I’ve never stolen anything or “accidentally” walked out of a store with something. I’ve never written formulas on my water bottle wrapper before a math exam because I don’t cheat (and I don’t use plastic water bottles!). I’ve never been under the influence behind the wheel, physically hurt anyone intentionally, nor received any kind of ticket from the police. Yet the government counts me as a criminal, and same with 41 percent of the U.S. population solely because we have smoked marijuana.
Since tobacco and alcohol are legal, I think it’s reasonable for marijuana to be legally sold and consumed. Seventy-five percent of the 320 St. Thomas students I surveyed agreed with me, as well as Washington and Colorado—two states where the majority of citizens voted in favor of legalizing marijuana Tuesday.
After weeding through my arguments, I created a list of four solid reasons (we all know how I feel about generic numbers) why the plant is fair game for legalization.
Random tidbit: Assuming you didn’t skim through my column, it’s been about 40 seconds, and someone has just been handcuffed (every 42 seconds, a person is arrested for marijuana possession). More arrests equals spending more money that we don’t have.
There are more harmful drugs that are legal.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports more than 37,000 fatalities occur each year due to alcohol, not including accidental deaths. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has found that 25 to 30 percent of violent crimes in the U.S. are linked to excessive alcohol use. According to the U.S. Deptartment of Justice, that translates to about 5 million annual alcohol-related violent crimes.
Tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death, with 443,000 deaths annually. Cigarette smokers live an average of 13 to 14 years less than nonsmokers, and are likely to develop cancer, heart disease, stroke and lung diseases (including emphysema, bronchitis, and chronic airway obstruction). Nicotine (found in tobacco) is also the most addictive drug, followed by heroin, cocaine and alcohol.
Marijuana didn’t make it too “high” on that list, let alone even mentioned. On top of that, in the 10,000 years of recorded cannabis use, there hasn’t been a single death. The government doesn’t even keep track of violent acts related to marijuana use since marijuana is not associated with any form of violence.
Marijuana’s a money maker.
Before I dive into how lucrative this plant is, people need to realize how much we’re spending on keeping the drug illegal. Current marijuana laws cost taxpayers billions of dollars a year. They end up having to pay for every individual that is sent to prison for possession. Reports have found that marijuana’s prohibition costs more than $7 billion annually. (That’s nearly three times as much as Oprah’s net worth!)
On the flip side, if marijuana were taxed similarly to alcohol or tobacco it could generate as much as $6.2 billion annually, and you don’t need me to list all the productive avenues that money could take. Colorado, the first state that has legalized recreational marijuana use as of Tuesday, could generate anywhere between $5 million and $22 million a year in the state through marijuana taxing. According to Huffington Post, Colorado could experience a $60 million boost by 2017.
Pot is not the “gateway” drug.
Based on my survey responses, 18 percent of participants see marijuana as a gateway drug. Essentially, people who think this believe that once you try pot, you’re much more likely to turn to harder drugs such as cocaine and heroin. The sad truth is that yes, once you try marijuana, there is a higher chance that you’ll experiment with other illegal drugs compared to those who have not tried the drug. However, marijuana is not to blame. Studies have shown tobacco to be the source of the problem. Shenghan Lai, associate research professor of Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, found that “those who smoked cigarettes before the age of 15 were up to 80 times more likely to use illegal drugs than those who did not.”
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) have also found that smoking cigarettes can engender hard drug use. NIH cited that more than 90 percent of adult cocaine users between ages 18 and 34 had smoked cigarettes before they began using cocaine. Part of the reason for this correlation is because researchers have found that nicotine, the addictive ingredient in tobacco, makes the brain more susceptible to cocaine addiction.
Medicinal marijuana is valuable.
If the above three reasons aren’t enough, the fact that marijuana can serve a medical purpose should put an end to all doubt. The active ingredient in marijuana, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, can significantly ameliorate side effects associated with Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, glaucoma, arthritis, depression, anxiety, hepatitis C, morning sickness, and the list goes on.
Most medical marijuana opponents argue other drugs can aid in these disorders, but many patients do not respond well to certain medications. Many pharmaceutical drugs cause adverse side effects that are unbearable to endure. Using medical marijuana could prove to be beneficial in alleviating patient’s symptoms. Marijuana is also much cheaper than most medications.
Say what you will about my blunt decision to openly announce that I’ve had greenery in the scenery, but I believe that with the appropriate advocacy, I and millions of other Americans will no longer be labeled criminals. Don’t let Milton Friedman down!
Geena Maharaj can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.