Marijuana is the most consumed and abused illegal drug in the United States of America. In the past decades, public support for the legalization of the drug has increased exponentially. A recent survey has shown that 54% of Americans support its legalization, while 44% oppose it (Marion and Hill 43). The numbers have changed since 2006 when only 32% the legalization of cannabis while 60% were against it (Marion and Hill 43). Several states have heeded this call, and they have legalized its use for medical and recreational purposes. 14 states have enacted laws allowing recreational use while 35 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws legalizing its use for medical purposes. The use of cannabis under federal law is illegal. However, the Food and Drug Administration has allowed the use of some of its derivative compounds for medical reasons. Marijuana should be legalized because it has numerous medical benefits, it will boost the economy, lower the crime rate, create employment opportunities, and it will offer opportunities for income generation.
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Medical Benefits of Legalizing Marijuana
Marijuana is used medically for its numerous benefits: pain management, the reduction of inflammation, the treatment of neurological and mental disorders, and sleep management. Cannabis contains a substance called cannabinoid which is the main component of medical marijuana (Caulkins et al. 45). The substance is used in pain alleviation because it alters pain perception pathways in the brain. Research has shown that chronic pain that results from certain conditions can be treated using marijuana. These include migraines, arthritis, fibromyalgia, and endometriosis (Bridin 212). In certain instances, the substance can be used as an alternative treatment remedy that could replace nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) whose side effects can have detrimental health effects (Caulkins et al. 49). Many health care providers refrain from recommending steroids and anti-inflammatory pharmaceuticals because of their side effects which include muscle weakness, decreased immunity, ulcers, and stomach pains (Vasquez 57). The side effects of cannabis such as dry mouth increased hunger, and a heightening of the senses are less serious and manageable.
Marijuana is an effective anti-inflammatory substance, according to research. Studies have shown that cannabis has a positive effect on the mitigation of inflammation caused by conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, Alzheimer’s, and Crohn’s disease (Bridin 213)The synergistic effect of various cannabinoids enhances the outcome of cannabis in alleviating inflammation. Marijuana is also used to treat several mental health conditions, including anxiety, Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, Tourette syndrome, and post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD) (Vasquez 64). Cannabis activates cannabinoid receptors in the amygdala, and enhances the activity of neurons in the prefrontal cortex, thus affecting emotional processing. These functions are responsible for their application in the treatment of neurological and mental disorders.
Marijuana can be used in the treatment of cancer and epilepsy. Research has shown that it is an effective remedy for the minimization of side effects that emanate from cancer treatment such as nausea and vomiting (Vasquez 73). Moreover, smoking cannabis can aid in alleviating the aforementioned symptoms. Some researchers have argued that cannabinoids help in the treatment of cancer in two ways: they annihilate certain forms of cancer and slow down the growth of certain cancers. This proposition was contested by earlier studies that conclude that marijuana was an effective substance in the control or treatment of cancer, even though it is a safe remedy. The Food and Drug Administration approved the use of a drug containing cannabidiol (Epidiolex) for the treatment of epilepsy in 2018. The medication treats two rare forms of the disease, namely Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. The decision was made following the results of several research studies and clinical trials. A 2017 study revealed that the use of cannabidiol in the treatment of Dravet syndrome among children resulted in fewer convulsive seizures. The disease is lethal as it causes prolonged and repetitive seizures.
Adequate and quality sleep is an important component of mental and physical health. However, many people report experiencing difficulty with sleep because of certain illnesses and conditions. The American Sleep Association reported that between 50 and 70 million Americans have sleep problems ranging from insomnia to inadequate sleep (Caulkins et al. 65). Cannabis has been cited as one of the most effective remedies for various sleep disorders. Proponents of legalization argue that it restores the natural sleep cycle, which becomes misaligned in many people due to the pressures of the contemporary world (Bridin 214). Marijuana aids in sleep because it contains tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the substance that makes users feel “high.” It reduces the amount of REM sleep, therefore, users dream less and spend more time enjoying deep sleep that is restorative.
Economic Benefits of Marijuana
One of the main reasons for the legalization of marijuana is an economic boost: increased tax revenues, investment opportunities, and the creation of jobs. States that have legalized the use of marijuana for either medical or recreational use have reported a significant rise in tax revenues (Krane). For instance, in 2019, the state of Colorado earned more than $302 million from the sale of medical and recreational marijuana (Zha). Overall, sales of the substance passed the $1.7 billion mark. In the whole of the United States, reported sales were $12.2 billion (Zha). This number is projected to rise to over $30 billion in the next decade. The state of California earned $411.3 million, $98.9, and $335.1 million in excise tax, cultivation tax, and sales tax respectively from the cannabis industry between January 2018 and December 2019 (Zha).
