Do you worry marijuana legalization will cause a tidal wave of crime in your community? Or will it undermine our values as Americans? Some people do, and these are among the most popular arguments for those opposed to pot legalization. But as we’ve seen in several states that have opted to legalize, these fears aren’t really grounded in reality. Instead, pot legalization has been something of a boon — for local government, entrepreneurs, and job seekers.
Pro and con arguments are outlined in a new study from Cornell University, along with researchers from John’s Hopkins. The study looked at the arguments made by groups for and against marijuana legalization and dug into which were ultimately more persuasive.
“The pro arguments are really practical: ‘Give us money and jobs. Keep our prison from being overcrowded, make law enforcement’s job easier,’” said Jeff Niederdeppe, associate professor of communication at Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. “And the con arguments are a little more ideological: ‘This is going to lead to big industry and crime and undermine the fundamental values that make America great.’”
So, why are these arguments important? We’re essentially creating new legislation around cannabis as we go, at least at this point. For that reason, it’s important and incredibly valuable to know how people feel about it and what messages you can use to effectively communicate with the public concerning marijuana policy.
“We’d better understand where the public stands on this issue if we want to develop policies that are responsive to democratic values and what people are concerned about,” Niederdeppe said. “Understanding where the public sees benefit and where it is nervous can help regulators emphasize those things people agree are important.”
From the Cornell study, here are the top reasons people support legalization, as well as some of the reasons that detractors remain opposed. Which reasons do you agree with the most?
One aspect of legalization has been the most captivating to policymakers: the vast amount of untapped tax revenue to be made. By changing a black market into a legal one, money that was once going to drug dealers and shady operators can now be taken in by the state and appropriated. In Washington and Colorado, hundreds of millions in tax revenue dollars has been generated from legal pot sales.
Another obvious and natural outcome of the legalization process? Entrepreneurship. When marijuana becomes legal, there’s suddenly all sorts of opportunities for entrepreneurs to get into the game. Many of these people, who had operated on the black market previously, can go legit. That, of course, helps feed state coffers and benefits the rest of the state in many ways.
One of those benefits is the creation of jobs. So far, tens of thousands of jobs have been created in the handful of states that have opted to legalize. And projections for the future are big. Just in 2015, Colorado’s pot industry created 18,000 jobs. Similar numbers have been reported in Washington. With Oregon, California, and others just getting started, it shouldn’t be a surprise to see jobs created left and right in coming years.
Relief on law enforcement
It’s not just generating tax dollars that has people interested in legalization. It’s the ability to cut back on ways in which we spend tax dollars, too. Specifically, marijuana legalization provides a way to save on law enforcement costs. While the War on Drugs was in full swing, we spent a tremendous amount of money — hundreds of billions — to keep drugs, such as pot, off the street. But if we legalize it? That frees up a lot of money and time for police officers to work on other things.
Keep people out of prison
Leapfrogging off of the last point, one other area in which we can save money (and avoid ruining lives) is by keeping people out of jail. We’ve spent decades filling our prisons with nonviolent offenders, many behind bars for minor drug offenses, at the taxpayers’ expense. By removing marijuana from the equation, we can avoid millions of arrests per year.
Now, we’ll look at the other side of the equation. These are the common arguments against marijuana legalization the Cornell study outlines.
Concerns about crime
One fear expressed by those against legalization is it will bring about an influx of crime. This, of course, is a classic paradox. If you take a crime and turn it into a legal activity, does an increase in that activity constitute an increase in crime? The real concerns here are people will, presumably under the influence of marijuana, go out and commit violent acts. There’s no reason to think this will happen, however.
Undermining of American values
This is about as vague as you can get, which is what makes it an effective argument among certain groups. Some claim marijuana legalization will undermine “American values.” But the issue here is American values aren’t set in stone. They change over time. In fact, the argument can be made, perhaps more persuasively, that keeping pot illegal is a more blatant example of undermining American values — specifically the concept of personal freedom and choice.
Public health dangers
Crime is one thing. Public health is another. The Cornell study pointed to two distinct parts of the public health equation those opposing legalization brought up: car accidents and the effect on young people. These might be actual causes for concern. Initial studies show marijuana use is bad for teens. And we’re still gathering data as it relates to auto accidents.
Conflicts between state and federal laws
The last argument presented in the Cornell study against legalization is the very real and very problematic conflict between state and federal laws. Federally, marijuana is illegal to use, possess, or sell. But state laws — the laws that grant legalization — directly oppose this. This is something that will need to be sorted out at some point. But is it a persuasive argument against legalization? You be the judge.