Call it a sign of society’s moral erosion, an act of economic desperation or folks finally coming to their senses, but a record-high number of Americans – 61% – now support marijuana legalization, according to a March 2016 survey by the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Such sentiment is the product of a decades-long shift in perspective, which has taken this hot-button issue from the realm of “I didn't inhale, and I never tried again” to "When I was a kid I inhaled frequently; that was the point." And that’s just commanders in chief talking!
But the topic of toking has in recent years come to a head, with four states and the District of Columbia legalizing the drug and another 16 states enacting some form of decriminalization, turning the rest of us into rubberneckers eager to see what would happen. The early returns have been promising for pot proponents, with Washington reaping $83 million in tax revenue the first year of legalization, while also saving millions of dollars on law enforcement resources, thanks to a 98% drop in low-level marijuana offenses. Similarly, Colorado collected roughly $41 million in tax revenue and saw an 84% decline in marijuana-possession arrests.
Not everyone is ready to climb aboard Puff the Magic Dragon just yet, however. From concerned parents to threatened corporations, the reasons for opposition are varied. For example, the pharmaceutical industry is one of the biggest anti-marijuana lobbying groups, and a recent study from researchers at the University of Georgia perhaps explains why, showing that the average doctor in a medical-marijuana state writes 1,589 fewer prescriptions for anti-anxiety, anti-nausea and seizure medication each year.
With that in mind and much of the pot problem still unsolved, we turned to a panel of leading experts in the fields of economics, public policy, law enforcement and healthcare for additional insights. We asked them one simple question: Should marijuana be legal? You can find their bios and responses – including 19 Yes’s and 7 No’s – below. And make sure to share your thoughts on the issue in the Comments section, too!
Yes – Marijuana Should Be Legal
- “Back in 1966, concerned that so many young people were harming themselves through the use of marijuana, I began to review the medical and scientific literature to help clarify the nature of this harmfulness. Much to my surprise, I discovered that it was a substance remarkably free of toxicity. In fact, it is far safer than any pharmaceutical or recreational drug. There is no record of a single overdose death around the world from its recreational or medicinal use. Compare that to aspirin, which is responsible for more than 1000 deaths per year in this country alone.”
- Lester Grinspoon, M.D. // Associate Professor Emeritus, Harvard Medical School
- “We need to move beyond our completely broken prohibition model on marijuana to a sensible tax-and-regulate model. It’s widely recognized that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol, and our law is dishonest in how we treat it.”
- Richard N. Gottfried // Chair, Committee On Health, New York State Assembly
- “Cannabis should be legalized. Legalization of adult use of cannabis would change the landscape of cannabis use, and deliveries would be a key component in continuing to allow legal users safe access to quality tested cannabis while keeping cannabis out of the hands of minors.”
- Keith McCarty // CEO and Founder, Eaze
- “If marijuana were legalized and regulated, thus treating it the same way we treat alcohol in this country, a number of positive developments should be expected to follow. First, we would put an end to the extraordinarily discriminatory fashion in which we have enforced our marijuana laws, which has done extensive damage to communities of color. Second, we could begin to treat addiction as a health problem, which is what it is. Third, we could begin to educate our children more honestly and, therefore, more effectively, as we do about alcohol and cigarettes.”
- Andrew Horwitz // Assistant Dean for Experiential Education, Roger Williams University School of Law
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No – Marijuana Should Not Be Legal
- “Though drug policy certainly needs reforms – people shouldn’t be given a criminal record for low-level pot use, and we need more treatment available, to name some examples – marijuana legalization is a very bad idea, unless, of course, we want to experience the 100-year disaster of Big Tobacco all over again.”
- Kevin A. Sabet, PhD // Director, Drug Policy Institute, University of Florida College of Medicine
- “One of my studies was related to marijuana use and the incidence of non-seminoma testicular cancer. I found an association. This association has been verified by two other studies. For this reason, among others, I definitely do not support legalization of marijuana.”
- Janet R. Daling, PhD // Professor Emeritus, University of Washington School of Public Health
- “If the legalization of marijuana occurs widespread, then our generation will grow up to be a population of cannabis addicts who will pay little attention to their regular life. The only benefit of legalization of marijuana is to the older society for its medicinal uses, and will be unfortunately used for its pleasure and peer pressure purposes in the youngsters.”
- Chitra D. Mandyam, PhD // Research Biologist, VA San Diego Healthcare System
- “Among the vulnerable, marijuana consumption increases the likelihood of progressing to schizophrenia by about fourfold. There is good evidence that marijuana is causal in this progression, perhaps in relation to the potency of marijuana consumed.”
- William T. Carpenter Jr., M.D. // Professor of Psychiatry and Pharmacology, University of Maryland School of Medicine
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