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Legalization of Marijuana: The Road to Liberty, Security, and Prosperity
In this article, I will be making a case for full legalization of marijuana on a federal level as opposed to simple decriminalization which punishes offenses by means other than prison (see traffic violations).
Most social contract theorists agree that the basis of government is to protect an individual’s rights from the infringement of others; therefore a government should only intrude into matters which affect the relationship between its citizens and others. On personal matters, such as what an individual chooses to eat or drink, the government has no right to intervene, unless such actions negatively affect another individual. For example, one should be free to get thoroughly drunk inside one’s own home, so long as the drunkard does not injure or threaten to injure another person (by getting into a car, let’s say). The government has no right to “protect” its citizens from themselves; hence, there is no law against gluttony. In so far as the government prohibits the individual growing and usage of marijuana, it oversteps its bounds.
If health is a concern, marijuana seems to offer fewer risks than tobacco. Smoking tobacco has been proven to cause chronic obstructive lung diseases as well as cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, lungs, stomach, kidneys, and pancreas; smoking tobacco increases risk of coronary heart disease and strokes while decreasing bone density. All told, smoking tobacco causes more deaths each year than by HIV, illegal drug use, alcohol, motor vehicle injuries, suicides, and murders combined. The health risks of marijuana are limited primarily to brain function; according to this study by the American Medical Association, even high use of marijuana did not affect lung health. In fact, marijuana seems to offer positive medical benefits, which is more than the tobacco can boast.
Unfortunately, these potential benefits to the drug cannot be adequately researched and utilized without legalization. For this reason, the California Medical Association, a group of more than 35,000 physicians, officially supports the federal legalization of marijuana. The legalization of marijuana will allow for regulation of the drug with specified standards for concentration and purity that will protect users and open up new avenues for studying the medical value of the plant for use in the treatment of diseases such as Alzheimer’s and glaucoma, as well as pain management for a variety of other patients.
But what is medical value compared to increased justice in our legal system? The United States has the highest number of prisoners per capita in the world at 715 per 100,000 people. The only other major industrialized nation that even comes close is Russia, with 627. The others have much lower rates: England's rate is 151; Germany's is 88; and Japan's is 63. Not only do we send an inordinate number of individuals to prison, we also give them significantly longer sentences than other nations. Coincidentally, this number began to skyrocket in the 1970s after President Nixon’s declaration of war on drugs (our previous average was less than 200 per 100,000). According to the CEPR, if we reduced the incarceration rate of non-violent offenders by even one-half, it would lower correctional expenditures by $16.9 billion annually. This chart from the CEPR report shows how disproportional our incarceration rate has become in terms of population growth and traditional crimes:
Legalizing marijuana would alleviate some of the pressure felt in the correctional system currently and free up resources in the police and judiciary realms that would allow for a greater focus on violent crime.
Sun Tzu would tell you to not to pick a fight you can’t win. Unless the United States government can eliminate the demand for marijuana, it will never eradicate its supply. By keeping marijuana illegal and reducing the supply, we are only putting more money and more power into the hands of the drug cartels. Legalization would dramatically increase the supply of drugs, but according to this Australian study, it does not seem to seriously affect the number of new users (the report estimates an increase of less than 1%). This influx of supply with inelastic demand would introduce capitalism into the market, increasing quality while decreasing price, strangling the deadly drug cartels that rule our southern border and reducing the domestic street crimes associated with drug use.
And lastly, in this flagging economy, let’s not forget the financial advantages of legalization. While people argue about the actual numbers, the revenue generated by the industry would likely be in the billions. Even with home growers avoiding taxation and the increased production decreasing prices, the savings of judiciary costs and influx of revenue would help balance the budget (at least, here in pot-loving California).