The previous answer was very thorough and quite strong. I would suggest that another compelling argument to legalizing marijuana would be in the economic realm. Looking at the example from the state of Colorado, legalizing marijuana has generated a great deal of public revenue. In the month of January, Colorado was able to create about two million dollars in revenue from the taxes of marijuana sales. The revenue generated was expected and there is little reason to suggest that it won't continue into the following months:
Oglesby said Colorado's pot sales could grow dramatically in future months as new stores open and marijuana sellers pay more wholesale taxes. Marijuana sellers were allowed a one-time tax-free transfer of medical pot inventory to the recreational market, a caveat that depressed January wholesale tax results.
At a time when so many states are struggling for money, an advantage to the legalization of marijuana could be the economic end. Colorado is actually struggling to figure out what could be done with the revenue. Seeing that some states are experiencing economic slowdown or are experiencing difficulty for paying for public services and pensions to the elderly, this could be another benefit to the legalization of marijuana debate.
Naturally, economics are not the only motivating force. Yet, when ascertaining the benefits of legalizing marijuana, the economic one can be compelling. Consider the economic benefits of marijuana from a law enforcement point of view. If marijuana was legalized, police budgets could allocate funds to other areas of law enforcement where greater monetary emphasis is needed. Crimes such as burglaries, sexual assaults, or child abuse or abductions could receive greater economic support. These crimes are far worse and create "the deepest social fear" than marijuana usage. It is in this light where another economic advantage to the legalization of marijuana can be seen.
Here are some Pros as requested,
- The legal sale of marijuana substantially adds income to the state through purchases and taxes. (This is evinced in the states of Colorado and Washington in which marijuana has been made legal)
- The sale of marijuana is controlled when it is legalized and reduces criminal activity and profit.
- The product itself is safer. (There have been cases of marijuana sold by drug dealers that have been laced with other substances.)
- Purchasers can obtain it without reprisal from the law. People who can use it for medical purposes (glaucoma, etc.) can easily obtain it.
- The sale of marijuana legally benefits small businesses, helping with the start up of new enterprises which employ people, who then contribute to the economy of their state.
- Those who grow it agriculturally also benefit economically as well as anyone that they employ. Again, they contribute to the economy of their state.
The eventual legalization of marijuana seems inevitable. The public's attitude towards it has been softening over the years. The police cannot enforce the laws against it because there are too many people using it. This was the case with booze during Prohibition, and eventually the government had to repeal it. The laws against marijuana growing, selling, and possession makes criminals out of millions of Americans. Now we have a strange situation in which marijuana possession is legal in some states and illegal in the United States. The individual states are never effective in enforcing federal laws, and the federal government does not have the manpower to enforce its own laws. It has always been ridiculous, as others have pointed out above, to make booze legal and marijuana illegal. Booze is a lot more dangerous than pot. Even tobacco is a lot more dangerous than pot, but if we put all the booze drinkers and cigarette smokers in jail there wouldn't be enough people on the outside to guard the people on the inside. The attitude towards marijuana is a generation-type of thing. The younger people have a more and more liberal attitude, whereas the older people keep dying off and taking their attitudes with them.
This doesn't mean that marijuana is harmless or good. It can be very bad for some people. It can introduce some people to drugs and eventually lead them into more destructive drugs and ruin their lives. But it might be more practical to spend money on educating the public, especially the younger members of the public, about the dangers of liquor, tobacco, and marijuana than spending it on police, judges, lawyers, and prison guards.
As with Prohibition, the laws will have to give way because there are too many people violating them. There is the additional argument that the federal government needs revenue and could make billions in excise taxes on pot.
The previous answers have done a great job in covering most of the important aspects of this debate. I would, however, like to add one thing that can be seen as a “pro.” This factor is the hypocrisy that is present in our current legal regime. I think that it is better to have laws that are not hypocritical. In my view, it is hypocritical to have marijuana be illegal while tobacco and alcohol are legal. I do not use any of these substances myself, but I simply feel that all of them should be legal for those who do want to use them.
