Recreational Marijuana: Political Third Rail or New Cause?

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Recreational Use Offers New Opportunities for Tax Revenue
Photo Credit: 
Fortune.com

     A question notably absent from most mainstream debates and discussions is what to do about marijuana on the national level. While I’ll readily admit it is an issue that poses challenges, I think the mindset of most in our country is one of exhaustion with this even still being an issue. Medical marijuana offers benefits to those experiencing real suffering, and (if we’re being honest) recreational marijuana offers an outlet likely less destructive than that found in a bottle. Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington are states that have all legalized recreational use and found no great demon unleashed in the process1. Where is the great challenge to this issue rising from, and why is Gary Johnson the only Presidential candidate particularly vocal on the issue?

     Let’s start with the baseline question: why is legalization a valid option? Well – marijuana is a calming substance with medicinal uses. While it can impact the senses and lower response time (much like alcohol), it tends to be associated with far lower risks. Medical use aside – recreational use offers a pleasurable outlet that, used responsibly, doesn’t seem particularly warranting of legal action or moral outcry. Indeed, it is a vice like many others, simply less commonly accepted due to illegal connotations in much of the country.

     What benefits, though, could be gained apart from those of the pleasures of individual use or medicinal applications? Well – the most obvious would be that a sizable portion of law enforcement, legal/judicial, and incarceration work would be greatly reduced. True, threats such as driving under the influence would remain a notable exception, but the resources presently dedicated to this cause would be drastically reduced. These resources could be put towards more serious, concerning crimes and public good.

     Additionally, there’s the economic considerations to factor in. Legalization of recreational use on a national scale would create economic growth as black market transactions transfer to legitimate store fronts. In addition to creating opportunities for entrepreneurs, responsible taxation would allow for revenue to be committed to education, medical treatment/research, and law enforcement (not to mention the necessary regulation implied by legalization). While many conservatives might normally reject the notion of creating a new tax, the idea of adding a tax to a product as it enters the newly legitimate market would hopefully be treated differently than simply levying a tax on an existing good. In essence, this would be one of the rare instances of potential liberal/conservative unity if presented properly and championed vocally.

     Perhaps the greatest challenges to national legalization, though, would be the prison industrial complex and pharmaceutical corporations. Nonviolent drug offenders make up a significant portion of those presently incarcerated, and as long as there is profit to be made on those incarcerated then there’s a strong motivation to keep existing, antiquated laws on the books. Additionally, marijuana’s medical applications offer alternatives to many prescription medications, meaning legalization offers a potential challenge to the status quo there as well. The real need, then, is for an open public discussion and pressure to be placed on politicians to act. That, coupled with the examples provided by the previously mentioned states that have given recreational legalization a chance, may just be the catalyst necessary for national-level change.

1 – Legal Medical/Recreational Marijuana State Map: http://www.governing.com/gov-data/state-marijuana-laws-map-medical-recreational.html

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