Arguments for and against the legalization of marijuana has involved health considerations, the impact on underground drug cartels and on crime rates, new jobs inside a new industry and workplace safety among others. Those in favor of legalizing marijuana have undertaken various efforts to make this issue important in the state and national level, while its opponents remain critical, cynical and skeptic about the claims of those supporting the legalization of marijuana. The United States has had a long history involving efforts at decriminalizing marijuana use and making marijuana legal. The defeat of Regulate, Control & Tax Cannabis Act - the most recent marijuana legalization effort to date - during the California statewide ballot held on November 2, 2010 means that marijuana possession remains illegal in California, with the exception of medical marijuana legalized first by California in 1996 (Bennett, 2010). But looking at the winning margin of the 'No' votes over the 'Yes' votes (7.6 percent, with 53.8 percent voting for No versus Yes votes at 46.2 percent) reflects the fact that there are nearly just as many individuals who want to legalize marijuana in the state compared to those who oppose this move. The extent of public perception on the merits of legalizing marijuana is more than just accessibility to getting an easy - and legal - high; there are other considerations too, and these considerations will impact not just on the individual marijuana smokers, but also the society as a whole. These important considerations which people appreciate and believe in form the backbone from which the constant appeal and move to legalize marijuana stands. Despite the debacle of California Proposition 19, many people as well as groups continue to lobby and work for the legalization of marijuana in the future, because this is a policy that offers many different positive changes that can improve the society in many different ways. There are important consideration such as economic, legal, humanitarian that provide sufficient merit and justify the policy that legalizes marijuana in California.
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A. Legalization of marijuana in California - Why implement the policy?
There are several upside in the legalization of marijuana, and the people behind Proposition 19 used many of these positive, upside considerations to affect public opinion on marijuana legalization and convince them to agree and vote 'Yes'. The upside would create a significant positive impact on the society in the form of jobs for those who are previously part of the underground network of producers of marijuana, profit and income, the economics of government resources and uses, and even border peace and security. It is these considerations that make it important for the legislation and enactment of the marijuana legalization policy to materialize soon. If and when recreational marijuana is legalized, the benefits would spread from individual growers to recreational smokers, and even the government, not to mention the role of marijuana legalization in the fight of law enforcement versus drug cartels, making the effect far reaching (Vekshin, 2010).
Among the main stipulations of Proposition 19, the most widely supported statewide legislative initiative to legalize marijuana (Bennett, 2010), is having the government tax marijuana. If recreational marijuana is legalized, it will be the catalyst for the creation of a new industry that will feature the cycle of production, distribution and sales common to any commodity. This means opening a new avenue for the government from which they could collect tax. Legalized marijuana will boost and improve the government's coffers and the tax money can be used to improve government service such as infrastructure and social welfare services. This is clearly a win-win situation for the people, the society and the government. Government revenue from tax collected from a legal marijuana industry can amount to hundreds of millions (Vekshin, 2010) to more than one billion dollars per year (Bennett, 2010) and, according to economist Milton Friedman even above six billion annually (Hardy, 2005) based on modest computation.
Legal marijuana can be subjected to different kinds of tax including general tax, transfer tax and excise tax. Businesses involved in marijuana production, sales and distribution will also mean obligations in the form of federal tax as well as state and local tax that are expected from businesses. Besides tax, legalized marijuana can also result in the imposition of fees in any marijuana related legal activities from production to sales and distribution. The revenue that would be raised can be used to either offset the costs involved in marijuana regulation, or it can also be used for other purposes (Legislative Analyst's Office, 2009).
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Beau (2010) hoped that the government and the rest of California can realize the true extent of the potential tax revenue from legal marijuana, explaining that the appreciation for this aspect of the marijuana industry starts from the tax revenue from medical marijuana (128). California has already made medical marijuana legal, and once the state government is able to see the true potential of a legalized marijuana industry in the state, marijuana legalization has the chance to be propelled towards victory. This can happen because of what tax revenue brings to the table for consideration of those opposing the legalization of marijuana.
The consideration for money from legalized marijuana couldn't have come on a better time. While advocates of marijuana battle for legalization, California on the other hand is mired in financial problems and is facing a tough economic time. While legalizing marijuana is not the ultimate answer, many people believe that the money that would come in from the legal marijuana industry can contribute in improving the financial and economic conditions of California (Regan, 2011, 237) in the short term and long term as well.
