Marijuana Legalization Prudent, Economical

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It’s been said before, but we’re going to say it again: legalize it.

Students, professors (and potentially administrators) smoke weed. Some arguments against it are built on the perceptions and the unsubstantiated claims that it is harmful to health.

Both sides of the legalization question point to marijuana’s purported health effects. Even if marijuana is legalized overnight, however, it could take decades before substantive information on its health effects can be collected. Yet at least legalization would pave the way for the gathering of such research, which is virtually stunted by marijuana’s classification as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. To be classified as a Schedule I drug, a substance must have “a high potential for abuse,” “no currently accepted medical use in treatment” and “a lack of accepted safety for use.”

In the case of marijuana, these defining factors are not substantiated by conclusive research. Prohibition is the sole contributing factor, of course, to the difficulty of acquiring research, such as the study recently published by our own University, to support or refute its legalization. The entire ordeal is heavily governed by circular thinking.

From an economic perspective, the legalization of marijuana presents opportunities for the government, corporations and the private citizen alike to make lots of money. Just as the government taxes cigarettes, alcohol, gasoline and numerous other goods, so too could the government tax the sale of marijuana and the variety of other products that make up the marijuana industry.

This has proven overwhelmingly true in the state of Colorado, which reported nearly $45 million in tax revenue in the 2014 fiscal year. Tax revenue from marijuana sold legally in Colorado has been growing exponentially since it was legalized in November 2012, ​and 2014 represented a 837.5 percent increase over revenues from the previous year. According to the Colorado Department of Revenue (CDOR), taxes on marijuana include a “2.9 percent retail and medical marijuana sales tax, 10 percent retail marijuana special sales tax, 15 percent marijuana excise tax and retail/medical marijuana application and license fees.”

This economic equation applies to prisons. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, there were 658,000 arrests nationally for marijuana possession in 2012, and 256,000 for cocaine, heroin and their derivatives.

This problem hits close to home. Georgia had the sixth-highest arrest rate for marijuana possession in 2010, where marijuana possession was 65.1 percent (32,473) of all drug offenses. Fulton County was the fourth highest county in the nation for marijuana possession arrests in 2010, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

The expense associated with the prohibition of marijuana is astronomical. Combine New York and California alone, and you’ll get $1 billion spent enforcing marijuana laws. The effects and aims behind these laws do not justify the colossal price tag.

Most importantly, black people are disproportionately arrested under these laws. In 2010, black people were 3.73 times more likely to be arrested nationally for marijuana possession. This disparity is widening. Between 2001 and 2010, Georgia specifically had a 71 percent increase in racial disparity, according to the ACLU.

The question of marijuana’s legality is not only relevant to our country. According to a study done by Institute for Economics and Peace, northern Mexico continues to be the region worst affected by drug-related violence largely because of its proximity to the United States. Most efforts to fight drug cartels through heightened police and military have failed. In the words of Vicente Fox, Mexico’s president from 2000 to 2006, about the United States, “The drug consumer in the U.S. yields billions of dollars, money that goes back to Mexico to bribe police and money that buys guns … So when you question yourselves about what is going on in Mexico, it depends very much on what happens in this nation.”

Within a rising tide of marijuana legalization support around the county and considering the variety of reason why it could be beneficial for all, we at the Wheel urge the federal government and Georgia to legalize recreational marijuana for all.

And, while weed stays illegal for now, colleges and other institutions should recognize the widespread use of marijuana, especially among college students. Universities should provide adequate education on responsible marijuana use, just as many do for alcohol use, in order to promote safe usage. Although the legal drinking age is 21, many universities advise students on how to drink safely through programs such as AlcoholEDU. Omitting information about marijuana use from orientation programs when it is highly likely that many students will use the substance is inconsistent with the University’s alcohol awareness policy.

While we wait for the officials in both state and national governments to lethargically come to the same conclusion many already have, education will be the best to promote safety and prevent against the misinformation that led to marijuana’s illegality in the first place.

The above staff editorial represents the majority opinion of the Wheel.

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