Legalization is on its way in 2016, and everyone knows it. California, Nevada, Massachusetts – these and other states could all vote to legalize marijuana in the November election.
But why should they?
That would strike any stoner as a stupid question, but let’s ask it anyway: What are the best reasons for American voters to support cannabis reform? As you can guess, there are quite a few.
To Fix the Criminal Justice System
The United States locks up more people per capita for minor drug offenses than any country on Earth, many of them for simple marijuana possession. That means countless thousands of people – mostly young black men – have had their lives ruined by incarceration, probation, and the taint of a permanent criminal record.
Ending prohibition would lift a great weight off many struggling communities across the country. But it could also make life much easier for the police and prosecutors who too often come into conflict with those communities.
And that’s to say nothing of the money. Marijuana enforcement in America is a double-edged financial sword: It costs a lot of money but it also generates a lot of money. That’s because police are allowed to confiscate almost anything they think might be evidence of a drug crime, even if it plainly isn’t – including cars and large amounts of cash.
So cops have a reason to push back against legalization, as it would rob them of a cash cow. But reform would almost certainly save the government much more in enforcement costs than it would lose in confiscated property.
To Give More People Medical Marijuana
Medical marijuana is already legal to some degree in more than 30 states, but not everyone who needs it has access. Many patients have painful conditions that don’t qualify for treatment under state laws, even though cannabis could help them.
Full legalization would make the drug available to every adult who needs it, with or without a doctor’s recommendation. It would cost more once taxes are factored in, but even overpriced medical pot is better than no medical pot. And that’s another good reason to support legalization in 2016.
To Generate Tax Revenue
If reports out of Colorado, Washington, and the other places where marijuana is legal are any guide, state and local governments stand to bring in billions of dollars in tax revenue in coming years.
Together with the money saved on unnecessary law enforcement, governments will have enough extra cash to fund major projects, including school construction, drug education classes, and addiction treatment services.
At the same time, legalization allows governments to put tight regulations on the cannabis industry. Marijuana is still barred by federal law, but states and municipalities are given wide latitude to license and regulate businesses that grow, process, ship, or sell the drug.
To Protect Kids
Legalization, the theory goes, will make cannabis more widely available and thus easier for children to get their hands on. As it turns out, the theory is wrong.
In the years since Colorado and Washington first legalized in 2012, studies have shown that underage use of marijuana has not increased. In fact, it has dropped. Even as minors develop more realistic views of the drug, they’re choosing not to use it until they’re of age.
Legalization is a good thing, not a bad thing, even for many of the people who think it’s a bad thing. There are plenty of sound reasons to support reform wherever we live. The bigger question may be: Why wouldn’t we?