The Collegian
Monday, April 15, 2024

Uncle Sam wants YOU to toke up!

Alice Chaosurawong/The Collegian

Human nature should not be banned.

A national initiative is underway on college campuses to significantly reduce the penalties for marijuana use.

The Emerald Initiative, which was drafted by the nonprofit Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation, calls on college and university presidents to consider reducing penalties for marijuana use. The proposal states that marijuana use is less harmful than alcohol use, and laws and rules at colleges and universities should be indicative of this idea.

Mason Tvert is the co-founder of Safer and a University of Richmond graduate. He was busted for marijuana while he was a student and is now a traveling salesman for the idea that marijuana should be legalized and is safer than alcohol. I encourage all of you to visit his Web site, www.saferchoice.org.

Mason told me he hoped President Edward L. Ayers would at least discuss the issue of penalties for marijuana use on campus. Officials in Ayers' office said he was unfamiliar with this initiative and had not been approached by anyone from the national movement to reduce penalties on college campuses.

After alcohol and tobacco, marijuana is the third-most-popular recreational drug in the United States. An estimated 100 million Americans have used marijuana. Approximately 25 million Americans used marijuana in 2008, and more than 14 million are regular users, according to government surveys. Despite relatively harsher penalties for marijuana use, U.S. citizens continue to use.

Marijuana is estimated to be the largest cash crop in California, with an annual revenue somewhere between $12 billion and $14 billion in the state alone. A 10 percent marijuana tax would generate roughly $1.2 billion to $1.4 billion. And let's not forget all the money that branding and merchandising would generate (marijuana conventions, parties, etc.).

Legalizing marijuana will also create new jobs in agriculture, packaging, marketing and advertising. The United States needs additional tax revenue to reduce the national debt. Considering the fact that this tax may generate more than $1 billion in California alone, this could result in tens of billions of dollars in additional revenue for the federal government.

Marijuana is far less dangerous than alcohol or tobacco. Close to 40,000 people die each year from alcohol use (drunk driving, alcohol poisoning), according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Similarly, more than 400,000 people die each year from tobacco use. By comparison, marijuana is nontoxic and cannot cause death by overdose.

But marijuana is not completely safe.

My father, Dr. Paul Mider, has been a Manhattan clinical neuropsychologist and addictionologist for more than 35 years. He has written extensive publications in the field, mostly concerning the effects of marijuana on the brain. Marijuana is a psychotropic drug, which impairs psychomotor coordination. This can be dangerous when operating machinery or driving a car, he said. At higher doses, the drug can produce hallucinations. The respiratory effects of marijuana use are more severe than cigars or cigarettes, he told me. But marijuana's lack of regulation and quality standards has limited research.

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Not to mention, marijuana is not always smoked.

The only finding to date about psychological effects is that long-term heavy usage of marijuana yields to a condition known as amotivational syndrome, my father said.

"The result is that the user has a flat affect - apathy, no drive and a lack of ambition and initiative," he said.

The illegal marijuana trade has caused increased violence, both in the United States and across the border in Mexico and Central and South America. Recently, the former leaders of Colombia, Brazil and Mexico urged U.S. politicians to consider legalization in order to curb demand and improve the political climate in Latin American countries.

Drug-related violence has reached the point where some political analysts are concerned that there may be open civil war in Mexico between the government and drug cartels. Contrary to common beliefs, these cartels have increasingly been involved in trafficking marijuana as opposed to harder drugs. Though these cartels do traffic hard drugs, the demand for marijuana in the United States has made marijuana the most profitable drug by far.

Juarez, Mexico, which is just across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas, has become ground zero for drug trafficking.

In 2008, civilians were more likely to be killed in Juarez than in Baghdad. Since the beginning of 2008, more than 2,000 people have died as a result of the drug war. Ironically, 95 percent of the guns used by Mexican gangs and cartels are smuggled from the United States.

Although it is illegal to possess most firearms in Mexico, all it takes in the states to obtain a gun, and we're talking about automatic assault rifles such as M-16s, is a valid driver's license and a clean record. Before Mexican troops arrived in Juarez, more than 10 people were killed per day. And although the rate has recently gone down significantly, the murder rate in Juarez is still two people per day. Is it worth the lives of two people every 24 hours to keep marijuana illegal?

Legalizing marijuana would increase tax revenue and improve the political climate in the United States and bordering nations. But one cannot forget the issue of federal and state penitentiaries.

The War on Drugs has undoubtedly contributed to the rise in the U.S. prison population, which is six to 10 times as high as most Western European nations. The United States has the second-highest rate of incarceration per 100,000 people. In 2007, more than 850,000 people were arrested for marijuana-related offenses alone.

Marijuana accounts for 47 percent of all drug arrests. As of 2002, the cost of marijuana law enforcement in the United States was estimated at more than $7.6 billion. This includes court costs, police costs and prison costs. What's worse is that based on these numbers, taxpayers forked over an average of $10,400 for each marijuana user arrested.

In late February, a California legislator proposed a bill that would legalize the sale of marijuana to people over the age of 21. The bill would tax marijuana and generate more than $1 billion in tax revenue for the state of California.

My Juarez stats are courtesy of The New York Times and all other statistics are from the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. I'd like to thank my father for his comments and a friend, who wished not to be named, for helping me gather statistics and pushing me to write this.

As the online editor of The Collegian, I would like to thank those of you who visit the Web site. Since this is the last issue of the year, I invite all to comment and discuss this issue on the site, www.thecollegianur.com.

Contact staff writer Nick Mider at nick.mider@richmond.edu

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