One of the most contentious issues in today’s culture, especially in the United States, is the legalization of marijuana, which tends to split public and expert opinion equally. Numerous conferences across the country continue to be dominated by the subject, and the debates are often heated. The debate basically pits supporters of drug legalization for both medicinal and recreational purposes against those who oppose it. On the other hand, there are those who are vehemently opposed to marijuana legalization in any case, citing the drug’s potential negative effects and the potential damages that may result. However, public opinion about the legalization of marijuana and the benefits that accrue to the consumption of weed has gradually been gaining traction. Indeed, several states in the country have already enacted laws allowing the consumption of marijuana for among others reasons, medical use. However, the topic has for long been a no-go zone in Maryland. Nonetheless, as a large body of research shows, there are numerous benefits that accrue to the legalization of marijuana as evidenced by the impact legalization has created in other states such as Washington and Colorado.
This analysis aims to critically analyze the marijuana legalization issue and posit that it should be legalized owing to the numerous benefits that accrue to its legalization specifically the economics of legalization. The main focus in this paper will be the state of Maryland and how it could adopt a policy similar to that which already exists in Colorado.
Background to the legalization debate in the United States in general
In today’s society, the question of drug use is almost inevitable to encounter given that one of the most prevalent and destructive behaviors in today’s younger generation is drug use. No matter where one goes, it is an almost certainty that the question of drug use will always pop up, either in a forum or a conversation. Given, the pressure to engage in drug use today is more today than it has ever been. What with the ever increasing pressure to succeed and perform in school, in life, sports, at work? The ever changing world, the multifaceted nature of how people in today’s world engage each other has led, in more ways than one, to a shift in the way people view many different things. There have been debates on issues such as euthanasia, the question of lesbianism, gay rights and now more recently the question of marijuana (Blake 359). For a long time, marijuana has always been classified as a drug unfit for use by people. However, just like the other developing issues such as euthanasia, there are proponents out there who have been pushing for the legalization of the drug for medical purposes. If the use of cannabis was to be embraced for personal, industrial or medical use and at the same time laws enacted to oversee its use, it has the potential to spur economic growth and promote responsible use of the drug under certain circumstances.
In Maryland, the legalization issue is still causing much consternation in the public domain. While public opinion is clearly skewed towards support for the legalization of marijuana laws that would effectively ratify the legalization and use of marijuana have not yet been enacted. There are numerous opponents mostly politicians in Maryland who are strongly against the idea of legalizing marijuana in any case (Joffe 12). The politicians are the spearheads of a campaign that is geared towards the quick shut down of the idea of marijuana legalization. As a result, many citizens from the state have at one time, or another traveled to other states that have already legalized marijuana use. This is especially in cases where one is forced to consider medical options involving the drug. However, following the precedents set by other states, Maryland legalized medical marijuana in 2014. The medical cannabis law in Maryland allows patients who qualify to use it to be in possession of a supply of up to thirty days of medical marijuana. Furthermore, licensed dispensaries are allowed to distribute the medical marijuana which is grown by about fifteen licensed cultivators. However, it is not legal for patients or medical personnel to grow their won cannabis.
In the face of the above regulations for medical marijuana, it is needless to say that possession of marijuana for recreational purposes is not allowed in Maryland. There have been attempts in the past of pushing for the legalization of marijuana through marijuana legislation that intends to tax and regulate marijuana. In 2016, such a bill was introduced but did not move forward. Nevertheless, public sentiment in support of marijuana legalization is at an all-time high with at least 54% of the residents approving of the legislature taxing and regulating marijuana (Monte 241). As a result, the push for total legalization of marijuana is expected to be more concerted from 2017 onwards.
It is worth noting that prohibitionist policies are essentially based on eradication, interdiction as well as the criminalization of cannabis consumption. Nonetheless, a large majority of these policies have simply not worked and have proven to be ineffective in regulating the use of marijuana. The prohibitionist policies, in this case, have only managed to place a needless burden on the taxpayer that sees most of the money being used in police enforcement. In addition to this, the persistent prohibition of weed consumption is also a direct infringement on the individual personal liberties. This fact was perhaps well summed up by President Abraham Lincoln when he said that, “…Prohibition goes beyond the bounds of reason in that it attempts to control a man’s appetite by legislation and makes a crime out of things that are not crimes…” (Pacula & Eric 219) It is general knowledge that the United States is a country that is built on the ideologies and principles of freedom and the marijuana prohibition laws in existent today essentially go against these very principle of freedom. Furthermore, these prohibitions are in complete contradiction of the civil liberties which the government is set up to defend. Proponents of marijuana legalization would point to the blatant misconceptions about pot or weed, as it is commonly known, and ignorance as being the key reasons behind the apparent opposition to its legalization.
