The USF Oracle recently published an opinion piece titled “Decriminalization of marijuana is dangerous,” which, as a student of social work with a focus in the field of addiction treatment, I found to be a damaging and concerning rhetoric. I am writing to offer an alternative perspective with the hope of shedding clarity on some benefits of legalizing marijuana.
Firstly, I would like to point out the reference to the 2020 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that states that three in 10 people who use marijuana meet the criteria for marijuana use disorder. What was not originally mentioned is that the CDC followed this statistic with reference to another study that found only 10% of cannabis users are likely to develop dependence. Therefore, this evidence is inconsistent making it difficult to substantiate.
Further, reference was made to the harmful effects of smoking marijuana as evidence that its legalization would be dangerous.
It is true that smoking marijuana can have similar harmful effects to other drugs, such as legal tobacco products. The difference is that, by legalizing use of marijuana, users will have easier access to alternative methods of use such as edibles. Of course, there are potential risks associated with use of edibles, as there are with any medication. Therefore, just as other medications with potential side-effects, it is up to the individual to ask their doctor and use responsibly.
Additionally, the alterations that marijuana has on our cognitive abilities are equally, if not more, present in the use of alcohol. However, unlike alcohol, marijuana does not result in chronic disease or shorter life-span, according to GoodRx Health. It is therefore arguable that legalization of marijuana provides a safer alternative to these two truly harmful and toxic substances.
The opinion piece briefly brushed over why decriminalization of marijuana use and personal possession would be beneficial in regards to allowing those past convicted to apply for jobs and housing.
To dive a little deeper, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), 85-90% of all drug arrests over the last few years were simple drug possession offenses, with around 40% of those being small-time marijuana possession.
These arrests disproportionately impact people of color, according to the ACLU 2020 analysis which concludes that Black people are on average 3.64 times more likely than white people to be arrested for possession. Considering these statistics, it is more than unfortunate that marijuana convictions continue to create barriers for individuals who are already subject to the systemic racism that is so prevalent in our society.
While restoring rights to those with marijuana drug offense convictions is an incredible benefit from the legalization of marijuana, an equally important pro is access to regulated, safe marijuana.
Legalization of marijuana results in regulation of the quality in what is being marketed, which, according to American Addiction Centers, will curb the likelihood of obtaining marijuana that is laced with other psychoactive substances.
In the spirit of transparency, claims that marijuana on the street is being laced with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid accounting for 56,516 reported overdose deaths in 2020, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), are conflicting and difficult to substantiate. However, in a matter of life or death, I ask, is it worth the risk to keep marijuana, a substance that has accounted for zero overdose fatalities, limited to access from the streets where at the very least it may stand the risk of cross-contamination with a more dangerous substance?
I do not pretend to believe, nor completely disregard, the hysteria that fuels allegations of marijuana laced with far more dangerous substances. Rather, I bring this up to point out that taking a stance against legalization of marijuana where truly dangerous substances are being used widely and resulting in actual fatalities, and furthermore criminalizing the use of these substances, does nothing more than continue to cause harm and keep the stigma surrounding substance use alive and well.
An argument relating to the legalization of marijuana should consider the larger picture. Here I have hardly even begun to scratch the surface. I, unfortunately, did not have the opportunity to even touch on the health benefits of medical marijuana, which I urge everyone considering the column’s position on this policy to look into.
I have discussed marijuana as an alternative to other legal harmful substances, legalization as a means for mitigating potential harm through edibles, government regulation and, most importantly, legalization’s impact in furthering equity for people of color.
Courtney Crowley (she/her)
MSW Student, class of 2023