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Marijuana in American Culture: Pluses Of Its Legalization

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Marijuana has been a part of American culture for over one hundred years. It has been vilified, heralded as a miracle drug by supporters, branded a gateway drug by opponents and proposed as paper, rope and a myriad of other possibilities. Yet for all the support both for and against it marijuana still remains illegal, widely used, fiercely prosecuted and barely studied. Legalized marijuana in the United States can be controlled and profitable industry by using low taxes, regulation and mirroring alcohol legislation. By allowing it to become an open industry it could be more closely monitored, save taxpayers millions of dollars in law enforcement costs and eliminate the criminal enterprise that profits from the illegal drug trade.

The 1937 Marijuana Tax Act effectively ended all marijuana sales because of the high tax it imposed and was the precursor to the criminalization of cannabis. It was backed by some of the most powerful people in America at the time, William Randall Hurst and the DuPont family. The reason the bill was so fiercely supported by them was because the DuPont family was investing heavily in synthetics that would be competing with marijuana as a raw material. William Hurst would have to compete with it in the paper manufacturing industry and the bulk of his fortune was in timber. The bill was passed and marijuana use quickly faded seeing only a brief resurgence during prohibition.

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Prohibition did not work for alcohol and it is not working for marijuana. Marijuana is a drug and a narcotic and like all other drugs it should be regulated. It is not as harmful as other drugs as marijuana overdoses are almost unheard of. According to the US Drug Enforcement Administration’s online criminal justice statistics for 2000 shows the following seizures and eradication of plants of C. sativa: 40,929 outdoor plots (2,597,796 plants), 139,580,728 ditchweed (ruderal plants), 2,361 indoor operations (217,105 plants), for a grand total of 2,814, 903 plants destroyed. Impressively, the species was grown in all 50 states (including outdoor seizures in every state except Wyoming)! It is of course impossible to know exactly how much marijuana is cultivated in the United States, and perhaps only 10% to 20% of the amount grown is seized.” (Marcus, D. and Small, E.). The opportunity for commercialized cultivation of marijuana is staggering, as are the tax benefits.

The price of marijuana used for recreational use is disproportionally high to its actual value simply because it is illegal. This is the same effect prohibition had on alcohol. Prices soared, quality control was nonexistent and a tremendous effort was put forth trying to control the black market alcohol trade during prohibition. Yet at the same time doctors were able to prescribe alcohol for medicinal purposes as some states now allow for marijuana.

Many states have legalized marijuana for medicinal use despite it being classified as a Schedule 1 controlled substance, the only category that prohibits any use, medicinal or not. “To date fourteen states have passed medicinal marijuana laws, and New Jersey has a bill pending a vote this summer.” (Cifro, Nicole P. and Wiwi, Amy Komoroski). In 2009 the Deputy U.S. Attorney General David W. Ogden issued a memorandum giving guidance to U.S. States attorney’s regarding medicinal marijuana. The memorandum announced a federal policy to abstain from investigating or prosecuting “individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana.” (1). The memorandum made clear, however, that it did not “legalize marijuana or provide a legal defense to a violation of federal law.”(1). Rather, it was “intended solely as a guide to the exercise of investigative and prosecutorial discretion.”(1). This effectively opened the door for marijuana cultivators and distributors who operate loosely with no federal oversight and limited state regulation.

With states legalizing medicinal marijuana there is now a great need for federal oversight of the industry. Every state that has legalized marijuana has widely varying laws regulating distributors and patients needs requirements. ”Fourteen states plus the District of Columbia have passed laws intended to give certain ill people legal access to medical marijuana. But, in many instances, municipalities are left to figure out how to implement state laws that are often vague when it comes to the day-to-day operations of the medical-pot business. Those laws have led to confusion in communities and pushed states including Colorado and Maine to clarify what is legal for the industry.”(Etter 2). Some cities in Montana have temporarily banned marijuana clinics because they cannot control or regulate them.

The process for growing, cultivating and processing marijuana is relatively similar to tobacco so it would not require a major overhaul to equipment that already exists; this too will help keep the retail cost low.” The profitability of the illegal crop is indicated by a comparison of the cost of a bushel of corn (roughly $2.50) and a bushel of manicured marijuana (about $70,000). Marijuana is at least the fourth most valuable crop in America, outranked only by corn, soybeans, and hay. It was estimated that 8.7 million marijuana plants were harvested in 1997, worth $15.1 billion to growers and $25.2 billion on the retail market (the wholesale value was used to compare marijuana to other cash crops). Marijuana was judged to be the largest revenue producing crop in Alabama, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia, and one of the top five cash crops in 29 other states.” (Marcus, D. and Small, E.). These numbers are staggering and in themselves prove an overwhelming public demand exists.

Once legalized the marijuana market would quickly become dominated by a few large companies, much like the tobacco and beer markets are today. The best way to maintain control of the legal marijuana trade and keep the majority of cultivation and distribution done by legal businesses would be to impose a low tax. It is basic economics; if marijuana that is cultivated and distributed by taxpaying companies is cheaper than its illegal counterpart people will buy the taxed product; this will have dual benefits. The taxes generated could produce a small economic windfall and eliminate the illegal drug trade. It is estimated that” marijuana legalization would yield tax revenue of $2.4billion annually if marijuana were taxed like all other goods and $6.2 billion annually if marijuana were taxed at rates comparable to those on alcohol and tobacco.”(Miron 18).

Using laws that mimic those for alcohol would be easy to implement. There are already very strict laws in place that regulate where and how alcohol can be sold and used. There are laws that dictate the distances stores that sell alcohol must be from schools, churches and certain public venues. Establishments that sell alcohol must obtain a license and permit after being properly vetted by through inquiry process. Enacting these same types of laws for marijuana would allow greater control of distribution and cities could establish limits on the quantity of vendors that would be allowed.

Marijuana has established itself as a part of the American culture and world landscape. It has been resisted for more than 70 years and has only been a losing battle for the U.S. government. The public demand for its use as a recreational drug has been is well known, its use for medicinal benefits is rapidly gaining acceptance and the potential windfall from industrial applications is in its infancy. There is no solution for marijuana use in America that will satisfy everyone but there are better options than what we have now. With legalization and firm methods of control and regulation marijuana can be an accepted and profitable product in the U.S. economy.

Works Cited

  • Miron, Jeffrey A. “The Budgetary Implications of Marijuana Prohibition.” February 2010.
  • 18 JUNE 2010 .
  • Ogden, David W. “Memorandum for Selected United States Attorneys” . 19 Oct. 2009.
  • Etter, Lauren. “Medical Pot Trips Up Cities; Montana Towns Fight to Rein In Industry Amid
  • Store Boom, Spate of Violence. ”Wall Street Journal (Online). 25 May 2010. Web. 31 May 2010.
  • Marcus, D. and Small, E. 2002. Hemp: A new crop with new uses for North America. p. 284–
  • 326. In: J. Janick and A. Whipkey (eds.), Trends in new crops and new uses. ASHS Press, Alexandria, VA.
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