As far as American social issues go, marijuana has frequently been seen as an antagonist, from the terror of drug cartels, to the health effects of the drug itself. Discussions about legalization of cannabis use, and moral justification resurface time and time again, prompting people to wonder: Would legalization solve these issues, or continue to hurt society? One reoccurring social issue in the U. S. is the rate at which jails and prisons are filling up. A large percentage of inmates have been convicted for possession of marijuana, but if the drug was made legal, fewer convicts would be using up tax dollars sitting in prison.
On the subject of taxes, if marijuana was legalized, the state could earn tax revenue from registered growers and distributors, which would boost the nation’s economy. Because of the necessary registrations and regulations that producers would have to go through, the drug itself would be safer to purchase, whereas weed from off the streets could easily be laced with impurities. Another safety issue is the drug cartels in Mexico.
With the legalization of cannabis, there would be no demand for weed grown outside of the U. S. , and the cartels would go out of business. Despite its conceivable advantages, not everyone believes that legalizing marijuana would benefit American society. Doctors argue that the long term health effects of weed on the lungs, heart and brain could be destructive to people’s overall well being. Second hand smoke is also a concern, especially for elderly folks, people with small children, or asthmatics. Regardless, it is almost certain that DUI cases would skyrocket because of the availability of the drug.
These kinds of issues easily call into question the morality of legalizing marijuana, leading me to wonder: Would it be morally justifiable to provide the public with legal access to a potentially harmful drug? Is it plausible that, like Prohibition in the 1920’s, the only solution to this controversial substance affair is nationwide legalization? Or would it be morally compromising for America to allow such an idea because of the overall negative effects? In order for me to form an educated opinion on this matter, I first had to draw on information from more proficient experts than myself.
One of the most pressing questions I had when researching this topic was how much harm does marijuana actually do? Morally, could the legalization of the drug be justified by saying that it is less harmful than the average nicotine cigarette, (which remains legal for ages 18 and up)? A group of researchers published the study titled, “Pulmonary Hazards of Smoking Marijuana as Compared with Tobacco” in The New England Journal, which answers this exact question. In this study, scientists took two groups of men and studied the “respiratory burden of carbon monoxide” on their lungs.
The researchers found that after smoking two equal amounts of marijuana and tobacco, the effects of the marijuana were significantly higher: The impact on the lungs from smoking three or four marijuana cigarettes was equal to smoking 20 nicotine cigarettes (WU, Tzu-Chin). I must admit that I expected the outcome of this research to favor marijuana, simply because in my experience I feel like society has put a greater emphasis on abstinence from tobacco use than weed; however, I was shocked at how drastic the differences in potency were between the two substances.
If marijuana is as harmful as this study shows, why is it slowly becoming more socially acceptable to smoke marijuana? Millions of dollars are spent trying to educate the public –especially youth—on the health hazards associated with nicotine. If marijuana is an even greater health hazard, where are the billboards and television commercials telling kids how harmful it is? Perhaps the answer lies in the research done by Joseph J. Palamar, PhD, MPH in “An Examination of Opinions Toward Marijuana Policies Among High School Seniors in the United States”“.
The overall outcome of Palamar’s research showed that one third of high school seniors think marijuana should be legal. Twenty-eight percent say that it should be a minor violation, and of that 28. 5%, 25. 6% agree that it should be a crime. 12. 9% of the surveyed students remained unsure. Regarding the purchasing of marijuana, almost half (48%) of students agree that only adults should be allowed to legally purchase the substance, should it be made legal. Of the remaining fifty-two percent, 29. % still think that no one should be allowed to purchase it, in contrast to the 10. 4% say that anyone should be allowed. A remaining 12. 4% were still undecided (“NYU Researcher Finds”). After breaking down these numbers, I sat back and attempted to process what this could mean for the future of marijuana legalization in our country. The research group in this study was high school seniors, who tend to be 17 to 18 years old. Seniors are either old enough or on the brink of voting age.
