Dose of Reality: The Effect of Marijuana Legalizations

Marijuana and its growing industry have been a rising controversy in today’s society as 10 states legalized recreational and medical marijuana and 33 states have legalized only medical. 16 states remain that have not created any broad laws legalizing marijuana and there is much discussion and controversy on whether they should change their laws in favor of the hallucinogenic plant. With some states allowing marijuana and others not, there is debate on the interstate trafficking of marijuana through states that have not legalized it.

Among the states that haven’t legalized recreational marijuana are Nebraska and Oklahoma who border the legalized state of Colorado. Since the legalization of marijuana in Colorado there has been an influx of tourists entering and leaving the state, meaning many people are leaving the state with marijuana and entering states where it isn’t allowed. Nebraska and Oklahoma claim that this increase in trafficking has put a large amount of stress on their police force and the states had to spend their money on increased law enforcement.

In the court case Nebraska and Oklahoma v. Colorado, the non-legalized states are suing Colorado for damages to their law enforcement funding as the states used much of their funding towards the drastic increase in demand for officers and state that it violates the Controlled Substances Act which states it is “unlawful to manufacture, distribute, dispense, or possess any controlled substance except in a manner authorized by the CSA.”. Marijuana is considered a Schedule 1 drug, meaning it has a risk of abuse and it has no medical purpose.

Therefore, under the CSA the possession, distribution and manufacture of cannabis is a criminal offense and cannot flow through interstate commerce between and among the United States.

The case was denied by the court on March 21, 2016, and they suggested they bring the case to a lower court. There was much controversy over the court refusing to hear it because it was an opportunity for the Supreme Court to dictate an original jurisdiction, which they occasionally take on disputes. There is still no explanation on why the court denied hearing the case. Technically, the federal government has not legalized marijuana in any way, therefore if they wanted to, they could attempt to stop its production and shut down dispensaries in legal states. The Supreme Court themselves seem to be debating whether marijuana poses a risk to the general public as they are loosely enforcing their ban on the drug and decided not to hear the Nebraska and Oklahoma v. Colorado case. The federal government isn’t budging when it comes to federally legalizing the drug, however.

From nearly all angles, it looks as if the legalization of marijuana is unstoppable. Public opinion shows a dramatic shift as the polls show that support for marijuana has doubled between 1995 and 2014. Its latest survey showed that 51% of respondents were in favor of sweeping marijuana legalization. However, many Republican candidates have expressed opposition towards states ignoring federal laws or have chosen the “wait-and-see’ method. Even Hilary Clinton has demonstrated suspicion toward the benefits of medical marijuana, choosing to wait until more evidence is available before making a decision to side with the use of the drug. What seems to be the general consensus with many politicians is they want to wait and see what marijuana has to offer medically to prove that it does more help than harm. Because lawmakers are in no need to rush to a decision on marijuana, it also means that legal marijuana businesses could struggle to expand. Even in states where marijuana is legal, banks have been largely unwilling to lend for fear of prosecution or a reassertion of federal laws in a future presidency.

In August 2013, the Department of Justice released a message indicating they would no longer interfere in states that choose to regulate marijuana as long as measures are taken to prevent organized crime within the legal businesses and prevent youth access to marijuana, among other reasonable goals. A big reason why many states are allowing marijuana to be legalized and sold in dispensaries in their state is because of the revenue it brings in, not just from the marijuana, but also the paraphernalia sold like bongs and pipes that people use to smoke it out of. The recreational use of marijuana in Colorado became legal on January 1, 2014. Since the legalization, Colorado’s economy is booming and it has one of the fastest-growing economies in the U.S.

The unemployment rate is also decreasing and is well below the national average. California is one of the more recent states to legalize recreational and medical marijuana, becoming legal in November of 2016, and within 2 years, with a US $2.6 trillion GDP, California became the sixth-largest economy in the world. California also passed The Adult Use of Marijuana Act, allowing the possession, sale, use, and cultivation of marijuana for adults and skyrocketing California into the most influential state in the cannabis industry. Yet, American taxpayers spend more than $1 billion a year on incarcerated citizens for using marijuana. In Jon Gettman’s 2007 study “Lost Taxes and Other Costs of Marijuana Laws,” he suggests that $10.7 billion could be saved each year by taxpayers if the number of marijuana-related arrests and incarcerations decreased. States like Nevada are focusing their tax revenue earned from marijuana sales on specific things like K-12 schooling and infrastructure.

Starting in 2019, fifteen percent of marijuana’s tax will fund public Nevada schools. Currently, the money from the marijuana tax is going towards the rainy-day fund, savings account for the state that is being set aside for any funds the state needs. While it’s easy to look at all the positives of legalizing marijuana, there have been negative consequences. Marijuana farms are growing as the demand for the plant increases, but this increase in farming brings in new pests, mold, and diseases to surrounding farms and plants. Since commercial pesticides are not labeled for legal use on cannabis, cannabis farmers have had to improvise, and it seems it could do more harm than good. Plans for a medical marijuana facility in Palisade, a tiny farming town whose main crop is peaches, have peach growers worried about the potential spread of diseases from cannabis to their established orchards.

The social and law enforcement issues show in the Nebraska and Oklahoma v. Colorado court case as Colorado’s “interstate pot-pipeline” violates the federal government and increase the burden upon the law enforcement in those surrounding states. Also, between 2014 and 2015, $6 million in cannabis revenues have been dispensed to local governments, yet the cost of increased law enforcement, fatal crashes, and drugged-driving, and a spike in gang activity makes people question if the money is even paying for itself. Colorado’s homeless population has increased drastically, as well as tourist dollars going more to marijuana than Colorado’s natural wonders. Aside from the damage’s marijuana could have on society, it could also have negative affects on the body. The immediate effects of marijuana include loss of restlessness, hallucinations, paranoia, psychotic episodes, impaired coordination, and impaired motor ability. Some long term effects of continuously using cannabis are the loss of brain cells, lung cancer, chronic bronchitis, slow confused thinking, and blood vessel blockage.

With many people for or against the legalization of marijuana, there will be controversy on the subject and most likely a stand-still on a decision on whether it should be legalized on a federal level for possibly years. This court case of Nebraska and Oklahoma v. Colorado emphasizes the consequences of the separation between state and federal laws and how drastic differences in laws between states can be confusing and troubling for neighboring states to adjust to the blurred lines between them. The argument should be whether all states should legalize marijuana or the national government put a strict ban on the drug and enforce it as much as possible, states shouldn’t have to feel insecure in what their government will or won’t enforce.

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