Opinion: Keeping marijuana illegal is pointless

By Sean Phee

There is a way for the United States to make billions of dollars in revenue and reduce drug arrests by more than half.

This can be done by legalizing recreational marijuana use. Four states and the District of Columbia have already decided to do it and benefits from legalization can already be seen.

Alaska, Oregon and Washington D.C. voted to legalize the use of recreational marijuana on Nov. 4.


Colorado and Washington voted to legalize recreational marijuana in 2012.

While it’s still illegal on the federal level, Attorney General Eric Holder told the governors of Colorado and Washington last year the Department of Justice would let the new state laws on cannabis go into effect.

Holder is letting the states experiment. Hopefully this will show people that keeping marijuana illegal does more harm than good.

In August of 2013, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, a neurosurgeon and CNN’s chief medical correspondent, wrote an article titled, “Why I Changed My Mind on Pot,” in which he claimed that the American people have been systematically misled about marijuana for 70 years.

Gupta said marijuana addiction occurs in 9 to 10 percent of users while smoking tobacco causes addiction in 30 percent of users. Gupta also said in the article that he could not find one recorded death from marijuana overdose.

He said the reason marijuana is illegal is that its effects were not very well understood when it was outlawed. Gupta claims that marijuana may be less harmful than other substances, such as cigarettes and alcohol.

Five million people die worldwide each year because of tobacco smoke, and 88,000 have alcohol related deaths in the U.S. every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


Half a million people also die every year from heart disease, according to the CDC, but no one is proposing a ban on French fries.

Legalizing marijuana also has economic benefits.

Kevin Sylwester, an associate professor of economics, said taxing cannabis can help a state’s economy.

“One can look at Colorado or other states that legalized marijuana to see to what extent tax revenue went up,” Sylwester said.

The Denver Post reported that Colorado made $12.6 million in tax revenue from recreational marijuana in the first three months after legalization.

The legislatures for Washington and Colorado estimate marijuana sales could generate more than $800 million in revenue between the two states by 2020, according to an article published in September by The Washington Post.

“The influence can be felt more currently,” said Benjamin Bricker, an assistant professor of political science. “People come from out of state to use marijuana in Colorado and Washington and spend a lot of money. That’s going to decline as more states legalize it.”

He also said legalizing marijuana can decrease a state’s prison population.

“There is a large number of people in jail for drug crimes,” Bricker said. “Legalization should have a significant impact on prison population.”

Bricker said reducing the prison population can save money for states that legalize marijuana.

The United States has the world’s largest prison population, and it has increased 70 percent since 1970, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

Holder said this is because of long prison sentences for nonviolent drug crimes.

In 2010, 52 percent of all drug arrests were for marijuana, according to the ACLU.

Do we really want to make criminals out of people for using a substance as harmless as marijuana?

Support for the legalization is growing in Illinois, according to the Huffington Post. Several state representatives including Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago), Christian Mitchell (D-Chicago) and Mike Zalewski (D-Riverside) called for a task force to examine the impact that legalization would have on the state.

Medical marijuana became legal in Illinois earlier this year.

Twenty-three states have legalized medical marijuana and many medical organizations support medical legalization, including the American Public Health Association, the American Nurses Association, the American Cancer Society, the New England Journal of Medicine and the American Medical Association, according to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

Marijuana can help treat many diseases and ease the pain of several conditions, according to Gupta. While marijuana does have negative side effects, Gupta said the benefits outweigh the risks for many patients.

Some negative side effects of heavy marijuana use are slowed reaction time, paranoia, forgetfulness, anxiety and possible lung problems, according to WebMD.

The main opponents to legalizing marijuana are police unions and big pharmaceutical companies, according to a Business Insider article from July.

According to the article, pharmaceutical companies are worried about marijuana replacing painkillers such as Vicodin and Oxycontin.

One person dies every 19 minutes because of prescription drug overdose, according to Gupta.

Police departments depend on funding from the war on drugs, so they support harsher penalties for marijuana, according to Business Insider.

Thirty-eight percent of Americans have tried marijuana, according to a 2013 Gallup poll. Another 2013 Gallup poll showed that support for recreational marijuana use is up to 58 percent, which is the highest it has ever been.

In 1969, the poll shows, support for legalization was at 12 percent.

Younger people tend to support legalization the most. Sixty-seven percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 supported legalization in 2013, compared to 45 percent of Americans that are 65 and older.

Keeping marijuana illegal imprisons people who are not harmful to society and wastes money. The benefits of legalization far outweigh the costs.