It’s time to legalize marijuana

Marijuana’s has a strange history in America. In 1619 King James I (the King James of the King James Bible) ordered every colonist to grow one hundred hemp plants, which marijuana comes from, for export to England. The plant was used as a currency in Pennsylvania, Virginia and Maryland. George Washington grew it, and it served a variety of purposes for the early Americans. It was used to make rope, fabric, paper and many other products. In 1839, William O’Shaughnessy introduced marijuana to western medicine. Within a decade it could be bought in pharmacies for medicinal use across the US, and domestic growth of the plant was widespread until after the Civil War, when other materials were imported and replaced a lot of marijuana’s functions.

In the 20th Century, with the increase of Mexican immigrants to the US, American opinion towards marijuana took a turn for the worse. Mexicans brought with them a cultural appreciation of recreational marijuana use and, due to the xenophobia of the Americans in response to this influx of immigrants from the south, the “Marijuana Menace” became increasingly associated with Mexican immigrants while both became associated with all manner of violent crimes.

During the Great Depression, resentment of “jerb takin” immigrants surged. Through that resentment, paranoia about marijuana experienced a sharp increase. The Great Depression years saw many “studies” linking the use of marijuana to violent and criminal behavior and there was a rash of state bans on the drug. Following a propaganda movie called Reefer Madness, marijuana was (in effect) criminalized for non-medicinal and non-industrial purposes with the Marijuana Tax Act in 1937.

Hemp made a brief comeback during World War II because the military saw its usefulness in things like parachute cords. Seeds were handed out by the government and the draft was deferred for farmers who produced enough of it. The wartime hemp honeymoon was short-lived, however: A decade after the end of World War II, mandatory prison sentences for marijuana use were enacted, but they were repealed in 1970 because of how ineffective they were. When Nixon launched the War on Drugs, the independent organization he created to handle it recommended fully decriminalizing marijuana. Needless to say, Nixon disagreed.

President Reagan fared no better in his attempts to regulate marijuana, but he did make the punishments for marijana production and possession significantly harsher. By the end of his presidency, owning one hundred marijuana plants carried the same sentence as owning one hundred grams of heroin. Reagan also instituted a “three strikes and you’re out” policy, which required life sentences be given to people who were convicted of drug offenses three times. (For more details on the history of marijuana in America, check out PBS’s timeline.)

Reagan’s backwards approach to this subject has continued to some extent ever since. Such opposition is founded on ignorance, and it’s time we let it go. There are many ways in which marijuana legalization could do great things for our country.

It could kill the cartels

The Mexican drug cartels, which are waging a brutal drug war just south of the US border, rely heavily on marijuana profits. When a few states legalized marijuana they became a source of higher quality, lower cost marijuana, which did not have to be smuggled into the country. In the first 11 months after a number of American states legalized marijuana, its cost in Mexico dropped from 60-90 dollars/kilo to $30-40, and black-market imports of the drug have dropped by 32%.

If the demand for cartel-grown marijuana drops to 20 dollars/kilo, some economists speculate that it would crumble the Mexican cartel marijuana market altogether, forcing them to shift their focus to less-widely used drugs like cocaine and heroin. If the United States legalized marijuana all at once, the economic impact would be so sudden and severe that the cartels might not ever recover.

It stimulates the economy and raises tax revenue

marijuana money

Marijuana money, via Shutterstock

Take money away from the cartels, and it goes into the US economy instead. Since the legalization of marijuana in some states, it has become the fastest growing sector of our economy, generating us 2.7 billion dollars of taxable economic activity. The industry could be worth over $10 billion within 5 years. Colorado alone made $53 million dollars last year in tax revenue associated with the legal marijuana industry, and some estimate that national legalization could net the United States as much as $3 billion dollars annually. Legalization created over 10,000 marijuana-related jobs in Coloardo in one year alone. It would be great for the rest of the country to get a piece of that action.

