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Pros & Cons of Legalizing Marijuana

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Pros & Cons of Legalizing Marijuana

Photo: John Moore/Getty Images

Pros

(See page one of this article for current developments and milestones in U.S. marijuana history.)

Primary reasons in support of legalizing marijuana are:

    Social Reasons
  • Prohibition of marijuana is unwarranted government intrusion into individual freedom of choice.
  • Marijuana is no more harmful to a person's health than alcohol or tobacco, which are both legal and widely used, and regulated by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration.
  • Marijuana has proven medical benefits for cancer, AIDS, glaucoma and other patients.
  • Crime and violence, both within the U.S. and at the U.S.-Mexico border, are greatly increased due to illegal selling and buying of marijuana. Legalization would logically end the need for such criminal behavior.
    Law Enforcement Reasons
  • "National statistics show 872,000 arrests last year related to marijuana, 775,000 of them for possession, not sale or manufacturing - sparking some critics to suggest that the resources of the criminal justice system, including the crowded state prisons and courts, might be better used elsewhere," per the San Francisco Chronicle in 2009.
  • Drug busts of youth for marijuana offenses often carry harsh penalties that can cause undue social harm with lifelong consequences.
    Fiscal Reasons
  • Marijuana is one of America's top-selling agricultural products. One California politician estimates that marijuana sales in his state top $14 billion annually.

    New tax revenues from legalized marijuana sales could exceed $1 billion just for California. This rich new source of tax revenues nationwide would help lift the U.S. economy out of its worst recession in decades.

  • "... mainstream pundits like Fox News' Glenn Beck and CNN's Jack Cafferty have publicly questioned the billions spent each year fighting the endless war against drugs," per the San Francisco Chronicle in 2009.

    If marijuana was legalized and regulated, an estimated $8 billion would be saved annually in government spending on enforcement, including for the FBI and U.S.-Mexico border security.

Cons

Primary reasons against legalizing marijuana are:
    Social Reasons
  • Some Americans believe that marijuana ingestion is immoral, and that their moral standards should be required of all Americans.
  • Long-term or abusive use of marijuana can be harmful to a person's health and well-being.
  • Second-hand smoke from marijuana can be harmful to others.
  • Many allege that regular marijuana use can lead to use of harder, more harmful drugs such as heroin and cocaine.
    Law Enforcement Reasons
  • Some opponents of legalizing marijuana believe that individuals involved in illegal buying and selling of the drug are more likely than average to be involved in other crimes, and that society is safer with marijuana offenders incarcerated.
  • Law enforcement agencies don't want to be construed as supporting drug use.
There are no signficant fiscal reasons against U.S. legalization of marijuana.

Where It Stands

On June 23, 2011, a federal bill to fully legalize marijuana was introduced in the House by Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) and Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA.) The bill would remove marijuana from controlled substance classification.

Commented Congressman Frank to the Christian Science Monitor, "Criminally prosecuting adults for making the choice to smoke marijuana is a waste of law enforcement resources and an intrusion on personal freedom. I do not advocate urging people to smoke marijuana, neither do I urge them to drink alcoholic beverages or smoke tobacco, but in none of these cases do I think prohibition enforced by criminal sanctions is good public policy."

In November 2010, Californians will vote via state referendum whether or not "Californians over age 21 would be able to possess up to one ounce of marijuana, and grow their own plants on a plot up to 5 feet by 5 feet large."

Additionally, Washington, New Hampshire and Massachusetts state legislatures are slated to vote on marijuana legalization bills in 2010. And more than 20 other states are considering bills to otherwise loosen criminalization of marijuana use and possession.

Will President Obama Move to Legalize Medical Marijuana?

Esquire magazine reported in December 2008, after Obama's election but before his inauguration, "Turns out, with several drug-war veterans close to the president-elect's ear, insiders think reform could come in Obama's second term -- or sooner."

Certainly, Obama may move to decriminalize marijuana for medical reasons. The San Francisco Chronicle reported in February 2009: "During one campaign appearance, Obama recalled that his mother had died of cancer and said he saw no difference between doctor-prescribed morphine and marijuana as pain relievers. He told an interviewer in March that it was 'entirely appropriate' for a state to legalize the medical use of marijuana 'with the same controls as other drugs prescribed by doctors.'"

States Could Be Given Jurisdiction Over Marijuana

If President Obama does move to support decriminalization of marijuana, look for him to do so by granting states the jurisdiction to decide this issue, just as states decide marriage laws for their residents.

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