Debate, Week 1: Is ‘Big Marijuana’ Inevitable?

Students in the summer offering of my Introduction to American Politics course were assigned to write their final paper on one of three contemporary political debates in the United States – the legalization of marijuana, access to guns, and the use of civilian drones. For the next three weeks, I will post a few especially good responses from my students on each issue.

This week, my students discuss whether or not marijuana should be legalized for personal use in the United States. When students in the class were asked in a survey whether or not possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use should be legalized, 75% of them favored legalization, 18% opposed and 7% reported not knowing.  As you’ll see from the commentary below, there is much more nuance than these numbers suggest.

Yes, Legalize Marijuana for Personal Use

Response 1, Ashley A.*

The debate over legalization of marijuana has been the talk of many Americans in the past few years. Policy makers, law enforcement and citizens all have a unique viewpoint as to whether or not the use and possession of marijuana should be legal. Those supporting legalization believe that marijuana can be regulated and the use can be monitored to ensure safety (The New York Times, 2014). If marijuana were to be legalized, American society would see less individuals incarcerated allowing less complications for them when it came to applying for jobs, receiving education, and housing. The economy could be stimulated as a result of the legalization due to taxes and job opportunities (The New York Times, 2014). Those opposing legalization argue that its use could lead to increased drug abuse as it is considered a “gateway” drug. Others say that since there is a large market for marijuana, advertising will increase leaving more people aware of the benefits but ignorant about the possible negative effects (The New York Times, 2014). Thus, it will leave a culture of uninformed drug users and an unregulated market.

The decision to use marijuana should be up to individuals. With the right rules and regulations in place, legalizing marijuana could reduce crime rates, stimulate the economy and increase well being in American society (Caulkins, 2012). Marijuana is the most widely used illegal drug, resulting in a large black market as well (Caulkins, 2012). In fact, 52% of drug related arrests were related to marijuana (American Civil Liberties Union, 2015). If it is commercialized, those distributing the drug will be in the safety and security of a store rather than the streets reducing crime rates (Caulkins, 2012).

With individuals being incarcerated for simply possessing the drug, state governments must pay tremendous amounts to enforce the laws set in place. For example, Massachusetts would save 120.6 million every year if marijuana were legalized (Miron, 2003). Not only would states see a dramatic decrease in money spent on incarceration, but a dramatic increase in profits generated through taxation. Massachusetts would see 16.9 million dollars in revenue as a result of legalizing marijuana (Miron, 2003). In sum, federal and state governments would see a dramatic increase in revenue that could then be used for the betterment of society. 

Instead of spending millions of dollars on marijuana prevention education, the money saved could be spent on investing in community organizations. While federal funding could not be reallocated for the interests of the state, the money set aside for drug prevention in state budgets can be. That money could be used for other public services that improve the lives of all, not just those using marijuana. Not only could community organizations help the welfare of society, but individuals that use the drug could also see an increase in happiness (Caulkins, 2012). This increase in happiness is due to the drugs ability to relax and sooth users minds while experiencing a “high”. Medicinal marijuana is already in use to help relieve pain, stress and nausea (Caulkins, 2012). Expanding the use of marijuana out of the world of medicine would allow more people a controlled outlet for stress (Caulkins, 2012). Marijuana could replace alcoholism due to its stress relieving capabilities. Alcohol is more dangerous to abuse than marijuana and is evident by its impairment of the body.

Response 2, Maddie B.*

It is no question that the legalization of marijuana in the United States is one of the most talked about and controversial topics of the century. Since the commercialization of medical marijuana in 2009, more people have gotten involved in the issue. Few people view marijuana as a drug in the same class as heroin and LSD, rather they view it now as a drug that could change the world. Marijuana should be legalized in the United States because the social, medical, and economic benefits are inevitable.

