The legalization of marijuana is among the most debated topics in modern society. While many people argue that it is harmful to health and should remain banned in line with other drugs, others discuss the benefits of legalization, including the disruption of the illicit drug sale, better access to medicinal marijuana for people with various health conditions, and more. When both sides of the argument are considered, it is evident that the legalization of marijuana would have far more advantages than drawbacks.
Benefits of Marijuana Use
The most important argument for the legalization of marijuana is that its use provides numerous benefits to people. For example, medicinal marijuana is widely used in the treatment of chronic pain, Parkinson’s disease, and other conditions influencing the patient’s nervous system. An extended clinical review published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that marijuana is effective in treating chronic pain, neuropathic pain, and muscle spasms caused by neurologic conditions (Hill 2474). Although medical marijuana is legalized in some states, people in other locations have no access to it, and turn to dangerous medicines, such as opioids, to manage their symptoms. The legalization of marijuana would make it easier for people with chronic physical conditions to access its benefits.
Marijuana is also actively used for promoting mental health in various adult populations. It is common knowledge that the use of cannabis causes a person to feel relaxed, thus reducing stress. This can help people with depression, anxiety, psychosis, and insomnia to relieve their symptoms. A study by Betthauser et al. found that war veterans using cannabis to alleviate PTSD symptoms reported a significant improvement (1282). Hence, the legalization of marijuana would also assist people with mental health disorders or high levels of stress.
Those who oppose the legalization of marijuana often argue that for healthy people, cannabis use results in heart disease, stroke, and other serious health risks. But these statements often disregard the fact that there are many other harmful substances that are legal. For instance, alcohol is associated with an increased risk of stroke and liver disease, whereas smoking can lead to lung cancer and hypertension. Research shows that, when compared to tobacco and alcohol, cannabis poses a much lower risk to general health and well-being. Following an extensive study, Lachenmeier and Rehm conclude that alcohol and tobacco should be classified as high-risk products, whereas cannabis is a low-risk substance (6). Hence, the potential health risks of legalizing marijuana are minimal and do not outweigh its benefits.
Effect of Legislation on Cannabis Use
Another point that is critical to the discussion is that the legalization of cannabis will not necessarily lead to increased use of it. Many people are familiar with the so-called forbidden fruit effect, which makes illegal or immoral things appear more desirable than if they were legal. This is, in fact, a psychological phenomenon that makes people desire what they cannot reach harder. The effect of this phenomenon can be observed in studies comparing population health and cannabis use before and after legalization. Hall and Weier state that the legalization of marijuana in the Netherlands and some U.S. states did not result in significant increases in its use or public health concerns (612). Therefore, the argument that the legalization of marijuana will lead to more people using it is refuted by scholarly evidence.
The use of marijuana by minors is another point of concern for many people who argue against the legalization of this substance. Without a doubt, the legalization of marijuana will make it easier for all people to obtain it, including minors. Even if the legal age for purchasing marijuana is set to 21 and above, teenagers might still ask their adult friends to buy or use fake IDs. This factor is concerning given the adverse effects of cannabis on the developing brain. Some research suggests that young users of marijuana are at an increased risk of developing mental health issues and addiction as a result of it (Hurd et al. 416). Hence, there are indeed some drawbacks associated with the legalization of cannabis and its increased use by adolescents.
Nevertheless, the risk of improved access to marijuana for adolescents is low compared to the risks associated with trying to purchase marijuana illegally. Studies show that the difference in adolescent use of marijuana before and after its legalization is not significant (Cerdá et al. 142). However, the criminalization of marijuana will cause adolescents to try and obtain it from illegal sources. By staying in contact with drug dealers who sell marijuana, minors can become tempted to try stronger drugs with more powerful effects. They are also at risk of being recruited to sell drugs to other teenagers, which could result in higher illicit drug use rates among adolescents. Thus, while the risk of minors using legal marijuana is high, it would be more beneficial to create laws preventing adults from obtaining cannabis for minors than to leave the drug banned.
