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Marijuana Legislation Debate Blazes Across Nation

Kevin Litman-Navarro |
March 3, 2014 | 2:25 p.m. PST

Staff Reporter

Questions remain over the fate of marijuana legalization in CA (twitpic)
Questions remain over the fate of marijuana legalization in CA (twitpic)

In a moment of sweet irony, on Tuesday Washington D.C. city officials voted to decriminalize the possession and consumption of marijuana. 

As the seat of federal power and city with the most marijuana possession arrests per capita, D.C. is not where one would expect to find lenient drug laws.

However, considering the unprecedented number of convictions and draconian punishments for marijuana-related offenses, this new legislation seems like a logical progression toward rectifying the racialization of the war on drugs.

Councilmember Tommy Wells, lead author of the legislation, believes, "We are taking a significant step to correct the continuing social injustice caused by a failed war on drugs."

Washington D.C.'s bold approach to a national debate is just one of many responses by states looking to solve the marijuana dilemma.

Despite majority support for recreational marijuana legalization in California, the proposed measure that promised to do exactly that was recently removed from the 2014 state ballot.  

The Drug Policy Alliance, a vital proponent for the legislation (known as the Control, Regulate and Tax Marijuana Act), decided to halt the measure in an effort to garner more support and provide for a higher likelihood of success in the 2016 election cycle. They speculate that waiting for a presidential election will result in higher voter turnout rates among youth, effectively raising the percentage of voters in support of marijuana legalization.

Currently, California is among twenty states that allow for the use of medicinal marijuana.  Anyone who has been to Venice Beach, however, knows that procuring a medical marijuana card requires nothing more than $50 and self-diagnosed insomnia.

This blatant lack of regulation for marijuana has led many to conclude that legalizing marijuana could create a more responsible system. As of now, however, only Colorado and Washington have legalized the drug, so there is not yet a wide enough pool of data from which to draw definitive conclusions.

READ MORE: What's The Point Of Legalizing Weed?

One argument proposed by supporters of legalization is predicated on the notion that because marijuana is quite easy to obtain, legalizing and restricting it in a way similar to alcohol would actually make it harder for underage drug users to purchase marijuana.  

According to Colorado resident Taylor Harp, this is not the case.

“Legalization hasn’t really affected the supply of marijuana for minors; drug dealers sell to them the same as they did before, and offer lower prices than marijuana shops to adults in order to maintain a consumer base," said Harp. "For the most part, the people smoking pot under the new legislation are the same people who used marijuana before the legislation’s passage."

While it is not clear if legalization can actually help keep marijuana away from adolescents, there is one thing that Colorado has certainly shown us — recreational marijuana sales can provide states with much appreciated financial relief.  The state expects to receive $134 million in tax revenues from the sale of marijuana, a figure that far exceeds the predictions of most officials.

Instead of using this money to augment the states overall budget, however, Governor Hickenlooper wants to use these funds to better educate the populace about the consequences of marijuana use and focus law enforcement on preventing illegal marijuana sales.

READ MORE: Why Marijuana Shouldn't Be Legalized

This influx in production and subsequent increase of GDP is another favorable effect of marijuana legalization alluded to by supporters.

Washington resident Evan Barley-Greenfield believes that his state will have an advantage in the emerging pot industry.

“Because Washington and Colorado are the first states to legalize recreational use of marijuana, they currently hold a monopoly on the market. This means that all producers and consumers will flock to join these economies, establishing them as the leaders of an industry that promises to be very profitable.”

With unprecedented economic benefits and increasing support for legalization (a field poll estimated that 55 percent of registered California voters now support the legislation), it seems more like an impending reality than a debate. This is especially evident considering that more than 25 states are considering either decriminalizing or legalizing marijuana for medical or recreational use this election cycle.

This progression would suggest that federal marijuana policies may be suggested soon, yet national legislation may still be many years away. 

READ MORE: Study Suggests Medical Marijuana Reduces Suicide

While Americans have shown themselves to be more open-minded about drug legislation, there is still a powerful stigma attached to smoking pot.  In order to enact federal law, an elected official would have to propose a bill, risking votes from a populace that would likely having difficulty seeing past the designation of a politician in favor of drugs.

It seems that federal legislation will not be the route to legalizing marijuana for some time.  But with the increasing majority in favor of legalization, and the apparent success enjoyed by Colorado thus far, more states are joining the pro-marijuana coalition each election cycle.  

The future of marijuana legislation lies not in whether or not pot should be legal, but in how best to control the substance to maximize the safety of the public and economic benefit of creating an entirely new industry.

Reach Staff Reporter Kevin Litman-Navarro here.



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