On Tuesday night, voters in California turned down Proposition 19, a ballot measure that would have made California the first state to legalize marijuana for recreational use. Despite the failure of the proposal, we believe that government at the state and federal levels should continue to push for the legalization of marijuana.
First of all, the health risk posed by the consumption of marijuana is not sufficient for the prohibition of the drug. Various scientific studies have shown alcohol and cigarette consumption to be more dangerous than smoking marijuana. Not only is marijuana not as addictive as tobacco, studies have shown tobacco to be a major risk factor for heart attacks, strokes, lung cancer, and other diseases related to the heart and lung, while no such correlation is confirmed for marijuana. Similarly, while overconsumption of alcohol is known to cause death, scientists have not been able to pinpoint marijuana overdose as a cause of death. It does not make sense for the government to punish people for using a drug while allowing for the consumption of other substances that are more harmful and addictive.
Granted, smoking marijuana is not entirely benign, but the notion that any activity harmful to the individual pursuing it should be made illegal is faulty. To an extent, our country should allow people the freedom to decide whether they want to engage in activities that are marginally harmful to their health and to determine for themselves, to some degree, the line between marginally harmful and significantly harmful. That is not to say that the use of marijuana should be unregulated. In order to protect minors and the general public, we propose that legalized marijuana consumption should come with an age restriction of 18 or older, and that driving under the influence should be illegal, akin to driving under the influence of alcohol.
Legalization of marijuana is imperative not only because the drug is no more dangerous than alcohol and cigarettes, but also because of the benefits legalization renders. Currently, in the failing economy, law enforcement cracking down on marijuana consumption is a wasteful use of resources when the money can be invested in more pressing matters. There is also potential tax revenue to be gained from legalizing marijuana; according to the California State Board of Equalization, the tax revenue from marijuana sales can reach as much as $1.4 billion dollars a year. Moreover, legalizing domestic marijuana would only reduce the dependence on foreign drug cartels, hopefully helping to mitigate the drug-related violence in Latin American countries.
Despite our support for Proposition 19, we believe that legalization of marijuana should take place at the federal level. Even if the measure had passed, recreational use of marijuana would still be illegal at the federal level under Congress’s Controlled Substances Act, which could have led to legal dispute between the state and federal authorities. If legalization occurs only at the state level, a change in administration could, for example, lead to more aggressive enforcement of federal marijuana laws, leading to a clash in jurisdictions.
Marijuana consumption should not be prohibited merely because of the traditional, misinformed categorization of it within the same group as highly dangerous drugs. Despite Proposition 19’s failure, we hope that the federal government takes action on the issue as soon as possible.
CORRECTION: November 8, 2010
Due to an editing error, an earlier version of the Nov. 5 editorial "Legalize It" stated that the tax revenue from marijuana sales could reach as much as $1.4 million dollars a year. In fact, the tax revenue from marijuana sales could reach as much as $1.4 billion dollars a year. The Crimson regrets the error.