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The 4/20: Marijuana Legalization Would Come With Problems

5 years ago
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Student stoners packed greens in Boulder, Colo., and Santa Cruz, Calif. Activists rallied in Denver and marched in Tucson, Ariz., calling for legalization of marijuana.

On this 4/20, with medical marijuana legal in 14 states and outright legalization on the ballot in California and possibly Colorado, the drug's legitimacy is clearly gaining ground.

Legalization may seem closer than ever in 2010, but a two recent polls indicate a majority of Americans oppose legalization.

Alaska lawmakers have enacted laws to regulate marijuana there, but a small amount confined to the home is typically considered legal. Medical marijuana is also legal in the state.

Although California is considering legalization, the state's medical marijuana laws are so lax that some experts say pot is virtually legal there now.

"Let's be frank, the so-called medical use for marijuana is just a legal use of marijuana," said Charles "Cully" Stimson, senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation. "There's just a slight barrier to entry."

As medical marijuana becomes more prevalent and states consider legalization, a range of issues emerge about how pot would be regulated.

Legalization advocates espouse treating marijuana like alcohol is treated under the law -- but there are significant differences.

"The medical marijuana thing is tough enough to get straight," said Richard Collins, a law professor and director of the Byron White Center at the University of Colorado. He suggests regulation similar to cigarettes, including limits on advertising, restrictions on where pot could be sold, and a ban on use by minors.

He notes that indoor smoking bans would apply if marijuana became legal. More than half the states have laws prohibiting smoking in public places, including restaurants and bars. The same health issues caused by cigarettes are an issue with marijuana, too.

"We've been hearing for a long time that smoking is bad for you," Stimson said. "And most people who smoke marijuana don't use a filter."

For those predicting huge revenues from taxation of marijuana, one expert says the fact that federal law prohibits marijuana distribution would continue to drive pot sales underground.

"Thousands of suppliers now compete on the marijuana market, and that's unlikely to change, even if a state repeals its own marijuana ban," Vanderbilt University Law School professor Robert Mikos in a recent news release. "Trying to track them down and monitor their businesses would be incredibly difficult and expensive."

Plus, information collected by states could be used by the feds to prosecute dealers, encouraging them to avoid state tax collections, Mikos said.

Stimson says legalization would lead to lower pot prices, more users, and more drug-related problems such as addiction. In the end, he says, the public costs of dealing with those issues will outweigh the benefits.

"California and pro-legalization advocates are touting this mythical $1.4 billion in tax revenues," Stimson said. "That's a pipe dream."

And even if California or other states legalized pot, federal law still outlaws the drug. Federal prosecutors were urged last fall to avoid pursuing medical marijuana users, but that might not work under different circumstances.

"The Obama administration might not do the same for full-blown legalization," Collins said.
Filed Under: Polls
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