The legalization of marijuana (i.e. "pot") in the states of Washington and Colorado is significant for many reasons. It is also relatively unexpected. While Washington State – largely the Western half of it – and the rest of the West Coast have generally been known for being very liberal, Colorado does not have as much of that reputation. Another reason it is surprising is that marijuana is still illegal at a federal level, so these states are going against the federal government by legalizing pot for recreational use. Many states are beginning to make pot legal for medicinal purposes, and that is more commonly seen. Making it legal for recreation is a groundbreaking decision and an unusual move. However, if the voters of the state demand something for long enough, most states will eventually make changes to accommodate those voters. That is what happened in both Washington and Colorado, but whether this is a good idea has to be explored.
There are serious considerations regarding the safety of pot and whether legalizing it for recreational use will contribute to more crime, intoxication behind the wheel of a car, and similar types of issues. Addressed here will be Washington State and Colorado, along with the federal opinion of the issue. How the laws came to be passed matters, as does whether they will be considered "legal" by the federal government or whether interference will take place. How long the laws will need to be in place before one can see how well they actually work remains to be seen, as well. Some laws appear to be good choices on paper, but once they are put into practice they are ineffective or even dangerous. Repealing these laws can then be difficult, because people are being asked, in many cases, to give up their freedoms. That is why politicians must be very careful before they pass laws making something legal that was previously illegal. Returning that item to an illegal state in the future is not easy.
Washington State and Colorado A3
Washington State has long appeared to be a hotbed of liberal activity. That is especially true on the Western side of the Cascade Mountains, where people tend to be more relaxed and much more tolerant of others. Seattle is a very liberal city, and so is the state capital of Olympia. With that in mind, it was only a matter of time before lawmakers in that state chose to make recreational marijuana legal. There are still restrictions, though, on the amount of the drug a person can possess and what he or she can do while under its influence. For example, it is still illegal to have pounds of pot lying around, or to distribute it (Marijuana, 2012) A4 . It is also not legal to drive under the influence of pot, just as one cannot legally drive under the influence of alcohol (Duke, 2012). That is a good thing, because impaired people should not be on the roads behind the wheel of any vehicle. However, just because a person is not supposed to do something, there is no guarantee that he or she will agree to avoid doing it.
There is concern that legalizing marijuana will make it "too easy" for people to engage in heavy recreational use of it, and too easy for them to have it around where minors can get access to it (Duke, 2012). While it is quite possible for people who should not have marijuana to find ways to get it, there is no need to make it easier for them than it already is. The more legalization of pot that takes place in Colorado and Washington State, the more it will be available to people of all ages (Marijuana, 2013). That can lead to use and abuse by people who are not supposed to have the drug, and by those who think that, since it is legal, it must be safe to use. Certainly, there were people who were not using pot because of the legality issues. Now that they do not have to worry about being arrested for a small amount of pot as long as they use it in ways that are acceptable under the new law, they are free to explore using it.
That could lead to more addicts and more people who are not supposed to be using the drug but who decide to anyway. In time, that could produce more criminal behavior, and it remains to be seen in those states whether the criminal behaviors and DUI behaviors will increase now that it is much easier for people to purchase marijuana and they can do so legally (Mintz, 2013). While there is no way to be sure of the changes that will take place with legal pot, it is safe to assume that some changes will indeed occur. People who are able to get pot legally may use it more often, and until the law has been in place for some time there will not be any data that can be used to see whether the law is working well or whether it is causing more trouble than expected. This researcher is concerned that legalizing recreational pot and removing the criminality from the drug will cause more people to use it (and use it irresponsibly), which can lead to other drug use and a lack of concern for personal and societal safety – both of which could result in serious problems.
Federal Opinion A5
The federal government still insists that marijuana is illegal (Mintz, 2013). It is not allowed to be used recreationally, and carries penalties for doing so (Ponto, 2006). However, the government has also said that it is not going to interfere with Washington State and Colorado and their pot laws (Marijuana, 2013). This was surprising, because the feds do have the right to go over the top of state law and enforce the federal law that makes pot illegal. If they decided to do that, however, they could have a fight on their hands because there are many people who would not be happy with the changes. These people wanted to see pot legalized, and now that they have seen that occur they do not want anything done that will change that and make pot illegal again. Some are still concerned about the federal issues, but others are focused only on the laws in their state of residence. Those are the laws they choose to abide by, and the laws they are going to use when deciding what is acceptable and what is not.