In an article written for The New York Times, Dr. Malik Burnett describes the benefits commercializing marijuana could have on society. He points out that there are currently 60,000 citizens in the District of Columbia who face many obstacles while trying to find a job because of their criminal record (Burnett, 2014). Revenue generated by the taxation of marijuana could be used to create programs that could help those citizens get back into the work force. These programs could include job training, computer literacy, and health and wellness screenings, among others. This is only one example of community reinvestment. Many argue that legalizing marijuana will increase crime and traffic accidents and affect education negatively; however, since the legalization of marijuana in 2012 by the state of Colorado, evidence confirms that these outcomes have followed their pre-existing trends rather than increasing or decreasing since the policy changed (Miron, 2014). Legalizing marijuana may be the answer to avoiding recidivism and giving society a chance to work together and reach a better state.

Not only could legalizing marijuana benefit the country socially, but it could also benefit the country medically. Alcohol abuse is common; recreational marijuana could provide a substitute for alcohol. Olga Khazan states, “Many public-health experts speculate that if marijuana becomes a substitute for alcohol, this shift may have a positive overall influence on the health of American adults (Khazan, 2004).” Also, in an article written for The New York Times, Kevin A. Sabet points out that even smoking tobacco kills over 400,000 people each year (Sabet, 2014). However, Khazan points out that there are no reported deaths caused directly by marijuana (Khazan, 2014). This further proves that marijuana could impact the country positively if it were legalized.

"Marijuana" by Tomas de Aquino (CC BY 2.0)

“Marijuana” by Tomas de Aquino (CC BY 2.0)

Lastly, legalizing and commercializing marijuana would inevitably benefit the country’s economy. If marijuana is taxed, the revenue made will boost the economy. As Burnett points out, these revenues can be used to reinvest in communities that were most harmed by the War on Drugs (Burnett, 2014). Commercializing marijuana in a regulated market would provide great benefits to consumers (Fox, 2014). Steve Fox states, “first and foremost, they are able to enter a safe and secure environment, where they can purchase products grown under controlled conditions with labels that convey THC content and other important information” (Fox, 2014). He also points out other industries that could boom from marijuana legalization like the candy business and vapor pen business, among others. (Fox, 2014). Commercializing and taxing marijuana could possibly lead to a full recovery from the country’s recession and a smaller U.S. debt.

In conclusion, one probably does not go a full week these days without hearing something about the legalization of marijuana. Especially now since the District of Columbia, Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington have legalized marijuana in one way or another (Miron, 2014). It is predicted that at least ten more states will push for legalization in 2016. So, what will be your vote? Blaze or bust? Time to make the decision.

No, do not Legalize Marijuana for Personal Use

Response 3, Samantha C.*

Although it is commonly assumed that the legalization of marijuana will bring profitability and little harm, more research and thought should be put into the issue. Proponents for legalizing marijuana argue that many will benefit: the economy, specifically. Opponents of legalization argue that revenue estimates are falsely magnified and the health effects from marijuana use are not fully known. There is much more that needs to taken into consideration in order to understand the best decision for the welfare of the people. Marijuana should not be legalized across the United States because of how it would truly affect the economy and personal and public health concerns.

The economic benefits from legalizing marijuana are not as great as what some have made them out to be. Projected tax revenue may be significantly different than actual revenues; some estimates are overblown by 60%. At this time, data needed to conduct a formal cost-benefit analysis does not exist. The cost of deviating from current policy is also not included in many of these recent estimates, creating faulty predictions. Unaccounted for additional costs may counter the projected tax revenues generated such as costs associated with monitoring retailers, conducting investigations, and prosecuting tax evaders. The increase in users, causing a rise in admission to substance abuse treatment facilities, and executing reforms will involve expenses up-front. Legalization will cause an increase in driving while impaired, which will lead to additional costs related to injuries and mortalities from motor vehicle accidents. Because the general public will be buying marijuana, they will not be spending as much money on more productive endeavors such as marijuana research, education, and prevention. These are just a few of many reasons why legalizing marijuana may not produce much, if any, profit for our nation’s economy.

