Column: Potential benefits reveal the blunt truth of marijuana legalization

Column: Potential benefits reveal the blunt truth of marijuana legalization

As Coloradans line up outside of shops selling recreational marijuana, debates regarding its legalization throughout the nation swirl. And while it’s too early still to look to Washington or Colorado as indication to what legalization could bring (both good and bad), it’s important to consider the facts regardless. Too often does the debate stall at the first mention of marijuana being a drug, prompting many to react with, “Well, of course it should be illegal! Drugs are bad.” However, there are plenty of drugs used both recreationally and medicinally that show that drug usage is not, categorically, wrong (see Advil, coffee, alcohol, etc.) Instead, this debate should involve the benefits of marijuana legalization, including economics, crime retention, and prison alleviation, versus the harms, which ultimately boil down to health concerns.

Economically, legalization of marijuana could not be a better decision, as it would positively impact our economy in unprecedented ways. According to a leading Harvard economist, the legalization of marijuana could add up to $20 billion in increased revenue for the United States, contributing to a deficit that is slowly burning an inescapable hole into the coffers of the U.S. Treasury. Additionally, this number does not take into account the loss of spending in other areas that would come as a direct result of legalization. By legalizing marijuana, drug trade by cartels would diminish, as the black market would have less value and would focus on less widely used drugs. The results of this would be twofold: first, drug cartels would lose influence and power as their revenues decline, making it easier for agencies such as the DEA to find and eliminate them. Second, the current budget of the DEA and other drug-fighting agencies could be reduced even as their efforts become more streamlined. By avoiding going after criminal marijuana cases, money given to federal agencies could now be spent investigating issues of hard drug usage, delving into a deeper crime ring while using money more effectively.

Additionally, legalization would release money currently tied up in the prison system. Approximately one out of every six federal inmates is incarcerated for marijuana related charges. That means that, of the $74 billion spent on American prisons, these inmates use up $12 billion. This is an easy $12 billion that could be going to education reform, technological innovation, fiscal security, or a plethora of various important areas that currently don’t receive nearly enough funding. Furthermore, it would open up cell space in our prisons for criminals that truly deserve to be there; it does not make sense to incarcerate a non-violent marijuana charge with a multi-murderer, nor does it seem worthwhile for this money to get spent on those that don’t need it, especially as possession of marijuana is largely considered only a petty misdemeanor.

The other side of the argument rests in health, but many studies have shown that mild marijuana use can actually lead to increased health (in some studies, it has been shown to help cure or alleviate symptoms of cancer, HIV/AIDS, and other debilitating diseases). Additionally, with legalization the federal government would be able to regulate usage, preventing cases of overuse that often lead to the “stoner” stereotype perpetuated by opponents of legalization. Because of this, the benefits seem to outweigh any potential harms, giving weight to those in favor of legalizing cannabis. It remains to be seen in (through Washington and Colorado), however, if these theoretical arguments will come to fruition.