Though America’s problems with drug use and addiction have been the subject of voluminous policy debate in recent years, few effective solutions to the indisputable societal consequences have been put into place.
A number of Democrat lawmakers have taken a clear stance on one critical aspect of the drug epidemic in the United States, and it is indeed a controversial one. Just this week, Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) penned an op-ed advocating for the legalization of marijuana in all 50 states, declaring that the War on Drugs has been a failure for the American people.
Ryan assails “social and economic injustice” of marijuana arrests
Citing his experience as co-chair of the Addiction, Treatment and Recovery Caucus in the House of Representatives in his opinion piece for CNN, Ryan argued that existing policy harms youth and families who have been arrested for marijuana-related crimes. He went on to assert that the resulting economic, racial and social injustice to already vulnerable communities is simply unjustifiable:
The year Donald Trump was elected president, more Americans were arrested for marijuana possession than all violent crimes combined. The ACLU found that even though African Americans use marijuana at similar rates to white Americans, they are almost four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession.
Ryan urged Congress to take action on the Marijuana Justice Act of 2018, legislation that would eliminate marijuana and tetrahydrocannabinols from schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. Doing so would prevent criminal sanctions from being imposed on those accused of distributing marijuana.
Advocates tout potential economic boon from legalization
According to Rep. Ryan, roughly 25 percent of the nation’s prisoners are incarcerated due to their involvement in relatively low-level drug crimes. Upon release, he argues, these offenders find it difficult, perhaps impossible to secure solid employment and resume life as productive and contributing members of society.
Supporters of legalization point to research claiming that large-scale legalization of marijuana could lead to savings of $7.7 billion in law enforcement expenditures and also generate $6 billion in new revenue. Many have also touted the job creation potential of legalization as a means to sway voter opinions on the issue.
Legalization advocates believe that the influx of cannabis-related revenue could facilitate massive improvements in infrastructure and provide resources with which to battle what they see as a far more vexing problem, namely the opioid addiction epidemic.
Proposed legislation reflects statewide ballot initiatives
A number of states have already taken steps to ease their own cannabis laws. Nine states, along with the District of Columbia, currently allow recreational use of marijuana. Medical marijuana use is permitted in an additional 29 states.
Earlier this summer, Oklahoma voters agreed to legalize medicinal marijuana, with recreational use set to appear on the November ballot. Michiganders will also be voting on a marijuana initiative in the fall.
Proposal ignores clear dangers of marijuana use
While vigorously advocating in support of marijuana legalization, Ryan’s op-ed unsurprisingly neglects to address or provide counterpoints to any of the well-known hazards of marijuana use. There is no significant discussion of the detrimental effect of cannabis on cognitive development in teens, the dangers of marijuana-impaired driving, and productivity losses among heavy users.
It remains to be seen whether any significant action will be taken on the proposed legislation championed by Ryan.
Legalization advocates and opponents alike will surely be keeping a close eye on state-level ballot initiative outcomes in November.