Is legalization a step in the right direction?
Changes in marijuana legislations raise questions
Recreational marijuana use is an undisputed part of our modern culture, almost as common as alcohol use. Today, the dispute of its legalization is at the forefront of our nation’s debate.
As a result of the Controlled Substance act of 1970 marijuana, as well as heroin and LSD, was named a Schedule 1 drug. This means that marijuana was deemed as having no medical use, and to this day is still deemed as such by the federal government.
In 1973, just three years after the federal government made marijuana in any use illegal, Oregon became the first state to decriminalize small possession charges of marijuana. Since then 26 other states have also decriminalized marijuana in small amounts. In 1996 California residents passed Proposition 215, which made them the first state to legalize marijuana for medical usage. Since then 19 more states and the District of Columbia have joined California.
On Nov. 6, 2012, the effort to legalize marijuana took landmark steps as Amendment 64 and Initiative 502 were passed in Colorado and Washington respectively. The bills each passed with about 55 percent of the popular vote.
What does this mean for the future of marijuana? What has the success been like in Colorado and Washington?
Currently there are 10 states attempting to legalize marijuana through various outlets, and there are numerous arguments to support its legalization. One of the largest arguments has been that the legalization of marijuana will help to destroy black markets for drugs and the violence that comes with it.
Experts think differently. Officer Jones is a 7-year veteran of the gang unit in Chicago’s housing projects. Averaging 550 arrests a year, more than half being drug related offenses, Jones became too familiar with the black market. Having seen this first hand, Jones believes this extinction of the black market is a myth.
“Let me give you an example of how it works: a person will buy a bottle of alcohol for $5 in the store at noon,” he said. “The store will close around 8 p.m. and the price of that bottle will rise up to $12 per bottle. The demand doesn’t change just because the supply does. Dispensaries won’t stay open 24/7, the black market will always remain.”
Furthermore, as these laws are being passed, they only legalize marijuana for people of age 21 or over, as well as those who are in good legal standing. This creates an issue, as Jones claims: “there’s a whole society that wouldn’t be able to walk into a dispensary, it’s a whole sub culture. There are kids as young as 8 and 9 that are smoking pot who would not be able to buy it themselves.”
This idea of eliminating danger in the black market applies mostly to cities. You don’t see a lot of marijuana related violence in wealthy suburbs. So would it have any effect on the violence in the cities? According to Jones, no.
“If they put a dispensaries in the projects it wouldn’t last, the gangs would put them out because they’re cutting into their business,” and furthermore, “there was an airport 10 blocks away from my station, and 75 percent of the people in the area had never been there. In order to get there, you had to get through two gang territories. Getting to the dispensary might not even be an option.”
However, many believe that if marijuana is legalized, the streets will run rampant with intoxicated teens unable to function normally in society. Steve Crosby, a Colorado citizen since 1988, refutes this argument.
“I’m not a smoker, but I certainly have friends who are,” he said. “Those who wanted to smoked before, still smoke. Those who did not want to smoke before, don’t smoke now. I haven’t heard of anyone starting to smoke marijuana just because it’s legalized now.”
The debate on legalizing marijuana is extremely heated. Whether it is the lack in the change of the environment, no decrease in violence or increasing business at local companies, there are many strong arguments on both sides of whether or not to legalize marijuana. On a national level, as recently as Feb. 18 President Obama called for studies on taking marijuana off the list of Schedule 1 drugs. No matter your opinion, marijuana as a drug is taking steps towards integration in our society on every level.
Officer Jones’s name was changed to protect anonymity.
Eli Serota is a freshman IMC major who is high on life. Email him it at erserota1[at]ithaca.edu.