In Maryland, there are three key reasons that explain why weed has not been legalized yet. First, for a long time, weed has always been considered as an addictive and dangerous drug. The common perception about marijuana is that when someone starts using cannabis, what follows next is addiction then physical and mental injuries follow and sometimes even death. While it is true that some effects of marijuana are not as desirable, the truth is that the assumptions stated above are not entirely true. According to (Shepard & Paul 412), less than one percent of Americans smoke weed on a daily basis, which constitutes only a small section of the population. Furthermore, an even smaller proportion of the population ends up developing a dependence on marijuana and individuals who run the risk of developing a dependence on the drug can stop with ease compared to other drugs. It is also a fact that in marijuana’s long history, there has never been a recorded case of death as a result of its use.
The second reason why Maryland has not yet legalized marijuana consumption is that the product is linked with stereotypical lifestyles. Marijuana is more often than not thought of like a drug consumed by individuals at the lowest end of the social pyramid, ‘low lives’ to quote the mainstream media (Single 459). This portrayal can be attributed to the mainstream mass media which is often prone to bureaucratic tendencies. It is a fact that some of the most successful people in the world are on record as having at one time or another used cannabis in its various forms cue former President of the U.S. Barack Obama and even successful athletes like Michael Phelps. This goes on to prove that responsible consumption of weed in any of its forms has no serious implications. Furthermore, it is not possible to police morality and if an individual has an unwavering determination to use cannabis, legislation is unlikely to be a hindrance owing to the fact that there are states that have already legalized marijuana use in the country and are already reaping huge benefits from this action (Monte et al. 242).
Finally, it is well known that in matters concerning public policy, inertia is a powerful force. For instance, if a ban on something has only been in existence for a short time, it might be viewed as unstable. Conversely, if a ban on something has been in existence for a long time, regardless of whether it was ill-conceived, it more often than not tends to remain unenforced for a long time before it is eventually scrapped. This is the case with the issue of marijuana legalization.
Probable positive ramifications of marijuana legalization
If the peoples’ perception of cannabis is changed and the bill legalizing the use of marijuana is passed, the more than two million people currently in custody over a variety of drug-related offenses such as the use, sale or possession of marijuana could be set free. Assuming that a large majority of these prisoners eventually end up going back to dealing, a legalized and regulated industry would mean that the nation’s economy would be boosted significantly. Furthermore, if legalized, tax money that is usually invested in police enforcement can be re-invested somewhere else instead of going down the drain. In addition to this, the black market which is responsible for dealing in marijuana among other drugs would eventually be wiped out effectively creating an environment that is less corrupt. Research conducted by Shepard and Paul (416) indicates that other recreational drugs such as cigarettes and alcohol have effects that are worse than those of marijuana. Indeed if authoritarian regulation similar to the one imposed on recreational drugs such as alcohol and cigarettes was to be applied on marijuana after legalization, say, quality control, high taxes, imposition of age limits and restrictions on advertising, there are numerous benefits likely to accrue to the use of cannabis.
If cannabis was legalized, the United States government could be saving taxpayer money in the region of two billion to ten billion dollars that is usually spent on law enforcement activities such as those performed by several government agencies such as the FBI, the court system, prison system and the police themselves. A report from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy indicates that more than $40 billion worth of enforcement costs could be saved if marijuana was given legal status in that instead of police pursuing petty offenders, resources and manpower can be diverted to pursuing criminals who are much more dangerous (Pacula et al. 217).
More importantly, the economic stimulus that the government could draw from legalizing “pot” would constitute a significant portion of the government’s total revenue. The new drug industry could theoretically create new job opportunities in the retail section of the market, farming as more people are licensed to grow marijuana for the various functions it could serve such as the medical functions and a marginal increase in the GDP as the portion of money that is usually lost in the black market is collected as legitimate income. As Kamin notes, a legal marijuana industry has the potential to give rise to between 100,000 and 600,000 retailers (Kamin 12). In effect, (cite) notes that the American marijuana industry is worth an estimated $10 billion plus. This implies that the government could potentially collect over $6 billion in taxes on an annual basis. It is this realization that several states have taken the step to legalize marijuana for both recreational and medical purposes and are reaping significant benefits as a result. A total of fourteen state governments have acknowledged the effective healing capacities of cannabis and as a result, have moved to legalize its use as a medicine under the directive of licensed physicians. The apparent benefits that accrue from the legalization of marijuana mean that Maryland as one of the states that have not legalized the consumption of marijuana for recreational purposes is missing out on these benefits.
Successful case studies
The states of Washington and Colorado have taken the unprecedented step of decriminalizing marijuana for recreational use. Using Amendment 64 which was passed on 7th November 2012 made it legal for people in the two states to smoke marijuana for recreational purposes (Monte et al. 241). Needless to say, this was a first since most state governments had only legalized the use of marijuana for medical purposes only. Amendment 64 essentially allows people to carry marijuana within the borders of Colorado and Washington. Voters in Colorado and Washington passed ballot initiatives to legalize Marijuana for recreational purposes.
