US marijuana: views and implications

discusses the increasing support for drug legalisation

Photo Credit: Torben Hansen

Photo Credit: Torben Hansen

President Obama has recently opposed his administration’s views on the legalisation of the recreational drug, which is currently in the same classification as ecstasy and heroin.

In an interview with The New Yorker magazine, President Obama stated that based on scientific evidence he believes that marijuana is not any worse for a person than alcohol. Although this opinion contradicts the official Obama administration policy, the President stood by his views that marijuana should be treated as a public health problem.

Twenty U.S states and the District of Columbia currently have laws legalising marijuana in some form, with only Colorado and Washington state laws allowing recreational use of the drug. Despite gradual legalisation across the United States, marijuana is still classified as a ‘Schedule One’ narcotic under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, a classification that includes heroin and ecstasy.

Eric Blumenaur, the Representative for Oregon, is a long-time advocate for loosening restrictions on marijuana, has begun circulating a letter to the President among other Congress members, asking that marijuana be removed from the controlled substances categories, or at least moved to a less restrictive schedule.

As discussions over the legalisation increase, what are the real implications of legalising a drug glorified by celebrities such as Rihanna day in and day out on Instagram?

A study conducted by Colorado State University in April 2013 anticipated that 665,000 Coloradans will use recreational marijuana in 2014 now that it is of legal status, with the average user predicted to smoke 3.53 ounces in 2014. The availability of cheaper marijuana would generate tax revenue, with the drug having an excise tax of 15 per cent on both wholesale and retail sales from grower, plus the states pre-existing 2.9 per cent sales tax on retail sales.

In total, marijuana in Colorado would have 32.9 per cent taxation, meaning an estimated total market for recreational marijuana of $605 million, and taxation of that market will amount to over $130 million in state revenue this year alone.

However, with Colorado looking to set prices $400 per ounce in legal retailers, many users will surely still be tempted by the average black market price of $156, with medical marijuana being priced at $200.

Marijuana was first legalised for medicinal purposes in California in 1996 following the passing of Proposition 215. The drug is not a cure, but can relieve some of the symptoms of illnesses such as cancer, glaucoma and HIV/AIDS.

All this being said, the health implications of the drug cannot go unmentioned – anxiety, paranoia, affected co-ordination and perception and decreased concentration spans are just some of the risks associated with marijuana use.

With the President stating his main concern is in fact the criminalisation of marijuana use, the coming months are increasingly important as experiments in Colorado and Washington will see the Government work on making sure drug traffickers and violence as a direct result of drug trading are not “creeping out”.

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