With more and more states at least considering legalizing marijuana — either medically or recreationally — the polarizing subject continues to pick up supporters on both sides of the issue. Those who want it fully legalized and those who want to keep it illegal have entrenched themselves for a potentially long and arduous battle.
From marijuana advocates to lawyers and law enforcement officials, everyone seems to have a strong opinion about marijuana and whether it should be and will be legalized.
Pros & Cons
Kris Krane, for one, who is the principal and managing partner at 4Front Advisors, a medical cannabis dispensary consulting firm, says he sees great benefit to legalizing marijuana fully.
â€œThe pros of legalization are nearly endless,â€ he said in an interview with TestCountry.
As long as it is regulated like alcohol, Krane says, legalizing it should:
- eliminate the criminal black market for it;
- reduce violence in American cities and in Mexico;
- deny drug cartels of a key revenue source;
- free up police resources to focus on violent and dangerous crimes, rather than non-violent marijuana consumers;
- generate billions in tax revenue for cash strapped governments; and
- generate millions of new jobs for the economy.
Freeing up police resources to tackle more violent and pressing crime and generating tax revenue is a common theme with people who advocate for the legalization of marijuana.
The court system would likely benefit, too, with fewer cases to try and the overburdened jail system would also benefit from fewer people needing to be placed in prison, Dallas criminal defense attorney Paul Saputo Jr. said.
â€œI think the biggest impact will be to remove a number of high-turnaround people, reducing some stress on deputies and jail systems, and to clear jails of poor people who would otherwise be able to bail themselves out quickly if they were not poor,â€ the defense lawyer said.
More stringent regulation of marijuana is also a common pro listed in favor of legalization.
â€œMarijuana could be better regulated if it was legal,â€ observed Arkady Bukh, a criminal defense lawyer in New York and a member of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). â€œStores and marijuana dispensaries can card kids and prevent young people from getting marijuana, while people who illegally sell marijuana donâ€™t do that.â€
But, with all the talk of the pros of marijuana legalization, plenty of people still see potential cons. Kirby Lavallee, a private investigator with Sharpline Investigations and a former DUI investigator and drug recognition expert, said some cons he can foresee are:
- a possible increase in burglaries or robberies of business selling marijuana, due to the large quantity of marijuana and cash on hand
- an increased number of impaired drivers on the roadway due to marijuana impairment
- an increase in calls to emergency services due to people possibly having negative reactions
Lavallee said in his opinion he believes legalizing it would actually make it more readily available to younger people, possibly having some negative impacts on education and causing possible health issues.
He also doesnâ€™t see it as the innocuous drug that many marijuana legalization activists do.
â€œI truly believe that this would be a huge issue for Law Enforcement Officers nationwide,â€ Lavallee said. â€œMost people say marijuana isn’t a harsh drug and believe that it doesn’t cause any issues. I can say in my experience as a Deputy Sheriff most of the street level violence is drug related, more specifically marijuana because it tends to be more readily available.â€
Another downside to legalizing marijuana is that it will take away the policeâ€™s ability to search a vehicle or a person when they smell the odor of marijuana, which is legitimate grounds for searching a vehicle or a person as long as itâ€™s illegal. Legalizing it would take this tactic away, Lavallee said.
â€œI believe that law enforcement will have some hurdles to cross with catching criminals with other illegal drugs which cannot be detected by smell, along with firearms and other illegal items normally found while conducting searches,â€ the private investigator said.
Lavallee also called marijuana a gateway drug that leads people to experiment with harder drugs. He also said he believes incidents of personal injury would rise, as more people would be under the influence at work or while driving, potentially causing more accidents in the workplace, on the roadways and out in public places. As personal injuries increase, Lavallee said, he believes more people will be receiving medical benefits and insurance companies will have lawsuit settlements to deal with as a result.
Opinions differ in regards to the potential for more impaired driving cases, though. Bukh called the evidence that says marijuana impairs a personâ€™s driving to the point of being dangerous â€œinconclusive.â€
Legalization and Medical Marijuana
Whether legalization for recreational purposes would affect its standing medically — as medication is not generally deemed to be a recreational substance — Krane said he believed legalizing it would actually be a boon to the advancement of medical marijuana, as its current standing as a schedule 1 drug means researchers cannot conduct studies on its health benefits. Full legalization would pave the way for research to be done on its health benefits and would likely lead to a wave of new cannabinoid medications, he says.
Similarly, Bukh said its legalization for recreational use may even lead to more research and development.
â€œLegalization for recreational purposes can also lead to more growth and development of different strains of cannabis plants that could have different medicinal benefits,â€ he noted.
As its legalization continues to be spotty, with states legalizing it either medically or recreationally one at a time and the federal government opting not to, whether it will eventually be fully legal across the country also saw disagreement.
Krane, Saputo and Lavallee all said its legalization across the country seemed like an inevitability.Â But, Bukh saw more of an issue with its potential for nationwide legalization.
â€œI believe it will be difficult for marijuana to be legalized nationwide,â€ he said.
Bukh pointed to progressive states like New York being slow to move forward with legalization efforts even for medical marijuana.
The courts are not going to legalize marijuana because thereâ€™s no constitutional right to the drug, the defense attorney pointed out, Â and because itâ€™s so politically polarizing, the federal government doesnâ€™t want to really touch it at this point.
Bukh also said that not all states make policy decisions based on factual evidence. Some of them, he noted, make policy decisions based on ideology, so even if the states that have legalized it recreationally show more positive effects than negative effects, it will likely be a long time before every state legalizes it and thereâ€™s no guarantee that will happen.
Obstacles to Legalization
Standing in the way of legalization across the country is that same political polarization that Bukh pointed to before. As it is being treated as a partisan issue, people tend to get entrenched in their partyâ€™s position rather than looking at the issue from a factual perspective. To counteract this will take a grassroots movement, he said.
â€œThere is a libertarian, conservative, liberal and progressive argument to be made for legalization and all of these arguments should be made at the grassroots level to drive support and convince party leadership of all major political parties to get on board,â€ he stated.
Krane agreed that the federal government largely remains the biggest obstacle to full legalization, as it has largely opposed it at every step while state lawmakers seem to be well behind the public in terms of their support for legalization.
The best way to get around this obstacle, he says, is to continue to let the voters decide on whether they want it legalized or not.
â€œWe have been able to get around these obstacles by taking the issue directly to the voters. Â Every time we have done so, in Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, and DC, voters have overwhelmingly supported legalization,â€ he said.
As it continues its slow march toward acceptance and legalization throughout many different states, marijuana will likely continue to also polarize people as they fall into either the pro-legalization or anti-legalization camps.