‘Young people, I understand this is important to you, but you should be thinking about climate change, the economy, jobs, war and peace – maybe way at the bottom you should be thinking about marijuana.’
Listening to President Obama’s words, I bristled in mild offence. And for the next few months brooded, as brooders tend to do.
Me, Me, Me: Personal Importance
From a purely selfish perspective as a regular user, legalization is of course a major issue. Why shouldn’t I be able to share with friends this social relaxant within the privacy of our homes? Why can’t I choose weed as a recreational alternative that will (for once) spare my future self the discomforts of a hangover, or as migraine medication with minimal side effects? Why can’t drug policies be based on empirical data, with legality based on quantitative individual and societal harm?
This is folly. By which I mean, complete and utter bullshit.
Dismissing the personal for a moment, though, let us discuss cannabis in relation to the broader issues of the economy and jobs, to war and human lives.
Economic Benefit: The Green Rush, Jobs and Public Expenditure
For generations, individuals have smoked marijuana regardless of its prohibition – have in fact been smoking more since the days of Reefer Madness. The only meaningful impact legality has on the demand and supply of cannabis is determining the type of economy in which transactions take place: formal or underground.
A Happy Taxman
The greatest benefit of legalization – as in the benefit which most affects society as a whole – lies in the collection of taxes. While the amount won’t save a national budget, it still increases the provision of public programs and services – exemplified by Colorado’s Amendment 64, which requires that the first $40 million in marijuana tax revenue be appropriated into the public school capital construction assistance fund.
In 2014, Colorado collected 47 million dollars in tax revenue – 10 million of which was transferred to the fund.
If implemented on a federal level, a legitimate cannabis industry could be a significant contributor to the economy in general – much akin to the alcoholic beverage industry responsible for over $170 billion in annual sales and 3.9 million jobs. Legal marijuana creates jobs for service-sector workers as cannabis cafes and dispensaries become as chic as wine bars and wineries – and creates investment opportunities at every step from manufacturing, distribution, retail, and ancillary products and services such as quality-testing laboratories.
A Socio-Economic Effect: Women and Marijuana
The birth of a completely new industry also means the opportunity to bypass labour-market inequalities. It means the chance to build higher-management structures from bottom up, as opposed to infiltrating and reforming existing ones. And that’s exactly what female entrepreneurs have been doing in the developing cannabis industry: increasingly assuming leadership and CEO positions.
While one industry may not be enough to close the gender gap at the executive level, it certainly makes a difference – and makes for heartening progress.
Hemp: The Versatile Industrial Plant
Perhaps the sector for which federal legalization in the U.S. (and the decades-overdue repeal of the 1937 Marihuana Tax Act) will make the greatest economic difference is agriculture. The Cannabis plant isn’t limited as a mind-altering substance. As a fast-growing and relatively cheap plant with a long list of potential products, cannabis can be a lucrative cash crop for farmers.
Hemp is used as:
- fiber similar in texture to linen, with historic uses as clothing and ship cordage
- construction material producing durable, breathable and insulated housing when combined with Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF)
- a natural weed killer
- composite material for automobiles
- a high-protein food source with seeds rich in magnesium, zinc and iron
- animal bedding
- and biofuel, though there are cheaper alternatives such as wastewater.
Most importantly, cannabis is a sustainable and renewable resource requiring little pesticide and no herbicide – and actually absorbs heavy-metal contaminants and other impurities, improving soil quality.
When it comes to hemp, everyone wins.
Medicinal Benefit: A Magic Green Tree
The versatility of cannabis exceeds industrial uses. Medically speaking, marijuana is nature’s frickin’ miracle.
Cannabis compounds have the potential of becoming effective treatment for the following conditions:
- pain, having been used as an analgesic since the days of ancient China
- rheumatoid arthritis, with a reported decline in disease activity
- age related macular degeneration (AMD), with antioxidant properties
- epilepsy, with the capacity to regulate neuronal excitability
- various types of cancer, with anti-inflammatory and anti-proliferative properties inhibiting the growth of malignant tumors
- Huntington’s Disease, with neuro-protective properties
- PTSD, reducing treatment-resistant nightmares
- chronic stress, with the potential to stabilize moods and mitigate symptoms of depression
And yet, despite the plethora of data indicating therapeutic use, the U.S. maintains cannabis as a Schedule I drug with high potential for abuse and no accepted medical uses, and has condemned paraplegics, individuals suffering from rheumatoid arthritis and the terminally ill to prison for growing their own medicine.
Political Benefit: A War on Fellow Humans
The hypocrisy and outright injustice of prohibition isn’t limited to patients.
Individuals have been stripped of health coverage, separated from their children, incarcerated for entire lifetimes without parole, and executed in their own homes during surprise pre-dawn drug raids – all for using or distributing a substance less detrimental than a bottle of Chianti.
Made every day in the name of the war on drugs: heavy-handed measures and violations of human rights.
Yes, frequent use of marijuana is not without its risks – most notably a small yet discernible effect on short-term memory, working memory and attention skills. No, it won’t increase crime rates. And no, Mr. President, you can’t just dismiss the gravity of the issue.
When cannabis was initially criminalized in the U.S., it was done so against the advice of the American Medical Association; against the tenets of science and empiricism. The sheer economic and human cost of the insensible public policy – for which lies and propaganda were key instruments and which was only implemented to serve the funding agenda of a single politician in the 1930’s – isn’t just asinine. It’s a moral outrage.
Yes, legalization is about fighting for the right to use mind-altering substances; a behavior exhibited by our species since recorded history. But it’s also so much more. As a direct result of prohibitionist policies, human lives are adversely affected – and too often extinguished.