Weed: Should It Be Legal?
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Politics and Activism

Weed: Should It Be Legal?

Examining the case for and against legalization

Weed: Should It Be Legal?

There's a lot going on in American politics right now. Whether or not you're interested in following the presidential election drama, you’ve probably heard something or other. Yet, there's one topic that very few of the candidates are even touching on: the legalization of marijuana. Recent polls show that a lot of people really do care. So why isn't it being talked about more? Should marijuana finally be legalized? Here are some of the arguments for and against legalization, starting with those against.

1). Marijuana is a “gateway” drug

The acceptance of marijuana as a legal form of recreation will, for better or worse, be a tangible sign of our society being more accepting of drug use. For those who oppose legalization, this is one of the main reasons why marijuana should remain illegal. Marijuana seems to lead directly to other forms of drug abuse, and in turn, crime, etc. This argument that marijuana is a “gateway” drug is most often accompanied by an emotional testimony of a former drug addict’s struggles, making it a consistently effective tool of persuasion. There are hundreds of statistics linking marijuana use and virtually every evil plaguing society (increases in crime, disengaged students, and other forms of drug abuse). However, it’s important to remember that none of these statistics distinguish the difference between those who use marijuana with a balanced idea of its proper uses and those who are looking for any means to escape reality. That’s not to mention those who simply love the thrill of doing something illegal. Another, bigger problem with these statistics, and even the testimonies, is the lack of differentiation between correlation and cause. This argument cherry picks its examples. An addict who is looking to escape reality is likely to try a lot of different ways – just because marijuana is used at some point in a person’s search to fill a void, does not mean marijuana is the cause of this search. Every heart-wrenching testimony you’ve heard may include marijuana, but marijuana is never the root problem. As an article from Time points out, “Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang members are probably more 104 times more likely to have ridden a bicycle as a kid than those who don’t become Hell’s Angels, but that doesn’t mean that riding a two-wheeler is a “gateway” to joining a motorcycle gang. It simply means that most people ride bikes and the kind of people who don’t are highly unlikely to ever ride a motorcycle.” When you start thinking about what causes crime and drug abuse, this argument tends to fade away. As of yet, no study has ever found a conclusive causal link between marijuana and the subsequent use of other illicit drugs. To read more on how the “gateway” argument is really just a myth, check out this article.

2). Marijuana is unhealthy; legalizing it will spread its use

Whether in regards to mental health or physical health, there is always some kind of argument against legalization of marijuana because of its health risks. Due to the extremely polarized public opinion concerning marijuana (dating back to the late 50’s), it’s very difficult to obtain reliable and definitive scientific findings about the health effects of marijuana. For every study saying that marijuana leads to depression and reduces IQ, there’s another study saying that marijuana leads to mood stabilization and greater confidence under pressure (i.e. test taking). For every story of a stoner pointing to marijuana as the cause of increased laziness and lack of production, there are other stories of people like Maya Angelou, Michael Bloomberg, and apparently Shakespeare. Many of the other studies that link marijuana to health problems don’t consider the fact that marijuana doesn’t have to be smoked – it can be used responsibly in many ways, even in salsa and pasta sauce. Remember the old saying, “there are lies, damned lies, and statistics.” That very much applies to the effects of weed – even to the question of whether or not legalizing marijuana will in fact make smoking it more widespread.

However, this is still a valid argument to a certain extent. Just because there are mixed reports about the physical effects of weed, and mixed outcomes for the people that use it, doesn’t mean there isn’t room for concern. But we need to take a step back and ask ourselves where we draw the line. If something is unhealthy is that a reason for it to be illegal? If that’s the case, then alcohol, tobacco, soda, and fast food should all be illegal. All of these come with a mixed bag of uses and a mixed bag of outcomes, yet are all legal and generally socially acceptable (in moderation).

3). Marijuana use is a public nuisance

This argument shows up in a number of ways: legalized marijuana will mean more students coming to class high, more employees showing up at work high, more DUI’s, and more lazy citizens. That’s not to mention the smell. Assuming that legalization does make use more widespread, these are definitely concerns to keep in mind when crafting the details of public policy regarding pot. The smell factor, for example, can be overcome by regulating where people can smoke. Weed smoke could be treated like noise (what do you do when your neighbor’s loud music bothers you, or someone is blasting a stereo in a park?). However, citing these concerns as reasons to stop legalization is problematic. All of these “reasons” are forgetting about personal responsibility. The availability of marijuana doesn’t force someone to be irresponsible. If you choose to drive or go to work/school while intoxicated, that’s your own mistake. Since when did society stop holding individuals accountable for their own actions? Just like almost anything, weed can be both abused and used responsibly. Shouldn’t we judge the way someone uses marijuana and not the substance itself? Oh, and the lazy citizens thing…marijuana doesn’t necessarily make someone lazy or unproductive (refer back to number 2).

