The legalization of marijuana is gaining traction throughout the United States. Supporters of marijuana legalization often pose an economic argument and claim that it is an issue of racial...

The legalization of marijuana is gaining traction throughout the United States. Supporters of marijuana legalization often pose an economic argument and claim that it is an issue of racial justice. Those who oppose the legalization of the drug argue that the government has an obligation to create active and productive citizens and that legalizing marijuana harms the attainment of that goal. Opponents argue that marijuana legalization is a "slippery slope" that could lead to the legalization of drugs such as cocaine and heroin.

Do you think that the legalization of drugs like marijuana is morally justifiable or not?

Expert Answers
caroline-harrison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As the previous post gave a nice overview of the position against the legalization of marijuana, I would like to provide some information on the other side of the issue.

Though it is certainly true that marijuana legalization would not magically solve the issue of racial bias in police arrests, it is also true that the criminalization of marijuana has disproportionately affected young men of color. A 2013 report by the ACLU found that while marijuana use is approximately equal between the black and white population, black individuals were about 3.7 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession. As marijuana arrests account for nearly half of all drug arrests, this actually represents a huge racial disparity in our criminal justice system. To help put the colossal number of marijuana arrests in perspective, think about this: there were over 8 million marijuana “busts” between 2001 and 2010, which averages out to one arrest every 37 seconds!

While there is some scientific support for the idea that marijuana acts as a “gateway drug,” it has been difficult to establish consensus on this issue for a number of reasons. Though marijuana use is undoubtedly correlated with the use of harder drugs like cocaine, this does not mean that marijuana was actually the cause of the transition to harder drugs. To understand why we need to be aware of the difference between correlation and causation, consider this example: we know that 100% of serial killers drink water, but even though those two things are highly correlated, we obviously know that drinking water does not cause one to become a serial killer. It is also worth noting that underage smoking and alcohol use also correlate with hard drug use later in life, though both tobacco and alcohol are legal substances. It may very well be the case that individuals who are predisposed to hard drug use start out using marijuana simply because it is both cheaper and easier to access than harder drugs. Additionally, the data on marijuana usage suggests that the vast majority of marijuana users do not go on to use hard drugs. Ultimately, the U.S. government spends billions of dollars a year enforcing marijuana laws. The lack of hard evidence proving that marijuana drastically increases the use of harder drugs makes it difficult to support the claim that the cost benefits of legalization would be outweighed by the cost of a hypothetical increase in illegal drug users.

In terms of health effects, marijuana has been routinely proved to be less dangerous than alcohol (again, a legal substance). In fact, it is worth noting that alcohol is often ranked as one of, if not the most, harmful substances in terms of danger to the consuming individual and danger to others (see links for more info). To clarify some information in the previous post, it is not really possible to overdose from marijuana in the traditional sense. While it is certainly possible to intake an excessive amount of marijuana—which may result in an increase in anxiety and paranoia and a decrease in motor ability—this is not the same sort of overdose that we are talking about with respect to harder drugs like heroin, prescription painkillers, cocaine, etc. It is virtually impossible to consume a lethal or toxic dose of marijuana, though as marijuana inhibits focus and motor skills, being under the influence of marijuana makes certain activities like driving incredibly risky. Another side to the medical issue is that marijuana is known to have positive medical applications. For example, it can be used to relieve pain and improve appetite in patients undergoing chemotherapy. Of course, it is quite difficult to study the benefits and drawbacks of marijuana because it is currently classified as a Schedule I Drug, alongside much more objectively dangerous drugs such as heroin, LSD, MDMA, and ecstasy. This means that the federal government considers marijuana to have “no accepted medical use,” making it difficult for scientists study its effects further. For years, scientists, medical professionals, and even law enforcement personnel have criticized marijuana’s Schedule I classification as arbitrary and not based in evidence.

Ultimately, the available data and science on marijuana use conclusively show that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol. Many people believe that if we allow the legal consumption of dangerous substances like alcohol and tobacco, it logically follows that we should legalize marijuana as well. Of course, whether or not this is morally justifiable depends on your own point of view. Some people think that, given the health risks, marijuana, alcohol, and tobacco should all be illegal. Drug use is a complex topic, and you will find that people have a whole range of views on the issue. There are undoubtedly both benefits and drawbacks to marijuana legalization, and I hope that having access to both sides of the debate will help you to decide for yourself what you support!

Extra Resources: 

vanertc eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Technically, since moral values are deeply individual, there is moral justification for legalizing marijuana as well as keeping it illegal.  Herein lies the dilemma, since this is a social issue that affects all U.S. citizens. However, based on my moral and logical beliefs, I would argue that marijuana should remain an illegal substance.

