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Should Marijuana be legalized?
Posted at: Sep/22/2010 : Posted by: mel
Related Category: Society,
What good is a debate if you don’t pick a subject that heats up the audience? The debate over Marijuana and its potential legalization has been going on for a long time. Nothing that gets said here is likely to change public perceptions, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have the discussion. Contrary to the beliefs of those who advocate the legalization of marijuana, my research of crime statistics indicates that the current balanced, restrictive, and bipartisan drug policies of the United States are working reasonably well and they have contributed to reductions in the rate of marijuana use in our nation over the last 25 years.
In my youth I served in the U.S. Army in the late 1970’s. I was never a soldier who pushed the behavior boundaries significantly while in uniform. I can still recall being before a promotion review board when I was asked my feeling about marijuana use in the military. Feeling rather full of myself at the time I chose to be honest as opposed to politically correct. I explained that while I am not a user, nor did I have any interest in being a user, I also disagreed with the military’s ban on marijuana use. This of course created a great sucking sound in the room. After the whispers died, I was asked to explain my reasons. Living in the barracks I found that when others started to drink to the point of drunkenness, these same people often became, rude, obnoxious, and occasionally even violent. There is also the mess associated with many of these same people becoming violently ill as well. The few times I had seen anyone stoned, they tended to become very docile. I can even remember one private who once he became stoned, spent hours counting, and recounting his toes. While the behavior is ridiculous, it is also not obnoxious to others. Despite my insights, I did get the promotion.
On the side of legalization there are some good points. A significant amount of money is currently being spent on law enforcement and this number would obviously go down. Much like alcohol it would become a source for tax revenue. I like the notion of reducing a government expense and increasing government revenue. Obviously, those growing or distributing outside the law would need to be pursued, captured and prosecuted much like chasing down illegal spirits and moon shiners. In a similar manner, operating equipment or vehicles while under the influence of anything that would impair judgment or reactions times would still need to be prosecuted to ensure public safety.
I guess that in these trying times we could even look at this as a job creation opportunity. Much like ending the prohibition of alcohol, there would be a significant reduction in the crime and violent activity currently associated with marijuana distribution and sales as well. Most marijuana arrests lead to prosecution and fines, but little or no jail time. There would also therefore be a significant reduction on our over burdened court system for offenses that seldom warrant incarceration.
Is there a value to having marijuana legally available? I think the answer here would also be a yes. There are plenty of medical studies showing that marijuana can be used to manage pain. Most doctors have 10-12 years of post high school education; with that knowledge base I realistically find it very difficult to question their recommendations.
One of the arguments against legalizing marijuana is the gambling precedent. This is the model pointing to the fact that where gambling is legal, there are still illegal forms of gambling present and the criminal organizations to back them up. If this metaphor is valid, than even if marijuana were legalized, more potent forms would be available through an underground market and related criminal activity would persist. Taking this model one step further, the only way to eliminate its illegal trade would be to sell marijuana untaxed and unregulated to any willing buyer.
Proponents of legalizing and taxing marijuana often point to the cost benefit based on the taxes that would be raised. A little research seems to prove this argument misleading if not absolutely wrong when looking at alcohol and tobacco as examples. In 2008 Alcohol-related costs (car accidents, public health insurance, long term health issues, courts, etc) totaled over $185 billion while federal and states taxes collected were estimated $14.5 billion. In a similar way public costs associated with tobacco use exceeded $200 billion but was only offset by $25 billion in collected taxes. These figures indicate a losing ratio of anywhere from 8:1 to 12:1. Obviously, taxing these products has been a disastrous tradeoff.
One of the collateral costs of legalizing marijuana would be with children. We already have ample studies to show that alcohol abuse by minors is higher in households with readily available liquor, it is reasonable to presume the same behavior would also exist if marijuana were to become more accessible. Imagine the image embossed in children’s minds if they see their parents on a regular basis having a before dinner joint, much like far too many who have a drink. This is not good with alcohol and it surely wouldn’t be any better of an example with marijuana.
Earlier I mentioned my concerns about being able to operate equipment or vehicles without impairment of reflexes or judgment. The was a recent study published showing that in Washington State, 12.7 percent of all auto accidents involving a fatality included a driver who tested positive for marijuana. I have my doubts that this number would go anywhere but up if marijuana was legalized.
One of the concerns I recently heard was that arrests for marijuana possession disproportionately affect blacks and Hispanics and this reinforces the perception that law enforcement is biased against minorities. African-Americans represent approximately 13% of the population of the United States and about 13.5% of annual marijuana users, however, blacks account for 26% of all marijuana arrests. Recent studies have also shown that blacks and Hispanics account for the majority of marijuana possession arrests in New York City, primarily for smoking marijuana in public view. How’s that for an interesting set of statistics? The proponents of legalization argue that law enforcement has failed to demonstrate that marijuana laws can be enforced fairly without regard to race and should there be disregarded or abolished. Obviously, current drug laws are not written with a racial bias, so if the arrests are racially disproportionally bias, than the data is implying other society based pressures are at work. I would be very concerned if police prior to making an arrest confirmed whether the current suspect falls within the monthly racial quotas.
Another argument for legalizing marijuana is that “it is not a lethal drug and is safer than alcohol.” Personally, this is almost an argument of desperation in my view. Being no more lethal than alcohol is like being as safe as a chainsaw. Anything that impairs judgment or reflexes needs to be considered at least dangerous, if not lethal. An artificial sense of well being is very often more than merely recreational, and quite often very habit forming. I know, who doesn’t want to feel good, but if you get there artificially you are separating your reality from everyone else’s. Life comes with challenges and escaping them through drug or alcohol use is ultimately creating a pattern for not dealing with life in general. Anyone who doesn’t enjoy feeling good should be feared. So for obvious reasons feeling good can be addictive. Whether alcohol or marijuana, for many people, an artificial feeling of well being leads to a desire for more of that same sense of well being. This good feeling will for some become an escape from reality. As with any good escape, these same people will often seek an escalation of their alternate reality. Whether due to becoming accustom to their current level of marijuana or alcohol use, there is a need to make the escape into this separate reality deeper and deeper leading to the use of alternate or additional chemical. Simply speaking this is the addiction challenge. Alcohol is bad enough, legalizing another reality altering substance will not ultimately make life any easier, but may lead to other dependencies.
Reducing marijuana use and access is essential to improving our countries health, education, and productivity. All these factors require having a clear sense of focus and reality. Drive and ambition are critical to accomplishing all of these and you can’t get there with an artificial sense of well being. I think I have made up my mind. While I would enjoy seeing the reduced focus on criminal activity that is built around marijuana, legalizing it for anything other than medical distribution would be counterproductive for our society. I do agree that a limited amount of marijuana should be available as a prescription product dispensed by doctor signature only. Legalizing marijuana and giving it the same status as alcohol is the wrong direction. Let’s learn better ways to deal with the realities of life. Marijuana use does not solve life’s problems; it only makes them temporarily not matter.