In 2014, Rolling Stone published an insightful article regarding the duality of marijuana in the United States. Since it was written, the District of Columbia, Alaska, and Oregon have joined Washington and Colorado as states and territories that allow for full legal use of marijuana. As more states shift from prohibition to legalization, there are two different kinds of wars waging over cannabis, which have strikingly different effects upon users.
A War for Users
In states where marijuana use has become legal for all adults, a war is being waged for profits. Some key facts the article reveals include:
- There is serious money to be made. Analysts estimate that legal marijuana will result in billionaire-level wealth for some dispensary owners. The market is growing at a lightning fast pace and was predicted to reach $4.34 billion in 2016.
- Dispensary owners do face serious costs. In order to run a legal marijuana dispensary in Washington or Colorado, entrepreneurs must comply with strict regulations, implement state-mandated systems that require the use of sophisticated bar coding equipment, and adhere to many rules and regulations. Many of the individuals who are most likely to be successful are not members of the legalization movement, they are individuals who are successful in business at large.
- Competition is fierce. There are only a limited number of licenses available for legal marijuana dispensaries, but that doesn't mean that businesses don't have to compete. It's estimated that 10 percent of the population uses marijuana currently, and more people will likely be eager to try the drug in areas where it is legal. Each dispensary owner wants to grab his or her fair share of the market, so marketing and promotion are key to survival.
- Big business will likely go after the marijuana industry. The article predicts that tobacco and alcohol companies will likely attempt to take hold of the industry, if and when, it becomes legal in more places.
- The states stand to profit greatly. All legal marijuana is taxed, so places where it's legalized will have their coffers filled with millions in revenue based on sales.
A War on Users
Even though roughly 58 percent of Americans favor legalization, marijuana use is still illegal in most parts of the country. In many states, the 1980s war on drugs is still raging on. The article shares a number of key facts regarding the criminalization of marijuana in these areas:
- Hundreds of thousands of people are arrested for marijuana every year. The article shares that nearly 750,000 people were arrested for marijuana-related crimes in 2012, and shares the fact that the overwhelming majority of people arrested for pot are only guilty of possession, not sales.
- There appears to be racial disparity in marijuana arrests. Over the last 10 years, the number of arrests for marijuana use among white Americans has remained stable, but has risen steeply amongst Blacks, even though studies show that an equal percentage of white and Black people use pot. Blacks are estimated to be almost 4 times more likely to be arrested for possessing marijuana.
- Mandatory minimum sentencing is doing damage. In many states, judges have no choice but to pass a specific sentence for offenders, even if they do not think the situation warrants it. In Louisiana, for example, a single joint has a penalty of 6 months for the first offense, but for the third offense, the sentencing increases up to 20 years.
- There is some hope for reform on a national level. Former US Attorney General, Eric Holder, issued a memo to federal prosecutors ordering a halt to seeking mandatory minimums on minor marijuana related offenses, and there are politicians on both sides of the aisle in favor of at least re-categorizing marijuana at the federal level, so that arrests mean lesser sentences.
For those who support the legalization of marijuana, the article makes it clear that there will be a long battle ahead in some areas. Activism will be needed to continue to drive change; however, in the end, its likely big business and state governments that will benefit the most when marijuana prohibition finally ends.
War on Drugs Facts and Statistics
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