These revenue gains also ignore the $42 billion the government spends every year to arrest people who use marijuana — money that could and should go elsewhere. Legal weed means the government has more money to spend on social services and fewer wastes of time and energy to spend it on.

We would no longer be sending our nation’s future to jail for harmless offenses

Our last three presidents all used marijuana at one point or another, but weren’t arrested for it. They were lucky. If they had been caught, they wouldn’t have been able to get into the schools they attended and they wouldn’t have been able to hold the jobs they held. They definitely wouldn’t have been elected to the political offices they held.

One can’t help but wonder how many would-be productive members of society are wasting away in jails or struggling in dead-end jobs because of our harsh prosecution of marijuana use.

52% of all drug arrests are for marijuana, accounting for 8.2 million Americans being taken out of society an into our dysfunctional criminal justice system every year. 88% of that 8.2 million were arrested for possession, with no indication that they had any intention to deal the drug. While Republicans blame America’s proven institutional racism problem and the struggles of the poor on single mothers and broken families, they are strangely silent about the devastating role marijuana prosecution is playing in black and impoverished families. Black people are 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession in spite of using the drug at more or less the same rates as whites. Well over half of all drug offenders have children. If we want poor and black children to have stable families, we should stop using our criminal justice system to destabilize them.

America has the highest incarceration rate in the world, housing 22% of the world’s prisoners. One of the reasons for this is that we’ve decided that carrying a plant that is less addictive and less harmful than both alcohol and tobacco is deserving of jail time.

Marijuana is safer than legal recreational drugs. Legalizing it would create jobs, raise tax revenue and save money and lives. Growing and supporting its production are two of the few things that George Washington had in common with the King who commissioned one of the most widely read English translations of the Bible.

The only reason marijuana remains illegal is because of lingering paranoia and xenophobia, along with the historical ignorance of Presidents Nixon and Reagan. Write your Congressperson and your Presidential candidate of choice: It is time to legalize marijuana.


Max Mills is a 26 year old Texan with a degree in Computer Science. Although he writes about a variety of things, his main focuses are education and political accountability. You can follow him on Twitter at @MaxFMills

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  • Jillian Galloway

    As marijuana is a significantly less-harmful and less-addictive alternative to alcohol, if marijuana’s legalized like beer and wine then the value of my alcohol stocks will fall. This seems an unnecessary price to pay to prevent 800,000 needless arrests/year and to give people a far safer alternative to alcohol! Just keep buying alcohol and don’t think about things like this too much.

  • Jillian Galloway

    They were.

  • familyguy

    COMPLETELY AREE WITH THIS ARTICLE! CBD oils legislation is equivalent to kissing babies photo ops for politicians.

  • DoverBill

    Sorry, but the time to legalize marijuana was soooo yesterday.

  • A near-permanent carbon sink, that. A building material that provides its own insulation, AND stores carbon indefinitely. The exact opposite of what OUR EMPLOYEES keep subsidizing, while telling us “you need to do more.”

    (sigh…)

  • HerbGrinder

    HempCrete !

  • HerbGrinder

    The only thing that makes a common god given plant valuable enough to create violent drug cartels and corrupt government is the prohibition of it..

  • The_Fixer

    Thanks for the link to the Republic Report article. I’ve read those things separately elsewhere, but it was nicely condensed there.

    I agree that the only right and just thing to do is to release those who are incarcerated for possession, even non-violent growing or distribution. If there were no other crimes involved, then there’s no reason to keep these people in prison.

    However, releasing these people, even with immunity from liability for police, prosecutors, judges et al, would still create a problem for those special interests who want to keep it illegal. That’s why this is going to be a major battle that will go on for a long time.

    To me, it’s all crazy. I’ve heard any number of arguments in my 60 years of life, many anecdotal stories of woe (anybody remember the old “You’ll grow breasts” scare from the 1970s?) and tortured “logic” used to justify its being banned. None of them have proven to be true. I think the American public is wising up to this, too.

