HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Denver Marijuana Law a Step in the Right Direction
Pubdate: Fri, 11 Nov 2005
Source: Tiger, The (Clemson U, SC Edu)
Copyright: 2005 The Tiger
Bookmark: (Cannabis)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


On Tuesday, Nov. 1, the residents of Denver passed The
Alcohol-Marijuana Equalization Initiative. This initiative allows
adults over the age of 21 to possess up to an ounce of marijuana. This
is the first law of its kind making general possession of marijuana
legal, but it draws attention to a growing body of city and state laws
that take a markedly different stance on marijuana than do federal

Denver is the first city to legalize possession of marijuana outright,
but ten states, including Colorado, have legalized the use of
marijuana for medical purposes. Also, several cities have passed laws
making the possession of marijuana the lowest priority for law
enforcement. While these developments appear to be a local backlash
against federal marijuana laws, the federal anti-drug laws still take
priority over state laws. This is why several cities have made
marijuana possession the lowest law enforcement priority. These types
of laws try to sidestep the federal statutes; they maintain the
illegality of marijuana possession but simply do not enforce the law.

Even though cities must find loopholes to evade the federal laws, this
string of pro-marijuana laws reflects a growing sense among the
American public that marijuana may not be as detrimental to society
and harmful to individuals as the public was once led to believe. It
certainly has its negative aspects such as short-term memory
impairment and impaired lung function, but even these are not as
harmful as once thought.

The Denver law especially draws a comparison between marijuana use and
alcohol consumption as a reason for its legalization. In fact, the law
goes so far as to set the minimum age for marijuana use as the same as
that for alcohol - 21 years old. Proponents of the law argued that
marijuana use was as safe as or safer than alcohol use. The text of
the initiative itself said that 317 people die annually from alcohol
overdose, but there has never been a reported case of a marijuana overdose.

Other strong arguments can be made for the legalization of marijuana
as well. Marijuana is often called a "gateway drug" - a drug whose use
acts as a pathway to abuse of harder drugs. Some researchers claim
that marijuana use triggers chemical processes that create a desire
for harder drugs. That may be true, but marijuana's "gateway effect"
also stems from a simpler mechanism - users must buy from drug dealers
who also push harder drugs. If marijuana is legalized, users will buy
it from a store, not a drug dealer, and thus will not have as easy
access to other drugs.

This benefit extends further. Simple economics tell us that if
marijuana users are able to buy their drugs from stores rather than
drug dealers, there will not be any marijuana dealers left in the
streets. There will certainly still be dealers selling other drugs,
but controlling the sale of marijuana through legalization will
drastically reduce drug dealers' and thus drug lords' stranglehold on
society. It will even decrease the number of users of other drugs
because some will switch to marijuana from other drugs since it will
be cheaper and safer.

If marijuana was sold in legitimate stores, its sale could be
regulated by the government much more easily and effectively than it
is now. Just as the government heavily taxes alcohol and cigarettes,
it would be able to tax marijuana to regulate its price. That extra
tax revenue could then be directed toward drug treatment programs, for

There are drawbacks to legalizing marijuana. Even though it will be
regulated, the price will still be less than the current street price
so more people will use it. Use will also increase as people who were
previously only deterred by the risk of punishment will try it.
However, that use will be safer since the production process will be
legal, regulated and purer.

People also point out the possible effects on society ? decreased
productivity as people wander around stoned instead of showing up to
work, for example. While the legalization would likely need to be
timed to coincide with the beginning of a long weekend, most people
will not walk away from their daily lives and routines just because
marijuana is now legal. Also, companies will be able to regulate
marijuana use just as they do alcohol use. People would get fired, for
example, if they showed up to work high, just as if they showed up

While the legalization of marijuana is certainly a contentious issue,
laws such as Denver's are just the tip of the iceburg of public
reaction to outdated federal drug laws. We have been conditioned to
believe that marijuana use is an abhorrent evil, but when we slow down
and actually look at the facts, the situation looks much different.
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