The decision of the feds to continue to keep pot illegal but not to enforce that in the states where it has been legalized is causing a lot of confusion. If it is illegal to possess recreational marijuana, the federal government should enforce that. If it is not going to be enforced in states where it has been declared legal by state law, the federal government should just make it legal everywhere. Otherwise, there will always be a discrepancy between federal law and state law. Federal laws trump state laws, but the federal government has said they will not enforce the law, so it leaves people confused and uncertain about what they are doing and whether they are following the proper laws or actually doing something that could get them into trouble. For people who are really concerned about not breaking the law, the difference between federal and state laws about pot can become confusing and frustrating. Having an agreement between the two laws would be a better choice. A6
The Risks and Benefits of Legal Marijuana
Depending on who is asked about the issue, there are benefits of legal pot, and serious problems with it. For those who feel it is a good idea, they cite more personal freedom and information that indicates the drug is not dangerous. Studies have shown that pot smokers do not see the same changes in their lungs as cigarette smokers, for example, and that alcohol is actually more addictive and harmful to the body (Marijuana, 2004). People who advocate for marijuana also argue that it "mellows" them and keeps them happy, that they are more relaxed, and that the drug does not hinder their performance when it comes to normal, daily life activities (Ponto, 2006). Not everyone feels that way about pot, of course, and there are plenty of people who have the opposite opinion as to whether the drug is a good idea or whether it is dangerous and something that should still remain illegal.
People who argue against marijuana have a difference of opinion, and do not want to see pot legalized. They are concerned about it being a "gateway drug" that will encourage people to use other drugs in the future (Mintz, 2013; Ponto, 2006). They also worry about people using drugs in situations that would make them a danger to others. There are studies that show pot can be addictive, and long-term use of it can be harmful (Mintz, 2013). It is a relatively expensive habit for heavy users, and can mean money gets spent on drugs when it should be going toward food, shelter, and basic needs. That is not to say that people cannot use marijuana responsibly in some cases, but that the majority of recreational users risk their health and the safety of others because the drug causes impairment that the impaired person does not even realize is happening. With that being the case, people who believe pot should be illegal are not changing their stance on it just because some states are legalizing small amounts of it for recreational use.
The gray area for legalization of marijuana appears to be where medicinal use is concerned. The states that allow for legal medicinal marijuana do not allow legal pot for recreational purposes (Mintz, 2013). However, people who have marijuana cards can buy the drug from specific dispensaries to use in helping them with a medical condition. Studies have shown that pot can be helpful for problems like glaucoma, because it lowers the internal pressure in the eye (Mintz, 2013). It can also help chemotherapy patients combat pain and nausea from the cancer-fighting medications they must take (Mintz, 2013). There are other benefits, as well, but some of them are hotly debated as to their value. There is also a concern that people who are getting medical marijuana cards may not really be that sick in some cases, and that some doctors will give them cards simply because the patient wants to be able to legally smoke pot. That is a serious concern, because it is encouraging unneeded drug use.
As can be seen, there are many issues that surround the states' legalization of marijuana. Whether it is for medicinal or recreational use, there are good and bad points to having access to the drug. For some, the benefits really are exceptional. However, the number of people using marijuana medicinally appears to be higher than the number of people who actually need it, or for whom other treatments really will not work. That is a serious concern, because it indicates drug use that is not needed, and that could grow and develop into something else in the future, when usage increases or other drugs are tried. Certainly not all people who use marijuana occasionally end up using it more often or move on to other drugs. The concern over that is there, however, and is not something that will go away just by trying to reassure people that pot is safe.
The only thing that will change minds opposed to pot is time, because they will have to see that the concerns they have do not come true as more people use the drug medicinally or recreationally in a legal manner. There are already a large number of people who use marijuana, and legalizing it does not mean that many more people will use it. Most who are users will smoke pot whether it is illegal or not, so changing the rules does not change the dynamics of pot smokers that much. There may be some people who will try it once they can legally do so, but it is not the excessive numbers that some people worry about. It is likely that more states will legalize marijuana in the future, and also likely that the federal government will eventually legalize the drug, especially when they see that a number of states are doing so and the American people have spoken.
Duke, A. (2012). 2 states legalize pot, but don't break out the Cheetos. CNN.
Marijuana goes legal in Washington State amid mixed messages. (2012). Reuters.
Marijuana clubs ring in new year in Colorado as legalized pot smoking begins. (2013). ABC News.
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Mintz, H. (2013) Medical pot: California supreme court allows cities to ban weed dispensaries. Marin Independent Journal
Ponto, L.L.B. (2006). Challenges of marijuana research. Brain, 129(5): 1081-3