    Just like they’re wising up to a lot of other forms of special interest’s undue influence on public policy. Considering that these people have bought the policy makers, we have a snowball’s chance in hell of doing the one thing that would do the most toward fixing this and a lot of other problems – publicly-financed campaigns and ethics rules changes.

    Money may not be the root of all evil, but it gives a lot of other things a good run for their… umm… money.

    I am embarrassed by your complement considering the company I am privileged to keep here, thanks.

  • Indigo

    Without any evidence to support my suspicion, nevertheless I suspect there’s enough cash flowing under the table into the pockets of the authorities that legalizing marijuana would cut into the unreported profit margin amongst our constabulary.

  • Max Mills

    1. Obviously it is my opinion that they should all be freed. I dont think that cops and judges should be held liable for enforcing the law, but I think everyone with a marijuana related conviction should be set free right this moment and allowed to rebuild their lives. I feel certain this whole thing is stored in some kind of database, we just have to give the order and tomorrow we can start filtering them out. If we miss anyone they can appeal the decision and they will be let go.

    2. This is a huge problem. A lot of the major players in keeping it illegal are folks like police unions and private prison owners http://www.republicreport.org/2012/marijuana-lobby-illegal/
    The whole thing is very messed up and a great example of how corrupt things have gotten.

    By the way, your comments are always valuable and I am glad you make them.

  • The_Fixer

    Max, you wrote:

    The only reason marijuana remains illegal is because of lingering paranoia and xenophobia, along with the historical ignorance of Presidents Nixon and Reagan.

    I agree those are major reasons, but I have a couple that are closely interrelated. Consider two things:

    1) What will become of the people who were convicted of simple possession, perhaps those who merely possessed pot multiple times and are now languishing in jail? Would they be freed? It would be quite a project to sift through all of those cases and free those people. And what of the liability of the state and Federal governments for incarcerating people for a supposed crime, when they later got rid of that crime?

    2) For-profit “Corrections” companies do not want to see marijuana legalized – it would put a serious dent in their business, hence, their income. I would not be surprised to learn that they are a major force lobbying to keep it illegal.

    Whenever big money is involved, it will become a key issue, no matter what the debate.

  • It was said a century ago that cannabis/hemp was THEN being used for between 25,000 to 50,000 different products, the usual estimate being 35,000 different uses.

    That was a century ago. Consider the advancements since then in science, materials, processing, composites, plastics, chemical polymers, farming, engineering and more…and today, you’re literally looking at MILLIONS of potential uses…and all 100% renewable, natural, and using little to no poisons which would then NOT leach into the water tables of the planet.

    Just taking plastics alone is an eye-opener for most people. Take a quick look around you right now…if you don’t find at least 10 things made of plastic which COULD be made from hemp-seed oil-based plastics instead within a maximum of 30 seconds…you’re probably living in a hand-made log cabin in the woods…and someone should be delivering this printout in another week or so…

  • The only annoying thing about that statement is that I found that the only thing on the planet that I’ve proven allergic to is bupropion hydrochloride…more commonly known as Zyban. d=^P

    The 2000+ different chemicals in a pack of butts? NO PROBLEM!

    (sigh…)

  • You see, this is why I say “FREE” as opposed to “LEGAL.”

    And it ain’t uhzachaly rocket surgery ta git figgered, is it?

    “Basic human freedom”, as opposed to “an ever-expanding body of statutory limitations and penalties.”

    Why do people find astoundingly simple concepts so entirely impossible to understand?

    (I keep thinking that at some point very early on, Max’s parents were told something along the lines of “I’m sorry…I dropped the baby…please don’t sue the hospital…”)

  • I’ve said for years that if cannabis was freely available today, as it was for at least 12 millennia before “Anslinger and Company”, 99% of the problems would “mysteriously disappear.”

