By Theodore Kortenhof
Cannabis legalization, for medical and recreational purposes, is creeping across the nation. Last fall, I voted for the statewide legalization of cannabis in my home state of Oregon. At this time, I feel that legalization of cannabis is right for the country, and right for Wisconsin.
There are currently 24 states that allow the medical use of cannabis. While the medical laws vary in each state, all states with such laws allow for the use of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in some form, which is derived from cannabis flowers.
Recreational marijuana is legal in four states: Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington. In all but Oregon, cannabis is currently available. In Oregon, a ballot measure legalizing recreational cannabis use passed in November, but will not come into effect until July 1, 2015. The District of Columbia also voted to allow for the recreational use of cannabis in November of 2014.
At the federal level, there are also signs of an end to cannabis prohibition. The Los Angeles Times reported that in December of 2014, a spending measure marked the end of federal obstacles to cannabis. The bill includes a provision that prohibits federal agents from shutting down cannabis retail operations in states where medical cannabis is allowed. This means that federal drug enforcement officers must respect state laws in regards to marijuana.
Wisconsin does not yet allow the recreational or medical use of cannabis. In April of 2015, state representative Melissa Sargent, D-Madison, introduced legislation that — if passed — will legalize recreational and medical cannabis use in Wisconsin. The bill has yet to be voted on in the Wisconsin State Legislature.
Prohibition does not work. Alcohol prohibition in the 1920s proved this. When alcohol was made illegal, an industry sprung up to meet the demand for the intoxicant, despite its illegality. Banning a substance does not make it unobtainable. It merely means that people are forced to turn to different channels to obtain it.
Legal channels are much preferable to illegitimate ones. State sanctioned vendors are responsible for the distribution of cannabis where it is legal. Sanctioned vendors sell cannabis of specific strains and THC contents, meaning buyers know exactly what they are getting.
Cannabis purchased under prohibition is, by necessity, a backstreet transaction. In this scenario, information about the product, like the THC content, cannot be verified as there is no inspection or regulation. Where cannabis is illegal, buyers know less about the substance they’re purchasing, making cannabis use more dangerous.
Legalization also negates the need for a middleman. During prohibition, the mob distributed alcohol. Today, cartels in cohesion with street gangs distribute cannabis. Marijuana finances atrocities at their hands. Legalization of pot would help to remove this blood-soaked link from the supply chain. Cannabis will have fewer negative impacts when it is made legal.
Legalization also provides substantial tax revenue. According to CNN Money, taxes on cannabis in Colorado amounted to $53 million in the first year of legalization alone. Money will be spent on cannabis whether it is legal or not. Supporting state interests through legalization is much preferable to the alternative of supporting organized crime through prohibition.
Finally, legalization — or at least decriminalization — of cannabis will take pressure off the already overtaxed prison system. U.S. prisons are overcrowded and underfunded. Decriminalizing cannabis would alleviate this pressure as the possession of cannabis would not land people behind bars.
College is a time of growth and experimentation. There are students who use cannabis on the Lawrence campus. Legalization would allow individuals to use cannabis with a greater degree of safety. Those who want to partake in such things will do so, regardless of the law. It makes sense to make risky behavior like drug use as safe as possible, especially for those in a setting like college where experimentation is generally considered acceptable.
Legal cannabis is happening. Numerous states have taken the first step. More will follow. Voters will soon be asked to cast their ballots for or against legal cannabis. When this day comes, I think that it makes sense for Wisconsin to jump on the cannabis-bandwagon.