It is this same idea that lawmakers in the State of Maryland intend to implement with a proposed constitutional amendment that would have voters going to the ballot next year. The amendment is meant to put the power of legalizing marijuana in the hands of the citizens in a move similar to the one adopted by both Washington and Colorado. Led by sponsors of the bills, Senators Brian Feldman and Richard Madaleno Jr, lawmakers intend to let voters decide whether to tax and regulate marijuana in the same way alcohol is regulated (Ingraham). This move could potentially make Maryland the only state with a marijuana market. Although the legislation is only in the draft stage, an uphill battle is already in the books. Strong opposition to the move is expected in Annapolis but owing to the swift change in public opinion toward legalization has led advocates of the same to believe that it is now only a matter of when and not if it will be legalized. However, there have been calls first to revamp the now fledgling medical marijuana program, which has been accused in some quarters of having minimum participation, before considering legalizing marijuana for recreational use. Since bills aiming to spearhead the legalization process have failed at the committee stage in the past, it is worth analyzing successful cases of marijuana legalization.
Lessons from Colorado’s legalization of marijuana
Owing to the elaborate, diverse and elaborate nature of Colorado’s marijuana legalization program, it makes for a good case study for other States like Maryland considering legalizing marijuana for both medical and recreational purposes. First, it is important to analyze the history of Colorado’s marijuana policy. The state constitution for the state of Colorado was amended in November 2000. This amendment effectively allowed for the use of medical marijuana by patients who had “chronic debilitating medical conditions” (Monte et al. 242). However, a large majority of the population did not turn to medical marijuana as a cure for any condition until the Attorney General of the United States gave the guidelines for federal prosecution for possession and use of marijuana (Monte et al. 241). Contained in the guidelines was a decree ceding the jurisdiction of marijuana law enforcement to the state governments, a move that liberalized the sale and use of cannabis in the state of Colorado.
In November of 2012, Amendment 64 was passed (Monte et al. 242). With this amendment, the sale, purchase as well as possession of marijuana for residents and visitors above the age of twenty-one was voted in by a majority of voters. Later, policy advisors were sought to craft a tax structure, outline the applicable disciplinary regulations and come up with likely public health implications that would accrue to legalization. Although medical and recreational marijuana products are the same, there are restrictions governing the purchase of marijuana. For instance, only residents of the state can access medical marijuana legally. Dispensaries dealing with the sale of medical marijuana within the state are also regulated using stringent licensing requirements.
Since the first cannabis shop was opened in Colorado after weed became fully legalized, there have been a lot of promising results that one can draw from Colorado’s case. It is a case of how legalizing “pot” can potentially increase the potential of the economy. As it turns out, cannabis is a strong driver of the economy as evidenced by Colorado’s case. According to (Pyke), weed is such a strong economic driver in Colorado, so much so that, it is ranked higher than ninety percent of the industries in the State. After legalization, cannabis was directly responsible for the creation of full-time jobs amounting to 18,005 which effectively increased the state’s economy by approximately $2.4 billion (Pyke). Furthermore, Pyke notes that cannabis generates more income on a pound-for-pound basis compared to any other economic activity in Colorado.
A fifteen percent special excise tax is usually applied on marijuana sales in the state that generates tax revenues amounting to more than $114 million (Pyke). Furthermore, the Uniform Crime Reporting data for Denver indicates that there has been an overall decrease in crime rates to 5.2% last year to 10.1% this year. In addition to this, taxes from retail sales over the first four months have been garnered. The initial $40 million collected from this is earmarked for public schools as well as infrastructure. Youth educational campaigns about drug and substance abuse have also been factored in. This business boom has, in turn, rebounded numerous benefits to people and industries who may not be in its immediate influence. In economics, money generated within a certain industry or a set of activities usually gets re-invested into other business activities mostly through consumer spending and business investment. As a result, states that opt to legalize the use of marijuana stands to benefit massively as witnessed in Colorado’s case. As such, Maryland stands to gain if the lawmakers’ plan is adopted and marijuana is legalized. In 2016 alone, Colorado collected $200 million in taxes despite being smaller than Maryland. Maryland’s proposed plan sees a proposed $30 in excise taxes for every ounce being paid by marijuana cultivators while marijuana sales would attract a 9% sales tax which is the same as alcohol (Pyke).
How Maryland can successfully integrate the marijuana industry into the economy using lessons from the above case study
As evidenced by the above research, the issue of legalizing marijuana for both medical and recreational purposes is still a thorny issue in Maryland. This fact is evident since the medical marijuana program is yet to completely take-off despite being ratified. Nonetheless, it is evident that the continued delay in legislation that would effectively legalize the use of marijuana is an exercise in futility.
While the steps being taken to introduce bills to legalize marijuana for adults is a welcome development. Maryland, just like Colorado has the chance to tap into the endless potential of legislation that would legalize it. Drawing upon the model used by Colorado, Maryland could also successfully regulate and benefit from the economic potential of a legal marijuana market. As it stands, cannabis has more benefits than costs, a fact that everyone ought to be aware of.
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