    No deaths due to cannabis overdose in 12,000+ years of known use…and yet, it’s treated as being more dangerous than the gun-toting gangs who murder people “in the name of the law” practically every day of the week?

    The first step is restoring EVERYONE’S basic human rights through the repeal of prohibition. NEXT, we can worry about keeping corporations from taking over…but “regulations” in a word that’s still in the process of a global economic collapse that we STILL REFUSE TO ACKNOWLEDGE…well…we’ve really got better things to worry about than creating new taxes on safe, natural, non-toxic, medicinal herbs that will be in even greater demand once nobody can afford “conventional medicine” much longer…

  • HerbGrinder

    Well said. Washington state is a prime example of a over regulate government Fuster Cluck you could ever imagine.

  • HerbGrinder

    Max, we legalized it here in Washington State, are Adults free to grow what they want? NO.

  • “DOWN WITH THE CIGARETTE! UP WITH THE CANNABIS!”

  • HerbGrinder

    Overgrow the government. The idea of any government declaring a plant “illegal” is absurd,the idea that citizens need ask permission from the government to use it is obscene.

  • The industrial uses available for hemp are almost countless, and then continue to come up with more with research. It’s time to free the leaf!

  • I missed a VERY valid point…Afghanistan was said to be the producer of 10% of the word’s opium supply “before the war began.” Now that the US military guards their poppy fields, it is NO said that they produce between 80% and 90% of the world’s HEROIN supply.

    Now I’m not one to tell people to go out and try opium, but it wouldn’t be at all surprising to think that heroin–a highly refined and processed form of raw opium–would be significantly more potentially damaging.

    It is also widely known that, at least in the case of the North American market, upwards of 60% of “drug cartel income” is derived from cannabis sales, which are then funneled out of the country (US or Canada) and funneled back in the form of cocaine and heroin, among other things that il people.

    Removing cannabis as a source of “illicit income for foreign criminals” will only be possible with the repeal of cannabis prohibition. Those who want to grow a few plants for their own use could then do so. Those who wished to set up businesses catering to the cannabis market could also do so. The majority of people will likely NOT actually grow their own, and would prefer to “just go to the weed store”, so this would simply bring most of the existing “underground businesses” above the dust line.

    This would create “taxable business revenues” which are currently sent to foreign countries. Each business would need furniture, fixtures, supplies, equipment. All of those items are already taxed.

    Each business would, if run well and providing a service people need or desire, eventually expand, and this would require hiring employees to help run the business. Now there are incomes, which are also already heavily taxed.

    Those people would then proceed to “waste their income on frivolous items” such as food, shelter, and other things. All of which are taxed already.

    All that’s needed to get started is the REPEAL of cannabis prohibition. No new tax codes needed. No new agencies. New new government agents. No new fees, fines, licenses, or anything that doesn’t already exist. COMMERCIAL regulations could be picked up from existing food quality standards, or from existing medical standards in the case of those purchasing cannabis for medicinal uses.

    Hopefully, people will figure this out BEFORE they allow the creation of yet another overreaching government body we don’t need, or allow the creation of even more taxes that we already know we can’t afford any more of. We already lose 85% (or more) of our life’s income to taxes of all forms…we’d really have to be amazingly ignorant to want to create MORE TAXES!

  • So, basically, write more words on more pieces of paper “to further delineate your rights and create new taxes.”

    What they’ve been doing all along.

    How’s that worked out so far, again?

  • Those with even minimally functional cranial matter will have already understood, and since you refuse to think, I’m not going to bother wasting any more time trying to explain it to you.

  • Max Mills

    Repealing prohibition would legalize it.

    If it was illegal and it is now legal (which is the opposite of illegal, it is a dichotomy) then it was legalized. Whether that is done through repeal or new legislation or whatever, it is all legalization.