Moreover, legalized marijuana means a new industry, and a new industry means new employment opportunities for people. The state would authorize the operation of marijuana farms and other related businesses. This would mean job openings and employment opportunities. Those who are previously operating underground can become legal businessmen and earn through a legal and decent means of living. Considering the market in California for marijuana, legalization means giving businessmen business opportunities that has a potential for long term sustainability.
Part of the source of income besides direct involvement in growth, processing, sales and distribution of marijuana are the businessmen involved in what is considered as related, complementary spin off businesses and industries resulting from the legalization of marijuana, like those opening cafes, creating other marijuana related products and paraphernalia and the overall boost in local economy resulting from tourism money coming in because of the presence of legal marijuana in the state. Gieringer (2009) believes that overall, the legalization of marijuana can create as many as 50,000 new job opportunities from which the citizens and the government can benefit from.
Equally important is the consideration that as profit and income from legal marijuana sales is transferred to legitimate business entities, this can also mean that the profit and income of drug cartels and drug syndicates will be adversely affected (Ingram, 2008, 52). Those who depend on drug pushers for marijuana will stop buying illegal marijuana and opt for legal marijuana instead. This could translate to a lot of different things for the drug syndicates, which include lessened or weakened clout and influence in the society (Bennett, 2010) owing to a lessened, weakened and reduced market base for marijuana sales and distribution once the substance becomes legal.
Furthermore, savings from incarcerated individuals on marijuana related charges will increase. Law enforcement units apprehend, process and detain individuals guilty of marijuana-related crimes. This means the law enforcement units and agencies as well as the rest of the criminal justice system in the US has to shoulder the costs of processing and handling marijuana related cases. Incarceration and serving time in jails and prisons equals costs for the government for resources that can be distributed and used for the other prisoners if the number of incarcerated individuals is lessened once marijuana is legalized and decriminalized (Legislative Analyst's Office, 2009). This change means savings for the state government and flexibility to use the funds for other things, while at the same time finding a solution that can alleviate the problem on prison overcrowding (Ingram, 2008, 52).
If the legalization of marijuana pushes through and is eventually allowed in the future along with the decriminalization changes involving marijuana related cases of selling and possession, the government is looking at a lot of money that they can spend somewhere else once there is no need to put behind bars those caught selling or possessing marijuana. Futch (2010) explained that according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. There are 1,639 serving time in California prisons for marijuana possession and selling offenses. While this figure is not shocking considering the overall number of prison inmates in California, what can catch the attention of the public especially those who are very particular about how their tax money is being used by the government is the fact that the government has to spend 85 million US dollars annually to pay for and shoulder the costs of keeping these individuals.
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This is not similar to asking the government to set inmates free to save money - these individuals are not murderers or rapists or million dollar swindlers or warlords and terrorists, but ordinary individuals some of them not even engaged in a regular illegal traffic of marijuana like the case of the individual Futch has dubbed The Kid. Many individuals fall in the same predicament as The Kid who is merely disposing his marijuana supply because of reasons like moving out and transferring to a different city or state or starting a different life. He or she, by bad luck, would be busted by cops and brought to jail for trial and end up serving time even without any real intention to become a criminal or drug dealer in the first place. When the legalization becomes effective, the government does not need to spend millions to keep these individuals locked up, and the money can be used instead to other more important needs of the state.
The state's correctional system is not the only one set to be benefited in the financial side by the legalization of marijuana. Cops and law enforcement units are also expected to experience costs savings once marijuana is legalized. Hardy (2005) wrote about how respected economist Milton Friedman pointed the estimated 7.7 billion in US dollars that the state would save from not having to do any police work on marijuana related crimes and offenses when marijuana use becomes legal. According to Gieringer (2009) the law enforcement agencies in California spends 200 million annually just to process marijuana offenders. Without the need to investigate, arrest, prosecute and detain these individuals once marijuana becomes legal in California, there would be enough breathing room created in the state's financial aspect and what can be saved here can be allotted to other needs or be used to fund the system in place to rehabilitate and help marijuana users in the future.