If we are to ban certain substances, we should be certain that they are truly much more harmful than things that we do not ban. I do not believe that marijuana meets this criterion. I do accept that smoking marijuana can have negative effects on a person’s health. However, drinking alcohol and smoking tobacco can both have effects that are just as negative. We ban marijuana and allow alcohol and tobacco simply because of tradition, not because of scientific evidence that marijuana is truly worse than those other substances.
I would argue that hypocritical laws like this erode our respect for laws in general. If we have laws that seem to be based simply on prejudice, people will have less respect for our laws. Our laws should be consistent and should be based on actual evidence, not simply on people’s feelings. This is one argument in favor of legalization that could be added to this discussion.
pohnpei's point made about the hypocrisy of not legalizing marijuana when tobacco and alcohol are not is, indeed, cogent and an excellent remark.
There is a site under my response from Time magazine which clarifies the myth of marijuana's leading to other drugs:
The original prohibition of hemp (a marijuana product) was due to the power of William Randolph Hearst, who, at one time, owned nearly all the major newspapers in America. He also owned timberland and paper manufacturing plants. When it was suggested that hemp (a marijuana product), which was used for rope also be used for paper as it would be cheaper, the power magnate made certain that marijuana become illegal so his paper mills could continue to amass profits for him. This is why marijuana was portrayed as such a dangerous drug in the old film Marijuana Madness. The almighty $$$ always wins.
Just as Prohibition made tremendous profits for the Mob, marijuana has provided those south of the U.S. border, and many inside the borders, great profits. Inmates at Federal Correction Institution in Talladega, Alabama, have openly stated (on the record) that they hope marijuana does not become legal because it will put their associates out of business.
The excellent answer from kipling2448 covers most of the physical dangers and benefits of marijuana. There are also some practical issues involved with legalizing this substance.
The advantages of legalizing marijuana, claim many, include some of the following:
- Decriminalizing marijuana will immediately and dramatically lower the price of the substance. When that happens, illegal drug producing and trafficking of this product will collapse. Criminal activity associated with marijuana will diminish, and some argue that marijuana use might even decrease. The reasoning is that what drives at least some drug use is the illicitness of it; in other words, some people only engage in drug use because it is illegal.
- If marijuana is a legal substance, it can be taxed and regulated like every other legal substance. This is true even of substances which have the potential to be lethal, including cigarettes, alcohol, over-the-counter drugs and even items like vehicles and guns. The direct benefit to the government is money; the direct benefit to the citizenry is some version of quality control.
- Selling marijuana provides an economic boost to the economy. Colorado, for example, just legalized marijuana and projects $70 million in revenue this year. There is little doubt that money can be made from producing, regulating, and selling legal marijuana.
- Law enforcement costs will decrease if marijuana is legalized. Consider the man-hours and court expenses for prosecuting drug offenses, particularly for relatively minor offenses. If marijuana is legal, law enforcement can spend their resources on more serious drug crimes and the courts are freed up to deal with other issues in a more timely and effective manner once the minor drug offenses are removed from the docket.
- The money generated by marijuana sales can be spent on significant societal needs, such as health care, medical research, or homelessness.
Not everyone sees the legalization of this substance as advantageous. In fact, there are some significant disadvantages to decriminalizing marijuana, including the following:
- Easy access to marijuana will create new users rather than curtailing use. Obviously anything that is difficult to buy is not bought by many; once that availability changes, so will the number of users and, presumably, the frequency of use.
- Increased marijuana use is likely to increase marijuana abusers. This also increases some hidden social costs, such as child neglect by drug abusers and criminal acts by addicts who cannot afford their habits.
- Legalizing marijuana gives tacit permission to our children that drug use is acceptable.
- Marijuana is certainly a substance which can cause damage of all kinds as well as addiction; it can also serve as a precursor to more dangerous drugs.
