Two-thirds of Americans say that marijuana should be legal. Yet this remains a controversial issue, and although it has been legalized in many states it remains banned in others. But while some states may have approved it, it is still considered illegal at the federal level.
Marijuana’s longtime status as an illegal drug was partially driven by widespread fear of immigrants from Mexico, who brought marijuana plants with them, in the early 19th century. Although cannabis had been used in western medicine for many years, and was cultivated in the United States (even appearing on the $10 bill at one time), people who sought to cultivate xenophobia for political benefit portrayed it as a poison. This tactic was effective; a steady stream of legislation in states prohibited selling or using marijuana. In 1937, the federal government effectively banned it.
Another thing that the federal government has banned in the past is alcohol. In 1919, the 18th amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibiting alcohol was added and remained in effect until 1933, when it was repealed. However, 18 states continued the ban on it. By 1966, all of them had legalized it, and it remains legal today, in contrast to marijuana.
Research has shown that alcohol is far more dangerous than marijuana. There is a greater risk of brain damage from consuming alcohol—people can’t lethally overdose on cannabis like they can with alcohol. A common argument against legalizing cannabis is that it is an addictive drug, but a study suggested that cannabis is actually less addictive than alcohol.
Cannabis has been shown to have medical benefits, including being used as a chronic pain reliever. A judge recommended that it be moved down from its current classification as a highly dangerous drug, saying that it is “one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man.” Currently, 33 states have legalized it for medical purposes, but only 10 have legalized it for recreational use.
There would be additional benefits to the economy resulting from the further legislation of marijuana. States can collect billions of dollars worth of tax revenue from the sale of marijuana and the industry can create jobs and boost the economy. There is also the potential that government spending on enforcing drug regulations would be reduced by cannabis legalization. Many states have not legalized marijuana yet, but with legislation in favor of this continuing to be introduced, this could very likely change in the future.