Top Pro & Con Arguments


Legalizing recreational marijuana would end the costly, and frequently racist, enforcement of marijuana laws and debilitate the illegal marijuana market.

Arresting people for marijuana possession costs the United States between $1.19 billion and $6.03 billion annually. These costs include police, judicial, legal, and corrections expenses. Incarcerating marijuana offenders costs the United States an estimated $600 million per year. Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron has estimated that marijuana legalization would save between $7.7 billion and $13.7 billion annually. [21] [24] [60] [61] [63]

Instead of arresting people for marijuana, police officers could focus on serious crimes including rape, assault, and homicide. For example, marijuana legalization in Washington significantly freed up law enforcement resources; marijuana possession arrests dropped from 5,531 the year before legalization to 120 the year after. Howard Wooldridge, a former police detective from Michigan who co-founded LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition), said, “Marijuana prohibition is a horrible waste of good police time. Every hour spent looking for pot reduces public safety.” [62] [64] [169]

Further, statistics show a significant racial disparity in the enforcement of marijuana laws: even though white and black people use marijuana at roughly the same rate, a black person in the United States is 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession on average. In Iowa, the state with the highest inequity, black people are 8.3 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people. In New York City, 15.8% of marijuana possession cases involving white people result in conviction, compared to 32.3% involving black people and 30% involving Hispanic people. Marijuana possession convictions can impact people’s ability to get public housing, financial aid for school, loans, and jobs. Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, Criminal Justice and Drug Policy director for the ACLU of California, stated, “Racial disparities in marijuana enforcement are widespread and longstanding.” [26] Legalizing marijuana would help correct the disparity. [21] [24] [27] [28]

Legalizing recreational marijuana would also subvert the illegal marijuana market. Data from the U.S. Border Patrol shows that marijuana seizures have decreased by millions of pounds and are at their lowest levels in over a decade, indicating that legal domestic production is decreasing demand for marijuana smuggled in from Mexico. A Mexican cannabis farmer told NPR, “If the US continues to legalize pot, they’ll run us into the ground.” Legalization in Colorado and Washington alone has cost Mexican drug cartels an estimated $2.7 billion in profits. [17] [18] [19] [21]

Finally, studies show that medical marijuana dispensaries decreased crime in their neighborhoods because of an increased security presence and more people walking around the area. Research also indicates that people drink less and alcohol sales drop in places where marijuana is legalized, which in turn decreases crime because the amount of crime and violence caused by alcohol use is ten times higher than by marijuana use and alcohol is a factor in around 40% of violent crimes, including domestic violence and assault. According to FBI crime statistics, violent crime in Washington decreased in the years after legalization (295.6 violent offenses reported per 100,000 Washington residents in 2011 vs. 284.4 violent offenses per 100,000 people in 2015). [30] [31] [32] [33] [35] [36]

Taylor West, former deputy director for the National Cannabis Industry Association, said, “We’re not seeing any increase in crime rates through marijuana — we’re seeing lower crime rates, and there are good rational reasons for that: We’re really beginning to cripple the criminal market, which is where violence actually occurs.” [71]

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