Marijuana legalization has made rapid progress over the years. It has become decriminalized for medical use in 28 states plus the District of Columbia, and is recreationally legal in 8 of those. However, it is still illegal on a federal level. When looking at state level benefits of decriminalizing marijuana though, it seems that it could be time for nationwide legalization.
With the marijuana industry growing in popularity, and evidence showing economic, social, and medical benefits of its uses, why not allow it nationwide? The fact that it’s still illegal, means people should still abide by the law (black markets always occur), and not use this drug unless they went through the appropriate outlets to obtain it. Still, it can be costly to prohibit marijuana, and a report by the American Civil Liberties Union, estimated that nationwide prohibition costs $3.6 billion in enforcement per year. It also states that a marijuana related arrest occurs every 37 seconds. This result in criminal records and even jail time for those who violate the law. Many see this as unfair to those who do not relate themselves as “criminal” marijuana users (those who abuse and sell for personal profits/gains), but instead see it has a natural growing herb that should be used for medical and recreational purposes.
The economic benefits alone are enough to stand out as a main proponent for legalization. At the state level, economic benefits are evident and marijuana economy has become a growing industry. In Colorado, the Marijuana Policy Group derived a model dividing the marijuana industry into three segments: cultivation, manufacturing, and retailing. Then they took the three segments and related it to Colorado’s production and consumption structure to see how spending impacted the economy. This resulted in, “each dollar spent on retail marijuana generated $2.40 in state output, compared favorably with general retail trade, which yields $1.88 per dollar… and general manufacturing generates $1.94 per dollar, and casinos generate just $1.73.” So, on a per dollar basis, marijuana can be seen to generate a favorable profit over other industries, and is the fastest growing sector in Colorado. With the rapid rise in popularity, the industry generated 18,005 jobs in the first year of legalization (which was still a very small industry starting out), and is only increasing as more dispensaries open. One last point of emphasis was the tax revenue, that generated $63.4 million in 2014 and $121.2 million in 2015, a 91.1% growth in just one year. These numbers speak for themselves in how much economic benefit comes from legalizing marijuana in Colorado.
Another example of strong economic benefits of legalization is from data collected in Washington. Data shows in 2015, Washington’s first complete fiscal year after legalization, sales generated nearly $260 million in profits, $64.63 million in tax revenue, and $1.08 million in just licensing fees while the state was operating at a 25% excise tax. The next year, 2016, they nearly gained $1 billion of total shelf price sales and roughly $186 million in tax revenue (with excise tax rising from 25% to 37%). Again, we can see how in just one year between these two states, profits increased substantially. With less restrictions on marijuana law, the sky is the limit on the amount of potential growth this industry can have on states economies.
The decriminalization of marijuana also allows for social benefits. Many believe that marijuana is a gateway drug that leads to a downward spiral to drug abuse. It could also be looked at from the other side by looking at the number of juvenile offenders that get arrested and charged for marijuana. Resulting in juvenile offenders thrown in jail, or giving them a criminal record that could pull them down the wrong path. I am not advocating to allow those who break the law to go unpunished, but in just one year from 2010 to 2011 in California, they seen a reduction in juvenile arrests by 20%. That’s in one year! Since decriminalization has occurred in several states, that number continues to drop nationwide, saving millions in tax money for the arrests, as well as providing a better social benefit to those who use marijuana appropriately.
There is also a claim that legal medical marijuana has resulted in deaths from opioid overdoses to drop. Having access to medical marijuana provides a substitution to opioid abuse of pain killers (marijuana is more of a natural opioid with less addictiveness), and move to a safer form of pain relief for patients. In 2014, states with medical marijuana law had a 25 percent lower rate of death from opioid overdoses than others, and 3 out of 5 overdoes occur from legitimate prescriptions. Research from Collen Barry of John Hopkins found that, “This effect grew over time: a 20 percent lower rate of opioid deaths in the laws’ first year, 24 percent in the thirds, and 33 percent in the sixth.” Opioid related deaths with this kind of decrease, shows a significant and potential long term effects that could help patient care become more effective and less costly.
So, from the economic, social, and health benefits, marijuana legalizations seem to be a good sign for states. Those states that have not yet legalized it, should consider how individual states have had substantial growth and progress in even just a years’ time. If less restrictions were made at the federal level, more dispensaries, hospitals, and farms (to harvest) would increase in number, allowing the growth capability to soar. Benefits from all aspects of marijuana should be taken into consideration, and it might be high time for nationwide legalization to allow each state to reap in on the benefits that are seen by those who have already legalized.