The United States’ marijuana policy is unique when compared to all other American criminal laws. According to www.drugpolicy.org, no other law is enforced so widely or as aggressive, yet considered redundant/unnecessary by such an extraordinary portion of the country. There is a significant amount of people that feel the time, energy, and finances used to enforce marijuana laws could be better spent enforcing other laws. Moreover, the cost of the prohibition in the United States is estimated at approximately $20 billion dollars per year. This estimate includes the costs of law enforcement personnel, and lost potential in tax revenue (www.drugpolicy.org). Maine should legalize recreational marijuana because oftentimes, legalization can lead to reduced crime rate, decreased prison population, improved economy, and increased tax revenue.
Marijuana is the most widely used illegal drug in in the United States and the world alike. It was also a well-established medicine until it was federally criminalized in 1937 (www.drugpolicy.org). However, There are currently 24 states that have legal medicinal marijuana; a few included in this list are: Alaska, Delaware, New York, Maine, and Colorado (www.medicalmarijuana.procon.org). Colorado, is one state, in addition to legal medicinal marijuana, has legalized recreational marijuana as well. According to a news article written by Karen Weise Bloomberg in the Toronto Star, Colorado sold $699 million worth of legal recreational and medicinal marijuana in the first year of legalization, beginning in January of 2014. Of that $699 million in revenue, $63 million was tax revenue, and another $13 million in licenses and fees (www.torontostar.newspaperdirect.com). You may be wondering at this point why the need for medicinal marijuana if recreational marijuana is legalized? This is a very excellent question, and there is a logical answer. Medicinal marijuana cardholders receive a lower tax rate than recreational marijuana buyers. There are some, however, that thought the legalization of recreational marijuana would damper the medicinal marijuana industry. Studies have shown, that by the end of the first year of legalization in Colorado, retail marijuana made up about a third of the market. To put this more in prospective for you, recreational customers bought 2,245 kilograms of marijuana, whereas medicinal users purchased 3,991 kilograms. In addition to the traditional way of smoking marijuana in order to enjoy the benefits, there are also marijuana infused foods available. According to the article written by Karen Bloomberg, in the month of December 2014, there were almost 360,000 marijuana infused items sold across the state of Colorado, making it the busiest month of the year (www.torontostar.newspaperdirect.com). There are also laws and regulations limiting the potency of the edible products. As you can see, there is most definitely a substantial market in the recreational marijuana industry. These facts, however, are merely numbers and does not address some of the concerns that are presented with the subject of legal recreational marijuana.
In an article written by Shawn Van Gerpen, MD, Tamara Vik, MD, and Timothy J. Soundy, MD, the issue of youth using marijuana is addressed. It states, while researching the effects of a developing youth’s brain, it was reported that teens who smoke marijuana daily for a three-year period had abnormal changes in the structure of their brain (Medicinal and Recreational Marijuana, 2015). Furthermore, these individuals had decreased memory. The study also indicated that the earlier young individuals used cannabis, the changes in the brain became more significant, and more memory complications arose (Medicinal and Recreational Marijuana, 2015). It is absolutely imperative that educational classes exist in order to inform Maine’s youth on the effects of early marijuana use, however, decriminalizing marijuana will not prevent it’s use by individuals under the age of 18. Is marijuana the biggest challenge when it comes to adolescents in the State of Maine? According to a report by the Maine State department of public safety, Maine’s children are more attracted to the legal substance, alcohol. In the report, are the arrest statistics for the entire State of Maine, including all crimes committed by both adolescents and adults. For the purpose of this writing, statistics directly relating to marijuana and alcohol are going to be the main focus. According to the report, there were 375 marijuana arrests involving possession of marijuana, where the individual was under the age of 18. This number is substantially lower than the arrest statistics where juveniles were arrested in relation to alcohol. Whereas, 940 total arrests were made; 47 of which were operating under the influence (www.maine.gov). Without going into too much detail, society can assume there are substantially more consequences that derive from alcohol abuse than cannabis. Let’s now turn our attention to the adult statistics regarding marijuana and alcohol. In the same report, there were 8,808 total arrests related to alcohol involving individuals between the ages 18 and over 60; 5,765 of those arrests were for driving under the influence; significantly higher than the 2,288 arrests that were made involving possession of marijuana in addition to the 392 arrests that were in direct connection of sale/manufacturing (www.maine.gov). The statistics regarding alcohol are extremely high. Alcohol contributes to many unnecessary deaths due to intoxicated drivers in the State of Maine, as well as the country. Additionally, alcohol is such a powerful and intoxicating drug, in some cases, when taken in excess, alcohol leads to battered spouses and children. It also has a list of proven negative health effects on the human body. Why is it that this man made substance, which has a documented history of many more negative consequences on society and the human body, still legal to consume by adults of legal age? Let’s take a moment and return our attention on what it costs to prohibit the use of marijuana.