The most far-fetched form of this argument though, is the “involuntary second-hand high.” For most people, getting a second-hand high is extremely difficult even when it’s the desired outcome. You have to really try to get a second-high – outside of “hotboxing,” it’s just not going to happen. The idea that your neighbor smoking in his/her backyard could seriously affect you or your children isn’t accurate.

Arguments for legalization:

1). Personal Freedom

Whether or not you personally like the idea of smoking weed, a lot of people do. It’s a personal decision that has little to no affect on other people, so why should it be off limits? After all, according to several recent polls (Pew, Gallup), a majority of Americans now support legalization. Shouldn’t we let people decide for themselves?

2). Tax Revenue & Jobs

Legalization of marijuana opens up a brand new, massive revenue stream for local, state, and federal government. From growing permits to weed start-ups, the possible ways that government (and therefore society) can benefit from legalization are both numerous and enormous. That’s not to mention the savings from DEA and policing expenses, or the reduced number of drug-related incarcerations. From a government perspective, legalization means more money in and less money out. Legalization also represents a whole new industry that has plenty of open spots for the currently unemployed. Since Colorado legalized recreational marijuana, several thousand new jobs have been created, with plenty of room for entrepreneurs to add to that number. Colorado raked in $3.5 million in tax dollars – just during the month of January 2014.

3). Health Benefits

Cannabis has been linked by many (both scientific and otherwise) to a variety of health benefits, from acting as a natural anti-depressant to treating seizures. This doesn’t include more alleged benefits of marijuana use – boosts in creativity, a heightened sense of self, and an increased acceptance of one’s insecurities. It’s a very popular way of relaxing and finding a sense of inner peace.

Whether or not you choose to believe that marijuana can actually be a healthy thing is up to you. Keeping it illegal though…well, that just makes it a lot harder to find out the truth, doesn’t it? Legalization will boost research and potential (proven) medical applications of THC.

4). Legalization could save lives

Legalizing marijuana won’t just open up a new way of making an honest living, it will take away some of the power of organized crime. While most drug cartels have shifted a lot of business into other forms of revenue generation (cocaine, heroine, meth, human trafficking), weed still provides illegal organizations with millions of dollars every year. Legalization would strike a blow at the cartels responsible for the violence eating up Central America and haunting the big cities in the US. Moreover, the ACLU has noted the illegality of marijuana as a contributing factor to racial inequality in the US justice system (see here). While white and black individuals buy and sell marijuana at approximately the same rate, black individuals are about 4 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana use/possession. Legalization could help reduce the rate of racially biased arrest.

5). Weed is the most "responsible" drug

Unlike some “harder” drugs, it’s entirely possible to enjoy a decent amount of marijuana without being incapacitated. It’s a lot easier to manage your level of “high” with weed than with many other substances. Just like having a beer doesn’t mean you’re going to black out, smoking a joint doesn’t mean you’ll be out of control. Moreover, the effects of marijuana tend to have a very positive effect on the user - making them happier, calmer, and more at ease. Alcohol (a legal drug), on the other hand, tends to lead to more socially disturbing behaviors. Overall, smoking can be very compatible with social norms and can be responsibly enjoyed by a fully functional individual.


Before ending this article, I’d like to draw your attention to a few observations. First, at a number of universities alcohol regulation is extremely…well, flexible. You could almost say that abusive drinking is tolerated – maybe even encouraged on some campuses. On the other hand, policies against marijuana use are often strictly enforced. Breaking these policies can translate to heavy punishments. While alcohol at its worst leads to outbursts of violence, increased instances of sexual assault, etc. weed just leads to falling asleep with your hand still in the bag of Doritos. How does that make any sense at all? Same question goes out to “states rights advocate” Republicans who also believe that Colorado’s legalization should be repealed.

My second observation is more of a warning. Largely due to its illegal nature, weed has developed into a very immersive subculture. While excessive alcoholism is pretty universally viewed in a negative light, the camaraderie found in stoner circles often promotes the use of extreme amounts of marijuana (eg. it’s a lot easier/more acceptable to turn down a beer than to refuse to take a hit). If weed is legalized, we, as a society, might need to be careful to put a stop to any glorified image of weed abuse (excessive intake).

What do you think? Should weed be legalized at a federal level? Tweet me your answer @DominicAlberigi

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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