“Just Try It!” A Utilitarian Argument for a Provisional Legalization of Marijuana

George Washington could be the truest definition of an American hero. As the commander-in-chief of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, Washington along with Congress plotted the American strategy against the British. Washington presided over the Federal Convention of 1787 in Philadelphia, which resulted in the creation of the U.S. Constitution. And Washington was our first president, who successfully prevented rebellion domestically and maintained a strong foreign policy stance by keeping neutrality with wars waging in Europe.

 

Now more than ever, especially among younger generations, Washington is becoming relevant again. Not for his historical significance, or even for his Presidential accomplishments. His name is used for the argument of legalization of marijuana.  In an argument for the legalization of marijuana, one would say, “Washington grew cannabis on his farm at Mount Vernon. Pre-prohibition, Washington greatly enjoyed his marijuana.”

 

On the surface level, this is an appealing argument for the legalization of marijuana. Washington certainly wasn’t the only founding farmer that grew it, (Jefferson too) so why should it be illegal now?

 

A small fact check shows that Jefferson and Washington were farmers, and that both were not likely even aware of hemp’s hallucinogenic properties. [1] Washington grew hemp as a fabric for clothing his slaves and used the rest to export back to Britain, with mixed success.

 

The moral precedent against marijuana has been great. Contemporary Christian ideology has condemned marijuana on the grounds that it supports an unmotivated lifestyle. In addition, it has been associated with the liberal cultural movements of the last century—from the hippies at Woodstock all the way to Occupy Wall Street.

 

As a tobacco enthusiast, I greatly appreciated Washington’s appreciation for tobacco, which he also grew on his farm. And the argument of tradition is as strong as any for the continued legalization of tobacco for cigars and cigarettes. As long as there is education present, so people know the associated health risks with enjoyment of tobacco, I am a staunch supporter of tobacco and smoking rights.

 

As a tobacco smoker, people are often surprised by my stance on legalization of marijuana. I have never smoked marijuana, and I don’t plan to. That does not mean I harbor disdain for those that do, because many of my friends, both age 18 all the way up to 55, have enjoyed the substance over the years.

 

I grew up in a household in which neither of my parents had tried marijuana, but many families and friends around us had. But my stance is not formed from a standpoint of moral justice and a moral framework for the law, but rather a logical and more utilitarian perspective that I think makes sense given the current situation of our country.

 

In times of a growing federal deficit, the argument is fiscally strong for legalization of marijuana. Millions of tax dollars are thrown away each year through the justice system for the enforcement of marijuana laws. By opening private markets to legalized trade, tax revenue would automatically grow. And through government regulation of the trade, revenue would grow even higher. Legalization of marijuana is a smart way for government to resolve the debt crisis. If we try legalization for a few years, and we see that there are unforeseen side effects, we can adjust accordingly.

 

The strongest argument for maintained criminalization of marijuana is education. Either through private sector legalization or government regulated trade consumption rates would dramatically increase, and so would dependence, which already accounts for nearly 20% of teen drug treatment. Not to mention, even from the health standpoint there are 50-70% more carcinogens in marijuana smoke than from tobacco smoke. [2] This is why a legal age must be enforced, and parents should do their jobs to discourage marijuana use until after the legal age.

 

The libertarian argument is certainly a strong case for legalization. For adults who know the risks, legalization makes sense. Medical marijuana has been available for many years as a pill, and it makes a significant substitute for many more expensive health treatments. Morality and a set of conservative ideals should certainly not interfere with those looking to be treated for a long-term health condition, especially one degenerative or aggressive in nature.

 

It is for these reasons that I support a provisional legalization of marijuana, with the legal consumption age of marijuana being at 21 years old. A government-regulated market could control the volume and ensure quality, while setting limits for the individual that would discourage dependence. And by provisional legalization you could evaluate the effects on society after 5 or 10 years, and make adjustments if necessary—even if that means to illegalize it entirely. This legalization should certainly not encourage other illicit drug use, or an unhealthy and unbalanced society. Above all else, it is our duty to ensure the proper education and moral foundations of this country which have allowed us unprecedented success thusfar.

 

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