As the modern Shakespeare contemplates life in a poetic manner, he thinks to himself, “To legalize, or not to legalize, that is the question.” A cloud of thought leaves the modern bard’s head. Yet there is one problem. This is not the thought of just one poet. This is the thought of the legislatures in many states today. As the various legislatures debate the positives and negatives of legalizing marijuana, a few key issues present themselves. The obvious and most prominent issues include how legalizing marijuana would affect the economy, the morals of people, and the potential crime.
One of the most commonly asked question about the legalization of marijuana is “how would its legalization affect our economy?” There are both pros and cons to each side of the legalization debate. Both sides of the argument make valid points.
Deborah White, an independent political analyst, claims that legalizing marijuana would provide a positive boost to the economy. She believes this is true because “marijuana is one of America’s top-selling agricultural products,” and she says “economists expect marijuana sales in California alone to bring in 14 billion dollars of revenue.” According to an independent study of an Honors English class of seniors at Woodland Park High School in Colorado, 19 out of 26 students (73%) said that they believed it would positively affect the economy, though 15% of the class is not sure and 11% are impartial.
The idea of tax revenue harvested from marijuana is flawed according to Bob Stutman of the Stutman Group. Stutman, a former Drug Enforcement Administration agent, compares marijuana revenue to alcohol revenue. Studies have shown that there are 170 million users of alcohol in the U.S, and there are 16 million users of Marijuana, creating a 10 to 1 ratio (mostly due to the fact that one is legal and the other is not). He says 8 billion dollars a year are earned by the tax on alcohol, yet 72 billion dollars a year are spent by the government due to alcohol-related problems.
“How can we ignore the math?” asks Stutman. He says legalization of marijuana is an irrational business model. Other economists, as well as Stutman, believe legalization of marijuana will cause a “false economy.” Although the potential monetary gain is a huge part of the decision, so is the morality and rights of the public.
But this is America, right? Is it still the land of the free? Deborah White, argues that “prohibition of marijuana is an unwarranted government intrusion into individual freedom of choice.” Marijuana is prohibited by the government much like alcohol once was, and due to the infringement of the rights of the citizens, was repealed. Many politicians foresee that the prohibition of marijuana will also be “repealed,” because citizens see marijuana as no more lethal or harmful than alcohol. In fact, many people want to see legalization of marijuana for medical reasons, if not recreational reasons. There are, however, two sides to any argument, and some believe that legalization is morally wrong and should not be considered a freedom.
In a survey of Honors English students, 50% of respondents believed that there is no moral problem with the “drug,” saying “marijuana is just as acceptable, and no worse than alcohol.” Other students feel that using marijuana is not acceptable. Responses included “It’s just another reason to make more laws, and we don’t need that,” and “I don’t want there to be people driving on the road when they are under the influence of anything—alcohol or marijuana.”
Although this is just one class, at one high school, in one state of the United States, this roughly equal division in one group of students reflects how the public, in general, feels about the drug. With half of the country against it morally, there will be a much more difficult time legalizing marijuana. People form their opinions of this drug due to negative media about marijuana and its relation to crime.
Marijuana is closely related to crime, mostly because it is illegal in much of the country. Alcohol, too, was related to crime during the prohibition era. And now alcohol is widely accepted as moral (or at least tolerable by the public), rather than immoral. “National statistics show 872,000 arrests last year related to marijuana: 775,000 of them for possession, not sale or manufacturing,” states a pro-marijuana article in a 2009 edition of the San Francisco Chronicle. Although this statistic may seem shocking, it may or may not be a good idea to legalize marijuana just to stimulate the economy.
On one side of the business aspect, legalizing marijuana may bring in millions of dollars in tax revenue for the states that legalize it, and it will also put illegal dealers out of business. With less crime due to the legalization of marijuana, the government will make money. This will happen, because there will be fewer people in the prison systems, and less marijuana-related problems.
Danny Guttridge claims that “the federal government is wasting money by keeping the drug at a Schedule 1 level and prosecuting those caught with it.” Although there are great advantages in dropping crime rates by legalizing marijuana, there are also disadvantages.
Sadly, this debate over legalization will not end easily, because for every positive aspect, there is a negative aspect. Although Guttridge claimed in his article “Legalizing Marijuana: Impacts on Prison Systems and the Economy” that the government will save a lot of money by not prosecuting marijuana users, he also states that “it will be very difficult for the prisons to reach their prisoner quota.” Apparently, there is big money in the corrections corporations of America.
Big money, morality, and crime rate: These are the issues that legislatures must consider when deciding to legalize or not to legalize marijuana in their states. Even here in Teller County, Colorado, a cross-section of the trail-blazing state that passed Amendment 64 in the November 2013 election (along with Washington), the vote is split. Teller County Commissioners voted May 9 to ban pot shops in this county by a 2:1 vote, even though Colorado voters passed the Amendment to legalize the use of marijuana. The arguments will continue to be relevant. With both sides of the argument presented, opinions need to be formed, so when the vote is open in each state, the people can choose what they want.
When this argument is finally resolved, the issue will go up in smoke. The subject will be wrapped, packed, rolled, and lit. The modern bards will again be inspired.