Pro: Why Morgan Fox Thinks Marijuana Should Be Legalized Nationwide
“No adult should be arrested for the responsible use of marijuana, particularly since it’s safer than alcohol.”
In our Pro vs Con series, we ask two experts to weigh in on a hot button topic. This week, we tackle the legalization of marijuana. Morgan Fox is the communications manager for the Marijuana Policy Project.
Loop21: Do you think marijuana use and possession should be legalized in every state of the union? Why or why not?
Morgan Fox: No adult should be arrested for the responsible use of marijuana, particularly since it is demonstrably safer than alcohol, which is legal and pervasive in our society. Marijuana prohibition is an obviously failed policy that costs hundreds of millions of dollars a year in taxpayer money and does not prevent anyone from using marijuana. At the very least, arrest and jail should be replaced with fines or treatment in every state. The Drug Czar himself has said that we cannot arrest our way out of drug use, so it is time that we try a new approach that makes marijuana use a public health issue rather than a criminal justice issue. In the end, it should be up to each state to determine how best to accomplish this.
Loop21: Do you see legalization as a states’ issue, or a federal one? Why?
Fox: Making marijuana completely legal and regulated may not be right for the residents of every state, and there will certainly be some differences in the ways different states remove criminal penalties as time goes on, but every state should have the right to shape its own marijuana policy without worrying about federal interference. It is a waste of federal resources to prosecute marijuana violations when every state in the nation has already set up their own marijuana policies and are capable of enforcing them. Federal overreach in this area prevents states from experimenting with their policies and creating a system that is uniquely tailored to their particular circumstances.
Loop21: What are the pros of legalizing marijuana?
Fox: Responsible adult users would no longer have to fear arrest or the complications that come with a criminal record for choosing to use a substance safer than alcohol. Local, state and federal governments could save large amounts of money on enforcement and prosecution while law enforcement would be able to devote more time and resources to preventing and solving serious violent crimes. A legal and regulated marijuana market would provide tax revenue and jobs while taking money out of the hands of criminal gangs. In addition, the barriers to research on the medical properties of marijuana would no longer be in place, allowing scientists to conduct research that may lead to better treatments for a wide variety of conditions.
Loop21: What are the cons of legalizing marijuana?
Fox: There is little or no data to support most of the supposed dangers of taxing and regulating the adult use of marijuana. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, there are over 17 million regular marijuana users in the United States, and over 100 million people have used it at least once in their lives. We are already dealing with the costs of marijuana use, and since usage rates are relatively stable, there is no indication that those costs will change. We need to decrease the costs incurred by marijuana prohibition.
Loop21: Do you think we’ll see marijuana legalized nationwide in our lifetime? Why or why not?
Fox: There has been a steady increase in public and political support for ending marijuana prohibition that does not appear to be waning. More and more states are considering reforming their marijuana policies every year. Right now, 16 states and the District of Columbia choose not to arrest seriously ill people for using marijuana, and several more will probably join them this year. At least two states are considering removing criminal penalties for marijuana for all adults. Eventually, the support for continuing to waste money on a failed and misguided policy is going to evaporate, particularly as people become more worried about the economy.
Loop21: A recent Gallup Poll found that 50% of Americans are in favor of legalizing marijuana, while 46% are against it. What role should public opinion play in this legal issue?
Fox: Unfortunately, most politicians do not realize how much public support there is for marijuana reform. More and more voters have had some experience with marijuana in the past and realize that it is not worth all the trouble or the damage to society caused by prohibition. Politicians, however, still fear being labeled as “soft on crime” and worry that supporting marijuana reform would be political suicide. Fortunately, the public is increasingly letting lawmakers know that this is not the case.
Loop21: The same survey found that 72% of Americans are in favor of legalizing it for medicinal purposes. Why do you think people are more supportive medicinal marijuana use?
Fox: Many people who are not necessarily comfortable with marijuana use on a personal level still support the rights of seriously ill people and their doctors to decide if marijuana is an appropriate way to treat their conditions or alleviate their suffering. Allowing sick people to use marijuana and setting up a taxed and regulated system for all adult marijuana use are two entirely different and equally legitimate issues. While some people may not approve of recreational use, they can see that it is wrong to treat the seriously ill like criminals just for trying to live a normal life.
Loop21: Do you think smoking marijuana is an effective treatment for some patients? Why or why not?
Fox: Many patients who are dealing with nausea are unable to consume pills or keep liquids down. Smoking or vaporizing marijuana provides instant relief and the dosage can be easily titrated by the patient, whereas ingesting the medicine may not stay down, can take up to 45 minutes to take effect, and may be too strong or weak of a dose. Even though moderate marijuana use has been shown to have no effect on long-term chronic breathing problems, patients who need to medicate frequently can use a vaporizer instead and avoid the carbons formed in combustion of the plant.
Loop21: Do you think advocating for medicinal marijuana use offers an effective pathway to total legalization?
Fox: Medical marijuana laws are a way to get the sick and dying off the battlefield of the war on drugs. They are two distinct issues.
Loop21: One common argument against legalization is that marijuana is a gateway drug. What if your opinion on that argument?
Fox: Multiple studies have disproved the gateway theory. There is absolutely no causal relationship between marijuana use and the use of other drugs. If anything, prohibition is the worst gateway drug. As long as marijuana remains on the illicit market, it will be sold by drug dealers who have access to harder drugs and an incentive to sell them to their clients. If marijuana were regulated like alcohol and sold in specially licensed stores that check IDs, it would be completely removed from the hard drug market. You don’t hear reports of wine stores trying to sell their patrons heroin.
Loop21: One common argument for legalization is that sales of the drug could be taxed, and those monies could bolster flagging state and federal budgets, which is a discussion that President Obama rejected during his 2009 online Town Hall. What is your opinion on that argument?
Fox: Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron estimated that the U.S. could gain roughly $14 billion in savings and taxes from marijuana. Some estimate that number to be higher, some lower. This is not a large amount of money to the federal government, but even a decrease in spending is an improvement. What these estimates, and President Obama’s argument, ignore is the overall revenue created by a regulated marijuana market. The marijuana market in the United States is estimated at more than $27 billion a year, which is bigger than corn and wheat combined. Under the present system, that market is controlled by violent criminals instead of legitimate businesses. By removing marijuana from the criminal market, we can create jobs and take advantage of a valuable agricultural commodity. It may not solve all our financial problems, but it will certainly help. The simple fact is that we can’t afford to waste any funds whatsoever on programs that do not work, and marijuana prohibition falls into that category.
Loop21: How would decriminalizing marijuana in the United States affect the justice system?
Fox: The courts and jails will no longer be bogged down by an endless flow of non-violent marijuana users, and law enforcement will be able to concentrate on more serious crimes.
Loop21: What does the optimal marijuana law look like to you?
Fox: An optimal marijuana law would look very similar to the alcohol laws we have now. Marijuana would be cultivated and distributed in a manner similar to alcohol, and be sold in licensed stores that check for ID to enforce age restrictions. Current laws regarding operating a motor vehicle while impaired would remain in place with the same enforcement measures.
Loop21: Why do you think those on the other side of this conversation are misguided?
Loop21: Is there anything else our readers need to know about marijuana legalization?
Fox: Anyone that supports marijuana policy reform should contact their lawmakers and let them know. Anyone interested in learning more about prohibition and marijuana policy in general should visit www.mpp.org.
Should marijuana be legalized nationwide? Tell us what you think in the comments.