Another reason to reconsider legalizing marijuana is the negative effects it has on individual and public health. One of the main concerns in regards to health is that marijuana is high on the list of recognized drugs with abuse potential. A common argument is that we have legalized tobacco even though it is addictive, and tobacco causes more harm to one’s health than marijuana. Tobacco causes more harm because it is legal to use and more people are using it; we do not know the extent of the effects from marijuana. Also, not many clinical studies have been done that were appropriately controlled and of adequate duration and size to show the true health effects of marijuana use. Additionally, the current preferred delivery mechanism for marijuana is smoking which typically involves tobacco. The serious effects of tobacco use are already known, but the American Society of Addiction Medicine states that it is not safe to use smoking as a way of drug delivery. Prolonged use of marijuana, or use at a young age, can cause many severe health concerns including immune system damage, cardiovascular disease, impaired neural connectivity, higher risk of cancer, and lung issues like emphysema and lung cancer, among others. Impaired neural connectivity can affect alertness, memory and learning, and cause a decrease in IQ. We also know little about the effects of second-hand exposure to marijuana smoke. Much of this is reminiscent of cigarettes; the exact harm that smoking cigarettes would cause was not known when the industry boomed. How can we legalize the personal use of marijuana without fully knowing the possible negative health effects or without doing further research?

While there are many positive outcomes associated with legalizing marijuana, I do not believe that they outweigh the negative consequences, especially the health concerns. No one can truly predict the economic benefits of making marijuana legal and many times large costs are overlooked in these predictions. Among several health concerns is the fact that marijuana has addiction potential. Not only does this redirect profits into treatment facilities and help initiatives, but it also poses a huge threat to private and public health. Because of true revenue potential and multiple harmful health effects, marijuana should not be legalized in the United States.


What about you? What are your thoughts on whether or not marijuana should be legalized for personal use in the United States? Leave your comments below.

*Responses shared with written permission from the authors. Replication in any form, without permission from the author, is prohibited.



  1. Ashley’s Paper
    1. American Civil Liberties Union. 2015 ACLU (n.d.). [Informative graphic on marijuana statistics]. Marijuana Arrests By The Numbers. Retrieved from July 30, 2015
    2. Caulkins, J., & Hawken, A., (2012). Marijuana legalization: What everyone needs to know.
    3. Miron, J. (2003, August 1). The Budgetary Implications of Marijuana Legalization inMassachusetts . Retrieved July 10, 2015.
    4. The New York Times Is ‘Big Marijuana’ Inevitable? (2014, November 17). Retrieved July 30, 2015.
  2. Maddie’s Paper
    1. Burnett, Malik (2014, November 17). Racial Justice at the Core of the Movement. Retrieved from
    2. Fox, Steve (2014, November 17). A Market Will Benefit Consumers and Society. Retrieved from
    3. Khazan, Olga (2014, July/August). Why Marijuana Should be Legal, and Expensive. The Atlantic, p. 34.
    4. Miron, Jeffrey (2014, November 19). Why Congress Should Legalize Pot. CNN.
    5. Sabet, Kevin A. (2014, November 17). Marijuana Legalization is just a Gateway to Profits. Retrieved from
  3. Samantha’s Paper
    1. (2010) Public policy statement on legalization of marijuana. American Society of Addition Medicine.
    2. Caputo, M. R., and Ostrom, B. J. (1994) Potential tax revenue from a regulated marijuana market. A meaningful revenue resource. American Journal of Economics & Sociology, 53 (4), 475-490.
    3. Cerda, M., Wall, M., Keyes, K. M., Galea, S., and Hasin, D. (2012) Medical marijuana laws in 50 states: investigating the relationship between state legalization of medical marijuana and marijuana use, abuse, and dependence. Drug and Alcohol Dependence 120 (1-3), 22-27.
    4. Evans, D. G. (2013) The economic impacts of legalization of marijuana. The Journal of Global Drug Policy and Practice, 207 (204).
    5. Volkow, N. D., M.D., Baler, R. D., Ph.D., Compton, W. M., M.D., and Weiss, S. R. B., Ph.D. (2014) Adverse health effects of marijuana use. The New England Journal of Medicine, 370 (23), 2219-2227.

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