Revolution Time: We Need Weed

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A California state assemblyman took a revolutionary step when he introduced a bill to legalize and tax marijuana in California. Tom Armiano, who believes that taxing the drug would help relieve California’s financial crisis, began the first steps toward legalizing the famous, or infamous depending on your perspective, plant. If the legislation passes, California will be the first state to legalize marijuana for recreational use.
His actions are exactly what California needs during this time of financial crisis, despite the arguments of those who oppose the bill. The legislation is also a progressive step in the war on drugs. One that finally avoids “just say no,” a policy that not only has been an abysmal failure but also an enormous black hole hell — bent on consuming taxpayer dollars — dollars the golden state cannot afford to lose.
The primary argument against legalizing marijuana is the classic song we have heard for generations: This drug will destroy our society. Smoking marijuana causes lung damage, encourages misbehavior and further drug use. It prevents one from being a productive member of society. With the exception of lung damage, anti-marijuana groups spit out these lines on an endless loop, without ever taking time to support their claims.
There are plenty of legal drugs and substances that display the consequences listed above but are allowed to remain legal because we have learned that it is a better option than prohibiting them. Alcohol is harmful to health, causes irresponsible behavior and when consumed in excess, can destroy a person’s livelihood. Yet, when it was banned in the 1920s, people were able to procure alcohol within seconds of entering major cities. Not only was prohibition ineffective, it raised the status of crime lords like Al Capone who smuggled or brewed alcohol.
Financially speaking, marijuana rakes in billions of dollars a year in California alone. Our society is already virtually ruined, thanks to a deep recession. The money made from taxing marijuana would help our desperate state climb out of the hole. According to an article in the Guardian, conservative estimates suggest that taxing marijuana will put $13 billion a year in the state’s pocket. Currently, marijuana makes more than grapes, vegetables and hay combined in California and is our great state’s largest cash crop, according to DrugScience.org, a Web site that provides scientific information about medical marijuana. Since the drug is already being grown and distributed, it would be neglectful not to take advantage of such a lucrative business for the betterment of the people.
Many state legislators oppose such action because it symbolizes surrender in the war on drugs and encourages our children to use drugs. However, the bill represents the most important step in the battle against drugs in recent memory. First, the bill only allows people aged 21 and over to grow, purchase or sell marijuana. This shrinks those we need to protect from the drug to a much more manageable group.
Second, the war on drugs is a joke. Over two decades ago, Reagan declared war on an inanimate object. Why not declare war on cheeseburgers? They have done considerably more damage to our nation’s children. The Reagan administration arbitrarily picked an issue to help build its campaign. Today, obesity costs U.S. citizens far more money and is considerably more prevalent. Cardiovascular disease is the primary cause of death in the nation. The fight on drugs has also been only marginally effective. Since Reagan, the nation’s overall drug use has waxed and waned according to overarching trends in society, not according to the government’s raids and legislation.
Most importantly, if our state were to legalize marijuana, we would gain a series of benefits that would actually help the failing war on drugs. With marijuana turned into a legitimate business, an enormous portion of the danger would be removed due to new regulations. Products would be tested and standardized. Deals would be in the open rather than in dark alleys. With extra funding gained from taxing and resources saved from fighting a drug that does not possess any more danger than alcohol, the state could handle drugs worth fighting like cocaine and heroine.
The question is not whether marijuana will ever be legalized, but when. As baby boomers and subsequent generations enter positions of power, marijuana regulations will inevitably be removed. President Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger have all admitted to smoking marijuana. Even Ted Turner, one of the largest landowners in the United States and a famous media mogul, advocates legalization.
This progressive step represents an evolution in the effort to control drug abuse, not an abdication. Financially, a struggling California desperately needs support. Now is not the time to cling to outdated, stubborn and silly ideas. The time is for change so we may adapt, rise above the difficulty of our era and pave the way for the rest of the nation.

Kevin Pease is a fourth-year psychology and social behavior major. He can be reached at kpease@uci.edu.

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