This November, voters in Colorado, Washington, and Oregon will be voting on ending marijuana prohibition in those states. Marijuana, alcohol, and cigarettes would then be similarly regulated. This addition to the ballot in those states shows that people feel that the legalization of marijuana should be looked into—and it’s just a matter of time before states across the United States follow the lead of these three states.
Many believe that marijuana usage is inherently bad. One argument used to explain why marijuana usage is unacceptable and should not be legal is that it is detrimental to those who use it. Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA) states that drug use disrupts brain function. These effects are especially detrimental to the youth, which is the age group (ages 15-19) with the most arrests for possession of marijuana. This is worrisome, they say, because marijuana predominantly affects the pre-frontal cortex, which is the last area of the brain to develop. If the youth are using marijuana before their pre-frontal cortex is fully developed, there can be lasting effects on that person’s brain, including motivation, learning, judgment, and behavior control. Needless to say, the organization does not support the legalization of marijuana, as they say it would lead to people believing that it is not as harmful as it really is.
A substantial proportion of the population does not agree with this argument. Some of those who are pro-legalization take a libertarian stance that people should be allowed to use marijuana in the privacy of their own homes if they so please. This would mean that these people grow their own marijuana and only grow the marijuana for their own usage. As long as people privately grow and use marijuana, they are not inflicting harm on others and should be allowed to use the drug. Because the use of marijuana strictly in the privacy of their home does not affect others, myriad people believe that if a person wishes to smoke marijuana, they should be allowed to do so, even if they view the use of marijuana as being immoral. This corresponds with America’s laws on pornography—if it’s viewed in the privacy of a person’s own home, its usage does not affect anyone else, so it should be legal within those parameters.
Those supporting the legalization of marijuana in Colorado, Washington, and Oregon make an argument focused on practicality. Some have decided that the use of marijuana by some of the population is inevitable, but it should be regulated so that it is safer for the user and is beneficial to the state as a whole by bringing in revenue. If these states pass the legislation, marijuana would be regulated and taxed similar to how alcohol and cigarettes are currently regulated; there’s strong evidence that the legalization of marijuana would produce massive amounts of revenue. It would allow marijuana to be grown under strict regulations, meaning that the marijuana wouldn’t be laced with other drugs. It would also be cheaper to the consumer, so users would be much more inclined to get their marijuana from a legal seller than from elsewhere.
Citing the potential profits as evidence as to why marijuana should be legalized is a utilitarian argument. Utilitarianism, the philosophy created by Jeremy Bentham and elaborated on by John Stuart Mill, argues that the proper course of action is the one that maximizes overall happiness. This philosophy flows from the idea that the best society is one in which as many people are as happy as possible. Happiness entails security, stability, mental health, and many other components of what is generally considered the Good Life. With the legalization of marijuana bringing $60 million in revenue for Colorado, the state could use the money for public works and creating government jobs. This would increase happiness in the state in addition to the happiness of those who could enjoy their hobby without concern. A utilitarian argument for the legalization of marijuana is that the overall happiness in a state that has legalized marijuana would increase due to revenues that allow the government to create more jobs and stimulate the economy and due to marijuana users not being fearful of legal repercussions.
This happiness would have to be weighed against the unhappiness that would be caused by this legislation: many people who are anti-legalization would be unhappy, and if marijuana use was legal in public, those who would come into contact with this usage unwillingly would be unhappy. In weighing the two, utilitarianism is more likely to support the legalization of marijuana because of the substantial revenues and what that money can do for citizens across the state. These revenues benefit all of the citizens of the state, whereas only a select population will be inconvenienced or made unhappy due to the legalization of marijuana. Additionally, the population that is unhappy because of legalization will be made happier by things that the revenues bring about, such as new roads and public education.
It is important to look at the issue of marijuana legalization from a logical and rational standpoint instead of reacting instinctively. Understanding the argument from a utilitarian perspective is a way for citizens to clarify their beliefs on the legalization of marijuana—an issue that is bound to come up across the United States in the near future.
Class of 2014 at Concordia College. Majoring in Political Science and Philosophy. Involved in Student Government and, of course, The Concordian.