Debate Club

Marijuana Regulation Works and Prohibition Fails

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A majority of Americans espouse ending America's nearly century-long, failed experiment with cannabis prohibition and replacing it with a system of limited legalization and regulation. Recent national polls by Gallup, Rasmussen, The Huffington Post, and Angus Reid show that more Americans now support legalizing the adult use of cannabis than support maintaining its prohibition. In two states, Colorado and Washington, ballot measures to allow for the limited possession and distribution of cannabis by adults are ahead in the polls by double digit leads. In Colorado, pot is more popular than either of the two leading presidential candidates.

Come November 7, voters in one, if not two, U.S. states will have decided in favor of legally regulating cannabis. Why? The answer is clear: regulation works; prohibition fails.

Since 1965, the FBI reports that U.S. law enforcement have made over 22 million arrests for marijuana violations. Yet cannabis consumption and the public's access to pot remain undeterred. Cannabis prohibition financially burdens taxpayers, encroaches upon civil liberties, engenders disrespect for the law, impedes upon legitimate scientific research into the plant's medicinal properties, and disproportionately impacts communities of color.

[Read the U.S. News Debate: Should Welfare Recipients Be Tested for Drugs?]

It's time to stop stigmatizing and criminalizing tens of millions of Americans for choosing to consume a substance that is safer than either tobacco or alcohol.

How much safer? A 2009 study estimated that health-related costs per user are eight times higher for drinkers of alcoholic beverages—and more than 40 times higher for tobacco smokers—than they are for those who consume cannabis.

Inhaling cannabis temporarily alters a person's mood and may pose other potential risks to health. However, a pragmatic regulatory framework that allows for limited, licensed production and sale of cannabis to adults—but restricts use among young people—would best reduce risks associated with its use or abuse. Just look at America's contemporary experience with tobacco, a legally marketed but deadly recreational drug. Teen use of cigarettes has recently fallen to its lowest levels in decades. Conversely, young people's self-reported use of cannabis is rising and has now surpassed the number of teens consuming tobacco. Why the disparate trends? Simple. In short, it's legalization, regulation and public education—coupled with the enforcement of age restrictions—that most effectively keeps mind-altering substances out of the hands of children.

Paul Armentano

About Paul Armentano Deputy Director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws

health care
smoking and tobacco

Other Arguments

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Marijuana Use Should Not Be a Crime

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Alison Holcomb Drug Policy Director of the American Civil Liberties Union

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Morgan Fox Communications Manager at the Marijuana Policy Project

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Kevin Sabet Former Senior Policy Advisor to President Obama's Drug Czar

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Marijuana Legalization's Costs Outweigh Its Benefits

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David G. Evans Special Adviser to the Drug Free America Foundation

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