COLUMN: Legalizing marijuana in U.S. has potential for positive effects
AT A GLANCE
• Dependence: How difficult it is for the user to quit, the relapse rate, the percentage of people who eventually become dependent, the rating users give their own need for the substance and the degree to which the substance will be used in the face of evidence that it causes harm.
• Withdrawal: Presence and severity of characteristic withdrawal symptoms.
• Tolerance: How much of the substance is needed to satisfy increasing cravings for it, and the level of stable need that eventually is reached.
• Reinforcement: A measure of the substance’s ability to get users to take it again and again, and in preference to other substances.
• Intoxication: Associated with addiction and increases the personal and social damage a substance may do.
At a time when legalizing marijuana becomes more and more a possible evolution of the current law — the Marijuana Legalization Initiative that was discussed in California and only failed to pass by a small percentage being a good example — it is crucial to discuss what marijuana is and what its real dangers are.
Marijuana is a drug, and as any other drug, it needs to be considered with seriousness.
Thus, I will use science and facts to lead us throughout this column.
1. Marijuana is less harmful than other legal drugs
While the chart seems to speak for itself, it still is important to remember how problematic alcohol is on OU’s campus.
Marijuana could be seen as a good alternative to alcohol for a student looking to release some of the pressure he faces every day at school.
Even long-term use of marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 24,518 “alcohol-induced deaths” (excluding accidents and homicides) in 2009. For marijuana, the number of “marijuana-induced deaths” is zero.
One the reasons is that it virtually is impossible for you to die from a marijuana overdose.
It would require you to consume around 40,000 times the amount needed to be intoxicated for you to die from it. For alcohol, it is only five to 10 times.
Marijuana also poses less of a danger to others than alcohol. Have you ever heard of a rape, a fight or a murder done by someone high on marijuana? No? Well, there might be a reason for that. Marijuana is famous for its relaxing properties; the only reason why it may create violence is that it is illegal, which encourages organized crime.
The argument is not that alcohol explains or should be an excuse in any way for these crimes, only that they are more correlated.
2. It wouldn’t necessarily increase consumption
Something forbidden often is even more attractive than if it were legal.
As the graph shows, the link between soft drug consumption and its legality is unclear. Although it is not possible to accurately predict the future, it appears quite clearly that legalizing marijuana would not create a fundamental shift in its consumption.
It actually might reduce it.
3. It would be a new source of income
Legalizing marijuana would create a huge industry.
In the Netherlands, the annual gross revenue of shops selling marijuana is around $3.2 billion per year.
It would create a demand of labor at every level of its production. Farm lands would be needed, as well as the laborers to produce and distribute it.
Moreover, it would create new jobs in the research field — in the creation of new species, for instance.
It would generate income for the state through taxation on marijuana.
The example of the Netherlands comes to mind again: Each year, $600 million is generated this way.
But the Netherlands is a relatively small country, so how much could that number be for the United States?
Well, California’s National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws chapter estimates that a legally regulated market for marijuana could yield the state at least $1.2 billion in tax revenues and reduced enforcement costs.
4. It would allow a higher level of control
The Netherlands chose to legalize marijuana for a reason: Many policy makers there believe it is better to try controlling it and reducing harm instead of continuing to enforce a ban with mixed results.
Not only would it allow people to understand marijuana, through a real and comprehensive education, for instance, but it also would be the only way to ensure good quality and a safe product.
Moreover, as with every drug, marijuana has downsides.
Even if it is not likely, it is possible to become addicted to it. A prolonged and too regular use of it also is bad for one’s health.
Knowing that it is impossible to prevent its use and that legalizing it most likely would not increase the number of regular consumers, it seems legalizing marijuana only would allow marijuana users to get help if they need it.
Simon Cantarel is an economics exchange student from France.