“Yeah I think marijuana shouldn’t be illegal but I’m going to vote no.”
“That would ruin the fun.”
The issue of marijuana legalization is up for an opinion vote on this year’s ballot and this was the argument that was laid forth by a fellow student during Central’s mock election. When I heard these words come out of a student’s mouth I really wasn’t sure how to react. In my mind I wanted to stop everything and start arguing with him right then and there. The reason I was so angry had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that he was against the legalization of marijuana and had everything to do with his reasoning. Here was a fairly well known, upper middle class white student who, like a lot of students (sorry parents), actively used marijuana and yet he was against voting for its legalization because it would take away the taboo.
One thing I think parents and non-smokers fail to understand is how people who use marijuana recreationally come from a variety of backgrounds. Personally, as a student, I can tell you that levels of marijuana usage do not change when it comes to things like race, gender, economic standing, and so forth. The same is true outside of school. For example, marijuana usage between black and white people is statistically very similar year after year. Yet when you start to look at who actually gets reprimanded for marijuana related offenses it is anything but similar across the board. This disparity in what groups of people tend to get disciplined is in large part due to Richard Nixon’s War on Drugs in 1971. Although this campaign did a lot to decrease the amount of hard drugs coming into the United States it also, according to the Human Rights Watch, caused “soaring arrest rates that disproportionately targeted African Americans”
We have to remember that the War on Drugs was a time when legislators and the general public were hypersensitive to drugs. The result of this time of hypersensitivity was unnecessarily long prison sentences for minor non-violent drug offenses. This was not “fun”…for anybody. This jump in incarceration had a snowball effect, fast-forward to 2016 and the United States has more of its citizens in jail than any other country which also means we are spending more as taxpayers to keep them in prison. To put this in perspective roughly half of all drug arrests made in the United States are because of marijuana-related offenses. I’m not saying these people are entirely innocent, they did knowingly break the law and should be dealt with accordingly. But cumulative centuries of punishment sentenced for having a drug that has consistently been proven to be less harmful than alcohol in scientific studies, that fits my idea of cruel and unusual.
It’s all too easy to view these people as criminals first and people second but we need to consider that taking away one person for a decade isn’t just punishment for that one person but also everyone that has a connection to that person. Imagine the generation of people that have been robbed of meaningful people in their lives because of overly-aggressive punishment. As far as the state of the actual prisons themselves that’s a whole issue in and of itself. Briefly though, our current prisons are usually overcrowded and most of them are in constant need of expansion. The rise of for-profit prisons is also bringing up the ethical debate of whether or not it’s okay to profit off of prisoners.
Lastly and probably most obviously, completely separate from the ethical debate, I think the state of Illinois would benefit greatly from the tax revenue marijuana would bring in. Anyone who has lived here long enough knows that budgeting is not our state’s strong suit, it seems there’s always things to pay for and never enough money to pay for them. If I listed every local project that could use some extra funds this article would be a novel but one example is that new school that needs to get built. After we’ve sorted out just how central we’re keeping Central extra funds could go a long way in terms of alleviating our parents’ property tax burden.
This is solely my opinion and while in my view there are plenty of practical reasons for marijuana legalization I fully understand that there are also plenty of valid reasons against it, but “because it would take away the fun” is not one of them.