Besides, the legalization of marijuana also helps to remove the stigma on marijuana - an important reason why marijuana should be legalized is found in the role of the legalization in removing the stigma on marijuana and marijuana users. Marijuana has long been proven as a substance that offers positive effects on the body ergo the legalization and use of medical marijuana. Unfortunately, there are still those who see and relate marijuana to simple substance addiction, social deviance, lawlessness and other negative characteristics. The mass media stereotypes of marijuana and marijuana users and its effects and the resulting preconceived, misguided and uneducated perception of the public regarding marijuana, marijuana users and the effects of marijuana creates a stigma for marijuana users who are afraid of being perceived in a negative light considering the image of potheads and stoners in movies. There are efforts geared at battling marijuana stigma like public education and information activities (Stoned, 2009, 196).
Through the legalization of marijuana, the society can be assisted towards the realization that the marijuana use and marijuana legalization is an issue that is not tied to or exclusive to the hippies alone (Bennett, 2010) but is a bigger issue that involves many people who are, in one way or another, is affected by the stigma attached to marijuana use. If marijuana is legalized and treated as something similar to cigarettes and alcohol, the stigma can be minimized or even completely removed.
Role in ending drug-related violence and drug war - Legalizing marijuana in California possess the ability impact not just the social conditions in California, but also in Mexico. Mexico has long been immersed in a costly and deadly war on drugs with no clear resolution in sight. This is because drug lords, drug cartels and drug syndicates in Mexico has significantly profited in producing and selling drugs from Mexico exported to different countries including the United States.
Their financial success allowed them to become powerful and influential, able to hire goons and bribe local officials. The war on drugs significantly dented national budget and has taken many lives, with no positive end in sight. If marijuana is legalized in California, Californians can openly grow and cultivate cannabis. Since marijuana is one of the major source of income of Mexican drug cartels, the end of US' reliance to Mexico's supply of marijuana can weaken the drug syndicates and drug cartels (Camín, Castañeda, 2010).
This creates the possibility that the drug syndicates can be significantly weakened financially if marijuana is legalized in California, making the drug syndicates less powerful and less influential. What is more important is the fact that Mexican leadership is inclined to follow the California legalization with their own legalization of marijuana, marginalizing drug syndicates that depend significantly on the illegal sale of this substance and in the process providing an opportunity for Mexico's law enforcement agencies to end the drug war (Camín, Castañeda, 2010).
The fears of those opposing marijuana legalization could be random incidents and not directly related to the legalization of marijuana. To have a better picture of what might happen in the long term and short term at the onset of legalization of marijuana, it is important to study the social conditions and characteristics in places where marijuana is legal. Netherlands is an ideal subject to use in ascertaining whether the fears of those against the legalization of marijuana are real and legitimate, or if these preconceived notions are without sufficient proof and are generally unfounded.
Netherlands - Those who are against the legalization of marijuana in California fear that legalization and decriminalization will have a direct effect in the creation of problematic drug users, but Netherlands has proven that the liberalization of drug policy does not automatically result to people getting high and addicted excessively and out of control. In fact, Netherlands feature a population wherein the rate of those that become problem drug users is below average (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 2007, 33), while monthly prevalence of marijuana consumption among 15-24 year old smokers is lower in 2002 and 2004 compared to other European countries (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime , 2007, 40) like UK and France where marijuana is still illegal (Article R5181).
This proves that making it legal does not automatically mean a surge in use and prevalence among the population. The public should take these lessons into consideration, as well as the opinions of professionals regarding drug legalization and crime rate. For example, US surgeon general Jocelyn Elders believed that legalizing drugs is an important factor in crime rate reduction (Kleber, Inciardi, 1383).
The support for the legalization of marijuana features not just ordinary citizens but prominent, respected figures in the society. Professionals like the surgeon general and several police officers have openly supported Proposition 19 and the idea of legalizing marijuana (Bennett, 2010). Their support for the legalization of marijuana indicates that these society leaders see the big picture and appreciate what legalization of marijuana can bring to the society and how it can make a positive impact on the society and its people.
Legalization of marijuana garnered support from both Democrat and Republican politicians. Groups with different advocacy and agenda also came forward to support marijuana legalization. Former governors and former representatives of California are also for the legalization of marijuana in the state. Judges and attorneys, envoys and even the former president of Mexico (a country that also considers the legalization as a move that is beneficial to them) rallied behind the Yes movement for marijuana legalization. Economists, celebrities, a former police chief and businessmen all pledged their support for the legalization movement. The gathering of a diverse set of people who saw the same goals and appreciated the same set of benefits and what it can do to the state are all proof that legalization of marijuana is not just a passing social phenomenon but is now a very important and crucial step towards change.
