Dope. Weed. Mary Jane. The Devil’s Lettuce, if you happen to be a southern pastor from the 1950’s. Whatever you call the stuff, 40 percent of Americans 12 and older admit to using it at least once in their lives. Raise that preteen age limit to 21, and that number of at least one-time users climbs to greater than 50 percent.
Seriously, think about that for a second. If you’re 21 years old or older, and you haven’t tried pot at least once, you’re in the minority (and, based on preliminary research, extremely uncool). In the last month alone, an estimated 17.4 percent of the U.S. population got stoned at least once, and around 1 percent of the population uses the drug daily. Now that it’s legal in two states, all of those percentages are likely to increase.
Now, if you’ve spent any time listening to the news, you’ve probably heard quite a bit of argument over marijuana of late. It’s no secret that I fall squarely on the pro-pothead side of this debate, so I try to stay as objective as possible when discussing the issue, particularly with those who don’t exactly share my point of view. But goddamn if some of the arguments I’ve heard against legalization aren’t some of the most questionable things I’ve ever heard. Yes, I realize that pro pot advocates are perfectly capable of making terribly stupid, uninformed or just flat out wrong arguments as well.
But, as public resistance to legalization not-so-slowly but surely continues to burn away like the lit end of a jazz cigarette, as the kids today are calling it (today is still 1968, right?), opponents too square to get with the times find it harder and harder to convince the voting public of their convictions. For example, California Governor Jerry Brown last month expressed his concern that outright legalization would lead to the decline of America. Or, as he so eloquently put it, “How many people can get stoned and still have a great state or a great nation?”
Now, look. I get it. The vast majority of those opposed to marijuana legalization have good intentions. And if you happen to be one of those people, I imagine you read the last paragraph and thought something along the lines of “You just cherry picked that stupid argument to discredit anti-marijuana views!” To which I respond: No, I cherry picked that stupid argument for purely comedic purposes. I laughed out loud when I first saw it.
I guess what I’m trying to say is this: I can completely understand how reasonable, well-intentioned people could be uncomfortable with the idea of legalization. For Pete’s sake, most of us millennials remember hearing throughout middle and high school about how dangerous weed is. Plenty of people go their entire lives without touching the stuff. And you know what? More power to them.
However, if numbers are to be trusted (and, in my experience, they generally can be), the prohibition of marijuana has absolutely not worked. Remember, if you’re 21 or older and you’ve never been stoned, you are in the minority of Americans. Moreover, the numerous potential medical benefits, the low dependency rate (about 9 percent of users) and the absurdly low toxicity of the drug utterly set it apart from other substances. Marijuana is most certainly not harmless, and can certainly interfere with lives when used irresponsibly. But amongst psychoactive drugs, it is almost universally considered to be one of the least harmful—perhaps the least.
Let’s put all that aside. Let’s also put aside the fact that black people are arrested at a rate 3.5 times higher than whites when it comes to pot-related crimes. And let’s put aside the billions of dollars—as much as $13.5 billion, to be specific—that could be saved through legalization and taxation (as you can imagine, illegal drug buyers and sellers tend not to faithfully pay the taxes that they are technically required to pay on all transactions).
There’s only one fact that ultimately matters when it comes to this question, and it’s one that’s been constant throughout human history: Appetite cannot be legislated out of existence. No matter how illegal a product is, if there is a demand for it, people will find a way to get it. As long as pot continues to make life more delicious, hilarious and fascinating, the demand for it will be strong indeed. It’s time. Legalize it.
Evan is the product of 85 million years of primate evolution. He enjoys sports, Star Wars, living in Cleveland and seeing the world as one giant science experiment with too many variables and not enough explosions.