Sowing The Seed Of Legalization

2014 started off with a strong push for proponents of recreational marijuana legalization.  On January 1, long lines crowded Colorado’s first legal pot stores, with the state of Washington bracing itself for its legalization of marijuana later during the year. 7,000 applications have already been sent to the “Evergreen State” to acquire an authorization to produce, process and sell the drug. While legislation in these two respective states have pushed past the barriers against cannabis legalization, will this trend continue to infiltrate us Californians? If so, would it prove to be beneficial for the state?

Californians might have the freedom to buy, grow and sell marijuana, thanks to the committed grassroots activists seeking to legalize this plant. Past initiatives seemed to have had unsubstantial effects. In 2010, California’s Proposition 19, which would have legalized marijuana, was shot down. It failed by a whopping 700,000 signatures to be put on the ballot. Nevertheless, two years later, public attitudes have changed as the Field Poll shows 55 percent of Californians opting in favor of its ratification.

Steps that Colorado and Washington have undertaken have paved the way for marijuana legalization to be more seriously looked at. Recently in 2013, the California Attorney General has expressed support for two out of four initiatives that would put marijuana legalization onto the 2014 state ballot  one being the Marijuana Control, Legalization and Revenue Act and the other the California Cannabis Hemp Initiative. The latter, being the more radical proposal, would allow residents to acquire 12 pounds of cannabis and cultivate 99 marijuana plants. Organizers will need about 750,000 signatures by February 24 to put their proposal on the November 2014 state ballot.  Although the initiative has been racking more signatures now than in the past and trends show a more positive attitude towards it, we will most likely not reach the quota by the deadline, not just yet. Slow gains are making this issue a more prominent topic but its legalization still has some barriers to overcome. Many have apprehension with legalizing this drug, fearing that marijuana is an addicting substance that damages your health and judgment.

Although marijuana consumption is restricted for medical treatment in only 20 states nationwide, research has shown that marijuana has positive therapeutic affects for illnesses. In addition, according to marijuana user Letitia Pepper, “Recent studies show this helps people before they get sick. That’s why I’m in favor of legalization so everybody can use marijuana.”

Others believe that more will use and abuse it. But, legalization of the drug doesn’t necessarily mean more people will try it.  You can already find weed just as easily when it’s illegal. Ever since the ancient Assyrians first discovered marijuana 7,000 years ago, its usage, not only medically but also recreationally, has been widespread. One in 10 high school students smoke pot at least 20 times a month and more than half of college students have tried it at least once. Overall, about 40 percent of Americans have reported using it.

Thus, marijuana prohibition has proven to be as much of a failure as the alcohol prohibition of the 1920s. From an economic viewpoint, the legalization of pot would provide benefits. State legislatures would be able to gain revenue by including a hefty tax on the product. Washington and Colorado are already charging a 25 percent tax on its marijuana sales. The money garnered from this tax has predicted to bring in $70 million in revenue for Colorado, an amount that would allow the state to invest in areas lacking in funding such as in education.

It addition to its monetary benefits, the legalization of marijuana would decrease the intimidating presence of drug gangs in the streets. Most of the violence of drug gangs is in due part to the drugs being illegal. If legal, more people would be able to cultivate and sell it, thus decreasing the revenue and influence of the drug trade. Law enforcements would be able to better regulate entrepreneurs who have already been selling the drug illegally. With marijuana’s legal state, policemen would be able to switch from focusing on marijuana trafficking to other harmful drugs such as cocaine and heroin.

Yet, pot still remains illegal on the federal level despite Obama being in favor of nationwide legalization. In terms of equality, he argues that it’s unfair that some users are penalized while others living in marijuana-legalized states would go unpunished under the same circumstances.

Thus, Colorado and Washington have legalized it and the President supports it. Will California follow the trend and ratify marijuana’s legal usage by 2014? Maybe not now, but possibly in the not-too-distant future. I could be wrong, though. Let’s wait and see.

 

Christine Pham is a third-year biological science major. She can be reached at phamc2@uci.edu