  • You’re right. Write more statutes “to further define and delineate your rights ad give more of your rights to other third parties.” Might as well throw some “new government agencies” and “new taxes” and “new licenses” and “new fees” and “new forms” and “new penalties” into the mix while you’re at it..after all, what good is freedom if you don’t remove every last little bit of it with words on pieces of paper, right?

    You’re just too smart, i guess.

    NEVER say the words REPEAL CANNABIS PROHIBITION. That’ll just give people their rights back…and you DEFINITELY don’t want that!

    PS: Keep ignoring the whole message…that’s the way to understand the problem that you refuse to address, but that I have. Repeatedly.

  • Max Mills

    I am not calling for more of the same. We are commenting under an article in which I call for change. However, I was using the word “legalization” appropriately and you are writing your own definitions and criticizing others for using the actual definitions.

    Nothing else you said seems to really be a reply to me so I am not sure whether I should reply to it or not :P

  • Well, as long as you completely ignore the reality of what I said, I guess that’s what’s important.

    To you.

    Keep begging for “more of the same” and eventually, when you get the “more of the same” you keep begging for, you’ll understand why it’s time to demand something different.

    If you haven’t seen anything but “the same old thing” for the last 50+ years, and you see that we have consistently refused to alter what we demand of OUR EMPLOYEES, of course, the best course of action is to keep doing the same thing, and expect “some miracle change to occur.”

    It’s akin to saying “Well, we know it hasn’t worked in the past…we know it’s not working now…and we know that it was never designed to work in our favour….but if we just keep doing what we know doesn’t work, it’ll eventually just magically work.”

  • Max Mills

    Uh… YOU wrote those urbandictionary “definitions”/rants. The actual definition of the word according to Miriam-Webster is:

    “to make (something) legal : to allow (something) by law”

    If something is allowed by law it is legalized. If something is made legal (from illegal) it is legalized.

    http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/legalize

  • MJ prohibition was intentionally racist from the start.

    http://www.thefix.com/content/Maia-Szalavitz-pot-addiction-health2100

    (Harry Anslinger, the head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (precursor to the DEA)) pushed it for explicitly racist reasons, saying, “Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men,” and:

    “There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the U.S., and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz and swing result from marijuana use. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers and any others.

    “The main reason to prohibit marijuana, he said was “its effect on the degenerate races.”

  • Dave_K

    I am inclined to believe our kids before I believe the legions of addiction specialists, prosecutors, and other law enforcement officials who are paid for those who Police for Profit. Our own children have told us how we can make marijuana and other drugs more difficult for them to get. The SAMSHA drug surveys conducted yearly by the federal government have reported for close to twenty years now that kids say that they can get marijuana more easily than alcohol or tobacco. Most said that they could get it in 30 minutes or less if they choose to do so. This means that our children also have access to black tar heroin, meth, and other dangerous drugs from cartel dealers that bring them by the ton crossed our Southern border. As a society we have decided to allow adults to use tobacco and alcohol even though we realize that they are dangerous and that kids should not use them. We keep these substances from kids by requiring those who sell them to ask for ID’s and we take away their licenses to sell if they are caught doing so. The real question that will be posed by the legalization ballots is, “If people are determined to continue to use marijuana, do you support sales by the Mexican drug cartels who also sell meth, cocaine, and black tar heroin and settle their disputes with guns on our streets and in our neighborhoods or do you support legal marijuana retailers that ask for ID, pay taxes, do not sell other drugs, and refuse to sell to our kids?” Legalize marijuana and regulate in Arizona in 2016. We have to make marijuana at least as hard for our children to obtain as alcohol and tobacco. This is the right thing to do for our communities, for our children, and for the people of Arizona. A vote for cannabis legalization does not condone its use, rather it condemns a costly prohibition that causes more harm than it prevents.

