By Tom Gonzalez, PhD, LPC, LCPC
The question of the enactment of laws regarding the legalization of marijuana has captured the attention of many throughout the country during the past few years. The Federal Office of National Drug Policy published a 2010 fact sheet outlining the pros and cons – mostly cons – of what marijuana legalization would mean to the country. The fact sheet suggested that our overall mental and physical health, as well as our criminal justice system, would be negatively affected if marijuana were legalized.
Interestingly, four years later, President Barack Obama remarked on his own marijuana usage in a January 2014 interview with the New Yorker magazine. He said that he had smoked pot when he was younger, stating, “I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol.” After the president’s comments, advocates for legalization sprang into action, circulating petitions for marijuana to be removed from the list of Schedule I drugs where it is classified with LSD, ecstasy and heroin.
Risk Management magazine reported in July that the Obama Administration has continued to oppose the legalization of marijuana as well as other illegal drugs since legalization would run counter to the nation’s public health approach to drug policy. However, as of March 2014, 20 states and the District of Columbia had already legalized the use of medical marijuana. And in 2012, two states, Colorado and Washington, became the first to legalize marijuana for recreational use. Some cities including Portland, Maine and Lansing, Michigan have approved laws allowing the possession of less than one ounce of marijuana.
From the standpoint of many health care professionals and scientific research, data has shown that increasing the availability of drugs will likely lead to increased consumption as well as higher public health and financial costs for society. Addictive substances such as alcohol and tobacco, legal and taxed, already result in much higher social costs than the revenue they generate. The cost to society of alcohol alone is estimated to be more than 15 times the revenue gained by their taxation.
Research has also shown that the legalization of marijuana would likely not eliminate the black market or improve public health and safety. Legalization would in turn mean substantially lower potential tax revenue for states.
What is known to work when it comes to marijuana and other drugs includes a focus on drug abuse prevention, treatment and support during recovery, as well as innovative criminal justice strategies. Regardless, the issue of the legalization of marijuana will probably remain in the public consciousness for some time.