Legalization of Marijuana and Illegal Drug Trade
The decline of the illegal drug trade would be among the key benefits of legalizing marijuana in the United States. At the moment, regular marijuana users living in states where it is banned rely heavily on supply from drug dealers. This encourages drug cartels and organized crime to focus their efforts on states with strict drug laws in order to obtain more profits. Individuals who buy marijuana from drug dealers can also be pressured into trying other drugs, some of which are much more expensive, thus benefitting organized drug sales in the United States. If marijuana were legalized in all 50 states, people would not need to buy it from drug dealers, and the profitability of drug sales in the country would drop significantly, making it harder for organized crime to function.
A lower rate of illegal drug sales would have a positive influence on the overall crime rate in the United States. This would cause both by the decrease in drug-related crimes and by limited drug trafficking opportunities. According to Thoumi, the activity of drug cartels and other organized crime units is associated with a higher rate of violent crime in the area (39). As a result of disruptions caused by the legalization of marijuana, the activity of drug cartels will be limited, leading to a reduction in violent crime.
Gaps and Weaknesses in Current Legislation
It is also worth mentioning that the current legislation in the United States does not prevent people from using marijuana due to legal differences among the states. This enables people living in states where marijuana is banned to travel to other states to obtain and use it. In this way, the rate of marijuana use is not completely limited by the existing laws, and thus would not change significantly if the substance was legalized in all states.
Strict laws on the use and distribution of marijuana also pose a threat to ethnic minorities due to racial disparities in arrests and sentencing. According to multiple sources, black and Hispanic persons are more likely to be arrested for drug possession than white persons even if the amount of substance is the same. For example, Ferrer and Connolly state that there are significant racial disparities in felony drug arrest rates, as well as in sentences resulting from them (968). This is a considerable issue because incarcerations have profound consequences for people’s future life and their health. Therefore, racial inequality in this area results in increased racial disparities in health, socioeconomic status, educational attainment, and career prospects. While it is not the ultimate solution, the legalization of marijuana in all 50 states would assist in addressing this issue by reducing the number of arrests.
All in all, the present paper justifies the legalization of marijuana by assessing its benefits for individuals and society as a whole. Based on research, it is evident that marijuana has more health benefits and is less harmful than alcohol and tobacco, which are both legal. The legalization of marijuana will also have indirect advantages, such as the reduction of illicit drug trafficking and reduce racial disparities within the justice system. The paper also evaluated some common arguments against the legalization of marijuana, such as the concerns about adolescent use of cannabis, its adverse health effects, and the risk of increased marijuana use after legalization. Using scholarly research, it was concluded that these arguments are not supported by evidence and the legalization of marijuana will have minimal negative consequences.
Betthauser, Kevin, et al. “Use and Effects of Cannabinoids in Military Veterans with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.” American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy, vol. 72, no. 15, 2015, pp. 1279-1284.
Cerdá, Magdalena, et al. “Association of State Recreational Marijuana Laws with Adolescent Marijuana Use.” JAMA Pediatrics, vol. 171, no. 2, 2017, pp. 142-149.
Ferrer, Barbara, and John M. Connolly. “Racial Inequities in Drug Arrests: Treatment in Lieu of and After Incarceration.” American Journal of Public Health, vol. 108, no. 8, 2018, pp. 968-969.
Hall, Wayne, and M. Weier. “Assessing the Public Health Impacts of Legalizing Recreational Cannabis Use in the USA.” Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics, vol. 97, no. 6, 2015, pp. 607-615.
Hill, Kevin P. “Medical Marijuana for Treatment of Chronic Pain and Other Medical and Psychiatric Problems: A Clinical Review.” Journal of the American Medical Association, vol. 313, no. 24, 2015, pp. 2474-2483.
Hurd, Yasmin L., et al. “Trajectory of Adolescent Cannabis Use on Addiction Vulnerability.” Neuropharmacology, vol. 76, no. B, 2014, pp. 416-424.
Lachenmeier, Dirk W., and Jürgen Rehm. “Comparative Risk Assessment of Alcohol, Tobacco, Cannabis and Other Illicit Drugs Using the Margin of Exposure Approach.” Scientific Reports, vol. 5, no. 8126, 2015, pp. 1-7.
Thoumi, Francisco E. “The Relationship Between Illegal Drugs and Violence: Is There a Cause and Effect?” Portal, no. 5, 2010, pp. 38-39.