Pros and Cons Legalizing Marijuana

Sophia Delphi May 23, 2022 - 8 min read
Fact Checked
Gavel with marijuana leaf, a balance and US flag on the background.

Opponents of cannabis legalization are losing their battle.

The federal government still considers cannabis to be an illegal substance. But weed is legal in more than two-thirds of U.S. states, in at least some form.

California legalized medical marijuana in 1996, and 37 other states (plus the District of Columbia) have followed suit. Recreational weed is now legal in 18 states. A bill to decriminalize pot has passed the U.S. House, and it seems inevitable that, sooner or later, the era of prohibition will come to an end.

However, diehard opponents are determined to fight as long as possible, even though most of their arguments against legalization have been disproven by history and science.

Since we’re destined to keep hearing those arguments for the foreseeable future, weed lovers need to understand the “pros and cons” of cannabis legalization — even though the cons no longer make much sense.

Cannabis Legalization: The Pros

We think the best way to talk about the “pros and cons” is to start with the arguments in favor of nationwide cannabis legalization. After that, we’ll look at the arguments why weed should remain illegal — along with the reasons why they make little sense in the 2020s.

1. Economic Benefits

State governments are always searching for new revenue sources. Marijuana taxes have been a bonanza for the states that have legalized weed.

The industry group known as the Marijuana Policy Project has added up all of the sales taxes collected in legal states since 2014, and the number is staggering: $10.4 billion as of December 2021.

$3 billion of that total was collected in 2021 alone, and it’s been used to fund programs in fields like public education, veterans’ services, job training, and alcohol and drug treatment.

Illinois is an excellent example of how lucrative weed sales can be for the states that legalize it. Even though recreational weed use has only been legal since 2020, the state is already collecting more revenue from cannabis taxes than it does from liquor taxes.

If and when the federal government legalizes marijuana, the numbers could be even more impressive. The cannabis analytics company New Frontier says that legalization could create an extra $105 billion in federal tax revenue by the year 2025.

Taxes are just one aspect of weed’s economic benefits. That same New Frontier report says that if all 50 states legalized cannabis immediately, it would create an additional 654,000 jobs in America. By 2025, job creation in the industry would increase to a million new jobs.

2. Public Safety

The total number of people using marijuana has naturally increased with more state legalization. However, it was proven in the decades before partial legalization that Americans are going to purchase and use marijuana in large numbers, whether it’s legal or not.

For example, 37% of high school seniors had smoked weed at least once a month in the late 1970s [1]. In 2019 [2]? That number was only 22%. Legal or illegal, people are going to smoke up.

There’s an important difference between the cannabis retail market in the 1970s and in the 2020s, though.

Laws in legal states require that weed be tested for quality and safety before it can be sold. Most states also require strict age restrictions, product labeling, and limitations on the quantity of marijuana for a customer to purchase.

When was the last time you heard of street dealers who were concerned about consumer protection and safety? Only government-regulated sale of cannabis will protect the people who are going to use it.

3. Medical Benefits

There’s a simple reason why so many states have legalized medical marijuana: it helps patients. There’s no need for a list of facts and figures here; the benefits have been widely proven. The more available medical cannabis becomes, the more sick people it can help.

4. The Real War on Drugs

The highly-touted “war on drugs” undertaken by the United States over the last two generations has been an abject failure.

Its stated goal was to stop illegal drug use. However, deaths from opioids, cocaine, and meth are all up drastically in recent years. More than 100,000 total drug deaths in America [4] were reported over the most recent 12-month period measured by the Centers for Disease Control.

Meanwhile, more than half of all drug arrests are for minor, weed-related offenses — and blacks are almost four times more likely to be arrested, despite equal rates of marijuana use among blacks and whites. The war on drugs has become a war on weed users, and more specifically, black weed users. And that war eats up law enforcement resources badly needed elsewhere.

There’s a real war to be fought, though, and legalized cannabis is winning that war.

Marijuana seizures at the Mexican border have dropped dramatically since legal production was ramped up in America; that’s because less illicit cannabis is being shipped here. It’s estimated that drug cartels have already lost about $2.7 billion in revenue just from lost sales in Colorado and Washington.

Cartels may still be able to sell a lot of cocaine and other drugs in America, and that’s another debate. But legalization is putting a major dent in their cannabis operations.

5. People Want Legalization

There’s no need to belabor this point, either.

The latest poll by Pew Research [5] shows that more than 90% of American adults believe cannabis should be legal for medical use. More than two-thirds feel it should be legal for recreational use.

The people are convinced. It’s now up to the government to respond.

Cannabis Legalization: The Cons

Here are some of the arguments that opponents make to justify their position against the legalization of marijuana. We’ll list them briefly, along with the reasons why the “cons” are largely fallacies or unjustified beliefs.

1. Legalization Causes High Costs to Society

Opponents point to high societal costs attributed to alcohol and tobacco use and then claim that cannabis use incurs similar costs, more than legalization would produce in tax revenue. They point to the alleged costs of emergency room visits, medical care, addiction treatment, drugged driving accidents, and crime.

In reality, the comparison isn’t a fair one.

Alcohol and tobacco use can lead to major medical problems and death; cannabis use doesn’t. There are no recorded cases of deaths caused by marijuana use and comparatively few emergency room visits. Marijuana addiction is only a psychological issue and doesn’t require rehab or inpatient treatment. Traffic deaths and DUI arrests have declined in “legal” states, as has crime.

2. Legalization Increases Cannabis Use by Teens

Opponents say that teenage use of marijuana increases in states that legalize cannabis. That’s largely true, but we’ve already addressed this issue. Weed use by teens was almost twice as high in the late 1970s when it was illegal.

3. Legalization Will Harm More People’s Health

Opponents point to studies claiming that one joint damages the lungs more than five tobacco cigarettes, a single study claiming that vaping weed can result in damage from toxic ammonia, and another single study claiming that cannabis may contain more tar and carbon dioxide than tobacco.

There’s no question that marijuana smoke may hurt the lungs, although most studies show that most of the damage is short-term. The other studies are simply outliers; the majority of evidence shows that smoking weed is dramatically safer than smoking cigarettes in every way. And alternative methods of consuming cannabis, like vaping and edibles, cause virtually no harm at all. Properly manufactured and regulated THC vape oil contains no ammonia, either.

Cannabis Legalization Pros And Cons: FAQ

Q: What about the argument that second-hand weed smoke could be a danger?
A: First of all, smoking of any kind has largely been banned in public places in America, so no one would be forced to deal with second-hand cannabis smoke. Second, studies have shown that exposure to weed smoke would have to reach extreme levels — as in sitting in an unventilated room with multiple smokers for an hour — for it to have any effect on the non-smoker.

Q: Some opponents claim that it’s impossible to legalize marijuana because the U.S. has signed treaties with other countries that require it to be treated as an illegal drug.
A: That’s true, and it’s one of the big reasons why federal legalization would be so tricky. It’s also why the current legislation being considered by Congress would decriminalize weed instead of legalizing it. However, that has nothing to do with the states that haven’t yet passed laws to legalize cannabis; they could do it tomorrow without repercussions.

Mouhamed, Y., Vishnyakov, A., Qorri, B., Sambi, M., Frank, S. S., Nowierski, C., … & Szewczuk, M. R. (2018). Therapeutic potential of medicinal marijuana: an educational primer for health care professionals. Drug, Healthcare and Patient Safety, 10, 45 [3].