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The Benefits of Marijuana Legalization

People have many understandable worries about legalized marijuana. But most fears should be assuaged by looking at the research.

Marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug, meaning the federal government formally considers it easy to abuse and void of any medical utility. Yet, medical marijuana is legal in many states and calls for marijuana legalization only seem to be increasing. 

But the federal government remains unmoving. 

One of the main concerns lies in the possible abuse of marijuana. Many opposed to legalized, recreational marijuana are concerned about its addictive nature, not to mention the dangers it may pose to teens and young adults. While these concerns are understandable, multiple studies have shown that cannabis policy reform has not been linked to increased rates of use among teens. A nationwide survey by the CDC showed a modest decrease in cannabis use in teens since the onset of state legalization for adult use:

Further, research done at CU Boulder has also shown that legalizing recreational cannabis at the state level does not increase substance use disorders or the use of other illicit drugs among adults. A study of more than 4,000 twins from Colorado and Minnesota found no link between cannabis legalization and increases in cognitive, psychological, social, relationship or financial problems.

In terms of economic benefits, the rescheduling and legalization of marijuana could increase sales tax revenues and create jobs nationwide, all while simultaneously decriminalizing its use and possession, reducing strain on the criminal justice system.

The stigma that comes with being classified as a Schedule I drug for nearly 50 years has influenced the public view of marijuana. Marijuana received this status when Nixon created the Controlled Substances Act in the 1970’s. 

“When Nixon created the Controlled Substances Act in the '70s, he didn't really know where to place marijuana on the list of schedules,” said Kris Hermes, a media specialist with an advocacy group called Americans for Safe Access. 

The American Medical Association has also called on the federal government to reconsider the classification of cannabis, citing numerous clinical trials that show the medical efficacy of marijuana. If the government doesn't budge, neither can the FDA or DEA. Schedule I classification blocks research into cannabis’ medical use, and the FDA cannot approve it for medical use because the studies needed for FDA approval cannot take place

Thus far, states with recreational marijuana laws have viewed the legislation as a success. And in many of these states, a majority of citizens agree.

Patients who use cannabis for therapeutic purposes no longer feel the looming fear of legal sanctions for medical use. Additionally, the legalization of cannabis enables research into cannabidiol, which is a compound supposed to have anti-seizure, anti-anxiety and antipsychotic properties. 

But what about states' rights? Shouldn't the federal government stay out of marijuana legalization and leave the matter to state governments, informed as they are on the particular needs of their citizens?

Federal legalization does not have to affect state's rights in too drastic a way. Marijuana would still be highly regulated under legalization, and abuse rates monitored. States can handle most of this work. The important thing is to allow marijuana research and medical use to be accessible across the country. A host of benefits, mentioned above, would likely follow. 

Still, no drug is risk-free. And there has been no evidence found of any significant psychological benefits from cannabis use.

Yet, the positive effects on state economies, healthcare and incarceration rates lead me to conclude that legalization would be beneficial. Do you agree?  

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual author.

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