  • Indigo

    George Washington raised hemp, or so I’ve heard, as did many farmers, including my ancestors, until Marijuana Prohibition was put in place. The American political class feels a Puritan obligation to prohibit something. The Great Experiment in Alcohol Prohibition was ringing failure, but the message about the futility of prohibiting reasonable products didn’t get through. So now we’ve de-sociaized tobacco to the point where one just doesn’t light up in public, but we continue to struggle to break through to the point where cannabis returns to its valid medicinal and recreational uses. Odd.I suppose the Puritans are looking for a trade-off. What shall we trade them for the return of cannabis to the public?

  • I don’t know that the world’s quite ready for that…but I do know that as more information about the medicinal properties of cannabis which have been suppressed for the last century start flooding back into the public consciousness, we DO need to repeal cannabis prohibition as a starting point towards restoration of ALL basic human rights.

    We also have to acknowledge that there was never a “war on drugs”, but rather, a cross between a “war on drug(user)s” and a “war BETWEEN drugs”. Pharmaceuticals kill hundreds of thousands worldwide annually…and yet…since those are immensely profitable to multinational chemical companies, those are OK. Cannabis has NEVER shown to cause death by overdose in over 12 MILLENNIA of known human use.

    It’s time we took much more serious note of objective reality, and stopped buying into the “well, I heard on the corporate-controlled news media the other day that…”

  • Just something to think about…

  • Actually, cannabis was “legalized” over a century ago…that’s why it’s “illegal” today: Someone wrote some words on some pieces of paper that REMOVED YOUR RIGHTS.

    Of course, if you want to be “legal”, all you need to do is write some words on some more pieces of paper that specifically limit your rights “to those ordained by the pieces of paper you write” and you’ll get just that.

    I’m one of those people who thinks that I’d like ALL of my rights restored…as I understand the difference between the words “FREE” and “LEGAL”.

    It’s not that difficult a thing to understand either…it’ll take about 30 seconds to look up the meaning of both words…it’s sad, knowing how few people are willing to devote a whole 30 seconds towards understanding the reason they’ve failed to gain any ground for the last 50+ years on this subject…

  • It’s time to wake up and REPEAL Cannabis Prohibition.

    NOT “Legalize”: ( http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Legalize )

    NOT “Decriminalize”: ( http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Decriminalize )

    but REPEAL: ( http://dictionary.com/browse/REPEAL )

    If you want to be FREE ( http://dictionary.com/browse/FREE ), first we’ve got to stop begging to be LEGAL ( http://dictionary.com/browse/LEGAL )

    The steps required:

    1) DEschedue cannabis. (National)
    2) REPEAL cannabis prohibition. (National)
    3) REMOVE Cannabis from the United Nations’ “Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs” where it never belonged in the first place. (Global)
    4) DONE!

    This is not to say that some regulation for retail sales, quality control, medical standards and the like won’t be needed to ensure public safety and medical efficacy for those using cannabis for it’s medicinal properties, but the first priority MUST be the removal of the underlying fraud of prohibition.

    As it stands, the US, Canada and the EU are all moving towards giving existing and removed rights to cannabis to corporations, so that corporations can profit off the sick, and the government can “take their cut of the profits of suffering” in the form of excessive and unwarranted taxation.

    Hw much longer do we keep playing political games designed for the people to lose, before we finally clue into the fact that we need to STOP PLAYING THEIR GAMES if we ever want to have any chance of simply restoring our basic rights as human beings?

    WORDS MATTER! It’s time we started using the right language.

    We’ll keep losing ground until we do.

    (Like I’ve been saying for a decade or so now…)

  • emjayay

    Ending all recreational drug illegality would further definance about 90% of third world government and police corruption and violence, including if not most especially in those Middle Eastern countries we’re so worried about. We’ll maybe be there in a hundred years or so, if we make it that far.

  • 2karmanot

    YES!

  • goulo

    Indeed. Progress is too slow on legalization, for a supposedly free society. Good article.

    (But one might quibble with the suggestion that the last 3 presidents have been “productive members of society”…) :)

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