3 Reasons Marijuana Could Be on the Fast Track to Legalization

Known by many names — like cannabis and THC — marijuana is gaining attention for its policy changes and also its medical benefits. The most common reason people receive medical marijuana is as a treatment for pain, Barth Wilsey said to WebMD. The source of such pain could be headaches, nerve pain, glaucoma or even cancer. It may also help treat symptoms related to conditions like Crohn’s disease, seizure disorders, and illnesses that cause appetite suppression.

Because of its medicinal properties, several states have legalized the substance for medical use. Currently, 22 states and the District of Columbia allow patients to obtain and possess cannabis, of course, with some restrictions. Such restrictions include Connecticut allowing patients a one-month supply only and New Hampshire limiting patients to two ounces of usable cannabis during a 10-day time period. Many of the restrictions are designed to promote moderation in use and also to deter those who are legally permitted to possess the substance from selling it to others.

In Colorado, marijuana is now legal for recreational use. This means Colorado residents older than 21 with a valid ID can buy up to an ounce, and of-age non-residents can buy up to a quarter of an ounce. NPR recently reported on a food truck company called Magical Butter. Its Samich truck serves THC-infused lunch classics like PB&J and grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato soup. Given there are, in fact, proven health benefits to marijuana and trucks like the Samich are already servicing Colorado customers, is marijuana on its way to complete legalization? Here are three reasons to consider why it could be.

1. Marijuana’s approval rating

The Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan think tank. It provides information on a variety of topics ranging from business to education to, you guessed it, marijuana. In 1969, Pew polled Americans, asking them how they felt about legalizing the green substance. Back then, only 12 percent were in favor of making marijuana legal. Today, the percentage of Americans who say they are in favor of legalization has jumped to 54 percent — a majority.

The group with the most supporters are millennials, with 69 percent in support of legalizing pot. Other groups, like Republicans and those older than 65, show less support, with only 39 percent and 30 percent approval ratings, respectively.

While not everyone from every group is in support of the drug, most people feel the substance is less hazardous to health than alcohol. Sixty-nine percent hold this sentiment, and 63 percent said they would feel this way even if marijuana were widely and legally available. These beliefs seem to hold some merit. Around 17 million Americans have an alcohol use disorder and nearly 85,000 people die from alcohol-related causes annually. Alcohol is the third leading cause of preventable death in the U.S., according to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Driving while intoxicated is a major concern still surrounding the legalization of marijuana. Data collected by CBS Local indicates that one out of every nine drivers involved in fatal car accidents tests positive for THC. Some may argue the relevance of such a statistic, considering THC stays in the system much longer than its effects last.

2. The other side of the coin: reported health benefits

Supporters of legalization often cite facts and figures that compare alcohol to marijuana. While these statistics often hold true, the other side of the argument is the overall goal to promote public health, and how it’s not necessarily wise to legalize another mind-altering substance on the basis that other legal substances are more dangerous.

Marijuana is a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act. This classifies it as having no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse and dependency. Statistics from the National Institute of Drug Abuse indicate that around 9 percent of users become addicted to the drug and that it can cause adverse effects like increased heart rate, respiratory problems, and even temporary psychotic reactions.

On the other hand, it is becoming increasingly difficult to dispute the drug’s health benefits. Today, there is evidence to support claims that marijuana can help relieve conditions such as neuropathic pain. It is approved in some states for conditions like epilepsy and multiple sclerosis. CBS News reports that although there is not an abundance of scientific evidence to support claims that marijuana improves these conditions, states continue to legalize it for these purposes. There is, however, scientific evidence to support a reduction in nausea and increased food consumption associated with marijuana.

3. Money, money, money

Marijuana is a billion-dollar industry. In January, Colorado earned around $2 million in taxes from its legalization of the substance, according to CNN Money. States that have legalized marijuana for medical use have also seen significant gains.  The California marijuana market is worth $980 million, and the national market is projected to grow to a potential $10.2 billion in the next five years, according to a report by Arcview Market Research.

If the substance remains illegal in some states, purchases in those locations remain illegal, black-market purchases. In 2012, Drug War Facts reported around 750,000 arrests associated with marijuana, and together, the states spend billions of dollars enforcing possession laws. 

If Colorado continues to earn giant tax revenues from the sale of cannabis, will other states follow suit? At the end of the day, it is a matter of weighing the benefits and costs of the drug. Yes, there are several benefits, both monetary and medically, to legalization. However, marijuana comes with a lot of baggage and it is a drug that produces a high. It remains to be seen how things will move forward, but the leap toward full legalization does seem plausible.

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