Marijuana is an illicit drug derived from the Cannabis plant. Due to the physical and mental effects, the drug has widespread use for recreational and medical purposes. Marijuana has been the center of the public debate over its legalization in small amounts for public use. There is substantial evidence to support both perspectives on the topic. However, public pressure and overall acceptance of marijuana have led to various US jurisdictions to explore legal options to decriminalizing the drug. Marijuana should be legalized under the conditions of strict regulation of the entire process in order to ensure public safety.
Medical and Health Concerns
Marijuana, by classification, is a psychoactive drug containing the THC compound that alters the mental state of the user. This results in various psychological and physical effects. The most prominent concern is around marijuana’s popularity for recreational use amongst youth. The drug has been shown to negatively impact brain development by impairing neural connectivity. In addition, aspects such as memory and learning are disrupted by continuous use. There is evidence of the addictive properties of marijuana, with adolescents being especially susceptible (Volkow et al. 2220-21). Meanwhile, advocates rely on the potential medical benefits of marijuana, which can be used for therapeutic and pain management needs. Marijuana can be used for appetite suppression and limit nausea amongst patients with certain conditions. Chronic pain management for skeleton-muscular diseases is also an option. However, there are no large long-term studies to analyze the benefits (Armand 8). There are significant concerns for public health, which may present risks amongst youth, causing a variety of physical and mental illnesses. Primarily recreational use will encourage addiction to the substance, raising the morbidity of potential health issues as a consequence of marijuana.
The social consequences of marijuana are highly debatable because they are difficult to predict on a large scale until implementation. Since marijuana is illegal, it is sold through illicit drug trades on the black market, resulting in large-scale criminal activity, which is profiting from the mass demand. This results in a poorly controlled product that is reaching consumers. Furthermore, a criminal activity often results in associated consequences such as gang-related violence, harassment, and unsafe environments. A significant amount of resources is directed towards dealing with criminal activity as well as prosecuting regular citizens in possession of small amounts of the drug.
It is argued that legalization will free up a lot of law enforcement resources and allow the black marijuana markets to dissolve naturally due to competition from legal sources that most people would prefer. However, opponents argue that the criminal organizations relieved from law enforcement pressures will engage in more violence and begin to push more hard drugs into the population. Since marijuana is considered a potential gateway drug, it could result in a massive epidemic amongst youth. Furthermore, there is a belief that an increased intake of the drug amongst the population will result in decreased productivity, accidents, and injuries (Hajizadeh 454).
A major economic appeal of legalizing marijuana is increased revenue from taxes. Advocates argue for a potential $8.7 billion in government income from taxation, licensing, and other industry revenue. Marijuana is most likely to be placed under an excise tax in jurisdictions which offers more revenue based on a percentage to the government. Furthermore, the costs associated with law enforcement and prosecution of minor marijuana trade will be eliminated. However, it is difficult to estimate the potentially high costs of implementing regulation and legislation regarding legalization (Evans 2). Additional socio-economic costs arise in developing public health programs and enforcing sale or age restrictions.
Historical and Current Legal Circumstances
Marijuana became universally illegal since the 1960’s. However, the drug became a part of specific culture youth groups, creating a more relaxed attitude about enforcement of the law since the 1970’s. In the 21st century, the general public attitude towards marijuana became more open, leading to campaigns for its legalization. In 2012, the states of Colorado and Washington passed legislation to allow medical and recreational use. In later years, several more states followed (Caulkins et al. 3). The response from the federal government has been mixed but respecting the decisions by the states to a certain extent.
Mass media often oversimplifies the debate about the legalization process. While some politicians may hold strictly ideological positions, most understand the overwhelming support for legalization and the examples of success in individual states. However, the complex process includes careful analysis to determine aspects of the supply chain, pricing, and taxation in order to ensure proper regulation of both public safety and financial matters when working with a potentially dangerous product. Products such as alcohol or tobacco are compared to marijuana regarding legalization. However, marijuana has significantly greater public health risks and requires strict regulation. Many lawmakers are concerned that similar to alcohol and tobacco, the marijuana industry will grow exponentially and be able to influence or lobby jurisdictions against the strict regulations and taxation required for the product (Caulkins et al. 9). The capitalism behind politically challenging issues is often consequential for many lives, making it critical to organize strict governance of the industry.
In the process of marijuana legalization, lawmakers should consider the public health effects of the drug. Mostly because marijuana, for the large part, is used recreationally by younger populations. While tremendous sales that would result in national legalization would bring significant tax revenue, the long-term public safety effects are not yet known on a large-scale. The regulatory and legislative policy implemented at the point of legalization would serve as a basis for further control and judiciary review (which undoubtedly will be challenged) of the process (Kilmer 259).
The most significant concern about the legalization of marijuana is its public health effects, especially in the youth population. Most likely, targeted research should be conducted with government support before any sweeping legislation will be passed at the federal level. However, in the current political environment, more state jurisdictions will inevitably be adopting the relaxation of current measures. Any further policy changes should be conducted in cooperation with public health resources and progressive movements to establish appropriate administrative resources for the regulation of the entire process from production to sales. At the same time, legislation and policymakers should be versatile in order to adopt amendments as more experience is gained with large-scale legalization.
It is evident that the legalization of marijuana is a complex, politicized process that has to consider the risks of the public in comparison to socio-economic benefits and overwhelming public opinion. Marijuana should be legalized under strict regulation so that the process occurs with government oversight and drive away sales of the product from underground markets. The legalization of marijuana should occur after carefully analyzed research and in cooperation with various public health and regulatory agencies to control for any population risks and take measures against abuse.
Armand, Wynne. “Marijuana: Health Effects of Recreational and Medical Use.” Harvard Medical School. Web.
Caulkins, Jonathan, et al. “Options and Issues Regarding Marijuana Legalization.” Rand Corporation. 2015, Web.
Evans, David. “The Economic Impacts of Marijuana Legalization.” The Journal of Global Drug Policy and Practice, vol. 7, no. 4, 2013, pp. 1-39, Web.
Hajizadeh, Mohammad. “Legalizing and Regulating Marijuana in Canada: Review of Potential Economic, Social, and Health Impacts.” International Journal of Health Policy and Management, vol. 5, no. 8, 2016, pp. 453-456, Web.
Kilmer, Beau. “Policy Designs for Cannabis Legalization: Starting With the Eight Ps.” The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, vol. 40, no. 4, 2014, pp. 259-261, Web.
Volkow, Nora D, et al. “Adverse Health Effects of Marijuana Use.” New England Journal of Medicine, vol. 371, no. 9, 2014, pp. 2219–2227. Web.