Legalizing cannabis is a hot-button issue. Proponents work hard to overcome the public perception that nothing good can come from making cannabis legal, while opponents believe the risks outweigh the benefits. This issue isn’t going away, so it’s time that both sides take a better look at the pros and cons of legalizing marijuana.
Is cannabis safe?
No one would suggest that making asbestos legal is a good idea, so before having a pros and cons discussion of legalizing cannabis, most people want to know — is it safe?
Researchers disagree. In the lab, using cannabis is shown to negatively affect function, judgment, and memory. But, how safe is cannabis is in comparison to other substances adults legally use, such as alcohol, that cause similar effects?
There is ample evidence that cannabis has less potential for addition than alcohol or tobacco and that its use appears generally safe. Research about its long-term effects, however, is overdue.
Overall, the consensus is mixed. Concerns revolve less around the safety of cannabis than about using behavior that falls outside the norm. Studies suggest that in recreational amounts, cannabis is as safe as or safer than the vodka and cigarettes that are currently legal.
Pros of Legalizing Cannabis
While opponents contend that society doesn’t need another mind-altering substance, proponents ask if similar agents are safe enough to be legal, why not cannabis? The question of personal freedom has been at the heart of this debate and with half of Americans having tried cannabis, bringing its use out of the shadows is something many believe is a step forward toward a freer, more open society.
Advocates add that government expenditure for the disastrous War on Drugs has exceeded a trillion dollars, much of it to prosecute minor marijuana-related offenses that can affect citizens for a lifetime. An estimate $20 billion annually could be added to the coffers when considering savings on law enforcement and revenue from taxing legalized cannabis.
Cons of Legalizing Cannabis
Addiction specialists say research shows that adolescents have a higher rate of potential dependency with use of cannabis and believe that like cigarettes, even though most legalization efforts are strictly for adults, seeing more adult use will make minors believe it’s safe for any age.
Although research is mixed about the so-called gateway effect of marijuana use, evidence suggests that although the addiction potential isn’t high, those who do become addicted are more likely to move on to harder drugs.
Opponents are also worried that legalizing marijuana will increase its open use in public, leading to unhealthy second-hand smoke. And if no tests can reliably tell if a driver is impaired due to cannabis, how will roads and dangerous work environments be kept safe?
Efforts to legalize cannabis are moving forward in many states with less concern about the home use of marijuana by adults than about the impact on the public. Debating the pros and cons of this issue publicly should be the first step in crafting effective laws that serve everyone.