Federally Decriminalizing Marijuana

It’s been referred to as a Gateway Drug. It has many names. Cops and teachers and parents and mentors cry about its harmful effects. It is Marijuana and it isn’t that bad. It needs to be decriminalized on a federal level.

There are some states that have passed progressive measures–Oregon, California, Massachusetts, Alaska, among others. In some of these looser-lawed states, it is possible to get a prescription for medical marijuana and buy cannabis-based products at ‘supply’ stores. This has paved the way for advances in pain-treatment for people suffering from terminal illnesses, mental illnesses, and injuries sustained while in the military. The problem, however is that the federal government technically does not recognize these laws in the states. As such what can happen (and indeed, what has happened) is that some of these stores–which are charted with business licenses and granted all business ownership privileges–are being raided by DEA agents.

These are the facts: the federal government expends an enormous amount of manpower and money on enforcing marijuana laws and incarcerating marijuana offenders–7.6 billion per year according to a 2005 study. Prisons are desperately overcrowded in most states. Overcrowded prisons leads to more federal funding for new construction. Also, Correction Officer enrollment is down. Overtime expenditures for these workers is at an all time high. The federal deficit is growing, our economy is on its knees, and we continue to prosecute non-violent offenders. Need I continue?

Decriminalizing Marijuana

These are the arguments against decriminalization: Prison worker unions are obviously against cutting OT wages; these members have grown accustomed to the extra juice each week. Some legislators believe that decriminalization sends the wrong message: drugs are OK. Some parents and educators are worried about an epidemic in schools, and a subsequent drop off in testing and decrease in college admissions.

The real issue here is to think about the effects of marijuana usage. Sure–like any substance that alters behavior–there are people who abuse it. For the most part, marijuana is a substance that leads to peaceful activities. It slows down brain functioning slightly, makes one drowsy, and often stimulates creative thinking. And, with the breakthroughs in medical marijuana it can be used to ease suffering.

Hardly the same can be said for legal drugs: alcohol leads to destructive behavior, antidepressants have damaging side effects, and cigarettes kill 440,000 humans a year. While marijuana does have negative consequences–decreased motor skills, 3 times the tar of cigarettes–the statistics are not as damning as those concerning these other substances.

Ideally, marijuana should be legalized. It would be a smart move for the US government. There could be taxes levied etc., and billions of wasted tax dollars could be put to better use. But, with our militaristic culture and our ‘War on Drugs,’ I know this is unrealistic.

The American public is not ready. Instead, there needs to be initiatives and legislation on the federal level which scale back policing, prosecution, and incarceration of non-violent marijuana offenders. While the state governments have led the way, the federal government must recognize this trend, and support not only the state’s right, but also the decriminalization of marijuana.

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