Term Paper: Marijuana Legalization Debate

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Marijuana in the 21st Century

The purpose of this paper is to objectively define the various criterions that make up each side in the marijuana legalization debate and conclude which arguments hold the most veracity. To give the reader of this paper a concise view of individual criterions, both sides of the issue will each receive a paragraph's worth of attention, with the pro-legalization paragraph immediately preceding the anti-legalization paragraph. Let us begin by defining the term legalization as it pertains to marijuana use.

Legalization is defined as a policy abolishing criminal and civil penalties for the possession or sale of marijuana (Boyd 1). Instead these penalties will be replaced with regulation. Such regulation are inclusive of limitations on marijuana use that are consistent with the restrictions opposed upon the use and sale of alcohol and tobacco. In addition marijuana regulation model utilizes restrictions such as minimum age requirements, taxes, and licensing to manage circulation (Boyd 1).

It should be known that I side exclusively with the logic of the pro-legalization camp. While I admire the multitude of moral idealizations that drive the anti-legalization camp, these concepts fail to produce positive results when applied to practical, realistic scenarios. Before I delve into the bulk of the arguments between the pro and anti-legalization camps, it is of utmost importance to the narrative of this essay to understand how marijuana came to be outlawed in the United States.

An abbreviated history of the journey to ban marijuana in the United States is embodied by racism and corporate greed. In the early 1900s, Mexicans immigrated en masse to the United States and provided cheap labor for the farming industry. When the Great Depression hit in the 1930s, white Americans accused Mexican immigrants of taking away vital job opportunities. In order to rationalize its hatred of these immigrants, white America openly criticized the lifestyle that Mexicans brought to the United States, which included vast shanty towns, "uncivilized behavior," and most importantly, marijuana use. By 1937, the possession and transfer of marijuana was made illegal by the Marijuana Tax Act. Marijuana became a pretext for harassment and calls for expulsion of Mexican immigrants from the United States. Much of the testimony that supported the MTA came from publisher William Randolph Hearst's newspaper empire. Starting in the 1920s, use of hemp (the fiber derivative of plants from the genus Cannabis) in paper manufacturing began to grow in popularity. Hearst had significant investments in the timber industry that printed his newspapers, and if hemp started to take business away from timber-based paper manufacturing, Hearst's personal wealth would have taken a major hit. Hearst forced his newspapers to carry disparaging coverage about marijuana, and soon that coverage would make its way into the testimony of anti-marijuana campaigners during the MTA proceedings.

To introduce the pro-legalization camp, I am going to start with its most simplistic argument, an argument I will refer to as the "danger precedent." If a previously legalized drug is considered by medical professionals to be more harmful to its users' health than the drug under current scrutiny, then the debated drug's prospective legality cannot be withheld under the guise of preserving the public's health. Those lobbying to ban the substance in question can fall back on arguments concerning socioeconomic impact or any other sound variable, but they cannot claim to represent the interests of the population's physical health. The very core of the government's mission in regulating controlled substances revolves around the notion of protecting the public from substances it deems potentially hazardous to individual health. Yet if the government legalizes Drug a, which is orders of magnitude more harmful than Drug B, the government's mission is certainly counterintuitive to sound logic. Alcohol is a prime example of this concept. A recent study in France regarding fatal automobile accidents concluded that 2.5% of such accidents were caused by marijuana use, while 29% of such accidents were caused by alcohol use. (WebMD) the danger precedent can be viewed as a magnification of John Stuart Mill's harm principle, which states that "the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others." (Mill) Even though our federal government has largely failed this principle in the legalization of alcohol, in comparison, the government would be seen as adhering more to the harm principle if it were to legalize a substance that causes far less harm to the common good. This decrease in harm will be expanded upon below.

Conservatives would decry my application of the danger precedent to the legalization of marijuana as factually bankrupt. Over the past century, conservatives have successfully painted a cultural image of marijuana that depicts the substance as highly harmful to one's physical and mental well-being. They tend to back up this theory with scientific claims, regardless of how dubious those claims may be. This potential for flawed information is the primary issue with much of this detraction, as much of the anti-marijuana movement's rhetoric has been gleaned from decades of propaganda, hearsay, exaggerations, and outright lies. This is why each claim against marijuana needs to be checked against the most up-to-date scientific research available. The first mass anti-marijuana movement was the "Reefer Madness" campaign that started in the federal ban on marijuana helped to create the drug war that now exists in the United States and Mexico. I use the word "helped" because marijuana is not the only drug that ignited this war, as much of the blame can also laid upon the smuggling of cocaine, heroin, and ecstasy. A great deal of research on the war on drugs has found it to be quite costly and the amount of drug use and drug related incarcerations have actually increased and not decreased. Indeed, "there is a growing concern about the efficacy of the war on drugs and the use of incarceration as a deterrent. Nationally, in 1980 there were 24,000 drug offenders in state prisons; in 2004 there were 400,000. There was virtually no increase in other types of offenders. While basic statistics on total marijuana production and consumption do not exist in any reasonable form, accurate estimates exist for drugs like heroin. As a result, studies related to these other drugs can inform our understanding of the consequences of legalization of marijuana (Boyd, 25)." If the facts known about incarceration rates for drugs such as heroin or cocaine are an indication of the production and consumption of marijuana many incarcerated individuals are in prison as a result of marijuana related offenses. Such incarcerations drain valuable resources and seem unwarranted given the more benign nature of marijuana when compared to drugs such as heroin and cocaine.

Another argument for the legislation of marijuana lies in the idea that there are economic benefits associated with such a policy. States throughout the country are experiencing declines in tax revenue as a result of unemployment and massive numbers of foreclosures. To leverage such losses some economists have argued that the legalization of marijuana is necessary. An article entitled "Legalize Marijuana for Tax Revenue" explains the amount of tax revenue that could be realized nationally from the legal sell of marijuana. The article concedes that the statistics on marijuana consumption is not readily available because it is not regulated. However the author estimates that there are between 25 million and 60 million marijuana consumers in America. In addition the average cost of a marijuana per cigarette is $5. per cigarette, factoring in one per day for each user, total spending on marijuana may add up to $45 billion to $110 billion a year.

"From Canada we've learned that the production cost of (government-sponsored) marijuana is roughly 33¢ a gram. Currently, U.S. marijuana consumers pay at least $10 per gram retail for illegal marijuana. If the cost of retailing and distribution is the same as for legal tobacco cigarettes, about 10¢ a gram, then selling the (legal) product at exactly the same prices as on the street today ($10 per gram) could raise $40 billion to $100 billion in new revenue. Not chump change. Government would simply be transferring revenue from organized crime to the public purse (Eastori)."

As it pertains more specifically to individual states, California is currently in a severe budget crisis. The state has undergone many budget cuts and is now contemplating ending welfare financial aid to students and eliminating welfare benefits. According to an article entitled "Now on the ballot, could marijuana legalization happen in California?," "Banning marijuana outright has been a disaster, fueling a massive, increasingly brutal underground economy, wasting billions in scarce law enforcement resources, and making criminals out of countless law-abiding citizens (Wood 1)." In the case of California the resources that are being utilized to Indeed California is not the only state that could benefit finically from the legalization of Marijuana. According to an article entitled "The Budgetary Implications of Marijuana Decriminalization and Legalization for Hawaii," the state of Hawaii could also benefit a… [END OF PREVIEW]

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