Although the period in American History commonly known as prohibition lasted only 13 years, Marijuana has been criminally prohibited in the United States since passage of the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act. 2017 will mark 80 years of marijuana’s illegality.
So much has changed since 1937, most notably the increase of human rights for women, minority races, and, recently, the LGBT community. Unfortunately, the U.S. drug policy has become more and more punitive, at least until states began to legalize and decriminalize marijuana. Here are three reasons marijuana prohibition should be de-scheduled, legalized, and regulated similar alcohol here in the Commonwealth.
1. Growing the Economy
With Election 2016 right around the corner, jobs and the economy are issues that have taken center stage as a serious issue facing our country. The legalization and regulation would be an incredible boost to the Virginia economy, in both the creation of private industry positions and the increased tax revenue from business and employee’s personal income taxes.
Virginia has significant agricultural potential, as has been seen throughout the history of the Commonwealth as a key cotton and tobacco producer. Allowing Virginia agriculture to exploit the current rise in demand for marijuana and hemp products and derivatives would be great for not only the people cultivating the plant, but also for the retail start-ups that would be required to bring the product to the retail market.
Colorado saw a large boost in “pot tourism,” which would be another economic incentive for areas such as Virginia Beach and Norfolk, which rely on tourism as a significant part of their economic structure. The increase in new businesses will result in new taxable entities, which can be preserved by requiring businesses selling or producing marijuana in the Commonwealth file all corporate documents in Virginia. Also, these new businesses will need employees, providing the new, good-paying jobs so talked about in this election.
2. Decreased Collateral Consequences
Another hot-button issue in current politics is the disconnect between law enforcement and the community. Although marijuana has not been discussed, it is a major driver of conviction in Virginia. In Chesapeake, for example, drug offenses are the most common cause of arrest behind simple assault and larceny; marijuana accounts for over 60% of Virginia drug arrests. Legalizing marijuana would lead to a significant decrease in arrests, also reducing the number of people strapped with drug convictions.
Conviction of a drug crime has significant collateral consequences. Virginia is one of 16 states that require suspension of driver’s licenses for any marijuana offense, even if the offense had no connection to a vehicle. In a mostly suburban environment such as Hampton Roads, reliable transportation is key to maintaining employment at locations that are often miles away from one’s personal residence. Even a misdemeanor marijuana offense will result in the suspension of federal aid for education. With the majority of drug users being 18-34, this could result in thousands of young college students being ineligible to receive funding for an entire year. Even a year gap in education significantly reduces the chances of completion.
With the rate of drug arrests and convictions steadily rising, the percentage of the community being labeled as criminal is also rising. Law enforcement perception that a large part of a community is criminal will put police on edge; the disrespect shown to people labeled as criminal because of minor drug offenses is seen, heard, and felt on a daily basis across the Commonwealth and the Nation. Eliminating a major source of arrests and convictions, simple possession of marijuana, could be an important first step in rebuilding the bilateral respect needed between law enforcement and the community.
3. Reduce Exposure to Deadly Illegal Drugs
An old lie of prohibition supporters is that Marijuana is a gateway drug. However, it is more likely that the prohibition itself is the gateway to harder, potentially deadly drugs such as heroin, an epidemic facing our nation. Consider the ABC stores here in the Sommonwealth, or even your local 7-11. When you buy alcohol or tobacco, the cashier does not ask, “Did you need anything else? Cocaine, or Heroin?” However, an unscrupulous drug dealer may offer these alternatives, particularly when these other drugs can be more profitable as they can be cut and diluted with other products, such as Fentanyl, the drug that killed Prince and is driving the increase in overdoses in Heroin users.
Marijuana users make up the largest portion of currently illegal drug users. By far. Removing the largest section of drug users would remove these people from the illegal drug market, also reducing potential initiation to harder substances such as heroin and cocaine. The continued prohibition of marijuana is exposing millions of Americans to the violence, deception, and social pressures of the illegal drug markets. Regulating and legalizing marijuana will shut the gateway that has allowed so many people to fall into the temptation of self-medication or escapism through drugs that can be deadly and rapidly addictive. Legalizing marijuana may be a key to reducing overdoses and decreasing heroin use in the Commonwealth.
The legalization of any intoxicating substance is not without the potential risks, and marijuana does have its risks, such as driving under the influence, psychological addiction, and accidental exposure. However, in the case of marijuana, the potential benefits outweigh these risks. There are laws currently in place to account for drugged drivers; many people suffering addictions have underlying issues; and exposure can be reduced by following the same safety precautions as given to alcohol or prescription drugs.
Today’s society is substantially different than the 1930’s, and our evolving culture should be reflected in the laws that govern the community. The legalization of marijuana is not a partisan issue; ending this prohibition must be a critical component of the reform so desired in our country, in regards to reducing crime, increasing economic opportunity, and stopping the overdose epidemic facing communities across the Commonwealth and the nation.