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Marijuana has been legalized throughout much of the United States. The drug is largely benign, and most Americans are familiar with its effects. Efforts to prohibit marijuana have been spectacularly unsuccessful, whereas legalization has had profoundly positive social and economic effects on the states. In short: marijuana seems to be a good thing for America!

Health Impact of Marijuana

There are both positive and negative impacts on marijuana. There are zealous opponents that condemn marijuana as a dangerous substance without any redeeming medical use. And on the other hand, there are proponents of cannabis that seem to revere the substance as a sort of cure-all that aids in almost everything from cancer to mental well-being. The reality is that marijuana can affect the respiratory system. That impact is determined largely by how it is consumed, and quite often, marijuana is smoked. Smoking, in any form, can harm lung tissue and cause damage to the small blood vessels that carry oxygen throughout the body. In fact, smoking marijuana regularly can even lead to an increased risk of bronchitis, cough, and sinus infections. Because smoking regularly does cause health problems, users should be aware of the harm they are causing to their lungs, and consider whether there are alternatives to smoking. Additionally, developing brains, like those in infants and minors, are especially sensitive to the long-term impacts of chemical influences; and it is still unknown how the developing mind is impacted by marijuana. Because we do not understand how children may be affected by exposure to marijuana, all minors should avoid consumption or contact with cannabis.

All things considered, marijuana is generally quite benign. You cannot overdose on cannabis, you cannot get physically addicted to it, nor does marijuana cause any discernable harm to cognitive functions in adults. The consumption of marijuana results in a general sense of well-being, and an increase in appetite. Additionally, Israel conducted extensive research that suggests marijuana is a highly potent anti-carcinogen. The health benefits associated with cannabis also include increased circulation to areas where applied, reduced blood pressure, and sleep regulation. In sum, Marijuana has many beneficial effects, and the effects of intoxication are quite unremarkable. Marijuana use has more than doubled in the past five years, and there is no indication that responsible use among adults has any adverse health impacts.

Marijuana Prohibition

Most Americans are familiar with marijuana, and its many names—ganja, reefer, weed, pot, and herb (just to name a few). Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug in the United States, with an estimated 37.6 million users annually according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC); and more than 52% of Americans admit to having tried it. However, despite its widespread use, it is still considered a dangerous illegal substance in many U.S. jurisdictions. And historically, marijuana laws have resulted in a lot of arrests and convictions—especially among minority populations. There have been more than 15 million marijuana arrests in the United States since 1995—a sum that exceeds all violent crimes combined. Moreover, over 90% of marijuana arrests are for mere possession, not distribution or manufacturing. And in 2012 (the last year for which data is available), federal government figures indicated there were more than 40,000 U.S. citizens in state and federal prisons for marijuana convictions.

Marijuana prohibition has resulted in the incarceration of millions of citizens over the nearly 90 years since it was first made federally illegal in 1937. And that cost has been passed on to society—taxes and overcrowded prisons have been the result of prohibition. The sale of marijuana has not been abated by nearly a century of concerted government efforts. It, therefore, seems quite conclusive that marijuana prohibition has failed spectacularly. Notwithstanding the shortcomings and burdens of prohibition, seventeen states still allow no marijuana use whatsoever and continue to apply draconian punishments for marijuana convictions.

Marijuana Legalization

The states that have legalized marijuana have benefited significantly. Marijuana is medically legal in 30 states and the District of Columbia, and 11 states have legalized recreational use—the states allowing recreational use among adults include: Alaska, California, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Vermont. The legalization of marijuana has been swiftly accompanied by commercialization and subsequent marketing of the product. Retail marijuana sales now exceed $1 billion annually in Colorado and Washington (the first two states to legalize marijuana). And Colorado generated $250 million in marijuana taxes in 2018, while Washington collected more than $430 million that same year. The tax revenue for marijuana has been staggering, and the benefits of legalization have not only been constrained to economics.

The sweeping legalization of marijuana has resulted in a doubling of adult marijuana use among the U.S. population. However, use among minors has actually diminished. From 1975-2012, around 90% of 12th-grade students reported that marijuana was “fairly easy” or “very easy” to obtain. However, by 2018, for the first time since the survey began 40 years prior, only 79.7% of high school seniors perceived marijuana as “easy” to obtain (after states began to legalize). This is due largely to the government regulation of the industry. Nowadays, marijuana retailers are subject to strict laws that prevent most minors from obtaining cannabis, and most street dealers of cannabis have been driven out by legitimate retailers. As a result, minors are having a harder time getting ahold of marijuana. The legalization of marijuana also reduces other criminal elements. Since states began legalizing marijuana, the foreign drug trade has plummeted for that product. Seizures at the U.S. ports of entry have dropped from 2.4 million pounds of marijuana in 2013 to less than 900 thousand pounds in 2018. This is because foreign cartels cannot compete with legitimate businesses. The overhead and risks of smuggling drugs into the United States reduces the viability of the illegal marijuana industry. In short, legalization is driving the criminal syndicates out of the marijuana business.

The legalization of marijuana provides incredible tax revenue and reduces the negative elements that are associated with illegal drugs. Marijuana generates billions in taxes annually, and the illegal drug trade is suffering as a consequence. The social benefits of marijuana legalization are immediate, dramatic, and overtly positive!

Craig R. Chlarson