There is faulty reasoning in the belief that legalizing marijuana will eliminate prejudism against certain populations. For one, marijuana is not the only illegal substance or behavior for which many African-American males are arrested and incarcerated (which is also true for Americans of other race); legalizing it will not suddenly equalize the percentage of arrests based on race.  In fact, if legalization occurs, many young men may actually have a greater likelihood of trouble with the law, since studies show that marijuana use inhibits apprehensions about trying heavier illegal drugs.  The majority of cocaine and heroin users admit that they previously used cannabis, but eventually needed something stronger to produce the same level of “high” (Sullum, 2003). A readily available gateway drug will only increase the number of illegal drug users amongst all races. This also debunks the theory that we will save taxpayer dollars used for the “war on drugs,” which leads to the next argument.

There is further faulty reasoning in the argument that legalizing cannabis will save this country money.  One area of concern is the increased cost of health care due to the effects of cannabis. Studies have shown that this drug has especially detrimental effects on the teen brain during a time of important wiring, or growth, resulting in faulty wiring with regular use.  (And let’s face it.  Age limit aside, teens would have a much easier time accessing pot if it was legalized.)  Teens who smoke marijuana are also twice as likely to develop anxiety and more prone to car and other accidents. Besides the obvious moral dilemmas here, these issues will lead to increased costs to taxpayers.  Even more concerning, doctors have “seen an increase in marijuana overdose patients every year since Washington state legalized recreational use of the drug in late 2012. Many of these are teens as young as 14, struggling with hallucinations and suicidal thoughts” (Itsines, 2016, p.7). For me this is one of the most concerning moral issues with legalizing marijuana--the effects it will have on this country’s children and young adults, who are the future of this country.  

Would legalizing marijuana have some benefits?  Undoubtedly, but I don’t believe that it would morally be worth the consequences that would inevitably result.


Itsines, J. (2016, Feb.). Is pot the next legal killer? Scholastic Choices 31(5), 4-7.  

Sullum, J. (2003, March). High road. Reason, 34(10), 14. 

adamar | Student

In addition to the other points raised, there is a somewhat safe way to judge the moral efficacy of legalizing marijuana. Although there has to be some clarification about the meaning of the word 'moral'. This is because morality is a code of conduct that gives positive and negative valuations to any given action.

For example, killing a cow is considered immoral to someone practicing Hinduism while it is perfectly moral for most Christians. But each holds that a moral action is one that produces a net positive outcome to the happiness of humanity. It is also important to remember that morality is often thought of as a purely religious (not scientific) concept open to interpretation.

This has allowed a lot of interpretations that are at odds with each other like the above example. We must agree on what it means to be moral. But if we can agree that reducing suffering is moral, then we must also agree that legalizing marijuana is moral.

Research from medical professionals like Tikun Olam in Israel (1) and states that have legalized recreational weed shows that legalizing marijuana reduces human suffering. It reduces pain, does not poison the body, reduces violent tendencies and can decrease dependence on addictive substances like opioids. Unlike alcohol, tobacco, Xanax and sugar, marijuana is does not create a chemical dependence.

But criminalizing marijuana actively increases human suffering. It does this by all the means already discussed by others and has life-long consequences. Treating marijuana as a criminal activity instead of a medical one also ends up increasing the financial, institutional, and communal costs.

Legalizing marijuana decreases policing costs (2) without increasing public danger. Swat Teams spend almost 80% of their time on drug warrants but only 7% involved hostages, barricades or active shooters. So legalizing marijuana would have prevented 85 fatal raids between 2010 and 2017 (3).

This means that more than 85 more people would be alive if weed was legalized. If our goal is to reduce suffering, increasing the chances of having a deadly encounter with a police officer is the wrong choice. Despite claims by police, politicians and religious leaders, evidence shows marijuana legalization reduces the number of police encouters.

When Portugal legalized all drugs, the government reported that it created a net decrease in overall human suffering. People suffering from addiction received medical attention, criminal organizations lost their control over supply, and the overall number of users and overdoses (including in teens) decreased. The same trend is seen in states that legalize recreational marijuana.

So by comparing the overall outcomes of legalization versus criminalizing marijuana, we can see legalization creates less human suffering. Based off our agreed premise that reduced suffering is the correct moral choice, our answer is clear. Legalizing marijuana is our moral prerogative.





user7126269 | Student

The government does have an obligation to make sure people are productive members of society.  Legalizing marijuana is not justifiable.  One study has shown that there was an 8 point reduction in the IQ of those who smoke pot heavily.  Marijuana use can also increase heart rates giving you more of a chance of having a heart attack. Marijuana can also make mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, short-term psychosis, and schizophrenia worse off than before.

If you weigh all of that in than it wouldn't be morally justified, because than the government would not be doing their best to protect people.