My best friend’s mom is a Bruce Springsteen-loving fourth grade art teacher at a local elementary school in the suburbs, while my boyfriend from high school worshiped rap and started up his own fraternity at his top-10 party school college. Other than knowing me, their only real similarity is that they both habitually smoke marijuana — and they’ll both be affected if the drug is legalized in what would essentially be our biggest government bailout yet.
According to a 2006 study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, my friend’s mom and my ex-boyfriend are two among 14.8 million Americans aged 12 and over — almost one in 20 people living in the U.S. — that have ever smoked marijuana. Statistics and personal experience have me convinced that marijuana use is not only widespread, but is enjoyed among a diverse crowd.
From personally observing friends use both, I find that alcohol tends to land people in dangerous situations more often than marijuana does. We could all share embarrassing drinking stories, and while many are humorous, the underlying implications about alcohol use are worrisome. In contrast, my pot-smoking friends are usually too fixated on whatever Seth Rogen DVD is playing to get in an accident or a fight — though they may or may not eat that whole box of Samoas you were saving.
Considering the widespread use of the drug, many find it confusing that consumption and possession are now both illegal when the plant has been used relatively safely and legally for spiritual and cultural purposes for multiple millennia — especially while alcohol and tobacco, frequently cited to be more damaging to one’s health, are legal.
Interestingly, the recent economic situation seems to have provided the much-needed prod for the government to re-evaluate our nation’s drug laws. California especially, now facing budget deficits for the upcoming fiscal year, is seriously discussing legalizing its number-one cash crop for the sake of securing fiscally sound tax revenues from the plant.
Decriminalization is a logical and rational move. According to a recent column by TIME columnist Joe Klein, 47.5 percent of all arrests are marijuana-related. These petty possession cases pose an unnecessary burden on our legal system, detract from larger issues that need attention and of course impose costs as well. $68 billion is spent annually for those serving time to undergo corrections, and a large chunk of these corrections are for those in nonviolent marijuana-related cases.
Not to mention, it seems patently ridiculous that people who have few other major blights on their character or record are getting turned down from jobs as a result of a criminal history that involves a crime as insignificant as possession under a few grams, while the minimum sentence for a crime as heinous as rape isn’t even five years in many states.
But while decriminalization makes sense right now (and really, always has), it is just as crucial that the government exercise the utmost caution with this issue. Though marijuana is arguably safer than other widely-available drugs like alcohol, it still poses the dangers inherent with any drug. Risks associated with using marijuana, including increased susceptibility to respiratory diseases, show that stringent punishments for abuse of the drug are still necessary.
The economic benefits of such an action are readily apparent: California tax collectors, to cite one of many examples, have estimated that legalizing the drug would alleviate the need for various costs and reductions by providing $1.3 billion dollars in tax revenues. However salient of a concept, though, the government would be forgoing its ethical integrity if it were to quickly legalize marijuana for the sole purpose of yanking the country out of the recession, instead of addressing the issue in a more neutral way. There are many factors that require careful consideration — how more widespread marijuana use would affect the dynamics of society; what the impact on Mexican border violence would be — for our government to rush the process for financial motives.
Legalization is a process that, when it does happen — and in all likelihood, it will — should proceed with extreme caution, in a slow process that is regulated carefully and reevaluated often, like its medical counterpart. A strict age limit is obviously necessary (if for no other reason than that no one wants to see more arrogance in those 13-year-old punks that frequent Little 5 Points after school). And once it happens, people need to use responsibly to facilitate the process.
It is reassuring that our government is progressive (and well, desperate) enough to consider revising the nation’s archaic drug laws, but if it has any ethical integrity remaining, the process will take more than just a few months of contemplation and discussion. So pot-smokers of the nation, be hopeful and be active. But in the meantime, don’t throw out your Febreze Air just yet.
Asst. Editorials Editor Catherine Cai is a College freshman from Atlanta.