In this series of articles on the legalization of cannabis or marijuana, we have looked at the complexity of drug schedules. Today we will look at arguments for and against.
As with many controversial topics, the loudest voices on both sides of legalization of marijuana tend to paint the issue as black and white. Finding a balanced voice that does not sensationalize the issue can be difficult. When examining a point/counter point comparison of each position, both sides cite research supporting their arguments. It is difficult for the average reader to discern anecdotal evidence from scientific, peer reviewed studies.
Proponents of legalizing recreational marijuana say it will add billions to the economy, create hundreds of thousands of jobs, free up scarce police resources, and stop the huge racial disparities in marijuana enforcement. They contend that regulating marijuana will lower street crime, take business away from the drug cartels, and make marijuana use safer through required testing, labeling, and child-proof packaging. They say marijuana is less harmful than alcohol, and that adults should have a right to use it if they wish.
Opponents of legalizing recreational marijuana say it will increase teen use and lead to more medical emergencies including traffic deaths from driving while high. They contend that revenue from legalization falls far short of the costs in increased hospital visits, addiction treatment, environmental damage, crime, workplace accidents, and lost productivity. They say that marijuana use harms the user physically and mentally, and that its use should be strongly discouraged, not legalized.
Proponents of legalization compare current criminalization of cannabis to the failure of Alcohol Prohibition in the 1920s. Opponents compare the legalization camp to ‘Big Tobacco’ tactics of luring youth and exploiting people for profit.
Both sides are concerned with protecting children. Opponents state legalization will allow increased access to youth, and there is emerging evidence that heavy marijuana use by teens can negatively impact their IQs later in life and increase the occurrence of schizophrenia and violence. Proponents state that proper regulation of legalized cannabis will protect youth from risks and allow adults to use safely.
According to Gallup polls in 2018 and 2019, a record-high sixty-six percent Americans support legalizing marijuana, up from twelve percent in 1969. Popular opinion is shifting to a more pro-cannabis stance. However, medical and public health organizations such as the American Medical Association, the American Cancer Society, and the American Academy of Pediatrics do not advocate for legalization of marijuana, stating marijuana needs to be subject to the same rigorous clinical testing as other medical treatment and “should not be decided by ballot initiatives decided by individuals who are not qualified to make such decisions.”
Perhaps the most important question in the marijuana debate is whether we have enough unbiased information to hold an opinion at all.
Lynn Saylor is the AmeriCorps member working with the United Against Opioid Abuse Initiative alongside the White County United Way. She is a major facilitator of the United Council on Opioids serving White County and a regular contributor to local media.