The California Proposition 19 is among the recent actions by supporters of legalized marijuana in California. It wouldn't be the last, until recreational marijuana is legalized, just as the efforts to legalized medical marijuana did not stop until the advocates became successful in their endeavor. The defeat of Proposition 19 is not the end of the campaign on marijuana legalization in California. The new efforts are centered at the 2012 balloting that would ask the people once again whether they think marijuana should be legalized or not.
Advocates are more careful and diligent, having learned extensively from the 2010 debacle. Mendonca (2010) explained that those responsible for writing the bill for the 2012 ballot on marijuana legalization is writing a clearer, more concise, and well rounded proposition for marijuana legalization. Important focus on the changes in the proposition is the legal aspect. Observers and critics believe that the recent proposition for marijuana legalization failed to address important legal issues that can create a lot of problems once marijuana becomes legalized (Bennett, 2010).
This was reinforced by the after election survey made by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner which reflected how 31 percent of the voters who voted No actually agreed with marijuana legalization but are jus concerned with the unclear legal issues that the proposition did not address (Mendonca, 2010). For the move to make marijuana legal to move forward, these legal issues and chinks should be addressed, cleared and sorted. This is important considering the fact that the opposition is more than mere objection to the substance (Bennett, 2010); this means the opposition now is not against marijuana per se, but is just wary, critical and cautious regarding the implications of the gray, unresolved areas inside the Proposition 19, something that can be corrected for a stronger and more solid 2012 proposition on legalizing marijuana.
California advocates of legalized marijuana should also address how marijuana is being presented in the mass media, to further bolster the positive attitude towards this particular substance and positively impact the future campaign for the legalization of marijuana. Marijuana has figured prominently in the mass media particularly in entertainment media (television and movies). Communication theories examining the effects of television and movies to the audience posit that what the audience sees affects his or her perception of reality as suggested by the images in television (Nightingale, 2011, 156) and movies.
In television and movies, the presentation of marijuana, its uses and its users are vulnerable and susceptible to stereotypes. These stereotypes such as the hippies, the hip hop gangsters, the carefree anti-law attitude captures only a slim part of the marijuana reality and because it is presented in a distorted manner, the audience's mindset is conditioned by the messages and images sent by television and movies regarding marijuana. Payne and Gainey (2005) explained that the television show 'That 70s Show', for example, features marijuana use and the context of the presentation demonizes marijuana and marijuana use in the eyes of the viewers (53).
It is instances like this in movie and television scenes that contribute to the growing problem of marijuana misinformation and misguided preconceived notions harbored by individual influenced strongly by entertainment media. This makes them think that marijuana is simply bad and harmful (Payne, Gainey, 2005, 53). This kind of condition in the entertainment media should be addressed so that the audience is not led to a false or incorrect set of ideas about marijuana. For example, the movie "Dude Where's My Car" reflects two irresponsible adults while Jay and Silent Bob who is featured in several films portray marijuana smokers as lazy delinquents. In "Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle", Kumar is a talented individual who focuses his life on smoking marijuana and ignoring his potential to be a talented professional. All of these movies present the stereotypical 'pothead' and 'stoner' that creates a bad image for marijuana use and makes people believe that people using marijuana will become like these individuals, thus making them uncomfortable and scared with the thought of legalizing marijuana. If these kinds of movies continue to pervade the entertainment industry and continue creating misinformation about marijuana, advocates of legalizing marijuana will see how it these kinds of movies provide a roadblock towards legalizing marijuana in the near future.
Despite the November 2010 defeat in the ballots of the move to legalize marijuana, there will always be new and consistent efforts that continue the campaign and lobbying of marijuana legalization in California because of the belief that legalization will bring more good than bad contrary to what the opposition thinks. More importantly, many advocates of marijuana legalization post Proposition 19 believe that the move to legalize marijuana is active and in motion now more than ever, considering the shift in social attitude in the issue after the Proposition 19 has pushed the issue of marijuana legalization closer to the consciousness of more people, allowing them to look at this issue with a broader scope and consideration. In the past, very few people actually cared about the marijuana legalization issue but today, this issue is considered as mainstream, prominent, respectable and significant issue in the U.S society(Bennett, 2010)/