Lighten up

Legalizing marijuana would save the government money and make people safer by dis-empowering Mexican drug cartels

In a column published earlier this week (“Trampled weeds,” Nov. 12) the author spoke strongly against the legalization of marijuana and was critical of the votes in both Colorado and Washington that did legalize it on the state level. The author makes some strong points, but I also think she is overlooking some of the arguments of her opposition. I would like to respond and attempt to address some of her concerns.

To start, I don’t and never have smoked marijuana. The author is correct in her medical evaluation of marijuana, which while not as harmful as drugs like heroin or meth, is nevertheless linked to a shortened attention span and lower communication and learning skills, particularly in young people. The smoke contains significantly more carcinogenic hydrocarbons than a cigarette, and inhaling ash is damaging to the lungs. Marijuana use has also been linked to future dependency on hard drugs. It is obviously not harmless.

The author is also correct to refute the argument that since marijuana is no more harmful than alcohol or cigarettes, it should be of the same legal status. The legal status of other substances has no significance to the legality of marijuana, which should only become legal if the benefits to society are shown to be greater than the costs.

I do believe that legalizing marijuana would have negative consequences, but they are more than outweighed by the potential benefits. It has been estimated that legalization would prevent almost $14 billion in yearly government expenditure. The health risks posed by marijuana are not severe enough to merit this price tag. Legal distribution would also provide significant tax revenue, turning a huge source of spending by the government into a source of funds. With the current state of both the federal and most local governments, this money would be extremely useful to pay down debt, or to fund education and infrastructure.

Ending the ban on marijuana would also affect both internal and external sources of crime. Legality would keep production regulated and the profits out of the hands of criminals, and would help prevent youth from becoming drug dealers. It would also severely cut into the profits of Mexican cartels — one study based in Mexico estimated that legalization in just Colorado would cut their profits by almost $1.5 billion. More widespread legalization would almost certainly be even more damaging to their profit margin. The cartels are a huge source of violence and unrest not just in Mexico, but in the bordering states of the U.S. They smuggle not just marijuana but harder drugs, and use these channels to transport high-powered weapons. Cutting their profits would be beneficial to Mexico, as well as the security of our borders and the safety of our citizens.

Anti-marijuana laws are also a tool of discrimination. Minority youth are targeted at much higher rates than whites in enforcement, and as a result are much more likely to spend time in jail. African-American marijuana users in Washington, D.C. are eight times more likely to be arrested than their white counterparts. African-Americans make up 40 percent of the U.S. prison population but only 12 percent of the general population, in large part due to this unequal enforcement. While this sort of systemic injustice is not limited to marijuana by any means, legality would help lessen the disparity and allow for more minority youth to avoid an early criminal record and become productive members of society rather than inmates.

This is also a matter of personal liberty. The drug is already widely used and available and is not harmful enough to merit the effort and money needed to ban it. As long as there are education systems in place to ensure the health risks are well known, people have the right to make an informed decision about their use of marijuana without fear of arrest. One of the fundamental values of this country is that people should get to decide for themselves what is good or bad for them, as long as it does not pose a serious risk to others. Marijuana does not, and government is over-reaching in its failed attempts to ban it.

The author made some great points about the problems of marijuana. But she didn’t address the problems that currently exist that would be relieved by legalization, which in my opinion far outweigh the negative effects she claimed would arise. Washington and Colorado both made the decision to legalize marijuana, a decision which isn’t just a victory for stoners, but for our borders, our deficit, personal freedom and our justice system. The rest of the country should follow suit.

Forrest Brown’s column appears Thursdays in The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at

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