Legalizing cannabis in all fifty states is quite a hot topic at the moment. Using marijuana for medical and recreational purposes is becoming more and more accepted and popular among American citizens. However, currently it is still illegal for medicinal purposes in 17 states and illegal for recreational purposes in 39 states. That needs to change. If the United States were to legalize medicinal and recreational marijuana, the country and its people would see many positive benefits.
First and foremost, let’s talk about the economy. The cannabis industry would offer many job opportunities. People would be needed to grow, trim, process, and sell the product. While all that is happening there would also be people needed to regulate the business and make sure rules are being followed and standards are being met. Legalizing cannabis would also mean that less money would be spent on taking people to court and incarcerating those people for charges like possession. Also, since it would be a legal business, it could be taxed and that extra money could go towards things like public education, more affordable healthcare, or whatever the government spends our taxes on. In 2015 Colorado collected over $135 million from taxes placed on cannabis sales. According to cannabis data collecting company, New Frontier, it is estimated that the United States could make $106 billion in taxes by 2025, just five years from now, if the government were to legalize marijuana. To make a little bit of a comparison, the government has only made about $49 billion from alcohol taxes in the last five years, which leads me to my next point.
Using marijuana for recreational purposes has proven much safer than alcohol. According to the Center for Disease Control, 25,000 people died from drinking too much alcohol in 2013. Approximately 88,000 people die every year from alcohol related causes whether it be liver failure, overdosing, or a car accident from driving under the influence. Currently there are no confirmed reports of a person dying from ingesting THC. It is impossible to overdose on marijuana. It has been said that in order to overdose on THC, a person would have to consume their entire body weight in marijuana, which would take too much time to work anyway. Despite the number of fatalities caused by alcohol consumption and the lack of fatalities caused by cannabis consumption, alcohol is a common and completely legal recreational drug while cannabis is not.
Marijuana also has medicinal benefits. As of now it is only FDA approved to treat a couple types of rare but severe epilepsy, but states where it is legal it is being used to treat many other diseases and ailments. The list for things that it could potentially treat goes on and on. Right now it is being used in treatments for Alzheimer’s, lack of appetite, cancer, Crohn’s disease, glaucoma, PTSD, multiple sclerosis, nausea, and chronic pain, to name a few. While there is no hard evidence currently, studies have shown that cannabis may reduce anxiety, kill types of cancer cells or slow tumor growth, reduce nausea in patients undergoing chemotherapy, and help people with cancer and AIDS get their appetite back. Marijuana, in some circumstances, could be better than most medicines prescribed today. There is less abuse potential with marijuana than there is with opioids. In states where medicinal marijuana is legal and being prescribed in place of opioids, there are about 21% less overdoses on opioid drugs. Cannabis is also not as addictive as many other prescription drugs. While cannabis may be slightly psychologically addictive, it has not been proven to be physically addictive and people who stop using it are not experiencing painful withdrawal symptoms. Marijuana could prove to be a very effective medication with a low risk of abuse and a high potential to treat patients with the conditions previously mentioned.
If there comes a day when marijuana is legal throughout the states it will obviously need to be regulated. Since it is has not been completely legalized in most of the states, it cannot be regulated. Right now, in illegal states, there is nothing stopping a child from buying marijuana. If marijuana were to be legalized, the government could place restrictions on who can and cannot buy it. It could be like alcohol; only sold to those 21 and older. Also, without regulation there is no ensuring that the product is safe. Growers and processors would have standards that their plants have to meet before it could be sold if marijuana were to be legalized. This would mean that there wouldn’t be any plants being sold with mold or fungus and the plants would be safe for consumption. Customers would also be able to know more about this product that they are putting into their bodies. They can be provided with knowledge about where the plant was grown, what strain the plant is, and what dosage it is. Legalizing and regulating marijuana would make consuming marijuana much safer.
So with all of that being said, what are the caveats? Many people have expressed concerns about driving under the influence. Marijuana does slow one’s reaction time. Another concern is that legalizing weed would not entirely get rid of the black market for marijuana. People could still grow cannabis and sell it for a lower price or sell it to minors. There are also negative health effects to worry about. Cannabis when smoked can be harsh on the lungs, it can cause bronchitis, it is an immunosuppressant, and in high doses it can even cause psychosis or paranoia. Along with psychosis cannabis may have other negative effects on the brain. There is a possible increased risk of depression and anxiety and it can affect brain development in adolescents. How can we combat these issues and concerns? DUIs are already a concern but with excess alcohol consumption, but there are laws about drinking and driving. There would likely be laws put into place about consuming THC and driving. If people are caught illegally distributing marijuana, they will have consequences. People go to jail now for illegal sales of marijuana. That won’t change. The risk of negative health effects is a bit trickier. There is not much that can be done about that, but similar to other drugs like alcohol and nicotine, it will have side effects. Also like drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes, people can learn about what the side effects are and use at their own discretion. There can be warning labels printed on the product’s packaging like with other drugs. I would also like to add that many of these negative side effects, like the positive effects, only have a small amount of evidence to be backed up with.
While we only have a limited amount of knowledge about cannabis, we do know that it has been helpful to the economies of the states that it is legal in, we know that overconsumption is not a risk, we know that it has a low abuse potential, and we know that many people are having positive experiences while using it as a treatment. If the United States government would legalize cannabis we could learn more about it and utilize it for the positive benefits we already know it possesses. Here’s to a greener future.