According to addictionandrecovery.org, marijuana users are four times more likely to develop signs of depression and triple the chances of forming psychotic symptoms.
The moral argument, however, is that society has tacitly agreed to the legalization of other substances which pose some of the same risks. Cigarettes are a known carcinogen and alcohol is responsible for thousands of deaths each year, yet they are legal.
In short, those who advocate for decriminalization of marijuana want us to consider the economic benefits to this plan, and it is hard to argue against that idea. However, there are also some significant individual and societal risks which must also be considered.
When discussing the advantages of legalizing the use of marijuana, a distinction needs to be made between use for medical purposes and use for recreational purposes. For many opponents of legalized marijuana, it’s a distinction without a difference. To such individuals, marijuana in and of itself is an absolute evil the use of which invariably leads to abuse of more dangerous drugs. Its’ addictive qualities make it inherently dangerous and a worse medical option than other, usually unspecified, alternatives.
Marijuana is addictive, and it does damage the brain. The main chemical in marijuana, or cannabis, is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, a potent, psychoactive substance that affects the functioning of the brain – the entire reason for its use. While the potency varies depending upon the precise type of plant, it is still a hallucinogenic substance, albeit a relatively minor one considering other, more potent narcotics and drugs typically used. According to the U.S. Government National Institute on Drug Abuse, marijuana affects the brain as follows:
“The highest density of cannabinoid receptors is found in parts of the brain that influence pleasure, memory, thinking, concentration, sensory and time perception, and coordinated movement. Marijuana overactivates the endocannabinoid system, causing the “high” and other effects that users experience. These effects include altered perceptions and mood, impaired coordination, difficulty with thinking and problem solving, and disrupted learning and memory.
"Marijuana also affects brain development, and when it is used heavily by young people, its effects on thinking and memory may last a long time or even be permanent.” [http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/marijuana]
That marijuana is often dangerous to regular users, however, is not in and of itself an argument against its legalization. After all, most proponents of legalization argue, alcohol consumption is responsible for many tens of thousands of deaths every year, including from drunk driving, yet alcohol remains legal and its consumption a socially-acceptable activity. By regulating its use in the same manner as alcohol and tobacco, such individuals suggest, the harmful effects of marijuana can be shielded from minors.
The argument for “medical marijuana” is far easier to advance than for purely recreational use. Just because alcohol consumption is legal for adults doesn’t mean the widespread recreational use of marijuana wouldn’t have worse long-term health and public safety effects. We really don’t know, because it hasn’t been tried. What we do know, however, is that a strictly-regulated medicinal use of marijuana would be little different than for many psychotropic medications already in routine use, especially for patients with serious mental illness. If the use of marijuana would benefit patients with glaucoma or who are suffering the side-effects of chemotherapy associated with cancer treatment, then its use is no different than with many currently legal drugs. The truth is, cocaine is administered to leukemia patients undergoing the most intensive forms of chemotherapy for particular strains of that disease [This educator is an eyewitness to such an occurrence]. When considering chemical solutions to pain or intense nausea, virtually any substance that provides relief may very well be preferable to continued suffering. A patient fighting for his or her life is hardly concerned about the addictive properties of pain relievers.
Currently, medical researchers are investigating methods of extracting from marijuana the chemicals that are associated with medical treatment so that the benefits of marijuana can be derived without having patients smoke a joint. In the meantime, legalization of medical marijuana is, in this educator’s opinion, entirely appropriate. Legalization for recreational use, however, is, again, in the opinion of this educator, a bad idea. The damage to the brain associated with its use and the increased danger to public safety are stronger arguments against legalization than the fact that alcohol also damages brain cells and causes broader societal problems and yet remains legal and socially-acceptable.
Other than the obvious revenue boost, there will also be a more effective law enforcement and criminal justice. By legalizing it, law enforcement can pursue other criminals. It will also decrease the value of it through the illegal drug trade, meaning that it will decrease the violence associated with this trade because the substance will be less profitable. This could result in lives being saved.