Whether you’re for it or against it, federal marijuana legalization is on the horizon. A recent Gallup poll stated that 58 percent of Americans now believe the plant should become legal nationwide. Over half of the states have legalized marijuana in some form, and others will vote on the subject within a year. With these statistics and 2016 being a presidential election year, federal marijuana legalization will likely occur in the United States in the near future.
What we don’t know is what effect it will have. Statisticians and politicians have placed Colorado — the poster child for marijuana reform — under a microscope as they try to predict the financial and social implications of the end of marijuana prohibition. Let’s take a look at the possible effects.
In the 2014-2015 fiscal year, Colorado collected almost 70 million dollars from recreational and medical marijuana taxes. The industry has also created over 10,000 new jobs, not including spin off employment in areas such as accounting and security. The legalization of cannabis has also boosted other areas of the economy — both real estate and ski tourism noted record years.
National legalization would most likely affect the high employment numbers in Colorado because marijuana is still classified as a schedule one drug, meaning all banking must currently be conducted in cash. This creates an overinflated security industry. Likewise, the boom in tourism would most likely drop back to the previous levels once the state is no longer the exception rather than the norm.
Prison System, Criminals and Crime
Prisons are big business in the United States, and marijuana contributes much to their livelihood. Approximately 50 percent of all federal prisoners are incarcerated for drug offences, and 27 percent of them involve marijuana offenses. The two largest private prison companies earn a combined 3.3 billion per year, and they also contribute heavily to political lobbies to keep politicians in their corner.
When marijuana becomes legal, these prison industries stand to lose roughly 12 percent of their income, so they have a vested interest in lobbying against marijuana reform. On the other hand, releasing those incarcerated for cannabis offenses will create a quagmire in unemployment, job training and housing. The stigma of having a past felony record for marijuana must be addressed at some point.
Colorado has had many surprises from their new law, and one of them is the crime rate. Aside from the obvious drop in marijuana offenses, the city of Denver alone has had a drop of over 14 percent in overall crime, 14 percent in property crimes, and a 2.4 percent drop in violent crimes such as murder and assault.
Over $51,000,000,000 is spent each year in the war on drugs. In 2013 alone over 1.5 million people were arrested on drug charges — over half a million of them for marijuana. Legalization would allow the Drug Enforcement Agency and other law enforcement departments to focus on hard drugs such as heroin and cocaine, as well as the growing problem of pharmaceutical drug abuse.
Police departments will need to refocus their enforcement policies and budgets. For example, drug-sniffing dogs are trained to detect any type of drug, including marijuana. Also, smaller departments may rely on drug property confiscation for a large part of their budget and would need to refocus such goals.
Medicinal and Pharmaceutical Companies
Over 20 states have made marijuana legal for medicinal purposes, even though long-term research studies have been caught in a catch-22 because they’re not allowed to study an illegal drug. Still, the reports are staggering.
The National Cancer Institute released findings that state the properties in marijuana appear to kill cancer cells. Over 100 billion dollars were spent on cancer drugs last year, a staggering average of $100,000 per patient. Big pharma companies have spent over five billion dollars lobbying Washington in the past 18 years, so is it any wonder the federal government is dragging its feet on marijuana legalization?
Citizens are finding relief from seizures, chronic pain, muscles spasms, and a slew of other aliments by using medical marijuana. Chemotherapy patients can fight nausea and loss of appetite, and several states have approved the use of medical marijuana for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which is affecting our returning veterans at a staggering rate.
Now that marijuana is fully legal in a handful of states, we can look for a steady stream of research and statistics to fill in the picture. Plus, it’s an election year. More states have legal marijuana on the upcoming ballot, and the clock is ticking down to the time the federal government will be forced to listen to the voice of the majority.