OPINION: Legalizing marijuana would benefit Kansas, agriculture

Graphic by Audrey Hockersmith

By Caleb Snider and Kyler Jackson

Marijuana, weed, pot, grass, the devil’s lettuce. Whatever you want to call it, it has become much more acceptable in today’s society, with one in eight U.S. adults saying they smoke. Yet, you can still get arrested for it even though it’s now legal recreationally in eight states and Washington, D.C., as well as being legal medicinally in 20 others.

As of right now marijuana is illegal in Kansas. Possession of any amount will result in at least a $1,000 fine as well as six months in prison, not to mention the fines if you get caught with paraphernalia, which is where most of the charges come from.

This could be changing with a few bills recently introduced into our state Legislature. HB 2348 and SB 187 would enact the Kansas Safe Access Act, which essentially means marijuana for medicinal use. In addition, SB 155 would enact the Cannabis Compassion and Care Act, again essentially allowing medicinal usage of marijuana.

Only 37 percent of the nation thinks that marijuana should be completely illegal, while 57 percent of Americans agree it should be legalized. Pew recently released a survey that showed even the majority of police officers agree with relaxing restrictions on usage.

When you look at the economic effects of marijuana legalization, the argument in favor becomes much stronger. Colorado’s pot industry topped $1 billion in sales last year and raised $49.7 million in excise taxes, $40 million of which is to be used for school construction projects and any additional revenue from the tax will be put into the state’s public school fund.

Kansas is an agricultural state, so it would make economic sense to capitalize on an agricultural commodity that is already seeing phenomenal success in states that don’t specialize in agriculture.

Despite the majority of the public favoring legalization and the economic benefits a legalized industry can produce, marijuana continues to be illegal. We know that prohibition in the 1920s only lead to organized crime and did little to prevent people from drinking alcohol. They simply risked being arrested by going to their version of the black market, otherwise known as “speakeasies.”

Are we really so blind that we cannot see the failure of the drug war as a repeat of the failure of prohibition? Criminalizing marijuana has only lead to more negatives rather than positives in terms of reducing crime.

A comprehensive drug policy is of course necessary for drugs that can cause significant damage to one’s health. However, numerous studies show that marijuana has no significant long term effects, especially when compared to alcohol and prescription opioids.

According to the National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, alcohol is related to 88,000 deaths every year in America. And the CDC states that between 1999 to 2015, “more than 183,000 people have died in the U.S. from overdoses related to prescription opioids.” The number of people dying from overdosing on marijuana? Zero.

It is interesting when considering one of the biggest opponents and lobbyist groups against marijuana, the Community Anti Drug Coalition of America, receives a great deal of its funds from opioid manufacturers.

Call your representatives and let them know your views on marijuana. A simple message from a constituent might change their minds. It’s time that Kansas starts progressing on failed, outdated policies. Perhaps instead of jailing people for possessing a substance far less harmful than alcohol or prescription opioids, we could step away from the “Reefer Madness” hysteria and realize the benefits of legalization outweigh the negatives.

Kyler Jackson is a sophomore in political science and Caleb Snider is a sophomore in public relations. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Collegian. Please send comments to opinion@kstatecollegian.com.