I should tell you right off the bat that I don’t smoke weed.
I can count on two hands the number of times I’ve smoked marijuana, and most of those times were during my stereotypically misspent youth.
It’s also important to the conversation to tell you I used to oppose legalization. A couple of years ago it occurred to me that I couldn’t think of any good reasons for keeping it illegal.
To the contrary, as I’ve continued to watch and listen I’ve realized that there are two excellent reasons for making it as legal to buy a bag of pot as it is to buy a six-pack of tall boys.
First, keeping it illegal is costing us a literal fortune. This MSN Money article from 2012 estimates that the US marijuana crop reaps sales of between $15 and $30 billion dollars. Without the benefit of marketing or legitimately efficient agriculture processes. That’s a lot of money, but it’s not the whole story, financially. This New York Times piece tells us a comparable amount – $20-$25 billion – is spent each year to try to keep pot out of people’s hands, and to punish people for using it.
Which means that here in the United States we turn our back on a minimum of $35 billion – and possibly as much as $55 billion – keeping marijuana illegal. By way of comparison, the 2012 budget for the State of Michigan was about $50 billion.
But those are only the direct costs. Those figures don’t include the cost of a life destroyed by incarceration for simply possessing marijuana. Which brings me to the second reason I now support legalization.
The FBI tells us that every forty-two seconds someone is arrested in the US on charges related to marijuana. In 2011, about 750,000 people were arrested for possessing or selling marijuana. That’s more people than live in the entire state of Alaska. And you know what? That arrest will hound every one of those people (and their families) for the rest of their lives in one way or another.
So I ask myself, given those two painfully obvious reasons to legalize it, what are the reasons to keep it illegal?
And I can’t think of a single one. Yes, I know it’s supposed to be a “gateway drug” to substances that really are harmful to humans. Cocaine? Meth? Heroin? Yeah, those are bad. But the only thing that really links pot to harder drugs is that they’re all illegal. The truth is that alcohol is every bit as much of a “gateway drug” as grass will ever be.
Speaking of alcohol, having casually used both I will categorically say – and I believe you’ll agree – smoking weed is less dangerous than getting drunk. People who drink too much can be unpredictable and, yes, dangerous. People who smoke too much are mostly in danger of creating a permanent dent in their couches. I can’t imagine anyone ever committing a violent act after getting really high.
Imagine if marijuana were legal nationwide. We’d stop spending money on keeping it illegal. We could slap a tax on it and change it from a revenue sink to a funding fountain.
This is how I came to my decision to support legalization of marijuana. After years of consideration, in my mind, keeping pot illegal is, in a word, foolish.