Legalizing Weed

Amsterdam has some interesting coffee shops. These are not  your plush couch, casual business meeting Starbucks, nor are they the ultra-hip, modern coffee bar glamorously decorated with cement, brick, and a splash of white. Nope, these shops are not even known for their coffee, because they focus on providing 31 varieties of high quality mary jane.

As Americans are asked the tough question, “Should we legalize, regulate, and tax marijuana sales?” let us hope they do more than close their eyes and randomly mark their ballots. I have tried to do my homework on the topic. Many published journalists and politicians seem to support legalization. The War on Drugs is indeed a war that has been raging since my parents were born, but it started long before then. I sometimes wonder how it started at all? Perhaps like Prohibition efforts it started when people were displeased with out of control public behavior. Did stoned individuals smash windows or get into bar fights, abuse family members, or spend the weekend in jail? Likely they did none of those things because marijuana seems to have the opposite effect.

In Amsterdam’s de Dampkring, one American writer who worked there for two days said, “It’s like working at a Starbucks where the customers are cranky zombies, where a latte costs fifty bucks, and where a stray speck of coffee grounds falling underfoot will probably mean an ass-chewing from your super-intimidating manager.”* Cranky zombies certainly cause some problems in horror films, but maybe it is wrong to attack them like serious criminals. After all, they didn’t do anything violent or criminal other than purchase an illegal substance and perhaps endanger themselves, right?

Studies have estimated as much as $13 billion is spent annually on enforcing marijuana laws in the United States. These high price tags could be reduced substantially and profits could be made from taxing legal marijuana distribution. That is exactly what supporters of Oregon’s Measure 74 say. In many European countries there have been successes and struggles with such a system. Here in the U.S. we should be looking toward the regions where marijuana use is easily regulated, profitable from tax, and where illegal drug use is relatively low.

Currently more than 30,000 people are registered in Oregon to legally use marijuana for medical purposes. Many of these registered users grow their own. If Measure 74 passes, it will become much easier for people to become licensed to grow and distribute marijuana. It is estimated that setting up regulation would take no more than $400,000 – $600,000 annually. I have the feeling, that number will reach at least $1 million dollars. If increased revenue benefits actually reach the $3 million to $20 million in the first year alone, what does that say about the usage of marijuana in the state? Are more people purchasing because its easier, or is the state benefiting from current users habit, whether legal or illegal? The messiness continues for employers whose policies become conflicted and for law enforcement if licensed dispensaries start selling illegally. Many legal professionals and law enforcement organizations oppose legalization right now. We shall see what the verdict is tonight.

Will we end up with a world where smoking marijuana on the street corner is just as accepted as smoking a cigarette? I certainly see both substances in a similar light. Unhealthy for the individual and those around them. While you supposedly cannot get a second-hand high due to dissipated concentration of THC, I always feel some unpleasant physical effect when near marijuana. While legalization makes financial sense, I would hate to see the state of our economy if more people start living and working on a high.

Some Sources: Wells Tower, “My Kushy New Job” , Oregon Measure 74, NY Times, “End the War on Pot”


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