As previously mentioned in this essay, it is estimated to cost $20 billion per year to prohibit the use of marijuana (www.drugpolicy.org). That number includes a wide range of expenses that many do not readily think about. For the purpose of this essay, let’s focus on one issue in specific; the cost to house an offender in prison. According to a fact sheet produced by www.vera.org in the year 2010, Maine’s Department of Corrections had a $94 million prison budget. During that same year, the state also had $6.6 million in expenditures outside of the department’s budget. Therefore, the cost to house a daily average prison population of 2,167 for the year was $100.6 million (www.vera.org). These extra expenses are burdens that Maine State taxpayers have to endure. These expenses could include benefits for correctional employees and services for inmates through other agencies. Let’s, for a moment, take a look back at the arrest number for adults related to marijuana. To reiterate, 2,288 arrests were made in 2011 regarding marijuana possession by adults (www.maine.gov). For the sake of argument, let’s assume half of that number were arrests resulting in the individual being incarcerated for one year. In an information brief on the cost per prisoner in the Maine State Correctional System, for the same year of 2011, the cost to house each individual for one year is approximately $42,538 (www.maine.gov). Now, that number may seem meager in the big scheme of things, but when multiplied by half of the total adult arrests (2,288), that number grows to $48,663,472. That amount of money is contributed in part, if not all, by the Maine State taxpayers. Taking into consideration the current epidemic of heroin in the State of Maine, Couldn’t this money be better spent elsewhere? Let’s, for a moment, take a look into the educational system and how these costs could potentially be applied there.
According to an article written by Kris Hilgedick in the News Tribune, ever since the introduction of the iPad tablet by Apple Inc. in April 2010, educators have been learning and exploring ways to utilize the new device in the classroom (www.newstribune.com). Jefferson City public schools recently purchased almost 2,000 new iPads, five for every elementary classroom in the district, and one for every faculty member. It can be assumed that the school may have gotten a discount on the electronic devices due to the large bulk purchase, however, it still cost $750,000. By the fall of 2014 the school district hoped to provide iPad tablets to each member of the freshman class (www.newstribune.com). With a majority of lessons for schools being stored online and the availability of technological advances, moving into the direction of digital learning seemed to be a legitimate goal. While the goal set forth by the school district seemed like a reasonable one, funding for the project still needed to be addressed. Funds that the state utilized to incarcerate individuals, for example the $48,663,472 that we discussed earlier for marijuana law infractions, could absolutely be a resource and utilized in a much more productive manner. Providing necessary funding to the Maine Department of education to strengthen the education provided to our youth would not only benefit the children being taught, but also the communities in which these adolescents reside. In a status report on the legalization of marijuana in Colorado, it states, that Colorado has allocated more than $8 million in marijuana taxes specifically for youth education, community based mental health, and developmental program. $2 million of that number has been specifically designated to youth service programs that educate and focus on drug prevention (www.drugpolicy.org). However, the benefits of legal, recreational marijuana, is not limited to the educational level. It will also boost Maine’s economy as well.
Maine is home to a lot of privately owned businesses. Citizens of Maine enjoy working for themselves while taking pride in providing a product or service that is unique and of high quality. Legalizing recreational marijuana would bring thousands of jobs to Maine’s law abiding citizens. Let’s look at Colorado as an example of the economic growth Maine can expect with recreational marijuana legalization. According to the status report on Colorado’s progress after one year in retail sales of marijuana, Colorado has the fastest growing economy in the United States; as a result, the unemployment rate is at a six year low (Status report, www.drugpolicy.org). Additionally, according to the Dept. of Revenue, 16,000 people were licensed to work in the marijuana industry. If Maine were to legalize the use of recreational marijuana, there is no reason why the state of Maine could not anticipate the same results.
There are numerous things that can be taken into consideration from all the information provided in this writing. It appears that Maine should indeed, remove the laws prohibiting the recreational use of marijuana and start harnessing the benefits that can arise from it. Increased tax revenue means more funding for other areas in need, such as education for the youth. Resources used to enforce laws related to marijuana could now be used for more serious and dangerous offenses, such as alcohol related crimes and the heroin epidemic. Decreased arrests would result in lower prison populations ultimately freeing up finances that may be used elsewhere to enhance to quality of life in Maine’s communities. Additionally, Maine law abiding citizens could take advantage of the new industry and create a substantial amount of new jobs in the state, and the communities therein.
Marijuana The Facts. Retrieved from http://www.drugpolicy.org/resource/10-facts-about-marijuana
24 Legal Medical Marijuana States and DC. (2016). Laws, Fees, and Possession Limits. (2016). Retrieved by http://medicalmarijuana.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=000881&print=true
Bloomberg, Karen Weise (2015, March 03). Colorado Sells $699M of legal pot in first year. The Toronto Star retrieved from http://www.torontostar.newpaperdirect.com/epaper/viewer.aspx
Van Gerpen, S., Vik, T., & Soudy, T.J. (2015). Medicinal and Recreational Marijuana: What are the Risks? South Dakota Medicine: The Journal of the South Dakota State Medical Association, Spec No 58-62
State of Maine department of public safety. (2011). Crime in Maine: 2011. Retrieved by https://www1.maine.gov/dps/cim/crime_in_maine/2011pdf/081%20drug.pdf
The Price of Prisons in Maine, January 2012, retrieved from www.vera.org/files/the-price-of-prisons-fact-sheet-me-revised-072312.pdf
Hilgedick, Kris (2013, July 02). Textbooks vs. tablets: Schools begin exploring transformation in learning tools. News Tribune retrieved from http://www.newstribune.com/news/2013/jul/07/textbooks-vs-tablets-schools-begin-exploring-trans/
Status Report: Marijuana Legalization in Colorado After One Year of Retail Sales and Two Years of Decriminalization retrieved from https://www.drugpolicy.org/sites/default/files/Colorado_Marijuana_Legalization_One_Year_Status_Report.pdf