I'm going to start out by saying if you have any interest whatsoever in the drug legalization debate, then run - don't walk - to your local or online bookstore and get this book.
I kind of knew before I started reading it that I would probably have this reaction. Earlier this year, I read Drugs and Drug Policy: Everything You Need to Know by three of the same authors. It was such an eye-opening book, and one of the reasons I loved it so much is that I was no closer to making up my mind about legalization as I was when I started it. I know that sounds weird, but as an analyst, I pride myself on being on the fence about some issues. That means that I'm still actively taking in information, and that I feel there's more to be learned. Marijuana Legalization was a different experience, in that I already supported the legalization of marijuana before I read it. While my position hasn't changed - and, in fact, was reinforced by much of what I read - I learned quite a bit, and some of it made me doubt my position a little bit.
If you're not familiar with Drugs and Drug Policy, Marijuana Legalization is written in the same easy-to-follow Q&A format. Each chapter has a general theme or tackles a different aspect of the legalization issue; for example, the composition of marijuana and why it gets you high, the risks of using it, how its prohibition works, and some of the pros and cons of legalization, just to name a few.
But it's the questions that the authors try to answer that are the lightbulb moments throughout the book. There were so many times that I came across questions thinking, Yes!! That's exactly what I want to know!! That being said, there were some instances where I got solid answers, and more instances where I was left frustrated because there weren't any. This isn't the authors' fault. We're dealing with an inherently specuative issue here, and the best that anyone can do - and what the authors do with great skill - is to provide several scenarios that could play out, given the facts they have to work with.
I want to point out some very important points made in several parts of the book that highlight why this is such a hotly debated issue, and kind of why I waffle on my opinions about some aspects of legalization. First of all, it is abundantly clear that the authors are in agreement that alcohol is more addictive and more dangerous than marijuana. Tobacco is as harmful to the body and likely more so, although the most harm it does to others is generally the impact of second-hand smoke. However, the book sheds so much light on why we're socially, culturally, and morally so much more okay with drinking alcohol than we are with getting stoned.
The heaviest users of any intoxicating substance are the ones who will be the most heavily targeted by manufacturers of that substance. Therefore, because any future marijuana manufacturing corporation will want to maximize profits, it will likely make marijuana products with the highest legally possible THC content and market its products to encourage heavy use. The vast majority of alcohol and tobacco profits come from roughly the top 20% of users, so these companies do not have public health as a top corporate priority. Their lobby groups have also been very successful at minimizing the taxes that can be levied on alcohol and tobacco, so the financial windfall some legalization proponents anticipate might never materialize.
Marijuana is categorized by the DEA as a Schedule I narcotic, meaning it has a high potential for abuse and has no medicinal value. However, marijuana has a much lower "capture rate," meaning the proportion of people who get addicted out of the number of people who try it, than alcohol or tobacco. While this is strictly anecdotal, thousands, if not millions, of people claim it helps them with pain, glaucoma, MS symptoms, and chemotherapy-induced nausea. Neither alcohol nor tobacco (or caffeine, for that matter) have any medicinal value. By these facts alone, marijuana should at least be reduced to a Schedule II or III if kept controlled, and alcohol and tobacco should become illegal Schedule I narcotics. Yet, due to societal and cultural mores, this will never happen.
Very few people serve jail time for simple possession or use of marijuana. Those who do are usually incarcerated because the use or possession was incidental to another crime.
No country in the world has truly legalized marijuana, meaning that the entire chain - production, distribution, and use - is completely legal. All those countries you've heard of - Portugal, the Netherlands, etc. - have decriminalized marijuana (and in some cases, other drugs) use, meaning it's treated as a misdemeanor. If we just decriminalzed marijuana here at the federal level, instead of just at the state level, it would have very little positive impact on law enforcement and the justice system. Cops and lawyers would still need to investigate and prosecute growers and dealers.
If marijuana were legalized, there would likely be an initial rise in consumption. However, this is more about the social stigma attached to its use than the fear of breaking the law. I promise you, anyone who really wants to use marijuana later today can do it relatively easily and for minimal cost. The authors used a really great quote by Abraham Lincoln to explain how the use of an intoxicant depends so much on how fashionable it is at the time. Cocaine use in the US has varied over time, spiking in the 1980s when it was cool to use, and everyone who used it didn't think it would kill them. Cigarette use has declined in the last few years because it's less cool to smoke. Restrictions on where you can smoke have helped, but there's no reason that the same rules that apply to smoking and drinking can't be applied to marijuana use. We can legally allow people to use marijuana, but regulate and socially frame it in a way that becomes less fashionable/cool to use it.
Anyway, this is just the start. If you've noticed, some of the issues I've pointed out sound in favor of legalization and some against. That's the beauty of this book; it provides you with the information to help you make up your own mind. But ultimately, even the authors acknowledge that a person's stance on legalization and drug use in general has more to do with that person's values more than marijuana's legal status. We all know that the values of an entire nation of people don't change in one direction or another overnight, and I don't anticipate that policy makers will read this and have some sort of epiphany (although I wish they would). However, YOU, as the average American, can learn a LOT about marijuana use, distribution, enforcement, decriminalization at the state level, and the legalization debate by reading this book. I'll warn you; it may cause your values to shift from "in favor" or "against" into a happy level of indecisiveness, which always fosters a more civil level of debate.
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