Opinion: An argument for legalizing recreational marijuana

Over time, states have slowly begun decriminalizing, and even legalizing the recreational use of marijuana. What once was met with scare tactics and propaganda (e.g., “Reefer Madness,” 1936) has increasingly been perceived as a drug comparable to alcohol.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse suggests that marijuana is the most commonly used illegal drug in our country. However, despite similar usage between races, African-Americans are four times more likely to be incarcerated than white people for marijuana possession. In Iowa, the difference rises to eight times.

The war on drugs has exhibited some racially motivated undertones due to particular drugs carrying higher sentences depending on the demographic of its users. The same effort that raised the risk of marijuana incarceration also helped to set the mandatory minimum sentencing for possession of cocaine and crack very differently, despite scientifically being the same drug.  

With new sentencing reforms, the possession of 28 grams of crack held the same five-year minimum as 500 grams of cocaine. Crack was in higher use amongst minorities, while cocaine was more common with whites and the affluent. These disproportionate incarceration rates and mandatory minimum sentences have troubling implications of institutional racism.

According to The Washington Post, marijuana possession made up around 600,000 arrests in 2016. This means that cannabis led to more incarcerations than violent crimes such as rape, robbery, aggravated assault, and murder combined that year. Legalizing marijuana could aide in reducing the overcrowding of our prisons and create less burden on law enforcement.

These arrests not only impact the inmates, but the taxpayers. According to the Urban Institute Justice Policy Center, each inmate of a low-level security prison has an annual cost of $21,000. This means with the 600,000 marijuana convictions in 2016, these costs quickly add up for taxpayers.

Since legalizing recreational marijuana in 2014, Colorado’s government has collected $905,000,000 in taxes, licensing , and fee revenue from the drug sales. The total sales of marijuana in the state reached $5,900,000,000 as of January 2019. This has not only helped the state’s funding, but its economy as well.

State-controlled marijuana takes revenue away from gangs and drug dealers while making its usage safer for consumers. Those buying it illegally on the black market risk buying drugs laced with stronger, dangerous drugs or toxic chemicals. Recently, Iowa hospitals have received new patients due to a trend of distributors lacing the marijuana with bug spray before selling it.

The 2018 Farm Bill, signed by President Donald Trump removed hemp and its derivatives, such as cannabidiol (CBD), from the Controlled Substances Act. Hemp, unlike marijuana, does not contain the same intoxicating properties known as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Because of this, hemp is often grown for industrial reasons and used to make clothes, rope, sunscreen and makeup.

This new bill allows the growing of hemp by farmers. Iowa farmers could benefit from this as hemp is a lucrative business with an acre typically being worth around $60,000.

What is taking us so long? It seems to be a general consensus that marijuana will eventually be legalized in most of the country, it’s just a matter of time. It can be regulated, taxed, and profited upon instead of being heavily criminalized and filling prisons with non-violent offenders.

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