The generation of income and the creation of job opportunities are also benefits of the legalization of marijuana. The creation of dispensaries and nurseries would create jobs. A study conducted by the RCG Economics and Marijuana Policy Group involving the state of Nevada revealed that the legalization of cannabis could create more than 41,000 between now and 2024 (Krane). In addition, this could lead to the generation of $1.7 billion in labor income (Zha). Nationally, the move could lead to the creation of more than one million job opportunities by 2025. The legalization of cannabis would initiate the rapid growth of the industry, thus creating jobs in the areas that include sales, farming, processing, and distribution (Krane). Moreover, secondary industries that would not be involved in farming and distribution would also generate numerous jobs. Currently, the industry employs more than 250,000 people as full-time employees (Zha). This number is four times that of the workers in the coal industry. Moreover, it is similar to that of the individuals who lost jobs after the ratification of the 18th Amendment in 1919. Marijuana is illegal in approximately 80% of the states, even though it has a significant economic impact in the places where it is allowed.
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The legalization of cannabis would save the government a lot of money that is used in the enforcement of laws against marijuana use and possession. Government statistics reveal that the federal government spends billions of dollars to enforce laws. A report released by the American Civil Liberties in 2013 showed that these costs were about $3.6 billion annually (Caulkins et al. 87). The legalization of marijuana at the national level would decrease these costs immensely. For example, if cannabis was declassified as a controlled substance, then fewer cases would be tried and the rates of incarcerations would decrease considerably, thus saving the government money. Currently, there are more than 40,000 individuals in prison for offenses related to marijuana. According to reports released by the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), the police arrested 545,602 people in 2019 for cannabis-related crimes, of which 92% were for possession. In the same year, 495,871 people were incarcerated for violent crimes, indicating the effect that legalizing marijuana would have on incarceration rates. The legalization would also benefit individuals who use cannabis for medical purposes because the prices would drop. The commoditization of the substance would streamline the industry and favor the consumers (Krane). This move would not serve the interests of companies seeking to explore the industry for profit maximization. However, it would be beneficial to the people who have prescriptions because of their medical conditions.
The legalization of marijuana countrywide would present numerous investment opportunities at the local, state, and national levels. At the federal level, the possession and consumption of cannabis are illegal. Therefore, it is challenging for investors to take advantage of the industry that is growing exponentially. The legalization of cannabis by the federal government would allow the involved companies to list on the various exchanges around the US (Marion and Hill 64). This move would have some economic benefits because it would increase liquidity and allow investors to access the industry. The recent growth of the industry in states where it is legal is proof that the national authorities of marijuana would attract a lot of interest from both individual and organizational investors.
The cannabis industry comprises more components than just the individuals who grow plants, the companies that manufacture it into products, and dispensaries that distribute the product. The foregoing three elements are the most critical in the marijuana supply chain. However, the industry is more varied and diverse and includes many other subsidiaries that include plant-touching and ancillary businesses (Zha). Plant-touching businesses are comprised of entities such as breeders, cultivators, dispensaries, and manufacturers. Others include the transportation, storage, and delivery companies that move the finished product between different destinations (Marion and Hill 76). Breeders focus on producing different strains and seeds that cultivators use to grow the plant. Manufacturers process the harvested marijuana and transform it into fine products. Dispensaries sell the product to consumers while transportation and logistics providers act as liaisons between cultivators and manufacturers, as well as between distributors and sellers (Zha). Individuals can invest in any one of these businesses and make a profit.
Ancillary businesses include all other entities that provide services that are needed for the proper functioning of the cannabis industry. They do not have any direct involvement in the plant-touch businesses but mainly provide professional assistance. They include lawyers, accountants, marketing professionals, and packaging experts. Professional services are critical in the success of the marijuana industry because of the regulatory constraints and the differences in laws between states (Marion and Hill 76). They offer advice that prevents the industry’s stakeholders from breaking the law. Providers of packaging services direct the stakeholders on the most effective ways of appealing to customers through branding. This is important because, in certain states, the use of colorful packaging for the purpose of marketing is unlawful. Other key services that these businesses need include construction, security, and funding. Businesses dealing with marijuana are mainly excluded from access to normal financing. Therefore, they need the services of private financiers such as venture capitalists and angel investors to fund their businesses (Marion and Hill 79). The cannabis industry is diverse and offers numerous opportunities for individuals who are interested in investing.
The Marijuana Justice Act has proposed legislation that aims to declassify cannabis as a controlled substance. Its enactment would expunge it from the Controlled Substances Act and prevent the distribution of federal funds to states that enforce related laws in a discriminatory manner (Marion and Hill 54). In addition, it would declare all convictions related to marijuana null and void. Proponents of the legalization of cannabis have argued that the move would lower crime considerably. Violence would decrease and trafficking activities would disappear because the power of cartels and drug gangs would be reduced significantly (Marion and Hill 57). Legalization would eliminate many crimes that are associated with smuggling, possession, and usage of cannabis. Moreover, traffic-related delinquencies would decline because there is a link between medical marijuana and a reduction in drunk driving. This association has not been fully validated as few studies have been conducted on the topic.
