The Ballad of Marijuana Legalization

The War on Drugs soldiers on, but it’s safe to say that public awareness of and support for the campaign to legalize marijuana is growing, especially regarding medical marijuana (MMJ), which represents something of a “gateway drug” to across-the-board legalization.

A poll conducted by the Associated Press and CNBC last April showed that, while only 33% of respondents supported recreational marijuana legalization, 60% believed MMJ should be legalized, with 74% claiming “the drug has a real medical benefit for some people.”

It surprised me to learn MMJ is already legal in 16 states, with both North Dakota and Arizona voting on ballot measures to legalize MMJ this past November. Arizona’s Proposition 203 passed by a narrow but decisive 4,300 vote margin, while North Dakota’s Measure 13 was soundly defeated by a 63% vote against legalization.

The thing that interested me most about the AP’s poll was that it revealed most Americans, even those against legalization, don’t believe legalizing marijuana will lead to an increase in crime or that marijuana is a gateway drug. So why don’t people want it legalized–stigma? Distrust of the unknown? That pesky myth (or is it?) that it kills brain cells?

Efforts to legalize marijuana have been on-going for so long, with equally strong public opinion quashing those efforts, that as a country we’ve reached an impasse of decision.The foggy rhetoric that surrounds both pro- and anti-legalization crowds is just gospel for the believers; it rarely sways anyone to change sides.

I, in my infinite wisdom (totally sarcastic, that), have been mulling the topic over for some time, and have come to the conclusion that, like most Americans who haven’t tried pot (cross my heart) and don’t have very many enthusiastic pot-smoking friends, I don’t have many facts to base my beliefs on. Trying to find legitimate studies on side effects of smoking marijuana is not as easy as one might think–the FDA declared marijuana had no medicinal benefit in 2006, but their decision was probably at least partially based on political pressures, as it directly contradicted a 1999 study by the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine.

If the U.S. government wants to be able to reap the benefits of marijuana legalization (which would be in the form of sales taxes, money saved from decreased prosecution of marijuana users/sellers/growers, and the possibility of decreased gang activity), they should contract civilian scientists to undertake a long-term study of the medical benefits and/or risks of using marijuana, and, if they want things to move forward faster, they can borrow a page from my playbook:

Imagine this: the government selects a county, preferably one near the Mexican border so as to bring the smugglers’ trade into the equation, legalize marijuana for everyone over the age of 18, manufacture unique county I.D. cards (with a magnetic strip so they would be almost impossible to fake), establish a tax rate for the drug (possibly not taxing MMJ) and a licensing process for sellers, and then sit back and wait. Wait for at least a year and see what happens in that county: is there a lot of truancy? Did the crime rate go up, down, or remain stable? Did a resurgence in county-wide appreciation for The Wizard of Oz take place? Did the county hospital experience an uptick in the intake rate?

It probably would be difficult to establish an airtight enough community bubble for this to work. And it might take significantly longer than a year to see true changes in demographics. But I think conducting a relatively small-scale sociological experiment would help establish some actual data to work from, not to mention be easier to enforce and less risky than legalizing marijuana in an entire state or the whole country.

You’re welcome, U.S. government. But, hey, you’re not going to listen to me, I’m just a crazy pot-smoking kid (but really, I’m not!).

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