That means that the majority of future decisions regarding the legalization of the substance in question lies in their hands. After seeing the statistics on public opinion in this age group, it seems as though views might be tending toward legalization. At this point in my research, I went back to my hypothesis on crime rates and jails filling up. If opinions on weed are projected to favor legalization, what is in store for law enforcement in the coming years? Is there a correlation between marijuana usage, legalization, and overall crime rates?
To answer this question, I looked to “The Effect of Marijuana Laws on Crime: Evidence from State Panel Data, 1990-2006″“. Published in the Public Library of Science (aka PLOS), this article includes several different studies which analyze the relationships between crime rates and marijuana use. At first glance, there appears to be a positive correlation between these two subjects: The article explains how young miscreants who tested positive for marijuana use reported a significantly higher number of criminal offenses than those who didn’t.
Another study confirmed this correlation by showing that delinquents who used marijuana early on in their lives were at a higher risk for a criminal lifestyle- particularly domestic violence. However, not all studies depicted this kind of relationship. Contrary to popular belief, one study said that medical marijuana dispensaries might actually decrease property crime rates in the areas they are located. Whether this be because of security implementations or other unknown factors, the idea that legal dispensaries do not encourage property crimes could be useful information when talking about crime rates and marijuana.
Even though numerous studies have been done to try to decipher a relationship between crime and marijuana legalization, the article concludes that the results are too mixed to come to a final consensus. My take on this article was more inquisitive than anything else. After reading about the common affiliations between juvenile delinquents and marijuana use, it seems appropriate to conclude that the use of weed causes people to commit more crimes.
On the other hand, there seemed to be no correlation between property and violent crimes, and marijuana usage. Is there a different type of crime related to marijuana that shows a more positive correlation? What about the source of the illegal marijuana that is shipped into the United States? Mexican drug cartels are known for their power, manipulation, and violence. Is there a chance that legalization could have an effect on these terror groups, or is there a lack of correlation?
The Washington Post published an article by Christopher Ingraham titled “Legal marijuana is finally doing what the drug war couldn’t”, which assesses the effects that legalization is having on producers and exporters in Mexico and Central America. While I realize that the title sounds slightly biased, the article contains data from the border control and statements from Mexican growers on how the United States’ attempts to combat the drug cartels are affecting prices and exports. Per kilo, the price of marijuana has dropped from $60-90 in 2011 to $30-40 in 2014.
Also, the U. S. Border Patrol says that since 2009, less marijuana has been seized at the Mexican-American border. The speculation is that because of the legalization of medical marijuana in 28 states and recreational legalization in Washington and Colorado, there is less of a demand for weed that has been grown outside of the U. S. According to the DEA, “The quality of marijuana produced in Mexico and the Caribbean is thought to be inferior to the marijuana produced domestically in the United States or Canada” (citation). This means that people are more likely to buy American grown marijuana than its imported counterpart.
After reading about the numerous factors of legalization that help combat the drug cartels, I see the logic behind locally producing and selling it instead of allowing foreign imports. Locally produced marijuana is both cheaper and better quality than foreign marijuana, making it more appealing to the average American consumer, and giving it the potential to put drug cartels out of business. If American producers can get to the point where they are capable of fulfilling the demand put out by consumers for marijuana, it seems logical to conclude that this would be the most effective way of combatting the social issue surrounding drug cartels.
Since slow legalization has already shown to effectively hinder the success of the drug cartels, a continuation of this pattern eventually result in their extermination. After researching the health effects of marijuana, exploring student’s general views on the matter, and discovering the correlations between different types of crime and marijuana use, I feel that I finally have a more firm understanding on this matter, which almost seems too complex to resolve.
Perhaps legalization would allow more research to be done on the social, economic, and political affects that have proven difficult to analyze. Based on the generalized opinions from upcoming voters, it appears that the slow process of legalization shall continue on its course no matter what. If this means that weed will be safer to purchase, more controlled, and more regulated, I feel like it is possible that America could benefit from such a decision.