The legalization of the sale and consumption of marijuana for recreational purposes in California is detrimental to the health and well-being of Americans. California is the sixth U.S. state to legalize recreational marijuana (known as “pot”) for consumers aged 21 years or older, as of January 1, 2018. These adults can possess up to an ounce of the drug and grow up to six marijuana plants at home (Endnote 1). Statistically, this means that more than 1 in 5 Americans now live in states where recreational marijuana is legal for purchase (Endnote 2). However, at the federal level, marijuana remains illegal. Legalization of marijuana for recreational, or non-medicinal use, will harm Americans in the short and long run.
Following similar legalization in Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, and Nevada, the people of California can now buy cannabis products of all types, given the age and quantity thresholds, for recreational use. What makes California stand out is the fact that it is America’s most populous state and one of the largest economis in the world, and can very well be a tremendously large market for this drug. Companies are already selling marijuana, starting the first day of 2018, and more businesses are likely to do the same in the near future.
The arguments against recreational marijuana outweigh those in favor of legalization of this drug for non-medicinal use. Proponents of legalization highlight the potential for tax revenue from commercial trade of this drug, and also a reduction in cost for law enforcement and justice system (by diminishing the need to arrest and prosecute cases of marijuana possession). Some might even argue that allowing buying and selling of marijuana would decrease the size of and perhaps ultimately remove transactions in the “black market”.
Opponents argue that, among other reasons, legalization of marijuana may lead to more impaired driving, creating hazard to property and human life. Law enforcement officers are in a perfect position to assess the danger that marijuana poses to safety of people on the road. Terry Young, executive board member of Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police, writes that “every state that has legalized recreational marijuana has seen an increase in traffic deaths involving stoned drivers.” Writing in 2016, Chief Young states that pot-related traffic deaths doubled in Washington, and Colorado saw a 48 percent increase over three years (Endnote 3).
One of the biggest threats that marijuana poses are the effects on the health of individuals consuming the drug. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is strong evidence that marijuana use may lead to addiction, breathing problems, and declines in memory, attention, and learning. It also increases the risk for some types of cancer, as well as heart attack and stroke. The impacts of marijuana go beyond adults. If a women uses marijuana during pregnancy, there is an increased risk for low birth weight in babies (Endnote 4). Marijuana is the most widely used illegal drug in America, with approximately 22.2 million users each month (Endnote 5). Legalizing the use of marijuana for recreational purposes in the most populous state in the country opens up a very large population to these potential risks from this harmful drug.
One of the unintended consequences of any controlled substance is that it may end up in wrong hands. For example, painkillers prescribed to patients, who need those to genuinely treat a medical condition, may be left unsecured at home or a place of business, and which may then be stolen or taken from them by a friend, family, or coworker, or even be used by a minor. As a result, the Drug Enforcement Agency promotes the National Prescription Drug Take Back Day to address the public health and safety issue by providing an opportunity for Americans to turn in their unused prescription drugs to avoid possible misplacement and misuse (Endnote 6). Similar risks also pertain to recreational marijuana. Legally purchased marijuana for non-medicinal purposes further increases the risk that the drug may end up in the hands of an underaged individual. According to CDC, marijuana use in adolescence or early adulthood may result in decline in school performance and increased risk of mental health issues. Thirty-eight percent of high school students report having used marijuana in their life (Endnote 7). Therefore, marijuana may decrease the overall health and productivity of a nation, when access to this drug for recreational purposes is legally permitted.
Legalizing recreational marijuana creates risks to the health, safety, and long-term well-being and productivity of Americans. There is also a widespread fear among people that marijuana is a “gateway” drug, meaning that the user may move towards consuming harder drugs like heroin. This claim is disputed and open to further research and debate. But it is no secret that our country already faces a drug addiction crisis, and allowing recreational use of marijuana in California might make matters worse.