IQ points between ages 13 and 38. Marijuana has been correlated with clinical depression and weakened mental health. People who have used marijuana may also develop schizophrenia, hallucinations, and psychosis. For those who have already been diagnosed with these mental illnesses, cannabis use may increase the risk of severe relapse. The use of cannabis has also been proven to decrease BMI and bone density, physically weakening users. Moreover, cannabis has also been shown to increase the risk of a heart attack, as the drug raises a person’s heart rate three hours post-smoking. As with any kind of smoking, smoking marijuana could also lead to respiratory problems such as coughing and a burning sensation in the lungs. Using marijuana also has adverse effects on society’s safety as a whole, not just on individuals. Marijuana can impair judgment and motor coordination, making it a mostly fatal force when a user is behind the wheel. In areas where legalized recreational marijuana existed, car crashes rose 5.2% and 6% compared to states where marijuana was illegal. Marijuana use can compel some to act irrationally and commit acts of violence against others. Thus, as more people are likely to use marijuana once it is legalized, we can expect to see an increase in health problems and fatalities associated with marijuana use.

On Law Enforcement and the Criminal Justice System: Legalization Will Help End the Racial Disparity Legalizing marijuana would increase the efficiency of our law enforcement system and be the first step in reforming our criminal justice system. In 2018 alone, 663,367 people were arrested for marijuana possession. These unbalanced and obsolete drug laws have victimized many people for years over small, petty charges. These arrests also increase racial disparity, as they are more targeted towards minority groups such as African-Americans. A study conducted this year by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) found that African-Americans were 3.64 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people. In New York, from June 9 to July 9, this year, it was reported that in 97% of the arrests, African-Americans were arrested for the possession of marijuana. Given that both African-Americans and whites have been reported to use marijuana at the same rate, this news was incredibly shocking. Furthermore, on average, African-American men have longer sentencing times for the same marijuana possession as a white man. Legalizing marijuana to help stop law enforcement abuse against African-American citizens and end the racial disparity would be a vital step towards equality and justice. Legalization would also significantly cut the costs of enforcing marijuana laws. The U.S. federal government spends roughly $3.16 billion every year to enforce cannabis laws. If the government were to decriminalize marijuana, instead, the tax revenue would be triple this amount. This profit could be spent on social services and other necessities for the American people. Legalization would result in far fewer court cases involving marijuana, and, in turn, result in fewer incarcerations and more money saved for the criminal justice system.

On Law Enforcement and the Criminal Justice System: Legalizing Marijuana Will Lead To More Frequent Crimes Expanding the accessibility of marijuana by legalizing it poses many consequences for law enforcement and the criminal justice system. With the use of recreational marijuana, there have been increases in car accidents, violence, distribution to minors, robberies, property damages, as well as the distribution of marijuana near school zones, all of which have severe legal consequences. If marijuana is legalized across the U.S., law enforcement services would have more issues to address due to an increase in marijuana-related crimes. While it appears that the legalization of marijuana would help officers focus on more pressing crimes, in reality, the increased usage of marijuana may contribute to more severe crimes. Enforcement officers state that the legalization of marijuana can take several lives, mainly as a result of highway incidents. Marijuana traffic deaths have increased by 151% percent in states where marijuana is legal. In Colorado, the Division of Criminal Justice reported that property crimes are up by 8.3%, while violent crimes are up by 18.6% since marijuana legalization. Additionally, marijuana is seen as a “gateway drug,” and many minors have admitted to smoking it after its legalization in some states. Those who use marijuana are more likely to go on to use lethal drugs. This causes harm to the user and causes an increase in offenses related to illegal drugs as well. In turn, this results in more crimes and deaths related to deadlier drugs, making communities increasingly unsafe. With the legalization of marijuana, law enforcement and the criminal justice system will be overwhelmed at the sheer magnitude of crimes stemming from its use. This would result in chaos, overfilled illegal facilities, and a dangerous environment for all citizens in states with legalized cannabis.