OPINION: One step closer to legalization everywhere

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Monday was April 20, also known as colloquially as the stoner holiday, 4/20.

Twenty-seven states and the District of Columbia have either legalized medical marijuana or decriminalized marijuana possession. Kansas, however, is one of 23 states that still completely prohibits marijuana, according to a Jan. 7 CNN article titled, “It’s 2015: Is Weed Legal in Your State?”

According to a April 16 Associated Press article titled, “Kansas Supreme Court to Consider Wichita Marijuana Ordinance Dispute,” there is a new voter-approved ordinance that would lessen criminal penalties for marijuana possession in Wichita. The city must respond by May 6 to arguments made by the Kansas attorney general seeking to nullify the ordinance because it conflicts with state law. On April 7, 54 percent of Wichita voters approved the measure that would impose no more than a $50 fine for first-time possession of small amounts of pot.

According to an April 14 Pew Research Center article titled, “In Debate Over Legalizing Marijuana, Disagreement Over Drug’s Dangers,” a recent survey shows that public opinion about legalizing marijuana has undergone a dramatic long-term shift. In the survey, 53 percent of people favor the legal use of marijuana, while 44 percent are opposed. As recently as 2006, just 32 percent supported marijuana legalization, while nearly twice as many (60 percent) were opposed.

There are numerous reasons as to why legalization of marijuana everywhere in the U.S. would be beneficial. The most frequently used reason in support of the legalization of marijuana is its medicinal benefits.

According to a April 17 CNN article titled, “Dr. Sanjay Gupta: It’s Time for a Medical Marijuana Revolution,” Gupta, CNN’s chief medical correspondent, said the time to legalize marijuana is now.

“There is now promising research into the use of marijuana that could impact tens of thousands of children and adults, including treatment for cancer, epilepsy and Alzheimer’s to name a few,” Gupta said in the article. “With regard to pain alone, marijuana could greatly reduce the demand for narcotics and simultaneously decrease the number of accidental painkiller overdoses, which are the greatest cause of preventable death in this country.”

According to a April 16 CNN article titled, “Girl’s Seizures Spur Medical Marijuana Legislation in Georgia,” Gov. Nathan Deal of Georgia signed a bill, named Haleigh’s Hope Act, on Thursday that will legalize low-THC cannabis oil to treat certain medication-resistant epilepsies and also create an infrastructure registration process and research program for the drug. Haleigh’s Hope Act bill is named after Haleigh Cox, who was having hundreds of seizures a day until her mother, Janea Cox, moved her to Colorado where she could legally obtain marijuana. The only thing that seemed to work was cannabis oil.

“Every time she smiled I knew we did the right thing, because we hadn’t seen her smile in three years,” Cox said in the article. “Now she’s thriving, she’s healthy, she’s happy and they’re absolutely shocked at the difference. So I think we’ve turned some non-believers into believers of cannabis oil.”

Also in the Pew Research survey, 36 percent of those in favor of marijuana legalization believe that marijuana is no worse than other legal recreational substances, many even mentioning it is no more dangerous than alcohol or cigarettes.

The perceptions that having a large amount of THC in your system will kill you has proven to be a myth. According to a Sept. 4, 2013 Huffington Post article titled, “Here Are All The People Who Have Died From A Marijuana Overdose,” not a single death can be accounted for from an overdose of THC or marijuana. On the other hand, in 2010, 38,329 people died from a drug overdose. Sixty percent of those were related to prescription drugs. In that same year, 25,692 people died from alcohol-related causes. The Pew Research survey also reports that 27 percent of supporters said legalization would lead to improved regulation of marijuana and increased tax revenues.

All transactions of legalized marijuana would be regulated and taxed. The cannabis seller will not be a blackmarket dealer, but rather a paid employee of a licensed business explicitly authorized to engage in such transactions. The profits from these transactions will bring fiscal benefits to the local community instead of the blackmarket economy.

According to a Feb. 12 Washington Post article titled, “Colorado’s Legal Weed Market: $700 Million in Sales Last Year, $1 Billion by 2016,” Colorado is proving to be a great example of how cannabis legalization can benefit the economy. Legal marijuana was a $700 million dollar industry in Colorado last year, analysis of recently-released tax data from the state’s Department of Revenue.

Colorado retailers sold $386 million of medical marijuana and $313 million for purely recreational purposes in 2014. The two segments of the market generated $63 million in tax revenue and an additional $13 million collected in licenses and fees. Not everyone, however, is convinced that recreational weed will ever be legal in all 50 states.

The Pew Research Center survey revealed that the most frequently mentioned reason as to why people oppose legalization is that marijuana generally hurts society and is bad for individuals (43 percent). Thirty percent of those who are opposed believe it is dangerous and has the potential to be abused. Other reasons include that it is a gateway to harder drugs and could be especially harmful to young people.

The marijuana policy is an appealing topic, which will have a significant impact in the general election. It will be interesting to see how the 2016 presidential candidates will approach and engage in regards to this issue. It is an edgy topic that will be sure spark talking points for citizens from both parties.

In my opinion, the U.S. should legalize medical marijuana nationally. If properly controlled and regulated, this prior illegal substance could become one of America’s most helpful medications. It should not be withheld from patients any longer.

Zanri Van Der Merwe is a junior in mass communications.

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