Pot legalization logical from all angles

In descending order according to potential for harm and dependence, here is a British study’s list of the recreational drugs that are more detrimental than marijuana: heroin, cocaine, barbiturates, methadone (commonly used in clinics as a heroin treatment), tobacco, alcohol, amphetamine and ketamine.

Six of those drugs are commonly used in a clinical setting. Amphetamine — in the form of Adderall and Vyvanse — is prescribed to millions of students and frequently sold on our campus’s black market as both nose candy and educational cure-all.

Alcohol and tobacco are legal, frequently advertised and have billions of dollars in sales each year. If I were to speculate, I’d say that we, the patrons of Champaign and Urbana’s fine bars and liquor stores, could probably keep MillerCoors and Philip Morris afloat by ourselves — just check out the beer garden at Red Lion on Thursday nights.

Marijuana, though, is illegal in all but two states recreationally, and only eighteen (plus our ugly stepsister, Washington, D.C.) have made its medical use licit. Yet a 2006 study funded by the Department of Education found that over 30 percent of college students risked arrest under federal, state and local laws by using marijuana at some time during the previous year.

Yes, folks. This is another weed talk.

To paraphrase Christine O’Donnell, I’m not a pothead. I’m not going to give a long, drawn-out talk about the psychological benefits of smoking, nor will I give insider tips about how to roll a quality blunt or pack a bowl. I just see something incredibly unfair about a justice system that, according to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, prosecuted over 850,000 Americans for marijuana-related violations in 2009 alone.

Hundreds, even thousands, of these people are our brothers and sisters, our friends and classmates, our Greek brethren and fellow club members. For the most part, their only crime was using or carrying a substance much less harmful than a fifth of Burnett’s or a Camel Blue. Yet they faced — and continue to face — heavy fines, probation and even jail time for doing so.

I know that this is a perennially popular topic amongst college students, especially since so many of us enjoy partaking in a puff every once in a blue moon (or daily — you know who you are). Now, though, it’s particularly pressing: The Illinois state representative sponsoring HB1 (the full title’s a mouthful), Lou Lang of Skokie, said on Monday that the House is just a vote or two away from sending a bill that would legalize medical marijuana in the Land of Lincoln to the state Senate.

As with other state-level medical marijuana programs, it would give those suffering from “debilitating medical conditions” a card allowing them to purchase up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis every few weeks. We’re finally moving towards a 21st century drug policy.

But, to be quite honest, it’s not nearly enough. There is substantial evidence — in fact, there’s an overwhelming amount — to back up marijuana’s previously hypothetical status as a highly useful therapeutic substance, which is why there are soon to be 20 states with medical cannabis programs. Now compare that to the two states, Washington and Colorado, where it is taxed and regulated like booze and smokes. See the problem?

Most of the scientific and psychopharmacological evidence points to marijuana being at least somewhat good for us. Many economic indicator shows that it would bring states and the federal government desperately needed tax revenue. Yet our nation’s law enforcement officers still arrest people for smoking pot. And because the Drug Enforcement Agency still considers marijuana a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act — meaning that it has no accepted medical use and has a high potential for abuse — growers and dispensaries in states where medical marijuana is legal are still prosecuted for violating federal law.

I say we end all this nonsense. Let’s get marijuana off of the Schedule I classification and allow states to legalize, tax and regulate it.

Obviously, this doesn’t mean that any old Joe Schmo high schooler can walk down to his corner store and grab a pack of Marlboro Greens; he’d have to be 21, just as he would need to be to purchase alcohol. The FDA would regulate its production similar to the manner in which it regulates the growing and manufacturing of tobacco products, and substantial taxes would be implemented on marijuana sales.

But here’s the best part: Legalization would mean less expensive and safer marijuana because we’d take away the dealers and gangs that serve as middlemen and monitor means of production. The resulting 850,000 fewer arrests a year would save billions of dollars in law enforcement and legal expenditures, and would substantially decrease drug-related violence — like the acts committed by the Mexican drug cartels that control much of the illicit marijuana trade.

As the legendary reggae artist Peter Tosh famously sang, “Legalize it.” It makes far too much sense not to.

Adam is a freshman in LAS. He can be reached at [email protected]