Researchers have studied the effect of marijuana legalization by comparing crime data before and after the passage of laws to decriminalize the substance in various states. They have found out that such authorization reduces theft and violent crimes, especially in states that border Mexico (Jorgensen). The largest percentage of illegal drugs trafficked into the US are transported through these states. Smuggling is associated with crime because of the need to act incognito, thereby necessitating the commission of crimes such as stealing cars to conceal one’s identity (Marion and Hill 68). In addition, there is great rivalry between drug gangs at the border and within the states. Conflicts between these groups result in various crimes, including murders and homicides. Drive-by shootings are a common occurrence in areas where drug trafficking and sale are prevalent (Jorgensen). The main aim of such activities is to scare the customers of drug sellers operating in certain neighborhoods or regions.
Influence on the Criminal Justice System
Several surveys have shown that the enforcement of marijuana laws is racially biased, and members of minority groups are the main culprits. The use of the substance is evenly distributed among all races and ethnic groups. Its usage is widespread in all communities, regardless of race, ethnic background, or socioeconomic status. However, the user does not match the enforcement of laws because the rates of incarceration are higher among the poor and members of minority groups (Jorgensen). Research has shown that African Americans are four times more likely to be arrested for crimes related to marijuana use and possession than whites (Jorgensen). This disparity in law enforcement has compelled activists to call for the legalization of marijuana, a move that could streamline the functioning of the criminal justice system.
The likelihood of arrest for marijuana-related crimes differs from state to state. For instance, in Washington, DC and Iowa, Africa Americans are eight times more likely to be arrested than whites and members of other majority groups (Marion and Hill 98). This points to the existence of racial bias in the enforcement of marijuana laws (Jorgensen). It has been accentuated by the stop-and-frisk policy that is in practice in many states. In the state of New York, the practice mainly affects young Hispanic and African American men, even though the majority of them are innocent. In 2013, the courts ruled that the implementation of the stop-and-frisk was unconstitutional because it was racially biased (Jorgensen). In many states, when law enforcement officers embark on fighting drugs, their focus is on marijuana. Drug policy experts and criminal justice scholars have unanimously agreed that the war on drugs has been a failure, and the high costs of about $47 billion annually do not justify its existence (Jorgensen). Moreover, it has not reduced crime, it has not eliminated cartels and drug barons, and it has failed in eradicating the illegal trade (Jorgensen). Fighting marijuana has affected criminal justice negatively because it promotes racially-biased law enforcement and encouraged disproportionate incarcerations that mainly affect communities of color (Marion and Hill 105). Marijuana use is not associated with increases in crime, and therefore, it should be legalized.
One of the social changes that the legalization of cannabis would bring is the eradication of the stigma associated with the drug. In states and countries where marijuana is illegal, users have to contend with societal stigmatization as the substance is perceived as a drug that introduces users to hard drugs (Caulkins et al 77). For instance, consumers experience discrimination in workplaces and social contexts. In addition, they have to deal with the stereotypes about marijuana users as being indolent, less intelligent, and violent (Caulkins et al 77). The level of stigmatization is higher in states and countries with harsh laws. A study conducted by the University of British Columbia showed that users of medical marijuana suffered discrimination because others perceived them as unreliable and irresponsible drug users (Marion and Hill 88). These labels were propagated against them by employers, colleagues, and certain health care providers. Disparities in incarcerations originate from the perceptions of members of minority groups as drug users and criminals. This explains why African Americans comprise the largest number of marijuana-related incarcerations. The legalization of cannabis would end these stereotypes that usually lead to social exclusion and discrimination.
Public opinion regarding the legalization of marijuana in the United States has changed considerably in the past few years. More people are embracing the concept of decriminalizing cannabis because of its numerous economic and medical benefits. Many states have passed laws to allow the recreational and medical use of marijuana, and many others have pending bills to discuss the matter. Cannabis should be legalized because it has numerous medical and economic benefits, it would create jobs and investment opportunities, reform the criminal justice system, lower crime rates, and end the stigma associated with its use. The cannabis industry generates billions of dollars in states where it is allowed and helps patients of cancer, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and depression alleviate pain. Though the substance is illegal at the federal level, the FDA has legalized the use of certain extracts in the treatment of two rare forms of epilepsy. The federal government should consider legalizing marijuana because of its many applications that could the society, the economy, and the health of Americans.
Bridin, Murnion. “Medicinal Cannabis.” Australian Prescriber, vol. 38, no. 6, 2015, pp. 212-215. EBSCOhost.
Caulkins, Jonathan P., et al. Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know. 2nd ed., Oxford University Press, 2016.
Grinspoon, Peter. “Medical Marijuana.” Harvard Health Publishing, 2018, Web.
Jorgensen, Cody. “How Marijuana Legalization Would Benefit the Criminal Justice System.” The Blue Review, 2020, Web.
Krane, Kris. “Cannabis Legalization is Key to Economic Recovery, Much like Alcohol Prohibition Helped Us Out of the Great Depression.” Forbes, Web.
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Marion, Nancy E., and Joshua B Hill. Marijuana 360: Differing Perspectives on Legalization. Rowman & Littlefield, 2019.
Vasquez, Margie. Marijuana: Medical Uses, Regulations, and Legal Issues. eBook, 2016. EBSCOhost.
Zha, Charles. “High Economy: Impacts of Marijuana Legalization on the US Economy.” The Economics Review, 2020, Web.